Catcher in the cucumbers
Were it not for two diligent television crews, from Channel One and Channel Two, who were called upon to accompany Officer Ben-Attiya on a police raid on Palestinian harvest workers in the cucumber fields of Shfaram (Monday, Channel Two News, 8 P.M. and Channel One's Mabat, 9 P.M.), we might never have known just how astonishingly humane the Israel Police in general, and Ben-Attiya and his people in particular, were when they came to deport the illegal workers from their temporary tin shacks in the middle of the night.
Dirty work, damn it, but someone has to do it, right? Someone has to shine a flashlight into a tin shack and shout in Arabic: "Anybody there?" Someone has to smash the lock, and wake up those poor souls: fathers, mothers and their small children. Someone has to interrogate them and handcuff the young men among them, and someone has to put them on the bus that will transport them to Jenin. Look how tenderly, damn it, the Jewish policeman carries a crying Palestinian baby to the bus. And what other police force in the world would wait so patiently for the father to take the drying laundry off the clothesline?
Kudos, then, to Israel Television for showing us our boys in blue in one of their more humane moments, and, as a nationally responsible communications medium, for understanding that the blistered and innocent-looking hands that harvest cucumbers in the morning can sow death at night, and therefore, painful as it may be, it is necessary to send them, the cucumber harvesters, back to where they came from.
No one thought to himself that perhaps this is not right, and no one stood between the police and those poor souls who were awakened in the middle of the night and said that he was ashamed of the scenes he had filmed. No, everyone kept right on working, some in deportation, some in documentation, some in cultivating a cucumber-head, full of water and without a drop of heart.
Suleiman al-Shafi, Gaza
So that we won't make the mistake of thinking that Gaza is a canton of Switzerland, or that the hens pecking in the garbage there are the swans of Neuschwanstein Castle, journalists from the territories have established the custom of ending their reports by staring into the camera and, sounding like conquerors of Mount Everest, declaring their name and location. Thus were born "Suleiman al-Shafi, Gaza," and "Amir Bar-Shalom, Qalqilyah," and they repeat these words with heroic emphasis, as if reminding us of the importance of the occasion.
The pioneer of this, you will remember, is "Yoav Tocker, Paris," who has entered the treasury of Israeli jokes. In Paris, incidentally, it is not customary to sign off reports this way: The names of the reporter and his crew appear modestly on the screen towards the end of the report, and the venue of the event is presumed to have been understood by the viewer on his own. It is true that in the Anglo-Saxon media, "John Simpson, Kabul" and "Jerrold Kessel, Ramallah" prevail, but this is because Kabul and Ramallah are places that are far from their target audience, unlike a journalist reporting 10 kilometers from his home, even if he imagines himself to be an amazing adventurer, as I do here: Benny Ziffer, the outskirts of Ra'anana.
Not seductive at all
Unlike Israeli literary programs that specialize in atmosphere - filmed in the magical alleys of Jaffa with a charming maiden who asks questions in a seductive voice - the unpretentious American section about "books for the beach" on CNN's commentary program "Late Edition" (Sunday, 8:10 P.M.) looked to be uninspiring. Yet wonder of wonders: I found myself wanting to read the books recommended by the banal American program rather than any book presented by a richly expressive Israeli literary program. This is despite the fact that the segment was presented not by a charming maiden, but rather a bearded Wolf Blitzer, who hosted three literary critics from major U.S. newspapers, none of whom were attractive or seductive at all.
Their conversation was boring: They talked about their disgust with the best-seller lists of their newspapers, about their lack of faith in PR and about their profound faith in books that come out of nowhere but whose reputations spread by word of mouth, and ultimately win readers' hearts.
Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress) from The Chicago Tribune recommended the novel "Prague" by Arthur Phillips, about a community of American expatriates in Budapest. Marie Arana of The Washington Post spoke about Eliot A. Cohen's book, "Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime," which focuses on, among other things, David Ben-Gurion. San Francisco Chronicle book editor Oscar Villalon warmly recommended Ian McEwan's "Atonement." And the Israeli viewer, who has been force-fed the lie that literature must be commercial, or it will not be at all - and was given the U.S. as evidence - realized that books that taste of plastic are perhaps essentially an Israeli fantasy.
There are people - statistics mention three out of every thousand - among us who are born with a certain genetic mutation that causes them to be hermaphrodites. As there is no legal provision for parents and doctors to decide for newborns which sex the babies will be, the matter is usually closed with the amputation of the infant's less-developed sexual organ. Along comes the Arte channel (last Thursday, 11:15 P.M.) and for one evening broke the conspiracy of silence on this subject with three breathtaking films. First, there was a documentary film about Jurgen, the son of a family of farmers who discovered at the age of 19 that he had been born a hermaphrodite and at the doctors' advice his parents had chosen that he be a male. Now he is bitter towards them, behaves demonstratively like a woman, despite his manly appearance, and watched sadly by his mother and his old aunt who try to justify themselves but cannot find a way to do so.
Indeed, there is no society in the world that looks kindly upon the androgyne, and even if Greek mythology is full of them, this does not mean that in reality Greek society was tolerant towards them. According to one interpretation of the biblical Creation story - the film "The Myth of the Hermaphrodite" spoke of this - the first man was androgynous, yet there is no religion that hates the mixture of the sexes as much as Judaism.
This is a fate of constant misery. The film by Kate Davis, "Southern Comfort," recounted the true story - true to the point of insanity - about Robert Eads from the state of Georgia, a man's man in a red cowboy hat, with a pipe and a beard, who at the age of 52 came down with cancer of the ovaries! Southern doctors refused to treat him. During his final dying year he found comfort with a male-to-female transsexual called John, also known as Lola Cola, who gave him love and persuaded him, on the brink of death, to address an audience of 500 at a large transgender conference so that they, at least, would know how to fight for their right to live and die as human beings.