Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cast Lead

Palestinians surveying the wreckage

It's been a while since I posted a blog, part of the reason being a very welcome family visit. During this time, the bits of news that filtered through the family fun focussed on the growing debate over the necessity of a military operation against Hamas in Gaza. This reached a new peak on Wednesday about 80 rockets were fired into Israel . By Friday, the media were reporting that the decision had been taken to undertake a limited military operation with "defined goals". Yesterday at about 11 a.m. we started to hear 100 planes bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in a "shock and awe" opeation that came earlier than everyone expected.

You can get an idea of what Gaza looks like here. This morning there was a second air strike and the the death toll in Gaza is approaching the 300 mark. Unclear how many were civilians and how many were armed. The reports that I've heard talk of overflowing hospitals, a complete breakdown of services, panic and shock. Some people are fleeing areas near security installations.

On our side a women was killed in Netivot in a steady rain of rocket fire, about 40 falling so far today, but reaching further than before, two in Ashdod, a mere hour's drive from the rooftop. The government has authorised the mobilization of 6,500 reservists and and with mechanized vehicles moving towards Gaza there are signs that a ground offensive will also be launched.

Kids in Sderot. Some are being evacuated. They won't be going back to school on Wednesday, after the Chanuka break.

Here's a round up of international responses. Meanwhile, in the Arab world, the press in the PA, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are openly telling Hamas "we told you so..." but elsewhere there are plenty of demonstrations. In Israel too, a few thousand Arabs have been demonstrating againt the attack and Ghaled Majadle, the Arab minister for sport and culture refused to attend today's cabinet meeting.

As I happened to write in the last post, there are no easy answers when it comes to Gaza. The incessant rocket attacks are criminal enough to warrant a military response but of what kind , and to what end? This morning's Ha'aretz (doveish, highbrow) has already taken a very critical attitude towards the war and is rightly asking some probing questions.

Here's an extract from its editorial:

"But understanding is no substitute for wisdom, and the inherent desire for retribution does not necessarily have to blind us to the view from the day after. The expression "time for combat" still does not elucidate the goals of the assault. Does Israel seek to "just" send Hamas a violent, horrifying message? Is the intention to destroy the organization's military and civilian infrastructure? Perhaps the goal is far-reaching to the point of removing Hamas from power in Gaza and transferring rule to the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas? How does Israel intend to realize these goals? The aerial assault on its own, as one may recall from the Lebanon War, cannot suffice. Does the IDF plan on deploying thousands of soldiers in the streets of Gaza? And what will the number of casualties be at this stage? "

Is it possible, in view of the surprising news that the PA is fully ready to retake control of the Gaza Strip, that this is the real aim of the Operation 'Cast Lead'? All the government spokesmen are saying is that idea is to "change the security conditions", but it's far from clear what that actually means.
Zvi Barel in Ha'aretz, thought that it wasn't but couldn't see the point of fighting for what might have been achieved (he believes) through diplomacy:

"Essentially, Israel is telling Hamas it is willing to recognize its control of Gaza on the condition that it assumes responsibility for the security of the territory, like Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon. It is likely that this will be the outcome of a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip if Israel decides it does not want to rule Gaza directly. Why, then, not forgo the war and agree to these conditions now?

Gideon Levy was extremely clear on whether the response was proportional:

"Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.

What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country. History's bitter irony: A government that went to a futile war two months after its establishment - today nearly everyone acknowledges as much - embarks on another doomed war two months before the end of its term."
In a short time, after the parade of corpses and wounded ends, we will arrive at a fresh cease-fire, as occurred after Lebanon, exactly like the one that could have been forged without this superfluous war.

Here's the entire piece.
to be continued and continued and continued...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shipless in Yafo

On my Sunday morning bike through Yaffo this morning I heard (on the radio/phone) that the government had decided to block a ship carrying humanitarian supplies for Gaza from sailing from Yaffo port. The ship was sponsored by the Israeli Arab community (the Islamic Movement according to Ha'aretz) and nearly all Arab members of Knesset were supposed to have been on board. Since I was nearby, I decided to take a look. It wasn't hard to pick out the knot of cameramen around the grounded MKs.

On the sidelines, I heard one worried man saying that the police had confiscated his ship last night. The man in the middle with the grey beard (click pic to enlarge) and the scarf is Sheikh Riyad Saleh, formerly the mayor of Um el Fahem and today the leader of the main wing of Islamic Movement in Israel. To his right, in a sweater, is Knesset member Mohamad Barakeh, who leads the secular/communist mainly Arab Hadash party. Since the ship had been whisked away by the authorities, this was obviously a media opportunity designed to show that there was unity in the ranks of the Arab community when it came to caring about the residents of Gaza. They eventually announced that they would not be deterred and would try to get a truckload of supplies in by land.Two young girl solders from Galei Tzhal (The IDF's radio - much less militaristic than it sounds)
added an incongruous touch alongside the keffiyeh wearers. I heard one woman tell them, politely, that since she didn't recognise the IDF, she would not be interviewed by it. The girls didn't seem to be too bothered and other interviewees seemed less hesitant.

Someone started handing out hats with a slogan, the cameras rushed forward and I moved on.

Over the weekend over 20 missiles have fallen on towns and villages in the western Negev. In effect, the tahadiyeh or lull that we 've been enjoying for the past few months has effectively ended. At the same time, the world has increasingly condemned Israel's seige of Gaza as a case of collective punishment prohibited under international humanitarian law. What to do about Gaza is therefore a burning question that everyone in the political arena - Jewish and Arab parties alike - uses for his own political purposes.

The options range from military operations to accepting the Hamas' offer of a long term hudna (cease-fire). Each option has the potential to turn out horribly badly. As a result the Israeli government seems to be more intent on managing the situation than resolving it.

The militant Palestinian groups in Gaza fire rockets, not only at innocent civilians in Israel but also at the very crossing points that bring them aid, and at the power station that supplies them with electricity. Consequently, Israeli public opinion favours tough responses: if not a military invasion that would bog Israel down in a bloody conflict for months, then at least some punishment that will make them see the error of their ways. In practice the result has been counter-productive. The Hamas government has been effective in persuading Gaza's residents that heroic resilience is the only alternative in the face of the seige and the occasional IDF strikes against rocket launchers. To help matters. the Egyptians allow supplies to flow into Gaza through hundreds of tunnels that allow Gazans to ward off starvation and conduct some sort of basic black economy. Meanwhile, in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority, busy mopping up pockets of potential Hamas opposition in the West Bank, wants to bring Hamas to its knees no less than Israel but has to tread a fine line between condemnation of the seige, and ensuring that its arch-enemy Hamas is not handed a victory.

Little wonder then that no-one knows what to do.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An evening with Rufus

Saw Rufus Wainright at the Mann Auditorium (heychal hatarbut) which is the home of the Israel Philharmonic. Rufus, who gave us a terrific show - his songs an amalgum of campy pop, classical, Broadway and folk - seemed (strangely) a bit overawed by the respectable surroundings. Hasn't he ever played in a concert hall before?

Anyway, he did a lot of rapping with the audience, and seemed to be having a good time in Tel Aviv. He was open and friendly and the crowd, which included a large contingent from the local gay community, lapped him up. He also brought out his mum, Kate McGarrigle - the Kate half of Kate and Anna McGarrigle - who has a great voice and seemed like a feisty lady.

I used to be a fan of Rufus' dad, Loudon Wainwright III, who by the looks of his website is still going strong. I remember, through the mists of time, seeing him in concert, circa 1969, at Manchester University where he sang his big hit 'Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road". I heard him say on a later recording that that song helped pay for a lot of child support (for Rufus?) Anyway the Wainwright-McGarrigle musical clan, with the possible exception of Loudon III, seems to prove that a family that plays together stays together.

Here's a clip with a few songs from Rufus Wairwright in Tel Aviv (you'll find more on You Tube)

At the risk of offending the audience, which he didn't, Rufus told a (true) Holocaust joke.
Walter Mathau was visiting Auschwitz and just as he was entering the gas chambers, an American lady recognised him, approached him and asked him for his autograph. Walter refused, telling her that he didn't think it was an appropriate moment. Once outside, the lady accosted him again and angrily told him : "I just want you to know that you've ruined my entire visit to Auschwitz!"

(Rufus' official site here ).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pensaks Passage

Couldn't have been there without writing a few words about Pensaks Passage at Herzl 16. Built in 1925, this was designed as a commercial building and served as a sort of proto-shopping mall, complete with shops, restaurants, cafes and workshops. From a central courtyard open to the elements, you climb up to another three floors all facing down to the courtyard. Today the ground floor is deserted and some of the top floors have been sub-divided into flats. The day we we visited a group of arts students were holding an exhibition on the ground floor.

Goods were lifted to the upper floors by means of a lift (ok, elevator), the first of its kind in Tel Aviv.

Still standing but now unuseable, this went by the name of ma'aliya. The original sign can be seen in the entrance to the building.

A pretty corner created by tenant on one of the upper floors hints at the potential for change. Haven't heard about a scheme to salvage and conserve this wonderful old building. I hope that someone picks up the gauntlet.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hard times

These are hard times all over and Tel Aviv is no exception. One friend told me about a friend of his who has just been dismissed from a high-tech company . The whole exercise was carried out like a military operation. The unlucky emplyees recieved a dismissal letter and were expected to vacate the building within minutes. When they staggered downstairs they found two ambulances and a line of taxis waiting to take them home. I heard another story about 5 guys who are about to be sacked by the kibbutz factory but meanwhile have been invited to a holiday at a Turkish resort at the same factory's expense!!

Despite the economic downturn and at least in the near vincinity of the rooftop (yesterday an example of inner urban blight today a sexy real estate location) the clatter of building is still audible over the traffic. The whole area is being revitalised by a combination of conservation of old buildings hand in hand with new construction, especially of tower buildings.

Here's the back of an old building a few houses up the road that dates back to the early years of the century and the very beginnings of Tel Aviv (Ahuzat Bayit) . The bulldozer is probably digging an underground parking space for the new building that will rise behind the old one.

This space on the corner of Herzl and Lillienblum streets is slated to hold a 30 storey hotel - 'Dan in the City'. Only the facades of the old buildings on the perimeter of the site facing the road will be retained and restored.

Only the fronts of these houses will be saved. Some of them have some attractive features.

Until the hotel is built, graffiitti artists have been using the dilapidated space as their canvas. One of them had played on the words tov lamut be'ad artzenu ( "It is good to die for our country") reputed to have been uttered by the dying lips of Zionist leader Joseph Trumpeldor in the battle of Tel Hai. Instead of that uplifting patriotic motto the artisthas written tov lamut - artzenu be'ad or "It's good to die - our country is for."Not a slogan likely to go down well with the occupants of the new hotel but by then the place will be all prettied-up.

And while on the subject of dilapidated spots about to undergo great changes, here's a picture of an open piece of land called kiryat sefer . Some of the local residents are battling to turn it into a park. Since an earlier promise to do just that has never materialised, the municipality obviously has other plans. I read that the locals had done some planting and we went over to check it out. But instead of fresh green shoots we found only this disconsolate woman in front of a deserted building carrying the sign "This is the Kiryat Sefer democratic ecological park." In case you were wondering, Ron Huldai was re-elected mayor of Tel Aviv (by 52-34% if I remember correctly). Dov Khenin's supporters put up a great fight and have as many seats in the local council as Huldai's Tel Aviv 1 party. Now let's see if they can use their political power to turn the asphalt green in the democratic -ecological park in Kiryat Sefer.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Herzl won

This is a photo of (part of) the outside of a bar situated at 1 Herzl St, a few minutes walk from the rooftop. The first time I saw it I smiled at the irony of Theodor Herzl, hozeh ha-medina (the visionary of the state) as the name for pick-up bar. But after all, this is sardonic Tel Aviv where all sacred cows have long been slaughtered . And also after all, what does Herzl mean to young people nowadays. At best, he might ring a bell as a vague symbol of someone who promoted the idea of a Jewish state. Nobody however actually reads his works nowadays and even if they did, his ideas about a utopian European-type Jewish-international state would sound as though they belonged to another planet. I was therefore intrigued - and a bit shocked, to notice that on another part of the facade of the bar - which seems to have been copied from an encyclopedia entry on Herzl , the designers had chosen to include this text:

“We must expropriate gently the private property on the state assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population over the border by procuring employment or it in the transit countries by denying it employment in our country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly. Let the owners of the immoveable property believe that they are cheating us, selling us things for more than they are worth but we are not going to sell them anything back.”

Wickipedia adds:

In his diary he wrote that land in Palestine was to be gently expropriated from the Palestinian Arabs and they were to be worked across the order /"unbemerkt" (surreptitiously), e.g. by refusing them employment.[6]
Herzl's draft of a charter for a Jewish-Ottoman Land Company (JOLC) gave the
JOLC the right to obtain land in Palestine by giving its owners comparable land
elsewhere in the Ottoman empire. According to Walid Khalidi this indicates Herzl's "bland assumption of the transfer of the Palestinian to make way for the immigrant colonist."[7]

This was indeed the way that the early Zionists "redeemed" the land in the early years of the 20th century, gradually buying up lands and dispossessing the tenant farmers ("another dunam and another goat" as the saying went). I'm not aware of alternative employment being offered but I could be wrong. As for spiriting people over the border - that only came much later in the 1948 War of Independence. In any event when it came to workers, the system of preferring Jews over Arabs didn't seem to have worked too smoothly. I'm reading a book by Nobel prize winner Shai Agnon ('tmol shilshom) which vividly describes the travails of the young idealistic pioneers of the Second Aliyah who were unable to find work because the immigrants from the First Aliya who had already established themselves in the first moshavot (villages) preferred to hire Arab labourers since they were both cheaper and more experienced.
Back to Herzl One. Whether this text was chosen randomly (graphic designers tend to see words as no more than shapes) or because someone was trying to make a political statement I have no idea. It's also quite possible that (since it is written in English to make it seem "cool") I'm the only person who has noticed.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Local polls

Municipal elections tomorrow. In Jerusalem (which already has an ultra-orthodox mayor) haredi candidate Meir Porush has been driven to visiting pubs in a last ditch effort to pick up votes against secular hi-tech tycoon rival Nir Barkat. The ladies on TV from once staunchly secular Ramat Eshkol had no doubt for whom they were going to vote (even if they couldn't remember his name for the moment). Anyone but the ultra-orthodox who are changing theface of their neighbourhood. One of them woke up to find a placard outside her door advising her to dress modestly so as not to offend the eyes of her religious neighbours.

If the battle for the management of poor, bedraggled Jerusalem is being waged , at least symbolically, over the souls of its residents in the religious sense of the term, a different battle is being waged over the Godless souls of Tel Aviv. Here too, two conflicting world views seem to be clashing. On the left, the communist, non-Zionist hard working Knesset member Dov Hanin who, with strong green credentials, is heading a loose coalition of non-partisan community activists. Their platform - to give the city back to the people by ridding it of the domination of the automobile and the political machinations of city hall. On the right, the incumbent two-term mayor Ron Huldai (backed by Labour and Kadima), a gruff and hard-nosed former air force officer, who has spruced up Tel Aviv and turned it into a magnet for the rich. Thanks to a word of mouth and internet buzz and his adoption by celebs, the emaciated and non-charismatic Hanin has come out of nowhere to place an easy victory by the formidable Huldai in doubt. On the opinion pages of the local and national papers there are some who are even comparing Hanin to Obama (hah!) and saying that if this strait-laced green /red nerd defeats Huldai it would be a victory for the sort of change the whole country needs.

The incumbent

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Crying with Obama in Cairo

Was lucky enough to spend a few days in Cairo , for a seminar. My third brief visit. I was told that this tower was built by Nasser and funded by an American bribe in return for not building the Aswan Dam, which of course he eventually built anyway. Other than to look attractive (it also lights up at night) it serves no apparent purpose. Early Wednesday morning, this was the view from my hotel window. But most of my attention was on CNN and I found tears running down my cheeks during Obama's victory speech. The Egyptians, like nearly everyone else, were heartened by his victory

There are an estimated 20 million people living in Cairo - a quarter of Egypt's population. 100,000 of them live in the cemetary. Noisy, congested and dangerously polluted, Cairo still has the buzz of a great city. Forget about pedestrian crossings. To cross the road, you have to wade into six lanes of honking old cars and hope for the best.

Food is brought in by employing a variety of integrated transport systems.

Found this beautiful old Pontiac (alongside a Morris Minor and a 1950s Jaguar all well preserved) not far from the hotel.

The Manial Palace (now a museum ) is said to have been built for Prince Mohammad Ali between 1899 and 1929. The palace was given to the Egyptian nation in 1955. Prince Muhammad Ali was the first cousin of King Faruq and the younger brother of Khedive Abbas II Hilmi. So now you know.

Casual conversations in Cairo revealed, worryingly, that Mubarak's regime is disintegrating and no-one knows what's going to happen when he exits the arena. But no-one seemed overly perturbed. The Egyptian people have been around for a long time and stoically and cheerfully survive everything their chaotic country throws at them. As long as the the Nile flows undisturbed through Cairo's heart they will somehow survive this hiccup in their history too.

On my last night in Cairo I went to jazz concert supported by various European embassies. These Nubian frame drummers from Aswan played with a great Cuban band.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The well maker

Took a trip last weekend with friends to the village of Metula which is slap bang on the Lebanese border a few kilometers north of Kiryat Shemoneh. We were hosted by Galia Goldberg at Hamavri , an archaic name (literally translates into “the well maker”) but somehow appropriate for an old-fashioned , friendly family hotel . The vivacious Galia is the widow of the late Yossi Goldberg who was Metula’s mayor and, for a few years, a Member of Knesset. Their son, Eyal, who joined us, made a sensitive and compassionate documentary film about his lively family and how they contended with his emergence from the closet. There are some unforgettable scenes of his domineering, eccentric yet loving grandmother and her bitter sweet-relationship with his grandfather. Both of them have died meanwhile, as has his father Yossi.

Metula – founded in 1896- is about as close as you get to an authentic Jewish village (as opposed to kibbutz or moshav) in Israel: old stone houses, home-made jam, wood fires, thick soups, a tractor in the yard , the fruit ripening in the orchard, the local election campaign posters on the main street. At the same time, the twist and turns of history, and of the economy, have brought about some changes.

First, its clear that Metula makes as much money from tourism as it does from agriculture. The main street is packed with hotels (some extremely ugly) and restaurants (some of them good). Another striking feature are the Thai workers, wearing broad hats and scarves, we saw zipping around on tractors or resting outside prefabricated dormitories. Globalization and higher living standards in Israel means it is them and not the local lads of Metula who are doing the hard agricultural labour in the orchards and fields. And not just in Metula - throughout Israel.

After Israel finally withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000 some of the Christian residents of southern Lebanon who, with Israel’s agreement, had been regularly crossing through the 'Good Fence' to work in the Galilee, managed to escape into Israel and receive asylum. They were associated with the Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army which collapsed with Israel's departure and was immeidtaely replaced by Hizbullah. There are still several Lebanese families working in hotels in Metula - which is probably why the food tasted so good there.

There is however an unwritten agreement with the Lebanese neighbours who open the sluices and let the rainwater flow over the border into the nearby nahal Ayoun nature reserve where it flows down a series of waterfalls, the biggest being the tanur (oven). Since the neighbours have yet to turn on the tap the waterfall above is dry.

Not mentioned in the Wikipedia description, Metula also bears a scar. Its fields used to stretch north of the present border into the fertile Marjayoun valley. However the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement that carved out Lebanon and Syria, left Metula's fields on the Lebanese side. The local farmers were eventually compensated with inferior land in the Hula Valley but some never got over the blow. One bricked over his window so as not to have to look at the lands he lost.

The trees are losing their leaves in Metula (and in Tel Aviv).

And the first winter flowers can be seen. It was good to get out of the big city.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Yom Kippur 2008

Yehuda Halevy Street erev Yom Kippur

After losing someone close, it's hard to know when and how to return to 'normal'. Is it right, after only a week of mourning, when the loss is still keenly felt, to return to pleasures like listening to music, or exercise, or writing a blog? In the orthodox Jewish tradition the mourning period continues for an entire year. In secular western culture you are expected to return to work the day after the funeral. In any event, the 'normality' one returns can never be the same as that which existed before the loss. In my case, I know that the person I lost, would have wanted me and everyone who loved her, to continue living their lives to the fullest, as she always tried to live hers.

And so, on Yom Kippur, I took to the streets to re-experience the surreal pleasure of a city without cars. Although other cities in the world hold an annual carless day, there is no city in the world that can match Tel Aviv (and other Israeli cities) on Yom Kippur for its total absence of motorized vehicles. The context of this unique phenomenon is of course religious and not environmental but for "seculars" who do not fast on Yom Kippur, the result is what counts. And if we are unable, or unwilling, to spend the day fasting, praying and in general begging the Almighty to inscribe us in the Book of Life, then we can at least contemplate for one blessed day a year, our own city. Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur is revealed anew, unclogged, unpolluted by poisonous fumes, revving engines and blaring sound systems. The streets return to the people, and especially to the children.

Girls on bikes, the La Guardia underpass

The Kiryah and Azrielli towers as seen from an empty Kaplan Street

The Ayalon freeway facing south

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Intensive care

It's been a month since the last post and for good reason. Together with other family members and friends, I've been undergoing the traumatic experience of accompanying a dear and close relation through a life-threatening disease. The imminent threat to someone dear to you has the effect of reshuffling priorities dramatically. But now that she has hopefully embarked on a long road to recovery, I can start returning to other more trivial pursuits - like this blog.

A spin-off of the experience was the opportunity to observe life in the wards and intensive care units of two hospitals. Apart from admiring the overall sense of professionalism, compassion, dedication and plain hard work of the medical staff, I was also struck by their ethic composition. The wards and intensive care units were staffed by a bewildering mixture of veteran Israelis (ultra-orthdox, orthodox, traditional and secular) Russian and other immigrants and Arabs. There aren't many work places in Israel where one sees these different ethnic and religious groups working together, let alone working cheerily together as a team. Nor are there numerous situations in which a Jew and and Arab would be sharing adjacent beds. But if Jews and Arabs rarely mix when they are in good health, sickness and accidents throw them together willy-nilly, imposing co-existence.

It's not utopian. There are more Arab and Ethiopian-Jewish orderlies than Russian or veteran ones; the nurses are mainly Russian or Arab and the doctors tend to be 'Israeli' but I did talk to at least one Arab doctor. And in rare case of an Arab -Israel attaining a senior medical position, Dr. Masad Barhoum, was recently appointed the new director of the Western Galilee Hospital-Nahariya, which makes him responsible for a catchment area of half a million people.

Populist politicians like Avigdor Lieberman or Bibi Netanyahu occasionally tell the media that the main threat facing the country is the internal "demographic" threat posed by Israel's Arabs. If, heaven forbid, an accident should befall them, while, say, electioneering in the western Galilee, it might be an instructive experience for them to be washed by an Arab orderly or to be operated on by a mixed Arab-Jewish team under the supervision of Dr. Barhoum.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Everyone's city

A few weeks ago, an artistic prankster made interesting use of some empty space on the massive billboard hiding the building site of the White Tower residential project on the corner of Allenby and Rothschild. The developers had printed the following sentence, ostensibly written by architect Richard Meier:

"Building this White Tower over the White City is a dream come true"

our prankster turned it into:

"Building this White Tower over the White City and ask people for 13,000$ a square metre is a dream come true."

Needless to say, the artistic addition (effective, despite the bad grammar) was speedily eradicated. There's a homeless guy who lives under the billboard now - a completely unintentional but even more effective condemnation of the system in which some pay in gold to live in luxury while others are destined for the gutter. Not that by-passers seemed to notice -neither the art work nor the homeless guy.

Nevertheless, the problem of affordable housing in Tel Aviv is now becoming acute. It's provision is one of the campaign promises made by the ir le-kulanu (a city for all of us) movement that is running for the November municipal elelctions. This week, its unofficial leader, Member of Knesset Dov Hanin who represents the Jewish-Arab/communist party Hadash formerly declared that he would be leading the list. Hanin (or Kehnin) is widely considered to be an excellent, hard-working and effective MK, a fearless warrior for the environment and an all round good guy. The fact that he's a communist (and represents a party that is mainly Arab) is going to turn off most voters but ir lekulanu is less of a party in the normal sense and more of an agglomeration of all sorts of social and environmental ngos. I hear that there's no leadership structure in the normal sense and Hanin had to be severely pressed to declare his candidacy.

Ir le kulanu is not going to win the elections but their plans for sensible public transporation systems, a greener agenda, affordable housing and above all, an understanding of what makes Tel Aviv , Tel Aviv (e.g. artists, students, high-tech entrepreneurs, ultra-orthodox families, old people and young secular families living in the same neighbourhoods and sharing local facilities) - is likely to win them a lot of support, especially from young people. Here's their site (Hebrew only, to be launched 31.8.08)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

MLC - the (first real) performance

MLC in action last night. click for full screen

Well we did it. Last night's performance by Mid Life Crisis at Bloom Bar was a major success and all band members are still high on our night of glory. The enthusiastic and supportive audience of about 60 (several of whom were not even family or friends of the band members) was in the 18-65 age range - definitely the market niche we're seeking.

Rockin it up at the Bloom Bar. There's nothing like pretending you're 21 and getting away with it for an hour.

Some of the audience was too young to recognise the cover versions we did (even covers of new songs a mere 10 years old!) but seemed to appreciate us nevertheless. We were on good form and even when we flubbed something (no more than 4-5 times throughout the 14 song set) we somehow sorted it out (herein lies the value of rehearsals) and got back on track.

They could almost be doing that little dance like 'The Shadows' used to do - but they're not.
Y who was sitting at the bar across from the stage told me that he liked us. "You were professional but modest," he said. "Whatday mean modest?" Iasked. "Well, there was no showoffy jumping around the stage like some bands," he said.
This was largely because there wasn't room to roll a stone on the miniscule, triangular stage. Danny Z kept feeling the thwack of my bass drum on the back of his legs. I was scrunched next to a pillar and my drum seat inched precariously closer to a gap on the stage when we ratched up the energy level up a little. None of us could hear each other or our individual selves properly either but as long as the audience seemed happy, we were on a roll.
The photos here were all taken by by the talented 'H'. At the end there are some of the audience. It was a momentous night and will doubtless spur MLC ever onwards and upwards.

Zev in a lyrical passage

Danny Z on full throttle

Danny B in an emotional vocal performance

yours truly

Before the gig there was a sound check which started with us all hauling the ancient, battered drumset down from the derelict second floor of the joint. The snare was kaput and I had to ask A to rush in mine from home. Bloom Bar is situated where Sheinkin, King George and Allenby intersect. This is a lively spot where the Carmel market morphs into the boutiques of Sheinkin and the gritty, low end, bazaar atmosphere of King George and there was a great view of all the human trafiic from the second floor. Pity I didn't have camera with me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Midsummer paralysis

So much for writing more blogs on my holiday. But you know how it is; the more time you have , the less you seem to to accomplish. Not that I've been entirely supine. There have been great family visits and a lot of beachgoing and even sailing! (thanks to H and his yacht).

The picture above in fact is of H's foot, casually steering our craft through the stomach-churning swell off Ashkelon marina. The photo below was taken at Alma beach, our favourite (and closest) spot along Tel Aviv's long beachfront. Here, Arab families from Yaffo share some communal space and the vocal comments of the lifeguards supervising the limited strip of sea designated for bathing (the sea is dangerous here). That's about where the co-habitation ends though. Each side sticks to itself and doesn't bother the other and everything's cool (although not warm). It's clear who looks out of place in this photo.

Unbearably muggy, noisy and sticky, midsummer in the middle of Tel Aviv is to be avoided if possible. Even the rooftop gets to be unsufferably hot, driving me downstairs to the a/c or further, to the beach where the breeze lightens the humid soup.

There's also been music. Tonight's the night of Mid Life Crisis' first real gig, another reason I need to rest up. Of course we love playing but it's also no secret that playing in a rock band at this stage in life is a doomed attempt to recreate lost youth. The photo below is of a young man I met outside a music shop in Rabat, Morocco. His face says it all.