Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Daughters for Life

Every so often, something happens; a gesture or an action so utterly transparent in its authenticity, its genuineness, that it humbles us all, reminds us that beneath all the cant and rhetoric we still possess a human core; a core that respects, instinctively, the rights of our fellow man.

Dr Izzeldein Abuelaish is a gynacologist by training and a researcher at the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology, just outside Tel Aviv, as well as at hospitals in Gaza, where he lived. He was brought, painfully, to the attention of the wider world when his home was shelled by a tank during the Gaza offensive earlier this year. A Hebrew speaker, he had been interviewed several times by journalists unable to get into Gaza themselves during the campaign; he was telephoned by Shlomi Eldar just after the shell struck, killing his three daughters and a niece. The conversation was broadcast live to the nation on Channel 10 (the clip has English subtitles, if you need them), and for a short moment the abstractions of Israel's actions were crystallised, given human form.

Dr Abuelaish has set up a website in memory of his daughters, and as personal testimony to his belief that a peace can still be achieved one day.

"Every war has its symbol. Now that my three daughters are gone, I hope they will become the symbol of this war. A positive symbol that will strengthen the thought that one day we will reach peace."

Monday, 22 June 2009

Books etc

There's a lot of stuff in the press and the blogosphere at the moment about Iran. Some of it is interesting, some of it is (I suspect) woefully uninformed

(here's a test for any prospective pundit, irrespective of medium: name five cities in Iran, other than Tehran. No? I thought not. Please raise your hands and back away from the microphone/television camera/computer keyboard slowly...)

..and some of it just plain wishful thinking.

Despite - or, perhaps, because of - 24 hours rolling news, twitter and citizen journalism, I'm still a big fan of old school journalism, writing and reportage: I favour research, consideration and cautious but informed assessment over hyperbole and the rush to get the account out first. I suppose that it's a bit like Chou En-Lai when he was asked, sometime in the 1970s, about the historical impact of the 1789 French Revolution. "It's too soon to tell," was his response.

Why do I think about this? Because, no doubt, in the next year or so loads of books - fiction and non-fiction - are probably going to be written about the antecedents, causes and consequences of the current spot of bother in Ahmedinajad-Land. Some of it, no doubt, will be well informed if a bit behind the curve. Others will be a long way behind the curve. And some of it will be as embarrassing as (to paraphrase my favourite book review, ever) catching your uncle wanking in the school playground...

One book about Iran that I suspect will be very good - and, since it was completed a while ago, ahead of the curve - is the forthcoming title from Ron Leshem, author of the excellent Beaufort. A couple of months ago, Leshem talked publicly about the book for the first time at The Studio. It isn't about politics per se; it is about the country itself, about its people, their hopes, their aspirations and fears...

(How did Leshem do his research? Clearly, visiting Iran is out of the question as an Israeli and a Jew, best-selling international author or not. So he did the next best thing and started off by making friends in the country. Thru' Facebook. So 21st Century...)

Anyway, the book, still officially untitled, is due out in August: another reason for me to work on improving my pathetic Hebrew. God, I hate being illiterate...


Talking about reading and writing and speaking Hebrew:

Last week, I stayed up after my bedtime to watch the live presentation of the 2009 Sapir Prize. Often described as the Israeli Booker

(despite the grumblings of assorted types each year that it (gasp, shock, horror!) considers books impertinent enough to be [hold your nose] commercial successes [the best art coming from starving writers of course, etc etc...whatever]

...the award ceremony takes place during Hebrew Book Week. Generally speaking, it is a big deal. Or so I thought.

Anyway, after half an hour of trying very hard to follow proceedings, I surrendered. I was just about able to follow the compere as he introduced the five nominees and their books; when a classical actor type with a rich baritone started to read from each work, I acknowledged that I was out of my depth and gave up on the Hebrew language for the night.

Not to worry, I thought: the winner will be in all the papers the next day.

Not unreasonable, no?


Jpost - nada. Ha' - zilch. - a big fat zero.

As far as the three main English language newsportals in Israel were concerned, the Sapir Prize didn't happen.

So I summon Mrs Goy to perform her wifely duty and check the Hebrew websites for me.

She did find out, but it took quite a bit of hunting.

How strange - I always thought that Israelis liked their literature.

(The winner, by the way, was Alon Hilu, for The House of Dajani).


The consolation - if one can call it that - for trying to avoid being fucked over royally by Steimatsky's and Tsomet Sfarim whenever I want to buy a book in English, in Israel (these are the two big bookshop chains in Israel; they have an immoral - and I use the word without qualification or exaggeration - hold over the book trade in Israel) is that I get to spend more time in second hand bookshops.

Melchett Mike writes here about Halpers, on Allenby in Tel Aviv; there is nothing to add other than that I agree wholeheartedly. Excellent place...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

World Refugee Day

Saturday is World Refugee Day. Assafaid - The Aid Organisation for Refugees & Asylum Seekers in Israel (no functional website, unfortunately, but a facebook page here) have arranged an event at Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv, just by the Central Bus Station. There'll be food, fun, information and the opportunity to learn a bit about one of Israel's invisible communities...

(actually, I'm told that the music is going to be pretty good - aside from dj Yano spinning Reggae, Funk and 'African' music, they'll be PAs from Asaf Avidan and the Mojos, Keren Ann and Alma Zohar)

For what it's worth, my opinion about the refugee issue in Israel is that it is lethal to pretend that it doesn't exist - and the relative silence in the media and from the charlatans in the Knesset, after all the hoo-hah last year is the equivalent of hiding one's head in the sand and exposing one's thinking parts.

Incidentally: Is there anyone that can tell me about the Vilna'i Bill apparently passing through the Knesset at the moment? I can't find any information about it (in English) anywhere...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Yitzak Aharonovitch a Member of the Knesset representing Yisrael Beitenu, and the Minister responsible for Public Security. Yesterday, he was taken on a tour of the old Central Bus Station in south Tel Aviv. These days, the derelict complex is the haunt of pimps, pushers and professionals - not a very nice place.

Aharonovitch was introduced to two undercover cops who had just carried out a bust. One apologised for his appearance - to fit in, he'd scruffed himself up a little.

Precisely what Aharonovitch said in reply depends on how you translate the word Araboush: Ha'aretz go for "Dirty Arab", whilst Jpost deescribe it as a "derogatory Hebrew term for Arabs": Ynet go a bit sensationalist, describing the the word as the "Hebrew equivalent of 'Sand Nigger' ".

In a sense, it doesn't mater how you translate it; no-one uses the word benignly, a point belated recognised by Aharonovitch when he issued a statement later, clarifying that the word was "uttered in a moment of jest", and "does not express (his) worldview".

I see.

One can't - shouldn't - try to control how people think: It's an exercise in futility. Perhaps Aharonovitch doesn't like the Arab population one little bit: there isn't very much that I can do about it. But as a citizen, he has a basic duty of common courtesy towards his fellow man, regardless of ethnicity. As a minister, as a representative of this country, as the minister responsible for public order, this duty heightens significantly. I do think that Aharonovitch's use of the term, whilst on official duties and in the presence of various radio and print journalists, is really worrying.

The argument about Yisrael Beitenu being full of out-and-out racists has been made many times before. Correct or not, the casual use of this ugly word - given the circumstances and his position - demonstrates, to my mind, the influence of their policies upon the broader public discourse concerning race relations in this country.

In case you think I'm being hysterical, consider this: Jpost point out that when a police officer used the same term, on internal police radio, to describe demonstrators in Umm el-Fahm, he was sacked by Avi Dichter - Public Security Minister at the time, oddly enough.

I don't think MK Aharonovitch is worried about his job this morning, skewered worldview or not. Do you?

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Street Art

A couple of pictures taken by my friend A during his visit to Israel earlier this month

I think this was by Kikar Dizengoff, on the old building that used to be a gym but now lies empty, forlorn. Technically, I suppose it is still a work in progress. Perhaps the horse was/is trying to get away from the artist...


The first thing our driver asked us was if we wanted to go to Manger Square (we did); the second was if we wanted to see 'Banksy'. It took a while for the penny to drop. We didn't, but he insisted, so eventually we allowed him to make a small-ish detour to keep him happy.

Sderot Rothschild, Tel Aviv. Answers on a postcard, please; I have no idea either. (I'd be pretty pissed off if I had to share my balcony, on one of the nicest streets in Israel, with three lumps of concrete; but then, I am a Philistine so that doesn't surprise.)

Neve Tsedek.

If you live in Israel and have basic Hebrew, you'll get it.

If not...

(nb - this picture does not in any way represent the opinions of the author, etc etc)


Performance Art: Apparently, Bibi made an important speech the other night. I watched a bit of it, with the sound off. He had on a nice tie.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Seven Jewish Children British playwright Caryl Churchill caused an almighty stink when it was rushed out in the wake of the misbegotten adventure in Gaza earlier this year. 8 minutes long, it is an (emphasis on the indefinite article) account of key moments in the history of the modern state of Israel, from the perspective of parents looking for the right way to articulate their fears and hopes to their children.

The play started a huge furore, with accusations of anti-Semitism countered by claims of the right to free speech, including the right to criticise Israeli policy in the Territories in the harshest of terms. Ms Churchill relinquished all rights to the play, on condition that all proceeds from performances be donated to charities helping the victims of the Gaza campaign.

Now, according to today's Ha'aretz, the play is to be staged at Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv as part of the Hebrew Book Week, a reading directed by Skype and telephone by Arab Israeli director Samieh Jabbarin. (To understand why he cannot direct in person, read this.)

A few thoughts:

Ms Churchill, it must be said, is loudly partisan (she is a patron) so far as the disputes between Israel and its neighbours are concerned. But then, so are many other people.

The play, frankly, has little artistic merit. (Personal opinion. May not be worth the proverbial bucket of warm spit. But there you go...)

Most people subscribe the principle of Free Speech up until the point where the person speaking freely starts to say things they don't like. I struggle with this myself. An example: I think the British National Party, like all other citizens and their representatives, should have the right to talk about the ethnic balance of the United Kingdom. I, however, do not want to hear what they do have to say because I find their views personally repulsive. (The fact that I am directly affected by their proposals for voluntary repatriation obviously forms a part of this response).

Rights - such as the right to Free Speech - are inextricably intertwined with Responsibilities - such as the responsibility to tell the truth. Most people ignore this when it is convenient to do so.

Staging the play is, obviously, intended as a provocation. I do not say this in a necessarily negative sense - provocations can useful, to shake people out of their complacency - but nonetheless, I am a man for reasoned argument over shouting, evolution rather than revolution.

My opinion - This play - and the staging of this play tonight - is shouting. The people who will oppose it being staged will shout in return. Many people will miss the opportunity to engage with the issues, and instead take sides to fit their personal prejudices. That's a shame.

(I think I've linked to a reading of the play in the heading to this blog. If not, I blame my technical incompetence, and I'll do it again later.)

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Feel the Love...Not

This gem has been doing the rounds over the last day or so.

Let's be fair. These young charmers aren't capable of being representative of anything - not themselves, not their families, not the Jewish people - but even so, it does make for rather embarrassing, if not uncomfortable viewing.

On the other hand, one can't get anything insightful from interviewing a bunch of tired and emotional young adults. To present this as the word on the street isn't really fair, for all sorts of reasons.

(Perhaps I shouldn't post this at all. But it is the public domain, so...and I couldn't stop laughing at the fellow who calls Obama a faggot before suggests going to the White House to teabag him. A bit of a logical disconnect, perhaps?)

Video courtesy of the blog.

Whilst I've been away

...all sots of interesting things have been happening in this little corner of the world.

There isn't much for me to add to the acres that have already been written about attempts to de-legitimise expressions of grief concerning the Nakba/Creation of the State of Israel, or Avigdor's new attempts to promulgate a Loyalty Oath, to a "Jewish, Zionist and Democratic State".

(Let's ignore the fundamental difficulty in defining at least the first two terms satisfactorily; what fascinates me is that Avigdor still hasn't conjured up a formula that would allow this nonsense to apply to the Arab population without affecting, say, the Haredi'im. But maybe it's just me thinking too much.)

Obama kicked his world tour by wowing them in the aisles in Cairo after choosing not to touch down in Tel Aviv en-route; in revenge, certain aspects of Israeli media go into a sulk and decide that since his middle name happens to be Hussein, then he can't be Good for Israel (thanks to the always engaging blog for this); and The United States decide to put the smack down by loudly, unambiguously and repeatedly declaiming that settlement activity in the West Bank must stop.

I suppose the only surprise is that Bibi has managed to talk himself into a corner so quickly. It is hard to say whether eight years of being spoiled by Shrub blinded political opinion in Israel to the obvious - that the status quo could not endure indefinitely - or that the politicos actually believed that the tail could wag the dog, that Israel was capable of dictating American foreign policy without reference to the domestic concerns of the American people,

(This leads to a seperate argument about the strength of the "Jewish/Israel/Zionist Lobby" in the United States. For what it's worth, I think that the supposed power of this lobby group, stating the case of a narrow but noisely right-wing viewpoint in Washington, is somewhat overstated. Unfortunately for them, AIPAC and Co. seem believe their own hype. But that's for another time, perhaps.)

...but I honestly didn't believe that this intellectual detatchment was really so engrained until I read this today.

Of course it is unfair to judge the tenor and tone of the letter without actually reading it in full, but I can't help but get the sense that Minister-without-Portfolio Peled is experiencing some kind of intellectual disconnect.

It is one thing to try and nurture "strategic" (i.e. partisan) alliances elsewhere; another to piss off the Americans by using the lots and lots of nice greenbacks with which they subsidise Israel to go and buy weapons and the like elsewhere;

(Personally, I thought only the hardcore elements in the Egyptian government were dumb enough to think this way. Apparently not)

...but it is, speaking frankly, absolute fucking insanity to propose an overt, albeit indirect, intervention in the domestic political scene in the United States. According to the article, Peled proposes "asking American Jewish donors not to contribute to Democratic congressional candidates. He predicts (gosh, he's a soothsayer too? We're not worthy!) that this would result in Democratic candidates pressuring Obama to become more pro-Israel."

Where does one start? The conflation of American, Jewish-American and Israeli objectives? Subscribing to the old canard that money, specifically Jewish Money, controls/is capable of controlling the political scene in the United States? Directly intervening in the domestic electoral affairs of a sovereign state?

Even if I didn't think that Obama was acting in the best long term interests of Israel (you may gather from previous posts that I am inclined towards giving him the benefit of the doubt; but that's just my personal opinion), going down this path is...well, words fail me. I really don't know what to say.

The next couple of months are going to be very interesting.

postscript: According to yesterday's Jpost, Israel Beitenu legislators skipped the recent Knesset vote on civil marriages. Given that this was a major plank of their electoral campaign, it does seem very odd. Or perhaps not.

(And where was I, you ask? At home, mainly. Mrs Goy went on a junket - sorry, conference - outside the country somewhere, so I was daddy day-care for the Small Noisy One for a week - poor him! Then a friend visited from abroad, and I spent most of the week taking him around the country. It's fun, being the tour guide for a change...)