In the Beginning

by Benji Preminger

(Benji Preminger ’13 is in Pierson College. As a native Israeli, Benji will be spending the summer in his hometown of Tel-Aviv studying Arabic and investigating the political atmosphere leading up to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, scheduled to take place this September.)

Writing about Israel is like trying to summarize the Bible. It arguably contains the very best humankind has to offer, along with the most wretched and depraved. Some of its people embody the highest human values and ideals, while others seem to be bent on the destruction of those ideals. Parts of it are modern and cutting edge, while others are as old as the world itself (literally). Its landscape varies intensely: there are mountains, lush green plains, Mediterranean coastlines, barren, rocky hills, and desert dunes all in an area of roughly 22,000 square km (about the size of the great state of New Jersey).

View of the old Jaffa (Yafo) Harbor. Jaffa is considered one of the oldest port cities in the world. (Preminger/TYG)

I will be spending the next 10 weeks in Israel, writing about anything and everything— from describing the everyday life of Israelis and cultural and social events, to covering the infamous Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a turbulent time for Israel, perhaps now more than ever. This coming September, the Palestinian Authority is expected to put to a UN vote the establishment of a free and independent Palestinian state, within the 1967 borders. There is a considerable level of controversy surrounding this political move, and many opinions are circulating as to whether it is right, wrong, or even consequential. What is certain is that the weeks leading up to the September declaration will be eventful, as one nation seeks its independence while the other fears for its survival.
As a journalist, I will try to be as objective as possible, yet I must mention my background and acknowledge that my writing may and probably will be affected by my political views.

The youngest of three brothers, I was born on September 28, 1986 in Tel-Aviv, and have lived here all my life. My parents were able to emigrate from the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, after a long struggle with the Soviet authorities. After coming to Israel, my family was among the pioneers of the settlement of Yamit, in the Northern Sinai Peninsula (then under Israeli control). As part of the peace accord with Egypt, Israel gave back Sinai and evicted all Israeli settlements there. This was a difficult time for my family, yet they were able to eventually move to Tel-Aviv. I grew up in Tel-Aviv, a cultural, cosmopolitan hub on the coast of the Mediterranean. At 18, I enlisted in the mandatory Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and served for three years as a military journalist in the Israeli Air Force Magazine.

Rothschild Boulevard is one of Tel-Aviv's iconic streets. (Preminger/TYG)

I will conclude this introduction by simply saying that life in the Middle East is hard to put into words. There isn’t a singular truth that will encapsulate all that the region has to offer, and there’s always more than one view on every single issue. The saying goes that Israel has not one, but six million prime ministers. Everyone knows what’s what and who’s who. Through my contributions to this blog, I will try to present a range of views that represent the Israel that I know and experience on a daily basis.