Tag Archives: Israel

Tel Aviv city report

A few weeks ago I’ve published a city report on Rotterdam, that I wrote for Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com). Well, I’ve been busy writing another one, on Tel Aviv, where I used to live, and where I am currently visiting. Allow me to introduce you to the city that never sleeps, “the bubble”, the one and only Tel Aviv.

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
I came to Israel in 1991 (aged 12), with my family, in the big immigration wave from the Soviet Union, and lived there until 2003.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
As many young Israeli’s drawn to the big city, I’ve lived in Tel Aviv for a while, between 1999 and 2001.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
It was the first time I lived in another country.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Nowadays, my home base is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I visit Israel regularly, as I have family and many friends there. Takes about 4.5 hours by plane.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
The weather is great for at least 10 months. Its a unique opportunity to experience the place that gets so much attention, and see for yourself what the fuss is all about.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
This I’ll have to get back to in another post here – the topic is a bit too big for a short answer.

Just to give you an idea of the highlights - this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you're not on the edge of it - no, right in the middle!

Just to give you an idea of the highlights – this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you’re not on the edge of it – no, right in the middle!

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
Good, most of the time the breeze from the sea clears the pollution. When the wind is from the East, can get very bad, but it’s only a few days in a year.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
July-August are hot and sticky humid. December to March is the rainy season, but it almost never rains more than 2-3 days in a row.

What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
Cockroaches. Big, flying ones.

Are there any special security concerns?
Uhm… Yes. Its Israel. BUT the crime rates are quite low compared to other Western countries, and besides – nowadays the chances of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack are higher in Paris, London or Brussels. The Israeli traffic is the most dangerous part, and even that is not as dangerous as it used to be.

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
Depends on what one includes as “Tel Aviv”. The city itself is small and housing is also small, the outer rings of the metropolitan area contain many typical “sleeping neighborhoods” with more spacious accommodation, but the commute time is also larger.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
For singles the city center is the place to be. If your can find a good house in the city and your family can handle the city life – go for it. But prices are high.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
One of the best, I hear.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
Yes. But that’s the simple answer. Compared to the severity of these issues in the neighbouring countries, like Syria, there are none worth mentioning.

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Challenging. Sidewalks are crowded with parked bicycles and motorcycles, public buildings are not necessarily fitted with ramps.

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
The whole country is one big live museum of nature, culture and history. For Tel Aviv itself I’d suggest checking out http://www.spottedbylocals.com/telaviv/. As a former resident who has done his best to explore the city I can certify that the local “spotters” are doing a very good job unveiling spots that are usually under the radar.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
Everything is available, from free public gym facilities at the beach to private teachers of every sport you can think of.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
The American fast-food chains are present but who needs them when local fast food is abundant. Every Israeli has a favorite falafel place, and Tel Aviv has a lively dining scene.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available but prices are ridiculously high.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Credit cards are widely accepted.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
I’d suggest bringing a tank, but the fuel prices would kill you.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Reasonably affordable and safe. The national railways do have issues with the unions, so sudden strikes can be a plague.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
Most of the local people know sufficient English to get by without knowing any Hebrew. Many signs are Hebrew-only, so learning the Hebrew alphabet is useful.

Size and morale of expat community:
That’s a difficult question, as it depends much on what is included in the “expat community”.There are millions of foreign-born Israeli’s, hundreds of thousands of (mostly Asian) foreign workers employed in construction, agriculture and nursing, tens of thousands of African infiltrators/refugees (depends on who you ask), a constant influx of volunteers working in the Kibbutzs and so on.

If “expats” include only Western diplomats and such, then its probably small, I can’t say much about the morale among them.

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy?
Without a job permit chances are probably low.

What volunteer opportunities are there?
Numerous. Not sure how diverse are the options without knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
The beach. Huge clubbing scene. Mountain biking is growing in popularity. Barbecuing.

Tel Aviv 3

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
At work – depends much on where you work, but usually “casual-plus”. In public “casual” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How's that for "casual"?

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How’s that for “casual”?

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Israel has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, so healthcare must be good.

You can leave behind your:
Anything you thought you knew about the place and anything anyone has ever told you about it. Its nothing like you thought it is, no matter what you thought. And don’t bring your politeness either, it will go unnoticed at best.

But don’t forget your:
Balls of steel, elephant skin, all the sarcasm and cynicism you can find. A huge supply of sense of humor. And, of course, your hiking boots. Israel is best explored by foot.

Can you save money?
No.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
Yes.

Recommended books related to this city (title, author):

  • “The lover”, A. B. Yehoshua.
  • Works of Bernard Lewis, such as “The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years”.
  • 1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War”, Benny Morris.

Take them all with a huge pinch (better yet, a bag) of salt – everyone’s view is politically colored.

Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
“Lebanon” – OK, it takes place in Lebanon, but its set exclusively inside an Israeli tank in Lebanon.

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

Any other comments:
Don’t be like the American presidents and Secretaries of State, who think that all it takes is for people to shake hands and stop being so childish. Its not up to you to bring peace, nor is it up to you to lecture the locals about how they should behave and think. Just try to enjoy the good parts, and ignore the bad ones – that’s what everyone else is doing.

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Filed under Europe, Guest post, Work

When the New York Times tries to be positive about Israel

A blog post by Jesus (aka Tony Wolkovitzky) pointed my attention towards an article in the New York Times dedicated to the urban culture of the Israeli city of Haifa. The article is titled “In Israeli City of Haifa, a Liberal Arab Culture Blossoms”, and boy, its a hilarious one. In Haifa, the NYT preaches, “30,000 Arab residents, around 10 percent of the population, include equal numbers of Muslims and Christians, and they are generally wealthier and better educated than Arabs elsewhere in Israel”.

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Haifa is a gorgeous city on the Mediterranean sea

According to the NYT gospel, “This makes Haifa a comfortable place for liberal Palestinians who want not only to escape the constraints of conservative Arab communities but also to be among their own people.” Surprisingly, the place where they can “be among their own people” turns out to be… drums… Jewish neighbourhoods!

“”If you live in a Jewish neighborhood, you are a stranger, and that gives you freedom as an Arab woman,” said Fidaa Hammoud, 32. […] She and her partner live together in a Jewish neighborhood where they run a Palestinian cafe called Rai. “I couldn’t do this anywhere else,” she said.”  The emphasis is mine, as you probably guessed. From the murky description of their relationship I guess Ms. Hammoud is either unmarried or gay, and living in an Arab neighbourhood would be a nightmare for her, even in Haifa.

Essentially, what “makes Haifa a comfortable place for liberal Palestinians” is living alongside a significantly larger Jewish community. It is the Jewish community where they can escape to and where they enjoy the liberties and tolerance. Sadly, both the “liberal Palestinians” and the NYT fail to thank Haifa’s Jewish community even in a footnote.

But hey, what can one expect from a newspaper that produces a headline like “Israeli Woman Stabbed Amid West Bank Exchanges of Violence”, leaving it to the readers to guess, even after reading the article, that the pregnant woman was not “exchanging violence” with anyone but was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist because she was Jewish.

Back to the Haifa article, the funniest part was the subsequent criticism of the article from Ayed Fadel, the owner of Kabareet nightspot, who is quoted by the NYT as  saying “We want a gay couple to go to the dance floor and kiss each other, and nobody to even look at them, this is the new Palestinian society we are aiming for”. Mr. Fadel’s complete rant is available here, but basically he is pissed about having “been totally used as a “pink washer” with the quote above!!”

The thing is, Kabareet was among the bars and cafes that held screenings for Kooz Queer, the first Palestinian gay film festival. The only place in the Middle East such a festival is even imaginable in is Israel. Yet somehow, for Mr. Fadel, Israel still gets to be the bad guy for allowing the festival to take place. And the NYT pissed him off by not mentioning the “pinkwashing” angle of Kooz.

Let me get this straight (pun intended). A Palestinian LGBT-themed film festival is held in Haifa, Israel. One of its most important topics is the Israeli “Pinkwashing” – the supposed exploitation of the idea of Israel being LGBT-friendly to promote public perception of Israel as a cute and cuddly country. But doesn’t the festival prove exactly the opposite?

First, it shows that Israel is a gay-friendly place – just think how the public and the state would react to a similar event in any of Israel’s neighbouring countries.

Second, it demonstrates quite clearly that Israel is not trying to “pinkwash” itself. Its not like the festival was promoted by Israel as a proof of Israel’s cuddliness. Mr. Fadel probably sees this lack of attention as “being silenced by the Zionist oppressor”, but he’s not going to be satisfied either way, I guess.

Third and finally, by allowing a festival with “pinkwashing” smear theme to take place in a major Israeli city like Haifa, without as much as a grumpy face from a single Israeli official, shows that Israel respects the freedom of expression and opinion, no matter how obnoxious and detached from reality this opinion may be.

I’m not the first nor the only person to note that in the Middle East, this sort of liberal, secular and gay-friendly scene could take place only in Israel, under Israeli laws and protection. The NYT was apparently sufficiently concerned by the criticism to publish not one, but two responses by Margaret Sullivan, the NYT public editor, who “handles questions and comments from readers and investigates matters of journalistic integrity”.

According to Ms. Sullivan, Diaa Hadid, who wrote the original story, disagrees with the claim that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where openly gay persons have freedom and safety. Ms. Hadid points out that “Beirut has a fairly vibrant gay scene”. Perhaps to prove her point, Ms. Hadid can, once she gets the chance, report from a gay film festival in Beirut? In fact, I’d be pleasantly surprised if Ms. Hadid has something positive to report on gay issues from any Arab capital. In the meantime, I wish her all the best exploring the diverse subcultures that peacefully coexist in Israel.

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Filed under Small European things, Travel

The repulsive face of modern European antisemitism

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Ever seen them BDS’ing a Chinese supermarket? Me neither.

Last weekend, when visiting the local supermarket, I had an unpleasant encounter with the repulsive face of modern European antisemitism. As I was doing my regular groceries, I noticed several people in identical white jackets rummaging through the shelves. I guessed it was some kind of internal quality control and haven’t given it much thought. But as I left the store, I realized it was an external control – these people were searching the shelves for Israeli products. And they were calling on the shoppers to boycott these products. I don’t need to tell you how disgusting the similarity is between these people and other times in the European history of the 20th century.

Spot the differences…

These people of course have the right to demonstrate. I have no problem with them criticizing Israel. They are entitled to their opinion. But don’t let them tell you they are against “occupation”, don’t let them tell you they are “anti-zionist”, not antisemitic, don’t let them tell you they are concerned about the suffering of “Palestinians”. Because it is all bullshit.

They say they are against occupation – that’s bullshit.
The only occupation they are concerned with is the Israeli “occupation”. Never mind the Oslo agreements, never mind Israeli disengagement from Gaza – let us even assume Israel is in full control there. What about the other occupations? The nearby market is full of Moroccan goods – I don’t see them searching there for products from the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. When have they checked the Turkish stores for products from Northern Cyprus – occupied by Turkey? Have they ever inspected the Chinese supermarkets for products of Chinese-occupied Tibet or the Russian stores for products made in Russian-occupied Crimea? Never. Only the “occupation” by the Jewish state gets their attention.

They say they support oppressed people in the Middle East – that’s bullshit.
I haven’t heard them protest the oppression of the Kurds of Iraq or Turkey. They were silent when Yezidi’s were being massacred by the Islamic State. The suffering of Shiites in Pakistan, the Christians in Syria and Egypt, the miserable life of gays everywhere in the Middle East (outside of Israel, where gay pride parades are a regular event) are never their concern. Ruthless bombardments of civilians in Yemen by Saudi warplanes haven’t led to a single sound of protest. All their attention is gobbled up by Israel – in their mind, only the Jewish state can be an oppressor.

Saudi bombardments of Yemen? Its Arabs killing Arabs, that's OK.

Saudi bombardments of Yemen? Its Arabs killing Arabs, that’s OK.

They say they are concerned about the rights of the “Palestinians” – that’s bullshit.
And if you wonder why I put “Palestinians” between brackets – look up who is Zuheir Mohsen.
I have never seen them demonstrating for the rights of “Palestinians” in Lebanon, where they are officially excluded from dozens of professions – “Palestinians” can’t be a doctor or a lawyer in Lebanon. Never have these people said a word about “Palestinians” in Syria, where a fourth stateless generation is born, inheriting a refugee status, for decades crammed by the regime into miserable camps on the fringes of society. I haven’t heard them protesting the abuse of the rights of the residents of Gaza by the brutal regime of Hamas or raise their voice against the corruption of the thugs governing the “Palestinian Autonomy”. Only when Jews are perceived to abuse the rights of “Palestinians” are these people heard.

They say they are not antisemitic, “just” anti-Zionist. That’s bullshit.
Last time I checked, Zionism was the aspiration of the Jewish people for self-determination. They are not aganst the right of Swedes, Iraqis, Albanians or even “Palestinians” for self-determination. It is only the Jewish people that are denied that right – and denying Jews a right that other people have is the definition of antisemitism.

Checking Moroccan products next week? I don't think so.

Checking Moroccan products next week? I don’t think so.

So what is their motive?
Why do these people demonize and abuse the Jewish state? Why single out Israel for a “special treatment”? Even if Israel does violate human rights, even if Israel is an occupying power, why don’t these people protest other occupying forces, why not demonstrate against any other, much graver violators of human rights? Well, because boycotting Jewish goods is safe and fun. It is a cheap thrill, it gives them the feeling they are doing the “right thing” with little chances of getting hurt in the process. I totally understand them. Getting away unharmed from an inspection of Moroccan goods at the market will be tricky. Try rummaging through the shelves of a Russian store and you might end up with a broken nose. Attempt a boycott of a Chinese supermarket and you’ll end up facing an angry mob. Calling for a boycott of Israel, on the other hand, is free of dangers, and it gives the guilty pleasure of doing something you know is wrong. Its like picking your nose – you know you are not supposed to do it, and its not polite, but when you can get away with it – you do it.

When photographed, they try to hide their faces. Its like they're caught nose-picking - deep down they know its wrong.

When photographed, they try to hide their faces. Its like they’re caught nose-picking – deep down they know its wrong.

Its the same reason “anarchist” or “left-wing” so-called activists travel to Israel – to have a taste of the action. Why not? You can shout at soldiers in the morning, have a swim in the Med in the day and end up discussing how great you are over a beer in a local pub in the evening. Best thing is – there are little risks involved. Worse thing that can happen to you is a bit of tear gas, or you’ll get delayed at the airport for a few hours. But oh the stories you’ll tell. Compare it to the risk of rotting away in a Chinese prison for supporting the Tibetans or disappearing all together in a shallow grave in the desert for standing by the Sahrawi’s in Morocco, and the choice for Israel-bashing is an easy one. The modern Jew-haters, just like the old ones, are cowards, liars and racists. They just don’t always shave their heads.

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Filed under Europe