Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Noted Israeli Journalist Slams Her Government On Gaza

Amira Hass, perhaps the best columnist writing in the Jerusalem daily Haaretz, is famed for her reporting from the Palestinian territories. Today, she slams her nation’s government for its repeated attacks on Gaza, beginning with the timing of the initial raid last Saturday – and goes on from there, in increasingly angrier tones.

How We Like Our Leaders
– by Amira Hass

This isn't the time to speak of ethics, but of precise intelligence. Whoever gave the instructions to send 100 of our planes, piloted by the best of our boys, to bomb and strafe enemy targets in Gaza is familiar with the many schools adjacent to those targets - especially police stations. He also knew that at exactly 11:30 A.M. on Saturday, during the surprise assault on the enemy, all the children of the Strip would be in the streets - half just having finished the morning shift at school, the others en route to the afternoon shift.

This is not the time to speak of proportional responses, not even of the polls that promise a greater share of Knesset seats to the mission's architects. This is, however, the time to speak of the voters' belief the operation will succeed, that the strikes are precise and the targets justified.

Take, for example, Imad Aqel Mosque in Jabalya refugee camp, bombed and strafed shortly before midnight on Sunday. These are the names of the glorious military victory we achieved there - Jawaher, age 4; Dina, age 8; Sahar, age 12; Ikram, age 14; and Tahrir, age 17, all sisters of the Ba'lousha family, all killed in a "precise" strike on the mosque. Another three sisters, a 2-year-old brother and their parents were injured. Twenty-four neighbors were wounded and five homes and three stores destroyed. This part of the military victory did not open our television or radio news broadcasts yesterday morning, nor did they appear on many Israeli news Web sites.

This is the time to speak about the detailed maps in the hands of IDF commanders, and about the Shin Bet advisers who know the exact distance between the mosque and nearby homes. This is the time to discuss the drone planes and the hot air balloons fitted with advanced cameras floating over the Strip day and night, filming everything.

This is the time to rely on legal advisers studying the operation to find the right phrasing to justify "collateral damage." Time to praise Foreign Ministry spokespeople who in their polished language, with their elegant South African or charmant Parisien accents, say it is the fault of Hamas, which uses neighborhood mosques for its own purposes.

Talk of double standards has always been moot. Maybe there was a huge weapons store in the mosque. Maybe Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades militants met there every night and from there planned to launch their upgraded fighter jets.

Where does the IDF Chief of Staff sit when he draws up war plans? Not in the Sahara, or even in the Negev. What would happen if someone blew themselves up at the entrance to Tel Aviv's Cinematheque movie theater, and those who sent him said sorry, but he was headed for the Defense Ministry down the street?

This is not the time to recall long-forgotten history lessons to say this is not the way to topple a government. Nor is it the time to make rational recommendations for balanced statesmanship. The time for such things has passed, along with the New Order we once arrogantly tried to establish in Lebanon, which only brought us Hezbollah. Along with the Orientalists' plans to reduce the popularity of the PLO, which only paved the way for the emergence of a militant Islamic nationalist movement.

The time of such recommendations has passed, along with the grab of Palestinian lands and hyperactive construction of settlements in the Oslo era, which only laid the cornerstone for the second intifada and the fall of Fatah.

The era of reason and judgment died long ago, even before the targeted assassinations of Fatah activists in the West Bank, which soon turned into shooting attacks on soldiers and the emergence of another few thousand young people taking up arms, not to mention the phenomenon of suicide bombers.

It is never the right time to say "we told you so," because once it is possible to say those words, they are already invalid. We cannot revive the dead, nor repair the damage caused by arrogance and megalomania.

This is the time to speak of our own satisfaction and enjoyment. Satisfaction from tanks once again raising and lowering their barrels in preparation for a ground attack, satisfaction from our leaders' threatening finger-waving at the enemy. That's how we like our leaders - calling up reservists, sending pilots to bomb our enemies and manifesting national unity, from Baruch Marzel to Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu to Barak to Lieberman.

Holiday Greetings From Einer’s Diner

It was 54’ on Christmas Day when I wandered into Einer’s Diner for my annual holiday dinner ritual. So I wasn’t entirely surprised when a chorus of “Happy Canada Day!” greeted me as I opened the door. Canada Day is celebrated in July but it’s easy enough for the regulars at Einer’s to become confused under the best of circumstances and this year’s unseasonably warm December only adds to their general befuddlement.

Hell, Einer’s regulars get befuddled if he moves a salt shaker on the counter, so it’s not surprising that this year’s April-in-December heat wave disturbed them.

Like many of the people who take Christmas dinner there, Einer’s is a place that time forgot. Of course, being located near Queen and Sherbourne in the heart of Toronto’s great hairy metropolis doesn’t help. And if time didn’t forget ‘most everything about the intersection – buildings, store fronts, garbage piled at the curb, the pungent smell, people – it certainly stopped, probably sometime in the late 70s or early 80s.

Still, those are the things that draw me back to Einer’s every year; well, that and a chance to catch up with old friends I haven’t seen since last year, before the fire.

You may remember reading in the paper that there was a terrible fire at Einer’s. Everything burned: The booths with the chipped Formica tables and green vinyl seats with indentations from generations of overweight backsides imprinting them, the counter with its 11 stools, the kitchen with its years of aromatic grime on the walls, the storeroom with the large tins of corn, peas and generic Jell-O powder, the linoleum floor with the deep, black scuff mark in the corner made from more than a decade of Eudora Phipps leaning her left hip against the wall when she wasn’t busy waitressing and shuffling the right heel of the white nurses oxfords she always wore with her uniform back and forth. Everything that smelled “Einer’s” was lost.

The arson squad investigated and concluded without much enthusiasm that the blaze was preventable and caused by carelessness. In one sense, it was: If Einer didn’t have four deep fryers going full blast – well, it was Thanksgiving and he expected a full house – chances are the damage would have been limited. On the other hand, it was really just a fire waiting to happen once the right combination of events happened in precisely the correct combination.

They did.

On the fateful mid-October day, one of those Cooper Mini cars was parked at a meter in front of Einer’s. The owner returned to his clown-sized car, squiggled into the too-small driver’s seat, started the motor and gunned the engine a few times. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a Cooper Mini engine cold start, but what the engineers and designers thought sounded sexy actually makes the same sound as a World War 2 German fighter, the Messerschmitt ME-109.

Now, to most people the sound wouldn’t register anything unusual. But to poor Corny Bledsoe, who’d been gassed in The Great War and enlisted again for WW2 where he spent five years as a private who never passed a promotion exam, the sound of the Mini engine roaring to life meant only one thing. In his head, he was back at Dunkirk.

“The bloody Jerry’s are strafing,” Corny shouted, his eyes wide in terror, his words more garbled and mumbled than usual, even when his teeth are fitting properly. “Everybody dig into the sand!”

Half the people in Einer’s didn’t even bother to look up. They were the regulars accustomed to an occasional, nonsensical outburst from Corny or one of the other diners who carries on intense discussions with people who aren’t in the room.

It was the other half that fuelled the fire.

In one of the booths, Leona Feltmate was slurping her way through a bowl of pea soup when Corny shouted his warning. Leona is about 80. Many decades ago, she had a brief moment of minor celebrity when she received the first breast implants in Canada. In those days, there was only one model: Hard and unyielding. Now, although she had become stooped with age, withered and quite wrinkled, she still has the same near-perfect, teasingly pert, breasts that she paid a small fortune for all those years ago. The contradiction between every other part of her body and her full, upright bodice made Leona the sluttiest looking octogenarian in all of Toronto.

When Corny shouted his warning, Leona leapt to her feet – too quickly. The hem of her dress caught in the heel of her right shoe, and her sturdy, right plastic breast got wedged up against the edge of the table in her booth. She was immobilised. Her two arms and one free leg went splaying all akimbo and poor Leona ended up doing a half-cartwheel out of the booth. Her dress ended up half over her head and half covering Corny’s, which only intensified his panic at being caught out in the open during a raid.

In the process of trying to free himself, Corny – with Leona still attached to him by the hem of her dress which had wrapped itself around his turkey neck – went bouncing over the counter like a beach ball. He and Leona landed with a thud, right on Eudora Phipps’ worst bunion. She reacted by vaulting backwards in the air, yowling in pain and grabbing at her throbbing foot. Corny, seeing a lifeline to safety, grabbed Eudora’s heel which caused her to catapult backwards, hitting Einer as she did.

Due to the noise of cooking and steam in the kitchen, Einer had neither heard nor seen anything that happened up to the moment when Eudora slammed into his belly, followed immediately by a half-blinded Corny Bledsoe who had not stopped screaming, “Take cover, boys!” and then the now shrieking Leona Feltmate.

At the moment of impact, Einer was holding a platter of frozen Tuna Treats. Einer is a large man – tall, round and plush – but even his girth could not slow the momentum of being body slammed by three people. His arms went up in the air, he stumbled, and the frozen Tuna Treats went splashing into the bubbling hot oil of one of the fryers. With a loud “Whoosh!” the oil sent a fire ball to the ceiling. Flaming grease splattered on the floor and into the other fryers, igniting what seemed like a century of accumulated cooking grime and who knows what else.

The rest was in the newspapers. The fire spread, taking Einer’s Diner with it. Fortunately, everyone got out safely. The next day, Einer came back to look at the smouldering ruins. Standing amongst the charred remains, he noticed a handful of forlorn regulars on the sidewalk who had no idea where to eat. Many of them didn’t know there were other places to eat because they only knew how to get from their walk-up flats to Einer’s and back again.

So Einer rebuilt the place, keeping it as close to the original as possible. For one thing, he was no decorator and his personal style – if that’s what you could call it – was a close match to the style of his restaurant. For another, he knew that it would be shiny new for only a week after he re-opened so what was the point? Anyway, he didn’t want to leave his regulars thinking he’d gone uptown on them.

Actually, I almost didn’t recognise Corny. He finally had cataract surgery during the summer so his trademark glasses, thick as the bottom of a pair of Coke bottles, disappeared with the increasingly thick cornea film that blurred his vision for decades and added to the challenge of driving his school bus route every day. The last few years, parents really started complaining about Corny who was having more and more trouble reading street signs along the route so he only sometimes were letting kids at a home close to where they actually lived.

Fortunately for Corny, a provincial law barring discrimination against blind and disabled workers – he’d been legally blind for as long as anyone could remember – meant he was able to keep driving a school bus until he hit his 70th birthday when chauffer licenses are revoked. That’s when he began driving a gypsy cab to earn pocket money. In fact, the first thing he bought after hitting the streets in his old Plymouth Valiant were new pockets: His old trousers were so worn that the pockets turned to fuzz eons ago; change kept slipping out and getting lost, literally costing him “pocket money.”

Such is life at Einer’s this – well, every – holiday season. I hope you and yours have as much fun over the holidays as I did at the diner and may you have a healthy, happy, prosperous and fire-free New Year’s!