One year earlier, I was visiting a kibbutz in the Israeli Negev desert: Kerem Shalom, "Vineyard of Peace." I was sitting in a circle, quietly talking with two other visiting American Jews, eight or nine sabras, a few kibbutzniks who grew up in Europe or America.
The kibbutzniks were worried and angry. One of their comrades was in jail for hurting a policeman during a sit-in. Between my sparse Hebrew and their staccato English, I had trouble understanding. I ask them to repeat.
"It happened when the Gush Emunim, the Band of the Faithful, were marching onto Palestinian land to set up Jewish settlements. The Gush Emunim were breaking the law. But worse, they were making it harder to achieve peace with the Palestinians. They were claiming Jews needed more land so that more Jews could settle in the Land of Israel. They were stirring the blood of many Israelis. We decided we must show how foolish this idea was.
"We decided to act, not just to speak. Their act was stirring; our act must be stirring.
" So we went to the ranch of General Sharon. He is one of their heroes, he wants to annex the Palestinian lands. He is also very rich. He has plenty of land.
"We set up tents on his land, as they had set up tents in the occupied territories. 'Israelis!' we said. 'You need more land? General Sharon has
more than he needs, more than any one person needs. We do not need to take Palestinian land, we can share our own land. Come share!'
"We were arrested and dragged away. Our chaver kicked a cop when they grabbed him. Now he is going to jail. The Gush Emunim does not go to jail. The government criticizes them, but goes along."
I interrupted. "Did you do anything else about Sharon's land?"
"No," they said. "We made our point. That was all we meant to do."
I pressed a little more. Sharing the land, taking back a rich man's land, maybe there were Israelis who would have liked this idea? I had heard so much about the "social gap" between Israeli Jews of Western and Eastern origin, about the poor and downcast Eastern Jews. They voted for the right-wing parties because they got no hope from the Labor government. Maybe this notion of sharing the land would appeal to them?
"You don't understand," the kibbutzniks said. "The real issue we must solve before we can deal with the social gap is the issue of the Palestinians. First peace, then the social gap."
"But . . . ," I muttered, a little embarrassed; after all, it may be my Land, but it is their country. "Maybe you have pressed the Palestinian issue as far as it can go right now. Maybe you should talk about what Israel could be like if there were peace. I have heard you talk about creating an Israeli form of socialism, but you never say what it means. I like this land thing. It reminds me of the Jubilee."
"The Jubilee. You know, from the Torah. Maybe it's a Jewish kind of socialism, maybe it's even where socialism comes from. But it's an odd kind of socialism. The Torah doesn't seem to mind if people get rich for awhile. But every fifty years the land must be shared, with every family getting an equal share, family by family, clan by clan. The rich give up their extra land and the poor get back their share. And then there's another odd thing: no one is allowed to work the land at the very moment they get the chance again. Maybe you should call a Jubilee!"
They puzzle out the English, realize what I mean: "Aha, the yovel." They grin at me. Torah. Religion. What can you expect from an American Jew?
"No," they say, not so patiently any more. "The primary problem is the Palestinian question. That's what we need to work on."
I keep quiet. It is their country. The Jubilee floats to the back of my head.