The American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC] is the biggest pro-Israel lobby in the United States. They recently held their annual year-long convention where prominent people spoke, ideas were raised on American/Israeli relations, and progress was made. Some of the prominent speakers included President Barak Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last Thursday, before the convention, Obama met with Netanyahu to talk about the American/Israeli relationship, and everything that goes along with that, including the peace-negotiation process between Israel and Palestine. Rumors had arisen after their discussion that it didn’t go as well as they’d hoped. The news media claimed Obama called to go back to the 1967 borders (meaning the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights would be given to Palestine), and Netanyahu said absolutely not to this idea. However, when Obama spoke to AIPAC he clarified exactly what he meant by this statement.

“But I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. So I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.

No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations or in any international forum. Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate. That is my commitment; that is my pledge to all of you.
The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people — each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”

He also said how he didn’t mean the exact 1967 borders, but instead spoke about mutually agreed land swaps. Personally I could see the West Bank and Gaza going to Palestine, but the idea of giving away the Golan Heights is something that I cannot and will not, ever be able to foresee happening.

One of the major annoyances I have with pro-Palestinian supporters is how they focus on all the Palestinians suffering, but they never think about the Israelis. Israel has done an absolutely tremendous job protecting itself, defending itself, and amongst all of that struggle becoming a power player in the world of technology, economics, politics, etc. Obama recognized this in his speech which I truly appreciated.

“We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel living in a very tough neighborhood. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland. When I went to Sderot and saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year-old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket, and when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I was reminded of the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map — face of the Earth.”

People can say all they want that Obama may not be as pro-Israel as past Presidents such as Clinton and Bush. But I don’t really see there being a strong argument to that. First off, I think the Clinton/Rabin friendship was rare and typically unheard of. Secondly, Obama has come into Presidency when the Arab world has become an extremely powerful presence. He has come into office when for the first time the U.N. may be more Pro-Palestine than Pro-Israel. He has other factors to deal with in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and I think so far he has progressed beautifully. Yes, saying that a solution may be to go back to the 1967 borders was a strong remark to make. But at least he actually SAID a solution and forced progress to start being made.

On topic of the US/Israel relationship he said, “So when the Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew. In the wake of the Goldstone Report, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself. When an effort was made to insert the United Nations into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it.”

In September the U.N. General Assembly is going to vote on whether or not to recognize a Palestinian state. As of right now there is a strong possibility that they will vote in favor of a state. This vote will be mostly symbolic; it will largely just give Palestinians more leverage during the peace talks. However, the symbolism is powerful enough to show how isolated Israel actually is internationally.

Immediately after Obama spoke to AIPAC John Roberts on Fox News spoke on the topic. To start he interviewed a member of the Knesset, Danny Danon, who is one of our clients at the PR Agency I am currently interning at. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to go to the Fox News studio in Jerusalem, meet Danon, and help see the preparation it takes for these kinds of interviews. It was an extremely rewarding and exciting experience for me, and I could not have asked for a better opportunity to motivate me for my own future career plans.

Also at the studios I met one of two Middle Eastern foreign correspondents for Fox News. After we left John Roberts interviewed him on the topic and this is what Leland had to say:

Before Danon went into the studios to be interviewed an Israeli news station interviewed him. After questions were asked and answers were given the cameraman shut off his camera and immediately started arguing politics with Danon. This would never happen in the states, if anywhere else in the world. But Israeli’s speak their mind, they’ve lived in this unjust world for too long, and no one, no matter how powerful, will stop them from feeling like they need to get their words out there too.

Day of the Catastrophe

This past Sunday was the “Day of the Catastrophe” or in Arabic known as, “Nakba Day.” Some people also refer to it as an “Annual day of the commemoration of the displacement of the Palestinian people.” On this day Arabs from all over the world protest against the creation of Israel. It falls on May 15 every year, which according to the Western Calendar is the birthday of Israel’s independence. In Israel Yom Ha’atzmaut is followed by the Lunar Calendar, hence why the ‘celebration and catastrophe’ can fall on different days.

So who exactly are the displaced Palestinian people who are protesting? Today there are several million of them “divided between Jordan (2 million), Lebanon (427,057), Syria (477,700), the West Bank (788,108), and the Gaza Strip (1.1 million), with another at least quarter of million internally displaced Palestinians in Israel.”

On Facebook a few months ago I was invited to a group informing me that there were people creating groups and event pages on the social networking website to start a third intifada [Arab uprising]. Hundreds of thousands of people “liked this page” and the wall post comments made one believe a major protest could occur. In the past Israel may not have seen this as a major threat. However, due to the use of Facebook for the protests in Egypt, and the onward growing trend, the IDF convened and secured all borders of Israel.

Well, I am not going to lie and say I wasn’t a bit afraid for this day. It happens once a year, and nothing major has happened in a long time, but given the recent revolutions, and the peace talks that are happening soon, I think I had reason to be worried.

Palestinians and other Arabs marched towards the border of Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon. At least twelve Palestinians were killed. In East Jerusalem, and other various cities in the West bank, hundreds of Palestinian protestors hurled stones at the Israeli Defense Forces. Dozens of Palestinians were injured, over 70 were arrested, and one man died.

When I arrived at work I logged online and saw an article about how just an hour earlier in Tel Aviv, an Arab Israeli slammed into vehicles and pedestrians killing one man and injuring seventeen others. All the while yelling, “Alla hu-Akbar!!”

At Hadassah Hospital, near where I live, cocktails were thrown. I received a text from a friend who also lives in the Kfar who said, “In case you haven’t heard, there were some protests by the Hadassah Hospital today so it would be best to use the main entrance when you return home, just to be safe.”

A few hours later I received another text from an OTZMAnikim who is interning at the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. “Fyi: Hundreds of Palestinians broke through the barrier into Israel, IDF is currently on the ground.”

It is hard to believe that this day exists. But Israel is a democracy, and protests are allowed, so while it’s crazy to think your car could very well be hit by a thrown stone while driving to work, it’s not out of the ordinary. Especially surrounding, and on the day of, Nakba day.

While those of you reading this might be in awe that such a day exists, I want to note how biased I found a lot of the media to be. On the BBC, one of I think, the most objective-based news websites out there, the headline read, “Israeli forces open fire at Palestinian protesters.” Other pro-Palestinian style headlines were also seen throughout the day on news outlets. I would also like to point out the fact that Syria may have used this day as a way to steer away from their own Arab uprisings currently occurring.

One article I read however that I did agree with is from the magazine Internet site,

So next time you are sitting on your porch, barbecuing on July 4, just think to yourself how lucky you are to be living in a country where other people aren’t protesting against your independence. To know that you can celebrate and party and not have to worry about venues being closed because of a terror attack threat (this happened on Yom Ha’atzmaut). On July 4 don’t just get excited for the hamburgers, hot dogs, and various summer salads. Get excited to live in a country where this doesn’t happen every year after your Independence Day.

יום העצמאות‎ – Yom Ha’atzmaut

Last Monday night began the celebration of Israel’s 63rd year of Independence since it’s founding in 1948.

A few friends (Ariel came to visit!) and I went to the center of Jerusalem in the Ben Yehuda area to celebrate. It was crazier than New York on New Years. Everyone was out and about, walking around, having fun, and celebrating.

The next day I woke up and got ready to go to a barbecue. Jenn and I made an Asian Quinoa salad with red peppers, mushrooms, onions, and tofu to bring [Look forward to a future food blog entry with the recipe and instructions on how to make it!]

The barbecue was at Jenn and Eli’s friends who has an apartment in the German Colony. He lives on the top floor and has a view overlooking the area which is just beautiful. Every time I am on a balcony like that I realize how important a view can be. Especially crucial to my mornings of drinking my coffee and reading the newspaper.

We hung out, ate delicious food, barbecued (baroor), and I picked some of the students brains on becoming Rabbis. They all are currently finishing up their first year at Hebrew Union College – a Reform Rabbinical school.

After awhile we decided to head back to our apartment, as it felt like the weekend, but in actuality we had work the next day. On our way back we noticed hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people out and about in the parks, barbecuing, socializing, and celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut. It was lovely to see so much nationalistic pride, and everyone coming together in the parks barbecuing as opposed to staying in their backyards.

On the way home Eli and I decided to make a detour and stop at Gilad Shalit’s tent. Although this is a day of celebration, we should also remember those of us that can not celebrate. Gilad Shalit is a 24 year old IDF soldier who was captured by Hamas almost five years (June 25, 2006) ago and has been held hostage in Gaza since then. He is currently standing between two walls and doesn’t even have room to sit. He has been in this position for far too long.

His parents have set up a memorial and protest tent for him in the center of Jerusalem. They sit out there every single day, handing out stickers and ribbons, selling t-shirts, and allowing people to write on the wall for him. But these are all motionless moves I am sure, as their main intention is to advocate to the Knesset to get their son home. While everyone was celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut Gilads dad was in the forefront arguing with the Israeli government to do something about their son.

On the official website that was created for him it says, “Gilad has not been granted any visitation rights by the International Red Cross or any other humanitarian organization, as required by International Law. The Schalit family have tried to send a number of letters, through the International Red Cross. As far the family knows Gilad has only received one letter, which was transferred with the mediation of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Khaled Mash’al, Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau and then to Gilad Schalit.” If you click on the link for this site it tells you ways you can help if you are interested.

The solution to this horrifying situation however, is not that easy. Hamas is asking that in order to return Gilad back to Israel they would like to see the release of hundreds of Palestinians prisoners (the majority of whom are the worst of the worst terrorists) and the deportation of some of them outside the territory controlled by the Palestinian National Authority. In the past when prisoners were released many Israeli citizens were then killed as an after-effect.

Even Israelis are conflicted. In the last poll that was taken 69% favored Gilad’s release with Hamas’s demands. 22% however, want Gilad to be released but not on the demands of Hamas. Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor at Tel Aviv University, made a comment that I think summed up the complications of the situation perfectly.

“Here we see the basic dilemmas between the individual and the collective, and we see victim pitted against victim. Gilad Shalit is a victim who was violently kidnapped, in a way that Israelis do not consider to be a normative means of struggle. Therefore, one side says, he should be returned at any price. But the families of those killed in terrorist attacks and the people who were wounded in those attacks are victims, too, and they say that no price should be paid to the murderers. And it is truly a dilemma, because no side is right, and no side is wrong.”

Any time a holiday is being celebrated, there are many Israelis who also make a point to say that Gilad is not here to partake in the celebrations. His story is depressing, but it is reality. While Israel more than deserves a day of celebrations for their independence, let it be known that there is still a lot more freedom that can be, and I damn sure hope one day, will be achieved.

יום הזכרון – Yom Ha’Zikaron

[Note: This entry was originally written yesterday — Monday, May 9, but couldn’t be published until today.]

Last night at 8:00 p.m. a one-minute siren rang off in all of Eretz Yisrael. Everyone stood, stared straight ahead, remembered, and honoured all of the soldiers — Jewish, Arab, Christian, and the Druze, all fighting in the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] from the time the first Jews left Jerusalem to settle into other parts of the country in 1860, until today, in 2011. Every citizen of Israel has served in the army in some way (except the Haradim, but we won’t go there right now). When a child is born in Israel one of the first thing parents are told from others is, “Mazel Tov, may by the time your child turns 18 they not have to go to war.”

I was standing at the Western Wall as I heard the siren go off yesterday evening. It was there that the official ceremony for the Memorial Day was held. Shimon Peres, the President of Israel spoke, along with the Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz. Representatives of families whose loved ones have died while serving in the IDF, along with soldiers in the IDF were all sitting and/or standing in face of the wall.

On the other side of the fence was myself, along with hundreds, maybe even thousands of others, all standing, bowing their heads in mourning, in honour of heroes — “For the 22,867 servicemen and -women who fell defending the land of Israel since 1860. In the past year, 183 soldiers and security personnel died while serving the state. The figure includes the Prisons Service victims of the Carmel fire.” — jpost

Let’s also not forget about Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who has been held hostage by Hamas for five years now. A torch was flaming in front of the wall in his honour. Let’s hope he will be home very very soon.

At 11:00 a.m. this morning another two-minute siren rang out across Israel. As I stared out the window of my office I looked down into the street. Just like last week everything and everyone stopped. They stood, they stared, they remembered, and they honoured. Except this week, one thing was different. I noticed one woman who was wearing a keffiyeh. My assumption is she is Arab, and she chose to continue walking and not stand in honour of the fallen soldiers. This siren was not for Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), it is for people that died for this country. It is for people who have died for her country.

It was unfortunate as I was looking out my window, falling into my own state of mind in honouring the soldiers, that I focused on the one woman who wasn’t stopping. Soon she was out of the picture and I could fall into a Zen. It was my own personal moment, I am looking out my window, standing there, alone. But this one, small moment, captured the bigger picture. That Israel is a country at war. And every citizen here knows that when they turn 18 years of age they will serve their country, and take a risk in dying in defending others. Defending people like me. And then there is the other side of the war, people like this woman, who chose to continue walking through the loud siren, not honouring people who are/have been risking their lives, for her.

As I was walking out of my office, and up Ben Yehuda, one of the busiest streets in Jerusalem, the mood was sombre. People were out, doing what they do on a normal Monday, but there wasn’t as much noise from people talking and hustling and bustling around the city streets. Tonight that mood will change. Tonight I will start celebrating, along with everyone else in Israel, the celebration of the state of Israel. Eretz Yisrael’s 63rd birthday begins at sundown and I can not wait until I can make a birthday wish for this country. As the old adage goes, if I tell you my wish it won’t come true. But I have a hunch that you won’t have to think to hard to figure out what that wish may be.

Food Blog: Tofu Scramble

So about a month ago I posted a blog entry about some delicious shakshouka that I cooked. Since then I have been continuing to cook up some delicious dishes (vegetarian of course) and I am excited to share this one with you!

If you love meat and eggs you may think tofu scramble is a bit weird. But if you take it for what it is, tofu with vegetables, then it can be quite delicious. Vanessa and I cooked this up one morning for breakfast and it was a great start to our day.

What You Need:

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp tumeric

3 tbsps water

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

1 small tomato, chopped into smaller chunks

1 cup of spinach, chopped

one cup of finely chopped bell peppers (I only had green so that is what we used)

1 block of extra firm tofu, drained, and cut into 5 equal sized slabs

2 tbsps olive oil

1/4 cup nutritional yeast (I didn’t actually use this but it makes your food taste “cheesy” so if you crave that then be sure to add some nutritional yeast!)

What We Did:

Combine the cumin, thyme, tumeric, salt and water in a small bowl. Set aside.

While I was chopping away at the vegetables Vanessa was draining the tofu. I’ve come to find that the tofu in Israel is a lot less watery than the tofu in the United States. I don’t know if this is due to the packaging or not, but either way make sure to get all of the water out. This will make it easier to cook and it’ll taste a lot better.

Before we put the tofu in we put the olive oil in the pan and got the garlic sizzling. After it was a little brown we added the vegetables. Then it was time for the tofu. We let it sit for awhile. After about ten minutes we added the spices.

When you are stirring everything around be sure to use a spatula and cut the tofu into smaller pieces. You can have it as large or small as you want, depending on how “scrambley” you want your breakfast to look. Once everything is together it’ll only take a few more minutes and a few more rounds of stirring before you have a delicious breakfast waiting for you to eat. As Israelis say before a meal, Bitay’avon!

11 Million and 1

Sunday was a big day. It was the day we officially remembered the Holocaust, all of its horrifying events that took place, and all of the incredible 11 million people that were killed. While we honoured and remembered the deaths of these 11 million, the intentional killing of 1 human being also took place. Osama Bin Laden was murdered on Sunday as well. I have yet to go onto Facebook, but I have heard through news sources and friends that people are up in arms. Some members of the social network site are praising his death, and others are threatening to kill Americans. But before we all get so involved on taking sides, let’s look at a more intra-conflict within the States.

I think I can speak for the majority of Americans that we all breathed a sigh of relief when we heard the news. But it’s been a few days now and the reactions have been differing. Some people are partying, frat-style, over it. I think this is hypocritical, entirely unnecessary, and makes me a little sick to my stomach. Remember when September 11 happened and we heard the news of people parading in the streets celebrating? How did we feel then? Were we not horrified to see that people were smiling and cheering in the deaths of over 3,000 Americans?

This was a victory for the United States, yes. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be celebrated outlandishly with beer and chanting. I have read many interesting editorial pieces on the topic and if you are interested in this like myself, please check them out.

This one is an editorial piece from the Huffington Post and is entitled, “The Psychology of Revenge: Why We Should Stop Celebrating Osama Bin Laden’s Death”

This next one, from, is entitled, “”USA! USA!” is the wrong response.” I particularly like these last few paragraphs from the writer, David Sirota:

“Again, this isn’t in any way to equate Americans who cheer on bin Laden’s death with, say, those who cheered after 9/11. Bin Laden was a mass murderer who had punishment coming to him, while the 9/11 victims were innocent civilians whose deaths are an unspeakable tragedy. Likewise, this isn’t to say that we should feel nothing at bin Laden’s neutralization, or that the announcement last night isn’t cause for any positive feeling at all — it most certainly is.

But it is to say that our reaction to the news last night should be the kind often exhibited by victims’ families at a perpetrator’s lethal injection — a reaction typically marked by both muted relief but also by sadness over the fact that the perpetrators’ innocent victims are gone forever, the fact that the perpetrator’s death cannot change the past, and the fact that our world continues to produce such monstrous perpetrators in the first place.”

A lot of people have been asking me recently what Israel has been like after Osama’s death. I don’t know if it’s because the events took place on Yom HaShoah, or if to Israeli’s it’s something that they’re unfortunately more routinely used to, but it wasn’t a huge story in the beginning. Since, I’ve done some research and read that it was a 50/50 ratio of Palestinians who were interviewed about being pleased or not about Bin Laden’s death. Just the other day in central Jerusalem there were also some Arabs protesting against his death.

The day after Sunday was Monday. This was also the first day of my internship. I got there a few minutes early, settled in a bit, and very soon after a siren sounded. At 10:00a.m. a siren was heard throughout the entire country of Israel. I looked out the window of my building and down onto Yafo Road, one of the busiest streets in Jerusalem. As soon as the siren began everything stopped. The cars, the trains, the people. Everything and everyone froze. Anyone who was sitting rose. No one moved. For two minutes people stood still and remembered. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and I was extremely moved by it.

After it ended I began my internship. It was all really exciting; as soon as I arrived I began working and I was busy until the time I left. I am so excited to be back in the public relations/marketing/general communications world. And this time to be promoting something I am passionate about is exactly what I’ve been craving.

At my lunch break I received a phone call from my Madreech that the apartment we moved into (I am now living on the Hebrew University campus!) on Sunday is in the middle of being renovated and they placed us in the wrong one. When one of my roommates went to go drop off our old keys the woman asked how we could have ever lived in there, and didn’t realize sooner that it was an unlivable place. I found this funny, that five of us girls didn’t mind at all, in fact we didn’t even notice something was wrong. It was this moment that made me realize how I’ve come here and learned to not sweat so much about small things that can be easily fixable with some cleaning and personalization.

So after work I had to head back, repack what I had unpacked the day before, and then move into my new place and unpack again. There was a lot of cleaning, a lot of lifting, and a lot of organizing involved. I am now officially (hopefully) settled into my new place. I’m living with four other girls from my program, but I have my own room, which is a very pleasant surprise. Aside from my bedroom in Massachusetts, I’ve never had my own room so this will be new and exciting. Check it out!

I am looking forward to continuing working and experiencing what life is like in Jerusalem. And of course, sharing all of that with none other, but you.

Our Vienna Vacation: Day 7

After an hour flight delay Ariel and I had left Croatia and landed in Vienna, Austria. Two passport stamps later and we were in the train station waiting to go into the city. Once we left the station I noticed a woman who was holding a Starbucks cup. I said to Ariel, that cup is little, meaning she either drinks her coffee really slow or there is a Starbucks close by. We were supposed to take a right from the station to get into the city, but we ‘accidentally’ took a left. I believe we were supposed to take this left, because very soon after we spotted a Starbucks! I was elated.

With a caramel macchiato in my hand, I left Starbucks with Ariel and we turned in the right direction this time to get to the center of the city. Vienna literally swept me off my feet. I came there not being that clean, and not dressed in the most fashionable attire. But I had never felt so beautiful. The architecture, the slower pace, the people, the horses on their drawn carriages, and everything else was just completely out of this world. Ariel and I toured the city for a good 6-7 hours that day, but even now I only felt as though I had a small snippet, and I already am planning in my head the next time I can go back and really get to see it more.

The day consisted of a lot of walking, a lot of browsing [theatres, one of Mozart’s homes, Parliament buildings, the Museum Quartier, parks, etc.) and a lot of aweing at all of the cakes and other decadent desserts in the pastry shops. At the end, we were tired, but we had one more place to go. We hopped back onto the train and made our way to Schonnbrun’s Palace [A UNESCO world heritage site] where Schloss Schönbrunn had his summer residence in the 16th century. Just like everything else I had seen this past week, it was beautiful.

Since Ariel and I were exhausted and knew we had to leave soon to get back to the airport, we thought the best way to spend our time here was to sit on the palace steps and enjoy the deserts we had bought earlier that day.

Once we arrived back to the airport we had a small dinner and then boarded the plane. I looked around the plane and realized I was again surrounded by Israelis. The plane ride was hectic, much like Israelis are. No one was sitting in their seats, and numerous times the pilot had to talk on the speakers and ask everyone to please cooperate and sit down. But no one actually did. I was back to the mentality I had grown into, and man did I miss it.

Now I am currently sitting at Ariel’s aunt and uncles waiting to start the final part of the OTZMA program. Tomorrow I will be officially moved into an apartment in Jerusalem with four other OTZMAnikim. Monday I will begin my internship. I can not wait for part three, and I can not believe I will be back in the states in less than two months. This European vacation made me realize things about home that I had missed and not even thought of. But it also made me realize that after such a long amount of time, you don’t crave things as strongly anymore. While I am excited for home, I am also starting to get really sad to leave Israel. I missed Israel when I was in Europe, I got excited when I heard people walking by speaking Hebrew, or when I saw Hebrew writing on buildings. I missed cutting people in line at the grocery store, and I missed jabbing elbows with people and not feeling like I have to apologize for it. But much like Israeli’s, I will continue to live in the present moment and enjoy Jerusalem for all that it has to offer. I will not think of the future too much (though some because it is officially the beginning of job hunting time), and I will continue to thoroughly enjoy the beautiful life that I am living. I especially can not wait to share all of my experiences with you. Shabbat Shalom everyone!

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