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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdatistas in Israel

In late June Michael Jennings, Patrick Crozier and I travelled to Israel with some other friends to have a look around. We met up with regular Samizdata commenter Alisa who lives there, and spent an evening and night in Tel Aviv.

Israeli equivalent of a keg on the beach in Tel Aviv

Israeli equivalent of a keg on the beach in Tel Aviv

On Friday we drove to Jerusalem and checked into our Airbnb appartments before meeting up with another friend who had promised to take us on a tour. I drove and our guide joined us in our seven seater MPV. Our first stop was the Haas Promenade where we could see the whole city. Our guide explained the different areas and we could see the barrier wall.

View from Haas Promenade

View from Haas Promenade

So after some lunch, we went to Rachel’s Tomb. We drove along the wall before turning through an open gate guarded only with an empty armoured personnel carrier. The road winds around with the wall on both sides and leads to a small car park, itself entirely enclosed by the concrete wall. I do not remember seeing any soldiers. All was quiet apart from a call to prayer emanating from the other side.

Approaching Rachel's Tomb

Approaching Rachel’s Tomb

We covered our heads and went into Rachel’s tomb. Inside was crowded with Jews praying. I felt like an intruder, but a man happily struck up a conversation with Michael about his camera. We left and drove out into the West Bank, and tried to avoid accidentally driving past one of the red Area A signs.

Area A - forbidden to Israeli citizens

Area A – forbidden to Israeli citizens

We stopped off at Herodion, where Herod built a palace and bathhouses on an artificial hill in the desert. We climbed to the top to see the remains of the palace, then descended inside a system of tunnels and cisterns.

Descending into the cool of Herod's cisterns

Descending into the cool of Herod’s cisterns

Our guide asked us if we would like to visit an illegal settlement. He explained that there were degrees of illegality, and would we like to visit a slightly illegal settlement or a more illegal settlement? Of course, being good libertarians we chose the more illegal settlement and drove to Ma’ale Rehav’am. We approached along a narrow, undulating gravel track. At the end were a number of temporary-looking dwellings spread out on a hillside.

Ma'aleh Rehavam

Ma’aleh Rehavam

We were greeted only by a friendly dog, but made our way to a cafe where the proprietor happily brought us juice, beer and arak. We also bought some locally produced olive oil.

Gandi Cafe

Gandi Cafe

Refreshed, we continued towards Hebron. I received word via my friend who runs the Muqata blog (now Facebook page) that there had been a car ramming attack nearby. This explained the traffic jam and road block. We needed to go through the road block so our guide negotiated with the soldiers while I nervously tried to avoid making any sudden movements. After some discussion a soldier called his superiors on the radio and then allowed us through. Our guide explained that the soldiers were concerned that as foreigners we might be left wing agitators trying to stir up the situation to create bad publicity for Israel. Once he had explained that he lived on a settlement and showed them his gun licence they realised we must be all right.

Some entrances to Hebron were closed so we had to stop and ask directions. When we arrived at the Tomb of the Patriarchs we could only look at it from the outside because Muslims were praying.

Tomb of the Patriarchs

Tomb of the Patriarchs

We drove to a Jewish apartment building. Past a fence and some razor wire was an alley. Young Palestinian men would walk past looking up the alley, and seeing us, turn back to look up the alley again.

Fence next to a Jewish apartment building

Fence next to a Jewish apartment building

We drove to another part of town with a view across the city.

View over Hebron

View over Hebron

We drove to a place where Jews, because they are not allowed to build, live in temporary structures. Our guide asked some soldiers to let us up to the guard post.

Jewish temporary homes

Jewish temporary homes

Hebron guard post

Hebron guard post

Sandbags on a Hebron guard post

Sandbags on a Hebron guard post

There was no cafe or restaurant scene in Hebron, so we drove back to Jerusalem. The following day we explored the old city. When we neared the Western Wall soldiers turned us back, though Muslims were allowed through. Possibly there were restrictions due to Ramadan. We ate lunch at an Armenian Tavern.

Exploring the old city

Exploring the old city

In the evening Michael met up with a Facebook friend, an American Orthodox Jew who was visiting Israel. As it was still Shabbat we went into the Muslim Quarter to drink coffee. Then we headed back west towards our apartment and the sleepy Shabbat city sprang into life. The bars opened and people and loud music filled the streets.

One of the best things about Jerusalem is the hats

One of the best things about Jerusalem is the hats

Post-Shabbat Jerusalem comes to life

Post-Shabbat Jerusalem comes to life

Two of our friends who were returning a day early sent us messages that their plane was stuck on the ground while four passengers were removed from it and everyone on the plane had to identify their hand luggage.

We spent another day in Jerusalem visiting the Mahane Yehuda market and various book shops and cafes. Michael bought Gin distilled in the Golan Heights. I bought some interesting books.

Mahane Yehuda food market

Mahane Yehuda food market

Book shopping

Book shopping

My book purchases

My book purchases

We had returned our rental car so on the last day we took the train to Tel Aviv and met with Alisa again to have a walk around Jaffa.

View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa

View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa

At a restaurant in Jaffa

At a restaurant in Jaffa

Then we took another train to the airport. A guard asked us individually questions about our stay. Why did you visit Israel? Do you know anyone here? Where do they live? Why did you visit Dubai? This guard put stickers on our passports. Michael and Patrick breezed through security. I got a bigger sticker on my passport with a number 5 and an asterisk, was diverted down a different lane, and had my bag thoroughly searched and swabbed.

We all landed safely in London, to the welcome of a turbulent political atmosphere that we had so far escaped.

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20 comments to Samizdatistas in Israel

  • “to the welcome of a turbulent political atmosphere that we had so far escaped” – Brilliant. 🙂 You may have seen the cartoon with the road sign “British politics” and the emergency signs “warning” “danger of melt-down”, “danger of (political) death”, etc.

    You left in “late June” I see – presumably just after a certain vote. I flew south to visit Natalie at exactly the same time – and did not escape a turbulent political atmosphere that weekend but it was a happy kind of turbulence.

  • Mr Ed

    That bookshop is worse that the old Foyles.

  • Alisa

    Michael and Patrick breezed through security. I got a bigger sticker on my passport with a number 5 and an asterisk, was diverted down a different lane, and had my bag thoroughly searched and swabbed.

    What? They got it all backwards, the dupes! Bwahahaha

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Mr Ed: it does have a nice sitting-down-and-reading area, though: http://imgur.com/yDb4OLX

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Niall: actually we left on the day of the vote. Patrick wore his Brexit T-shirt and some girls went up to him in Tel Aviv saying “yay Brexit!”. I was woken up by a friend the next day: “We’re going for coffee. Brexit won by the way.”

  • Michael Jennings

    We flew out of Luton at 9.30am on June 23. So yes.

    Just like the old Foyles, it is full of interesting books, ,though.

    I’ve been to Israel five times in the last five years. I got a fair few questions the first time, although I have always got the same shaped sticker (which I presume means “harmless”), though. On subsequent occasions I have got little in the way of questions. It may be that making multiple visits makes you lower risk, in their eyes. (The first time I went, it was on a completely new (British) passport with no stamps in it. Since then, the passport has gained many stamps, the most interesting (from their point of view) possibly being Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey. They don’t seem to care, though.

    Of course, the stamps from the really dodgy places are in my Australian passport. I can’t imagine I could use that one in Israel without being questioned extensively.

  • Mr Ed

    Jeremy Clarkson once said of security in Israeli airports that he had to face two questions.

    1. Are you Jewish?

    2. Why not?

  • Alisa

    Hmm, sounds like good old Jeremy just made shit up – but still funny 🙂

  • Sean MacCartan

    El Al above-seat warning sign.’FASTEN SEATBELTS.NO SMOKING.EAT MORE FRUIT’ Thanks to Leo Rosten for that one(and many other gems).

  • Snorri Godhi

    By a curious process of association, Mr Ed reminded me of Groucho Marx writing that lots of people asked him: how can you and Chico be brothers, when you are Jewish and he’s Italian??

  • Maz

    Is this like air miles? How many comments do you have to make to get a personal visit from the Samizdatistas (says he who has not commented for years)?

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Did you ever find out why some girls went ‘Yay Brexit’? Is this a common sentiment in Israel, or were they just using that to talk to you?
    I am just curious what the typical reaction to Europe is in Israel, as well as the Middle East.

  • I am just curious what the typical reaction to Europe is in Israel, as well as the Middle East.

    Spoke to a UN person last night who just got back from Israel (I know, not quite what was being asked) and they were aghast. His views made perfect sense from a geo-political perspective, but would sway no pro-Brexit supporters (such as me for example) who simply voted on a narrow UK national interest basis and a more philosophical ‘gimme accountable government’ so I can undo things the ratchet (acquis communautaire) makes a one-direction-only process.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Maz: depends where you live!

    Nicholas: There apparently was some discussion of “what does Brexit mean for Israel” and as far as I could tell the general consensus was: not much. An Israeli friend sent me this link (I have not decided what I think about it yet): http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/206425/brexit-and-the-israeli-left

  • Perry, perhaps a typical Israeli would be pleased precisely because a typical UN person would be aghast, .

  • Alisa

    Perry, perhaps a typical Israeli would be pleased precisely because a typical UN person would be aghast

    Yes and no.

    A typical Israeli has a very vague understanding of politics outside of Israel (just as a typical non-Israeli has a very vague understanding of politics in Israel, or anywhere else outside his or her own country, for that matter). So a typical Israeli does not care much, and if he or she has any opinion, it would be the crap fed to him or her by our media here – which in turn is fed by crap in the global media. So I was in fact very surprised by those girls, as they clearly were not typical Israelis.

    OTOH, Niall does have a point, because when Israelis in general and Israeli media in particular are faced with any news not directly related to Israel and the Middle East, the immediate question they ask is “Is it good for Israel?”. I have no idea what the answer to that is in the Brexit case (I doubt there is any direct answer, at least not short-term), but I think that a typical Israeli would in fact be pleased to see the UN types aghast.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Rob,

    Thanks for the travelogue, illustrated by the many interesting photos. Very thoughtful of you to post them.

    It sounds as if the crew had a most satisfactory time. Excellent!

    Alisa, thanks for your remarks, to help forming somewhat of a picture.

    🙂

  • Paul Marks

    I envy you – as I will not travel again.

    But I am glad you got to see these places – and people.

  • […] last Sunday, at the home of our very own Michael Jennings, just after he had got back home from his latest jaunt. The receptacle it features is one of a set in which Michael served his guests a most agreeable […]