Saturday, March 31, 2012

Land Day and other excuses

"Land Day," March 30, is a Palestinian Arab commemoration dating back to 1976, when the Israeli Government expropriated areas of land for security and other reasons. The question is why has this event become more popular now after all these years? And why has the Nakba (disaster) Day, the commemoration of the Arab defeat in 1948, become so widely publicized 64 years afterwards. In addition, the latest scheme by the Palestinians and their supporters to attract media attention to their cause, titled a "March on Jerusalem" timed to coincide with Land Day, in effect became a series of riots and attempts by Arabs to infiltrate the borders into Israel.

On Friday, there were several riots in the West Bank, all contained by Israeli forces. In Lebanon a mob was prevented from reaching the border with Israel by the Lebanese Army and there was no attempt from Syria, where they are otherwise occupied (last year 12 were killed trying to breach the Syrian-Israel border). The only person killed this year was when a mob tried to attack the fence separating Gaza from Israel. So the success of the Israeli tactics has once again thwarted Palestinian attempts to embarrass and defeat Israel.

The answer to the question as to why the Palestinians have taken this route to try to obtain media coverage from these manufactured events is that at present they have no other options left. Lets face it, in their permanent clash with Israel they have tried war (at least 5 times), plane hijackings, terrorism (2 intifadas), rockets (still continuing sporadically from Gaza) and diplomatic delegitimization. So far none of these strategies have worked. Apart from wallowing in self-pity over the fact that they were defeated 64 years ago, they now seek to obtain media coverage for their cause. But, the media is otherwise occupied, with the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, the Syrian crisis, and today the pathetic Arab League meeting in Baghdad (only 12 out of 22 Arab countries showed up).

So the Palestinians are forced to make more outrageous PR stunts to attract media attention. Their latest stunt, after the failure of the flotillas to Gaza, is a "flytilla," a fly-in by supposedly a thousand pro-Palestinians from around the world to Ben Gurion airport. So what will happen? A few of them may be allowed to enter, but the bulk of them will be turned around and deported, after Israel has obtained valuable intelligence, and the airlines to Israel have been considerably enriched. Another epic failure!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Not to decide is to decide

I am fed up with reading about the nonsense that someone named Peter Beinart proposed. Anyone can propose any sort of "solution" to the Arab-Israel conflict and get media coverage, but his proposal is crazier than most. Do what our enemies want, give up the "settlements," as if Israel has no claim to that land, impose our own boycott on goods and they will like us and make peace with us, what rubbish! There is no rational basis whatsoever for this kind of policy, on the contrary, every concession that Israel has made in the past has only led to more demands and more violence.

Yes, one can compare "one-state," "two-state," "three-state" or four, depending on the fissures in the Palestinian camp. One can balance the demographic danger with the loss of holy land. Surely everyone has their own favorite "solution." Is the current situation so intolerable that we must change it, without knowing the consequences? No one can predict the future, no-one predicted the visit of Pres. Sadat of Egypt to Israel, no-one predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, no-one knows if we shall have war with Iran. While Syria is in deadly turmoil, Egypt is poised on the brink of chaos and the Arab world is tending towards fundamentalist extremism, now is not the time to be making concessions and adopting liberal-minded policies.

Here is my proposal, as good as any other. Israel should annex the land of Judea and Shomron, but not impose Israeli citizenship on its Arab inhabitants. They should be be given a choice, either pledge allegience to the State of Israel or leave. There are many Arab countries and throughout the huge Arab world there is more than enough space to take a few hundred thousand refugees. Jordan especially is an appropriate Palestinian haven for these Palestinians. Since the Arab world claims to support the Palestinians, in order to bring about peace let them take in the rest of the refugees. But, my "solution" is no more sensible than any other proposal.

Former Israeli intelligence chief Yehoshafat Harkabi suggested that in the final analysis there will be no "solution" to the Arab-Israel conflict, only a possible "resolution." While Israel faces the possibiltiy of a three front war, against Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas, weshould wait to see what transpires in the Arab world, Proposing what looks like rational solutions from 3,000 miles away is characteristic of a group of self-conscious liberal American Jews who are more motivated by their own psychology than by the survival of the Jewish State. Since "not to decide is to decide," in my humble opinion, the best solution, is for now to decide to do nothing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Affluent Israel

We were driving along one of the main avenues of Netanya between rows of tall palm trees in the sunshine and my wife turned to me and said "aren't we lucky." To which I replied "lucky and good." After all I think we deserve this lifestyle in our own Jewish State. We were driving to the new mall at Poleg called "Kanion Ir Yamim" which roughly translated means Sea City Mall . This is a brand new mall, just opened, that is very modern and airy. The shops are very chic and my wife had to buy a skirt and top. Then we sat in the sunshine and had a cup of tea and coffee. The affluence of Israel was apparent, both in the conspicuous consumption and the well-dressed women. It is clear that Israel is a success story, with literally dozens of high-rises being built around this new area of Netanya called Ir Yamim.

From there we drove a few minutes to the industrial zone, to the new Ikea store. The old one burnt down last year, noone knows why, but it was said to have been an electrical short circuit in the ceiling. Now it has arisen from the ashes, as a new and bigger version. The car park and the store were packed with people on a weekday, including many Arabs, and we wandered around looking at the new shiny goods. Then we had a wholesome lunch in their cafeteria before heading home. Nearby is the new Kika store, very similar, but Austrian.

Netanya is in a long-term expansion phase, with a projected population of 200,000 by 2020. There are three new high rises in the city center and the whole downtown area, including the main square, is torn up where they are putting in new paving, lighting and a new fountain. After that is finished, hopefully by the summer, Netanya will be a much bigger tourist attraction. We already have two new large hotels, Ramada and Island, and more on the way. There is a large new stadium and new roads and bridges. Altogether a measure of the success of the Jewish state. So whereas everyone keeps mumbling about the treatment of the Palestinians, who are really just a footnote to history, and the problem with the Iranians, Israel just keeps getting bigger and better.

Sure there are problems, who doesn't have problems, in the UK they have binge-drinking and riots, in France they have Muslim killers on the loose. Only the US is comparable and it is not doing as well economically as Israel. Israel's GDP per capita is now up to ca. $32,000 (growth rate 4.8%), while the US is $48,000 (1.5%), the UK is $39,000 (1.1%) and the EU $35,000 (1.6%), while Egypt and Syria are less than $3,000 (1.2 and -2%). BUt, Israel has a large gap between the rich and poor. However, according to the just released 2011 Report of the Bank of Israel by its Chief Stanley Fischer the Israel economy is in great shape and the large income gap between rich and poor is not increasing. So see you here soon (PS. It does help to learn Hebrew before you come).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Make love and war

On Saturday night between 200-1000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv, that hot-bed of secular politics, against war with Iran. They carried placards reading 'Bibi don't bomb Iran." Do these people really think that life would be better and less dangerous or violent if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons? The outcome of that scenario is that Iran, if it could, would use an atomic bomb on Israel, probably incinerating Tel Aviv and killing at least 100,000 Jews in one go. This would have the ayatollahs dancing in their madrassahs. Do we want to take the chance of giving them this opportunity?

In 1933, prior to WWII, the Oxford Union debating society debated the proposition "that this house will not fight for King and Country." To the great surprise of many this proposition passed by a large majority. This was taken as a clear indication of "defeatism" among the young men of England, and spurred Hitler into the decision to attack England in the belief that he would meet little opposition. As it turned out, this result was misleading. When "push came to shove" the young men of England faced up to the task of fighting the Germans and winning, including the effete upper classes who largely voted for the above proposition. I mention this historic incident so that Iranians, seeing the current campaign by a group of Israeli peaceniks, that they "love iranians," even though they haven't met any, and that they "do not want war with Iran," should not believe this nonsense. It could cause the Iranians to make a huge historic blunder.

Some claim that the Iranians would not drop a bomb on Israel, because it would kill many Palestinian Arabs. Nonsense again. The Iranian Shia are only using the Palestine conflict to gain traction in the Sunni Arab world, as they have done with Hamas for some years. They could not care less if tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed, since they would be martyrs in a good cause, the destruction of Israel. As "shahid" they would all go to heaven, so why worry. What those Israelis against war with Iran need to do is make love, so that there are more Israelis to fight the good fight for our survival.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Back to the past

Last Friday evening I saw a leader of the social protest movement, Stav Shaffir, interviewed on IBA News. She is an attractive young woman, very earnest and persuasive. After rejecting the implementation of the Trachtenberg Committee report by the Netanyahu Government, what she boldly demanded was for the Government to give the people housing, jobs, medical treatment and education, that's all. In other words socialism! She forgets that Israel tried that until 1977, and it didn't work, and now they want to go back to the past. Greece is in such a terrible economic plight now largely because of the socialist Government over-spending on social benefits for 20 years. Yes, the Papadopoulos Government gave the people of Greece what they wanted, and look where it got them. The fact is that socialism doesn't work. Israel was rescued from socialism once and Greece is undergoing the same painful treatment now.

PM Netanyahu released the free market in Israel when he was Finance Minister under PM Sharon in 2003-2005 and that unleashed the Israeli economy. We are in much better straits now than almost any other country in Europe, maybe in the world. Because of that emphasis on capitalism we now have a nearly 5% growth rate compared to essentially zero for most countries in Europe. Now there are drawbacks to capitalism, and there can be abuses, as there were in several countries, including the US where the Banks and the mortgage companies abused their trust. But, the left in Israel are frustrated, because they are against free enterprise, and their share of the electoral pie has been shrinking. At the last election the left (including Labor and Meretz) won only 11 mandates, while the center (Kadima) got 28, compared to 42 for the right (Likud and Israel Beitanu) (I deliberately left out theArab and Jewish religious parties). So this is their way of out-flanking the electoral process, by appealing directly to the people through demonstrations and pressure.

Now demonstrations in a democratic country are good and are permitted, but the pressure tactics that come after them is scary. Even though the Government established the independent Trachtenberg Committee to look into their claims, and even though it came up quickly with a Report that was responsive to their complaints, and even though the Government has moved quickly to implement those proposals, it's never enough. Give us more, is the cry of the socialists on behalf of the people. I say if they are dissatisfied let them go to the electorate, drop the facade of injured pride, stop the pressure tactics, and wait until the next election. Then let's see whether the majority of the Israeli people genuinely want a socialist state or a free market economy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Unspoken aspects of the Toulouse massacre

Some unspoken aspects of the Toulouse massacre:
1. The target was a Jewish school! By killing Jewish children the Islamist extremists announce their intention of genocide! They are not messing around, they intend to kill all Jews, whether in Israel, France or around the world. Since the first victims were French soldiers of N. African origin, it was thought that the killer was a right wing extremist or fascist. Then it was discovered that he was in fact of Algerian origin himself, although born in France. But, his actions are the same as the fascists, it makes no difference to us his targets. The Muslim extremists are the inheritors of the European fascist tradition. Actually, the relationship is quite direct, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, was a follower of Hitler during WWII and recruited a Battalion of Muslim troops, mainly from Bosnia, who fought in the German Army. The Iraqi regime during WWII was pro-German and carried out an anti-Jewish pogrom in Baghdad called the Farhud in 1941. The founder of the Arab Ba'ath (renaissance) Party was Michel Aflaq, a Lebanese Christian, who was directly influenced by French fascism. The Ba'ath party was the party of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and is still that of the Assads in Syria. Facism is ingrained in the culture of the Arab extremists.

2. The French commando tactics were a failure. First, they took days to find him, even though he was supposedly on their watch list. Mohammed Merah had been in trouble with the police as a youth, he had served two years in jail and was suspected of rape. He had been to Pakistan and Afghanistan, he bragged that he had received military training there and he was active on Islamist web sites. Yet, the French deputy PM said today that the Police had no legal justification to arrest him prior to the attacks, and did not do so even after he had killed three French soldiers. It could have saved lives. Now Pres. Sarkozy has indicated that he will change the law to make it easier to monitor such potential terrorists. During the siege the police also gave him a cell phone in exchange for a hand-gun, very stupid to allow him to contact friends and the media. They also failed to detect his location in his small apartment, when he was hiding in the bathroom. Why didn't they use infra-red detection or knockout gas. It took them a long time to finish the siege, 32 hours, but they were probably given orders to kill him, but make it look like they had no choice.

3. He cowardly attacked children. Of course, no terrorist attacks well-defended targets, but nevertheless such targets as unsuspecting adults or children are characteristic of men who are themselves inadequate. In order to empower themselves they attack defenceless people. So all the Islamic ideology is a front for a sick mind. The Nazis used criminals to guard the concentration camps. One should always remember that it is not natural to engage in mass killings, all terrorists in some sense are deranged.

4. He was not overtly religious. Mohammed Merah was an out-going, sports loving, womanizing, young man. He was not known to frequent mosques nor was he known as studious or religious. His Islamist world-view was largely a fake, it is an excuse to take up arms and to kill those who you hate. Many Muslim men are not integrated into western society and are often frustrated by their own culture that prevents mixing of men and women. Notably some of the 9/11 terrorists were clean-cut, western-educated men and went to visit prostitutes and gambled the night before they flew hijacked planes into the Twin Towers. Not exactly consistent with high moral values.

Friday, March 23, 2012

No more Kodak moments

There used to be a company called Kodak, that seemed as if it would last forever. It had almost a monopoly on an innovative product, color film, and cameras that used it. But, now alas there are no more Kodak moments, the company failed to move with the times, it failed to adapt to digital camera technology, and was quickly left behind and then collapsed. Like many in their time, its directors said the immortal words, “It will never catch on…”

This was said by the owners of horse-drawn carriages about the horseless buggy, it was said by the owners of wooden ships about metal hull ships, it was said by the producers of silent movies about sound and it was said by many sceptics about flying machines (“it will never fly”). Actually there were many companies that were rich in their time, whose products were once ubiquitous, but then became obsolete, for example whale oil and whale bones, that stiffened the waists of Victorian females, for example lime-lights that gave the early movies their intense white glare, for example gas lamps that vanished with the advent of electric light, and gramophone records that were replaced by tapes and then CDs!

There are other common products that we take for granted today that might disappear soon. Newspapers, for example, which are gradually vanishing as their publishers become bankrupt as people switch to the internet for their news. Just as b/w TV’s were replaced by color TVs and then cathode ray tubes were replaced by flat screen liquid crystal or plasma displays so TVs without internet access will soon be obsolete. Currently they are saying the same thing, “It will never catch on,” about electric cars and wind farms and tidal power and fast intercontinental travel with pulse jet engines. Israel is one of the world’s centers of innovation, not only was the internet and internet safety matured here, but the cell phone is largely an Israeli product. All the major electronic companies have research and development centers here. Embrace innovation, its good for you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The French-Islamic connection

It may be that, as the Imam of the Paris Mosque observed, 99% of French Muslims are not like the killer of Toulouse, they are peaceful. But, even 1% can do a lot of damage. A strict interpretation of the Koran requires one to admit that the killer of Toulouse may be right, it is required of a dedicated Muslim to kill all “infidels.” This is the word of Allah as revealed to his faithful messenger Mohammed, and Mohammed realized that this was the only policy that could persuade the vast majority of Arabs, who were pagan in his time, to convert to the one true faith.

Soon after the success of Mohammed’s message, when Islam had already conquered vast swathes of land, it was realized that this policy was even then, a bit drastic. So in the 9th century the Caliph Omar introduced an alternative interpretation, yes, pagans should be killed, but “the peoples of the books,” namely Jews and Christians could be spared. Under Islamic sharia law they would be given protected or “dhimmi” status, a permanent inferior status, and would have to pay a special tax called “jizya” for this privilege. However, from that time to today, many Muslims prefer the original interpretation, namely that all infidels must be killed and even especially Jews or traitorous Muslims who ally with the Christian infidels.

It is the failure of the French and others to recognize the reality of this interpretation for the “fundamentalists” or Muslim extremists in our midst that led to the recent massacre in Toulouse. In any Muslim country Mohamed Merah could not be prosecuted for his “crime” because he would argue that what he did was a religious obligation. Merah was on the watch list of the French secret police, he had been to Pakistan and Afghanistan, whether he had received training or not, and he was known to be violent. How was it that 4 days went by between the first murders of three French soldiers and the murders of the Jewish children and their Rabbi, without him having been arrested or even located. Surely they keep tabs on the people on their watch list, he was living “in the open,” surely they had his address. It is this lax attitude towards the very real threat of death and destruction that results in these terrorist incidents.

After the event, when the bodies were still warm, the French reaction was exemplary. Yes, President Sarkozy expressed the whole country’s remorse, yes, lots of police flooded the area, and there were suitable sentiments of sympathy and support. But, the damage was already done. The problem is that the French regard everyone with French citizenship as being equal, whatever their religion, beliefs or sex. But, this is diametrically opposed to the strict interpretation of Islam. Do the French get it now?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Palestinian labyrinth

Keeping up with the Palestinians is getting more difficult. Once there was just the PLO run by Yasir Arafat and then it was easy. But, then in the wake of the defeat of the Arab armies by the IDF in 1967 and 1973 many Arab nationalists became disillusioned and retreated back into Islam. Then Hamas was established in 1987 and there were two versions of Palestinian destiny, the Islamist one in Gaza, that would never deal with Israel and would destroy it, and the Palestine Authority controlled by Fatah-PLO on the West Bank, that would make a deal with Israel and then destroy it. Not much difference one might think, but enough to have Palestinians killing each other.

Then just as the much vaunted unification deal between Fatah and Hamas was being negotiated, first by Egypt, then Saudi Arabia and latterly Qatar, the splits got worse. Hamas has been supported to the tune of millions of dollars by Shi’ite Iran, but it is in fact a Sunni Muslim terrorist organization, that in principle is an enemy of the Shi’ites. Both have been united by their common hatred of Israel. One might say, cynically, that Iran is using the Palestinians in order to gain traction in the Arab world by being the most extreme anti-Israel element in the Middle East. That’s partly because the Arab countries tried to destroy Israel and got clobbered themselves, although Iran itself has never actually fought with Israel and so has illusions.

Now Hamas in turn is split, between those who want to remain friends with Iran and its ally Syria, and those who see that as a losing proposition and want to switch their allegiance to the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, who won the recent elections in Egypt. Khaled Mashaal, Head of Hamas, has moved the international HQ of Hamas out of Damascus and into Cairo. So when Mashall was visiting Sunni Qatar, Jordan and Egypt, PM Haniyeh of Hamas visited Iran to hob-nob with Pres. Ahmedinejad. Thus there is a split within Hamas between the pro-Shia and the pro-Sunni elements.

In Gaza, under Hamas control, there are many splinter groups, one of which is Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is a wholly owned and controlled proxy of Iran. One interpretation of the recent upsurge of rocket firings from Gaza into Israel, by the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad, was that this was Iran flexing its muscles in Gaza and putting Hamas on the spot. However, the level of damage that the IAF inflicted on IJ and the PRC caused them to quickly agree to a ceasefire, with Egypt as the intermediary. So even though Hamas is a self-declared implacable enemy of Israel, nevertheless it wants to hold on to power in Gaza, and is happy to stand by while its rivals IJ and PRC get clobbered. How long will it be before the pro-Iran and anti-Iran elements in Hamas are at each others throats? If you happen to come across a pro-Palestinian in the West ask them which faction of the Palestinians they support.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paddy's Day in Israel

St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) was celebrated in Israel by the Israel-Ireland Friendship League at Murphy’s Pub in Netanya. Yes, there is a chain of Murphy’s Pubs around Israel and they provide an authentic Irish experience. Every year the Israel-Ireland Friendship League organizes a get-together and lots of Irish Jews who have made aliyah to Israel (up to 2,000) come together from Jerusalem, the north and south for the occasion. The Irish Ambassador to Israel, His Excellency Breifne O’Reilly, came and made a speech and then there was lots of Irish music, singing, dancing and Guinness, of course.

Last year there was a professional Irish dancer, an Israeli, who had won prizes in Ireland, and who has set up a dance studio in Israel. Yesterday two young women graduates of his program danced, and they were fantastic, looking around it would have been difficult to believe that you were in Israel. Personally I don’t particuarly like the Irish style of dancing, with the hands hanging passively by the side and the feet banging out a staccato rhythm. But, apparently I am in a minority considering the success and popularity of programs such as “Riverdance.” I regard these as the “Hollywoodization” of Irish dance. Nevertheless the dancers did their steps and everybody clapped in time and enjoyed themselves.

I once had this experience, I got onto a crowded underground train at Heath Row airport in London. As usual there was silence, apart from the noise of the train itself, no-one talked. The proverbial drunken Irishman got on and began haranguing the crowd, “You stuck-up Brits, if someone gave you a bottle you wouldn’t know what to do with it, probably stick it up your arse. Look at you missus, you’re a sight for sore eyes, wanna make a threesome with your hubby. Oy, you, mister, with the hat on, do you think it makes you look handsome, well it don’t” And so, on and on it went for many stations. I was standing nearby, smiling and trying to look inconspicuous, but it didn’t work. He looked me in the eye and I thought, “Oh, oh, here goes..” and he said “hey, you a Jew?” “Yes” I replied. “What do you think of these stuck up Brits?” I said “They never talk on trains, its ingrained in them.” He looked at me with his rheumy eyes and said “See that you m–f–s, here’s a Jew boy that’s got your number.”

I always think of that poor Irishman, out of his element among the staid, sober British, when I celebrate Paddy’s Day with my Irish friends in Israel.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The arc of the covenant

My paternal grandfather came from Zhitomir in the Ukraine and my maternal grandfather from Amsterdam, Holland. My parents lived in London, where I was born. My wife and I moved to Bethesda MD, and our children grew up there. Our son lives in California and our daughter in Beersheva, Israel. And now we live in Netanya, Israel. If you map it out that’s quite an arc of Jewish voyaging, a long and perilous journey from persecution to freedom, but not very unusual among Jews. Most of us derive from Eastern Europe, those who managed to leave before the Holocaust traveled to the west, as far away as possible. Some took two or three generations to get to America or Israel. Currently there are just about the same number of Jews (6 million) living in these two countries, although Israel is growing in population while the number of Jews in the US is decreasing.

I don’t know where my great-grandparents came from, but we can be sure that my ancestors on my father’s side came from around Germany (Ashkenaz), while my ancestors on my mother’s side came from Spain (Sepharad). Frankly now I don’t care that much, we have returned to our ancestral homeland and we plan to stay here. I am a true Zionist, Jewish sovereignty means more to me than Jewish religion. So when our elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invokes Israeli sovereignty to justify Israeli freedom of action in defending itself against those who brag that they are going to “wipe us off the map,” we take it serisously. And we don’t have much room for error, as the US does. If we hesitate then all could be lost. We more than hesitated over Hitler, we Jews didn’t take him seriously, we didn’t prepare for the onslaught that was to come and we paid dearly.

This time we are prepared, we are strong and more than capable of meeting the challenge. People have brought up possible difficulties, the Iranians have underground facilities that we can’t reach, our planes can’t carry heavy bunker-buster bombs, Hamas and Hizbollah will retaliate with many rockets, etc. etc. Don’t underestimate us, with or without US coordination. This is where we live and “the buck stops here.”

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Deja vue again

The thought of my daughter and her family cowering in their safety corridor in Beersheva while enemy missiles fly overhead seemed familiar to me. Then I realized why, I had the same experience when I was a kid growing up in London during the Blitz of WWII, when bombs were being dropped on us by the Germans and the buzz-bombs and doodle-bugs were flying over. How is it that history is repeating itself, when the founding of Israel was supposed to change Jewish history fundamentally?

Of course, there are many differences. In London it wasn’t only Jews who were being targeted, all of the population was in danger. But, actually Hitler had given an order to the Luftwaffe to concentrate on East London because of the preponderance of Jews living there. Luckily the British managed to trick the Germans into believing that their missiles were hitting further west (by modifying newspaper reports) and so they kept lowering the trajectory, thus saving East London and hitting the countryside in rural Kent. However, East London was decimated by the German bombing and I grew up there in the 1950s surrounded by ruins.

You may have noted the word “cowering”, not exactly correct. First, we have the Iron Dome anti-missile system that has a 90% success rate, second we have a very active IAF that has wreaked death and destruction in Gaza and third, our people no longer “cower.” We might tactically take cover, but our strategy is to protect our population (not one Israeli was killed by more than 200 missiles in the lastest round) and hit back even stronger than the enemy. They lost 22 PAlestinain terrorists most of whom were launching missiles. So Iran watch out, a few more steps towards nuclear weapons and the die is cast. We intend to break the chain, so that my greatgrandchildren will not have to take cover from anybody’s missiles.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Deja vue all over again

The massacres in Syria are a repetition of those carried out by Pres. Assad senior in 1982, when he is reputed to have killed 20,000 people. On that occasion he bombarded Hama with artillery against defenceless people, and nobody did anything. Now history is repeating itself, with Pres. Assad junior currently up to about 10,000 killed throughout Syria, but many people have been arrested and taken away and tortured and are never seen again, so the actual total number is a guess. Like father, like son, or the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. So all this was predictable when the so-called Arab Spring finally reached Syria. Let’s face it, the Assad regime and their supporters, Iran, Russia and China, do not have the greatest human rights records. They could care less whether tens of thousands are killed as long as their interests are not affected.

Another case of deja vue is the terrorists in Gaza agreeing to a ceasefire and then firing additional missiles into Israel. After the ceasefire supposedly was agreed yesterday, two Grad rockets were fired at Beersheva last night. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome system and one landed in an unpopulated area. In response, the IDF attacked two sites in Gaza, a munitions warehouse and a smuggling tunnel to Egypt in the south. Clearly this was tit-for-tat, Israel does not seek a widening conflict, and the hope is that the terrorists will adhere to the ceasefire once they have established that they don’t make ceasefires with the Zionist enemy.

It is well to remember that with all the talk about Iran and its nuclear weapons programs, as PM Netanyahu told the Knesset yesterday “Iran is in Gaza.” Islamic Jihad is a fully controlled proxy of Iran and fires missiles when ordered to by the Iranian National Guard. Hizbollah in Lebanon is also a Shiite terrorist organization that is intimately related to Iran’s policies. The possibility of a three-front war (or even four front if one includes Syria, although Syria is no state to attack Israel right now) cannot be ruled out, and Israel must prepare for it. But, it may be that Israel will decide to pre-emptively attack Hizbollah and IJ in Gaza before it needs to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear capabilities.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Who won?

There is some dispute whether or not Israel started the recent round of warfare with the Gaza terrorist groups by taking out Zuhair Qaisi, who was the Head of the Popular Resistance Committees, or whether it was one of the terrorist groups, probably Islamic Jihad that is a proxy of Iran, that was continually firing missiles into Israeli territory. Whoever started the clashes, it is clear that Israel won. The uncanny result is that although over 200 missiles were fired into Israel, approximately 50 were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, and there were no fatal Israeli casualties. On the face of it, this is miraculous, something like divine intervention. But, in this case it was not God providing the protection, it was man-made technology.

The three Iron Dome batteries that are deployed in southern Israel, one each for Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheva, work by calculating the trajectory of the incoming missile and checking to see if it is going to land in populated or unpopulated areas. If the latter then it does not fire its anti-missile missile, but if the former then it does fire. This is calculated instantaneously within milliseconds, without manual intervention. If the Iron Dome system fires, then results show that there is a greater than 90% chance that the incoming missile will be intercepted and destroyed. Wow!

WIth the effectiveness of the Iron Dome and the presence of shelters in most places and instructions from the Home Front Command closing schools and work and not allowing meetings and telling people how to protect themselves in the event of a missile nearby, then the casualty count in Israel is much lower than expected given that there are a million Israelis within rocket range of Gaza. The terrorists could use longer range missiles (greater than 40 km) but have failed to do so, maybe because they fear the reaction of the IDF if they actually hit Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Another reason for the low Israeli casualties is the efficiency of the IDF, with drones and aircraft they can hit a potetnial group of rocket launchers within seconds of detection. So even though the terrorists could in principle outnumber the abilities of the IAF, in practice they cannot do so. So the casualties in Gaza were 22 dead, all of them terrorists (plus one young boy who died later from wounds unconnected to the fighting). This uneven casualty outcome is clearly the reason why the terrorists agreed to a ceasesfire after 4 days. The ceasefire was mediated through Egypt, whose military Government is still holding power.

There are two aspects that were positive for the terrorists, they clearly brought normal life in southern Israel to a standstill during the barrages of missiles, that Israel cannot afford for a long period, and in doing so terrorized the population. Also, to fire one anti-missile missile costs $50,000, against a few hundred dollars for the missiles used by the terrorists. Nevertheless, the success of the systems mean that Israel will be deploying a fourth battery in a few weeks. Since the effectiveness of the missiles has been counteracted by the successful anti-missile system, the terrorists will have to re-think their strategy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Oscar madness

Although I pinched my nose, I watched most of the Oscar performance last week. I like Billy Crystal, but his performances are becoming increasingly unfunny. And the reactions of several Oscar winners were quite ridiculous. One of them, Octavia Spencer for The Help, cried so much she couldn't speak, didn't she rehearse winning? Others were so "off the cuff", such as Meryl Streep, that it reduced the appreciation of her professionalism. Does anything go? Enough with the list of names of relatives and colleagues, who cares? "I thank my babysitter who..."

But, the worst thing was the choices made by the Academy of Motion Pictures members. I have religiously watched almost all the contending movies (now that my son showed me how to download them), and I can say that "The Artist" did not deserve to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It is a stupid idea to make a silent b/w movie in 2012. Why go backwards, when we have so much capability available today? And it was trite, the plot a throwback to that time, it should have stayed there. It had no conceivable comparison with "The Help," "Hugo" and "The Descendants" that are pictures of substance, that had good plots and were successful each in its own way. "The Artist" was superficial and although charming for short periods, it was not even successful as a send-up of that genre.

My vote goes to "The Descendents," that shows a gripping picture of how a man played persuasively by George Clooney deals with the sudden death of his wife, and how that affects the lives of others and the future plans of a much larger community. I also liked "The Help", which although it was quite predictable (after all we know what finally happened in the South), nevertheless was a true slice of life that was as ludicrous as it was believable. Also, "Hugo" was an intriguing and cinematically beautiful movie about movies, which after all did win 5 Oscars. I also watched "Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy," which in my opinion should win an Oscar for the most boring movie ever made. How did they take such a gripping story and make it glacial?

But, why am I surprised, after all last year "The Hurt Locker," a third rate B movie about American soldiers in Iraq, won the Oscar for best picture against one of the most truly original movies of our time, namely "Avatar." Certainly Avatar's plot was simplistic (couldn't they find a better name for the ore than "Unobtainium"), but the cinematic experience was spectacular. The Academy of Motion pictures needs to move with the times and get out of its pathetic conservative rut, or I may not watch next year!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Anything's possible...

One upon a time there was a powerful Empire upon which the sun never set. When I was growing up they taught us about this at school in England. But, soon after WWII that Empire crumbled away. Once there was another Empire based on the Communist manifesto, "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." But, this pleasing dogma resulted in the deaths of millions and the Soviet Empire it spawned collapsed due to its internal contradictions and is no more. Once the Jews were a powerless and defeated people and now we have the best army in the world. At the time such outcomes seemed impossible. There are of course manifold examples of Empires and dogmas that seemed powerful and permanent at the time, but that have entered the "dustbin of history."

I am reading "In Ishmael's House:a history of the Jews under Islam" by Martin Gilbert, which for the most part is a sordid tale of how Islam mistreated, exploited and massacred the Jews, century after century. It gives little hope, given the current upswing in Islamist political power, that there could ever be a reconciliation between Islam and the Jews or the west in general. Must there be "permanent war" between us, as Trotsky envisaged between communism and democracy. But, then I came across this - in 1856 Sultan Abdul Mejid ordered the end to dhimmi status within the whole of the Ottoman Empire! That brought me up with a start, since the laws covering dhimmi status had existed since the 9th century from the time of the third Caliph Omar, who decreed that Jews and Christians were a special category of infidel (kaffir) who were the "people of the books" (Old and New Testaments, that are considered sacred to Muslims, although far below the Koran) and their status was "protected" from murder or forced conversion. For this special status they were required to pay a special tax, the jizya, that was determined by the local Muslim ruler and was not required to be paid by Muslims.

This dhimmi status was equivalent to a permanent degraded position, in which Jews especially (Christians had the Christian "Franks" and others to protect them) were at the mercy of the Muslim ruler or the Muslim mob. If the local Muslim ruler decided not to protect the Jews, then they were subject to the whims of the Muslims, either being robbed, murdered or massacred. But, the only exception I have ever heard of in regard to this degrading treatment was this decree of Sultan Mejid suspending the dhimmi status of the Jews (his successor reinstated it). Until now, I regarded the dhimmi status as being completely contradictory to any possibility of democracy in a Muslim country, since all non-Muslims are either infidels or dhimmis, and could not be considered equivalent to Muslims, whereas in democracy on the contrary minority status is protected. But, if dhimmi status can be suspended, then there is the possibility that a Muslim country could become fully democratic. However, this is only a theoretical possibility, we await the practical outcome. If the British Empire and the Soviet Union could collapse, if the Arab dictators could be swept away, then any kind of change is feasible.

The dhimmi status for Jews under Islam was equivalent to the protected status that Jews had under local rulers throughout Christian Europe. But, this only lasted while the local rulers held power, once they were swept away by revolutions, whatever theroretical rights Jews were granted in the national states that arose, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, etc.there was noone to protect the Jews from the local mobs. So you had more extreme persecution throughout Europe, especially in Germany, that led to the Holocaust of WWII. This is equivalent to the loss of strong Arab rulers like Mubarak in Egypt, who protected the peace treaty wth Israel. Now that the "mob" is in charge in N. Africa, then the Jews once again become the scapegoat for all their wrongs. We probably have to go through another period of wars and struggle, before the Arab/Muslim nations become secular and democratic and accept Israel and the Jews as they are. At least it is theoretically possible that a Muslim nation state could decree that dhimmi status of Jews and Christians is eradicated. But, this will only happen when women have equal rghts to men and that is not on the horizon either.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Escalation in Gaza

On Friday, three rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. This is a daily occurrence, so nothing surprising, such events are not even reported in the international media. But, this time three Thai workers were injured. Israel responded by attacking Gaza from the air and killing three Palestinian terrorists. This was pin-point accuracy, since one of those killed was Zuhair Qaisi, the Head of the so-called Popular Resistance Committees, and his son-in-law Ahmed Hanini, who were on a motor bike. The PRC are groups of local terrorists who supposedly act independently, but have ties to Hamas. Qaisi was responsible for the attack in the Negev a few months ago that killed 8 Israelis and he was reported to be planning another big operation there. His death infuriated the PRC and they and other groups unleashed a salvo of rockets into Israel, until now over 140 in the current wave (is this worth reporting?) with an additional 40 intercepted by the anti-missile Iron Dome system that protects southern Israel. The IAF responded with further air attacks, hitting at least two rocket teams which were about to launch, killing several of them. So far the casualties are 10 Israeli civilians injured, some seriously, 12 Palestinian terrorists dead and 20 injured. The low Israeli injury count is due to partly to the measures that the Israeli Home Front command has taken to ensure shelters and protection for the civilian population.

Both Hamas in Gaza and the PA blamed Israel for the escalation and warned that there would be further "revenge" attacks on Israel. The Egyptian Government also blamed Israel, but is trying to mediate a ceasefire. Although this is a very unfortunate situation, it was a clash waiting to happen. Ever since Operation Cast Lead in 2008, there have been on and off clashes along the Gaza border, with the Palestinian terrorists arrogating to themselves the right to fire rockets into Israel whenever they choose. This situation is unstable and cannot be allowed to continue. Some think that Israel did not go far enough and use the advantage it gained in Cast Lead to finish off the den of terrorists in Gaza. However, another large clash is almost inevitable.

There are two unknown factors, to what extent Hamas would be prepared to attack Israel should Israel decide to strike Iran to destroy its nuclear capabilities. There have been statements made on both sides of this issue from Hamas leaders in Gaza and elsewhere that either Hamas would support Iran or that it would not! It might be that Israel would take this opportunity to weaken Hamas so that it could not make a "second front" in Gaza while Israel is focussing on Iran. Also, Egypt has tacitly shown support for Hamas, now that it has a nominal Muslim Brotherhood Government in the offing. This could theoretically lead to a military clash between Israel and Egypt, even though there is the long-standing peace treaty between the two countries. While these two outcomes are unlikely, nevertheless the possibility of a larger clash between the IDF and Hamas in Gaza seems inevitable.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Who you gonna trust?

Suppose that you are Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu, meeting with Pres. Barack Obama in the White House and Obama says to you: "OK, Bibi, I agree that you can threaten Iran as much as you like, but don't actually attack Iran before the election in November, or preferably before the inauguration in January 2013. I give you my word that if you feel it necesary to actually attack Iran after those dates, I will fully support you with all the might of the USA. But, if you attack before November, before the results are in, you will give the election to the Republicans and then I will regretfully have to oppose you. How would you like it if Israel is blamed for my defeat, the first black, democratic President the US has had. It will embitter my followers and cause bad feelings between our two countries. But, if you are patient and can wait until I am re-elected, then I will give you all the support you need." That my friends is the issue in a nutshell. Should Bibi order the IDF to attack the Iranian nuclear and other facilities as soon as he feels that the threat to Israel is imminent, i.e. before the "zone of immunity" is reached. Or should he wait, even endangering Israel, because the US President has asked him to.

The trouble with this scenario is that the President does not seem to have any concern for the actual danger to Israel. He doesn't say "if it is essential for Israel to attack Iran to ensure its survival because of the evidence of nuclear weapons development, then we will be with you." Or, "we will attack Iran as soon as it becomes clear that the sanctions are not working." No, he says "Let's wait and see what happens, let's wait and see if the sanctions work, and then we'll decide what to do." In other words, his political calculations are more important than Israel's survival! Fortunately, Bibi doesn't have to play it that way, whatever the consequences. We Israelis trust that Bibi will in fact act when it is essential, once the point of no return in the development of nuclear weapons by Iran is reached, not a minute sooner nor later!

Obama is a great speaker, he has more charisma than any of the potential Republican opponents, but he exhibits no warmth towards Israel. His speech at AIPAC was a great speech for Obama, given his actual previous actions towards Israel, but can he be believed. I am sure that Pres. Lyndon Johnson was sincere when he said to Israel in 1967 in effect, "if you have to open the Straits of Tiran, we've got your back!" He promised to send an international flotilla to open the Straits, but all he sent were two ships. Luckily Israel did not depend on him. Pres. George W. Bush wrote Israel a letter committing the US to accepting the need to change the borders with a putative PA state from the pre-1967 ceasefire lines, but Pres. Obama simply negated that letter. So who you gonna trust? Noone but yourself! Or as the IRA say "Sinn Fein," "ourselves alone!"

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Colonialism and anti-colonialism

Once upon a time there was colonialism, and now there is anti-colonialism. But, this is a deception, since no country and no place in the world is guaranteed to any particular group of people. For example, S. America was inhabited by many native tribes. Then the Spanish and Portuguese came along and with the Pope's consent in the treaty of Tordesillas in 1493 divided the continent into two. Portugal got Brazil and the Spanish got the rest, that was further divided into 12 countries (Argentina, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, etc.) Who gave them the right to do this? Noone, it was just power. Now Argentina claims the Falkland Islands, that they call the Malvinas, because they claim that Britain is a colonial power. But, Argentina itself is a colonial power (there are no Indians in Argentina they were all wiped out), and since the large majority of the inhabitants of the Falklands are British and don't want to be part of Argentina, then they should not be colonized by Argentina. Why should proximity be the deciding factor?

There is Gibralter, that has been owned and settled by the British for 300 years. In principle it belonged to noone, except for those who could capture it and hold it. Thus the Gibraltarians do not want to be part of Spain. That is anti-colonialism. All over Europe the many different language groups or tribes, French, German, Hungarian, Czech, Romanian, etc have had border disputes. By what right does any one of them have a greater claim to any piece of land between them. Alsace preferred to be French, even though German speaking, and French it became. The outcome was decided by wars and peace treaties.

Similarly, the Jews were undoubtedly in the Holy Land a thousand years before the Arabs came along and conquered it in 638 ce. Now suddenly it became part of the Islamic Empire that they spread by "the sword." If the Arabs went back to where they came from, to Arabia, that would simplify matters very much. But, having been here for hundreds of years they claim autonomy, the Palestinian Arabs claim the right to a State!. Why is it OK if they claim autonomy and not the Jews? The fact is that in international relations, the final deciding factor is not the Bible or dubious claims of ownership, but the ability to hang on to what you claim. Israel has a very legitimate claim, more than any other, but if she could not keep it against all comers, then there would be little point to the claim. Possession and the ability to defend it successfully are really what matter in international relations. That is what leads to the recognition of sovereignty. Why else is the US on the Pacific coast? Thanks to Lewis and Clark and the Gold rush. Why else is Russia in SIberia? Why else is England in Wales, Scotland and Ireland? Why else are the Arabs in N. Africa? Let them all go back to where they came from and leave us alone.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Big Two

Remember after WWII we had the Big Three, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill. Thay sat around and divided the world up between them. Now we have the Big Two, Obama and Netanyahu. Things have changed, local autonomy and independence have made a mockery of the plans of even the most powerful men. When Obama came to office as President he decided to go to Cairo and make a speech basically telling the Muslim world that the US and the west were not their enemy. Then there were the insurrections, mostly against pro-American dictators, and now we have the "Arab winter", in which Islamists have taken control of several Arab countries. The result is a tremendous wave of anti-Americanism, one example of which is the disgusting toppling and destruction of the graves of British servicemen (Christians and Jews, many of them "Palestinians") in Benghazi, Libya, who fought bravely to liberate N. Africa from the Nazis and Rommel's Afrika Corps. We see that the Arabs who supported the Germans have now come to the fore again, full circle.

So Obama is re-evaluating. Instead of selling Israel out, at least while the election campaign lasts, he is talking tough, as he did at AIPAC. He will keep the military option on the table against Iran. So who are the two deciding the fate of the world, the US and Israel! Clearly with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US is the only super-power, whatever Putin wishes, Russia is no super-power. And Israel is clearly the strongest military power in the Middle East. If the two countries decide to cooperate, there is no power that can stand against them, certainly not Iran. Let me remind the reader that Iran has not yet developed nuclear weapons, nor the missile capability to deliver them. So if Iran is not deterred by the sanctions and the threats, which it will not be since its rulers are megalomaniacal fundamentalists who think that Allah is on their side, then there must surely be a reckoning, and Israel and the US will show that they will not tolerate this kind of military blackmail.

The differences between Obama and Netanyahu are nuanced. Netanyahu wants it understood overtly that Israel is ready to attack should it be necessary. Obama, wants it understood that the US will not take leadership from Israel and will only activate its plans if, all other things being equal, there is no other choice. So it is a matter of interpretation, but they are on the same page, even if not on the same line. The powers that be have spoken, and the world must take note.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Lesser known heroes of Jewish history

Recently we presented a series of lectures at AACI Netanya on “Street people,” famous people who have streets named after them in Israel. This series was popular and informative, but I felt that we had excluded a whole group of people, those Jews and others who had played an important, even a heroic, role in Jewish history, but are relatively unknown, or even obscure. I have collected a list of such people, but space constrains me to choose a small number of them. Among the most deserving I have chosen five, all of whom merit attention.

· Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918) was a British Jewish poet of WWI. He was born poor in Bristol and went to London to become an artist. A chance meeting at the National Gallery resulted in an older lady paying for his art courses at the Slade School. His life was short and seemingly simple. He made a trip to S. Africa and while he was there WWI was declared. He returned to London, enlisted in the British Army in 1914 and was killed fighting in the trenches in 1918 at the age of 28. Throughout his short life he wrote poetry, and it is for this that he has belatedly become famous, after a gap of over 60 years. He wrote a series of "poems from the trenches," that in their "fierce immediacy" have resulted in experts on WWI poets such as Jon Silkin (see "Poetry of the First World War") to declare him perhaps the greatest of them all. Here is one example, a wonderful metaphor for a bullet from "Dead Man's Dump"

"Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
Where the swift iron burning bee
Drained the wild honey of their youth."

Why was Rosenberg ignored for so long? Because he was Jewish in WWI England, because he was poor, because he was a private when the other famous poets, Wilfrid Owen, Siegfied Sasoon, etc., were officers, and because he died young. Although he died in obscurity, he is now acknowledged as a great poet and there is a plaque recognizing him on the wall outside the Whitechapel Library in East London where he worked.

· Shmuel Ziegelboim (1895-1943) was the Jewish representative to the Polish Government in exile in London in WWII. He tried desperately, but in vain, to try to awake public opinion to the atrocities being conducted against Polish Jewry by the Nazis. When the news arrived of the extermination of the Warsaw Ghetto, Ziegelboim committed suicide outside the Houses of Parliament in London on May 12, 1943, in protest at the passivity with which the world was permitting the Nazis to destroy the Jews of Europe. Before his death he wrote a letter to the President of Poland, he wrote "I cannot live while the remnants of the Jewish people in Poland, whose representative I am, are being exterminated." For his heroic, doomed act Shmuel Ziegelboim should be honored and remembered.

· Sir Solly Zuckerman (1904-1993) (later Baron Zuckerman) was born in S. Africa and became interested in biology. For a Master's Thesis he studied the baboons that have colonies on separate hillocks on the veldt. He went to England in 1926 and was befriended by several rich and well-connected Jewish families. He did his PhD on baboons at Oxford. In the 1930s the British War Ministry was desperate to obtain scientific data on the effects of shells and bombs on soldiers, their own and the enemy. They put out a request for proposals, to which Zuckerman submitted a proposal to carry out experiments on baboons, and he received the grant. He went out to S. Africa and in secrecy carried out the necessary work. He found that it was the blast from the explosion that was most effective in killing.
When the War came be was appointed the Head of a new Bombing Survey Unit, and his research showed that US bombs killed more enemy than the British ones, that he attributed to a difference in the detonator timing, hence resulting in changes to the British munitions. He became an aide to Air Chief Marshal Tedder and in this capacity was asked to determine what would be the most vulnerable targets for the air force in defending the landings on D-Day. Of all the possibilities he concluded that it was the railway engines that were most vulnerable, and it was these that were the main targets for RAF pilots in France. In this context he was probably responsible for the deaths of more German soldiers than any other Jew during WWII.
After the War he held several civilian positions concurrently; he was Head of the Anatomy Department at Birmingham University, he became the Secretary of the Royal Zoological Society and was in charge of the London Zoo, and he was appointed the Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government (1964-71). He became the most powerful scientist in the UK, advising the British Government on topics from environmental protection to atomic bomb policy. Although he cut his ties to his family in S. Africa he never denied his Jewishness and was universally known as "Sir Solly."

· Richard Meinertzhagen (1878-1967), a non-Jew, was born in England to a German father and British mother. He chose a military career and was trained as an intelligence officer (spy). He was first sent to East Africa to help put down an uprising. He invited the chief of the restive tribes to a meeting, and when he was not satisfied with his response, he shot him dead. This resulted in more rioting, and so he was recalled to Britain. During WWI he was a Colonel in the British Army on the staff of Gen. Allenby in Egypt. In his memoirs he descried a "ruse" that he was involved in, of dropping a satchel near the Turkish lines to convince them that the British would attack again at Gaza, where the Turks were well dug in, rather than the risky attack across the desert to Beersheva. When this was successful, the Turks were outflanked at Gaza and were forced to withdraw.
Because the Versailles Conference after WWI was for countries, the Arabs and Jews could not be represented directly, but were represented by British officers, Col. T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") for the Arabs, and Col. Richard Meinertzhagen for the Jews. As the representative of the Zionist interests at the Conference, Meinertzhagen played a very crucial role in helping to defend the rights of the Zionists. For this he was greatly thanked and appreciated by Chaim Weizmann, who was Chief of the Zionist delegation. After WWI, Meinertzhagen was the representative of the British Foreign Office in Palestine,and from his letters and reports we know a great deal of what happened during the Mandate period.
Meinertzhagen was an avid bird watcher and collector and had one of the greatest collections of bird artifacts in the world. But, he was found to have stolen items from the collections of others to enhance his own collection, and as well as having a violent streak, he was proved to be a self-serving liar. Nevertheless, he played a crucial role in the history of the Zionist enterprise.

· Zvika Greengold (1952- ) was born in Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot and was training to be an IDF tank commander at age 21 when the Yom Kippur war broke out in 1973. Since he had not been assigned to a unit he hitch-hiked to the Golan Heights front and there he commandeered a repaired tank and with two other loners, he set out towards the front. Because he had no correct designation the communications network called him "Force Zvika." His tank was hit and he was injured, but he changed tanks and continued, something he did four times during the following day. He was a lone tank and when he crested a hill he saw a huge column of tanks coming towards him, estimated at 150 Syrian tanks. They all had their lights on, presumably because they had recconoitered the area and found no opposition. Zvika began shooting down on them and then moved his position and shot again and continued doing this for hours, until the valley was blocked by burning tanks, and the rest of the tanks either retreated or were left by their crew. Zvika single-handedly destroyed 40 Syrian tanks and saved the Golan Heights from being overrun and saved Israel from a Syrian invasion. He fought for 20 hours and when reinforcements eventually arrived he collapsed and was taken to hospital. For his heroism he was given Israel's highest military award. Zvika was a child of Holocaust survivors and said that he felt they had survived so that he could be there to fight for and save Israel.

These then are some selected men who are generally unknown, but deserve greater appreciation and recognition for their contributions to Jewish history.

Friday, March 02, 2012

How changes in the Arab world affect Israel

On Sunday Feb 19 we had a talk at AACI Netanya by Dr. Jonathan Spyer, the well-known commentator and analyst of the MIddle East from the IDC in Herzliya, on "the effect of the current changes in the Arab world on Israel." As usual he spoke coherently for 45 mins without notes and was most interesting and authoritative. This is my recollected summary

Two main points that came out of his talk were that Pres. Assad of Syria is not finished yet and continues to have staying power with the loyalty of the Alawites as well as the majority of the Army. Also, that the Palestinians are so split and Pres. Abbas so ineffectual that the likelihood of any "peace process" having any chance of success is minimal.

He suggested that instead of viewing Egypt and the other Arab States as powerful enemies of Israel, we regard them as "failed states." Egypt is in a bind, it cannot feed its people without foreign aid, particularly the b$1.3 that it receives annually from the USA, and yet its predominant political tendency is Islamist, as the outcome of the elections show, with about 60% of the votes going to the Moslem Brotherhood and another 20% to the even more extremist al Noor Salafist Party. These parties are anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israel, and it will be a stretch for them to continue to accept US aid and to continue to adhere to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, that was negotiated by Anwar Sadat and continued by his successor Hosni Mubarak. The current trial of NGO activists including some US citizens, 9 of whom have taken refuge in the US Embassy, is a harbinger of things to come. Egypt is in such a hole economically and the Egyptian Army is still so powerful, that they are more likely to have internal clashes than to be a threat to Israel. Similarly with Syria, there is no chance of an early resolution, particularly since the opposition Free Syrian Army has no heavy weapons and there is such bitterness between the Sunni majority and the ruling Alawis, who are pro-Iranian, that there can be no peaceful resolution. In effect, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians are failed "states," torn by internal strife and with no effective governments and hence no direct threat to Israel. However, one might expect an increase in terrorism in the long run. In the Arab world only Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are functional, and they fear Iran more than they fear Israel. They are the countries now talking about arming the Syrian opposition. In fact, with Turkey, they are in effect fighting a proxy war against Iran in Syria.

With regard to the Iranian nuclear threat, there is a saying, that those who intend to do something don't boast about it, those who don't boast about it are the ones to worry about. In other words, because both PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Edud Barak are constantly harping on the need to keep the military option "on the table," they should not be taken at their word. This is largely a bluff to keep the Iranian threat in the headlines. Also, in Iran there is a competition for power and Pres. Ahmedinejad uses the threat of a nuclear weapon and the Palestinian cause to score points against his rivals for power. Israel cannot take risks and does have the capability to inflict heavy damage on the Iranian nuclear facilties, and maybe set them back for ten years. But, there could be unanticpated consequences of such a major strike. The problem is that the US is in an election campaign, and Pres. Obama, having withdrawn the US from Iraq and reduced the commitment in Afghanistan, will be strongly against any foreign "adventure" regarding Iran during his term. The US will strongly try to restrain Israel, and so Israel is talking big, but actually for the past 1.5 years has done little, and is unlikely to do anything major until after the US election results and the inauguration of the next President in January 2013.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Origins of Jewish practices

Dr,. Stefan Reif, Head of the unit for research into the Cairo genizah documents at Cambridge University gave a talk on Feb 15 in the AACI-Netanya Academic College series that I organize. The title was "Synagogue customs in Eretz Yisrael and Babylonia a millennium ago," based on the findings from the genizah documents. Stefan Reif is a lively and extremely well-informed lecturer and it was a pleasure to hear his exposition of this complex subject. This is my summary of his talk.

In general terms we know very little of Jewish ritual practices about a thousand years ago. What we do know is that there were major Jewish population centers in Eretz Yisrael, Egypt and Babylonia (now Iraq). Jews were first exiled there on the fall of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 bce and more joined them to escape the later Roman conquests. What the documents show is that the Babylonian center of Judaic studies and practices became far larger, more organized and centralized than anywhere else. We know that the Babylonian Talmud, that had been written down from oral practices and law over the previous centuries, was far larger, more extensive in subject matter and better edited than the "rival" Jerusalem Talmud. In fact, from the genizah documents it is clear that most questions and requests for rulings were sent to Babylonian sages rather than to those in Eretz Yisrael. In Babylonia, the yeshivot (religious schools) in Pumbedita and Shushan were far more prestigious for Judaic studes than any in Eretz Yisrael. This must be partly attributed to the long time period over which the Jews of Babylonia were allowed to practice their religion undisturbed for centuries and the concomitant greater affluence of this Jewish community. The basis of teaching Judaism from the Babylonian Talmud became over time the standard for all Yeshivot.

Jewish practice was oral and traditional until about the 8th century. It was only then that the two Talmuds began to be compiled. In Eretz Yisrael there were different groups of Rabbis and scholars without centralization and as a consequence the Jerusalem Talmud is quite inconsistent in parts and was hardly edited so it is very difficult to read and study. By contrast the Babylonian Talmud was much more coherent and edited and became the basis for Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi (Eastern) Jewish practices, and in fact gave them a common origin. In 1211 a trust deed was signed by a group of rabbis from Eretz Yisrael that sought to establish their authority, but it was their last gasp. By 1260, a son of Maimonides wrote a letter in Aramiac testifying to the fact that in Egypt the Babylonian Talmud was accepted as the authoritative version. As a result through the centuries the Jerusalem Talmud has mainly been regarded as archaic.

One interesting facet that Stefan mentioned is that the Babylonian Talmud is written mainly in Aramaic (The Talmud is the commentaries, but the original Torah was written in Hebrew), but in eastern Aramaic as spoken in Babylonia, while the Jerusalem Talmud is written in western Aramaic as spoken in Eretz Yisrael. This has led to some mistranslations by Biblical scholars who are unaware of the subtle differences. Perhaps the only group of Jews whose practices derived from Eretz Yisrael were the Romaniote Jews, who were largely contained within the Roman Empire. However, depredations over the centuries followed by the Holocaust, has largely decimated this community. All major Jewish groups in the world adhere to the Babylonian traditions.