Israel regularly makes headlines, but there is more to the country than the conflict with the Palestinians. FRANCE 24 reports from a young but highly developed nation, a holy land for three religions, a country where the most archaic traditions exist alongside the latest trends. As Israel marks its 70th anniversary, Antoine Mariotti and Yoray Liberman bring you this reporter's notebook.
Israel is a small country, geographically speaking. It can be crossed by car in just a few hours. But its landscapes are incredibly diverse -- from the Negev desert, which the Israelis have managed to turn into fertile land despite its climate, to the magnificent panoramas of the north near the Lebanese border.
The first leg of our trip takes us to the Arava, a region located in the Negev desert. In this dusty land, littered with rocks as far as the eye can see, the temperature can reach 50°C. But along the roadside, greenhouses appear. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, wanted to make the desert bloom. The first Israelis had to work the land to occupy it and keep it, but also to feed themselves, as Jews arrived from around the world to their promised land. But today, after decades of growth, Israeli agriculture is struggling. Research and development centres have been set up across the country to address the problem. What to grow, and how? In what season? With how much water? These R&D centres test the most outlandish ideas to allow farmers to adapt at the lowest possible cost and face increasingly tough competition from other exporting countries.
The heterogeneous Jewish community
After a three-hour drive, we reach Jerusalem, a historic and obviously religious city. Although Jews and Muslims disagree over the control of holy sites, other divisions exist, even within the Jewish community. Secular and religious Jews do not go to the same schools, but sometimes meet on a football pitch, although they don’t necessarily talk to each other. They are a world apart. NGOs like Tzav Pius are working to bring them together through leisure activities.
We then head west towards the coast. In less than an hour, pious Jerusalem gives way to festive Tel Aviv. It’s a city that never sleeps, where young people from all over Europe come to have fun. Tel Aviv has also become an internationally recognised hub for start-ups. The young and festive atmosphere feeds into this innovation.
An old-fashioned kibbutz
The fourth stage on our journey is Jisr az-Zarqa, 80 kilometres further north. It’s the only remaining all-Arab city on the coast since the 1948 war. The population is poor and neglected by the authorities. Geneviève, a French woman who made Aliyah to Israel a few years ago, is doing her best to reduce these inequalities. Although Israeli Arabs live much better than Palestinians in the West Bank and of course in Gaza, 50% of them live below the poverty line, far more than the rest of the population.
Our journey ends in the far north of the country. Sasa is a kibbutz that is still run in the old-fashioned way. Most of the other 300 kibbutzes in the country have been privatised and are kibbutzes in name only. In Sasa, people still have dinner together, everyone gives their whole salary to the community, and a company CEO eats the same meal as a gardener. It’s another world that still lives according to radical Socialist ideals, while the country is run by the most right-wing government in its history.