If a Tree Falls in the 21st Century – and Other Things Learnt Last Night

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth,
and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth;
    – – Proverbs 24:17

During the recent conflict in Gaza I have watched live on Israeli television’s Channel 10 the phone call that Dr. Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish had made to reporter Shlomi Eldar. If you are not familiar with the incident, please read this post first.

While watching it live I could not really understand it but I instinctively knew our daily routine, as Israelis, has been disturbed. You see, up to that point hundreds of people were killed in Gaza but as an Israeli you want to believe that they were all terrorists, every last one of them. The Israeli army does not target civillians, and so you really want to believe that no one is killed by accident. The thing is when a man, a doctor, who speaks Hebrew fluently, and works in Israel, when he tells you his innocent daughters were just killed by a tank shell – well that was impossible to dismiss.

As an advocate of freedom of information and an avid believer in sunlight as the best disinfectant, I felt all I can do at the time was upload the TV recording to YouTube. I also posted it on my blog, but made no commentary except for some Israeli song lyrics that seemed an appropriate preface. Later I uploaded English subtitles for the video.

Now, a long time ago I came to the realization that the Internet brings all the crazies out of the woodwork, and so I almost never engage in any form of war of words. I usually let the Keyboard Fascists wear themselves out and that is exactly what I did in this case:
I just sat down,
read the comments,
noticed the video going viral,
and made notes.

Now, 43 days later, here are my notes as written in the first couple of days following the event:

Things I learned last night:

  • In the 21st century, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to document it, most people just do not care whether it makes a sound or not.
  • Thousands of years later, antisemitism is alive and well – it just bears different names now.
  • Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies is always in effect.
  • People* see what they want to see and only allow in new information if it reaffirms their own preconceptions.
  • People* have a dichotomy view of the world.
  • People* think that validating the other side’s pain surely must invalidate theirs.


* Instead of “People”, I originally wrote “Most people”, then changed it to “Many people”, then changed it to “Some people” – but now settled for “People” as I cannot ascertain the amount.

Standing Against A Tide of Hatred

[…] I watch the pro-Palestinian rallies that have been staged in capitals across the globe, and I try to tell myself that these people are not against me, or even Israel; that they just are dismayed with all the violence. I tell myself, as Jean Renoir pointed out with such pellucid irony in The Rules of the Game, that everybody has their reasons. But here is what I finally know: with all the troubles in the world, with the terrible things that the Chinese do in Tibet, and do to their own citizens; with the horrors of genocide committed in Darfur by Sudanese Muslims; with all the bad things that Arab governments in the Middle East visit upon their own people – no need for Israel to have a perfectly horrible time – still, the focus is on what the Jews may or may not be doing wrong in Gaza. And it makes people angry and vehement as nothing else does. The vitriol it inspires is downright weird. But that makes sense, because antisemitism itself – creepy, dark, ancient and insidious – is, more than anything else, just plain weird.
   – – “Standing Against A Tide of Hatred” – Elizabeth Wurtzel, January 16, 2009

Read this article in its entirety here.

Israeli TV Airs Gaza Doctor’s Desperate Pleas

Shooting and crying,
Burning and laughing,
When did we learn how to bury living people?
   – – “Shooting And Crying” – Si Himan (translated from Hebrew)

[singlepic id=130 w=320 h=280 float=right]JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli television broadcast desperate cries for help from a Palestinian doctor on Friday after his children were killed in an Israeli attack in the Gaza Strip and troops later helped surviving members of the family.
The telephone calls created extraordinary scenes during evening news broadcasts as the doctor, a Hebrew-speaking physician who spoke regularly on Israeli television, said three of his children were killed in a tank strike and others were wounded.
“My girls were sitting at home planning their futures, talking, then suddenly they are being shelled,” he said in a voice shaking with emotion. “I want to know why they were killed, who gave the order?”
Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish is a gynecologist who worked in one of Israel’s main hospitals before Gazans were effectively sealed off behind an Israeli-led blockade on the Hamas-controlled enclave. He often gave interviews to Channel 10 television.

Reuters story continues here, The Associated Press has a follow-up here.

Video is in Hebrew, but can be understood by anyone now includes English subtitles:

It’s A Wonderful Country After All

Look on us,
Look on them –
Who is more similar to you?
  – – mock rapper X-Plain – Throws on you TIL

With 4 out of 5 Israelis supporting the current military campaign in Gaza, Channel 2’s popular satirical show Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) could have chosen to go on vaction so not to be controversial under fire. They could have ran old episodes for that fluffy feel-good feeling viewers might crave, and no one would have contested. But the higher-ups decided to be brave and present critical views when they can still make a difference.

Now on its sixth season and with more than 30 percent of Israelis watching, Eretz Nehederet is at the cutting edge when it comes to Israeli satire, slaughtering whatever sacred cows are left in this country, using a tongue-in-cheek approach. Check out three short examples (translated to English) from the last two weeks, the first two videos were broadcast just 3 days after the campaign had started.

Ehud Barak predicting the phases of war from euphoria to dysphoria:

The public opinion of acceptable body count:

Rapping for world understanding:

Never Trust a Man with a Comb Over on His Head

When the military campaign in Gaza had just started, I wrote a post about the sheer number of Israeli journalists wearing leather jackets while reporting the news from the field. I was using an article of clothing to make a bigger point about the jackets being some sort of civic uniform, and pondered about the collective consciousness that led individuals to wake up in the morning, feel the winds of war, and decide to suit up accordingly. I thought it was a clever commentary on the Israeli media as a pseudo-military unit called to help the IDF, and questioned their objectivity. I guess Channel 10’s senior defense correspondent Alon Ben David did not get my point as he retorted: “Good to know that while half a million people are under a barrage of rockets, there is someone monitoring fashion issues.”

And so, Alon and other readers who thought my previous post was about fashion issues should probably skip this one too, as they might perceive it as making fun of a physical shortcoming. It’s not.

Brigadier General Avi BenayahuMeet Brigadier General Avi (Avraham) Benayahu. He is the IDF Spokesperson which means on regular days he serves as the mouthpiece for the Israeli army, but nowadays as journalists are banned from entering the Gaza strip, he is the Alpha and the Omega when it comes to supplying materials for the media to report. Naturally, since he is part of the army, everything he says is taken with a grain of salt, and so his relationship with the media is particularly important under the fog of war. For example, when he supplies the media with a video taken by an unmanned aerial vehicle showing Palestinians loading cylinder shaped objects onto a truck and claims these are Hamas operatives transferring short-range Grad missiles – should the cylinders turn out to be oxygen tanks, it will not only prove the Palestinians were innocently killed, but also deal a death blow to his credibility. Next time he talks to the media, they may not listen.

Now, God knows I have my own flaws, and for sure the IDF Spokesperson does not have to be a runway model, but there is something about a comb over that says ‘We may not have met before, but I will try to fool you even before shaking your hand and telling you my name’. People with comb overs bring with them an elephant into the room, and when it is the IDF Spokesperson entering a television studio, the subtext is: ‘I have lied to you right off the bat and now you should believe everything I am going to say’.

In addition to the credibility issue, a comb over may be a testament to Benayahu’s level of professionalism, as viewers may ask themselves ‘Is this the guy in charge of media relations for the army? Who is he trying to fool? Does he even understand the concept of broadcast television?’

Joe’s Adventures in the Holy Land – Israeli Media Covers Palmer Plumber

“…I mean… I’d… you know… I’m not a… me per… I’m… I’m not a person who usually runs from things, but you know… when all the missle… ah… you know… you run.”
   – – Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher signing off, January 11, 2009, Israel

Channel 10’s anchorman called him ‘Joe Ha Shravrav’, Channel 2’s anchorwoman called him ‘an hallucinatory journalist’ – Joe The Plumber, a disposable celebrity and PajamasTV’s war correspondent has started his Clogged Pipes tour in Israel by chastising the foreign media and dispensing his pearls of wisdom, including this one:

“I think media should be abolished from… ah… you know… reporting, you know… war’s hell…”
   – – Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher at an I-am-not-the-story-here impromptu press conference, January 11, 2009, Israel

Usually it is average Israelis’ poor English that makes them come across as aggressive, but this guy with his native language advantage and his smart-enough-to-be-a-Republican-vice-presidential-nominee intelect, this guy puts them all to shame. It goes without saying that the Israeli media did not fall in love. Following are last night’s reporting from two of Israel’s three main broadcast channels, since Channel 1’s IBA news did not deem the story newsworthy. The videos have enough spoken English to be worth your while, and both show Wurzelbacher’s first encounter with an air raid siren, 15 seconds before a rocket hits nearby:

Channel 2’s evening news questions his journalistic skills and unclear ethical values:
Channel 10’s evening news calls him a populist journalist:

With all my resentment towards this character, if people need his mediation in order to get the news from here, so be it.

Israeli Film ‘Waltz with Bashir’ Wins Golden Globe

An Israeli anti-war film wins a prestigious award amidst a war: Ari Folman‘s Waltz with Bashir received last night a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Some called it the first animated documentary, or documation, but as I mentioned before that is not the case.

The film is based on Folman’s own experiences as a 19-year-old IDF infantry soldier during the 1982 Lebanon War. American-Arab blog KABOBfest predicts that “in about 20 years, one of the Israeli soldiers currently partaking in the invasion of Gaza will make an award-winning film called ‘Waltz With Abbas’, recounting his experience in committing war crimes, with some psychoanalytic prelude that exonerates himself from responsibility for own action”.

Watch the trailer:

Watch writer/director Ari Folman’s acceptance speech:

I wanna dedicate this prize, as we promised to do, to the eight beautiful production babies who were born in our tiny studio in Tel Aviv during the making of Waltz with Bashir, four years – and I hope one day when they grow up they’ll watch this film together and they see the war that takes place in the film, it will look to them like an ancient video game that has nothing to do with their lives whatsoever. Thank you so much!
   – – Ari Folman, Golden Globe Awards, January 11, 2009

Allah, Strengthen My Faith and Fill My Heart with the Spirit of the Qur’an

War is horrible, there’s no two ways about it. Still, I find it futile to address any direct political issues, because I assume that whatever I want to say, someone said it before and probably more eloquently. That is why I refrain from elaborating on a two year old niece who cannot sleep in her room because it is not rocket-proof, nor a distant relative who asked if her fourteen year old daughter can stay with us, as living within rocket range made her exhibit signs of post-trauma. I will also avoid telling how four hours ago a twenty year old Palestinian ran with an axe on main street, just as I was on my way to get a haircut.

No, instead I will take Monty Python’s advice and try to look on the light side of life, because if life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten, and that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing:

Citizens show humor under fire

Check out this photo of a note posted by fleeing Be’er-Sheva residents on their own door. It reads:

[singlepic id=128 w=180 h=210 float=right]In case this apartment is hit by a rocket:
Search and Rescue teams: Relax, we are staying at our parents’.
Government damage assessors: The apartment had plasma TV sets, a bottle of 1709 vintage Bordeaux and a rare antique porcelain statuette.
Cable company: The plasma TV sets were used as flower pots.
Ruthie: If we got hit, we are not paying our homeowners association dues.


Reporters show more bloopers under fire

As the rolling news reports continue for the second week, Channel 10 aired a second compilation of their own correspondents’ bloopers. The video is in Hebrew but mostly self-explanatory:


Hamas shows porn under fire

Late at night, a technician on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV was flipping through the satellite channels, not knowing he was changing the actual live broadcast of his own channel. When he stumbled upon an erotic channel from Poland, he watched it for six minutes, then apparently got a call to the station informing him that everyone in the Arab world can see the erotica, and so he immediately changed the broadcast back to the Ramattan TV live feed from Gaza. All this time, the caption read ‘Now in Gaza’ and the audio of the broadcast was the original loop of Shahid (martyr) songs. The contrast between the quote-unquote songs of faith and the utter abomination of the visual is just brilliant (Contains nudity, NSFW):

While the Polish girl is dancing naked, the singing in Arabic goes: Allah, strengthen my faith and fill my heart with the spirit of the Qur’an!


Joe The Plumber To Visit Israel – Haven’t The Jewish People Suffered Enough?

Listen, you don’t want my opinion on foreign policy. I know just enough about foreign policy to probably be dangerous.
  – – Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber), October 28, 2008

[singlepic id=127 w=320 h=240 float=right]Okay, when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited this week, at first I thought he gave an Israeli kid in a hospital a Blue Elmo doll, notorious for “committing strange and terrible acts disguised as his brother Elmo”. It turns out it was a freakishly fluffy version of Cookie Monster. Nevertheless, I kept my mouth shut about the faux pas of giving a monster to a sick child during war.

But now it went too far: The Associated Press reported today that Joe the Plumber will visit Israel as a war correspondent for Pajamas TV – I am not making this up. This is the same schmo that thinks that “a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel”. Leaving it to psychologists to examine America’s bizarre infatuation with this pseudo average working class person – can’t we just agree sending this guy over is a cruel and unusual punishment for the region?

Take it away, Keith Olbermann:

It’s Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

Israelis love their armchair activism. As long as they don’t have to do anything more than click their mouse, they are willing to show their support. This is particularly evident in the sheer number of people willing to join a so-called online protest, in comparison to how few are willing to put on their coat and walk to the city center for an actual real-world protest.

Armchair activism has a particularly disgusting side as it brings out the trigger happiness in people. In light of recent events, dozens of hawkish Facebook groups were created by Israelis, advocating the annihilation of the Gaza strip. All you have to do is click the ‘Join’ button, and you have instantly shown your degree of ‘patriotism’. Here is a selection of those Facebook groups:

[singlepic id=116 w=200 h=303 float=right]In this atmosphere of collective zeal, I think nothing can be more patriotic than watching War, A Rock Opera this coming Wednesday in Tel-Aviv. The show was created by Israeli musician Kobi Vitman based on his ordeals as an IDF reserve infantry soldier during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, but it was painfully relevant to the 2006 Lebanon War – and even more so now, as the conflict in Gaza escalates into a ground invasion. The collective Israeli memory is notoriously short, and so watching this show is an excellent reminder of what war is really like in a country where every citizen is a soldier.

What: War, A Rock Opera
When: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 10:30pm
Where: Tmuna Theatre, 8 Soncino street, Tel Aviv, Israel
Who: Kobi Vitman, Dvir Benedek, Ayelet Robinson, Yaniv Levi
Why: Read my critique