Sunday, August 19, 2012

Israel as seen from a scooter in 1968

Here's a film from a long-lost time: 1968. The Six Day War had been won, and Israelis were telling themselves the Arabs would never come back for another round. (They were wrong). The entire geographical area under Israeli control was open for free and unrestricted movement of everyone who lived in it, in all directions. Far away, on the Suez Canal, a war of attrition was building up between Israeli and Egyptian troops, but it was, well, far away. There were some troubles along the Jordan River, but they also seemed minor and manageble. Mostly, Israelis were enjoying their new expanses and new possibilities, and expected their wars to be behind them. The economy was booming, and the Zeitgeist was one of optimism.

Against this background the Ministry of Tourism made a film showing how beautiful everything was. Two photogenic young singers, Shula Chen and Gadi Yagil, were put on a scooter and sent around the country, singing popular songs as they went. We can raise an eyebrow at the naivety of it all; or we can raise the other eyebrow at the simplicity of the country as it then was, not to mention the outlandish idea of a young couple touring the country on a scooter; or we can lean back and remember that: yes, such a film wasn't nearly as outlandish then as it seems now.

Except for the section in Jerusalem. For that section, you really have to know what you're looking at to see how much the town has changed - because most of the section was filmed in the Old City, and the Old City, being Old, hasn't changed all that much in the flicker of time which is half a century.

Some statistics: in 1968 there were fewer than 3,000,000 people living in Israel, alongside fewer than one million in the West Bank, Gaza, Golan and Sinai; Jerusalem had a total population of about 250,000. There was one "skyscraper", the Migdal Shalom tower in Tel Aviv (briefly seen in the section of the film).

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