You’ll never believe what I found on the way from Tel-Aviv to Caesarea. Hint: It’s designed to kill people
The Passover Seder is a recreation of the night preceding the exodus from Egypt. In other words, it is a celebration of going on the road. How can I not love it? And especially when my dad lets me use the gorgeous Hagada illustrated in 1940 by the inimitable Arthur Szyck.
My niece is the first veteran star of this series to make a guest appearance. She appeared on post 19 of the September Journey. Tonight she sang the traditional song of four questions, to the great delight of my parents and everyone present. This is the quintessential image of the Seder night, except for one missing detail.
None of the men wear skullcaps. In religious Jewish families, both men and married women wear a head covering at all time. Secular Jews would wear “kippas” or “yarmulkas” when entering a synagogue, or at religious events such as funerals or the Seder. The dominance of religious trends in Israeli politics took a toll on that tradition. My family, like many secular families, has come to identify kippas with religious coercion, and thus chooses to avoid them. I was the only man to have brought one, despite the difficulty I have with West Bank settlers. I look exactly like the prototype of the settler when wearing a kippa.
What is a kippa? A kippa is a border, seperating man from God (“Above is God, beneath is man, in the middle is the kippa” is how this was explained to me in school). A kippa is also a border distinguishing Jews from gentiles, and observant Jews from non-observant. If you see a man wearing one the street, without a funeral in sight, he’s definitely a Jew and most likely observant. The kippa is a fence, safeguarding religious identity. It took decades for my family to decide that it can keep this identity without this symbol, and this would have been, of course, unthinkable before my paternal grandfather passed away.
Thinking of kippas, I realized how ridiculously narrow my use was of the word “border” when defining this assignment, and as I wake up for the journey’s first day, I am aware of dozens of tiny borders that crisscross my morning routine. First I cross the border between (too little) sleep and sobriety, then I remove the blanket – a soft shield that kept my sleep cozy, and step into the world beyond it. Then I instantly go online, crossing the divide between this world, so briefly visited, and the virtual one.
I walk though the door of the apartment, then though the door of the building, then down the street to the first border I will follow today, rather than cross: Allenby Street, entirely dead at 7:00 AM on a holiday morning, marks the Western boundary of the neighborhood where Ruthie and I live. I release a green city bike using my chip, then roll on down Allenby to the beach.
As I advance along the promenade, other tiny borders pop up around me, such as the fence hiding the so called “Separate Beach” from view. This beach serves the observant Jewish community, and may be used either only men or only by women, depending on the day.
Within ten minutes, however, I cross a border of somewhat greater magnitude. It is the Yarkon river, marking the northern limit of urban Tel-Aviv proper. The municipality still stretches a few kilometers further to the north, but Tel-Aviv as a concept, the famed “Bubble” of progressive attitudes, ends here.
Indeed, a few hundred yards further, I come across the first barbed wire fence and military watchtower of my journey.
They guard Sde Dov, a civilian airport also used by the Israeli airforce. As I take this photo, a man’s voice comes from behind, loudly.
“How! How! It’s a military area! You cannot take photos here.”
The middle aged gentleman speaks to me in English, judging me by my backpack to be a foreign backpacker. The words “How, how”, however, were merely an exclamation meant to attract my immediate attention. As I apologize and move on, I ponder this choice of word. “How, how” isn’t Hebrew for “Hey, you”. Rather, as any Israeli two-year-old knows, “how” is Hebrew’s imitation of the dog’s bark, like “woof”, in English. This man actually turned to me by saying: “Woof, woof!”. Military bases are sacred in Israeli culture and their desecration quickly brings out the watchdog in us.
I leave the bike at the northernmost station near Tel Baruch beach, and continue north along a pretty shoreline made prettier by splendid marine birds
Several kilometers down the beach I reach the seaside suburb of Herzliya, home to many foreign embassies. Since embassy premises are ex-territorial, the coastal neighborhood of Herzliya can be said to contain scores of international borders. This door, for example, literaly leads into Peru, although traveling on to Cuzco once you’ve walked through it would still prove a hassle.
I’m not yet ready for Peru, however. There’s so much of my own country I haven’t seen yet. So many places waiting behind real and mental borders that I haven’t yet crossed. Take the beautiful mosque and mausoleum of Sidna Ali, situated atop a cliff overlooking the blue Mediterranean, just north of Herzliya. I must have passed this building at least a hundred times as a teenager, making my way to the beach at the foot of the cliff when my family lived in downtown Herzliya. I never entered. This was a “Muslim place”.
Time passed and I began to visit “Muslim places”. Now is time to visit this one. I walk into the courtyard and meet Taher the caretaker. He chats with me about the village of Alharam, which stood here before 1948, and shares some of his knowledge of the mausoleum itself, but does not let me catch a glimpse of the grave site, nor even walk into the next courtyard. The heart of the Sidna Ali complex is off bounds. Three borders enclose it: the stone wall surrounding the inner courtyard, Taher’s restriction and my respect for it.
With so many walls everywhere, it’s refreshing to see that some do crumble over time. North of Sidna Ali is the crusader fortress of Arsouf, which literally dropped into the sea, ramparts and all, when the eolianite cliff surrendered to its weight.
The fence surrounding the site from all but the southern approach would have forced me to backtrack, but thankfully it is equipped with a little door opening to the north. This couldn’t be said for the thick brush growing beyond it. I get my first few scratches of the trip, but no snake bite yet.
Beyond the brush, an abandoned path stretches atop the cliff, lined with yet another fence. The impression is both depressing and hilarious. It looks as though Israel chose to fence also its most decisive natural border: the seafront. Reality is more depressing than hilarious. Here was the site of a weapons factory that blew up by accident in 1991.
A few more miles past the site, near Kibbutz Shfayim, the weapons themselves appear. I overhear a holiday hiker speaking to his friend about landmines. He holds something in his hand. Something he found on the beach. It’s this:
The man’s name is Rami, being an employee at IMI (Israeli Military Industries), he not only knows what he’s holding to be the apparatus of a landmine, complete with a potentially hazardous fuse, he also knows how to hold it to stay safe. And not only that – he even knows how it got to the beach.
“A while ago IMI produced a bad batch of these, and it was someone’s bright idea to ship them out to sea in some sort of a container, to get rid of them, but the container fell apart offshore and they keep being swept over.”
I am shocked, and also secretly a bit thrilled. Could it really be that my border journey, which was inevitably kicked off along the peaceful coast, surprised on the first day with an honest to God landmine fuse? “How long ago were they dumped in the sea?” I ask.
“At least a decade,” Rami replies, “because I remember that ten years ago there was this big storm and a lot of them washed up on the beach in Herzliya. They made an announcement on the radio warning people to avoid them.”
I join Rami and his friend for a few minutes, during which he looked for someone to take the thing away from him. The police isn’t present along the gravel paths, but we do pass one vehicle of the National Parks authority and another of a private security firm. Neither of the drivers wants anything to do with the object, and as we walk I learn more of it. It turns out landmine apparatuses like this one contain either mercury or lead. IMI doesn’t seem to care much for the well being of the sea, or of people who consume fish. Why should it. We’ll all die soon enough in one war or another. They’re working on it.
Rami and his friend head back towards the water and I continue to the city of Netanya. It’s a long walk in the hot sun. The vegetation on the dunes isn’t nearly tall enough to provide shade, and I end up entering the town pretty much sun-struck. The Passover vacation is in full swing here and the beaches are crowded and loud. Somehow I make it to an awful beach-bar and relax over a plate of overpriced and heartburn-inducing chicken salad.
Netanya is an interesting city for about a thousand reasons. For one, it is a favorite vacation spot of French Jews and is surprisingly Francophone.
I would have stayed to chat in the language of Moliere with some of the holiday makers, breaking though another border – a language barrier – but there’s somewhere I really want to be before sundown.
So I keep walking north, entering and then leaving Netanya’s tiny Haredi ghetto.
Then I catch a lift north along the coastal highway. The driver is a policeman named Eliezer, off duty today and on his way to see his grandchildren. When we reach the city of Hadera he pulls over and offers me a toast in the car, to celebrate my new journey. Here’s to police norms gone the way of the Ben-Ami kippas.
Eliezer offers that we have another drink, but there’s somewhere I really want to be before sundown, and one lift later, I reach it. Here it is:
And here it is:
These two photos were taken from the same place, one facing north, one facing south. To the south is the posh Jewish-Israeli community of Caesarea, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu owns a house. To the north is the Arabic-speaking community of Jisr A-Zarqa.
In between is an “embankment”, 160 meters long and about ten meters high. Here it is, seen from the Jisr side.
The long mound was piled on the municipal boundary unilaterally by the “Caesarea Developement Corporation” in 2002. It hides Jisr and its poverty from the view of Caeserea’s dwellers. That’s all it does. Being open for passage on both ends, it cannot be excused as a means for, say, deterring Jisr burglers. It is merely an obstruction and a declaration: we don’t want to think about you, and we certainly don’t want any contact with you.
The mound is not tiny, but it is easy to climb and cross. It’s a small border, small and hard to swallow. We moved up a notch.
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