Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Today's the big day! Yay! You can almost taste the idiocy in the air, over there at the U.S. Naval base in Annapolis. I particularly like a collage that CNN made, with Bush, Abbas, and Olmert sliced together. It's funny because you are looking at the three most untrustworthy politicians -- and they're about to hold a serious conference on the world's most volatile issue.

I mentioned in my previous post that Hamas is gearing up for war against their fellow Palestinians and Israel. If you don't know about the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, let me say it in a sentence or two. There are two rival factions among the Palestinians: Fatah, the party that has the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, a provisional government; Hamas, an unabashed terrorist party that has the prime minister position. These two groups have been in a civil war for the past year or so, with Fatah trying to talk to Israel and the West, and Hamas seeking the 1948 ideal of wiping Israel off the map. Hamas supporters attack Fatah for being pro-Western, and Fatah supporters attack Hamas in order to quell their aggressiveness. Every day in the news you hear about a clash that kills a handful of people. It's chaos over there. In Hebrew, we'd say it's ballegan, or a crazy mess.

So, as I said in the previous post, the Hamas leadership is vocally denouncing this conference, calling for the Arab world to unite against Abbas, Fatah, and Israel. The meat of the matter is that Hamas believes that Abbas will make concessions. I have no idea what the Palestinians have to offer Israel, but hey, you can't argue with a madman prime minister. Haniyeh, the Prime Minister still living in the '40s, just signed an acerbic statement against the summit. At the signing, a high ranking Palestinian politician said, "Any settlement that does not include the return of the refugees, [Israel's] ceding of the land and the holy sites, and the release of the prisoners is ridiculous. The attempt to force such a solution led to the second Intifada."

Oh boy. He essentially just said that after Annapolis, which is trying to "force such a resolution," Hamas will have no choice but to start the third Intifadah. Camp David 2000, the conference where Israel tried to give away 97% of the West Bank, was the spark for Arafat to start the terror war against Israel. The Annapolis summit will not see such a magnanimous gesture...so what kind of war are we going to see now?

Want to know what Hamas really wants, what they mean by that previous statement? Here you go:

1) Return the refugees: In 1948, seven Arab states attacked a tiny, brand new country, the day after they declared statehood. There was a considerable number of Arabs living in this country, and were offered full, unequivocal citizenship rights by the new country. The attacking Arab states told these Arabs living in the country to leave the main-land so that the armies could rape and pillage the new state, and after the war and massacre of the new citizens, these Arabs could come back and take all of the newly reclaimed, beautiful farmland and cities built by the previous owners. Well, the result of the war was a miracle. The new country absolutely demolished all seven attacking armies, thus creating a sea of displaced people. These Arab states that so benevolently swept into the new country, telling their Arab brethren to flee in order to exterminate the enemy, then decided that none of the people that they displaced were allowed to enter their countries. So, the Arab states created an Arab refugee crisis, rejected their responsibility of absorption, and then dumped the problem on the new country.
A return of refugees means that the new country must evacuate all the land that was once occupied by those Arabs that jubilantly fled in order to make room for their liberating armies. So, the new country is being asked to leave the country. All of it. A "return of the refugees" as Hamas sees it means that Israel must peacefully wipe itself off the map.

2) Israel's ceding of the land and holy sites: Isn't that self-explanatory? 'The Land' means all of Israel, and certainly all of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Jerusalem. They want back the capital city of Israel. A city that was built by Israel, and Jews. They want it all. From Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean, to Jerusalem at the east.

3) Release prisoners: Hamas wants us to release terrorists! I talked about this in my previous post, so I won't go over it again. But let me just say that they probably will get some of their terrorists back, considering we are releasing 431 of them after the summit.

So, now you know what Hamas wants. Let me give you better proof. The head of Hamas, and the prime minister of the PA, Haniyeh, signed the petition, which said:

"It is our prerogative to defend our lands by all possible means. We warn of the deplorable security coordination with the enemy. We call for a unified Arab and Palestinian front. All powers must deploy to combat the aggression against our nation. The Palestinian people hold the exclusive right to decide its fate in any manner it sees fit, and it owns the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea."

Well, well, well. Now we hear it from the horse's mouth. They defend their right to terrorism, a right of resistance by "all possible means." They're calling for another war of 1948, with a dozen Arab states attacking a single, tiny country. And most importantly, the Palestinians deny the right of Israel to exist: We "own the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea." And this is our 'partner in peace.' The world over decries Israel's recalcitrance in dealing with Palestinian leadership...now do you see why?

And here the fools in Annapolis will sit, Olmert surrounded by 10 Arab states wanting him, his country, and his people (including me and everyone I know) to march right into the sea. And Olmert, knowing his foolishness, will probably start the procession.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

If you think that Americans are sick and tired of George Bush, you should see how disgusted Israelis are with their leader, Ehud Olmert. Olmert took over when Ariel Sharon had his massive stroke, and then he was voted into office last year. Olmert is a former mayor of Jerusalem, a position he handled without serious alarm. His position as the national leader, however, has proven his total incompetence.

He blew the Lebanon war last year, him and his entire political structure, mainly by ignoring and hindering military reports, intelligence, strategy, and expert opinion. He has been prime minister overseeing some of the worst teacher and student strikes in any nation's history. To make matters worse, he is considered the most corrupt politician in Israel today. He is constantly being investigated for insider violations: kickbacks, shady real estate deals, insider manipulation. He's just not who the nation needs right now, or ever. One good thing to say, however, is that whatever he has done to combat domestic terrorism is working...or, at least the wall that Ariel Sharon built is working (besides the fact that the contractor has stopped worked because they are way over budget).

So, on Tuesday, he is going to be attending the Annapolis conference, along with 40 other nations. This summit has been the hot talk among Middle East political strategists in its stupidity. It will create a terrible security problem for Israel, truly, and it is going to be one all-out bash on the Jewish State.

The conference is going to be attended by Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, "Iraq," Syria, maybe Saudi Arabia, and a host of non-Middle East states. The point of the conference is to 'open' talks between the PA and Israel.

You have no idea how angry all this makes me! Let me just go through this political blunder one step at a time.

1) Israel and the PA talk constantly. This is a legitimate truth. Olmert and Abbas have both, respectively, come under great attack from their people for this very reason. Olmert is given flack for being so pro-PA, for having Abbas over to his house for everything from holiday celebrations to a nice cup of coffee. Abbas is continually under threat of assassination by Hamas for his open invitation of Olmert to his office-home in Ramallah. Not to mention the thwarted attempted assassination of Olmert recently while he was in Jericho. These two best friends are constantly talking, trying to figure out just how to save both their terms in office. Olmert has about a 20% or so approval rating. I don't know what Abbas's is, but he was essentially voted out of office over a year ago by his people, in support of a terrorist organization. Olmert needs to move out of the way, and let in a real politician with insight. So, why is the conference meant to "open serious talks on the future of a Palestinian state?" This rhetoric is being brought forward as a way to force Israel's hand into more land-concessions, giving away more land that was legally purchased 75 years ago by Jews, and put Israel into a real corner. By saying that Israel needs to open talks is effectively implying that Israel has ignored the issue. In fact, as you can see, Israel has been more than open in discussions with the Palestinian leadership.

2) Land for peace does not work. Israel learned this the hard way after 2005's "disengagement," whereby Israel completely left the Gaza Strip, and evacuated many settlements in the West Bank. Israel gave away the Gaza, in its entirety, only to see the rise of Hamas in both these areas. With Israel out of the way, the terrorists were able to take over and plague not only the people of Gaza and the West Bank, but then had greater access to attacking Israel domestically. In short, when Israel gives away land, terrorism increases in that very land. Israel shows a permanent gesture of peace, and the Arabs show a permanent gesture of hostility. With this in mind, the base-line of this Annapolis conference is the full return of the "West Bank" to the "Palestinians." All of these terms are so loaded and so futile. First of all, the West Bank is referring to the western bank of the Jordan river, which if you look at a map, is all of Israel. This term was coined decades ago in a game of semantics, as the Arabs fought for the West Bank, effectively meaning they fought for the Jews to be pushed off the western bank, all the way into the sea. Palestine, which was the name of Israel after Jews were forced from the land by the Romans 2,000 years ago, is not some grand united people or place. As you can see from the civil war between Hamas and Fatah currently being fought in Gaza and the West Bank, the only outcome for the "Palestinians" if Israel did give away all this land would be death. The leaders of Israel, and especially international leaders, like to paint the picture black and white. Israel bad, occupier. Palestinian good, victim. In fact, the only certain statement that can be made is that if Israel gives away the land that the Arabs want, it will mean an age of terror for both Israel and the Palestinian people. Honest to goodness, Hamas has essentially said that they will declare war on Fatah if Abbas (Fatah) agrees to anything. That is civil war in Gaza and the West Bank.

3) Israel keeps releasing terrorists in a show of support for Annapolis. Every day Israel is on the lookout at borders and checkpoints for terrorists, people smuggling in suicide belts or suitcase bombs, women with explosives underneath their babies in the carriage, and all other manner of ingenious, insidious tactics. We have huge prisons to hold these captured terrorists, or co-conspirators. They not only bring Israelis pain, they hurt the cause of their own people. When a terrorist strikes Israel has no other choice but to tighten security, which in turn means more checkpoints, less access, longer lines at borders, and a general air of distrust -- all causing everyday Palestinians more and more headaches. So, how does the Palestinian Authority ask for a measure of "goodwill" when going into ANY discussion? They ask for a "prisoner release." That's what they call it! They want more of their terrorists back. Sure, Israel doesn't give back those with "blood on their hands," but they give back those that escorted the bomber, helped smuggle weapons or bombs, hid the terrorists, and so on. Do you see what I mean? Israel is not working with a true partner for peace...we're working with a group of terrorist supporters! And how dumb is Olmert giving back these prisoners? We are going to release another 431 terrorists after the conference! Stupid!

4) Arab reluctance to go to their own birthday party! This whole conference is about Israel giving away land. That's the entirety of it. In exchange for giving back so much land that Israel would become 50 miles wide, we ask for the end of terrorism. We aren't asking for friends, economic partners, or anything else. Nothing more than the end of terrorism, from bombings to shootings. A basic respect of life. The sad part is that Olmert thinks that if he gives away this land, we will actually ever have peace. So, this Annapolis conference is the Arab birthday party! In 1948 seven Arab states attacked a new country, a country that publicly in its very declaration of independence asked for its neighbors' hands in peace and prosperity. This war was promulgated in order to literally wipe the new state off the map. There was no desire to make a vassal state, a weaker state, put the citizens in fear; they wanted a complete massacre of the country. Well, they found out that Israel was a state that fought to the death, because all they had faced before was extermination. Three wars later, the Arabs finally began to realize that Israel was not just going to disappear. They started to figure out that they would have to concentrate their efforts on specific land: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Still, there was dissatisfaction. In 2000, then prime minister Ehud Barak offered the PA chief Yasser Arafat 97% of the Palestinian claim. He was giving the Gaza and essentially the entirety of the West Bank - 97%. Even the Saudi moderator told Arafat to take the deal. He balked at the Israeli offense, and plunged his people in the Second Intifadah.
The Annapolis parley is shaping up to be another 2000 Camp David, whereby the Jews look to give away all the traditional land of the state. So what is the Arab response to this? "We don't want to come because we don't trust Israel." No Arab state actually cares about their Muslim brothers in Palestine. The best example of this is with Syria, who has been publicly ambivalent on the conference. They aren't flipping back and forth because they don't believe Israel is going to appease the Palestinians, they are flipping because they are trying to force Israel to give back the Golan Heights, an area of land in Israeli control but claimed by Syria. Occupied, if you will. Syria doesn't care if the PA gets the West Bank, they only want to discuss the Golan. And who falls to this pressure? Everyone. Israel is begging Syria to come to the conference, and the US has said, "Well, the conference is for Israel and the PA, but if you want to bring up other issues, go ahead!" Remember what I said? This is the Arab birthday party whereby they want to get everything they can out of Israel. Despite the obvious pro-PA nature of this summit, even the PA was undecided until recently on whether or not to attend. Is there any sense in the Arab world?

5) The result of the conference is a dedicated promise to increase terrorism. I'm sorry to say this to the people still reading, especially my family and friends, but the one guarantee coming out of the conference will be terrorism. Not only will the West Bank face terrorism, but Israel will be plagued by a spike in terrorist activity. Thank G-d, we have been vigilant and have thwarted all terrorist attacks inside Israel for over a year now (excluding the constant barrage of missiles coming from inside the Gaza Strip). That's quite a milestone. But, though the West Bank is about to be handed over, Hamas has publicly declared that the result of the conference will be a "stepping up" of attacks. Hamas is "astonished" at the Arab League's acceptance of the conference, and as a result has promised retribution. They are still living in 1948, where they expect all the Arabs and Muslims the world over to rise up and massacre the Jewish State. Don't they remember that they already tried that? These animals, these savages, are incapable of understanding that Israel is going to give away more land! They expect Israel instead to just roll over and die. The Hamas spokesman had this to say: "We were expecting an Arab consensus to break the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and to save the lives of many Palestinians who are stranded on the borders. We didn't expect to see agreement among the Arabs on meeting with Israel." To be honest, I'm a little surprised they actually said Israel and something like "the Zionists," or another tactic to divert legitimacy away from Israel. These mentally challenged apes still think that they can deny the existence of the very people that want to give them everything they are asking for. How foolish are they?

This is what really pisses me off. That we are dealing with an entire region of monkey-fools, brain challenged ants, to the degree that they can't even figure out when something is good for them! "Hey, we want to give you 97% of our country..." What's the response? "NO! We want 100% or we're going to bomb you!" Very mature.

And the worst part of it all is that we have a prime minister that in the history of Israel has faced the most demonstrations against his term, and yet he feels it is in his capacity to go to our terrorist brothers and start making deals! Everyone in the entire country, minus a few die-hard party loyalists, want this Olmert chap out of office. He can stay in the government if he wants; drive a bus. But do not go overseas against the entire country's wishes and give away the rest of our homeland!

In 2005 Israel was very divided on whether or not to give away the Gaza and the sections of the West Bank we decided on. The result was that we gave it away, and faced even more hatred and terrorist attacks. This time around everyone is pretty well in agreement that land for peace is not working. So why does he think he can just up and betray us like this? Olmert is promising that the Annapolis summit is not going to show Israel giving anything away, but what he is white-washing is that it is the first step in order to give away the entire West Bank.

Now, my final message. Starting Tuesday, look very closely at the news on this Annapolis conference. See who is the bad guy. Who are all the nations present harping on, trying to get to change their ways? Who is the enemy? Who is evil? Israel. Then, see who is told that they need to try to control terrorism, in order to bring peace to all. Abbas will smile and say, "Yes I'll try to control Hamas and their terrorism." Then the world will praise Abbas's commitment to peace...all while Hamas is at home, in true power, and just waiting for the conference to end in order for them to start their campaign of terror.

Long live clear thinking. Please start praying for the beleaguered nation of Israel, America's only real ally, and the true pro-Western state in the Middle East.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Yesterday there were two earthquakes in Israel, measuring 3 and 4.2 on the Richter scale. They originated from the Dead Sea, which is southeast of Jerusalem, on the far eastern border of the country. Along our eastern border there is a rift, the Jordan Rift Valley, which is a part of the Great Rift Valley. The GRV extends from Lebanon in the North, to Mozambique, Africa, in the South. Quite the rift. From what scientists tell us, the area has been rocked with some fairly huge earthquakes, but the last one was in 1033 CE. That means we are long overdue for a megaquake. Each year or so we have a minor or moderate quake, but some of us have this big quake in the back of our minds.

It seems to me that the majority of deaths in the world aren't coming from war or politics, but rather from natural disasters. From the earthquakes in South America, tornadoes in Midwest America, flooding in Northern Europe, mudslides in Eastern Europe, and the terrible typhoons and tsunamis in Southeast Asia, the amount killed in years of modern war equals the amount killed in days or weeks during these disasters. How many people died just the other day from Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh? The official toll is currently 3,114, but the Red Crescent Society (the Red Cross of Muslim nations) says the count will end up in the 5 to 10,000 range.

This is where our money should go, if we truly see ourselves as a government for the people. These are innocent individuals in need of aid. Epidemics are breaking out in these areas, and Bangladesh is saying they will have 4 million displaced persons! 4 million! Hurricane Katrina displaced around 1 million people. Just imagine Katrina being 4 times as bad.

What I'm trying to get to is a hypothetical situation. What if there was a huge earthquake in Israel/Jordan, which devastated the area, and then displaced all the people. We would probably see something like a terrible rendition of musical chairs, but with guns and exploding chairs! Jerusalem itself is an area that has had earthquakes. I've always wondered what would happen if the Old City of Jerusalem had an earthquake that toppled the Dome of the Rock...this area is highly contested, and to religious Jews the fact that non-Jews are building at the site of the holy Temple is one of utmost sacrilege. So what would happen if everything was erased, and we went back to square one?

Anyway, reports popped up all over Israel of people feeling the quake, all the way from Haifa to Beersheva (considerable distances from the quake). I heard a woman talking about her experience yesterday, and it was pretty humorous. Here in Israel, when you feel the ground rumble, you kinda expect the worst. A bombing? A missile? Damn, and things were going so well! As she said, "Oh no! This is not good!," only to find out 15 minutes later on the news that it was an earthquake. Something of a relief, to say the least.

My days have started to melt together, just waiting on a job prospect to be finalized. I sit around all day, reading, watching the news, watching movies, and every once in a while taking a walk. One day is like the next, with little stimulation, and essentially zero change of environment. I can't leave Jerusalem for any extended amount of time, as I'm anxiously awaiting potential interviews, so here I sit, day in and day out.

So, last night after all the dust settled, I had a hard time remembering if that rumble I felt, the booming that I thought was either a bomb or a construction zone dropping concrete slabs, was yesterday or a day before. I simply couldn't remember, and I cannot say for sure now. But, I have to assume that it was yesterday...and that's pretty cool in my book. I don't want anyone or anything to get hurt by a natural disaster in my area of the world, especially after seeing what happened in Bangladesh, but now I can say I felt an earthquake! I guess that's not such a good thing, but hey, I'm at the point in my life where I want to experience everything this world has to offer -- good or bad.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The traditional Sabbath (Shabbat) for orthodox/traditional Jews, as we've been practicing for thousands of years, is from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Of the many customs that are practiced, one is always among the most favorite for all observers. That would be the large, warm meal served for Shabbat lunch. Basically, this meal is usually eaten around noon, Saturday. Three meals are eaten during Shabbat, all of them mandatory.

The Talmud discusses the way of the Karaites, a Jewish fanatic group of ancient Israel, who believed only in the written Torah (i.e.- the Bible), and not in the Talmud. The Talmud contains the Mishnah, which is a large set of typically short discussions on laws (a paragraph or so). Orthodox Jews believe that this portion of the Talmud was passed down from G-d to Moses on Mt. Sinai, as the Bible was spoken to Moses in the same way, at the same time. This has been the view for all of Israelite-Jewish history. I'm not telling you what to believe, I'm just giving some background.

One of the ways that the Karaites differed was that they were extreme literalists of the Bible. What's relative to my past Shabbat was the Karaite perspective, taken literally from a Deuteronomy passage, which says that there is to be no flame in a home on Shabbat. Orthodox Jews do not light fires, or deal with fires at all on Shabbat, but the Karaites felt this meant you could not have any light in your house, or have an oven on...while the rabbis long before felt that the law meant one could not kindle fires, but could have light from before or food in a sealed oven from before the sabbath, and could thus eat hot food on the holy day. In response to the extremist Karaites, the rabbis of the Sanhedrin, the high legal court of ancient Israel, integrated into Jewish law the requirement to eat hot food on Shabbat. This was a sort of institutionalization of the rejection of the Karaite sect.

That being said, the Shabbat lunch meal is a great time of happiness, where friends and families get together to hold this traditional, custom-filled meal. A friend of mine had her birthday yesterday, and decided to cook up a big lunch. I went by her place on Friday to help cook, all of which must be fully finished before Shabbat starts, and got a small taste of what we were going to have.

We prepared all the food in a great hurry, realizing that we had started too late. In other words, I watched her prepare, and I stirred what needed to be stirred or chopped what needed to be chopped. Here was the menu:

Garlic crusted chicken breasts; one spicy variation,
Peanut sauce & cilantro noodles (the best),
Caramelized carrots,
Green bean something or other...

And for dessert there were two ridiculously rich, overkill cakes. One was a peanut butter and dark chocolate combo, which tasted like 10 Reese's cups packed into every bite, and the other was a three-layer chocolate cake which was nearly as rich as fudge. I watched as my friend made these, taking about nine chocolate bars, melting them in a pot, and then pouring the hot chocolate layer by layer into the pan.

Saturday was quite the day, filled with me over-eating all these delicacies, having the now traditional shots of vodka, discussing Torah (Jacob got his wives in the portion of the week-- keyword, plural wives), and meeting new friends.

I'm sure my family and friends worry that I don't eat enough, but rest assured, I did this weekend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Last night while taking a bus across the city, the last bus of the night, I was a witness to a scene that is truly found only in Israel.

Fairly soon after sitting down, a group of three boys got on the bus, and I pegged them for Americans the second I saw the first one. Some of us tend to stick out like sore thumbs, some more than others, and these teens were among the most easily noticed. First of all, they all had on baseball hats with MLB logos, and the hats were cocked on their heads in the true "prep" fashion. Baseball is not an Israeli sport, and wearing a baseball hat in this manner screams 'American.'

The point is that these young men were probably of the 'conservative Jewish' movement, spending some amount of months here on some type of high school exchange or yeshiva program. That being said, one could presume that they know some Jewish law and principles.

Soon after these guys, two twenty-some year old gentlemen get on the bus. At first I thought one of them was a girl, actually. This feminine one had a wild 'Jew-fro,' the type of afro that a stereotypically curly-haired Jewish guy gets. Otherwise he looked normal, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. His friend stuck out to me as a band-geek, or some type of artistic person, as he had the characteristic stereotypes of that group. He had long hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing black rimmed, fancy glasses, a corduroy jacket, a nice sweater underneath, and dark, acid-washed jeans. They both were Israeli, speaking Hebrew, and were pretty hard to miss.

These two were homosexual. The effeminate one was quite physical with his other-half, and it seemed like the artsy one was not quite into the public display of affection. I'm not saying he shunned the fro-man, I'm just saying he wasn't nearly as physical. They were quite undoubtedly gay, however, and I could tell that the entire bus was watching them. The young Americans, being the prime age of needing to prove their masculinity, actually surprised me a bit.

This is the 'only in Israel' observation. Like anywhere in the world, Israel has homosexuals. Tel Aviv, the most hip, posh, and liberal area in Israel, is well known for its tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, and occasionally you will hear boasts that that city is more accepting than most places in the "Western world," San Francisco excluded, of course. You can only imagine what the religious people of Jerusalem think of all this. For whatever reason, the homosexual alliance of Israel chooses Jerusalem every year to be the site of the gay pride parade, an event that I have witnessed twice. There is always violence, a mass protest by the religious, and inevitably some type of rioting throughout religious neighborhoods (ie- burning of dumpsters, smashing cars, etc). It's all really quite ridiculous.

Expecting these young men to sneer, or mumble vicious slurs to each other, I was a little blown away to hear their conversation on the matter turn to Torah. I was sitting by the window, with one of the guys sitting on the seat next to me, and the other two sitting in the seats directly in front of me. You see, I was just another member of their group, in the middle of the lion's den. They, however, must have mistaken me for an Israeli. In no way did I stick out as an American, in my dress, demeanor, or language...so, as I said, I was privy to their unbridled opinions. I kept my mouth shut in order to hear what 15 year old New Yorkers thought of the scene.

The young men quickly quoted the Torah, which says something along the lines of "two men laying together is an abomination to the Lord." There's really no way around this Biblical proscription, so the teens were quickly quoting sources in agreeance, but their personal opinions also came out. All three of them were obviously 'against' homosexuality, but one of them stood out among the group. I didn't hear exactly what he said, but from what I did hear, it sounded like it was along the lines of something a little more militant than most would find tasteful. The two other boys quickly rebutted, admonishing him for saying something "assur," or forbidden. In Jewish law, you basically have "assur" and "motair," or forbidden and permitted. To say something like, "we should kill all gays," as I think the boy said, is certainly assur, and his Torah-conscious friend was right to chastise him.

Where else would you find 15 year old preppy guys, getting their first taste of adolescent testosterone, ready to prove their virility, discussing the philosophical and theological dimensions of such an issue? Sure, all across the world people talk about homosexuality along the lines of the Bible, but where, really, do 15 year old boys know to quote ancillary sources and the social implications of this topic? I was a little bit proud of these three Americans, considering that it would have been quite easy for them to turn their words to slurs and jokes, mockingly throwing off the humanity of those two partners. Instead, they treated the issue quite academically, and besides the one outburst, they could have had the same conversation in front of adults in any academic or theological environment. They were mature, in a word.

There are so many of these exchange programs, and Jerusalem is well known as being the hub, the center for Americans in Israel. Additionally, these teens are known for being rowdy, getting drunk under the relaxed liquor laws in Israel, and just generally bringing shame and a bad reputation to Americans. If you are an American here, in Jerusalem, many Israelis will look at you as immature and obnoxious, in many ways due to these unleashed teenagers.

The boys I saw were still young boys, of course. After a while, two of them started picking on the less tolerant one, by rubbing his shoulders, putting their arms around him, and sensually touching his face. It was quite humourous to see him get upset, and then hear the inevitable "you seem a bit defensive...everything ok?" Eh, at least they were mature at first!

One last word. Being that this ride was near to midnight, the bus was not so full. I was wondering what would have happened if the two homosexuals were being affectionate while the bus was full, with religious men and women watching. I know that there would have been a confrontation, with the religious literally yelling at them. There would have been much screaming, quoting religious sources, shaming them and showing quite the lack of tolerance. If you read what I wrote about Israelis not holding back with their opinions, vocally letting their presence be known, multiply that by two for religious Israelis speaking about religious law.

Now, that would have been something to write about!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

In order to sign up for medical insurance, you have to visit, of all places, the post office. Unfortunately for a normal postal visitor, one also has to wait behind a myriad of people paying bills. Yes, you go to the post office to pay bills here, instead of doing automatic debits from your account. Automatic debiting is a reality here, but Israelis prefer to leave that to their material purchases. Any credit card purchase is greeted with a question of whether or not you want to do "tashlomim," or monthly payments. A $50 grocery bill? "Yeah, sure, I'll pay for it over 3 months." Cell phone deals are advertised as being only a few bucks a month, but, over 36 months! This is an extremely common financial decision...and it leads so many people to credit card debt. A few dollars here and there, no big deal! But then, all of a sudden, you're over drawn and have no way to pay that next month's slew of installments. Smart business tactic.

Anyway, I was waiting in line at the post office with a friend, just about to be seen, when 5 people, not kidding, walk in from outside and bump in front of me. "Oh, we were here!" Ok, because I've been standing in one of those slow, snaking lines for 10 minutes, and never saw you! But yeah, sure, go ahead and bump in front of me! No problem! Hey, you gotta get used to it. As I said before, the Israeli rudeness is just another part of the game.

My friend that went with me told me a fun little story about her most recent trip to the same post office. Her mother's birthday was in a few days, and she wanted to send an enveloped letter express. She wanted it to get home on or around the birthday -- pretty standard stuff. The cost was 60 shekels, which is about $15 American. The post office lady began questioning my friend on her economic well-being.

"You really think you want to spend 60 shekels on sending just an envelope? That's a waste of money, isn't it?"
"It's for my mother's birthday. I want it to get there on time, so I kinda have to send it express."
"Yeah, I see, but wouldn't you rather spend that money in buying some type of gift for your mom? I mean, is a letter really worth it? Do you think you mom would really care about a letter?"
"Yes, it's kinda a thing in America, you know, to send a letter to someone on their birthday."

At this point, the clerk began to speak to her fellow workers, and soon enough, the entire post office was telling my friend that it was a waste of money.

"Your mom would rather get a package of something."
"Yeah, why spend all that money on a letter?"
"Seriously, don't waste your money!"

After speaking to everyone in Hebrew for 10 minutes, the clerk began to question her anew.

"Oh, you just don't understand Hebrew!," now speaking in English. "See, it costs 60 shekel, which is really expensive! Your mom won't care about the letter for all that money!"
Exasperated, my friend loses it. "Are you stupid? Are you that dull? I've been speaking to you in perfect Hebrew since I walked in here! It's my money, just GIVE ME THE EXPRESS shipment! I'm American, I'm rich, just do it!"

If in doubt, just combat Israeli presumptuousness with the claim of being American -- which in foreign terms, means you are rich. Hey, sometimes you gotta swing for the fences.

In a nice little coincidence, out of 4 clerks, the person I was directed to was the same woman that so deftly handled my friend's envelope. She greeted me, and then said, "Hey, weren't you in here the other day?" Oh, what a fun day.

The strangest thing that has ever happened to me in Israel happened after the post office. I was waiting in line at the medical center, where you actually sign up for insurance. Lines, again. One of the clerks left her desk, approached me, and shot some serious Hebrew at me. I caught enough to figure out that she was asking whether or not I was a new immigrant. First of all, if you suspect someone of being a new immigrant, would you speak to them as fast as humanely possible in a language that normally isn't their mother-tongue? Second, I figured she was going to tell me, as all the horror stories I've heard about having to run around here and there with various papers, that I had the wrong papers, or had to go to another office, or come back at another time. Great.

Instead, she pulled me out of line to help me before my number was called. What? I received preferential treatment, in a line system, in Israel? Preferential, as in I was the one that was preferred? And helped out of line? Amazing and rare. The day was going great, and then I saw something heartwarming...

Nearby was a religious Arab woman, and a religious Jewish woman, both sitting in front of the same clerk, being helped in turn. They were smiling and chatting with each other, as if their people were not at each others' throats. They didn't have to chat like best friends, and I've seen plenty of religious Arab men and religious Jewish men give each other the death stare.

I suppose that goes to show you that no matter what the political scene appears to be, and that no matter what the media shows, the actual situation on the ground, between individuals, doesn't happen to always be so easily discernible. Some people think that Israel is in the grips of some continual war, as if Israel is Iraq.

In fact, Israel is not Iraq. Bullets aren't flying, improvised explosives aren't blowing cars and convoys away, snipers aren't reigning terror down on the masses...

Maybe these two woman showed me that if the Israelis and Arabs want peace, they'll need women in office. So, who's voting for Hillary?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

After one of the worst periods of procrastination in my life, I finally signed up with a medical insurance plan here. Let me try to explain how the medical system works. The system isn't that clear to me yet, but here's what I do know.

The Israeli national insurance system is universal. All citizens are given nearly-free coverage which handles everything from basic doctor visits to hospitalizations, surgery to reduced cost medications, and even treatment of chronic diseases. The best part is that all insurance companies have to take a citizen under their service, regardless of age or health status. There are four insurance companies, and all the companies are treated as equal under the law. So, it doesn't really matter who you sign up with, but people choose their company based on word of mouth, as well as which facilities are closer to their homes. Universal pretty much means universal: everyone is accepted regardless of any condition, and being accepted means the same thing for everyone, namely, insurance in matters of health.

Ok, so I cheated and went to the government's webpage for national insurance (http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1990_1999/1998/7/National%20Health%20Insurance). All in all, this system seems to be working pretty well. I see pharmacies everywhere, and each one is attached to an insurance company. There seems to be a medical building on every block. In fact, I live in a somewhat out of the way cul-de-sac, and we have a large facility on our street! I've asked around, and everyone seems to be fairly satisfied with the system. Sure, it's socialized health care, so maybe you have to wait in a longer line than you'd like, but don't we wait for hours in doctor's offices in America as well? Moreover, Israel has one of the highest per capita rates of doctors in the world, and we have some of the world's leading pharmeceutical companies...so we like to say we have the best medical system in the world. I'm sure other countries have more resources, but I can say this for sure: Israel makes the most out of what it has.

I'm not sure if America is ready for this universal health care system, but after observing Israel and her system, a main sticking point for America in universal care seems irrelevant. That sticking point would be, of course, money. I realize that Israel has about 7 million citizens, while America has over 300 million. However, the main difference is that America has trillions of dollars to spend, while Israel has about $35 bucks, give or take. No, seriously, Israel has to spend 9% of her GDP on defense, one of the highest rates around the world, and that percentage is on the lower scale of what we have spent during the Palestinian terror campaigns (commonly referred to as an "intifada"). The scary part is that Israel has to spend this money in order to exist. Israel has no choice but to beef up it's military. Even though Israel spends so much of her money on defense, she still has enough to care for her citizens.

On the other hand, America has now spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, fighting an enemy that will never give up. One estimate claims, at least by last year, that we were spending $255 million per day in Iraq.* Per Day! And this is to fight an enemy that hides as civilians, hides behind families, uses remotely detonated weapons instead of engaging in a real war. Not only is the war a money pit, it is another Vietnam, which only served and only serves to drain the national reserve of confidence and morale.

I'm not trying to say anything in particular about the Iraq war. I've already said too much, maybe. What I am trying to say, however, is that America sure has spent a gross amount of money that could have gone a long way to establishing a universal health care system. I'm not even saying we should have a universal health care system in America. I am no expert on the benefits and drawbacks of universal versus private health care systems. Both have pros and cons, and I'll leave it to the experts to tell you what is what.

All that I am trying to get across is that money should not be the main stumbling block for America on the road to a better health care system. Israel is showing that even with a strapped financial outlook, a first-world country can look after its people. Israel's system is not perfect, but we all know that America needs some type of health care reform. That's all.


Monday, November 5, 2007

You think you have it bad? Check this out!


You have to see the pictures. They aren't too bad. This is why I will miss CNN!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thursday was the day on the docket for the main cable provider of Israel, HOT, to either cancel or renew their contract with the American news channel, CNN. Actually, the only chance for a renewal of the contract would have been a miracle along the lines of CNN giving away their service for free. The cancellation of CNN has been relatively big news here, considering the fairly large population of English speakers seeking 'real' news stations. The Israeli parliament went so far as to hold discussions on whether or not HOT was even allowed to drop this station from its list.

To make matters worse, the rumor before Thursday was that HOT would replace CNN, a provider that many people here find to be synonymous with anti-Israel media bias, with the super-friendly Arab station, Al Jazeera. Wouldn't that have been fun? Instead, CNN was pulled abruptly on Thursday, even though HOT said they would give the channel 10 more days of air-time, and replaced with the intellectual, unbiased, and supremely fair Fox News.

To be honest, CNN is my favorite news station in America. Who doesn't enjoy watching CNN Headline News, with all the important stuff given over in just 45 minutes? Fast, easy, and entertaining! In regards to anti-Israel media bias, it's impossible to find a station that not only is fair towards Israel, but is fair in general. After all, stations and newspapers tend to get all their big stories from the stringers like AP and Reuters anyway. You just can't avoid anti-Israel media bias, so you might as well get your news from the most respected American source...CNN.

The problem is that the CNN I saw over here is not Headline News. In fact, the programming seemed to be run by the Brits. All the reporters and anchors were British, and the studio seemed to be out of England. That's not CNN! CNN is out of Atlanta, Georgia. Quite a ways from London, thank you very much. Moreover, every time I turned it on it seemed that they were playing sports news. Seriously, who cares about car racing when people are dying all around the world? I'm not so sad about losing this CNN.

The kicker was that CNN played certain shows that you would never find on the channel in America. The best example: The Daily Show with John Stewart. You can only imagine how surprised I was to see an admittedly unfair, half-serious take on important matters being shown by a company that should be seeking to maximize its reputation for excellence. Not that I complained -- how else would I get to see that staple of Americana, the hard-hitting, no holds-barred funny man?

It would have been nice to see John every night, knowing my dad was religiously watching the same show the night before...but we all have to make sacrifices don't we? Like for Fox News?

Bill O'Reilly is as entertaining as John Stewart, right?