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My Word: Another deadline, another miracle
By LIAT COLLINS
06/12/2012
I am frequently asked "How do you choose what to write about in your columns?" And the answer is: "With difficulty."
 
Permit me a bit of family pride. My “other” family, that is. This Hanukka is a special occasion for the writers and staff of The Jerusalem Post. The paper marks its 80th anniversary this week, a cause for celebration any time – and something that seems close to miraculous given the current crisis in the media worldwide.

The Post crossed my threshold long before I stepped into its editorial offices in the Israeli capital. Preparing for our aliya in London in the 1970s, my family subscribed to The International Jerusalem Post, then a black-and-white newsletter printed on flimsy paper. Reading it, we felt like members of a secret underground movement. It gave me an idea of how desperate people around the world are to receive a reliable picture of what is going on in this tiny but special country. Probably no place on earth receives a similar amount of media attention and yet is so hard to understand.

After 24 years at the Post, the last 10 of them as editor of the (now bigger and more aesthetically appealing) International Edition, I appreciate even more not only the efforts of the staff to put out the paper under often difficult conditions, but also the dedication of the readers.

The one thing this country doesn’t lack is news, and readers have stuck by us when the news has been good and, sadly more often, when it has been bad.

I used to have a sign above my desk which read “Another deadline, another miracle.” I don’t know where it went, but I’m sure whoever has it now can equally relate to the sentiment.

I am frequently asked “How do you choose what to write about in your columns?” And the answer is: “With difficulty.” While most columnists I’ve met abroad admit to occasional writer’s block for lack of inspiration, I usually suffer from of a bottleneck of possible ideas all struggling to get out and onto paper – and to be launched into cyberspace via the JPost website.

Just think back over the news of the past month – missile attacks, a military operation, a cease-fire and a bombing. Actually that was just one day; a day I was on deadline. That was followed by the General Assembly vote making the status of the Palestinians at the UN comparable to that of the Vatican (a column that almost writes itself, with the help of a judicious exclamation mark); then there was the decision to further construction plans in the area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim and the international condemnation that predictably followed. (It apparently ruins the chances to get back to the negotiating table, if you ignore the fact that the status of Ma’aleh Adumim, according to most Israelis, is less negotiable than the final status of a Palestinian state). And, of course, there are the political lists and twists leading up to next month’s elections.

Sderot Mayor David Buskila once told me: “I’d love to be the sort of mayor who handles normal problems like garbage, sewage and education” instead of dealing with the security situation caused by the Kassam attacks from Gaza. Having been the Post’s environment reporter for 10 years, I can relate to that. I could – in better times – dedicate these lines to the promise by Transportation Minister Israel Katz to champion a ban on horse-drawn carts in conditions in which animal abuse is almost built in.

For five years, I held a unique beat I called “MKs and other animals,” covering the Knesset as well as the environment.

My various beats have offered me several surreal experiences. Breakfast with president Ezer Weizman and environment minister Yossi Sarid on top of the Hirya landfill (long before it was converted into a park and environmental education and recycling center) sticks in my mind, partly because of the choice of a Dixieland band to provide the background music.

I frequently dine out on the story of my supper at the Royal Palace in Amman – one of the many occasions I saw firsthand how King Hussein truly believed in peace. I talk less often about being stood up by a queen, but the day during Operation Grapes of Wrath in April 1996 when the Danish monarch canceled her meeting with a small group of Israeli journalists as we waited outside the palace gates was a clear indication that the feeling among European Union member states had infectiously turned against Israel.

As what was grandly known as a “social affairs columnist,” I shared many meals with the powerful and famous, from premiers and presidents to Hollywood stars (at least one of whom was so anorexic that to call it “sharing” would be generous).

I have also met the man who seems to be the name-dropper’s favorite, at least everywhere outside the Chinese republic: the Dalai Lama. In what wags dubbed the Sermon on the Southern Mount, another surreal moment, I watched the Buddhist spiritual leader deliver a speech at dawn from the top of a mountain near Eilat, from where he noted you could see Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This showed, in his words as far as I remember them, “that borders are not important – unless they are with China.”

I have been able to mix business with pleasure on many occasions – particularly during two trips to Taiwan, the “other Chinese republic.”

But anybody who wants to know how the world can shun a small, successful democracy because of diplomatic and economic interests should read up on the Taiwanese example.

Possibly my most dangerous mission was trying to cross the road in Cairo (Israeli drivers are mild-mannered in comparison), although my life passed before my eyes shortly after I arrived with an Israeli delegation in the Sultanate of Oman. (I went to cover the multilateral talks on water which took place after the Oslo Accords but were within the framework of the Madrid Peace Process.) As I left the shower, wearing only a bathrobe, Omani security personnel armed with guns and ceremonial curved daggers burst into my room. Apparently, hotel staff had decided to move me to a room slightly separated from the male journalists but had neglected to tell the security detail. I nearly died of fright and they nearly died of embarrassment – the result was they became even more protective of me, the only female journalist traveling on an Israeli passport in the entire Gulf at the time.

I have witnessed truly joyous events – including the peace talks and treaty with Jordan; and the hauntingly sad, such as the funerals of terror victims and the lying in state of Yitzhak Rabin, whom I had come to know (although not always admire) as parliamentary reporter.

I’ve had a chance to meet and learn from a huge variety of people.

Among those who stick in my mind are writer Haim Gouri, who shared much wisdom when I interviewed him for the Post’s 60th anniversary supplement, and Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen, whom I interviewed for the 80th anniversary. Perhaps the person who left the most lasting impression was also the most humble: Osnat Barnett, a young woman with Down syndrome who stressed that everybody has feelings, everybody deserves respect, and everybody has something to give.

And so many people have given so much. Looking back at the past 80 years of history contained in The Jerusalem Post’s archives, I am struck not only by what we – the people and the paper – have survived, but also what we have achieved. As I said, permit me to express my pride, and gratitude. It’s definitely cause for celebration this Hanukka, the holiday when we recall the miracle of survival.

The writer is editor of
The International Jerusalem Post.

liat@jpost.com
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