Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bye Bye Haim



Katzav (who?) 'out', former justice minister Haim Ramon 'in' (out actually) after a three judge magistrates court unanimously found him guilty of molesting 'heh' a 21 year old working in the PM's Office whom he French kissed , the court found, against her will. Like most people I thought that the court had given Ramon a raw deal until I heard heh's story on Channel 10. In a nutshell she explained, convincingly, that he forced himself on her. Despite her childish voice she was well spoken, straightforward and believable. Bye Bye Haim. Now who's next in line?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sweet customers



Another stressful day at the orifice. I need a pick me up and decide to get that haircut I've not found time for. This means a visit to A my barber( see above). In a neighbourhood that has become synonymous with cool, good taste, A's barber shop is a homage to kitsch, throwback to mizrahi Israel of the 1970s, only more expensive. The place is a hall of mirrors, stuffed with flashy furniture. Above the sink where he washes your hair there used to be a water feature resembling a European castle and meadows. Now there is a hideous brass rendition of one naked child showering another. A completely bald and a man of many head coverings, is completely oblivious to the yuppie taste that surrounds him on all sides and is constantly dreaming up new ways to attract customers: a huge parrot in a huge cage, a million studs on each chair...

A confirmed bachelor, A also loves his work, is a peacenik but can turn nasty if you just turn up without making an appointment first. And when something's on his mind, however small, he gets a bit obsessive about it.

Today, A. was complaining bitterly that the electrician he had brought in to fix the fluorescent lights under the new sign he had just installed, had done a lousy job.

"I did the last one myself and it lasted for ten years. I'm a professional and I expect anyone who comes to work for me to be a professional too. I can tell you one thing, he won't be getting any more work from me!" (thump on chest).

"Well, maybe," I suggested, "you shouldn't take on people off the street."

"He's not off the street." A objected, "He works at the electricity shop!"

snip snip

"Next time I'll get an electrical engineer."

"What?"

"An electrical engineer."

"You don't need an electrical engineer. You need a certified electrician."

"But with a certificate..."

My cell phone rang from my coat pocket. A, obviously experienced in these matters, deftly wheeled coat over to me and I talked while he cut, shifting the phone from ear to ear as his scissors circled.

In dashes Moti, friend of A, clad in motorcycle helmet with white scarf, flashes broad grin, extensively blesses everyone in the room and asks if we'd care to share glass with him. "Anything you like," he says, "whiskey, coffee..." A. finally agrees to a coffee.

I let A. do my eyebrows and ears as well.

"What a sweetie that guy is," grins A. shaking his bald pate. "How lucky I am to have such sweet customers!"

Friday, January 26, 2007

Bye bye Moshe, hello Shimon?


What a show it was . President Katzav ranting in the most unpresidential fashion, claiming total innocence, charging that he was the victim of a clandestine plot hatched between the media and the police to down he who was not of the elite. Then asking the Knesset to allow him a leave of absence because of 'contraints'. Well, whether or not he manages to clear his name (I doubt it) he's out. Which means that the acting President of the State of Israel is .....



Dalia Itzik who is also the Speaker of the Knesset and a former minister. An unremarkable politician blessed with a very big mouth, this former teacher thanks to Moshe Katzav's (alleged) misdeeds, occupies the very pinnacle of our establishment.

However , if (heaven forfend) anything untoward should happen to Dalia, the acting President will be ...
Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Ahmed Tibi, former advisor to Yasser Arafat, recently seen at a Fatah rally in Ramallah exhorting the masses to march on Jerusalem.




But never fear, the man who was born for the job - Shimon Peres - is waiting in the wings. There's just one problem - he always loses the vote. If he does get elected this time, who knows, the Presidency might even be re-invested, at least for a short while, with a minimum of dignity.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Neighbourhood foray 3 - Florentine

Thanks to H for this shot of a shack in Florentine. It's only a matter of time before the entire neighbourhood is cleaned up and becomes less colourful.


Bugsy’s, Florentine, Shabbat morning 10’ish. A dame in the corner is chain smoking and chatting with the ginger-haired waiter who looks as though he’s been waiting all night. Pushing breakfasts and coffee behind the bar is a guy with a full beard wearing a tartan trilby. We check out the joint. 50’s upholstered seats, a view of Washington Boulevard and on the wall a photo of gangland boss Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel http://www.gangland.net/bugsy.htm looking pretty beaten up and apparently in the act of being arrested. The Jewish anti-hero theme blends with the cappuccino and fringey morning-after vibe. Two butch chicks stroll in and perch beside the bar. My eye shifts to a papier maché sculpture of an S&M scene involving whips and black underwear. It’s cold outside and weird in.


Some guy with a strange white hat placed backwards is taking four dogs for a walk. Florentine is the seat of counter-culture, Tel Aviv's Village/Soho, a mess of small factories and workshops, anarchist squats, furniture designers, clubs and pubs and some of the most interesting graffiti in the city.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bye Bye Dan Halutz


Each sensation is quickly followed by anothe, leaving even media-hardy Israelis gasping for breath. Now that Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has resigned, who remembers that the prime minister is the subject of a criminal investigation? Still, with over 70% of the public saying they want Olmert to resign and 85% wishing that Peretz was gone, the political demise of this undynamic duo is just a matter of time. The question is how much time and whether the alternative (Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman?) is a more appetizing prospect.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Weakness and corruption



Watching the evening news in Israel is a depressing activity at the best of times. Tonight's edition was especially grim.Two examples.
  • Olmert, already a lame duck premier, is now officially under police investigation for his alleged influence on a tender to sell Bank Leumi that would benefit a millionaire chum (Channel 10 did not fail to mention that his predecessors Netanyahu, Barak and Sharon had also been investigated with the cases eventually closed for lack of evidence).
  • Ha'aretz's revelation that unofficial talks between Israelis and Syrians had led to a draft peace agreement were scorned by the PM's bureau.

You can see it all on http://www.haaretz.com

Olmert's legal entanglements (the Bank Leumi case is one of several) sit on top of an odious pile of criminal investigations. These have cut into entire swathes of the establishment : the President, the army and the political leadership (conduct of the Lebanon War), the finance minister, the former minister of justice, the top tier of the income tax authorities, the PM's secretary, senior businessmen and the football league (partial list only)

The (alleged) crimes differ: bribery, fraud, sexual misconduct, circular, illegal financial transactions, undue political influence, clashes of interest, nominations of political cronies and game-fixing, but the stench of corruption is both inescapable and demoralising.

Corruption rots everything around it. The police investigations, praiseworthy per se, create an atmosphere in which everyone is on their guard against possible corruption. With the possibility of legal action hanging above their heads, uncorrupt officials are scared to take decisions and administrations become paralysed.

And while the Syrians are certainly no angels, the decision not to engage them in peace talks (while attempting to remove them from the Iranian axis) comes so clearly at the behest of the USA that we feel , and are seen, as weak, dangling on a string. The institutions of statehood seem to have been hijacked by crime families, crooked politicians, unscrupulous businessmen, inept policemen, the IDF old boys club and the American President.

In the street, the growing feeling is that with no-institutions left to trust - all we have is ourselves.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Neighbourhood foray 2



This is the studio of street artist Rami Meiri whose works enliven many a concrete wall throughout the city with their ultra-realistic images, mainly of ordinary people doing ordinary things like hanging out the washing or lying on the beach. The one I like best is of two teenage boys peeking through the window of the ladies changing room on the outside wall of the ladies changing room on the metzitzim (peeping tom) beach. I haven't seen much of his new work recently though. Maybe he's gone out of style, now that our environment is slowly becoming more ordered and in a uniform sort of good taste. Typically, Rami's studio is situated in one of the last undeveloped stretches along Rehov Hayarkon, an area of overgrown back yards, semi-legal parking lots and rundown old houses.


Down on the beachfront next to what was once the Dolphinarium and is now a half deserted hulk of contested real estate, the cat man is tending to his wards by placing small amounts of dry cat food along the wall at regular intervals. There seem to be a lot of cats on this part of the promenade, the only section where rocks face the sea rather than a beach. The cat man is surely one reason why the cats like it here.

Incredibly, another species also still flourishes on the beachfront, the Israeli folk dancer. The 'hora' species, once thought to be extinct, still stubbornly congregates every Shabbat to strut their stuff with varying amounts of grace and talent. Some of the dancers do no more than the necessary minimum while others, notably the men (some with an unbalanced look in their eye) risk wild twists and twirls.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Neighbourhood foray 1



This is the kind of photogenic junk you sometimes see outside houses in trendy Neve Tsedek, the shchuna (neighbourhood) that lies at the foot of my Tel Aviv Rooftop and a magnet for musicians, artists , healers and romantics of all kinds. The creator of these colourful boards happened to be returning home as I was taking the photo. No he didn't want to think twice about throwing them out.

A few steps later I came across a fashion photo-shoot, also a regular sight in these romantic streets with their neo-European flavour. Neve Tsedek, which two decades ago was a notorious slum has been transformed into a quaint village in the middle of the big city and property prices have soared correspondingly.


Which is why unscrupulous property developers, working hand in hand with a cash hungry municipality and irresponsible planning bodies succeeded in building this:

Meet the Neve Tsedek Tower, the bane of the neighbourhood, a monstrous residential tower in which all apartments are designed to face the sea. The local residents opposed its construction to no avail and we are now stuck with this eyesore casting its greedy shadow over Neve Tsedek's modest red-tiled rooftops. You'll be hearing a lot more about this abomination in coming posts as the monster is completed and we follow its effects on the human and physical environment.

But to end on a lighter note let's pop down the road to Shuk Ha-Carmel (the Carmel outdoor market) early on a Friday morning as I tend to, and meet Eitan. Eitan sells olives, pickles, smoked fish and salads that his wife makes. I'm one of his hundreds of regular customers all of whom he knows by name and each of whom he greets like a long lost friend in a host of languages. He also used to play drums in a Greek music band and still has them at home. "Good morning Tel Aviv!" he calls out in English as I approach. Sometimes, after plying you with an unrequested complementary pickled gherkin (hard to digest at 7 a.m.) he confides that life is hard, the hours are long, the competition is wicked and the pickings are slim. But then he flashes that Eitan smile, cracks a joke and you feel obliged to at least take a bite from his cucumber.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Russian Roulette


Click for optical illusion


Today, I visited the Sapir College very near to Sderot, slap bang on the border with the Gaza Strip. The trip takes almost exactly an hour, less time than it would take to cross London or Paris. When you arrive you are in the range of the qassams that land in this area on a daily basis. "We're being targeted you know," said the Head of the Humanities Department , showing me a plaque on the floor that marked the spot of a direct hit a few years ago.


They're keen on peace projects at the Sapir college. The dean had just met with a group from Combatants for Peace see http://www.sfcg.org/sfcg/pdf/soldierafor.pdf made up of former Israeli soldiers and former Palestinian terrorists "with blood on their hands" who talk to small audiences about the futility of bloodshed and the need to reach an agreement.


The fact that the qassams are landing here on Israel's 'periphery' where the local residents are poorer and less influential, and not in the middle of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem means that the government can allow itself the luxury of maintaining the cease-fire in Gaza but for the people who actually live here, including the 4,00 students - Jews and Arabs - who study at the Sapir College, every day is game of Russian Roulette.


Monday, January 8, 2007

Lake, mountain, snow



It takes a too rare trip to the Galil to remind me that my Tel Aviv rooftop is not the only perch in the country. This was taken today at Agmon Hahula a reflooded section of the drained Hula marsh. Snowpeaked Mount Hermon (only 7% of which is controlled by Israel said our guide) is in the distance. We saw thousands of cranes gobbling peanuts especially grown for them in a nearby field but the birds on the lake are mallards.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Apocalypse at the garage




Moshe Shachal an experienced former minister, top class lawyer and wheeler and dealer in the Labour Party, said today that the Israel is in a crisis and is facing two strategic threats, the most dangerous since the Six Day War. The first is an internal collapse (lack of leadership/corruption) and the second is the external threat (Iran/ Hizbullah/ Hamas). He said that for the first time since 1967 the Arab world (on al Al Jazeera for example) is talking about the possibility of eliminating Israel.

I looked at the Al Jazeera website forum (albeit in English) on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian problem
http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/736515E4-37CE-4242-8A5F-854381D9DFEE.htm but failed to find the elimination of Israel proposed as a possible resolution. In any event Shachal might have been playing up the drama since he was also giving his backing to Ehud Barak’s bid to gain the leadership of the Labour Party (thereby replacing Amir Peretz (Olmert’s nemesis) as defence minister}. But still, it was pretty strong stuff.

Hard on the heels of this came the Sunday Times revelation that:

ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.
Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters”, according to several Israeli military sources. [..]

“As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished,” said one of the sources.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2535310,00.html

Oh really?

The foreign ministry denied the report http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/810130.html but the PM’s office refused to comment.

Are things really this bad or is everyone out to frighten us all to hell?

In any event these apocalyptic scenarios fail to mesh with the routine reality of a rainy day in south Tel Aviv, driving home from my garage man Miko (that’s him above), through the clogged narrow roads.

An annual car service and a nuclear conflagration. These two concepts keep buzzing around in my mind without fusing into anything coherent.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Countdown for the metro



On January 1 the MTS group of companies (including one from China!) led by Israeli businessman Lev Levayev won the tender for the first line on the Tel Aviv metro.

Ben Gurion asked Golda Meir to start planning a metro in 1952. In the 60's the plans for nearby Shalom Tower included space for a metro station (which won't be built there). So its been a long gestation period even by Israeli standards and for years we had the feeling that the chances of ever seeing a metro in Tel Aviv were about the same as the chance of shaking hands with the messiah. But now things are happening. Property owners are being asked to move and concerned groups whose homes and businesses are close to the planned line are beginning to sue for compensation.

If all goes according to plan (and when has it?) by 2012 my Tel Aviv rooftop will be shuddering slightly every time a train goes by about 100 metres away (underground). Since we have to do everything our own way in Israel, the underground will not exactly be "underground". Only 10 of the total 22 kms will be. Work is due to begin in 2007 which means at least 5 years of construction hell before things get better and we can begin to enjoy the benefits - less buses and cars clogging and polluting and faster travel times.

Here's a site with the route of the first red line and some background http://www.urbanrail.net/as/tlav/tel-aviv.htm

and here's the site of the planning body (English site still under construction)http://www.nta.org.il/site/he/homepage.asp

Thursday, January 4, 2007

A meeting in Sinai




A Bedouin girl braiding a cotton bracelet on the beach in Sinai.


Olmert is in Sharm el Sheikh meeting Mubarak today. As the Israeli media has been mentioning, the Egyptian President's foot has never stepped on Israeli soil and it is always the Israeli Prime Minister who makes the trip to Egypt. A group of rightist Members of Knesset protested this state of affairs in a letter to Olmert. It is annoying that the leader of a neighbouring country with which we have signed a peace agreement cannot bring himself to pay a visit. At the same time, the Egyptian Pres has to handle his own public opinion and paying visits to Israel while the Palestinians are still under occupation is not smart PR move from his viewpoint.
These meetings always take place in distant Sharm el Sheikh on the tip of the Sinai peninsula, far from the seething streets of Cairo where embarrasing protests might take place.

The nasty incident in Ramallah today when an Israeli arrest attempt ended with 3 Palestinian killed and 20 injured http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/809619.html also sullied the atmosphere in Sharm. So far it's unclear if anything practical has come out of this meeting.
But as soon as I heard the words Sharm el Sheikh I flashed back to the scores of wonderful holidays we spent along the south Sinai coast, before the Al Qaida attacks there made visits to our beloved Sinai too risky a prospect.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Commercialisation and corruption


This massive representation of Hedy Lamar, part of a huge "exhibition", heavily sponsored by the Orange cellular phone company, was recently shown on Rothschild Boulevard - the classiest street in Tel Aviv. The increasing appropriation of public space by powerful commercial interests with the cooperationof the municipality is becoming a hot topic.
A propos commercialisation and corruption, senior figures in the income tax authority, as well as the Prime Minister's secretary, have been arrested on corruption charges. Wherever you look in Israel today it seems, the demoralising rot of corruption is deeply ingrained. If you're interested in this story see http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/809021.html

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Pantomime bride


TA brides like to be pre-nuptially snapped either at the Suzanne Dellal Dance Centre in picturesque Neve Tsedek or on the beachfront. This one is a parody - a stock still pantomime artist who will go through the matrimonial motions for a coin.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Wintry Jaffa sunset


The last few days have been cold and rainy. This was taken at sunset facing Yaffo from the north near the Manta Ray fish restaurant. I take my morning "power walk" along this stretch of the Tel Aviv shoreline.