Monday, May 29, 2006

balancing in sweet purgatory

I walked into the bunker of death two days after I went to heaven.

Shoshana and Micha are the caretakers of heaven, and there's no place like it on earth. They have a harp store, which used to be in the same hidden narrow alley as my aunt and uncle's jewlery shop in Jerusalem, and is now at the bottom of the hill where they live. The house is set low into the hill, the front gate lush green trees hiding stone staircase leading down to the wooden cabin, down further to homemade sauna and swimming hole, garden. My friends like to go there to work in the garden during the day and completely unwind at night. This time, I only went there for the unwinding part.

It was another insane week at work, like these weeks are, and I had three days off to be free. I woke up the first morning of freedom with a really deep cough, but went to Jerusalem anyway. Some friends and I had talked about going up to Shoshana and Micha's the week before, and then forgotten, but somehow after I decided to go anyway, I found out five more of my friends had the same idea.

We got there late, and the women went down right away, armed with water bottles and towels. Shoshana was standing there, completely nude. 'Nice to meet you,' she said to some of us. She went off to get something, and the rest of us got naked and walked into the sweat.

It was a small wooden structure with a wood stove outside and a basket of coal inside, dark except for the candles, lit also by oil and sweat. The top bench was the hottest. I sat on top, dripping and breathing out my toxins. I tried to stay in as long as I could. I made it for about twenty minutes each time, four times. In between each, we ran out and jumped straight into the cold swimming hole. The contrast of heat and cold went so drastically to my head, my mind spinning out of control (otherwise sober) and I felt like I was walking on the moon. I went back in. Then back to the water. Back to the sauna. Back to the water. We were mermaids in space.

Micha and Shoshana have a great house, filled with art and instruments, good smells and herbs. We jammed on different drums, a sax, guitar and something resembling a wooden xylophone.

Shoshana told us about her dream, which she had ten years ago, in which she saw the dome of the rock burst into gold and blue petals, making way for the temple to grow directly from within it. In her dream, she was at the wailing wall with thousands of people praying intently, and when she looked up, she saw the shrine break into pieces and the temple push through. She tried to say something to those around her, but she couldn't find the words, she was in shock. She watched the whole transformation, alone. When it finished, everybody looked up, oblivious to the change that had taken place while they were praying.

I didn't actually walk into the bunker of death a couple day later, but stuck my head in for about thirty seconds before feeling completely swallowed by the smell of human waste emanating from inside.

It was Saturday, and we had just eaten lunch and cake and

decided to go for a walk in the hills around elisha's moshav a lovely beautiful place full of magic sienna was tired and cosmos had lots of energy we wandered and walked and when we got to the bunker elisha said it was from the 1948 war i said who's going in with me nobody would i took a deep breath stuck my head in and felt death wash over me it stunk of human i thought maybe from the people who use it as shelter now or maybe from the screams and rifles and war and death curse panging me now forever never couldn't be i decided must be the elements

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

pinning a spinning wheel

Olmert's speech to congress was nearly perfect. I was impressed. I had to stay late at work the night before to cover the press conference he held with Bush after their first meeting at the White House, so I was expecting a little more of the same.

He was nervous at Tuesday night's press conference. They both were. Bush slammed out another winning analysis when, following his statement on how conflicts can be resolved through negotiations on both sides, he thoughtfully looked up and drawled, "the only problem is that Hamas [pause] doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist."

Here were two of the strongest leaders in the world talking about peace, and negotiations, with Olmert even promising a state in 3 or 4 years, and not four hours earlier the House of Representatives ruled in a sweeping vote of 361 to 37 to choke as severely as possible any aid flow into the Palestinian territories, while in Europe, the rest of the western powers were working out a plan to funnel aid to the Palestinian people without feeding Hamas.

Olmert's address to congress was smooth. He had pizzaz. He said all the right things to appease all sides, and piss off all sides, and painted himself as Sharon's heir, the hardened Israeli prime minister who's seen it all, loves his people, and of course, is concerned about the plight of his neighbors.

To the same House of Representatives that voted to further limit aid to Palestinian, Olmert said, "the Palestinians will forever be our neighbors. They are an inseparable part of this land, as are we. Israel has not desired to rule over them, nor to oppress them. They, too, have a right for freedom and national aspirations."

Right for freedom and national aspirations. In a non-state with a crumbled infra-structure, constant in-fighting and near starvation in cramped refugee camps, obsessed with the idea of their national pride, their homeland, and their struggle. A struggle inherent to Israel's struggle, its freedom and national aspirations.

Like elections, it's impossible to take Olmert at his word. He is not the hardened Israeli general turned prime minister of the past. He is the former disappointing mayor of Jerusalem, the former deputy prime minister everybody held at arm's length. He is riding on the victory of a man who died at the prime of his career, a prime 180 degrees away from where he promised he would be during his own corrupt election campaigns.

A friend of mine on a three-week leadership program in Israel told me that the one thing he's gotten out of his trip is the realization that no solution is possible in this conflict. Interesting because when he asked me what I've gotten out of my work this year, the first thing that came to mind was the realization that a solution is completely possible. Despite all the variables, including the temperments of our leaders.

Abbas proposed, and Hamas rejected, an idea to pose a referendum to Palestinians on whether to accept a state based on the 1967 borders. It was a strange propasal and an obvious reaction from Hamas. Such a referendum is meaningless. A Palestinian referendum on the borders of its state would by nature be a referendum on the borders of Israel's state, and in this conflict, neither entity can unilaterally determine the borders of another state.

A solution is possible. Maybe a temporary solution, like the others, to tide us over a few years, or even decades, before the next war. But there won't be a solution as long as each side refuses to compromise. We've heard this before. If Palestinians will agree only to a state set at 1967 borders and Israel will agree only to withdrawal as long as it does not require retreating to exact 1967 borders, then the current situation will persist. In the meantime, Israel's promise to withdraw becomes more generous by the offer, and the Palestinian vow not to recognize Israel becomes weaker by its offers. In the next five years there will be a Palestinian state, but the solution can be furthered only if Israel agrees simultaneously to set its borders.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

dawning of the age

Max went to Africa today, so we had another long weekend hafla all together in Jerusalem. The community that's grown together that I've been a part of this last year has been so amazing. There's really no other way to describe it. We came together last fall at the rainbow gathering, some people we'd known before, some friends of friends, lots of travelers and passers-by, a new generation taking over Nahlaot in Jerusalem, its narrow stone alleyways and cave-like houses, its teachers and its laundromats. It's a transient community of people who touch down on each other for a few weeks or months or years, then stay or go, and find a path. I spend almost every weekend with these people and these places. Its a big part of home.

The apartment where yoni lis used to live and then hillel moved in with ami and the other ami and then max when hillel left is the hub. At least it was before the lice, and now Max is gone, but the energy is still there. It's the door in the middle of Nahlaot's main 'street' that's literally almost always open and inside there's an extra person sleeping and so many more eating or cooking or playing music. Adina, the Queen of Nahlaot, singing and whimpering and giggling, and someone walking her home, and Ezra mopping and laughing, and Ami making chai or cooking or eating or learning or playing guitar, Devora smiling, and Max moving to rythm, barefoot,and then Jackie, and Elisha somewhere, and Meir Chaim somewhere, and eveyone stopping in or staying. Then there's the anonymous guy sitting cross-legged on the bench on Be'er Sheva who tells you to look above the door for the key when you were looking nonchalantly in the tree, and the tourists.

Both of my mother's brothers and their wives and kids live in Nahlaot, in the same Nahlaot but more settled and less touched by fairydust. My sister also lives there, with her husband, but they've been in India for the last few months. During the winter, I was in Jerusalem at least three days a week. Now that it's summer, it feels even more like a utopic shtetl, the center of the world, from a certain angle.

Ironically, the only thing weakening paradise is the product of its creation, its transience. That is its beating heart, its allure, its rejuvenating character. For the last half year, everything fit into place. Two of my oldest friends, and a good friend of one of them, and that new friend's girlfriend, and then another of their friends who ended up with the female of my two oldest friends, and a new friend who I grew up with, and an old sporadic friend, and others who I'd mention but this sentence is too long, and the tel aviv family, became my closest. And there were always more people around. And there has always been food, and a place to stay, and someone to talk to, and freedom and flow and comfort. Sometimes we go to the woods or to a festival or to a farm and sometimes we spill onto someone else's house.

It's like college or camp but more ambiguous. Everyone is doing something similar and everyone is doing something different, and some of us work, and some don't, but it works, and we're family, and people leave and new people come and some people stay and become the world to each other. Already people are going, and still in a few weeks or months, and again next year. It feels like everything is on the brink of change, but it's always been changing. When Max left he told me that I was the mama and had to hold down the fort. There are other mamas around, and more will be back at some point, and then I'll be gone, and then a new generation.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

life, death and, blah

There were probably a million things I could have written about in the last week, but I kept holding myself back. It's spring, and it's a time of birth and freedom, I can appreciate that, but it also feels like the end of an era, overburdened by change and worry and departures and distance and change. I don't know if my thoughts about all this have been negative or regressive or positive and a learning experience - but I wanted to avoid writing another tirade about death, war and the good hiding in the world.

I kept putting off writing about the deaths of the two people critically wounded in last month's bombing in Tel Aviv. Both were young and sons and died of organ failure. I took the news pretty hard. My instinct when I heard about the first was that the second had died also. He did, the next day.

I hear about people I don't know dying every day, but for some reason, this one hit hard. Maybe it's that everything seems to be exploding around me, figuratively, or maybe it was because it all hit so close to home, literally, down the street, and in so many other ways. The last few weeks have felt so transitory and transformative to me, that the news of of two more people whose lives and families and everything around them changed in a split-second was a lot to handle.

I'm in my own absorbed reality, much less tragic, thinking about how insane, and deaf, I am going from construction now at all sides of me starting before dawn, thinking about the amazing community I've been part of that's already in the process of morphing with time and the nature of things, thinking about emotional labor, and caring for friends, and the balance between selfishness and selflessness, thinking about the importance of sleep and the importance of adventure and the importance of love and the importance of happiness, thinking about my family, and my work, and joie de vivre. It's absorbed and it's not so tragic, but it's another reminder that life is not static.

I got a ride with my boss on Monday to outside of Jerusalem, planning to meet up with friends in the city and hitchhike together to Meron for Lag Ba'omer, traditionally the 33rd day counting down to the end of the grain harvest and the giving of the torah, and in the hasidic world, the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, author of the Zohar, who is buried in a huge tomb at the top of the mountain. I wasn't sure I wanted to go. I went for Lag Ba'omer five years ago, and hated it, feeling very out of place, and very small and sticky and debaucherous. But I figured I'd be with great friends, and we could spend the whole time camping in the forest.

When I got to Jerusalem, nobody was ready to go. It took five hours of eating and playing music before we got on the road, and then we were 12. We stayed a group walking through the empty market, to the street, to the bus stop, to the random junction where every ten minutes another five buses pulled up, and another hundreds after hundreds of haredi men, wives, sons and daughters, and dozens of hippies, pushed their way on. Lots of screaming, lots of shoving, and one woman who gave me a dirty look and slapped my arm when I made a noise she said wasn't modest. We waited almost two hours for a bus. Then we reconsidered.

Four of us went on. I stayed in Jerusalem. We broke down again into two groups, one went to learn zohar and the rest of us went to make a bonfire and play music in the park. The apocalypse that had hit the park on Independence Day was back, this time in the form of hundreds of groups of high school kids eating meat and gleefully building enormous fires. We went back into the forest, and ended up sleeping there until late morning. It wasn't exactly what I had planned, but it was nice.

I keep learning, over and over to stop planning. Things change whether we plan them or not. We're much more susceptible to great surprises when we're not so busy feeling disappointed at unfulfilled dreams.

The park looked destroyed when we came down from our site. I wondered who was going to clean it. We decided to pick up some garbage, and ended up attacking three sites. We scored some ketchup and unopened bags of about 40 fresh pitas. I needed to get out of the city and go be lazy somewhere in nature. It took some time but at around 2:30 we made it to the bus station. Then we waited some more, until I made everyone get on a bus that was going close to where we wanted, if not exactly, because I so much prefered to be sitting on a bus riding through the Jerusalem hills to a random spot than sitting in front of the bus station waiting.

So we did, and the day was awesome. We went to a collective community called Evan Sapir, set on a cliff in the middle of the forest. We found a great tree cave and a natural pools carved into stone, and a handmade wooden sweatlodge, and lots of green and quiet. We sat around for six or seven hours, but this time we weren't waiting.

I tried to avoid writing this post because I didn't want to write about death again, and I didn't want to come up with some feel-good analysis of how to keep these things from breaking us down, or give some moral guide to reorganizing tragedy to build ourselves up. But it's unavoidable.

Usually, when I hear about deaths, I can do that moral guide thing, I can distance myself enough to understand the loss on some level, and use it on other levels to recognize the lesson learned to love life and make the most of every second. You never know when things are going to change. Man makes plans and god laughs. Be ready for change. Be ready for tragedy, be open to its invigorating elements.

But I don't think I succeeded in doing that that with the news of these deaths. I know about change, and I know how to look at the positive elements of tragedy, but sometimes we just want to mourn, not necessarily use the opportunity to boost our own morale and price of life. Even when we don't know the victim personally, recognizing their name, hearing about them in such detail, seeing their families crying and knowing, feeling, the desperation they must be going through, being familiar with the exact place they were injured and having been there numerous times, being familiar with the kind of community they come from, the kind of life they lived, makes it too difficult sometimes to be ready to pick ourselves up and find the feel-good moral of the story. Even if we get to spend a day lazing around in nature and feeling alive.

Monday, May 15, 2006

democratic lifeline

In his address assembling the new security cabinet Sunday, Ehud Olmert said that this would be the vehicle driving a new era in determining Israel's way of life and democratic nature. In hebrew, he used the term "arichat hahaim" which spelled one way means way of life, and spelled another means length of life, or lifeline.

He made the announcement only a couple hours after the supreme court decided to uphold its standing law preventing Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs from living together in Israeli territory. In a vote of six to five, the supreme court upheld a discriminatory law that could have been avoided if Israel had a constitution. Five of eleven supreme court justices said the law was discriminatory, and supported the petitions to change it - but the law stands.

The justices' reasoning was that in time of war, you can't grant citizenship to the enemy. Judge Mishael Cheshin, who announced his resignation just before the final debate on the issue and serves his last day tomorrow, said a few months ago, "No one is preventing them from building a family but they should live in Jenin instead of in [the Israeli Arab city of] Umm al-Fahm."

Could an American supreme court justice make the same case for a U.S. citizen wanting to bring over his or her Iraqi partner?

Proponents say the ruling is not a matter of infringement on citizens' civil rights but rather a necessary wartime precaution, which leads us to understand that in wartime, civil rights don't count.

Right after the ruling, Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Israel's citizenship law had to be set into basic law, and said he'd do it in six months.

But without a constitution, there is no way to insure citizens' rights. Basic law does not have the same power as a living constitution. Without a constitution there is no vehicle to allow citizens to challenge a particular law on an individual basis with the guarantee of a general citizens' right.

When the citizenship law is set into place, there will be no room for arguments of discrimination. Amendments can be made, but not with the backing of the constitutional right of the citizen. The law will be determined with consideration of security and religion, and will not consider the rights of those who are affected by the rule. The basic law will only continue to perpetuate the cycle of discrimination, because it will establish a general rule without consideration of rights. It will allow for a supreme court justice to suggest its non-Jewish citizen go live in a refugee camp in a violent non-state rather than give its citizen's spouse the right to live with family. Setting this law, or any law, without a consitution provides only a legal basis for systemic discrimination.

The difference between determinining Israel's 'way of life' and its 'lifeline' is minimal. As long as Israel continues to set its way of life without consideration for the varying and individual needs of its diverse citizens, its lifeline shakes. As long as Israel continues to spout democratic rhetoric while doing nothing to change or quell the discrimination that exists on on every level from religious to economic to racial, its lifeline shakes. As long as no documents exist to provide a guarantee for the right of an individual citizen, its lifeline shakes. Israel cannot call itself a democracy while simultaneously discriminating openly against its citizens. Its length of life depends on a necessary lifeline, a consititution. Without a constitution, there is no way to ensure the sustainability of any of the rights its citizens enjoy now, or the sustainability of democracy.

Monday, May 08, 2006

it's all in the wrist

We read our horoscopes on the way to Haifa on Friday. We laughed at its advice. The general hint of the week was not to rely on our luck, use careful planning and do our homework. True, we were on a 3:30 train to Haifa instead of the 2:15 to Acco, and true we had missed that train because while we stood arguing with the guards to keep the doors open just one more minute our friend Danielle was upstairs at the ticket booth frantically trying to figure out whether to get a ticket and to where. But we felt lucky.

It was a lucky day. I'd worked till seven am and written some diatribe about war until nine and slept until one and now I was on a train up north. We bought a sandwich on the train and somebody offered us theirs uneaten. Bad idea? We figured we'd never do it on a New York subway but this was Israel. We got a ride in the Haifa train station parking lot and from there five more until we reached Tsfat. We knew we were camping, but we didn't know where. We were meeting 12 other people.

It turned out we were sleeping in a park on the peak of Tsfat next to a crusader fortress. We got there as the sun was setting. The tents were already set up. Pesach, an awesome guy who loves his friends and loves to be happy and wasn't even there for the weekend, had arranged us all meals in the old city. He'd set me and two others up at his friend Yonatan's house, which turned out to be an old stone split level building with a giant black llama outside the door and a great family inside. We came with an extra person. They gave us an exta sleeping bag.

We got back to the tents at different times and drifted in kind. I woke up at about 10. We moved onto a platform in the shade overlooking the city and covered it with blankets and sleeping bags. I'd bought vegetables, Tiferet cooked them with lentils, Jackie and Miriam also made salad and stew, and someone else had gotten 40 pitas, three loaves of bread and some wine. There was another stew there, from someone, and a bag of eggs that had made their way from somewhere else.

We sat around and ate and sat around and gave each other massages and sat around and talked, and people started thinking about going for a walk in the wadi. Danielle and I went for a shorter walk and when we came back, Jackie and Elisha were hanging in a tree. We'd met a guy and his dog, one of whom looked into the tree and said, "those people look like their going to fall."

I only saw Jackie's legs. I'd stubbed my toe before and it was bleeding and I was on my way to clean it when somebody said, "what happened," and everybody ran over to see.

Jackie was lying on the ground, half her body hidden in the bushes. She was dazed and her arm was twisted into a shape I've never seen before. At least not on Jackie. Ami went to get an ambulance and we tried to figure out how to move her while she said, "guys, I think it's serious," which we could see, and Max rubbed her head and I rubbed her stomach and someone else held her other hand.

The ambulance came and the paramedic put her arm on a styrofoam splint and joked around. Elisha and I helped her to the ambulance and someone handed me her bag. Her passport was in there. Nobody had any money. My phone and wallet were locked in someone's house.

None of us had ever been in an ambulance before. It was bumpy and narrow and Jackie looked like she was going to throw up, but gracefully. The paramedic forgot her name and asked Elisha whether he was her boyfriend. He didn't want to say. The paramedic wanted to know what Elisha did. We wanted to know how Jackie was.

The best day to get hurt in Israel is on a Saturday. The emergency room was empty. I took her passport and insurance information and tried to sort out the bill, but they wouldn't accept her insurance without a card and we had no way of paying. I signed a promissory note to pay the next morning and got another one from the ambulance.

The doctors forgot her arm hurt or didn't understand her pain because she doesn't speak any Hebrew and their English was worse. They jostled her arm and let us follow them around with Jackie to the x-ray room and into the "activity room" but they didn't give her any drugs until right before they snapped her wrist back into place and they made us wait outside while they did it. We heard her crying inside and laughing and shouting "arret" and then we went with her to get another x-ray. She walked with us this time.

The doctor was reluctant to write the diagnosis in clear English for her insurance company and told her she'd have to wear the cast for 6 weeks and get a follow-up once a week only after he'd already turned around and said goodbye and Jackie had gone out of her way to ask.

We got a ride from someone waiting for his mother which took us all the way back to Tzfat. We'd taken 10 steps on the pedestrian mall when we saw the cops. They said hello to us and saw Jackie's cast. They asked Elisha who he was. He said he'd lived there for four years and indicated that we were coming back from the hospital with our friend who had just broken her wrist. They took his I.D. number and searched his pockets and Jackie's bag, which he was carrying. The bad cop handed the tobacco over to his good partner in the car to smell and a bag of tea to the other partner. When Elisha handed him his rolling papers the cop smirked and lifted them up for his partners to see. Then he gave them back to Elisha and one of the cops in the car gave Jackie a lemon.

We'd thought we'd have a hard time deciding what to do now that sleeping on the beach made less sense, but when we got back to camp everybody was in a hurry to go home. We made havdalah on a giant cup of arak, two candles and some tea, and then everbody packed up and went to the bus station. Danielle stayed behind with me and Jackie and Elisha. So did the guy and his dog, who had come back. He offered us a place to stay but we still wanted to go back to the hospital to pay and knew that pizza and ice cream had to be had. Elisha went off to return equipment to friends around town, and I ordered a large pizza. By the time we finished eating it was past 12 so we decided to take up the offer of another friend who had invited us to stay with him.

Gavi's house was beautiful and clean and we each got a sheet and a blanket and a bed. We slept well and Jackie was comfortable and only woke up at 11:30. I'd gotten a text message the night before saying I was working at 8 pm. We got our stuff together and thanked Gavi for being so damn awesome and headed to the highway. A cab offered to take us to the hospital for 15 shekels and a guy in a red car offered to take us for free. He picked up his friend who worked at the hospital on the way.

It took a while to figure out the money situation and the insurance situation and the bureaucratic situation at the hospital, but we were on our way out by 3:30. We wanted to get to the train in Acco, but someone offered us a ride to Ma'alot where we could get a bus into Nahariya, so we got in. We drove north instead of south and looked at the mountains and listened to our forty-year-old driver's P.J. Harvey collection and got to Tel Aviv by seven. Marwan the hummus man gave us a free half kilo at the Nahariya station.

Jackie told me last night, when I came home from work at four and she was just waking up from a drowsy sleep, that she always pictured herself getting hurt. I asked her if she ever pictured any particular and she told me she usually saw herself being slammed by a truck mirror while riding her bike or being hit by a bus walking in the sreet.

I thought I was the only one who did that. Pictured my own limitations in vivid detail and worse-case scenarios. I asked her if she thought everybody did it. She said she didn't think so.

She's in a lot of pain now and feels helpless in her body. She's going to be in a cast for six weeks. She feels stupid for grabbing a branch that she didn't trust in the first place, but people fall out of trees. It could have been avoided but so could a lot of things or maybe nothing can. She pictured some injuries and got another, we picture some realities and get another, but it is what is and once you know that the rest makes a lot more sense.

more war

Apparently, someone (a.k.a Bush) is calling the war on terror world war III (thanks for the heads-up, Mobius), in agreement with an article written last month for the Wall Street Journal by David Beamer, whose son died on 9/11, and contrary to my assumption in the last post that "there is a world war happening right now and nobody has stepped forward to declare it."

But according to ABC,

In 2002, then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer explicitly declined to call the hunt for Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda group and its followers "World War III."

Can a world war be declared retrospectively?

Friday, May 05, 2006

war games

Do I walk around freely at night without curfew during war? Do I take long weekends in nature? Do I hop between cities from a great job to easy relaxation and freedom of press, dress and pastime? Do I fear rockets and missiles and bombs and guns? Do I see soldiers walking around en masse, tanks rolling in the streets? Are these my soldiers? Are these my tanks? Is it seige or celebration? Trench warfare or terror?

Israel and the western world are fighting a war on terror, an oxymoronic term distinguished into separate concepts only by nuance. In both cases, destruction is the goal, humans are the target. In a country with mandatory conscription, the line between civilian and soldier is fine. When is it terror? When is it war?

I live in the center of this conflict, but my experience of war is through media alone. In the West Bank and Gaza, militants take the steets shooting guns in the air, their infrastructure is the crumbled product of weak effort and occupation, their youth are the brainwashed victims of ultimate pessimism, fundamentalism and constant violence. Foreign soldiers roam the streets, invading homes, destroying buildings, attacking from air, sea and land. The thousands killed comprise both militants and innocents. Theirs is a war zone.

Mine is the target of terror. Terror is innocuous war. Civilians are at risk in both but it is the method of fear-mongering that differentiates combat from terror. I can leave my house whenever I want and never have to worry about losing my home, but I know that each day I am the likely target of destruction. I know I could be blown up on a bus. I know a rocket could hit Tel Aviv. I know Israel is the front-lines of any battle between the Middle East and the U.S. But I live otherwise freely with only the threat of terror. Meanwhile, thousands more in my half of the war zone are maimed, dead or traumatized. Nobody has won.

The difference between terrorism and the Cold War is that terrorism has proved its possibilities. Terrorism is the natural heir to the Cold War. It is the new war game. There is a world war happening right now and nobody has stepped forward to declare it. The allies have reconvened against the axis of evil. They are fighting to prove that traditional warfare will surpass this new debauchery. On one side, it is the same cast of characters: Britain, France, United States and a new German republic. On the other side, Arabia has been reincarnated into a fundamentalist military and economic power. Islamic fundamentalism has replaced the crusades. The wars go on, now indistinguishable and unprecedently long.

Terror is war which cannot be declared, because it relies on surprise tactics and ambush. Terrorists don't declare invasion - they strike when nobody is looking. By declaring a war on terror on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has set out to prove that only a war which is declared can be won. By sending combat soldiers into Palestinian towns and invading with air strikes to crack down on security, Israel is firmly sustaining its tradition of war, of triumphing through military and intelligence. But by refusing to admit its nuclear capabilities and singling out Israel in case of U.S. attack, Iran has set out to prove that cold war is superior - that terror is the best way to prove a point. Iraqi rebels and Palestinian militants are doing the same. It is the guerillas against the soldiers.

But traditional war has lost its efficacy and its glamor, and the guerilla turn from armed ambush to suicide bombings is a promised defeat. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still rage, soldiers are still killed in combat, civilians in cross-fire, and it is becoming more difficult to remember what the fight was about in the first place. Suicide bombers, using alternative war tactics, set themselves up for deliberate loss - a loss of their own life, a loss of innocent lives and absolutely no redemption for their cause. Terror is the new war, but both are impossible situations. It is impossible to win a war on terror because terror is the new war. Traditional warfare cannot snuff terror because terror is by definition an unbridled tactic of ambush. War is a game of logic and power, of demarcation and boundaries, of winners and losers. Terror is fundamentalism, the anti-logic. It is total annihilation without any rules.

This generation's world war will not end until it is acknowledged for what it is. As long as each side continues to play a different game, no solution is possible.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Only one person called me on it. It was David, a kid who I haven't seen since he was 8 years old and charming the pants off of everybody at our camp. We were at an innocuously massive bonfire/drumming extravaganza in the middle of downtown Jerusalem, at Ronen Jembe the jembe maker's studio/apartment/secret garden, when this blond kid came up and asked me if I was I me. I was, and I told him so. I asked him if he was his older brother and he said no. Then I remembered him.

In the last ten years he has become even more charming than I remember and a self-declared right-wing religious fundamentalist, though you wouldn't know it from looking at him (whatever that means). He told me he was going to the army next year because Jews are a warrior nation and as a Jew, he had to be a warrior. He said his yeshiva in Gush Etzion was full of 'lefty liberals,' he told me he wouldn't question the morality of anything in the torah because why would he question the morality of something god told us to do, he told me if a baby was born and he saw that it came from Amalek he hoped he would be able to kill it, he asked why he should go somewhere besides Israel to learn about himself, and he told me he firmly believed that Jews are superior. When I asked if he had ever read any Ze'ev Jabotinsky, he looked at me and said, "that's my man!"

The whole time we talked he was laughing, not because any of it was a joke, but because the truth of it to him was so clear, it was ridiculous.

He told me he could never be a real hippie because of his political leanings (though it has a totally different meaning in this country) and then he called us on it, our raison d'etre, our reason for partying and drum-banging and guitar-strumming and flying-high around the fire.

"I doubt how much any of these people really mean it," he said.

He could have meant a thousand things, but it turned out he meant, "how many people here do you think are dancing because it's Israel's 58th birthday? They'd be doing the same thing at a Phish show."

It was only when he said it that I remembered it was Independence Day. I'd remembered by name, but I'd forgotten what it meant. When I was kid it meant these romantic images of Jewish pioneers and partisans, heros and brave hearts, flying the flag of Israel, secure at home. For David, that's still what it means, and for my grandmother too, and for my father, and somewhere, for me too, but none of it makes any sense.

While we were dancing and barbequing more than 2,000 Israeli Arabs and Jews were marching in Daliat al-Carmel to mark 58 years since Naqba Day, the term Arabs use in reference to their defeat in Israel's 1948 war of independence. Do native Americans do this on the fourth of July?

The park in Jerusalem was stuffed with people and grills the whole day, everybody had the day off (except me, I had to be at work at 4), and the place looked like a war zone carnival, all smoke and bodies and noise.

But when I got into Tel Aviv, it was a totally different celebration. I know over in my neighborhood there was a street party, and the beaches and parks were probably filled, but at least by the bus station, independence day was despressing. I saw three separate men sleeping deeply on three separate empty sidewalks, and a lone family making a barbeque in front of a crumbling building on a corner street.

I wonder what people were thinking about the meaning of the day. For some it was a fiercly patriotic day of historical permission to shoot fists up in victory and say, 'look at me, I'm in holiday heaven and this is my homeland, I'm home.' And for others it was a time to say, 'yes, I know I vote and I know I sit in Knesset and I know I say I'm happy being an Arab with Israeli citizenship, but today I'm showing you what I really think, and what I really think is that today symbolizes the day I traded one freedom for another, and here I am in solidarity with my brothers who didn't take the choice." And for everyone else, it was just a free day to relax.

And one day later? One day later the grand synagogue in Petah Tikvah was covered in swastikas, and then elected Yisrael Beiteinu head and member of Knesset Avigdor Lieberman went all out and said what he'd been trying to say all this time, that Arabs in Knesset who show loyalty to anyone besides Jews should be executed. And everyone else started thinking about Lag Ba'Omer and the next big bonfire.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

kids who died as soldiers

I was in the middle of typing a sentence when the siren went off. I looked up. Everybody in the office was standing. The siren sounded for a minute. Then silence. Twenty-four hours of memorial ahead for Israel's fallen soldiers, a day not for barbeques or parties (that comes tomorrow night, independence day), but for ceremonies and sirens and crying and remembering. There's not a family in Israel that hasn't had a close relative or friend die in the line of duty. This country is small and conscription is mandatory - whether or not we agree with its policies, the IDF is an inseparable part of Israel, its beating heart.

My roommate, whose brother was killed nine years ago in a helicopter crash over Lebanon, told me that he doesn't buy into a day of memorial. He said there were only two days a year that his family got together, memorial day and the anniversary of his brother's death, but still, he couldn't get into it. He said those who remember will remember every day, and those who need a special day to remember need more than just that.

Ceremonies are being held now in every city and town across the country. Another siren will sound tomorrow morning for two minutes. Everybody will stand, everybody will remember. The best music is being played on the radio. Pictures and images and stories of kids who died as soldiers are flashing across TV screens and across projector screens at ceremonies where families sit and cry, cry for their sons, their daughters, their neighbors' sons, their neighbors' daughters, for the concept of Israel and the concept of national unity and the concept of youth and the concept of defense and the concept of war.