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.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


When Hamas was capturing Gilad Shalit from a tank position on the Gaza border and the Palestinian Resistance Committees were abducting Eliyahu Asheri as he hitchhiked up the West Bank on his way to a camping trip, I was in the north trying to catch a ride with some friends to the Kinneret.

One of us got a text message about the first kidnapping, but we didn't hear it. We were on our own fantasy-land adventure.

I decided Saturday night to take a midnight bus to Tsfat, since I was supposed to go to nearby Kadita with Tiferet on Friday and then bailed because I'd been at the Roger Waters show the night before and couldn't handle the idea of trekking north before Shabbat. Meir said he would go with me. I'd ended up spending Shabbat at my friend's parents "house" (mansion, by Israeli standards) with 10 other people, one of whom forgot his bag there. So before heading north, we went to the guy's house to return his bag. Someone there told us to go to a dinner honoring our friends who just got married, so we figured we'd go for 15 minutes. We'd been there for five when this guy came in, looked at me in the eye, told me he was the groom's cousin, had seen me at the wedding, and asked me my name. I told him who I was, said we were leaving for Tsfat in 10 minutes, and asked him if he wanted to go. He stood up, said yes, and 10 minutes later we were off.

We got to Tsfat at probably the same time Palestinian militants crossed the Gaza border and ambushed Shalit and his crew, abducting him, killing two of his friends, and injuring one.

Halfway up north, we debated whether to go straight to Tsfat or straight to the Kinneret. Public transportation being what it is at 3:00 in the morning, we opted to stay on our bus and get to Tsfat. When we got to what is one of the oddest cities in the world, we grabbed a couple of mattresses and a guitar from a guy at Meir's old school, and climbed up the roof of an old synagogue dedicated to the great Kabbalist Isaac Luria. We played music and talked about harmony and fell asleep in the sun.

We spent the next day wandering around Tsfat, and then headed toward the Golan. No-one stopped for us. We didn't know Eliyahu Asheri was doing the same thing in the West Bank. We didn't know he was being kidnapped and killed. We decided to go to the Kinneret. It was hot and we didn't want to spend the whole day on the road.

We ended up spending most of the day on the road. The driving force of these treks around Israel is the journey. It's the hitchhiking and the amazing people who drift into your life for a Lord of the Rings-like adventure on a random day when you should be working but happen to not. We got to a beautiful little jungle cove on the Kinneret, and pushed our way through the smelly piles of garbage that obtrusively invade the air and water, emerging in what really looked like paradise; all green and blue and white, huge trees and lake and crabs, and a natural pool, and beds of rocks. We stayed for a few hours, and then Tiferet came, and we started walking along the shore, looking for a place to sleep.

We found ourselves on the road. A young couple in a nice car pulled over and said, "get in. This is totally unsafe." We crammed into the car. They dropped us off at a kibbutz, where we wandered around looking for a beach. We snuck past the hotel, and were promptly herded out by a guard who showed us a reed-infested, mosquito-swarming, patch of dry grass to sleep on instead. The trek continued, this time on foot, through the fields and the orchard, and now the dark, about 3 km until we made it to a fairly muddy, but fairly accesssible beach. We lit a fire, and went swimming. The ground was too muddy to sleep on. I found a restaurant about 200 meters down the beach, deserted, with white leather benches on a patio. I curled up and slept for a few hours. I found everybody else in the morning in an orchard behind the beach, where there was one tree connected by branches with six different trunks. The owner of the house told us it had been in his family for 80 years, and that every time a branch reaches the ground, it becomes absorbed into the earth and then grows more roots, another trunk. He gave us each another lichi.

We started the trek home together, and then split up. I got to Tel Aviv early Monday afternoon, and passed out for five hours. I hadn't had a good night sleep since Tuesday. At 12 am I went to work. I'd looked at the website before crashing and updated myself, but now I was at work. No more fantasy-land. Two people were kidnapped. It wasn't clear if either were alive.

It became clearer over the next few days. Eliyahu's body was found Thursday morning in a field in Ramallah. The IDF had dismissed the PRC's claim of kidnapping a civilian, and his parents didn't report him missing until Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday, his kidnappers showed his ID card. His parents thought he was going camping. So did he.

Israeli tanks moved into southern Gaza a week ago Wednesday, the IDF's first ground incursion there since it pulled its troops last September. Prime Minister Olmert swore this was not a bid to reoccupy Gaza. Israel has no intention of staying in Gaza, he said. We just want to bring our boy home.

They started by bombing three bridges in central Gaza, splitting the strip between north and south. Intelligence had heard Shalit was being held near Khan Yunis, in the south, and that the kidnappers were planning to cross into Sinai. The tanks crossed the border.

Hamas offered to negotiate on Shalit's life, first saying it would release information, and then the soldier himself, if 1,000 women and under-18-year-old prisoners from Israeli jails. Israel said no negotiations, "we will not succumb to extortion." Then Olmert said, well, maybe non-security prisoners. Then balked. 'No,' he affirmed it, 'no negotiations.' Hamas issued an ultimatum: Israel had until 6 A.M. Wednesday (a week after the incursion) to realease the prisoners or suffer the un-specified "consequences." Israel chose the consequences: "We will not succumb to extortion..." yet "we just want to bring our boy home."

Esther Wachsman, the mother of the last IDF soldier to be kidnapped by Hamas, in 1994, wrote in Haaretz that while she in no way advocated the release of terrorists from prison, she begged Israel to reconsider its offensive in Gaza. Nachshon Wachsman was killed during the IDF operation to free him, along with another soldier. Esther Wachsman writes that on the same day Hamas issued a similar ultimatum on her son's life - prisoner for prisoner - Peres, Rabin and Araft announced that they were to receive the Nobel peace prize. When asked what kind of peace they had achieved in light of Nachshon Wachsman's abduction, Peres answered, "in war, we must take calculated risks."

The IDF moved on into northern Gaza yesterday. It's what Israel's been wanting to do since September, ever since the settlements were crumbled and the Qassam rockets started flying daily into the western Negev town of Sderot. They moved into Gaza even before Tuesday's rocket hit the empty parking lot of a school in central Ashkelon. They moved into northern Gaza to slam the launching sites and the militants behind them from all sides, on the ground, not just from the air. The air hasn't proven so effective - three different strikes on Qassam-firing militants ended up killing 14 civilians in three weeks, and injuring just a few of the militants.

The IDF has wanted to return to the ground in Gaza since it left. It just hasn't had the excuse. It stuck to air strikes, because while denounced, it wasn't outright occupation. Now they've got the excuse - a captured soldier - and have conveniently twisted the operation to include all the errands they've had to run in the northern Strip and throughout. Olmert said the plan was to make sure Gazans didn't sleep at night. He wants to bring our boy home. And stop Qassams. And put pressure on Palestinian civilians - as if this is the kind of pressure that's going to do anything other than create and sustain a new generation of Palestinians who are going to hate Israel with even more of a passion and more of a justification than their parents for all their brothers and sisters and uncles and friends and mothers and fathers killed by IDF fire.

Three Qassam rockets, at 15 kilometers their longest range yet, landed in Ashkelon in the last two days. Israel called this a 'declaration of war,' as it does so often, and the air force bombarded the north, where most launching sites sit in the rubble of former settlements. Now that they were already in Gaza, reoccupying militarily, the IDF rolled right up to the north, and showed what they meant by war. But the history of the region is one of pattern. It doesn't lie. With each IDF or Palestinian attack, comes a response even fiercer than the one before.

If the government wanted to bring Gilad Shalit home, it would negotiate, or focalize its operation, not use it as an excuse to have its way with Gaza.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Jason Reaven

On my ride to work yesterday morning from Jerusalem where I'd slept only two and a half hours, I was the only non-Arab non-male. Instead of joining 99 percent of public transportation in the hourly news update on Israel Radio, we listened to Muslim morning prayers. I prayed no-one would die that day from any side in this conflict. I didn't ask for world peace, I just asked for a day without casualties.

I should be honest that it was just one of those quick prayers, the kind that pops into your head as more of a thought than a proclamation and festers around for a while until it feels like a legitime request for god, complete with ultimatums and promises.

My sister left me a message sometime in the middle of the morning, something about crazy news. When I called her back she asked me if I remembered Jason Reaven from camp. It took a minute to connect name and face and character, but when I did I remembered a really nice guy a couple years younger than me who walked around with a guitar and made everyone feel good.

Three masked men knocked on his door in the middle of the night last Thursday, and tied up his roommates with duct tape and clothes, and then robbed them. Jason came out of his room and asked the men what they were doing there. They shot him in the head.

In an instant. The robbers fled. His friend broke out of the bindings and ran to a neighbor's house to get help. In an instant, in a nice neighborhood, to a nice kid in Ohio.

I read some articles about it. They all read like an article about a 22-year-old man who was shot in the head by robbers who then fled. If you have any information, contact the police. Another tragedy, in an instant, paths crossed, snap decisions, then the unbelievable. Not just a story. Not just a news article. A person.

citizen nation

Haaretz writes (I translate),

The Bedouin sector is to submit a counter-report to the United Nations alongside the official state report on discrimination, as part of its demand that the international body help fight systemic discrimination against Bedouin in Israel.

When the Justice Ministry submits its report in August, social groups will simultaneously submit documents criticizing the state report and elucidating state discrimination against the Bedouin sector. Bedouin say they are not treated as equal citizens in Israel.

Israel is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, and periodically submits reports on advancements in the arena.

The state will submit its next report in Geneva in August. The Negev Coexistence Forum, in conjunction with Physicians for Human Rights, prepared a counter report pointing out failings in the state report.

Services: According to the state report, in Bedouin towns citizens "receive services at a level equal to every other citizen in the state."

According to the counter-report, there are six Bedouin towns recognized as "permanent communities" and one city, Rahat. There is no public transportation in any of the towns. Rahat has 40,000 residents, one post office, one bank, and no public library. The towns do not have any of these services, unlikes Jewish towns with an equal number of residents, according to the Adva Center.

Land: The state report writes that "members of the Bedouin community were given more land per person than any other population."

The counter-report shows a different picture. There are currently 45 Bedouin villages, among which only 10 are legally recognized. Despite the more than hundred Jewish agricultural villages in the Negev, until recently there was not a single Bedouin agricultural village. The two Bedouin villages now defined as "agricultural" were not given proper water rations or crop rations, according to former Bedouin Administration chairman and current Rahat city adviser Eli Atzmon.

Haya Noah, of the Negev Coexistence Forum, said land allocation in one village is 10,000 dunam for 1,000 people, compared to Jewish communities who are each given thousands of dunams for fewer than one hundred families.

Water: The state reports that since 1997, the sedentary population in unrecognized villages have had access to water. The Bedouin Administration claims that in 2003, the water committee converged only four times, and approved only six out of 80 requests for water. Bedouin say that in certain cases it took a year to hook up a water system and at a cost of NIS 10,000.

Religion: Israeli law grants its citizens access to holy sites. According to the Bedouin report, the city of Be'er Sheva refused to delineate the only mosque in the city as a prayer center or as a Muslim community center, as recommended by the High Court of Justice. A city spokesperson said the building could not be used as a place of worship, but as a museum, as it hasn't been used as a mosque for over 60 years.