Archive | November, 2012

Of Mice and Men

21 Nov

Homeland Security Conference Tel Aviv 2012

I’m attending the 2nd International Homeland Security Conference at Tel Aviv fairgrounds.  If the sound of the conference alone doesn’t throw fear in your heart, try walking past security at the main gate.  Once inside the park-like grounds, I make it to the main exhibit hall.  This is where I leave behind the world I know and plunge into a world of security and defense.  Black is the dominant color inside the giant hall.   Black drapes hang from ceiling to floor, illuminated by glaring track lights.  Pretty hostesses in dark skirts and slim-fitting jackets hand out colorful programs and direct attendees to coffee and juice bars.

Mice work as explosives detectives

Hundreds of men strut the corridors.  I later learn they came from 65 countries for the 3 day event, from Finland to Kenya, from Brazil to China — all hoping to learn, purchase, upgrade, sell the next defense system.  The floor space is taken up by SWAT trucks on display, first response vehicles, smart fence barriers, surveillance cameras, 3D terrain mapping, cyberspace gadgets.

I meander between the exhibits, can almost hear the late James Brown sing: “This is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a….”  Well, here women are optional.  The lyrics might read more like “nothing without a… missile defense, combat vehicles, satellite hardware.”  A large group of Nigerians and Germans huddle around a large metal booth.  I follow.

“This is latest in airport and explosives security,” the presenter for Tamar Industries says and directs us to a walk-through booth.  His co-presenter, a woman pretending to be a passenger, stores a “suspicious” package on her body and walks into the booth.  First, air is pushed into the chamber through invisible vents.  Eight seconds later the scan is complete.  An alarm and a red light go off.  She’s apprehended, questioned.  And  who deserves the credit for such quick detection?  The answer is mice.

The developer of this ingenious invention relies on mice to do the work.  We’re told they’re stored out-of-sight in the booth compartment.  Over time the mice are trained to smell over 50 odors, from coffee, hand cream, to explosives.  The moment the mice detect a suspicious odor they scurry to one side of the booth panel and trigger the alarm switch.  Their work shift includes 4 hours on, 8 hours off.  A fresh army of mice arrive to replaced the tired ones every 14 days.

I plan to unionize the mice at the first opportunity, demand a 401k and a dental plan.  And cheese in the lunchroom.

The invited lecturers in the main auditorium approach the lectern and give their take on the latest security challenges.  The words “critical” “security” “synergy” “intelligence” “infrastructure” “9/11” “cyber attack” “Pearl Harbor” are thrown around like confetti.  The director for the London Olympics talks about his success of keeping the games terror-free.  The Brazilians are taking notes; they’re hosts for the world’s biggest sporting event in 2014: The World (Soccer) Cup followed by the Olympic Games in 2016.

Israeli security companies come on stage and present their wares on giant screens to the music of Double-O Seven and Mission Impossible.  Sorry, no girls in bikinis and boots allowed on stage.

On board an armored truck at Ashdod Seaport

The last day of the conference includes a trip to the seaport of Ashdod.  The event is for the foreign delegates only.  A well-connected friend arranges a pass for me.  Hundreds get off buses and are ushered to the port terminal.  After a short PR film, after rounds of coffee and pastry, we’re escorted to the port entrance.  Heavy trucks idle at the gate with containers on board.  The spokesman for the port says no one’s allowed unless they’re cleared by license plate recognition, container number cross-reference, and biometrics on the driver.

Israeli commando drill at Ashdod Seaport

The best is left for last.  We sit on bleachers near the water’s edge.  It feels like a show at Universal Studios.  A cruise ship is tethered to the dock.  Explosions sound.  “Terrorists” are on board the ship.  One launches a shoulder-mounted missile in the direction of the pier.  We cover out ears.  Gun fire erupts.  The port commandos, 8 in number, dressed in black fatigues and black ski masks, scale the ship.  They disarm the terrorists, dispatch a robot-controlled vehicle to detonate a bomb.  Speedy port boats patrol the waters.  It’s over.

The score?  Men: 1 Mice: 0.

Applause.  Israel is safe.  My name’s Bond.  Itzhak Bond.

The delegates are taken back to their hotel after a tour of Jerusalem.

That same afternoon, just hours after the staged attack, Israel’s Defense Forces scramble an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft into the blue sky.  The aircraft, some 15 miles away from us, identifies a car making its way through the streets of Gaza.  The order is given.  A missile is fired.  Ahmad Jabari, the Hamas military commander, is killed.

And so begins another round of violence.

Your Flag is (not) my Flag

9 Nov

Galilee is home to Arabs and Jews – a short sentence that’s long on unfinished business.  After Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Arabs fled, or were driven out.  Yet many stayed in their homes, in their towns and villages.  They became part of newly established Israel.  They became citizens, like it or not.  Many will admit they do not like living under Israeli rule, but recent surveys have shown time and again that they’re in no great rush to move to the West bank, to Jordan, or any other neighboring Arab country.

Israeli Flag in Upper Nazareth

It’s not perfect, but they accept it as a fact of (better) life.  The Arabs here live in a democracy; they gripe about the usual issues: discrimination, unequal opportunities to education, jobs.  Yet the Israeli Arabs of the past are gone; they’re upwardly mobile, they run businesses, and they want to move where Jews live.

A case in point: Nazareth.  To be specific, Lower Nazareth is exclusively Arab, home to Christians and Moslem.  They lived there for centuries.  In the 1950s, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had a vision to “Judify” Galilee, to build Jewish towns and villages as a counterweight to the Arabs.  That’s how Upper Nazareth came into being.  My wife Pnina grew up in Upper Nazareth, then a backwater town on the “Frontier.”  Its main export was dust, isolation, tired-looking grocery stores.  For years Jews and Arabs in Upper and Lower Nazareth co-existed.  Pnina’s mother shopped for live chickens, produce and coffee at the Arab souk (market).  In time, the Jewish town grew.  Built from the ground up, hundreds of apartment units covered the hilltops.  Industrial parks shot up to provide work for Jews.  Schools, government buildings soon followed.

Fast forward to the 90s.  Jewish Russian immigrants settled in Upper Nazareth in great numbers.  The city expanded.  Lower Nazareth also grew (pop. 75,000) but was limited by available land.  Flush with cash and eager to join the middle class, the Arabs started moving to Upper Nazareth, buying up homes.  Jews panicked, moved out.

Today 17% of Upper Nazareth’s 40,000 population is Arab, and growing.

The mayor, Shim’on Gapso, wants to reverse the tide.  He wants to take back the city street by street.  He started renaming them after Israel’s founding fathers.  Recently he erected 4 giant Israeli flags in the entrances leading from the Arab villages and into the city.  He plans to erect 3 more in other strategic locations.

The Arabs don’t like it.  They contend that  his patriotism is misguided, offensive.  An Arab city councilman says it borders on provocation.  He’s okay with flags; he’s not okay with their size.  Other Arabs join in.  They say the mayor suffers from an identity complex and that he tries to shove Israel down their throats.  A woman Arab Member of Israel’s parliament, Hanin Zo’abi, says, “The flags’ size are unnatural and their location opposite Lower Nazareth send a message to the Arabs that the Israeli flag does not represent them.”

Nazareth City Emblem

The mayor is not backing down.  “They can go screw themselves, if they don’t like the flag.  America waves its flags proudly.  Why can’t we?”

The Israeli flag is greater that the sum of its parts: fabric and color.  The flag embodies identity, history, heritage, patriotism, inexplicable feelings.  It speaks of one people – the Jews.

To most Jews the giant flag is a source of pride and beauty.  To Arabs it’s an eyesore, an attack.

The controversy led to a fire storm.  The support for the mayor is overwhelming.  It’s not even close, more like 95% are in favor of hoisting the flag even higher, bigger.  Here are some of the comments on-line:

“Ban all Arab businesses in Lower Nazareth, then they’ll see.”

“Upper Nazareth is a Jewish city.  You don’t like it  – move!”

“You Arabs like your welfare checks, avoiding the draft, and your standard of living, but the flag bothers you?!”

“Put up cameras by the flag poles.  Punish anyone who vandalizes them.”

The support is genuine, widespread, emotional.  Yet, it rings hollow.  Many of the comments undoubtedly come from Jews living in Tel Aviv, far, far away from Galilee.  They’re not unlike Americans who send $10 to the Red Cross after a disaster strikes a distant state.  They’ve done their share from the comfort of their living room armchair.  Their conscious is clear.  They wrap themselves with the flag.

Yet 65 years after Israel’s independence, Galilee is 50% Arab, 50% Jewish.  How Galilee will look like in 50 years is anyone’s guess.