How the Times Distorted Jenin

When I write a screenplay, I start out with an agenda. I decide who my hero is first and who is the villain. Then I fashion scenes to build my dramatic case and make it believable. That is, I believe, exactly what occurred with regard to at least two reporters, Sheila MacVicar of CNN and Tom Miller of the Los Angeles Times, on Tuesday, April 16 in the Jenin refugee camp.

I was there. I saw everything they saw, I heard everything they heard, I smelled everything they did not smell. And the truth is there was no smell of death on that day, despite what Miller wrote in his feature article of April 21.

Miller needed a smell of death that wasn’t there, and MacVicar needed bodies for her story. That was a problem, because absolutely no bodies were found while the press tour, of which we all were a part, was in the Jenin refugee camp. In addition, Miller evidently needed to be seen as an intrepid reporter overcoming Israeli restrictions in order to piece together what really happened.

"What exactly happened in the Jenin camp has been cloaked in mystery, largely because Israel for days banned the entry of rescue workers, journalists and other independent eyes. Reporters who circumvented the restrictions, have pieced together the events of the camp…" Miller wrote in his April 21 article in the Times.

That is very dramatic prose. Unfortunately, where Miller is concerned, it is also untrue. Miller, far from circumventing the restrictions of the Israeli military, rode into the Jenin camp in an Israeli armored personnel carrier with me, courtesy of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

For the record, I am biased. I am an Israeli American who served in the IDF and was, and continue to be, a peace activist, who has held talks with members of the PLO and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine long before Oslo. I have had high-level, and sometimes secret, meetings in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza long before it was legal for an Israeli to do so. I continue to believe that Israel will never have the security it desires without a peaceful Palestinian state next to it, and that the Palestinians will never get the state they want without deciding once and for all to live in peace with Israel.

I went to Jenin to find out what happened there.

"Before the Israeli forces invaded two weeks ago," intoned MacVicar in her lead-in, "this was the crowded center of the Jenin refugee camp. There were apartment houses in twisting, narrow streets, bustling and busy. That neighborhood is now gone, erased by Israeli bulldozers, turned into a river of concrete and twisted steel spreading over two city blocks. Everywhere there is evidence of life interrupted."

Now, let me tell you what there is also evidence of. Before one enters the refugee camp, one passes through the very pleasant little town of Jenin. The entrance to the camp is roughly 100 meters from the rest of the town, which has handsome single-family homes and yards, businesses and apartments. Not a one of those buildings appears to be touched — no bullet holes from Israeli machine guns, not one house bulldozed, indeed, not even a broken window anywhere in sight. All this only 100 meters away from the scene of the fighting.

The reason there is no devastation here is quite simple: No one was shooting at the Israeli reservists from these buildings, and so, quite properly, they did not shoot back.

And who lives in these suburban homes? Are they of a different racial stock, perhaps, and thus were spared? Are they Swiss? No. They are the Palestinian Arab residents of the town of Jenin.

The difference between them and those waiting for the reservists in the booby-trapped camp was a very simple one. They were not terrorists. They were not fighters. Those waiting for the reservists in the camp were.

One reservist sensed MacVicar’s hostility. He was a soft-spoken man who approached her and introduced himself as the reserve unit’s medical officer, Dr. David Zangen. He told her that when the fighting was over, they found photograph albums of children from roughly 6 years of age up through early and mid-teens. It was an album of photos of children who would be the next crop of suicide killers, with notations indicating when each of the children would be ripe. The reporter had no time for the doctor, however.

"Perhaps you should ask yourself why," she said, dismissing him.

"I do, madam," he said, "I ask myself why. I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine sending one’s child out to be a mass murderer who commits suicide to kill women and children."

"Well, I can explain it," said the reporter. "For me it all comes down to one word, ‘occupation.’"

"But madam," the doctor said, "Jenin hasn’t been occupied for nine years."

MacVicar just turned and walked away. She was looking for scenes of bodies being pulled from the rubble, as will be recalled, and she still hadn’t gotten the footage because none had been found that day. Thus, there would have been ample time for the doctor’s comments, as there would have been space for them in Miller’s article, but they didn’t fit the script.

How did MacVicar solve her body problem? She simply used footage from another day, footage she hadn’t shot, one bare foot sticking out from under a piece of rubble, which she had never seen, which had been shot by someone else when the pickings were better.

I am sure MacVicar and Miller have their own version of these events, and I’m open to hearing their side of the story, which is more consideration than they offered the doctor.

Daniel Gordon is the author of five books and the screenwriter of such films as "The Hurricane" and "Murder in the First." He is also a former sergeant in the IDF. He will be speaking on Wednesday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. For more information, call (805) 497-7101.

Aromatherapy Miracles

“American Pie” star Shannon Elizabeth may appear to have perfect skin. But Michelle Ornstein knows that everyone, even stars, have bad skin days. And when they do, they turn to this Israeli-born spa owner for help.

“Everyone breaks out. Teens, movie stars, homemakers. People who break out from everything come here,” said Ornstein, running her fingers through her thick brown curls.

Nestled between Crescent Heights and Fairfax on the oh-so-hip Melrose Avenue, Enessa derives its name from the Hebrew word nes (miracle). “To me, aromatherapy is the miracle of the essence,” Ornstein said.

To walk into Enessa is to relax. The stone mezuzah in the doorway welcomes you to serenity. Freeway road rage and smog-related stress give way to calming water fountains and copper leaf inlays in the cool cement floor. The spa’s clean lines and open spaces reflect Ornstein’s skin-care philosophy. “Cleanse, hydrate and moisturize,” said Ornstein, who returns to Israel every few years. “Keep it simple.”

Simple and natural. Aromatherapy, originally practiced by ancient Egyptians and Greeks, is the art of using essential oils (concentrated plant, flower and herb extracts) to enhance well-being. The oils, absorbed into the bloodstream, help the body release toxins and impurities. Based in this practice, all of Enessa’s treatments and products are 100-percent natural. “Synthetic oils and chemicals clog pores and stay in your body. Essential oils are released in six hours,” said Ornstein, who herself has sensitive skin and is allergic to most commercial cosmetics. “Imitation products may smell like aromatherapy, but they lack the actual healing properties,” she said.

Ornstein found topical antibiotics and Retin-A too harsh, so she created her own line of organic products. She now sells over 30 different skin-care secrets. The “Friends” make-up artist hooked Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and Brad Pitt on Enessa products and all three male “Friends” stars use the aftershave moisturizer.

My luxurious hydrating facial ($70 for 45 minutes) started with the lavender cleanser, followed by a bio-exfoliant scrub, a generous application of cypress oil facial nourishment and a delightful calming mineral mask. She also applied clove oil for microcysts (I now swear by this miracle zit zapper), rose oil eye treatment (great for moisturizing lips, too) and the indulgently moisturizing rose geranium hydrosol.

Many of the products that Ornstein sells at the spa are Israeli influenced. “I import a lot from Israel, like the Dead Sea salts I use in my body polish and mineral mask,” she said.

During facials, she employs a softening gel and nylon strips to open pores. Though most American spas use steam for this procedure, Ornstein finds the Israeli gel method more effective. “With steam, pores go from one extreme to the other, shutting immediately after the steam is turned off. With the gel, the pores remain open, so I can concentrate on one area of the face at a time,” she said.

Ornstein, of Yemenite descent, imported another Middle Eastern beauty secret to Los Angeles: threading. Enessa is one of the few spas nationwide to provide this ancient hair removal treatment. Knotted threads are used to remove facial hair by the root, without disturbing the skin. “Waxing can remove a layer of skin, causing irritation and sun exposure. Threading ($15-$65) is less invasive and the hair grows back thinner,” she said. Salma Hayek is not Ornstein’s only threading fan. Thanks to Ornstein, my eyebrows look fantastic.

Ornstein’s heritage plays a large role in and out of the spa. “Celebrating the holidays, having a Jewish home, it’s really important to me,” said Ornstein, who attends services at Baba Sale in the Fairfax area, keeps a kosher home and is hosting a large family seder this Passover.

It is difficult to balance business and family, the successful businesswoman admits. Married in 1996 by Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz of Chabad of the Marina, Ornstein and her husband, Steve, an auditor, now reside in the Miracle Mile with their 18-month-old son, Daniel. “I’ve cut down on my time in the spa. I don’t want to miss out on the most beautiful thing in the world,” said the proud mother, who pulls out an album overflowing with family photos.

Now in its fifth year, the spa has become a haven to celebs and Chasidim alike. Enessa’s full line of treatments includes facials, body polishing, waxing, threading, massage and acupuncture. Although Ornstein downplays her celebrity clientele, this Hollywood hot spot is a long way from her humble beginnings.

Eighteen years ago, she worked out of her tiny Los Angeles apartment. “I’d advertise in the local Israeli newspapers, and women would climb the stairs to my place to get their legs waxed,” she said.

“In Israel, skin care is number one. Everyone gets a monthly facial; here it is treated more like a luxury than a necessity,” said Ornstein, who moved from the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan at age 13.

Ornstein discovered her skin-care passion while attending Beverly Hills High. “I broke out horribly at 16. I tried everything, nothing worked. And my first facial was traumatic,” said Ornstein, who then took to wandering aisles at the health food store. “I read the labels on all the jars to figure out what might help. I’d go home and make my own masks,” Ornstein said.

She enrolled in a local beauty school after graduation, but trained in aromatherapy in a Tel Aviv academy. “In Israel, I learned natural solutions for problem skin, how each plant and herb possess their own unique power,” Ornstein said. “I also learned that everything affects your skin. Your lifestyle, your diet, acupuncture, exercise.” She looks to Israeli folk dancing, salsa dancing and yoga for release.

With Ornstein’s help, I leave Enessa feeling pampered, relaxed and complexion glowing. And like so many of her celebrity clients, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

For more information on the spa and its products, visit