An extraterritorial sliver where tan lines trump politics
Slowly, without anyone noticing. In the very heart of the State of Israel. Another country—small, unimposing, and also Hebrew-speaking—has come into being. Most Israelis don’t know about the existence of this tiny land yet, and in their ignorance, refer to it as “Frishman Beach, Tel Aviv.” That really doesn’t bother the governor of Beachland, Uzi-Computers.
“To tell you the truth,” Uzi, stretched out on the sand, says to me, “It’s better this way. Keeping a low profile. If people find out we set up a country here, you know what kind of a mess we’re in? Refugees start coming. The UN condemns us. Who knows, maybe even some jerk declares war on us.”
The borders of Beachland are the sea on the west and the concrete promenade on the east. Its northern border is the lifeguard’s station on Gordon Beach and the southern border is the kiosk that sells overpriced natural juices in cans. Its population numbers only a few dozen, the rest are tourists. Beachland’s permanent residents make their living mainly from…the truth is, most of them don’t actually make a living, but their favorite occupations are swimming, playing paddleball and “hunting,” which is code for their dismal, half-desperate attempts to hit on French tourists sunbathing topless. Beachland’s natural resources consist of bottles of mineral water the locals fill from the fountain, peeled fruit in plastic bags, and cream cheese sandwiches.
“Beachland’s people don’t need much,” Motti-Falafel explains, “And that’s where we’re lucky. Because if we had a lot of needs, we’d be in deep trouble.”
Its inhabitants don’t even need last names. The words that follow their first names provide information about the work they do, if any. But even those who haven’t actually managed to hold a job have something to describe them: Saul-Baritone, Honi-Donut, Alon-Forecaster, who’s always predicting good weather and good vibes, and of course, Go-Getter, the man who says he’s reached the ripe old age of 40 without having worked a day in his life. All are pillars of the community you can find on the beach from early morning. The others join them after work, which they try to leave as early as possible. There’s only one thing this mishmash of academicians, metrosexuals, welfare cases, computer whizzes, and shell-shocked former soldiers has in common—they all feel at home there.
The first time I crossed the border into Beachland was purely accidental. I went there with a friend who wanted to see the “weirdos’ beach,” and ever since, I’ve been going to Beachland, which very quickly started to feel like home. The “weirdos” in Beachland, by the way, never seemed weird to me, and according to the friend who took me there the first time, that’s because I’m a weirdo too. It’s a question of perspective, I guess. The real weirdos, Honi-Donut always says, are the people who spend most of their lives in traffic jams.
One of Beachland’s basic laws is that you have to strip down to your bathing suit or underpants before you enter its sandy territory. This rule has helped Beachland to create true equality because when the broker takes off his suit and the guy who sells falafel takes off his jeans, the only differences between them are the height of their tan lines and their skill at paddleball. Even the two Border Patrol soldiers, permanent residents of Beachland, divest themselves of some of their prejudices along with their green uniforms and lose no time asking for tips about female tourists from a veteran hunter, an Arab from Jaffa.
But it isn’t only taking off clothes that helps create that little island of sanity, it’s also the presence of the sea. The enormous sea always puts into perspective every heated political discussion that develops in Beachland. One look at that vast, infinite blue and concepts like historical justice, flag, and nation suddenly seem smaller and less crucial.
Local legend has it that no bomb will ever explode on the coast because Beachland is extraterritorial and has no part in the Middle East conflict. Once, the old-timers in Beachland recount, terrorists put a bomb there, but a drug addict who needed money for a fix mistakenly stole the bag with the bomb in it. When he saw what he’d stolen, he handed it over to the police bomb squad, which neutralized it.
“There’s been more than one terrorist attack on the promenade,” Yoni-Shutters says. “But here? Never. Even God or Allah or whatever you want to call him knows we’re not part of the deal.”
After I voted on Election Day last week, I went down to Beachland. It was more crowded than usual. Saul-Baritone was arguing with Honi-Donut again about beach chairs. Copacabana-Hunter had fallen desperately in love with a plump German girl who was lying on the beach reading Robin Sharma.
“As a person who’s been fantasizing about retirement since I was 20, my heart was with the Pensioners Party,” Yoni-Shutters admits. “But I just didn’t have the energy to go and vote. I said to myself, what do those people have to do with me? It’d be a different story if we were voting for the Beachland Parliament.”
“And who would you vote for?” Uzi-Computers asks suspiciously.
“For you, baby, just for you. And I wouldn’t be the only one. We all would,” Yoni-Shutters reassures him.
“And we’d vote for Etgar-Books too,” Avi-Phone-Company says, trying to be polite.
“For Books?” Yoni-Shutters asks, giving me a smile that doesn’t show many teeth. “Never. That Etgar hardly ever comes here, maybe once every two weeks. As far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t have enough seniority for me to even consider him a resident.”