Postcard from Israel

AUGUST 21, 2008
Back at last from 10 days in Israel and the International Animation and Cartoon Festival.  Israel is by turns and all at once exquisitely beautiful, charmingly friendly and terribly politically neurotic.  With the best beach and most delicious feed (served on the beach!).  Here are some words and images that remain with me. 
On the first night my good friend and traveling companion Cynthia and I were introduced (by Hanoch Piven, who happened to be visiting there as well) to Nissim Hezkiyav, the organizer of the festival, and Shlomo Cohen, who was honored this year for a lifetime of wonderful caricature and political commentary.  At dinner Cohen asked his fellow Israelis the question he considered most important in the ultimate survival of Israel: “Are you primarily a Jew or an Israeli?”  It was profound and not easily answerable (although Hanoch had no problem being snappily secular).  Could his people, he was asking, find the same moral and patriotic resources to survive as do other countries in the world?  In a way it was the most clarifying moment of the trip.  His work, by the way, is first rate.  It would be A-list in any country (shlomocohen.com).
Here’s Orr, scientist and resident of Kibbutz Hot-Zor, about an hour south of Tel Aviv. He says he doesn’t follow political news anymore. He’s too frustrated with being frustrated. The peace process, stalled, was left to rot for 8 years by Bush and his band of experts. Now there is no single Palestinian entity to negotiate with. On the Israeli side there is no consensus for a way forward. The PM is resigning. And people spend a good deal of their time thinking about bad things that can happen.
In the Jaffa Market this merchant, originally from Syria, felt that bombing Iran would be a good thing. Why? “Our God will take care of us.”, he says. I said, “Don’t you think God wants you to be smart?” Oiy. I can’t believe myself sometimes.
Miki Kratzman, an amazing photographer and educator, has devoted the last 2 decades documenting the tragedy of the Palestinian Territories. There is a declining interest in showcasing his work at Haaretz, his paper. People know enough of what’s going on in the West Bank; the daily indignity and suffering of Palestinians, to decide not to know. His work is being pushed from the magazine to the inside pages of the paper.
The second day was the trip to the old city of Jerusalem. Here's a sample of T-shirt satire for sale there. Of the Whatever school.
At the Wailing Wall. These guys' prayers may be stopped for security (never very far away there).
The experience doesn't hit everybody the same way. I was a little like this guy.
Here are some kids at the security checkpoint at the Wall. One in the army, four who weren't.
The Dead Sea is a trip. You float like a cork and feel the minerals seep into you. Some people, clearly, love it. I, however, opened my eyes underwater. Bad move. Believe me it's enough of an altered state otherwise.
Next to the Sea is the spa at Ein Gedi. They have indoor mineral pools as well as a luscious kind of mud that you smear all over yourself and let dry in the sun, for some reason. Like anything else that everyone is doing around you, it doesn't feel strange at all. More fun, though, is the people watching. Here a couple rinse off.
If you stay at the Masada Guest House and can get up at 4:30 and feel like climbing Masada, by the time you get to the top you'll see something like this. An indescribable place. And the sun, rising over the Dead Sea, was about this hot.
There are many youth groups who climb as well. These kids, in their teens are from places in the US and elsewhere. A unshaven guard in sandals with an Uzi seems to be standard equipment.
In Jaffa the merchants are personable and discerning art critics
Here's another
Here's another.
Blind Man on Plastic Chair with Dog and Scotch. I don't understand it either.
On the bus back to Tel Aviv.
Carmel market. Didn't think he saw me.
Tel Aviv is packed with young people, bars, clubs, restaurants and miles of glorious beach. Hard not to have a great time in this town and absurdly easy, for a little while, to forget all the tension and insanity all around you.
Here's a scene outside the Cinemateque, where the festival was held. To judge by this, clearly the influx of foreigners is a growing problem. They must have some kind of Louie Dobbsman who'd work this issue. Anyway, my thanks to all our hosts for a fascinating and mind altering experience. Here's hoping I can live long enough to know what to make of it . . .and to see genuine peace come to this deeply hurt place.