Wednesday, June 04, 2003


Here it is, check it out -- the new blog...!

Comments couldn't be moved over, so get busy filling up the new one with new comments.

I have lots of warm words and compliments for Matt and Vicky at Blogmosis, which I'll detail at a later date. Let's just say if you are a blogger who is fed up with Blogspot, want a better, more personalized MT blog, design, hosting, all in one package at a ridiculous price -- and need total handholding because you have zero technical knowledge -- give them a yell like I did.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

What do Jews and Arabs Have in Common? They Both Go Ga-Ga with Excitement When a Movie Star Comes to Town. And Serve Him Falafel

So Richard Gere wants to come to Israel to promote peace – but he asks the media not to cover the visit.

Yeah, right. This guy does not know the Israeli press. They make the Hollywood and New York press look like a bunch of pussycats. Anyway, he’s here, and naturally every step he takes is being covered and his royal suite at the Dan Hotel is being staked out (of course, he’s staying in the room the Dalai Lama stayed in.)

He is visiting Israel as the guest of Spirit of Peace, the Israeli chapter of the International Peacemaking Community - a global, multi-faith peace organization. Gere asked to "hear the voices of the people" and to get to know the special places in the region, according to those who organized his visit. (Presumably he's going to territories as well. Next stop on his MidEast tour is reportedly Iraq.)

This is how the Hebrew newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported his first day here:

They came from the whole area. Mothers, daughters, and even grandmothers with sparkling eyes, crowded the local auditorium in the village of Faradis, to see, if only for a moment, their idol Richard Gere.

One little boy, kind of embarrassed, offered the actor some falafel balls, stuffed grape leaves, and a branch full of olives. And the superstar was thrilled.

“I’m a rich man, I’ve managed to travel the world, I’m lucky, and I don’t want for anything, But if there’s something that brings meaning to my life, it is the subject of peace – these kinds of meetings, these kinds of places. It is a great honor for me to be here,” said Gere, after he he tapped lightly with a small wooden stick on a metallic object in a spiritual ceremony that mean to ask for “quiet and listening.”

Gere arrived yesterday at Faradis, an Arab village next to Zichron Ya’acov to meet with women members of various peace organizations. Surrounded by security guards and wearing a shy smile, he walked across the hall, taken aback by how many photographers were there. “Hang on,” he said to them quietly, embarrassed.

The audience of female fans (and a few males who couldn’t resist) stood and applauded, cheered, and whistled.

Geres spoke of the importance of peace, of his desire to create hope between people, and to help to raise money for groups that work to this purpose. When Gere asked those present “to be my teachers,” a circle of ten girls formed around him and explained to him the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gere listened with a focused gaze. He tasted the food he was served (he especially liked the falafel) and received a t-shirt that read “War is not my language.” At the end, everyone left the room soaked with stardust.

“He is just unbelievable,” sighed one of the women. “I’d leave my husband for him.”

From there, the actor continued to the Druze village of Dalia-al-Carmel to visit the home of Ali Birani, a peace activist.

“I think that I’ve seen every movie he’s been in, but I never thought this wonderful actor would ever be in my house,” said he son, Nassir, excitedly. “until 15 minutes before he arrived, when I got the call that he was on his way, I didn’t believe it would happen.” Gere stayed at the family’s house for three and a half hours and over the course of his stay, spoke with the Druze Sheik a Jewish rabbi, a Moslem Imam, and a Christian Priest.

After a long day in Arab villages, Gere arrived in Savyon, at the home of top PR man Rani Rahav. The cream of the Israeli business community came to rub shoulders with the Hollywood star. Shimon Peres and his son Chemi, and Dalia Rabin-Pellosof made it to the cocktail party. Gere entered the house quickly, without even a wave to the neighborhood kids who had gathered on the steps at the house across the street and yelled “Richard, Richard!”

Some of the guests at the party had trouble hiding their excitement. “I’ve seen all his movies,” said real estate baron Lev Leviev. “That’s why I came to meet him.” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was there with his wife Judy, as was the US ambassador Dan Kurtzer.

Shimon Peres came out of the meeting enraptured. “It turns out that Gere doesn’t just capture the hearts of woman, but also the hearts of men, because he is very down-to-earth.,” said Peres “he isn’t just a big star but a major artist and it is very impressive that he is willing to dedicated some of his time and energy to promoting peace in Israel.”

Gere returned the compliment. “I don’t know how you do it,” he said to Peres. “You are more than 20 years older than me, but you look 20 years younger than me.” With a small falafel in his hand (yup, they served him falafel in Savyon, too) Gere joked (presumably referring to his meeting with the women activists in Faradis) “You know the difference between me and the Arabs? The Arabs discriminate against women, and I discriminate against men.!”
So Much to Blog, So Little Time!!

Here's the Reader's Digest version -- it's Election Day in Jerusalem and Haifa -- both cities are choosing mayors. The key race is Jerusalem -- either they will have a young yuppy secular mayor, or continue with the city's first ultra-Orthodox mayor. The details on how the Mike's Place bombers have been made public after the court lifted the gag order. The most interesting detail is how the bombers managed to get through the Erez checkpoint from Gaza into Israel, once the Hamas had outfitted them with their bomb belts -- they hitched a ride with a car full of Italian journalists and sailed right through.

Not to mention that whole peace process thing going on in Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Yesterday, I was out of the news loop, busy spending a fascinating day in the Negev at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev -- I was on the main campus in Beersheva, and at their extension at Sde Boker. The south of the country is a whole other world -- wide open desert spaces, Beduin, etc. You hop on a train among the hi-rise buildings of Tel Aviv, and in just over an hour, there are camels in front of you.

I really, really enjoyed taking the train down from Tel Aviv to Beersheva and back -- I hadn't realized how much I missed riding public transportation in Israel -- I don't think I've gotten on a public bus in six or seven years.

Wish I had time to write more on all of these topics -- but work and life is demanding, and if that wasn't enough, I'm busy figuring out Moveable Type so I can move over to my new Blogmosis blog!

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....