Creating people's geographies
Death to Yuppiestan, or, Nasrallah was right
By Bradley Burston | Ha’aretz | 18 August 2006
The largest city in Israel is under attack. And not a moment too soon.
The target of these attacks is the tony metroplex that became, in the boom years of the 1990s, Yuppiestan. It is collectively and culturally the garden-gated ghettos of Tel Aviv and the surrounding center of the country, the long-envied and newly-despised upper middle class Comfort Zone of the Jewish state.
Why the anger? Because of the sense that Yuppiestan sat out this war.
Not a strictly geographical Yuppiestan, but a certain sector of the Israeli population. It is the sense that the youth of the largely secular, largely leftist, largely well-educated, largely well-heeled sections of the center, have for some time been all too happy to let the youth of the rest of the country do their fighting – and their dying – for them.
It is the sense that many of the young and smug and, dare we say, spoiled children of Yuppiestan have dodged more than the draft, however convincing their arguments for why they should be allowed to avoid serving in combat units, or allowed to avoid serving their country altogether.
These are not conscientious objectors, who are few in number, serious of purpose, have a lot to lose by sincerely refusing to serve, and do lose a lot, beginning with prison.
These are the young who duck the draft by buying their way out, sleazing their way out, lying their way out using parents’ connections, any connections, anything not to serve, and not to pay the price.
But it doesn’t stop there.
There is also anger over Kirya Syndrome, the sense that a large percentage of the youth of greater Tel Aviv sees out its army service partly as nine-to-five bureaucrats in the IDF’s Kirya headquarters, and partly as nine-to-five mall rats in the adjacent Azrieli Towers shopping/dining/coffee and cake complex.
There is anger over the idea that life went on remarkably smoothly in the Kirya, despite the Home Front Command’s disastrous ill-preparedness for wholesale rocket attacks on civilian populations in the north, who were forced to live underground, often in states of distress and want, for weeks on end.
There is anger, no less, over the army’s signal failures in adequately equipping and even feeding the tens of thousands it sent over the line into Lebanon. This, as life in the Kirya spun along, well-fed, well-clothed, air-conditioned, close to home.
The anger became stronger this week, as reservists came back and begun to spill their experiences. There was the ambulance medic who took a wounded reservist from a medivac helicopter to the trauma room at Rambam hospital in Haifa, and heard only these words from the soldier:
“Do you maybe have some food? I haven’t eaten in three days.”
There was another reservist, barely a year out of his compulsory three years of service, whose company was so hungry that they all crowded into the house of an elderly Lebanese couple, to search for food.
“The couple were sitting there,” the soldier recalled Thursday. “They could have been my grandparents. It was a horrible scene.” Other units, left without supplies for days, broke into grocery stores, searching for water and food.
The war was the catalyst for this week’s unprecedented outpouring of resentment toward Tel Aviv, but it has clearly been building for years.
A week ago, with the war still at full horror, the north crippled by more than 200 Katyusha rockets a day, Maariv devoted a full 10 pages to the question of why so many of its readers would like to see Hassan Nasrallah make good on his threat to launch a Hezbollah rocket that would strike Tel Aviv.
We got the letters as well. “I don’t want to see anyone in Tel Aviv get hurt,” one reader wrote to Haaretz from the Upper Galilee. “But I want the people there to wake up and notice that there’s a war going on here.”
What exactly is this Yuppiestan, and why does anyone have a beef with it? One hint came on Wednesday, when IDF Major General Elazar Stern, commander of the Human Resources Branch, allowed himself a moment of extraordinary candor in a nationally-broadcast live Army Radio interview.
Asked in a roundabout way whether the military burden of the war had fallen equally on various sectors of the public, Stern replied in a way that appeared roundabout, but between the lines was clearly aimed at Tel Aviv.
“I see the homes that I go to for condolence visits. And then there are the homes that I am not going to, the homes that do not know bereavement, and will not.
“I go much more to kibbutzim, and I hardly go to Tel Aviv at all,” Stern said, in an allusion to the high number of war dead who were from kibbutzim, and the remarkably low number from the nation’s biggest city.
He also noted the high number of casualties among Ethiopian and Russian immigrants.
“There are things that we know and the public doesn’t,” he went on. “It could be that there are statistics that we have not released to date, that perhaps we should. Which schools combat soldiers come out of, and which schools officers come out of,” Stern said.
“I am a high priest of Tz’va Ha-Am,” the old concept of the IDF as “the army of the people.”
Stern touched a number of nerves in his remarks, not least the mayor of Tel Aviv, who saw in the recruits from his city “the same level of obligation, of dedication, of fire” as those from elsewhere.
Even if Stern’s remarks were misdirected and statistically questionable, the main nerve they touched was the right one.
The war showed that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had been right – if for the wrong reasons – in describing Israeli society as weak and vulnerable.
Everyone here knows what’s wrong. We’ve known it all along.
For years, we have gone along with a system we all know to be untenable. The hallmarks of the system were a grotesque caricature of what Israelis took to be America – bankers who take home a million shekels a year, while milking a burgeoning underclass sinking deeper by the day – combined with a government mired at all levels and in all ministries with apparatchiks who spent most of their time protecting their positions and finding new angles to pad their monthly wage slips.
The war showed, first of all, that the American video-gaming model of bomb from the air, bomb from the air, bomb from the air warfare is as inappropriate, morally disastrous, and ultimately self-defeating in Lebanon as it was in Iraq.
Closer to home, the doctrine of slash and burn economics which managed to deny both the army and the poor needed funds over the last several years, managed to make this a do-it-yourself war.
Soldiers were forced to supply themselves and, in some case, order themselves. On the home front, volunteers of all stripes, secular, ultra-Orthodox, Jewish and Arab, stepping in to help people in the north, sheltering them, feeding them, rescuing them.
There’s a clue in this for all of us.
If we can’t seem to kill Nasrallah, it’s time we learned something from him. It’s time we looked inside ourselves and tapped into the inner guerrilla, the caustic and generous and improvisational and entirely unpredictable national personality that created this country and which kicks in when all else fails.
We’ve tolerated corruption for too long. For too long, we’ve allowed incompetence to go unaddressed, even rewarded. We’ve learned to countenance mediocrity, to let failure ride.
We have to rekindle the inner guerrilla that makes this place work. That gives us the strength and the smarts and the edge to keep this place vibrant. To keep us alive.
We know our time is limited. There may not be kibbutzim after the present generation, nor hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
Yuppiestan may still be a bubble. But the country’s wake up call to the bubble suggests that it’s time its residents rejoined the people outside. To reclaim their guerrilla roots as well.
Nasrallah has shown us the alternative. If we fail to return integrity to this society, if we fail to address the needs of our disadvantaged, if we continue to pretend this can go on for good, you can bet that Yuppiestan’s days are numbered, no less than ours.