Saturday April 16 : Tel-Aviv - Jaffa

Monday 12 March 2012
popularity : 91%

Not two days are the same: today, we are leaving Jerusalem. We woke up early, had a quick breakfast, finished packing–up. Tanguy – a super organisor, it is worth mentioning – booked a sherout so we can rejoin Tel Aviv. It takes us only half an hour to cross Israel and there we are, in the centre of the country’s official capital. We get off the sherout in front of the train station to the airport.

The place is gloomy : a horrible viaduc hides the sky from us, the pavements are full of holes and the traffic is constant and noisy. Obviously, we are in a poor district and the only « white » people here. Before leaving Belgium, we read and watched documentaries about the segregation in the midst of Israel, but as Margot puts it, experiencing it hurts. This « black » district has nothing in common with the Matongé in Brussels. Here, the people look tired and weary… We don’t feel at ease. There is agitation in the air, but not the same quality as in the refugee camp: here there is violence, invisible but no less present. It is as if the « black » Israelis, most of them Ethiopians, were fed up with being pushed aside all the time. For that matter, we remember the Ethiopian settlements Sandra pointed out to us during our picnic with the boys in Mar Saba : their houses were mere container shacks – a shoking contrast with the American- European-Russian settlements that are super luxurious.

Building on their preceding experience (the 2009 group walked the whole way down to the beach, dragging their suitcases behind them!), Tanguy and Anne-Claire find the right bus, which will drop us just in front of the Youth Hostel the 2009 group stayed in. The people move over to make some room for us and our cumbersome bags and guitars… About twenty minutes later, we get off the bus. Anne-Claire and Tanguy suddenly seem to be completely at sea for a moment: we are indeed in front of the hostel in question, our two veterans recognize it, but the place is rather dilapidated and looks completely deserted. Tanguy wonders if he hasn’t gone round the bent: he has got the booking confirmation though. He phones the manager, who tells him that the hostel has moved… to the other side of the road, as the former building was closed for insalubrity... Phew! This was a narrow escape!

We take over the place. In fact, we are the first customers: the interior layout of the building is not even finished yet. Many things are still missing but as long as we have beds with blankets and sheets in the rooms, hot water in the showers, a room with a table and some chairs, an electric kettle and (the most important for the repressed Palestinians we have turned into) coffee and sugar : what more could we want ? Double glazing maybe? The night is going to be horribly hot and noisy, as we will soon find out...

Short nap for everybody, after which we decide to go and walk along Tel Aviv beach toward the little port of Jaffa. Quite quickly, round a corner or on different places of our route (among others inside the shops) we see groups of young soldiers, militaries who have come to Tel Aviv for their training. [1] It is quite a shock for us to meet these young people in uniform carrying their guns nonchalantly in the middle of civilians as if it was a banal thing to do. Such a sight has become a rarity, not to say totally inexistant, in the European pacified democraties...

There seems to be two beach zones. On the first one, you would think you were in San Francisco : fine sand, nice chicks in bikinis, gorgious suntanned guys, volleyball matches, kitschy beach umbrellas, ... On the other one, towards Jaffa, no sand but stone blocks, some of them black, where the Palestinians of Israel (or as the Israelis call them “the Arabs of Israel”) meet with their family. This surprises us. You wouldn’t have expected such a contrast in such an important city. But the fact is that, even here, a wall separates the two cultures. We can’t help thinking of Daoud and our friends in Al- Arroub and feeling sorry for them: if only we could have taken them with us, if the children of the EJE centre and Bassam’s, Tareq and Sarah’s baby boys could come and play here in the sand and sunshine, feeling free, quiet, secure, with nobody having anything to fear...

We stroll along the wide mall that goes alongside the beach: green lawns, sheltered benches, white paving adorned with volutes of darker stones, very beautiful, indeed. Groups of militaries overtake us running. Training the hard way: footing under the sun and solid physical exercises. Poor boys! As for us, we opt for a lazy siesta in the shade of stone pines, next to Palestinian families. Some girl soldiers in their uniforms join us a few minutes later to have a rest too… So what ? They don’t look that bad!

Then, while Laurie vanishes for a while (gone for a stroll?), Margot launches an attack on the waves. The fact she has got no swimming suit on is not enough to stop her : in jeans and T-shirt, it’s just bliss too ! Intensive suntanning for Tanguy and Jean-François, reading and writing for Anne-Claire and Marie-Gaëlle, farniente for Paul. Holidays... We leaves sweet words and messages in the wind so that it will go and whisper them in the ears of our dear ones, imprisoned behind the wall…

This stop-over is really pleasant, but we can’t stay there much longer if we want to go and visit something before night falls. After a two or three-kilometer-long walk, we reach Jaffa. Its architecture contrasts sharply with that of Tel Aviv, whose marine frontage resembles Benidorm. The sight is blocked by modern high-rise buildings, most of which ugly, whereas Jaffa has kept the peaceful atmosphere of an old Arab port. Yet, let’s not delude ourselves. Today’s Jaffa has nothing to do anymore with what it used to be. Most of its inhabitants had to flee from the place in 1948. Today, it is an big village with bio and fairtrade shops everywhere. Not only that: high up the front of the houses, anyone can see bullet holes the Israeli army left behind them…

In the old port, new buildings have replaced the old Ottoman-style residencies. There are Israeli flags everywhere. There is even one put on a rock offshore. Today, the fashionable districts of Jaffa are seemingly inhabited by a handful of rich Israelis. We have a walk in the typical district of the antique dealers. It is peppered with trendy restaurants and bars and we have a drink on the terrasse of one of them. Then, we cross a park that shelters an open-air theare. As the posters seem to indicate, theatre-plays written by Palestinian artists are frequently acted there… Food for thought.

Night has fallen. We meet Anne-Claire and Margot in front of the clock-tower (which is also "judicised" with large flags). We left them shamefully in the late afternoon, as Margot twisted her ankle a little time before and couldn’t walk anymore. Anne-Claire and Tanguy suggest we should now have dinner together in the nice Puaa restaurant, which the 2009 Taayoush Group discovered during their stay in Jaffa. Great idea! The people there are far more relaxed and easy than in Tel Aviv. For us, this is a change from the rather rough side of the Israelis we hve come across up to here (apart from the manager of the Youth Hostel, who was really friendly with us). We have a delicious meal, between lit candles and bunches of wild flowers...

As we are leaving the restaurant to walk back to Tel Aviv, we come alonside a group of young adults and Anne-Claire can’t help calling out to one of them: "Hey! Nice T-shirt!" The young man looks at us then smiles back thrusting out his chest : "Isn’t it ?" We come closer to have a better look at it: under the inscription "Anarchists against the wall" ("Anarchistes contre le mur"), there is the drawing of a group of silhouettes pulling on a cord put around a section of the separating wall, all working at making it fall down. Anne-Claire starts talking with the guy.

She tells him who we are, why we have come to Palestine and adds that she is really happy our group has the opportunity to meet an Israeli fighting for the defense of the Palestinians’ rights just before leaving back home. He looks really pleased to meet us too. He says he is sorry not to be able to spend much time with us now as he is having a work-meeting with other activists about the recent murder of the young Italian activist Vittori Arigoni on April 14, committed by radical Islamists in Gaza. But he is more than willing to meet us tomorrow in Tel Aviv : he will give us his point of view on the conflict and the situation and explain to us what his job as an "Israeli anarchist activist" consists in. We exchange telephone numbers. His name is Ronnie.

After this great unexpected encounter, we leave for Tel Aviv on foot while Tanguy and Margot take the taxi. This is an opportunity for another enriching conversation: the taxidriver is a Jew of Algerian origin who has frequent contacts with Tel Aviv Algerian community, which has been quite numerous since the 60’s. [2] Whats surprises our two fellows is that he has almost completely lost the use of his mother tongue, Arabic. This is because, when they arrived in Israel, the Algerian families (most of them French-Arabic speaking) made a point to learn Hebrew and quickly adopted this language, including inside their own diaspora. He considers Hebrew as one of the main cements of an ethnically mixed Israeli nation. Arab and Jewish identities: what could have been only a double identity has become something more homogeneous - religion and adhesion to the Zionist project are prevailing. [3]

Back at the Youth Hostel, we get ready for a good night’s sleep.

See more photos of Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Read on about our trip


[1Let’s remember that military service is compulsory for all Israeli Jews, boys and girls alike. They join the army at 18 and leave it after 3 years. In the meantime, they attend a number of theoretical training sessions (euphemism for indoctrination, see Haganah Museum) and of visits (Jerusalem, Massada, Jordan River, ...).

[2The Algerian Jews constituted one of the most important Jewish communities in the Arab world up to the independence. Read the article about their history.

[3Read in addition the excellent book by Ella Shohat about the lot of the Eastern Jews in in Israel, "Zionism from the point of view of its Jewish victims".