Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A Sobering Perspective on Insurance

So my car got crunched today. Not my fault but it happened anyway. It goes that way sometimes. I realized that in the grand scale, my crash doesn’t even register on the cosmic richter scale. 8.9 in Sri Lanka registers. 50,000 registers. The countless children taken by the waves. Reggie White, the Minister of Defense, sacked in his sleep. Brendan’s friend who committed suicide. The untold numbers of maladies, the world over. My mishap doesn’t even make a blip on the radar.

I at least have insurance. I’m willing to bet that most of the people whose cars were washed out in the waves, or covered in the gelatinous mud, were not so lucky. Not on their cars, not on their houses, not on their lives. I guess I can take the slightest comfort in the little things. AAA.

I had been struggling for perspective on the events, but I guess this sort of gives it. My car isn’t even a grain of sand on the tsunamied beach of life. I realized this morning that I can do a little to help. I am going to give my tithe of the money collected on my photo exhibit to disaster relief.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Arafat's passing

Rarely in history can one man’s passing offer such opportunity for change yet it is truly reflective of the state of the Middle East that the passing of Yassir Arafat can offer such hope. Unlike King Midas, everything that Arafat touched turned to blood while the gold earmarked for the Palestinian people disappeared into foreign bank accounts. Now it is time for the Palestinian people to prove that their national movement can be about more than jihad and martyrdom. It is time for the Palestinian moderates to take control and work with Israel to end this ongoing nightmare.

Rarely in history do people receive second chances. Yet both the Palestinians and Israelis, and more importantly, Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon both have another opportunity to right their sinking ships. Sharon missed a genuine opportunity to strengthen the Palestinian moderate Mahmoud Abbas when he was the Palestinian Prime Minister. Rather than reaching out to strengthen Abu Mazen’s position, Sharon dawdled and Abbas was gone within 100 days. Now that Arafat is gone, Abbas and Sharon both have second chances to work together to end this conflict.

Mas Seguridad en Mexico

On a recent trip down to Mexico City, I was shocked to find that Mexico has a better idea of how to handle security on public transportation. While we are busy fighting for security in the war on terror, Mexico City has a better security for public transit for its 25 million citizens.

Mexico City security begins on its metro system. The sprawling underground subway system has numerous security officers manning the entrance and exit gates. Their presence is seen and felt at the turnstiles. Can New York or Washington say the same? Their metro systems must surely be considered greater targets than anything in Mexico City yet the presence of security in the stations is lacking.

As for Mexican buses between cities, there is a security guard that checks the passenger and their carry-on bags before every trip. Furthermore, security comes onto each bus before it departs and videotapes the cabin. That video is relayed to the station of arrival. Then a door is shut and locked between the passengers and the driver. There is nothing comparable on bus travel in America.

The coup de grace came on my flight home. Mexican security managed to find the wine-bottle corkscrew that I forgot to remove from my backpack. This metal corkscrew hadn’t moved from the place that it was in when it went undetected on my flight out of America. Again, Mexican security passed where American security failed.

To be sure, Mexico is fighting crime while the United States is fighting terror. Yet perhaps if we did treat the war on terror more like an attack on a criminal vice, then we could do a better job. I’m not sure if an orange alert is for a pollution alert or some obscure threat level being ratcheted up on Fox News. Terrorism is crime, albeit against humanity.

I’m not asking for a police state by any means and know Mexico City’s situation is far different than the situation here yet it is disconcerting that I have to go south of the border to find real security on public transportation. Instead of hunkering down in the war on terror, why don’t we look up and realize that we have a lot to learn about security even from our neighbors.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The World of Sports

Oh, the world of sports. Our beloved games have been reduced to travesties. It is amazing the levels to which our favorite pastimes have sunk. Basketbrawl. Steroid-juiced Baseball (Basting-ball). The commotion over the NFL and “Desperate Housewives.” Hockey on strike. It is a litany of failings.

In the backdrop of all these charades, the MLS had a wonderful season. DC United took a hard-fought championship, and they did it with a promising teenager on their roster. In this age of fallen heroes on the field, it is nice to have one last bastion of sporting integrity.
Maybe in light of all of these failing, soccer can now become a premier sport in America. With our luck, that will only bring on the soccer-hooliganism that plagues the rest of the world. In any case, this despondent fan is practically ready to give up on high-priced hot dogs and higher priced shams.

The Kingdom of the Muse

When I was younger, the Muse would appear in fleeting briefness. She would whisper her sweet syllables in my ear, but would disappear as I tried to wrestle her onto my page. Now the more I write, the Muse appears to me in increased regularity. The more I sacrifice my ink into her altar of diction, the more she comes to me in her crowned verbal glory. This patron saint of the scribe pirouettes on my paper; she sends her divine wisdom coursing through my pen.

She offers me cathartic relief from the thoughts that burden my shoulders. She is therapy for the plague of ideas. Yet she is still so difficult to hold onto. Her angelic splendor is mercurial. The more I try to hold onto her tightly, the more she slips free from my clutches. Her wings fly her off my page and into infinite oblivion.

I stand at the gates, peering into the Muse’s kingdom. Yet her gates remain locked to me. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky stand guard silently as two sentinels at her gates. On the other side, I see Hemingway fishing in a pond of letters. Joyce and his companion Kafka stumble around drunk on lexis and absinthe. Sitting in solitude outside the Muse’s gates, Garcia Marquez sips his glass of choleric ink and waits patiently for his turn to enter.
I offer myself as a humble follower of her divine craft, so that this priestess may open the gates to her printed temple. From high above, the Muse sits as an empress on her high throne of ballpoints, covered in the splendor of robes fashioned by purple quills. With an enigmatic smile on her face, she counsels me to be patient. Her divine secrets are revealed only to those who are ready to bear the weight of inscription. Until that day, this wordsmith is left wrapped in the solitude of blank whites pages.

Disengagement Plan

In the recent days, Israel has embarked on a path that marks a new chapter in the saga in the Middle East. As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opens the debate in the Knessest (Israeli Parliament) for the Disengagement Plan, a new beginning is emerging for both Israel and the Palestinians. For the first time, an Israeli Prime Minister is moving towards unilaterally dismantling settlements. Ariel Sharon is in a pitched battle with his former allies to bring about the greater good of Israelis, Palestinians and the whole Middle East. The most unlikely of doves is spreading his wings to take Israel home from Gaza.

Who could have expected that Prime Minister Sharon would play the role of iconoclast to the settlement movement? Yet the man who created the settlements in Gaza, has seen that Israel has no future in Gaza and has determined that it is time to leave. Anyone who thinks this painful yet necessary process will be easy is surely mistaken. Nearly 8,000 Israelis will be forced to leave their homes. These are the homes that they helped found, that their children grew up in. The settlers are being forced to leave the gardens and fields that they have toiled in for the last 30 years.

Nor is Prime Minister Sharon coy to his role in the settlers’ existence in Gaza. In his Knesset address on Monday October 25th, he stated, “I am well aware of the fact that I sent them and took part in this enterprise, and many of these people are my personal friends. I am well aware of their pain, rage and despair. However, as much as I understand everything they are going through during these days and everything they will face as a result of the necessary decision to be made in the Knesset today, I also believe in the necessity of taking the step of disengagement in these areas, with all the pain it entails, and I am determined to complete this mission.”

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is taking great risk in putting forward the unilateral disengagement plan. Already there are reports of threats against his life. As we get closer to the 9th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, we Israelis know that the threat is a serious one. Prime Minister Sharon is putting his own life on the line for the greater good of peace.

Yet so far the Palestinian response to the Disengagement Plan has been to reign down Qassam rockets on Israeli cities. More than 460 Qassam rockets have been fired at Israel. The enemies of peace like Hamas and Islamic Jihad are so busy falling over themselves trying to prove that somehow they were the ones to “force Israel out.” Once again, the Palestinians are proving that this current conflict isn’t about “ending the occupation” because their chance to be rid of Israel in Gaza is only slowed down by their continual Qassam attacks.

There are no moves towards peace without bold steps. If only the Palestinian leadership had taken bold steps in their own right and met Prime Minister Barak at the Camp David negotiating table nearly four years ago, all of this bloodshed could have been avoided. But this article is not about the past, it is about the future. It is about a future in which the Palestinians in Gaza are in control of their own destiny. It is about a future that real Palestinian leadership can show that it is committed to peace with Israel by taking control of Gaza, and ensuring that it does not become a haven for terror.

I hope that the Palestinians understand that they were mistaken four years ago when they believed they could drive Israel out through terror. Let this be clear, no one forces Prime Minister Sharon or Israel out; we are leaving on our own accord. Prime Minister Sharon is set to embark on a path that is fraught with peril, yet one that has the potential to bring about the end to this fatal embrace between the two sides.

Breaking the Ice greeting

Breaking the Ice Greeting

Shalom Y’all

Baruch Haba and Marhaba to our esteemed guests Doron Erel and Olfat Haider

Thanks to Whole Earth Provision and to Holly, & thank you all for coming.

As someone who has lived in both Israel and the Arab world, I know how similar we are.

We are from the same family, but it is often the people who you are closest with, that you fight with the most.

They say a journey of 1000 miles begins with a first step.

But sometimes it seems that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is thousands of miles away.

In this case, peace was found thousands of miles away, on the snowy tundra of Antarctica.

Forgive me in paraphrasing a Hummer commercial but the commercial says,

“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.”

It seems sometimes that we are in the middle of nowhere on the path towards peace.

But Breaking the Ice gives us hope that even in the middle of nowhere, we can find that “Summit of Israeli-Palestinian Friendship.”

Breaking the Ice was a genuine step towards peace.

There is another step towards peace that takes place in at a camp in Maine called Seeds of Peace.

At that camp on the edge of Pleasant Lake, young Israeli and Arab teens learn to play together.

I went to that camp before it was Seeds of Peace, when it was still Camp Powhatan.

Even then, it was still a place of tolerance and peace. I would like to read to you a short benediction prayer that we said on the Sabbath…..
Benediction Prayer
I met a stranger in the night

Whose lamp had ceased to shine

I paused

And let him light his lamp from mine.

A tempest sprang up later on

It shook the world about.

When the storm was gone

My lamp was out.

But back to me the stranger came.

His lamp was glowing fine.

He held to me his precious flame

And rekindled mine.

Projects like Breaking the Ice helps rekindle the precious flame of peace and our hope that one day we shall reach it.

Shukran wa Salaam, Toda Rabah vi shalom!