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Luck of the Irish

Ah, Erie! That Emerald Isle where Guinness stout flows like a bubbling stream and people still come from everywhere to kiss the Blarney Stone (photo) . Ireland has a lot to offer those who come to visit there, as well as work, in the new economic climate that has resulted in this country now being touted as the number one place to live, so far as quality of life goes. That this ‘miracle’ has happened to a country with one of the worst climates (it rains there a wee bit), and from where millions once fled as a result of famine and political unrest, is a miracle into itself. The Irish Republic now boasts one of the fastest growing economies and favorable investment climates in the world. Not only are people not running away from its shores; many descendents of disenfranchised ‘Finians’ from “the famine” are now returning to live there once again.

Luck of the IrishWhy can’t we in Israel learn from such a country insofar as improving ourselves like the Irish did? A Channel 2 magazine program ran a half hour documentary recently, comparing various attributes in the new Ireland to their ‘equivalents’ in Israel, if you want to call them that. As a result, the only thing that both countries seem to have in common is that the dark brown, bitter tasting brew is sold regularly in both lands. Otherwise, that’s about it. Ireland, for example, has not only made an abrupt turnaround in its economy; the government there has introduced a number of new laws and social policies that we living in Israel should definitely take note of.

For one thing, a law was recently passed in Ireland forbidding smoking in pubs, restaurants, and other public places. Although many people there who smoke are not happy with this law, those who do not puff the cancer causing weed are grateful. Ireland for years has also had a law requiring pubs to close at a certain night time hour, which has resulted in less traffic accidents as well as alcohol related crimes. Israel tried to do this, but intense opposition on the part of pub and bar owners resulted in this ordinance not being passed. Another recently passed law in the Emerald Isle forbids loud talking or screaming in public. I’d like to see how far the passing of this kind of law would get in Israel.

And finally, all Irish children will soon be able to obtain free college education, if they meet certain entrance criteria. This benefit assures that country’s future; giving students a chance at a better life due to a higher education. Israeli young people have to pay for higher education themselves, with little assistance from the government.

While it can be said that Ireland doesn’t need a large defense budget, and that their army, such as it is, is all volunteer, Israeli governments can still better appropriate our country’s annual operating budgets, with more attention to social needs, especially education. The way that the Republic of Ireland is changing should be an example for everyone, especially people living in Israel. We certainly can change our social system, despite our security needs. And, once this is accomplished, perhaps we can become more like the Irish; at least in these positive aspects.

Who’s’ dream is it anyway?

“Parents today want their kid to be famous” explains Moni Mushonov on the beginning of the new documentary series, horei
hachalomot (“parents of dreams”)
. The show focuses on kids and their parents on their journey to fame (or their failure to do so). It’s unclear who is the stronger force here; the children that aspire to become famous and admired or the parents that are fulfilling their childhood fantasies thru their kids. Either way the program portrays a very disturbing reality: pushing parents, talented kids and a lot of dreams of becoming rich and famous.

Here are some of the main characters:

Liraz and Lidia Lantzman – Liraz is a 14 year old boy, dreaming of appearing in a Hanukah play. His mother
is he’s number one fan and escorts him to all his auditions.

Izchak and Avraham Tzimerman– Avraham is a stay-at-home dad. He dedicates all his time to educating his kids to excellence. His son plays the violin at least 5 hours a day, even if that means missing school.

Daniel Levi and Ya-Ya – Daniel is only nine and a half years old but has already preformed in 2 plays, wrote a children’s book and modeled for a fashion company. She’s now recording a disc of her own. Her grandmother Ya-Ya supports her and makes sure Daniel doe’s all her homework between her recording sessions.

I found the series interesting, eye opening and mainly worrying. I hope channel 2 that chose to air this show, will also learn something from it.
(Horei hachalomot, Monday, 21:00, channel 2)

10 IDF Reserve Soldiers Killed in Rocket Barrage

10 IDF Reserve Soldiers were killed less then the hours ago as they gathered to attend an orientation conference at Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, north of the town of Kiryat Shmona. The men, who were standing in an open parking area, at the Kibbutz entrance, apparently had no advanced warning that the missiles were coming their way. They had arrived to attend the conference for the purpose of receiving full orientation regarding the military operations still in progress in southern Lebanon in units they had been assigned to join. Another reservist was critically wounded and four others received medium injuries.

The event, the worst tragedy that has happened to Israelis since the 26 day old conflict has begun, occurred in broad daylight, like so many other rocket attacks in Israel’s northern sectors. More than 150 Katyusha rockets have fallen so far today. Many of them struck other parts of Israel’s Galilee ‘panhandle’; including Kiyat Shmona, and a Golan Heights Druze village, Magdal Shams.

Scores of emergency vehicles, including police units, ambulances, fire Brigade units, and special terror fighting vehicles were on the scene within minutes. But for most of the above mentioned victims, help arrived too late.

Israeli government ministers and spokesmen, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, are reviewing all aspects of the tragedy, before making a formal statement. Questions are already being raised as to why the reservists had gathered in an open area prior to attending the conference, despite previous warnings to not be so exposed, due to so many rockets already falling in this area. Another question is why no warning siren had been sounded in time to give the men at least a chance to dash to the safety of a shelter.

The government’s call for reprisal action is likely to be forthcoming. One wonders, however, what further action can be done in addition to the present on-going military operations still in progress in Southern Lebanon by IDF ground and air units to eliminate further catastrophes as this from occurring again.

“It still appears that despite intense IDF military actions to take out Hezbollah missile launching sites, this organization still appears to have the ability to continue launching their missiles at will”, Channel 2 ‘on the scene’ reporter commented.

Hezbollah leaders have reportedly said, they only honor a cease fire if “all enemy troops leave Lebanon at once”. This will unlikely happen until, some kind of international ‘buffer force’ arrives to patrol the Southern Lebanese areas formerly held by the Hezbollah.

Israel’s casualty list (both military and civilian) of those killed in this conflict has now surpassed 75. Though much smaller than the number of Lebanese casualties, it is still ranks as the largest number of deaths in recent times, and by far the largest number of civilian deaths, outside of terrorist attacks. This incident is a definite reminder that the conflict is far from over, and that Israelis will have to understand that what is needed to persevere is same fortitude as noted by Winston Churchill during WWII: “Blood, Toil, Sweat, and Tears.”

Helter Shelter

Some army guy has just come on Channel 2 and told Tel Aviv residents to be on the alert for a warning that will give us one minute before the rockets land … One minute to what? To run? Run where? What if I run in the wrong direction?

“Where’s the shelter?” I ask Saar.

“I don’t know.”

There should be one a public shelter nearby. I keep passing signs to them all the time. Why didn’t I pay more attention. There should be one in the building. All buildings in Tel Aviv have one. I’m going to ask the va’ad habeit, the guy we pay 150 shekels to every month so that someone will clean the staircase.

I interrupt him in the middle of lunch.

“Hi,” (sweet smile trying not to show panic). “Where’s the public shelter?”

“Hmmm there’s one in the park next door.”

(Slight relief)

“Is it open?”

“Well that’s the thing. I don’t think so. Most of them haven’t been used for a while and anyway they’ve just done some building in the garden, so I’m not sure.”

(Back to panic)

“But don’t worry,” he tells me. “Just come into the stairwell, or stand in your corridor. The important thing is not to be near an outside wall. And the best he says is to stand under the mashkof.”

I have never heard that word in Hebrew.

“What’s mashkof?”

Unable to find the English word, his eyes rise to the doorframe and he pounds his fist on the narrow brown plastic, painted with darker strips in an attempt to create an aged wooden look, showing me the mashkof and at the same time demonstrating its supposed sturdiness.

Yeah, that’ll save me.

My face shows I am not convinced.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “Think about me. I have to drive up north now, closer to it all, to be with the kids. I’m going to die of fear. You’ll be fine. Just make sure there’s lots of water in the house.”

We’ve only got one bottle left. I’m going to buy more water.

“Thanks … and good luck with the kids.”

As I come back into my apartment, the IDF spokeswoman is on the TV, telling everyone to calm down. Carry on your lives as normal, enjoy the summer with your kids …..

What The Hell Is Going On

I hadn’t turned on the news and was working away in that zone of focused concentration that comes along every so often – quite ironically on a tourism piece for a British website – when Saar walked in the house, immediately turned on the TV and said, “Haven’t you seen all the balagan?” And there went my totally focused concentration and with it any need to be writing tourism pieces for British websites.

What the hellAnother two soldiers kidnapped on the northern border, the live news reports on every channel told me, then rumors about the ones who were missing, later the news that 4 were dead and 4 missing and then the confirmation that 8 were dead.

And then massive Israeli air strikes on southern Lebanon and Hezbollah started raining down Katyushas on the north, or was it the other way round, I can’t even remember and can’t keep up with just how fast things have exploded into catastrophe.

The next morning we wake, weary-eyed from a late night watching the round-the-clock coverage of the tragedy as it unfolded, and turn on the TV to see that rockets have hit Nahariya. Nahariya!

“Call Shelley,” I tell Saar, which he does after a couple of seconds it obviously takes his mind to absorb the information. Shelley, his sister, is already a good hour into her escape to Tel Aviv and launches hysterically into descriptions of whistling rockets, incessant booms, billowing smoke and fire and a house near her that was hit.
What the hell was going on? Katyushas in Nahariya? Bombs in Beirut?

A heavy depression hangs over the Haaretz offices when I come into work. It’s definitely a depression, not a panic, a depression, mixed with concern and a deep sense of confusion. Weren’t things slowly, ever so slowly, maybe, just maybe showing some slight hint of a sign of improvement not that long ago? How could the rug have been so quickly swiped from under our feet?

More strikes on Beirut and the news that Rosh Pina had closed its airport and then that rockets had hit Safed. I was there last weekend.

Everybody’s cell phones keep going off as we’re trying to put the weekend pages together, pages that normally attempt to bring some color for a Friday morning, maybe some art pieces, a few light features, but no one’s in the mood for cooking columns this week, and the pages are devoted to analyses and pictures of devastated buildings, blown up roads, rubble and fire.

“Can we call it war? Is this a war?” the editor’s asking. “Not yet, we can’t say war, throw that picture, change the headline.”

“They’ve hit Haifa!” someone shouts.

“My son’s there…”, “My daughter’s there…” and all the cell phones start ringing again.

I MSN Lisa, who generally knows everything about everything: What the hell is going on?

Iran, madness, crazy, Syria, Nasrallah, world opinion, U.S., UN, she gives me her sharp analysis and it doesn’t do anything to calm the slowly rising anxiety I am feeling in my stomach.

In the office, the discussion has moved on as to whether the suiciders on buses were worse (yes) and what would happen if they hit the oil refineries in Haifa, and general consensus settles on the word disaster.

But they won’t hit the refineries, right? Saar calls, “They’ve never hit Haifa before.”

Iris’ phone rings, and from the long conversation that proceeds in German we gather it’s her parents urging her to come home. And leave Elad? she says after hanging up. His army unit is based in the north and the emergency call-up orders for reserves are already in the post.

We send our paper to the printer and hand over the baton to the night desk.

In the morning, big headlines, red pictures.

All day we flick through the channels, CNN, BBC, Sky News, Channel 10, Channel 2, back again. We hit Nasrallah’s building. “Yes!” says Saar, his hands in the air. But the World Cup was last week.

The death toll rises, Beirutis flee, Nasrallah’s still alive. I turn back to my tourism piece as the planes are flying overhead. A Canadian friend pops up on MSN. We chat late into the night.

It’s only been four days and it feels like months already. This is madness. I check Lisa isn’t in the north and press her for more insights. Regional conflict or brokered ceasefire, Saudis, deep shit, things are BAD in Gaza ….missile in Tiberias!

Nasrallah says that Tel Aviv’s next.

But they can’t hit Tel Aviv.

Right …

Clout – Kills!

Friday’s weekend news program on Israel’s Channel 2 T.V., dealt with the continuing road accident carnage on the country’s streets and highways. One incident in particular that stood out from the rest, was the accident occurring recently in central Tel Aviv, involving a 26 year old woman and small son who were killed instantly when their small car was hit by a man driving an expensive 4 X 4 vehicle, worth more than half a million N.S.

What made this tragedy stand out over many other similar occurrences was that the accident happened during the mid-day and in perfect weather conditions. The driver of the 4 X 4, a wealthy businessman who, it turned out, had drunk several glasses of wine during a luncheon engagement, and should not have been behind the wheel of his car in such a state. His blood alcohol level, combined with being behind the wheel of a high-power “status machine” turned out to be nothing short of homicide when he tried to go through a changing traffic light and collided with the unfortunate woman who was completely within the law.

Car CrashThe investigating police units estimated that ‘Mr. 4 x 4’ was driving at a very excessive rate of speed and could not have stopped his vehicle in time had he even wanted to. Both cars were literally ‘totaled’ especially the small econo-box that the woman was driving. The gory, blood splattered windscreen of her car indicated that either she, or her son (of both of them) were thrown into the glass, increasing what turned out to be literally multiple injuries, most of which would have been extremely critical or fatal.

Surprisingly, ‘Mr. 4 x 4’ was able to walk away with only minor injuries, despite his car being a write-off, and even rolling over and over several times. His survival was probably due to the strength of his car, one with a 5 of 5 safety rating, and by his drinking, which probably relaxed his system and prevented his muscles from tensing up, which might have caused more serious injuries, had he not been semi-inebriated. The T.V. story ended by noting that the man is now back at work, most likely in one of those new high-rise office complexes like Azrelei Towers.

The poor woman and her three year old son are now lying together under a meter and a half of earth, and a young husband and father is literally crushed by their tragic deaths. ‘Mr. 4 x 4’ probably had his license suspended for 30 days, and is now in the process of settling with his insurance company, as well as with the one that was insuring the woman’s car. Israel’s ‘no fault’ insurance law regarding personal injury in traffic accidents means that this part of the occurrence is being settled between the two companies, unless any additional law suits against the driver at fault are brought to court. Being a person of influence, most likely ‘Mr. 4 X 4’ has an army of advocates at his disposal to fight any lawsuits filed by the family of the slain woman.

Great! O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake were able to beat murder raps in America because they hired the best lawyers; and most likely this guy will also win out. His car was no different than a loaded gun, and the results were exactly the same, whether or not his intentions were.

Israeli TV news now online in English

Yonit Levi
Yonit Levy, co-anchor of Israel’s Channel 2 TV evening news.

As of March 1, you can watch Israel’s Channel 2 evening news broadcast online, with an English language narration. Which means that non-Hebrew speakers will get a much better idea of the issues that really concern Israelis – especially since Channel 2 is a commercial network that depends on ratings, which means that it reports on what the people want to know.

Click here to watch and listen. Note that you can register for free daily email updates.

The truth is that there already was an existing Israeli television news broadcast in English. It’s produced and broadcast by the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and – well, it sucks. They have a miniscule budget, and it shows: the reporting is amateurish and superficial and the timeslot is ridiculous – 5.30 p.m., which means that working adults who actually have a life are never able to watch it.

This new service should open up a whole new window on Israeli society for non-Hebrew speakers.

Thanks to Alan Abbey for the tip (if you’re not reading this veteran journalist’s blog, you should be – it has a ton of interesting information).

From Ariel Sharon to Arik

Today’s Headlines

Maariv: picture of Ariel Sharon when he arrived at the hospital.

Maariv headlines - Sharon Jan 2006

The quote says: ”I don’t need you to take me to hospital, tomorrow I am going to be there anyway”. This was the angry response of the Prime Minister when his son Gilad wanted to take him. Even in the ambulance, when he met his doctor, Sharon insisted: “now that you saw me, can I go home? He then collapsed.
Yediot Ahronot: Shows a picture with the title “Praying”.

Yediot Ahronot - Sharon Jan 2006

Haaretz photogrpaher Lior Mizrachi took this amazing picture of Ehud Olmert next to Sharon’s empty chair.

Ehud Olmert without Sharon

The news just announced a worsening of Ariel Sharon’s condition. I planned to write this before the news and it seems more appropriate now. The newspapers are full of stories and articles on Arik Sharon and the void he leaves behind. I was thinking about how we as a nation have gotten to the point today that we feel this sense of loss. How did Ariel Sharon become Arik?

What made this man, a man hated and ridiculed by so many, the media, people and world opinion all of a sudden so loved? I am saying loved because there is no other way of describing it. You can feel a sense of loss and confusion. It shows itself in people’s faces, less then busy coffee shops and the non stop broadcasts and at times misty broadcasters that recall interviews. This is a collection of excerpts, stories and experiences collected from a variety of sources. I hope it shows a true picture of what we feel here. It is as impartial as possible.

I was watching last night a special Yair Lapid show on Channel 2 TV. He broadcast bits from an interview he held November 2005. The interview was at his home in Hashikmim Farm – there in the kitchen they sat down and in a typical Israeli straight forward, candid way, had a chat. I can’t provide a script of the interview but here are a few quotes:

Yair: What is your biggest fear?
Sharon: Blind hate.
Yair: Tell me something people don’t know about you?
Sharon: I like romantic movies, films that women like.
Yair: I heard that you never read the articles about you. Is that right?
Sharon: I wake up at 5:30 every morning and I only have an hour to take a look at the papers. I don’t get much time. I get to the office and then I am there until 11:00PM sometimes later.
Yair: You don’t take a nap in the afternoon, a break?
Sharon: I wish I did, but I can’t do it.
Yair: What about in the car, on the way to and from places? Can’t take a nap there?
Sharon: I rather look out the window, see the fields, the changing seasons. Don’t want to miss a chance to see the country.
Yair: How do you pamper yourself?
Sharon: I like to take a walk in the fields and around the farm. Look at the livestock.
Yair: I heard that you don’t go out to restaurants much. I believe it was 4-5 dinners in 4 years. Is that right?
Sharon: Yes, but as you can see from looking at me, I enjoy good food at home. It hasn’t slowed me down.(they laugh).
Yair: What’s your favorite food?
Sharon: I like the lentil soup we make here.
Yair: you have a special relationship with George Bush. Some people say that its because he can’t really manage long sentences.
Sharon: I don’t know about his inability to say long sentences. But actually who needs long sentences.

Continue reading

Ariel Sharon Hospitalized

Ariel Sharon January 2006 In a press conference just given at Hadassa Ain Kerem the news was announced that Ariel Sharon was rushed to hospital when he was reportedly feeling unwell. He has been hospitalized tonight at 11PM. He suffered a “Significant Stroke” and will have to under go surgery. A short time ago the legal team has transferred authority of government to Ehud Olmeret as Sharon will be placed under full unaesthetic. Sharon was due to go through a procedure to repair a heart defect tomorrow.

11:50 PM

In a second announcement a few minutes ago, Ariel Sharon has gone into surgery.

11:57 PM

After an MRI exam the prognosis of hospital staff was that Atiel Sharon suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. He will undergo surgery immediately.
The feeling is that this is a high risk surgery and there exists a significant risk to his life.

I wish him well and hope the surgery is a success.

00:15 AM

In a phone interview on Channel 10 TV News a hospital source claimed “stroke was massive”. The commentary speaks of the severity of the stroke and the low chance of recovery. It seems that the damage done will prevent him from returning to office in the short term.
Sharon May Not Recover reports Sky News, this was mentioned now in local broadcasts.Article Here!
“Majority of sufferes of these magnitude stroke will need at the least 6-8 months in recovery. Severe effects are likely in these cases.

A CNN Report here.

00:45 AM

Channel 2 News Reporting

Channel 2 News Sharon in Hospital

Hadasa Ein Kerem - Tonight

Continue reading

Star Wars and other assorted fruit with 118 days left

The Maariv headline today says it all – “Star Wars” is right. Now try to keep up, the hand is quicker then the eye.

Maariv Headline Nov. 30 2005

The old news, literally, is that Shimon Peres, one of the founding fathers of the Labour party, a man who stood shoulder to shoulder with Yitzhak Rabin and was among the leaders of the Oslo initiative – has left the party and is joining Kadima, Sharon’s brand spanking new party. These discussions started right around the time that he LOST (again) the Labour party leadership to Amir Peretz. Say no more.

So if we are discussing Kadima (Forward in Hebrew) then there have been other star additions. One of the founders of Shinui (Change in Hebrew), Professor Ariel Reichman (Dean of the Law faculty in Tel Aviv Univeristy) has decided to defect and move to Sharon’s party. He also got a promise from Sharon that he will be the next Minister of Education in the new government. Apparently, the leader of the party, Yosef Tommy Lapid is a little overpowering and the defecting member has been complaining about the loss of the democratic process within the party. Some say that the party has officially died with this move and to make things a little more official, a Knesset member, one of the party’s ex-members, got on the stand and said a quick verse for the dying.

Sharon also called in the troops these last few days. 72 local government leaders were invited for a gathering with Sharon and were asked to join the new party. There has been a good response so far. The new members are ex Likud and ex Labour party members.

Shaul Mofaz has not agreed to make the move to Kadima and that apparently has been a little difficult for Sharon to accept. Their working relations are currently described as “professional and correct”.

Shelly Yechimovich and Cheli from Wonderful CountryNow, Peretz and Labour. Well, a big boost yesterday when one of Israel’s hardest hitting journalists announced she was leaving Channel 2 and joining the Labour party (sort of like Larry King joining the Democratic Party). Shelly Yachimovich, a news personality for a long time and is known for being a little aggressive sometimes in her interviews. She is smart, very opinionated and generally well respected. Definitely going to make things interesting. Shelly is an active character portrayed by Chelli in the Comedy show Wonderful Country, the writers of the show were happy to hear the news, saying they felt the character was getting a little tired.

Another interesting addition to the new Labour party is Avi Shaked. One of Israel’s richest people and a behind the scenes man for several political initiatives has announced his candidacy to the party. Describing himself as a “socialist first and millionaire later” he managed to stay out of the limelight.
He made his fortune online with a network of online gaming operations and a software company, Random Logic, that operates the online casino 888 and the poker site, Pacific Poker. The company went public in September in the UK with an IPO worth $1.04 Billion. A multi million dollar socialist !

As always, stay tuned…

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