THE HOLY LAND

Ein li eretz acheret – I have no other land – אין לי ארץ אחרת

Ehud Manor

Bin man with an israeli flag
A Jewish bin man proudly flying the Israeli flag

Sat on the beach today in the sweltering heat, I tried to process my complex thoughts and feelings on the place I have called my second home for the last 6 years and I feel its finally time to get of my arse and write a blog entry. A selfish and vain attempt at documenting my life – and chance for the few of you that I haven’t bored away already, to share my ramblings.

I’ve done a huge amount in the past 3 months since I arrived in Israel, and with Pesach passing over as a natural halfway point on my programme, it’s time to write!

TEL AVIV

Tel Aviv Beach
Tel Aviv beach and the Mediterranean reflecting the sun after heavy rainfall

Through all the time I have spent in Israel (over 2 years of the past 6 will have been spent here by the end of the year) I have never really got to know this hedonistic metropolis. But it is now safe to say that the city all Israelis call ‘the bubble’, is now occupying a significant chunk of the love available in my heart.

Ayala at benedicts
Ayala guarding the door of Benedicts, home of the best 24 hour eggs benedict in the Middle East.

3 months in Tel Aviv is enough to realise that Tel Avivians do not, and cannot work. They don’t have time. Mid-week drunken nights in wild clubs are followed by hungover days in hipster cafes, nursing mindblowingly strong coffees and the world’s best breakfasts (think freshly baked bread, beautiful eggs, cheeses, fresh salads and spreads and a serving of mouth wincingly bitter olives).

Tel Aviv then floats along for a long lazy lunch and a quick dinner before hitting the next night’s hot venue. I am yet to research exactly how one million people pay for this $100 a day lifestyle along with their extortionate rents, with absolutely zero income.

A city made of residents that hail from every corner of the globe has produced a food and music scene that only the world’s greatest cities can rival. Yemenite, Iraqi, German, Hungarian, Russian, Moroccan, Armenian, Argentinean, Georgian and Brazilian worlds collide to provide solitary, and fusion experiences that pop up in every nook and crannie of this 102 year old city.

There are much nicer in Israel, but having a beach on my doorstep, and right at the heart of a fully stocked city is an amenity not quite provided by the likes of Scarborough to the east, or Blackpool to the west of sunny Leeds.

BURSTING THE BUBBLE

 Arab shepherd
An arab shepherd leads his flock down the main road of the Galilee village of Meilliah

The force of the bubble is strong, but every now and again, I take out my pin and pop the bugger to succumb to my raging wanderlust. The diversity and beauty of springtime Israel is breathtaking and I have found myself in some of Israel’s most beautiful places.

Conquering mountains - Hod Akev
Conquering mountains – Hod Akev

After living in Arad in the Judean desert for 4 months on Yearcourse, the desert holds a very special place in my heart and I have now found my dream desert destination. A two day camping and hiking trip with friends Matan and Sarah is the best I’ve ever done and reminded me why I fell in love with the desert 6 years ago.

Ein Akev
Jumping off the cliff with Matan into the spring of Ein Akev

Ein Akev is an hidden oasis, with waterfalls and deep pools surrounded by cliffs that you can jump off right in the middle of the wide desolate dusty expanses.

Mama Magdalene
Mama Magdalene, my second mother, preparing lafa to put on the fire for me

The journey there included a stop at a cluster of bedouin tents where Mama Magdalene, a lady of the desert, made up fresh lafa breads with labane and zatar, served with tooth meltingly sugary sweet tea. Magdalene told me to call home and tell my mother I have 2 mums now, a true testament to the extent of bedouin hospitality.

“Kelvinmanjaro” reared his ugly head and a mountain was conquered, and the desert wander ended appropriately at David Ben-Gurions grave – the man who was behind the declaration of the State of Israel, and became Israel’s first prime minister in 1948.

GOLAN IN BLOOM
The Golan Heights in bloom

Other hikes in the Galil and Golan Heights showed off Israel’s springtime abundance of wild flowers, water and greenery – a million miles away from the deathly solitude of the desert.

SNAPS

Amazingly I have found time to do a bit of work! I am a participant on the Career Israel programme, and after one month of ulpan (Hebrew classes) I began an internship with a photo-news agency – FLASH90. <– Click here to see my images on their website.

A religious family in Jerusalem on Purim
A religious family in Jerusalem on Purim

I am working with amazing photographers who, in true Israeli style, don’t hold back on both lavish criticism and praise. Their tutelage, especially from the big boss Naty has been invaluable. I could never have gained this insight into the world of photo journalism in the UK, and I can really feel myself improving as I find my feet in the world of professional photography for the first time.

Eritrean Protest
Eritreans protest against the dictatorship in their country outside the Eritrean Embassy in Tel Aviv

Luckily, I have had some of my photos published, and seeing my snaps in the Israeli and International press is so exciting, and shows me that I may one day have a shot at being a real life photographer. (With only an American law firm standing in my way!)

The slave trade in action
The South Tel Aviv slave trade in action, an Israeli coming to take away refugee workers

I am concentrating on building a reportage on the refugee situation in Tel Aviv, and more generally on life in the extremely deprived neighbourhoods in the south of the city.

 Homeless smoker
Homeless Sudanese refugee, Goitom, lights a cigarette before I take him to buy some groceries.

The area around the new and old bus stations is an Israel that most people do not know exists. 30’000 refugees call Tel Aviv their home, and they pour over the frontier with Egypt in their hundreds each month escaping the persecution, violence and dictatorships in their native Sudan and Eritrea.

Berehat
Eritrean refugee – Berahat

One Eritrean man I spent time with this week, Berahat, was trafficked out of Eritrea with 50 other asylum seekers. Only 15 made it alive across the border and into the relative safety of the Israeli detainment camps. The Egyptians are notorious for shooting these escapees, and although life in Israel is tough, they can maintain some degree of safety, security and democratic treatment here.

Refugees in the park
My refugee friend Abdu, with other refugees in the park waiting for work

The refugees eat, sleep and drink in the Levinski park, and wait all day for Israelis to come and take them for a day’s menial labour, washing dishes of working on construction sites.

Heroin Addict
Heroin Addict Anastasia cries as she tells me about her life on the streets in South Tel Aviv

I spend hours documenting this modern day slave trade, and have produced some really great results, that are getting some good praise in the office!

Crack whores fighting
Crack whores fighting on the streets just before their pimp came to break up the fight

That’s probably as much as you can all be bothered with for now – but as a final note, I’d like to make a plea. I’m going to stay in Israel until the winter, and would love all of you, especially those who have never been to Israel before, Jewish or not, to make a little trip and come visit me. I will be your personal tour guide to this magical country. I am desperate to share my passion for Israel with you!

Tel Aviv Prostitute
Tel Aviv Prostitute, Gali, poses for a photo after I refuse her solicitations

Until next time… Shalom!


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