Israel Stories

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Dust is a funny commodity in Israel. I suppose our proximity to the sea, the desert and a million building sites doesn’t help. Its always amusing to see the shape of objects moved from there place when covered with dust. That was a cup, a pen or a paper clip.

Stacks of files, manila envelopes and loose papers litter the waiting room, the corridors and every desk and office in the building. This certainly is a government office. Three of piece of paper. Like Noah on steroids, if you don’t have three you wont have the luxury of losing one and having one spare, I was once told.

And then its my term and I sit before the civil servant who will undoubtedly, in his own way, help me with my problem.

I look into his eyes.

Now I don’t want to be the harbinger of bad news and I certainly don’t want to be the messenger boy that everyone takes a pot shot at so don’t call me Hermes, don’t watch Gallipoli and don’t ask me. The fact is if you don’t know you don’t know and if you don’t ask you won’t know but if you do ask there is very little chance I will tell you anyway.

You need to know and if you don’t I will take complete advantage, but if you ask I will know you don’t know and take complete advantage and if you do know I will argue with you until you start doubting yourself and then you wont know anymore. Either way I will have the upper hand.

So how do you know. Well you could be born here, born into the system that allows you to know or have a fighting chance anyway. Its generally genetic, so if your parents were born that will also stand you in good stead.

If you are an immigrant you might as well have ‘prey’ or ‘frier’ stamped on your forehead. I have no time if you can’t speak the language and have no time if you don’t know the system. I will send you on pointless trips to the post office, unknown government offices entrance 3b, fourth floor, room 206. Then I will help you waist the best part of your week while trying to find your way out.

But you can learn. Always argue even if you know I am right. Always ask for more even if you have everything you need, always be confident, and always understand why you are in front of me and what you want. Never be afraid to ask a 100 times if need be and never do anything without questioning exactly why, when, where and how.
Now with the rise of new Aliyah organizations my job has been made much harder. You may not even have to deal with me but I am there ready to find that document not stamped correctly, ready to notice the 106nis not paid into the post office, ready to justify my own miserable existence.

My father drained swamps, lived in a transit camp and built this country. I knew Ben Gurion, fought in 5 wars and have the right to execute my job to the letter.
I am a dying breed, but the legacy is still being passed down to those underpaid workers with big chips on their shoulders just like me.

I am just trying to do my job, feed my family and make sure this country runs as smoothly as possible in triplicate.

And I could tell all that just from looking into his eyes!

Friday, July 18, 2008

I, Wildebeest

I Wildebeest

Wildebeest don’t think, they just run. Follow the herd is the only lesson they learn in life. I never heard of a Wildebeest that stopped and questioned the reason why they had to stampede through the Serengeti as opposed to just a gentle canter. And why should they. Go with the flow.

Like migrating wildebeest, the rumble could be heard for miles around. The rumble turned into a tumultuous groan as the convoy of heavy vehicles reached there destination. Most had Nazareth printed on the back, some Afula and a couple from surrounding Arab villages. This was the charge of the heavy brigade, the juggernauts associated with every type of construction project in Israel. They were the reason the roads remained unfinished as they crushed, pitted and warped the soft baked tarmac of our local streets. With a shriek of squeaky breaks the convoy halted, but the engines continued belching black fumes into the air.

Suddenly there was a lot of shouting, as commands were relayed down the line of vehicles. The engines fell silent; the drivers dismounted, climbed into a mini van and disappeared. Two weeks later the drivers returned, mounted their vehicles, and the herd moved out and that was that. Not even Ephraim Kishon could have envisaged such strange behavior. But of course that’s not the end of the story.

Another two weeks passed and the trucks returned, the drivers parked, dismounted, disappeared and a week later returned and vanished.

This pattern, not that I was counting, but it did turn into a bit of joke, carried on for six months.

Now, I thought to myself, what Israeli logic is behind these happenings, what cultural aspect of Israel society am I missing, what in the name of anything remotely sane is going on?

So I asked and I still, to this day, have not been able to get my head around the insanity of it all. According to one of the drivers this is the very special and secret holy formula that these truckers live their lives by: gas x kilometers x location x job x potential job x time = budget = bread. Go the furthest distance to any job, even if its not a real job, log the kilometers, the time and submit (in triplicate) forms to say you’ve been on a job, or a potential job. This information is collated by an underpaid girl from Kiriyat Malachi with a ‘couldn’t-care-less’ attitude (oh you know her, she gets around). The information is then sent to the local council (Iriya) who, based on the information, pay the outsourced construction company and set a budget based on all the work that was potentially done.

I would love to believe (deep down) that none of the above is true, and for all I know it may not be although to find a better explanation of why these trucks just roam the country, park up and then leave, is beyond me. Maybe it has something to do with climate change or the water shortage, maybe it’s the global credit crunch or food shortages, maybe it’s the war on terror or the Olympic Games. Could be any, or all.

I guess it’s not for us to reason why. And that’s the secret of living here because a true homegrown Israeli wouldn’t even bother to think about it at all. They just go with the flow.