What is the most important thing in a man’s life? Indians would answer: “both this and that, and neither this nor that,” meaning nearly everything, or almost nothing is that important. As my English aunt, who passed away a few years ago, would say: it’s all the things we do not need but can’t do without.
The world existed before us and will exist after us. To be crazy about nature is an individual thing. It is not important for everyone. One can live on an island built of cement, lit by neon lights, with fast motorways, air strips, shopping malls, aggressive billboards, and all our information stored on the chip of a computer or cell phone. And one can live in a house with high ceilings (to keep cool during Mediterranean summers), with insulated walls against the heat and the cold, with large windows (to let in that wonderful light which shines most of the year), and remember that every window in a house is the frame of a view which we gaze at, and which our children gaze at. So it’s important that the view we see (and the house opposite) is worth looking at.
Of course, these are unimportant things. One can do without them. Most of us live in apartment blocks, use electricity, air conditioners, computers and remain immersed in this inner world. The environment is of no importance in terms of man’s survival. These are things we do not need but can’t do without. Can’t? Are we to believe an old lady who is dead, who was born at the beginning of the 20th century and who was a romantic idealist? The sister of my father, who never had a driver’s license and would go round excavating antiquities in order to learn about the agriculture of 2,000 years ago and how nature looked like then, who would read books and say that there is nothing one should not know?
The ancient terraces and springs of the Jerusalem hills are the scenes of my childhood. Grandiose plans aim to transform the entire area between Sataf and Bet Shemesh into an ugly housing estate. The demographic fear of having an Arab majority in Jerusalem is going to transform the little springs, ancient terraces and hillsides into cold, alienating houses built by contractors whose tenders were fixed by fast-footed politicians. The environment is of no importance. What’s a spring when the future of the Jewish people and its sovereignty are in the balance? To dip naked on a warm summer’s day in the waters of a spring; to lie between the conifers and hide with someone in the undergrowth, knowing that this is the way it’s always been – is absolutely of no importance. It’s far more comfortable to lie in a bed.
Why is it so important for me to restore the beach in Yaffo? For whom? For nature? For the world? The world doesn’t care. The seashore is something that has spiritual value in the Spinozic sense, for the world consists of the soul and God and we too have a bit of that soul. Healing the world is thus a form of self-healing. This of course is pure nonsense. Why should I care if the residents of Yaffo, Jews and Arabs, can take pride in the Mediterranean’s most ancient city? In its wonderful harbor which still survives despite the constant efforts to destroy it? With God’s help, we may succeed in persuading the national council for planning and construction that a piece of seashore open to everyone at the southern side of the harbor, the area which the Israel Lands Authority aspires to sell to entrepreneurs, is worth more? We don’t stand a chance. And more importantly – we don’t have the money. Civil servants don’t know how to measure things that have no importance but that we can’t do without.
So in what do I believe? In nothing. I doubt it. But I do have respect for the ancient world, for the natural history of the world of which we are a part, and I hope that one day, when I go back to one of the places I love so much in Israel, I will be able to look at a rock and say that I once hid there with someone and my daughter will look at the expression on my face and smile. I do not want anyone to move that rock and build on its site a shopping mall, a new road or high-tension electricity line. Because the environment, like love, and souvenirs, has no meaning in the material-financial world and can’t be measured in value, I, like the farcical figures of Cervantes, run around to protect all these things, that have no importance but that we can’t do without.