Israel's Other Israel: The Tel Aviv 'Bubble'

By Correspondent, Josh Mitnick | The Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 2009 | Go to article overview

Israel's Other Israel: The Tel Aviv 'Bubble'


Correspondent, Josh Mitnick, The Christian Science Monitor


The Israeli relationship with this city is captured in a hit song about a 20-something who moves here from Jerusalem:

"I mix in with the scene. Everything is fresh, and that's good," goes the hip-hop verse by Dag HaNahash. "After two years of Sodom and Gomorrah, I don't recognize myself in the mirror."

Welcome to The Bubble, as Israelis call it. Here, residents forgo news about Hamas rocket fire for an espresso, then mosey down to the beach. While Jewish settlers spar with Palestinians in the West Bank, "Tel Avivis" make merry at disco clubs.

"Here you have the freedom to dress the way you want, do what you want, and say what you want," says Tali Kushnir, owner of a vintage clothes boutique. "When we sit here we don't feel Gaza and we don't feel the settlements. We feel the beach breeze and watch people walking half naked in the streets."

Ms. Kushnir's shop, Machteret - Hebrew for "underground" - stands just blocks from where Tel Aviv was founded a century ago as the first "Hebrew city" - a Zionist fusion of modern Jewish nationalism and the land of the Bible. The shop is named after the Jewish militants based in Tel Aviv who prepared for what Israelis call the 1948 "war of liberation" against their Arab neighbors.

To mark its centennial, Tel Aviv has staged a public tribute heavy on pyrotechnics, as well as a nocturnal citywide block party. It has lured international cultural acts like Italy's La Scala opera. But its birthday comes at a time when the liberal city seems increasingly out of step with Israel's shift to the right.

Hanoch Marmary, a former editor at the Haaretz newspaper, says Israelis have a love-hate relationship with the city: "Tel Aviv is an icon. It is a dream. It's a concept. It symbolizes success, an open life, and hedonism," he says. "But it also raises feelings of jealousy. On the one hand you want to be part of it, and on the other hand there's condescension, fear, a recoiling, and jeering" of Tel Aviv.

Israel's district police chief for West Bank settlements launched a tirade against Tel Aviv, alleging that residents' "willingness to contribute to the state is one big zero." While defending the settlers, the officer denounced Tel Avivis who, from the comfort of their posh lives, "allow themselves to level criticism."

An outgrowth of the ancient MediA-terranean port city of Jaffa, Tel Aviv became the center of Jewish political, intellectual, and artistic activity before Israel's independence. Even though Israel declared Jerusalem - a 50-minute drive to the southeast - its capital, Tel Aviv remained home to the country's major political parties, media outlets, and the military. …

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