By Daniel Wirtheim, Features Editor
Published in print Sept.10, 2014
I arrived in Tel-Aviv from Jerusalem in the company of my friend Ameer, an Israeli citizen I had met on my backpacking tour. There’s only one port of entry into the city by bus and that is the Central Tel-Aviv Station. Before entering the station, a guard checked our bags with his free hand and held his automatic rifle with the other. Not seeing us as a direct threat to the state of Israel, we were permitted inside of what was a metropolis of a bus station.
When I think back to what the station looked like, what it felt like, I’m imagining something very close to the Star Wars cantina. It was as if every creature in the galaxy was joining in on one big jamboree. The Arab merchants were yelling sharply from their kiosks, Afrikaans played games at the tables and a thick melody of electro-swing filled the air. “This way,” said Ameer, leading me through a maze of at least five floors packed with travelers and soldiers until we reached the posted bus schedule.
We had arrived at about the most inconvenient time. It would be at least three hours until the next bus arrived. After Ameer showed me how to use the rest room without paying a Shekel, we bought the cheapest pizza we could find and headed for the bus platform. On the escalator, on the ceilings, I noticed what looked like fine children’s graffiti was scattered every so often in an empty space.
There were skulls and perverse signs, but they were well done. A design of neon painted lines began tracing the path that led us onto the seventh floor where we found ourselves in a gigantic art exhibit.
Layers of expertly designed murals lined the walls and ceiling. Sculpted twists of wires were strewn all across the ceiling and around the pillars, making it appear to be some overgrown urban jungle. They were mostly political pieces. One pictured a giant robot holding small villagers in their fists. Angry Hebrew poetry was written in sloppy red paint. The work was shocking, but most of all, it was beautiful.
It showed that someone really cared about the station, that this was a place maintained by the people. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air in a country where men with automatic rifles check underneath your bus seat.
My eyes traced the paintings, mesmerized by the detail of each one. There were stories of the Israeli people, of the Afrikaans and the Arabs, all placed together on the dirty concrete walls. I felt closer to the true culture of Tel-Aviv at that moment, the one that’s not promoted by syndicated news networks or religious readings. It was a mark of people living side-by-side in a world that has an agenda bigger then themselves.
What’s more is that it filled the three hours I sat wondering what it was that I was doing in this place, until I saw a light at the end of the tunnel and our bus pulled up, screeching to a halt.