Friday, October 23, 2009

HaDegel Sheli (My Flag)

The Jewish Eye Film Festival is currently going on here in Ashkelon, and last night I saw a very thought-provoking documentary called "HaDegel Sheli" or "My Flag". It was written, produced and directed by a Canadian Israeli, and the premise was to go different places in Israel with an Israeli flag and ask people what the flag means to them.

Two scenes in particular hit a strong chord - the first took place in the Meah Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, which is populated exclusively by different groups of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews,  most of whom believe the State of Israel should not exist because the messiah hasn't come yet. There's even a sign that hangs in their neighborhood that says "Zionism = Holocaust", which is troubling enough on its own but is nothing short of revolting coming from anyone Jewish. These are the same people that throw stones at people who walk by who aren't dressed modest enough, riot on Shabbat because a parking lot is open and people are driving, and desecrate Torah scrolls at the Kotel because women read from them. Oh, yeah, and some of these groups openly support Ahmadinijad and Hamas. Yet somehow God sees them as better people...give me a break. It's one thing to disagree with the government on this issue or that issue, but to live in Jerusalem (and in many cases take charity money from the Israeli government) and say, "I wish the Arabs were ruling us" is vile, and is more disgusting than seeing a 4-year old Palestinian child with a suicide bomb strapped around his body yelling that he wants to blow Jews up.

But the most shocking part for me was when the film cut to Ashkelon and showed raw footage of the aftermath of the Palestinian katyusha rocket attack on the Hutzot Mall in May 2008 - 90 people were injured. I knew the mall had been hit, but it's something completely different to see the video of the damage to the building, and emergency crews carrying out people in stretchers...and then going to the mall and seeing it re-built. Thankfully none of the rockets that have been fired from Gaza while I've been here have come too close to Ashkelon. And yes - this attack was one of hundreds on the towns in southern Israel before Israel's military operation in Gaza last winter...none of which are mentioned in Goldstone's "report". Brandeis is hosting both Goldstone in two weeks in a forum for him to defend his report, and his views will be opposed by Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN and who knows just about everything there is to know about the military legality of war.

So what does the flag mean to me? It's the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, to the land where our Temples stood over 2,000 years ago, to Jerusalem, to where we've prayed to return for centuries upon centuries. It's the establishment of the only Jewish government in the entire world, a place where Jews can live in freedom without fear of being persecuted for practicing their religion (or not practicing it as they choose).

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