Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Orchestra of Exiles

On Yom Hashoah we saw the documentary film at AACI Netanya entitled "Orchestra of exiles," about Bronislaw Huberman, the greatest violinist of his age, and how he came to found the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, that was originally the Palestine Orchestra.
Huberman was born in Czestochowa, Poland, in 1882 and at an early age was recognized as a violin prodigy.  His father took him to Berlin where he studied with the greatest violinists and he was soon touring the world and played in Britain, the USA and Russia.  In the 1920s he was recognized as the greatest violinist of his generation.  He was deeply affected by the suffering of WWI and was active in founding the Pan-European society that espoused peace through national reconciliation.  In 1926 he visited Palestine, then under British control, and performed throughout the country to enthusiastic Jewish audiences.  However, the growth of Nazism in the 1930s took him and many others by surprise.  After 1933 he refused to perform in Germany, even though he was personally invited by Adolf Hitler.
During the consolidation of Nazi power in Germany, Jews were dismissed from all professional posts and this included some of the greatest musicians.  Kurt Feuchtwangler, the famous conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, although he was sympathetic to the plight of the Jewish musicians, nevertheless cooperated with the Nazis and all the Jews in the Orchestra were fired.  Huberman seeing the plight of so many top Jewish musicians, out of work with no source of income and having been in Palestine and experienced the thirst there for European music, realized that he could do something about the situation.  He conceived the idea of establishing a first-class orchestra in Palestine made up of the Jewish musicians who were now available in Europe.  He also foresaw the catastrophe that was looming for the Jews of Europe, and so he took upon himself the project of not only founding this orchestra, but of saving the lives of the Jewish musicians not only of Germany, but of all Europe.   
During the early 1930s, as the situation in Germany worsened, Huberman spent several years criss-crossing Europe auditioning Jewish musicians for the planned Palestine Orchestra.  He did this to the detriment of his own musical career. For many of the Jewish musicians the idea of going to Palestine, which at that time was considered a God-forsaken country, full of sand and Arabs and not much else, was too much and even though they had no work and were in danger many rejected the offer, they were not Zionists.  In response to the situation in Germany a Jewish orchestra was organized to play for exclusively Jewish audiences with the permission of the SS, but that did not last long.  Huberman gradually accumulated a list of the premier musicians in Europe and then came the very difficult task of ensuring their entry into Palestine.
In order to enter Palestine a Jew needed two documents, a visa from the British Mandatory Government and a permission from the Jewish Agency.  Both proved to be very difficult to obtain, since both had restrictions.  David Ben Gurion, the Head of the JA in Palestine refused to issue permits to Huberman for the musicians since he gave preferance to workers and fighters, that was what the Zionist cause needed.  So Huberman went over his head to the Chairman of the JA Chaim Weizmann in London, and he was persuaded to issue the permits.  Weizmann also contacted the British Government in London who agreed to the entry.  The then British HIgh Commissioner of Palestine Arthur Wauchope agreed to issue special exemption certificates for all the musicians and their immediate families, so after several months everything looked clear.  But, Huberman lacked the money to pay for the travel and other expenses of the musicians and the setting up of the Orchestra.  So he persuaded Albert Einstein to sponsor a dinner in New York that collected enough funds. He also persuaded Arturo Toscanini, the premier conductor in the world, who was an active anti-Nazi, to conduct the Orchestra
So Huberman gathered some 100 musicians in Tel Aviv, 30 from Poland, 25 from Germany, 5 from Holland and Czechoslovakia and so on.  They gave their inaugural concert in Tel Aviv on March, 1936 under maestro Toscanini, and it was a huge success.  The concert was broadcast all over the world and was heard from Berlin to Los Angeles.  The Ochestra toured Palestine giving concerts, and Ben Gurion had to admit that it was a tremendous success for Zionism.  What Huberman wanted was to establish the continuity of European Jewish culture that very much included music in the Holy Land.  When Israel was established in 1948 the Orchestra changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, recognized as one of the greatest Orchestras in the world.  Through his efforts Huberman not only established the IPO but also saved the lives of an estimated 1,000 Jews, including the musicians and their families.   Huberman, exhausted by his efforts, died in 1947 in Switzerland.  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Miracles do happen

All the electric lights and power in my studio went out with an impressive bang suddenly one day last week while I was painting there.  Nothing worked, and turning on all the fuses did not work as it usually does.  I was stumped, so I called my friendly electrician and he came over the next day.  He looked around the dark studio and then asked "where is the mains box?"  I replied, "what mains box?" He said "every place has a mains box."  Then he asked me where the inner door in the studio led to, and I told him into the building.  So he asked me to open it and then he went into the basement and up the stairs.  I was waiting in the studio, when suddenly all the lights came on.  When he returned I thanked him, and he said "no need to thank me, I just found the mains box, opened it, saw a switch with your name 'Jack' written on it and I flicked it."    Apparently I had completely forgotten that in the lobby of the building was the mains box, and who had written my name on the appropriate switch (some years before), I did!   He also identified the light that had been burnt out and advised not to replace it in case of another total blackout.  Cost for knowing the right switch to flick, NIS 100. 
We had another minor flood in the studio, not so bad maybe because we closed off the two drains in the area.  I cleaned the water up again, and then complained bitterly to the Chair of the House Committee (Va'ad habayit).  She told me that they had ordered the work to be done on the sewer connection to start as soon as possible.  Guess, what?  The next day a crew of men arrived in trucks and started digging a huge hole in the garden outside the studio.  It may be only a hole in the ground so far, but it's progress.  So far to pay for this hole in the ground has cost me only NIS 2000.
My laptop computer crashed and was constantly recycling between Windows and a blue screen error message, that included a memory dump for informational purposes.  I managed to stop it in mid-cycle and after a while I re-booted it.  There was an error message that said "the last time the computer closed an error was detected, do you want Windows to search for a solution for this problem."  I clicked "yes" and sure enough after thinking for a while, the computer was back to normal.  Luckily the computer is smarter than me and the cost was, nothing.  Miracles do happen.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Remembering Hungarian Jewry

On Israeli Holocaust (Shoah) Memorial Day this year the focus of many services was on the 70th anniversary of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry in 1944 by the Nazis, ably assisted by the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross movement.
In 1944, the Hungarian Jewish population of ca. 800,000 was the largest remaining intact Jewish community in Europe.  Although the Germans were already on the way to losing the war, instead of slowing down the murder of Jews they speeded up.  In early 1944 Adolf Eichmann convened a meeting of his most efficient Jew-killers and tasked them with the job of destroying Hungarian Jewry in the shortest possible time.  This Sonderkammando-Eichmann came up with a plan that would require 45 days to murder most of the Jews of Hungary. 
By the time the Nazis decided to invade its ally Hungary in March 1944 and take over the running of the country, about 50,000 Jews had already been murdered.  Able-bodied Jews had been rounded up by the Hungarian authorities and set to work in labor gangs making roads and digging ditches, etc.  They were fed very little and treated brutally by the Arrow Cross militias, and most of them died.  The Hungarian fascist government under Admiral Horthy nevertheless assured the Jewish community that as long as they remained loyal Hungarians they would not suffer.  But, then an action by the Arrow Cross in the north of the country murdered about 15,000 Jews.  But, the Government justified this because they were mostly foreign Jews who had escaped into Hungary trying to avoid capture by the Germans.
Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum, Emeritus Rabbi of the Conservative Beth Israel synagogue in Netanya is a survivor from that time in Hungary.   He remembers waking up one morning in March, 1944, looking out of the window in his small town in Hungary and finding it filled with troop carriers filled with German soldiers.  From that day their lives were doomed, although they did not realize it, and they refused to believe the stories of mass murders that they had heard from Polish Jewish escapees.  There were soon directives that Jews had to wear yellow stars, could not use public transport, go to school, go to theaters, use public parks, etc. etc.  On one of the last days of school, on the advice of his father, Ervin stole the identity card of a Christian boy who resembled him, in looks and height etc.  His Jewish friends were appalled that he would steal someone's id, yet they didn't realize that in a few days these papers would save his life. 
As soon as they were in control the Germans implemented the plan to destroy all the Jews of Hungary.  In each district 4 trains a day were sent to Auschwitz carrying 85-100 Jews per car in 45 car trains.  In this way, ca. 10,000 Jews a day were murdered at Auschwitz.  In 45 days ca. 450,000 Jews were murdered.  After a few days the Jews in Ervin's area were ordered to appear in the square, whereupon they were all imprisoned in the local brick factory and soon shipped by train to Auschwitz.  But, he and his older brother left the area after taking off their yellow stars and with their false ids went to hide in the attic of the nearby cinema.  About 30 Jews hid there, being supplied with food and water by a local Christian woman.  His parents managed to make their escape also with false papers to Budapest where they hid. 
Then one morning the woman they depended on came with an anonymous letter that had been left in her mail box that said they knew she was helping Jews who were hiding in the cinema, and if she left a basket with the equivalent of ca. $15,000 in a store across the street, then they would not give them away to the Germans, but if they didn't then they would report them.  There was much discussion about what to do, but most agreed that there was no point in paying this blackmail, because they would be turned in anyway for the rewards given by the Germans.  Ervin and his brother decided to leave that night and try to get to Budapest.  Their false papers were scrutinized twice, once at a checkpoint and once at the station, but they passed both times.  Then on the train their cousin who did not have false papers, but who sat separately from them, was taken by the guards and never seen again, but once again their papers passed.  They managed to find the apartment where their parents were hiding and luckily survived to the end of the war.
By June 1944, most of the remaining ca. 250,000 Hungarian Jews were living in Budapest, and there the Germans established a ghetto where they were packed in.  Every day hundreds of Jews were marched  by Hungarian fascists to the River Danube near the Hungarian Parliament and machine-gunned and thrown in the river (there is a small memorial there, but a new larger one was due to be opened today) estimated total dead ca. 10-15,000.   But, as the Russians came closer to Hungary and eventually reached its borders in June 1944, the Germans ran out of trains to ship these Jews, so they force marched about 100,000 of them, men, women and children, both to Austria and to Auschwitz, about 120 and 180 miles away, respectively.  During this appalling action, Jews were shot by the guards and murdered  by the Hungarian population as they were defenceless and without food and water.  Thousands died or were killed on the march and very few survived. Approx. 100,000 Jews were saved by Raoul Wallenberg and other diplomats who took it upon themselves to find safe houses for the Jews.  When the war ended in January 1945 only ca. 200,000 Hungarian Jews (ca. 25%) had survived this brutal, bloody and primitive ethnic cleansing that took 9 months.  For more information see "The Summer that Bled," by Anthony Masters (1973), that includes a biography of Hannah Senesh and her fate in Hungary.
What is one to make of this terrible example of man's inhumanity to man?  I have no rational answer to this question, the only thing I can say is that my grandson is now in the IDF and he with his comrades is the only prevention of a repeat of this obscene, brutal, inhuman genocide.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Defeat the Palestinians

In the past I have predicted that there will be another round of armed conflict between the Palestinians and Israel before there can be a real peace between us.  Here is my reasoning.
There were major wars in 1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982 when various combinations of the encircling Arab countries attempted to destroy Israel militarily.  As we all know, they failed.  The IDF was far more capable than the combinations of the armies of the surrounding countries and Israel not only won against great odds, but succeeded in establishing a degree of deterrence.  In other words the Arab countries learned a lesson, that they attacked Israel at their own peril.  The defeat by Israel went against all their cherished cultural beliefs.  It was axiomatic to them that not only were the Arabs/Muslims superior to the Jews, but that Jews could not fight and of course, Allah was on their side.  Further, the doctrine of Pan-Arabism of Pres. Nasser of Egypt and of Arab nationalism, gave them the sense of invincibility.  The defeats came as a fundamental shock to their system of beliefs and resulted in the leaders of Egypt and Jordan suing for peace with Israel. Pres. Sadat and King Hussein recognized that Israel could not be defeated by their armies and that the only course was to make peace with the hated enemy.  They did not do this out of sentiment, but out of the need to overcome the crushing defeats that they had suffered physically and psychologically.  
However, through all this very active history, the Palestinians were basically passive.  It was only after the defeat of 1967 that the PLO was formally born and only after 1973, disgusted by the inability of the Arab States to take care of the hated Israeli enemy, that they went on the offensive themselves, using terrorism in place of their inability to confront Israel militarily.  Even in 1982 when the IDF swept into Beirut, the PLO was able to escape to Tunisia, and come back from there under PM Rabin's agreement.
Terrorism is fungible, it is difficult to defeat, if it is crushed somewhere it pops up elsewhere.  Unlike an army it does not need physical structures (barracks, airfields) and large equipment (tanks, planes) to operate.  When Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel the other Arab States basically were forced to give up the military confrontation, and now with Syria destroyed and Iraq in melt-down there is effectively no Arab military threat to Israel (excluding Iran).  But, in effect, the Palestinians have never been defeated by the IDF, the IDF has made incursions into Gaza and the West Bank, but a military occupation is not the same as a military conquest.  The Palestinians must be routed in the field and forced to face the fact that they cannot dictate terms and must surrender to the reality of the situation.  They cannot continue to make fantastic and unrealistic demands as a defeated minority, such as the demand for Jerusalem as their capital, the right of return of 5 million so-called "refugees", the cessation of Israeli building in Judea and Samaria, the release of all convicted terrorist prisoners and so on.
The current situation is a harbinger of future conflict.  When Pres. Abbas of the PA chose instead of making peace with Israel but instead to re-unify with Hamas to form a unity government, he was sowing the seeds of war.  Israel immediately cancelled all peace talks with the PA, and the US and EU were forced to disown the move because Hamas is well-known to be a terrorist organization, with an ideology that is based on the destruction of Israel.  The US has announced that this move will cause the PA to lose several hundred million dollars in annual support from the US.  The PA has announced that the projected unity government will accept previous agreements and recognize Israel, even though it will include Hamas.  Many will be sceptical of this statement, given the dedication of Hamas to the destruction of Israel that is a central feature of its existence. 
War is terrible, people die, but on the other hand for the IDF a war against a Hamas-dominated Palestinian regime in Gaza and the West Bank would not be such a challenge, certainly not on the scale of those it has fought in the past.  If all the Palestinian facilities, such as the Mukata (the Presidential Palace) in Ramallah are occupied and destroyed, including the memorial to that arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat, if all their institutions are occupied and destroyed, if they depend entirely upon Israel for the supply of all basic commodities, food, water, electricity, medicines, etc. then Israel will be able to dictate terms to them, just as victors have always done throughout the ages.  Israel does not want to destroy or massacre the Palestinian people, but we do want them to accept the reality that they cannot dictate terms to us.  And my contention is that this can only come about if they are totally defeated, as were the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Syrians and the Lebanese before them. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Who will gain and who will lose?

Who does the current situation help and who does it harm?  Namely the formation of a Palestinian Unity Government between Hamas and the Palestine Authority (Fatah-PLO) and the cessation of negotiations in the so-called peace process between Israel and the PA due to the reconciliation with Hamas.  Let's be clear about this, since Hamas is a terrorist group openly dedicated to the destruction of Israel and since they have fired over 100 missiles into Israel this year to kill and maim civilians, there can be no continuation of the status quo.  For the PA, it's either them or us.
So the new situation first helps Hamas, because they are practically bankrupt due to the closing of the tunnels under the Egyptian border by the new al-Sisi Government, since these tunnels were the major source of income for the Hamas Government in Gaza.  A reconciliation now between Hamas and the PA allows new sources of funds to flow into Gaza, and Hamas have the prospect of winning in future joint elections in the West Bank, due to the total corruption of the current PLO government there.  The Palestinians in the West Bank know this, yet the EU and USA continue to pour money into the failed and corrupt system.  Only if and when Hamas take over, as they did in Gaza, will the western liberals maybe see the light.
The reconciliation with Hamas helps Pres. Abbas of the PA, in effect it saves him from assassination at the hands of Hamas.  Because if he had in fact come to any kind of reconciliation with Israel, any compromise whatseoever in the Palestinian position, he would be dead.  By standing firm on all counts and then reconciling with Hamas he has saved himself and his family for a quiet retirement.  A big loser will be the PLO-Fatah, since they have clearly been unable to make any peace with Israel and by turning to Hamas are likely to be swept away by Hamas in any future elections. 
In Israel, a big loser will be Tzipi Livni, she joined the Netanyahu Coalition Government in order to bring peace, and she was put in charge of the negotiations with the Palestinians.  But, the talks failed, they ground to a predictable halt, and with it her political future.  Her Tnuah party will be decimated in any future elections.  Similarly the Labor Party, who chose to send a large delegation of MKs to sit with Pres. Abbas in Ramallah and essentially plead with him to make peace with Israel only one week before the end of the negotiations.  How degrading, and what a political mistake.  They too will be decimated in any future elections, since they clearly have no idea about the reality of the situation.
Another big loser will be Secty of State Kerry and his boss Pres. Obama, the charitable interpretation is that they tried hard to do a good thing.  But, in reality there was never any chance of obtaingin any kind of agreement between the PA and Israel, given the intransigence of Abbas and the strength of the Netanyahu Coalition.  It is an embarrassing defeat for Kerry, who put far too much of his credibility on the line in the Middle East, and for Obama who will now not be feared by any opponent in foreign affairs, especially the Russians.  Failure can never foster strength. 
Perhaps the person who will gain the most will be Netanyahu.  The people of Israel have seen that even when trying hard and giving concessions nothing will avail, the Palestinians are basically intansigent and incalcitrant.  Netanyahu stood firm against them and his position is validated.  Another politician who may gain is Bayit Yehudi Head Naftali Bennett, who is against any compromise with the Palestinians.  But, Yair Lapid may be weakened because he wanted a peace agreement too much. The clarification of the situation by the Hamas reconciliation will cause a further lurch to the right in Israeli politics.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dissolve the PA?

The President of the Palestine Authority Mahmud Abbas has been quoted as threatening that since the peace negotiations with Israel have reached a stalemate he is going to dissolve the PA.  At present this is only a rumor, not confirmed by PA sources, although some are taking this seriously.  It could represent a degree of frustration on the part of the PA President, who is already 8 years beyond his legal limit in office, but he surely did not really expect Israel to accept his uncompromising preconditions to continue the talks. 
To dissolve the PA would in effect be playing into the hands of Israel, since it would prove that Abbas is no partner for peace and that there is in fact no partner for peace on the other side.  To support this contention the PA today restarted unity talks with Hamas in Gaza, led by Hamas Head Mousa Abu Marzook, and Gaza Head Mohammed Haniyeh.  To celebrate this renewal Hamas released 10 Fatah prisoners it has been holding in its gaols.  In effect the PA has two paths to choose between, to continue to make peace with Israel or to return to the path of extremism and violence with Hamas.  It looks as if they are saying since Israel didn't give us what we demanded, we are going to take the second path.
The US State Dept. spokesman Jen Psaki was quite clear that the US would take a very dim view of this move to shut down the PA, since they have spent (wasted) millions (billions) of dollars trying to get the Palestinians to develop a proto-state, with the normal organization and functions of a state, namely police, water, sewage, mail, transparency, etc.  However, so far very little of this has worked and the EU too has poured billions of euros into this deep pit.  One would think the US and EU would by now know that this is such a waste of their tax-payers money.  In effect, if the PA is dissolved, this would negate the Oslo Accords on which its existence is based, and would return the situation between Israel and the Palestinians back to square one.  Israel would be almost required to step in and take over the functions of the PA, namely looking after the welfare of the 2.2 million Palestinians, as well as making sure that Hamas and other extremists did not fill the vacuum and take over themselves.  It would lead to great uncertainly and probably violence.  A case of one step forward two steps back. 
Some in Israel would celebrate the demise of the PA.  Naftali Bennett, Head of the Bayit Yehudi party, has already said "good riddance."  He forsees Israel retaking complete control of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and then giving the Palestinian Arabs a choice, either stay and accept Israeli sovereignty, or go to another Arab country, why not Syria, or Jordan.  What would happen cannot be predicted, but it is clear that if the PA collapses, then the possibility of a Palestinian State and the much-touted two-state solution fades into insignificance. 
But, the latest news is that there has been an agreement between the PLO/Fatah and Hamas to form a Unity Government of technocrats in 5 weeks time and then to have national elections in 6 months including the WB and Gaza.  If this reconciliation actually happens it will be a miracle, but PM Netanyahu has signalled his displeasure at this outcome by cancelling the scheduled meeting betwen Israel and the PA.  There cannot be any reconciliation between Israel and an organization that includes an Islamist group dedicated to its destruction.  It seems Abbas has chosen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Israel is for the birds

I was told this story by an ornithologist, Richard Wagner, who works in Vienna, Austria, and despite his name is Jewish.  Yossi Leshem is an Israeli ornithologist who is the Director of the Intl. Center for the Study of Bird Migration in Latrun and a member of the Zoology Dept. at Tel Aviv University.   He has been called the ornithologist who saved Israel.
Israel is on the path of a major bird migration route from Europe and Asia to Africa in the autumn, when birds fly south to avoid the winter, and from Africa back to their nesting grounds in the north in the spring.  Since the birds prefer not to fly over the Mediterannean sea and the Arabian desert, they converge on the narrow strip of coastal land that is Israel.  During these migrations millions of birds of many species pass though Israeli air space.  During the 1950s this became a problem when several IAF planes crashed due to collisions with bird flocks and even large single birds such as cranes. Also commercial air liners were at risk, with some being forced to make emergency landings due to birds sucked into their huge jets. 
Yossi Leshem decided to study the brid migration patterns, with the help of an army of spotter volunteers on the ground and his own travel in a glider, following the migrating birds.  He was able over a few years to obtain specific data on where the birds flew and which species landed in which locations to rest and eat and drink.  He was also able to persuade the IAF that this was an important issue for them, since each plane that crashes loses some m$5 as well as potentially the life of the pilot (who usually have to eject), and they allowed him the use of sophisticated radar to map the bird migrations.  Eventually he was able from the three sources, the spotters, his own direct observations and the radar plots, to come up with a statistically accurate prediction of where and when the birds fly.  Progamming this into the plane's computer made it easy to avoid the bird migration routes.  This has saved countless planes and lives and made the IAF combat-ready at any time, even when the skies are full with millions of migrating birds.
Incidentally, Israel is now one of the favorite sites for bird-watchers in the world, who can see the many species of birds flying over Israel from Eilat to the Galilee, where they stop to rest at the Hula swamp area. There is a new bird watching and research center there near Kfar Ruppin, as well as centers in Eilat and Latrun.  Israel is for the birds.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Showing the flag

In the old days, when its dominance was threatened, an imperial power would send a warship to shoot a few shells across the bows of any threatening competitor, and that would be that.  Nowadays it's a bit more subtle.  In order to show their displeasure with Russia president Putin's annexation of the Crimea and currently interferance in eastern Ukraine, the West is using sanctions and military maneuvers, the dance of the generals.
Thus NATO has moved some of its assets up towards the former "Iron Curtain" and the US is holding joint military exercises with its EU ally Romania.   It is unlikely that Putin is concerned by these military messages.  After all Romania and Poland are now part of the EU.  But, Moldova and Ukraine are not part of Europe and that is what Putin sees as a threat.  He will do almost anything to prevent the eastern border of the EU from moving further eastwards into what he perceives as his area of influence.  He is not so much resurrecting the USSR as trying to regain the old Russian Empire.   Since the current eastern border of the EU stops at Belarus and Moldova, these are the next countries that are no doubt on Putin's little list.
But, first, must come Ukraine, and Putin has moved his troops up to the border of Ukraine.  The recent incident at Slavyansk where three supposedly pro-Russian militiamen guarding a checkpoint were killed, has all the earmarks of a set-up.  In the middle of the night a supposedly Ukrainian nationalist group attacked the pro-Russian guards, and as well as killing three set several vehicles on fire.  The news reporters happened to be there.  What a perfect excuse for Putin to send in his troops to protect the pro-Russian militias from Ukrainian "terrorists." 
Then there is the pro-Russian enclave of Transnistria, that has declared its independence from Moldova.  Moldova was originally a part of Romania called Bessarabia, that was taken over by Russia in the 19th century.  When the USSR collapsed, Moldova declared its independence, although it was prevented from rejoining Romania.  But, the mainly Russian speaking people tothe east across the Dniester river refused to become part of Moldova.  They formed a pro-Russian strip between Moldova and Ukraine, that no doubt Putin has his eyes on.  If he can annex Transnistria, he can in effect surround Ukraine, from the west as well as the east.  Any Russian general worth his salt will be whispering "Pridnestrovie" in Putin's ear, what the Russians call Transnistria.  And if Putin decides to move into Transnistria, after a referendum of course, what can the West do to prevent him.  It's a chess game in which Putin owns the board.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The two-state solution

If a two-state solution is applicable to the Israel-Palestine dispute, why not to other conflicts.  Case in point Syria.  Pres. Assad still controls ca. 40% of Syrian territory, while the other 60% is controlled by the anti-Assad Sunni forces.  Syria was a country cobbled together, like most of the Middle East, by the imperialists Britain and France after WWI.   Now the two sides are reaching a military stalemate, with neither side making significant gains and neither having the means to achieve complete victory.  So let's have a two-state solution in Syria.  Why not?  If its applicable to Israel why not to Syria?
Scotland is going to have a referendum soon to leave the United Kingdom, after 309 years.  There's no doubt that its joining that Union was coerced.  So let's have a two-state solution for the UK, and while we are about it why not a 4-state solution, with Wales, N. Ireland, Scotland and England each going their separate ways, in other words a dissolution of the Union.  Then there's Iraq, that should be improved by the magical two-state solution into Shia and Sunni states, as they virtually are already.  A case in point was the separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovakian Republics, that was achieved quite peacefully.  But, India and Pakistan required a major war to divide the sub-continent.
The two-state solution can be applied almost everywhere you look, what about Rwanda, yes separate Hutu and Tutsi States.  And Korea, yes, a North and a South. And why not Ukraine, let's divide it into western Ukraine and Russian eastern Ukraine, a perfect two-state solution.  The usual process in that case is that the eastern regions will have a referendum (just as in Crimea) to either remain independent or to join Russia.  Then of course there is the classic case of Cyprus, yes a division between Greek and Turkish States. And Canada, yes even there the two-state solution could apply, why not an English-speaking Canada and a French-speaking Quebec.  If it applies to Israel it might just as well apply to all other conflicts, since there are usually two sides to each conflict, one solution fits all. 
On the other hand, one might argue that the constant sub-dividing of countries into smaller and smaller entities to satisfy each ethnic, religious or language group is not good, the process needs to stop at an intermediate level, since countries, such as the USSR are too large, or countries like Palestine are too small.  Countries need to be effective and functioning units that not only can control their territories, but also are economically viable and can survive independently.  Look how some of the countries that make up the EU have been struggling recently (such as Greece) and had to be rescued financially otherwise they would effectively cease to exist.  Why bring more such tiny cantons into the world as sovereign countries.  Leave Israel and all the others alone, let them be sovereign within their natural borders.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ukraine separatism

The violence in the Ukraine is progressing just as Pres. Putin wants it to.  His pro-Russian accomplices in eastern Ukraine are taking over Government buildings, including police stations.  They are setting up defended areas, flying the Russian flag, surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by men in army fatigues but without any insignia.  The reporters suspect that they are mostly Russian paratroopers infiltrated into eastern Ukraine.  Some may also be former Ukrainian army soldiers who have defected to the Russian side.  The Ukrainian Government in Kiev has dispatched its newly expanded army including special forces units to retake the towns and villages that have been overtaken by the pro-Russian militias, but so far woithout success.  There has been fighting and according to reports at least 5 of the pro-Russian defenders have been killed.  This is precisely the excuse that Putin needs to send in his Russian army deployed around the border of Ukraine, in order to protect the lives of the Russians in eastern Ukraine who want to re-join Russia.  It all seems very familiar.
Meanwhile NATO has upgraded its forces in eastern Europe to protect their interests and to let the other countries there know that if Putin decides to expand there too he will not go undeterred.  Maybe he will be satisfied with taking another chunk out of Ukraine.  Maybe, but probably not.  Each side is accusing the other of being terrorists, Putin calls the regime in Kiev a terrorist regime, because they overthrew the pro-Russian Pres. Yanukovich, and the regime in Kiev calls the forces taking over their towns and villages, terrorists with Russian support.  Where can it end?
US Pres. Obama is apparently displeased with PM Netanyahu for not taking a firm stand against Pres. Putin's move to annex the Crimea and his continued support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.  But, Obama seems not to realize that Israel is a small country facing a continuous and deadly war against it by implacable foes.  It is appropriate for the US to take a firm stand on Ukraine as the leader of the western world, and for the EU, since they are threatened by Russia.  But, Israel needs to keep good ties with Putin, especially since there are a million former Russians in Israel and many Jews in Russia.  Let's be realistic, Israel has enough on its plate, if the US focused on its major problems and left us alone a bit then things might not be so bad.  This is precisely why Israel is interested in fostering ties with other allies aside from the US. 
On Thursday, a meeting was held in Geneva between the US, EU, Ukraine and Russia.  There was apparently agreement on a plan of operation to de-escalate the situation.  The Ukrainian government agreed to pull back its forces and give time for the separatists to leave the government facilities.  However, the pro-Russian separatists are not leaving since they claim they do not recognize the government in Kiev.  Now we will see whether or not Pres. Putin has enough influence over them if he really wants them to retreat or if they are acting alone (unlikely).  So its in the balance.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A German Life

This is the story of Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger as told to a Jewish group in NY (Nassau County) and published in his book "A German Life."    He was the son of a former active Nazi and famous tank commander under Gen. Guderian, and received the Iron Cross from Hitler for his services to the German Reich.  After the defeat of Germany and after WWII, Bernd was born in 1958 and grew up in the central German town of Bamberg, a beautiful historic city.  He grew up knowing little about the war and about his father's role in it, except that he had been a military hero.  But, certain things disturbed this simple narrative, first his parents would never discuss WWII with him, it was the past. Second, in his town were stationed 15,000 American troops and their families, he never really understood why. Third, living above them in their house was an old lady, whose husband had also been a decorated German war hero like his father.  Talking to this old lady he discoved that she was the widow of Count Klaus von Stauffenberg, who had been executed as a result of his organizing a plot against Hitler.  But, his father told him that Stauffenberg had been a traitor.
Then in 1972 the Munich Olympic Games took place, that was supposed to bring Germany full acceptance back into the family of nations.  When the Israeli team paraded with the Magen David flag, his parents and their friends became suddenly quiet.  Then a terrible act occured, the Israeli athletes were murdered by the combination of Palestinian terrorists and German incompetence.  His parents were ambivalent about the deaths, they did not condone them, but they did not condemn them either.  The paper headline read "Jews killed in Germany again."  This provoked much discussion at school and he learned for the first time from his teachers about the Holocaust and the history of the Jews in Germany.
When he questioned his father about his role in the war, at first his father remained elusive.  But after initial denials of knowing anything about the murder of the Jews, he gradually opened up and finally admitted it, and said that it was something that they had to do, to rid the world of these inferior people.  Bernd saw for the first time that his father was motivated by irrational racial hatred and turned away from him.  He began to educate himself about WWII, the Holocaust and Judaism.  He sought out the remaining Jews in Bamberg, there were about 30 that formed a small community.  He befriended the Rabbi and became the "shabbos goy."  When he broached the subject of conversion the Rabbi turned him down and said he would have to go elsewhere. 
When he was older and studying medicine he was intoduced to another Rabbi and after initial rejection, he was finally accepted for Orthodox conversion.  He converted in 1986 and then made aliyah to Israel in 1987.  He joined a kibbutz to learn Hebrew, and then after 6 months he was inducted into the IDF, took the officers course and became a Lieutenant.  After his military service he worked as a doctor in a hospital.  Throughout his time in Israel he concealed his family background.  He married an Israeli woman and had children and never told his family of his origins.  Recently he went to Miami to study a speciality. Only when his son was 14 and asked him about his grandparents for a project at his Jewish school did he finally open up.  When his son told his story at school Bernd was asked to come in to see the Principal who told him that he must tell his story and then he confessed to his family and eventually wrote the book about his life. 
(I thank Renie Hirsch for bringing this story to my attention.)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ruthless pragmatism

If I have to define my political philosophy, particularly in regard to the Palestinian dispute, I would say it is "ruthless pragmatism."  In this I follow the lead of that well-known politician Francis Underwood, the main character played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey in the TV series "House of Cards."  By ruthless manipulation Francis goes from Congressman to Chief Whip to Vice President to President in two series.  In doing so he dispenses with friend and foe alike, everything is possible as long as it preserves the appearance of legality.  In other words "ruthless pragmatism."
One practitioner of this political art is Pres. Putin of Russia.  He knows that Pres. Obama is not prepared to start WWIII over Crimea or Ukraine.  So he had the pro-Russian forces in Crimea not only take over the local Parliament, but also administer a referendum, that was passed by 98%.   He had Russian forces without insignia take over all military bases in Crimea, and then had the Russian Duma pass a resolution accepting Crimea into the Russian Federation.  He maintained the appearance of legality, even though the whole process was illegal under international law, but with sufficient force no-one is prepared to counteract him.  In effect, notwithstanding the US and EU threats and sanctions, Crimea is now part of Russia, fait accompli.  Now he is carrying out the same process in eastern Ukraine, although perhaps with a little more circumspection.  His accomplices in Donetsk and the other cities of eastern Ukraine are playing their role.  Only this time the interim pro-Western Ukrainian President Yatsenyuk has ordered the Ukrainian army into eastern Ukraine to remove the pro-Russian insurgents.  It seems that there will be a war, but Russia has overwhelming force and Putin knows that the West will not intervene to save Ukraine.  Ruthless pragmatism.
Why can't our PM Bibi Netanyahu exhibit more of this ruthless pragmatism when dealing with the Palestinians.  After all Israel has a prima facie case for sovereignty over the disputed territories, the Palestinians are splintered into several hostile elements, they are disorganized and weak.  Israel should be able to manipulate and outflank them.  First we should announce that because of the Palestinian unilateral actions all negotiations are over.  Second in response to their actions we should annex those areas that have a Jewish majority and that we wish to be part of Israel.  Third, when the Palestinians react violently, as can be predicted they will do, we go in and suppress them and take more of the territory. 
It might be argued that this policy is not moral, and it is true that it is not primarily based on moral concerns, but then neither is the political course taken by the Palestinians or many others for that matter (the British in their former Empire, Russia in Crimea, the US in Iraq and Afghanistan).  In order to beat them at their own game we must be realistic and pragmatic. It reminds me of the old adage, "faint heart never won fair lady," if you want her enough you must take her. In fact, in the arena of international relations, the order of the day is expediency, something that the Jews and the Jewish State have never been very good at. 
It also reminds me of the taking of the US hostages in Tehran in 1979, who were held for 444 days during the Carter Administration.  But the day after Pres Reagen was installed as President, the Ayatollah released the hostages.  It wasn't because he had changed his attitude towards the USA, it was because he feared the ruthless pragmatism of Reagen much more than he feared the incompetence and indecision of Carter.  Another case in point, if PM Thatcher had not exhibited ruthless pragmatism, the Falkland Islands would now be called the Malvinas.  If there are two sides in a dispute and you really want to win, then you must take active steps to ensure victory, while always maintaining at least the appearance of legality. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Abrogation of the Oslo Accords

It is not that PM Netanyahu is merely upset by the fact that Pres. Abbas of the PA is applying to 15 organs of the UN to join various conventions and treaties, but that this application is contrary to internatioanl law, because the PA is not a State and further that it is contrary to a signed obligation that the PA undertook as part of the Oslo Accords, which is the only peace agreement that Israel and the Palestinians have signed so far.  By taking these unilateral steps the PA not only negates all previous UN resolutions that require negotiations between the two sides, but also by negating the Oslo Accords, leaves Israel free to do so as well.  If the Accords no longer apply to the Palestinians they also no longer apply to Israel. 
The whole existence of the PA itself is based on the division of the West Bank and Gaza into three areas A, B and C, under these Accords, in which area A is administered by the Palestinians as the PA, C remains under Israeli jurisdiction, and B is controlled jointly.  If this treaty is abrogated, it would be legitimate under international law for Israel to return to the status quo ante, namely the full occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  Whether or not Israel would chose to do this is uncertain, but the Israeli Government might decide to reoccupy and then annex those areas of Jewish serttlement in Judea and Samaria that they would have claimed in any negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.  If there is no such negotiation and no possibility of a peace agreement and if the Palestinian side takes unilateral action, so will Israel.
To consider these applications by the PA to the UN in more detail, the treaties and conventions of the UN are applicable to States only, that are recognized, that control their own territory, that are self-supporting and that are sovereign.  The Palestine Authority exhibits none of these characteristics of a State.  Furthermore, should the UN unaccountably recognize Palestinian rights under these treaties, it would change the situation considerably, according to Alan Baker, Legal Advisor to the Israel Foreign Ministry, because the obligations of a State would apply to the Palestinian Authority, hence they would be responsible for all and every terrorist action that occurs against Israel from any part of their territory.  Thus, if Hamas lobs a missile against Israel from Gaza, the ultimate authority for this would be Pres. Abbas in Ramallah.  Thus, Israel would be legitimately within its rights under international law to retaliate against the PA in Ramallah. 
On two occasions the Palestinians were offered a great deal, by PM Ehud Barak to Yasir Arafat in 2000 and by PM Ehud Olmert to Pres. Abbas in 2008.  In both cases the PA leaders rejected these deals and continued on the course of terrorism and rejection of Israel's right to exist.  Now they can never expect a better deal from the current Israeli Government because Israel in response has moved rightwards, after those deals were rejected and both Barak and Olmert were rejected by the Israeli populace in elections.  Now, if the PA takes these unilateral; actions and they lose out they will only have themselves to blame.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Unilateral action

In my recent posting entitled "the blame game" I omitted reference to the approval for the construction of 700 homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, that was announced as the ill-fated talks were breaking down.  Both Pres. Abbas and US Secty of State Kerry referred to this as a reason for the breakdown of the talks and of course, blamed Israel.  But, actually this announcement, as all such announcements, are merely routinely made by a Committee of the Housing Ministry.  The actual construction will not take place for maybe a year or two, and can easily be stopped at any stage.  So to blame this announcement for the break-down of the talks is merely Palestinian propaganda, that US Secty Kerry and others eagerly repeated.
Also, I did not address the fact that one reason PM Netanyahu cancelled the release the last batch of prisoners to the PA is that among them are 12 Israeli Arabs.  There are many in Israel who cannot see any justification for releasing to the PA these Israeli citizens who have been found guilty in an Israeli court of terrorism or related charges.  Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party has announced publicly that if these prisoners are released he will take his party out of the Coalition.  He claims that making such a release to the PA negates Israeli sovereignty and will set a bad precedent.  PM Netanyahu avoided a crisis by not releasing the last batch of prisoners, but it was a mistake to agree to release Israeli Arabs in the first place.
There has been little comment about a speech Pres. Abbas gave, after he torpedoed the talks, in which he laid out new conditions before he would continue the talks.  To his previous preconditions, that Israel release Palestinian prisoners and accept the 1967 ceasefire lines as the border of the Palestinian State, he added that Israel must release all Palestinian prisoners, that Israel must institute a full halt on all construction in the West Bank and that Israel must accept the right of return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel. He also insisted that Israel must recognize Palestinian sovereignty in all of the area C that they occupy under the Oslo Accords.  Without Israel agreeing to these preconditions he will not continue negotiating. Since he knows there is no chance whatsoever of Israel accepting these preconditions, this is intended to be an end game. 
Secty of State Kerry continues to blame Israel whenever he has the chance.  But, the State Dept. spokesperson Jan Psaki repeatedly explains that Kerry doesn't really mean it, he really blames both sides equally.  If that is true why isn't he castigating Pres. Abbas for sabotaging the talks by taking the PA's case unilaterally to the UN and other agencies well before the April 29 deadline for the talks to end.  It was all planned and prepared in advance, including the intention to blame Israel.  But, Israel is not without means to respond.  PM Netanyahu announced that Israel will deduct a portion of the taxes that it collects for the PA in the amount that it has given to the released prisoners as a payment for their terrorist activity and for payment for electricity and water supplied by Israel to the PA.  Psaki referred to these unilateral reactions by Israel as "unfortunate."  If there are more unilateral actions by the PA that evade the requirement for negotiating a peace agreement, then Israel could cease the payments altogether, as well as blocking all PA shipments that are sent from Israeli ports and stopping all foreign payments to the PA that go through Israeli financial institutions. Ultimately Israel could simply re-occupy and annex land that it would have received in any agreed land-swaps.  For taking unilateral action and subverting the peace process the Palestinians must be made to suffer, and they will find that Israel can also take unilateral actions.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Conquering the plagues

I have had my own plagues for Pesach, only two so far, termites and floods.  In my little studio, that is a basement (although with windows around the top of the walls), I had an infestation of termites and repeated floods. 
First the termites, it seems that when the studio was built the doorposts were extended through the ceramic floor tiles into the earth.  This provided a major highway for termites that in Israel nest in the ground and find wooden doorposts in the earth an ideal entry into human habitations.  I am told that now the building codes do not allow this, but this major mistake in building has cost me.  Fortunately for me, although I ignored the early signs of piles of wood dust around the doorposts, when I woke up to it, only the doorposts had been damaged.  I could find no damage anywhere else except to the base of a bookcase next to an inner door, that I was able to repair.  I cut off the infected parts and added metal legs.  Then I had the full anti-termite treatment, when they came in and drilled holes every foot or so around the walls of the rooms and pumped in a poison that the termites take into their nest and it kills them off.  Now I have to remove and repair the damage to the door posts.  Two doorways were affected and they must be replaced, and two others need to be cut off at the bottom and sealed from the earth with ceramic tile and silicone caulk.  All this costs money, a responsibility of ownership.
As for the floods, I have been in this studio for about 5 years and we only had occasional floods when it rained very heavily, not a significant problem.  But, a few months ago we started getting floods of sewage even when there was no rain.  This was so unpleasant that some experts were called in to investigate, and the conclusion was that the original plans for the sewers under the building had not been followed, but the connection had been made lower than the main city drain.  As new buildings go up so the amount of sewage exceeds the drain's capacity and it flows back into our building.  A meeting of the va'ad habayit (building committee) was called and we agreed to pay whatever was needed to carry out the work to prevent this happening.  In the meantime we covered the two drains in our area with plastic covers and sealed them with caulk and then I put a heavy stone building block on top of the one in my toilet/ shower area in case of pressure.  I never actually use the shower, but the problem is that if the drains back up again then it will have to come out somewhere else, I hope not in my area. 
So far I have conquered two plagues.  Then I had water dripping from the tap under the sink in my studio, so I called a plumber and he replaced the tap/faucet, for a price.  What's next?  I have to consult the Haggadah.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The blame game

As soon as the ill-fated Israeli-Palestinian talks came towards their predictable end, the blame game started.  And as usual the powers-that-be blame Israel, although the facts would indicate that the Palestinians were preparing their talk-ending unilateral actions well in advance of the talks actually ending.
Let's take a look at the sequence of events.  Two weeks before the talks ended in mid-March the Palestinian side announced that if the talks failed they would go immediately to multiple UN agencies to ask for unilateral recognition of their State.  This is contrary to the spirit and letter of all previous UN declarations that require a negotiated end to the conflict.  As a consequence of this announcement and under pressure from members of his coalition government, PM Netanyahu decided first to delay, then after further negative Palestinian comments, he cancelled the final Palestinian prisoner release. The point was, why should he release dangerous prisoners if the Palestinians were already saying that the talks were over and they were going to take unilateral action.  Then two days after the cancellation of the prisoner release PA President Abbas held a meeting of the Fatah-PLO Council and announced the application by the PA to 15 UN and international agencies, including several treaties and conventions that are restricted to States alone.  These applications were then filed the next day, so the PA had arranged and organized this talk-destroying action well in advance, while US Secty. of State Kerry was still bleating his hopes that the talks would continue.  In fact he flew all the way from Europe to Israel in order to meet with Abbas, but when Abbas made this announcement he turrned around and went back without having been consulted.
Now you would think that Kerry would be mad at Abbas and would publicly criticize these unilateral actions.  But, no, instead he criticized Israel. Kerry said that Netanyahu failed to release the prisoners and the talks went "pouf."  Many people have a hard time understanding why he would blame PM Netanyahu for the Palestinians taking this unilateral action. The reason is simple, the Arabs.  The US tries to maintain friendly relations with a host of Arab countries from Morocco to Saudi Arabia (there are 22 of them).  Blaming the Palestinians for the break-down of the talks would result in negative reactions from the Arab countries, while blaming Israel only results in negative reaction from the Israelis and their mainly Jewish supporters.  Obama and Kerry have no doubt therefore who they should blame, irrespective of the facts.
Then PM Netanyahu announced that in response to the Palestinian unilateral actions he will ban further contacts between high Israeli Government officials and their Palestinian counterparts, except for the peace talks.  This was a minimal response that he could make.  But, of course then Kerry and others criticized this reaction as adding to the breakdown of the talks.  Others in the Coalition have suggested more extreme unilateral actions in response to the Palestinian actions, for example Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party has proposed that Israel annex those areas where Jewish settlers constitute the majority, which would be within Israel in any negotiated agreement anyway (the so-called "land swaps").  However, so far Netanyahu has resisted these calls for a strong reaction.  But, if the PA goes ahead with these applications and gains more recognition, you can expect PM Netanyahu to "punish" them for their unilateral actions without negotiations.  The US should support its ally Israel in this response, but they will not.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Enigma variations

When Winston Churchill described Russia as "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma," he could have been talking about Jews.  The term "Jew" includes at least three meanings, first the religious, second the ethnic and third the national.  In that respect there are three main kinds of Jews in the world, each emphasizing one of these three aspects, first the religious, who believe in and practice Judaism, second, the ethnic, who eat at the deli and who are liberals who believe foremost in human rights and third the Zionists, who realize the national aspect of being a Jew is the only course for Jewish survival.  
Which one are you, or are you a mixture of two, such as a national religious Jew (1 and 3)?  But, you can’t really be a mixture of 2 and  3, you can’t be both a liberal Jewish ethnic and a Zionist.  That’s the sticking point.  Those Jews who have concluded that Zionism is the only path for Jewish survival have made their choice to stand with Israel, but those who have accepted an ethnic Jewishness, that allows them to wallow in chicken soup or to become fervent internationalists and good liberals, will ultimately disappear in the Diaspora.  They are creatures of the exile (galut), with no long-term plan for survival. 
Because they are good liberals they have no problem with their children marrying out to good liberal secular people of other ethnic origins.  But, that spells the end of the special existence of the Jewish people.  And of course these liberal Jews cannot accept the special "narrow" national definition of Jewish nationhood, after all they are good Americans or British or whatever.  And they certainly cannot justify the actions of the Israeli Government and the IDF carried out to ensure the survival of the Jewish State, not done in their name.
Our oldest grandson was inducted into the IDF this week and we went to see him on his base.  It was a moment of great pride for us, a moment of transition from being creatures of the galut to being authentic Jews, living in our own homeland and being ready and able to defend it.  Nothing can compare to the satisfaction of that.  

Monday, April 07, 2014

Mister Secretary

Dear Secretary Kerry, take my advice and that of most Israeli citizens, give up your obsession with finding peace in the Middle East and go back to the more mundane tasks, such as ensuring world peace with the Russians.  Instead of "tilting at windmills," try saving Ukraine and Eastern Europe from Russian domination.  That is a more deserving pastime for you than trying to achieve the impossible, when it is clear that the Palestinians have no intention whatsoever of making peace with Israel.  Their well-planned application to 15 UN agencies and international conventions and treaties shows that they were preparing this action all the time while they were stone-walling the negotiations.  Given the uncertainty in the Arab world, no Palestinian leader is going to make any compromises with Israel, and the whole Arab League supported this by pushing their own Plan  and declaring that they will never recognize Israel as the Jewish State.
No wonder you have been forced to give up your crusade and you have admitted defeat. Attempts will go on, but they will be fruitless for now. Your repesentative, former Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, is still trying to talk to both sides, but after the Palestinian move nothing can be accomplished.  Abbas must be replaced by a leader with vision (according to GW Bush, "the vision thing") who is really interested in making peace, otherwise if there is another violent intifada, Israel will be forced to send the IDF in and suppress it.  Then we will be back to square one, with no PA and in effect a one-state solution.  This is how resolutions usually arise, from force of circumstances, not by painstaking fastidious mediation. 
Of course, Mr. Secretary, you and your boss Pres. Obama, found it necessary to blame both sides for this failure.  You said that Israel stopped the last exchange of prisoners and the PA went ahead with unilateral applications for its statehood.  But, it is clear to any objective observer that it was Israel that made the concessions that you insisted upon and the PA that did nothing, and their unilateral actions go against all prior UN resolutions requiring both sides to negotiate a mutual solution. In fact, you have criticized these actions by the PA for recognition, and you are therefore required to oppose them in any and all international venues.  I hope that you do, and that you will try to prevent this unilateral move that undermines international legitimacy.  But, don't despair, you will be remembered as an assiduous slogger, even if an abject failure.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Milestone in Lebanon

The one millionth Syrian refugee was officially registered in Lebanon on the UNHCR.  However, this is only the official count, there are probably many more.  When France unilaterally separated Lebanon from Syria in 1920 when it had the Syrian Mandate after WWI, it did so in order to protect the minority Christian population that lived along the mountainous coastal region from the majority Sunni Muslims (similarly Britain unilaterally separated Transjordan from the British Mandate in 1922).  However, now the million Sunni Muslim refugees in Lebanon constitute 25% of the population and have completely reversed the delicate ethnic balance there.  Since there is little or no hope of them ever returning soon to Syria, this will become a permanent major change in the small country of Lebanon.  France also lumped the minority Druse and Shia population of Southern Lebanon in with the Christians, but they have never really cohered into a unified country. 
Apart from the previous civil wars in Lebanon, the civil war in Syria is beginning to spread over into Lebanon.  Hizbollah, the Shia militia, that is the only well armed militia in Lebanon and that is fighting with the Assad regime in Syria, is also active in fighting against the Sunni militias that have taken their war from Syria into Lebanon in order to strike back at Hizbollah.  Given the divisions between the four major faith groups in Lebanon, Shia, Sunni, Christian (several denominations) and Druse, there is almost no possibility that Lebanon can remain stable.  The Sunni Muslim states are pouring money into Lebanon, Qatar is supporting the Sunni extremist groups and Saudi Arabia is supporting the Lebanese Government and Army.  But, the center cannot hold.
Meanwhile there are estimated to be another 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, and the funds needed to clothe and feed them all is totally insufficient.  In Lebanon alone only 14% of the funds needed have been provided.  In Syria itself, the cities are in ruins, except for most of Damascus.  There have been an estimated ca. 150,000 deaths, although this figure may be as high as 220,000, and ca. 5 million internally displaced refugees.  Syria may be partially ruled by the Assad regime, but it is a wrecked country.
In Iraq there is a major split between the western Sunni-dominated Anbar province and the eastern Shia-dominated regions where the Shia-dominated Iraqi government of PM al-Maliki is nominally in control, with Iranian influence and involvement..  The clashes and bombings in the sectarian violence in Iraq are verging on civil war there.  Quite that were artificially carved out by the British and French imperialists.  No-one can at this point predict whether the Sunni or Shia forces will prevail.  Iran is predominant on the Shia side and Saudi Arabia on the Sunni side.  The outcome will have significant consequences for the whole Arab/Muslim world.  The West, including Israel, will be better off to remain on the side-lines and let them fight it out.

Friday, April 04, 2014

An amazing story

I have been interested in the history and indeed the plight of the Bnei Anusim, descendents of the Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity (conversos) in Spain and Portugal and were then hounded by the Inquisition.  Many of them fled at one time or another away from Iberia and took refuge in the many Spanish and Portuguese colonies around the world, in the Azores, the Canary Islands, Holland, Florida, and South America.  We know that today there are millions of the descendents of these "marranos" or Bnei Anusim, but most of them have little idea of their origins. People are sceptical that there are any who could remember their Jewish origins or even return to them after hundreds of years.  But, there are some cases.
I have described the cases of a few such people, for example Genie Milgrom, whose book "My fifteen grandmothers" I read recently (see blog, Dec 31, 2013 ).  Here is another true story.  A  young man in Britain (who shall be nameless), like Genie, found himself, providentially or not, socializing with Jews.  He had been brought up as an Anglican and had no particular reason to be attracted to Jews, but as a free thinker he had no particular reason to be prejudiced against them either. As a result of a love affair with a young Jewish girl, he became attracted to the idea of the kibbutz.  With an idealistic tendency he found the idea of communal living both novel and romantic.  So he decided to join up and try living on a kibbutz for a while.  In order to do so he was advised by his madrich (mentor) to put himself down as "Jewish", which he did, since it made no real difference to him.  During his stay on the kibbutz he fell in love with another one of the girls of the group (garin) and they were married.  Now he found himself living in Israel and on a kibbutz, without being Jewish and without any interest in converting to Judaism.
After a few years on the kibbutz they became disillusioned and moved to a town in Israel, where they had two sons.  Since their mother was Jewish so were the boys and so having a father who was a non-Jew presented no immediate difficulty.  Both sons joined the IDF and fought in Israel's wars and both survived, although not without difficulty.  Years went by and the sons, perhaps partly as a result of their war experiences, became ultra-Orthodox (haredi).  They each married and had children and now these children are coming to a marriageable age.  Now he realized that his grandchildren's marriage prospects could be affected in the haredi circles in which they live by having a non-Jewish grandfather around.
Meanwhile his wife died, and he re-married.  He had been born in S. America and had grown up there when his father, like his grandfather, was stationed there by a British insurance company.  Although he considered himself thoroughly British, his second wife was interested in his S. American background, since it turned out that his grandfather had actually married a local Chilean woman. He told her that his family had a tradition of never eating milk and meat together, an unusual tradition for Catholics.  She also investigated his grandmother's origins and wIth the help of Gloria Mound at Casa Shalom they were able to find in the archives that her maiden name was Mendez, a typically Jewish Spanish surname. Since his maternal line was evidently Jewish, after living nearly 60 years in Israel as a non-Jew he suddenly found that he was in fact Jewish!  Naturally his haredi family are delighted.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

End of the road

Because it was clear that Pres Abbas of the PA had no interest in continuing negotiations and in any case showed no intention to compromise, PM Netanyahu decided to delay the release of the last batch of prisoners in the agreed exchange. Abbas then held a meeting of the PLO/Fatah Central Committee and announced that the PA would be applying to 15 UN and international agencies  for unilateral recognition of Palestine as a State.  This response was so fast, within two days of the delay in the release being announced, that it obviously had been planned beforehand.  Even US Secty of State Kerry was not told in advance and flew all the way from Europe to Israel to meet with Abbas, but then realized that this move by Abbas had wrecked any possibility of continuing the peace process that he had so assiduously pursued and so he cancelled his trip to Ramallah and after meeting with PM Netanyahu flew back to Europe. 
 In effect, this is the end of the road for Kerry's /Obama's particular attempt to bring the two sides to some kind of compromise. It was opimistic, even arrogant, to think that he could do this within 9 months, but to end without even the "Framework Agreement" that he promised is particularly devastating.  But, no-one here on the ground expected anything different.  This peremptory unilateral move by the Palestinians also prevented a deal in which Pollard would be freed by the US for more Palestinian prisoners, no doubt Abbas did not want to see celebrations in Israel as they have had for their prisoners in the West Bank.  It is clear that Abbas agreed to sit down to talks only because he got one of his prior concessions agreed to by Israel (with US pressure), namely the release of hundreds of convicted Palestinian terrorist murderers.  So Israel released them and what was the outcome, it was a complete and dangerous fiasco.
Nothing has been gained by these extended talks, there was no trust on either side and certainly no intention by Abbas to compromise one iota from the standard Palestinian/Arab position, namely that Israel must make all the concessions that will weaken it and then they will attempt to destroy it.  Failing that they will try to undermine, delegitimize and demonize Israel in all international fora.  They intended to do this before the talks started and their actions were merely delayed. Of course, Israel is too strong, economically and militarily, to be weakened in this way, so the Palestinian strategy is futile, but they have no alternative except make peace, and they apparently have no intention of doing that.  The unanimous adoption by the Arab League meeting in Kuwait last week of the Palestinian position that they will "never" recognize Israel as the Jewish State only serves to prove the point.  It should not surprise anyone that in response to this Palestinian strategy Israel will itself take unilateral action, for example the IDF could re-occupy the West Bank cities (Area A under the Oslo Accords) that make up the PA, which will spell the end of the PA as an entity.   

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Russian intentions?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated publicly that Russia has no intention of invading eastern Ukraine.  Should we believe him?  The fact is that Russia has been moving armed forces into the regions surrounding Ukraine, videos of tanks being transported by railway have shown up on the news and legions of armed soldiers without Russian insignia have been photographed taking up positions around eastern Ukraine, estimates are that there are now some 200,000 of them.  If Russia has no intention of invading eastern Ukraine why are they there? The Russian PM Medvedev in a visit to Crimea announced that some Russian forces will be withdrawn, but so far there is no evidence of that.  Also, pro-Russian elements are acting violently in the cities of eastern Ukraine, Kharkov and Donetsk, causing civil strife and forcing the Ukrainian authorities to react.
In addition, the region of Transnistria is a potential second Crimea, since it is a breakaway region of Moldova, that is mainly Russian-speaking and largely ethnic Russian.  Moldova is a Romanian-speaking country that was originally called Bessarabia (nothing to do with Arabia) that was taken by Russia and incorporated into the USSR.  When Communism failed and the Soviet Union broke up, Moldova became an independent country, on condition that it did not re-combine with Romania.  Its capital is Chisinau, formerly known as Kishinev.  But the eastern region of Moldova across the Dniester River, known in Romanian as Transnistria and in Russian as Pridnestrovie, refused to join Moldova and declared its independence in 1990, although it has not been recognized.  It is a sliver of land sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine and is, like Crimea, pro-Russian.  It is quite conceivable that another referendum will be arranged and Transnistria will vote to rejoin Russia.  Then Putin will send in the Russian Army to protect the Russians in Transnistria as he did in Crimea.  That will leave Ukraine surrounded by Russian territory. 
Meanwhile the Russian forces are consolidating their hold on Crimea and expelling all the Ukrainian forces.  So that the incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation is fait accompli, even though Pres. Obama has said that there can be no progress in dealing with Russia until Putin reverses the occupation of Crimea.  Is this another "red-line" like Obama had in Syria, that turned out not to be such a red-line after all.  It is clear that there is no way that Putin will reverse his historic move.  The question now is whether or not Lavrov is telling the truth and whether or not Putin intends to send his troops in to "rescue" the Russians in Transnistria and eastern Ukraine.  What would Obama do then?

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


In the largest corruption trial in Israeli history, over the taking of bribes and misuse of power in the multi-million-dollar Holyland real estate scheme in Jerusalem, former PM Ehud Olmert and 9 other co-conspirators, including former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, were found guilty in the giving and taking of bribes.  Three other co-defendents were acquitted in the Tel Aviv District Court under Justice Rosen.
The huge Holyland development is an eyesore overlooking Jerusalem and there is no doubt that many legal barriers to their construction and completion were skirted and bent by the giving and taking of bribes.  They were built while Olmert was Mayor of Jerusalem and when he became a Minister in the Government, but before he became PM.   Olmert has been under indictment in 5 separate cases for the past 5 years.  He was acquitted in one, the double charging scheme for his travel expenses, not because he was innocent, but because there was insufficient evidence of his involvement.  His former aide Shula Zaken, who was a co-defendent in several trials, at the last minute agreed to give evidence against her former boss by revealing telephone conversations that she had taped.  But, the Judge did not bite, but allowed the current trial to end before he will consider her new evidence.   
What does this trial and its verdict prove, that there is corruption in Israel?  Everyone knew that.  That there are corrupt politicians, everyone knew that too,  In fact, Olmert had the reputation of being a corrupt politician for a long time.  He was an opportunist, since he quit the Likud party to join PM Sharon in Kadima just before he had his stroke, thus Olmert succeeded him.  But, this trial and verdict prove additionally that no-one in Israel is above the law and that the courts and prosecutors, although sometimes they seem too eager to bring cases against politicians, were in this case vindicated.  Note that there are no juries in Israeli trials, a bench of Judges consider the evidence and render the verdict.   The judicial system in Israel is strong, active and independent.  Meanwhile former PM Ehud Olmert is headed for jail.

Many surrounding countries should learn from the Israeli experience.  There is corruption everywhere, and in fact this case pales in comparison to the kind of money that has changed hands in the Palestinian areas.  Not only did Yasir Arafat take billions of dollars, and use it to foster his own power and to support terrorism, but his successors such as Pres. Abbas are equally corrupt.  The problem is that Palestinian society is almost feudal in its culture and it is expected that the chief or boss will control the funds and dole them out to his supporters.  But, what is worse is that that the EU and US know this, know that billions of dollars that they are giving the PA disappear into the pockets of the leadership, and do nothing about it.  Sure they ask for more transparency, but they never get it.  The only Palestinian politician who was considered honest was Salem Fayyad and he was sidelined by Abbas. The Palestinians could have an independent judiciary only in the fantasies of western liberals.