Tel Aviv Diary January 17, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

It just hit me today that we're talking about a real war. Not only because the decision was announced that all of our gas masks have to be substituted for more effective ones, or because the empty chemical warheads were discovered in iraq, or because the Americans are already evacuating their embassy here, but because i started thinking about where i would put all the stuff that might get ruined if a missile falls on my house. got to back up the computer, send the poems to one friend like i did last time, send the articles to someone else, maybe put everything on the web... And the books, the pictures, the momentos, the diaries, the love letters . And the people... Ezi says we'll have time. I'm sure we have to start now.

Should have given stuff to all my friends who went abroad for the war.

January 18, 2003

today is the birthday of the trees - Tu Bishvat - and the anniversary of the parliament here. but it was too rainy and we were too tired to go out and plant trees like many people did. There was a big discussion over family lunch - not about who to vote for - but why it's not going to work. The general conclusion seems to be that although Mitzna is the perfect person for the position of prime minister, he's surrounded by dead wood, worse - by people who will sabotage all attempts at reform. Now I don't know where they get this information from, but the consensus was that as soon as the election is over the party will do everything to get rid of Mitzna as leader. My opinion is that they will TRY to get rid of him, or at least to hold up his plans, but he will be able to get it through. There were too many people in Labor who never wanted to go along with Sharon, but were too disorganized or too helpless to work out a viable alternative, but will be happy to work with a leader. Who are they? Again: Shimon Peres, Ofer Pines, Haim Ramon, Dalia Itzik, Dani Yatom, Eli Amir, ...

We have varying degrees of respect for these people, and understand why Dayan and Beilin left, and some are more or less, but at least my family is united in one thing - we're left.

The television election propaganda may be the most unusual phenomena in Israel. Suddenly you see the different parties with their different languages and messages all togethr - one after the other. the Arab parties advertise in Arabic - no translation, no explanation. The Russian party has subtitles, but to hear Hebrew, then Arabic, then Russian - one after the other - in a tiny country - is wild. And so many antithetical opinions - just from the information campaigns you can see there is no way for everyone to get together.

January 19, 2003

Finally I talked with someone in my class about Sapi. She too felt the same identification with her great character and anonymous, ignominious, death. She told me that Sapi always feared the central bus station and avoided it whenever possible but she had to change busses there on the way to her granddaughter's. It's like Red Riding Hood in reverse where the grandmother is destroyed on her way to visit her grandchild. Poor Dear Sapi.

And now multiply my grief by a few hundred other people who knew her, and then by all the 21 others who blew up that day. How much grief do you have?

Now add all the innocent Palestinians (sorry I can't get worked up about the suicide bombers at the very least they have a choice and they choose to murder) and the waste of life is mind-boggling.

And still there are people who are not even going to vote in this election. People like my colleague Tanya Rinehart who is urging people to boycott the elections as a protest at the lack of viable alternative. I can't think of a time in the history of Israel when voting was more important. I'm even volunteering to drive people to the election booths even though there are very strong warnings that the Palestinians are going to try to sabotage the elections with some terrorist attacks on election day.

If there is anything you get from reading me, get this: make sure everyone who has the right to vote, votes.

January 20, 2003

I read this article a few days ago but someone sent it to me by email and only then i realized how important it was:

The infants tell the real story

By Amnon Rubinstein


The infant mortality rate in British Mandate Palestine in 1943-44, the last year for which such data are available, was almost 10 percent for Muslims, 3.5 percent for Jews, and 7 percent for Christians. There were three times as many infant deaths among Muslims, and twice as many among Christians, as there were among Jews.

Mortality rates for children up to the age of 5 were even more disgraceful - 21 percent among Muslims, 4.5 percent among Jews, and 10 percent among Christians. Muslims suffered a rate five times more, and Christians twice as much, as Jews. (The data are from the British Mandate Authority's annual statistical yearbook in the National Archives).

In Israel 2001 all the mortality rates were dramatically lower of course, but no less important, gaps between Jews and Arabs have also shrunk. The infant mortality rate among Jews was 0.14 percent, among Muslims 0.82 percent, and among Christians 0.2 percent. The gap between Jews and Muslims had dropped by a third and the gap between Jews and Christians was reversed.

Even more dramatic was the narrowing of the gap in child mortality rates among children up to the age of 5. The Muslim rate sank from the 21 percent to 0.5 percent and the gap between Muslims to Jews had shrunk from five times more to double.

This is dramatic, unprecedented progress unknown to the public, and is in contrast with Arab states where infant mortality is much higher than in Israel among all population groups. Infant mortality in wealthy Kuwait, for example, is 1.2 percent - twice that of Muslims in Israel.

Infant and child mortality rates are one of the unequivocal measures of success in a welfare state. Infant mortality is an indicator of the situation in the Middle East. Israel is a besieged island in an Arab and Muslim region, but the siege has only increased the enormous gaps between the Jewish state and the world around it.

Inside the besieged island live a minority that in culture, religion and nationality belong to those besieging the island, and it also suffers from a sense of discrimination and real discrimination.

But those looking at the Middle East from afar can see the gaps between the Jews in their country and the Muslims in their countries growing, and continuing to grow, while the gaps inside the besieged island shrink and continue to shrink, despite lengthy conflict and hostility.

This has enormous long-term importance, even while a gaping chasm between Jews and Arabs in Israel persists. We must not rest until all the gaps between all parts of Israeli society have been eliminated in general, and between Jews and Arabs in particular.

But at a time when Israel is criticized at home and abroad as an apartheid state, it is worth noting the infant mortality rates and the shrinking gaps in education and health from the past to the present, as an indication of reality.

It is a complex reality and very different from the mendacious, fashionable statements made about Israel. A paradox has been created in this reality. In the years that the political polarization between Jews and Arabs in Israel, especially of course, because of the war with the Palestinians, the social polarization has narrowed, at least as far as it is measured in health and education data. Even the most vehement critic of Israel cannot allow himself to ignore this data

And Alan Mumford sent me this poem by Amichai I'd forgotten about. I hope he sends me the translator too and where it was published so i can give recognition where it's due, because it really reflects what I was saying yesterday about Sapi:

The Diameter of the Bomb

The bomb was thirty centimetres in diameter

and the diameter of its effective range

was about seven metres,

and it killed four and it wounded eleven.

And ranged around these,

in a larger circle of pain and time,

are scattered two hospitals

and one cemetery.

But the young girl

who was buried in the city

from which she came,

over a hundred kilometres away,

enlarges the circle considerably,

and the one man who mourns her death

on the distant shores of a land

far across the sea

includes the entire world in the circle.

And I won't even mention

the weeping

of orphans

which reaches

all the way up

to the throne of God



making a circle

that has

no end


no God.

the poem is Alan Mumford's adaptation from Chana Bloch's translation.

In the mean time I heard more about how the young people aren't voting. Apparently they are not seeing that the whole education system on all levels sucks because of Limor Livnat's political agenda and they are suffering because of it. They are not seeing (because they have never been taught) that in the Israeli parliament when you join a coalition government you have to vote with the coalition no matter what. When you are in the opposition you have a choice, but you still participate in the government. So Mitzna's decision to stay outside the coalition government is WISE not stupid or unpatriotic as the right is trying to make it out to be. How could the young people know this? Do we have any courses in how the government is constructed and how people participate in government through voting? Do we have any democratic student government in grammar and high schools? Do we learn anything about parliamentary procedure in school?

No. But we do learn Bible.

January 21, 2003

After I wrote that bit about schools yesterday I met a girl who went to high school with my son - many years ago. She's in Tayosh and spends her Saturdays demonstrating, plowing, picking olives, etc. A very admirable person - committed to her ideals. We discussed high school - among other things - and agreed that this high school, Ironi Hey, was a nightmare. Ignorant autocrats for teachers and administrators, with no concept of what education is, and no inkling of what democracy is.

It was the Bible teacher who was particularly disgusting - not because of the subject, which I have always loved, but because of the concept of education. Facts must be repeated exactly as taught. Questions are signs of rebellion. But what can you expect? the classes had 43 students - the rooms were cold in winter and boiling in summer - the chairs uncomfortable - and of course the teachers were boring, antiquated. I'm sorry to go off the subject of this diary, but every time I think of the educational system in Israel I lose all gentility.

First good news I've had in weeks - Liz is coming to vote. Most of my friends have given it up as a lost cause, but she's coming especially from NY with Rafi. I'm beginning to think that Meretz will really do well, because at least their people are committed. And that is the most important thing. It's kind of hard to be committed to Labor when they are already destroying the little credibility that Mitzna's honesty imbues them with. At least Peres hasn't consented to step in instead, even though the polls are giving him a much better chance of winning now than Mitzna. I love Peres, but consistency is very important now.

And most of the people I know have expressed a great deal of anger at Peres because he went along with Sharon for over a year. I think he was right to try, but should have gotten out much earlier when he knew he could not justify Sharon's policies as foreign minister. That was a serious mistake - but it was a loving one, and I may forgive him for it.

you are visitor number


Back to Karen Alkalay-Gut diary

To Karen Alkalay-Gut home