My Word: Stories and plots

It was a week of only-in-Israel moments.

Mayor Nir Barkat with his bodyguard. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Mayor Nir Barkat with his bodyguard.
Several times over the last few days I have had those “you couldn’t make this up” kind of moments.
The first came during the snowstorm. I apologize to readers in places like Boston who might feel that using the word “storm” to describe what we went through for, oh, about two and a half days, is Israeli chutzpah, but it was plenty for people like me. Especially as we’d been through a similarly brief but not as spectacular snowstorm just last month.
Although we were better prepared than in the past, there were roads that were impassable due to snow and ice. In many countries in emergencies they call out the army for help. Israel has to be the only country that mobilizes its civilians to help its military when times get tough.
On Friday morning, as everybody kept one eye on the weather and the other on the clock ticking down to the start of Shabbat, the radio news broadcast included an announcement that the Safed Municipality was organizing rides for soldiers in the North who needed to get back home for the weekend when public transport, unsuited to those conditions, wasn’t operating.
My first thought was only in Israel would a municipality recognize the desperate need to get back to families and friends for a traditional Friday night meal; my second “only-in-Israel” insight was that in no other country do soldiers live close enough to the homes they are protecting for weekend furloughs to be not only feasible but routine.
Another of those “nowhere else” news items was the story of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who obviously takes the term “tackling terrorism” very literally. Barkat was on his way back to his city hall office when his alert staff, including his driver and bodyguard, noticed a commotion next to a pedestrian crossing. Barkat and his guard, Assaf, raced to the scene, quickly discerned a stabbing incident taking place, overcame a Palestinian youth who had just knifed a Jewish man several times in the stomach, and had the whole incident under control before the speedy arrival of police and security forces.
Admittedly, not every capital city is blessed with a mayor who is a former major in the paratroopers, but Barkat certainly presented a “don’t mess with me” image when it came to crime busting. In subsequent news conferences, he seemed more concerned with making sure that potential tourists weren’t scared off by the stabbing in the city and presenting the program for one of his pet projects – the Jerusalem Marathon, which will probably cause more havoc with the city’s transport on March 13 than the snow did last weekend.
Memes of Barkat as Batman and Superman saving the day were a great hit on the social media, although the question of “where’s the mayor when you need him?” might haunt him for a while.
A friend of mine suggested cloning crime-busting Barkat and placing him on Israeli airplanes. The problem highlighted there this week was not the threat of terrorism but rudeness. The ugly sight of a passenger with a serious craving for chocolate and no manners at all also went viral on the social media. The insults flew as the hysterical woman, aided by her sister and partner, abused the flight attendant who wouldn’t sell her a chocolate bar from the duty-free cart.
When the passenger who had no problem flying off the handle discovered that the scene had been captured on a cellphone and was soaring in cyberspace, she complained that her life had been ruined and pleaded for sympathy on the grounds that there were children in the family who might be affected. (I don’t think she meant they would be exposed to her example of bad behavior; having sobered up in more than one sense she realized they might be taunted for the episode.) On the positive side, the Israeli general public at least realized how rude the rowdy passengers were: Unlike the original incident, some of the parodies of it were funny.
There are lies and there are damn lies. Make that “dam” lies. News outlets around the world midweek carried reports that Israel had deliberately opened the gates to dams bordering Gaza, flooding villages there and leaving scores homeless. Stories like this float to the surface after every heavy storm. Israeli officials pointed out in response that there are no such dams in the area. It is, as a witty friend put it, “a flood libel.”
Last winter, despite similar claims that the Zionist entity was deliberately inundating the Gaza Strip, Israel’s water company, Mekorot, answered a plea by the UN to provide Gaza with heavy-duty pumps to help them deal with the large-scale flooding. As I noted at the time, while the Dutch water company Vitens had cut off contacts with Mekorot the previous week for alleged violation of international law for operating beyond the 1948 lines, the Palestinians in Gaza themselves did not boycott the humanitarian aid from an Israeli company.
The Palestinians don’t boycott electricity from the Israel Electric Corporation either, even while they rained thousands of missiles on the country during Operation Protective Edge, but they don’t pay for it.
IEC’s response this week, briefly cutting supplies to two West Bank cities, might have been one of the factors behind the flooding story. We’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.
It’s apparently all a plot. This week the head of Iran’s armed forces, Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, claimed the US, Israel and Britain had created and supported Islamic State so it would wage war against Muslim states. It reminded me of an Egyptian journalist who once told me the “Sunni-Shi’ite split is an American invention.”
Closer to home, and close to the elections, Left and Right waged war on each other, each claiming that the State Comptroller’s Report on the cost of housing and the discussions over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expenses and planned speech in Congress were all aimed at diverting attention from the real issues.
I agree with Yediot Aharonot columnist Yoaz Hendel that the one report that we most need at the moment is the one that is missing. As Hendel notes, the report on housing prices could have waited until after the elections; it’s not as if anybody has avoided noticing that buying a home in Israel is beyond the means of the average would-be first-time purchaser, and the study of Netanyahu’s spending habits – along with those of former president Shimon Peres – should have been carried out and made public a long time ago, when questions were first raised.
The missing report – the most urgent – as Hendel points out, is the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee findings on Operation Protective Edge. A report on the handling of terror tunnels, the risks to local residents, and the level of protection offered to IDF soldiers could help voters make an informed decision in the polls next month. More importantly, it could save lives in a region where it isn’t only the weather and chocolate-deprived travelers that swing unpredictably from one extreme to the other.
My favorite study of the week was the one that gave Israelis a collective “Told you so” sigh of satisfaction.
Dr. Gideon Lack of King’s College London, influenced by Israeli colleagues who noted that Israeli children have a far lower rate of allergy to peanuts, led research into the topic and discovered what Israelis instinctively knew all along. We have a secret weapon – Bamba, the peanut-flavored, corn-puff snack that is fed to local babies from the age of about six months on.
Lack’s findings, presented to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that contrary to the usual practice in other Western countries, early exposure to peanuts can significantly reduce the chances of developing the allergy.
I can’t help but wonder how long it takes for us to be blamed for unleashing peanut allergies on the world just so we can sell the peanut-flavored puffs. Anyway, those who support boycott, divestment and sanctions of all things Israeli should feel free to avoid Bamba – and all Israel-related health and technological advances.
Just don’t blame us, for a change.
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