Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Rafah crossing

The acting Egyptian government or MIlitary Committee decided this week to open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt on a permanent basis to allow the transit of people. For the time being no goods are allowed to be trans-shipped thru the crossing. Naturally, this is a problem for Israel, because after Israel withdrew from Gaza there was an agreement with Egypt to have international observers to check all persons crossing through to ensure that they were not terrorists and to prevent the transfer of weapons. However, once Hamas took control they threatened the observers, which led to their escape to Israel. Then Egypt under Hosni Mubarak closed the border crossing and instituted a full blockade of Gaza. But, goods and people continued to enter Gaza thru the many tunnels dug under the border.

Now Israel must depend on the goodwill of the Egyptian authorities to ensure that no terrorists transit from Gaza or arms enter there. It is in Egypt's interests to ensure that this is the case, because they don't want to have Hamas terrorists wandering thru Sinai or other parts of Egypt and don't want Hamas to become too powerful relative to the Palestine Authority. But, just as weapons as well as other goods enter Gaza thru the tunnels under the eyes of the Egyptian guards, for a fee, so similarly can the same thing happen thru the Rafah crossing. But, if Israel suspects that Egypt is not carrying out its international obligations, then the IDF could take direct action.

Another issue is that of the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. At present it is small on the Egyptian military government, but if they become more powerful they could influence policy to help their colleagues in Hamas, that is an off-shoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. They could open the border to the free flow of weapons and terrorists. If that were to happen then Israel would be forced to take action. The Israeli Government is watching the functioning of the Rafah crossing with great interest.

There is an argument that goes that since the border between Egypt and Gaza is now open, then Israel should no longer be responsible for the delivery of goods and other items, such as water and electricity, to Gaza. After all, if Egypt is a friendly Arab country, why don't they supply the food, medical supplies and other goods that Israel currently sends to Gaza. Let the flotillas sail to Suez and then the supplies can be shipped directly to Gaza thru the Rafah crossing, instead of using this as an excuse for a provocation against Israel.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Arab enlightenment?

During the 18th century a movement developed in Europe called the "Age of Enlightenment," that opposed the conservative forces of the Church and State and based itself on ideals of reason and the rights of man. These ideals developed over a large area of Europe and North America and were responsible for the US Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights that were based on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. Many progressive results came from this movement, including the acceptance of minority rights within democracy, the development and acceptance of science and the protection of individual rights under law and the empowerment of women. Many people think and hope that the current series of uprisings in the Arab world that have thrown off the yoke of several long-term dictators, is a similar, parallel movement, if only three hundred years later. That is why Pres. Obama announced at the G8 Summit that he and his European allies will establish a large fund to support the development of democracy in those Arab countries.

However, the Age of Enlightenment had a darker side, an underbelly of resentment stoked by the release of state control that also led to the rise of repressive ideologies, the French Revolution, Fascism, Communism and Nazism. These other aspects became relevant in reading about the formation of an Egyptian Nazi Party, as well as the fact that the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood is organizing to contest the upcoming elections in Egypt. It is quite possible, although unlikely, that a thriving democracy can develop in Egypt, and that as a reaction to the years of repression the resulting government will be liberal and tolerant. However, if the Arab world follows the European model, rather than the American one, then we can expect the formation of governments that resent the basic idea that the former dictators kow-towed to America and "the Jews" and believe that now is the time to get even. This will lead to anti-American majorities and a move to not only cancel the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty, but also to take actions against Israel and in support of a Palestinian State.

How these actions will manifest themselves is hard to predict, because they depend so much on the development of public opinion, the nature of the leaders who emerge and the unpredictable current of events. But, if Europe is anything to go by there will be a dark and stormy period before we emerge into the "sunny uplands" predicted by Churchill. At least the Muslims have before them a version of a vision of life as it could be that is transparent, efficient, electronic and tolerant. This works, but they are likely to reject it, because they detest anything that smacks of western culture. It is a hard lesson for them to learn that these ideals are universal, as Obama also stated in his speech to the British Parliament in Westminster, it's just that the western world came to the realization of liberal secular democracy first. Eventually the Arab/Muslim world will have to learn to accept this.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

No imposed solution!

During the past week of many speeches, many points have been made about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It seems each commentator focuses on one point that gives him an opportunity for didactic analysis. If I were to choose one point that noone else seems to have selected as being the most significant, I would say it is the statement by Pres. Obama that there will be no imposed solution. He said this in his speech at AIPAC and also in his press conference with PM Cameron in London.

Why is this so important? Because, whatever the other issues, if Obama is telling the truth, then Israel can chart its own course, can decide on its own red lines, and can be sure that no external solution will be imposed on it. This minimizes the concern over settlements, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. Of course, we now have to contend with the PA going to the UN General Assembly and asking for unilateral recognition of a Palestine State. But, they cannot achieve this because they would need Security Council approval and Pres. Obama has reaffirmed that the US will not go along with such a unilateral action and with his allies will continue to support bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PA. However, if the PA government includes Hamas as a recognized terrorist organization, Pres. Obama and others can also understand why Israel would not negotiate with them. So Israel is left in a position that there are currently no actual negotiations, there are not likely to be bilateral negotiations any time soon and so all that Netanyahu said about Israel being "generous" to the Palestinians and that some settlements will be "outside" the borders of Israel, is all theoretical.

When Obama and others state, as at the G8 Summit just concluded, that now that there is unrest in the Arab world, now is an "opportunity" to try for a negotiated settlement, I sometimes wonder if we are living in the same world. How can one negotiate with the Palestinians, whether or not they have a "State", when we don't know what's going to happen to Egypt and Syria. PM Netanyahu would do well to include in his next speech that Israel will not make any significant decisions until the outcome of the Arab uprisings is known and that could take several years. If there will be no imposed solution, then we can afford to wait until the dust has settled, and when we know where we are with the union of Fatah and Hamas (will it last?), with Egypt (will the Moslem Brotherhood take over?), and with Syria (how many demonstrators will Assad kill before the West takes action?). People say "time is not on our side," but I say time has to be. It has taken 63 years for the Palestinians to return to the UN "Partition Plan" of 1948. At the time, Israel accepted it, but the Arabs rejected it. If we wait long enough they will go thru the stages of coming to terms with Israel's existence, as long as we stay strong and vibrant. Let them come to terms with us as a "Jewish, democratic State," and then we can have real discussions.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The lost hofnaya

The way it works in Israel is that you belong to a Kupat Holim (Sick Fund) and go to see your doctor and he then gives you a permission form or referral (hofnayah) to have a specific procedure or test, such as a blood-test, X-ray or in my case an ultra-sound. In this case it was my ENT specialist that gave me a hofnaya for an ultra-sound test. I called the number on the form and made an appointment, it took nearly a month. Today was the day for the test, so I was walking to the Maccabi clinic, a brand-new impressive building about 10 mins walk from home, and when I got half-way I realized that I had forgotten to take the hofnaya. Since this tells the technician or doctor what is needed, I decided to walk back home and get it.

When I arrived home I could not find it, I searched everywhere and I was getting frantic because it was nearly the time for my appointment. So I gave up, but suddenly thought, "Oh, I go by my doctor's office, so I can pop in and ask them for a copy." So I left home again and was walking there, when I remembered that the hofnaya was given to me by the ENT doctor and not my family physician, and his office is miles away and he is there only 1 day a week. So I decided to continue to the clinic and tell them the problem. When I got there my presence for the test was registered in the computer using my magnetic card. But, the lady at the desk told me that they could not give me the test without the hofnaya, and she directed me to the main office upstairs. At the office the clerk checked my file in the computer and told me there was no copy of the hofnaya there; if there was she could give me a copy, but since there was none she could not. She checked the ENT doctor's office and found that he was not there then, so she said she would call my family physician, and she put me through to them. At first they said "no problem", but then they came back on-line and said there was no hofnaya in the computer and they couldn't issue one. It seems that for ultra-sounds tests, unlike other tests, there is no copy in the computer. Which bureaucrat decided this!

So I went back down to the ultra-sound department and told them it was not possible to get a copy of the hofnaya, and the clerk told me "too bad" and she suggested I go home and search for it again. It was already past the time for my test, but she said don't worry if you find it I'll fit you in, otherwise you'll have to wait another month. So I walked home again, sweating, and this time I decided to search thoroughly and carefully, and sure enough after 5 mins I found the missing hofnaya attached under another piece of paper in the big pile on my desk. So this time I went back by car, parked and raced upstairs. Everyone knew that I was the person who had lost his hofnaya, and they all smiled at me. They were very helpful and within 5 mins I was taken in, had the test, and was out again.

So let this be a lesson to you (and me), never lose your hofnaya, especially if its for an ultra-sound test. I should point out that I was in a hurry so that I could watch Federer play at the French Open tennis tournament. Also, Wozniacki, No. 1 in the world in women's tennis, was playing Wozniak (I am not making this up). The former is Danish and the latter is Canadian, and they are both of Polish origin. Federer and Wozniacki won as expected.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Implications of Nakba Day

The infiltration of Palestinians thru the Syrian border into Israel on Nakba Day last week was a severe blow to the integrity of the State. As someone observed, this is not like Mexicans crossing the US border, since their motivation is purely economic. For Palestinians to invade Israel without being killed, captured or stopped is highly symbolic. If a few hundred can do it, what about 1,000 or 10,000. If the IDF failed with such a small crowd, what will they do in the future to protect the integrity of the Israeli border from Palestinian mob invasion.

There have been many excuses for this fashla (foul-up) and many suggestions how to prevent it. The IDF was expecting infiltrations to be attempted and crowd control problems in the West Bank, Gaza and the Lebanese border. They did not anticipate trouble on the Syrian border because there usually isn't any. The Syrian dictator Bashar Assad usually prefers to steer the trouble away from his own border to that of Lebanon. But, on this occasion, as could have been predicted due to the unprecedented uprisings in Syria itself, such a crowd directed to the border by Syrian government forces, and taken there in a large number of buses, could have been expected. Where was the much vaunted Israeli intelligence, where was the ordinary intelligence of the IDF Commanders, to leave the border insufficiently guarded so as to allow infiltrations of hundreds of Palestinian civilians. Actually, the lack of casualties explains the problem, the IDF troops were given orders not to fire on unarmed civilians, despite the provocation of throwing of rocks and even Molotov cocktails. So the civilians were able to break thru the border in an unprecedented way because the IDF troops didn't fire on them. This is very different from the orders of the Syrian Army and secret police, who fire on unarmed Syrian demonstrators all the time and have killed over 1,000 and arrested at least 20,000 in the past month. Also, the US Border Guards shoot civilian infiltrators all the time. There is a principle involved here, that a country's borders must be protected.

In fact, I believe only one civilian was killed on the Syrian border, while several IDF soldiers were wounded. Even on the Lebanese border with Israel, where 10 civilians were killed without being able to infiltrate the border, the shooting was done by Lebanese Army troops who were guarding the border, and who were warned that if they allowed the civilians to approach the fence then the IDF would be forced to fire at them. So it was probably a bad order to tell the troops at the Syrian border not to fire on the infiltrators, because it will invite further worse actions in future and also at places where the IDF is not expecting them. But, rather than shooting them, other less fatal means of crowd control could have beeen used. Yes, tear gas was used, to little effect. Others have suggested spraying the crowd from the air with various substances, ranging from neurotoxins to smelly trash. Whatever means of crowd control the IDF uses (water cannons, stun grenades, rubber bullets, etc.) it must be prepared in future to protect the borders of the State, otherwise the aim of the Palestinians to attain "the right of return" will go from being a hopeless dream to an unfortunate reality.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Speeches, speeches

"Words, words, words, I'm sick of words..." In the past week we have had five major speeches on the Middle East, two by Pres. Obama and three by PM Netanyahu, the last one to the joint session of Congress on Monday. These speeches have been subjected to talmudic analysis to ascertain whether or not there is any divergence of interests between the USA and Israel. Enough already! It is a word-fest that has little practical outcome if negotiations can't proceed because the Palestinians have included the terrorist group Hamas in their government.

I must say that I approved of PM Netanyahu's speech to the joint session of Congress. He was clear and firm. He offered peace to the Palestinians, as long as they accept the Jewish State of Israel. He pointed out that "Jews are not interlopers in Judea and Samaria" but are there by right. He also admitted that "some settlements will end up beyond Israel's borders." And he promised that any Palestinian State would be large enough to be "viable, independent and prosperous." What was impressive was the amazing approval of the members of Congress for Netanyahu and Israel. It was clear that Congress and by extension the American people support Israel more than the Obama Administration does. But, the differences are ones of detail, not principle, on the main issues there is unanimity, namely:

- prevention of Iran achieving nuclear weapons
- continuation of the peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt
- support for democracy in the Arab world
- opposition to a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State at the UN
- borders will not be those of pre-June 1967
- incorporation of major Jewish settlement blocs into Israel
- establishment of a Palestinian State as a result of negotiations
- demilitarization of a Palestinian State
- stopping of teaching hatred and violence in PA schools and media
- Jerusalem will remain the indivisible capital of Israel
- the Palestinian "refugee" problem will be solved "outside Israel"

There were some other points, but these cover the most important issues, and few if any members of Congress would quarrel with any of these. Of course, the PA immediately rejected Netanyahu's speech. However, as I said, talk is cheap, but reality can be unpredictable. It may be that all these carefully chosen words will be pointless as events supersede them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Total madness

A definition of madness, attributed to Albert Einstein, is trying the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. By this definition the Arabs are mad, totally crazy!

They attacked the nascent state of Israel with a hugely superior force in 1948 and what happened, a nakba, a crushing defeat. They tried again in 1956 (the Suez campaign), 1967 (the Six Day war), 1973 (the Yom Kippur war), 1982 (the First Lebanon war), 1993 (the first intifada), 2000 (the second intifada), 2002 (Operation Defensive Shield), 2006 (the Second Lebanon War) and until 2008 (Operation Cast Lead). In each case they suffered a stunning defeat, even though the IDF did not operate at full capacity in the last few operations. Yet they apparently still want to take their chances again.

The popular uprisings in Egypt, Jordan and Syria have revealed a tendency to amnesia, the demonstrators blame the backwardness and stagnation in the Arab world on the Jews, on Israel. The sentiment goes that the Arab dictators, Mubarak, Assad and others, became American puppets and therefore gave up the fight against Israel. Instead of using their armies to suppress the Arab people, they should stand aside and let their armies be used to attack Israel. Someone needs to remind them that they tried this before and look where it got them.

But, mobs are not usually subject to rational argument, and since in the Arab world the tendency is always to go to the extreme, we can expect any government or governing body that develops from the uprisings to want to try their luck again. I don't think there is much that can dissuade them, they will be feeling jubilant if the UN General Assembly votes by a large majority to establish a Palestinian State, and when there is a conflict over the borders of the Palestinian State and Israel, as there is sure to be, there will be ample excuse to turn this into another war. Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, Syria and Iran are all poised to participate in such a war, and the inclusion of Egypt is quite likely.

Its nice to talk about peace, as our leaders are doing now, but it is mainly self-deception and "pie-in-the-sky" while the talk of the Arab uprisings is mainly anti-Israel belligerance. But, as PM Netanyahu and others have noted, it is the Arab refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish State at all that has prevented any progress towards a negotiated solution. Although Egypt has severe economic problems, the use of an external threat, namely Israel, is a sure-fire way to deflect the people's attention away from their internal problems. Once again we hope and pray that should there be another outbreak of war the IDF will be able to win convincingly. But if it does, this time Israel should impose a solution, not wait around another 20 years until they decide to try again.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Obama's clarifications

The US does not have the same national interests as Israel, and it is not surprising that Pres. Obama expresses different positions than those of Israeli PM Netanyahu. But, nevertheless Pres. Obama was well received at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on Sunday, contrary to earlier concerns, and his clarifications to his Middle East speech of last Thursday were mostly in line with Israeli PM Netanyahu's positions.

1. His major clarification related to the question of the so-called "pre-1967 borders" and he said "by definition it means that the parties themselves - Israelis and Palestinians - will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967." He added, it would allow the parties themselves to take account of the new realities that have taken place over the last 44 years including the demographic changes on the ground. He averred that what he had said was no different than all leaders had been talking about for the past 20 years. This brings his position in line with that of previous Pres. George Bush.
2. He reiterated his intention to work for a two-state solution, with a Jewish State and a Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace.
3. He acknowledged that Israel could not be expected to negotiate with any Palestinian Government that included the terrorist Hamas, unless Hamas accepted the Quartet conditions, namely 1. recognizing Israel; 2. rejecting the use of violence; 3. adhering to all previous agreements.
4. He also called on Hamas to release Gilad Schalit without preconditions.
5. He reaffirmed US opposition to a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians at the UN.
6. He did not however accept Netanyahu's position that the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees must be solved "outside" Israel's borders.

Both Netanyahu and the conference generally showed their pleasure and support for Obama. Netanyahu stated that he would work closely with Obama to try to attain peace. Also, it should be remembered that most Jews are democrats and that Obama obtained ca. 70-80% of the Jewish vote. So it is not surprising that with these clarifications Obama returned to a position of strength among the Israel supporters of AIPAC. The media's attempt to portray the US-ISrael relationship as one of difficulty and tension between the two leaders was once again seen to be no more than a media construction.

In response to Obama's clarifications, Pres. Abbas of the PA stated once again that they would abandon their drive for unilateral statehood at the UN if Israel accepts the '67 ceasefire lines as their border and also stops all settlement construction. Since neither of these preconditions can be accepted by Israel, then Abbas cannot re-start negotiaitons. He has in effect ruled out any current negotiations.

Obama will be embarking on a trip to Europe today, and it is expected that the European allies and the EU will generally endorse his positions on the Middle East.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Obama and Netanyahu

Last week I wrote about PM Netanyahu's speech to the Knesset, that presumably contains most of the elements of his upcoming speech to the Congress . Regarding Pres. Obama's own speech on Thursday on the Middle East, that has been widely commented on, I will make only a few observations:

1. Most of the speech was devoted to the Arab uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. While Obama identified with the need for democratic change in these Arab countries, he described very little in the way of practical US policies that will actually help those striving for democracy as opposed to reactionary forces like the Moslem Brotherhood. He did not change his policy other than providing the same amount of money (ca. b$2) to Egypt and saying nice things about the 850 or so dead or the estimated 20,000 who have been arrested in Syria, or the suppressed demonstrators in Iran. What does he propose to do about that? - very little apparently. He may have played a role in Libya, but he seems to be evading that role when it comes to Syria or any other Arab State.

2. In relation to Israel and the Palestinians, Obama's emphasis on the pre-1967 ceasefire lines caused chagrin in the Israeli diplomatic service. Although he agreed that there could be "land swaps" between Israel and a putative Palestinian State, he avoided the claim that the large Jewish Settlement blocs should become part of Israel proper, as former Pres. Bush agreed. However, he also strongly opposed any unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence at the UN. After all, they rejected this in 1948, and only now after the UN and US have been commited to bilateral negotiations ever since, have they changed their minds. He also indicated understanding of Israel's position, that it cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes the regenerate terrorist entity Hamas, which recently criticized the US for killing Osama bin Laden.

3. I am not one of those who will scream "treachery" at Obama's speech. I think it was a typical speech of a liberal ideologue trying to please everybody, but satisfying nobody. Of course, it was rejected by Hamas and criticized by Fatah. In the final analysis it was a modest description of events, but not a basis for new policies.

The crux of PM Netanyahu's response after his Friday meeting at the White House with Pres. Obama was:
And now it falls on my shoulders as the Prime Minister of Israel, at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival. I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don't have a lot of margin for error. And because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.

We hope that Pres. Obama takes these remarks seriously. Now comes Netanyahu's big speech before Congress. A lot will depend not only on what he says, but also on how he says it. At least there he can be guaranteed a friendly reception.

Friday, May 20, 2011


We were watching a nature movie about whales on TV and I asked my grandson, "how can you tell the difference between a fish and a whale?" and he didn't know, so I told him "by the tail." The tail of a fish is vertical and that of a whale is horizontal. Remember seeing the fluke of the whale dipping down as it begins to dive. I told him that whales like dolphins and porpoises, a group known as Cetaceans, are mammals, they need to breathe air because they have lungs, while fish have gills and hence obtain their oxygen directly from the water. That's why whales have to periodically go to the surface to spout (exhale carbon dioxide) and breathe, but fish never need to do this. I pointed out that this was because whales and other Cetaceans evolved in the sea from land mammals that returned to the sea, and were not connected to other fish.

He expressed skepticism as did his father, who apparently does not believe in evolution. But, the terrestrial origins of whales and other Cetaceans are clearly indicated by several characteristics:

Their need to breathe air from the surface
They have lungs and not gills
They are mammals and feed their young with milk (unusual in the sea)
The bones of their fins resemble the limbs of land mammals while those of fish do not
The vertical movement of their spines are characteristic more of a running mammal than of the horizontal movement of fish

They have solved the problem of swimming in the water with horizontal tails and vertical body movement instead of vertical tails and horizontal body movement as in fish, a process called "convergent evolution." They have adapted to the same environment by a parallel but different mechanism over millions of years. It was long disputed how such sea-going animals could have evolved from land animals instead of from fish, but fossil finds have revealed several stages in the transition of Cetaceans from land to sea (for more details see Wikipedia). Also, this is not unique since there are other species, such as walrus, seals and sealions which are amphibious mammals that have adapted back to a sea environment. Also, molecular genetics, i.e. comparative analysis of the DNA of animal species, have revealed an evolutionary tree that shows the phylogeny (group relationships) of a series of related Cetaceans.

From this it is clear that Cetaceans evolved from land animals that returned to the sea and gradually adapted to their environment, losing certain characteristics, but retaining their most basic ones of breathing air thru lungs and feeding their young with milk. This not only explains why fish and whales are so different, but also is a great example of evolution.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Amazing survival

Richard Wenger (originally Vanger) is a Holocaust survivor who spoke at the AACI under the title "Smile, if you can.." Richard is a well known smiling face seen every week at our Shearim concert and around town. His story of survival is truly amazing.

He was born and grew up in Warsaw, and was 7 years old when the Germans invaded in 1939. His father left Warsaw a week before it was occupied by the Germans and came back for his family two weeks later posing as a peasant. They managed after many difficult adventures to get to Bialystock (some of the family stayed behind in Warsaw believing that all would be well). They reached the Polish-Russian border that was now the German-Russian border. One aunt was married to a Belgian and they managed to cross the border using her passport and her fluent Flemish (the German and Russian guards could not understand her). But, the next morning they found that during the night the border had been moved a few kilometers, so they had to go thru the whole process again. Once they crossed the border they made for the closest large town that was Branovitz 150 km away, in what is now Belarus. The Jewish community there was still intact and they helped the refugees. But, it quickly became apparent that it was too close to the border occupied by the Germans to stay there, so they pressed on 10 km to the nearby small town of Stolovich (Stolowicze), where they stayed for a year.

The Russians offered them Russian papers, which his father accepted, but some of his family refused and they were shipped to Siberia, which proved to be a safer place. His father was given a job running a farm producing peat for heating in the winter. When the Germans attacked the area in June, 1941 they wasted no time in setting up a Ghetto in Stolovich. There were originally ca. 350-500 Jews there, but with the many round-ups of Jews in the area, this number swelled to ca. 1,000 Jews. Often the Germans could not tell who was a Jew, but the Poles went around with them pointing out the Jews. Although they were housed inside the Ghetto, his father's job was considered sufficiently important that he was allowed to go out of the Ghetto every day. With the food his father smuggled in (bribing the guards with Vodka) and Richard swimming under the wire fence where there was a little stream and raiding the fields, they managed to get enough food to survive. Eventually his father managed to arrange for his wife and son to join him there on the farm.

When the Germans liquidated the Ghetto they took ca. 90% of the Jews to be slaughtered, but his family simply did not return and his father had arranged for him to go to the house of a woman named Mrs. Teresa. When he left he did not realize that he would never see them again. Mrs. Teresa was very sympathetic, and only many years later did he discover that she had been the liason between the Polish and Russian partisans, and she was one time arrested by the Gestapo, but although her friends were executed she was released. There was a Jewish girl, the Rabbi's daughter, hiding there too, in the barn. But, someone gave her away and the Germans came and found her, Mrs. Teresa swore that she knew nothing about the girl and the girl agreed, so the Germans shot the girl there, but did not find Richard. Mrs Teresa sent Richard to a series of other places to hide, and he had many narrow escapes - once he was hiding in a haystack and was slightly bayoneted by a German guard, once he hid in an outside toilet, where the guards wouldn't go. He ended up living on a farm where the farmer had 4 daughters and needed someone to help him with the farm work. So Richard became a peasant, he spoke Polish, German and Russian fluently, and with a new name and a new religion, Roman Catholic, he was able to pass.

Richard's attitude as a child was to treat the whole situation as a game, the Germans and Poles were trying to kill him and he was going to survive by any means. He was advised not to run away when he saw Germans, but to approach them and thereby reduce their suspicions. Once he saw an SS officer standing on a corner, so rather than avoid him he walked right up to him and asked for a cigarette. The German asked him "does your father know you smoke?" and he replied "not if you don't tell him," so the German gave him a cigarette. On the farm he had to look after a few cows and sheep, so he went to the nearby farms and agreed to look after their livestock as well for a bag of food, potatoes or wheat. Then he took the produce to the market and sold it, and with the money he bought cigarettes on the black market, and they were like gold and with them he was able to bribe people. He made so much money that he employed kids to do his work, and the farmer told him, "if I didn't know better I'd say you were a Jew."

Finally the Russians came and the Germans vanished, and he was taken back to Mrs. Teresa. But, he still had to survive because of the anti-Semitic Poles and Russians. His family who had been sent to Siberia were allowed back and searched for him and found him in the market. He learnt that his parents had been shot, but he was so used to his new identity that it took three days for them to convince him he was really Jewish. The Joint Distribution Committee had set up orphanages in the area, and he was safer there and got food, but they kept the orphanages small, about 100 kids each, so as not to arouse suspicion among the local anti-Semitic population. One of his aunts had family in England and got them to ask Rabbi Shonfield, who was touring the area looking for Jewish orphans, to take him back with him. Richard lived in England for many years, got married there and had two children, and then in 1970 moved to Israel. He now has 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

He returned to Stolovich in the 1990's and built a stone memorial to the Jews who were killed in the Ghetto there. Of the 1,000 or so he believes he is the only one to have survived. He found Mrs. Teresa and her family again and has helped them financially, to buy an apartment, etc. and she was made a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. The memorial is looked after by her family. Now Richard tells his story to thousands of school kids, in English, Polish and Hebrew.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Netanyahu's speech

PM Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Washington this week and give an important speech next Monday at a joint session of the Houses of Congress. Before he leaves he spoke yesterday to the Israeli people and gave an outline of his diplomatic policies in a speech in the Knesset. Perhaps another reason why he wanted to give this speech is also to set his guidelines before Pres. Obama gives his own speech on Thurs addressing issues in the Middle East. Although Obama's speech is supposed to focus on the current uprisings in the Arab world, he is also intending to address the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps Obama's speech is designed to preempt Netanyahu's address to Congress, so Netanyahu got in first.

Netanyahu presented six points that he said were critical to any future agreement with the Palestinians:
1. The Palestinians must recognise that Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people
2. Any agreement must end the conflict and all claims against the State of Israel
3. The problem of the Palestinian "refugees" must be resolved outside Israel's borders
4. Any Palestinian State must be demilitarized and not endanger Israel's security
5. Israel will retain the major settlement blocs, but may be preapred to give up settlements not in blocs
6. Jerusalem will remain the united, sovereign capital of Israel
Some have criticsed Israel for not having its own "plan." Well here it is. It builds on the prior commitment of Netanyahu to accept a two-state solution with peace and security for all.

Not surpisingly these proposals were immediately rejected by Pres. Abbas of the PA in Ramallah and by some of the more right-wing hawks in the Knesset, including some in Likud. But, even Kadima Head Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition, criticized some aspects of Netanyahu's proposals, so he can't be all wrong. At least he has laid down the gauntlet before Obama gives his speech on Thurs. However, all this is hypothetical if the Palestinians are led by a unified government that includes the terrorist Hamas and if they choose to take a unilateral approach by asking the UN to recognise a Palestinian State. Even Pres. Obama agrees that only a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians can lead to a two-state solution that satisfies the needs of both sides.

While many may consider Netanyahu's proposals as a basis for negotiations with the Palestinians, everyone knows that once Hamas joins any Palestinian Government, all bets are off. Israel cannot and will not pretend to negotiate with any organization that rejects its right to exist. Fatah and the PLO have supposedly recognized Israel, but Hamas has not and will not. Abbas said that Israel is "not a partner for peace," which of course reverses the actual political reality, as the Palestinians often do. Netanyahu criticized Palestinian leadership, calling them short-sighted and unwilling to compromise.

Whether or not a Palestinian State will be voted on at the UN in September, and whether or not there are further civil disobediance demonstrations like those on Nakba Day, Netanyahu has set a course and hopefully will stick with it. He may be hoping and praying, like Ben Gurion did in 1948, that the Arabs will always reject any compromise offered to them. If they do and they take unilateral action, then it is likely that Netanyahu will follow up his speeches with the unilateral annexation of the large Jewish settlement blocs in Judah and Shomron. Then the situation of the Palestine problem will be changed forever.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Flotilla again?

This letter was published in the Jewish Chronicle May 13, 2011:

There are reports that a flotilla of ships is assembling in Turkey in order to again attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The ostensible reasons for this action is that the blockade of Gaza by Israel is illegal and there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In fact, the blockade is perfectly legal under international law when there is a state of war existing between Hamas in Gaza and Israel, and there is in fact no humanitarian crisis in Gaza as attested to by the ICRC representative. Israel allows copious amounts of food and medical supplies into Gaza, as well as water, oil and building supplies. Also, the crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah is now open for all deliveries. There is in fact no legal or rational reason for this flotilla except to cause a provocation and receive publicity.

I and many others would be more persuaded that the organizers of this flotilla were really motivated by "humanitarian" considerations if they were planning to sail to Misratah in Libya or Banias in Syria, where there are real and well-documented cases of human rights abuses and the need for food and medical supplies is indeed urgent. Why don't these so-called "international peace activists" actually try to do some good for humans who are really suffering?
Jack Cohen

Since I did not have space to include all the details, here is the statement by Mathilde Redmatn, the deputy head of the Intl. Comm. of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza: "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. If you go to the supermarket there are products....the problem is mainly maintenance of infrastructure..." as reported in The Jerusalem Post May 15, 2011.

The question of whether or not there is a de jure "state of war" between Israel and Gaza under Hamas control is irrelevant. In fact a state of war exists de facto, for the following reasons: 1. Hamas is responsible for the firing of ca. 12,000 rockets and other missiles at Israeli territory from Gaza over a period of ca. 10 years. 2. In response to this and other provocations Israel unleashed the Operation Cast Lead in 2008, which amounted to an actual war. 3. Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by the UN, US, EU and Israel, and refuses to recognize the existence of the State of Israel and in its Covenant and many statements threatens to destroy the State. 4. Strictly speaking a war situation does not have to exist or be declared only between two states, a state such as the US or UK can be at war with a terrorist organization such as al Qaeda or the Taliban. This has occurred many times in history, such as the war between the British Army and the Burmese guerillas or the Kenyan Mau-Mau or between Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers.

It is a sorry fact that after 63 years a large proportion of the population of Gaza is supported by UNRWA handouts, while tens of millions of dollars are given as aid every year to the leaders of the Palestinian people. UNWRA acts as a UN organization that perpetuates the "Palestinian refugee" issue, and is mostly funded by the USA. It should be abolished!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nakba attacks

The Nakba (or "catastrophe" in English) commemorating the defeat of the Arabs and the establishment of the State of Israel is becoming a major event in the Arab calendar. Unable to defeat Israel militarily they now rely on PR and international sympathy for their defeat.

Ironically, while the West Bank was relatively quiet, for the first time Arab mobs of demonstrators managed to successfully breach the Israeli border with Syria on the Golan Heights. Approximately 100 Syrian demonstrators managed to enter Israel illegally at the Druse village of Majdal Shams. But, the local Druse officials were not supportive of the attack. If the Assad regime needed anything to distract the Syrians and the world from his crack-down on his own people, the Syrian Nakba attack on Israel's border is it! Correspondingly, the relative quiet on the West Bank was thought to be due to the PA needing to show that it is indeed in charge of the area and is responsible, prior to their attempt to declare unilateral Palestine Statehood at the UN in September.

But, while Israel is being criticized for the deaths involved, only one person was killed on the Syrian border and another 10 more or so elsewhere, one should retain a sense of proportions, How does this compare with the shooting down of ca. 850 Syrians in the past two months by Syrian forces with tanks and the wounding of several thousand Syrian demonstrators. If the number of Syrian deaths is the sole criterion then Syria itself is far ahead of Israel. Also, on the Lebanese border there were no infiltrations, the deaths are likely to have been caused by Lebanese Army soldiers shooting at the rioters to prevent them breaching the border. Also, an Arab driver used his truck in south Tel Aviv to kill one Israeli and injure 18 others.

Many news reports stated that Arabs were killed at border crossing points, as if they were lining up to cross legitimately. But, in fact at none of the borders was there a legitimate border crossing point. These demonstrators directly attacked a closed border, as if say a few thousand Mexicans rushed the US border in the middle of the Arizona desert. Would US border agents let them cross without force, would they not have fired on them? This kind of thing cannot be allowed to happen, especially when the demonstrators are questioning the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

I say let us embrace the Nakba demonstrations and fight back with all the force available, let us legitimately defend our borders. If the number of casualties becomes too great they will stop these insane attacks and learn that we will defend our sovereign borders at all costs. If not, and they want to commit suicide, so be it. Dep. FM Danny Ayalon pointed out we had our own Nakba when hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from Arab Lands in 1948 and their wealth and property were stolen. We as Israelis don't make enough of the fact that the establishment of Israel was brought about partly by the repressive persecution of Jews by the Arabs over centuries. It was a mistake to underestimate the attacks on our borders, especially while Bashar Assad is under pressure domestically, anyone could have predicted this. The IDF will have to be more prepared with obstacles to rioters next year.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The price of arrogance

There are no two peoples more unlike each other than the Japanese and the Arabs. The Japanese are well organized, very technical and highly motivated, while the Arabs are disorganized, technically incompetent and violent. So what do these two peoples have in common? They have both attacked the US and caused significant casualties. Both attacks were seemingly unprovoked, although they were both justified by the attackers as "getting even" for perceived mistreatment. I am talking of course about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 12/7/1941, that brought the US into WWII, and the attack on the Twin Towers in NYC on 9/11/2001. So what was similar about these attacks?

One important common feature is that each of these peoples/nations felt that they had been badly treated by the US. The Japanese were smarting under the imposition of naval and oil restrictions imposed on them by the US and its European allies during the lead up to WWII. The Arabs felt that the US was taking over and controlling them, by running their oil facilities and having essentially an army of occupation in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Now some might say that it was not "all" Arabs that felt this way. True, but neither was it all Japanese that felt this way, but we don't distinguish for the purposes of history between those who disagreed with their nation's policies and those who supported them. The Arabs and other Muslims were and are predominantly anti-American and most celebrated the attack on 9/11. The fact is that certain actions were taken leading to war in both cases.

So what was the common denominator? A psychological resentment that the nation of the attacker was not receiving its due position in the world, its appropriate "share of the pie." After all, the imperial powers had sliced up the world into their own empires, making colonies of "lesser" men, such as Africans and some Asians. There were certain nations, such as the Germans, Russians, Japanese and Arabs, who felt that they should be leaders of this game, instead of being second tier. They all felt that the white Anglo-Saxon English-speaking world had taken over, had too much power, and was not letting them have their due share. So the Germans developed a racial theory and started WWII, the Russians developed communism and started the Cold War. But it was the Japanese and the Arabs who saw the power of the USA as the premier blockage to their own development of power, and so they attacked.

The Japanese Empire under Emperor Hirohito and PM General Tojo attacked Pearl Harbor and destroyed most of the US Pacific fleet and expected the US to be cowed into submission. Osama bin Laden on behalf of al Qaeda and Islam resented the presence of US armed forces in the holy peninsula of Arabia, and declared war on the US. Having defeated the USSR in Afghanistan it was not a big stretch to believe that they could do the same to the US. Both opted to attack the US in its homeland. You could say that both of these attackers were motivated by a fatal flaw, an ingrained arrogance, that led them to over-estimate their capability. They failed to recognize that the US was the world's most powerful country by right, having developed over time the industry, affluence and capability that made it the world's greatest power, while they were only pretenders to the throne, motivated by resentment and jealousy. So they attacked, both in cowardly ways, and were defeated. The Japanese were utterly defeated and reduced to ruin and death. The Arab-Muslim cause has been dealt a severe blow in Afghanistan, Iraq and now with the death of Osama bin Laden, they see the consequences of directly challenging the US.

The Japanese arrogance came from believing that they were superior by virtue of their culture. The Arab arrogance came from believing that they were superior by virtue of their belief in Islam, a religion that preaches the superiority of Muslims over all others and had in the past reduced all others to lower (dhimmi) status. It is the realization that this world-view of their own superiority was flawed that led the Japanese to completely reverse their culture after WWII, to become pacificists, westernized and modernized. Perhaps we can see the perception of the wrongness of this arrogance by the Muslims in the current uprisings in the Arab world. After all, the ordinary Arab is not stupid, he sees the progress and superiority of the American way of liberal democracy thru the technical media revolution compared to the backwardness and stagnation in the Arab world, and now knows that attacking and trying to defeat the US is not the way to go. So he and his fellows turn on their own dictators and try to change their own system. The repercussions of this internal upheaval is unknown, particularly in view of resistance such as that of Gaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria. But, the consequences of arrogance and direct attacks are clear for all to see. Osama bin Laden is as dead as General Tojo.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Arab spring?

The name "Arab spring" has been coined to describe the series of uprisings that are occuring throughout the Arab world. But, it is a misnomer, since it implies a positive new burst of vitality and a desire for freedom and democracy. Here are some reasons why we should remain sceptical until the evidence is in:

1. The slogans shouted by the crowds in Egypt and Syria often don't reflect a desire for peace and democracy. In Egypt one popular cry is to annul the peace treaty with Israel. This reflects a general anti-Americanism that implies that Pres. Mubarak, now in prison hospital, gave away advantages to Israel because he was a puppet of the Americans. In Syria the crowd chants "Assad coward, you set your army on us and not Israel," reflecting the fact that the Israel-Syrian border has been quiet for 40 years (since the 1973 Yom Kippur war), while both Assads, father and son, preferred to direct their anti-Israel activities thru Lebanon. Maybe the crowds would change these policies if they took power.

2. The treatment meted out to Lara Logan, a CBS correspondent, who was mass raped and nearly killed in Tahrir Square, by a mob of supposed pro-democracy demonstrators. I have always wondered why blonde western women find it acceptable as reporteres to delve into crowds of Middle Eastern men, known for their violent behavior. First, there were no other women present, they usually demonstrate separately. Second the crowds are anti-American, and so any American is going to be a target, and third they began to shout that she was a "Jew and Israeli," which is enough to get her killed, even though not true. Her survival after 30 mins was amazing, she was terribly beaten and sexually assaulted, but no bones were broken and she survived, being saved by some burka-clad women and Egyptian soldiers. She revealed her story in a "60-Minutes" interview ( see:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7364550n&tag=related;photovideo ).

3. Attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt have spiraled out of control. Salafist Muslim extremists are carrying out a campaign of deadly attacks on Coptic Churches that yesterday killed 12 and destroyed a major Church. Thousands of Copts demonstrated against these attacks, but the Government seems unable to stop the violence. There are millions of Coptic Christians in Egypt (10% of the population), if the interim military Government loses control terrible things could happen there.

4. The Sunni-Shia rift looms large as a factor in some of the uprisings. For example, in Syria the bulk of the population is Sunni, while the Army and secret service are dominated by the Alawite minority group (12%) that identifies as Shia. In Bahrain the opposite is true, the power structure of the Sheik of Bahrain of the Khalifa clan is Sunni while the majority of the populace is Shia. With Saudi and Gulf armed forces helping the Bahrainis, the Shia uprising has been effectively stifled in Bahrain. But, this is where the Sunni-Shai rift is located, between Saudi Arabia and Iran and thru Syria.

So let's not call it the "Arab spring" too soon, it may turn out to be a lot less of a flowering than this name implies

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Unfortunate incident

It could happen to anyone. My wife was prescribed a new drug last month and we went to the doctor's office (can never get through by telephone) and asked them to prepare prescriptions for the next three months, so we don't have to keep going back. So they added the new drug to her list of regular ones and made prescriptions for the next three months. The doctor signed them to make them official.

We then took the current month's prescription to the pharmacy and received the month's supply of this particular drug in a colorful box. We took it home and my wife said that she would take one then at 5 pm. We were sitting waiting for our daughter and family to arrive, when my wife said she felt nauseous. Around 7 pm she started throwing up and could not stop, it was awful. I went to check the directions in the box that tell about side-effects, and it did in fact say that the most common side effect was nausea and vomiting. But, as I was looking at the box I noticed the box of last month's prescription, and IT WAS A DIFFERENT COLOR! I compared the boxes and immediately noticed that the old one said 1.5 mg and the new one said 4.5 mg. They were the same drug, but different doses. Since my wife had taken the higher dose only 2 hrs earlier it was clear that that was the cause of her problem. I called the doctor at home and eventually made contact with him and he confirmed that a mistake must have been made and told her not to take any more and to wait until the morning when the side-effect should have worn off.

Indeed she did feel fine the next morning. I went to his surgery and the prescription at the correct lower dose was waiting. The pharmacy would not accept the higher dose box back because it had been opened, and they would not refund the cost (it wasn't much since it is highly subsidized). The doctor had agreed to cover the cost of the first incorrect dose, but I told him to forget it. Fortunately this was a minor effect of the higher dose of the drug, but suppose it had been 10 times the correct dose and suppose it was toxic? It shows that you must be very careful and check all medications from the moment they are prescribed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Remembrance and Independence

In Israel we commemorated the fallen in all our wars and the victims of terrorism on Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance, the day before Yom Ha'atzmaut, Independence Day, May 9-10. This year, 138 additional names were added to the list of ca. 23,000 people who have died either in uniform or in the name of the State since its inception (i.e. prior to the actual founding of the State). To those who believe in peace with the Arabs, I point out that all of those Jews were killed by Arabs. Included in this number are not only the fallen in our many wars, but the ca. 250 victims of terrorism, killed by suicide bombings, shootings, stabbings and rocket attacks.

Although this number may seem large, it is miniscule compared to the killings of Jews that went on throughout civilized Europe during WWII, when thousands of Jews were killed every day.by every other nationality (Germans, Russians, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Romanians, etc. etc.). So we who are Zionists prefer to face the odds with guns rather than being powerless. Although the Arabs have not been successful in destroying us and our State, they are still trying and their culture is still based on hatred of Jews. And now they are joined by a more sinister force, that of Iranian Shia Islam.

However, notwithstanding the constant barrage of violence, we are stronger and more affluent than ever before. Israel's economy was virtually unaffected by the economic crisis that brought most other world economies to their knees. Unlike the similar sized countries - Ireland, Greece and Portugal, we had no Bank failures and no debt crisis, We had 7.5% GDP growth rate this year, and the shekel is one of the strongest currencies in the world. Our armed forces are second to none and our air force is probably the best in the world. Our high tech industry is second only to the US and our computer skills are the top in cyber warfare. And now we have an anti-missile system, Iron Dome, the first in the world that works. We are still surrounded by enemies, but they are undergoing serious internal schisms.

When I sit in the sunshine in Ha'atzmaut Square in Netanya, sipping tea and eating cake, surrounded by Russian and French immigrants, bringing our total population today to 7.7 million I feel great pride. Even the Israeli Arabs, many of whom celebrate the so-called "disaster" (nakba) of Israel's founding, nevertheless the vast majority of them when polled state that they would prefer to remain Israeli citizens than join any Palestinian State, showing that they are not stupid. Tell that to those knee-jerk leftists who claim that Israel carried our "ethnic cleansing" rather than merely defending itself from constant attack by Arab armies and terrorists, or who claim that Israel is an "apartheid" state. Let them come here and see for themselves the falsity of those stupid claims, or are they afraid to face reality.

So we sat in the crowd at the commemoration of Yom Hazikaron and then the next day on Yom Ha'atzmaut we watched on the television the national celebration of the 63rd anniversary of Israel's independence from Har Herzl in Jerusalem, and we were very glad to be part of it. Then we saw the fly-over of our IAF planes celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut. As it says in our national anthem: To be a free people in our land of Eretz Zion and Jerusalem

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Scotland the brave

A historic result in the just concluded elections for the Scottish Parliament is a victory for the Scottish National Party under its leader Alex Salmond. With 65 seats in the voting for the Holyrood House where the Scottish devolved Parliament sits, for the first time the SNP has a majority of the votes in the 129 seat Parliament. This victory was achieved at the expense of both the Liberal Democrats and the Labor Party. The Conservative Party has never had a high representation in Scotland, since it is associated largely with the English ruling classes, but the Liberal and Labor Parties have always been popular there. The Labor Party has its roots in Scotland and its first leader was Kier Hardy. But, the Liberal Democrats took a drubbing throughout the elections in Britain, and Labor particularly lost in Scotland. So for the first time the SNP under Salmond will be able to introduce a bill into the Scottish Parliament for Scottish home rule, i.e. for an independent Scotland, and expect to win.

This could have great consequences for the British Union. Scotland has been under English rule and was incorporated into the British Union by the Act of Union of 1707. Both the English and Scottish Parliaments were abolished and replaced by the Parliament of Great Britain. Since 1746 when England defeated the forces of the Scottish Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden, all Scottish armed resistance ceased. Since then the Union Jack or Union Flag has flown over all of Britain and the former British Empire. Initially adopted in 1606 by England, it consisted of the combination of the Flag of St. George of England (a red vertical cross on a white background) combined with the flag of St. Andrew of Scotland (a white diagonal cross on a blue background) and this combination was then adopted by Scotland in 1707. Later when Ireland was incorporated into Great Britain in 1801, the Flag of St, Patrick (a diagonal red cross on a white background) was added to make the flag that is used until today. Note that Wales was not explicitly included in this Union flag since it was conquered by England in 1277 and officially incorporated in 1536. Notably in the current elections for the Welsh Assembly (not yet a fully independent Parliament) the Welsh Independence Party, Plaid Cymru, actually lost seats. Also, the official flag of Wales consists of a red dragon (on a green and white backgound), not easily added to the combination of crosses that represents the British Union.

So if the Scottish Parliament votes for secession from the British Union and becomes an independent State, the name of the country and the flag will have to be changed. "Great Britai" could no longer call itself that if a large hunk of the British isles, namely Scotland, was no longer part of it. Taking the Scottish flag of St. Andrew out of the Union Jack would be quite easy. When the Republic of Ireland (Eire) seceded from the Union in 1922, there was some talk of removing the cross of St. Patrick from the Union flag, but that was not done, since Northern Ireland remained in the Union and the Protestant Northern Irish are very patriotic (although they don't particularly like St. Patrick). Ironically, it is the Celts of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall who were the original British, pushed into the periphery of the British Isles by the Germanic conquerors of England who were in fact the so-called Anglo-Saxons, and the name English derives from the Angles or Anglos. So strictly speaking, if Scotland seceded, then the Parliament in London would have to be be renamed the Parliament of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Note that Scotland is a small country with a population of 5.2 million (smaller than Israel) and it is unclear if it could survive economically without English support. But, often matters of history and national pride outweigh practical considerations. If this starts a trend and devolution turns into independence for Wales and Northern Ireland (perhaps ultimately in union with Southern Ireland) then we could end up with England being alone again after nearly three hundred years and it could then no longer be called the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" but only the "Kingdom of England." What a come-down!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Peace partner?

It is quite simple really, Hamas is a terrorist organization, that took power in Gaza by killing hundreds of Fatah followers and is responsible for many years of firing rockets into Israel (10,000 in 10 years). The current informal ceasefire is only because Israel mounted Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and gave them a big fright. Fatah is supposedly the "moderate" Palestinian organization, that runs the PA on the West Bank. Fatah receives ca. a billion dollars a year from the US, EU and UN, that makes the Palestinians the richest poor people in the world. In order to receive this largesse and be considered partners for peace with Israel, Fatah had to accept the minimal conditions of the Quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia), namely 1. recognize Israel as a State, 2. stop all violent (terrorist) activity, 3. accept all previous negotiated peace agreements (such as Oslo and the Road Map). Note, these are not Israel's conditions, but are broadly agreed international requirements.

Now Fatah and Hamas have signed a "unity" deal in Egypt. In order to get this deal, the military committee that rules Egypt agreed to open the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border and to stop the building of a metal barrier to prevent the use of smuggling tunnels under the border. Many believe this is a "marriage of convenience" and has no chance of lasting for the duration. Before signing the deal, Hamas stated that it will never recognize Israel and will never give up the "rightful struggle of the Palestinians for their land" (ie. they will continue terrorism). Now, I ask you, if the two are united, how can Israel continue considering the Palestinians as partners for peace?? How can the Quartet continue considering them partners for peace??

The Quartet, particularly the US and UK, have adopted an ambiguous stance. While reitering their "unshakable" support for the State of Israel, both have indicated that they support the idea of Palestinian unity, as long as the Government that eventually comes out of this agreement accepts the Quartet's conditions. Supposedly there will be an interim agreed government of "professionals", ie. of neither poltical party and elections are supposed to be held in a year. But, the Palestinians have finessed the recognition problem, they say that in any case the PLO (Fatah) will be responsible for all negotiations with Israel, and that leaves Hamas, even if they control the Government, free to oppose any recognition and/or peace agreement with Israel. So Israel is naturally disconcerted at this development, and PM Netanyahu is letting his colleagues in the UK, France and the US know where Israel stands. No Palestinian Government that includes Hamas can be a partner for peace with Israel! That is quite simple really!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Reflections on the death of Osama bin Laden

Some reflections on the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces in Pakistan.

1. According to statistics reported by the Jerusalem Post, few among the Arab peoples actually supported bin Laden. Only among Palestinians was there a majority, both in Gaza under Hamas and in the PA on the West Bank under Fatah (note they also supported Saddam Hussein). In a statement Ismail Haniyeh, Head of Hamas, condemned the killing of bin Laden and called him a "Muslim warrior." Yet, not only are these two organizations discussing unity, but the PA received m$400 from the USA this year. Can anyone explain this, the US kills bin Laden but gives money to his major supporters. Where is the logic in this? Your tax dollars at work. If this annoys you, send a fax, e-mail or letter to your Congressman, Senator and/or President Barack Obama at the White House. Ask them to explain this discrepancy in US policy. Iran also criticized the "Zionist murder" of a Muslim hero, but one should note that bin Laden, as a leader of a militant Sunni Muslim organization, considered Shia Iran an enemy, and vice versa.

2. The death of bin Laden will not mark any particular watershed or change in history as did the attack on the Twin Towers in NYC thst he planned. There are few such seminal moments, such as WWII and the fall of communism. Al Qaeda, the organization he established to support the mujahideen in Afghanistan, has now sprouted into many branches. There are groups acting more or less independently in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa (Maghreb) and Yemen (Arabian peninsula), as well as some we probably don't know about. What we have robbed them of is their central icon, their symbol, and their figurehead. But, it is unlikely that any of the other leaders will have bin Laden's stature, imagination and capability to carry through such a brazen operation as the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon (luckily the attack on the White House was thwarted by the brave passengers of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania).

3. Although it took 10 years, the message to all terrorists out there is that you attack the US at your peril. Eventually, if you do manage to attack the US or its interests or its people, you will be hunted down and shot. There is no escape. It was shown by this attack that "targeted assassination" is a major and legitimate military means to remove the "head of the snake", i.e. leaders of terrorist organizations. There has been very little carping from "human rights activists" about Osama bin Ladin's targeted assassination, unlike their reaction to Israel's legitimate use of this tactic to reduce terrorism against its citizens. Israel has been criticized for carrying out targeted killings of Hamas terrorist leaders in Gaza, such as Sheikh Yassin or Mabhouh in Dubai. Next time this happens remember Osama bin Laden. No one attacks us and kills our people and gets away with it either! You have to be in our shoes, or those of the people who lost loved ones at ground zero, to know what I mean. Walk a mile in our shoes and you'll understand!

4. The fact that Osama bin Laden apparently lived quietly and undetected for up to five years in a large private compound adjacent to the main military training school in Pakistan sends a clear message, Pakistan cannot be trusted. That is why the US did not inform the Pakistan Government in advance of its operation to attack Osama bin Ladin's compound. The Pakistan intelligence service, ISI, was responsible fro supporting the Taliban against the Afghan Government, although it supposedly stopped that support after 9/11. But, there is little doubt that there are people in the ISI and in Pakistan in general that continue to aid Osama and his al Qaeda organization, and probably the present weak Pakistan Government can do nothing about this. That is why targeted killings in sovereign foreign countries is a legitimate military tactic.

5. Another unanticipated side effect of the killing of Osama bin Laden could ironically be the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the US in 2012. When you see a room full of Republicans as well as Democrats giving him a standing ovation, you know something has changed. Indeed, his popularity had sunk very low, due to the financial crisis, the health care fiasco, his failure to take the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and his vacillating foreign policy. So far the Republicans have failed to produce a viable candidate, and this renewed popularity, as well as the advantages of incumbency, may take him over the top.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Good news...

Each morning I open the front door and pick up my newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, and read the main headline. Usually it tells of death and destruction, of disaster and catastrophe. "450 civilians murdered by Assad forces in Syria," "Earthquake and tsunami in Japan kill 20,000," "A majority of 54% of Egyptians would annul treaty with Israel," "Gaddafi forces massacre civilians in Libya," "NATO forces bomb Gaddafi's tanks in Misratah," and so it goes.

What if? What if, I muse, one day things would be different, things would turn around, and the headlines would read, "Peace treaty signed between Palestinians and Israel," "Arab leaders pledge not to fire on their own demonstrators," "Warning of earthquake and tsunami save many lives," and then "Iranian Parliament pledges to stop nuclear program and abide by international commitments," "US President stands firm in support of its allies," and "Israel reaches 8 million citizens and 8% growth rate." But, that's all dreaming, things aren't yet ready for the "end of history."

But, we do have distractions; "Prince WIlliam weds his Kate," "Wedding dress a huge success," and so on. Better the banal and the mundane than the daily reports of the actions of evil men. What makes the "wedding cake" a news story, and really who cares? But, we must have something to take our minds of the truly horrible world we live in and the bad things that go on in it.

Then today I opened my newspaper and read "Osama bin Laden killed by US special forces in Pakistan!" Now that made all the other headlines bearable.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Babi Yar

The focus of the Holocaust memorial eve service at Conservative Temple Beit Israel in Netanya on Yom Hashoah, organized by Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum, was the massacre of Jews at the ravine of Babi Yar in Kiev on September 29, 1941.

Only days after capturing Kiev from the retreating Russian forces, notices appeared around Kiev ordering Jews to appear at a certain location on the following day, with their papers and wordly goods. Failure to report or being found anywhere else would result in death. Of the 100,000 or so Jews residing in the city area at that time, most families obeyed the order. The Jews of Kiev and most of western Russia were quite oblivious of the plans and intentions of the Nazis and had no idea that this was a death sentence, most believed that they were going to be relocated or resettled elsewhere, some believed that they would be organized into forced labor, but very few realized the true intentions of this order, and those who warned against going were considered as marginal and even deranged.

The location for the assembly was next to a cemetary and a railway station. Once in the crowd there was no way of going backwards. The Germans were very cunning, they had trains chugging back and forth all day, convincing the Jews that they were being transported elsewhere. There are several eyewitness accounts of what happened next to the Jews, they were separated into groups of ten and then led under guard down a narrow defile, with Ukranian volunteers and German soldiers above beating them, they were told to leave their luggage, clothes and goods to the right, food to the left and then they were forced to disrobe and were pushed onto a ledge. When they had occupied the ledge above the steep ravine they were shot by machine guns from across the ravine and they fell onto the huge pile of corpses below. Many were not dead and the whole mass moved and screamed. One woman survived because she threw herself off the ledge before the bullet caught her. Soldiers then walked across the bodfies stealing the gold teeth and rings and shooting anyone who moved. Then they threw sand down onto the mass of bodies. She managed to survive and under cover of darkness made her escape.

This was the greatest single massacre of the Holocaust, where 38,000 Jews were murdered in 36 hours! Over the period of a year ca. 100,000 were murdered there. But, ca. 500,000 Jews were murdered in a period of one year by the four Einsatzgruppen (special) units that roamed the area behind the German lines. And ca. 70,000 were murdered and thrown alive into the huge pit at the Ninth Fort at Kovno over a period of three months, and 35,000 were murdered by German and Latvian collaborators in the forest of Ponar outside Riga. Of course, 2.5 million were murdered at Auschwitz during its operation (1941-5) and many other concentration camps (thousands have now been identified) operated throughout Europe.

Yes, the loss of 3,000 Americans at the Twin Towers in NY in 2001 was a terrible tragedy. But, to put it into perspective, the 6 million Jews killed throughout Europe by all means of terrible tortures amounted to ca. 2,000 Twin Towers, or one every day for over 5 years!

For further information about the Babi Yar massacre I recommend reading the famous poem "Babi Yar" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the historical work "Babi Yar" by Anatoly Kuznetzov and the truly amazing novel, "The White Hotel" by D.M. Thomas.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Muslim police state

Two years ago the Government of Pakistan enacted a so-called "anti-blasphemy law," that was intended to ensure that noone makes any negative or insulting remarks about the prophet Muhammed or Islam, as they consider was done in Europe. It was made a capital offense to do so! In theory this law applies to any religion recognized by the State, but in practice the law has gradually become the basis of what amounts to a Muslim police state. Such a law is in conformity with Muslim sharia law.

Not only is it impossible to say anything about Islam without fearing being accused of blasphemy, but these laws have been used to settle scores between people who have had arguments or have political differences. For example, an argument between a Christian and a Muslim over financial matters is easily settled, the Muslim goes to the police and accuses the Christian of blasphemy. The Christian is arrested and jailed. Then there is a peremptory trial in which the Muslim's testimony is accepted over that of the Christian, and the Christian is executed! This has happened many times in Pakistan, and the few Christians that remain there are cowed and afraid. SImilarly, under sharia law the testimony of a Muslim is accepted over that of a Jew.

A Christian woman Asia Bibi (45) was accused of blasphemy against Islam, and was arrested, tried and sentenced to death. Two leading politicians supported her case and called for the annulment of these discriminatory laws. One was the only Christian Minister, the Minister of Minorities in the Government, Shahbaz Bahtti, and the other was the Governor of Punjab province, Shalman Taseer. Both were recently assassinated. The murderer of the Governor was his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, who when he was arrested confessed that he killed the Governor because of his opposition to the blasphemy law.

Foreign journalists have found a situation of extreme fear in Pakistan. People will not talk about the blasphemy law for fear of being overheard talking to a foreigner about it. They will only do so in the privacy of their homes and under conditions of extreme secrecy. In fact, foreign journalists are also in extreme danger, since any questions about the blasphemy law can be interpreted as opposition to it and could lead to either arrest and/or attack. In Pakistan mobs do not stop to determine the legitimacy of any accusation regarding blasphemy, they assume any foreigner is automatically guilty of criticizing Mohammed and Islam. So Christians, those few that remain, are once again leaving Pakistan. If similar laws are promulgated in other Muslim countries, the possibility of civilized communication between Islam and the West, already greatly limited, will be precluded.
Note: The killing of Osma bin Laden in Pakistan has just been announced by Pres. Obama. More on this later.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

British republican

What is an anti-monarchist republican (with a small "r'), to make of the "fairy tale" wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton? Growing up as a minority in the poor East End of London, where the two streams of right-wing patriotism and left-wing politics constantly intertwined, it was never easy to decide how to interpret each situation. But, one thing was clear, most Jews were very skeptical of the Monarchy. It was "them" and "us" and "they" were very remote from "us." What seemed like revolutionary ideas there, where one was in a small minority, once in the USA seemed perfectly normal. Seen from the perspective of the US, the monarchy looked out-moded, antiquated and ripe for removal. Why, I wondered, was there not a British Republican Party, whose main aim was to rid Britain of this ridiculous and costly Monarchy, with all its aristocratic hangers-on and attendant social stratification?

The hoop-la about this Royal Wedding gives one an answer, the Monarchy with all its strappings of luxury and excess is a highly popular form of entertainment. A middle-class commoner marrying into the Royal family is a persistant dream of a large proportion of the female population of Britain. How can you even consider destroying such an ingrained and historic part of British culture, even though most monarchies have long since been removed elsewhere? Consider France, Russia, Hungary, Romania, China and so on. But, what distinguished the Brits from the rest is that the Royals there were more adaptable, like the Dutch and Scandinavian monarchies, they became constitutional monarchs, they followed the will of the people as expressed thru Parliament, not vice versa. While the French and the Russian royals basically said to the starving masses "let them eat cake," in Britain they produced a King with a stammer who spoke for and upheld British values of decency and courage.

There were two kinds of anti-monarchist movements, the revolutionary and the bourgeois. The revolutionary sought to destroy the monarchy absolutely (as in France and Russia). But, the bourgeois sought to replace them constitutionally, by electing a President, who is perhaps treated like a king. The squalid murder of the Romanovs in a forest near Ekaterinborg in 1917 was an example of the former, the replacement of George III as King of America was of the second type.

When I was a young student I went to a play, I forget where and when, but it stuck in my mind, about a group of Russian revolutionaries who are about to assassinate the Russian Tsar. But, the main assassin returns not having carried out his deed, because in the carriage with the Tsar were his children, and this man, a revolutionary Jew, could not bring himself to throw a bomb at the children. Of course, his comrades were aghast, because now they would all be captured, tortured and killed, but nevertheless the assassin stands firm, it was not his ideal to murder innocent children. What a dilemma? Better to let them live and watch their entertaining antics on the telly. So now I am a theoretical British republican, passive and yet convinced.