'Mike's Place' is the gripping new novel of love, blues and terror in Tel Aviv

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Aaron Schachter: Our next story is also about a documentary film, one that’s been remade now into a graphic novel. It’s called “Mike’s Place,” and it’s by filmmaker and journalist Jack Baxter. In April 2003, he headed to Israel to make a film about Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, he was due to go on trial for terrorism charges. But when Baxter got to the courthouse, he discovered that a group of Israeli filmmakers were already doing that. Discouraged, he figured he’d go somewhere and cry into a beer. And that’s when he discovered a blues bar in Tel Aviv called Mike’s Place.


Jack Baxter: The special thing about Mike’s Place, and that’d seem like the allegory and the metaphor that I could employ here, was that there were Israelis, Americans, Arabs, Europeans that were hanging out at the bar, since it was right next door to the American embassy on the Tel Aviv beach front, and there were marines in there. It seemed like this was a perfect metaphor of what life could be like in an idealistic Middle East.


Schachter: That idealism was shattered at one point when a suicide bomber attacked Mike’s Place. You were right there when the explosion hit. What was that like and, I guess, how did you survive?


Baxter: Well, a little after midnight on April 30th, 2003, I was outside the bar talking to my director, and right at that moment, as I was waiting to say goodbye to my fixer/driver, Avi Tabeeb, who was the bouncer at Mike’s Place, the suicide bomber came up, and after yelling, “Allahu Akbar,” he blew himself up. And the really interesting point to this was that it was two people who actually were going to blow up Mike’s Place. One succeeded. The other guy, who was standing about 30-40 feet away, I guess when he had seen his compatriot detonate himself and saw what was going on, his bomb either malfunctioned or he decided that he didn’t want to go through with it and dropped his bomb belt and ran away. Both of these individuals were not Palestinians. These were foreign nationals. They were out of Great Britain and had come into Israel, and then eventually made their way to the Gaza Strip and then back into Tel Aviv, and this was the first time in the history of Israel that foreign nationals committed a suicide bombing.


Schachter: And you did make a film about this. Why remake it now as a graphic novel? What does a graphic novel do that the film didn’t or couldn’t?


Baxter: Well, it’s a storyboard of what a film is. It can get more into the personalities and the bigger story, because the bigger story is that the ramification of international terrorism showing its face and its terror in Tel Aviv is a subject that we couldn’t really do in the documentary but we can flesh out in this graphic novel.


Schachter: I just have one question for you. I actually lived there in Jerusalem at the time that this happened in 2003, and I did not get down to Tel Aviv very much to go anywhere, whether to Mike’s Place or anywhere else. But when I did get down to Tel Aviv, I was really scared, because in Jerusalem things blew up a lot, and I was always shocked by the sort of laissez fairness of Tel Aviv. And Mike’s Place kind of exemplified that. Part of me feels, from reading the novel, that you guys were a little naive at the time about what was going on. It was a dangerous, dangerous time during the intifada then.


Baxter: I guess we were naive to some extent. I remember Gal Ganzman and his brother, Assaf Ganzman, who were the co-owners of Mike’s Place--I remember that they had said to me, “Well, nobody is going to attack Mike’s Place because we’re just a bunch of hippies here, and we really have nothing to do with the conflict.” But in my estimation, the reason why it was attacked especially, the early morning hours of the day that the Quartet roadmap was being presented to the Palestinians and Israelis, is that it was meant to derail the Road Map for Peace plan, put a serious crimp in that, and especially since it was right next door to the American embassy, to send the United States a message that “there is not going to be peace here.” “Those of us who are in the business of terrorism are going to derail this.” So, the naiveté, yeah, I guess we did have some of that. But it was a hopeful time, in one way, that the road map would be presented and that maybe there was a chance for peace.  But it didn’t work out like that, as we’ve seen.


Schachter: Jack Baxter is the co-creator of the new graphic novel, “Mike’s Place.” Jack, thank you so much for taking time out to speak with us.


Baxter: Thank you.