Archive for May, 2013

I arrived to IsraTelAviv_aerial(194)el after a surprisingly painless flight across the pond through Los Angeles, CA and Newark, NJ. The first leg of my flight (5.5 hours) went by very smoothly as I read a few pages of my book, took a nap, rinsed and repeated. My connecting flight in Newark was more noteworthy, however. There was a secondary screening area just outside my gate in terminal which is apparently standard operating procedure for flights headed to Israel. It was among my fellow passengers that I had my first taste of what the demography of Israel would look like: Hasidic Jews, Christian pilgrimage groups, Arabs, birthrighters, and then me. I was able to log a few hours of sleep during my 10 hour flight to Tel Aviv as I watched Will Ferrell’s “The Campaign” and Tom Hanks’ “Cloud Atlas” (which, I should add, I would prefer to watch again when not under the effect of two Unisom sleep aids).

My arrival into Ben Gurion Int’l Airport was fairly smooth. I chatted with a young New Yorker (adorned in a kippah and tallit) when in line for customs, picked up my baggage without a hitch, and met my driver for the quick ride to the hotel. My driver was a nice guy who spoke English fairly well and did not wait one minute before beginning to talk to me about the Arab-Israeli conflict (interesting given that we were in Tel Aviv, but more about that later). He pointed out the mountains that I flew over before landing, which, thanks to the IDF, “prevented my plane from being shot out of the sky by Arabs;” the mounting crisis in Syria, Obama’s recent visits, and several other topics. I spent the first night wandering around the local neighborhood and I was struck by how similar the Tel Aviv beachfront area is to the beach communities in Southern California. People rode bikes, walked dogs, licked popsicles, etc. and appeared as if completely unaware that a political/religious/cultural conflict was being waged just a few dozen kilometers to the east. After a few more blocks of roaming, I grabbed a quick shawarma sandwich and was on my way back to the hotel to catch up on some sleep.

The next day my group toured the old port city of Jaffa, and learnold-jaffaed about how Jaffa gave rise to one of the first major metropolitan and predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in the land. Jaffa is a gorgeous and picturesque old city that reminded me a lot of Toledo, Spain; a towering fortress of a city, built from rock, with lush gardens and tall steeples everywhere you look. Walking back to downtown Tel Aviv from the Old City of Jaffa I had my first introduction to the vast discrepancy of wealth and general living conditions of Arab (and also in Tel Aviv’s case, Eritrean) minorities living in Israel. Tel Aviv is an incredibly expensive city to live in, and even young/educated Israeli youth have difficulty finding good jobs and affordable housing. The neighborhoods outside Jaffa were littered with abandoned buildings, bad odors, panhandlers, and generally unpleasant vistas when compared to the exotic beach area a few kilometers north. My group and I proceeded to visit the Israeli Independence Hall, which is surprisingly lackluster in its outside appearance (as most everyone who has been there would agree). Inside, I was captivated by the story of Tel Aviv’s creation. 66 Jewish families, fed up with marginalization and lack of economic prospects in Jaffa, relocated to the sand dunes of the Israeli desert and decided to break new ground for their small society. That small enclave grew to become the second largest city in Israel, and certainly one of the most culturally vibrant. Inside Independence Hall, we also received a short (yet VERY religious, probably because of the birthright group we shared the hall with) presentation on the state of Israel’s proclamation of Independence on May 14, 1948.

We spent our final day in Tel Aviv at our own leisure. I chose to spend the day on the beach soaking up some sun, swimming a bit, and playing volleyball of course. I was very fortunate to meet up with a close friend from back in the U.S. and pick her brain about what it’s like living in Tel Aviv from an American expatriate’s point of view. Even she admitted to discovering a different Israel on the ground than the one she had grown up learning about back in the States, in both good ways and bad. After a great night of drinks, pasta, froyo, and shared stories, we parted ways and I went to bed content with all that I had learned and experienced when in Tel Aviv.

Takeaways: Tel Aviv is a beautiful, laid back, and charming city that you would swear was located somewhere in Orange County, CA if it weren’t for the Hebrew signs on every corner. As my group was told beforehand, which I later confirmed, Israelis living in Tel Aviv lead vastly different lifestyles than their counterparts in Jerusalem. Women walk around in bikinis, there are posters for gay night clubs, people drink beer on the beach as they work on their tans, and so on. Tel Avivians do not preoccupy themselves with the political turmoil that plagues Jerusalem and Israel at-large simply because they do not have to. There are few, if any, Palestinians living in Tel Aviv, and the West Bank is a foreign land too far off to the east to give any serious thought to (unless you work for one of many NGOs or embassies). Tel Aviv natives are more posh, certainly more secular, and tend to desire more metropolitan lifestyles versus more religious ones. This is not to say that Tel Aviv is immune to the realities of being inside Israel and the Middle East. In November of 2012, residents of Tel Aviv were subject to rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip as a result of the IDF-led Operation Pillar of Defense. Without hesitation residents huddled in their bomb shelters, as they had been trained to do, and when the ‘all clear’ sound was given they simply returned to their cafes and paddleball games to resume their normal lives. I would be remiss if I said that Tel Aviv was immune or oblivious to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it seems that they are certainly apathetic to it. Tel Avivians tend to be more preoccupied with finding a job, finding a house, and finding a beer, than they are with finding a bible, and it was very interesting to have this city be my first exposure to Israel. Jerusalem will be a lot different, I am sure, and I look forward to juxtaposing the two cities in my next post.

golden domeHello and welcome back to my resurrected blog: al-Ra˚yee: My Take on Issues in Int’l Relations! Let me apologize to what few readers I have left for the stagnation (to put it lightly) over the last few months. School, work, and other real life commitments (which I’ll get to in a minute) monopolized my time, and I sincerely regret not being able to post about the slew of juicy issues over the past several months. I had high hopes to post some of my graduate work, however the style of my writing assignments was vastly inconsistent with style of the previous posts on this site. Perhaps I will post some of my work down the road when I have a chance to creatively overhaul them, we’ll see.

This blog will be dramatically changing its focus over the next several months. I will be traveling throughout the Middle East (Israel and Egypt, to be specific) for the remainder of 2013, and feel it necessary to maintain a blog of my adventures, impressions, and thoughts. Though the blog will assume a new role in primarily chronicling my time spent in the region, it will not fail to deliver the same critical remarks about current and local events as it always has. I hope that by living in the region, I will gain a more informed perspective on issues of critical importance to Israel, Egypt, and the United States. No longer will I be the unfiltered American that you all have come to know, love, and despise, blogging from the cozy confines of his metropolitan apartment in Washington, DC. I hope to safely immerse myself in current events inside the region (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and provide critical analysis that you may not read see on CNN back home. As a disclaimer, I am no journalist — simply a student passionate about international relations — so please forgive me for my often biased, incomplete, and impulsive commentary.

I hope to contribute to this blog at least once a week (when possible), and wholeheartedly welcome any and all comments/questions about the topics of my various posts, about Egypt, Israel, Cairo, or the United States in general, or about anything you see fitting to direct my way. I hope you find my adventures provocative, insightful, and refreshing, and look forward to sharing my journeys with all of you.

Next stop: Tel Aviv, Israel — just a man, his beard*, and a laptop…

(* – for the first time in my life I am growing out my beard past the length of stubble that my various jobs somehow found tolerable. It has been about a month since shaving, and I already feel like a completely hairy new man. There’s just something about man and his infatuation with facial hair, and I’m sure you’ll see me commenting about it frequently from here on out. No shave-2013: engaged!)