Monday, 26 May 2008

Odds and ends...

I have visitors from London here, so in lieu of a proper post, a couple of odds and ends from this morning's newspaper:

David Mumford, the American mathematician (I write, as if I am familiar with his work: I can barely make 2 and 2 make 4, most mornings) was awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize for Mathematics, presented by Shimon Peres last night; he promptly announced that he would be donating all $100,000 of it to Bir Zeit University, and the civic organisation Gisha. "I decided to donate my share of the Wolf Prize to enable the academic community in occupied Palestine to survive and thrive," Mumford said. "I am very grateful for the prize, but I believe that Palestinian students should have an opportunity to go elsewhere to acquire an education. Students in the West Bank and Gaza today do not have an opportunity to do that."

I think Bibi was at the ceremony. I would have given anything to have seen his face when Prof. Mumford made the announcement.

Norman Finkelstein was deported from the country last night. Given that he apparently broke bread with the lads from Hizbo'Allah not very long ago, and wrote at length about it, I suppose this shouldn't be a surprise. However, his lawyer, Michael Sfard, stated that the actions of the Shabbak recalled "the behaviour of the Soviet Bloc countries". Uh-huh.

Finkelstein, a respected academic with the unexpected instincts of a streetfighter, got himself into a most unedifying row with Alan Dershowitz a while ago. The whys and wherefores of their spat are neither here nor there (actually - if you have half an hour of your life to waste, you could do worse than start off here), but it is worth reading a splendid article, tongue wedged firmly in cheek, by the historian and Ha'aretz columnist Tom Segev about the two here (unfortunately, the only link I can find for it is on Finkelstein's website - a couple of responses are included beneath, the second almost as amusing as the article itself)

Ok, I'm off. Have a good day. Sorry for all the hyperlinks. :-)

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Behind the wall

It took a year, but yesterday I finally did it.

Contrary to what I had been told by everyone, it's remarkably easy to get into the West Bank - a walk through the Old City to the Damascus Gate, hop on a bus and half an hour later, you're there. Certainly a lot cheaper, and more fun, than hiring a cab and driver, as I had been advised to do by more than one person.

Work took me there - I'd wrangled an invitation to Al-Quds University to report on something or the other happening there. I'm not going to say too much about it now - I actually need to sit down and file my report first - but a few off the cuff observations:

The student population seemed, from a very unscientific sample, to be at least 60% female. Possibly more.

The campus was very well appointed, in stark contradistinction to the general environment of Abu Dis which, without actually being poor - I've seen worse, much worse in England, the States and Nigeria - was rather run down.

Economic necessities dictate that there is far more interaction between the two populations, Jewish and Arabic, than one would expect. The garages, general stores and so on all had Hebrew script advertising their services, alongside standard Arabic.

The Judean Desert is beautiful. Stunningly so.

The Wall (ignoring the arbitrariness of its existence) is an ugly scar on the landscape. On the other side, it is generally disguised by foliage and greenery whenever it approaches a conurbation. No such attempt here, and why should there be?

More later...perhaps. At the end of the function, a bigwig approached me.

'You're a journalist, I hear. Who are you reporting for...a local newspaper?' He wasn't unfriendly, but there was something...

Nope, I replied. I'm freelance, and on duty for a magazine many many miles from this troubled land.

'Good. That's far away, not important to us here. We don't want this reported at all locally.' And he walked off.

Now, I'm not sure what he meant by local - Palestine? Israel? But either way, it's interesting, the overarching imperative to control news output, and the factors that drive this need.

I should say that the event, under normal circumstances, should have been a VERY BIG DEAL indeed. But I was the only journalist there.

This country is strange, sometimes.

On the theme of the wall, I'm about to start reading this. Mrs Goy read it a while ago in Hebrew, and recommended it. I'll let you know how it goes.


Sunday, 4 May 2008


When Mrs Goy suggested that we go flower-picking, I thought that (1) She had lost her mind, (2) She thought that I had lost my mind, (3) She'd become a certified (and certifiable) tree-hugging hippy.

But in the event, it was quite fun. The picture here gives you an idea of the natural beauty on display. The Small Noisy one was rather shocked that we allowed him to pluck the flowers without comment, and eventually he got bored with the freedom and tried to eat his shoes instead. But never mind...

Springtime is the best time of year in Israel. The weather is bearable, for one thing - nice enough to sit on the terrace with a cold beer and a book, open windows and fresh air day and night, and as for the plant life...

It'll soon pass though, Sadly. Last year, I don't think that the temperatures dropped below 30 Centigrade between the 15th of June and the 1st of September. Air conditioning becomes pretty much compulsory, along with sunglasses and short trousers. (This is rather problematic if your legs are as ugly as mine, but never mind...)

The Jewish calender is organised such as to ensure that Passover always falls in the springtime, a pretty complicated feat if one stops to consider that the Jewish calender is a lunar, and thus mobile, one. My language school teacher attributed this feat of scheduling to 'Jewish Genius': I take that to mean that she thought it a pretty clever thing indeed. (For an alternative definition of Jewish Genius, one not quite so admiring, see here.)

In practice, this means that a number of significant events always happen around this time of year, give or take a couple of weeks: Purim, Passover, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZicharon and Yom HaAzmaout.

Purim I blogged about previously. Passover, too, although I'd like to add that my Mother in Law apparently gets her religious festivals - and religions too, come to think of it - mixed up each year, judging from the amount of dead cow we eat, in various permutations but seemingly infinite quantities, during the Passover week. She likes her barbecues, she does. And so do I, although it takes forever to shake off the additional poundage each year.

Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance day. Most years, newspapers occupy themselves with the hand wringing that accompanies the Anti-Zionist Haredi who choose not to observe the minute's silence that is marked at 10am on the day. This year, however, they found another target, with Avram Grant's decision to attend the crucial Champion's League semi-final between his Chelsea and Liverpool. (In the Jewish calender, the day starts at sundown, and this was a 7:45 kick-off) (Also, this is about Football, or Soccer if you live in the States. If you don't recognise the teams or the competition, it'll take too long to explain, and your life is probably the richer for not knowing anyway, so I won't bother.)

Grant is the child of Holocaust survivors, and thus probably has a clearer conception of the appropriate manner of commemorating the events of 60-odd years ago than most. But that didn't stop the unpleasantness that quite a few people in this part of the world poured on him from a great height. Mind you, they all changed their minds, or at least held their tongues, after Chelsea won and qualified for their first Champions' League final.

Another viewpoint, from a typically self deprecating yet caustically correct perspective, is here (NOTE: This was written and published several months ago, and not specifically for Yom HaShoah - but the sentiment is one that stuck with me, for some odd reason...)

Yom HaZicharon and Yom HaAtzamaout make a odd, if logical pairing, the first being the day of remembrance for those who were killed in Israel's wars, the second the nation's Independence Day.

Mrs Goy once commented that it must be an odd juxtaposition for those who have lost family and friends in the service of their nation: for a day, the nation mourns with you, then at sundown, the fireworks explode and everyone becomes merry...except you.

The families of the bereaved congregate in military cemeteries across the country, to hear the day's designated politician re-assure them that the sacrifice was not in vain, or words to that effect, and to remind them that vigilance remains necessary.

I suppose it would have been nicer still if those who died had some sort of choice about whether or not it they wanted to die for their country. But that's me being the silly pacifist, I suppose.

Israel is sixty this year, and quite a big deal is being made out of it, as one would imagine. I returned from London to find the bunting everywhere, and cars and balconies festooned in the Blue and White. Someone, somewhere, is making an absolute fortune on this, I suspect...

Anyway. I ramble. Work beckons,, sorry, not work. Bed. Mid-afternoon nap time. Work can wait until later.