Taking Stock / He didn't intervene - he just called
Sometimes there are moments of sheer happiness.
Mixed in the sludge of bad news, cynicism, corruption, terrorism, manipulations, sweetheart deals and dirt, you find little gems, stories of human caring that warm the depths of the heart and reestablish the love of man for mankind.
We had such a moment this week, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (aka the Good Grandfather) coyly confessed to Globes correspondent Moshe Lichtman about his decision to help a fellow human being in anguish.
This is a story about two brothers, Menashe and Mordechai Melamud, who owned a small bit of land, a dunam and a quarter (or, way less than an acre) in the pastoral village of Kfar Malal. The government, via the Public Works Authority (PWA, known by its Hebrew acronym Maatz), sought to seize the brothers' little tract of land in order to build a road, Highway 531, over it. The brothers were offered $610,000 compensation, in cash.
But they thought they deserved more and hired star attorney Yehoshua Horesh to speak with the Transportation Ministry and with the PWA, and so he did.
If you've dealt with government officials, then you know they are a hard-hearted bunch, and mean as polecats when it comes to private people's dunams. So the brothers decided to raise the matter with their old friend, Arik "Good Gramps" Sharon.
Arik took the time to hear their complaint, and, he claims, told them to talk with the Transportation Ministry. But Arik is also a public servant, sensitive to the issues of the people, so he himself generously went and called the director-general of the Transportation Ministry, and asked him to meet with the Melamud brothers and hear their complaint.
And indeed, the director-general of the Transportation Ministry, and of the PWA, and the engineer of the Tel Aviv district, and the official responsible for land issues at the PWA, and the Melamuds and their lawyer all met up last Thursday to discuss the affair.
During the meeting, a phone call arrived from the Prime Minister's Office, after which the meeting broke up and a smaller meeting between the ministry director-general and that of the PWA and lawyer Horesh was held. There they agreed on extra compensation of $110,000.
This is as far as Globes correspondent Moshe Lichtman got. Now for the prime minister's comment on the affair:"In the course of the prime minister's meeting with Mr. Melamud, Melamud raised claims, inter alia, about the path of Highway 531."
Lovely, lovely: "in the course of ". From which we understand this is nothing unusual, the prime minister always meets with citizens with heavy hearts and listens to their opinions on a wide range of matters. You can try, too! If you have a problem with the authorities, whether over land, or taxes, or expropriation, or trash or mosquitoes, ask to meet with the prime minister.
Listening to you
Hudna? Condoleezza? Terrorism? Road map? Don't be silly, Grandpa Arik has all the time in the world for you. He'll make time. Don't be bashful. Just go in and say, "Arik, I just wanted to ask you something. Look, I have this xxx-shekel bill/tax/fine and I think it's too much. Couldja look into it?"
What, embarrassed to raise your petty little concerns in the Prime Minister's Office, where the weightiest decisions in the land are formed and handed down? Relax - Gramps is there for you.
The PM's statement goes on. "The prime minister clarified to Mr. Melamud that he is not familiar with or engaged in the matter..."
Wonderful, wonderful. Should Sharon really have to clarify that he is not personally handling the seizure of 1.25 dunams to build a road? Well, if the Melamud siblings were under the impression that the prime minister's job does encompass such matters, they were put right.
It gets funnier. "... and referred him to the proper authorities, namely the Transportation Ministry." What can we say, that's service for you! Those funny brothers didn't know who handles the confiscation of their little tract in Kfar Malal. The silly things thought it was the prime minister! If not somebody higher. But he kindly set them right.
The conclusion of the prime minister's statement is absolutely the best part. "The prime minister called the director-general of the Transportation Ministry, Salman Ben-Zion, and asked him to meet with Melamud and hear his complaint. Beyond that, the prime minister did not engage in the issue, is not familiar with its details, and in any case did not intervene in it."
Ah, it was all a mistake! Here you go, the Prime Minister's Office has set us right, unambiguously and clearly: the prime minister did not intervene. He just called the director-general of the Transportation Ministry and ordered him to meet with the Melamud brothers. Call that intervention? That was, at most, good citizenship. The director-general of the Transportation Ministry knows that the prime minister is attentive to the citizenry, and if he calls, that is just to make sure he is attentive too.
It's a funny story. We laughed when we read about it. We laughed even harder when we read the prime minister's reaction, and by the time we reached the point where the prime minister said he hadn't intervened, we were rolling around helplessly.
And then, once we had dried the tears of laughter from our cheeks and calmed down, we remembered just who's the butt of the joke.