Voices From The Holy Land

A personal and investigative study of the people who live in Israel’s many communities

Radio - 7 x 30’

The Holy Land, a small strip of desert and marsh land that stretches between Europe, Asia and Africa, is holy to three major world religions. Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It has been the centre of religious and political conflicts which date back for millennia.

Fifty years ago, within the Holy Land’s boundaries, the state of Israel was formed as a homeland for all Jewish people. In its short life, Israel has endured three major wars, numerous terrorist attacks, an uprising, global support and global condemnation.

Israel is now home to over seven million people, all of whom come from various cultures and religions from across the globe. Some come to Israel for spiritual enlightenment, some to do business, many to see the temples, churches, mosques and ruins. Some come because they feel it is a land promised to them by God, others because they are persecuted and have nowhere else to go. Some live in refugee camps, some in Bedouin encampments. Some are new arrivals to a hostile land, others are hostile to the invasion of their homeland.

From the villages to the cities, the kibbutz farms to the territories, there exist stories of great anguish, heroism, terror, suffering and redemption. If the essential element to any story is conflict, then Israel is a place overflowing with the stuff of great literature.

Synopsis

Voices from the Holy Land will bring these stories to life in a personal, accessible manner. Each episode will concentrate on exploring the lives and conflicts of families or individuals living day to day in the midst of this turbulent land. These voices are comparative portraits that cover every aspect of Israeli and Palestinian life in the Holy Land.

Voices from the Holy Land will visit 7 situations:

Two young men from opposite economic and social classes in the new Jewish society Two religious zealots considered to be mentally ill with The Jerusalem Syndrome A Bedouin Encampment in the Sinai desert torn apart by the Egyptian Army An outspoken political revolutionary from a Palestinian village in the occupied territory The communities of Mea Sherim and Abu Ghosh, who fought on opposing sides in 1948. An Egyptian man and an Israeli woman married and living together in Israel.
The Black Hebrew community of African Americans in the northern Negev.

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STORIES

EPISODE 1: Establishing an Identity

DANIEL KITTEN is twenty four years old. He was born into a wealthy Israeli family of Austrian descent. He was successful academically and served in army intelligence for three years. This year he started at university.

Daniel Kitten is an Ashkenazi (European) Jew. The Ashkenazi Jews suffered persecution, pogroms and genocide for hundeds of years in Europe. The second world war wiped out over two thirds of the European Jewish community leaving many families homeless and seeking refuge in what was increasingly being referred to as their “homeland.” They fled to what was then Palestine and were instrumental in establishing the modern State of Israel on a European model of liberal democracy. Many received and still receive thousands of pounds in compensation from the German government.

RONI KIMCHIT was born the youngest of four children to a poor Jewish family from the Lebanon in 1975. Persecution of Jews and political instability in Lebanon soon forced the Kemchit family to flee to Israel. Roni’s parents divorced. He found himself travelling between Tel-Aviv and Haifa, disrupting his educational and social life. When he was seven years old his brother was killed during a military exercise. By the age of fourteen he was heavily into drugs. By eighteen he had been through a drug rehabilitation programme and was given army exemption. Now Roni is twenty five with a criminal record and no formal education or military training. He is considered unemployable.

Roni Kemchit is a Sephardic (Oriental) Jew. After the 1948 declaration of Israeli statehood many Muslim countries expelled their Jewish citizens. They lost their homes, their businesses and any wealth they had accumulated. These Jews, known as the Sephardim, found themselves forced to move to the state of Israel. They arrived too late to have a substantial say in the political and social setup of Israel. They have remained a social and economic underclass ever since. Over 60% of the Jewish population of Israel is Sephardic. None of them have ever received a penny in compensation from the countries they fled.

The fracturing of Israeli society between the ruling Ashkenazi class and the Sephardic underclass is a constant cause of concern for the population at large. Through Roni and Daniel we will tell the story of this land – a land which was supposed to be a haven, safe from persecution, for Jews, but has itself become a hotbed of cultural and racial tension.

 

EPISODE 2: The Jerusalem Syndrome

CHRIS sits in a grotty hostel in Jerusalem’s old city waiting for Jesus. Chris, a 35 year old Australian from a Greek Orthodox family, has been living in this hostel for over two years. He prays every day that Jesus will return. He refuses to leave Israel until Jesus comes and has been living and working illegally for years. He genuinely believes that the CIA is out to get him. Chris is on prescribed medication but is not considered dangerous.

Last year a Texan PREACHER calling himself only “The profit Elijah follower of our Lord Jesus Christ” was deported from Israel for planning to destroy the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. With flowing blond hair, a greying beard, wearing white robes and sandals, he is instantly recognisable as a classic example of what psychiatrists have termed The Jerusalem Syndrome.

Every year Israeli psychiatrists have to pass judgement on the mental stability of countless people from across the globe who have come to Jerusalem genuinely believing that they are on a mission from God. Some think they are a reincarnation of an Old Testament profit. Some think they are Jesus, the Messiah or God himself. In the wake of the millennium, the number of people passing through the psychiatrist’s waiting rooms is growing at an alarming rate as is the intensity of their planned actions to precipitate the coming of the end of time.

The TEMPLE MOUNT FAITHFUL are a group of Jewish zealots who believe that the Messiah will not come to lead both Jews and Gentiles to redemption until the temple of Jerusalem is rebuilt. The temple was destroyed in AD 70 by the Roman army after an unsuccessful Jewish revolt leaving only the Western (Wailing) wall standing. To this day Jews all over the world direct their prayers to the temple site and mourn its loss once a year on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Ab.

After the capture of Jerusalem by an invading Moslem army many years later the glorious Al Akbar mosque (the Golden Dome) was erected on the temple mount over a spot from where Moslems believe the profit Mohammed ascended to heaven. The fear of losing control of this most sacred site has led many Moslems to take up arms against the Temple Mount Faithful sect famously resulting in the death and martyrdom of nineteen Palestinian men in 1991.

This episode will explore The Jerusalem Syndrome through interviews with individuals and the leaders of cultist groups whose religious fanaticism is threatening the satbility of one of the most contested cities in history.

 

EPISODE 3: Forgotten tribes

MUSTAPHA watched in horror as his house was burnt to the ground, his flocks destroyed and his crops uprooted. The Sinai had just officially been handed over to Egyptian control. Mustafa was relocated to a nearby town and his ancestral homeland was given over to the Egyptian military to be used as a training ground. His older brother, suspected of being an Israeli spy, was beaten to death while serving in the Egyptian army. Mustafa was refused a visa to join his remaining family in the Israeli controlled Negev desert.

All across the Sinai other tribes are suffering similar humiliations at the hands of the Egyptian army. Last year a tribal chief went to Cairo to demand independence for the Sinai. He never returned. The resulting exodus into Israel prompted the then Likud government to open talks with the Egypt over compulsory repatriation. All of the bedouin who sought asylum in Israel were refused. They were forcibly returned to Egypt where they face even greater brutality at the hands of the army for what was seen as a widespread desertion.

The Sinai desert is a disputed territory that lies between Egypt and Israel. In the last fifty years it has changed hands three times. On the surface it appears to be a barren wasteland. If you look harder, encampments are just visible. Living in these camps are a people whose way of life has remained unchanged for thousands of years, the BEDOUIN. With no concept of national identity, these nomadic people do not view themselves as Egyptian or Israeli. They just want to be left in peace to continue practicing their traditional way of life. These are the forgotten victims of the struggle between great powers. Their story has never been told; in this episode we will.

 

EPISODE 4: The Quest for a State

HAIDER ABDEL SHAFI is one of the most respected political speakers living in the occupied territories. He comes from Gaza, one of the most deprived areas in the whole of the Middle East. It is home to over three-quarters of a million Palestinians, half of whom live in filthy and desolate refugee camps. He is famous for being deeply critical of Yasser Arafat and the new Palestinian Autonomy, He accuses them of corruption and the betrayal of the Palestinian people. He explains his position quite clearly:

Everyone understood that Arafat and his friends had had a hard life. But when they came to Gaza they were given far beyond what is reasonable. Villas, cars, phone lines. Do you wonder they are resented by those who have been here all along?

Throughout the conflict, Palestinians have been active in trying to establish a state of Palestine within the occupied territories. The past ten years have seen the return of many Palestinians from exile into a position of power in the newly established Palestinian Autonomy. The many activists who have spent the last fifty years fighting for independence from the territories have felt marginalised in a land they never left.

In this episode we will explore the conflict between the two sides of Palestinian nationalism, profiling the different standard of living enjoyed by both.

 

EPISODE 5: Never the Twain Shall Meet

HISHAM is originally from Cairo. For many years he ran a café in the popular tourist resort of Dahab in the Sinai. NAVA was an Israeli tourist who visited Dahab one holiday. They are now married and have two children and live together in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Their love conquered religious, social, political and national divides. They are a modern day Romeo and Juliet who wish only to live to see a happy ending. This is their story.

 

EPISODE 6: Fighting for the Enemy

In the secluded and secretive community of Mea Sherim there lives a group of people known as the NATUREI CARTER. The ultra orthodox Naturei Carter live a life of strict observance of the Jewish laws and customs. Their belief in the prophecy that only the Messiah should establish the state of Israel led them to fight against their own army. In the 1948 War of Independence, the Naturei Carter fought with the Jordanians.

In that same war the members of ABU GHOSH, a secretive and close knit Arabic village, fought against the united Arab armies with the Israeli army. The families living in Abu Ghosh say that the emergence of a Jewish state in the Holy Land was the fulfillment of an ancient Muslim prophecy, and they would do anything to see that prophecy fulfilled.

This episode will look closely at both communities to find out what drove them to fight on the alternative sides of the conflict. Through personal narratives we will piece this surprising story together.

 

EPISODE 7: This Land is our Land

In the heart of the Negev desert not far from the Dimona nuclear power plant live a group of African Americans who call themselves the BLACK HEBREWS. Disturbed by a vision from the profit Elijah, their leader explained to them that all African Americans were in fact descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. After a battle with the Israeli authorities they were finally allowed to settle in Israel where they live as vegans wearing only natural white fibres. Their story is a fascinating tale of spontaneous religious affiliation towards an otherwise alien culture.

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