06 August 2004
Thirty miles north along the Mediterranean coast from the tortured Gaza Strip and 25 miles west of the woeful West Bank, is the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. While old Jerusalem is all about prophets and losses—a phrase I’m coining right here—the very modern Tel Aviv is all about sun tan oil and G-strings. It is a town more in touch with its Mediterranean roots than with its Hebraic ones.
Even though the Israelis consider Jerusalem to be their capital, the American Embassy is located right along the beach in Tel Aviv. The official reason for this I’ve heard is because the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 was considered illegal by the United Nations and to recognize Jerusalem as the capital would be to give legitimacy to this inappropriate action. That sounds all good and serious and realpolitik and such, but I don’t think that’s the reason the Americans have their embassy in Tel Aviv. As Israel’s biggest supporter, I don’t think we’d try teaching them a lesson like that. The real reason I suspect is that some ambassador years back decided he’d rather look out his window and see beautiful girls in bikinis than somber old monotheists mumbling passages out of their prayer books.
And there are lots of girls in bikinis to be seen from the embassy windows, enough to drive the young male traveler fresh out of the severely modest Arab world a bit loco. “Say shalom to my little friend,” was the catchphrase this past weekend. God told Abraham that his descendants would populate the world like so many millions of grains of sand, and today thousands of the best looking granules dot the white beaches of Tel Aviv.
The beach is just chock full of bronzed buxom beauties. Muscle-bound guys in Speedos play paddle ball in front of them, trying to catch some young girl’s eye. Of course there are families at the beach too, and the obligatory hairy old guy with the large gut and small drawers. But for the most part, Tel Aviv is for the young pleasure-seeker.
To say that Tel Aviv has a fantastic nightlife is a bit of a misnomer. The clubs in Tel Aviv never close. There is no Hebrew translation for “last call.” Fifty miles to the east, across the Jordan, Arab women, all wrapped in ankle-length gowns and family honor are safely tucked in by ten o’clock at night. In Tel Aviv, their Semitic cousins are just getting ready to go out, affixing their ankle bracelets and pulling on their short shorts.
For those so inclined, kosher menus are available throughout town, but so are pork chops. Good luck finding that in Jerusalem.
To the Israelis’ great credit, the daily calls to prayer can still be heard coming from the mosques in the adjacent Arab enclave of Jaffa. (Tel Aviv really swallowed up ancient Jaffa, so that it is now basically a district of the Jewish city.) One won’t hear the shofar (ram’s horn) blown from any synagogues in Baghdad or any other Arab city for that matter. All the Jews were driven out a long time ago.
I attended two parties while in Tel Aviv. Sipping white wine on a penthouse rooftop surrounded by blue-eyed blondes, it was difficult to recall whether I was in Israel or Manhattan. (They’re pretty much the same, one pretty Jewish girl joked with me.) Only the sight and sounds of the breaking waves of the moonlit Mediterranean gave away our true location.
“What do they think of us?” was the question I kept getting all night after it circulated the party that I was visiting from Jordan. None of the folks I talked to had been to an Arab country and they couldn’t believe a nice American boy would choose to live in one. I was candid in my reply. “Most of them hate you.” The looks on their faces indicated that I’d told them something they already knew.
For the most part, this anger is misplaced. In my opinion, the Israelis have as much to do with the shortcomings of the Arab world as the Canadians do. Which is to say, very little. Outside of the Palestinian situation, which is so complex and so tragic, Israelis aren’t responsible for the poverty and illiteracy and lack of freedoms in the Arab homeland. These are problems for which the Israelis are conveniently made scapegoats so that responsibility won’t rest at the doorstep of bad leaders. The Palestinian situation, on the other hand, is something that even the attendees of the party in Tel Aviv conceded was more complex. To my pleasant surprise, everyone I spoke with hoped for a just, swift, and honorable solution to what seems a never-ending crisis. Seeing how this is a conflict over land that no one wants to give up, just what that solution is remains elusive.
I wanted to keep talking about this issue, but my secular beach-bum Israeli hosts would have none of it. “Dude, it’s the weekend. Don’t worry about this stuff. Have another drink.”