Saturday, March 29, 2003

Welcome to Our World

That's just about all an Israeli can say about the suicide car bombing in Iraq today that killed four U.S. soldiers. And if you think that it's tough just visiting this neighborhood, try living in it. Instapundit pulled this paragraph out of a recent Mark Steyn column:

In so far as the enemy has a strategy, it’s to use their own people as hostages. The ‘pockets of resistance’ in the southern towns have been able to make mischief because they blend in with the local populations. They know that Washington and its allies are concerned above all to avoid casualties among Iraqi civilians and, indeed, among your typical Iraqi conscripts. In other words, everything the Baath regime does is predicated on the moral superiority of their foe. If things were the other way round, if Iraq invaded Vermont and some diehard Yankees holed up on the outskirts of White River Junction and started firing on Saddam’s forces as they attempted to advance up the valley, the Republican Guard would think nothing of levelling the entire downtown area and everyone in it. Who’s going to complain? There’s no Baghdad ‘Not In Our Name’ movement.

This is all so incredibly familiar to Israelis. Try as they might to root out terrorism without hurting civilians or provoking an international outcry, they can't. If they try to pinpoint the terrorist leaders with assassinations, it's illegal. If they bomb their headquarters from the air, random civilians die. If they go in house to house, risking their own soldiers' lives it's a "massacre" as happened in Jenin. If they severely limit movement to try to stop the terrorists' ability to get into Israel, they are making the lives of Palestinians miserable and hellish.

It seems that nothing short of throwing up their hands and letting the terrorists in to do their job will satisfy their critics.

(And don't tell me that handing back the West Bank and Gaza will solve the problem. Trust me, if someone handed offered the Israeli people a signed guarantee that giving back the territories would result in an end to all suicide bombings and other terror and peace, love and harmony, with the Arab world, trust me, they'd jump on it. Poll after poll bears this out. But no one's handing out that guarantee, or even a credible ceasefire offer for that matter. If they were, the Israeli left would not be so emasculated at the moment.)

So here's an Israeli memo to the coalition forces heading into populated areas in Iraq: you've got a frustrating, stressful, dangerous and pretty damn thankless job ahead.

And coming back to the Mark Steyn Vermont metaphor, it's darn hard for the IDF to hold every Palestinian life sacred when they know that many of them would blast Tel Aviv to kingdom come if they got half a chance, and it's going to be hard for the forces in Iraq as well. The miracle is that, like the coalition forces, the military leadership and the vast majority of IDF soldiers still try. I know that many people reading this won't buy into it, that they will point to the hundreds of Palestinian civilians killed in the intifada and tell me that I'm full of you-know-what. But just as Baghdad and Basra would be paved over already if that's what the United States really wanted to do, if the Israeli army didn't show incredible restraint, with mercifully few exceptions, we would be talking about hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians.

I would close with the point that the U.S. and other coalition partners can feel lucky that they at least have the option of packing up and going home Vietnam-style if it gets to be too much, and that Israel doesn't have that luxury. But is that really true in a post September 11 world? I suppose that this pivotal question: whether trying to stop the halt threats overseas before they add up to death and destruction at home is viable and legitimate, is what the entire war debate is all about.
All about Bamba and Nothing about the War (dedicated to Imshin)

Following Imshin's impassioned and vaguely threatening defense of the national snack food, I am hereby reprinting a column I wrote for "The Jerusalem Post" back in 1997 when I was a young and clueless new mother. This is evidence that I surrendered to the power of Bamba long ago. So please don't hurt me, Imshin! I wouldn't dare cross one of the Israeli blogosphere's celebrities of the moment....(check out the second to last paragraph)

Bamba: 1 Mom: 0

It's not easy to admit that you've been defeated by a snack food.

But I feel strong enough to make that confession. I've been beaten by Bamba. For the unenlightened, Bamba is far and away the most popular snack product in Israel. Forget about potato chips, pretzels, and other such fare. Bamba leaves them in the dust.

For years, I have failed to see the attraction that this particular treat possesses. In the past, I would describe the phenomenon to recent arrivals to the country in a derisive tone. 'A Bamba,' I would say, 'is this puffed-up little corn thing with the consistency of styrofoam. It's like a Cheeto back home, except a little less crunchy and a little more soggy. And get this - instead of flavoring it with tangy cheddar cheese, the little sucker tastes like peanut butter. Can you believe it? Disgusting.'

What I found most repellent about Bamba was how mothers and fathers, clearly brainwashed by the corporate machinations of its manufacturer, seemed to stuff it into the mouths of their preschoolers at a frightening rate. A discovery that the bag of Bamba was empty would send a panicked parent hurrying to the nearest market or kiosk, like some kind of drug addict rushing to get their fix. They were inescapable: at every shopping mall, at every park, there they were, those little brown pellets that looked like the droppings of some giant bird.

Now don't get me wrong: I knew that my children would never be hothouse creatures fed only home-cooked organic fruits and vegetables. I'm as fond of convenience food as anyone else. But I thought that I had my red lines, and that certain local child-rearing customs crossed those boundaries. I vowed I would never make a chocolate spread sandwich and call it lunch. And I swore that I would not allow my kid to become a Bamba addict.

I first realized that I had a tough road ahead when my son Eitan's favorite video featured not one, but two commercials for Bamba, starring an annoying little cartoon baby with a saggy diaper whose first three words are, 'Ima, Abba, Bamba!' (Mommy, Daddy, Bamba!).

My husband joined the pro-Bamba campaign when I first started introducing Eitan to the concept of finger foods. I proudly sprinkled healthy, whole-grain Cheerios and chunks of fruit onto his high-chair tray. 'Look at the poor kid,' hubby complained. 'Cheerios are much too small for him to grasp. And the fruit just slides out of his hand. Why don't we give him some Bamba? They're just the right size for him to hold and chew on.'

But I held firm. No Bamba for Eitan. 'Did you know,' I asked my husband, 'that peanuts are one of the most highly allergenic foods? Do we want to play around with his health?'

But I forgot to mention my stand to my babysitter. And she was deeply shocked when I reacted negatively to her proud announcement that she had fed Bamba to Eitan. 'I didn't know that you could be allergic to Bamba,' she said. 'All the babies eat it. I figured it had to be good for them.'

I took her aside and explained to her gently, that she, who lived in Moscow until six years ago, was not wise to the plots of the evil capitalist consumer conspiracy the way I was. The Bamba bag, I pointed out, is designed to lull parents into believing that this junk food is somehow nutritious, trumpeting how many vitamins they inject into it, and listing their ingredients as natural corn, natural peanut butter, natural vegetable oil and fat, natural salt, natural spices. Like I should be glad they don't use artificial corn and fake salt?

And what's so great about being natural? Arsenic is natural. Does that mean it's good for the baby? But this was a battle I was destined to lose.

My downfall came at a backyard barbecue when I plunked nine-month-old Eitan down on a blanket with the other kids. Before I knew it, he made a beeline for one of the little plastic bowls of Bamba scattered on the ground. He grabbed one in his hand and crunched away, happy as a clam. Now, obviously, if he had been snacking on arsenic, I would have snatched it away from him. But I found it impossible to deny him this relatively innocent pleasure.

Ever since, I have been allowing him to partake of reasonable amounts of Bamba. I have to admit it, he likes the stuff. And any food item that keeps a baby happily occupied for the amount of time it takes for me to eat my dinner like a civilized human being or have an adult conversation, is really hard for me to resist. Any item, that is, except for those chocolate-spread sandwiches. One has to draw the line somewhere.

-- End of column --

Now, don't any of you ask if I make my kids chocolate-spread sandwiches these days....or if the quantity of Bamba my kids currently consume could be called "reasonable..."

Thursday, March 27, 2003

And it Becomes Routine....

What a difference a week makes. Last week at this time, we were going through the trauma of opening our gas masks, assembling them, and generally freaking out. Now, it's become a normal part of life. Get the kids up, give them breakfast, grab their backpacks, grab the cardboard box that hold their gas masks. Yawn. Next.

I dropped my son and his friend off at the Country Club, where they go from a story hour to a gymnastics class. I casually remind them, "Now don't forget to bring your boxes from one class to another." Much of the time I use the work "boxes" instead of "masks." I suppose it's my feeble attempt to try to forget what is inside them.

I'm still extremely diligent about taking them everywhere, at least for the kids (mine I tend to bring, but leave inside the car.) I guess I feel like I'm tempting that Murphy's Law that guarantees if you don't bring your umbrella with you, it will surely rain, but if you bring it with you, the skies will stay sunny. But everyone else is extremely relaxed and and nonchalant, and mask-carriers are definitely in the minority. All the folks who fled to Eilat were back. War or no war, how many days can you lie on the beach?

In the gossip pages of the paper yesterday, there was a picture of a celebrity Israeli couple at a glitzy party, canoodling J Lo/Ben Affleck style next to a gas mask box. The headline: "There Aren't Any Chemicals, but There Sure is Chemistry!"

Out on the main street of my suburb this evening, I saw zero people with gas masks. However, there were far fewer people out than usual on a pleasant mild Thursday night. Starbucks (yes, they've invaded Ra'anana) was empty. The shelves of Blockbuster Video (we've got them, too) were quite empty.

Despite the behavior, if you ask people if they think there's still a chance Israel will be attacked, they say yes. I suppose my amateur anthropologist conclusion is that without something concrete happening, people simply are not able to sustain a high level of fear and panic. Or that Israelis have been through so much at this point that they have become utterly numb and able to function in almost any situation. We've gotten used to armed guards at our stores and restaurants, now we're getting used to this.

Strange days indeed.
Hee Hee

OK, war is awful and serious business, but after a week of it, some of us are getting punchy enough to enjoy some comic relief. Saddam Hussein's Blog is pretty twisted, but good for some chuckles.

I don't know about everyone else, but it's hard for me to believe this war has only been going on for a week. To me, it's felt more like a month. What an emotional roller coaster. And now they say that they don't see it ending anytime soon....

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The Munchie Brigade

I love this story in today's Yediot Aharonot:

The Labor Ministry declared the factory that manufactures "Bamba" as a vital installation in the case of an emergency.
The reason: The assessment is that "Bamba" is a crucial food that parents will stockpile and need in an emergency situation.

This means that workers in the Bamba factory will have to show up to work even in an emergency, and won't get called to army reserve duty. Pretty funny. It's true -- I've got Bamba stocked in my shelter. For the uninitiated, Bamba is the number one favorite junk food for Israeli children. It's a peanut-butter flavored corn puff. It was invented when someone tried to manufacture Cheetos in Israel many years ago, and it didn't sell. So they tried flavoring it with PB instead of cheese and it was a huge hit. I have not yet met a child in any country who doesn't love the stuff. It's like kiddie heroin. One kid opens a bag of Bamba in the park and they all gravitate to him like magnets. It's also a handy substitute for parenting -- when your toddler screams, you hand him a bag of Bamba -- problem solved.

So those of you with small kids can understand why it's as important an item for the sealed room as bottled water. Except they have to invent a gas mask that is adapted to allow you to eat Bamba while wearing it.
Sing On

Rita got her visa. Guess she does have good connections after all.
Notes from the Israeli Blogosphere

Gee, do you think that it's hard to fight fairly and humanely when your enemy plants its forces right in the middle of a civilian population? The U.S. is discovering this in Iraq, Israel has known this for a long time, as Tal G in Jerusalem points out, referring to an article about it in Slate

Veteran blogger Israeli Guy Gil got called up for reserve duty. He's pretty sure his stint will be short and not dangerous. Here's hoping.

Rinat at Balagan is upset about how Bibi's proposed draconian budget cuts are going to affect her fellow immigrant university students.

Expat Egghead offers this gem: When someone says, as I heard on the radio this morning, that normal life cannot go on because of the war, smile and gently remind them that this is the best time to carry on with life as normal. To abandon planning for the future because people are dying in a war is to betray them.

And wonderful Imshin eloquent as ever, nearly made me cry with her beautiful tribute to her late mother.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, I am still a big fan of the Kuwaiti blogs, Live From Kuwait and QHate . We are getting zero information on what this war is like for regular Kuwaitis from the mainstream media. I don't know if that's because they are too busy with the war, or if the Kuwaiti government is restricting them. Anyway, they seem remarkably calm, considering that missiles are being lobbed at them on a regular basis. I suppose having been through the full-scale invasion of Iraq in 1991, this is nothing in comparison.

The hot site for total war information addicts is The Command Post. I like their slogan, "Making CNN look like the school newspaper." Several Israeli bloggers are participating so their posts can be round the clock. They try to be all-information, no commentary, but most of the folks are hawkish.

Best headline I saw yesterday (well, I heard it on Fox News.) Referring to the possibile uprising in Basra, Neil Cavuto of Fox News said, "It looks like the Shi'ites have hit the fan."

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Poor she really has something to wail about

Anyone who thinks that the U.S. post-Sept. 11 immigration policies is only hurting Muslims can think again. Rita, Israel's leading songstress, the local equivalent of Barbra Streisand for her vocal talent, her popularity, her penchant for overdramatic gesticulating in performance, and the level of fanatical devotion that the homosexual community and the rest of her fan base has for her, has been denied a U.S. visa for her sold-out concert tour.

Rita was born in Iran. And like other Israelis who immigrated during the 1950's and '60's from Arab countries -- Rita immigrated as a child in 1962 -- her birthplace has made her an undesirable presence in the USA. I guess it doesn't make a difference that she is married to Rami Kleinstein, who grew up in the States and has U.S. citizenship, making her children U.S. citizens as well.

Apparently, she didn't apply for her visa leaving enough time for the extensive background check required of suspicious characters born in Iran.

We'll see if she has as many connections as Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, also Iranian-born, who ran into this problem last year and almost got detained at Kennedy airport. Somehow Mofaz managed to get in anyway.

Here's Yoel Marcus in Ha'aretz:

"I have a dream: When it's all over, let's take all the broadcasters and news program hosts, with their idiotic questions and their interviews - with that professor from Haifa who practically lives in Saddam's brain, with that school chum of his, with their psychologists and psychiatrists and self-professed experts and anyone who has a mouthpiece on the face of this earth - and shut them up in a sealed room for a week. Let's make them listen nonstop to everything they've pumped into our heads: the contradictory reports and the hellish scenarios plunging us into despair. Let them hear themselves 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If any of them survive that torture, at least they'll know what life looks like on the other side of the microphone."

You tell it, Yoel. Except print journalism is not completely innocent. Similar effects can be felt simply by keeping up with the Ha'aretz web site.

I also like his summary of the jumbled messages being sent by the Israeli government regarding our chances of being attacked:

"Low probability, high probability, carry on as usual but take your masks. Stay calm, but not complacent. The risk factor is close to zero, but the danger is out there. A chemical warhead could land here, but stick to your routine."

A recipe for schizophrenia....?

Monday, March 24, 2003

Middle East Minivan Mom Meltdown

Just wanted to write that headline....Really, if the gas masks weren't a serious item, this would all be quite funny.

For example, what is usually a routine event today turned into a logistical nightmare. A friend of mine got stuck at work and asked if I could pick up her two kids, aged 4 and 2, at the daycare along with my 4-year-old, bring them home and she would be along in 20 minutes. A perfectly reasonable request under normal circumstances.'s pouring rain, and there I am, carrying three backpacks, two big cardboard gas mask boxes rapidly disintegrating from the rain that belong to the two older children, and the extra-big blue plastic gas mask contraption for the toddler. Loaded down with all that luggage, I'm trying to herd three kids through the parking lot trying to make sure they don't get hit by a car or dive head-first into a puddle.

I never would have made it if I hadn't left my own gas mask kit and my purse in the car. Or if I tried to carry an umbrella to avoid getting soaked.

My six-year-old went home with a friend whose mom doesn't have a car. So she's pushing the stroller in the rain with her toddler in it and has the two boys and all four of their gas mask kits. She said she felt like a Christmas tree with gas masks hanging down all over her.

Despite my previous rant, I guess I do have some understanding for the fatalists who say the hell with the whole gas mask thing -- particularly if they have three or more small children.

Update: Wow, it appears that they found two Scud launchers in Western Iraq. There likely are more. So I'm not totally nuts to believe that this is not over for us.

On the war debate front, there's a fascinating dialogue going on between Andrew Sullivan and Tom Friedman.
I've Still Got the Jitters and This Doesn't Help...

From today's Ha'aretz:

Defense sources noted that Iraqi spokesmen have been mentioning Israel with increasing frequency over the past 24 hours, and expressed the hope that this was not part of an effort to legitimize a planned attack.

Other commentators in the Israeli media have said the same as another Israeli blogger, Ribbity, noted.

I'm scared that we've been lulled into complacency, all of these people are walking around without their gas masks, or much worse, sending their KIDS to school without gas masks, and then something will happen. Excuse me while I rant, but what's the big deal? Our government -- which is in dire economic straits -- spends billions of dollars to distribute these kits, tells us to open the kits, which will also cost tons of money, and it's still too much trouble for people to carry the stupid box around?!? (This applies to many of my friends and family members, so nobody out there get offended, please.)

Even after ten years here, sometimes I still really don't understand this country. Imshin, we need more Non-Fish like you.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Some Good News -- for Israel

At least things are looking up in western Iraq, Scud-wise.

Some foreign airlines are renewing flights in and out of Israel. Everyone seems to be going about their life as normal around here. But it is kind of a superficial, false normality, in which you are acting one way and feeling another. There was a reference on the radio to that Israelis were behaving "as they routinely do in a crisis."

Routine crisis? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?

UPDATE: Still, even Rumsfeld is still being cautious about the possibility of Scuds pointed at Israel being somewhere in the western Iraqi desert.

I Can't Look

I heard the POW news as I was carpooling three kids to after-school gym class, and wondering what I would do with the kids if there was an alert, particularly because one of them did not have her mask with her. "We don't believe in all that," her mother tells me when I ask where it is. She said she was more afraid that her daughter would break the mask and inject herself with atropine than she was from a chemical attack. She's religious, so I suppose she believes a higher power will keep us safe.

I get Al-Jazeera on our satellite system, and I'm sure the Israeli news will show everything, but I still can't look at these terrible POW pictures that I am hearing described. I know they'll haunt me. I just hope they don't pop up at me somewhere on the Web.

If there wasn't already a terrible war damper on the Oscars this will certainly make it impossible for any of the winners to exult without looking horribly politically incorrect. I never thought I would say, "Gee, I'm sure glad that I'm not a multi-millionaire movie star nominated for an Academy Award." But I really am.

I just hope none of them are truly idiotic enough to wear duct tape on their designer gowns.
I Wonder if He Left Israel for France Right Now Because it was "Safer?"

Many websites linked to the brief wire account of an anti-Semitic attack in Paris yesterday during the course of a demonstration against the war. I translated a more complete story that was published in this morning's "Yediot Aharonot." It's incidents like these that are making it harder and harder to separate the thought-out legitimately expressed anti-war views to the thuggish anti-Semitic ones. In any case, I don't think you can really call these guys "peace demonstrators," can you?

Yoni Odona, 17, who immigrated from France to Israel a year ago, was attacked yesterday during the course of a demonstration in Paris protesting the U.S. attack on Iraq. "Tens of protesters beat him with a flag of Palestine," said an eyewitness. Yoni suffered injuries to his head and his eyes.

A group from the "Hashomer Hatzair" youth movement who observed the terrible incident tried to rescue him from the rioters. During the incident another Jewish youth, 24, was injured in the head. The two young men are now hospitalized.

"It was a very serious situation," said Uzi Shemesh, the Hashomer Hazair emissary in France. "The boy who was attacked is completely traumatized, though fortunately, medical examinations have found that there were no internal injuries. The anti-war demonstrations are taking on an anti-Jewish and anti-Israel character.

In Italy yesterday, demonstrators damaged the doors of the Israeli economic representative offices in Milan. Yossi Shochat, the economic attache, said that some of the rioters were armed with bats and rocks. They spraypainted the wall with the slogan, "Israel is Terrorist."
Live From Kuwait....

No, it's not another blowdried Fox News anchor, it's a brand-new Kuwaiti blogger named Ziad. He started his blog just after the war began and so far I like his observations and his sense of humor. This is from his debut post:

In 1991, the war to liberate Kuwait got off to a much more spectacular start. Those of us who were here at the time remember this feeling of euphoria that came over us; freedom was near and we thought it would be over in 3 days... "BOMB THE MOTHERFUCKERS!!" we would yell on the phone, ignoring the possible interception of our calls by Iraqi agents in Kuwait.... No such feeling this time round, simply because we're at a higher risk of being attacked with SCUDs. We want him dead and we want this war over and done with quickly and with as little civilian casualties as possible.

Though there is no love lost between Kuwait and Israel, as evidenced by the rather nasty reception given to Israeli journalists who went there to cover the war, Ziad's last sentence shows that when it comes to this war, Israelis and Kuwaitis have a lot in common.

Now let's not have too many Jewish and Israeli bloggers contact him at once: we don't want to freak the poor guy out -- though it hasn't seemed to bother Salam Pax, who I hope is safe.