Thursday, January 29, 2009
What's wrong with this statement?
In a statement marking international Holocaust Day, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht said, "Belgium continues its unwavering support for the existence of the state of Israel." [source]
Is it just me, or does it feel odd to anyone else that more than 60 years after Israel was founded, and in spite of all the contributions our tiny country has made to the world in the areas of natural sciences, technology, medicine and economics (just a small sampling of the areas in which we've consistently been net exporters), that the default question - even amongst our friends - remains: "Should Israel exist?"
It would never occur to anyone to voice such a question about India. Yet India is exactly the same age (give or take a few months) as Israel, and has been at war with its Muslim neighbor and domestic insurgents (i.e. terrorists) for exactly the same amount of time as we have. So why isn't anyone coming out with statements for or against the continued existence of India?
I place the blame for this squarely on our own leaders, especially the ones on the left who continue to press forward with what they naively call 'the peace process'.
While Israel has been asked to make endless territorial concessions in the name of peace almost from the moment of it's birth, the core concession being demanded of our enemies since the so called 'peace process' began has been that they simply stop calling for our destruction and accept our right to exist.
Call me crazy, but isn't that setting the bar a tad low?
We don't need anyone's permission or approval to continue drawing breath, nor do we gain anything at the negotiating table by making our existence a question for discussion. Quite the opposite; by continuing to allow our enemies a formal referendum on our right to exist, we unwittingly encourage even our 'friends' to assume that this most basic fact remains in doubt.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
As some of you may remember, I have been sick in bed since this past weekend. Bad sick. Man sick, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, I had pretty much resigned myself to going back to work this morning (important meeting and other fun things), but when my alarm went off I still felt like death warmed over. I figured if I could just get another 30 or 40 minutes of shut-eye I might be able to pull it together enough to get dressed... but right that minute? Not a chance.
So even though I'm normally the one to get the coffee going, wake up the kids and lay out breakfast for everyone, I begged Zahava to please stand in for me. She wasn't in much better shape, but I guess I sounded pitiful enough because she got up without too much of an argument and let me drift back to sleep.
The next thing I was aware of was the sound of Zahava scolding our daughter about running late. I wasn't fully awake but I snuggled deeper under the comforter to keep their argument from penetrating the layers of fog.
Then I heard Yonah's voice enter the mix. He seemed in good spirits but because his batteries were fully recharged, he was jabbering on about clothes and breakfast and getting something to drink and the fact that he'd gone to the bathroom and on and on and on....
After a few minutes of this I heard Gilad enter the line of fire saying that he wasn't feeling very well... but before he could get further than that I heard Zahava start yelling at Yonah to get off the dog bed and into his chair for breakfast!
Ariella, never one to take the hint and simply lay low, re-entered the soundscape with an over-emotional teenaged plea for something or other or she was going to miss her ride to school... and Gilad continued his fruitless efforts to apprise every one of the fact that he really wasn't feeling well.
One floor below the fray, I pulled the covers the rest of the way over my head and tried to use all my mental energy to will Zahava not to realize that I could easily be called in to assist. All I wanted to do at that point was go back to sleep and not open my eyes until mid-afternoon... meeting be damned.
Then I heard Gilad suddenly make an inarticulate gagging sound, followed by a wet splashing noise of something unspeakable hitting the floor. This was closely followed by the sound of Zahava screaming as if she was auditioning for the shower scene in 'Pyscho' (remember, Zahava doesn't do vomit).
I was about to pull the pillow over my head so I could pretend none of this was happening when I heard both dogs go dashing up the stairs to see what all the commotion was about, and I decided that if I didn't intervene, the sight of Lulu and Jordan happily lapping up vomit might actually make Zahava's head explode!
It was right about then that I decided that going to work might be a good idea after all.
Monday, January 26, 2009
A new sport
You've heard of the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Well, they have something similar in London now. I was going to call it the running of the Muslims, but it is clearly the London police who were being run and made sport of here.
No need to travel though. This will be coming to a city near you very soon.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Did you ever notice how in any movie that is set before the 20th century, if someone is sick in bed with a fever, there is always a nurse or close relative stationed by the bedside with a bowl of cool water and a washcloth with which to dab the patient's forehead.
It didn't matter whether the patient's fever was caused by an infected sword wound, a poisoned arrow in the back or a nasty case of the black plague... and it certainly didn't matter that the only 'medicines' available were foul tasting herbal teas and strong spirits. The deciding factor in the patient's survival or demise was, without a doubt, the skill and devotion with which the nurse or relative applied the well-wrung washcloth to the perspiring patient's feverish brow throughout the illness.
I mention this in passing [~cough cough~] because, having fended for myself all day Friday and Shabbat in bed with a nasty case of the flu or Tuberculosis, with nothing but self-administered over-the-counter cold remedies to ease my suffering, I feel somewhat justified in saying that perhaps something was lacking in my care. During the long hours of alternating fever and chills, I found myself longing for some of that old-time medical treatment... like in the movies.
Seriously, what ever happened to the devoted wife or child sitting patiently by the sick father's bedside, mopping his fevered brow with a cool washcloth? I didn't even have a current copy of the 'New Yorker' or 'Wired' Magazine to keep me company during the long vigil! [~sniff~]
I'm just saying... man cannot not live by Nyquil® alone! [~cough cough~]
[UPDATE: Wouldn't you know it. I wanted to call in sick today but I had a 'must attend' meeting scheduled. After driving an hour to work and pouring myself into my chair, I noticed a new message in my inbox saying the meeting had been postponed to Wednesday.]
Kadima looks to Gilad Schallit for help
Silly me, I thought that as the ruling party throughout his captivity, it was Kadima that should have been looking to help Gilad Schallit.
Think I'm joking? When faced with the reality of dropping polling numbers, Kadima's latest strategy session revealed this little bit of optimism about their chances in the upcoming election:
Yeah right. That's like the old joke that starts with a Jew turning to his neighbor in synagogue and saying "Nish Shabbos Gerecht but [Yiddish for 'not appropriate for shabbos' but], I heard you're selling your car... how much are you asking?"
The point being that for some people, there is no such thing as an inappropriate time or place, no matter how they may preface their remarks.
My guess is that we will likely see the prison doors thrown open once again sending countless terrorists home to a hero's welcome... all so Kadima can boost its showing at the polls. Oh, and to bring Gilad Schallit home, of course.
As if to underscore how these vermin view the Israeli public, Kadima strategist Lior Chorev admitted that the party had been hurt by the country's shift to the right during the war. But he followed up with the following reassurance to his party faithful:
"Within two weeks, people will forget that there was a war... We live in a country where no one even remembers that there was a terrorist attack as soon as funerals are over."
How about this for a Kadima campaign poster:
Kadima. We do what we want, because the Israeli public has the collective memory of a goldfish!
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Wow, color me shocked! It turns out the number of Gazans killed and wounded in Operation Cast Lead is likely far lower than was reported by Hamas (and parroted by the U.N. and Red Cross without the smallest attempt at fact-checking).
Lorenzo Cremonesi, a correspondent for Italy's Corriere della sera has visited Gaza hospitals and conducted extensive interviews with families of the dead and wounded. What he reports is that the numbers provided by Hamas just don't add up. Rather than the nice round 1200-1500 dead being widely reported, this journalist is saying that a maximum of 600 Gazans died in the aerial bombardment and ground operation combined.
It doesn't really matter though. I'm sure that within a few months there will be a nice Indy film released called 'Gaza, Gaza' * that will make the rounds of the festivals - Cannes, Sundance, etc. - and will end up being embraced by Europeans of every stripe... and even by the left fringe of Israeli society.
I have to go on record as saying that I'm well past the point of caring about Gazan (or Lebanese) civilian deaths when these same civilians continue to wink and nod at the terrorists before and during each conflict as their neighborhoods are used as smuggling conduits, weapons depots and launch pads.
In fact, to get an idea of the attitude of Gazans for this intolerable state of affairs, you have to watch the following video that was recorded during the 'war'. It shows a female newscaster on the air in Gaza City being interrupted by a call telling her that a Grad missile has just been launched from under the very building where she is sitting. Her reaction is amazement and a tittering laugh. She even bites her lip prettily at the end as if to say "Oh those naughty Hamas fighters... those rascals!"
Here's a poised, educated woman who, unlike the typical Gazan, has a platform from which she can reach countless people in an instant. Instead of decrying the needless endangerment of innocents (including herself) by the use of civilian areas as launch pads... she just flips her hair and giggles.
Obviously I feel the IDF should avoid harming civilians wherever possible. But not at the expense of a single Israeli life. At some point these people are going to have to take a tiny bit of responsibility for their own destiny instead of placing their fate entirely in the hands of thugs who want to turn them into martyrs.
* Don't get the joke? Go here.
Hat tip to HLK for the video link.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
An open letter...
... to the senior Hamas official who went on record to taunt Israel with the following bit of psychological warfare:
"it's possible Gilad Schalit was injured [during the Gaza operation] and it is possible that he is fine. It doesn't interest us any longer. We did not allocate special security to him because he is equal in worth to a cat or less. His fate doesn't concern us and doesn't preoccupy us any longer."
Look, it's bad enough that you clearly revel in Hamas' ability to flout international law regarding the treatment of prisoners. But flouting international law cuts both ways. Please note that nobody is sitting in the Hague over the untimely deaths of Yahya Ayyash, Imad Mughniyah or any of the other
people sub-humans on this list.
So if it turns out you really do know anything about the fate of Gilad Schallit, or worse, if you had anything to do with his capture or incarceration... my advice to you would be to have someone else answer your cell phone and start your car for the next few
months years decades.
I'm just saying...
A Fitting Salute
About a year ago there was a tempest in a teapot over a campaign trail photograph from before the Democratic primaries that showed several candidates standing on a stage while the national anthem was being played. All of the candidates stood at attention with their hands over their hearts (as protocol dictates) while Barak Obama stood with his hands folded together in front of him.
The funny thing is that if you want to be picky, they should all have turned to face the flag. But I digress.
Now I"ve made no secret of the fact that I'm not the biggest fan of President Obama. But I thought it was unfair of the flag-waving patriot crowd to suddenly latch onto this single image as a sign that (then) Senator Obama was unpatriotic and had consciously refused to render the proper respect to the flag. Heck, I'm sure if I followed most people around 24/7 with a camera I'd get more embarrassing (or damning) pictures than that!
Personally I think it was probably either a case of Obama not having been properly briefed on the etiquette surrounding the ceremonies (it was early in the campaign)... or, more likely, he was simply so tired from campaigning around the clock that he had a momentary lapse. You will notice that he is in front and didn't have the opportunity to take a visual cue from others around him (assuming he was caught napping on his feet).
Well, one of the images from the Inauguration yesterday should put at least some of the criticism to rest. It shows the newly sworn in 44th President of the United States saluting the the flag and the troops carrying it.
I can already hear some of you saying, "But he's a civilian, and civilians aren't supposed to give a military hand salute. Funny thing is, even as you are reading this, this very issue is being hotly debated on veteran websites all over the net. And the truth is, it's not so simple (as my friend Jordan is wont to say).
First of all, let's look at precedent. Although there are rumors that President Truman occasionally saluted his Generals (i.e. the Joint Chiefs) when they came to visit the White House, I have yet to find a photograph proving this. From all accounts President Reagan was the first CIC to routinely return the salutes of his Marine guards and salute the flag during ceremonies. It actually raised some eyebrows at the time.
Since that time, all presidents have returned the salutes of military personnel, but saluting the flag has remained a mixed bag, with most Presidents holding their hand over their heart.
But what about the fact that Obama is now the Commander In Chief of the Armed forces? Doesn't that count for something? I mean, if the troops are obliged to salute him and he can order soldiers into battle... doesn't that place him in the military chain of command? I'm not saying this is true... just thinking out loud here.
But for most of us, it is ingrained from a very early age that being in civilian clothes means holding our hand over our hearts. Period. I remember that when I was in kindergarten and elementary school, we began every morning by reciting the pledge of allegiance. We would stand, face the flag hanging in the corner of the room, place our right hand over our hearts and recite in unison "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Unites States of America, and to the republic for which it stands: one nation under G-d, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all".
In later grades the pledge of allegiance disappeared from the morning routine, but because we were attending sporting events, assemblies and the occasional parade, the playing of the national anthem sort of assumed the role that the POA had played in our patriotic consciousness.
But it wasn't until I was in the Navy that the flag and its ceremonies once again took on anything approaching the kind of imperative 'jump out of your seat' urgency that I had experienced in grammar school.
In the armed forces one becomes acutely aware of the flag in a way that civilians seldom do. No matter where you are or what you are doing, if a flag is being raised, lowered or is passing by, you stop whatever it is you are doing... stand at attention... and render a crisp military salute. You might even be in a place where the flag was not visible... but if you heard the national anthem or any of the bugle calls or cadences indicating the flag was in motion, you quite literally 'faced the music' and saluted.
And it goes without saying that you have to acknowledge the ranks of those around you by rendering and returning hand salutes.
But once I got out of the service I was relegated to once again standing like the rest of the civilians, with my hand over my heart, when the national anthem was played or the flag passed by. Which brings us back to President Obama and his military hand salute at the Inauguration.
Some of you may not know it, but Congress recently amended the U.S. Flag Code so that the issue of someone in civilian clothes rendering a military salute is not nearly as cut and dry as it once was.
The new Flag Code (this is custom, people... not law!) states that "Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute" during the playing of the national anthem and when a flag is being raised, lowered or passes by. This would seem to remove the basic blanket premise that not wearing a military uniform precludes one from saluting.
So with this in mind... and also assuming that even though he is not a veteran, the President is the titular head of the Military chain of command, it would appear that he was/is perfectly correct in saluting both the military personnel (who salute him first as a matter of protocol) and the American flag.
I'm sure that people will continue to argue over whether or not this (or any) president should use a military salute, especially as fewer and fewer Presidents will be military veterans. But the changes to the flag code which allow military personnel and veterans who are in civilian clothing to render a hand salute should simplify things somewhat. It is also a fitting salute to the people who defended (and continue to defend) the country.
So President Obama aside, if you know any veterans, be sure to let them know about the new rules. I bet the next time you hear the national anthem at the ball park or stadium, you'll be surprised at how many proud veterans there are among the spectators. You'll be able to spot them by their salute.
And the next time I catch a game at Fenway, you know what I'll be doing during the National Anthem.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
You say you want to understand...
So go read this. All of it.
Then you'll understand.
Maybe not timely... but still relevant
I forgot to point you to a piece a wrote for Pajamas Media while the rockets were still falling on Beer Sheva (and the rest of the south). Now that we have a lull*, it may sound a bit dated, but the message contained in the essay is (IMHO) timeless.
* There are several words in Arabic that can be used to mean Cease Fire. The two most common are 'Hudna' and 'Tahdiya'. Hudna is much closer to what westerners mean when we say 'cease fire' or 'armistice'. It is a complete cessation of hostilities. Tahdiya is much closer to the English word 'lull', which implies a short period of calm (although often not complete calm) between periods of action. Israel entered into a unilateral cease-fire (meaning a cessation - albeit conditional - of military action). Hamas is pointedly using the word 'Tahdiya' to describe their current cessation of rocket fire, so there can be little doubt what their long-term intentions are.
Monday, January 19, 2009
My 'Mister Nice Guy' mask slips... revealing my inner Clint Eastwood
Some of you may remember an incident from last year which proved that I am nobody's 'frayer' (sucker) in the grocery store check-out line.
I don't know why it should be so, but all of the worst cultural traits and stereotypes people assign to Israelis seem to come to life in the supermarkets here. So I've gotten to the point where I don't even ask when I find a half-full shopping cart (whose owner is still wandering around the store happily shopping) parked at the cashier. I just push the cart out of the way and start loading my stuff on the conveyor belt.
I"ve even gotten my Clint Eastwood squint so dead-on that the miscreants stop mid-sentence when protesting that they were next on line.
And if someone comes up to me in the cheese or deli counter line and says "I'm after you", I don't hesitate to squint down at them and whisper around an imginary cigar, "Well, then you'd better hang around and make sure to tell the person who comes after you, because it would be a shame if you lost your place."
Yes sir, put me in a supermarket with a shiny cart in my hand and you might as well cue the theme music to 'The Good, The Bad & The Ugly', because my spurs start to 'jingle jangle jingle' the moment I walk through those florescent-lit doors.
Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that not everyone in supermarket is lookin' for a show-down.
This past Friday morning I got up early and went to the shuk (Machane Yehuda) to pick out nice fruits and veggies for shabbat, and even picked up Zahava's favorite Challah (Tellers) while I was there. But I'm not yet acclimated enough to buy meat in an open-air market. I guess my inner American still needs to have the meat and poultry safely inside a refrigerated case, far from the flies, before I can comfortably call a chicken or a piece of flanken my own.
So after I'd finished up at the shuk, I drove over to a Jerusalem supermarket to finish crossing out the items on my Friday shopping list.
At the entrance to the supermarket, the local sheriff (okay, the security guard) checked my gun license and nodded me through the electronic doors. Once inside I went into 'take no prisoners' mode. Knowing that the longest line in the store (after the check-out line, of course) is the one at the meat case... I went there first to get that out of the way.
As expected there were about 8-10 people waiting patiently in line with their carts for the two butchers who were busily cutting up and packaging orders. It should be pointed out here that this is a supermarket that inexplicably does not have the little paper number dispensers, so you really do have to get on line and stay there if you want to be served.
On several previous visits to this supermarket, people have tried the old 'I was here' trick just as I've been about to place my meat order (when in fact they had not been around for the 15 or 20 minutes I had patiently waited for my turn). Invariably, the person ahead of me, who had just received their chicken or chulent meat, would turn back over their shoulder and say, "Oh yes, he came by when I was on line and said he was after me"... to which I will reply, "So what? If he wasn't here on line for the last 20 minutes, that's not my problem" followed by my placing my order with the butcher.
Seriously, I have no patience with people who think their time is more valuable than mine.
Well, this past Friday as I stood on the line for the butcher, I noticed that the cart ahead of me seemed not to have an owner. So when the people ahead of me moved forward, I began to go around the 'abandoned' cart. But before I could do so, a pretty young woman in a fashionable hat and a long skirt showed up carrying some yogurts and a couple of cartons of milk. Smiling nicely, she plopped the items into the 'abandoned' cart... moved it up the line and set off to do more shopping.
I watched this happen a few times, but usually she was not back in time and I was forced to push her cart along the line for her. As she set off on yet another foray to gather still more items from the far reaches of the store, I started to feel Clint Eastwood bubbling to the surface... and before I could stop myself I calmly addressed her back (in Hebrew);
"Ma'am. I see you have a long list of things to buy today". [now I had her attention as she turned around] "I have news for you....we all have long shopping lists. What do you suppose would happen if we all went to do our shopping instead of waiting on line here at the meat counter? Who would move the carts along? You have to understand that the only way you are able to do your shopping right now is if the rest of us agree to move your cart along for you. Do you think that's fair? Don't you think we'd also like to be cutting down the time we have to spend here in the store? But we can't... because somebody has to stay here on line to move the carts along!"
I was very polite but firm when I addressed her. She was also quite attractive, which - let's face it - never hurts a woman's position in these situations. But after looking at me in surprise, she began with the old 'but everyone does this, I'm not doing anything wrong' line.
I held up my hand and politely repeated, "Yes, but this only works for one or two people. If everyone goes off to do their shopping, the system doesn't work. So I ask you again... do you think it's fair that you get to go do your shopping while the rest of us have to stay here and push your cart along?"
She couldn't really say much since nobody else had sprung to her defense (thank G-d for small favors), but she clearly wasn't pleased. From that point on she stayed with her cart as we shuffled closer and closer to our shabbat chickens and flanken.
But at some point she must have glanced over at the shopping list in my hand, written in English in Zahava's neat, purple script, because she suddenly turned to me and said, "You speak English!", as if had unfairly hidden this from her.
It quickly became clear that, while her Hebrew was excellent, the reason she hadn't argued with me beyond the initial objection was that; a) she simply wasn't up to making a scene in Hebrew; and b) she was a polite former American like me.
She quickly set about explaining again - in English this time - that it was really common practice to leave the cart on the butcher line and go pick out items from nearby shelves. I agreed, that if it was something really nearby that caught her eye, there was no harm in walking away from her cart for a few seconds to go get it. But I pointed out that I had watched her walk to the other side of the store and disappear for almost 5 minutes the last time.
I didn't feel like reiterating my 'it's simply not fair' speech, so I just smiled and said, "Look, you seem like a very nice person. I know you aren't trying to do anything mean or devious here. You are just going to have to understand that until this store wakes up and puts a number dispenser at the meat counter, there will be people who are going to feel put-upon when you walk away and tacitly imply that they need to push your cart along for you."
She seemed to accept this with good humor and smiled to show there were no hard feelings. She then introduced her self and mentioned that she was from Efrat [gulp]. She then asked where I was from. I grudgingly admitted I was also from Efrat... silently praying that she didn't know me (or more importantly, my wife)... and introduced myself.
Her eyes lit up and she said, "I know you... you write that blog, treppenwitz, right?"
Busted! This was bad. Worse than bad. It was like nailing a passing car with a snowball, only to have the car stop and your mom's best friend get out and recognize you!
I could feel my cheeks burning, but I smiled and said, "Yeah, that's me". It turns out that we knew lots of people in common, and she was all too familiar with this website. [~silent facepalm~]
We chatted affably for the rest of our shared time in line, and afterwards ran into each other no less than a dozen times in various aisles of the store... each time smiling and exchanging pleasantries. We even helped each other find items to complete our lists.
But when I was finishing up in the check-out line and saw her walk up to the neighboring cashier, I felt another wave of embarrassment at having taken someone to task that not only lived in my town... but who knew me personally.
Lesson learned: Israel is such a small country that I'm going to have to figure out a way to modify my Clint Eastwood 'quick-draw' act to the point where I won't be routinely taken advantage of... but at the same time, if/when it turns out I've taken a shot at someone I know... I'll be able to look them in the eye the next day.
So pretty lady from Efrat... please accept my apologies for my behavior. I'm a work in progress - a construction site, of sorts - so thank you for excusing the mess.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Once again we have been betrayed by our leaders. I feel like Charlie Brown who gets fooled by Lucy every time, and instead of kicking the football, ends up flying through the air and landing flat on his back.
I shouldn't be surprised. We're talking about the same incompetent leadership that sent our sons into Lebanon with lofty goals; to return the kidnapped soldiers, to push Hezbullah back at least to the Litani River and deal them so serious a blow that they would be unable to threaten the north of Israel for years or even decades to come. But for all those lofty goals, they sent our young men into battle without a plan, and allowed them to die by the dozens while wandering aimlessly around southern Lebanon while the politicians dithered.
Now the same idiots have done it again. They embarked upon a worthy quest; to stop the ceaseless rocket and mortar fire on Sderot and the other Gaza Belt communities. But again they had no plan... no end game nor exit strategy... and certainly no plan for victory.
Once again they sent our soldiers into harm's way while still arguing among themselves as to what exactly they hoped to accomplish, much less how.
Now with our young men deep in Gaza, our feckless leaders have announced a unilateral cease fire... but one which will leave our soldiers in place, exposed like sitting ducks. Predictably, Hamas' response has been to continue firing rockets at us.
So let's review, shall we?:
Instead of stopping the rocket fire from Gaza, we succeeded in bringing a much larger swath of our country under the shadow of Hamas' missiles.
Instead of unseating or disarming Hamas, we have boosted their prestige in much the same way we boosted Hezbullah's. State sponsors will be lining up to re-arm and bankroll them.
Instead of getting Gilad Shalit back, we got news reports that we may very well have killed him in one of our air-strikes (we'll probably never know).
Olmert, Livni and Barak have announced that all of Operation Cast Lead's goals were met. But unless the goals included completely eliminating Israel's deterrence, making us a pariah in the eyes of the international community and getting a bunch of Israeli soldiers killed and wounded in the process, I can't think of a single thing they accomplished.
I can only hope and pray that these serial imbeciles and their parties will be punished at the polls in the upcoming elections.
A guest post from the front
My friend Michael Fenenbock, a veteran political consultant and founder of the18, made a lightning visit to the Gaza war zone on Friday to interact with IDF troops near the front.
Accompanied by senior security personnel, Fenenbock gained access to a zone where reporters are not permitted to enter.
MIchael's most striking impression was that morale is extremely high at all levels of command and that the professionalism and commitment of the IDF are impressive.
What follows is a guest post containing Michael’s first-hand report:
Rafi, the head of security for 17 kibbutzim bordering the Gaza Strip is an extraordinary man. Of Iranian Jewish origin, he calmly conducts business with an Uzi in his lap, three cell phones, two radios and a walkie-talkie going at the same time; helicopters overhead, Israeli planes thundering in the distance; alarms announcing the firing of Kassam rockets at Ashkelon and the kibbutzim; Rafi calmly races between rocket attack locations.
Nearby, IDF soldiers covered in dust and grime, refit damaged tanks and send them spewing black diesel smoke back into the fray.
At the side of one of the massive IDF tanks I’m introduced to the young men of the tank crew who are taking a brief respite from the battle. “Hi, I’m Michael from New York.” “And I’m Sasha from Moscow,” one tall, fair-haired officer responds.
Another young soldier and I engage in a discussion about the New York Yankees and their prospects this year.
I talk to still more dust covered soldiers from the prestigious Golani Brigade. All express surprise, welcome, and appreciation for our visit and support.
“Are you getting everything you need?” I ask, remembering the dreadful reports from Israeli troops of shortages of supplies and food during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. This time, the answer always comes back the same. ‘Absolutely, we have everything.’
As we continue our tour of the staging area, we stand aside as an officer briefs a group of men while flipping the pages of aerial photographs. Three female soldiers in charge of piloting the intelligence drones drive by in an IDF jeep. They smile and wave.
In an open area next to a cultivated field is a sight not seen in other nations at war — hundreds of parked civilian cars. The cars belong to reservists who have reported for duty from all over the country. Much of the IDF is a civilian army.
Rafi calls a temporary halt to the briefing to take us into a kibbutz hothouse, where he hands us yellow bell peppers fresh off the vine. The kibbutz specializes in the production of bio-organic produce.
We munch away as reports come in that one of the kibbutz vehicles has taken a sniper bullet – the war in Gaza is only 200 yards away. Fortunately, the driver is unhurt.
From an observation post looking over Gaza that only a mountain goat could climb, we see smoke pouring from high-rise buildings in Gaza City. Rafi tells us that the city skyline has changed as of late. Many such buildings are used by Hamas as terrorist bases and rocket launch-pads and so have been leveled by the IAF. It is a surgical operation.
Back at the kibbutz, Rafi stops to admonish four schoolboys who are outside kicking a soccer ball. “Shai, get back in the shelter and take your friends with you,” he yells.
The kids smile, wave, and continue kicking the soccer ball.
Rafi shares with us that when Israel removed all its citizens from Gaza three years ago he believed in the promise of peace. He had friends on the other side, men he negotiated with about building a maternity hospital that would serve mostly Palestinian women and about how the Karni crossing would become a mecca for trade.
But, Rafi explains, rolling his eyes and sadly shaking his head, it was all a ruse by the Gazans, an attempt to lull Jews into a false sense of security that would make them vulnerable to attack. “So that they could slaughter us,” Rafi says.
To underscore his point, Rafi shows us the last several days’ collection of jagged shrapnel – razor sharp pieces and mean-looking parts of the rockets fired on Israel’s southern residents. As we examine a piece of shrapnel we’re told the rocket it comes from was manufactured in China. Other rocket parts, Rafi tells us, come from Iran.
On the border, we pick up one of the flyers in Arabic that Israel distributed by the thousands to the citizens of Gaza, warning civilians of the impending military campaign.
As we drive out of the war zone and head north back to Jerusalem, we pass a soldier hitching a ride in the other direction, toward the battle. When I glance back, I see a car stop and pick him up.
A little further north we come upon the line up of news crews, trucks, cameras, and satellite dishes. They are only allowed to go as far as this point.
Michael Fenenbock is a long-time American political consultant. He and his wife Daphne are the founders of the18 and the No on Two-State campaign. They live in New York, but spend a great deal of time in Jerusalem.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
How to totally charm me
Aw shucks [~blush~]
Hat tip to my friend Tzvi E. for pointing this out to me.
Chasing the 'grail'...
I got a call at work from a friend yesterday. Not only is he one of my oldest friends (being a fellow veteran of the NYC club-date music scene with whom I'd played countless gigs), but he and his family are also neighbors of ours in Efrat.
When I answered the phone my friend casually inquired when I was going to be home from work. It seems he wanted stop by and 'drop something off'. From that last phrase I easily deduced that he'd been abroad and had just returned.
You see, he and I both travel for our jobs, so over the years we've developed an informal routine where, when we're abroad, we often (but not always) pick up a bottle of interesting Bourbon or Rye for one another.
It's not that either of us really lacks for whiskey or drinks so much... but rather that these casual 'hand-offs' give us on opportunity to catch up (over a drink, of course) and discuss our recent travels, family, life, etc.. These impromptu get-togethers are important since in this age of hectic schedules, even close friends and neighbors sometimes lose touch.
Anyway, I had a project that kept me late at work yesterday, so by the time I got home it was well after ten. I wasn't going to bother him at that hour so I figured we'd catch up over shabbat. But no sooner had I walked into the house, my kids informed me that there was something in the refrigerator that my friend had dropped off.
The refrigerator?! I'm known to occasionally toss an ice cube into my whiskey in the summertime, but the idea of putting whiskey in the fridge just seemed, well, bizarre. But when I went into the kitchen I found the whiskey sitting on the table... and in the refrigerator I saw one of the nicest things a Jewish American ex-pat can imagine; a couple of packages of Abeles & Heymann hot dogs.
I have to pause here to mention a curious state of affairs; Israel is technologically advanced enough to be able to manufacture and launch its own satellites into orbit... but we can't manage to make a decent hot dog. It's truly one of life's great mysteries!
Over the years I've developed a grudging tolerance for Israeli hot dogs (much the way an obedient child might learn to tolerate brussels sprouts to avoid a scene at the dinner table), but there is certainly no love lost between me and the spongy, oddly colored, flavorless Israeli 'naknikiya'.
And Israeli ketchup... don't get me started about the that horrible, over-sweet red goop. Thank G-d we're not entirely beyond the reach of civilization here since you can usually find Heinz 57 in most supermarkets!
At some point in the past I must have waxed nostalgic about Abeles & Heymann hot dogs during one of our post-travel tipple sessions, because thanks to my thoughtful friend, there in my refrigerator sat the holy grail of kosher hot dogs.
I looked at my watch and thought for a moment about calling my friend up (ok, truth be told, I also thought about just firing up the grill)... but he has small kids at home and I didn't want to wake them.
As if reading my mind, my daughter said, "He left a message; He'll catch up with you tomorrow, but wanted to let you know that he expects you to invite him over for a hot dog and Bourbon". Now that's what I call friendship!
Now, if only you could find a decent hot-dog bun in Israel... :-)
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
A lone dairy cow stands in the midst of a burning barn with flaming timbers falling into the hay all around her. She realizes that her only hope of survival lies in being able to run full force at one of the flaming walls, and hopefully breaking through to the cool, fresh air she knows is waiting on the other side.
But just as she tenses her muscles to start her dash towards the wall of roaring fire, she senses something climbing up one of her hind legs. Not wanting to be distracted during what will turn out to be either the most important run of her life... or the last, she looks closely at the spot where the distracting sensation is coming from, and spots an amorous ant inching its way up towards her, um, private bits.
Mistaking her look of surprise for fear, the ant quickly assures her "Don't worry sweetheart, I'll be gentle".
I've shared this story in order to try to convey the exact level of concern that Israel's senior government officials are currently experiencing in the wake of Bolivia's announcement today that it has severed diplomatic ties with the Jewish State over what it has termed 'Israel's genocidal attack on Palestinians in Gaza'.
News flash for Bolivia: Genocide is what the Spanish Conquistadors did to your ancestors in the early 16th century. What Israel is doing to the Hamas is trying to put out a fire that has been burning non-stop around her citizens for several years!
Your small announcement that you intend to bring Israel's leaders to trial in the International Court of Justice must seem quite grand and important to you. But I assure you, the sum total result of your announcement will be that at some point in the future, some functionary at the Israeli Foreign Ministry will have to schedule a low-level meeting to address the need to replace the sudden and curious shortfall in our supply of colorful wool ponchos, tasseled hats and recorded pan-pipe music.
Your country, on the other hand, has much to lose from this ill-advised move. Aside from formally aligning yourselves with the 'axis of evil' that will one day have its day of reckoning (a real fire, if you catch my drift), you need to think for a moment about the sad truth that Bolivia has the lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in South America. I'm guessing a fair portion of the hard currency flowing through your economy at any given time arrives in the pockets of post-army Israeli back-packers who come to tour through the ruins of Inca cities that show evidence of technological prowess that your present society can only dream about today. Just how attractive a destination do you think Israelis will find Bolivia now that your true feelings towards us have been revealed?
But go ahead and throw in your hat with Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the rest of the world's over-achievers. Really... good luck with that. Just don't be too surprised when your announcement doesn't provoke a reaction - of any sort (except perhaps from bored bloggers like me).
You see, Israel is busy putting out fires over here... and saving her citizens from the flames. So you just go on ahead and do whatever it is you need to do. Be as gentle or rough as you like. I assure you, your efforts won't even be noticed.
Okay, now that everyone has 'checked in'...
More fun and games. Nothing serious... just our neighbors letting us know they are still there:
Gaza: Arguably our worst-behaved neighbor at this point, but by no means our most dangerous one. They have spent years attacking Israel with rockets, mortars and human bombs as a 'thank you' for our having left them alone. Now we are in the process of having to kill the terrorists and their leadership while trying not to slaughter their innocent civilians in the process. Sadly, the good and bad guys look identical when seen down the barrel of an M-16 or the bomb-sight of an F-16.
To make matters worse, Hamas fighters are now starting to dress up in IDF uniforms in order to gain that split second advantage over our soldiers before opening fire. According to the Geneva Convention (Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land. The Hague, 18 October 1907) Art. 23: "In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden to... (f) make improper use of ... the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy."
Oh heck, what's another war crime or two to the Palestinians when they've already committed so many (e.g. using civilians as human shields, deliberately targeting the civilian population of the enemy, refusing to have combatants wear easily recognizable uniforms/badges, using hospitals and medical installations as cover for combat operations, confiscating humanitarian aid and selling it on the black market, etc.).
Lebanon: Last week they fired several rockets into the northern Israeli city of Naharia hitting an old age home. This morning they fired a few more rockets in the direction of Kiryat Shmonah. No report yet on damage or casualties, but the word from Lebanon is predictable; Hezbullah, Islamic Jihad (et al) and the Lebanese government are all pointing at one another while UNIFIL scratches its head over this 'troubling development'. You have to pity the real victim here; UNIFIL. After all, do you have any idea how much paperwork this kind of thing generates?!
Jordan: In an echo of many previous incidents, a Jordanian soldier seems to have 'lost control' and opened fire on Israeli soldiers patrolling the Israeli side of the border between the two countries. Each time this happens everyone nods in understanding at the frustration that must have lead to this inevitable event. After all, these childish Arab savages are completely unable to control their basest urges.
Oh wait, that's not what you meant? So explain it to me again so I understand why we are supposed to tolerate this kind of attack over and over and over.
Egypt: Perhaps the party in the region that should shoulder the most blame but which everyone seems to be treating like the elder statesman of the middle east. Every single rocket and mortar... every single bullet and gun... every single gram of explosive, had to have arrived in Gaza via Egypt.
We're not talking about a few ounces of 'smack' in a condom shoved up somebody's @ss here. Military equipment of the type and volume we're talking about here had to have arrived in Egyptian ports and been unloaded under the watchful eyes of countless Egyptian officials. Then it had to have been transported from the ports across the Sinai peninsula along one of only a few passable routes. Then it had to have been brought to the Gaza/Egyptian border and loaded into smuggling tunnels... again, under the watchful eye of Egyptian troops and plice. In short, there were countless places along the supply chain where Egypt could have intercepted the arms shipments... but didn't.
Incredibly, Egypt is the country that many of the pundits (even on the Israeli side) are now saying we should (re)entrust the Gaza border crossings to if and when a cease fire is ever reached. It beggars the imagination to see people willfully ignore an enemy right in front of our face, simply because they wear suits and smile while allowing arms to reach a proxy.
Syria: Shots were fired from Syrian positions towards Israeli troops stationed on the Golan Heights. This attack was in close chronological proximity to the when the first missiles were fired from Lebanon into Israel last week. Coincidence? You must be kidding. These seemingly isolated incidents are designed to terrorize Israel and to keep the entire population off-balance.
If you are inclined to 'poo poo' the seriousness of these attacks or downplay their impact on Israeli morale, just think back to 2002 when the 'Beltway Sniper' was able to terrorize the entire eastern seaboard of the United states into immobility with nothing more than a hunting rifle and an old Chevy Caprice. Also, with Israel at war on one front, just how much restraint are we really expected to practice with all the other belligerents in the neighborhood?
Did I miss anyone?
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I don't know if it's the 'matzav' (translation: 'situation'), the workday being interrupted occasionally by dashes to the shelter to await the 'boom' signaling that the rocket has landed somewhere and we can now go back to work... or maybe something else. But whatever the reasons, I have been particularly 'antsy' and on-edge lately.
To try to distract myself I have started bringing my iPod with me to work... something I never used to do. I figured that surrounding my mind with familiar music might calm me down and let me be more productive.
However I've found I have no patience even for my favorite music. I find myself listening to three or four seconds of a song and then skipping to the next one... and the next... and the next. It's actually more disturbing than the vague distraction I've been experiencing. I mean, if Steely Dan, Dvorak, Stan Kenton and Led Zeppelin couldn't get me centered... I was honestly out of ideas.
Even worse, I found that to deal with my lack of 'zitz-fleisch' (literally 'sitting meat'... the ability to sit still), I was starting to snack throughout the day... giving me a tummy ache and making my already problematic weight start to climb.
I've never been one for therapy or even self-help books, but I am not afraid of doing a little self analysis to see if I can figure out what's wrong... and how to fix things. I can hear all you mental health professionals out there muttering 'idiot' under your collective breath, but hear me out.
I started thinking about the fact that I'd suddenly started snacking again (something I'd stopped ages ago), and what I was trying to get from the mid-day crap I was eating. The short answer that kept popping into my head was 'comfort'. On some level I seem to have been trying to comfort, sooth and calm myself.
This seemed odd because my situation isn't nearly as fraught with constant worry as, say, the lives of people in Sderot and Ashkelon. But still, the only thing that had changed in my life was 'the situation' (the war, the rockets falling on Beer Sheva... and the extremely biased media siding with our enemies against us).
I started thinking about other things besides food that might be able to get me back on an even keel... which is where I came up with the idea of the iPod and my extensive music collection. But as I've already noted, that was a complete bust.
Then I had an idea (yes, it happens occasionally!). One of the things I used to do when I was stressed, upset or worried as a kid was to go veg in front of the TV. I know, that probably doesn't speak very highly of my parents... but it was a different age, and the TV was a reliable companion to a lot of people my age.
Now obviously I couldn't take a few weeks vacation to sit in front of the tube, even if any of those old programs were available on cable here (which they aren't). So I decided to do the next best thing. I did a Google search and found a nifty web site called 'Television Tunes'.
This site seems to have every TV show theme song ever created (at least from a North America-centric standpoint) for free! They have the opening music, closing music and even multiple versions of the theme songs if they were changed during the life of the show. And it is current right up to the currently running shows. Talk about a place to completely lose yourself!
Anyway, I downloaded some of my favorite TV theme songs (the majority from when I was a kid or adolescent) and loaded them up on my iPod.
Magic! I can't tell you how much more relaxed I am now that I can put the music on shuffle and every third or forth song is followed by random TV show theme song (e.g. Pink Floyd's 'Shine on you Crazy Diamond' is followed by the memorable words, "Hello... I'm Mr. Ed!").
Here's what I've downloaded so far (Caution! If you go to this site, prepare to waste some serious time!!!):
Alfred Hitchcock Hour
All In The Family
Andy Griffith Show
Barney Miller Theme
Benny Hill Show
Bewitched (~This brought back memories of sick days home from school~)
Bob Newhart Show
The Brady Bunch
Captain Kangaroo (~arguably the most calming music on the list~)
Car 54 Where Are You (~Did you know what JFK airport used to be called?~)
Carol Burnett Show (~sniff~)
Casper, The Friendly Ghost
Chico and the Man
Davey & Goliath (~"Gee Davey!"~)
Dick Van Dyke Show
George of the Jungle (~giggle~)
Gilligans Island (~I dare you not to sing along~)
Gomer Pyle USMC
Have Gun Will Travel (Paladin)
Hill Street Blues
Hong Kong Phooey (~apparently before the days of political correctness~)
I Dream Of Jeannie
I Love Lucy
Jeopardy - Think Music
Laurel and Hardy
Laverne And Shirley
Leave It To Beaver (~right up there with Captain Kangaroo~)
Looney Tunes - Opening 2
Looney Tunes - Opening 3
Lost In Space
Lost in Space - 3rd Season
Love American Style (~sniff~)
M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless) (~sniff~)
Mary Tyler Moore Show - 1971
Mickey Mouse Club - 1955
Mighty Mouse (~I can't listen to this without picturing Andy Kaufman~)
Mister Ed - 2nd Version
Mr. Rogers (Won't You Be My Neighbor) (~sniff~)
Muppets - Mahnamahna
My Favorite Martian
My Three Sons
Patty Duke Show
Roadrunner - 1966
Rocky and Bullwinkle
School House Rock - Conjunction Junction (~I dare you not to sing along~)
Schoolhouse Rock - Im Just a Bill
Theme From Taxi (~sniff~)
Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
Twlight Zone Intro
Will And Grace
Anyway, I can't promise this will work for calming all of you jittery people out there. But I can assure you a fun trip down memory lane. Enjoy!
Monday, January 12, 2009
Something has to be done... but stop doing that!
I'm confused. When it comes to what can't be done to combat non-state actors like terrorist organizations and militias, everyone seems to be full of advice for Israel. But nobody seems to be offering up much in the way of what can be done.
Let's assume for the sake of this discussion that diplomacy has either been exhausted, or is being used cynically by the enemy in parallel with actual physical attacks on a country's sovereignty and civilian population.
Let's also stipulate the following:
The enemy is not a signatory to the Geneva (or any other conventions) of conduct in warfare.
The enemy does not have formal armed forces that differentiate themselves from their civilian population by wearing uniforms, rank, insignia, etc.
The enemy has created their entire military infrastructure (weapons storage and manufacturing plants, training areas, launching grounds, smuggling tunnels and Command & Control installations, etc.) in and around their civilian population.
The enemy has stated quite unequivocally (in their founding charter, and in countless subsequent public statements) that their entire reason for existence is to bring about the violent overthrow / destruction of your country.
The enemy has diverted the overwhelming majority of the foreign aid it has received into its terror infrastructure, and has pointedly made no attempts to create an educational, economic, medical or physical infrastructure for the future state it claims to want to establish [on the ruins of your country].
The enemy has been launching mortars, missiles and human bombs at your country for a period of years, with varying degrees of physical and pyschological success.
We've heard enough of what can't be done from the media, the pundits and the cheerleaders for Israel's enemies. Now I'm honestly asking what can be done?
Seriously, at what point do we stop having to give an automatic victory to non-state actors just because they refuse to adopt the quaint, outdated conventions of 'civilized' behavior with which we state-actors have unilaterally shackled ourselves?
Three out of four aint bad!
If you recall, up until yesterday, there used to be four ways to access this site:
Then I started messing about with things I oughtn't to have been messing about with, and the result was not pretty (to say the least). As of last night I finally managed to get the first three of the four links above working properly again... and I have high hopes for the fourth in the next few days (but don't hold me to that).
At this point I'd like to ask that anyone who has this site bookmarked or blogrolled to please change your links to "http://www.treppenwitz.com" from whatever they may be now (make sure you use the 'www' or it won't work!).
That way, no matter how badly I screw up... or where I may decide to take this site in the future (given my current frustration with the excruciatingly slow and stingy level of what they laughingly call 'customer service', by my host 'typepad', a move is likely to come sooner than later) you will not show up here one day and find treppenwitz has vanished.
So please go ahead and update your links. I promise there will be a real post up later... and you wouldn't want to miss out, would you?