Tel Aviv Diary Oct 13, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from Oct 13, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

so Amnon Shahak has reappeared - with Yossi Beilin and Amos Oz and Amram Mitzna and Yuli Tamir and the other guys they were drafting the Geneva Accord! Final rules to the solutions signed by both parties - and not the leaders of the peoples - not arafat and not sharon.

Sounds very good to me. and if they do what they say and make copies for every citizen to read and decide about - it's even possible. this is the public outcry i've been waiting for for at least 6 years. (I know 6 because i have a dated poem called "public outcry" )

Will it work? Well the Palestinians say Arafat approved it, but on this side Sharon is boiling and will probably do everything possible to foil it.

I think it is significant that at this very time, Alan Dershowitz's, "The Case for Israel" has come out - destroying many of the accusations against Israel as based on propaganda and lies. The real position of Israel in this conflict has been so muddied lately it is almost impossible to see it. And unless accords begin with the truth as a basis it cannot be enforced.

How do i celebrate sukkot? my celebration is best symbolized by the sukkah at shesek on lillienblum street. on the ceiling of the bar, there are some branches decoratively arranged, and crepe paper hangings - all a virtual sukkah, and a bit of a parody of a sukkah, but a sukkah nevertheless.

other i know are in the sinai, celebrating their sukkot in the shacks by the beach - chushot. probably the most authentic way of doing it.

Here's the poem about Public Outcry


Karen Alkalay-Gut




Literature is not innocent. It is guilty and should admit itself so. Georges Bataille





Why are you silent, poets of Israel?

How can you write of anything but

the war we are careening toward like

children on a water slide screaming

for the moment they will hit the sea?


How do we let ourselves believe

that poetry is innocent and we

mere victims of circumstances

that may work themselves out,

if we just continue to concentrate on beauty

and the truths that can only mean something

in a land that is free?





Where will you go for the war?

Simon asks on his first night in this country,

throwing us all into total confusion as if

we hadnt realized the implications of our own dire predictions,

the logical conclusions of the facts to which we too

have played our convictionless part, watching

those full of passionate intensity

destroy a dream-coming-true while shaking our sensible heads.





We should have the courage of our beliefs, I say

to my friends who having been discussing

computer programs, international bargains, Internet sites,

and how they use technology to escape,

escape this narrow world.


They all agree something must be done,

then we slip back into the usual petty complaints





All we have left is a public outcry

we must speak

of nothing else,

write only of peace,



clamoring it

until there is so much noise

someone at last

must hear.





As long as poets believe

they must only write of little beauties and wars

that mean nothing to the world outside

and that only this is poetry,

there will be no one to listen.





Perhaps it is true

that all we write is in vain

But the silence, the silence

thunders through me like a train.

old poem.

anyway everybody's upset about the geneva accords - Barak is as mad as sharon. i can't imagine it being done anywhere else in the world without that kind of anger - after all they acted like they had the right. but they don't - because they are now hoping to convince the people that it is possible to work out a peace. Now i'm not convinced about what they worked out bcause i haven't seen it yet, but i understand the need - after all the settlements in Gaza have been shelled all day. 2000 people are extimated homeless in Rafiah because of the operations to take out the tunnels to Egypt the other day, and they only took out about 1/5 of them. So rocket launchers and other unhappy weapons are still coming into the Gaza strip. And think of that girl who blew up 20 people last saturday - personal revenge for her boyfriend and brother. who knows how many more Arabs with revenge in mind there are... you figure anything anyone does to try to stop this chaotic situation can't be bad.

So let's hear a bit more about those accords before we shoot them down.

October 14, 2004

Today even Alec Ron (you remember him - the police chief from October 2000 - the man everyone loves to hate and blames for the 13 Arab-Israelis killed at the beginning of the intifada) came out with the same kind of statement about the Geneva Accord - he said - at least somebody's trying to DO something about this situation. He also used what is becoming a code-word "Rhinoceros" - to describe the public mentality. Remember the Ionesco play where everyone becomes a rhino - well those rhinos keep coming up in conversation - that our society seems to be becoming monolithic, and opposition is seen as betrayal and that is scary. Yesterday when I saw Ehud Barak on TV accusing the guys who drafted the accord of endangering the country, i couldn't get that phrase out of my mind, and at night i realized why - BARAK is the guy i thought endangered our country -

okay - that wasn't fair - but he is so absolutely sure of himself, so positive he couldn't have made a mistake so it must be everyone else who screwed up the peace process that he really makes me sick. the self satisfaction that leaves a person (or a country) closed to other possibilities.

A word of apology. Apparently a number of letters written to my website got lost in cyberspace and only turned up today. If you wrote me and didn't hear - you should hear within the next few days.

One letter that raised great nostalgia in me was from the Samaritans, the Shomronim. Why nostalgia? In the '70's when my ex-husband worked with many manufacturers in the territories, we used to visit Mount Grizim every Passover. Now my memory is not very good, but many things about these visits remain very vivid to me. A woman who worked in Nablus at the company with whom my ex-husband worked was named Iftikar, and she was the daughter of the high Cantor. She invited us to her father's home, and we were served lamb and coffee. It was what was eaten on Passover. The upper walls of the great room where we were hosted were covered with a row of framed prayers. I will have to now go to their site, the site of the Samaritans and refresh my parched memory. You might want to visit it too! I'm sure it will be full of new and exciting information.

While we were on our little family expedition today to see the place where Ezi works, someone tuned into the news on their cellular and we learned of the 3 Americans killed in a terrorist attack in Gaza today. I kind of wish i hadn't heard about it, because yesterday i was with some people at the consulate and kept picturing their faces today - the grief and fear at the pain of proximity. (I would not be surprised, by the way, if some of the 'americans' killed turned out to be Palestinians. They probably employ Palestinians as drivers...)

And then while we were having lunch i saw that another person from the Maxim attack 11 days ago had died, George Matar - who was a waiter and a relative of the owners.

It's too small a country for there to be people unaffected directly - everyone's part of some family or some group around here - and all these terrible events destroy not only the victim, and the immediate relatives, but all those around. I know i've been saying it for the past 2 years, but each time it strikes home. And today as i saw my own family and all the families at the company holiday, it struck me even more. That terror is evil - simply evil - and that all the little children around me as well as all the adults had been defined by some one else as 'soldiers' to be targeted, to be destroyed whenever possible.

Fun thoughts for a vacation day.

October 16, 2003

Oy Vey I forgot to save today's entry and it got erased. It wasn't a terribly big deal - mostly about the tunnels in Rafiah and the houses being destroyed and the cooler weather we've been having. The relief at the cooler weather i felt for a moment suddenly turned into panic over the homeless people in tel aviv and those who have been rendered homeless in rafiah.

I don't mean to suggest that those operations should not be taking place there - but i hope they are as careful as they can be about human life.

So that's the mess of my belief - i am against settlement in the territories. i want out from there. and yet, i don't want them to bring in missiles to kill me while we are there.

there is a nice logic to it, i hope.

Why don't i write more about my daily activities - some nice lady from toronto wrote. sometimes i'm afraid to . sometimes i fear that i am giving away potential dangerous information - even an item like Mike's Place is more crowded than ever since it reopened after the bombing. And more and more people tell me how much they love it. i say that - some bomber reads it - and my life is over.

so i am sometimes overly shy of mentioning events, places, facts. i may even start lying - for self preservation only of course.

October 17, 2003

Today's Ha'Aretz has a picture of the bathroom of Mishmish and an interview with Yuval Goldernberg, the family architect, in an article about the bathrooms of bars. Every time I go there with guests (and of course they are always suitably impressed with the place in general), I take them to the bathroom. Yuval is a pretty amazing architect - especially here - and the complexity and simplicity of the unisex bathroom (with the tub in the middle of the room) reflects some things about the spirit of this country and its contemporary variations. First, in many middle east countries, the beauty is kept off the streets. Everything interesting is hidden behind walls, and with no signs to point the way. Because, as I continually repeat in my diary, if you have to ask you don't belong here. The entire 'hamulah' mentality is reflected in the architecture, no matter how socialist or democratic (or capitalistic) we say we are becoming. We always try to keep out the stranger - who can only know about the right places if he is invited in.

Second, the more private and modest the space is in tradition, the more public and gimmicky it becomes in trendy culture. This has been happening for years in the kitchens of Israel, which have become more expensive and chic in inverse proportion to the quality of the food produced there. And now it has hit the dim world of public toilets. Now we all know that in London and New York bathrooms of bars are exciting and surprising places. But this trend, which Tel Aviv is certainly imitating to some extent, has a more unique basis in Israeli culture. The toilets of my generation were tiny cubicles with hand operated faucets for flushing. And this is still pretty in in the middle east as far as i know. When we went to the bathroom in the VIP airport in Amman a few years ago, there were no provisions for toilet paper, but there was a garden hose attached to the toilet and a towel instead. So we have gone in the totally opposite direction in the past years.

Third - and this is universal i think - we have reverted to the eighteenth century court culture of england when men and women continued their conversations from the drawing room in the toilet. It's unisex, it's sexy, and it's intellectual at the same time. And I think the particular israeli twist is that the liberal-thinking do everything we can to buck the religious tradition.

And here is the response of the architect himself:(my nephew)

As newspapers do, the things I said with any depth to them where replaced by the more superficial facts I gave the reporter about gimmicks in bars and so on.

My main point to the journalist, that seemed to be truly interested in this phenomenon (I wrongly thought), was that you have to search the reason for why is it becoming a trend in Tel Aviv beyond the obvious reason of London and New York.

The idea I suggested is that in complete opposite to the extrovert nature of the 'old' fashioned 'night out' which used to be interested in the street life, discussions about current affairs and hardly noticed the look of the places you sat in, as long as it had the right (left) social scene.

These days people are looking to be hidden away from the 'street' and in general local reality because of obvious reasons - pretend that everything is fine...

There for, the best place for us to properly enjoy ourselves, as far as we can from Mabat and Gidon Levy is in the f*** toilets.

The equation I suggested to her was that as Hara the situation becomes here, the more people 'connect' to the toilets.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

But once again, who wants to read in Haaretz Galeria section that the situation is 'Hara'? and the architect thinks that this is the main reason we spend so much effort and money on toilets in bars.

So Judy writes me from California - now why would we not want people to know where in places are? Hmm, lets see. A woman walks into a restaurant in Haifa, has lunch, and then blows herself up, killing 21 people and ruining the lives of at least 70 more. Why wouldn't i want her to know about the places i like to visit?

Let's think.

That woman fascinates me - the amount of revenge and joy in evil. She lost her beloved so she wants everyone to die. she plans to go to Rambam hospital and blow herself up there, but settles on Maxims. She eats lunch - thinks about what she's going to do, sees the waiter, the manager, the entire family she will destroy - she hears their conversations, sees their delight in the same food she is eating, does not try to avoid Arabs, does not try to avoid children, thinks perhaps she will be reunited with her fiance.

She is the kind of person i really don't want to know, i don't want to get into a conversation with her about politics....

You may laugh at the obviousness of this remark, but i have in the past written a sympathetic poem about a 'suicide sister.' I think this woman is a specific case. don't even want to dignify her and her brutal behavior with a name.

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