Israel four

August 31, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Posted in Daily blogs and thoughts | Leave a comment

Day 4 – AUGUST 6, 2010

One of the nice features of the Carlton hotel is that they have American style air conditioning.  That means I didn’t wake up in a sweat every half hour during the night.  We both slept good, and a tad late.

Friday morning we awoke half an hour before the restaurant stopped serving breakfast, threw on our clothes and ran downstairs.  The Carlton has a restaurant on the beach, across the walkway from the hotel, and as we stepped out of the front doors of the lobby, I said “S**T.  It’s F****ng hot out here.”  Really, no more than 95 degrees or so – at 9:30 in the morning.

We walked to the restaurant entrance where the security guard greeted us.  “Boker tov” (good morning) Jodi said.  “Bevakasha,” (Thank you) I said.  Damn – did it again!

The Carlton’s Israeli super-breakfast was every bit as expansive as we had eaten in Caesarea.  I took a liking to the Israeli salad (tomato & cucumber), plus discovered dried candied dates.  A black waiter was at the table next to us, dropping off a small coffee pot.  I assumed he must have been an Ethiopian Jew.  I gestured across the aisle to him.

“Slicha – shteiyem café.”  (Excuse me, two coffee’s).

“You’re going to have to speak English, I don’t understand Hebrew.”

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?  I finally spoke Hebrew right and there was nobody there to understand it.

When he brought us our coffee pot, we spoke with him for a few minutes and he had a very European sounding accent.  I couldn’t quite place it, so we asked him where he was from.  “Holland,” he told us.  He had been in the country about two months and was actually getting ready to leave.

“Too hot for me,” he confided.

Our first stop for the morning was the Palmach museum in Tel Aviv.  The Palmach were the “Israeli freedom fighters” who formed up in the 1930’s to help Jews escape from Europe and sneak into Israel, which was under British rule during World War 2.   After the war, they continued sneaking Jews into Israel, even though the British had established very strict immigration policies.  If you ever saw the movie “Exodus,” the Paul Newman character was a Palmach leader.

After the British turned over the keys of Palestine to the United Nations in 1948, and the UN split the country between the Israeli’s (then called the Palestinians) and the Arabs (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria), the Israeli war for Independence broke out, with 30 million Arabs attacking the 1 million Jews.  The Palmach became the Israeli army.  The 30 million Arabs lost about half the land the United Nations gave them, the state of Israel was born and the world started blaming the Israeli’s for the all the problems in the Middle East.

So, as the cab drops us at the Palmach museum, we are greeted by two armed security guards.  Did I mention about armed guards yet?  In Israel, there are armed guards everywhere.  It seems like half the population is packing a piece.  There are soldiers, armed with machine guns, at bus stops, shopping malls and other large public venues.  We saw them patrolling the walkways at the beach.

I guess that’s why there’s so little street crime in Israel.  Everyone’s carrying guns!  I knew that Israel had very liberal gun laws and I’ve read that the Israeli government actually encourages personal gun ownership (with training in its use.)  That actually makes sense, because the first thing the Nazi’s did when they rose to power in the mid 1930’s was to make gun ownership Illegal for Jews.  The Israeli’s have a saying:  “We forgive, but we never forget.”

The Palmach museum was one of the best museum’s I’ve ever attended.  It consists of about 16 rooms, with each room telling another part of the story about a group of friends joining the Palmach, becoming soldiers, going through training, and joining the war for independence.  There’s way too much to cover, you’ll have to go see it yourself, but in the first exhibit, we saw a video where a half dozen teenagers have a secret meeting in the woods with a young lieutenant from the Palmach.  The video is projected on a huge screen, that is imbedded in between trees and shrubs.  You watch it in a room that looks like a night time forest, with trees, shrubs and rocks for you to sit on.  The impression is that you are in the woods with the recruits.  There’s even a campfire in the video, and the smell of burning wood is effused into the room.

In one of the exhibits, the recruits are climbing in the mountains and there are two video screens on opposite sides of the room, with the commander on the front screen and the recruits on the back screen.  You have to constantly turn your head to follow the conversation, as if you were there with them.  Very cleverly done.

After finishing up our visit to the museum, we catch a cab to the Israeli Independence Museum on the other side of Tel Aviv.  We ask the cab driver to drive past Rabin square, where there is a memorial to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in November 1995 at a Peace Rally by an Israeli right winger who didn’t like the Peace plan (The Oslo Accords) that Rabin had help negotiate.

The driver stopped the cab for us, but I wasn’t going to take pictures of an assassination site for my vacation album.  Seems kind of macabre to me.

The Israeli Independence Museum is a small museum that shows a short video about the history of Tel-Aviv.  Afterwards, you are led to the room where the Israeli government declared their independence as a sovereign state in May 1948, the day before those 30 million Arabs mentioned earlier attacked the Israelis.

The first film was very interesting.  It showed how the Bedouin (Arab nomads) landowners in Jaffa sold what they thought were a bunch of worthless sand dunes to some naive Jewish immigrants in the late 1880’s.  Luckily for the inexperienced settlers, the sand dunes were beach front on the Mediterranean.  Eventually, they built homes, communities and now, 100 years later, the place looks like Miami Beach.  So next time you hear on the news that the Arabs want the land that the Jews stole from them, remember who took advantage of naïve buyers, and who made lemonade from lemons.

Independence Hall is the actual room where the Israeli’s signed their “Declaration of Independence” in 1948.  When we toured the facility, we were actually with a group of about 150 Canadian teenagers, who spent most of the 20 minutes that the tour guides talked by generally fidgeting, talking among themselves, texting on their cellphones and sleeping.  Kids.

The next stop was about a ten minute walk from Independence Hall: the Nachalat Bin Yamin Market, which is a pedestrian only stretch of about ten blocks with artists, craftsmen and flea market type tables.  Entering the market, the armed security guards look in backpacks and pocketbooks.  The market itself is what I’d describe as a “high-end flea market.”  Jodi bought herself a nice necklace, while I bought a bottle of water.  Did I mention it was hot as hell?  We spent more on bottled water than on food during our trip.

There was a falafel stand that Jodi remembered from a trip a few years ago, and we found it and had a delicious lunch.  Then we headed down the road to the Carmel Market.

If the Nachalat Bin Yamin Market was a high end flea market, the Carmel Market is a low end flea market combined with a farmers market.  It’s tightly packed across several blocks, with stands selling fruit, vegetables, nuts, bread and fish, interspaced with the plastic refrigerator magnets and other tourist junk.  The fascinating thing is that all the produce is locally grown, and we saw quite a few things that aren’t very common in the USA.  It was quite an experience.  For the people who were shopping there, it was their regular supermarket – they don’t have Shoprite’s in Tel Aviv.

Since it’s Friday, everything closes early in preparation for Shabbat (That’s Hebrew for the Sabbath), which begins at sundown on Friday night, so by the time we got out of the Carmel market, it was 3 PM and you could see a lot of the local businesses were already closed or were closing.

We walked back to the Carlton hotel, which was about 45 minutes away. By now, we’re both sweaty and tired and the air conditioning was great.  We went upstairs to the pool, did battle with a few chair hogs, and I fell asleep for an hour or so.

For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant on the beach and had salad and pizza.  The pizza was nowhere as good as it had been in Caesarea, but the salad was delicious.  Then we decided to walk along the walkway and watch the people.

We found an empty bench under a streetlight.  The benches in this part of town were sort of semicircular, about 20 feet long, and could probably hold about 10 people.  We sat down and kicked back, relaxing.  After a few minutes, 6 young boys came over with a plastic bag.  I would guess they ranged in age from about 12 to 15, and they were all excited and gabbing away in Hebrew.

They opened the bag and it was a large bottle of Coca Cola, which they poured into plastic cups and consumed with great relish.  After a few minutes a tall middle aged man comes by and starts talking to them in Hebrew.  He’s really friendly, but something seemed odd about him.  Eventually, the smallest boy, who also seemed to be the “leader” of the pack, reaches in his pocket and gives the man a coin.  The man thanks him and wanders away.  Now, the kid didn’t look intimidated at all, he was friendly and matter of fact.

I asked the boy closest to me what just happened, and he said the man was a beggar looking for money.  Then the “leader” said that there are always people who need money coming around and it’s no big deal, it’s only a sheckel.  I was so impressed to see a 12 year old offering charity to a panhandler.   Someone brought their kid up right to make him do that.

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