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Archive for May, 2012

Current Israeli politics

Posted by aviel on May 31, 2012

I haven’t written yet about the current Israeli politics as I’ve been trying to update myself on it after a few years of neglect. One of the problems, and really what makes Israeli politics so interesting in my opinion, is that the issues here are so bloody complicated. I figure that a blog is a good outlet for thinking about these issues, as well as learning to write about them. If you’re not at all interested in Middle Eastern politics then there is not much point in reading further.

Coffee, the newspaper and a shaded place while enjoying 25 degrees Celsius, is a great way to start the day.

First and foremost there is the Iranian issue. There is hardly a day when the various officials, politicians, generals and former spy chiefs, don’t speak out on the issue. It’s hard to make up my mind on this, and those who proclaim to ‘know’ or who profess certainty on the matter, seem rather foolish to me. A lot of analysts seem to believe that PM Netanyahu and DM Barak have made up their minds and are the main drivers behind the process leading up to an eventual attack on Iran. Against them stand, among others, former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan who spoke out yesterday, reiterating his position that an attack would at best be limited and actually speed up the Iranian acquisition of nuclear bombs. It would, according to him, unite the Iranians behind the regime and legitimize their nuclear aspirations. Also former IDF Chief of General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, spoke out saying that Israel won’t have to live under the umbrella of a nuclear Iran, that there is still time to let diplomacy to run its course. In any case, it seems less and less likely that either Israel or the US would attack in 2012, given the upcoming US elections. Worth noting is that there seems to be a general consensus, in Israel as well as in the US, about the Iranian nuclear aspirations. The question is how the hell will the Iranians be stopped?

A potential sign of Israel gearing up for attack could be seen in the surprise-move to expand the government with the inclusion of the main opposition party, Kadima. The government now enjoys the support (as far as that goes in Israeli politics) of roughly three quarters of the Parliament, thereby postponing the expected elections until the end of the next year. That is true today though, might not be tomorrow. The problem with grand coalitions is that they foster discontent among both voters, who look for an alternative, and among the elected officials who see their relative influence diminished by far. The task of getting all these officials to agree on policy has got to be daunting. I’m not sure we can expect this coalition to last very long, but if the coalition deal is secretly a way of creating a national-unity government, in order to carry out an attack on Iran, we would be talking about something else entirely. I doubt it though.

At times the West really gives in to wishful thinking, as seen in the latest rounds of negotiations with Iran. The naive optimism shared by many decision makers, and various officials, ran up against the reality of the Iranian intransigence. In essence, the Iranians bought a month of accelerating the enrichment of Uranium, exactly what the Israelis kept saying would happen, and the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano was made a fool of. This same wishful thinking led to the intervention in Libya, with no plan for the day after and with serious political ramifications. Besides spreading chaos into neighboring countries, such as Mali, the intervention also sent the message to all the remaining despots of the world that the only way to secure their regimes from Western attacks is to develop WMD. One should recall that Qaddaffi gave up his weapon’s programme in return for guarantees, in one of the sole successful outcomes of the NATO invasion of Iraq.

It’s not hard to understand why people call for some kind of intervention in Syria as well. The violence of the regime is appalling, no doubt, but what is known is that the regime is in possession of chemical weapons that would have to be secured in the event of an intervention to topple the regime. Chances are that those weapons would end up in the hands of various terrorist organizations, chief among them Hizbollah in Lebanon, on Israel’s northern front. The head of the IDF Northern Command, General Yair Golan expressed his concerns about this scenario yesterday. He further warned of the need for an Israeli operation in the north to prevent this from happening, should it seem likely. There’s just no way Israel could live with chemical weapons in the hands of Hizbollah, which is rapidly arming itself with more advanced missiles that can reach the Tel Aviv area. But in any case, I doubt that the US or the EU have much appetite for yet another intervention in a Middle Eastern country. Elections in the US and the potential break-up of the Euro zone will surely prevent that.

On a completely different note, after a wave of rapes and crime in Tel Aviv the debate about the rapid influx of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees have really heated up. At the moment the government’s performance is patchy at best. By the UN definition the illegal immigrants from these countries are to be considered refugees and should not be forced to return to their home countries. Israel abides by this, in the meantime. On the other hand, while these immigrants are let in on a collective basis as they show up on Egyptian border, after having crossed the Sinai dessert, they are refused the legal right to work and other social services, except for in case of medical emergencies if I understand correctly. Well, it’s hardly surprising that some, certainly not the majority, would turn to crime if they have no legal way of making a living. How does the Israeli government respond? By seeking harsher punishment on those who illegally employ these immigrants. And by building a fence on the border. With the last policy I happen to agree, seeing no other way to stop the rapid immigration that by some projections can reach half a million, up from the current 60,000 according to official statistics. But in Southern Tel Aviv people, who witness the ‘invasion’ of their neigborhoods, are growing increasingly agitated and afraid. Last week saw a violent demonstration where lots of people were hurt. To no one’s surprise populist politicians are seeking a way to make themselves a name in leading these demonstrations with the demand of a general expulsion of all immigrants, something which is not really possible at the moment. And not the moral thing to do either for that matter. Only, I have no better solution myself. I understand the government’s hesitation in allowing the immigrants to work, as it would signal to economic refugees everywhere that all they have to do is come here in order to substantially improve their lives. Israel is after all a tiny country without the capacity of handling more immigration than it already does.

Ok, this is it for the political update. I find this stuff to be highly interesting and one day I hope to play a part in the decision-making process here. Who knows? 🙂


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Wine Festival

Posted by aviel on May 25, 2012

After coming back from Tel Aviv yesterday,  I went with some friends to a Wine Festival in the Botanical Garden of Jerusalem. Lots of small vineyards from the Judean Mountains display their wines, explain about the process of making them, offer courses in both producing wine and learning more in general about wine. For a modest entrance free we could walk around and try all kinds of wines; some of whom were decent, others not so good and a select few even quite good.

Actually that was getting harder and harder to tell as we made the rounds. Even a few sips at a time add up, which made it kind of confusing to remember which ones I liked and if I really liked them or wasn’t simply getting ‘drunk’ enough to enjoy pretty much everything. The place was pretty crowded and often we had to elbow our way forward and step on a few feet, but in general the atmosphere was both relaxed and pleasant. It was kind of funny at times to stand there, pretty tipsy, and try to listen to a serious explanation about the art of wine making, and how big a percentage of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon etc had been added to a certain wine. I guess it worked well enough to keep nodding while waiting expectantly for another round.


I really enjoy going to these kind of events and Jerusalem tends to offer all kinds of things. I was told that in a month or so there’s going to be a big Wine Festival, lasting for a few days and not just one evening, and I’ve already been to the annual Beer Festival a few years back, which was pretty cool as well. But it’s not all alcohol-related; I remember going to an Irish music evening in the big Theater of Jerusalem and I’m sure there are tons of things that I never hear about.

Also blurry

When we finally had our last round the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, showed up. I can’t say that I remember very much about his political ideas and I’ve no knowledge of how things have been since he was elected a few years back, but I remember that I intended to vote for him (although never had the chance). So to the extent that wine was consumed,  my sense of ‘appropriate behavior’ and politeness had left. I more or less interrupted him talking to others and asked if he would agree to take a picture with me. He was pretty nice actually; asked where I was from and welcomed me to Jerusalem. I think it’s just a matter of time before we shall become very good friends indeed! 🙂

Me and the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat

When I told Orly this morning about having my picture taken with the Mayor and how I totally had to upload it to my blog, she proceeded in turn to take my picture as I was sweeping the porch with a broom this morning, while telling me that people shouldn’t get the wrong idea about my place in the social hierarchy around here, and that this picture would cancel out any such ideas before they took root. Oh well, this is the level of moral support I receive around here.

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Tel Aviv

Posted by aviel on May 24, 2012

[Too] early this morning I went with my friend Dov to Tel Aviv. We had breakfast with some friends of his at a nice coffee shop followed by more coffee at his office, where I unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to hire me as his personal assistant. I figured I could learn about investment banking soon enough, and in the meantime I could answer the phone and and such. For some reason he didn’t seem to share my enthuasiasm.

Having given up on the idea I boarded a random bus in what I thought was the general direction of the Tel Aviv Marina. Turns out I was only half-right, but eventually I got to Dizengoff St. even without the help of Google Maps. Who would have thought that in the 21st century you would need to ask for directions?

The heat wasn’t all that bad and I really enjoyed myself. That area of Tel Aviv is truly beautiful, and just 5 minutes from the sea. I gave in to temptations a couple of times; a really good fruit shake and cold coffee, both quite expensive. Then I went for the obligatory walk to the beach. Obligatory for someone just out of the ridiculously long winter season in Sweden. And I thought to myself that yeah, I could see myself living here. Now it’s just a matter of marrying rich, I suppose. A suggestion I’ve heard repeatedly. Should I take it as a general lack of faith by people in my ability to make it here otherwise?

On my way back on the bus I kind of made a new friend. A soldier, who unasked for, gave me the wrong idea of how long it would take to get to my stop in Mevaseret. After talking a little bit he invited me over to his family for Shabbat some time and to go out with him and his friends tonight. He was really nice. When it comes to hospitality Israelis truly excel.

Anyway, I really need to find a place in Tel Aviv. I can’t imagine how you can be young and not wanting to live there, given the opportunity, and I just wrote as much on Facebook today. A friend responded that the catch is the cost of living there. Oh well, I can live on beans I suppose and turn a blind eye to all the coffee shops and restaurants. That might make it a tad difficult to start dating though, but maybe I should just ask her to to pick up the bill? 🙂

Putting the final touch on my Swedish tan. For some reason unbeknownst to me, people without sunglasses seemed to feel the need to avert their eyes.

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Monday, week 2

Posted by aviel on May 21, 2012

Being in Israel has both its advantages and disadvantages. It’s hard to get by on your own, but on the other hand people here really go out of their way to help out, even though they owe you nothing. Today I’ve been in touch with someone with all kinds of political and commercial contacts, and if I’m lucky something may come out of it.

I’m speaking about finding a job, of course. All the jobs I can look for on my own are not related to my education or interests, but it seems there are plenty of companies who look for Swedish speakers for various jobs in sales, account management and so on. I can’t say I’m really interested in those kind of jobs, but a man needs to survive however he may (as do women, or so I imagine). Today I received an email from a company in Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv, about a job that would kind of force me to either move there or commute from Tel Aviv each day. In my age, and being single as I am, there’s not much for me in a place like Ashdod (oh, I’m sure it’s a wonderful place though with a great beach!) and spending hours on various buses every day would really only be something to consider if all else fails. Still, I’m glad it didn’t take more than a day or two for some company to respond to my application. It bodes well for the future, or so I like to tell myself right now.

Gili, the youngest daughter, helped me get a first glance of what kind of apartments that are currently available for rent in the Tel Aviv area. One apartment totally blew my mind, as it is situated on Dizengoff Street (!) in the center of Tel Aviv, looked nice from the photos, and at the modest price, by Tel Aviv standards, of around 1500 shekels a month (3000 SEK, $400). As I’m not rushing things I just sent an email, which almost certainly will not receive a response, but I can’t help but wonder what is the catch?

On a totally different note, it’s sometimes funny to compare Israeli behavior to Swedish. I asked someone on the bus the other day, very politely in Hebrew, “Excuse me, do you know if this bus continues on after the bus stop at x?” He turned to me for a second, made a kind of smacking sound and a quick shake of his head. The interesting thing is that I’ve seen this about a million times in Israel. This guy certainly isn’t alone in not wasting any words. On another bus ride I saw some a few ‘kids’ who were kind of slow in getting on the bus, although not exceptionally so. In Sweden no one would say anything, and certainly not the driver. Here the driver asked irritably: “Do you have the ‘strength’ to get on board? Come on, already!” (strength is the literal translation) This very blunt, in a way almost familiar, manner of yelling at complete strangers raised no eyebrows, except for the sole Swede on the bus. To me this is part of the Israeli character; the mix of openness, warmth, helpfulness at the same time as bluntness and rudeness. At least it’s what it seems to me, and I imagine it can be kind of difficult for foreigners to deal with sometimes. The fact is though, that it’s kind of charming in a way. Sweden could benefit from a touch more openness and bluntness, and not keep everyone at arm’s length all the time. Actually it probably makes it easier to feel like you’ve become a part of Israeli society, as opposed to the near impossibility of really becoming accepted into the Swedish one, if let’s say you have the utter misfortune to have been born elsewhere. (Now I expect comments on my generalizations, so bring it on!) I think I have got to work on being blunt and rude if I am to make it here, as I am already pretty damn nice, open, friendly and helpful. 😛

Yesterday I went to visit David and Shiran. Shiran made some really good homemade pasta and David has his own brewery in a room adjacent to the kitchen. I don’t know what he put into that stuff, since it was pretty damn strong. 11% alcohol or something. Funnily enough it went to my head very fast after only a few glasses. So half-drunk I tried to respond to Shiran exploring the idea of setting me up with someone. I can’t exactly remember what was concluded, but I think I made my point that it may be a bit too early for that since I’ve been here for only a week and I still have no job or place of my own. One thing at a time, eh?

Since I didn’t get to take any pictures lately I’m going to include a couple from the Shabbat dinner the other night, that Eitan sent me a couple of hours ago.

The first one is from the meal outdoors

Yours truly, the grandmother who wants me to gain weight, Yael and Gili

And the second one is from inside

David, Shiran, me, the other grandmother, partly of Egyptian descent (which I’m writing since I’d like to show what a mix Israel is of cultures and nationalities) and a totally exaggerated amount of dessert.

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The Old City of Jerusalem

Posted by aviel on May 19, 2012

Thursday night the family took me to the Old City and the Western Wall (aka the Kotel). I always loved visiting the Old City at night. Somehow it makes it almost a magical experience. The walls around it are well-lit and the atmosphere calm, quiet and peaceful. Walking on the stone-paved streets, sometimes with a view of the City of David, is a wonderful experience. Now I’m going to stop myself from writing something cheesy about sensing the history in every stone, but that is pretty much what it feels like (note that I still wrote it).

The Western Wall

As we arrived at the Western Wall we saw a lot of soldiers. The Nahal Brigade had a ceremony where the relatively new recruits swear allegiance to Israel and the army. It brought back a lot of memories; of myself standing there in 2007 swearing the same oath, being both proud and full of expectations. Now I was thinking that the soldiers don’t really know what a pleasant experience the army can be. Not that I’m complaining. I already complained enough for a life-time. Still, the army for me was also a good experience. Interesting. And at times even wonderful. But I remember too well my personal frustration of being older than everybody and from a different cultural background. I suppose that won’t really apply to most of those recruits who are Israelis, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be all bliss for them either. Still, I wish them the best of luck. 🙂

The ceremony on the Western Wall plaza

The Western Wall plaza was really crowded that night. All the families and friends of the soldiers were there celebrating and it was really touching. While touching the Western Wall and experiencing the kind of moment when all the pieces of your life seem to come together, all the people started singing the national anthem, the Hatikva (the Hope). I started singing with them and it was deeply moving. The coincidence of this happening on my first visit to the Western Wall is nothing but startling. A religious person would find a special meaning in it, but Orly, my hostess, joked about how hard it was to arrange this thing with all the soldiers. I joked back and asked why she decided to bring the Nahal soldiers, perhaps the Paratroops were too busy doing serious work? 🙂

At the Western Wall


Later that night, after purposefully wandering around the Old City (Eitan won’t admit we got lost), they took me out for dinner in Ein Karem. It’s a place on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in the hills, full of really nice restaurants. I had my fill of focaccia, pasta and beer. That night I decided I badly needed to go running again, especially considering my experience with the Shabbat dinners they make here. 🙂

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First week

Posted by aviel on May 19, 2012

I was received warmly by my host family here, whom I know from back in the days when I still served in the Army. They live in Mevaseret Tzion, which is just outside Jerusalem, in a very nice and comfortable house. I have my own room and more food is available that I could possibly manage to eat. This last part is actually a kind of challenge to me since I have an “opponent” in my attempt to keep my weight under control.

Enter grandma. She lives downstairs and she’s a really sweet woman from Iraqi Morrocan descent (corrected: 2012-05-21), if I understood that correctly. And she cooks wonderfully. She took one good look at me on my arrival and said I got really thin in Sweden. And so she has decided to do something about it. Every time I see her it seems she explains to me what food there is at home and that I should really be eating. One evening I went downstairs to the kitchen and I happened upon some chocolate on a plate. I took one piece, but it wasn’t enough to placate grandma. “Eat more! You need to fatten up a bit. There’s no helping it, this is the way it is in Israel, you get fat.” The next day I was invited downstairs for lunch. She had made lots of food, including very fattening, but oh so good, “kobe”. Kobe is essentially a meat, nut , vegetable and spice mix on the inside with a flour covering fried in loads of oil. I helped myself to one of them, which I thought was plenty enough given the other things on my plate (couscous and other meats and vegetables), but she took one look at my plate and added another one. In the end I ate 3 of them and felt to full to move afterwards.

Grandma and the two daughters, Shabbat dinner

Yesterday the family invited my friend David, the hippie*from Minnesota (!), together with his girlfriend. The other grandma was also there and to listen to the two grandmas arguing, at least when they aren’t speaking in French, is one of the funniest things in the world. Orly, my hostess, said she needs to collect their conversations in a book to be published for the world. In any case, we decided we would eat outside despite the fact that evenings here are still a bit cool. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but the grandmas were complaining about being turned into ice blocks. While having dessert inside, with tea, I was asked how much sugar I want. One teaspoon. The first grandma, and my opponent, nodded with approval and said that I’m still too thin, albeit not as thin as I was when I arrived (a few days ago!). We laughed so hard, since we know she was completely serious. The truth is that I don’t know who’s winning. I went running two times this week, and I also went to the gym and swimming pool with the eldest daughter Yael. I’m not sure it’s enough though. Everyone who knows me cannot be unaware of the fact that nutrition and weight loss have been on my mind for years now, and all this is making me very worried. Well, next week I’m starting longer runs of 10-12 km every other day, so we shall see. 🙂

Eitan (the father), David (the hippie) and Shiran

Today, on Shabbat, we went to a kind of market in the town Har Adar, close to Jerusalem and with a Palestinian town just on the other hill. When people speak of dividing this land I doubt they understand much of what it would mean. Pretty much every hill in the Jerusalem area there is either a Jewish or Arab town. Any conceivable division will neither be smooth nor painless. In Har Adar I saw some really nice houses. One in particular was breath-taking. I asked Orly how much houses would cost in the area. So she started talking about the price of 1.3 million shekels (USD 340 000, SEK 2.6 million) for two houses. I thought it was really cheap. Until I realized she only talked about the piece of land you would build on. The houses themselves would cost about 2.5 million shekels a piece, or something. My new-found dream of buying such a house fell apart at the moment of take-off. 😦

In Har Adar, overlooking the nearby Palestinian town

Among other things that at this fare, there was a small family vineyard. The wines had won awards in Italy in the category of small family vineyards and I tried one, Merlot Harei Yehuda (Judean Mountains), that was pretty good. It was a bit hard to tell since I had brushed my teeth not so long ago before that. At least I got a bottle for the pretty expensive price of 80 shekel. It was more the romantic idea of the family vineyard that made me buy it rather than the price and taste. I can be a little foolish sometimes, I suppose, but maybe I’ve found a gem. I shall know by next weekend if it’s worth remembering this vineyard.

At the same place I also tried homemade chocolate with “nana” (spearmint) which just melted in my mouth. For a moment I thought I was in heaven! This chocolate brought together two of my favorite flavors in the world – chocolate and nana. I’m a sucker for nana tea and I’m definitely a sucker for chocolate. My hostess Orly, despite my protests, generously bought me a bunch of them, and mind you, they weren’t exactly your regular cheap variety of chocolate. It seems that no matter how much I protest I’m still going to be fed and driven everywhere. Ok, maybe I could protest a little bit harder and really put my foot down, but even so I’m not sure it would get me very far.

* Ok, David isn’t really a hippie, but he did come with flowers in his hair the first time I saw him this week. They got stuck in his hair on his way in somehow. 🙂

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Return to Israel, May 14th 2012

Posted by aviel on May 19, 2012

I figured I should start writing a bit about what it’s like to return to Israel now after almost 3.5 years in Exile.

So this Monday I got up at 4.20am and my friend Martin drove me to the airport in Gothenburg where I boarded a plane to Brussels, from where I had a connection flight to Tel Aviv. Saying goodbye to family and friends was more difficult this time than on my previous travels. I feel like I’m sacrificing more this time around. I’ve waited a long time to return to Israel, where I lived from May 2006 – December 2008. I had to finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and finally get my Swedish driver’s license, something I put on hold for too long. I told everyone for a long time already that I planned to go back, but especially my Israeli friends doubted my intentions since so much time elapsed and people usually don’t come back no matter what they say. I guess also friends and family didn’t know how serious I was since I was evading questions on it for quite some time, I guess in order to not look like a complete fool who’s just talking and never take action.

Anyways, at the Brussels Airport I sat down by my gate a good hour before boarding. All of a sudden I hear the announcement that passengers flying with El Al to Tel Aviv who don’t have a boarding card won’t be allowed on the plane. It sounded a bit strange and I figured that I already got one in Gothenburg. But since I had plenty of time and nothing to lose, I decided to go and check it out. It turns out that if I hadn’t my trip would have ended right there and then. Apparently they wanted to do a thorough security check on all passengers and, it seems, give new boarding cards. So I was interrogated, politely, by this security guy who took special interest in my life’s story. Yes, I converted to Judaism. Yes, the reasons for that are complicated but I’ll try to explain. No, I’m not so religious as I used to be anymore. My two passports with different names in them apparently didn’t ease his suspicions either.. 😛 And the fact that I didn’t know the address of the family with whom I was to stay. After about 20 minutes of explanations I was free to go. I’m not sure what he could have done considering the fact that I have an Israeli passport, but you never know.

After a pretty uncomfortable flight, next to two Belgian French speakers who needed some of my seat as well and who slept through most of the journey, I finally arrived. Without my luggage of course. It took a day off in Brussels, then another in Tel Aviv, in order to finally arrive two days late – without any compensation of course, I mean, who would want to change clothes after only a couple of days in a much warmer climate?

Coming back felt really weird in the beginning. It’s not like I was wondering whether I made the right decision; I made the only one I could from my point of view, but I wondered if I would find my place here after so much waiting. I know it’s not going to be easy, but I hope it’s going to be worth it.

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