Israeli Politics and Society Education Seminar: Part 4

There are a lot of things I miss in the states: coffee (especially large ones), television (commercials included), driving in my car and listening to music, being able to mail letters easily, gyms… the list is endless really. One thing I have also been dreaming of recently is my favorite pair of boots. They are currently sitting in my bedroom closet waiting for my feet.

It’s great to be so far away from all of these things, simply because I know one day I can return to them. I shall never take walking five feet to my mailbox for granted again!

However, you can only imagine how excited I was when I was in my kitchen last night cooking dinner and turned around to see what Vanessa was wearing for her date. She looked beautiful of course, in her grey dress and boots. Wait boots, “OMG Vanessa those are my favorite boots!” The ones I own sitting at home in my bedroom in the states, were now in front of my face on Vanessa’s feet just staring at me. I couldn’t get over it, and I love that we own the same pair. I also love that I was able to see my boots and touch them, tangible evidence woo! I also want to share this great photo Vanessa took of me the other day when I wasn’t looking. Did I mention she is an amazing photographer?

Anyway, let’s now backtrack a little bit. Monday was my last education day for a little while. We started our morning visiting a jail in Be’er Sheva. Never in the U.S. would we be able to get as intimate with a jail and its prisoners as we did here in Israel.

We first sat in a conference room where we watched a video on Israel and its jail system. One of the more fascinating things I learned was that Israelis in prison can actually take a vacation once a month. Yes ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to reread the previous line, this is true! The vacation can range anywhere from 24-72 hours. Depending on your behaviour and your attendance in school/religious class/therapy classes determines of the length of your vacation.

The police officer told us, “We know the prisoners.” They, along with their family and/or friends who sign them out, are trusted that they’ll be returned to the prison and won’t do anything illegal when they’re out and about roaming around Israel. They don’t wear a tracking bracelet or anything either. A lot different than the American jail system huh?!

After the discussion we took a tour of the prison and we actually into cells where inmates live, some of them were sitting on their beds. I was surprised to see a TV and radio inside. The TV is provided to them and they can bring a radio if they choose to. They also are allowed to bring their own sheets, and in their rooms they can wear whatever they want. Only outside of their living quarters do they have to wear the orange jumpsuits.

In another living quarter that we saw there was a communal kitchen. We spoke with one of the inmates who said there are around 10 – 15 chefs living in this building and when their food is delivered to them they ‘improve’ it in their kitchen.

The inmate we spoke with is American and moved to Israel when he was young. He said his dad spent fifteen years in a U.S. Federal prison. He also spent some time in a U.S. jail. He compared the two (U.S. vs. Israel) saying how in the states it is a lot more strict. Police officers there never cross certain lines with inmates. In Israel they have conversations often, sometimes even joking around with one another. He also said he often felt threatened in the U.S. by other inmates, but not once has he felt this way in an Israeli prison (which he has been in for the past 4 1/2 years).

After we saw some rooms where the prisoners work — a “green room” with plants, and other rooms with repetitive and monotonous activities such as folding silverware into napkins, we saw their classrooms and then we left.

We ate lunch at another mircaz klitah that was much nicer than ours and we complained while being there that the cells in the jail not only had more amenities than our apartments, but were just generally a lot nicer. After that we had a short discussion about Israelis military history and then got on the bus and went to an IDF memorial from the 1967 war. Here is Ariel hanging out there, pretending to be mad. How great is this picture? Again props to Vanessa.

After spending some time talking and walking in and around the memorial we made our way to Ben Gurion University. First off, the campus is beautiful and it made me miss the academia environment. Grad school soon maybe? First I have to figure out what I want to do with my life though, hmm. Anyway, we met with a man here who spoke with us about the Israeli Parliament. He compared it a lot to the British Parliament (much like the game of tennis), since Israels’ (much like basketball or soccer) is based off of that one. He also compared how the Parliament was when Israel first became a country to how it is today. Because Israel is such a heterogenous country it is important to have a government that can represent everyone. Though the disadvantage in this is that it is more difficult to build a state of coalition. There are more political parties which means a more unstable government. Which, if you look at the history of Israel, you’ll find this to be true. No government has ever lasted its full four years.

Another disadvantage is that small parties may have more power than their percentage to the population. In his opinion he felt this may provide certain minorities with more power than they should have (i.e. Palestinians in Israel working towards the peace process).

From 1992 until today a lot of things in the Israel government has changed. So what the hell happened? There is not one single reason to point to for the change, but there are some explanations. One is that the differences between the big parties are much more blurred today than let’s say when Yitzhak Rabin was in office. Another explanation is that from 1996-2003 the electoral system in Israel was more defined. Lastly, there is a crisis of representation: an increasing disbelief and lack of confidence within the political system exists within a lot of Israelis. Although the percentage of voting here is still a lot better than in the U.S. (how disappointing), it is not what it used to be. Today it is around 62%, in the past it was up to 80%.

Due to the ‘validity of the vote’ people are having trouble finding themselves within the parties. Traditional parties are not providing the answers that the society is searching for and voting isn’t as much a part of Israelis identities anymore. In the past political parties were so representative for Israelis. They used to only follow their political parties soccer team, go to doctors offices that only supported that party, read only their certain newspapers, etc. Kibbutzim even used to split up over disagreement between parties. Today this only still holds true for the extremely religious.

In conclusion our speaker said there is no current vision for Israeli society that will gain/engage enough support for change. Just modifying the law does not work, so until something happens that will make a difference this problem may only grow worse.

I hope you all enjoyed all of my blog entries on Israeli politics and society. I’ve certainly enjoyed sharing it with you! Tomorrow we are having a big thanksgiving party for our group, complete with an Otzmanikim football game and all of us cooking up dishes and having a potluck style dinner. I want to wish everyone a very happy thanksgiving! I also want to end this by saying that I am just so thankful for everything Israel has given me so far and for all of my beautiful and lovely friends and family.

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3 thoughts on “Israeli Politics and Society Education Seminar: Part 4

  1. Pingback: Daily Roundup: Participant Blogs – November 24, 2010 | The Masa Israel Blog

  2. Great to talk to you yesterday! Glad you had a good Thanksgiving and getting more and more excited everyday to come visit at the end of December!

  3. Lauren-

    I am so glad I just read your blog – I learned so much from it!!! That is incredible about the inmates and taking a vacation – and its also wild how different our jail seems from the one there. It makes me wonder if the offenses are all the same – do you know why some of the inmates were there? was it discussed? aaaand, what do you think about it? At first I thought it was really cool that they are treated like real people, getting the little things like tv and radio and wearing what they want, but then I sort of thought about the punishment aspect…do you think our system is more efficient BECAUSE its more strict? or is it all the same? Oh my god I’m sorry I’m asking so many questions, I’m just really interested in it and it really made me think!!! Anyway, GREAT blog – and great pictures…I look forward to looking at more now that I’m settled in my new place. Keep up the great journaling, you are really good at it.
    Also- Grad school for what? I’m in this dilemma myself – did you take the GREs?

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