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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Flowers & Soldiers

[for my older sister who insists I never update on 'weekends']

Any American over the age of forty encountering this unlikely combination of words is likely to conjure one of two mental images: Either a) College protesters placing daisies into the pointed guns of National Guardsmen during the Vietnam war era; or b) Flowers being placed on the graves of fallen soldiers.

I am pleased that, from this day forward, I will not be able to hear the words 'flowers' and 'soldiers' in the same sentence without conjuring a much more pleasant image.

This morning, like nearly every Sunday morning, I drove out of Efrat with a car full of [what I have come to think of as] ‘my soldiers’ – a fairly consistent group of youngsters returning to base after a weekend home with their families. These sleepy teenagers and early 20-somethings, smelling of freshly laundered uniforms, and toting knapsacks filled with home-baked goodies for the week ahead, settled in for the hour + drive to Be’er Sheva. However, instead of the usual quick descent into slumber, today’s crew seemed more alert…more attentive to the drive.

At first I attributed their wakefulness to the fatal shooting that had taken place on Friday night along our usual route.

[It may not have made the news outside of Israel - little beyond the most horrible bombings makes it into the International news cycle these days - but on Friday night, a young couple left their two-year-old daughter with her grandmother and went out for the evening to celebrate a friend's birthday. A few miles from their home they were ambushed by machine gun-wielding terrorists, and killed instantly.]

However, a few minutes into the drive I was surprised when one of the soldiers (a young paratrooper) asked me if I would like to see something ‘interesting’. Another soldier – this one a lieutenant in another elite infantry unit – added, “Actually, not ‘interesting’…beautiful”. Clearly a conspiracy was underway.

I shrugged and told them to point the way.

We took a mild deviation from our usual route, while all the while behind me there rose a low murmur of discussion about our destination. Considering that snores are much more common at this point in our Sunday morning commute, I allowed myself to be directed, and enjoyed the animated sound of voices around me.

Within a few minutes we crested a rise and I was struck speechless by the scene on the next hillside. A carpet of wildflowers – reds, bluish purples, and a few tiny yellows – crowded each other and competed for our attention. I pulled over to the side of the road and instantly regretted having left my digital camera at home.

The soldiers explained that once a year, usually for a week before the holiday of Purim, these wildflowers (some of which are found nowhere else in Israel) bloom in this particular valley. Apparently, people come from all over the country to see these flowers! The soldiers apologized that the one other place in the valley where there were even more of the flowers was too far out of our way, but suggested that I come back later in the week with my family to see them.

Every time I think I have become acclimated to life here in Israel, something new…usually something small…pops up and turns my head around. In this case it wasn’t just the surprise of beautiful wildflowers…After all, flowers pop up all over the world. No, I was caught off guard by the unabashed delight these soldiers took in the annual appearance of the wildflowers, and the simple generosity of their wanting to share the experience with me.

[Note to self: Remember to bring the camera tomorrow!]

Posted by David Bogner on February 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Shocked...shocked, I say!

Howard Stern said what?

Maybe it’s just me…but isn’t Clear Channel Broadcasting being just a tad random (not to mention Puritanical) in its decision to drop Howard Stern? I mean what went on in that conference room when they came to the decision to air his show in the first place?

I imagine a bunch of Balding, Middle-Aged ‘Suits’ sitting around a conference room while some Young Exec pitches the ‘Stern show for their markets:

Y.E.: “Ya gotta love this guy…he owns the morning drive-time demographic. He gives the commute crowd their drinking fountain fodder every single day!!! The guy’s an absolute animal!!!”

B.M.-A.S. 1: [looking around at other B.M-A.S.] “I’ve never heard of this guy…is he our kinda folk? I mean he’s not one of those potty-mouthed…waddyacallem…shock jocks, is he?”

Y.E.: [looking suddenly uncomfortable] “um…you’ve never even heard of him? Maybe I need to get you some tape on the guy so we’re all on the same page.”

B.M.-A.S. 2: “Naw…you say he's got good numbers and he’s a good Christian boy,? Well that’s all we need to hear.”

Y.E.: [starting to sweat]: “Now hold on a sec…I never said anything…”

B.M.-A.S. 3: [cutting off the Young Exec mid stammer] “Well then, I think we know about all we need to know. So it’s agreed then…we bring this Stern fella - I like that name…sounds kinda strong and mean - anyway, we bring this Stern fella into the Clear Channel stable startin’ Monday mornin’.”

B.M.-A.S. 1: “Alright then, that settles that. Who’s up for some Barbeque? I hear that new place down at the Galleria serves a damn fine plate o’ dry rub.”

Y.E.: [head down on conference table emitting muffled sobs as B.M.-A.S.s file out of the room]

Somehow I don’t think I’m too far off the mark here.

Look, I’m an observant Jew who moved out of New York City because I didn’t want my kids to be able to see fetish-porn magazine covers while we waited in line at the local bodega. I wasn’t bothered by the existence of such magazines (often curious about the target audience, but never bothered), I simply wanted to be able to control the time and place that my kids were given their first introduction to, say, bestiality or some of the more, um, gymnastic forms of love-making.

Obviously I’m doing a bit of exaggerating here to illustrate my point …but my point is a valid one: Imposing ‘Decency standards’ in broadcasting is a slippery slope that we have been collectively sliding down since Guglielmo Marconi first heard a recognizable sound amid the static.

Own a TV or radio? There is a station selector and an on-off switch. Use them. If you choose not to own a TV or radio (as many people have) then this argument shouldn't interest you (and likewise you shouldn't have a say in it).

For a land that calls itself a ‘melting pot’, there seems to be a rather narrow range of opinions represented by these so-called standards. And, the application of these standards is something out of a 'Clintonesque' deposition, with some corporate lawyer trying to determine the definition of ‘is’. The reason for drawing the line in the sand next to the ‘n word’, as opposed to, say, the ‘k word’ (a derogatory term for Jews), the ‘c word’ (a derogatory term for Asians), or the 'd word' (a derogatory term for women in plaid flannel shirts), baffles me. Either allow insults to everyone, or no one. A law or standard can’t be randomly applied to the ‘sensitivity de jour’.

I happen to dislike Stern intensely. His show, in my humble opinion, is Jerry Springer for blind folks (or perhaps people too poor to own TVs). His humor is juvenile, and his ‘shock value’ is the most transparent form of prurient grandstanding. However, I used to love listening to Imus during my morning drive, so go figure. The bottom line is that I wouldn’t think of having either of them on when my kids were in the car…but so long as their brand of speech doesn't insite violence against anyone, or cause physical or financial harm, I think the 1st amendment covers just about any other eventuality.

[By the way...kudos to the MS Word spell checker for saving me from the embarrassing faux pas of misspelling 'bestiality' as 'beastiality'.]

Posted by David Bogner on February 26, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

My 'Good Readin' list

Ever try to talk to little kids while holding something shiny or sweet in your hand? You would have to buy yourself a microscope to locate the chance-in hell that they are actually hearing the words spilling out of your mouth.

Apparently the disclaimer on my ‘about page’ which clearly implies that 'the stuff I enjoy reading may not be someone else’s cup of tea', fell on deaf ears (eyes??). I guess telling people that they 'might not enjoy something', while simultaneously showing them such tempting links (stop looking over there while I’m writing at you…Cheeses! It’s like I’m talking to my kids!!!) is similarly distracting.

So…for the benefit of everyone who may see this entry before it gets pushed off the bottom of the page…A word in your ear (eye??):

I read. A lot. I read things I don’t always agree with. I read things by people whose political views, lifestyles and life choices might be different from my own. And most important, I read the things that THEY read!

The simple reason I do my reading in so many ‘reading rooms’ is that I came to an important realization a few years ago: I noticed that most of the messages in my inbox were from people just like me. We all thought similar thoughts, lived similar lives, and ranted about similar things. However, after awhile I started to notice that none of us were forwarding our informative e-mails to anyone not like us. And we sure as hell weren't getting e-mails from peope who didn't think like us! If you think about it, that seems pretty pointless. I mean, what fun is preaching to the choir, right?

Once this started bothering me enough, I began to consider the result of the equation: If I’m not sharing my views with people who think differently than me + I’m not allowing other ideas to reach me = I have no opportunity to see how my ideas and opinions look sitting next to anyone else’s.

Not a very smart way to go through life.

If you graze down my reading list (yes kids, now you can look) you will find a very mixed bag. In no particular order (and missing a few, I’m sure), there are:

Two or three professional journalists (from diverse sectors of the political spectrum)

A Hell’s Angel wannabe with the soul (and writing chops) of a true angel

His eloquent and slightly irreverent wife

A single (but looking) gay, software jockey who’s writing persona and sense of humor make me think of Nathan Lane

An editor whose urbane observations and self-assurance remind me of my little sister

A San Francisco jewelry designer who wields a mean camera, and who has arguably the world’s gentlest soul

A Hasid who is a great musician (or one could say ‘A musician who is a great Hasid’)

An unidentified mystery writer with a hand in the New York Jewish music scene, and a tongue firmly in cheek

…and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver!

I'll leave it to you to figure out who's who.

Not interesting or diverse enough yet? Well, if you take a gander at the journals and blogs THEY read, you get to peek into the lives (and minds) of judges, prostitutes, rabbis, politicians, humorists, strippers, photographers, civil rights activists, housewives, ministers…you get the point.

I’m too old to start experimenting with new lifestyles. I am firmly set in my ways, and deliriously happy with my life. I am wrapped like a warm baby within my religion without feeling the need to convert others. I am fairly static in my political views, but I can sometimes be swayed by a compelling, intellectually honest, argument.

In a world without blogs and on-line journals…without newsgroups and e-zines…people like me (eye??) would never have the opportunity to get inside the head of someone with different ideology, religion, lifestyle, politics, nationality…point-of-view. I have no desire to be these people, but I share the world with them...so I should understand a bit about what makes them tick.

By posting a list of the heads I like to peek inside, I’m giving you a glimpse of some of the walls where I bounce my own ideas.

What you see here on the left side of the page…that’s all me. My ideas (or at least the properly attributed ideas of others), and my responsibility.

Over there on the right (yes, I said you could look) is a sampling of the rest of the world.

Go. Don’t go. But for kripes sake, stop thinking that by sending self-congratulatory e-mails to ideological clones of yourselves you are going to change the world…or even one mind.

'nuff said.

Posted by David Bogner on February 25, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, February 23, 2004

How sweet it is

Ok...I'm back from my little political rant. The sun came up this morning (for most of us, anyway) and I’m back from the edge. For those of you who weathered the storm and are still here, I thank you. For those of you who actually read the article, I hope it offered a fresh perspective...perhaps one that you hadn’t considered before.

Just so you don't think my world is all politics and bombs, I'd like to share a little something with you that caught my eye as I stood in a supermarket check-out line.

To fully appreciate the humor here, it is important for you to understand a few things about Israeli pop culture. Clothing, music, advertising, television - in fact, just about everything in the public domain – leave little to the imagination. In fact, Israeli’s seem to take pride in embracing the most explicit European trends. Television and advertising feature lots of skin and overtly sexual themes, and even print media is often very risqué. However, for a newcomer like me, the real entertainment consists of finding inadvertent double entendres in unlikely places.

I'm sure you’ve all seen the lists of badly translated signs and product names from places like Japan and Brazil that have made the e-mail rounds. You know, the ones where they try to use some English idiom in a product name and completely botch it? Or, where they attempt to translate a useful phrase into English, but get it just wrong enough to nudge the meaning into the realm of comedy?

Some examples from Transperfect Translations:

"Drop your pants here for best results."-sign at a dry cleaning store in Tokyo

"Ladies may have a fit upstairs."-sign at a dry cleaning store in Bangkok

"Please leave your values at the front desk."-sign in a hotel in Paris.

"Teeth extracted by latest methodists."-sign in Hong Kong dentist's office.

"Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time."-sign in a Rome laundry.

"Our wines leave you nothing to hope for."-on the menu of a Swiss restaurant

"Specialist in women and other diseases."-doctor's office in Rome

Well, I promise you that the chocolate bar I have photographed below is the genuine article. It consists of four basketball-shaped sections (the source of its name), and is actually quite tasty.

Now, I'm assuming that the person who came up with the product name was either;

a) not a native English speaker;

or

b) a man.

A third possibility is that this was done intentionally by some marketing genius as a teaser campaign. I mean, think about it…if this is just the appetizer, what the hell are they going to do for the main course?! I'll put in my order right now!!!

Ladies and gentlemen…I give you:

4play.jpg
4play2.jpg

Posted by David Bogner on February 23, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

I know I risk losing some of you by passing along something overtly political...but after this morning's bus bombing, I think that it is time to start looking closely at what exactly we mean when we start throwing around word's like 'Human Rights'. As this article from the Weekly Standard so aptly states:

"The basic human right is to live. So before talking about human rights and disturbing the daily routine of Palestinians, which is an issue we need to remember, we need to fight terrorism effectively."


Instead of simply adding a link to the article, I have also copied the entire article here. It is a very balanced article (meaning it has things in it which will anger both the right and the left) and is written by a journalist with respected credentials on both sides of the issue. As I write this introduction, the remains of several people are laying in a Jeruslaem street covered by sheets. They were mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. They had hopes, dreams and above all...rights. Their shrouded forms give mute testimony to the fact that they have been denied the most basic human right of all: The right to live.

Please take 5 minutes out of your busy day to read this, then let me know what you think:

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
From the March 1, 2004 issue: For once, Israelis agree about something.
by Peter Berkowitz
03/01/2004, Volume 009, Issue 24

Jerusalem IN ISRAELI POLITICS, contentiousness is the norm and consensus is rare. This makes all the more striking the broad and deep consensus that has formed among Israelis around the conviction that the country, without delay, must complete the construction of the security fence separating it from the West Bank and the Palestinians who live there.

The cause of the consensus is terror. In the old days, before September 2000, it was a mark of the country's national security challenge that almost every adult Israeli had served in the military, and every Israeli had friends and loved ones in the army. These days, the distinguishing mark of the country's national security challenge is something grimmer: Almost every Israeli knows somebody who has been wounded, maimed, or blown to bits by a suicide bomber. For Israelis, the front line is now at home, and it is this transformation of their struggle with the Palestinians that has produced an overwhelming majority--perhaps two thirds of the citizenry--in favor of the security fence.

Predictably, the international community is up in arms. Last December, the United Nations General Assembly voted to refer the question of the legality of Israel's security fence to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion. Working on a greatly expedited schedule, the court set a deadline of January 30 for briefs, with oral arguments to begin on February 23. The Palestinians charge that the fence violates international law, infringes their human rights, and imposes on them grave social and economic hardship. The United States, along with many other nations, opposes the referral of the question to the court on the grounds that the court is, at this time, an inappropriate forum for the question. While the European Union is among the group that opposes involving the court, its representatives have made clear that the E.U. agrees with the Palestinians on many of their charges.

In fact, the case for Israel's security fence is clear and compelling and accounts for the dramatic convergence of Israeli opinion in support of it.

Yet as late as three years ago, almost nobody in Israel was thinking about a fence, in part because it contravenes both left-wing and right-wing views. Those who have embraced the fence from the left have been forced to relinquish their dream of Israelis and Palestinians integrating their economies, traveling daily across open borders, and living together in harmony. And those who have come to it from the right have had to abandon the ambition to maintain Israeli control over, and settlement in, all or most of the disputed territories without partition.

The catalyst for both camps has been the staggering scale of Palestinian terrorism since late September 2000. In the war launched by the Palestinians following Yasser Arafat's rejection of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer of a Palestinian state in all of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a good portion of the Old City in Jerusalem, more than 900 Israelis have been killed and more than 6,000 have been wounded. In a country of about 6.4 million, that is the equivalent of almost 40,000 dead and a quarter of a million wounded in the United States.

RETIRED MAJOR GENERAL Uzi Dayan, former head of Israel's National Security Council, the fence's original architect in 2001, and its foremost defender today, calls the fence "a precondition to everything." By making Israel more secure, he argues, the fence--one third of which has been built and all of which is due to be completed by the end of 2005--will advance the peace process and thereby serve the interests of Palestinians as well as Israelis. But his first priority, he emphasizes, is Israel's security, which he smoothly translates into the language of human rights. "The basic human right is to live. So before talking about human rights and disturbing the daily routine of Palestinians, which is an issue we need to remember, we need to fight terrorism effectively."

Looking over a winding stretch of the security fence not far from his home in the village of Cochav Yair, where the coastal plain turns into rolling hills and where Israel is at its narrowest, with less than 10 miles from the sea to the Green Line, the pre-1967 border based on the 1949 armistice line, Dayan tells me that "the fence is the ultimate obstacle. The only way to fight terrorism effectively is to build a fence, because you can't fight terrorism just offensively. You need a defense. And the best defense is a fence."

What makes Dayan so confident that the fence will be effective? "We built it everywhere in every place when we wanted to prevent infiltration: all along the Jordan River; in the Golan Heights; on the border from Lebanon we built it in eight months from the Mediterranean Sea to Mount Hermon. And the ultimate example is Gaza. In the last three and a half years, not even one terrorist managed to infiltrate from Gaza and to commit a suicide bombing or a terrorist attack. And there were dozens of attempts. Very few even managed to cross the fence." In addition, Dayan points out, terrorist attacks have been dramatically reduced in those areas of the West Bank where the fence has been completed.

Although critics casually refer to it as a wall, in fact more than 95 percent of the barrier that Israel is building around the West Bank is made out of chain-link fence. Not ordinary chain-link fence, to be sure. It is electrified so that when an intruder touches it, Israeli forces are alerted. In addition, on the Palestinian or east side of the fence, the Israelis have dug an anti-vehicle trench. To the immediate west, they have placed a sandy path, which soldiers patrol looking for signs of footprints. Beyond that is a paved two-lane road for military use, and beyond the road is another fence, in some places chain link and in others barbed wire. Further back, cameras mounted on towers monitor the entire system, which is about 50 meters in width. Where there is danger of sniper fire from a Palestinian city that borders an Israeli highway, or where the space is lacking, the Israelis construct instead a concrete wall.

For Dayan, there is no question about the urgency of completing the fence. The problem, he concedes, is the route. The only serious question that divides the newly consolidated Israeli majority is how far the fence should extend into the West Bank in order to bring within its protection Israelis in the settlements.

Dayan--like much of the Israeli military establishment, a man of the left--favors a fence that sticks close to the Green Line. Although he does not regard the Green Line, which runs through villages and corresponds to no natural boundary, as sacrosanct, a security fence that roughly corresponds to it will be considerably shorter, require less time and cost to build, intrude less on Palestinian life, be easier to defend, and generate less international opprobrium than the route advocated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. While security was uppermost in his mind when he was designing the fence in 2001, Dayan sought to include as few Palestinians as possible on Israel's side, and to minimize hardships. He is pleased that in recent days the Sharon government has scaled back its plan for including Palestinian villages near Israel.

But Dayan stresses that all this is secondary for him: "I never buy the excuse of not building a fence because of conflict about the route of the fence. Which means I'm saying to my government: 'I'm sick and tired. I don't want to hear from you there is a problem, there is debate in the government. [Minister of Justice Yosef] Lapid thinks one way. [Minister of Defense Shaul] Mofaz says another approach. I say just build it. Decide about it. Talk to the Americans. Talk to the Palestinians. Talk among yourselves, for God's sake. But decide upon the route and build it.'"

There is harshness in Dayan's words. But there is also hope. By stopping terrorist attacks, he explains, the fence may strengthen the hand of Palestinian moderates who on their own are powerless to bring Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade under control.

MEANWHILE, the U.N. General Assembly, in the eyes of many thoughtful Israelis, has played into the hands of the extremists. When it placed the matter before the International Court of Justice, the General Assembly took the issue away from the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators charged with it under several U.N. Security Council Resolutions and agreements among the parties, including the U.S.-backed "road map." According to Daniel Taub, director of the General Legal Division at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "there have been repeated attempts by Palestinians and the Arab group to refer issues in the conflict between us to international forums and specifically the International Court of Justice as part of a general campaign to internationalize the issues." In Taub's view, no good can come of this. In the first place, he argues, the court does not have jurisdiction: No dispute between states is supposed to come before the court without the consent of both parties. Moreover, the referral of the question of the legality of the fence shows bad faith, because the General Assembly had already passed a resolution condemning the fence as illegal.

Sitting across from Taub in his cramped office in Jerusalem, I ask him about a report of the U.N. secretary general summarizing the legal positions of the "Government of Israel" and the "Palestine Liberation Organization." Taub bristles. He tells me that the report badly misstates the Israeli legal position. Then, indignant, he reads me a passage indicating that there should be no tradeoffs between Israeli security and Palestinian freedom, that Israel must desist from any undertakings that infringe Palestinian rights or cause them hardships, even undertakings that Israel has concluded are necessary to defend itself from Palestinian acts of war.

More serious perhaps is the failure of the dossier put together by the United Nations to serve as the basis for the court's work to so much as mention Palestinian terror. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement that summarizes the legal position Israel adopted in its 130-page brief to the court (still confidential under court rules) minces no words:

Neither the question referred to the Court, nor the 20-paragraph General Assembly resolution referring it, makes any reference--not a single word--to the ongoing terrorism directed daily against Israel and its citizens. Similarly the extensive dossier of 88 documents on the question provided to the Court by the United Nations is, staggeringly, totally silent on the subject of Palestinian terrorist attacks. It is devoid of any of the United Nations resolutions condemning terrorism, as well as Israel's letters to the Secretary General detailing the terror attacks it has faced.

And this silence, Israel contends, is a fatal flaw:

It is inconceivable that the International Court of Justice should be requested to give an Advisory Opinion on the issue of Israel's security fence at the behest of the very terrorist organization which has been actively behind many of the murderous attacks which have made the fence necessary. It is even more inconceivable that the request should make no reference at all to the brutal reality of terrorism faced by Israel.

To the charge that Israel's fence is an effort to grab land by creating facts on the ground, Taub responds that a fence that was built right on top of the Green Line would be impractical, cutting through villages, running through valleys, and generally bearing no relation to security, topography, or the needs of daily life. Moreover, Taub emphasizes, the fence brings about no legal change in the status of the territories or the status of the residents, either Palestinians or Israelis who live in settlements. It is temporary, it can be moved and altogether dismantled. And it is not a border. It does not alter Israel's responsibility to protect settlements. And it does not alter ownership of the land on which it is built, which, when privately owned, becomes subject to a temporary requisition order. Israel pays compensation to the owners for use of the land and loss of profits. And Israel makes procedures available to Palestinians who wish to lodge protests against the fence's route. To date, 20 petitions have been submitted to Israel's High Court of Justice.

Further, argues Taub, it is not Israel that is trying to establish a political border but the Palestinians, who insist that, if there is to be a fence, it be built on the Green Line. The Green Line, Taub points out, was never intended to be a final legal border. U.N. resolutions, formal agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and the road map are, he asserts, "absolutely clear" that the final determination of the border is a subject to be negotiated between the two sides. But won't the fence, whatever Israel's formal position, come to be thought of as a border by both sides to the conflict? Won't it, whatever Israel's intention, create facts on the ground? Taub is not moved. "You can't not fight terrorism--which is a precondition for entering into negotiations--and expect to receive your maximum demands from negotiations."

To the charge that the fence causes disproportional harm to the Palestinians, Taub insists that Israel recognizes genuine hardships and is taking great pains to minimize them. Planning for the route of the fence begins with the army, but before the government approves plans they must undergo an arduous process of adjustment, which involves several layers of consultation--with environmental experts, legal experts, and the local population. Alternative routes are explored, additional gates are considered, increased bus service is examined. The fence has already been moved twice in order to put Palestinian villages on the Palestinian side. And in Abu Dis, an Arab neighborhood most of which lies just beyond the Green Line, Israel is building a new kidney dialysis center for Palestinians cut off by the security fence from the old one.

Like Uzi Dayan, Taub insists that in the long run Palestinians too will benefit from the fence, for with the reduction in terrorism, Israel will need to take fewer intrusive measures in the West Bank. And to the extent that you take terrorism out of the equation, you weaken the militants and strengthen the moderates.

SHLOMO AVINERI, a distinguished political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and former director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, won't go as far as Dayan or Taub. He is a self-styled dove who was "rattled" by Camp David 2000. He considers Arafat's decision to go to war rather than accept Barak's offer a watershed moment in Israel's history, and he adamantly supports the fence. Typical of the left-leaning segment of the Israeli consensus, he wants it built as close as possible to the Green Line. But he dismisses the idea of Palestinian moderates. "What is important," says Avineri, "is that there hasn't been a clear statement on the part of any Palestinian leader that suicide bombers are murderers. Not one."

There are, Avineri observes, Palestinian leaders who will say they would recognize Israel if it were to abide by U.N. resolutions and international law. But, he stresses, no other state is spoken of in that way. We say Bosnia or China is in breach of international law, but we do not treat its compliance with international law as a precondition for recognition of its sovereignty. Given current attitudes, and an educational system that continues to instruct children with maps of the Middle East on which Israel does not appear, Israel may have to wait a generation or more, Avineri believes, to find negotiating partners on the Palestinian side.

Khaled Abu Toameh, a prominent Arab-Israeli journalist, takes a still harsher view of the Palestinian side. To be sure, he opposes the fence because of its impact on the Palestinian people, the damage to their livelihood, the restriction of their right to move about freely, the insult to their personal dignity. But to him, the fence is only a symptom of the real problem: the Palestinian leadership.

Of course, he says, Israelis are largely indifferent to Palestinian suffering. Of course Israelis do not really understand that the "ordinary, average Palestinian is a normal person who wants to wake up in the morning, send his children to school, care for his family, go to work, and just lead a normal life. He doesn't care about other things. The Palestinian Authority. Israel. They are not that important. What is important is not to disrupt normal life. And this fence disrupts normal life. It turns the life of many Palestinians into hell."

Nevertheless, the cause of the fence, Abu Toameh was sure, was not a desire on the part of Israeli majorities to rule over the Palestinians. If he were an Israeli Jew in these circumstances, he would favor a fence. Real responsibility for the construction of the fence, he is quite certain, lies with Yasser Arafat and the thoroughly cynical dictatorship he brought to the Palestinian people 10 years ago on the heels of the Oslo Accords.

But don't the Palestinians recognize Arafat as their legitimate leader? "Look," Abu Toameh says impatiently. "They want independence. They want their own state. But they don't want the corrupt and autocratic regime led by several hundred cronies of Arafat. They are stealing from the Palestinian people. I mean, what has the Palestinian Authority done for the Palestinian people over the last 10 years, since the signing of the Oslo accords? Basically, nothing." Nothing? "Yasser Arafat did not build one hospital. Or one school." Taken aback by his candor, I ask Abu Toameh whether he is speaking precisely. He responds sharply, "I am responsible for what I am saying. Arafat did not do anything. He did not rebuild one refugee camp. And the question is, one should ask, where did the money go? What happened? I mean, he got billions."

What is to be done? For Abu Toameh the critical first step is clear. "The Palestinian people's problem is their leadership. The Palestinian people's problem with the Israelis is a completely different issue. That could be solved in the long run. And it will be. But in order to solve that problem, and before we solve that problem with the Israelis, we need a proper Palestinian regime, we need proper government, proper institutions, democratic institutions, we need transparency. Basically the Palestinian Authority today is run as a private business by Yasser Arafat. And some of his aides. We need to liberate the Palestinian people, but from their leadership first, and then from the occupation."

YET IN THE SHORT TERM there is no avoiding the question of the security fence and the disputed territories. One afternoon, on the way back to my hotel on Mount Scopus, I ask the cabdriver to pass by Abu Dis, where the security fence is indeed a massive wall. When I ask him, as I do all Israeli cabdrivers, what his opinion of the fence is, he surprises me by responding in heavily Arabic-accented Hebrew. My Arab-Israeli cabdriver, a rarity, tells me that he is definitely opposed to it. En route through East Jerusalem, he says that the wall in Abu Dis has separated his family from his wife's parents, who live just on the other side. A visit that used to involve a few minutes' walk now takes a half hour to 45 minutes by car.

As we approach the wall, he points out shops on Israel's side that have been forced to close and tells me of many others on the Palestinian side that have gone out of business. We drive along the towering, menacing gray structure, 24 feet in height, that has been placed down the center of what used to be a main road, and he tells me that he doesn't know what the solution is, but it can't be this.

He knows there is blame to go around. He is disgusted by Arafat's weakness and ineffectiveness. I ask him whether he is ready for peace. "Ready?" he exclaims. "I live here. I work here. I work among the Arabs. I don't care who you are and what you are. I have children and a wife. I want to live. With dignity." I ask whether most Palestinians are like him. Without hesitation he says, "Yes." He pulls into a driveway not 10 yards from the fence. And then Abu Yosef, which he explains to me is what all his friends call him, invites me into his home, where I drink coffee with his wife and four shy, wide-eyed children.

I relate this encounter to Alex Yakobson, professor of classical history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a prominent Israeli public intellectual, who over the last decade has migrated from the dovish left to the pragmatic center. He listens patiently. He neither smiles nor frowns. He replies resolutely: "The fence, it is true, is not nice. It is not aesthetic. It is not convenient. I do not underestimate the genuine hardship that it is causing. But it's also not nice when a bus full of passengers is blown up and their limbs and organs--hands and legs and heads--fly for tens of meters in all directions. From a purely moral point of view, nobody's freedom of movement is more precious than somebody else's life."

That indeed is the voice of the Israeli center today. It is a voice that understands that what is not nice may be necessary and proper. It is an increasingly dominant voice in Israel. It is a voice in which anger, sadness, hardness, and humanity blend. Under the circumstances, it is the voice of reason.


Peter Berkowitz teaches at George Mason University School of Law and is a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

© Copyright 2004, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

Posted by David Bogner on February 22, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Itching to tell someone

Everyone knows it is rude to discuss medical conditions in polite company. But sometimes the solution to a lifelong mystery falls into your lap, and you just have to let people know.

As a kid, I never understood why nearly every place we went on vacation, the souvenir shops all sold back-scratchers. Think about it for a second, here is an item so universally available as to suggest that there are a lot of people out there with itchy backs. Yet to a kid, this seems like the dumbest product in the world! If once-in-a-while you get an itch in a plce you can't reach...you just ask a friend or family member to give the old back a scratch. Simple right? Whoever invented that back-scratcher was some dummy!!!

It wasn’t until my mid 20’s, when I started to notice an itch on the same patch of my right shoulder blade, that those souvenir back-scratchers began to make sense.

For most of my adult life I have suffered silently with this annoying back itch, and I’ve spent a lot of time acting like a big shaggy bear, rubbing against doors, coat hooks and trees. I’ve even enlisted friends, family, and coworkers to assist me in reaching that annoying spot. One of my assistants finally got so sick of me asking that she bought me a Goofy back-scratcher while she was on vacation at Disney World (thanks Sara). I even have a friend who has taught his dog, Casey – a big English Pointer mix – to scratch his back on command! Clearly this is a widespread phenomenon, yet people don’t really talk about it much.

I visited doctors…tried anti-itch creams and moisturizers…nothing helped.

Then one day the little light bulb in my head began flashing as a fellow musician began telling me about an itch he had had on his right shoulder blade for most of his adult life. Unlike me, he had found a doctor that was familiar with the problem and was even able to give it a name: notalgia paraesthetica.

Very simply, this common condition occurs because the nerves that provide sensation to the upper back are very susceptible to damage at the place where they emerge from the spine. It is theorized that heavy lifting, or some other sort of back trauma is somehow to blame, so ironically the place where one feels the itch has nothing to do with the cause. This is what fancy-pants doctors call a 'referred sensation'. So, short of deadening the nerve endings (with something like Capsaicin) or doing a nerve block at the source, there really isn’t much anyone can do for the problem.

The good news is that I now understand that I am not alone…far from it, in fact. All those back-scratchers in all the souvenir shops around the world were made with me in mind (along with all the millions of others walking around with this itchy problem).

Somehow, knowing the cause, and the name, of my itch is important. It doesn’t make it any better (or worse), but it allows me the illusion of control over my health…something that becomes more and more imperative as my lifeboat drifts dangerously close to the shoals of middle-age.

Strange journal entry today? Yes.

Helpful? Only you can be the judge of that.

Reason I wanted to share? I’ve been itching to tell someone.

Posted by David Bogner on February 17, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (55) | TrackBack

Monday, February 16, 2004

A point of view

This is just a quick post to point out the new photo album (over there on the right) called 'Views'. This will eventually become a catch-all for pictures of the house, the neighborhood, and our community. But for now, it has a few pretty shots of Efrat in the snow. Enjoy.

Posted by David Bogner on February 16, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Snow daze

It snowed here in central Israel last night. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does…people go absolutely insane.

We got no more than 5 inches (a 'dusting' that would go unnoticed by any self-respecting New Englander), but here in Israel, EVERYTHING immediately shut down.

The busses stopped running…urgent e-mails flew around the community as to whether the roads were open (for awhile the army closed them due to slippery conditions)…local stores and restaurants closed…all of the local schools announced (more than 12 hours in advance) that classes would be cancelled for the morning. Even the concert I was supposed to play was cancelled!

To ‘listen’ to the frantic tone in some of the announcements and e-mails, one would think that the Israeli equivalent of the Donner party had just called in their entrée choices via cell phone.

Speaking of food (smooth segue, no?), the kids got my special 'snow day menu' for breakfast this morning:

Hot Cocoa Fresh Orange Juice Hot Apple Oatmeal Pastry De Jour (Zahava has been on quite the baking jag lately so the choices included brownies and assorted muffins)

Ariella had her friend Ayelet for a sleepover last night, who now thinks our kids get the royal treatment every morning!

For the Connecticut Yankees, this storm was just a little break in the routine. I got to strap on my X-country skis and kick/glide around Efrat for a few hours last night. And, after breakfast this morning the kids got to go sledding / snowman-making in one of the local parks.

I’m working from home today since I didn’t want to contend with Israeli drivers (a daunting group under ideal driving conditions) on the icy roads. If anyone wants to try to distract me (that shouldn’t be too hard) my AOL and Yahoo Instant Messenger screen name is: BogieWorks. I'll be signed on most of the day, so say hello and maybe I’ll point the old web cam out the window for you.

In the mean time, here is a shot from the back balcony:

Snow_1.jpg

Posted by David Bogner on February 15, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, February 13, 2004

This just in:

A friend of a friend of a blogger I read is riding in the 20th Anniversary BP MS 150, a bike ride to benefit those stricken with Multiple Sclerosis, the chronic, often progressive disease of the central nervous system.

This guy needs people to sponsor him for his ride. He needs another $160.00 or so to meet his goal. If you would like to donate, you can do so by clicking here, or by cutting and pasting the following link in your browser's address:

https://www.ms150.org/MS150/donate/donate.cfm?id=89761

You can donate any amount, from a single dollar on up...and you can even make the donation anonymously (to stay off those pesky mailing lists).

Whether you donate or not, can you do me (and him) a personal favor and copy this post to your journal? There are so many silly quiz memos floating around out there, why not add something with the power to change (and perhaps save) lives, like this post?

I hope this hasn't sounded too preachy...that was never the intention. Now go donate, or you will be punished for eternity! =]

Come on, just a dollar will make a difference! And I want to see copies of this post in your journal!

Pleeeeeease?

Posted by David Bogner on February 13, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I felt the earth move

About five minutes ago we had a mild earthquake here in the holy land...about a 5 on the Richter scale.

I'm sitting in Be'er Sheva and Zahava is at home (an hour+ north of here) near Jerusalem. We both felt and heard the 'little' rumbler.

Yikes.

It started as a dull hum just below threshold of human hearing, and quickly ramped up to about 20 seconds of side-to-side rattling. Just as quickly as it started...it stopped.

Everyone in my office immediately gathered in the hallway making nervous jokes and exchanging earthquake stories. The untertone of relief was unmistakable. After a few minutes, there was a very mild aftershock, and then nothing but the sound of more false bravery, and jokes being told a little too loud.

I know it is a horrible thought...but I can't help contemplating the hidden blessing that would have accompanied a much stronger quake.

Please don't think for a moment that I would wish for loss of life or property. This is just me thinking out loud in the euphoria of surviving an earthquake.

If the quake had been more serious, I can't help thinking about the opportunities that would have presented themselves. You see, earthquakes don't respect borders. They don't recognize factions or religious nuances. Barring some sort of supernatural sharp-shooting, we would all have been effected - Jew and Muslim alike. In the aftermath of such an event, perhaps there would have emerged the opportunity for small acts of kindness and understanding. Medical suplies would be exchanged. Helping hands would help clear rubble. Grief and relief could be shared...if not with words, at least with the universal lexicon of facial expressions and body language.

Am I insane for imagining that some sort of disaster is the only way beyond the present impasse?


Posted by David Bogner on February 11, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, February 09, 2004

Waiting for a sign

My little sister and her husband have one of the most fascinating (to me, anyway) pieces of art in their bathroom. No, wait…really…I’m going somewhere with this!

Anyway, this 'art' is a framed contact sheet of photographs showing various Manhattan movie theater marquees….each displaying a pithy haiku (lessee now…Shift-F7…nope, there really isn’t another type of haiku…sorry, I just love using that word 'pithy'. In fact, say it a bunch of times fast and see if it doesn’t make you want to sashay! Hookay, I really gotta try the decaf).

Anyway, back to my sister’s bathroom, shall we?

Every time I go to her place, I am irrisistably drawn to that framed collection of public poetry, and can’t keep myself from reading each one…again. Now, don’t feel bad about what you’re thinking. Even I get that ‘rain man’ vibe when I catch myself in there, helplessly re-reading the haiku.

I think the problem is that we are conditioned to pay special attention to public signage, even when (maybe especially when) said signage is in a picture. Perhaps in today’s over-saturated visual landscape we might miss more than we once did, but just try to drive by a movie marquee, a highway billboard, or a church sign without reading what’s written there. I have two words for you: Burma Shave! We just can’t stop ourselves from reading!!!

Anyway, the point of this entry (besides the oh-so-very-subtle hint to my baby sister that she must obtain a copy of that photograph for me to hang in my bathroom!) is that I recently stumbled across a web site where you can spend lots of no-longer-productive time creating your very own church signs. I’m not making this up! Click here to see my latest effort.

Go here to give it a whirl.

Posted by David Bogner on February 9, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 08, 2004

All grown-up, and nowhere to go

In the pantheon of holidays celebrated here in Israel, one of the most beloved among children is Tu B’Shvat. The easy explanation for this holiday is to call it the Jewish Arbor Day…but it goes much, much deeper than that. Anyone interested in the five-minute explanation can send me an e-mail.

While schools are technically in session today, almost nobody is attending since most of the youth groups around the country have planned all-day outings. The purpose of this un-official-day-off-from-school is to trek around the country planting trees. Hiking and tree planting are both national obsessions…so this particular holiday strikes a resonant chord with kids of all ages.

Ari and Gili have been looking forward to this event for quite awhile now, and last night the anticipation reached a fever pitch. Unfortunately, the fever also reached Ariella in a more tangible form.

Around dinnertime, she was complaining about a sore throat and some non-specific aches. A couple of minutes with the thermometer under her tongue and the verdict was in: 102.5° F !

Now, I'm 42 years old (cheeses, I hate the way that sounds!) and can still clearly remember the bitter disappointment of a 3rd grade field trip that I missed due to fever. No amount of real fun will ever hold a candle to the fun I imagined my classmates were having. Knowing this, and yet powerless to convey my empathy in any meaningful way, I simply hugged my little girl until the sobs subsided (a long, long time).

This morning, Ari came downstairs with flushed cheeks and feverish eyes, and made an Academy Award-worthy attempt to convince me that a medical miracle had occurred in her room during the night. The ghost of my own missed field trip had me secretly wishing along with her for the mercury to stay down. But, no amount of body-English with the thermometer could belay the numbers; 101.5° F.

Ironically, I could deal with the fact that she probably has Strep. But, I resented having to be grown-up, and hated the sound of my voice telling her she couldn't go on her trip. I joke all the time with my wife that I like playing the 'good-guy' (“Hey… I’d let you go [big shrug – palms up in the air], but mom says no.”)…but in this case, I seriously wanted to sit down and kick and scream at the unfairness of it all.

Sometimes it sucks being a grown-up. [sigh]

Posted by David Bogner on February 8, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Popping the question

Sometimes stuff happens that is just too great to trust to memory. The following occurred a few months back, but I wanted to write it down before it slipped away into A.D.D.-land:

For a while now, I have been renting classic musicals on video. The wife and I both love them, and the kids seem to really enjoy them too. There was a point where nearly every week we would have 'family musical night', complete with popcorn and soda. ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Carousel’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘The Music Man’…you name it, we probably watched it. It really tickles me that our kids know (and like) so many of the songs I grew up with.

However, we ran into a little dilemma when I brought home West Side Story. Great music, great dancing…great musical…so what’s the problem? The problem was that we had (as I just mentioned...please try to pay attention!) gotten into the habit of watching the musicals as a family…and we were worried that there might be too many adult themes and images in WSS for little kids (e.g. prejudice, gangs, violence, smoking, etc.). This would also be the first movie the kids would be seeing that didn't have a happy ending (ok, ok...I recognize that for you feminists out there, the plot resolution at the end of My Fair Lady qualifies it as a tragedy). In the end, we decided to let them watch, since the show could (theoretically) prompt the kids to ask consructive questions about stuff like resisting peer pressure, love over hate, and racial blindness.

The kids absolutely devoured the film. By the end, Ariella was sobbing in disbelief, (“y y you mean he’s really dead??? He's not going to wake up when she kisses him??????”) Let’s face it, West Side Story doesn’t exactly have a Disney ending.

We explained the concept of tragedy to Ari, and between sniffles she assured us that she understood it was just a story. Gilad, on the other hand, was sitting very still with a contemplative look on his face. He hadn’t uttered a word during the film, and he had remained silent throughout our efforts to comfort Ari. But, clearly something was bothering him. I can always tell when he is turning over an important question in his mind, and by all indications he was getting ready to unload a big one. Would it be about the violence? Would it be about the racial slurs or prejudice? The suspense was killing us.

Finally Gili turned to me, and with his most earnest tone of voice, he dropped the bomb:

“I don’t understand something.” he began. “If you want to be in a gang…do you have to know how to dance?”

Now, of all the possible questions that could have popped out of my little boy’s mouth…let’s just say I was unprepared for that one. Of course, I’m sure all the Ward Cleavers out there are sitting back in their cardigan sweaters and contemplating what words of wisdom they might have offered under similar circumstances. I’m confident that better men than I could have delicately balanced the subtle humor of the moment against the fragile little-boy-ego that had ventured such a wonderfully naive question.

Not being Father-of-the-Year material, I opted for spraying Diet Coke out of my nose and rolling around on the couch holding my sides.

Yeah, I know…we’ve already established that I’m going to hell. This just confirms my reservation in that extra-toasty-warm corner of hell where bad, bad fathers are sent for ridiculing their sons.

Thankfully, there is nothing more amusing to a little boy than sodapop shooting out of his father’s nose, so I was somewhat off the hook. And, yes, I explained to him that if he wanted to be in a gang, he would have to undergo years and years of intensive dance training.

Posted by David Bogner on February 5, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Sticks and stones...

Many people have expressed interest (thankfully, not dismay!) at the names we have chosen for our children. A lot of this surely stems from a basic unfamiliarity with Hebrew names. Heck, even though I consider myself fairly worldly, I've occasionally been left scratching my head while trying to mentally pronounce the name on the hack license in a NYC taxi ("um...I think you might wanna buy a vowel"). The issue, of course, is the clash of cultures.

Let's face it...there's no going back to the simple days of Ward and June Cleaver (as if such a time ever really existed) where names were like ice cream flavors; common and few. [Plea for help: If anyone knows how the heck they managed to arrive at ‘Beaver’ from Theodore, please let me know.]

To illustrate how far we've come...think about some of the names floating around today's classrooms. Now mentally place these names in a classroom, say, 40 or 50 years ago. No matter what funky, ethnic names today's hip parents proudly give their kids... back in the late '50s and early '60s those names would have condemned them to the 'unpopular couch' in that rush party scene in Animal House ("…and this is Mohammed, and Daglish…oh, you’ve met? Great!... so you’ll have lots to talk about!”).

C'mon...group hug to celebrate how open-minded we've all become!

Anyhooo...getting back to the names we chose, the short answer (hmmm, maybe too late for that, huh?) is as follows:

Ariella Tamar Bogner
Ariella = Lion in Hebrew (a grrrrl lion, to be specific)
Tamar = Date Palm in Hebrew
Ari is named for Zahava's Grandfather Leo
Leo = Lion
He was also a very upright person (like a Date Palm)

Simple right? Ok, on to #2

Gilad Chai Bogner
Gilad = Joy Forever in Hebrew
Chai = Life in Hebrew
Gilad is named for Zahava's mother Chai Goldi
Gilad Chai...Chai Goldi...see the phonetic and root connection?

Alrighty then...shall we move on to Mr. 3, Yonah Ze'ev Bogner?

Actually, I'm gonna wait until the Divine Mrs. B. gets her own blog up and running (any day now) and let her do the 'splainin' on that one. Even though Yonah is named for a couple of people in my family, Zahava was the one who wrote a really touching tribute (which I ended up delivering for you, ya big crybaby) for Yonah's Brit. Maybe if you ask nicely, she'll post it there.

OK...I've kept you kids cooped up inside long enough. Run along outside and play!

Here, you need a nice link to follow? Since we're on the subject of 'interesting' names, take a look at this Primer on Parent Cruelty. Cultural (and P.C.) niceties aside...it's sometimes never too early for parents to start making up those 'kick me' signs for their kid's backs.

Posted by David Bogner on February 4, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, February 02, 2004

A bump in the road

Yesterday began as a typical Sunday morning. I got the kids up and ready for school…enjoyed my coffee and Jerusalem Post while Ari and Gili plowed through their breakfasts…and collected my kisses before heading out to the car (yes, Sunday is a work / school day here).

Each week, I get a few calls and e-mails from an assortment of soldiers who are serving their compulsory two or three year service, requesting rides. Having received ‘weekend’ passes to be with their families, they all have to get back to their bases by Sunday morning. So, on this particular Sunday morning, I collected four soldiers who had been in touch the night before. Three of the four are 18-year-old girls, and the fourth is a 19-year old boy. Some of us have traveled together often enough now to be able to have good-natured arguments over whose turn it is to feed the CD player…and to gently poke fun at each other’s taste in music.

Using the most extreme biological definition, I suppose that I am theoretically old enough to be the father of any of these teenagers. While this doesn’t do much for my youthful self-image, it does help explain the combination of paternal pride and protectiveness that I feel for these kids I see each week.

But for an accident of birthplace, these soldiers would be college freshmen and sophomores getting ready for the spring semester, rather than heading off to war. The three female soldiers are assigned to logistic units and tank instructor duty, respectively, and the soft-spoken, bookish looking boy of the group wears the insignia of an elite combat unit. All of them carry responsibilities that I couldn’t have imagined during my peacetime service in the U.S. navy. Despite the discipline of army service, some of the girls make typical teenage statements with an extra earring here, and an unauthorized bit of make-up there. The boy is the first of the bunch to drift off to sleep during our commute, but the halfway point in a typical Sunday moring commute usually finds me surrounded by soft snores emanating from heads that rest on welcoming shoulders.

As we neared the outskirts of Be’er Sheva, I glanced in my rear-view mirror and was reminded of the call I received from this sleeping combat soldier's mother, thanking me for driving him to his base each week. She told me that she worries endlessly about him while he is in the field…and she is relieved to know that at least he has a safe, warm ride at the start of the week. To his credit, he was completely unembarrassed that his mother had called me.

This momentary reverie was abruptly shattered with a loud bang, along with a spray of glass from the rear window of the car. Everyone was suddenly, and completely awake. Each person instantly reacted according to personality and training. One of the girls asked if anyone had been hurt, and without waiting for an answer, began performing a visual inspection of everyone in the car. The other three soldiers instinctively reached for their machine guns (soldiers, even those not in a combat unit, carry a machine gun during every waking moment of their service) and began scanning for immediate threats. I floored the accelerator, and pushed the car up to about 130 (kilometers per hour, thank you. I was startled, not suicidal).

After a few adrenaline-pumping seconds with no sign of additional danger, we slowed down to the posted speed limit and called in the incident so that the army could investigate and warn cars traveling along the road.

What we didn’t do was stop to investigate or retaliate. Although everyone in the car was armed (and angry), the Rules Of Engagement were crystal clear: Unless there is an imminent, unavoidable threat, or someone’s life is in immediate danger, we were not allowed to respond. The Palestinians know this perfectly well, and leverage this perceived weakness on a daily basis. ‘Rules Of Engagement’, for the uninitiated, is a fancy term that is basically analogous to hunting regulations. Every red-blooded American hunter that puts on an orange vest in the fall knows precisely what, where and how many they can legally ‘bag’. They also trek out into the wilderness secure in the knowledge that those cute little critters won’t be shooting back. Barring the vests and ear-flap hats…sound familiar? In the backwards logic of our present reality, the Rules Of Engagement are put in place to ensure the ‘animals’ don’t shoot back.

In the most asinine bar-room contest of ‘Punch-for-a-punch”, the inebriated participants have the limited comfort of knowing that, once they pick themselves up off the floor, it will be their turn to knock the snot out of their opponent. Unfortunately, according to the rules of our little game, so long as our ability to leave the scene was not blocked and no obvious follow-up attack was forthcoming, our only legal recourse was to ‘get the hell outa dodge’. Forget the fact that the rock could have turned any one of us into funeral fodder. Heck, on those winding roads…if the stone had hit me, we could have all been kicked out of the gene pool!

Now, lest someone assume that we somehow instigated this attack, let me assure you: We were not in contested territory. We were not traveling in a military vehicle (and to an outside observer, the tangle of teenaged sleepers could not possible have been identified as soldiers). The only outward indication of identity was the Israeli license plate and the kippah on my head. To borrow an unfortunate phrase from an African American comic…we were guilty of DWJ - ‘Driving While Jewish’.

After I had dropped the soldiers at their destination, I headed over to the police station to file a report. This kind of thing happens so frequently that there is actually a pre-printed form to help speed the process. The policewoman tsk-tsked maternally over the damage to the car, and made a perfunctory statement of relief that nobody had been injured before sending me on my way with a copy of the report.

The next step was a trip to the auto-glass place (imagine owning that franchise here!) where everything was set in motion to make my car whole again. Since this was technically an act of terrorism, I won’t have to bother my insurance company. Instead, the Israeli Government has graciously offered to pick up the tab. Thanks!

Over dinner last night, my wife and I downplayed the incident in front of the kids…but I can tell she was a little more rattled than she’s letting on. For the record…so am I. But the fact that nobody was hurt qualifies this as a relatively minor incident in the grand scheme of things…a simple bump in the road.

Posted by David Bogner on February 2, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack