Saturday, May 31, 2003

A Little Kid's Sub-Conscious Doesn't Forget Things so Quickly

All of the adults in Israel have tried to collectively invoke amnesia regarding the whole Iraq War/Gas Mask experience back in March/April. I haven't stepped in the shelter in weeks, haven't looked at the gas masks or anything. But over the weekend, my kids -- aged four and six -- were playing on their own for a half hour or so jumping on the bed, hiding under blankets and pillows, near where my husband was reading the paper. Afterwards, he reported that the game they were playing involved jumping on the bed until someone yelled, "Ptsasa!" -- (translation: Explosion or Bomb!) Then they cried, "Quick, go to the shelter!" and they would go under the covers or under the bed. I guess it is a relatively healthy way for them to air any lingering anxieties...
Ampersand, Arik Sharon, and Me

So how's this for irony? First, Ampersand announces he is blogrolling me in the following manner:

Oh, and I've added Allison Kaplan Sommer's pro-occupation blog An Unsealed Room, as well. Since Allison (who is Israeli) pretty much defends Israel's occupation, she and I disagree a lot. This has given me the opportunity to be impressed with Allison's ability to disagree in civil terms. I try to make a habit of "reading the opposition," and Allison's innate decency and good writing skills keep that from being a chore.

The link to An Unsealed Room brings up some issues of terminology. First, Allison considers herself a leftist (or at least a liberal), but on the only issue we've discussed she's far to the right of me. Since I can't quite see her as a blog of a feather, but she probably wouldn't like being classified as a right-winger, I've stuck her in "unpigeonholable."

Second, what do I mean by calling her "pro-occupation"? Well, I've decided to start framing the Israel/Palestine issue that way - those who think the occupation is justified are "pro-occupation," even if (like Allison) they don't like the occupation and regret the human costs; those who don't think the occupation is justified are "anti-occupation." I'm using this terminology because I refuse to define the issue in terms of being "pro-Israel" or "anti-Israel," since I'm "pro-Israel" in the larger sense of supporting Israel's right to exist and hoping it prospers. Being a peacenik is not being anti-Israel, dammit!

Well, I'm flattered about the decency and writing skills part, but it was funny to read about being tagged "pro-occupation" on practically the very same day that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced "occupation!" Does that put me to the right of Arik Sharon? Funny, you'd never know from my voting record...

What Amp and his ilk don't understand -- and I grant you, it's very hard to understand when you are not here on the "ground" -- that it is not as simple as being "pro-occupation" or "anti-occupation." You can support withdrawal from the territories under certain circumstances, like when the other side is offering you a rock-solid peace treaty -- and support going into the territories under other circumstances -- like when the other side is breaking the peace treaty and allowing bomb factories to be built in the middle of Palestinian cities.

And you can even believe that the occupation is "justified" -- i.e. the West Bank is territory taken by Israel in a war of self-defense, that the country it was taken from -- Jordan -- has always refused to take back -- and at the same time, believe that hanging on to it is not worth the price -- and support the creation of a Palestinian State to solve the problem of endless unwanted control over the lives of millions of Palestinians. This, as much as you would like in your heart to hand onto this land -- which is where Sharon essentially stands, I think. He wants the land, he doesn't want the Palestinians, and he can't stomach transfer.

What Ariel Sharon is doing right now has got to be painful for him. I'm sure that the only way it's tolerable for him is that he's sitting across the table from Abu Mazen and not from Arafat. (No thanks to the French who are as enraptured with Arafat as they were with Saddam)

I heard something very wise on the radio on Friday as I was driving to Jerusalem -- unfortunately I didn't catch the name of the commentator. He told the left to back off. Don't give Sharon a bear hug, the last thing he wants or needs is Peace Now and Meretz showering him with affection and saying, "ah, now you see the light, you understand we were right all along."

It's not going to help him politically or psychologically. Let him think that he invented the idea of compromise with the Palestinians if he needs that. Let him do what he needs to sell this thing to the Israeli center and center-right, and deal with the angry opposition of the settlers.

It's not going to be an easy job, and anything the Israeli left does right now to try to help him is just going to make it harder.

All that said, it is clear that this thing will not go anywhere unless Abu Mazen and co. really truly do crack down on terror. Charles Krauthammer gets that right in this essay.

Friday, May 30, 2003

What Better to Do on Jerusalem Day Than to....Go to Jerusalem!

I'm off to the City Holy to Three Faiths, etc. etc. to spend the weekend (well, the day and a half Israelis call a weekend) with my husband's family. And if I get lost on the way...well, I'll just follow my Road Map.

It's nice to start a weekend on an optimistic note. Let's hope the positive atmosphere following the most recent Sharon-Abu Mazen meeting lasts for more than three seconds.

Have a good Shabbat everyone.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Make Love, Not War...With Richard Gere? Sounds Good to Me

Well, the celebrity express to the Middle East just keeps on rolling. Whitney Houston is still partying in Dimona, and there's word that Richard Gere is on the way, according to the Hebrew paper Yediot Aharonot. The best friend of the Dalai Lama is on a world tour of war-stricken countries, making the rounds promoting peace. The paper says he's going to meet with Abu Mazen. What will they talk about? What it's like to have silver hair?

How Richard Gere is supposed to bring us peace is unclear to me. My theory is that the man recently married his girlfriend, has a new baby and a toddler at home, and is looking for an excuse to get out of the house.

But you know what? Whitney and Richard may be completely silly, but I've got to give them some credit. At least they are COMING TO ISRAEL.
Our Biggest National Export -- Pouty Brunettes....

The latest Israeli entertainer to hit Hollywood trying to make it big has reportedly gotten her big break. Sandy Bar (rhymes with candy bar) was a hot model-turned-actress who moved to LA seeking her fortune together with her actor husband Acki Avni (he's got to change his name to make it.) They moved for Avni's career, but the best he's been able to do is get an appearance as an Arab terrorist (ha!) on the series "24."

But Ma'ariv reports today that Bar won the lead role in a film also starring mature but still hot Brazilian actress Sonia Braga, and the film is already being shot. It would be nice if she had a little success, we've been demoralized ever since Mili Avital's career has fizzled.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Rick Bragg Has a Point...

This is what the suspended NY Times reporter said in an interview with the Washington Post:

Times stringers and interns "should get more credit for what they do," Bragg said, but in "taking feeds" from such assistants, "I have never even thought of whether or not that is proper. Maybe there is something missing in me. . . .

"I will take it from a stringer. I will take it from an intern. I will take it from a news assistant. If a clerk does an interview for me, I will use it. I'm going to send people to sit in for me if I don't have time to be there. It is not unusual to send someone to conduct an interview you don't have time to conduct. It's what we do.

Either you use stringers and interns and clerks in reporting, or you don't. Journalism has been exploiting the young, talented, ambitious and unconnected in these roles for decades. Here in Israel, do you really think that New York Times star correspondents and their equivalents at other major newspapers and networks actually breeze in, get the lay of the land on their first day, and start reporting knowledgeably and in-depth on the craziness that goes on here? Nope, they rely heavily on the number two reporter, who is a local and speaks Hebrew, Arabic, or both, on their clerk and staff person, and heavily, on their local "fixers," particularly in the territories. As they do in other non-English speaking environments. Interns -- even better -- you don't have to pay them.

Maybe Bragg did cross a line somewhere, but it is unfair to make what he did equivalent to Jayson Blair's total fabrications. I agree with Jeff Jarvis.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Whitney and Arik

Needless to say, the Palestinians are not at all thrilled by Whitney Houston's decision to visit the Black Hebrews in Israel, and worse yet, to meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. So they decided to be really mean and nasty about it.

Why is Sharon smiling? Because he's so relieved that he only had to meet with silly pop stars yesterday and not with Abu Mazen.
If There's a Place You Wanna Go, I'm the One You Need to Know, I'm the Map...I'm the Map, I'm the Map, I'm the Map.....

That's a song from "Dora the Explorer," one of my kids' favorite shows, via videotapes from the U.S. It jumps into my head every time I hear the words "Road Map." My mom has been complaining, "Why aren't you blogging about the Road Map? We all want to know what you think about it!" I guess I'm not blogging about it yet, because I haven't figured out what I think about it yet. I'm as confused as the next Israeli. On one hand, of course I want peace, and yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm willing to give up a big chunk of the post-67 territory to get it. On the other hand, it's hard to get all swept away and excited by this initiative. Why? First, once you get burned, you are damn nervous about being a total idiot and getting fooled again. And that's what happened with Oslo. We stuck our neck out and got our heads cut off. We helped create the Palestinian Authority, pulled out of the population centers, and gave them a great chance to develop new and advanced weapons of terrorism. Then we had to be the bad guys and go back in.

We're really worried about that happening again.

Also, even if we "lefties" support the plan in a vacuum, we aren't so comfortable about how this looks. Because it does look like a victory for terrorism. Why, all of a sudden, is Ariel Sharon anti-"occupation?" No one can believe he actually uttered these words on Monday:

"I think the idea that it is possible to continue keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation -yes it is occupation, you might not like the word, but what is
happening is occupation - is bad for Israel, and bad for the Palestinians, and bad for the Israeli economy. Controlling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on forever. You want to remain in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem?"

But he did.

Just a few short years ago he would have labeled anyone talking the way he does now as a "traitor?"

Nothing's changed, has it, besides month after month after month of terrorism and its consequences. So aren't we saying that terrorism works?

And frankly, we're kind of bitter and sad. If Sharon and the Likud had spoken this way and agreed to such a plan a decade or so ago, we might have spared ourselves and the Palestinians a lot of pain and suffering. If Sharon had stood behind Rabin when he was saying and doing basically the exact same thing, maybe we wouldn't have had our Prime Minister assassinated (and where are the "Sharon is a traitor" posters today?)

Everyone's buzzing today about Sharon's big change of it it a ploy? Is he just so sure that the Palestinians won't live up to their Road Map obligations that he figures there's nothing to lose in being "good children" for the U.S. and going along with the program and just waiting for Abu Mazen/Arafat to screw up?

As I said, it's all very confusing and disorienting. Right is left and left is right and up is down and down is up....

One clear sign that it won't get very far are these conflicting definitions of "ceasefire." Abu Mazen has said repeatedly that his goal is to get the Hamas, Jihad, and co. to stop terror attacks on Israeli civilians inside Israel. To him, that's a ceasefire. Meaning that attacking anyone outside the '67 lines, soldier or civilian (settler) will be perfectly kosher and still seen as abiding by a ceasefire. That is just not going to wash with Israelis. No matter where it happens, killing is killing is killing.

I want to be optimistic. I want to hope the Road Map will work and bring us peace. I want, I hope, but I don't yet believe. And I don't know if it really matters, frankly.

Imshin, as usual, hits the nail on the head and reflects the feelings of the average Israeli on the street when she wrote as she departs for Eilat:

"What difference does it make what I think? No one cares what I think. The big guys will just have to sort it out. That's what they're there for. And we'll just go on dodging people who look like they're going to blow themselves up and hoping for the best, thank you very much."

I hope she's having fun -- and the fact that the Eilat municipality is having a general strike today doesn't screw anything up for her....

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Israel: It's Still Safe to Come

Fabulous strategy for pro-Israel activism in oh-so-liberal California, in my opinion...

A condom giveaway on the campus of U.C. San Diego has gotten plenty of people hot and bothered.

As the highlight of an on-campus campaign entitled "Got Israel?" pro-Israel students at UCSD recently handed out condoms and T-shirts emblazoned with an anthropomorphic condom cartoon and the catchphrase, "Israel: It's still safe to come."

In addition to spouting a double entendre lewd enough to make Benny Hill blush, the condoms proved the point that Israel is the only country in the Middle East in which women and homosexuals are entitled to equal rights, according to the giveaway's student organizers.

The condoms came equipped with a card discussing "sexual freedoms and women's rights in different Mideastern countries and Israel. It showed the literacy rates of women, the percentage of women employed, whether homosexuality is legal. On that basis, people could make their own decisions on how free and democratic Israel is," said co-organizer Eddie Cohen.

But apparently, some of the more traditional members of the San Diego Jewish Community are a bit uncomfortable with this campaign. Too bad for them. This is a great way to try to win over the hearts and minds (and other organs) of the 20-somethings in SoCal. Next stop should be Berkeley.
Whitney Houston Live in....Dimona?

Be careful what you ask for....We've been wanting more high-profile American entertainers to dare to make the trip to Israel. Well, it looks like we've got one: the talented but troubled Whitney Houston. Late last week there were stories in the Hebrew press that she and her entourage have booked up a private villa in a hotel in Eilat for one night, but nobody quite knew why. Then the Friday papers cleared up the mystery -- she is not coming to sing, but to make a pilgrimage to Dimona to visit the charismatic and controversial leader of the Black Hebrews, Ben-Ami Carter. Makes sense, Whitney is pretty charismatic and controversial herself.

Apparently, Whitney is coming because she needs some spiritual inspiration from Carter (if I were a late-night comedy talk show host, I'd make a mean joke about her running out of drug connections in the United States.) Seriously, I hope she realizes that her bags are going to be searched pretty carefully when she enters Israel...
Goodbye, Rabbi Clayman...We Loved You

A wonderful man has died.

Tears filled my eyes when I looked at the weekend newspapers and was stunned to see that Rabbi David Clayman had passed away. Since Rabbi Clayman lived and worked in Jerusalem, an hour and a half away, most of our journalist-to-source contact was by telephone. But he was always incredibly lovely and helpful, even long-distance. I viewed him as a personal inspiration, and I will miss being able to pick up the phone and call him with a question or a problem or whenever I needed an insightful quote about the relationship between Israel and American Jewry. My condolences to his lovely wife and his kids and grandchildren. It's clear from the articles written about him that everyone felt the same way about him.

"Everyone called him rabbi; that was his main trademark. He did what a rabbi did, he liked to talk and to listen," said Jonathan Clayman of his father David, the longtime director of the American Jewish Congress Israel office. To the surprise of many who never even knew that he was ill, Clayman, 69, died of cancer in Jerusalem late Wednesday night and was buried on Thursday in the Eretz Hahayim Cemetery outside Beit Shemesh.

His job building bridges between the American and Israeli communities often required him to take on political tasks or an academic role, writing and interpreting attitudes in both countries.... His father, Jonathan said, "really knew what to say to whom at the right moment." In his professional life he knew how to listen to all sides, said Jonathan, explaining that his father met with both Arabs and settlers. A native of Boston, Clayman graduated from Harvard College in Massachusetts and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He came to Israel with his family in 1971 out of a deep love for the country and remained devoted to it through the rest of his life, said Jonathan.

One Islamic Scholar's Idea of Women's Rights

One of the leading Muslim scholars has issued a fatwa permitting women to carry out suicide attacks.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian who serves as the dean of Islamic Studies at the University of Qatar, issued his ruling in response to last week's bombing in Afula, which was carried out by 19-year-old Hiba Daraghmeh, a female student from Tubas in the northern West Bank.... He said Muslim women are allowed to violate Islamic teachings by traveling unaccompanied by a close male relative and without having to cover their heads for the sake of carrying out an attack. "Concerning the issue of the hijab [veil], a woman can put on a hat or anything else to cover her hair," Qaradawi ruled. "When necessary, she may even take off her hijab in order to carry out the operation, for she is going to die in the cause of Allah and not to show off her beauty or uncover her hair."

When I saw this story in this morning's edition of The Jerusalem Post, it was right above another article.

This article told the story of a woman named Pat Roush. Back in 1986, she was estranged from her Saudi husband, who proceeded to kidnap her two daughters to his kingdom, forcibly convert them to Islam, and deny his wife access to her children. She not only missed their childhood, but is forbidden to know them as adults either, and is continuing to fight.

Alia, then seven years old, and Aisha, age 3, were kidnapped by Roush's estranged husband, Saudi national Khalid al-Gheshayan. Once in Saudi Arabia, Saudi law granted the girls' father sole custody; as adult women, the girls' American passports are held by their closest male relative and they are denied the right to travel freely. (Male kidnap victims, by contrast, are free to leave the country upon becoming adults.) The last Roush heard, Alia and Aisha, now ages 24 and 20, were wedded in arranged marriages to Saudi men. Last June, Alia gave birth to her first child, a baby girl named Basma.

The deputy governor of Riyadh, Abdullah al-Blehed had, in 1995, refused to allow Roush to take her daughters home to California nine years after they were kidnapped by their Saudi father. After granting Roush a two-hour meeting with her daughters the only time she has seen them since their 1986 kidnapping Blehed denied all subsequent requests to reunite the family. "I said, 'Please let me take my little girls home. Please let me see my daughters one more time,' and he said no," Roush said last week during a briefing at the Middle East Forum. For Roush, media reports of Blehed crying over the mangled corpse of his first-born son Muhammad, who was killed in the May 12 terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, was a form of biblical justice.

So I suppose the only circumstances under which the Moslem extremists would let these two women travel to the United States to visit their mother would be if they did so on their way to a suicide bombing in her hometown.

Both these stories fit nicely with today's Thomas Friedman column in the New York Times, in which he writes of our unhealthy codependent relationship with the Gulf states:

If we were telling the Saudis the truth, we would tell them that their antimodern and antipluralist brand of Islam — known as Wahhabism — combined with their oil wealth has become a destabilizing force in the world. By financing mosques and schools that foster the least tolerant version of Islam, they are breeding the very extremists who are trying to burn down their house and ours.

But we also need to tell ourselves the truth. We constantly complain about the blank checks the Saudis write to buy off their extremists. But who writes the blank checks to the Saudis? We do — with our gluttonous energy habits, renewed addiction to big cars, and our president who has made "conservation" a dirty word.