Friday, July 30, 2010

The bright side

I was wrong about the Arab League in my last posting, they actually did endorse direct negotiations between the PA and Israel, but in a very limited way. The Arab FM's left the actual initiation of the talks to Pres. Abbas, who has made several preconditions, and they sent a letter to Pres. Obama asking for "assurances" regarding Arab interests. So, in effect, this amounts again to the Arabs hiding behind Pres. Obama, and requiring "assurances," another word for "preconditions," before they actually accept the restart of direct negotiations. Nevertheless, the Government of Israel welcomed their position as an advance on outright rejection.

In The Jerusalem Post this week Ray Hanania, who is a moderate Arab Christian commentator, wrote an article on how the situation is improving, especially with regard to the lives of the people in the West Bank and Gaza. There are many positive aspects of the current situation for Israel too, so I thought I would try to enumerate some of them:

1. Greece is replacing unreliable and Islamist Turkey as a friendly neighbor for Israel.
2. Israel's economy has not experienced the downturns that have plagued most other countries.
3. The memory of the Turkish flotilla to Gaza has begun to fade and the last ship from Libya was successfully diverted to Egypt without incident.
4. The situation in Gaza has improved since Israel changed its blockade policy and not only is there no humanitarian "crisis" there, but a new mall was opened and according to the UN such flotilla shipments are unnecessary.
5. The transfer from indirect to direct talks has been held up by the Palestinians with excuses, they want US Pres Obama to guarantee Israeli concessions in advance of direct talks. Any reasonable person can see that this delay is due to Palestinian intransigence.
6. There seems to be unanimity among the Government Coalition partners that the deadline of the freeze on building in the West Bank will not be extended beyond Sept. 26.
7. The lull in rocket firings and terrorist incidents from the West Bank and Gaza seems to have become almost permanent.
8. The development of the police forces in the PA with Israeli cooperation has improved security there.
9. The West Bank is undergoing an economic boom, with a new hotel being built in Ramallah and a sharp increase in growth of ca. 7% pa.
10. Israel signed an agreement with Ukraine to remove the need for visas between the two countries. A similar agreement with Russia has doubled the Russian tourist rate to Israel.
11. An agreement between 90 countries has been signed to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, with Israel as the organizing partner.
12. The number of tourists visiting Israel so far this year has reached a record ca. 35% higher than the previous record.

Of course, one could write a list of negative items for Israel that would be just as long if not longer, and the ability of Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon to wage war on Israel has not receded, as well as the desire of some factions to continue the terrorist campaign. However, to quote Brian "always look on the bright side of life."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arab intransigence

Today, Palestine Authority Pres. Abbas is taking his case to the Arab League meeting of Foreign Ministers in Cairo, to ask them to support his position not to enter direct talks with Israel until Israel first agrees to a complete building freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, agrees to the pre-June 1967 borders as those of the future Palestinian State and accepts the "right of return" of Palestinian "refugees." Of course, Israel rejects these preposterous pre-conditions, that would give the Palestinians their maximal positions prior to negotiations taking place. But, the US and the EU also support the re-start of direct negotiations without pre-conditions, as oulined by Pres. Obama and Secty of State Clinton and by EU Foreign policy leaders Dame Ashton and Miguel Moratinos, who is currently visiting Israel.

To the Western mind, such pre-conditions are absurd, since they in effect obviate the need to the negotiations, where give and take and compromise are supposed to occur. PM Netanyahu has accepted the idea of a "two-state" solution and has been calling for direct talks since the beginning of his Government. Abbas evaded this by first insisting on "proximity" talks, whose very indirectness made any progress impossible. Now, he claims that because the proximity talks have failed, he will not enter direct talks. If anything, it should be the opposite, because proximity talks are doomed to failure, direct talks are a necessity. But, that would only be for those who actually want peace. For those who do not, who are intransigent while pretending that they want peace, any excuse will do, and pre-conditions are ideal for that purpose. Of course, we should remember that the idea of pre-conditions came from Pres. Obama, who first assured the Palestinians that he could "deliver" Israel. But, they are still waiting.

Although we don't yet know the outcome of the Arab League meeting, it is easy to predict that it will support Abbas's position. It used to be that Yasir Arafat would make his own decisions, on behalf of the Palestinian people, and ignore the weak and divided Arab League. But now, if anything, it is the Palestinians who are weak and divided. Abbas needs the imprimatur of the Arab League to strengthen his position to reject Israel's willingness to negotiate, to reject the US and EU support for direct negotiations and to outflank Hamas, who are against any contacts with Israel. Pro-Palestinian extremists in the West will find all sorts of excuses for Abbas, that he is weak and that Israel is the aggressor and should make the consessions. But, no peace agreement can result this way. For those who truly seek peace it must be clear that the Arabs, by supporting Abbas in this instance, are the intranisgent party, preventing peace talks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Another "Goldstone"?

The leaking of a huge amount of secret Afghan materials by a "whistle-blower" on Wikileaks has significant consequences for the Western nations involved, Britain and the US. Notably the vidoes accompanying the papers and the descriptions of the incidents reveal that British and US forces on many occasions attacked gatherings of people that included innocent civilians and killed many of them. In fact, adding up the incidents over six years the total of civilian deaths amounts to thousands, including the mistaken attack on a wedding party where guns were being brandished and used as is Afghan custom. These deaths make the few attributed to IDF soldiers in Operation Cast Lead in 2009 seem like a picnic.

The danger for Britain and the US is that if the UN Human Rights Commission decided that Israel needed to be investigated by a major international Committee, the Goldstone Committee, then of course, how much more would they conclude that Britain and the US should be thus investigated. Expect the UNHCR, dominated by Muslim States, to vote to establish a Committee to investigate the breaking of international humanitarian law by British and US forces in Afghanistan. Then it will become clear that the British Foreign Office and the US Department of State made an enormous mistake in not vigorously opposing the formation of such an investigative committee against Israel, because the precedent has now been set and they will be in the spotlight and their soldiers will be pilloried by hostile forces as was the IDF. Supporting the Turklish position on the flotilla to Gaza will not help PM Cameron avoid this outcome.

On the other hand, through some deal or pressure brought by the US and UK there might not be such an investigation, which will only prove once more how hypocritical the whole international process is. Israel is a convenient target, but Britain and the US should not get away without investigation for much more of the same type of actions.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Children's fate

The difficult situation of children of foreign workers has been worrying the Israeli Government for some time. There are ca. 1,200 known children of such people living in Israel. Most of them were born here and have known no other country. They speak Hebrew and learn in Israeli schools and are quite well adapted, although none of them are Jewish. There are serious problems, because the Orthodox want them deported, because they might inter-marry, but the liberal-left want them all to stay, since they are sympathetic even to illegal immigrants and they argue that the children would suffer if returned to their parent's native country (such as Philippines, Thailand and Sudan).

First, the Government decided to deport all of them and their parents, since it is illegal for a foreign worker to have a child in Israel, since this is a well known way to remain in a country. Then under pressure they gave them until the end of the school year. But, then the children's supporters went to court and it was ruled that the Government can't deport all of them as a group without considering their cases individually. So the Government did what any good Government does, it formed a Committee. That Committee has now ruled, and has come up with specific criteria, i.e. if the parents were here legally and if the child has been here for at least 5 years and if they speak Hebrew and go to an Israeli school, then they can stay as citizens and so can their siblings and parents. Applied to the group of children in question this means that 800 can stay, but 400 must be deported. Of course, both sides of the case are not satisfied, but the Government has decided that this approach is legal and satisfactory, and will apply this ruling very soon. Although it does not prevent another build-up of such children in the future, at least now there are some objective criteria which can be applied to decide the fate of a given child.

In general, the Government needs to enact a new immigration law, since there is no coherent law for non-Jews (the Law of Return applies only to Jews). As Pres. Obama is finding in the US, such laws can have significant political consequences.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Terrible irony

A terrible tragedy occurred in Netanya on Saturday, a man murdered his three children! Itai Ben Dror aged 38 has been a psychatric patient for many years and has been hospitalized several times, the last time only one and a half months ago. He has also tried to commit suicide multiple times. He is divorced, but under an agreement his children were allowed to spend some weekends with him. While they were staying with him, after they were asleep, he stabbed all three of them, Omer (10), Roni (8) and Or (5), and also tried to commit suicide by slashing his own wrists, but failed.

The question arises how was a man who is obviously mentally disturbed allowed to have children under his care and control. It seems that in this case the relevant child protection authorities were not involved in the decision by the couple to allow the children to stay with him. This fact has been criticized by many, including PM Netanyahu. An investigation and a trial are underway.

While such events are fortunately rare, such abnormal events ironically show how Israel is a "normal" country. In another case in Netanya, two men were arrested for shooting at a gang rival whose stores were also torched. Gang violence has always been a feature of Netanya, although it does not directly affect the lives of ordinary people. Whenever a violent act occurs the police have to decide whether it was criminally or nationally motivated.

Last night we went to an evening of jazz, entitled "Jazz in the night" at our AACI club. It was very enjoyable and well-attended. At the same time there were major events occuring in the main square, where the national TV channel "24" has a studio made out of transparent plastic and there have been public presentations by well-known singers and performers, and also the Municipality has performances at the cliff-top auditorium. The city was packed with people and some roads were closed.

Many people think that all Israelis think about is the "security situation," but that is not at all true. We rarely talk about it to each other, life is full of family, work, health issues and musical events. Life goes on as usual in the Jewish State.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Palestinian disaster

The Palestinians are rushing towards a dead end where they will self-destruct. The basic problem, as highlighted by Sol Stern in "The Nakba Obsession" (, is that the Palestinian narrative is that of the victim. This status has had terrible consequences for the Palestinian people. They celebrate the "Nakba" the "disaster" that has befallen them; what other group celebrates their defeat in order to keep it alive?

Approximately half of all Palestinians have lived in refugee camps throughout the Arab world, in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank for 62 years since the end of the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, and throughout this time they have acted as if they should be the winners. This is a fault in the Arab or Muslim psyche, never accepting defeat. If you don't admit defeat and continue the struggle, then conceivably you could eventually come out the winner. What the Palestinian leaders, following Arafat, as well as Nasser, Assad and Co., have told the Palestinians is that if they continue the struggle they will eventually win and reverse the Nakba. It is for this reason that no Palestinian leader can compromise, it is for this reason that Arafat broke off negotiations with Pres. Clinton at Camp David in 2000 when almost all his demands were met by PM Barak, why Pres Abbas broke of negotiations with PM Olmert when he was similarly near his maximal demands only 2 years ago, and why Pres. Abbas makes impossible pre-conditions now before any direct talks can start. No Palestinian leader can admit that because they were in fact defeated, that they must make a compromise solution and accept an "end of the conflict" and give up their intention to replace Israel. The absurd idea of the "right of return" that has never been applied by any other refugee group in history and that can never be forced on Israel, dooms all negotiations to failure.

Two factors that prevent negotiations with the Palestinians from succeeding are the existence of UNWRA and the schism between Fatah and Hamas. UNWRA was set up by the UN in order to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem, by keeping the original refugees in camps and not allowing them to assimilate into their countries of residence. By having the UN feed, clothe and educate them, they could be kept separate from the rest of the population, and thereby kept "ready to return." However, they will never return, and this must be finally seeping into even their thick heads. According to international law a refugee is "one who leaves his/her country either by force or willingly." There is nothing about "right of return" and nothing about second or futher generations remaining refugees, only the actual person leaving is the refugee, not their children nor their grandchildren. No other group in history has had a specific organization established to keep them as "refugees" for generations. And let's face it, this policy of the Arabs has failed, the Palestinians born in the neighboring Arab countries are never going back to what is now Israel, and probably not even to a Palestinian State if one were ever established.

It is a fact of history that whenever there is a potential for compromise the Arabs tend towards the extreme. Thus, no Palestinian leader can afford to compromise with Israel, because he will be considered a sell-out, a "Zionist" (as they were recently called by Ayman al Zawahiri, the second-in-command of al Qaeda) and they will be considered traitors. Thus, the Palestinian movement splinters and splinters again. From Fatah you have the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades and from Hamas you have Islamic Jihad, as well as al Qaeda. Their basic approach is "no compromise" and so anyone who does compromise becomes part of the enemy. This is not unique to the Palestinians, consider the Irish, who have the IRA, the "provisional" IRA (the provos) and the "real" IRA. But, the difference is that the majority of the Israelis and the Irish really want peace, and so the tendency to splinter in those societies has been stemmed.

In order for the Palestinians to make the fateful compromise, UNWRA needs to be disbanded. I know this seems impossible after 60 years, but on the other hand the US pays one third of its budget (the Arab countries pay hardly anything), and so if only the US Congress voted to stop all (separate) payments to UNWRA, it would have to close down, and then the countries of residence would have to become responsible for their Palestinian citizens. A move to start to do this has recently been initiated in the Lebanese Parliament to give the Palestinians basic human rights that they have been denied all these years. Also, the only way for Hamas to be replaced in Gaza is either by military defeat, or if their paymaster, Iran, is somehow defeated. This may happen if sanctions work or the regime is overthrown.

A contrasting attitude towards this situation can be that it is in Israel's interests for the Palestinians to continue to live in "refugee camps" where they are kept in poverty by their fellow Arabs and that the Palestinian movement is politically divided. Since they show no means of being able to escape this fate, it seems that they will continue as victims while Israel continues to go from strength to strength. One potential "out" for the Palestinians is for a unilateral declaration of Statehood, or for the UN Security Council to establish a Palestinian State. I cannot foresee either of these outcomes, since a Palestinian State cannot survive without Israeli assistance (just as Gaza cannot survive without Israeli supplies) and I don't see the UN SC taking responsibility for such a mess that would ensue if such a State were declared without agreed upon borders and without a means to survive economically. Also, unilateral action by the Palestinians or the UN without Israeli agreement would also unleash Israeli unilateral action. So the future does not look bright for the Palestinian movement, too bad!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Greece and Israel

The current visit of Greek PM George Papandreou to Israel represents a new rapprochement between the two countries. The clear change in the international situation that caused this turnaround is the schism that has developed between Turkey and Israel. This has been initiated and extended by PM Erdogan in pursuit of his new Turkish turn to the east and towards Islam and away from the traditional Turkish secular policy. The improved relations with Greece are one positive outcome of Turkey's anti-Israel and anti-Western turn. Israel is also improving relations with Cyprus, the Greek southern part of the island, while Turkey illegally occupies the northen part of the island.

Erdogan used Operation Cast Lead in 2009 as an excuse to criticize Israel. Notably Israel has withdrawn completely from Gaza, but Turkey still occupies northern Cyprus. Israel launched this Operation only after suffering 8 years of rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza. While criticizing Israel, in sheer hypocrisy, Turkish forces have been attacking Kurdish villages in Iraq and killing innocent civilians. This is in pursuit of the PKK, the Kurdish freedom fighters, because Turkey fears the potential power of the Kurdish minority in its own country. Turkey denies self-determination to the millions of Kurds, while criticizing Israel for not giving autonomy to the Palestinians. Also, Erdogan used the clash with the Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza, that was supported by the Turkish government, to further separate itself from Israel.

Since it is impossble to be close friends with both Turkey and Greece at the same time, Israel preferred the former, as a large Muslim State. But, friendship with Greece, a small western Christian nation, is more appropriate for Israel. However, there have been barriers to this friendship, first the extreme leftist governments in Greece, including that of Andreas Papandreou, the current PM's father, who was very pro-Palestinian. Also, there has been a lot of Christian anti-Semitism in Greece, and the papers are often full of criticism of Jews and Israel. However, the Greek Government is now on the defensive, due largely to profligate Government spending that has caused the current economic crisis in Greece. Since Israel has avoided such a crisis and has a thriving economy, Greece has a lot to learn from Israel, and a good relationship could help Greece enormously.

Also, Turkey has lost a huge amount in tourist income, ca. 100,000 Israeli tourists have cancelled holidays or have decided to go elsewhere. Greece, if it is friendly to Israel, stands to gain a large percentage of this tourist income. The island of Crete, part of Greece, is close to Israel and is already popular with Israeli tourists.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Humanitarian war

In war, there are always civilian casualties. Because of the deliberate attacks on civilians and the bombing of major cities during WWII, the legal rules of war under the Geneva Conventions were modified in order to protect civilians and to try to reduce civilian casualties. This issue became relevant recently, not because of the thousands of civilian casualties caused by the US and British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations, but because of the relatively limited number of civilian casualties that occurred during IDF Operation Cast Lead (OCL) in Gaza in 2009.

As a result of OCL, the UN Human Rights Commission initiated the Goldstone Report that focussed on the IDF and ignored the actions of Hamas (including their barrage of Israeli civilian territory for 8 years with thousands of rockets). Israel refused to cooperate with this biased investigation, but initiated its own enquiry. Of the hundreds of allegations by Goldstone of "war crimes" by the IDF, the IDF found 47 cases that were worthy of further investigation and only two cases have been deemed serious enough to actually charge the soldiers involved. Nevertheless, as a result of lessons learned, the IDF has now issued a further Report entitled "Gaza Operations Investigations: Second Update," that proposes changes in the military doctrine when fighting wars like OCL where the main action is carried out in densely populated urban areas, as it was deliberately by Hamas in Gaza (this in itself is a "war crime").

The latest Report will put the IDF in the forefront of all armies in the world in terms of humanitarian law. It is proposed that each army unit engaged in conflict at the battalion level will have its own Humanitarian Affairs Officer (HAO), who will be responsible for ensuring that all orders are lawful and that all actions are taken with specific regard for protecting civilian lives. No Army in the world has so far established such an integral humanitarian aspect within its forces. This officer will be responsible for briefing units in combat so that cases like the ones currently being investigated are avoided, where a civilian was used as a shield and where a civilian was killed.

Also, although the use of "white phosphorus" (WP) for producing dense clouds of smoke is legal in warfare, its use against civilians is banned because of the terrible burns it produces. The IDF acknowledges that in some cases WP was used too close to civilian areas, and the HAO will be responsible for seeing that such overlaps do not take place in future conflicts.

These changes will not prevent all civilian casualties nor will they result in the acceptance of the the IDF by the UN or the Muslim States, that will automatically vote against Israel in any case. But, they will provide a measure of protection for IDF soldiers and officers in their dealing with the very difficult area of conflict in densely populated areas. They will make the IDF a more moral army, the most moral in the world, and this will be a source of pride for the Israeli State and people.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Only in Israel

Since Israel is a liberal democracy, that its enemies don't acknowledge, there are happenings and reports in the media here that could never be found in any Arab or most Muslim countries. For example, Haim Pearlman was arrested a few days ago for shooting four Palestinian men back in 1996. He is also charged with the attempted murder of several others. If an Arab shot four Jews he would be celebrated by his community, not arrested!

Pearlman is an ultra-Orthodox American Jew who believes that the Land of Israel is meant by God for the Jews and in order to help bring this about we must remove the Arabs from our land. This is a legitimate, although extreme belief, but when one acts on it by murdering Palestinians, then this is definitely unacceptable. Pearlman was a member of the outlawed Kahane Chai movement and was previously arrested in Jerusalem for sticking up posters of then PM Ehud Olmert with "Wanted" written underneath.

One might ask why has it taken so long to detain him, and there are reasons, first Pearlman spent a lot of the intervening years in the US, like another American Jew, Yaakov Teitel, who killed two Palestinians back in 1997 and was finally arrested in 2009. Second, the Israeli secret service, Shin Bet, tried to use Pearlman to infiltrate the right wing extremist groups, but in effect failed. He turned on them, and that was when they arrested him. It might also have been incompetence, in that they did not at first suspect him of these murders.

Two days prior to his arrest, Pearlman released recordings of a supposed Shin Bet agent trying to persuade him to murder Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Islamic League, and a well-known Islamic extremist. In the recordings Pearlman refused to carry out the murder, and since the Shin Bet had evidence against him, he knew that he would then be arrested. The whole affair is very complex and appears to include Shin Bet corruption in an attempt to frame Pearlman. Nevertheless, in Israel he was arrested and will be charged with murder.

There are other items that one would not see in any Arab country, for example there is a debate about what Israel should do with the ca. 30,000 and more African refugees in the country. Many of them are Muslims fleeing persecution in Sudan, but most are economic refugees, the largest group form Eritrea. The Egyptian border guards shoot them and about 60 have been killed so far (without protests from western human rights advocates). They come to Israel for sanctuary, but there are now too many of them and there are fears that little Israel will be inundated. The Govt. has decided to build a fence to protect the Israeli border between Gaza and Eilat, but so far there is no coherent Govt. policy about what to do with them. Some are allowed to work in Eilat and the tourist hotels have become dependent on their cheap labor. Others have been kept in internment camps in the south, and others have been given one-way tickets to Tel Aviv and there is now a thriving Black community in south TA. But, they have little work and this is causing great social problems. The final policy is simply to send them back, either over the Egyptian border or to their country of origin. As most Western countries know, being liberal and developed leads to an influx of refugees, Mexicans to the US, Muslims to Europe and Africans to Israel. The Israeli Govt. is currently debating a new law to unify immigration policies.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Coalition crisis?

A coalition crisis has been in the news lately, but it is more a product of the media than real. There are two major aspects of the supposed crisis, first, that PM Bibi Netanyahu has mistreated FM Avigdor Lieberman, Head of the Israel Beitanu Party, and second that there is a clash between them over the conversion bill.

Regarding the mistreatment, this came to a head a few weeks ago when it was reported that Industry and Trade Minister "Fuad" Ben Eliezer met with the Turkish FM in order to try to smooth things over, but the meeting was arranged and carried out without the knowledge of Israeli FM Lieberman. Since there have been other slights to Lieberman, he decided to take this occurence seriously and threatened PM Netanyahu that he would get his "cold" revenge. Apparently, one way that he is doing this is by appointing a new UN Ambassador without Netayahu's approval.

Concurrently, the situation of the Conversion Bill came along, and Netanyahu and Lieberman are on opposite sides of this argument. There is a real need for facilitated conversions in Israel and ca. 30,000 people are affected by the outcome, many of them Russians, both Jews and non-Jews, who wish to convert and/or marry. It is deemed unfair that the Orthodox drag out the process, requiring papers that cannot be obtained within strict time limits and requiring the convert to accept strict Orthodox practices, which the majority of Israelis and Jews do not follow. Apparently a compromisse was reached between the three main faith groups Orthodox, Conservative and Reform under the aegis of Jewish Agency Head Natan Sharansky, representing PM Netanyahu. One positive aspect of this bill was that it would give responsibility for conversions to local Rabbis, thus countering the centralization of the current situation and allowing more flexibility.

However, at the last minute the bill was changed by the Chairman of the Knesset Committee, Israel Beitanu MK David Rotem, and would have given total control over conversions carried out in Israel to the Chief Rabbinate and that version was passed by a majority of the Committee. This is unacceptable to the non-Orthodox groups, and they appealed to Sharansky, who met with Netanyahu, who then stated that "such a bill would cause a rift within the world Jewish community" that would result in loss of support for Israel, and so he withdrew Government support for the Bill. So on one side against the current Rotem version you have Natanyahu and Likud, Labor and even Livni's opposition Kadima Party. For the Rotem version, you have an alliance of Lieberman's Israel Beitanu, Shas and the haredi parties. Today Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar was quoted as being in favor of the bill, but then retracted this statement saying that he does not deal in politics. It is not clear how this situation will be resolved, but the American Jewish groups need not be too concerned, such a bill will never pass.

There is another points of contention between Lieberman and Netanyahu, Israel Beitanu opposed the state budget vote recently, because Lieberman claimed that the Ministries of his party were deliberatley underfunded. Today Lieberman held a press conference where he assured everyone that there is no coalition crisis, there is no intention of Israel Beitanu to force the Conversion Bill through and he and Netanyahu, with a meeting scheduled for last night, will work things out. That's politics.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Israel in Egypt

PM Netanyahu flew down to Egypt on Sunday to meet with Pres. Mubarak. This meeting was twice delayed, either because the Egyptians were waiting to see what happened with the aid ship to Gaza organized by Qaddafi's son, or because Mubarak was ill again. The ship was safely persuaded to dock at El Arish in Sinai so another clash was averted, and Mubarak seemed fine, so the meeting went ahead. Because of the delay it worked out that Mubarak is meeting with Netanyahu, Pres. Abbas of the PA and Sen. Mitchell, Pres. Obama's special envoy to the ME, all in one day, but separately.

It so happens that all four participants have reasons for common interest: 1. They all fear the growing power of an expansionist Iran, particularly now that it supports the Hamas regime in Gaza and is developing nuclear weapons; 2. They fear that Hamas will expand into the West Bank (the PA) and into Egypt (as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood) and will continue to attack Israel; 3. They all fear the result of ME instability. The US always wants stability, particularly when it is stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mubarak is now 82 and is in ill health and his successor has not been decided upon (he wants his son Gamal to suceed him); instability could mean the overthrow of the regime at his passing. Israel wishes to avoid another war with Hamas, but also wants to prevent its empowerment.

So on this basis, Mubarak is in a good position to try to foster the much-promised direct talks between Netanyhau and Abbas. Note specifically it is Abbas who is balking at direct talks. Netanyahu has been trying to persuade him to talk directly since he came into office. Abbas is afraid that he will be forced to make concessions and that this will anger Hamas and cause a civil war in the West Bank. But, Obama has promised direct talks, and Abbas hopefully will fall into line. But, before he does he needs to be persuaded by Obama and Mubarak and has asked for an imprimatur of the Arab League, so he is not out on a limb on his own.

But, today the Egyptian FM Aboul Gheit remarked that "the basis for direct talks is still absent." So what more do they want to try to squeeze out of Israel? The Arab League gave Abbas four months for indirect talks, Netanyahu gave Israel 10 months of a partial building freeze on the West Bank. But, the times are almost up. If they don't act soon there will be no "peace in our time." In any case, there will be no peace, but let's hope there won't be war neither.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beelzebub and Bluetooth

Sorry about the typo in my previous message, it should have been "diverticulitis," which is the inflamed version of diverticulosis. Another story from my hospital stay, my bed was next to a window and in the morning when I opened the curtain a horde of flies were attracted to the light. I called myself Beelzebub, literally "Lord of the flies," made famous in the William Golding novel of the same name. The word comes originally form Hebrew, Ba'al meaning Lord (and husband in modern Hebrew) and zvuv meaning fly ("v" and "b" are interchangeable). It was used in the Bible to describe a Philistine God. Anyway, I smote those flies with Biblical ferocity and I was victorious, hence "Lord of the flies."

Being hospitalized in Israel has its own word, ishpuz, which is actually an Aramaic word. It has the same source as in English, meaning hospitality. Some of you may be aware of the Israeli movie "Ishpuzin", meaning having guests in your Succa during Succoth (Tabernacles). Note that Aramiac words have the plural ending "in" while Hebrew words have the ending "im." During the time of the Romans the lingua franca in the Holy Land was Aramaic. During that period many Aramaic words entered Hebrew and many prayers were translated into Aramaic so that the ordinary people could understand them. In some cases in the prayer book there is the same prayer in both languages, some people read only one version, but some read both.

On a different topic, I have a Bluetooth detector in my car for my mobile phone, it's great. When I upgraded to a new phone recently, I forgot to check that it could be used with a hands-free adaptor. It could not, I discovered, too late. They first suggested getting a separate phone for the car, but I didn't think that was worth it. Then they suggested getting a Bluetooth detector. It is a remote device that when turned on allows the phone to be heard and talked to without any connection thru wireless transmission and detection. Couldn't be easier. Life made simple, thru complex devices.

I'll bet no-one ever combined the topics of Beelzebub and Bluetooth before!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Current issues

The press in Israel are focussing on several matters, most notably publication of the internal IDF Report of Gen. Giora Eiland to the IDF Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. This has found severe deficiences in the "botched" attack on the Mavi Marmara by Navy commandos, but has levelled no personal blame. The chief criticisms were the lack of pre-boarding intelligence on the passengers, the lack of intelligence about Turkey and how the relationship with the Turkish Government had changed rapidly, and the lack of coordination between the intelligence and Naval operations branch. Specifically, the Navy knew nothing about the 50 or so members of IHH who boarded separately and had received military training. They also ignored the fact that the Turkish Government was involved with the ship, including a Turkish naval vesel escorting it from Turkish waters. Finally, although this information became available, the plan for the operation was not changed at all, showing lack of coordination and flexibility. This Report will now be available to the official Government Turkel Commission into the incident, that will include political matters.

Another major issue is the fact that the agreement between the Orthodox and Conservative and Reform movements over official conversion to Judaism in Israel and abroad was suddenly altered unilaterally by the Orthodox Chair of the Knesset Panel, Israel Beitanu MK David Rotem. There were strong reactions from the US bodies that feared a double-cross. They appealed to Natan Sharansky, Head of the Jewish Agency, who was appointed by PM Netanyhau to help guide the Panel. Sharansky met with Netanyahu and briefed him, and as a result the Likud have removed their support from the proposed bill and so it will not be submitted to the Knesset for approval. What will happen now is unclear.

Finally, The Jerusalem Post reports that PA officials have intimated that the PA will not rule out direct talks, as they seemed to until a few days ago. Maybe the call from Pres. Obama to Pres Abbas was persuasive. It is about time that there was some pressure put in that direction. We should remember that from the Oslo Accords 15 years ago until a mere two years ago under PM Olmert, there were direct talks between the Israeli Govt. and the PA leadership. It was only Pres. Obama's pro-Palestinian slant that persuaded them that they need not continue in that way. Instead they have put pre-conditions on any direct talks of items that should in fact be the subject of those talks. The Palestinians have good reasons to delay, because they are the weaker party and have the most to lose. No Palestinian leader wants to go down in history as the one who gives up land (namely Israel) and does a deal that as well as including a Palestinian State also must include recognition of Israel as the Jewish State and accepting an "end of the conflict." But, the mere re-start of direct talks, if they actually occur, does not imply their successful conclusion.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Back to normal!

My absence for a few days was due to another attack of digestive problems, that had me hospitalized, but only for 2 days. They did a CT scan and diagnosed divericulitis (look it up). Now I have to take antibiotic and further testing. When I was in the hospital I felt that the docters were scheming, I felt that they were probably Mossad and meeting each day to see how they could break me. The first day they decided to stick needles in me, the second day they put me in a machine and bombarded me with X-rays and the third day they stuck a long metal pole up my behind and said "if he doesn't talk after that he never will." So I survived and am back to normal! About 2 hours after I came home and was sleeping, Naomi woke me screaming that water was dripping from the bathroom ceiling. So I climbed up to the storage area where the air-conditioner is and it was dripping, because the outlet pipe was blocked, again! So I took the pipe off and blew in it and it cleared the blockage and voila, back to normal! I still have an a/c guy coming tomorrow to see if a more permanent solution can be found. Finally, I helped Naomi cook our first meal of the new restricted diet (no raw fruit or fiber). We had baked chicken breast with white rice and boiled mashed tomatos followed by apple sauce with a dash of chocolate syrup for taste. Not bad. OK, so now back to serious matters.

The following letters appeared in The Jerusalem Post:

June 8, 2010
Considering her remarks, I think that Helen Thomas should go back to Lebanon. After all she is displacing the original inhabitants of North America, the native American Indians. I also think that the Arabs should go back to Arabia where they came from, and stop occupying my homeland. If we could all go back to where our ancestors came from would that make the world a better place?
Jack Cohen

June 23, 2010
I strongly disagree with your correspondent Judy Prager (Letters, 21/6/10) who criticized PM Netanyahu for giving in to the demands of the blockade breakers. In fact, he has done no such thing! What he has done is an adroit political move. He has accepted the proposal of the Quartet representative Tony Blair to alter the blockade from an inclusionary one to an exclusionary one. Instead of a list of foodstuffs allowed through the blockade, Israel will now list the military items excluded. Also, there are provisions to ensure as far as possible that any building materials allowed into Gaza will be directed to peaceful and not military purposes. This is in fact only a minor lateral change in the nature of the blockade, in that it allows civilian and humanitarian aid to enter Gaza as has always been the case, since Israel has always provided for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian civilian population, while explicitly excluding any war materiel. Thus, as far as any naval blockade breakers are concerned the situation is unchanged, they cannot deliver goods directly to Gaza (in any case the Gaza port cannot accomodate large ships) but must dock in Israel where the goods and people can be checked and then non-military items can be transferred to Gaza.
Jack Cohen

July 8, 2010
If Pres. Obama does finally visit Israel, he will be welcomed. But, before he comes we need to know which Pres. Obama will be visiting. Will it be the March Pres Obama, who insulted our Prime Minister by making him enter the White House by a back door, who hectored him with pro-Palestinian views, who refused any joint press appearances and did not allow photographers, or will it be the July Pres. Obama, who changed his attitudes and not only was welcoming to PM Netanyahu, but seemed to have changed his policies too, accepting Netanyahu's 10 month building freeze on the West Bank and liberalization of the blockade of Gaza as "brave" steps. Now Obama must use pressure on the Palestinians to ensure that direct talks start as soon as possible. If he does then we might be disposed to welcome him as a friend. Otherwise, we too can show him the back door.
Jack Cohen

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lebanese Palestinians

Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druse community in Lebanon, has introduced a bill into the Lebanese Parliament to extend basic human rights to Palestinians. What you ask, Palestinians in Lebanon do not have human rights? The answer is yes, they do not have the right to work, to own property or to vote, etc., which is certainly against the UN International Bill of Human Rights. The 360,000 Lebanese Palestinians, who are the descendents of the ca. 60,000 original refugees who entered Lebanon 62 years ago, have no rights in Lebanon, and only now is the revolutionary step being taken to extend basic human rights to them,

Lebanon is a jumble of distinct ethnic groups, including the Shi'ites in the south, the Christian (mainly Maronite) in the north, the Druse (a heretical Muslim sect) in the southern mountains, and the Sunni Muslims in the center. There used to be Christians in the south, but most of them were expelled during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) when massacres took place and Churches and Mosques were burnt and ca. 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed. The Palestinians came into this fragile mix and were resented by all the other groups. Perhaps the main reason why the Lebanese have supported the Palestinian cause was to get rid of the unwanted Palestinians, who being Sunni Muslims upset the delicate balance.

When people write about how badly the Arabs are treated in Israel or on the West Bank and Gaza they conveniently ignore that the Palestinians who fled from the 1948 War of Independence into Lebanon and Syria were treated far worse. Not only were they denied basic human rights, but they were restricted to the so-called "refugee camps" where they have festered in poverty ever since. This was not Israel's doing, and one can see this by contrast with Jordan, which was the only Arab country that extended its citizenship to the refugees and gave them basic rights. Thus in Jordan, Palestinians are Jordanian citizens and have the right to vote (not that it is a purely democratic system) and other human rights. I once met a Palestinian-Jordanian biochemist, trained in the US, who was a Professor at Yarmuk University, who proclaimed himself satisfied by the way the Palestinians were treated in Jordan. In effect, there are no longer any Palestinian "refugees" in Jordan, they are all Jordanian citizens! Also, contrast this treatment of refugees with that of Israel that accepted nearly 1 million Jews from Arab lands after 1948 and successfully integrated them into the general population.

The question arises, why now? Why is Jumblatt taking this step now, after so many years in which the Palestinians were isolated from Lebanese society, even though they played a large role in the violence that led to the Civil War and played a large role in that. The answer may be that some leading Lebanese politicians and groups have finally succumbed to the realization that the Palestinians in their country are not going back. Not only will Israel not accept them, but the Palestine State that is supposed to result from peace negotiations would probably also not accept them. Where would they put them, how would they pay for them? Then again, this depends on a successful outcome of Israel-Palestinian negotiations, and even though Pres. Obama said 2 years to a successful conclusion and PM Netanyahu says 1 year to a peace treaty, forget it! The Lebanese are realists. Now that Lebanon has a somewhat stable government and Hizbollah is part of it, I suppose that some of the groups decided that the time is now right to clear up this blight on the Lebanese political landscape.

But, the outcome of this initiative is uncertain. There are groups that are strongly opposed to including the Palestinians in the Lebanese polity. For example, the Maronite Christians, whose Phalange party massacred the Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla camps in 1982, are against upsetting the balance and adding them to the anti-Christian camp. They call on Israel to accept the Palestinians, but they won't do so themselves, even though the Palestinians were born there and are suffering there without human rights,

Friday, July 09, 2010

International dance festival

When we first came to Netanya, every year at the beginning of summer there was an international folk dance festival. Then it was stopped, mainly because of the Palestinian intifada, not only were dance troupes reluctant to come, but it was dangerous to have a large crowd of people together. I am glad to say that this year they have restarted the tradition. Monday night we went to a performance in the amphitheater by the sea where eight different national troupes danced.

Before this they paraded through the main street, stopping and dancing in the squares, then they proceeded to the amphitheater, where we followed them for the performance. There were troupes from Ecuador, Russia, China, Mexico, Georgia, Serbia and Roumania. The place was packed with about 2,000 people. The show started with an Israeli troupe doing local dances, then came the various national groups. We were especially impressed by the Russians who did the "gezatzke" and similar athletic moves, and the Georgians who were very expressive. The whole performance was free, it was subsidized by the Netanya municipality, the Israeli Government and the Governments of each of the troupes sent to represent them. It is important to note that the success of the Israeli authorities in preventing terrorism made this renewal possible. Without the Security Fence and the actions taken against terrorism (such as targeted killings) this gathering would not have happened.

My primitive analysis of folk dancing is that it was a means (before dance halls, movies and facebook) where young men and women could meet and make physical contact. There was a lot of passing of scarves or other means to indicate interest. In my estimation there are two kinds of folk dances, one is the feet stamping, stomping kind, that is more syncopated and is found in the west and north, and the more melodic, soft shoe dancing that is found more in the south and east. An example of the former would be Spanish dancing (although they were not represented) and of the latter would be Georgian, where balletic steps are preferred.

Everybody had a great time, the clapping was spontaneous and the troupes seemed to be enjoying it too. This is part of the summer program that the municipality has organized to make Netanya attractive to tourists. Come and enjoy!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

In our own hands

"In our own hands" is a documentary film that tells the story of the Jewish Brigade (JB) of the British Army in WWII and the consequences of its existence and actions. We saw it at a joint meeting of the AACI Netanya and the Israel British Commonwealth Association (IBCA) at which the Canadian Ambassador, Jon Allen, who is Jewish, spoke. It turns out that the first Commander of the JB was Canadian.

Before and during WWII there was pressure on the British Government to form a purely Jewish or Palestinian unit to fight alongside the many other national units (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) that were part of the British Army. This was because Palestine was under British control and there were many young Jewish men willing and able to join the fight against Nazi Germany. Notwithstanding the double cross of the Jews by the British Government that issued its policy document or White Paper in 1938 opposing Jewish immigration to Palestine and essentially supporting the Arab position, Ben Gurion made the famous statement, "we will fight the War as if there is no White Paper and we will fight the White Paper as if there is no War." So, many Palestinian Jews (a total of ca. 30,000) volunteered for the British Army, and most were sent to fight in the 8th Army that was stationed in Egypt in order to defend it from Gen. Rommel and his Afrika Corps. It is estimated that ca. 20% of the manpower of the 8th Army was Jewish, but they were not fighting as a separate Jewish unit.

As the war progressed and the accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust came out, PM Churchill was persuaded to accept a Jewish unit, against Defense Department wishes. This was organized in 1944, and was supposed to include Palestinian Arabs, but very few of them volunteered (they were mostly pro-German). Eventually there were ca. 5,500 Jews in three brigades, one of American Jews (after the Balfour Declaration), one mostly Russian Jews conscripted in England, and one Palestinian Jews, fighting under the flag of the Star of David that eventually became the Israeli flag. They took as their official insignia a yellow Star of David in response to the Nazi requirement that Jews wear a yellow star. They were sent to Egypt for training, and in fact that was one of the main reasons why Ben Gurion and the Jewish Yishuv (settlement) in Palestine wanted them to join, because they expected that there would be a war in Palestine after WWII, both with the British and the Arabs, and they wanted to be prepared.

The British were leery of using the Jewish Brigade in combat, both to prevent them gaining experience and because they doubted their fighting abilities. After the defeat of Rommel and after some time doing guard duty and menial tasks in Egypt, the JB was sent to join the 8th Army as it invaded Italy. They were sent to an area near Ravenna, where they first held the line against the German forces, and then they attacked across the Senio River and captured the German positions. Imagine the shock of the German troops to be defeated by a Jewish unit flying the Star of David. The JB was then sent to guard the easternmost part of the Italian border with Austria, although there was resistance to allowing them to enter "German" territory because of fear of their retribution. However, this proved to be a fortuitous position, because they were able to enter Austria in groups and not only to murder several prominent Nazis but also to establish contact with survivors and help bring them back to Italy where they were sent south on their way to Palestine. Of course, this was entirely against British interests, but apparently the British never realised the extent of the subterfuge. However, after this became a well organized arrangement, the British decided to transfer the JB to Holland.

In Holland after the War, the JB became even more successful in organizing the movement of Jewish survivors. They discovered that the British were transferring 32 trucks to the new Dutch Army, so they stole these trucks and put their own insignia on them, so that there were two groups of 32 trucks with the same id numbers. Then they used the duplicate set of trucks to drive into Germany and with forged papers save survivors and transfer them to Holland en route to France and Palestine. They also bought and stole huge quantities of military equipment that was left around Europe and had it shipped to Palestine for the future fight. But, British intelligence realized what was going on and so the JB was disbanded in Holland and in Egypt without their weapons.

The JB was a minor event in a huge War, but the fact that they were trained in British military methods and experienced combat and fought under their own Jewish standard was a major episode in the development of the nascent Jewish State and its own army, the IDF.

PS. Today we visted a museum dedicated to the Jews who fought in the British Army in WWI and WWII. It is called Beit Hagdudim, in Avihayil, a village north of Netanya. It is one of the 12 villages founded by former British soldiers after WWI. The story of the Jews in WWI is parallel to that during WWII as described above, first there were volunteers to the regular Army, then there was the Zion Mule Corps that fought in Galipolli, then there was a separate Jewish Legion that was part of the Royal Fusiliers, and finally there was a Judean Corps that fought under a Jewish emblem, the menorah. They fought under Gen. Allenby around Jerusalem and in the battle of Megiddo and helped to liberate their homeland from the Turks.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Logical disconnect

This is a tale of two countries; country one: is always under international political pressure, it is surrounded by enemies and is in a state of war with many of them. It is a pariah nation in the UN and its actions are perpetually under the microscope of international agencies and it is continually lambasted in the media for actions that in other countries are tolerated or ignored. Country two: is a peaceful country with a successful economy that has weathered the world economic crisis better than most. Its hi-tech sector is second in the world only to the US, and it is progressing economically in big strides, it has the largest desalination plants in the world and is known as an innovator in many areas, including the development of cellular phones, drones and many other systems.

Of course, both countries are Israel! How is this possible, how can both be the same country? It seems impossible. Somewhere there is a logical disconnect between these two constructs. The former is purely negative, the latter is purely positive. How can we reconcile this dichotomy about the same country. Perhaps the problem is one of perception, that Israel's enemies see only the negative, Israel as an aggressive, occupying force, and Israel's supporters see only the positive, Israel as a progressive, liberal and democratic state. Perhaps the truth lies between the two extremes. But, we should be careful of this compromise, just because there are two extremes it does not mean that the truth is equidistant between them. Just because there are Jews and anti-Semites doesn't mean that the anti-Semites are half right. Just because Israel exists doesn't mean its enemies are half-right.

"Start-up Nation" by Dan Senor and Saul Singer is an excellent account of how Israel went from being a small agrarian nation with ca. 650,000 people in 1948 to being an amazing economic success, particularly in the area of hi-tech. During the same period in which Israel experienced a 10 fold increase in population from the influx of mostly impoverished immigrants, and during which her people fought 5 major wars (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982), Israel nevertheless increased its GDP per capita 60-fold (!) and is now on a par with most developed countries. Its hi-tech sector is second only to the US and it has more start-ups than Europe, Russia, and Japan combined. This kind of economic burst is unique in history, no other nation has accomplsihed so much even without the massive problems of accomodating immigrants and fighting continual wars.

The Senor-SInger book describes and tries to explain this phenomenon, how it is that Israel could have accomplished this feat, and they tell a fascinating and amazing tale. But, I feel that their explanation is too pat, it's all due to the Israeli character and the willingness to fail and the influence of the IDF on the thinking and actions of men who go into business. But, I feel that they avoid the most obvious reason, it is because Jews are good at abstract thinking. Given a problem Jews will try to solve it intellectually. This capability may have been developed from two influences, millenia of emphasis on Talmudic learning, and genetic selection in a very repressive and antagonistic world. Whatever the reason for this development, it seems to be true, given the number of Jews who have won Nobel Prizes (in Physics 22% from a world population of ca. 0.05%) and who have been successful in the arts, maths and sciences and have dominated some professions (e.g. psychiatry or molecular biology) far out of proportion to their numbers.

Applying these abilities to the problem of Jewish survival at last, with the appropriate military and security technologies, allows the IDF to do amazing things. For example, Israel now has 6 satellites, more per capita than any other country. With these and the use of drones and sophisticated software, Israeli eyes can see terrorists moving around the world, they can see the Iranians building nuclear bunkers and they can watch enemy military planners having meetings. They can also find out what the planners are saying and writing using humint (human intelligence), something that no other country, including the USA, has been able to do.

But, this book passes over the many terrible mistakes and errors that Israel and the IDF have made. For example: 1. The complete disregard by top security personnel of the impending Egyptian attack on the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. The top brass were still thinking of 1967, but things had changed dramatically, and it was only the tenacity of the Israeli conscripts who managed to defeat the massed armies of the surrounding enemies. 2. Israeli hasbara, or PR, is universally recognized as woeful. The attitude fostered by politicians such as Shimon Peres is that because we are "right" we don't need to persuade people of our position. 3. Israeli's environmental record is pathetic, the few rivers that Israel has are polluted, and impressive development has been accomplished with almost no regard to environmental protection. 4. The death rate on Israel's roads is terrible, much more than people killed by terrorism and wars. Yet successive Israeli governments have failed to seriously tackle this problem.

Please read "Start-up Nation," and marvel at the amazing statistics of Israel's successes, particularly in hi-tech. But, bear in mind that this is only one side of the coin, and many people out there are plotting to undermine and destroy this amazing people in its sliver of land on the edge of civilization.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Tortuous path

The President of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas, must be getting desperate, he invited Israeli journalists into his office last week and spoke to them "over the heads" of the Israeli political leadership. He is in effect appealing to Israeli public opinion to show that he is serious about compromise in order to arrive at a peace agreement with the Israeli Government. But, at the same time, in order to start direct talks, instead of the current indirect talks that are not progressing, he demands further Israeli concessions. In order to start direct talks he insists that Israel must continue the building freeze in the West Bank past the deadline of the end of September set by PM Netanyahu. This is of course blackmail, but Netanyahu wants to have direct talks in order to try to achieve some kind of agreement. It seems that the Americans are behind this PA demand, since according to reports a representative of Pres. Obama has already visited PM Netanyahu and asked him to extend the freeze in order to facilitate direct talks. Since Netanyhu is going to Washington tomorrow to meet with Obama, these items will top the agenda. There is a potential compromise that Netanyahu may propose, allow building in the main settlement blocs (that will become part of Israel anyway), but freeze building in all other locations, i.e. a partial West Bank freeze. Whether or not this would be acceptable to Obama and/or Abbas remains to be seen.

It appears that Pres Abbas is getting desperate because he has so far nothing to show for his efforts and time is runnning out for him. But, he too has a deadline of the end of September for the proximity talks to end, set by the Arab League. In order to entice Netanyahu, Abbas has made two apparent concessions, he has stated that he will accept Jewish control over the Jewish Quarter and the Kotel in any agreement (although he reserves the right to take control of the rest of the Old City of Jerusalem), and he has indicated that he is prepared to give up 2.3% of the West Bank (not his previous 1.9%) of densely Jewish populated areas, in exchange for an area of land south of Hebron. Although these proposals seem to be concessions on his part, they still fall far short of the Israeli position that all of Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel, and that the exchange of territory must account for all the densely Jewish portions of the West Bank. Still, on paper, these positions are at least coming closer together and so Netanyahu might be persuaded to extend the freeze on the West Bank in order to initiate direct talks with Abbas.

This concession, of extending the freeze, might cause severe problems for Netanyahu's coalition, and will create great resentment among the settlers and right wing elements. They are already publishing newspaper ads giving Netanyahu's quote that the freeze will not be continued and they are demonstrating. But, Netanyahu might try to sell this arrangement to the general Israeli public and he will obtain left-wing support, because he will say that such a concession is necessary in order to ensure that negotiations don't come to a halt, but will continue with direct face-to-face talks, and there is now an opportunity to have serious negotiations with a Palestinian leader.

There are several reasons why Abbas might be a good partner, first he publicly eschews violence and tells his Palestinian constituency (mainly Fatah) that violence and terrorism will not work for them. Second, he is the opponent of Hamas and Israel needs to "reward" him with serious talks in order to strengthen him against Hamas. On the other hand, there are good reasons not to make concessions to Abbas, first his position in the PA is weak and any agreement he makes and his signature on any piece of paper may be worthless in a short period of time. Second, by making concessions he will make himself more vulnerable, and this might trigger a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. That's why the PA needs effective security forces that are loyal and that will not melt away or change sides in any future clash with Hamas.

The path to peace is long and tortuous, but to quote Pirkei Avot 2:21 - "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it" (Rabbi Tarfon).

Monday, July 05, 2010

Jews in the American Revolution

"Jews in the American Revolution," was the title of a talk given by Netanya resident Yoel Sheridan on July 4, in honor of US Independence Day, at the AACI Netanya.

In 1776, the population of the 13 colonies was ca. 2.5 million, almost all of them British subjects. About 60% supported the insurrection against their homeland, while the other 40% remained "loyalist." There was only a sprinkling of Jews living in the colonies at the time, several thousand, and most of them supported the uprising. Apart from individual Jews who fought in the American war of Independence, and some who died, there were several who distinguished themselves. Most notable was Haym Solomon, a Polish Jew, who settled in New York City, became a patriot, was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death by the British, but managed to escape, and became the chief financial supporter and advisor of the nascent American venture. He reputedly obtained $800,000 (now worth several billion dollars) to support the revolutionary movement. There are several memorials to him in the US (one in Philadelphia where he died and one in Chicago) and two movies have been made featuring his life.

An obscure incident reveals the difference between the British and American sides. There was a small Dutch colony on the island of St. Eustatius, that included ca. 150 Dutch Jewish families, most of them merchants. The British naval commander in the area, Admiral Romney, captured the island and stole all their wealth. He discovered that the Jews had buried some of their property in coffins in the Jewish graveyard. So he had all the coffins dug up, then he collected all the Jews, separated the men from the women and children, had the men stripped and exiled them. He also burnt their houses and the synagogue. Romney was an anti-Semite and a thief. He was widely criticized for these despicable acts in the British press, but he was also criticized because while engaged in this action he missed the fact that the French fleet had passed nearby, and went on to blockade Gen. Cornwallis and the British Army in Yorktown, that was the last battle of the War of Independence. So Jews played an inadvertent role in assuring American victory.

The Touro Synagogue, Newport Rhode Island, was built in 1763, and named for a Sephardic Jew, Isaac Touro, who donated funds for its erection. It was the first synagogue on the N. American continent and is the oldest standing synagogue in the USA and has been designated a National Historic Monument. When the President of the synagogue in 1790 wrote to George Washington congratulating him upon his election, he replied to the congregation in a manner that has become famous "...the Government of the United to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance...May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid...."
Happy Fourth of July !

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Releasing terrorists?

Friday morning sitting on the Midrochov (pedestrian mall) in Netanya having a drink with friends, when we were witness to thousands to people marching by in support of Gilad Schalit, the IDF soldier held captive by Hamas in Gaza for 4 years. I could have joined them, because I too support the release of Gilad Schalit, and I too feel sorry for his parents. But, I would not join them because I feel even more sorry for the parents of those Israelis who would be murdered if 1,000 terrorists were freed in exchange for him. What most of those marching do not seem to realize is that they are doing the work of Hamas, they are putting pressure on the Israeli Government to release Hamas terrorists, including murderers with Israeli blood on their hands, as well as important political operatives involved in terrorism.

It has been shown that in previous releases of Palestinian terrorists ca. 60% of those released return to active terrorism, even though they signed a (useless) statement for the Israeli authorities saying that they will not. Also, those who return to terrorism have killed ca. 28 people according to Israeli Govt. figures. Now you don't have to be a mathematical genius to see that supporting the exchange of one person can lead to the deaths of many others, that would leave many more parents suffering than only the Schalits. That's why I think their campaign, although understandable, is wrong, and why I hope the majority of Israelis, apart from their sentiments, will not support it. It also gives Hamas motivation to kidnap other Israeli soldiers, so from my perspective it is wrong.

The march is for 12 days and is due to end at the PM's office in Jerusalem where the Schalits are scheduled to meet with PM Netanyahu. He stated in a speech last night that he wants to see Gilad Schalit released in an exchange, but "not at any price!" This is sensible, and we hope that he keeps to it. The kind of public movement pressuring the Governmetn to exchange prisoners for Gilad Schalit "at any price" undermines our democracy and aids our terrorist enemies.

When Gilad Schalit joined the IDF he accepted that he might be killed or captured, and when it happens you can't then turn around and say, well in his case we must accept a greater loss, he is only one soldier. If my son were held prisoner by Hamas I too would want him to be released in an exchange, but a Government has to think of all the people. Governments must act from expedience not sentiment, that is only for individuals. The expedient thing to do is not exchange Gilad Schalit at any price, Israel must set red lines and keep to them. PM Rabin many years ago released 1500 Palestinian prisoners for 3 Israelis. That resulted in the deaths of many others, and so he had their blood on his hands. PM Netanyahu should learn from his mistake and not repeat it, giving in to the sentiment of the parents and their supporters would be a serious error.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Hurva Synagogue

We visited the magnificently rebuilt Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was officially opened about 3 months ago after being completely rebuilt based on the original design. A synagogue has stood on that site since it was acquired by Jews back in the 1500's, but it was destroyed five times by the Arabs, usually by a mob. It was rebuilt in the early 1700s and destroyed in 1721, then it was rebuilt in in 1864, but destroyed in the 1948 war of Independence when the Jordanian Legion dynamited it. It remained a ruin from then until now. Since it has been ruined so much of the time the name Hurva, meaning ruin, stuck, although the real name is Beit Yaakov.

It is run by the ultra-Orthodox, although this is not so surprising since they had built it in the 1700s. We did have difficulty getting in. When we found the public entrance around the back, the guard gave us a number to call. They said that it was OK to go in, and gave us a time for an English tour. Then we had to go buy tickets nearby and finally we went in. One thing you notice is that because the site on which it was built is small the building is narrow but very high. Inside the dome is 24 meters above the ground. We could not enter the lower floor because men were praying and learning there. We went up to the women's gallery and then to the dome which we circled around. People who are afraid of heights or who can't navigate narrow twisting stairs should not try to visit.

One reason why the Arabs constantly destroyed it is that it is so high that it is higher than the Al Aksa Mosque and the small mosque that the Muslims built right adjacent to the Synagogue. Under Muslim (Sharia ) law, the house of worship of no other religion can be higher than that of the Mosque. That is why nearby there are three other small synagogues that were built underground, but they were also destroyed by the Arabs and have since been rebuilt. There was and still is a belief among the local Arabs that if the Hurva is destroyed the Jews will not return to the Old City. This was written in his report by the commander of the Jordanian Legion who ordered it destroyed again. So when it was reopned recently there was a big riot of the Arabs in Jerusalem, but it is rebuilt and we are still there.

When it was rebuilt the remnants of the original brick walls that remained standing were kept in their original condition to remind one of the former destruction. Adjacent to the Hurva synagogue stands the Mosque minaret, deliberately built in the middle of the Jewish Quarter. The Jews have never destroyed that.