Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yom Hazikaron

During the early twentieth century some of the Jewish people decided that they could no longer live among the other peoples in Central and Eastern Europe, the atmosphere there was too threatening, too dangerous. This resulted in the development of modern political Zionism, the liberation movement of the Jewish people. Many Jews emigrated to the West, to America and Britain, but many too came to Palestine. In Palestine, they also faced hostility and attacks from the local Arab population. At that time Britain controlled Palestine under the terms of a Mandate from the League of Nations in 1922, but from the late 1930s Britain became more and more pro-Arab. After the unparalleled tragedy of the Holocaust during WWII and as the British tried to prevent further Jewish immigration into Palestine, a conflict developed between the British and the Jews that lead to Britain relinquishing the Mandate in 1948.
Then the Jewish people, what was left of it, made a commitment never again to live under the domination of any other people. Sovereignty was the answer to the eternal persecution that had dogged the Jews for centuries. Yes, Jews could live and practise their religion in the democratic countries of the West, but still the only place where Jews could speak their own language Hebrew, and control their own fate, was the State of Israel. So finally the UN voted in 1948 to recognize Israel as the Jewish State. At that time the population of Israel was 800,000, while today it is 7.6 million, an increase of ten-fold in 61 years!
April 28 in Israel is Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, the day when we remember those who have fallen in defense of the Jewish country (not to be confused with Yom Hashoah that took place last week). The total number that has been estimated from all the terrorism and all the wars is 22,570 people killed from 1860, when the first immigrants arrived, to 2009. We are welded to this land by the blood they have shed and the ultimate sacrifice they made.
Last night (the eve of Yom Hazikaron) Naomi and I were the official delegates from the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) in Netanya to the official ceremony held at the memorial canter for the fallen, Yad L'banim. A siren was sounded at 8 pm, and about 1,000 people stood in the amphitheater in the dark. The sound of the sirens evoked distant memories for me of the sound of the sirens in London of the German bombing raids when I was a child .
Then there were speeches by relatives of fallen soldiers and the Mayor of Netanya, songs, lighting of small torches and large memorial flames. On the roof of the one-story building the images of the fallen soldiers was projected on a large screen, their name, a picture, their age at death. Throughout the ceremony the images changed silently, one after another, men and women, many of them age 19. Cut down so young, their faces staring out, grainy black and white photos from the 1940s and coloured smiling faces from the 1990s onward.
The cost of having and defending our State is very high, as a famous poem of Nahman Bialik says "it won't be handed to you on a silver platter." But, on the other hand, look at the cost of not having a State, of being defenceless. It's not a simple equation but, 22,570 or 6 million? A difference between us and the Palestinians is that none of us want to die, no Israeli is a suicide bomber, they all go out to fight, to win and to return. But, unfortunately many of them did not return.
These were some of the thoughts that passed through my mind as we were there at the memorial ceremony for the fallen, and still the images flitted by on the screen.
Then today, the eve of April 28, the day turns into Yom H'a'atzmaut, when we joyfully celebrate our Independence Day. Last night we went to a party in Rehovot and today we are going on a tiyul (tour) and a picnic in Modi'in. This and much more is what their sacrifices have bequeathed us.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pakistan stability

The Taliban are suddenly threatening to take over Pakistan. There are three reasons for this: 1. The weakness of the current Zardari Government. Since Pres. Musharraf was forced to resign, Pres. Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, has failed to consolidate his power and control over Pakistan. 2. The growing power of the Taliban and their Al Qaeda collaborators, which have consolidated their position in the northern areas that have never been fully under central Government control. They now contol the Swat Valley and recently captured areas only 120 km north of the capital Islamabad, but then withdrew under an agreement with the central Government, that was more of a political withdrawal than a defeat. 3. The inability of the US and NATO to expand their fight against the Islamist extremists into Pakistan, due to refusal by the Pakistan Government to allow their entry.
While the NATO allies fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, they are able to recruit, train and rearm their forces in Pakistan. This is an untenable position for the allies, since they face a growing threat from the Taliban in Afghanistan and there is an increasing fear that the Taliban and Al Qaeda will take over Pakistan. If that happens it would be a game changer, because then the Taliban would have control of the Pakistan nuclear weapons. However, as all political vacuums get filled, so if the Taliban move in to take over the vacuum left by a weak Pakistan Government, so then India would be motivated to move in to neutralize the Muslim extremsists.
It is well known that there have been forces in Pakistan that have been supporting terrorism against India, the latest outrage of which, the massacre in Mumbai, was clearly planned and launched from Pakistan by Pakistani nationals. During the origianl Taliban uprising in Afghanistan the Taliban were supported and supplied by the ISI the Pakistan intelligence service. However, when Pres. Bush gave Musharraf an ultimatum after 9/11, he changed direction and became an ally of the US. However, this was going against the usual direction of Pakistan policy which has been anti-Western and anti-Indian. Now that the Zardari Government is failing to control the extremists, he is making deals with them, for example allowing the introduction of Sharia law into the northern tribal regions.
It is likely that under these circumstances the Islamist terrorist threat to Afghanistan and India will dramatically increase. Ultimately the allies will be forced to act. If it seems that the Taliban are in danger of taking over Islamabad and having control of the nucelar weapons, then it is likely that India will be forced to act.
When asked what the US would do under such circumstances Secty of State Clinton said today that she hates to think what would happen. It is hoped that the State Dept and the Obama Administration have a clear strategy if that transpires. To "lose" Pakistan would be even worse than the "loss" of Iran that came under the Carter Administration and was the beginning of the development of the greatest threat to the West since Fascism and Communism were defeated.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Whose plan?

For Yom Ha'atzmaut, Independence Day, I thought this might interest you. There have been many plans formulated to solve the Arab-Israel conflict, here are some of them:
1. The Balfour Declaration, 1917: The British Government supported the "establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine."
2. The Peel Partition Plan, 1937: The Peel Commission was sent by the British Government to investigate the problem and came up with a Partition Plan that favored the Arabs.
3. The British Government White Paper, 1939: Proposed to Partition Palestine, reducing Jewish immigration and giving the larger proportion of Palestine to the Arabs.
4. UNSCOP, 1947: The UN Special Commission on Palestine, visited the region, held hearings and came up with a Partition Plan.
5. The UN Partition Plan, 1947: The UN voted to partition Palestine based on the UNSCOP Report and recognize Israel as a Jewish State, but the Arabs rejected this Plan.
6. Palestine National Covenant, 1964: Adopted by the PLO and declares that Israel must be destroyed and all Israelis except those born before 1939 in Palestine must be expelled (or killed). This has never been officially cancelled (despite popular belief).
7. UN Resolution 242, 1967: In wake of the 1967 6-Day War, the Security Council resolution proposed the "land for peace" formula.
8. The Rogers Plan, 1969: Secty. of State Rogers proposed a plan to resolve the situation after the 1967 6-day war and the war of attrition with Egypt.
9. Camp David Accords, 1978: Pres. Carter, PM Begin and Pres.Sadat negotiated the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
10. The Haig Plan, 1982: Secty. of State Haig proposed a plan under the authority of Pres. Reagan.
11. The Hamas Charter, 1988: Hamas is the Islamic Resistance Movement, and it's Charter calls for the replacement of Israel and the PA with an Islamic State, by any means.
12. The Oslo Peace Accords, 1993: Negotiated in secret between Israeli and PLO representatives in Oslo that led to the establishment of the Palestine Authority and return of Yasir Arafat.
13. The Camp David Summit, 2000: Negotiations at Camp David with Pres. Clinton, that Yasir Arafat left peremptorily.
14. The Taba Proposal, 2001: by PM Ehud Barak under pressure from Pres. Clinton, designed to reengage Arafat, but he rejected it.
15. The Saudi-Arab Peace Plan, 2002: Essentially the Arab position, calling for Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines and full right of return of refugees in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel. Endorsed at the Arab League meeting 2005
16. The Road Map, 2006: A plan presented by Pres. Bush that both Israeli PM Olmert and PA Pres. Abbas signed but was not implemented.
17. The Annapolis Agreement, 2008: An extension of the Road Map Plan by Pres. Bush, an agreement in principle, but not enforceable.
18.Your plan: add your plan here.

What is notable is that there is no Israeli-initiated plan! What does Israel want, or are we waiting for others to decide for us? Maybe the current Netanyahu Government will finally formulate an Israeli plan that establishes guidelines or red lines for Israeli interests.
Many years ago the then Head of Israeli Intelligence, Yehoshafat Harkabi, said that anybody can come up with a plan for Middle East peace. But, nothing will be achieved until there is genuine overlap between the two sides (as there was between Egypt and Israel in 1978) and then the situation can be "resolved" not "solved."
Happy Yom Ha'atzmaut!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Believe anything

People will believe anything! History has amply proven that. The Germans believed that the Jews were responsible for all their problems and so set about murdering all of them (the list was ca. 12 million, but they got only ca. half). But, it didn't help them, they were defeated in WWII and lost ca. 1 million people, not fair some might conclude.
The Russians believed that Karl Marx was right, and so they got Comrade Stalin, who is reputed to have murdered ca. 50 million of them in 50 years, not a bad score, but it didn't solve any of their problems, so now they are trying to get back to where they were prior to 1917, perhaps by 2017.
The British believed that criminality was inherited, so they shipped all their criminals first to Georgia in what is now the US, and then to Australia. As far as I know there are some quite honest people among their descendents today.
Most Muslims believe that it was Jews who blew up the Twin Towers on 9/11. It is well known that no Jews attended work that day because they were warned in advance (!) and the perpetrators were not Arabs, but Arabs were used as scapegoats (!). Of course, the Arabs would like to have done it, but actually it was a Zionist plot!
Many Western liberals (such as Pres. Obama) believe that all peoples want peace and they are prepared to shake anybody's hand as long as they reciprocate and engage in "dialog." But, the fact is that most people in the world, including the majority of 1.5 billion Muslims, believe the West is the fount of all evil, that secular democracy is the way of the devil (women dress obscenely in public, alcohol is freely available, people say what they want, terrible!), and that in the end there will be a cataclysm that will end with everyone still alive accepting Islam. What is amazing is that many liberals in the West subscribe to a denial of reality in order to accomodate Islam, much like Chamberlain saying that "Herr Hitler is an honorable man!"
The Palestinians don't want peace, they believe that to die for their cause of destroying Israel is greater than making peace. If your culture and society support that belief, then why would you want to make peace? They only pretend to do so as a tactic, that underlies their strategy of ultimate war. Israel has proved too strong for them so far, so they temporize.
Most countries in the world subscribe to the Durban II formulation, that racism excludes anti-Semitism, and that Israel's fight for survival against huge odds is a form of anti-Palestinian racism. What nonsense!
North Korea is one of the last Communist dictatorships, they make rockets and nuclear weapons while their people starve, and they believe that in the end they will defeat the USA. Do they want peace?
Iran is a religious dictatorship, where they believe that Shia Islam is the only acceptable religion and they see it as their destiny to bring it to the whole world, even if it means war, death and suffering. Anyone who has seen Shia men "celebrating" Ashura, the commemoration of the defeat of Imam Hussein ibn Ali. grandson of the prophet Mohammed, in 680 ce, by flagellating themselves and cutting their heads with razors can see their bloodthirstiness. This is not a yearning for peace.
Many of those who believe that there was no Holocaust (maybe a few thousand Jews died!) nevertheless want to bring about a new Holocaust. They want to destroy Israel, a liberal democracy, and kill all the 6 million Israeli Jews. Now that's terrible irony.
Many believe that the Jews are too powerful and control the media and the Banks, while at the same time persecuting the Jews because they are powerless! Believing contradictory things at the same time is an example of man's irrationality, but unfortunately men will believe anything and act on those beliefs, to the detriment of all. So hope for peace but keep your powder dry!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Uneasy nuptials

In principle, the idea of a "two state solution," one state for each of the combatants to an age-old conflict, "living side-by-side in peace and security," seems idyllic. But, as everyone knows, on the way to the nuptials a lot can happen. The bride and groom can have second thoughts, and the mother-in-law can interfere.
What happens if, after Israel accepts a "two state solution" under the Road Map and Annapolis plans, currently being pushed by Pres. Obama, Secty of State Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell on his trip to the Middle East, Hamas takes over the PA, either in a coup or in an election. After all, Israel withdrew from Gaza and instead of improved relations with the Palestinians things got a lot worse. The Bush Administration, pushing it's policy of democracy in the Arab world, said we should not be afraid of an election in the PA and what did we get, a Hamas Government, followed by a coup in Gaza against the Fatah-controlled PA. As people have said many times, an election does not make a democracy, Hitler had an election and so did Stalin, many times. Being elected did not stop Hamas security forces from throwing Fatah PA forces off tall buildings, as well as torturing and executing hundreds of them. Do you think they are going to voluntarily give up power in Gaza?
Given this situation, of a Hamas-controlled terrorist enclave next to Israel, the leader of which, Ismail Haniyeh, this weekend stated that Hamas will "never" recognize Israel's existence, should Israel simply accept this situation. And should Israel officially endorse the "two state" plan and then what if Hamas takes over the West Bank, as there is clearly a likelihood, notwithstanding both Fatah's and Israel's opposition, then what?
Having a Palestinian terrorist entity in the West Bank would be much more dangerous for Israel than in Gaza, given the proximity to the population centers of Israel along the coastal plain and Ben Gurion Airport, not to mention Jerusalem and everything of vital security importance to the survival of Israel. Before exposing us to such a situation, Israel needs certain assurances, but can these be added after a Palestinian State, of uncertain provenance, has been agreed to. It seems to me that the situation dictates a high degree of caution. You wouldn't buy "a pig in a poke" and neither should we, to satisfy other people's appetites. After all, even the mother-in-law can't guarantee a happy outcome after the wedding has taken place.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Kastner affair

Monday was Holocaust Memorial Day eve (erev Yom Hashoa) here. This is dated from the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, although international Holocaust Day is dated from the liberation of Auschwitz. There was a moving national ceremony broadcast from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and many programs on TV about the Shoah.
One focused on the twins who were experimented on in Auschwitz, and some ironically survived because they were kept in special quarters by Dr. Mengele. Another featured movies such as "The Pianist," and yet another was a documentary on the "Kastner Affair." Many of you will not have heard of Kastner, and how his activities during the Shoah divided Israel and lead to his trial and assassination, a very complex philosophical and political issue.
Israel Kastner was a leader of the Hungarian Jewish community in Budapest, which was invaded by the Nazis late in WWII, because they were unhappy with the cooperation of the Hungarian Fascist Government led by Admiral Horthy. Horthy stopped the deportations of Jews from Hungary for reasons that are unclear, some say that he saw that Germany was losing the war and was scared that he would be tried for collaboration and for war crimes, others that he was bribed by the Allies, but whatever the reasons the Germans invaded and occupied Hungary in 1943.
The Jewish population of Hungary, mostly in Budapest, was 800,000, the largest remaining in Europe. Adolf Eichmann was sent in to ensure the speedy destruction of Hungarian Jewry. He worked out of the famous Dohany Street Synagogue (which is why it wasn't destoyed) and as elsewhere he worked with the organized Jewish Community that he forced to cooperate with him. One of the leaders of this group was Kastner, who headed a small organization called "The Aid and Rescue Committee." For some reason Eichmann and Kastner got along, some said it was because Kastner was arrogant and had ice-cold blood.
Kastner had visited Bratislava soon after two Slovakian Jews, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, escaped from Auschwitz and wrote the first detailed Report on the workings of the extermination camp. It was then being prepared for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews and Kastner was given a copy of their Report (that was also sent to the US, Britain and the Vatican) and he was asked to warn the Hungarian Jews of their impending fate on his return, but he did not do so, and kept the Report secret. This may have been part of his "deal" with Eichmann, for which Kastner received consideration.
The two of them concocted a scheme to exchange 100,000 trucks for 1 million Jews. Some say that Kastner realized that the Germans were losing the war and that they would be prepared to exchange Jews for war materiel that they desperately needed. Kastner kept these negotiations secret too, so that it was not a general Jewish proposal, and he sent an emissary to the West via Turkey. Although the British and Americans sent back vague responses, stringing Kastner and Eichmann along, they imprisoned his emissary and had no intention of giving the Germans any trucks, even for the lives of Jews. As the war progressed and hundreds of thousands of Jews were being murdered by the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators, it became clear that no deal would be forthcoming. However, Kastner now had personal relations with many SS officers, and came and went from SS Headquarters in Budapest without hindrance. In order to repay him for his help (in the truck affair or other matters) Eichmann allowed a train to be filled with Jews of Kastner's choice, which included his family, friends and the Satmer Rebbe and his Hasidic followers, totalling 1,684 people. In 1944, this "Kastner train" was allowed to leave Hungary for Switzerland.
In exchange, it appears that Kastner wrote affidavits to protect several high ranking SS officers, including Kurt Becher, who was in charge of disposing of the wealth of the Hungarian Jews who were forcibly deported to Auschwitz and murdered. Some allege that Kastner also received some of this money from Bucher in exchange, although that was never proven. It is also alleged that in response for the help he gave to the SS leaders in Hungary, Kastner was allowed to have ca. 15,000 Jews shipped not to certain death in Auschwitz, but to other camps where many of them survived. Some people emphasize that Kastner saved many Jewish lives, others that during his "negotiations" with the SS ca. 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered.
After the war, Kastner and his family emigrated to Israel and he became a member of the Labor Party, a supporter of David Ben Gurion and had a Government position. Many of the Hungarian Jews who survived who also came to Israel regarded Kastner as a collaborator, who had worked with the SS and saved his family and friends at the expense of others. A pamphlet was published by one of them, Malchiel Grunewald, accusing Kastner of such collaboration, and an article was published in a popular right wing magazine Haolam Hazeh (This World) in 1954 published by Shlomo Avineri.
The Israeli Government then sued Gruenewald on behalf of Kastner for libel. The crucial evidence were copies of the affidavits that Kastner wrote and signed for Eichmann and Becher. The judge (there are no juries in Israel) found him guilty of collaborating with the Nazis, of having "sold his soul to the devil."
In Israel at that time, 1957 (just after the 1956 Suez Campagn), this was tantamount to giving him a death sentence. Soon after, a group of right wing extremists shot Kastner dead at night outside his apartment. The shooter Zeev Eckstein 21 and his driver and the organizer of the killing were captured and tried. The police said that the bullet that killed Kastner matched the gun found on Eckstein. To many in Israel at the time, Eckstein was a hero who did what had to be done.
However, questions were soon raised about the verdict, and on appeal before three judges the finding was reversed soon after Kastner's death. Only in 2006 did Yad Vashem accept the Kastner archives, that are now available for researchers. Many questions still remain about this "affair": why did the Israeli Labor Government sue on Kastner's behalf?; were international Zionist organizations aware of some of Kastner's activities?; why did Kastner write affidavits for several other arrested SS officers?; how much ransom money was paid to the SS officers by Jews to get on the "Kastner train"?; were the right wing extremists infiltrated by Israeli intelligence?; did the Labor Party/Government of Israel want to get rid of him because he was a severe embarrassment?; why were Eckstein and the other conspirators quickly released?; did Eckstein actually fire the bullet that killed Kastner (he now claims that he did not)? The main thing that the Kastner case proves is that dealing with the devil leaves a permanent tarnish.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sacrificial lamb

Why did the Iranian Government decide to arrest Roxana Sabari, an Iranian-American journalist who has been working in Teheran for 6 years, and after a quick secret trial on espionage charges, sentence her to 8 years in jail? The reason clearly is that this is a mini-test for Pres. Obama, she is a sacrificial lamb.
Pres. Ahmedinejad and Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei responded negatively to Pres. Obama's overtures, proposing a new era of good relations. In effect they rejected any relations with the US until Obama changes US policies to align with theirs. In other words, the US must abandon its support for Israel, accept the Iranian development of nuclear technology and missiles as legitimate, and generally become philo-Muslim.
When he was in Turkey recently, Obama showed how far he was prepared to bend over backwards (or too far forwards) to be nice to the Muslims. In his speech to the Turkish Parliament, Obama went so far as to say that Islam played a role in the development of the United States, which is sheer nonsense and is not true, the only role Islam has played in US history is the the blowing up of the World Trade Center on 9/11!
The Iranians want to test Obama, to see how far he is prepared to go, but they don't want to challenge him militarily because he might react strongly. So they devised a little test. Sabari was arrested last week, and at first she was charged with being in Iran illegally, then she was charged with disseminating lies about Iran, and finally she was charged with espionage. It was as if they were decideing how to proceed in stages. Further, her trial was held in secret and no evidence has been provided for this charge.
At his press conference at the Summit meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, Obama expressed his "concern" about Sabari, and said he was sure she was not a spy. But, so far the US has not reacted strongly to her arrest. The Iranians are waiting to see if Obama continues with his proposal for dialog with Iran despite Sabari's arrest, or if he will change his policy as a result of this affront to his Administration. So this is the first mini-test that Iran is throwing in his way, and how he reacts will determine how strong the next test will be. Not to respond will be interpreted as weakness on the part of Obama, something that one cannot afford to show to extremists and fanatics.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Boycotting Geneva

Germany, New Zealand and Holland joined the league of the good guys who are boycotting the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, known as Durban II, that started Monday in Geneva. They join Israel, the US, Canada, Poland, Italy and Australia, to make the "righteous ones" who stayed away. Britain and France are present, but represented by low level diplomats, a poor compromise. The main functions of the Conference are to attack Israel and defend Islam.
Having a country like Libya as Chair of such a Conference is tantamount to having the fox guarding the chicken coop, and Cuba as the Vice-Chair of the Conference is absurd! The first head of state who addressed the conference was appropriately, that leader of human rights, Pres. Ahmedinejad of Iran! During his talk in which he called Israel "a racist State," the EU and many other delegations walked out, including Morocco. The only Western European country that remained and applauded his talk was Norway (so much for neutrality).
The Durban I Conference in 2001 became an anti-Semitic hate-fest against Israel and was so overtly anti-Semitic that both Israel and the US walked out. This time the new US Obama Administration gave them a second chance, and said that if they came up with an acceptable draft Conference statement then the US might reconsider its decision not to attend. But, although under pressure the 50 or so Muslim countries that are controlling the Conference did remove several nasty references to Israel (supposedly oppressing the Palestinians in an "apartheid" way), they did not change the anti-Western slant to the draft statement, and did not change the emphasis on Islamophobia being the most important form of racism, that replaced human rights as the focus of the Conference proceedings. Also, women's rights got short shrift, as you'd expect from the Muslims and of course, no human rights for gays! They also re-endorsed the Statement of the Durban I Conference that was replete with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic content.
Holland specifically objected to the protection of religious expression (and particularly Islamic expression) being more important than universal human rights, which should be the sine qua non of all UN anti-racism gatherings. The rights of the nonreligious, antireligious and polytheists (as opposed to monotheists) are not protected at Durban II. Since the Holocaust was one of the main events that lead to the formation of the UN, and was one of the main motivations for the UN charter on human rights, it is derisory that such a Conference should be under Muslim control and have a fascist dictator such as Quaddafi in control.
It is characteristic of the UN and a measure of how far below its original conception the UN has fallen. It is about time that the democratic countries banded together to try to defeat the stranglehold that the Islamic countries have on the UN, that results in the passsing of multiple anti-Israel resolutions that bear no relationship to reality, while real human rights abuses, such as in Sudan/Darfur, Tibet/China, Sri Lanka and elsewhere are ignored.
Even countries that have peace treaties with Israel, namely Egypt and Jordan, participate in the passing and formulating of virulently hostile anti-Israel resolutions, and Islamic countries with no other conceivable reason to castigate Israel, automatically support such resolutions without any basis in reality. It is this nonsense that makes a farce of the workings of the UN and drives away from such a warped body those who would naturally have an interest in actually supporting human rights.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Killings continue

On Sunday March 15 two Israeli policemen were shot dead in a patrol car as they drove near the settlement of Massua in the Jordan Valley north of Jericho. Their assailants, Palestinian gunmen, escaped. Although the West Bank, partly controlled by the Palestine Authority and partly by Israel, has been relatively calm compared to the war that erupted in the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip that escalated into the IDF Operation Cast Lead, nevertheless there is continuing violence there.
In the past few days there have been four more incidents. A Palestinian youth was killed and another injured by security guards when they threw petrol bombs at the settlement of Beit El on Fri evening. Another Palestinian man was captured Sat night when he tried to run down two IDF soldiers at a road block with his Mercedes car. A Palestinian man was shot and injured when he attacked IDF troops with a knife and several Israeli soldiers were injured and hospitalized in these incidents.
A Palestinian protester was killed when a tear gas canister hit him in the chest during a violent altercation near the village of Bi'ilin against the Israeli Security Fence. There has been a continuing series of violent demonstrations there as international provocateurs (from ISM and other groups) try to make it into a cause celebre, because Palestinians are separated from their farms (although they are able to access them daily thru a convenient gate). The Israeli Supreme Court has already ruled that the route of the Security Fence there is appropriate, after it had already been changed by court order. The fact that Palestinians are inconvenienced was ruled less critical than the fact that Israeli civilians are protected against suicide bombers by the Fence. It works!
Also, Hamas continues to lob rockets into southern Israel, although fewer than before Operation Cast Lead, about one every few days. Note that there has been no official ceasefire to that Operation, since at the end of his tenure PM Olmert backtracked and made a ceasefire contingent on progress in the release of Cpl. Gilad Schalit from captivity in Gaza. Hamas has demanded from 450 to 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Schalit, but now things have got more complicated. Because of the schism between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas no longer wants Fatah leaders imprisoned by Israel to be released and Fatah in charge of the PA no longer wants Israel to release Hamas leaders. In neither of these cases have they stated these preferences publicly, but it's clear, for example Hamas dropped the name of Marwan Barghouti, a leading Fatah Tanzim leader and a potential rival for Hamas, from it's list of preferred exchangees.
Nothing is simple and nothing is what it seems. The current series of "lone" attacks by Palestinians on Israelis on the West Bank are a way of Fatah asserting its leadership of the anti-Israel "resistance," while still calling for a continuation of the "peace process." It's their equivalent of the occasional rockets that Hamas fires over the Gaza border, another way of reminding everyone that they are still fighting by sacrificing their young men and Israeli lives for the cause.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Egypt's dilemma

The Egyptian FM Aboul Gheit has issued a threat not to meet with the new Israeli FM, Avigdor Lieberman, and not to allow him to enter Egypt, even though they are prepared to deal with the new Israeli Government itself. This is because during the election campaign Lieberman is supposed to have insulted Pres. Mubarak of Egypt, when in response to a reporter's question as to why Mubarak has never visited Israel in all these years, he said that if he won't visit Israel "he can go to hell." He also siad that in the event of a war with Egypt, Israel would destroy the Aswan Dam. Certainly this is undiplomatic language, and certainly it is typical of Lieberman's gruff persona. But, there is more to this Egyptian response than meets the eye.
Remember that recently Egypt has been embroiled in a public dispute with Hizbollah, claiming that Sheikh Nasrullah is an agent of Iran trying to topple the Egyptian Government and replace it with a pro-Iranian Islamist regime. Within the Arab world there have traditionally been three major power bases, Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad, that have been vying with each other for predominant influence in the Arab world. Currently, in view of the decline of Damascus and Baghdad, Cairo is recovering it's former place as center of Arab culture and influence. Now into the picture pops a former enemy and non-Arab center, namely Shi'ite Teheran.
There has always been a clash between the Arabs and the Persians, and since Persia became the center for Shi'ite Islam, there has always been a clash between Sunni and Shia. So now to have this non-Arab, Persian Shia center vying for power in the Arab world is extremely disconcerting for the Egyptian Government. They face a continuous internal threat from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, that emerged in Egypt in the mid-1930s and since then has spawned al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and Hamas in Palestinian Gaza. The fact that Hamas is an ally of both Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood (seemingly incompatible forces) has Mubarak very concerned. But, what unites these two forces is their common enmity to Israel and the West. So in order not to lose the support of the large proportion of Egyptians who are also anti-Israel and anti-Western, Mubarak has to find something, an issue, that shows that he is not now automatically on the Israeli/Western side. One way to do that is to manufacture a clash with the new Israeli Government, and the "insult" of FM Lieberman provides just such an issue.
Of course, it would be very difficult if the Israeli FM remained persona non grata in Cairo. But, I think we shall see a mechanism emerge for overcoming this obstacle, a deus ex machina that will appear from the wings to resolve the situation, such as a partial apology by Lieberman (he was misunderstood) or a discussion between Mubarak and Netanyahu to smooth things over. The great thing about Israel as far as Cairo is concerned is that although it is another power base, it is not "in" the Arab world and so does not vie for influence with Cairo, indeed recent Israeli Governments have gone to great lengths to show deference to Mubarak. So Mubarak is trying to solve his problem, he is on the horns of a dilemma, in a clash with Hizbollah, Iran and Hamas, he is also desperately trying to appear not to be an ally of Israel.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Comparative casualty figures

Some people railed against Israel for murdering Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but have remained quiet about the murder of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan army under similar circumstances. In a recent column I called them hypocrites, which indeed they are. But, what do you think is the ratio of civilian casualties in Gaza and the Tamil region of Sri Lanka? I've now got an answer to that question.
Without knowing the number of people killed, one would expect there would be approximately equal coverage in the media of the two conflicts, all other things being equal (which they are clearly not). But, actually, as anybody knows who watches the media or reads a newspaper, the amount of coverage of the Gaza conflict was about 10 times that of the Sri Lankan conflict. This is an estimate, but someday a budding journalism student will do a project on the actual number of column inches or screen time dedicated to both, and then we'll have the facts. But, until then I stand by a ratio of ca. 10:1. A rough test, how many times did you see a Tamil father carrying a wounded child into a hospital on the news, honestly not once, but a Gazan father, hundreds of times, repeated ad nauseam. That's not news, that's propaganda! And where are the comparable heartfelt appeals from the podium in Trafalgar Square for the lives of the poor civilians in Sri Lanka, if you can hear them you have better hearing than me.
Now, it appears that the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs actually had an estimate of the number of civilians killed in the northern Tamil region of Sri Lanka but refrained from publishing it so as not to embarrass the Sri Lankan Government. However, the number was leaked and we now know that there were a total of 9,924 civilian casualties between Jan and March 2009, including 2,683 deaths. I cannot confirm these figures, but they are the ones that have been reported as leaked from the UN agency.
Now the total number of deaths reported in Gaza has been agreed at roughly 1,300, of which the IDF in a detailed survey attributed ca. 750 to combatants and 253 to civilians (including men, women and children). Assuming that number to be correct, and not the inflated number given by the Palestinian medical service run by Hamas (of ca. 900 children dead), then the ratio of civilian deaths in Sri Lanka to Gaza is roughly 10:1!
That means that the media coverage, if corrected for the number of civilians killed, which is as good a basis as any, would be approximately 100:1 in favor of Gaza. Now why is that? Well obviously it's not based on the humanitarian deaths of civilians, for if it were, then Darfur would be in the news every day with ca. 100,000 killed there. No that doesn't matter, what apparently does matter is how the conflict fits into the leftist views of the media and the predominantly leftist groups demonstrating, including unionists, Muslims and liberals (and not a few Jews). Clearly these groups care almost nothing for Tamil lives, nor for the Darfurians, but the life of a Palestinian is much more valuable to them.
And the claim of "war crimes" has been levelled against the IDF, when it is one of the most scrupulous armies in the world when it comes to preventing "collateral damage", but I have not heard one claim of "war crimes" against the Sri Lankan mililtary. Perhaps I just don't read the right papers or watch the right news. Maybe some people feel that the Tamil Tigers are indeed terrorists and their supporters deserve what they get. But apparently this does not apply to Hamas, which is also recognized as a terrorist group, that uses civilians as shields, but as they said in the British demonstrations, "we are all Hamas now." I've yet to see a placard saying, "we are all Tigers now," someone might think it referred to golf!
Just to clarify, I am not in favor of the Tamil Tigers, they are terrorists who have killed many civilians in suicide bombings, and I doubt that an independent Tamil region would be viable. I support the Sri Lankan Government, but I still object to random killings of Tamil civilians by their armed forces. By comparison, I also support the IDF of course, and I do not believe that an independent Gaza, as a terrorist enclave, is viable or acceptable

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Egypt-Hizbollah clash

Four months ago the Egyptian secret police discovered a large cell of terrorists operating inside Egypt. Last week 49 of them were charged with various offences, including preparing bombs, smuggling weapons and explosives, planning attacks against Egyptian sites and planning to kidnap and kill Israeli tourists. It was also suggested that they planned to assassinate Pres. Mubarak of Egypt. They had set up a workshop in Sinai making bombs, rockets and suicide belts. Among the group were Egyptians, Palestinians, Sudanese and Lebanese. The last noted group are most significant because the planning and financing of the campaign was reported to have come from the head of Hizbollah, the Shi'ite terrorist organization in south Lebanon, Hassan Nasrullah. In fact the Egyptian Police issued a warrant for the arrest of Nasrullah, an unprecedented act within the Arab world.
In case any one thinks this was a provocation by the Egyptians, a few days ago Sheikh Nasrullah went on public television and in front of a large audience admitted that he had sent a group into Egypt. But, he claimed that it was appropriate for him to do so because his target was not Egypt itself, but Israel, and he claimed that Egypt was being a traitor to the Arab cause in honoring it's peace treaty with Israel. On the contrary, in response the Egyptian Government accused Nasrullah of attempting to undermine the Egyptian Government on behalf of Iran, under the guise of anti-Israel activities. They also accused Nasrullah of trying to convert Sunni Muslims to Shi'ism, a movement that has gradually been gaining adherents in Egypt for some time and which is anathema to Sunni Muslims.
What is the significance of this incident? The most significant fact is that it represents a further proof of the concrete actions of Iran in extending its tentacles into the Sunni Arab world. Many of those who oppose the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel, who wish to take action against Israel, consider the Egyptian Government traitorous, and so they side with Hizbollah and Iran. This is what the "moderate" Sunni Arab States (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States) fear, namely the gradual infiltration and hegemony of Iran. They see Pres. Obama's attempts at dialog with Iran as a sign of US weakness that Iran will exploit. Note that Pres. Mubarak did not attend the recent Arab League summit in Qatar, but sent a low-level bureaucrat, because of the presence of Iran. Another example has come in Bahrain, that although it is a part of the Arab Gulf is largely Shia, and Iran has been accused of meddling in the internal affairs of Bahrain.
Apart from the group that has already been arrested, there are another 13 men that are still being sought. Also, the Israeli Government has warned of another terrorist cell in Sinai that is targeting Israeli tourists there. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has issued a strong warning against Israelis visiting Egypt for the Passover holidays, but there are still tens of thousands going, although most of them are Israeli Arabs, who think that they will not be targeted. According to previous bombing attacks in Sinai they are wrong.
It now remains to be seen if the Egyptian authorities will actually pursue Nasrullah for attempting to overthrow the Egyptian Government, and what reaction this induces from Hamas and Hizbollah as well as Iran. These are the opening shots in an ongoing war between the extremists and moderates in the Arab/Muslim world.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Seder story

As is our custom, we went to our daughter and her family in Beersheva for the Seder night. They always invite interesting people, often including American immigrants. This time it was a young woman from Baltimore. As often happens people tell stories around the table during the Seder, and this young woman told a particularly touching story with a great deal of feeling.
There were two yeshiva students whose families had been murdered by the Nazis and they were transported to Auschwitz together in 1943. After some time there they were both feeling that they could not go on, when one said to the other, "it will soon be Pesach, I want to make matzo." The other replied "are you crazy, that's impossible, how could you make matzo under these terrible circumstances." But the boy persisted, and so his friend said, "look, I swallowed a piece of gold before we came here and now I have it hidden, I will give this piece of gold if it will help to achieve your wish to make matzo."
So they approached a man named Haim who worked in the kitchen at the camp and asked him if he could get them a bit of flour. "Are you crazy he said, it's like I have a target painted on my back, the Germans are looking for any excuse to kill me." But, when he was offered the piece of gold he said that he would see what he could do. With the gold he bribed one of the German guards and managed to smuggle a small bag of flour into the lager. The boys collected some pure rain water, and secreted the water and the flour, waiting for an opportune moment. When the Germans were burning clothes, they managed to put the flour-water mixture on a metal grate in the fire and soon they had a small piece of matzo.
When the eve of Pesach came they announced to the whole lager that they had some matzo, and of course nobody believed them until they brought it out, and then they and others proceeded to say all the Pesach prayers that they could remember by heart using this matzo. At the end neither of them wanted to eat it, they each deferred to the other because it was only enough for one, until finally one of them gave in and ate it. The Germans, in order to humiliate the Jews, gave out double rations of bread during Pesach, but these yeshiva boys refused to eat bread. They became terribly weak and within a short time both of them perished.
How did she know this story, because Haim was her grandfather! He had survived the camp, and had returned to his town, but all his family were dead. He made an oath that he would never have children because of all the cruelty and horror he had witnessed. He was transported to Sweden with other Jeiwsh refugees and was taken in by a gracious Christian family who nursed him back to health. This family had a daughter and she and Haim became close friends. The family said that they would like him to marry their daughter, on one condition, that he first become a Christian.
That night he had terrible dreams of the camp, and awoke realizing that he could not go through with it. He returned to Germany and in a DP camp there met a Rabbi who was looking for students to join his yeshiva in Baltimore. This was a way to rescue Jewish youths because they needed only a student visa to enter the US, while the other visas were much more difficult to obtain. So he went to Baltimore, and because of the kindness he had also witnessed in the camp he changed his mind and there he got married and had children, and he told this story at every Seder night. Partly as a result of this his granddaughter had made aliyah to Israel and was there to tell us this story.
The consequences of our actions are unpredictable. All that can be asked is that we follow our consciences even under the most terrible of circumstances. Chag Pesach sameach!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jordan Valley tour

On Sunday we went on a tour (tiyul) to the Jordan Valley. It has magnifient scenery, with high mountains on both sides of the very wide and very deep valley where the Jordan River flows. But since most of the river's water is taken for human use now it is no more than a stream.
In order to reach the Jordan Valley we had to enter the West Bank, but we could not take the shortest route going due East (on Route 57) because that would take us through very hostile Arab areas, notably the cities of Tulkarm and Nablus, so instead we went south on Route 6 until we came to Route 5 that goes east from Tel Aviv towards the Israeli town of Ariel that is located in Shomron (Samaria, the northern lobe of the West Bank). After passing the checkpoint we briefly entered Ariel to look around. It's a nice looking town on a promonotory with a population of ca. 35,000 and was founded in 1988. It is the largest Israeli community in the Shomron.
Beyond Ariel, the road begins to descend past the settlement of Ma'ale Ephraim. This reminds us that this region and that over the other side of the Valley now in the country of Jordan, in ancient times was the area of the Tribe of Ephraim, and there are many Biblical references to the area. It is a semi-arid region and as one goes further down into the Valley it becomes essentially rocky desert, with few trees and little vegetation.
The Valley is divided geologically into three levels or steps, the first is at the level of the River itself, one of the lowest and hottest points on earth (called the Zor). Then there is the level of the white soft sedimentary rock that is gouged by periodic floods. Above this are the foothills topped by a plane, and finally the plane at the top of the mountains that leads to the coast. The whole Valley is part of the Syrian-Africa rift valley that stretches from Syria to Ethiopia, and includes the Red Sea
We went through the intermediate plane along Route 60 that is known as the Allon Highway, since it was planned by Yigal Allon, former Israeli Foreign Minister, who proposed a plan back in the 1970s that would have given the West Bank to the Palestinians, but Israel would keep the Jordan Valley as a barrier to attack from the east. He proposed this because the Jordan Valley is so arid that it had a very small population of Arabs, and he thought that by settling Jews there it would protect Israel from an alliance between a Palestinian State and Arab countries to the east. We stopped at a small settlement called Rotem, named after the small "broom" plant that grows in this area. This has only twenty families and specializes in the production of all-organic products, such as cosmetics.
From there we drove down to the lower level of the Valley and went along Route 90 which traverses the length of the Jordan Valley. This road is named after former tourism Minister Rechavam Zeevi (nicknamed "Ghandi" because of his gaunt appearance), who planned it, but was assassinated by Palestinian terrorists in Jerusalem. We drove thru a military security area with permission and then had a good view over the lowest level of the Valley, that suprisingly is very fertile because of the water of the river, with large groves of date palms stretching in all directions. The high rose-coloured mountains of Jordan towered on the opposite side of the Valley.
You can tell the Israeli date groves from the Arab ones because they have straight lines and the palms are usually of the same height/age. Then we drove down into the lowest level of the Valley and visited a date packing house and sampled the delicious plump dates. It was extremely hot down there and I don't know how people bear it. Among the people who work there permanently there is a woman from Ohio and a man from Manchester. On the way back on Route 90 we stopped at a cafe established by a young man who was killed in the Lebanon War, but the place is kept open by his family.
Finally we went up a narrow, winding road to visit the spring at Fasael. This was the site of a large fortress in the time of Herod, which he built and named after his brother Fasael. Later on he murdered all his brother's children. The fortress no longer exists, but the site has a spring, that unfortunately we were unable to visit because the bus driver was afraid to venture too far up the road and those who walked up could not locate the main water source. Finally we came home via the same route we took out.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Israel-Diaspora differences

There is a natural dichotomy between the interests of the Jews of Israel and those of the Diaspora. While most Jews are pro-Israel, in that they support the existence of the State of Israel, not all Jews are Zionists, and many Jews are uncomfortable with an aggressive and militant Israel. If they support Israel, when it is in one of its wars they often find themselves at odds with many of their non-Jewish friends. If they are left wing or liberal and so are all their friends, it is an embarrassment that Israel is militant and to them seemingly aggressive, as far as the news shows them, when they themselves are in favor of peace. It is a difficult relationship.
I experienced this myself when I lived in Maryland. Although I counted myself a strong Zionist, I found it sometimes unpalatable to go out and actively support Israel, when few of even my Jewish contemporaries were prepared to do so. But, I always took the attitude that it was my place in the Diaspora to support my Jewish compatriots in Israel against their enemies, even though I may not know all of the details or understand all the factors that led to war or that led a particular Israeli Government to choose that path.
But, often I understood quite well the circumstances, given that it was usually Arab aggression that started the war, and this was definitely so in 1967 and 1973. One time when I had problems was in 1982 for example, when it was said that Gen. Ariel Sharon ordered the IDF to advance into Lebanon as far as Beirut against the wishes of the Government of Menachem Begin and of Begin himself. It was also alleged that Sharon was responsible for the massacres of Palestinians in the camps of Sabra and Shatilla, even though the actual killings had been done by Christian militias. Nevertheless, although I did not know all the facts, nor was I party to the decisions that were being taken, I argued forcefully on behalf of Israel, when many were prepared to support the chorus of criticism. There were claims and counter-claims, and it was alleged that the IDF had massacred people in south Lebanon, starting with ca. 30,000 and then escalated to 300,000. I did some elementary research myself and found three things, first, the IDF is a responsible armed force that has standing orders to avoid civilian casualties (none of its adversaries have such orders), second the figures that were being cited without confirmation came from the Palestinian Red Cross that was run by the brother of Yasir Arafat, and third that there were less than 250,000 inhabitants of southern Lebanon, and many of these had fled northwards and were far from the areas of battle. This has been the pattern of all conflicts, exaggerated casualty reports, doctored media and claims of "war crimes."
But, beyond the practical differences, there are matters of principle involved. Most Americans somehow believe that it makes them less American if they root for another country, while many Americans believe just the opposite. Before WWII many Americans who were Anglophiles were strongly pushing for the US to enter the war in support of Britain, while many who were pro-German, including the powerful German-Amerika Bund, opposed such views as anti-American. I once met a man of German origin who was jailed as a conscientious objector during WWII because he refused to fight members of his own race, and he was convinced (still) that it was pro-British elements that had caused the US to enter the war against Germany (apart from Pearl Harbor).
So here we are today, when 75% of American Jews voted for Pres. Obama and 75% of Israeli Americans supported his opponent. Now it continues with large scale support of American Jews for Obama's policies, so far mainly focussed on the economy and the reduction of the Iraq war. But, suppose things hot up in Afghanistan, or suppose the Obama administration takes a line that supports the interests of the Palestinians over those of Israel as advanced by the Netanyahu Government? Or suppose ultimately that the US does nothing against Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon and Israel decides it has to act. What then?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Examples of bias

In London, on several successive days, a group of Tamils from northern Sri Lanka have been demonstrating against human rights violations of the Sri Lankan Army that has been killing civilians as they tighten the noose around the Tamil Tiger stronghold. However, you won't hear about this in your media, because they have not been joined by tens of thousands of Anglos and Muslims, shouting about "war crimes." Why is that, since superficially the situation is very similar to that which occurred in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. The answer is obvious, the troops are not Israeli Jews and the victims are not Palestinians. Jews are always fair game and the Palestinians are the darlings of the left. I have long been puzzled why the left have taken the Palestinians to their hearts, since they are mainly thugs and uncivilized terrorists, uneducated and extremist, and have never contributed anything to civilization. But, it shows us once again that not all men are created equal, the life of a Palestinian is clearly worth more than that of a Tamil and certainly more than that of a Darfurian. Those who demonstrated against Israel are guilty of rank hypocrisy and those who fail to report on the plight of the Tamil civilians are guilty of media bias. So what is new?
Another case of media bias is in the US. When the media was carrying out it's anti-Bush campaign last year they highlighted the casualties in Iraq and every time that a US serviceman was killed there were articles about the total number, and they criticized the government for not allowing them to photograph the caskets arriving in the US. Since Pres. Obama has been elected there have been no articles about servicemen being killed in Iraq (beyond the reporting of the actual incidents). In fact, 85 US servicemen have been killed in Iraq since Pres. Obama took over, yet there has not been one article criticizing the US government for the "senseless loss of life." Apparently Pres. Obama holds no responsibility for US servicemen killed in the line of duty, what a convenient situation for him. Let's wait and see how long the media can hold it's restraint when the US casualties start increasing in Afghanistan.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Which two states?

The "two state solution," has become the mantra of the chattering classes, the perceived wisdom of the preconceived mind. But, the "two state solution" we currently need to be worrying about is that between the Palestinians controlled by Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinians controlled by the PA in the West Bank. Can there ever be a solution to these two states? Making a unity Government for the Palestinians is a serious problem, because if there would be such a creature then it would mean that Hamas has been granted recognition by Fatah and the international community, and that would in effect stop any peace process between Palestinians and Israelis. But, we don't really need to worry about a negotiated solution for Palestine, because Hamas will never give up its control of Gaza and will continue to strive to take over the West Bank, so all indicators are downward. In Egypt, where almost continuous negotiations have been going on for months, they finally declared an impasse, no agreement could be made due to fundamental differences betweent eh two sides!
In the past few months, Pres. Abbas and PA Security Chief Mohammed Dahlan have both stated publicly in Egypt that they do not recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Dahlan supported Hamas's right not to recognize Israel as the PA has not done so, and Abbas said he would "never" recognize Israel as a Jewish State, repeating what he said at Annapolis. This is notwithstanding the supposed recognition that the PA gave to Israel under Yasir Arafat, except that it was never actual recognition, the Palestine National Committee only voted to "consider" recognizing Israel, and that was never followed up. So the whole thing is based on a crude sleight of hand, that Arafat was very good at. Pres. Clinton and his team deliberately overlooked this trick in order to engage Arafat in further (useless) negotiations.
On the other hand, both Ehud Barak when he was PM, agreed to give almost everything to Arafat at Taba (after Arafat walked out of the Camp David negotiations) including recognition of a State, and PM Olmert recently stated that he had offered such a possibility to Pres. Abbas, but it was not responded to. The fact is that the Palestinians are not ready to run a State, they are neither prepared organizationally nor economically. The fact is that if Abbas or any other Palestinian leader did make a deal with Israel they know that they would immediately be assassinated by their enemies, including Hamas. So there is no possibility of a so-called "two state solution" to the Israel-Palestine conflict in the foreseeable future and believing otherwise is purely wishful thinking.
Now Pres. Obama and many of his advisors apparently are supporting a "two state solution" because at least it gives them a rosy vision of the future to look forward to, i.e. "two states living side-by-side in peace and security." Ask any Palestinian if that is his real vision for the future and he'll laugh at you.
Here is an indication of the actual situation: last week an Arab woman, Wafa Younis, living in Jenin, brought a youth orchestra she had organized there called "strings for peace" into Israel to play for an Israeli audience including some Holocaust survivors. Apparently it was a really nice event. When she returned to Jenin, she was first fired and her orchestra was disbanded, on the official grounds that she had endangered the lives of the students and put them in a "political situation." Then she was abducted by a group of armed men, one of whom she identified as Zachariah Zubeidi, former head of the Aksa Martyrs' Brigades in Jenin but who now cooperates with the PA police, and her life was threatened if she stayed in Jenin and she was taken to the border and expelled to Israel. She is lucky to be alive. This is the reality of the attitude of the official PA towards Israel, no cooperation, no recognition!
That is why Israelis, who are not stupid, recognized the true situation, decided that it is useless giving more "gestures" and further concessions to the PA, that have not yielded anything in Palestinians becoming less intransigent and ready to compromise, and so elected a more right-wing government. Until the Palestinains change the only thing that can be done is to try to help them (on the West Bank) develop economically and learn how to organize a civil society. Even the b$4.5 that has been offered to rebuild Gaza is going wanting, because the Palestinians cannot agree on how to organize themselves to receive it.
So if anyone wants to know, that's why PM Netanyahu has stopped using the term "two state solution," just as Secty of State Clinton has stopped using the phrase "war on terror." As she said at her press conference in London a few days ago, there is no point in using a phrase that has little actual meaning now.
PS. Chag pesach sameach to my readers!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The lessons of North Korea

North Korea is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous countries on earth. It is run by a totalitarian dictatorship, that has developed missiles and nuclear weapons while most of it's people are starving. After first agreeing to a deal thru the so-called Six-country negotiations (including N & S Korea, the US, Russia, China and Japan) which caused the Bush Administration to back off from its sanctions on N Korea, the N Koreans in typical fashion (as they did previously with their secret nuclear program) went ahead and continued missile development.
Last week N. Korea fired a three stage rocket, that they claimed was a satellite launch but others claimed was a missile test, and it met with almost universal condemnation, particularly since the missile flew over Japan. Pres. Obama stated publicly that N. Korea should be "punished" for violating UN Sec. Council resolution 1718, and he said that "words have to mean something." Yet, when the Security Council met in emergency session, nothing was done. It was predicted that both Russia and China, the latter of which is the main supporter of the N Korean regime, would oppose further sanctions.
So Pres. Obama has prematurely voiced his opinion while being unable to do anything. If things work out as before, N Korea will get away with its utter contempt for western and international opinions and sanctions. They do not act rationally as far as we are concerned, even with their people starving, what matters most to the ruler of N Korea, Kim Sung Ill, is that he is in the news and that his regime is able to taunt the US and the other world powers and get away with it.
The lessons from this for Iran and its proxies Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon are obvious. They believe that the West is weak and decadent and that all they have to do is act aggressively and we, particularly Israel and the US, will just cave in. This is the lesson of threatening punishment when you are impotent to impose it, and of relying on the UN or taking the supposedly moral high ground. Pres. Obama talks well, he is smooth and articulate (unlike Bush) but will he have the balls to actually do anything when Kim Sung Ill deliberately tests him. The worst thing is to threaten punishment and then not deliver anything!
But, it's not only the politics, from every rocket launch N Korean scientists learn more, and then they pass on and sell their expertise and rockets to others, including Iran, that could use them to deliver it's future nuclear warhead.
So what is Obama going to do now, complain to his friends the Russians and the Chinese, send a few aircraft carriers, but without the courage to use them. If this is how things work with the most outrageous acts of N Korea, how could Israel depend on the US when Iran is involved. If Israeli intelligence concludes that Iran is about to develop nuclear weapons, should Israel wait for the US to consider its options, have discussions through the UN and then wait for a Security Council vote. By then we might be sizzled. I hope that the IAF has a plan of action that, even if it can't destroy all of Iran's nuclear capability, at least will put it back far enough in time for them to reconsider. According to the example of N Korea, depending on Pres. Obama and the US is clearly not a viable option.

Policy changes

At its first Cabinet meeting on Sunday the new Netanyahu Government decided on changes in three significant areas. In the economic area their first initiative is to change the law so that a budget need not be presented every year but every two years and the time required to prepare the budget has been doubled. This change is supposed to prevent the almost continuous squabbling between Ministers over their budgets, and the mad scramble to prepare the budget in too short a time. Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz explained that the change which he presented on Monday in the Knesset is intended to add to Governmental stability.
In similar vein, electoral reform is being proposed, including raising the minimum threshold for a party to be represented in the Knesset. At present it is 2% of the total votes, but there are proposals to raise this to 3-5%, and in this way reduce the number of small parties that tie up the Knesset with threats and demands (there are 12 parties in the current Knesset). Also, the requirements for a vote of non-confidence in the Government have been raised, the Opposition must have the ability to form a new Government before they call for a vote of no confidence. And for any budget requisition over 10 million shekels there must be a majority of 80%. These changes are also intended to improve Government stability.
In the security area, there is going to be a "policy review" of all previous negotiations and agreements. This will include the Road Map and the Annapolis agreements, that were introduced by the Bush Administration. In some respects the two are inconsistent, for example the Road Map requires the PA to stop terrorism and violence before further steps, while in Annapolis this order was reversed. It represents once again a lack of patience by the US and a tendency to give in to the intransigence of the Palestinians in order to get some/any results. This always tends to be against Israeli interests. According to the Jerusalem Post today (Monday) the following items will be considered:
1. What international agreements is Israel actually obligated to?
2. How can the Government work to end the Israel-Palestine conflict?
3, Efforts to bring about peace must not depend entirely on Israeli concessions, since experience has shown that these have not produced reciprocal responses from the other side.
4. There is a need to build strong Palestinian civil institutions and an economy.
5. The Palestinians must accept Israel as a Jewish State.
6. The international community should withhold comment and criticism until the policy review is complete and should judge the Government by its actions and not by newspaper headlines.
In line with this review, PM Netanyahu has avoided commenting on FM Lieberman's statements about the Annapolis agreement. Meanwhile, Pres. Obama has endorsed the Annapolis agreement, which is strange since it was a Bush Administration initiative to wring something out of the Middle East peace process before leaving office. It would be a supreme irony if, while Pres. Obama was trying to engage Iran and Syria, he was at the same time pressuring America's one true ally in the Middle East to make concessions.
One of the most positive things that Netanyahu has done is to cancel Olmert's plans for building a new PM's Office that would have cost millions of shekels.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Fighting for democracy?

A new law signed by Pres. Karzai of Afghanistan has some troubling features. It relates to the rights of women in the Shi'ite areas of Afghanistan, and definitely takes away rights that were won in previous documents such as the Afghanistan constitution and the UN Human Rights Convention, giving women equality. According to the new law women must allow their husbands to have sex at least once every 4 days. The UN International Fund for Women (UNIFEM) says this "legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband." There are other aspects of the law that contravene international human rights and equality for women, such as that a woman cannot leave her house without the permission of her husband or a male relative, and this seem to go back to some of the worst practices of the Taliban era. But, as a whole the situation of women in Afghanistan seemed to have greatly improved in the past few years, including the education of girls and women and the involvement of women in business and politics. So the question arises, should US soldiers fight and die for a country that enacts such retrogressive and undemocratic laws.
Strictly speaking it shouldn't matter, because the Obama Administration has dropped many of the former Bush Administration's policies and catchwords, including the "war on terror" (while they are still conducting a war on terror) and the emphasis of sponsoring democracy in the Muslim world. According to the liberal interpretation of the Obama Administration, this smacks of American arrogance, trying to foist it's own system on others to whom it is foreign.
But, the question still arises, what is the US fighting for in Afghanistan if they stand by and allow the country to introduce undemocratic laws? And what is worse, it seems that this law was never actually discussed and passed by the Afghani parliament, so it was approved in a totally dictatorial manner. Surely even the Obama Administration must find this situation appalling and unacceptable, even if it is according to Afghani norms.
At the NATO meeting just held in Strasbourg, Obama defined the reasons why the US and NATO are fighting in Afghanistan. The first is to deny al Qaeda and other Islamist organizations a refuge where they can plot terrorist actions against local and American targets. The second is to support the democratic government of Afghanistan, and to this end the US has alloted m$80 for the upcoming Afghani elections. So it should be a case of putting your mouth where your money is.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Lieberman's outburst

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wasted no time in opening his mouth and putting his foot in it. At his first introductory meeting with the staff at the Foreign Ministry, he stated that the Annapolis agreement was never ratified by the Israeli Government (meaning the former Kadima Government of PM Olmert). Since Lieberman was a Minister in that Government for a time, and resigned over their acceptance of the Annapolis agreement, he should know. But, others dispute his interpretation, saying that the Government did indeed sign the agreement, and this therefore commits future Governments, including this Netanyahu Govermnment to honor this agreement.
Whatever the actual facts of the case, Liebermann, by stating this publicly, has upset the apple cart. Also, because PM Netanyahu has avoided stating that Israel accepts the "two state solution," FM Liberman's rejection of e Annpolis agreement has further confused an already complex situation. Actually, Netanyahu, has not explicitly rejected a "two state solution" and many of his policies in the past have supported that direction, and FM Lieberman, in the same speech, endorsed the Road Map Plan of Pres. Bush, that the Annapolis meeting, that was actually almost totally a photo opportunity with no substance, was based on. So things are not as bleak or confused as they might appear.
Netanyahu is on record as wanting to see economic, educational and infrastructure improvements in the PA before it could become a true partner for Israel in a "two state solution." And Lieberman is reflecting the current major opinion in Israel that we don't want our policies to be determined by any foreign governments, even allies, and that we want to have freedom to decide our own policies within certain limits (determiend by past signed agreements). In other words, what does having sovereignty mean if our policies are determined by the EU and the US, who tell us - you must have this policy - or what? Incidentally, tell me, have the PA or the Arab League actually officially endorsed a "two state solution" with Israel the Jewish State being one of them? No, I thought not!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Israeli innovations

Three Israeli innovations will alter our world with far-reaching consequences.

A small company in Kfar Saba named "Sportvu" is revolutionizing how we will watch sporting events and other activities. They combine the views from multiple cameras to produce a three-dimensional picture, that the viewer can then see from any angle/direction. For example, the standard camera view is to follow the ball, but in the new version, the viewer can watch the players receiving a goal kick before the ball is kicked. Alternatively they can follow one particular player as he dribbles the ball thru the defence. This technology will soon be applied to American football and basketball. It will also allow the viewer to receive any kind of statistic in real time, for example how far the ball has been moved by one player, or the aggregate goal/touchdown scores at any moment. This will revolutionize our watching of television in general. One of the innovations involves using holograms that allow images from different sites to be unified into a single picture, so no more split screens. This Israeli technology has already been tested successfully by CNN.

Unlimited energy production is promised by another Israeli innovation, deep sea wind farms. Yes, under the sea the water swirls around and near the coastal regions has strong currents that reverse as the tide goes in and out. A new innovation to obtain energy from the deep waves is to have "wind farms" just like those that stand on the hills and by the shores around us, catching the wind, but instead buried in the (not too) deep sea floor. One difference between these sea wind rotors and the conventional ones, is that the water buried ones will have electronic detectors to determine the direction of water flow, and when it reverses the rotor will also be turned into the flow, so that it will continue to produce energy almost 24/7. I know this sounds too good to be true, yet there are large numbers of coastal shelves around the world where huge amounts of energy can be produced. Of course, the initial investment is large, because the rotors must be large and must operate continuously without maintenance. But, the experience with wind technology is now great enough that the extension to underwater wave technology will not be such a giant leap.

At Ben Gurion Airport and several others around the world a new security device has been installed that will make the checking of travellers faster and more efficient. It is the Magshoe, a device into whch the passenger steps without the need to take off his/her shoes, and it checks for metal, and if any is detected then a red light goes on and if not a green light and the person is on their way in a matter of seconds. No more taking off shoes at airports, no more walking in stockinged feet, no more time taken to take off and put on the shoes again, nor more time taken looking for a place to sit in order to do this. Now through this Israeli innovation security is enhanced and passengers are happy.

In many ways Israeli innovations, such as drip irrigation, cell phone technology and computer security advances, are already impacting our lives around the world. For further information see
PS. Sadly I must add that an axe wielding Palestinian terrorist attacked a group of children at the settlement of Bat Ayin yesterday and killed a 13-year old boy and wounded an 8 year old girl. The axe was taken from him in a struggle but he managed to escape. Our new PM Bibi Netanyahu announced that there would be a "no tolerance" policy towards terrorism.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Pres. Obama guarantees..

"This Toaster is guaranteed by the US Government. If you have any problems with this Toaster please contact the White House Department of Consumer Affairs. President Barak Obama gives you his personal assurance that if you are not satisfied with this American made Toaster he will take immediate action to ensure that American made toasters are the best in the world. If you feel that the service you are receiving from this Federally ensured Company is unsatisfactory, you may petition your Government to have the CEO of the Company fired. This has been a message from the Federal Consumer Guarantee Corp."
OK, so it's not toasters that the President is guaranteeing, but American made cars, from those companies (Chrysler, GM) to which the US Government has now given so many billions of dollars in loans that in effect the Government, and in effect you the taxpayer, own them. Since Pres. Obama gave the leadership of these companies a limited time to come up with a financial plan to save themselves, and since they failed to do so, the President decided not to give them any more billions now (at least not for a while) until an acceptable plan is forthcoming. In order to get control of the situation, Obama essentially fired the Manager and CEO of GM, Rick Wagner, and in effect, has now himself become the Manager and CEO of GM. It's a case of your Federal tax dollars at work. If you want to buy a car cheap contact the White House, they have lots of deals going in the Rose Garden.
I am not a Republican, but even I can detect a certain amount of creeping socialism in this situation. Having the Government "take over," i.e. nationalize "the means of production, distribution and exchange," is the goal of socialism, on the grounds that the Government will run the companies in the interests of the "people" not the owners or "capitalists," who every one knows are bloated, greedy and selfish. But, nearly a hundred years of experience has shown that the Government has no idea how to run a company and nationalized industries tend to be bloated, greedy and selfish, while modern capitalism is lean, mean and progressive. That's why in Europe most of the Governments have been denationalizing the industries that were taken over 50 years before and were left in terrible shape, and that's not to mention the appalling situation in the former Soviet Union.
Now, I would be the first to admit that GM and the others have been bloated and reactionary, continuing to make great gas guzzlers while the demand is for small, efficient, environmentally friendly cars such as electric cars. And there is a need, short of closing them down, for them to change fundamentally. But, whether or not having the Government take them over, as they essentially took over the Banks and the Mortgage Companies (such as AIG), is really questionable. Those who voted for Barack Obama did not intend for him to spend his time designing an improved Chevy.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Israel has the biggest...

What has Israel got that is the largest in the world? The Cabinet! The Cabinet of PM Bibi Netanyahu that was sworn in on Monday is the largest, at 30 members, of all Governments in the Western world. The new Israeli Governent was ratified on Tuesday by the Knesset, 69-45. By comparison Britain and the US have 22 members, and France has 21 Cabinet members.
When he was PM ten years ago, Netanayhu vowed to have the smallest Cabinet and kept it down to 18 members. However, he learned a hard lesson, although it is good to be an idealist and try to save the country money, in the long run it comes back to bite you. All the Likud members and others he left out of his first Cabinet combined to oppose him and finished him off politically.
So this time, he opened his arms and gave a Cabinet position to everyone in sight. His situation was difficult, because in order to get Israel Beitanu into his Coalition he had to give Avigdor Lieberman the Foreign Ministry, as well as several other Ministries to his followers. In order to get Labor into the Coalition, he had to give the Defense portfolio to Ehud Barak, and several other Ministries to his followers. Then there was Shas and the other right wing and religious parties, so more Ministries being doled out. Then finally today he gave appointments, the crumbs left over, to people in his own party, Likud, and to avoid future splits and animosities he had to give away the store. In order to make enough Ministries, some were divided, for example the Ministry of Sport, Culture and Science, was divided into the Ministry of Sport and Culture and the Ministry of Science. Next time around they'll divide the Ministry of Sport and Culture! Although he managed to antagonize Silvan Shalom, his main rival in Likud, he did appoint him Deputy Premier, a position previously made up for Shimon Peres under similar circumstances. So this might keep Shalom at bay for a while.
One interesting surprise is that Netanyahu has given the Treasury position to Yuval Steinitz, one of the more honest and intelligent politicians around. Netanyahu was expected to keep this Ministry for himself, due to his previous experience there and the current economic crisis. But, this is presumably a reward to Steinitz for his loyalty in conducting the Coalition negotiations for Netanyahu. The only drawback is that Steinitz is known as a defense policy expert. Another defense expert, Moshe "Boogey" Yaalon was not given the Denense portfolio because it had to been given to Barak, but instead he was given the portfolio for Strategic Affairs..
So now the Cabinet is set to meet for the first time around a (larger) table. Have you ever heard of 30 people agreeing on anything, especially when there are left wingers (Labor) and right wingers (National Union) around the same Table? In Israel, the Government decisions are voted on by the Cabinet and hopefully there won't be a 15:15 split, although if there is Bibi will have the deciding vote.
The real question is why should Israel, the smallest democracy, have the largest Cabinet. Maybe it's because we have the largest amount of money to give away?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Obama's "surge"

Pres. Obama gave a major foreign policy address last Friday in relation to the threat of al Qaeda and the war in Afghanistan. It was a speech that would have been worthy of his predecessor George W. Bush, who Obama's supporters loved to hate.

Without mentioning Iraq, Obama called for an increase of 4,000 US troops in Afghanistan and a ratcheting up of the military and civilian support for the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a unified front. If Bush had made a similar spech calling for an increase in the war in this theater he would have been vilified by the anti-war opponents. But, now that the Iraq war is successfully winding down, the US can afford to tackle the growing threat from the Taliban in Afghanistan that is emanating from across the border in Pakistan. When Pres. Musharraf was in charge of Pakistan, the US could depend on him, but now that Pres. Zardari has taken over, he is much less powerful and much more dependent on US support, and so the US must go into the uncontrolled tribal areas and take care of the Islamist threat from there itself. This is now the focus of Obama's foreign policy, to rout out and destroy the Islamist threat from the Pakistan-Afghanistan area.

Here are highlights of the speech as seen by Reuters (compiled by Caren Bohan; edited by Vicki Allen):
"PERILOUS" SITUATION "The situation (in Afghanistan) is increasingly perilous. It's been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan."

U.S. INTELLIGENCE ON AL QAEDA "Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan."

FOCUS ON PAKISTAN "The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan ... For the American people, this border region (in Pakistan) has become the most dangerous place in the world."

GOALS IN AFGHANISTAN "We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future. We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States ... We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."

U.S. WON'T "BLINDLY STAY THE COURSE" "I want to be clear: We cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable."

OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE A STAKE "And finally, together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region -- our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China."