How do you imagine Tel Aviv? The way you imagine Cairo or Damascus, maybe? Dusty, old, run down? It’s not really Middle Eastern like that, whatever that means, not really European, either. It’s itself, I suppose, with scruffy parts and shiny parts, new and old. There seem to be more cranes on the skyline and more tall buildings being built than in London. Small countries need tall buildings. I’ve been three times in four years and it’s shinier every time. They’ve started building a shiny metro system, too.
There’s a large section of Tel Aviv that was designed by European émigrés who had studied at the Bauhaus in the 1930s. The lucky architects who managed to leave Germany, of course. The buildings are rarely more than three or four stories and often have curved balconies. They have a very human scale. They’re lovely streets to walk along, not least because, in such a warm climate, they’re shaded by trees planted close together. Like the colonnades of, say, Bologna, the trees temper the heat.
There are many exotic and interesting mature trees in Tel Aviv. You’d need to be an arborealist to identify them, which I’m not. Lots of colourful bougainvillea, too, I can name that. It’s floriferous, even in October. For many years there was a drive to plant trees in the country. I remember shaking tins for ‘Trees for Israel’ when I was a child. Is there a better sign of optimism, of looking towards the future, than planting a tree?
There’s a train of thought amongst right-minded people at the moment that Israel is culpable, somehow, for something. Somehow Israel is responsible for all the ills of Palestinians, the woes of the Middle East , the problems of the world. If only it wasn’t for Israel. If you spend any time on Twitter, say, or at a dinner party in North London, you will hear things that wouldn’t have seemed unfamiliar in 1930s Germany. To be ‘anti-Zionist’ is to be antisemitic. No one is anti- any other country. No one questions, say, Iran’s right to exist. But it’s different, somehow, for Israel.
Today, yet more people have been found in the Labour Party of Great Britain, but not found by the Labour Party, who have said things that are antisemitic. People who are elected to local government, officials in the party, say things about Jews having big noses or controlling the media, or, somehow, engineering the attack on the World Trade Centre. Israel is behind the animals of ISIS. People on Twitter say oh come on, of course. At demonstrations people hold up placards that say Hitler was right. Those words, exactly. Exactly. Much of the Labour Party barely raises an eyebrow.
I wish those people who wish ill on Israel, on Jews, could know what it’s like to hear their hatred. I wish they knew what it’s like to live in London and hear that Jews are the puppet masters of the world, that Israel only helps in disaster zones to harvest organs. Can they imagine the chill, the dread chill, it sends through me, every time. My father would have known. My father, who died five years ago, spent time in the 1940s in concentration camps, because he was Jewish. His parents and sister were murdered for the same reason. My father would feel the same dread chill, and know – first hand – where all this blame and hatred of Jews leads.
If you think I exaggerate, then you tell me; where do you think it leads? It may be only the first ugly murmur, from stupid – stupid – people, but that road goes to only one place.
Tel Aviv and its trees represent for me the opposite of that stupid hatred. For me Tel Aviv is a place of positive things: hope, investment in the future, a belief in where they live, the peoples’ strength and patience and humour. These are the things that are making me consider moving to Tel Aviv. It might be a good thing to do, mightn’t it. It might be exciting and worth something. And that’s why I love the trees of Tel Aviv.