Thursday, February 28, 2008

Escalation in Gaza

A barrage of 50 rockets hit the southern Negev of Israel on Wednesday, killing a 43-year father of four, Ron Yihye, who was a student at Sapir College. He was standing in the parking lot of the college when a Kassam rocket struck meters away and he was hit in the chest by shrapnel. A Magen David Adom medic standing nearby was unable to save his life. He is the eleventh Israeli killed in the current spate of rockets from Gaza. Several others were badly injured during these attacks and many were treated for shock when rockets landed in homes, kindergartens and the College.
Hamas claimed credit for the rockets fired Wednesday in retaliation for the deaths of 5 men killed in a van that received a direct hit from IAF missiles. The van was travelling on the Gaza coast road with another car on Wednesday morning. A Shin Bet security agency source said that the van carried two leaders of the rocket attacks on Israel and included a team that had been trained in Syria and Iran recently in order to carry out further attacks in Israel. Clearly the loss of this team was significant for Hamas because they immediately initiated the rocket barrage. In response, later in the day, the IAF hit the Interior Ministry building in Gaza City where PM Haniyeh has an office. Some 25 people were injured in this attack.
PM Olmert is in Japan where he met with Secty. of State Condoleeza Rice. She issued a statement that the rockets being fired at Israel must stop. It seems ridiculous for Israel to be carrying out so-called "peace negotiations" when we are being subjected to a daily round of rocket attacks. Although Defense Minister Barak issued another warning to Hamas, and although targeted killings are effective, the Govt. has not found a means to stop these attacks, although there is no doubt that it could if it had the will to carry out a meaningful military response. They must move from a passive blockade of Gaza to an active plan of attack to stop the rockets!
Meanwhile Pres. Abbas of the PA on the West Bank stated in an interview that Hamas in Gaza is cooperating with al Qaeda. Whether the West like it or not, Hamastan in Gaza is a mini-terrorist state where all sorts of terrorists are planning their next attacks on Israel and the West.

Dichotomy on anti-Semitism

There are two extreme views of Israel and the Jews vis-a-vis the rest of the world. Either one can view the rest of the world as hostile to the Jews and Israel, as unalterably opposed to our existence, and always trying to find ways to destroy us. This was undoubtedly the view of the Jews of Eastern Europe, living as they were, powerless but surrounded by a host of hostile and aggressive tribes (Germans, Poles, Slavs, Hungarians, Romanians, etc.). Then there is the view that only a small minority of other peoples are anti-Semites, that they constitute a small and powerless extreme, and that the majority of people either don't know or don't care about the Jews and Israel. Maybe the truth lies somewhere betweeen.
It is true that there are countries and regimes, currently Iran and its subordinate terrorist organizations, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, that actively strive to destroy us. But, it is also true that there are countries and peoples that are very friendly and supportive of Israel, beyond what one could expect, and this means not only the powerful, such as the USA, but also the small and weak, such as the Polynesian States that often support Israel, for example Vanuatu and Fiji.
It might be considered that the pessimistic view that there is no let-up in anti-Semitism is a right-wing view, and the idea that there are many people who are philo-Semitic is a left-wing view. But, on the other hand, right wingers are characterized by the belief that a strong and powerful IDF can save Israel, so therefore there is no need to worry, while a typical left-wing view is that salvation lies through mutual friendship with other peoples that often leads to intermarriage and a loss of Jewish particularity, for example, many leftists would support a shared secular democratic state with the Palestinians (although it wouldn't remain democratic for long).
To support the latter view, a poll in the USA reported on IBA News gave the number of convinced and strong anti-Semites as only 15%, but wait a minute in the US that amounts to 35 million people! And that's not including the less strongly anti-Semitic, so that would seem to support the former view. So obviously the conclusion depends on how you interpret the same data.
There is no clear-cut answer to this question, there are enough interpretations to support any opinion. However, it seems that whatever the slant, anti-Semitism is not going away as we once had hoped. This was the conclusion of the World Conference on anti-Semitism that was recently held in Jerusalem, and they decided that their organization needs to remain permanent and tackle this problem on a continuous world-wide basis.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Israeli judicial system

The judicial system in Israel has come in for a lot of criticism in the past months. Tuesday five judges of the Supreme Court voted by 3 to 2 to affirm the deal that Atty. Gen. Meni Mazuz worked out with former Pres. Katsav. In exchange for his pleading guilty to the lesser charges of sexually abusing three former female staffers, Mazuz dropped the more serious charge of rape that had been brought on the basis of the evidence of one of the complainants.
However, many feel that this was an easy get-out for Katsav, while others are happy that the whole sorry case is nearing its end. There is one more possible appeal left, namely because the vote was 3:2, a larger Supreme Court quorom, say of 7 or 9 judges, could be asked to reconsider the appeal. The Organization for Quality in Government is going to lodge that appeal because they think that Katsav is being treated prefentially compared to any other citizen. Maybe so, but he was the President, and while some think that that means he should suffer more, nevertheless most Israeli citizens don't want the sordid details to be aired in a court case. On the other hand, women's groups feel that Katsav was let off too easy.
There has been an ongoing conflict between Chief Judge of the Supreme Court Dorit Beinisch and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, who had often expressed his concern that the Supreme Court had arrogated to itself too much power and control over the political process before he was appointed to his position. In other words, the Supreme Court under its former Chief Justice Aharon Barak, mentor of Beinisch, was overly controlling which laws and their contents that the Knesset could pass and who the Atty. Gen. should prosecute.
Unlike the American system, where the three arms of Government (Legislative, Executive and Judiciary) are in principle co-equal, in the Israeli system, the Supreme Court is above the Knesset, but Friedmann feels, like many, especially on the right, that the left-leaning Supreme Court has been biasing the judicial/legislative landscape. So PM Olmert appointed Friedmann knowing that he would likely try to bring the Supreme Court under control.
One way in which he has done this is to establish a new Local Court in the Central region, separate from the four other local courts, that are under the Supreme Court. Now the question comes what specific jurisdiction should this court have, and who should set its agenda. The Judiciary Committee of the Knesset has been meeting to set into law these issues. Both Friedmann and Beinisch gave testimony before the Committee, and not surprisingly their opinions were diametrically opposed and they got into a nasty spat.
So the case of Katsav, where Mazuz has taken the initiative left the Supreme Court really with no other option but to endorse his decision. Whatever the final outcome, we are likely to see further clashes between Friedmann and Beinisch, who are trying to establish the boundaries between the Supreme Court and the Executive and the Legislature. One notable area that needs reform is that the Supreme Court justices appoint themselves, in other words they are a self-sustaining club. In a democracy, the Knesset should have a say in how Justices are appointed.
NB. The author does not claim to be an expert on the Israeli judicial system

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hamas failure

The Hamas threat to breach the Gaza border with Israel, in a similar manner to how they did at the Sinai border with Egypt last month, has failed.
It failed for two reasons, first Hamas did not have access to the Israeli border fence itself, while in Sinai they did, and they were able to set explosives against the fence waiting for an opportunity to blow it up. This is because Israel has a well-defended border and infiltrators carrying explosives are usually detected immediately as they approach the fence, presumably by electronic detectors.
Also, in Sinai the Egyptian forces were totally unprepared and overwhelmed by the human wave of thousands of Palestinians that wanted to escape into Sinai. At the Israeli border today the IDF had large numbers of men prepared for any eventuality, and had brought up an artillery battery as well as reinforcements. So Hamas and the Palestinian people knew that they could not simply walk into Israel as they did into Egypt. Troops were supposedly told to shoot at the protesters legs to prevent them infiltrating into Israel.
Hamas gave schools the day off and proclaimed that they would have a human chain for the 30 miles from Rafah to Beit Hanun, but in the event only ca. 5,000 people turned up. However, most media reports said that Hamas was going to have a human chain along the border to protest its closure, but they did not mention that there was in fact no human chain! So even though it was an actual failure, the PR effort by Hamas paid off. Their leftist-liberal media sympathizers gave the most positive spin they could on the actual outcome.
In a related event, some 2,000 activists tried to overrun the Erez border post, but probably fearing a fiasco, Hamas security forces turned them away.
Once again Hamas has announed that they are prepared for a (temporary) ceasefire (hudna) with Israel, they will stop rocket firings on the Negev if Israel ceases its "aggression." Israel has said before that their actions in Gaza only result from Palestinian rocket firing into Israel. If that stops then there would be no more military actions and the border could be opened again. Maybe their failure will teach Hamas a lesson.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Two and a half lives

The book "Two Lives," by Vikram Seth, is an interesting, but rather long, nonfiction book about his great-aunt and great-uncle. Not seemingly an attractive subject for a book, except that his great-uncle was Indian and his great-aunt was a German Jewess.
He tells their story through his eyes, so we get a lot about him in this book too. How he first met them when he came to London as a teenager to study and stayed with them in their suburban London home. The book starts with the sentence "When I was seventeen I went to live with my great-Uncle and great-Aunt in London..." He uses the form "Shanti Uncle" all the way through the book while he talks about "Aunt Henny," why this maddening inconsistency is never explained.
The essence of the book is the love story of Shanti Seth, a young Indian sent to Berlin to study dentistry in the 1930s and Hennerle Caro, the daughter of his landlady. He is introduced into her circle of friends and much of the book is spent detailing their relationships and what happened to them when the inevitable came, when Hitler took power in 1933 and the Nazi State gradually reduced Jews to stateless non-citizens, and then killed them.
One of the interesting aspects of the story is that this circle of friends consisted of Jews, half-Jews and non-Jews, and it is interesting to see how each fares. Much of the story is told through long verbatim extracts of letters exchanged between his Uncle/Aunt and their friends, those left back in Germany, some of whom were killed, some survived and those who emigrated. Reading this book one feels that the author was committed to tell their story with love, but it is told in such excruciating detail that the dramatic aspects are lost in a sea of information. One feels that a good editor was needed to greatly reduce the size of this 500 page book (the original letters could have been printed as an appendix or deposited in an archive for those really interested). An amazing piece of luck was the discovery of a sheaf of letters from/to his Aunt Henny secreted in the proverbial trunk in the attic long after her death, that revealed a lot about the relationships and feelings of this otherwise closed and secretive person.
The story is that Shanti Seth met and apparently fell in love with the tall, slender Henny, who was "engaged" to the tall half-Jewish, blond-haired Hans, who wrote her copious love letters and poems. After the Nazis came to power and Shanti had finished his dental studies he was forced to leave Berlin in 1937. He opted to go to England and took a qualifying dental exam in Edinburgh (the cheapest location) so that he could practise dentistry in the UK.
Meanwhile, a distant English relative by marriage of Hans managed to help Henny escape from Germany as their nanny in 1939, a few months before the war began. She was taken to England and there eventually got a job. Her mother and sister Lola were not so lucky, but since Lola worked for the Jewish Gemeinde, the agency tasked with providing the German Government with information about the Jews, she managed to keep themselves alive until 1943, longer than most. Eventually they were separated and transported and her mother was killed in Thereisenstadt and her sister in Birkenau.
At the same time, Shanti Seth volunteered for the British Army and became a dentist with the Army Dental Command, being posted to Ethiopia, Egypt and then Italy. From generally being behind the lines he was sent to the front during the Italian campaign and near Monte Cassino in 1944 he was hit by a shell and lost his right fore-arm. Apart from the general horror of dealing with such an injury, he felt that he had lost his ability to remain a dentist and would lose his ability to continue to practise his profession.
However, after the war and a period of rehabilitation, during which he had managed to keep in contact with Henny and sent her what were clearly love letters, he managed to obtain a post with a dental products company and prospered. Eventually he was able to re-start dental practice and with some adaptations performed almost all the necessary procedures one-handed! There is no doubt that he was a remarkable and strong-willed man.
Eventually Shanti and Henny married in 1951, although why it took them so long is unclear. Perhaps she was mourning not only her mother and sister, but for Hans who had married a Christian to save himself (mischlings who married non-Jews were to be dealt with later...). Of the circle of their friends none of the Jews except for Henny survived the war.
One unremarked aspect of this book is that of course Henny and her family were completely assimilated German Jews, there was no "Jewish content" in their lives, apart from their genes. Although the author acknowledges this, he ignores the fact that the majority of Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust were religious. He also indulges in a brief anti-Israel venting, where he, as a good liberal, of course, expresses sympathy for the poor Palestinians. For him the story of Israel begins in 1948 as a result of Jewish belief in biblical prophecy ("divinely ordained" p. 357), whereas in fact Israel was begun by completely non-religious, secular Jews seeking a safe haven long before the War of Independence was forced on them. He does not acknowledge (or perhaps know) that secular Jews had been settling in Israel since the 1880s to escape precisely the kind of death his great-Aunt's family suffered. If even a sensitive and educated author such as Vikram Seth is so blind that he cannot see that Israel was founded to ensure the survival of Jews other than his great-Aunt (who was lucky enough to survive in England), what hope is there from others less well informed.
Finally, this book is the record of an improbable but enduring marriage, of extraordinary people living ordinary lives, that continued in suburban routine until their deaths.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Important changes are happening in the world. In Pakistan, an election for Parliament resulted in the defeat of Pres. Musharraf's party and in Cuba, Fidel Castro officially resigned as President.
The election results in Pakistan put the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto in the lead, with the other opposition National Muslim Party (NMP) of Nawaz Sharif in second place. As a coalition they can certainly out-vote Musharraf's party that got only 33 seats. The Islamists did very poorly, but the combination of the PPP and NMP are not expected to be as pro-American as Musharraf has been. How this will impact on the presence of al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the north-western tribal region of Pakistan is uncertain. But, it is not likely to improve the situation.
Castro has passed over the helm of Cuba to his brother Raul. This is a strange feature of communist dictatorships, that they in effect become inherited monarchies, from revolution to reaction in one long step. Whether or not Raul, aged 76, will be any more flexible in relations with the West remains unknown. However, this swap after nearly 50 years at least presages change, so that Cuba may eventually be able to open up to the rest of the world.
Change in Israel is slow. Yesterday PM Olmert met with Pres. Abbas and both sides put their own spin on the situation. Abbas' spokesman Saeb Erakat said that all issues were being addressed, including Jerusalem, but Olmert's spokesman said that this was not so and that the issue of Jerusalem is being left until last. This is so that Shas won't bolt his coalition, at least not yet.
In Gaza there is no change in the situation, rockets keep raining down on Sderot and although then IDF goes into action and kills a few terrorists, it does not seem to affect the outcome. In Lebanon, there is stalemate, with no election of a President and with both sides practicing brinksmanship, that might lead to a new civil war.
In the US, the slogan "Change" apparently has a powerful appeal to a large proportion of the Democratic party membership, and this has allowed Barack Obama to overtake Hilary Clinton in the Presidential primaries. He has won the last 10 contests, but there are still Texas and Ohio to go, and either could win. Meanwhile McCain has all-but won the Republican primary and will likely be the Republican candidate for President. So it will be McCain vs. Obama or possibly Hilary. Old and experienced vs. new and inexperienced. Take your choice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Durban II

Anti-Israelism = Anti-Semitism

This should be our slogan in response to the upcoming Durban II conference. Anne Bayevsky, of Touro College NY, the American Jewish expert on the UN, is here in Israel to meet with Israeli leaders. In an interview she expressed her surprise that Israel has not reacted yet to the upcoming Durban II conference. You may remember that the Durban Conference of 2004 became an orgy of anti-Isrealism and anti-Semitism. Leaflets given out around the conference were on the level of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda. A group of Islamist NGOs essentially took over the conference and it was almost entirely focussed on attacking and demonizing Israel, as a racist apartheid State. The Israeli delegation walked out and so did the American delegation. The UN organization that was responsible for organizing Durban I has been completely revised, but it is no better, and in fact probably worse. Guess who is the chair of the conference? Libya! And Iran is on the Committee. In effect the Islamic Conference has once again hijacked the Durban Conference.
The Conference is due to be planned in April, so it is important to make a decision now. As usual the Olmert Government is slow and incompetent. The Canadian Government, a champion of human rights but often anti-Israel, has already decided to boycott Durban II. But, the US in the guise of Secty of State Rice has not yet made a decision. In effect they are waiting for Israel to make its move, they can't be more Catholic than the Pope (or more Jewish than the State of Israel). So where is Olmert and his Kadima followers, once again they are holding back, avoiding making a decision, as in Gaza.
Those of you who can, should write to your Governments, Israeli and American, and ask them to condemn and boycott what will undoubtedly be a further exercise in Israel-bashing and overt anti-Semitism. How is it that 60 years after WWII and the Holocaust such expressions of anti-Semitic racism are sponsored by UN organizations and supported by many countries?

Monday, February 18, 2008


I was sitting at my computer on Friday, Feb 15 at 12.40 pm writing my usual nonsense, when the room suddenly moved. It was peculiar, as if a shrug passed through the walls, and everything swayed. I knew immediately it was neither a bomb nor a plane breaking the sound barrier, common occurrences here, because the windows did not rattle. This was a quiet displacement, an earthquake!
I immediately ran into the living room, stood in the doorway, and called to Naomi who (you guessed it) was on the phone, and I told her that there was an earthquake. Since she was concentrating on talking to her friend she missed it, and she expressed scepticism. However, we soon noticed that the light fixture was shaking from side to side, a painting on the wall was vibrating, and the water in the water jug was oscillating (there were no dinosaurs around either).
We looked for confirmation on the English news but it was not mentioned. Only on Sunday in the Jerusalem Post there was a report that an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter-scale was felt in Israel on Friday, with its center in south Lebanon. As far as I know noone was hurt and there was no damage from this earthquake. But then friends told us that there had been another quake measuring 4.3 last week, when we were away in England. This is worrying, since it is usual to have preceding tremors of increasing intensity before a really big one.
We share more in common with California than the weather. We are in an earthquake zone, and the deepest and longest trench on earth, the Syrian-African rift, runs from northern Israel (the Hula Valley and the sea of Galillee) through central Israel (the Dead Sea and the lowest point on earth) through the Red Sea to Ethiopia. This is unstable and there are earthquakes from time to time, there was a big one in the mid-1800s, and a small one about 14 years ago that wrecked a hotel in Eilat. But a "big one" is overdue here, just as in California. Since one of the reasons my wife decided she did not want to live in California was the earthquakes, she may have made a slight error. Unfortunately, Israeli buildings are often built on "stilts" and are not earthquake proof and it is predicted that most of them would collapse in a major earthquake, causing many casualties. But, its too late now. Just another reason why living in Israel is so exciting and unpredictable.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Discussions and solutions

When we have discussions we Jews often get intense and even passionate about our positions. But, being in England I try to "tone down" my reactions to fit into the prevalent milieu.
I had two minor disagreements while talking to people there. At one point I mentioned that the Security Fence that has been built around much of the West Bank has resulted in a quieter security situation and has saved lives. The person I was talking to said bluntly, "that's a land grab." I realized that this person got his information from the headlines and had only superifical understanding of the situation, but I replied quite sharply, "the original route of the fence included about 15% of West Bank territory, but many cases brought to the Israel Supreme Court by Palestinians and Israelis have resulted in the Govt. changing the route of the fence so that it now only includes 5% of the West Bank, hardly a "land grab," and anyway the fence itself can be moved subject to any agreement that is made on borders. And I for one am glad the fence is there because it has saved many lives including maybe my own and my family's." Then I moved away, giving him something to think about. I suppose he could discount my response as being merely that of an Israeli apologist, however, one does hope that facts are still important even to the ill-informed.
Another person got quite upset about US policy in Iraq, and when I said that Bush's policy of the "surge" seemed to be working, he launched into an anti-American diatribe. I suggested that in order to understand Saddam's Iraq he should read the book "Cruelty and silence" by Kennan Makiya. He said that each country has its own way of doing things and the US should not impose its way on others (a clear case of "moral relativism"). At that point I said if you're going to equate the US to Saddam's Iraq then there is no point in continuing this discussion and I walked away. Although I found people in England as usual, nice and friendly, there is certainly an undertow of political animosity.
Back in Israel, discussions are more animated and "solution-oriented" such as what are we going to do about the rockets on Sderot (nothing?) or Iran (wait until they strike us?). Suggesting military solutions only raises eyebrows, with the liberal/leftist attitude that any attempt to "invade" Gaza will result in "huge" Israeli casualties. On the contrary, said I, the longer we wait the more likely it is that Hamas will fire more long range rockets into central Israel, causing far greater civilian casualties, or do you want to wait until they do that? Anyway we don't have to invade across the borders where they are waiting for us, we can land troops by helicopters and ships behind their lines and take them by surprise, and we don't have to enter their cities, only surround them. Also, with Iran, now that the US has essentially ruled itself out of striking Iran with the faulty NIE, that leaves Israel alone, and then it may be a question of strike or be struck. Noone wants a war with Iran, so everyone agrees that we hope lightning may strike or some unpredictable event may happen, like Sadat visiting Israel or the USSR collapsing or an uprising in Iran. But, you can't depend on that.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The death of Mugniyeh

Congratulations to whoever blew up and killed Imad Mugniyeh in Damascus, Syria! He was the head of Operations of Hizbollah in Lebanon under Sheikh Nasrullah, and he was responsible for hundreds of deaths throughout the world.
He was wanted by three main groups (i) the Lebanese Christians, whose leadership has been decimated in a series of car bombings attributed to him, probably including the murder of Rafik Hariri, (ii) the Americans, since he was known to be responsible for the bombing of the US marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 that killed 241 marines and the US Embassy the same year that killed many more, and he was directly implicated in the torture and murder of CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley and US military intelligence officer Lt. Col. William Richard Higgins, (iii) the Israelis, who have suffered dozens of IDF casualties at his hands in Lebanon and the bombing of both the Israeli embassy and Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 250. He was also behind the kidnappings of several Westerners in Lebanon during the 1990s and the deadly hijacking of TWA 847, and he was considered responsible for the taking of the two IDF hostages Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in 2006 that initiated the Second Lebanon war.
Because of his notoriety and number of enemies there were several attempts on his life and he was forced to seek safety in Damascus, where he has been protected by the Assad regime. Since his security was very high he had avoided assassination for many years. So there is some suspicion that he may have been killed because Syria relaxed his protection deliberately. For what reasons are unknown, but it could be an internal quarrel in Hizbollah, or a deal that the Assad regime made with others, possibly the Americans, but in exchange for what?
In Lebanon and Syria there were large demonstrations with placards calling for revenge, and throughout the Arab world Israel was blamed for the murder, without any evidence and a denial by the Israeli authorities, although noone belives that. If the Mossad or another Israeli security agency carried out this assassination of such a murderous terrorist, then good for them. But, whether or not they did there are now threats from Hizbollah to avenge Mugniyeh's death. Since Israel is quite well protected and Hizbollah are reported to have some 50 secret cells located around the world, there is fear of an attack against Jewish facilities somewhere in the West. Let's hope the rise in security awareness will be enough to prevent such an occurrence.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Given the overwhelming might of the IDF compared to the rag-tag army of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza, it is amazing that the Government of Israel has not responded with force to the constant firing of Kassam rockets and mortars into Israel.
Two changes in the situation might trigger the anticipated Defensive Shield II campaign in Gaza similar to the one that the IDF carried out on the West Bank in 2005 that effectively ended the so-called intifada. These are the direct hit of a rocket on two brothers last week that caused the 8 year old to lose a leg and maybe his other leg also. This resulted in demonstrations by people from Sderot and supporters in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that stopped traffic on major arteries. Many Israelis feel great sympathy for the inhabitants of Sderot and agree with them that the Govt. has been negligent in not acting to protect them.
The other factor is that the leaders of the Hamas Govt. in Gaza have gone underground, they have not been seen for days and this presages a possible IDF ground invasion of Gaza in which they would be vulnerable to killing or capture. Now that the Egyptians have sealed their Gaza border it may be that the IDF wants to destroy the longer range rockets and anti-tank rockets that they have smuggled into Gaza, before they can become operational in the terrorist army that Hamas is building there. There are only two states in the world that are controlled by extremist Islamic organizations, Iran and Gaza. Israel must finally unleash the IDF to stop the rocket barrage that has been going on especially intensely since Israel withdrew all forces and settlers from Gaza in 2006 and to destroy the growing threat of terrorism.
I have always maintained that there would have to be a war between Israel and the Palestinians since all the previous wars have been between Israel and the surrounding Arab States, Egypt and Jordan sued for peace and only Syria still considers itself at war. But, in effect, although the Arab States fought on behalf of the Palestinians (although actually in their own interests), the Palestinians themselves never directly fought Israel apart from the terrorist war of the PLO and subsequent organizations. Now that the Palestinians have their own terrorist state in Gaza a direct war between Israel and Hamas should finally result in a complete destruction of the Palestinian pretense to be able to destroy Israel. It is unlikely that they will sue for peace, but if they are utterly defeated even they cannot continue to believe in their hollow bravado. Also, it would add some reality to the so-called Annapolis peace process with Pres. Abbas of the PA.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Perfidious Albion

An interesting article has been published in Ha'aretz in English by Prof. Meir Zamir of the Middle Eastern Studies Dept. at Ben Gurion University based on secret papers from the 1940s recently declassified by the French Govt. What these papers show may change our view of the history of the 1940's in the Middle East and of the emergence of the State of Israel.
Until now the accepted interpretation of the opposition of the British Government to the emergence of a Jewish State was based on British imperial designs in relation to the Suez Canal as a vital life-line to India and its other Asian colonies. But, actually that seems not to have been the case.
Apparently there was a secret agreement between the British Govt. and the nascent Syrian Govt. under Pres. Shukri al-Qawatli to foster a Greater Syria to include Palestine, Transjordan (now Jordan) and Lebanon. Eventually this would combine with Iraq, then controlled by the British under a similar mandate as with Palestine, so that there would be an Arab crescent State running from Palestine to the Gulf in which the British would have primary influence. What was Britain's chief motivation in this scheme? Mainly to supplant the French after WWII in Syria and Lebanon and to control all oil and other supplies in this region except for Saudi Arabia, that had fallen under American influence.
This scheme had to be conducted surreptitiously since Britain had already committed itself to share the region with the French and had also made commitments to the Jewish/Zionist agencies to establish a Jewish State in Palestine. In other words, while publicly still continuing its prior policies, Britain was in the process of double-crossing the French and the Jews in order to expand its power and influence in Syria and the Middle East.
The reason Britain chose Syria was not hard to find. Although Lebanon was clearly under French cultural and political influence, Syria was undergoing nationalist revolutionary changes, and there were severe anti-French demonstrations. When the French Army violently put down these public demonstrations, the British Commander in Cheif in the region, with far larger forces than the French, issued an ultimatum and the French were forced to withdraw. This is regarded to this day as the beginning of Syrian independence, but resulted from the secret agreement that Britain had made with the Syrian Govt.
In exchange, Syria agreed to replace the hated French by the British, and this was to be followed by Syrian/British operations to undermine the French in Lebanon. Finally as the Syrian-British alliance became stronger, Britain would turn over the Palestine Mandate to the Syrians, thus preventing the establishment of a Jewish State, and would also allow the Syrians to take over Jordan, where the British controlled the Arab Legion (with British Officers). Meanwhile they were preparing the Iraqi Government and the Gulf States, all of which Britain controlled, for a super Arab State combining Greater Syria with Greater Iraq, all under British influence. Note that the Churchill Conservative Govt. that ended in 1945 and the following Attlee Labor Government both adopted this policy.
However, there were of course counter-reactions to these secret British machinations. There was of course the French themselves, who having discovered the secret British plans trhu an informer, cemented their influence in Lebanon, and prevented a Syrian takeover, a process that is continuing to this day. Also, the French informed the Jews about the double-cross, and David Ben Gurion spent many months in Paris and then took action, not recommended by many of his advisors who knew nothing of this situation, both to open military operations against the British and to declare the State of Israel, since he knew then that Britain was doing all it could to prevent this.
The French also informed the Palestinians, and they stopped all collaboration with the Syrians at the time, although later the rejectionist front found its place in Damascus, where Syria continues to try to control the Palestinian movement. The Saudis were also against this British scheme, since it feared such a powerful Arab neighbor to the north. And finally the French informed the Americans and the Soviets.
The Americans had made it clear to the British before the end of WWII that they would not help to expand or support British control over other colonies/peoples after the War. Both the Americans and the Soviets opposed this British plan to "take over" Arab countries, and the US had a second reason because they did not want the British being as influential in the oil area in other parts of the Arab world as they were becoming in Saudi Arabia. This British scheme is one reason why the US and the USSR both supported the emergence of Israel.
In the end, with such powerful enemies, the British scheme to "take over" the Middle East failed. The Zionists were successful against British forces in establishing Israel, the French managed to stay in Lebanon for a while longer. The Syrian Government that had made the deal with Britain was overthrown by a coup, and the British themselves were too weak to continue to expand their imperial designs. So the Middle East was left to the Americans and the Soviets to make their schemes and alliances.
See the original article at:

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Continuing attacks

There was a suicide bombing in Israel Monday, at a shopping mall in the quiet southern city of Dimona. One woman was killed and 11 were injured. A second suicide bomber was shot and before he could detonate himself he was killed by an alert policeman who has been declared a hero. So although the bombing took place it was a lot less damaging than it might have been.
One of the bombers was from the PFLP and the other from the Fatah al Aksa Brigades in the West Bank. It has been claimed that one of the terrorists was from Gaza, who escaped into Sinai when the border was blown open and made his way across the open southern border between Sinai, Egypt and the Negev, Israel. If that is true it inaugurates a new danger for the Jewish State. But, there are already plans underway to finish 26 km of the security fence around the southern edge of Judea and to instal a fence along the Egyptian-Israel border starting at Eilat and Nitzana and gradually completing the 250 km border. This was already discussed by PM Sharon five years ago. Most countries have fences along their borders, and certainly the US is building long and high fences along parts of the Mexican-US border.
Although there has not been a successful suicide bombing in Israel for a year, during 2007 there were 29 documented bombing attempts according to Israel Govt. statistics. This afternoon a missile air strike on a car in northern Gaza killed a leader of the Public Resistance Committees and another terrorist, although it is not believed that this was in retaliation for the bombing in Israel.
There was also an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Noukouchott, Mauritania, a few days ago but no Israeli was harmed. The significance of this is that Mauritania is the only member of the Arab League besides Egypt and Jordan that has diplomatic ties with Israel, and this is certainly considered a dangerous precedent by the Islamists and pro-Palestinian extremists. This was, if you like, a warning from al Qaeda to other Arab League members not to establish diplomatic ties with Israel as the US would like them to. Fortunately, the culprits in this attack were captured as they tried to flee the capital and are in custody.
All this is happening while the Olmert Govt. is under pressure to respond to the very critical Winograd Committee Report on the Second Lebanon War. In fact, today Olmert was speaking to the Knesset in his own defense. His Coaltiuion voted 58-53 against the censure motion. It is hoped that the Govt. won't be so paralyzed that it can actually respond to these continuing attacks on Israeli sovereignty. If not it should resign.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tennis anyone

Today I went to the Tennis Center at Hod Hasharon to see Shachar Pe'er play Maria Sharapova in the women's Federation Cup competition of Israel vs. Russia.
Yesterday I watched on TV as Pe'er (#16 in the world) beat Dina Safina (9) two sets to one. In the first set it was as if Pe'er wasn't there, she played abysmally and lost the set 6-0. Everyone thought it was almost over. But, then gradually Pe'er started playing and raised her game and broke Safina's serve in the third game of the second set, and from then on Pe'er dominated and Safina made many unforced errors and Pe'er won the second and third sets 6-2 each. It was a great win for Israel and the crowd went wild!
In the next match Sharapova (5) steam-rolled Tzippy Obziler (83) 6-0, 6-4. Only at the very end did Obziler who is 34 years old (!) get a chance to play some good shots as Sharapova eased up slightly. Clearly it was a mistmatch, although both matches provided the crowd with exciting tennis, and the crowd at the Tennis Stadium in Israel is well known to be noisy and very involved in the match.
Well, today I must say that it was an exceptional experience actually being there in perfect weather, in the 70's with a cool breeze. We had great seats in the Tennis Center and it was amazing particularly to see Sharapova. She is a tall, slender, beautiful woman, who makes a strong impression and when she's playing, the power that goes into her strokes is quite exceptional. Pe'er played very well, and returned serves and strokes also with a lot of strength. But, she was unable to keep up with Sharapova who won 6-1 6-1. This was a great experience, the atmosphere being quite electric, with the crowd being very animated and the drums banging out their tattoo between rounds. They certainly wouldn't allow this kind of noise and performance in Wimbledon.
In the second game today, Obziler played Anna Chakvetadze (9) who is a young woman who only recently showed her ability. Her name is Georgian but she plays for Russia, and she replaced Safina, who probably was not feeling too good after being defeated by Pe'er yesterday. The two players were more closely matched than the first match, but after a strong start by Obziler, Chakvetzade's ability and youth took over and although she was upset by the noise she won 6-4 6-2. So overall, the Russians won this Federation Cup quarter finals by 4 games to 1 (they also won the doubles that we didn't see). Since Russia is the Federation Cup holder from 2007, this result was not unexpected, but it was great to see Israel's players out there competing and doing very well indeed.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Visit to Sderot

This is a letter describing a trip to Sderot from our local Conservative Shool in Netanya by my good friend and correspondent Walter Harris.

We went with a busload of folks from our synagogue on Jan 30 to Sderot to show our support and spend some money to give a little help to their economy. The experience was both moving and enlightening.
Our first stop was Kibbutz Nir Am which is located between Gaza and Sderot. We went to the fence separting the kibbutz from Palestinian territory less than a half mile from Gaza City. Many of the kassam rockets fired from Gaza fall short of their target in Sderot and land in the kibbutz. 80 families live in the kibbutz and we were told that all of the children are under psychological care. When a kassam is fired, an alarm sounds (called the red alert or seva adom) and they have 17 seconds to get shelter. There are no real shelters available so they try to find the most secure area they can. Along the road they have built small concrete shelters that look like an open 3 sided box about 3 feet high. They run to the shelter and crouch until the siren sounds all clear. Most of the families would like to leave but they can't afford to because no one wants to buy their homes or the businesses they have set up there. They earn their money mostly by agriculture but this has been a drought year and then the sudden unusual cold winter has hurt their crops. A factory produces cutlery and steel pots and pans and such and that is doing well because they sell to the army and commercial establishments but even then they can't sell the factory and the workers are scared of the kassams. No one has been killed as of this writing at this kibbutz and physical damage has been minimal but the psychological damage is extensive. The feeling is that the Gov't of Israel is not helping them. They can pinpoint the rocket fire and can respond with rockets of their own of much higher technical proficiency than any the Hamas have been firing but they are not allowed to do so. Why? The terrorists fire from congested areas such as behind a school or mosque and Israeli fire would probably kill many civilians subjecting Israel to condemnation for its response being disproportionate and collective punishment. The Israeli army used to respond to these kassam attacks by firing on empty fields and when they then started killing terrorists through air strikes and targeted assassinations these actions brought on more world condemnation. So what is Israel supposed to do in a war against an enemy pledged to its destruction? The world says that Israel is required to issue moral condemnations and to supply the enemy with free and open access to Israel and Egypt, to Israeli hospitals, food, oil, water, electricty and whatever the Gazans need. Imagine during WWII that the Allies were required to allow free shippping to German ships and supplied the Germans with all the supplies they wanted. No, you can't imagine that.
We then went to Sderot and were met by the deputy mayor. He told us of the experiences the people of Sderot were going through with kassams being fired almost daily and showed us homes that were damaged as a result. He took us to the main police station where kassam rocket fragments were stored, each marked by date and location of it's landing. After this, we went shopping to do a little to help the economy of Sderot. Of course it won't do much but the people at Kibbutz Nir Am and Sderot appreciated our coming and showing support. They told us that many people are afraid to come there. Actually, though we hadn't planned it, the weather was terrible and rockets are not generally fired during such bad weather so we were perfectly safe - wet but safe.
We have friends living in Ashkelon, only about 8-10 miles from Gaza, whose son attends Sapir college in Sderot. They previously expressed their concern for their son's safety. We now have a better understanding of their fears. I can tell you unequivocally that most of the Israeli people feel that we are being unfairly viewed by the rest of the world who are so concerned about the "poor Palestinians" and their suffering without understanding that there is an easy way to ease things for them. Stop the terrorist actions against Israel. Remember, before the Intifada, Palestinians had relatively free access to Israel, worked in large numbers in Israel, had few checkpoints and no wall or fence. Israel's actions against the terrorists have actually been reactions to terrorist attacks or planned attacks. Believe me the actions Israel has taken, such as the so called wall which is mostly fence, has reduced suicide bombings and terrorist attacks within Israel. The terrorist response has been the kassam rockets. Israelies will tell you that the government response has been too little and too late. Most, I think, would favor a mass invasion of Gaza to wipe out the Hamas and Islamic Jihad forces and destroy their entire infrastructure. Who knows, this still may happen.
I hope that this summary gives you an idea at least as to how some of us feel in Israel.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Egypt and Gaza

Egypt will never officially take control of Gaza. After the experience it had of Gaza between 1948-1967, when the Egyptians tried to control the Palestinians without notable success, they have left Israel holding the poisoned chalice, hoping that Israel will drink.
There is no possibility of a reconciliation between the Fatah and Hamas Parties, since each controls a part of the Palestinian homeland and will not give up control to the other. There is no way that Hamas, now controlling the border posts with Egypt will ever surrender control of them back to Fatah, and similarly there is no way that Fatah will accept the current situation. Therefore, there can be no compromise between them as ordered by the Egyptians. If that is the case, the Egyptians will have to take the step they have threatened of completely blocking the Egyptian-Gaza border, thereby becoming an accomplice of Israel in isolating Gaza. Egypt has very good reasons for doing this.
Although the Palestinian cause is very popular in Egypt and Hamas is considered a heroic organizatiion for continuing to bombard Israel, Mubarak will accept the unpopularity that will come with such a move. He cannot afford to have Hamas terrorists running around in Egypt, and particularly in Sinai where there are already Beduin terrorists and potential Israeli hostage victims. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood, the main anti-Western Islamist opposition to Mubarak, together with its daughter organization Hamas, might become too powerful for him to handle. The Egyptains have already arrested two groups comprising 15 men armed with guns and explosives leaving El Arish, and are seeking a further four more gunmen with plans to kill/kidnap Israeli tourists elsewhere in Sinai. This is of course only the beginning, the longer the border remains open the more terrorists will infiltrate Sinai and Egypt and the greater is the likelihood of incidents that will be bad both for Egypt and Israel.
Unfortunately, Israel did not take the opportunity of the open border with Egypt to completely blockade Gaza and put the onus on Egypt to supply electricity and food. Nevertheless this week the Israeli Supreme Court rejected appeals by two left-wing pro-Palestinain organizations, one Arab Israeli the other Jewish Israeli, and said that the reduction of supplies of energy and food to Gaza were justified under the laws of war. This allows the Government to proceed with its previously stated policies, if it wants to. Such a move, of reducing supplies to Gaza, may affect the Annapolis peace negotiations with Pres. Abbas, since he will want to show solidarity with the Palestinains in Gaza. But, he is unlikely to do anything drastic such as break off talks, since any such blockade will harm his main enemy, Hamas. However, today Hamas PM Haniyeh announced that Gaza wants in future to be dependent on Egypt and not on Israel. Strangely this coincides with Israeli policy, but certainly not with Egyptian policy.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Winograd Report III- positive aspects

For those not living in Israel it is hard to understand the significance of the Winograd Report. Although there have been similar enquiries before, such as the Agranat Commission after the initial debacle of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, none has had the scope and degree of criticism of the Government and IDF as this one.
But, although there are many negative conclusions in the Report of the 5-member Committee, the net result will hopefully be positive. There are two reasons for optimism. First, the IDF claims that it has already investigated itself and made major changes, both in the readiness of the troops (more and more intensive training) and in the functioning of the chain of command. They claim to have learned from their mistakes, always a good sign.
Second, the functioning of Israeli democracy, the readiness to investigate the faults of the system and deal with them. Very few societies can take this kind of stong internal scrutiny, and certainly there are no Arab States that could or would do this. To them it is a strange phenomenon, and unfortunately they take it as a sign of weakness.
PM Olmert has not taken the big hint and resigned, but he still has a majority of the Knesset in his Coalition, and so democratically he can continue in office. But, it is a big lesson to his successors, since in the long run this is what he will be remembered for, the PM who "fell" into the seat as a result of the illness of his predecessor and who screwed up royally and then refused to accept responsibility. No future PM will want to be daubed by the Olmert brush.
Although Olmert can continue to negotiate with the PA leadership under the Annapolis and Road Map agreements, nothing much can in fact come of it. He has just stated publicly that he will leave the status of Jerusalem until last, in order to preserve his coalition. Shas with 12 seats threatened to resign unless he did this. Also, Defense Minister Barak has staved off an attempt to oust him as Labor Party leader over his reversal of policy regarding resigning after the Winograd Report was presented. He knows that Labor with 19 seats is now very weak politically and needs time to recuperate.
The effects of the Winograd Report will take time, perhaps a long time, to see how the IDF and the organs of Government can recover from this indictment, in both a negative and positive way. Unfortunately we may not know until the next war.