Greetings from Tel Aviv!
Have you heard of it? Of course you have….its one of those cities that gets mentioned in the news a lot. Remember back in the Gulf War 10 years ago, when Iraq was shooting scud missiles at Israel? Most of missiles landed in the Tel Aviv region. That was a scary time…people had to walk around with gas masks readily available in case there was a scud attack. They also had to build sealed rooms in their apartments to avoid airborne chemicals that was potentially contained within Iraqi missiles. What a way to live your life.
Israel is a country that has basically been under siege since its foundation. They have fought 5 wars with their neighbors against tremendous odds and managed to stay alive in the midst of a very difficult environment.
Everyone in Israel enters the army at age 18. Men go for 3 years or so. Women go for a year and half. In America, at age 18, it would be unthinkable for the average person to go to the army. Of course, some do, but it’s a personal choice. Many are caught up with deciding on a college to attend, obtaining a job, parental pressures, and so forth. Young adults here are fighting a guerilla war in Lebanon, or patrolling the Gaza Strip raiding terrorist factions. What a different type of existence.
When I was in Jerusalem staying at the Youth Hostel, there were many soldiers staying there as well. A whole unit of soldiers, called the “Golani” Brigade were in Jerusalem to serve time patrolling the streets of the city in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks, which are always a looming threat here. By the way, my first night in a hostel was not so great. For some reason, the sleeping problem was still there, and it was compounded by the “strange bed” syndrome. I guess I will have to get used to that.
It’s quite common to walk around and see young men and women in uniform carrying machine guns. Yet people walk around freely, and the cities are bustling like any city with a thriving culture and economy.
So, tonight I am in Tel Aviv staying with my cousin, Sharon. He has an apartment right near Rabin Square, where the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was slain by a fellow Jew who did not agree with his peace moves. This country is quite divided, politically.
The parliamentary government is so fragmented that no one party can gain a clear majority in the “Knesset” (the name of the parliament). In order to form a majority, several small parties have to ban together and form a coalition. Because of that, there exists a sort of tyranny of the minority, because certain smaller parties are able to enforce their will on the rest of the country as their votes are needed to pass coalition goals.
If one of these small parties doesn’t get what it wants, it can threaten the power of the entire coalition. For example, on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, most of the bus lines shut down by law, because the religious factions of the government wanted it to be so. Even if they are not the majority, they get their way. That’s how it works.
Otherwise, Israel is very western. There are all kinds of western icons here: McDonald’s, Burger King, Office Depot, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, Ace Hardware, Microsoft, and many more. In fact, now, when you are driving around, you can always see the Golden Arches beckoning from almost anywhere around Tel Aviv. Everyone even has a cell phone…it’s just like New York!
Monday, I am off to Bulgaria for a week or so, and then to Istanbul, Turkey! Once I get there, I don’t know if I will be able to check my email so often (I know, you are saying “whew!”), but I promise to keep this going as often as I can, because many of you have written to me saying you are enjoying these travel blogs.
Please send me email addresses of anyone who wants to be on my list!