Grapevine July 14, 2021: Reminiscing about Rivlin

Publication Date13 July 2021
Retired journalist and former executive director of the New Israel Fund Eliezer Yaari lives some 400 meters from the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Bahir, part of which was appropriated to create East Talpiot. Also close by is Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. Without any particular plan in mind, Yaari, on his daily walks, started to drop into Sur Bahir and talk to the residents about their feelings, their relations with their Jewish neighbors and their hopes. He had not realized before to what extent Jews and Arabs are integrated in different fields of activity. One resident sent him to another, and before he knew it, he had enough material for a book, which he wrote – first in Hebrew, then in English – under the title Beyond the Mountains of Darkness.

When the book was first published in 2015, Yaari, like other writers who are interested in boosting the sales of their books, sent a letter to Rivlin asking if he could personally deliver the book, whose contents he explained, and be photographed with the president. He was astonished by Rivlin's reply. Rivlin said he would be happy to receive the book and be photographed on condition that Yaari could arrange a meeting at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel with people from Talpiot and Sur Bahir.

The kibbutz was happy to cooperate. So were people from Talpiot. But the residents of Sur Bahir were suspicious of Rivlin's motives. It took a lot of work on Yaari's part to convince them that Rivlin's motives were pure.

In the end, in mid-June of 2015, Rivlin came to Ramat Rahel, where people from Talpiot and Sur Bahir were gathered, and spoke to them in Hebrew and Arabic. He asked a lot of questions, and he listened carefully to the answers, especially to those of Sur Bahir residents. The meeting lasted two hours, but as far as Yaari is aware, it was not published in any newspaper.

With hindsight, Yaari believes that it was an important turning point in confidence-building measures. The people from Sur Bahir understood that Rivlin was genuinely interested in their well-being and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

President Isaac Herzog, when he was Labor leader, also won the trust of certain Palestinians whom he helped in resolving humane problems, and no doubt will continue to use his influence to help on humane grounds, when such help is needed.

■ STRANGELY, THERE was no Twitter or Facebook comment from Rivlin in the aftermath of the Euro 2020 final in which Italy beat England and took home the cup. Rivlin, who is an avid soccer fan, was doubtless glued to his television set, and ordinarily would have been called on by electronic media journalists, or would have offered a kick-by-kick analysis of the game on his social media platforms; but for whatever reason, he remained out of the public eye and ear.

■ MEA CULPA. In the news pages of The Jerusalem Post last week, an article about Isaac Herzog erroneously stated that he was the third Sabra president. In fact, he's the fourth. Because presidents Yitzhak Navon and Rivlin were born in Jerusalem, there is a tendency to overlook Ezer Weizman, who was born in Tel Aviv and raised in Haifa.

■ HERZOG'S FIRST official duty was to speak at a memorial event for Revisionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. It should be remembered that Herzog is a former leader of the Labor Party, but then again it should also be remembered that Jabotinsky's remains were brought to Israel by Labor prime minister Levi Eshkol. Jabotinsky died in New York in August 1940, and had stipulated in his will that his remains should not be transferred until such time as a Jewish state was established. Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, refused to have him reinterred, but when Menachem Begin appealed to the softhearted Eshkol, he readily agreed, and Jabotinsky's remains were brought to Mount Herzl in July 1964.

■ YAD VASHEM is also located on Mount Herzl, and many visiting heads of state, prime ministers and diplomats, after visiting Yad Vashem, continue to a nearby grove, specially reserved for them, and plant a sapling.

Just as Herzog and Rivlin established a...

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