Time and again, yes to peace

Israelis don’t want peace? Of course they do!

What a great Rosh Hashanah present from Time magazine; a cover story telling whoever is willing to listen, that Israelis are not into peace. Just like that. Why? Because Israelis are making money, they got off easy with the world economic crisis, the real estate is booming even when Hamas fires rockets in the air, and above all it’s been over two years since the last mega-suicide bombing. In short we’re all having a ball and couldn’t care less about peace. Who needs it, right?

So if for some reason you imagined that you’re bummed over the unsolvable conflict with the Palestinians, if you thought the flotilla story mattered to almost every citizen here, or if you were fantasizing that you’re worried about the well-being of the IDF soldiers, and Gilad Shalit in particular, you were totally off. According to Time magazine, we are all completely indifferent. It showed a photo of three guys on the beach smoking a hookah, quoted a real estate agent who said he sells apartments even when Kassam rockets are flying, and found some old survey that “proves” only 8 percent of Israelis are worried about the conflict, because most of them find that education and security problems are more severe.

Surprised? Probably not. Is this only one step further taken in a direction we are all familiar with? Probably so. And if someone hasn’t comprehended yet – this is the way the neo-anti-Semitism works.

It’s not open, it is sly and sophisticated. It hides behind academic lectures that choose very specific articles for their arguments, it prospers behind movies that choose to put certain things in the spotlight and ignore others, and it slithers through everyday headlines that stretch the limits a little more, and then a little more, and a little more. The neo-anti-Semitism is so intelligent, that sometimes it even catches us at a moment of insecurity, and we ask ourselves: hey, maybe it’s true. Maybe I really don’t care.

So let me remind you how much we don’t care. Because we don’t care, we continue to raise our children on songs of peace, while the other side educates on hatred, violence, and suicide bombings as a life goal. Because we don’t care, every prime minister we have had in Israel in the past decade has tempted the Palestinian leaders with peace offers that were continuously refused, and usually the refusal included waves of Kassam rockets and suicide bombers. Because we don’t care, tens of thousands of citizens joined a walk across Israel a few weeks ago, that called for the freedom of the kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, whose rights have been abused for over four years. This is what our indifference to peace looks like in our everyday lives.

The problem is, that while we know the truth, a new truth is being formed as time goes by. It doesn’t really matter if Mahmoud Abbas is the one who’s been refusing new peace negotiations for over a year while Israel was open to them. It doesn’t really matter if the Palestinian leadership includes terrorists that couldn’t care less about peace, and that Abbas knows he would never be able to restrain them if God forbid a peace agreement would be reached.

Facts do not play a role when a journalist decides on a thesis, and later finds a way to “prove” it.

This is the modern politically correct way to sell lies, just like a century ago many Europeans believed that Jews use Christian children’s blood to make matzos. The end hasn’t changed, only the means.

The encouraging thing is that the hundreds of comments on the Time website to this article, prove that we actually do care, and a lot. Usually comments to articles like these are diverse, but most of the comments tell Time magazine that this is not journalism, its racism.

But let’s stop hating Time for a moment, and look at ourselves. Is it possible that we care, but we’re just too quiet about it? Maybe we just don’t communicate it enough. Maybe it’s the same thing that happens to a couple that take each other for granted; they don’t say anything because they figure everything is known, but when one of them gets up and leaves one day, nobody is really surprised.

Maybe this is what has happened to us: we are so busy with defensive responses that we forget to say that we want peace. It begins with our Prime Minister and ministers that have to say this whenever they can, and it continues to each and every one of us. During conversations, comments or even on our Facebook page.

It may sound a bit tedious because it seems so obvious, but it is important to say it. All the time. Why? Mainly because it’s the truth.

Reprinted courtesy of Globes, Israel’s Business Arena.

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CNN features reports from ISRAEL21c

CNN features reports from ISRAEL21c

It was only last year that CNN accepted ISRAEL21c as an affiliate of its World Report program. Since then, we are proud to report an impressive 15 news features produced by ISRAEL21c that have appeared on CNN, reaching millions of viewers worldwide.

ISRAEL21c video material has appeared on the highly successful and long-running CNN World View, the thrice-weekly program hosted by Guillermo Aduino, and on the CNN website.

The latest video featured by CNN is about Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists who have put politics aside to challenge a $15 billion World Bank plan to revive the Dead Sea (which is dropping by about three feet a year) another features that have appeared earlier in the year include a piece on Hebrew University’s new approach to learning, by treating passengers travelling on the Israel Rail Service to a series of lectures by the institution’s top scientists.

Other encouraging stories chosen by CNN this year describe amixed Jewish-Arab choir that practices its message of coexistence out loud, and a group of Palestinian and Israeli midwives working together to ensure that pregnant mothers in Israel and the Palestinian territories have safe and natural births.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mDIxTpGSew

Rather than portraying Israel as a place of conflict and strife, these stories have highlighted Israeli accomplishments in science and technology, arts and culture, and philanthropy.

They depict what ISRAEL21c works to reveal – the true, myriad faces of Israel, beyond the conflict.

ISRAEL21c videos can be viewed on our YouTube channel.

Hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

How one Palestinian journalist found hope of peace in Israel’s health care system.

There are many reasons to be pessimistic and at times to despair about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet even when things look hopeless, hope has a way of appearing, offering a vision of what can be rather than what is. Recently, I caught a glimpse of this hope in an unlikely place – the Israeli health care system.

In December, I went for a routine checkup with my family doctor in east Jerusalem and received the news everyone fears – I had cancer. What had seemed like a small lump in my neck was in fact thyroid cancer – devastating news for someone in his late 20s. I was quickly scheduled for surgery and given a date of May 17.

I immediately called my close friend Dr. Adel Misk, a Palestinian neurologist from east Jerusalem. Misk works in both Israeli and Palestinian hospitals, treating Palestinians and Israelis alike. He referred me to his colleague, Dr. Shila Nagar, a Jewish Israeli endocrinologist.

When Misk referred me to Nagar, he was not thinking in the terms of Palestinians and Israelis, but rather in terms of which specialist could best treat me. He was not concerned about her religious practices or political opinions. He was only concerned about her track record as a doctor.

In the waiting room outside Nagar’s office, I could not help but notice how many Palestinians were there. It did not bother them that she was Jewish, just like Misk’s Jewish patients do not mind that he is Palestinian. All the stereotypes and fences of nationalist fervor were replaced with basic survival instincts.

I shared my thoughts about Israeli-Palestinian medical cooperation with Nagar, who told me a story of a Jewish friend of hers who had prostate problems. One night he was suffering from a painful blockage and went to the emergency room. The doctor on duty was an Arab woman. He was not pleased: It is doubly bad, he thought, an Arab and a woman. At first he refused to let her treat him; however, as the pain increased he changed his mind and called her in. Years later, this Arab woman is his permanent doctor and a close friend. This personal experience was Nagar’s example of how humanity (and physical necessity!) can overcome nationalism.

Fast forward to the day of my surgery. In an ironic twist of fate, here I was, a Palestinian journalist, draped in a hospital gown covered in Stars of David. I was stressed and fearful. Yet none of these emotions had to do with the nationality of my doctors or the pattern on my hospital gown. I was afraid of the surgery, and the possibility of not waking up again. However, when I was brought to the operating room, I was again given another dose of hope.

I had two surgeons, a Palestinian Arab and an Israeli Jew. The anesthesiologist was an extremely experienced and competent Russian who joked with me until I fell asleep. My life was in the hands of an ideal team.

Meanwhile, my family waited outside. My wife and mother were both in tears, and later told me that a Jewish woman waiting for news of her relative’s surgery comforted them.

In the midst of the hatred, anger and bitterness of the conflict, you can still find glimpses of goodness. Unfortunately, this light often passes unnoticed. Yet it offers a practical example of the dream we all share, of a future where we can live safe and full lives without fear of injury.

My surgery went extremely well, and I recovered quickly. Moreover, through this painful experience I caught a glimmer of hope in what seems like a hopeless environment. I have many criticisms of Israeli policies and politics, but the functioning universal health care system in Israel and its ability to separate politics from medicine earns my praise.

This is not to say that the system is perfect. Like any future Israel and Palestine might share, there is the possibility of getting distracted by issues of insurance and bureaucracy. However, when it matters most, Israeli and Palestinian doctors share a commitment to human life regardless of ethnicity, religion or nationality. Moreover, when it comes time to choose doctors, we base our choice on who is mostly likely to promote human life. If only we voted on the same basis!

Unfortunately, I had to experience the health care system personally before being able to appreciate this example of what Israelis and Palestinians can achieve. Despite the pain and suffering, I am grateful to have discovered such a hidden treasure of humanity at its best.

Aziz Abu-Sarah is director of Middle East projects at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, and a winner of the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Common Ground Journalism. His blog can be found at http://azizabusarah.wordpress.com.

This article was first printed in The Jerusalem Post.

Dancing to a different tune

Israel’s soldiers weren’t dirty dancing, they were just having fun.

IDF-tik-tok-dancers

We all know IDF soldiers march to a different tune. And now, thanks to YouTube, we can all see just how different that can be. Earlier this month, the talk of the town – first in Hebron and then, courtesy of the Web, throughout the global village – were Israel’s dancing soldiers.

The six highly trained Nahal soldiers from the Hod platoon of the 50th Battalion stepped out of line and began shooting – shooting a destined-to-be viral video, that is. The clip, under the title: “PALHOD 50 Rock the Casbah in Hebron,” clearly shows the troupe, I mean troops, breaking into a choreographed dance routine, dressed to kill, or rather kitted out in helmets and flak jackets to prevent them being killed, as they patrolled an empty street in Hebron. Kee$ha’s “Tik Tok” provided the beat.

The soldiers stepped on some toes and took some flak: In the context of the Middle East conflict almost no move, let alone something including a mix of “The Macarena,” “The Chicken Song” and “Tik Tok,” could pass quietly.

Predictably there were those who immediately accused them of dirty dancing. Some of the talkbacks went ballistic, going as far as accusing them of dancing on the blood of innocents, which just shows you that winning hearts and minds is a mission impossible.

Nonetheless, television stations in countries including Britain, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, the US, India and Brazil, couldn’t resist the temptation to show the clip and at least one broadcaster declared the soldiers “cute.” So we haven’t hit rock bottom yet.

While some Palestinians were quoted as complaining that the music of the dawn patrol dancers woke them up, a Yediot Aharonot report revealed the dance was filmed at 7pm, in a quiet area, and was taken in one shot without music, with a commander calling out the steps according to pre-rehearsed codes.

In Israel, incidentally, the song is better known as “Shir Hamekaplot” (The clothes folders’ song), from a series of skits on the popular Eretz Nehederet satire program, starring two apathetic salesgirls who go berserk when shoppers mess with the neatly stacked clothes.

The celebrity soldiers were not dancing for joy, but neither do they have any regrets, except that the clip, which was meant as an internal joke marking the end of their compulsory military service, was broadcast globally before they had been demobilized. Those who didn’t see the humor in the clip should keep in mind that as parting shots go, it could have been much worse.

I doubt that this is what Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein had in mind when he launched the Masbirim program encouraging individuals to take the initiative, but when it comes to battling an image problem, the soldiers were, in their inimitable way, probably more successful than much IDF-produced video material.

They won’t get a chance to get too big for their boots, however.

As soon as their end-of-service gag stopped being a secret, the soldiers knew they would have to face the music.

In the words of the IDF Spokesman’s Office, “Two squad commanders who were involved in the video were summoned for clarification. They took full responsibility for the act, and its severity and consequences were explained to them.”

However, OC Nahal Amir Abulafia obviously realized there’s no need to make a song and dance out of everything. He decided to impose an educational punishment and ordered the two to produce a video, with the help of the relevant IDF unit, instructing soldiers not to repeat this behavior. The dance, it seems, will not become a routine part of IDF service.

With most of the Hebron street dancers now out of the army, they might have time to watch what is billed as the “Battle of the Year, Israel 2010.” It turns out that while most of our attention has been focused on the life-and-death issues of military successes and failures, the country is gradually becoming a major player on the international breakdance scene.

The Seventh International Street Arts Festival, which has been taking place this month, culminated yesterday in Rishon Lezion with a fight for a chance to represent the country at the World Breakdance Championship in France later this year. (Info at www.breakdance.org.il and www.sa-p.co.il.)

According to Dvir Rozen, CEO of Street Art Productions and the Israel Breakdance Organization, a number of soldiers every year participate in the various local megaevents and Israel has already won several international awards in the field.

“The Israeli participants bring a special creative mind-set to the competitions, with their own unique flavor, and are motivated by a strong sense of Zionism. They want to show the world that though we’re a small country we’re here,” says Rozen.

The in-your-face-Zionism is evident in the name of one group considered among the favorites for the Battle of the Year showdown, Kosher Flava, whose South African-born, serving soldier Raphael (4Eyes) Nathan was profiled in the Post in March.

Rozen invites the demobilized Nahal soldiers to get in on the act but concedes they need more practice if they’re going to star outside of the army.

For the performance of their military careers, however, I salute them.

Liat Collins is the editor of the International Edition of the Jerusalem Post.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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Safe landings

There’s no guidebook to help when your son gets out of the army.

“What are you doing?” I recently barked at my oldest son, who was reclining on the couch in the middle of the afternoon, a beer in one hand and the second movie of the day playing on the television.

The sight of the lad just sitting there, doing nothing, triggered something in me that ran contrary to my basic instincts about the need to be productive, to constantly engage in something leading forward in life. If it was 10 pm, my reaction would have been different.

But three in the afternoon? “I guess I’m just getting used to civilian life,” he said, disarmingly.

And indeed, this disarmed me. With those few words, my anger toward the lad melted away, replaced instead by some irritation at myself.

My son had just finished his three year army duty, doing stuff I’d never done, carrying weight for distances I’d never walked, deplaning aircraft in ways I’d never dreamed of, taking on challenges and dangers I’d never had to face, and all I could do at the end of his difficult ride was upbraid him for watching television? What kind of father was I? Simple, I was a father without a playbook guiding me on what to do when one’s son gets out of the army, just as I had no notes instructing me on how to deal with his going in, or fighting a war, or going on late-night missions. In short, I was winging it, and – in this particular case – I was winging it badly.

Built into the three years of IDF service is a month at the very end called hofesh shihrur, abbreviated to hafshash, roughly equivalent to “mustering out leave.”

The army gives the soldiers a few weeks at the end when they are technically still in the army, but out on extended furlough – they have returned their weapons and equipment and will be called back only, God forbid, in time of war.

This is the twilight between being a soldier, and being a civilian.

For some it is accompanied by a seminar where they are given useful information about civilian life: their rights as ex-soldiers, national insurance, tax breaks, educational and employment opportunities and all kinds of handy hints for making it in the real world. For instance, they learn that most people don’t have three meals prepared for them each day, that the world is not their latrine and that buses are not free.

During the hafshash, the soldiers are generally not permitted to work. So they come home, drink beer, watch television, tell army stories, look at Facebook pictures of their just passed “glory years” and contemplate their futures.

Their parents, too, do a lot of contemplating.

They contemplate how lucky they are that their sons, or daughters, made it through the ordeal safely, sound of body and soul. They contemplate the historical privilege of living in an independent, self-reliant Jewish state, with independent, self-reliant Jewish kids to defend it. They contemplate how if their independent, self-reliant kids don’t get off the damn couch and carry their own weight in the house, they are going to go out of their minds.

It is one of the wonders of human psychology how such contrasting emotions can commingle within one simple mind; how one can be so proud of one’s son, yet at the same time so often irritated by him.

For three years, while my son was off soldiering, The Wife and I laid off. We kept things in, preferring to tiptoe around him on his Saturdays at home, rather than snapping at him for dishes not washed, beds not made, siblings not treated overly well.

No reason, I thought, to clutter the lad’s mind with superfluous thoughts about stupid fights at home, when the most important thing was for him to simply go back to the army each Sunday morning with a clear head, able to focus on keeping himself safe and sound.

Everything was secondary to that and could wait.

So tiptoe we did. Until the hafshash.

Then those little tiptoe ballerina shoes came flying off, replaced – almost overnight – by 10-pound hiking boots.

With my son no longer facing nightly danger, I could get mad at him just like before. Free at last.

Free to nag, free to carp, free to pester, badger and hassle. Now the lad could no longer look at me with those combat-weary eyes when I asked him to do something, silently signaling what a tough week he had. Now he couldn’t say, because he only got a couple hours of sleep throughout the week, that he needed to sleep for 14 hours straight.

Ideally the hafshash should serve as a buffer, and there is wisdom in it. Not only does it slowly ease the soldiers back into civilian life, it also gives their parents time to get used to the new reality.

How can I get mad at my son for not working during this month long furlough, if he is not allowed to work? By the end of the lad’s hafshash last Wednesday, when his regular army career formally ended, I had time to find the balance between all or nothing, between tiptoeing around him and kicking him in the teeth, between treating him like George Patton and Dennis the Menace.

Having now gone through my son’s army experience, I have come to appreciate the gradual nature of it all. Things build up, and wind down. The lad did not, from day one, go out and fight the bad guys: he had basic training, and then advanced training, and then specialized training, so by the time he was finally in any danger, The Wife and I were – to a certain degree – psychologically better prepared.

And just as the takeoff was somewhat gradual, so, too – thanks to the hafshash – is the landing.

When our friends realized that our son was about to get out of the army, they didn’t necessarily grasp the slow and plodding nature of the whole experience.

Instead, they said, “Three years already? Hey, that went fast.” To which my favorite reply was, “Right, for you.”

And their second comment was generally, “So what does he want to do now?” “Decompress,” I said, earnestly.

After three years in the service, the lad – thanks to his traveling plans and the academic calendar – will now likely decompress for the next two. Three years of service, two to decompress.

And he won’t be the only one decompressing. The Wife and I now also have two years to catch our breath – until the next son goes in, and this whole gut-churning ride starts all over again.

Herb Keinon is the diplomatic correspondent of The Jerusalem Post.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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