“Ilan and his buddies live in a crowded refugee camp set up on the beach in Ashkelon, Israel. All along the street, flags flap in the breeze from the sea. People here seem to love showing off their gym-toned bodies. Tents have been set up everywhere. In one, people practice yoga; next to it others are getting their bodies painted. In another tent Orthodox Jews try to recruit young people. One could easily mistake the place for a nightclub if it weren’t for the fact that everyone here has been displaced by a war.
Make no mistake, though — it’s no holiday resort. It’s a refugee camp, in spite of the sun and the sound of waves pounding the beach. Everyone here has fled the rain of Hezbollah rockets that are showering northern Israel . . . Still, for those fleeing the north, there are worse places to land than Ashkelon. A Russian immigrant generously allowed the camp to be set up on his property; he hired Ilan Faktor to help run it. Normally Faktor works as a rave promoter, and he’s brought a lot of those ideas along with him. Live bands play each night, and during the daytime, the thumping base of techno music can be heard along the beach. On Friday, the stars of Israel’s “Pop Idol” stopped by. “We have to keep the people entertained,” says Faktor.
But here in Ashkelon, there’s nothing spontaneous about the positive vibe. Faktor has worked hard to create the light atmosphere. “We’ll keep dancing here as long as Hezbollah still has rockets,” he says. Or: “We stand together when we are attacked, but we also throw our hands in the air.” Ilan and his posse smile broadly. They’re already looking forward to tonight’s party. They’re going to serve German beer and deep bass grooves. What else could anyone want?
But there’s also a lot of truth to be read between Faktor’s easy lines. When it became clear to all Israelis that they had to protect their fellow citizens in the north, they came together fast and showed solidarity. In the West, people often show their unity in times of crisis like natural disasters, but in Israel, it’s during times of war that the people come together. And war here seems to arrive with the same regularity as natural disasters. So togetherness is celebrated in an almost over-the-top way in the bunkers, camps and private apartments.”