Waves (sometimes), gals (every day), bravery (three existential wars) and a desert in bloom. What's not to love!
“The Jews bring the world poverty, trouble and disaster. They are monsters and the basis for all evil in the world ….Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. God is with you.”
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, from Radio Berlin, March 1, 1944.
|“Oh, you who murdered Allah’s pious prophets Oh, you who were brought up on spilling blood
You have been condemned to humiliation and hardship.
Oh Sons of Zion, oh most evil among creations
Oh barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs…”
Six-year-old Palestinian girl recites poem on Palestinian television, 2013.
It ain’t easy being a Jew. Don’t believe me? Come and step into the hallways of the dirtiest and most tortured of histories. A lost people and two thousand orbits jammed with degradation and bestial treatment.
I’m not going to throw you down the yawn-fest of the Egyptians, the Romans, the first-borns being slain by Pharaohs, seas parting, baby Mo in the bull rushes and we’re not even going to swing by the Crusades (when Christians took their swords to every Jew in Europe) or the Spanish Inquisition, as rad as it was, with its garrotting and Jews being burnt alive.
Yeah, it helps with our story, it helps with your understanding of the Jewish diaspora and why these smart, industrious and brave people had to set-up shop in every crummy Eastern European and Middle Eastern craphole over the last two thousand years, enriching each county with its music, arts, crafts, trade and native intelligence, all the while suffering the worst privations, the pogroms, the excessive taxation, the restrictions, the boycotts, the lies, the scapegoating.
Out of these horrors developed Hassidim (those orthodox Jews with their side-locks and wild frenzied praying), the mysticism of the Cabala (a fav of Madonna!) and, more importantly for our story, the Zionists, the foot-soldiers of a movement that decided, enough was enough, the Jews gotta get some land of their own. And where else but the Holy Land? Wasn’t it where they came from?
Discrimination, racism? Yeah, the Jews know it better than anyone.
But I want to make it easy.
So how about we just step back three generations, recent enough to be when your grand or great-granddaddy was stepping around as a kid. Let’s begin with the Nazi invasion of Poland, home to three-and-half mill Jews. One in every 10 Polacks a Jew. Not that you’d figure it, given the Jews’ history with their home country. Jews paid more tax. Suffered trade restrictions. Were routinely massacred. And so the Jews clung together, were guided by their Rabbis who attempted to decipher their problems through the Torah (the Old Testament for us goyim) and the Talmud (a scholarly interpretation of the Torah and the rules Jews should follow.
And then the Nazis came. The greatest war machine in history in their gorgeous, slim-fitting uniforms designed by Hugo Boss (yes!) and all trussed up inside magnificent Panzer Tanks and screaming dive bombers and with the infantry goose-stepping over the Polish army in a week, the newest piece of the rapidly expanding Third Reich after the crushing of Czechoslovakia.
And what was the west going to do? America wasn’t interested and the Brits had a handful of planes and the shittiest little army. They figured they could let Hitler cut a few slices off here and there, create his lebensraum (living space) and the world wouldn’t be driven into another pointless war. Who wanted to be the prime minster who committed another generation of young men to be butchered in Europe?
And it ain’t a secret how the Nazis felt about the Jews. Oh, you know about the Holocaust? Of course you do. You’ve seen the movies, you know the number, six-and-a-half-mill shot and gassed.
By the time the Nazis were finished in Poland, with its death camps and walled-off ghetto where children fell dead in the streets from starvation and cold and where thousand were regularly marched out to the city’s cemetery, lined up, shot, covered in lime and buried just in time for the next group to roll up; where brave Jews, the forerunners of the New Zionists, young, muscular, vigorous, fought the might of the Third Reich with a handful of guns and home-made bombs. Who fled to the sewers underneath the city and who committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the SS. Want a movie version? Download The Pianist (2002).
When the war ended 90 per cent of Poland’s Jews were dead. The rest? Where were they gonna live? Europe didn’t want ’em nor what was left of the rest of European Jewry. And despite Britain promising ’em that hunk of rock and sand in the eastern Mediterranean, The British Mandate of Palestine, could become the Jewish homeland, the Brits changed their mind ’cause they didn’t want the Arabs to shut off oil supply or slam the gate on the Suez canal. The Brits even used their military to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine, escorting their ships to distant internment camps in places like Cyprus and Mauritius.
Most of these wretched souls had just survived the worst horrors in history, mass-extermination on an industrial scale by the most efficient people on earth, and they found ’emselves back behind barbed wire, this time in the hands of the good guys.
But some made it. And by this time, the Zionists had bought a fair chunk of the land in Palestine, always at over-inflated prices from their Arab landowners (of course!), and starting building their famous kibbutzes, farms run as collectives but surrounded by towers and barbed wire. The Jews weren’t dumb. The Arabs might’ve sold the land but they weren’t guaranteeing their safety.
After the Holocaust, after everything, Jews weren’t going anywhere. They would turn this godforsaken, shitty, Biblical land, that had sat fallow for thousands of years, into the most culturally advanced democracy the world had ever seen. The people would work the farms in the name of Jewish unity. Every boy would leave school at 18 and go straight into the army for three years of compulsory service; the girls would go in for two. It didn’t matter where you were from. If you are Jewish, Israel welcomes you. Come, come.
Three years after the war ended, having been cut a piece of the Palestinian Mandate for a Jewish homeland by the UN, the newly minted state of Israel began a nearly two-year existential war against surrounding Arab countries. That, after a year of civil war, between Arab and Jew.
And the Jews fought for every kibbutz, every road, every town and every city. Even when Jerusalem was besieged, the newly-minted Israeli forces would take terrible casualties, bringing supplies in through the long, mountainous road that linked Tel Aviv with Jerusalem. Go there and you can still see the wrecked trucks on the side of the highway.
In 1967 Arab figured they’d have another swing at the Jews. But the Israelis, who had informers at every tier of Arab government, pre-empted ’em and wiped out their enemies in six days. Six years later, the Arabs had another shot. This time it was closer, but the Jews won.
So where’s that leave us today? And how about the Palestinians? Don’t they have just as much of a right to live in peace and prosperity like the Jews? Of course. But peace is a two-way street, honey. What do you do when there’s such a visceral hatred of Jews? When kids happily recite hateful songs about the “wretched monkeys and barbaric pigs.”?
The Israelis split from Gaza and what happened? The bombs started to rain. Remove the check points, demolish the mighty west bank wall, that’ll tap out at 700 clicks when it’s finished, and what’ll happen? Suicide bombs, random shootings and massacres. Even Islamic Jihad sheepishly admits that skittling Jews had gotten way harder since the wall was built. Talk about taking away all the fun.
Whatever happens, the Jews aren’t going anywhere. Never again will they be led to indiscriminate slaughter. Never again. Never again.
The Middle East is not known for its fabulousness. Afghanistan ain’t what you’d call… progressive. No one’s reading about Jong’s “zippless fuck” or the Female Eunech out there. Gals in school? Driving? Working? It ain’t gonna happen. Saudi Arabia. Yemen. Wherevs. If you’re a gal or you’re a guy kinky for dick in the Middle East, it’s hell on earth.
But here in the city of Tel Aviv, girls and boys can flash eyes at each other in public and swim together in revealing swimsuits and not fear a vengeful brother or father. It’s a city where gay men can openly lasso tongues and not cower under the threat of jail or violence.
You’ve gotta admire somewhere that’s surrounded by countries whose sole reason for getting up in the morning is the desire to see it destroyed with as much fire and histrionics as possible. It happens to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day in 1945 when the biggest of the death camps, Auschwitz, was liberated by Soviet troops. A handful of survivors out of the six million Jews killed by the German Final Solution.
But, again and again, year after year, wars, bombs, intifadas, suicide hits, massacres, murders, reprisals, invasion and propaganda. The people feel it. And it hairs ’em out. There’s the ongoing tension that more rockets are going to be launched from Lebanon or Gaza or maybe somewhere inside Israel. Tension that Iran is going to get the bomb. Tension that Syria’s and Lebanon’s dirty wars will drip across the border.
Of all the places in the world to fall into on such an auspicious day is Tel Aviv, the nation’s second-largest city. What a jewel in the desert it is. Palm trees line the six-lane highways. The city is marked in the modernist style of architecture, public buildings and apartment blocks designed by Jews, who’d studied at the famous Bauhaus school of architecture, fleeing Nazi Germany. White sand beaches stretch almost all the way to the border of Lebanon. Drive an hour inland and you hit Jerusalem and its ring of holy sights. And all this under that sublime Med climate of hot summers and mild winters. Even in January, I sweat as I write in a cafe soaked by the sun.
Life is somewhat perfect, you’d think. The people go to soccer games, they watch Big Brother, they argue and they shovel impressive amounts of hummus and bread into their gourds. But the more the world turns, the less some things change. Hamas announced on Holocaust Remembrance Day that it would never accept the two-state solution or “give up one inch of the land of Palestine.”
On a two-page spread of daily news in the Jerusalem Post the nine stories are: US Senate may fracture over Iran sanctions. Tehran won’t dismantle any of its nuclear program; Hamas cell captured; Ministry official assassinated; Israeli PM says peace can only come when Palestininians recognise a Jewish state; US is detaching itself from being the world’s policeman; Ex-CIA head says US would use force to to stop Iran.
In the comment section, the lead piece is, “Exposing the myth of the Arab bystander to the Holocaust.”
Can you imagine what it’s like to’ve created a model society amid dictatorships, military juntas and artificially created kingdoms and yet every single day you wonder if it’ll be your last? And that because of the poisonous relationship the west has with Middle Eastern oil you fear a return to 1948 when the British discreetly took the side of Israel’s genocidal enemies.
I asked the wife of a guy I met if she was going to have kids. Standard small talk. “With this tension? Last year we were running into bomb shelters. Do I want to bring a child into this?”
When I asked a young surfer if he felt tension between Jews and Arabs he said of course he did, but “it’s our destiny to be chased. It’s our destiny to be hunted.”
The surfer said whenever he travelled he was treated differently once it became known he was an Israeli. He even tested the theory on two Canadians while on vacation in Thailand. They asked his nationality and he said he was Australian. An Australian! A beer was poured down his throat and he was embraced like a brother.
When the surfer admitted that he was actually Israeli the mood soured and he was chased out of the bar with taunts of “We wish the Germans had succeeded.”
“We have a very stressful existence. You feel it all the time,” he says.
Meanwhile, Iran inches closer to the bomb and we flippantly talk about fairness and a level-playing field; about the plight of a people used as pawns by the thugs of Hamas.
One of the filmers I’m driving around the country with admits that he thought Israel would be a repressive, backward and somewhat terrifying country.
“I mean, because of everything they’ve done to the Arabs,” he said.
And yet he found a desert in bloom, the friendliest bars he’d ever been to and streets safe to stagger around drunk in at three am; men who could snap your neck in a second politely moving away in crowded nightclubs, the sea of smiling people parting like Mo’s Red Sea two millennia previous. Pretty army gals in fitted khaki uniforms and freckled faces with machine guns swinging off their backs. Smoking in restaurants (social!) and tables dressed in bowl after bowl of hummus and baba ghanoush and giant skewers of lamb and chicken and cow (but defs no hog). The blue and white flag. The star of David.
I took a little gang of surf pals with me to Iz. A surf trip for the mag I started (Stab) and that ran in issue number 75. The mag’s site stabmag.com actually ran this story but pulled it when it attracted a little heat. Anti-semitism. It’s everywhere, baby.
Anyway, it’s interesting, important even, to note that all of ’em wanted to swing to Israel for the experience of… being there. The home of the three great religions. The hottest spot on earth, politically, culturally. And they were going to come even if it meant a Sydney-LA-New York- Tel Aviv (Craig Anderson) or Sydney-Bangkok-with-overnight layover-Istanbul-Tel Aviv (the rest) odyssey. Creed McTaggart and Dion Agius flew the national carrier El Al and were torn apart prior to boarding. Dion’s Cairo and Dubai stamps in his passport and the pair’s artful, but dishevelled, appearance, were clues that maybe they weren’t just Christian pilgrims headed for the holy land. They were taken down two flights of stairs at Bangkok airport and pushed into a basement room. Interrogation!
“How do you make money?”
“Well, I make (censored) and Creed makes (censored).”
“You live like this?”
“And you come to Israel… for waves? But you live in Australia? We have no waves! Why do you go to Egypt? Why do you go to Dubai?”
When Dion and Creed got on the jet, clear of any suspicion they were carting dynamite, they marvelled at it’s zig-zagging flight path on the back-of-the-seat TV screen. Left, right, up and down, a curious and illogical route to Israel. But, yes! El Al can’t fly over Islamic countries like Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They’re Jews!
Thirty-six hours of planes, lounges and airport hotels. And, yeah, we waited for swell. This is the Med, after all, and even if it at its most eastern point and therefore open to enough fetch to deliver eight-foot waves you make sure there’s going to be waves unless you wanna play bat and ball on Hilton Beach.
And you land at Ben Gurion airport, a stunning, hyper-modern creation made with Jerusalem stone and you drive along highways as perfect as anything in Singapore and you see the Tel Aviv university and the Opera house and the green fields and the rad mix of Brutalist concrete and art deco architecture.
And you go to surf and the surfers freak when Craig Anderson and Josh Kerr, mostly, but also with reflected heat on Creed and Dion, surf their waves.
“I love your style Craig Anderson! Today is a special day!
“Josh Kerr! Josh Kerr surfs my waves!”
And amid screams of “Op! Op! Op! Op! and drop-ins and the happiest of chaos, we surf. We surf in raging onshores and in dead glass. Six-to-eight-foot burgers, four-foot wedges and in between beachbreaks that behave like the dreamiest D-Bah.
And at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest sight in all of Judaism, while Hassidim make their frenzied prayers and a boy takes his bar mitzvah, a voice rings out, “Craig Anderson, you’re my favourite surfer! I love Slow Dance!”
At the Jaffa gate, the ancient entry to the Old City, while we zip around on segways that’ve been thoughtfully provided by a very nice man called Ron from Corona beer, a group of gals sing out, “Craig Anderson we love you!”
We take pastries, dates and beer on the beach after floating in the radically salty Dead Sea where our wet hair drips into our eyes and causes the most excruciating pain. We drive and we drive but there are no roadhouses or billboards just cherry blossoms and fields of green with water pumps painted in lavender and past that Israeli prickly fruit of the cactus, the Sabras, also the name of Jews born in Israel, and all under the loveliest of winter sun.
“I like the Jewish steez,” says Creed.
When I leave, the prettiest teen customs gal, one of many serious Sabras working security, looks at me as she searches me and says, “I believe someone may have tried to get you to carry a bomb on board the plane.”
Oh, honey, I love your honesty, but if you only knew! Tel Aviv, Israel, you steal my heart!
Special thanks: I wanna thank my former Bondi-living pal Yossi Zamir for carting me and the boys the length and breadth of Israel, from Tel Aviv to Haifa to Jerusalem and everywhere else. Every whim, every need, every technical glitch, he’d attend to with calm air you’d expect from a former IDF warrior. Mickey, Tel, you were rad, Hilla for the cute Topsea hats, the manager of the beachfront hotel where we stayed (Leonardo Bazel Hotel) for cutting us a deal (did I mention that Tel Aviv is crazy expensive?), Oren Maor from Landver Cafe and Roza Bar for all the grinds, the booze, the red carpet experience, Omer Shenar, Nimrod Glazner, Alon Evron, Rhythm Israel, Quiksilver, Rusty, Carver, Trash Surf Shop, Billabong (these real nice co’s bought our gang tickets) and the men behind the labels, Haiin Sakal, Dotan Markovich, Micky Cook,Tzaki Housw, Yoav Bilu,Tal Falach, Boaz Tamir, Eshay Asher.