Monday, March 29, 2010

A French experience

Since the weather was lovely earlier last week Naomi and I went for a walk. We picked up my medications at the brand new Maccabi Kupat Holim (Sick Fund) building on the main road about 10 mins walk from home. They are subsidised by 80%, so it cost only NIS 180 ($48) for a month's supply. Then we walked to the midrochov, the pedestrian mall, and sat and had a cup of tea/coffee.

This was a complete French experience, since we were surrounded by French-speaking immigrants, the waiter was French, and we sat in a cafe specializing in crepes. We ordered a crepe with our coffee and croissant, and we were also serenaded by a man playing an accordion. Of course, the number of French people increases dramatically during the summer when many who own apartments here come on vacation. The French like Netanya as it reminds them of the Riviera and is also a lot safer than France for Jews. Apart from the traditional French right-wing anti-Semites, the main problem comes from the 3 million Muslims living in France and the political support that anti-Israel activities get from the strong French left-wing parties. Anyway, it was like being on vacation in the south of France. As Naomi says, why do we ever need to spend money on vacations when we are on permanent vacation here in Netanya.

Since this week is Pesach (Passover) we will be away for some of the time, so there will be a hiatus in my e-mail messages. A friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) has renovated my web-site, so please go to and check out the new home-page layout. Also, I have added some old photos in various places (see the one under my scientific cv that proves that I was once thin!). To see previous postings in my blog please go to Isblog : .

To all my Jewish readers chag Pesach sameach (Happy Passover holiday).

Sunday, March 28, 2010


PM Netanyahu is on the horns of a dilemma, on the one hand he must keep America as Israel's ally, especially in case the Arabs try to use the UN to bring sanctions against Israel and we would depend on the US veto in the Security Council, and on the other hand he must maintain his own credibility and that of his coalition by not yielding on Jerusalem. Is there a way to square this circle?

I submit that there is. The definition of what constitutes East Jerusalem is ambiguous. Actually there are two possible interpretations, the first is the wider one that consider everything over the former ceasefire line (the green line) that defined the boundary of west (Israeli) Jerusalem as being east. The second narrower definition is that East Jerusalem constitutes the smaller area of Arab-inhabited Jerusalem. Now suppose Netanyahu gives a commitment to Obama that Israel will not build at all in Arab-inhabited parts of eastern Jerusalem, but will only continue to build in established Jewish-inhabited suburbs of Jerusalem that are technically over the green line. This formula would enable both sides (Israel and the US) to be satisfied. The only people in Israel who would be unhappy are the far right who want to continue building everywhere, including near the Temple Mount. But, this arrangement would be time-limited, and would last not for a specific time period, but only for the duration of any talks between Israel and the PA. If there are no talks or if they are brokern off then the arrangement would be cancelled and Israel could continue building wherever it pleases in East Jerusalem.

Further, Obama does not like the ten month limit that Netanyahu imposed on building in the West Bank. I believe Netanyahu could extend this period but only if talks are actually proceeding. Again, if there are no talks when September comes around or if the talks start but are broken off, then Israel would continue building in the West Bank. In other words a freeze only if there are talks. That might be a carrot to get the PA to start talking. If they don't only a small amount of time will be lost.

The point here is not to please the Palestinians, but unfortunately to appease the Americans who have become more "Arab" than the Palestinians. This can only be attributed to Obama's desire to appease the Muslim world and also his own liberal constituency in the US. If we compare Obama's policy on Iran, it is also unacceptably appeasing. How can any reasonable western leader believe that Iran can be stopped from developing nuclear weapons by "engagement." His policy is schizophrenic, at the same time as engagement he talks about "biting sanctions." Similarly he says that US support for Israel is "total commitment" but at the same time he pushes Netanyahu's back to the wall. There is something terribly wrong here. And now taking a lead from the US, the Arab League meeting in Libya have declared that they don't think Israel really wants peace so they are preparing for the alternative, and we all know what that means! Obama is bringing us to war!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Divide and conquer

FACT - there is no city in the world that is divided. Why is that? Because it doesn't work! Cities are only divided as a result of war, such as Berlin (1945 - 1989) and Jerusalem (1948 - 1967). In a civic and ethnic sense it cannot work (the Vatican is too small to consider Rome to be divided). Many cities have large ethnic minorities or even majorities, but that doesn't mean they should be divided, such as Washington DC, that has a Black majority while it is the capital of a predominantly White country. There is no rational basis to redivide Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and of a Palestinian State. It just won't work!

That doesn't stop the do-good liberals of trying to foist this unworkable formula on Israel, because they believe in absolute rights, so every ethnic group should get to share control over its city. Why not divide New York into ethnic boroughs, Oh!, that's right it is already divided that way, as is every American city, but that doesn't mean the city itself should be divided. What's wrong with Jerusalem, always a predominantly Jewish city, having Arab neighborhoods, it works elsewhere, while dividing the city can't work. Also, giving the eastern Arab neighborhoods to a putative Palestinian state is asking for trouble, since Hamas is growing stronger and is likely to take over and its policies require destruction of Israel, just like its sponsor Iran (would you let an ally of Iran not only on your borders but within a few km of the center of your capital city?) If you really believed that they want peace, then maybe we could take a risk, but since there is no evidence in the real world of that, it would be stupid of us to go through with it. Being stupid doesn't mean that we should commit suicide (again!).

Of course, there is the demographic argument that if we incorporate too much land, then we will have too many Arabs and Israel will eventually cease to be a Jewish State because the Arab birth-rate is higher than that of the Jews. But, this is not such a serious argument as it applies to Jerusalem. The Arabs in East Jerusalem have been incoprorated into Israel, although not as full citizens with voting rights. But, they are a minority in Jerusalem and their birth rate is coming down while that of the Israelis in general has been going up (increasing size of Orthodox families).

Another liberal canard is that if the Arab-Israel conflict is settled then other conflicts will be quickly resolved. That is nonsense. Iran will want to destroy Israel just as much if there is peace with a Palestinian entity as if there is no peace. In fact, any Palestinain entity that made peace with Israel would itself become the target of Iranian ire, and would be attacked from inside by Hamas, Iran's Palestinian proxy. That is one very good reason why (illegal) Pres. Abbas doesn't want to have constructive negotiations with Israel and why he is finding excuses, (gifted to him by the Americans) to avoid restarting talks. Preconditions are a way to prevent talks going ahead, whether direct, indirect, proximal or remote. It seems to me that the US is conpletely misreading the current situation, since the Palestinians are completely recalcitrant and have shown no sign of being willing to compromise. If they ever change their tune (perhaps after Iran is taken down) then we could really negotiate with them. But, until then, no freeze and no division of Jerusalem.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Treading a fine line

An Israeli PM is always treading a fine line when it comes to dealing with the USA. US Presidents, and especially Barack Obama, are always trying to get Israel to make concessions to the Palestinian Arab side, because they have no leverage or influence on the Arabs because they are uncompromising (and basically anti-American). On the other hand, the Israeli PM must stand firm and show the Americans and the world that Israel is a sovereign nation and cannot be forced to make unilateral concessions, particularly when it goes against Israel's basic interests and particularly if it could cause the breakup of a governing coalition. That is the situation which PM Netanyahu faces today going into the lion's den.

Apparently there was a long (2 hr) meeting between Obama and Netanyahu in the White House today. Flush from his victory in the healthcare debate, Obama may feel that he can throw his weight around a bit and try to force Netanyahu to make more concessions to the Palestinians. In effect, Obama is representing the Palestinians, not what the US President as an honest broker should be doing. We all hope that Netanyahu stands firm, but who knows what the pressures are like and/or what Obama is capable of. Suppose he said to Netanyahu, if you reverse yourself on these building projects (the 1600 units in Ramat Shlomo and the 20 units announced Weds (!) at the Shepherd Hotel site) and institute a building freeze covering East Jerusalem as well, then I'll give a commitment to attack the Iranian nuclear sites! What would you do?

The fact is that in modern times Jews have always been a majority in Jerusalem as a whole and were also in the Old City of Jerusalem until they were expelled by the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948. Now that Jews returned after the victory of 1967, everyone believes somehow that East Jerusalem was exclusively "Arab," well it never was! Fighting for the principle of Jewish control over all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sections, is a hard task against an embedded prejudice that sees it already as part or capital of a Palestinian State. Why not let these issues be resolved in negotiations with give and take, rather than have them enforced by the world's only superpower by one-sided diktat.

Most former Presidents stated clearly that they cannot enforce a solution on the Middle East, but this President doesn't say that. Frankly, whatever the price we don't want a solution imposed by Barack Obama. Not only don't imposed solutions work, but if Netanyahu did reverse himself it would be a political catastrophe for him, having stated clearly before his departure that "building in Jeruslaem is the same as in Tel Aviv" and also taking a tough stand before the AIPAC conference stating that "Jerusalem is not a settlement, it is our capital." If he reversed himself it would be crossing a red line, it would also likely be the end of his coalition and probably his political career. He cannot do this, and no sensible President who actually wants peace should try to force him to do so. After all Israel is America's strongest ally. The fact that we think that Obama is capable of doing this means that we are in for a difficult ride in the near future.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Defeat the Taliban

There is a children's fable about a Kingdom where the King is so sad that he bans music. This story was featured in the marvellous dance sequence of Gene Kelley in "Anchor's aweigh" where he dances with the cartoon of Jerry Mouse. In fact, during their reign in Afghanistan in the 1990s the Taliban banned music completely, anyone caught in possession of a tape (they didn't yet have CDs and DVDs) was arrested and could be killed. No music was allowed at weddings and many traditional wedding musicians buried their instruments to avoid punishment. This is what the Afghanis have to look forward to if theTaliban ever came back.

Of course, the Taliban treated women abominably, women were not allowed to leave their homes unless accompanied by an adult male; women could not work, study or teach; women could be beaten on the street if their chador covering was judged insufficiently complete. Women who were considered immoral (for talking to a man not their husband or engaging in illicit sex) were flogged in public or were stoned to death or hung each weekend on the goalposts of the Kabul football club. I hope the Afghanis realize the tremendous need for the US-British allies to destroy the Taliban in the current operation in Helmand Province. Of course, the US and Britain are mainly concerned to prevent the return of al Qaeda to set up new enclaves inside Afghanistan like the ones they used under the Taliban to plan and execute the 9/11 attacks.

In carrying out their policy of fighting the Taliban both the Allied forces in Afghanistan and the Pakistan Army in northern Pakistan are using extreme methods, including assassinations and the use of drones for targeted killings. Noone seems to be shocked or upsest by these activities, on the contrary, most Americans and Brits would be happy if the leaders of the Taliban movement can be removed permanently. Only when Israel, in a state of war with its enemies, takes similar action as with Mahmud Mabhouh, the Hamas arch-terrorist despatched in Dubai, are there negative reactions.

On Tuesday the British FM David Miliband publicly blamed Israel for the "forged passports" affair and announced in Parliament the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat from the Embassy in London. As if the use of forged passports is not routine in all intelligence agencies. What hypocrisy! Anyway, the thought doesn't seem to have surfaced that the Mossad may have sent many ersatz tourists to Dubai at the same time to confuse the Dubai authorities, so that now they are chasing phantoms, while the real killers have got away. They may even have been the four who took a slow boat to Iran. Now if that isn't confusing, what is?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Against the grain

1. I support the Obama Health Plan. Or more precisely I am glad that the US finally has a health plan that covers the majority of the population. Having grown up in Britain I know that the National Health Service was a God-send for most poor people, it did in fact revolutionize Britain. Now the Health Plan will change America. I did not want to live in a country where 15% of the population was denied any kind of medical treatment. Now another 35 million people will get medical coverage, and the last of the great western democracies finally comes into the 20th century! I am not an expert on health care or insurance matters, but it was clear to me that the insurance companies were opposing this health care program thru the Republicans. Now, I am not a genuflecting liberal, and I do think that how this is paid for matters. But, the fact is that finally a President had the guts to slog it out and come up with at least a program that guarantees health care for all without exclusion of pre-existing conditions. Good for Obama. Now perhaps he can become more supportive of Israel and face the major foreign policy challenge, that of Iran.

2. I am incensed that PM Netanyahu voted in the Cabinet prior to departure for America to move the reinforced emergency room at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon to another location. It had been planned to have the new ER that could withstand rocket attacks directly adjacent to the Hospital. But, because human bones were found in the excavations, the Deputy Minister of Health, Jacob Litzman, an Orthodox Jew, decided to move the location, at an expense of 130 million shekels (ca. m$35), to a place some 500 meters away. Now this has delayed the start of building by 2 years, and the matter finally went to the Cabinet and was passed by a one vote majority to move the ER. This is rationally ridiculous, since the bones have been judged to be either Christian or pagan and anyway why endanger Jewish lives for some bones, whoever they belonged to. According to Halacha and to common sense the hardened ER is needed as soon as possible and as close to the Hospital as possible. That Netanyahu would vote for this nonsense shows only that politics trumps common sense every time. There is a 30 day delay clause so hopefully the Government will reverse itself when saner heads prevail.

3. Why are some of us sceptical about any useful outcome of the so-called peace process? Here is a case in point, I watched the Doha Debates on BBC between two representatives each of Hamas and Fatah. It was interesting because they talked past each other, there is obviously no chance of any accomodation between them. When the moderator put them on the spot the Hamas representative stated categorically that they would never give up power. The Fatah representatives argued all the time that they were just as militant as Hamas in fighting the "occupation" and there was no doubt what that meant. They agreed that violence against Israel was a legitimate means to achieve the national goals of the Palestinians. When questions were asked from the audience it was clear that the questioners were disillusioned with the speakers. In the final vote 89% voted that they do not have confidence in the current leadership of the Palestinians! However, the disillusionment was not that they had not brought about a peace treaty or had not resolved the crisis, the thrust was that they had not achieved the goals of the Palestinian people, that was to reoccupy Palestine and destroy Israel. What was striking was that in the whole program not one person, speaker or questioner, mentioned the word "peace" or "reconciliation," How can we expect to make any progress with these intransigent extremists?

Monday, March 22, 2010

US policy contradiction

Last Thursday a Thai worker was killed by a rocket from Gaza fired at an Israeli village Nativ Ha'asarah near Ashkelon. Three rockets were fired that day. Just because you don't hear about them in your news you should know that rockets are fired frequently and randomly, and it only make news if someone is hurt or killed. Can someone explain to me why the plan to build 1600 housing units in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem is more newsworthy than the continual bombardment of rockets into Israel.

It is said that the rockets are not being fired by Hamas operatives from Gaza, but by a new group called Ansar al-Sunnah, or followers of the Sunnah, in other words a militant Sunni group affiliated with al Qaeda. The significance of this is that they are not associated with Hamas which is supported by Iran, which is Shia. There have been military clashes between Hamas and al Qaeda groups in Gaza, which is merely an indication of the fact that it is a terrorist's paradise.

Secty Gen of the UN Ban ki-Moon issued another statement from Gaza Sunday urging Israel to stop the blockade of Gaza, supposedly because people there are suffering. It is not clear that this is really true because they are able to import most goods via the hundreds of tunnels that honeycomb the sand below the Gaza-Egypt border. But, even if his contention is true, why should Israel suffer by opening itself to this terrorist's nest. Would you?

Meanwhile PM Netanyahu and his entourage is on the way to the US for the AIPAC Conference in Washington and meetings with US officials, probably including Pres. Obama (he was supposed to be visiting Indonesia, another of his favorite Muslin States, but because he stayed to see out the Health Care vote, he now may have to meet with Netanyahu). Both sides have been moving to overcome the stupid fracas over the building situation. But, I am confused. Both Obama and Secty of State Clinton are on record as wanting immediate indirect negotiations (proximity talks) thru Sen. Mitchell without preconditions.

Now this is strange, because Obama forced Netanyahu to accept a freeze on building in the West Bank, which they said was "unprecedented" and had accepted Netanyahu's contention that he could NOT include East Jerusalem in that freeze. But after the mistake of the Israeli announcement of further building in east (actually north) Jerusalem during VP Biden's visit, they made a big fuss and have now tried to once again force Israel to make a further concession to the Palestinians. So correct me if I am wrong, but isn't a freeze on West Bank building a precondition, and isn't a freeze on East Jerusalem building a futher precondition. The Arabs have no building freezes or preconditions, they can build when and where they like (and in fact are beginning to build a new Palestinian city near Ramallah called Rawabi), only Israel must accept these one-sided biased preconditions, that contradict the Obama Administration's declared policy of NO preconditions! Yes, I know it is very confusing, but don't ask me, ask Obama/Clinton why there is this contradiction in US policy?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jerusalem is Jewish!

It is a little known fact that Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since census figures have been taken as far back as 1896! So Arab talk of the "Judaization" of Jerusalem is so much biased nonsense. Jerusalem has been in essence a Jewish City even when it was dominated and controlled by the Muslim Turks. Note that it has never been the capital of a Muslim country nor has it ever been under Arab or Palestinian sovereignty. By contrast, Jerusalem was the capital of the Jews for centuries before the Arabs were ever heard of in history and is again. Incidentally, Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Koran, and the identification of Jerusalem with "the northernmost Mosque" that Mohammed was supposed to have visited is nonsense, since in Mohammed's time there was no Mosque in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock was built in 691 ce, sixty years after Mohammed's death.

In 1978 I published a pamphlet with graphics artist Avrum Ashery entitled "Israel: The Facts." From that I reproduce here a graph that I plotted of the census statistics for Jerusalem over many years. Originally there was no clear distinction between West (Jewish) and East (Arab) Jerusalem, but this separation came about as a result of the unfortunate division of Jerusalem by the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank by Transjordanian forces (it then changed its name to "Jordan"). This occupation was reversed in the Six-Day War of 1967 when Israel reunited the whole of Jerusalem.

There are two main sources for this information: "Jerusalem, an illustrated history atlas," by Martin Gilbert and "Historical Atlas of Jerusalem," by Dan Bahat. Here are some statistics (from an article by Eli Hertz): In 1880, Jews constituted 52 percent of the Old City population in East Jerusalem and were still inhabiting 42 percent of the Old City in 1914. In 1948, there were 100,000 Jews in Jerusalem, with 65,000 Arabs. A joint Jordanian-Israeli census reported that 67.7 percent of the city's population in 1961 was Jewish. In 2007, 64% of Jerusalem's population was Jewish and 34% Arab (from Wikipedia).

Pres. Peres recently told the visiting EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton that Israel has been building Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem for 42 years, including under PM Rabin. Certainly there have been disagreements about this, but noone in the West has said that this must stop, until now! It is a national consensus that Jerusalem is Jewish and will remain Jewish and the capital of Israel forever.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Confessions of a Jewish Activist

"Confessions of a Jewish Activist and Other Stories" is the title of my latest book.

It describes my activities in the Soviet Jewry movement, from the time I was arrested in Washington DC in 1970 for organizing an anti-French demonstration, when I went to London and was briefed by a secret underground Jewish group before going to Moscow in 1972, my experiences in Moscow meeting refuseniks, and the role I played in the huge anti-Brezhnev demonstration in Washington DC in 1973. See "Confessions..." on my web-site and see photos of me at demonstrations in 1975.

I also added several interesting stories in this book, including a tour of Sinai before it was returned to Egypt and another is a humorous account of "How to murder your mother-in-law," for any frustrated son-in-law.

"Confessions..." is available on along with my other works, my highly recommended (see below) autobiographical novel "Amanuensis" and my story collections "Discovering America" and "Trove," for more information search for "(title) Jack Cohen" or go to my website . [Several people have asked me if the story of Julian in "Amanuensis" was true. It was, and the proof is given at the end of the section of "Amanuenesis" in].

Reviews of "Amanuensis"

Myra Sklarew, Prof. Emerita of Literature, American University, Washington DC, USA ---
It is compelling from the first moment to the last. Thank you for sharing it with me. What a remarkable father! What a hugely powerful model for his son. And what a great distance his son traveled---from a world of enormous hardship and pain to a life of learning and contributing. You have written about a chapter in our history that is scarcely known and therefore makes a great contribution to the full story of our people. The book deserves a wider audience. Your writing is vivid, immediate, and powerful.

Sarah Shapiro author most recently of "Wish I Were Here," and editor of "All of Our Lives: An Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Writing" ---
"Amanuensis" is a wonderfully entertaining, touching, funny story of a young man's calamitous pilgrimage through the wild, wild world in earnest search of...he knows not what. At once utterly raw and artfully crafted, Jack Cohen's writing voice rings true.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Calm returns

The two main news items in Israel have been the rioting of Palestinian Arabs in East Jerusalem and the spat with the US over the announcement of further Israeli building in East Jerusalem. Both of these situations seem now to be returning to relative calm.

The rioting was associated with a "day of rage" proclaimed by Hamas in response to the dedication of the rebuilt great synagogue, The Hurva, in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The PA and the Islamic Waqf (religious authority) also called for the Arabs to gather in Jerusalem to protect the Haram-al-Sharif. This rioting was not related to the building of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, as much of the media inaccurately reported. The rioting resulted from the age-old tradition of the Arabs to riot when they feel that the Temple Mount, the Haram al-Sharif, is in danger from the Jews. Of course, there was no danger and there is no intention of the Israeli Government to change the status quo there, but the Arabs have this tradition of anti-Jewish riots, and they oppose any move by the Jews to enhance their situation in the Old City.
Remember that for the 19 years between 1948 when it was captured by the Jordanians and 1967 when the Israelis recaptured it, the Jewish Quarter lay completely in ruins and all the synagogues had been desecrated and destroyed. In 1929 when there were serious riots in Jerusalem and Hebron in response to similar false claims that the Jews were attacking the Haram-al-Sharif, 79 Jews were killed in Hebron and the Jews were totally expelled from there. Now, with the Israeli authorities in charge, the Arab mob do not have free rein to kill Jews. There was one shooting of a policeman last night in the Arab village of Ras-al-Amud, 15 police were injured and 60 Palestinians were arrested. But, today calm has returned and the al-Aksa Mosque is open to all who wish to worship there.

Likewise, the US Administration, bearing in mind the response that their harsh criticism of PM Netanyahu and his Government had evinced both in Israel and the US (from Republicans and many Democrats who are in fear of losing votes), started to back-pedal. The criticism was more muted and there were indications that the mood had changed from one of total rejection to one of trying to find a compromise. This may come in the following way, all the building that was approved, although in areas of eastern Jerusalem beyond the former "green line" or ceasefire border, is in purely Jewish areas, none of it is in Arab areas, such as Arab East Jerusalem. As PM Netanyahu stated, none of the building approved directly interferes with any Arab area, and in fact of 23 areas of approved future building, 7 of them are for Arabs in Arab areas. All previous Israeli Governments since 1967 have had the policy of building Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem to accomodate the burgeoning Jewish population. So although it is clear that the PA will oppose any Jewish building in Jerusalem, it is not in the US interest to support that biased Palestinian policy. At any rate, an accomodation must be found before both PM Netanyahu and Secty of State Clinton speak at the AIPAC conference in Washington next week.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The virtual Caliphate

Al Qaeda is not capable now of taking over the earth and declaring its aim of a world-wide Caliphate. Over time the realization should have dawned that the current phase of their project is not only to undermine the Western world with terrorism, but also to establish a virtual Calphate on-line.

This is the main means that the various groups of far-flung Islamists use to keep in touch with each other and with their adherents. The many Islamist sites, that contain downloadable sermons calling for jihad and murdering of infidels are available in all countries thru the internet. You only need to have a server and a site address and you too can be part of the world-wide global jihad.

Case in point, "Jihad Jane," an American woman named Colleen LaRose of Pennsburg PA, who over the internet in a period of 14 months became a convinced but secret jihadist. Even her boyfriend claimed not to know about her other activities. She agreed on-line to marry a Muslim so that he could enter Europe or the US and she volunteered to become a suicide killer and was given the task of murdering Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks who had once published a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed with a dog's body. Taking her assignment seriously she traveled to Ireland and recruited 6 Muslim men (3 Algerians, a Palestinian, a Libyan and a Croatian) and the American wife of one of them to actually go to Sweden and do the deed. When the plans were in an advanced state of preparation the FBI swooped in and arrested her and the others were arrested in Ireland. Now in some respects this plot sounds ludicrous, but Lars Vilks was not laughing. This is an illustration how borders are no barrier to the virtual global jihad. But, one hopes that the FBI has a well organized on-line anti-jihad group detection system at work.

Here is another aspect, in 2007 the small country of Estonia found itself almost brought to a standstill by a cyber war. It happened after the Government decided to move a WWII Russian statue from the central square in Tallinn to a suburban park. This caused two nights of rioting by the Russian ethnic minority and word got around. Soon the computers of all of Estonia were caused to grind to a halt by a sophisticated cyber attack that emanated from Russia. As far as can be told this was orchestrated not by the Kremlin itself but by a right wing Russian youth group. They started the campaign that caused the Estonian Government computers to fail and the banking system to collapse.

Now the reason I mention this is because cyber terrorism will definitely be a feature of future wars. There are many Arabs who have tried, sometimes successfully, to infiltrate and take over Israeli web sites, including those of Government Agencies, and one can predict that this will continue. However, an organized campaign to cause the computers in a given country to fail would be a natural part of any future war aim. It would render communcations difficult, could interfere with air control, prevent money being transferred and generally bring a country to a halt. While Iranian computer hackers will not doubt try to do this to Israel, one hopes that Israel, with a strong basis in computer science, would not only be able to withstand such an attack but could bring Iran's computer systems to its knees. This is the ultimate way to defeat the virtual global jihad.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Hurva

The great Hurva (Ruin) Synagogue has been rebuilt in the Old City of Jerusalem and the opening ceremony was last night when its sefrei torah were dedicated. Why was this major synagogue known as "the Ruin"? Because it was destroyed twice by Arabs forces. It was built in 1701 on the site of an ancient synagogue, then it was burnt down by Arabs in 1720, it was rebuilt in 1864 and then again destroyed by the Arab Legion in their assault on the Jewish Quarter in 1948. They levelled the building with point blank artillery and dynamite.

Only one archway was renovated after 1967 and for many years it remained a ruin. Right next to the Hurva the Arabs built a Mosque with a high minaret to be deliberately higher than the Synagogue, but even when Israeli forces recaptured the Old City in 1967 this Mosque was left undisturbed and it still stands there today. The difference is that the Jews don't have a policy of destroying Muslim places of worship.

The Arabs are very upset by this outcome, as far as they are concerned the Jews have no right to be in the Old City and no right to have a synagogue that is so large. They fear the legend that says once the Jews rebuild the Hurva they will then go on to rebuild the Temple on the Temple Mount, although there are no such plans. Because of this fear the offical PA agencies declared a strike of Arab shopkeepers in East Jerusalem and called on Arabs to demonstrate in the Old City. However, the Israeli security forces were on alert and the area was closed to all men younger than 50. As it happened, following two days of rioting against the Israeli Government decision to build in East Jerusalem, no further violence occurred. But, buses of protesters are being brought into the capital today from north and south to protest against the opening of rthe synagogue!

If anyone should think that the Palestinians do not have a deliberate policy of destroying Jewish places of worship, in fact at least four other synagogues in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City were destroyed by them in the wake of the 1948 War of Independence. Three of those were ancient structures built underground because of the Muslim law that synagogues had to be "lower" than Mosques, but they were still desecrated. However, they were also restored in recent years. Another very large synagogue was destroyed but has not been rebuilt. Also, in recent times the synagogues in Gaza and Jericho have been desecrated and the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus (Shechem) was completely destroyed during the second intifada and several IDF soldiers guarding it were tragically murdered.

By contrast, the Egyptian Antiquities Authority has recently completed a renovation of the Ben Maimon Synagogue in Cairo that was the place of worship of Maimonides. However, after finishing the work they cancelled the official opening ceremony in protest against Jewish building in the City of Jerusalem.

Corrections: The Alex Singer site is The area of Shimon Hatzadik that was a Jewish enclave in Jerusalem before the Jordanians occupied it in 1948 is considered part of Sheikh Jarrah.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jerusalem housing

The case of the 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a suburb of Jerusalem, has become an international issue out of all proportions to its true significance, with Secty of State Clinton making harsh remarks to PM Netanyahu about it, and the EU, Quartet and the UN all wading in. Perhaps some words of explanation are in order to see it in perspective.

1. This statement was not issued by PM Netanyahu or the Israeli Government as such, it was issued by an official of the Housing Ministry to the Jerusalem Housing Committee giving planning permission. Admittedly it was a very stupid statement to issue at that time, and was jumped on by the media. It is likely that the issuance was deliberately planned by right-wing opponents of Netanyahu.

2. The statement was a routine part of the planning process, and will not be followed by actual building for at least three years.

3. Not only did PM Netanyahu apologize to VP Biden at the time, but he also profusely apologized to Secty. of State Clinton and reiterated his apologies at Sunday morning's Cabinet meeting. However, this did little good of course, once the anti-Israel forces have an issue like this its like a dog with a rag, they won't readily let it go.

4. The Palestinian side, Pres. Abbas of the PA, has been setting a precondition for the resumption of talks that there be a freeze on all building in the "occupied territories," that as far as they are concerned includes East Jerusalem. But, East Jerusalem has been annexed by Israel and is not part of the "occupied territories" as far as Israel is concerned. Since the US accepted that the freeze would not apply to East Jerusalem, why should they now expect to change that.

5. By continuing the fracas the US is giving the Palestinians another excuse to condition restarting of talks on Israel ceasing such building and/or cancelling this particular initiative. But, since such planning approval in Jerusalem (East and West) is routine as far as the Israeli Government is concerned, and the Obama Administration previously accepted this condition, the Netanyahu Government will not make any changes in this policy. If it did its coalition would collapse. Nevertheless the US is pressing Israel to make further concessions to the PA by cancelling this particular housing project. This is wrong!

6. Israel has commited itself to restart direct negotitions with the Palestinians immediately. Apparently that is what the US wants, so the US is in fact shooting itself in the foot by punishing Israel for this mistake, and providing the Palestinians with another excuse for not restarting negotiations.

7. Net outcome, the US Administration scores points with the Arabs and Muslim world and the international community by castigating Israel but they also delay any further start of even indirect negotiations. That is lousy policy for the US, except for the fact that it fits with Pres. Obama's preference for the Muslim nations and he is due to visit Indonesia imminently.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jerusalem sites

At the entrance to Jerusalem, tucked away next to the Jerusalem Convention Center (Binyanei Haooma), stands an obscure two-story building, whose appearance belies its significance. This is the Central Zionist Archives (CZA), which contains ca. 90 million documents that charts the history of Zionism from its practical beginnings until today. We visited there on Wednesday with a group from the Assoc. of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI)-Netanya.

The building is much larger than it appears since it has four levels below ground that houses most of the files containing historical papers, letters, maps, photos and other artifacts. The collection was started in 1919 in Berlin to preserve the history of the Zionist movement and was transferred to Jerusalem in 1934 after Hitler came to power. In 1948, when the State of Israel was proclaimed, it established its own State archive, but most of the Zionist movements (WZO, Jewish Agency, Zionist Congresses) continued to deposit their materials in the CZA. Also, many Zionist leader's private papers were deposited there, including Theodor Herzl's which were rescued from Vienna.

Two unique aspects of the collection include maps, that were drawn when each Jewish settlement was established going back to 1880, so that the ownership of land can readily be checked. Also, immigration lists from both legal and illegal ships are held there, so that the arrival of Jews from all corners of the world can be documented from before the State was founded. For further information go to:

Following this visit we went to see the new premises of AACI in Jerusalem, this includes the national AACI office. They moved to a new location in Talpiot and their facility is impressive indeed (see If anyone wants information in English when in Israel, call the AACI in Jerusalem and they have everything. We enjoyed a bagel lunch there from "Holy Bagel," an Israeli company started by American immigrants.

We also visited the offices of the Jewish magazine "Present Tense" ( that has had an office in Jerusalem for two years. They currently have a small exhibit of the drawings and paintings of Alex Singer, an American immigrant from Maryland who was killed while serving in the IDF in Lebanon in 1987. His work has inspired many others and the book about him "Building a LIfe" was very well received and the website is . We had a presentation by his brother Daniel Singer and another brother Saul SInger is the co-author of the recent book "Start-up Nation" ( about Israeli innovation. Altogether an interesting trip to Jerusalem.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah

Sheikh Jarrah is an Arab neighborhood in north Jerusalem. It is in the news now because of the demonstrations each week against Jews resettling in the area. It has become a flashpoint for all the leftist Israeli and international groups supporting the Arab protesters. There have been clashes with the riot police and last week about 20 were hurt on each side.

First a word about the relevant history of Sheikh Jarrah. In 1947, before the war of independence had broken out, a convoy of doctors and nurses were being transported to the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. It had to follow the twisting road through Sheikh Jarrah, where is was ambushed. Even though it was a protected convoy and there had been an agreement to allow it to pass, since it contained only medical personnel, nevertheless the Arabs attacked the convoy. Although it took many hours, and a British Army patrol passed nearby, no requests for help were heeded, and eventually all 78 people in the convoy were killed. Many of the attackers had been the local people of Sheikh Jarrah. After that the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus was isolated during the war and a new hospital had to be build in West Jerusalem, and the original one was only reunited with Israel in 1967.

Now it so happens that in Sheikh Jarrah there was an area of houses that had been owned by Jews. After the War of Independence in 1948 that section was inside the Jordanian held area, and the Jordanian Office of Enemy Property allocated the houses to the UN for Palestinian refugees. They were supposed to pay a fee or rent to the UN for the houses, but most of them never did. When the area was repatriated by Israel in 1967 the Palestinians were given a choice, either pay rent to the Jewish owners or leave. Some did pay rent, but some did not and continued to live there free of charge. Some of the Jewish owners went to court claiming their houses back, but of course the Palestinians after 60 years claimed that they owned the land. However, when the case went to the Supreme Court of Israel, they ruled in favor of the Jewish owners who were able to substantiate their claims with documents and legal proof. However, still some of the families, who had grown in size, refused to budge and had to be evicted with force. Now they come back every week, supported by a phalanx of red-flag waving internationalists. It has become something of a cause celebre.

The question is, should not the law be followed, since the Supreme Court, after hearing all the evidence has ruled. But, the leftists and Palestinians don't accept this, after all it is an Israeli Court, so what do you expect it to find (even though the Israeli Courts have an excellent name for independence and have often found on behalf of Arabs). This is part of a general Arab-Jewish clash of claims over Jerusalem, including the Shimon Hatzaddik neighborhood, the Gan Hamelech development in Silwan, Ramat Shlomo where the plan for 1,600 units caused such a diplomatic furore recently and many others. However, opening Jewish homes in Arab areas to court rulings can have the effect of opening formerly Arab-owned homes in Jewish areas to the same treatment.

On Wednesday I was in Jerusalem and saw a lot of construction throughout Western Jerusalem, and this is mirrored by Jewish building activity in East Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem has been annexed to Israel there is no limitation as far as Israel is concerned, but most countries, especially the Arabs, do not recognize this annexation and regard East Jerusalem merely as part of "occupied territory." Either in time they will have to come to terms with Jewish control over Jerusalem, of they will try to fight a war over it, and hopefully lose. In either case, they are currently using the Israeli actions in Jerusalem as an excuse for avoiding negotiations.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

VP Biden's visit

US VP Joe Biden was very warmly received by PM Netanyahu. Biden has been a strong and sincere friend of Israel for many years as Senator from Delaware, and his comments at his reception reflected that friendship.

However, as soon as the reception was over the major gaffe was announced that Israel was going to build a futher 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo an Orthodox suburb of Jerusalem. Then the gloves came off. Pres. Obama and the State Department issued a condemnation and of course so did the PA. On meeting Biden in Ramallah Pres. Abbas threatened to stop the indirect talks, and Biden changed his attitude and condemned this Israeli move.

There is no doubt that this was a mistake of major proportions and shows clearly the incompetence or sheer stupidity of the Israeli Government. However, most commentators seem to agree that PM Netanyahu would not have done this deliberately, since it is so embarrassing. Apparently this was a routine housing announcement in Jerusalem, where there is in fact no freeze on building; it was announced by a lowly official with no relationship to the VP's visit. Once again this shows that Netanyahu does no know what is going on and has little control over it. It may very likely have been engineered to deliberately embarrass him by a right wing pro-settler group or one of the right wing parties, such as Shas. However, that also seems unlikely since Housing Minister Eli Yishai of Shas apologized for the gaffe, and what do they gain by embarrassing the PM and theVP over an issue that is not in fact controversial in Israel, namely building in Jerusalem. If the announcement had been for building in the West Bank, that would more likely have been deliberate. The condemnation from the EU, UN and Arab League shows how keenly any such move is being watched. The Arab League made its policy of supporting indirect talks conditional on cancelling this housing development, and if this results in Abbas backing out, that would be a major policy reversal for Netanyahu.

However, even with this international fuss, the situation is in reality unchanged. Israel has not accepted any freeze on building in Jerusalem and the worst aspect of this announcement was the timing. Further, the main issue discussed between Netanyahu and Biden was the Iranian nuclear issue. So far Obama has done nothing effective in that respect, but apparently sent Biden mainly to try to dissuade Netanyahu from taking any rash action against Iran, prior to real sanctions being tried. But, so far Obama has dithered for 6 months to a year, and Netanyahu cannot wait forever. One must ask, what is the point of Israel having sovereignty and freedom of action if it cannot use this when tied to a US Administration that is ineffectual on the most significant threat of our times.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The vote in the US House of Representative's Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs to label the massacres of Armenians by Turks from 1915-1918 as "genocide" was very close 23:22. As a result of the passing of this resolution, the Turkish Government recalled its Ambassador from Washington. Jews played a significant role in this vote, there were five Jews on the Subcommittee, all of them voted for the resolution, and Rep Howard Berman is the Chairman of the Subcommittee.

Clearly there have been balancing interests over the years that have prevented such a resolution being passed before now, even though it was lobbied for by Armenian Americans for many years. Most significant of these countervailing forces was the use of Israeli influence on Jewish members of Congress to prevent the passage of such a resolution. The Israeli interest was to maintain good relations with Turkey and one way to do this was to show Turkey how Israeli influence on Congress could be in its interest. However, now that the Turkish relationship with Israel has soured, mainly due to the Turkish Government becoming more pro-lslamic and improving its relationships with Damascus and Tehran, Israel was not inclined to use its influence to stop the current resolution from passing.

No doubt that move will be interpreted in Istanbul as a manifestation of Israel's decreased support for Turkey, but there is no doubt that it was Turkey that initiated this change. First, Turkey protested Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in the most negative light, calling Israel's Army "child killers." Then PM Erdogan walked out of a meeting with Pres. Peres in Davos last year, then Israel decided to stop indirect talks with Syria with because they were dissatisfied with Turkish mediation, and there was an anti-Semitic program series on Turkish National TV.

These moves by Turkey towards the Islamic camp might not be considered so serious if it were not for the recent arrest of some 60 Turkish Army officers by the Government for supposedly planning a coup back in 2003. In Turkey, the Army is considered the respository of the legacy of Kemal Attaturk, the founder of modern secular Turkey. By directly attacking the Army the Government has brought to the fore the secular-religious conflict within Turkey, that far exceeds is relationship with Israel. Yet, that relationship is now inevitably intertwined with the outcome of Turkey's future.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Vacuum saviour

If those who abhore war refuse to fight, those who love war and violence will win. It is as simple as that! If the US had not become the saviour of Europe in WWII then we would now be dead or living under a terrible repression. If the US had not outlasted the Cold War with the Soviet Union, who now could raise their heads in freedom. If the IDF had not been able to defeat the combined armies of six Arab States, then the Jews of "Palestine" would have been massacred.

It is indeed difficult for a democracy to decide to go ahead and commit itself to war. That is why you now have the prospect of the Prime Minister of the UK answering questions to a Panel investigating the War in Iraq. Yes, after the event there should be attempts to come to terms with the loss and the reasons to fight, But, some such investigations are motivated by anti-war sentiment more than finding the truth. The Chilcott Panel is doing its job, but there are many out there ready to attack and deny. I agree with Gordon Brown, the war in Iraq was necessary and justified. Now let's get on with the future.

The civilized world is now faced with a challenge of tremendous proportions from a radical Islamic Shia State in Iran, that is embarked on a course of action that is both bellicose and potentially destructive. Yet, the nations of the world represented through the UN Security Council can do no more than endlessly discuss weakened sanctions, the lowest common denominator. Those great bastions of democracy, Russia and China, have their own (commercial) interests to place first. So little Israel will be hung out to dry, and the US Administration of Barack Obama will bleat a lot, but actually do nothing.

There are two possible alternatives, first that the people of Iran will overthrow the dictatorial regime of the Revolutionary Guards and the Mullahs. However, this is an outside possibility, since the regime has a firm hold on the repressive powers it needs to control the situation. The only other alternative is an attack on the sources of power in Iran, the nuclear sites, the oil facilities, the ports, the airfields and so on. What the consequences of this will be is unclear. What is clear is that the Arabs (the Sunnis) are incapable of dealing with this challenge, and the US under Pres. Obama is unprepared to deal with the challenge. It seems only Israel is in a position to take any effective action.

I would submit that that is why the Arab League Foreign Ministers voted in Cairo the other day to tell Pres. Abbas of the PA to start proximity talks with Israel. Just as the independence of Jordan is guaranteed by Israel (against attack from Syria) so now, with concern about American intentions to stay the course, the Sunni Arab States, all other things being equal, see Israel as their only potential saviour. If the US is to relinquish its role as the world superpower in the Middle East, as it is rapidly doing, then something must move in to fill that vacuum, and it would be far, far better if it is Israel and not Iran.

Monday, March 08, 2010

My Fair Sadie

Last Thursday night we went to a performance by LOGON (the Light Opera Group of the Negev) at the Cultural Center in Netanya of "My Fair Lady." They did an extremely creditable job for an amateur company, they put on an excellent show with a large cast. The principals were great, especially Alfred Dolittle and Eliza. She was played by Ruth Cohen, a young woman who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in Japan where her father was stationed with the US forces, studied in Colorado, lived in New Zealand, visited Israel and fell in love here and married. She speaks Spanish, Japanese and now Hebrew, and sings beautifully in Cockney. I have a particularly soft spot for "My Fair Lady," since I grew up speaking Cockney English just like her. It took years of training and pressure from my Mum to get me to speak normal middle-class English. My Dad didn't care, he was working class and proud of it!

But, instead, I envisage the story of a Jewish girl named Sadie Streisand growing up poor in Brooklyn and sitting outside the Radio City Music Hall selling shmattes. She speaks English with such an appalling Yiddish accent that hardly anyone can understand her. Professor Putz comes by and can tell that she's of Polish origin, from the district of Lodz, that speaks the wurst Yiddish. He by contrast is from Lithuania and speaks a fluent, literary Yiddish. His friend and fellow linguist Prof. Schmendrick who specializes in English dialects meets him and they concoct a challenge to teach this girl perfect American English within three months, so that she could pass at an Ivy League coming out ball as a true schikse. Of course, the girl is delighted to be given the opportunity and sings "All I want is a schmooze somewhere..."

After much hard work and training Sadie learns her "i, o, u's" and can pronounce "The dreck in Spain goes mainly down the drain..." The Professors are happy with her progress and bring her to meet Mother, but she utters a bad word "This yenta is a kvetch... " So she goes back for more training, "Poor Professor Putz..." and ends up at the Ball in Yale, New Haven, dressed in a marvellous gown and passes muster with the Master of the College, the well-known schlemiel Daniel Kaye, who it turns out had changed his name from Kaminsky, then she sings the love song "I threw a custard in his face..." and so they live happily ever after.
What a shpiel!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Temple Mount violence

Whenever the Palestinians are unhappy about anything Israel does, not only do they threaten violence but they practice it. The riots on the Temple Mount after Friday prayers are a typical example of how they use violence. The Imams inside the mosques incite them to violence (who thinks Islam is a peaceful religion) and tell them to go out and kill Jews. They then throw rocks down on the assembled Jewish congregants praying below at the Temple Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. There are of course casualties, and then the Israeli riot police are called in to restore calm. In the fighting 6 policemen and 20 Palestinians were injured. I don't know why the Israeli authorities don't permanenly rope off part of the area of the Mount above the Wall so that the rioters cannot throw rocks down from there, but they don't, maybe it would cause more rioting. It always seems that the Israeli authorities are caught off-guard, when almost anyone could have predicted this violent reaction.

What is angering the rioters this time is the inclusion of two sites on the West Bank, Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and The Cave of the Patriarchs at Machpela in Hebron, on a list prepared by PM Netanyahu of Jewish Heritage Sites. No-one on earth can deny that these are in fact sites of Jewish Heritage. Particularly the building above the caves in Hebron was built by Herod the Great while the Romans still held sway here, more than 2,000 years ago. The site had been revered by Jews for ca. 2,000 years before that as the burial place of Abraham and his family. Herod's construction over teh caves was the second largest building after the Temple in Jerusalem. Because the Muslims conquered the area around 700 ce and then declared it part of their Empire, they think that they wiped out the Jewish connection. They tried by banning Jews from praying there except up to the seventh step leading into the building, but they did not succeed. Jews, even those like me who have no desire to pray there, still maintain a vital link to our ancient history and will not give this up in the face of Arab intimidation.

Instead of making purely verbal complaints, the Arabs take direct violent action every time. They have not reached the level of mature political discourse and they think that only violence can solve their problems, although they are dead wrong. So far the list is purely that, a list on paper. Nothing has been done and will not be done for some time. In any case there is no intention to change the ritual practices at either site for Jews and for Muslims. Not only that, the list is subject to change, for example, the two sites on the West Bank could be placed in a separate category from the other sites or they could be developed in conjunction with the PA. It could be that Netanyahu should be criticized for not seeking some kind of accomodation with the PA in the first place, but the Palestinians are much more in the wrong in trying to use violence to achieve their aims, and that certainly is to deny Jews any rights at their sacred sites.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Proximity talks

The likelihood of renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Authority were greatly enhanced Thursday when the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League meeting in Cairo announced that they supported the idea of "proximity talks" as proposed by the US Administration. The two parties will meet separately with the US represenatative George Mitchell, and he will shuttle between them so that an agreement to actually meet face to face can be reached.

The only condition the FMs put on the renewal was that they be held for a period of 4 months, while the US has no such time limitation, although Pres. Obama optimistically expects an agreement on all issues within two years. Israel has been ready to restart negotiations from the beginning of the Netanyahu government, but the PA has been refusing. At least this Arab League initiative, under the auspices of Pres. Mubarak of Egypt, gives Pres. Abbas of the PA the opportunity to climb down from the preconditions that he had set for some time, since the US-initiated request for a complete halt to Israeli building in the West Bank including Jerusalem. PM Netanyahu initiated a building freeze excepting Jerusalem and giving a time limit of 10 months, two of which have already gone by.

The talks will not start where the last ones between Abbas and Olmert left off, things have changed. The main issues to be addressed in any final status negotiations are: 1. Mutual recognition, Israel as a Jewish State (the Arabs won't) and Palestine as an Arab State (Israel will). 2. The borders between Israel and the putative Palestinian State; 3. The Arab demand of the "right of return" of refugees (that Israel rejects); 4. The division of Jerusalem (that Israel rejects); and 5. An end of conflict agreement including demilitarization (that the Arabs reject). Each of these items requires complex negotiations within themselves.

Regarding the borders, Israel will insist that several areas of the West Bank where there is dense Jewish settlement, specifically including Ma'ale Adumin (40,000 Jews), Ariel (30,000), and Gush Etzion (10,000) will be incorporated into Israel, and the PA will be compensated with the transfer of land and Arab population from within Israel. This of course must include the acceptance of transfer by the Jews and the Arabs who will be affected. It is well known that most Israeli Arabs would prefer to remain Israeli citizens (so much for Israel being an "apartheid State").

Israel will not and cannot take a million or more Arab so-called "refugees" many of whom are second generation born in other countries (and so are not considered refugees under international law). How this issue can be finessesed for the Arab side is unclear. Israel regards Jerusalem as its "eternal capital" and will not agree to a wholesale division of the city. However, a partial slicing off of some Arab neighborhoods might be an acceptable compromise.

The main stumbling block will be the Arab agreement to accept an "end of conflict" statement that would in effect end the Palestine-Israel conflict, that has lasted for more than 100 years. But, that is not expected to happen soon. Abbas is too weak and he can't speak for nearly half the Palestinians who live in Gaza under Hamas. Then of course there are other problems, such as how will any Jewish minority within Palestine be treated and how will access be guaranteed to Jewish holy sites. Israel expects reciprocity to the good example of its treatment of Arab citizens and holy sites, but previous experience does not augur well in this respect. Anyway it is a long road from the start of proximity talks to an end of conflict agreement.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Gap explained

One of the criticisms of my autobiographical novel "Amanuensis" is that there is a big gap that remains unexplained, how did we get from Cambridge in Chapter 10 to Israel in Chapter 11?

I did write a long chapter describing our first visit to Israel in 1963 that I entitled "The Grand Tour." However, I found that it distracted from the main theme/plot of the novel and so I removed it, and it appears in my book "Trove" as one of eight long stories (or novellas). I have never told the actual story of how we actually came to be in Israel for two years in 1964-6 when I was a post-doctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute as mentioned in Chapter 11. So I thought that I would tell it here. It came about because of a mistake!

Since I was due to graduate in 1964, one main reason why we went on the trip to Israel in 1963 was for me to have an interview with Prof. David Elson, the Head of the Biochemistry Department at the Weizmann. He was working on ribosomes, the cellular organelles where protein synthesis occurs (ribosomes were known to be complexes of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and proteins, but their structure would not be solved for many years, specifically with the use of X-ray crystallography, for which Ada Yonath received a Nobel Prize last year). I was particularly interested in working on ribosomes and Elson gave me a project of looking for any possible covalent chemical links between the protein and RNA components, since there was some Russian literature suggesting this. I subsequently received a letter from him offering me a post-doctoral place in his laboratory, if I could find a fellowship that would pay my salary.

I applied to various places for a fellowship as was customary, and one favorite place was the NATO Fellowship program. However, I made a mistake, I somehow did not realize that these fellowships were only for NATO countries, that did not include Israel. I received a letter back from them asking me to come in for an interview in London, but pointing out that Israel was not a NATO country and perhaps I would like to change my choice. At the interview there were three Professors, one of whom I remember was a Botany Professor who was Jewish. They, of course, asked me why I had chosen Israel? I said that I was a Jew and that I wanted to experience living there, and this would be a great opportunity, particularly since the Weizmann Inst. was up to international standards and I was particularly interested in working on ribosomes. Apparently I was persuasive, because after the interview the three Professors came and shook my hand and told me informally that I had got the Fellowship. So I became the first NATO Fellow in Israel.

Our daughter Miriam was born in 1964 in London Hospital (mentioned in the book, although her name was changed for obvious reasons), and when she was a month old we flew together to Israel. I spent two years in mostly fruitless work at the Weizmann, things did not turn out as well as expected, I found no evidence for any covalent links between the RNA and proteins and the project was a bust. Since I had my own fellowship I transferred to the Isotope Department to do other work, where it was a case of "sink or swim." Now that you know the story of how we came to be in Israel, maybe you understand why I chose not to include the explanation in the book.

We left Israel in 1966 and I moved to a Fellowship at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and my first experience on arriving there is described in my other book of short stories "Discovering America."

Note: These books are available on, search for "(title) Jack Cohen"

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Others' crimes

It is an established fact that Egyptian border guards have a shoot to kill policy against African migrants who try to cross the border between Israel and Egypt. So far it is estimated that 60 have been killed. This policy is illegal under international law, apart from the immorality of killing unarmed civilians. There is little sympathy for these Africans in Egypt because most of them are Muslims and they are trying to escape to Israel, where they know they will be humanely treated. What their fate is in Egypt, imprisonment, torture or death is unknown.

The UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay finally today harshly criticized Egypt after all these killings. She said that she knows of no other border where unarmed civilians are shot so callously. The victims, as well as Sudanese fleeing the war in Darfur, includes Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalis. Israel is now under great pressure, since this little country can hardly take care of the thousands of such refugees, currently there are estimated to be 30,000 Africans in Israel, and there are organizations that care for them and legal organizations that seek to protect their human rights. Such a thing would be unthinkable in the Muslim countries. So much for Israel being an "apartheid" State.

The Israeli Government has tried to develop policies to deal with this flow of migrants. They have decided to erect a border fence along the Egyptian border to prevent open access. They have decided to expel economic migrants, from countries where there is no persecution or conflict, and they have decided to expel migrants who have children here, since this is illegal and Israel is unable to accept children and to give them medical care and education. It is often a way for (female) migrants to try to obtain immigrant status in a country.

It should be noted that there are also some 30,000 Philippinos in Israel, one sees them all over the place since they are favored for looking after old people. They have a great name for being caring and compassionate. They also learn Hebrew, and it is amazing to hear them talking Hebrew to their charges. They are usually here under contract, but many continue to live here illegally after their contracts are up. Groups of them buy apartments in Tel Aviv and some marry Israelis and become Israeli citizens. They apparently prefer to live here than in the Muslim States where they are often treated badly as "infidels."

Operation Moshtarak in the Afghan province of Helmand pits 15,000 US and British forces with Afghan Army cooperation against Taliban forces. According to conservative estimates 36 civilians have been killed during the Operation so far. 12 were killed in the first day of the war when an errant missile hit a house, and 22 were killed when a minibus was destroyed. However, there have been no international demonstrations, no calls to declare British and US generals war criminals, no UN human rights meetings to require a Report on the war and no general condemnation of the Allies. This is of course because there is a double standard applied to Israel compared to all other countries. In fact Israel was condemned 15 times in 2 years by the UN Human Rights Council while no other country was condemned more than once.

But, it is likely that if the Goldstone Report on Israeli Operation Cast lead in Gaza ever reaches the UN Security Council (the GA has no enforcement powers) it will be vetoed by the Western allies because it would set a precedent for Muslim countries who have an automatic majority to likewise categorize them as war criminals for the civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so they cannot take that risk.

Note: After my mailing went out yesterday on the King's Garden development plan for Silwan in Jerusalem, Mayor Nir Barkat was asked by PM Netanyahu to delay his press conference to announce the plan to avoid further exacerbating the tension in East Jerusalem and Barkat agreed. So the matter is now in abeyance.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

King's Garden

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is set to give a press conference today in which he will unveil his plans for the re-development of Silwan, that is an Arab village that is part of Jerusalem and which contains the remains of King David's City, an archeological site that has been excavated and is of the utmost Biblical significance (Silwan is the Arab name for Siloam that is mentioned in the Bible).

How this program came about is a complex story, that first relates to the quasi private-government David's City development project, that has of course been opposed by the local Arab inhabitants. It is axiomatic that any Jewish/Israeli project in East Jerusalem will produce a negative reaction in the local Arab population and sometimes beyond. For example, when in 1996 then PM Netanyahu announced the opening of a new exit from the underground Temple Walls tunnel, that would avoid visitors having to return by the same route in a long narrow tunnel, there was large-scale rioting that resulted in the deaths of 14 Israelis and 54 Palestinians. The Islamic authorities used this decision to attack Israel, stating that Israel was deliberately undermining the Dome of the Rock, that was of course untrue, and they even took the case to the UN. The long-term outcome is that the exit operates very efficiently, the status of the Dome of the Rock was unaffected and the exit gate is now accepted. Another example is the construction of the Security Barrier mostly as a wall within Jerusalem, which has led to wide-scale ongoing rioting at Bil'i'in and Nili'in. Also, the purchase of houses in East Jerusalem by private Jewish organizations has caused negative reaction, such as currently in Sheikh Jarrah, even when the Jewish ownership has been appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court and judged as legal.

Partly as a result of the development of the David's City project, a house in Silwan was purchased by a Jewish group and turned into a yeshiva and in order to provide living accomodation for the student's it was expanded to six stories. The residents of Silwan went to court and the Supreme Court ruled in this case that the construction was illegal, and to avoid actually demolishing the structure, the building was ordered to be sealed. This caused a strong Jewish reaction because there are literally hundreds of illegal structures built in East Jerusalem by Arabs that do not have official planning permission, and that have been left because of the feared political repercussions of dealing with them. Nevertheless, NIr Barkat, a successful businessman and a secular Jew, as Mayor of Jeruslaem, came up with a compromise solution, that allows him to also implement his vision of developing the Arab sections of Jerusalem.

He proposes, instead of sealing the Yeshiva, to remove the "illegal" extra 2 stories that were added to the 4 storey building, also he plans to demolish 100 Arab structures that were built in Silwan illegally without planning permission. In their place he will improve current housing for the Arab residents, by installing new sewer, water and electricity grids, and he will rehouse those residents who are removed with new improved housing nearby. In place of the demolished structures he will build a garden, to be called Gan Hamlech, the King's Garden, and as part of it there will be a new shopping center with a hotel that should help develop the local economy by taking advantage of the archeological site. This is all being done with transparency so that no "secret" development is involved and of course it is a city planner's dream, because an otherwise poor and decrepit region of the city will be modernised and improved.

However, don't expect local Arabs to accept this plan without opposition and even rioting, that is the way they respond to all Israeli initiatives. They would rather wallow in poverty than accept Israeli improvements to their lives. They see all developments as Jewish plots to steal their land, not acknowledging that Silwan is part of municipal Jerusalem, nor that David's City has significant Jewish historical connections. Many will criticize Barkat for making this initiative now, when there is already Arab rioting over the adding of the two West Bank sites of Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron to the list of Jewish Heritage Sites that the Israeli Government under PM Netanyahu has decided to renovate.

But, there are two principles at stake here, first Mayor Barkat is sovereign in Jeruslaem and he has developed his plan as a municipal program independently of the Israeli Government. Would the Mayor of London accept the British Government telling him how to run his City or the Mayor of New York and so on. So Mayor Barkat has developed this plan in accord with current developments within his City. Secondly, there are always claims that the Jewish dominated City of Jerusalem is exploiting the Arab sections for their own purposes. But, here is a excellent example of city planning that would pass any objective analysis as a worthy development project, in which the interests of both Arabs and Jews are protected, remembering that the City cannot prevent Jews from choosing to live there too.