Get out of Gaza 

Saturday, October 25, 2003

I was particularly devastated to hear about the killing of three soldiers on Friday in the Gaza Strip. Of course, I was very sad the previous week when three soldiers were killed in the West Bank, near Ofra. But the lastest incident somehow made a greater impact.

One of the reasons was the location: Netzarim. This is an isolated settlement in the middle of the Gaza Strip, just south of Gaza City. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that Netzarim and Tel Aviv have the same status in his eyes. However, opinion polls confirm that the overwhelming majority of Israelis could not give a damn about Netzarim or any of the other Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

All pragmatic discussions of final status accords take for granted that Israel will eventually abandon its settlement enterprise in the Gaza Strip, where Arabs outnumber Jews some 200 to 1, where biblical and strategic arguments are less compelling than in the West Bank, and where a border fence has already proved effective in stopping terrorist infiltrations across the Green Line.

So, part of my sadness and anger over the death of the three soldiers in Netzarim is because there was no good reason to have put their lives at such risk. The few dozen families living in Netzarim should pack their bags and allow the army to thin out its presence in this area. (An entire battalion is deployed to defend the few folks in Netzarim.)

Amram Mitzna, during his short tenure as head of the Labor Party, spoke clearly about the need to withdraw from the Gaza Strip immediately. But in the January 2003 elections, Israelis were still more in the mood to see the Palestinians punished for the violence they perpetrated than to consider the logic of Mitzna's argument.

Another reason why the death of the three young soldiers was so shocking this time was because two of the three victims were girls: 19-year-old sergeants Adi Osman and Sarit Shneor. (Another female soldier was also seriously wounded.) I'm not sure why the deaths of these young women should be more shocking than the deaths of boys their age. Maybe it's just that we're not as used to it - or maybe there is a more personal reason in my case.

I have twin children - a boy and a girl - who are now two years away from being drafted into the army. Most of my worries have been focused on my son, who is gung ho on becoming a combat soldier and "doing something important" for Israel. I've suggested that perhaps the best thing he could do for Israel is to join a combat unit, but refuse to serve in the territories. This idea has little appeal for him.

The latest tragic incident has increased my anxiety about my daughter's military service. She also is participating in an after-school regimen of physical training (twice a week) in preparation of military service. The range of positions available for women in the army is much greater than in the past, and my daughter is determined not to spend her military service making coffee for the generals.

So it could be that I will have to face the possibility of seeing both twin siblings enter an institution run by generals I don't trust, and who take their orders from a prime minister who was found unworthy to serve as defense minister in the 1980s. I pray that my children will have the courage to tell their commanding officers that it is folly to continue to risk the precious lives of young Israeli men and women in places like Netzarim.

Who is pro-Israel? 

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

There are many expressions in everyday use that don’t really fit. The baseball championships now being played between two teams from New York and Miami cannot really be considered a “World” Series without including teams from Japan and other countries. Or, to take a less benign example, the leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, is regularly called the “spiritual” head of this militant Islamic organization. But can there be anything “spiritual” in his approval of suicide bombings? (Whether it is correct to call Rabbi Ovadia Yosef “the spiritual leader” of Shas is another question, which we’ll skip for now.)

Another term that is used without much thought is “pro-Israel.” Anyone who is supportive of Israeli government actions seems to automatically be classified as “pro-Israel.” Those critical of Israel’s policies are not necessarily labeled as “anti-Israel,” but their loyalty and concern for Israel are not as easily taken for granted.

Let’s take a closer look. Under this convention, the following people would not be accorded the “pro-Israel” appellation: retired Major General Amram Mitzna, the Labor Party MK who advocates an immediate evacuation of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip; Amiram Goldin, who recently led a group of bereaved parents on a march to Jerusalem to protest the government’s failure to wage peace; and Amos Oz, the Hebrew novelist who helped negotiate the Geneva Accords, which call for a division of Jerusalem and a relinquishing of claims to Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

One can differ with the political views of such people, but their passionately “pro-Israel” sentiments cannot be doubted. Similarly, it would be absurd to call Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “anti-Israel” – even though many believe his policies are leading Israel down a dead-end path.

Let’s be aware, therefore, that someone who is “pro-Israel” might conduct policies that are disastrous for the country. In such cases, “pro-Israel” lobbies like AIPAC would not be acting in Israel’s best interests by echoing the party line. Instead, it would help Israel more by supporting an alternative view.

The solution, I think, is to use “pro-Israel” only as a measure of intention. That is, if someone's basic sentiment toward Israel is affection and concern, rather than antipathy and malice, then the "pro-Israel" label applies. In this way, both Uri Avnery (on the left) and Benny Elon (on the right) can be called “pro-Israel” because of their concern for the future of the country, though each represent positions that are an anathema to the other.

Am I “pro-Israel?” This reminds me of the question in Fiddler on the Roof: “Do you love me?” Tevye’s wife never thought in terms of “love” – but she stayed by his side for many years, washing his clothes, mending his socks, and so on. “If that’s not love, what is?” Well, I left my home, friends and family in the United States for a more difficult life here, served in the army, pay half of my earnings in taxes, etc. “If that’s not pro-Israel, what is?”

And here is what one “pro-Israel” advocate suggests: stop the bombings of Palestinian cities, the incursions and closures that only breed more terrorists; create a feeling of hope and take Israeli soldiers (and civilian settlers) out of harm’s way by immediately evacuating some of the isolated Jewish settlements; call the Arab League’s bluff by responding positively to its Beirut statement on peaceful relations with Israel; and focus pressure on the Palestinians to comply with accords and compromise by demonstrating a readiness to do the same.

All-nighters for the Red Sox nation in Israel 

Monday, October 20, 2003

The rains came early this year for the Red Sox nation in Israel. Even before the traditional prayer for rain at the conclusion of the Succoth holiday week, the skies opened in Boston, postponing Game 4 of the
American League Championship Series against the Evil Empire. Not only did this allow the Red Sox a fortuitous shift in their pitching lineup, it also allowed the team's faithful in Israel to get a decent night's sleep.

The next night, the marathon resumed. Pre-game coverage began at 2:00 AM local time. After a nerve-wracking first inning, Tim Wakefield resumed his postseason mastery of the Yankees, leading the Red Sox to a 3-2 victory and tying the series at two games apiece. After a victory lap around the neighborhood and fresh pastries from the bakery that was just opening for the day, we could still grab a couple hours of sleep. Fortunately, school was out for the Succoth holiday, so the kids could sleep until noon or so.

The local media was busy with the Geneva accords and apparently oblivious to the drama in Boston as the two teams met the next afternoon at Fenway for Game 5. The earlier time slot enabled fans in Israel to watch the game and still curl into bed by 2 AM or so. But Boston supporters would gladly have traded a few more hours of sleep for a couple of crucial hits against David Wells, who stymied the Sox 4-2.

Wells, a portly 40-year-old, is a big fan of Babe Ruth and thinks there may really be something to the Curse of the Bambino, which has plagued the Red Sox since selling Ruth after the team's last World Series victory in 1918. "I believe in it. That's just my opinion," he says. Indeed, coming into Game 5, things looked good for the Red Sox: Derek Lowe's near-invincible record at Fenway seemed to give the hometown team a good chance to go up in the series 3 to 2. But the whammy was on and the advantage clearly swung back to the Yankees as the series returned to New York for the finale.

It did not look good for the Red Sox as the team squared off again 24 hours later in the Bronx. Game 6 was another afternoon game, thanks to the Florida
Marlins, who forced the Cubs into a seventh game and were assigned the nighttime slot. The Yankees had the venerable Andy Pettitte on the mound, while the Red Sox countered with the weakest link in their starting rotation, John Burkett, who has had a disastrous record against New York.

Burkett gave up a first-inning home run to Jason Giambi, but looked pretty good the next two innings. But that was it. The Yankees delivered four runs in the fourth to overcome a 4-1 deficit and take a 5-4 lead.

But later in the game, it was the House that Ruth built that appeared to be haunted by some curse. The winds began blowing stronger, sending hotdog wrappers swirling above the stands and leaving Yankee outfielders helpless in tracking down long fly balls by Garciaparra and Ramirez. Yankee leftfielder Hideki Matsui provided some comic relief (and allowed Boston to tie the game at 6-6) by firing the ball on one hop into the seats, allowing Nomar to stretch his triple into an inside-the-park home run.

The winning run scored later in that seventh inning in another embarrassing moment for the Yankees: with the bases loaded, relief pitcher Felix Heredia walked Johnny Damon on four straight pitches. Trot Nixon put the icing on the cake with a two-run shot in the ninth to secure the 9-6 victory and set up a seventh game duel between two future Hall of Famers: Pedro and Roger.

Well, we reported for what was being billed as "The Game of the Century" at 2:18 AM Friday morning, on our regular postseason diet of popcorn and fingernails. After the 11th inning "Boone-doggle" - and long after sunrise - we retreated to our beds in silence.

The energizer Beilin 

Monday, October 13, 2003

Yossi Beilin is an anathema to some Israelis, who recoil at the mere mention of his name. As deputy foreign minister in Yitzhak Rabin’s government in the early 1990s, he was the initial patron of the discussions in Norway that led to the Oslo accords. Beilin sent two Israeli academics – Yair Hirshfeld and Ron Pundak – to begin talking with PLO representatives without informing his boss, then-foreign minister Shimon Peres, or Rabin. For those who view the Oslo accords as a calamity that led to the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, now in its fourth year, Beilin is vilified as the architect of Oslo.

Beilin’s calm demeanor and polite participation in political debates makes him even more irritating to some Israelis. Almost always dressed in a suit and tie, Beilin indeed looks more at home in his diplomatic forays abroad than in his Levantine neighborhood at home. He is vastly unpopular in Israel’s open-air markets (shuk), one of the barometers used to gauge the mood of Israeli society. (This small sector, however, is even more unrepresentative than New Hampshire and Iowa, which have such a disproportionate say in determining who will be the president of the United States.)

Nonetheless, Beilin is clearly accorded a measure of respect – albeit sometimes grudgingly - by his political colleagues and foes. No one seems to doubt his integrity and the sincerity of his convictions. But what is perhaps most impressive is his persistence.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, Israel’s two previous prime ministers, who belong to the same Yom Kippur War generation as the 50-something Beilin, took a hiatus from politics after their respective election defeats (in 1999 and 2001). Both former PMs turned to business pursuits instead of seeking to influence the course of national events. (Netanyahu later returned to the political arena as finance minister and heir apparent to Ariel Sharon, while Barak is also occasionally showing some signs that he is planning a political comeback.)

Beilin, on the other hand, has relentlessly pursued his agenda for improving life in Israel during the past decade, regardless of his political fortunes. After his Labor Party lost power in 1996, for example, Beilin led an unpopular drive for a unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon. This effort slowly gained momentum and the 18-year sojourn in Lebanon was ended during Barak’s term in office, in 2000.

During the interim between the Rabin and Barak government, Beilin also hammered out a “new covenant” between religious and secular Jews, tackling such disputed issues as public transportation on the Sabbath and secular marriage registration. In fact, Beilin has been a serial negotiator of accords, finding consensus with Likud members on the outlines of a final status settlement with the Palestinians (the Beilin-Eitan accord) and forging an agreement for establishing full diplomatic relations with the Vatican. He also was the brainchild behind the successful Birthright program, which has brought thousands of young American Jews on free trips to Israel.

But Beilin was uncharacteristically undiplomatic in disparaging the capabilities of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who narrowly defeated Avraham Burg in a contest for Labor Party leader after Barak’s election loss. Ben-Eliezer’s political machine made sure that Beilin paid the price for this disrespect when primaries were held in late 2002. Beilin failed to win a realistic slot on the party’s Knesset slate and bolted to the Meretz party. Meretz did not fare well in the January 2003 elections and Beilin was left without a seat in the parliament.

Still, Beilin kept at it. Despite the popular feeling in Israel that no comprehensive accord with the Palestinians could be achieved in the foreseeable future, Beilin and some like-minded associates continued meeting with Palestinian representatives. On October 12, a new agreement was reached with a Palestinian team led by Yasser Abed Rabbo. The new document goes a step beyond the Oslo agreements by outlining a final status accord that includes such sticky issues as the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jerusalem. The Beilin-Abed Rabbo agreement is largely based on Beilin’s earlier understandings with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The Beilin-Abu Mazen accord was about to be presented to Rabin in 1995 when the prime minister was assassinated. The new document is scheduled to be signed next month in Switzerland – perhaps on November 4, the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination.

I admit to being a fan of Beilin and identify with his political outlook. But even those who think he’s terribly misguided can admire his tireless efforts in pursuit of what he believes will secure a better future for Israel.

Atonement time for Cubs and Red Sox 

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

For those of you who have been hiding in a cave for the past 85 years, here is what you have not missed: a World Series championship by the Red Sox or Cubs.

But if you have been in remote contact with reality during the past nine decades, you may be sick and tired of hearing about the long drought of these two teams. Sports Illustrated's Phil Taylor writes that he is desperately rooting for the Cubs or Red Sox to win this year if only to shut up their nudnik fans, who seem to think that their "exquisite misery" endows them with some special karma.

Indeed, Taylor notes that the legendary failures of the Cubbies and BoSox are a source of pride and identity for their long-suffering fans: "I've always suspected that Boston and Chicago rooters enjoy their long losing streaks on some level. The moment one of their teams wins the Series, they become just another group of fans going through the same mundane ups and downs the rest of us do. No more myth, no more drama... A World Series win by one of them would mean we'd have one fewer group of self-pitying fans to listen to."

I suspect this is how most of the world also feels about the Arab-Israeli conflict, which dates back to around the time the Cubs won their last title in 1908. Here both “teams” also sometimes seem to prefer to wallow in their myth and drama rather than achieve a victory for their “fans.” (Isn’t it time for the Arabs and Jews to both declare victory and quietly split their championship bonus?)

This may be stretching the analogy to suit my particular political outlook, but there are indeed a number of Jewish angles to this postseason baseball saga, 2003. There’s the young general manager of the Red Sox, Theo Epstein, whose father wrote “King of the Jews” and who is said to be named after a fellow called Theo Herzl.

(A personal aside: After returning from Kol Nidre services, we flicked on the TV to watch the Red Sox put together a two-out, eighth-inning rally to edge Oakland 4-3 in Game Four of the division series and keep their hopes alive. In Boston, it was still several hours before Yom Kippur. We saw Theo Epstein seated behind home plate, and I wondered aloud whether he would be leaving early to make it to the synagogue. My son’s response: “Are you kidding? Fenway Park is the Holy Temple!”)

The old Yiddish tale about the rabbi and the goat also echoes in the Cubs’ version of Boston’s Curse of the Bambino. (Again, for the benefit of you cave dwellers, this curse began when the Bambino - Babe Ruth - was sold to the Yankees in 1919.) In the Jewish fable, the rabbi instructs a man who complained about his crowded living conditions to bring a goat into his house. This, of course, makes his situation even more unbearable. When the rabbi then tells him to remove the goat, the man appreciates how spacious his home has become.

The Cubs’ curse dates to 1945, the last time the team made it to the World Series. William “Gus” Sianis, the owner of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern and a devoted Cubs fan, brought his goat to Wrigley Field to give the team luck. But, unlike the story of the rabbi, the goat was not allowed to enter. Legend has it that Sianis left the stadium in a fury and placed a curse on the Cubs. They lost to the Tigers in seven games and have not returned to the World Series since.

The Red Sox still need to get past New York; the American League championship series starts tonight at Yankee Stadium (the “House that Ruth Built”). And the Cubs need to defeat an insurgent Marlins team to win the National League crown. But there is a definite possibility that the Red Sox and Cubs will face off in the World Series – or that at least one of them will make it to the series and win. If only the chances of a happy ending to the long Arab-Israeli dispute looked so promising.

A message to Israel’s friends 

Monday, October 06, 2003

(The following was written about 18 months ago, but - unfortunately - not much has changed and the message still rings true.)

Israel celebrated its 54th Independence Day this week in a subdued and somber mood. The high hopes of only two years ago - when an “end to the conflict” appeared attainable, the economy was still riding the high-tech boom and international ostracism of Israel seemed a thing of the past – make today’s situation particularly frustrating and disappointing.

The large demonstration of support for Israel in Washington this week by tens of thousands of Jews and other friends of Israel from all parts of North America was a heartwarming show of solidarity with the Israeli people. But true friends of Israel must also be ready to help it make an honest assessment of reality and embark on the difficult steps that offer a chance of securing a more hopeful future.

It is undeniable that the Palestinians are largely responsible for the violence that has shattered hopes for peace in the Middle East. A responsible Palestinian leadership would have done more to exploit the special “window of opportunity” offered by the Barak government and Clinton administration, and would have sent a clear message to the Palestinian street that a renewed intifada would only hurt their own national interests.

Nonetheless, Israel shares some of the blame for the current situation and its supporters have a responsibility to recognize this and to do whatever they can to convince Israeli leaders to recognize this as well. It is easier for Israelis and their supporters to regard the situation as one pitting a humane Israeli army against a gang of Palestinian terrorists. But the situation is much more complex, involving Israeli control – sometimes brutal, often humiliating - over the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for 35 years.

Of course it’s true that the Arabs (Jordan and Egypt) controlled the West Bank and Gaza prior to the Six Day War in 1967 and did not allow the Palestinians to create a state in these areas. The Arab world was hostile toward Israel during this period, even though the Jewish state was not occupying these territories. Upon first glance, it may seem that the situation hasn’t changed much since then, as angry Arabs demonstrate against Israel not only in Cairo and Damascus, but also in Rome and London and New York. But a closer look reveals a very different situation.

In 1967, Martin Luther King was still struggling for equal opportunities for people like Colin Powell, apartheid was firmly enforced in South Africa, the Soviet Union controlled Eastern Europe with an iron fist and the shah of Iran was seated on the imperial throne in Iran. The world has changed, including the Arab world. It would have been nice for Israel if the Arab world had changed more and was now a bastion of democracy and human rights. In fact, the same dictatorial regimes have been in place in many of the Arab countries for decades. Still, the situation has changed.

Since 1967, the Arab world has gradually moved from a position of refusing to recognize or negotiate with Israel to the historic declaration in Beirut last month that offered normal relations with Israel within the 1967 borders. Israel, of course, cannot accept this pledge blindly and must not let down its guard. But this is a very good deal for Israel, representing a triumph of the Zionist enterprise and a chance for acceptance in its Middle Eastern neighborhood.

Those who care for Israel should thus be encouraging its leaders: “Get out of the territories, dismantle isolated settlements as a first step, give peace a chance. If there is no Palestinian partner willing or able to conclude an accord with Israel at the moment, don’t wait. Take unilateral steps to disengage from the territories captured in 1967 and deploy Israel’s army along shorter, more easily defended borders that are internationally recognized and have now been officially accepted by the 22 member countries of the Arab League.”

Israel’s true friends should protest the fact that soldiers continue to be killed while protecting a few dozen settlers in isolated settlements in the Gaza Strip. Those who care passionately about Israel must press upon its leaders that the state cannot remain Jewish, democratic, socially cohesive and economically solvent while maintaining a hold on territories inhabited by over 3 million disenfranchised Palestinians.

Most Israelis already understand this. Opinion polls indicate a readiness to dismantle Jewish settlements and accept a Palestinian state in return for peace. However, in the current climate of distrust and violence, there seem to be scant prospects of a peace accord in the near future. As a result, a growing number of movements in Israel are working for a unilateral disengagement from the territories. These efforts could use a boost from Israel’s friends abroad.

In short, Israel needs more than solidarity from its friends. Israel’s supporters need to encourage it to take the bold initiatives (and not just the military ones) that can help secure its future, despite the uncertainties and difficulties these entail. After all, most Israelis understand that they will have a better chance of fully enjoying their Independence Day when the borders of their state are clearly defined and when their Palestinian neighbors can also celebrate their independence.

A baseball monogamy 

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

(Published in Haaretz October 2002)

Some guys have several loves. For me, it has always been baseball.

I’ve known the thrills of sinking a long jump-shot and completing a touchdown pass, and the exhilarating high of racing down the wooded edges of a precipitous ski trail and making a bruising tackle on the rugby pitch. But nothing compares to the feel (and sound) of the wooden bat meeting the fastball at just the right time, sending the ball soaring out over the infield; or making a long throw from the outfield to cut down the runner at the plate; or feeling the ball smack into the glove after diving, without time to think, to rob a base hit in the late innings of a close game.

I eventually had to come to terms with the fact that I would never be a major league player myself. (And, though well into my forties, I’m still not sure of what my second career choice should be. In any case, it can only be a sort of consolation prize.) My decision to live in Israel has also greatly diminished any chance of vicariously making it to the big leagues through my children. In fact, my son’s love of baseball has already been diluted by a passion for that game where you run around trying to kick a ball into a net.

There are softball leagues in Israel that offer the over-the-hill crowd the chance to still experience some baseball thrills, and there are even some decent playing fields, including Kibbutz Gezer’s version of Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams. Having your kid see you hit a home run or make a great play in these games is a special perk reserved for middle-aged guys who never got to bat at Fenway Park.

Though I’d rather play than watch, it is also a treat to follow major league baseball as a fan. And keeping up-to-date on major league baseball in Israel is now easier than it used to be, thanks to the Internet and the occasional broadcasts on cable television channels (especially during the current playoff season). Of course, it’s not the same as being in the United States, with the nightly wrap-up on ESPN and radio broadcasts to accompany you in the car.

Part of being a baseball fan is to delve into a wealth of baseball lore and a sea of statistics. A good example of this was the article published last week by one of today’s premier baseball writers, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. (Local readers could read it in the International Herald Tribune, distributed with Ha’aretz in Israel.) Boswell took exception to the claims that Barry Bonds is the best baseball player to ever live. According to Boswell, Bonds is indeed the best player ever – except for one George Herman Ruth, the Babe.

To argue his case, Boswell fires off a long string of baseball stats, comparing Ruth’s 1920-21 season (113 home runs, 308 RBIs, 335 runs, .377 batting average, .846 slugging percentage, 292 walks and 52 percent on base average) to Bonds’ amazing performance during the past two years (119 home runs, 247 RBIs, 246 runs, .347 average, .822 slugging percentage, 375 walks and 55 percent on base average).

As he weaves through his arguments, Boswell presents more and more of these delicious numbers, together with historical comparisons to Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Bonds’ godfather, the divine Willie Mays. As a final touch, Boswell notes that Bonds, now 38, played much of his career as an “aloof grouch,” while “the Babe smiled, caroused and laughed 24/7, except when he was visiting sick kids.”

Sure, professional soccer players are superb athletes and the occasional goal is fun to watch. And the World Cup this year was certainly colorful, with some intriguing international match-ups. But, soccer still seems very shallow when compared to baseball. Nope, no new loves for me. I’m sticking with baseball.

It's still okay to hate the Yankees 

(Published in Haaretz October 2001)

Anyone with a love for baseball has to appreciate the smooth brilliance of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams, the determined grit of Roger Clemens and Paul O'Neill, and the calm presence of Joe Torre - but it's still okay to hate the New York Yankees.

The Yankees will be making their 38th appearance in the Fall Classic tomorrow, after knocking out the Seattle Mariners in the American League Championship Series. It didn't matter that the Mariners had tied the major league record with 116 wins during the regular season (while New York won only 95) - the damn Yankees went out and got the job done again, winning four of five games to quickly dispose of Seattle.

Rooting for the Yankees, especially after it has won four of the last five World Series titles, is almost like cheering for Maccabi Tel Aviv to win the Israeli basketball crown. It's practically a forgone conclusion. It's like rooting for Microsoft to install more Windows systems or for Intel to produce more computer chips. It's like cheering for the Israel Electric Corporation to generate more kilowatts or for Bezeq to expand its market share.

But after September 11, it has become harder to dislike the New YorK Yankees. Not only are the current Yankees a likeable bunch of seemingly everyday guys, unlike some of the prima donnas and braggarts of Yankees past, but their aura as America's team has grown in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster: Yankee Stadium in the Bronx was the scene of moving memorial ceremonies for the thousands of people who died in lower Manhattan, at the other end of the subway line. When the league resumed play, the Yankees took the field with the emblems of the heroic New York Fire Department on their caps.

In this context, someone who wants the Yankees to lose could almost be accused of being a Taliban sympathizer. Bringing another World Series title to New York is almost seen as an imperative to prove America's resilience and win a moral victory over Osama bin Laden and his evil henchmen.

But still, the Yankees have already won 29 times since the World Series began in 1903. To put this in perspective, the team with the second most World Series titles is the St. Louis Cardinals - with only nine. Next on the list are several teams that have won five times, including the Boston Red Sox, who brought home their last World Series crown in 1918 - that's right, 83 years ago. Chicago Cubs fans have been waiting even longer for a championship - since 1908.

Well, the Red Sox slumped in the second half this year (again) and the Cubs didn't quite make it to the playoffs either, despite another awesome season from Sammy Sosa.

The Yankees will be meeting a formidable opponent, however, in the best-of-seven series that begins tomorrow. The Arizona Diamondbacks are newcomers, an expansion team in only its fourth season. Arizona can offer nothing to compare to the rich baseball tradition and lore of the New York Yankees, but it boasts two of baseball's premier pitchers - Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.

Johnson, 38, and Schilling, 35, can look back upon stellar careers, but have never won a World Series ring. Former Cub Mark Grace, 37, has played more games (2,055) without appearing in a World Series than any other active player, except for Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro.

And Arizona's Mike Morgan has played with a record 12 major league clubs in his 23-year career, but will be making his World Series debut at age 42.

New York also has its share of old-timers, including Clemens and O'Neill, but they've already had their share of World Series glory. This year, it's Arizona's turn. And for Red Sox and Cubs fans - there's always next year.

The mellowing of Zionism 

(Published in Haaretz May 2002)

Twenty-five years ago, Hillel Halkin published “Letters to an American Jewish Friend: A Zionist’s Polemic.” In a conversation with Ha’aretz, Halkin says he still agrees with 95 percent of the case he presented, but that the fervor, anger and hope that compelled him to write this book have faded over the past two and a half decades.

The argument in Halkin’s book is uncompromising: “For objective historical reasons, Jewish life in the Diaspora is doomed; and, conversely, such life has a possible future only in an autonomous or politically sovereign Jewish community living in its own land, that is, the State of Israel.” In a series of letters to an imaginary American Jewish friend, Halkin declares, “I am not saying that you cannot live an authentic Jewish life in the Diaspora; I am saying that if the criterion is the future of our people, you are living it in the wrong place.”

Halkin, 63, was born and raised in Manhattan and completed two degrees in English literature at Columbia University. His first trip to Israel was as a teenager in 1957, after winning an essay contest on “Why I want to visit Israel.” He came on a second visit in 1963, but returned to America six months later after reading about the murder of three civil rights activists in the United States. “This is my fight,” he decided and left Israel for a teaching post in Alabama. Halkin came to Israel as a tourist for the last time in 1968, during the euphoric period following the Six-Day War. At that time, he says, he knew he had to make a decision: “It was intensely painful for me, because I felt so much part of the country that I simply couldn’t stand being here as a tourist. And I remember saying to myself very clearly: ‘Either I come back to live, or I am never coming back again.’”

Halkin and his wife immigrated to Israel in 1970 and, three years later, built a home in Zichron Ya’akov, then still a sleepy village. “I wasn’t a typical immigrant, because I came with a very good Hebrew background and lot of contacts here and a very strong Zionist background also. So I was at home almost immediately.” Halkin has devoted much of his career to translating Hebrew and Yiddish literature to English. (He says his favorite authors are those who are already deceased, because they are the most appreciative and interfere the least.) Among the works he has translated include contemporary novels by Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, and classics by Y.H. Brenner and Shalom Aleichem.

Though he still agrees with most of the arguments in “Letters to an American Jewish Friend,” Halkin explains that, emotionally, he could not write this book today. “I don’t have the passion anymore with which it was written. Or if I have it, it exists in different ways. I don’t have the anger and I don’t have the hope when it comes to American Jews. I’ve lost both.”

He notes that the book was written about five years after settling in Israel, when he was still “fresh enough” to be full of enthusiasm and confident in his opinions. “It was also the period after the Yom Kippur War, where there was both a lot of shock and a high level of anxiety here and I think a lot of anger at the world, and on my part, against the Jewish world… So it was written in a kind of a fervor. It was written on a kind of balance of hope and anger, I think. It was a sense, a kind of naïve sense, that I could help re-open some kind of Zionist agenda for American Jews.” On a more unconscious level, he admits, his book might have also been aimed at convincing himself that he had made the correct choice by coming to Israel.

The book attracted considerable attention when published in 1977, though it was not much of a commercial success and is today out of print. Halkin received hundreds of letters in response to the book during the ensuing years and he admits to feeling a bit overwhelmed by the thought of actually having convinced some American Jews to immigrate to Israel. The book “was written to bring people here, but of course it was written without seriously thinking, well, suppose I do bring someone here and then he’s miserable or unhappy. Do I really want that responsibility?”

When asked how his ideas have changed since arguing his Zionist worldview in the late seventies, Halkin responds: “I think the chapters that seem to be more problematic today are not those about America, but those about Israel. I think the chapter about the secularization of traditional Jewish culture, which is like most of the book, classical secular Zionist thinking, doesn’t seem to be exactly what’s happening in this country today.” In this chapter, Halkin expresses hope that what he viewed as a “decultured” Israeli society in 1977 would develop “an authentically secular Jewish culture that at the same time will be an organic continuation of our religious past.”

Halkin was hopeful in 1977 that the foundations for this development had been laid: “…once again, we are a people speaking our own language and living on our own land… it means having the soil in which our culture can grow.” Today, he says, this hope has not been realized. “I think the whole secular Zionist confidence that somehow 2,000 years of Jewish history and Jewish religious culture and Jewish tradition could be re-molded in a secular national form by some kind of active national will and education and so forth – that seems very problematic today, to put it mildly.”

Halkin describes himself as a product of an “Orthoprax” home. His father, a professor of medieval Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary, was Orthodox in practice, though more agnostic in his personal beliefs. Halkin bemoans what he sees as a widening gap between secular and religious Israel, noting that “there are people trying to live somewhere in the middle, but there aren’t a helluva lot of them at the moment.” Halkin is not a great fan of Conservative or Reform Judaism as a solution – (“sometimes they’re better than nothing, sometimes they’re worse”), but admits that he might have made an attempt to connect with the Conservative or Reform congregations in Zichron Ya’akov had they been around when his children were still at home. It is “a sad thing for me here in Israel,” he says that, on a personal level, he “has not found any outward expression” for the kind of Jewish synthesis he envisioned, or “an objective way of putting these different parts of me together.”

He is distressed by the level of rancor and anger between the religious and secular camps today and complains that “the secular intellectual community in Israel has surrendered any real attempt to reconnect with Jewish tradition or with Jewish history.” Halkin says he failed to anticipate “the growing antagonism towards Jewish tradition and Jewish history, and the feeling that this represents some kind of obstacle that modern, progressive Israel has to overcome. You didn’t have that in the seventies. The whole really bitter secular religious split - I mean, the bitterness of it - wasn’t really there yet in the seventies. It was maybe just beginning.”

Halkin also says his metaphor of Israel as a “community of faith,” in which people feel strongly about why they are living here, is less apt than it was when he wrote the book. “It may have been a description of Israel in the 1970s, or of an Israel after the Yom Kippur War, and maybe even it’s a little more a description of Israel after a year and a half of the intifada than before, but the number of Israelis who live here without any particular belief in the importance of what they’re doing by living here has certainly grown and is much more prominent. This is part of what post-Zionism is all about.”

Today, instead of trying to convince American Jews to move to Israel, Halkin finds himself worrying about the number of young Israelis leaving the country. “It’s a country in many ways that is not holding its young,” he laments. Halkin understands this as part of the natural withering away of an ideology: “Zionism was a totally correct diagnosis of the Jewish situation. The Zionists had it right, and it’s unfortunate more Jews didn’t understand that quicker. And I’m convinced that the State of Israel is just about the greatest thing the Jewish people have ever done. But you can’t live on ideology forever. Zionism was a revolution, and revolutions run out of steam. What Israel has to do now is to make the transition from Zionism to a Jewish culture that simply does the work on a daily basis, without preaching or clamor, but just produces Jews.”

At the end of “Letters to an American Jewish Friend,” Halkin confidently asserts: “You will come, I am sure of it.” He harbors no such illusions today. “I have no expectations now. I think that American Jews of all kinds have developed such a superb defense mechanism against Zionism and the idea of coming to Israel that nothing will move them... I wish they were here, I still do. I think that if 500,000 American Jews were here, it would make a tremendous difference. But they’re not here. And they’re not going to be here.”

The real tragedy today, Halkin says, is not American Jewry, but that Israel is not even a magnet for Diaspora Jews like those in Argentina or South Africa, “who are on the run, and still don’t want to come here. The fact that in the year 2002 there are 200,000 Jews in Argentina, many of them on the verge of destitution and most of them looking for a way out and that Israel is not that way out - I mean that’s very sad. That’s a real failure of Zionism.”

Twenty-five years later, a mellower Halkin is not interested in engaging in Zionist polemics with his American friends, but he is at peace with his decision to settle in Israel. “I really think that this country remains one of the great human adventures of human history. We forget it all the time. We’re just so up to our necks in all the daily stuff, and the daily horrors here. But I think that someday people will look back on this whole period – if the State of Israel survives, and even if it doesn’t survive – and they will simply see it as an extraordinary episode in human and Jewish history. I feel enormously privileged to be taking part in it. I think we’re enormously lucky to be here.”

A Palestinian's message of reconciliation  

(Published in Haaretz March 2002)

Noah Salameh, a veteran of Israeli prisons and American universities, tells an Israeli audience that he still believes the “silent majority” of Israelis and Palestinians oppose violence

The news reports could barely keep pace with the rapid succession of Palestinian attacks on Tuesday, stretching from Afula to Sderot. In this context, the program scheduled at the Yakar Center for Social Concern in Jerusalem that evening – “Teaching Non-Violence in Palestinian Schools” – seemed quite detached from reality. The evening’s moderator, Paul Scham of Hebrew University’s Truman Institute, noted that “Palestinian non-violence” might indeed sound like an oxymoron to many Israelis these days.

The audience of about 50 people, mostly English-speaking Israelis, listened politely as a Palestinian from Bethlehem, Noah Salameh, described his mission to inculcate the values of non-violence and respect in his own community. He explained that the Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation he established in Bethlehem focuses on teaching teenagers (and their teachers and parents) an ethic of non-violence in their relationships with each other. By maintaining a largely apolitical agenda, Salameh was able to win the approval of the Palestinian Authority for bringing his 30-hour curriculum on non-violence into PA schools in Bethlehem.

In the same way, by focusing on this human level and deftly skirting most of the larger political issues, Salameh also won a very sympathetic response from the Yakar audience. When introducing Salameh, Scham noted that in the current context of violence, “it is not common anymore to hear from Palestinians about what’s happening in the Palestinian Authority.” Several members of the audience also made a point of thanking Salameh for having the courage and taking the time to speak to the “other side.” Salameh admitted that “on this day it’s not easy for me to talk and not easy for you to listen to me. In the past 24 hours, we killed a lot of Israelis and Israel killed a lot of Palestinians.”

When asked whether he had encountered difficulty traveling from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Salameh told Ha’aretz that “nothing in my life has been easy.” He told how he was born in a tent in the Dehaishe refugee camp (near Bethlehem), where he lived for the next 15 years before being imprisoned by Israel in 1970. (He said coyly that he doesn’t ask what Israelis did in their army service and doesn’t like to say what he did in his youth to get this 15-year prison sentence. Salameh did stress, however, that he didn’t hurt anyone and that especially long prison sentences were the rule during the first several years after Israel conquered the territories in 1967.)

Ironically, it was during his long prison term, shuttling between several Israeli jails and avidly reading world literature, that he became a firm believer in non-violence. Salameh recalled being held in solitary confinement in a cell of 2 square meters and starting to think about himself and the Israeli soldier standing guard outside. “Did I select to be Palestinian? Did he select to be Israeli? Why do we hate each other?” He reached the conclusion that life is short and that he does not want a life of hatred and violence for himself, or for his children. “I don’t want to hate and don’t want people to hate me. I’m talking as a human being. I just want to live as a simple person.”

After his release from prison in 1985, Salameh studied at Bethlehem University and initiated a number of projects, including a children’s library in Dehaishe. He later won a scholarship to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where he received an MA in International Peace Studies. Salameh continued on to study for a PhD in Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Virginia and published a book “Toward a New Way of Dealing with Conflict” in 1996. After returning home, he initiated a peace studies program at Hebron University before focusing his efforts on the non-governmental organization he founded in Bethlehem.

Salameh said he believes that the “silent majority” of Palestinians and Israelis are opposed to violence and the problem is how to reach and organize them. He noted that there is not a culture of democracy in Palestinian society that encourages people to speak freely about how they feel. But, Salameh added, the high school students (10th graders) in his program gradually opened up and became more responsive to his message of non-violence as the course progressed. “To empower them to speak freely and listen to other opinions,” is one of the main objectives of the program, he said.

Building a democratic, non-violent society is not a “quick commando thing,” Salameh emphasized, but rather a long-term process requiring education. Just as democracy cannot be achieved through “a declaration,” peace must be built from the bottom up, according to Salameh. He noted, for example, how the relations between Palestinian and Israeli security officials at the Allenby Bridge improved after his center ran a 40-hour joint seminar. “It was unrealistic to expect the two sides to work smoothly together [without this type of training], just because Rabin and Arafat had signed a peace accord.”

Salameh admitted that he is not “neutral” about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and told how missiles launched from Israeli F-16s struck a PA facility just 200 meters from his home, terrifying his youngest daughter. He said he is also torn sometimes, especially since Sharon’s election, between his belief in non-violence and his feeling that it is necessary to resist Israeli actions. He advocated non-violent resistance, but said that Palestinian society is looking for “quicker” solutions. (Scham also concurred that “for cultural reasons, it’s unlikely to see a mass non-violent movement” organized by the Palestinians.)

Scham: ‘I still have a job’

American-born Paul Scham has worked for six years on joint Arab-Israeli research and cooperation projects. “Many people are surprised to hear that I still have a job,” he said. “There is still a lot of cooperation going on, though sometimes quietly – for obvious reasons.” In fact, Scham said, interest in joint Israeli-Palestinian projects has actually increased significantly during the past several months. These cooperative efforts are being pursued “without ignoring the situation” and “without illusions,” he added. Scham concluded the evening at Yakar by saying “we did not change the world here tonight, but maybe a little piece of it.”

‘I also want to be a suicide bomber’

Salameh stressed that teaching non-violence is not just a matter of textbooks, but also includes what is taught at home, shown on TV, statements made by government officials, and so on. To illustrate the challenge of inculcating values of non-violence amidst a climate of violence, Salameh told about an incident involving his own 13-year-old daughter.

She traveled with her basketball team to play a game in Dehaishe on the same day that a suicide bomber from Dehaishe attacked in Jerusalem. Salameh’s daughter heard her peers in Dehaishe expressing admiration for the courage of the bomber and she came home and told her father “I also want to be a suicide bomber.” Salameh says he was furious with her and forbid her from traveling again with the basketball team. She quickly replied, “I’m just kidding.” But, still, “I’m afraid,” Salameh said, “and will have to keep a closer eye on her.”

The fact that suicide bombers have become heroes reflects despair, and not ideology, Salameh argued. “Both sides begin losing their values when they become angry and despaired.” Moreover, in his view, “we all use religion to justify what we’re doing.” For example, “jihad,” he said, “can also mean study and teaching,” and not just a “holy war” against non-Muslims.

‘Why don’t the good people in the village take a strong stand?’

Diana, who moved to Israel from New York four years ago, told a poignant story about a friendship forged with a much younger Palestinian woman, based on a shared experience of personal tragedy. This friendship, she told Salameh, did not require any special training in non-violence or reconciliation. “It was simply there.”

The Palestinian woman, Kifaiya, who lives in a West Bank village not far from Kfar Sava, lost her husband in the summer of 2000 when he drowned saving the lives of two Jewish youths in the Sea of Galilee. When reading about this incident, Diana told Ha’aretz, she immediately thought of her son David, who also died while carrying out a “mitzvah” - delivering supplies to snowbound neighbors in the Beit El settlement exactly 10 years ago. (He had “made aliyah” in 1982 at the age of 16.)

Diana contacted Kifaiya and their families exchanged visits. The last time Diana visited Kifaiya’s village was just before the outbreak of the intifada, but throughout the next year they kept in touch and Kifaiya still encouraged Diana to come and visit. In January, however, Kifaiya told Diana that it was no longer safe for her to come to the village.

Diana, speaking softly but passionately, expressed her dismay over the fact that this village, which had welcomed her so warmly in the past, could not guarantee her safety now. On the other hand, she assured Salameh, none of the neighbors in her Jerusalem neighborhood would harm Kifaiya – even if they didn’t approve of her friendship with the Arab woman. “Why can’t the good people in the village take a strong stand [to protect her from hostile people from outside the village]?” she challenged Salameh.

Salameh said he understood Diana’s frustration and offered an explanation that strayed a bit from his apolitical approach. According to Salameh, the division of the Palestinian Authority into Areas A, B and C under the Oslo accords left the Palestinians without a real central authority and “kept us as organizations.” Now, “for both internal and external reasons,” he explained, the PA has collapsed and it takes just one lone gunman or bomber to destabilize the entire situation

Close call in Ramallah 

(Published in Haaretz April 2002)

A Boston Globe journalist talks about being shot on duty

During his two weeks covering the latest escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Anthony Shadid, a Washington-based reporter for the Boston Globe, filed a number of stories about Yasser Arafat, the impact of the checkpoints in the territories, and the suicide attacks in Israel. But he became most intrigued with doing a story on how hospitals and ambulances have become entangled in the conflict. He had no idea, however, that this story would take on a very personal angle: Shadid spoke with Ha’aretz this week while recuperating at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem after being shot in Ramallah on Sunday.

Shadid, 33, arrived in Israel on March 18 to help reinforce the Globe’s local reporting staff. “Charlie Radin, the local correspondent, was going to Beirut to cover the summit and it was also heating up, so they needed some help, so they brought me in,” Shadid explains. “I was going to stay for two and a half weeks, but when I was in Ramallah, I was talking with my wife and I thought maybe I would try to extend it.”

He is soft-spoken and does not show any anger or bitterness about the turn of events that landed him in a hospital bed overlooking the hills of Jerusalem. Shadid, who has worked as a journalist since graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1990, is mainly frustrated about not being able to continue his work: “I hate to leave that story. Now we don’t have anybody in Ramallah. It’s so frustrating because this story I had going about the roles the hospitals and ambulances are playing, that the IDF suspected that people were hiding out there (and I guess there’s been some evidence of that), that the ambulances aren’t getting to the wounded – that would have been a nice story.”

Shadid’s first job as a journalist was with the Associated Press in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He left after a year to study Arabic at the American University in Cairo and then returned for another six-month stint with the AP in Milwaukee before being transferred to New York to work as an editor on the international desk. In 1995, he moved to the AP’s Cairo bureau and worked there for about four and a half years. His last position with the AP was as news editor in Los Angeles, where he worked at night to complete a book on democratic reform efforts within Islamic societies – “The Legacy of the Prophet.” He moved to the Globe about two years ago and since September has focused on foreign news, including covering the State Department.

It’s a lot ‘edgier’ here than in Afghanistan

Shadid spent about a month in Afghanistan at the beginning of the year and found the warfront there more relaxed than the current Palestinian-Israeli scene. “This is a lot edgier than Afghanistan, volatile, I was really struck by that…I think the violence is much closer to the surface here in a way.”

Access for journalists was also easier in Afghanistan, he says, at least during the period he was there. “I think a lot of the journalists [in Afghanistan] were just skittish about traveling because they were there in December when there were journalists killed. I got there in January and it was a different situation. I just got a driver and a translator and we just took off and went everywhere. It was incredibly easy to move around. I had no problem getting close to the fighting.”

His major project in Afghanistan was to investigate the extent of civilian casualties in the war. Together with another colleague, Shadid visited about ten different sites where civilians had been hit. “I wish we could have done twenty sites, but we ran out of time.”

Four days in Ramallah

On March 28, Shadid moved from the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, where he had been staying since his arrival, to the Royal Court Suite Hotel in Ramallah. This was one day after the suicide bombing at the Passover Seder in Netanya and Shadid wanted to be in Ramallah to cover the anticipated IDF drive into the Palestinian city, which occurred early the following morning. “We didn’t leave the hotel on the first day. We didn’t want to deal with it. On the second day, we felt like we could negotiate the checkpoints and negotiate the tanks. We were able to walk around pretty well. On the third day, we felt like we had figured it out. If the tank says ‘no’ – you don’t go… That’s why it’s so weird what happened.

“It’s frustrating. That last day was so crazy. We discovered while we were riding around town that there was an interesting standoff at the hospital, so we stayed there for a few hours and covered that. And then we decided to go toward Arafat’s compound and nothing was happening, so I went to interview this family where the IDF had hung out for a couple days.”

Together with Globe colleague Said Ghazali, Shadid then returned to Arafat’s compound and interviewed the international group that was leaving the compound after having marched past Israeli troops to meet with the besieged Palestinian chairman. “We were heading home after that and that’s when it happened,” Shadid said, referring to the bullet that tore across his back, just barely missing his spinal chord. But while recounting this incident, Shadid’s main emotion is frustration: “The hardest thing” he reiterates, is not being able to pursue his reporting. “It was a good story, an important story. It’s kind of frustrating.”

‘I didn’t know I was shot’

Shadid was shot about 100 meters away from Arafat’s compound, when the bullet struck. He was heading back to his hotel around 4:30 PM and “looking forward to writing about the dramatic standoff at the hospital.” He thinks he started falling down even before the sound of the gunshot reached him. “I didn’t know what had happened. I thought it was a stun grenade, because I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs for about two minutes.” The bullet weaved its way through the sleeve of Shadid’s flak jacket, tore through his right shoulder and across his back muscles and exited from his left shoulder.

“When we got up and started walking, I didn’t know I was shot. I asked, ‘Said, am I shot?’ and he said ‘I don’t see anything.’ And then I reached back behind the flak jacket and felt blood. He lifted me up and we walked and 20 meters later, I collapsed and he lifted me up again. We were just yelling the whole time ‘Journalists! Ambulance! Help!’.

About 30 meters later, Shadid says, a couple of IDF soldiers approached and called for a medic after seeing that he was injured. “They took me into a room and a medic, very professional, ripped off my shirt, got an IV in, and stopped the bleeding.” Shadid was concerned that his spinal chord might have been injured. But the medic reassured him, “You’re fine, don’t worry about it.” Shadid says the medic “was really nice.” He was brought on a stretcher to a Palestinian hospital around the corner, the Arab Care Hospital.

Shadid says that he wasn’t concerned at that point about whether he was taken to a Palestinian or Israeli medical facility. “I didn’t care, I just wanted to get to a hospital.” He has only good things to say about his medical treatment in both Ramallah and Jerusalem, and regrets that he may have hurt the feelings of the staff at the Arab Care Hospital when he transferred to Hadassah the next day.

The hospital in Ramallah was functioning normally when he arrived, but only an hour later, the IDF entered and conducted a search of the facility. “It was a really weird day because I had covered a standoff at the [main Ramallah] hospital earlier. They had just taken X-rays and the army entered. I was laying in the bed, kind of out of it, and these two soldiers came at me with a gun, shouting ‘Put your hands up!’ And I’m, like, ‘Wait, I’m a journalist!’ Shadid says with a laugh as he recalls this series of unlikely events.

“They put everybody on the staff in one room. I guess they were searching for people. I think they arrested a few people, I’m not really sure. I didn’t see a doctor for two hours. Mickey, the commander of this force, was very nice. I think it was the army that shot me, given the circumstances. He was very nice, really polite, kind of a character. He didn’t say it was the IDF that shot me, but said if it was [the IDF], he was really sorry. So, he tried to explain to me what they were doing there. Then a doctor came in; he was pissed off.”

Kennedy calls Powell

Shadid’s transfer to an Israeli hospital also had its share of drama. “My wife is a doctor and she wanted me to go to an Israeli hospital.” He says that word of his injury “got out pretty quick. I’ve got a family that’s a little bit hyperactive. They were on the phone with [Senator] Kennedy and everybody. It turns out that Kennedy called Colin Powell. So the U.S. consulate got in touch with me pretty quickly, mainly about the issue of whether they were going to try to take me out of Ramallah that night or not. It was crazy. There was fire going all over the place. I didn’t want to leave. So everybody kind of decided, ‘Okay, we’ll wait ‘til tomorrow and we’ll try to get an IDF escort out of town.’

“It was a weird thing…then we couldn’t get out of town. I didn’t want to leave the guy [Said] who was with me, and the army didn’t want to escort me out, so it took a long time negotiating this back and forth. It took us four hours to get out of Ramallah the next day.”

When they finally reached the Kalandia checkpoint en route to Jerusalem, gunfire erupted again. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he remembers thinking. “Maybe because some kids were throwing rocks. I don’t think it was directed at us.”

From Marjayoun to Oklahoma

Anthony Shadid’s name provides an indication of his Lebanese Christian ancestry: his grandparents came to America from Marjayoun in southern Lebanon and settled in Oklahoma, where he was born and raised. While identifying as an Arab-American, Shadid says, “I think you can keep it out of your work. It’s all about being balanced in any story you’re doing. I think that, if anything, it has really helped. I haven’t worked so much in Israel, as I have in the Arab world, where I feel most adept at reporting.” His Arab name and fluency in Arabic has helped opened doors for him, Shadid notes, but: “It’s a tough story to cover because it’s a story that’s incredibly ideological. Phrasing of words, word choice – everything becomes so explosive.” A story that could otherwise be written in two hours sometimes takes him three times as long to write because of this need for greater sensitivity required. “It’s remarkable how much interest these stories generate,” he adds, “and you lose this in some respect when you’re here.”

Shadid is hesitant about voicing judgments about the situation here after spending only two weeks on the ground, but says he is “struck by how bleak things are” and that both sides (and the U.S. administration, for that matter) seem to lack a real strategy. Compared to his first trip here in 1988, during the first intifada, he recognizes that the current confrontation is a “much dirtier war.” In describing his current impressions of the situation in the territories, he notes the “celebration of violence” and the sense of “desperation” and “joylessness.”

He also covered the Tunnel Wall violence in 1996 and says that the situation then “seemed easier to navigate” because there was still some belief in Oslo and the Palestinian Authority, compared to what he calls the “nihilism” of today. “Things that were hopeful maybe five years ago have been turned on their head.” The closures in the territories, he adds, “have obliterated people in terms of their sentiment, in terms of their anger. I’m sure that something synonymous is happening with the Israeli public as well. This drumbeat of bombings - it’s surreal.”

So, what compels Shadid to leave his home and family in a comfortable Washington suburb and venture into a Middle East war zone? He says he is not ready to put his life on the line to cover a story. “I mean, I’ve got a daughter and a wife. I always try to be careful. I never feel like I really put myself in danger. That’s what was so weird about it [getting shot in Ramallah]. We were laughing as we were walking down the street. I felt safe.”

Shadid’s close call in Ramallah was the second time he has come under gunfire during his career as a journalist. He emphasizes that he was fired at “just once” in southern Lebanon and was not injured in that incident. “I feel really strongly about not getting hurt.”

But Shadid also feels strongly about his mission as a journalist and admits to having a special commitment to the Arab and Muslim world. “I really do think it’s important to try to bring understanding through journalism. I try to do that in covering the Arab world and in covering Islam as well, though I myself am not Muslim, but as a Christian…And that’s just about the only way I can justify taking any risk. It’s an important story and it’s important to be there right now. To find out what’s going on.”

Shadid says, for example, that he would not have joined the international group that barged past Israeli troops to enter Arafat’s compound. “No, I wouldn’t have done that. No way… I’m surprised they didn’t get hurt there.” He’s not interested in war coverage for the “bravado” or “lust for the adrenaline,” he says. “I don’t buy into that. But on the other hand, I think some stories are important and I think Ramallah is. Is it good to have journalists there? Yeah. I think so. Is it kind of risky? Yeah.”

Are you willing to take on greater risks to report on the Middle East, as opposed to some other part of the world?

“Being Arab-American, I definitely have my roots here. There’s also a kind of give and take relationship with the Muslim world. I’ve made my career covering the Muslim world… So there’s also a type of payback. I do think it’s important to bring contact, understanding. I try to do that, not very successfully. You can’t do all that much in 1,000 words. It’s really where I enjoy covering as a reporter.”

What will you say if the Globe asks you to return to Ramallah?

I think I’ll be staying home for a while now.

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