A TENACITY TO LIVE

December 31st, 2014

A little personal story

Background…

My life, starting at the ripe age of 15, when I joined the Underground to liberate Israel from British occupation, was so full of challenging events that a month seemed like a year, a year seemed like a lifetime. From running way from British bullets when gluing pamphlets in the streets, to facing the reality that my young, beloved leader, Menachem Rivenbach, only 18, was just killed in a Lechi Underground operation. So much happened, so many friends lost, and so many emotions were buried in me since I could not share them with anyone. I was not alone with this isolation, since we knew that we could be the next one to go, our emotions were well-hidden, no external recognitions of personal loss. Even when the body of our murdered kibbutz friend was in a casket on the truck with us seating around it, we just made jokes.

And we just kept going.

In the Lechi underground, I was mostly alone, until I found my girlfriend, that is. I had to be quiet and unassuming to disappear in a crowd. No personal friends. Not outside, or inside Lechi either. Secrecy above all. Unlike military, we were alone with no release by shared experiences. Just a double life of lies. I was unable to share my story and especially feelings, with anyone. I was unable to tell the truth to any one, especially not to my own family. They must not know or I would be sent away like my brother was.

After spending four years in Lechi fighting the mighty British to liberate Israel - I spent a year at the Lechi border kibbutz, Neve Yair. We were close to the Gaza strip as well as to the established kibbutz Nirim. Arab terrorists murdered savagely three of our members, a few months apart. We got numb to death. On another occasion, coincidentally, when a bullet was shot towards my heart, a tall friend, Yaacov Avnery, was walking in front of me and got the bullet in his stomach since he was taller. Badly injured, he survived. I would not have. I risked my life to get him to the hospital, but that was standard to all of us. I barely thought about it, but when I do, I thanked him in all my heart.

Our small kibbutz was full of challenges, from security to lack of water, but especially for me since I was the only technical guy there. I enjoyed building the electrical system and repairing tractors. I enjoyed dancing nearly every night, until my legs almost gave up. I risked burning to death mounting phosphorus mines under the barbed wired fence since I did not trust anyone else to be as diligent as me. I slide slowly on my back, inch by inch, underneath the barbed wired fence, mounting these fiery mines one after another and activating them. I knew all the time where every part of my body was while I slided on my back not to ignite the mines. In addition to doing all the hard technical tasks nearly alone, I had almost no rest since I also had to guard during my time off.

But the toughest thing was being far from my girlfriend R. - (I missed her a lot, she visited but did not stay in the kibbutz since she was a city girl, desiring comfort that a new kibbutz was unable to give). So, eventually I left the kibbutz after a lot of soul searching. Our Lechi leader Itzhak Shamir (later Israel Prime Minister) asked me to return to the kibbutz. It was hard for me to refuse him since I admired him considerably, but I did not want to return. I then started to relax, with no need to look behind my back if someone was ready to shoot me, either British or an Arab. I was happy to spend some time with my girlfriend, teaching new Yemenite immigrants Hebrew and a new way of life, in a transition camp, a tent city.

And then I was called to military service, I joined the Israel Defense Forces, IDF.

Two months of IDF basic training taught me to take orders, which I did not like, and train others to safely throw live hand grenades. And despite all the discipline troubles I caused my sergeant, (we actually did like one another but he ordered me frequently to run around the training grounds with my gun in the air...) He wanted to send me to officer training, but I was tired of years of duties and did not look forward to committing extra years to military service and told him: thank you, but no.

I served in the Air Force late 1950- to early 52, just 18 months, a shorter service than normal because I got 6 months credit for my four years of Lechi service. I worked in Unit 206, the electronics unit. My huge base originally was Sarafend, later called Zrifim. It was peace time and in the beginning it was not too interesting, equipment maintenance and the like. However, one thing that made it enjoyable was the daily visit from my older brother Pinhas.

Pinhas was doing his officer training at that same huge base, and he felt that he was insufficiently fit physically. So, every day he run around that huge base and visited me on the way.

It was lovely to see him frequently especially after his years in a British prison and later in a British detention camp in Africa after he was arrested as a Lechi leader.

As time passed by, I was assigned to erect tall military antennas around the country. It was fun climbing a very thin 300 feet antenna without any safety belt, and calling friends from above as they passed below, not realizing where I was. I also had to change safety red light bulbs at the top from time to time. I was very careful, I would climb one-step at a time without safety belts, no one used them then, leaving one leg inside the tower structure, and so even if I lost balance, I would be stuck safely up there. Nothing bad ever happened. I learned to be very careful from sliding under the barbed wired fence in the kibbutz.

At other times, I maintained and operated short wave transmitters at several Air Force bases. With 24 hours on and 48 hours off, week, after week, I was busy. During my off periods, I had just enough time to earn money erecting home antennas for private people on Tel Aviv roofs. It was much safer than the IDF jobs. Eliezer Sirkis, a friend from Lechi, had a radio store a short block west of Magen David Square and gave me jobs from time to time erecting roof antennas. My Air Force salary was $4 a month, and it was not sufficient even for bus tickets to go home on vacation. So I used my BSA motorcycle to drive around and worked during my time off to pay for the expensive gasoline.

With all of these risky Lechi understood and border kibbutz life behind me I thought I was safe. Little did I know what was awaiting me in a quite shelter underground.

CLOSE TO DEATH

For several months, I worked at a radio communication station in a bunker at Ramat David, an Air Force base in central Israel . At that quiet base, at that peaceful time in Israel , I came closer to death than any other time in my life.

It was a long trip to the base from my home in Tel Aviv, but working there 24 hours on and 48 hours off was a good arrangement for me. An “Egged” bus would drop me three miles from the base and I would walk to it. As long as it was good weather, it was no trouble at all, especially with a tasty compensation along the way.

The walk to the camp was between lovely apple orchards, belonging to a nearby kibbutz. Many soldiers walked back and forth to the base that way and also liked fresh green apples. They were not bashful stealing them, neither was I. The kibbutz placed foot square green and red signs all along the path saying: “private property, stay off.” And these signs were enforced by five foot high wired fences all around the orchards. Luckily they did not use barbed wired on the top like the ones that surrounded our military bases.

I love fresh fruits and vegetables and I ignored both the signs and the fences and always took my illegal apples as I passed by. I would first check left and right to see that no one was around, and listen that it was quiet for a time. I would then climb quickly the unstable fence, and pick two apples and climb back fast. I knew a lot about fences. I had already build wired fences in our Lechi kibbutz, and even climbed once a ten foot barbed wired fence, which I survived with millions of cuts, so these apple fences were a child’s play to me.

I stuffed the apples immediately in my backpack that contained spare clothes, books, etc and proceeded to the base, my home away from home.

One time I went to the base, but almost did not return. I was so close to heaven, it was sheer determination that saved my life. It was nearly noon and I was eager for a thick cheese sandwich with all the trimmings. I brought with me: tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, all so fresh- it was picked last evening and brought to market in just a few hours. After smearing the olive oil on the thick slices of black Russian bread, I spread on slices of Feta cheese and vegetables on top, almost drooling with anticipation. Meals were very important events in this boring environment.

There was very little to do alone in these underground bunkers beside reading and studying. On that day, after studying mathematics for a time, I had to stop. I became saturated with numbers and equations. My best high school friend Naftali Vilensky and I were studying mathematics. We hired a private teacher together to help us prepare and I did my homework at the bunker. We were planning to go to the US to study electronics and thought that they were probably so advanced compare to us (since we were 5 years after high school) that we better be prepared. A year later, at the University of Washington , I found out I was so advanced compare to my freshman class that after a short time they moved me to a higher level.

For safety sake, we were supposed to work in teams at the underground transmission centers, but budget cuts had eliminated that a long time ago. We were solidly alone for the duration of the 24 hours shift. No one saw us or knew that we existed. Several times a day I had to change the transmitters’ operating frequency to improve reception at the various bases across the country. We changed frequencies by changing coils, taking one out and replacing it with a different unit.

The powerful 500-watt short wave transmitters were US made, 4 feet cube, boxy, and ominously black. On the front, they had several small lights; one of them -bright red- was especially important. That light indicated that the thousand-volt DC power, enough high voltage to kill you several times over, was on. It alerted us to the danger of possible electrocution when we opened the unit. And several times a day we had to open the top of the transmitters and replace a set of coils.

Another safety feature was wisely built in- a visible power switch. In order to change the coils I had to open a 10 by 10 inch door at the top of the unit to reach the coils. As I opened that little door I saw clearly a large 2-inch long, open safety switch. I could see that the power was interrupted when the door was open by the position of the safety switch. And to be safe I looked again at the front red light. It was dark- clearly off. I believed that all was safe and I started to replace the coil.

I inserted my right hand inside the unit, grabbed the coil inside and froze. I saw only black with some bright stars moving around. I was awake but unable to move at all. Just a piece of granite, for all practical purpose. But something was still alive in me, my brain. I knew that high-level electricity, especially if crossing the heart from my hand to the ground, froze the muscles and thus I had negligible time to act, or die.

I ordered my body: "PULL, PULL, PULL, YOU MUST BREAK THE CONNECTION!" "DO IT NOW."

But my muscles were frozen by the one thousand volt going through me.

As electronic technician I was always careful with electricity, almost always wore rubber-soled shoes for insulation from electricity. I never wore a ring or other metal things on my fingers, to reduce likelihoods of electrocution. And luckily then, I was standing on a thin rubber mat. But none of it helped enough then.

I pulled and pulled with the last strength in my muscles. Nothing.

Finally, my determination broke my frozen state and I pulled my right hand away from the coil with the infinitely small strength I still had.

I have no idea how long it took, but it had to be in milliseconds otherwise I would not be alive. I did not feel any damage or pain. But I did not wait, I was not sure I was really ok so I ran up the concrete stairs to the ground above, saw the beautiful sunlight, breathed my lungs full again and again and said to myself loudly: “I am alive, I am alive!”

A few soldiers passed by looking at me and my strange exhilaration. One of them asked me, are you ok? You seem so white?

I wanted to tell him: if you just knew. But I told him, everything is fine. I could not explain what happened. They would not understand.

I sat on the entrance at ground level, looking around and continued to smile.

Wow! That was a close one.

Finally, after enjoying the beautiful day for a time I went back down and as I approached the door to the transmitter room, I saw again the big sign on the door:

IF YOU LOVE WINE, WOMEN AND SONG, BE CAREFUL, ELECTRICITY CAN KILL YOU.

I saw it many times before, but this time I did clearly know what it meant.

I felt then like killing the bastard who modified the safety switch. If he were there then I would have loved to give him a test of my 1000-volt DC.

I never found that idiot.

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P.M. Brown in praise of Israel

October 10th, 2008

While Israel is facing many serious challenges and unjust criticism, it is nice to read something good about our lovely country from the PM of England. That is not his first praise. When P.M. Gordon Brown appeared in front of the Knesset during Israel 60's anniversary he gave also a marvelous speech celebrating Israel’s many powerful accomplishments.
Matania

UK Prime Minister Lauds Israel as "Symbol of Hope" - Jonny Paul

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to the tenacity and achievements of the Jewish people on Monday and said that Israel is "a symbol of hope from which all the world can learn." Brown told the United Jewish Israel Appeal, "For 2,000 years, until 1948, the persistent call of the Jewish people was 'next year in Jerusalem.' For 2,000 years there was not one piece of land anywhere in the whole world that you could call your own."
"For 2,000 years you had history but not a home. For 2,000 years you lived in the artistic and cultural and intellectual and scientific and political realm of every continent but you had no home. For 2,000 years you endured pogroms in so many countries, then the horror of the Holocaust - which is the shame of mankind - because you had no home yet for 2,000 years, yet nothing - no prison cell, no forced migration, no violence, not even the Holocaust itself - could ever break the spirit of a people yearning to be free."
"What remarkable achievements Israel has achieved," he said. "A history of ingenuity that is a lesson to the boundless capacity of mind and spirit. Eight citizens have already been awarded Nobel prizes. In Israel today, there are more hi-tech industries, more symphony orchestras, more universities and research institutions than countries that are 100 times the size of Israel. The language of the Bible made the living tongue again, so your story, the story of Israel, is the symbol I identify with as a symbol of hope from which all the world can learn." (Jerusalem Post)

Iran nuclear danger, again

September 27th, 2008

In November 2005 I wrote a review of the Iranian nuclear danger, recommended powerful global pressure on Iran and said this is not likely, and ended with the following:
“My conclusions are: Iran is determined to possess nuclear weapons and no one can stop them.”
The following two summaries by people of substantial background in this area are important to understand.
Matania

Observations:
Everyone Needs to Worry About Iran - Richard Holbrooke, R. James Woolsey, Dennis B. Ross, and Mark D. Wallace (Wall Street Journal)

• Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the United Nations in New York this week. Don't expect an honest update from him on his country's nuclear program. Iran is now edging closer to being armed with nuclear weapons, and it continues to develop a ballistic-missile capability.
• The challenge Iran poses is very real and not a partisan matter. We share a common concern - Iran's drive to be a nuclear state. We believe that Iran's desire for nuclear weapons is one of the most urgent issues facing America today, because even the most conservative estimates tell us that they could have nuclear weapons soon.
• A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a direct threat to America's national security. For this reason, Iran's nuclear ambitions demand a response that will compel Iran's leaders to change their behavior and come to understand that they have more to lose than to gain by going nuclear.
• Iran is a deadly and irresponsible world actor, employing terrorist organizations including Hizbullah and Hamas to undermine existing regimes and to foment conflict. Emboldened by the bomb, Iran will become more inclined to sponsor terror, threaten our allies, and support the most deadly elements of the Iraqi insurgency.
• At the same time, Iranian leaders declare that Israel is illegitimate and should not exist. President Ahmadinejad specifically calls for Israel to be "wiped off from the map," while seeking the weapons to do so. Such behavior casts Iran as an international outlier. No one can reasonably suggest that a nuclear-armed Iran will suddenly honor international treaty obligations, acknowledge Israel's right to exist, or cease efforts to undermine the Arab-Israeli peace process.
• Facing such a threat, Americans must put aside their political differences and send a clear and united message that a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable.
Mr. Holbrooke is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Woolsey is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Ross was a special Middle East coordinator for President Clinton. Mr. Wallace was a representative of the U.S. to the UN for management and reform.

A Wakeup Call on Iran's Nukes - John Bolton (New York Daily News)

• Britain, France and Germany ("the EU-3") have been negotiating with Iran for over five years, and yet Iran has shown no inclination to terminate its nuclear program. The net effect of five years of EU-3 negotiation is that Iran is five years closer to achieving a deliverable nuclear weapon.
• Europe still does not fully appreciate the risks of a nuclear-armed Iran, nor is it willing to take the steps necessary to prevent it. Europe's lack of real concern stems in part from the mindset that it has passed beyond history, and entered a zone of security that will persist as long as outsiders are not "provoked."
• The Security Council will not solve the Iran problem. Russia, and to a lesser extent China, have made it clear that they will block meaningful sanctions in the Council. Russia has an enormous interest in protecting Iran from meaningful Security Council sanctions. Moscow hopes to sell nuclear fuel, and construct many nuclear power plants in addition to the one nearly complete at Bushehr, and sees Iran as a substantial market for high-end conventional weapons sales. Similarly, China's large and growing demands for energy make Iran an attractive partner for assured supplies of oil and natural gas, as well as a potential market.
• On Jan. 20, the new U.S. president will face very unattractive choices if he is serious about disarming this outlaw regime. One is regime change in Tehran, through support of the widespread discontent across Iran with the mullahs. The other is the targeted use of force against Iran's nuclear program. Unfortunately, the only other alternative - Iran with nuclear weapons - is far worse.

The writer, former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Reality and Junk Thoughts

September 14th, 2008

Every thing we do in the US impacts us and the rest of the world. We are the largest economy, the largest global polluter, and highest standard of living. We were given a marvelous country, great Constitution, the majority of the people are good caring people, but we stopped thinking. As we are moving towards the crucial global struggle to solve our energy problems coupled with the increased severity of global warming we, Americans, need to rethink our approaches. For too long we ignored critical facts because we did not like them. Here are just a few points:

In the past we were a very rich country, no longer; with ten trillion in national debt, $800 billion in yearly balance of payment deficit, and trillions in personal debts, we could not continue on the same path .In the past we could have tolerated a lot of national mistakes caused by our selfish attitude coupled with irresponsible political actions. We tried the Great Society, we tried educational reforms, and we tried financial deregulations. We got more poverty, lower education, and the Savings and Loans collapse of the 90’. Also the Dot.Com and Enron collapse, the current subprime housing collapse- and the shakeout of the banking and financial institutions, which is ongoing right now, no clear end in sight. We just ignored potential impacts.

Any intelligent person could have foreseen the coming of these severe dislocations and the suffering they would bring to millions and the nation. It is a fact of nature: EXPONENTIAL GROWTH LEADS TO EXPLOSION. The public and its leaders wanted to forget reality and continue the “free” ride. I have discussed it with my sons and friends for twenty years. I believe that our culture became self indulgent and overtly money oriented in the last few decades, accelerating with president Reagan’s transfer of wealth to the top few percents. And surprise, surprise, the economy did not collapse- so we decided to continue to borrow from the future, Democrats and Republicans almost alike. Since too many in the upper echelon of business and politics lack morality and have extreme self interest, their egos take over and lead to lies and organized theft from the rest of society.
And most of us keep quiet. As Eli Wiesel said, neutrality aids the oppressors. By inaction we become supporters of these crimes. We often called it white lies. Every one does it, so be a realistic and go along…
I personally witnessed corruption in industry, government and even nonprofit do-good organizations. I did oppose what I could and at age 52 retired in disgust and worked to raise these issues.

We must change this; we need to stand up, with courage, for what is right, not for what is convenient, and encourage others to do the same. Most important - pressure our leaders for honesty and facts-based actions.
Matania

Some related quotations:
Enron: “There were countless individuals within Enron who could have quit their jobs and alerted regulators to what was going on.”
“Call me a pessimist, but my view is that human nature being what it is, we can expect more Enrons, and more prep walks.” Paul Barrett, Assistant managing editor at Business Week. Harvard Magazine, 9/08

Housing collapse: Fannie Mac and Freddie Mac, the two semi governmental mortgage giants who finance some 80% of the housing loans are now part of the problem. Their combined portfolios of mortgage–backed securities is $1.5 Trillion. (One and a half million-million dollars!). B.W. 7/08

“We now know that consumption was too high to be sustainable, that housing prices were too high, and so on.”
“The final area of enormous policy significance is energy and the related question of the environment. Here I think our political leadership has let us down.” Lawrence Summers, past president of Harvard and US Secretary of the Treasury, 1999-2001. Harvard Magazine 9/08.

“Without a basic understanding of what constitute good science, neither ordinary citizens nor the politicians who represent them can hope to make thoughtful judgment separating quacks, con men, and practitioners of bad science from thoughtful experts whose advice ought to be taken seriously.” The Age of American Unreason: Defining Dumbness Downward, Susan Jacoby.

“The Almighty says, “Belief isn’t enough. Get knowledge. Come investigate.” It’s a fundamental principle of Judaism.” ”Research! Study! Analyze! Be sincere. Make the effort. Be willing to do what it takes to find out.” Know what you know. Rabbi Noah Weinberg. 1998.
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A Three States Solution?

August 10th, 2008

The summary below from an Arab - Lebanese newspaper is important since it shows the deep animosity and division among the Palestinians themselves.
A week ago Hamas attacked and murdered members of a strong Fatah clan in Gaza- the Hillis; so they escaped to Israel.
We were talking in the past about a possible two states solution: Israel and a future Palestinian state living side by side in peace. But the reality is that there are now two Palestinian states: Gaza- under the murderous Hamas, and the West Bank under a shaky, corrupt Fatah. As time passes other fractions can divide the Palestinians further.

Right now the Palestinians can not achieve peace between their own two “states”. They attack one another and escape to Israel for safety. If they hate and murder their own “brothers” so often how could they accept Israel in peace?

The likelihood of a single, peaceful Palestinian state living side by side with Israel seems far off in the future, if at all.
Matania

Palestinians See Israel as a Refuge - Mohammad Salah
The flight by Ahmad Hillis and other Palestinians to Israel in search of safety away from the bullying and aggression of Hamas affirms that the Palestinian issue is on its way to disappearing, evaporating and being forgotten. It also proves that Israel, for many Palestinians, is a refuge or objective one seeks and heads toward when Palestinians oppress each other. (Al-Hayat-Lebanon)

Divide Jerusalem?

August 7th, 2008

On a recent trip to Israel, when I was walking all over central Jerusalem to revive my fond memories of this beautiful city and after eating a hearty falafel near the corner of King George and Jaffa streets, I went to pray at the Western Wall- the Kotel. It is a historic walk with the modern city hall fronting the graves of two underground members who blew themselves up just before the British were able to hang them. Lots of memories and lots of history that touched my soul deeply.

After some reflection and prayers, I inserted a note asking for peace into the Wall and left this awesome Kotel with a heavy heart: When will Israel have some respite, some peace?

I looked for a taxi to take me back to my relatives in the French Hill and saw two separate rows; the same modern cars, with similar drivers. I asked the first driver how much to the French Hill and he gave a low figure, I entered and we were on our way. But within a few seconds I noticed we are going in the opposite direction to the one I always went, and before I realized it we were in Arab East Jerusalem. I did not like it, they were notorious for their extremism and several Arabs from that area murdered a few neighbors of my family in the French Hill. I was concerned, I did not see any policemen around, and asked the driver why he was taking me to that risky place. He told me: “don’t worry, nothing will happened to you, do you think I want to risk my new car?” We made it safely to the French Hill, I paid and walked away.

My relatives told me I should have used the Israeli taxis nearby, but I was unable to distinguish between the cars or the drivers. The mixture of population is so wide in Israel there is no easy way to know who may be dangerous, and who you can trust. Some quarter of a million Arabs live in Arab villages within Jerusalem and many work in Jewish areas, from construction, to services, to taxi drivers.

A few weeks ago Israel’s Chief of Internal Security told the Knesset Select Committee on Security that Arab East Jerusalem is a power vacuum because there is too little Israeli control there. Therefore, he said, East Jerusalem will continue to produce terrorists like the three Israeli Arabs who murdered Israeli civilians this year in Jerusalem.

A few days ago PM Olmert said that Jerusalem should be divided; otherwise you can expect more terrorism from these Arab areas. Very few people trust Olmert. He proved himself a very poor leader in selection of his cabinet, in the Lebanon war, and the response to Hamas in Gaza, and has been suspected of financial corruption for some time. He announced his resignation to take effect in September.

That a leader of that background even dares to make a comment of this nature on one of the core issues of Israel sovereignty is a great disappointment. But he is not alone, the US Administration is pushing to divide Jerusalem, the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their Capital, and some Israelis and Jews do not care if the Arab part of the city will be “given” to the Palestinians. After all, they claim, Israel will have one quarter of a million less Arabs inside its borders.

Several Israeli prime ministers suggested to offer the Palestinians part of the Galil and other heavily populated Israeli-Arab areas to reduce their high proportion within Israel, some 20%. Many of these Arabs seem to hate Israel according to polls, but they also scream they want to stay within Israel since the alternative is poverty and danger among the Palestinians. Thousands of Jerusalem Arabs have been asking for Israeli citizenship in the last few years since Israel, some of them said, is the best place in the world to be an Arab! Think about that!

Let’s assume Jerusalem is divided, and the number of Israeli Arabs is thus reduced. Let’s assume a new fence will separate them from the rest of Jerusalem. What about the remaining one million Israeli-Arabs? Since they are full citizens they can travel freely. Can this stop internal terrorism? I don’t think so. It will remove an integral part of Jerusalem from Israeli control and allow terrorists free movement within this areas. Just think about their new ability to bomb Jerusalem from within.

Internal terrorists will continue to come from Israeli Arabs, this can not be fully stopped, and sadly, Israelis will have to continue to muster the courage to live with terrorism from time to time within its borders. No alternative exists at present. Eventually most Israeli-Arabs would grasp clearly that it is in their own deep self interest to become full fledge Israeli citizens and expose the few terrorists among them.

Jerusalem should not be divided. Israel should not repeat the bad mistakes it made by vacating Lebanon and Gaza unilaterally.

I WILL BE TALKING ABOUT THIS VERY ISSUE ON ISRAELI NATIONAL RADIO MONDAY 8/11/08 PM PST. YOU CAN LISTEN TO IT THEN AND FOR A WEEK LATER AT:
http://www.israelnationalradio.com

Matania
8-08