Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Friday Paper

French Hill, Jerusalem – One of the nice things about Israel is that the Sunday paper comes on Friday.

Lionel Richie's “Easy like Sunday morning,” doesn’t apply here. The Israeli workweek is Sunday through Friday afternoon. For Israelis, Sunday is Monday, Monday is Tuesday, and Tuesday is rough. A six-day workweek, even with a half-day included, is brutal.

If you were wondering, the Palestinian workweek in the West Bank is Sunday through Thursday. Since the Gaza coup, Hamas has changed the workweek in Gaza to Saturday through Wednesday. So, if you are a civil servant in Gaza, you have to decide whether you are going to go to work on Saturday. If you work Saturday, the government in Ramallah won’t pay you your salary. If you don’t work, then the Hamas government fires you.

Since Sunday is Monday in Israel, there is no point in a juicy, thick Sunday paper. By the time Sunday rolls around, the weekend is over. Instead, the Sunday paper, replete with entertainment and opinions, is the Friday paper in Israel.

For someone like me who works an American workweek, this means that even if I skip the news on Friday morning, I still have two full days to spend with the newspaper. This past weekend, I devoted myself to the Friday paper, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. All were satisfying.

Digression: I drove about 50 miles (roundtrip) on Saturday afternoon to see The Bourne Ultimatum because the Jerusalem theater that was showing it doesn’t screen films on Shabbat. The film was edge of your seat good and blended perfectly with the others. Middlesex was good too. I fear that this is a famously well-regarded book (it is on Oprah’s list) that I’ve only just discovered, so let me just say how much I enjoyed the way that the narrator’s tone shifted gender back and forth throughout the story. End Digression.

Haaretz, my English language newspaper of choice, is full of articles and opinions on headlining issues – the peace process, negotiations, political violence, etc. – as well as feature stories on the human aspects of the absence of peace. This past Friday, there were stories of interest from Sederot and Gaza. In Sederot, they are trying to figure out how to start the new school year amid mortar attacks from Gaza. In Gaza, the clothes manufacturing industry is collapsing, strangled by the full closure.

These stories involve human suffering that the public should be aware of, but they are “conflict” stories. You could substitute different proper names for the people or cities, and it could be another part of the world. What I find fascinating are the stories that couldn’t happen anywhere, like the Palestinian workweek conundrum and these gems:

Pardes Hanna Mayor angered by Indian Jews’ Conversion Course in Town” According to the article, the Bnei Menashe who were lost 2700 years ago and who have returned to Israel from northeast India (where they maintained 40 synagogues) angered the mayor of this smaller town because they arrived in the town “secretly,” and did not coordinate with his office!

Shas (a religious political party) Seeks To Punish Cremation with Jail Time” This one isn’t about prison terms for the ashes of cremated individuals. Rather, the Minister of Religious Affairs wants a bill that will punish anyone who cremates a body with a year in prison and a fine of $7500. The minister accused those who cremate of “suckl[ing] their heritage from the annihilators of the Jewish people . . . [and] implement[ing] a renewed final solution here.” Outrageous comparisons to the Holocaust combined with grandstanding legislative power, what a combination!

One of my favorite sections of the Friday paper is the “Anglo File.” This week there was an article about the Israel Land Development Corporation, an American company selling pieces of the Holy Land at $118 a square foot. Last’s week’s section contained profiles and pictures of new immigrants from America. I was touched and amused by the smiling picture of seven-year-old Elisha Z. He is looking forward to not having to go to school during Hanukkah, but is also going to miss the treehouse he left behind in New York.

A story that I’ve been following, but that didn’t appear this Friday, is about the African refugees (some from Darfur) trickling into Israel through the Sinai. These refugees walk here, and Israel doesn’t know what to do with them from either a practical or policy perspective. There are almost daily reports and stories ranging from Africans wandering in the Negev desert looking for help, to Israeli students demonstrating for asylum for Darfur refugees. The issue is intriguing given the importance the Holocaust played in the creation of the state and the moral obligation that many here feel to offer shelter to victims of genocide. At the same time, there is the competing pressure of maintaining Israel’s character as a Jewish state.

This could be a good point of discussion – I’d welcome your thoughts.


I’ve gotten a few emails asking about it, but so far no response from the Ballfinder Scout people.


M Glad said...

Of course, the issue of the Darfur refugees is important, but I worry what this issue could mean for the Arab-Israeli conflict in broader terms.

Because the refugees are drawn to Israel in a "the enemy of the enemy is my friend" type of way, it has the potential to create a bigger divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If the Israelis appear too sympathetic toward the Darfur refugees, it could potentially be construed as anti-Palestinian. After all, it would be easy for Palestinian refugees to ask, "Why is the plight of Darfur refugees recognized while we are overlooked?"

However, if the Israelis turn the refugees away, this could also be inventoried as a moral strike against the state of Israel. How could a state that was created to protect a persecuted people turn away a group who is being persecuted in a similar way?

It is a sticky position for Israel, but I think it reinforces the importance of a holistic approach to its relation with others. There are no singular issues for Israel; each is inextricably linked with a multitude of others.

Ben said...

Everything here is "precedent setting." For example, there is an ongoing issue with a small number of Iraqi Palestinian refugees (less than a hundred) who people were trying to send to the West Bank. With the case of the Iraqi Palestinians, I think more so than with the situation with these various African refugees, there is the question of taking a humanitarian action vs. setting a precedent for the "right of return." Ironically, according to newspaper reports, the government of Sudan is trying to offer the Palestinian Iraqis asylum. Of course, at the same time, they have created a huge refugee crisis in their own country and are allowing or sanctioning (depending upon who you ask) genocide in Darfur.