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Progressive Portraits: Canadians in Action!
A. Daniel Roth works as a writer, photographer, and educator in Tel Aviv. After growing up in the Hashomer Hatzair movement in Toronto, Daniel lived in a Kvutza/Commune in Israel and Brooklyn where he co-founded the Without Walls educators’ collective. To see what Daniel has been up to go to www.allthesedays.org
Samara Carroll is New Israel Fund of Canada’s 2012-13 Canadian Social Justice Fellow. Samara is working with refugees in Israel. Her focus is on community development and grassroots organizing. Samara grew up in Winnipeg and studied at York University. Previously, she worked at Camp Massad Manitoba, a Hebrew immersion camp.
Week 7: Daniel Roth connects Haredim and Star Wars in a quest to uncover Israeli identity
ORIT: Daniel, tell me about this picture.
DANIEL: It’s a Haredi man fishing just north of the port in Jaffa. I was walking with my parents and we were all struck by this great image.
ORIT: What was so striking for you?
DANIEL: Coming from a secular culture in Toronto, I am used to visualizing Haredim in shtetl stories. My immediate thought was, this is the New Jew. A person plucked out of the shtetl and plopped into this new world. Eastern Europe meets 21st Century.
ORIT: Describe the context for me.
DANIEL: You’ll see a water sports camp for kids going on in the background. You can’t see it from the photo, but there were scores of people promenading feet away just getting out of work. And, here is a guy with his fishing pole claiming his spot in the hub-bub of it all.
ORIT: How aware was he of the hustle and bustle?
DANIEL: I must have been behind him for 5 straight minutes getting the shot right and he took absolutely no notice. He seemed deep in thought.
ORIT: This is truly a 21st Century experience. We now all have the capacity to be in a multicultural environment yet stake out the individual identities that sets us apart. Some achieve that with earplugs. This gentleman preferred something decidedly less technological.
ORIT: You are sharing this image along with the one of the Haredi individual. What’s the connection?
DANIEL: This image is of a graffiti tag in Tel Aviv, just off Levinsky. To me, both highlight the connection between Israel and the world west of Israel. This is an image that borrows from the famous Star Wars logo but transforms it to fit Israel’s needs today.
ORIT: So, this image says more to you than a call for peace.
DANIEL: This is a reminder to me about American culture’s supremacy in our world (not just in Israel. In Canada, too). The consequence it has on local culture can be detrimental. I hear English words interspersed into conversation on the street so frequently. At the same time, can it be that American culture brings with it certain progressive values?
ORIT: Why do you think it’s in English?
DANIEL: It’s arguable whether there is more English than Hebrew graffiti in Tel Aviv, quite honestly. It speaks to the audience the graffiti artist is seeking. During protests, there are signs in English too. Both situations recognize the Western eyes on Israeli culture and are responding to that.
ORIT: There also may be a way of using English to mediate between Hebrew and Arab, an entirely different usage of the language.
DANIEL: Yes, I agree. I tend to speak in English when I’m in an Arab-heavy area. One reason is that many residents don’t know Hebrew. Another reason is that English is a language people may be more okay with.
Week 6: Samara Carroll talks about cottage cheese and the high cost of living in Israel
ORIT: Where are we at, Samara?
SAMARA: We’re at the dairy section at the am pm.
You hear that the social protests started because of the price of cottage cheese. Since then, the prices haven’t gone down.
ORIT: What impact do you see from the protests, then?
SAMARA: During the recent election, the sentiment from the protests was represented. That said I wouldn’t buy dairy at am pm!
ORIT: Let’s compare it to Toronto, where you’ve lived. Here, people complain about the standard of living as well.
SAMARA: Well, the rent is the same. My apartment is not as nice as it was in Toronto. The walls are thin here. Then again, I’m minutes from the beach and when I hang my laundry I look out at the cityscape.
ORIT: What creative solutions do people have to make ends meet?
SAMARA: One trend I’m finding among my friends is subletting space in moshavim just outside of Tel Aviv. People can afford more land for less and get a chance to have an orange tree grow in their backyard.
These are pictures of a friend’s backyard at one of these moshavim. They’re building a studio in the back with all of their extra space. It goes out for miles.
Week 5: Samara Carroll shares a guilty pleasure and, in the process reveals Israel’s hard economic times
ORIT: Tell me about am:pm.
SAMARA: am:pm is a high-end convenience store in Tel Aviv. It’s a glorified 7-Eleven. You can get everything – everything! – there.
ORIT: There’s gotta be a catch.
SAMARA: It’s extremely overpriced. It’s typical to buy 15 eggs for 15 shekels. You’ll pay about 28 shekels for them at am:pm. You’re basically paying for convenience. It seems like there’s one on every street in Tel Aviv.
ORIT: With so many of them, it suggests there’s a market out there.
SAMARA: For one, am:pm is not closed on Shabbat. I’m always tempted to go there because it’s also open 24 hours. It attracts people who can’t necessarily afford going there, like me.
ORIT: The title uses English letters.
SAMARA: I feel that Tel Aviv sees itself as an international city, more like a major European city, so it doesn’t surprise me that English is used. It compares with Toronto in many ways. Tel Aviv is basically a Toronto summer all year long.
ORIT: Do you see commentary like this graffiti often?
SAMARA: This is on my way home. Tel Aviv supports a type of freedom of expression that Jerusalem does not. This type of graffiti is all over Tel Aviv and people don’t make a big deal of it.
ORIT: The image features a kid, maybe an Israeli kid, screened three times identically in the colours of the American flag. It looks like the kids are playing with yo-yos with an American insignia on them. There are American dollar signs raining down on the kids.
It looks like an Andy Warhol image, possibly suggesting that Israelis have become indistinguishable carbon copies because of the presence of American consumerism. That’s a wild guess.
ORIT: With cost of living a major concern among Israelis expressed even in its graffiti, is an employee for am:pm one of the lucky ones?
SAMARA: On the one hand, times are so tough right now that people are desperate to get any job. On the other hand, both Israelis and Arabs will avoid taking certain jobs. Artists that I know would rather be unemployed than work at am:pm. That’s where refugees come in – they are willing to take those jobs.
ORIT: What does the high cost of living look like from where you’re standing?
SAMARA: Among social workers and teachers that I know, it is common to take on moonlighting jobs, like tutoring, to make ends meet. The Israeli culture responds to hard times. Among the people I know, there’s no equivalent Hebrew expression for “save it for a rainy day.” Because of the political tensions and the economic realities, Carpe Diem is more the norm.
For more information on poverty in Israel:
Haaretz – Poverty among Israeli working class has soared in the last decade
Haaretz – Study: Income inequality growing faster in Israel then in other developed nations
Jerusalem Post – Poverty report paints disturbing picture of Israel
Week 4: Samara Carroll reflects on the presence (and limitations) of bilingualism in Tel Aviv
ORIT: Why did you choose this restaurant as your focus?
SAMARA: Because it really is rare to see a bilingual sign on a storefront in Tel Aviv.
ORIT: Tell me about this place.
SAMARA: It’s a restaurant about halfway between where I live and where my friend lives. So, it’s a good place to meet. Also, it’s a left wing bar.
ORIT: What does it mean to be a left-wing bar?
SAMARA: I guess it means that the restaurant hosts a number of different speakers about social issues.
ORIT: Does it also mean that there is a multi-ethnic clientele?
SAMARA: Actually, no. Even though there are a lot of artists who hang out there and consider themselves liberal, my perception is that in Tel Aviv, Israelis and Arabs don’t typically mix that much.
ORIT: Is this a well-known bar?
SAMARA: You have to know about places like these. It’s off the beaten path, away from the main streets. It’s what makes my experience now different from when I was at Hebrew University [on a year abroad program.] This is actually a place where not everyone is speaking English!
ORIT: When you were a student, did you expect to have an “authentic” Israel experience, whatever it is you wanted that to mean?
SAMARA: I did, but I wasn’t off campus so much. Both of my siblings also went to Hebrew University and both had radically different Israel experiences. My brother is a musician and was more immersed in the local culture. This fellowship is my way of understanding Israel.
ORIT: Why do you suppose they made the effort of making the storefront sign and the menu bilingual?
SAMARA: You can’t assume that everyone is a Sabra. When I wander around Yafo, I am sensitive about what language I should speak. My Arabic is limited to a few words. And, I don’t want to assume they know Hebrew fluently.
ORIT: What language do you end up speaking?
SAMARA: I normally speak English because it is more of a neutral language in this case. But, I make the effort to say “thank you” in Arabic.
Week 3: A. Daniel Roth encounters a South Tel Aviv moment and attends a Refugee Seder
ORIT: What time of day is this?
DANIEL: It’s around 7pm in South Tel Aviv.
ORIT: How did you come to take this picture?
DANIEL: I was heading home. It was a pretty quiet scene when all of a sudden this group of cyclists bounded by. They were joking and laughing. A language that was not Hebrew and that I couldn’t understand. But I could see they were happy to be heading back home.
ORIT: What were they up to?
DANIEL: They had soot on their clothes and dry wall on the backs of their shoes, so I assume they were day laborers on a construction site. There’s a lot of construction now going on along the water here.
ORIT: Luxury apartments? Public housing?
DANIEL: It’s unclear whether South Tel Aviv is making way for gentrification or infill. This group of laborers is, to me, what South Tel Aviv is today. Working class and international. It has always been that way, just with different groups.
ORIT: How are these people with jackets? I thought it was quite balmy these days.
DANIEL: It is! It’s simply not summertime. If it were this weather in Toronto, people would be in flip-flops and shorts.
ORIT: Is there a morning commute of these same folks heading on their bikes to work?
DANIEL: Not that I’ve pinpointed. Then again, they’re rolling around before I get up!
ORIT: Where is this taking place?
DANIEL: It’s at Levinsky Park in South Tel Aviv. It’s the refugee seder organized by African Refugee Development Center. This year was its fourth one.
ORIT: Who’s invited?
DANIEL: It’s for the whole community, mostly for asylum seekers. This was my second seder.
ORIT: How many people attend?
DANIEL: A few hundred. It’s a lot of fun. There’s music and singing. It becomes a big dance party by the end.
ORIT: Is this a meaningful event for people who may have never attended a seder before?
DANIEL: Some people take a lot out of it. Others are there to hang out with friends. I would say the proportion is not unlike your typical Toronto seder.
ORIT: How do people seeking asylum interpret the Exodus story that ends with the Promised Land?
DANIEL: The asylum seekers see themselves right in the middle of the Exodus story. Some would say, all of us are still in the middle of the story.
For more information on:
Week 2: A. Daniel Roth talks about multiple layers of race relations in Israel
ORIT: The poster promoting Ethiopia is very appealing. Ethiopian culture is presented in a positive light here.
DANIEL: What’s interesting is a sort of double-speak you see in Israel. On the one hand, racist incidents have increased dramatically over the past two years, against Ethiopians and other minorities. On the other hand, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent was just selected to be Miss Israel.
ORIT: What does racism in Israel look like to you?
DANIEL: There are the typical results of historical racism, where Ashkenazi Jews are at the upper rungs of the ladder above other Israelis.
But, there’s an added layer to this that complicates racism in Israel.
Here, racism does not strictly follow colour lines. So, Ethiopian Jews will band together along with other Jews and join a Jewish Supremacist march, which I saw at a recent protest.
ORIT: How does racism in Israel compare with what you’ve observed in Canada?
DANIEL: Franco and Anglo cultures are entrenched in our constitution. Even with a predominant culture in place, though, Canada still strives for equality among all its citizens. Canada shows that a tension does not necessarily have to exist between equal treatment and the presence of a dominant culture.
ORIT: Where did you take this photo?
DANIEL: This is near the bus depot in South Tel Aviv. It is in a small quiet corner. I was surprised to see this colourful balcony in an otherwise sedate area.
ORIT: I’m struck by its personal expressions. There are pictures of a dog, what looks like a self-portrait.
DANIEL: Yeah, it looks to me like a visual representation of the person living in this apartment. It’s like this balcony is shouting, “Here I am! This is ME!”
ORIT: How often do you see people personalize their outdoor space?
DANIEL: You see this a lot more here than in Canada. It’s mostly because of the weather. It’s hot so much of the year here that people spend a lot of their time outside. There are also a lot of people without air-conditioning. So, balconies become really important.
ORIT: I’m not seeing any overtly political symbols. What do you make of that?
DANIEL: I’ve noticed that most people here are like most people everywhere – they’re not explicitly dealing with national politics. When there is an election, people pay attention.
That said, there is a higher level of political awareness here than, say, in the West.This is an incredibly political place. The cultural norm in Israel is that everyone is politically aware.
Not being political in Israel is a way of standing apart. You would need to make a statement that you are not political in the same way that someone from Toronto would be making a statement that they ARE political.
Week 1: Samara Carroll describes the lives of refugee protesters at a recent rally
Idris, a young man from Darfur, leading the protests,”1,2,3,4 Deportation No More.”
Orit Sarfaty Interviews Samara Carroll
ORIT: Tell me about the protest where these pictures are taken.
SAMARA: The protest took place on March 4th. It came the night after the Minister announced plans to deport 1,000 South Sudanese refugees back to Sudan. Sending these people back to South Sudan would endanger their lives.
ORIT: Tell me about the people in the pictures.
SAMARA: There were about 60 Israelis and about 20 refugees there. The refugees that protest are either the strongest or the most vulnerable. I’ve seen the Sudanese act in a very communal way. It is taboo, for example, for a Sudanese to eat a meal alone. So, civil protesting is something they do to speak up for their community.
ORIT: Who is the man with the megaphone?
SAMARA: That is Idris. He went a three part training workshop on human rights with us. He was trained to lead discussions. He wants to be involved in every type of education he can get his hands on.
Refugees like Idris were professionals back home. They’re doing menial work here, so they’re desperate to get involved in education and be challenged. They take a lot of classes through NGOs just to exercise their brains. They’re taking Hebrew and English classes, gardening, whatever they can get their hands on.
When people say racist things about the refugees, I want to introduce them to these people.
ORIT: Where are the pictures taken?
SAMARA: The protest was held at Habima . It was a nice evening, about dinner time. People were walking past the public square where we were. Lots of protests happen there.
I guess this was just another protest for people to see. For this one, people didn’t seem to take much notice actually.
ORIT: With people walking past, would you say you achieved your aim?
SAMARA: It was covered in two papers. Some people did stop and listen. Mostly, though, this was an act of solidarity with the refugees we’re working with every day. We decided that we were not going to keep quiet after the Ministry’s decision.
ORIT: Any connection to your work in Canada?
SAMARA: I did work in my university about the genocide in Darfur. But it was more academic research. I’m getting to see it on the ground here. It has been a learning curve being neither Israeli nor Sudanese and jumping into an NGO where you work and live in Hebrew. At first, I was uncomfortable being in a community that I knew nothing about.
Now, I know my way around. I’ve never feared for my own safety here. More than that, I know South Tel Aviv as a real place, with restaurants and community hubs, not just a transportation depot.
For more information on the plight of African refugees in Israel
Ha’aretz – UN demands Israeli explanation over secret deportation of Sudanese migrants
Ha’aretz – African refugees not just Israel’s problem, says scholars
Salon – Israel’s refugee hypocrisy
Operation Pillar of Defense: A Letter from a Canadian in Jerusalem
November 16, 2012
First, allow me to introduce myself. I’m your Israeli counterpart. I am a student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in my second year of a degree in international relations and Middle Eastern studies. Like you, I stayed out a little too late last night with my friends, and I have a million things that I really should be doing right now. But, if you’re taking the time to read this, then you, like me, are bothered by what’s going on right now in Israel and Gaza- enough that it’s taking you away, at least for a few minutes, from the other things on your to-do list.
This might be, for the moment, where the similarities between us end. Unlike you, the song I was listening to on the radio last night on the way to meet my friends was interrupted five (five!) times for rocket alerts. Though my friends and I were glued to our smartphones last night just like you and yours, we were constantly checking the news, not just our whatsapp. My current reality is a little different from yours, and I would like to tell you a bit about it.
I moved to Israel four years ago from Canada (where I grew up, I assume, more or less like you did). I served in the Israeli Air Force as a basic training commander, doing my best to teach both basic military skills and discipline to new recruits, and also instill in them the values that the IDF has decided are necessary for its soldiers to respect. (Yes, the IDF has an official moral code, which every soldier carries with his or her army ID card.) Most of my soldiers (18- and 19-year olds- what were you doing at that age?) went on to be technicians on various air force bases throughout the country. I’m guessing they’ve been busy the past few days. Once I finished my army service, I decided to stay in Israel to study because, for better or for worse, this is the place that I have come to call home and I can’t imagine leaving, even though a part of me is still sure that Canada is the real promised land.
Life here can be pretty unbelievable sometimes.
Some background. For the past twelve years, an increasing number of residents of southern Israel have been the victims of rocket attacks from Gaza. The radius in which Hamas is capable of striking has slowly but surely grown. (Last night it reached Gush Dan, the most populous and dense area of the country. That’s Tel Aviv.) There is no way I can even convey to you how absurd this situation is- that more than a million residents of a modern, western country find themselves, on a regular basis, with less than a minute to run for shelter. In some places, the amount of time they have to get to shelter from the time the siren begins is as little as fifteen seconds. The most incredible thing is that this has become the status quo. Every few weeks, there are a few days of rocket fire, and then things go back to normal- until next time. People have adjusted their lives to this unbelievable reality.
(Have you ever had your classes cancelled because of rocket fire? Talk to any student from Ben Gurion University, a large research university in Be’erSheva, a city of over 200,000 people that in the past few years has come into rocket range. They’ll tell you what it ‘s like.)
So since Wednesday afternoon, when Israel began Operation Defensive Pillar, you would be hard-pressed to find many people here who disagree with what the country is doing. To understand this, you have to understand a few things about Israeli society. This country is small, in terms of population and area. Nobody here is far from anything or anyone. “Six degrees of separation” are, in Israel, reduced to a maximum of two. So though no rockets have hit Jerusalem, I feel connected to what’s going on in the South. I feel like I, too, am under attack. People here are concerned and worried, and hoping that this all ends soon. But they feel it is what must be done.
To be clear- though I call this place my home, I have no shortage of criticism about the government and many decisions that have been made, especially in the past few years. I don’t give my blind support to anything or anyone here. Israelis are universally critical- they will question, and undoubtedly find fault with, almost anything. But this is an operation that I support. I wish there was another way to do this; we haven’t found it yet. Countless efforts at negotiation have failed, countless ceasefires have been broken. What I know is that the current situation is unacceptable and untenable and must be dealt with. I am pained by the price being paid on both sides, but that doesn’t mean that I disagree with what we’re doing. If anything, living here has only made the whole situation seem even more confusing. It is more complex and multi-faceted than anyone can explain. This all just means that I, like most everyone here, am living in a state of inner conflict and dissonance. The sun still shines when there’s a war; it’s a beautiful day here today, sunny and cool. I can’t believe what is happening an hour away.
What people here want is what people everywhere want- things that most of you, to be honest, probably take for granted. To be able to live a normal life in peace and quiet; to go to school, go to work, raise their children. But right now, too many people here are unable to do that, and are living under constant threat. No country can be expected to allow their citizens to live in this way. Unfortunately, circumstances have put Israel into a situation where it has been left with no other recourse but significant military action. We are fighting an enemy with values far different than ours- an enemy who calls for our destruction while denying our very existence, who deliberately aims at civilians and endangers its own innocents, an enemy that breaks agreements (for example, the agreed-upon ceasefire during today’s visit by the Egyptian prime minister) and engages in campaigns of deliberate disinformation. Hundreds of rockets have been shot at Israel since the beginning of the operation. That’s hundreds of times that the siren has gone off and innocent civilians have had to run for their lives. They’ve hit homes and schools and factories, and killed three civilians so far whose only crime was living in a building without an adequate bomb shelter, such that they had nowhere to run to when the siren rang out. This is not an easy enemy to fight.
I am not blind to the fact that life has also been difficult on the Gazan side of the border and I am regretful about the suffering of innocent people and loss of life. I also have my moral qualms about the use of force to solve problems (I am, after all, still Canadian). However, I truly believe that Israel is doing what it must, while making every effort to ensure that its strikes hit only militants and military targets.
Now let’s talk about what happens if the campaign escalates. The reserve call-up has already begun. Those aren’t faceless soldiers; those are my friends. Those are my classmates and professors who won’t be showing up for class for the next little while. They are people a whole lot like you, who want to get on with their lives and their business, but who are ready to put their lives on the line to defend their country if they are called upon to do so. And soon, they might be.
I’ve spent enough of my life in North America, including a year in college, to understand how this all probably looks to you. It looks like, once again, Israel is on the offensive, making a disproportional response and endangering an already-unfortunate population that only wants to realize its right to self-determination. The media is often hasty to take sides—and it’s usually not ours. I want to tell you that it’s not that simple. I’m not asking for your pity. I’m not even asking you to support the Israeli side. I am just asking you to use your head. Open your eyes and think critically. Look at sources from both sides. If, after doing that, you decide that you disagree with what Israel is doing- that’s your right. But at least have the decision of which side you choose to support be an educated one.
And if you aren’t willing to do that? Feel sorry for the loss of life. Feel sorry for the millions of people who have to live like this. But if you aren’t willing to look at both sides of the picture, I respectfully ask that you don’t make any sort of blanket statement about who is doing what, and why.