vendredi 23 décembre 2011

Israel Business conference (part1)

Two weeks ago, Israeli financial magazine Globes organized its annual two-day Israel Business Conference, a major event not only for Israeli but also for worldwide decision makers. Being, among others, the « economy guy » at the French edition of the Jerusalem Post, I got an invitation to go. So the conference took place in a fancy Tel-Aviv hotel the David intercontinental with people to guide wherever you want to go (by the way, being a journalist makes you go to all kind of places, and, trust me, some are way far from any sort of luxury).The conference halls were underground with a central one hosting the snacks and organizing groups’ stands… and cars (don’t ask me why they were there or how they got there). Too bad for the chronological order but now that I’m talking about snacks let me tell you that high-standard hotels are over-rated: the food was being cooked on the spot, so you had huge queues for each stand. Oh, and it wasn’t even that good. :p
 But except if you’re found of food, my article is devoted to the conference itself. First, I have to proudly say that half of the speeches were in Hebrew and that I got most of what was at stake! ;) After an introduction (too long and not so interesting) by President Shimon Peres and general presentation of the 2012 economic forecasts by Oliver Blanchard (vive la France!), the first session I attended was on the economic consequences of the so-called “Arab spring”. Participants were :
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David Brodet, chairman of Bank Leumi. He mostly talked about the Paris agreements (see the French text at the end of the article, your faithful servant wrote it for the JPost) and how they were implemented overtime.
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Daniel B. Shapiro, ambassador of the United States to Israel. So, the problem with high-ranking diplomats is they never say anything interesting or new: Shapiro basically adapted Obama’s position to Israeli ears on the theme “transition is both a risk and opportunity”, or that when it comes to Iran, “nothing is off the table”, then underlying that despite criticisms, the security cooperation between the United States and Israel has never been so high.
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Then you had a retired Turkish diplomat, Yasar Yakis. He didn’t add anything new to the current situation analysis but most importantly said that Turkey now wants to overcome its estrangement from the Middle-East undergone after the establishment of the republic.
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Next speaker was a tremendously interesting Ghanem Nuseibeh, (a Lebanese economist with a heavy London accent). According to him, the Arab states who have so far known only few or no contestation are saving time by using the very tools that launched the Arab spring: population dependency on subsidies and (large and inefficient) public sector wage rises that can’t make up for a real market growth and that will sooner or later collapse, launching protest as when people in Tunisia understood Ben-Ali’s system was broke. He called for currently non-existent) European diplomacy to illustrate its experience of transition in Eastern Europe.

-          - At last came Israel Elad-Altman from the prestigious IDCHerlziya. He drew a history of the modern Middle East through 3 periods: the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were the time of revolt in numerous states (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, temporarily Iran, Algeria…) against (post)-colonial status-quo, driven by a common socialist/panarabist ideology. Then came the 80’s and 90’s, were the new elites consolidated their power and stabilized the regimes, more or less giving up ideology. But this new status-quo is collapsing, notably because a confusion between privatization and liberalization of the market that led to as widespread as unsustainable nepotism. For all the fears of a shiia ark from Iran to south-Lebanon, what we observe now is the ascendency of Sunny radical Islamism, ideological successor of panarabism, that attack the old regimes and reopen the war with shiism: cf. Syria, that the Hamas is leaving, refusing (contrary to the Hezbollah) to support a minority shia regime against the sunni majority and returning to its Egyptian cradle now that the Muslim Brotherhood’s mother is on its way to power.

-To conclude the session, opposition leader Tsipi Livni came. You first have to know that the only reason to live for her (and somehow her Kadmia party) is to oppose Netanyahou. On whatever he does/says. So I was positively surprised when she started the first 5 minutes of her speech by analyzing how a democracy is more than just elections, that it takes time to build… But then, she couldn’t handle it anymore and stated yelling against the prime minister, and how he’s “responsible” for basically anything from the hilltop youth (against which he acts more than Kadima when it led the previous governments) to the Turkish new offensive diplomacy, basically concluding that he is a radical religious extremist (probably referring to a few extremist Haredim) trying to force women (probably speaking for herself) out of the public scene. By the way, Netanyahou doesn’t even wear a kippa… My theory is Livni hopelessly loves him and represses her feeling, transforming them into irrational hatred! ;)

Récapitulatif : l’accord de Paris
Nicolas Touboul
Au lendemain de son discours à la tribune de l’ONU, Mahmoud Abbas a fait part de son souhait de « modifier l’accord de Paris », un aspect des négociations israélo-palestiniennes peu connu du grand public.
En avril 1994, dans le cadre du fameux processus d’Oslo entamé l’année précédente, est signé à Paris le « Protocole sur les relations économiques entre le gouvernement de l’Etat d’Israël et l’OLP, représentant le peuple palestinien », appelé la plupart du temps accord de Paris. Il s’agissait de développer les relations économiques bilatérales comme moyen de désamorcer le conflit. Une mesure issue d’une idée qui traverse la pensée politique de Montesquieu (« l’effet naturel du doux commerce est de porter à la paix ») à la construction européenne (débutée au lendemain de la seconde guerre mondiale et avant tout économique, de la CECA à la zone euro).
En effet, si le protocole prévoit un certain nombre d’aspects techniques tels la mise en place d’une autorité monétaire palestinienne ou les modalités de collecte de l’impôt dans les territoires, son objectif général est d’établir une forme primaire d’union douanière entre les deux entités. Cette union prévoit à la fois des mesures de libre-échange et l’établissement d’une politique commerciale commune vis-à-vis du reste du monde (droits d’importation…). Par ailleurs il fait du shekel la monnaie usuelle dans les zones contrôlées par l’AP.
Mais, déjà  à l’époque, le camp palestinien n’avait accepté l’accord qu’à reculons, l’OLP ne l’acceptant qu’après la proposition de libre accès au marché du travail israélien  avec en outre versement de la sécurité sociale au niveau israélien.
La polémique est pourtant relancée aujourd’hui, pour plusieurs raisons. Tout d’abord, selon Mohamed Ishteya, directeur général du conseil économique palestinien pour le développement et la reconstruction, l’absence de barrière commerciale avantage bien plus Israël, qui exporte pour 4 milliards de dollars de biens vers l’AP tous les ans tandis que seuls 300 millions de dollars font le chemin inverse « du fait des restrictions israéliennes à nos exportations ». Ca et le conditionnement des relations économiques directes palestiniennes à la reconnaissance formelle d’Israël par le pays partenaire (ce qui exclut toujours 48 pays, dont la plupart des pays arabes) sont pointées du doigt par les hauts-responsables palestiniens  comme les principales causes du sous-développement industriel palestinien, qui accroit ses difficultés à exporter. On rappellera toutefois que même quand ces deux obstacles sont levés, comme dans le cas des échanges avec l’Union européenne, les ventes palestiniennes dépassent à peine 6 millions de dollars par an.
Par ailleurs, Mahmoud Abbas a plusieurs fois critiqué ce qu’il estime être des entorses au protocole de la part d’Israël. Ainsi, il accuse les douanes israéliennes de ne pas reverser les revenus comme prévu par l’article 3, qui stipule qu’ils doivent être alloués à la même destination que le bien pour lequel le droit de douane est ponctionné, sachant que l’essentiel de ces biens transite par les ports israéliens. Par ailleurs, il dénonce le manque de coordination engendré par l’absence de comité technique de gestion commune.
Dernière raison de l’insatisfaction palestinienne, l’aspect général même du protocole, qui n’accorde clairement pas le statut d’Etat à la Palestine. Par exemple, les mesures économiques prises par le leadership palestinien doivent être ancrées à celles de l’Etat hébreu, à qui est laissée l’initiative. C’est le cas par exemple en ce qui concerne le niveau de TVA (entre 15 et 16% dans les deux territoires) ou encore le niveau des droits de douane. De même, l’accord prévoit que l’administration israélienne, plus développée, soit celle qui collecte l’essentiel des impôts palestiniens. Même s’ils sont évidemment versés en fin de compte à l’AP, une telle mesure signifie que 70% de son revenu est obtenu par l’intermédiaire de son principal opposant. De tels principes sont désormais insupportables pour Abbas s’il veut montrer au monde que la Palestine peut accéder au rang d’Etat.

samedi 26 novembre 2011

The Israeli melting-pot

So yesterday was (American) Thanksgiving. As a French boy it was the first time I got the chance to celebrate it and it had to happen out of the US… here in Jerusalem. The Jewish Federation of North America and Beit Hillel had a great reception in a fancy Ramat Rachel (south of the city) hotel where we were around 150 Americans, Canadians, Israelis and some lost French eating turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. Which leads me to today’s article’s topic: communities.

Israel, though heavily Jewish, is an amazingly multicultural country. The first massive waves of immigration during the second half of the 19th century (by the way, alyoth (ascensions) to Zion from individuals or groups has always existed through the centuries of exile, but in a way smaller scale and with different motives, aka religious and not political) were from Russia/Poland, extend to Romania, Germany and most of central Europe throughout the next decades. Those Ashkenazi communities indeed founded the basis of the state and when it was established they naturally took the political, cultural and economic powers. As their descendent have been living here for now several generations, those communities have mostly mixed in a broader Ashkenazi identity. You still can find local (ie not even national) affiliations in the ultra-orthodox world: most groups (Loubatitch, Breslev, Satmar…) initially refer to a city were their (hassidic) spiritual leader lived and established a dynasty. Furthermore, though I’m not really familiar with that, I’ve read that some parts of the haredi neighborhoods are still organized in courts following the origin (Polish cities, Vilna…).

On the other hand, Sephardi Jews, massively arrived at the moment of the war of independence, chased from their homes in Arab countries (making them the subjects of a greater but not as heard of tragedy than the one the Palestinian population suffered, caught in the war but also actively participating in it). Close to 1 million arrived in the first years, followed by more when French Maghreb became independent or when Khaddafi took power in Lybia and the Mollahs in Iran. Now close to no Jew live in Muslim countries. Hence, they suffered from poverty, lack of qualification and where sent to “development towns”, soulless boomtowns with close to only industrial jobs. This tough arrival, coupled with strong familial traditions, helped those Sephardi Jews keep a special identity. You still have today, “Spanish”, “Yemenite”, “Iranian” synagogues and obviously, many recreating the atmosphere of their Moroccan, Algerian or Tunisian hometowns. But a broader Sephardi identity has also developed, thanks to instances such as a common Sephardi chief rabbi (there is also an Ashkenazi one), the 70’s Black Panthers movement (with its explicit reference to the African-American movement) or the (religious) Shas party that is devoted to the improvement of the living conditions of all this population.

Over the last 20 years, 2 new waves of massive immigration: first, in 1984 (operation Moses) and 1991 (operation Salomon), thousands of Ethiopian Jews (Falashas) could escape the local communist regime and the ongoing famine through two large-scale evactuation operations conducted by the Israeli army. Since then, despite initial tremendous difficulties to adapt to a developed economy, most of the Felashas left their country and are now in a situation close to the one known by the Sefardim a few decades ago.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, close to 1 million Jews were able to go to Israel, right previously denied by the communist authorities. Highly-qualified, they integrated more easily but also now have their own party, Israel Beitenu, known as a far-right party through the current minister of Foreign Afairs Avigdor Lieberman, but that should not be caricatured: during this summer’s protests, they actively promoted social rights, as well as more accountability for the government.

And now Western immigration, especially American and French. Those are not one-time massive flights as before but a continuous flow of people wishing to live Judaism at full scale (and hence tending to be somehow religious (which is a very broad and hence sociologically inefficient term)). They also tend to keep more of their original identity (and first and foremost the language, that tey teach to their kids, things that was close to unknown before) and to cluster in certain towns (Netanya for the French) or neighborhoods (in Jerusalem, Ramat Eshkol, French Hill or Katamon are heavily American, Bait Vagan or Ramot rather French).

P.S: for those of you who like world music, Eidan Raichel is an Israeli singer who works with artists from various communities to promote all this heritage. Enjoy him on Youtube!

mardi 15 novembre 2011

New articles from the JPost

So here are some of the articles I wrote over the past few weeks. Again they are in French and again they cover a variety of subjects.
First, a social and historical overview of Beersheva, part of a special issue on the southern city:
Première partie
Suite et fin
Then, a review of the new book of Raphaël Draï (it's an autobiography, but the guy also has published a quantity of good books on psychoanalysis, political science and law):
Here
What will be the consequences of the admission of the PA at the UNESCO?
At the heart of the high-tech sector
A summary of the last episodes of the Euro-zone crisis

Have a good reading!

mardi 11 octobre 2011

Tell me how you dress I’ll tell you who you are

Walking down the streets of Jerusalem the other day, I realized that something that I had integrated quite rapidly might be worth notice for this blog: clothes.

For what I know, in Europe (or in America for the matter), if the way people dress matters, it’s more a question of fashion, in the broad sense of how colors or maybe even shape evolve through time. But in the end, the kind of garment in question doesn’t change; we’re pretty much stuck with the sneakers-trousers-T-shirt model. It is obviously not an immutable rule (shirt, polo shirt…), but it gives you a general idea of how a complete stranger to our civilization could fit in the street pretty much incognito. Because, and here is the most important point, once this basic clothing pattern is reached, we tend to think the details on this point don’t really matter: “l’habit ne fait pas le moine” as the saying goes in French. Or does it?

In Israel (and this is an introductory comment that works on many aspects), the general closeness to Western standards doesn’t forbid crucial differences. Indeed, at first sight, Israelis wear the same kind of casual cloth. But the very details that wouldn’t even be taken into account in Europe make all the difference here. However, contrary to the Victorian era those details don’t distinguish between social classes, but between ideologies. Let’s start with women.

Again, though French women mostly wear pants, it happens that, one morning, they pick a dress or a skirt from their (well-filled) cupboard. Even though there’s obviously no rule against this here, from what I’ve seen the norm would be that you are in either one or the other category. The reason is that religious girls (religious who by the way, all trends taken together, though not a majority account for a nice proportion of the population (1/3 in Israel? More here in Jerusalem where they actually probably constitute a majority of the population)) wearing skirts and dresses, secular ones also show their identity conversely by wearing pants, shorts and other mini-skirts. I say conversely, because otherwise they would wear them with the same “intensity” as their Western counterparts, sometimes wearing dresses, but it isn’t the case: they wouldn’t wear them except if, in a way, the garment would still be different from the “religious” version. By the way, the “rate of nakedness” (as a criteria invented for the needs of this post and that would measure the proportion of the body covered by clothes) in the streets of Tel-Aviv, all value judgment put aside, is absolutely astonishing, and totally unseen in France (again avoiding the moral aspect of the question, I think it’s quite vulgar, in a sense of lack of class and distinction: you’ve to have next to a perfect body not to ridicule yourself. Anyway).

In order to understand this phenomenon, one has to know what the Jewish law (Halakha, as the image of the (recommended) way of life) on how people should dress. There are two points, the first one being that each sex/gender should have separated models of garments and the second being a modesty (tsniout) criteria demanding to cover certain parts of the body. As always in Judaism you have extensive debates on how much exactly should be covered and that reveals the fault lines between trends of Ortodow Judaism: most religious-zionist/modern-orthodox girls wear clothes to the elbow for upper limbs and to the knee for lower limbs. But ultra-orthodoxes (haredi, or harediot to be more precise here) rule that they should be covered from the wrist to the ankle. So, especially during summer and early fall, you can easily know if the girl sitting in front of you in the bus is religious or not and then if yes, to what trend she belongs to. You can even know if she is married as the married Jewish woman covers her hair. There too you have a lot of variations, from wigs (not fashionable at all and paradoxically almost only worn by part of Haredi women whereas many Jewish decision-makers forbid it) to all kinds of head-bands and scarves of all sizes and colors. If you’re interested in details, they are easily distinguishable from the Muslim niqab, that covers the hair, the ears and 
I don't know this person but the scarf is very nice/colorful
the neck whereas Jewish women can just cover part of the hair (they have the right to 2 cms out on each sides) and use to wear it high around a chignon (I don’t even know how it holds, it’s quite a performance). Actually, many moderately religious young women wear head-bands that do not fit this criteria but because it’s a way of showing they’re married and they belong to the “community of believers”, to use the Muslim expression. Oh, and you hopefully obviously have many combinations possible between all kinds of affiliations, I’m just giving you an overview.


A kippa sruga
As for men, here too differences exist. Usually, look at the head to know who you’re talking to. The kippa can have as many kinds, forms, sizes and colors as possible. First, most Israelis don’t wear it. Then, you have the popular kippa srouga, that is knit with a crochet. Even inside this category they are more or less big and of an infinite number of colors (the “original” being white and blue) but then the details aren’t too important. What is important is that the kippa srouga, worn by most modern orthodoxes, is a clear sign of support for Zionism. The larger version, almost a bobble hat, is for the “hippy-zionists” (hard to define but you’d recognize them if you saw them in the streets). As for the ultra-orthodox, their kippa is of a black velvet. Simple? Wait, then all trends of haredim are theoretically distinguished by details in their uniform. Real Men in Black, the shape and length of their jackets tells about the school they belong to: some have regular black suits whereas some have long velvet ones, with even inside differences. A few groups (including the most anti-Zionist Satmars) have a long grey jacket with thin white or golden stripes. Some have a white kippa, especially large among the mystic Breslev group. In any case, entirely covered with this kind of clothes more fit for eastern Europe winter than to the 30°C we still have some days, under a bright sun (for those of the readers living in North-West of France, the sun is a sort of high-energy bowl that heats our planet and permits us to live outside. For more details see here: 1-2-3 soleil!)
A Breslev bobble hat 
two different trends of Haredim
And what about the famous shtreimel? will ask some. Well, it is only worn by a minority of haredim, and only for special events such as Shabbat and the Holy days. Most of them most of the time have black hats, themselves varying. In short (or in long if you prefer ;) ), what you wear matters. Not so much because people would make remarks (they won’t), but in your own interest if you want people to know who you are.

mardi 13 septembre 2011

Life in Jerusalem (1st episode)

After having written on specific topics and after already over a month in Jerusalem (or J’lem for those in the know), time has come to talk about general aspects of the daily life here. So I live in dorms, the Kfar Hastudentim (the students’ village), in the HaGiv’a HaTsarfatit neighborhood. It literally means the French hill in Hebrew, though the actual origin is a mistranslation: during the First World War, the British general who occupied this position in North-eastern Jerusalem (then outside the city) was Gen. French. When, after the war, the hill was given a name, the family name was translated into Arabic (and then into Hebrew), giving way to some misinterpretation. Anyway, juridically speaking the neighborhood’s name is Givat Shapira (from the first head of the Israeli intelligence services), though I’ve never heard someone using this name. Don’t worry to get lost if you come around: for simplicity matters the municipality put the two names on official signs at the entrance of the neighborhood. The neighborhood was built after the reunification of the city at the occasion of the 6-day war to reconnect the western part of the city and the Mount Scopus (Har HaTsofim "Mount Lookout"), which hosted the famous Hebrew University from the 20’s to 1948 when it became an Israeli enclave in the middle of the Jordanian territory, hence being unable to host anything apart from a military outpost linked by helicopter. After 1967, a good part of the university (mainly the humanities and social sciences departments) was moved back to its historical location, where it is today.

I know, I said “general aspects of the daily life”. But History is 1) so interesting 2) unavoidable, especially here for both points. As HaGiv’a HaTsarfatit is quite far from downtown (and from my office), the bus is pretty much of an obligation here. Waiting at any bus station around the Kfar will make you realize something: there is discrimination in Jerusalem. But probably not of the kind you expect. You have two main bus companies: the regular national one, Egged, and the Arab one. As most Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem work downtown or in Jewish neighborhoods (say more or less West of the city), many take the same line as I do every day (HaGiv’a HaTsarfatit is surrounded by Arab neighborhoods: Issawya, Sheikh Jarra, Shuaffat. You can actually hear three or four muezzin at the Muslim’s prayer time). This makes my bus quite cosmopolitan as, next to students and veiled women you have religioust-zionists, haredim, seculars… And I have to say that, even though the traffic is chaotic, I’ve never noticed the slightest problem between different communities. I wouldn’t say everyone is friend in a brave new world, but we help and talk to each other. So what about discrimination? Well, you’d rather have a look at the Arab bus line: the stations are common, but, except if someone already in the bus wants to get out or if an Arab inhabitant is waiting to get in, the bus will just not stop for a Jew. And if, for the aforementioned reasons, the driver does stop, no way you get into it. Judenrein, like in the good old nazi Germany. Not that I would like to depress any peace lover but, the same way, you’re strongly advised not to wear a kippa (or more generally look like a Jew) if you get into those Arab neighborhoods I was talking about. Not that you’d automatically get lynched (the streetcar goes through Shuaffat every day without problem) but it happens regularly that someone gets hurt by people who think he is “a Mossad agent” (which would be quite funny if it was true as it would make the Mossad the worst intelligence agency in the world. Except if we take into account my French pride: OSS 117 :) )

Once you (at last!) get off the bus, you’re in front of the central bus station (HaTakhana HaMerkazit). If you enter the building, you’re checked by more or less searching/efficient guards (which can be dramatic when you’re in a hurry and it is rush time…). Inside, apart from the bus departures to other Israeli cities, the station consists in a several-stories building that is a sort of mini mall where you can find everything from all kinds of restaurants through a library to a hairdresser. In and around the takhana is the place we get falafel/pizza/bagel… most of lunches, as many places are quit cheap (I usually eat (quite well) for 2 to 4 euros). Last but not least, the un-missable sherut (collective taxi) drivers, who wait for people to get in to fill the vehicle and so shout approximately 50 times per minute “Tel-Aviv, Tel-Aviv, Tel-Aviv, Tel-Aviv, Tel-Aviv… !!” I guess that would turn me crazy if I was at the security hearing him all day…


To be followed!

lundi 5 septembre 2011

Amazing video on Jerusalem

Before I post something new (which will hopefully come soon!) here is a really beautiful, and original video about the Holy City:
video

lundi 22 août 2011

A streetcar named desire


I guess I should write about last week’s terror attacks near Eilat and the ongoing violence in the South, with about one hundred rockets falling on the cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheva since Friday. But I think the worse in terrorism, as its name shows, is it capacity of putting the threatened population to such a level of stress and trauma that they stop living a “normal” life. Indeed, and even though it first seems terrible to think this as we mourn every single loss, suicide bombing and other blind attacks on civilians do not cost so many casualties (to understand my thought just compare with the results of air bombings by the Allies during the liberation of Europe in 1944-1945). So this is why this post won’t deal with the conflict: there’s simply no way I suddenly forget everything more or less “normal” that happens in this country “just” because some people don’t want us to live here. So I still enjoy sitting on terrace of a café, or walking down busy pedestrian streets. Or ridding the bus. Or the streetcar now!

                Because the inauguration of the light rail is the great Jerusalemite piece of news of the, say… decade? Yes, I might be slightly exaggerating but it’s true that the works to put in place this means of transportation for the first time in Israel started over ten years ago. I guess in any given place in the world things would have moved on faster. Actually, even Chavez’s project in Caracas moves on faster! This is mainly due to a conjunction of absurd mistakes (such as installing the rails the wrong way. No, sadly it’s not a joke) realized way latter and, as many institutions were involved in the project (CityPass, the company that provides the service ; the municipality ; the ministry of transportations ; the Knesset…) all this created a huge amount of red-tape (and, probably knowing the state of the Israeli political world, some more corruption).  For the last episodes (so far one Jerusalemite woud say) of this tragicomedy: over the last six months test have been made as it was realized that bridges might not be able to support the weigh (you have to know each light rail is considerably long and can carry over 500 persons); only a third of the so-called “intelligent traffic lights” that are supposed to give the priority to the light rail at junctions, have been implemented and the system of coordination with bus tickets doesn’t work.  Despite these aspects (and despite the lack of required safety audit by an independent organization…) CityPass was denied an umpteenth delay and was forced to start its commercial operations last Friday.





                But I don’t want the reader to think everything goes wrong with the light rail. Along with over 40000 inhabitants each wagon was incredibly over packed!)  I’ve ridden it for its inauguration and I’ve to say that for someone like who didn’t really suffer from all the related balagan (the drop in the real-estate during the works in the then and now again fancy Jaffa street is quite amazing, many storekeepers went bankrupt as no one could enter the street by car), it’s really a great innovation: “green”, silent, fast (at least it will be when it stop stopping five minute at each station as it currently does so that everyone understands that we should let people get out of the wagon first and then go into it). It should make transportation in downtown Jerusalem way easier and more comfortable than now by bus (actually I’ve still not decided whether bus driver here are superheroes or crazy psychopaths [I know, most of the time psychopaths are crazy…]), especially who go from the Takhana Hamerkazit (the central bus station) to Ben-Yehuda at the end of the afternoon (making bus cross Makhana Yehuda’s shouk [mostly known in the Arabic form souk] is definitely not a good idea…).

                Alas, despite my attempt, one cannot escape for long the security issues here, and many are concern that the light rail is a “fashionable” target for any virgins-seeking jihadist, and a more vulnerable one than buses, where the driver can more easily check for suspect luggage as every passenger as to pass by him at the front door when he enters. Moreover, the debated heated up on the journey of the rail, as it crosses and stops at the Damscus gate and at the Arab neighborhoods of Shuafat and Bei Hanina (actually just North of my haGiv’a HaTsarfatit neighborhood which I hope will soon be the topic of a post on this blog. Oh, and I’ll try to add a map of the city too). Both sides criticized it: Palestinian activists because it accentuates the de facto unification of Jerusalem, right-wing ones because it’s “one more flaw in the security system” of the light rain. But actually I tend to see the bride side, which was quite perceptible when I was inside: the passengers come from all social and cultural backgrounds and represent quite well the diversity of the WHOLE city. For instance, it eases the circulation of Muslim pilgrims toward the Old City for the Friday prayer. It’s a fact that the Israeli government won’t give up on Jerusalem so from this observation one would find it segregative if the city hall had decided to exclude the Arab population from this project that comes at last true and that should be an occasion of uniting us rather than dividing us again.


P.S: note that I speak of Arab neighborhoods and not of “East-Jerusalem” as one could find just by staying one day that the latter concept, heir of the 1949 armistice lines (also called the Green Line ; but absolutely not “1967 borders” as is too often said), is totally irrelevant to the actual situation here nowadays. 

mardi 9 août 2011

« Bibi, take this invisible hand out of my a** ! »




After a few weeks devoted to discovering Israel and settling in Jerusalem, I’m back to this blog. Apparently, even back in « good old » France the media don’t equate Israel and « THE » [Middle-East ] conflict these days as the country is in the news for a totally different reason: the biggest social movement ever here. So before you guys start comparing with the European situation (Greece, the indignants in Spain…) or even to the “Arab spring” (I know you would  :p ) as some desk-locked journalists can have, let’s take a step back to analyze the situation.
Once upon a time, all started with the Cottage Cheese Rebellion. (Sounds good, eih? ;) )It’s enemy was (and still is) the monopolistic Tenuvah corporation (formerly an association of kibbutzim producing dairies bought three years ago by an American-based multinational corporation) that imposes prices way higher than in other OECD countries. This made “the people” realize how their purchasing power is low and the cost of life high despite having one of the best growth rate of the developed world (between 4 and 5% ; don’t be too jealous fellow Europeans/Americans ^^). Among the most disputed thing: housing prices.  Here too monopolies and tycoons have taken profit from their situation to impose rents unaffordable for students and young couples. And then it became big: three weeks ago tents appeared on Rothschild Boulevard (since renamed “if I were a Rothschild boulevard” à “ boulevard mon père c’est pas Rothschild” as would have said a famous French humorist…), a major road in Tel-Aviv (the city being the economic capital by the way). Now they are hundreds, and similar “tent-cities” have appeared on other streets and cities (for example here in Jerusalem we have some just in front of my ulpan [Hebrew class]). The population is quite clearly behind them, sharing their concerns and doubting the efficiency of a (too?) free-market economy (remember the socialist origins of the country: chassez le naturel il revient au gallop…). The result is 150000 and then 300000 people in the streets the two last Saturday nights in all the country. Not too impressive for France, but at equal population it would be over 2 million and a half!
To detail a bit, the government owns the huge majority of unused lands and sells it after having approved the housing project proposed by the purchasing real-estate corporation. So the Netanyahu government came out last week of its mutism to propose a plan to accelerate the rate of construction not the less through the simplification of the approval procedure. Less red-tape = more efficiency. But the population here more generally revolts against the lack of regulation that gives all power to monopolies. “The market was privatized but not liberalized” told me a student at the Rothschild boulevard. So the heart of the discussion is whether the new bill will be able to constraint real-estate entrepreneurs to include a certain share of housing for the poorer. I would tend to say it will, but now that the movement is born it keeps spreading all over Israel as many more complaints persist: high and equal VAT in all economic sectors, drowning middle-classes…
So now let’s come back to this “Indignants” thing: first, to have talked with the protesters they themselves don’t feel being the “comrades in arms” of the European young protesters. Second, the situation IS different: not struggle against a brutal slash of government expenditures so that the public sector can keep (some of) its credibility in the bond market. Actually the economic situation has been persistently good since the beginning of the crisis in 2008. So if here too “the people demands social justice” (“Ha’Am Doresh tzedek Khevrati”) it means a quite different thing than in Spain or Greece: structural reforms, not all of them proceeding from a leftist agenda (lower taxes would actually more please the American Tea Parties…) and so there isn’t this feeling of despair that could lead to skirmishes with the police or even to riots. On the contrary, I can assure you the tent-cities sometimes look like gigantic holiday camps, with Israeli artists on scene each night, sport and cultural activities… Not that the claims or not taken seriously. But the situation was not really different five years ago. And people, even if they struggle to pay the bills, have a job, which is a synonym of protection against the harshest poverty (notice “harshest”: I do not deny end of months can be tough for single moms to give just one example). And last but not least, I have to say the Israeli demonstrators are a model of calm, organization, openness and cleanness. I don’t dare imagining what such a tent-cities thing and constant demonstrations would have looked like in France. Well, they wouldn’t have happened: the youth demonstrate during the school year (not that I would imply that my fellow Frenchmen are lazy, eih ;) ) and each time vacations mean the end of the mobilization. On the contrary here people say they demonstrate BECAUSE they are on vacations. Not quite the same mentality. Maybe because all those young people are just out of their military service and have reserve periods every year. Maybe.
And what do I have to say about this “Tahrir square” comparison? Well, it’s so gross I don’t even know how to start. Maybe by saying political protests to overthrow a dictator are not quite the same as citizens of a democracy demanding lower prices. And maybe by telling the journalist that geographical proximity don’t do everything (yes, the théorie des climats by Montesquieu is outdated, I swear). Or by saying that Pour un printemps israélien is totally irrelevant, and that even if it was it has nothing to do with what is actually happening here.
P.S: it has just come to my mind that eating “cottage” might sound weird to some. So it refers to a kind of white cheese or crud cheese loved and often eaten by Israelis for breakfast with some vegetables (mostly tomatoes and cucumbers from what I know).

mardi 19 juillet 2011

Welcome! Bruchim habaim!

My name is Nicolas, I'm a 19-year-old French student at the IEP de Rennes (IEP standing for Institut d'Etudes Politiques, aka a multidisciplinary grande école, as is called this kind of French academic institutions that exist parallel to the more regular universities network, with notably history, economics, sociology, philosophy or law classes). But I will spend the school year 2011-2012 in Jerusalem as an intern at The Jerusalem Post, a newspaper published daily in English and weekly in French. Hence I intend this blog to be an evolving reflexion of my discoveries, feelings and opinions of this land of Israel as I, a young diaspora Jew, gradually get to know it and its related issues. I hope it will an actual crossroads for open-minded and open-hearted people from all backgrounds, origins and locations. So as we say here, bruchim habaim, welcome to thos who come! ;)