The lights of Tel Aviv loom before us as we drive up the Ayalon towards the HaShalom junction that will sweep us into the big Jewish city. The towers of Azraeli were visible long before we made it into the city. Sitting beside me my wife looks like she’s about to pop. Just shy of 39 weeks pregnant our child will arrive any day now. She’ll be born in a hospital in the heart of Tel Aviv, the city I love, the city who adopted me and so many others with arms wide open.
Our cab drives on, past the Azraeli Towers and along Kaplain. The Qirya to our right. The military base rumoured to be even larger underground than over ground. The base dominates the heart of the city, standing as a testament to the strength, fortitude and power of the country’s military forces. Located here in this bastion of secular, left wing Israel the Qirya is a perfect contradiction, a representative of war in a city that cries out for peace. It is a fusion of old and new architecture as, one by one, ad-hoc buildings have been added to the sprawling complex over the years.
We stop at the traffic lights at the junction on Ibn Bvirol and Dizengoff, they change from Red to amber to green and we’re off once again. The Dizengoff Centre appears in the foreground. I tell the driver to continue down Dizengoff, that street in Tel Aviv where everything happens. The centre moves past us on both left and right. The same architect responsible for the monstrosity of design that is Tel Aviv’s central bus station gave us the helter skelter disaster that is the Dizengoff Centre. It is so difficult to navigate it’s even rumoured the security service practise following people there.
Soon we’re at our destination. I pay the driver and out we get. A family of two, almost three people. The night air is warm but not hot, the humidity left just a week or two ago. The sounds of young Tel Avivis are all around me. People sitting on their balconies talking shit, smoking weed, the sounds of dice hitting wood, laughter and shouting filter down to me through the trees. The sounds of life and laughter are everywhere, people are walking the streets looking for a bar, they’re in the supermarkets buying beer in the last few moments of the night when it can be legally sold to them.
This is Israel. It’s the place I heard about when I was a kid but never saw until I was older. This Israel is one I see through eyes untainted by the kaleidascope of ideology. It’s the Israel the people born and grew up here know intimately and the one people at home see only bits and pieces of.
It’s a precious commodity. It’s the jewel that makes life worth living and I am desperate not to lose her. So desperate I spend time worrying about her, whether she will continue to grow and gain in strength or whether she will wilt under the Middle Eastern heat.
My daughter is on the way, she’ll be an Israeli, a real one. Not an import. Can I watch over her? Can the country watch over her? Will it still be here when she hits 18 and it’s her turn to do her duty?
There are people who feel Israel is under constant existential threat from without I feel that Israel is under constant threat from within. A steady drip drip of people looking to cover up her problems rather than deal with them. The army is too bloated, the police too corrupt, the settlements to aggressive, too unnecessary, there is too little engagement with the countries around the world. Too much bunker digging, not enough strategic thought, not enough strategic engagement, not enough strategic anything.
Sure we have enemies around us, we always have and we always will. With Israel we will always be able to see them coming rather than worrying about whether our enemy lives next door, or about the mob coming for us in the street.
It’s a special thing that’s been built here. It is not the Israel people in the diaspora talk about. It’s a country with thieves, murderers, rapists and conmen. It’s an Israel with corrupt cops, politicians far more adept at lining their pockets than governing and soldiers who run at the first sign of the enemy. It is a real country with real problems. For all her problems, she is beautiful. A country that allowed the Jews to stand tall once again, the country we built and that is testament to our capacity as a nation, a people. A country with the capacity to be a light unto the other countries of the world.
There’s so much more to do.