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Bethlehem Is an Unstinting Look at Israelis and Palestinians Caught Between Worlds

An unstinting look at the impossible choices faced by Israelis and Palestinians caught between worlds, Bethlehem plumbs the destructive aspects of the double-agent mode of statecraft.

This accomplished debut feature by Yuval Adler provides an all-encompassing portrait of winners and losers in Israel and the West Bank city of the title, though ultimately all participants become losers in a conflict that affords only poor options.

Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i) is a teenager living in the shadow of his militant older brother Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman), yet Sanfur himself is an informant for Israeli Secret Service officer Razi (Tsahi Halevi). Sanfur is hardly an Israel sympathizer, clearly having been forced into this position, and his situation only becomes more untenable after Razi uses him to track down and execute Ibrahim.

Refusing to take sides or vilify his characters, Adler finds the humanity in all parties — the film shows us the moving funeral of a Palestinian militant but also depicts Israeli soldiers who, in the course of simply trying to do their jobs, get pelted with rocks.

The film suggests that there can be no equanimity when neither prideful side is willing to abandon even a trace of skepticism about the other; ironically, its warmest relationship is between Sanfur and Razi, who are momentarily able to drop their hostilities and make something akin to a connection.

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REEL KOSHER

Ever wonder why so many famous comics are Jewish? This year’s Jewish Film Festival, the 23rd annual showcase of worldwide Jewish cinema, aims to answer that question tonight at a screening of When Jews Were Funny, a documentary focusing on comedians of the ’60s and ’70s. Among the 49 other features and shorts on screen will be a sneak preview of Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem — Israel’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film — as well as the New York premiere of Maurice Linnane’s documentary Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle, which follows the late singer’s time in Ireland. Plus, catch a special 30th anniversary screening of Wim Wenders’s 1984 classic road Paris, Texas as well as two surprise films selected by the acclaimed director. In between movies, browse the exhibit on Saul Bass — the Jewish designer behind some of Hitchcock’s, Preminger’s, and Scorsese’s most iconic title sequences and film posters — located in the Furman Gallery across from the theater.

Mondays-Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Jan. 9. Continues through Jan. 23, 2014

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Food and Fadwa Heads to a West Bank Kitchen

The dutiful adult daughter Fadwa stations herself at the kitchen counter in her Bethlehem home, daydreaming about hosting a TV cooking show as she labors to nourish her family. But life in today’s West Bank poses major challenges to this determined chef: She needs an elaborate feast for a wedding, while the daily menu consists of blackouts, curfews, and rationing.

Food and Fadwa, a new play by Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader, introduces a gently discordant household that is easy for American audiences to recognize, even when its struggles under occupation seem distant. Director Shana Gold and her cast generate enough domestic warmth to help alleviate the drama’s rudimentary qualities and telegraphic dialogue.

Voices from the Middle East are too few and too far between on American stages; New York Theatre Workshop—an institution that has long engaged with the region—has appointed the fledgling Noor Theatre as a company-in-residence to co-produce in future seasons. Food and Fadwa, the inaugural project, can be awkwardly expository and has a didactic streak leading to frequent explanations of everything from army checkpoints to the history of baba ghanoush. Nonetheless, the Noor ensemble’s sincerity makes this a promising debut; we should sample more of what they cook up.

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Dour Divas Douse Christmas Classics

Though it’s liberally frosted with cozy wine- bar piano and features obligatory renditions of seasonal staples such as “The Christmas Song” and “Winter Wonderland,” Aimee Mann’s One More Drifter in the Snow is as much an interrogation of the cash-grab holiday album as it is an example of the form. Singer-songwriters don’t come much icier than Mann, Hollywood’s appointed chronicler of thinking-class disillusionment, so it’s hard to buy the warm-and-fuzzy sentiments here at face value when we’re so used to expecting wan detachment—she hardly seems like one of these year-round grumps who melt at the sight of a kid in a reindeer costume. Instead, she illuminates the skepticism nestled beneath her tree, as on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” wherein she couldn’t sound less excited about getting there.

There’s no such distrust on Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong, which tends toward pious upper- crust fare like “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “In a Bleak Mid-Winter.” But McLachlan and producer Pierre Marchand do create a luminous fantasy-folk vibe that similarly resists stocking-stuffer schmaltz. In their take on “I’ll Be Home,” the singer sounds resigned to the fact that her reunion might take place “only in my dreams.” Bummed, but resigned.


Aimee Mann plays Town Hall December 12 and 14, the-townhall-nyc.org.

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Beelzebabs

Once, not so long ago, there was silence in the tasteful midsize sedans that whisked classy ladies to dinner parties. Silence during the candlelit 35th anniversary dinners enjoyed between recently retired patrons of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Silence in front rooms with slip-covered sofas where French-manicured hands picked up oops-too-full glasses of chardonnay and leisurely dialed up distant sisters in unhappy marriages.

Where there is now Barbra Streisand, there was once silence.

But back in the day when men with sincere mustaches stalked the hardscrabble streets of Williamsburg, with nary an American Apparel in sight, the icon soon known ’round the world as Babs found only a minor spotlight in the Erasmus Hall High School choir, dwarfed beside the towering talents of another someday star, Neil Leslie Diamond. How did this Jewish girl from the wrong side of the river become a swallow-voiced vixen of stage and screen, multi-varied entertainer, visionary director, and unlikely politico? How did she become the top-selling female American pop artist of all time? How did her middling talents generate two Oscars, six Emmys, 11 Golden Globes, 10 Grammys, two Cable Ace awards, an honorary Tony, and lifetime achievement awards from both the American Film Institute and the RIAA? How could admission to see a moose-faced diva wail selections from Cats at the Garden possibly fetch $2,000 on eBay?

After examining all the available evidence, the dark flower of this mystery opens. Like other musical legends with diabolical legacies—Nicolo Paganini, Robert Johnson, David Lee Roth—Streisand’s success can only be attributed to a covenant with the one known by many names: the Devil himself. After all, it’s no mere happenstance that Babs’s autobiographically touched 1976 remake of A Star Is Born just so happens to boast a soundtrack by Roger Kellaway, who scored the 1982 Iblis-worshiping treatise Satan’s Mistress. Or that she involuntarily appeared in an early South Park episode (featuring a photo of her and Satan that she keeps in her dressing room). The Dark One himself speaks to the relationship through author Glen Duncan in the masterful book I, Lucifer (Finally the Other Side of the Story), which literally purports to be Beelzebub’s autobiography. “Maybe you’ve asked yourselves what I am proudest of?” Duncan/Satan writes. “My greatest human achievements are Barbara Streisand and Elton John. Though I’m often given credit for it, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ was Keith and Mick all on their own.”

Coincidence and conjuncture? Hardly. Once revealed, Babs’s discography seethes pure, hellish evil.


Album: People, 1964
Song: “My Lord and Master”
Alternate Title: “My Lord and Master, the Prince of Hell”

Though her first two releases make an innocuous enough beginning, on People, Streisand’s first certified platinum album, the budding songstress confesses her shadowy allegiance with a ghoulish rendition of “My Lord and Master.” The lyrics, culled from the seemingly innocent Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, show Babs snuggling into the bosom of evil: “He is pleased with me/My lord and master/Declares that he’s pleased with me/What does he mean?” He can only mean one thing: Streisand has bartered her very soul in exchange for unfailing admiration from ladies who never allow guests to walk on their carpet in shoes.


Album: My Name Is Barbra, 1965
Song: “Someone to Watch Over Me”
Alternate Title: “Someone Like Old Gooseberry to Watch Over Me”

This fascinating concept album traces Babs’s growth from a young girl in Brooklyn trying to suppress a penchant for bestiality (“Sweet Zoo”) to her spellbinding love affair with the Accuser of the Brethren (“My Man,” “Why Did I Choose You?”). The fire-licked moan of “Someone to Watch Over Me” was also used to spread Streisand’s Satanist agenda on a very popular television special of the same name. The Dark Lord, satisfied with the accomplishments of his young servant, rewarded Barbra the 1966 Grammy for Best Vocal Performance, Female. It was a banner year at the Grammys for the Archfiend, who also brought a boon of awards to those serpentine demons of the underworld, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.


Album: A Christmas Album, 1967
Song: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
Alternate Title: “O Cursed Town of Bethlehem”

Nice try, Babs. In a revolting attempt to cover her cloven-footed tracks, Streisand releases, of all things, an album mocking the birth of Jesus. Through her sinister wail its difficult to make out the wholesome message of traditional Christmas- themed music. Nonetheless, the record is widely embraced by the unsuspecting public and goes platinum five times over.


Album: Stoney End, 1971
Song: “No Easy Way Down”
Alternate Title: “No Easy Way Down to Cocytus”

Streisand used her wicked charms to draw venerable Randy Newman into the session for this, her second Top Ten record. By tenuously dipping her toe in the sulfurous pool of the rock ‘n’ roll tradition, she ensured that Old Scratch heaped on earthly rewards. Her sacrifice and subservience to the Fallen Angel could hardly be more obvious than in the gently swinging “No Easy Way Down,” where she confesses dark fantasies and her stalwart allegiance as one of hell’s minions: “We all like to climb to the heights/I know where our fantasy world can be found/But you must know in the end when it’s time to descend/There is no easy way down [to hell].”


Album: The Broadway Album, 1985
Song: “I Have Dreamed/We Kiss in a Shadow/Something Wonderful”
Alternate Title: “I Have Dreamed of a Ménage à Trois with Pazuzu and Bette Midler/We Kiss in the Shadow of the Valley of Death/Something Wonderful Like the Taste of Chernobog’s Dingleberry”)

Streisand enjoyed tremendous success in the mid and late ’70s with the sentimental geyser of “The Way We Were” and slew of platinum records that hosted some of her most blockbusting hits, including “Memories.” But the return to stage music on Broadway was particularly sadistic, with track after track of thinly veiled allusions to her long and profitable Mephistophelian service. It’s nearly possible to make out the distant hoofs of apocalyptic horsemen on her version of “Something’s Coming.” Her version of “Send in the Clowns” and audacious selections from Porgy and Bess might convince listeners that they have already arrived.


Album: A Love Like Ours, 1999
Song: “The Music That Makes Me Dance”
Alternate Title: “Lord O Yama Plays the Music That Makes Me Dance”)

Though often misinterpreted as a dedication to her second husband, the actor James Brolin (known for his ’60s television character acting in V oyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Batman), Streisand’s sappy liner notes and photos with her new earthly husband can hardly obscure the fact that this collection is actually unhallowed love songs to the Son of Morning. She closes with “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” singing, “In ev’ry way/Ev’ry day/I need less of myself and need more him/More him/’Cause his is the only music that makes me dance.” Certainly the Father of Lies and Deceit would say the same of her.


Barbra Streisand plays Madison Square Garden Monday night. If you don’t have a ticket right this instant don’t even bother unless you’re willing to sell your—oh, fuck it.

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Tending to Yuletide Tradition When Rufus, Martha, and Emmylou Drop In

Perhaps the lasting legacy of the McGarrigle/Wainwright family—mother and aunt Kate and Anna, father Loudon, kids Rufus and Martha—will be these musicians’ propensity for swirling the sacred and the profane, folk tradition with urbane wit. It’s why the prettiest song on Martha’s recent debut was about a chick with a dick, and why the churchiest on Rufus’s Want Two was called “Gay Messiah.” On this Christmas disc, they tend the tradition with a stately reading of Jackson Browne’s “Rebel Jesus,” Martha bidding pleasure and cheer “from a heathen and a pagan” over little-drummer-boy snare reports.

Beyond Emmylou Harris’s “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and a “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” rich with Banana Republic pennywhistle, the program deviates admirably from holiday-album protocol. Proud Montrealers, Kate and Anna lead the group through “Il Est Né/Ça Bergers,” while Rufus somehow resists chewing the scenery to a pulp in Frank Loesser’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” reprised from a Gap spot he did in 1999. Yet like the thoughtful song-catchers they are, the clan imbue the relatively obscure material with the same warmth you expect from Burl Ives. It’s jingle-bell pre-rock of uncommon charm.


Kate and Anna McGarrigle play Carnegie Hall December 21.

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Stirring Up the Toxic Dust

Eugene Ruchalski probably never dreamed he’d say anything nice about Hillary Clinton. A lifelong Republican, he served five proud terms as the highway superintendent in his hometown of Boston Hills, a Buffalo suburb. At 68, and set in his ways, he admits to entertaining conservative ideas about what he calls “women in politics.”

Yet lately, his opinion of New York’s junior senator has been changing. He counts himself among a select group of Buffalo-area residents for whom Clinton has become a crusader. Ruchalski’s father was one of thousands of employees exposed to radiation at 36 mills in western New York. In his case, it was at the local Bethlehem Steel plant, now defunct, in the late 1940s and early ’50s. Many of those workers got sick.

Now, when Ruchalski meets with the others, he hears about all the work the senator is doing to bring his family justice. “If she can deliver for us,” he says, somewhat sheepishly, “she can guarantee herself a vote.” His.

Anyone wondering why Senator Clinton has gotten so popular upstate, with positive numbers pushing 70 percent, need look no further than the Bethlehem Steel families. Their lives changed for good in 2000, when the federal government admitted that workers in 350 mills nationwide had “rolled” uranium to make nuclear bombs—but never knew it. On lunch breaks at Bethlehem, they blithely sat around on piles of the radioactive stuff, eating their sandwiches and inhaling a deadly dust.

Under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, created by Congress, retired workers who got sick, or their survivors, could apply for a $150,000 payment from the government. To date, 1,218 Bethlehem families have filed claims with the Labor Department and the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, the two agencies that administer the program. The old Bethlehem Steel plants—located in South Buffalo, Lackawanna, and Hamburg—have drawn the most applications not only from New York, but nationwide.

The response has not been great. Of the current claims, only half, or 632, have made it through the first screening for eligibility. Of those, up to 383 claims—more than 60 percent—have been denied.

“Obviously, the program is just not working for these people,” says Dan Utech, Clinton’s main staffer on the issue. This month, his boss plans to file a bill that would make it easier for the families to collect. “The senator believes it took too long for the government to accept responsibility in the first place. Now, it’s getting to be ridiculous.”

Clinton’s role as champion for nuclear-weapons workers may come as a surprise to those who remember her old ties to the dreaded Wal-Mart. As Arkansas first lady, she served six years on the board of the union-busting behemoth, notorious during her directorship for alleged child labor abuses. Wal-Mart has since become corporate enemy number one, causing some Democrats to fear that Clinton’s onetime affiliation will scare away the labor vote if she makes a bid for the White House in 2008.

But if her advocacy on Bethlehem Steel is any indication, Clinton is now trying to build up a solid record of defending worker rights—particularly when it comes to health and safety. Jim Melius, of the Laborers Union, in Albany, has followed the plight of these families for years now, and he finds her work on their behalf telling. “It says that she’s willing to stand up and fight and try to fix the problem.” And because of her new bill, Melius adds, “The story with Bethlehem isn’t over.”


That story began in 1949, at the start of the Cold War, when the military was racing to make the atomic bomb. Mills and foundries dominated the Buffalo landscape, yet one company reigned supreme: Bethlehem Steel. Its facilities spanned three miles along Lake Erie, with state-of-the-art equipment and a workforce of 22,000.

“Everybody worked at the steel mill,” says Frank Panasuk, a retired detective from Hamburg. A large man with huge, square-framed glasses, he drove to the old Bethlehem complex on a recent Wednesday and along the way listed relatives who worked there—his father, his father’s five brothers, his mother’s five brothers.

Most of the 1,700-acre site sits vacant and weeded-over today, abandoned when the company went belly-up in the ’80s. But the bar mill where workers rolled steel and, for four years during the Cold War, uranium, still stands. Now a galvanizing outfit, the building looks tired, its rusted siding barely hanging on. Driving on a utility road, Panasuk spots some workers toiling over a fire.

“Boy,” he says, taking in the scene of power lines and railroad tracks, “this brings back memories.”

Not all of those memories are good. Panasuk’s dad died in 1987, just weeks after developing stomach cancer. Before that, he suffered from colon cancer. He spent his entire career at the mill, serving as a metal inspector for 35 years. The tenure did Panasuk’s dad proud; it has haunted his family.


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Ever since 2000, when the government came clean about its atomic-weapons program, people have had to come to grips with the weight of a decades-old secret at Bethlehem. From 1949 to 1952, the mill did contract work for the country’s fledgling nuclear arsenal, rolling billets of uranium into rods for reactors. But few knew the true nature of the project—and those who did had to keep quiet. All the while, workers handled toxic material. They pressed it, shaped it, ground it, and squeezed it, unwittingly.

Former employees and their families have had to face the reality that the government exposed them to some of the most dangerous matter on earth—”basically poisoned these folks,” as one Clinton aide puts it.

At Bethlehem, as opposed to other facilities, the uranium was especially deadly. According to former workers and government officials, the company did nothing to control radiation levels. Employees had no body suits to protect them, no badges to monitor exposure. They didn’t even have masks. Worse still, they had to endure the constant presence of uranium dust.

“For years I inhaled that dust,” relays Russ Early, 81, a Vernon Downs resident with a shock of white hair and a feisty disposition. A cancer survivor, he operated a crane in the bar mill, laboring there for 43 years, soaking up the dust. It blurred his vision and scratched his throat. It settled on his food and in his coffee. It got so hot it could burn a blister on the skin the size of a silver dollar.

Now that the Bethlehem secret has been revealed, the dust and its sting finally make sense to folks. And so do other things. Like all the talk in the late ’40s and early ’50s of a “government project” at the mill. Or the unexplained sightings of guards watching over the rods. Or the army trucks coming and going on weekends.

And then there are all those cancer deaths. Edwin Walker, a genial 71-year-old from Lackawanna, held a Bethlehem post as a bricklayer from 1951 to 1954, during the uranium project. He was one of 15 men in the so-called “hot gang,” the group that patched holes in furnaces. Today, only he and one other are still living. Everyone else was killed by cancer. Nor have Walker and his colleague avoided the disease—he has bladder cancer, his friend colon.

“I consider that more than a coincidence,” he says. “We are victims of the government’s secrecy.”


Walker and dozens more say the government is victimizing them again—this time, by refusing to compensate them for their illnesses. When the agencies set up the compensation program, they presented the claims process as simple. Bethlehem workers, or their survivors, could apply if they worked at the mill during the uranium rollings and if they got certain cancers—22 in all, including of the lungs, skin, colon, and pancreas. In return, they’d get $150,000.

But it turns out the company didn’t keep records of which employees worked at the bar mill during the uranium procedures, and the records it did keep are incomplete. As a result, says Larry Elliott of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the agency has had to develop a formula, called “dose reconstruction,” to evaluate claims.

It’s a complicated model, but here’s the gist: NIOSH uses software to predict a person’s risk for developing cancer, based on exposure. It takes into account such factors as the radiation type, where the person worked, how long shifts lasted, and so on. NIOSH relies on the few existing records about the uranium work at Bethlehem, Elliott says, and the formula skews toward the inhalation of uranium dust, thus putting a premium on lung and kidney cancer, and leukemia.

Critics argue the formula is flawed. They say NIOSH doesn’t have enough information to accurately determine individual dosages. When first creating the formula, officials failed to interview retired employees or to visit the bar mill. Instead, they substituted data from a neighboring mill, in Lockport, New York.

“The model assumes that you can be precise about an individual’s exposure,” says Melius, of the Laborers Union, who sits on an advisory board overseeing the process. But because of the minimal records, he explains, “It’s an almost impossible task to piece together.”

The result? A lot of people have had their claims unfairly denied—at least, that’s what Early thinks. He handled the uranium, and has suffered from rectal cancer for 17 years. In 1987, he underwent surgery in which three tumors, his appendix, and his gall bladder were removed. Yet he’s been denied compensation—twice.

“They said it wasn’t bad enough,” he says, referring to his estimated dosage. Lifting his Hawaiian shirt and poking at his colostomy bag, he asks, “See this? You call that not bad enough?”

[

The denials have left people angry and bitter. Workers see colleagues with lung cancer getting paid, while they, diagnosed with other types, are not. They tell tales of employees stationed in buildings far from the bar mill receiving checks, all because they have lung or kidney cancer.

“It’s wrong,” says Walker, who has filed three claims, all denied. “It’s unjust, and the government should own up to it.”


To that end, the families have formed two groups—the Bethlehem Steel Radiation Victims and Survivors, and the Bethlehem Steel Claimants Action Group— numbering some 300 members in total. They’ve taken their fight public, protesting outside government offices, writing letters, and making themselves a general pain for bureaucrats. Last year they scored big when a 199-page audit found serious flaws in NIOSH’s system for evaluating their claims.

NIOSH’s Elliott admits the audit has forced the agency to review its ways. But he also insists the process is working. “We’ve built a solid method,” he argues, adding that none of the 300-plus claims denied have been overturned on appeal. “We’re confident that we are not missing any claimant who really deserves to be compensated.”


Clinton’s office has heard that line before, repeatedly, since the senator first took up this crusade in 2003. She got involved after her Buffalo staff began fielding calls from constituents and she sent an aide to the Bethlehem claimants’ meetings. In December of that year she met them herself at a special gathering in Hamburg.

There, she listened to 50 or so people recounting their experiences. People like Theresa Sweeney, of Lackawanna, whose husband died of pancreatic cancer, and who explained the trouble she’d endured when administrators challenged the legitimacy of her 30-year marriage. Or Cindy Mellody, of South Buffalo, whose dad died of “probable lung carcinoma,” and who told of the “huge injustice” of having her claim denied. Her father served in World War II, got captured, escaped, and hid in the jungle for two years; he returned to New York only to get a job at a plant where the government exposed him to uranium.

“These stories hit you up front,” says the senator’s western New York regional director. The staffer says the senator was so outraged she charged the Buffalo office with documenting as many cases as possible. It now has a stack of about 200.

Early on, Clinton tried pressuring agency heads to fix problems. In May 2003, for example, she pushed for a provision calling for NIOSH and the Labor Department to file a report with Congress, explaining the delays in processing claims at Bethlehem, as well as other New York facilities. The measure passed; the report has yet to be drafted.

Then came the letters. In December 2003, she wrote to President Bush, calling on him to implement long-ignored legal requirements that would help Bethlehem claimants. “The longer the Administration delays,” she wrote, the “more workers will die without having their claim resolved.” Twelve months later, she issued a statement demanding NIOSH review its methods. The NIOSH audit, she said, “clearly indicates that claims that have been denied need to be re-evaluated.”

Last January, she wrote to the Labor Department, along with Senator Chuck Schumer and western New York representatives, demanding that Labor officials search harder for uranium records at Bethlehem.

“She has been dogged in her oversight,” says Richard Miller of the Government Accountability Project in Washington, D.C., which tracks the program. “It’s not simply say one thing and do another with her.”

These days, Clinton has come to believe that the program is broken, her staff says, and that legislation is the only way to fix it. She’s set to introduce a bill that would make it easier for Bethlehem claimants to get paid. The measure would set minimum standards for records needed to evaluate claims. Under the bill, employees who did nuclear-weapons work at plants without such records—as is the case at Bethlehem—would join a “special exposure cohort.”

That’s a term in the original law, reserved for workers from facilities where the government lacks basic information and thus cannot reconstruct dosages. In effect, the bill would order the government to presume that workers in this status got cancer from radiation exposure and to pay them.

Because the measure mandates spending, Clinton’s staff says, it won’t be attractive during a time of huge deficits and tax cuts.

U.S. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, of Niagara Falls, will co-sponsor a House companion bill to Clinton’s legislation, and she predicts resistance. Yet Slaughter, who has worked on this issue since the mid ’90s, sees two advantages. For one, its proposals amount to what she calls “basic decency.” For another, Hillary Clinton is on it. As she explains, “I don’t know what we’d do without her, because she performs.”

[

For now, all the Bethlehem families can do is wait. Many, like Dorothy Jaworski of West Seneca, see the senator’s bill as the only source of hope, the only way they’ll be able to collect what they deserve. Jaworski got a December 2003 letter from the Labor Department announcing she qualified for the $150,000 because her late husband “had sustained leukemia and pancreatic cancer in the performance of his duty,” only to have the offer rescinded, an apparent “mistake,” five months later.

If it weren’t for Senator Clinton, Jaworski says, “this whole issue would be dead.” No matter what happens to the bill, she appreciates the senator standing up for her. She believes she’d have a check in hand if Hillary Clinton were in charge. “With Hillary on our side,” Jaworski says, “I have faith.”

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Show World

Phil Collins, the British photographer whose first New York gallery show sprawls over three floors at Maccarone, is deliberately slippery. His work is at once romantic and dispassionate, hopeful and despairing, straightforward and enigmatic; a peculiar, unresolved tension courses just under the surface of nearly every picture. Perhaps that’s because Collins seems irresistibly drawn to trouble spots—to Belfast, his former home base; to Belgrade, where he met the boyfriend whose image haunts one segment of the show; and to Bethlehem, where he photographed another shot-up facade and a smiling boy holding a white bird in a cage. For a series he calls “Real Society,” Collins placed an ad in a Basque newspaper soliciting models, most of whom agreed to be photographed without their clothes. Like Katy Grannan’s recent nudes, many of Collins’s subjects are appealingly ordinary and touchingly awkward—far more naked than they realize. But however revealing, the “Real Society” pictures feel like clever stunts next to many of Collins’s more complex and ambiguous photos, like the shot of his boyfriend, half-naked, eyes downcast, bathed in a cool blue light, or the nearly impenetrable image of a young couple—a woman with a man’s head nestled at her neck—peering out of a pitch-black space. These pictures have an emotional charge that only a couple of the nudes achieve, and a subtlety that still hits a nerve.

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Inside the Al-Azza Refugee Camp in Bethlehem

“I’ve been shot at every day,” says Kristen Schurr, a 33-year-old freelance journalist from Harlem, speaking via cellphone from the Al-Azza refugee camp in Bethlehem. Schurr is one of 10 New Yorkers who traveled to the West Bank with the International Solidarity Movement, a group of peace activists who have vowed to act as human shields to protect Palestinian civilians.


Since March 29, she and five of the New Yorkers have been holed up with families in the Al-Azza camp as Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) besiege Bethlehem.


Conditions there are “grim,” Schurr says. While electricity was restored to the camp this week, residents are largely prevented from leaving for food or medical
supplies for fear of being arrested or shot at by Israeli snipers posted at the entrances to the camp and surrounding rooftops. “They mostly fire into the main alley that runs through the camp, so to get across it you have to duck and run very fast or you’ll be hit,” Schurr says. “There are F16’s and Apache helicopters flying overhead and tanks constantly circling the camp. Occasionally they fire shells at the perimeter, just to remind people that they’re always under threat,” she adds.


Though Schurr believes the growing number of internationals arriving on the West Bank is helping to save Palestinian lives, she and the other New Yorkers have found little safety behind their American passports.


On April 1, Schurr was among the 150 peace activists who were fired upon by Israeli Defense Forces when they attempted to march to the neighboring town of Beit Jala in support of Palestinians who were facing house-to-house arrests. A Palestinian camerman and seven activists were wounded, including Zaid Khalil, an Upper East Side resident, who suffered shrapnel wounds to his leg, and an Australian woman, who was seriously wounded when a bullet fragmented in her stomach.


Although the U.S. embassy offered to evacuate the Americans, Schurr and the other ISM activists refused. “We don’t want to leave until the Israeli troops withdraw from this offensive,” she says.


Schurr says most of the New Yorkers are members of the Direct Action Network. When they first set off for the West Bank, they had hoped to stage nonviolent civil disobedience protests outside Israeli checkpoints and escort Palestinian farmers to their fields, protecting them from attacks by Israeli settlers.


But that was before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared Israel to be “in a state of war.”


The group’s focus has since shifted to bearing witness and providing humanitarian aid. “We go out in pairs at the very least, carrying white flags,” Schurr says. “We spend most of the day escorting Palestinians who have been detained home from prison or getting supplies and food and filling prescriptions for people at the hospital in Bethlehem, because no one can get out of the camp,” Schurr says. “We also ride with the ambulances because if there are internationals with them, they get shot at less, though today and yesterday the ambulances were getting shot at here.”

On Sunday, Schurr accompanied several Red Crescent medics in an ambulance who were attempting to deliver food, water, and medical supplies to the more than than 200 Palestinians and Christian clergy who have taken refuge inside the Church of the Nativity. But they were turned back by an Israeli tank, which fired a warning shot at the ambulance and the group of internationals who marched behind it bearing signs printed with sections of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which guarantee the right to treat the sick and wounded. Schurr, who said she has been communicating via cell phone with Palestinians inside the Church, says that as of Tuesday there were nine people dead and 13 wounded and very little food. Contrary to news reports and claims by the Israeli military, Schurr and other international observers insist there have been no shots fired by Palestinians inside the church at the Israeli forces surrounding them.


On Tuesday, Schurr and four other ISM activists faced off with a group of Israeli soldiers riding in a tank and armored personnel carrier through the streets of Bethlehem. “The Israeli soldiers got out of the APC and grabbed this Palestinian guy and shoved him to the ground, with their rifles pointed at him,” Schurr says. “We walked towards them with our hands in the air. The soldiers told us to go back but we didn’t, because it looked like they were going to shoot the guy. After about 20 minutes, they let him go. He said they were going to kill him because he didn’t have his ID card with him.”

Despite the spiraling conflict in the region, Schurr and her fellow internationals seem undeterred. On Wednesday, she and three other New Yorkers left Bethlehem for the ruins of the Jenin refugee camp, the site of the fiercest fighting between Israelis and Palestinian gunmen. (More than 14 Israeli soldiers have been killed there and at least 150 Palestinians, according to CNN and other news sources.)


While Schurr and the other internationals may get nowhere near the camp—for the past week, Israeli forces have denied entry to both media and aid workers—they hope to bear witness to reports of severe human rights violations there, including an as yet unconfirmed account that some Palestinian families had been bulldozed inside their homes by the Israeli Army, which is now systematically flattening the camp. Israeli officials say civilians were given the opportunity to leave their houses, but on Wednesday, even Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was referring to the situation in Jenin as “a massacre.” The city is reportedly littered with bodies, and residents are said to be without food and drinking waste water.


“We’re not worried about ourselves.” Schurr told the Voice early Wednesday morning. “We’re worried about the Palestinians. We have the choice to leave at any time. They don’t.”

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Nation

Delta Raids Weighed

October Surprise

Washington is bracing for Bill Clinton’s swan song in the form of an October Surprise that will both etch his own legacy and push Al Gore into the presidency. There are two possibilities. The first calls for ordering the Delta Force commando team now training with NATO guerrilla teams in Europe to capture Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb war criminal still at large in the Balkans.

Second, if they’re really lucky, Delta Force might snatch Slobodan Milosevic himself, who is in the process of rigging another election. Problem is, such actions could backfire in the manner of Somalia. Milosevic is probably untouchable, and Karadzic is surrounded by tough fighters who might well inflict casualties in an attack.

Carla del Ponte, the Balkans war crimes prosecutor in the Hague, will meet this week in Washington with Secretary of Defense Cohen. Last week she told the Swiss newspaper Les Temps, “Karadzic keeps on moving, and it is of no use to know where he was. What we want to know is where he is and where he will be.”

Says another World Court official: “The biggest success will be getting him here alive. The worry is that there are a couple of Milosevic stooges waiting to put a bullet in his head before he gets here.”

Inflation Crib Notes

Goo

The real October Surprise probably will arrive too late to help George W. Bush. It is, of course, inflation spurred on by the soaring cost of oil. Petroleum prices have set off a storm of protests in Europe, which gathered new momentum on Monday.

This year alone natural gas prices have doubled, and oil prices are up by a third. “Shortages” — in a world awash in oil — are the industry’s response to last year’s glut, which sank prices to all-time lows. Tightening the market is a way to regulate supply.

In part, the crisis is due to the American appetite for gas-guzzling vehicles. The U.S. response to the vicissitudes of the oil market has always been shortsighted. The current shortfall almost certainly will put more pressure on the government to open up oil and gas drilling off Alaska and along both coasts. And oil isn’t the only inflationary factor.

Health insurance is going through the roof, with the administration announcing a 10.5 percent rise in premiums for federal employees just last week. Premiums for federal employees have risen by more than a third since 1998. Clinton actually raised the prospect of a recession while in New York last week, but when asked later whether he thought recession loomed, said, “Well, in the short to medium term, the answer is no.”

Wasted Daze

Unstable Bethlehem

When last it was in the news in the spring of 1998, the old industrial city of Bethlehem in eastern Pennsylvania was struggling to fend off an avalanche of garbage. The trash was being hurled its way down I-78 from the Fresh Kills landfill and other New York City-area dumps that export their garbage throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and elsewhere along the mid-Atlantic coast.

Time has not been kind to Bethlehem. After years of managing its modest municipal dump — even floating million of dollars in municipal bonds to improve it — the city council abruptly voted to sell the landfill to Eastern Environmental Services, one of the big new garbage firms. Eastern was anxious to buy up dumps along the East Coast, hoping to make a killing when New York and other cities ran out of space and began to export garbage in earnest. Bethlehem, strapped for cash, fell for Eastern’s pitch and, with scarcely any study, sold the dump for $25 million — which unfortunately was $12 million short of the amount needed to pay off the outstanding debt. Soon after the sale, Eastern merged with USA Waste, which in turn merged with the giant Waste Management. Somewhere along the way, the garbage kings kissed off the Bethlehem dump, selling it to a firm called IESI. Although when the dump was first sold, Bethlehem officials were told that it would never be used for garbage from large metropolitan areas, now half of its contents come from the New York metropolitan area.

Complicating Bethlehem’s situation was the arrival of the IRS, which, decreeing that the city must pay off the debt promptly, presented it with a bill for a quarter of a million dollars a month. In desperation, the city fathers tried another quick fix, okaying a scheme to log the forests bordering the watershed that supplies the city’s drinking water. Environmentalists point out that Bethlehem can’t possibly get enough money from logging to retire the debt, and note that by cutting down the trees it will eventually ruin its water supply. Nevertheless, plans for the logging continue.

Arguing that the timber project is environmentally sound, Mayor Don Cunningham threatened higher taxes if the deal flops. “Whether it’s $1 million or $5 million, every dollar we generate with this is another dollar we don’t have to allocate in taxes or reallocate from elsewhere [in the city budget],” Cunningham said.

Prison Hunger Strike

Dead Men Fasting

Although conditions in Pennsylvania’s jails got a welcome airing when Philadelphia cops incarcerated demonstrators during the Republican convention, what was exposed was very tame when compared to the wretched death row hidden away in Waynesburg, in the southwestern part of the state. Indeed, the situation there is so horrible that 45 of 162 men awaiting execution launched a hunger strike on August 24, and held out until late last week when they finally gave up in the face of harassment by guards.

“We are prepared to go out of here in body bags unless they force-feed us,” wrote Craig Williams in a letter posted on the Internet. “We are on strike to disclose the punitive policies here.”

The SCI-Green Prison, in which the death house is located, charges inmates $2 for every visit by a doctor, but the prisoners say this is a farce, since doctors are only allowed to peer at them through a small glass window. They complain of phone calls being tapped and having to wait eight to 10 days to use typewriters in the prison law library.

Brenda Kemp, whose son Matthew is on death row, said the prisoners began the hunger strike by eating only soup and drinking juice, which they had stockpiled from the prison commissary. But once the strike was under way, the guards seized the items. Matthew, who suffers from hypertension, quit the strike last week after his mother implored him to stop lest he suffer a stroke.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections said the hunger strike ended on Friday. “We don’t negotiate with inmates,” she said. Brenda Kemp, who visited her son on Sunday, said the strikers gave up because “too many got sick. They figured nobody would come to help them.”

According to prison sources, two strikers have serious medical complications. Although corrections officials say the strike began September 3, it is understood that one inmate began his fast on August 7.

Movable Military Feast

Luxury Crews

Accustomed as we are to Bush campaign accounts of U.S. soldiers scraping by on food stamps, Colonel David Hackworth, the decorated military veteran turned Pentagon scourge, presents a startlingly different image in his Internet newsletter, Hack’s Weekly Mail. A report by an anonymous crew member of a fuel supply ship paints a picture of paradise cruises in which the officers bring their own autos aboard so they can tour the countryside at ports of call.

According to the whistleblower, a Cadillac is rented for the captain when the ship docks in San Diego. The supply officer orders the baker to prepare fresh pastry served on a silver tray daily, and has special packets of coffee labeled as his own brand. The ship reportedly purchased an embroidery machine for more than $50,000, but forgot to buy the software to run it. That cost $7000, but it didn’t make much difference since no one knew how to operate it. “The fraud, waste, and abuse I witnessed firsthand was unbelievable,” writes the anonymous crew member.

“The captain raffled bullets to guests on our return from Hawaii… to raise money for the Navy-Marine Corps relief drive. Civilians and military members alike bought bullets for 50 cents apiece and then fired them into the water.”

Get Me Bob Dole

“In the rare event of an erection lasting more than four hours, seek immediate medical help.” — Disclaimer on Viagra ads cited by the Washington Feminist Faxnet

Additional reporting: Rouven Gueiss and Theresa Crapanzano