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September journey part 13: Where the heart is

Staying on the move in Israel and the Palestinian territories through a month of trial. And today: trying to relax.

The arrivals hall at Ben-Gurion airport is overwhelmingly spacious. Stone columns rise over 20 meters to support its ceiling, a ceiling that is beautifully littered with helium balloons that were released by people awating their loved ones when time came to hug those loved ones.

Ben Gurion Terminal 3. If there's ever been a temple for balloons.

In most airports one walks out of the baggage claim into a prosaic corridor with car rental offices. There is a simple railing along which people are crowded, awaiting relatives or holding up signs with names of visiting strangers. At Ben-Gurion the railing is replaced with an elongated prism of glass which doubles as a water fountain, it is drawn away from the automatic doors so as to form a dramatic open space, prohibited to non-passengers, into which the travelers step as soon as they clear customs.

My mother once told me she recognizes in the design of this hall a proof of the vast room reserved for emotion in Israeli culture. The entire room is designed as a temple for the moment of reunion. While waiting here for Ruthie’s return, I witness several catharses. The children see mom walking through the doors. They rush into the forbidden open space, under the watchful eye of the security guard, springing into her arms midway between home and the rest of the world. The watchful eye of a bronze Rabin observes all of these moments of joyful trespassing and never once interferes.

Yitzhak Rabin, 1922-1995.

I feel a little dull for waiting by the fountain as Ruthie arrives, waiting until she walks into the legitimate zone. Maybe I’m still traumatized by getting arrested in Area A near Hebron.

Give me a few days and I’ll be back in prohibited areas. For now, some time should be taken to enjoy Ruthie’s presence and celebrate her birthday, time to relax.

The spirit of the times gives us no time to relax. As soon as we hit town rumor is out that tent protest activists have taken over yet another abandoned Tel-Aviv structure, this one only a block away from our house. We pack up the guitar and arrive at the scene. The hallway is already decorated with the words of a poem by early 20th century giant of Hebrew poetry Shaul Tchernikhovsky:

Laugh, laugh at all my dreams!
What I dream shall yet come true!
Laugh at my belief in man,
At my belief in you.

(Translation: M. Samuel)

Welcome to the house of poetry.

The activists plan to turn this structure into a free for all cultural center, the words “The People’s House”, a term used for cultural center in early Zionist communities, are posted on the building in Hebrew and Arabic

Beit Al-Sha3ab, Beit Ha'am.

Culture? Very well then, I pull out my guitar and play a few Billy bragg tunes. The party taking place on the roof is a happening one and soon I am joined by other musicians, among them the well known violinist and oud player Yair Dalal. Everyone joins us in a rendition of the Tchernikhovsky poem,

Freedom still my soul demands,
Unbartered for a calf of gold.
For still I do believe in man,
And in his spirit, strong and bold.

Jamming with the finest: Yair Dalal in white.

Then we go into some Greek stuff and some Hasidic stuff, until I can no longer keep up with Dalal’s talent and go mingle. The police stay off the scene for now and people are truly moved. The thrill has a slightly counterproductive effect on Ruthie’s jet lag and we end up staying up past 3:00 AM roaming the city and having a wonderful time.

Ruthie.

Thursday we get to relax at home. A web server disaster that renders +972 inaccesible to both readers and bloggers helps in that. I literally can’t work.

A domestic tableau with Moo the cat.

All this calm lasts very briefly. In the evening some commotion is set to take place in the city of Lud, only twenty minutes south east of Tel-Aviv. This mixed city, famous for one of the most horrible mass evictions to take place during the 1948 war, is one of Israel’s most crime inflicted and poverty ridden communities. Its tent city is truly a “no choice”

Meanwhile, several blocks away stand two towers that formerly served as an absorption center for Jewish immigrants, like the one I visited (or rather tried to visit) in Ashdod. Eighty apartments, owned by the state, which holds responsibility to maintain them for the greater good, stand vacant while the people of Lud live in the streets.

No light in the windows: Lud's old absorption center.

Tonight the tent city dwellers plan to take over them.

Lud's residents are hardly famed for their leftist leanings. So hearing them yell for Netanyahu to resign is certainly refreshing.

We arrive to provide support and are met with a great number of policemen and more than a few intimidating civilian guards.

Big brother is... well... just as underpaid as you. No doubt many of these policemen support the struggle.

As was the case in the Tel-Aviv demonstration that turned into a display of police brutality, one of the policemen is documenting the crowd with a camcorder. I approach him. Doesn’t it feel funny doing that?” I ask, “don’t you feel a bit like a member of the Assad administration?”

The policeman prefers to remain silent. The demonstrators, on the contrary are very loud, chanting singing, blowing horns, and eventually blocking the street. Not 24 hours in the country, Ruthie, a mild mannered academic who was in the US for a conference, already risks arrest for the people of Lud.

With us on the hot asphalt sits Stav Shafir, an eloquent activist, a journalist and a friend, who has become one of the most familiar faces of the struggle. “It’s great to see you in normal circumstances” Ruthie tells her, “without all kind of strangers on the boulevard coming to yell at you.”

Stav shafir in normal circumstances.

Tonight Stav is doing the yelling, but to no avail. The stiff row of police stands guard over property that belongs to the public that is allowed to rot. I’m reminded of the wonderful poem by jacqeus prevert in which a starving man who hasn’t eaten for three days finds himself gazing at the window of a fancy deli named “Chez Potin”

And beyond these windows –
These pates, these bottles, these jams
Dead fish protected by the can
Can protected by the pane
Pane protected by the cops
Cops protected by the fear,
So many barricades for six miserable sardines.

Ruthie and I decide to try and penetrate the buildings through the back. We make our way through Lud’s nocturnal alleyways…

Lud's back door. For further discussion of our show-box apartment blocks, see part 8 of the journey, in which I spend a day in Ashdod.

…until bumping into other activists who had a similar idea and were kicked out by the guards.

Refused entry: Vered, Noa and Eldad.

It looks like a good time to move on. We catch a bus to the nearby city of Ramla, home to a community of Indian Jews. At the famed Maharaja restaurant we feast on saag Penir and sweets made of ghee.

Jewish Indian food is comprised of two distinct cuisines: Mumbai and Kochin. Maharaja serve Mumbai Jewish cooking.

I tell Ruthie about an ultra orthodox couple who were looking on our demonstration. “I asked them why they don’t join in and then it turned out they are in and simply stepped out to get some air. They said: “what happened at Tahrir and in Syria, that’s what should happen here.”

I’m glad to be able to give her some hope. When Ruthie left on her trip, two weeks ago, the tents on Rothschield Boulevard haven’t yet been removed. The media spin defaming the struggle as being violent had not yet been used. Harsh comments regarding the Palestinian statehood initiative have not yet been uttered by our top ranking officials. Israeli relations with Turkey have not yet been fully derailed and the eviction notice for 30,000 Bedouins had not yet need issued.

If only Tchernikhovsky had been here to give me a hand with this.

And in the future I still believe
Though it be distant, come it will
When nations shall each other bless,
And peace at last the earth shall fill.

We walk out into the streets of Ramla. Two kilometers up the road is the Bedouin community of Dahmash, where houses are demolished periodically. Ten kilometers to the northeast as the crow flies lies the green line, beyond it the fences and walls of the occupation, teargas canisters, rubber bullets, real bullets. The land on which we tread fills the dreams of refugees and the buildings surrounded us are packed with poverty and hopelessness. Ramla’s old city is a derelict labyrinth of drug trade and gang wars. We see Home is where the heart is, but this home really tries the heart.

Observing all of these along with us is the internal, mental, bronze Rabin suspended in the chest of each of us, the old, nearly abandoned hope that things will be better and the notion that they should have been.

At least the world of football hasn’t given up. As we pass a convenience store, we notice a game between Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Istanbul’s Beşiktaş being broadcast.

The game ended 5:1 for Beşiktaş. Damn it.

Tel-Aviv is losing 4-1, but for us the very fact the game defied being cancelled is a victory of sorts. Maybe now, with this in mind, we will be able to get some real rest and refresh ourselves ahead of a dramatic week.

Click here for more of the september journey

Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. If any of you would like to pitch in for my travel and food, please do so using the “donate” button at the top of this page. Please be sure and specify that you are contributing to Yuval’s September Journey. I’m deeply grateful to those who already donated. Thank you so much! This trip would have been impossible if not for you

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