JERUSALEM -- Armed security everywhere. Checkpoints at the entrances to shopping malls. The dangers of hanging out in public places.
So what's good about Israel these days?
Tobacco smoke. And lots of it.
Israel wrote the book on homeland security that America is now reading cover to cover. But Israel has apparently skipped the American treatise on how to turn smokers into social outcasts.
Smoke is everywhere. Even as smoking is against the law.
During a trip last week to Israel, I discovered the following: Secretaries in government buildings smoke -- inside the building! Kids on the street smoke -- between Talmud classes. Staffers in the office of the Foreign Minister smoke -- perhaps explaining why Shimon Peres leaves his windows open.
And yes, tourists smoke too -- they can light up a Cuban cigar in the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton. (Try doing that in the Washington Hilton.) Maybe because Cuba is not in the Axis of Evil, Isael can be in the Axis of Tobacco.
What makes all of this noteworthy is that each public puff means a law is being broken. Flouted, no less.
As of October 1, smoking is punishable by a $60 fine in nearly every Israeli public place, completing a cycle of prohibition dating back to 1983. With the exception of a few designated smoking rooms, shopping malls, schools, pharmacies, banks, post offices, airports, theaters, lecture halls, hospitals, buses, trains, and clinics are all supposed to be smoke free.
But they're not.
Why? Because people here love to smoke. And because many are unaware of the regulations against their behavior.
At a restaurant near the Sea of Galilee, I ask two security agents if smoking is allowed inside. They both say yes.
Then I point to a sign on a nearby wall picturing a cigarette with the international "no" line slashed through it. "Oh," they respond (same word in Hebrew as in English).
Then they turn the table on me. Is smoking banned in America?, they ask. Of course, I say. They laugh and ask again, What do they do if you smoke, call the police?
I tell them I don't think police actually arrest anyone. Instead smokers suffer shame and humiliation from colleagues, friends, and passersby.