The Israeli’s and I didn’t get off to the best start. Maybe they just didn’t like the cut of my jib; my intimidating 5’2” frame, my name, the contents of my passport. I’m in Bangkok airport, just one little check-in gate away from my final leg to Tel Aviv. The painful 8-hour layover has well and truly beaten out of me any lingering childhood naivety about the glamour involved in plane travel. I’m flying El Al airlines – the world’s only Jewish airline. The level of security they demand seems more intense than getting access to MI5. First, the interview to even gain entry to the boarding area: ‘Ms Jayes, why are you going to Israel? Where does the name Jayes originate from? Where was your dad born? Why did you go to Afghanistan two years ago? Why have you been to Indonesia so frequently? Could you be in possession of explosives without knowing it? What is your favourite colour? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? (Not those last two, but my interview was certainly going down a Monty Pythonesque path). Next, an hour to search my handbag. Security personnel hurriedly move between closed doors. An hour and a half ticks by and finally: ‘Ms Jayes, come with me’. Nope, not ready to board yet. I am ushered into a private room… it’s time for a strip search. Apparently, so concerned were they about my appearance, background, travel history – the pants had to come off. A small sacrifice of dignity some might say for gaining access to one of the most fascinating countries in the world.
It’s hard to fathom that Israel is a third the size of Tasmania, offers little in the way of natural resources, doesn’t really trade with its closest neighbours and out of necessity spends around 20% of its budget on defence. For young men and women in Israel three years of national service is a fact of life, often followed by university, with the average graduating age 27 years old. Only then are they entering full time work for the first time in their lives. At the other end of the spectrum are the ultra-Orthodox Jews or ‘Haredim’ who make up about 10% of the 8 million population, have an average of 8 children per family and are supported entirely by government handouts. Their motto is ‘thou shall not work, only study’. You can see the productivity problem here. But against all odds Israel is a thriving, vibrant democracy.
The threat of terror is a cultural norm, one of life’s day-to-day challenges. No straight talking Israeli is at all optimistic about peace with the Palestinians any time soon. The attitude to peace is that any deal would be ephemeral in nature – and peace in this part of the world is a relative compromise anyway. That seems to be the justification behind the Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s persistence with settlement projects. The argument is that any peace plan that’s ever been drawn up includes these areas where new settlements are being announced. Frankly, that argument does fly. It’s provocative. This, in my view, is one of the main impediments to a lasting ceasefire and relative stability. Not because settlements are anywhere near the root of the problem, but because it’s the biggest hurdle to even getting to the start line of negotiation. Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s foreign spokesman, seemed to agree with the provocative nature of his PM’s decision making. But Mr Regev told me and a group of professionally captious Australian journalists that while Israel’s actions are far from perfect the ‘Palestinians only know what they’re against’. Most revealing was Tal Becker, one of Israel’s top three negotiators and legal adviser at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs who shed light on how such negotiations work. Like any productive work environment it’s done over a long dinner or lunch, with Scotch on hand for when tempers start to fray, and cigars at the ready when stalemates are reached. What is agreed to is often rejected by Palestinians who are automatically sceptical because of an ingrained distrust of Israelis. It’s a labyrinth of vested interests, political gamesmanship and generations of brainwashing on both sides. People are not born with hatred, they are brought up with it. I left Israel utterly conflicted, confused and frustrated by what lies ahead.
Julie Bishop has been deservedly named Woman of the Year by Australia’s Harper’s Bazaar. For the article, I flew to Perth to interview her. There was the inevitable question about sexism in the political arena. Her advice: ‘stop whinging, get on with it and prove them all wrong’. She was talking about HER strategy, the preferred weapon in HER armoury but those words set off a grenade amongst self-described feminists. Tracey Spicer retorted with a facetious column: ‘If you fail to rise to the giddy heights of federal parliament, it’s your fault. Now, don’t go blaming structural discrimination in the workplace, lack of affordable childcare, or grazed knuckles from knocking on the door.’ Equally scathing was Tanya Plibersek: ‘I am a feminist. Not because I’m a whinger, or a victim, but because I understand how very fortunate I am’. Frankly, I agree with Julie Bishop. Women my age (30 years old) are getting on with it, breaking glass ceilings, and proving them all wrong. Why, all of a sudden, are you only a true feminist if you shun make up, fashion and wanting to look fit and healthy? Why is it that being attractive, wanting to wear designer clothes and stilettos is somehow working against the sisterhood? I want to get my nails done. I like wearing too much mascara. I run so I’m fit enough to squeeze into a size 6 or 8. Why? Because I feel more balanced, more complete, more powerful when I do. So sue me! Yes, there is a time for pointing out sexism and misogyny and we do it in our own subtle and effective way. I don’t find the need to be in a constant state of outrage. Because it’s exhausting. I’m a busy woman, and I’m getting on with it!
Laura Jayes is a Sky News Australia Political Reporter and journalist.