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My word: From ‘Mary Poppins’ to migrants

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My word: From ‘Mary Poppins’ to migrants

By LIAT COLLINS, jpost.com, Jan. 9, 2013

The fact that such events are taking place, very close to our borders, shows that the world is not the simple place of a child’s Disney movie.

It has been a strange week both personally and professionally, classifying my profession as “the news business.”

I danced at the wedding of a middle- aged friend getting married for the first time; the same afternoon there was the memorial for former Jerusalem Post editor in chief N. David Gross, who died at the age of 90 on January 3 and donated his body to science.

On both a personal and professional level, I was relieved when Sheba Medical Center decided to stop issuing hourly bulletins on the condition of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Everybody has his own opinion of prolonging the life of a man now in his mid-80s who has been comatose for eight years. I believe that dying with dignity should be as basic a concept as living with dignity, and broadcasting the minutiae of somebody’s bodily functions and medical responses to an entire nation every hour does not fit my idea of an individual’s right to privacy and a peaceful death.

I also saw two films this week, or more precisely one movie and one video clip.

Some of my friends are boycotting Saving Mr. Banks, about the making of the Disney movie Mary Poppins, because the lead role is played by BDS activist Emma Thompson, who badmouths Israel at every opportunity. Thompson should stick to acting. She portrays the touchy P.L. Travers in just the right way and obviously has a better grip on the filmmaking world than on what goes on in the real one.

The video clip I saw should have come with a warning. It was footage on You- Tube apparently showing two Syrian men each receiving 25 lashes in public by Islamists. Their crime? They didn’t attend Friday prayers in the local mosque.

Its awfulness stems from its ordinariness.

Passersby continued to pass by as the men, shirts raised, felt the whip on their backs again and again. The first of the two victims – for victims they were – repeatedly, instinctively tried to protect himself from the lashes using his arms. His assailant (for want of a better word) gently pushed his hands out of the way. It was the gentleness that got me. Perhaps he really believes that by inflicting such a harsh punishment in public he is saving the man. I expect both men will be more particular in future about going to the mosque, but what they will be secretly praying for is anyone’s guess and their own business.

The fact that such events are taking place, very close to our borders, shows that the world is not the simple place of a child’s Disney movie.

I just hope John Kerry gets a chance to help solve other problems around the globe when he’s finished amassing frequent- flier points in this neck of the woods, because the world certainly needs some help. Although it’s hard to imagine Kerry as some kind of modern male Mary Poppins coming and going with the wind, saving us from ourselves and others. It is the image of the talking parrot-head umbrella that most comes to mind.

Statements by recently reinstalled Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman also whipped up a media storm this week, although the ideas he spoke about are not new. He has stated them in public and in interviews for several years. His plan is to swap land in the framework of an eventual peace agreement with the Palestinians, retaining undisputed Israeli sovereignty over the main settlement blocs such as Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim, in return for giving the nascent Palestinian state control over areas currently populated by Israeli Arabs.

Predictably, the politicians from Arab parties – those who define their identities as Palestinian – completely rejected the idea, using terms like “ethnic cleansing” and “forced transfer,” although it does not involve residents – either Jewish or Arab – in those particular communities physically going anywhere.

Clearly it would take more than a spoonful of sugar to make this medicine go down. And the Israeli Arabs aren’t the only ones who are wary of it.

Instant remedies are wonderful, but like something Mary Poppins can conjure out of her bottomless carpet bag, they exist only in our imaginations.

In Liberman’s mind, the new border would run very close to the main Trans-Israel Highway (Route No. 6). It would turn the country into something so narrow that kids could hike from one side to the other – the Palestinian border to the Mediterranean – on a school trip, and still be home in time for tea.

True, many of today’s threats come in the form of missiles and not conventional armies, as those urging giving up the Jordan Valley in a peace agreement point out, but this would provide a launching pad for those missiles even closer to the country’s main airport, population and commercial centers, and infrastructure. Land matters. There are not many Israelis right now who would agree to place the Golan Heights in Syrian hands – be they the bloodstained hands of Bashar Assad or those whipping the religious into a frenzy and the secular into a pulp.

IT WAS the African migrants’ strike that ultimately grabbed most attention this week. The migrants/illegal immigrants/ infiltrators/refugees – choose your own terminology – claim to have spontaneously organized the strike and march, ending up in a well-publicized protest outside the Knesset, demanding better rights and a greater chance of receiving Israeli nationality.

I’m not sure that they have done themselves a favor. The idea of gathering some 20,000 strong in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on January 5 was to make their presence known. To many, it suddenly made the vast numbers of ostensible asylum-seekers – most of them from Sudan and Eritrea – real. Instead of thinking of them as individuals whose plight is touching, they seemed to be a well-organized threat. The fact that they were clearly receiving support from leftwing NGOs did not help their cause, although their situation should not be a matter of Left and Right but right and wrong.

They have all undoubtedly escaped from conditions far worse than those they found here, but not as good as those they aspire to, for the vast majority of the estimated 60,000 are economic migrants.

However they arrived, wherever they’re from, and no matter how long they are going to be here, they deserve to be treated with dignity. As I have said in the past, just as Israel took in “Boat People” escaping war-ravaged Vietnam, we must be careful not to lose empathy for those with nowhere to go. But open-mindedness does not mean open borders, particularly when it comes to the world’s only Jewish state letting in unlimited numbers of Muslim migrants.

And putting the focus on providing asylum for the victims of civil war, poverty and possibly even climate change, deflects it from the source of the problem.

The real tragedy is not taking place in Israel’s South or the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, where most of the migrants have ended up. It’s taking place thousands of kilometers away – in Africa, and that’s where the problems need to be addressed.

The global community needs to do more to help prevent the refugee crisis, and Israel can play a role through programs like the Foreign Ministry’s MASHAV (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation).

Groups of migrants here should undergo training programs in agriculture, medicine and education that could help them, and their own countries, when they return. Those who truly need asylum should receive at least temporary permits enabling them to work legally, particularly in areas where foreign workers are routinely brought in to work, such as agriculture.

I wish there was a Mary Poppins who could snap her fingers and get the job done, with an element of fun. But there’s not. Still, if it makes you feel better you could try saying “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or go fly a kite.

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