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Tel Aviv Syndrome [Mar. 30th, 2011|02:49 pm]
I knew I would find Israel freaky. I guess that is why I waited so long to go there. That, and the occupation.

Jerusalem Syndrome, which apparently hits dozens of visitors a year, occurs when people are overwhelmed by the historical significance of the place and imagine themselves prophets or actors in the End Times. Tel Aviv Syndrome, which I have just coined, occurs when you visit a place that you have heard about all your life, it is pretty much as you expected it, and still you can't believe it exists in the real world.

So, to begin, I still can't believe that there is a country where Hebrew is the first language. I can read Hebrew but can't really speak it. To me, even though I've heard it spoken many times before, it is essentially this obscure religious language I got shanghaied into learning in primary school. It is like finding a country where everyone has decided to speak Klingon.

Everyone argues. Everyone says "it is complex". Everyone I have met breathes left wing politics. I had dinner with a lovely woman who came here in the mid-1980s to live on a kibbutz and build reconciliation work with the Arab Israelis, and another woman - a local councillor who doesn't earn a shekel and works to get better public transportation to the Arab villages. What can I tell them? They have lined me up for a talk at the Ministry of Transportation. What effect could I possibly have?

The breakfast was awesome. I walked along the boardwalk and saw people jogging and biking and powerwalking, and it could have been Australia. I rented a bicycle and saw crazy modernism state planning at its most powerful, and heard Ulrich Beck speak at the university. A German philosopher brought over by the German Green Party, talking about cosmopolitanization at its most abstract. I saw kids in their army uniforms and younger kids in their youth club uniforms, because Tuesday is the day that school gets out early so the kids can run their own youth groups. I saw the socialist paradise that Israel was supposed to be, and heard about the deeply racist realities (and in so many directions! against Ethiopian Jews and Bedouins and the settlers hate all other Jews...).

One surprise, and it might just be luck. Everyone has been friendly so far. I had a good cab driver from the airport, my visa card didn't work and the hotel workers behind the desk let me sort it out in the morning, my hosts have organized meetings for me, the restaurant people have been lovely, I asked dozens of people for directions and even the people who didn't speak English tried to help. Maybe they exported the real sabras, or maybe Tel Aviv is a bubble. I expect the latter.

I can't sleep. Today I have to give a talk at Tel Aviv University and then move on to the Technion University in Haifa. In September, there will be a war. Probably a civil war (like there is, constantly, in the Occupied Territories - I mean violent fights between factions as much as Palestinians and Jews) = there will also be a civil war in Israel, where the kids in the army take on the settlers. And it is painful, because I always knew I would feel that these are my people.

[User Picture]From: hiddeneloise
2011-03-30 04:52 am (UTC)
I have large, scattered, extended family and a lot of friends in Israel. And the reality of speaking to them is very much like what you are describing. It's near impossible to explain to anyone who hasn't been there, hasn't lived there, or hasn't at least visited. It is, in a way, a different planet, but it's also very human and very relatable. And yes, painful.
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[User Picture]From: caraway_
2011-03-31 09:25 am (UTC)
Thank you - I'm certainly glad to be here, but a little overwhelmed as well.
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[User Picture]From: kassto
2011-03-31 07:43 am (UTC)
I like your description of Israel. So bloody complicated. Sick of one-note condemnations of it.
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[User Picture]From: caraway_
2011-03-31 09:27 am (UTC)
Yeah, I've always hated the exceptionalist response to Israel, like most other countries aren't affected by the legacy of colonialism, or don't treat their indigenous people badly. Israel is an amazing place, with a huge mix of people and opinions, as often happens in a democracy.
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[User Picture]From: suze2000
2011-06-03 05:51 am (UTC)
Hmm... I have VERY mixed feelings about Israel.

But I have to ask: why a war in September, specifically?
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