Friday, November 26, 2010

israel at one week

The difference between Israel's three largest cities used to be described by a syllogism: Israelis prayed in Jerusalem to make enough money in Haifa that they could enjoy it in Tel Aviv. Now it might be replaced by a description of Jewish-Arab relations. In Haifa, it seems, Jews and Arabs actually notice each other and try to cooperate to the best of their ability. In Jerusalem, they live side by side but--when they're not fighting--try their best to pretend the other doesn't exist. In Tel Aviv, outside of Jaffa, the Arabs are hardly present at all.

Actually, the situation is somewhat more asymmetrical than that. While often indifferent to invididual Arabs, Israeli Jews make a determined effort to copy them in food, culture, and even architecture, although like white musicians playing black music they often have mixed success. By contrast, the Arabs seem less to dislike the Jews than to regard them as interlopers who will with enough luck eventually disappear, like the Star Trek episodes where Kirk and Spock go back to the spaceship and the others who are beamed down inevitably die. One goes through the effort to speak a few words of Arabic--kahwa, shukran, adeesh hadda?--but the merchants seem more tired than impressed, as if they have forgotten exactly which year it is and which particular breed of conquerors is now present.

Tel Aviv, of course, likes to think of itself as superior to Jerusalem, and in the hipper quarters goes out of its way to poke fun at Zionist nostrums. (One of my favorites, a play on Herzl's "If you will it, it is not a dream," depicts the old man saying, "If you don't want it, that's no problem, either.") The problem is that--like the Jewish socialists of old--they have simply replaced the older religions with a commitment to environmentalism, pacifism, and la dolce vita that is if anything more messianic than the traditional faiths. At the Tel Aviv port, a young man assures me that he is selling only the finest tapuzei washington--Washington-style oranges--made with entirely natural ingredients. Why, in a country synonymous with oranges, would anyone want to buy a variety named for an American president? And don't they grow apples, not oranges, in Washington State anyway? But the man's fervor [did I say kavanah?] impress me, and I walk off with one in each hand.

Whatever else you can say about Israelis, they haven't lost their penchant for informal dress--a hint of one's backside, particularly for middle-aged men, earns an extra bonus--or their habit of blunt informality. Does my electrical converter work, or do I need a new one, I ask the guy in the home supply shop on Sheinkin Street, the Greenwich Village of Israel. A new one, he says, because the one you have "lo oseh klum"--it doesn't do a damn thing. "Please get your backpack out of my way so I can do my job," implores the man at Assaf's Humus as I wait for my (useless) receipt. A city of people who eat like Parisians and dress and talk like kibbutzniks: maybe not such a bad combination, after all.

And who are not lacking in courage, either. Thursday's papers told the story of A, a woman who make a harassment or some said a rape claim against a high-ranking police official (he claimed it was a voluntary threesome). Later the same day she appeared at a women's event, gave her name (Dr. Orly Ains), age (46), and number of children (four), and said simply "I'm not ashamed, I didn't do anything wrong, and I'm not afraid." When's the last time you saw that happen on Law and Order? The accused continues to maintain his innocence.


At 8:02 AM, Anonymous nancy said...

clever ending -- like the metaphorical anecdote. brings the point home. I still believe that Israel is a just cause.


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