Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring cleaning

Playing dominoes in Bat Yam with an abacus to keep score. Normality tinged with illusion.

Pessah, this year, at least in the area surrounding the rooftop, felt more like Yom Kippur. We took a stroll around the neighbourhood yesterday (erev chag) and a bike ride to Kiryat Shalom in south Tel Aviv this morning and were struck by the tranquility . Almost no cars on the roads, datiim (religious people) walking to and from beit knesset in their holiday best alongside chilonim (seculars) just enjoying the spring sunshine. entire families congregating on plastic chairs in courtyards and here and there the whiff of a charcoal grill from a back garden sprouting wild flowers.

In ancient times Pessah, a spring festival, was the start of the year, a much more fitting time than Rosh Hashana.

A family making a Pessah mangal (grill) in the pine wood next to low-income neighbourhood of Kiryat Shalom this morning.

One of the reasons that Tel Aviv seemed to empty out is that so many people have gone or are going abroad. Normally tens of thousands of Israelis (in a reverse exodus) would be in Sinai now but the news that the Eyptians are chasing four separate terrorist gangs there has deterred even the most diehard Sinai lovers.

Sinai, oh Sinai...

Of course you don't have to go as far as Sinai to realise that the Pessah tranquility is tinged with illusion. The Hamas managed to spoil the festive mood with a sophisticated operation at a border crossing and the IDF is in action , knocking out Hamas militants. All this just two hours drive from the rooftop.
In the missile era, in this part of the world, the space that you can safely call your own has diminished to zero. In that knowledge and in the spirit of Pessah cleaning that has gripped the country, our va'ad bayit (house comittee) has declared its determination to finally clear the junk out of the air raid shelter. Just in case.

And when flipping through the free haggadah I picked up unconsciously at the supermarket
my eyes wandered from the command to every succeeding generation to see itself as though it had been led forth out of Egypt and the text on the opposite page which began : "Spy TV :The national centre for installation of security closed-circuit TVs."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

60th "celebrations" 1

From time to time my efforts to keep this blog light and fluffy give way to an urge to delve more deeply into the complexitities, contradictions and conundrums that surround the rooftop.

This temptation has been increasing as the 60th anniversary celebrations grow inexorably closer (officially Independence Day is on May 8). The official celebrations for which no-one seems to have much stomach, have even been the subject of an on-line protest petition calling to spend the money on projects more urgen than fireworks and DJs.
The urge has also been exacerbated by a spreading feeling of national hope-less-ness, an entry into a very uncertain era in which peace is not merely difficult to attain but accepted as permanently unattainable. Consequently, the stark choice that is beginning to emerge is between apartheid (contination of the occupation with a Palestinian majority betweenthe Jordan and the Med) or Israel/Palestine as a 'state of all its citizens (i.e. no more Israel as a Jewish state).

Such an article would really have to involve a serious research job. I would have amass all the latest studies and statistics, articles and books and also do fieldwork and interview experts and opinion makers, break the whole thing down into chapter headings and provide my findings.
But why bother? The Economist has done it for me in a special report called Israel Six Decades on . I recommend taking a few minutes to read it. It's a comprehensive yet concise dissection of Israel today and the manifold challenges it is facing. Here are few quotes to whet your appetite:

"Israelis have good reason to wonder what their country will look like in 2040—or, for that matter, in 2020. Compared with much of its past, Israel's present is prosperous and secure. But its future is as uncertain as at any time in its 60 years of history."

"At some point, and perhaps quite soon, the political cost of being exposed to daily rocket fire from Gaza may outweigh that of losing dozens of troops in a massive operation to destroy Hamas's power there. That, in turn, could be the death knell of Mahmoud Abbas's leadership in the West Bank and possibly of the Palestinian Authority itself. In extremis, Israel could find itself back in charge of the occupied territories, with nobody to give the keys to, and the wheel will have come full circle."

"For the first time since 1948, real existential threats to Israel, at least in its Zionist form, are on the horizon."

"It is ironic that the fundamental disagreement between Jews and Palestinians today is not about whether there should be a Palestinian state; most Israeli Jews accepted that long ago. It is about whether there should be a Jewish one."

"If a Palestinian state does come to pass, Israel's Palestinians will face a grim choice: move there and lose their homes, or stay in Israel and lose themselves."

It is this blockage [of the political system], not Palestinian missiles or an Iranian nuclear bomb, that is the main threat to Israel's well-being. ...Israel's survival in the long term will depend on decisions taken in the near future, which will make the difference between growth and stagnation, harmony and social strife, intelligent self-defence and self-destructive belligerence. To take the right decisions it needs a system that reduces the power of special-interest groups without riding roughshod over minorities and allows long-term goals to override short-term politics. "

“…the settlers have subverted government decisions and co-opted local army commanders over the past 40 years, contriving to align the state's security interests with their own plan to populate the occupied territories. Many commentators saw their failure to stop the unilateral Gaza withdrawal as a mortal blow to their power. But they have staged a comeback.”

The Jerusalem Post devoted an editorial to criticising the special report as among other things a "tendentious reading of Israel's political landscape" but it seems to be pretty much on the mark.

More reports on the celebrations to come.

chag sameach from the rooftop

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pitot for Pessah!

Tonight, Israeli minister of infrastructures, Binyamin (Fuad) Ben Eliezer said that in the next war it will be much safer to live in (isolated)Naharia or Shlomi because he foresees hundreds of missiles raining on major population centres like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Oh, and he also mentioned that if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, "Iran would no longer exist as a nation".

But why concern ourselves with mere trifles when a classic Israeli story is developing in these crucial days before Pessah. Last Thursday a Jerusalem court ruled that chametz (not 'kosher for pessach' goods - notably pitot, see below) could be sold during Pessah (in Jerusalem) as long as it was not 'in a public place'. It turns out that the definition of a not-public place, could be an aisle in a supermarket for instance. Naturally, the religious parties are on the warpath and are tring to urgently push through a law (even though the Knesset is in recess) that would explicitly rule out any such abomination everywhere in the entire country.

This would mean (heaven forfend!) that we Tel Avivians might lose access to our pitot, croissants and even plain old bread all of which are in plentiful supply in numerous reputable establishments throughout Pessah, here, in sin city.

In fact loss of 'Pitot for Pessah!' could be a new secular battlecry against religious coercion. MK Ofer Pines is already warning that he has his own bill which would propose allowing people to make up their own minds about what to eat and when to eat it.

Many, many Israelis will not be spending seder night gathered around family tables at home. No less than an estimated 930,000 will be abroad, far away from the pessah wars. That's a seventh of the country, and it makes you wonder.