When I started this blog over three months ago, I promised (myself and at least two members of my family) that I would not engage in political statements and with some minor exceptions (references to snake charmers and the like), I have generally managed to keep that promise. However, I must say that it’s been difficult sometimes to remain silent and the temptation remains, day by day.
The evening news on Israeli TV comes on at 20.00 hrs and lasts for an hour, which is at least 55 minutes too long, as it’s preceded and sometimes succeeded by three hours of current affairs shows of one kind or another, which amount to more or less the same thing. I try either to listen to radio news bulletins now and then, which last five or six minutes and tell you more or less what you need to know for the day, or keep up with what’s happening online. The daily newspaper arrives at 6, just in time for breakfast. Why I bother, I’m not sure; social convention, I suppose. It’s all so depressing.
So why am I writing this? Because I’m coming to the conclusion that the Greeks and their successors seem to have got it wrong. I am more and more convinced that the world, despite the “evidence” of photographs from space, is not spherical but a continuos unbroken plane. Not only were the Greeks in error, but Alfred Wegener, who set forth the Theory of Continental Drift in 1912, was on the right track but stopped short of the truth. The fact is, according to Waterman, that the flat earth’s surface is semi-liquid and that individual states rather than continents float about in the sludge. For the past three decades or more, Israel has been wafting towards the right-hand side of this Flat Earth and in recent years, has ignited turbo-jets so that gentle rightward movement now lurches so that the state is in danger of falling off the starboard side and entering deep Outer Space. But nil desperandum, Israel will not become isolated from the rest of the West as the “civilized world” seems to be heading in a similar direction through the same slime. It’s a scary phenomenon.
Now, people who write nonsense like that which I have just composed are much besmirched, using the one of the dirtiest epithets in the current Israeli political lexicon — LEFTIST, a sobriquet for someone who refuses to be brainwashed by government. Anyway, calling me a leftist is an absurdity because I have been a regular reader of The Economist for 47 years, a journal described by one good and learned friend as a newspaper only “publishing right-wing nonsense”.
Anyway, diatribe over! Trump it if you can!
The past few months haven’t been good ones for Tel Aviv’s trees.
About half a year ago, Israeli media ran stories about the red palm weevil, a migrant insect that kills palm trees, infesting private gardens and parks in Tel Aviv and putting people at risk from falling trees or branches. Tel Aviv Municipality decided only to do battle with the beasties in public spaces, leaving those in private gardens to be dealt with by residents. However, the cost of polishing off this plague would likely deter individuals and house committees from dealing with them adequately. The beetle lays its eggs on palm leaves and the resulting larvae burrow into the tree trunk and eat through to the crown, until the tree collapses. The Agriculture Ministry had issued a warning about the consequences of the palm weevil’s presence in Israel two years ago and since then there had been serious damage to some Tel Aviv palm trees, with many trees essentially dead, even if they are still standing. The best way to prevent the pest from spreading is by spraying the top of the tree where the palm fronds emerge from the trunk.
Walking round the neighbourhood and through the park, one can see the consequences of the Municipality’s action and the residents’ inaction. In the public spaces, those trees infected have been decapitated — actually more than beheaded, rather cut down to knee height — or as it’s trees we’re talking about, more like to ankle level. The healthy trees or ones that had been infected and then treated were each individually numbered and labelled as such.
In gardens and yards and it has become not uncommon to find dead trees standing, or the trunks of dead trees aligned along the streets for collection, or the stumps of trees that had stood for years bereft of crowns and trunks.
The palm tree story is unfortunate but is not the only tree story in North Tel Aviv this week. Eucalyptus trees line the banks of the Yarqon stream from its upper reaches to the Mediterranean and in the 1950s, eucalyptus was a preferred species although it is known that these trees were planted elsewhere much earlier by Jewish settlers and by the British Mandate authorities. The ones in the park have been there for quite some time.
Last week, as I walked into the park and turned left towards the sea, there were large A4-size notices pinned to two of the eucalyptus trees. One was an announcement that four trees would have to be cut down because their roots had been undermined by flooding in the river and presented a danger that they might collapse. The other was the official licence to carry out the intention, signed by the authorised bureaucrat at Tel Aviv Municipality with authority granted by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Jewish National Fund.
Two days later, the sentence was executed for the four trees that were overhanging the river by a team of four executioners. I went out to document the carrying out of the death sentence on the four culprits and as usual, by the time I had taken three pictures, I had been spotted.
At this point, we went through the ritual of “Stop photographing! You’re not allowed to photograph here!”, a command that I chose to ignore. At this point, a young man whose job it was to stack the fallen branches came over to me and asked me to desist and put away the camera. (Wearing shorts and a teeshirt, there was no where to put it.) I kept my cool — just — and explained to him that I had no intention to stop taking pictures, that I and the trees were in a public space, and that the notices had been posted on the trees in that public space to inform the public of an action to take place in same said public space. He was nonplussed a little, I think. Then, when I crossed the stream to the northern bank a few minutes later and continued photographing from there, they were still up in arms. Too bad.
I continued to photograph as they moved upriver the following day to another two unfortunates on death row and on the third day, they carried away the sawn pieces of trunk for cremation.
I found this all a little discomfiting as I had just finished watching the six episodes that comprise the television series Wolf Hall, based on the historical novels by Hilary Mantel on the rise of Thomas Cromwell. The last scene of the last episode is the decapitation of Anne Boleyn, beautifully done in horizontal style with a sword (“If she doesn’t move, it will be quick, between two heartbeats”, explained the executioner to Cromwell) rather than on a block with an axe (because of her social status as one of the nobility). The disembodied head and the decapitated body were then joined in holy union for burial.
As with Anne Boleyn, so with the eucalyptus in Yarqon Park — except that the Municipality promises resurrection in form of new plantings. If these are forthcoming, I shall update!