In Tel Aviv I’m meeting up with Roger. He’s a friend of mine from Rwanda. He used to work for UNICEF while I was working for the Belgian Development Agency. He works now in Gaza for the UNRWA , still in child protection. Living and working in Gaza can be pretty intense, especially because the whole UN staff can’t move outside their compounds without security because of a kidnapping incident a few years ago.
Roger is literally locked inside his compound. So he’s happy to go to Tel Aviv or other destination whenever he can. Ironically enough it’s because of Israel that he has to work in this limited stretch of land. He’s a tall guy, unlike his fellow countrymen, not a loud mouth, always very dry, never somebody who wants to be the centre of attention. But Roger lived his whole live in Antwerp and it’s fair to say that he’s definitely more Belgian than Dutch.
We spend a few days exploring Tel Aviv. This really feels like a city where I could feel at home. It’s maybe even the only place in Israel where I would feel at home. We go out, but just for a bit because drinks and beers are just too damn expensive. It’s the first country in a long time where I can buy beers over and not under the counter, but it’s so expensive that it doesn’t feel that different from a Muslim country. No! It’s even worse. I can see beer everywhere but I can’t touch it! I wonder how Israelis feel about it. Their wages are comparable to other European, Mediterranean countries but the prices of the drinks approach the rates of New York or London.
How do they live? (the same goes for other things as rent etc.) Why is everything so expensive? Because everything needs to be imported? No neighbouring country of Israel really conducts free trade with them? Or are the taxes so high because of the big military machinery that needs to be financed? It’s like living in a big compound and you have to pay extra taxes to pay a fancy security company that also demands you to help them to guard everything (every Israeli has 3 (2 for women) years of obligatory military service and has to go back several times afterwards for training.)
Anyway I’m drifting off here. We stay in a large hostel which has all the features of a cool hostel but It’s all so well organised and you can see that every feature is just a blend of all the good things from other hostels around the world. It starts to feel almost a bit unnatural. Or favourite place to eat is a pizza place called Tony Vespa.
The pizza is greasy and the boys behind the counter sleazy (they literally all look like they took a shitload of drugs. One guy definitely smoked pot; luckily his co-worker clearly took some XTC and makes up for the slowness of his colleague). But hey, it’s cheap and quick.
We sleep in a common bedroom, shared with two other guys: a Polish guy that is preparing himself to work a month in a kibbutz and a Bangladeshi who takes endless showers three times a day. The latter is the most interesting and the subject of my small dissertation below:
His name is Shadman. He’s a doctor living in London. He took a big risk by going to Israel with his Bangladeshi passport. It is clearly indicated on his passport that he can travel to any country in the world, except Israel. And now he’s standing in front of me, smiling and claiming to be the first Bangladeshi ever to be in Israel.
“You have to believe me, I’m the first. Off course I didn’t flew from Dhaka. I took my flight from London where I lived for the past few years.” He says.
“A few years ago a Bangladeshi journalist wanted to fly to Israel but the government found out and they arrested him at the airport. He’s still in jail!”.
The majority of the population is Muslim and Bangladesh doesn’t recognize Israel as a state. He‘s risking the safety of his entire family (which is maybe admittedly not that impressive, he is only child). His parents are respectable people in Bangladesh. But now he has to fear for their lives he tells me. He can’t go back to Bangladesh, so he literally doesn’t have a home country anymore. There’s no way back for him.
On Sunday morning I’m sitting alone in the dining room of our hostel. My Belgian friend, Roger already left quite early to travel back to his job in Gaza (because of Sabbath weekends are here from Friday until Saturday). It’s not a very long journey in distance but the checkpoints make it morning consuming trip.
As I’m seated alone at the hostel breakfast table my new Bangladeshi friend walks in with a big grin on his face. He shows me his application form to become an Israeli citizen. I’m baffled, well, that escalated quickly…