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No Coexistence for Israelis and Jellyfish on Tel Aviv's Beaches

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A man abuses a jellyfish on an Israeli beach (illustrative).
A man abuses a jellyfish on an Israeli beach (illustrative). Credit: Ilan Assayag

An Israeli goes to the beach. He goes into the water. He encounters jellyfish. He’s already seen hundreds of jellyfish in his life. Thousands of jellyfish. Tens of thousands. Still, jellyfish generates in him an extreme sense of astonishment. As though this is the first time in his life he’s come across one. The Israeli feels he is lord and master. God promised him the sea in the Bible. Jellyfish doesn’t belong here. It’s a guest. The Israeli is not. How does jellyfish dare, out of the blue, in the middle of the summer, to invade Israeli’s living space? What chutzpah.

Israeli will show it what’s what. He was here first. Two thousand years ago. Where was jellyfish? By what right does it migrate to our shores? Does it have citizenship? Residency? An Ottoman property deed? Let it go back to where it came from, the jellyfish, before we take it and its friends and put them behind walls and barriers and in fishing nets, so they won’t dare bother us again. There’s no place for coexistence in the water. It’s either Israelis or jellyfish. They started. They stung first. They have to pay the price for their aggression.

This is how the lynching began, at the Tel Aviv seashore at midday on Saturday. A wretched jellyfish is lying lifeless on the sand. A passerby dressed in a red Speedo notices it. The jellyfish is already neutralized. It can’t hurt anyone. But the passerby doesn’t care. He stops next to it, looks around and then kicks the jellyfish. And again. Harder. Sees that the jellyfish is not responding. “You cunt,” he mutters at it, “I’ll show you what’s what.” The jellyfish is condemned to death, without trial.

Another passerby joins. He’s holding a paddle, ready to play matkot. While the first passerby continues kicking the jellyfish, he smashes its head with the paddle. The synchronicity is perfect. Kick, paddle, kick, paddle. The jellyfish is mute. If it could talk, it would scream, “Leave me alone, leave me alone, I didn’t do anything to you. I’m an innocent jellyfish. I sting only when something approaches me and threatens me. I didn’t want to be here. It’s climate change that swept me to your shores. Please put me back in the water and I swear I’ll bugger off somewhere else.” Another bash in the head with the paddle.

The two are joined by a teen of around bar-mitzvah age. He spits on the jellyfish and laughs. He curses it: “Jellyfish f--- in the ass.” He steps on it and all its goo seeps out of its sticky arms onto the sand. “Yechh, you disgusting thing,” the second passerby says and whops it on the head again with the paddle. The teenager goes off for a minute and comes back with a stick. He starts stabbing the jellyfish, but the stick doesn’t puncture the skin, so he thrusts harder until he makes a hole in the jellyfish’s head. Then he whips it – whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

A young girl arrives with her cell phone. She bends over, smiles, stands upright and sticks out her chest and does a selfie with the jellyfish. She calls to someone who’s lying on a mat not far away. A barefoot soldier arrives in army pants but no shirt. The young girl kisses him. “Let’s upload this to stories on Instush,” she says, referring to Instagram, and the two shoot a video of themselves with the jellyfish in the background. The girl caresses the soldier, winks at the camera and yells, “Tudo bom!” [“All good,” in Portuguese, and the title of a hit Hebrew single this summer]. The soldier kicks the jellyfish and adds, “Tudo bom!”

What do they want from the jellyfish? To hurt it. They’re avenging the sins of all jellyfish. All the stings and all the itchy, painful red sores. They don’t care that this specific jellyfish wasn’t involved in acts of hostility against them. As far as they’re concerned, all jellyfish are the same. But they are also thrilled by the jellyfish. For them, it’s an incomprehensible creature, with a weird, alien look. Their reactions range between repulsion and attraction. The jellyfish both scares and intrigues them. They’re like little kids; the jellyfish renders them totally infantile. They torture it for puerile, sadistic reasons.

Every summer anew, they recreate the astonishment, the feeling that it’s hard to believe in the presence of the jellyfish and in its very existence on the planet. They’re astonished by this natural wonder, while wanting to make it extinct. The jellyfish is uncontrollable. It arrives in masses and generates collective panic. The panic morphs into violence, the violence into helplessness. Kill another jellyfish and another one and another one, but still they refuse to disappear. You can’t get rid of them. The jellyfish is not susceptible to Israeli’s caprices. It does not serve a particular purpose. It does not possess personal or national purpose. It’s just a jellyfish. It wants a territory for itself, wants to be left alone. It lives its life, and for that, it must pay the price: death.

A blond toddler sits down next to the jellyfish and covers it with sand. “Bury it, bury it,” the passerby with the paddle shouts to him. “That’s lovely, sweetie. Suffocate it.” The toddler throws more sand on the jellyfish, and everyone takes advantage of these last moments to bash and kick it.

Suddenly an elderly woman arrives – bespectacled, wearing a straw hat, khaki-colored pants and a long white blouse (in this heat?). “What have you done to the jellyfish?!” she screams in a aunt-like voice.

“What do you mean, what have we done? We liquidated it like it deserves. An eye for an eye!” the man with the paddle says, raising his voice.

“But it didn’t do anything to you,” the woman says.

“It’s a jellyfish,” replies the passerby who kicked it dozens of times.

“Leave it alone. Enough already. You killed it. You’re barbarians.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” the kicker laughs. “Ha, ha, ha,” the man with the paddle laughs. “Ha, ha,” the teenager laughs. “Ha, ha,” the girl and the soldier laugh.

The soldier tries to kick the jellyfish again, but the older woman pushes him back and protects the jellyfish bodily. “Ha, ha – you leftist,” he says to her, and the whole crowd scatters in an instant and regroups around the popsicle seller.

The woman shakes the sand off the jellyfish. Caresses it. Her eyes glitter. Could she possibly be shedding a tear? She rolls up her pants, picks up the creature, cradles it in her hands and walks into the water with it. She places the jellyfish amid the waves, comes out of the water, pulls her wet pants back down, puts on flip-flops and heads off in the direction of Jaffa.

A few seconds later, the jellyfish is washed back ashore. It lies on the sand, bluish and transparent. A passerby notices it and gives it a kick. A second passerby whacks it on the head with a paddle.

“Bitch,” he tells it, “You’ll pay for what you did.”