Monday, December 31, 2007

Confessions - Part 2

Confessions of a Jewish Activist - continued

Washington DC had no problem letting us have a permit for a demonstration, but the US Government was not sympathetic. In discussions, a compromise was arrived at. M. Pompidou was due to arrive in Washington on Monday, February 24, 1970. It was agreed that if the JCC organized a demonstration on the Sunday, the day before, that would not interfere with the Government’s program. Since the Sunday was a good day to expect to get a good turnout, the decision was made. As the initiator I was co-opted to be the main organizer of the event. I spent several days in basements working with various friends making spray painted placards. The JCC handled the legal aspects, the permits. We chose the grounds of the Washington monument as being big enough for a rally and far enough away from the White House so as not to overly annoy its occupant, Richard Nixon.
Before coming to Washington M. Pompidou visited Chicago. There, Jewish demonstrators managed to get into the lobby of his hotel, and this deeply embarrassed the Administration. Pres. Nixon declared publicly that M. Pompidou would not see any demonstrators on his visit to Washington. That was OK as far as the JCC was concerned since our demonstration was the day before his arrival. With a great deal of effort we managed to organize a demonstration, of ca. 4,000 people. With flags flying and banners aloft the message was made clear, and was in all the newspapers on Monday morning.
This was the first Jewish demonstration I organized in the DC area. In 1970 I joined the Executive Board of the JCC as an unaffiliated delegate (i.e. I was not there representing any of the Jewish organizations in the City), and willy-nilly I became the organizer of most of the demonstrations organized by the JCC for the next 15 or so years. Of course, I did not do this alone, the staff of the JCC was very much involved, notably Buddy Sislen, but a great barrier had been broken. Although there was considerable resistance to me, for being what was considered by some a “dangerous activist,” nevertheless I became the Marshal for most of the demonstrations organized in Washington for Israel and Soviet Jewry thru the 1970’s and into the 1980’s.

Next part - getting arrested! Happy New Year to all my readers!

Confessions - Part 1

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Soviet Jewry movement in 1968, and the 60th birthday of Israel after the war of independence 1948, I have decided to serialize instalments of my memoirs as a Jewish activist in the Washington DC area starting in 1969.
Confessions of a Jewish Activist

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If not now when?"
Rabbi Hillel

I Beginnings

I became a Jewish activist in the wake of the Six-day war in 1967, in which Israel defeated the armies of its surrounding Arab neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Notwithstanding the splendid victory, I could never forget how the world had once again stood by and left the Jews to their fate against seemingly insuperable odds. The event that triggered my activism was the decision in 1969 of the pompous French President M. Pompidou to cancel delivery of fighter planes to Israel that it had paid for and that were scheduled to be delivered according to a legitimate agreement. Israel needed those planes for its defense, and there were no other suppliers immediately on the horizon. In 1969 I moved to the Washington DC area, and I saw my opportunity to make a statement on behalf of Israel a few months later when it was announced that M. Pompidou would be visiting the US.
But, just as WWI did not start with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the basis of my activism had much deeper and earlier origins. I have written elsewhere about my experiences of anti-Semitism growing up in Britain in the 1950’s. The long-term psychological effects of these experiences, and the prevailing sense that being a Jew was always a factor (and usually a negative one) in all aspects of life lead to a sense of personal frustration. Upon living in Israel and then in the USA I felt a great deal of relief, a freedom from an over-powering sense of limitation, that came to a catharsis after the Six-day War.
Being somewhat naive I called around to several Jewish agencies in the Washington DC area to find out what activities would be planned for the Pompidou visit. I found that nothing was in the works. I was appalled. Here was the most powerful Jewish community outside Israel in the world, and in the Capital of the US the Jewish community was moribund. What I did not know, and was to learn to my regret, was that a deeply smug Jewish community was engaged in that typical of Jewish activities, “not rocking the boat.”
I spoke to several people and began a series of conversations that would eventually lead me into a leadership position for several years. The person who was most receptive was David Amdur, who was the Assistant to the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, Isaac Franck. He arranged a meeting for me with Franck and the President of the Council, Harvey Ammerman. The JCC was the umbrella organization of all Jewish organizations in the Washington DC area, and Isaac Franck had been its Executive Director for some 25 years. Franck was a formidable didact and ran the JCC with an iron hand. Harvey Ammerman was a nice, rather timid man. In effect, the Executive ran the show, while the elected President was side lined. Franck treated me with a customary mixture of condescension and contempt.
They were not sympathetic to my idea that the Jewish community needed to make a strong public statement on behalf of Israel. I wanted a large demonstration and they wanted a letter. The leadership of the Jewish community in Washington, as in most of the US, had not yet come out of the conservative 50’s. But, this was the period of the Vietnam War, society had changed, and demonstrations were de rigeur. The very idea of actually organizing a demonstration was anathema to them. There had been spontaneous demonstrations in 1967 on behalf of Israel when it was in danger, but this was different. Suppose they agreed to organize a rally and nobody came? Somehow or other, with Amdur’s support, we managed to persuade them to at least let him talk to the administrations in DC and the State Department, to find out what their thinking was.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Auto memory

Friday afternoon, just before shabbat, around 4 pm, I went down to our car park to get my car to go and pick up Booba, as I do every Friday afternoon. However, this time my car wasn't there! I immediately called Naomi upstairs and she realized that she had forgotten our car at the place where Booba lives. In fact she had taken Booba to the doctor that morning, but had left the car in the parking lot of the Sharon Mall that is adjacent to Booba's building, the Nofei Hasharon old folks home, and had then come home by taxi.
Of course she apologized and said she would call me a cab, but since I was already downstairs and didn't want to wait (and its a busy time for taxis just before shabbat), I decided to walk. It's only about 15 mins walk, and when I arrived Naomi had already phoned the person at the desk of the Home, who we know very well, and she called the Mall security. So when I went into the Mall parking area, there were two security people waiting for me, and they said "sorry, too bad, this part of the parking lot next to Nofei Hasharon has gates that have been locked, and the Manager left a few minutes ago with the key! You'll have to wait until tomorrow evening to get your car." This conversation was conducted in a mixture of Hebrew and English. Then they said you'll have to come with us to the security center and give us your details. So I went with them to what turned out to be a small dingy room filled with wires and TV monitors.
There a very polite man told me in English that the Manager had taken the key with him, but he would be coming back with it, so if I could wait 10 mins I could get my car back. Thank you, I said, so he said please wait outside. During my wait he brought me a cup of tea. The key eventually turned up and one of the security men took me and opened the gate and let me out. Free at last, I was able to pick up Booba and take her home for a really nice shabbat dinner.
Naomi apologized very fervently for her lapse in memory and I told her that she owed me a nice shabbat dinner and 1,000 cups of tea. She agreed.

Continuing terrorism

Two exceptional young men, both members of elite IDF units, Lieuts Ahikam Amihai (20) and David Rubin (21) one in the navy and the other in the air force, were killed Friday by terrorists while off-duty on a hiking trip near Kiryat Arba together with a young woman. They should not have been in this area of the West Bank, but apparently got lost and entered an Arab village to ask for directions. Although the villagers were friendly to them, someone must have noted their presence. Later a jeep drove up with four Palestinians in it and apparently was checking them out. It drove away but then returned and opened fire on them. They returned the fire, but were both killed, and one of the terrorists was killed and another injured but they managed to escape. The young woman managed to hide during the firefight, and called the authorities. When she was later found she had wandered away from the site and being distraught could not give accurate directions. It took the IDF an hour to find the two bodies.
This incident occured just after PM Olmert had met with Pres. Abbas and talked about peace, and while Abbas was criticizing Israel for building apartments at Har Homa in Jerusalem. Israel has complained about this incident to the UN. It may be that the Palestinians intended to try to take the Israelis hostage.
Today it was reported on the front page of the J'sam Post that PM Salam Fayyad of the PA has apologized to Israel for this attack and has returned the guns of the killed soldiers to Israel and has the perpetrators in custody. However, there was no independent verification of this report. In any case the current PA Govt. does not have control over most of the West Bank, that operates as a series of fiefdoms. In fact, the IDF caught the wounded perpetrator being treated at the local Hebron Hospital for his gunshots.
Around the same time, IDF troops tried to arrest Muatassam a-Sharif, a bodyguard of Ahmed Querei the Chief Palestinian negotiator, at his home in Betunia on the West Bank. He resisted arrest and was killed in the ensuing gunfight. He was on Israel's most-wanted list for smuggling arms into Gaza and for the manufacture of Kassam rockets. This once again shows the relationship of official Fatah security men with terrorism. Israeli spokesmen complained again that Pres. Abbas is doing nothing to stop terrorism!
Meanwhile several weeks ago a truck was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint on the West Bank carrying 6.5 tons in bags labelled as sugar from the EU for Gaza. When the IDF tested this white substance they found that it was in fact potassium nitrate, a chemical well-known to be used by terrorists to make bombs and used in rocket firing. This amount of it could have had disastrous consequences for Israel. This emphasizes the need for such checkpoints! Palestinian terrorism is a continuing threat to Israel and they will not be removed under the present circumstances..

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas and Chanukah

There is something peculiar regarding the Christian ignorance about Chanukah. Being the 300-lb gorilla in the world of religion it is not surprising that Christians viewed Jews as an insignificant minority and a hated one at that. But, since Jesus was himself Jewish, that he grew up and lived in a completely Jewish world and preached almost exclusively to Jews, it is surprising that Christians have deliberately ignored and avoided Jewish festivals.
For example, what does Chanukah celebrate, the supposed miracle of the burning of the oil in the rededicated Temple in Jerusalem after it had been recaptured by the Maccabees from the Seleucid Greeks, who had outlawed the practice of Judaism. At that time, ca. 200bce, the Greeks were pagans and had desecrated the Temple. The uprising of the Maccabees against persecution resulted in a revival of Jewish practice and worship without which it is unlikely that Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries would have been around at all and there would have been no Christmas!
And apart from the physical existence of Jews and their presence in the land, there was also the message of freedom of religion that is the theme of Chanukah. The very victory against the pagan Greeks meant that monotheism was saved and the ability to practice Judaism freely was protected. That is what Chanukah celebrates.
When I was a child growing up in England the general view of Christians about Chanukah was that it was a poor Jewish copy of Christmas. The fact that it pre-dated Christmas and was totally independent of Christmas was strange to them. To put it bluntly they were generally ignorant about this holiday and other Jewish practices, that had no doubt largely been followed by their "savior."
Of course, as everyone knows, it was Paul who transmuted the teachings of Jesus, most of which were derived from Judaism, into a different religion, that was palatable to the Greek-speaking pagan world. In this respect the "resurrection" and the "son of God" that he incorporated were the new features that appealed especially to those who believed in Greek mythology, where such elements were standard.
So instead of ignoring and underrating Chanukah, true Christians should celebrate its meaning. It represents the victory of monotheism over paganism by the sword, as practiced by the Maccabees, not by the word as preached later by another devout Jew, named Jesus.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Assassination of Bhutto

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan was predictable. Not only was there a bombing attempt against her on the day of her return to Pakistan only a few weeks ago, but her pro-Western liberalism and merely being a woman made her anathema to the crazy extremist Islamists. However, it is also possible that Pres. Musharraf or some of his supporters may have decided to get rid of her. She was a favorite to displace him as elected President in the supposed upcoming elections. Now Nawaz Sharif, the other former President who was previously removed by a military coup, and who was also recently allowed to return to Pakistan, may be in immediate danger.
This assassination will be used to justify Musharraf's imposition of a state of emergency a few weeks ago, which was protested by Bhutto and Sharif. However, the change in the situation may trigger a civil war between Bhutto's followers of the PPP party and the Army who are loyal to Musharraf.
The whole situation is fraught with danger, because Musharraf is pro-Western, and the Islamists,Taliban and al Qaeda supporters in Pakistan (and they are numerous) will use the chaotic situation to try to overthrow him. The future of Afghanistan is also delicately balanced depending on the outcome of what happens in Pakistan.
It is too easy to say that Islamic states like Pakistan are inherently violent. It is true that there have been several coups and Bhutto's father was executed after one of them. But, there have also been political assassinations in the US (the Kennedys and MLK), in India (Indira Ghandi) and in Israel (Yitzhak Rabin). However, the level of violence in Pakistan is certainly generally higher. In the earlier attempt on her life 140 people were killed, and in this successful attack the report is that 41 were killed by the shooter/suicide bomber. They have no respect for human life. But, similarly truck bombs have been used in Lebanon to assassinate a political leader (such as Hariri) and many bystanders have been killed in collateral damage. The accusations from Western liberals that the IDF kills Palestinian civilians is laughable in comparion to these megadeaths. Not only does the IDF in fact try to avoid casualties (and often calls off strikes if it cannot), but the numbers involved are miniscule. How many Palestinians have been killed since the War of 1948, probably a few thousand, compared to ca. 120,000 already killed in Darfur. If you believe that God has ordained your victory, then any number of casualties are acceptable.
What is sure is that Pakistan is a State that is mired in violence and democracy has very little chance to emerge there. This assassination does not augur well for a pro-Western Government there.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anna Ticho

Yesterday, coincidentally, both I and my daughter Miriam were in Jerusalem, and so we met at the Anna Ticho house for tea.
This is a beautiful old stone house that served as the home of the Ticho family from the 1920s until the 1960s when it was bequeathed to the Israeli people and is now a branch of the Israel Museum. It has a small restaurant and gallery.
The mansion was built in the 1860s as one of the first buildings outside the walls of the old city and stands now in an alley near Jaffa Road. But, originally it included a large plot of land that stretched down to Jaffa Road. The Tichos, from Moravia, settled in Jerusalem in 1912 and bought the mansion in 1924. It served as Dr. Ticho's private opthalmic hospital, the first in the Middle East. Over the years it was expanded and now is a large stone mansion. His wife Anna was his medical assistant, and helped him in his practice. People came from all over the Middle East to be treated by him.
Anna was herself a trained artist, having studied in Vienna, and used her spare time wandering around the Jerusalem area sketching and drawing the typically treeless, ancient, rounded hills. The lack of urban development then allowed her to see much that has long since been built over. Her drawings earned her fame and she was one of the founders of the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem.
There was an exhibit of women's portraits called "A room of her own," that included several Picassos, Matisse and others from the Israel Museum collection. There was also an exhibit of some of Anna Ticho's beautiful drawings. Miriam has a large reproduction of one of her drawings that she bought many years ago and that travelled with her back and forth to the States.
If you have never seen Anna Ticho's drawings go to Wikipedia or Google, and if you are in Jerusalem, the Anna Ticho house is an excellent place to meet and relax in the center of the City.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Biofuels and biomass

This article is based on the lecture that Stanley Hirsch gave at the AACI on Sunday 23rd December. He works for a company called Futuragene, that has offices in London and Rehovot and that specializes in uses of biofuels and biomass for energy production.
So far we are dependent on so-called fossil fuels (oil and coal) derived from the degradation of ancient fossils deep underground for most of our energy needs. For transportation 95% of our needs is supplied by gasoline. But, this dependence has three drawbacks, first it has become very expensive (crude petroleum is now $95 per barrel, when it was $40 during the energy crisis of 1973), second it is polluting (producing excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global warming) and third it is running out (not rapidly, but easy sources are diminishing). Because of these reasons it is necessary to find alternative sources to fossil fuels for energy production.
The main alternative fuel to gasoline currently being developed to run our cars is ethanol. It should be noted that so-called "hybrid" cars, that use partial dependence on electrical motors that are charged by the gasoline engines, are more efficient than gasoline alone, but do not solve the problem of additional carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere. The main advantage of ethanol as a "biofuel" is that it can be produced from plants grown from the earth by farming rather than from fossil fuels, the carbon of which has been trapped underground for eons. In this way the biofuels allow a cycle of returning carbon to the air that has been taken up by the plants during their growth, thus not adding additional carbon dioxide and not causing global warming.
Plants that produce ethanol on breakdown are cereal crops (mainly corn), and sugar crops (mainly sugar cane, beets and sweet sorghum). The process is simplest from sugar cane, which can be crushed to yield a sugar solution of ca. 75% glucose that can be fermented directly in large-scale industrial fermentors to produce ethanol (similar to the production of wine or beer). This process is being used extensively in Brazil, that has turned a large proportion of its land over to sugar cane production and now runs many of its buses and cars on ethanol:gasoline mixtures (from 10% E10 up to 85% E85). The main problem of ethanol is that it cannot be pumped in pipelines (due ot its vapro pressure) and tends to corrode normal engines at greater than 15% mixture, so engines have to be modified. One advantage of ethanol is that the percent of ethanol can be varied and many engines automatically adjust themselves to the mixture used.
In order to make the process economic it is necessary to use a large area of farmland to produce large quantitiies of the crop and have largescale fermentors producing ethanol on industrial scale. Since large areas of land are currently producing corn, and corn can be used to produce ethanol by extracting starch and then degrading it into sugar (glucose) and then fermenting it as before, corn is being used in the US and elsewhere as a source of ethanol. But, the energy yield of corn is only about 1.3 units for every unit of energy required to produce ethanol while sugar cane comparably produces 8 units of energy, so it is 6 times more efficient to use sugar cane than corn. However, the corn manufacturers in the US are a very influential lobby and so corn is being used for this purpose. Some of the corn for ethanol is being grown on land that was previously producing food, and this has caused the price of corn in the US to soar and has lead to food riots in Mexico, where the cost of the main food item, tortillas made from corn, has rocketed. However, the source of biofuels depends a lot on the climate and the available crops.
China now realizes that it has caused dangerous pollution, for example in Beijing where there is a problem for the Olympics, and so they are entering on a crash course to produce ethanol in place of gasoline. Also, note that this will help to make them energy self-sufficient if they grow their own biofuel crops rather than import gasoline.
The use of crops for biofuels is only one example of a larger scale transition from fossil fuels to the use of biomass, large industrial masses of agricultural production that can be used to produce either a fuel or can be burnt directly to produce steam to drive turbines to generate electricity. Note that some trees such as spruce (that is thin, straight and has few branches) can be grown in large plantations and harvested for biomass. However, to make the whole process much more efficient, it is preferable to modify the plants genetically to be more efficient for the process intended. It is now also possible to produce butanol in place of ethanol which can be pumped in pipelines and does not corrode normal engines.
There are many other alternative sources of energy and fuels, including wind turbines and many types of plants (such as palm trees being grown in Africa and Asia to produce oil), so the outlook is for many varied approaches that will be used in parallel depending on the particular circumstances and efficiencies. One thing can be said with certainty, in the future our dependence on oil will definitely be reduced.

Monday, December 24, 2007

An ordinary day in Israel

Nothing much happened today. Our Hebrew teacher had a grandson born last week and they had the brit today, so we had no Hebrew lessons. We went to a talk this morning at the AACI on "Biofuels" which was very interesting and then walked a bit in the sunshine.
This afternoon we went to visit a friend who had a fall last week. Naomi has a group of friends that meets every Friday morning for coffee at one of the cafes in the square. Ida Plaut is an older lady who is part of this group, and she fell while getting off a bus. She broke her ankle and cut her head. Luckily she is basically alright.
We went to visit her at the Rehabilitation Home (Shikum) that is a Government institution in Netanya. It is spread out in lovely grounds and there are some very large old trees, that are unusual in Israel, because most of them were cut down by the Turks and the Arabs.
Ida was in good spirits, although she must rest her leg that is in a hard cast. She was complaining about her neighbor in the next bed in the two-bed room. She is over 90 and also fell and broke her leg. This woman survived the Kovno Ghetto, fought with the partisans and after the war managed to get to Israel and settled down and raised a family. Unfortunately she speaks loudly in Russian and Yiddish during the night, and Ida was hearing all about the fighting in the forests.
A very nice neighbor of Ida was also visiting, and she was from Libya, and came to Israel with her large family. She has 6 children and many grandchildren. We happened to know someone in common with her, also from Libya.
When the accident occured there was an inspector on the bus and he stayed with her until the ambulance arrived. The company that runs the local buses is a Christian Arab-owned company from Nazareth (the rumor is that they borrowed money from Saudi Arabia). Most of their drivers and personnel are Arabs. They were very nice to Ida and her son went to their offices to thank them.
Ida said that everyone at the Shikum are very kind and considerate and she was very happy about the treatment she received. Now she must rest and recover. We gave her neighbor a lift home and then came home for supper. Just an ordinary day in Israel

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The last war?

When the West pours billions of dollars into Palestinian coffers one must wonder at their commitment to democracy and human rights. When they elevate Pres. Abbas, a weak and indecisive leader, as the hope of the Western world for "peace in our times," we know something fundamental must be wrong.
Here are some thoughts (not a solution) on this situation. Both Egypt and Jordan sued for peace with Israel not because they became Zionist, but because we beat them, over and over again in response to their direct attacks. Finally to cut their losses they agreed to a peace agreement with us, and since they are States with responsible Governments (by that I mean responsible for their actions) the peace agreements have mainly been kept.
On the contrary, we have never really defeated the Palestinians and further, since they are not a responsible State, but a hodge podge of terrorist organizations, including Fatah, they can always avoid their commitments. They simply do not keep agreements, and never intend to.
Here are two examples, on the front page of the Jerusalem Post today is the icon chosen by the Fatah leadership to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the founding of Fatah, which shows a Palestinian flag draped over the whole of "Palestine" (including Israel) with an automatic weapon beside it and a photo of Yasir Arafat. If this doesn't directly contradict their commitment to peace with Israel what does? Imagine the fuss if Israel's leadership chose an icon to celebrate the upcoming 60th anniversary of Israel's founding with an Israeli flag draped across the whole of Israel and the West Bank and Gaza with an Uzi beside it.
The latest statement from PA Pres Abbas is that he will withdraw from negotiations with Israel unless Israel immediately commits itself to remove all settlements on "Palestinian land." If Israel does not do this he will complain to Pres. Bush (due here soon) to force Israel to do this as a precondition to any further negotiations. Naievely I thought that this was a topic for negotiations in the talks, not a precondition. Now it's not that I particularly think these negotiations are worth anything, but this kind of threat/pressure is typical of a side that doesn't realize it has been defeated.
That is the problem, in order to get the Palestinians to really want peace, like the Egyptians and Jordanians, they must, unfortunately, be utterly defeated. I have always believed this and have stated this many times, there needs to be a "last war" with the Palestinians. So far they haven't been defeated, partly because Israel has too many limitations fighting irregular terrorists hiding among civilians, and partly because they cannot stage a direct attack against the IDF as the armies of the Arab States once did. (It reminds me of the joke about the Briton, the American and the Israeli who are captured by a terrorist, and he threatens to kill them, so the Israeli asks him to kick him up the behind and when he does, the Israeli pulls out a gun and shoots him, then the others ask incredulously why didn't you shoot him immediately, and the Israeli replies "I had to have a good reason.") So the people in Gaza and on the West Bank still believe that they can defeat us and destroy us, and that these negotiations are merely another stage towards that objective.
In order to disabuse them of this attitude and to really make them want peace we must treat them like the "hostile entity" that Gaza is. We must mount a largescale ground assault on Gaza and destroy the terrorist army that the Iranians are helping them to build in Gaza along the lines of Hizbullah in Lebanon. We must fight them mercilessly as the army of terrorists they are, until they capitulate! Nothing else will work. Unfortunately this Olmert Govt. will probably do a deal with Hamas to obtain a hudna/ceasefire just as they are preparing to capitulate to the PA in Ramallah. So much for Annapolis and these ridiculous negotiations and the obscene amounts of money being thrown at them. These negotiations will not lead to peace!
Logically one way to avoid an Iranian threat is if the Palestinians are so totally defeated that they sue for peace with us and then the Iranians would have no basis for an attack to support them, although they would probably threaten us anyway, so maybe it wouldn't be the "last war" after all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Yuval Steinitz MK

Wednesday evening we had Yuval Steinitz talk to our Likud Anglos group. He is an excellent speaker, forthright and informative. He has a PhD in philosophy from Tel Aviv University and was a lecturer there in philosophy. He is one of Israel's leading experts on defense and security issues. He was past Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and now being in the opposition he is a member of the Committee. He is also the Israeli Co-Chairman of the Joint US Congress-Knesset Security Committee, a position he has held since its founding in 2003.
He first addressed the recent US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that stated that Iran stopped work on development of nuclear weapons in 2003. He said that in meetings he has had in the past few months this NIE was as much a surprise to US Senators and the White House as it was to him. According to Israeli evidence this NIE is baseless and inconsistent.
The Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons is an old story that started in the early 1990's. They have invested billions of dollars in programs of uranimum enrichment, including building the biggest underground factory in the world, capable of holding 54,000 centrifuges. They have two nuclear reactors at Bushehr for producing plutonium and a heavy water reactor, the only aims of which are nuclear weapons. They have developed long range ballistic misslies with a range over 700 miles, the only application for which is delivery of nuclear weapons. Does it make sense that after all this investment of billions of dollars, and while they are continuing to invest in these programs, but now it is for NO REASON? You don't need to see detailed intelligence to know that this NIE is wrong!
The NIE has caused a lot of damage to US credibility. Even most members of the EU, the UK, France and Germany, not known for their anti-Iranian activism, have refused to accept the conclusions of the NIE. Even in the US a recent poll shows that a majority of Americans (66%) do not accept the Report, while only a minority (18%) do accept it. While they are limited in what they can say publicly he is confident that Pres. Bush and VP Cheney do not accept the NIE's conclusions. It is still necessary that the US lead the world in sanctions and/or the threat of force agaisnt Iranian nuclear development. When asked why the US issued such a faulty NIE, he suggested that since the US intelligence community was so wrong over Iraq, they are now underestimating the threat from Iran. Alternatively he suggested that there could be politics involved.
Over Annapolis, he said that he personally felt humiliated by the lack of self-respect exhibited by Israel's current leaders who accepted to enter the meeting hall through a side door, while the Saudis and others entered through the main door. This was done to satisfy the demands of the Saudis, so they openly and intentionally insulted the Israelis, and the Americans and Israelis accepted this arrangement. Also, kow-towing to the Saudis, PM Olmert in his speech failed to mention Jerusalem even once! While Abbas mentioned Jeruslaem many times and emphaisized the Palestinain connection to it, noone mentioned the eternal Jewish connection to Jerusalem. This was not only a major policy blunder it was humiliating and showed no self-respect. How can this attitude achieve peace.
Olmert gave Abbas Gaza two years ago. Even Tony Blair mentioned this in his speech, "Its hard to expect Israelis to want to resume negotiations due to Sderot being under constant rocket attack." But Olmert avoided the issue at Annapolis. Its like "Oslo", we hug Abbas but terror continues.
Salam Fayyad, PM of the PA, called Israeli counter-terror activities in Gaza a "crime against humanity," and Pres. Abbas refuses to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a "Jewish State," but at the same time PM Olmert calls them his "good friends." Many forget that in 1994 there was a similar conference to Annapolis in Casblanca, at which Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin attended, and when the Arabs suggested that Israel should give up East Jerusalem, Rabin made a speech in which he emphaized the Jewish connection to Jerusalem as the eternal capital of only the Jews! And this was a Labor Government!
In Gaza the problem is two-fold. Of course, there is the problem of rockets and mortars being fired into Israel. But, there is also the more threatinging long-term problem of Hamas building a terrorist army with Iranian support. Even if there were a truce with no rockets for a few years this would be a greater threat, just as in Lebanon there was a truce for 6 years with Hizbullah while they built up their long-range rocket capabilities, and then they were able to hit Haifa. The IDF will eventually have to act to stop this terrorist army! There should be a comparable massive ground action called Defensive Shield II similar to that the IDF waged in the West Bank, that has brought the main terrorist gangs there under control. Before Defensive Shield there was extensive terrorist activity and many warned that there would be terrible Israeli casualties and that it wouldn't affect the number of terrorists, there would always be new recruits, but that was not the case. That action was very effective in removing the main threat and cutting the groups down to size so that they can be monitored and controlled. This is needed in Gaza. Regarding the Palestinians it is necessary for an Israeli Government to tell them you must first prove yourself for a period of years that you are capable and willing to fight terrorism.
The Olmert Government must be toppled as soon as possible. Following the publication of the Winograd Report in January will be the beginning of the end of the Olmert Government. There will be new elections soon, and it is necessary to change the direction of the country and to elect a Likud Government under Bibi Netanyahu

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

IDF attacks in Gaza

On Monday night the IAF launched several attack on locations in north and south Gaza and managed to catch the military leader of Islamic Jihad, Majed Harazin in the open. He was killed in one of two cars that were hit in southern Gaza that blew up in a huge explosion because they were carrying high explosives. Normally Harazin did not travel by car because of the danger of being hit by the IAF, but for once he let his guard down and was hit.
This was a major success for Israel, and in the course of the attacks a total of 13 Palestinian terrorists were killed. Two of them who were killed by IDF ground fire were Hamas terrorists who were preparing to fire mortars at Israel from a military position. And in a separate incident on the West Bank, a gunfight took place in Kabatiya and the leader of the IJ al-Quds Brigade in Jenin, Tarik Abu-Ra'ali, was killed with three of his lieutenants when an IDF patrol was trying to arrest him.
The attacks in Gaza were a response to the firing of ca. 10 rockets a day and many more mortars that have been having devastating effects on the ability of Israelis to live in the western Negev, particularly the town of Sderot. The day before a house received a direct hit and a baby of 18 months was injured. As a result, the PM and the Cabinet gave the IDF a free hand in attacking selected targets in Gaza. In a visit hours after this incident Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed that the IDF would protect the inhabitants of Sderot.
After the attacks in Gaza the IJ went wild, with large crowds gathering calling for revenge. The IJ leadership issued a threat that they will escalate terrorism and rocket attacks on Israel. So this is a war, as we have known, that has been going on for a long time. The only question is did the IDF mount these small scale attacks to avoid having to mount a large-scale ground invasion, or if the IJ and/or Hamas mount larger attacks, will the IDF respond on a larger scale. Since this is between the Annapolis meeting and the forthcoming visit of Pres. Bush, no time is convenient for such a large scale attack in Gaza. The PA Fatah leadership would certainly use this as an excuse for cutting off negotiations with Israel, which they are afraid to pursue because it will split the Palestinians more, and will make them less popular and more vulnerable to assassination.
In their message issued in Gaza, the IJ also ordered all their operatives to stop using cell phones and cars and to throw away their cell phones and batteries. This is to stop the IDF tracking them and finding their exact location, which they are clearly very expert at doing. Although if obeyed, these orders will reduce the IDF intelligence capability, it will also cause the IJ to be less effective at carrying out their murderous activities. On the other hand another Hamas spokesman called for a renewed ceasefire (hudna) and a halt of all Israeli attacks on Gaza. It should be remembered that the previous hudna, that never stopped the rocket firing into Israel, came about after the assassination of senior Hamas leaders in Gaza in 2004 by the IAF. PM Olmert vowed that the targeted attacks will continue. In any case, the IDF is now on maximum alert in case of a major response by the terrorists.


Snooker is an interesting game. I watched the semi-finals and then the final of the UK Championship the past weekend, which was won by Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-3 (best of 19) against Steven Maguire. This was an excellent match, although unexpectedly one-sided, and was a demonstration of the incredible accuracy that experts can get by hitting a white ball (the cue ball) with a stick (cue) to down (pot) a colored ball (red and other colors) into a hole (pocket).
Of course, snooker is a different game and far more sophisticated than billiards, as understood in the US. Billiards requires the downing of several different patterned/colored balls into the pockets, each ball with a different numerical value. Snooker by contrast requires the alternate sinking of red and other colored balls, the colored ones get put back in their spots until all red balls are removed and then the colored ones are sunk in sequence (yellow, green, brown, etc...down to black). One object of the game is that if one player can't sink a red ball into a pocket, he can "snooker" his rival by hitting the white ball so that it goes to the other end of the table and all reds are blocked by the other colored balls.
It occured to me that snooker/billiards with balls that are not completely hard would be more difficult to play since you could not predict (by intuition) where the second ball hit by the cue ball would go exactly. If one could vary the degree of hardness/elasticity of the balls by varying a factor in the computer, this would make for an interesting game of flexibilliards. This might be like the collisions that fundamental nuclear particles have in physics. So one could predict the paths of the colliding balls using physical equations that might not be predictable by common-sense. On the other hand, its probably been invented already and anyway its way too complex, when snooker/billiards are already too difficult for most of us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Donor's Conference

As usual, every major country in the world has agreed to donate large sums of money to the Palestinians, that other poor deprived groups in the world can only dream of, yet Saudi Arabia did not even attend the meeting held in Paris. In other words, while Britain and the US donated over m$500 each (are you happy that your tax money is being wasted in this way), Saudi Arabia donated ZERO!
The EU donated nearly m$350 and France donated m$200, so the accumulated total comes to ca. b$7.4! How many countries on earth could get this kind of largesse? It's absurd, given the track record of the Palestinians or the PA for corruption, stealing and incompetence. Is there transparency in the use of this money, will they provide a detailed accounting, can they even provide any kind of accounting? Anyway this is 30% more than they asked for. What wil they do with the excess, they'll pocket it of course.
Salam Fayyed, the PA PM, who was previously the PA Finance Minister, resigned from that position several years ago because he could not get any idea of their true financial position. He tried to do so, but at that time Yasir Arafat forced his resignation. It was well known that Yasir Arafat stole at least b$1.2 or up to b$2.5 into private bank accounts, that his wife Suha cleverly managed to gain control of after his death in Paris (by refusing to allow access to his body to the PA politicians unless they signed them over to her).
It is a mystery why so much money is being donated (over usually 3 years) to this previously unreliable and unregenerate cause. It is irrational and absurd! And this is quite separate from the question of Hamas and terrorism. Two points make this situation clearer. While the donors want and expect their money to help reform the PA Government, so that it will have transparency and reliable insititutions, including police and justice departments, Pres. Abbas wants to spend most of the money paying salaries! Why? In order to obtain the loylaty of those being paid off, in other words bribes and pay-offs, under the name of salaries. No less an authority than Tony Blair, special representative of the Quartet, has criticized this use of the funds, but since the main point of the money is to "empower" or "bolster" Abbas, this is the traditional Arab way to do it!
Another aspect of this is that the salaries will also be paid to Fatah/PA Govt. workers in Gaza. Now don't tell me that this won't help Hamas, since one of their main problems is that they can't afford to pay salaries in Gaza. Don't worry, Abbas will do it for them. Of course, this in no way guarantees that they won't remain loyal to Hamas and will transfer their loyalties back to Fatah. Its just another form of corruption, trying to buy them out, without any idea if this will actually be effective. Your tax money at work!
At the same time as all this money is being donated to this corrupt cause, Israel is being pressured to allow the PA to rearm, and is allowing guns and bullets to be transferred to the PA (apart from their ability to buy them now with the money being provided). It has been proven that one of the guns transferred from Jordan to the PA with Israel's cooperation, was used by a PA policeman to shoot and kill Ido Zoltan, a security guard who was shot dead two weeks ago while driving on the West Bank. Israel holds two of his killers and the PA holds the other one (but won't turn him over).
Israel is also donating the tax money it holds for the PA, and is being asked to make concessions in advance, such as a halt to all "settlement" building. Actually no new settlements are being constructed legally, but expansion of exisiting settlements is being done, and this is legal. While Abbas sticks to the hard Arab line, blaming Israel for all problems, FM Tzippy Livni, speaking on behalf of Israel, admits that Israel must make more concessions! What stupidity! On the contrary, Israel should make no concessions until it sees that Abbas makes at least one advance, namely stopping terrorism from the West Bank and disarming all the "militias" or terrorist groups (or gangs of thugs) that control most of the cities of the West Bank. Abbas may be well-meaning, and he may want to do this, but can he, even with all the money in the world?


Vexillology is the study of flags, and since my little items about flags caught some people's interest, here are some more.
What is the only flag with a large six pointed star? It is the Israeli flag of course, the Star of David. The blue stripes on top and bottom of the flag represent the traditional biblical blue color (tchelet) of the tallit, the prayer shawl worn by men. Many flags have five-pointed stars in them, including the US and New Zealand flags, but only two have large, centred five-pointed stars, namely Vietnam (yellow on red) and Somalia (white on light blue). Among others that have five pointed stars are Ethiopia, Morocco, Cuba, China, Liberia and Cameroon. Several flags have seven pointed stars, including Jordan and Australia.
There are only four flags with filled colored circles, namely Bangladesh (red on green), Japan (red on white), Palau (yellow on pale blue) and Laos (white on a blue background with red stripes on top and bottom). Several also have representations of the sun (Uruguay, Argentina and Kazakhstan). There are comparatively few flags with crosses (the Nordic countries, Switzerland and Greece) and crescents of Islam (Turkey, Tunisia).
What is the only flag in the world with a tooth on it? Here is the answer from my dental anatomist friend, Barry: "Vanuatu! The central image is of the tusk of a wild pig/boar. In these islands, a man's wealth is measured in pigs. If you are really wealthy, you can cut out the top tusk, allowing the lower to grow unhindered. After some time, it will grow into a spiral that you can use as a bangle." If you don't know where Vanuatu is located, you can look it up, but it's in the center of the Pacific Ocean.For those interested in more information see the site "World Flag Database" at

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hamas anniversary

Hamas held a major demonstration in Gaza on Saturday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its founding there by Sheikh Yassin. According to Hamas it was attended by 250,000 people but according to Fatah only 50,000. If you accept the first figure it was a great success, but of course Hamas being a dictatorial regime, most of the people were brought in. If you believe the Fatah figure it was a big failure.
At the same time, Hamas arrested two leaders of Fatah in Gaza, including a close aide to PM Salam Fayyad, Omar Ghul, who tried to sneak in to attend his mother's funeral. On the West Bank, some 40 Hamas activists were detained by Fatah and warned not to carry out any pro-Hamas demonstrations for the 20th anniversary there.
What was most chilling was the content of the speeches at the Hamas rally. Mushir al-Masri opened his speech with the chilling threat "Jews, we have already dug your graves!" A Hamas spokesman Osama al-Mazini vowed that "Hamas will never recognize Israel!" and Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader living in exile in Damascus who spoke to the crowd from there, vowed that there would be a third, fourth and continuing intifadas until the victory of the Palestinians in their war with the Jews. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas PM, pointed to the victories of "the resistance" so far, namely, the forced Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Schalit, and the current "defeat" of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today the so-called "Donor Conference" is taking place in Paris, where over 80 countries are participating, many of them donating money to make up the b$5.55 that the US wants to collect there for the building up of the West Bank under Fatah Pres. Abbas, with its own contribution of m$550. However, it may be a case of throwing more good money after bad. Is there any evidence that the PA is capable of assimilating and using this amount of money responsibly, without wholesale corruption and stealing? The process is certainly not transparent. It is also not certain that some of this money won't reach Hamas.
Many Arab countries only pledge small amounts of money, not consistent with their fervent political support for the Palestinians, and then fail to deliver it. This may be because they want the situation to continue to fester and/or because they are playing both sides of the street, pledging a small amount and not delivering it so they can say to Hamas that they really are not fully supporting Abbas and the Fatah. Egypt is certainly guilty of this, dealing with both Hamas (allowing smuggling of arms to Gaza) and Fatah (supporting Abbas politically) at the same time.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


In January, 2008, the Kossovars are to vote on the question of independence for their province of Kossovo. This is the last part of the former Yugoslavia that is still not independent. The others are Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, all independent republics carved out of the Balkans from the former Yugoslavia. But, Kossovo is a special case, since it is considered part of historic Serbia by the Serbs, but is now inhabited mainly by Albanians who moved from nearby Albania over the centuries, while the Serbs moved out.
Matters came to a head in 1996 when the Serbian Army, as part of Milosevic's expansion plans, expelled practically the whole Kossovo Albanian Muslim population of ca. 1.5 million people, to Albania and Macedonia. The Kossovo Liberation Army was ineffective in stopping the much more powerful Serbian Army. The UN failed to take action, but finally NATO did, in 1999 they attacked the Serbian Army in Kossovo and then also bombed Serbia, including Belgrade and other cities. Finally the Serbian Army was withdrawn and the Kossovar refugees were able to return home. Of course, they exacted vengeance on the Orthodox Christian Serbs still living in Kossovo, most of whom, except for a small region in the north around Mitrovica, were forced to flee to Serbia.
Because of these reciprocal cases of ethnic cleansing, much like what happened between Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia, the solution for Kossovo is very difficult. When NATO and the UN intervened to save the Kossovars, it was agreed to ensure Serbian cooperation, that Kossovo would not be allowed to become independent. But, finally after years of UN/NATO occupation, the time has come to gauge the views of the Kossovo population in a plebiscite. There is no doubt that they will opt for full independence.
Serbia, now under a more democratic regime than before, has nevertheless said that it will oppose full independence for Kossovo, and this may lead to another war. The presence of NATO troops may prevent this getting out of hand, but there is little doubt that Serbia cannot hold onto Kossovo indefinitely as a captive colony.
This conflict has repercussions for other European countries. Should the UK allow Scotland to secede and become an independent country, should Spain allow Catalonia to break away, should Russia allow Chechnya, should Belgium be split between the Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons. These are all very difficult questions that may disturb the status quo. Clearly there is no one solution that fits all, but it seems certain that Muslim Albanian Kossovo will no longer allow itself to be controlled by Christian Orthodox Serbia.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Flag trivia

What two countries in the world have the same flag? Yes, identical!
The answer is Monaco and Indonesia.
They are both half red (top) and white. This is purely coincidental.
Given the potential alternatives, I never thought that two countries would have the same flag.
What country has this flag upside down (white on top)? The answer is of course Poland.
If you knew the answers to these questions go to the top of the class.

What is the difference between the Jordanian and Palestinian flags?
They are identical (black, white and green stipes with a red isoceles triangle on the left) except that the Jordanian flag has a 7-pointed white star in the red triangle! Why? It has to do with the Hashemites, the Jordanian Royal family, and represents their connection to the Koran.

What is the difference between the Australian and New Zealand flags? They both have the Union Jack in the top left corner, and a blue background, but the stars in the Australian flag are white and there are 6 of them in a celestial pattern, while the New Zealand stars are red with a white edge and there are only 4 of them. (Aren't you glad you know that.)

The Dutch flag is the French flag (the "tricoleur") turned sideways. When Holland achieved its independence with French help they showed their gratitude by adopting the same flag, but on its side. The Russian flag and the Serbian (and Montenegro) flags are essentially the same as the Dutch, but with the red, white and blue horizontal stripes rearranged.

The Union Jack was adopted in 1801, when the flag of St. Patrick (a diagonal red cross on a white background) was added to the Union Flag of the crosses of St. George of England (a red vertical cross on a white background) and the Scottish flag of St. Andrew (a white diagonal cross on a blue background). When all three crosses are added together you get a (mess - no that's not the right answer) you get the Union Jack (a "Jack" being among other things a maritime flag), the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (although it was the whole of Ireland once). But, the Irish cross is in fact virtually made up, since the true Irish flag is green, and there is no green in the Union Jack.

The flags of Libya and Saudi Arabia are green, which is the color of Mohammed the Prophet (not St. Patrick). The Saudi flag has a verse in Arabic from the Koran ("there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger") and beneath it, in case you missed the point, a sword! Talk about religious intolerance!

Of course, the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the US, has undergone many changes with time. It was a matter of dispute whether the stripes or the stars would represent the number of States, but the simplicity of adding stars won out over thinner and thinner stripes. So there are many such flags representing different numbers of States added with time, up to the present 52 (just checking, there are in fact 50) stars. The original flag of the thirteen colonies at independence was the thirteen red and white stripes with a Union Jack (the British flag in the upper left hand corner). This was replaced with thirteen white stars in a circle on a blue background, that happens to be identical to the flag of the EU (although it now has 25 members the number of stars has not been increased). But the blue "canton" of the US flag has also been flown separately (without the stripes) as a maritime flag and as such was also (confusingly) called the "Union Jack" (i.e. representing the Union of States).

Don't ask me why I wrote this, it has no symbolic significance, its just my strange mind.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

School strike over

The secondary high school teacher's strike is over after 65 days, the longest school strike in Israeli history. The results were predictable, and could have been achieved a month ago if the Govt. had been forceful in its involvement. But, actually the Olmert Govt. gets a failing grade for not having been actively involved in resolving this strike. Last week the Supreme Court ruled that the teachers must return to work today, the day after the Chanukah holiday, and that's how it worked out.
After all night negotiations, according to the terms of the agreement, the teachers get a 14% wage increase immediately, with an additional 3% increase over time and an additional increase to be agreed later that could go up to 20%. They also get back hours that had been cut previously, and agree in turn to work extra days over the next year to make up some of the time lost. The Education Ministry agrees to gradually reduce the average class size from 36 to 30 pupils. These terms were proposed by the head of the Histadrut Union last October.
Education in Israel has been going downhill for years, due partly to low teacher wages and poor organization. Hopefully this trend will be reversed, but only partially. At the same time the University teacher's strike is continuing, and there is talk now of cancelling the whole University semester. It is considered that this would be a major setback for the Israeli economy, with no graduating students entering the work force at the end of the year.
Unfortunately, unlike most countries, the Israeli Govt. always has the good excuse that there are more important issues to be dealt with, like security, foreign policy, negotiations with the Palestinains and dealing with Iranian nuclear ambitions. That gets them off the hook for having been incompetent and detached from this significant problem.
However, one must admit that the public has not been highly engaged either. While the teachers have had demonstrations, there has not been wide public support for involvement in these. Also, the high school pupils have caused little problem, while it was expected that there would be a rise in crime and random acts of violence, this has not happened. In fact, the students have been very responsible and have been doing school work on their own, making the effect of the strike less damaging.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The IDF in Gaza

On Tuesday, the IDF invaded southern Gaza to attack concentrations of terrorists and to try to stop some of the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel (4,000 since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza). Most of the media coverage however emphasized the fact that the IDF was invading Gaza the day before the discussions are due to start between Israel and the PA, and they universally seemed to conclude that this Israeli action could undermine the negotiations, as threatened by the PA representative Ahmed Querei.
The media don't seem to realize that one of the first things that the PA is supposed to do is take action against terrorists, and that because Abbas and his Fatah can't or won't do this, that is why it is left to the IDF to take such action. So rather than being against the spirit of Annapolis, this action in Gaza is indeed in the spirit of Annapolis, against the terrorists and against Hamas!
But, its not only Hamas that the IDF is fighting in Gaza, there are plenty of Fatah terrorists as well, from the al Aksa Martyr's Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees. In fact, a new female unit was announced in Gaza by Fatah, made up of women trained to fight and also to act as suicide bombers. They are of all ages, including mothers, and have pledged themselves to take suicide missions against IDF soldiers. But, in a twist, they are also against Hamas and in favor of Abbas. So can somone please explain this to me, they are in favor of Abbas who is negotiating with Israel, but they are suicide bombers against the IDF! No wonder people are confused about what's going on in the Middle East. Its clear that Fatah want to have it both ways, as they did under Arafat!
There was also concern in the media that Israel announced further building of homes in Har Homa, that they label as a "settlement on the West Bank." Actually, Har Homa was incorporated into the Jerusalem municipality and is part of Israel, so it is not covered by any agreement, and in any case, no agreement has yet been arrived at. Meanwhile the Palestinians are building furiously on the West Bank and no one says anything about that. It is estimated that the building by Jewish settlers (not sanctioned legally by the Israeli Govt.) is only 60% of the building carried out by the Palestinian Arabs (that the media choose to ignore). So why isn't there any pressure on Abbas and the PA to stop their illegal building not in the spirit of Annapolis?
In this IDF action in Gaza, eight Palestinian fighters were killed. But, this is not surprising, since the terrorist's methods are crude, their equipment is inadequate and their organization is chaotic. So far they actually represent no real threat to the State of Israel, but their continued attempts to kill Israeli citizens by firing rockets and mortars into Israel cannot be tolerated, and if left unchecked will only lead to longer range rockets with much greater destructive capacity. After attacking near Khan Yunis and Rafah in southern Gaza and dealing the terrorists a blow the IDF already withdrew.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The beach and the desert

Yesterday morning I took my youngest grandson, Hillel (8), for a walk along the beach, while he was visiting us during the Chanukah holiday. We descended to the beach using the elevator that is nearby at the Sironit Beach. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny, with a mild cool breeze off the sea. It's hard to believe it was December!
We walked to a new large circle that has been set up containing exercise machines, about 20 of them, all brightly colored. It was very busy there, with lots of people of all ages trying the machines and circulating between them. The space was covered with canvas to give shade and it was extremely pleasant sitting and cycling while looking out to sea.
Then we walked all the way along the beach about a mile to the stairs up at the Seasons Hotel near my studio. The "Gallery on the Cliff" happened to be open and they had a show of book covers painted by professional artists for an Israeli children's magazine, so my grandson had something to look at.
After we had visited my studio we went to the Shearim concert held every Monday noon, and it was a clarinettist, who is very popular, who played some Mozart, but also some Benny Goodman favorites as well as some Klezmer music, so it wasn't too bad for Hillel (although I'm sure he was bored, but he was very well behaved).
Then we drove him back to Beersheva, where we lit the 7th candle with Miriam's family and stayed overnight. This morning before returning we went with Miriam and the kids to visit the memorial to the Negev Brigade. This is a huge concrete structure on one of the highest hills on the edge of Beersheva, and from there you can see the whole city and valley and really tell that you are in the desert.
The memorial (or andarta) is quite complex with strange concrete shapes and explanatory reliefs of the battles. It is important to note that the Egyptian and Jordanian armies invaded the Negev, where they had no right to be, and tried to take it over (each for themselves). But they were beaten back by a combination of a few thousand local Jewish farmers and scouts and later the Palmach and Hagana, eventually combined into the IDF. Some 350 Jews were killed fighting for the Negev, their names etched on the rough concrete walls. Incidentally, the local Arabs were Beduin who took little part in the fighting, and there were few of what we would now call Palestinians living there. By the time the fighting stopped in 1949, the Egyptian and Jordanian armies had been defeated and expelled and the Negev remained part of Israel.
Maybe its because we live in such a small country, but I had some feeling of disjointedness going from the beach to the desert in a day. I was aware that the sacrifice of those who secured the Negev allowed us to enjoy the freedom of the beach in Netanya.

Monday, December 10, 2007


According to a recent survey by the Government, 700,000 Israelis are living outside Israel, yes, that's 700,000! That's ca. 12% of the total Jewish Israeli population! And over half of them are in N. America and a quarter in Europe.
The problem with this large number living abroad, is that their children tend to assimilate very easily. With ca. 70% of them not being religious, if they cease to be Israelis they effectively cease to be Jewish. In that respect they are unlike their Jewish diaspora counterparts, who have a greater tendency to cling to Jewish identity. There is another campaign planned to try to bring some of these Israelis back to Israel, with the Absorption Ministry prepared to spend NIS m150, according to the WZO it will have limited success.
Another report by the Association for Civil Rights indicates that Israelis have become more racist over the years, with a greater proportion (ca. 75%) preferring not to mix with Arabs, not wanting to live near Arabs, and regarding Arabs as uneducated and anti-social. This may be a bad trend in a democracy, but given the continued antagonism and violent reaction of both Palestinian and Israeli Arabs to anything to do with Israel and Israelis this counter-reaction is not so surprising.
At the same time there has been an increase in anti-Ethiopian incidents among Israelis. Last week there was a scandal in Petach Tikva when it was revealed that four Ethiopian girls were being segregated in a separate classroom and given breaks at different times to the white Israeli girls. This was in a religious school, and the Principal justified it by saying that the Ethiopians were not at the same level or religious observance as the other girls. But, everyone, up to the Minister of Education and the Prime Minister labelled it for what it was - racism, i.e. the separation of the races, otherwise known as apartheid! The Govt. announced that it will give NIS b1 to help Ethiopians to assimilate.
Now let's be clear, Israel is not an "apartheid State" as some would maintain, and the reaction to this incident clearly shows that, since the Govt. clearly repudiated this practice, and the Principal and teachers who perpetrated it are being investigated. There was also a case of an entire kindergarten that was maintained as an Ethiopian one to keep the kids separate. This also has been stopped. Anyway, those who call Israel an "apartheid state" refer to separation from the Arabs, not among Israelis themselves. By the way, I deliver food every month as part of an organization called Keren Shalom to mostly Ethiopian families, but we also include poor Russian families. We don 't discriminate.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The "surge" is working

In many parts of the world, including Europe, Pres. Bush is considered a stupid, incompetent and extremist President. Yet his current policy of the so-called "surge" of an extra 30,000 US troops sent to Iraq to quell the insurgency is actually working!
There are, of course, those who maintain that both the US and UK Governments lied about the need to invade Iraq, because of the WMD fiasco. But, intense investigations in both countries found no specific tampering by the Administrations themselves of the raw intelligence data. In all cases it was an error, a belief that Iraq had WMD when they did not. Many deny that even with this honest mistake the Allies should have invaded Iraq, but that war is long since past, and we were then faced with a multi-pronged insurrection, of former pro-Saddam Baathists, of al Qaeda terrorists seeking to undermine the Iraqi Government, and of sectarian violence, particularly between Shia and Sunnis.
In order to defeat, or at least reduce, the insurrection, the military command asked for more troops, not so much to fight the insurgents, but more to hold and stabilise areas that had been pacified already. This is the strategy introduced by Gen. Petraeus, based on the experience of fighting in Baghdad and Anbar province, mostly where the Sunni Arabs, the dominant force in Saddam's Iraq, are located.
Several factors may have lead to a reduction in the number of violent incidents that were in the hundreds a day a year ago, to today, when they have been reduced to ca. 40-50 a day, i.e. by about 60% overall. This does not mean that there is no longer an insurgency, only that the maximum of its intensity has been passed and it is now on a steady decline.
One factor for this is that Iran has been identified as a contributing factor, both in terms of arms (bombs) and terrorists smuggled over the Iran-Iraq border and training given to Iraqi Shia insurgents. Several actions, in arresting Iranian (Revolutionary Guard) representatives in Iraq and publicizing their role in introducing IEDs (explosive devices that are killing Americans) have resulted in a reduced Iranian involvement. Also, the Iraqi Government met with and appealed directly to the Iranian Government to stop their intervention.
Another factor is that the pro-Baathist elements seem to have largely given up, since the trials of Saddam and his cronies were concluded and they were executed. There is now no hope for any return to a Sunni-controlled Baathist regime, and so this element of the insurrection seems to be dwindling.
The rebel Shia leader, Muktada al Sadr, as a result of strong Allied actions in Basra and Sadr City in Baghdad, declared a ceasefire of his forces, the so-called Mahdi Army. This reduced Shia attacks on Sunni areas and their consequent counter-attacks.
Finally, the main part of the insurrection itself, the Sunni-dominated al Qaeda forces, many of whom are foreign Arabs that have crossed the borders from Syria and Saudi Arabia, has been reduced. As a result of the intensive fighting and the fact that the Allies have made it clear that they will not give up in these Sunni-dominated areas, the local Sunni leaders have been forced to choose between supporting or allowing the insurrection to continue, with consquent losses for their local people, or cooperating with the Allied forces. Since there are now more forces to "occupy" and hold areas of Baghdad and Anbar province than there were previously, once the al Qaeda insurgency is defeated in each area, and the cruel treament of local opponents is ended (there were torture and killing houses in each locality), a quasi-peaceful situation has ensued.
This analysis is based on the briefing of US Secty. of Defense Robert Gates currently in Baghdad (where embarrassingly there was a suicide bombing on the same day) but also on US Congressional investigators. So it appears that the Bush strategy of the "surge" in forces seems to be working, and another year may see a reduction in the total number of US troops in Iraq. The Brown Govt. in the UK is also reducing its forces there.
This success may affect the upcoming US election, since the Democratic candidates are having a hard time dealing with the fact that the Bush strategy is working and that the Republicans can support troop reductions based on a winning strategy rather than a losing one.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

From Oslo to Annapolis

There is not much that connects Oslo, the capital of Norway, with Annapolis, the capital of the US State of Maryland. But, they will forever be connected by having been loci of negotiations of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Things looked so promising after the Oslo accords were announced in 1993. Little did we know how the Palestinians had tricked us, and the negotiators on the Israeli side were incredibly naieve. In the negotiations they believed everything that the Palestinians told them, and made concessions that were not checked by any security or military advisors. Remember that these negotiations were carried out by the Left, Yitzhak Rabin was PM, and Shimon Peres was the FM behind the agreement, and the chief negotiator was Yossi Beilin, now head of the left-wing Meretz-Yahad Party, who admitted that he deliberately kept the two senior leaders in the dark as to the details of the negotiations to prevent them from interfering. In between there was the aborted Camp David negotiations of 2000, that lead directly to the second intifada, that raised the level of violence significantly. As a direct result of these "peace" negotiations ca. 2,000 Israelis were killed by terrorists.
Now things don't look much better for the outcome of the Annapolis negotiations. Although PM Olmert is the Head of the Kadima party, which is supposedly centrist and committed to (unilateral) withdrawals, after the fiasco of Gaza no further withdrawals have been suggested. Nevertheless, Olmert was once a leader and bright-eyed boy of the Likud Party and he can't have forgotten everything (hopefully). And this time the whole Israeli Government is involved, not a small group of committed leftists, and that might make a difference.
Although the teams of negotiators of both sides are poised to start meeting next week, things do not look too promising. This week Pres. Abbas and his Fatah leadership announced that if the IDF invades Gaza they will break off all negotiations and fight with Hamas in Gaza. What is most insane given this statement is that Israel is poised to give a gift of 25 armed personnel carriers to the PA (that are supposed to help bolster Abbas)! Talk about suicidal!
Hamas (and Fatah) have significantly increased the number of mortar shells being fired into Israel. Six months ago it was ca. 10 a month now it is ca. 250! And the number of rockets have also been increased. The IDF in response has increased its surveillance and quick response, so that more Palestinian terrorists are being killed in Gaza in the act of preparing or firing mortars and/or rockets. It is clear that Hamas is escalating these attacks in order to induce Israel to respond, and that would be an end to the Annapolis process.
Also, Abbas has specifically declared that he will not recognise Israel as a Jewish State (although the PA is self-identified as a Muslim entity), while Olmert has stated that he will not negotiate with anyone who denies this (but Olmert is flexible). Also, the sides differ fundamentally on the issues of Jerusalem (the PA wants at least half of Jerusalem, Israel will give either nothing or only the Arab suburbs), and refugees (Abbas will refuse to accept Palestinian refugees, claiming that they should all go to Israel, while Israel will accept none). However, one could say that this is precisely why direct negotiations are needed between reasonable leaders who are prepared to compromise. But, if anyone has seen any report of any Palestinian leader proposing any compromise from their side I'd like to hear of it! Meanwhile Pres. Bush announced that neither side is required to adhere specifically to the terms of the Road Map, which means that Abbas won't have to stop all terrorism before Israel agrees to anything (but Israel also won't have to remove all settlements!). Is this an encouraging start, I think not!
Fourteen years separate Olso from Annapolis, and apart from the fact that Saudi Arabia attended the Annapolis conference nothing much else has changed. If you look at them askance Oslo and Annapolis start to look very much alike.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

NIE on Iran

The new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) issued by the CIA on the Iranian nuclear program is itself a bombshell. The conclusion that Iran stopped its program for nuclear weapons development in 2003, and has not renewed it, although is could at any time, has completely confused the international situation.
Instead of a good case for the adoption of a third round of sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council, the US is now on the back foot, and Russian FM Ivanov issued a statement saying that now such sanctions cannot be justified. Pres. Ahmedinejad himself declared a victory for Iran, and said that the NIE showed that he had been telling the truth all along, and that Iran has the right to continue to develop its energy-related nuclear program.
The problem for Israel is that its national security agency, the Shin Bet, has given a much more negative assessment of Iranian programs and activities. So that now there is doubt about who is right. Since the CIA has been so very wrong in the past, for example over Saddam Hussein's WMD and nuclear program (there was none), it is difficult to know how much credibility to give it now. Also, Pres. Bush stated that the NIE does not indicate that he should change US policy towards Iran and its nuclear programs, in other words the assessment is so ambiguous, since Iran could restart the program again at any time, and may have done so already, that no clear-cut assessment can be made.
Under these circumstances any Israeli Government must err on the side of caution. They must assume that since Iran is pressing ahead with its nuclear energy program against international sanctions (because there is no IAEA oversight) and because it could start, or have already restarted, its nuclear weapons program any time, and because of the aggressiveness of the Iranian Govt. (that has warned of "wiping Israel off the map" many times), then there exists a definite possibility that Iran could make a surprise nuclear attack on Israel. In order to counter this, the diplomatic approach is the first priority, but a military first strike cannot still be ruled out. However, it makes Israel's case more difficult if the US no longer supports the contention that Iran has developed or is developing the nuclear weapons capability that it maintained it once was.

Screwing on the carpet

Some readers have commented that my messages tend to be rather serious and even portentous. Here's some comic relief.
One of the indications of a higher civilization is the ability to construct a cupboard from a kit. I know about this since I have assembled several pieces of Danish furniture in the past, and yesterday I put together a chest of drawers that we purchased from Ikea (yes, we have one nearby). It must be a Scandinavian patent that the pieces come together with accurate pre-cut holes into which the perfect size and type of screw fit, and all of it combines almost effortlessly. Well actually with some effort.
What I have found from experience is that these constructions are best carried out on a carpet, so that the pieces as they combine together and grow in size and weight can be turned and swung around with ease. All one needs for tools is a Phillips screwdriver and a small hammer (my father - a professional cabinet maker - would have missed the glue, its smell alone used to be redolent of the whole activity).
The major innovation that the Scandinavians introduced is the circular metal device (if it has a name I don't know it) that fits into a hole about 1 inch in diameter in the piece of wood to be joined, and then turns a half-turn so that it tightens onto the top of the screw already in place in the other piece of wood (a picture is worth a thousand words, but I'm not drawing one here) thus fixing them together. This enables the whole cupboard to be erected without even a touch of glue or any obvious screws to be seen. Wonderful!
I must say that I enjoyed putting this chest of six drawers together in about one and a half hours. My wife agrees that this is a particularly masculine activity. I suppose its the whole construction thing and the three dimensional conceptualization. This lead me to contemplate the process of screwing, that is the main requirement of the activity. Women tend not to screw, and this is because one of their characteristics is that they have narrow wrists, not adapted for the constant strong turning required for screwing (however they could use an electrical screwdriver). If there is any woman reading this who has constructed such a Scandinavian cupboard from a kit I'd like to hear from her.
The obvious question is why did we need this particular cupboard? That is because over the years we have accumulated many papers and much junk, and my wife has the unfortunate habit of not wanting to part with any of it. So I took the opportunity of her absence in England (I would not have dared do this with her present) to gather many of these dusty piles of papers together and put them in plastic bags. Altogether this made a small mountain of junk. She is gradually going through them and discarding most of it (papers back to 2003 and undecipherable notes on envelopes and bits of paper). However, to make it up to her I had to provide a suitable place for her to save those items she needed to keep and for future accumulations. Hence the 6-drawer cupboard.
So whatever people say about the bad effects we have on the environment, the ability to assemble such a cupboard so quickly and easily is certainly an indication of an advanced civilization.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Prisoners and suspects

Today the Israeli Govt. released 429 Palestinian prisoners from jail, of whom 21 were released to Gaza and the rest to the West Bank. This was a gesture to bolster Pres. Mahmoud Abbas of the PA. All the prisoners had been convicted of crimes (usually security offences), and were members of Fatah (not Hamas or PFLP), but none of them had Israeli blood on their hands. Before being released they were required to sign an agreement that they will not engage in terrorism or violent acts against Israel. All of them signed, but few think this will stop them breaking this agreement, as others have in the past. While not reciprocating in any way, the PA criticized Israel for not releasing more prisoners and not releasing those that have blood on their hands, i.e. the terrorist leaders. Israel neither sought nor was given any indication that this release will help to ensure the release of our POW Gilad Schalit, who is in any case being held in Gaza by pro-Hamas extremists, over which Abbas has no control.
Last night in actions on the West Bank the IDF detained 42 Palestinians who were wanted on suspicion of terrorism or other security offenses. So they freed up some jail space but there are plenty of others to fill it. Two of those arrested were responsible for the attack last Monday (the night before the Annapolis meeting) that killed an Israeli driver Ido Zoldan (29, father of 2), and they happen to be PA policemen serving in Abbas' forces. The PA police cooperated and detained another member of their own forces who participated in this terrorist attack.
There were other incidents of firing and bombing near the Gaza border fence, and the IAF mounted an air attack against a Hamas security facility from where men were seen leaving to shoot rockets into the Negev. Four were killed, but two rockets were fired and landed harmlessly. However, in response, the local leader of Hamas warned that they are working on obtaining rockets with twice the range that will also be filled with explosives to fire into Israel. So the war of the rockets goes on daily in the south.
It is a matter of speculation, given the Annapolis situation and the continuation of negotiations, whether or not the IDF will mount a major raid into Gaza to deal with the rocket launchers, the increasing armaments flowing into Gaza from Egypt and the growing threat from a Hamas terrorist army being trained in Gaza. On the one hand the impending threat must be dealt with, on the other hand such an attack would tend to give the various factions an excuse to combine together to fight the common Israeli enemy. Although cutting off electricity and fuel supplies is seen as a better way of bringing pressure on Hamas to stop these activities, noone really believes this will work, and in the end a major IDF incursion into Gaza is probably unavoidable. According to Defense Minister Barak, only the timing remains to be determined.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The USA in the Middle East

Many people are not aware that the first area with which the fledgling USA came into conflict after achieving independence in 1776 was the Middle East. This area included North Africa (the Maghreb) from which pirates ranged all across the Mediterranean Sea. As the USA expanded its commercial ties in the Mediterranean, no longer protected by the British Navy, in fact not protected at all, the pirates of the Barbary Coast preyed on them without mercy.
It was customary in those days for the Europeans to pay tribute to the Arab pirate leaders living in Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. The US Congress agreed to follow the same course, but whereas the British and French had powerful navies to protect their interests, the USA had nothing. As a consequence American frigates and other ships flying the star-spangled banner were being boarded, stolen and their crews sold into slavery. After this had happened several times from 1784 onwards, Congress voted in 1794 to form the US Navy "for the protection of the United States against Algerian corsairs."
Things escalated and in 1801 Tripoli declared war on the USA, its first foreign war, and captured its first "ship of the line" the USS Philadelphia with its 305 man crew. In 1804 an attack was mounted under Stephen Decatur that set fire to the Philadelphia in Tripoli Harbor. In 1805 a contingent of US marines made an attack at Darna on the Tripoli coast and a peace arrangement was arrived at (hence "to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine anthem).
But, the boardings continued, so finally in 1815 Pres. James Madison sent a force of 10 American ships to North Africa, and forced Algiers (Algeria), Tunis (Tunisia) and Tripoli (Libya) to cease attacks against American shipping without the payment of further tribute. This action greatly increased the prestige of the USA in Europe, which followed suit with their navies to stop the brigandage that had been routine.
In a period of 30 years, 35 American ships and 700 sailors had been captured. Only by taking decisive military action had the US managed to overcome this predicament. In our time, when war between the USA and other parts of the Muslim Middle East are ongoing, it is instructive to consider this earlier period of conflict. James Madison had averred that "weakness will invite insults, the best way to avoid danger is to be in a capacity to withstand it." Finally, when Congress was prepared to foot the bill for a navy, only then did the USA establish itself as an independent force to be reckoned with.
This history is taken from the first chapter of the excellent book "Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the present," by Michael Oren.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Neither Pooh nor Aloysius

Among famous Teddy Bears, "Mohammed" will now take its place up there between "Pooh" and "Aloysius."
That Teddy Bears are freighted with broad significance can be gleaned from the number of them that crop up in English lit., and not all of them simply children's toys, like Paddington Bear, the Berenstain Bears, etc.
Of course, Pooh Bear is perhaps the most celebrated, since there is a whole collection of stories about him and his friends that are well-known to most children and that are designed as a form of life preparation. They have such themes such as tolerance, friendship, and persistance. There are in fact scholarly analyses of Pooh's meaning and importance.
Some of you may remember Aloysius as the Teddy Bear featured in Evelyn Waugh's novel "Brideshead revisited" and in the early 1980's TV series of the same name. Since Aloysius is the favorite of the "anti-hero" the rich and dissolute Sebastian Flyte, and it represents his homo-eroticism and decadence, it plays an important role in this drama.
And now we have "Mohammed" the Bear, named by some children at a school in Khartoum, Sudan. Apparently, although the children in her class voted to give the Bear this name, the English teacher involved Gillian Gibbons (54) is being blamed for a case of blasphemy, taking the name of the Prophet (may the all merciful spare me from the wrath of the towel-headed idiots) in vain. She was sentenced to only two weeks (!) in jail for this nonsense. This is part of the Talibanization of Islamic culture, every simple little event is perceived as an attempt by the great and mighty Satan of Western Imperialism, represented by this hapless middle aged English teacher, to attack/destroy/humiliate Islam. If they weren't so childishly sensitive then maybe we might be able to take them seriously. But, who cares what a Teddy Bear is named, they are two centuries behind us!