(Editor's Note: reason Associate Editor Michael C. Moynihan is traveling though Israel on a program sponsored by the American Israel Education Fund, a travel program for journalists sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He'll be filing observations throughout the week.)
Tel Aviv—"It's amazing," the owner of Jerusalem restaurant says, flicking his cigarette. "The police fined us for smoking out here. I mean, it's technically part of the building, but it's open air." The country banned smoking in bars and restaurants last year.
"Right over there, behind the security fence," he gestures wildly, "is the West Bank. And they are fucking with me for smoking. This restaurant used to be in the Old City and it was attacked four times. Guns, bombs, and hand grenades." But please refrain from lighting up.
In Tel Aviv, not a single bar or nightclub seems to obey the rules; all are thick with smoke. It is, roughly, a mix of 20 percent hash and 80 percent tobacco. According to a prominent investigative journalist here, it isn't just Israelis who indulge in drugging. The reporter, who works for a major Tel Aviv daily, is a fluent Arabic speaker who spends the majority of his time pounding the pavement in the Palestinian Territories.
He relates a bizarre story: Last year, while interviewing a house full of Hamas members, he entered into a rather ordinary conversation on the banalities of soldiering (the journalist, like most Israelis, is an Israel Defense Forces veteran). "So how do you pull these long shifts?" he wondered. "Well, we take pills smuggled in from Tel Aviv," said the Hamas apparatchik. "What pills?" He didn't know, but graciously placed a call to a Hamas comrade, who, apparently, doubles as his pharmacist. "He says they are called the EK-STAZY." The raver-jihadists explained that these mystery pills induce a mild euphoria, and allow them to shoot at members of the Israel Defense Forces for long, happy stretches.
The Hamas-embedded journalist relates another woe-is-me-story of life as a terrorist. "I'm the Oprah of the Palestinians. They are always telling me things about their private lives." One leader of Islamic Jihad recently confessed that his manifold sexual problems were driving him to depression. It is tough, he moaned, to find a good woman, a woman willing to spend time with you, when you marked for death by Israeli intelligence. Amongst the extremists, they even manage to blame not getting laid on Zionism.
According to a report in this morning's Jerusalem Post, Israelis are overwhelmingly opposed to further privatization of health services. It's initially surprising that such poll questions are even being asked, that such issues are deemed important, when Kassam rockets are being lobbed at Sderot everyday, when the very real possibility of a third intifada is discussed and debated with a mixture of exhaustion and terror. But life trudges forward. Visitors (and visiting journalists, especially) are the ones that steer conversation towards the maudlin. I have consistently asked Israelis, both politicians and ordinary citizens, their opinions on a variety of economic issues. There is, from this admittedly small sample, no real enthusiasm for such debates.
When I asked Likud parliamentarian Mickey Eitan to explain the difference in the economic policies of Kadima and his party, he was, as appears to be his nature, blunt. "None. We are both [classical] liberals. Our differences were almost only over the disengagement of Gaza."
Coming next: Hamas, Hezbollah, and the peace process that isn't…