I know, I know. I used this photograph in a different context in the last piece I posted a couple of weeks ago but as we’ve just lived through such an absolute bollocks of a fortnight, I thought it might be appropriate to use it again.
I don’t claim to have any particular insights into the goings on as, like almost everyone else, all my information comes from what I read, hear and see (and I really tried to read, hear and see as little as possible but unless one unplugs the radio and TV and refuses to read what turns up on the computer or in the mailbox, it’s impossible to avoid it. Nevertheless, at the same time one needs to know what is happening, especially when one is forced to sit in a stairwell or an interior corridor in the flat (I live in an older building with no custom-made bomb shelter). In other words, put plainly, I’m as ignorant as almost everybody else except those who are privileged to access real data and intelligence and my ignorance is, of course, like almost everyone else’s based on what radio stations, TV channels and newspapers one chooses to listen to, view and read.
The way I see things however is that each side in this round of the conflict ended up as both winners and losers. Hamas stage-managed the show by succeeding in its effort to link contentious events in Jerusalem to the Palestinian situation in Gaza, thereby outflanking the PLO and making gains at their expense in Jerusalem and the West Bank. So in that sense, the conflict we lived through was part of an intra-Palestinian contest. Dictatorial Hamas .v. less dictatorial and more corrupt PLO. In response to Hamas’ stage management, the Israeli security agencies just about mismanaged everything they could possibly mismanage and things got botched completely out of hand. Politicians on both sides more or less vanished during the 11 days. The Palestinian ones were understandably concerned about their own safety and emerged when the bombing stopped to issue further threats about this only being a preliminary and that they are willing to sacrifice 10,000 martyrs to the cause (typically Hamas). The Israeli pols —— well, the less said, the better but they are now back on track trying to decide whether they can cobble together some sort of government or send us to the polls once more for the fifth time in two and a half years.
Over 4,000 rockets of various sizes and ranges were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, almost all of them in the direction of civilian targets, some them landing in Gaza itself——but that’s not really a concern for Hamas or Islamic Jihad, their colleagues in tis form of violent religious-nationalism. Given the extent of physical destruction in Gaza, it seems to me that the number of casualties (and I hate to say this because I won’t be forgiven by some) was relatively low. In a way, as a sovereign state, Israel did what it had to do and that is to defend its citizens by whatever means necessary and if that meant by using the Air Force to carry out “precision bombing”, then so be it, although that, it would appear, has been branded as a war crime by those who wish to see it that way whereas sending rockets towards civilian targets apparently is not. (All the arguments about a non-proportional response ring false, as they always have with me, and I’m still waiting for an explanation of what exactly a proportional response should consist of.
The “events” also led to the worst outbreak of thuggery I’ve observed in the friable and fragile society that is Israel, something that is even more worrying than the rockets. What I found almost impossible to comprehend is the feeble response from Israeli government ministers. In fact, the Minister for Internal Security, an appointee of the Prime Minister, publicly reprimanded the Police Commissioner just for referring to “Jewish terrorists”, when, in fact that was what they are. Some of us, at least, were reminded that an Israeli Prime Minister was assassinated by one of them two and a half decades ago. (The thugs on the Arab side are a perfect match for their Jewish counterparts, by the way). What bothers me more than anything and where there really is a disproportion, is that insufficient Israeli hoodlums have been arrested and charged for their thuggery. Politics again, I suppose. And as usual, in a time when there’s an escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, there is a very slippery and bumpy sliding slope from criticism of Israel’s actions to virulent antisemitism as has happened in places like New York, London, Berlin and elsewhere throughout the world. This time around, it seems to be more acute and a higher level than previously. Another cause of worry.
From what I saw and read, I understand that the misery of the population of Gaza is a joint effort on the parts of Hamas, Israel and Egypt. Some people [conveniently] tend to forget that there are two points of ingress and egress to the Gaza Strip, the one leading to Israel and the other to Egypt. In between, there are approximately 2,000,000 people crammed into 365 square kms, held hostage by an organization that brooks no dissent. (And just in case you think that that number of people on that area of land constitutes overcrowding, it’s proportional to Hong Kong or Singapore, places which have found different solutions to living and prospering at high densities.). As to Hamas, it’s worth reading the Hamas Manifesto (entitled the “Charter of Allah”) which one has to take a face value because it’s never been disowned, repealed or rescinded and which I attach for bedtime reading (and it really is worth reading, especially if you’re keen to wake up to nightmares). In addition, if you do bother to read it, the slide from anti-Israelism to antisemitism is very smooth indeed. In the words of Professor Colin Shindler, writing in this week’s issue of Plus61J, an Australian Jewish online publication, “The global far Left, in the glory of its superficiality and its passion for selective outrage, stage rallies which colour reactionary clerics as well-intentioned progressives. What matters to them is resistance — and not that Hamas is dictatorial, homophobic, occasionally antisemitic, often anti-Christian and prone to throwing their Fatah opponents off the rooftops of Gaza.” Moreover, Hamas says that it’s not really in favour of “peaceful” attempts to solve the conflict. “[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement.”, and you can read more of that if you wish on page 6 of the link directly below.
Last week, among the many things to appear about the last round of fighting was a particularly obscene piece by John Oliver, who is described on Wikipedia as “a British-American comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, actor, and television host”. (His official website says not an iota about things like that.) At any rate, his one-sided diatribe showed nothing that could be interpreted as coming from a comedian or even a political commentator.) I felt sickened by his display and probably would have written about it somehow but one of the people who did respond to it was an Israeli “comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, actor, and television host”, Lior Schleien. Mr. Schleien just happens to be the life-partner of Merav Michaeli, who is the current leader of the Israel Labour Party, but that is purely coincidental. His enlightening and somewhat cynical commentaries are usually presented in Hebrew but as a favour to those who are perhaps not fluent in that language, he presented riposte to Oliver in a language many more can understand. Again, in my humble opinion, it’s worth watching for its full nine and a half minutes.
And then at the end of last week, I received a video sent out from the institution I used to work in, the University of Haifa. Three decades ago, I was the Director of the University’s Jewish-Arab Center so I’m familiar with the way the institution works—Arabs and Jews work together without thinking too much about it, as they also do in hospitals, clinics, government offices and other such places throughout the country, such things as cooperation generally going unreported abroad, where the emphasis is on conflict rather than collaboration, conflict being more TV-friendly.
The video clip below was sent out to faculty members at the end of last week, initially with Hebrew and Arabic subtitles where appropriate. I wrote to the President’s office and complained that there were no subtitles in English and to my surprise, that complaint was taken care of two days later (and I like to think that it probably would have been anyway rather than being a response to my remonstration).
I still found the time and the will to get out in the mornings to photograph.
The other day, I went out to the park and as is my wont, I turned left towards the sea. I usually walk along the south bank of the Yarqon, the stream that passes for a river in Tel Aviv but that particular day, I decided that I’d cross over and walk along the north bank, so towards the steps to bridge I went. However, when I got there, I found that coming down the steps at a healthy pace in the opposite direction was a serious jogger. Not only was she coming down, but she motioned to me not to come up until she had retraced her steps and it was then, as I followed her ups the steps that I noticed the tattoos, which from my observation angle looked likes works of art.
But why produce art on the body? I’ve never been able to understand tattoos for I suppose that when I was was growing up (if I have ever indeed done so, something some might deny), the people with such “body art”, the only people with semi-artistically punctured skin, were merchant sailors and criminals—— at any rate, people regarded in some way as being unsavory. Purely coincidentally, the previous evening I had been reading Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On, selections from his diaries between 2005 and 2015, escapist reading is ever there was such. And there I read: “I find tattoos hard to understand, even to forgive. Afflicted quite early in life with varicose veins I’ve always been self-conscious of the greyish blue of the veins and found it a disfigurement and a stigma even, the blue of the veins the same blue as that of a tattoo. That anyone would voluntarily do to themselves what nature had done to me I find incomprehensible. Beckham, for instance, had a nice body until he had it so extensively engraved.” I came home and re-read it and smiled as I looked again at the picture I’d taken.
Alan Bennett lives in Primrose Hill, one of my favourite places in the part of London I like and sort of know, and after the tattoo statement I read on a couple of pages and came across: “And then, I pass the house in Fitzroy Road with the blue plaque saying that Yeats lived there but with no plaque saying that Sylvia Plath also died there. I look down into the basement where Plath put her head in the gas oven. And there is a gas oven still, only it’s not the Belling or the Cannon it would have been in 1963 but now part of a free-standing unit in limed oak. It was this house where Eric Korn heard someone reading out the plaque as being to ‘William Butler Yeast’. ‘Presumably,’ Eric wanted to say, ‘him responsible for the Easter Rising.’ ”
And then I remembered that I’d photographed that , too!
And a couple of pages further on in Alan Bennett’s diary, I came across the seemingly insightful “Meanwhile every politician who speaks begins by making a ritual affirmation that their party’s first priority is firm and stable government and the sooner that is achieved the better. Whereas it’s all too plain that so far as stable government is concerned the politicians are largely superfluous and that the civil service can carry on with the firm and stable government just as they usually do – temporarily relieved of the interference from their ministers.” Listening to Dominic Cumming’s (of Boris Johnson and “comings-and-goings-in-lockdown notoriety), and a man with several large chips on each shoulder as well as some large axes to grind marathon testimony yesterday, were it all so simple! (Mr. Cummings, I reckon, is slightly more credible than Alexander Lukashenko, on whose orders a Ryanair plane was hijacked last week so that he could torture and imprison someone who had the impertinence to call him a cheat and a liar, but that’s not saying very much!)
Walking the streets of Tel Aviv last week, it seemed as if they were lined with mauve as was everything underneath the trees …
… though how it got as far as Tel Aviv Port is a bit beyond my understanding.
And then as I exited the fishmonger’s last Friday, I came across this [apparently] homeless individual calmly sleeping on the pavement at 9.30 in the morning. I thought that if the rather sophisticated electric bicycle beside him, on the right of the photo, belonged this sedate slumberer there was something strange about him. So I enquired of the fishmonger if he was to be found there every day and got a positive response. And then there was an addendum. Every day, it seems, they move him further down the footpath as he was impedes the comings and goings of the clientele, but he always seems to come back. This was followed by a comment that he probably has sufficient funds at his disposal to purchase a Boeing jet, which suggested that the fishmonger had some prior knowledge of state of the sleeper’s mind!
A couple of years ago, when new street signs went up in Tel Aviv, I noticed that the name of the British author of the turn of the 19th into the 20th century, Israel Zangwill, had been misspelled and moreover, poor Zangwill had been demoted from a “street” to just a “lane”.
However, last week, I was pleased to observe that he’d been restored to his true and former glories, so that I can now end this post on a positive note.
And here’s to the next time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8ApUuO42ZU