Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Never mind the debris, have a pina colada

I was cycling along yesterday evening, from Tel Baruch Tsfon in north Tel Aviv (pleasant dull suburbia, with orderly top-end apartment blocks, wide streets) through Park Hayarkon (joggers, cyclists, strollers, after-work get-fitters), onto Ibn Gvirol Street (cafes, meeting places, friends sitting, chatting on benches), past Habima (children playing and families sitting in the sunken garden), and finally down Rotschild Boulevard (cycling, walking, couples hand in hand) and I thought, “This is Tel Aviv. And I love it.”

But apparently this is all a sham. A bluff, as they say in Hebrew. According to a report on CBS’s 60 Minutes program, aired on TV in Israel just this week, the buzzing, happening city of Tel Aviv is only partying because, apparently, we all expect to die tomorrow. “It’s the last day of Pompei,” as some unknown Israeli with strong opinions told the 60 Minutes reporter.
It was a scathing, hyperbolic take on life in the “city that never sleeps”, voted as third hottest city in the world (Lonely Planet 2011), best gay city in the world (American Airlines 2011) and ninth best beach city on the planet (National Geographic 2010). According to 60 Minutes, we are surrounded by war, and yet prefer to stick our hands in the sand.
It was a picture of Tel Aviv that I simply didn’t recognise.
And when I hear people praise the mayor Ron Huldai for the wondrous things he’s done in the city, I don’t wish to steal his thunder, but I really think the true praise should go to the ones that make the city the vibrant wonderful Tel Aviv that it is. Yes, the Tel Avivians. The ones out strolling, sitting, cycling, frequenting theatres and clubs, sipping espressos in cafes. Because at the end of the day, any city is only as great as the people who live there.

Of course there are those that come here, and see a very different city.
The African other world. The actual numbers are unknown, as many of them have entered the country illegally and are without official papers, but there are reportedly upward of 50,000 immigrants from South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea and the Ivory Coast. Many have fled untold horrors in their native countries, and have managed to escape danger, travel across continents, avoiding bullets along the way, until finally reaching... well let’s call it the Promised Land for want of a better name. Many are caught and are incarcerated for short periods by Israel before being eventually released and given a bus ticket to anywhere. Which normally means Tel Aviv, you know the city where they’re busy partying before the volcano erupts.   
Immigrants celebrating Seder in Tel Aviv Photo: Nathan Jeffay/The Jewish Daily Forward

When the numbers of Africans grew too big, some of the locals grew restless. Until finally, the government decided to take immediate (as usual, read “knee-jerk”) reaction, and is now repatriating as many South Sudanese as will voluntarily step forward. This Sunday, on the first plane, Israel sent some 127 back, each with $1,300 as a gift from the Israeli taxpayer (and $500 for each child). Of course, “voluntarily” can be misleading, as apparently if you don’t step forward, the authorities will track you down and send you back anyway (but without the $1,300, I imagine, and without our smiling Interior Minister waving you off from the airport tarmac). 
Now there are reportedly only 1,500 South Sudanese in Israel. In other words, to address a problem concerning 50,000 people, the government, up to its usual standard of incompetence, has taken very firm action regarding... well... 1,500 of them.

Why have the South Sudanese be singled out? Simple, because the courts said they can, because theirs is a newly independent state and “safe”ish.  

Which brings me onto a philosophical question: When times are bad, do you flee or stay?

Taking a global look, all the great countries of today have been through troubled times, revolutions, and wars, including civil wars. Britain, France, USA, Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain, have all been through awful stages in their evolution. There were times when a wrong word in the wrong ear could get your head chopped off in England or France. When innocent people were sent to labour camps in Spain, or exiled to the Gulag.

In the 2006 film The Lives of Others, a woman pokes her head around her front door in a block of flats in East Berlin and accidentally sees the Stasi putting in a wiretap in her neighbour’s flat. Eyes lock, but then she silently closes the door. To me, that sums up the fate of a country. If millions behave in that manner, then evil and dictatorship will win. I am most encouraged when I see Israelis argue with figures of authority, because that’s a country that will survive, where evil and dictatorship shall not prevail. Now I am not belittling the tragedies that occur today in many forsaken places in the world, and I’m not advocating that we send everyone back to where they came from, no matter how dangerous those places are. But I am raising a thought: that the “safe” places in the world were not made so by some heavenly decree, that the great, free, democratic countries of today are great and free not because they always were, but thanks to their people who stayed, and fought to make them so.

At the end of the 60 Minutes report, the presenter asked Yossi Vardi, the grandfather of Israeli venture capital, if he liked Tel Aviv (despite the rumblings of the volcano, imminent death etc.). He leant forward until their noses almost met. “I LOVE IT” he said.

I agree.

No comments:

Post a Comment