Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Way of the World

Way of the World

Imagine if you will a blob shaped like a pear that suddenly rises out of the dark mud.

The blob divides, like an amoeba, and keeps dividing, as they form, merge, and reform as smaller object, they take on different colors.

Eventually they build blob houses, drive blob cars. All across the surface the blobs merge and change colors; some striped, some checked, some yellow, some red, some mixed red/yellow/check. Colors from all spectrum of the rainbow are visible on the blobs, as well as all imaginable combinations of patterns.

The checks and stripes in another. We pull back and see from above that the blob world is like a sphere. Some parts controlled by checks, some by stripes, some by yellow, some by red, or blue. All the colors of the rainbow appear somewhere on the sphere.

Waves of energy emanate from some people and affect a small group, here and there. All across the sphere subtle energy exists in groups, some bigger than others

In some places they are lead by a blob that gives off powerful waves of energy, attracting others to him. Each word shakes those nearby. The energy spreads wider and wider, covering a larger and larger part of his section of the sphere.

All across the sphere we can also see a few blobs with this energy, the waves spreading over the sphere, until they collide. Then those in the path crash into each other. Greens against Blues. Whites against Reds. Polka-dots against Stripes.

We see the energy pulsating in a section, clashing with other waves of energy, as those in it, say the reds and yellows, each encouraged by a separate energy force, fight each other over one section of the sphere. We see the checks and stripes fighting in another. Major and minor battles take place across the sphere.

But other sections of the sphere are filled with blobs, driving, building, working. Some push past others down the streets. Some blare their loud horns at smaller blobmobiles. Some leave small blobhomes for larger blobhomes, where they busy themselves painting, fixing, cleaning, cooking.

As we dolly back from these scenes on the sphere, farther and farther back so that the sphere is simply a dot in a sea of murky liquid, re realize we are looking into a Petri dish, used by a scientist peering at the sphere through a microscope.
His hand moves the dish and another sphere appears. We see hundreds, thousands, millions of little dots in the Petri dish.

As we dolly back even farther we see a huge warehouse of scientists, all busy at their microscopes and Petri dishes. Then we dolly back even farther. Pulls to see an entire industrial park filled with warehouses. We pulls out still farther and farther until we again see a sphere, farther still until we see that sphere become a dot amid other dots in an endless ocean,

We dolly out even farther to see yet another scientist looking through another microscope. As we dolly back farther and farther we yet another warehouse of scientists, in another industrial park, and as we pull back again the scene fades to black.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Usually, Nothing Happens

The New Year began in Israel with rumors of peace and war. The daily Yideot Achranot newspaper ( reported today that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with a top Saudi official, who some believe is none other than King Faisal himself, to discuss possible peace arrangements between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Olmert denied such a meeting took place.

In Syria Prime Minister Bashir Assad said that peace with Israel was possible, but if not then war was on the horizon. Prime Minister Olmert reportedly dismissed any chance of peace with Syria at this time. According to press reports Israel held back-door meetings with Syria during the course of the War in Lebanon II.

In Lebanon Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah told a massive gathering of an estimated 800,000 supporters in the S. Beirut neighborhood which had been nearly leveled by Israeli bombs. Nasrallah told followers that Hezbollah had won the war. He also said that he’d misrepresented the number of missiles in his arsenal and actually still had 20,000 missiles.

Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer told Israel Army Radio on Monday morning. "Israel needs to be prepared for a surprise attack by Syria or Hezbollah," Ben Eliezer told Army Radio that Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's declaration that his organization has over 20 thousand rockets in its possession needed to be taken seriously. “He means what he says.”

Meanwhile UN forces taking positions in Southern Lebanon have taken extra precautions against possible Al-Queda attacks. In the last few days Al-Queda has issued statements that Israel is on its hit list.

The exchange of prisoners has still not come to fruition. Israel’s military court today reversed an earlier ruling and denied the release of 25 Hamas lawmakers arrested over the last month. Some pundits assume these men are chips in a grand prisoner exchange that has still to be worked out.

A leading Hamas lawmaker said today that the release of Gilad Shalit wasn’t going to happen soon. He said that nearly 10,000 Palestinian prisoners were being held in Israeli, and wondered why the Palestinians should give up Shalit “for free.” The Hamas activist said that some of the Palestinians have been in jail for two decades, and thought that the two-month imprisonment of Shalit was nothing in comparison.

These statements shed light on the thinking of Palestinians as they ponder the negotiations over the release of the three Israeli prisoners, Shalit, Goldwasser, and Regev.

The spokesman said that a significant price must be paid for the release of these prisoners. Press reports estimate that as many as 800 Palestinians would be released in the exchange for Shalit. Palestinians have demanded the release of Palestinian Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti who was convicted of organizing terrorist attacks against Israelis. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has dismissed the possibility of Barghouti’s release as part of an exchange.

Yideot Achranot also reported on Monday that representatives of the state comptroller’s office are expanding their investigation of Prime Minister Olmert’s purchase of a home on Carmiya Street in Jerusalem. Olmert is under suspicion that the purchase was not carried out properly.

Ex-Minister of Justice Tzachi Hanegbi, a strong Olmert supporter, and Kadima party member, was indicted today for graft, corruption and illegal political appointments. Hanegbi told Israel radio that he didn’t do anything any differently than cabinet ministers or Knesset members have done over the past decades.

According to the Jerusalem Post ( the Palestinian national unity government is in trouble. Armed groups have reportedly threatened PA any Palestinian government that recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Four groups have threatened the government. PA leader Mohamed Abbas cancelled a planned meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza to discuss a national unity government after the reports of the threats.

“Abbas has demanded that the political program of the proposed government recognize Israel and honor all previous agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel. Hamas leaders have rejected Abbas's demand, saying they would never join a government that recognizes Israel and the Oslo Accords.”

Egypt meanwhile has decided to enter the atomic age. Reportedly Egypt will begin construction of nuclear power plants. Earlier in the week Egyptian officials said that Egypt should start moves to acquire their own nuclear weapon. As of now no Middle East country officially has a nuclear weapon, although most pundits assume that Israel has a number of nuclear bombs in its arsenal.

The war of the generals is still going on. Israel’s ex-Chief of Staff Moshe “Boogie” Ha’yalon continues to call for the resignation of present Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. Ha’yalon said that Halutz is not the man to run the army during this period of reorganization.

Infrastructure Minister Faud Ben Eliezer also said, "instead of all the arguments and meetings between generals and deputy generals who speculate as to what Hezbollah has, every one of them should stop speaking and begin to rejuvenate the army."

Rumors are also a foot that Likud party leader, ex-Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu is meeting with Kadima party’s Minister of Transport ex-Chief of Staff and ex-Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz in a possible bid to recruit Mofaz as a candidate for Defense Minister in a Likud lead government.

Present Defense Minister Amir Peretz has said that he has no intention of resigning his position and that he was a key element in Israel’s success in the War in Lebanon II. Both PM Olmert and Chief of Staff Halutz have also said that they will stay in their posts.

The Rosh Hashana holiday ended. The weather was cool in Israel, fine for touring and praying. In the end the questions that existed at the beginning of the holidays still existed at the end. What would the future hold? Many thought that the danger level had not receded in Israel, and that peace was farther down the line than war.

“What do we do with our kids?” asked the manager of a Jerusalem non-profit organization, the father of three small children. “We just go on as if nothing is going to happen,” was the answer. “Because usually, nothing happens.”

It only that’s true this time as well.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Shana Tova

Shana Tova (Shana = year, Tova = good)

Friday night begins the Jewish New Year. Israel’s radio talk show hosts are busy interviewing everyone from Tarot card analysts to Rabbis seeking the right balance for their broadcasts.

New Year in Hebrew is Rosh Hashana. Rosh = head in Hebrew, Ha = the and Shana = year. All together it’s the Head of the Year, i.e. New Year, just as Rosh Chodesh is Head of the Month.

Traditionally Rosh Hashana is a time for reflection, soul-searching, making right as much as you can that you’ve done wrong. In the Oriental (Sephardi) tradition, “Slichot” (forgiveness) prayers are said every morning from Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul, until the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Tishri, which is the Yom Kippur, the Hebrew Day of Atonement.

In Jerusalem religiously observant men rise from their beds in the middle of the night, and show up for Shlichot prayers by about 3:30 AM. The mournful crying to God goes on for as much as an hour, then early morning prayers are said as the sun rises. Afterwards, the faithful leave synagogue and maybe grab a bit to eat before going to work.

A friend asked when these men have time to sleep. The answer is, they don’t. The slichot prayers are a form of flagellation. Suffering comes with the territory around this time of the year. Ashkenazi Jews, those of European origin, don’t begin the slichot prayers until the Saturday night before New Year. The first prayers are usually at a reasonable hour, like 11:00 PM; or 12:30 for those more inclined to sleep deprivation.

The suffering that goes on makes those doing penitence ready for the end of Yom Kippur. After six weeks, for some, of the middle-of-the-night spiritual purification rituals, Succot, the joyous Festival of the Booths, comes as a welcome relief.

In Jerusalem the truly devout begin constructing their Succot even before New Year. But the sounds of hammers pounding in nails are common as soon as the Yom Kippur fast is over. A tradition states that one should begin building the Succa no later than the night after Yom Kippur. Really religious men eat and sleep in these booths for 8 days.

Living in Israel one gets an entirely different perspective on the Jewish holidays than one gets abroad. In Israel these are national holidays. Banks, stores, the post office, public transportation, restaurants, movie theaters, all close. Israel shuts down. Some traffic can be found on the roads, some gas stations are open, but most people are on holiday.

On Yom Kippur even those secular Israelis stay off the roads. If you can imagine an entire city like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem with no traffic whatsoever, you’ve pictured Erev Yom Kippur (Erev = the evening). Kids traditionally ride their bikes, or their skateboards, on the empty streets. The High Holidays can’t be avoided in Israel. They’re in the face of everyone who lives here. If you want to forget them entirely, you have to leave the country. And many Israelis do.

Many Israelis simply ignore the religious aspects of the holidays and take off on vacation. The Sinai peninsula became a popular venue during the time Israel occupied that hunk of desert and Red Sea shore. When Israel gave the Sinai back to Egypt in exchange for the historic peace agreement, Israelis continued to travel to the Sinai for their holidays. The practice continues today, albeit with certain trepidation, since an Al Queda cell is reportedly active in the Sinai. Over the last few years’ tourist sites were hit by terrorists’ bombs in the Sinai. But as an Israeli couple, traveling in Thailand told a reporter last night when asked about the apparent coup d’etat, “we’re used to action.” Most Israelis don’t heed the warnings not to travel to the Sinai.

Others find themselves in nearby Greece, or Turkey. Some take off for Europe. A television report said as many as 60,000 Israelis will be traveling abroad this weekend. According to the Jerusalem Post over 520,000 Israelis will travel abroad between September and the end of October. Even religious Jews get away. The newspapers offer kosher vacations in Italy, Prague, or London. Because of it’s tiny size Israelis claim they need to get away to breath once in a while. These holidays provide them with an opportunity.

It is well known in Israel that nothing gets done on the cusp of the High Holidays, until the end of Succot. The refrain “After the holidays,” is the one everyone hears when asking when something will be finished, when a meeting is possible, when things can be fixed. Israelis joke that the only time anything is actually done in Israel is from Succot until Passover, during the winter months. Before that it’s “Chofesh HaGadol” (Chofesh = free, Ha = the, Gadol =big) or summer vacation, and then The Holidays (Ha Chagim).

Why super-financier and billionaire Warren Buffet would invest $4 billion in Iscar, an Israeli company, and claim the company is a great investment, stumped Israel watchers. Buffet did point out that much of Iscar’s production and business is abroad. It was his first trip to Israel. Luckily he didn’t come during the Succot holiday or no one would have been around.

We are now approaching the year 5767 in the Hebrew calendar. How can the world only be 6,000 years old? It isn’t, according to religious scientists. A day in God’s world may be a million years, so how you count is important. As Einstein would say, in simple terms, time moves at different speeds depending on circumstance, mass, and energy. Or to put it another way, you can believe what you want and someone will find a way to prove you’re right.

Religion isn’t for everyone. George Bernard Shaw said other than the fact the Egyptians figured out the movement of the sun so they could regulate their prayers, and make a calendar he found little to substantiate the great interest in religion. He also didn’t care much for religious people, who he reportedly thought were usually not worthy of great respect.

However blasphemous he appeared to be at the time, when one looks around at the death and destruction caused by religion, and the dispute over which God, or set of dogmas are those with the Holy blessing, one can tend to agree with Shaw.

Shiite and Sunni Moslems are at each other’s throats over their interpretation of what Mohammed did or didn’t say; the Protestants and Catholics aren’t far behind. The Buddhists and Hindus hold their own in the hatred department, and let’s not forget the Jews. Sephardim get up for slichot prayers in the middle of the night for six-weeks, not like their lazy Ashkenazi cousins.

Some orthodox Jews don’t honor the kasruth of other orthodox Jews. All sort of little dramas play out. Perhaps that’s why Israel only existed as a unified country for about 40 years during its thousand-year presence in Israel from the time of King David until the destruction of the Second Temple.

But that period is still etched into the Jewish psyche as if it were yesterday. It is the goings on in the First and Second Temples that we commemorate during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is the Exodus that we commemorate with Succot, the Festival of the Booths, when Jews lived in their makeshift structures as they traversed the desert on their way to the Promised Land. It is Simchat Torah (Simchat = happiness, Torah = the Bible, more or less) that celebrates when Moses received the tablets with the Ten Commandments and came down to the multitude gathered at the base of Mt. Sinai.

The Jewish people in Israel are locked into the history of their people and their land. The Bible even declares when and how that Jews are to observe the holidays of Rosh Hashana, and the fast of Yom Kippur, and the holiday of Succot. The Bible talks about the Promised Land, promised to the Jewish People.

Only problem is others now think the land is theirs. Bit of a conundrum, that. These others claimants however, don’t have the Bible to back them up, just olive trees they’ve grown, and crops they’ve planted. Bring up the Bible to them, and they literally wave it away as ancient history that no longer applies. In the next breath they may start quoting Mohammed to you, and how the Jews are on Holy Arab land; but what’s a little confusion when you’re talking about religion. Faith is what counts.

So as we cruise into the new Jewish year, let us all hope and pray, if you pray that is, that this year will bring peace and prosperity to all the people of the earth. That the crazies don’t decide to kill a few hundred million innocent people in the name of the God they think would condone such a thing. Let’s hope that this year more cures are found for more diseases to relieve the pain and suffering of more people. Let’s hope that alternative energy sources are found so that oil can be left to bubble in the ground not brought out to dirty the world while making ridiculously rich people feel they can keep financing terror. Let’s hope that someone discovers the way to actually reach God’s ear, not just talk at Him, and convince Him that we’ve had enough misery, tragedy, and hatred, that the time for peace on earth is long overdue, and it’s time He realized it. And if, as some believe He’s not really up there, then whoever’s running this experiment should fess up.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dreyfus Revisited?

Syndicated Charles Krauthammer wrote recently in the Washington Post that like it or not the US would have to face Iran. Krauthammer’s analysis was upsetting. Should the US launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran, oil might shoot up to $150 a barrel, the Iranians might block the Straits of Hormuz requiring US Naval action, Iran might launch weapons of mass destruction at Israel and Europe, and send terrorists to attack US targets.

If the US doesn’t attack Iran and take out their nuclear capability they’ll have Iran as the bully in the region always threatening to use the weapons. Krauthammer predicts that Iran will indeed use the weapons, since the Iranian leaders think death leads to a heavenly rest.

It seem that Krauthammer sees the western world like the guy thinking about going to the dentist for root canal work. The patient can put it off, but the decay will just dig deeper into the jaw, requiring even more radical treatments. (Did you know that the movie icon Clark Gable nearly died of gum disease? Had to have teeth pulled to stop the infection. Little thing like the teeth and gums can kill you. He also reportedly had bad breath from his false teeth.)

In Israel defense analysts are worried about Iran. After the Hezbollah attacks it is clear that Israel has little defense against rockets. MK Benjamin ‘Bibi” Netanyahu said today that he wasn’t worried about the Palestinians, but was worried about the threat from Iran.

Bibi made these statements on the same day that an odd ceremony took place on Mt. Herzl. The two children of Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, were buried near their father nearly 70 years after their death. No one had an answer why it took so long. They’d been in anonymous graves in Bordeaux, France until yesterday, when they were disinterred, flown to Israel, and reburied.

Herzl, who died in 1904 at the age of 44, had three children. One daughter, Trude, died in the Holocaust, the other daughter Pauline, who suffered from depression, died of a drug overdose in Paris in the 1930’s. Her brother Hans, who had converted to Christianity, committed suicide two days after attending Pauline’s funeral. Herzl’s body was brought to Israel in 1949, and buried in the national cemetery named after him. Herzl’s seminal work, “The Jewish State,” was the blueprint for modern Israel. But did he envision the world as it appears today.

Iranian Prime Minister Achmanejahad spoke at the UN today, to the strenuous objections of Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Gillerman. Achmanejahad reportedly said in an interview he couldn’t understand why the world was so focused on the six million Jews who died during World War II when sixty million people died in that war. Achmanejahad has often denied that the Holocaust took place.

In New York Achmanejahad criticized the UN Security Council wondering why one country can veto what the rest of the council wants. Achmanejahad also said that the occupation of Palestine is a “great tragedy.” According to the Reuters News Agency, Achmanejahad’s boss, the spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran needs a strong army to deter aggressors.

In Gaza, the nascent unity government between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority may never come to fruition. The US reportedly pressured PA President Mohamed Abbas not to form a government with Hamas, which the US considers a terrorist organization. US Sec of State Rice reportedly told PA leader Abbas that the unity government does not meet with the requirements of the Quartet of countries and their “Roadmap for Peace. The Quartet agree that both Hamas and the PA must recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Hamas, apparently under pressure from supporters in Gaza, Damascus and Iran, has retracted its original commitment to a peace initiative with Israel. As if to emphasize their rejection of peace, Hamas has continued to sent Qassam rockets into Israel. Two landed on Wednesday. One Qassam struck in the southern Israeli town of Sderot lightly injuring one resident. Hamas has also not admitted to any progress on the release of the Israeli soldier Gilat Shalit. Defense Minister Amir Peretz told reporters that the less about the rumored prisoner exchange the better. “In this case, silence is golden,” Peretz said.

No progress has been reported on the exchange of the two Israeli soldiers, Regev and Wasserman, held in Lebanon by Hezbollah. Three Hezbollah fighters who were captured during the war were brought before a military tribunal in Israel yesterday. One of the prisoners said that the Israeli soldiers wouldn’t be released until the long-held Hezbollah terrorist, Samir Kutar, was released as part of the exchange. Other reports say that negotiations are still going on to determine exactly which prisoners held by Israel will be released in the exchange.

The investigation into the Israeli government’s handling of the War in Lebanon II continues. National Religious Party Knesset Member Zvi Hendel called for Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to resign and turn in his uniform. In response Halutz said he had no intention of resigning his commission. Halutz told reporters today that he never used the blood of fallen soldiers to promote a personal agenda. He said he was convinced he could continue to lead the army, and wouldn’t retain an attorney for the war probe.

Halutz said today that the Israeli Army wouldn’t withdraw from Lebanon by the Rosh Hashana holdiday. Israeli troops are still in Lebanon awaiting for the full deployment of the UN troops. France and Italy have sent more troops. Germany has promised a naval presence off the coast of Lebanon.

As if Israel didn’t have enough trouble, the chief of police Moshe Karadi is being investigated for cooperating with organized crime. According to one report Karadi was appointed to his position as a payoff to the Parinyans, a leading crime family. The family reportedly was involved heavily with Ariel Sharon and the Likud and functioned as vote contractors for the Likud central committee elections. Reportedly Omri Sharon, the son of the former Prime Minster, was the go-between in these deals.

During Sharon’s tenure organized crime figures were very active in the Likud central committee. 27-year old Gila Gamliel was placed high enough on the Likud Knesset list to be elected. According to a Haaretz shortly after she was elected, “She was supposedly chosen thanks to the feverish efforts of her uncle, Reuven Gavrieli, who owned a chain of gambling parlors in Turkey and of her father, Ezra "Shoni" Gavrieli, the owner of the Jaffa Court banquet hall and garden. Last year, when an explosive device was placed in her father's Mercedes, crime beat reporters wrote that in the past the police had questioned him about illegal betting on sports. Immediately after Inbal's election, there was talk that her family had her run for Knesset to promote legalized casinos in Israel.”

The indications are that the Sharon family were deeply involved with organized crime, not necessarily for their own aggrandizement but more to secure their position of power, using the ‘mob’ and their influence in the Likud central committee to insure Sharon got what he wanted.

The Sharon legacy is still one of a strong and cunning military leader who defeated Israel’s arch-enemy Yassir Arafat. But outside the battlefield Ariel Sharon apparently believed that his family resembled the legendary American Kennedy family and that rules that applied to normal people didn’t apply to them. He was wrong. Sharon’s son Omri has already been convicted of illegal campaign contributions and has been sentenced to nine-months in jail.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, appointed by Sharon as his handpicked successor, was also mentioned in an investigation against another of Sharon’s son’s, Gilad, in the Greek Island scandal. Olmert, then Tourism Minister, reportedly was accused of misuse of his office in helping Likud activist David Appel put a land deal together in Greece. No charges were ever brought against Olmert, or Gilad Sharon, although the police conducted a lengthy investigation. It’s possible the same result will occur with President Katzav, although analysts think that this outcome is unlikely.

At a meeting of the Kadima party Wednesday night, groups of reserve soldiers heckled PM Olmert calling for him to resign. A group of parents of fallen soldiers also protested during Olmert’s speech. While he said the country was united, the protesters continued to heckle him. An Olmert supporter went to the protesters and asked, “What are your alternatives? Bibi (Netanyahu)?”

Looking back at these and other problems facing Israel one wonders what Theodore Herzl would have thought of the way his dream turned out, and the situation of the Jewish people in the world?

Herzl was inspired to write his work after following the famous Dreyfus trial in 1895 in France, when Alfred Dreyfus a Jewish army officer was accused of treason, and convicted. Severe anti-Jewish rioting broke out across France. But nine years later a court found he’d been framed, and reversed the decision. It became clear Dreyfus was actually the victim of flagrant anti-Semitism. The secular Herzl, then a journalist covering the trial, was so moved by the trial that he became a missionary for a Jewish homeland where such injustice against Jews would never happen again.

According to Charles Krauthammer, when Iran responds to any American move, Israel will be the one who receives the brunt of Iran’s anger. Perhaps today all of Israel is the new Dreyfus, and Iran the anti-Semitic government bent of persecuting the Jews simply because they’re Jews?

Monday, September 18, 2006

CORRECTION: Percentage of Moslems in Europe

We humbly apologize for the typo that slipped past our fact-checker. Europe is not thirty percent Moslem, but about 3 percent.

There are approximately 728 million people in Europe according to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia also contains the following: "In modern times, the overwhelming majority of religious Europeans are Christian, of which nearly half are Catholic; the second-largest religion in Europe is Islam, followed by Judaism. Europe also has the largest number and proportion of agnostics and atheists in the Western world."

Estimates are that between 15-20 million Moslems now live in Europe. Not thirty percent.

Five to Six million Moslems in France. About seven percent of France's population.
1 Million in Britain.
2 percent of Denmark is Moslem.

"...some forty percent of Muslims in Britain, when polled, say they would favor the imposition of sharia. The number of Moslems in Europe has doubled in the past decade. The birthrate among non-Muslims is sinking like lead. Islam is Europe’s most vital and fastest-growing religion. There are more worshippers in Britain’s mosques now than in the Church of England, and there are more practicing Moslems in France than there are baptized Catholics. The most popular name in French maternity wards is Mohammed. Within a generation, many European cities will have Moslem majorities. So if forty percent of these Moslems believe Islamic law should be imposed on Europe, this is obviously a cause for concern. Obvious to me, anyway. You would think it would be obvious to Europeans, as well." Dr. Claire Belinski (Author of "Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crises is America's, too.", Frontpage Magazine April 7, 2006

Some analysts have said that it's the non-religious market the Pope is aiming at.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Church is Burning

A total of seven Churches were firebombed or riddled by gunfire in the West Bank and Gaza over the weekend. The fire-bombings came in apparent response to the Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks. The stone church in Tul Karem, built over 170 years ago was gutted by fire, according to Church officials. In nearby Tubas a small church was also burned.

According to the daily Haaretz Newspaper, Tul Karem’s Greek Orthodox Church was under guard until midnight. Later in the night the entire inside of the sanctuary was burned, including furniture and an ornate wooden door. There are only a few Christian families left in Tul Karem.

A total of five firebombs were reportedly hurled at Nablus' Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches,

What the attackers apparently overlooked was that the neither the Greek Orthodox nor the Anglican Church accepts the papacy of Rome. Apparently any Christian edifice was enough for the Moslem rage.

The Pope last week, in a talk rejecting any religious motivation for violence, cited the words of a 14th Century Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The second in command of Islamic Jihad's political branch in Israel said that the Pope’s statements were incendiary. He also said that the Pope, with the Church’s history of the Crusades and the Inquisition, was in no position to criticize Islam.

The northern Israel assistant Islamic Jihad leader said that the Moslems had only become violent over the last thirty years, because of Palestine. He said that Moslems had always been accepting of Christians and Jews before that. However he did not deny that there was no long-term hope for either Jews or Christians in the Middle East. All non-Moslems, he said, had to ultimately convert to Islam.

However the religious leader, interviewed by Razi Barkai on Israel Army Radio, also said that the Church had no place in the Middle East. He went on to say that ultimately the entire Middle East would be a Caliphate, according to the prophecy of Mohamed. He made no distinction between any country, including Israel.

Razi Barkai asked him, “So there’s nothing to talk about. No way to reach any negotiations over recognition of Israel?”

“No,” the religious leader said.

According to Haaretz, Christians number approximately 50,000 in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Up until the Pope’s comments their relationships had been good.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Shlomo Ben Ami, said that the religious statements made by men like the Islamic Jihad leader and the politicical realities on the ground were much different. Religious leaders must make the grand statements that support the doctrines of their faith; politicians find ways to implement rules inside those doctrines. Ben Ami didn’t take the Jihadists statements too seriously.

Other commentators on Israel Radio said that it came as no surprise that the Pope said what he did, since he too is a doctrinaire Catholic, worried about the position of the Church in modern society, especially in Christian Europe threatened by an explosion of Moslem population. Nearly three percent of Europe is now Moslem. One professor said that the Pope didn’t attack Islam out of hatred, but merely espoused the long-time Church doctrine as a way to encourage non-practicing Christians to become active in the Church.

Another professor claimed that the Pope was unaccustomed to speaking to a wide audience and may have made a mistake. Some Israeli analysts think that the Pope realized that 85 per cent of all the conflicts in the world today involved Moslems, and meant what he said about Islam believing violence the only way to reach its goals.

Most analysts point to the outbreak of Moslem violence around the world as proof that what the Pope said about Islam as a violent religion was true. Spokesmen for the Pope in Rome issued statements that the Pope’s words had been misconstrued. The Pope later apologized for the remarks claiming his words were taken out of context.

The “protest” movement in Israel against the government’s handling of the war may be gathering momentum. On Friday a group of ex-Generals met with Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and were harshly critical of his conduct. One said that he should resign. Another said that no Air Force General would ever again be Chief of Staff. Halutz struck back at them, telling the ex-Generals they’d gone too far.

One political analysts said that the triumvirate of PM Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz and Chief of Staff Halutz were the three Ss: scheming, stupid and supercilious
The Winograd committee commissioned to investigate the war has reportedly been given full governmental powers.

One mother was quoted as saying that the three leaders have to go. Her son, a Major in the Army reserves, was on the Syrian border for five weeks during the war. His stories about the government’s management prompted his mother to join the protest movement.

On Thursday a two-hour special aired on Israel TV’s Channel 10 investigating the war. A panel of interviewers spoke to generals and ex-generals, as well as officers who had served in the war. The program also ran video clips taken by reserve soldiers who had brought their own video cameras into battle.

The footage was damning. Soldiers were seen lying around apartments for two days, their water gone, with no food. The soldiers complained that they were being wasted, lying in the apartments, rather than out on foot fighting the enemy. This complaint was heard time and again.

Surprisingly the Army Spokesman’s office allowed the footage to air. For all the complaints the soldiers may have, there was little or no censorship of the footage. A TV crew was also posted to the central command headquarters, filming the commanding officers as they managed the war. Some of them could hardly suppress their frustration at the decisions being taken.

In an article that appeared on Thursday in Haaretz, ex-Chief of Staff Boogie Ya’alon said his battle plans called for “no tanks and no apartments.” Ya’alon said that by 2002 the Intifada had so drained Israel’s economic resources that the expense of the Nautilus laser anti-missile system was too high for the return on the investment. At best the system would only have partially protected one city.

Ya’alon also said that he didn’t approve the purchase of extra protection for tanks since in his battle plans tanks were not going to be used. Nor were soldiers going to be put into apartments, sitting ducks for anti-tank missiles.

According to Ya’alon the army was mistaken in its attack on the major towns in S. Lebanon. He said they should have been left alone, since everyone knew Hezbollah had long been planning ambushes in the towns, and were ready and waiting for the Israelis. He claimed that the battle plan called for air attacks followed by commando forces fighting a guerilla war up until they reached the Litani River. It was expected, said Ya’alon that the US and Europe would then step in to stop the Israeli advance long before massive ground troops were sent in.

According to Ya'alon PM Olmert decided to ask for more time from the Americans, thinking mistakenly that he could make significant gains. Olmert made serious errors according to Ya’alon. Others have said Olmert was impetuous and reckless. Some have hinted he was like a little kid behind the wheel of a car.

Ya’alon also said that the massive ground attack at the end of the war was just to put a political spin on the battles, to give the impression Israel had won. This cost over thirty lives, says Ya’alon, wasted lives, just “for spin.”

As his term of Chief of Staff was ending Ya’alon expected that his term would be extended but he was passed over in favor of Dan Halutz. According to critics this has influenced his harsh view of the way the war was run.

None of the three soldiers captured at the outbreak of the war have yet been released. There is talk of the imminent release of Gilad Shalit, but so far nothing substantive has been done.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are still negotiating a joint government. PA Prime Minister Mohammed Abas is heading to the USA for talks with US President Bush. Analysts believe that the release of Shalit will be the Hamas payment for the meeting. However, the US has demanded that the PA not go into partnership with Hamas, at least until Hamas recognizes the right of Israel to exist.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Master Plan

September 13, 2006

The Winograd commission headed by retired judge Eliahu Winograd is to review the events of the war in Lebanon II. Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had suggested other people to head the panel, but critics were concerned with cronyism and turned to the courts who denied Olmert's appointments.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that he was not worried about the findings of an investigation. Peretz said he was serious when he recommended accommodations for bravery to soldiers who fought in the war, and said appeared serious when he said that officials like him didn’t get accommodations.

Peretz abstained on a vote to approve Israel’s 2007 budget. In a radio interview Peretz said the budget ignored the crucial issue of setting a higher minimum wage. Peretz, once head of the Histadrut Labor Federation, has long considered himself an advocate of citizen’s rights.

None of his labor party Knesset members voted with Peretz. Observers see this as a sure sign that Peretz has lost control of the party. Meanwhile pressure is on President Moshe Katzav to step aside until the accusations of rape and sexual harassment are settled.

Gen. Udi Adam, who ran the army’s battlefront in the north, resigned suddenly, saying he was taking responsibility for the way his forces fought. Adam was essentially replaced during the war by Chief of Staff Dan Halutz's second in command. Adam was long expected to resign over that insult. However, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has been called upon by ex-General and Labor Party Knesset member Foud Ben Eliezer to give up his post over the way in which the Lebanon War II was handled. Ben Eliezer said that Halutz should follow Adam's example.Labor party hopeful and ex- head of the Navy Ami Ayalon has called on Minister of Defense Peretz to resign, and for Halutz to draw the necessary conclusions.

Ex-Chief of Staff Moshe "Bugi"Ya'alon has said that the losses soldiers lives during the war was shameful, and simply the result of a political spin PM Olmert wanted to put on to show that the war wasn't a complete disaster. Ayalon is considered a Likud hopeful to contest Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu for that party's leadership. Meanwhile Ari Shavit writing in Haaretz has said that essentially PM Olmert is finished as the Prime Minister, and it's only a matter of time before he is forced to resign.

Gilad Shalit, one of the soldiers kidnapped by Hamas and taken to Gaza at the outset of the war, is the subject of much discussion in the press. Shalit’s father held a press conference yesterday for members of the Arab media, in an attempt to influence those holding his son to release him.

Observers say it was no coincidence that the Military Court agreed yesterday to release 18 Hamas members of the Palestinian Assembly who had been arrested during the Lebanon War II. The legislators were each released after posting a 25,000 shekels (about five thousands) dollar bond. The media has speculated that Gilad Shalit would be released in exchange for as many as 800 prisoners. Commentators say that the release of the Hamas legislators was a precursor to the ultimate mass prisoner exchange.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, has made no signs that it is willing to release the two Israeli soldiers they are holding in Lebanon. Defense Minister Peretz did say in an interview today that delicate matters like the negotiations for the release of prisoners were best not discussed in public.

One of the sticking points is the Hamas demand for the release of Samir Kuntar, Israel's longest-held Hezbollah prisoner, responsible for the brutal killing of many Israelis. According to Defense Minister Amir Peretz, every time Israel has to negotiate with Hamas over the issue of a prisoner exchange, the name of Samir Kuntar always comes up. However Peretz hinted that this time Kuntar might be included in the mass prisoner exchange.

The fact that Israel is a child-oriented society has created the situation like that arising from the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. Israelis are well known for sacrificing what ever needs to be sacrificed for the good of their children. The Israeli army has a long tradition of not leaving a soldier in the field. The combination of these two factors has resulted in Hamas and Hezbollah using kidnapping as one of their strategic weapons in their struggle with Israel.

Jeffery Goldberg, writing in the recent New Yorker magazine, relates that while visiting a wanted terrorist in Gaza the man put his arm around his 15-year old son and said how proud he would be if his son became a martyr, and detonated a suicide bomb amid a crowd of Israelis. Later in the interview the boy said with some cynicism that his father loved him so much he wanted him to die. The boy then smiled and put an arm around his father, saying he would be proud to die a martyr.

According to Goldberg becoming a suicide bomber is a thing kids want to do in Gaza. Goldberg reported that one Palestinian Authority politician told him his son wanted to become a suicide bomber, a martyr, so he could go to heave. His father dissuaded him. “All that you get after you blow up the bomb is your pieces are dumped in a hole in the ground, and then covered with dirt.”

Goldberg uses these two examples as proof of the great divide between the Hamas and Palestinian Authority politicians. The former are driven by a religious fervor, the latter by pragmatic and usually materialistic goals. One of the main criticisms against the PA (Palestinian Authority) is their corruption. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that Palestinians in Gaza aren’t happy with Hamas, since their incompetent management of Gaza brought economic ruin. No one is yet starving in Gaza,although malnutrition has been reported, but the men don’t have work, and families more than the bare necessities. According to Haaretz the average Palestinian is still angry at the Palestinian Authority politicians who live in huge expensive villas on the best pieces of property in Gaza and drive government issue Mercedes sedans. The Hamas politicians live modestly, which helps with their popularity.

Hamas and the PA have agreed to form a coalition government, however Hamas has emphasized this does not mean Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Most political analysts see this as a marriage of convenience. The PA wants to be back in power after the humiliating defeat at the hands of Hamas in the last election. Hamas wants some form or international recognition so that the funds promised to the Palestinians would be turned over to the government. Hamas has not paid salaries to government employees in months. Last week a group of protesters including the police raided the Hamas government offices demanded back pay.

A EU and USA boycott of Hamas has taken its toll. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the USA. However, through a loophole, money may be transferred to the PA’s President Abu Mazan, and used to pay off the debts Hamas has rung up.
U.S. Sec. of State Rice has encouraged Israel to start talking to Abu Mazan again, and to make overtures to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Signora. Sec. Rice is again encouraging the “Road Map” which the State Department hopes will bring peace in the Middle East.

Another interesting article appeared in the New Yorker edition dedicated to 9/11. A long detailed article by Lawrence Wright about the history of Al Queda, the goals of the organization, and the parts played by the supporting actors. In the article the author claims that Al Queda has long wanted the USA and Iran to go to war, since this would bring the Arab world into the anti-USA camp. The article also thought that Hezbollah would be a card played to encourage the Israel to strike. Al Queda, according to this article, wanted an American invasion of Afghanistan, in order to bring about a world Islamic revolution. Now Al Queda, which has since broken up into a number of independent self-motivating and self-operating cells, acting spontaneously as they saw fit, envisioned an Islamic state resurfacing in Afghanistan. Another taking over Iraq, another taking over Lebanon, and yet another taking over Syria.

The goal was the elimination of Israel, and the Islamization of the Middle East. During the struggles with Iran and others the oil weapon would be played. All of the diverse cells that have sprung up like mushrooms will begin to strike at will. The firestorm will envelop the world, according to Al Queda. A prime example of an independent cell is the one started by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the recently killed Al Queda leader in Iraq.

Reportedly Zarqawi was a sex-offender and thief who met an Al Queda ideology when both were in jail in Jordan. Zarqawi decided to implement his own brand of terrorism under the loose Al Queda umbrella. Zarqawi was brutal, bloodthirsty, and crazy. He was responsible for the rash of beheadings witnessed on international TV, beginning with that of Nicholas Berg, the US construction worker killed public ally in Iraq. While other Al Queda ideologs disagreed with the way Zarqawi behaved, the article says his behavior only supports the notion that Al Queda is no longer an organization as much as a name that represents the goals of Wahabi Islam (that practiced in Saudi Arabia), i.e. to destroy all non-Wahabi Moslems.

Hezbollah, according to this analysis is gearing up to seize control of Lebanon, and possible Syria, turning one or both into Islamic Fundamentalist run states. Clearly a kettle is bubbling around the Middle East. Witness the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamists in the Sudan, the move to take over Iraq. The Iranian dictators and their nuclear ambitions. How serious are these threats? According to the New Yorker they are very serious. And the goals may not be realized immediately. The Al Queda planners foresaw the fall of Afghanistan, and an ultimate attack on Iran. They believe that these are only setbacks in the long struggle that will result in an Islamic run world.

Given this background, it’s no wonder that Israel is concerned with how a war was fought against Hezbollah, since it may have been a trial for larger battles to come. Nor is it a wonder that mentions pop up every few days of Israel dealing with the Iranian threat single-handedly. Because the bottom line of the New Yorker piece was that the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews where ever they are is the goal of Al Queda. Hezbollah even says no Jew anywhere in the world is considered a non-combatant, So it may fall to Israel to be the sheriff, and face the bad guys at High Noon, Problem is, they didn't do so well the last time they stood in the hot sun. Ari Shavit in Haaretz blames that on Olmert, Halutz and Peretz.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Sept 11, 2006

A cartoon appeared in the Israeli press. Israel’s recently suspended Justice Minister Chaim Ramon and Israel’s beleaguered President Moshe Katzav are in a room, struggling in front of a TV set. Both are red-faced, waving fists at each other with one hand, tugging fiercely at the TV’s remote control with the other. The balloon over Ramon’s head reads, “I told you the Playboy Channel.” Katzav’s balloon “Hustler! Hustler! Hustler!”

That's what passes for political satire. Both men are in trouble for allegedly forcing their attention on women who worked for them. Ramon’s trial started today. Katzav has yet to be indicted, but the media reports that the indictment is inevitable. They also symbolize the struggle, not just for some trashy TV station, but for control of the channels. What you watch becomes reality.

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair is visiting the Middle East. Yesterday he was in Israel, today in Lebanon. He issued a stern warning that the Iran’s nuclear threat against Israel was not joke. He also met with the families of the three kidnapped soldiers.

When Blair arrived in Beirut he was snubbed by Nabil Beeri the Lebanese Speaker of the House, and by the two Hezbollah cabinet ministers. Angry anti-British demonstrators disrupted traffic outside the meeting. Blair pledged 50 million British pounds to help repair some of the damage to Beirut.

The Israeli air blockade of Lebanon was lifted last week, but Debka, an Internet website, claims that shipments of arms are now coming into Beirut from the airport and the Lebanese are doing nothing to stop these shipments. The website also claims that the UN forces are restricted from getting closer than 1 km to the airport and are useless in stopping the renewed flow of arms. Reportedly the new shipment went straight to Hezbollah forces in Baalbek.

A Hezbollah leader said today that Hezbollah still has 90 per cent of their rockets and weapons. Last week Hezbollah claimed to have upwards of 80,000 rockets. The implications were obvious. Hezbollah had not given up the fight. To provide further unease in Israel Al-Qaida's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, warned in a new video aired Monday that Israel and Gulf Arab states would be the network's next target.

Since this is the fifth anniversary of the deadly attack against the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, it is fitting that the terrorists in Lebanon and Al Queda make their views known. These guys don’t bluff. They do what they say they’re going to do. If Tony Blair takes them seriously enough to have risked his political life fighting them, the threats must be taken seriously. Blair lost the struggle. Recently he announced he would step down as leader of the Labor Party. His stand on supporting U.S. President Bush’s war in Iraq has grown increasingly unpopular. So has the war in Iraq. According to Al Queda the British and US have already lost that war.

The shock of the 9/11 attack has worn off, however experts interviewed in the media today agree that the Americans are now wary, no longer secure in their belief of a peaceful future. Reportedly, a sense of unease and distrust has crept into American society.

Israelis have long been accustomed to these feelings and their side-effects. For years Israelis have been standing in line at the airport, been questioned by security guards about their suitcases, had tickets checked, passports scrutinized, bags x-rayed, bodies searched. Guards have been at the entrances to movie theaters and supermarkets for decades.

Long before suicide bombing became fashionable among Arab youth, like wearing Crocs to Americans, terrorists were planting explosives in the frames of bicycles, dropping them in garbage cans, sticking them in a crate of eggs. But Terrorism was something that happened in Israel, just as it happened in Ireland. But both were ‘over there.’
Both were lumped together as “the troubles.”

A distinction was drawn in Israel that eventually disappeared as terrorism spread to the USA and Britain, and then Spain. This wasn’t the ‘troubles,’ brought about by a religious group’s ambition for an independent homeland. This was trouble brought about by people who couldn’t tolerate any religion that wasn’t theirs. The Irish Protestants and Catholics could make a semblance of peace, because what was at issue wasn’t religion, but freedom. The Catholics of Northern Ireland wanted to be their own bosses. They didn’t want to impose Catholicism on the rest of Ireland. And once given their independence, they were content to try and live in peace.

Today the fanatics are trying to impose their will on the majority. Nuclear weapons in the hands of the fanatics may simply be the tools they finally need to tilt the balance of power in their favor.

An analyst wrote in the Haaretz newspaper today that Europe wasn’t really concerned that Israel may be destroyed by these nuclear weapons. No one really cared that much about Haifa or Tel Aviv, the analyst wrote. And besides, many European countries were jealous of Israel’s success. Perhaps this is all true.

The fact remains that Blair issued the warning, and so did Al Queda. Iran may become Al Qaida’s partner, just as Stalin and Hitler were partners for a while, and Hitler and the Japanese. How could Hitler, a rabid racist, accept the Japanese as a partner? Simple, he passed a decree making all the Japanese Aryans. This is a fact. When the Shiites and Sunnis have to fight together, not fight each other, they’ll do it. And do it well.

Israelis may be fighting over the TV remote control, over which person and party rules the country, but the rest of the world is watching soccer, tennis, football. When Al Queda makes good on it’s threat, who will care? If the radical Arab terrorists, who claim to be stateless, make good on their threats and overthrow Saudi Arabia, take over Iraq, move in on Kuwait and Qatar, who’s going to sell the West oil? Russia? The same Russia that’s selling Iran nuclear know-how? The same Russia that’s selling Iran weapons used against Israel?

How about France? When push comes to shove the French don’t like the Jews, or Israel, or the Arabs, really. But they realize they need oil. They see advantage to siding with the Arabs. So, count France out. By the way, have you noticed; no terrorist attacks take place in France. How’s that for a coincidence.

And Russia? One wonders if Putin made some sort of a deal with the Chechnians to keep them quiet because there hasn’t been much radical Islamic activity since the attack on the opera house in Moscow. Maybe selling arms to Iran was part of the payoff to the Chechnians?

Wouldn’t it be nice if it turned out that Tony Blair was wrong? That there really isn’t any threat to Israel from Iran. Wouldn’t it be nice if Al Queda weren’t serious? But of course Blair is right.

Politicians may criticize Blair, and Bush, for their aggressiveness in attacking what they saw as a clear and present danger. Voters may well be swayed that Iraq was a mistake, and the battle plans a disaster. That weapons of mass destruction never existed, and that Al Queda was never involved in Iraq. So what? Will that bring back the Twin Towers?

Will that erase the hole in the side of the USS Cole? Will that blot out the bombs in Madrid, London, Mumbai?

These guys may have been wrong about how to fight the war in Iraq, but not that Sadam was dangerous. They may have been wrong about how they fight in Afghanistan, but not that the Taliban isn’t bent on destruction of any non-Moslem.

On the 5th anniversary of the World Trade Center bombings, it’s fitting to remember that even if we lock ourselves in a closet and tell ourselves that thieves are not burglarizing the house, that doesn’t make it so. The thieves are there. The house is being robbed. And these aren’t the kind of guys who leave witnesses.

Five hundred years ago Jews were crucified for not accepting Christianity. It was a black mark in the history of the Christian world. One suspects that five hundred years from now historians will look back on this period as a shameful chapter in the annals of Islam. Should Democracy survive this period, it’s possible history will look favorably upon people who stood up to oppression, no matter how hard it was to do so. If not, it’s possible that history will view Democracy as just another nice idea that sort of started in Greece a few thousand years earlier, had a brief run, and then sort of flickered and died.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Menachem The Mench

Menachem Begin: The Mench

Through the prism of time Israel’s late Prime Minister Menachem Begin looms larger than life. He was definitely a political animal, an ideologue. But most of all, in hindsight, especially compared to those who followed him, he was a “Mench.”

Begin lived modestly. Most of his life was spent in a small apartment in Tel Aviv. He was definitely a firebrand, and a radical, in his youth. He was an active member of the underground, and his militant Irgun movement competed with the pre-state Palmach for membership.

Still when the Irgun brought in a shipload of illegal weapons he ordered his men not to fight with the Palmach who were opposed to the arms reaching Palestine. Begin was not interested in a civil war. Reportedly he detested Jews fighting with Jews.

Fast-forward to the first Lebanon War in 1982 and his mettle was again obvious. Though never proven, Begin allegedly blamed then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon for planning a full-scale invasion of Lebanon without government permission. Once the war was over, and Begin reportedly realized the extent to which Sharon had duped him, Begin resigned as Prime Minister, and retired to a quiet private life, rarely coming out in public again.

In an interview during that war, while touring the wards of wounded soldiers at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. He was touring the wards, visiting the wounded soldiers., Begin was asked questions by the press corps standing no more than 30-feet away. He head to ask his aides to repeat the questions because he could hardly hear them even at that relatively close distance. By the end of the war he was sick, and aging rapidly..

When he did answer, he answered well, but had a microphone not been only inches from his lips it would have been impossible to know what he said. Only through the electronic magnification of his voice could he be understood.

Later that evening then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon held a press conference at the King David Hotel. The room was packed. It wasn’t especially warm inside but Sharon was sweating profusely, speaking in his clipped cadence, avoiding questions he didn’t like, and striding out quickly when he’d said what he had to say.

Then Begin joked that he’d hesitated appointing Sharon as Defense Minister for fear that one day he’d come to the Knesset and find it surrounded by tanks, with the barrels pointed in, at the building.

Begin was the founder of the Likud party, representing the “amcha” the working classes and the middle-class businessmen, as opposed to the “socialist” Labor party with its ruling elite. The Likud was the party of the people, like the Democrats in the USA. The Labor party was the party of the privileged, even though the party claimed socialist beliefs.

In truth Begin’s party was much more geared to the poor and the needy. It was these elements that voted for him. Who kept him in power. The Sephardim, Oriental Jews, those born in Arab countries, were his power base. These were the disaffected, the cast-aside, the over-looked. Not until the Moroccan-born politicians of the Shas party came to power was there a party that competed with the Begin’s Likud for power.

Begin attracted not only the disaffected voter, but also the politicians on the make. Ariel Sharon had been a Ben Gurion Laborite, but not only joined the Likud, but took over the party. Not until Sharon saw that his power was slipping in the Likud did he break away and start his own Kadima party. He took with him some from the Likud, like Meir Shitrit, and Ehud Olmert.

Olmert was no longer a popular Likud leader. He’d fallen so far down on the Likud’s Knesset list it was likely he’d be passed over for a Knesset seat. When Sharon started Kadmia Olmert went with. Sharon also drew in those from Labor, like Chaim Ramon, who had been passed over for party leadership.

Unlike his successors, there was never a hint of scandal about Begin. He seemed disinterested in party favors, in personal aggrandizement, in patronage. His goal was the good of the country. The good of his people. A man who barely escaped the Holocaust Begin was deeply distrustful of his Arab enemies, but still was wise enough to see Peace when it came calling. He was awarded a Nobel Prize for his efforts.

Under Ariel Sharon, who is forgotten, but not gone, political chicanery was rampant. Like Moshe Dayan, another war hero turned Defense Minister; Sharon carved out a nice piece of the pie for himself. Dayan was infamous not only for his philandering, but for pilfering the archeological treasures he found, using the Israeli Army as his diggers, and Israeli Army and Air force vehicles and helicopters to transport his loot. The glitter and glitz of his heroism rubbed off quickly.

Historians also now criticize Dayan for arrogantly ignoring intelligence that clearly indicated the Egyptians were about to strike Israeli forces in the Sinai on the eve of Yom Kippur 1973. The also blame him for not returning the West Bank after the 1967 Six-Day war, forcing Israel to occupy land and police an Arab public.

Most of all they criticize him for his inherent anti-Religious feelings that resulted in him turning over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to the Arabs. Had he established a synagogue on the site rather than turn control over to the Wakf, the Moslem Religious Council set up to control the Temple Mount, there would be no question of Jewish sovereignty over that area. The site of the first and second Temples, essentially the center of Jewish Religious life for nearly a thousand years.

In the 11th Century the Mamalukes tore down the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem to prevent Crusaders from ever again laying siege to the city. Without walls, they reasoned, no one would ever again have to attack. All would be welcome. When Suleiman the Magnificent conquered the land four hundred years later he had the walls rebuilt.

Nearly a thousand years later Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben Gurion proposed tearing down the walls of the Old City, just as the Mamalukes had done, creating one large unfettered city from edge to edge, mixing Jews and Arabs. His proposal was voted down in the Knesset,

To Menachem Begin Jerusalem was the center of the earth. Israel sat on Holy Land. He was the protector of the legacy Jewish History and the Jewish People. He was a gentleman. He was a fiery orator who could bring a crowd to their feet. This little Polish-born Jew was the prince of the Sephardim. He was the hero of the masses.

Today Ehud Olmert runs the country. Scandals surround him. Critics believe he is most of all interested in his own position, in his own power, in his own survival, and then the country, and then the people.

Menachem Begin began a populist program called Project Renewal, meant to lift the lower classes out of poverty, to bring them into the middle-class. Meant to provide equal opportunities. One is hard put to wonder what Begin would have done with the Katyushas raining down on the country while hundreds of thousands of citizens were homeless, or in bomb shelters. Once the bombs stopped would he have started another Project Renewal?

Israel isn’t alone in self-serving politicians. They are found all over the world. But when the going gets tough men like Churchill, FDR, and Ben Gurion are needed. Or men like Begin, who gave the okay to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor, in spite of the opposition of Laborite Shimon Peres. Still, Churchill came out on the wrong side of Maynard Keynes supply-side economics after WWII and was politely shown the door as Attlee was appointed Prime Minister. The new economics worked for England, even if they were socialistic. They worked for FDR. Great men who had a role to play in war but not in Peace.

Today in Israel we have no great men. Maybe Shimon Peres, just because he’s been around so long. But his visions for Peace have lead to foggy thinking, resulting in the dreams that gave the late Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat enough power to launch one intifada after another. It was Ariel Sharon who stood up to the challenge of war with the Palestinians and defeated them. But in Peace he was shortsighted. In power he was given to sweetheart deals that even spread to his children. Sharon was a giant as a warrior, as was Churchill, but out of his league as a peacemaker.

Olmert squeaked through the war, even though Hezbollah now claims they may have 70,000 missiles left, not the 10,000 Israel estimates. He is trying to appoint cronies to review his management of the war. Slick political games are being played. Personal power and influence are at stake. And in his shadow the Labor party is talking about a new triumvirate. Ami Ayalon, once head of the Navy and briefly the Shin Bet security services, as the PM, with Ishai Braverman, a respected economist as the Finance Minister, and former PM Ehud Barak as Defense Minister. The problem is, not one of them is a real honest to goodness, Menachem Begin like Mench. And that’s what’s needed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

September 5, 2006 Peace and Prisoners

September 5, 2006 Peace and Prisoners

The Washington Post's syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer is a brilliant neo-con who constantly comes out on the side of Israel, bless his heart.

What he is saying in his recent column about Nasrallah losing the war is echoed in the Israeli press.

The wind was knocked out of the anti-Olmert protests with Nasrallah's statements. Most analysts say that Nasrallah is on the ropes. Some say that Iran is seething over the fact that the expensive long-range missiles they sent over were destroyed within the first 34-minutes of the war. Israel has been scowering the border finding and destroying bunkers and missile launching sites. Reports state that most of the Lebanese people are angry with Nasrallah for the storm of destruction that hammered Beirut for a month. While Israel didn't score a knockout, it is commonly believed that Nasrallah is out of the fight for a while, except for his behind the scenes encouragement of terrorist attacks by third parties.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stated that even with all of the pressure he will not resign, but expects to serve out his full four-year term. This remains to be seen. The commissions of inquiry into the war may find things that support Krauthammer’s view that Olmert was " inept and indecisive" and that " Israel did miss the opportunity to militarily destroy Hezbollah and make it a non-factor in Israel's security." Many Israelis share Krauthammer’s opinion.

There is also considerable turmoil over the way that Chief of Staff Dan Halutz ran the war. A group of generals met with him behind closed doors and reportedly expressed their displeasure with his planning and execution of the battles. Halutz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz reportedly did not agree on basic issues during the war, and are now sparing over the importance of various commissions of inquiry to the extent that each has appointed his own commission. The daily Haaretz newspaper reported that hundreds of generals and scores of investigating teams are at work sifting through what really happened during the war.

On Israel TV last night a report focused on soldiers who'd been seriously wounded during the war. Two were without legs. They still had a positive attitude, but weren't really angry with the government or the army. It was a war, they realized, a just war, and people got hurt. "It wasn't 'why me?'" said one soldier. "It was just the way war is."

There is no howl to replace the government. Olmert realizes that. Politicians are baying at the moon, but the country has settled back into its routine. The outstanding issue now is what happens to the three Israeli soldiers still held captive? Gilad Shalit is rumored to be already in Egypt, Israel Radio reported that he was in Egypt and would be exchanged within a few days for 800 Palestinian prisoners. Israel has demanded that none of the prisoners has "blood on their hands." The release of the Palestinians is to come in three stages, according to a report in today's Ynet news, a branch of Israel's daily Yideot Achranot newspaper. The final stage won't be completed until Shalit is turned over to the Israelis. As of now prison authorities claim they haven't yet been given a list to prepare even the first group of prisoners for release.

All sides in the negotiations deny that a deal has been struck. Most diplomatic and political sources are justifiably reticent to comment openly on the sensitive negotiations for fear of putting the kibosh on the deal. A German diplomat, who has helped in these prisoner exchanges between Israel and the Palestinians in the past, is reportedly the key figure in the talks. Egypt is also very involved in the negotiations. Egypt still sees itself as one of the leading countries in the Arab world. Egypt is also encouraged to be pro-active by the US. Egypt receives over $2 billion a year in US aid and tries to please the US when asked to do something.

Some people have wondered if the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has been in the Middle East since last Tuesday, with a multi-ethnic group of peacemakers, including Jews, Moslems and Christians, had anything to do with the deal.

Rev. Jackson has reportedly been in Damascus and met with Khalid Mashal, the head of Hamas, who lives in Syria. Mashal is supposed to be the guy calling the shots for Hamas; Mashal is said to be much more radical than the Palestinian Hamas leadership living in Gaza. Still it is Mashal who is said to have given the orders to dig the tunnel beneath the Gaza/Israel fence, attack the Israeli army tanks, and kidnap Shalit.

A few years ago Mashal was a target of an ill-fated assassination attempt in Jordan, when Israel's Mossad tried to inject poison into his hand using a needle concealed in an umbrella. Mashal did get quite ill but recovered.
The incident incensed the Jordanian leadership, and cooled the relationship between the two countries for some time.

Jackson has not publicly come out with a statement as to the outcome of his talks. Both he and UN Sec. General Kofi Anan were in Damascus at the same time. Both said they were optimistic for a release of the Israeli Prisoners. When Jackson approached the Israeli authorities and suggested he get involved in the negotiations, Israeli newspapers reported that he was politely told his help wasn't needed.

No word has been given on the fate of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the two Israelis captured by Hezbollah. Kofi Anan has said he is trying to negotiate their release. Perhaps Jesse Jackson is involved in those discussions. Or would like to be.

The recent terrorist attack in Jordan only underscores how terrorism is still a lethal tool used by the Islamic radicals to sow unrest and panic. An attack on a tourist site killed a British citizen, and wounded a dozen other tourists. Last year a bomb exploded in a busy Amman, Jordan hotel killing scores of Jordanians. In Egypt's Sinai desert two Al Queda hit squads are reportedly planning attacks. Israeli tourists, who flock to Sinai for the sand and sun and low prices, have been warned to stay away. Israel TV reports that the Israelis haven't headed the warnings and are still crossing over into Sinai to vacation. Last year a bomb went off at a hotel just across the Israel/Egypt border killing scores of people. Another terrorist attack in Sharm El Shek, in the Sinai destroyed a good part of a popular hotel.

These moderate regimes, like Jordan and Egypt are targets for the terrorists because they do business with Israel. However it isn't only these countries. Kenya, another popular venue for Israelis was hit a few years ago when terrorists planted bombs in a hotel filled with Israelis.

While Krauthammer may be correct that Hezbollah is out of the direct struggle against Israel, it is clear that Nasrallah will take any opportunity to strike at Israel in the traditional terrorist ways, bombing innocent women and children. Hamas does the same from Gaza with their rockets. For a while Hamas was deploying suicide bombers in Israel. Each day another bomb went off in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa; anyplace the bombers could strike they did. The rockets coming from Gaza and Lebanon were no different, really. Terrorists bombing innocent women and children. The cease-fire only put the struggle back to where it was before the war.

The negotiations that are now on-going will hopefully result in the release of the Israeli soldiers. This was Nasrallah's goal at the outset. But if, as Krauthammer and others maintain, Hezbollah was significantly weakened by the war, and Hamas put in a position that they are no longer a viable entity, then perhaps the war was worth it. Inept or not, Olmert stood up to Hezbollah and showed Israelis will still fight when called upon. Had they started the ground war earlier, analysts say, Israeli troops would have cleaned up a swatch of Lebanon far enough away so the short-range Katyushas wouldn't be a factor. Why the war was start and stop is the subject of the inquiries. Although many Israelis expect a whitewash, time will tell the outcome.

Meanwhile, Israel is testing weapons systems that reportedly are effective against short-term Katyusha rockets. One is the much talked about Nautilus system, the laser canon; the other is a conventional cannon firing a cloud of small projectiles that meet the Katyushas in the air and explode them.

More disturbing is a report in that a UN flotilla is off the coast of Lebanon in the expectation that a war breaks out between the team of the US & Israel against Hezbollah and Iran. Nothing about this flotilla has been reported in the mainstream Israeli press.

So far five companies of Israeli soldiers have been brought out of Lebanon. More are expected as UNIFIL takes over positions in S. Lebanon. Reportedly UNIFIL is setting up roadblocks and denying armed Hezbollah fighters from traveling.

Israelis are still waiting anxiously for the release of the three soldiers. Today PM Olmert has said that once the soldiers are back home he will meet with Palestinian President Mohamed Abas and restart the peace negotiations. The Americans are pushing for a renewed "Roadmap." But just as easily something can happen to derail the process. And just as easily the Lebanese leader Fouad Signora can decide to hold talks with Israel and negotiate a peace. If he comes out publicly and says that he probably won't live 24 hours. But diplomacy, like that undertaken in the release of the Israeli prisoners, is usually low-key and secret. Deals are announced only when all the details have been worked out, and the signature is a formality worthy of a photo-op.

Let's hope that's the case with Lebanon. Should the US compete with Iran in providing aid to the Lebanese, as hinted at by Krauthammer in his article, then perhaps peace is closer than war. Perhaps Iran really means it when it says it wants to help bring peace to the region, peace to Iraq, peace to the world.

In reality peace with Lebanon is far off, so is peace with Syria. As long as the Iranians believe that the world must convert to Islam, and have the money and power to push that idea forward, then peace is a dream. As long as Iran and radical Islam continue to test the West's strengths and weaknesses, the world will see unrest.

Once the radicals find a weak spot in the West's defenses, they'll attack, again, as they did in New York, and London and Spain. If the radicals get a nuclear bomb, they'll use it. As Krauthammer said in an earlier article, once you're in the nuclear club you don't want to turn back. And given the insanity that rules the radical Islamic world, should Israel or the USA reply in kind, those Iranians who die think they're going to Heaven anyway, and relish the martyrdom. The only hope is that perhaps cooler minds will eventually rule, and the fanatics and the zealots will find their place in Heaven long before the rest of their people are faced with that possibility.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

September 3, 2006 Fix the World or Help Yourself?

September 3, ‏2006

At 7:00 A.M. parents stood with their children waiting for the school bus to arrive. The children stood with their school bags, waiting, some patiently, some excitedly. Nearly 2 million Israeli children returned to school today. As in the rest of the world this little fact changed the way the day looked for most citizens. Summer was over.

In Maalot, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking to school children on their first day back, called on Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Signora to begin a Peace process with Israel. Meanwhile more UN troops arrived in Southern Lebanon. IDF officials said that if the UN troop buildup continues at the present rate, Israeli soldiers could be out of south Lebanon within two weeks.

Lebanon's Foreign Minister complained today about the air and sea blockade of Lebanon.The Foreign Minister said that the blockade is worse than the Israeli war. These statements came as a response to PM Olmert's call for a peace agreement with Lebanon.

Meanwhile the highly respected Haaraetz military columnist Ze’ev Shiff said today that Israel has discovered many underground bunkers holding short-range missiles in Lebanon. Shiff maintains that the fact these bunkers weren’t discovered before the war by Israeli intelligence services was a dire failure.

Shiff also said that if these intelligence services did indeed know of the bunkers, and didn’t share them with the proper authorities planning the war, that too needed to be immediately investigated.

According to Shiff, the rockets had been pre-positioned and aimed at their target before the war began. Reinforced cement launching pads were built up in farmer’s fields. These platforms were placed on pneumatic pumps that lifted the platforms when it was time to fire the missiles. The farmer upon whose land they were situated loaded the missiles into the launchers. The farmer detonated the missiles when given the orders by mobile phone. Once the missiles were fired, the farmer placed heat-retardant covering on the launchers to hide them from the Israeli Air Force searching for a heat signal. The launchers were then lowered back beneath ground level, and covered with camouflage.

Shiff maintains that these short-range Katyushas did considerable physical and psychological damage in Israel, and their deployment should have been prevented by proper intelligence. Meanwhile Israeli troops, still operating in Lebanon are uncovering and destroying bunkers every day.

Three men were arrested in the Wes Bank over the weekend reportedly for building an 8 kg missile to be fired from Tul Karem into Israel. The men said that Hezbollah had encouraged them to construct the homemade missile.
Kassam rockets began to fall again in the western Negev desert. One woman near an exploding rocket was treated for shock. The rockets continue to fall near their favorite targets, near the small development town of Sderot and the outskirts of the seaside city of Ashkelon.

Hamas held off the firing during the Lebanon War II. Israel, however, has taken advantage of the world’s press focusing on Lebanon and had launched nearly daily raids into Gaza in attempts to curtail the firing of the rockets. Over 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the Lebanon War II.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are now talking about a unity government. This comes as a result of the increasing international isolation of Hamas, the lack of funds coming into their coffers, and the increasing poverty evident in Gaza. The international community sees the relatively moderate Mohammed Abas (Abu Mazen), the head of the Palestinian Authority, as the legitimate head of the Palestinians. Once he is back in some semblance of power analysts expect the international community to begin transferring much-needed funds to the Palestinians.

The USA considers Hamas a terrorist organization and refuses to recognize their election as the head of the Palestinian government. On the other hand, the European Community does not view Hamas as a terrorist entity, but has honored the American boycott of the Hamas led government.

Israel radio announced today that Gilad Shalit, the soldier kidnapped near Gaza at the start of the Lebanon War II, is to be released. Some news reports speculate that he will be exchanged for as many as 800 Hamas men held in Israeli prisons. There has been no progress, so far, on the fate of the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah; even though the cease-fire was to have included their return to Israel.

The panels selected to investigate the Lebanon War II have not yet begun their work. The discussions are still on-going if the panels will be empowered to deal out punishment, or be toothless fact-finding committees.

Critics claim that Ehud Olmert should have already drawn the proper conclusions and resign from the government, but no political analyst expects that to happen. Olmert however may also be investigated for illegal and improper “patronage” appointments while he was minister of Trade and Commerce. His current Director-General of the Prime Minister’s office, Ranan Dinur, was Olmert’s DG in the Trade and Commerce Ministry. The Attorney General must decide if Olmert and Dinur are to be indicted.

Two other ministers in Olmert’s cabinet are already under investigation for improprieties. Former Justice Minister Tzachi HaNegbi is under investigation for charges similar to Olmerts. Both men allegedly paid off political supporters in the primaries with jobs and sweetheart contracts. Former Justice Minister Chaim Ramon is being investigated for improper sexual advances on female co-workers. He has had to turn over his Justice Ministry portfolio to Olmert, who appointed olmert supporter Meir Shitrit as interim Justice Minister.

To round out the corruption there are reports that Police Chief Karadi was appointed to his position by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a favor to leading underworld figures who supported Sharon in the last election. Karadi is allegedly linked to the Israeli Mafia.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, still in a coma after nine-months, has not been directly implicated in these scandals. However, his son Omri was sentenced to nearly a year in jail for improper appointments, a charge similar to Olmert’s and HaNegbis. Sharon’s other son Gilad was implicated in a scandal the involved then Tourism Minister Ehud Olmert. Allegedly, Olmert provided special favors to Israeli businessman David Appel, a staunch Sharon and Olmert supporter, in exchange for Olmert arranging meetings with Greek government officials. This “Greek Island” scandal never resulted in any convictions, but left a scent of corruption on the deal.

These then are the players who have been elected to run the country. International polls have determined that Israel is one of the most corrupt Democracies in the world. How this impacts on the way business is done, politicians are selected, and elected, is significant.

The 1998 book, “The Dark Side of Camelot” by Seymour Hersch, depicts the illustrious Kennedy years as glitter and glitz covering up immorality and corruption. Democracies, even like the United States, the leader of the western world, are not immune from the foibles of human nature. Part of politics, it seems, is how far the rules can be bent, and by whom, before the public reacts.

With Olmert under fire for his handling, or mismanagement, of the Lebanon War II, and now under scrutiny for other misadventures while in previous positions of power, pundits predict that it won’t be long before he is eased from power. Israel’s Defense Minister Amir Peretz, head of the Labor Party, is already fighting off those in his party trying to oust him from his position. Another committee of army generals is investigating Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. It must be pointed out that Halutz was criticized for selling out his stock portfolio a few hours before Israeli jets began bombing Beirut.

Some have asked about the level of morality required for politicians in today’s society. Critics have said that the higher quality people don’t go into politics, but rather into business. Money, not public service, they say, is the driving force. In a scene from the HBO movie "Warm Springs," aobut Franklin D. Roosevelt, portrayed wonderfully by Kenneth Branaugh, FDR told a gathering of poor farmers and their children in a one-room wooden shack functioning as a school, that he was taught at Groton that public service was the highest calling for a man. Today monetary gain and personal achievements are the goals of most youngsters, in Israel, and America. An MBA is highly prized, while an M.D. is no longer a laudable profession. Money, and self-aggrandizement are the goals, not “Tikun Olam”, fixing the world.

Given these prevalent values, who can blame Olmert for his actions, or Halutz, or those in this government, or any government? African politicians have long drained the resources of their impoverished nations for their personal comfort. The only difference between them and others is the Africans don’t make any pretence of being honest, or interested in the welfare of the poor.