Tel Aviv Diary - February 2, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

We have been reading the 1937 Peel Report that gives a surprisingly contemporary analysis of the entire middle east conflict. The whole thing begins, according to these impartial Brits, when in WWI the Brits promised the land to the Arabs (so that they would help them fight the war)and through the Balfour Declaration to the Jews. This was not a very fair thing to do... And now we're still paying the price...

But the upshot of it is that the Peel Report recommends partition as the only solution. The Jews don't get very much, but that was because the divisions were according to where the populations were already settled. Nevetheless the idea of a separation - and 2 states - was seen as the only possible way out of this mess. 1937.


We were looking at the Peel Report - why? you ask? we have been searching for the copy of the original report that has been knocking about the house for years, but now can't find it - so we went for the internet.

The interesting thing about it is that i read it years ago but never really noticed the dry observation that Britain is basically the cause of this mess - with its promises it thought the natives would never remember.

There are lots of other wonderful observations there - about the rise of nationalization with the Arabs as the other Arab states were becoming independent. Check it out and let me know what you think.

And here's a story, something Suzanna sent me in an e-mail. It's probably been making the rounds, and I'm usually suspicious of these things, but this one moved me to tears:

Virtual Tourism in Israel

by Dvora Levin

One visitor finds an innovative way to express unconditional caring and support for beleaguered Israelis.

Sitting with a friend in a once popular restaurant in Ein Kerem, a neighborhood in Jerusalem, I was startled to see how empty it was. A young guard sat at the front gate. Next to him, a note was posted stating that all customers were to pay an extra two shekels to help cover his cost.

After getting the bill, I asked to speak to the manager. I told him, while the waiter hovered in the background worried about a complaint, that I would be paying three times the amount of the bill. I explained that as a visitor coming to visit family and friends during these terrible times, I had brought "virtual tourists" with me.

Most of the members of my small Jewish community in Victoria, on the far west coast of Canada, were heartfelt in their support of Israelis. However, the realities of their lives prevented them from coming personally. So they had sent me with money ($1,700) to spend on virtual drinks, meals, services and gifts.

They particularly asked me to support small businesses suffering from serious economic losses due to direct and threatened terrorist attacks and lack of tourism.

The manager and now-smiling waiter were clearly surprised and very moved. "We in Israel feel that we are all alone in the world," he said. "But this is amazing that there are others so far away who actually care about us here."

I laughed and said: "Actually they are virtually here, having virtual meals. But their money is real."

Over the next few minutes, another waiter and two waitresses came to the table to thank me and to hear the story of "virtual tourists" for themselves. The manager asked for my name and presented me a Hebrew book on the history of Ein Kerem, inscribed by the staff with a warm note of appreciation for bringing a smile to their day.

My friend, who was moved to tears, commented on how wonderful to bring a moment of joy to such young people.


This idea of "virtual tourism" had been picked up by our rabbi, Harry Bremmer, and passed along in our synagogue and by email a few days before I was to leave for Israel. During final preparations for my trip, I was constantly interrupted by calls and visitors, dropping off checks and cash. Needing to get some sleep before my departure, I finally had to ask the late callers to pass along their donations to the next community members to go.

Throughout my two-week stay, I repeated my "virtual tourist" explanation, often twice to the same stunned owner or manager of small businesses, cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, flower stores and gift shops.

One small gift shop on Yoel Solomon, at the bottom of the Ben Yehudah Mall, remarked on the sweetness of this idea. She went on to tell me of one shop owner down the street who had a funeral for his closing business. He dressed in black and invited his friends and the press for a funeral -- an amazing display of humor and sadness.

Half of the 500 tourist shops in Jerusalem have shut down since the increase in violence; 75 per cent of hotel beds are empty. In the central area of the city, 40 restaurants have closed.


I found my own voice breaking with feeling as I repeated the story over again. One small pizza place on Emek Refaim had just reopened that morning after a dreadful bombing of a cafe just up the street. After explaining "virtual tourism" to him and giving him 100 shekels (four times the bill of 25 shekels), he suggested that 50 shekels would be enough. I insisted, and he then tried to negotiate a compromise of 75 shekels. I insisted that I was obliged to give him the full 100 shekels for the other six "virtual tourists" with me. He said what a good luck sign it was, on this first day of reopening. We laughed together about the irony of someone negotiating to be paid less. On the occasion of each small purchase, my friends joined in this delightful experience, which became a bond between us, the owners and my small community in Victoria, which grew less distant from us each day.

Some managers demanded I tell them what to do with the extra money, remarking they had no key on the cash register for such an item. I told them I had fulfilled my responsibility, and that this would be their big problem for the day. Many said they would share it with their staff. Some quickly said they would pass it along to someone "who really needs it."

The last of the funds was spent on 15 pitas (with the Jerusalem mixture of spicy meats) for the IDF's negotiating team dealing with the standoff at the Bethlehem Church of the Nativity. One of my friends was on his way for reserve duty with this group.


As this small idea moved into action, from my community, through me, to Israeli small business people and friends, I became aware of it rippling out in circles beyond our knowing. One friend's son told of it in his citizenship class. Visiting relatives of another couple passed it by email to their home community in America. No doubt, others would be passing it along over dinner and in phone conversations.

When asked why he thought this small act was met with such emotion, one Israeli said because it is so unexpected and completely unconditional, something for nothing, an expression of our being together.

Early in this process, I realized I had not only given, but was also being given a truly uplifting gift. My fervent hope is that others going to Israel will take along their own "virtual tourists" who will leave their footprints on the shores of the turbulent sea of our homeland.

And just as our footprints are being washed away by the tides, more will be made, and Israelis will know that they are not alone. For we are with them.

Author Biography:

Dvora Levin, originally from Canada, lived in Jerusalem for 13 years, and is now a consultant in Victoria, British Columbia.

I know people in the Territories are suffering too, but this is something i see every day, and my best friends are struggling through it.

Febuary 3, 2003

I couldn't write about Ilan Rimon yesterday. We masked our grief by sitting around - test pilots and engineers - analyzing what could have happened. The angle...

And we talked of his past glories. People who flew with him on some of the most heroic secret missions in the history of Israel. Ilan Rimon was much a part of Israel's glory and so basic to our hope for something better that he is on the home page of the university, Tel Aviv University . At last, we thought, a colleague will restore our academic pride.

Words are silly in times like these, but here's a poem anyway.


It seems like we've been taking too many deep breaths:

Always something new to calm yourself about


And now it is my colleague, that hero

who destroyed the nuclear reactors of Iraq,


but will be known from now on

as the Israeli astronaut

who just missed

the angle back to earth

and will be flying now forever

this is of course not the last word. But every one is a state of terrible confusion. First off - on a personal level. we don't seem to know what is happening with us. Friends call me in a state - as if time/space orientation has been lost. simply. Ezi calls to ask me what he did last tuesday - he doesn't understand why his calendar at work is blank. it takes me a few minutes to realize that he has forgotten the elections. And he's not the only one. I've had four calls so far that seem totally off the wall from normally stable friends. One is imagining the Arabs of the world secretly rejoicing because they have succeeded in breaking the computer codes of NASA. Another is at the university and tells me no one has the heart to update Ilan Rimon's website. I seem to be the anchor around here.

And you who have been with me for the past 9 months know how desperate a situation must be for ME to be the anchor.

To send condoldences to Ilan Ramon's family, write

But also remember, Ramon was doing research on ecology - which was very important to him. And from the skies he declared: "I call upon every Jew in the world to plant a tree in the land of Israel during the coming year. I would like to see at least 13 or 14 million new trees planted in Israel exactly one year from now, on the anniversary of the launching."

So plant trees in Israel in his memory. We need them badly.

And yes, the name Ilan means tree.

February 4, 2003

Yesterday I got an election poster that said, "Ariel Sharon - for the sake of his children." Who is he doing it for, anyway, if not for his children? The way he made sure Mitzna would not be able to find a way into his government, the way he keeps ignoring the major issues in the economy, the way he constantly seems to ignore humanitarian issues on both sides of the green line, the way he keeps trying to scare us all into a unity government by distorting and deleting the facts makes it seem impossible to think he's doing it for OUR children.

The fear works too - for example the reiterated reminded that if the US goes to war Iraq will use chemical and biological weapons on us. We may know objectively that if the US is bombing western Iraq the chances they'll be able to get scuds into the air are really small. Still, we buy more and more bottled water, and worry about our shelters, and whether we'll get smallpox vaccinations in time.

In the mean time every one is really sick around here - flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma. The air is awful and the atmosphere is worse. And we're still going to get Sharon as prime minister.

This kind of atmosphere should make us tough - hard and cynical. Yet tonight we wept over the memorial ceremony of Ilan Ramon and the other astronauts. It began when the Rabbi of NASA opened with a quotation from Bialik: On my Death, Here's the poem in English. a translation from David Stern. The plaintive poetic song, spoken in Hebrew in the midst of the noble fomality of the Puritan service - with it "Our God, our help in Ages Past..." just drove the magnitude of the tragedy home.

February 5, 2003

Now let us see, what have we learned from Colin Powell's U.N. presentation?

I don't know, but I'm off to buy more food. I've let my water supply dip.

Yes, it looks like they have much more than I thought - but it also looks like the U.S. is on top of the whole thing. Something I had not expected. I have a feeling that all of his report is based on 5-6 snitches - Saddam's former mistress among them. Nevertheless he convinced me that something has to be done and now.

The poisons are recent I think -ricin and the others. But the nuclear threat has been around for a long time. So have the chemical and biological stuff.

In the mean time I'm reading the new pamphlet on organizing your house for war. Miraculously I remember much of the rules from last time - like "what do you do when you throw up in your gas mask?" "Take it off, Wipe it off. Put it back on"

you are visitor number


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