Saturday, October 28, 2006

eid mubarak

My friend Mahdi invited me and Hannah to his village, Arabe, to spend Eid al-Fitr with him and his family. I'm used to driving past the Arab villages on my way up north on Highway 6 and through Wadi Ara, but I haven't been further inside than the roadside ceramic shops in at least 10 years, and certainly not since the Intifada began and returned to hiatus. One of the two words I could use best to express my experience is a very common Jewish feeling: guilt. The other is perhaps less particularly Jewish, but another necessary emotion of humanity: humbling.

The guilt is easy to understand. There's not much Jews don't feel guilty about, and in Israel, there's even more of a reason to feel it. Never does one feel the Arabian quality of Israel than in these villages, where nearly all the signs are in Hebrew, but only a handful, mostly students and professionals, speak fluently, and where the traditional Muslim culture flourishes. Hannah and I took a train to Haifa, and then caught a bus into the Arab "triangle" - Arabe, the famous soccer town Sakhnin, and Deir Hana. The bus was practically empty, aside from an old woman who talked to us incessantly about how she couldn't figure out what bus to take to Haifa and how she has to pay 80 shekels a day to take a cab to the city for her medical check-ups. She got off just before the turn into the triangle, and then it was just us and a Muslim woman about our age.

Mahdi and his cousin picked us up at the entrance to the city, and we drove across town to his family's land on the outskirts. We stopped to get beer for his uncles, which surprised us, considering that we were going to a celebration to mark the end of Ramadan. But Mahdi told us that only his mother and a couple sisters fasted this year, and besides, it wasn't so odd for some Muslims to drink beer. We tried to understand this according to the Jewish separation of religious and secular, but Mahdi told us it wasn't like that. They were Muslims, and Muslim is Muslim, whether one fasts or drinks alcohol. He wouldn't be allowed to drink himself until he got married, he told us - tradition is tradition.

He sat us down at a table outside the front door of an absolutely illuminating house set on a cliff above both his uncle's homes. His dad was the oldest brother, and therefore entitled to the best piece of land. Mahdi's four sisters came out, one after the other, bringing us dried fruit, and candies, and nuts and cola. Mahdi spoke to them very authoritatively, in a tone resembling a father's or employer's, which made me feel uncomfortble, not just because of the gender factor, which was obvious, but because of my own inability to say anything to them except shukran, making me feel like an snobby guest, or a mute imbecile.

That feeling grew even stronger when we went down to his uncle's yard to join the meal. The barbecue was still going strong, but the eaters were slowing down. One of his aunts jumped up to stuff Mahdi's hands full of shish kebobs, and mine and Hannah's plates with grilled onions and tomotoes and chips and salads. Again and again. They thought it was funny that we weren't eating meat, and funnier that I don't speak Arabic. My best form of communication was smiling and leaning toward Hannah for the right phrases. One of his aunts and an uncle spoke to us in Hebrew and everyone else chattered to us in Arabic, anyway, looking expectantly at me after each sentence. I just kept smiling and saying shukran.

I actually enjoyed the limited communication, in a certain way, because it gave me a chance to abandon the normal guest routine of answering questions and talking about myself, and experience Mahdi and his family. It would have been nice to understand what they were saying, but just sitting around and feeling warm with a friend's family, in a place I've never been before, was really comfortable and humbling. This was clearly an Arab world, however, and my inability to speak to them only heightened my feeling of being a Jewish immigrant, and of course, the neverending feeling of Jewish guilt.

When we finally got the courage to tell his aunts we were full, Mahdi took us on a stroll through town. The streets were packed with young people, some playing on giant air-filled giraffes and most others walking aimlessly in groups. Mahdi told us he was taking us to the one cafe in town where women were allowed in, but warned us that this might only be the second time a woman had been inside, the other time being Hannah's last visit. He told us women never went out in Arabe, at least not without their male relatives. The waiter did shoot us a questioning glance when we came in, but didn't say anything, except asking what we wanted to drink. Mahdi told us he couldn't drink alcohol at a cafe in his town, but we could if we wanted. I definitely didn't feel like drinking a beer in a place where woman aren't usually allowed.

Since we ate dinner so early, it was only 7 pm when we left the cafe. I was happy to go back to Mahdi's house to relax, but he seemed a little embarassed that there wasn't much of a night life for us to see. We sat on low mattreses and watched TV with his little brother Hamudi and their mother, who the minute we sat down threw her blanket over our legs and brought us tea and fruit and nuts. She did the same thing when Mahdi's and Hannah's friend Farid, came over. The three of them worked together last year in sadaka reut - literally friendship friendship in Arabic and Hebrew - a non-profit organization that educates Arab and Jewish kids on coexistence. They're all really comfortable with each other, and comfortable to be around, but I kept feeling nagged by the fact that we were sitting with two Arabs, in an Arab village, speaking in Hebrew. The guilt stemmed from the knowledge that no matter how far back their families were tied to the land, it was still longer than my immediate family, yet we were speaking my language, in a state that was clearly more concerned with my welfare than with theirs. And at the same time, they were Israeli citizens, but self identify as Palestinian Arabs. They would never want to be transferred to the West Bank or Gaza, as our new minister of strategic threats, Avigdor Lieberman, has suggested, but they don't really want to remain second class citizens here either.

The clear divisions between our worlds made me realize that when Jews in Israel work on coexistence, we are doing it of guilt for what we have done and what we are doing. When Arabs do it they are also doing it out of guilt, in a certain sense, but in a much less direct way. They are doing it more because of the realization that if they don't, they will remain on the fringes of a society that fears them and is at best only tolerating them as citizens. Their guilt is sometimes for what their neighbors have done, or their Palestinian brothers, but on the whole, they are considering the best course of action for the future. Many Jews feel that way too, knowing that it is only moral and secure to be at ease with our non-Jewish neighbors, but I don't think it is possible to extract the factor of guilt from the equation. Especially considering that Israel was designed to be a Jewish state, and plainly speaking, Muslims are not Jewish, no matter how much we work at coexisting.

I felt even more guilty as I sank into one of the three beds in the girls' room, while they slept somewhere else, and when we sat around eating a gloriously huge breakfast together, chewing silently for lack of shared language and of politeness. And as part of that guilt, and in part from humilty, I reminded myself to learn Arabic before I came up again for another visit.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Okay, so I skipped the exciting sequal to part I of my Europe adventures. What with all the morbidness and corruption that charactizes Israel, you may have thought I got sucked into an uncomfortable black hole, or worse, Israel's current leadership, but no, I've just been lazy. In the spirit of the season, I apologize.

I will post my Amsterdam litany as soon as I stop being lazy. I promise. In the spirit of the season, though, let me be fair and admit that I still have almost a year to break this vow.

Since it's been a month since I last posted, I'll start by saying that my laziness hasn't been due to inactivity, but rather the result of returning to work, and of my recent sumbergence into one of the most intense holiday periods in my memory, and an equally revelatory birthday.

I've let my lazy inclinations override my ability to express my vivid inclinations mostly because it's much easier to blurt emotional decriments of immoral wars and political snafus than it is to lie on a couch and blabber about my insecurities or over-confidences. There, I said it.

In the midst of a particular insecurity involving a remarkable set of coincidences, someone asked me, "what are you so afraid of?" Details don't matter here, precisely because I've realized that it is details that I am afraid of. Our lives are so composed of details that it has become virtually impossible to disentangle ourselves from the figures that identify us.

By ascribing ourselves to certain definitions, we lose sight of our purpose in life. By clinging to past memories and self-assessments we hinder our own growth as much as those who file us away in their aging perceptions of us.

On my 24th birthday I realized that despite all my confidence in the work and experience that has made me the well-adjusted person I am today, I am not actually such a well-adjusted person. On Yom Kippur I realized that I had sinned more this year than ever before, if only because before this year I did not believe in the concept of a sin. It contradicted my understanding of the non-duality as the only "the."

I don't know what changed this year. Maybe it was when the concept of regret, which I had stuffed deep into the recesses of my mind, not to be used but to be remembered, finally poked out of its hiding spot and hit me in the heart. I hit my heart also, to atone for my sins, but that was largely symbolic. Maybe I'm getting old, Maybe it's the constant flux of friendships that has defined the last year of my own sedentary living among a group of wanderers. Maybe it's the way I treat my parents, or my sister. Maybe it's my fear of confrontation. Maybe it my own self-judgements.

On Sunday, after an exhausting birthday and the party my sister and I threw in her Sukkah, I sat with my friend Amy and asked her to do a birthday exercise with me. It was a heart-to-heart that followed at least two and a half others over the course of the night, and I was feeling vulnerable, but enlightened. I told Amy that what I'd learned most in recent weeks is the need to be self-critical without being self-abusing, and aware of my achievements without indulging judgements of others.

Then I asked her to close her eyes, and bring herself back to age six. We sat there with our eyes closed, still as a pair of discombobulated statues. My first grade school portrait, the one where I'm staring intensely into the camera with only the slightest hint of a smile, appears in my head, and brings me to Mrs. Powell's classroom, where one of my classmates asks me if I'm Chinese and where my boyfriend SamShmuel and I hold hands and kiss each other on the cheeks. Suddenly Sam and I are in his basement, facing each other with a set of hockey goals behind us, ready to show each other ours in exchange for a peek at the other's. I walk around the old Hillel playground, and then I am bitten by a snake, or at least I tell the office ladies that I am. I am wisked into a recurring dream of that tooth fairy period of my life, when standing on the walk leading up to my old house on Cromwell Ct., my sister's eyeball falls out of her head, and I scramble around looking for it. That leads me into another recurring dream, of a later period, but I pull myself back to first grade.

Amy and I open our eyes, for a moment, and return again to our past, this time to ten years old. My oval face plumps out and I am standing in shorts, a matching t-shirt and a Charlotte Hornet's cap on the banks of the Dan River with my parents and a distant kibbutznik cousin. I take the image from a picture in my dad's living room drawer, prompting me to tell Amy we should try to get away from viewing ourselves externally.

I find myself playing with my friend Bene, baseball, and then at her house for a sleepover. We walk upstairs, where I see her mother's wig. Her mother lies in bed, a few years before dying of cancer. Amy and I are twelve, suddenly, and I am in a classroom, where I ask a long-time classmate for a piece of gum, and where she answers, "No," firing off, "because I don't like you" when I insipidly ask her why. I'm wearing a freshjive t-shirt, and smoking my first cigarette Friday night at an NCSY shabbaton with my two cool older friends, Meatball is playing in the background and then I am back in Hillel, where I see Amy. I try to catch her eye, but the hallway is too wavy, and she just keeps smiling that frozen smile borrowed from an old yearbook, as I open my mouth on my 24th birthday in my sister's sukkah and ask her to look at me. I tell her we are in the hallway, surrounded by lockers, one of which is adorned with a Happy Birthday Ali sign autographed by everyone who has walked by and felt like leaving me a memento. She laughs, and I try to catch her eye again, but everything is still moving. With my 12-year-old hands I grab her shoulders, and look at her in the eye. She is looking back at me. In my sister's sukkah we sit completely still, not moving or touching, our eyes closed. I grasp her with my mind's arms and tell her, "I'll see you in 12 years." She doesn't hear me. I say it again.

My sister comes out to the porch, and shuts off the music. I open my eyes. So does Amy. She tells me she was looking right at me, but she didn't hear me say anything. Maybe I didn't.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

italia and the dam, part I

I got back from Europe almost two weeks ago, and celebrated my labor holiday by heading straight to work for eight consecutive days. My trip was whirlwind, as they always seem to be. I landed in Rome at 8 am, and caught a train downtown, hit suddenly with the realization that I'd crossed the rainbow. I met up with Shlomo and Elisha, who'd arrived in the north of the country 10 days earlier. They'd just finished what was supposed to be the highlight of my trip, venice and the rained-out alps. We wandered around sweaty Rome, an ancient-modern metropolis comprising the dirtiest and holiest aspects of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in one. We played drums on the street with some Czech guys we met near the Colosseum, inhaled pizza and beer, and found ourselves on a slow train to Napoli. Somehow I'd already spent 20 euros.

Napoli was a whim. Shlomo wanted to go to Lecce, a beach town in southeast Italy, the Italian Jamaica, he told us, though admitted he had heard conflicting reports. It was a nine hour train ride and we had to be in Pisa for a flight to Amsterdam three days later. We asked around for some place closer and picked Napoli after someone in their Rome hostel told us she had needed at least another couple of days there to fully absorb it.

One thing I thought I learned in that last few years is not to judge a place by its bus or train station. Elisha and I were skeptical. Shlomo walked across the street to find a hotel. I hung back. I didn't want to leave, but I didn't want to stay there. We kept walking toward the beach, on the side of a never-ending urban highway, and through the winding alleys. The streets and buildings of Napoli are incredible architecture, but not equipped for tourists. We walked back to our roadside resort on the highway and sat down. Elisha suggested turning back - the first twinges of a theme. Shlomo was at a different pace - twinges of another. We looked through a book and caught a cab to the one recommended hostel on the outskirts of town.

It was the least expensive place we'd stay in for the rest of the trip. The shekel has nothing on the euro, except unique pictures of Israeli heros. I went up to my room, which was stuffed with bunkbeds and a disporportionately large bathroom. My Venezuelan roommate greeted me, climbing into bed. The other roommate came out of the bathroom with a wave and a toothbrush and said, "I'm deaf."

We told each other about ourselves with notes and elementary sign language. I still remembered the alphabet that I'd taught myself in 6th grade when I used to skip morning prayers and read whatever I found laying around. As soon as it became clear to me half an hour later that her name was Alex and not Anna, we were able to understand each other almost perfectly. She was a wild woman, traveling solo around Europe after a few months of trekking with two other deaf friends. When I told her we wanted to go to Pompei to see the preserved molten expressions of fear, she slapped the bed and told me that she was going the next day.

She nixed her sleep plan and came out for beers. Alisdair introduced himself in the lounge by signing hello to Alex and apologizing for his Australian hand-language. He was a big guy with a blond ponytail and creative piercings. He drank coke and ate gnocci with melted cheese with us while we drained beers. We sat at an outdoor table sewing a conversation of Italian, English, Hebrew and sign-language with each other and the giddy waiters.

It was hot and rainy when we arrived in Pompei after trying to navigate our way through the Italian train system. The piazza was rumbling with people. When we got to the cashier, Alex tried to explain that she was deaf and entitled to a discount from the discriminatory propretiers of the historical relic. After Alex showed her the code on her Missouri driver's license, the cashier wrote back that she could only give a discount to someone with valid European permission, was Alex by any chance from the United Kingdom?

Alex said yes and pointed me out as a fellow deaf Briton. The cashier asked Shlomo if he was also from the U.K. Shlomo said "yes," in a clear American accent. The cashier handed us our free entrance passes. Elisha paid the full 10 euros. Shlomo sailed through the ticket stubber at the entrance, who then stopped Alex and me and asked us why we should get in for free. Alex said, "because we're deaf and fwe're rom the U.K."

Pompei was a huge city, almost the size of old Jerusalem. The buildings were made of ancient stone stained by the amazing colors left behind by the volcano that consumed the city 1927 years ago. It's amazing how much is intact. The whole city was unearthed in nearly perfect condition due to the preserving effects of lava. We let ourselves get lost on the stone roads, watching Mount Vesuvius try to boil. It felt alive. The eeriest relics are the magma encapsulted corpses of some poorer citizens of Pompei who were caught in a submergence of molten rock that fateful day at work after all of their wealthier neighbors had heard the forecast and evacuated the city.

It started to rain, and everyone took cover next to abandoned shops. Alex pulled out a blue poncho in a Mary Poppins sort of way, and skipped on down the street, oblivious to the rain.

We had agreed to go on to Firenze together that night, where Alex promised a couple of free beds from a friend she'd met on couchsurfers. Shlomo and Elisha didn't want to go back after already having spent two days there, but it sounded like a great idea to me. A few hours later we found ourselves on a platform for a train to Firenze that was supposed to have left 20 minutes before. Alex and Alisdair had caught the train just before that, having more decisively evaluated their budgetary options and used their ticket-buying skills. Elisha and Shlomo and I decided after a tense hour to go to Rome. I still wanted to go north after that, so we agreed if there was still a train to Firenze when we arrived in Rome, we'd go there, even if it was 3 in the morning. No matter that we'd vetoed a ticket via Pisa from Napoli that would have brought us into Firenze at 3:30 anyway.

The Rome train station was emptier than we'd seen it and the next train to Firenze was at 6 in the morning. Elisha checked the time, We had 6 and a half hours to kill. There was a train leaving for Lecce in 15 minutes.

We stood next to the platform for a few minutes, then silently filed our way to the street. We stopped in at one hostel, then another. Twenty-eight, 30 euros, we were told after walking up four stories, but only if we had booked a bed in advance. We hadn't. Back down the stairs. Into another hotel, up as many floors as the last, but this time in a rickety old elevator large enough for two slim Italians and an operator. Reasonably priced, so we gave him our passports and paid. He showed us our room, next to his desk, with two single beds, and told us we would have to go to sleep right away as there was no extra key to the building. Back into the elevator. Elisha and I waited on the corner while Shlomo went in to a hotel to ask if they had room. I saw another hotel on the ground floor on the corner, so I went in to ask. Twenty euros and we could use the internet, the manager told us in Italian. Fanan.

We collapsed onto our beds, three floors of tall stairs above ground. Shlomo drank a coke, and then took a beer after Elisha and I counted the ethics of drinking from a minibar. I took the other beer, and Shlomo drank two fruit juices.

I was ready to go to Firenze right away in the morning, as we planned, but Shlomo decided it would take only ten minutes to get to the station, and stayed in bed until I had already gone down to use the internet. He came down 10 minutes later, and paid for the minibar. We got to the train station after the time I thought the train was leaving, but with 15 minutes to spare before its actual departure.

When we got to Firenze, we discovered the art of buying tuna fish, bread and cheese at the supermarket. Elisha discovered the art of boxed wine for a euro. He bought four.

We stayed in Firenze long enough to have lunch, and then got back on the train to go to Livorno. We didn't know anything about Livorno, but we could get there for five euros and then take a short train to Pisa in the morning. The book told us that we could camp on the beach.

An hour and a half later, exhausted by the train, we arrived in Livorno. I got flashbacks of Napoli's loneliness. We pointed to a map and said "mare" to numerous passersby once we got of the train, but nobody seemed to know. I wanted to go back to Firenze. Shlomo said he was staying and was going to go out on the town. I tried to convince Elisha to come with me. Neither of us had very much money on us and I knew that if I spent money on a room for a third night in a row that I would have a very boring time in Amsterdam.

The train to Firenze was leaving at 8:45. It was 8:30. Alisdair called me on Elisha's phone and said there was an extra bed for me at Alex's couch-surfing friend's house, but no room for Elisha or Shlomo. They wanted to stay. I told them they could probably sleep on the floor there. They didn't want to spend another hour and a half on the train. Neither did I. 8:42. We left the station.

On the other side of the tracks, in the exit behind us, Livorno was a very clean Italian suburb. I stopped someone on a moped and asked him where the mare was. He pointed down the road, trenta kilometers. I put my hands together under my cocked head and asked if we could sleep there. He said si.

We walked toward the beach, even though the map told us there was no beach, only a marina. Shlomo went into a hotel to ask about prices. Elisha and I had decided we were either going to sleep on whatever version of a beach or meet some friendly dreadlocked Italians at a bar. I wandered off to find the internet. I discovered that in Italy, police officers eat ice-cream instead of doughnuts. When I came back, Elisha was carrying my backpack and Shlomo was telling me he got a very good deal on a room and Elisha and I could each have a free bed if we wanted.

We wanted. We made spaghetti with cream of mushroom soup and drank boxed wine, then conquered Livorno. Well, we walked to the beach and saw that it was a marina with an enchanting old fortress, and found a cobblestone alley with a bar and our dreadlocked Italians, and then Shlomo went back to the hotel while Elisha and I drank wine on a ledge one hundred meters above a canal.

The next morning we went to aeroporto Pisa, to catch our flight to Eindhoven. The airport was the size of a small town bus station, with security just as lax. Shlomo consumed everything he didn't want to take on the plane with him, and we went to wait by one of the three flight gates.

I'll save Amsterdam for part II. (Don't be fooled by the first line of the previous post.)

Friday, August 25, 2006


I'm in Amsterdam right now on a semi-spontaneous trip to Europe. I was supposed to leave for Italy early last week, but because of wars and all, I was told to cancel my trip. The day after the cease-fire, my boss told me to get a ticket. So I did, and a day and a half later I was in Rome.

I met up with two friends in Italy, and we traveled around the south and center of the country for half a week, and then flew to Amsterdam, where we'll be till early next week. We've met and traveled with an amazing deaf woman traveling around Europe by herself, an Australian cop who speaks Italian and has numerous facial piercings, a repented Newark gangster, and a couple from Argentina who perform circus acts across Europe.

I'll write more about it later, just posting to let everyone know where I am.

Monday, August 14, 2006

operation, war, or quagmire

I've become an experienced obituary writer this month, and war savant, and political adviser. I've become a real Israeli this month, tied to the news and expecting the worst. I've become an old woman scared for our boys who will never be men, and scared for the children, and our parents, and our animals, and of a government of inexperienced leaders I know I can do nothing to stop.

113 soldiers died this month. Most were civilians called to duty, not by choice, as all Israeli men between the ages of 18 and basically 40 are required to do. We hear about soldiers' deaths usually eight hours before we are allowed to tell the world, to make sure the families get to hear first. We say 25 people were wounded "in various conditions" when we mean 15 people killed and 10 moderately to seriously wounded. I hear about missiles falling on air force bases just meters from my mother's house, and while I call her to scare her, I write that a rocket fell somewhere in the vicinity of her region.

Every time the names of the soldiers are released, I see pictures of them on our photowire, and write a short blurb about their short lives and post it on the site for the next 12 hours, until the next batch of soldiers. I look up and down the list quickly, looking for my friend, my friend's little brother, my friend's friend, my cousin's former classmate. Sometimes I find them.

Sometimes I see a picture of a guy my age who I never met and wonder if I was supposed to marry him. I think of his families who are so real, literally like almost every family in Israel, who have spent the last day, week, month, or 20 years, worrying about their son who, in his role as dutiful Israeli citizen, male protector of the Jewish nation, was putting his life on the line somewhere in a hostile country. Their son, but a soldier. Their son, now another collection of photos and a short video played at memorial day services with tearful music and testimonies of good servitude in the Israel Defense Forces. Their son, a war statistic, pushed into the quagmire. Their son, a pawn pushed forth by a country fighting blindly.

As Uri Misgav so eloquently writes in Haaretz,

The last Israel Defense Forces soldier to die before the cease-fire goes into effect will not know that he is the last. Nevertheless, it is possible that, in the split second that his life ends, he may just manage to feel some kind of vague, surprising discomfort.

Contrary to literary traditions, he will not particularly resemble the hero of Eric Maria Remarque's novel "All Quiet on the Western Front," who was killed a few hours before the cease-fire was declared, ending World War I. Remarque's hero at least died without knowing that an agreement on the end of hostilities was being cobbled together behind his back. The last soldier to be die before the cease-fire goes into effect will die when the timing and conditions of the cessation of hostilities are already known to all.

This war was called hastily, but it was never called a war. Our defense minister and our chief of staff called an operation of soldiers to wipe out the Hezbollah. They must have really believed this was possible. We haven't exactly been winning with the Palestinians, but we certainly haven't been losing. One month later, and thousands of lost futures and destroyed families and lives later, the IDF is still carrying out "an operation." An operation to remove the cancer from Lebanon and our northern front. An operation performed by interns, not doctors. We have all lost tremendously.

This is the longest battle-themed war in Israel's history, they say. For some reason, the Intifada, and Nablus, and Jenin, and the Gaza Strip don't count, maybe because there it was the IDF aggressing against a relatively unarmed population. Hezbollah, a guerilla organization, has buffed itself up since we last visited Lebanon, building a 9,000-strong force armed with thousands of long-range missiles supplied by Iran, a supposedly nuclear power backed by the Khomeini Revolutionary Guard, and by Syria, sovereign Lebanon's enemy/mistress.

No more. I got into an argument with a friend the other day, trying to convince her of the conclusion I reached 32 days into the most updated war, and 13th most updated month, of my life. I told her we should withdraw from Lebanon. I told her we had no right to conquer Lebanon. This war is with Hezbollah, a portion of Lebanon, but not with Lebanon itself, a sovereign state filled with civilians who did nothing to us and did nothing to deserve this fate. I told her the Lebanese army needs to deploy to regain control of the south, along with an international force until things tide over. I told her Israel should do all its negotiating through the UN instead of making unilateral decisions on the fate of millions of people.

She told me Israel needs to fight because this can't keep happening. She told me we were a nation that had been persecuted for centuries, and could under no circumstances weaken ourselves to the brute of anyone. She told me Israel should conquer south Lebanon until Lebanese no longer want to live there, to wipe out the Hezbollah once and for all.

My friend is a very reasonable person. She doesn't want to wipe out Lebanon. She just wants to protect Israel. She was born into war.

I went to work right after that conversation, and saw that a UN resolution had been reached, that a cease-fire was called for Monday morning, and that Lebanon planned to deploy its troops in south Lebanon along with an international force. Lebanon had already agreed to the cease-fire. So had Nasrallah, grudgingly. Olmert was going to talk to the security cabinet the next day.

Then Kofi Annan came out and said he'd spoken to Olmert, he'd spoken to Siniora, everything was all worked out. The cease-fire would begin at 8 A.M. Monday. IDF troops would withdraw as international forces moved in. Cease-fire? Cessation of hostilities? Armistice?

About an hour ago, the IDF called for its forces to begin withdrawing, effective immediately, except in cases of self defense.
Earlier in the day, Hezbollah forced the Lebanese cabinet to cancel its meeting on the cease-fire, saying it was not willing to discuss disarmament. It is hard to believe that this cease-fire will last even days, but it's nice to have some sort of respite. Does this mean I'll stop thinking tonight is the night for the Zelzal to hit Tel Aviv?

152 Israelis have been killed among them 39 civilians. Over 1,000 Lebanese have died. And yes, we are still bombing Gaza, but let's talk about that later.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

when in war, do as the...

Israeli Arab columnist Sayed Kashua writes in Haaretz,

no comment

What a mess, ya'allah. And I was one of those who believed the people who said the war would end by this week. Wow, you have no idea how much I hate wars. Depression is not the word. Now I think the phrase "The war will be over this week already" is permanently true, like the idea that messiah will always come.

"Quiet now," I shout at my little girl, who is bugging me incessantly and not letting me lie on the sofa like a human being and watch a little news.

"Daddy, daddy!"

"I swear, if you're not quiet, I'll lock you in your room," I shout. "What kind of way is that to talk to the girl?" scolds my wife, she being involved in the field of education and whatnot. "She's not letting me watch television. War, damn it, war." "So what?" my wife shouts. "Why are you letting her see these scenes anyway?"

"Do you want me to switch to Al-Jazeera Kids? Fine. There, between Tom and Jerry and Power Rangers, they show clips with children's bodies."

My daughter cries a little and I feel even worse. "Come here, sweetie, come here. I'm really sorry. It's because of this movie. Remember I told you that movies aren't real, that there's no way the cat can fall from a 100-story building and still keep running after that? It's the same thing. A movie, only they call it war. See the red? That's ketchup, they wash it off later in the shower."

"That's not true, Katyushas are falling in Haifa and Safed, we were there on holiday," the girl adds, weeping. "You promised a holiday, sea, hotel, after day camp, and you didn't do a thing. You lie all the time."

"It's not nice to talk to Daddy like that. Daddy never lies. As soon as this movie that they're making in the north is over, we are going on holiday."

"Daddy, look," she shouts with enthusiasm and points to the screen. "Take me there, Daddy, that's where I want to go." The image on the TV screen is of small children playing with inflated things, children in bathing suits and a lot of games. "There, Daddy, take us there."

"That's Gaydamak's tent city."

"Yes, Gaydamak, take us to Gaydamak."

"There's no way. We can't go."

"You're a liar."

"You can't talk to Daddy like that. Get going, off to your room."

"What kind of way is that to talk to the girl?" my wife says, getting up from the sofa and taking her by the hand. "Come on, sweetie, don't cry, come on, you should be asleep already."

What nerves, ya'allah. There's no end to it. What am I going to do? The girl is right - I've been promising her a holiday for half a year already, sea, pool. What can you do - war. "What happened to you with her?" - my wife has returned to the living room - "Do you have any idea what you look like?"

"How would you like me to look, exactly?"

"All right, we're all on edge, but there's a limit."

I go back to staring at the war. Ya'allah, how do you get out of this mess? Of all the options in the world, I had to be born an Israeli Arab, what shit it is. I don't have many choices. No matter how I look at it, I have only two options: kowtowing or militancy. There's no middle ground. I checked out all the possibilities, thought of a million different formulas. Nothing. I don't have a lot of time and I have to decide what I am: an ass-licker or an extreme nationalist. It's a hard choice.

I tell you, in a desperate attempt to find a way out of this trap I watched all the Arabs who were interviewed on television, I read everything they wrote in the Israeli papers, I followed their shouts in the Knesset, but none of the precious Israeli Arabs delivered the goods.

If you come and say that we are all in the same boat - the fact is that people are being killed in Nazareth, in Haifa and in the Arab villages in the Galilee - that there is an alliance of life and an alliance of death with the Jewish people, and at the end of your remarks express the hope that the war will end, people will say it's because you are looking after numero uno, that you don't want to offend your boss, and above all because you're afraid to lose your National Insurance. If you attack the government's policy and the military way of thought and call for an end to the bloodshed on both sides, people will say that the sea is the same sea and the Arabs are the same Arabs and that they all want to throw the Jews to the sharks and have done with them.

True, there are also a few Jews, not many, but there are some who speak against the war on television, but that doesn't mean under any circumstances that they support Hezbollah. They fall within the legitimate framework of the Israeli internal debate, and you don't. So what do you do, damn it?

I didn't see even one Arab who made a good impression. I watch them on TV and have pity. Why do they accept every offer to be interviewed, the fools? You can understand politicians who want to impress their voters, but people from all kinds of organizations and bodies - don't they get it? Don't they understand that they will look ridiculous no matter what? The fix is in. There is no way to come out looking good.

When they are asked, "So what does the Arab public think about the developments?" the meaning is actually: admit it, admit you support Nasrallah, say you abhor the state, you fifth column, you, every one of you. There is no room here to be against war as such. Hey, who are we kidding ? Arabs have suddenly become pacifists? Vegetarians? Hey, tell us another one.

When it comes to the Israeli media, the best thing an Arab can do in wartime is shut up. Abstain, not appear, not write. Because the Israeli target audience will treat what they say with more than a grain of salt, if at all. You don't really wield influence. No one listens to you. And if they do, it's only to reinforce positions they already hold, most of which are against you.

Attempts at self-defense and citing concern for coexistence are useless slogans, most of which will go down within the framework of the response, "Yeah, yeah, sure, why not? Coexistence. We'll show you what coexistence is."

The only way I can think of that can satisfy the interviewer and after him the Israeli viewer is to appear in a Kach movement T-shirt and pound on the tank in the backdrop, while screaming, "Pulverize them, don't leave a stone standing, pulverize."

"Tell me," I ask my wife, "what's better, kowtowing or militancy?"

"What do you want from me?"

"No, nothing. I think I'll go on holiday until the war ends."

"That could take time, no?"

"Noooooo, they said a week."

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I'm sitting in my apartment listening to my itunes on party shuffle. Fifteen Israeli soldiers were killed fighting today in Lebanon. Fourteen Lebanese were killed yesterday at a funeral for 15 other people. In another Lebanese town a man lies moderately wounded - a professional term better understood to us layman as "just below life-threatening" - while his wife and son fight for their lives, unknowing of the rest of their family's deaths. Thousands of northern Israeli residents who have spent the last three weeks huddled in fear in shelters as rockets and missiles explode all around them are migrating southward, refugees of war. The majority of the recent IDF deaths have been reservists, people who were killed just a day after being notified that they must leave their families, work, freedom, lives to don uniforms, kill, and get ready to give their lives for the Israeli cause. The rest of the soldiers were kids whose first taste of life away from home as been combat.

Israel is exploding, and so is Lebanon. People are being killed every day, some for sitting at home, others as gun-yielding Israeli military cattle. None of them want death. None of them want innocent deaths, on either side. On both sides of the border, civilians want peace. In Israel these civilians sometimes wear uniforms, because they have too. Some of them wanted to be fighters, wanted to give their all to defend their country. Defense can mean offense, they reasoned, because if we don't actively defend ourselves, who will. A lot of the Hezbollah fighters are kids, too. They have a cause too. I don't understand it. I don't understand their form of resistance. They want us decimated. We want the same of them.

Lebanon, I wanted to meet you, I wanted to see you. I don't want to kill you. I want you to get rid of Hezbollah, the cancer within you that has destroyed you by attacking Israel when it knew full well that Israel would plow through Lebanon without mercy in order to wipe it out.

Israel, I want to love you. You are my home and I do love you. I want us to get rid of the cancer within is that pushes us toward war at every nudge from our neighbors. You shouldn't have done this. They picked a fight with us, those bastard Hezbollahniks, but we didn't have to respond like this. We didn't have to kill all these people. They are dead now, because of us. So many of our own are dead or refugees now because we haven't figured out yet to stop listening to the American war-mongers and use our words, not our arms. The Americans speak a language of war. Hebrew is a language of logic, zionism was supposed to be a language of defense. Why have you stained my flag with innocent blood? Why are you making my language so offensive?

The irony is that the person currently updating the Israeli dictionary is Amir Peretz, former man of peace, who is now the proponent of this war. I voted for him. He told me he wanted to eradicate poverty, and discrimination against Arabs. He told me he wanted a Palestinian state. He told me he didn't want to fight.

But now that he's sitting in the control room, he keeps pressing the red button. What exactly is the view from there? Is it one of desperation? Is it one of blood? It must be a very hazy control room, because the logic is lost in this war. Our leaders are seeing only red.

Life is exploding. My building shook last night, probably from the air traffic, and in my dream's eye I saw rockets exploding around me. The other day I ran to the door when I heard a loud sound, my keys poised to unlock my apartment and run downstairs to the storage room for safety. My very level-headed friend Mati told me he had a bag packed next to his bed just in case.

My boss told me today that I couldn't go to Europe next week as I planned because Mati is going to be called up for reserve duty. They need me on the site. I've been working there for 13 months, up to my ears in war stories every day - I just want to leave this crazy place, have some peace for a few weeks. But what can I do? I want a vacation, but I can't take it because my country has gone to war and is taking my friends with it. I want a vacation, but I need to be here. How could I even take a vacation now?

I don't know if my writing is reflecting the desperation with which I write this post. I don't give a shit about my vacation. I give a shit about the loneliness of my country, the destruction of my beautiful north and its people, the destruction of beautiful Lebanon and its people, the war-infused frenzy that has brought my country back to misguided patriotism and Lebanon into renewed hatred of Israel. I don't want war. I don't want destruction. I don't want death. I don't want hatred.

Israel, we are renewing the hatred around us. WAR DOES NOT WORK. Olmert. Peretz. Halutz. Don't you remember how much we are fucking up in Gaza? Did you really think this was the answer?

Stop fighting. Take negotiations into your own hands. Negotiate with Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora. Let the international force in. Let the Lebanese troops in. Stop aerial bombing. Decimate the Hezbollah, but through logic, not blind explosions. Let us live. Let us have a vacation, from war and from destruction. Let Lebanon continue to exist. Let Israel continue to exist. Let us live.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

wandering jews

Nir Hasson of Haaretz writes,

The wandering Jew: Out of money, northern refugees refuse to leave the hotel

For the last three weeks now, Meir Yanko has struggled to find a place for his family. The family fled Safed on the third day of the war, after the first volley of Katyushas to fall on the city hit their grandparents home. Yesterday Yanko recounted their journeys:

"At first we arrived at the King Solomon hotel in Jerusalem, from there we moved to the Jerusalem Pearl hotel, which offered us a free night, the next day we went to a hotel in the Dead Sea for a discount price, after that we continued to Eilat.

"From there to a hotel in the center, and on to a host family in Petah Tikva, after which we spent a night sleeping in our car at the Masmia (Re'em) junction, with me guarding outside. On Friday we arrived at my sister's in Hadera, but then rockets fell in Hadera, and the kids had flashbacks, so we fled again to the center. Since yesterday we're in Jerusalem again, at the Ariel hotel. It's safest here, but I still don't know what we'll do tonight".

So far the Yankos have spent NIS 18,000 on their enforced vacation. The father says he cannot afford it any longer, but returning to Safed is not an option.

"The kids are crying, they will not return. I don't want to sound like a poor beggar, but we're mentally exhausted," says Yanko.

The Yankos are only one of tens of thousands of families who left their northern homes following the start of the Katyusha firings. What started as a vacation from the war, funded by donations, is increasingly turning into the sad plight of families who keep relocating.

The troubles of the refugees could be seen as an exemplary case study of a welfare system that relies on donations rather than on regulated government funding. Those who financed the exodus themselves have fallen into financial difficulties. Others, who were supported by donations, are being asked to leave the hotels and return to their homes despite the ongoing bombing.

Suicide threat

Last Thursday one of the guests at the Kings hotel in Jerusalem threatened to kill herself because she was asked to leave. Police cars and ambulances arrived at the scene. The woman, together with a group of 60 Kiryat Shmona residents, came to Jerusalem with the aid of a private travel agency called Be'ad, which raised funds from private donors.

"The next day a riot started. The group refused to evacuate, and after some deliberations they received four extra days in a Dead Sea hotel", said Prima Hotels CEO Eti Levy.

Yesterday those four days were used up, and the story repeated itself. For eight hours the members of the group sat in the hotel lobby and refused to board the buses that were there to take them back to their homes in the north.

"On the one hand it's heartbreaking. On the other, I don't know what I can do. The Kiryat Shmona municipality told me to call the police to force them to leave. But I can't do that," she says.

"We must divide these moments of relief between many people", explains Yaakov Fried, CEO of Daat Travel Services. After some deliberations, and with the help of the Ra'anana municipality and of the nonprofit Parents for Pluralistic Education, a place for them was found in the Meitarim school in Raanana.

Seven in a classroom

One of the group members is Antoine Salame, a former member of the Southern Lebanese who lives in Kiryat Shmona. He fled south with his children, while his mother and sisters who live in a village in southern Lebanon have fled north to Beirut.

"Now we are here in the school, seven of us in a classroom. Since the war broke out, there is no work. I can't afford to return home," he says.

Ilana Mushkin, head of the Parents for Pluralistic Education says the school is available for the people from the North until August 27. "We hope that by then the government will find a solution", she adds.

A group of 500 residents of Nahariya who stayed in the Be'er Sheva Naot Midbar hotel, funded by the Sakta Rashi Foundation, found themselves in similar circumstances. Two days ago the group members refused to leave the hotel, after a week-long stay. One of the group members, Amos Gabriel, turned to the office of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, with whom he is acquainted from the time he was head of the workers' committee in the Hanita metal factory. Following Peretz's personal intervention, a temporary solution was found, plus funding to house them in several places in the center and in the south.

Tanya Gliatman from Carmiel, her 4-year-old daughter Sonya, her infant son Yuval, and her elderly mother have stayed for the last two weeks in the WIZO Hadassim boarding school in the Sharon. For the first week of bombing they were still in the shelter, but after the little girl started suffering from anxiety, they decided to go to the first place that would take them in. Now she is worried that with the coming of the school year, they will again have no place to go.

She has no intention of returning to Carmiel while it is still within Katyusha range. "One Katyusha fell on my daughter's playground, another on my workplace. I'm afraid to go back, and I haven't got the slightest idea what we'll do if we are forced to leave", she said.

She is full of appreciation for the school's staff, but is angry with the government: "So far those who helped the refugees were private and philanthropic bodies. The state has vanished."

Five hundred and fifty refugees from the North were taken inton the boarding school since the beginning of the war; in normal times it is home to 200 youths. A week from now the youth are supposed to return to the boarding school and prepare for the opening of the school year. As of now their return is on hold, and headmaster Zeev Twito is debating whether he should push the refugees to return to their bombed homes in the North or to postpone the opening of the school year. Every day he gets calls from families in the north who beg for a place to stay, and lately decided to house additional families from Kiryat Shmona in the gym, for lack of another location. All 84 youth villages and boarding schools, which have so far taken in around 8,000 people, are faced with the same problem.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir does not rule out a delay in the start of the school year due to the situation. "At the moment we do not plan to evacuate anyone," she says. "There is no great harm in delaying the school year by a week."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


The Associated Press writes,

Ali Rmeity lies broken and bandaged on a hospital bed, wincing in pain. Three of his children are dead and his only surviving son is in intensive care - but he doesn't know this yet. Doctors fear telling the 45-year-old now would be a bigger blow than he can sustain.

Rmeity was at home with his wife and four children shortly after nightfall Monday when Israeli missiles slammed into their apartment building in the predominantly Shiite southern Beirut suburb of Chiah.

At least 30 people were killed - half from Rmeiti's family - as workers continued to retrieve bodies from under the slabs of concrete Tuesday.

"I had been feeling tired, so I went into the bedroom and laid down on the bed. Five minutes later the bombs fell and I found myself crying for help under the rubble," Rmeity said Tuesday. "My wife who was on the balcony was thrown in the air. They found her somewhere, I don't know where."

Rmeity's wife, Hoda, was being treated in an adjacent room at the Mount Lebanon hospital near Beirut. She has severe lung injuries and several fractures. Their 9-year-old son, Hussein, was in intensive care with head trauma and brain contusion.

The Rmeity's three other children - Mohammed, 22, Fatima, 19, and 16-year-old Malak - were killed. So were Ali Rmeity's parents, his three brothers and two sisters. His brother's family who lived in the same building also died.

In total, 15 of Rmeity's relatives were killed, according to hospital officials and relatives. But Ali doesn't know it. He only was told that his mother, an elderly woman, had died.

"I don't know anything about the rest of my family. Some people have told me they're being treated in another hospital, but I don't know whether to believe them," said Rmeity, who was wearing a head bandage and a white hospital robe that couldn't hide the injuries and burns on his body. Doctors said his injuries were not life threatening.

"I know that my mother died, may God have mercy on her soul," he said, his mouth quivering and his green eyes filling with tears.

The hospital's owner, Dr. Nazih Gharious, said it was too early to tell Rmeity of his loss, which might prove to be too much of a shock. Rmeity's brother-in-law, Ibrahim Jomaa, repeatedly warned visitors not to slip and tell Rmeity that his children were killed.

"If he finds out he will surely die," he said.

Rmeity said his children had been scared for days and wanted to leave their apartment even though the district of Chiah so far had been spared from Israeli airstrikes. Friends repeatedly told him to come stay with them.

"But I didn't want to impose on anyone, we're a big family," he said. Now he wishes he hadn't been so stubborn.

"If I had listened to them, this would not have happened," he said putting his head in between his hands.

Monday, August 07, 2006

drafted art

Mobius drew my attention to this petition drafted and signed by Israeli artists calling for an end to the war in Lebanon and Israel. Check out the gallery of signatures.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

the abrahamic war of attrition


I remember when I was a little kid, the idea of the wars in Israel was very exotic and exciting to me. I had never lived under war before, and all I knew of it was what I read in books. I was in Israel during the first intifada, during the hijacking of the bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and sporadically throughout the entire first war in Lebanon, I just didn't really understand it as war. They were all incidents so far from my comprehension. I liked the idea that the war in Lebanon, "Peace in the Galilee," as it's called in Israel, started the year that I was born. I liked the idea of my country fighting a war for peace, especially since I never had to feel it.

This war isn't romantic, it's desperate and fruitless.

The fear of the defense establishment in Israel is that Hezbollah is waging a war of attrition on Israel. To Israel, this notion is absurd. It has been fighting its war of attrition already for nearly 60 years. It was born in imbalance and has not yet found security. Israel's security situation is not just one of civilians dying. Israel is suffering an existential crisis. Every attack on Israel or in Israel is a battle of the brawns between a country that is sick of trying to prove its right to exist and guerilla populations trying to prove it otherwise. Every attack on Israel is an attempt weaken it, to force it to let go of territory it conquered in war or mandate. Israel cannot coexist with its neighbors because its existence depends on territory that once belonged to its neighbors. To its neighbors, Israel can exist as a concept, but not in practice.

Israel has always responded in defense, leading it ultimately to crisis. Now that Israel has the means to not only defend itself but act as aggressor, it has jumped to the occasion. Israel does not want another war of attrition. It presents itself as aggressor to avoid every having to be in the defense position in a war of attrition. Security of it existence is its primary concern, not the safety of its citizens. Every 18-year-old is required to join the army. Every citizen has a responsibility to preseve Israel's existence.

Israel is now faced with an obstacle it hasn't seen in years, and had hoped it would never see again. It is under siege. Residents of the north have become refugees to the south. The death toll is rising. During the intifada, the fear was everywhere. Everybody feared for their life. You couldn't get on a bus without thinking you could die. Now you can't go to sleep at night without thinking that.

In Tel Aviv, we keep telling ourselves we know more than Hezbollah. They say they have missiles that can reach Tel Aviv. We scoff at that, even as missiles reach Hadera, 20 km north of here. Who are we kidding? Hezbollah is backed by Syria and Iran. If we so much as touch Syria, we will be wiped out. The war of attrition will explode in our faces, and we will find ourselves once more fighting for existence.

We still have the upper hand. This whole thing started because two soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah just two weeks after another soldier was kidnapped and two others killed by Hamas, a legitimate political leader. We felt attacked from all sides again. Not just by militants now, but by war-like guerillas. Our government is ever so reluctant to call this conflict a war, which it obviously is, because a war means one legitimate army fighting another. It means fair game for redivision of land by military means. Our right to the West Bank and to the Golan according to international agreements is by military might alone. Syria attacked us and we took the Golan. Jordan attacked us and we took the West Bank. Egypt attacked us and we took the Gaza Strip.

Now Hezbollah is attacking us, and telling us to give up Shaba farms. If Hezbollah wins, they will try to force us to cede territory to Lebanon. In all fairness, we do not have to oblige. If Lebanon gets involved, and wins, we will be forced to give them what they want.

In the Middle East we know that this war will not end until one of the populations is destroyed, or until everybody comes to their senses and stops fighting. As long as we have what they want, they will not leave us alone. As long as there are Jews living in a ruling state of Israel, the Palestinians will fight us. The Palestinians don't want to live under a Jewish state. They want to live in this territory under their own state. Our interests are impossible to reconcile.

Palestinians and Israelis share an existential crisis, of different porportions. Palestinians and Israelis both have no concept of future. We can't plan because we have no idea if our lives will be tomorrow as they are today. We know that we are living in a perpetual war of attrition. We are an impossible contradicition. We will only co-exist - each of us will only be able to exist - if we lose the ideology and remember our humanity. The Palestinians have allies, and so do we. It's all out war. May the strongest survive.


My friend Zim and I broke the cardinal rule of coexistence last week, and talked history with our Arab friend Mahdi. Zim, a Yeminite Jew, tried to explain to Mahdi, an Arab Palestinian, that he too was an Arab. Mahdi would have none of it. "It's impossible," he said. "You can't be a Jew and an Arab."

"But my grandmother's mother tongue is Arabic," he protested.

"You are either a Jew or an Arab, you can't be both," Mahdi shot back.

"But my family lived in Yemen for a thousands years," Zim told him.

"It's impossible to be both," Mahdi said.

"Can you be a Christian and an Arab?" Zim asked him.

"Yes," Mahdi answered.

"A Muslim and an Arab?"


"But not a Jew and an Arab."


Mahdi told us the history of the Arabs. To him it started with Muhammed, with the beginning of Islam, when the Arabian empire took flight. He told us Muhammed was the 25th and last prophet, who followed and solidifed the visions of Christianity and Judaism. He told us that Muhammed spoke to God, and then spread the word, forcibly, to the Arabian people who had no religion or concept of God. His divine purpose was to convert everyone to see the truth and beauty of Islam.

We told him our history of world. He was not pleased about it. "Are you telling me that the Jews started it all?" he asked.

"No," we assured him, as we waxed neo-Isaacian nostalgiac.

The history of the world (or at least part of the Middle East) according to Zim and Aliyana

The Arabs and the Jews are cousins, descended from jealous brothers who were fated to spend their lives in testosterone-flared civil war. Isaac and Ishmael, sons of Abram. Abram was a descendent of the Semites, and spoke a language vaguely resembling Hebrew and Arabic. He spoke to God, realized that all is one, broke his father's idols and heart, and left his home for the the Mediterranean coast. He fell in love with his cousin Sarai, but couldn't conceive with her. She gave him her maidservant, Hagar, who quickly bore him his first child, Ishmael. God had told him before pushing him into nomadism, that he would be blessed to populate the world with seed as numerous as the stars in the sky. Ishmael was the first seed.

God never told Abraham, as he became known, that his offspring would get along. When Sarah finally gave birth to Isaac, Abraham was thrilled, and Sarah was jealous. She threw Hagar and Ishmael out of her tents, and sent them wandering through the desert to Arabia. Meanwhile, Abraham showed God how strongly he believed in him, by offering his beloved son as a sacrifice upon God's request. God like that, but it was only a test.

Isaac was Sarah's child, and therefore Abraham's favorite. Ishmael was a half-orphan exiled to Arabia. Isaac stayed in Canaan, believing himself the heir to the Abrahamic dynasty. He forgot about his brother, but his brother did not forget about him.

Isaac was the father of Israel. Abraham was the patriarch of the Semites, both the Jews and the Arabs. Isaac's descendents fought for the land of Israel, received the Torah, wandered through the desert, through hardships and persecution, and emerged only a low percentage of the promised "stars of the sky," as tribes fought and divided, with 10 lost along the way. Ishmael's seed did fine.

When one of Isaac's descendents was crucified on a wooden cross, his disciples called him the ultimate martyr, the son of God, and tried to pull as many Jews as they could with them. It didn't go over as well as they expected, but they recruited a good number. They hoped to revolutionize Judaism, but with so many stubborn bretheren, they broke off, and call themselves Christians. The disciples of Jesus believed him to be not only a prophet, but physical divinity. They trotted the globe spreading their message, violently forcing Arabia and Europe to submit to their growing empire.

They encountered resistance in both. In Arabia, where the population of Ishmael had itself submitted through force to the religious empire of Muhammadism, the Christians were not welcome. They destroyed Arabian culture, razing the biggest library in the world and smashing scientific and mathematical instruments. The three sets of cousins, one a former regional power, the others budding empires, found themselves at odds. Intermarriage and conversions had run rampant along the way, but in an age of religious wars, people clung to a particular loyalty. The three super-clans divided, and civil war set in.

Jews and Christians and Muslim remained in both Arabia and in Israel. Jerusalem was conquered, and then reconquered a numer of times, switching hands between the power-hungry cousins, each vying for the Abrahamic inheritance. The victory cycle was set on spin.

The Jews living in Arabia, and in the Islamic Ottoman empire were free to worship as they chose, but were considered second-class citizens. The Christians, who had smited the Muslim one time too many, remained at war with their Ishmaelite cousins. Jews lived in the Arab world for hundreds of years, preserving their Isaacian ancestry. They were hesitantly welcome until the creation of the state of Israel - perhaps in the Arab mind Isaac's bid for renewed civil war.

*The moral of the story, according to Zim, is that the only thing separating us is our own self-created distinction. Our blood-lines mixed, we cling to our own versions of Abrahamic heritage, believing that we are the true link to God's promise. In reality, the only thing that divides us is our own self-designated divisions. We're all really African.


Mahdi was in good spirits when we told him our late night theory, but he refused to budge from his original thesis. Arabs were the descendents of Ishmael, and Jews were the children of Isaac. Arabs are mostly Muslim, but a Christian can be an Arab, too. But you can't be both a Jew and an Arab.

We live in the most sought after and expensive property in history. The Christians have given up the fight, for now, waiting for Jesus to return to Jerusalem and build the third temple. The Arabs and the Jews are back in a war of attrition.

Mahdi, an Israeli citizen, but not an Israeli, he told us, fully support the Palestinian initiative for a state, but will not move to the West Bank or Gaza. He is not an Israeli, he said, because Israelis are Jews. He is an Arab concerned with preserving his rightful place in Palestine, regardless of under whose control. "I won't leave my home," he said.


I am going to the north tomorrow. I'm scared.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

wars censors freedom

About half a year ago, when the rate of Qassams flying daily into the western Negev from Gaza picked up at an alarming speed, the IDF censor sat down and printed us up a new list of dos and don't. Do: Report Qassam. Don't: Report where Qassam lands. Everything we write is supposed to go through the censor, and for good reason - militants are able to look at a news web site and use the information to correct their errors.

I see the logic in this kind of censorship and fear the consequences of not following it - not as a journalist who could be tried, but as a civilian in a country at war. I don't want Hezbollah or Hamas learning from my writing how to better aim their rockets.

The counter issue of maintaining civil rights in times of crisis, however, raises the ever-present question: does a military censorship limit the newspaper's freedom of the press and citizens' right to freedom of information? On a practical level, it is a dichotomy never to be resolved. Security trumps freedom. With our future a gloomy trend of terror and security, it is necessary to create a space where personal freedom, our raison d'etre, is our reality. The tricky part is that news itself - any writing or expression for that matter - is a creator of reality.

What kind of reality do we want to create?

The Associated Press writes,

Here's news you may never hear about Israel's war against Hezbollah: a missile falls into the sea, a strategic military installation is hit, a Cabinet minister plans to visit the front lines.

All such topics are subject to review by Israel's chief military censor who has, in her own words, "extraordinary power" - to shut down papers, block information and throw journalists in jail.

"I can, for example, publish an order that no material can be published. I can close a newspaper or shut down a station. I can do almost anything, and I can put people in jail," Col. Sima Vaknin said Wednesday.

Israel believes that as a small country in a near constant state of conflict, having a say over what information gets out to the world is vital to its security. Critics say the policy is a slippery slope not fit for a democracy.

The range of issues subject to censorship are all related to the same simple goal: Israel's desire to prevent Hezbollah from using the media to help it better aim the rockets it is firing into Israel.

Abiding by the rules of the censor is a condition for receiving permission to operate as a media organization in Israel.

The conditions include; no real-time reports giving the exact locations of missile hits; no reports of missile hits on army bases, strategic targets, or misses into the sea; and no reports telling when citizens are allowed to leave their bunkers for supplies. Reporters are also not permitted to give details about senior Israeli officials going to the north of the country, where the rockets are falling, until the officials are gone, nor are they allowed to report places where there aren't enough shelters or where public defense is weak.

So far in this conflict, about one rocket in 100 fired by Hezbollah has killed an Israeli. The rest usually explode in empty fields, tear concrete from abandoned streets or plunk into the sea. Fired blind, Hezbollah's thousands of mostly short-range, inaccurate munitions simply pose a random peril to Israeli citizens.

For obvious reasons, Israel would like to keep it that way. Live media feedback, the censor says, changes everything.

Report immediately that a missile splashed into the Mediterranean, for example, and any guerrilla with an Internet connection knows to aim left.

Report that an oil refinery in Haifa went up in flames, and he'll surely celebrate and reload. Report that a senior official is going up north, and it will be raining rockets there in no time.

So the logic of censorship goes.

But in an era when mobile phones have cameras and the terrorists' weapons include laptops and video crews, even the chief censor acknowledges that a complete blockade of news is in many cases not possible.

"Not in 2006," she says.

Restrictions on the media are not unique to Israel. The United States military for example, makes journalists embedded with troops in Iraq sign a document agreeing not to report specifics of troop movements and attacks in real time, for reasons similar to Israel's.

Critics say the censorship system is worse than ineffective - it's undemocratic, often counterproductive and a violation of freedom of speech.

"People are entitled to get as much information as they can about what's happening in a conflict," says Rohan Jahasekera, associate editor of the London-based magazine, the Index of Censorship.

"There's a reasonable expectation and a right of people to get full information about the conduct of a war." he says. Israel's censorship rules were not unusual, he adds, but "it's unusual in that they're enforced."

Jahasekera also refuted arguments that reporting missile landings helped Hezbollah, since the rockets the Islamic militants use are "spectacularly inaccurate."

Bob Steele, Nelson Scholar for Journalism Values at the Poynter Institute, a media studies organization, says editors should bear the responsibility for decisions to publish or not.

"These are decisions that the news organizations and journalists should make - with the input of government and military officials," he says. "They should not be decisions that are made by default."

"We should always push back on censorship," Steele adds, even if it's a losing fight.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

every katyusha has an address

Yair Ettinger writes in Haaretz,

On Friday night, during the prayer welcoming the Shabbat, a siren interrupted the prayers in the synagogue of the Sanz Hasidim in Safed. About 20 worshipers - the few members of the congregation who remained for Shabbat - all moved close to the inner wall of the synagogue, as far as possible from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Such sirens have been heard in the city since Thursday, when a resident of the city was killed, and the confused worshipers held a discussion as to whether it was preferable to finish their prayers inside the synagogue or to obey the instructions of the security forces.

"Daddy, the sealed room," said a child pulling on his father's sleeve, prompting a debate that was held in Yiddish laced with Hebrew terms from the security vocabulary: "The security room? Never mind," another person answered, and the prayers were renewed inside the largely empty synagogue. Five minutes later a whistling was heard in the distance. Those of the worshipers with sharp ears and fast reflexes quickly made for the nearby kitchenette, a kind of impromptu security room; others, even before the building trembled from the nearby explosion of a Katyusha rocket, managed to lie down on the floor. In Safed people lie down like that, and not only on the local graves of righteous men.

The Divrei Haim synagogue of the Sanz Hasidim is located in Tarpat Alley (Tarpat is the acronym for 1929, a year infamous for Arab rioting all over Palestine). Overall, Jewish spirituality and the Israeli-Arab conflict are combined in the streets of the old city - "Defenders' Square" with "Messiah Alley," the mikveh (ritual bath) of the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria, a leading kabbalist) with the Arab house in which Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) grew up.

In Tarpat Alley a Magen David Adom ambulance was parked on Friday night, outside the synagogue. The motor was running, the red lights were flashing. In front sat two Sanz Hasidim. They wore Shabbat clothes, including the traditionally festive coat made of silk, but they were on call. Both are volunteers for Hatzala (Rescue), an organization whose ultra-Orthodox volunteers, MDA paramedics, have evacuated over 100 victims in the Galilee since Thursday.

While their friends were praying in the synagogue, they sat frozen in the ambulance listening to the intercom, forbidden to open the door or perform any activity not related to saving lives. When the falling of the Katyushas was heard, the ambulance disappeared. Fortunately, one of the rockets fell on Friday night on a synagogue that had not opened because there were too few worshipers.

Barely a soul
Safed and all its neighborhoods is a city that is beaten and in shock, which is worriedly monitoring any sliver of information and every Katyusha landing in Haifa and Tiberias. Its unexpected joining of the "Katyusha club" led to the closure on Friday night of local shops, hotels, banks, postal services and most of the drugstores. There is barely a living soul on the streets. The Safed municipality estimated that 50 percent to 60 percent of the 13,000 inhabitants of the city have abandoned their homes.

"Anyone who remains here is someone with nowhere to go, or someone who can't afford to leave," said Moshe Madar, the municipality treasurer and the head of Safed's emergency headquarters.

Apparently many of the residents of the Canaan neighborhood belong to this category. On Friday afternoon, a Katyusha hit a wretched and peeling housing project on Hashiva Street. Eleven residents were injured, two moderately. On the sidewalk lay a dead Pekinese dog. His owner was injured as well. After the evacuation of the wounded, many residents went out into the street, and the desperate policeman called on them to enter shelters and other protected spaces. Protected spaces? Security rooms? Who has heard of them in the housing projects? "Where should we go?" asked one resident in panic.

On the third floor of the building that was hit the door was opened a crack, and from it Yaffa Ben-Porat peered inside the stairwell. Her husband, Ephraim, was in the other room, and she was beside herself with fear and helplessness. He is a chronically ill and bedridden, and needed care - even under the barrage of Katyushas that in the end hit the building in which they have lived since immigrating to Israel from Morocco in the 1950s

"I have nobody," said the 62-year-old Ben-Porat. My children are in Ashdod, so we're here alone. There is nobody to come and visit us. Please sir, speak to the municipality, speak to someone about taking care of us." A few minutes later an ambulance crew came to evacuate Ben-Porat and his wife to Ziv Hospital until things blow over.

Perhaps few people remained in Safed, but for the most part those who stayed there over the weekend tried to demonstrate high morale. Both religious and secular people spoke of determination and patience, and expressed faith and confidence in the Israel Defense Forces, or in God.

Shlomo Zeid is the owner of the only hotel in the old city that opened its doors on the weekend. Only one room was occupied - by a journalist. Zeid himself is an atheist, frustrated by the fact that Safed is becoming ultra-Orthodox, but on Shabbat morning, when his ultra-Orthodox neighbor came to visit and spoke of faith in the shadow of the Katyushas, they both managed to agree that "every missile has an address." They're not sure why, but this saying gave them confidence.

Memories of 1948
In 1948, legend has it, Safed held out through natural and miraculous means - through natural means, because the Safed old-timers didn't stop reciting Psalms, as is their wont; and miraculously, because the Palmach (the pre-state commando strike force) arrived in time.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Shlomo Makleb, one of the city's old-timers today, says that he and his neighbors are praying. "Imagine if we didn't pray, a Katyusha would land here every second," he said.

Rina Kobi, who lives in the old city, was a newborn during the 1948 War of Independence, but this weekend she pulled out the arsenal of family stories from her memory: how her older brother used to run between the outposts of the Haganah (the pre-state military force) and the Etzel (right-wing militia), and distribute cans of sardines to the Jewish fighters.

"I grew up on those stories about 1948," she smiled. "Who would have believed that missiles would be flying over our heads?"

In the afternoon, with Katyushas rumbling in the background, she sat on a bench in the street chatting with an ultra-Orthodox neighbor. She was calm. "Me?" she said. "I have no fear at all. The children and grandchildren asked me to come stay with them in the center of the country, but why should I leave my house? In 1948 we didn't leave, and I'm not leaving now."

Kiryat Bratslav was full compared to the other ultra-Orthodox neighbors of Safed; almost half the members of the community remained. In the large Bratslav synagogue they decided to try to maintain routine as much as possible. They even celebrated a circumcision there on Shabbat morning; the baby was named Israel. After prayers, they read the haftara from Jeremiah, which includes the verse: "Out of the north the evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land." The rabbi said in his sermon, based on the words of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, that "out of sadness comes happiness."

Some of the worshipers found relief in jokes about Nasrallah, but Nahman Klein, the head of Hatzala in the Galilee, instructed them, in a very severe tone, to make sure their children did not play outside.

Before the beginning of Shabbat we m et Klein in the mikveh. "On a day like this, immersion is a very exalted thing," he said. "We remove from ourselves everything we have undergone during the week. Today and yesterday we evacuated over 100 casualties. I personally immersed myself in the hope that the sanctity of Shabbat will preserve us from all evil. I prayed that God would help us, that we will see better days."

Two hours later the ambulances raced to Moshav Meron, where Yehudit Itzkovich and her grandson, Omer Pesachov, were killed. There were no casualties in Safed.

Monday, July 17, 2006

are we scared yet?

In the last week, Hezbollah has managed to remind us what we've forgotten even after five years of intifada: we are under siege. With each rocket strike, Hezbollah defiantly instills within us the fear of retribution, saying, "when a country bombs another population repeatedly from the air, it should expect the same." Hezbollah and Iran, in the name of Palestinians, are proving that they can destroy us just like we can destroy them. It doesn't matter which came first. It only matters who can win the most number of enemy casualties. This is siege. This is war.

Hezbollah - like Hamas - knew that kidnapping Israeli soldiers was a ticket to war. A war detrimental to its civilians and to its infrastructure, but extraordinarily useful to its overall cause. Hezbollah - and Hamas - attack Israel; Israel responds with the only language it knows - war; and suddenly the international community jumps on board to pull the self-conscious bully off the revengeful underdog.

Less than a month ago, I hitchhiked up north, to Tzfat, and to Tiberias, to the Jezreel Valley, and to Meron. On the same day, Israel's offensive on Gaza escalated to undeclared war when Hamas kidnapped two Israelis and the Israeli government clamped down with force. Now, the war in Gaza is forgotten as crude numbers of innocent Lebanese civilians die every day and rockets rain down on Israel - in Tzfat, and Tiberias, the Jezreel Valley, and Meron - killing innocent Israelis.

The day the first Katyusha hit Nahariya - where about two months ago I hitchhiked and ate free hummus from Marwan the hummus man - killing a woman, injuring dozens and scaring the living daylights out of thousands more, I was riding on only an hour and a half of sleep, starting work at 7 am. I sat down at the computer, saw the message on the wire: 'Katyusha hits Nahariya; casualties feared' and set about writing and reporting as if it weren't Nahariya, where I have hitchhiked and eaten free hummus from Marwan the hummus man.

I did that all day long. Even when the first Katyusha hit Tzfat, and my friend called to ask what the hell her sister was supposed to do, the rocket was meters away and she was freaking out. What do I know? I told her to tell her sister to go underground and stay out of the streets.

The day went on, the Katyushas kept flying, and I kept trying to relate to it the way I would treat a bomb in Iraq, or even a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Of course, if I lived in Iraq, I would leave.

I'm not leaving here. I don't know why. This government does not have my undivided support. Israel has the right to defend itself, but it does not have the right to swing its explosive arms around civilians. Israel should have negotiated immediately with Hamas. It should have gone to the United Nations, not to its arsenals. Hundreds of innocent people are suffering from attacks whose justification are tantamount to stubborn ideology. With each air strike in Lebanon and artillery fire in Gaza, I try to remember why I live in Israel, and if I am a zionist, and if I ever was a zionist, and whether being a zionist requires supporting a war that will probably secure us another two or five years of peace at the price of hundreds, if not thousands more lives.

Media is the third leg of this war, the comptroller of military and government. I work round the clock and when I'm not working, my mind is colonized. Under siege. I can't go up north. I can't hitchhike. Hezbollah has taken my freedom away from me, like we have taken the freedom away from the Palestinians. Let's not talk about what came first - now we are both under siege, as we have been in a more indirect way for decades.

After work Thursday I passed out fully clothed on my bed, exhausted, from a night of drinking and day of war reporting in an air conditioned Tel Aviv office. The phone rang about three hours later. I only sort of heard it, but answered it anyway. The voice: "What the hell happened in Haifa?"

It was my dad. When I told him I didn't know, I'd been sleeping, he said, "go look on the internet." I did.

I wanted to crawl under the covers and hide, but decided I had to get out of the house. My friend Yoav's band was playing on the roof of an amazing neighborhood shanti-Indian restaurant. I missed the first half off the show, eating and drinking beer with Ella and her/everyone's dog Raven, but when I sat down, I fell apart.

The front guitar man said, "We're going to play a song now that connects more than anything we've played to what's going on."

I figured he was talking about the ambiance - not everyone was obsessed with the situation, right? - and he was, in a larger sense of the word.

"As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear evil, because you are with me." The tune was beautiful, and the words were pentrating. My body started to relax, and I, who never cry, felt tears streaming through the broken dams of my eyes and emotion. I covered my eyes, let the tears flow. "Here we have a world, here we have life, here we have love. Just a smile on our faces," they sang, "we have love."

All we need is love, I guess, but what we have instead is ideology and war. We have desk journalists like me sitting in Tel Aviv rooms complaining about quashed freedom when people, in every nook of surrounding, are dying and in the line of fire. Iran - a country sworn to the destruction of Israel - has given a guerilla organization long-range missiles that can reach up to 200 kilometers away from their launch, and my friends and family in the north are either living underground or stubbornly staying home, while I write about fear, or more accurately apprehension, of a punishment that comes with the territory I've chosen to live in. I have made a political choice to live in Israel, even though I can argue that I am here because my family is here, and my friends are here, and I have a good job, and a good life, and spirituality, and freedom, and possibilities.

Now that I'm faced with reality, it's harder to remember why anyone would choose to live in a place of war. I am choosing to operate as a civilian soldier of Israel. I want Israel to survive. I want to survive in Israel. I don't want to be afraid of noises in the air. I don't want my country to be killing innocent people by the hundreds. I don't want to be a citizen of a bully nation. I don't want to fight in the army. I don't want to be a politician. I want to live, in Israel, as a Jew, with my Arab neighbors, and my Jewish neighbors, and anyone who wants to keep this holy land beautiful and free and open to all possibility.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

the crippled leading the blind

Hamas is cruising its way through this situation with all the right moves. Along with two other militant groups, its armed wing crossed the Gaza border, violating the Geneva convention in doing so, and ambushed an Israeli tank, killing two soldiers and kidnapping the third. It knew the move would bring upon it a deadly and destructive IDF military offensive and it knew it would be hammered with international criticism. How could it not? Every militant heading to north Gaza to launch a virtually useless rocket at Israel knows it is making itself target for Israeli assassination - just as every suicide bomber knows his or her death, and the deaths of the Israeli civilians they attack, will be forgotten amongst the inevitably massive devastation that will result.

But it did it anyway, smoothly and logically. While Israel and innocent Palestinians sweat in war and fear, Hamas is painting itself as a 'partner in peace,' ready for non-violent negotiations and a cease-fire. Cleanly-shaven and well-dressed, Hamas leaders started by brushing off government connections to the kidnapping with vague 'reports' from the captors, and then declared that as IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was a prisoner of war, the only fair retribution was a prisoner exchange - 1,000 women and under-18-year-olds jailed in Israel in return for Shalit.

The kidnapping, and the deaths of the two soldiers at Kerem Shalom, are beginning to fade from the spotlight. The IDF's offensive on north Gaza and the upwards of 50 Palestinian deaths, including at least seven civilians in three days, has taken center stage.

As the IDF refuses to declare war even as its shells and tanks continue to move further away from Shalit, exploding on children and militants alike, Palestinain Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and exiled political chief Khaled Meshal calmly reiterate their demands and announce their readiness to compromise. As Defense Minister Minister Amir Peretz, wide-eyed and corrupted by his unlikely position, orders the IDF to escalate its offensive, Hamas reduces its prisoner-exchange demands to 130 female non-security prisoners and sticks out its hands to a perplexed Olmert, who continues to refuse any negotiations with Hamas.

Israel has been calling the Palestinian Authority a 'terrorist government' since its inception, repeating the slogan that the Palestinians are 'no partner in peace.' Hamas, which until less than a year ago was known to the world only as a terrorist organization, has emerged on top. It is now portraying itself as the democratically-legitimate government of a certified state. It is a master of disguise. It has conveniently found a way to hold on to its mission of destroying Israel while making itself out as a reformed political faction.

Hamas knows what it is doing. It is bringing down Israel. With all its promises for negotiations and cease-fire, the Palestinian government has as its initiative the destruction of the Jewish state. It knows this initiative has a price, of lives and international opinion, but it also knows that the price is higher for Israel. The only IDF casualty in Gaza so far was due to friendly fire, while the number of Palestinians killed daily can consistently be counted on two hands. Yet the Palestinians have nothing to lose. They have already been labelled terrorists; thousands have already been killed, their future is already lost. Their children, who survive, grow into militias, while those who want an education and peace suffer beside them.

The world condemns Hamas, but it is wrecked over the humanitarian crisis engulfing the Palestinians. In waging this war, Israel is blindly leading itself into the Mediterranean sea with the wily assistance of a non-state governed by militias. The Palestinians and the Israelis are in a desperate situation, but Hamas is lucid. It knows the loss will be massive, but it is doing its all to make sure that if Gaza has to go into the sea, Israel will have to go first.

Monday, July 10, 2006

'balanced' 'war' tactics

The New York Times writes,

JERUSALEM — The pattern has recurred time and again for several years: Palestinians fire rockets from northern Gaza that cause damage or casualties only occasionally, yet prompt a tough Israeli response, like the offensive now under way.

Why, then, do the Palestinians persist in firing the crude, inaccurate rockets when there is virtual certainty that the damage they inflict will be far less than the punishment they will suffer?

(Read article)

Friday, July 07, 2006

don't ask

When I heard sometime in mid-March that 'folk surrealist' Devendra Banhart would be performing in Israel in early July, I got a new excuse to push off my "vacation" another few months.

First, the "vacation." I have about 40 hours of scheduled shifts and 128 hours of freedom every week, never the same time or day as the last, but I keep telling myself I should take a vacation. Go visit my father in Detroit, and friends in Montreal, and family in California, and mountains in Colorado and British Columbia, and Amsterdam, and the alps, and France, and India. Big plans, but every month I push them off. I haven't left Israel in 12 months.

Life is good. I live in a virtual war zone, war zone because it is, virtual because I only know about it from the news I write and read, but life for me has been good. All superstitions on.

Though I knew about Devendra, and used it as an excuse for how much I didn't need to leave this country, I didn't try to buy a ticket until the morning of the show. It's how I bought my ticket for Roger Waters, less-favored lead singer of the band that, with only cliche applicable, changed my life when I heard it for the first time at 14. I knew I wanted to see Roger Waters, I knew I didn't want to pay 375 shekels for the ticket, yet I knew that I would get into the show.

For Roger Waters, it worked. I called Elisha at 10 am and asked him to go get me a ticket, I'd pay him back, there were only 50 left. He called me at 12:30, said he bought me a ticket, and there were now four left.

It didn't work so well with Devendra. Though I like his muisc, Devendra didn't figure on my list of cliche-spawning life-changing musicians, so when I called the club and was told the show was sold out, I wasn't worried, even thought at least two people had told me the day before that I should not miss this show.

I was supposed to work until 11 p.m. anyway, so I figured I'd get to the show after work, an hour after opening, and convince the bouncers to let me in for free or cheap to see the end.

When I got to the club, at 11:15, there were only a few stragglers outside, including my roommate and her friend. Her friend had called me half an hour before telling me he had an extra ticket for 100 instead of 150 shekels, and then called again 20 minutes later to tell me the guy who was supposed to bring him the ticket had either bailed or gone inside. No ticket.

The friend, Nitzan, handed me his beer, and the roommate, Rona, reminded me I should have gotten a ticket two days before.

Then Devendra and his crew walked by. Devendra held up by his crew. Nitzan called out something, in what sounded like English, to Devendra. He turned back, and then walked through the first gate into the venue.

"I'm going to get a ticket from Devendra," I said, and walked up to the gate.

"Hey Devendra," I called out. He turned around and came over to the gate. "I don't have a ticket to the show, but I really want to come in," I said. "Any chance?"

"What's your name?" He asked, from the other side of the gate.

"Aliyana Traison," I said.

"Aliyana Terson?"


"I'll see what I can do," he said, and turned back toward the venue.

I started to turn to Nitzan and Rona, who came over to the gate, and barely had time to think 'this is not going to work', when I heard someone say, "Aliyana."

I looked up. Devendra was standing about 30 feet away from me, giving me a double thumbs-up.

"You're in," someone said.

"Aliyana Traison," the bouncer said.

"Follow Devendra," Rona and Nitzan said.

I waltzed through the gate, up the ramp, and hit two new bouncers, who had never heard of Aliyana Traison, or Devendra Banhart, and sent me to the guest list brigade. The guest list brigade, feverishly looking up and down their Hebrew lists while I pretended not to speak Hebrew, told me I wasn't on the list. Of course I wasn't, I said, call Devendra. Who is Devendra, they asked.

We sorted it out. The woman called Devendra and asked if someone named Aliyana Traison was on his list, he said Of course, and the two new bouncers who were really just puppies apologized to me and cleared the way.

VIP, but that's where my relationship with Devendra ended. During the show he looked right in my direction and told everyone he wanted to introduce the person he loved most in the world, his dad, who was standing right behind me, holding a beer and thoroughly enjoying Devendra, who was barely able to stand at this point.

His music is 'surreal,' it's 'folk,' it's lyrical tongue twisters with jazzy undertones, and he is charming, a contemporary Jim Morrison. He sometimes sacrifices his musical genius for charisma on stage, but he's got both, and more than that, he really appreciates how much he is appreciated.


I was woken up at least four times this morning by the phone ringing and people telling me important things. I don't remember who I talked to or what they said. I do remember my mom calling and like in a dream, because maybe I still was, telling me my grandmother was in the hospital, about to go into surgery, because of an overnight emergency. Something to do with her intestines. Would I like to speak to her, she has a tube down her throat.

Shuffle, phone passed to savta. I don't remember what I said, I don't remember what she said, I just remember that it was of utmost importance for me to speak to her. I think I told her I love her. She had a tube down her throat. I think she told me the same thing.

All day long, when the phone rang and I saw my sister's or my mother's number, I got very scared and my head started to hurt. It kept pounding. She was out of surgery, in intensive care, but not breathing on her own. Apparently that was normal, for her age, her heart condition.

When I was 17, completely unconnected to grandparents or life or death, I had a somewhat nervous breakdown. Less nervous than empty. Then release, like water gushing from a broken cork. I didn't feel anything for three days. I went to school, I think I even talked, but I didn't feel. I didn't know who I was. I didn't recognize my body. I just watched, and went through the motions, and didn't do anything weird or crazy. Just was. Three days later my mother, looking into my unfeeling, nervously-breaking-down face, told me my grandfather was very sick and in the hospital.

I bawled. I felt more than I'd felt in three days, more than I'd felt in three weeks, three months, three years.

He died a year and a half later,on my second day living in Montreal. I wasn't near anybody in my family. I wasn't ready.

I'm not ready. My grandmother is 78 years old, and she still works full-time. She's a Holocaust survivor, and probably the most hard-working person I know. One of the most alive. She was always more like a mother than a grandmother, and only now do I finally recognize that she is getting old. She, who's been through worse in her life than I could imagine and still always comes out beautiful, if neurotic, is getting tired.

But she's alive. We're supposed to take a trip together, with my mother and my sister. That, I'm ready for.