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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Baka Revolt

This is Derech Hevron (Hebron Way). As the picture (courtesy of Jerusalem Shots) attests, it is a major boulevard and traffic arterial carrying thousands of commuters into downtown Jerusalem daily. I've told folks before that the most dangerous part of living in Jerusalem is our daily crossing of Derech Hevron from its eastern sidewalk, over it's bus islands and onto the western sidewalk.

Derech Hevron is designed for both cars and public transporation. The cars take the outer lanes while the buses and taxis and sheruts use the center lanes, divided from the car lanes by long concrete islands topped by fences. The car traffic is unbelievably heavy in the mornings--bumper-to-bumper, three lanes wide, much jockeying of positions, short tempers, no patience.....

My husband and I walk our son to the Ulpan For Teens in Baka. We chose our rented apartment in part because of its proximity to the ulpan. Our son is vision-impaired so we're not prepared to turn him loose to cross Derech Hevron by himself. Lots of the children in his ulpan, as well as the children who attend Pelech and Efrat schools, must cross Derech Hevron daily, braving the tired and impatient commuters who routinely park across the cross-walks, and shout at these child pedestrians who are crossing WITH the light but impeding the drivers' forward creep into the next half-meter of lane that has opened up. Drivers are understandably impatient in gridlock but also inattentive when moving at only 5 kph....some talk on their cell phones, some read the newspaper, some chat with passengers but none of them is particularly attentive to the school children, the lights, or the cross-walks.

The City of Jerusalem is putting in a light rail system, which we think is a fabulous idea. However, in planning the light rail, the City decided to close off the northern stretch of Derech Hevron to automobile traffic and make the road beyond Naomi Street (upper Abu Tor and the road to the Old City) a route for mass transit vehicles only.

The alternate route for the private vehicles was to be a road built through the long-defunct and virtually empty former Ottoman train yard between Derech Hevron and Derech Bet Lechem (Bethlehem Way). This sensible solution was axed by some presumably corrupt or idiotic planner in the City government who decided to use the abandoned rail yards for a luxury apartment complex and reroute Derech Hevron's three over-crowded lanes of morning commute traffic onto Derech Bet Lechem. I favor the 'corrupt' theory since no one with any planning experience could make such a mistake, and the fact is that shady real estate deals abound in Jerusalem's city governance.

Derech Bet Lechem is a very narrow, tree-shrouded two-lane arterial that is the heart of the Baka area. All the tiny little walking lanes and car alleys (laughably called roads) that constitute our neighborhood run off of Derech Bet Lechem; the 7 bus only runs up Derech Bet Lechem north-bound to the city, since the road isn't wide enough for two-directional bus travel. The main 'shopping area' is a row of shops running about four blocks from just below Yehuda up to Hananiya. The neighborhood is alive with walkers, since driving isn't practical given the narrow roads and lack of parking. At any time of day or night, one can walk through Baka and see our neighbors walking to Kulo, our local excellent coffee shop/restaurant for a meal or just coffee, to the produce markets for last-minute vegetables, to the small makolets (small markets--tiendas for my California friends) for milk, to the pharmacy which is opened until 11 pm, or just out strolling with one's teens, one's spouse or one's dog.

This is the street which the City has decided will absorb the traffic from Derech Bet Lechem and become the new major arterial into downtown Jerusalem.

Some City politico no doubt just looked at a map and said, "Hey, look, here's another boulevard that goes downtown--let's use it!" without ever venturing out of his office to actually LOOK at the road. That's the only possible explanation because no one with a brain in his head would actually think you could divert three lanes of gridlocked Derech Hevron onto Derech Bet Lechem at all much less think this is any kind of solution to the morning traffic nightmare.

Derech Hevron at least has cross-walks controlled (badly) by signals for pedestrians to cross. The fact that none of these walk/don't walk signals is coordinated for pedestrians is another issue--one cannot successfully cross Derech Hevron with the walk signals unless one is an Olympic sprinter.

Derech Bet Lechem has no traffic lights or walk/don't walk signals so all of the ulpan teens, the local high school and elementary students girls, or any child or adult wanting to walk to the local library will, in the future, be braving the morning traffic rage of ever-more-gridlocked drivers on Derech Bet Lechem without any traffic controls which will assist their safe crossing of the street.

The City claims that it got the approval of the Baka local community council--which is technically true; but what is left out of the Jerusalem Post article (link in the title above) is that the local council said they were never given the tools to interpret the governmentspeak gobblygook that was thrown at them, and were given verbal reassurances that this would "improve" Baka, not destroy it.

Derech Bet Lechem is the heart of a small village here--the City's thoughtless plan to reroute its traffic gridlock from Derech Hevron to Derech Bet Lechem does nothing for the citizens of this community. Instead, it destroys the many small businesses both on Derech Bet Lechem (no parking will be allowed) and lower Derech Hevron; it increases the traffic danger to our neighbors, especially children, crossing the streets to go to school, or shop; it enriches someone with "protexia" at City Hall who quashed the alternate roadway so he could get rich off a new apartment complex.

For now, the neighborhood is trying to petition City Hall to rethink this disaster. If real estate money, croneyism and recidivist thinking prevail, nothing will change. Then the people of Baka need to take a lesson from the Parisians and their latter day immitators in Mea Shearim: block off Derech Bet Lechem every morning with parked cars, burning tires and dumpsters! If the City can bring itself to cave in to that kind of pressure over a parade, then maybe they'll take a neighborhood revolt over traffic dangers seriously. To The Barricades!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dog Heaven

Our dog loves Jerusalem. She's in Dog Heaven -- a place full of parks and other dogs, a place overrun with cats which are clearly placed there by the Almighty for her to chase if we would only let her off the leash! And best of all, we're living in a smaller den with only two rooms, which means she's closer to her pack all the time; we walk with her more often, sometimes three and four times a day to get her out of the apartment; since neither of us is working right now, we take her almost everywhere with us instead of leaving her at home while we work.

One of my best friends forwarded this to me and if you're a dog lover, you'll like it also. If you're not, it at least explains the bond between those of us who love our dogs:

Dog Philosophy

The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue.

Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.-Ann Landers

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.
-Ben Williams

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.
-Josh Billings

The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.
-Andy Rooney

We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare.
And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal man has ever made.

-M. Acklam

Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate.
-Sigmund Freud

I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.
-Rita Rudner

A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.-Robert Benchley

Anybody who doesn't know what soap tastes like never washed a dog.-Franklin P. Jones

If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise.

My dog is worried about the economy because Alpo is up to $3.00 a can. That's almost $21.00 in dog money.-Joe Weinstein

Ever consider what our dogs must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul, chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we're the greatest hunters on earth!-Anne Tyler

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

-Mark Twain

You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, 'Wow, you're right! I never would've thought of that!'
- Dave Barry

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
-Roger Caras

If you think dogs can't count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them.
-Phil Pastoret

My goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog already thinks I am.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Governments Can't Won't Do It So People Have To--Blogging For Peace

I usually try to stick to living-in-Israel stuff, although living here means the political sometimes intrudes. But Yael and our blogging neighbors from the region are gathering at this new blog site to discuss what can be done to move us toward peace and if not peace tomorrow, then at least keep the dialogue going during the hard times.

This is important. That's not as trite as it sounds. Throughout history, governments have managed to manipulate their populations into no-holds-barred war by first demonizing The Other: "the Barbarian"; "the Hun"; "the Papist"; "the Infidel"; "the Jap"; "the Zionist", "the Kyke", "the Terrorist", "the Sandnigger", etc., usually prefaced by a scatalogical, obscene or profane adjective on the Street. Ugly names created for one purpose -- for one group of people to slaughter another, they must first strip their enemies of their humanity. That's what propaganda is for: its sole purpose is to promote the inhumanity of the opposing human beings so that they can be portrayed as less than human, in which case killing Them isn't all so bad because clearly they are a threat to Us. See Lord of the Flies for a case study.

Here we have a group of folks who are willing to try to overcome stereotypes, anger, history, pain and despair and get a dialogue going that will hopefully bring us to some common ground. Even if we don't always agree (and who always agrees?) we are at least having a conversation about it, and building relationships that will hopefully withstand the seemingly endless outbreaks of hostilities.

I don't know that a group of bloggers can (1) make peace where governments have failed or (2) survive the inevitable troll attacks long enough to get sensible discourse started, but I know it is a brave effort, and I applaud it. Go visit. If nothing else, it will give you Hope, something we definitely need a bit more of in this neighborhood.

Click on the title above for the link.

Thank you, Yael, Yaser, Tif, Shifaa, Ramzi S., Free Cedar, Drima and Big Pharoah!

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Every once in a while, I find myself standing in a cross-roads of historical memory.

Today, we went to the Old City. My son has been lobbying for a small, portable Chumash to carry to shul. Now we have a Stone Chumash but it weighs a couple of pounds, unless we carry it to shul in which case it feels like it weighs 50 pounds. So Josh's request for a small Chumash is not unreasonable.

We went to a bookstore, found what we were looking for, and then walked down the long staircases to the area of the Kotel. On the way, we passed the Burnt House Museum, a clarinetist playing klezmer and the remains of a ruined house.

As we made our way past the musician, he began playing Oyfen Pripechek, a haunting Yiddish lullably known more famously in non-Ashkenazi circles as the background music heard throughout the ghetto massacre in Schindler's List. The familiar lullaby wafted down the stairs as we reached the ruin. From the landing by the ruin, we could see the Kotel. The ruin itself was soaking up scattered sunlight and hosting a bougainvillea in the last of its summer finery. Today was one of those indescribably beautiful days when the leaves are skittering along the walkways, the sky is crisply blue and embroidered with occassional grey clouds carrying their promise of rain. I stopped and stared at the ruin, Oyfen Pripechik echoing down the long staircase and off the stones and through the alleyways of Jerusalem, and thought of all of my People who have died in burning houses, wept over these stones and prayed for deliverance. For a moment, there was a dizzying sense of being in a time warp where the threads of past and present wove together. For that moment, I was overwhelmed both with a tremendous sense of loss and sorrow and a profound gratitude for being alive, here in this time, surrounded by the fiercely vibrant life of Jewish Jerusalem.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Only in Israel have we run into the practice of 'reserved seating' in the shuls. Maybe there are assigned seats in other places we haven't been to, but in California and New York and on visits to other states, we have been welcomed and allowed to sit where we please....

In Jerusalem, we have been to a number of synagogues, doing what some describe as 'shul-hopping.' I thought for a while we might have a 'mixed marriage' because I was happier at the local Carlbach/Chabad-style minyan up the street in Talpiot, but my husband and son liked another shul down on Asher. My son knows a couple of kids from his high school who go there, so despite my misgivings, we continued to go to that synagogue more than others.

What were my misgivings? Well, as nice and big as the synagogue is, it is about as friendly and welcoming as an office building. Folks file in, take their seats, talk to the people they know and ignore everyone else (including newcomers who don't know anyone). I thought this was a failing of the women's side, but my husband informed me today that that has been the case in the men's section as well.

So today, my husband and son are going to the Asher street synagogue again in large part because Josh is looking forward to seeing his two friends from school. Now, we have enough 'shul etiquette' to not push our way forward into the seats closest to the bima--after all, we ARE newcomers. The guys get there, as usual, around 8:30 am and sit in the same seats they've sat in for weeks (with a couple of absences to humor my desire to visit other minyans). These seats are in the 'back' of the synagogue and as far as we know, not particularly desireable seats. Josh actually gets his tallit on, and Mike is starting to take his out, when a man comes up and tells yet another man to go 'over there' gesturing across the aisle. The man giving the directions asks Josh if this other man can walk through the aisle and my son and husband are happy to oblige, moving aside to let him pass. The man giving directions then tells MY guys to move also, gesturing dismissively to the side aisles. Mike isn't offended--he's aware that there is a Bar Mitzvah this morning and assumes this is a family member trying to secure seats for other family members. So he and Josh start to get their tallit bags and siddurs together to move when the man adds, "These are OUR seats, y'know."

That stopped my husband dead. He suddenly realized that he wasn't being asked to move to accomodate a bar mitzvah family (and who of the family wanted to sit in the rear of the synagogue anyway? I asked him later) but that this man was telling him to move because the seats my guys had sat in for the last several months were really "his seats." Mike and Josh were informed that they were, in effect, trespassing.

My husband, who is usually pretty genial, funny and easy going, saw red. Not only was this synagogue cold, unwelcoming and not one person had ever said "Welcome," or "Are you new in the area?" or even "Shabbat shalom," but now he was being told there was "reserved seating" of some kind and that he and Josh had inadvertantly trespassed on this man's seats.

"Reeeeeeaaaallly?" Mike drawled. He bent over, examining the seat. "And can you show me exactly where your name is on this seat? I must have missed it! I just didn't see it engraved on the chair!"

Did I tell you my husband has a black belt in sarcasm?

"Well, you know, I mean, about people's seats...." the other Jew stumbled, then sort of winked and nodded. "I mean, everybody knows....," he trailed off when Mike didn't appear terribly understanding. "Well, you can sit over there," he added, again gesturing dismissively towards the side seats.

"I don't think so," my husband replied coldly. "I don't daven in shuls where newcomers aren't welcome and the community uses a seating chart." He turned towards Josh and said, "C'mon, Josh, we're not welcome here. Let's go." They grabbed their stuff and walked out, the other Jew following behind protesting that he was sorry, he didn't mean it 'that way' and asking them to please come back.....

Too late. This is a well-to-do Baka synagogue with a critical mass of Jews who show up every Shabbat, for the Chaggim and for daily minyan.....yet it lacks a soul. We won't be going back there. We've never been made to feel welcome and today were made to feel unwelcome. We'll continue to search for a shul with soul, full of people who know what "Ahavat Yisrael" means and who truly welcome their brethren to the house of assembly for prayer.

Just proves a fancy building doesn't make a synagogue....

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Driving Lesson

This week's excitement was getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time in four months. Now, I've been a licensed driver in California since my teens, and I'm now well past the age where driving a car is new, exciting or sexy. But I have to admit to something of a thrill when I sat in the "Learner's" car and gripped the steering wheel. Like riding a bicycle, basic driving is something you never forget.

The devil is in the details.

First, let's back up to why I'm in a "Learner's" car. Israel doesn't simply issue drivers' licenses to new olim. I came equipped with a valid California driver's license and went to the optometrist. Right - the eye guy. In Israel, the first step is going to the optometrist, getting an eye exam, the results of which are printed along with your picture on a very official looking green document. Having established that I am neither vision impaired or color blind, I next took the Green Document to the family doctor who filled out the back and stated I was in good health. She also added that I take a fairly commonplace medication which everyone knows has no effect on vision, driving or somnolence. Nonetheless, on my return to the Licensing Authority with the Green Document, the clerk explained that she needed to keep it and refer it to their doctor for approval "because you take medication." I offered a meek protest to the effect that half the country takes this medication and Everyone Knows that it has no effect on driving. She told me not to worry, someone would call me in a couple of weeks, and it would be fine but it had to go to their own doctor for approval.

By the way, in Israel, the phrase "someone will call you in a couple of weeks" is a kiss-off. It's a way to get people away from your counter without further argument. NO ONE ever calls you in a couple of weeks. This is a nation where if you want something done, be prepared to be very pro-active and go after it.

So after three weeks, assuming that 'a couple of weeks' literally meant 'two,' I asked the husband, who had his own business at Licensing, to check on my application. The clerk checked and told him my application hadn't come back from the doctor yet....this was not good news as Rosh Hashanah was rapidly approaching, and anyone in Israel knows that NOTHING happens from Rosh Hashanah until Simchat Torah.

Sure enough, the holidays rolled in without seeing the Green Document in my mailbox (and without a phone call from Someone, whoever that is). But to my delight and surprise, the mail brought the Green Document to my mailbox a week after Sukkot, proving conclusively that this is a land of miracles! I happily walked all the way down Derech Bet Lechem to the Driver's Ed company recommended by many and presented my Green Document with all its official medical, optometric and bureaucratic scrawls. The young staffer who accepted it read it through and began explaining that 28 actual driving lessons are required and then the written test....and I cut him off in alarm.

"But I'm an olah chadashah!" I protested. The Licensing Authority said I only needed two lessons and didn't have to take the written test!"

The young staffer looked more closely at the document and then pointed to a lower right hand corner on the back with a red square. "You need a something incomprehensible here," he said, pointing to the red box. "They didn't fill this out."

I've learned some things quickly in Israel. "Could you write that down for me?" I asked with as much charm as I could muster. "I'll take it back to Licensing and ask them to fix it." He was happy to help me, and I wasn't going to fuss since it certainly wasn't his fault.

Having walked a mile to the Driver's Ed place, I decided I might as well walk the next mile to the Licensing Authority and get this fixed. It was a lovely, cool, crisp fall day, so I hiked into Talpiot, down the hill to Licensing, through security, into the main waiting room, took a ticket and sat down. 45 minutes later, I brought my teudat oleh (immigrant identification), my teudat zehut (identity card), my US passport, my California driver's license and my Green Document up to the counter along with the note. I told the clerk in simple Hebrew that I had this (holding up the Green Document) but I needed this (handing her the note with the incomprehensible words) because I am an olah chadashah.

I was ridiculously proud of this since it was the first wholly-in-Hebrew conversation with officialdom that I've accomplished since I got here. Never mind that any Kindergartner would've been more fluent.

"Okay," she said, without missing a beat, and while processing a fax for another customer, answering her cellphone and juggling calls on her desk phone, she filled out the red box and handed it back to me.

Now good-to-go, I hiked back to the Driver's Ed place, rewarding myself with a coffee break with my husband at a nearby bakery. The Driver's Ed man took my documents, and told me that the driving instructor who spoke English would call me THAT afternoon to arrange a lesson.

Sure enough, a man called and verified that I was his prospective student and identified himself as my instructor. He could start this afternoon. VERY excited to finally be getting somewhere in the licensing process, I happily agreed to start right away, and 2 hours later found myself sitting in the driver's seat of his Toyota Corolla. I resisted the urge to turn on the engine and gun out of the parking lot, thinking a little more decorum and intelligence needed to be displayed under the circumstances.

"Perhaps we should review some of the road signs before I drive," I suggested diplomatically, "unless you'd like to start with something else."

No, he thought that was an excellent idea so I sat with itching fingers in the front seat while he brought out a loose-leaf notebook containing all the traffic signs found on Israeli roads. I finally sat on my hands to stop their constant twitching around the steering wheel while showing suitable attention to my instructor's efforts to educate me about road signs.

Road signs are quite different here. Some, like No-U-Turn are familiar but the vast bulk of the signs are new to this ex-Californian. The signs are also considerably smaller, making detecting them difficult at first and making instant interpretation difficult.

This could be a significant problem on the actual driving test inasmuch as I have to drive the car, watch the traffic, watch the lanes, and navigate the extremely narrow roads where the tests tend to be given while instantly recognizing a "No Entry" sign, or navigating a round-about correctly, or deciphering immediately WHO has the right of way at a particular junction.

Finally satisfied that I was somewhat conversant with the road signs, my instructor invited me to turn on the engine and drive out of the parking lot. I did -- and I left the parking space much the way I'd have left it in California: I looked both ways, and drove across the lot to the entry to the road in quick order.

"You should go slower," my instructor told me gently, through clenched teeth.

It took me the first half of the lesson to re-train my brain to recognize that (1) 50 kms/hour is NOT the same as 50 mph AND that (2) although 50 is the maximum speed on a road, maximum is not the same as recommended (another new concept to me, coming from a land where the posted speed is generally the maximum and almost everyone goes faster than that).

My instructor fine-tuned my driving enough by the end of the first lesson for me to control my urge to play Daytona Speedway and travel sedately at around 30 kph, slowing in those places that required greater caution (oncoming tour buses, narrow turns, blind corners, etc.). Those items he felt I needed to work on most were recognizing the road signs more quickly so I could immediately determine who had the right of way, and also looking to the left when merging right. I do look left, but not for long enough--his point being I need to LOOK to the left very obviously so that the examiner SEES me looking left and doesn't flunk me because he didn't see my quick glance leftwards.

The Learner cars are very obvious. The instructor owns the car, and when he has a student he puts a small box on top of the car with blue edges, a white center and an obvious black lamed (the letter "L" in Hebrew which looks like a 7 with a topknot)in the middle. I've seen these cars everywhere--they are the ones which are actually doing the speed limit and staying within the lanes. The Learner car also has another feature which is not as obvious as the sign: the passenger side has a foot brake which overrides the driver's-side controls, for obvious reasons.

Today was the second lesson. I drove with more confidence over worse terrain, navigating the narrow, crowded lanes of Katamonim, taking various roundabouts with aplomb and even taking the correct route when confronted with a plethora of signs in a couple of confusing intersections. My instructor took me to the examiner's office so I would see the starting point of the test -- and that starting point is the first hurdle. As the prospective driver pulls away from the curb, the road ahead has a "No Entry" sign along with a right-turn-only arrow. Most folks who flunk do it right out of the gate, he told me: they drive straight up the road marked "No Entry." He then took me along a major thoroughfare ("Here you can drive faster or he'll think you're too slow") and into the Katamonim maze of streets. From Katamonim, we braved Pierre Koenig and Talpiot's industrial sector, handling choked arterials, pedestrians blithely jaywalking, tus-tusim (Vespas) snaking in and out of traffic, other licensees ignoring the traffic rules and I made it through every nasty corner and roundabout my instructor thought I might be tested on. "You're driving very well, very good driving," he murmured as I finally made it back to Derech Chevron.

I'll let you know how true that is. My instructor is going to schedule the test in a couple of weeks (that is apparently the next available date) and I'll drive his Toyota with an examiner sitting in the passenger seat looking for mistakes.

I hope it doesn't rain......

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Follow The Money

The First World periodically has fits of concern over the Palestinian's "looming humanitarian crisis," which looms every time the PR department of the PA decides to shill for more attention and more money with which to buy armaments.

Evelyn Gordon's article in the Jerusalem Post bears republishing in its entirety below. The Palestinians aren't broke; are not without power, water, food or medical supplies. In fact, Israel was trucking in supplies with EU assistance earlier but stopped when the terrorists attacked the crossing where the supplies were being brought in. The Palestinians refused to use an alternate crossing, saying it meant giving in to "Israeli demands," but I suspect its because those tunnels dug by the Popular Resistance Committees under the original crossing were designed to ambush and kill Israelis, whereas the second crossing suggested by Israel was tunnel-free and safe from ambush. Okay, call me a cynic....

Here's Gordon's piece:

The Palestinians aren't broke

If there is one thing at which the Palestinians excel, it is public relations. With their elected government ostracized by the West, their task would seem daunting. Yet despite this handicap, they have successfully diverted Western attention for months from two embarrassing questions.

The first relates to money. In recent months, the media have been filled with dire reports about the growing humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Authority. And at first glance, this seems logical: The West cut off aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas took power, and since Western aid comprised most of the PA's budget, a crisis would seem inevitable.

Yet as recent news reports have made clear, the PA appears to have plenty of money. It has simply chosen to use its funds for purposes other than its people's welfare.
For instance, Israeli intelligence has detected more than 20 tons of explosives being smuggled into Gaza this year, along with sophisticated antitank and antiaircraft missiles. Most of this weaponry goes to Hamas, the ruling terrorist organization cum party, but significant quantities also go to terrorist groups associated with Fatah, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's party. The purchase price for this materiel, including the cost of smuggling it into the Gaza, could have been used to cover the unpaid salaries of thousands of PA employees - but Hamas and Fatah would both rather buy arms than feed their people. And as long as this is true, giving either group more money would be futile.

Or consider the fact, noted in an IMF report published last week, that in June, while the Hamas government was already pleading inability to pay existing PA employees, it decided to increase the PA's payroll by hiring an additional 5,400 employees, mainly security personnel - read gunmen - affiliated with Hamas. In other words, it had the money to hire 5,400 Hamas-affiliated gunmen: It was only when it came to teachers and doctors that its pockets were empty.

OR CONSIDER the incredible fact that despite the boycott, the European Union - for years the PA's principal donor - has actually given more money to the Palestinians this year than it did in previous years. According to John Vinocur of the International Herald Tribune, the EU claims to have given $814 million to the Palestinians between January and October, "more than it would in a normal year."
Granted, the money has not gone to the Hamas government. Some has gone to Abbas's office, some to nongovernmental organizations and some directly to PA employees, through a "Hamas bypass" mechanism set up earlier this year. But the fact remains that the EU, the PA's major donor, has increased rather than decreased its contributions - which means that if this money were being used for its intended purpose, a humanitarian crisis would seem unlikely. So is the humanitarian crisis a propaganda lie, or has this money, too, been diverted by its recipients to purposes other than the Palestinians' welfare?

BUT IF the PA's finances ought to prompt hard questions from the West, this is no less true of its counterterror efforts - or rather, the lack thereof. For years, the West has maintained that Abbas, unlike Hamas, wants to fight terror, but is incapable of doing so. Yet in fact, Abbas's forces have demonstrated exceptional proficiency in handling certain types of attacks - namely, those directed at Western journalists and aid workers.

Over the past year, there have been numerous kidnappings of foreigners. Just last week, for instance, a Spanish aid worker was kidnapped in Gaza; the week before, an AP photographer was kidnapped there; two weeks before that, an American aid worker was kidnapped in Nablus. In every such kidnapping, however, the victims have been released unharmed, usually within 24 hours. And in every single case, this has been due to PA intervention - usually by Abbas's office.

This begs an obvious question: How is it that Abbas's security forces are so quickly able to locate and free kidnapped Westerners, but are completely incapable of dealing with any other type of terrorist activity?

Even during Abbas's 14 months in sole control of the PA, from January 2005 to March 2006, his forces failed to arrest so much as a single one of the terrorists who have launched Kassam rockets into Israel from Gaza every day since disengagement. Nor were anti-Israel terrorists of any other stripe - bomb-makers, gunmen, kidnappers - ever arrested, even when Israeli intelligence gave him information on which to act.
The conclusion is obvious: Abbas's forces are quite capable of taking action when he wishes them to do so, and in the case of Western journalists and aid workers, he does. He knows that these journalists and aid workers are largely responsible for generating Western sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and it is therefore important to him that they keep coming. And since this would be less likely if they risked torture or death at the hands of kidnappers, he makes sure that kidnapped Westerners are rescued quickly and unharmed.

But Abbas has no interest whatsoever in fighting anti-Israel terror, because that would be unpopular with his own public: As one September poll found, 63 percent of Palestinians support bombarding Israeli cities with rockets, 57 percent support suicide bombings against Israeli civilians and 75 percent favor kidnapping Israeli soldiers. Yet neither can he openly advocate such attacks, since that could lead to the West boycotting him like it does Hamas. The obvious solution is to plead helplessness and rely on a gullible West to swallow this plea.

Unfortunately, relying on Western gullibility has so far been a safe bet with regard to both money and terrorism. But if the West is serious about wanting an Israeli-Palestinian peace, it will have to stop turning a blind eye to both the PA's misuse of funds earmarked for its people's welfare and its refusal - not inability - to combat anti-Israel terror. Because if the PA can enjoy Western diplomatic and material support even without amending its behavior, it will have no incentive to change. And without change, neither the conflict nor Palestinian misery will end.

Of note in today's recitation of Arab hysteria over Gaza were the following pertinent quotes from the Palestinian leadership of both stripes, Hamas and Fatah:

Mahmoud Abbas: "This is a horrible, ugly massacre commtted by the Occupation against our children, our women and elderly in Beit Hanun..."

Nizer Rayan, Hamas leader: "We are going to fight against the so-called Israel...launch our rockets, our martyrs are going to sacrifice their lives in the depths of our occupied land...in Jaffa, in Haifa, inside Ashdod."

This is noteworthy for several reasons. First, this didn't make it into the internet edition, as far as I can tell; second, Fatah proved once again, no doubt in a verbal misstep, that it is simply Hamas-in-suits. Both groups are not interested in peace with Israel but in the destruction of Israel and the conquest of "our occupied land" in places like Tel Aviv. Neither Fatah nor Hamas has any intention of ever relinquishing this war; simply look at their educational system in the PA propagandizing for the next generation of "martyrs" and teaching hatred of Jews.

I'm sorry we're at war. I truly believe that both nations would be far better off developing their tourist trade, raising their children in peace, sending their brightest to college, developing a modern Middle East paradigm of peaceful success. But until the Palestinians stop hating Jews (which predates the creation of Israel--most people don't understand that Israel was created in part because it was proven fact that it wasn't safe for Jews to live under Arab misrule here) and set aside their racism and religious triumphalism and discover we have a common humanity, the war is inevitable.

And on a practical note, someone needs to point out to the Palestinians that when you fire missiles into your neighbors' homes, parks, schools and playgrounds, you invite return fire.

Jewish Geography

Maybe Greeks and Italians and Irish do this also, but I've always known this process as "Jewish Geography": you meet another Jew and immediately start comparing where you're from, where you went to school, who you both know in common or are related to in common and usually discover proof of the axiom that in the Jewish world we are all separated by no more than two degrees of separation.

Today's ulpan class was more proof of that. We were talking at the break about this very phenomenon. I recounted my favorite version: we had an estimator come to the house to give us an estimate for the cost of shipping our household goods to Israel. His name was "Mike". He spoke at some length to my husband and in the course of conversation asked him where we were moving to?

My husband told him we were moving to Israel. "Great," Mike said, "You'll love it there. That's where I'm from." Mike went on to tell us that he was married and living in the south Bay Area but his wife is Israeli and they have a child, and plan to move back to Israel in a few years. The two guys talked some more and my husband said that he himself had lived on a kibbutz in Israel a long time ago, and was looking forward to "going home."

"Really?" Mike asked. "Which kibbutz?"

"Oh, it's way down south in the Arava," my husband responded, thinking it was so out of the way Mike would not be familiar with it.

"I grew up on a kibbutz in the Arava," Mike persisted. "Which one were you at?"

"Yotvata," my husband said.

Mike looked at the forms on his clipboard again. "Wait a minute," he said. "You can't be Mike X________ -- you're wife's name is A_______, not S_______."

"My first wife was A_______ and she lived there with me," my husband said, with growing curiosity. "S_______is my current wife."

"MIKE!" Mike shouted, "I'm Micha! You taught me to play softball!"

Reunion time. They lived on the same kibbutz at the same time. My husband was his softball coach. Micha's parents moved away in his teens. The two of them then spent the next 30 minutes figuring out where Micha's parents had moved to, what his siblings were up to, and who of the kibbutzniks they were each still in touch with. Micha told us he was heading back to Israel for vacation next month and was going to Yotvata--"Everyone has wondered what happened to Big Mike! They're not going to believe I ran into you. I'll tell everyone!" Micha promised.

And he did. My husband went to visit Yotvata a couple of months ago and was greeted like a long-lost son. "We were just talking about you!" a couple of vatikim called out from their table in the cheder ochel.

So today at ulpan we were recounting various Jewish geography tales when a student from a more advanced class joined us. Hilary introduced herself to those of us who had not already met her, and in conversation with one of our newest students, found out that Elizabeth is from Milwaukee....as is Hilary. Elizabeth is a teacher....as are Hilary's parents....in the same school system. And Hilary's parents just made aliyah, as did Elizabeth. Shabbat dinner amongst the Milwaukee emigrant teaching staff is no doubt just around the corner.

By the way, are there any Pausners or Plotkins out there? We might be related. Let's play Jewish Genealogy Geography!

Photo courtesy of Kibbutz Yotvata

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Night Bus

Anyone at all familiar with the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling knows "the Night Bus." Israel's Egged bus line has its very own version of the Night Bus, albeit it has no shrunken heads, doesn't physically shrink and has no beds.

Before I made aliyah, I made my husband promise that we would never ride the buses. They blow up, you know. He agreed. My friends and family made me promise I would never ride the buses for the same reason. I promised.

I ride the buses in Jerusalem. It took only a very short time to realize the futility of NOT riding the buses here. The buses are ubiquitous. The run along every major arterial and navigate some of the lesser roads as well. Everyone rides the buses and NOT riding the bus because it might blow up is simply ridiculous. Not that it can't blow up--they have, and frequently, thanks to the brainwashed psychotics, rejects and simpletons mass produced by the Islamofascist terror industry.

No, the futility of avoiding death-by-bus lies in the fact that buses are everywhere. This came to me very early after my arrival in Israel, when I realized that I could avoid riding a bus but that didn't mean that the bus wouldn't blow up right next to me as I'm (a) walking down the street, (b) riding in a taxi, and (c) sitting in my favorite sidewalk cafe as the bus goes by.

Not only that, but it's a long, brutal walk in the hot sun downtown to the various ministries olim need to deal with.

Everyone takes the buses here. Parking is non-existant; gas is something like $6.00/gallon; gridlock reigns; Israelis drive like kamikaze pilots on speed. Except the recent imports from New Jersey. PLEEEEASE--if you didn't drive in New Jersey or New York, don't start here! You're a public menace! Get OFF the road and let the rest of us who grew up with cars battle it out.

So I take the buses. I'm still alive to say so, so far. (No guarantees--see today's Jerusalem Post Palestinians Promise New Wave Of Suicide Bombings For Israeli Efforts To Defend Civilians Against Endless Palestinian Rocket Attacks . Actually, that's not the title; it's a paraphrase of the story. Another variation of "Arabs (Still) Want To Kill Jews (Again)." Yawwwwwnn....)

The buses are a wonderful microcosm of Israeli life. Everyone takes them, except the tourists, the infirm and the very late, who opt for taxis. The Orthodox, the secular, the Arabs, the working stiffs, the students, the businessmen, the bankers, the waitresses and professors--you'll find everyone on the buses. Well-dressed Orthodox women have studiously ignored me while staring out the window, while better-bred secular girls have offered me their seats. Arab women have greeted me warmly and moved over to make room for me, while fat Russian Jewesses have rolled their eyes and grudgingly moved their groceries off the unoccupied seat beside them at my pointed demand they do so. I've seen girls dressed like Britney Spears reading Tehillim while while older women in traditional clothing gossip over their agulot (shopping carts).

But I want to, I must, salute Jerusalem's cousin of the Night Bus--the 8 (or Eight, if you prefer). The 8 whizzes up and down Chanoch Albeck every morning at roughly 10 minute intervals, swings past the Tayelet and down into East Talpiot, a neighborhood once part of the orchards of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel and the No-Man's-Land between the Jordanian and Israeli armies prior to 1967. East Talpiot is steep and winding--but the 8 plunges along, in both its simple and articulated forms, and takes the kikars and winding roadways with aplomb. It also serves the citizens of Sur Bahir and Arab es-Sawahira, two Palestinian neighborhoods within the Separation Fence geographically, if not spiritually.

I pick up the 8 on Chanoch Albeck to get to central Jerusalem. The bus doesn't really slow down so much as glides to a stop, long enough for passengers to get their feet off the asphalt before the doors slam shut and we are off in a downhill rush to Derech Chevron (Hebron Way, which actually does go to Hebron, I'm told). At this point in the trip, most people at my stop are standing since the bus is already packed. The art of standing on the bus is an acquired one, especially with the roads the 8 navigates. One learns to stand with one's feet braced in such a way that 90 degree corners, sudden stops, lurching fellow passengers, and sudden accelerations don't change one's position from the vertical. It reminds me somewhat of sailing, where one develops 'sea-legs' except in Jerusalem one develops 'bus-legs.'

There are some interesting thoughts on the 8 -- is the guy in the black-hat garb really a suicide bomber? Is that a gun under that worker's shirt? (Yes, it was--he was undercover security.) Is this Derech Chevron built on the same Way that our forefathers walked on their ways down to Egypt, to Hebron or up to Shechem? What would Abraham or Jacob say if they could see their descendents today riding diesel-belching wagons that bring dozens into this city which has grown up to be the Holy of three major faiths descended from that first call of his Maker to Abraham?

"I am here," Abraham answered. Lots of us are here now, as the parking situation attests.

But I salute the 8 -- nowhere, except once in a New York City taxicab, have I had such fun on a ride. The bus snakes through traffic gridlock, which given its size is an amazing feat, takes sharp corners in a single, smooth and rapid pirouette, stalks openings in the morning maze of cars and taxis and capitalizes on any hesitation expressed by the smaller cars, who think twice about cutting several tons of fully loaded steel off in traffic. Last week, the 8 took the outside lane of traffic as that was moving fastest, and in a move worthy of one of my son's videogames, swung out of line, crossed the intersection at Keren Ha-Yesod in one smooth, quick strike, cut off four lanes of traffic and a really ticked off taxi-driver, squirted into the bus lane and continued gleefully up the hill. No gridlock for this bus! Uh-uh, no way! Mapitom! I sort of expected to hear laughter from a shrunken head as we made the corner.

Photos courtesy of Egged Bus Lines

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