Tel Aviv Diary August 27, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from August 27, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

So if Arafat is asking for a new hudna maybe we'll have some peace and quiet for a little while. For me that was the big news of the day. But all i could hear in the Museum shop this morning was speculation about why Ehud Barak and his wife are separating. "It because they built this enormous house in kfar shmariyahu, they argued over the ceramics" I heard one woman say. Another speculated that he wants to go back into politics and she said she would leave him if he does. No one mentioned a pretty secretary or anything like that - surprise.

The exhibit I wanted to see most in the Museum was photographs by Avraham Soskin - who pretty much documented the development of Tel Aviv from 1905-45. Unfortunately I got seduced into playing hide and seek inthe museum with Liora and didn't really see much of the exhibit - so i bought the book and will now read it.

The book of Soskin's photographs was next to another amazing book - Nelly Agassi - who does some very original and striking things with clothes and the body (just my style). It was hard for me to judge the quality of her work because i kept comparing it to her late father, the poet and artist Meir Agassi, the stuff i used to see lying around his studio that I now realize influenced my whole writing on clothing interest.

And that made me think again how many really original and interesting artists here have been exposed to a very limited audience. I don't even know if the stuff by Meir Agassi that hung around the house in Nof Yam before he and his wife broke up was ever shown somewhere. I know other work of his was known and his books of poetry were published, but i don't even hear his name. And then to see the blossoming of his daughter (I think I last saw her when she was 6)...

Back to Soskin. What documentation of what it was like to go to school here - the girls in gym class with their india clubs, the dance club in poses of Cossaks, the doctor in the health office measuring the pulse of a pupil, the music lessons with the notes written on the blackboard, the kindergarten class in clothes surpringly contemporary - a quarter of them fidgeting so bad they're a blur, and the teacher soberly playing the piano for them. The dignities in a row on donkeys, the portraits of Manya Shochet and Yisrael Schochat (looking truly like mad russian revolutionaries), the young and handsome Trumpeldor (and later his grave), the writers Bialik, Shlonsky, Agnon, the famous painters, wedding portraits galore, sober faced little children in portraits holding their hoops, or sitting on a rocking horse, Habimah plays from 1910 on, naked-chested musclemen, elaborate purim costumes. Most of all - the buildings. The Casino - built by Ezi's grandfather, Arpad Gut - an elegant coffee house on stilts over the water at the end of Allenby Street. The water tower on Mazeh Street (built also by Arpad Gut), Herzlia High School, Mayor Dizengoff's house, Soskin's studio on Herzl Street, factories at work - wineries, forges, printers, shoe factories, casting, textiles. In the 20's there are trips to Egypt, Jordan...

I'm skipping a lot, and skipping over the other exhibits i missed for the time being - Dganit Brest, Meir Pichadze - but i'll get to them soon - when i get back from florence.

and i've GOT to scan some of stuff we've got from that period!

And what of Arafat and the Hudna?

Come on - the black and white photos of Soskin are much more real!

August 28, 2003

Thanks for asking - a few people wrote to ask if i was being 'flip' when i said the Hudna wasn't as real as Soskin's pictures. i was. I am sure that there is a strong desire on both sides to rest - to begin to live normal lives. There is no element of life that this situation does not invade. Every aspect of my own life, even. And I live a relatively protected existence - i don't need public transportation, the only crowds i like are in rock concerts, and i don't spend enough time in cafes.

Hmm. I think I need coffee.

If you will it, it is not a dream - said our great leader theodore herzl. mofaz can say the same thing - if we will it, we can take a potential reality and make it an impossible dream.

aother assasination tonight.

August 29, 2003

I finally got an answer from Florence - the palestinians are not coming because their visas have been withheld. once again i'm storming. and this is not a time to write but to get to work.

August 30, 2003

At a wedding last night I met an old friend of my son - he has been living abroad and it has been a long time since we met. I asked him how it was to live there - and after the good stuff - about how wonderful it is to work there (he's into converting old houses) and all that, he said: but they don't like us there. "so you have to tell them aobut us," i say. "hm. what can i tell them about - about how nice we are to our neighbors, and how we treat them so well?" "Tell them about how we do conversions for them...." (think that was Ezi's line)... Now all 3 of us are very patriotic - we're standing in a wedding receptions and among the three of us our histories pretty much cover Israel's valor. Well, all i do is write - but Ezi and Assaf have defended the country with their lives. And yet, as we stood there, all we could do is be ironic - helpless.

Today was the last time in a long time I will be seeing this country through the eyes of children - the kids leave tonight. so today was dizengoff center where there are play areas, food all over the place - and a very few signs of the love parade that was going on on the beach. A big love parade - going all the way up the coast of the city. (remember - when you have it you don't have time to talk about it. its only when you don't have it that you have to parade). We took our pleasures in the sheltered area of Dizengoff, where the sun never shines, but you can have a lot of fun. Thousands of people crowding in to buy Druze pita, kubbee, stuffed peppers, etc. etc. The crowds were overwhelming and it wasn't peak Friday noon time yet.

Around 5 in the afternoon we went to Gan Meir where a few children played with their mothers in the generous playground. It was too hot. 7 would have been better.

We're moving into the month of Elul now - the month of forgiveness - get ready for a lot of confession and apology on my part. i can't help it - it's automatic by now. But that may be why so many people were already spread out on the tombs of the holy men in the galilee - forgiveness a few days early.

Thats what i've always liked about confession - you always confess the things that don't really count - because the things that do count are too big for you to see.

And while I was writing about my dithering, Claire Linberg sent me this and asked me to send it on its about stopping to dither

Here is the link for this article:

AIGUST 29, 2003

A Failed Israeli Society Collapses While Its Leaders Remain Silent


The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer. The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep. There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish state here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.

There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society and the political will to implement it. Nor is this merely an internal Israeli affair. Diaspora Jews for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity must pay heed and speak out. If the pillar collapses, the upper floors will come crashing down.

The opposition does not exist, and the coalition, with Arik Sharon at its head, claims the right to remain silent. In a nation of chatterboxes, everyone has suddenly fallen dumb, because there's nothing left to say. We live in a thunderously failed reality. Yes, we have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvelous theater and a strong national currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq. But is this why we created a state? The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or anti-missile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed.

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents' shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Traveling on the fast highway >hat takes you from Ramot on Jerusalem's northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it's hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won't work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism's superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

We have grown accustomed to ignoring the suffering of the women at the roadblocks. No wonder we don't hear the cries of the abused woman living next door or the single mother struggling to support her children in dignity. We don't even bother to count the women murdered by their husbands. Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below - from the wells of hatred and anger, from the "infrastructures" of injustice and moral corruption. If all this were inevitable, divinely ordained and immutable, I would be silent. But things could be different, and so crying out is a moral imperative.

Here is what the prime minister should say to the people:

The time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers and in some other time we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.

Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price. We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world's only Jewish state - not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.

Do you want the greater Land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let's institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages. Qalqilya Ghetto and Gulag Jenin.

Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse - or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks. There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements - all of them - and draw an internationally recognized border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish Law of Return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.

Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater Land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.

That's what the prime minister should say to the people. He should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racialism or democracy. Settlements or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire, roadblocks and suicide bombers, or a recognized international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.

But there is no prime minister in Jerusalem. The disease eating away at the body of Zionism has already attacked the head. David Ben-Gurion sometimes erred, but he remained straight as an arrow. When Menachem Begin was wrong, nobody impugned his motives. No longer. Polls published last weekend showed that a majority of Israelis do not believe in the personal integrity of the prime minister - yet they trust his political leadership. In other words, Israel's current prime minister personally embodies both halves of the curse: suspect personal morals and open disregard for the law - combined with the brutality of occupation and the trampling of any chance for peace. This is our nation, these its leaders. The inescapable conclusion is that the Zionist revolution is dead.

Why, then, is the opposition so quiet? Perhaps because it's summer, or because they are tired, or because some would like to join the government at any price, even the price of participating in the sickness. But while they dither, the forces of good lose hope.

This is the time for clear alternatives. Anyone who declines to present a clear-cut position - black or white - is in effect collaborating in the decline. It is not a matter of Labor versus Likud or right versus left, but of right versus wrong, acceptable versus unacceptable. The law-abiding versus the lawbreakers. What's needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its values by the deaf, dumb and callous.

Israel's friends abroad - Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people - should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality.

Translated by J.J. Goldberg.

Avraham Burg was speaker of Israel's Knesset from 1999 to 2003 and is a former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is currently a Labor Party Knesset member. This essay is adapted by the author from an article that appeared in Yediot Aharonot.

August 30, 2003

Remember - i'll be gone for a week after monday - and i probably won't have computer access. so let's all hope there will be nothing to write about. every day i hope that. sometimes things happen anyway and i don't write about them. sometimes things happen and i don't even know about them. i mean if gilad had not been working all night in the emergency ward last night i wouldn't have known that there were a very large number of traffic accidents in the area last night.

Anyway i would very much like to have a week where nothing bad happens to anyone while i'm gone. I was sitting in the park in Gan Meir yesterday thinking about Marianne Faithful and how even though we have totally different moods and totally different goals in watching children play we both just want to hear them sing. There is a pop song on palestinian tv that i keep hearing about - haven't seen it though - a girl bringing flowers home to her mother but the mother gets bombed by israelis so she winds up putting the flowers on her mother's tomb. now i don't have to tell you that this is not a good song for children to learn - no matter what the reality is. and i don't have to tell you that there is no equivalent in hebrew - nothing similar either. even though i know a lot of people personally whose parents were killed in enemy attacks. too many. and others whose children were killed in enemy attacks.

August 31, 2003

And while i was writing a palestinian girl was killed in Chan Yunis.

We always mention these tragedies on the news - but we don't have access to their photographs, or we don't want to humanize the situation too much. So a settler in Rafiach who was injured (shot at by sniper) today, got coverage, and the girl from chan yunis got mentioned.

Yehudit complained about the way I didn't describe Dizengoff center - it was interesting - the last time I was there, i think, there was a fire that i was sure was a terrorist bomb and i got frozen - couldn't move (last year - i wrote about it i think) I don't like Dizengoff center - even though it has many homey qualities, and i have some great memories. I don't like it because it feels like a maze - you never know what floor you will end up when you follow a ramp. Lots of people have worked it out and know where everything is, but it's mysterious to me - and characterizes part of Israel's personality - if you can't figure out where you are, you don't belong here.

There are some other elements of Dizengoff that i like - the mass culture - all different kinds of shops and prices - cheap and expensive back to back.

And the food we bought in the booths was simple and traditional - stuffed vegetables, Druze pita, kubbe - the junk food took a back seat. it was there, but just part of the mess.

I think I will probably not write tomorrow - i might do things like pack and clean up, since i leave the next morning. But I will be back next week - for sure.

unless of course i get blown up or kidnapped.

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