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A Tale of Two Cities

There is only one Jerusalem. And there is only one Tel-Aviv. Both cities dominate the Israeli landscape, while each of them represents different aspects of the country.

Jerusalem is the capital. The heart of Judaism, and the largest city in the country, it is home to the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). Jerusalem lies inland, on top of several hills, and surrounded by forests and valleys. It is a conflict city, which has a large orthodox population on one side, as well as a large Arab population on the other side.

Tel Aviv is the heart of new Israel, the epicenter of its culture and its Western lifestyle. The first Hebrew city to be built by the Zionist pioneers, it lies on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and attracts young people at their 20’s from all across the land. Many foreign embassies reside in Tel Aviv — including the American embassy — since Jerusalem’s status as the Israeli capital is under dispute in the international scene.

The “Ha’Dag Nahash” (the Snake Fish), a successful Israeli band, has a rap song that describes the rivalry between these two cities. The character in the song moves back and forth from one city to the other, uncertain where his heart lies.



The song is titled “Ee’Ne A’Ni Ba” (Here I Come).

The first and third chorus goes like this:
Tel-Aviv, A’Ni Ma’Gia, Ba’ti Leha’Zia – A’T Ha’Yechi’Da, A’Ni Nish’Ba
(Tel-Aviv, I’m coming, ready to sweat – You’re the only one, I swear)

The second chorus goes like this:
Ye’Ru’Shala’Eem, Ho’Zer E’Laeich, El Ho’Mo’Taich – A’T Ha’Yechi’Da, A’Ni Nish’Ba
(Jerusalem, I’m returning to you, inside your walls – You’re the only one, I swear)

Breaking News — Israeli politics on the verge of a microphone

Breaking News

Ehud Barak gathered a dramatic press conference, and for the fourth time in the past year, told the media that he’s serious this time: “Olmert should resign”.

Another member of Barak’s “Avoda” party, Danny Yatom also went on air today, being overly solemn, and announced that he’s considering… yes, he’s seriously considering… to decide something in the future. What exactly? To leave the Avoda party? To call on Olmert to resign? To demand from Barak to dismantle the government? He wouldn’t say. But just like Barak, he promised to stop talking and start… Well, he’ll talk about it in the future.

Indeed, the political scene in Israel is in turmoil. More details to come as soon as available!

If Only Cancer was a Sign of Progress

A report published by the Ministry of Health a few days ago determines that the new leading cause of death in Israel is cancer. Previously, this dubious title was reserved for heart disease. The report explains the change by citing the development of new methods for the treatment of heart disease. At first glance, it sounds like good news. Here we are, a tiny country in the Middle East, able to defeat one of Death’s servants. Now we could move on to focus on its “lesser” sibling: Mr. Malignant Tumor.

Alas, if only this was a sign of progress, or a tribute to Israeli medicine.

As a child growing up in Israel, I was always taught that road accidents is the leading cause of death in Israel. Whether a proven fact or not, it had been ingrained into our brain. Teachers used to cite the appalling numbers of car victims, and the fact that these numbers exceed by far the number of Israeli war casualties. Well, it is true that the Israeli driver earned the reputation of being snappish and restless — a rather accurate description, which could only be rivaled by the Italian driver’s reputation. And getting into my car and onto the road is sometimes like entering a battlefield. On the one hand, it’s a stressful experience for many, but on the other, the perfect opportunity to vent off some anger — as honks, curse words, and the middle finger do not pose a rare occasion out here.

SerpentAnd what about violent crimes? The numbers are rising, and we hear more and more of young teenagers being stabbed outside of dancing clubs, or of old folks being brutally beaten and robbed. Crime families, such as the Alperon family, or the Rosenstein’s, have gained celebrity status, and appear to dodge the police time and time again with the help of their fancy lawyers. Domestic violence is also a phenomenon that declines to recedes, despite massive awareness.

Terror and rockets continue to claim their victims, although the numbers are have drastically fallen in recent years, thanks to the government’s firm approach. But even so, as peace is constantly lingering, conflict is likely to cause more sorrow for Israeli families in the future.

So we’ve been left with Cancer to be our biggest foe. Personally, I find the prospect of cancer terrifying. I know too many people afflicted by it, friends and family. In addition, the fervent sun in Israel is relentless in summer, and the presence of antennas and satellite dishes is always on the rise. It seems the world turns more and more radioactive by the day, and not only in Israel.

Finally, I want to address the reduced percentage of heart-related death in Israel. It is indeed a positive mark, but it’s something we can see across the Western world, and it is not unique to Israel. We have the privilege of placing advanced technology in our hospitals and cutting-edge drugs in our pharmacies, but less and less people can afford these — as poverty is spreading, while medical care is being progressively privatized.

Dear Government Officials, we may have won a single battle, but the war is still waging, and there is much more to do. Death is a tricky serpent.

Source: Haaretz ; Picture by My Pets

God Can You Hear Me?

We all need a little help sometimes when talking to God.
Thanks Mom :)


Can You Hear Me God

Anthem to Israeli Artists in Europe

Elad Keidan - Israeli FilmmakerLast week, an Israeli student film won first prize in the prestigious Cannes Festival in France. The short film “Anthem” (Himnon) was directed by Elad Keidan, a young student director. The movie tells the story of a man from Jerusalem who walks along the streets of a famous neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Keidan was exhilarated during the post-win press conference. “I imagined that we might win one of the prizes, but I didn’t expect the first prize,” he told the media. “On my first night in Cannes I dreamt that I had won the competition, and the truth is I was pretty stressed out. Now that it’s already happened, it’s very exciting. I am proud of the fact that the judges, who are highly respectable filmmakers, liked the film — Particularly Hou Hsiao Hsien, who chaired the jury, and is an admirable filmmaker. It’s a real honor.”

Still, we can’t always win first place. On Saturday, in another part of Europe, Israel came ninth in the Eurovision song contest – the annual display of Europe’s worst pop music and its most tasteless fashion. Israel was represented by Boaz Mauda who delivered his best performance so far. The song “Ke’Ei’Lu Ka’N” (As If Here) was written by famous singer Dana International, the winner of the 1998 Eurovision. Well, coming ninth is quite an achievement compared with our embarrassing score at last year’s contest.

Source: Y-NET ; Picture by Festival De Cannes

Heir to the Throne

As Olmert is plunging into the claws of another corruption investigation, talk is spreading as to who’s gonna replace him when the time comes. And my friends, the time is approaching.

StampToday we were announced that Dalia Itizk is considered among “Kadima” party officials as an acceptable replacement for Mr. Olmert if the latter is forced to resign. From the other side of the political fence, former PM Benyamin Netanyahu is sharpening his sword in preparation for a general election, and yet another former PM — and current Defense Secretary — Ehud Barak, remains as opaque as ever.

Who will be the next Prime Minister of Israel? Whomever it may be, he or she will have to lead the country through the imminent face-off with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Whether this threat is resolved via diplomatic means or via a military operation, the matter is likely to reach its climax during the next PM’s term. Moreover, Olmert’s replacement will be given the reins of a preliminary peace process with Syria, one that has the potential of tearing the country apart, socially and literally. There is also a much-due peace process with the Palestinians that everyone is so weary of, and of course the ever-present frustration of Israeli Arabs and Druze. Economically, the next PM will face increasing social gaps, and the privatization of the last remains of the Welfare State that Israel once was.

Personally, I can’t imagine why anyone would want such a grueling position. The perks are nice, but there ain’t much sleep, and most Israeli PMs left office with the loud cry of “boo” shouts behind their backs.

As for the voters, Israelis have become cynical and distrustful of new players in the political game who promise “change”. Most would rather stick with the same old characters who disappointed them in the past. Well, Itzhak Rabin left office for the first time with his head low in the ground, escaping corruption allegations, and several decades later came back for a glorious second term. Maybe Netanyahu or Barak learned their lessons, they wouldn’t have to repeat the same rookie mistakes, and go straight for business.

Maybe?

Picture by the Israeli Post

Israel Celebrates its 60th Ringtone

Art and commercial interests have long been good buddies. Singers and painters always need a wealthy sponsor if they want to have the time to concentrate solely on their art, and accordingly, the “big suits” have a clear marketing interest in associating themselves with popular culture. The connection is therefore expected and quite obvious in most cases. Still, there are certain artists, especially those belonging to the older generation, whom we all look up to and admire for being faithful to their audiences and for never “putting out”.

In Israel, we have the same phenomenon, whereas “production factories” mass-produce instant celebrities such as Maya Buskila and Ninet Tayeb who go on to promote garment companies and cellular networks, while at the same time, long-respected artists such as Yonatan Geffen and Arik Einstein tend to remain away from the limelight of the advertising media.

Up until recently anyway.

Toilet Paper made of CashMaybe it’s the rising inflation, or the desire to feel “young and hip” — in any case, classic figures within Israeli culture have been falling one by one into the hands of “quick-buck commercialism” in recent months and years. The result is unique ads that attract many fans, but at the same time upset many others, who feel betrayed by their idol.

The biggest sensation of the last half year has been the consent of singer-songwriter Arik Einstein, age 69, to appear in a TV ad for the cellular company Orange, a subsidiary of the global Partner Communications network. For a sum of nearly a million Shekels, old footage of Einstein was merged with specially filmed scenes, as to create the appearance that Einstein was performing in the 70’s together with current-day artists. As just mentioned, he earned this much money without even leaving his home. Aside from the commercial itself, a festive album was recorded to commemorate this rare collaboration between “old” and “young” artists — titled “Hebrew Work” (“Avoda Ivrit”). The declared pretext for such an ambitious project is Orange’s desire to do something special to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary.

This month, we learned of another novel purchase made by Orange. This time songwriter Yonatan Geffen was chosen to promote the massive “Hebrew Work” concert which Orange is throwing out in the park in early June. Such a wonderful marketing strategy — not to mention they’ve decided to collect no entrance fee at the concert!

These are just two examples out of many. But it is sending a strong message to struggling young artists that if they want to succeed, that if they want to be able to make ends meet, they must engineer their music to target the popular ear, so that business moguls would want to sponsor them. It has the danger of degrading the artistic quality of our culture onto the lowest common denominator.

On the other hand, everyone has to make money somehow. Why is it okay for Einstein to make money from selling albums but not from selling other products (like cellphones)? Why do we place such high expectations on him but not on young Ms. Ninet? Does she not deserve the same expectations? They’re both talented humans.

I don’t have an answer. It’s one facet of our Capitalist world we can’t avoid, and though it the situation bothers me, I think there is no use in playing prude.

Hurray! Peace with Syria – Political Commentary by Ashley

Guest Commentary

Wait a second – Weren’t we at war with them? What does it mean to announce peace talks with a regime that we vastly outgun in military matters and totally humiliate on an economic level (Israel’s per capita GDP is $30,000 and climbing; Syria’s is just scraping $4,000)?

Israel recently entered Syrian airspace after disabling Syria’s “latest and most advanced” Russian-made air defense systems and then destroyed what’s thought to have been a nuclear weapons facility. Even during the Lebanon War — that mismanaged, mangled, and relatively pathetic display of Israel’s military capabilities — Israeli warplanes were able to buzz “President” Assad’s palace without so much as being shot at.

So, clearly, Syria is a major threat to Israel and we should scramble to give up the ultra-strategic Golan Heights (where Syria attacked Israel from when it actually was a threat) in order to quell the potential “shit-storm” that Syria might like to serve us.

What’s really going on here? No sane nation in today’s geopolitical world, and none in the history of nations, would ever sit down to give away land — strategic land — to a bordering country that not only has limited power but also constantly calls for the destruction of the first, more powerful country.

All I can say is: Welcome to Israeli domestic politics.

We’ve seen this before, many times. The parallels are actually frightening. Let’s rewind back to the winter of 2000, when Ehud Barak led Israel through a number of failed, disastrous policies. In February of 2000, Barak, according to The Economist, was accused by the state comptroller of corruption and “shenanigans over election financing.” Barak, as skillful and slippery as any Israeli politician, managed to sway the public focus away from him by doing something “bold”: he removed Israeli troops from their strategic position in southern Lebanon where they had been keeping Hezbollah (and their likes) at bay.

After the troop withdrawal, Hezbollah had the opportunity to casually saunter into southern Lebanon. In effect, Barak’s wily plan worked — he was praised by the left-wing media for his dovish actions and his campaign imbroglio was largely forgotten. He also, by the way, wiped out more than a decade of hard-won gains in Lebanon that kept terrorists out of firing range of Israel’s population centers. Six years later, we got a terror war from the south of Lebanon in which Israeli soldiers and civilians were murdered.

Ariel Sharon provides another instructive example. Just after he became prime minister, Sharon began to deny accusations of campaign finance violations faster than he could gobble down Shwarmas. Boomerang, a book written by left-wing Israeli journalists and based on extensive interviews as well as on the examination of declassified documents and use of archival material, had made the case that Sharon used the withdrawal from Gaza to distract the Israeli public from his misdoings.

It seemed to work — except for the small annoyance that some call “daily terror attacks”, in the form of Qassam and Katyusha rockets fired from the recently withdrawn-from Gaza Strip. (There have been roughly 8,000 rocket strikes on Israeli ground from Gaza to date since the withdrawal.)

Of course, not a problem for Sharon — then and now — who sleeps with a clear conscience.

Olmert, who, some scientists speculate, may actually be amphibious, has set off on the same mission. A quick browse of today’s news headlines and you can see all the pieces coming together: Olmert announces his new peace plan with our seriously threatening enemy, Syria. At the same time, he wrangles with the police and the justice department officials, in an attempt to delay the testimony of the American financier, Morris Talansky, which could put him behind bars. Delay it just long enough for the peace-crazed public to forget… Forget what, again…?

Olmert may have gone too far this time. But then again, we in Israel like to draw lines in the sand, never remembering that the desert’s political winds blow hard.

Sex and the Orthodox City

An Israeli Billboard company demands to take out the sex from the “Sex and the City” posters displayed in Jerusalem and Petah Tikva.

The new and highly anticipated film is now being promoted throughout the country to the delight of many of its fans that have waited for this moment impatiently. But the billboard company Maximedia is fighting the ad campaign of this popular movie under the premise that the citizens of these two predominantly religious cities are not interested in the word “sex” printed all over their town.

You really don’t know whether to get angry or just laugh at the ridiculousness of this whole thing. Once again we are confronted with the absurd reality where the interests of the secular population in mixed cities are not taken into account.

“We have treaties of commerce with the municipalities which grant us the right to install signs and advertise within them, and there are certain understandings as to the substance advertised”, said Meir Shamir from Maximedia. According to Shamir, the officials in the municipalities of Jerusalem and Petah Tikva have requested not to put up the word “sex” simply because it bothers them.

“We asked Forum Films to leave out the word and place three dots instead, so it’s not exactly as they have been telling the press,” said Shamir. “If we don’t leave out the word it’s likely that the past will repeat itself and our signs will be defaced. It certainly bothers a certain population.”

To See or Not to SeeTo See or Not to SeeThe removal of the word sex from the title “Sex and the City” is absurd! It is also a blatant expression of censorship in what is supposed to be progressive and modern society. Well, let’s just rename the film with something less provocative, like “The Encouragement of Natural Reproduction and The City”.

So for the time being the two cities remain sexless, and frankly they’re better off. After all, what logical arguments can possibly appeal to those who think they can stay protected from the obscenities of this world by never leaving town or watching television?

Source: YNET

“Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people”

The quote above is taken from a 1821 play by Heinrich Heine called “Almansor”. In the play itself, the quote is referring to the burning of the Muslim Quran by the Christian Inquisition in Spain. However the quote is most associated with the May 10, 1933 burning of Jewish books by a Nazi crowd in Berlin’s “Babelplatz” (Babylon Plaza). Today, there is a monument standing in that place:

Babelplatz in Berlin

Last Thursday a book burning event took place in the city of Or Yehuda, a small city outside of Tel-Aviv. The event was a local reaction to the intensive activity of Christian missionaries from the sect of “Messianic Judaism” in one of the city’s neighborhoods. The missionaries went door-to-door and distributed written materials, including the New Testament.

Or Yehuda Book BurningThe collection of the books was arranged by Assistant Mayor Uzi Aharon, a lawyer, and a representative of the “Shas” party — an ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) political party, that has representation in the Knesset as well. In an interview to the press today, Mr. Aharon denied initiating the fire itself, claiming it was a spontaneous action of some people. Nevertheless, he did not offer an apology, and stated out that “the residents of Or Yehuda are people with values and a strong orientation towards the Jewish religion and the Jewish tradition”. In addition he proposed during the interview for the government to alter the law that deals with religious conversations, in order to prevent the Messianic Jews from continuing their missionary activities.

In response to the burning of their books, the Messianic Jews demand the opening of an investigation by the police.

I mention the association between the 1933 book burning and the Or Yehuda book burning without further commentary. I would like to hear your comments and find out whether you think these two events can be compared together or not.

Babelplatz Photo by Aaron Siirila; Or Yehuda photo and Source by NRG Ma’ariv

Bush in the Knesset

Bush in KnessetThis last Thursday, President George Bush gave an historical speech in front of the Israeli parliament. Bush has paid a three-day visit to Israel in honor of Israel’s 60’s anniversary.

In a pro-Israeli speech, Bush has expressed his nation’s support of Israel. Bush said how proud America is to have such a close friend as Israel. President Bush opened his speech in Hebrew: Yom Ha’atzmaut Samech [happy Independence Day]. Bush’s Hebrew is far more impressive than his English, that’s for sure!

“I’m honored to be here… America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world; our alliance is unbreakable,”

“You have worked tirelessly for peace and freedom. When Americans look at Israel we see a pioneering spirit, talent and determination of a free people refusing to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny,” said Bush.

Did Bush say something that we have not heard before? I doubt it…In response to some of Bush’s compassionate statements, all Knesset members and visitors rose to their feet in applause. Indeed, it has been one of the greatest kiss ups that our nation has seen in the last sixty years.

Picture: Haaretz

Channel 10 — the true Survivor

Up until 2002, there was only one commercial broadcasting television channel licensed to operate in Israel. There were already many niche channels transmitting via the cable networks (which have meanwhile merged into the “HOT” network) or the satellite network “YES”, but up until that point, Channel 2 was the dominating force of commercial TV in Israel, and considered to be the mainstream option for the average Israeli TV-goer.

In 2002 businessman Yossi Meiman made the bold move and initiated the creation of Israel 10 (known simply as Channel 10 in Israel), infusing huge amounts of cash into this media adventure. At the beginning, it seemed that he threw away his money in vain, having to face many bureaucratic obstacles and initial low rating levels. Despite shameless purchasing of Channel 2’s main news anchors, Ya’akov Eilon and Miki Haimovitz, Israel 10’s future remained uncertain for the first 3 years or so. All changed when new investors jumped onto the wagon, and when Israel 10 had decided to claim its share of the lucrative pie known as Reality TV…

Israeli Survivor 10Yesterday 36% of Israel’s TV screens were tuned “10” — mine including — on the occasion of a “good-trash” celebration, known as the Survivor 10 Live Finale, taking place in a major basketball arena, no less. After 16 successful seasons in which the reality show Survivor has been a definite “hit” in America, it was high time for the gold-laying chicken to learn how to speak Hebrew. Still, it wasn’t a simple case of a format purchasing and localization. Israel 10 went several steps ahead and has grossly altered the known format, turning the fast-paced reality into a semi-scripted soap opera. Countless magazine articles have published multiple claims of game manipulation by the Israeli production, ranging from the supply of groceries to the castaways, and up to changing the rules on-the-fly in order to keep their preferred characters inside the game, when these faced an imminent threat of dismissal by their fellow tribe members. Personally, I have no idea if these claims have any truth in them; the production certainly denies such allegations. One thing is for sure, the show fulfilled its purpose as a major rating magnet, and provided Channel 10 with a widespread buzz, that is normally the exclusive property of Channel 2.

Three finalists came on top after 52 days on the island: Dan Mano, the young Haifa attorney, whose uncle owns the wealthy Mano Cruise company. Dan has been painted as the manipulative mastermind, who managed to irritate most of his fellow castaways, and a great proportion of the viewers. At one point, when Dan was about to be voted off the island in the following tribal council, the production suddenly transferred him into the women’s group, virtually “saving his ass”. He always claimed to simply playing the game, and personally I must admit that he was my favourite pick for taking the one million shekels prize. Next to him, we had Na’ama Keisary, the new mom, who left her one-month baby, and her dying father, in order to challenge herself in this dire experience. She hadn’t won even a single contest on the island, yet came across as a strong and independent woman. Last but no least, the third finalist pleading the jury for a check last night, was Noam Tor, the humble bee-keeper, who was elected Israel’s sexiest man alive by a major magazine. Noam was voted off the island relatively early in the game, but survived a secondary game in what was called “the Island of the Dead” — a serious deviation from the original format.

Despite being filmed in the Caribbean Islands, the winner wasn’t chosen on-site, as done in the original version, nor was the decision free of public influence. The castaways arrived at the Nokia Arena while already enjoying a celebrity status, and have had many weeks to influence the members of the jury after leaving the island. In addition, the TV finale included an SMS poll, in which the audience was asked to pick its favourite finalist — and these results would have been considered the tie-breaking vote if such a scenario was materializing. In the end, after an excruciating evening that included 3 weary finalists, and many emotional breakdowns, Na’ama Keisary was chosen the ultimate Survivor, surprising everyone believed strongly that Noam was signaled by the production as the suitable winner.

Now that the first Israeli season came to an end, Channel 10 is losing its first rating monster, and leaving many viewers with a bad taste in mouth. Nevertheless; it was fun, it was hot, and it was addictive. Expect a second season heading your way next year….

Writers’ Conference

Amos Oz - Israeli WriterBefore all attention is deflected to President George W. Bush’s visit to Jerusalem today, the capital is hosting its annual Writers’ Conference, one of Israel’s leading literary events, which attracts internationally-renowned novelists and poets. One of the guests is Nadine Gordimer, South African writer, political activist and Nobel Prize laureate, who has long written about racial issues in her home country.

The authors have discussed political issues as well as literature:

“Israel is the country of immigrants and refugees, survivors and displaced people from all over the world. We weren’t occupiers, and we didn’t want to be occupiers”, said Eli Amir, the famous Israeli writer, “We were thrown into a historic situation that we have not managed to get out of. We are a torn nation. The occupation is destroying us. We have no right to control another nation. Our leaders and the leaders of the Palestinian people must do everything to get out of this situation.”

Amos Oz, winner of the prestigious Goethe Prize in 2005 spoke about his love-hate relationship with Israel, “I must personally admit that I love Israel even when I can’t stand it. It’s no coincidence that during a year when it’s tough to love Israel, it’s easier to love its literature. Israeli literature delivers the bill to the Israeli people – for the subjugation of the Palestinians, the occupation, the wars, the internal social injustices, book after book, creation after creation.”

We hope that authors will succeed where politicians have failed so far, and will help to bring a touch of normality to this conflicted area.

Source: Haaretz ; Picture by Princeton University Press

Spunky News

Israeli people are known for their sauciness and their “spunk”. They have the boldness to strive for success and to invent breakthrough enterprises. A good example for this would be the large amout of Israeli entrepreneurs, especially in the high-tech domain. And an even better example would be the state of Israel itself! I mean, it took major spunk for the first Jewish immigrants to disobey the Turkish and British authorities in Palestine, and to claim their place in the world. Whenever they were told “No”, they did not waver, and came up with saucy ideas such as the “Tower and stockade” operations.

Yesterday we saw a good example of that spunk on TV. As a prelude to his second visit of Israel (which began today), gave George W. Bush an exclusive interview to Israel’s Channel 10 News, conducted by front anchormen Yaakov Eilon and Gil Tamari. They sat down for an open, apparently unscripted, conversation with the US President. He seemed amused by their questions and attitude, and they came across as naughty kids who enjoy pushing the envelope ever more.

Watch a short clip of the interview: Mr. Bush on the Olmert Allegations

You could see them inquiring the president about his vision for the middle east, asking for his opinion as regards to the corruption allegations againt Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, and greeting him on his daughter’s wedding. At one point, they began speculating about a possible Iran attack, and albeit Mr. Bush said he doesn’t like to talk hypothetically, they continued to press the issue. Later, they teased the president about his relative lack of involvement in the middle east, saying it took him 7 years to actually “get started”, and asking whether the next president should start earlier. Yes, it actually happened, and I must say that admired the president’s way of handling the cross-fire. He remained calm, even laughed a bit, and then gave straight and frank answers about what he think that could and couldn’t be achieved by the end of his candidacy.

Finally, these two cheeky anchormen directly appealed Mr. Bush to release Jonathan Pollard — the Israeli spy held prison in the States since 1987 — as a goodwill gesture in accordance with Israel’s 60th birthday. He simply said that his policy on the matter hasn’t changed, and even agreed to reveal that he continually receives such official requests from the Israeli government; a piece of information the Israeli public would find very satisfying.

Maybe it’s the freshness of Channel 10 attitude, or perhaps it’s the lax behavior of a president who’s about to leave office — in any case, this rare interview was a pleasure to watch.

Lebanon: Who’s in Charge There?

A lebanese shiite gunmanRecent fighting in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon has made many wonder who is really in charge there. The fighting began several days ago following a clamp down by the Sunni Muslim dominated government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora – himself a Sunni Muslim – on a media network run by none other than Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah organization. PM Siniora must have pushed the Shiite Sheikh and his organization a bit too far, as Nasrallah went on the air declaring in a fiery speech that Siniora and his “so-called” government’s actions were nothing less than an act of war against the Hezbollah.

Nasrallah’s tirade was almost immediately followed by Shiite gunmen setting up positions in various sections of the Capital, which forced Siniora to order the Lebanese army to send out troops with tanks and armored personnel carriers, as to try and show Nasrallah and his followers that the government meant business. All that can be said about these events is that the fighting which took place over the past few days in both Beirut and Tripoli indicates the Hezbollah appears to have the upper hand in this new conflict that many fear could turn into another civil war, like the one that almost destroyed the country back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The situation went from bad to worse with large areas of Beirut again becoming a war zone, and people being afraid to leave their homes, or even to purchase basic necessities.
Although the situation has begun to improve a bit since the fighting broke out (which coincidentally was about the same time that Israel was celebrating it’s 60th Independence Day), the relative calm only occurs because Nasrallah and the Hezbollah backed off a bit, for their own personal reasons. Most likely, the Hezbollah isn’t inclined to assume control of the entire country, and so its people are content to consolidate their hold on areas like West Beirut, along with their known strongholds in southern Lebanon.

Obviously, the Israeli government and military are keeping a wary eye on the developments in the north, as was noted by Defense Minister Ehud Barak during a visit to a kibbutz in southern Israel after a Hamas attack that took place there. Barak said that the IDF is “keeping one eye open in the south and another eye open in the north in regards to what is happening in Lebanon”.

That may be indeed a good idea, as Israel’s worst nightmare would be a Hezbollah-governed Lebanon on its northern border. The 2006 war is still on many people’s mind in Israel, especially those living in the north. The actions of Nasrallah’s organization during the past few days clearly indicate that Fouad Siniora and his government are not in charge of their country’s affairs — in fact, far from it. So, who’s really in charge in the “country of the cedars”? You, the reader, can draw your own conclusions.

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