Brownsteins in the Land of Israel
Bush And The New Airport
November 10, 2004
Many of you have written to ask why no chronicle from me has come since mid-July. Many have asked if I had removed them from the chronicle list. No, the truth is, I just haven't written. The main reason for my absence is that the real purpose of these chronicles is to cajole people into making Aliyah. And, since in my last chronicle I pretty much called people, well, frauds who have the ability to move to Israel but don't, there wasn't much more to say. Nevertheless, I will endeavor. And please accept my apology if you are offended by my conclusion.
First, just one letter this time, from my lifelong friend Billy Baynu:
Are you alive? How come you aren't writing, man? I really thought your last story about people needing to move to Israel was great! That was so cool how you called people "chickenshit" for not living up to their ideals and moving to Israel. For sure, dude, we all need to be in Israel. After all, it is the Jewish homeland. As for me, I kind of like it here in America. They got everything I need at Costco. Did you know that they are even selling caskets? So, as soon as Costco Tel Aviv opens, I'll be there. But then, funny thing happened when I was talking to Mom about your chronicle. She said that if you had the same attitude about your former comfy life in America that I do, if you only paid lip service to moving to Israel, you would still be sitting in Pico-Robertson watching reruns of Seinfeld. Mother said that I had completely, totally missed the point of your story. Mother said that it is precisely the attitude of "everyone else needs to go to Israel... but just not me" that you are railing against. Mother suggested I reread your story because I obviously didn't get it at all and she was embarrassed for me. I told her that I read just fine and that Rich's chronicles are not tricky, but very simple. I told her, “I've known Rich for 40 years. I know what he means.” I was a little bit confused when she then suggested that the $100,000 she had spent on my college education seemed to have been wasted. I just shrugged and went back to Seinfeld. Please tell Mama that my Berkeley education was worth every penny!
Hey, Billy: listen to your mom.
It was suggested that our children have a routine "adjustment" checkup to confirm that they are adjusting properly to their new lives here in Israel, a year and a half after arriving. Interestingly, that task falls to our health insurance company -- the one of four from which we choose. So we hauled the kids to a pretty, new office for evaluation. First up with European psychologist was Batya, our eight-year-old daughter. After five minutes of Batya's answering a few questions in English, French, and Hebrew, the psychologist was satisfied with her.
Then it was Yehuda's turn. Because he is just six-years-old, we were somewhat concerned about his Hebrew skills. In America, because I was home very little when he was learning to speak, and because my wife speaks to our children only in French, when Yehuda started school his English skills were negligible. He got frustrated sitting in class and there was a bit of concern. Then, at 4-1/2 years old, Yehuda was uprooted to Israel and put in an all-Hebrew kindergarten. Yehuda spoke no Hebrew whatsoever. Again, he got frustrated and there was more concern.
So the psychologist opened the book of pictures with three scenarios on each page. She proceeded to ask Yehuda a hundred different questions in Hebrew concerning the 25 pages of scenarios. My wife, Sara, and I looked at each other in astonishment. A year ago Sara and I started Ulpan, or intensive Hebrew study, with almost no Hebrew skills; now we have advanced to level 3 (Rich) and level 4 (Sara) with great difficulty and perseverance. During the examination, Sara and I continued to glance at each other watching Yehuda respond rapidly and correctly in Hebrew to virtually every question asked of him. Most of the Hebrew questions and the answers were incomprehensible to those of us in levels 3 & 4. Yehuda was certified as just another Israeli boy and got a nice big ice cream cone after leaving the pretty, new building.
Today I dropped off a cake at Yehuda's school for his birthday celebration. He was in the middle of class and it was his turn to lead their current exercise. Again, I marveled at my little, trilingual baby.
Maybe soon I'll be able to speak Hebrew like my children do. But for now, I'm satisfied just to ask them from time to time the meaning of certain words.
OUR NEW AIRPORT
We had the good fortune of viewing the brand spanking new Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion in Airport last week. It just so happened that my in-laws were going back to France on opening day, seven years after the terminal's groundbreaking, and three to five years over-schedule (depending on whom you ask). It is, in essence, a brand-new airport. According to the Jerusalem Post, "Four years behind its original completion date, Terminal 3, some three kilometers west of the present facility, covers 270,000 sq.m., including logistics support centers and 90,000 sq.m. of parking lots. To put things into perspective Terminal 1, built by the British in 1936 is 65,000 sq.m. including 30,000 sq.m. of parking."
The new terminal was breathtaking. It was a moment of pride for everyone that I saw. Effusive flight attendants in the El Al baggage security area were buzzing around on the shiny, spacious floors handing out brownies. Young women had been dispatched throughout the airport dispensing commemorative lollipops. It was extremely festive and moving.
The old airport was, well, old. The things that we took for granted in America -- such as a plane arriving at or leaving from the gate -- were not part of the original airport. Anyone who has ever visited Israel can remember taking a bus to and from the planes. That is not currently an issue at Terminal 3. Another exciting development is that, after one clears baggage security, passengers and their non-traveling companions can say goodbye in an enormous, beautiful lounge while eating kosher McDonald's or sushi, or shopping for that last-minute magazine or big-screen TV. (For more pictures of the airport click here.)
I remember stopping through the duty-free shop on my last trip through the old airport, and asking the saleswoman in the liquor section, "Do you have any, um..." I hesitated. But she chimed right in, "Laphroaig?" I said, surprised, "Why, yes. Laphroaig. But how did you know?" She explained that a lot of people had been looking for it. "Great," I said, "so where’s the Laphroaig?" "We don't carry Laphroaig." Now, finding your favorite brand, according to the Jerusalem Post, will not be difficult: "Even an outsider will immediately understand the love affair Israelis have with duty-free shopping. The air side houses 14,000 sq.m. of commercial space under a rotunda. From cosmetics to liquor, VCRs, DVDs, and television sets, coffee or food, Terminal 3 will be bigger, flashier, similar to the leading airports of Europe. Some critics have labeled it an airport in a shopping mall, but authority officials hope the national pastime of duty-free shopping will continue. Per capita duty-free sales amount to $85 to $95 per departing passenger, say authority economists. In fact, duty-free sales at the airport accounted for approximately 60 percent of revenue from commerce in 2003."
In the end, the traveling experience to and from Israel should be greatly enhanced and one should have no problem finding my two favorite brands of Scotch, Lagavulin and Laphroaig (in order, just in case anyone is interested).
Although we were totally thrilled by what we saw and experienced, I have also heard that, aside from being hundreds of millions of dollars over budget and taking twice as long to build as projected, the new airport has serious flaws. For example, no sewage treatment plant exists on-site, which the government has demanded (of itself) to remedy within three years. I have also heard that the new generation of airplanes coming next year will not fit into the slips and that passengers may have to be bused in the future -- again. And, finally, in the Jerusalem Post article entitled "Terminal 3: A guide for the perplexed", it is noted that several airlines had not been accounted for in the planning: "The top level houses departures of all airlines, except Lufthansa German Airlines, Austrian and LOT-Polish Airlines. These three carriers are on the ground floor near arrivals." On the other hand, keeping in mind the countries of origin of the three airlines on the ground floor, one can only muse that poetic justice has been served by these "oversights". On the other hand, one might also ask why Air France didn't find itself on the ground floor.
Oblivious to any shortcomings on opening day, as we were leaving the airport, having dropped off my fabulous in-laws after their all-too-short five-week stay, my wife turned to me and said, "I feel so fortunate that we don't have to leave."
I can't resist putting in a few cents on two current events (sounds like Jesse Jackson).
I am reminded when thinking about Yasser Arafat of the moment in "Fiddler on the Roof" when the intriguing question is asked: "Rabbi, is there a blessing for the czar?" The answer, of course, was "Blessing for the czar my son? Of course: May God bless and keep the czar… far away from us!" This is far more generous than I would have been for either arch anti-Semite. Also racing through my head is, "Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead."
I don't know if you've heard the news, but Yasser Arafat is still not dead in Paris. It reminds me of how Chevy Chase used to start Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update by saying, "Our top story tonight, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead." Hopefully, however, The Rat of Ramallah will be dead by the time you read this.
Regarding Arafat, it has been an interesting time here in the land of "be careful what you wish for." All kinds of theories abound concerning who wants what and why certain things are happening. For example, there was a theory that the bombing in Tel Aviv the day after Arafat left, which left three Israelis dead and several dozen wounded, was really Israel's doing as a pretext to forbid Arafat's non-deceased reentry into Israel. Then there have been suggestions that Prime Minister Sharon would prefer Arafat stay alive so Sharon will not be forced to negotiate with Palestinians who are not as hell-bent on our destruction. And there have been all kinds of discussions concerning where Arafat will be buried once his accursed life finally expires. Certainly, the most politically explosive suggestion has been to bury Arafat on the Temple Mount -- a desecration of the highest magnitude. Yet, the Sharon government has stated emphatically that Arafat will not be buried in Jerusalem and that all needed contingency plans exist to prevent such a ghastly event, including the possibility of repelling a half a million Palestinians attempting to march Arafat's body into the Old City. Putting it most succinctly, crystallizing all of our thoughts, Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said Arafat "will not be buried in Jerusalem because Jerusalem is the city where Jewish kings are buried and not Arab terrorists."
My favorite quotation on this topic, however, came from Adnan Husseini, the head Arab of the Muslim sites on the Temple Mount, who said to the Jerusalem Post: " If ever there was a guy in need of a history lesson, it is my man Adnan. He must have been out of town for the Six-Day War. By the way, Adnan, when you file your income taxes, I think you send them to "The Ministry of Interior, Jerusalem, Israel." In fact, I believe that the money you spend also happens to have "Israel" imprinted on it.."
Then there is a question of the origin of Arafat's illness. We all assumed immediately after the bombing of the Hilton in Taba, Egypt that Israel would be unfairly blamed. We were right; it took less than 48 hours. And so it has come to pass with the mysterious illness of Arafat. Yet, no evidence whatsoever exists that Israel had a hand and Arafat's mystery disease. The best the Palestinians can do with any certainty is suggest that the illness is a result of Arafat's being confined to his Ramallah compound for the last several years. Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister, said Arafat's blood had failed to produce enough platelets to maintain his vital organs and "The doctors by and large favor the explanation that his age ... his difficult life, the last three-and-a-half years incarcerated in a very small office, which had very little oxygen and very bad sanitary situation, in siege by the Israeli army, have contributed to a variety of digestive tract ailments." Hey, Nabil: how about that he's 75 years old?
On the other hand, as recently as September 14 of this year Prime Minister Sharon all but promised the demise of Arafat: "When asked if he saw a difference between Yassin and Rantisi on one hand and Arafat on the other, Sharon replied, 'I don't see any difference. This [one] and this [one] and this [one] have adopted a policy of murder. As we behave toward other murderers, so we will behave toward Arafat '" And, of course, it is no secret that Arafat is seen as the greatest villain in Jewish history since Hitler. So when Arafat got sick about a month and a half after this promise from Sharon, it's not hard to imagine that our boys didn't somehow, seamlessly take careful of the little rodent. For one thing, it's difficult to imagine that Israel would have any problem whatsoever getting whatever is needed into Arafat's food or air or water. Add to this report that, "military intelligence chief Aharon Zeevi-Farkash raised eyebrows when he told the weekly Cabinet meeting that Arafat’s 'situation is between full recovery and death.' Ministers complained that they didn’t need an intelligence chief for such a vague assessment, and complained that Israel’s vaunted intelligence services were taken by surprise by Arafat’s sudden health crisis last week." I've got news for you: first, there is not a single thing that has gone on in the Ramallah compound for the last decade that Israel intelligence has not known about -- before it happens. I have no doubt that there are more bugs in that building than in all of South America. Second, it is very rare to complain about intelligence shortcomings unless you are giving disinformation.
And then there is the notion of this "mysterious" blood disease. Very little these days in the field of hematology is unable to be diagnosed or identified. Yet, quickly such issues as leukemia, stomach cancer, and known poisons had been dismissed. Thus, the unknown has left Arafat's aides to point the finger directly at Israel. It makes sense, too, because the 75-year-old men who sit indoors 16 hours a day behind a desk never really get sick.
But, just when it looks like our boys really did take out another terrorist leader, the real juicy rumors started to percolate. The other day I was talking to a good friend of mine who is an Israeli physician. I asked her how often it is that people have "unknown blood disorders." She laughed, and asked, "Unknown, or undisclosed?" There was that certain twinkle in her eye that one would usually associate with only the most salacious of notions. "Everyone knows that Arafat's a homosexual. We've known that for years. The guy's got AIDS." And sure enough, yesterday we read, "Two weeks ago, former US federal prosecutor John Loftus told ABC radio that Arafat is dying of AIDS, and that the CIA has known about this for a while." And then today a headline, "Homosexual Arafat said dying of AIDS." The Washington Times gets very deep into the analysis with "Arafat theories include AIDS, poisoning plot", pointing out: "Part of the problem stems from France's strict medical privacy laws, which prohibit doctors from disclosing any information without the permission of family members, in this case, Mr. Arafat's wife, Suha."
I don't want to be cliché here, and I certainly don't want to cast aspersions on the lovely Suha Arafat who lives in Paris -- on the Left Bank, not the West Bank -- on a mere $100,000 per month, but it's been about three years since Mr. & Mrs. Arafat have seen each other. Perhaps there is something to this theory. (Hey, Cary Grant had a wife, too.)
When push comes to shove, in the end, getting to the bottom of it, it really doesn't matter how Arafat dies, just as long as he dies. And, just in case you think anyone around here, except for the far, far, far left, has anything even remotely nice to say about Arafat, think again. Even Arafat apologist former Prime Minster Shimon Peres, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Arafat, when adding his two cents has come to the correct conclusion about his "old friend": "Arafat had the choice between the path of negotiations and the path of terror and violence. He would have done much more for the Palestinians and their cause had he truly abandoned terror in favor of negotiations." We can all only hope that Peres doesn't repeat Bill Clinton's act at Yitzchak Rabin's burial, by going to the funeral and saying the Arabic equivalent of "Shalom Chaver". So, at the risk of sounding like Chevy Chase, "Our top story tonight: Yasser Arafat is still brain-dead."
I encourage you to viewing a one-minute video by the good people at www.HonestReporting.com. Click here to get their take on the skinny of Arafat's legacy. It is great.
Next, onto that little event you just held in America called "an election". My sources tell me that George Bush won this time without the use of the Supreme Court. Congratulations. I must tell you, it was a very difficult election to view from here. That being said, I'm sure it was a thousand times more difficult in America. Yet, if I had a nickel for every time somebody asked me whether I was voting and, if so, for whom, I would be able to buy a gallon of gasoline in Burbank.
As some of you may know, I am a lifelong Democrat and, in fact, was on the floor of the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles on the night that Joe Lieberman was nominated by the party to be their vice-presidential candidate. Going back and forth between the unqualified support Bush has given Israel and the rest of the Republican agenda, I was torn as never before. Here was my response for those who were sure I supported Bush.
Thank you for your hopeful thoughts. I'm sorry to disappoint you, however. You have incorrectly assumed that I am pulling the GOP lever. To be quite clear, I "prefer" Bush in this election over Kerry, and only as far as his support for Israel goes. I still think that Bush is dangerous for everything for which I stand (except the selfish issue of taxes). As time goes on, I am even more appalled by what Bush has done in Iraq and equally more sure that Kerry is a Clinton wannabe vis-à-vis everything (excluding cigars), but including shoving a bad deal down Israel's throat. Alas, nothing has changed: a moron or a guy who thinks he is smarter than we are and knows what's best for us. What is more dangerous? That being said, unless California looks to be a tight race, I will still maintain my record of having only voted for one Republican in my life: the honorable fondler from Oregon, Bob Packwood. So don't spread any vicious rumors to the effect that I am voting for Bush or, Has VaShalom, have joined the GOP.
It's also interesting to note that a majority of Israelis preferred the reelection of President Bush, ostensibly because he has been wholeheartedly pro-Israel. It is a pretty good trick to get a majority of Israelis to agree on anything. It goes without saying (which is why I'm saying it) that since the stated preference of the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world was John Kerry, we understood who would serve our interests. Nonetheless, especially with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in only marginally better health than Arafat, the dangers of the other folk in the Bush administration, who care of no one's interests but their own, are palpable.
But wait! A funny thing happened on the way to George Bush's second term: Yasser Arafat left the scene. So, for those of you who are 1,000,000% sure that George Jr. isn't going to try to shove a grotesque Clintonesque peace plan down our throats in his "legacy term", think again. In his article, "Arafat's Last Threat to Israel?", Daniel Pipes wrote yesterday: "The combination of Mr. Bush's stunning new mandate and Mr. Arafat's near-death condition will lead, I predict, to a quick revival of Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy after months of relative doldrums and to massive dangers to Israel." I give Bush until February before the bloom is completely off the rose with us.
Finally, about the 43rd President, when incorrectly informed that Arafat had died, Bush commented, "God bless his soul." Aside from the obvious incorrect assumption that Arafat had a soul, it's not the highest priority on my list for the Almighty to bless the purported soul of a man responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs alike, and who would have driven all Jews into the sea had he been given a chance. Bush's comment reminds me of a story witnessed by two friends at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. After a Holocaust-related event, George Bush was introduced to a man. The President was informed that the man was a Holocaust survivor. The President's response was "Congratulations". All I can say is, we are all in for one hell of a ride.
One last note for those of you nice enough to read to the end: reward yourself with the funniest seven minutes you will have experienced in a long time: listen to Harry Shearer's imagined post-election conversation between George Jr. and George Sr. Click here to listen.
Anyway, thanks for reading between the lines this far.
I appreciate and look forward to your comments and greetings.
As you know, we are in the middle of a membership drive, so please get me the e-mail addresses of people whom you want to add. (Let them know ahead of time, so I don't get in trouble with the spam police).
Please stay tuned for Chapter 22: “The Dentist.”
All the best,
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