HER STORY #71 - jane
I was born in London eighty one years ago, the eldest of what was to be five siblings. I was evacuated as a child in the Second World War to the north of England where I spent most of my educational years. Our home in London was destroyed during the German ‘blitzkrieg’ so I did not return to London until I was in my early twenties.
I gained a degree in English literature at Liverpool University, and it was also in Liverpool that I became an ardent football fan. Liverpool has two football teams, Liverpool and Everton. It seemed that most of the Jewish students became Everton fans, and that is how loyalty to this team became a big part of my life.
From Liverpool I went to the London School of Economics to study personnel management and industrial psychology, but, by a strange quirk of fate, my first job had little to do with anything I had studied. It was back in Liverpool in the buying department of a group of chain stores in the fashion industry. It was not a good fit, but the man who employed me was not only instrumental in introducing me to a research job back in London, but also to the man I eventually married. This was Eric Moonman who became a Labour Member of Parliament and the father of my three children.
The research job was at the British Institute of Management and it mostly involved writing research reports on employment conditions. It was shortly after I left the Institute to take on another research job that Eric and I got married. When I became pregnant with my first son, I turned to freelance journalism. I continued writing articles, mainly on social issues, for a variety of newspapers during the following years when I also gave birth to my daughter and then a second son. At the same time I was appointed a Justice of the Peace [magistrate] serving two London courts.
In 1981 I was appointed deputy director of an organization called BIPAC [Britain-Israel Public Affairs Committee], essentially the public relations office for Israel. A year later, after the return to Israel of the then director, I took over the post and remained in that position for the following ten years.
Eric and I had divorced in 1991, and later on that year I married Yoav Biran, then Israel’s ambassador to London.
In 1993, at the end of Yoav’s tour of duty, I made Aliyah [immigration to Israel] and we settled back in Jerusalem. I was immediately recruited by Teddy Kollek, then Mayor of Jerusalem, to run the British desk of the Jerusalem Foundation [non-profit foundation promoting the development of the city] and this I did for almost fifteen years, raising funds from British donors for multiple projects in the city to benefit every section of the community.
In the latter part of that employment I also represented another international charity, which funded projects in Israel and Britain as well as some in Russia and China. My work therefore continued to take me between Britain and Israel as I had in the years when I was running BIPAC. This partly accounts for my abysmal Hebrew. I have always worked in English and my husband’s command of the language is almost perfect. In the beginning we tried speaking only Hebrew at the weekends. But it soon collapsed because the things I was interested in saying I could not manage in Hebrew, so we took the easy way out and reverted to English.
I retired from paid work in 2009 and since then I have been writing novels. I have now published five novels, have written six, and am now working on an autobiography. But I also spend a lot of time travelling around to see my family.
My older son is a social worker living with his wife in the North of England. My daughter lives in Texas with four of my grandchildren, and my younger son lives in Dublin with his wife and three children. And I am also one of four sisters, so between them and my cousins there are many people to visit when I am in England.
Frankly, it is much easier for me to travel as one person or with my husband when he joins me, than to have whole families come over here to visit me, and for the moment I have the energy to do it.
But the main theme in all my activities, apart from the adventure into the fashion industry, has been writing. Everything I undertook professionally – the research, freelance journalism, running BIPAC, where I was writing reports, working for the Jerusalem Foundation and having to keep in touch with people all the time and to report on projects to donors – has always involved writing.
The fiction writing developed partly because I had to spend so much time on planes. I cannot sleep on planes, so I started to write my novels.
I admit that I am a compulsive writer. Every now and then I ask myself why I do it. I don’t make any money out of it; people are not much interested in novels. The books I have published have been e-books so only those who have tablets or a Kindle or some way of reading electronically, can read them.
But I cannot stop. I seem to need to write.
I had been a Zionist for a long time, even before I joined Na'amat [Women’s Labour Zionist organization formerly known as Pioneer Women] and became its chairwoman, and somewhere in the back of my mind I had a feeling that one of these days I would move to Israel.
I considered it more seriously when my first marriage was breaking up. And then Yoav came into my life. He happened to be on one of the committees working with BIPAC as the number two at the embassy in London. He returned to Israel after that tour of duty, coming back to London four years later as Ambassador. We got married in 1991, two years into his term, and when he completed this second tour in England, we prepared for my Aliyah and his return to Jerusalem.
He had been to the Hebrew University, though he was born in Tel Aviv, and was committed to re-establishing a home in Jerusalem.
I have a love affair with Jerusalem, something that comes out in my latest book. Nevertheless, I confess that when I am asked what I would do if I were to be on my own, I, without hesitation, reply that I would return to England. It would be for very practical reasons. This is where my sisters are, where my connections are, where one of my sons lives, with the other son just across the water in Ireland.
I will also acknowledge that when I get off that plane in Heathrow [airport] in London, I feel very much at home. Then I feel that I can cope with whatever I face. I don’t have a language problem in England. I know the systems in England, and everything is very familiar. If I need to solve a problem, I know how to set about it. I sometimes find myself a little bit handicapped in Israel, partly because of the language, and that is totally my fault.
It is impossible to live, where I live and not feel connected to the conflict.
The house opposite to me has bullet holes in the back from the ’67 war, and the ’67 border is located in the street parallel to ours. That street is called Assa'el Street, with Jews living on one side and Palestinians on the other. That was the border before 1967, and if the Oslo agreement had ever come into effect, the dividing line would have been at the bottom of our street – a few meters from where we are sitting. So, whenever there is a period of tension, you definitely feel it when you live here.
Look, wherever you live in the world, you live in a neighborhood, and you know that there are some neighbors that you would get along with. Some of them you could be friends with, and others you know could never be your friends. That’s a normal neighborhood.
Abu Tor where I live is not a normal neighborhood. 70% of my neighbors are Palestinians. And if there is a moment of tension, especially during an Intifada [violent protests], you know that your neighbors are going to have a view of it that is different from yours, their hostility towards you will be increased and that is what you live with.
You ask me how I view the conflict as a woman. Generally, I feel it just as a person, a human being.
Yet as a woman, I feel tremendous connection with the Palestinian women. I feel that the situation on their side of the conflict is so much worse than mine. If I think about the women in Gaza, who are trying to feed their children or even trying to give their children the basics like a hot bath, I know they may not be able to because of the lack of water or electricity. I sense that they have a conflict on two levels; there is the conflict with Israel and then they must feel a lot of resentment about their own leadership that is constantly putting them in this situation – of being a woman surrounded by warfare.
So I feel compassion for women on the other side of the conflict, and I also totally understand any resentment on the part of my immediate neighbors. They don’t have the rights that I have. They have permanent residency rights, but they are not Israeli citizens. This is the peculiar situation of the Arabs of East Jerusalem who are not Israeli Arabs. They cannot vote in the national elections. They can vote in the municipal elections, if they choose to, and many times they choose not to.
There are many examples of co-existence projects started by people of good will on both sides of the conflict. Sadly they frequently start off with enthusiasm but then they fail because of something which happens on the political front.
For instance there was quite a sustained effort to form a Jewish/Arab junior football team in Abu Tor. I approached the Jerusalem Foundation for help with funding and they agreed. Some practice sessions were held and then there was a terrorist attack in the city and the enthusiasm faded away. Parents feel uneasy about allowing their children to participate in something being funded by Israelis and the usual suspicion and lack of trust comes into play.
The Jerusalem Foundation’s goal is to provide funding for projects for the total population of Jerusalem, but working in East Jerusalem can be a problem. There are certain parts of East Jerusalem, such as Abu Tor and Beit Safafa, which are more physically a part of the city than others, yet obstacles still arise.
When I worked at the Foundation, I managed to raise some money in England for a school here in Abu Tor. I visited it regularly, and I became quite friendly with the headmaster, but then two of the pupils from that school were convicted as terrorists. They killed a young woman on the promenade a few hundred meters from here. In such circumstances it is virtually impossible to keep the funding going.
Then sometimes you would have problems with the charity commissions in certain countries, certainly in Britain. There the charity commissioners would not count any donation for a project over the Green Line [pre-1967] as charitable and therefore qualifying for tax relief. And there would be projects in East Jerusalem which would not accept funds which came from Jewish sources. So the general environment in which co-existence projects operate, constantly presents problems.
Occasionally a situation arises which combines the interests of both Jewish and Palestinian populations.
For instance, there is a developer who is aiming to build a hotel on land that is at the top of our road. The land belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church which apparently sold part of it to the developer. It so happens that the site is of historical interest, apart from being the only open space in a residential area. The proposed development would significantly affect the environment of both the Palestinian and Jewish inhabitants of Abu Tor. So representatives of both peoples organized meetings, petitions and protests to prevent the scheme from going ahead.
And then there was a time when one of our Palestinian neighbors was killed in a tragic accident and some of us went to express our condolences in the mourning tent set up by his relatives.
But it is rare for there to be real social contact.
It has been quiet here in Abu Tor in recent months.
At one time there were some minor protests involving the burning of tires and attempted road blocks and we did suffer from a spate of car thefts. In fact I once found two thieves attempting to take my car away from our car space. My husband was abroad at the time so I had to deal with the situation alone. I went into cool British mode and demanded to know what they thought they were doing and when they swore at me, I told them to stay right where they were while I called the police.
When my husband heard of the incident he told me I had been insane because they could have shot me. In fact they simply ran off. The car theft incidents have decreased in recent years, probably due to heightened police presence in the neighborhood.
My next door neighbors have a camera outside their house which recorded some youngsters climbing over our gate and then the party wall to steal their son's bike. It is not pleasant but we know that such things happen everywhere.
I am often asked if I am nervous about living in Abu Tor and the honest answer is that I am not. We live on the border between east and west Jerusalem but if there is any serious violence I do not feel we are at any greater risk than anywhere else in the city. Things always look worse from the outside.
However, when I first came to live in Jerusalem, it was in the middle of the first intifada. The flat we had decided to buy was still a building site at that time so, for two years, we rented a series of apartments.
One of them was owned by a colleague of my husband in the Foreign Ministry who was abroad. We were able to stay there for six months or so. It was situated in an area called Nachlat Shiva where there was very limited parking space. So when I returned from my work at the Jerusalem Foundation each evening, I would have to search around for a parking spot.
On the evening in question, I had to leave my car in a street called Shlom Zion Hamalka. Very early the following morning, there was a terrorist attack on a bus in that street. The bus exploded, causing fatalities and many injuries. When I went to collect my car, I found it covered in bits of glass and what seemed like pieces of skin and the police would not allow me to take it away.
But an incident in the second intifada affected us emotionally even more.
At the time, there had been a series of similar attacks on buses as well as in crowded areas, which had seen many casualties. It was a time of thinking twice before getting on a bus. It was that which occurred at the Café Hillel in Emek Refaim, the nearest Jerusalem has to a high street, which was the most traumatic of all.
My husband and I were at home when we heard an enormous explosion. We froze, as one did, to see if it was followed by the sound of sirens or could it possibly be a sonic boom. But the sirens came soon enough and judging by the number of them and the length of time until there was silence, this had been a major attack.
Seven people were killed and I knew one of them. A doctor named David Applebaum was in the café with his daughter having dinner on the night before her wedding. He had just returned from lecturing in the United States on his work as the head of the emergency department of his hospital dealing with the victims of terrorism. I knew him because of this work, since the other charity I worked for had helped to fund his department. Both he and his daughter were killed that night so that family, instead of attending a wedding the following day, had to participate in a double funeral. Of all the events of those years, this one has stayed with me and no doubt always will.
Allergy / Jerusalem
The only time I have ever considered moving away from Jerusalem has nothing to do with the conflict. I have an allergy to the cypress trees. Throughout the early months of the year, I have allergic rhinitis which I do not get in Tel Aviv.
The only other reason I can think of for moving to Tel Aviv would be the opera to which I am almost as devoted as I am to football! I would love there to be an opera house in Jerusalem but I cannot see it happening any day soon.
In any case, Jerusalem is wonderful. It is the most special city in the world in my view. I always urge visitors to Israel to come to Jerusalem. I believe they have not really visited Israel if they have not seen its spiritual center, felt the history of the place and experienced its many unique features. So as long as I am in Israel, this is where I stay.
Of course I was very familiar with Israel before I came to live here. I had been visiting it for many years on a regular basis as part of my work.
I had no illusions that uprooting myself from England and my family was going to be easy. In fact, it was one of the most difficult transitions I had ever made, though I was supported by my husband and his family and I already had friends here and was familiar with the culture. Nevertheless, my limitations with the language and the differences in our cultures did require some hard work. I was also aware that there was a conflict going on that could directly affect us, as indeed it did.
I still find that I’m too English – that I’m still offended by people’s lack of manners. This business of manners is so much a part of one's upbringing in England. It is an element of one's respect for other people. So the harshness of the Israeli way of dealing with people still bothers me.
I still get really upset by the way some people behave in supermarkets, for example, and in crowds. Or when people don’t wait for you to get out of a lift before they get in. I have learned to accept that none of this is done with malicious intent. It is simply a different social code.
In common with many other Israelis, I am very worried about where the country is going, more so than before because I think that the problems are worse than they were before.
This is not directly related to the conflict though there are many who believe that the people in charge could have done a lot more to solve the conflict than they have. I am also concerned about the amount of corruption and the rather cavalier attitude to moral standards that seems to prevail. There are far too many Israelis who appear to be unconcerned that a former prime minister went to prison and another is under investigation, and a president is still serving time in prison. Does it not raise questions about the kind of society we are?
I remember reading an essay by Arthur Koestler, in which he suggested that Jews are not capable of running their own country. They are capable of contributing considerably to their host countries in all kinds of fields, he maintained, but they are not cut out for government. I have always rejected his thesis but there are times when I wonder if there could be a grain of truth in his thinking. One observes how politicians behave and how the standards set by them filter down.
But I still believe that if enough of us want to restore the moral standards which were so important to us, we can make every effort as individuals to make it happen. That is why I join protest marches, why I sign petitions, and why I joined a political party [Meretz].
My children tease me about always campaigning for something or other.
One of my sons lives in a place called Sheffield in the north of England. Just recently there was an article in the New York Times about a certain campaign in this city to protest a decision by the local authority to cut down 6000 trees. Neighborhood communities were up in arms about it. About 5000 of the trees have already been cut down but around 300 were saved because people tied themselves to the trees to stop them being destroyed. As I plan to visit my son in the coming weeks, he kindly offered to tie me to a tree so that I could support the protest! Of course this was a joke but I daresay I would have joined the people who cared so much about their trees they were prepared to take action. I am their kind of person.
I have said what I feel about the present situation in Israel but I have to add that I am not so happy about my native country either at the moment.
To begin with, there is the utter madness of Brexit. I cannot understand why people were asked to vote on something without being fully apprised of the facts let alone the consequences. And then there is the whole issue of the rise of anti-Semitism throughout Europe, most disturbingly among those calling themselves left-wing.
Still, England is where my roots are. Home is here in Jerusalem which I love and home is where my husband is. But England is where I spring from, where it starts, and that’s what made me the kind of person I am.
Interview conducted on July 14, 2018