Mahane Yehuda 1
Walking through Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem Photo by City Mouse Online
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The first Hebrew word I learned on the job was balagan - mess.

As most Israelis will readily admit - and in fact are quite fond of observing - Israel is a mess.

This is not a pessimistic remark, because first of all, it's the truth, and second of all, it isn't necessarily a bad thing to have balagan. Though, I admit that I include this stock phrase to free you readers of any suspicion that I may conceal a deeply inculcated preference for cleanliness, order, efficiency, personal liberty, and other guilty pleasures leaning in the direction of refinement, i.e. Western Civilization.

Israel is a modernizing, rapidly developing, second-rate first-world country. What this means on the ground is that Israelis can offer (and are irrationally proud of talking about and showing off) all kinds of 21st century goodies: top-of-the-line shopping malls, electric transportation, wireless internet, and so forth, but are not actually equipped with the infrastructure to build or support such glitzy commodities.

Look, for example, at the Tel Aviv subway system, which Prime Minister Golda Meir began in the early 1970s, and for which not a single tunnel has been dug yet.

Consider also the Jerusalem light rail: Now in its ninth year of construction, the train still does ‘practice runs’ instead of ‘passenger runs,' while the specially constructed light rail bridge cannot bear its weight with passengers onboard.

Then of course, there's the WiFi capabilities at Tel Aviv University, which offers several thousand networks, each providing consistently low-bandwidth connection for 4-7 minutes.

I am downplaying the general disorder of things because it's my responsibility as an American visitor here to appreciate the hospitality of the friendly land of Israel - but this has been the general idea in my experience.

You may have noticed, I haven't even mentioned the politics. This isn't actually a dodge, but an accurate reflection of the way-of-life here.

As far as I've seen, the conflict has very little to do with people's visible daily lives. They work, they go out, they have families, and though everyone talks about the situation (Israeli politics deal with little else), for most people it’s a small thread in the balagan of everyday life.