Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Coffee dehydrates, must drink water. Water's boring, I shift to Coke. Coke dehydrates, I feel tired, drink some coffee, cycle resumes.

Jewish mourning traditions are wonderful, they really are. I even like our coffinless funerals that involve no beautification of death. Jews are buried in shrouds, the shape of the corpses clearly visible. The dead is dumped into the grave rather than lain into it. Before the act, the rabbi reads a line of the Mishnah: "Know where you came from and where you are headed, and to whom you will need to explain your deeds. Where you came from: a smelly drop. Where you are headed: the place of gravel, insects and worms. To whom you will need to explain your deeds: to the king of the kings of kings." Merciless? indeed. Poetic? 100%.

I also like the "shiva", the seven days of community mourning, during which the family receives guests and the memory of the lost one is recreated in conversation. I like it - in theory. In practice, it's exhausting. We are at my uncle and aunt's place in a northern suburb of the city. There's a long wooden table in the back yard, an espresso machine and plenty of good cookies. On the third day of the shiva, I'm completely choked with cookies. We're all bound to gain a few pounds thanks to this tradition. Indeed, we risk being soon afflicted with atherosclerosis and getting dumped into the place of gravel, insects and worms.

Ours is not a very traditional shiva. We eat warm food. We sit on normal chairs rather than low stools. We bathe and shower through this week. We do not observe the ban on leather shoes or jewlery. The mirrors in the house are not covered (by far Judaism's spookiest custom), but my grandmother is sitting there in the shirt she wore at the funeral, with its collar that was torn by the rabbi. It's truly a heartbreaking sight. She will continue to wear this shirt throughout the weeklong observence. The shiva doesn't let her nor us forget for a moment how much her life just changed. This is its purpose, this is its curse.

A very different challenge of the shiva is the "bar-mitzvah effect". I happen to suffer from mild prosopagnosia - a neurological condition impending recognition of people by their faces. My bar mitzvah was an absolute nightmare. I knew nobody there. My grandfather's shiva is even harder. At least at 13 I was quite sure everyone was there for me. I was supposed to recognize them, so a friendly smile and feigned recognition were always in order. Here many people have no idea who I am, others are my direct uncles. I do my best not to mix them up, and fail.

But there's a lot of love going around here. My aunt warmly hugs her two ex husbands to the astonishemnt of all, old friends of my folks appear at the door, thrilling them with their presence. My grandfather left behind a rich life story, fit to fuel many a conversation. The way he died, calmly and painlessly after having a beer and watching the England-Germany match, gives a great little story with which to break the ice. His last phone call, ten minutes before his heart failed, involved a detailed critique of the English team's disastrous loss, so we even get to talk about the world cup. I just hope Wayne Roony knows to whom he needs to explain his deeds the day he kicks the Bucket. Shimon Yaar is waiting for him up there with a dish of fresh cookies and a few tough questions.

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Memoriam Saba Shimon

Last winter, when traveling with a friend to the outskirts of Berlin, we passed by the city's monumental Olympic stadium, built by the Nazis in the thirties. Suddenly I was stirred by a memory. "You know," I told her, "This is the place my grandfather wanted to visit more than anything else, and couldn't."

In 1936 Shimon Waldman was a champion long distance runner, competing all over the Middle East. He was accepted to the olympics, but then Hitler decreed that no Jews could participate and my grandfather was forced to stay at home. Throughout his life he kept a clipping from a Berliner Jewish newspaper. The headline reads: "Waldman Kommt nach Berlin!" Waldman is coming to Berlin, a celebrity, a power to contend with.

My friend took a photo of me running in front of the stadium, symbolically fulfilling that old aspiration. Unlike my grandfather, who passed away last night, I'm a slow enough runner to be caught by a cheap lens. The Athletic skill was not something I inherited, but I'd like to think that he did bequeath the athletic spirit to all of us.

Berlin's stadium was the only place my grandfather wanted to go to and failed. No other destination was unattainable, be it the finish line, a high rank (he was an officer in the British Army's Jewish Brigade and later the chief of Israel's military police), faraway lands like Peru, the ripe age of 96 or a home he dreamed of. He dreamed of quite a few and moved again and again, so besides the determination I should also credit him for the travel-bug-gene.

After WWII, still in British uniform, my grandpa visited Rome and happened to be on St. Peter's square when Pope pius XII came out to greet the multitudes. My grandfather did not bow as the others. Religion meant less than nothing to him, but he remembered that Jews were not supposed to bow before a human being and that fit well with his stubborn, irreverent spirit.

The Pope approached the only man on the square left standing, noticed the symbol of the Jewish Brigade on his shoulder, and said to him in Hebrew: יברכך ה' וישמרך - may God bless you and protect you, the opening words of Judaism's most potent benediction.

A man who's gutsy enough to stay standing has little need for God's protection. A determined human being fulfills his own wishes. The night my grandfather met my grandmother he returned to barracks and told his fellow officers: "Tonight I met the woman I'll marry." Sure enough, the beautiful Malka Shtul was to be by his side for life. This life ended last night, but the determination remains in us, a very fine gift indeed.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


The first time I ever met a German, I slept with her, or rather - next to her. I had no choice. I was 18 years old and trapped on a chilly mountaintop on the island of Crete. With me was a Geordie chap my age named Alex, whom I met on the ferry over. We missed the last bus descending to the valley and ended up building a campfire not far from two blond girls who were putting up a tent.

Finally we amassed the courage, invited them to sit by our fire and in return received an invitation to sleep the night in their tent. The chill was intensifying as we entered, they saved our lives, no less. I lay by the chubby one, careful not to disrespect my hostess despite the narrow space. She giggled through the night in her sleep, as sweet a person as I've ever known.

Hitler came up the next morning, as we all descended into the gorge of Samaria. I think I brought him up. I've been bringing him up since when meeting Germans, an act that simultaneously breaks and forms the ice. Ultimately, young Germans and young Israelis are like-minded about history, although I did find a few of my German friends to be undereducated about it. I would use German terms such as "Einsatzgruppen" (SS death squads, responsible for systematic massacres) and notice a raised brow. My teachers taught it, theirs didn't.

Then again, you speak to young Israelis about the massacre of Kafar Qasem, inspired by the same Einsatzgruppen, and recieve a similar raised brow. We never like to look at our own faults, but we do like to look at the faults of others and in that Germany is an underprevilaged nation. While all of Europe is taking the case of the Palestinians and faces Israel with hard questions, the Germans are forced to go easy on us. No one likes to have "Look who's talking" thrown in their faces.

This isn't a new story, of course. I heard that journalists who get a job with "Bild", Europe's most succesful tabloid, published in Berlin, must sign a form stating they will never write anything critical of Israel. These days, as international media screams in joyful rage, Bild journalists must be tearing their hair out much of the time.

The Bild is unhelpful, but in general the German media's dillema is a good thing. Bereft of the mandate to be unreasonable, it must be mature in its treatment of Israel. Those who read my blog regularly know exactly how much I encourage criticism of Israel, but if it isn't fair it's not pragmatic. Germany is a country that can produce mature, helpful criticism at this time, and I hope it picks up the glove and does so.

Not only the press is influential. Last night I had an astounding theatrical experience. Frankfurt's Mousonturm theatre brought to Tel-Aviv it's production of "My First Sony", a theatrical interpertation of a Hebrew novel by Benny Barbash. The director, Stephane Bittoun, is German-Jewish. He staged a terrificaly subtle presentation of one Israeli family's decomposition, one that is so humorous and elegant one doesn't quite understand how come it moves us to tears. This is the greatness of German theatre since Brecht. It does not seek to emulate life, thus it is life.

All the family's misadventures are recorded by one of the children on a primitive tape recorder. The entire play is a record of things that have been, which is what our present is due to become. Bittoun's all German crew treat Israel's enormously complex present with a mix of courage and elegance. Everything is there, the settlements, the Einsatzgruppen, the emotionality of being Israeli.

Itka and I were standing outside the Kameri theatre, wiping tears from our eyes. "My First Sony" was a promise. There's a culture besides our own that shares our history and has the capacity to contribute to our future. It's endowed with the sensativity to see what's happening here and the responsibility to treat it tastefully, carefully, maturely. I wouldn't expect much from "Bild", but other Berliners can be true allies to all of us here, Israelis and Palestinians alike.

I take that promise seriously and am glad for it. Hence, I will be rooting for Germany on Sunday as it faces England at the world cup. Somewhere out there, my kind German host from that Cretan mountaintop will be cheering along.

(Image on top is of my dear friends in Berlin-Neukölln, twin city to Bat-Yam, Israel.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Caught in Candyland

Once again I'm taking a photo of myself in the mirror of some lonely hotel room.

This time outside the window is a particularly mundane suburb of a particularly mundane city: Zurich.

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago I published here a post entitled “Föhn” It was all about Switzerland and how much I like it. I started it by wondering how come I've been dreaming so much of Switzerland recently, and really I have. That post did not contain a word about Zurich. Nor did I dream of Zurich, ever.

Not that it's not a pretty town, in its prosaic way

It's just too goddamn clean

No one would argue this, whether or not this is the home of the Dadaist movement, Zurich is just too clean and settled in its ways. You can even walk out of it into perfectly serene nature in a short stroll. I am only in the city for 24 hours. It's just not right that I was able to take these photos a short stroll away from the hotel:

Zurich makes me miss Israel/Palestine for how boring it is. I need action. Why in the name of the almighty Alpine God Toblerone did my workplace choose to send me here? They just sent somebody else to Istanbul to write of the anti-Israeli sentiment there. Here I can't even sense any such sentiment. Everyone is extremely sweet. Why did they sand me to candyland, where even the terrine is crowned with redcurrants and a pretty peach?

The answer is simple and tragic: They sent me to review a Rod Stewart concert.

Rod Stewart, there's a Zuricher rock star for ya, as safe as a stroll up the Banhoffstrasse. I miss the war! I miss the occupation! I miss the rise of fascism! I make a vow. If nothing saucy happens to me on my single evening in town, I'll never travel again to any city that's not been demolished at least once.

The early evening doesn't carry much promise. Myself and another journalist arrive at the venue, a hockey stadium, to review it. Then word's out on 2 things.

1. The journalists are extended a rare backstage invitation. The Danish producer Lars seems to have taken to us.

2. Frida from Abba is in the building.

We both head directly back to the catering hall, and witness a birthday surprise, presented to a crew member.

We also meet a few legendary musicians who are in Stewart's band, among them David Palmer, formerly with The The, and guitar hero Paul Warren.

We have a delightful dinner featuring local delicacies that really stink up the room.

Having digested, we meet Stewart himself. I recently published a post in support of artists who join the BDS and cancel their Israeli shows. When I interviewed Warren over the fondue, he drew a comparison between appearing in Israel today and in South Africa during the eighties. He himself played Sun City with Tina Turner at the time and said he felt “uncomfortable”. He added that Turner herself later came to the conclusion that she's made a mistake.

I ask Stewart about his choice to hit town at this time. “I have a contract and I intend to respect it,” he said, “A deal's a deal.”

A deal's a deal and a show's a show. His concert is rockier than I had expected, an extremely happy event.

I leave with “I am sailing” on my lips, trying hard not to think of flotillas. Backstage, the artists are preparing to leave for Germany that same night. I have to discover nocturnal Zurich on my own, if it indeed exists.

Here's a guy with dreadlocks. He tells me to go to “El Lokal”, on Gasner Alee. I take the train down. Young people are sitting outside by picnic tables, drinking homemade brew. The atmosphere reminds me of the Minzar. Not bad, but I have a Minzar at home.

Then comes my streak of luck.

They are not Swiss, though that would make for a better story. The girl is German, a doctor of virology. The guys are both Canadian tattoo artists. I bum a cigarette off them at El Lokal. They are on their way out, things were being to mild there.

The doctor leads the way. She leads us west.

Soon we are walking down streets lined with gray buildings, shabbier than anything I'd seen in Switzerland before. Alternative types, my favorite crowd, spill out of the many nightspots.

The first bar we enter has an altar with botanica candles.

The second one is further west, on a street filled with buxom prostitutes, drunken laughter, the sweet smell of weed and that of cheap grilled meat. We have reached Beauerstrasse in west Zurich, the city's street of shame. It too is lined with some smashingly urban alternative bars. Here is the scene, and the scene is rough and real.

Not being a fan of prostitution, I never plan to wax poetic about a city's red light district, but in the case of Zurich, it's seeing the dark side that gives the bright side meaning. Perhaps no place is incomplete if you just take the time to dig an inch underneath its surface. Who knows what tattoo artist you'd find there.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

highway 13

Despite a terrible bad back that kept her in bed for nearly a week, Itka joined me in Dimona. I went down to write about the surprising cultural revival in that dusty desert town. She needed a cure. "I think my back pain is a result of too much city tension." she said. "I need to go over the mountains and relax."

I empathized. I too needed to escape the familiar reality, catch a bit of dry desert air, be in a land without people. Recent events have turned me into a misanthrope. How unbelievably sad. We decided to catch a lift off of Dimona's plateau down to the Dead Sea and indulge in its bromide-rich air. Bromide in small quantities acts as a relaxant.

I took on the load as we left Dimona

The first lift took us to the very middle of nowhere,

though in a way we were in a very famous spot, only several electrical fences away from Israel's secluded nuclear reactor, which generates no elecricity (any better photo than this one could get me into serious trouble).

The second car was driven by a guy who's been living in the desert for four years now. Most of the time he spent in a secluded inn called "The Ashram". "I went there one day to fill up on water and stayed for years." He said.

Itka liked that. "I need a hippy environment" she said. The Ashram was in the very south of the Negev, 80 kilometers north of Eilat. the driver explained its location. We were to travel another 100 kilomerets south of where he left us, then turn right from the main road to a tiny road, then left to another, tinier road, then we're there. Trying to hitchhike to a place like that seemed like lunacy, but the lady with the aching back has made her request. On we rolled.

Two hours later, in the heat of the afternoon, we reached the first of the two turns. Highway 13 leads from nowhere to nowhere. we waited there for an hour or so. nothing happened.

Bored with all the gravel, she put her scarf over her head and asked: "would you have picked me up?"

I said: "Yes, if I were Marcello Mastroianni."

Finally we gave up and headed north. The first guy to give us a lift was a hardcore settler from the environs of Hebron. He was dressed in an orange shirt, a remnant of his days in the rebel movement opposing the evacuation of settlers from Gaza. he told us he was jailed at the time.

He really was a very nice chap, a lettuce farmer. We avoided the political stuff for an hour or so, then tones rose over the imprisonment of Ashkenazi ultraorthodox parents who wouldn't send their daughters to study with Sepharadic girls. thankfully this is when we reached the intersection: west to the West Bank, East to the Dead Sea. No time to discuss Baruch Goldstein.

The next car was driven by a mixed couple, and Arab man and a Jewish woman. This was the first time in my life i've ever met such a couple. I'm 34.

The couple took us to the Dead Sea's patch of luxury hotels. I was worried for my girl's back and wanted to check about prices. Could I spoil her? However, the heat had drained me and I ended up slumping on a bench in the midst of this peculiar oasis, drinking an ice coffee. She's the one who ended up asking around for room prices. None fell below the 1000 Sheqel mark. Insanity.

At least we knew of a youth hostel 30 kilometers up the road. A lighting engineer of children's theatre took us there in his shiny new Masda (he freshly divorced, and the car was his "gift to himself").

The place turned out to be full of automatic weapons. Some army commanders' course took over it for the weekend. There was no room left for us. We relaxed a bit on the balcony, right next to the Israeli version of an AK 47 (forgive me for not being better versed in the names of our weapons), then went to dip in the vaseline-like water.

By the time we stepped out, dusk has fallen.

We desperately needed a place to stay. North of Ein Gedi and up the mountain is another hostel, called "Metzokei Dragot". Neither of us had ever visited it. We found the number and were told by Eddy, the warden, that he'll be glad to pick us up from the main road and bring us to the crest.

We waited for Eddy at the intersection. It just happens to be the same spot where the road going along the Dead Sea leaves Israel and enters the West Bank.

The road up to Metzokei Dragot, at the top of a nearly vertical cliff overlooking the Dead Sea, winds sharply for about six kilometers in the dark. At the top is a military base with a massive antena and a small, fenced holiday village. The rooms were not to our liking, small spartan and asbestos roofed, each with three tiny single beds. None of them was worth the money charged by Eddy.

We offered to pay him for his trouble and gas if he drove us back down. Eddy refused. We asked about tents, knowing the place offered a few. Eddy said he didn't want to go into the trouble of setting one up for us. "I did my job. I'm done," he said.

What to do now? I was willing to take the blow, pay what he asked and give my woman rest for her vertebrae, but she wouldn't hear of it. "We're outa here," she said, and headed for the gate.

So there we were in the middle of the desert, walking down a steep road by the light of the moon. The heat of the day gave way to a magnificent dry breeze, we were cracking jokes about Eddy and about life, having a wonderful time all in all, until Itka remembered the leopards.

"What if a leopard springs at us?" she asked.

"I think you need to be a rodent or a fox to worry about that. they're not huge leopards around here."

"What about Hyenas?"

"I think they're only found north of Jericho."

"Why do you just think all these things? why aren't you sure of them?"

"Darling, I wouldn't really worry about Hyenas so much as I would about your back. It's 22:00 and you've been zigzagging around this entire country the whole day. Aren't you crippled already?"

She wasn't. in fact, her back didn't ache at all anymore. The adventure cured her.

We had to draw several conclusions:

1. Adventure can cure backache, at least in certain people.

2. Meandering for an entire day, crossing hundreds of miles without reaching a single destination is the best way to travel.

3. There's no escaping Israel. Even as you go into the emptiest portions of it, the settler from Atniel will be there, as will the reactor, the checkpoint and the guns. A group of Eddy's guests who witnessed the scandal came by to give us a lift down the hill. They spoke of the fotilla and said all its passengers should have been shot on the onset.

4. Bromide really works. We didn't get mad when our benefactors suggested the mass killing of hundreds. We didn't get mad when they spoke racistly about Bedouins, desert souls who would never have kicked us into the night as their Israeli host did. They described all Bedouins as rapists and killers, then called us: "rapist huggers".

We kept our calm.

We didn't get mad after returning to the roadblock, seeing Arab families with yellow license plates turned back at the roadblock, not permitted to reach Ein Gedi.

We didn't get mad seeing Palestinians youths who came to camp on the shore harassed by the soldiers. For once we were too stoned by peculiar minerals and tired to care.

We got a lift directly back to Tel-Aviv with two French tourists, watching the lights grow more and more numerous around us with every turn.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pushing "Stop"

At last I can afford to buy tickets to shows of visiting music stars. This is because they are sure to be canceled and the money is sure to be refunded. The cultural embargo on Israel has begun, and boy is it shaking us up.

I enjoy these little dramas the same way as I do the current World Cup matches - from afar. I read that the Pixies are coming. I read that a ticket to the Pixies show will cost over 400 sheqels. I read that the Pixies canceled their show. I read that the public is in an uproar.

Last night I read that Denvedra Banhart also canceled his show, appearently because eager Zionists were making him out to be "the Israel lover" for choosing to come after all, and he wasn't too pleased with being politicized (This is implied in his apology to his Israeli audience. A recent tel-Aviv concert by British indie band "Placebo" is said to have been turned into a nationalist rally, complete with flags and chants). Israeli fans find it hard to internalize that choosing to perform here is just as political an act as choosing not to. We have a lot to learn and local media will teach us none of it.

You should have seen my Facebook page last night, it's even more full of freak-folk-freaks than of people appreciating the ingenuity of Elvis Costello. "Devendra Benhart, You broke my heart" one writes. I hastened to comment: "It's Ehud Barak who broke your heart, honey. Keep your eyes on the money."

Israeli fans of those foreign stars, many of them educated urbanites, have a huge power to promote change in this country. an embargo by, say, the Coca Cola company, which caters to all, may produce public unrest that could promote reactionary forces in Israel's politics (as if those need any more promotion) but the artist embargo touches on the lives of dormant liberals, those who could make a difference but are too busy DJing.

That The cancellations shake them up, that's evident, Will they eventually take their anger to the streets of Sheikh Jarrakh and cause something to actually change? It's worth a shot. My impression is that the Tel-Avivian hipsters can no longer pretend that everything is just fine, and that's an important thing.

It's now important to help them focus their anger on the government rather than on the artists. That shouldn't be too hard. They love these artists, these artists break their hearts. Folks, mend this country and your hearts will be mended. You've got to fight the occupation for your right to party.

If you live here and side with me on this, make sure you make your voices heard. Open up the eyes of upset music lovers to their call to action. Soon we may be dancing again.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Get Thee to a Nunnery

I've been very negative recently. I would like to write about something good, something indisputably good. I can only think of one such thing: The Minzar.

Is it the best bar in the world? Is it, rather, the most boring default destination for when nobody knows where to go? A true Tel-Avivian hears the words: "So let's just go to the Minzar" at least twice a week. Nevertheless, I opt for the first definition. The Minzar is the best bar in the world. The Minzar is the best place in this city. The Minzar is home. The Minzar is mother, ok, I'm getting carried away. No more Taybe on tap for me.

Let's tell this story as a story should be told, lets begin with once upon a time.

Once upon a time, in an ancient eon called the early 90s, when Sheinkin St. was still the hub of the dangerous, black clad bohemia, there were three bars worth mentioning in the city. The first was called the "Gloola" (pill) the second the "Midbar" (desert) and the third was the "Minzar" (Monastery or abbey).

I got to sip my first underage beer at the Gloola. My friend summoned the guts and asked some girl with black nail polish to buy us two pints. He called her "auntie", as that was the quaint slang of those bygone days "Hey auntie, buy us a couple?". I was surprised at how readily our newfound aunt assumed her criminal role.

We left the Gloola experiencing a dizziness previously unknown to either of us, pissed in an alleyway and started walking north joyfully. Soon enough we got beat up by two drunk English tourists, who thought they heard us swearing at them. We escaped them into a bar. That bar was the Minzar.

Actually no, that bar wasn't the Minzar. It was some other random place that - like the Gloola and Midbar - failed to survive the passing of the auntie years. I'm just desperately looking for an excuse to write about the sole survivor of those times, a seemingly charmless bar, perfectly undecorated, with bare tables spread around the alleyway about its entrence, with its one bathroom (of two) that only features a pissoir, all within choking distance of Allenby.

Call it Patriotism or Zionism, but I need to truly embrace at least one thing on our slender map. Love letters don't really call for excuses, I'll try to compose a quick one right now, and just get it off my chest.

Dear Minzar,

Is it because you are such casual place that I can practically visit you in my underwear? Is it because despite how casual you are, I once found myself sitting in your so called terrace, right next to a group that obviously just left an opera gala?

Is it because you serve Palestinian beer, making me feel that I'm fighting for a cause even as I'm getting myself silly drunk in the very napel of the bubble? Is it because besides this Palestinian beer you also serve that strong Belgian Maredsous that knocks everyone out for the evening?

Is it the wonderful artichoke and feta salad? Is it the veal sausages? is it the very fact that no one would expect a joint like yourself to produce anything better than a little bowl of peanuts, and yet you're one of my favorite restaurants in town? Is it Ari's spicy wings that nearly fried me alive from within just before the management made him subdue them? (I loved them just the way they were. ahhh!) Is it the pickles in the back room that can be subtly stolen when the beautiful blond waitress isn't looking?

Is it that beautiful blond waitress? Is it the equally beautiful not blond waitress who used to wear dreadlocks? Is it the other, even less blond waitress with the dark retro look? is it the other, fourth beautiful waitress? is it Ari and his lovely whiskers? Is it already five in the morning?

Is it the night Stellina cried on my shoulder tears that came directly from her broken heart? Is it that night that the Danish girl recognized me though we haven't seen each other for an entire decade? Is it the night Itka composed her beautiful crazy poem amidst all the noise and loud music in the main room?

Is it that our comfort zone is so small we can cross it in two leaps? (mind the stairs!)

Whatever it is, Minzar, I love you and all the monks and nuns who walk your narrow cloisters. I drink to you and to a city that only becomes itself after dark, and then grows more and more beautiful with every sip, every cig, every sound of laughter.

(all photos are from the Minzar's Facebook fan page)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Arabiyah Kushkushiyah

I spent the better part of yesterday interviewing members of the old Zionist militia "Haganah" for an article. I fell in love with them, these beautiful, silvery moustached men and ever-young ladies. I believe that they were the right people at the right time and that what their struggle was justified. Zionism was once a neccesity, a reality, a calling.

It no longer is so for me. How does Zionism die in the heart? Here's a review of three major turning points in my experience. In other words: here's how I became a self-hating traitor worthy of being thrown in the sea with all the Arabs, in three simple steps:

1. When I was eleven years old, the first Intifada was raging outside my Jerusalem window. At the time the news was only about one thing: wild, angry Palestinian boy throwing stones at soldiers, who responded with rubber bullets. I couldn't believe the viciousness of the boys. Didn't they know that tossed stones could kill? There was some talk about that in the press too, how deadly a weapon they were. We' on the other hand were humane, using virtual toys as ammunition.

Then one day I saw, in the newspaper, a cross section of a rubber bullet. It was only rubber on the surface, inside it was metal. Yes, Rubber bullets don't tend to be lethal, but they can seriously wound and are the sause of many a lost eye. Toys? not quite. Those were rubber-coated bullets. Using the term "rubber bullets" was a lie, one intended to make us feel better about ourselves. Eleven year olds don't like being lied to. Step 1 was completed.

2. When I was fourteen years old and living in Washington DC, we read an exceptionally interesting book in class. It was “Black Boy” by Richard Wright.

In his record of growing up black in the deep South, Wright recounts how he and his childhood friends would stand outside the store of the town's only Jew and sing:

Jew Jew
How do you Chew?

and also:

Jew Jew
Two for five
That's what keeps
Jews alive

Bloody Christ killers
Never trust a Jew
Bloody Christ killers
What won't a Jew do.

I was shocked that antisemitism filtered also to the ranks of southern blacks, who certainly knew the taste of prejudice. How could that be? I wondered, then suddenly remembered how me and my friends would stand by the fence of our kindergarten's yard and wait for Palestinian women to pass by, on their way to Shu'afat or Anata. Once a lady would pass, wearing an embroydered dress and balancing a full basket on her head, we would sing zestfully, loudly, over and over:

Arabiyah Kushkushaiya
Yesh la Tachat
Shel Gaviyah.

A bozo Arab woman
Has an ass
Like a wineglass.

When my parents caught ear of this they strongly repremended me, but the memory remained supressed for nearly a decade. Once it surfaced, I was changed. I may have accepted rubber bullets for a while, but I didn't shoot them. The case of Arabiyah Kushkushiyah was different. I grew up in an environment in which intolerance was tolerated. I had to wonder how that was possible.

3. Watching this morning a clip of MK Haneen Zoabi speaking at the Knesset made me sick to my stomach. The speaker of the house, Reuven Rivlin, is pretending to silence the restless auditorium, while in fact not letting Zoabi, who was aboard the Gaza flotilla, speak a word. At one point he tells her to shorten her speech to a minute and a half. By that point Zoabi spoke only two sentences. She protests and he tells her: "you've been speaking for five minutes."

In my mind, I add words he leaves unsaid: "You've been speaking for five minutes, Arabiyah Kushkushiyah".

"You spoke enough, shut up or I'll shoot a rubber bullet into one of your dirty Arab eyes. Choose which."

The Knesset this morning stripped Zoabi of certain privilages reserved to its members and the campaign to remove her as public servent is ablaze. Right wing parlamentarians have recently worked hard promoting various initiatives that would deprive non-Zionist citizens of their rights. Today Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai proposed to strip of citizenship "Anyone who acts disloyaly towards the State".

In the days of the Haganah, such move was certainly not unthinkable and indeed no Arabs were members of the Pre-state Zionist establishment. My interviwees of yesterday were at war with the country's Arab population. Hell, one of these sweet grandmothers admitted to burning a village, with dynamite, not rubber or rubber-coated bullets. Yes, but this was in 1946, before the State was founded. It's now 2010. Our national idology has for years not been what it wishes to be, what it pretends to be. We have a bullet, a song and a speech to learn from. Let's be attentive to all three and change our way of thinking.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I met my old lover on the street last night. She seemed so glad to see me, I just smiled. Later I dreamt of Madrid, the city in which we spent our only vacation.

In my dream I was south of Madrid, at an amusement park, with Itka. It was in fact Virginia's "King's Dominion" where my family used to go for fun when we lived in Washington D.C.

Ok, but in my dream it was south of Madrid, not D.C. and we only had that day to be in Madrid. Itka was in a sexy swimsuit and I was trying to get her to dress up so we make it to the subway train and hit town, otherwise we'd miss our last few Spanish hours. I did my best to excite her by describing Madrid's structure: East to west goes Gran Via.

South of it is the old center, north is Bohemian Malasaña. This arresting boulevard meets the corso Del Prado going north to south, with Uptownish Salamnaca and the beautiful park El Retiro to its east. So really Madrid is a cross.

It's the cross I bear, like anywhere in Europe, Europe that murdered my family, Europe that taught me culture, Europe that fed me fine chocolates, Europe that broke my heart time and again. I dream of europe like crazy. I dream of old loves, European old loves. I don't even miss them, I just dream.

I read of Swedish author Henning Menkel imprisoned in Beer Sheva's dour prison following his participation in the Gaza flotilla, and I nearly weep. My heart is Swedish, my eyes are Croatian, My feet are Italian. I'm not speaking poetically. My roots are in Europe. My grandparents spoke Polish, Hungarian, Russian and Romanian. I ventured into that continent as a teenager, seeking love. Found some love, still came back here. Why? Does being a Humus lover really make me a Middle Easterner?

Israel is the first colonial society that das no "mother country". There's nowhere for us to return to. When the state was founded this was even worse. Not even the U.S. accepted Holocaust refugees until 1949. We were all homeless souls doomed to the colonialist deed.

We still are. Following 43 years of brutal occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, all partially paid for by my tax money, I would readily leave the Middle East if anyone offered me a foreign citizenship, but no one does. The world really is hypocritical. You don't like us being here? Show us the way out.

Currently the way out is only in dreams. I paid 1500 Euros worth to social security and another 1600 to Tel-Aviv's municipality over the past two weeks. I don't even have enough money to vacation by the sea of Galilee, never mind breath the moist air of Brussels. Maybe it's better that way, My friend Alma writes from Weimar that she feels threatened for the first time since coming there as a student, at least in Trukish grocery stores.

Nevertheless, she loves Thuringia. Here's a photo she took there, posted in an album entiteld "I can't believe I live here".

I can't believe I live here, in a land where right wing thugs throw smoke grenades into peace demonstrations, as happened tonight, where the army spreads doctored videos to try and cover up its viciousness, as it admitted to have done tonight. My old lover whom I've met on the street is going to spend the summer in Europe, blissfully. I know that this bliss is never complete, wherever we go we carry Israel on our backs like a cheap un-orthopedic rucksack, yet there's a comfort to being away, in green pastures where we once belonged.