Wednesday, August 17, 2005

And now, live from the gas chambers

And now, live from the gas chambers

August 17, 2005

The year was 1944. Things weren't going well for the Germans. The western allies, led by the United States and Russia, were on their way to victory. Hitler knew he had to do something fast, anything, to turn the tide of imminent defeat.

At a meeting with his Supreme Council, Hitler looked around the room, from person to person, from General to General, his glassy-eyed stare penetrating their souls. "What are you going to do?" "How will you prevent the fall of the third reich?" "And what about me – how will I remain leader of the German people?"

One of the younger officers glanced at his leader, as if wanting to say something, but quickly looked away. How could he, a junior officer, dare open his mouth in front of the Fuehrer? But Hitler noticed the movement and jumped. "You, you have an idea. What is it What do you suggest?"

Speaking in almost a whisper, the young officer began. "No, speak louder. I want everyone to hear what you have to say. What is it?"

The officer began again, his voice quivering, but speaking a little louder. "Well, what is it the Third Reich has accomplished that all good Germans, and many others around the world can support and appreciate?"

"What, what do you mean," demanded Hitler.

"I think we must use what is called 'public relations.' We must advertise ourselves, we must publicize the good we are doing for mankind, showing all people the positive aspects of our rule."

Hitler looked puzzled. He thought to himself, "'Good?' – the 'good' we are doing for mankind? – what is the definition of 'good.'" But then, suddenly he understood. "Ah yes – they must believe that we are helping them, when really, they are serving us. "Excellent.  So what do you suggest?"

"Well, what is it all people can agree on – what service are we providing mankind?"

All looked at each other and then, down at the table, not daring to look towards their leader. Again, the junior officer cleared his throat, and all looked at him. "Yes, yes, what is it?"

"What about the Jews?"

"The Jews – what about the Jews?"

"Begging your pardon, but don't all agree that the extermination of the Jews is a grand service to the world. They have plagued our existence for much too long. Our camps are purifying the world, ridding a malignant disease from our planet."
"We have seen no resistance, no attempts to destroy the camps, to stop the trains. Our intelligence shows that the enemy is aware of the extermination, yet they do not object. They haven't shown any inclination to prevent termination of the Jews."

"Civilian populations also know what is happening, yet they are turning a blind eye, making believe that the stories are false, ignoring the facts."

"This leads me to believe that an overwhelming majority of the human race supports our efforts to bring an end to the existence of Jews. This being the case, we must take advantage of world support, and prove to them that we will continue down the same path following our victory over the west. We must show them that our way is, simply and purely, better."

"Yes, but how? What do you suggest?"

Well, you know, the Americans and the Europeans are great fans of sport. They attend mass sporting events and follow them in the cinema. Perhaps we could broadcast, directly from the camps, showing the world exactly what we are doing, and advertise our plans for the future. We could provide a list of the impurities populating the world, and announce publicly, that one after another, they will be 'taken care of,' just as we are doing to the Jews. Therefore no one will be able to accuse us of clandestine activities – it will all be out in the open – and it will be broadcast before the eyes of the world. I'm sure, that once people all over the world see what we are doing, they will give us their full support. The war will come to an immediate end and we will be victorious. The Third Reich will live forever."

Hitler scratched his head, looked from side to side, and then at the speaker. "You mean, we should film the camps and publicize the movies?"

"Yes, yes, it will be like a great sporting event. We can broadcast in the cinema and on radio. Once our plan is known and advertised, the people of the world will thank us. We will be victorious."

Hitler looked around at the others sitting around the table. "What do you think?" No one answered. "Well," Hitler said, "I think it's a creative and unique idea, worth a try. However, I have one demand. I want to be the announcer during the movie, describing what is happening, giving a full explanation of each stage of the events."

The meeting came to an end and most of the officers left the room. Hitler called over a senior officer and asked him, "Tell me, who was that junior officer with the excellent idea?"

"Oh,him, his name is Scheinermann…

Monday, August 8, 2005

Let My People Stay!

Let My People Stay!
August 8, 2005

On Sunday I made another trip down to Gush Katif for a very special day. I wasn't disappointed.

My oldest daughter Bat-tzion, grew up together with a neighboring girl named Merav, who lived two buildings away from us. They spent most of their waking hours together, be it at school or at home. They were inseparable for almost 18 years. Then, following high school, each went her own way, and it wasn't long before Merav became engaged to a lovely man named Itamar. A few years ago Merav and Itamar moved to Shirat HaYam, the small caravan-home community, on the beach, not far from Neve Dekalim.

I've  visited Merav and Itamar several times in the past half a year, photographing them and their family, with the beautiful Mediterranean in the background [].

Last week Merav gave birth to her fourth child, her fourth boy. It was decided to have the brit milah, the ritual circumcision, not far from their home, in a small synagogue called Tiferet Yisrael. Tiferet Yisrael is a very special place of worship.

Labeled an 'illegal outpost' by the 'authorities,' the building was constructed about a week after Yom Kippur, some nine months ago. It was named in memory of Tiferet Tratner, who was killed by an Arab missile the day before Yom Kippur in Neve Dekalim, and First Sergeant, Yisrael Lutati, a Neve Dekalim resident, who was killed by terrorists at the Morag community not too long before Tiferet's murder.  In English, Tiferet means 'splendor,' so the synagogue's name means 'The Splendor of Israel.'  At this particular event, the site was especially significant. Itamar built it.

I drove down to the Gush together with Itamar's brother Ariel, and his wife and two of their children, who are Hebron residents. They had managed to obtain the 'prized' permits allowing them entrance to Gush Katif, to attend the family festivity. (I have a press pass, allowing me free access to the besieged area.) 

The trip was fairly smooth. We weathered the three checkpoints (the first of which is at least 20 kilometers from the entrance to Gush Katif). At each checkpoint you must show your ID card, or pass, and the obliging soldier, officer or police officer checks his wireless screen to see if our name appears in the right place. We had just passed the final inspection point and were about 10 minutes from Tiferet Yisrael, when we came upon a short row of cars, stopped in the middle of the road, with a closed barrier blocking the way. What happened – what's the problem? We'd all passed the necessary checkpoints, so why have to stop here? A soldier at the gate told us, "There's an 'event' at Kfar Darom' so you cannot continue. "What kind of an event? Did something happen there?" I heard an officer tell some of the soldiers, "There is a terrorist alert on the Kissufim road – it has to stay closed." Another soldier said, "It's a terror incident at Kfar Darom."

I quickly called my friends there to find out what was happening. The truth became clear instantly. The army decided to evacuate two security trailers from the community, in preparation for its abandonment. The Kfar Darom population, feeling that they were being deserted and that their security was being compromised, took to the road and blocked the tractor-trailer's way, not allowing them to leave the community. []  In reaction to this protest, the army closed the roads leading into and out of Gush Katif. So, we waited for about an hour. Finally, when they let us through, we arrived at a second roadblock a few minutes away. In the end, we made it to the synagogue. They were waiting for us and for others, stuck in roadblock.

What mood would you expect to find Gush Katif residents in, a week before the guillotine is supposed to fall? Sad, tense, nervous? Nothing of the kind. The only emotions readily present were joy and happiness. After the brit, there were several 'divri Torah,' words of Torah, including a very supportive talk by Hebron-Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi, Dov Lior. A couple of weeks ago Rabbi Lior was denied permission to enter the Gush by the Shabak – Israeli intelligence. However, they eventually relented.  There was dancing and singing, the was any good Jewish festivity should be. There wasn't even a whiff of despair.

What faith these people have.

There is also another part to this story. One very important person was missing from the celebration. Nili (Nili bat Victoria), Merav's mother, is very ill with cancer, and had to remain in the hospital in Jerusalem. My wife stayed with her, and when the ceremony began, we broadcast the event to her over our cell phones. That way, even if should couldn't be present, she could at least hear the happiness. Despite this, cheerfulness reigned. The smiles on everyone's faces told the story. [].

Oh yes, I almost forgot, the baby's name is Amitai, which contains the word (in Hebrew) Emet, which means truth. It also contains the initials of Merav and Itamar's names, and also the initials of Tiferet Yisrael.

Yesterday I received a new song, written especially for current events. It is posted as background music on the above-mentioned website, the opposite of what we used to sing when protesting Russian oppression of Jews in the late Soviet Union. Then we used to chant, "Let My People Go." Today, we have to sing the reverse: "Let My People Stay."  On Sunday, in Gush Katif, I certainly didn't see anyone leaving.

With blessings from Hebron.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

The Real Terrorists

The Real Terrorists
August 7, 2005

What do you expect would happen if you gave a child a loaded weapon? Almost undoubtedly, at some point, the child would pull the trigger and the gun would discharge. Anyone standing in front of the barrel would likely be hit.

Many years ago I read Sharon's autobiography, which so describes the death of his first son, Gur. I haven't looked at the book in many years, and have little inclination to seek it out. However, to the best of my recollection, the way Sharon tells it, a friend have little Gur, (about 11 years old), an old rusty gun to play with. Little did he know that the weapon contained a live bullet. I don't remember if Gur pulled the trigger, or if a friend of his did so, but the result was that Gur was fatally wounded, and died almost immediately. The incident was labeled 'an accident.'

But it's clear enough. If you put a gun in the hands of someone not responsible for his actions, such as a child, tragedy is imminent. And those responsible, whether their act was intentional or unintentional, are the people who allowed the weapon to reach the little fingers of the little boy or girl. The child cannot be held responsible for 'killing,' rather the parents or anyone else who didn't take the necessary safety precautions.

A few months ago a 19-year old named Eden Natan-Zada was drafted into the Israeli army, as are most young Israel men. Natan-Zada underwent the usual proceedings, which includes a personal interview. For some reason, the interviewer saw fit to send him to an additional interview, this time with an army psychologist. That person, following the interview, recommended that Eden Natan-Zada receive a psychological profile of 45, which would forbid him from carrying a weapon, and that his military service be closely accompanied by an army psychologist.

These recommendations were ignored. Natan-Zada began a regular army basic training course, which, after a short period of time, he deserted. According to his parents, they informed military police where their son was, warned them, and pleaded with them, to find him and take his rifle from him. These pleas went unheard. The result was Eden Natan-Zada's attack and murder of four Arabs last Thursday.

Now, I ask you – who was responsible for Eden Natan-Zada's attack? This young man, mentally unstable, who was 'marked' by military psychologists, should never have handled a weapon. An automatic rifle should never have been placed in his hands. The only real difference between Eden Natan-Zada and Gur Sharon was their age. The result of Gur Sharon's loaded gun, was his own death. The result of Natan-Zada's loaded gun was his own death, together with four other people. Clearly, neither one of them should have had a gun, and clearly, both of them should still be alive today. Clearly, the criminal negligence of others led to the tragic results in both cases.

However, too many others, led by Israeli cabinet ministers and the Israeli media, fail to understand simple facts of life. Israeli radio, television and newspapers are full of vicious accounts of the 'Jewish terrorist.' Eden Natan-Zada has been labeled a 'mechabel' – a terrorist, in the same category as the worst of Jew murderers from Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and others. What hypocracy!

Such an act clearly cannot be condoned. Shooting people is not a solution to the problems faced by Israeli society, whether they be the conflicts between Israelis and Israelis, or the conflict between Jews and Arabs, between Israel and the Arabs. In fact, despite the fact that thousands of Israelis are legally armed, (including most residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza), the number of Jews who have taken the law into their own hands is miniscule. And this, despite the thousands of Jews attacked, wounded, maimed and murdered by Arabs, year after year. However, random killing of innocent people is wrong and perpetrators must be apprehended, tried and punished. Of course, preferably such attacks should not occur in the first place.

But to compare a clearly mentally unstable 19-year old with bloodthirsty terrorists, to label him a mechabel, is outrageous. Israeli hysteria reached such proportions that: Defense Minister Mufaz forbad Natan-Zada's burial in a military cemetery, Central Command General Yair Naveh forbade his burial anywhere in Judea and Samaria, and the Rishon l'Tzion mayor, (where he had lived and where his family lives), forbad his burial in that city. The funeral should have taken place on Friday, but the family had no where to bury their son (who too, was murdered by crazed, rioting Arabs.) The father, interviewed on Israeli radio, was told on Friday afternoon, at the morgue, that 'the body belongs to the state' and that 'he should leave before the police arrest him.'

Only this morning was an agreement reached, allowing the family to bury their son, sometime today, in Rishon l'Tzion.

Clearly, Israeli politicians are standing on their heads in order to appease the Arabs living in Israel. They are petrified that, due to the murder of four Arabs by an Israeli, the entire Arab population will rise up and revolt. This, in and of itself, isn't so bad. The problem is that it could delay the planned expulsion/abandonment of Gush Katif and the northern Shomron. Sharon wants to avoid that at all costs. According to media accounts, Sharon himself called the families of the murder victims to personally console them. I wonder - when was the last time Sharon called Jewish family members of murdered Arab terror victims?

The other aspect, which was all but ignored until this morning, is the fact that Eden Natan-Zada was murdered after being apprehended and neutralized by Israeli police. Can you image the headlines in the Israeli daily press if… ARAB MURDERED BY JEWISH EXTREMISTS FOLLOWING TERROR ATTACK.  The Jewish victims would have been quickly forgotten – all that would be spoken and written about would center on the brutal, lawless, lynch of an Arab. FIND THE MURDERERS, INVESTIGATIVE COMMITTEES, ADMINISTRATION DETENTION, EXTREMISTS, EXTREMISTS, EXTREMISTS.  That's all we would have heard, were the case reversed. This morning the media is starting, slowly, to relate to the issue. During one radio interview it was stressed that the police would begin an 'investigation' because 'police were attacked, hit by rocks and had gasoline poured on them.' They forgot to mention that the attacker himself was murdered – that the police were 'unable' to prevent his killing.

There are those who are traveling back in a time tunnel to the days of Yoram Skolnick, who shot and killed a captured terrorist who had planned on killing children in a Hebron Hills regional school. Skolnick spent many years in jail. But we need not go back so far.  What about the supposed 'lynch' of an Arab a few weeks ago, in Gush Katif. Shimshon Cytrin is being accused of attempted murder, etc. etc. when it crystal clear that just about everything attributed to him did not happen.

This is the classic Israeli double standard. Kick yourself as hard as you can, even though you don’t deserve it, and 'make nice' to the enemy, appease him, and maybe he'll leave you alone. Or at least, he won't take revenge. As if they need any excuses.

These events – Natan-Zada, Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron, Cytrin, and other such atrocities are all symptoms of the sickness which has invaded our collective body, and is eating at us from inside. Eden Natan-Zada was not a terrorist – he was a victim of real terror – terror initiated by Ariel Sharon and his cronies. They are responsible for the last week's attack – they are the essence of the cancer destroying the State of Israel. They are the real terrorists.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Sderot and Ofakim

Sderot and Ofakim
August 4, 2005

I usually look forward to Shabbat. It's the end of the week, a good time for a break, meaningful Sabbath prayers, usually at Ma'arat HaMachpela, tasty meals, a little more sleep than usual, some time with the family – a spiritually fulfilling experience.

But this week, I'm not so sure – no, I'm sure Shabbat will be all of the above. But it's going to be difficult to compete with last week's Shabbat. Early last week our good friends, the Sudris, Noam and Tali, invited us to spend the weekend with them. "Sure," we answered, "why not?" We really wanted to go. The Sudris live in Kfar Darom, in Gush Katif.

They began the process of obtaining the despicable 'permits' necessary to get into Gush Katif. But it quickly became clear that it wasn't going to be so easy. For it was decided that only 'immediate family members' would be privileged to receive the 'prized' "OK- you're allowed in." The community's general secretary kept calling and sending faxes to the 'permit office,' but was consistently refused. Thursday night, Friday morning, still no permits. What should we do?

Following an informal family consultation we decided. We are going, permits or not. My wife cooked extra food (we were taking some with us), just in case we showed up back home at the last minute. How were we going to get into the Gush? We didn't know. But we didn't care. I called Noam and set up all sorts of contingency plans (take a neighbor's car, bring your wife's ID card, and try to get my wife and kids through the checkpoint). And we were off. Three kids in the back, me and my wife in the front, one thirty in the afternoon. About a half hour later Noam called back. They finally granted us the permits. We wouldn't have to play 'let's pretend' to get into Gush Katif. We just had to promise to leave Saturday night. The community general secretary promised. (I think we were a little disappointed – it would have more fun to get in fooling them.)

The checkpoints really are despicable. There used to be three of them, but one was removed. A soldier or policeman demands a picture ID, looks you up on his wireless computer device and then does a head count and calls roll of everyone in the car. We just ignored him. Not really. We tried to make him feel guilty. And I thing he did.

(This is the place for a 'short story.' I know someone who drove down to the Gush with several of his children (all of whom had permits), and another passenger who didn't have one. When they were stopped, and a soldier began checking the permits, a policewoman looked into the car and asked the driver, "who's that in the back seat?" He answered, "my children." She said, "yeah, I know, but who's THAT," pointing at the other passenger, a thirty year old man with a big beard. Without turning around, the driver responded, "my kids are in the back." The policewoman smiled and continued, "I know, but him, by the window, THE ONE WITH THE BEARD?" The driver looked at her, and said, "how old do you think I am? I'm really much older than I look." With that, he put his foot on the gas and drove off continuing to Gush Katif.)

The second checkpoint is at the entrance to Kissufim, and it's also really disgusting . You go through the same thing again. (However, here too, all sorts of interesting games are played. I heard from a pretty good source about how a soldier stopped a full car, looked inside, and just checked the driver's ID, without asking who everyone else was. Then he looked in the back and said, "Wow, you've got a lot of bags back there." Then he opened the car's trunk, glanced inside and exclaimed, "Will you look at that – there's a child back here!" He then closed the trunk and told the driver to go ahead, into the Gush.)

When we arrived in the Gush we first went to collect my son, who is studying at one of the Yeshivas in the area and then went to visit friends from Hebron who are living in several of the Gush Katif neighborhoods. One house has six or seven families living in it. At Shirat HaYam, about fifty families live in tents, on the sand, about 20 meters from the Mediterranean Sea. They all share a small communal outdoors kitchen, burner, sink, refrigerator and a couple of bathrooms and showers. During the day it is very hot, so the tents are virtually off-limits. They all perch under a huge black awning which offers protection from the sun and 'houses' picnic tables which serve as a place to eat, play, sit around and chat, etc.

Late in the afternoon we made our way to Kfar Darom. We were lucky enough to receive an apartment for Shabbat. After settling down and getting ready for Shabbat, we walked to the new synagogue, a few minutes away.

What can I say? The place was packed. The synagogue was dedicated only a few months ago, and has room for many more people than then lived at Kfar Darom. But last Shabbat there wasn't enough room for everyone to sit. Several yeshivas have made Kfar Darom their new home. And there must have been well over 100 guests, like us, just for Shabbat. And Kfar Darom has a new 'tent neighborhood' too. There must be at least 25 to 30 families living in tents, on the lawn, on the north side of the community. How they do it, I don't know. Living in one of the Kfar Darom homes for a day, without an air conditioner is almost impossible. It gets really hot there. Living in a tent, in that kind of weather? For two, three, four weeks? Unbelievable dedication.

Friday night Shabbat services in Hebron, at Ma'arat HaMachpela, are usually really special. But these prayers, a Kfar Darom, were about as spiritually uplifting as you can get. What would you expect to hear from people at a community due to be booted out of their homes in a couple of weeks? Funeral dirges? Well, I'm just sorry I couldn't record the singing last Friday night. And in truth, a recording wouldn't due justice to the spirit. It was something from another world. Words that you say week after week, year after year, take on a wholly new significance. From Psalm 92:  "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the L-RD, and to sing praises unto Thy name…To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness at night."

Why faith at night? It's no real test to speak of faith when all is rosy, when the lights are shining. But when all is dark and black, when it seems all hope is lost – that's when we sing songs of praise of faith to G-d.

"When the wicked spring up as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they may be destroyed for ever."

No commentary is necessary.

The joyous singing continued on and on, a subliminal expression of unshakable faith, reaching the very foundations of our being.

The rest of the Shabbat continued in the light of those evening prayers, a tremendous manifestation of belief and trust in the Divine. It was an extraordinary spiritual high, a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime lesson in commitment to a sacred ideal.

Later, Shabbat being over, we plummeted rather fast, from the holy to the profane. It's not enough to get checked entering Gush Katif. You also have to identify yourself as you leave. One poor woman was standing in the midst of officers and police, crying, saying that she wanted to go home. But they WOULDN'T LET HER OUT of Gush Katif. It seems that her name didn't appear on the magic screen list. Unbelievably amazing.

This week, as not too long ago at Netivot and Kfar Maimon, we went to Sderot and Ofakim. The scenes were pretty much the same: Tens of thousands of protesters and tens of thousands of police and soldiers, speeches, sleeping in tentS, in cars, on the ground, sweating in the sun, listening to instructions, 'what to do next,' confrontation with the security forces, going back home.  This week's adventures. Another week to go. What will next week have in store for us?

Sderot, site of this week's huge protest rally, means in English, 'avenues.' Ofakim, site of the park where we slept and spent the day, means 'horizons.'  Different people have different avenues – roads which lead in different directions. So too, it seems, with horizons; we each see something else at the end of the rainbow.  Every once in a while you might wonder what the other side experiences, which road they take, and what they see, far in the distance, what is in their horizon?

I know, for sure, that there are some walking backwards, heading into a dead-end. They have no horizon, for in order to view a horizon, you must look forward. They are looking in the other direction, down and back. Our 'sderot' are lined with roots reaching into the depths of the earth, into the depths of our essence, individually and as a people. Our 'ofakim' are white lights so pure, so bright, that they are all-encompassing, embracing us with warmth, hope and love.

These are our sderot and our ofakim - our true life, in our true land.