Post #150: A rather mixed week

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Someone once asked me about the main differences between living in Israel and living in the UK and that set me off thinking.  The weather? It rains there all year round whereas in Israel, rain is a series of winter events.  In the UK, they have a royal family, which was on glorious display for the world to see at the weekend whereas Israel just has to put up with the Netanyahu family.  But it couldn’t really be that either. 

And then it dawned on me. 

The biggest contrast that I can think of is that in London when one listens to or watches the news broadcasts on radio or TV at 6 or 7 in the morning, it’s roughly the same as what you had heard at 11 or midnight or whatever time it was before you fell asleep.  The contrast with Israel couldn’t be starker, for in Israel there is close to a zero correlation between the two newscasts, so much so that you can’t even begin to guess what might have occurred in the six or so hours that you’ve been asleep.  And then as the day in Britain rolls on, there might be one or two slight changes to the items on the news  bulletins whereas in Israel, in contrast, it varies almost by the hour.  If nothing else, this keeps you on your toes.  What I mean is that in Israel, there’s never a dull moment and I’m not often given to speaking in understatement. 

Think about it.  The week before last it was Iran in Syria; then this week it was Gaza [again] and the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem.  (And what with the split screen on TV showing events unfolding in Gaza on the left-hand side and the bizarre utterances of Bibi that it was a great day for peace,  I was at a loss to figure out his allusions and illusions. And it was always clear from the time it had been announced that Israel would bear the brunt of the fallout from what was ostensibly an American decision, the opening of its embassy in Jerusalem, with the U.S. suffering only opprobrium as a result.)  In between, there was the euphoria of Israel winning the Eurovision Song Contest, an event that seems to become more and more outlandish as the years roll by and I get older.  And so it goes.  

So the other night I was awoken by a dream—although I wasn’t sure whether it was just a dream or a nightmare.  In this incubus, the Prime Minister of Israel appeared on television to address the nation.  (Bibi rarely if ever gives interviews on Israeli TV in contrast to his frequent appearances in American and other foreign media.) Putting on his most serious face and lowering his already base voice a semitone and a half, he intoned that he (and his government, lest it be imagined that he takes decisions on his own) had decided to petition the United States Congress, where he has many friends, to admit Israel as the 51st state of the Union. 

He went on to explain the costs and benefits of such a political earthquake.  True, Israelis would no longer have to apply for visas to enter the United States but they would have to file annual tax returns with the IRS.  On the other hand, an attack on Israel would be an attack on United States territory and the U.S. military would react immediately.  There would be benefits to the U.S., too, as it would be acquiring several hundred thousand trained reservists who could then be utilised to defend American territory.  True, Israel wouldn’t be able to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest (America First, remember!) but that’s the price it would have to pay, as indeed would the fact that in a country that [sort of] separates church and state, the power of the rabbis to dictate to the politicians would become weaker. And so on, et cetera.

What he only mentioned towards the end of his homily was that when Congress approved the request, he (Bibi) could become an legitimate member of the Republican Party in contrast to the honorary membership that he now holds.  And, having been born in Tel Aviv in 1949, which, as a result of his courageous political decision, would now be a city transformed into an all-American city, he could stand for President of the United States in the 2024 election when he would be only 75.  As his late father lived to be 102, that would give him ample time to work to amend the U.S. Constitution so that he could emulate and even surpass Franklin D. Roosevelt and be re-elected four times (and in so doing even exceed the exploits of his buddy Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin), ending his presidential career in 2044 at the ripe old age of 95 to retire to Palm Springs, the mountains of Wyoming or Caesarea to the cheers of his minions.   

I was sufficiently worried as a result of this cauchemar to log into Google Maps to discover that there were only two non-stop flights a day from JFK to Honolulu (a trip that takes 11 hours) whereas there were between three and eight from JFK to TLV taking half an hour less.  So, I thought, perhaps it wasn’t so far-fetched after all.

It was at this point that I awakened in a cold sweat and heard the news that Israel and the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Netta had, beyond all expectations, indeed won the Eurovision Song Contest, stealing it at the last moment from Cyprus. The country was intoxicated by this though I had difficulty understanding why—but I was relieved that my dream was but a dream! Post-Eurovision, it was even rumoured that the Prime Minister was going to cash in on this “victory” by revising the spelling of his family name to Nettanyahu)! 

In reality, it’s been a difficult week and when I started to write, I appreciated that I had a dilemma.  It’s all very well having a fun rant about something political now and then but writing about a very real event that took the lives of 60 people, whatever their ambitions or aims is something else entirely.  This blog is supposed to be about photography and geography and perhaps if I’d been there, to say something about it would make sense, so I didn’t think that this is the place for it.  On the other hand, should I ignore it completely?  No, because I don’t think it’s something one can ignore.   

I toyed with the idea of writing a longish piece and embedding it and partially concealing it within the post as a PDF so that if anyone wished to be proactive they could read it if they wanted, but I rejected that as well.  So I decided that if anyone wants to be so proactive as to correspond with me privately on the issue, then go ahead and I’ll respond.  And that was where I was at when I started to write this post last Tuesday evening.

But following the highly visual media reports and the ensuing political fallout over the past few days, it would be irresponsible of me to say nothing at all.  And seeing that the Turkish president has all but broken off diplomatic relations with Israel in reaction to the Gaza shootings, publicly humiliating the Israeli ambassador he expelled into the bargain, and generally stoking the fires and fanning the flames, it’s worth putting things in some sort of perspective.  (It’s also worth bearing in mind, political opportunist that he is, he is playing the Gaza issue as a religious issue—and when the Deity is brought into the equation, any logic flies out the window.  He has also called early elections in Turkey, which he would probably have won anyway, but from his viewpoint, by berating Israel, it makes sense to make things sure.)  Consequently, I’ll make a couple of indirect comments about these reports and the highly toxic political fallout. 

Since the attempted coup against Mr. Erdoğan in July, 2016 and as of April 27, 2018, a total of 151,967 state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, and academics have been dismissed by government decrees; 136,995 people have been detained and 77,524 arrested; 3,003 schools, dormitories and universities have been shut down; 5,822 academics have lost their jobs (this number includes only the ones dismissed by government decrees issued on September 1 2016, October 29 2016, November 22 2016, January 6 2017, February 7 2017, April 29 2017, July 14 2017 and August 25, 2017—and not the ones who lost jobs when the Turkish government passed a decree ordering the closure of 15 universities on July 23, 2016).  In addition 4,463 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed, 189 media outlets shut down and 319 journalists arrested. (http://www.turkeypurge.com)

It’s also worth noting that according to human rights organisations since the beginning of the Kurdish uprising between 2,500 and 4,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed, in which between 380,000 and 1,000,000 Kurdish villagers were forcibly evacuated from their homes, mainly by Turkish forces.  Some 5,000 Turks and between 18,000 and 35,000 Kurds have been killed, 17,000 Kurds have disappeared and 119,000 imprisoned by Turkish authorities.  (The variance in figures depends on the sources but the message is the same.)  Up to 3,000,000 people (mainly Kurds) have been displaced by the conflict.

Just to put Mr. Erdogan’s sanctimoniousness in context.  

Turkey.jpg

A turkey

And it’s been going on for a decade already!

 

In addition, the New York Times of April 13, 2018 reported that in the Syrian conflict,  ongoing for over seven years, most international monitors use a general figure of over 500,000 deaths, and many believe it could be higher.  Moreover, the UNHCR reported that there are 6.6 million internally displaced persons in Syria and almost 3 million others in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.  Turkey hosts 3.3 million Syrian refugees and there more than a million in Lebanon, who have little or no financial resources and almost three-quarters of a million others in Jordan in similar circumstances; even Iraq has almost a quarter million with Egypt  protecting and assisting a further 125,000.  The figures appear on the UNHCR website and don’t include the more than a million refugees from the Syrian conflict in Europe, mostly in Germany. (https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/syria#_ga=2.197528426.434206151.1526560830-1487150212.1526560830).  

None of this means that Israel’s actions in Gaza on Monday were justified or not but one needs to put Mr. Erdoğan’s self-righteousness in a regional frame of reference. And as Erdoğan and his minions chose to use the words “holocaust” and “genocide” to describe what happened on Monday, perhaps I should remind him of the Armenian Genocide of 1915—16, which is an absolute unmentionable in Turkey? 

Moreover, anyone who thinks, perhaps like Mr. Corbyn, who wrote on his Facebook page

Today’s killing of dozens of unarmed protesters and the wounding of many more by Israeli forces in Gaza is an outrage that demands not just international condemnation, but action to hold those responsible to account.” 

that the protesters were all unarmed, like innocent civilians marching down the Charing Cross Road to Trafalgar Square with placards reading “Stop the War”, is simply living in cloud-cuckoo land.  Yes, lots of innocent civilians were injured and some were killed, too. But of the 62 people reported killed last Monday, most of them attempting to breach the border separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, Hamas boasted (rather than the BBC’s favourite phrase “Israel claimed” or “Israel alleged”) that 52 of them were members of that organization while Islamic Jihad claimed “ownership” of another three.  It really is difficult to compete with the impact of images, especially moving images in colour.

And with specific regard to the events of last Monday, it is worth recalling the words of Nobel prizewinner Elias Canetti in his classic 1960 book Crowds and Power. 

“The baiting crowd forms with reference to a quickly attainable goal. The goal is known and clearly marked, and is also near. This crowd is out for killing and it knows whom it wants to kill. It heads for this goal with unique determination and cannot be cheated of it. The proclaiming of the goal, the spreading about of who it is that is to perish, is enough to make the crowd form. This concentration on killing is of a special kind and of an unsurpassed intensity. Everyone wants to participate; everyone strikes a blow and, in order to do this, pushes as near as he can to the victim. If he cannot hit him himself, he wants to see others hit him. Every arm is thrust out as if they all belonged to one and the same creature.”

The Gaza issue is not simply a black and white affair but is multi-coloured, multi-layered and multi-faceted.  There are other actors involved in perpetuating the misery of the people living there, not just Israel.  Look at a map and see that Egypt, too, has a border with Gaza and its gates have been mostly shut over the past few years.  Hamas is supposed to govern the despairing people who live there but what has it done to alleviate their wretchedness? The EU has poured in billions of euros, ostensibly to improve housing, education and social conditions but Hamas has used much of that to construct attack tunnels rather than houses and infrastructure and still the money pours in.  Israel is often accused of overreacting to events in Gaza, of using disproportionate force.  But I can’t recall anyone ever suggesting what “proportionate” force might be. And why, World, are there 4th-generation refugees at all?

So if anyone wants to be so proactive as to want to correspond with me on these issues, then go ahead and I’ll respond. 

(And I was going to write nothing!)

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And now, just for the fun of it, some images.  So I’ll start with two of my favourites.  The first adorns our living room and was taken early one morning about a decade ago with just about every setting on the camera wrong.  However, that’s irrelevant because the image is fine.  The second is an “adaptation” of a picture taken a couple of years ago of the boardwalk at Tel Aviv Port just after the first rain of the season.

*T-A Park & Port — Where's the line?.jpg

Where’s the line?

*Photos — Planks

First rain—the morning after.  Tel Aviv Port

 

One day last week, returning home, I was reminded of Irish theatre, and in particular of the final line in Seán O’Casey’s Juno and The Paycock, in which “Captain” Jack Boyle bemoans the state of the world with the famous final line that ends the play:  “Th’ whole worl’ is in a terrible state o’ chassis” .  And what exactly caused me to be reminded of the state of the world?  Why, the image of who/what will inherit it after we have finished destroying it along with ourselves, of course.

Roach

Heir to the world

 

And while on the insect trail, a few years ago, we had been invited out on a summer afternoon in London for drinks in the garden when all of a sudden a wasp flew into a glass of beer.  Now, I know that I could and perhaps should have been kind-hearted and fished it out as soon as it flew in and run the risk of being stung.  However, I had the camera with me and decided that it was a much more humanitarian gesture to allow the creature a merry, if not entirely happy, demise.  So it swam around for quite a long time before succumbing, I presume, to an overdose of alcohol.

Dying drunken wasp

Yesterday morning, while in the park there was this solitary hoopoe foraging on the ground for sustenance with its beautiful bill designed mainly to pick out insects, although, apparently, small reptiles, frogs, seeds and berries will also do. They generally stride over relatively open ground with periodic pauses to probe with the full length of their bill. They’re not an easy bird to photograph as they don’t stay still for long but when they do pause to take a break, they’re there for the taking.

Hoopoe

And while in the park, there are, I suppose a dozen or so people whose paths cross mine at least three or four times a week.  She is one of them and I’m still trying to puzzle out the intended meaning of the slogan on her top.  Probably vainly.

Silo fresh

And as for inanimate objects that appear to have human form — or which somehow remind me of  people, what about this tree (albeit inverted, as the more obswervant among you might have noticed) near the bridge above the river on Namir Road?

It's really a tree

It’s only a tree!

A couple of months ago, I triumphantly announced the completion of the work on our street—but prematurely as it turns out.  The last month has seen “corrections”, with corners being repaved and manhole covers removed while workers jump into and climb out of them, apparently fixing the work done on the sewage system.  And still, the Israel Electric Corporation hasn’t turned up to do its bit of the work, so they’ll be around for a while yet.  May 29 marks the first anniversary of the encampment outside our house! 

Manning the manhole

Finally, and unrelated to anything that’s come before, a squirrel on Haverstock Hill the main street in Belsize Park in London, for no other reason than that I like it and that it reminds me of what I should be doing after listening to the news these days.

Squirrel Belsize

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