Tel Aviv Diary January 27, 2003 - February 2, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

As the ridiculous day approaches, Ezi reminds me of the old joke "Do you have elections in China?" "Ah, yes! Evely molning."

Last night I went for a briefing at the Labor Party. I have volunteered to drive people from old age homes to the polls. There were about 20 of us. There are about 5000 registered Labor voters in Tel Aviv who are over the age of 65, the majority well over seventy. They figure we can take about a dozen if we work 8 hours, because driving them entails waiting,picking them up, parking, waiting, and returning them to their rooms. That means together we can do 244 people. That leaves 4766 people in Tel Aviv with no way to get to the polls. Since the overwhelming majority of the old timers are labor this skews the vote.

"Have you thought about writing about the 12 people killed in Gaza?" a friend asks. 13. Read about it, Thought about it, and went to lie down until the thought passed. I saw the ammunition and rockets the Israeli army blew up in Gaza, and thought about how it would be used against me. I thought of the fact that most of the people killed were shooting. And I thought about the fact that I - like they - am fed propaganda daily, but I am trying not to hurt anyone or be hurt. And i decided that my life is more important to me than their lives. At least in this situation. I'm sorry about it, but that's as far as I can go in my present state of fear.

The best I can do at the moment is try to get the candidate who wants to reduce that state of fear elected. Or at least not mortified.

And for the benefit of those who didn't tune in yesterday I reproduce the timeline of bombings you may find useful. timeline

Note that one of those dots is Sapi. Note also that there are no dots for the limbless, brain dead, traumatized, etc.

In the mean time the big story is of an Israel Defense Forces intelligence officer who refused to provide the army with information for a retaliation attack after the Tel Aviv bus station bombing so that innocent Palestinians would not be harmed. He was transferred to another post.

Two guys I know were arguing about what he should have done all afternoon. I believe in that argument.

January 28, 2003 Election Day

mine has not been a depressing day so far. i spent the morning at Wizo Old Age Home taking people to the polls. The polls in Israel are crowded with old ladies in walkers, wheel-chairs, and with canes. The effort to vote is enormous, but they are determined. Their sense of responsibility to the country is amazing, and their feeling that they still have something to contribute to the future of the country is wonderful.

For the first time I saw how old Tel Aviv is, how many people are dependent on social security, government pensions... Most of the women I took today suffered in various degrees from memory loss, couldn't remember their addresses, which poll booth they had to go to, where it was. But they all remembered that IT WAS NEVER EASY IN THIS COUNTRY!!! They had all worked hard to build this land, and suffered with it. Some were refugees from Europes who rebuilt their lives after losing their families. Like one woman, Ruth Hag, who told me she had to goback to her hometown of Vienna after 50 years - and refused to speak German there. When asked, she said - i hate it because in that language my family was destroyed. No matter how hard Israel was after Vienna, she said, it's home. It was a good perspective for me.

I keep looking for diaries online - Yitzchak Laor sends out a number of entries from They are usually given through the perspective of the observer, the visitor who listens to what locals say and describes what is seen there. Sometimes they're suspicious - a bit of propaganga fed to naive and loving people. Often they provide information not elsewhere available. But none seem to reveal what a person feels like in their daily lives in Palestine. I'm still looking.

Why is it important to me, you ask? Because i want to find some one over there with no axe to grind who is like me.

Who wants to know about your little life you say. Here it is election day and all you can talk about is old ladies -what about the issues? We been through all that - and it no longer matters what I wanted. Now I've got to learn how to deal with the new reality that will appear in a few hours.

January 29, 2003

We watched the election results as we do every election with a group of friends, most of whom went to high school with Ezi and most of whom are now running big businesses in Israel. The results of the model poll at our friends' party last night indicated an overwhelming victory for labor, with a few voices for shinui, 5 for meretz, and 3 for Likud.

And yet, although we were proven totally out of touch with the country, there was much to be learned. For example: The businessmen of Israel are Labor, Meretz or Sinui. Unlike the traditional pattern when the workers are left and the upper classes are right.

And as one of our friends pointed out, once someone who votes for labor dies, there is no one to replace him.

Are you broken hearted, Sally writes me? I look at Peres' face after the elections and I see the committment, the disappointment, and the determination to make the best of a bad situation, and i too can go on. It doesn't matter "who" wins, he says, what is to be done and how it will be done is what counts.

Perhaps the strength behind Sharon will give him the confidence to work out a peace plan - or any plan. (Let us make no bones about it - this guy has made no plans since his last election - he floats from disaster to disaster).

Most people say that the results of this election can only lead to an unstable government. And most voters internalized this information even before the results. "Good Bye," said one of the old ladies to her volunteer driver " See you in a few months!" And when Linda told the people at Meretz handing out stickers that she had already voted for Meretz, they still urged them upon her, "Keep them! For Next Time!"

The way I see it the only government that has any sticking power is one that I totally object to - Likud, Shas, Liberman, Mafdal, etc. The government I'd like to see - under the circumstances - is Labor, Likud, Shinui. With maybe Amir Peretz as well. Mitzna won't go with Likud because Sharon doesn't conceive of coalition governments as other than his own government. He makes the rules. He makes concessions that are irrelevant to him, for example with the religious parties, but he makes the rules. So it won't happen. But I'd like to see it happen - a lot.

Of course I'm feeling much blacker than I normally would - Talma Yizraely died last night - and I miss her already. I was on my way to the hospital yesterday - it was right next to the Wizo old age home - but then I figured it'd be lunch time and she'd be sleeping, like she was last time I came. Hana said she was full of love when she saw her yesterday and that thought comforts me. But then, I always believed that Talma's approach to her illness and life was something I would be wise to apply to my own life. To politics as well - the ability to accept everything that happens and try to shape it into something positive. Even her donation of her body to science seems like part of this pattern. Zichrona levracha.

January 30, 2003

I definitely need a vacation from politics. Rather than stay glued to the TV to see whether a government can be formed, what kind, and who are the latest terrorist victims, we went out to see Yisrael Bright, who does amazing rock to Israeli poets. Amichai, Zelda, Weiseltier, Avidan, Adaf. And some non-israeli poets - Poe, Cavafis, Neruda. The decibel level was so high that Smadar (who we brought in order to give her a break from the Knesset) moved back, then out of the room, and then out of the door. But I was so enthralled i didn't even feel the decibel level. He's got an amazing relationship with a line of verse - plays it against the music, with the music, to the beat, and against it. It was a journey back into the language of Hebrew,away from its cheapening in the political arena. wonderful. The club, Tmuna, was filled - even though - as Smadar pointed out, the street were empty. Tel Aviv was very subdued the day after the elections - but you can never tell with Tel Aviv.

In response to your questions, the program was recorded for television and if i can get a copy I'll let you all know. And yes, Bright appeared with me once on "Leila Leila" in November.

And now the first cloned baby, Eve, is said to be in Israel. The news came out this morning and already there is speculation about whether she can't be used in some way to form a government... Because it looks as impossible to make a government from these election as it is to clone a human.

January 31, 2003

Maybe I'm wrong about the cloning. The scenario Oren told me about two weeks ago might come to pass. He said that Mitzna may be overturned after the elections if he didn't have a good victory. And now it's beginning to seem that there might be a coalition with Shinui, Labor and Likud. Who knows? Everything else is crazy around here - anything can happen.

What do I mean? Even the weather has been totally mad - hot, cold, rainy, dry. Even the trees are totally confused. Today I went looking for Petango with Liz, who is obsessed with this rare sour fruit. It usually grows in late spring, but I told her that since she is only here for a week, we might as well check it out. And the petango bushes were flowering - as they should around now. But there was also fruit - strangely, unexpectedly. Flower and fruit together. All cycles at once.

Another case: The kittens in our yard are still little, but there's already an orgy going on creating the next generation. The kittens sat around their mamma watching their aunt couple today, totally entranced. I've seen a lot of surprises with cats, but not this one.

So maybe there is a human clone living in Israel.

February 1, 2003

As we sat today in Talma's garden, and I was thinking of the way she was always such an enabler, a woman walked in who was introduced as the widow of the poet Amir Gilboa. I can't remember if I've written about this, but I have always admired his work, but his name always reminds me of the great ignorance of the culture of Israel. I was once sitting in the office of Sandu David, who was then the chair of PEN, and he got a letter rejecting his request that the grove next to Gilboa's house, where he got his heart attack, be renamed the Amir Gilboa Grove. The names of the forests of Israel, the letter said, was reserved for donors. Both of us blanched at the letter. And then I remembered the television program about Amir Gilboa done with Lily Ratok and went home and called Lily. The television authorities, she told me, taped over that program. There is no copy. And now, sitting in Talma and Yossi's edenic garden, I asked Gilboa's widow. She has a copy. Now wouldn't it be brilliant if this could be the beginning of a video archive of Israeli cultural giants - like Gilboa, Amichai, Avidan, and the rest? Fat chance I would have said a few years ago, after having failed to interest even the Hebrew Writers' Association in this idea. But now, with internet, maybe I can try again. Maybe with the film department at TAU. Any one want to help out?

And p.s. for those who wanted to help support the tri-lingual student anthology, it is shaping up beautifully!

Things can happen - of only on small scale.

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