Friday, January 25, 2008

Off course in Gaza

graffiti Florentin

Israel's siege policy against the Hamas government in Gaza has swerved badly off course.
With the wall separating Gaza from Egypt (known in Israel as the Philadelphi Corridor) breached and Egyptian forces unable (meanwhile) to herd hundreds of thousands of Palestinians back into the Strip, it seems that a new era is unfolding.

Egypt, whether it likes it or not, may be increasingly forced to take responsibility for the million and a half Gazans on whom Israel badly wants to turn its back. It's unlikely that this is the result of some well conceived Israeli master plan. Much more plausible is that Hamas cleverly orchestrated both the telegenic electricity cuts and the breach of the wall at the height of the Israeli sanctions to score thereby global sympathy and the possibility of an open border with Egypt. Palestinian journalists have confirmed that at least one of the Hamas' tricks was to stage a candle-lit cabinet session (it was actually held during the day). The blowing up of the wall had been prepared months in advance - it was only a question of choosing the right time. Thus has Hamas scored a victory, proving that it cannot be ignored, winning the sympathy of the Arab masses, and pulling the rug from under Israel's Gaza policy all in one fell swoop.

graffiti in Florentin

With Hamas emerging strengthened after cleverly levering its weakness to the full, Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah will need more than ever to co-exist with Hamas. This will limit his room for manoeuvre in negotiations with Israel even further.

graffiti Carmel market

Some in Israel are almost jubilant that the pressure on Gaza has caused the fences around it to to buckle on the Egyptian side. But this poses a whole set of new problems and may place the already dormant "peace process" on ice for ages as the general Palestinian priority shifts back to more unity talks.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

East of Ha'aliyah

A Shabbat morning walk in mummy's shoes...

East of Rehov Ha'aliya, a mere stone's throw from the jeeps and boutiques of Neve Tsedek, the demographics change radically and you enter neighbourhoods populated almost entirely by foreign workers.

There are plenty of signs of poverty and the garbage collection here needs improving, but not everyone is as destitute as this old man filling his supermarket trolley from grabage cans. Small groups of people hung around the phone booths waiting their turn to make cheap calls home.

The foreign workers, who hail from China, Romania, Africa, Thailand and the Phillipines (partial list) have for years now been doing Israel's dirty work: in old age homes, in construction, in agriculture and restaurants. As in every developed country, these "guest workers" tend to stay and their children have become Hebrew speaking sabras' who have no memories of their parents countries of birth. Before the second intifada, many of these jobs were done by Palestinians. Today their numbers are now more strictly limited but still, desperate for work, many take the risk, break the law and steal into Israel to work illegally.

The Bialik (Israel's national poet)- Rogozin school caters for the kids of these neighbourhoods and the poster hanging on its wall (below) gives an idea of the ethnic mix.

If you thought that being on the wrong side of the tracks would deter Tel Aviv's real estate developers from trying to make a quick buck, you'd be dead wrong. On Y.L.Peretz street (named after the Yiddish writer) one company is building a block of flats that it is marketing as 'Soho' no less. Click on the pic below to see the advertising image, not Romanian folk dancing, Phillipine church choirs or African drummers but 1960s hippies playing guitars in the street!

On the way home we passed through nearby Florentin, also on the cusp of major development but meanwhile still the home of dilapidated workshops and great graffiti.

Today I took my car in to Miko the musachnik (car mechanic) in Florentin . He and his neighbour are the last in the alley to survive and now he's waiting for the order to leave the garage his father set up over 50 years ago. "I don't want to think about it," he told me. "They'll have to pay me some compensation but I don't know where I'll go."

Saturday, January 19, 2008


The other night we braved the cold and ventured out to Tel Aviv University to see a play called 'Bedouin' at the theatre school.

Shomroni, son of B& H, was among the young cast portraying the tortured lives of Israeli Negev Bedouin in an impressive multimedia production that left us with plenty of room for thought.. and shame.

The play was composed of a series of scenes and satirical songs based on documented cases. It all added up to a picture of official, sometimes brutal, discrimination against some 80,000 Bedouin all of whom are Israeli citizens and many of whom serve in the IDF. Here are a few facts about Israel' s Bedouin.

About 80,0000 of them live in 36 unrecognised villages and 9 villages that have recently received recognition. Most of these villages do not receive basic services such as water, electricity and health services. They did not start out by being 'unrecognised'. Most were established before 1948 while others were established after the authorities ejected the Bedouin from their tribal lands to the "siyag" areas in the triangle between Arad, Omer and Arad in the 1950s. It was the 1965 planning and construction law that ignored them, thereby making them "unrecogised".

Consequently, their residents are forbidden from building permanent structures and there is no municipality or planning board that is responsible for them. Since 2001, 338 Bedouin houses have been destroyed, 110 in the first 6 months of 2007. The only alternative offered is to move to one of the 7 Bedouin townships established in the 60s and 70s which are the poorest communities in Israel with the lowest levels of education and the highest levels of unemployment. The residents of the unrecognised villages refuse to desert their traditional way of life to live in these slums. The government claims that the Bedouin are trying to wrest control of state land but while the Bedouin make up 28% of the Negev's population, they sit on only 2.5% of its land.

The real point, I think, is that while Israel is prepared, even happy, to provide land for a small number of Jews in the Negev they are not prepared to make the same effort for a much smaller number of Bedouin. The Jews of the Negev have some 130 towns, kibbutzim, moshavim and community settlements and over the past few years some 60 large farms that have been given to private families (many of these now produce wine). The Jews are encouraged to farm the land and "turn the desert green" while the Bedouin's crops are sometimes sprayed with poison. To add to this grotesque picture of injustice, compare the situation of these "unrecogised villages" with the 100 or so "unauthorised outposts" scattered throughout the West Bank which the government is too scared to touch. Unlike the settlers, the Bedouin do not have a hefty lobby to look after their interests.

For some more background on the Negev Bedouin:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

2 late 4 2 states?

see titles of pics at the end

The Bush visit is now behind us and the local pundits are stressing that following the schmaltzy welcome, the sterile areas, the hugs and kisses and the grand and empty proclamations, it's time to get back to the gritty reality.

Israel's guru of journalism Nahum Barnea (Yedioth Aharonoth) wrote on Friday that two practical outcomes are likely to emerge from the visit. First, the Israeli leadership received an explicit or implicit message that the US administration would back an Israeli military operation in Gaza (the qassams that fell on the western Negev during the visit also made an impression on Dubbya). Second, out of the 100 or so unauthorised outposts that need to be evacuated, Olmert will evacuate one that appears at the top of the Americans' list - Migron, near Ramallah.

Neither of these actions are likely to help Mahmoud Abbas sufficiently to shake off his image of a weak leader, unable to evince enough concessions from the Israelis to improve the lot of his people. Indeed according to another leading Israeli expert Ehud Ya'ari, writing in a recent edition of the Jerusalem Report , on the Palestinian side , the appetite for a sovereign state is rapidly vanishing. "There's an increasing trend to search for alternatives to what many of them view as the "sovereign cage" of the small Palestinian state. While in Israel a large majority prefers the state over the land, with the Palestinians it's exactly the opposite: maintaining the integrity of the land and freedom of movement throughout are much more important than the statehood that they are being offered."

After decades of demanding sovereignty it might come as a surprise to a lot of people that the Palestinians prefer sharing the space between the Jordan and the Mediterranean with their hated occupiers for the last 40 years.

But I've often noticed how for Palestinians the overriding thing is to be able to move between Acco (in Israel) and Ramallah (in the West Bank) or between Nazareth and Bethlehem. The map of what they call Palestine and what we call Eretz Yisrael (without Green Lines or separation fences) is imprinted in their consciousness just as it is imprinted in the consciousness of so many Israelis. Since neither side seems to be capable of making the concessions necessary to create two separate states, perhaps we are indeed destined to share the same space as some sort of collective entity.

This sounds to me like a recipe for constant friction but, unless a miracle happens, we may have no choice.

Folk dancing on the sea front today
More folk dancers
The bridge between Tel Aviv port and Reading power station
Stealing crumbs at hof ha-tzuk, north Tel Aviv

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Yaffo foray

A trip to Yaffo never fails to produce some interesting images and today was no exception. This is the once famous Jerusalem Hotel in the American Colony, built by American Christians in the 1860s and later taken over by the German Templers. Temporary home to rich and famous visitors to the Holy Land before it fell into disuse, it is now undergoing restoration.

In the shuk ha-pishpishim (flea market) cars have been commandeered into display cases for old carpets.

Met H for a coffee and with his unerring eye, he caught this woman applying heavy make-up (for ages). We sat at a cafe that seems to be made out of corrugated iron in the part of the flea market where people simply lay out their wares on the ground.

A selection of ouds for sale.

An open air pool table in clear out area that will no doubt soon be built over.

Commercial towers on the seafront as seen from Eilat St on the way to Yaffo.

Not Mexico, but Rehov Eilat again.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Foray to Abu Kabir

Excited pelican at the Abu Kabir zoological gardens.

Many (many) years ago, late for an appointment, I was approaching Tel Aviv in a clapped out Fiat 126 when, as often happened, the engine overheated, steam poured out of the radiator and I had to make an emergency stop to find some water. I raced into the nearest, official looking building, burst through one unattended room into another and found myself facing a corpse on a slab! Only then did I realise that I was in the Abu Kabir pathological institute.

Abu Kabir, deep in South Tel Aviv, still retains the name of the pre-1948 village that was populated by Arab immigrants from an Egyptian village of the same name. According to a sign at the entrance to the zoological and "ecological" gardens we visited there today, when the area was captured by the Hagana in 1948, the 5,000 residents of Abu Kabir "fled". Today the area is also home to a notorious detention centre, a 19th century Russian church (for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem) an elitist nature school (bet sefer lateva) and an animal rescue centre.

Fox on the shelf

Around the corner from the little zoo, behind the Russian church, lies this intriguing Arab style building hidden behind tall walls and a big gate with the name of a defunct restaurant on the outside.

Two young guys in tallitot (ritual prayer shawls) in the adjacent neighbourhood of Kiryat Shalom.

On the way back home in Salame street there are a few shops specialising in display mannequins.

And we came across this outstanding graffiti on a garage door in Florentin. The characters on the right are apparently supposed to be Abba. Click pic for detail.