Friday, February 10, 2006

The Siege

The Siege
“We’ll see if you can get me to give up my home peacefully,” I said as I scanned the room for the best possible barricade for the front door. My parents had just dropped the news on me that they planned to move houses and already I was trying to figure out if the sofabed would make better fortification than the kitchen table. They could move, I had no problem with that, but I wasn’t planning on going anywhere. I was fully prepared to hold siege.


I wanted no part in moving. The last time my parents moved, when I was four, I bombarded them with stuffed animals and locked myself in my room for days. I was hardly any more mature fourteen years later. My parents attempted to reason with me. They told me that I would be out of the house, that it wouldn’t affect me because I would be at college. This only hardened my resistance. My house had played a formative role throughout my life. My family had lived there for the last 14 years, it had been a place of many firsts for me. First kiss and first cigarette, broken windows and broken arms. This was the center of all my memories. This was were I had grown up, and I refused to give up on it so easily.

I decided that before I turned violent, I would seek legal options. Despite the fact that property is considered 9/10 of the law, my name was on no lease or mortgage payment. Perhaps I could claim “squatter’s rights.” My mother, who is a lawyer, quickly dissuaded me of the use of the legal system when she pointed out that the hourly fee of a lawyer would cost me more than I earned in allowance in a month. Besides, I would need to save my money to stock up on rations if I planned to hold out for any extended period of time.
Whenever the conversation of moving was brought up, I immediately left the room. I refused to converse with the enemy; the battle lines were drawn. I attempted to recruit my little sister to take up arms with me in the struggle. “We must make a united stand against this evil tyranny or we shall lose our home,” I proclaimed as I threw the soapbox at her head. Unfortunately, her ears were closed to my revolutionary zeal; she had already been bought off with promises of a huge room and personal phone line. My last hope for support, my little brother, was thwarted as well. His “thirty pieces of silver” were comprised of a Sony Playstation.


While my parents created plans for the new house, I worked on my own. I had blueprints also; my house was to become a citadel. Just as the zealots of Massada made their final stand against the evil Romans on their mountaintop fortress, I would hold out against the legions of moving vans.

Then one night, while I was sleeping I had a vivid dream. My dream took place at someplace which I didn’t recognize, sometime in the distant future. Everyone had grown up around me but I had stayed the same age. My mother’s hair had become completely white while my father walked around with a cane. My younger sister and brother were now adults. My sister looked about 25 and my brother around 20. My little brother even had a goatee. Yet I hadn’t changed in the slightest. It was if time passed me by. In my dream everyone had moved on with their lives, while I was still in the same place.


When I woke up I spent all day thinking about the dream. “Why had everyone aged but me,” I pondered to myself. I interpreted the dream as being related to the issue of moving. Everyone in my family was progressing with the move, just as they had progressed in my dream. Yet during this whole process, I had become stagnant.


It dawned on me that my siege was not based on the principle of revolution, but instead reaction. I was fighting for the status quo, I had become a reactionary. I would be judged on the losing side of history, with the likes of Metternich, who sought to stem the tides of nationalism in Europe. My refusal to evolve had turned me into an anachronism, just like I was in the dream. I was fighting the inevitable flow of progress; it was a battle I would surely lose. I realized that the sweeping sands of time would swirl over me, even if I continued to be static.


Sadly, I lowered the red banner of revolt and raised the white flag of defeat. My dream helped me to understand that my holding out was only hindering progress. The dream forced me to come to grips with the inevitable; I had to move on as well. Finally I agreed to call off the siege and I acquiesced to seeing the new house.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Israeli Relations post-Disengagement 10/14/05

In wake of Israel’s dramatic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Northern West Bank, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in the channels of international relations. Israel’s bold steps for peace have been globally acknowledged, and diplomatic relations with nations that lacked or had severed previous ties have commenced.

With Israel’s rebirth as a nation came regional isolation that only began diminishing with the Madrid peace talks and the Oslo Accords. The onset of the second intifada brought with it a sense of renewed regional isolation for Israel. Egypt and Jordan withdrew their ambassadors, while nations like Morocco, Tunisia and Qatar cut their budding ties.

Five years later, a thaw is taking place as Israel’s relations with our neighbors are being revived and our isolation shed. Both Egypt and Jordan’s ambassadors have since returned, and both nations are taking more active roles in regional security. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has played an active role in Israel’s outreach to moderate Islamic nations. As Foreign Minister Shalom stated in his September 20th address to the United Nations, “The iron wall that has defined Israel's relations with most of the Arab and Muslim world for generations is coming down. Israel's contacts with Arab and Muslim states are growing, at a rate never seen before. Countries…which in the past refused to acknowledge our shared humanity, today are extending their hand in friendship and recognition."

Israel has seen a slow, slight warming of relations with non-Arab Muslim nations like Indonesia and Pakistan, as well as North African and Gulf nations. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom last month held a discreet first meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda during a UN summit in New York. While the steps towards relations with the world’s largest Muslim nation remain slow and tentative, they are indeed progressing.

Recently, a diplomatic breakthrough occurred as Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom met with his Pakistani counterpart Khurishid Khasuri in Istanbul on September 1, 2005. This meeting marked the first-ever high-level encounter between the Jewish State and second-largest Muslim nation, and a major departure point on the path towards normalization of relations. Just a few weeks later, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Pervez Musharraf shook hands at the United Nations. In addition, the Pakistani President held a historic appearance with major American Jewish organizations and Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations. Now, in wake of the devastating earthquake that rocked Pakistan, Israel has offered to send relief aid and assistance.

Diplomatic progress has been seen in North Africa, as Foreign Minister Shalom has met recently with his Tunisian and Moroccan counterparts. Visits to both nations are on the horizon for this coming year.

From the Gulf States, there has been stirring regarding their attitudes towards Israel. In Bahrain, the Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Khalifa was quoted as saying that the country would repeal its economic boycott of Israel. The step would make Bahrain the first of the six Arab states in the Gulf to end its boycott of Israel.

Other Gulf States like Oman and Qatar have taken smaller steps in this direction. Qatar has been slowly building its ties with Israel, including a $10 million donation to build a sports complex in the northern Israeli Arab town Sakhnin. On a diplomatic level, meetings have been taking place, including between their Foreign Minister Sheikh Al-Thani and his Israeli counterpart at the UN.

In Kuwait, the attitude towards Israel has been shifting. Senior Kuwaiti journalists and intellectuals have weighed-in on the importance of reconciliation and normalization of relations, while, the official newspaper Al-Seyassah­ called on the nation to lift its economic ban with Israel following the Gaza withdrawal. Kuwait is also expected to join the list of countries to lift their embargo on Israel.

A central tenet of Zionism has been to create a nation that holds its rightful place within global civil society; these aforementioned anecdotes are steps in the right direction. While these are important first steps, we still have a long way to go. Our optimism is tempered by the reality that full-fledged diplomatic relations with many of these nations are still far off, while the short-term steps are clouded with ambiguity. However, it is important to appreciate that Israel is not as isolated on the global stage as is commonly perceived, and that our steps for peace bring tangible gains for the Jewish state.

Paul Rockower is the Press Officer for the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest. He can be reached at press@houston.mfa.gov.il

Consulate Commentary: Israel and the International community

December 9, 2005

While in the past Israel’s relationship with the international institutions could be characterized as tenuous at best, recently there have been positive strides in integrating Israel into global civil society. International organizations and transnational institutions that either discriminated against Israel, or kept Israel out, are slowly beginning to open their doors to the Jewish state.

After nearly a half-century of acrimonious dispute, Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) has finally been admitted into the International Red Cross Movement. Israel had previously been the only state in the world that was not a member of the international lifesaving organization. Ostensibly, the MDA was not a recognized member of the International Red Cross Movement because the Geneva Convention held a prerequisite that member organization must adopt one of the “recognized symbols” of the international movement (the Red Cross & the Red Crescent).

On December 8, the International Red Cross Movement in Geneva finally approved the addition of a neutral “crystal” symbol, alongside the Red Cross and Red Crescent, paving the way for the inclusion of the Magen David Adom as a full-fledged member. MDA will be able to continue using its traditional red Star of David symbol while in Israel. While performing relief missions abroad, MDA will either use the red star inside the red diamond-shaped emblem, or simply just the diamond emblem if MDA personnel feel that the star could compromise their safety.

Israel’s rescue, blood supply and first-aid organization will now be eligible for various grants and allotments from the International Red Cross movement. Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom welcomed the decision, and stated, “The vote on this issue also reflects Israel’s improved international standing in recent years. Israel can today promote initiatives in the international arena more freely and more effectively than it has been able to in many years. This is yet another achievements for Israel’s diplomacy, joining a long list of other successes in recent months.”

Over the last few years, there has been a paradigm shift in Israel’s relations with the United Nations. An organization whose relationship with Israel has often been cool, the United Nations is slowly taking steps to better integrate Israel into the folds of the global institution. In an historic move, the General Assembly of the United Nations confirmed Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Dan Gillerman, as Vice-President of the General Assembly. This was the first time in nearly five decades that Israel held this esteemed post. It is the role of the General Assembly Vice-President to preside over meetings of the General Assembly in the absence of the President, and to help devise the agenda of this body. Ambassador Gillerman is the first Israeli representative to hold the position since Israel's former Ambassador to the UN, Abba Eban, served as Vice-President 53 years ago.

Furthermore, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the first resolution put forward by the Israeli delegation, that it will honor a Holocaust Day of Remembrance. The Day of Remembrance comes at the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and will be held annually in the UN on January 27th, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. This significant milestone comes in the wake of the Special Session of the General Assembly to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps, and a UN Seminar to address anti-Semitism.

The quest for normalcy for Israel on the international stage has always been a fundamental goal of Zionism. As we take steps towards increased integration, Israel is moving past the minefields that used to litter the international arena, and is slowly becoming a bona-fide member of global civil society.


Time after Time

My remarks at the American Jewish Press Association's annual Simon Rockower Awards, where I was guest Key Note Speaker/MC:

Shalom y’all, as we say down in Texas. My name is Paul Rockower. I am the Press Officer for the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest. Simon Rockower was my great-grandfather.

I would like to thank the American Jewish Press Association for having me here tonight. It’s not every day that you get to introduce an award with your name on it.

Winston Churchill once said, “The farther back you look, the farther forward you can see.”

Tonight we look back on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Simon Rockower Awards. I am here to impart to you a little history of the award whose name I am proud to share.

The award was created a quarter-century ago, by my Grandfather Harry and his brothers, as a centennial tribute to the life of a dignified man. My grandfather died shortly after this award was created. Tonight I am here to honor both their legacies.

Like the story of so many, Simon Rockower left his native Austria in search of the dreams and promises of a new land. In this country, he found it.

His progeny have become physicists and physicians, lawyers and businessmen, and yes, even journalists.

He was a man who taught his children to always ask good questions, something they taught, L’dor v’dor, to their children.

Simon Rockower was a man who deeply cherished his people, and always supported their betterment.

One of his deepest pursuits was bringing not only relatives to America, but also bringing the friends of relatives and the relatives of friends to this land.

Simon Rockower believed that self-respect was gained by being proud of your religion and your people.

As a century tribute to Simon Rockower, the Rockower family created this award to honor him and his deep love for the craft of Jewish Journalism.

Simon Rockower believed in the importance of leaving the legacy of a good name.

The excellence of your newspapers brings honor to his name. The excellence of your newspapers brings honor to our people.

Now, this sounds like the beginning of a joke but… I was on the road from Providence, sitting on a bus next to a Catholic priest. He reminded me that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few things.

In an age of compromised journalistic integrity, the field of Jewish Journalism remains committed to the truth. There are no “Jayson Blairs” in the world of Jewish Journalism. You faithfully tell the story of our people and of our homeland Israel. You tell Israel’s story in a clear voice, even when it is being maligned by the mainstream media. Your commitment to the truth remains paramount and unwavering.

With that said, it is my honor to begin the 25th annual Simon Rockower Award ceremony….

The Apple

She walks slowly through the garden, as her gentle feet dance over the cool, dew-dropped grass. Her powdery-white skin, unbeknownst to her, radiates as she steps closer to the tree. It towers above her, sturdy and solemn, while its low-lying fruit shines brightly in the mid-day sun. Perfectly round and golden, the apples beckon her forward.

The snake slithers next to her, and follows her as it glides over the grass. She gets closer to the tree and slows down her pace. She comes to a complete stop, as she stands in front of the tree. The tree shines forth in full splendor, as it emits a soft light.

She reaches forth, slowly and unsure. She pauses. She looks down at the snake, as it is slithering towards her. It slowly wraps itself around her ankle, up her calf. It quickly glides past her thigh and around her hips. It shoots up her back and perches on her neck. Slowly its mouth gets ever closer to her ear. The snake softly hisses in her ear, “s-s-s-surely one bite cannot hurt.”

Her arm rises with trepidation. Her elbow curves, as her slender arm reaches toward the branch with the lowest-hanging fruit. The apple, almost within her grasp, begins to radiate in a reddish-golden hue. The snake has coiled itself around her outstretched arm, as her hand closes around the glowing orb.

As her fingertips touch the apple, a blinding white light engulfs her palm. It runs down her arm as she pulls the fruit from its branch. The warmth of the glowing orb covers her whole body, as she brings the fruit closer to her mouth. The snake, which is coiled on her steadily closer arm looks into her eyes. “Jus-s-s-t one bite,” it hisses.

She takes a bite and closes her eyes.

The instant her teeth close on the orb, she is overcome with an onslaught of images. It is an overflow of black. Images of war, famine and pestilence. Armies marching in unison. Villages burning. Hatred rising. The shadows of Inquisition. The horror of Genocide. The stain of Holocaust. Twin towers collapsing. Mushroom clouds expanding. Images of faces to be known. Hitler saluting. Stalin in his full regalia. Pol Pot’s killing fields. The Cossacks sweeping across Europe’s plains. The Intahamye sharpening their machetes to march on Kigale. The janjaweed ravaging across Darfur. Faces etched with prejudice. Eyes showing fear. Hearts filled with rage.

Eve trembles amid the weight of the imagery. She is overwhelmed, but is unable to move. She shakes, writhing in pain.

The archangel Gabriel looks down from above and sees her. He sighs, as a single teardrop rolls down his marble face. He plucks two feathers from his outstretched white wings, and drops them. A gentle wind slowly floats the feathers down to the garden.

The first feather lands on the snake, which goes limp and falls to the grass below.

The second feather lands on her head.

Now an overflow of white flashes before her eyes. Images of charity, mercy and goodness. Faces of righteousness. Images of faces to be known. Dr. Martin Luther King roaring in perfect cadence. Mother Theresa handing soup to the masses. Gandhi sitting cross-legged in a solitary cell. Faces etched with kindness. Eyes showing integrity. Hearts filled with compassion. Absolute justice and mercy.

White becomes red, as she is bombarded with images of life. Blood pulsating through veins. Birth pangs. Life pushing down from the womb. Age overtaking life. Death overtaking age. The overflow of red becomes the golden light of knowledge.

Eve falls.

She awakens to her own nakedness, as she is sprawled on the grass. Eve opens her eyes. She squints, as her eyes are sensitive to the light around her. She can barely keep her eyes open. Sounds are pounding all around her, and she is overpowered by the new reality around her.

Eve gets up, her hand clenches tight around the apple. She takes a step, then another. Her pace quickens. She is searching.

Eve finds him. She looks directly into his eyes. “Adam, my love, “ she softly whispers in his ear, “jus-s-s-t one bite. S-s-s-surely one bite cannot hurt….”

Grey/You Are My Sunshine

Grey weather permeates through my soul You are my sunshine
Attacking me to my very core My only sunshine
It leaves me sore in my joints You make me happy
It makes me depressed and lonely When skies are grey
It drains me of all happiness You never know dear
But I am fine when the sun returns How much I love you
My brother is clouded and suffering Please don’t take
He is grey My sunshine away
Even when the sun is out