Sunday, October 17, 2004

What siege?

"Upon entering the fifth year of the war, the faces of the people on the street look washed out, staring at the pavement, hardly looking up and certainly not smiling". Thus begins Eli Shai's essay, entitled "Still under siege" in this week's In Jerusalem - the Friday supplement to the Jerusalem Post in the 02 region. I will have to make a note to myself to spend more time in front of the mirror before venturing out and to try to look a bit more cheerful when I do.

This is a description which would certainly fit pasty faced London commuters on a rainy day (i.e. any day) but doesn't strike me as the Jerusalem with which I'm familiar but Shai's "old Jerusalem acquaintance" confirms that in other cities people's faces are "a little less grave, because here, everyone is in constant mourning".

Shai clearly knows a different Jerusalem to me - one where the downtown triangle includes Cafe Moment in the German Colony (sic), where a foreshortened Emek Refaim which attempts to ape Sheinkin (as if Sheinkin itself was not trying to emulate various European "Bohemian" streets) and where the Malha Mall that was "parachuted in from an Azrieli Towers marketing vision" (Malcha was opened several years before Azrieli).

But perhaps I have not noticed any of these things whilst going out for a "pathetic attempt to breathe". Fortunately I choose to walk everywhere - otherwise I would fall prey to an Egged that provides employment only for immigrants with whom Shai feels strangely uncomfortable. The bus stops don't have electronic devices detailing the arrival of the next bus - I hadn't noticed them in Tel Aviv either and certainly they are only a relatively recent development at main stops in my native London. Perhaps Egged has other concerns that it can better invest its money in?

I am pleased to know that the reason why I have not been part of a protest against the "raw, daily suffering o f life" is because "the city represses its part of a routine of adjusting to the ongoing misery of life".

Tourism, which according to the article on the following page is now once again, if not booming, then certainly filling the local hotels apparently "looks like a requiem of pilgrims reciting the Book of Lamentations". Hardly surprising really as what could a tourist possibly want to do in a city with "no options for cultural recreation or relaxation".

I found Shai's article to be offensive in the extreme. His broad generalisations about the standard of living of Jerusalem residents certainly don't tally with anyone with whom I come into contact. Rather, it appears to be some sort of fictionalised account drawing heavily on CNN's portrayal of the conflict with a healthy dose of 1984-style depression for effect. Certainly the intifada has had its effect. There are parts of the city which have suffered, particularly Ben Yehuda street, but at the same time other areas have flourished; the Mamila area is full of new and funky nightspots, people queue for seating at the trendy cafes on Emek Refaim and Derech Beit Lechem and the clubs in the Talpiot Industrial Zone do great business.

In general, people continue their daily routine, albeit with slightly more thought than might once have been the case - they certainly don't undergo the miserable existence suggested by this missleading article which, if printed in a foreign newspaper would cause an outcry over the bias of the press. It does a huge disservice to the city and has no place in a reputable newpaper.


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