Israel is a young country; only one year older than I am. That's easy to forget when you are in some of the Biblical spots, but in Tel Aviv, it's quite obvious. It is located right next to the ancient port of Jaffa. In 1909, 66 Jewish families fleeing the anti Semitism of central Europe came here for a fresh start. They settled on the sand dunes and began to level them. Jews were not allowed to own property where they came from and they were anxious to buy a piece of real estate and been farming, something they had never done before. As Jewish refugees continued to stream in, basic housing was erected as quickly and cheaply as possible. You don't see a lot of quaint or snazzy architecture here. Bauhaus style architecture was introduced in the 1920's and 30's by German Jewish architects who settled in Palestine after the rise of the Nazis. Tel Aviv's White City, around the city center, contains more than 5,000 Modernist-style buildings inspired by the Bauhaus school. Construction of these buildings, were later declared protected landmarks and, collectively, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To a novice like me they appeared plain and not worthy of note. Many of them are showing their age and being restored. We walked in a Bauhaus neighborhood and Anahid said that apartments there cost well over a million dollars. I would never have guess that these graffiti covered buildings were so costly.
These costs are so high, because this city is such a desirable place to live. It is cosmopolitan, open-minded and gay-friendly, unlike Jerusalem which has a much higher proportion of orthodox Jews who want to follow the lifestyle described in the Old Testament. Our guide said that Tel Aviv faces west and Jerusalem faces east. As Jewish immigrants have returned to the Promised Land, they have brought the culture of their homelands and this makes Tel Aviv a tolerant melting pot, familiar to anyone from the US. The country is divided by these two approaches to life and the government tends to ricochet between these two points of view, depending on who won the last election.
We paused at the spot where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated after giving a speech about his quest for peace. As prime minister he signed several historic agreements with the Palestinian leadership as part of the Oslo Accords. In 1994, Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize together with long-time political rival Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Rabin also signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994. In November 1995, he was assassinated by an extremist named Yigal Amir, who opposed the terms of the Oslo Accords. It sounds like from the Israeli point of view, all hope for a peaceful co-existence with their Arab neighbors became unimaginable after that. Extremists on both sides became more and more aggressive and Israelis grew accustomed to carrying gas masks and fleeing to bomb shelters.
We ate lunch in the funky Carmel Market where we heard languages from everywhere. We had a little trouble figuring out how to order from a food stand and a Danish couple in line with us gave us advice, sharing what they had learned since they had recently arrived in the city. We at a pita bread filled with a buffet of vegetables and a cooked egg. Since the Orthodox Jews are strict about how meat is prepared, it is easier for restaurants and food stands to serve food that does not include meat. Meat and fish are available; just not everywhere. Vegetarians would love this place.
Back at the hotel we had a lecture from a former Israeli diplomat who spoke about the US government's controversial decision to move our consulate to Jerusalem, which the Israelis have always regarded as their capital, rather than Tel Aviv. To give us context he talked about the history of Israel and took some of the same positions we heard from the speaker at the illegal settlement we heard in Palestine. Like Mustafa, he did not sound optimistic that the situation would improve any time soon. We are left speculating that the Israelis are taking over the Palestinian land one settlement at a time, rather than using tanks and guns. When they did retreat from the Gaza Strip, terrorists moved in and lobbed bombs. No one seems to be in the mood for compromise. Sad.