Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Waiting for the Grads

Sitting here in my apartment in Netanya I feel secure and safe. But, in reality a rocket could shoot thru the window and kill us dead in an instant.
Yesterday three people were killed in a bombardment of 70 rockets from Gaza, one in Ashkelon (20 km from Gaza), one in Nahal Oz nearby and one in Ashdod (37 km). The woman killed in Ashdod was driving, but when the alarm sounded she got out of her car and sheltered at a bus stop, but a rocket hit nearby and she was killed by shrapnel, and several others were wounded. In Nahal Oz a Druse IDF officer was killed while he was on duty.
Tonight (Tuesday) for the first time rockets hit Beersheva, one landing in a kindergarten playground at night, so no one was hurt. Beersheva is 46 km from Gaza and that is where my daughter, son-in-law and our three grandchildren live. They must now shelter or be ready to run for cover if the siren sounds. A rocket also hit the Beduin town of Rahat neaby. With this extension of the rocket range that means that now ca. 1 million Israelis are within the range of random rocket attacks. Isn't this what the Operation in Gaza was intended to stop. we know it can't be done by aerial attacks alone, so now there must be a ground operation to stop teh rockets.
Since Netanya is 100 km from Gaza we are currently beyond the range of their rockets, but we know that they have longer range ones but so far they haven't used them, either because they have been destroyed in the Israeli bombing raids or because it takes too long to set them up and they fear detection by the Israeli satellites or drones. But, in principle it could happen.
We in the center of the country are far from Lebanon too, but the rockets fired from Lebanon in the 2006 Second Lebanon War managed to hit Hadera, only a few kms north of here. So we have been saved so far by the limited range of their rockets, not by their mercy. The fact is that Hizbollah have again amassed a supposed 40,000 rockets, some long range, and Hamas ca. 10,000, and what are they for? When the media reports that the people in Gaza are suffering from lack of supplies, etc. and Israel should supply them it makes me sick. If they spent their money on supplies for the people of Gaza rather than for rockets we wouldn't be in this whole terrible mess. But, that's the reality. We have to subsidize their purchases of rockets and other arms to use against us by supplying them with essential food and medical supplies (usually paid for by the UN or EU).
It is quite likely that unless Operation Cast Lead going on now in Gaza is successful, that in time they would have rockets to blanket the whole country. Then everyone would be terrorized, and the Zionist enterprise would be in jeopardy, i.e. Israelis would be terrorized and people would leave. This is of course without rockets from the West Bank and possible long range rockets from Iran until now. So far the PA under Pres. Abbas has managed to maintain control of the West Bank, with Israeli help, and Hamas is on the defensive there. Fortunately Abbas has come out against the use of rockets as indiscriminate weapons against civilian populations, which is in fact a war crime, although good leftists and liberals prefer to forget this (it's justified because of the "occupation").
It's clear that the constant barrage of rockets and mortars from Hamas in Gaza was intended to get the Israeli Government and public used to it, with occasional casualties and structural damage, then in time they would gradually increase the range. They figured that Israel would not now (with a caretaker Govt. and elections soon) take the risk of a counter-attack. After 8 years and the end of the period of "calm" they were finally wrong. Just as with Hizbollah in the north they discovered that Israel can react devastatingly once it's limit is reached. So for the moment Hamas also has to worry about a missile coming through the window.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


There is an interesting precedent for the situation between Israel and its two enemies, the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Once the country of Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan and West Pakistan is what we now call Pakistan. The two unequal portions of Pakistan were joined by their Muslim religion and their hatred of Hindu India from 1947 until 1971. But, as often happens, two discrete parts of one country cannot remain joined in perpituity. Not only were East and West Pakistan separated by distance (1,500 miles), but more importantly they were separated by language (Urdu in the West and Bengali in the East) but also by political and economic interests. The people in East Pakistan felt that they were being dictated to and exploited by their more powerful Western colleagues. This lead to demonstrations, political ferment and ultimately civil war. The armed forces of East Pakistan were no match for the forces of the main army of West Pakistan, but what made the difference is that India intervened on the side of the East Pakistanis and without Indian help in defeating the Pakistan army and providing economic aid, Bangladesh would not then have come into existence.
What relevance does this situation have for the Israel-Palestine conflict. In some ways the situation is reversed. The distance between the two halves of the Palestinians is much less in this case (only ca. 50 miles) but in a physically separated "country" distance really does not make much difference. Nor in the case of the West Bank and Gaza does the language make any difference, they both speak Arabic. But, the political differences are profound, Fatah of the PA has taken the fundamental (and supposedly irreversible) step of negotiating with Israel in a peace process, while Hamas totally rejects any contacts with Israel. Their stated policy is to destroy Israel and replace it with Palestine.
The crucial point here is that while both sides in the Pakistan-Bangladesh conflict hated India and regarded it as an enemy, when it came to a clash between themselves Bangladesh was glad to accept the help of India. Not only that, India had no territorial claim to Bangladesh, and indeed did not want to become responsible for 120 million poverty stricken Muslims.
The precedent then is that in this case, Fatah, while hating Israel, might well be prepared to accept Israeli help in order to overtake Hamas and rejoin Gaza to the PA. Now it's true that in the India case, the Eastern part of Pakistan wanted to be separate, while in the Palestinian case the West Bank wants to be rejoined with Gaza. While in the long run we cannot tell what will happen, nevertheless the use of a hated enemy, Israel, by one side, Fatah, to attain Palestinian national goals is not beyond the realm of possibility in the current situation.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Operation Cast lead

The world's response to Israel's counter-attack on Hamas in Gaza has been somewhat muted this time compared to past conflicts, for several reasons: (i) Hamas has few natural allies, mainly Hizbollah in Lebanon and Iran, most of the rest of the world including the Arab States, although they protest automatically on behalf of the Palestinians, would not shed a tear if Hamas were consigned to oblivion; (ii) Israel mounted a PR campaign in advance of the attack on Gaza that included taking all visitors (including Pres. elect Obama) to Sderot, having all Israeli Ambassadors contact the Governments they are assigned to and complaining about Hamas breaking the ceasefire and FM Tzipi Livni making a series of speeches that highlighted the problem, especially her "enough is enough" speech that caught world attention; (iii) even while the conflict is ongoing, Israel is allowing trucks (today 120) to enter Gaza thru the crossing points with food and medical aid, so that the claims that there is a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Gaza are factually unfounded.
Every time the IAF attacks anywhere the cry immediately goes up that civilians are being killed, and most news media emphasize the civilian casualties and ignore the military ones. So when they say that 51 civilians have been killed, they forget to mention that 250 Hamas operatives have been killed too, and they are the significant ones. It is understood in any aerial operation like this that the civilian casualties will be high, and for two reasons in this case, because Hamas has sited its security centers within civilian areas, using the locals as a human shield against Israeli attack and also Gaza is so densely populated that it is almost impossible to carry out military operations there without causing some collateral damage. But, the civilian casualties do not arise from deliberate Israeli tactics, as every Israeli commentator emphasizes. Fortunately, the vast majority of western audiences believe this and it is borne out by the ratio of military to civilian casualties (although we don't really know the extent of casualties since they mainly come from Hamas sources).
Also, the aim of the operation is to stop all rocket and mortar attacks by terrorists into Israel, but today ca. 50 rockets were fired into Israel, several Grad (longer range) missiles hit Ashkleon and one man was killed and ca. 15 injured. Ironically the man killed was an Israeli Arab working on a building site who did not make it into the shelter in time. This highlights the difference between the Israeli and Hamas attacks, the Israeli ones are targeted against military targets while the Hamas rockets are indiscriminate, intending to cause civilian casualties and they don't distinguish between Jew and Arab. Around Gaza the Israeli population of ca. 250,000 are spending a lot of time in underground shelters, and there will be no schools open for the time being, all children will be kept in shelters with special tuition and TV programs. Most countries in the world would not stand for this kind of bombardment for one day let alone 8 years, Israel has in fact been incredibly restrained, and now is finally the time to act!
The main aim of this Operation is to stop all hostile acts from Gaza. In that case, since the very raison d'etre of Hamas is to destroy Israel, it seems there will have to be a ground war, since clearly the rockets are continuing. How this will be mounted and how things will play out remains to be seen. PA Pres. Abbas in Ramallah has publicly crtiticized Hamas and stated that this Israeli Operation would not have been necessary if they had renegotiated a ceasefire with Israel as he and Pres. Mubarak of Egypt wanted. The ideal outcome would be if Hamas is trounced sufficiently so that Abbas and Fatah can re-establish the PA in Gaza. Although they won't like being aided by Israel, they would probably be grateful to have the opportunity to overcome the schism within the Palestinian people. But, that is wishful thinking, while on the other hand Israel has no intention to re-occupy Gaza for the long term and so any clear outcome of Operation Cast Lead is not foreseeable.

BBC bias

On Christmas Day I drove to the Hebrew University Hadassah campus in Jerusalem where I work part-time. While driving I listen to the BBC Foreign Service in English. I was struck by the fact that during that time, taken at random, incredibly I heard four programs about the Palestinians!
The first program was not surprisingly about Bethlehem, about the poor Palestinians there suffering from economic deprivation because the tourists aren't coming. But, one enterprising restauranteur has come up with a novel way of advertising, he has written ads on the Israeli security Wall that divides Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and has also written his menu on the Wall across from his restaurant. So in this way he has reduced the terrible Wall put up by the Israelis to a practical use. Of course, there was no word about terrorism (or is it "militancy"), nothing about the intifada that caused the dip in tourism to Bethlehem since 2000, and nothing about the Israeli lives saved by the "Wall" keeping the terrorists (sorry "militants") out of Jewish Jerusalem.
Then there was a program about Israeli and Palestinian youths brought together for a "peace" experience in Belgium. They interviewed the participants from Jerusalem and Hebron, and the response was pretty uniform, both the Arabs and Israelis said that the others were really nice people and they could live together, as long as they avoided certain topics. But, when they returned home after the meeting, things went pretty much back to what they were before on the ground, and e-mail communications between them degenerated into politcal name calling. This program was more balanced in that neither side was blamed for the circumstances (it's the Governments' fault).
One program amounted to pure pro-Palestinian propaganda, in which four Palestinians from different places and different economic levels were interviewed about being "exiles" (are there no other exiles in the world?) There were two Jordanians, one young man from a "refugee" camp in Jordan and another a former Minister in a Jordanian Government. The former said that he was glad that the camp was being improved and built-up, while the latter, while admitting that he could hardly complain about being Palestinian as he was a Jordanian citizen (as are all Palestinians in Jordan), and was economically successful, nevertheless he missed the original run-down camp where the refugees really remembered that they were Palestinians. One of the others was a successsful woman artist in the Gulf States, who was ideologically committed to recovering Palestine, and the fourth was an old lady who still kept the key to her house in Jaffa, and was upset that she was not receiving rent from the man who had rented it from her before 1948, but then she couldn't remember where the key was. Of course, there was no mention of the war in 1948 that the Arabs initiated, nor of the many wars since then. My overall impression was that these people are living a "second life," like a fantasy or cyber life, that has nothing to do with reality.
Finally, there was a discussion program with three writers, one South African half-black, one Scottish and one Palestinian. Of course, they asked the Palestinian about the best Arabic books published in 2008, and he told about a book that uses horses as a metaphor for the conflict with Israel. I wondered why they chose a Palestinian, whose native language is not English, out of all the world of authors.
Any one of these programs might be considered reasonable, and even two might be considered understandable, but four (!) programs including Palestinians within a 3 or so hour period (one and a half hours each way) is clearly excessive and beyond coincidence. During this period there were no programs about Jews, Israelis, Russians, French, Peruvians, Americans, Indians, etc. etc...What is this British liberal obsession with the Palestinians, they aren't important in terms of actual contributions to the world, they are still mainly unsuccessful refugees after 60 years (maybe that's unique), they aren't even pleasant, but very militant and in fact very violent (although this was never mentioned). I don't know how much this is costing someone, but clearly the programming of the BCC has been hijacked by pro-Palestinian elements. Don't believe anything you hear on the BBC, it's been co-opted!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


History is replete with military campaigns that stopped short of an achievable goal of defeating the enemy. A few examples:
In 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caught the US completely by surprise, there was no effective defense and if the US aircraft carriers had been in dock it is unlikely that the US would ever have recovered (since the carriers were the basis of the subsequent US victory at Midway). But, the Japanese military did not invade the Hawaiin Islands, nor did they attack the undefended American mainland. If they had followed up their successful air attack who knows how far they could have gone, and they could at least have prevented a US counter-attack.
In the first Gulf War, Kuwait had been recovered by the defeat of the Iraqi forces, and some of the Iraqi Army had retreated beyond Basra. At that point Pres. George Bush declared a halt to the US advance and let them survive. Saddam Hussein then used them to decimate the southern Shia and the northern Kurds, who had cooperated with the US forces to remove him from office. Who knows what would have happened if the US forces had then defeated the rest of Saddam's already retreating Army and had joined forces with the Shia and the Kurds. Instead both of these groups were left by the Americans at Saddam's mercy (the US even allowed the Iraqis to use helicopters against them). So consequently, the second Iraqi war would have been unecessary, and when the Americans came back to remove Saddam from power, they found the Shia and Kurds not surprisingly unwilling to cooperate, and the USA forces also had to overcome a refurbished and entrenched Iraqi Army all over again.
These blunders are a lesson for the IDF in Gaza. They have hit Hamas hard, thru the use of intelligence gathered over years, of the locations of all Hamas security and army camps as well as major facilities for storing and manufacturing Kassam missiles. These were all destroyed in two waves of fighters on Saturday. Never mind the media emphasis on civilian casualties, most of the casualties were in any case military men, but that is not the main point, the ability of Hamas to control the Gaza strip has been dealt a severe blow.
But, they have an estimated 20,000 armed men, trained by Iranian Guards. But, without command and control they would now be unable to mount an effective defense. It is clear that Hamas will never "surrender" to Israeli dictates, for example for a ceasefire, and so they will continue firing rockets and planning suicide attacks against Israel. In order to defeat them completely, the IDF must invade and destroy their armed resistance. Anything less will be considered a victory for them.
Effective follow-up need not be an invasion directly along the main roads into Gaza, that in any case have certainly been mined for such an eventuality. The IDF should first occupy the regions in front of the main cities in the north to take the areas from where rockets are fired at Israel and prevent further firings. Then the coastal strip should be occupied by paratroopers and a few tank columns that cross the strip east to west. Then the main towns and cities should be surrounded and then attacked one by one. Certainly this will be difficult and there will be Israeli casualties, but the alternative is to sit on the border and let Hamas re-organize itself and be a stronger enemy in future attacks. Now that the groundwork has been laid, the job must be finished, unlike in Lebanon in 2006, when the initial huge aerial attack was not followed up until too late and the IDF was caught disorganized and unprepared.
Finally, it is reported in the Jerusalem Post that officials in the PA Government in Ramallah have said that they would be prepared to take over control of the Gaza strip from Hamas if they were totally defeated. This is Israel doing Fatah's dirty work, but the name of the game is to remove Hamas as a player in the field, and even though Pres. Abbas has come out publicly against the Israeli action and there are anti-Israel riots going on in the West Bank, nevertheless the Fatah loyalists in Gaza have been told to stay in their places ready to act once Israel's war against Hamas is over. So that is an achieveable goal, destroy Hamas' control of Gaza and allow the PA-Fatah forces to take over and replace them. Then the future might look brighter.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Enough is enough!

"We do not for one moment accept the existence of such a way of life here in which we must live entrenched in shelters in order to defend ourselves from our enemies." PM Ehud Olmert in Sderot 9/12/08

"Hamas needs to understand that our aspiration to live in peace doesn't mean that Israel is going to take this kind of situation any longer. Enough is enough!" FM Tzipi Livni, Cairo 25/12/08

"Don't let Hamas, which is acting against the values of Islam, put you in danger. Stop them. Stop your enemies and ours....I will not hesitate to use Israel's might to strike Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad. How? I will not go into details." PM Ehud Olmert El Arabiya TV interview 25/12/08

During the so-called ceasefire (tardiyah) between July and Dec 18, 2008, Palestinians fired 325 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Southern Israel. After the ceasefire the rate of firings increased, with ca. 130 being fired in the last two days (Thurs, Fri). It was clear from their actions and words that the Hamas leadership in Gaza did not expect the Israeli Government to actually act on its warnings. Hamas had angered Pres. Mubarak of Egypt, by not attending a meeting he had arranged with the PA Fatah leadership from the West Bank, and also by ignoring his appeals to continue the ceasefire with Israel. As a consequence his meeting a few days ago with FM Tzipi Livni in Cairo was a signal to Israel and Hamas that he would not oppose a "limited" Israeli response to the continued attacks from Hamas in Gaza.
While it is true that few Israelis were killed in the rocket/mortar attacks from Gaza, nevertheless southern Israel was terrorized by this bombardment, and major Israeli cities, Ashkelon and Ashdod, were coming into the range of rocket attacks. Ironically yesterday two Palestinian girls were killed in Gaza when a rocket went astray and hit a nearby house, showing how potentially devastating such a rocket barrage can be.
The major justification given by Hamas for continuing the attacks on Israel was the "blockade" of Gaza by Israel and the closing of its borders to humanitarian aid, food and energy supplies. However, this is not true, since Israel has continued to supply these essentials into Gaza to avoid such a humanitarian catastrophe, as claimed by the UN. In fact, although life in Gaza has certainly not been pleasant, with 75% of its electrical needs being supplied by the Israeli and Egyptain grids, and with adequate supplies being sent in by Israel and smuggled (with Egyptian connivance) thru the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, there is no actual shortage of food in Gaza. In fact, yesterday, on the orders of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, 120 truck loads of food and supplies were allowed to enter Gaza from Israel. So that while 70 rockets went from Gaza to Israel, 120 trucks of food went from Israel to Gaza. This is a ridiculous situation, and hence the final warnings from PM Olmert and FM Livni in the past two days have now been carried out.
Today (shabbat) planes of the IAF hit ca. 30 sites in the Gaza strip consisting mostly of police stations and Hamas security forces centers in many towns. It is estimated that there are ca. 150 dead and 450 injured. This is a grim warning to Hamas to stop the rockets launched on southern Israel. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this will stop the rocket barrage, as found in the second Lebanon War. In fact, further rocket attacks into Israel today are reported to have killed one Israeli in Netivot. Although Pres. Peres said that the IDF will not enter Gaza, in the final analysis this will be the only way to stop the bombardment.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Bessarabian Sextet

On Wednesday night, despite the heavy rain, we went to a concert of the "Bessarabian Sextet" at the Shearim Hall in Netanya. It was great!
They played all kinds of Eastern European music. Bessarabia was the old name for part of what is now Moldova, that was originally a part of Romania. It was taken over by Russia in 1941 and became a part of the USSR until the fall of Communism in 1991 when it became independent. The Moldovans speak Romanian and Russian. The group played Klezmer and music from Romania, Hungary, Macedonia, Greece and Russia. The combination of an accordian and a clarinet with the violins and other strings and the fast complex rhythms of Hungary and Romania was wonderful.
The accordionist is named Emil Eibinder and his playing of the accordian was like nothing we had heard before, he played with virtuosity. He comes from Kishinev, famous for the pogrom of 1903 that resulted in mass emigration of Jews from the Russian Empire, where he studied music. He was tall and had a strong gaunt face, gold rimmed glasses and was dressed all in black with a grey homberg hat with a black band around it. When he played he was hypnotic, as if in a trance, with his long expressive fingers like spiders crawling over the keyboard. It was an amazing show. He came to Israel in 1990 and since then has been mainly in Jerusalem, where he organized musical groups and won the Ministry of Culture's award for music performers in 2002. His current group consists mainly of players from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the clarinetist Michael Gorodetsky was also excellent. All six of them come from Bessarabia. We bought some CDs but they lack the vibrancy one gets from the actual performance. The accordionist stamped his foot, especially at the end and it was incredibly climactic.
I had a vision of him playing his accordion around a campfire with gypsies at night during WWII. I don't know why exactly I thought of this, but it must have been the Eastern European ambiance. We have such talented people here, I doubt that you could see such a special show of such a standard almost anywhere else. Wow, I hope they invite the group back again, I'd go in a hearbeat.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Seventy rockets and numerous mortars were fired from Gaza into Israel today. This represents a minor escalation by Hamas and the other terrorist groups over their 8-a day average. Although no-one was killed there were some narrow escapes, a girl's bed was hit, but she was not in it at the time. The main concern now is that Hamas has rockets capable of hitting Ahskelon and Ashdod, two major Israeli cities, as well as Sderot, and for the first time there was a rocket drill in Ashdod.
Tomorrow, Thursday, FM Tzipi Livni is invited to meet with Pres. Mubarak of Egypt in Sharm-al-Sheikh. Apparently he wants to tell her that while he is angry at Hamas for not agreeing to a continuation of the temporary ceasefire (tardiyah or calm) that ended a few days ago, and he is angry at them for jeopardizing a unity Govt. with Pres. Abbas of Fatah, he does not want Israel to mount a major campaign into Gaza. Who cares what he wants now. He has tried to get Hamas to continue the ceasefire, but frankly because Israel has been so weak in its responses to Hamas attacks, they are empowered to continue them and they expect no major Israeli response, their propaganda is that Israel is currently weak, with a caretaker Govt. of Olmert, who anyway is a wimp, and Defense Minister Barak, who is an equivocator who believes in restraint, so that they can get away with these escalations without fear.
Thursday the Cabinet met and gave the IDF approval to take counter actions to the barrage of rockets. Actually the IDF already has the authority to respond to attacks, but the problem is that they don't want to attack while Livni is meeting with Mubarak, because that looks like thumbing their noses at him, and they won't want to attack just after the meeting because that looks like he gave Israel the go-ahead. So there is always an excuse not to act.
Since Iran is the power behind Hamas in Gaza, and has trained all their gunmen, the Iranian al Quds force has probably given the orders for this escalation to take attention away from the Iranian nuclear program and to exploit the weakness of the Israel Govt. If the IDF does not respond in a strong way they will lose all credibility and it will merely invite more attacks, greater escalation and longer range rockets being fired at Israeli cities further away, such as Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport. We have reached a watershed, either the IDF counter-attacks now or our defense deterrence will be lost forever.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Prenostalgia is defined as nostalgia for something that occured before you were born. How is it possible to be nostagic for something that you never actually experienced yourself? But, it is a common thing.
When I work in my studio I run my iPod thru some speakers and so I listen to music I choose. Usually I like classical music, but every now and then I grow nostalgic and play Frank Sinatra, or I become prenostalgic and play WWII music, of which I have a collection, the Andrew Sisters, the Ink Spots, Dick Haymes, Glen Miller, all wonderful stuff. Technically I was alive during this time, but I was a toddler.
I remember when our daughter Miriam was in her teens and she loved the 1960's, she was only a child then, but she had a thing about it, I suppose it appealed to her natural rebelliousness. Now you would hardly know that, she grew up and matured. Now she is going thru the same thing with her own daughter.
Everyone seems to pick up nostalgia from their parents, so that I remember listening to the song "jeolousy" that my mother loved, and "besame mucho" and "Brazil" and the "jungle music" of Duke Ellington. It's difficult to explain this prenostalgia. Maybe we hanker for an era before our own time that seems sophisticated and safe, although it certainly wasn't. Our lives have improved, what with the advances of science and the defeat of the twin evils of fascism and communism. But, now we have the scourge of militant Islamism, with its suicide bombings and mass murders. In comparison to this grim reality for some the past seems like a comforting shelter

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Today I saw something that would not only have been impossible, but would have been inconceivable, a mere 60 years ago, a Hanukkiah at the Brandenburg Gate! I don't care whether or not the miracle of Hanukah was true or not, but it's our Jewish symbol, and it was set up in a place that was the symbol of the Nazi regime and of German nationalism. Certainly we as Jews suffered a terrible price as a result of the hatred of the Germans and most Europeans, but now they are all peace-loving, and if not philo-Semitic at least not so anti-Semitic that they would prevent such public displays of Jewish existence right in their core. Even the Polish President visited the Synagogue in Warsaw and there was also a Hanukkiah near Red Square in Moscow. What has the world become? It's not the coming of the Messiah yet, but the protents are there!
The case of Bernard Madoff, the NY banker behind the b$50 Ponzi scheme that defrauded many public figures and institutions, reminds me of the book "David Golder" by Irene Nemirovsky. Although Nemirovsky was Jewish, this book about a money-grubbing, immoral and fraudulent banker is thoroughly anti-Semitic, and in fact was used by the Nazis for propaganda. If the web had not shown an increase in anti-Semitic comments after the Madoff affair wouldn't we have been surprised? Yet, so far it has not led to pogroms in Kishinev, riots in Vienna, demonstrations in Berlin, or even placards in New York. Now anti-Semitism is there, but not overt and not violent. How long that will be remains to be seen.
Meanwhile the Arabs in Gaza continue to laugh at us, as Muhammed said to Ahmed, "you owe me another 10 shekels, Barak said 'we will not stand for these rocket attacks' again, for the 20th time!" The use of Jewish power is the only thing that ensures our existence here, and for power to be effective it must be credible. Unfortunately we have lost all deterrent capability, and the world believes the Hamas PR campaign when they show empty warehouses and say they are starving, when there is ample food smuggled thru the tunnels from Egypt and when they burn candles when they have plenty of electricity (75% of their needs supplied by the grids of Israel and Egypt). People don't realize that since western journalists cannot enter Gaza, all reporting from there is done by Palestinaian "stringers" who are controlled by Hamas, so you are reading the news Hamas wants you to read and the western press has no concern about printing it (they agree with it)!
These are all portents of things to come. Ultimately Israel must use its power not only because of the shelling of Israeli territory, but Jewish/Israeli morale requires it. If we can have Hanukkiahs in Berlin and Moscow, what are we patsies, who stand by while they launch hundreds of rockets at us.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Implications of Hanukah

It's now Hanukah for the next eight days. One interesting thing about Hanukah is that there is nothing about it in the Hebrew Bible. Strangely the Books of The Maccabees (there are 4 of them but only 2 are included) are found exclusively in the Catholic Bible (they are in the Apocrypha in the Protestant Bible). But, even in those Books nothing is mentioned about a miracle of the burning of one lamp's worth of oil for the whole 8 days. By the way, it took Solomon 8 days to cleanse and dedicate the first Temple.
So where does it come from this miracle and this Jewish festival? Clearly the defeat of the Seleucid Syrian Greeks in ca. 165 bce by Judah Maccabee (his name means "hammer") and his Jewish army, who defeated the armies of this pagan Empire over and over again against great odds, and then captured Jerusalem and cleansed and rededicated the Temple, was a story of great spiritual as well as historical meaning and seemed like a miracle. But, for some reason the Rabbis did not add it to the older canonical Bible that had been compiled mostly by the Prophet Ezra when he returned from the Babylonian exile around ca. 538 bce. Perhaps the tale of Jewish fighting and so much blood was not considered appropriate for the Bible, or more likely it was too new then to be simply added, not "holy" enough.
But, the Church fathers in the time of the converted Emperor Constantine in ca. 300 ce , when they came to compile the Christian Bible decided that the Book of Maccabees would be added to their version of the Old Testament. The reasons are quite obvious. The Christians had been fighting against a similarly oppressive Empire, the Roman one, and they saw the fight for religious freedom as a basic tenet of their faith. Further, it is debatable whether or not Jesus Christ would have existed historically or carried out his mission or St. Paul would have spread the word of that mission thru the Roman Empire, if the Maccabees had not successfully defeated the Seleucids and ensured the continuation of Judaism and monotheism. For Christianity it was an act of faith that the struggle and success of the Maccabees was a prelude to their Messiah's story. In other words, no Christmas without Hanukah!
We do not know whether or not Judah Maccabee was regarded as a Messiah by his own people in his day. But, his military capabilities were obviously of a high order, and there are stories in the Book of Maccabees of angels sent by God coming to his aid in battle. Sometime between 165 bce and around 200 ce the story of the miracle was apparently adopted by the Rabbis as an appropriate way to commemorate the festival of lights, religious freedom and the rededication of the Temple.
Unfortunately, the Romans would not tolerate an independent Jewish State in its Empire, and so they sent their legions that crushed the Jewish revolt and from 70 ce Jewish sovereignty ceased for 1,878 years, until the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948.
But, while Jewish independence in this land was crushed, its offshoot Christianity bored deep into the heart of Roman culture, until its Emperors too adopted it. Then they stopped all repression against Christians, but not against Jews, that continued unabated from the pagan to the Christian Roman Empire. They seemed to have forgotten the message of the Maccabees and of Jesus himself.
In my opinion, it is a great pity that the Book of Maccabees was not included in the Jewish Bible and did not become more familiar to all Jews. Because it tells an epic story of Jewish resistance against great odds to achieve Jewish independence and religious freedom. Who knows if it had been included, maybe there would have been greater resistance in the past to the many repressions against the Jews by Christians and Muslims. But, then again, at least the festival of Hanukah was born that has enlightened our way for centuries.
Happy Hanukah to all my readers!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Here are the comments I made at my Art Exhibit at the Communities Art Gallery in Netanya on Dec. 15. 2008. The exhibit will continue for about a month, so anyone can walk in and see the exhibit during the day (10 am-8 pm, Sun-Thurs)

I am an observant Jew! I notice everything. Some of the things that fascinate me are reflections and shadows. They obey well-known laws of light, yet they are ephemeral and insubstantial. If taken in isolation they look unusual and even abstract. Many of my paintings are about these effects, reflections and shadows.

In its English meaning, “visualization” means not only actually seeing something, but also imagining what it might be. Within this context I include my paintings that are about the play of light and dark and also those that include the fabulous flying creatures that I have envisaged and painted.

The set of three such paintings based on the three categories of flying creatures started with my fascination with masks and the fact that the North American Indians use highly stylized masks in their rituals. I did a painting based on the mythical NW American Indian creature, the Thunderbird. I then did another based on a bat and a butterfly with the motif of van Gogh’s eyes. There is no rational explanation for these paintings, but they pleased me.

I also include in this show several drip paintings that were inspired by Jackson Pollock’s statement, ”I fight the random.” They are based on scientific formulae, the titles of which, “titration” “lemniscate” and “hysteresis” are real physical phenomena that are known to physicists and are represented creatively.

My paintings of shadows and reflections can be seen as a way to use painting to record aspects of ordinary experience that are not concrete and not readily photographable. In the era of digital photography it seems pointless to paint what is better represented graphically by a photograph. By focusing on shadows and reflections that are time-dependent, one can paint a version of reality that is nevertheless sometimes quite abstract.

To see my paintings go to: where I have inserted a new section on this latest exhibit.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Novel solution

Thursday I gave my talk at AACI on "Who wrote the Bible?" based on the book of the same name by Richard E. Friedman. I'm glad to say there was no disruption, the person who threatened to do so did not show up. There was a large audience of supporters, and the talk went over very well. I wrote a review of this book on 3rd March, 2007, that is in my archived blog files, upon which my talk was based. If anyone wants the written version please write to me and I'll be glad to send it. For all those who would like to access my blog called Isblog and read earlier entries, the address is: this can be saved as a favorite and then retrieved at leisure. Anyway, after preparing for this lecture for weeks, I can now relax and get back to my usual lazy routine.

Last week, in conversation with my friend Eddie Bielowsky, we were as usual solving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Eddie is a cynical realist and we agreed that Israel cannot kill all the Palestinians, it's not considered nice (only Balkan and African nations can get away with this nowadays). Neither can we expel/transfer them because that contravenes some human rights Geneva convention or other. Then Eddie came up with a novel inisight that could really solve the conflict, with or without Annapolis. The idea is to convert all the Arabs to Jews, and then they can be transferred. No-one objects to Jews being transferred, least of all the Israel Govt., nor the US, EU or UN. Since the solution being proposed by the powers that be, the Quartet, includes the abolition of all Jewish settlements, requiring transfer of all Jewish settlers, then no-one could object to this solution.
The Israeli Govt., to international acclaim, withdrew all settlers and forces from Gaza and transferred ca. 8,000 Jews, and everyone thought that was great, even though the situation after that became worse and Hamas moved their rocket launchers into the areas that Israel evacuated. Now they bombard us on a daily basis (25 rockets in the past few days) and the IDF does nothing because of the so-called "restraint" policy of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, which in reality is no policy at all. Tomorrow the so-called ceasefire is due to expire, but in fact there has been no ceasefire on the Arab side for weeks.
So let's get the Rabbis to come up with a process/ritual that will transform all Muslims in Gaza and in Israel into Jews. Since apostasy it is an offense punishable by death for Muslims, that means that we can leave them for their fellow Muslims to kill, or we can transfer them out of Gaza/Israel without any respercussions. So give out the good word, mass conversions instead of military response, who could be against that?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Car debt

When I first emigrated to the USA in 1966 I bought a second-hand Rambler car for the princely sum of $250. It was great, but it stopped dead in cold weather (I had to get out and manually pump the fuel). Subsequently when I had a proper job I bought a new Dodge Dart which was a Chrysler product. This car had a chronic carburettor problem and it kept stalling. When it stalled in traffic it could be very frightening. When we complained to the dealer about this, my wife was told that she couldn't drive and I was given a runaround. So I bought a Chevy station wagon, but although that seemed a good car, I was still messed around by the dealer. Once when I took it in for a routine service, they kept it for 3 days and then told me that they couldn't find it! (this was very upsetting because my mother was visiting on vacation and my wife needed it to get to her job and she was fired). I believe they were using it for people to drive around in. I threatened to go to the police and then it soon reappeared.
As a result of these and other experiences I decided to shift to Japanese cars. Since then I have had a series of Toyotas and have never had a moment's trouble (except when one of them finally died). There was a totally different attitude. They obviously tried for total reliability, and when I had a problem they listened to me and corrected it, no messing around. I would never buy an American car again, and I understand why the American car industry is in such trouble.
The question arises, since they haven't moved with the times, they haven't put the customer first, and they haven't innovated, why should they be bailed out. The fact is that there are three big ones, GM, Ford and Chrysler. It strikes me as ridiculous for the US Govt to use the people's money to save all three of these dinosaurs, why not be selective. I would suggest a quick study of their sales and level of innovation (do they have an electric or hybrid car near production?) and then select the best one, the one most likely to survive, then subsidize that one (with guarenteed loans) and let the others go bankrupt. It's true that there will be unemployment as a result of this, but that's the capitalist system. This is not a new idea, in dealing with the Stock Market, the Govt. has subsidized AIG to the tune of b$112 (!) but allowed Lehman Bros. to go under.
I believe in Keynesian Government intervention in the market to avoid crashes, I believe in saving certain companies that are critical to the country's future. But, its lucky that no-one wanted to save the whale oil industry in New England in the 1880's or the horse and buggy in the 1920s. Let the market work, otherwise you have not Govt. intervention but Govt. control, otherwise known as socialism, that is open to great corruption. Already you have the Senators from the motor states (e.g. Michigan) practically serving as employees of the big three auto manufacturers. As far as I am concerned, let them sink or swim.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Taking risks

Taking risksYou are all probably aware of the tragic bus crash on Tuesday near Eilat that killed 25 Russians. It was a tour by travel agents from St. Petersburg looking to see Eilat and how to develop tourism there. Now it has all gone terribly wrong.
Apparently two buses that were taking the Russians from the Uvda airport to nearby Eilat were racing to see who could get there first. The roads there are treacherous, yet time and gain Israeli drivers, including buses take the bends too fast. It appears that this 38 year old driver had 22 former traffic violations. It should be agaisnst the law to employ such a person driving others, yet in Israel, although the laws are often good, there is little enforcement, and time and again there are tragic road accidents where people are killed. This year the rate is more than one person killed a day, and last week there were 10 killed on the roads. It is a devastating fact in a country that supposedly values human life.
It is difficult to explain it, and it is generally not the roads that have been worked on for years and are becoming increasingly better. I put it down to the tendency for Israelis to take risks, to go faster than is safe, to beat the odds. I think this is also a Jewish trait. One correlation is the tendency for Jews to take risks in business, to establish companies that might fail. Japanese and Germans are well known to be risk-averse, and Americans are much more likely to be prepared to take risks, and particualrly Jews. So it is a double-edged sword, taking risks makes Israelis good soldiers, but bad drivers.
The current economic crisis has been exacerbated by the failure of an illegal "Ponzi" scheme by Bernard Madoff, head of an investment firm that guaranteed a 12% profit, that turned out to be a fruad. He was taking from new investors to pay older ones. This type of scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, a New England man in the 1920s who defrauded many people in this way. The fact that Madoff is Jewish might lead to great anti-Semitism, but the fact is that also most of the victims who lost money in his scheme were Jewish, including many Jewish charities such as Yeshiva University, where he was in charge of investments! Hopefully he will go to jail, so unfortunately this tendencey to take risks can get Jews in a lot of trouble

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Barack and Bibi?

The question is already being asked, now that Pres. Obama is due to take over in the USA in January and Bibi Netanyahu is expected to win the Israeli election in February, how will Barack and Bibi get along? Bear in mind that Obama is from the left of the US political spectrum and Bibi is from the right of the Israeli one.
For me this is the ideal combination. I trust someone from the right to represent Israel's interests and not to bend as easily as someone from the left with the pressure that is always being placed on Israeli Governments by the US. Since Obama is of the left, he has emphasized in his campaign that he intends to "talk" to America's enemies, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, etc. While this may not do much good, it will give him perhaps a good dose of reality. For example, Former Pres. Carter just went to Lebanon and wanted to talk to the leaders of Hizbollah, but they rejected him, saying that they have no interest in talking to any American whose Govt. supports the Zionist enemy. But, apart from the futility of this, it will also give Obama and Secty. of State Clinton a good chance to assess the possibilities of "improving the image of the US abroad." The left are always very concerned with what others think of them and don't like to be disliked. As one Clintonite wrote recently "no more of this 'are you with us or against us philosophy.'" So they will be aiming for a more nuanced approach with shades of grey rather than black or white. Unfortunately, when dealing with terrorism there is little place for shades of grey. Let's hope they will learn this early.
Also, let's hope they learn that the Israel-Arab dispute is not the basis of everything. The situation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir for example, is far more dangerous and explosive, since both have atomic weapons, and this has nothing to do with the Middle East conflict. Also, the drive of Islamism is far more dangerous than other issues and cannot be ameliorated by placating the Palestinians. Once they grasp these two basics, that the terrorist supporting nations are the enemy and the Israel-Palestine conflict is not as important as Arab propaganda tries to make out it is, then they may be able to develop a useful approach to foreign policy. When they do, they will find Israel under Netanyahu as a crucial and strong ally in the Middle East.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Likud list

The post-primary modifications in the Likud list of candidates for the Knesset election decided by Likud Chairman Netanyahu last week has caused a lot of comment. Actually, the changes were decided by the Likud Court based on the following fact, several places were reserved for women on the list to ensure their participation in the Party. But, actually the top women got more votes than needed for the slots assigned to them, so that actually they would have been in higher slots than those allotted for them. The Court agreed that this was inappropriate and moved the women candidates to their actual places on the list according to their votes. Then they moved the other candidates assigned specific slots, local representatives and new immigrants, into those previously alloted slots for women. This caused other candidates below the women to be pushed down the list, and of course this included Moshe Feiglin (from 20 to 36) and his two main supporters, Michael Ratzbon (to 37) and Ehud Ratom (to 38)
Although Feiglin announced that he would not contend this change, his two associates have brought an appeal to the Court against the changes. Whether Feiglin's charge that the Court is "left-wing" and controlled by Netanyahu will make any difference is not known. Whether this change will be considered as Netanyahu throwing his weight around or merely a justified act by the Party remains to be seen. As of now, it does not seem to have hurt the standing of Likud, although some accuse Likud of having gone too far to the right, but this reduction in the Feiglin group's positions should diminish that accusation.
After all that, the Likud is now expected to announce the merger with a small right-wing party called Tzomet, that got 8 mandates in the last election. Since the candidates of Tzomet must be included into the Likud list, it is expected that Netanyahu will, by adding them, cause the Feiglin group to be even lower on the list and to be reduced to unrealistic positions for being elected. All this is politics as usual in Israel.
The Kadima Party is going to have its Primary this week, and there is negative reaction in the Party to Leader Tzipi Livni's comments the other day that as part of an agreement with the Palestinians, Israeli Arabs would be able to satisfy their "national aspirations" in a Palestinian State. This has been interpreted as Livni having a policy of somehow transferring the Israeli Arabs to any future Palestinian State. This caused an uproar among Israeli Arab representatives, who although not vowing their adherence to the Israeli State, nevertheless oppose any change in their status. It has been suggested that this "right-wing" opinion of Livni will lose her votes among centrist and leftist voters. But, it has also been intepreted as a ploy by her to compete with Likud for some right-wing voters. So we are already into the campaign season.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Israel and Haiti

On the face of it, Israel and Haiti might not seem to have anything in common. Israel is rich and predominantly white, Haiti is poor and predominantly black. It is true that both Israel and Haiti have about the same population (7.5 million) and size, but the similarities would seem to end there. However, in a much more basic sense Israel and Haiti share a common feature, they are two countries that fought for their independence against incredible odds and won.
Haiti was the first black republic, in fact it was the first place in the world where black slaves revolted and defeated the armies of imperial powers, both France and Britain. In 1791, Toussaint Louverture took charge of an army of black slaves from the agricultural hinterland of the French colony of Saint Domingue and threw the French out. By 1801 he controlled the entire colony. Although he was captured and killed in France, Jean-Jacques Dessaline continued the revolt and in 1804 declared the first independent black Republic. For many years thereafter Haiti was embroiled in internecine warfare and gradually disintegrated into chaos and dictatorship.
But, the thing that characterized Haiti was the fact that in the then European dominated world of imperialism, the fact of a black-controlled state was considered anathema and culturally impossible. It had been common practice for European powers, Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, to kill millions of black slaves at will. Despite British and French attempts to recapture the colony, they were never successful. It was this distinction that represented a paradigm shift in human history. Even though Haiti did not turn out to be a model state, it nevertheless was a first, that challenged the concepts of the white European world of blacks as hardly more than children. It was a harbinger of what was to come, wars of liberation in Africa, slave revolts in the USA, the abolition of slavery and the civil war, the civil rights movement, the Declaration of Human Rights, and the election of Barack Obama as President. Everything starts small and grows, that's evolution.
If we compare the State of Israel, it too started very small, a few hundred Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe, banding together to form settlements, being attacked by Arabs and British imperialists, being massacred in huge numbers by persecutors who were inured to consider them hardly human. Out of that came another pardigm shift, the concept that the Jews of Europe, a remnant after the Holocaust, could fight and establish a state against all odds. The "progressives" of the world have selective memory of this history.
In Haiti, the country was up for the strongest to take, no-one had a prior claim to it, except the Indians who had long since been massacred and died of disease. But, in the case of Israel there was a prior claim, a strong history of having come from that place. The "progressive" forces today in the West, that genuflect to the PR story of the Palestinian people, can hardly conceive of the paradigm shift represented by Jews having their own State.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The anti-Israel UN

Recently there have been extreme anti-Israel comments from UN appointees, who one would have hoped would at least be neutral. But, since these people were chosen and appointed by anti-Israel majorities in the UN body, there is not much hope of any balance in their positions.
On Tuesday, Israel filed a formal complaint with the United Nations over statements made by UN General Assembly President, Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, who called for an international boycott of Israel after accusing it of being an apartheid regime. D'Escoto went on to decry the plight of the Palestinians, describing the failure to create a Palestinian state as "the single greatest failure in the history of the United Nations."
The United Nations is currently marking its annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which is set on the anniversary of the 1947 date it adopted Resolution 181, calling for the partition of the land under British control into two states – Jewish and Arab. Over the course of two days the General Assembly will host a series of anti-Israel venues, including exhibits on Palestinian suffering and films comparing Israel to the Nazi regime. The pinnacle of the event will come in the form of a marathon of discussions, to culminate with the passing of six resolutions against Israel. These include ones calling for the return of the Golan Heights to Syria and the division of Jerusalem. There was no note of the fact that it was the Arab side that rejected the UN Partition Plan and attacked the nascent State of Israel. Fortunately, General Assembly resolutions are non-binding.
The UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on the situation of Palestinian human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, Richard Falk, has accused Israel of committing a "crime against humanity" with its policies in the Gaza Strip, without referring to the persistant rocketing of Israeli territory by the Gazan Hamas authorities. In a statement issued Tuesday, the rapporteur said, "Preventive action must be taken immediately to offset the persisting and wide-ranging violations of the fundamental human right to life, and in view of the emerging situation that is producing a humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding day by day."
Israel closed its border crossings with the Gaza Strip on November 4 after clashes erupted with Palestinian terror groups, shattering the tense calm that had been in effect for several months. Since then, it has allowed only a small amount of fuel, food and medicines to enter the Gaza Strip. Gaza also receives supplies from Egypt via the tunnels linking it to the Sinai Peninsula. "Israel still maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease," Falk wrote. "Such a policy of collective punishment initiated by Israel to punish Gazans for political developments within the Gaza Strip constitutes a continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law."
In response to these charges, Anne Bayefsky, a human rights scholar and senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, told The Jerusalem Post that "Falk has been on what can only be described as the lunatic fringe of the international human rights community for a long time, and this statement of his simply confirms the worst fears that his appointment by the Human Rights Council evoked. His wild accusations comparing Israeli behavior to apartheid, going out of his way to use words like 'mass famine and disease' and 'humanitarian catastrophes,' coupled with his usual excuses for terrorism against Israelis, demonstrate that this is a man who literally has no understanding whatsoever of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He brings to the table a bias which is continually demonstrated, an inability and unwillingness to report the facts without referencing his - what can only be described as anti-Jewish comments. It is an outrage that the UN appointed him and that he has now been given a global platform to spread his version of hate," Bayefsky stated.
This story is taken from Jerusalem Post and other reports

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Likud primary

The results of the Likud Primary were somewhat surprising. Netanyahu, who was assured no 1, got a good set of supporters, but the candidates chosen for the General Election next Feb. tended to be more right wing than he would have liked. His main rival in the Likud Party is Moshe Feiglin, who is head of a faction within the Party that calls itself the Jewish leadership group, and although Feiglin achieved only no. 20 on the list, he had several of his supporters in realistic positions if Likud were to get a large vote.
The number two is Gideon Saar, the Party Whip and a close associate of Bibi, also Benny Begin, the former PM's son who was out of politics for 9 years was no. 5, Moshe (Boogey) Yahalon, the former C-in-C was at number 8, and Yuval Steinitz was at no. 9. So Bibi got a good list, but many of his chosen candidates were beaten out towards the lower end of the list by Feiglin's candidates, for example Danny Danon, the Head of World Likud who is at 26 beat out Tal Brody, the famous Basketball champion and US immigrant supported by Bibi for a local spot in the central district. The other main Anglo candidates from English-speaking countries did not do well, such as Yehiel Leiter of One Jerusalem who was at no. 39, probably an unrealistic spot. Nevertheless, moderate Dan Meridor, who has rejoined Likud after a sojourn in Kadima, was at no. 17, so he beat out Feiglin, but Uzi Dayan another well-known moderate was only at no. 42.
The general impact of these results is that Likud moved somewhat to the right, and this was how it was depicted in most Israeli newspapers, although one must remember that most Israeli newspapers are biased pro-left. Some commentators concluded that the right-ward shift might reduce the popularity of Likud in the General Election. But, a poll done immediately after the primary showed Likud getting even more seats, 37, as opposed to its previous estimate of 36. Meanwhile Kadima is at 20 seats and Labor at 10. But, these cannot be considered definite since Kadima has not yet had its primary.
There are two new parties in the race, one on the right, made up of the former National Religious Party, that usually got 5-6 seats in every Knesset, and the National Union, and they hope to make a party to the right of Likud, but they aren't given much chance, especially since the Likud list includes a fairly high proportion of religious people. On the left, Efraim Sneh gave up on Labor and resigned a few months ago and has now established a new party on the left, called "Strong Israel," that is misleadingly titled like a right-wing party, but Sneh puts the emphasis on social concerns. The Labor Party seems in decline, the arrogance of party head Ehud Barak has not helped it assemble an attractive list. So far, the two main parties that had primaries, Labor and Likud, have both had computer voting problems, and this caused Labor to cancel its Primary and start again with paper ballotting.
The story of the Likud list is not over yet, several supporters of Bibi were dissatisfied with their placing, such as Limor Livnat at no. 13 and Miri Regev, the former Govt. spokesperson, at 34. So Netanyahu has approached the Party Court to find out if he can "raise" the places of certian groups, such as women and immigrants, that would have the effect of strengthening his position in the Party. Whether this stratagem will work remains to be seen, but in any case Likud is still in a winning position.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Koran

I know that writing about the Koran can be dangerous for one's health, but here goes anyway. I have recently been working on my talk about the development of the Hebrew Bible using modern textual analysis or exegesis. This approach, known as "the Documentary Hypothesis" has shed important light on the origins and evolution of the Five Books of Moses. I wondered if a similar approach had been taken to the Koran. In fact there is a new, modern approach by some European scholars to the Koran that similarly sheds light on its possible origins and evolution.
There are two German experts, one of whom goes by a pseudonym to protect his identity and his life. He is known as Cristoph Luxenberg, and has been writing books and papers for some years that propose the novel concept of reading the Koran in Syrio-Aramaic rather than Arabic. It is clear that the writer or writers of the Koran were heavily influenced by Judaism and Christianity, and around the time of Mohammed and thereafter the main language spoken throughout the Middle East was Aramaic, a Semitic language similar to Hebrew and Arabic. The conventional reading of the Koran in Arabic, according to Luxenburg, is wrong and it should be read in Aramaic or more specifically Syrio-Aramaic. There are still a small number of Christians in Syria who speak and pray in that language.
An amazingly large proportion of the Koran, ranging form 20-50% cannot be readily understood in Arabic, notwithstanding the fact that it's author (supposedly God speaking thru Mohammed) says that its meaning is "crystal clear." By reading these segments in Syrio-Aramaic, Luxenberg contends that he can clarify most of what has not been clear in the Koran. He also comes up with some interesting alternative meanings, instead of the Arabic meaning that a martyr (shahid) will receive "72 virgins" in heaven, in Syrio-Aramaic this re-translates as "72 white grapes"! Apparently white grapes have a symbolic role in Syrio-Aramaic Christianity.
The other German is Gerd Puin, a foremost German scholar on the early Koran. He was commissioned by the Yemen Govt. to restore and decipher a hoard of old Koranic documents dating from the 8th-10th centuries discovered between walls in an ancient Mosque in Sana'a in 1972. He managed to separate and decipher them, and found some very intreresting results, for example: 1. The older versions of the documents contained many variants different from the canonical Koran; 2. Several of the documents have been written over (a palimpsest) as if the words/meaning were being deliberately changed; 3. Some of the pages contain drawings of buildings for decoration, something unheard of in later versions of the Koran.
These only go to show that, like the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the Koran is clearly not the unabridged word of God, but has a complex edited history. This was discussed by Sean Gannon in an article in the Jeruslaem Post on Dec 5, 2008, entitled "The Gospel Truth." He is an Irish journalist and expert on the Middle East and its ancient literature, and he refers to the work of the British scholars of the School of Oriental and African Studies, the late John Wansborough and his former students Patricia Crone and Michael Cook who have written articles and books expressing these views, such as "The making of the Islamic world." In this it is speculated that the Koran was in fact largely written after the Arab expansion and conquest began as a result of their contact with Jewish and Christian sources, rather than as a precursor to it, as now generally believed.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I recently read an article that argued that NATO expansion was not justified, since Russia is no longer the threat that the USSR was, for which NATO was originally organized, and that NATO actions in Afghanistan and other non-European theaters are beyond its mandate. For some time, I have thought, perhaps in view of the corruption of the UN, that there should be an organization that brings all democracies together for the purpose of fighting international terrorism. Certainly NATO is never going to fulfil this function, since it is primarily a military organization, and nor is the UN itself that includes most of the terrorist nations in the world (Iran, Syria, N.Korea, etc.).
I foresee an organization called the Association of Democratic Countries Against Terrorism (ADCAT). This would be a voluntary association of countries that are democratic and that support democratic principles, and that are prepared to organize together against the scourge of terrorism. This would of course be lead by the USA and the EU countries (that must be democratic to join the EU), but also India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and so on. But, it would exclude all those countries that presume to oppose terrorism, such as Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China, but are not democratic and/or are not committed to the fight against terrorism.
One of the functions of this organization would be to allow these countries to share intelligence in a much more efficient and open way than they do today, and because of this it would be important not to allow any potential enemies within the organization.
It is clear that India was in no way prepared for the assault on Mumbai. Even if we acccept that there were only 10 terrorists, they caused a huge amount of death and damage and brought a huge city to a standstill. Such an organization as ADCAT would help countries such as India prepare for potential terrorist attacks, for example by advising it on how to prepare sufficient naval defenses and how to train its elite commandos, not only to be capable but also to be available anywhere in the country at short notice.
Among the mistakes the Indians made, although they tackled the terrorists bravely, were they had no defense at sea or along the coast of Mumbai, the elite commandos were in Delhi and took 20 hrs to arrive in Mumbai, the leader of the anti-terrorist police in Mumbai went to the scene and was shot, the three or four different police/army forces acted independently, there was no attempt to find out where the hostages were and rescue them, rather they fired back at the terrorists, and so on...In order to overcome these deficiencies in future attacks (and there will be more) there must be improved training and tactics, and of course better intelligence and taking intelligence seriously to try to prevent future attacks. Such an organization as ADCATcould help us all to take a serious stand against terrorism just as NATO did against communism.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Attack on Iran?

Last Thursday, a Jerusalem Post headline declared that Israel was preparing plans for attacks against targets in Iran without US support. This would be a great gamble for Israel, since the most direct way to get to Iran is over Iraq, and therefore thru air space controlled by the USAF, and in order to do this the IAF would need the codes to allow access. If the US does not agree to an Israeli attack, or is not consulted (possibly for security reasons and possibly so as not to be told "no") then any counter-attack from Iran would not result in US support for Israel.
Why might the Israeli Defense establishment advise an independent attack soon. Maybe because they know that Pres. Bush will not allow a US attack before his term ends, and they fear that Pres. Obama will not agree to an attack while he pursues his declared policy of "talking" to Iran. Since the Europeans have been "talking" to Iran for 8 years with no progress, and since Obama has apparently nothing new to offer (or threaten) then why would Iran do anything other than "talk" to him but continue their declared policy of developing nuclear weapons. According to Israeli estimates the Iranians will have enough centrifuges to obtain enough fissionable material to make a true bomb in 1-2 years! Can Israel afford to wait?
If the asnwer to this is "no", then clearly the IAF must have contingency plans for such an attack. Leaking the existence of such plans in itself may be a threat to Iran. But, in fact Israel has the capability to attack Iran and security estimates are that Iran is in no position to mount any counter-attack. It's Army cannot cross the distance from Iran thru Iraq or Jordan and the missiles they have are not so accurate and would themselves no doubt be a prime target for any IAF attack!
I calculated that there are three main ways for the IAF to reach Iran, the first via Turkey (although Turkey has said that it would not allow its air space to be used for an attack on Iran), this would be ca. 2000 km. Thru Jordan/Iraq to Iran would be the shortest distance 1600 km, and thru the Red Sea and across Saudi Arabia to southern Iran would be ca. 2200 km. These are great distances and would require in-air refueling, something that the IAF has been practising over the Mediterranean. Also, the IAF now has some stealth aircraft that would not show up on radar, as well as "bunker-buster" bombs. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, but if the IAF does attack you can be sure it will be because the Israeli Govt. fears that it has no alternative.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Peace later

The fact that Israel and the PA were unable to come to a two-state agreement before the end of the year and before the Bush Administration leaves office has been mentioned as if they were just near the point of consummation. But, in fact there is no possibility of an agreement, despite the optimistic assessments of Pres. Bush, US Secty of State Condoleeza Rice and Quartet representative Tony Blair. Not only did Olmert and Abbas, despite prodigious backslappings and talk about progress, not agree on any major points, but both of them precluded any agreement when they both stated that no agreement is possible without including Gaza! Abbas cannot be seen to make an agreement with Israel and leave out 1.5 million (one third) of the Palestinian population, and Israel cannot make any agreement with the PA on the West Bank without the Gazans, who could destroy any agreement the next day.
The fact is that Hamas is entrenched in Gaza, now with an army of ca. 20,000, well armed and well trained by Iran, and they aren't going to give it up. How am I sure of this, well, apart from the obviousness that Hamas and the PA/Fatah are incompatible enemies (and neither believe in democracy or compromise), the Egyptians just told us so. The Egyptian Govt. made a statement saying that it will not tolerate an "Emirate" on its borders (referring to Gaza under Hamas) and that is why they have closed the Rafah crossing into Gaza permanently. So why is everyone blaming Israel for the blockade of Gaza when their own Arab "brothers" are doing it to them. The reasons given by Egypt is that Hamas deliberately torpedoed the talks under its auspices between Hamas and Fatah in order to arrive at a national Palestinian Government, and by breaking off all discussions they are also in breach of the Riyadh agreement that was supposed to resolve the Palestinian dispute. But, actually the reason is that the Mubarak regime cannot allow an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, his main opposition in Egypt, to gain a strong permanent foothold on his borders.
Since Iran supports them and since they are Islamist radicals there is no possibility of an agreement with Fatah while they continue to murder Fatah leaders. Meanwhile on the West Bank Israel is allowing the PA to bring in trained and armed police in order to put down any Hamas supporters there.
If Israel takes action against Hamas in Gaza, since they are bombarding southern Israel every day, then Hizbollah (now rearmed and with 4 times as many rockets as before) will react and attack Israel as it did in 2006 thus triggering the Second Lebanon war. The axis of Hamas-Hizbollah and Iran are a threat not only to Israel but to Egypt and to the so-called "moderate" Arab States. So the prospects for an Israel-Palestine solution to the Middle East dispute are in fact the opposite to what has been the conventional wisdom. Only if the threat of Iran and its proxies are removed, only then can a peace agreement be negotiated between Israel and representatives of all the Palestinian Arabs.
This is the actual situation that the new Obama Administration will face when it comes into office, and wise heads in Washington are already advising Pres-elect Obama not to expect a quick resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict during his term.
For a pragmatic assessment of Palestinian intentions see Moshe Yaalon's (former C-in-C of the IDF) article in "Azure" magazine at

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Wild West Bank

Recently there has been rioting by orthodox Jewish youths in Hebron at the "House of Peace" (Beit Hashalom). The settlers claim that they bought this house from the Arab owner for one million dollars, and the buyers have shown the papers to the press and to the court. However, the Arab owner (maybe under pressure) now claims that he never sold the house, and the courts, right up to the Supreme Court, have ruled that the transaction was not legitimate, and so the Court has ordered the Jewish occupants to evacuate the house. The Jews have refused to do so and so now there has been a violent confrontation between the Jewish occupants and the IDF, and the area of Hebron has been declared a closed military zone.
The Jewish residents have called in reinforcements and the youths there have rioted and thrown stones at Arab houses, broken into Arab cars and set them on fire, desecrated a Muslim cemetary and generally caused mayhem. This is a volatile situation since there are over 100,000 Arabs in Hebron and so far they have mainly stood by and watched the IDF battle the extremist Jews.
Thursday morning there was a meeting between the representatives of the settlers and the Minister of Defense Ehud Barak to see if a peaceful solution could be found to the conflict, but no agreement was arrived at. This afternoon, soon after the meeting, Barak ordered the IDF forces to go in and evict the settlers according to the Supreme Court order. Now it is possible that this is all political as the settlers claim, because the Court is rather left-wing and Barak is the Head of the Labor Party. But, in general, most people, including Olmert and Netanyahu, agree that such rioting cannot be allowed, especially if the Supreme Court has ruled.
The handling of the evacuation of Beit Hashalom was very well done, the riot police went in in full garb and spread out very quickly throughout the large house, and then brought out the occupants one at a time, two policemen to each individual. Meanwhile when they were evicted the IDF removed the participants from the area. Although there was some fighting and some were injured and about 20 arrested, there was no bloodshed, and so the outcome was tolerable.
As a result of the success of this evacuation, further youths were attempting to reach Hebron and to close the road to Jerusalem. In this they were unsuccessful and the whole of Judea was declared a closed military zone, so that the IDF and police could stop any continuation of the rioting. This is certainly not the last clash we will see and this general issue will continue to bedevil us for some time.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

History lesson

My sister-in-law Barbara lacked the facts to discuss with her friend the Israel-Arab situation, when her friend was concerned about the Palestinian people, typical uninformed liberal sentimentality. I gave her a quick history lesson, based entirely on historical facts:
1. The Land of Israel was entirely Jewish until the Roman conquest of 63 bc when they divided it into Judea, Samaria and Galilee. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 ad following the Jewish Revolt against their rule.
2. The Christian Byzantine Empire took over from the Romans, so the land was inhabited by Jews and Christians living side by side, until....
3. The Muslim Arabs under Caliph Omar I captured Jerusalem in 638 ad and gradually destroyed the Byzantine Empire and settled the land.
4. The Muslim policy at first was that all infidels must convert or die by the sword. As a result the Jews either mainly fled or were converted, although a small population of Jews remained.
5. Seeing the loss of population Caliph Omar promulgated rules "protecting" the "People of the Books," i.e. Jews and Christians in the Muslim Empire (they needed them to run the Empire since Arabs were a minority).
6. The Turks conquered the area in 1517 and it remained part of the Turkish Empire until WWI (400 yrs).
7. Jews started returning to their land in numbers from the 1860's onward, particularly from the 1880s-1930s.
8. In 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration declaring that they would establish a "homeland" for the Jews in Palestine.
9. The British conquered the area in 1918 and called it "Palestine" (named after the Philistines because they didn't want to give it a Jewish name, thus implying its Jewish connection). The Jews were called "Palestinians" and the Arabs were called "Arabs"!
10. After WWI the British were given a Mandate for Palestine in 1920 by the League of Nations.
11. During WWII from 1939-1945 the Holocaust killed 6 million Jews and there were many Jewish refugees unable to return to their homes in Europe.
10. By 1948 there were 650,000 Jews and ca. 1 million Arabs in Palestine.
11. There were anti-British and anti-Jewish riots by the Arabs and anti-British actions by the Jews.
13. Since the British could not control the situation they gave the problem to the UN
14. The UN proposed a "partition plan," in other words a "two-state" solution.
15. When the UN voted to legitimize a Jewish State, named Israel, the Arabs rejected this Plan.
16. Six Arab armies attacked the nascent Jewish State, but they were defeated, and..
17. The Arab armies were defeated in subsequent attacks (1956, 1967, 1973) until Egypt and then Jordan made peace treaties with Israel.
18. The Palestine Liberation Organization was set up by Pres. Nasser of Egypt in 1960 with Arafat as its head. It was only from then that the Arabs began to call themselves Palestinians!
All this information is available in unbiased history books (and online). An excellent book on this subject is "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters.
If you know all of this, send it on to a friend who does not!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ma'ale Adumim

On Monday we visited Ma’ale Adumim to see my cousin who was sitting shiva for the death of his mother. My Auntie Dora was a strong woman who died at the age of 93, and she was alert almost until the end.

We were impressed by Ma’ale Adumim, that incidentally means “red heights,” and is a town “over the border” in the West Bank. It is on a high narrow plateau that could be regarded as a protection for Jerusalem from the East. The drive there took ca. 2 hrs using the quite new bypass road around the north of Jerusalem that goes thru a tunnel under the mountain and connects with the road going east near Mt. Scopus (Har Tzofim).

Ma'ale Adumim now has 38,000 people and is quite modern and built of stone (not brick) like Jerusalem. We stopped at the mall in the center of town and saw that they have every amenity. Since the town is in the West Bank there can be no building without Government approval, and the Govt. is not giving its approval now because of political considerations, due largely to pressure from outside that regards all “settlements” as illegal. This is of course wrong. Israel has the right to settle its citizens there, or rather they as Jews have every right to settle there. The only proviso is that they buy land legally and do not deliberately oust the Palestinian Arabs.

The West Bank passed from Turkish sovereignty to British sovereignty in 1920 under the British Mandate of the League of Nations that was granted in order (according to the Balfour Declaration of 1917) to establish a homeland for the Jewish people. Although the WB was occupied by Jordan illegally from 1948-67, this occupation was not recognized by any countries except Pakistan and Britain, and consequently was never recognized as Arab sovereign territory under international law. Therefore the territory is officially designated as “disputed land” and as such is not covered by the Geneva Convention that declares it illegal for a nation to settle its citizens in a conquered territory. The fact that mainly Arabs lived there is immaterial, it is the actual sovereignty that counts.

It is strange that many liberals and Jews take the Palestinian side when in fact their claim to sovereignty is not stronger than that of the Jewish state of Israel. In any case, why can’t both peoples live there, as they do in Israel proper (20% of Israel’s population is Arab). Or would the opponents of Israel’s presence prefer an exchange of populations? In any agreement between Israel and the PA this town would certainly remain within Israel. No Israeli Govt. would or could give it up and/or displace this many people. A letter from Pres. Bush to PM Olmert specifically recognized that there would have to be some border alterations on the WB recognizing the realities on the ground including major Israeli population centers, such as Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and the Etzion bloc.

From my cousin’s living room there is a wonderful view of the Judean desert, stark, bare, rolling hills with no trees and hardly a bush in sight. So the conflict here is over a small area the size of Greater London or Montgomery County Maryland, with a very sparse population and only a few cities where water is available. This was the heartland of the Jewish people from time immemorial.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

One million words

Over 1,000,000 words, that's how much I have written since I started writing letters to friends in America in the year 2000 describing the situation in Israel during the intifada that started that year. During the past few months I have completed the arduous task of transferring all my files from e-mail to Word and compiling them by year. I have now completed them up-to-date.
Note that one problem was that they were written of course in order of increasing date, with the latest first, while for any useful reading they must be in reverse order, with the latest last. So within each month all the articles had to be reversed manually. Then the differences between e-mail files, such as hard line ends, and word processor files, had to be changed. Fortunately most of this could be done with single commands, thanks to advice from my son-in-law Jeff.
Now I have saved a few copies on CD and it is preserved for posterity, in case posterity is interested. Of course, the real measure of the value of this blog is not the quantity of words but the quality of the contents. Dare I say that the quality, with suitable selection, could make an interesting book. All manner of things are included, as most of you know. Apart from the basic stuff on Israel and the Middle East, and political topics in Israel, America, the UK and around the world, there are items about music, art, literature, science and a fair amount of humor. If any one knows of any publishing house that might be interested in publishing this work, please let me know.
I have a working title "A Journal of the Terrorist Years, Israel 2000-2008." Any other suggestions would be welcomed. If I said that "all human life is there" that might be a bit exaggerated, but not much. From the intifada to Mumbai practically everything that has happened in relation to Jews and Israel is included and much more.