Saturday, June 30, 2007

Justice for all?

The pleas bargain made by Atty. Gen. Menachem Mazuz with the lawyers of former Pres. Katsav has caused a furore in Israel. Katsav was charged with numerous counts of sexual harrassment of former aides from the time when he was Minister of Tourism as well as in the Presidency. This included two cases of rape. Katsav admitted nothing and angrily rejected all charges as a conspiracy against him. Most Israelis expected these charges to be considered in a court of law, although few people looked forward to the public degradation of a former President.
Perhaps to avoid this spectacle, Mazuz has announced a plea bargain so that Katsav can plead guilty to some of the sexual harrassment charges in exchange for the more serious rape charges being dropped. Apparently Katsav's lawyer had a hard time persuading him to accept this deal/compromise, in order to avoid the trial. But, there has been such a strong public reaction against the deal, particularly from women's groups and female politicians, so that the deal may not be viable. There have been calls for Mazuz to resign.
The main criticism is that women will be more reluctant to come forward in future if harrassed by a public figure, if they expect that the person will be protected from prosecution and will be given a special deal negating most of the serious charges. The victims in Katsav's case, whose identities have not been revealed, have gone public with their accusations that this is a deal concocted by politicians to protect themselves.
It is a difficult situation to judge, on the one hand most people will agree that to avoid a public trial of a former President is a good move, but on the other hand to drop serious rape charges against a former President smacks of unequal treatment before the law. How far is the State supposed to go to ensure equal justice for all? This case has serious ramifications that will take some time to be worked out.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The 'Four-State' solution

Well, we've had the 'one-state,' the 'two state' and recently the 'three-state' solution to the Israel-Arab conflict, so why not the 'four-state' solution. This solution includes the presence of the Arab State of Jordan, which together with Israel, Gaza and the West Bank constitute the total area of the original Palestine Mandate, that according to the Balfour Declaration was to have been granted to the Jewish people as their homeland.
Some 20 years ago there was a popular slogan used by the right wing in Israel that "Jordan is Arab Palestine." What this meant in effect is that the British Govt. under Winston Churchill in 1922 divided the British Mandate unilaterally into two states, Palestine (in which the Jewish State was to have been established) and Trans-Jordan, which was constituted as an Arab monarchy in order to placate the Arab monarchs of Arabia, the Hashemites (prior to its being conquered by the Saudis). This British initiative was undertaken without consultation with the Jewish authorities (the Jewish Agency and the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in Palestine).
Then when the British left in 1948 and Israel was established, the Jews were left to fight it out not only with the Egyptians, the Jordanians and the Syrians, all of which claimed and expected to conquer parts of the remaining Palestine, but also with the Arab Palestinians. When Israel managed eventually to defeat these Arab states and push them out of its territory, the claim of the Arab Palestinians remained. Unfortunately without a similar total defeat and conquest of their claims this conflict can fester forever. Can it be fair that three quarters of the original Mandate instead of going to the Jews has gone to form three Arab entitities?
Recently this slogan "Jordan is Arab Palestine" has been revised by the leader of the National Religious Party, Benny Elon, since Gaza is now an enemy terrorist state, and the split between Gaza and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) means that there is no real possibility towards a peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. What he is saying in effect is that the situation is now so complex, too complex for Israel to solve, so let's transfer the problem to Jordan to solve, which anyway has a majority of western Palestinians who are Jordanian citizens. Not that King Abdullah II of Jordan wants this problem or has shown any interest in being directly involved. No, he prefers to talk from the sidelines, criticizing Israel while trying to appear "moderate."
What is needed in these circumstances is new thinking, some different way of approaching this festering crisis. This is what Tony Blair will be looking for when he takes over as the Quartet's representative in the Middle East. So why can't Tony consider this alternative, let Jordan become the Arab "partner" instead of the PA, let its constitution be changed and let it be responsible for the Arab part of the West Bank, that will be divided between it and Israel. This could lead to a Federation between Israel and Jordan-Palestine. Then eventually Gaza could be incorporated by the new Israel-Palestine Federation. Problem solved.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Unrealistic summit

The Sharm Summit of the anti-Hamas Quartet took place without much fanfare. As expected, Israel is the one to make concessions to bolster Abbas, including releasing m$200 tax funds and 250 Fatah prisoners from Israeli jails. We are told that these will be people who do not have "blood on their hands," i.e. they have not murdered Israelis as part of their terrorism. This was apparently not agreed in advance by Olmert's Cabinet, so he must have been persuaded to do this by his three Arab friends.
Hamas partly undercut the Summit by releasing a video tape of the IDF captive Cpl. Shalit the day of the Summit. They are very PR savvy. However, the captors (who are supposed to be the so-called "Army of Islam") say that they will not release him except for "thousands" of prisoners. So Israel is once again in a no-win situation. By giving prisoners to Abbas, Olmert has upped the ante for Shalit's exchange.
In a separate development, former British PM Tony Blair, now jobless, is about to be appointed the special representative of the real Quartet, consisting of the US, UN, EU and Russia. The main problem is that Russia, unlike the rest, still does not officially regard Hamas as a terrorist organization, and campaigns for Israel and the West to deal with Hamas. This is a difficult circle to square.
But, Blair should be a good man for the job. He certainly has the international credentials, and has proved himself to be supportive of Israel as well as balanced regarding the "two state solution." But, now that there are three states in Palestine/Israel, this particular Road can only be traversed by ignoring Gaza, at least for the time being. However, the stability of Fatah in the West Bank is probably the most questionable aspect of this Plan, and pouring money and other concessions at Abbas may not make much difference. Most depends now on how Abbas and his new Govt. really function in the near future. Blair may be able to help with this.
Recently I saw a Palestinian journalist in London interviewed on the BBC. He made the point that since the Palestinains have kept knowledge of exactly where they came from in what is now Israel alive thru several generations, it is impossible for them to accept anything other than "the right of return." He asked the interviewer if she would give up that right, and of course she demurred. But, this is not a specifically Hamas viewpoint and is certainly shared by the Palestinians on theWest Bank. How many of the readers of this letter still reside in the house they or their family lived in 60 years ago, and how many would or could go back after numerous wars? The Palestinian humanitarian and emotional appeal is intended for sentimental leftists and those unfamiliar with the real situation in the Middle East. The return to the pre-1967 borders, which the Arab participants at the Sharm Summit projected as the need for Israel to undertake, and the return of the so-called "refugees" are beyond the bounds of reality, except for the destruction of Israel. Yet, if this is what the three moderates continue to feed their people there can be no realisable peace. Maybe having lost to the radicals might cause them to move to the center and become more realistic, but I doubt it. Can they ask Israel for less than Hamas?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Israeli music

The past two evenings we were lucky to experience performances of Israeli music of two quite different kinds.
On Saturday night we went to the last of the series of concerts of the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra held at the ultra-modern auditorium in Herzliya. Only in the last concert they usually have a different kind of show, not necessarily classical music. This time they had a quartet of women named "Eve's Women" playing Klezmer music, but in a jazzed up style. The musicians were excellent, especially the clarinettist (needed for Klezmer) and the drummer. However, while she was excellent, she was also very loud and that tended to spoil the performance for several people. It was like being at a wedding more than a concert.
On Sunday night we went by bus with a group of people to the Casa Shalom at Gan Yavne near Ashdod. This was a fund raiser for their work to research and help cryto-Jews ("marranos" or anusim in Hebrew). The music was Sephardic, sung mostly in Ladino by a soloist Betty Klein, who accompanied herself on the guitar and oud. She sang songs from Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Turkey and elewhere. Wherever Sephardic Jews settled they brought their music, and it often intermingled with the local varieties. In some cases the same song can be sung with different lyrics in Ladino, Yiddish and Hebrew. Meanwhile we enjoyed a nice meal sitting in a garden in perfect weather.
One interesting thing I learnt there is that many French and other Jews evaded the Holocaust by escaping to Spain. That doesn't make sense since Franco Spain was Fascist and allied with Germany. However, it seems that many crypto-Jews in Spain sympathized with and helped the Jewish refugees. I won't bother you with details of the work of Casa Shalom, but you can visit their web-site at .

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The first Quartet

To those who believe in the so-called "peace process" as a real entity, something tangible and providing hope for the future, then the upcoming meeting on Monday at Sharm-al-Sheikh in Egypt between that other Quartet - Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the PA, has been a long time coming. These are after all the four major parties to the Arab-Israel conflict, and if they can sit down and reason together, then maybe peace is actually possible.
But, there are some major flies in the ointment or possible hitches that can spoil this simplistic viewpoint.
First, the takeover of Gaza by Hamas represents a victory for the implacable enemies of all four members of this Quartet. Hamas is the Palestinian offshoot of the Moslem Brotherhood of Egypt that has been the religious fundamentalist enemy of the "moderate" Sunni regimes since it was founded in the 1940s. Both Egypt and Syria have fought civil wars against the Brotherhood, and Pres. Sadat of Egypt was assassinated by their followers after he made peace with Israel.
Further, the second in command of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri, is an Egyptian who was a follower of the Brotherhood until he founded al Qaeda with Osama bin Laden during the war in Afghanistan. As they have shown in direct attacks, the Hamas/al Qaeda extremists are committed to overthrowing the Hashemite regime in Jordan, the Mubarak regime in Egypt, and the Fatah and the Zionist regimes in Palestine. What they would replace them with would be the beginnings of a new Caliphate modelled on the 9th century Muslim Caliphate, only this time they plan to include the West in their empire.
Another entity conspicuous by its absence at the meeting will be Iran. Iran is after all pulling the strings and financing the activities of the anti-Zionist, anti-Western organizations, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. So in a way the meeting in Sharm is a "war cabinet" meeting of the four who are threatened by the Iranian-Moslem Brotherhood axis.
But, these two entities make strange bedfellows since the Brotherhood and its offshoots, Hamas and al Qaeda, are Sunni extremists, while Iran and its offshoot Hizbollah, are Shia extremists. They are sworn enemies of each other who have only made common cause because of their greater sworn enemies, Israel and the West, and they see Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as fatally flawed pro-Western regimes. In fact, their interpretation of the meeting in Sharm is that this proves that Jordan, Egypt and the PA/West Bank under Pres. Abbas are puppets of the Americans.
This is where the greatest danger lies for Israel and for PM Olmert. The Arabs recognize that Olmert is one of the weakest PMs in Israeli history. After the drubbing in the Second Lebanon War, the IDF no longer has the same degree of deterrence for these Arabs that it once had. So there is a possibility that to show that they are not merely American or Israeli puppets, the three Arab leaders, Mubarak, Abdullah II and Abbas, will try to outnumber and outmaneuver Olmert in order to bring back to their peoples some tangible Israeli concessions.
What can Olmert give them that will satisfy their cravings. The first thing is that he will have to agree to is to support Pres. Abbas in all ways possible, including releasing the tax monies (m$600), releasing Arab prisoners, particularly releasing Marwan Barghouti (who might become the number two in Fatah), stopping development of the Security Fence, etc. Now, it is very unlikely that Olmert will agree to anything except the first item on this laundry list, although, even in the Cabinet Avigdor Lieberman opposes giving these funds to Abbas. But secret agreements might be made, if the four leaders who have common cause agree to cooperate to bring down the Hamas regime in Gaza. However, the practicality of this is very unlikely at present. Hamas are consolidating their military control in Gaza, and the Israeli public will not support a move by Olmert to attack and take over Gaza if Israelis will die to put Abbas back on that throne.
Finally, Abbas has shown himself to be incompetent and weak time after time when he could have faced down Hamas with superior forces. Now in Ramallah they are investigating why Fatah failed to make any stand against Hamas in Gaza, and all that can be said is that the Fatah forces took their cue from Abbas. Even the so-called Fatah strong-man Mohammed Dahlan proved to be a wet squib and escaped to Ramallah. So rather than trying to take back Gaza for Fatah, Israel should be concerned first of all to prevent Fatah being overtaken a second time by Hamas on the West Bank.
The four players in this deadly game will be first and foremost concerned to bolster the Abbas regime in the West Bank and then let's see where that takes us.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Complain to....

I have just finished reading Richard Dawkins best-seller, "The God Delusion." Even if you are a God-fearing or God-loving person, it will make you think and is also very entertaining. If you are a believer and are afraid to read it then obviously it doesn't say much about your confidence in your own belief system.

Herewith is a summary of some of the main points:
1. At the outset he summarizes every argument that has been given historically to account for God, and demolishes each one of them. But he admits the possibility of some mystery: "An atheist... is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence ...except in the sense of natural phenomena that we do not yet understand" (p. 35).
2. A test was done of the efficacy of prayer. Three churches in different parts of the US were chosen and they prayed for different individuals in hospitals in different places. There was no difference in the outcome for those patients who were prayed for and those who were not (p. 87). The explanation of the extremely devout was that God did this deliberately to confound the skeptics.
3. "Why is God considered an explanation for anything? ...If someone credits something to God, generally it means they haven't a clue, so they're attributing it to an unreachable, unknowable sky-fairy" (p. 161).
4. He quotes "The charge of the light brigade" by Alfred Tennyson as an example of religious othodoxy "there's not to reason why, their's but to do and die..." (p. 204)
5. He discusses "memes" that are in some ways analogous to genes (p. 222). Genes are physical pieces of DNA that cause biological heredity, while memes are inherited societal practices, such as knowledge (skills) and belief systems (religions), passed down from one generation to the next.
6. He argues that, "we do not need God to be good or evil" (p. 258). There are plenty of examples to support this.
7. Calls to respect "others" in religions generally refer only to those of the same faith - not of other faiths (p. 297).
8. He quotes Seneca the Younger (Roman Senator), "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false and by the rulers as useful" (p.313).
9. Religion fulfils four main roles in human life: explanation, exhortation, consolation and inspiration. He considers each of these and concludes that none of them really needs to invoke God (p. 389).
10. He compares the child's need for an imaginary friend (a "Binker") with the adult need to invoke God (p.389), and concludes that these beliefs arise from similar psychological origins.
(page nos. are from the paperback edition, published by "Black Swan.")

There is much more in this book, and I agree with most of it. But, if you don't agree with any of the above, don't write to me, read the book and then write to the author or if that doesn't satisfy you write to God and complain.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Intl. Refugee Day

Today is International Refugee Day, proclaimed by the UN High Commission for Human Rights. They estimate that this year the number of refugees in the world has increased, and now stands at ca. 40 million. This includes refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur/Sudan. However, there is one mistake in the calculation, since it includes 4 million so-called Palestinian "refugees." But, the vast majority of these people are not refugees at all.
According to international law and UNHCR regulations, refugees are those who leave their country of origin because of war or persecution. The definition does not include their subsequent offspring. Children born once the refugee is safely in another country are NOT refugees themselves, with ONE EXCEPTION, the Palestinians! The UN Work and Relief Agency was established in 1949 specifically to deal with Palestinian refugees, and according to its own unique definition, all subsequent offspring of the original Palestinian refugees are themselves refugees. So you can see how UNWRA is acting to perpetuate this conflict, since the Palestinains are able to remain in the limbo of being refugees forever! The only way they can stop being refugees is if they are given the "right of return" to their original homes. No refugees in fact have this right under international law except by the agreement of the sovereign country which they left.
Another difference between the UNHCR and UNWRA in regard to refugees is the amount given by UNWRA to their Palestinian dependents. The Palestinians receive from 2-10 times more per capita in aid (money and food) than any other group of refugees in the world. Although we are often told that the Palestinians live in "desperate" poverty, in fact they are well off compared to all other refugees and even most other Arabs living in Arab countries.
Now Pres. Bush has made the situation worse. In order to stave off a major humanitarian disaster in Gaza, Pres. Bush announced yesterday that the US will channel m$40 for Gaza relief through UNWRA. Now in Gaza there are 1.5 million people, and ca. 40% of them are UNWRA dependents (i.e. "refugees" in their definition) or 600,000 people. (Question, how much aid did the US send initially for the relief of the millions of inhabitants of New Orleans?) By channeling this aid thru UNWRA the US is only accepting that all of these people are in fact refugees. However, it is understandable, since the whole world has accepted this special status for the Palestinians for 60 years, and the US cannot transfer aid directly to Hamas in Gaza.
It is about time the Palestinians stopped having this special status, especially since the original refugees have all but died out. It is about time, as part of the reform of the UN, that UNWRA was abolished and all Palestinian refugees remaining came under the care and responsibility of UNHCR, like everyone else.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

West Bank first?

Some of you may remember that when the decision was made in 2005 by PM Sharon to carry out the disengagement from Gaza, it was based on the so-called "Gaza first" principle. That is, since the Palestinians were showing no signs of being prepared to follow the yellow-brick Road Map, and since there are many in Israel who have no patience to wait for actual peace (i.e "peace now!"), it was decided to speed things up by a unilateral Israeli withdrawal of not only settlements (22 in number) but also of all IDF units from Gaza.
However, surprise, surprise, this did not lead to peace. On the contrary, the Palestinians immediately trashed everything that the Israelis had left for them, including hothouses that could have provided work and food (that had been paid for by some foolish American Jews), as well as increasing the firing of Kassam rockets from the evacuated areas onto the Negev.
So "Gaza first" did not work, it was a miserable failure. And to judge by the outcome today, with a Hamas Army trained in Gaza that was able in 5 days to defeat a larger Fatah force, it was an even greater failure than we had realized. I don't think we can blame the current situation on Sharon and Olmert and those who supported disengagement (including me), but certainly it has contributed to the ascendancy of Hamas in Gaza.
Those who had proposed that Israel deal with Hamas ("you have to negotiate with your enemies") have probably seen what Hamas did to Fatah, their fellow Palestinians. Not only did they murder hundreds without any compunction, but they also carried out war crimes, throwing people from buildings, shooting girls and women in the street, as well as completely looting and stripping the houses of Fatah leaders, including that of former Pres. Arafat. So what would they do to us Israelis if they had the opportunity? There is no dealing with criminal, terrorist, fundamentalist extremists.
But, now that Gaza is gone we have the "West Bank first." This is based on the principle that Pres. Abbas and Fatah are "moderate," that they oppose Hamas (they also murdered several Hamas leaders), and that they are therefore our putative "Palestinian friends." But, there are two aspects that must give us pause before we race headlong into this new adventure. First, much of Fatah is beyond the control of Pres. Abbas and his new emergency Govt. However much we might support PM Fayyad as an honest and pro-American leader, he does not control the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, the men with the guns. Abbas has been consistent in only one way, in his weakness and indecision. Will he change now?
Second, many of those who are waiting at the Erez and other crossings to get into Israel, because they would be killed by Hamas, are al Aksa Martyr killers, who until recently were shooting rockets into Israel (now they all have cancer and are humanitarian cases). If Israel lets them into the West Bank will they support a good pro-American Govt. Think again! Their program is still to destroy Israel, but first they need to defeat Hamas in order to reassert their control over all of Palestine.
Abba Eban said that the Palestinians always shoot themselves in the foot and "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Now they have an opportunity, the EU, Israel and the US are lining up to supply funds to the new West Bank PA Govt. If they can only control themselves and their own extremists maybe they can pull it off, become the "moderates" we wish they were (only in comparison to Hamas). But, I fear that the Palestinians are incapable of grasping the dream of a peaceful future, they only want revenge against Israel for the historic wrong that they feel has been done to them (for which they originally started the first of the many wars). They are in a perpetual time-warp, that they think can only be resolved by violence. So if you see a lot of Palestinians limping around on the West Bank, you'll know that once again they have missed the opportunity and have all shot themselves in the foot.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


June 16 was "Bloom's Day," the day on which the events take place in James Joyce's epic novel "Ulysses," which is arguably the greatest novel ever written. To celebrate Bloom's Day in Israel there were several events organized by the Israel-Irish Friendship League, that also organizes the annual St. Patrick's Day get-together.
This year for the first time they held a symposium on "James Joyce and Dublin" at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva. We went to another meeting Sunday night at the Open University at its brand new Dorothy de Rothschild campus near Ra'anana. It was our first visit there and it was impressive, large and ultra-modern. The small auditorium where the event took place was very Scandinavian in design, with blond laminated wood. The event was held in collaboration with the English Dept. and consisted of a reception, a musical interlude (Irish and Mediterranean music) and then a lecture entitled: "Jewish Ireland in the Age of James Joyce," by Prof. Cormac O'Grada, University College, Dublin.
This was based on a book of the same name that he has recently published. He admitted that his publisher suggested that he put James Joyce's name in the title "in order to sell a few more books," because actually there was no connection between Joyce and the small Jewish community in Dublin. Although Leopold Bloom, one of the two main characters in "Ulysses" is (half) Jewish (the other main character, Stephan Daedalus, is supposed to be based on Joyce himself), there is no evidence that Joyce ever met a Jew in Dublin. So it is a matter of constant literary speculation why he chose a "Jewish" main character and it's a bit of a mystery. But, Joyce did meet several Jews during his long stay in Trieste, where he worked as an English teacher and wrote Ulysses. There is evidence that he learnt a lot there about Jews there that he didn't know before and he put some of this into his fictional character, Bloom.
But, Prof. O'Grada entertained us with stories about the Jewish community of Ireland, and particularly several possible candidates for Bloom's character that Joyce might have heard about. There was a Jewish immigrant named Bloom who was a photographer and travelling salesman in the late-1890's, who was self-educated and who had a one-sided love affair with his Irish assistant and then murdered her. At trial in Wexford he was found guilty but insane and was sent to an asylum, which he left after 5 years and travelled to Chicago. One of the researchers traced his family there, but they were most upset to hear that their ancestor was a mad murderer, and notwithstanding the possible literary significance, did not wish to be contacted. Note that Molly Bloom, Leopold's wife, was a photographer's assistant in "Ulysses."
Another possible contemporary candidate was Joseph Edelstein, who was a well-known character in the Jewish community. He was born in Dublin and like other Irishmen he liked his liquor and was often drunk and disorderly. He tried his hand unsuccessfully at politics and writing and was convicted several times of embezzlement. It is very likely that Joyce read about these two Jewish characters in the Dublin newspapers of the time.
However, given Joyce's proclivity for accuracy, it is surprising that he made several mistakes in relation to Bloom's Jewishness. Since Bloom's father was Jewish but his mother was Protestant, he himself was not really Jewish and certainly neither he nor Molly Bloom were portrayed as either knowledgeable about Judaism nor were they at all observant. However, the Dublin Jewish community was primarily derived from a small region of Latvia, and was very orthodox. Therefore, it is unlikely that some of the interactions of the Blooms with other members of the Jewish community mentioned by Joyce could ever have happened. So Bloom would have been even more of an outsider than Joyce portrayed him, although that is probably why he chose a half-Jewish "hero," because Bloom was neither Christian (Joyce was notably anti-Catholic) nor Jew, and represented "everyman."
It should be noted that Bloom's name was actually a translation of the word for bloom in Hungarian, his father's name, so looking for a real-life person named Bloom is probably a waste of time anyway. Nevertheless, it is one of the favorite pastimes of Irish and Jewish literati. By the way, why did Joyce choose June 16 for Bloomsday? It is speculated that it was the day he met his future wife Nora Barnacle on a tram in Dublin.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Israeli options

In the current new situation, Israel has several possible options, and anything can happen.
Israel could isolate the Gaza Strip completely, since it supplies 40% of its water and 70% of its gasoline, as well as food and aid. But, although Israel has declared the Gaza Strip a "terrorist entity," and could "starve them out," Israel does not want to be responsible for a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. At present the border posts are closed and the supply of gasoline has been cut off to gas stations, but not to the electricity generating station in Gaza. According to UNWRA they have only 10 days of food supplies left. Of the 1.5 million people in Gaza, ca. half of them are totally dependent on charity (UNWRA, EU, etc.). Carefully calibrated supplies are probably the best Israeli option.
Israel does not want to reoccupy Gaza, but it may be necessary for the IDF to enter in force to make sure that the Hamas "army" that has been built up there, and that now has all the Fatah/PA weapons, is not able to mount a strong surprise attack on Israel. Also, if terrorist incidents and rocket firing from Gaza increase as expected then the IDF needs to be able to respond. Ehud Barak became Defense Minister on Sunday and it was reported that he is going to establish a task force of 20,000 men to be prepared to attack Gaza at any time.
There are now mutually hostile governments in Gaza and the West Bank, each declaring the other illegal. What happened in Gaza was definitely a military coup, even though Hamas declare that Haniyeh was the democratically elected PM. The new Govt. appointed by Abbas in Ramallah is also in some way not quite legitimate, but at least in response to the Hamas action it is acceptable. The new PM Salem Fayyad is a US-educated independent and is definitely someone the West can deal with. So the Palestinians have split along political lines, the extremists in Hamas aligned with Iran and the moderates aligned with the West. Now that Hamas is no longer in the PA Govt. the US, EU and Israel can transfer funds to the Abbas/Fayyad Govt. in Ramallah, as long as Fatah does not use the aid to attack Israel. But, as Olmert says, Israel now has a Palestinian partner to deal with, and maybe a peace deal can eventually come out of this situation. Alternatively, the Fatah Govt. could be undermined by Hamas and others in the West Bank, leading to further fighting there and another Hamas takeover. I doubt that Israel would stand by and allow that to happen.
Note that Israel arrested many Hamas legislators in the West Bank and this probably saved their lives. Israel does not carry out peremptory killings of enemies unless they are terrorists engaged in direct terrorist activity. They try to arrest them and put them on trial. So when the Fatah gunmen went looking for the Hamas lawmakers, they were safely ensconced in Israeli jails, and they probably want to stay there for now. Israel also allowed some Fatah leaders to flee Gaza for the West Bank (some also went by boat to Egypt, since Egypt closed the Gaza border). The irony is that at present Fatah and Israel have parallel goals, to quash Hamas and to stop terrorist activity so that the new emergency Govt. can be recognized and can receive aid and international funding.
Saed Erakat, the spokesman of the new Govt. on the West Bank made clear that they consider the Govt. to be also the Govt. of Gaza. So there are competing claims, and this might lead to a continuation of war between the two factions. The only way that Fatah can extend its claim to Gaza is if the IDF first defeats Hamas in Gaza. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the IDF would first attack and destroy the Hamas forces in Gaza, and then the Fatah militias would be allowed to enter Gaza from Israel. That would certainly be a turn around and one for the history books, but stranger things have happened (remember that the Christians in Lebanon were the ones who first invited the Syrians to send their army in to protect them from the Muslims!)
As I have often said, history is unpredictable, noone predicted that Pres. Sadat of Egypt would visit Israel and speak from the Knesset and make peace. Our aim must be to remain strong and defend ourselves and wait for the other side to crumble.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Tying the hands and feet of a man and throwing him off a tall building because you disagree with his religious or political opinions is primitive! Killing women because they are wearing Western dress and cosmetics and are not totally "covered up" in a burka or some other such Islamic garb is primitive. Shooting people in hospital who are already injured is primitive. Destroying the offices and buildings of another party because you disagree with them is primitive. These are only some of the many practices of the Hamas Islamic extremists in Gaza, who went around killing Fatah people at will, with no arrests, trials or compassion.
Now in the West Bank, because Pres. Abbas in Ramallah declared a State of Emergency, Fatah militants reciprocated and did the same kind of things to Hamas leaders and offices, although on a much smaller scale. Now that they have taken control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas are trying to appear moderate. They are promising the release of Alan Johnston of the BBC after 3 months in captivity. Khaled Mashaal, the Head of Hamas in Syria stated that they do not see the need for Pres. Abbas to replace the elected Hamas Govt. of PM Haniyeh.
Nevertheless, Abbas has appointed Salem Fayyad, the internationally respected former Finance Minister, as the new PM, and they are choosing a new Govt. of technocrats. The US has immediately stated that they will restart full aid to the non-Hamas Govt. and will fully support Abbas and his chosen replacement Govt. Israel and the EU have also indicated that they will support Abbas and the new Govt., so that soon it is likely that large sums of aid and supplies will start flowing into the PA in Ramallah. Meanwhile the Arab League, one of the truly most useless bodies in the world, has met in Cairo and issued a statement calling on both Hamas and Fatah to stop their conflict (fat chance!).
Of course, the claims of various spokesmen that Israel is responsible for this schism is ludicrous. Hamas was born and developed both as part of the international Islamic movement as well as a response to the failure of Fatah to advance the interests of the Palestinian people. Its takeover of Gaza is only part of the scheme for an Islamic caliphate covering the whole earth.
This situation leaves Israel in a dilemma. While Islamic Jihad, under Iranian orders, are still firing Kassams into the Sinai, Israel does not want to mount a full-scale IDF operation into Gaza for fear of gaining sympathy for Hamas, not only among Palestinians in the West Bank, but also among the rest of the Arab and western world. Also, the IDF still has operations going on in the West Bank to stop the terrorists attacking Israel. Clearly they will want to postpone these operations while the Fatah terrorists, such as the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, are attacking Hamas targets rather than Israel.
Given that the US, Israel and the EU are all agreed in their policy to support the Fatah Govt. of the West Bank, and given that Hamas will find itself isolated in Gaza apart from Iranian support, there may be a possibility of a modus vivendi reached between Abbas and Israel. This possibility will no doubt be one of the major topics discussed at the meeting between PM Olmert and Pres. Bush in Washington in the next few days.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Setbacks or opportunities

The assassination by car-bomb in Beirut of Walid Eido, an anti-Syrian Member of the Lebanese Parliament, is another in a long series (at least 8) of such assassinations in Lebanon. This is the hallmark of Syrian intelligence, and this is the way Syrians practice democracy. The anti-Syrian forces had only a majority of 5 in Parliament, and now after Eido's death it's only 4, so now all Syria has to do to render the Lebanese Parliament totally ineffective is to kill another 4 anti-Syrian members. No doubt they are planning to do this as Lebanon mourns the latest casualty. Note that Eido was the first Sunni Arab assassinated in the latest round, as opposed to the others who were Christians. Syria has never recognized Lebanon as a sovereign state, just as they don't recognise Israel, and they are not going to make peace with either, whatever anyone says.
Thursday Hamas captured the headquarters of the PA Security Forces in Gaza City. This was the major stronghold of Fatah troops loyal to Pres. Abbas. The survivors were lead outside in their underwear, allowed to pray and then executed in the street. Hamas has carried out many human rights abuses in Gaza, including the deliberate murder of women and girls. Meanwhile Abbas in Ramallah is saying the situation is "insane" and is trying to arrange a ceasefire with PM Haniyeh. What an idiot! Doesn't he know its too late, all of Gaza is now under Hamas control. In Gaza its all over!
Have you noticed that with the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, the renewed fighting in Lebanon and the blowing up (again) of the Shi'ite Mosque in Samarrah in Iraq, the forces of Islamic extremism in the Middle East are taking the ascendency. Abbas is complaining in Ramallah, but doing nothing effective, the Shi'ites are blaming the Americans (who else?) for the destruction of the mosque in Iraq, and Lebanon is once again sliding into chaos. The forces of Iran and their satellites are winning against the "moderate" Sunnis, and this has tremendous implications for Israel, the Middle East and the US.
In the middle of this action, Islamic Jihad sent two women from Gaza into Israel as suicide bombers. They were caught at a checkpoint, and confessed. The older woman has 8 children and is pregnant. She was the head of an IJ women's clinic in Gaza, and her assistant has 4 children. They were first on their way to the West Bank to pick up their bomb belts. Their targets were Tel Aviv and Netanya.
The current wave of military actions are unleashed by anti-Western extremist Islamist forces because the US is bogged down in Iraq and is unable to free itself from that quagmire. In this situation there may be some positive elements for Israel, as the calm center of the storm. But, it is not a good situation as the enemies of Israel and the US tighten their hold on Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq and seek to surround Israel. Both Jordan and Egypt are concerned about these developments, since they are also targeted, and there may be a more realistic realization in Ramallah, Amman, Cairo and Riyadh that the enemies of the current Arab regimes are not in Jerusalem, but are in Damascus, Teheran and Gaza City.
Abbas has dissolved the Unity Government with Hamas and has declared a state of emergency. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Israel could do a separate deal with Fatah over the West Bank. But, for the moment the idea of a Palestinian State is dead, and that is probably good for Israel. Israel has taken a complete hands-off attitude towards Gaza. Whether or not the IDF will eventually be forced to invade Gaza and engage in another war there depends on how Hamas now conducts itself.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Two losers win

Today the results of two elections were announced. First, Shimon Peres won the election in the Knesset for Ninth President of Israel (only MKs get to vote). This was the first actual election Peres has won in his very long and illustrious career, he had lost 8 previous elections! Admittedly he was the best candidate out of Reuven Rivlin (a Likud Party hack) and Colette Avital of Labor (the woman candidate). When she found that she had received only 27% of the vote she gave her support to Peres, so his win was easy. This represents a win also for PM Olmert of Kadima who gave strong support to Peres. At the age of 84, Peres should be retired, but some say that the Presidency in Israel is like being retired, because its mainly ceremonial, as long as Peres doesn't try to interfere in politics. The move of Peres from the position of Deputy PM will enable Olmert to carry out a Cabinet reshuffle, which is very timely in view of the other election victory.
After winning the first round of the Labor Party primary for leader of the Party against 7 other candidates, Ehud Barak won the runoff election with Ami Ayalon, becoming the new Labor leader. As such he has the right to replace Amir Peretz as Defense Minister. This is good, not only because Peretz is a failure and a fool, but also because Barak was a previous Defense Minister, was a highly decorated soldier and a successful Chief of Staff. Barak, however, was also the Israeli PM in 1999-2001 who was prepared on his own (without consulting anyone but under the influence of Pres. Clinton) to give away part of Jerusalem, all of the West Bank (97%) and Gaza, and parts of Israel too, to Yasir Arafat. Luckily Arafat rejected this incredible offer, but some people, including myself, have never forgiven Barak for this stupidity/perfidy. After this he was roundly defeated by Sharon in the next election. So both Peres and Barak are former losers, now reelected to high office mainly because they are replacing people who are either incompetent (Peretz) and/or charged with criminality (Pres. Katsav).
Barak now needs some time to convince the Israeli electorate that he is a reformed and responsible leader. He promised Labor supporters in his campaign that he would withdraw Labor support for Olmert's coalition, causing the Olmert Govt. to collapse. But, everyone expects Barak to hang in there with Olmert for as long as he can. However, he has barely 4 months until the final Report of the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War is to be presented, and this is expected to be so critical of Olmert that his Government might well collapse then. So Barak might not have enough time to reestablish his credibility before a new national election, in which Olmert is given no chance and Barak is expected to lose to Netanyahu, leader of Likud.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The situation in Gaza continues to spiral down into an outright war between Fatah and Hamas, the two main rival political parties. (By the way, am I the first to use the old "spiral down" cliche in relation to Gaza, so often applied to the Palestine-Israel conflict?) At least 28 were killed in gunbattles throughout the Gaza Strip, but most intensely in the northern tip, where Hamas fighters captured Fatah headquarters at Beit Hanun. The Fatah leadership throughout Gaza has been deliberately targeted, with rocket attacks on their homes. Whoever suggested sending guns and ammunition to help Fatah against Hamas might reconsider, since now Hamas has captured most of the weapons Fatah had stored in northern Gaza.
In the fighting, Hamas is more disciplined and more ruthless. For example, they directly attacked one of the two main hospitals in the Gaza Strip, shutting it down, and shot dead members of Fatah who were wounded and in beds, including one who was actually on the operating table. Fatah is larger in number of soldiers, but is split into many groups (including the Security forces, the Presidential Guard, the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, etc.). Also, Pres. Abbas is weak both in terms of his control over the Fatah forces and in terms of his personal actions. He now accuses Hamas of a coup attempt, but its already happening and he is letting them know that he disapproves and has announced that Fatah will no longer serve in the Unity Government.
Meanwhile Hamas is consolidating their positions in order to take over the whole Gaza Strip, and unless the fighting stops within two days they will be in total control. This is thought to be the aim of Khaled Mashaal who runs the Hamas headquarters in Damascus. If they succeed, then Gaza will become Hamastan, an extreme fundamentalist Muslim area, where women will be covered in burkas, all forms of public entertainment and music will be banned, and Imams will control everything, much as in Iran and the former Taliban Afghanistan. Is that what the pro-Palestinian leftists in Europe want?
If Gaza goes this way, then there could be a split between Gaza and the West Bank, where Fatah is more dominant than Hamas, and most Palestinians are more modernized as a result of closer interactions with Israel, and they certainly don't want a fundamentalist Muslim State (can you imagine Hanan Ashrawi in a burka?) If that happens then there might be a "three state solution"?
Because of its reluctance to get involved in an internal Palestinian fight, the Israeli Govt. has called on Western nations to intervene to stop the fighting in Gaza. But, even though they will no doubt see Hamas as a threat, they probably will not want to get involved (although they are often willing to give Israel advice). In a nice twist, Dutch forces fighting in Afghanistan have issued orders for assassination attacks against Taliban leaders, although the Dutch Government previously said Israel's targeted assassinations against Hamas were "reprehensible."
Meanwhile, fighting continues in Lebanon, where the Lebanese Army, after suffering 65 casualties, still has not taken the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian camp from the Fatah al-Islam fighters. Fighting also continues in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems that Islam is a violent religion/culture.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Jewish dilemma

Dear Prof. Dawkins:
I am an atheist and I greatly appreciate your book "The God Delusion." However, I have a somewhat unusual caveat as I am a Jew by ethnic identity. The word "Jew" means two things (at least): one who is a Jew by birth/ethnicity and one who practices the Jewish religion. As a Jewish atheist I certainly don't want to be responsible for destroying the faith of Jews who choose to practise Judaism (not that I could by my puny self).
But, that raises a point about the difference between Judaism on the one hand and Christianity and Islam (its heretical daughter religions) on the other, not touched on in your book. Judaism is more a religion of practice rather than faith or belief, as are Christianity and Islam. I spent one whole summer as a student with a devout Christian trying to convert me, and his repeated line was "all you have to do is believe.." While in Judaism it's more a question of a how you live your life rather than a profession of faith. In fact it is possible to be a practising Orthodox Jews without being a believer (although difficult to understand). Its somewhat like the case of Hinduism, which is the religion/lifestyle of the Indian people, rather than a religion of belief that others can be converted to.
Given the terrible murder of our people during the Holocaust in WWII, it is of the utmost significance to me that our people and our culture survive, as they are doing here in Eretz Yisrael. For me the Holocaust, the absence of God (as it were) while our people (and others) suffered inhuman depredations, was enough to banish any belief in God or practise of the Jewish religion. But, others fortunately have continued to practise this ancient religion, that has brought much good as well as bad to the world. So even though I am an atheist I am glad that other Jews continue our Jewish culture and religion in our ancient homeland.
I think you also fail to address one of the main reasons for religion and belief in God - fear! The Mesoamericans believed that at night men and beasts both entered the spirit world, where creatures intermediate between humans and animals were present. They even modelled these creatures and worshipped them. It was all fear of the dark, that has largely been banished now that we have electric light!
Thank you
Jack Cohen
Professor of Pharmacology
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
See my blog (Isblog):

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Sky Fairy

I have decided not to talk about "God" anymore, but instead in future I will use the synonym the "sky-fairy". There is no evidence that the sky-fairy actually exists, but it's comforting for some people to believe in it, and to ascribe to it magical powers. The sky-fairy is supposedly more powerful than its relatives, the tooth-fairy and "the wicked witch of the east."
The sky-fairy is believed by some to have created the universe. Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous, but this idea has persisted from ancient times, before there were more rational explanations, for example for thunder and lightning and living organisms. Some believe that the sky-fairy was responsible for "intelligent design" but actually the sky-fairy (if it exists) would not be that intelligent. If it were responsible for the design of all the complex creatures in the world it would have to be at least as intelligent and complex as they are, and there is no evidence for that. And then who would have created the sky-fairy itself?
This article is based on "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, who elegantly demolishes all the arguments that have been proposed throughout history for God's existence (sorry I mean the sky-fairy's existence) and for "intelligent design." The best argument proposed for ID is a version of the "watch analogy." If a primitive man walking along a road found a watch lying there, he would assume that it had been made by a more intelligent being than himself. Quite true, but the argument by analogy, that the primtive man is us and the watch represents the universe, is really stretching it. From a philosophical pov there is no validity to this argument, since the "intelligent" man who made the watch had to have been made in turn, and who made him, the sky-fairy, but then who made the sky-fairy, and that presupposes exactly what the argument is supposed to be trying to prove in the first place. Also, the watch could have been a computer, and the primitive man would have no idea what it was for, although a modern child would. And the child would know how to plug it in and that someone (a man not the sky-fairy) wrote the program to make it work, so much for this argument "by design."
OK, this is all somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But, behind it lurks a serious (or sinister?) purpose. That is to expose the fact that theists really haven't got a leg to stand on, except the prosthesis that they call "faith" (or belief without evidence), although they should be able to explain why they go to such lengths to maintain their belief system with such commitment.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Forgetting the past

"Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." The danger behind these oft-repeated words is that young Arabs, who now constitute a large majority in the Arab world given the high birthrate, have forgotten the suffering of their past wars against Israel and their comprehensive defeats. They may remember that the Arabs were humiliated by Israel, since that is the basis of their culture, but they forget that making war with Israel can be very hazardous to them. Since they have enough unoccupied young men, who have forgotten the results of the Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War, etc. they may think again that they have a chance to destroy Israel as the Arabs thought before 1967. There is a well-known psychological tendency in the Arab world to avoid unpalatable facts, so they call the 6-Day War "the setback," and they are sure that it was Jews who carried out the bombing of the Twin Towers not Arabs (that's Zionist propaganda!).
Certainly uppermost in their minds is the recent Second Lebanon War of 2006, which is considered in the Arab world to have been a smashing success for Hizbollah. No doubt Iran, who pays the bills and pulls the strings in Lebanon and Syria, is urging Assad to repeat the success of Hizbollah, only with his trained army. Although talking peace, Assad has been rearming and modernizing his armed forces, which was previously paid for by the former Soviet Union but now by Iran. This is a very treacherous situation, that could provide an excuse for Iran also to get into direct conflict with Israel, but if that should happen, hopefully it would be before they have nuclear weapons.
Forgetting also applies to the PR war that has been waged successfully by the Arabs/Palestinians and their leftist supporters in Europe against Israel. For example, it is almost universally believed that the "occupied territories" Gaza and the West Bank are "Arab Lands." But, in fact they are not, they were occupied by Egypt (Gaza) and by Jordan (West Bank) and neither country had recognised sovereignty over them, and the previous sovereign was the British Mandate. So these lands are not legally "Arab Lands" according to UN Resolution 242 that was adopted after the Six Day War. That Resolution, contrary to almost universal belief, does not call for the formation of a Palestinian State. That is a position that Israel and the US have accepted after years of badgering propaganda, but it is not required by UN Resolution 242. That only requires Israel and the Arabs to negotiate an agreement over what to do with these lands. And according to resolution 242, Israel does not have to withdraw from all of these lands (although Israel has already withdrawn completely from Gaza and from parts of the West Bank to form the PA). So that according to Resolution 242, Israel has a legitimate claim to parts of these territories. Remember that the Arab States were instumental in formulating this Resolution, but have been trying to roll back its provisions ever since. So that in the so-called Arab/Saudi Peace Plan they misquote UN Resolution 242 (!) and specifically require Israel to withdraw from ALL the territory, to the lines before June 5, 1967. In other words, they want to ignore previous requirements and reverse the results of the Six Day War to the dangerous borders (for Israel) prior to the conflict. I hope no Israeli Government is ever foolish enough to accept this dictate.
It is Israel's fault that successive Governments have adopted a policy of conciliation and concessions tyowards the Arabs rather than standing up for their rights under UN Resolutions and international law, as the Arab side has consistently done. Israel lost the PR war, and that may help to lead to another actual war in which Israeli lives will be lost. That is the cost of forgetting the past both by the losers and the victors.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The academic boycott

Part of this letter was published in the Jewish Chronicle, London

Even if we give the so-called academic boycotters of Israel the benefit of the doubt and accept their contention that the boycott of Israeli Universities and individual academics is not motivated by anti-Semitism, it is a most peculiar boycott. First, it is directed only at Israeli institutions and (Jewish) individuals, there is no mention of excessive human rights violations in other countries, such as Darfur in Sudan (200,000 murdered), Tibet in China, Myanmar, N. Korea, Sri Lanka, etc. etc. So the focus on Israel, a liberal democracy, is weird and certainly suspect. If that's not anti-Semitism what is?
Have any of the intended boycotters ever visited Israel, its only a 5 hr flight from London? There they will see a vibrant free press and a multicolored (rainbow) country, full of people from all over, blonde Russians, black Ethiopians, brown Arabs, and many more, all represented in the Knesset/Parliament. Remember that 20% of the population of Israel are Arabs, they live all over and are students and faculty at all the universities (Haifa, Tel Aviv, Hebrew University Jerusalem, etc). So what will their boycott accomplish, who will it hurt?
Also, who are they supporting, the Fatah Palestinians or the Hamas Palestinians? Presumably they want to support the moderate Palestinians who want to make peace with Israel, but if they can come up with a list of 100 such people who are prepared to state their wish publicly, then even I would join their boycott. No, there is little doubt, this is a stupid and ill-advised boycott, and if Jewish academics all over the world, including the US, conclude that it is indeed an anti-Semitic boycott and stage a counter-boycott, then it could boomerang and hurt British academia much more than it could ever hurt Israel.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Nahr el-Bared camp

Few of us had ever heard of the Palestinian camp at Nahr el-Bared in Tripoli before the current conflict. It is one of 12 major camps in Lebanon housing 400,000 Palestinians (12.5% of the total population).
There is little love lost between the Lebanese and the Palestinians. Not only are the Palestinians not allowed Lebanese citizenship and are restricted to terribly overcrowded camps, but they are not allowed to work in most jobs within Lebanon itself. The Lebanese, and especially the Christians, make sure that there is no way that the Palestinians can integrate into their society. Because of this mutual antagonism, when the Phalangist militia was allowed to enter the Sabra and Shatillah camps in Beirut in 1982 by the IDF, they massacred Palestinian civilians there.
Since then, under an agreement previously enforced by the Syrian Army, no Lebanese forces, including the Lebanese Army (LA), have been allowed into these camps. The net result is that they have become a world unto themselves, where all sorts of extremist idology, including that of al Qaeda, have developed armed groups.
This is the basis for the clash inTripoli between the Fatah al Islam and the LA. Once the LA started to bombard Nahr el-Bared, Palestinian civilians were allowed to leave, but noone knows exactly how many civilians are left inside or were killed as the LA slowly occupies the camp (can you imagine the international furore if the IDF bombarded a Palestinian camp in the same way).
This clash may prove to be the first step of a new attempt by the Lebanese Govt. to extend its sovereignty over all the camps. Most of the Palestinian groups, including Hamas, have indicated their acceptance of the LA fighting the Fatah al Islam, but they might not be so accepting of the LA entering Nahr el-Bared or the other camps. There are reports now of similar clashes at other camps in Lebanon, and it is likely that this confilct will escalate. If it does, and the LA manages to enter other camps, then the situation in Lebanon could become a historic watershed. After all it is an anomaly that a foreign group is allowed autonomous camps inside another country whose armed forces are not allowed to enter them It now depends on whether or not the LA can actually occupy the other camps and whether or not the rest of the Palestinian organizations accept this or oppose the LA militarily. The future of Lebanon and the international situation of the Palestinians may depend on the results of these clashes.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Swift sword

June 5 marks the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War of 1967. This was an outstanding event in Jewish, Middle Eastern and world history.
Much of the comment about this anniversary, especially in Israel and Europe, focuses on the negative consequences of the war, namely the "occupation of Arab Lands." The fact that they were not "Arab Lands," but parts of Palestine that had been promised to the Jewish State by the former sovereign, the British Mandate, has been conveniently overlooked.
But, instead of accepting this predominantly negative, politically correct aspect of the War, let us focus on the lessons of the War and what its results portended, first for Jewish history. Before the war there was a long build up when the Arabs were demonstrating and calling for the blood of the Israelis. It appeared that the destruction of the State was imminent and that the Jews of Israel would be massacred. It is difficult for those not living then to understand the feeling of dread that swept through the Jewish communities of the world when a second Holocaust was widely expected. The Jews of Israel were outnumbered 10:1 and in Cairo millions of Egyptians daily swirled thru the streets confidently anticipating victory. It is clear that had they succeeded, Jewish soldiers would have been dragged thru the streets of every Arab capital and Israel and its citizens would have been totally destroyed. So the sudden, unexpected and glorious victory was a release from the foreseen doom of another Jewish genocide. A kind of exultation gripped the Jewish and Israeli world, we had not only survived, this time we had triumphed! Never let that be forgotten!
For the Middle East, the Israeli victory in this war was a watershed. Before the war the Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq) confidently expected to be able to destroy the State of Israel and take over its land, not for the Palestinians but for themselves. When they finally realized the extent of their defeat, it finally dawned on them that Israel is here to stay and that they needed to rethink their basic assumptions. This defeat lead to the overthrow of Nasserite pan-Arabism and of the Arab countries making war on Israel (the 1973 war was their final attempt) and lead to the "war by other means" that is terrorism and anti-Israel PR that we currently face. Although both of these are upsetting and serious, they cannot by themselves gain the aims of the Arabs and reverse the results of their defeat and so the results of the Six Day War still permanently affect the Middle East.
For the world, the Six Day War marked the transition from the traditional view of war that "might makes right." Now a small country showed that it is quality not quantity that counts. Outnumbered and surrounded as they were the Jews used modern tactics and completely out-classed and out-maneuvered the Arabs. After this the idea that a large country can dictate terms to smaller countries has gone, and this is reflected in the breakdown of the Soviet Union into 15 smaller countries and the inability of the US to have its way in Iraq.
There is no doubt that the Six Day War was an existential threat to Israel that was overcome. Now the possibility of an Iranian nuclear capability is another potential existential threat. If Israel can once again rise to the occasion and show its mettle as the "swift sword" that the IDF was in 1967, then we will have nothing to fear.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Once were priests

My histories are complex. I have an English history, of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Francis Drake and the defeat of the Armada, of Shakespeare and the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo, all very imperial, pomp and circumstance. I have an American history, fighting for freedom against English tyranny, the Minutemen, the Indians and the Blacks and the Civil War and the Presidents and Civil rights. I have a Jewish history, the Bible from Noah to David, Joseph and Moses and the Exodus and the Rabbis and the persecutions and the Holocaust. I have an Israeli history, from the first aliyah and Trumpledor and Weizmann and Ben Gurion and Jabotinski to the Six Day War and the victories and the terrorism. And I have a scientific history, of Newton and Priestley and the discovery of the elements, of Mendeleev and the Periodic Table, of Darwin and evolution, of Bohr and the atom and Einstein and Watson & Crick and DNA. It's no wonder that I'm complex, with all these histories all mixed up inside me.
In order to find a single thread that links me back through this mess of facts, indoctrination and propaganda I cling to the identity of my name, Cohen, meaning Priest in Hebrew. If anyone says that the Jewish people don't have a right here, tell them that I am a direct descendent of the priests in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. I am their descendent as proven by genetic analysis (of other Cohanim) and I am in our land, and that is my main claim to identity, through all the centuries of British empire, of American frontier, of Jewish persecution and of scientific discovery.
There was a memorable movie from New Zealand of all places some years ago entitled "Once were Kings," showing the current state of degradation of the Maoris, contrasted to their former glory as Kings of their own realm. Nothing can bring it back. I assume that similarly the Islamists hark back to the time of Mohammed, when their culture and ideology was a winning formula against the rest of the world and they carved out an Empire from India to Spain (the rest of the Muslim conquests and losses came later). But, even though some Jews have transformed themselves into Israelis and settled The Land, they have not tried to recreate the former glory of the Bible or the Temple, but have modernized and gone on to revolutionize cell phone technology, cancer treatment and nanotechnology. Maybe this is the way we retain our nobility, to recover from the killing fields, the miasma of Europe, and celebrate life by looking to the future, secure in our homeland.

Plus ca change

While we were away for two weeks, things continued as usual in the Middle East. Let's summarize:
1. Kassam rockets keep falling daily on Sderot, recently killing three people, and the Israeli Govt and IDF continue to threaten the terrorist organizations with dire consequences, but all they do is bump off an occasional suspect.
2. Lebanon continues its slide into violence, mainly because the Lebanese Govt. has abided by the agreement imposed by Syria years ago not to allow the Lebanese Govt to exercise its sovereignty in the so-called Palestinian camps, which are actually terrorist breeding grounds. Finally the Lebanese Army went in and smashed the Islamist Fatah al Islam terrorist insurgents in Tripoli. More such incidents are expected around Lebanon while the camps are not subject to Govt. control.
3. The US expanded its sanctions against Iran while Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons capability. Iran agreed to further talks with the EU delegation, which even the jaded journalists agreed is a stalling ploy. Noone will do anything active until the last moment or until it is too late.
4. The Israeli Labor Party chose either Barak (not again!) or Ami Ayalon (a former head of intelligence) as their candidate for Head of the Party. Amir Peretz was waaay down the list, and hopefully he'll finally be out of the position of Defense Minister within two weeks. There will be a runoff between Barak and Ayalon, and the latter is expected to win, in which case he may withdraw the Labor Party from the Govt coalition, and the Olmert Govt may fall.
5. In a poll, as usual, Olmert received only ca. 2% of the vote. Noone wants him! He is much less popular in Israel than Bush in America and Blair in the UK!
6. In Gaza, a video was released showing Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent, mouthing his usual pro-Palestinain line, but this time it was dictated by a shadowy Islamist Palestinian group. However, noone could detect any difference from his usual BBC broadcasts. The BBC rejected any criticism that it was irresponsible as the only international news organization that retained a correspondent in Gaza, notwithstanding the dangers, since they assumed that he was safe due to his overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian stance. But, apparently he was too pro-Fatah and not enough pro-Hamas!
7. Pres. Assad in Syria was re-elected as the only candidate for another 7 years. This was described in much of the media as an example of Syrian democracy. Assad continues to talk out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, declaring peaceful intent but warning of war.
8. In Iraq, the Sunnis and Shia are killing each other with abandon, hundreds of bodies are found each day, but Bush continues to declare that things are improving. Why doesn't he admit success, fold his tents and leave the Iraqis to their fate. Even if al Qaeda uses the opportunity to organize terrorism against the US, they are still killing US forces now, and they might not be able to organize so well while they are engaged in a violent internecine struggle with the Sunnis, the Shia, the Kurds and other insurgent groups. Let the chips fall where they may.
So as we say in Israel, "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Gold prize

My former student and post-doctoral fellow, Peter van Zijl, originally from Holland, won the Gold Prize at the recent meeting of the Intl. Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, that I attended in Berlin. He is now a Professor at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University where he heads the Kirby Center for MRI research. He invited us to a celebratory dinner the first night we were in Berlin, that was held at the interestingly named restaurant "Joe Beau Lais."
I take no credit for the contributions that won him the prize, but I think how he came to join my lab back in 1982 makes an interesting story. He contacted me "out of the blue" looking for a position in the Baltimore-Washington area, because he had met a girl where he was working in the Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and she was going to JHU, and he wanted to be near her. Without a position he would have to return to Holland. Of course, he told me that he wanted to transfer from his basic chemistry work to medical applications of magnetic resonance, that I was doing. He sent me his cv and I saw that he had obtained his PhD in the University of Amsterdam with Prof. McLean.
Now it so happens that I had met Prof. McLean several years before at a Gordon Conference in New Hampshire, when he had come to sit next to me. After we became acquainted I asked him how it was that a Dutchman had a Scottish name, and he told me the story of the Protestant pilgrims who had gone to Holland to escape religious presecution from the Catholics in Scotland in the 1700's, just like the Mayflower pilgrims several hundred years before. He told me that there were thousands of Scottish descendents in Holland, and they knew where and when each of their ancestors had arrrived in Holland, on which boats, since all the records had been kept. It so happened that his brother was an expert on this subject and had written a book about it and if I ever came to Holland again he would show it to me. In fact, I did go, and he met us at the airport and took us to his home and showed us the book and was extremely nice and hospitable.
He also told us an unexpected story, that during WWII the Nazis were very suspicious of Dutchmen with Scottish names, thinking they were British spies (which several of them were), and so it was dangerous for them in Holland. Several hundred young men with Scottish names including himself were sent to a dense forest in the center of Holland in an area called the Hoche Veluwe near Apeldoorn, and were hidden there by the resistance and were fed by local farmers. There was also a group of Dutch Jews hidden there, and the two groups survived the war together.
So when I received Peter's application with Prof. McLean's name on it, I immediately called him. He strongly recommended Peter and said that he was an excellent student. When Peter came to see me I immediatley offered him a job, that really surprised him. However, I never regretted it, he was a perfect post-doctoral fellow, ambitious, independent and hard-working. But, also honest (which is even rarer) and in his acceptance speech for the Gold Medal he thanked me for having helped him (yes, he married his American girlfriend, and they have three children).

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Jewish atheist in Berlin

What does a Jewish atheist do on a Jewish holy day in Berlin? He goes to synagogue, and prays!
We happened to be in Berlin on Shavuot, and Naomi selected the shool at Pestalozzi strasse, which was nearby and reputed to be an active congregation. It was a typical German mixture of orthodoxy and reform, with men and women seated separately, but with a choir and organ. This synagogue survived the Holocaust, almost intact, partly because it is situated inside the courtyeard of an apartment building, and cannot be seen from the street. We saw a similar case in Amsterdam, where a synagogue survived the Nazi occupation intact because it was hidden inside an apartment building, and was not "given away."
In the case of the Pestalozzi strasse shool the building was set on fire and damaged on Kristallnacht, 1938, but was not attacked after that. After the war it was completely restored, and now looks very good. However, the real damage was to the community, whereas before WWII it had a thousand members now at the service I counted no more than 30 people. I sat in the center, somehow to fill the vacuum. I had a feeling of dread that came over me and I could not shake it off. However, I was called up as the Cohen for the first aliyah and it made me feel a bit better to know that the old prayers and songs that I hardly believe in were sung out loudly. The human mind and heart are strange, complex things. I don't believe in the efficacy of prayer, yet it did comfort me to be there and think of those who were not.
The Rabbi in his speech mentioned that on the way to the service he had encountered a group of Israelis speaking Hebrew in the street. When he asked them if they knew what day it was, one remembered that it was Shavuot, but they said they had to go to the scientific meeting and could not go to shool. He said that my being there had made up for the rest, had restored his faith in Israelis and had redeemed them. I said nothing, it was a mitzvah that I did despite myself.
After the service there was a very nice kiddush and a small meal, and we chatted with some of the members who spoke English or Hebrew. It was a very rewarding experience.