|Your Brain is Green|
Saturday, December 25, 2004
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Saturday, November 06, 2004
We're all Israelis Now***Just the way he chooses to spell his name tells me he is ashamed of his Jewish origin. "LeVine" as if he was French or something.
By Mark LeVine, History, University of California,
****That like Israelis, Americans would never face the causes of the extreme violence perpetrated against us by those whose oppression we have supported and even enforced,"
For me, however, the attacks suggested a more troubling
scenario: That like Israelis, Americans would never face the causes of the
extreme violence perpetrated against us by those whose oppression we have
supported and even enforced, and engage in the honest introspection of what our
role has been in generating the kind of hatred that turns commuter jets into
cruise missiles. Instead, my gut told me that we'd acquiesce to President Bush's
use of the war to realize the long-held imperial, even apocalyptic visions of
the neoliberal Right, ones that find great sympathy with its Israeli
Right. We declared war on the entire Arab world; we bomb pizza parlors and target rockets on school buses, etc. The Palestinians have no one but themselves to blame for the plight they're in, and anyone who lives in Israel--even the radical Left--knows just how much restraint Israel has demonstrated against the continuing attempts of our "peace partners" to eliminate Israel altogether. When Prof. "LeVine" comes to live in Israel, then maybe I'll listen to what he's saying--if he's still saying it when he has to deal with reality and not just spout the Big Lie put about by the Palestinians.
As I watch George W. Bush celebrate his reelection I realize I never could have***"in Israel, the majority of Jewish citizens support the policies of Ariel Sharon despite the large-scale, systematic (and according to international law, criminal) violence his government deploys against Palestinian society, despite the worsening economic situation for the lower middle class religious voters who constitute his main base of support, "
imagined just how much like Israelis we would become. Think about it: in Israel,
the majority of Jewish citizens support the policies of Ariel Sharon despite the
large-scale, systematic (and according to international law, criminal) violence
his government deploys against Palestinian society, despite the worsening
economic situation for the lower middle class religious voters who constitute
his main base of support, despite rising international opprobrium and isolation.
Ah yes, the terrorist actions of the Palestinians against the civilian population of Israel are just self-defense then? This is the "it all began when he hit me back" theory of the intifada: Israel is the aggressor because they didn't passively run away when we attacked them. BTW, if Sharon had really acted in a large-scale and systematic way against the Palestinians, the terror against us would have ended a long time ago. It is precisely because the most minimal measures possible have been taken--such as targeted killing of major terrorists instead of wiping out the entire neighborhoods they choose to hide themselves in--that has cost Israel a lot of unnecessary casualties amongst her soldiers. Believe me, it's a lot easier simply drop a lot of bombs, "and let the chips fall where they may".
As for the worsening economic situation of the "lower middle class religious voters" (who are NOT his main base of support, btw--those kind of voters support Shas, Mavdal and the other religious parties which are largely to the Right of Sharon's Likud), the intifada is largely to blame for that also, with the collapse of tourism and tourism-related industries which have caused a general contraction in the Israeli economy (along with the coincidental bursting of the high-tech bubble, which couldn't have come at a worse time for Israel)
The majority of Israelis support Sharon because every other way to deal with the Palestinian problem has failed. Barak offered Arafat 98% of what he wanted--far more than most Israelis, even the Left--were comfortable with--and Arafat's response was to unleash the second intifada, which showed Israelis quite definitely that the Palestinians were NOT interested in an independent state unless Israel ceased to exist.
As for the country's "liberal" opposition, it's in a shambles, politically and
morally bankrupt because in fact it was a willing participant in creating and
preserving the system that is now eating away at the heart of Israeli society.
Aside from occasional plaintive oped pieces by members of its progressive wing,
the Labor Party can and will do nothing fundamentally to challenge Sharon's
policies. Why? Because they reflect an impulse, nurtured by the Labor movement
during its decades in power, that is buried deep in the heart of Zionism: to
build an exclusively Jewish society on as much of the ancient homeland as
possible, with little regard for the fate of the country's native
If the above passage were true, how does Prof. "LeVine" explain that most Israeli Arabs vote Labor? They have their own parties, which rarely manage to get more than 2 or 3 representatives in the Knesset. The truth is that Labor is led by an octogenarian with some fairly ditzy ideas, a massive ego, and a stranglehold on the party apparatus. All the Labor wannabes can't oust Peres because he's politically very agile and they are all warring against each other.
Israel can be faulted--and regularly is, by Israelis--for not doing enough for its Arab citizens. Yet by just about every parameter you choose, from women's rights, to education, to health statistics, Israeli Arabs are in a far better position not only than the "Palestinians" but in most of the Arab world. Prof. "LeVine" chooses to ignore this, and claim that Israel has "little regard" for the "country's native inhabitants" (another lie, btw. He should read Joan Peter's "From Time Immemorial" in which she quotes the UN's own statistics regarding the origin of the "Palestinians" and the length of residence one has to have in order to be called a "Palestinian")
As any native American will remind us, America was built on a similar holy
quest. So it shouldn't surprise us that the parallels between Israel's
mini-empire and America's Iraq adventure are striking.
***Boy, I wish Israel had a mini-empire. We have the same amount of space as Vermont does. We are getting very crowded.
In Israel most citizens know full well the realities of their occupation; even
right-wing newspapers routinely publish articles that describe its details with
enough clarity to make any ignorance willful. This dynamic is in fact why
Israelis have responded to the civil war with Palestinians by increasing the
dehumanization of the occupation, accompanied by a fervent practice of getting
on with life no matter what's happening ten or fifteen miles away in "the
Territories." The alternative, actually working to stop the insanity of the
occupation, would lead to much more hatred and violence within Israel and
between Jews than Palestinians could ever hope to inflict on Israeli society
from the outside. The situation is almost identical vis-à-vis the American
perspective on Iraq. Abu Ghraib?
***No, it's not. Not at all. How about the Palestinians working to stop the insanity of attempting to annihilate Israel, hmmm?
"LeVine" doesn't know what he's talking about. From where I live, the PA isn't even 5 miles away. I live in Jerusalem, and Bethlehem is only about 2 miles from my house. The streets of Jerusalem are filled with Arabs; so are the shopping malls and the open-air market, and not all of them are Israeli Arabs. More than 60% of the patients treated at the two Hadassah hospitals are Arabs (if they are not Israeli Arabs, and don't have the comprehensive semi-national health care Israelis do, they pay cash, which is very welcome to Hadassah, as the health funds take their own sweet time paying their bills) Until the Palestinians made it too dangerous to do so, many Israelis did a lot of their shopping in towns like Bethlehem (better prices). It can't be stressed too much that the chief victim of the two intifadas was the coexistence and level of trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians that was present before the first intifada. No one who comes to Israel for the first time now can believe it, but when I first came to live in Israel there wasn't any "occupation". It wasn't perfect coexistence, but the country was awash with tourists, spending money freely in Arab towns as well as Jewish ones, and everyone was benefitting, and there was a real hope amongst the Palestinians themselves that they would be able to attain the living standards of Israeli Arabs. Oh, there were those who wanted the whole enchilada, and Arafat's siren song sounded sweet to them. The terror the "Palestinians" have been subjected to is not Israeli terror, if truth be told, but Arafat's terror. More Palestinians have been killed as "collaborators" by Arafat's "security police" (30k-strong personal army) than by Israel. I wonder if Prof. "LeVine" knows this)
The numbing acceptance of large scale and systematic violence perpetrated
by the state as a normal part of its exercise of power and the willingness of a
plurality of the electorate to support parties and policies which are manifestly
against their economic and social interests
***What, I wonder, does Prof. "LeVine" have to say about the flight of Christian Arabs from areas that came under Israeli administration in 1967 but reverted to Palestinian domination, such as Bethlehem. It was a Christian town when Israel administered it; now it is a Moslem one. Most Christian non-Israeli Arabs are leaving the region entirely--go to the American consulate any day and see just how many are trying to get visas for the US. A considerable number have quietly become Israeli citizens, so they can go on living here and have some protection against kidnapping for ransom (a favorite activity of one of Arafat's henchmen, Rajoub Jibril, who rules Jericho like a Mafia boss)
(as demonstrated by the increase in poverty and economic insecurity across
the board in Israel
***Poverty is a very relative term. Your average Israeli who feels "economically insecure" has a standard of living which is much more that of the developed world than of the countries around Israel or the Third World generally, and considering how old the modern State of Israel is and how slender its resources, it's an amazingly high standard of living. I feel economically insecure--I cannot, for example, at this point in time be sure I'll have the funds to come to the Malta Siege--but I've got all the appurtenances of modern living, minus a car) What IS true about Israeli life, and Israel isn't alone in this, is that the gap between the lowest income groups and the highest is huge and becoming ever larger. There was a time, in Israel's first years, when everyone was equally poor. Now some are and some aren't. But we don't have people sleeping on hot air vents, or dying of hunger.
In the meantime, the international community, especially the EU,
most assert a defiant tone against US and Israeli militarism and perform the
novel but fundamental role acting as a counterweight and alternative to
America's imperial vision
Associate Professor of History
Department of History
Murray Krieger Hall
Irvine, CA 92697-3275
***Oh, so he does know how to spell his name? That's nice. Levine, if you're out there--come visit me. After all, you do say "Next Year In Jerusalem" on Passover each year, don't you? Try writing a piece from the perspective of knowledge instead of ignorance, huh?
I'm waiting. Meanwhile, while you're talking about history, Levine, we're making it.:-))
Thursday, November 04, 2004
The Baby really surprised me when she announced she wanted to go to the US. Of all my children, she is the one I thought I'd ultimately have to kick out of the nest: she did Sherut Leumi because she didn't fancy being in an army camp; she wanted to stay at home. And she's the one I'll miss the most--because of the advances in ultrasound technology, she was the only one of my three children that I knew the sex of definitely before birth, and we had the most interesting intrauterine conversations and have been very close ever since.
She's extremely computer-wise, which is one of the main reasons this blog's been in abeyance since July. Sharing a single terminal with someone who can easily spend 16 hours a day on a computer means that Mother practically has to beg to read her e-mail. Hopefully now this will change...but there's still one daughter, Baby's older sister by a year and a half, at home.
Any thoughts on how to get the Curly-Haired Monster to move on, and leave this Wrinkly in sole possession of her computer, her make-up (fortunately I'm three times her size, so my clothes are safe), and her sanity?
Friday, July 09, 2004
Recently, I was able to access all of the e-mails stored since 2000 on my
busted laptop. Occasionally, there are requests for this classic, by Sarah
Meir. If she hasn't posted it in some form to her blogsite, she should. It
deals with one of the more important halachic issues Jews face here, the
Halacha of the Mangal. This is one of those issues where spreading heat is
as important as spreading light. The rabbanit speaks below in response to a
she'elah. The one asking the she'elah is b"h on his way here soon with his
family from Minneapolis.
>Someone brought up the question of BBQ grills, and I
>had a further question. Sorry if this is hopelessly naive.
Not at all. If you're going to be an Israeli, you have to understand the
central place the mangal (hibatchi-type barbeque grill) plays in our
national life (this is especially relevant since Independence Day is
near. We may not have the Bet HaMikdash currently, but on Yom Atzmaut the sweet
savor of innumerable burnt offerings wafts heavenwards as almost every
household barbeques in honor of the holiday)
> I know Israel is short of wood as a natural resource,
> and thus furniture is often made of chipboard (or is
> very expensive.) I'm guessing that charcoal is
> therefore a similarly scarce resource, whether
> briquettes or hardwood. Is that true?
Charcoal is readily available, but little or none of it is locally
produced. In recent years "fancy" briquets that are pre-treated for
instant lighting are available in Israel, but no true Israeli uses them.
Instead he buys bags of ordinary lumps, which must then be dowsed with
either kerosene or "special" charcoal lighting fluid (kerosene). There
are those who hold that it is permissible to use fire-lighting lumps which
are made of some porous substance impregnated with combustible stuff and put
under the mound of charcoal to be lit, but others do not allow themselves
Once the charcoal has had a match thrown on it, when the flames die down,
the true Israeli haredi(extremely pious) will tear a bit of cardboard off a carton and fan
the charcoal with it violently. There are (!) plastic "fans" one can buy
which imitate the cardboard, but the less observant will actually use
either an electric fan or a hair dryer (if they're barbeque-ing at home.
If you're in the woods, it's all elbow grease). Only the Reform will use
a (heaven forfend!) gas grill which takes all the fun out of the experience
(singed hair, burnt fingers, etc.)
The choice of grill is also extremely important. Americans have Webber
grills. Since all things American are regarded as superior in Israel,
you can actually buy a Webber grill in Israel, but I'll let you in on a
secret: they're never used. A consummate status symbol, they stand in a
of the patio, so all the neighbors can see how sophisticated you are. Ditto
gas grills (if you're an Israeli). What IS in daily use is the "mangal"
which is really just an open aluminum box with four 6" legs and a
removable grill on top. The lazy will put this device on a ledge but the
Israeli puts it on the ground so he has to squat, most uncomfortably,
near it, both to get the fire going and to cook the meat.
There is also halacha for the proper way to cook the meat. None of this
turning it over and over so the juices are sealed in and the meat tasty.
No, it should be charred on one side and THEN flipped over to char on the
other, the resulting food having the appearance and appeal of the sole of
an old shoe. I'll let you in on a secret that will impress all your
friends and family with your "klita" (absorption) into Israeli society: cut an onion
in half, stick a fork into the rounded side, and put it in a dish with some
oil. Before putting the meat on the grill, rub the grill with the oiled
onion and it won't stick. One of the great Israeli inventions.
Remember that no Israeli ever cooks anything but meat on the grill, and
always cooks far more than is needed. No "furrin" nonsense with veggies.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Sunday, June 13, 2004
It may seem odd to assume that US Jews don't come to Israel in greater numbers because of a lack of money, but in a lot of cases, that's true. A former radio show host who was sent on shlichut (worked as an emissary for the aliyah branch of the Jewish Agency) wrote, upon his return to Israel, an article in the Jerusalem Post, apologizing for his preconceptions of American Jewish life. He had always known that American electrical appliances didn't work on Israeli current, but he'd never realized the degree to which Americans live on credit, and once they repay the mortgage, and the car financing, student loans, and all the other debts, the average young Zionist family is left with very little cash in hand with which to begin a new life in Israel. But it's also true that very few American Jews want to live in Israel at a standard much below that which they enjoyed in the States--and that takes money. There is also simple ignorance of the lifestyle here--only about 15% of American Jews ever visit Israel (although those who do, usually visit more than once), and a lot of prospective immigrants have erroneous ideas of what they need here and rather exaggerated ideas of what they'll accomplish here as well.
So, Nefesh B'Nefesh (a free translation is "Jewish Souls United") was founded. Initially, Rabbi Fass wasn't loath to take money from evangelical Christian groups who believe that Jesus' Second Coming will only happen when all the Jews in the world are in Israel (not to mention being converted to Christianity) and are happy to help. After considerable criticism, he sought, and found more Jewish donors. During the initial promotional period, rumors swirled around about the grant amounts--the only condition placed on the grant recipient is that the money must be paid back if the recipient returns to America before three years pass--and most of the rumors were wildly exaggerated. NBN also promised to find work for its immigrants, and to shepherd them through the bureaucracy.
Aliyah from North America has never been huge, but since the intifada began in 2000, it slumped badly. With great fanfare, NBN brought its first planeload of olim in the summer of 2002. It prefers to declare that it brought 150 people rather than 70-80 families (it certainly sounds better), and it did get the Interior Ministry to put a clerk on the plane so all the necessary paperwork for the necessary documents for the olim could be started immediately. From that time on, NBN has been reluctant in the extreme to give any information on how its members have fared in Israel. Potential NBN olim are encouraged to communicate with those already here via an internet list, but non-NBN Israelis--veteran North American olim with vastly more experience--aren't allowed to participate, for fear they'll be too "negative". Certain interests are actively promoted: the various groups involved in yishuvim over the Green Line, for instance, have access to the list, and so do certain importers and merchants.
In the summer of 2003, NBN brought two planeloads of olim--as closely as can be guessed, about 2/3 of them are children, who are, of course, potentially productive Israelis but for the time being, are recipients of lots of State aid--and the preponderance are "Modern Orthodox" (which has been the trend in American aliyah for quite a while, BTW). This year, it has been announced, three planeloads will arrive. The net effect has, actually, to return the annual number of olim to the pre-intifada levels, so claims of encouraging mass aliyah are somewhat exaggerated.
Given that all olim get a variety of subsidies, perks, and discounts during their first year (and in decreasing amounts, during their second and third years, too), and the grants (recipients are told not to disclose what they get. It seems to be between $5-15k per family) and the new "absorption basket" (sal klita) gives them cash, it might be thought that the new arrivals are having an easy time acclimating themselves to Israel. The truth is, no one knows. Israel is in a deep depression right now. A great many of the olim from North America in the past few years are either medical or legal professionals, or in hi-tech. Some want to start their own businesses, or become entrepreneurs. All well and good, but the Russian aliyah brought scads of medically trained professionals and paraprofessionals to Israel; lawyers, no matter how experienced in the US, have to undergo an apprenticeship because the legal system here is radically different from America, and it takes quite a while to begin making money; the hi-tech situation is...well, you all know what state that's in, and it's not easy to start your own business when you know nothing about the business environment or legal/tax situation here (not to mention the market).
NBN's high profile aliyah, with the "fact" that its olim are coming with bulging wallets, has created some juicy pickings. Rents on apartments in Jerusalem and the center of the country are through the roof. The Israeli government has been trying to phase out the Absorption Centers for some time--the maximum one can stay in one is now only 2 months, so even someone planning to buy a home is forced to find a rented flat for at least the short term. And Israelis who own an extra flat have learned that Americans are so used to high rents they'll pay almost anything. The export shops in New York and other American cities are doing a roaring business, as they convince ignorant olim that Israel is an appliance wasteland (quite the reverse, for the past decade)and they'd better buy everything they need for the next 30 years, right down to hair-dryers and toasters, before they leave the US. When the Israeli government announced it was removing the giant tax break on car purchases by immigrants, there was something approaching mass panic by those who hadn't yet sent their shipments--a frequent question is whether it pays to ship their American car (it doesn't).
But that's not the right question. The right question is, can I afford to HAVE a car in Israel? When the perks and discounts vanish, when I'm living on an Israeli, not an American, salary (which is between a third to a half less, in dollar terms), will I be able to make ends meet? If approximately 70% of Israelis have overdrafts at the bank, doesn't that say something about the cost of living in Israel? It's not just a choice between buying, say, Taster's Choice imported instant coffee or the locally produced Elite (which some would say is more like a coffee-flavored beverage than the real thing), but whether I can drink coffee at all? It looks great on paper that I get a 90% discount on property taxes and don't pay income tax the first year I'm in Israel, but for six months of that first year I'll be studying Hebrew in an ulpan and most probably not even find a job until that year is up...
Getting here is the easy part. Staying here is a lot harder. There are no statistics on how many American olim return to America after 1/3/5/10 years. Very few admit to it. I've seen numbers of anywhere between 25% and 70%, depending on (mostly) completely unproveable speculation. But it's a lot. An internet message board for the Jerusalem area carries announcements of "moving sales" which, when they consist of entire house contents, are obviously "leaving sales". If asked, almost everyone who is intending to go back to America, is only going back for "a brief period". There are, of course, real family situations that require returning to the US. There are also some who find they just don't like the country. But by far the biggest number who return to America do so because they couldn't manage economically--whether relatively (couldn't make enough money to have the lifestyle they want) or absolutely (are in danger of starving). It would be immensely difficult (and expensive) to try to do some real research, to find out exactly how many do leave Israel permanently, and why they did. But, because of the way it's set up, Nefesh B'Nefesh is an almost perfect laboratory. It's completely inexplicable to me why they seem to feel everything about themselves is a State secret. I fail to see why more transparency wouldn't actually help them. Olim want to know what they're up against.
Over the years, one of the biggest culprits has been the Israeli government and governmental agency--the Jewish Agency or Sochnut--itself. Israelis are themselves very ambivalent about aliyah from "rich" countries. There is some jealousy and resentment of the fact that the Israeli taxpayer foots (at least some of) the bill to bring people here who can afford to have a higher standard of living than the Israelis themselves. (This is, IMHO, a rather dated view.) On the other hand, aliyah which is entirely voluntary, and ideological, rather than born of necessity by persecution in the former homeland, is far more "encouraging" and vindicates the Zionist ideal much more. So the Jewish Agency, which in itself is a considerable bureaucracy which has a parasitic relationship with olim (no olim, no jobs for all those clerks!) has chosen to avoid reality whenever possible. "Accentuate the positive" at all costs! The main cost, of course, being the oleh's ability to adjust, physically, emotionally, and economically to his new situation. He becomes a statistic in a high stakes game. I was once told by someone who worked for the American immigrants' organization, the AACI, not to tell olim what life was really like here: "The important thing is to get them here; then they'll HAVE to cope".
And now, the Jewish Agency, which has so mismanaged North American aliyah over the 5 decades of Israel's existence, is trying to link up with Nefesh B'Nefesh. Dare I say, attempt to hijack it, as they've done with other immigrant organizations (the AACI gets a large part of its budget from the Sochnut)? This appeared in Haaretz's weekend edition (Anglo File):
"The Jewish Agency gives Nefesh B'Nefesh a lot of credit for increasing aliyah [from North America] between 2002 and 2003," said Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating. They proved that the way they work increases aliyah from North America, so the next step is a strategic partnership with them."
Jankelowitz explained that the Jewish Agency will allocate funds and services toward the administrative costs of Nefesh B'Nefesh "so that they can do more of what they have been doing, and help more and more immigrants."
If I were Nefesh B'Nefesh I'd feel a lot like Little Red Riding Hood confronted by the wolf right now. And if I were about to be a grant recipient from NBN, I'd take the money and run. But most of all, I'd keep in mind that there's never any free lunch.
Thursday, June 03, 2004
Amir wants to marry. He wants to have conjugal visits with his wife. Those elements in Israeli society which want to make his punishment as dire as possible short of executing him (which would have been his fate if they could have arranged it), don't want him to have the possibility of having an heir. His brother, currently in the army, has been repeatedly interrogated as to his politics and is under constant surveillance, without any reason whatsoever. The vendetta by the Left is unrelenting.
Pollard, an American citizen who sold American secrets to a foreign power, was also sentenced to life in prison. I happen to think that the sentence might be excessive, but not undeserved. He's not an Israeli, and so he did betray his country. But the US government has allowed him to marry and he does meet with his wife, because the Constitution does not allow "cruel and inhuman punishment". If memory serves, at the time of JFK's assassination, if Lee Harvey Oswald had not been shot, he would not have been in danger of execution as the Supreme Court at that time did not allow capital punishment. (I could be wrong about this).
Israel is a country without a written constitution (although it has a quasi-constitution in the "Basic Law"). Its laws are a mixture of Ottoman, British, and Jewish. There is no trial by jury. There is no writ of Habeas Corpus. Laws can be, and are, passed ex post facto. Bail is often denied in lesser offences than murder (in the US, bail must be granted in all such cases, but of course the amount can be so high as to assure the defendant remains in jail until the trial); it is highly arbitrary. There is no automatic presumption of innocence. In the European manner, the defendant must prove his innocence.
I'm not sure Amir is being entirely ingenuous about his wanting to marry and sire children. He may indeed be testing the system to see just how far he can go. But in this case, as the article shows, he is entitled some room to move.
If American Jews support moves to get Pollard released, in spite of his crime as an American against their country, then Israelis ought to support Amir's petition, in my (not very) humble opinion.
Preserving the rights of the most contemptible
By Moshe Gorali (Haaretz)
The court record suggests the justices of the Supreme Court might disagree with the judge who this week denied conjugal visits to assassin Yigal Amir.
Just as Israeli democracy had difficulty dealing with the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, so too it is finding it difficult to deal with the challenge now being presented by Amir himself.
Three years ago, the Knesset passed a special law that was designed to prevent him from ever being released from prison.
The law was not presented for constitutional review, which it is doubtful it would have withstood as it was designated for a specific person; because it creates cruel and unusual punishment; and because the Knesset's job is to set norms for the future and not punishments after the fact.
Judge David Bar-Ophir ruled at the beginning of the week that Amir was forbidden from having conjugal visits with his fiancee, which aroused no little criticism among legal scholars, who doubted the ruling would pass the test of the Supreme Court.
"It's a primitive decision," says a retired senior judge. Prof. Daphne Barak-Erez said after the ruling that "the real test of a democratic country that is strict about human rights, is in the preservation of the rights of the most contemptible, the most abominable and the most dangerous."
Regarding the ruling itself, Barak-Erez says: "The judge's decision to define conjugal visits as a privilege is problematic, and affects the outcome."
It is quite probable, in fact, that the Supreme Court, should the issue be brought up before it, will promote conjugal visits from the low status of "a privilege" to the status of "a basic right."
In 1987, when the Supreme Court was dealing with the right of prisoners to conjugal visits, Justice Menachem Alon wrote in a decision:
"The right to sexual relations and to conjugal visits with a partner is a basic, natural and humane right for any person, and the punishment of denial of freedom does not automatically include the denial of this basic right."
Like every right, this right too can be restricted. But whereas a privilege can be given and denied perfunctorily, the restriction of a basic right requires very weighty reasons.
Judge Bar-Ophir adopted the view of the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) and the Shin Bet security service, which claimed in the state's reply to Amir's request that "the rule is that a security prisoner shall not be given the possibility of receiving conjugal visits, unless the General Security Service [Shin Bet] has expressly stated that it has no objection to them. In the above case, the security factors ... have positively expressed their opinion against allowing conjugal visits, for reasons of state security."
That is the position of the Shin Bet, which is based on classified material that was submitted to the judge, as well as on the following reasons: Amir did not express regret for his crimes; there is a fear that he will not hesitate to use his partner for the purpose of undermining public security and order; as well as the fact that he is "an object of admiration and a model for emulation for others," as the attorneys wrote. "For this reason as well, there is room to insist on preventing his unsupervised contact with the outside."
The state, responding to the appeal, noted there are 3,300 security prisoners in Israel, and only a few have been allowed conjugal visits. One of them is Ami Popper, who murdered seven Arabs.
"It's not clear why there should be different procedures for security prisoners," says Barak-Erez. "The classification, for the purpose of denying rights, must be the degree of danger presented by the prisoner, and not his categorization as a security prisoner or a criminal. I also find it surprising at the massive reliance on classified information, which constitutes the center of gravity of the ruling."
The danger presented by Amir, which can be the basis for denying his right to conjugal visits, is supposed to be real, not theoretical, and not a matter of hindsight. It should be backed by evidence, and the near certainty of its being realized must be proven. For example, we must be convinced that Amir will exploit the conjugal visits in order to transfer messages of incitement via his fiancee, or perhaps instructions to his followers to murder Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because of Sharon's insistence on the disengagement plan.
In view of what is known about the man's character and his past, the Shin Bet is apparently not taking any chances, and is presenting such a theory, or a similar one. It succeeded in convincing Judge Bar-Ophir. The question is whether the Supreme Court will also "buy" the theory about the real danger presented by Amir.
The Supreme Court has a rich tradition of improving the lives of prisoners, both in word and in deed. "Prison walls do not separate the prisoner from human dignity," said Justice Aharon Barak in 1980, a statement that has been often cited since then.
Barak said that in the famous ruling in which the Supreme Court (in an particularly strong panel: Moshe Landau, Haim Cohn and Barak), forbade the IPS to carry out an enema on prisoners to reveal drugs hidden inside their bodies. The Supreme Court rejected the enema on the basis of damage to human dignity, and preferred this value even at the expense of learning the truth, and perhaps even if it meant letting a criminal go free.
This logic guided Barak, about 20 years later, in a ruling that forbade the Shin Bet from using torture in dealing with Palestinian prisoners; at that time Barak enriched Israeli legal decisions with another statement: "Democracy often fights with one hand tied behind its back."
Right to vote
In 1959, an appeal by prisoners to participate in the Knesset elections was rejected, because of the expense involved in order to make that possible. In 1981 there was a sign of change, when the Supreme Court ruled that "this is one of the basic rights of the citizen ... a right that was not denied by law to a person serving a prison sentence."
And in fact, three years later, during the 1984 elections, the judges forced the Knesset to amend the Knesset Elections Law to enable prisoners and detainees to participate in the elections.
In another case, in 1974, the court rejected the decision of the prison director not to allow prisoner Rami Livneh to bring the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao into the prison, for fear that bringing in the books would arouse political arguments among the prisoners. Justice Haim Cohn wrote in the decision at the time:
"We praise the director of the prison for always having before him the maintenance of quiet between the prison walls, but we haven't heard that in the name of `maintaining quiet' he can prevent arguments among the prisoners, including political arguments. As long as discipline and order are maintained in the prison, the prisoners are allowed to argue among themselves about any subject they choose; and if discipline and order are disturbed, those who cause the disturbance will be held to account for their behavior, but they will not be held to account for the subject of their argument."
The unique status of security prisoners is discussed in a ruling from 1996 that dealt with the appeal of terrorist Samir Kuntar to expand his right to telephone calls.
Justice Yitzhak Zamir wrote at the time that "the main interests that must be considered in determining an arrangement regarding the communication of security prisoners with the outside world, alongside the right of the prisoner, are order and security, not only in the prison itself, but outside the prison as well. That means that the security of the state is an interest that must be considered in this matter. Because a person is confined in jail not only as a punishment for a crime, but in order to protect society from him."
In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that freedom of expression is a constitutional right even for prisoners. At the time, prisoner Avi Golan wanted to write a column for a local Netanya newspaper, and the IPS prohibited it. District Judge Arye Even-Ari adopted the view of the IPS, but the Supreme Court overturned the ruling by a majority of two, Eliahu Mazza and Dalia Dorner, versus Mishael Cheshin.
The debate among the justices also touched indirectly on the issue of conjugal visits. Mazza and Dorner ruled that freedom of expression is part of human dignity, and therefore it is a right even for prisoners, and Cheshin differed with them. In his opinion, freedom of expression is not part of human dignity. He feels that other rights derive from human dignity: the right to sleep in a bed, for example, and the right to conjugal visits.
If the clear stance of Menachem Alon in 1987 is joined to the remark by Justice Cheshin, there is no doubt that Judge Bar-Ophir erred in his classification of conjugal visits - they are a basic right, rather than a privilege.
The third Gay Parade to take place in the capital Thursday afternoon has already drawn fire, even before it has begun. Rabbi David Batzri, a famous Jerusalem mystic, said that the punishment of homosexuals would come in their next reincarnation – as rabbits and bunnies.
Why rabbits? Apart from being non-kosher, rabbits seem to be best known for their fecundity, and if it's one thing homosexuals aren't, it's fecund. Beside, rabbits are popular pets here in Israel, much loved and cuddled (since they can't be eaten and don't bite). Doesn't seem like much of a punishment to be reincarnated as one. Maybe it would be a more fitting fate to be reincarnated as (choose any or all which are appropriate:gasp!, groan!, snort!, giggle!)as HETEROSEXUALS?
Wednesday, June 02, 2004
Jordan appeals for world's help to save Dead Sea
Jordan appealed Tuesday for international assistance to help save the ecosystem of the Dead Sea, whose water level is dropping.
The surface level of the sea - the saltiest water in the world and the lowest point on earth - has fallen 1 meter (3.3 feet) a year for at least the past 20 years because of evaporation and the diversion of rivers by Syria and Israel.
Experts warn the Dead Sea will disappear in 50 years if current trends persist.
One solution would be for Jordan and Israel to draw water from the Red Sea, which lies at the end of the long valley in which the Dead Sea lies. The two countries have agreed on the plan, but they are waiting for funding approval from the World Bank and other donor countries.
"We appeal to water experts attending this conference to help us explain the crisis of the Dead Sea at international forums," Jordanian Water and Irrigation Minister Hazem al-Nasser said Tuesday. He was speaking on the sidelines of a five-day meeting on water held at the Dead Sea resort of Southern Shuneh, 45 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of the capital, Amman.
"The Dead Sea is a unique international treasure, and it's the world's responsibility to take decisive action immediately to save this treasure," al-Nasser said.
He said the receding of the sea will have negative consequences, such as the formation of sink holes, 20 meters (66 feet) in depth.
The conference brought together some 1,500 experts and officials from 30 countries to discuss the management of water.
Al-Nasser said Israel had presented Jordan with a draft plan that envisages drawing water from the Red Sea through a canal to be built along the Jordanian-Israeli border.
The project, which is expected to cost more than US$1 billion, would exploit the 400-meter (1,320-foot) difference in altitude between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea.
Associated Press Jun. 1, 2004
About 20 years ago there was the proposed "Med-Dead" Canal, which would have replenished the Dead Sea, and because of the difference in height between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, would have generated lots and lots of electricity for Israel by way of strategically placed dams in the Negev. There was also some talk of desalinating water en route, to be used for irrigation. Quite a bit of money was raised, as I remember, before it was abandoned as impractical. Israelis were urged by the government to invest in the scheme, as well as trying to find wealthy overseas investors. Now we're going to import the Red Sea into the Dead Sea? Frankly, I liked the original idea better. The only thing going for this revised plan to save the Dead Sea is that Israel might not have to pay for it. But don't bet on it. (Don't bet on it actually happening, either)
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Yahalom slams nursing plan
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich Jun. 1, 2004 (Jerusalem Post)
Charging the Health Ministry with aiming to "destroy schools of nursing" through a plan that is "liable to be catastrophic to the health system," Knesset Labor, Social Affairs, and Health Committee chairman Shaul Yahalom has demanded the ministry "immediately halt" its plan to allow training only for academic graduates.
Yahalom (NRP) demanded that the ministry wait until the plan is reassessed and presented in an organized and clear way.
Ministry nursing administration head Dr. Shosh Reba presented the plan, which includes the closing of nursing schools and and transferring students to universities and colleges, at a meeting of the committee on Monday.
Under the plan, non-academic registered nurses and practical nurses will not be trained, but only academically trained nurses.
Opponents of the plan said it will produce "an army of senior officers without soldiers." The US, England, and Australia, which had adopted such a program, are now suffering from a severe shortage of nurses and reopening nursing schools that offer various levels of training.
There are even cases of importing foreign nurses, they said. The opponents said that even though the plan has not been formally approved, registration for nursing schools attached to hospitals has declined to half, and that the fate of new classes in September is in doubt.
The ministry responded by saying that "there is no danger at all to the training of nurses."
A conference to discuss the plan is to be held on Thursday, and the program will be brought to Health Minister Dan Naveh for approval.
The ministry has promised that the plan will not be implemented until it is presented to MK Ilana Cohen, who is also chairman of the Israel Nurses Union, and members of the Knesset committee.
"Without any connection to the plan, the ministry has been asked following a cabinet decision to reach an agreement with the universities on finding a solution for academic training of nurses. They would study for an academic degree and get clinical experience in the hospitals like other medical professionals," a ministry spokesman said.
"In addition, the ministry and the Council for Higher Education are working toward a solution in which students at hospital nursing schools without an academic framework will be able to get academic training in the universities."
Oh, just how stupid we can be. Israel's nurse/patient ratio is already appalling and the pay and job conditions are discouraging to anyone of intelligence, and now the Ministry of Health wants all nurses to be academic degree holders, in the way America has gone. At least 90% of Israel's 10,000 hospital nurses are RNs without degrees--there has just been a massive struggle to upgrade all Practical Nurses to Registered Nurse status (and it was a struggle since almost all nurses in Israel are married women with children who had neither the time to study nor could afford the loss in salary while reducing their working hours to accomodate the time the courses took.)
This is a country where electric beds are virtually unknown: "if you can't lift it, drag it" is the motto; one nurse can be responsible for as many as 30 patients on some wards with completely inadequate supplies of linen and basic equipment like thermometers (but there are three CT scanners and three facilities with an MRI in Jerusalem alone) , the work week is six days long, and the gross pay for a nurse working full time, all shifts in the same week and at least two Shabbatot is less than $2000 per month. And now, they think the situation will get better by requiring women who've just done two years in the army and are already 21-22, to invest in a further four years, at great expense (you might be able to get a BA in Literature and wait on tables at night at the same time, but I want to see a nursing student put in a 40-hour week in class and on the wards and then hold down a second job). And if, as is most likely in this very family-oriented country, she's married and a mother before 25...the mind boggles.
Moreover, I have strong doubts--had them over a quarter of a century ago in the States--about the actual value of an academic degree in nursing. The first degree graduates began working when I did--and they lacked all practical experience. We studied and worked simultaneously, so that the classroom lessons were given immediate reinforcement. A senior nursing student could function quite well as a head nurse if need be. When I was being interviewed in the UK as a prospective student midwife, the Director of Nurses in one hospital said to me, "I have a difficulty with American nurses--they know everything there is to know about the theories of pillow placement, but they're incapable of adjusting the pillows so the patient's comfortable". It was a point well taken.
And they want to bring it here? Oy!
Monday, May 31, 2004
But by the 20s, using hired labor was no longer regarded as the way to go. There was a joke about two men on a kibbutz building a wall--one with a PhD from Nuremberg, the other a professor from Berlin, both of whom had fled Germany upon Hitler's rise to power. "Bitte, give me another brick, Herr Doktor" says one. "Of course, Herr Professor" says the other. "Danke shoen, Herr Doktor".
This changed in the Fifties when hordes of "primitive" Jews from North Africa and Middle Eastern countries flooded into Israel after fleeing their native countries. "While the Ashkenazim read books" one Mizrachi once said to me, "we built the libraries the books were in". But it was still Jewish labor.
In 1967 the world turned upside down. When I was newly married, I lived in a 4 storey building with 16 condominium apartments. The "House Committee", charged with maintaining common services such as keeping the corridors and stairwells clean, was having trouble finding a reliable cleaner within the tenants' budget. At the time, there were 8 or 9 teenagers in the building. When I suggested, knowing how teenagers are always short of pocket money, that they do the work according to a monthly rota and we pay them whatever we had intended to pay the cleaner, there was a shocked silence. After a moment, one mother said: "My son work like an Arab? NEVER!"
Last Sukkot I bagged all the junk, leaves, and other detritus that was littering our back patio. It was a pretty considerable amount. I asked my dear husband to gradually shlep the bags to the "frog"--the green dumpster that is just across the street. "I'll get an Arab" he said. But there was a rash of suicide bombings or something.
Around Purim, when our back yard was sprouting lush vegetation because of the winter rains, I said to my dear husband, "We need to do a bit of work in the garden before this stuff turns to jungle". "I'll get an Arab", he said. But a restaurant was blown up, or something.
Now, after Shavuot, with the bags from Sukkot torn, and even more junk in the patio, and the weeds and thistles as high as an elephant's eye and as dry as, well, straw, I reiterated my pleas for some help bringing some semblance of order and good husbandry to our benighted plot of land. "I'll get an Arab", he said. So far, nothing untoward has happened--knock wood--but no Arab has appeared to cut down the weeds, turn over the soil, and cart all the trash and stuff away.
The problem is that you can't get an Arab easily, these days. Between the fear of being axed in your own back yard, closures, restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel proper, and the deportation of as many "guest workers" as Israel can find, there isn't anyone available except Jewish gardeners, who cost far more than I can afford. Life has changed, once again. We can hear the muezzin in the neighboring village of Bet Safafa, but there aren't any wandering "alte zachen" (it took me ages to realize they were calling out "old things" in Yiddish) men, who are Arabs who'll buy recyclable junk from you. I begin to think it's a little like "Waiting for Godot", whom, if you remember, never shows up in the play.
I think we're going to have to resurrect the idea of "Jewish Labor" and I don't mean the political party. Just the thought makes my back ache and my knees buckle. I should have bought a goat, back around Purim...
Saturday, May 29, 2004
This past week I went to a conference in Tiberias, and since I don't get out of Jerusalem much, I was thinking, on the armored bus taking me through the Jordan Valley, a bit about the difference in capitals. The notorious "bureaucratia Israelit" (don't think you need a dictionary for that one) never bothered me much--with a mother who spent over 35 years working for the US government, first at the Veterans' Administration and later in the State Department/Agency for International Administration--I was immunized at an early age to the peculiar mindset of the tenured civil servant. That the ones here speak a different dialect of bureaucratese (right to left) and forms here tend to be in triplicate instead of quintuple (and aren't 5 feet long and accordion-pleated as the Form 57 for summer employment I used to fill out in high school, asking me if I intended to overthrow the US government by force, and if I was a homosexual) isn't much of a barrier, really.
What American immigrants to Israel lack is the feeling of camaraderie, that we're all in this mess (whatever the mess is) together, that old-timers in Israel have. They also have (from the Israeli standpoint) an astonishing respect for authority. American immigrants expect everything to be governed by immutable rules and procedures in a fair way. Israelis know that everything is indeed subject to rules, etc. but also knows that if the clerk is a relative of the sister-in-law of the upstairs neighbor, it need not be immutable. Only a fool would think the regulations and procedures were instigated for fairness and efficiency, and Israelis aren't fools--or "frieirs", which means "suckers". The rules exist (1) because they've always been there, and (2) they give a semblance of power and control to the person who applies them, and heaven knows, we usually feel quite out of control of our destinies in this part of the world.
I was thinking about this because, as we neared the Kinneret--the Sea of Galilee, I was musing on an upcoming trip to City Hall that I need to make, and have been putting off. The governmental agency in charge of water just discontinued my discount on a certain number of cubic meters of water specially designated for my garden, which means the current crop of weeds isn't being watered at all, and if I have any sense I will turn the whole place into the kind of garden seen in Japanese Zen temples--you know, gravel raked artfully around a couple of giant stones. Dealing with the necessary bureaucrats will take all morning and probably not get me anywhere, but what's annoying is that while the Kinneret was at its lowest level ever, due to three years' drought, I had the discount, while now that it's gently lapping at the top of the embankments of Tiberias and shloshing right up to lawns (the beaches are submerged) because of two years of extraordinary rains...the City, in its infinite wisdom, has made water more expensive. Of course, it's only expensive for me because I'm not growing a couple hundred dunams of cotton; if I were a farmer, my water would be government-subsidized. But there may be hope...I think there's a woman in that department whose child was in pre-school with one of mine...
Tiberias has changed mightily since I lived on a nearby kibbutz, Lavi, in 1978 for half a year. I have a fondness for the town, which is a little odd, because it's not really a very attractive or comfortable place. I used to joke that it was in competition with Afula for the "Armpit of Israel" award, but both places have improved. The downtown is still rather grotty, and, because of the lack of tourists, everyone's rather glum. My personal problem with it is that it's 200 meters, more or less, below sea level, which gives me headaches and means there are only two kinds of climate: hot, and extremely hot. However, the escarpment directly behind the town center is very steep, and the top neighborhoods, some of which are (by Israeli standards) very upscale indeed, are almost 100 meters above sea level and the temperature is about 10 degrees Celsius lower, which makes it tolerable. Lavi, which is higher still, was quite cold in winter.
There are three reasons I like Tiberias. One is the Pagoda restaurant, which is the best kosher Chinese restaurant in Israel, not just food-wise, but architecturally, since it's built like a Chinese pavilion--the roof tiles are exquisite and the Devil screen at the entrance is a nice touch. The next reason is a little odd. I'm not normally given to visions, or epiphanies (of the variety Saul/Paul experienced on the road to Damascus, or Bilaam and his ass. The only talking donkey I know was in "Shrek")
However, in 1976, while accompanying my parents on an organized tour of Israel, I visited the ruins of the ancient city, dating from the Mishnaic period. They are right by the hot springs, and one of the excavated buildings is a synagogue with a mosaic floor. While the guide was doing his spiel, I wandered around a bit. Just prior to coming to Israel, I'd been learning a bit of Talmud. And now, in my head, I thought I could see Reb Moishe and Reb Shmulik, venerable sages, sitting on the stone benches surrounding the walls of the synagogue.
"Oof", says Reb Moishe, standing up and rubbing his tush. "Why didn't I think to bring a cushion?"
"Yeah", says Reb Shmulik. "I could do with a soak in the hot springs. My joints aren't what they used to be". And off they go, and when they're relaxing in the mineral water, they begin to argue a point that had been discussed during the study session earlier. Just then a third Tanna (early Mishnaic sage) enters the room. "What is it with you guys? Always talking shop!"At this point, I returned to reality, if not sanity, since this "vision" became one of my main reasons for making aliyah.
At Kibbutz Lavi, on top of the Jordan Valley escarpment, only a few hundred meters from the Horns of Hattin, the spot where Saladin put an end to the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, a group of men sit every evening in a Daf Yomi group (Lavi is a religious kibbutz) and learn what Reb Moishe and Reb Shmulik taught.
The chain never broke; not the Romans, not the Inquisition, not the Nazis, could break it.
My last reason is rather sentimental. When I made formal aliyah (immigrated) to Israel in 1978, I decided to change my surname to an Israeli one. It's a fairly common practice. Since I was at Lavi, the closest branch of the Interior Ministry was a single room in a black basalt stone building dating from Ottoman times. I doubt the clerks had very much to do besides drink coffee. They were so enthused about my name-changing that one of them found a bottle of sweet Kiddush wine in a drawer and called in all his co-workers to raise a "kosit" in celebration. Only in Israel!
Saturday, May 15, 2004
Not a lot of note this A.M., really. Israeli soldiers have stopped sifting the sand where 5 of their comrades were blown up a couple of days ago--it appears no more remains will be found. Haaretz reports that "some Arabs" are "upset" about their compatriots celebrations that involved dancing around, brandishing the body parts of the 6 Israeli soldiers killed in the first incident. Gee Whiz. It certainly restores my faith in my fellow man to know that not everyone thinks this sort of thing is acceptable.
Tonight there's supposed to be a demonstration at Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv by the "vast majority" of Israelis who are in favor of evacuating the Jewish villages in Gaza. I'm in favor of getting out of Gaza (provided we can do it with panache and not look like it's a rout) but since the demonstration is being organized by Peace Now and the Left, most of whom I think ought to be stood up against a wall and shot as traitors, I won't lend my support. Come to think of it, since I've never demonstrated in favor of anything in my life and don't have any way to get to Tel Aviv, I wouldn't go anyway.
Managed to see "Chushingara" and half of "Once Upon A Time in America" on my new DVD last night. Amazing how Robert de Niro, made up to look like a 50+ year old man, not only looks like my cousin Sonny, he looks like Benjamin Netanyahu.