מה חדש?

Or ma chadash? (ch pronounced like the ch in Bach) Literally “what’s new?”, a good conversation opener in Hebrew. I just realized that my last post was a month ago, I have to get my act together. New stuff that has happened includes:

I moved again. I think I have moved as much here in six months as I have in Denmark in six years. I moved to get away from my roommates whom I was not getting along with great. Now it’s much better, although not as clean. But that does not matter quite as much as having a social environment that you are comfortable in, in my opinion.

Politically the situation in Israel has been pretty dead with not much happening except proposed racist legislation like: the loyalty oath and the law to preserve communities. Laws like that remind that I do live in a foreign country with a political culture somewhat alien to me. I do feel however that the Danish political culture is moving closer and closer to Israels with laws like the cut in child subsidies which would be nothing special, if not for the fact that the parties behind the deal openly confess that it was intended to hit families with immigrant backgrounds.

I’ll repeat that: families with immigrant backgrounds. This means that families that are Danish for all intents and purposes but came from another country (we are talking citizens here, ladies and gentlemen) are at the receiving end of legislation, for no other reason than them not being ethnically Danish.

That I find very disturbing – not the actual law which is the same for everybody, but the fact that we have people in parliament deliberatively targeting certain population groups. It rings to my ears a lot like some of the laws of Israel which are at face value the same for everybody, but turn out to be, like the Danish laws, targeting citizens of Arab origin.

I went to Akko a few weeks ago with two friends and it was awesome. I really liked it. Unfortunately an insane man decided to run his car into the crowd waiting at the bus station, but I guess that kind of thing can happen anywhere.

My friend Lasse and my sister and her friend have been visiting lately and we have been having a really good time. Lasse and me went to the Negev desert and drove around for a couple of days. It was very beautiful. Especially Makhtesh Ramon and Makhtesh Hagadol were very nice. They are craters formed by erosion and the Ramon crater is the largest of its kind in the world. The Hagadol (large) crater is smaller, but it actually feels more like being in a huge crater because it is small enough that you can see the edges. Very cool.

I am going back to Denmark next Friday and I am dreading the return. I am going back to cold and darkness and a culture that I don’t particularly like, so it is interesting to see how it’s going to be.

Anyway, I am off, yalla bye!

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The theology of The Holy Land

Today I was in Introduction to Islam class and I remembered a conversation I had with a Palestinian cab driver a while back, very early in the morning on the way to Ben Gurion Airport (the main international airport of Israel). He spoke a passable English and was very talkative. Since I was in the front passenger seat I had the pleasure of conversing with the driver during the forty five minute ride from Jerusalem. We talked a bit about where had I in Israel. An interesting thing my mom noted was that he did not at all consider her, just referring to her as if she was not really there.

Anyway, the interesting part came when I told him that I live in Tel Aviv. This apparently spurred some more interest, specifically I think he wanted to save me from the Jewish point of view, probably thinking that I was not Jewish. It was very hard to follow his argument, with the conversation going something like this:

Him: “And then the God said to the people, you cannot do this”

Me: “Okay”

Him: “The people walked to the holy land, but then they did not go”

Me: “Okay, so what happened”

Him: “Moses was a prophet, you understand?”

And so on, and so on. I will spare you a transcription (it would probably be hard to reconstruct from memory since it was so incoherent) and just give you the details.

His point was basically that the Jews had disobeyed God (they did, according to the Bible) and were scattered among the nations. So far the Torah and the Koran agrees. However his view was that the Jews had forever lost the right to live in the Land of Israel and thus could never return, only because of this disobedience. His point being that Muslims, according to their holy book had never disobeyed God and therefore had the complete right to *all* of the Land of Israel.

The astonishing part was that my teacher confirmed that this is actually a mainstream view among Muslims. This is definitely a big part of the problem here, two groups claiming ownership, only because of views in holy books.


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Situation update

So what’s new since last time? A few things:

  • Lost my credit card – spent one and a half hours total getting closed. Not a new one, not getting any kind of service, except making sure that evil people cannot potentially steal money from the bank. That’s right, it’s fully insured, so the only ones the bank could possibly hurt by not closing it would be themselves, but that’s Israel for you.
  • Made a few new friends which is always nice. I find that people are generally pretty friendly here.
  • Put some stuff up on the walls in the dorms. Which is against regulations, if you can believe it. I used masking tape which should not hurt the walls, still I am told that the dorm staff can theoretically fine you. We will see what happens, so far it has helped as to make my dorm room feel less sterile. I’ll take some pictures and put them on the net soon.
  • Started classes in the university, which is really nice. They are very interesting and generally of a very high quality, much higher than what I am used to from back home. The teachers are much more energetic and enthusiastic than what I am used to. They also go to greater lengths at preparing reading material, than what I am used to from the University of Copenhagen.

That’s it for this time. Erev tov!

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Calling Palestine and bad Israeli service

So I am back in The Holy Land. The weather is definitely getting more comfortable, with temperatures in Tel Aviv in the upper twenties (it even rained yesterday). My mom came down with me and we have been travelling a bit in Israel. We came to Tel Aviv ten days ago and stayed a couple of nights in the Namal area, in the Diezengoff Beach Apartments. While waiting to check in, I overheard the receptionist giving the hourly rate for the apartments (100 shekel) – not very reassuring. However they are clean enough, if rather basic.

Anyway, my mom was rather skeptical about Tel Aviv in the beginning I could tell, but after a couple of days she really liked it. I referred that fact to my roommate and he said “of course dude, everybody likes Tel Aviv” and apparently it’s true, at least I have not met anybody who really did not like it.

After Tel Aviv we went to Jerusalem where we spent four nights at the Jerusalem Hostel. It’s an old hotel converted into a hostel and I did not like it so much this time. The shower smelled of piss and the air conditioner did not work – probably last time I will stay there. It was the last days of Sukkot so a ton of noise from the square at night as well, from the Orthodox partying like crazy. Let it be known: booze is not necessary for an extremely loud and obnoxious party.

In Jerusalem we saw all the sights that you have to see, most notably The Western Wall, The Church of The Holy Sepulcher (where Jesus was, among other things, crucified) and Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum and memorial). We also ventured beyond The Wall to Jericho and Betlehem. Jericho was not too interesting, but it’s a very nice drive down into The Jordan Valley. Betlehem on the other hand is a very nice little Palestinian town and people are really friendly there.

In Jericho I called a Palestinian taxi driver so he could pick us up from The Mount of Temptation. Big problem was that the next day we went to Eilat and I left my phone at the hotel while we went swimming. Apparently Cellcom (the Israeli phone company) had tried to call me a few times, to find out if my phone had been stolen and since they could not reach me they locked my phone. It just goes to show how deep the rift between the two societies is, that a call from one to the other is so suspicious that one’s phone will get locked.

Opening the phone was no easy matter, Cellcom would not help me, and IsraelPhones (the company I got my sim-card from) kept saying the would fix it. After it still did not work the next day I called IsraelPhones and they had gone on a field trip! I don’t recall something like that ever happening in Denmark, except for public institutions (like the university). But a phone company, never.

Anyway it works now, we had a great time in Eilat and I am going to the beach now.

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A home away from home

Living in Israel has made me realize a couple of things about my own identity being Danish and brought up in a vaguely Protestant home in a country that has been Christian for pretty much a thousand years. We have always celebrated Christmas (or Jul as we know it in Scandinavia), I had Christianity class in elementary school and I have been to church at least a few times a year for most of my life.

Living in Tel Aviv the reason I am most often reminded that I am in a non-Christian country is because of the food. Christians (and the “Christian” atheists like myself) are allowed to eat anything, we have no dietary rules unlike certain other religions. In Israel on the other hand, being a Jewish country, one is constantly reminded of the dietary rules of the two main religious groups, Jews and Muslims, Kosher and Halal. For me the biggest difference from Denmark is that pork is something that you don’t just go somewhere and buy.

In Tel Aviv we have two shops called The Kingdom of Pork and there is also a non-religious supermarket chain called tiv ta’am where you can buy any food, e.g. pork.

What I find interesting is that I never thought Christmas or any of those traditions very important in Denmark, but living in a foreign country I definitely want a nice Christmas party with lots of Northern European food and snaps. I wonder what the reason is, but I think that a lot of people have experienced that their national identity became stronger when living in a culture significantly different. It has made me think of the feeling of threat that we feel in Denmark from the Muslims when they celebrate different holidays, speak a different language and so on.

In a way I am now one of “them”, an immigrant in a foreign culture. And it is interesting to be on the receiving end of inflammatory texts such as this blog post of a Jewish Israeli who is saying that she is offended by the same shop that I went to to buy bacon. It’s like hearing people in Denmark telling me that they are offended by Halal meat being sold. Then don’t buy it. Which would also be my answer to the Jewish lady – if you don’t like pork go buy some nice Kosher meat in Mega Ba’ir.

I still don’t know exactly what to make of those experiences and feelings being an immigrant, but at least it has given me a more empathetic understanding of what it means to be an immigrant in a culture significantly different to your own.

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Back in Denmark

I flew back to The Old Country Sunday with Austrian Airlines. I left Tel Aviv early to get to Ben Gurion Airport in good time to have time for the, usually, very thorough security check. But Sunday I was wrong. I flew without any checked luggage, since I am only going home to visit family and friends, so I will not need a lot of stuff.

But apparently the combination of an Israeli residence permit and only carry-on conspired against me to make the whole thing take only about one hour – from I got to the Ben Gurion train station until I was in the departure lounge.

This is the first time this has happened. The other times I have been to Israel as a tourist with checked luggage causing the whole thing to take closer to two and a half hours. A security check where everything is scanned, your bag is emptied on a table and everything is inspected and checked for traces of explosives. After this you check your luggage and then the same thing happens with your carry-on.

Of course the plane was delayed leaving me with plenty of time to devour a McRoyal menu in the food court. For my European readers the McRoyal is actually an example of McDonald’s serving a proper hamburger. Real salad and real meat – you actually feel like you are eating food. And it’s tasty, if like me you like burgers. Much recommended for hamburger lovers in Israel.

When I got to Vienna I bought Mozart Kugeln and, lo and behold, the next plane was also delayed. So another nice wait in an airport lounge.

Apart from all the flying fun being back in Denmark is kind of nice. The weather is shit, but I like being able to understand television news 🙂 It is pouring outside and I actually have to wear a sweatshirt indoors to not be cold.

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New Year’s Day

Today is New Year’s Day in Israel, as per the Jewish calendar, so Israel is quite dead tonight. Even Tel Aviv, supposedly the city that never takes a break, is very quiet.

I moved my stuff today to the new place. I have moved into the Tel Aviv University dorms, which should be okay. There are basically only two things I don’t like about it. I can’t have guests staying over night, without prior permission and we are not allowed to put up stuff on the walls.

About the guests I find it very unlikely that they would be able to find out that somebody stayed over, so that’s probably not a big problem. A bigger problem is the decoration of the rooms. I bought a few posters, so it irritates me that I am not allowed to put them up.

Anyway, I think it will be okay.

Shana tova!

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Daylight savings time in Israel

Just wanted to point your guys attention in the direction of a(nother) peculiar Israeli phenomenon: Setting the clock back before Yom Kippur to shorten the fast.

However the fast on Yom Kippur goes from sundown to sundown. I guess in some weird religious way setting the clock back makes sense because, if you go to bed at the same clock time, you will wake up later relative to the sun. However you could just as well go to bed one hour later, get up one hour later, and fast one hour less, just the same. However the rabbis of Israel, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that we all (even those of us not religious) have to set our clocks back, almost two months before Europe, because some religious people think that it is cooler that way.

Shana tova!

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Learning Hebrew

So I have now been in Ulpan for almost six weeks and I feel that I know *some* Hebrew by now. I can order an ice cream or a falafel, so that is at least a beginning. I am surprised at how much it is possible to learn in that timeframe. From knowing only the basics of the printed alphabet, I can now read script and say a few sentences.

The Ulpan is a very interesting way of teaching, based much more on actual talking, than on grammar exercises, although those are also part of the method, like what most people are used to from high school. Also the big difference from what I am used to learning languages is that here you are immersed in the culture and language. Just walking in the street I can practice by reading signs, and try to find out what they mean.

Successes with Hebrew so far:

  • I have had a few experiences of being able to give directions which was really cool.
  • Buying ice cream.
  • Putting money on my bus card.
  • Writing a post card that sounded like something an adult could actually have written.

So, if anybody is thinking of learning some Hebrew, go to the Tel Aviv University one, it is fun and you really learn something.

Tov sof shevua!

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Peace talks

If you follow the politics of the Middle East or just watch TV you probably noticed that Abu Mazen and ‘Bibi’ Netenyahu have begun peace talks in Washington D.C.

What is going to happen there no one can be sure of, of course, but one thing I am fairly certain of is that they will spark a new wave of violence. One that has already begun. People are getting shot in the West Bank now and it is pretty scary I think. This at first might seem a tiny bit paradoxical to people unfamiliar with the peculiar twists of Middle Eastern politics, why does talking about peace cause violence?

Luckily it is one of the simpler twists to explain. The violence is caused by the fact that everything here is divided into many factions. Maybe the closest we have seen in Europe was in the last days of the German Occupation of Europe, when diverse factions of armed resistance began killings in the power vacuum resulting from the waning of German power. Right now the Palestinians are roughly divided into two groups: the Fatah aligned and the Hamas aligned. Roughly speaking Hamas do not want any negotiations with Israel, whereas Fatah is aiming for a Palestinian state in parts of the historic Palestine/Land of Israel. Hamas wants an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine and it currently controls the Gaza strip. It is Fatah that has now entered into negotiations with Israel and Hamas wants to stop the talks. The way they try to do it is by causing enough terrorism that Israeli public opinion will shift against negotiations, thus stopping the talks.

Sadly the history of talks show that there is a very real risk of very serious violence flaring up, as was just seen a few days ago with the killing of four people, one of them a pregnant woman, near Kiriat Arba, near Hebron. Incidentally close to where I went as a tourist just a few weeks ago, which is a chilling thought.


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