Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vegging out in God's Waiting Room

Yes, it's that time of year again. It's the time of year when Hallmark stock soars through the roof and concurrently thousands of trees are destroyed somewhere in the world to manufacture greeting cards that are read once and may or may not be recycled. I landed in Miami for the holidays, and landed is a term I use loosely, to find half my city underwater. Weird winter storms lent credence to the predictions that Miami will be totally submerged in about a hundred years. I wonder if the combined weight of all the Canadian tourists who fly in for the winter is making Miami sink faster. But I can't say I blame them. Miami is beautiful this time of year and the perfect remedy for anyone fleeing something. Whether its the cold weather, a Communist island 90 miles away, or in my case, the ethnic tension, intolerance, and religious fanaticism of the Middle East, Miami is a perfect refuge. So as I turn 30 in the city where the average age is 72.8, I have decided to spend the next for the next couple weeks practicing to be a good senior citizen. I will be reading novels, playing some combination of golf/tennis/raquetball/shuffleboard, and wondering what SPF sunscreen I need to apply on my nose that always seems to redden before anything else. The over-under on how long it will be before I go insane is approximately two weeks, at which point I will quite rationally fly back to the Middle East. But until then I will be in my Panama Hat, enjoying this little dress rehearsal for the golden years.

Wherever you are and whatever holiday you like to celebrate, I send you my fondest impersonal electronic seasons greetings and wish you a happy and healthy new year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Prisons R Us

Israel's Supreme Court should be commended for their recent decision outlawing the privatization of prisons.

The Court concluded, and I concur, that outsourcing your prisoners to private companies is a fundamental violation of human rights and the social contract between man and government.

The US Supreme Court and other countries where punishment of your citizens is a "for-profit" business should take heed.

I challenge readers (anyone out there?) to make a good argument for the privatization of prisons.

I'm interested in how you would address the ethical questions of whose responsibility it is to punish members of society when they violate the law, and who is accountable when corporations violate the very laws they are meant to be enforcing.

Of course, state prisons are also susceptible to violating prisoners rights, but at least there is some semblance of accountability, government oversight, and an ideal that seeks to maximize justice rather than profit.

Prisons are big business in the US, and not surprisingly, there are more people incarcerated there than anywhere else in the world. This shouldn't be a source of pride for Americans.

King’s College London International Centre for Prison Studies, found that in the U.S. 756 out of every 100,000 is incarcerated. Here are the numbers:

The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 756 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by Russia (629), Rwanda (604), St Kitts & Nevis (588), Cuba (c.531), U.S. Virgin Is. (512), British Virgin Is. (488), Palau (478), Belarus (468), Belize (455), Bahamas (422), Georgia (415), American Samoa (410), Grenada (408) and Anguilla (401).

Anyone want to go into the prison business?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Zen and Palestinian Women's Soccer

Yes, this was a zen moment for me.

I am surrounded by 10,000 screaming Palestinian soccer fans, waving their red, green, and white flags. The same old Arabic song is blaring from nearby speakers. My salivary glands ooze at the faint smell of kabob on the grill. My camera is rolling as two women in hijabs go up for a header.

Yes, I had achieved the managed to combine the things I hold close to my heart, the Jaron Gilinsky Trifecta.

1. Soccer
2. Middle Eastern Street Food
3. Stories of Just, Non-Violent, Political and/or Social Struggle

For 90 minutes on Monday, there was no Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Along with the other 10,000-plus spectators at Faisal Husseiny Stadium in Alram, we had unwittingly entered a holy sanctuary of sport. Sir, Ma'am, please check your harsh social and political realities at the door.

But don't forget them on the way out.

It took me 3 and a half hours to get out of the West Bank that night.

There was bumper to bumper traffic all the way to the Kalandia checkpoint. As I got to the front of the line, the Israeli soldiers simply vacated their posts without saying a word to anyone. Kids began hurling rocks at the empty concrete shells.

I was pissed off and frustrated. The Palestinians seemed to be used to this chaos. The jumble of cars packed like sardines all tried to reverse at once. It felt like a game of high stakes bumper cars.

Nearly four hours after the final whistle, I travelled less than 5 kilometers to reach the other checkpoint at Hizme, said "Mah Nishma?" to the female Israeli soldier, and I was back in Jerusalem.

See the Video Here

Jackline Jazrawi, 23
Left Defender from Bethlehem during Palestinian National Anthem

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Obama- the New Norse God

Norway, in particular, and Scandinavia in general, are known to be doggedly secular places. So, unlike most people on the planet, Scandinavians are not waiting for a messiah from the heavens to come save the world, but for something else.

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman, who researched religion, or lack thereof, in Scandinavia, was surprised to find that a godless society can be extremely moral, and even more surprised to find Scandinavians to be utterly apathetic to all matters theological.

Could it be that President Obama’s flowing, hopeful, scrupulous rhetoric so mesmerized Scandinavia that the Nobel Prize Committee decided to take a blind leap of faith towards Obam-ism?

I would argue that there is a fundamental need for man to believe in something, anything. Perhaps apathy to religion correlates with a greater need for human heroes. Wannabe demagogues worldwide should pay attention: Where belief in Allah, Shiva, Jesus, or Jah is scant, it may be easier to get people to believe in you. Go find some godless place and start your very own cult of personality. And if there are some preexisting religious institutions there, just follow the Stalin formula and shut them down.

Every journalist and pundit in the world has his or her theory as to how Obama could win the Nobel Peace Prize before ever making peace. Some have called this a down payment on deeds to come, an endorsement of an ideology, lighting a hot flame under the presidential buttocks, but I have another theory.

I posit that Scandinavia has finally found God in the form of an African-American man with an angelic smile and elf-like ears.

Yes, we have witnessed the stunning transformation of an ordinary state Senator from Illinois to a Nordic God in less than 5 years.

Who knew that deification is a quicker process than puberty?

Asked why the prize had been awarded to Mr. Obama less than a year after he took office, Nobel Committee head Thorbjoern Jagland said: "It was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve".

Come on Thorbjoern, Nordic Gods don’t need your support, your prize, a silly certificate, and some 10 million Swedish Kronors.

Look what happened after you gave the prize to that demigod, the Dalai Lama. It didn’t help him make peace with China, did it?

Not to diminish the reincarnation of the Buddha, but maybe Obama’s full-blown God powers will prove to be even greater. Maybe He really is the change we can believe in. Maybe, somewhere up in the starry Scandinavian sky, Obama and the Dalai Lama are making great plans for peace on earth.

Lets just hope their not being influenced by all the other members of the Norse Pantheon, who all seemed to have something of a violent streak. Especially that former crowd favorite Thor, a barbaric warrior God who refused to put down his deadly hammer.

Thor probably was not the ideal candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, so this year they gave it to the new guy.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Turning Rockets into Roses

Check out this report by my colleagues, Reem Makhoul and Isabel Kershner, about a guy who turns Qassam rockets into roses.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Oktoberfest in Palestine

Yes, it exists.
Yes, it is awesome.

Here is the video on Time.com

PS. Taybeh also means delicious in Arabic, and the beer is really quite good. I had the regular golden, the dark, and the amber at Oktoberfest. I didn't bother with the non-alchoholic one, marketed towards Muslims, which explains the unsteady camera work that didn't make it in the cut.

Photo Courtesy of David Silverman, Getty Images

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ahmedinejhad a Jew?

Read this story from the Telegraph, but don't necessarily believe it:

This article has inadequate evidence for proving that Ahmedinejhad is Jewish. The only piece of evidence provided by the reporters is this picture.

Assuming the name Sabourjian means he is unequivocally Jewish, how do we know his name used to be Sabourjian?

The reporters Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat write, "The Iranian leader has not denied his name was changed when his family moved to Tehran in the 1950s. But he has never revealed what it was change from or directly addressed the reason for the switch. "

Not denying it is a far cry from admitting it.

I also haven't denied that I'm Elvis Presley, which doesn't prove that I am Elvis Presley.

This is manipulative journalism in the sense that they are trying to get readers to make faulty assumptions. First, prove the switch of names, then try to address the reasons and subsequent psychological fallout.

I am also curious as to what the context was behind him allegedly holding up his own ID. And then, how do we know the document in his hand is his actual ID card? Where's the closeup of said document that the entire case rests on?

Editor should also note: There is a small and insignificant typo (missing a d the second time using the word "changed" in the previously cited paragraph)

While I am definitely not Elvis Presley, Ahmedinejhad may in fact turn out to be of Jewish descent.

If this story does ring true, it certainly would explain
Ahmedinejhad's Holocaust, Jew, and Israel obsession.

But the evidence is scant and this story is as sensational and full of holes as Swiss Cheese.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Shalit Video Raises the Stakes

I was happy to learn that a breakthrough has been achieved in this Gilad Shalit saga.

Prisoners have been handed back, and Shalit's video has been released in exchange.

As Isabel Kershner of the NYT writes, he is "thin and wan, but lucid and very much alive."

Through the medium of a television screen, this is the closest the Shalit family have been to him since he was taken away. They will probably sleep better tonight than they have in 3 years.

It was unequivocally Gilad. To make sure, he stated his Israeli ID number and recounted a story that only he would know about a day trip when his Dad came to visit him in his army base and photographed him in an old Merkava tank.

Here is the video:

I just watched it for the fifth time and haven't been able to really glean any extra insight other than the obvious information Hamas wanted to convey. I noticed that the most nervous smiling came at around 2:22 when he is forced to say, "The mujahideen of the Izzeddine al-Qassam Brigades are treating me fine."

It could mean that he is trying to communicate that this is not entirely true. It could also mean that it is mostly true, and he has a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome to the extent that he is bonding with someone behind the camera. Are there any psychologists reading this blog? Is it likely that he has developed some bond or attachment with his captors over his 1000 plus days in Gaza?

If there was such a thing as Vegas odds of Gilad coming back to his home in one piece, then they just went up dramatically. But then again, the Middle East is a place where probabilities turn into improbabilities.

But, this is the necessary first step in securing Shalit's release. Israel needed to verify that he was alive and healthy, while Hamas wanted to prove the same thing.

Gilad's value is higher today than he was yesterday. The problem is that both sides are aware of this.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pic from the Homesh Trip

Here I am next to David Haivri, Rabbi Elishama Cohen, and the Torah.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Settlers Part Deux

Out came the second installment of the New York Times series on Israeli settlers, an important body of research that is showing the settlers for who they really are, not a monolithic entity but a rather eclectic bunch. This second story portrays the settler most often portrayed in the media, the ideological, religious, Zionist who believes that redemption is connected to Jews settling in Greater Israel. The story is a prophetic one whose central thesis is that the ideological settlers in the West Bank will not turn to organized violence to thwart off Israeli army withdrawals. The report's insight comes not from mathematically gauging the likelihood of an event, but rather by using this hypothetical scenario as a launching pad for diving into the consciousness of its subjects.

The truth is that in the event of withdrawal, the vast majority of settlers will be happy to relocate to other parts of Israel, or live close enough to the Green Line that they will inadvertently be swallowed by Israel. That leaves about 50,000 ideological settlers living deep in the West Bank who would put up a fight. The logistical nightmare of a withdrawal from these areas is not really so scary. Israelis, Palestinians, and the world should know that, if the political planets ever align, Israel could probably pull off such an operation, creating the space for a Palestinian state.

I once learned in my 6th grade sex education class, which, traumatically enough, was taught by my father, that the "pull out method," is an ineffective and messy form of birth control. It seems that Israel has finally absorbed this lesson, after the unilateral pull out method resulted in the rebirth of Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. After rearing two ugly babies, Israel won't conduct a comprehensive West Bank pullout without a negotiated agreement with a Palestinian leader, democratically elected and with power over all of the West Bank and Gaza. And even if this miracle does comes to fruition over the next few years, who knows if the then-commander of the Zion Train will have the marbles to make a move?

In spending much of the past month in the West Bank researching and filming the story, I found the settlers to be almost exactly as they were in 2005 leading up to the Disengagement. Ever possessed by ideology, self righteousness, and their religious destiny, they still view the IDF as their own army. Their bullets are reserved for Palestinians, not the soldiers who they still feel are their misguided brothers. It is safe to say that in the coming years, there probably won't be a civil war in Israel. But there probably won't be peace either, just more of the same.

Rabbi Elishama Cohen taking his Torah to Homesh

Friday, September 11, 2009

Amazing Video

Warning: The video has nothing to do with politics, which creates a space for inspiration

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Clubhouses of the West Bank

I've been spending much of my time lately in two opposite, parallel universes: apartment hunting in Tel Aviv while searching for outpost stories in the West Bank. They require totally different mindsets, and given the freakishly competitive state of the apartment market in Tel Aviv, I considered seriously at one point throwing in the towel and building a little log cabin somewhere in the future state of Palestine.

The monthly rental price of a studio apartment in Tel Aviv: 1000 dollars

The monthly rental of a wooden shack in the West Bank (subject to sudden evacuation): Free, but must build it yourself

Thank Jah I found an apartment, an overpriced pad 4 blocks from the trash-infested, fish-depleted waters of the Mediterranean. But for a habitual beach prowler like myself, close enough to heaven. My surfboards will be dusted off and I will soon be riding the petite slow rollers next to the Jaffa Port.

The world's attention is once again fixated on those pesky settlers, camped out illegally on the barren hills of the West Bank. What the world doesn't know is that many of these so called "illegal outposts" are not even really even inhabited, but are the temporary hideouts of a handful of quixotic teenagers.

Take Ramat Migron for example. It consists of 3 wooden huts on a hill in the West Bank. The place has been destroyed several times by the army and is maintained by a group of no more than 10 young adults between the ages of 18 and 22. They don't live there, since the place has no electricity and/or water, but they hang out there as much as possible. They have a gas stove to cook, prayer books, and mattresses. It is sort of like a glorified camping trip, where you not only get to be one with nature, but also get to piss off the most powerful man in the world. Who knew that being a setter could be so much fun!

The place reminds me of a clubhouse I once had as a kid. It is a place of fantasy, where you make the rules. The adults, or international law, has no say in the matter. In the clubhouse, you decide right and wrong. You can call yourself king or president or whatever. It is an imaginary world with no boundaries, or borders. The entire world, or the greater land of Israel, is yours for the taking, until you hear a familiar voice in the distance. It's Bibi Netanyahu, or your parents, calling you for dinner.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ramat Migron Story

I shot and edited this piece for the UK's Channel 4. It's on a British settler in an illegal outpost called Ramat Migron in the West Bank. Have a look!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Huckabee Tour

I was on the Mike Huckabee (2012 Campaign?) Bus Tour last week. Politics aside, I found Mr. Huckabee to be a nice Southern gentleman who brought me right back to the good ol' days in Gainesville, Florida. We talked mainly about SEC football, and of course his Razorbacks are no match for the mighty Gators, who are expected to repeat as national champions. I mean, seriously, can anyone really stop Tim Tebow?

We visited countless settlements and lookouts in Samaria or Northern West Bank. Even went to a settler's goat farm and drank a real tasty cabernet sauvignon made in a little settlement called Har Bracha. Mr. Huckabee didn't drink, which meant more for the journalists. Shameless plug for the video I produced for time.com

I also promised a person on the tour bus that I would publish this political cartoon from the late 1970's, which is suddenly relevant again, so here it is:

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Laura, Euna, and Ibrahim

Totally and utterly thrilled about the safe return of Laura and Euna.
Very proud of the US for sending in its top sweet-talker, Bill Clinton, to secure their release.

The one silver lining in this whole episode, I hope, is the raising of awareness for the hundreds of journalists still in captivity in various countries all over the world.

These cases don't make it onto the front page of the New York Times. They are low profile non-stories that few people, if any, know about. These journalists, instead of shining the light of truth, spend their days rotting away in dingy, dark, 3rd world prison cells that Bill Clinton will never visit.

The sad truth is that journalism is not such a sagacious career choice for people who live in repressive countries, and cherish their own personal freedom. By simply putting their pens to paper, digitally recording reality, and publicizing a truth, they can lose their lives. Outside these despicable bubbles of repression, we are aware that their "criminal" acts of journalism are actually the ultimate acts of patriotism.

The world's leaders should take this opportunity to condemn Iran, Burma, China, Cuba, and Zimbabwe's criminal record in arresting innocent journalists, and, when pertinent, acknowledge and correct their own shortcomings in this arena.

In particular, the US should take an introspective look at the case of Ibrahim Jassan. While the US doesn't have the same underlying reasons as North Korea for incarcerating journalists, the two countries may in fact be guilty of the same crime.

Read this article about the Reuters cameraman from Iraq held by the US for nearly a year without a trial.

While there have been no new cases of foreign journalists being arrested under the Obama administration, the fact that even one is still in custody since September of 2008 is unacceptable. Americans should pressure their representatives to provide Jassan a fair and swift trial. If there is no evidence to convict him, he should be released immediately. Holding him for one year without trial is criminal. Just like Laura and Euna, Ibrahim has a family anxiously waiting for him in Baghdad. It's time Americans also know him on a first-name basis.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ultra-Orthodox Settler Video

The Israeli Army just announced that there are now more than 300,000 settlers living in the West Bank. Most of them are what I label "incidental settlers," who are not there for ideological, but rather for practical reasons. I spent a couple weeks documenting life in Beitar Illit, a settlement that is barely over the Green Line, and full of ultra-orthodox or Haredi Jews who would prefer not to be settlers at all.

Check out the video and the interesting written piece with photos in the NYT:

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The First Casualties of Global Warming

This is one of the most beautifully shot and provocative trailers I have seen in a long time. The Carteret Islanders are one of the first cultures to be threatened by climate change. They probably won't be the last. That's why raising awareness about these issues is so critical.

I studied in an intensive documentary program with the film's director, Jennifer Redfearn, and know personally her dedication to the documentary genre and to the environment. This seems like one of those rare film projects that promises to entertain, educate, and inspire. I urge you all to watch this trailer and to then visit the film's website to learn how you can help this film get made.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Watch the Latest "Settlers Gone Wild" Video

I think this video is fairly representative of how the media generally portrays Israeli settlers; as a monolithic, territorial, and violent entity. Even the Israeli media tends to portray them in this way, as they do in this piece by Israel's Channel 2:

While this fanatic strain of settler does exist, the whole truth is more complicated. Stay tuned to this blog as I will post a series of vids and articles about who the settlers over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tribute to Michael Jackson

I have always really liked Michael Jackson's work. His Thriller music video was a truly great theatrical short. He was one of the best dancers and performers of all time, and he will be missed by millions of fans worldwide. One of the things that most impressed me about MJ was his universal appeal. He was one of the rare figures that could transcend boundaries and politics.

His passing reminded me of a funny moment I had filming one of the Elvis impersonators who follow around the US Mens Soccer Team all over the world. Elvis recalled that when he went to South Korea for the 2002 World Cup, the South Koreans assumed he was Michael Jackson. The way he says Michael Jackson with a Korean accent always cracks me up.

Here it is at 1:48:

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Interesting Story on Iranian Culture Police

This is a really interesting look at the Basijis, the paramilitary force that is the lynchpin of the Iranian police state. They are the ones responsible for quelling street protests, often violently. This piece shows us how they influenced everyday life in Iran before the recent fracas. One can only imagine how much more power they have now.

This is brought to us by American-Iranian Current TV Producer Kouross Esmaeli.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Iran and Citizen Journalism

Hey Y'all

I just wrote an op-ed that can be read on PBS's awesome MediaShift blog. Please have a read and let me know your thoughts. Here is the link!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem

I recently covered the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem for Time.com. We ended up profiling Nitzan Horowitz, the first openly gay politician to be elected to the Israeli Knesset. There was another openly gay MP before him, named Uzi Even, but he wasn't elected.

This was by far the tamest parade in recent history. The Haredi, or ultra-orthodox sect, which generally stirs up the most vitriolic protests, were commanded by their rabbis not to go near the parade. They did this for two main reasons: 1. The rabbis realized that the more they protest, the more media attention the parade gets. 2. The rabbis are embroiled in another fight over a public parking lot, therefore they wanted to direct the anger of their legions towards that instead.

What was surprising was to see a face from another sector of Jewish fundamentalism leading the protest. Baruch Marzel, who organized the controversial march through Umm al Fahm earlier this year, received permission for 50 guys to protest against the Gay Parade in France Square. The religious Zionist settler from Hebron was responsible for bringing in the signs that said "Holyland, not Homoland."

Thankfully, there wasn't much violence this year. Only one incident of an egg being thrown was reported.

Here's the vid:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Tunnels of Gaza

Well, at long last, the piece on the Gaza tunnels is up on the New York Times website. Check it out and let me know your thoughts on this controversial story.

Great Article by Friedman

Reading this great op-ed by Friedman made me realize that a democratic Revolution of sorts that I have been predicting for years now, hosted and facilitated by the internet and new media, may in fact be underway in the Middle East.

There is a positive correlation between blogging and repressive governments.

However, this correlation is like a pimple. It can only get so big and then it must pop.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Not Worth Mentioning

I have just watched a video that's circulating on the Internet that depicts drunken, religious American Jews walking the streets of Jerusalem, bashing Obama and slurring African Americans. I am not so appalled by the sensationalism of the video, which is to be expected in an age where intelligent monkeys can produce, shoot, and edit video, but by the pathetic low that newspapers in Israel have sunken to by covering such a "story." The only reason I learned about it is because it has made it to the home page of both the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz websites.

At the risk of being the pot that calls the kettle black, I would like to call out these two "newspapers" for publishing stories about this manipulative, tasteless, and lowbrow video.

While I recognize the sad existence of these young, drunk, ignorant Jews that tend to migrate back and forth from NYC to Jerusalem, I have the good sense to realize that their extreme views are not representative of the population at large. Others do not. So why facilitate this distortion of reality for your readership?

I encourage the filmmakers to re-edit their material and put it in its proper context in order to make it something that closely resembles journalism. However, I don’t believe the filmmakers ever wanted to make anything greater than a bigoted piece of provocation designed to incite, misrepresent, and direct negative attention towards the subjects and most importantly, themselves.

What the Haaretz and Jpost should have editorialized is that this was actually more of an experiment on the effects of manipulative interviewing and camera induced groupthink on drunken teenagers than any sort of real political dialogue.

When real journalists do MOS or "man on the street" interviews they get a cross section of the population to speak. It seems like these provocateurs went to a couple bars on Ben Yehuda Street on a summer night in Jerusalem, where the average demographic is 18-21 American religious Jews who for the first time are able to purchase and consume alcohol legally.

This video should be part of a new series called "Yeshiva Boys Gone Wild."

In that context, I might actually watch it.

But for the writers of these stories to call the producers of this video "journalists" is an insult to the profession that they claim to be a part of.

Huffington Post Blog wisely rejected the video for having no journalistic merit.

Shame on Haaretz and Jpost for plunging their standards to these low levels in order to boost their popularity.



Saturday, June 13, 2009

Obama Speech in Cairo

I didn't like it, I loved it.

This paragraph is about as truthful as it gets:

"For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."

Everyone in the world with an objective and educated understanding of the Middle East knows that two states is the only solution. Only those people too emotionally involved or religiously deluded see it differently. How unfortunate it is that we have an American president who finally "gets it," but must deal with local leaders who, as usual, "don't get it." At a time where Israel is governed by a right-wing coalition and Palestinians are completely divided, Obama's idealistic vision for the Middle East will probably fall unto deaf ears.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts on NK Sentencing

Some people have asked for my thoughts on the sentencing.

I must say that I'm not surprised.
The sentence was harsh, but expected.
The US should waste no time in sending an envoy such as Bill Richardson over to NK to try and make a deal.

It's hard to imagine the anguish those girls and families must be feeling right now, with the chance that they could be sent to a place like this:

a 21st century gulag

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Open Letter to Kim Jong-Il

Dear Dear Leader,

The purpose of this letter is to serve as testimony in the upcoming trial of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

I am not sure if you are allowing objective character witness reports into your tribunal, but if you are, please accept this letter as one voice among the thousands of people who would be honored to speak out to proclaim the innocence of these two human beings.

I don’t know the details of what transpired near your border on March 17th, but I do know Laura Ling.

I have worked with Laura at Current TV on and off for the past five years. We are not close friends or relatives, but colleagues. She has helped me produce various packages that I produced for Current TV from several countries.

I know Laura mostly as a soft, yet assertive voice on the other end of the telephone line, guiding me through the structure of a story, or through the finer points of editing.

I met her only once in person, and she was kind enough to invite me out for a wonderful Mexican lunch when I visited Current TV headquarters in San Francisco a couple years ago.

Laura is a very talented and energetic producer, and someone with a great eye for television. She has done incredible work all over the world, most recently covering the drug wars in Mexico.

As with any great journalist, Laura liked to push the boundaries of what is possible, but she also understood the risks inherent in this line of work.

I remember a specific conversation I had with her when I was covering the Israel-Lebanon War in 2006. She warned me to be careful and make sure to wear my flak jacket. Before we hung up, she said that no story is worth risking your life for.

Truer words have never been spoken.

I know Laura never meant to risk her life for this story. But fate has intervened, and suddenly you have two young lives to account for, one in each palm.

I implore you to put politics aside when making this decision. Think about the loss of one of your family members, perhaps your dear son, and how that would hurt you. Don't think of them as representatives of the United States. They were not on a political or diplomatic mission. They are two human beings who made a mistake. These women are nothing more and nothing less than loving wives, daughters, sisters, and Euna, a mother to a four year old girl.

Laura and Euna may have indeed trespassed onto your sovereign territory, and if that’s the case, then I am sure they are deeply apologetic. The entire world, possibly yourself included, knows these women don’t deserve to spend the prime of their lives in prison. Human beings are not pawns in a chess game.

You have charged Laura Ling and Euna Lee with hostile acts against your regime. I ask you, Dear Leader, to look into the eyes of those two girls pictured below. Are they really a threat to you and your regime?

Let this tribunal teach them and other potential trespassers a lesson. You have shown that you have the power and the will to punish these women severely. Now please do the right thing and release these women back to their petrified families as soon as possible.

Keeping them imprisoned is the ultimate sign of weakness. If you give them their lives back, you will benefit from the great power that is yielded through justice. The open hand of mercy is infinitely stronger than the closed fist of rage.


Jaron Gilinsky


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Refuge

Whenever I get too depressed or cynical about the sad state of affairs here, I go to my one secret refuge.

It’s a small room,130 degrees Fahrenheit, dry as the desert, and religious garb must be left at the door.

Its my hideout from hatred, a temporary relief when this conflict is getting the best of me.

It’s a sauna. And it sucks that I can only stay in there for 20 minutes at a time.

I would live there if I could.

My hideout is in a Kibbutz called Maale Hachamisha.

Every week or so, or after a war, I leave my apartment with my small, red gym bag, jump in my 1996 Opel Corsa, and head for the hills.

I drive with the windows down and breathe like it is often impossible to breathe in Jerusalem.

I drive through the lovely Arab village of Abu Gosh, cursing the speed bumps as I pass by my favorite hummus joint.

I hang a right at the top of the hill, avoiding the Crusader fortress, and drive through the Maale Hachamisha forest.

I make a left into the Kibbutz, arrive at a guard gate, tell the guard im heading for the spa, and he lets me in.

I park my car, walk past another security guard reading the newspaper, then past the pictures and diagrams depicting strategic positions in the 1948 war, down the stairs, show a kibbutznik my pass to the gym, receive two fresh towels, and into a locker room replete with men of varying degrees of nakedness.

I quickly change into my swim suit and head for the sauna.

In this sauna on this day, I was joined by an Arab Muslim from Abu Gosh, an orthodox Jew (based on his side locks), and a holocaust survivor.

The Arab and the Jew were on the bottom row talking in Hebrew about anything besides politics. I prefer the hotter, top row and provided an audience for an old man muttering out complaints in Yiddish.

The most I could make out is that he didn’t like Israeli sauna culture where people were going in and out every 2 minutes with their sandals on. “This is not hygiene", he said, or “No Kultura,” he complained.

He then showed all of us the faded numbers tattooed on his sweaty, wrinkled left arm. "Auschwitz," he said.

We all began to silently reflect on what this meant to us.

Suddenly, and too soon, the pink sand in the hour glass had reached the bottom. My twenty minutes were up. I shook his hand and left the sauna.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Apartheid Question

In answering the question, my approach would be to analyze the similarities and differences using 5 broad divisions of analysis: History, Ideology, Political Reality, Economics, and Land Policies.

The various laws and injunctions of the Nationalist Party would go under the different divisions, and then compared to the situation in Israel/Palestine, where there is a less formalized system of de facto policies and methods of control. Thus, the Bantu Education Act would go under ideology. The Pass Laws would be Political Reality. The Group Areas Act would be under Land Policies. So on and so forth.

But as a poor freelance journalist, that is way above my pay rate. If anyone wants to sponsor my research, perhaps we can work out a deal.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Is Zionism the new Apartheid?

This is a question I am constantly asking myself as I drive from Jerusalem to Ramallah and back. Due to my South African heritage, and the fact that I've been living in Israel/Palestine for 7 years, I do have some strong personal opinions on this subject. But first I want to share with you this story I helped produce for Time.com

Click here to watch the video

Here is the 2006-word letter written by Dr. Farid Esack in its entirety:

My dear Palestinian brothers and sisters, I have come to your land and I have recognized shades of my own. My land was once one where some people imagined that they could build their security on the insecurity of others. They claimed that their lighter skin and European origins gave them the right to dispossess those of a darker skin who lived in the land for thousands of years. I come from a land where a group of people, the Afrikaners, were genuinely hurt by the British. The British despised them and placed many of them into concentration camps. Nearly a sixth of their population perished. Then the Afrikaners said, ‘Never again!’. And they meant that never again will harm come unto them with no regard to how their own humanity was tied to that of others. In their hurt they developed an understanding of being’s God chosen people destined to inhabit a Promised Land. And thus they occupied the land, other people’s land, and they built their security on the insecurity of black people. Later they united with the children of their former enemies – now called “the English”. The new allies, known simply as ‘whites’, pitted themselves against the blacks who were forced to pay the terrible price of dispossession, exploitation and marginalization as a result of for a combination of white racism, Afrikaner fears and ideas of chosenness. And, of course, there was the ancient crime of simple greed. I come from Apartheid South Africa. Arriving in your land, the land of Palestine, the sense of deja vu is inescapable. I am struck by the similarities. In some ways, all of us are the children of our histories. Yet, we may also choose to be struck by the stories of others. Perhaps this ability is what is called morality. We cannot always act upon what we see but we always have the freedom to see and to be moved. I come from a land where people braved onslaughts of bulldozers, bullets, machine guns, and teargas for the sake of freedom. We resisted at a time when it was not fashionable. And now that we have been liberated everyone declares that they were always on our side. It’s a bit like Europe after the Second World War. During the war only a few people resisted. After the war not a single supporter of the Nazis could be found and the vast majority claimed that they always supported the resistance to the Nazis. I am astonished at how ordinarily decent people whose hearts are otherwise “in the right place” beat about the bush when it comes to Israel and the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinians. And now I wonder about the nature of “decency.” Do “objectivity,” “moderation,” and seeing “both sides” not have limits? Is moderation in matters of clear injustice really a virtue? Do both parties deserve an “equal hearing” in a situation of domestic violence – wherein a woman is beaten up by a male who was abused by his father some time ago – because “he,” too, is a “victim?” We call upon the world to act now against the dispossession of the Palestinians. We must end the daily humiliation at checkpoints, the disgrace of an Apartheid Wall that cuts people off from their land, livelihood, and history, and against the torture, detention without trial, and targeted killings of those who dare to resist. Our humanity demands that we who recognize evil in its own time act against it even when it is “unsexy” to do so. Such recognition and action truly benefits our higher selves. We act in the face of oppression, dispossession, or occupation so that our own humanity may not be diminished by our silence when some part of the human family is being demeaned. If something lessens your worth as a human being, then it lessens mine as well. To act in your defense is really to act in defense of my “self” – whether my higher present self or my vulnerable future self. Morality is about the capacity to be moved by interests beyond one’s own ethnic group, religious community, or nation. When one’s view of the world and dealings with others are entirely shaped by self-centredness – whether in the name of religion, survival, security, or ethnicity – then it is really only a matter of time before one also becomes a victim. While invoking ”real life” or realpolitik as values themselves, human beings mostly act in their own self–interest even as they seek to deploy a more ethically based logic in doing so. Thus, while it is oil or strategic advantage that you are after, you may invoke the principle of spreading democracy, or you may justify your exploitation of slavery with the comforting rationalization that the black victims of the system might have died of starvation if they had been left in Africa. Being truly human – a mensch – is something different. It is about the capacity to transcend narrow interests and to understand how a deepening of humanness is linked to the good of others. When apartness is elevated to dogma and ideology, when apartness is enforced though the law and its agencies, this is called Apartheid. When certain people are privileged simply because they are born in certain ethnic group and use these privileges to dispossess and discriminate others then this is called Apartheid. Regardless of how genuine the trauma that gave birth to it and regardless of the religious depth of the exclusivist beliefs underpinning it all, it is called Apartheid. How we respond to our own trauma and to the indifference or culpability of the world never justifies traumatizing others or an indifference to theirs. Apartness then not only becomes a foundation for ignorance of the other with whom one shares a common space. It also becomes a basis for denying the suffering and humiliation that the other undergoes. We do not deny the trauma that the oppressors experienced at any stage in their individual or collective lives; we simply reject the notion that others should become victims as a result of it. We reject the manipulation of that suffering for expansionist political and territorial purposes. We resent having to pay the price of dispossession because an imperialist power requires a reliable ally in this part of the world. As South Africans, speaking up about the life or death for the Palestinian people is also about salvaging our own dream of a moral society that will not be complicit in the suffering of other people. There are, of course, other instances of oppression, dispossession, and marginalization in the world. Yet, none of these are as immediately recognizable to us who lived under, survived, and overcame Apartheid. Indeed, for those of us who lived under South African Apartheid and fought for liberation from it and everything that it represented, Palestine reflects in many ways the unfinished business of our own struggle. Thus I and numerous others who were involved in the struggle against Apartheid have come here and we have witnessed a place that in some ways reminds us of what we have suffered through. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is of course correct when he speaks about how witnessing the conditions of the Palestinians “reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.... I say why are our memories so short? Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation?" But yet in more ways than one, here in your land, we are seeing something far more brutal, relentless and inhuman than what we have ever seen under Apartheid. In some ways, my brothers and sisters, I am embarrassed that you have to resort to using a word that was earlier on used specifically for our situation in order to draw attention to yours. White South Africa did of course seek to control Blacks. However it never tried to deny Black people their very existences or to wish them away completely as we see here. We have not experienced military occupation without any rights for the occupied. We were spared the barbaric and diverse forms of collective punishment in the forms of house demolitions, the destruction of orchards belonging to relatives of suspected freedom fighters, or the physical transfer of these relatives themselves. South Africa’s apartheid courts never legitimized torture. White South Africans were never given a carte blance to humiliate Black South Africans as the Settlers here seem to have. The craziest Apartheid zealots would never have dreamt of something as macabre as this Wall. The Apartheid police never used kids as shields in any of their operations. Nor did the apartheid army ever use gunships and bombs against largely civilian targets. In South Africa the Whites were a stable community and after centuries simply had to come to terms with Black people. (Even if it were only because of their economic dependence on Black people.) The Zionist idea of Israel as the place for the ingathering for all the Jews – old and new, converts, reverts and reborn is a deeply problematic one. In such a case there is no sense of compulsion to reach out to your neighbor. The idea seems to be to get rid of the old neighbours – ethnic cleansing - and to bring in new ones all the time. We as South Africans resisting Apartheid understood the invaluable role of international solidarity in ending centuries of oppression. Today we have no choice but to make our contribution to the struggle of the Palestinians for freedom. We do so with the full awareness that your freedom will also contribute to the freedom of many Jews to be fully human in the same way that the end of Apartheid also signaled the liberation of White people in South Africa. At the height of our own liberation struggle, we never ceased to remind our people that our struggle for liberation is also for the liberation of white people. Apartheid diminished the humanity of White people in the same way that gender injustice diminishes the humanity of males. The humanity of the oppressor is reclaimed through liberation and Israel is no exception in this regard. At public rallies during the South African liberation struggle the public speaker of the occasion would often call out: “An injury to one?!” and the crowd would respond: “Is an injury to all!” We understood that in a rather limited way at that time. Perhaps we are destined to always understand this in a limited way. What we do know is that an injury to the Palestinian people is an injury to all. An injury inflicted on others invariably comes back to haunt the aggressors; it is not possible to tear at another’s skin and not to have one’s own humanity simultaneously diminished in the process. In the face of this monstrosity, the Apartheid Wall, we offer an alternative: Solidarity with the people of Palestine. We pledge our determination to walk with you in your struggle to overcome separation, to conquer injustice and to put end to greed, division and exploitation. We have seen our yesterday’s oppressed – both in Apartheid South Africa and in Israel today – can become today’s oppressors. Thus we stand by you in your vision to create a society wherein everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, or religion shall be equal and live in freedom. We continue to draw strength from the words of Nelson Mandela, the father of our nation and hero of the Palestinian people. In 1964 he was found guilty on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. He turned to the judges and said: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Operation White Cape

Operation White Cape is over. Halleluyah.

For those of you unclear as to what I'm talking about, this was the official police code name given to securing His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

The laughable code name is no joke. For a country accustomed to military operations, the pope's visit was treated as such.

A ridiculous number of policemen, security operatives, guards, traffic cops, and undercover agents were deployed to protect the pontiff during his week-long pilgrimage.

Rumor had it that even Batman was on stand-by.

For anyone trying to get around Jerusalem last week, it was Via Dolorosa-like misery.

It's important to note that Israel's security industry is not feeling the recession one bit.

According to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, 80,000 people worked to secure the pope's visit last week.

The operation went off without a hitch, except for one small detail.

Using white paint, vandals carefully blotched out the pope's face on every single one of the fifty or so pontiff posters lining Highway 1 on the way out of Jerusalem.

Underneath the paint splatter, it reads "Jerusalem Welcomes Pope Benedict XVI..."

Let's assume, for the sake of Jewish/Muslim/Vatican relations, that the vandal was just upset about the congestion in the city.

Or that the Holy See was adjusting his robe on his way back to the airport and miraculously missed it.

See Video Report Here:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Tabbouleh Song

Check out this hilarious video on Tabouli or Tabbouleh, which is the standard salad that comes with most Arabic dishes.

Here are the lyrics:

Tabbouleh Tabbouleh
Makes me shake
shake shake my booty
Eat it with lots of falafal
Eat it on top of a camel

Cuz it's the only beat
That's gonna stick in your head
and stick in your teeth

You gotta push push
Push the tush
When you eat an Arab salad
that is not fettoush

It's a hearty party
tasting yum yum
Taste that parsley
Shake your bum bum

In the club.
Don't need a shorty/cutie
All I need to take is
a bowl of tabbouleh

No we don't need hip hop
house or trance
Cuz this song about a salad
make you shake your pants

No we don't need groovy
techno techno
Just tabbouleh
in your head hole

Don't need bouncers
or velvet rope
I hope by now you
get the point

Don't need glow stick
or Red Bull vodka
You just gotta shake
where you make the kaka

First you take parsley from your sister
Chop it off like hand of shoplifter
Then take a tomato and dice it
don't forget to add all the spices

Then you take a half cup of burghul
Oh my God, it's gone taste so good
Yes this recipe is the bomb but
it tastes best when it's made by Mamma

In Lebanon
they eat it with coffee
In Libya
eat it with Quadafi

Jordan, Iraq
Bahrain, Saudi
Everybody love
the tabbouleh

In Syria
they eat it the fastest
and make sure to
shake shake Damascus

Them in Yemen
lemon the food-y
And Africa they
move move Djibouti

I hope I will finish
It to me is like
Popeye's spinach

but instead of getting
muscles in both arms
I get a moving groove
in my buttocks

Met a girl
She was a cutie
She said she'd
make me tabbouleh

But she made it
without the tomatoes
So I had to tell her
See you later

Thursday, May 07, 2009

From Coconuts to Conflict

I'm back in the Holy Land after a month-long vacation in Miami, the Florida Keys, and Nicaragua. All in all it was a much needed respite from living inside the whirlwind of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It was refreshing to surround myself with a different set of political problems, which in contrast to the Middle East quagmire, seem fixable.

I spent some time in Little Havana, chatting with Cubans about the new legislation sponsored by Obama. The fact that he carried Florida so easily in this election emboldened him to make some changes in US policy. The changes were minor, and I see their importance being more on a symbolic level. It is a sign that the hard-line Cubans in Miami are a dwindling, elderly group whose political might is fading. Obama was just testing the waters with this new policy, and I hope he has the political courage to jump in completely, and lift the unethical and counter-productive trade embargo against Cuba.

As for Nicaragua, I was struck by how eager the Nicaraguans were to talk politics. Somehow they are back under the rule of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas. The majority of the people I spoke to despise him and are downright pessimistic about the future of the country. They speak of stolen elections, corruption, and an uneducated populace.

Wait, back to the fun stuff. In a remote surf camp in Northern Nicaragua, I didn't have much of a choice but to disconnect from the political world and tune into the natural one.

We ate fresh lobster, expertly caught by a bare handed, Indian free diver and delivered to the doorstep. We napped in hammocks until the crease lines imprinted themselves in the skin. We worried about when the next swell would come in, and then worried about the enormity of the waves it produced. It was a great vacation indeed.

One recommendation and one advisory:

I highly recommend Nic's surf tour company. In Nicaragua, unlike Costa Rica, it is imperative to have local knowledge of the breaks and how to get them. Nic is a good host, and will take you to some awesome, relatively uncrowded surf.

Do not, under any circumstances, stay in the Landmark Inn in San Juan del Sur. I have stayed in some seedy places, but none compared to this one. It's not worth repeating on this blog, because the truth has already been disseminated all over the internet. Here's one review, which I think sums up the place fairly well.

So here are some Nicaragua pictures, and my first, unsuccessful attempt at surf videography:


An incredible river mouth break called "Freight Train," which is exactly what the name implies. It was too big for me that day, and my brother was nearly washed to El Salvador.






Miami and The Keys








Bad Surf Videos:


Me on a teeny bopper wave


My bro on a longer wave

Friday, April 10, 2009

Miami Beach Vacation

This is just a little note to let you all know that I am taking a much needed vacation for the month of April.

I will be taking a one week surf trip to Nicaragua which I'm really psyched about.

Otherwise, I will be in Miami, a land of palm trees, tropical breezes, and radio jingles advertising $ 2999 breast augmentations, which will collectively ensure that i'm totally uninspired for the next 30 days.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Rafah Experience

On the 30th anniversary of Egypt and Israel's monumental peace treaty, I found myself in a holding cell in Rafah. I went to Egypt with the goal of reporting on the renaissance of the well-known tunnel economy, post Gaza War. How many tunnels did Israel destroy? How many are left? How has the Gaza War changed the reality on the ground, or underground? Is Rafah back in business? These were some of the questions I was hoping to ask a cross-section of locals, but never got a chance to.

While filming a random street scene, a plain-clothes officer snatched my video camera out of my hands. Suddenly another white-shirted guy asked me for my passport. I reluctantly handed it to him, and queried as him to what I did wrong. I never got an answer.

Instead, they whisked us away (me, a fellow journalist, and our Egyptian driver) to some sort of detention facility in the bowels of Rafah. We were told to sit in a drab, tan colored holding room that reeked of stale urine. We were interrogated, then dismissed back to the room. We waited a couple hours staring at the one fluorescent light bulb surrounded by flies, and were interrogated again. They made me play back my footage to make sure I hadn't actually filmed something worthwhile. They dismissed us back to the urine room. I fidgeted uncomfortably in my wooden chair. I adjusted to sit cross-legged, and was told to sit with feet firmly on the floor.

My wardens were the "Muhabarat", the Egyptian secret police entrusted with maintaining Egypt's unique sense of order, emboldened by the Orwellian “state of emergency” imposed on the country since the 80s. I didn't bother to ask for my one free phone call or an Arabic reading of my Miranda rights. I just felt grateful that I hadn't been blindfolded like my poor Egyptian driver, or that I wasn't in a less benign country like North Korea, where a couple of my journalist colleagues from Current TV have been imprisoned recently on trumped up charges.

Before the arrest, we did get one interesting group interview with local shopkeepers, all in their mid-twenties, who were only willing to talk off-camera. While denying any involvement in the tunnel economy, they imparted that Israel had destroyed very little and that the tunnels are in fact operating as usual. “Life here is back to normal. When you see a fancy car in Rafah, it means that it’s owner is also a tunnel owner,” said one of the guys. When I asked how they know so much about the tunnel business they are not affiliated with, the answer was whispered through a Cheshire cat grin. “Everyone here knows about the tunnels. The police also know, and for 500 (Egyptian) pounds [100 dollars], they don’t see them.”

One of the guys was a Palestinian whose family hails from a village near modern day Ashkelon. His brother is living just across the border in Gaza. They don’t see each other very often. “I am happy that Hamas took over,” he said to me discreetly. “The other guys (Fatah) were too corrupt.” The young man, who asked to remain anonymous, makes his living from a sprinkler and fertilizer shop. He adamantly denied any involvement in the smuggling business, claiming that his storefront is not just a front. I grilled him, noting that the barren Sinai desert isn’t exactly known for its agricultural prowess. Where are all your customers? Or is today just a slow day? Why not benefit from an underground distribution channel with a million and a half desperate customers? If your huge stockpile of potassium nitrate was being used for Qassam rocket propulsion and not for tomatoes, you wouldn’t risk it all by telling someone like me, would you?

A reporter must burrow to find out the truth in Rafah. What you see above ground is not an accurate representation of what you would see down below. It would take months of investigation to exhume the complete, uncomfortable truth, which would be to learn just how far the trail of money goes and into whose pockets. The fact that the Egyptian local authorities are in on it is an assumption based on various pieces of circumstantial evidence. The most damning piece of evidence is the fact that hundreds of tunnels continue to operate in one of the most militarized areas in Egypt, right under their noses. Tunnel smuggling is not like other forms of smuggling, where the pick up points and locations can change. These tunnels are in fixed locations in a specific area in a small town. In all likelihood, the local law enforcement officials know where each tunnel is located, but choose to look the other way for some reason.

The question is whether the money trail goes all the way back to Cairo, or if this can just be chalked up to local corruption. The Egyptian government gets over 2 billion dollars in military and financial aid from the US a year, and probably do not need extra pocket money. If push came to shove, and the US threatened to reduce or eliminate its annual coffer padding, I wonder if Cairo could close the tunnels. Egypt is already seen as the Arab version of Uncle Tom for its pro US stance. Would closing the tunnels further diminish their reputation on the collective Arab street? Are the tunnels a symbolic, diplomatic overture to the Arab world?

The tunnels certainly do represent the bind Egypt has been in since signing a peace treaty with Israel. Their fragmented tunnel policy reflects the divided loyalty of Egypt’s national soul, whose brain tells her to respect the peace treaty with Israel but whose heart tells her to support the Palestinians in any way possible. In order to maintain the guise that it supports both sides, the tunnels must teeter on the seesaw of legality.

In Hamas-run Gaza, it is a different story. The tunnels are not just legal, but sacrosanct. They are the solitary avenue for getting weapons and ammunition, underground arteries carrying the lifeblood of Hamas-style resistance. They are a source of pride for all Palestinians who view them as the one aspect of life untouched by the Israelis. If Gaza is an outdoor version of Shawshank prison, these tunnels are redemption. They are the closest thing Gaza has to normal free trade, proof that the Israeli blockade is futile, and wormholes to the world. Tunnel owners are like regular business owners, who must register their deed and pay taxes to the Hamas government. In the eyes of Hamas, the thriving tunnel economy represents a victory over Israel, and they want the world to see it. Thus, foreign journalists have no trouble accessing them.

Yet in Egypt, less than 100 yards away, it is a different story. The same tunnels that have been shown countless times to reporters on the Palestinian side are off limits on the Egyptian side. Here, tunnels are a shadowy semi-legal enterprise. Like any self-respecting mafia, the police make sure to harass tunnel owners just enough to keep them on edge and keep the “baksheesh” (hush money) flowing, but they don’t dare shut them down entirely.

The two Western journalists walking around on street level clearly upset the delicate balance in Rafah. The same cops that arrested us could have just as easily arrested the hundreds of smugglers who walk the streets freely. But unlike smuggling, committing journalism is frowned upon in these parts.

After waiting nervously in the squalid room for a total of six hours, the saga finally ended. Just before dusk, they called us again into the office. They instructed me to delete two 10-second shots of policemen, and then, anticlimactically, we were free to go. We paid our taxi driver generously for his trouble, and asked him to take us out of town as quickly as possible.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Egypt-Israel Peace Diptych

Hello friends,

I just got back from an eventful trip to Egypt, where I saw the pyramids and got detained by the Egyptian police. More on that later, but first check out these two reports about the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. I think it was a cool idea to see each side's perspective on this controversial peace deal. I produced the one from Israel, and Dana Smilie produced the one from the Egypt.



Friday, March 20, 2009

The Gilad Shalit Dilemma

Watch Video Here !

Everyone know that in the Middle East, bargaining is an integral part of the culture.

When at the souk, you must haggle as much as possible since prices are always jacked up, depending on how local the shopkeepers perceive you to be.

This week, the souk mentality extended into the international political arena when Israel and Hamas indirectly negotiated the price of a live Israeli soldier.

Israel thought he was worth 325 of their prisoners, with fewer guys with bloody hands and with more deportations to other countries.

Hamas valued him at 450 of their prisoners, some with blood on the hands, some without blood on the hands, with less deportations.

At the end of the negotiations, the Israelis walked away from the Hamas shop, claiming the price to be too high.

Now Israel is waiting to see if the shopkeeper will come running after them, to see if their initial valuation was inflated, or if they will succumb to internal pressure.

Meanwhile, the Shalit family are devastated, well aware that their chances of a deal are significantly reduced once Benjamin Netanyahu takes over the reins as Prime Minister.

I spent the past week with the family and their supporters camping outside the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's residence in Jerusalem, and this is the resulting video on Time.com

On Saturday, Day 1000 of Gilad's captivity, the Shalit family is heading back to their home in Mitzpe Hila, in the Galilee.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bernard "Cookie Monster" Madoff

As a lifelong fan of Sesame Street, I really enjoyed this:

Is Bernard Madoff an accurate anthropomorphization of the Cookie Monster?

A man who goes bezerk at the sight of macadamia nut hedge funds, chocolate blue chip stocks, or oatmeal raisin retirement funds?

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Dying Dead Sea

Here is a trailer for Falafel TV's latest production: The Dying Dead Sea

For those of you unaware of the gravity of the problem, make sure you watch this.

Comments are appreciated!

And check out these Production Stills shot by photographer Yair Moss:

Elad Gefen filming a sinkhole

The crew walking in sinkhole country

Boys enjoying one of the springs that flow into the Dead Sea

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

New Gaza Animation

Check out this short animated film by Yoni Goodman, the animation director of Waltz with Bashir. It was created for Gisha, an NGO devoted to human freedom of movement.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Guns N' Moguls

My dad came to Israel for a visit, and we decided to go up to Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights to do some skiing/snowboarding. It's only a 3 hour drive from Tel Aviv so we figured it was worth the trip. The skiing conditions weren't great. There was lots of ice and exposed rocks. There was little visibility at the top and half of the mountain was closed. We took the same ski lift up every time and basically alternated going left or right. But just the simple fact that I was snowboarding in the Middle East made this a worthwhile trip.

There is something special about skiing on the Hermon, a highly contested high point just on the Israel-Syria border. On the way up, we stopped in Majdal Shams, a Druze village, and ate a delicious Druze pita with zatar and labane.

And what other ski resort in the world can you whiz by a guy carrying an M-16?

Since it was the middle of the week, we had the mountain basically to ourselves, with the exception of a special unit of the Israeli army. They are known here as the "alpinistim." They are an extreme weather unit that learn how to ski and shoot at the same time. They probably have a better chance of using this skill in a James Bond movie than in an actual war. By the way, the guys on the mountain that day were newbies, so they weren't very good skiers yet. (Note to Syria: Now is the time to send in your elite snowboard halfpipe team on a top-secret mission!)

I invited them for apres-ski on the condition that they wouldn't being any live ammunition into the sauna

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Zimbabwean Circus Continues

In 2007, I interviewed political activist Roy Bennett after he had been exiled to South Africa. The tyrannical Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF thugs ransacked and stole his home and farm. Bennett was tortured and imprisoned. Even some of his farm animals were brutalized.

Bennett returned to Zimbabwe a few days ago as a member of the opposition MDC. He was hoping to help form a unity government, but was arrested once again by Mugabe thugs. He is currently in a Zimbabwean prison.

Roy Bennett after being released from prison the first time. He was in jail for 15 months without a trial.

Here is the interview with Bennett from 2007.