Posted by Simone Wilson
Perhaps John Kerry could learn a thing or two from South Korean megastar Psy — because it looks like all we needed was a little party up in this peace process.
A video (embedded below) was posted online this week of at least two armed and suited Israeli soldiers dancing to "Gangnam Style" at a crowded Palestinian nightclub. Locals look on in delight, taping the unlikely spectacle on their smartphones, hoisting the soldiers into the air and grabbing onto their hands for joint fist-pumps.
Israel's Channel 2 released a horrified report last night on the run-in. The soldiers were from the Givati Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), reported Channel 2, and decided to pop into the club while on patrol in Hebron. But they apparently weren't there to intimidate — just to go nuts to "Gangnam Style."
Never thought I'd be so glad to hear "Gangnam Style" again. The video is a refreshingly joyous and lighthearted picture of co-existence in the West Bank — a reminder that as Israeli-Palestinian peace talks falter and a war cloud looms on the Syrian horizon, Jews and Palestinians can at least be united in their urge to take a load off. (Although of course this piece of YouTube symbolism would be a little prettier if the Israelis in the video weren't suited in army green and keeping their fingers poised cautiously on their triggers.)
The IDF doesn't see things quite so peachily. An official told Haaretz that "the soldiers that were involved and participated in the party have been suspended pending an investigation," and this statement was released to the Times of Israel:
“This is an incident of utmost severity. The soldiers have been called in for questioning, and the commanders of the brigade and the battalion are investigating. The soldiers [in question] will be dealt with appropriately.”
The usual pundits are having trouble making sense of all this happiness. Channel 2 and the far-right crowd are furious that IDF soldiers would so casually mingle with the enemy (Palestinians at the club reportedly included some members of the pro-Hamas Jabari clan) and risk igniting another tiff in the territories. Meanwhile, the far-left and normally verbose +972 Magazine was left sort of speechless, and many commenters writing in Arabic on YouTube argued that this was just another way for Israel to overshadow its atrocities.
Oh, well. Haters gon' hate.
12.4.13 at 2:20 pm | An upcoming role alongside Ben Affleck and Henry. . .
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11.27.13 at 10:00 am | "Open facility," in this case, seems to be a. . .
11.13.13 at 10:05 am | The IDF just loaded about 150 soldiers and 100. . .
11.12.13 at 8:30 am | A small child swishes down the same red plastic. . .
12.1.13 at 4:30 am | Gadot, a former Miss Israel, joined the "Fast and. . . (2213)
12.4.13 at 2:20 pm | An upcoming role alongside Ben Affleck and Henry. . . (1242)
9.24.13 at 1:20 pm | Only in Israel. (116)
August 28, 2013 | 3:25 pm
Posted by Simone Wilson
If the march to claim gas masks was reluctant yesterday, it took on a definite urgency today — with reported hours-long wait times, dwindling supplies and a fresh new storm of international media heckling innocents in line. And the escalating panic can, no doubt, be attributed to widespread reports that President Obama could strike Syria as early as Thursday, and the fact both Syria and Iran have promised to set Israel on fire in return.
Still, on the streets of Tel Aviv, despite the gas-mask clamor, Israelis appear confident and outwardly calm: Startup bros can be spotted scheming in coffee shops per usual; fireworks are popping on the Jaffa horizon; the heroin addicts beneath my apartment continue to not care about anything but heroin.
We all know where our nearest bomb shelters are (Hebrew map here), and are fully prepared to use them, just like back in November. But there is one question I can't seem to get answered, no matter how many government ministries I pester: What is the emergency protocol in case of a chemical attack?
A representative for the Ministry of Defense did the "I'll call you back" thing all day long. I was on hold with the Home Front Command hotline for over an hour, listening to '80s music in Hebrew until a lady picked up and told me they'd call me back (that was hours ago). The closest thing I could find to instructions posted online was a terrifying description on the Home Front Command's website of how it feels to get gassed. And my Israeli friends made fun of me for even asking.
"There is no reason to change daily routines," Prime Minister Netanyahu said after a security meeting today. “In the face of these threats, we are acting responsibly and considerately but we are also saying loud and clear: whoever dares to test us will face the might of the IDF," said Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon.
But what about the "testing us" part?
After a long day of many questions and few answers, the Times of Israel's David Horovitz noted, too, that the Israeli government's cocky press conferences — on how Syria is too afraid to attack, how prepared Israel is and how hard Syria is going down if they try anything — would be nicely complemented by a full supply of gas masks and proper instructions on how to prepare and react. He wrote:
The best way to ensure that the public stays calm is to provide clear, credible information, to acknowledge when a situation is so uncertain as to render any predictions pointless, and crucially to plan ahead so that citizens are as well protected as possible from the unpredictable. Simply telling people to stay calm when those conditions have not been met is almost guaranteed to ensure the opposite result.
On Secret Tel Aviv, a popular English-language Facebook group with over 16,000 members, foreigners posted frantic questions about where to get a gas mask if you're not an Israeli citizen, what to do if a siren goes off while you're at a nightclub and even where to find gas masks for dogs. The Israelis in the group, meanwhile, had a total field day with the jitters of the ex-pats, posting photos of gas masks with bong chambers and inviting foreign chicks to rooftop parties where they'll get a free shot every time a siren goes off.
You see what we're working with here.
So in the absence of any official government advice, I contacted a couple chemical-weapons experts from the U.K. Here's what they had to say.
Gwyn Winfield, editor of CBRNe World — a magazine that covers biological and chemical weapons — said that although he believes a Syrian attack on Israel would probably initially involve "more of the rocket stuff" from Assad and other Israel-haters in the region, a chemical-weapons attack "isn't far-fetched."
Winfield speculated, based on photo and video evidence out of Syria, that the chemical weapons Assad appeared to use on his citizens last week was either sarin or "another home-brew organophosphate agent." If Syrian officials were to send over a similar type of nerve agent to Israel, he said, "they'd most likely send them as a liquid-filled rocket" that would disperse very quickly, due to the agent's high "volatility."
In this case, according to Winfield, the gas masks being handed out by the Israeli government would "probably" be enough to keep the majority of residents safe from the gas, especially if they were also closed into a sealed room.
However, a less volatile and more severe nerve agent like VX (which Assad reportedly has his hands on) could "hang around like tiny little droplets" and come into contact with people's skin, he said — sinking into their bodies and making the gas masks sort of futile.
Professor Alastair Hay, who teaches environmental toxicology at the University of Leeds and has helped conduct six international chemical-weapons investigations (including one in Iraq), explained to me that the severity of a chemical attack would depend very much on the quantity released and the speed of the wind (slower being more deadly). He recommended staying "as high up as possible, and down-wind."
Just so we all know what we're dealing with, here are the symptoms of exposure to a nerve agent, via the Home Front Command:
Symptoms of nerve gas injury include (in the order of their appearance): runny nose, chest pressure, blurred sight, difficulty in breathing, increased sweating, nausea and vomiting. The appearance of at least two of these symptoms is an indication of such an injury.
A person stricken with nerve gas loses control over the muscles of his body, convulses, sweats and loses sphincter control. The action of nerve gas is relatively swift. The reason for death is usually respiratory or cardiac arrest. Most nerve gases enter the body through the respiratory system.
The only other information I could find, through Secret Tel Aviv, was this gas-mask guide from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Other than that, I guess we all better just grow a thick Israeli skin before Assad gets around to doing the unthinkable.
August 27, 2013 | 9:45 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
News reporters swarmed the Israel Postal Company headquarters in Tel Aviv today, where dozens of Israelis waited impatiently in a creatively formed line to claim their government-supplied gas masks.
Little kids played with mask kits in the windy heat, as their parents sweated and strained to hear postal workers call ticket numbers over the roar of the media inquisition.
"No, we want the baby in there!" shouted the camera guy for one German TV news station, as the newscaster set his forehead to extra-grim, preparing to interview a young couple in line with their little girl. "She's a star," the mother, Neta Palombo-Carmel, told me, laughing.
To the news camera, she said: "We're here to get a mask for our one-year-old baby... who will hopefully [live through] her second war so far."
Although gas masks are available for Israeli residents year-round, the impending U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war has put Israel under more immediate threat, and has set in motion an all-out raid of the Israel Post's mask supply. In an act of typical nonchalance toward raging conflicts in the region, a cool 62 percent of Tel Aviv residents and 30 percent of Jerusalem residents previously had a mask in possession; however, the number of mask pickups doubled on Sunday and Monday compared to last week, and phone inquiries quadrupled, according to an Israel Post spokesperson.
"It's kind of a feeling of emergency," said Palombo-Carmel, mentioning the last-minute Israeli security cabinet meeting held today. Her husband, Erez, added: "It feels like it's going to be something real during this weekend."
Government officials in both Syria and Iran warned yesterday that if the U.S. punishes Syria for an apparent chemical-weapons attack in Damascus last week that killed hundreds, it will be Israel — that small yet symbolic island of Western values in the Middle East — who will bear the consequences.
When horrific photos and videos of frothing, seizing and lifeless Syrians poured out of Damascus last Wednesday, we could almost smell the chemical weapons from here. "I'd rather have this [mask] in my house and not end up in a picture like that," said Julie Gray, a former Los Angeles resident who made Aliyah to Israel a year-and-a-half ago. She came to pick up her mask at the post office today, despite skepticism from her Israeli boyfriend.
"Just knowing that Obama is under a little pressure, and then Kerry's words, and then Syria saying, 'We will hit Israel' — I was like 1, 2, 3, that's enough, I'm getting a mask. Of course my boyfriend, who's Israeli, says, 'Welcome to Israel, calm down, deep breath.'"
Another young father in line, Ido Shemer, said the only reason he came to the post office was because "I have a little child, so my wife sent me." He added that he was not worried at all about the threats from Syria and Iran. "In Israel, you know, everything is... " he trailed off, shrugging his shoulders and smiling. "We've already been in this situation in the past, with Iraq."
For some perspective: The civil war in Syria is so physically close to home that, for instance, Birthright leaders have been swinging their tour buses a couple hours north this summer to watch explosions over the Syrian border, like sick killer fireworks. So while many Israelis may be brushing off the nearby threat as Mideast-unrest-as-usual, there does seem to be a growing awareness of the psychotic madman next door.
"As an American, I think we should [intervene in Syria] — I think it's our moral duty, and we should have done it before," said Gray. "But I live here. It's a conflict. But I would say, scared as I am, with my mask at my side, I would rather we did it, because this is a holocaust, and to do nothing is reprehensible."
Although there did not appear to be any shortage at the Tel Aviv pickup location, foreigners in Israel have worked themselves into sort of a panic about the gas-mask situation. One American dude at the wrong post-office entrance could be heard shouting, "Maskim! Maskim!" at the confused security guard this morning, and Tablet Magazine found another guy freaking out on Twitter.
However, as evidenced by the overzealous media turnout at the post office today, this clamor is mostly just outsiders and journalists wanting to make a big deal about something Israelis long ago came to terms with. Gas-mask pickup is just another stupid chore on a hot windy day.
August 22, 2013 | 5:30 pm
Posted by Simone Wilson
The slow yet steady gentrification of Tel Aviv's Florentin neighborhood is hardly news around here.
Florentin, a Los Feliz-sized patch of warehouses, workshops, bakeries and bars — bravely holding its ground between Tel Aviv's ritzy Neve Tzedek quarter and the incorporated Arab port town of Jaffa, to the south — has been shifting from working-class to artist-class for at least a decade now. In fact, 200 Florentin hipsters just rolled their eyes at the thought of some FOBby Californian blogging about their hood's incredible up-and-comingness — because I am so un-fashionably late to this party.
Hell, three years ago, one urban planner in France wrote an entire 13-pager on Florentin as "a key-space where to observe and decipher how globalization impacts on the daily-life scale and banal forms of identification and territorial appropriation." Yikes.
All of which made it difficult for this recovering snarky news blogger to resist tagging along on one of local Hebrew teacher Guy Sharett's "Florentin Urban Culture & Graffiti" tours last month. To quickly and discretely educate myself on the basics, yes, but also maybe in hopes of joining the Florentines in their inside joke on geeky tour folks drooling over street culture. Hey, if the New York Times had liked it so much, it must be gleefully out-of-touch, right?
No such luck. Sharett, our tour guide, had an Israeli fisherman's village upbringing any hipster would die for, and knew his way around Florentin like the Little Mermaid around a quirky shipwreck.
In short: I had a lot to learn. Below are the top 10 things I'm glad I now know about Florentin that I didn't know before.
10. According to Sharett, the Tel Aviv municipal government requires half the text on every business sign to be in Hebrew. Businesses are not entirely happy about this, because "if it's written in Hebrew, it's provincial and bad, and if it's in English, it's cool," said Sharett. Not to worry — if we know anything about hip gentrification spots, it's that the native, ultra-local shit is what ultimately turns gold.
9. The street I live on — Chlenov, which is really closer to the urine cloud that is the Central Bus Station than to Florentin, but I like to pretend it's borderline — was instantly identified by Sharett as "the prostitute street." This perhaps explains why, on the walk home, I get so many creepers rolling down their windows and asking me "How much?" in Russian.
8. Graffiti and other forms of street art are technically considered illegal in Tel Aviv, but unless you whip out your spray can in broad daylight when the cops are driving by, you'll be fine.
One survivor, according to Sharett, was Nitzan Mintz, a local street artist who regularly stencils Hebrew poems onto telephone poles and other outdoor surfaces. Sharett said that she was once caught in the act by some policemen, who then proceeded to live debate over whether her half-finished poem would be considered art or vandalism. As the story goes, they decided it wasn't, yet still wouldn't let her finish the piece — so she had to come back in the shadows of night to top off her poem.
Still better than we can say for in Los Angeles, where anything aside from a blank wall is a crime. Where top sheriff's detectives spend their time tracking certain monikers and styles through a creepy countywide photo database, and prosecutors use the evidence to put graffiti artists away for felony crimes. But we digress.
7. Anita Falali (or אניטה פללי in Hebrew), an Israeli singer and former underwear model who in her prime was known as "the ass of the country," has become one of Florentin's finest local characters. She walked by with her little dog during the tour, giving a coy ex-model wave to our guide as he explained the nuances of a manhole cover inscription at our feet. It was all very... Venice Beach.
6. Florentin is home to a delicious-smelling bakery that specializes in homemade pastries called "burekasim," which is a funny double-plural word that mixes Hebrew with the old Jewish-Latino language of "Ladino." Which exists.
5. The rundown maze of warehouses and artist workshops, and even a longboard factory, on the west end of Florentin — known widely as the "workshop area," or "that cool part of Tel Aviv with all the graffiti" — is scheduled to be torn down and replaced with modern buildings in the next few years, according to Sharett. This helps graffiti artists feel more free to scrawl as they please, but is obviously depressing because, R.I.P. everything awesome in Tel Aviv that isn't a skyscraper.
4. The street artist who paints the body parts and Band-Aids is Dede; the one who does the gangster eggplants is Eggplant Kid (EPK); the one who draws the tiny box people is Adi Sened. Burning questions put to rest.
3. There are at least three dozen hot hipster chicks with big furry dogs living in Florentin, all of whom choose to walk their big furry dogs as the sun sets on Shabbat. Nouveau Judaism at its most chic.
2. There used to be a neighborhood shoemaker in Florentin who worked out of a closet-sized shop at the bottom of the stairs for the Florentin 28 apartments. He also happened to be the neighborhood psychologist. "We would come to fix our shoes and talk about life," said Sharett. Tragically, though, the shoemaker recently died, and all that's left of his practice is a tattered paper obituary taped over the door.
1. There is such a concept as the "archaeology of graffiti," and Sharett would love to tell you about it. Worth the 50-shekel tour fee in itself, even if I feel a little geekier for knowing it.