Sunday, March 31, 2013

Obama's visit

Looking back on Pres. Obama's visit here last week, he delivered many kind words of support for Israel, particularly in relation to the threat from Iran  He has really changed the dynamics of what we perceived as his former lack of feeling towards Israel.  But, let's face it, if he wanted to visit the Middle East, where else could he go?  Not Egypt again, things have changed drastically there since his first term, certainly not Syria engaged in a vicious civil war, nor Lebanon increasingly involved in the Syrian conflcit, only Jordan, and even there the signs of instability are showing.  Israel is the only stable democracy in the Middle East that a US President could visit safely, and he acknowledged that by his visit.
He connected Israel with its ancient past by visiting the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum and with its more recent Zionist history by visiting the grave of Theodor Herzl.  But, in his speech to the selected student audience he made what I regard as several errors: 1. Israel does not "occupy" the West Bank; the territories of Judea and Samaria are an integral part of the Land of Israel as envisaged under the San Remo Treaty of 1920 and have never been under recognized Palestinian or Arab sovereignty, Israel is there by right; 2. Obama claimed that Pres. Abbas and PM Fayyad are "partners for peace" with Israel.  But, he failed to acknowledge that their current tenure is illegal, since there has been no election in the PA for 6 years and the split with Gaza makes them unable to negotiate with Israel on behalf of all Palestinians; 3. By insisting in his first term that Israel stop building in the West Bank, he has given Pres. Abbas a precondition that he will never abandon as a means to avoid actually negotiating with Israel. 
These facts make Pres. Obama's mantra of "the two-state solution" questionable at best.  In history, circumstances change and alternatives reveal themselves. Hamas may take over the West Bank and result in further hostilities with Israel that could have unintended consequences; Jordan may collapse as a Hashemite Kingdom and become a predominantly Palestinian State; Syria may become a  launching pad for attacks against Israel by Islamists with yet more hostility in the future; Hizbollah may over-reach itself.  In the fulness of time a resolution of the situation will occur, but the "two-state solution" is a non-starter for the foreseeable future.  It is better to have a more flexible approach to foreign policy than to commit oneself to one unlikely outcome. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Friends again!

One positive outcome of Pres. Obama's visit to Israel was the renewal of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey.  Just before leaving the tarmac of Ben Gurion airport, Obama presided over a call from PM Netanyahu to Pres. Erdogan in which Bibi apologized to Turkey for the loss of life on the Mavi Marmara and for any mistakes that Israel had made during the incident.  Of course, we all know that the IDF action was justified both in terms of the naval blockade of Gaza and in the reaction to the violent attack by dozens of Islamist extremists on our paratroopers.  The pictures of them hitting the IDF soldiers with iron bars will forever stick in our minds and the defensive reaction of the troops was entirely justified.  Yet, in order to palliate Turkey and renew the friendly relations it was necessary for Bibi to swallow his pride and make the apology.  It was accepted by Erdogan and now we are friends again.
However, although Bibi satisified two out of three requirements by Erdogan, namely he apologized and agreed to pay compensation to all injured Turkish parties, he has lifted some of the restrictions on Gaza, but not the actual naval blockade that Erdogan wanted, which is justified under international law.  In return, Turkey agreed to drop all legal actions against the IDF and to renew military cooperation.  This was the aim of Obama, who saw that given the threat from their mutual neighbor Syria, it was necessary that both US allies coordinate their actions.   
Unfortunately Erdogan has made several incendiary anti-Semitic statements in the interim, including recently calling Zionism a "crime against humanity," and equating Zionism with Nazism, so that it will be difficult for any Israeli leader to fully trust him.  He is a died-in-the-wool Islamist for whom the Palestinians can do no wrong and the Israelis can do no good.  But, circumstances may have made him reconsider; first Turkey's nemesis the Kurds, and particularly their leader Abdullah Ocalan, have announced a ceasefire with the Turkish military and the situation in Syria is bordering on military intervention.  Under these circumstances it is best for Turkey to have a friend in Israel, so that any military actions by Turkey, Israel and the US and its Western allies in Syria can be coordinated.   
Turkey is also involved in the Iranian nuclear issue.  Remember that Turkey and Iran were for centuries rivals in their attempts to control the Arab hinterland that lies between them.  Turkey of course won the competition and its Empire incorporating most of the Arab world lasted for 800 years.  Yet, Iran, as Persia, looked back on a glorious tradition of control of the region, before the advent of Islam.  Now it is unacceptable for the predominantly Sunni Arabs to be dominated by Shia Iran, and Turkey sees itself as a champion of the Sunni Arabs.  To also coordinate potential military action against Iran is is important that Israel, Turkey and the US be on the same page.  2013 may be the year of destiny in the Middle East, and it is good that Israel and Turkey will be on the same side.
PS. Happy Pesach to all my readers.  There will be a break in e-mails for a few days.

Friday, March 22, 2013

With a strong arm...

The visit of Pres. Obama to Israel got off to a fine start. Amid all the paegentry and effusive welcome there was some very significant symbolism.  First, the fact that he chose to visit Israel as the first foreign visit of his second term indicates strong support for Israel during the current crisis of the development by Iran of nuclear weapons and the instability and chaos in the Arab world, including Egypt and Syria, two of Israel's major Arab neighbors.  Such a visit and his statements of support must carry weight with Iranians and Muslim Brothers and other Islamists who think once they have taken over, or are intending to, that they can then turn their sights on Israel.  The strong arm of American power has been visibly extended to Israel.
The fact that immediately after arriving Obama chose to visit with the crew of an American-supported Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile system was crucial to the symbolism of America's commitment to Israel's defense.  Israel is the first country on earth to be defended against missiles by an effective anti-missile system.  This played a crucial role in the 2011 Operation Pillar of Defense against the terrorist threat from Gaza and renders impotent most missile attacks against the Jewish State.  Obama stated categorically that Israel has the right to defend itself against any threat and PM Netanyahu emphasized that Israel will use this right alone if necessary, even without its best friend the USA.
Obama also visited the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum that document the indissoluble link between the Jewish people and this land, where they exercised sovereignty over 3,000 years ago, a fact unique in history and certainly long before the Arabs came on the scene in ca. 700 ce.  Most commentators agree that in doing this Obama is trying to make up for the incredible mis-statement in his Cairo speech of 2001 when he attributed Israel's independence solely to the response to the Holocaust (Shoah).  By drawing attention to the linkage between Israel's ancient history and today he is undermining the current delegitimization campaign that is being conducted in the West mostly by misguided liberals. 
While Iran is undoubtedly the primary subject of the discussions between Obama and PM Netanyahu, with Syria a close second, Obama also spoke about the need for a "two state solution."  While some of us are highly sceptical of any Palestinian intention or capability to engage in meangingful negotiations, nevertheless, both Pres. Peres and PM Netanyahu committed Israel to a peaceful two state solution.  Pres. Obama visited Ramallah where he met with Pres. Abbas and engaged in discussions regarding future negotiations.  He spoke out against any precondisitons to talks, yet he himself was responsible in his first term for the Palestinian leader using a building moratorium on the West Bank as an excuse and precondition to avoid actual negotiations.  Now is their opportunity, if the Palestinains don't take it, then the new Government of Israel, with Bayit Yehudi a major Coalition partner, will undoubtledly expand settlement building in the West Bank.
In his speech to the students at the Jerusalem Convention Center, Obama was characteristically articulate and spoke of America's unrelenting committment to supporting Israel.  No Israeli could have expected more effusive support.  But, then he broke into his typcial liberal's wishful thinking of equating the two sides in his paean to the "two-state solution."  He obviously thinks that is the only viable solution and he regards the Palestinians as being roughty the same as Israel, and they are not.  This is not a symmetrical conflict, Israel is a viable thriving democracy and the Palestinians are a divided autocratic violent society.  He was naieve in touting Pres. Abbas and PM Fayyad as "partners for peace" and he still considers all Israeli settlements as impediments to peace, while in fact Israel's presence in the West Bank is not an "occupation" but it is in fact our right to be in that land.
Hopefully the two democracies will coordinate their plans for potential action against Iran, depending on its progress towards nuclearization.  Even if there were "frosty" relations between the two leaders before, hopefully that phase is now over and they will act together in the mutual interests of the two allies.  It seems that Obama's first term was his "Muslim phase" when he tried to curry favor with the Muslim world and bypassed Israel on his visit to the Middle East then. Perhaps he has learnt something since then, that the Muslim world is unstable and cannot be trusted, and his second term is now his "Israel phase" in which the alliance between the USA, the greatest power in the world, and Israel, the greatest power in the Middle East, is the fulcrum of his foreign policy.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Limerick "pogrom"

Ireland has never had more than 5,000 Jews out of a total population of ca. 5 million.  And Jews generally have been well treated there and have flourished.  Yet, even in Ireland there has been Catholic-inspired anti-Semitism, and there was one incident of an actual outburst of violent anti-Semitism that has earned the title of The "Limerick pogrom" of 1904.

Jeremy Maissel of Israel Seminars told the story of his grandparents' wedding in Limerick that featured in this story.  A journalist for the Limerick newspaper was invited to be present to report on the then exotic event of Jews getting married.   At that time there were barely 35 families of Jews in Limerick, all bunched together in a poor part of town and all of them came from the same area of Lithuania.  Most of the Jews were peddlers or small shop owners.  The reporter duly wrote a very sympathetic article describing the marriage and the strange rituals involved as well as the Jewish community and their small synagogue.

Quite independently of this wedding, a few days later a Father John Creagh delivered a sermon to two gatherings of his parishioners, at the Redemptorist Church in Limerick, with a membership of about 6,000 people out of a total population of 40,000 in Limerick.  This sermon was virulently anti-Semitic, in which he blamed the Jews as blood-suckers taking the money from poor Christians, and he quoted selectively from the newspaper article to the effect that the Jews were rich and living very well while poor Christians were being exploited.  After the second sermon the crowd passed through the street where most of the Jews lived and attacked some of them, stones were thrown; the Jews were insulted and assaulted and they were hindered as they went around selling and collecting payments.  It was a "pogrom" although without the intense fury and killing familiar to the Jews from their European homeland, no Jew was killed.

What prompted Father Creagh to give such a sermon, that was relatively unusual in Ireland?  One theory is that the local storeowners were suffering from the competition of the Jews, who not only undercut their prices but also allowed the poor to pay off in installments, that was not practiced by the Irish store owners.  Whatever the reasons, Father Creagh's sermon was then duly printed in several local papers, without editorial comment, and in it he called for a boycott of the Jewish stores, but he also spoke out against violence.  A boycott of the Jews then resulted and lasted for over 2 years; it ruined some Jewish peddlers and store owners and caused about 80 Jews to leave Limerick.  Some moved to Cork, England, South Africa and even Australia.  Other Jews, particularly the peddlers who worked in the surrounding countryside stayed, because the poor outside the city were less affected by this boycott and remained loyal customers.  Some families stayed in Limerick for a very long time and their descendants only recently moved to Israel.  They report that apart from this one event there were never any other anti-Semitic incidents in Limerick.

There are several points to note in relation to this incident: 1. The sectarian violence between the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland was far greater than what happened to the Jews in Limerick and it was in fact a relatively minor incident; 2. At that time Ireland was British and since most of the governing people, including the police, were Protestants, perhaps they tended to be more sympathetic to the Jews than to the Catholics;  3.  Being part of Britain, the events were described in The Times of London and other newspapers, leading to a wave of sympathy for the Jews of Limerick, that resulted in Government action (Winston Churchill happened to be Minister of the Home Office at that time);  4.  Father Creagh was not part of the official Irish Catholic Church, but from the Redemptorist Church, not under the jurisdiction of the mainstream Catholic Church, who had no responsibility for the incident and no other incidents occurred in their Churches throughout Ireland. 

So what was a minor incident in the history of the Jews of Ireland became a temporary stain on Irish-Jewish relations. A similar incident made its way into James Joyce's "Ulysses" in which Leopold Bloom (who was half-Jewish) is lambasted by an anti-Semitic drunk in similar terms to those used by Father Creagh.  Later Father Creagh moved to New Zealand and never returned to Ireland.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Consequences of belief

To some extent I must admit that I feel superior to those believers who go to synagogue or church every weekend and pray to a God that does not exist.  They evade reality and are mired in ancient misconceptions and rationalizations.  No doubt they feel the same towards me, the white elephant in the room, so much easier to ignore and continue as before.
I have said previously that the religious underestimate the intellectual basis of non-belief in a god. It's true that they have more words (the various bibles) and more ancient words, but that's not what counts.  What counts is what makes sense, what is believable.  No group prayed more than the Jews for divine intervention on their side, but what did they get, the Holocaust.  It was the actions of non-believing Jews who were prepared to fight that brought about the existence of the Jewish State that ensured our survival, while most believers were against it.
Even though I am not a believer I enjoy participating in the Jewish holidays, they are our culture.  And Judiasm is more a religion of practice than belief, contrary to Christianity and Islam.  So I am in good company.  It is not chance that the secular Zionists who established Israel showed great tolerance for the religious beliefs of their fellow Jews.  But, recently this has been taken to excess, with haredi political parties enjoying great influence, preventing haredi youth being drafted into national service and obtaining special dispensation for their school systems.  The election of Yesh Atid which is avowedly secular, and the subsequent exclusion of the haredi parties from the Coalition Government has laid the basis for a change in Israeli culture.  Although the Jewish religion will be respectred, all Jews must be treated equally as regards national service and the educational core of their school programs.  This will go a long way to make Israel a more equitable society.
The changes that are anticipated will have significant effects on a minority of people who deserve to be treated with great respect.  I am referring to those individuals who wish to convert to Judaism or who regard themselves as Jews by right but have not been accepted or recognized by the Jewish rabbinical establishment.  The process of conversion or acceptance as Jews had been taken over by the most conservative of ultra-orthodox rabbis,  making life impossible for some. Some were even given orthodox conversions in the diaspora that were not recognized in Israel.  And this led to people being refused Israeli citizenship under the law of return because the Ministry of the Interior deferred to the Rabbinate.  It is about time this process was under Israeli civilian control and who becomes a citizen should be based on rational choices not narrow religious ones.  We hope these changes under the control of Bayit Yehudi will come about under the new Government and soon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Diversity and conformity

We went to the last in the series of lectures by Gabriella Liscko, who spoke about the many different kinds of dati leumi (national religious) groups.  It occured to me that the Jewish people are so splintered into so many different divisions and colors, that it is a wonder that we stick together.  No doubt this has been part of our problem in the past.  Judaism has no central authority, like for example Catholicism has the Pope and the whole administration in the Vatican.  Although Protestantism and Islam also don't have a central supreme figure, Islam used to have the Caliph, who exercised temporal and religious power, but that was long ago (although Islamists want to bring it back).  But then I realized that it is precisely the reason why we Jews need a State of our own, so that sovereignty and civil laws ensure that we all live under one umbrella and ultimately obey the same laws, ultra-orthodox (haredi), religious (dati), secular (hiloni) and in between.   
There was a time before the enlightenment when everyone was a believer, there was no alternative, although there were then also many sects.  But, once it became possible in the 19th century to be secular, this portion of the population in the western world grew rapidly.  Now, most people are no longer believers, nor adherents of a particular religion. In most western countries the proportion of religious is about 30% and decreasing. Nevertheless, believers represent a majority of those engaged in religious conflicts, particularly amongst Muslims and between Muslims and others (Jews, Christians and pagans). We can attribute a large proportion of the wars and related deaths to differences in religious beliefs, the "my god is better than your god!" syndrome. 
In society there are opposite and opposing trends, the trend towards religious diversity and conflict or sectarianism and the trend towards secular conformism and peaceful coexistence under a civil authority. Most of the conflicts in the world have a sectarian origin, such as in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Mali, and so on. It is impossible to foretell which of these trends will be dominant, but it will likely be the acceptance of all religious faiths to coexist peacefully under secular authority.  But, before we get there, unfortunately much blood will be shed throughout the world. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The new Israeli Coalition

Two significant events happened to occur on the same day, Wednesday last week, namely a new Pope, named Francis, was elected in Rome, and a new Coalition government was agreed in Jerusalem. The Coalition agreement was signed between the three main parties Fri night with one day to spare to the statutory deadline.  They will be voted in on Monday, just in time for the arrival of Pres. Obama.
Some notable aspects of the new Coalition:
  1. The Coalition contains four main parties Likud-Beitanu (31), Yesh Atid (19), Bayit Yehudi (12) and Hatnuah (6).  Kadima (2) will also be included in the Government, making a total of 70 seats.
  2. The Cabinet contains 21 portfolios instead of the former 32 with which PM Netanyahu padded his cabinet with "jobs for the boys."  It was too much and too costly and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid succeeded in forcing Bibi to reduce it.
  3. The haredi and religious parties are not in the government, which is controlled by secular parties, although one of them, Bayit Yehudi, has a strong Jewish religious component.
  4. The religious authorities will be under the control of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who is modern orthodox, and he will likely reform the whole conversion and religious affairs arrangements that have previously been controlled by the ultra-orthodox.
  5. He will also mandate that the core school curriculum be taught in the school systems run by the ultra-orthodox, in order to prepare them for working in the real world rather than depending on government handouts.
  6. The Housing and Construction Ministry will also be under Bayit Yehudi and this will result in the streamlining of increased construction in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
  7. Although Bibi Netanyahu is PM and Likud has the major number of portfolios, Bibi lost a lot of influence in the cabinet and in his own party because of the lack of portfolios he could distribute to his supporters, leading to a future power struggle within Likud.
  8. Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon will be the new Defense Minister replacing Ehud Barak.  He will be even better than Barak and will ensure that the IDF is ready for any eventuality, including a strike on Iran.
  9. All parties agree on the government's position regarding Iran, and there will be no change in policy there.
  10. Although Yisrael Beitanu is in the cabinet, the absence of their leader Avigdor Lieberman, while he fights corruption charges in court, will greatly reduce the influence of this party.  He will be FM if he is exonerated.  If not, who knows?
  11. Although a "two-state solution" remains the government's declared policy regarding the Palestinians, the presence of Bayit Yehudi in the cabinet will ensure that further concessions to the Palestinians will be kept to a minimum unless they agree to enter negotiations without preconditions.
  12. Yair Lapid will be the Finance Minister and this will give him power, but also many headaches.
  13. A universal draft law will be enacted soon by common agreement between the governing parties making national service an equal burden on all segments of the population, incuding the haredim and Arabs. 
  14. Tzipi Livni ("white bird") will be Justice Minister and will be in charge of negotiations with the PA and will try to get maximal media exposure for herself.
As a result of these changes the Government that Pres. Obama meets this week will be a stronger, more confidant one than the previous one.  Note that the US no longer gives Israel any civilian financial aid and the military aid, although important, amounts to only 2% of the total military budget.  Therefore, the US has less means to influence Israeli government policy.  Nevertheless, the President and the PM will see eye-to-eye on most issues that they will discuss.

Friday, March 15, 2013

In The Land

Here is another in my series of short stories, this from the ending of my novel "Amanuensis" (see also last week's "The East End of London.")

In The Land
The land of Israel is covered with historic sites.  The map shows dozens of tels scattered wherever a hill would support defensible human habitation.  In this fertile crossroads, armies marched and counter-marched, destroying cities and re-settling them.  Some tels show evidence of twenty or more levels of civilization stacked one on top of the other, stretching back four thousand years through the Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Crusader, Turkish and British conquests.
I was most fascinated by the remains of the biblical period.  Three of the biggest tels occupy strategic sites controlling the coastal strip, along which all commerce proceeded.  Where the route turns inland through the Jezreel Valley, known as the via maris, stands Megiddo.  This was Solomon's northern capital, and it was destroyed in a manner so extreme that it has been enshrined in our minds as the ultimate eschatological armageddon.  The ruins of Gezer guard the foothills of the route inland to Jerusalem; and in the south, huge and forbidding, stands the largest tel, Lachish.
To the casual eye Lachish appears from the distance a strange, black, flattened mountain.  Few tourists come this way and no signs indicate how to reach it.  Closer up, it looks like nothing more than a great, if ancient, slag-heap.  Walls and terraces wander in all directions across its steep slopes.  Clambering to the top took me a half-hour of hard work.
On the top it was quite flat, but here and there were humps and holes disappearing into the depths.  Walking across the top I was confronted by a massive stone wall.  I passed through it at an opening that once must have been the gateway to a great and magnificent city.  It had been the last, and hence topmost, city on the site.  Then the location was abandoned thousands of years ago.  While there was some evidence of excavation, it was clear that modern man had only just scratched the surface, literally, of this huge mound.
            On the top there was the strange feeling I always associated with such sites.  A strong, but gusty, wind tugged intermittently at my clothing, making quiet whispering sounds.  The air was hot and dry, and dust rose in small whorls and then settled quickly.  The weight of history hung heavy, stifling, almost tangible.  The ground was littered with fragments of stone and pottery, the accumulated detrita of millennia.  I stooped and picked up one particular shard that attracted my attention.  It was warm and sharp in my hand.  It felt strangely familiar.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Israeli statistics 2012

During the calendar year of 2012 Israel had a 3.3% GDP/capita increase, down from the previous two years when it was 5 and 4.4%.  But, although 3.3% is not so high, it is twice the average of the OECD group of European countries, and certainly much higher than such economic basket cases as Ireland, Greece and Portugal.  Although the US avoided going over the fiscal cliff of increased taxes and enhanced inflation, it is expected that the economic status of the US will deteriorate in 2013 and this will affect all countries and individuals world-wide including Israel.  How bad it will get we can't say, but Israel at least is one of the best performing countries economically. 

The population of Israel reached almost 8 million at the end of 2012, according to the Israel Census Bureau.  Of these, 6 million are Jews, the rest are Arabs (Muslims and Christians) and others.  Others include Philippinos (ca. 50,000) some of whom have managed to stay here and African immigrants (ca. 60,000).  Whereas the percentage of Christians remained steady in Israel, in the rest of the Middle East the proportion of Christians has dropped drastically.  In Bethlehem, part of the PA, where they were a majority of 70% only 20 years ago, they are now a minority of 20%. 
Major terror attacks

In 2012 1,435 missiles were fired from Gaza into Israel.  From February to March 2012, the IDF thwarted a number of attacks on the Israel-Egypt border.
February 21: A joint IDF-Israel Police operation uncovered a powerful explosive device planted near Egypt. Two days later, IDF soldiers on a routine patrol identified suspicious activity on the border, where they discovered another large explosive device.
February 28: Suspected terrorists infiltrated Israel from Egypt. The suspects failed to heed IDF warnings to stop and fired on IDF soldiers. The IDF fired back, injuring one suspect, while the rest fled back across the border. A similar incident occurred on March 15.
March 9: The IAF targeted two members of the Popular Resistance Committee, a terrorist group in the Gaza Strip. The terrorists had been planning a combined terror attack that was to have taken place via Sinai.
June 18: Terrorists crossed the border from Egypt, killed an Israeli civilian and wounded two more. After infiltrating Israel, the terrorists detonated a roadside bomb, shot anti-tank rockets at two Israeli vehicles, and then opened fire on them with Kalashnikov assault rifles.   Said Pashpasha (36), father of four, was killed. Pashpasha and his colleagues were workers on the Israel-Egypt border fence, designed to protect Israelis from future cross-border attacks.On August 5,  Israel Air Force aircraft targeted a Global Jihad-affiliated terrorist squad in the southern Gaza Strip, members of which were responsible for the June attack.
July 18: A suicide bomber exploded in a tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria. He killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver, and wounded another 32 Israelis. “We got on the bus. There were a lot of people on it… suddenly someone got on there, and something exploded,” said passenger Gal Malka. “We heard a boom. And we actually saw body parts. We tried to escape. The door was closed. But there was a hole in the side, through which me and my friend escaped.”  American intelligence officials identified the bomber as a member of a local Hezbollah cell actively looking for Israeli targets.
November 15: During Operation “Pillar of Defense”, Gazan terrorists fired a rocket on Kiryat Malachi, killing three Israelis: Mira Scharf (25), Aharon Smadga (40) and Yizhak Amselam (22). Scharf was a mother of three and pregnant at the time. Two babies and a four-year-old boy were wounded in the strike. Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility for the attack.
November 21: Muhammad Mafarji boarded the 142 bus in Tel Aviv, planted an explosive device connected to a mobile phone, and disembarked. His handlers remotely detonated the bomb, wounding 28 Israelis. When the news reached Gaza, celebration broke out on the streets. Sweet cakes were handed out in the Strip’s main hospital. “God willing, we will soon see black body bags,” said the Gazan television announcer.   In the immediate hours following the attack, the IDF, ISA and the Israel Police exposed and arrested the members of Hamas- and Islamic Jihad-affiliated terrorist cell responsible for the bombing. The cell had been planning additional attacks.

Everyday Terror - Shootings, Rock Hurling and Firebombs
Terrorists carried out a number of major attacks against Israel in 2012, but they also targeted Israeli citizens in smaller attacks — just about every day.  In 2012 in Judea and Samaria, Israelis were shot at 15 times, got caught in 4,731 incidents of rock hurling, and were the targets of 642 firebombs.  Rock-hurling and firebomb-throwing may seem less serious than shooting incidents — but they too have the potential to kill. In 2011, Asher Palmer and his infant son Yonatan were killed in a car crash due to rocks thrown at their vehicles.  These events are ongoing. Only two months ago, as he was driving down the highway, Daniel Maon saw three people “holding what looked like fire in their hands. Suddenly they threw a firebomb that missed the car,” he said. “I told the driver to keep going, and then another firebomb was thrown at us which shattered the windshield and got into the car.” Maon and the driver escaped before the vehicle was engulfed in flames.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Robot cars

Think of a car as a robot.  It has to perform certain functions, such as start, turn, speed up, slow down, park, all of which can be performed by a robot, with sensors.  It should not be necessary to put a metal strip down the middle of the road to communicate with the car's computer, as many "futurists" imagined in the past.  What is needed is a robot with sensors and cameras that can see and feel its way down the road.  Of course, it will be programmed to keep a certain distance between itself and other cars/objects and could more easily determine if it can squeeze thru a space than a human "sensor."  It should certainly be able to park better than most humans (no gender jokes!)
Such a car has already been developed, but is in a  purely experimental stage and would now be impossibly expensive.  Also, a scheme has been developed by a company to park cars in a multi-story garage.  The cars will be fitted with a mini-computer, that when you go to park, it will be taken over by the computer of the garage.  You leave the car in a designated spot and the garage computer parks it in the next available space and when you return it brings it back to that spot, no need for parking attendants and no bumps on the car. 
While the robot car is driving you to your destination using GPS, you can sit back and enjoy a little drink, or a big drink, no more drunk driving!  Or you can indulge in a meal prepared automatically by the robot car in its mini-kitchen.  And then you can relax and watch a movie or TV, no danger of being distracted from driving.
Eventually this will bring the term "automobile" to its true meaning and in fact will greatly reduce casualties from speeding and bad driving, especially at high speed. The car will also not allow anyone to smoke inside (no ashtrays) and one extra feature the robot car will have is that if there is an accident it will automatically call for the ambulance.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

White smoke over Jerusalem

White smoke was seen rising from the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, indicating the formation of a government coalition.  This signifies the joining of the two parties, Bayit Yehudi (12 seats) and Yesh Atid (19), with the majority party Likud Beitanu (31) to form a stable center-right government.  PM Bibi Netanyahu went to Pres. Peres last week and got the allowed 2 week extension for the formation of a government, and now he can finalize one.  The party leaders Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid remained firm in their convictions and this indicates that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu blinked first.   Because of the conditions placed on their joint joining of the coalition, including the passing of a universal conscription law, this means that the religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, will not join the coalition at this time, since they oppose mandatory conscription of yeshiva students. 
Who else will be in the coalition, Hatnuah (6) of Tzipi Livni was of course the first, although this annoyed the other two princelings.  With Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid this brings the total no. of seats to 68, enough for a majority in the Knesset (minimum 61).  With the rump of Kadima (2) this makes a comfortable majority (70) for what might be a stable and relatively centrist government with Yesh Atid, Hatnuah and Kadima (27) in the center and the right represented by Likud Beitanu and Bayit Yehudi (43).  Bibi threw a sop to the left by not only giving Tzipi Livni the Justice Ministry, but also giving her a role in the (virtual) Palestinian peace negotiations.  However, there is no way that Bayit Yehudi will allow her to make policy and determine the outcome in this area. 
The main sticking point in the formation of the coalition has been the allotment of ministries. The Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, who said almost nothing about foreign affairs during his campaign and focussed on domestic issues, wants to be Foreign Minister, which is considered the senior appointment.  But, PM Netanyahu has saved this position for his former FM Avigdor Lieberman until after his corruption trial, if he is found innocent then he could resume this function.  But most Israelis would probably prefer to have the charming, handsome Lapid in place of the dour, unsmiling Lieberman as a figure head.  However, Lapid has no background for this role, although frankly he has no background for any ministerial role.  He has been offered the Finance MInistry, a very powerful position, but he is apparently afraid to take it, since it is the graveyard of many politicians.  Meanwhile Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett has almost given up hope of getting the Finance Ministry and has opted for the Industry and Trade Ministry with some expanded powers.  The last disute is apparetnly over the Education Ministry, that Bibi wants to keep for Gidon Sa'ar.  Yair Lapid has also insisted on a reduction of the total number of Ministries from the current 32, but has apparently compromised from 18 up to 21.  With the assignment of Ministries, the coalition will be complete just in time to welcome Pres. Obama.
The time-pressure on the formation of the coalition is not only from the statutory limit, but also the date of March 20, which has been announced as the start of the visit of Pres. Obama to Israel.  It has been reported that he will come whether or not there is a ruling coalition in place by March 16. He should bring a gift to the Israeli public to make his visit start with a relatively positive note.  Such a gift would be the release of Jay Pollard who has been in captivity for 27 years, a gross miscarriage of justice.  The US is always pressuring Israel to make gestures, why shouldn't the US make a gesture to Israel for a change.
The main issue of concern for Israel is the Iranian development of nuclear weapons.  While this is Bibi's main focus, it seems that Pres. Obama is not quite on the same page and at the moment the US and the EU are making small concessions to Iran in order to entice it to step backward from the brink.  However, this is unlikely to work, and hopefully while here Bibi and Barack will get together and see eye to eye on this pressing issue.  No doubt the "two-state solution" will be mentioned many times, but it is unlikely that there will be any progress, given the opposition of Hamas to any accomodation with Israel and the US.  But, expect Israel to make some small gestures towards the PA, such as releasing some Palestinain prisoners. Although all of them have been found guilty of acts of terrorism, all such prisoners are innocent according to the PA.  Nevertheless, while this might stop some of the current violence on the West Bank, it won't be enough to entice Pres. Abbas to make any reciprocal concessions in order to satisfy Pres. Obama.  He will leave with the status quo ante intact.

Monday, March 11, 2013

More crimes against humanity

After I wrote about the terrible situation in the Egyptian Sinai, where Beduin gangs capture African migrants and harvest their organs in a most primitive way and then dump their bodies in the desert, I was reminded by several people about the same kind of thing going on in China.  It is now well known that the supply of harvested organs from China has sky-rocketed and this has been attributed ironically to two things, the increase of capitalism in China where making money has become rampant and the unlimited power of the Communist system, whereby due process and individual rights are non-existent.  This increase has been related to the imprisonment of thousands of Falun Gong members in recent years.
Falun Gong is a kind of Chinese religion that emphasises health and exercise.  Although it was developed outside China it caught on there and the authorities became very concerned because it spread very rapidly with tens of thousands of adherents.  The Communist authorities will not allow any organization to form that is not controlled by them and so they cracked down on Falun Gong, arresting, torturing and imprisoning its members.  Now suddenly many human organs are available on the market from China .  It has always been known that China harvested the organs of people found guilty of crimes, even "political crimes," and were executed.  But, now they are apparently using the bodies of the Falun Gong members as a way to make money.  This is a monstrous crime against humanity.
It was noted that people around the world who were unable to get organs for transplant, such as hearts, livers, kidneys, were going to China to have transplant operations done very quickly. Prof. Jacob Lavee, cardiologist, Head of the Heart Transplant Unit of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv, led the campaign to forbid people from buying body parts from China.   Given the suspected source of these organs from healthy humans, Israel was the first country to enact a law forbidding its citizens from participating in this criminal venture.  Now some other civilized countries, such as Australia, France and the UK, are considering copying such a law.  In this way Israel follows the biblical dictum "to be a light unto the nations."
In India the common practice of gang rape has become epidemic.  The case of a 23 year old woman student, who was raped and torturerd by six men on a school bus in New Delhi last year and then murdered and dumped on the street has given rise to nation-wide demonstrations protesting the poor or absent security for women and girls in public.  There have been so many such attacks that they are impossible to count. The main problem is that the police treat the victims, if they survive, as the guilty party.  Of hundreds of rapes reported in New Delhi only one has actually been prosecuted.  The continuing protests against this rape has put pressure on the national Indian government and a new rape law is in the process of being drafted.  Also, the trial of the 5 men plus one minor, whose ghoulish torture of the girl has led to public revulsion, is continuing.
Israeli soldiers have been called "baby killers" by many Muslims because of photos that are released of dead children after IDF operations.  The same thing happened in Gaza in 2011.  But, as previously, they are found to be forgeries.  One such photo that was released by a UN employee was found to be that of a young girl killed in a car accident in Gaza in 2006, and she was dismissed form her position.  Another has been investigated by the local UN agency and has been found to have been caused by Hamas firing and not the IDF as previously claimed.  So don't believe it if it's reported by the terrorists themselves.  We should note that all of these countries, Egypt, China, India, and the Palestinians are forever giving us advice and protesting the treatment of the Palestinians.  Let them put their houses in order first before criticizing us.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Crimes against humanity

A series of BBC reports have highlighted the brutal situation in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt that includes terrible crimes against humanity.  As a result of the "Arab spring" uprisings that overthrew Pres. Mubarak of Egypt and the subsequent loss of Egyptian army and police control, the Sinai has become a lawless area, controlled by local Beduin gangs.  Thousands of black Africans have in the past few years been attracted to Sinai as a gateway to Israel.  Although most of them are Muslims they apparently knew that they would get a fairer treatment in Israel than they did in Egypt.
Although it was known that the Egyptian guards summarily shoot these illegal immigrants or imprison them in terrible conditions, they kept coming.  Unfortunately, the numbers were overwhelming, tens of thousands of them flooded into Israel, most making their way to the poor neighborhood of South Tel Aviv.  This prompted Israel to build a holding facility for them near Eilat, but this was inadequate, so many were released to work in Eilat and elsewhere.  As a result of attacks from Sinai by terrorists from Gaza that killed several Israelis, the Israeli Government decided to build a strong security fence along its southern border with Egypt.  In a few years this caused the number of illegal immigrants to drop from thousands a month to a few individuals.  This now enabled Israel to focus on how to repatriate many of these illegal immigrants back to their own countries, particularly South Sudan after it became independent.  Israel organized flights in conjunction with the new South Sudan Government and thousands have been repatriated.  But, those that can show that it is dangerous for them to return to their country cannot legally be returned, and there are legal advice offices available to them free in South Tel Aviv.
However, what has been happening in Sinai has become unbelievable.  Beduin gangs and Egyptians from elsewhere in the country, have been scouring Sinai capturing these hapless illegal immigrants.  They have become a source of money and prostitutes for these criminal elements.  Men and women have been raped and tortured and sold for profit.  Taking hostages is the main industry, with people being tortured on camera and phone in order to extract money from their families. A favorite torture is dripping burning plastic onto their bodies.  Since most of these people are very poor, very few of their families can afford to pay the ransom of $5,000.  If this is not paid in a few days, the vicitim is simply killed.  They are usually cut up and left to bleed to death in the desert.  Around El Arish and  Rafah, that straddles the Egyptian-Gaza border, there are said to be hundreds or thousands of dumped bodies. A British tourist was also recently taken prisoner by Beduin tribesmen.
But, the most lucrative aspect of this market is the use of body parts for organ donations.  Africans, mostly now from Eritrea, are captured, cut up, without anesthesia, and their organs removed and then transported to Cairo from where they are flown around the world.  The bodies of the victims are then also dumped in the desert.  This is an ongoing crime against humanity that is taking place under the noses of the Egyptian police, and apparently they are complicit in this.  Detainees in Egyptian prisons are routinely tortured and sometimes disappear.  Tell that to the well-meaning liberals who are so concerned about the Palestinians, whose treatment by the IDF forces is civilized by comparison. 
Although the situation on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights is not as bad as that in Sinai, the war between the Syrian Army supporting the regime of Pres. Assad and the insurgents of the Free Syrian Army has heated up recently.  The latest incident is the taking of 21 unarmed Filippino UN peace keeping soldiers as hostages by the FSA.  At first they demanded ransom, but then when the UN came out strongly they said they were holding the UN soldiers to protect them from the Syrian Army.  Now the UN captives are caught in the middle of the war zone between the two sides. This could augur problems for Israel if the UN peace-keeping role in the Golan is cut back.  On both its southern and northern borders Israel is now facing Arab areas of instability and conflict.

Friday, March 08, 2013

The East End of London

This is another of my short stories, taken from the beginning of my novel "Amanuensis" (available from

The East End of London
One of my earliest memories is of my father waking me in the middle of the night and giving me a piece of shrapnel. Half asleep I stretched out my hand to grasp the gray, metallic object.  It was heavy and hard, and the light glinted off its irregular surfaces. I still remember the feel of it sharp and warm in my hand.
Many years later he told me how he had acquired this fragment of a German bomb.  He had been on patrol as a Civil Defense Guard in the East End of London during the War.  "One night during an air-raid I was standing on a street corner, Commercial Road, near the railway lines into Liverpool Street. It was completely deserted. And I 'eard this plane comin' over low, an 'e's droppin' a stick of bombs, an 'e's comin closer, an I could feel the ground shake, and the shock waves and 'eat started to 'it me, an I could tell from the delay between the explosions that the next one was goin to 'it me, an I thought to myself 'blimey, this is it,' an I grabbed 'old of a lamp-post and waited. And all of a sudden it stopped!"  The string of bombs had run out before reaching him.
Fortunately, everyone was in the shelters because there had been an air-raid warning. But my father investigated to make certain no-one had disobeyed the siren, that was his job. As he examined the wreckage of a bombed, smoldering house, shouting and then listening for survivors, he saw a piece of shrapnel glistening in the moonlight.  "When I picked it up it was still 'ot." Although he was on patrol all night he rushed home and woke me to give me the shrapnel. Perhaps he wanted to communicate the miracle of his deliverance.
            For many years I treasured that odd-shaped hunk of metal sent from Germany to kill. I imagined a being wrapped in darkened shrouds hunched over his weapons. Motivated by strange beliefs he dropped his bombs over the blackened city, now alight with spreading explosions scattered like dice on a vast checkered board.  Swathed in darkness he finished his deadly business and flew on. He came to kill my father, but my father lived.
During the Second World War the East End of London was devastated by German bombs. Whole neighborhoods were reduced to ruins. Brick Lane is a narrow scar that winds through the East End, connecting the districts of Bethnal Green and Whitechapel, their bucolic origins long since submerged under layers of decaying slums and bomb-sites.  The Bethnal Green end of the Lane was the center of the woodworking and furniture-making area.  It was honeycombed with hundreds of shops of all sizes, making cupboards, tables, chairs, and during the War even Mosquito aircraft.
My father's workshop was a single room directly on the Lane itself.  Wood of all types and sizes was stacked around every inch of it. I was fascinated by the different types of wood and loved to repeat their strange names, "sycamore, mahogany." I never envisaged them as trees. A huge bench covered with tools dominated the dark room.
When he was not there I would quietly enter this sanctuary and gaze around in awe at the strange objects. I loved to see the planes hung in ascending sizes, their flat shiny surfaces reflected my distorted face.  The curly shavings and sawdust crunched under my feet. I carefully grasped the bradawl and, mimicking my father, dug a hole in a piece of lumber.
The shop contained no wood working machinery, since my father could not afford it, and preferred to do as much work as possible by hand. He only used the machines in adjoining shops when he had to, and then he paid for them. He considered himself to be a cabinet-maker, and was insulted if anyone referred to him as a carpenter. Sometimes I would have to help my father. The smell of the hot glue repelled me, yet for years that pungent, acrid odor brought a flood of memories.
As he poured the molten glue my father yelled, "nah rub it in."  I hastened to obey his commands, brandishing the sharp-bristled brush. "Spread it, spread it all over."  I spread the gelling, brown goo, while he carefully retrieved a piece of veneer from the tub of water.  Then he quickly and expertly laid the precious fine sheet of wood onto the sticky surface. Using a flat-edged tool he began to express the glue from between the two pieces of wood. It was crucial to prevent air bubbles and to remove lumps of undissolved glue.  His forearm muscles bulged and the veins in his hands stood out like blue rivulets as he applied all his strength. In the small, hot room his hair hung down in dank strands, acting as conduits for the sweat that poured from him. It dripped steadily onto the veneer, becoming one with the glue. When he was satisfied he took the huge iron off the gas ring and pressed the veneer until it was bonded with the wood beneath. Then he trimmed the edges, and raised the veneered wood high in both hands like a torah to see its beautiful grain etched in the dim light.
(Copyright  © Jack Cohen)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Palestinian manifestations

Last week the firing of a missile into Israel from Gaza prompted Israel to close the Kerem Shalom crossing where 800 trucks  cross into the Gaza strip daily to supply the Gazan population with food, medical and building supplies.  This broke a 3 months ceasefire arranged by Egypt.  The missile firing was justified as a response to the death of a West Bank Arab, Arafat Jaradat, who was being held in an Israeli jail for rioting.  Although the Palestinians first blamed Israel for his death, later they reported that he had been killed by a Palestinian while in custody for collaborating with the Israelis.  Whatever the truth, Israel decided to open the crossing again on Monday. 
However, the crossing was never opened because it was taken over by force by Hamas, which controls Gaza, from Fatah, that until then had controlled the crossing by agreement with Israel.  Firing was heard, but the casualties were not reported.  It seems that Hamas used this opportunity to take over the crossing.  The 800 trucks that arrived there that day were not allowed to cross.  Israel denied them entrance due to the Hamas take-over and Hamas will not pay for the goods because it does not recognize Israel.  The crossing is therefore at a standstill, with Hamas in effect danying entry of Israeli goods to their civilian population.  It was at this point that NPR reported that Israel was "starving" Gaza of resources!
Although the death of Arafat Jaradat in Israel received a lot of publicity, that of another prisoner did not.  Ayman Saramah being held for assault in a Palestinian prison cell in Jericho in the PA died while in custody, but the PA tried to keep it a secret by preventing Palestinian journalists from coverng the story.  Mustafa Khawaja, who works for the local Al-Aksa TV station, was detained by PA security officers for several hours when he tried to report on a sit-in strike by families of Palestinians held in Jericho Prison protesting torture there.  The story was reported by Khaled abu Toameh in TheJerusalem Post.
On Tuesday, the British Consul-General in Jerusalem Sir Vincent Fean (effectively the British representative to the PA) was scheduled to give a speech at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, but was prevented from doing so by violent student demonstrations.  His convoy of cars was attacked and had to leave.  The President of Bir Zeit, Dr. Khalil al-Hindi, and several other academics denounced this prevention of freedom of speech.  A similar attack happened against the French Ambassador last year.  No doubt the British and French people who support the Palestinians agree that their Ambassadors should not be allowed to talk to Palestinian students. 
Note that the budget of UNWRA that supports only Palestinian refugees was b$1.23 in 2011.  Surely they could afford to help the 1 million Syrian refugees who have fled Syria in the past 2 years and are living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey under the most dire conditions.  But, of course they won't.  Maybe those in the West who make a crusade of supporting the "poor" Palestinians, will make every effort to support the even poorer Syrians.  But, of course they won't.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Israeli mosaic

Gabriella Liscko is a Hungarian immigrant who is an expert on the many different Jewish sects that live in Israel.  She is very well-informed and charismatic.  Her approach is that of a trained anthropologist with an MA in Jewish Studies and she is intimately familiar with all the different sects and how they distinguish themselves from each other, through dress, beliefs and religious customs.  She has been giving four talks at AACI Netanya on the subject and if you thought it was simply religious and secular, boy are you wrong. This is my summary of her talks, checked by Gabriella for accuracy.
There are many sects of ultra-orthodox haredim - Lithuanian (Litvak) and the hassidic sects (Satmar, Chabad, Sanz, Belz, Ger, etc.) usually named after the place where that particular sect originated in Eastern Europe.  And there are many splits and distinctions, for example, there are non-Zionist or anti-Zionist (Edah haredi), modernist or anti-modernist, strict or tolerant.  Haredim generally do not serve in the IDF but instead go to yeshivot or religious schools.The biggest sects also have their own yeshivot that cater to their specific customs.  Most sects follow a leading rabbi, the Rebbe, or the Rosh yeshiva. The most traditional speak Yiddish amongst themselves and the men wear black clothing and are referred to as "blacks" (shchorim) or penguins in Israel.  The Yerushalmi groups (the Yerushalmi hassidim and Litvaks, or prushim) originated in Eastern Europe and started to immigrate to the holyland in the 1780's, they adopted a "Sephardi-like" dress, consisting of a striped yellow coat and short trousers. 
After the Holocaust, those haredim who survived tended to turn inwards and become very strict in their religious observance.  They interpreted the catastrophe that befell them as the intrusion of the modern world into their lives and their lack of former strict adherence.  The hassidim who settled in Mea Shearim, that famous enclave of ultra-orthodoxy in Jerusalem, were largely groups from Hungary and central Europe, and this neighborhood became the symbol of extreme ultra-orthodoxy throughout the world.  Each of the sects has a strict dress code, and the women especially must keep their hems to a certain height (just below the knees) and usually don't wear anything colorful or modern.  Among the strictest group women are also supposed to shave their heads and wear special hats or scarves.  Some sects require the men to wear trousers tucked into their socks as they did during the 18th century. Also the head gear or shtreimels vary according to where the sect originated. 
The sephardim and Middle Eastern (Mizrahi) Jews who came after the establishment of Israel were many times treated innappropriately by the Israeli government who feared their Arab culture would infect Israeli-European culture, so when they immigrated they were first sent to tent-camps (ma'abarot) and then to the periphery (Kiryat Shmona, Mitzpe Ramon, Afula, etc.).  Although the sephardim had a traditional religious culture, they were more tolerant than ashkenazim, some of them smoke and watch soccer on TV on Shabbat, but they always make kiddush and remain traditional.  However, many of them were very poor and so often they sent their children to religious schools that were either cheap or free rather than the secular Israeli schools. This maintained a certian religious tradition and today many sephardi families are in the religious Zionist camp.  But, another group of religious sephardim grew up in Israel and adopted the manners and the dress code of the ashkenazi haredim, and became the sephardi haredim.  .In religious observance they are equivalent to the ashkenzi haredim, but in the haredi world they almost never inter-marry.  The sephardi haredim form the constituency of the political party Shas.
It is very easy to distinguish the traditional modern orthodox in Israel from the haredim because the modern orthodox wear normal dress (no black hats, shtreimels or black coats) and the most distinguishing feature is that the men wear knitted kipot and so they are called kipa sruga.  The women mainly wear long dresses and colorful hats that cover their hair.  However, whereas some haredi women shave their heads and wear wigs, modern orthodox women never shave their heads.  This group of modern orthodox is usually very Zionistic and they are also called dati leumi (or national religious) and their children serve in the IDF.
Then there is an intermediate group, the so-called modern haredim, who in all respects consider themselves haredi, yet they have adoped a modern life style.  Instead of living in poverty and studying 14 hours a day, the men work and the women too, they like stylish clothes and they drive cars.  However, the men always wear black kippot and maintain a strictly religious life-style.  They are not particularly Zionistic, but a growing number of them serve in the IDF.  This is a growing segment of the Israeli population which is likely to increase exponentially in the future. 
While the modern haredi are becoming more tolerant and open, there is a large group of young Israelis who are descended from modern orthodox or secular parentage who have become much more religious, but not in a traditional way.  They are called haredi dati leumi or hardal.  They are usually very nationalistic and Zionistic, they mostly reject modern secular culture as superficial.  Many of them embrace poverty and like to live in the territories and some groups within them dress in what they consider a biblical way, with long flowing garments in brown and earthy colors, never black, and the men usually wear large knitted kippot. 
Some of this group are the "hilltop youth" who go and live in caravans on remote hilltops in Judah and Shomron and seek to live a basic Jewish life as they imagined the forefathers did.  In doing so they reject the striving for material success that their grandparents and parents had when they were trying to develop this backward country into a modern technological state.  Some hardal youth appear like hippies and some are even anti-state because according to their beliefs no authentic Jewish state could withdraw from Jewish land.  From among the extreme hardalniks come the "price tag" group that destroy Arab property in order to hasten the transfer of the Arabs from Jewish land.
These are by no means the totality of the sects and divisions within Israeli society.  It's amazing that so far they have managed to live together in a relatively harmonious and peaceful way.    

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Sion Mehdi spoke at AACI Netanya on "the Secret Jews of Persia."   Sion himself was born in Jerusalem to parents who came from Mashhad, his father traveled via Odessa, Russia, and his mother via Cairo, Egypt.  They met in the Bukharan Quarter of Jerusalem, when it was still part of Syria under the Turks   Sion himself went to England as a child with a British Mandate passport as a Palestinian.  He also had an Iranian Islamic Republic passport.  He returned to live in Israel in 1979.
The Jews of Mashad were a special case, unique in the Muslim world as far as we know.  Mashhad is a city on the silk road in Iran near the Russian/Afghanistan border.  It is considered one of the holy cities of Shia Islam, where the tomb of the eighth secret Imam Ali Reza of Shia Islam is located.  Because it was holy to the Shia, no Jews were allowed to live there, because they would render it unclean.  Elsewhere in the Iranian/Persian Empire under Islam, Jews were treated as dhimmi, an inferior position. 
There are four important dates in the history of Mashhadi Jews:
1736 - Nader Shah, a Sunni Muslim who had taken over the Muslim Persian Empire and expanded its realm as far as India, decided to establish his capital at Mashhad near the eastern border.  Because he did not trust the Shia Muslims he imported Jews to work for him as agents, collecting taxes and controlling his wealth. 
1747 - Nader Shah was assassinated and the situation of the Jews in Mashhad became dire, although they were allowed to continue living there.  
1839 - Upon rumor of a Jewish family sacrificing a dog on the important Shia holiday of Ashura, there was a pogrom, and 35 Jews were killed and many injured and raped.  The remaining ca. 4,000 Jews were gathered together and forced to convert to Islam.  The leaders of the community decided that it was better to convert than die.  But , they took oaths to retain their Jewish identity and practices.  Under great danger they retained two names, a Muslim and a Jewish one, they continued practicing Judaism in secret, they bought halal meat but continued to eat only kosher meat, they engaged their children to be married at birth to avoid inter-marriage and outwardly they were practising Muslims.  The Muslims called them Jadidi-al-Islam, meaning New Muslims (just as the Catholics called the Jews who were forced to convert, New Christians).  Some Secret Mashhadi Jews went on the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and then visited Jerusalem, where they founded synagogues for the rest of the community to come to eventually.  During this period the Secret Jews of Mashhad suffered many indignities.
1920 - On the ascension of the Shah of Persia, Reza Pahlavi, freedom of religion was introduced and the Jews of Mashhad left. Many went to Tehran, but others spread all over the world to London, New York, Munich, and Jerusalem, where they settled in the Bukharan Quarter.  Amongst themselves they are known as Jadidi.  Their history shows close parallels to the conversos and Bnei Anusim of Spain and Portugal.  A library of the Mashhadi Jews has been established at the Gloria and Leslie (z"l) Mound library in Netanya Academic College. 

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Wishful thinking

I have a solution to the world's problems, everyone should be nice to each other and be tolerant and democratic and then there would be no wars and violence and everyone will live happily ever after.  That's called wishful thinking.  In this category I place several ideal solutions to the Middle East problem.
The favorite solution of international statesmen is the "two-state solution."   No doubt it will be mentioned a thousand times when Pres. Obama comes visiting soon. However, it was rejected by the Arabs in 1948 when they refused the UN "Partition Plan."  Pres Abbas's attempt to obtain unilateral UN recognition for a Palestinian State recently was precisely to avoid accepting a two-state solution that would include Palestinian recognition of Jewish legitimacy in the State of Israel.  Its a non-starter.
One solution, favored by Martin Sherman, is to pay off the Palestinians to leave the West Bank, which would then be annexed to Israel.  There is certainly a legitimate basis for Israel to claim the West Bank, but I don't see people giving billions of dollars to the "poor" Palestinians in the hope that they will go away. Hamas would kill a few of them and the rest wouldn't go, but they might take the money anyway.
Another ideal solution is to have a confederation between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, as described by a Prof. Uriel Halbreich in an article entitled "What about a Mini-region" by Steve Linde, the editor of the Jerusalem Post (Feb 22)  Of course, this has many obvious advantages.  But, are the Palestinians and the Jordanians, themselves consisting mainly of Palestinians and Islamists, going to agree to such an arrangement.  Not over their dead bodies.  It would be a prescription for more war and conflict.
Then there is the proposal by Mordechai Kedar to establish a series of "Emirates" like the Gulf states on the West Bank, where each city is basically a separate tribal entity.  In this way we would achieve stability and avoid having to deal with a  terrorist-controlled Palestinian State.  But, will Hamas and Fatah stand-by and allow such an outcome. No way!
No, best to let sleeping dogs lie (well not actually sleeping).  There ought to be a law, passed by the Knesset, against anyone proposing any more wishful and simplistic solutions to the Middle East problem.  Let's be real, let's only propose solutions that recognize the rejection of Israel's right to exist by all Arab and Muslim countries, because if they or the Palestinians once accept Israel's legitimacy, then their own claim to the land is nullified and that is equivalent to giving up the struggle and accepting the "end of the conflict."  That would be wishful thinking.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Manufactured crisis

In a story that dropped like lead from the front pages, it was revealed last month that some 900 civilians were deliberately murdered by British forces in Iraq.  Apparently there was a culture in the British Army in Iraq that included a systematic policy of torture (  However, this was covered up so that investigations never resulted in charges being brought against individual soldiers. 
In Syria, the Army has been firing scud missiles into towns, and one such hit killed 140 people in Aleppo. Until now there have been ca. 30,000 deaths estimated in Syria, and ca. 1 million refugees.  In Egypt the police were videotaped stripping a man of all his clothes and then severely beating him and in S. Africa the police beat and arrested a Mozambiquan taxi driver, then handcuffed him to the back of a van and dragged him down the road.  Later he was found dead in his cell from head injuries.
Yet, much more media attention has been focussed on one Palestinian, Arafat Jaradat, who died in a clash in the West Bank.  It's a pity that anyone dies, but give me a break, Palestinian youths are rioting all over the West Bank, trying to start a third intifada against the IDF forces that they consider are "occupying their land."   Considering the scope of the demonstrations and attacks it's amazing that only one person died, and according to police reports he died of a heart attack and not from IDF action.  Let these other countries put their own houses in order before their citizens extensively criticize Israel.
Israel holds ca. 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, all of those held for lengthy periods have been charged and tried and found guilty of terrorism.  About 20 of them went on a hunger strike, arranged from outside as a provocation to heat things up before the visit of Pres. Obama.  One of the prisoners, Samer Issawi, is reportedly near death and is being fed by a drip tube. But, two others have stopped their hunger strike in view of concessions that Israel has reportedly made. 
Does any of this justify the widesperead rioting that is occurring in the Palestinian areas?  No, this is a manufactured mini-crisis, so that the Palestinians can grab some headlines because they are losing media coverage to the carnage in Syria, the Iranian nuclear development and the Egyptian riots.  What better time to get PR coverage than when the US President is coming to visit.  If you want to get attention, then you must heat things up, that's the way it goes.