Safe landings

There’s no guidebook to help when your son gets out of the army.

“What are you doing?” I recently barked at my oldest son, who was reclining on the couch in the middle of the afternoon, a beer in one hand and the second movie of the day playing on the television.

The sight of the lad just sitting there, doing nothing, triggered something in me that ran contrary to my basic instincts about the need to be productive, to constantly engage in something leading forward in life. If it was 10 pm, my reaction would have been different.

But three in the afternoon? “I guess I’m just getting used to civilian life,” he said, disarmingly.

And indeed, this disarmed me. With those few words, my anger toward the lad melted away, replaced instead by some irritation at myself.

My son had just finished his three year army duty, doing stuff I’d never done, carrying weight for distances I’d never walked, deplaning aircraft in ways I’d never dreamed of, taking on challenges and dangers I’d never had to face, and all I could do at the end of his difficult ride was upbraid him for watching television? What kind of father was I? Simple, I was a father without a playbook guiding me on what to do when one’s son gets out of the army, just as I had no notes instructing me on how to deal with his going in, or fighting a war, or going on late-night missions. In short, I was winging it, and – in this particular case – I was winging it badly.

Built into the three years of IDF service is a month at the very end called hofesh shihrur, abbreviated to hafshash, roughly equivalent to “mustering out leave.”

The army gives the soldiers a few weeks at the end when they are technically still in the army, but out on extended furlough – they have returned their weapons and equipment and will be called back only, God forbid, in time of war.

This is the twilight between being a soldier, and being a civilian.

For some it is accompanied by a seminar where they are given useful information about civilian life: their rights as ex-soldiers, national insurance, tax breaks, educational and employment opportunities and all kinds of handy hints for making it in the real world. For instance, they learn that most people don’t have three meals prepared for them each day, that the world is not their latrine and that buses are not free.

During the hafshash, the soldiers are generally not permitted to work. So they come home, drink beer, watch television, tell army stories, look at Facebook pictures of their just passed “glory years” and contemplate their futures.

Their parents, too, do a lot of contemplating.

They contemplate how lucky they are that their sons, or daughters, made it through the ordeal safely, sound of body and soul. They contemplate the historical privilege of living in an independent, self-reliant Jewish state, with independent, self-reliant Jewish kids to defend it. They contemplate how if their independent, self-reliant kids don’t get off the damn couch and carry their own weight in the house, they are going to go out of their minds.

It is one of the wonders of human psychology how such contrasting emotions can commingle within one simple mind; how one can be so proud of one’s son, yet at the same time so often irritated by him.

For three years, while my son was off soldiering, The Wife and I laid off. We kept things in, preferring to tiptoe around him on his Saturdays at home, rather than snapping at him for dishes not washed, beds not made, siblings not treated overly well.

No reason, I thought, to clutter the lad’s mind with superfluous thoughts about stupid fights at home, when the most important thing was for him to simply go back to the army each Sunday morning with a clear head, able to focus on keeping himself safe and sound.

Everything was secondary to that and could wait.

So tiptoe we did. Until the hafshash.

Then those little tiptoe ballerina shoes came flying off, replaced – almost overnight – by 10-pound hiking boots.

With my son no longer facing nightly danger, I could get mad at him just like before. Free at last.

Free to nag, free to carp, free to pester, badger and hassle. Now the lad could no longer look at me with those combat-weary eyes when I asked him to do something, silently signaling what a tough week he had. Now he couldn’t say, because he only got a couple hours of sleep throughout the week, that he needed to sleep for 14 hours straight.

Ideally the hafshash should serve as a buffer, and there is wisdom in it. Not only does it slowly ease the soldiers back into civilian life, it also gives their parents time to get used to the new reality.

How can I get mad at my son for not working during this month long furlough, if he is not allowed to work? By the end of the lad’s hafshash last Wednesday, when his regular army career formally ended, I had time to find the balance between all or nothing, between tiptoeing around him and kicking him in the teeth, between treating him like George Patton and Dennis the Menace.

Having now gone through my son’s army experience, I have come to appreciate the gradual nature of it all. Things build up, and wind down. The lad did not, from day one, go out and fight the bad guys: he had basic training, and then advanced training, and then specialized training, so by the time he was finally in any danger, The Wife and I were – to a certain degree – psychologically better prepared.

And just as the takeoff was somewhat gradual, so, too – thanks to the hafshash – is the landing.

When our friends realized that our son was about to get out of the army, they didn’t necessarily grasp the slow and plodding nature of the whole experience.

Instead, they said, “Three years already? Hey, that went fast.” To which my favorite reply was, “Right, for you.”

And their second comment was generally, “So what does he want to do now?” “Decompress,” I said, earnestly.

After three years in the service, the lad – thanks to his traveling plans and the academic calendar – will now likely decompress for the next two. Three years of service, two to decompress.

And he won’t be the only one decompressing. The Wife and I now also have two years to catch our breath – until the next son goes in, and this whole gut-churning ride starts all over again.

Herb Keinon is the diplomatic correspondent of The Jerusalem Post.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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Israeli hospital saves life of Palestinian boy

At Israel’s Emek Hospital, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish, Christian, or Moslem.

 

On Thursday, June 3, just three days after the Gaza flotilla raid, 15-year-old Muhammed Kalalwe was working in his family’s fields. They live in Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank, bordering Israel’s Jezreel Valley and the city of Afula. The boy noticed a deadly viper snake and tried killing it with a rock, but the dangerous creature struck out and bit his right palm.

Screams and panic ensued and within minutes, the boy’s father, Hafed, grabbed his stricken son and rushed him to the Jenin Hospital. They were ill-prepared to treat the boy, had no anti-serum and decided to send him by ambulance to the Emek Medical Center in Afula, Israel.

Emek, which was founded 86 years ago, is a community hospital that serves a culturally rich population that is equally divided (50/50) between Jews and Arabs. It has a mixed medical staff of Jews and Arabs, and its guiding philosophy is coexistence through medicine.

Hafed later related that he was genuinely afraid to be taken to Emek because he was sure that they would be ignored and not even spoken to. His son’s palm and arm were critically swollen and the pain was unbearable.

The humanitarian reality of Emek shocked both the father and son as they were immediately greeted in Arabic, rushed into the ER where Emek’s multi-ethnic staff administered life-saving anti-serum and brought the boy back from the brink of death.

Muhammed lay for the next two days in the pediatric intensive care unit and is now resting comfortably in Emek’s pediatric surgical department from where he will be released in the next couple of days.

I asked the father how he felt now about Emek Hospital and the Israelis he has come into contact with. “Our people do not know the truth about you and our medicine has a long way to go,” he told me. “My son and I are not the same as we were before this happened and I will share this with my family and friends.”

As he spoke, he gesticulated determinedly in a classic Middle Eastern style and when we shook hands as I wished them both well, the grip was firm and real. I have shaken many such hands and gazed into many Palestinian eyes that have seen a reality here at Emek Medical Center that they never expected to see.

Larry Rich is the director of development at Emek Medical Center in Afula.

Make the boycott go up in Pixie dust

Latest cancellation from the Pixies doesn’t mean the music stops.

 

Israeli music fans are not going to let some misguided, undereducated musicians ruin their good time.

Last Saturday night, more than 7,000 fans crowded the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds for the opening of the two-day Picnic music festival featuring British glam rockers Placebo, despite the last-minute cancellations of support acts, British indie rockers Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System.

In a case of Israeli on-the-spot ingenuity, they were ably replaced by JViewz, who had finished a short Israeli tour and delayed their return to New York at the request of promoter Shuki Weiss, and Rami Fortis, who brought along Balkan Beat Box clarinet player Eyal Talmudi. The show was opened – as scheduled – by the New York-via-Israel bass and drums duo Hank & Cupcakes.

While refunds to the show were made available following the two cancellations, only a handful of ticket holders took advantage of the offer, according to a representative of Mauranne Paz, the PR firm working with Weiss.

Meanwhile, across town at the Mann Auditorium, veteran British singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading was performing the second of two well-attended shows with her crack backup band – the first show having taken place on Friday night at the Shoni Fortress in Binyamina.

Those among the 3,400 people who attended one of the two shows expecting a laid-back offering were taken aback by a rocking Armatrading, showing off her electric guitar prowess many times while presenting a pleasing career overview including the hits Me Myself I and Drop the Pilot.

Nobody attending either the Picnic festival or one of the Armatrading shows was likely worrying about an increasing movement afoot by artists to boycott Israel. They were too busy enjoying world-class music presented by entertainers who were honoring their contracts and agreeing to perform for what were likely very comfortable fees.

That the Klaxons, Gorillaz Sound System and now, the Pixies – who were due to headline the second night of the Picnic festival on Wednesday – decided to join Elvis Costello and Gil Scott-Heron and renege on their signed contract to appear here is regrettable – and totally avoidable.

However, as Weiss pointed out in a statement to media on Sunday, “Events have gotten out of control. Intense pressure is being applied to foreign artists not to come to Israel. This is cultural terrorism.”

Unlike Costello and Scott-Heron, whose clear and above-board left-wing ideology gave them a pre-determined position on Israel, the Pixies have never been known to be a political band.

In fact, the whole philosophy of the band since their regrouping in 2004 has seemed to revolve around one thing – money. Never having cashed in on their cult status while still together in the ’90s, the quartet has done so with a vengeance in their second incarnation.

So why would a nonpolitical band, together apparently only for the money, cancel a big-gate date in Israel? The band’s statement, as released by promoter Weiss, declared that “events beyond all our control have conspired against us.”

If they were really upset over Israel’s actions regarding the flotilla, why didn’t they come out with a clear statement condemning us?

Evidently the flotilla saga is what also caused the Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System to jump overboard, even though neither act came right out and said it. Of course, for Costello and Scott-Heron, who canceled long before the flotilla set sail, it was simply Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that caused them to bail on their lifeboats.

The factor uniting all the acts that have decided that performing in Israel is worse than aligning themselves with those who would deny Israel’s right to exist is exactly something along the lines of what Weiss called “cultural terrorism.” From the moment a high-profile artist is booked into an Israeli venue, a non-stop barrage of e-mails, open letters and petitions rain down on them like stinging needles, prodding and irritating their consciences.

For example, in March, a group of Israeli self-proclaimed human rights activists calling themselves “Boycott!” urged the Pixies in a letter to cancel their show here, asking, “Are you prepared to perform in Tel Aviv while just under your nose millions of human beings are suffocating under a cruel Israeli military regime, denying them elementary human rights?”

Evidently, that appeal wasn’t effective enough. It took the media coverage proclaiming that the IDF killed nine human rights activists bringing aid to Gazans to do the trick.

Artists face the pressure to boycott Israel in different ways. Some, like Bruce Springsteen, have apparently decided not to even enter the argument by not entertaining any offers to appear here. Others have faced dilemmas over whether to perform in Israel or not – but as in the case of Leonard Cohen, those deliberations took place before the date was booked.

Once Cohen agreed to perform at Ramat Gan Stadium last year, he kept to his word. And when the calls for a boycott grew and his conscience grew heavy, instead of canceling, he and his management devised the idea of donating the proceeds to the show to Israeli and Palestinian organizations working toward reconciliation.

Costello also gave serious thought to the issues surrounding his performances here, but instead of reaching the same conclusion as Cohen, he decided to back out totally.

It’s unlikely, though, that much serious thought, aside from the accountant’s perspective, went into the decisions by the Pixies, Klaxons or Gorillaz Sound System to scuttle their shows. It was probably more like a knee-jerk response of “Israel was the bad guy in the flotilla scenario, the good guy human rights groups were condemning its actions, and we don’t want to be alienating our fan base by performing in a place that’s not Amnesty International-fully sanctioned.”

A decision on whether the Picnic festival’s second night – which is also slated to feature the up-and-coming British rockers the Editors and stellar local openers Carusella – will, like the first show, go on as planned with last-minute additions has not yet been made by Weiss.

Full refunds are being offered, but if fans really want to make a statement against cultural terrorism, they should ignore the fact that the Pixies canceled, and if the show still goes on, they should show up in full force. The Editors are pretty damn good, and they’ll look and sound even better on stage in contrast to the turmoil wrought by their colleagues.

Rod Stewart may not be much of a consolation prize for the Pixies musically, but in an interview on Sunday night, he emphatically stated that he’d be honoring his appearance at Ramat Gan Stadium on July 1.

With Rihanna and Metallica already having followed suit, and with Elton John, Jeff Beck and a slew of other major talents still on the way, it’s clear that despite the pressure and the scare tactics, the music is not going to stop. Just ask the 10,000 people who saw Placebo and Joan Armatrading on Saturday night.

David-Brinn David Brinn is the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. Before that he was the editorial director of ISRAEL21c, and was involved in the initial efforts at rebranding Israel.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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What next in Haiti?

With the rains coming, Israeli aid workers in Haiti are trying to figure out their next move.

The Petitionville refugee camp, stretched across what was, before the earthquake, a country club for the Haitian elite, houses some 60,000 people – it’s the largest refugee camp for the earthquake victims in country. Thousands of tents, constructed of red, yellow, blue or orange tarp, cover the rolling hills of the camp like strange plastic flowers; in the distance, you can see the sea.

People from all over Port au Prince and from a cross section of Haitian society are living here – some come from crowded slums not much different than the camp, others are middle class families; all of their former lives, and often some of their closest relatives are buried in the rubble of their homes.

Tevel-BTzedek-Volunteers-in-Haiti
Photo courtesy of Baruch Rafik (IsraAID).
Volunteers with Tevel B’Tzedek teach children at a makeshift school in the Petionville refugee camp, in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Amidst the crowded, precariously steep dirt pathways, there are unexpected sights – tents that have been converted into fledgling businesses – beauty parlors, tiny shops, bars – even one tent with a sign that reads “cyber café”, probably powered by a generator, as there is no electricity in the camp. The most popular image here, appearing even on some of the business signs, is a drawing of Haiti with an eye painted on it, turning the map into a face; a large teardrop is rolling down the country’s cheek.

There are thousands of children in the camp, but only one school, run by volunteers from the Israeli non-profit Tevel b’Tzedek, and funded by IsraAID, an umbrella organization of Israeli groups working in the developing world.

I founded Tevel b’Tzedek, which has been working with poor and marginalized communities in Nepal for the past three years through its service learning programs that combine volunteering with the study of poverty, Jewish social justice values and globalization.

The nine Israeli and US Jewish volunteers of “Tevel” have been here for the past two months. As I walk through the camp with them, they seem to know everyone, from the children to the US Marines providing camp security. There is an amazingly unlikely moment as we climb the steep hill towards the school – we meet a group of Nepali UN soldiers, and the Tevel Nepal graduates chat with them in Nepali – it seems like the harbinger of a new world.

Besides the schools, which reach 260 children, Tevel has put up community tents with programming for preschoolers, teenagers, and adults – the volunteers learned informal education techniques, like the use of theater, during previous stints with Tevel in Nepal, and are applying everything they learned to the even more chaotic reality of Haiti. They work using theater and song, local talent and local translators, and teach leadership techniques (“leadership means motivating people”) as well as health and geography.

During an art class, Yonatan, one of the volunteers, tells the kids to paint what is on their minds – one of them draws a picture of people screaming against the background of a collapsed building – this is a scene etched on his memory, right after the earthquake, he says.

My job is to figure out what to do next. With the rains and then typhoons coming, the camp is not safe, especially for those on the bottom of steep hills. The camp will empty out over the next few months. Should we go to work in the next phase of semi-permanent camps? Should we move to one of the villages, where we can also use Israel’s agriculture expertise to boost food production, a major priority in Haiti even before the earthquake?

J/P, an organization headed by the actor Sean Penn, is a major source in the camp. Penn himself has been here nearly continuously for the past two months. Last week, after the rains, he worked side by side with the Tevel b’Tzedek volunteers, taking instruction from Israeli army veterans about how to put up the tents.

Whatever one thinks of his radical politics, Penn is for real, working day in and day out in the hot sun, living in a tent himself. His people think we should stay with the refugee camps. “You guys are amazing,” Penn tells me. “You’re the hardware, we’re just a little piece of software,” I answer him.

Micha Odenheimer is the director of Tevel B’Tzedek and was liveblogging from Haiti last week for Repair the World. For the past two months, nine volunteers from Tevel b’Tzedek have been working to support the communities devastated by the January 12 earthquake, running the only school in the Petitionville refugee camp.


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Not the new kid on the block

The new ‘Masbirim’ campaign is acting like it invented the hasbara wheel.

 

The debate over whether Masbirim – Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein’s new effort to involve average Israelis in the effort to defend the Jewish state abroad – is too right-wing exposes its inbred flaw and the Achilles’ heel that has hampered most hasbara efforts over the years.

As we’re all acutely aware, there is no consensus on the conundrum we call the peace process. Just as I shudder to imagine left-wing Israelis accosting Americans in the street to lambaste the country’s “apartheid” policies toward the Palestinians, I also cringe when thinking about my corner grocer Yossi explaining to the family behind him in the queue at Disney World why Arabs can’t be trusted and transfer is the only answer.

The concept of Masbirim is to be applauded for adapting the idea first conceived almost a decade ago that for hasbara to succeed, it must look beyond the conflict with the Palestinians.

But the fact that the Masbirim site, pamphlets and training sessions are even delving into the land mine of politics – and encouraging ordinary Israelis to try to talk about subjects with which even seasoned, fluent English-speaking spokesmen get tongue-tied – is not going to help the country’s image, and could do much to further damage it abroad.

The tank verses the stone-thrower

As the Foreign Ministry’s brand management team head Ido Aharoni told the annual Israel Tourism Conference in Tel Aviv last month, when you talk about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians abroad, it ultimately comes down to the IDF tank confronting a Palestinian youth throwing a stone. Given the fact that there’s no way to articulate Israel’s position within a short TV sound bite time constraint, it’s the image that remains and sticks in the viewers’ minds.

“When we continue to try, it inevitably fails and that’s bad because it leaves the picture of the tank and the child in sight and harms the Israeli brand,” said Aharoni.

Add to the already muddled mix the issue of exactly who are we trying to convince of Israel’s natural goodness and rightful place in the world? There are a small percentage of people for whom Israel will always be the bad guy. You’re never going to persuade an Israel Apartheid Week activist that he has a skewed view of our region, and that he should give us another chance. Alternatively, there are those supporters of Israel (albeit mostly on the Right) for whom the country can do no wrong.

But there’s a vast middle ground of people, in America and in the rest of the world that frankly doesn’t care very much about politics, including the situation in our little corner of the world. Start talking about security fences and checkpoints and kassams, and their eyes will begin to glaze over in apathy.

Thankfully, the Masbirim effort includes facts about the “other” Israel that provide some ammunition that there are people with normal lives here, doing things that civilized people everywhere do.

Discussing classical music not the answer

However, as Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz succinctly satirized in a recent column (“Wrong troops, wrong ammunition,” February 26), the scenario of an Israeli couple verbally accosting British citizens about the classical music concerts that they attend in Israel reveals that there remain some bumpy roads ahead in honing exactly how we’re going to convey the image that we’d like to impart to the rest of the world.

And we do have a load of information to convey – about how Israeli innovations and people are inventing, creating and developing new techniques, products and services every day that are being used around the world to save and improve lives.

David Sable, CEO and vice president of Wunderman, a division of the Young and Rubicam advertising agency, who has conducted extensive branding research for Israel in the US, has reported that Americans “find Israel to be totally irrelevant to their lives.”

As Aharoni pointed out to the tourism conference, Americans see Israel as a grim, war-torn country, not one booming with high-tech and busy outdoor cafes. That’s why a decade ago, people like Aharoni and other top government officials started working on – and are continuing to develop – a rebranding campaign.

Just a bikini-filled vacation site?

It’s been dismissed by both the Left and Right – the former for giving short shrift to the realities on the ground and the suffering of the Palestinians, and the latter for attempting to trivialize the Jewish homeland into a spring break, bikini-filled vacation site.

However, the branding process doesn’t ignore the troubling realities of present-day Israel, it asks the world to know Israelis by the full scope of their society. Likewise those who claim that these efforts attempt to turn the country into a fun, libertine paradise are woefully off target.

Sure, the conflict exists, but so do breakthrough cancer drugs, groundbreaking computer technology – and yes – beautiful beaches and breathtaking models.

Shouldn’t the world see Israel through that broader lens instead of the tunnel vision of only the green of the military and the black of the haredim?

And maybe, isn’t that what we – and that includes the government, the left-wingers and the right-wing corner grocer – should be talking about when the topic of the conversation abroad turns to Israel? The reason for that narrow view of Israel isn’t only due to the media – it’s because the same “we” have a habit – or maybe an obsession – of only talking about the conflict when we discuss Israel with people abroad.

‘Beyond the conflict’ reporting began years ago

The establishment of Masbirim on its own may have some merit, but my beef is that they’re behaving like the first kids on the block, when in fact, efforts have been ongoing for a decade to equip Israelis and supporters of Israel with the non-conflict information required to make the country “relevant” to people around the world.

For example, the organization that I used to work for – ISRAEL21c – has done wonders to take the lens cap off the camera focusing totally on the conflict and to spread the word that Israel is not only a diverse place with people living normal lives, but that it’s a land of innovation for which the world would be a poorer place if it ceased to exist.

Integrating already-existing material into a new endeavor like Masbirim would do wonders to increase its chances of success and its efforts to educate ordinary Israelis about the country they live in.

What would happen if Horovitz’s fictitious Israeli couple ended up discussing their respective family bouts with cancer with the British couple – and it emerged that the British husband had swallowed a miniature camera that provided X-rays of his colon and provided an early detection of cancer that may have saved his life.

If the Israeli couple had been properly briefed to know that the camera was an Israeli invention – developed by Given Imaging in Yokne’am – they may have mentioned that and, in a second, transformed the cold, grim, militaristic Israel into one of the most relevant things in the British couple’s lives.

Will it change their opinion of Israel – provided they even had one? Perhaps. But will it be included in their montage image of Israel the next time they see a TV report in London about police and Palestinians clashing on the Temple Mount? Absolutely.

David-Brinn David Brinn is the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. Before that he was the editorial director of ISRAEL21c, and was involved in the initial efforts at rebranding Israel.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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