I have an e-mail problem. Until further notice, I will not be reachable, although those who have my number are invited to call (not too late, please, if you want a polite Imshin to answer the phone). If you can't wait for me to sort this out, you can always leave me a comment on my Hebrew blog, although I don't check my comments there as often as maybe I should.
why not a fish
Saturday, March 01, 2003
I’m getting a bit fed up of saying this, but I think it’s important to stress it again and again: Contrary to some things I’ve been reading in some foreign publications, attempts to perpetrate terrorist attacks in Israel have not ceased, they are being STOPPED by Israeli forces.
A Palestinian on his way from Bethlehem to carry out an attack at the stadium was seized at the entrance to the city. Later, security forces found a three-and-a-half kilogram explosives belt meant for use by the bomber.
According to the data, there were 41 terror attacks in Jerusalem in 2002, including 17 suicide bombings. Eleven attempted suicide attacks were thwarted by the police.
I got fed up long ago of writing about it every time a bombing here was prevented, I'm not a reporter after all, so I don’t do it any more. But this is a nearly daily occurrence. I think even the Israeli papers are fed up of reporting it, but we hear it on the radio continuously. And we mustn't forget the bombardment of Israeli town of Sderot with Kassam rockets. It’s a miracle no one has yet been killed from one of these rockets, although a few have been badly injured. We didn’t go into Beit Hanoun in Gaza for the fun of it.
And the Oscar goes to
Tim Blair noticed the most hilarious anti-anti-war column ever, by Julie Burchill, in today’s Guardian: Silly show-offs against Saddam! This one you have to click through to. I wonder how she got it past the censors. What a waste to have this in the Guardian. Their readers probably weren’t at all amused.
I must say, I find these "anti-war" people fascinating.
[By the way, the Oscar goes to Imshin for the silliest, most disconnected title ever for a post.]
After the attack
In this weekend’s Yediot Aharonot (the weekend newsy supplement is really good) Smadar Perry discussed the controversies that surround head of the Iraqi opposition Ahmad Chalabi. For instance, his criminal status in Jordan. He was apparently given a twenty-year prison sentence there, in his absence, for leaving the bank he owned there, the Petra Bank, with a 200 million dollar debt.
Professor Amatzia Baram of Haifa University, a veteran expert on Iraq, who has just returned from a series of meetings in Washington, was asked his opinion. “I know the American administration has an interest in constructing a democracy in Iraq, but because of the problems that will crop up – my estimate is that democracy will only be possible in two or three years.” He says “the first days after the attack will pose a great challenge to the Americans. They will have to immediately commence rebuilding the infrastructure, which will have been damaged in the attack. At the same time, they will have to make an effort to avoid internal massacres. There is a danger that immediately following occupation the Shiites will begin slaughtering members of Saddam’s Suni regime”, and he anticipates “revenge campaigns: People who were harmed will track down the murderers and the rapists that harmed their family members, and try to kill them.
There is also the danger that Saddam and Kusai’s Presidential Guards will respond to the attack with unconventional weapons, aimed at Americans and Shiites. It is necessary to be prepared for acts of revenge, and then revenge of revenge. The initial effort given over to this will determine the future of the American stay in Baghdad”.
Baram doesn’t see a real problem if Saddam and his sons survive the attack. He says a big enough money offer to those in resistance pockets will eventually persuade someone to betray them. I don’t know. It didn’t work with bin Laden, did it?
It’s hard to believe that a few days ago we were in the middle of a storm, a snowstorm in some parts of the country. Today was warm, sunny and dry. We wanted to get the girls out of the house a bit so we all went for a walk in the old Tel Aviv port. It’s no longer a functional port. They’re slowly renovating the old quay and after years of being very run down, in recent years it has become quite trendy, with nightclubs and cafes springing up. It's actually quite nice there now. Today it was full of families enjoying the lovely weather, walking along the pier bridge thing and enjoying the blue sky and the beautiful calm blue sea. We reckoned that the cafes in the actual quay would probably be tourist traps and we sat down for a hummous a few steps away from the port. The weather was nice enough to sit outside. Not too hot and not too cold. Just right.
Friday, February 28, 2003
As you can see, we didn't go. I'm getting fed up with the girls being ill all the time. It hasn't been this bad since they were toddlers and started with the kindergarten illnesses. One good thing is that Eldest has been under the weather for a few weeks now, off and on and no asthma.
The bag is still packed and ready by the door. I would like to say it's my protest at the unfairness of the world, but I'm just lazy.
Talking about unfairness, did you hear about our pal Yasser? I wonder if they take this into account when they calculate the Palestinian average income.
I'm just being mean. It's probably all from Suha's royalties.
Thursday, February 27, 2003
A bedtime thought
People who are a hundred percent sure of their opinions make me nervous. They make me suspicious. Isn’t it natural to be at least a little bit uncertain? Isn’t it understandable to think that such and such is probably the best course of action, for instance, but we can’t be completely sure of this? These people who are so sure, what makes them so secure in their knowledge of what is right and what is wrong?
An explanation why Africa has so much AIDS. Awful.
None so blind
Even if it turns out not to be a relevant comparison, it seems very foolish to fail to see the similarities. Shlomo Avineri, professor of political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, continues the discussion of the most significant historic parallel of today’s situation with regard to Iraq.
It is today a commonplace that Europe's behavior in the 1930's in facing Nazi Germany was morally wrong and politically disastrous. Yet like the Bourbons, some European statesmen have not forgotten anything or learned anything from one of Europe's most shameful chapters of history.
So one has to wonder why people who view the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930's as wrong find it difficult to admit that there may be no other way but to use force against Saddam when his record is much worse than that of Hitler in 1936.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
IDF soldiers fight back
Five reserve soldiers have filed a libel suit against Muhammad Bakri, director of the "Jenin, Jenin" movie.
"The film portrays itself as a documentary, and presents so-called testimonies and facts," the reservists charged in their lawsuit. The soldiers claim the film includes scenes of alleged cruelty on their part, including unjustified gunfire and the harming of innocent children, and that all these incidents are fabricated.
"We received an emergency call-up order and went out to fight in order to defend our homes," said one of the reservists who brought the lawsuit, quoted in Haaretz. "We fought slowly, day after day, in order to avoid harming the civilian population. This film portrays us as war criminals."
Look what appeared in my mailpox…er…box:
THE PISTACHIOS WERE THE FIRST TO GO
By Helen Schary Motro
My first mistake was jumping back and forth between the stations, listening to the commentators on Channels 11, 22 and 10 spout wisdom as if their fingers were on the pulse of Rumsfeld at the very least, if not the great white chief himself.
"It's a matter of a few days, weeks at most," they chanted like a Greek chorus on every channel. They gave me no choice but to acknowledge the severity of my dereliction. We had reached this midnight hour - but my storage room aka bomb shelter held nothing but an assortment of bottled water which I had sporadically lugged home when it was on special at the supermarket or the gas station.
If we are stuck in there, what would we have for nourishment? Sadly, I had to admit, only the dusty bottles of wine left over from bygone Passovers. The next morning I hurried out to the market to finally buy the supplies I had so negligently put off.
I whizzed down the aisles, piling my cart high with all the non-perishables in the best example I have ever seen of impulse buying: juices, cookies, crackers, canned peaches, long-life milk, wafers, pistachio nuts, cereal, chocolate. Then into every available crevice of the cart I wedged corn, corn, and more corn.
Of cabbages and kings II
While the Likud was fighting out the government jobs, today, I was blissfully unaware, at home with the girls. I don’t usually listen to the radio at home. Eldest’s school councilor called and reminded us to enroll for middle school. No queuing up any more, this is the second year running it’s been done in Tel Aviv via Internet. So the deed is done. Eldest was very excited, although she was quite sure about her choice. In the afternoon we went to the doctor and I heard on the radio on the way that I’d been missing all the fun.
Look who's back after three months of silence - Nikita as in Life by...
The dreary life of the intellectual
I’m starting to get it. The big big difference between Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot is that Yediot has GOOD NEWS too. All those little “human interest” stories are nice. The woman who marched through the snow to hospital to give birth, and the one who didn’t and gave birth at home; an amusing description of someone’s unsuccessful attempts to build a snowman with the kids; wonderful color photos of a white Jerusalem; Arik Sharon’s 75th birthday… These are nowhere to be found in Haaretz (These photos are all for Haaretz's foreign readers. Only two of them appear in today's Hebrew print version).
All you get in Haaretz is bad news of apocalyptic dimensions. Those old bores need to loosen up.
What should we blow up next, Uncle?
For those of you who don’t read Diane before you read me, she carefully read a very long Financial Times article, about a top al Qaeda operative called Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, for us (I had to type it out to read at my leisure). The Financial Times guys have apparently been playing connect the dots. Diane, probably the only person to read this article (I’ll get to it. The girls are sick; I was called home from work. So it might even be this morning, right after I do the laundry), noticed a very interesting family connection (not to Diane, silly – to Ramzi Youssef of 1993 WTC bombing fame, of course). And she doesn’t neglect to point out the Iraq connection, as well, found elsewhere.
[OK, I read it. It reminds me of those books I used to read in the late seventies, early eighties, about international terrorists like Carlos and Bader-Meinhoff. Full of exciting details. I sort of lost the trail somewhere round the Philippines.]
So Shinui, National Religious Party and National Unity it is.
It seems the Frog is back. Writing a bit about the politics I can't be bothered with. Haven't really got time. Let me just say I'm extremely satisfied with the ministries Shinui got: Lapid - Justice Minister ("Yesh!" Sorry, in-joke - this was his campaign thing. You had to be there...) and Vice (Do you say vice or deputy, as in Deputy Dawg?) Prime Minister; Poraz - Interior Minister (more about this some other time, trust me, this is the greatest); Paritsky - National Infrastructure Minister (that means he has the finger on Electricity Company's plug and in a position to do something about their shameless greed) and so on (can't remember the rest offhand and I'm hurrying to work. Posting this is very naughty as it is).
Meanwhile the ultra-religious parties are foaming at the mouth at being left out, especially Shas. To hear them you'd think Lapid's already started constructing concentration camps for Sephardis as we speak. Their revered Rabbi, Ovadia Yossef, is lashing out. This is one of his particular talents. The man may be the great Torah scholar of our day, I wouldn't know about that, but he certainly has a mouth like a sewer. More about this at Gil's (and some great photos of the water situation).
Having Shinui controlling the Interior Ministry is Shas' worst nightmare come true. But it's my idea of heaven. Especially with Poraz as minister. It's making my mouth water. Literally.
One thing I'm enjoying, in the sickest possible way, is watching Labor squabbling. Now that it's final that they're out of the government, they've started bringing out the knives. And using them on each other. Mitzna is still adamant that Labor did so badly in the elections because they sat in Sharon's government. He never gives up. What an obstinate mule. When he decides something, nothing will move him. And we need this fool as a top minister in the government because? I'm rather relieved that they're sitting this one out. I'm told that it's in our national interest that they be in the government, I just can't feel any enthusiasm about the idea. Just as well, because it's not going to happen. Not right now, anyway.
Not that I'm over the moon about National Unity (far right), mind you.
One last thing - popular Israeli TV interviewer, Yair Lapid, last night interviewed his father, Tommy Lapid, on his show. It was brilliant. I’m sorry I don’t have a transcript for you.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Stormy weather, including snow in Jerusalem, but it seems to be refusing to stick there so far. It's stuck good and strong in the Golan, though. It’s cold and stormy in Tel Aviv, too. And very very windy (Did I tell you a friend of mine's balcony collapsed last week? That was during a previous storm. She said she lay awake shivering all night, listening to the noise of everything crashing, but was too terrified to go out and see. Just as well). Friends in Jerusalem fled from work to their homes in the Jerusalem suburbs at lunchtime yesterday, afraid they would be unable to get home later on.
Bish heard it was going to snow in Mitzpe Ramon. I was working late yesterday, and Bish suggested he just put the girls in the car and take them. But Eldest wasn't very well, she came home with a bad cold, so we shelved the idea for the time being. I read it has started to snow there now.
They’re saying the climax of the storm will be today.
Oh, and have you heard that we seem to have a government? Later.
Update: Jerusalem and surrounding mountains were covered with snow today, as were the Golan and the Galilee. A house was reported to have fallen down today in Upper Nazareth, right on top of another house built just below it on the mountainside. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Go see the great photos Harry took. I could be dead jealous, but I could also say: They have to live there all year round, they deserve it more than we do. The funny thing is, most Jerusalemites actually like living there. Go figure.
Answer for Diane about ma'amouls
My mother-in-law makes her ma'amouls with ordinary flour - 4 cups to 300g butter (Which makes it a dairy dish. I can't say Milchik about a Sephardi dish, it doesn't sound right and I don't know the Ladino.), 1/4 cup icing sugar and 1/3 cup rose water mixed with milk. If the mixture is too dry, add more of the rose water and milk mixture.
In case you were asking yourself - hey, what about the date mixture, this is not a full recipe. Just answering Diane's question. But all this has given me incentive to get the whole recipe. I am the worst baker in history. Just ask my youngest. She'll be happy to tell you her favorite story - how she told Ima that the cake was ready, and Ima said not yet, and then the cake burnt. But if it's written down, my daughters, who are undoubtedly more talented than their mother in all respects, will be able to make ma'amouls when they're older. Actually, I've been discussing with Youngest an idea a friend gave me, to start a documentation of my mother-in-laws recipes.
I haven't forgotten that I owe you her recipe for red lentil soup. I'm just finding it a bit difficult. I've been making it for years, based on her instructions. I just throw in the amount of ingredients that seems right at the moment I make it. I did try to write it down a few times and I couldn't decide what amounts to give. I have new admiration for the effort that goes into writing cookery books.
Monday, February 24, 2003
A Jazz band?! They got a Jazz band at lunchtime?! They had to give up weekend trips to Cyprus and shiatsu massages, though. Ahhhhhhh, that’s too bad.
Actually, I can’t complain. Most of my co-workers wouldn’t know a Jazz band if it hit them on the head with hammer. And they wouldn’t thank anyone for force-feeding them with anything like that while they were trying to eat. Eyal Golan, on the other hand…
This is not a newspaper! This is a…a…a….a gossip-about-uninteresting-people-paper. Did you know that SPORTS is the most popular class among Israeli school children? I thought you didn’t. And did you know that most Israeli mothers think motherhood has proved DETRIMENTAL to their careers? Well, now you know! Aren’t you a happier, more fulfilled person as a result? Yeah, me too. And you’ll all be relieved to hear that Sarit Hadad, popular Israeli singer, did not collapse and was not hospitalized over the weekend, contrary to rampant rumors.
ARE THERE NO DECENT HEBREW NEWSPAPERS IN THIS COUNTRY?
So here’s the plan Bish and I have come up with. We beg, steal or borrow and become disgustingly rich. Then we buy an existing paper and fix it up so it is neither exasperatingly left wing nor offensively yellow. Hey, it worked for Conrad Black.
Sunday, February 23, 2003
Last of the (small) giants.
Today was a busy day at the very large Yarkon Cemetery, which serves Tel Aviv and its satellites. “It’s Sunday,” Someone said, knowingly. I think he meant that all those that had died on Shabbat were being buried. A colleague’s mother had died. It was the first funeral I’d been to since Mum’s and I wondered how I’d feel. I was fine, but I realized that no funeral would ever be the same for me again. I’d always be partly burying Mum. During the actual burial, I found myself surreptitiously examining graves to see how the Hebron stone ages. That’s what we used for Mum’s grave.
Walking along, on the way to the burial site, I saw a group of my co-workers congregating over a fresh grave we were passing. They had noticed that there were an unusual amount of wreaths on it, many with very interesting inscriptions on them, and had stopped to see who it was. It was Isser Harel, mythological founder of Israeli security agencies, the Mossad and the Shabak, and the man most responsible for their reputation. The flowers were still very fresh. The funeral couldn’t have been over long.
We stood there for a moment, in awe. One of my co-workers commented on the fact that such a man had such a humble burial place, but actually it was entirely appropriate. This was obviously not a materialistic man or someone overly concerned with public recognition. During the many years he was one of the strongest men in the country, few ordinary Israelis even knew his name. But don’t be fooled, I remember reading that his subordinates were terrified of him.
His grave was the first in a whole new area, as if in death, as in life, he was staking out new territory. I guess they had to have room for all the people who attended the funeral.
Update: Obituary in the Jerusalem Post:
Yes! Bish has decided he just can’t take it any more. Having held out for nearly a year of my lobbying (not nagging!), claiming he couldn’t read anything but Haaretz with his morning coffee, he finally gave in. This morning we subscribed to Yediot Aharonot. We’ll give it a few days trial and then we plan to finally end our fifteen-year subscription to Haaretz.
And this is the straw that broke the Bish’s back. I think I'll have it framed.
Update: I admit I'm going to miss things like this:
"In Holland after World War II, a law was passed that Jewish children who had been hidden during the war would not be returned to their parents."
Saturday, February 22, 2003
The three minute man?
"In a book published after he was sacked, the president's former chauffeur, Jean-Claude Laumond, says female staff at party headquarters dubbed Chirac "the three-minute man" because of his speedy sexual liaisons.
Laumond says: "They came down the stairs with their eyes twinkling and their tights twisted like corkscrews.""
Bish and I rarely go out in the evenings. We have found that even if we make plans, by the time we manage to leave, we are both so exhausted from our long day, that we don’t really enjoy ourselves. And, after a late night, the next day is hell. I have to be at work at 7am. Besides, we can never agree on what to do. He would rather go out for a meal. I hate eating late. I love a good play. He’d rather watch the basketball on TV.
Every now and again, I decide we should invest in what they call here our “zoogiyoot”, one of those silly words that dime psychologists and other idiots discuss with self-importance on morning television. I think. I’m never home in the morning and if I am, I’ve better things to do than watch someone showing how to do flower arrangements or introducing the latest natural cure for warts, not that these subjects are not worthy and might even be interesting to some. Anyway, zoogiyoot would probably translate literally as something in the realm of “Couple-dom” or “Couple-ism”. The dictionary translates it as “intimacy” but that’s all wrong. It just doesn’t manage to catch the ludicrous aspect of the concept of zoogiyoot.
So, as I was saying, I occasionally think it might be a good idea for us to do something together (Doesn’t that sound more sensible than “investing in our couple-ism?”). The last time was quite a while ago. I suggested it to Bish, who agreed, reluctantly. Bish used to work as a waiter. He more than exhausted any hunger he might have had for any sort of nightlife before he even met me. I perused “Achbar Ha’ir” (= City Mouse), which gives information about Tel Aviv nightlife, and managed to find a familiar name of a rock musician who had a show on trying out some sort of classical arrangements of his repertoire. Relieved to find someone who was actually born in those far off days when I was young and fancy free, and young men used to take me out to try to impress me, I decided that that was a suitable choice. Do I sound like I miss that, by the way? Well, I don’t. First of all there were not all that many of them, young men, that is. And considering the pressure of the whole thing and what terrible torture most of the dates turned out to be, if I can rack my brains that far back, I’m quite happy to be out of it.
But I digress, again. Bish suggested we go with another couple. So much for a romantic evening, working on our couple-ism. On the night in question, the babysitter arrived, clothes were flung around until I was happy (what do you wear to these things these days?) and after some further messing about (our friends’ babysitter was late) we were finally off. When we got to the place there was an enormous queue. Lucky we had a reservation. We eventually managed to get inside. It was a musty, low-roofed basement, down scores of winding stairs and we were shown to our table, in a far-flung, hardly accessible corner. I immediately needed to go to the bathroom, naturally, which meant fighting my way back up the winding stairs, this time against the flow. Later, back in my seat, as the basement slowly but surely filling up to sardine capacity (smoked sardines at that, no adherence to no smoking laws in this place), the thought crossed my mind that there were no emergency exits that I could see, and we were pretty far away from the winding staircase. I’m a bit claustrophobic at the best of times, but this time my slightly panicky feelings seemed justified. We were in a firetrap. I soon remedied the problem by downing a nice big glass of wine and forgot about it. The show was great.
Last night, watching the horrific pictures of that nightclub catching fire, reawakened those unspoken fears that I felt that evening. You could see that the cameraman who was filming it all realized what was happening long before anyone else, because he was gradually edging himself to the exit, away from the fire. But everyone else seemed oblivious. Maybe the cameraman was the only sober person in the place.
Just people who wanted to have a good time. Aren’t there enough dangers out there that we can’t control, that such a thing should happen?
People think of the cutest names for their sites.
Wiggle Worm Farms is a friendly site with links to just about everything. And guess what? I’ve got a cool link there, too, right on the home page. Yippee!
Grow a Brain Cafe has all sorts of unusual links. Perfect for a rainy Saturday afternoon. I’ve spent hours there and haven’t even got started yet.
Both have the nice fresh flavor of non-commercial sites made by people having fun.
Friday, February 21, 2003
Purim is nearly here.
I usually spend the month before Purim furiously sewing fancy-dress costumes for the girls. I ask them what they would like to be in Purim and they often have some pretty unusual ideas. Last year Eldest and her friend were an enormous pair of boots, complete with (fake) white fur round the top, Santa Claus style. My masterpiece to date. It was quite a project. The big problem turned out to be finding stuff to put on to reduce the flammability (They were completely covered by felt and sponge stuff and I was a bit worried). Bish eventually found a factory in Petah Tikva that manufactures the spray used by upholsterers for furniture. It took ages to dry. Then I had to spend the whole day at school with them, helping with the logistics, such as getting up and down the stairs!
As you can see, I regard it as a personal challenge to make whatever idea they come up with, however difficult. People think I’m mad, you can buy really nice, inexpensive costumes these days, but where’s the fun in that?
I’ve been hinting to the girls that they have to decide soon or we won’t be ready in time. Eldest said she wants something more comfortable this year. She’s decided on something really easy. More than easy, but I’m not telling beforehand. Youngest had this costume when she was five and I still have the props and they will fit Eldest as well.
So now we have to see what Youngest wants. It’s helpful if they don’t both want difficult things.
Thursday, February 20, 2003
I've also been asked my opinion on Neturei Karta. This is a tiny and inconsequential sect of fiercely and vehemently anti-Zionist ultra-ultra-religious Jews. Their views are accepted here by no one but themselves. They have no Israeli following and I don’t think they even have a Jewish following overseas (am I wrong?). I know nothing about them (the only thing that comes to mind is that their women wear black scarves over their shaven heads). They live in Jerusalem. I live in Tel Aviv. I never even see them. They don’t interest me or anyone else and neither do their views, as far as I know. Maybe Tal is more knowledgeable about them. He lives in Jerusalem.
However, considering their extremely marginal position in Jewish society and the bored disdain, if not plain indifference, with which they are widely regarded in Israel, in religious circles as well, it is significant that Yasser Arafat, accepted leader of the Palestinians, a man who claims he wants to make peace with the Israeli people, should choose Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, a leader of this fanatic group of Israel haters, as his advisor on Jewish affairs. Is this not an important declaration of Arafat’s vision of peace with Israel?
Update: The Head Heeb develops this subject. I see the the Dhimmi Guy also discusses. These guys have more information than me. Obviously Neturei Karta and other ant-Zionist frummers are more vocal in the Diaspora. Here they risk having their social benefits cut off if they go too far (they also risk being beaten up on by hot-headed right-wing Jerusalemites). Note the absurd. They live like leeks off my hard earned taxes, but hate my guts and would have my home destroyed (In case any one was wondering where Shinui party sprung from).
Nice to see I started an interesting discussion.
The significance of Hirsch is in the symbolism. It's not as if the other ministers in Arafat's government have any say anyway. Arafat calls all the shots. The ministers have political significance but no actual effect whatsoever on the ministries they head (thus when Salam Fayed accepted the treasury he demanded autonomy, but I don't know if he really got it or how much). Arafat makes all the decisions, from the largest and most important to the smallest and most trivial. So whether Hirsch takes part in cabinet meetings is of no relevance, because Arafat has no orders to give him anyway.
The honor Arafat bestows on Hirsch gives us an opportunity to peek into Arafat's mind, and see what he really thinks and intends. It's a pity Israeli leaders didn't heed this during the nineties, and call him on it.
I've been asked what I meant by “So why is it that so many westerners believe that this is not possible for their former neighbors?”
What I meant is that based on the Israeli experience, Arabs, Muslims and, I suppose, other peoples who haven't had the good fortune to been born in a western democracy, have the capacity to handle a more participatory style of governance, even if it turns out to be very different from the European interpretation.
It is true that second and third (not to mention fourth and fifth) generation Israelis are very different from their parents and grandparents, wherever they came from. The truly amazing thing about Israel is that its democratic foundations were laid by Eastern Europeans long before there was any sort of democratic tradition in their countries of origin. And it was further built up by people from many corners of the earth, the great majority of whom were not the immigrants or descendants of immigrants from established democracies. People here are such a diverse mixture, but still, God knows how, IT WORKS. We are the best proof you can get that democracy is possible even in the most improbable of places and situations, with the most problematic of people. The question, with regard to Israeli society, is not why there are so many deep and seemingly insoluble rifts, but why there are not more, and how is it we have not yet all killed each other. I know, I know, some are trying, but the rest of us are managing to work together long enough to fight off those who would have us all dead.
I accept that we had a problem with the fact that non-Israeli Arabs in our midst, the Palestinians in the territories, did not participate in the democratic process here (as opposed to Israeli Arabs who do participate fully in Israeli democratic process). Oslo, as I saw it, and I think many other Israelis did too, was to be the solution of that problem. The creation of a State of Palestine, alongside the State of Israel, which I naively believed would be democratic, was to give the Palestinians an opportunity to shape their own destiny at last. That this did not happen is not the fault of the Israelis. The Palestinians had seven long years to lay the foundations for such an entity and they chose not to.
I hope some day they will come to their senses and make an effort to persuade us that they mean to live with us here in peace, and then maybe they will get another chance to build such a state.
Today found me in the Negev. It was an unlikely day for a trip with work. Stormy. But it was amazing to see how much it had changed in the few months since my last visit to Mitzpe Ramon. I'm beginning to pine a bit for our little southern hideaway, but it's very difficult to get away. I'm hoping next weekend.
I've already told you a few times that it has been unusually rainy this winter. The desert looked different. The lower areas and the wadis were partly covered with a thin green plume of delicate grass, little flowers and shrubs. Incredible. The goats were all out with their Bedouin goatherds, enjoying the fresh greenery.
We didn’t get as far as Mitzpe Ramon today. I wonder what it looks like there.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
The haphazard results of today’s woolgathering
Up till about ten years ago or so, although I'm not sure exactly when the change to plastic cards came about, all the public phones in Israel were operated by little tokens with holes in the middle. My mother always used to send me back to the army after a visit home with a pipe cleaner (left over from Dad's pipe smoking years) twisted into a ring with about twenty to thirty tokens thread on it, so I could keep in touch ("Why didn't you use your cell phone, Ima?" "We didn't have them in those days, dear". Gasp of horror mixed with pity when contemplating poor mother who grew up in the dark ages.).
A short explanation for Martians or readers aged thirteen or less (and I hope the comparison causes neither offense): You had to put your token in the phone, or more than one if you intended to make an inter-city call, listen for the tone and then dial. When the other side answered the phone, the token dropped. From here stems the popular Hebrew phrase "Nafal lo ha'asimon" or "Yarad lo ha'asimon" literally translated as "the token has dropped for him" or "his token has gone down". It means, of course, "He got it" or "He suddenly understood it", an Israeli equivalent of "Eureka!" or a light bulb going on in a little bubble over a cartoon character's head. The funny thing is that young people, like my girls, who have never seen a token operated public phone, continue to use this phrase, without knowing where it comes from or what it really means.
I have had quite a few big tokens dropping in the past two and a half years. This has definitely been a serious token dropping period of my life. Actually, all of life is a series of tokens dropping (Wow. That was deep! I've cracked the meaning of life, at last!). Blogging is especially full of dropping tokens, because instead of just floating mindlessly along, you find yourself trying to translate the sensation of floating into words in order to share it with your readers. It's like the first time I used a public phone in Eilat to call home in the north. It took just two seconds for five or six tokens to drop and I started scrambling hysterically to get more tokens in before I got cut off.
When I was reading the Haaretz article about Israeli artist Mosh Kashi I linked to on Thursday a token dropped with regard to something or other. Just a little one, not a transatlantic call. I’m not quite able to put it in to words just yet, but it’ll come to me eventually. In the part that wasn't translated into English, Kashi talked about quality and, in this regard, discussed the importance of food in his childhood home. He said his ability to appreciate good food is something he has taken with him in life, so that the first time he tastes a type of food, wherever he is in the world, and he gives the example of sushi, he can tell if it is of good quality or not. This is true for him regardless of his extremely humble beginnings.
He also talked of his mother inspiring him artistically with the way she made ma'amouls. These are little date filled parcels of dough, absolutely scrumptious. My mother-in-law excels at these. When Kashi described his mother making them, I could clearly see my mother-in-law sitting patiently, and lovingly shaping each one in her fingers and gently laying it on the baking tray. She can spend hours doing this, and make hundreds. And when she's finished the ma'amouls she'll start on the homemade marzipan, which she calls by its Ladino name, massapan.
Things have a different pace in the east.
In the east, there seems to be more time to enjoy life's richness, and in the east, if the Jews are anything to go by, this is not a pleasure to be experienced by the wealthy alone. There seems to be time to make at home and enjoy foods that are complicated to produce and rich to the palate; to roast your own coffee beans; to bring the coffee (no, not “instant”!) to the boil three times in the finjan; to listen enraptured to a twenty minute long love song, in which the singer only begins to sing after a ten minute instrumental introduction. And I’m talking ordinary, “uneducated” people, not just culture vultures.
In the east, quality seems to be measured differently than in the west.
My life is western and I like it, but whenever I have slowed down and taken the time to slightly touch things more eastern I have been enriched by them.
Mosh Kashi is not what you'd call an "ethnic" or “eastern” artist. His work is modern, precise. But if I understand him correctly, certain qualities that were present in his impoverished home, empowered him to circumvent the barriers that stood between him and what he wanted to do, what he wanted to be. Having seen my mother-in-law patiently making ma’amouls and other foods that are also extremely time-consuming and often laborious with such amazing peace of mind, completely unencumbered by the multitude of other things she had to do, I can understand how this would prepare Kashi for creating works of art like these. And it gives me an insight into how, like Mosh Kashi, but in different ways, both my mother-in-law’s sons grew up to be such special people.
A very large proportion of Israelis are people who were born and bred in Arab or Muslim countries or are the children or grandchildren of those who were born and bred in Arab or Muslim countries. These are no longer people expected to merge into an existing society like in the early days, or like in other places in the world to which they emigrate. They are the existing society (a fact that exposes the absurdity of claims that Israel is a European colonizing entity). They are an integral part of our society’s very essence, so much so that in many instances, to single them out is becoming increasingly artificial and forced (and is usually the practice of politicians and social activists who stand to gain from emphasizing social rifts, not to mention a certain ignorant blogger).
And, surprise surprise, they largely accept democracy as the best (or the least bad) mode of government.
So why is it that so many westerners believe that this is not possible for their former neighbors?
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Monday, February 17, 2003
Hellooo! Is anybody there?
I'm getting the feeling I'm all alone. No one seems to be posting. Has this got something to do with the blizzard? I hope everyone is okay.
Even as an emotional manipulation this stands out
Like many others, I tend to be suspicious of people in positions of power, not just because power corrupts but also because I ask myself what their motivation was in the first place to be willing to pay the heavy price required to reach such a position. But every so often, someone in a position of power does something that I find truly inspirational, something that leaves me speechless (a feat indeed!). This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. When I was in the army, the then Major General Ehud Barak did something that still moves me to this day. Please forgive me, I know it's annoying, but for various reasons, I would rather not say what it was, although it's not a military secret or anything. I just don't think I can explain why it affected me the way it did. Today I am a different person and if it happened today, I don't think it would touch me in quite the same way. But I will continue to admire Barak for it, no matter what came after, and what is still to come.
My first impression of Tony Blair was quite positive. He seemed nice, charismatic, clean cut. I didn't think much of his wife, though, poor woman. She just has a face you love to hate (and she doesn’t like cats). Then I saw a program about Blair on TV. It was before he won the elections the first time. Naturally everyone was curious about him back then. The Brits obviously liked what they saw, because they voted him in, but I wasn't very impressed. He seemed too slick, far too smooth. The people who made the program filmed him meeting ordinary people of very different types, and just talking to them, listening to their grievances and sharing his thoughts about what should be done. He seemed to say to everyone he met exactly what he or she wanted to hear. "Typical slimy politician", I thought to myself and I didn't regard him very highly after that. Not that I really followed his career as prime minister or took much notice what he was doing. I don't live in the UK and I don't have the vote there. It's not as if he had any direct affect on my life, after all.
But on Saturday he earned my everlasting admiration.
On Saturday he faced not only a hostile audience of his own party members in the conference he was speaking at in Glasgow, but he also faced one million demonstrators and who knows how many millions more of their supporters, most of whom probably voted for him. Knowing quite clearly that he was destroying his political career with his own two lily-white hands, as it were, he did not attempt to appease them. Instead he said to them (my interpretation): I respect why you are marching, I respect your “understandable hatred of war” and your “moral purpose”, but there comes a time when war is inevitable.
This was of course very impressive, but it is not what won my admiration. The words that struck me, and stayed with me, and that I have read over and over and over again, were in these three sentences, so strong, so wise, so painfully aware and therefore so very sad:
"I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor. But sometimes it is the price of leadership. And the cost of conviction."
British prime minister Tony Blair, whatever he may do from this day on, has won a permanent place of honor in my private little, sparsely-inhabited, Hall of Fame for Great People.
Palestinian leaders review the situation
It looks like some Palestinian leaders and commentators are trying to learn the lessons of the unequivocal message the Israeli electorate sent the Palestinians in these elections.
The translation of columnist Taufiq Abu Bakr's article is especially interesting.
"In history, you have opportunities and risks. When the train of history comes by the station where you stand, you should not hesitate to board it... Hesitating at crucial historic moments is fatal. Calm and acceptance of the Clinton initiative in time for the February 2001 elections would have prevented Sharon's rise and the sweeping shift towards the Right in the Israeli street. Had the Taba talks taken place a few days after the initiative proposal, the face of Palestinian history might have been changed. This is a fact from which many flee..."
Were the Hamas operatives that were killed yesterday (in a “work accident”? By the IDF?) in Gaza, working on an unmanned drone airplane, preparing it for blowing up in Israel? Palestinian sources told Ynet that the Hamas was just bragging when they released the statement to that effect. The Hamas denies the blast that killed them was a “work accident” and blames Israel, but the same Palestinian sources confirm that it was, in fact, inadvertently self-inflicted, while preparing explosive devices. These “work accidents” are not uncommon. Maariv points out that access to the scene of the blast was immediately prevented. This is unusual, a sign that the event was “sensitive” (If I remember correctly, they usually do this in cases suspected of being such self-inflicted “work accidents”). Maariv doesn’t refute the Hamas drone story and also says that people in the area noticed an IDF drone flying in the vicinity just before the blast. Well, you know what they say: it takes a drone to catch a drone. Haaretz tells it a bit differently. This is getting a bit confusing. It’s like that old joke (truth?) that two Jews have three opinions.
Moving right long, the IDF has caught Riad Abu Zeid, a top Hamas terrorist this morning in Gaza. He was wounded, trying to escape, but is now under IDF custody.
Bigwig discusses how this war with Iraq will differ from the previous one. Good stuff. I hope none of the Iraqi bigwigs are reading it.
Dressing for success
Now that Bish is The Chairman (That makes me, what? The Chairman’s wife? The girls at work are already calling me Suha.), I suggested that maybe the time has come for him to buy himself a suit. After all, now that he is representing a largish group of his professional peers he surely wants to make a good impression.
Now anyone who has ever visited Israel will know that it’s quite possible to reach the ripe old age of forty here without ever having been in possession of a suit. Actually Bish did wear a suit for his Bar-Mitzva, an utterly revolting brown and beige thing, judging by the faded photos. Thankfully, he outgrew that about twenty-six years ago.
Before our wedding, when Bish happened to mention to my Mum that he intended to show up for the ceremony in blue jeans and sandals, she nearly had a fit. I knew he was joking because he never wears sandals. Well, he didn’t wear blue jeans and sandals, but he didn’t wear a suit, either.
Now he has started to realize that he probably will have to have some decent clothes for public appearances, but a suit? That’s going too far. “Why don’t you pop into one of the posh men’s shops on Kikar Hamedina?” I suggested, “And get yourself one good suit.”
The weeks passed and nothing happened. Yesterday, he walks in from work with one of those suit-bag thingies over his shoulder, a really posh one, and he’s looking as happy as a twelve year-old who’s just won a soccer game in the school yard (sorry, Americans won’t get it any more than I do). Out he brings a beautiful Italian blazer, sort of casual, but you can see it’s excellent quality (“What color is this exactly?” He asks me. I’d say it’s charcoal.). Don’t ask how much it cost, I thought the price was the serial number.
So, there we have it. Not exactly a suit, but at least something decent looking. Now we’re getting somewhere. My Bish the flashy dresser. Of course, he does think it looks best with his old blue jeans and a T-shirt. I give up.
It is inconceivable that Belgium could possibly forget such a debt.
Lynn B. - the Menin Gate.
Sunday, February 16, 2003
Diane made a stand for freedom in New York yesterday. Good for you, Diane.
And after Iraq…
Before the revolution in Iran in 1979, Israel had very good relations with Iran. A cousin of my mother’s lived there for a few years. I think her husband was a representative of an Israeli company there. I remember sitting in her kitchen, when she got back, listening to her tell about what life was like there. I have often wondered how it could be that all the people in Iran could have had such a complete change of heart about Israel.
Well, it seems they didn’t. It seems many of them had the change of heart thrust upon them.
On my favorite radio program, the International Hour on Reshet Bet, this afternoon, they spoke to someone from Kol Yisrael (Voice of Israel) in Persian. I didn’t catch it all, because I was at work and someone came in for some help with something. What I managed to catch was this guy telling Reshet Bet listeners about a regular call-in program they broadcast in Persian. He said they have many Iranians, living in Iran, calling and speaking on the program, and even giving their real names. He said some of them have expressed the hope that when the USA finishes liberating Iraq they will keep on going and liberate them, as well. He said that when Ilan Ramon went up into space they had warm words of congratulations and when he was killed, with his fellow astronauts in the Columbia disaster, they said they were very sad with the people of Israel. He said that during the days that followed, everyone who called up began the conversation by offering sincere condolences for the people of Israel. He let us listen to one caller and translated him as asking how the people of Iran could show their solidarity with the people of Israel in our time of mourning. And then he offered a way himself. He suggested that every person in Iran who wished to express his or her feelings on this matter should light two candles and place them by their window for all to see. I wonder if anyone dared.
We've been playing at pretend war here in Israel, preparing safe rooms, buying water, masking tape and canned food and preparing evacuation bags. We'll probably never have to use any of these things, even if the US finally gets round to going ahead with this war in Iraq (that is if we haven't all died of old age or been nuked by then). But all this time, our war (the one that is actually happening right now) hasn't stopped for a minute. Yesterday we had another little reminder to bring us back to reality. Little for us. Big for the families of the four boys killed. I'm told it was a 100 kg bomb and not 25 kg as I told you yesterday.
We are informed that there are continuous warnings of terrorist attacks. Someone on the radio today said that the warm support the Palestinians are receiving around the world in these mass anti-war-with-Iraq demonstrations and the affect these demonstrations may be having in bringing about a postponement of that war, will probably serve to strengthen and motivate the Palestinian terrorists' commitment to make even greater efforts to pull off mass murder attacks against Israeli civilians. So much for promoting world peace. (I can imagine one or two Iraqis aren't too happy with these demonstrations either).
But then again, maybe the people demonstrating don't see mass murder of Israeli civilians, in pizzerias and supermarkets, as contradictory to world peace.
Haaretz headline (Hebrew version): Because of the opposition in the world: The USA is considering postponing the offensive
I knew it! This is because I got ready, isn't it? Well, no fear, it won't happen again! I won't be made a fool of! (Just kidding)
I know it’s not the same thing at all, but I must say all this makes me feel extremely grateful that Israel's leadership did not heed world public opinion and didn't let it prevent us taking determined steps in order to protect Israeli citizens from brutal, bloodthirsty terrorist attacks.
And we thought the Middle East was violent!
Have you read about the horrendous goings-on Meryl had to contend with on Valentine's Day? As we say in Israel, when confronted with such horrors, Ima'le.
Saturday, February 15, 2003
Nelson Ascher looked out of his window in Paris. Look what he saw (and sent Alisa).
I'm sorry, this happened this morning and I forgot to tell you about it. A tank drove over a 25 kg (55 pound) bomb in Gaza. 4 soldiers were killed.
The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland has an article in Yesterday’s Haaretz. He suggests the Israeli Labor Party rehabilitates itself by learning from the British Labour Party. Makes sense, actually.
Fame at last. Sort of.
Popular Israeli news site Ynet picked up on Salam’s interest in the IDF Home Front Command site, via yours truly’s Hebrew blog (See? I told you the Hebrew blog was a good idea, didn’t I? I didn’t?). Anyway the whole story is told on Ynet’s online web news magazine. So far I’ve had about three visits through them, and one of them was my dad. I know this because he was on the phone to me at the time. Oh, well.
My bags are packed, I’m ready to go
Our Sis, probably the most efficient person to ever walk this planet, has been a bit worried that her baby sister isn’t yet ready for the war. Needless to say she has a state-of-the-art “safe room”, albeit a bit small for three full size humans, one nearly full size human, one canine and one feline (both smallish), but fully fitted, stocked and operational nevertheless. I’m sure she’ll be happy to be informed that we are now also prepared and ready for every eventuality. The already cluttered entrance to my apartment is now even more cluttered (yes, it is possible, Our Sis) with the essentials, all set and ready for swift and easy conveyance to the security room.
Now that’s sorted out, I really do feel much better. In fact I would now like to point out that I believe the chances of a missile attack on Israel from the direction of Iraq, conventional or otherwise, to be decidedly slim. Of course, there are always other directions and other modi operandi from where and with which our not so neighborly neighbors can lash out at us, but then, wouldn’t life be boring if it always unfolded just as we expected?
And then again, I could be wrong.
Whatever happens, we can take it. And more than that, we’re ready to take it (which doesn’t say we won’t respond). Not just because of what Israel stands to gain. That’s part of it, but not all of it. People who think that that is the reason for ordinary Israelis’ almost wall-to-wall support of this war (yes, even most of the lefties) are completely missing the point, in my view. I personally believe, and I don't think I'm alone in Israel in this belief, that the world stands to gain. And yes, like it or not, Israel is part of the world.
So, USA, this is it. The moment of truth has come. It’s time to show your detractors the stuff you’re really made of. And I’m not just saying this because I’m all ready with my plastic sheeting, my bottled water and my gas masks, but because Steven Den Beste thinks so, too.
Friday, February 14, 2003
Well, Shabbat Shalom, folks.
If I’m not back blogging tomorrow evening, that’s round about lunchtime US Eastern Time, you’ll know:
a) It’s started and we’ve fled in terror.
b) It’s started and we’re holed up in the security room, our gas masks on and no computer.
c) I got fed up waiting for it to start and threw the computer on the floor in frustration.
d) My computer has crashed.
e) I have nothing of interest to say.
f) All of the above.
g) None of the above.
h) a +d
i) b + c
j) c + e
k) f + g
In case any of the above happen, I just had to make this public before I go:
You are a Dubliner.
What's your Inner European?
brought to you by Quizilla
Via Religious Left Watch
Important message: Don’t read the following if you want to keep the sweet and demure image of me.
I am not a human shield or Confessions of a recidivist war tourist
Look what Charles Johnson came up with. A blog written by a “Peace Activist” in Baghdad. He says he’s not a human shield and explains that those cute little Iraqis just “don’t quite understand the idea of apolitical peace activism”. He says this after being manipulated into taking part in a get together of Yemenite students, which turned out to be a militaristic hatefest with three year-olds toting guns and chanting war slogans. He says his new “friend” Mahmoud translated the chants for him, but I strongly suspect he didn’t get a very accurate translation. He realized he was being exploited (sharp as a knife, that one) but took solace in the fact that his group “is such a non-issue to the US press”, that no one will know of his disgrace. Unfortunately for him, I actually did see a newsreel about this and wondered how the Westerners present, who were introduced to the viewers as human shields, weren’t totally disgusted with themselves.
He says he belongs to something called IPT. I suppose I’ll have to read the whole blog to discover what this stands for (or google) and it’s just time for my Friday afternoon shloff, so I’ve got some hypotheses of my own:
I’m a Perpetual Troublemaker? Idiotic Presumptuous Twits? Interfering Pietistical Terrorist-appeasers? I-love Predacious Tyrants? Indian Pteridology Trekkers? Isn’t Psoriasis Terminal? OK, now you’re being silly, Imshin.
It’s probably something unimaginative like International Peace Troops. No sense of humor this lot (Humor? You call that humor?).
Silly me. It’s on the right side column: Iraq Peace Team.
As I see it, the real Iraq peace team is building up forces in neighboring countries right now.
One of the things I like about being ill is that I have time to read Steven Den Beste. I type his latest post out and read it curled up in bed. I can’t click through to the links, but I can always go back to them later. I loved his Clash of Cultures post. Even if it’s not on the mark, and Steven has his doubts himself, it was such a very intriguing and fascinating read. But his War Scenario had me worried. Isn’t he being just a bit too complacent and optimistic here? I really shouldn’t be bringing this up at all. I find it impossible to be excited about military lore and all that sort of stuff. I’m bored to tears when reading battle descriptions and usually skip them, and I go off to make myself a sandwhich during battle scenes in movies Bish and I see on TV (these are always Bish’s choice, I would rather watch something else). So I really have no idea what I’m talking about, I confess. However, Steven made it really interesting and I read the lot and I think I even understood most of the ideas. I just feel a bit uneasy about his assertion that taking the cities will not be necessary, other than in a few situations, and I can’t see how he’s so sure that Saddam and his top advisors and officers will be killed by precision bombing. This sounds worryingly familiar (i.e. Afghanistan).
In today’s Haaretz, Zeev Schiff gives a list of possible things that could go wrong. I suppose the US military is taking them into account. I hope so, anyway.
I tend to be suspicious of people very assuredly saying: “This is how it’s going to be”. Professor Yaavetz, sitting in an Israeli TV studio in January of 1991, told us quite clearly that there would definitely not be any missile attacks on Israel. I think it was less than 48 hours later that we were sitting with our gas masks on, in our pathetic sealed room (the first and last time we used it before we decided that spitting distance from IDF headquarters was not the safest place to be, under the circumstances, and made a swift retreat to an air-raid shelter in the suburbs), listening to the sound of the missiles not attacking all around us. Needless to say, Professor Yaavetz’s career as a TV analyst was over.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I will go, flu or not, and wash the floor in the security room.
Thursday, February 13, 2003
Waiting in line to have their gas masks checked and "freshened". Haaretz
Go read the "French" jokes on Gil's blog, Dad. He got them from the Sun.
Between the two poles of Baghdad and Paris
Haaretz’s weekend magazine has an interview with an impressive Israeli artist called Mosh Kashi, whom I find connected to a previous post of mine, because he is of Syrian and Iraqi parentage. You can see some of his art here.
He says something I liked in the Hebrew version of this article, which they cut in translation. Why do they always cut the passages that strike me the most?
“Provinciality,” he says (my own flawed translation), “is not a place, it’s a characteristic. … If you live a life of quality even in a place that is very limited and even if it is regarded problematic socio-economically, you learn to identify quality … Therefore I find all this talk of sectionalism and ethnic discrimination repulsive, because I believe you can make a detour around all of that out of choice. The problem is that not everyone can or wants to hear that choice, as a value, is the supreme value. You can be very wealthy and live in the center of New York and still be provincial, and you can go around the Valley of the Cross (in Jerusalem) and feel that you are walking in a valley of princes and kings.”
During WWII, my great aunt met, and married, a Belgian naval officer. He was an adventurous, handsome young man and I was told many exciting stories about him and my great aunt, like when his ship was wrecked and he drifted on a plank in the ocean for two weeks until he was rescued; like their life on the farm near Charleroi; like the years they lived in Africa in the Belgian colony of Congo, after the war.
At 18, just before I went into the army, I went over to spend some time with my great aunt and her sons and their families. My first experience of Brussels was rather alarming. Not being able to speak a word of French, I got lost and found myself in a small street full of men sitting at little tables, drinking coffee, playing backgammon and speaking Arabic. I was sure they could all clearly see I was Israeli and felt very threatened. My great aunt, however, lived in a little olde worlde village in the south. A widow with a very common French-Belgian name, she knew everyone there, but she told me no one in the village knew she was Jewish.
My relatives were wonderfully hospitable and showed me all round Belgium. I ate the most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever tasted, fresh from my cousin’s garden, and I also ate rabbit. First and last time ever. It was a bit dry. I bravely tackled an enormous bowl of some slimy stuff, which made me feel rather nauseous. I think it was mussels. I saw the statue of the little peeing boy (a bit of a disappointment considering it's regarded as a national symbol). I saw a hill with a statue of a lion on top, where, nearly two hundred years ago, the world powers of the day, that happened to be passing through, staged an important, decisive and terrible battle. I also saw some castles and lots of countryside. And, most exciting for me at the time, I got to see NATO headquarters from inside. It was a memorable holiday.
What I liked about Belgium was that it seemed so unassuming. The Belgians seemed to me to be quite content to be a quiet European backwater, busy working out their own inner cultural differences (between the French and the Flemish). Very wise. Why look for trouble?
But all that was twenty years ago. The little boys, my cousins, with whom I couldn't exchange a word because I chose Arabic and not French in high school, are now long married with children of their own and successful careers. And it seems the Belgians, as a people, have also changed and tired of their inconsequential role in the world arena. They want us to sit up and take notice. They want us to be afraid of them.
Some countries would give anything to be a quiet European backwater. Others, it seems, have nothing better to do than go poking their noses where they don't belong.
[I would like to point out that I do not wish to offend my Belgian relatives in any way. For them I have only the warmest of words and I apologize if they happen to read this post and find it offensive]
Update: Haaretz editorial: “Belgium's status is no different from that of any other sovereign state, and it is entitled to enact laws and judge its own citizens, or anyone who commits crimes against them. But the Belgian legislature has elevated its country's justice system above those of every other nation, and is trying to impose its rule on the citizens of countries with no connection to Belgium.”
Back to plan A
Bish says the treasurer of our building's resident committee asked him (as a well known world expert on chemical warfare) if he thought the security rooms on each floor were the safest places to be in the event of a missile attack. Well, if she's going to seal the security room on the third floor, I'll be damned if I'm not going to seal the security room on the second floor. Evacuation route, shmevacuation route, let them use the regular staircase to evacuate.
Paine answers a pain (groan)
Tom Paine has something to say to one of the esteemed argumentators at the esteemed UK Independent (I have in the past pointed out that while other publications offer Comment and Opinion the Independent gives us Argument. Makes you want to disagree even before you’ve started reading.):
“So the question I am going to ask,”, thus the esteemed Independent argumentator, “at the risk of causing great offence, is this: when is the US going to get over the events of 11 September?”
Tom Paine: “I can't answer for the United States, I'm not an American, But I am a Westerner, a Jew, a citizen of a democratic state and a free man, and here's my estimate of when I'll be over September 11th.
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
The flu is back.
Eldest and I stayed home. Mum would have said I went back to work too soon (At one time she'd also have said it was because of all this vegetarian business and not drinking my chicken soup like a good girl, but she eventually gave up on that). Eldest has actually been off school for a while. Bish is not very well either, but he had to go to work because his boss is a slavedriver (he's self employed). My boss wasn't too happy either, although I did go in for an hour, this morning, to get some urgent stuff out, which I think is very nice of me. Our Sis's lot are also under the weather and so was R.T., but he went back to work today. Our Sis wonders if it isn't biological warfare. Maybe the Hizbullah have been spitting into the Wazzani River up in Lebanon instead of pumping the water away. How's that for sophisticated warfare? Give us all the flu, instead of organizing us to die of thirst. Brilliant.
The Shabak (General Security Service) caught a terrorist that was allegedly planning terrorist attacks (Hebrew link) including an attack on a tourist bus in Mitzpe Ramon. Well, tourist buses are few and far between in Mitzpe Ramon these days, although some stop there on the way down to Eilat for a bite to eat and a glance at the scenery. Mitzpe Ramon is such a sleepy place. I can't imagine a terrorist attack there, but they have security guards there just like everywhere else.
We were planning to go down this weekend, but I can't see Eldest being well enough, so it looks like Bish will be going on his own again. I hope they don't try to blow up our apartment building there. Mind you, it's so run down, it could be very cost effective for them. They wouldn't need any explosives, they could just send the big bad wolf to huff and puff a bit, and it would come down on it's own. What if the Iraq offensive starts on Saturday? If it does, should we be joining him there? Should we stay home? The way I feel right now, I just want to stay in bed. Maybe we’ll just huddle together in Youngest’s bed, until it’s all over.
The other night they showed on TV the "secure area" of one of the big hotels in the Tel Aviv area. They've turned a big underground car park into a giant shelter. I suppose they have it all fitted out with air pumps and everything. And they said it was going to be all set out with mattresses and sheets and blankets and everything. Made me feel dead jealous. Definitely the place to be. I wonder if they'll put those little chocolates on the pillows of the camp beds. Not that you can eat them with gas masks on. But then again, they won't need to put on gas masks if they've got air filters. They said it was the hotel the foreign press is going to use. What a waste. Those guys will all stay on the roof to get the good shots. Maybe they'd like a well-behaved Tel Aviv family of four to come and fill up one little corner? Just so it won't look empty in that big old shelter, what with all the brave reporters on the roof? Please? You can even take our photos and put them on CNN (we may even consider starting watching it again). We're very photogenic, honest.
I remember hearing stories in 1991 that the place to be was Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which was said to be fitted out with a whole nuclear shelter, where they put all the works of art. Nice to spend the war with Picasso, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Monet and the likes, what?
Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Salam, whose blog I’ve been having difficulty accessing all day, found the IDF's Home Front Command webpage through me and has found it helpful. I’m very moved by this. I hope he manages to implement some of the suggestions. And I hope neither our families need to make use of them.
He wonders “how the proprietors of that site will react if they know an Iraqi is finding their information very useful”. Well, Salam, if they knew what use you were going to make of the information, I am absolutely convinced that they would be just as moved as I am.
It makes me sad that Salam's source for information on how to protect his family and himself in the coming war should be a site set up by the military of a country that his country sees as its enemy.
It's sad, but it also gives me hope.
Diane suggests that Israelis and Iraqis have quite a lot in common these days, on a day-to-day level.
I don’t think of the people of Iraq as my enemies. For me, Iraq and Baghdad have a strangely familiar air to them. I feel as if I have memories of Baghdad, which is weird considering I’ve never been there. It was a romantic childhood fantasy of mine, in a time before the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem and before peace with any Arab country seemed even a remote possibility, that I would one day visit Baghdad.
Iraq’s Jewish community was very ancient. It was believed to have dated back to the destruction of the first temple, when the Israelites were exiled to what is now Iraq and those who remained there must have been those who wrote the Babylonian Talmud.
Israel is now home to the great majority of that community. They left Iraq in a hurry after the state of Israel was established. This was (and still is) a relatively highly educated and well-to-do community and on the whole they have done very well here.
As a child, I heard a lot of stories about Iraq and Baghdad firsthand, from parents of friends of mine who told us of their lives there, when they were young. I couldn’t get enough of those stories. Everything sounded so romantic to me. There always seemed to be an exciting mixture of east and west in them. I suppose this is because the parents of my friends were part of the Intelligentsia and actually did live in a world of both east and west, as maybe Salam does.
We have wonderful writers, such as Eli Amir and Sami Michael, who have also told us about life in Baghdad in their books, often with a combination of fondness, longing and rejection. From them I learnt about the Farhud (massacre) of Baghdad Jews in 1941, which has been a lasting memory for this community and was one of the first steps in a process, which eventually led to their mass exodus, just a few years later.
I am told Iraqi music suffered somewhat from this exodus because some top Iraqi musicians of the day were Jews. These giants found it hard to reach the same fame and fortune in Israel, which at the time had different ideas about music. Today things are changing in this respect. One of their descendants, oud player Yair Dalal, has gained international recognition in his field. Israeli popular music is also becoming more "eastern" although I don't think it has quite the same quality as the stuff I’m told those guys were creating in Baghdad in the1940's.
The story is told of a Jewish family to whom Saddam Hussein owes his life. I heard one of the sons of this family, who wished to remain anonymous, although the family's name is known, telling the story on Israeli radio a few weeks ago. This family apparently had business connections with the Hussein family in Tikrit. When Saddam's mother was pregnant with him, they took her to stay with them in Baghdad, where they tried to help her receive medical help. She was grieving over an older son who had died. One day, she was so distraught that she tried to throw herself under the wheels of a car passing in the street. The father of this Jewish family caught her and pulled her back to safety.
All this didn’t help the city of Ramat Gan, just east of Tel Aviv, in 1991, which absorbed most of the missiles Saddam sent our way. A high proportion of “Iraqi” Jews has traditionally inhabited Ramat Gan (including the same Zilcha family, if I’m not mistaken).
I don't think I'll ever get to see Baghdad with my own eyes. I'm not sure I want to, any more. I'm sorry that so many Arabs, including Iraqis, harbor such intense hatred for us Israelis. I'm sorry that there are Israelis that also hate the Arabs. They don't represent me. I wish we could all just work it out.
* * * *
Eldest will have to choose if to study French or Arabic as her third language, next year. I would really like it to be Arabic and have been attempting to interest her in the beauty and richness of the language (which she can't see), besides it being important for her to study it, and it's being the easier language for her, as a Hebrew speaker. Beats me why Arabic isn't compulsory.
Sunday, February 09, 2003
The thing is, this time around, and I think I’ve said this before, my personal feeling is completely different. If New Yorkers, and maybe Americans on the whole, lost something in the way of personal security, or more accurately, the feeling that personal security is something to be taken for granted, on September 11, 2001, here in Israel, this happened to us in January and February 1991. This lack of personal security has deepened since, with the rampant terrorism, which we know is currently not happening only because of the relentless work of the security forces. We are informed daily of terrorists being apprehended on their way to perpetrate terrorist attacks.
You know, missile attacks come and go, terrorist attacks come and go. If we’ve got our name on someone’s explosive belt, lovingly embroidered on by his or her Mom or Grandma, there’s little we can do if he or she have got past the security forces. Likewise, if a rusty missile misses Ramat Gan this time, heads straight for my building (right a bit, up a bit, bullseye…) and decides that the second floor is a good place to land, there will be little to do except kick myself (if I have time) for not going off to Mitzpe Ramon when I could have. So why worry? I’m mainly peeved about all the bother of having to tidy up Youngest’s room in preparation as a sealed room, and pack evacuation bags (It says we have to in the booklet. I’ve read it at last, well, skimmed through), when some of the girls’ winter clothes are getting too small for them already and if I pack part of what’s left they won’t have enough to wear every day, the laundry situation being what it is. I’m far too lazy for all this hassle.
Who am I kidding? I’m not doing anything because thinking of it makes my heart beat faster than is healthy.
* * * *
I’m back from picking Youngest and her friends up from their dance lesson. I worked it all out on the way. What I’ll do is I’ll make a list of things I have to do to get ready. Then I can cross each one out as I go along. Ok, now that’s sorted out I feel much better. I’ll just make a note to remember to make a list.
This is hopeless. Maybe we could all just go to sleep and wake up when it’s over?
Update: Thank you Alisa for noticing the dates mix up. All fixed now.
Saturday, February 08, 2003
A dubious honor, but still.
It’s time …
Just got this down from the “boydem” (the Israeli version of the attic). Seems the time is right. Dad says he’s been humming it too, lately. Definitely a sign.
Oh, and while you're there, you might try catching some of Michael Jackson's babies (this is nearly as much fun as the marbles).
James Dean made three movies. They were good. He was good. And then he died and became a legend. Immortal. A symbol for a whole generation.
What if he had lived? What if he had lived and his fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh movies had been terrible?
No one would remember his name today.
“Rebel Without a Cause” was the Friday night movie on channel 1. They don’t have any money because, being public broadcasting, they’re not allowed to have advertisements and they have a strong union. There’s a mandatory fee that everyone has to pay that keeps them going, but I think only Bish and I pay it. And so - “Rebel Without a Cause” (which again, I think only Bish and I watched) and an opportunity for some deep thinking about the meaning of immortality.
The good news
Sometimes a dark sky is a blessing. This year has been very rainy. After years of drought, the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) is filling up a bit.
Update: Dad's in Eilat, so it was up to Our Sis to point out that it's drought and not draught!
Friday, February 07, 2003
Noticed by Adrian. Nick Denton thinks Israel is a mistake. Jews living in Israel should move. Grrrrrrrr.
The thing is, Mr. Denton, I am not just a Jew. I am an Israeli. Your idea may have been relevant sixty years ago, but no one was offering back then. Quite the contrary. Leave Israel? Live somewhere else? I can only envision not living here as a refugee, and the thought that it might come to that scares the hell out of me. This is my home. These are my smells. I belong here. People here speak my language (even if I’m finding it difficult to write in, just now), and we understand the same jokes that don’t translate (not necessarily a language thing, more a living-together-and-having-the-same-trying-experiences-and-memories thing).
Why is it that we are so proud of the gentle little cyclamens and anemones that spring up, as by magic, every winter? Why do we go out to look for them, by the thousands, every weekend? Maybe it’s because they are a wonder we can relate to. Like Israel, they are also fragile and endangered. But there they are, every year, despite all odds. Should we pull them all up, and move them somewhere safer? I don’t think that would be a good idea. This is where they belong.