Last week's annual 'End of Days' music festival highlights how a new
and militant hilltop generation embraces the counterculture
symbols of the 1960s American Left.
By Joshua Mitnick | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
August 9, 2009
Bat Ayin, West Bank - Situated just outside this contoversial Jewish
settlement in the West Bank, the hilltop stage was dominated Thursday
by a Star of David, an olive tree, and musicians who mix blues licks,
reggae rhythms, and messianic refrains from Jewish liturgy.
The annual "End of Days" festival which bills itself as a "place of
light and unity, inspiration and calm" has become something of a
mini-Woodstock in the settlements, with meditation groups, religious
study sessions, and a crowd dressed in colorful flowing clothes.
Staged on a wooded slope amid the ruins of Mesuot Yitzhak, a Jewish
settlement captured by Jordan in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the
festival is evidence of how the young hilltop generation, despite a
reputation for militancy and ideological fervency, has embraced many
of the counterculture symbols of the 1960s American Left.
"When whole world turns on the television, what do they see? Fighting
and politics," says Yehuda Leuchter, the festival founder who hops as
he plays keyboard with his head wrapped in prayer shawl. "We're
trying to bring rock 'n' roll and good vibes for the Land of Israel
and for the whole world. That's what this is all about."
In addition to roots and folk music, the young settlers have pushed
heavily into organic agriculture and eco-awareness, and dabbled in
Asian accessories and philosophies. While they are more worldly than
parents who had no Internet access when they established the
settlements, they are less pragmatic and potentially more rebellious
against the state.
"We're the new hippies. We are connected to the land. We are
spiritual," says Yishai Fleisher, a radio host at the settler radio
station Arutz 7 who attended the festival two years ago.
Rejecting 'Western' culture
Expounding as if he had just digested the ideas of Henry David
Thoreau's Walden, Mr. Fleisher says that the new generation of
settlers rejects the consumerism and promiscuity of "Western"
culture. But for all the talk spirituality and universalism, it has
not made them more sympathetic to the aspirations of their
Palestinian neighbors for sovereignty.
"You can't have peace and love without understanding first the
essential ethos of the Middle East, and that is that people only
respect you when you stand your ground. That is not only a message to
the Arabs, but to the US and foreign powers who want to impose things
on us," he says. "The kind of hippie that I'm talking about is Abbie
Hoffman. We stand up to aggression."
The young settlers came of age on the front lines of the largely
nonviolent resistance to Israel's 2005 evacuation of settlements from
Gaza. Disillusioned by older leaders for urging them to avoid
confrontation, many predict clashes that if Israel's government ever
makes good on a promise to the US to clear out unauthorized
Recently, settlers at more ideologically fervent settlements like Bat
Ayin have adopted a policy of vigilante retaliation for hilltop
evacuations or Palestinian attacks. Some of Bat Ayin's residents
clash with nearby Palestinian villagers, and several years ago a cell
was convicted in an Israeli court for plotting to blow up a
Palestinian school. That said, Bat Ayin is also one of the centers
combining Jewish learning with eco awareness.
"Everyone says that we're all about war, but people just want
redemption," says Benny Landau, a solo guitarist from the settlement
of Kiryat Arba who described his family of four as drifters. Before
toasting to the hilltop outposts, he described his musical influences
as "anything that opens up my horizons."
End of Days is also the name of keyboardist Mr. Leuchter's band,
which fuses jam rock, reggae, and spiritual tunes from Rabbi Shlomo
Carlebach. He and six other siblings run the festival as a memorial
to their father, and say the purpose is to draw concert-goers from
all over the country. The family said 1,600 attended the 10th annual
festival last Thursday.
"The Jewish people are a very diverse and fractured society," says
saxophonist Shaul Judelman. "Right now the crucial thing for both the
Jewish and the Palestinian people is to make peace among themselves.
It's a big enough challenge talking to our brothers before we go
talking to our extended families."
A more earthy ethos
The embrace of a more spiritual, earthy ethic is part of a wider
trend among tens of thousands of Israeli youth who spend months in
India dabbling with Hinduism and drugs after finishing Israel's
mandatory, three-year Army service.
"In the past 20 years we've been in a value crisis," says Assaf
Meydani, a political science lecturer at the Academic College of
Jaffa. The young generation looks at the pragmatism of their parents'
generation, and sees it isn't going anywhere, and is puzzled. So they
have to adopt another solution. In this case, the solution is
Back at the festival, Rabbi Raz Hartman, with wild hair curls, led a
study session in which he riffed on the meaning of faith: "[It's]
like a farmer that plants in the ground and believes that afterward
the bounty will come."
While waiting to go on stage, bassist Yaakov Lefcoe of the band Yood
a Jimi Hendrix-influenced trio whose name is the Hebrew initial for
God speculated on the lax security. "If anything happens at Bat
Ayin, there's always a reprisal," he says.
Elsewhere, men hopped in rhythm to bass vamps that could have been
culled from Sly and the Family Stone. But in an apparent respect for
a traditional ban on mixed dancing, they were not joined by female
Arrayed around the main stage, salespeople in clothing stalls hawked
organic diapers, "redemption clothes," parenting guides, and baggy
skull caps knitted to look like the headgear associated with Rastafarians.
"It's funny when you walk into a settlement in [the West Bank] and
you hear Bob Marley," says Judelman. "It's music that expresses a
search for freedom, holiness, righteousness, and redemption. Isn't
that what Israel is all about?"