Tel Aviv, Israel
Tuesday, July 7th, 1998 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/independence-park-up-for-grabs
lthough gauntleted by two haughty palm trees — at least from one angle — this entrance to Independence Park is just a break in the bushes really, a natural path allowing Vitkin Street to cross Hayarkon Street, extend into the park itself, and provide a direct route down to the beach.
North, the park ends at the outskirts of Tel Aviv’s barely-maintained port. South, the skyline is simply the Tel Aviv Hilton, designed to be the second greatest, if never the second best, hotel in Israel. And across the road is what must be the world’s ugliest British Embassy.
There’s a maintenance shed nicely tucked away, but Independence is not the best looked-after of parks; on the other side of the Hilton the green continues, but a good deal more vividly and under the name of Spiegel. Neither are the feet of the trees in Spiegel Park decorated by people-droppings such as Coke bottles and bits of paper.
Despite its raggedness, Independence Park has a certain renown. For years it’s been known nationally as a pick-up place for a certain silent and drab-looking type of homosexual. To this day, men of many ages walk these bushes, they delicately lurk these bushes, and stand in places odd to choose. These are not queens. They keep their rumps to the trees and silently stare out at each other and anyone unfortunate enough to pass by. It’s a pretty constant scene throughout the day and evening, and while it’s concentrated in the most dense corner of the park, a fully-grown man may likely ease out of the brush anywhere throughout the park.
Once a week, a bunch of South Americans play a soccer match on one of the park’s lawns. By cordoning off part of the park and calling it their pitch they too have infracted upon a public space with their own strange practice, forcing us to walk around them. But their attention is inward and their eyes are on the ball, whereas the homos have their eyes on you.
The western edge of the park provides spectacular views of the Mediterranean below. Yachts decorate the horizon and rock jetties transform the light golden beaches into a series of bays. But a few weeks ago, a long plastic canvas fence appeared, zigzagging a bright artificial blue all the way down the steps to the beach, past the series of barracks-like shower buildings, then out to the jetty and 200m into the sea.
This fiberglass stuff may be ugly, but it is also audacious in its paraded length and abandoned disregard for the landscape. In other western countries, such vandalism means money is involved. Here, it points to a group with special dispensation.
Every Friday they come, not in private buses or cars but in new bus routes run by Dan, Tel Aviv’s municipal bus company. These routes begin in Bnei Brak and terminate right here — as opposed to, say, at a bus terminal. There is no other such direct line — certainly none to a beach. Even the line to Ben-Gurion International Airport makes stops around town.
For it is the Orthodox from Bnei Brak who have chosen this particular stretch of sand, and the sheeting is to ensure that their impressionable young men are protected from the egregious sight of random female flesh. But the men and women come on different pre-arranged days anyways, so the large canvas eyesore effectively separates not the men from the women but profound Jews from the Israeli public.
I wonder if we Jews did this sort of thing in other countries. I also wonder if they ever even thought about getting a permit. Or if they actually have one. Or that it’s understood that they simply don’t need one.
Self-Portrait at the Tel Aviv Hilton
Thursday, July 1st, 1999; Tel Aviv, Israel
And the Spiegels — Abraham and Edita from Beverly Hills — are encroaching too. Just this week, they circled around the Hilton and have made enough improvements on the south end of Independence — turfing and installing a concrete rollerblade path — to put up a new plaque extending their sovereignty northwards. They must surely have the whole place in mind. Spiegel Independence Park. Show me a philanthropist who can resist that and I’ll show you one who gives the UN his cable news network.
In the video Dennis Potter in Person, the late great English television writer relates how the BBC broadened his rural horizons as a child, and that the fundamental social importance of some public institutions should not get forgotten in the race to brush up balance books. The Spiegels, the Orthodox, the Hilton, that deranged little homosexual scene, and oh yes, the Hyatt, now a hole in the ground at the park’s north end: is Independence up for grabs?