I’m meant to be peering into a tunnel hacked out by Hamas a few hundred metres from Gaza City into Israeli territory but my attention has wandered. The air around us, above this parched, scrubby wasteland, is fecund with life. A pair of black kites are circling and below them a steppe buzzard is lumbering amidst the thermals. And is that a lappet-faced vulture? Do you know, even without my specs, I think it is. The IDF guy in charge of this facility wanders up. ‘You are interested in the birds, my frent? They too are political. The Palestinians put all their filth, their garbage, right up against the fence, as close to us as possible. As a result, many vermin and many hawks, some endangered elsewhere. There is always an upside to misery. Now, let us go below, please.’
Down, down, then, into a passage fashioned by the perpetually infuriated and frantically scrabbling Morlocks from a Neolithic culture. The idea is this. They spend a million quid and take a year to tunnel into the middle of a sunflower field, suddenly pop up, murder everyone within sight, and then run away. But it’s still only a tunnel — seen one, seen ’em all. I exit sharpish, bored. You’d think if they were that good at digging they might create for themselves a decent sewage system or maybe a road. Instead of a Day of Rage, a Day of Clearing Things Up A Bit. All that’s missing from the tunnel is a blue plaque with yellow stars: the European Union funded this. Or the United Nations. Through their myriad succour for perpetual victims funds.
Later I meet the mayor of a town nearby which is bombed each week, the Iranian-built Qassam rockets raining down from Gaza, killing indiscriminately. The town provides Gaza’s sewage system. ‘Yes,’ the mayor says to me, with the pungent ghost of a smile, ‘we even wash their shit’
On the chopper back to Tel Aviv, an arresting sight. Balloons, lovely balloons, floating in from the west, lilac, pink, nursery blue, orange, all with happy faces on the front. Then they suddenly sink and an Israeli olive grove turns chimney red from the Molotov cocktails attached beneath. The fields here all have scorch marks, as if the entire land has been to a rubbish tanning salon. It reminds me of ten years back when I spent a night in the home of a Palestinian bloke whose pleasant hacienda in Hebron was surrounded by Jewish developments — and the inhabitants were trying to bully him to sell up. He woke me rather brusquely at five in the morning. ‘Rod, come look!’ And there, out of his back window, I saw a couple of Orthodox Jews climb over his fence and take a shit in his vegetable patch — lifting up their Victorian undergarments and crouching furtively. There are economic, cultural and geopolitical reasons for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But never discount pure, unbridled spite and loathing.
My Tel Aviv hotel has a ‘Shabbat’ lift. That’s for Orthodox Jews who are not allowed to use electricity on the Sabbath. How exactly does that work, I wondered? Is it powered by scores of Rabbis on a giant wheel? No, it seems not. It is simply that Orthodox Jews don’t have to press the button to summon the lift, they just have to wait, and in time, it will roll around. Doctrinaire religious observance has caused many problems these past 2,000 years but, oh, the ingenuity it has inspired, when its most fervent adherents seek out loopholes.
I’m out here for the Sunday Times, partly to examine the truths and fictions promulgated by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. What truths, though? That Israel is an ‘apartheid state’, when its 20 per cent Arab population, unlike most Arabs, have the vote. And a decent life expectancy and — God help us — affirmative action at work? Do the campus infants not know that the BDS founding fathers wished to expunge Israel from the map? That one of its most prominent supporters, Yusuf al Qaradawi, wished for Muslims to finish what Hitler started? But then Baroness Tonge was sacked from the Lib Dem front bench for saying that Israeli rescue workers harvested the organs from Haitian earthquake workers. How do you fight against that sort of leftist, anti-Semitic madness?
I was told I would love Tel Aviv on account of it being a diverse, all-night, bangin’ party city. Christ help us, no, please. But actually the bars spew out early Seventies soft rock: Paul Simon, Bread and (oddly) Cat Stevens. The food has improved since I was last here and now reflects the singular geographical location of the place. Its heart in Asia, its head in Europe (which allows it into the Eurovision Song Contest and the European football championships), and then Eilat, with its scrotum dangling dangerously close to Africa. Fittingly for Jewish people, both somewhere and anywhere. From my restaurant table I can see the lights glimmering on the stubby peninsula of Jaffa. Gaza is not terribly far distant, to the south. The soft rock has stopped and they are now playing disco. It’s the Bee Gees, and Stayin’ Alive.