More about Views from a Real Place
“Then this is a real place! ... I thought it was just something in the Bible.” - From Theodor Herzl’s Altneuland
I am an Israeli/Dutch writer, based in the US. In 2014-15 I spent a sabbatical in Israel with my family. As I went about my daily life there, I interviewed and photographed people I encounter in public places.
This project occurred to me as I was preparing for our move to Israel in the summer of 2014, at the height of the Gaza war. People who have never lived here and for whom Israel or Palestine are just abstract concepts felt the need to express harsh opinions about a conflict that doesn’t directly affect them.
A Facebook friend of mine posted Helen Thomas’s remark that “Jews should get the hell out of Palestine and go home to Germany and Poland.” Someone else said he hoped the Israeli army would flatten Gaza because “the Palestinians deserve it for voting Hamas.”
This project is my response to such polarized, extreme opinions. I want to offer a more nuanced view of Israeli society and offer a glimpse into the lives and visions of real people who live here, with all their complications and contradictions.
The title of the project comes from a passage in Theodor Herzl’s Altneuland (Old-New Land), a utopian novel in which Herzl imagines a “New Society” in the land of Israel, where Jews, Arabs, and people of all religions live together in peace, prosperity, and equality. As I read the novel, I was struck by the contrast between the utopia Herzl envisioned and the present reality. More than a hundred years after the publication of Herzl’s book, I wanted to find out how the people who live in this real place envision the future, and which narratives they tell to make sense of their reality.
Note: I conducted most of the interviews in Hebrew and translated them into English. I tried to provide links to Wikipedia pages for the convenience of readers who want to learn more. Place names and terms that may need explanation are linked to Wikipedia and appear in bold.
I decided to limit the project to Israeli citizens and not include Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel. Since I don't speak Arabic, I am not the right person to interview Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
In the media:
Ten Israeli Voters Lay Out Their Hopes And Expectations For The Future - The Huffington Post 3/9/2015
A visitor from Vermont blogs the faces of Israel - The Times of Israel 5/5//2015
Responding to polarization: voices from Israel - Your Middle East 6/5/2015
Coming Home - Tablet Magazine 10/14/2015