Category Archives: Israel

“THE INVISIBLE WALLS OF OCCUPATION”— A Different Side of Palestinian Life

“The Invisible Walls of Occupation”

A Different Side Of Palestinian Life

Amos Lassen

In the Palestinian village of Burqah, 86% of men are employed, but 60% work unstable, part time jobs. Three-fourth of families here have five at or more members, and half of such families live beneath the poverty line of $530 per month. More than half the of residents express concerns about the Israeli military entering the village.

Is “The Invisible Walls of Occupation,” an interactive documentary produced by B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories in collaboration with Montreal-based digital design firm Folklore. The documentary opens with an introductory text that states, “If you get to know Burqah and its residents, you’ll get a picture of what life is like in a village hemmed in by physical and developmental obstacles” and then we get just facts set against an ambient music score and field recordings.

As an interactive documentary it takes a multimedia approach, blending interviews with photo collages, text, maps, and more. We go on a tour of the town, with stops at the homes of a village elder and a farmer ,a girl’s high school, and the clinic.

We experience the day-to-day life that we do not see on media coverage. Many of the interviewees talk about how checkpoints and road closures impact their lives, and the influence of instability and a discriminatory legal system is felt everywhere. We meet a young boy who uses his camera to record the settlers who harass his family. His footage consists of a series of clips showing gangs of masked men throwing rocks at his home with rocks and we learn. That this kind of harassment takes place all year long.

We see that the occupation makes life worse through daily anxieties, lowered expectations, and a shared degradation. The documentary also represents a modest step towards an eventual escape from invisibility itself.

Residents think many times before they build, go on vacation, study, work, trade, or grow crops and not because of laziness, or inability. It’s because they are concern about the obstacles, the harassment and attacks by the Israeli military or by settlers. It’s as if they live in a big prison with invisible walls. Burqah, us an unremarkable village since it has never taken fought against the occupation, and has not been subjected to extreme punitive measures. Because of this Burqah was chosen as a precisely because it is unexceptional, as a case in point about life under the occupation is like for residents of Palestinian villages. It is a small, picturesque village, surrounded by fields. Like many other villages, it has severe travel restrictions which isolate it from its surroundings and is also subject to massive land-grabs and stifling planning. These have turned it into a derelict, crowded and backward village with half its population living at or below the poverty line.

The economic situation is grim and both men and women supplement their income by farming, shepherding, cheese making, working from home with sewing and embroidery. Travel issues also have a detrimental effect on education and health services are very limited. As a case in point, the village’s situation demonstrates the effects of the occupation, showing how the settlements and their interests play a central role in Israel’s policy planning in the West Bank even at the cost of grave harm to the Palestinian residents, and how a legal-administrative web harms life and development.

“Final Stop, Algiers: A Thriller” by Mishka Ben-David— Duty/Love

Ben-David, Mishka. “Final Stop, Algiers: A Thriller”, translated by Ronnie Hope, The Overlook Press, 2017.

Duty/Love

Amos Lassen

When a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv violently and completely disrupts his life, Mickey Simhoni changes his plans from becoming an artist and instead allows himself to be recruited into the Mossad. Slowly, he learns how to become a spy and build a cover so that he can pretend to be someone else— a man he resembles and who is presumed to be dead. This takes him to Toronto where he meets Niki, a ex-girlfriend from some ten years earlier. He is torn between loyalty to the Mossad and his reignited love for Niki.

Simhoni first met Niki after his discharge from the Israel Defense Forces while he was on vacation in Japan.   They had a short romance but before anything could happen Mickey left for Tel Aviv to take up his normal life. Back home in Israel. He fell in love with a girl who was then killed in a suicide bombing. This horrific loss made him feel to an invitation to join the Mossad.

He was sent on complex missions and by accident he met up with Niki for the second time. The romance is rekindled and Niki became a part of Mickey’s Mossad team so that she could be with him again. Mickey was forced to face the challenges of his job with the added problem of what is more important to him; his love or success as a Mossad agent with the necessity of killing others in order to complete an assignment.

Author Ben-David is a former Mossad officer and shares training required and the dangers that operatives face in the field. We also read about Mickey’s own family of Holocaust survivors.

Mickey is dedicated to his country and carries out his missions with Niki as a willing ally and we get quite a story.

“Who Am I and Where Is Home?: An American Woman in 1931 Palestine” by Andrea Jackson— Letters Home

Jackson, Andrea. “Who Am I and Where Is Home?: An American Woman in 1931 Palestine”, Andrea Jackson, 2017.

Letters Home

Amos Lassen

Many of you know that I spent almost half of my life living in Israel and that I am always ready to read about the experience of others who lived there. Andrea Jackson was there some thirty years before I got to Israel and her story is fascinating. This is a biography/memoir that is written through letters to and from Jackson’s mother, Celia, during the year that she was in what was known then as Palestine during the American Depression. These letters were to and from her family and two of her “boyfriends”, one of whom was an ardent Zionist and the other who was a young attorney trying to support his parents and sisters. Celia was in Jerusalem where she was friendly with other Americans and where she taught English and later worked as secretary to a British engineer who was working on overhauling the Jerusalem sewer system (‘which had been constructed by the Romans some 2000 years before”).

While this is a biography, it is also the story of two women; Celia Antopolsky, the author’s mother, and her best friend Lillian Shapiro who went to Palestine in 1930-1931. They were both highly independent and loved new experiences, one of which was their desire to see Palestine and so they did, sailing on a cargo ship for a month crossing the ocean and even buying weapons for Jewish settlers who need self-protection and then smuggling them into Palestine.

The letters that the women wrote are filled with wonderful descriptions. donkeys, camels, and vibrant bazaars. Celia was a true romantic and her descriptions of Jerusalem make you feel like you are actually there. There is also a political side to the letters and we read about the relationship between America and Palestine, the White Paper that gave the rules and laws of British policy in Palestine that limited Jewish immigration and development. And the letters are personal in that we read about what happens when women choose to trade their independent beings to become wives and mothers.

When the two women went to Palestine, it was almost unheard of for them to do so. They knew very little about the country or the people and young women did not just pick up and travel to destinations so far from home.

Through the letters, we see Celia as a woman who was in love with life and who was totally charming to those she met. I found it very interesting that there was nothing about Nazi Germany and the future of European Jewry but then no one really could have thought about what the future would bring.

I could not stop reading once I began and I was constantly comparing my experiences in Israel (some thirty-five years later) and was amazed that we shared the same elements of surprise at seeing Jerusalem with all of its beauty, charms and wonders.

“Necessary Stories” by Haim Watzman— Twenty-four Stories

Watzman, Haim. “Necessary Stories”, West 26th Street Press, 2017.

Twenty-four Stories

Amos Lassen

“Necessary Stories” is a collection of twenty-four stories of Israeli and Jewish life, selected from the more than one hundred that Haim Watzman has written over the last nine years in his “Necessary Stories” column in the The Jerusalem Report.
The stories are about the lives of ordinary Israelis and current events. Even though these stories are written in English, if you know Hebrew you will notice the way that the English prose is constructed. We have stories about “a conversation in a cemetery with a long-dead Talmudic sage; Felix Mendelssohn’s great aunt scolding the young prodigy; four Jews on a plane discussing the Bible, the Zohar and Wuthering Heights—is a matter of life and death

Watzman excels at writing about the exact point in time that leaves an impression on the future. His stories are immediate, empathetic and attentive to the world. His ability for writing dialogue is amazing and the stories have layers of meaning and are totally diverse.

We see what it is to live in a country that is made up of so many diverse elements and where history, politics, and philosophy come together.

“Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel” by Francine Klagsbrun— Mother, Grandmother, Prime Minister

Klagsbrun, Francine. “Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel”, Schocken, 2017.

Mother, Grandmother, Prime Minister

Amos Lassen

I knew Golda Meir. When I lived in Tel Aviv her official residence was three doors down from me and I would see her shopping and walking down Ben Yehudah Street every once in a while. She always said hello as if we had known each other for years but my knowing Golda was just that— a hello and a smile.

Golda was a chain-smoking political operative, and a tea-and-cake kind of grandmother who became the fourth prime minister of Israel. She was unlike any other world figure unlike any other. She immigrated to America in 1906 from tsarist Russia and grew up in Milwaukee, where even in her early years she had a political consciousness and organizational skills that would eventually land her into the inner circles of Israel’s founders. She moved to mandatory Palestine in 1921 with her husband, joined a kibbutz but soon left and was hired at a public works office. A series of public service jobs brought her to the attention of David Ben-Gurion, and her political career took off very quickly. She went fund-raising in America in 1948, secretly met with King Abdullah in Amman. She was mobbed by thousands of Jews in a Moscow synagogue in 1948 as Israel’s first representative to the USSR, when she was Israel’s minister of labor and foreign minister in the 1950s and 1960s. Golda spoke with fire, made plainspoken appeals and she was a shrewd deal-maker. She dedicated her life to the welfare and security of the State of Israel and its inhabitants.

 As prime minister, Golda negotiated arms agreements with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and had had many clandestine meetings with Jordan’s King Hussein in the unsuccessful pursuit of a land-for-peace agreement with Israel’s neighbors. Her time in office ended tragically when Israel was caught off guard by Egypt and Syria’s surprise attack on Yom Kippur in 1973.

Through the use of newly available documents from Israeli government archives, writer Francine Klagsbrun looks at whether Golda could have prevented that war. She contemplated using nuclear force and resigned after the war spending her final years watching national affairs. We see Golda as compassionate, realistic, and capable of compromise. She was an immigrant (twice), a Zionist, a feminist, and a prime minister who had much more than just a woman’s share of history. Her story is of a tough, complicated and remarkable woman. We see her personal life against the backdrop Israel’s emergence of Israel on the world stage. Like everyone else, Golda had her failings and we read of those as well. She was tenacious and dedicated and even with those failings she remains relevant to history.

“Memories After My Death: The Story of My Father, Joseph “Tommy” Lapid” by Yair Lapid— A Father

Lapid, Yair. “Memories After My Death: The Story of My Father, Joseph “Tommy” Lapid”, Thomas Dunne, 2017.

A Father

Amos Lassen

Last night I decided to begin reading Yair Lapid’s new book for about an hour before I went to sleep. Some six hours later, I was still reading and in fact, I never got to bed last night. I challenge anyone who reads the first chapter to be able to stop there. The prose is wonderful and Hillel Halkin’s translation is a work of art. Lapid paints a portrait of his father, Tommy, a man who had been a leading figure in the creation and the early days of the State of Israel.

Tommy was “a loved and controversial Israeli figure who saw the development of the country from all angles over its first sixty years.” He had already seen his father taken away to a concentration camp. He came to Israel at the birth of the country and he lived through every major Jewish incident for the next 60 years. He was a uniquely unorthodox man and his politics were neither left nor right, he was a secular Jew and he exposed many of the contradictions of life in Israel. He said exactly what he thought and never hid or changed his own truth. He was never too embarrassed to say that he regretted something and while many saw him s harsh, he was actually a very warm person filled with emotion.

This is a different kind of autobiography in that his son writes in his name. We do not have autobiographies in which the a son writes about his father in the first person. What makes this even more difficult is that the father is a large than life character. Lapid does this with the love that a son has for his father. Tommy Lapid survived the Holocaust, went to Israel from Yugoslavia as a Hungarian Jewish refugee and became a minister in the Knesset of his new country. We see the son’s love for his father in every line. I was familiar with the name Tommy Lapid but did not know much else about him. For his son to write this as if it is being dictated from the grave is very special. I laughed and I cried while I read and I do not regret losing a night’s sleep for a second. Here is the story of a man who was able to triumph over human tragedy. The book has just opened the door for me and now I am planning to do some more extensive reading of anything I can find about Tommy Lapid.

“Traitor: A Thriller” by Jonathan deShalit— A High Stakes Thriller

deShalit, Jonathan. “Traitor: A Thriller”, Atria Books, 2018.

A High Stakes Thriller

Amos Lassen

I cannot say too much about Jonathan deShalit’s new novel, “Traitor” since we have a few months before it is published bit I wanted to let you know about it so you can add to you list of books to be read. It is a high-stakes thriller that pits the intelligence of one man against one of the most successful spies ever to operate against American interests. It all begins when a young Israeli walks into an American embassy and offers to betray his country for money and power but he has no idea that the CIA agent interviewing him is a Russian mole. Years later, this same young man becomes a trusted advisor to Israel’s Prime Minister and throughout his career, he has been sharing everything he knows with Russia. Now, there is a hint that there may be a traitor in the highest realms of power and a top-secret team is put together to hunt for him. The chase takes this team from the streets of Tel Aviv to deep inside the Russian zone and, finally, to the United States, where a very unique spymaster is revealed. The final showdown—between the traitor and the betrayed—can only be dealt by an act of utter treachery that could have far-reaching and devastating consequences.

 

“ALMOST FAMOUS” Contemporary Israeli Youth

“ALMOST FAMOUS”

Contemporary Israeli Youth

Amos Lassen

Shir’s brother Tomer is a talented musician with a lot of friends, good looks and he has just been accepted to sing on an Israeli reality show thus making him somewhat famous very quicky. Shir has one best friend, excellent grades and becomes very nervous whenever she whenever she sees handsome Omri.   She does not feel that being intelligent would cause a guy to be attracted to her and she really wants to be popular.

Tomer is a mediocre student and se thinks that this proves her point about her own self-confidence.

Shir is sure her life will change when people understand that she is Tomer’s sister and she really wants to move up to be a member of the “cool kids” at her school and find both real friends and first love.

This is a contemporary youth drama that vividly and sensitively shows us what teems think is important when they live in a society where the desire to be ‘famous’ is often stronger than the need to fill that 

Society with what is real. We see what it is to be “blinded by glittering lights and about identity – about what and who we dream of being, and about the courage to choose who we really are.”

“LATE SUMMER BLUES”— An Israeli Classic

“LATE SUMMER BLUES”

An Israeli Classic

Amos Lassen

Renen Schorr’s classic cult film, “Late Summer Blues” has now been digitally restored. When it was first released in 1988 it won the Israeli Academy Awards Winner for Best Film,

 

Best Screenplay and Best Original Score and was screened at over 30 international film festivals around the world It is set in the summer of 1970 in Tel Aviv and looks at a group of seven eighteen-year old kids just before their induction to the army during the time of the War of Attrition at the Suez Canal. During the “short and charged weeks they will try, individually and as a group, to dream, to fulfill their ambitions and to change reality by their graduation ceremony show.”

It is a beautiful and sensitive film that shows the effects of war on everyday life while barely touching the topic of war. We see a mix of joy and sadness, childhood and maturity and the dilemmas that the characters are facing as they decide to join or not to join the army and in which unit. We meet a variety of characters including the non-conformist who joins the army because he understands that there is no such privilege; the guy that everything works for, an aspiring filmmaker; a hopeful songwriter; a left-wing conscientious objector; a young newlywed couple; and a likable, curly-headed oaf who is the first to be drafted and the first, naturally, to be killed (but not in battle: a nice irony).

The film wonderfully captures all the exuberance and awkward idealism of youth without the stereotypes. We also seethe effects of an unending war on a young generation compelled by duty and circumstance to sacrifice more than just their lives.

“SCAFFOLDING”— Torn Between Two Worlds

 

“Scaffolding”

Torn Between Two Worlds

Amos Lassen

17-year- old ASHER has always been an impulsive troublemaker. It’s hard for him to concentrate in class, and he is filled of rage and violence. He also has a lot of charm and street wisdom. His strict father sees him as a natural successor to the family’s scaffolding business but Asher finds a different masculine role model in his gentle literature teacher Rami and has a special connection with him. Asher is torn between the two worlds and looks for a chance for a new life and new identity. Then a sudden tragedy takes place and he has to take the ultimate test of maturity.

Director Matan Yair had once been a teacher who believed that he could inspire his pupils by letting them follow their own path of self-discovery. One of his students was Asher who was the inspiration for this film.

Asher (Asher Lax) doesn’t care much for education and makes little effort to prepare for his final exams. Besides being a student, he helps his father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) with his scaffolding business. Since Milo thinks that his son will take over the company one day, Asher doesn’t believe that he has any options for a different life available. But everything changes when Rami (Ami Smolartchik), a literature teacher, becomes his mentor and a role model. He helps Asher with his studies, and shows Asher that he has other options in life aside from his father’s business. Although the teacher gives it his all, he himself is also lost. One day, Rami suddenly disappears from the students’ lives and leaves them with nothing but anger and sadness. Asher has to decide if he will continue with what he has already set out to do and if it will give him enough inner confidence to try to find happiness and fulfillment.

This is a sincere and compelling portrait of a young man’s self-discovery. It is also an allegory for Asher’s life. Asher Lax gives an incredible performance and this is first shot at acting. Ami Smolartchik’s Rami is an honest, heartening performance. This Israeli-Polish co-production is a finely woven production with a profound ending.