miércoles, 25 de febrero de 2009
In the Age of Lieberman
By Rob Eshman
My trip to Israel last week ended in a community center classroom on a Jaffa hill overlooking the Mediterranean. As their music director accompanied them on piano, a dozen Arab, Jewish and Christian girls sat around me on folding chairs, rehearsing songs for an upcoming concert.
This was the Voices of Peace choir of the Arab Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, the mixed Arab Jewish town in the southern part of Tel Aviv. The center is the only one of its kind in all of Israel, serving more than 2,000 families with a day-to-night schedule of classes, intergroup dialogues, leadership initiatives and an all-girl choir.
They sang a song in Arabic, “Zman es el Salaam” — “Time for Peace” — then launched into Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” effortlessly alternating verses in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
Their voices soared; their enthusiasm was contagious. When they finished — though I was the only audience in the room — I burst into applause.
The center’s co-director, Hadas Kaplan, asked me whether I had any questions, and all I could think of was the one I didn’t dare ruin the moment by asking out loud:
Is this Israel’s future or its past?
I can’t say the question came out of nowhere. The big news in Israel all week, in the aftermath of the Feb. 10 elections, was the rise of Avigdor Lieberman. The 51-year-old immigrant from Moldova received 15 Knesset seats as head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party. It wasn’t enough to make him prime minister, but given Israel’s electoral system, in which governments are constructed not by direct voting but by post-poll horse-trading, the results ensured Lieberman a decisive role in the nation’s next coalition.
Depending on whom you talk to or read in Israel, Lieberman is either a refreshing truth-teller who can get the country back on course or a racist, fascist demagogue who will destroy it from within.
At first, his party represented the thwarted political aspirations of the nation’s recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But in this election, Lieberman’s boldest statements struck home with a broader range of constituencies.
“The young people really turned out for him,” a Tel Aviv friend told me, “even the ones too young to vote love him. You don’t get 15 mandates just from Russians.”
Lieberman’s politics are neither classically right nor left. He supports a Palestinian state, but he also wants all citizens of Israel to sign a loyalty oath, and he’s called for Israel to “trade” the Galilee region, with its 60 percent Arab Israeli population, for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Lieberman sees Israeli Arabs, who account for about 20 percent of Israel’s population, as a fifth column that will destroy the country.
He had an easy target in radical Arab Israeli leaders like former Knesset member Azmi Bishara, founder of the Balad Party, who fled the country after being accused of spying for Hezbollah. Bishara reportedly still receives his 8,000-shekel-a-month pension from the Israeli government.
Two weeks after the election, Lieberman’s campaign slogan, “No loyalty, no citizenship,” still called out from rain-soaked billboards.
The message resonated. I sat down for coffee with a very sophisticated, Ivy League-educated Israeli who voted for Benjamin Netanyahu, but who understood Lieberman’s appeal.
“Why should we pay taxes to support someone who calls us ‘Nazis’ during the war in Gaza?” he said.
The problem, of course, is not every Arab Israeli is like Bishara.
Many people consider Lieberman to be Israel’s equivalent of Jorge Haider or Jean Marie le Pen, European neofascists who rose to power by blaming internal minorities — including Jews — for their country’s ill. They are sickened that such a man has risen to such prominence.
“Lieberman has become the face of ugly Israel,” my friend Yossi Klein Halevy told The Christian Science Monitor. “Lieberman would be an anti-foreign minister because of his reputation. Even if he tones his rhetoric down, the vulgar anti-Arab campaign will continue to haunt him.”
I visited the Arab Jewish Community Center partly because, in a Lieberman-ascendant Israel, I was curious to see how such a place could fare. At the same time that polls showed younger Israelis voting for Lieberman, young Israeli Arabs have been drawn to more extreme anti-Israel rhetoric. The looming tragedy is that not only does the current generation of voters seem to have given up on reconciliation and co-existence, but the next one has, as well.
The center has been around for 15 years, founded by a tireless Israeli Arab named Ibrahim Abu Shindi and run by him and Kaplan, a Jewish Israeli. The center gets most of its barely adequate $400,000 annual operating budget from the municipality of Tel-Aviv-Jaffa, but a lot of its program monies come from donors abroad. Local donors, like The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Osias and Dorothy Goren, Diane and Guilford Glazer and the late Armand Hammer, were crucial to its launch.
The message clearly resonates with Americans — in 2006, the center received the prestigious Victor J. Goldberg Institute of International Education Prize from the International Institute for Education, and the American Embassy funds a room at the center with English-language books and magazines, computers and a state-of-the-art video conference setup.
Last year, the Voices for Peace choir performed in front of President George W. Bush.
Kaplan is loath to talk too much about politics, but she did tell me the work has gotten harder recently.
“People are more extreme,” Kaplan said. “The adults influence the children, and it’s more difficult to convince the parents. Now it’s an especially hard time because of the war and everything that’s happening, but we do it because of that.”
The center’s staff has equal numbers of Jews and Muslim and Christian Arabs. Jaffa itself has gentrified dramatically over the past decade, so the participants are not just ethnically, but also economically, very mixed. Spend a few hours there, and you see a large swath of Israel in a microcosm.
“We’re trying to be open to everybody,” Kaplan explained. “We promote tolerance and living together, not just co-existence, but the opportunity to live together. Our aim is to create this structure for the whole society.”
“Most community centers get to teach judo and ballet and do all the fun stuff,” she added, “but our main aim is to bring people together.”
Inside the classroom, I asked one of the singers, a bubbly 16-year-old Arab Israeli named Iman, why she participates.
“I come here every day, and not just for the singing,” she said. “But we sing songs of peace. We sing for people to come together.”
After my private concert, I left with the kind of feeling I most associate with being in Israel: ebullience tinged with anxiety. In the Age of Lieberman, I couldn’t help being moved by these girls and their center; I also couldn’t help wondering how long it would all last.
“You have to keep doing it,” a visibly tired Kaplan told me as she walked me to my car, “if you want Arabs and Jews to meet. Because they can live in the same country, in the same city, in the same building, and they don’t even know each other.”
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miércoles, 4 de febrero de 2009
Last update - 11:11 30/01/2009
An abnormal system
By Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish
Later I returned to the Gaza Strip.
My affiliation with Israeli hospitals began some 20 years ago, after I read a book by Israeli researchers in the field of fertility, which was of particular interest to me. I had just returned to Gaza after completing a residency in obstetrics and gynecology in London, and working thereafter in Saudi Arabia. I got in touch with Prof. Mark Glazerman at Soroka Medical Center, Be'er Sheva, who agreed to receive female patients of mine for consultation and treatments not available in Gaza. Periodically I would bring patients in my own car, and sometimes in a small minibus that carried between 12-15 women to Soroka. I realized that cooperation with the Israeli health-care system would benefit many of the patients.
In 1994 the United Nations requested that I take charge of women's health care in Gaza. After three years of unsatisfying administrative work, I wanted to go back to practicing medicine. I learned Hebrew at an ulpan and, in 1997, I applied for a residency at Soroka. I loved every day spent at that hospital, and all of the people there. To this day, we maintain good friendships. Later on I completed a master's degree in the United States from the Harvard School of Public Health, and served in Kabul as an adviser to the Afghan health-care system.
I found a poor health-care system in the Strip. Anyone who steps into a pediatrics ward at Sheba Medical Center or Sourasky Medical Center will encounter a large number of Palestinian children. Many are happy to receive treatment in Israel, which has one of the best health-care systems in the world. Cooperation between the two systems exists, although not to a satisfactory degree.
This cooperation can be compared to "medical tourism," except that in places where such tourism exists, the person plans for the treatment, comes to the hospital, and even has fun. Here, one finds an abnormal system of medical tourism, between two peoples engaged in conflict - a fact that exacerbates the patients' suffering. The convoluted bureaucracy involved in obtaining guarantees of insurance coverage, and security permits for crossing into Israel from the Gaza Strip complicates matters. Even when someone manages to get treatment in Israel, he has difficulty returning for a follow-up appointment and continued treatment, because nobody promises to grant him those permits.
Another problem is the lack of communication between the physician who sends the patient from Gaza and the physician who handles the case in Israel. Frequently the patient's condition deteriorates upon returning to Gaza, and the doctor there is not up to date regarding his treatment history.
This system has been in place for years, but no one has looked into ways of improving treatment so as to make things easier for Gazans. In a research project I have initiated, we are studying the mechanism for transferring patients, with the aim of streamlining it.
I recently received a job offer from the University of Toronto. However, the tragedy we suffered changes all our plans, and I am now incapable of thinking about the future.
Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish lost three daughters to IDF fire during Operation Cast Lead. His surviving children have received treatment in Israel.
Last update - 21:05 04/02/2009
Gaza doctor who lost daughters in IDF strike: Everyone makes mistakes
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service
Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, who lost three daughters and a niece in an Israel Defense Forces strike in the Gaza Strip last month, responded Wednesday to an IDF statement confirming that it was Israeli fire that killed his daughters, thanking those responsible for investigating the incident and saying that "we all make mistakes, and we don't repeat them."
Abu al-Aish, a father of eight, became one of the symbols of the Gaza offensive for Israelis after he captivated TV viewers with a sobbing live report on the death of his three daughters and his niece in Israeli shelling. The 55-year-old gynecologist trained in Israeli hospitals and speaks Hebrew.
The IDF announced earlier Wednesday that an investigation into the January 16 incident confirmed that it had been Israeli fire that killed the four girls.
"First of all, I would like to thank all those who worked, and had the courage and good conscience to shed light on the truth that I always believed. Thank you to everyone who took upon themselves to publicize this truth seeking investigation," Abu al-Aish said in an interview with Channel 2.
The Palestinian doctor went on to say "I have two options - the path of darkness or the path of light. The path of darkness is like choosing all the complications with diseases and depression, but the path of light is to focus on the future and my children. This strengthened my conviction to continue on the same path and not to give up."
Abu al-Aish did not neglect to thank the Israelis who met with him and offered him strength, saying "the love that I've received, from people I knew and people I didn't know, gave me strength."
The IDF released the conclusions of its investigation into the incident earlier Wednesday, explaining that Golani troops had been fired upon by snipers situated in the house adjacent to Abu al-Aish's home. The troops identified suspicious figures in the upper levels of the doctor's building, and deduced that they were serving as observers, directing the sniper fire from their vantage point.
Following long deliberations and assessments of the situation, the Golani commander decided to fire tank shells at the building, and when the soldiers heard the screams and realized civilians had been hit, they helped evacuate them, the investigation revealed.
The army argues further that the residents of the neighborhood were urged to evacuate the area prior to the attack via thousands of leaflets that were disseminated in the area, and that the doctor was personally asked by phone to evacuate his family from the neighborhood due to the fighting.
Abu al-Aish denied that there were any militants in the building at the time of the shelling.
The IDF spokesman's office issued a statement extending the IDF's condolences over the incident, but maintaining that the IDF operated within reason in light of the sniper fire directed at the troops and the heavy fighting in the region.