Thursday, August 07, 2003
The Heavy Irony of the German Passport

With the situation around here being as problematic as it is, many Israelis dream of getting a second passport as a kind of safety net or way out of here if things get really rough. In the last couple of years, with the growth of the European Union and relaxation of citizenship standards in several countries in Europe, this has become a distinct possibility for many people whose parents or grandparents came from Germany, Austria, and Poland to name a few.

This, however, has led to an interesting bit of irony: second- and third-generation descendents of Holocaust survivors who fled Germany now seeking to become German citizens. Last night, Channel 2 broadcast a documentary called "When the Town Will Burn" which looked at the phenomenon.

The film followed two women, both children of German Holocaust survivors who emigrated to Israel after the war, who are looking to take advantage of Germany's laws in order to get a second citizenship. Their parents, ardent Zionists, can't understand why they want to do this and, in effect, turn their back partially on Israel. (As one of the parents was quoted "What German questions that he is German? What Frenchman questions that he is French?").

This subject touches on a lot of issues regarding the state of Israel today and its connection to the past. The film could have explored a number of interesting questions. A few that come to mind:
      What is it about Israel that has led these women to crave a European passport?
      Is this necessarily a slap in the face for Zionism, or just a sign of its maturity?
      What is the role and weight of the Holocaust in contemporary Israeli society?
      How do you resolve the conflict between people who have witnessed firsthand the brutality of the Germans and their offspring who want to live among them?
Unfortunately, the film was too short to deal with any of these issues in any meaningful depth.

And in any case, the director of the film seemed a lot more interested in cheap moralizing. Having clearly decided that Reiser and Goldberg were turning their backs on Zionism and insulting the memory of the Holocaust survivors, he tries to turn the whole thing into an extended finger-wagging session. The film's low point comes when the director tries to drag Reiser to Bergen Belsen to view the memorial site. She refuses to go.

Granted, Reiser almost screams out for this kind of treatment. She comes off as an utter bubblehead, who is determined to ignore the bitter history around her at all costs. When she declared that she "admires the Germans" while standing in the middle of a Jewish cemetary, I personally wanted to slap her upside the head.

Still, Shani Reiser probably symbolizes a certain attitude among some younger Israelis. The Holocaust serves as a certain backdrop to life here, from the official commemoration days to the school trips to visit the concentration camps in Poland. To some degree -- not always visibly -- it colors the day-to-day reality of life here. However, ubiquity can turn into cliche and cliches invite reactions. In the film, while Shani takes a train ride, the voice-over notes that "To someone brought up in Israel, the sound of a train rattling down the tracks in Germany brings up very specific associations." At what point do you feel the need to stand up and say "Screw the associations. This is nothing more than an average commuter train"?

Towards the end of the film, one of the Germans actually hits on the broader issues when he says that he has no right to determine whether or not it is morally right for a Jew to leave Israel and return to Germany. The director lets the comment pass instead of looking at it more closely. Why is this a moral issue at all? Why is the idea of having a second passport -- even one from Germany -- be viewed as a threat to the Jewish state? Why should it negate one's sense of Israeliness? The issues are there to explore.

U.N. - The U Stands for "Utterly" and "Useless"

Over the last 10 years, we've seen the Oslo process come and go. Now the road map is here and once again Israelis and Palestinians are working towards solving out the complex issues that have caused so much bloodshed.

In the United Nations, however, it's like none of this ever happened. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.N. is stuck permanently in 1976 and the declaration that "Zionism is Racism". Yes, the bloated, bloviating debate club for Third World dictators and their European amen corner apparently wastes vast sums of cash putting together international conferences whose sole purpose is to castigate Israel for being the root of all evil in the world. When they're not doing that, they organize fact-finding missions for small handfuls of UN representatives and large handfuls of UN bureaucrats.

When it comes to actually helping out the process and trying to push for proactive solutions, be sure that Koffi Anan will be off somewhere else. Like talking to Iran, Syria, and Libya about their work on the UN Human Rights Commission.

Tisha B'Av

Today is Tisha B'Av, a day which commemorates a number of tragedies, most importantly the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples and the expulsion of the Jews from Israel into the Diaspora. (Kesher Talk has a good collection of links.)

In Israel, Tisha B'Av is a bit of a strange day and one which most clearly highlights the divide between secular and observant Jews. Religious Jews regard it as the saddest day of the year; it is the only day of fasting other than Yom Kippur. Secular Jews, on the other hand, tend to be oblivious of it, except maybe to note that their religious co-workers are taking the day off and that the TV is broadcasting downer programming. Having grown up secular in the States, I was only dimly aware of Tisha B'Av till I came here. I don't fast, but on the other hand I don't express the amazement of some of my secular co-workers that religious people at the Wailing Wall are actually crying as they pray.

Officially, Tisha B'Av falls into the category of a sorta-commemoration day, like Holocaust Remembrance Day. Everything is open, but on the evening of Tisha B'Av, restaurants and places of entertainment have to shut down by law. This leads to ongoing battles as certain cafe and restaurant owners, mainly in Tel Aviv, defy the ban.

Like on the other government-mandated sad days, television and radio programming turns to serious subjects. The lesson of Tisha B'Av for Jews is the damage caused by excessive infighting. The Romans were able to destroy the Second Temple and cast the Jews into exile because the Jewish community was so riven by internal conflict. As a result, the media spends the day engaging in a lot of tongue-clucking on the subject of sinat hinam ("hatred for no reason"). This seems to involve interviewing politicians (the worst culprits) and castigating them for it.

Temple Mount Fun 'n' Games

As part of the traditional commemoration of Tisha B'Av, thousands of observant Jews come to pray at the Western Wall and march around the Temple Mount.

At the top of the Mount sits the Dome of the Rock, Islam's third holiest site and, increasingly, the symbol of Palestinian nationalism. It's a sensitive area in the best of times, and in recent years a real pile of tinder waiting to go off. As such, the security forces today are out in full force and on high alert. In the back of everyone's mind of course, is Arik Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount at the start of the intifada. Whether you believe that Sharon's visit sparked the intifada or (as I do) that the Palestinians used it as an excuse to start the violence they had planned beforehand, no one wants a repeat performance.

Still, there are a few elements out there who will make sure the security forces don't have too easy a time of it. Likud MKs Yehiel Hazan and Inbal Gavrieli announced their intention to visit the Temple Mount, despite the general security ban on Jews visiting the site. After some deliberation yesterday, Gavrieli decided to heed the pleas of the security forces and cancelled her trip. Hazan, however, decided to push on. He came to the Temple Mount this morning. Police physically stopped him and turned him away. He came back again and they stopped him a second time, after which he gave up.

In addition, a group of messianic nut jobs called the Temple Mount Faithful petitioned the Supreme Court like they do every year and demanded that they be allowed to hold a ceremony on the Temple Mount where they lay the groundstone for the Third Temple. And, like every year, the Court ruled against them. (Were these guys ever to be permitted to hold their ceremony, it would kick up a shit storm in the region that would make all the previous wars here look like tea parties). Then, like they do every year, they held a procession through downtown Jerusalem, dragging the cornerstone behind them.

At the moment (knock wood) it looks like the day is passing without incident.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003
Co-inky dinkys

And who says this country isn't the world's largest small village?

Rinat Malkes, a recent immigrant to these shores from Brazil, wrote an entry the other day about the felafel stand underneath her apartment which had been the target of a suicide bomber a year ago. I remembered this incident (the stand in question is the Yemenite felafel on Ha'Neviim street in Jerusalem) because I used to live in the same apartment about 7 years ago. In the same room.

When the place got bombed last year, I remember having a real sense of "there but for the grace of God," especially as it came on the heels of attacks at Cafe Moment, the cafeteria at Hebrew U, and the Aroma on Hillel street -- all places I frequented during my Jerusalem days.

I'm glad to hear the felafel stand guys are still alive and well and more than a bit amused about the coincidence that another member of the (decidedly small) English-language Israeli blogsphere lives upstairs.

The Beauty of Israeli Web Sites

Finally, someone has the courage to take a stand against one of the greatest social crises of our times: the ugliness of your average Israeli commercial website. Most English-speaking web surfers probably haven't encountered Hebrew-language portals, newspapers, or sport sites. Those that do can attest to the barage of pop-ups, splash ads, and all manner of blinky banner ads that completely take over the screen.

Ha'aretz writer Yuval Dror has had enough:
Anthropologists of the Web will find many parallels between the sweaty Israeliness of Tel Aviv, the traffic jams on the coastal highway and the yelling and screaming on political talk shows, and the on-line Israeliness. As in other cases, Israeli reality has taken an international phenomenon and inflated it until one can no longer remember what the original looks like.
Not that these protests will do anything. The Israeli taste for messy, blinky sites goes back years. I first noticed a fondness here for animated gifs and use of the <BLINK> tag in the earliest days of web design. Since then, things have only gotten worse.

Besides, as one of my coworkers pointed out, that the reason these sites are so full of bothersome crap is that a lot of the technology behind the bothersome crap was developed here. God bless Jewish ingenuity.

Things That Go Boom and Which Aren't Terrorist Attacks. Again.

Just because there's a hudna on, doesn't mean that Tel Aviv should be car bomb-free this summer. Another car bomb went off this morning and, once again, it looks like a mafia hit. One person was killed, a known criminal according to the police.

In a related story, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is calling on Sharon to show restraint against the mafia.

The Hypocrisy of the Arab League

In a completely unsurprising move, The Arab League yesterday decided that it would not recognize Iraq's recently appointed Governing Council. In his statements explaining why, Amr Moussa, Egypt's Foreign Minister and the current Secretary-General of the Arab League, said that although the Council is a good start, it isn't elected and thus lacks a certain amount of credibility . In his column today, Tom Friedman points out the pot-caling-the-kettle-black aspect of this statement:
I love that quote. I love it, first of all, for its bold, gutsy, shameless, world-class hypocrisy. Mr. Moussa presides over an Arab League in which not one of the 22 member states has a leader elected in a free and fair election. On top of it, before the war, Mr. Moussa did all he could to shield Saddam Hussein from attack, although Saddam had never held a real election in his life. Yet, there was Mr. Moussa questioning the new U.S.-appointed Iraqi Council, which, even in its infant form, is already the most representative government Iraq has ever had.
Friedman uses this as a jumping-off point to demonstrate, once again, that the Arab world is shitting itself at the possibility of democracy actually coming to the neighborhood. Although why anyone should be so concerned about statements from the Arab League is anybody's guess. Moussa heads a pathetic, toothless organization. In more than 50-years of activity, the League has done absolutely nothing, other than to serve as a debating society wherein Arab tyrants condemn Israel and condemn other Arabs for not condemning Israel strongly enough.

If a new wave of democracy also succeeds in doing away with the Arab League, it will only be icing on the cake.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Referrer Log Fun

I love going through the referrer log for this site and seeing the different Google searches that might lead you here. For a couple of weeks, the blog turned up high in the listings for those interested in Uday's sex life. (My hit count shot up following the Uday and Qusay roundup. I briefly considered turning the blog into All Uday All the Time, but thought the better of it.) The fact that I saw a large number of referrals made me wonder whether someone came in looking for salacious stuff on the Hussein brothers but stayed around for the commentary.

Anyway, now I'm proud to announce that yon blog comes up number 8 in Google for Turkish moustache. I smell a new catchphrase here.

Tthe Observer's Editorial Page, cont'd.

A few weeks ago in a column for the British Observer, columnist Richard Ingrams raised a bit of a ruckus when he suggested ignoring any commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian situation coming from someone with a Jewish name.

Complaints about Ingrams' clear anti-Semitism poured in to the Observer. The Board of Deputies, the most influential Jewish group in the UK, filed a formal complaint with the British Press Complaints Commission. The Board argued that publishing Ingrams' piece was a breach of journalistic ethics. The Complaints Commission disagreed, saying that Ingrams' column was an opinion piece and clearly labeled as such.

Sad to say, the Commission is probably correct here. The piece clearly was an opinion column and, as such, the Observer was well within its rights to print the thing. However doing so, while not unethical, was stupid and, at the very least, insensitive.

Not that the Observer seems to notice. In fact, Steven Pritchard, the Observer editor in charge of running the Ingrams piece viewed it simply as another editorial condemning Ariel Sharon (which is always welcome in the British press). Judging from his reactions to the flap, Pritcahrd seems to have missed the bigger issue --the naked display of Jew-hatred on the part of one of his writers-- altogether:
Ingrams' piece was inflammatory, but I cannot see how it can be viewed as anti-Semitic to oppose the policies of Ariel Sharon, any more than it is racist to oppose the policies of Robert Mugabe. That is not excusing the bigotry implicit in that opening paragraph. I agree with a reader who pointed out that Ingrams's piece displayed such a degree of prejudice against Jews that it will be impossible ever again to take seriously anything he writes about Israel.
The first statement misses the point. It's not anti-Semitic to oppose Sharon, but that's not the issue here. The issue here is singling out an entire ethnic group for scorn when they disagree with opposition to Ariel Sharon. At the very least, he concedes that Ingrams is a bigot.

The Board of Deputies and other complainants made a mistake by going after the Observer on purely ethical grounds. In effect, they argued that it was illegitimate for Ingrams to write these things and for the Observer to print them. Which, in a free society, it isn't. Merely dumb.

Contrary to popular belief, newspapers are free to choose the content they publish. The choices they make should, in part, take into account peoples' sensitivities. By the newspaper's own admission, Ingrams is a bigot. As such, it might not have hurt the Observer to think twice about maybe asking him to edit the piece a bit. As far as the people complaining, they would probably have done better to address a perceived level of acceptable antisemitism on the part of the British press (or at least the left-hand end of the spectrum). This seems to be the main problem, and the reason that the Observer editors casually passed over Ingrams' piece in a way they probably wouldn't have if he had been bitching about people named Patel or Khan complaining about Kashmir.

Monday, August 04, 2003
More Shootings

Not a great day here in hudna-ville.

Last night, some Al-Aqsa Brigade fuckers opened fire on a car near Bethlehem and seriously wounded Zila Hayoun, a mother of three, along with her 9-year-old daughter. Hayoun's two other children were lightly wounded. By doing this, the Brigades -- which are a part of Fatah and whose members swear their loyalty to Arafat -- once again announce that they have no use for the cease fire.

The attack is worse when you consider that the IDF turned security control of Bethlehem over to the Palestinians recently.

I'm curious to see if the PA's security apparatus will go after the perpetrators or whether they'll fall back on their catch-all "but we're too weak" excuse.

Quote of the Day

The question in Aujah now is how the family is going to get the bodies [of Uday and Qusay] back "to bury them properly". Someone in Baghdad later told me that proper burial for these two is to dig a hole somewhere in the desert and have the family look for them for years.

-Baghdad Blogger Salam Pax, on a visit to Tikrit

Sunday, August 03, 2003
So, What did you do this weekend?

We've been having a flooding problem in the building recently. No, it has nothing to do with the Yarkon river which runs across the street from the neighborhood. This problem is a bit more complicated and involves the building's plumbing system, the drainage on the roof, and the opening to the elevator room. Basically, the water tanks which maintain water pressure to the top floors of the building have been overflowing, dumping massive amounts of water on the roof of the. The drainage system on the roof can't handle the volume of water, which starts rising up until it seeps into the elevator room, where it spills down the shafts, soaking both elevators. We've had two incidents of this in the last month, one of which took the elevators out of commission for two days.

This is a big problem. And, as a member of the va'ad habayit (the residents' committee of the building), it's my big problem.

Thursday night I was out with friends and came home unusually late at around 2:30 a.m. As I entered the building, I heard the sound of water cascading from the elevator shafts and saw that the elevators themselves had once again become little shower rooms. Quickly, I woke the other member of the va'ad and the two of us jumped into action.

After shutting off the building's water main and cutting the electricity to the elevators, we went to the roof to survey the damage. We climbed up 8 flights of stairs and up a two-story ladder to the roof, where a pool of shin-deep water covered an area roughly the size of my apartment. The roof is a multi-level affair. Water was draining from the top level to the middle level, which has an opening to the elevator room. Water was pouring into the room.

We plugged the drain between the two levels and, with the help of two other neighbors, and we spent most of the night bailing the water off the roof with buckets.

The other va'ad member had to go overseas yesterday. Which means that I have to deal with all the fallout from the mess: insurance, elevators, the company responsible for the pump system on the roof, and the building contractor. The latter two, of course, each points the finger at the other and blames them for the mess when in fact they're both responsible. In the States, the building superintendent would be in charge of dealing with this kind of mess. Here in Israel, it usually falls on one of the residents.

For reasons I don't remember I volunteered for the residents' committee last December when the two members decided to resign. In a lot of buildings, the residents set up a rotation list of who has to serve on the committee. This way everyone is forced to share the burden. Our building is still new and so we're still at the phase where we ask for volunteers.

There seem to be two types of people who willingly volunteer for the va'ad habayit. One is the megalomaniac, the kind of guy who wants to be emperor of the building (we have one of these in the building next door). The other is the freier, the sucker. I belong to the second category, the kind of guy who will voluntarily subject himself to the massive headaches of dealing with building contractors and technicians on the one hand and the complaints of neighbors who want to know when the elevators will be working again and why we haven't fixed the problem already on the other.

I suppose it's not all bad. I now know everybody in the building. I get the satisfaction of knowing that I'm doing my part. And, over the course of the last three days, I have learned more than I could ever want to know about the vagaries of contemporary plumbing systems.

Standoff at the Muqata'a

Interesting developments in Ramallah this weekend. For the last year and a half, the bloodthirsty ghoul Arafat has been sheltering a number of "militants" in the Muqata'a, his presidential compound. These "militants" -- members of the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade who have been involved in the murders of women and children -- are on the list of Israel's most wanted. The took shelter in the Muqata'a when Operation Defensive Shield began in April 2002 and have been there ever since.

Israel has repeatedly demanded that Arafat turn over these terrorists. He has repeatedly rejected these demands. As a result, however, he has become a prisoner in his own Muqata'a. He knows that if he leaves, Israel will raid the place and nab the men. And so, Arafat has spent the last 16 months sitting around in his office moving paper around.

Well, it looks like he finally decided to do something about the situation.

The plan was simple: Invite the Al-Aqsa boys to a meeting and arrest them. Then he would to turn them over to the PA's security services who would place them in custody in Jericho. Israel wouldn't be able to get the guys, but would have to finally get off Arafat's back. Brilliant.

Except, of course, there was a hitch. The terrorists refused to go quietly, and Arafat refused to move them by force. In the meantime, the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade declared that if the men were removed from the Muqata'a, the Brigades would end the cease-fire and resume attacks on Israelis. At the moment it looks like they will stay in the compound until Israel and the PA reach an agreement what to do with them.

Call me a cynic, but I smell an elaborate PR exercise. The original plan would have Arafat selling out the murderer's he's been protecting for the last year and a half, coming out all statesman-like and rosy-smelling in the bargain. The "militants" would sit in jail for a bit, after which they would presumably escape or be pardoned. We've seen this kind of bullshit from the Palestinian penal system many times before.

Except now it looks like Yasser is trying to get the best of both worlds. He can say, "Look, I tried to turn these guys in but if I do so the cease-fire will fall to pieces" and still look good, while the guys remain sheltered in the Muqata'a.