About half a year ago Carmela Menashe's mobile phone rang. On the line was Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who surprised her with the offer of the position of soldiers' ombudsman. "You'll have an opportunity to influence from within, a lot of respect and an interesting job," she says Barak promised her.
Menashe was confused. After 21 years as the correspondent for military affairs on Israel Radio, despite her love for her work and the fact that she doesn't like changes, she thought that this was an offer she could not dismiss lightly.
After thinking over the offer for a number of weeks she decided not to accept it.
"I thought about it seriously, but in retrospect," she said with a smile, "what would have happened had I accepted the offer and had been sitting in the ombudsman's office while my colleagues were out on the scene in the Gaza Strip?"
What would have happened?
"I would have died. It would have been terribly difficult for me."
And indeed, it is possible that had the recent Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip been carried out with Carmela Menashe confined in some office or other, this would have cost the veteran journalist her sanity.
For the work she did during Operation Cast Lead, and for her many years of work as a reporter on the military beat, yesterday Menashe was awarded the Ilan Roeh Prize by Israel Broadcasting Authority Director General Mordechai Shklar and Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, the Minister responsible for the Broadcasting Authority. Roeh was an Israel Radio correspondent who was killed a decade ago as he was riding with Brigadier General Erez Gerstein, whom he was accompanying as a journalist. This is the 10th year that the Broadcasting Authority has awarded this prize to its field correspondents. Israel radio reporter on Arab affairs Gal Berger also won the prize along with Menashe.
Menashe has been working as an Israeli Radio reporter for more than 25 years. Though Tali Zelinger (now Lipkin-Shahak) preceded her as the first woman to work as a military correspondent in Israeli journalism, for many years Menashe has been the only woman in this position.
How do you explain the fact that you hadn't won the Roeh Prize until now?
"In my lifetime I have received many prizes and I really have been coddled," Menashe said. "Apparently my bosses should also get a prize for their courage in giving me the prize. I'm not complaining, I have no problem and I don't need prizes. I love what I do and if you still have the adrenaline and the excitement for broadcasting and a news item and you're bright-eyed because of your ability to influence, it's worth it."
Menashe belongs to a shrinking group of journalists whose work is based in the field. She started out as a military reporter at the beginning of the first intifada. The chief of staff at the time, Dan Shomron, assured her that this was an event that would end quickly. She enumerates the series of wars and security events since then that she has covered.
During Operation Cast Lead, she relates, one of the bosses at Israel Radio asked her if she wouldn't like to be replaced for a few days so that she could recover at home and take care of her 10-year-old daughter. Menashe refused vehemently.
"There's no such thing," she said almost angrily. "This is my test, war. There is a daily test vis-a-vis journalists, the Internet and television, but why should they replace me? No way. I am very possessive in this matter. I haven't asked to be replaced in any war. No one understands the difficulty of being on standby 24 hours a day, on the Sabbath, on holidays. I always have my mobile phone and my beeper with me. This is a matter of character and a way of life. I think that it is also a matter of worldview and personality. There's nothing for it - apparently I'm not capable of doing work that is routine. Only recently I realized that I can't wake up in the morning, go to work and come home as usual in the afternoon. I've realized that there is a problem."
Is this realization connected to the fact that you were offered the position of soldiers' ombudsman?
"No, not because of the offer. Because I realized that this isn't normative behavior, that you can get an alert in the middle of your life, that your life isn't planned; that you need to be addicted to the station and you aren't the master of your own life. This has to be a part of your personality because it's untenable that at 1:00 A.M. I'll get a phone call and immediately I'll go on the air and this will be my life. This is routine. There's adrenaline in this, at least with respect to broadcasting live on the radio."
As if on cue, Menashe's phone rings as she finishes speaking. It is 10 P.M. and on the line is the mother of a Israel Defense Forces soldier. To Menashe, this doesn't seem strange.
But your status is secure - you have lots of achievements chalked up to your name. Why is it like that?
Menashe wriggles a bit and finally explains: "When you're a woman, you always, absolutely always, have the feeling that you need to prove more. Always."
"Still. It's with you all the time, throughout your entire life. I don't know, maybe not for other women, but there's a feeling that you want to prove. Maybe it's my problem and everyone has his own complexes."
Do you still feel that you have something to prove, that you have to be insecure about your position?
"I get insulted. Very badly. In the end we're all terribly vulnerable and I also always need to feel that I... I need to prove. If I miss a story, then it's very hard for me."
Menashe's devotion to the medium of radio is also a matter of personality. Even though from time to time she pops up on Channel 1 in investigative stories (not only on military matters), she has never thought to cross the lines and move over to television, despite offers she has received. She would not even consider a more moderate transition, to commentator.
"There's something addictive about radio," she explains. "The immediacy and the absence of complications, the ability to act alone, to go out to the field right now without being dependent on any means apart from the telephone. I've even broadcast from the middle of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway; for example, when Dan Halutz was appointed chief of staff. I received the news and I had to broadcast it and I stopped the car in the middle of the highway. I had to. I got the news that Halutz had resigned at half-past midnight, here at my office, and I broadcast from here, first."
Will there be another stop in your career? Are there other things you would like to do?
"What could I do? I don't know. Maybe I'll write a doctorate, but what do I know how to do well? I have had a few offers to write a book, but where should I start gathering material? I even write things down on my hand, on cigarette packets, on a scrap of newspaper. I feel good in journalism but the way I feel now, journalism is something that is disappearing. You need a birth certificate and a pen and you call yourself a journalist. You broadcast on television and you have a program and you don't need anything.
"This is frustrating because nevertheless as a journalist you need to have education and knowledge. It's not possible that you can just say, 'I'm a journalist.' You need to have some depth, some ability. You go on the small screen and you interview and everything's fine, but your Hebrew is disgraceful and meager and so is your ability to describe reliably - all the things that are so basic in this profession and for which we have so much respect. I admire the military correspondents but in general there is a loss of the way here and there is no respect for the profession."
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