quinta-feira, 6 de janeiro de 2011

When Israel Becomes Isreal (Day Three: Tel Aviv)

Armed with an thorough survey of Tel Aviv’s military museums, we decide to take the off-Broadway pair known as Jabotinsky Institute/The Etzel (a.k.a. Irgun) Museum first, which are both located in the exact same building (38, King George). The need that the Jabotinsky Institute seems to have for visitors is about the same that the Jewish faith has for converts. Not only there are no visible welcoming signs or information about its actual whereabouts but also its very façade seems to scream at us: “Don’t look, don’t stop, keep walking!” Still, that proved to be no match for our mission: we were as relentless as Charlotte’s character in “The Sex and the City” and no Rabi would close the temple’s door in our ex-goy-to-be faces. Even if the temple has an army flag waving from its top. And it did indeed. Army youngsters welcomed us with suspicious smiley faces while opening the heavily bared doors of Tel Aviv’s equivalent to Lisbon’s once famous cinema/boite “Caleidoscópio”. The place looked old, as old as a 50’s revival set built in the 70’s. One had the feeling, if not the absolute certainty, that no visitor had crossed those doors (and lived to tell the tale) for many many years. Taking in account that the State of Israel is only 62 years old I find it hard to believe that the Jabotinsky Institute looks much older than that. We follow strict orders and head for the first floor where we are awaited by... an empty desk full of Jabotinky’s “best sellers” for sale. That is, no one. We call out the international “Hello?” that is greeted back by the local “Hello!” A very nice middle-aged man brings some normality to the whole situation and in exchange for some shekels (13 coins, maybe?) promises to take us to the heart and core of the fabulous life of the Zionist Messiah, Ze’ev Jabotinsky (formerly known as Vladimir). The visit started with a multi-media presentation of Jabotinsky biography. Such presentation, the first of many we came to see in the course of our journey, set the tone for our love relationship with Israel. Multi-media presentations are the song that was playing when we fell in love with the monster. We are asked to take a seat in what looked like an IKEA amphitheatre placed in front of the most boring room of an ethnographic museum. Multi-media? Multi-tedia seems more like it. Yet, with the same astonishment that Moses followers looked upon the parting of the waters we behold the uprising of three video screens. Lights out. Cue Ari Jabotinky, the son: “- Tell me father, why were you never at home with me and mother?” Cradled by a constant left-to-right and right-to-left panning of the video beamers, we travel to 1929’s Odessa in the times when the Pogroms were the program. The father-like figure of Jabotinsky comforts the restless child inside us: he was not at home because “we” were not at “home”. The Jewish Diaspora was under attack and “our” people had to transform from endangered species into dangerous predators in order to survive. And so they did. Jabotinsky, a well-travelled journalist, founded the Revisionist Zionism movement and convinced many European Jewish youngsters to join the first Jewish self-defence organization (which would later become the infamous Irgun and the more politically correct Etzel) in an armed and offensive quest for a physical Zion under the suggestive slogan of "better to have a gun and not need it than to need it and not have it!" One cannot reason with that. Well, maybe one could if the function of reason was functioning at that time. But, to be honest, for the total multimedia-slideshow-interactive-low-tech-highly-manipulative-sound-and-light-presentation suckers that we became while in Israel, it was impossible not to succumb to the absolute pleasure of being brainwashed by blinking screens and dusty moving mannequins. It should definitely be the 11th commandment: Thou shall not abandon one’s cognitive and critical apparel in exchange for the sheer joy of being baby fed cheap entertainment, wrapped around in a doubtful though sophisticated ideological slanket and nibbling on the poetical popcorn bag of clichés and common places. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. So Mr. Jabotinsky had to die and the show had to end. Still mesmerized by the powerful effect of such a simple device on our superior intellects and by the sheer frailty of our ethical and parapolitical convictions, we were taken aboard an Irgun ship carrying European pioneers to the Promised Land. Our eyes lit up as bright as the Bethlehem star in the night before Christmas was born. And Christmas it was (or Hanukah for our more Halal readers), for wrapped around the military austere looking concrete building we found the Euro Middle Eastern Disney World. We felt as in the bowels of Moby Dick, as in Captain Hook’s ship, we were sprayed with water from the Niagara Falls of the Fertile Crescent, we were immersed in a cinematic masterpiece of a lesser-known Spielberg who is by that no less faithful to the Jewish cause. The plot: The Pogroms intensify and Hitler’s moustache lurks around Europe’s Synagogues. With the help of Jewish self-defence organizations, Jews are returned to sender in illegal ships heading to the Mediterranean waters which are infested by British war vessels trying to block illegal immigration to Palestine (yes, back then there WAS still a Palestine). The travelling conditions are hard but the people inside the ship are beautiful. The bad Greek shipping wannabe magnate (Aristotle was his name, I dare to presume) wanted more money to harbour Haifa. Although their lives were endangered, paramilitary boy and Mata Hari girl fall in love and get married. The glass in broken in sacred ground and now let’s multiply and kill thy neighbour. Oscar winning soundtrack performance of “The Betar Song” written by Ze’ev Jabotinsky and exquisitely sung by the cast. The End. Doors open and our friendly host makes sure our “Night at the Museum” has no ending. While unlocking another set of bars that lead downstairs, he asks us where are we from. Portugalim. A glimpse of recognition connects his eyes to us. 70% of Portuguese people are Jewish. Welcome home brothers! Hurrah! And we thought it was hard to convert. Jewish Honoris Causa by the Jabotinsky Institute was awarded to us after only two sound-and-light presentations and a few bites in kosher hummus. We are sooooo in one of the most selective clubs in history. We were chosen. Still, our education as newly reborn Zionists has to continue. One can never be too knowledgeable. We diligently wander around the ground floor gazing through the comic strip like glorification of Irgun achievements. What many dared to call terrorist attacks is proudly presented as brilliant military tactics and strategies. How little they had, how much they did. How few they were, how strong-minded they became. The images of blood and carnage seemed now to us far from the cosy environment of Jabotinsky’s rive gauche like bookshelves and solid wooden decoratively incrusted desk. It is again the classic problem of Philosophy: La passage a l’act. It is hard for us, children of the carnations, to accept collateral casualties of ideologies. What terrible song played on their radio? We were yet to face our biggest moral challenge inside the Bauhaus bunker of Irgun. And it came in the shape of the crossing between Heidi’s grandpapa and the Unabomber. He had the smile of an angel and the eyes of a killer and he was waiting for us in the basement. Yes, we did descended upon hell lured by the promise of yet another multimedia snort. Amidst several Revel-like reconstitutions of Irgun’s strikes on railways, air force bases and the Sunday-x-mas movie-plot-to-become King David’s Hotel bombing there was another video screen waiting to feast us with tales and tells of Israeli mythology. After a little problem with the language menus on the DVD (the army bratz that was serving in the museum obviously lacked the ingenuity that is so characteristic to all Irgun veterans), we again put our minds and bodies in the hands of the prolific Zionliwood Studios. Unfortunately, I really do not recall what was actually featured in that last movie since what happened afterwards was far more striking that any IDF bombing on Gaza Strip. The guardian of the Lilliputian models of Irgun’s guerrilla approached us as a sinner enters the confessionary room in the heart of Vatican City. He was born in Israel (when Israel was called Palestine). He had fought in the three wars [the Independence War (1948), the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur (1973)] side by side with the great leaders of this great nation. He was the stuff military museums are made off. He was the “been there, done that, next” man himself. One by one he pointed to the faces of the people on the black and white photographs and told us their names and their current whereabouts. Like Mr. Keating in “Dead Poets Society” he wanted us to cease the day. And indeed they ceased it. They were fighters than and are now political leaders, mothers, sisters and daughters of national heroes. Names like Sharon, Rabin or Moshe Dayan were being thrown at us in every drop spit coming from the grinch that killed Palestine’s mouth. They not terrorists. They heroes. They good Jewish boys from good Jewish families. Their war is of the brains. They were few but they were smart. Not like others. Like the black Negroes of Eritrea that had no brains. Israel is made out of people from seventy nations. They learn Hebrew in six months. This one here good fighter now in the parliament. They the Arabs want to be refugees. They not refugees. We are refuges. What they have? Nothing. We gave them everything. They have our water, our electricity, our language, our money. They have nothing. We no terrorists. We bombed King David Hotel but warn first. They Ignore. Hotel had no civilians. Only military. “Meeeeedo”, we would say in Portuguese. Our theatrical skills were pushed to the limits. My left wing upbringing was screaming inside my stomach like the Alien that ripped Lieutenant Ripley. As conceptually violent as it felt this was and will always be the day we first crossed eyes with our monster and lover-to-be. This secular Zionism poster child taught us the beauty of taking arms in hands for an ideal, he showed us that a soldier can actually have a mind of its own, he introduced us to the Jew that fights back and all that without even making a single mention to religion, belief or faith. The last Jew to turn the other cheek should have been Jesus. Now it’s an eye for an eye while we are cheek to cheek with the enemy. And so we parted with our newly found scary mentors and left the Jabotinsky Institute with many ethical butterflies in our stomach. It is funny that although we were in that place for more than three hours and that there wasn’t even a hint of any other visitor, the logistic procedures of Tate Modern applied: “Wait here for the group to form. Let’s all enter together. Please take a seat. The movie will begin in five minutes. Memorabilia can be found at the gift store. Come back soon.” I guess being Jewish is in fact “stronger than pride”. Heading home we stopped by Dizengoff Shopping Centre to unblock my cell phone in order to use the Israeli number that Sergio Edelzstein and her right production arm Diana had lent to us. And so as easy as grandpapa Jabotinsky had made us Jews, the very nice phone technician made my phone as Halal as it gets. We were now closer than ever to our claims in the Promised Land. And G-d made sure we knew he was happy about it for as I stood in line at Tel Aviv’s best falafel place, starving and about to faint, he ordered his angel Gabriel (disguised as a waiter) to lay in the very palm of my hand the nourishment I needed to pursue my noble goals for the next days.