"אין לנו ארץ אחרת" - we haven't got any other country.
That's how an unsual TV programme finished this evening just right before the midnight news, and I guess most Israelis, Jews and Philo-semites have heard this sentence several times, from left rallies in North Tel Aviv to religious zionist speeches to the explanation of a cab driver of why he's still living in the country, despite its thousand and one reasons to ascertain it's impossible to make it here; it doesn't surprise me anymore to find out most of my fellow citizens can't really find reasons to explain why they actually chose to live in the country, but only to justify why they couldn't live anywhere else. I'm one of them, and beyond that I dare to publicize my opinions on the matter to a public that is partly unable to understand me, the English-speaking community; but not having any better language to write in, I strive in between the English phonemes and understatements.
After having heard such sentence by Nana Sheirer, one of our Israeli crazies, I thought it was a good moment to write something about "we haven't got any other country". Right after playing the devil's advocate in my last article and the conservative Jew during my daily arguments about Zionism, I prefer to play a different role tonight, to reduce the already small extension of Israel to the ghetto-like and cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv; the independent republic I've decidedly become a citizen ever since 2002. I'm not wearing the heavy burdens of Jewish history neither the shortcomings of Israeli society. You must think I'm pretty obsessed with the topic in particular and in general with anything that hides under the Jewish world, and I wouldn't dare to contradict you. It's such a waste of time, a prominent Classics scholar in the make who refuses a first hand entry to St. Anne's College and instead wanders around the world for a couple of years to end up finally the streets of Tel Aviv, falling in love with every crazie I found and worst of all, writing about it. Almost 2 in the morning, in front of a screen, unreasonably excited and reasonably confused... nevertheless writing and written, not to mention unread. It gives me some kind of masochistic satisfaction though, and it's interesting above all. For most people would secretly expect to face down here in these pages the procrastinations of a well-bred Dutch citizen about a country to which is linked only by an ancient and despisable religion practiced by his ancestors and discontinued in the family for some 200 years. We chose to be Dutch, and I chose to be Israeli. An eternal paradox, a 21st century paradox, an anachronism. Past the Enlightenment and the closure of the ghettos, a new generation of highly educated Jewish secular society whose achievements could be hardly overwritten by any Christian family of our same social standing. Yet I'm here, in front of this screen being a damn Israeli, and writing about it in a language that doesn't necessarily fit the conventions of my experience. But not even that bothers me, and I permanently wonder if there's anything at all that does, not even the fact of belonging to a not-so-intellectually-reputable generation of faceless internet dating and SMS shopping.
Having cleared those points out then I can get to work, and play a bit of Carry Bradshaw, a bit of Ofer Mayer, a bit of God, and inclusive a bit of myself. Contemptuously uninterested in world affairs and political arteriosclerosis, above all given to the echoes of a noisy city, of an underground world at the sea level, to the mysteries of the largest Jewish city in the world, to its addictive ugliness and cosmopolitan nature. That wouldn't really describe Tel Aviv, endless nights spent in front of a dating website, or simply hitting the roads finding a suitable nitch to rest my acheing nature from over-politicized articles, breaking news and historical determinism. That's somehow what you might find in a largest Jewish settlement of the world in a summer night, in a winter night. A Middle Eastern enclave that doesn't belong to any country, that doesn't belong to any religion or to any political party, a city that doesn't belong to anyone but all. An independent city-state that might be somewhere in New York, Moscow or Poone, yet being nowhere; a contemtuous example of civil liberties, yet a ghetto crowded with wealthy suburbs and self-governed consciences.
A unique example of collective self destruction, of chosen self destruction and deconstructivism. A city whose history is recreated and re-created in each and every single corner, in every bar, in every poetry book, in each and every love story and in the memories of innocent tourists that look forward not only a good time but a taste of Israel, that there actually is in the city, but isn't there. Yes indeed an Israeli city, hastening, crowdy and Middle Eastern, messy, filthy; but at times not an Israeli city, at times just nothing in particular, nothing other than a city. Maybe that was our only purpose, just to be like anyone else, just a people, just a city, just a country, not particularly Jewish and not particularly anything else. Wandering bodies in search of identity and pleasure, in search of comfort and action, in search of freedom, in search of understanding; and still being unsure that we achieved anything of that, we didn't even succeed in being just anything else, an average Joey and neither an average Jew.
My generation made of this city an independent republic, a Jewish secular anarchy, a city of the size of Geneva with enough violence as to populate the whole of Switzerland tenifold times; yet a city where hardly anyone gets killed, where hardly anyone is a stranger, where hardly anyone is unkind. You'd be asking how can I explain that, well I simply can't and that's why I wrote this, maybe to get some relief, or just to make some justice to my newfound country; the most violent and hastening I ever visited, and probably one of the smallest.
It's not a surprise in anyway, Jews always make everything complicated and nihilism is not their kind of thing; everyone here is a bit of God, and if not at least of him a son. The philosophies have been deserted and replaced by the uncomfortable faltering of real life, even for the philosophers. I guess Tel Avivian Zionism can just be reduced to a very simple stratagema: We wanted a country of our own, but they overpopulated just too fast so we found a nitch inside; and we formed an unofficial republic that is particulaly disconnected from national reality but peculiarly connected to it, devoid of personality but too personal to be called a city, a nervous axe of our problematic identity yet not having any need to have it dealt with, a particularly remarkable example of civil liberties, the Greek model, yet subject to 2000-years-old laws.
That's actually the country I chose to live in, and as a Dutch Jew it simply helped to relieve the historical weight of my position as a Jew by determinism. I didn't have to strive in order to make of success an only way to prove a point, and therefore I could just sit next to a computer, with an useless degree in the Classics, and write about it all night long... not exactly preoccupied. Being objective I don't know if this is exactly a dreamland, or if it'll last for all that long. But from a personal perspective, well.... we haven't got any other, and as far as I'm aware of that fact I think we've just been left with the chance to make the best out of it, that's what matters I guess. These days I just bore the feeling I've been here for a few decades, more than my own age could count, but this thought doesn't really trouble me, I somehow enjoy it. A Jew that simply relaxes and stays home? I guess that's some progress already. I've tricked history, and as much as I strive to see the negative side on that, I just don't.
Some might hate it, some others might love it. I personally fall in love with it everyday, even when the loneliness of the big city strikes me. Indeed, this place wasn't made for everyone, but one thing is clear, you can hate it or love or maybe both, depending on the mood, but you just can't ignore it. Some say it's far better off in Amsterdam, I doubt it... but I'm a Dutch citizen so I'm allowed to hate that too. Jews with their opinions, in the end they never really mean it. I guess it's time for a more serious stream, stop smoking and hit the bed. Tomorrow will be another story, and God bless the newspapers. They succeed to remind me that this is just a ghetto, but don't tell them as for now. I love their optimism, it makes me think all this was worth it, despite God, despite myself, despite my survivor mentality. It's always great to think that tomorrow history starts off again, and that you won't even understand it.
We wanted a place to live, we wanted a common ground, we wanted a society. Actually now we have it, just ignore how to deal it with, but it doesn't matter. We've already given up reason - the only alternative for the pessimist to save himself from himself, to choose life instead.