Saturday, July 29, 2006

'Casualties of War: Lebanon’s Trees, Air and Sea'

July 29, 2006, Environment, The New York Times

Casualties of War: Lebanon’s Trees, Air and Sea, By HASSAN M. FATTAH

JIYEH, Lebanon, July 28 — As Israel continues the bombing campaign that has turned parts of Lebanon into rubble, environmentalists are warning of widespread and lasting damage.

Spilled and burning oil, along with forest fires, toxic waste flows and growing garbage heaps have gone from nuisances to threats to people and wildlife, they say, marring a country traditionally known for its clean air and scenic greenery. Many of Lebanon’s once pristine beaches and much of its coastline have been coated with a thick sludge that threatens marine life.

As smoke billowed overhead on Friday, turning day into dusk, Ali Saeed, a resident, recounted how war has changed this small industrial town about 15 miles south of Beirut.

Most people have left, he said. It is virtually impossible to drive on the roads, and almost everyone hides behind sealed windows.

“There’s nowhere to run,” Mr. Saeed said, showing off the black speckles on his skin that have turned everything white here into gray. “It’s dripping fuel from the sky.”

A large oil spill and fire caused by Israeli bombing have sent an oil slick traveling up the coast of Lebanon to Syria, threatening to become the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history and engulfing this town in smoke.

“The escalating Israeli attacks on Lebanon did not only kill its civilians and destroy its infrastructure, but they are also annihilating its environment,” warned Green Line, a Lebanese environmental group, in a statement issued Thursday. “This is one of the worst environmental crises in Lebanese history.”

The most significant damage has come from airstrikes on an oil storage depot at the edge of Jiyeh on July 13 and 15. Oil spewed into the Mediterranean Sea and a fire erupted that has been burning ever since.

Four of the plant’s six oil storage containers have burned completely, spilling at least 10,000 tons of thick fuel oil into the sea initially, and possibly up to 15,000 more in the weeks since. A fifth tank burst into flames on Thursday, residents said, adding to a smoke cloud that has spewed soot and debris miles away. The fire is so hot that it has melted rail cars into blobs and turned the sand below into glass.

Engineers are concerned that a sixth tank still untouched by the fire could soon explode, making the situation even graver.

The prevailing winds and currents have swept the oil northward up the coast of Lebanon, and on Friday it reached the coast of Syria, Environment Ministry officials said.

“You can’t swim in the water anymore, it’s all black,” Mr. Saeed said. “This is like the Exxon Valdez spill in America,” he said, speaking of the environmental damage caused when a tanker ran aground and spilled about 40,000 tons of oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989.

Lebanon’s coast is an important nesting ground for the green sea turtle, an endangered species, as well as a spawning ground for some Mediterranean fish. Turtle eggs begin hatching in July, but with the oil slick coating most of the area, baby turtles will have a far smaller chance of making it to deeper waters and surviving, environmentalists say. The oil slick is also threatening bluefin tuna that migrate to the eastern Mediterranean this time of year.

The Environment Ministry sent crews to various parts of the country this week to assess the damage and begin the cleanup, a spokeswoman said. But the oil slick has quickly proven beyond the government’s limited capacity to deal with the problem.

The ministry estimates cleanup alone will cost upwards of $200 million, a major sum in a country with a gross domestic product of around $21 billion, but experts warn the bill could run even higher.

Jordan has offered to send experts to provide technical assistance, and Kuwait has pledged to send material and equipment to help clean up the spill.

Brush fires in many parts of the country have been an equally pressing concern as they rage unabated. Firefighters and forestry workers cannot move around for fear of being targets, and resources are being used to help refugees.

“In Israel there are planes taking care of forest fires, but in Lebanon these fires are not being extinguished or even noticed because our priorities have shifted from the environment to relief and humanitarian work,” said Mounir Abou Ghanem, director general of the Association for Forest Development and Conservation in Beirut.

Much of the budget for environmental protection and development has been sacrificed for relief work, he said. The oil spills, he said, will eventually be cleaned up and solid waste will be collected and disposed of when the war is over, but the forests are irreplaceable.

“In the end, who cares if a forest is on fire when there are people dying, others are being displaced and their houses or factories are on fire?” he said.

Water pollution has become an issue, too, said Karim el-Jisr, senior associate at Ecodit, a nongovernmental environmental association. Wastewater and freshwater canals are very close together and the many bombs that have hit roads and other infrastructure have damaged them. As a result, Mr. Jisr said, wastewater is contaminating the freshwater supply, especially in rural areas, causing further environmental degradation.

But experts warn that the real environmental impact of the war will not be clear until the fighting ends.

“This war will affect the soil and the air,” said Hala Ashour, the director of Green Line, the environmental group. “But it’s still too early to assess the actual damage because we have to analyze samples and that can’t be done before the war is over.”

In Jiyeh, Mr. Saeed and the few other remaining residents have begun learning to live with the pollution. Within the first few days of the oil fire, Mr. Saeed said, they wore masks to breathe; now, he said, they are used to it.

Maher Ali, 24, a fisherman, said: “When the winds blow north, it’s bearable, but when it blows east, it’s deadly. The soot lands on the food and furniture and makes everything dirty. You just can’t leave a glass of water sitting around. It’s no wonder most families have given up and left.”

Nada Bakri contributed reporting from Beirut for this article.

Friday, July 28, 2006

'The Mideast PR War'

SPIEGEL ONLINE - July 28, 2006, 06:45 PM

News on a Platter

By Matthias Gebauer in Israel, (AFP)

Propaganda is part of every war, just like bombs and soldiers. Still, it's remarkable how professionally Israel deals with foreign journalists, catering conscientiously to all their needs. Lunch included.

The phone rings at 9 a.m. -- right on time. "Hello, this is the Government Press Office," pipes a woman's voice. "What are you planning to do today? Do you need an idea?" And then the suggestions just keep coming -- interview partners; a tour to the houses in Haifa that were struck by Katyusha rockets, complete with victim interviews. An expert will come along too, one who explains the nature of the rockets -- "in clean sound bites, if you want."

There's more on the plate. "The highlight is still to come," says the lady from Israel's press office, the GPO. "We can offer an interview in Naharya with the parents of the kidnapped soldiers," she says. She explains that the parents of Ehud Goldwasser, who has been held by Hezbollah since July 12, are waiting in a hotel. An interpreter? No need. "They speak good English, don't worry."

Many journalists come along, most of them by GPO bus. About 15 camera teams have set up their equipment. Twenty radio and print journalists are enjoying their coffee and the specially prepared sandwiches. Then the parents arrive. The father self-consciously steps up to the microphone. The desk in front of him bristles with microphones -- as if a politician were giving a press conference. He's sweating slightly; the veins on his forehead are bulging.

Shlomo Goldwasser doesn't have much to say -- not much more than the banal phrases security officials often teach parents so they stay on message. "They, my son's kidnappers, are responsible for Ehud's safety," Goldwasser says. "They are also responsible for returning him to us soon -- and unscathed." He says he can't think of anything else to tell us. He's a father, he says, not a politician.

"Please don't smile"

Goldwasser has barely finished speaking when a journalistic scrum erupts and cameramen start to shout. "Mr. Goldwasser, over here," one of them calls. "Please don't smile." Others want to hear childhood stories -- "It tugs on the viewers' heartstrings." Elsewhere, the man's wife has to leaf repeatedly through the family photo album. She responds to the orders given her like a robot and would presumably even start crying if she were told to do so. Fortunately no one makes such a request.

The disgraceful spectacle goes on for 90 minutes. The parents say they've got nothing to do with politics, nor with the war. They've been told appearances in public could save their son. And it's all organized and choreographed by the Israeli government's press office -- organized for foreign journalists, so that one of the reasons for the current war, the suffering of parents and civilians, receives the public attention it is due. But the parents, in this story, somehow come off only as extras.

Propaganda is a part of war -- especially when a state wants the world to see its decision to take up arms as justified and just. It's no different than the run up to the first Gulf War or the more recent war in Afghanistan -- or, more perfidiously, to the second US war against Iraq. Vast armies of public relations workers develop an emotionally charged image meant to provide media and public support for the conflict's architects. It's standard procedure -- public relations for war.

Not all the information circulated in such a controlled atmosphere, of course, is to be believed. But it's hard to criticize Israel for wanting to see victims of Hezbollah rockets -- 17 killed since the beginning of the war against the militant group -- in the media. Indeed it is precisely these victims that fuel the Israeli operations currently raging in southern Lebanon.

PR warriors take to the mountains

Still, Israel's support and supervision of foreign journalists seems downright excessive. As soon as you've received your press credentials from the GPO, you're bombarded with e-mails and phone calls. When covering other crisis regions, German reporters often have to make an effort to be extra nice and polite and have to search out interviewees and contacts themselves. Not here. In Israel, reporters are on an all-inclusive package trip -- and are well looked after.

Well-thought-out story ideas including transportation, lunch and selected military experts -- all these things are offered without ever having to be asked for. Many journalists happily accept the offer. For days, images of Israeli artillery units flickered on TV screens the world over -- one reason of course being that the PR warriors always took the camera teams to the frontlines around sunset. The soft, warm twilight is favored by camera men and photographers.

An e-mail that arrived on Wednesday is a good example. It offers no less than 11 news stories. The Israeli refugees, perhaps. Or the problems with Arab Israelis? A feature about how an entire village has been dispersed across Israel? A report on people who had to leave their houses? Former hostages? Or a village that has been shot at for decades? It's all available.

There's no need to go anywhere. "The contacts can be reached by phone," the woman from the press office says. "It's better to do it that way, especially for the radio." The organizers know exactly what the reporters want. Radio and TV journalists often have to go on air so often that they barely get a chance to leave the hotel. So when a Katyusha rocket strikes, an e-mail containing a list of eyewitnesses, complete with their mobile phone numbers, is more than welcome.

Language barriers are willingly breached as well. Every list includes eyewitnesses with different language profiles. There's plenty to choose from in an immigrant country like Israel: English, French, Spanish, Russian and of course several German speakers in every city. Laborious simultaneous translations are rendered superfluous by the service.

The Israeli public relations experts, though, have their work cut out for them. With public opinion turning against the Israelis following the bombing of the UN outpost in southern Lebanon, the country's use of excessive force is once again a major issue. And the war doesn't seem as though it will come to an end any time soon.

'Hezbollah and the Press'

SPIEGEL ONLINE - July 28, 2006, 04:00 PM

Hezbollah and the Press

Letting the Images Speak for Themselves

By Ulrike Putz in Beirut, Lebanon

Hezbollah isn't particularly obliging in its dealings with foreign journalists. Instead of doing pro-active public relations work, the Lebanese militia is concentrating on a simple strategy: Let the images speak for themselves.

The scene is grotesque. More than two dozen journalists stand in the midst of devastated buildings, crowded around a Hezbollah press spokesperson. Cameramen shoot some final footage of bombed-out buildings and TV reporters wear shrapnel-protection vests -- to convey a sense of danger to viewers. A Scandinavian journalist wears stylish flip flops as she walks through the destroyed city -- where glass shards and debris sometimes lie piled up several feet high in the streets.

We've reached the end of a tour, organized by Hezbollah, through the almost entirely devastated neighborhood of Haret Hreik in southern Beirut. We're back by the collapsed highway bridge that cuts the neighborhood into two halves. Hussein Nabulsi, one of Hezbollah's press spokesmen, announces that we will meet here again tomorrow at the same time.

"I would kindly ask the CNN team to be on time tomorrow," he says. "You've been late the last three times already."

Even if a certain sense of routine has developed after two weeks of de facto war -- Hezbollah is hardly pro-active in its relations with the foreign press, represented in Beirut by dozens of foreign reporters. There's no real method to be discerned behind the militia's public relations work. While some camera teams that tried to film in Dahieyeh on their own were immediately pressured to leave the neighborhood --a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut -- and escorted north by men on motor scooters, other journalists were able to move as freely as they like. The journalist's ID issued by the Lebanese Interior Ministry is scrupulously checked at some street crossings -- at others, however, reporters are waved through before documents can even be produced.

And even if reporters have been led repeatedly through Dahieyeh during the past days, the tours seem somewhat improvised. Just as in southern Lebanon, there are no pictures of Hezbollah militants or positions -- just endless images showing the horrors suffered by the civilian population. The pictures that scream at pedestrians from the front pages of the Arab newspapers in the mornings are so brutal and upsetting they don't require any extra spin. Let the images speak for themselves, let the refugees tell their stories -- that seems to be Hezbollah's strategy.

Of course it's strange that one of the two sides in this conflict is virtually invisible, while the other lets its public relations machine -- which has been developed and perfected for years -- feed journalists pre-packaged nuggets of information that can go directly into print. Indeed, preventing journalists from wandering freely through Dahieyeh is likely part of the strategy. After all, the neighborhood is a militant stronghold and the possibility of informants is very much on Hezbollah's mind.

The ground beneath the southern suburbs of Beirut is almost certainly riddled with tunnel systems and bunkers where Hezbollah seeks shelter. Rumors that spies are using lasers or homing devices to mark these potential targets for the Israeli air force abound. Hezbollah is said to have arrested 140 alleged spies so far.

Before Hussein Nabulsi dismisses the group of journalists for today, the TV reporters get a propaganda classic for their cameras after all. A truck painted in loud colors drives by with combative slogans and anti-Israeli songs thundering from its PA system. No one is there to hear these slogans and songs apart from the reporters. No one lives in these streets anymore.

'Fuel oil and fumes spill from power plant bombed by Israelis'

By Rana Fil, Globe Correspondent | July 28, 2006

BEIRUT -- Israel's bombing of a power plant on Beirut's southern outskirts has spawned an environmental disaster, sending thousands of tons of heavy fuel oil into the Mediterranean and spreading dangerous fumes into the air, government officials say.

Israeli forces hit the Jiyye power plant two weeks ago, setting its storage fuel tanks ablaze and cutting electricity to many areas in the capital and south Lebanon. One of the tanks exploded and fell into the Mediterranean a week ago, and another one was still burning yesterday.

The officials say Lebanon does not have enough of the foam that is used to extinguish oil fires, as most of it has been used to put out the blaze at the Beirut airport and oil stations, which also have been hit in Israeli strikes.

Fears were rising about health problems from the spill and from air pollution.

``The dark cloud that you see over Beirut and the sea carries particulate matters that enter the respiratory system and cause different types of respiratory problems," Berge Hadjian, director general of the Environment Ministry, said in an interview. ``The most vulnerable are children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who have respiratory diseases like asthma."

The environmental damage elsewhere in the region was unclear. Hadjian said that depending on the winds, air pollution could reach Syria, Turkey, and Israel.

Samih Wehbe, an oil expert in the Environment Ministry, voiced more alarming worries. ``It is a catastrophe; it is something unbelievable," he said. ``The pollution of the air could reach Europe."

The tank spilled at least 10,000 tons of fuel oil into the sea. Hadjian said it was possible that winds could also carry the oil to Turkey and Syria.

In Lebanon, the spill has fouled public and private beaches from Jiyye in the south to Chekka in the north. According to the Ministry of Environment, 80 percent of the coast north of Jiyye has been contaminated. Along that coast, waves carry a black, thick layer of oil that sticks to rocks and sand.

While the beaches remain open, the government has warned people to stay away.

Gaby Khalaf, director of the National Center for Marine Sciences, said the sea needs one or two years to be ``totally cleaned."

``Today, I saw that certain species like the mollusk and the crustacean have perished," Khalaf said. ``They can't breathe or eat anymore."

Fisherman Issam Iskandarani, 60, said he noticed the black layer of oil two days ago in the Mediterranean. ``I was surprised when I saw the dead fish floating on the surface," he said. Since then, he has been moving from one place to another hoping to find a clean spot along the coast.

``Look at the fish. They are moving in a way that tells they are dying," he said, pointing his finger at the sea. ``I've been fishing for 25 years, and I know from experience that they are dying."

Environmental experts fear that if the burning tank falls into the sea, the amount of fuel spilled into the Mediterranean could reach 20,000 tons.

Private companies and the Kuwaiti government are assisting in the initial cleanup, local media have reported. But officials say that a widespread effort remains too dangerous because of the continuing threat from Israeli forces.

Hadjian estimated it would cost $150 million and take six months to a year to clean up the oil spill alone.

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

Watching Beirut Die

We went to Beirut to film a TV show about the city's newly vibrant culinary and cultural scene. Then the bombs started falling, and we could only stand on the barricades of our hotel balcony and watch it all disappear -- again.

By Anthony Bourdain

Jul. 28, 2006 | From where I'm sitting, poolside, I can see the airport burning -- the last of the jet fuel cooking off like a dying can of sterno. There's a large, black plume of smoke coming from the south of the city -- just over the rise, where the most recent airstrikes have been targeting the Shiite neighborhoods and what are, presumably, Hezbollah-associated structures. My camera crew and I missed it the first time they hit the airport. Slept right through it. Woke up in our snug hotel sheets to the news that we wouldn't be making television in Beirut (not the show we came to do anyway), and that we wouldn't be getting out of here anytime soon.

Any hopes of runway repair followed by a flight out disappeared two nights ago, when we watched from the balcony of my hotel room as missiles, fired from offshore, twinkled brightly for a few long seconds in the air, then dropped in lazy parabolic arcs onto the fuel tanks.

We knew by that time what was happening in the south: Hezbollah rocketing Israel, the Israeli army mobilizing along -- and even crossing -- the border, firing artillery, reserves being called up. Frightened visitors from other Gulf states and the Lebanese -- including our local fixer -- had headed for Syria, but planes had been hitting that route out repeatedly, making the already unattractive option of camera-bearing Americans crossing into that unwelcoming country even less attractive. An exit by sea was out of the question in light of a total naval blockade. We were stuck. The other American guests -- at first secure in their "This doesn't concern us" and "They won't target us" and "We're just waiting for word" mode, were now visibly worried.

Everything had begun so beautifully. Our fixer, Lena, was bursting with enthusiasm when she met us at the airport. After months of preproduction, finally we were here! Finally, the American television crew had arrived -- to show the world how beautiful her country was, how lovingly restored, how hip and forward thinking in the years since the bloody civil war. On the first day of filming, we'd had a sensational early lunch of hummus, kibbe, stewed lamb and yogurt at Le Chef, a local, family-style joint in a charming neighborhood. The customers at the tables around us in the tiny, worn-looking dining area chattered away in Arabic, French and English. Stomachs full, my crew and I headed over to Martyr's Square and the Rafik Hariri memorial; a few blocks away, our fixer and friends pointing out old scars and new construction, trying to explain how much Beirut and Lebanon had changed since the man's death in 2005. They spoke effusively of the calm, the peace, the relative tolerance that had followed the galvanizing effects of Hariri's assassination. Each smiled and pointed at the giant photographic mural of the million-person demonstration that had led to Syria's withdrawal from their country; Ali, our unofficial tough-guy escort, pointed at a tiny dot among the hundreds of thousands in the photo and joked, "That's me!"

They were so proud of how far they'd come, how much they'd survived, how different and sophisticated Beirut was now. They spoke of all the things they had to show us, the people we had to meet. Significantly, the word "Syria" was still spoken in slightly hushed tones. Speaking too long, too loud or too harshly of their former occupier, it was suggested, could still get you killed. (An outcome not without precedent.) We walked along the road leading to a cordoned-off area by the St. George Hotel, where Bardot, Monroe and Kim Philby had once played -- back when Beirut was called the "Paris of the Orient" without a hint of irony. The buildings in the area were still in ruins, a roof torn off, the old hotel -- under construction when the targeted blast that killed Hariri occurred -- still empty. The Phoenician, across the street, which had also been destroyed, had recently been completely rebuilt. A modern hotel like any other, but they were proud of that too. Because, like Beirut, it was still there. It was back.

Then, in the blink of an eye, everything went sideways: Relaxed smiles froze and disappeared. Suddenly, there was the sound of automatic weapons firing randomly in the air from a nearby neighborhood. And fireworks. Then cars -- a few of them -- teenage kids, women and adults, some leaning out the windows and waving Hezbollah flags and flashing the "V" for victory sign, celebrating what we were told, after a few quick cellphone calls, was the grabbing of two Israeli soldiers. Our fixer, a Sunni; Ali, a Shiite; and "Marwan," a Christian, who'd just minutes ago been pointing proudly at the mural -- all three looked down in embarrassment, a look of sorrow, shame and then resignation on their faces. Someone muttered "assholes" bitterly. They knew -- right away -- what was going to happen next.

Not that that stopped the party -- initially anyway. Beirutis like to tell you (true or not) that they partied right through the civil war. That it wasn't "cool" to seek shelter during an airstrike. That we "shouldn't worry. All the nightclubs have their own generators." That night, we continued to shoot (and drink heavily) at the opening party for the newly relocated Sky Bar, a rooftop nightclub with a view of the Mediterranean. Moneyed Beirutis -- all of them, it seemed, young, sexy and ridiculously beautiful -- drank vodka and Red Bull, and swayed (if not exactly danced) while Israeli jets flew menacingly low overhead. Were it not for the warplanes, it could have been Los Angeles or South Beach, Fla. The crowd was English speaking -- with the kind of West Coast, television accents you hear on sitcoms. Many were Lebanese Americans, returned to the country of their parents, or émigrés to America and Britain who'd left during the civil war and only just come back. I met and talked with Ramsay Short, the young editor of the newly launched Time Out Beirut, and he bragged effusively about their recent "Sex Issue," its cover depicting a woman's bare legs, panties bunched around the ankles. The issue -- provocative, to say the least, in a largely Muslim country -- had sailed through without censorship or even major complaint. Ramsay was happy about that. As he was happy that his town had rated its own edition of the snarky, urbane city guide. "There are only 15 cities in the world with a Time Out," he told me happily, "and Beirut is now one of them!" He did not look up at the planes. Later, we hit Barbar, a late-night post-nightclub shawarma joint where his mood became more pensive. Even then, before the first airstrikes, I think he too knew what was coming.

Any pretense that the "party never stops in Beirut" was gone by the next morning when the airport was hit with what would be the first of many strikes. A naval blockade precluded any escape by boat. For those who could, the road to Damascus was the only option -- and Lena, and Ali, urged us to take it. But the network and our production company were reluctant to sign off on what -- even then -- seemed a dodgy undertaking.

We found ourselves in my hotel room, watching the airport get hit again: Me, camera people Tracey, Todd and Jerry, field producer Diane, our fixer -- and Ali. Our fixer, at the urging of her father in Syria, tearfully agreed to join him there. Our driver, an hour earlier waiting outside, gassed up and ready to go, disappeared. Ali alone remained. Refused to leave us. "I am with you," he said. But after observing numerous calls to and from his family in South Beirut, and seeing the way he was working the prayer beads between his fingers, the sword tattoo on his arm flexing and slackening nervously, we insisted he join them. (We later heard his house was flattened.) We were left to ourselves, emptying my mini-bar and trying to keep a stiff upper lip, telling stupid jokes, while the orange glow from the airport flared and subsided and finally died.

After a series of very worried calls from the States, we are told to "stand by for 'the Cleaner,'" a "security expert," "like the Harvey Keitel guy in 'Pulp Fiction,'" the man who will "get us out," take us to a "safe house," a "secure location," "exfiltrate us" to safety. We are told to be packed, to be ready. To expect a call from "Mr. Wolfe."

At 3 a.m. I get the call. Shortly after, I meet the man in the lobby. I'd been expecting an ex-Green Beret -- somebody with a thick neck, steel grey eyes, a tattoo saying "He Who Dares Wins," an aged Dolph Lundgren type, all business and mysterious past. We're expecting a midnight drive in a flatbed truck, maybe hidden under a tarp. Bribes at the border. A next-day rendezvous with a blacked-out helicopter. The man I meet is a short, nebbishy type -- he looks like someone you'd meet at an office supply convention. He has two cars out front -- his, and another driven by a woman associate. We load out quickly and race through empty streets, blowing through traffic lights -- no directionals, last-minute turns -- to the other side of town, to Le Royale, a mammoth hotel on a hill in the Christian section, fairly close to the American embassy. This, as it turns out, will be our home for the next week.

Nearly a week later, they've brought in a polka band to play in the dining room of the "Mexican"-themed restaurant at Le Royale. Outside, on the pool deck, though the bar is unattended, they keep the radio cranked up to drown out the sounds of bombing -- so as not to scare the kiddies. We wake up to molar-vibrating percussions and go to sleep to distant thunder. Afternoons, we watch as Beirut is dismantled. Bit by bit. First the sound of unseen jets flying overhead. Then silence. Then a "Boom!" Then a distant plume of smoke. Black, brown, white ... the whole city south of us slowly growing more indistinct in the midday light under a constant, smoglike haze.

It's called "Kwik-Clot," Mr. Wolfe tells us. And in case of arterial bleeding, it's essential gear. He's thinking of issuing us some -- in case one of us should catch a bullet or shrapnel to the femoral artery. Mr. Wolfe has lived in Fucked-Up Country One and done work in Fucked-Up Countries Two and Three. He lives in the Most Legendarily Fucked-Up area of Lebanon -- where they have a Hezbollah gift shop, for chrissakes. So we take him seriously -- though this is not the kind of morale-boosting patter we want to hear. "Just pour in wound!" he tells us cheerily. It's not, however, that harsh a segue from the "Know Your Exits" lecture, in which we are advised to "casually" explore all the nooks and crannies and "avenues of egress" from all points in the hotel.

Or the "Vary Your Routines" briefing, where we are instructed to use a different elevator or service stairway when going to breakfast or meetings or heading to the pool. We are to eat, drink, swim at unpredictable times as we wait for news. "It takes three days of planning and surveillance to set up a kidnapping" says Mr. Wolfe, lowering his voice suddenly when a lone gentleman in casual clothes enters our area of the balcony and sits at a nearby table. "Amateur," says Mr. Wolfe. "Look at how he's got his face pointed straight out at sea, his ear cocked in our direction. Clumsy. Obvious." Sure enough, the guy does seem suddenly suspicious, the way he moves closer to snap a few panoramic vistas with his cellphone camera. "Probably ISF," sneers Mr. Wolfe. "Local boys." Mr. Wolfe's amusement -- and pleasure in scaring the living shit out of us -- rises in direct proportion to our paranoia. A room has been reserved for armed security -- should we need it, he assures us. And our own rooms moved around so as to be close to each other -- with one of them designated as a meeting point should we have to assemble at short notice. "We don't want to be meeting in the lobby with everybody else." We've practiced running down and through a rabbit warren of service exits, stairwells and passageways to Mr. Wolf's "vehicles" in a sub-level of the parking lot. A security guard has been taken care of so as to lift the gate of a back entrance should circumstances require our fleeing through a back way. We are to stay close together -- and be on time for meetings and briefings. There's even a pop quiz: Mr. Wolfe hands out photographs of various design features and landmarks in the hotel and challenges us to tell him where, exactly, those locations are, and how we might exit from each. When Mr. Wolfe is not within shouting distance, his female associate keeps a close eye on us -- even when we're by the pool.

And we're by the pool a lot. We sit. We play cards. We tell the same dick jokes -- halfheartedly, for sure. But by now, that's all that keeps us from going crazy or bursting into tears. Our irregular "intel" (Mr. Wolfe's favorite word) consists of printed analysis from a faraway corporate security company (useless speculation), BBC News (pretty good), local TV (excellent -- though in Arabic), the Hizballah Channel (scary), Sky News (shockingly up-to-date and thorough), Some Guy From the Pool (almost always on target. He accurately predicts locations and times of airstrikes and seems to know which countries' citizens are getting out and when), Somebody's Mom Back in the States (excellent source), and Mr. Wolfe's printouts from the AOL News Web site (always discouraging). We've heard the Israeli prime minister talk of knocking back Lebanon 20 years. And we believe him. We hear of pleasure boats filled with European nationals being turned back by Israeli ships. We call the embassy day after day and get no response. Nothing. Officially -- after days of war -- the State Department advice is to visit its Web site. Which contains nothing of use.

We watch the city we'd barely begun to know -- and yet already started to love -- destroyed, seemingly (from where we're sitting) without sense or reason. We watch Blackhawk helicopters fly in and out of the embassy and hear panicked rumors that they're evacuating the ambassador (false) and "non-essential personnel" (true, I believe). Around the pool, the increasingly frustrated, mostly Lebanese Americans exchange rumors and information gleaned from never-ending cellphone conversations with we don't know who: relatives in the south, friends back in America, people who've already made it out. Friends who've spoken to their congressman. Guys who work at CNN. The list goes on. The news maddening, incomplete, incorrect -- alternately hopeful, terrifying and dismaying.

The hotel empties and fills and empties again. We hear:

"The Italians got out!"
"The fucking Romanians got out!"
"The French are gone!"

What is clear -- as far as we're concerned -- from all sources is that there is no official, announced plan. No real advice, or information, or public exit strategy or timetable. The news clip of President Bush, chawing open-mouthed on a buttered roll, then grabbing at another while Tony Blair tries to get him to focus on Lebanon -- plays over and over on the TV, crushing our spirits and dampening all hope with every glassy-eyed mouthful. He seems intent on enjoying his food; Lebanon a tiny, annoying blip on an otherwise blank screen. I can't tell you how depressing that innocuous bit of footage is to watch. That one, innocent, momentary preoccupation with a roll has a devastating effect on us that is out of all proportion. We're looking for signs. And this, sadly, is all we have.

And every day we hear worse. Cellphone towers, power stations, land lines are being targeted, says Mr. Wolfe. And we're frankly terrified of the seemingly imminent moment when we can no longer stay in touch with the outside world, make or receive calls to the States -- or more important, be notified by the embassy (should that ever happen). They've run out of bread and food in downtown stores.

And yet, at the hotel, still safe and fed and liquored up in Bizarro World, we sit by the pool and watch the war. And wait, impotently -- shamefacedly. As the hotel empties again -- and only a few of us are left. Expectations fade and then die. Just bitterness and a sense of disgust remain. What to expect anymore? One hopes only for the little things: that they'll fire up the pizza oven today. That they'll open the bar early. That we might just maybe get an English language newspaper or magazine -- or even a French one.

A few miles away, of course, hopes are similarly downscaled -- yet far, far more urgent:

Will there be bread?
Will there be water?
Will the power come back on?
Is my family OK?
Will I die today?

They've hit the little lighthouse by the port. While on one hand insisting that the Lebanese government do "something" about Hezbollah, they've shelled an army base, the main bridges and roads. The last roads out to Syria, says Some Guy by the Pool. An end or a pause is too much to hope for. Of that we are certain. And certainty -- however terrible the truth -- is something we cling to, an all too rare commodity. It's uncertainty that's the enemy, the thing we know will make us all crazy.

In the end we are among the lucky ones. The privileged, the fortunate, the relatively untouched. Unlike the Lebanese Americans who make it out, we don't leave homes and loved ones behind, we will get out and return to business as usual. To unbroken homes, intact families, friends and jobs. After a hideously disorganized cluster fuck at the eventual "assembly point" -- a barely under control mob scene of fainting old people, crying babies, desperate families waving pink and white slips of paper, trying to get the attention of a few understaffed, underprepared and seemingly annoyed embassy personnel in baseball caps and casual clothes -- we are put in the charge of the sailors and Marines of the USS Nashville who've hauled ass from Jordan on short notice to undertake a mission for which they are unrehearsed and inexperienced. Yet they perform brilliantly. The moment we pass through the last checkpoint into their control, all are treated with a kindness and humanity we can scarcely believe. Squared away, efficient, organized and caringly sensitive, the Marines break the crowd into sensibly spaced groups, give them shade and water, lead them single file to an open-ended landing craft at the water's edge. They carry babies, children, heat-stroke victims, luggage. They are soft-spoken, casually friendly. They give out treats and fruit and water. They reassure us with their ease and professionalism.

On the flight deck of the USS Nashville they've set up a refugee camp. I wake up on my folding cot and look around. With every group of traumatized evacuees -- with every family, every group of children, there's a Marine or two, chatting, exchanging stories, listening. They open their ship to us. They look so young. All of them. None looks over 17. "Where you from?" one asks me. I say, "New York" -- and he tells me, "I ain't ever been there. I'd like to." His friends agree. They've never seen New York either. The mess serves tuna noodle casserole and mac and cheese and corn dogs. A sailor or Marine in a bright green dragon suit entertains children. We are kept informed. We are reassured. We are spoken to like adults. On the smoking deck, a Marine shows off a Reuter's cover photo -- taken only a few hours earlier -- of himself, nuzzling two babies as he carries them through the surf to the landing craft. His buddies are razzing him, busting his balls for how intolerably big-headed he's going to be -- now that he's "famous." He looks at the picture and says, "You don't know what it felt like, man." His eyes well up.

The last group from the beach is unloaded from the landing craft into the belly of the Nashville, and we're off to Cyprus. Two battleships -- including the USS Cole escorting us. A Lebanon I never got to know, a Beirut I didn't get to show the world disappears slowly over the horizon -- a beautiful dream turned nightmare. It's not what I saw happen in Beirut that I feel like talking about, though that's what I'm doing, isn't it? It's not about what happened to me that remains an unfinished show, a not fully fleshed out story, or even a particularly interesting one. It feels shameful even writing this. It's the story I didn't get to tell. The Beirut I saw for two short days. The possibilities. The hope. Now only a dream.

'Hezbollah leader said to be hiding in Iranian Embassy'

By Bill Gertz
Published July 28, 2006

Intelligence reports indicate the leader of Hezbollah is hiding in a foreign mission in Beirut, possibly the Iranian Embassy, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.

Israeli military and intelligence forces are continuing to hunt for Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary-general, who fled his headquarters in Beirut shortly before Israeli jets bombed the building last week.

"We think he is in an embassy," said one U.S. official with access to the intelligence reports, while Israeli intelligence speculates Sheik Nasrallah is hiding in the Iranian Embassy.

If confirmed, the reports could lead to an Israeli air strike on the embassy, possibly leading to a widening of the conflict, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Foreign embassies are sovereign territory and an attack on an embassy could be considered an act of war.

But other reports from the region indicate Sheik Nasrallah may be in Damascus. A Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Seyassah, reported from the Syrian capital yesterday that Sheik Nasrallah was seen moving through the city with Syrian guards in an intelligence agency car, Associated Press reported. He was dressed in civilian clothes, not his normal clerical robe.

The newspaper quoted Syrian government sources as saying Iranian national security council official Ali Larijani was in Damascus and was to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Sheik Nasrallah. Hezbollah officials in Beirut said they did not know whether Sheik Nasrallah had gone to Damascus.

Asked about the reports of Sheik Nasrallah in Syria, a U.S. official said they are unconfirmed, but noted that because of the proximity, it is easy to travel between Lebanon and Damascus.

U.S. officials confirmed the existence of intelligence reports about Sheik Nasrallah hiding in a Beirut embassy after Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper reported Wednesday that the Hezbollah leader was thought to be in the Iranian Embassy. The newspaper, quoting intelligence officials, said Sheik Nasrallah has set up an operations center in an embassy basement that is coordinating Hezbollah attacks.

However, the U.S. officials said the intelligence reports have not confirmed Sheik Nasrallah's precise location. Iran's embassy in Beirut is located in the Shi'ite stronghold known as the Bir Hasan section, in the western part of the city.
The embassy also is a major base for Iranian intelligence and is used by large numbers of Ministry of Intelligence and Security agents, as well as by senior members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran's shock troops that are linked to international terrorist activities.

President Bush said yesterday that Iran is linked to the problems in Lebanon. "Hezbollah attacked Israel. I know Hezbollah is connected to Iran," Mr. Bush told reporters after meeting Romanian President Traian Basescu. "Now is the time for the world to confront this danger." Mr. Bush said the root cause of the violence is "terrorist groups trying to stop the advance of democracies."

Israel has dispatched both military special operations units and intelligence personnel in an effort to kill the Hezbollah leader, who has continued to issue statements since the two-week-old war began, said the U.S. officials. In a Wednesday television broadcast, Sheik Nasrallah threatened more attacks throughout Israel.

On July 14, Israeli jets bombed the Hezbollah headquarters, also located in Bir Hasan, starting a campaign of "decapitation" strikes designed to eliminate the group's leaders, weaken the organization and limit its military effectiveness.

Iran's government has called for a cease-fire.

A Middle East diplomat confirmed that Israel is seeking out Sheik Nasrallah and that the Iranian Embassy appears mostly evacuated. However, the diplomat stated: "Wherever he is, he is a legitimate target," similar to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. "He's responsible for organizing attacks and killing Israelis," the diplomat said.

In Tehran, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman denied that the embassy in Beirut was sheltering Sheik Nasrallah and dismissed reports of his presence there as Israeli government "disinformation." Hezbollah forces in the past were known for specializing in coordinated suicide bombings. The group, however, has shown a different military effectiveness in the recent fighting with Israel through its coordinated attacks with small bands of guerrillas.

The Shi'ite terrorist group was behind the 1983 suicide truck bombings that killed 241 U.S. troops and 58 French paratroopers who were deployed to Lebanon as peacekeepers.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

'Club Med for Refugees'

In case you didn't see the footage on CNN a few days ago, follow the link to go through the slide show. The difference between an Israeli refugee 'resort' and a Lebanese refugee 'shelter' is *interesting*.

SPIEGEL ONLINE - July 27, 2006, 03:51 PM

Club Med for Refugees

Partying in Israel's War Zone

By Matthias Gebauer in Ashkelon, Israel

Hundreds of thousands have fled northern Israel and its steady rain of Hezbollah rockets. They're fleeing to the southern part of the country, out of Hezbollah's range. It's a hardship for many, but most are making the best of things, with an almost holiday-like atmosphere.

"Check her out, she's the most beautiful girl from northern Israel," Ilan Faktor says, practically swooning, his white teeth beaming from his tanned face. He's girl-hunting with his buddies, and the women are everywhere -- all in bikinis and most with long, curly hair. "The best part," Ilan says, "is that they can't run away."

Ilan and his buddies live in a crowded refugee camp set up on the beach in Ashkelon, Israel. All along the street, flags flap in the breeze from the sea. People here seem to love showing off their gym-toned bodies. Tents have been set up everywhere. In one, people practice yoga; next to it others are getting their bodies painted. In another tent Orthodox Jews try to recruit young people. One could easily mistake the place for a nightclub if it weren't for the fact that everyone here has been displaced by a war. Hordes of young people under 25 mill around wearing the same kind of colorful armbands you might see in a hip urban club.

Ilan isn't happy with the color of his armband -- the blue has already faded. Worse yet, blue means he's scheduled for the day's earliest meal-time. Organizers in fact adopted the idea of arm bands from night clubs; here, though, it's a way of arranging staggered mealtimes. In the end that's only difference between this camp at the Israeli beach resort of Ashkelon, just south of Tel Aviv, and an all-inclusive holiday resort.

A Hezbollah-driven exodus

Make no mistake, though -- it's no holiday resort. It's a refugee camp, in spite of the sun and the sound of waves pounding the beach. Everyone here has fled the rain of Hezbollah rockets that are showering northern Israel. First they came from Nahariya, then Carmiel and later from Haifa and Tiberias. In total, more than 2,600 have converged here. On Monday the camp was expanded, with new tents and toilets being set up on the white sand dunes right next to the sea.

Still, for those fleeing the north, there are worse places to land than Ashkelon. A Russian immigrant generously allowed the camp to be set up on his property; he hired Ilan Faktor to help run it. Normally Faktor works as a rave promoter, and he's brought a lot of those ideas along with him. Live bands play each night, and during the daytime, the thumping base of techno music can be heard along the beach. On Friday, the stars of Israel's "Pop Idol" stopped by. "We have to keep the people entertained," says Faktor.

Up front, at the entrance to the camp, three more buses have pulled up, this time from Haifa. Many residents in Haifa stayed in the city at the start of the rocket attacks, thinking they would let up. But they haven't -- the city has become one of Hezbollah's favorite targets, with the hail of rockets continuing unabated almost every day. Busload after busload continue to leave the region, carrying hundreds of thousands of Israelis beyond the range of Hezbollah's weapons.

The government in Jerusalem estimates that about 6 percent of the 7 million people living in Israel have been displaced by the attacks. Initially, people left for areas south of Haifa that were just outside of Hezbollah's range, but as the hotels, camp grounds and private rooms filled up, they had to continue further south. Hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are booked up, and thousands are turning to smaller towns and cities where hotels have opened their doors to refugees.

The onslaught of people his even hit the most distant parts of the country. Even the popular beach resort of Eilat, much further south on the Red Sea, is struggling to deal with crowds. Hotels have been booked solid for days, and those who can't find private rooms there are just sleeping under the stars, a hotel manager reached by telephone told SPIEGEL ONLINE. But even they seem to be enjoying themselves -- the camps have a party atmosphere, with frolicking on the beach, music and even joints. Trying to find a silver lining in the crisis, the hotel manager even says the bombings have created new couples -- people are fleeing the bombs and finding love. "There's something good to be found in every situation," he says.

But here in Ashkelon, there's nothing spontaneous about the positive vibe. Faktor has worked hard to create the light atmosphere. "We'll keep dancing here as long as Hezbollah still has rockets," he says. Or: "We stand together when we are attacked, but we also throw our hands in the air." Ilan and his posse smile broadly. They're already looking forward to tonight's party. They're going to serve German beer and deep bass grooves. What else could anyone want?

War as common as natural disasters

But there's also a lot of truth to be read between Faktor's easy lines. When it became clear to all Israelis that they had to protect their fellow citizens in the north, they came together fast and showed solidarity. In the West, people often show their unity in times of crisis like natural disasters, but in Israel, it's during times of war that the people come together. And war here seems to arrive with the same regularity as natural disasters. So togetherness is celebrated in an almost over-the-top way in the bunkers, camps and private apartments.

Faktor, who's a bit of a womanizer, arrived from Nahariya in the north six days ago. The night before he fled, a rocket struck the house next door and injured several people. "In the beginning, we sort of thought it was a little bit funny," he says. Only his mother was scared, he says. But as the bombing continues, Faktor's mood has grown somber. His grandfather refuses to leave his home and the whole family is worried. They call the old man every few hours on his mobile phone to make sure nothing has happened.

Nor does Ilan have any idea when he will be able to go back home. All he brought with him was a bag filled with necessities -- the rest he had to leave behind. The family recently paid off the mortgage on their house and his mother stayed behind to look after it. But what will happen if it gets struck by a missile? She still hasn't been told that the government or one of many private foundations will give them money to repair or rebuild their home if it is bombed. That's just one of many reasons that the refugees here in Israel have it a whole lot better than the hundreds of thousands of displaced Lebanese.

Ilan and his mother are now considering moving back to Ukraine. It may be safer there. When they emigrated to Israel six years ago like many other Jews in the north, the Israeli army had just withdrawn its troops from northern Lebanon. But Ilan's mother didn't really understand the implications at the time. Even today she takes little interest in politics. She just wants the hail of rockets to stop.

Ilan, for his part, wants to stay. In Ukraine he never would have had the money to enjoy this kind of Mediterranean vacation. And with his cheap eastern European clothes and his Ukranian accent he wouldn't have been such a hit with the ladies. Anyone, after all, can use a girlfriend or a boyfriend, and tonight before sunset Ilan wants to find someone to lie down with on the beach. "In the dunes I almost always get lucky," he says, before going back on the make.

'With bombs falling, Beirut blogs (and more)'

Isolated by conflict, locals use the Web to communicate with the world

By Seth Colter Walls
Updated: 8:25 a.m. ET July 27, 2006

Seth Colter Walls

With the regular operations of local newspapers, TV stations and other media outlets either dramatically impeded or totally interrupted by the Israeli bombing campaign, Lebanese students, writers and artists have found themselves asking two questions...

Israeli Assault on Lebanon: Map of Locations Bombed (to July 22nd)

Map showing Israeli targets in Lebanon, 12 July - 22 July 2006

Lebanon/Israel: Urgent need for arms embargo on Israel and Hizbullah


AI Index: MDE 01/002/2006 (Public)
News Service No: 197
27 July 2006

Lebanon/Israel: Urgent need for arms embargo on Israel and Hizbullah

As civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Israel and Lebanon, Amnesty International called for an immediate arms embargo on both Israel and Hizbullah.

Amnesty International is gravely concerned about the continuing transfer of weapons from the US, via the UK, as information emerged that a UK airport is being used by USA cargo planes on their way to deliver munitions to Israel.

"The pattern of attacks and the extent of civilian casualties show a blatant disregard of international humanitarian law by Israel and Hizbullah," said Irene Khan, Amnesty International Secretary General.

"Direct targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure and launching indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks amount to war crimes."

"Governments supplying Israel and Hizbullah with arms and military equipment are fuelling their capacity to commit war crimes. All governments should impose an arms embargo on both sides and refuse permission for their territories to be used for the transfer of arms and military equipment."

UK media have reported that two chartered Airbus A310 cargo planes filled with GBU 28 laser-guided bombs containing depleted uranium (DU) warheads and destined for the Israeli airforce landed at Prestwick airport, near Glasgow. The planes landed for refuelling and crew rests after flying from the US this past weekend.

Other reports claimed that the USA has requested that two more planes be permitted to land in the UK en route to Israel in the next two weeks. The reports said the aircraft will be carrying other weapons, including bombs and missiles.

"The UK government should refuse permission for its sea and air ports to be used by planes or ships carrying arms and military equipment destined for Israel or Hizbullah," said Ms Khan as Amnesty International wrote to the UK's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett. The organization also called on the UK to suspend the sale or transfer of all arms and military equipment to Israel.

"It is ridiculous to talk about providing humanitarian aid on the one hand, and to provide arms on the other. In the face of such human suffering in Lebanon and Israel, it is imperative that all governments stop the supply of arms and weapons to both sides immediately," stated Ms Khan.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Website Sends Pizza & Burgers to Israeli Soldiers!

If you can't handle it, then don't read it...

In light of all the Mel Gibson-style anti-semitic "dangers" of today, please don't take offense reading this lively debate. Or, just don't read it if it might offend you.

It interests me more (most of the time) to hear the opinions of people who don't work for the media, than to hear the opinions of those who do (who are more often than not subjected to censorship). Journalists often risk losing what would have/could have been a fresh perspective on vital world issues (in this case it's more like an ancient world issue -- so maybe fresh isn't the right word). And besides, they're in the business of reporting/analyzing the news, which is tough enough as it is, and leaves them little time (or freedom) to express what they truly believe and feel as human beings.

The views expressed below do not express my own beliefs, but we're all people, no matter who or what we're affiliated with, and people (and their beliefs) must count not just for something, but for everything. Over here are only three people engaging in what I consider a lively debate...Again, I'm not trying to offend anybody. And I haven't even bothered to check who these people are or what they do, cuz it doesn't matter.

The Problem is Chutzpah

by Jennifer Winkler

Uri Avnery in his article, "Anti-Semitism & Zionism", relates a pivotal incident in his father's life:

One day, during a session of the court, a young lawyer cried out: "Jews like you are not needed here anymore!"'

I think almost everyone reading this will focus on the quote without its final word, that is, "Jews like you are not needed here." That's a pity, because the last word is a clue to an important discovery.


We are told that the story of the Jews is one of ever-repeated persecution, that arises spontaneously and seemingly inevitably out of some kind of inherent flaw in (goy) humanity.

Well, it's time to study this history, and not be simply fed it by those with fantastic ulterior motives - as we have realized it's time to study the Israel/Palestine issue, and not be simply fed an interpretation by one side of it.

Can this history be found? It can. It needs diligence and true objectivity, however. One has to have one's guard up, of course, vis-a-vis one-sided preferential interpretation. Most (though not all) that I have found is written by Jews and is especially accommodating to Jewish-defensive interpretation.

It seems bizarre of course that some people would be attacked all the time just because they were what - different? They were attacked by people who usually didn't have much. Why would these attackers waste their limited resources so much on attacking Jews? Why would nature (the-survival-of-the-fittest) gear them up to waste themselves so on senseless attacks?

Another obvious question to ask is, "Has something like what has happened to Jews happened to anybody else?" In this regard I am reminded of an article I once read in the (wonderful) National Geographic magazine. It was an article about a rural area in western Canada. There was a sect (Christian) of people who were very tight-knit. Their many families lived and cooperated together on the same large farms as a unit (like a commune or kibbutz). Other people living in the region had great animosity toward the people of this sect. Yet no wrongdoing was associated with them. It seems to me they evoked hostility merely because they worked at an advantage relative to other people.

From all that I have read it seems the Jews are "guilty" of operating at an advantage relative to other people: the advantage of inherent chutzpah (my dictionary says it's from the Yiddish, meaning "gall, brazenness"). If ever there was a word explaining the entire advent of the Israel/Palestine conflict that would be it!

If Jews have been simply disliked, why did this dislike occur time and again only after a period of warmth and cooperation with Gentiles? Jews in early fourteenth century Spain were prominent in positions of privilege and power and intermixed with, even married, the natives. LATER sentiment against Jews arose. Jews were prominent in the Weimar regime of Germany. There was much intermixing of Jews and Germans. LATER sentiment against Jews arose. Similarly in the USSR and the Soviet satellites.

Somehow repeatedly the non-Jews got quite fed up with the Jews. Even in texts written by Jews there are hints why. The book Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, contains references by contemporary "antisemites" to "wealth (Jews) amassed through thieving and cheating" (to which Palestinians can relate) and the idea that Jewish absence would "make the German people again the master in its own house" (to which Americans can relate).

We hear always that pograms and persecutions took place. Rarely we get a glimpse of what motivated them. But, briefly, in his book The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State, Benjamin Ginsberg mentions Czechoslovakians being irritated by "tremendous influence" of Jews and "animosities" caused by "Jews in the government" being cited as the cause of a pogram in Poland.

The Fatal Embrace importantly observes that Jews, through the centuries of their diaspora, frequently have assumed unpopular and coercive roles in government, such as that of tax collector and inspector. They characteristically have striven for positions within the frameworks of power. They have tended to be partisan, moreover, forming close ties with particular regimes; these ties would haunt them when regime change later occurred. Jews were highly associated with Soviet block Communism, being mutually supportive and probably mutually discrediting.

These, and many other, references and my own personal observations indicate that Jews strive at life, at progress and prosperity, with exceptional gusto. Their drive and assertiveness is overwhelming to non-Jews and puts non-Jews at a considerable relative disadvantage. Therein lies the problem. They're just too pushy, they're hard to compete with.

Observing this, and determining to protect against Nazi-type actions, what should we do? Give the Jews a state of their own? What sense would this make? Why would you take high-performance people and put them in a team of their own? A super team that in a global community would outcompete and annoy the rest of us.

And, indeed, this is exactly what they have done. They've mastered an intricate task that Arabs have only just begun to realize exists: making America do exactly what they want AND with essentially no one who matters cognizant of it. (America is being plundered psychologically, as well as materially, and generally neither Americans nor their Arab foes recognize it.) In fact, what we have seen happen in Palestine is what you would expect if the problem was not (mindless) persecution of Jews, but a big dose of innate Jewish chutzpah.
Ms. Winkler may be contacted at:
[JTR Comment: This is a reply by David Meir-Levi, described at one web site as "an American-born Israeli) to Jennifer Winkler (who has an article about Jewish "chutzpah" (obnoxiousness) posted at this web site). Meir-Levi's text was emailed to us by "Becky Johnson." Judging by what we found in a search of her email address on the Internet, Ms. Johnson is a quintessential self-deluding Jewish (or married to one?) "leftist." One one hand, she's an activist for the "homeless" in Santa Cruz, California. Swell. On the other hand, when it comes to Jewish identity, she turns the tables completely: she is an ideological activist/apologist in the enforced homelessness of the Palestinian people by the apartheid Israeli state. Hers is a classic case of shameless, two-faced, Judeocentric hypocrisy. (Her article shafting the Palestinians concludes with this: "This article can be reprinted at no cost by not for profit organizations that work for social justice." Such a comment is immoral, corrupt, grotesque, and obscene.)]


Dear Ms. Winkler,

Thank you for showing us just what a problem Jewish “Chutzpah” is. I found your article (published recently in Indymedia) very interesting. You have almost hit the proverbial nail right on its proverbial head. Jewish “Chutzpah” is, indeed, a (but not “the”) problem.

It is important to note that we Jews are different, and always have been. It is our destiny to be different. We learn this from the non-Jewish prophet Balaam, in Numbers 23:9 (“…Lo it [Israel] is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations”).

And, indeed, enough of world Jewry have lived their lives in a way to fulfill this destiny that Jewish history is an attestation to the price to be paid for being different. But, don’t forget, it takes a lot of “Chutzpah” to be different. Social pressure, especially when it is exercised with violence and intimidation, can be very difficult, even dangerous, to face up to, and to stare down.

For 2,000 thousand years when the world reveled in polytheism, the Jews had the “Chutzpah” to say “NO…there is only one God”…and to then suffer the enmity of the polytheists. For 2,000 years since the onset of Christianity, the Jews have had the “Chutzpah” to say “NO…there is more than one way to worship God, there is more than one path to the Father, and we Jews prefer our own path”…and to then suffer the brutal, soul-withering, relentless, lethal Jew-hatred of much of the Christian world, a hatred that reached its apotheosis in the Holocaust. For 1,400 years since the onset of Islam, the Jews faced the Moslem world with the same message….and suffered the dhimmitude and persecution that Islam imposed upon the “People of the Book”.

Inherent in the Jewish message of the right to be different is the assertion that all humanity has that same right, and no one should be persecuted because he/she/they may choose a different path of communion with God. That is a message that we Jews have had the “Chutzpah” to relate to the world on a daily basis for 4,000 years. And it is only in the past 200 years (since the Enlightenment period in Europe) that this message has begun to take root in the West. Intolerance has the Middle East still mired in a medieval mindset. Some societies are slower learners than others.

So why do I say that you are at least partially right, that this “Chutzpah” is a problem? Because it is indeed a problem for those for whom difference is a threat. It is a problem for those for whom non-conformity is frightening. It is a problem for those who demand agreement, for whom mindless conformity is a value, for whom uncritical obedience is a virtue. That is why, historically, the Jew has always been the natural enemy of the totalitarian, the dictator, the tyrant. From Haman to Hitler, from Seleucus to Stalin, from Antiochus to Arafat…the Jew has stood up to them all, stared them all down, and in doing so paid a horrific price for our “Chutzpah”.

In sum, difference is a threat only to the primitive mind. “Chutzpah” is a problem only to the insecure soul. So that is why I say that you have ALMOST hit the nail on the head: Jewish “Chutzpah” is indeed a problem….but only for some.

David Meir-Levi Menlo Park, CA USA

February 19, 2004

PS. Regarding your article’s egregious errors of history, fallacies of logic, lapses of rational thought, and mendacious mis-representations of the current Mid-East conflict….we can discuss those in a separate email.

This is JTR's "Palestine Man" response to Mr. Meir Levi:

Dear Rabbi Meir-Levi:

I have a question for you. Do Jews have a monopoly on "chutzpah" like everything else? Is the right to say "NO" reserved exclusively for Jews? If we are talking about the word "chutzpah" itself, yes, it is a Yiddish word. If we are talking about the concept of "chutzpah", as you define it, meaning saying "NO!" and resisting social injustice (as well economic injustice), I always thought those rights were innate (meaning even us "inferior" Gentiles are born with them), and God-given. But then, you Jews seem to think we Gentiles worship a different God, therefore not only are we a different species, we are of a different world.

The Palestinians decided, I guess, that they too, had as much right to "chutzpah" as you Jews, and had as much right to say "NO!" and defend their basic human rights against the injustices of your Judeocentric jingoism and Zionist tyranny. What about the "horrific price" they have paid for their "chutzpah?" Over 3, 000 civilians dead, out of a population of 1.8 million. You do the math, and use the same ratio to figure out what that would mean if we were hypothetically talking about a country with the same population as the United States. How many million people would that translate as? And this is NOT counting the casualties of the First Intifada.

First of course you say that "It is our [Jews] destiny to be different". Self-exclusion has always been a trademark of Jewish culture, the underlying message being of course, "we are not like the rest of you (Gentiles), which makes us special". Then of course comes your claim that, "Inherent in the Jewish message of the right to be different is the assertion that all humanity has that same right, and no one should be persecuted because he/she/they may choose a different path of communion with God". Does that explain the Judaization of Jerusalem, and declaring the Old City as part and parcel of "Israel's Eternal Capital", and making two of the world's greatest religions, Christianity and Islam, captives to Zionism? Does it explain the hundreds upon hundreds of Christian churches and Muslim mosques that were destroyed in the Galilee (which the "Partition Plan" had designated as part of an Arab state), and which continued to be destroyed when Sharon embarked on his "Mitzpim" project, which meant displacing and uprooting more Palestinians and replacing them with Jews (after all, Sharon's philosophy was, "the Galilee has been annexed. It's ours. Whatever's there is Jewish").

Does it explain the fact that you Jews have taken 78 percent of historical Palestine, and have moved thousands of settlers into the remaining 22 percent, leaving nothing but a few large population centers, and a dry strip along the "Judean" Desert for the Palestinians? Does it explain the fact that you have not only stolen the land, but also the water aquifers in the Occupied Territories, stealing what little water is to be found in this parched and arid little corner of the world? Does it explain the fact that you have formally annexed the Golan Heights, which has enabled you to steal water from the Sea of Galilee, which Syria would have been able to share had you not stolen this vital piece of her territory which was its main access to freshwater? Does it explain your theft of water from the Jordan River, and during your occupation of Lebanon, stealing water from the Litani River?

It seems that those who are not Jews, are not entitled to share the world with Jews. Everything in the world, and the universe belongs to Jews. But then according to the Talmud, God is a real estate agent who favors the Jews in any land or water dispute, and only Jews matter. The rest of us, we poor, unfortunate, miserable Gentiles, are the "least of brethren". We are inferior. We are dogs waiting for the Jews to throw us an unwanted chicken bone.

Meanwhile the Palestinians had the courage to decide that they were not going to sit back and vote themselves out of existence. They decided it was time to say "NO!" and think of their survival as a people. They decided that their land and their crops and their homes were key to their survival, their lifeblood, their livelihood, their future. They decided they were sick and tired of being continuously raped as a people, humiliated, belittled, oppressed and stripped of not only their ancestral homeland but their dignity. They decided they would not let IDF thugs and terrorist settlers break their spirit. They decided it was time to exercise "CHUTZPAH".

Sorry, Rabbi, THIS is the one thing you can't take away from them. And it may upset you deeply Rabbi, but the truth is, the millions of diaspora Palestinians have as much right to that old, famous tune, "If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem...".


Jennifer Winkler responds:

In this particular controversial subject area one finds a lot of people severely bound to dogma. There is a certain stock formulary of Jewish ideas about Israel, which can be found on Internet forums, newspaper letters to the editor and everywhere else that people in the Western world talk about it, that in fact has so little variation one could imagine it is written by the same person (though of course it isn’t).

Living by dogma and living by one’s wits are radically different paths. It is probably the most significant difference among those in contention over Israel/Palestine and perhaps among people generally. I can’t argue with the people of dogma, because they don’t know what argument is. My already abundant efforts at it have clarified that.

In David Meir-Levi I perceive such attachment to dogma and therefore not much point in directly communicating with him. But for those people not bound to dogma I’ll compose a retort.

Whatever may be true about Jewish directions in history, one thing is pretty clear: it hasn’t worked, not over the very long haul, anyway. Engineers do “failure analysis” when their bridges fall down. Well, when persecution keeps happening, failure analysis needs to be done too. What happens when an engineer won’t admit he ever could make a mistake? He won’t see his mistakes, and then of course he won’t correct them. It becomes probable that the failures will be repeated.

Now what people usually say at this point is: how can you blame the victim? Or (even if only a scant amount of blame is suggested): why are Jews always blamed? In reply one must say: since when is anyone excused from responsibility and potential blame, and why should goyim always be blamed?

Attention has been given to the matter by Jews, but it has been so driven by an insistence on self-blamelessness, that persecution is explained entirely in terms of Gentile weaknesses, e.g. jealousy, etc. Indeed there are likely to be Gentile weaknesses figuring in it. But there are indications that there is more to it than that.

To say it once, anyway, for the record, my quest in sharing my article “The Problem is Chutzpah” is to fulfill a personal civic duty I perceive. The events of Sept. 11 prompted me to examine matters related to the Middle East. In peeling back the layers of issues, I find a startlingly serious one behind it all: a misconstrual of the Jewish situation as being one of mindless persecution by the Goy. Being a misconstrual it has prompted corrective actions that are unsuitable – in fact logically they stand to make matters worse. Unlikely as it may sound, I feel I’m doing my duty to try to save people from the dangers of their unseeingness, as I would holler “Fire” to a building’s occupants if I saw that it was on fire and thought they didn’t know.

For supposedly intractable persecution the answer was deemed to be a separate state. But, alas, it takes more than a flag and real estate to obtain independence. Benjamin Ginsberg in The Fatal Embrace, Jews and the State paints a picture of a history of Jewish activity in countries of the diaspora wherein tight alliance with the powers of the land was achieved and used to extract benefit. This occurred in Spain, Russia, both czarist and Stalinist, Germany and many other places, spanning both medieval and modern times. How can one now not look at the neocons in America today and not see it there too?

What is culture? Habits, ways of operating that are ingrained, pre-scripted human behavior that as individuals we pick up from those around us. It is inherent to the business of being human. After eons of latching onto ruler entourages as a way of life and survival, why would this type of behavior disappear suddenly upon the nominal establishment of a Jewish state?

Because the processes of fundamentally changing behavior have not been carried out, Israel is not functioning as a sovereign state but as a protectorate of the United States. Thus, Jewish people, if they’re pledged to the welfare of Israel, remain as ever dependent on the whims of Gentiles.

If attachment to the ruling elite is perilous, as Ginsberg’s analysis reflects, then why would it not be in America too? And why would it not in fact be the most dangerous Jewish co-opting yet, because unlike in any previous instance, it’s so blatantly in service of an exclusively Jewish thing: Israel.

What can be expected from people who say “Don’t tread on me”, upon your treading on them?