Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ransoming Gilad Schalit

On Sunday following the Netanya AACI AGM we attended a presentation given by Jeremy Maissel of "Israel Seminars" on the topic of "Gilad Schalit - at any price?" This topic has many ramifications for Israel, and Jeremy pointed out the different reponses that different groups within Israeli society make regarding this question. Let me remind you that Gilad Schalit is the IDF Corporal who was captured by Hamas forces when they crossed the Gaza border in 2006 and he has been their captive for over 1,000 days.
In Jewish practice the redeeming of hostages is considered one of the most important acts that any Jewish community, including the Israeli Government, can perform. Unfortunately Jews have great experience in this area since it was the practice of both Christians and Muslims to take Jews captive for ransom throughout the centuries. The basis for paying ransom in Jewish religious law is strong and firm. But, there is also a tendency that says that redeeming a Jewish captive must not harm the future of the Jewish community. Taking this stance must cause a division of opinion within Israeli society and reveals the complexity of the situation.
Jeremy distributed various placards with different names on them, that represented different elements within Israeli society and invited the audience to respond to the question of the ransom of Gilad Schalit representing the interests of the group identified on the placard. Thus, there were placards for "Parents of kidnapped soldiers," "The Israeli Government," "The Security Forces," "The IDF," and so on. Each audience member was invited to speak for a few minutes representing the interest of his/her group. Then the cards were placed on a horizontal rod with different labels attached, from "no exchange" at one end to "complete exchange" on the other.
Clearly the "Parents" group will want any exchange to release their loved ones, while the "Security forces" will be against any exchange because they see that all prisoners released by Israel are future security threats. It is well known that ca. 30% of previously released prisoners have later been involved in further terrorism, that has taken dozens of Israeli lives. And note that those prisoners were not those "with blood on their hands," i.e those who had already killed, that Hamas now demands in exchange for Schalit. For these reasons the exchange of hundreds or thousands of Palestinian terrorist prisoners for one IDF soldier is no longer popular within Israeli society, notwithstanding the emotioanl pull of the families and their supporters.
By taking all these interest groups within Israeli society and placing their responses on the rod showed that the majority of groups within Israeli society do want an exchange to ransom Gilad Schalit, but not at any price. The most positive about an exchange of prisoners was, apart from the parents, the IDF, that makes a solemn pledge to all soldiers that this will be their policy if they are captured or killed (i.e. they will retrieve their body). But, the Israeli Government, following social pressure, is more circumspect, they have to consider the advice of the Security services as well as potential future events.
The new Netanyahu Government has agreed to rejoin negotiations thru Egypt for Schalit's release. But, their motto, even more than the previous Government, is "Gilad Schalit, yes, but not at any price!"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tenuous link

What is the connection between a nuclear test in North Korea and a desolate hilltop in Samaria? The answer should be none, but in the minds of some imaginative American politicians there is a connection, although tenuous at best.
Here is the rationalization in their thinking, N. Korea has become a nuclear state that has been cooperating with Iran and Syria to help them develop nuclear weapons and missiles. Under the Bush doctrine of "they're either with us or against us," it was easy to simply identify these nations as "the axis of evil." But, under the Obama doctrine, that distinction is replaced by the belief that we must engage these countries in dialog so that they don't consider the US as an enemy. In order to persuade N. Korea not to continue to develop the atomic bomb nothing much can now be done except use the UN Security council to pass stronger sanctions, and if N. Korea actually attacks S. Korea or Japan, although it is unlikely to do so, then the US is required by treaties to intervene on their side (that means war!).
But, Iran is different, there the Obama Administration detects potential for engagement. In order to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, further discussions will be attempted, following those that the Europeans tried unsuccessfully for 5 years. In order to get Iran to actually enter discussions with the US, the US wants to show that it is indeed a worthwhile interlocutor for the Iranians. In order to do this, the issue that the Obama Administration has selected to show to Iran that they genuinely seek an accomodation is to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. At present the best thing that they think they can obtain Israeli concessions on is a freeze on settlement expansion.
But, in view of the refusal of the Netanyahu Government to accept this concession, i.e. they will not agree to a freeze on "natural growth" of "all settlements," the one issue that they are willing to sacrifice is the so-called "outposts." These are small settlements set up by religious settlers who believe that they have a God-given right to settle anywhere in the "land of Israel." Some of these outposts are illegal in that they have not been given formal Government permission for their establishment. So the Netanyahu Government, with prodding from some coalition members, such as Labor Leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, is preparing to sacrifice these outposts for the American President, in order to placate the Palestinians and the Iranians.
But, if any sane person believes that by removing a few Jews from a few desolate hilltops in the West Bank that this will make any difference to the Middle East situation they are deluded.
The Palestinians pressure the Americans to pressure the Israelis all the time, and yet the Americans never pressure the Palestinains to make concessions. The first item in the Road Map (of George Bush) is that the PA cease all terrorism and violence against Israel, but they certainly have not done this. US power would be better applied to pressure the PA to comply, but that would not endear them to the Iranians, so as usual it is Israel that has to give.
But, Pres. Ahmedinejad, the mouthpiece of the Mullahs, has said repeatedly that he intends to "wipe Israel off the map," and if anyone thinks he will be deflected by any talks or the removal of some outposts they are living in cloud-cuckoo land. Not only is it laughable, but it is so evidently stupid. Will N. Korea be stopped by anything less than a massive and realistic threat to destroy the regime? Will Iran be stopped by anything other than a very strong sanctions regime and similar threats. The answer to these questions is a definite "no," yet Obama insists on "playing while Rome burns." Apparently liberals need to learn their lessons the hard way rather than relying on experience.
So actually there is no linkage between N. Korean nuclear tests, Iranian nuclear weapons and Israeli outposts, but in the fevered minds of some members of the Obama Administration this is what passes for policy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


During our visit to Beersheba for our grand-daughter's batmitzvah we had the opportunity for a trip to Masada, the great natural fortress near the Dead Sea. There we were able to visit the new museum and impressive entrance building that has been constructed since last year. It is certainly an improvement over the earlier situation of merely getting in the cable car and ascending to the top. The museum gives a valuable orientation and shows exhibits of artifacts that were excavated on the site, as well as videos of the primary archaeologist Yigal Yadin.
A notable change from the previous situation is that the "glorified" and somewhat nationalistic fervor that greeted the amazing finds at Masada have given way to a more mature attitude. For example, the finding of ten potsherds with names written on them in Hebrew, which was interpreted as corresponding exactly to the means described in the book of Josephus, the Romanized Jew, as to how the last Jewish survivors on Masada commited suicide rather than be captured and enslaved by the Romans, is now downgraded to a possible correlation.
It is true that most of what we know about the history of Masada comes from one book, "The Jewish Wars" by Josephus, that was written for a Roman audience and is not always reliable and accurate. Nevertheless, the amazing fact that the "three-tiered palace" of Herod described in Josephus' account was found there, as well as numerous details, such as the huge storage rooms for food, the huge water cisterns and the complex system of channels for collecting rain water, and the "false" marble, are all there and are 2000 years old is quite staggering. Also, the remains of the Jewish rebels who occupied Masada for 3 years, as well as the Roman camps and the ramp which they used to batter their way into the fortress are all there to be seen.
During out visit we saw that Masada is a prime tourist site with groups from Italy, Germany, Sweden, Russia, etc. It is to be hoped that these groups will return to their home countries with news of this wonder of the world, which is now a UNESCO heritage site. This should be a counter to all the arguments put out by the PA, our "moderate" Palestinian enemies, that the Jews have no connection to this land. On the contrary, Jewish sovereignty was exercised here until the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 ce and then the last Jewish stronghold, Masada, fell in 73 ce. From then, for a further 1,865 years we had the long bloody interlude of Jewish Diaspora, until the Jewish State was re-established in 1948. During this interlude, the Arabs appeared and conquered Jerusalem in 637 ce, 564 years after Masada fell. Although Masada is no longer routinely used for the induction of Israeli soldiers, it stands as a concrete reminder of the ancient Jewish bond to this land.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Iran in Lebanon

A watershed event that is coming soon will be the June 7 election in Lebanon. It is likely that Hizbollah, that already has control over Lebanese Government decisions, will actually become the Government of Lebanon. This will complete a process that was begun in 1979 with the revolution in Iran, when Ayatollah Khomeini decided to export the Shia revolution to Lebanon with its Shia majority. But the Shia in Lebanon are Arabs as opposed to those in Iran who are Persian.
The reason this particular form of imperialism did not work then was that Iraq under Saddam Hussein attacked Iran first, and the Iran-Iraq war lasted for 8 years with a million casualties that bled both of them to a stalemate. It has taken a generation for Iran to recover, and now it is definitely in its exapnsionist phase again, with the development of nuclear weapons, and the funding of its proxies, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Finally a victory for Hizbollah in the Lebanese election will be the fruit of many years of labor for the Iranian-Syrian axis. This includes the removal of the most popular leader in Lebanon Rafik Hariri, whose assassination by car bomb has been linked to both Syria and Hizbollah by the UN Commission. If Iran completes its plan to control an Arab country, Lebanon, it will have exported its revolution far from its borders and right up to the border with Israel. This will be an extremely dangerous situation for both Israel and for the "moderate" Sunni Arab countries, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Without being alarmist this could cause a major war in the Middle East. The Arabs cannot allow the Shia Persians to take over their world and Israel cannot allow Iran to take over Lebanon. What the US under Pres. Obama would do remains to be seen, but he may be distracted for a while by the North Korean nuclear test. We are clearly past the stage of "discussions" both with N. Korea and Iran, but the question is whether or not Obama realizes this and acts accordingly. No doubt when the results of the June 7 election in Lebanon and the June 9 election in Iran are known the state of play will become clearer.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Three little words

Many people have been concerned that PM Bibi Netanyahu did not say those three little words to Pres. Obama that he wanted to hear, "I love you," no sorry I mean, "two state solution." Actually it comes to the same thing, giving in to all of Obama's demands would require Bibi to effectively give up Israel's sovereignty.
The reality of the current situation means that Obama's position that Israel accept the "two state solution" is unrealistic and naieve. It may be that Obama, in a hurry to show that he is engaged in the Middle East, having commited himself to a "two state solution" following the policies of the previous Bush Adminstration, has painted himself into a corner. The problem is that once he has stated this, and presumably believes in it, he cannot easily drop the mantra and adopt new policies. It is Bibi's responsibility as the new PM of Israel to point out the fallacy of this simplistic response to a complex situation. Although Netanyahu may be blamed for the lack of progress in the "peace process," eventually the futility of trying to negotiate a solution with Abbas of the PA will become apparent.
There are two main reasons why a two state solution as currently envisaged is impossible: 1. The Arabs so far have insisted on the "right of return" or the Palestinian "refugees", but in fact the only true refugees are those who left their country, not their descendents, and so the number of so-called Palestinian refugees is vastly exaggerated at ca. 4.3 million, whereas only ca. 750,000 left the area of Palestine as a result of the fighting in 1948 and few of them are still alive. Apparently Obama is working on persuading the Arabs to accept that the "refugees" cannot return to Israel, but must be either accepted in their country of residence, as they have been made citizens in Jordan, or will return only to a future putative Palestinian State (and this ignore the transfer of ca. 650,000 Jews from Arab lands to Israel), but so far this is only wishful thinking. 2. According to the "Road Map" that both the PA and Israel signed, the first step is for the PA to renounce terrorism and violence as a means to accomplish their goals. This is a very reasonable requirement, how can you negotiate peace with a enemy that continues to use terrorism to attack you. But, since the PA has not honored its obligation to do this, why should Israel take any other step or make concessions towards the PA. At stake are the settlements and specifically the natural expansion of settlements and Jerusalem due to population growth. The PA, supported by the EU and US want Israel to freeze all new settlement growth. Note that this is not the suspension of the establishment of new settlements that the current and all recent Israeli governments have honored, but merely the freezing of growth. The question arises, why should Israel make this concession when it is not required to unless and until the PA stops all terrorist activity against it. It makes no sense, is this the way to arrive at peace?
Apart from these basic problems, currently there is no unified PA government to negotiate with, and other issues involving Iran and it's proxies loom larger and more significant than the actually petty and trivial attempt to get Israel to freeze settlement growth without any reciprocity.

The power of wishful thinking

Have you ever been watching a sports match, football or tennis, and wished very hard for one side or the other to win? And somehow you feel that you are having either a negative or a positive influence on the outcome.
This was the case many years ago when we were living in Washington DC, and I became a supporter of the Washington Redskins. Whenever I turned on the TV to watch their match, they started to lose. It became so bad that my son asked me not to watch them, and he even had me cover my eyes when a crucial play was on.
I love watching tennis and snooker. In tennis, when Federer and Nadal are almost even, I am rooting for Federer and my wife for Nadal (he's more macho), and it's as if we are battling for control over the airwaves for the fate of the ball.
Now you know that this is impossible. Noone can influence the outcome of a game or any event taking place thousands of miles away or even nearby purely through thought processes. If you want a scientific explanation, the energy or power emitted by the brain (which can be measured) is negligible and could not move the flight of a ball even one millimeter up close.
Many years ago I had an Uncle and Aunt who were spiritualists and astrologers. They believed in psychokinesis, the ability to focus the mind to change physical reality. Their favorite example was a seer of some kind who caused small clouds to disperse, but in fact there was no way of knowing if this was his fault or merely a fortuitous breeze. I opted for the latter explanation. My Aunt also read my astrological chart and assured me that one day I would be famous, so at least she was consistent.
This belief in the power of thought is pervasive in alternative medicine, since there is no greater force than wishful thinking. Recently I went to my usual Friday morning coffee/tea group in the town square and there was a young woman there, the daughter of one of the regulars. This young woman is a spiritual healer, and offered to cure my back pain from a recent injury (I tried to move my whole bed in one go). She put her hand close to my back and looked blank for a few minutes, and then said that she had finished. Of course, I felt nothing, but I wanted so hard not to disappoint her that I said, of course, that I felt better. I pointed out to her that since "energy" is a form of radiation, if she really could produce energy from her hands, it should be detectable by a simple spectrometer. Over a few days the pain in my back did recede, but it may have been due to the rub-ins with Ben Gay that my wife did, or the hot showers that I had, or even spontaneous improvement.
This is something that those who talk about non-conventional cancer cures and other quackery should note. There is a spontaneous cure rate for all cancers. Only the most virulent of viruses, such as Ebola virus are nearly 100% fatal. For example, many years ago a famous oncologist claimed that he had found a gene therapy cure for multiple myeloma, and his cure rate was ca. 30%. But, a cancer epidemiologist published a study pointing out that the spontaneous cure rate for this terrible disease is also ca. 30%, so the net result was unfortunately no cure! Such is the power of wishful thinking or the placebo effect, that people will believe in cures that have no actual basis, hence the need for double blind studies, where neither the doctor nor the patient knows what they are receiving.
Anyway, even though the laying on of hands in my case did not seem to work, I am ready to undergo another attempt, as a contribution to science. And I'm still hoping that my Aunt will be proved right.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

War crimes?

The Army shot the Chief of the uprising in an ambulance while he was trying to escape. That's a war crime, and is contrary to Geneva Conventions 1-10! All Army officers should be arrested if they try to leave the country and should be tried. What about the 250,000 people who are in camps? What about the 50,000 civilians who have been trapped and shot at, many of them have been injured or killed? We'll demonstrate, we'll stop the traffic, we'll scream bloody murder... what's that you say, it was the chief of the Tamil Tigers, it was the Sri Lankan Army, there were no Palestinians involved, no IDF, OK, then forget it, let's go back to sleep.
Yes, I'm sorry folks, false alarm. It was only Tamils and of course their lives are not worth a fraction of those of a Palestinian, at least as far as the media and the left are concerned. No screaming headlines, no dead children being carried into hospitals, no chagrined politicians shouting into microphones in Trafalgar Square, "We are all Tamils!" It just doesn't fit, if they aren't Palestinians no one really cares. What hypocrisy!
For my part I care less for the Palestinians than for the Tamils, because the Tamils fought for self-determination for 26 years without any outside support, while the Palestinians have fought for destruction of Israel for 50 years, but have had everybody on their side, the left, the right, the UN, the EU, the Arabs, the Muslims, and now the Iranians. But, in fact, the Sri Lankan military and Government were advised by the IDF on how to handle such a civilian insurgency. Just as the US is trying to handle one in Afghanistan and Pakistan right now.
Sri Lanka was easier, because its an island, and the supply lines of the Tamil Tigers could only come from India and India did not support them (even though the Tamils are Hindu). Also, the insurgency in Iraq was handled quite well by the US, with a gradual crackdown and then taking over the areas that were "pacified." Once there were no more Saddamis and al Qaeda lost the support of the Sunnis and the three main factions, the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, decided they preferred finally to live in one sovereign state, then gradually the insurgency receded.
But, Afgahanistan and Pakistan are different, they include tribes that have never been "pacified". The British tried it over a 100 years ago and failed, the Pakistan Government tried several times and failed. The fact is that this region has never been "pacified" and I'm afraid that the US under Obama is entering a quagmire from which there is no escape, a "Muslim Vietnam." In order to pacify this region the US will have to do a lot more than "water-boarding", that makes Obama queasy, there will be plenty of civilian deaths and cries of "war crimes" before that action is over.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama and Netanyahu meet

Finally it happened, the meeting between the new President of the USA and the new PM of Israel. It was fair to expect that there would be good rapport between the two leaders. PM Netanyahu showed his obeisance at the feet of the great new liberal-minded leader of the free world. And Pres. Obama was supportive of Israel, because the US must always support it's allies and he also needs to show the American Jews who voted for him that he is a friend of Israel. PM Netanyahu has a delicate political coalition to maintain and Pres. Obama would not want to be the cause of a breakdown in Israeli governance by pressuring Israel beyond a certain point. Given these limitations, there was no likelihood of any public "collision course" between the two leaders as had been envisaged by the not so pro-Israel media.
Obama reiterated his commitment to a "two state solution," pointing out that Israel has accepted that formulation in the Road Map and Annapolis process of his predecessor, George W. Bush. But, Netanyahu managed to avoid that precise formulation, preferring to point out that the aim is for the "two peoples" to co-exist in peace, and stating that the Palestinains need to recognize Israel as "a Jewish State."
Beyond that, Obama asked Netanyahu to make certain concessions to the Palestinians, in order to let him off the hook with the Arabs, such as stopping all settlement activity (notwithstanding the fact that Israel needs to use this card in negotiations). This is the traditional American stance, whoever is the President, Israel must make concessions, while the Palestinians continue as before, being terrorists, killing Israelis and each other, and there is no chance of a realistic "peace process," but that doesn't matter. There are also moves by the Obama Administration, notably in a speech by VP Joe Biden, to engage the "moderate" Sunni Arab States in positive responses to Israeli concessions, such as opening telephone communications and airline connections. This makes the Palestinians nervous, so Saeb Erakat issued a statement that the Arab States should not "reward" Israel if it agrees to a settlement freeze (actually no new official settlements are being built, only expansions of existing settlements and of Jerusalem).
In return for his cooperation, Netanyahu asked Obama for support in increasing the pressure on Iran. However, Netanyahu's attempt to finesse Obama into an "Iran first" option did not work. Obama reiterated his policy of "extending a hand in peace" to Iran; he will wait until after the June elections and then attempt talks, and if that doesn't work "by the end of the year" then perhaps he might consider more sanctions. Meanwhile Iran races forward to make nuclear weapons to use on you know who. This kind of prevarication passes for policy in the liberal mind-set. It will do nothing to allay Israel's and Netanyahu's fears. To those who say that there is no such thing as a "military solution," I point to the end-game that has just taken place in Sri Lanka, not to mention the improved situation in Iraq.
Maybe both leaders will agree on a statement of Israeli Government intentions to resume peace negotiations with the PA as soon as possible, and neither will directly link Iran with the Palestine-Israel conflict or vice versa. Either way the diplomatic niceties will be covered, at least publicly.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What second state?

What are the facts about the so-called "two state solution"? The Palestine Authority (PA) was established under the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO in 1979, that were in the process of being implemented when terrorism against Israeli civilians reached such an extent that the Israeli Government was forced to halt all further withdrawals. By then the PA included all the main Palestinian population centers, Gaza and the main cities on the West Bank (Tulkarm, Kalkilya, Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem) constituting 95% of the Palestinian Arab population. Then in 2006, the PA held elections that Hamas won, and as a result of the Sharon policy of disengagement of total withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, Gaza became a Hamas entity. Thus, the PA is split between Hamas and the Fatah/PLO.
As if that wasn't complex enough, the PA in the West Bank is now tottering on the edge of collapse. Pres. Abbas is still considered the President of the PA, even though his term in office expired last year. He fired former PM Fayyad because Hamas would not accept him, and there were negotiations for a Unity Government going on between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo, in the hope of netting the $4.5 billion put up by the EU, UN and US for reconstruction in Gaza. But, they could not agree, and now Pres. Abbas is intending to re-appoint Fayyad (and the money is in abeyance).
But, not only Hamas opposes Fayyad's re-appointment, but the old timers in Fatah are against him, because he is an independent who doesn't give them jobs. In order to overcome this problem Abbas is threatening to call a meeting of the PLO National Council, that has not been in session for about 18 years. The old guard oppose this and are threatening to start a new intifada against Abbas and bring him down if he does this. However, the young guard in Fatah (not so young, but at least not in their 70s and 80s) support a National meeting of the PLO in order to try to take it over and threaten an intifada if Abbas doesn't convene the Assembly. So at present the PA is paralyzed by internal dissension.
Another cause for contention is the PA Police Force, that is being trained by the US, the UK and the EU, and has taken over control of several PA cities. The American and EU idea is that if the PA has enough trained forces to control the various cities, then the likelihood of a Hamas takeover is reduced. As of now the PA Police only operate during daylight. Most experts agree that not only are the PA Police heavily infiltrated, but that once sight of armed Hamas gunmen are seen on the streets the police will disappear. Also, they are likely to use their weapons, supplied by the US and Israel, against Israeli forces.
So we have one of the two states of the "two state solution," namely Israel, but where is the second state? At present it is a non-starter, a figment of the imagination of westen liberals. But, we here in Israel have to deal with realities. This should be borne in mind when PM Netanyahu meets Pres. Obama in Washington.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Israeli budget

The Israeli Cabinet approved the Budget for 2009-10 on Thursday after an all-night session. It now requires Knesset approval. This Budget was more controversial than most, because PM Netanyahu is a well-known exponent of the free market and in the current economic downturn, in order to stimulate the economy and not raise taxes, he tried to cut Government spending. While this seems at first sight like an eminently reasonable thing to do, he was attacked from several sides by proponents of special interests, and was forced to revoke many of his proposed cuts.
Instead of a 6% across the board cut, he removed the cuts in the areas of Education, Health and Defence, under threat that those Ministers would resign. They also had support from other groups, such as the teachers in the case of the education budget, and the doctors in the health area. The idea that some of the reversals in the social area would come from the Defence cuts was scotched when the Defence establishment supported Defense Minister Barak against them. Also, the cuts in welfare programs such as for children and the elderly were reversed and the planned cuts in salaries for public sector workers will be dropped under threat of the head of the Histadrut Trade Union to take the Labor Party out of Netanyahu's coalition.
In order to cover the losses, Netanyahu and his Finance Minster Yuval Steinitz, added 1% to the VAT and a tax on the sale of fruit and vegetables for the first time in Israel. One might think that this budget, arrived at through political chicanery and blackmail might be considered a terrible one by the experts. But, that is not the case, after all is said and done the budget is reasonably well-balanced between cuts and additions, between societal interests and special interests. The Jerusalem Post editorial about the Budget called it "wrong process, right result."
One outcome of the budget process was the resignation of the Budget Director Ram Belinkov. He resigned in protest because of the undue influence of outside forces on the budget process, namely lack of Government control of the outcome. But, many criticized him for this, because unfortunately this is the way politics and budgets work in Israel, it is all a process of negotiation. And very few think this Budget will last, it will have to be modifed as time goes on in light of exigent circumstances. Few believe that the compromises worked out by Netanyahu and Steinitz for the passage of this Budget will remain in effect for the duration of the life of this Government.

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's our fault

Why is Europe so anti-Semitic again? We can assume that there is something fundamental in European culture that such a long-lived conviction cannot be expunged easily. But, Europe after many internecine wars has become pacific, it has accepted blacks and Muslims and given them equal rights, it has become much less religious and it has become tolerant of all minorities (except one).
Why did it change so? Mainly because of WWII, and the consequences of releasing the racist anti-Semitic super-nationalistic dogma out of the cage of civilization. What happened, there was a world war, millions died, and the forces of racist, fascist super-nationalism were defeated by the good guys, the liberal democrats. If the liberal democrats are superior, then the conclusion was that Europe (and Japan) must adopt their ways, their thought processes, their toleration of minorities.
And that is what they did after 1945, but look where it got them. Europe is multicultural, tolerant, anti-racist, but what do they do with all that repressed tribal sentiment that is still lying under the surface. Why, of course, they blame us, the Jews for their predicament. It was our fault that after WWII they had to show guilt and contrition for all the bad things they had done. Now we are no longer there (of if we are there we are quiet as in Britain) while the Muslims are there and they are not quiet, on the contrary. So the Europeans have to put up with it, but of course they blame us for their predicament. It's our fault, it's always our fault!
There's nothing like a good scapegoat to make one feel better, and a distant scapegoat is even better than a proximal one, since one can vent one's spleen without actually having to act badly. If the Muslims say loudly enough and consistently enough that Israel is an "occupying force" that it is "colonial" and "imperialist" and represses the poor Palestinians, then why not have Israel as the convenient scapegoat, after all they are Jewish too, what a bonus, two for the price of one.
I have been for many years one of those who have complained about the absymal international PR of Israel. The lack of any real coherent PR program, instead of being only reactive and apologetic. But, against the irrational upsurge of ancient hostility there is in truth not much that can be done. Of course, we must appeal to the better natures and sense of justice of the balanced elite among the others. But, if and when even the well-meaning are caught up in the same surge of animosity, not much can be done, except to persist.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


It was announced that Saudi Arabia and Jordan, in consultations with Egypt, the PA and Syria, are considering changes to their peace plan to accomodate Pres. Obama in his aim to bring about a renewal of the Israel-Palestine peace process. One of the Arab conditions was that Israel accept the Palestinian "right of return," that is of all Palestinians to all of Palestine/Israel. That is clearly an agreement breaker because there is no way that Israel is going to allow millions of Palestinians to "return" to Israel where they haven't lived for 61 years and when they are hostile to Israel. It would be commiting suicide for Israel.
Now apparently after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah of Jordan met with Pres. Obama, they are considering a change in this clause, namely that Palestinian refugees would be given a choice of remaining in the countries where they reside and becoming citizens there, or returning to an eventual Palestinian State. It should be noted that strictly speaking the Palestinians are not "refugees," since under international law only the actual person who leaves or is forced out of his/her country is a refugee, not their offspring. Also, Palestinians who moved to Jordan are in fact already Jordanian citizens, Jordan was the only Arab country that gave them citizenship.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that the Arabs have shown a possibility of compromise in order to accomodate the known limitations of Israeli interests. Now if only they can agree to accept less than 100% of the West Bank as the future "Palestinian State," then a compromise could be reached to allow the densely populated regions (ca. 5%) to remain in Israel, with possible exchange of Israeli territory which is densely populated by Arabs. This would overcome stumbling blocks in the progress towards peace. Obama apparently also asked them to come up with a timeline for recognition of Israel by Arab countries after an agreement is actually reached, rather than leaving it open and possibly unfulfilled.
Have you ever heard of Gamal Mubarak, the 45 year old son of Pres. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. There are many rumors and articles about his being groomed as his father's replacement since 2000, when he was appointed as General Secretary of the National Democratic Party. Since then he has hovered in the background, raising certain touchy questions. Does Egypt want to become another Arab state where a dynasty controls power, such as Syria, where Hafez Assad passed power to his son Bashar? In the Egyptian constitution there is provision for a Vice President, but Hosni Mubarak has never appointed one. So the succession to him is unclear and he is now 81 years old!
Both Mubaraks have denied that he is being groomed as the successor, and Hosni has said that " Egypt is not a monarchy." But, with the Muslim Brotherhood looming ever in the background too, what will become of Egypt when Mubarak must go or dies? This is a signicant question for Israel, maybe even more so than the Palestinian or Iranian situations. Egypt is the largest Arab State by population, and although the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty has lasted for 30 years, in Egypt there has always been strong opposition to it, and it is only the firm grip that Mubarak and the NDP has on power that has prevented any breakdowns. Although Gamal appears to be both more liberal and is not a military man like his father, and would be expected to be more pro-Western, the same was felt about Bashar Assad when he was first appointed President of Syria. But, Egypt is not Syria and we can expect a great deal of turmoil before the succession becomes clear.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Churchill and the Jews

Sir Martin Gilbert spoke at a Hall in Netanya on Sunday night at the invitation of the Netanya AACI on the topic "Churchill and the Jews: friend or foe?" As the official biographer of Winston Churchill and author of many books on the subject, particularly the 2007 study "Churchill and the Jews," Gilbert is well qualified to address this subject.
His speech was eloquent, detailed and persuasive. He covered the period from the time that Churchill met his father's friends who were prominent Jews, to his time as a young politican, and then as a Government official between the 1920's to the 1940s. In 1922, Churchill was the British Minister responsible for presenting the British Mandate proposal to the League of Nations in Geneva. This was a landmark in that the British proposed officially to establish a Jewish State in Palestine. This is often overlooked relative to the earlier less official 1917 Balfour Declaration. It was Chuchill's steadfastness and persuasiveness against the often overtly anti-Semitic opposition of his colleagues, that lead to this being passed by the House of Commons and becoming official British Government policy. When Gilbert interviewed many of the participants in the events they still proclaimed anti-Semitic views, not realizing that he is Jewish.
However, Churchill was also responsible for dividing the Palestine Mandate into two parts, the Western Part that remained the Mandate until 1948 and the Eastern Part becoming Trans-Jordan. When challenged on this, Gilbert replied that even the Zionist Federation did not see any reasonable possibility of holding onto that region and had barely enough immigrants to resettle Western Palestine. The British Government needed a way to satisfy the ambitions of the Arab rulers, and this was one way they chose (they also had the Mandate for Iraq at the time).
During the 1930's the British Government in many ways reneged on their commitment to the Jews, as exemplified in the 1939 White Paper that was definitely pro-Arab, and banned all Jewish immigration to Palestine. In this period while out of office Churchill visited Munich and saw for himself what was happening to the Jews in Germany and wrote about it.
In relation to WWII, when Churchill was Prime Minister, Gilbert detailed two examples of how Churchill sought to save Jewish lives, including fighting the often anti-Semitic bureaucracy. In one case he authorized flights that were sent to supplyTito in Yugoslavia to return with Jews aboard, thus saving hundreds of Jewish lives. He also arranged for the quotas of Jewish immigrants that had not been fulfilled before the war to be used for transferring many Jewish refugees from Turkey to Palestine.
When challenged on why Churchill had not arranged for the bombing of the railway lines to Auschwitz and other camps, Organization, of which bombing the railway lines to the camps was the last item! However, the decision whether or not to bomb was under the authority of Gen. Eisenhower. He in turn submitted the request to the Under Secretary of State in Washington, and there it was quashed.
Gilbert quoted from many of Churchill's writings, including one essay written in the 1930s in which he prophesied that one day Palestine might become a Jewish State with 5 million people, that could have a significant influence on the backwardness of the Arab peoples.
Whatever the quibbles, there is no doubt that Churchill was a life-long philo-Semite, a friend of the Jews and of Zionism.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Confronting doubt

There are two origins of doubt in religious belief, first is the impact of scientific investigation and the opening of minds that has revealed other truths. A second origin is the growing conviction among some that what they were taught as a child and what their religion requires as faith is not true. An example of the former would be the 'Origin of species" by Darwin, that despite strong opposition from the Church in England and other religious authorities has gained ground during the past one and a half centuries. I have been influenced in this way, but then I have been in the fortunate position of having had a rigorous scientific training. But, there are many who start out as believers and then over a period of time come to doubt certain basic tenets of their faith. An example of the latter would be the assertion attributed to Maimonides (his Eighth Principle) that the Torah (the Five Books) were handed down to Moses by God at Sinai and have been immutable ever since. This is the situation of a friend of mine in Netanya, Woolf Abrahams.
I have received his latest essay entitled "Reasonable Doubt," in which he analyzes this issue of the veracity and immutability of the Torah from his readings and contacts, particular quoting several well-known Rabbis and Jewish Educators, including exchanges of letters with them over matters of faith and details of texts. Without reproducing the whole of this long essay, I commend it to anyone who has an interest in this subject or is grappling with the same issues. I emphasize that he starts out by quoting the qualifications of his sources, so that there is no doubt as to the significance of their statements and opinions.
He also makes the issue very personal, in a very Jewish way, so that this has relevance not just in principle, but also to the practice of religion and the actions of individuals. Since the Bible (the Old Testament) is also sacred to Christians, his conclusions are of relevance to Christians as well as to Jews (and after all they both presumably pray to the same one abstract God).
He writes: "What we are left with are questions concerning the accuracy of the traditional understanding of the bible. The questions fall into 6 different categories. Is the Torah a collection of earlier manuscripts? Have errors crept into the Torah? Is our understanding of the Torah correct because of possible errors when it was transliterated? If the ‘string of letters’ theory is correct can we be sure that the spaces were correctly inserted? Would our understanding of Judaism be reduced if Maimonides had never formulated his 13 Principles? Does it matter if the early rabbis rewrote our history?"
To those who are interested in grappling with matters of Jewish religious belief, from a positive viewpoint within the faith, I recommend his website "Reflecting on Judaism," where a collection of his essays including the latest one, can be found, at .

Monday, May 11, 2009

Netanyahu in Egypt

In order to emphasize the importance of Egypt, PM Netanyahu's first meeting with a foreign leader was with Pres. Mubarak on Monday. After greeting the Pope on his official visit to Israel, and leaving him with Pres. Peres, Netanyahu flew down to Taba to meet Mubarak.
They talked among other things about the growing coincidence of interests between the moderate Sunni Muslim Arab States, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and Israel, in relation to the threat of Iran for local hegemony. Viewed objectively, Shia Iran is a far more dangerous historical threat to them than Israel, and they must realize this. Certainly, a solution to the Palestine problem would assuage their fears of Israel, but there is really no direct linkage of the Palestine conflict with the Iranian threat, only insofar as Iran uses it for propaganda purposes. Anyway the talks between Mubarak and Netanyahu were cordial and wide-ranging.
There is great concern in Israel over statements from Obama Government officials, including Gen. Jones, Obama's security advisor and Rahm Emmanuel his Office Chief, linking these two issues. The fear is that when Netanyahu visits Washington soon he will be given an ultimatum, either you make concessions to the Palestinians and accept a "two state solution," or the US will not support you against Iran. But, this is a highly unlikely scenario, since US interests are also against Iran developing nuclear weapons, as stated by Pres. Obama several times, and everyone knows that under present circumstances with Hamas in control of Gaza, there is no real possibility of the Palestinians (the PA) forging an actual agreement.
Also, there is a limit as to how far Netanyahu can go without jeopardizing his tenuous coalition Government. It seems much more likely that Netanayhu will present his new policies to Obama and they will come to a compromise arrangement that will satisfy both US and Israeli interests. This is the view of Congressman Wexler of Florida, a strong Obama supporter, who is visiting Israel now and who had a long meeting with PM Netanyahu Sunday (as reported in the J'sam Post). At least let's hope that this is the actual outcome of the upcoming meeting in Washington.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Comptroller's Report

The Israeli State Comptroller, Micha Lidenstrauss, released his annual Report last Wednesday to the Israeli Government, and as usual it contains some shocking revelations. Here is a list of some of the items that are making news in Israel:
1. The Government has failed to make changes in several areas that were highly criticized in previous Comptroller Reports, such as stopping municipal and other Government officials receiving inflated salaries far in excess of the legal limits or appointing relatives to government positions.
2. Drivers with revoked licenses are still driving on Israeli roads, without any serious effort to stop them.
3. The police (a national force in Israel) have been ineffective in stopping organized crime, plans to start a special "organized crime task force" have foundered and promised economic actions against organized crime have not been implemented.
4. The Foreign Ministry has appointed under-qualified people to missions abroad, because of a lack of trained diplomats.
5. There are severe planning lapses in the fast Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train link, which are partly due to a lack of funding by the Olmert Government which gave the project low priority. While the line from Tel Aviv to Modi'in is now operating the estimated opening of the extension to Jerusalem has been delayed for at least another 5 years.
6. The Israel Broadcasting Authority is in a state of chaos, with competing plans both to reduce and expand it's operations, lack of funding and independent operation of different segments, such as the foreign language departments.
7. The number of illegal buildings in Israel are continuing to increase. There are now ca. 100,000 such edifices, the majority of them Arab constructions, and the Government is afraid of being labelled anti-Arab if demolitions proceed.
8. Power outages during the summer months are likely because the Israel Electric Corporation has failed to implement plans to ensure a sufficient power supply.
9. The school system is under-funded and the schools of East Jerusalem are in a state of crisis.
10. The health management system in Israel is not adequately organized, with shortage of specialists in some areas, such as geriatrics and anesthesiology.
There is more, but I won't bore you with further details. Maybe on this basis some of you will consider that Israel is not a good place to live, but on the contrary, considering where we have come from, the advances are amazing, and the fact that we have a Comptroller who shines light into all corners of Government activity is a sign of progress in itself.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Power, faith and fantasy

Michael Oren, author of the excellent history of "America in the Middle East, 1776 to the present," entitled "Power, faith and fantasy" is about to have some adventures of his own. He has just been appointed Israeli Ambassador to the US, the plum of all Israeli diplomatic positions. From some points of view Oren is a natural choice for Netanyahu.
There were other alternatives, primarily Dore Gold, who has been Israeli Ambassador to the UN, and seemed a natural choice because of his right-wing credentials. But he is a less attractive figure than Oren, and he is somewhat dour and distant.
Oren is not only an expert on US-Israel relations, having studied this topic academically in Columbia and Princeton and taught at Harvard and Yale, but he grew up in New Jersey. And he also graduated from the IDF paratroops college and is an Israeli citizen and is about to give up his American citizenship in order to represent a "foreign country" in the USA. He also wrote an excellent account of the Six Day War of 1967 entitled "Six Days of War." He is a member of a right wing think-tank in Israel called the Shalem Center.
But, there are some drawbacks to his appointment. First, he has no diplomatic experience and has never held Government office. Now the same could be said of Avigdor Lieberman, but he seems to be doing his thing as FM in Europe. By the way, the choice of Oren had to be approved by Lieberman as well as Netanyahu.
Also, another major potential problem is that Oren was an enthusiastic supporter of the "disengagement" from Gaza and also has gone on record as approving a similar disengagement or withdrawal from the West Bank. Now this is a far more serious policy difference with the current Government, since that was Sharon's policy that was taken by him into the Kadima Party, and has been the policy of PM Olmert and Tzipi Livni who is now the leader of the Opposition. So some right wing supporters of Netanyahu are up in arms about this choice.
However, on the other hand, a diplomat, whatever his views is supposed to represent his Government, and since Netanyahu knows Oren quite well, there is no doubt that Oren will be doing this.
Another positive feature of Oren is that not only is he American-born and can speak in the authentic accent of a native New Jerseyite, but being very knowledgeable on the history and politics of the Middle East, he should have a positive impact on the media and image of Israel in the US.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Netanyahu's speech

In his short but significant address to the AIPAC Conference in Washington DC on Tuesday, PM Netanyahu, speaking by video-link from his Jerusalem office, made three important points:
1. He is ready to meet with the representatives of the Palestine Authority at any time, as soon as possible, without preconditions to renew peace negotiations.
2. He would like negotiations to proceed on three fronts, as well as the political talks there should be committees meeting on economic and security matters.
3. That in order for there to be true recognition on each side the PA must accept Israel as a Jewish State.
Almost immediately both the PA and Hamas rejected Netanyahu's proposals, from the area as well as by their spokesmen in Washington. They criticized Netanyahu for not using the phrase "two state solution" as a kind of touchstone. But, they failed to see anything positive in Netanyahu's plan for trying to improve the economic situation of Palestinians in the West Bank, and also to improve the security situation by increasing support for training and deployment of additional PA police/security forces in collaboration with the US program being organized by Lt.Gen Keith Dayton.
Pres. Peres met with Pres. Obama in the White House, soon after Netanyahu's speech, and also after his own speech to the AIPAC Conference. Following this meeting, Peres said that Israel and the US are "100% on the same page." He was principally referring to policies towards Iran, i.e. that tougher sanctions must be used to persuade Iran to change it's policies of trying to develop nuclear weapons and threatening Israel and the West, but also to leave all options "on the table," which is a catch phrase meaning the possibility of military options in the final analysis.
There are several interesting aspects of this situation; first is that when Obama and Netanyahu meet in June, the question is will Obama embrace Netanyahu's program, of the reevaluation of Israel's peace proposals, or will he nevertheless try to persuade (or force) Netanyahu to fall in line with the previous proposals, particularly the "two state solution" as exemplified in the Bush Administration programs of the Road Map and Annapolis? Another issue is whether or not Iran is considered the foremost issue in foreign policy and/or the Palestinian issue. Obama is on record as saying that the Palestinian problem is the basic one in the Middle East, a popular viewpoint, that however is not based on factual analysis, while Israel and other commentators regard the Iran problem as the most urgent issue. In this view the Paslestinain problem cannot be solved while Iran is threatening Israel and arming Hizbollah and Hamas to attack Israel.
Another interesting aspect is that Pres. Peres, the architect of the Oslo Accords (remember that Yossi Beilin known as the architect of the Accords was Peres' assistant in the Knesset at the time) has turned around almost 180 degrees. Of course, as President he cannot steer his own political course for Israel, since that is the responsibility of the PM and the Government. But, that did not stop previous Presidents, such as Ezer Weizmann, from expressing their own independent positions. However, now Peres never mentioned the "land for peace" formula that was the basis for Oslo and other failures, but kept to the formula of the Netanyahu Government, not mentioning the "two state solution" but emphasising Iran as the major threat to Israel and the West.
While the AIPAC Convention is continuing in Washington, FM Lieberman is on his first foreign trip to selected European countries. Although he is often referred to in the media as a "far right-wing politician," his mission is to persuade these countries that the Iranian problem must be resolved before there can be any progress on Palestine. His first stop was Rome where he met with FM Frattini and Pres. Berlusconi, meetings that were both cordial and effective. He now goes on to France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, all countries in the EU that are expected to be sympathetic to the Israeli viewpoint.
It seems that the Netanyahu Government is taking the initiative and trying to impose it's revised policies on the Middle East situation, that could be a good thing for Israel and for the region.
For more information and the texts of Netanyahu's and other's speeches at the AIPAC Conferenece go to the web site of The Israel Project

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


In this case TULIP is not a flower, but a new international Trade Union organization, established to oppose Union actions against Israel, called Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (i.e. TULIP). The leaders of the new organization are Paul Howes, National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (USA), and Michael J. Leahy, OBE, General Secretary of Community (United Kingdom).
They have issued a founding statement which states: "It’s time for trade unionists in all countries to go on the offensive ourselves, to challenge the apologists for Hamas and Hizbollah in the labour movement.
We have no illusions that this will be anything other than a long and difficult process. But we also know that we have no choice. We cannot abandon the field to those whose goal is the destruction of any chance for a real Israeli-Palestinian peace..." To read the full statement go to: or see the Jerusalem Post article, "New group to fight anti-Israel boycotts" at
This represents a good, but unfortunately necessary, initiative against those left-wing Unions who claim that they are not anti-Israel, but end up being so as a result of their anti-war or pro-Palestinian sentiment. The net effect is that they single out Israel for criticism and for boycott resolutions. Since the direct boycott of Israeli academics and universities has been effectively blocked by legal threats, since it would violate British law on the grounds of discrimination, the Unions have now taken a different tack. They have introduced resolutions to ban any products, particularly produce, of the Israeli "settlements" on the West Bank, since they have decided that the West Bank is "Palestine." Although there is no legal or factual basis for this decision, it is their take on foreign policy, and they are persuading the British Government to do likewise. TULIP has been established to oppose these maneuvers.
On a related issue, if you want to understand the extent of the anti-Israel animus of some faculty at the University of California, consider the following: The Education Abroad Program (EAP) to Israel, after 7 years of having been suspended because of security concerns, is scheduled to reopen in fall 2009. This is a tremendous boon for many UC students, who have sorely missed the unique educational opportunities that a semester or year of study in Israel can afford them. However, a number of UC faculty have initiated a petition demanding that the decision to reopen the EAP program in Israel be rescinded because of Israel's alleged human rights violations.
It's important to point out that the University of California has EAP programs in 34 countries, several with human rights records considerably worse than Israel (eg. Egypt, China, Russia). Yet as far as I know, there has been no UC faculty-initiated campaign to close down the EAP programs to any other country. The UC faculty who have signed this petition have unfairly targeted Israel for opprobrium, but even worse, they have unfairly targeted the UC students who have waited 7 long years to avail themselves of this important educational opportunity.

Please consider sending an email to Michael Cowan, the Acting Executive Director of the UC EAP Program, and/or UC President Mark Yudof, expressing your support for EAP in Israel and your gratitude to the UC administration for having reinstated it: Michael Cowan - and Mark Yudof -

This material was adapted from an e-mail of Ronnie Fraser, Director of Academics for Israel at

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Individual attacks

An IDF soldier sitting on a bus in Ramat Gan was stabbed in the neck Sunday by a Palestinian assailant, who then managed to get off the bus and run away. The security forces searched for him and caught him later.
This is another manifestation of individual terrorism that the terrorist organizations have been reduced to, because of the anti-terror measures that have been taken by the Israeli counter-terrorism forces. Several years ago we might have been hearing about 20 dead and 50 injured by a suicide bomb in such an attack on a bus. But, the Security Fence, the checkpoints, the arrests and targeted killings in the West Bank have severely reduced the terrorist threat, so that it is now much more difficult to smuggle suicide belts and bombs into Israel. Now they have to depend on individual terror attacks, and often when the culprit is found they are either mentally unstable or socially compromised (for example a woman who has been accused of adultery, etc.).
In another case nine Israeli Beduin men in their 20s were arrested in the Galilee town of Shfaram for initiating a plan to attack and kill Jews. They had already carried out a string of attacks, including knocking down light poles and burning tires in the road in order to block traffic and attack motorists with stones. Another separate group of Israeli Arabs was arrested in Galilee several weeks ago and the police found arms and suicide bombs in their houses. They said that they decided to do this in revenge for Operation Cast Lead, and they intended to kill Jews and kidnap soldiers. However, they were caught before they could carry out any attacks. This is what we have to contend with, although our security forces seem to be ahead of the terrorists at this point.
There were also several attacks using bulldozers and other road working machines, but hopefully the police have also closed off that option by enhancing security clearance for Arabs operating them and ensuring that they are "chained up" at night so that no terrorist can steal one.
While these attacks are certainly dangerous, and there have been a spate of them, nevertheless they are a manifestation of the success of the Israeli anti-terrorism program. So while the liberal-left in the West worry about Palestinians waiting at check-points, we Israelis worry that the checkpoints might be removed to satisfy some European MP who is seeking to earn favor with the anti-Israel public opinion back home or an American representative eager to curry favor with the Saudis.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Biblical justification?

I received this interesting response to my message about Tel Gezer from my friend Barry Spencer:
The issue isn't whether "the relationship of descriptions in the Bible to specific actual sites in the Land is real". Yes, Gezer is specifically referred to. The Bible tells us in majestic language that Solomon built Gezer (Kings 1,9:17). The question is whether this is historically accurate. I think it's fair to say that the consensus among modern scholars is that it isn't. Let me quote the well argued conclusions reached in an excellent book which you may wish to read - "The Bible Unearthed" by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman:
"Essentially,archaeology misdated both "Davidic" and "Solomonic" remains by a full century. The finds dated to the time just before David in the late eleventh century belonged to the mid-tenth century and those dated to the time of Solomon belonged to the early ninth century BCE. The new dates place the appearance of monumental structures,fortifications,and other signs of full statehood precisely at the time of their first appearance in the rest of the Levant. They rectify the disparity in dates between the bit hilani palace structures in Megiddo and their parallels in Syria. And they allow us finally to understand why Jerusalem and Judah are so poor in finds in the tenth century. The reason is that Judah was still a remote and undeveloped region at that time". The detailed and complex evidence for these conclusions is, of course, set forth extensively.

This is how I responded: I was merely pointing out that the fact that the sites described in the Bible have been found under the earth and with the same names does give some credence to the veracity of the Bible. I don't say it's all accurately true (certainly not), but if you like this is a first level of analysis. What you are talking about is a controversy regarding various dating methods. When Macalister excavated Gezer he came up with an analysis of the levels which was later disproven, now there is a third or fourth re-dating, that's all second level of analysis. I have a book entitled "Archaelogy of the Bible: book by book," which is now outdated. Maybe one day "The Bible Unearthed" will be replaced. Whatever, it has nothing to do with my main point, that it is an incredible fact that what people believed were imaginary places, were actually found to exist.

Now I would like to use this opportunity to expand upon Barry's point. As a scientist I will certainly accept the latest analysis based on the best methods of dating. One of the chief methods that has been used is comparison of potsherds, another is of course, radiocarbon dating (using 14C decay) of organic matter. However, none of the methods are very accurate and there is controversy about their interpretation, so a deviation of a century is in fact a small period and I doubt that any method is that accurate (a century may be within the error of the measurement, one has to worry about reproducibility as well as the intrinsic accuracy of the method).
However, having said that, this subject is one that is replete with political connotations. It so happens that many modern scholars are left-wing in their views and/or are naturally against what is the "established" viewpoint in their field (that they regard as triumphilist and religiously biased). The left in Israel is strongly against the "Biblical justification" for the existence of the modern State of Israel, namely that Jews lived here before, as described in the Bible, and that therefore Jews have an inalienable right to live here again and to settle the Land (including Judah and Shomron).
It might be said that many such scholars and the left in general view the rights of the "settlers" as much less justified than the rights of the Palestinians. In order to make their point it is often their intention (maybe even not consciously) to show that the inaccuracy of the Bible is such that it cannot be used for such a justification. One of the themes of the modern generation of Israeli archaelogists is that the description of the richness of the Land and it population density as described in the Bible are false. In carrying out their research Finkelstein and others have shown that during the Solomonic period, when the land was supposed to have been densely settled, there are in fact very few and limited settlements. When it is pointed out that incredibly Gezer, Hazor and Megiddo all have the same design of their city gates as described in the Bible for Solomon's construction they find a way to re-date or dispute this fact. They also dispute the finding of "David's City" in Jerusalem as being accurate. Their general conclusion is that "Judah was still a remote and undeveloped region at that time." Hence the Bible is inaccurate and hence it cannot be used as a justification for modern settlement.
Whether or not their methods are accurate or there is a deliberate attempt to undermine the Biblical connection with the Land remains to be seen by further independent investigations. However, it is not clear to the uninitiated how far the left will go to undermine the relationship of the Jews with this land. Another example is a Thesis written in Haifa University that inter alia describes a massacre of Arabs in Tantura by an Israeli military unit during the 1948 war. When this was publicized, members of that unit (the Alexandroni Brigade) disputed the accounts (that quoted eyewitnesses) and went to court and were exonerated. In fact, no such massacre or event ever occured and the Thesis was retracted. It was carried out under the guidance of Ilan Pappe a left-wing ideologue, who the student, Theodore Katz, admitted persuaded him to include false information. Pappe eventually left Haifa University, published a book entitled "The Ethnic cleansing of Palestine" (that repeats the false information) and is now a leader of the "Boycott Israel" movement in the UK. Pappe once stated: "We do [historiography] because of ideological reasons, not because we are truth seekers... ‘there is no such thing as truth, only a collection of narratives’." Finkelstein and many others on the left subscribe to this mantra. So don't believe all that you read, even in academic books (perhaps especially not in academic books).

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A new analysis

Perhaps the situation in the Middle East has changed significantly without our realising it (this analysis is based partly on an interview with Avi Bachur of the Inst for Intl Relations in Herzliya on IBA English News). Since the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead both the northern Lebanese border and the southern Gaza border have been unusually quiet (there are still rockets being fired from Gaza, but relatively few, and recently there was a period of 10 days when none were fired and this is without a formal ceasefire). Even during the recent war in Gaza, Hizbollah, despite it's threats, refrained from intervention. This is probably due to the drubbing both received from the IDF, even though they both declared victory, that convinced them of Israeli might and the sheer stupidity of trying to provoke us again. Both Sheikh Nasrullah and PM Haniyeh have stated in effect that if they had known of the strength of the Israeli reaction they would not have taken the actions that they did that precipitated these Israeli responses.
If that is the case, then Israel has earned a period of quiet in which the local proxies of Iran will not actively attack us. On the contrary, they are now (as a result?) involved in internal matters, Hizbollah with trying to become a player in Lebanon's internal politics, and Hamas in Gaza trying to face-down the PA in Ramallah and come to terms with the Egyptians. Meanwhile the Egyptians have become much more serious in preventing weapons being smuggled into Gaza, due mainly to their fear of a relationship of Hamas with their own Muslim Brotherhood. All these developments are good for Israel and for quiet in the region, apart from the potential threat from Iran itself.
At the same time there is no possibility of rapprochement between the Islamist pro-Iranian Hamas regime in Gaza and the Palestinian nationalist Fatah regime in the PA on the West Bank. The two are fundamentally opposed and cannot come to any form of unity. Since Israel can only make peace with a Palestinian government that represents all of the Palestinians, that means that any peace process at the moment is illusory.
We should concentrate on helping those Palestinians who want to advance towards a Palestinian State in the PA to develop their economy, infrastructure and governance. This is likely to be the gist of the new policy that the Netanyahu Government will be present to Pres. Obama during his first visit to Washington in June. Only at the end of this (probably long) road can there be a "two state solution." Further, there is no evidence whatsoever that the outcome of peace negotiations between Israel and any Palestinian entity would change the religiously ordained policies of the Shia regime in Iran. Facing this reality is something that the EU and the US must come to terms with, since their oft-repeated mantra of "peace process" is a form of political theater based on wishful thinking.

Friday, May 01, 2009


It seems that in the evolution of religions, monotheism has become the predominant mode. Of course, there are polytheistic religions that are still widely practised, such as Hinduism, but monotheism seems to have captured the minds of the majority. The three predominant monotheistic religions are of course, Judaism and its two offshoots, Christianity and Islam. My question is, do these three religions worship the same one abstract God? It stands to reason that if there is only one abstract God, as each of the religions proclaim, then he/she/it must be the same one in all three of them.
But, as we know Christianity is unique in that it worships Jesus Christ as "the son of God." Now clearly an abstract God cannot have a son, and it is evident that this relationship bears a lot of resemblance to former Greek pagan religions, where such relationships between Gods and humans were common, and this was carried over into Roman beliefs. Further, we now know that originally there were many forms of Christianity, that regarded Christ as being God himself, a mere mortal, and everything in between. It was the Emperor Constantine, who proclaimed himself a Christian in 313 ce, who as head of the Church convened the Council of Niceae in 325 ce and charged it to adopt a compromise solution by majority vote that Jesus was the "son" of God. All other forms of Christian belief then became heretical. Even though today there are also many forms of Christianity, all of them derive from this decision by Constantine and the Council. While Constantine also persecuted the Jews he explicitly reinforced the connection with Judaism by adopting the "Old Testament", the Jewish Bible, as sacred to Christianity. Consequently, through continuity we must conclude that Christianity worships the same one abstract God as Judaism.
In Islam the situation is different, although Muslims regard Mohammed as the "seal" of the prophets, in other words the last (and best) one, they do not extend any divinity to him. That is why their rallying cry is "Allahu akhbar," God is great. But, if they also believe in the same abstract God, then why do they show such animosity to the other montheistic religions. Actually, they don't or shouldn't, since during the late Middle Ages they extended protection to the "peoples of the books" namely Jews and Christians, whereas pagans, nonbelievers in the same one God, were subject to execution if they failed to convert. Later on this distinction seems to have been glossed over, so that all nonbelievers in Islam have become infidels (kaffirs).
So now we have established that there can only be one abstract God that all montheistic religions believe in. This has been called the Abrahamic connection, that all three religions originate from. However, the fact is that in the name of this one abstract God, Christians and Muslims have killed each other and killed Jews with great abandon. Now I don't blame the God, if he exists, for this, I blame the believers, who seem to be able to find any distinction to justify killing their fellow monotheists.

1. In the listing of plans that I sent on 27/4 I forgot to include the Allon Plan, proposed by Yigal Allon, Israeli FM, to include the Jordan Valley within Israel.
2. An alert reader has pointed out that the poem "On a silver Platter" was not by Nahman Bialik but by Nathan Alterman.

Tel Gezer

Tel Gezer was the site one of the most important cities in the Middle East in ancient times. It still stands at the junction of the routes along the coast, known as the Vias Maris, and from Jaffa to Jerusalem. It is a huge Tel that can been seen from the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway (Route 1). However, it is very difficult to approach and find a route into the Tel. With the leadership of one of my daughter's friends, we were taken on a tour of Tel Gezer on Yom Haatzmaut (Independance Day).
A Tel is a flat-topped hill that is formed from the layers of cities that were built on the site, one on top of the other, over a period of thousands of years. It is a phenomenon unique to the Middle East, where such cities occupied strategic locations on natural hills, where there also was a spring of water, in order to dominate the surroundings and were gradually increased in height as the cities were built on them and destroyed in invasions and combat. When we lived in Rehovot in the 1960s we tried to visit Tel Gezer, and we naturally went to the kibbutz Gezer (Gezer in Hebrew means "carrot"), which is adjacent to the Tel, but even with directions we were unable to find a way up to the Tel. This time we approached the Tel from the other side up a long winding stoney trail, that I would not have attempted unless I was following an experienced guide.
The main such Tels recorded in the Bible were Hazor, Gezer and Megiddo, and control of them meant in effect control over all the Land of Israel. However, they were also, of course, targets for invading armies and most of them were destroyed and rebuilt over and over again. Apart from being mentioned in the Bible, Gezer was one of the cities listed in an Egyptian stele and the Amarna Letters (hieroglyphics written on small stone tablets) as having been seized by the Pharaohs. Eventually these Tels were abandoned and some of them were lost to antiquity.
Tel Gezer was rediscovered by Ganneau a French archeologist in 1871 when he came across a reference to a shrine for a Sheikh at Tel el-Jezer near the Arab village of Shusha. Robert Macalister excavated the site in 1902-7 for the Palestine Exploration Fund of Britain, and made some of the first important discoveries. He found a series of stone markers positively identifying the site as Gezer, a Canaanite gate of the city dated from ca. 3,500 bce, a six chambered gate from a later period that is identical to gates excavated at Hazor and Megiddo and now identified as from the period of Solomon, a calendar stone that is the oldest Hebrew inscription known, a group of ten monumental megaliths thought to be a Canaanite "high place," and a sloping tunnel leading down to the water source.
There is one inescapable conclusion from these findings, that the relationship of descriptions in the Bible to specific actual sites in the Land is real. This was the basis used by later archaeologists, such as Albright, to excavate sites such as Megiddo and Hazor. Although Tel Gezer has been worked on by many archaelogists over the years, only ca. 15% of it has been excavated. It is indeed a huge site and it takes at least an hour to transit the top of the Tel.
One of the greatest experiences of my life was when a group of Israeli planes flying over for Independence Day banked low over Tel Gezer and turned from the coast inland towards Jerusalem. The relationship between its ancient history and today's reality could not have been more explicit.
After our visit to Gezer we all drove to Modi'in, across the Ayalon Valley below, and had a wonderful barbecue picnic in a park, and we celebrated Israel's 61st birthday in style.