October 24, 2000

Focusing on the Important Things

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This is an incredible time to be a New York sportswriter — an opportunity to revel in this October baseball frenzy. With the Subway Series on the mind, almost every editorial is written about either the Clemens beaning of Piazza, or Agbayani’s “Namathonian” prediction. Though it is tempting to write about another overly sensationalized Subways Series issue, I am going to resist the temptation and focus on a more pressing and personal subject.

As an abroad student in Israel last semester, we were assigned Israeli madrichim (Hebrew word for counselor). The madrichim alleviated our fears, explained the cultural differences and assisted in our general living. Some even exceeded their assigned duties and genuinely befriended the American students. This was the case for Tal.

Last week, I received a forwarded e-mail from a fellow abroad student. I thought it would be generic political outcry against the Palestinian uprising. However, as I opened the e-mail, I realized that Tal wrote this letter. Although generic commentaries are informing, nothing can compare to reading a personal account written by a friend. After I finished reading his letter, I knew that the Cornell population needed to hear his story.

An excerpt from the letter: “I was called to the reserves and I’m serving in the Gaza Strip. During the first evening that I got to the base, two bombs exploded on the road. A few minutes later when the ambulances were on their way, another bomb exploded. We were lucky the bomb wasn’t big enough and our vehicles were shielded.”

This gives a glimpse into the unimaginable situation in Israel. Luckily, Tal was not physically injured in those two attacks, but the emotional scars left are permanent.

Tal continued to talk about his psychological battles: “I don’t want to be there. I want to go back to Tel-Aviv but if I do that, who will go instead of me?”

It was only natural for me to reminisce about my experiences with Tal while I read his letter. I remember vividly seeing Tal stroll gleefully on campus with a tennis racquet in his right hand on his way to the Tel-Aviv University tennis courts. When our eyes made contact, he slowed his stride and stopped to talk to me. We chatted about tennis and discussed the possibility of playing sometime soon. After explaining to me that he was late for his lesson, he walked away with his racquet waved high in the air signaling to me goodbye.

This remembrance is in stark contrast to his current predicament. Tennis lessons are only quickly eclipsing memories. His thoughts now lie in the possibility of peace which seems to be fading rapidly as the letter of intent for peace signed by both parties in the Red Sea Resort in Egypt has been ripped to shreds.

A focal point in Tal’s letter was the media’s biased portrayal of the crisis. On television, we watch images of Israeli soldiers firing bullets at Palestinians with only rocks to defend themselves. In the newspapers, we read that the death toll of Palestinians rises. While both accounts are true, the Palestinian militant aggression is not given adequate consideration. Israel is not the aggressor or the “bully” as is portrayed by the news media.

Although I previously stated that I would stay away from the Subway Series issue, a sports analogy is needed to clarify the media’s misrepresentations. A sports reporter asked Benny Agbayani, the Mets leftfielder, if they were going to win the series. Agbayani told the sports reporter that he did think they were going to win. Asked in how many games, he replied playfully that the Mets would take it in five. The Daily News came out the next morning with Agbayani’s “bold” prediction of “Mets in Five” as its back page headline.

We all laugh (or at least the Mets fans do) at the Daily News’ silly attempt to stir up an already riled up intrastate rivalry, yet we all cannot laugh at the media’s portrayal of the Middle East crisis. The Subway Series is an ephemeral event; the Israel-Palestinian debacle is an ongoing struggle that needs to be understood accurately. The media has unduly slanted the public sentiment on this issue.

Prelims and the Subway Series are at the forefront of all our minds at this time. The purpose of this article is to step back from our insulated Cornell lives and take a look at the global picture. There are Israeli men and women, like Tal, who would love to be laughing with us over the senseless sports media’s sensationalism of a few Subway Series topics. Instead, they are cringing at the prospects of a full-scale war and contemplating the news media’s sensationalism of their own supposed aggression.

Archived article by Jason Skolnik