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The Truth About Tel Aviv

In this article, we take a look at 10 Tel Aviv myths that are commonly held by the international community and one by one we debunk each one of them.

Without a doubt throughout the world, each country and major destination have an international image. However, that image is majorly distorted as it is viewed in two completely different ways. There is the point of view of the international image that the citizens of the country think and there is the international image as perceived by the foreigners that make up the international global community.

Who do you think is closer to the truth? The citizens or the people who form opinions based on the glimpses they see through the media!

Let me present myself as an example. I am from Ireland, as soon as you read that as a non-Irish person you most likely formed an opinion, a judgment, and a stereotype of me and of the entire country of Ireland. And from talking with non-Irish internationals I know firsthand what that sounds like:

Ireland – Everybody loves Ireland and its people, we’re a nation of friendly, welcoming, fun people. We like to drink Guinness and joke about leprechauns, the men drink whiskey of course and we’re farmers by nature with a lifelong love of potatoes. We like to get drunk, dance, laugh and have the occasional bar fight. Oh and we all love the color green and Saint Patrick is the main man so we’re all good Catholics at heart. I shouldn’t forget we have our troubles, Ireland is a place of bombing and political and national unrest. However, this political turmoil makes for great inspiration for Irish literature as we’re also a nation of poets. And of course Sinead O, Conner, U2 and Irish folk singer Daniel o’ Donnell are our national heroes. 

Tel Aviv Myths

While Bono from U2 has achieved amazing worldwide success, not everyone in Ireland worships him. Image credit: By Peter Neill – Flickr: u2-1 CC BY License, CC BY 2.0, www.commons.wikimedia.org

When I lived in Australia for a year, it was very common for Australians to ask me what it was like living with bombs in Ireland. I was always a little shocked by this question, having never experienced a bomb in my life. Unless it was a water-filled balloon bomb and it was part of a game on a hot summer’s day.

Do these descriptions ring some bells for you? Are you guilty of thinking any if not all of these things about Ireland and its people?

The international misconceptions can be produced for any country or major destination in the world, but for the purpose of this article we’re going to focus on Tel Aviv.

What is it about Tel Aviv that the international community gets so wrong?

10 Tel Aviv Myths Debunked

1. Tel Aviv is Just a Beach Culture

Yes, Tel Aviv is in Israel and geographically speaking Tel Aviv is a Mediterranean country, which means we have a long coastline as a border, enabling a beach based lifestyle for many Tel Avivians and it’s tourists.

We’re not exactly exploding any myth here, except for the myth that this is all Tel Aviv is, a beach city and that is all it has to offer.

Tel Aviv Myths

Tel Aviv has awesome beaches, but that’s not all. Image from the Sea N’ Rent archive.

Tel Aviv is as dynamic as a city can be, it has everything you can think of from the mainstream right down to niche activities. If you have a specialized interest you can probably find a group of people in Tel Aviv that share that interest. So whether you’re into joining a meet-up (in English) to explore what is commonly known as Startup Nation or whether you want to take part in Qui Gong class, Tel Aviv can cater for you. You could say Tel Aviv specializes in just about everything. I have honestly never visited a country with such a diversity of specialized interests.

You can go to workshops and make things by your hands, you can go to freestyle dancing experiences, all types of unheard of therapies, you can go on a gay tour of Tel Aviv or even join the local Calisthenics group or perhaps experience the Tel Aviv hosted football-volleyball word championships.

Whatever your interest Tel Aviv has you covered, well within reason, let’s keep it legal people. Tel Aviv hasn’t got a middle name but if it did, it would be “diversity”.

2. Tel Aviv is not a Safe Place to Live

We can’t compose this article without touching on the safety issue. If there is any joint view that the international community of Tel Aviv and of course Israel, in general, has, is that Israel is subject to political and national unrest from time to time. Having experienced it firsthand several times, I cannot debunk this fact. This is a political reality.

So, what truth are we revealing here? Well despite it being a problem, even during times of strong political aggravation, Tel Aviv always feels safe, for the simple reason that it is safe. Even during moments of deep tension, you have a significantly greater chance of being knocked down and killed by a car in Ireland (2015 – 159 deaths) than you do of having a war/terrorist related death in Israel (2015/16 – 34 deaths) and if we compare like for like Ireland has more road-related deaths (4.1) than Israel (3.6) per 100,000 inhabitants, so with these statistics you should be more worried about a trip to Ireland than a trip to Israel.  To satisfy your curiosity Libya has the highest amount of road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants at 73.4 followed by popular tourist destination Thailand at 36.2 deaths per 100,000 people. The full table can be seen here.

If Tel Aviv wasn’t a safe place, I honestly wouldn’t live here and I certainly would not invite my family and friends on holiday here. Being killed is often a bad thing, but in order to live sanely in this world, we must put it into perspective, otherwise we wouldn’t leave our homes for fear of being knocked down.

Israel is a nation with advanced intelligence and national security, keeping Tel Aviv safe is a national priority and resources are heavily invested in doing so. If on the rare occasion you do have to take cover and you are in Tel Aviv, finding a secure building that is designed for your protection should not be a problem as most if not all public buildings and homes are equipped with access to a security room. Like I said, however, even in this situation, your real concern should be looking both ways when crossing the road. People driving cars that is a real danger, especially for tourists in any country. Our official stance is that you always look both ways when crossing a road, even on a one-way street.

Furthermore, Tel Aviv is literally designed to feel safe. One thing you will notice about Tel Aviv, that no matter what time it is, if you are walking around Tel Aviv you will most likely experience a feeling of safety. This is not due to you being protected by your guardian angels or because you have some deep spiritual connection to the land but because of how Tel Aviv is designed and built.

Tel Aviv Myths

Tel Aviv has a network of boulevards. Image from the Sea N’ Rent archive.

Allow me to explain, Tel Aviv has a network of boulevards, if traveling throughout Tel Aviv you are most likely to engage with them. These boulevards are purposefully well lit and have people occupying them daily, creating a feeling of surveillance which is known to lower crime rate and make people feel more secure. Another reason why you feel safe in Tel Aviv, is due to the amount of high rise in the city. It has been researched that people feel safer walking among high-rise than they do walking around lower buildings. Pretty much for the same reason, people feel safer in boulevards. High rise buildings create the feeling of surveillance, lowering crime rate and generating an overall feeling of security.

There you have it, you feel safe in Tel Aviv because that’s how it was designed.

3. Tel Aviv is the Capital of Israel

I find this to be a common misconception for many countries in the world. For instance, a lot of people think Sydney is the capital of Australia, it’s not its Canberra. A lot of people think Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Brazil. People think Istanbul is the capital of Turkey and people think Toronto is the capital of Canada, and so on the international community regularly get capitals wrong.

We hear things on the news and based on the dominance of coverage we make assumptions about things like Istanbul is the capital of Turkey. If you’re smart enough to read this article, you’re smart enough to know its Ankara.

So based on the news we would all be led to believe that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. But it’s not. The capital is Jerusalem, where the Israeli House of Parliment (The Knesset) is based. You should definitely go to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv when you stay in Tel Aviv.

Socially a lot of people both local and international would consider Tel Aviv the financial capital, but such a term has no place in geographical facts that are used to list the capital of a nation.

4. Tel Aviv the Apartheid State

I don’t want to debunk this myth, I want to explode it, I want to put it in the grave where it belongs, I want to vaporize it and eradicate any traces of this ridiculous, absurd and international held belief about Tel Aviv and Israel as a whole.

The word “apartheid” comes from a political and social system in South Africa while it was under white minority rule. To attribute this to Tel Aviv or any part of Israel is to declare that this is an official stance of the government. I don’t know whether to laugh at this claim or to be disgusted by it.

If you think this is true, come to Tel Aviv, see for yourself with your own eyes the international diversity or nationality and race that is on display. There are Blacks, Indians, Oriental, Hispanics; every major religion is represented in Israel – Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, everyone has equal right opportunities by law. Multiple nations are seen living happily throughout Tel Aviv – French, African, Chinese, Irish, Spanish, Turkish and so on. There is diversity in sexual orientation, gay, straight, bisexual, mixed gender and so on. All are represented in Tel Aviv.

Yes, there is no doubt that there are individuals in Tel Aviv that see things differently than their government, there are racists in this country just like there are racists in every country, there are people who hate others in Israel just like any other country but the stance of the government is to embrace diversity. And no this government is not perfect, there is room for improvement, but the point is they aim for improvement, they aim to be better, they aim to be more harmonious.

If you don’t believe me, just visit Tel Aviv, just watch, you’ll see for yourself.

5. Tel Aviv is Another Cheap Place to go on Vacation

When you think of the Middle East, you may be guilty of thinking of countries that are not really that developed in terms of comparing them to the Westernized world and therefore your money will go a lot further in these countries.

Hold on to your wallets, because Tel Aviv doesn’t fit that description. Tel Aviv is not a cheap place to live or to go on vacation. In fact, the locals have a saying here “They pay you by the shekel and charge you by the dollar”.

There are many jobs in Tel Aviv, where I have to say there probably should be a law against paying people this low, but it is common practice. The minimum wage in Israel is around 25 shekels per hour, which in international terms is about $6.61 USD per hour. Now to make this relative, to buy a beer (568 ml) in Tel Aviv it can cost you over 30 shekels. So with one hour of work some people can still not afford a beer in the local bar, which would explain why Tel Aviv has not got a drinking culture but more of a café culture as coffee, on the other hand, can be purchased for as little as 5 shekels, if you get it from a chain called Cofix.

Tel Aviv Myths

Stretch your shekels by drinking coffee in Cofix. Image: By Neukoln – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, www.commons.wikimedia.org

The wages are generally low in Tel Aviv, which I believe is why so many Tel Avivians are pushed to work for themselves and start up their own business, this I think is a major contributor to Israel being known as the Startup Nation.

You can earn good money working in Tel Aviv for a company but only in specific industries, one such industry is the high tech industry where hourly rates of 125 shekels (approx. $33 USD) and more per hour are not uncommon. You could happily buy yourself a beer and for your friends also.

6. As a Religious State, Israel is Against Gay People

Did somebody say GAY? Yes, we’re referring to homosexuals and not the alternative word for happy. What myth are we debunking here? You would be forgiven for assuming Israel and even sin city (Tel Aviv) has deep religious ties, and that with people being religious they may be more traditional and not exactly open to the idea of a gay community.

But in Israel we love the gay community, we support them, appreciate them and are happy that they can live their lives freely in Tel Aviv and throughout Israel even in the holy capital Jerusalem, with its focused population of religious Jews.

In Tel Aviv, there are gay themed tours and once a year there is a huge gay pride parade. The gay community is an established and important part of Tel Aviv’s population. While gay communities around the world are challenged and restrained by their governing bodies, Tel Aviv opens its arms and sayswe’re here for you”.

Tel Aviv Myths

Gay Pride Parade 2012, Tel Aviv. Image credit: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv. Via Flickr. Licensed under CC 2.0

Now while I may be guilty of presenting an overly colorful perception of the gay community in Tel Aviv, as I’m sure they face daily difficulties, there is no doubt that the gay community in Tel Aviv is openly present. We don’t see this by assuming people are gay we see this by the annual pride parade, by meeting the locals and by seeing the proud rainbow flag flying high from people’s homes. This flag stabs the sky of oppression that has loomed over the world for far too long.

7. Boycotting Israel/Tel Aviv is the Way to Bring Peace to the Middle East

Can you seriously boycott Tel Aviv? Well the BDS movement thinks you can and they are gaining international support.

I’m not saying you can’t boycott Tel Aviv, my question is are you sure you really want to?

What does it really mean to boycott Israel? Well let me tell you, by boycotting Israeli products and abstaining from contributing to Tel Aviv’s tourist scene, you are boycotting a nation that represents the only democracy in the Middle East. You are boycotting a nation where women, gays, and minority represented religious people are given equal rights. And that’s just to start.

What else are you boycotting? You’re boycotting a host of medical and technological advances dispersed throughout the world. Advances that keep people alive, advances that allow people to communicate effortlessly, advances that give us a clearer vision of our future.

The advancement to the electrical car was spearheaded by Shai Agassi of Israel, under the name Better Place. Computer processing was dramatically improved worldwide by Intel Israel. The USB key by Dov Moran made the transfer of digital data more convenient for the world over. The advancements made in robotic limbs are leading the world in this technology and this is just a few examples out of many that have had a positive global influence on the world, influences that have enabled us to live better and connect better.

WATCH >>> Better Place Electric Cars

You can boycott Israel, you can say you’ll never visit Tel Aviv, ever! But just think of what you are boycotting before you take that stance. Do you really want to boycott people who are actively contributing to making the world a better place every day?

8. Israel Must be a BIG Country

This is a short one but a good one. You would think with the amount of attention Tel Aviv and Israel in general gets that we’re an international Super Power. But click on to Google Maps and check out this country. It’s tiny in comparison to the countries that surround it.

Tel Aviv Myths

Israel is highlighted in green. Image credit: Print screen via Google Maps. With annotation by SDR

Israel is 20,770 km² with a population of 8.059 million, so not that small but relative to the amount of media coverage it gets you would imagine it to be a lot bigger. Israel is so small that I know a lot of people who can’t even locate it on a world map. How can this little country be so popular?

Let’s make the size relative to a country most people can find on a map – Ireland. Ireland is 84,421 km² that’s over four times the area of Israel and with a population of 4.595 million it is a lot less densely packed.

Israel is so small, that even when you know where it is on a world map, you still have to spend a second or two searching for the name. A hold of the breath is met with a point of the finger and relieved “there it is”. Why are you relieved? You are relieved because you wouldn’t’ put it past people to omit it from a world map. Each time you locate it, it’s a mini celebration in your head – “Yay, I found it, it’s still there”.

9. Tel Aviv isn’t Known for its Architecture

You would be forgiven for visiting Tel Aviv, walking down the main streets and thinking “what the hell is up with these buildings?” Israel is not known for its architecture unless of course you are interested in architecture in which case you may go beyond the obvious cosmetics and dig a bit deeper.

As it turns out Tel Aviv has a significant role to play in the grand world of architectural history.
My background is in landscape architecture of which Tel Aviv is making a name for itself among the international community for producing modern public outdoor spaces. We don’t have to look far to see major examples of how far landscape architecture is developing in Tel Aviv. Not only does it host the New Port in Tel Aviv (An Internationally award winning development) but it has major developments in store including the coverage of a major highway that will be converted into a park.

Tel Aviv Myths

Tel Aviv New Port. Image credit: By Yderovan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, www.commons.wikimedia.org

As for building architecture, I’m going to leave this to the experts: 

This AD Architecture City Guide is dedicated to the vibrant city of Tel Aviv, originally established as a garden-city on the sandy shores of the Mediterranean in 1909. Although widely known as “The White City” for boasting the world’s largest collection of International Style Buildings, Tel Aviv is not merely a monochromatic Bauhaus colony: it presents a rich mosaic of locally interpreted styles, from Eclectic to Brutalist to contemporary, which are the result of foreign and locally-born architects who adapted to the local cultural and climatic conditions”. – Architecture City Guide: Tel Aviv by Gili Merin – Read the full article at Archdaily

10. Arabs and Jews Can’t Live Together in Peace

This point certainly touches on fact number “4.”. Do Arab’s and Jews live together in this so-called apartheid land?

If you guessed YES, you are correct, in Jaffa in particular, Jews and Arabs live together running businesses, shopping, conversing and enjoying each other’s company. Despite political and religious differences the Jews and Arabs can and do live together in peace. They eat the same food, go to the same places and breathe the same air. There is a mutual respect that permeates the people as a whole. Perhaps there are personal differences, but is there any population that is not dispersed with personal opinions and beliefs?

Tel Aviv Myths

Jaffa, where cultures and beliefs come together. Image: By Noam.armonn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, www.commons.wikimedia.org

10 Tel Aviv Myths Debunked

The purpose of this article was not to combat unique individual experiences but to overthrow broad and deep held beliefs that lead to generalizations that are dangerous to our international relations and cause distorted visions of a nation of good people that are ready to welcome you.

The purpose of this article is not to deliver the truth but to open you up to the possibility of it. Let us not be guided by the vision of others but by our own vision. Seek your own truth.

What common held Tel Aviv myths would you like to debunk?

Article Written by Scott D. Renwick.



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