Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Story of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a magic bubble. A submersible. Down deep below the surface of time encased in Plexiglas as the myriad wonders floated by, sometimes curiously poking their noses in your face.

Time defies physics in Jerusalem, or seemes to, anyway. One could live an entire lifetime in Jerusalem and never realize it until one’s life was nearly over. Then a forehead slap and an exclamation: “Where did the time go?”

Jerusalem is hypnotic. Maybe it’s the rolling hills, the colored pinkish yellow stone, the gazelle leaping in the forest; maybe it’s the layers of history going down thirty meters; maybe it‘s the souls that once belonged to all those bodies that turn up seemingly every time someone pokes the ground with a shovel.

Famous bodies, too, we’re told. King David, who ruled Jerusalem 3,000 years ago; the prophet Samuel who anointed him, and Jesus, who died in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. All along the way other bodies gave up their meat to the elements. Bodies of Assyrians, Egyptians, Hittites, and other nations with strange names we find hard to place; the Romans, and the Greeks, the Byzantine era Turks and the Crusaders, the British and the Arabs, and of course, the Jews.

Always the Jews. Except back in David’s time they weren’t called Jews. Then they were simple Hebrews.

You see, you start thinking about the history tied up in Jerusalem and you get dizzy. Sidetracked. Hypnotized. Keep staring and it becomes like three-dimensional chess. “Now who did you say did that? When was it? That long ago? That piece of wall is from when? Com’on, you’re kidding.”

Who started the bad blood is another thought that spins out of control. Before you know it two or three decades have passed and nothing has been solved, or changed, and then you realize in another forehead slapping moment that nothing much has ever changed. Someone always wants to take over Jerusalem from someone else. Always has. Probably always will.

The Temple of Solomon gave way to the Temple of Nehemiah and Ezra. Who can keep them straight? Temples that were up 1,000 years, sacked, looted, destroyed, rebuilt, sacked, looted, destroyed. Always people looking for the gold in the Temple, gold that long ago had been carted away by the previous invaders, the last conquerors. The mysterious Ark of the Covenant with all the high-powered magic gone too, except in Spielberg’s fantasy “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Sitting in the bubble, looking out at the swirl of history, it’s like one of those Star Trek sequences, when the Enterprise goes into ‘warp speed”, everything becomes a blur, and then all at once it bounces into its new location, settles down like a helium balloon tethered to the ground.

Jerusalem also puts the pompous in their place. Two thousand years ago, if you can imagine two thousand years, Pompey raided Jerusalem and carried off the treasures. Frescos attest to the sacking of the city and the removal of the famed golden Menorah.
Pompey was a powerful leader. Nothing stood in his path. Rome was master of the world.

Look out through that bubble: do you see Pompey? Nah, he’s long gone. Do you see Rome? Sort of, only now it’s crumbled glory is overrun by tourists. Jerusalem is not a beauty either, any more. The Temples don’t exist. The one Solomon built 3,000 years ago was constructed over the rock where Abraham was to have sacrificed Isaac. According to the Bible Sol’s son David was told to make that the site of the Temple, God’s home.

Fast forward 1,800 years to the 8th Century. The Temple has been covered over. Above it the Sharif of Jerusalem has built a monumental dome over the rock upon which Abraham was to have sacrificed Isaac. The same rock over which Solomon built his temple. How that rock is visible is anybody’s guess, but let’s not argue about legends.

Back then Jerusalem was so far off the beaten track between Syria and Egypt that no one came there easily. It was up in the mountains, a hard, hot, dry, dusty trek. The Jerusalem Sharif, Omar, was jealous of the Sharif who built a magnificent monument in Mecca. Not to be outdone, and keep up his reputation in court, the Sharif of Jerusalem built his on the Temple Mount.

Except no one came to see it. No one cared. Oh, sure, Jerusalem had a bit of history with Islam. When Mohammed leapt from Mecca up to heaven on the back of his trusty steed Barak, the horse touched a hoof down on the rock of Abraham as if to get some final oomph on the ascent to his last resting place. Otherwise, forget it. And it was forgotten, too, until the Jews came back at the end of the 19th Century. But that’s another issue.

We are speaking of a simple truth, that when confronted with so much history, the glory of one man, like Pompey, or David, or Solomon, like Suleiman, is just one more dot in the chronicle of the life of the city. Israeli Prime Ministers not withstanding. Jesus is another subject all together.

Maybe it’s something in the air.

The Bible tells us that God told the patriarchs to settle in Jerusalem, and the Holy Land. Maybe it’s true. Maybe he did. Maybe His “presence” is still around? Maybe that accounts for how quickly time flies in Jerusalem, since everyone is just one more dot on the map of history, one more flicker on the edge of the universe.

In Jerusalem you get to thinking, sooner or later, if there is a divine plan for mankind after all, and then you get to thinking what that plan is, and next thing you know another two or three decades have raced past.

Mystics, poets, artists have long pondered Jerusalem. No one has really captured it. Venetians swell with pride over their 500-year old palacios, Jerusalemites can’t match that splendor. The city has been destroyed too many times. But vestiges remain that remind the residents and visitors of past glories. Pomp and circumstance still exists when the rich and famous are honored. The Old City still stands as a memorial of what things were as much as 2,000 years ago. No one lives in these old buildings, really. Not like they do in Venice. But then, no one ever said God chose Venice as his home, as the Bible says of Jerusalem.

Mark Twain visited Jerusalem and hated it. And for good reason. He saw the squalor, the pestilence, the disease. He didn’t have air-conditioning, electricity, and the Internet. For him one stone was just like another. In Jerusalem, just like any other city you adore, once you start to think that cement is just cement you’re getting ready to leave.

Twain wasn’t caught up in the flavor of the place, in the rhythm of the underground rivers running through the porous stone. He came with high expectations, and was disappointed. That’s because he was outside the bubble, not inside it. He was just one of the fish swimming past. He should have stayed awhile.

When S.Y Agnon wrote his masterpiece “Only Yesterday” he was talking about time as well as place. If there is no God then there is no importance to Jerusalem.

But if there is?

See what I mean.

There goes another few centuries of discussion.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Rapist and the Government

The ceasefire between the Israelis and the Palestinians seems to be holding. Only one Qassam rocket fell on Monday. Israel TV showed footage of a hole in the ceiling of an apartment, and a family packing to leave Sderot, the Southern Negev town that has been the target of most of the Qassam rockets. The couple packing up their belongings were both born and raised in Sderot, and had been raising their own children there. “It’s just too dangerous,” said both husband and wife. “We can’t raise our children here.”

Eli Moyal, the mayor of Sderot, claims that the press is making more of a few people leaving Sderot than is necessary. "People have always come and people have always left. The numbers aren't any different now than usual," he said.

None of the residents interviewed thought there was any hope for a long-term cease-fire. All thought it was only a matter of time until the rockets began falling again.

Some thought that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarks at the grave of Israeli’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion were out of place. Olmert alluded to a comprehensive peace plan that would include a Palestinian State side by side with the Jewish State of Israel. Many interviewed thought that the time was ripe for Army action in Gaza and not talk of peace.

The US lauded Olmert’s remarks. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due in the Middle East on Thursday with US Preident Bush. Some speculate Rice will come to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Olmert in order to set up a summit between PA Chairman Mohammed Abbas, Israel’s PM Olmert, and U.S. President Bush in Washington.

Secretary Rice and U.S. President George Bush are coming to the region to take part in a conference on democracy and development called by King Abdullah, and to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Because of the diplomatic window of opportunity created by Olmert’s statement, Sec. Rice will now include the Israel-Palestinian issue on her agenda while she is in the region.

Pundits believe this meeting in Jordan is important to Bush to redeem himself after the battering he took in local US elections. A break-through in the Middle East between the Palestinians and the Israelis would improve the Republican image, and Bush’s reputation.

Other analysts believe that this is like putting the skin of a pear on an apple and calling it an apple. Hamas is still the dominant power in Gaza and amid the Palestinian territories. PA Prime Minister and Hamas leader Haniyeh has agreed to the fiction that Hamas is no longer in power, in order to get funding from the EU and the USA and others who are not turning over any money until Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist. By allowing Abu Mazen (Mohammed Abbas) to appear to run the PA, Hamas doesn’t have to recognize Israel, and the money can begin flowing in to Hamas coffers.

Israelis are skeptical that the peace initiative will reap any positive results. Many see it as a move by Olmert to gain favor with the White House. Pundits believe that this is the wrong season for peace talks; since the chilly winds of war not the refreshing smell of peace is in the air.

In Lebanon Hezbollah has reportedly replenished the supply of rockets used against Israel over the summer. Other reports state that Hezbollah has been training Iraqi Shiite insurgents who then return to Baghdad to wreck havoc on the nascent Iraqi government. Recent reports state that approximately 2,000 insurgents have been trained in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon.

Hezbollah has also begun a campaign to overthrow the moderate Lebanese government and replace it with a fundamentalist Shiite government. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah reportedly postponed the planned street demonstrations against the government after the assassination of the young Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, scion of the Maronite Christians in Lebanon. Syria is accused by the Gamayel family of being behind the assassination of the 34-year old Lebanese parliamentarian, who was vehemently anti-Syrian.

Given the climate of war analysts think that Prime Minister Olmert’s talk of peace is a sham. Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, said, “it is time for actions not words.”

Israel’s Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has said Prime Minister Olmert didn’t consult him on the peace initiative. Halutz is already embattled, under fire for the failures of the War in Lebanon II. Military analysts say that few in the army or the government have stood up and taken responsibility for the failures of the war.

Another failure of Israel’s became clear three days ago when Benny Sela, a convicted serial rapist, escaped from police custody while being transported to court. The entire incident was either an extremely fortuitous series of foul-ups for Sela by the Prison Services and the Israeli Police, or a well-planned escape.

The Police once sought Sela for over two years before a previous arrest. Until his escape Sela was serving a 35-year sentence. Reportedly Sela was taken to a labor court to hear a suit he’d filed against the prison services. Two problems arose. One, there was no labor court on the day he was transported, which the prison services should have known, and two, he was not shackled. According to one report he wasn’t even handcuffed.

Sela excused himself from the two policemen escorting him from the parking courtyard into the court, saying he’d left something in the van. He then disappeared, either over the wall, or in some other fashion. A prison uniform was found in some bushes a short distance away. Eyewitnesses said they saw Sela riding away on a bicycle. It is still unclear if he was simply lucky, or part of a well-executed plan. The media reported that the prison services had received a warning a month earlier that Sela was planning an escape.

What is significant about Sela’s escape is that it found yet another of Israel’s vaunted security services lacking. Reportedly, the two policemen who were responsible for guarding Sela are being held responsible for the escape, although others have called on the highest ranks of the police and prison services to assume responsibility.

Some rumors have also reached the press that both the police and prison services are susceptible to corruption, and that Sela may have bribed the right people to provide a forged court appearance certificate, as well as bribing others to leave him unencumbered by handcuffs and leg restraints.

“Another example of how the country is being run these days,” said a veteran Israeli.

Meanwhile, Sela is lose, Israeli soldiers Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev are still being held prisoner, and the prospect of peace, no matter what Israel’s PM Olmert says, or the US wants, is as far away as ever. ,

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Solution to the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is simple. So simple in fact that it will never be implemented.Remember, you heard it here first.

Stop using oil. Stop using gasoline. Just say no!

See, the problems are solved.

Let me explain, although I’m certain you get it.

Who are the main perpetrators of terrorism today? Moslems.

Who are the main producers of oil today? Moslems.

Where do the terrorists get most of their money? From Moslems.

Where do these Moslems get most of their money? From oil.

The West is on a self-destruct mode. Every cup of oil you buy is another dozen bullets that are going to be used against you.

If oil was no longer a commodity that controlled the world’s economy, no longer needed to power the industrial nations and their vehicles, then money to thsee Moslems who own the oil would stop flowing; thus, the contributions of these Moslems, either overt or covert, to support terrorism would also stop. Without money the terrorists would be hard put to finance their attacks, supply their armies with weapons, fight to destroy Western Democratic values and societies.

Okay, that’s simplistic. I admit it.

Moslems who finance terror get their money in a variety of ways.
Some of the trouble in Iraq comes from the millions, or perhaps hundreds of millions, Saddam has reportedly squirreled away. According to the media, Saddam has given this money to people who are using it to foment revolution, to destroy the Iraqi regime put in place and protected, not very well it turns out, by the West.

Other money to finance terrorism comes from donations of Moslem businessmen and normal Moslem citizens in Western countries around the world. The media has reportedly widely on the Moslem “Charitable Organizations” that funnel money used to buy arms by Hezbollah and Hamas and Al Queda under the guise of supporting soup-kitchens, kindergartens, day-care centers, Mosques, and other social service activities. (The US has the Homeland Security Act to stop that, but mostly what they stop is normal law-abiding citizens from doing business.)

Moslems living in South America, in that infamous triangle where entire towns seem as if they’re transplanted from the Middle East, make these donations. So do nice middle-class businessmen from American towns and cities from Chicago, Detroit, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

The big money comes from nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. The Wahabi brand of Islam is hard-line Moslem theology. No room for liberals. According to a BBC documentary Wahabism finances most of the Mosques springing up around the USA, and the rest of the Western world. The particular brand of Wahabi Islam preached in these mosques leaves no room for discussion. It’s their way or the highway.

Frequently the highway is dotted with roadside bombs, and even 57-year old grandmothers wearing explosive belts, like the woman who blew herself up at near an Israeli outpost along the Gaza/Israel border on Thursday.

Take away the oil, and who is going to pay Hamas? Who is going to provide the money to pay the bounty to families of suicide bombers for contributing human bombs to the righteous cause of Islamic Fundamentalism?

In Iraq, who is going to provide Al Sadr and his band of thugs with money? Salaries have to be paid to the soldiers so they can feed their families. No matter how idealistic, the food has to come from somewhere. The rent money has to come from somewhere. The arms suppliers have to be paid.

As of now it’s Iranian oil money paying these bills.
Cut off the oil and Iran would have to cut out supporting terrorism in Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Argentina, Bali, Malaysia, India, Spain, etc. Iran would have to stop their nuclear weapons development projects. Would have to start looking for other ways to make a living, exporting goods and services instead of hatred, death and destruction.

What does ‘say no’ mean for the average citizen in the West? It means looking for alternatives to oil. It means really looking, not just talking about it. It means walking, or riding bikes, burning up those extra calories around the belly as fuel instead of oil. It means exploring the use of non-fossil fuels, like corn oil, methane, solar energy. It means fighting with the governments of the world to change their energy policies. It means tossing out the guys who have vested interests in keeping the oil business thriving.

How to do this?. Buy a fuel-efficient car, not a gas-guzzling SUV, which most people don’t need anyway. Buy a hybrid. Walk. Take public transportation. All wacky ideas, sure, but as the oil-producing nations keep squeezing the oil-consuming nations for higher payment, the ideas get less wacky. Oil experts are now talking about over $100 a barrel as the consumers are squeezed more and more. Remember, twenty years ago people thought it was wacky to quit smoking cigarettes.

Try to convince a suburban Rambo to give up his Hummer for a mini-compact. Try to explain to a housewife that a motor scooter is safer than a car in the long run, since one day when the Moslem fanatics take control she won’t be allowed to drive. Try sending representatives to the Senate and Congress who realize that their primary function is to find an alternative to oil, or soon there won’t be a Senate of Congress.

Sooner or later the choices won’t exist. The terrorists will have converted all that cash which the West is pouring into oil and bought whatever weapons they could to destroy the very people who buying the oil.. When that happens the oil won’t be important any longer. The Islamic Fundamentalists will have destroyed the West and taken over the world. And used your money to do it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Yaakov Yaakobov was buried in Sderot on Wednesday. He was the victim of a Qassam rocket fired from Gaza on Tuesday. More rockets fell on Sderot on Wednesday; one fell adjacent to a pre-school building just as classes began. No one was injured in that blast.

Israel radio ran interviews during the day on Wednesday with Sderot residents, officials, and youngsters. Most called for a return to “Shigra” (Heb. Normalcy). But there was no Shigra on the horizon. The rockets fall on a daily basis. This scenario is quite similar to the one Hezbollah used over the summer, except Hamas has much more limited means, for the time being. The Qassam rocket has a much smaller range, but carries a hand-grenade sized wallop; the warhead can pierce the poured concrete roofs of most of Sderot’s buildings.

A Tuesday evening report on Israel Television painted a bleak picture of the town. “We close up at noon,” one woman said, locking the doors to her shop. “Then we go home and wait for the attacks.” Another shopkeeper said, “The town is dead.”

When the media flocked to the north of Israel during the War in Lebanon II, the world’s attention turned to the plight of the Jews stranded in bomb shelters or fleeing for safety. The incursion of the Israeli army into Lebanon was actually the big headline, the one that made the news. The bombing of the Israelis in their towns and villages was a sidebar.

Wednesday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made serious war-like statements. The press was full of speculation that Israel may have to re-occupy Gaza as the only way to stop the Qassam rocket attacks. Minister of Defense Amir Peretz is reportedly ready to support such a move, although he has also been talking about a cease-fire and dialogue with Hamas.

The news of Yaakov Yaakobov’s death was a small blurb in most newspapers outside of Israel, somewhere back on page five or farther. Not much to write about. U.N. Sec General Kofi Anan recently took the U.N. to task, saying that the focus on investigating the Israeli artillery shell that fell in Gaza’s Beit Hanoun neighborhood may be putting too much stress on the Israeli Palestinian issue when places like Darfur go nearly unnoticed.

The tragedy of Darfur makes Gaza look like Cooney Island. Islamic Fundamentalists are slaughtering Africans who don’t recognize Allah and Islam. Millions are dead, or dying. Those fleeing the region are put in squalid tent camps ravaged by disease. When it comes to Darfur the UN is too busy to investigate, or get actively involved.

The Middle East is another issue. More TV cameras, more reporters, more history blows the conflict out of proportion. Everyone knows that the Israelis are sensitive to public opinion and humanitarian needs, and are easier to deal with than Africa’s religious fanatics, corrupt government officials, and endless relief organizations, all living well off of the trouble.

On Wednesday Lebanon began three days of mourning for 34-year old Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel who was gunned down in his car as he was driven through a Christian suburb of Beirut on Tuesday. A car banged into the rear of Gemayel’s Kia sedan. Three masked men with silenced automatic weapons jumped out of their car and sprayed Gemayel with bullets. His driver, who was uninjured, drove him to the hospital, but it was too late. Gemayel was the sixth anti-Syrian politician to be killed in nearly two years.

Gemayel comes from a very influential Lebanese family. His grandfather started the Phalange party, an ultra-right wing group of Maronite Christians. While small, the Phalange could field a surprisingly large number of soldiers, and were an integral and bloody part of the civil war that raged in Lebanon in the 1970’s.

Pierre Gemayel is the second in his family to be assassinated. In the 1980’s his late uncle Bashir was killed while speaking to a group of followers in a meeting hall. A bomb exploded in the building, which collapsed, killing Bashir. At the time Bashir was in talks with Israel’s then Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon. Reportedly, Israel was supplying Bashir Gemayel and his followers with arms in an attempt to help Bashir take control of Lebanon from the pro-Syrian government.

According to reports at the time Bashir had agreed to sign a peace agreement with Israel should he come to power. What happened instead was yet another war in Lebanon. Israel invaded and drove the PLO and Yassir Arafat to Tunis. It was never clear who was responsible for Bashir Gemayel’s death; rival Lebanese, the PLO, or the Syrians. Syria has long considered Lebanon part of Greater Syria.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt blamed Syria for Gemayel's assassination and said he expected more killings aimed at undermining parliament's ruling majority. Syria was reportedly behind the roadside bombing death of anti-Syrian politician Hariri, and is suspected in the death of the other four Lebanese as well.

It was widely reported that the death of Pierre Gemayel postponed a planned Hezbollah march. Hezbollah is trying to peacefully overthrow the government of moderate PM Siniora. Many suspect that Hezbollah may have been the triggermen for the Syrian ordered assassination.

Others however see the hand of Iran in the equation. Lately Syria and Iran have been meeting to discuss a mutual defense pact. It seems clear to most analysts that Syria has fallen under the Iranian’s malevolent influence.

Israeli political analysts are stumped, however, by the U.S. about-face in dealing with Syria and Iran. Since the exit of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. policy seems to be aimed at talking to Syria and Iran. Israelis understand this approach but have difficulty believing the Americans actually think Iran and Syria will keep any promises they make during talks.

One analyst wondered if U.S. President George W. Bush isn’t so malleable that as soon as Rumsfeld was gone the President was ready to adopt any other idea put to him. The same analyst wondered if President Bush ever really had an agenda, like his famed “Axis of Evil,” or if he was merely talking tough to get votes. Now that the elections didn’t go his way, the analysts speculate that President Bush is looking for some new policy to get back in the public favor. Another analyst wondered if President Bush wasn’t just being expedient rather than ideologically committed, as Britain’s Tony Blair seems to be.

If and when Israel re-enters Gaza the press will turn up in droves, the headlines will blare as loud as Israel’s artillery, the world’s attention will turn back to Gaza, relieving many politicians around the world, and officials in many organizations, of the necessity of dealing with the problems they are supposed to solve, problems that exist in abundance outside of the Middle East.

A new set of negotiators is soon due in the Middle East, led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. The Jerusalem Post ran a story on Wednesday detailing Mr. Baker’s tough policy against Israel during his previous term in office. Mr. Baker advised withholding arms shipments, military aid and other things, to pressure Israel into peace talks that went nowhere. It was Mr. Bakers reported belief that Israeli obdurance was the core of the Israel-Palestinian problem, and that problem was the key to peace in the Middle East.

Israel made peace with Egypt, and then Jordan and made headway with the Palestinians, Mr. Baker seemed to have been correct. However, the problems never did go away. Maybe this time Mr. Baker will have more success.

As before he’ll start twisting Israel’s arm, which is far easier than grabbing hold of Hezbollah, or Syria, or Hamas, or Iran. But like the problems in Darfur, a new Baker-led initiative may only serve as a red herring for the real problems in the world, like poverty, aids, rampant disease, brutal tribal warfare, slaughter of millions of innocents on a truly mass-murder scale.

But the world has a fascination with the Middle East. Hassidim in Jerusalem are a lot more photogenic than starving African children with bloated bellies sitting on dirt in the hot sun their bodies a feeding ground for swarms of fat flies.

It seems that as long as the media is in the hands of the three monotheistic religions based on the Bible, the Middle East will be the focus of the decision-making, powerful, Western world’s interest.

Israel is good on TV, especially if the shot is of a Jew with a gun in his hand, or driving a tank, or clearing a bunker. Must be that illustrious star-quality that made so many men and women of Jewish descent Hollywood idols.

But right about now most Israelis and Jews would wish for what that mother in Sderot wished for: Shigra.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Human Shields

When the Qassam rockets fell on Sderot and the Negev no Peace protestors gathered to demonstrate against the attacks. An Israeli taxi-driver from Beer Sheva was seriously injured on Sunday when one of eight Qassam rockets fell near his cab.
Most of the schools in Sderot are empty, as parents have decided to keep their children at home rather than risk their lives in unprotected school buildings. No protestors show up to encircle the Israeli schools with a human shield in an effort to dissuade Hamas and other Arab terrorist organizations from firing on Israeli civilians.

But those same protestors mounted an Israeli tank near Gaza, protesting the Israeli incursions. Another group encircled a home of a Hamas fighter in order to prevent the Israeli Army from bombing the home. Israel had apparently warned that the house was to be destroyed in order to save innocent lives.

The human shield stopped the Israeli attack. A laudable undertaking. Should more protestors form human shields perhaps less people would be killed on both sides. But when was the last time anyone heard of a human shield to protect Israelis? Why can’t the same humanitarian minded individuals set up camp in Sderot to prevent the Arab “activists” from bombing the town with Qassam rockets?

There is, of course, a double standard. Forget for a minute who fired the first shot, threw the first stone, drew the first blood. No one can put a finger on the exact incident anyway. Some may go as far back as Sarah forcing Hagar and her son Ishmael out into the desert, to distance them from the patriarch Abraham. Arabs frequently cite this as the start of bad faith between Jews and Arabs. Others cite the actions of the patriarch Jacob who posed as Esau in order to get the blessing of the first-born, and thus all of the Patriarch Isaac’s possessions, as signs of Jewish duplicity far back in history.

When a debate ensues between Jews and Arabs, and the discussion turns to history, Arabs toss up the first two examples listed above, then deny that any further discussion of history is relevant. Most pinpoint as the point where the struggle began to the Jewish return to the Holy Land at the turn of the last Century. Arab discussion ignores the Jewish presence in the Holy Land prior to that. In a wave of the hand Arabs have tossed aside 1,000 years of Jewish presence in the Holy Land, as well as the first and second Temples.

This issue has even bubbled over in the press. Recently some archeological finds indicated that indeed the Temple of the Jews did exist thousands of years ago, substantiating the Bible and Jewish claims to the land.

However, the find was discovered amid rubble excavated from the Temple Mount. The Wakf, the Moslem religious authority that was given charge of the Temple Mount by the Israeli government after the 1967-Six Day War, refuses to allow Israeli archeologists a chance to dig on or even near the Temple Mount. Israelis have to content themselves with sifting through rubble from construction on the Temple mount that is tossed into a nearby pit.

It is not in the Wakf’s interest to allow proof that Jews have a long legitimate and historic claim to the Temple Mount, to Jerusalem, and to Israel. Rather they deny access to the ruins that could prove, or disprove, history.

The 1948 War of Independence was another watershed in Arab Jewish relations. In this instance it was the United Nations that granted Israel statehood and legitimacy. When offered a State alongside Israel the Arabs opted to try and win the entire area back in a continued struggle. So far they’ve struggled in vain.

The 1967-Six Day War, as anyone interested in the region knows, gave Israel more land than the UN provided in ’48. The West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Sinai, the Golan Heights were all war booty. Recent reports believe that then Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan made a huge error giving the Temple Mount to the Wakf, rather than keep it, and put up a synagogue on the site. Others are equally as critical of Dayan for not giving back the West Bank and Gaza as soon as he could, divesting Israel of a problem that has haunted the Jewish State ever since.

In the What If scenarios, the West Bank would have become a Palestinian State, perhaps in some confederation with Jordan; Gaza would have been somehow linked to Egypt; the Golan Heights may have gone back to Syria if they left it de-militarized. Remember that Syria used the Golan Heights to shell Israel’s Galilee region, only a short cannon lob away.

Jerusalem, of course, is another sore point. But as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak pointed out, everything is negotiable. During his term in office he was willing to give away much of East Jerusalem, and even the Old City, for Peace, although skeptics believe his plan was a bluff: Barak knew the offer would never pass a Knesset vote or a public referendum.

The ’73 was another watershed, but it brought Egypt and Israel to a peace treaty, although the treaty cost Egypt’s then president Anwar Sadat his life. Sadat died at the hands of those same Moslem fundamentalists who are today terrorizing the world. Dr. Zarawiri, one of the then leaders of the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, went on to help Ossama Bin Ladin start Al Queda.

In 1981 Israel launched an invasion of Lebanon in order to drive the Palestinians from the northern border, and stop the Katyusha attacks that fell on the towns and villages. The PLO had essentially taken over Lebanon, run it as a mini-State, with roadblocks, and taxes, and bullies with guns. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, convinced then Prime Minister Menachem Begin to invade Lebanon up to the Litani River. But the Israeli Army kept marching, eventually encircling Beirut. The fighting finally ended when PLO chief Yassir Arafat boarded a ship for Tunis with his PLO leadership.

What has changed since then? Is Hezbollah in Lebanon still angry at that invasion? According to press reports, Lebanon is about to undergo a coup by Hezbollah’s Sheik Nasrallah. Rather than the PLO running the country, as it did in the 70’s, Nasrallah will run the country. Rather than the PLO shooting Katyushas at Israel, it will be Nasrallah, again. What is it with these guys, anyway?

We’re back to the same question: where are the peace activists to protect Israel’s north? Why weren’t they out in numbers standing around in Kyriat Shmona to stop the Katyushas during the War in Lebanon II? Why do they think Gaza is a worthier goal for their humanitarian efforts? Aren’t Jews human? Isn’t Israel being bombed daily? Do they think that if the Qassam rockets stop falling Israel will continue to fight? Which world are they living in?

Some say that the human shields are merely another front in the Hamas battle for the hearts and minds of the world. Public Relations tricks. Human Shields to protect those people in Gaza. And of course this tactic works. Innocent people shouldn’t die. Israel mourns when they do. The focus is on the terrorist who had his house saved, not the Israeli taxi driver nearly killed by a Qassam rocket? Or the Russian immigrant woman, or the Ethiopian immigrant family, killed over the past months.

The UN is now going to investigate the Israeli shell that fell on a house killing 19 Palestinians. But why doesn’t the UN investigate the daily bombing of Israeli targets in Sderot, and the Negev? One IDF shell is allegedly fired accidentally on innocent people and the UN investigates. Daily rockets fall on Israel and nothing happens. Is this fair? Is this justice?

Israelis are forced to look with cynicism on the Human Shields, and UN endeavors: fairness is apparently not a doctrine the world practices when it comes to Jews. This is a common consensus. The world isn’t fair. If Israel doesn’t protect herself, no one else will.

Thankfully Israel has its active peace camp that want to have a deep and meaningful dialogue with the Arabs. Only a radical few in Israel do not want peace, do not want to sit down and talk with the other side. Even staunch right wing Knesset Members, like Gideon Ezra, have said that the time has come to declare a cease-fire for 10-days.

The peace activists are the only hope Israel has for finding a solution to the daily shelling, The cycle of violence continues, and will until one side or the other surrenders. Or until the humanitarians who put up human shields to protect the Palestinians have the same impulses to protect Israelis, Jewish and non-Jewish. Or until the UN decides to investigate why the Arab activists in Gaza continue lobbing rockets into Israel, rather than just investigate why one shell from an Israeli canon is more important than the hundreds of rockets killing and wounding Israelis?

But then again, who ever said life was fair?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What If???

Qassam rockets killed Faina (Fatima) Slutzker, 57, an Israeli woman yesterday, and two others Israelis were seriously injured, including the bodyguard of Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, who lives in Sderot, when Qassam rockets fell yet again in the southern town.

The rockets have been falling every day. The situation is so serious that schools have been closed. The local municipality has complained that the schools aren’t safe enough for the children, mainly because the government hasn’t put up enough money to fortify the ceilings against rocket attack.

Iran has poured over $120 million into Hamas’ budget according to the Haaretz newspaper. Does this mean that this money is being used to fund Hamas humanitarian activities, or is the money going into the military kitty?

To say that Israel is uneasy with the present situation is an understatement. Quietly, Israelis are chewing the skin inside their cheeks, worrying about the dizzying options open to the Palestinian terrorists, or anti-Israeli countries out for Israel’s destruction.

The security situation is lousy. The rockets are falling in the S. of Israel and no one seems to be able to stop them. Some call on another military action in Gaza, others say that peace talks are the only solution, but no one has a clear answer, or a perfect solution.

The polls show that Israelis are more and more disgruntled with the leadership. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert makes brave speeches while attending the GA conference of the UJC in Los Angeles, but most Israelis polled doubt his ability to steer the ship of state on a safe course.

A poll today showed that Israelis increasingly prefer someone with a military background. Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet Security Service, and former head of the Israeli Navy, is now the choice of those polled for head of the Labor Party. The present head, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, is at the bottom of the list.

The current head of the Shin Bet, Avi Dichter, has stated publicly that Israel needs to go back into Gaza in force and deal with Hamas and the Qassam rockets. However there is little popular support for this move. Israel’s recent forays into Gaza have not resulted in a more secure situation. If anything, the Israeli incursions only motivate the Palestinians to strike harder and more frequently at Israel.

On Wednesday evening Israel TV aired footage from Gaza shortly after the shelling that took the life of Faina (Fatima) Slutzker, a Moslem married to a Jew, both immigrants from the Former Soviet Union. Palestinians were shown carrying bags of groceries home, stocking up, according to the reporter, fearing an Israeli attack that would make it difficult to get food.

One Palestinian man told the reporter that he didn’t understand the Israeli anger at the woman’s death. When asked if he didn’t feel bad about the rockets that shelled Israelis schools he answered, “So what? You think our children are safe from Israeli rockets and artillery shells?”

He reminded the audience that not long ago an errant Israeli shell fell on a residential building killing 29 innocent civilians. Some of those injured in that mistaken shelling were taken to Israeli hospitals. The father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit showed up to pay a sick call at the Tel Aviv hospital where the injured were being treated.

Noam Shalit is still doing everything he can, including PR visits like this, to try to obtain the release of his son. Reportedly, Hamas chief Mashal, who is based in Damascus, is driving a difficult bargain. In exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit Mashal is reportedly demanding the release of some 900 Palestinian prisoners, including some who have “blood on their hands” and who Israel has sworn never to release.

Meretz Party leader Yosi Beilin is lobbying for the release of jailed Tanzim head Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multi-life sentences for planning attacks on Israeli civilians. Some believe Barghouti is a ‘moderate’ among Palestinians and can bring a peace deal to the table.

Some people believe this is just Beilin trying to find an issue to stay in the public eye, like Jimmy Carter and his book likening Israel to an Apartheid state. The same Jimmy Carter who will soon be appointed to a panel investigating solutions to the Middle East's problems.

The International Herald Tribune ran a front page story by New York Times correspondent Greg Myre on Wednesday that continued on page 9. The story told how Palestinians traveling on Route 60 in the West Bank had to spend considerable time, sometimes hours, at Israeli roadblocks. Myre went into details of discomfort and annoyance among the Palestinians at the roadblocks, and cited how many hundreds of roadblocks there were.

An Israeli spokesman answered that the security situation necessitates these actions, which he claimed have cut down on Palestinian attacks against Israelis. Myre reported that the Israelis had essentially broken up the West Bank into three distinct sections.

The irony of the report is that it was on page one. Back on page five of the Herald Tribune was a short article about the death of Faina (Fatima) Slutzker who was killed by Wednesday's rocket attack in Sderot. Apparently the Herald Tribune believes that the problems of the roadblocks are a more important story than the death of an Israeli woman by Palestinian rocket fire.

This brings into question the entire issue of priorities, politics and objective journalism.

In the George Clooney feature film “Goodnight and Good Luck” about the battle journalistic icon Edward R. Murrow had with the "Red-Hunter" Sen. Joe McCarthy during the 1950's Senate hearings in Washington, it was clear that Murrow was fighting for freedom and the American way. He took sides. He came out swinging against Joe McCarthy because he felt McCarthy was a bully and a blow-hard who had stirred up the most primal fears in the American public using nothing more than innuendo and rumor.

Murrow spoke out for honest reporting, getting at the truth, not trying to slant anything in any one direction; but of course modern journalism doesn’t believe such objectivity is needed; or even possible.

Murrow ran into trouble with his boss William Paley, owner of CBS, and Alcoa Aluminum, which was the sponsor of Murrow’s show. Alcoa said, according to the Paley character in the film, that TV was for entertainment, not for a civics lesson. Murrow countered that it was the news division of CBS that was bringing viewers to the station.

Paley disagreed. In fact a few years later the vaunted news division was reorganized and put under the supervision of the “entertainment” division. News was no longer news; it was just another way to get viewers to tune in, and stay tuned in, between commercials.

The International Herald Tribune seems to feel that its readers prefer to read about the Palestinians waiting in line, humiliated, angry, frustrated, rather than the death of another Israeli at the hands of Palestinians. Advertisers apparently agree.

One wonders what the headlines would be if Israeli bombed Iran to prevent that country from destroying Israel with nuclear weapons? Would Israel be held to task for the death of those people working in the nuclear power plants? For the fallout from a nuclear explosion? From the ancillary damage to Iranian towns and villages?

Or would the newspaper understand that Israel had to act. Israel couldn’t wait while a bully kept making threats, working up to the time when the threats became attacks. That Israel had to strike while the bully was still shooting off his mouth: knock him down, or out.

Had someone killed Hitler in 1923 would the world be a different place today? Fifty or sixty million Germans and Americans would have lived through the war, rather than dying on battle-fields, in bombed out buildings, or in concentrations camps.

Had someone killed Stalin thirty million Soviet citizens would have been spared Stalin’s insane purges. Had someone killed Mao, scores of millions of Chinese would have been able to live normal lives rather than die at the hands of the crazy Red Guard.

Had someone killed Iranian Imam Khoumani, the father of today's Islamic fanaticism, the Twin Towers, the Madrid train bombing, the deaths in Bali, Pakistan, Afghanistan, wouldn't have happened. Creative talented people would have survived to contribute, perhaps with great earth-shaking ideas, to the development of a civilized society.

Does Israel have to wait to be attacked, and wiped out, before acting? And if Israel is wiped out, how long would the news be in the papers before a Tsunami, or a World Cup Soccer Match stole the headlines?

And what even happened to the truth? What ever happened to doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do? What would have happened had Edward R. Murrow decided not to take on Joe McCarthy?

What if. Probably the broadest two words in the English language.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Borat the Scapegoat

The dismissal of Brig.-Gen Gal Hirsch, who headed the Galilee Brigade, was recommended on Sunday by a panel empowered to investigate the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah terrorists, an event which kicked off the War in Lebanon II.

According to the report, the kidnapping of the two soldiers could have been prevented. Gen. Hirsch resigned before the report was made public. Associates of Hirsch claim that he was a scapegoat for failings of his superiors.

The report was made public on Sunday. The report said that Hirsch, in charge of the units patrolling the Lebanese border, was lax in his duties. According to Maj.-Gen (res.) Doron Almog, who read the results of the investigation, Hirsch had not provided the proper training, equipment, or guidelines to the troops on the Lebanese border, this in spite of the fact that the Army’s intelligence corps was forewarned that Hezbollah was planning a kidnapping attempt.

The report was also harshly critical of the IDF Intelligence branch, the Northern Command, and even the General Staff. According to the Jerusalem Post, “During the war, Almog was critical of what he saw as costly indecision that delayed an expanded ground operation in southern Lebanon.”

IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz reportedly angrily argued with Almog, and demanded the panel reinvestigate several points in their conclusions. Halutz also implored Hirsch to retract his resignation, which Hirsch declined to do. Hirsch’s immediate supervisor Gen. Udi Adam resigned shortly after the end of the war.

The Yideot Achranot newspaper’s morning headlines called on Chief of Staff Halutz to also resign. Another retired General Alon Ben-Gal called on the entire General Staff to resign. Others have said that the present command should not be allowed to lead the Army should another war break out.

Israel’s military analysts have predicted that another war with Hezbollah will break out next year, perhaps as early as the spring of 2007.

Defenders of Gen. Hirsch claim that he is a serious and hard-working soldier who was blamed for shortcomings that were outside his responsibility or authority.

The rhetoric over Israel’s animosity towards Iran heated up over the weekend as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized Iran for threatening to “wipe Israel off the Map.”

Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense, Ephraim Sneh, said earlier that Israel may have to take pre-emptive action against Iran. Sneh later backtracked on his tough talk.

Today Olmert said he was not interested in a war with Iran. However, in an interview on Israel Radio Olmert said that when a country like Iran pledges to annihilate Israel, that threat has to be taken seriously.

Olmert is visiting Israel as part of the Los Angeles meeting of the General Assembly of the UJC (United Jewish Communities), known as the GA. Olmert met with President George Bush during his visit to the USA.

Both men were circumspect in their public statements. Neither man is currently popular at home.

Olmert said today that he wouldn’t be opposed to President Bush negotiating directly with Iran. “Any compromise reached solving the Iranian threat is acceptable to us,” Olmert said shortly before his meeting with US President Bush.

A press report today said that the investigation into illegal activities by Prime Minister Olmert in the sale of Bank Leumi has been dropped, and that the allegations were groundless.

Concern over the future of the region is still high. According to military analysts Hezbollah has said they have as many as 20,000 Katyusha rockets ready to deploy against Israel. Al Qaida sources are reportedly planning to seize power in Lebanon from the moderate Siniora government.

The British comedian Baron Shasha Cohen’s latest work “Borat” is an international box office smash, even though the Anti-Defamation League has objected to some of the anti-Jewish humor. Previously Cohen made headlines playing the rapper Ali G on British television.

Jerusalem-Magazine has learned that Shasha Cohen grew up in a committed Jewish family. His mother is an Israeli and his father was in the Jewish Haboniem movement. According to one Israeli film critic much of the gibberish uttered by the Borat character during the film is in fact Hebrew.

One wonders what Baron Shasha Cohen would do playing one of Israel’s current leaders, like Olmert or Halutz, or Defense Minister Peretz. Maybe he’d come up with the character “Balagan” (screw-up). Or maybe it’d be “Scapegoat.” The only problem is, with the situation the way it is in the middle east today, none of what’s going on is funny, no matter who the comedian is.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Hollow Men

The Israelis have messed up big time. And it's not clear who is to blame, and how far back the screw-ups go, and how deeply embedded the erosion of the values which "made this country great" go. An article in today's Haaretz's Gallery section reviews the recent Hebrew language release of Richard Russo's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel "Empire Falls." Russo talks about the disappearance of small town America, and its values. The same small towns that brought American soldiers glory in WWII and in films like Clint Eastwood/Steven Spielberg’s “Flag of My Father.”

Israel has its own meltdown going on. Much as critics in the US say that Homeland Security is winging it with their efforts to prevent terrorism, other critics say that Israel is winging it in their war against the Palestinians and Hezbollah. The recent IDF action in Beit Hanoun accomplished little if anything besides destroying part of Gaza, which some think is a good idea, while other think that only succeeded in angering a lot of Arabs, some of whom may have been amenable to dealing with Israel just so they could work again with the Jews. Israel also killed 50 "Palestinian Activists", among them about a dozen unarmed children.

The cycle of violence continued On Wednesday. Eighteen Palestinians were killed and at least 30 were injured in the Beit Hanoun area of Gaza when a lethal barrage of Israel Defense Forces shells landed on residential houses. According to Palestinian reports, 13 of the casualties were members of one family. Seven children and four women were among the casualties.

IDF officials said in response that the artillery fire was directed at a Qassam launching spot and another nearby spot from where Palestinians planned to launch Qassams.

The EU condemned the shelling. Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized. Minister of Defense Amir Peretz has ordered the army to stop the shelling. Analysts think there will be serious diplomatic fall-out over this apparent mistake.

The IDF shelling came in response to Tuesday's attack by Hamas on Israel. This attack analysts say was apparently Hamas' way to thumb their noses at the Israelis and show them that the week-long IDF incursion into Beit Hanoun had no effect. In the Tuesday attack Hamas activists lobbed four Qassam missiles into Ashkelon, 20 kilometers away from Gaza. The press cited the attack as a Hamas weapons breakthrough. Up until now Hamas constructed the bombs, apparently out of fertilizer and other easily found materials. These weapons which quickly lost their explosive capacity, and Hamas had to fire them soon after they were built.

Experts think that Hamas has figured out how to use other explosives, which they can stockpile and fire when they want. So what did the move in Beit Hanoun accomplish? And an Israeli soldier was killed. By all accounts Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, known for his typical Israeli arrogance, doesn't really have a game plan. He's just winging it.

Secondly, the new reports that hit the Israeli newstands today,say that the crew of the hi-tech Saar 5 missile boat that was destroyed by a Hezbollah rocket during the War in Lebanon II were apparently guilty of negligence. Four of the five radar systems on the boat were malfunctioning and were turned off. No one on the boat was concerned because, according to the report, it was common knowledge among Israeli military circles that the only rocket that could hit the ship was 16.5 meters long, weighed 750 kg., and could only be fired from a truck: the Hezbollah couldn't have such a weapon, thought the commander of the ship. His thoughts, according to a report in today's Haaretz newspaper, were only echoes of what the Israeli Navy high command, and the Chief of Staff, thought.

Back in 2003, according to the press report, the Navy was briefed by Military Intelligence who said that the Hezbollah didn't have access to these weapons. Big mistake. This expensive state-of-the-art boat became an expensive toy in the water. When the rocket hit it, the rear of the ship was badly damaged, and four, count them four, Israeli boys died. The analysis was that the Navy didn't realize that Hezbollah wasn't a rag-tag terrorist organization, but rather the forward troops of a crack Iranian army.

Others likened this mess to a group of teenagers sitting around their parent's expensive sedans and sports cars, parked in a lot filled with Mercedes, Volvos, Jaguars, Mazda 6s, even a Corvette, drinking beer and watching a football game from the back of a Lexus SUV equipped with Satellite TV while a gang of thieves was stealing all the cars in the parking lot. Spoiled rich kids with expensive toys who after they crashed said, 'oooh, I'm sorry.' The Saar 5, in this case, was like the Corvette.

Or take a disturbing report on Israel Broadcasting Authority's Channel One program "Mabat Shani" (Second Look) by Itai Landsberg, a res. Lt. Col in the Army, on a "trenching" tool that has been under examination by the IDF for five years. The American made tool, brought to the Army by a former soldier in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, can dig a trench up to 15 meters deep. This tool, when presented to then Chief of Staff Boogie Yaalon and then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was considered the "solution" to the problem of the tunnels dug beneath the Israeli border, and even those along the "Phildelphi Route" which are still used to smuggle in arms, ammunition, drugs, and people.

But the IDF never ordered the tool, which could have been delivered within weeks. Shortly after one of the presentations of the tool to yet another group from the Ministry of Defense, a massive explosion ripped through an IDF outpost near Gaza killing and wounding Israeli soldiers. The bomb had been placed at the end of a tunnel dug from Gaza. This trenching tool could have discovered the tunnel, and the army could have prevented the attack. And many others.

The TV report broadcast interviews with all sorts of people, including high-level decision makers in the Ministry of Defense. It became clear that someone discovered that another trenching tool was available, and was cheaper, from another contractor that did a lot of business with the Ministry of Defense. A public tender was issued. The other cheaper company won. The TV then showed footage of the second trenching tool, sitting abandoned in a field somewhere in the South of Israel. Problem? It only went down 4 1/2 meters and the terrorists’ tunnels were at least 10 meters.The tool didn't work. Rather than investigate further, the Ministry of Defense simply dropped the "trenching" idea altogether.

This became clear when the plan to buy the deeper trenching tool was brought to then assistant Chief Of Staff Dan Halutz, now the Chief of Staff. According to the TV report Halutz impatiently waved away the suggestion, and said that the airforce could do the job better, and more cost effectively.

The trenching tool was never ordered. The Ministry of Defense didn't want it. Why? The TV report couldn't say for certain. Too many rules and regulations got in the way. Bids, tenders, approved buyers, US made products, whatever. A lot of excuses. A veiled hint at corruption? A hint that perhaps the decisions were based on ego not facts. Who knows? The implication was that the massive Ministry of Defense bureaucracy simply filed the plan away in a corner no one ever looks at. Meanwhile the Israeli boys are still getting killed. The tunnels are still being used to smuggle in greater quantities of more sophisticated weapons. The dangers are still mounting.

Another report on Mabat Shani, that preceded the "trenching" fiasco, was about the IDF "Tunnel Rats", the soldiers who go into the tunnels and ferret out their source. Scary stuff. The bottom line: the IDF never supplied them with the right weapons, or transportation, until four guys were killed driving in a Personnel Carrier with tons of explosives to destroy tunnels, but with no armor! “We knew it was just a question of time,” said one soldier. Why did they continue to do the job? “The job needed to be done. We waiting until they sent us the right equipment, we waited, and waited, but it didn’t come. So we decided destroying the tunnels was more important than the danger, so we just went back to work.” The great Israeli Army came out looking pretty bad, and the Ministry of Defense, which controls this highly respected military force, came out looking worse. “I pushed him to go into this unit,” said the grieving father of one of the deceased soldiers. ”I pushed him to be an officer. Now I’m sorry I did.”

Another report in the papers today had a picture of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the caption that Israel wasn't going to strike Iran alone. The report went on to say that when Israel successfully struck the Iraqi reactor in 1981 there was only one reactor: today Iran has about 200. The odds of hitting them all with one strike were slim. Better not to try, then try and fail, is reportedly the philosophy today. This is sadly the commentary that can be placed at the Army's door in reference to Gaza and Lebanon, they tried and failed. And the failures in planning and execution are did not just started today. This profile of incompetance is something that stretches back at least a decade, or more.

The other night on the anniversary of the assassination of the late Prime Minster Yitzchak Rabin, one of Israel's leading novelists, David Grossman, who lost a son during the War in Lebanon II, called Israel's leaders today the "Hollow Men." Granted Grossman is a staunch supporter of the left-wing Labor party, and has long advocated accommodating the Palestinians through peaceful means rather than war, but still his assessment of the hollowness of Israel's leaders, and by extension much of Israeli society is rings true. Today the values of Israeli society are not to build a Jewish State, to "settle the land", to build a "democracy"; to be 'good people,' but rather the goals are self-aggrandizement, increased wealth and comfort, and selfishness.

The Israeli media published reports on Wednesday that a recent poll showed the public believed that Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was the most corrupt leader to fill that position since the establishment of the State. As if to underline that, the police had to admit that the case they were pursuing a sexual harrasment case against ex-Justice Minister Haim Ramon was pushed by Ehud Olmert's office. What political shinanagins, if any, were being played is cause for much speculation. Five tapes from a wire-tapping of Ramon's officer were finally turned over to Ramon's lawyers. The tapes reportedly cast doubt on the prosecutions case against Ramon.

On Wednesday morning a fancy silver BMW sedan bristling with antennae was pulled up on the sidewalk outside a local medical clinic in Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood. In Jerusalem many HMOs are in privately rented homes in residential areas. This was just such an establishment, although on a main thoroughfare busy at 7:30 am with cars and buses filled with residents going to work during Jerusalem's rush hour. The new BMW was perpendicular to the curb, half blocking pedestrians the rear-end sticking out onto the road. The car was stuffed in a small space between two cars parked as they should have been, parallel to the curb. Clearly the driver of the BMW didn't have the time, or patience, to drive the extra ten or twenty meters down the road to park his car properly, and legally, so as not to upset pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

One assumed the driver of the car was the chauffer of an important businessman who had gone in for an early-morning blood test, or some other quick examination. Indeed the kepaw-wearing driver in shirtsleeves was chomping on a sandwich, an adolescent girl asleep in the passenger seat, her head against the glass, mouth open, lost in her dreams. The driver though wasn't the chauffer. Rather a local resident who had begun life as the child of Moroccan immigrants, worked his way up admirably through the government system, filling a number of government positions, until he became the director-general of one government company after another. Was his audacious parking habit an indication of how to succeed in Israel? Was this an indication of how to succeed anywhere in the world?

One wonders how a government employee managed to buy a car worth about $100,000, or if the government agency he now heads bought it for him? One wonders about the type of people running these companies, and the country in general? And then, thinking back to the failures of the War in Lebanon II, which none of Israel’s leaders take responsibility for, or the mess in Gaza, or the increasing distance between rich and poor in Israel, one begins to think that David Grossman, irrespective of his political leanings, earned all the kudos heaped upon him as one of Israel's leading voices. These really are the "Hollow Men." The trouble is, they’re in charge of the safety and future of the country.

Monday, November 06, 2006

After Iraq

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has only a 20 per cent popularity rating. According to the polls Israel is now judged to be one of the more corrupt nations in the world. Norway and Denmark among the least corrupt.

In spite of that a group of five professors came out against State Comptroller Lindenstrauss’ anti-corruption investigations. Two law school deans, as well as former MK Amnon Rubenstein and Hebrew University political scientists Shlomo Avineri, said that Lindenstrauss had overstepped his boundaries.

According to columnists writing in the Yideot Achranot newspaper’s website, this comes even though Lindenstrauss dropped an investigation against Ehud Olmert for an illegal apartment sale saying there wasn’t any proof of misdeeds, and conducted a secret investigation into Bank Leumi for over a year.

Today the State Comptroller’s office accused former Prime Minister Shimon Peres of accepting over $300,000 in campaign contributions when running for Labor Party chairman a few years ago. The State Comptroller has suggested that Peres return the money. The Comptroller said the money wasn’t illegal, since today’s regulations weren’t in force then, but that they were unethical. Shimon Peres, Israel’s respected elder statesman has denied any wrongdoing, saying that everything he did was in coordination with legal advisors.

The State Comptroller’s office has also recommended that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returns nearly $80,000 he received in unethical campaign contributions.

Former Justice Minister Chaim Ramon filed an appeal to dismiss charges of sexual misconduct against him citing evidence that the police and State’s Attorney’s office withheld five audiotapes, which he should have received in order to prepare a defense. The police have admitted to the existence of the tapes, and apologized. It is unclear if the court will rule to dismiss the charges. Ramon has had to step down as Justice Minister while the investigation takes place.

The IDF analysts have released a report that new hostilities can be expected with Hezbollah, and perhaps Iran and Syria, within the next two years, and probably by the summer of 2007. The report also called for the army to continue building the Merkava 4 tank, explaining that as a result of the war in Lebanon II it was clear soldiers were safer with the tank in operation. The army had scheduled a halt to production of the tank. The report also suggests that anti-missile systems be developed to deal with Katyusha rockets, using either present, or new designs. Also put in abeyance was the plan to shorten the army duty of conscripted soldiers by seven months.

The IDF action in Gaza’s Beit Hanoun area continued today, although missiles continue to fall on Israel’s Southern regions. A female suicide bomber blew herself up near an Israeli Army unit in Beit Hanoun. One IDF soldier was lightly injured.

The IDF continues arresting Palestinians in Beit Hanoun in efforts to stop the Qassam rocket fire. So far dozens of Palestinians have been arrested, and nearly 50 killed. The IDF operations in Beit Hanoun are expected to continue for several more days.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are meeting to form a national unity government. Reportedly they are being pressured by U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice to reach an accord that would allow the US and the western powers to begin providing much needed aid to the Palestinian population.

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that his government would talk to Hamas if they met the standards set down by the Quartet. Among the basics is the recognition of the right of Israel to exist. So far Hamas has refused to honor this demand.

The Palestinians are now being squeezed politically and economically. As long as the EU and the US deny aid to the Palestinians, poverty and illness will run rampant in Gaza. Palestinian police have already rioted against their government for back pay. The US and EU plan is to continue applying economic sanctions until Hamas drops its aggressive stance against Israel.

A group of Jews have sued the Iranian PM Achmanejad in the world court for threatening to annihilate Israel. Among the signatories to the lawsuit is former Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Naveh.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been moved out of the intensive care unit of Beit Levinstein, a Tel Aviv hospital, where he was treated for an infection. Sharon has been in a coma since suffering a stroke in January.

The State’s Attorney Manny Mazuz has denied a request by the Israel police to stop the Gay Parade of homosexuals and lesbians scheduled to take place this Friday, Nov 10, in Jerusalem. Saying that the group had a right to march Mazuz ruled that the march would be limited to an area around the government complex and not the center of the city as originally planned. March organizers expressed satisfaction with the ruling. In previous years the march was held on Jerusalem’s main drag Jaffa Road.

The police expect to deploy 12,000 men to protect the marchers. This is because of riots that have been taking place in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods around the country. Garbage bins and tires were set alight, and cars were stoned, in Jerusalem’s Mea Sharim and Beit Vagan neighborhoods, as well as Benei Brak and Kfar Chabad, near Tel Aviv.

Iran has said that it would share the advances it is making into producing nuclear weapons with its allies. This came out of a speech today by PM Achmanejad. Yesterday several of Israel’s Arab neighbors, including Egypt, said they would begin exploring nuclear weapons.

Between the corruption apparently rampant in Israel, the rockets falling in the South, sent by Hamas, the prediction of a new war in the North by next summer, pundits are surprised that investments in Israel are expected to rise. The Israeli representative of the Citi-Bank Corporation has said that the recent $4.5 Billion investment by multi-Billionaire Warren Buffet is only the first in a long string of buyouts set to take place in the next few years. Israel’s stock market is at an all-time high.

The Congressional elections scheduled to take place in the US may take some of the luster off Israel as an investment haven. Pundits say that should Congress turn Democrat a pullout from Iraq is inevitable. Israelis fear that such a pullout will result in a radical Islamic State that will support Hezbollah and Hamas in trying to erase Israel from the map.

One dark analysis even puts nuclear weapons in the hands of the Al-Sadr radicals in Iraq.
Others say such a scenario is far-fetched. Al-Sadr is a Shiite radical trained in Iran.
With Saddam Hussein facing execution, as soon as his appeals have run their course, perhaps the end of Iraq’s secular dictatorship is over with another more radical and far more dangerous one on the horizon.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ben Gurion's Assessment

On the 11th anniversary of the assassination of late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, the writer David Grossman, whose son was killed during the War in Lebanon II, called on Israel to find a way to make peace with the Palestinians. Grossman recommended bypassing Hamas, since Hamas was dedicated to the destruction of Israel. He suggested going straight to the simple Palestinian citizens, who wanted peace as much as the simple Israeli citizens.

Five Kassam rockets fell in the South of Israel on Sunday. Two Sderot residents were sent to hospital and treated for shock. The Kassam rockets continue falling despite the intensive Israeli incursion into Gaza’s Beit Hanun area. The IDF reports that 27 Palestinians have been killed so far this weekend, and that the action would continue until the Kassam rockets stop falling. An estimated 40 Palestinians have reportedly been killed since the action began a few weeks ago.

Labor’s retired General Ephraim Sneh.has said that Hamas is responsible for the destruction in Gaza, saying they brought it on themselves by their actions and statements against Israel.

Hamas has said that if Israel continues the action in Gaza the life of Hamas held IDF soldier Gilad Shalit may be in danger.

The IDF military action in Gaza is expected to continue in an attempt to stop the firing of the Kassam rockets. Some critics say that Israel has long been involved in Gaza and has yet to find a solution to the problems there.

In a feisty interview retired Gen. Binyamin Ben Eliezer has called on Dan Halutz, the Chief of Staff, to resign, saying he failed during the War in Lebanon II. Ben Eliezer said he doesn’t want to hurt Halutz but the safety of Israel is more important that Halutz’s feeling.

Halutz recently recommended the promotion of four IDF officers who were deeply involved in the War in Lebanon II. A public outcry over the promotions arose with critics advising Minister of Defense Amir Peretz to delay the appointments until the results of the committee investigating the army’s handling of the War in Lebanon II are in. Peretz reportedly was not advised of the pending appointments before Halutz made them public in the Press. Some analysts expect Halutz to resign, since he is reportedly deeply embarrassed by Peretz’s overruling him, something the Minister of Defense rarely does.
Since the end of the war the two men have not been on good terms.

The Iranian nuclear threat was still in the forefront of Israeli thoughts, however the Israeli media reported that seven other Arab countries have now expressed an interest in pursuing nuclear capabilities. Egypt is one of the countries who has said it wants to develop nuclear weapons. Military analysts say that the Iranian threat has put the anti-Iranian Arab world on notice, and they are scurrying to protect themselves. What this might mean for Israel, they say, is a nuclear Middle East, something neither Israel, the USA, nor the EU wants.

While analysts say the risk of a Iranian nuclear attack on Israel is slim, those with means are reportedly building bomb shelters that would withstand a nuclear assault. Billionaire Shari Arison, Israel’s wealthiest citizen has reportedly begun work on a bomb shelter beneath her multi-million dollar home near Tel Aviv.

Other Israelis without the financial ability, or space, are considering their options. Some are exploring the possibility of making their present bomb shelters, which are in most homes and buildings in Israel, capable of withstanding a nuclear blast. A prominent Israeli professor has said that she sees no reason to build a nuclear bomb shelter since the likelihood of a nuclear attack is slim, at best, and in any case the bomb shelter would probably not offer complete protection. Some analysts have criticized the construction of these shelters, asking what would be the point since once the attack was over whoever survived in the shelters would have to stay underground for years, perhaps decades. Pollution from the bomb’s nuclear fallout is expected to lay a radioactive blanket over Israel.

The corruption accusations that are flying around Israel have caused the Israel Comptroller’s Office chief investigator to take a three-month leave of absence. Former police executive Rav Pakid Borovsky announced he would take a vacation although he denied any wrongdoing. Borovsky is accused of attempting to bribe Omri Sharon, son of then PM Ariel Sharon. Borovsky allegedly offered to have the investigation into Sharon’s influence peddling dropped if Borovsky was appointed Chief of Police.

Political commentators say that the Likud party activist who made the accusations that date back to a 2004 meeting as payback for Borovsky’s continued investigation into the activities of certain other politicians, and police officials. Borovosky has allegedly been linked to a Tel Aviv crime family. No police charges have been filed, nor are they expected to be. The mutual recriminations among officials are mostly done for the media, where in many ways they make a lasting impression, no matter what turns up later to disprove the charges.

Of late, Justice Minister Chaim Ramon, Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Omri Sharon, have been indicted for wrongdoing. Charges are expected to be filed against President Moshe Katzav. Investigations are also underway into certain activities of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In a recent poll Olmert was given low marks for credibility.

Flurries of legal activities are circling over the upcoming Gay Parade scheduled for November 10 down Jaffa Road, Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare. Ultra-Orthodox residents of Jerusalem have been rioting for several days, setting fire to garbage bins, and blocking traffic attempting to drive through ultra-Orthodox areas.

Israel Radio reports that the Jerusalem Police are consulting with the State’s Attorney if it is legal to cancel the parade. Some ultra-Orthodox leaders have filed a move to have the parade stopped. Surprisingly a majority of Israel’s secular population has come out against the march calling it a needless provocation. Secular analysts say that the annual “Love Parade” held on the Israeli date “Tu B’Av”, the 16th of the Hebrew month of Av, should be sufficient for the Gay community. The Gay community builds floats and rides down the streets of Tel Aviv during that parade. “Once a year is enough, “ said a young Israeli soldier. The scheduled parade will reportedly attract gays from around the world.

The US elections are also all over the Israeli news. The expected landslide of Democrats is expected to have significant changes in Israel’s policies. Democratic administrations have usually been much tougher on Israel than Republican ones.

Jimmy Carter, who recently published a book in which categorizes Israel as an apartheid state. Bill Clinton tried his best to broker a peace with the Arabs, but fell short. During his term of even-handedness the Palestinian Authority was supplied with weapons for their police force that were ultimately used against Israel.

Israelis are concerned that should the Republicans lose, and the US withdraws from Iraq, radical Islam will turn Iraq into another Iran, destabilizing the Middle East even more than it is now.

At one of the ceremonies in memory of Yitzchak Rabin his daughter Dalia Rabin Persoff said that if her father were alive he’d solve the problems now plaguing Israel. One wonders how true that is. And if there’s anyone around today of Rabin’s statue, real or imagined, who can take over the Israeli enterprise and steer it on a steady course. The current list of leaders all seem to be interested more in their own aggrandizement than in the greater good of the country and it’s citizens. In the “good old days” which were always better in memory than they were in reality, leaders like Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Rabin, and Yitzchak Shamir were more interested in the greater good than the good of their own positions. Or so it seems in hindsight. Men like them, and women like Golda Meir, are sorely missed in these difficult times.

In an interview recently with a veteran Israeli we were told that Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion believed that Israel wouldn’t be a stable and viable entity until the population reached 8 million Jewish citizens. As of now, the veteran Israeli said, there are only 6 million Jewish citizens. “May take another few decades before we reach Ben Gurion’s number. That’s if he was right in his assessment.”

Problem is, there’s no Ben Gurion, or his equal, to step up to the plate. Perhaps one is in the batter’s box waiting for his turn. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

It Blew Over

IDF Staff Sergeant Kiril Golenshein, 21, was killed in a north Gaza raid Monday during the Israel Defense Forces action looking for Qassam rockets in Beit Hanun in the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that he would not be drawn into a large operation in Gaza. According to media reports the Israeli military leaders are anxious to expand the action in Gaza to a wider role than just seeking Qassam rockets. Reportedly the army wants to attack the core of the Hamas activities all over Gaza.

The IDF was met with anti-tank rockets and roadside bombs. Israel TV showed footage of Palestinian activists on the streets of Gaza picked off by Israeli snipers. Reportedly six Palestinians were killed in the fighting. The IDF says that most were Hamas activists.

Today, the security cabinet Okayed plans for a major Gaza operation, even though Defense Minister Peres denies this will take place.

The vote followed Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.9 Qassams hit the western Negev today, injuring a boy in Sderot.

According to a poll in the Haaretz newspaper on Thursday, "about 80 percent of the public say the corruption among Israel's plitical leaders prevents them from taking pride in the state." The poll showed that in 2003 27 percent of the public said they don't trust public institutions to help them in a time of need, but this year the number jumped to 51 percent. 70 percent of the population do not believe the state allows its citizens to retire with dignity. 25 percent do not trust the IDF and another 25 percent have only average trust in the military. 55 percent thought the state offered minimal security. Only 16 percent of the people polled trust the police.However 73 percent of the people polled believe Israel is the best place for Israelis to live.

In action in Lebanon, fighting has broken out between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army. Haaretz reports that the Hezbollah organized violence is meant to destabilize Siniora’s government and force early elections. Reportedly Hezbollah is supported by Iran and Syria in unseating Siniora and turn Lebanon into an Islamic Fundamentalist state.

Israel’s embattled President Moshe Katzav checked into the hospital on Tuesday night reportedly because of chest pains. In a press conference on Wednesday Katzav said the hospital visit had been previously scheduled and was part of a routine check-up.

Katzav is under investigation for allegedly raping one of the young woman who worked for him. As a result of the investigation only 4 Knesset members are scheduled to attend a memorial for the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, who was assassinated eleven years ago.

Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, was grated permission for a conjugal visit by his new bride. The couple has expressed a desire to have children. Many voices were heard objecting to Amir having any benefits in prison. Amir is serving a life sentence. Surprisingly, a recent poll published in an Israeli newspaper stated that up to one-third of the Israeli public would allow Amir early release from prison.

John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, was killed by U.S. troops while resisting arrest a few days after Lincoln’s murder. Booth's body was carried up the Potomac and buried beneath the floor of the penitentiary in Washington, DC. His five accomplices were eventually caught and hanged a few months later.

None of the assassins of Israel’s late Premier Yitzchak Rabin died. Yigal Amir’s brother was also imprisoned for assisting in the assassination. However neither was hanged.

Egypt has rejected a U.S. offer to send observers to patrol the Egyptian border with Gaza that has become the focus of Israeli military actions. Tunnels that cross under the border have been used consistently to smuggle arms and ammunition to Hamas in Gaza. Israel’s defense circles are concerned that Gaza could become another Lebanon, and Hamas another Hezbollah. .

An ancient tablet that dates back over 2,000 years has been found amid the rubble excavated from the Temple Mount. A European archeologist spotted the stone on display while a guest of the Wakf, the Islamic religious council that controls the Arab sites on the Temple Mount.

The archeologist was given permission to examine and photograph the stone. He discovered writings that mentioned the Roman commander who besieged Massada. According to the archeologist, the stone was part of a larger piece that commemorated the defeat of the Zealots.

What analysts find interesting is that the Wakf allowed the archeologist to examine the stone. So far the Wakf has been steadfast in denying any investigation of the grounds beneath the current Mosques that sit on the Temple Mount. Any evidence to prove Jewish presence in Israel 2,000 years ago, or more, undermines the Wakf’s claim that Israel made up the history upon which Jews claim the Holy Land.

Pundits say that Israel made a huge mistake not taking keeping the Temple Mount when the IDF captured it, and the Old City of Jerusalem, in the 1967 6-day war. Instead then Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan decided to turn the Temple Mount over to the Wakf, in an attempt to appease Arab sensibilities.

Jews were long prohibited from stepping foot on the Temple Mount. Because of this lack of possession of one of Israel’s holiest sites, the Wakf has exerted near complete authority over the area, even denying Israeli archeologists from sifting through the debris left when the Wakf expanded “Solomon’s Stables” to accommodate a Mosque.

The Temple Mount is named after the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was built by King Solomon about 940 BCE and the Second Temple about 450 BCE. The latter was destroyed in about 70 CE. The stone found on the Temple Mount dates back to that latter period.

Jerusalem has been beset with demonstrations in the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods in protest over the planned Gay Parade on November Tenth. The parade is scheduled to take place on Jaffa Road, in the center of the city. At a parade a few years ago an ultra-orthodox man attacked the parade with a butcher knife wounding one man. This year some of the organizers of the parade have received death threats. The head of the Jerusalem police has petitioned the High Court for an injunction, prohibiting the parade from taking place due to the danger to those marching. The court is expected to make a decision in the next few days.

A visitor to Jerusalem said today that the cost of living is so high he didn’t understand how anyone could make a living. Just the tax on cars in Israel is usually the US equivalent to the cost of an entire vehicle. The visitor said he’d expect the government to make life easier for Israelis in order to keep them to stay in the country, and encourage others to immigrate.

However, the cost of security is so high that taxes have to remain exorbitant. These high costs reflect the decreasing level of Israel’s brainpower. Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry (2004) Professor Aaron Ciechanover said today on Israel Army Radio that the education budget cutbacks have severely decreased Israel’s ability to produce high-quality scientists. Budgets for lab equipment and supplies, as well as the surrounding infrastructure, have been falling steadily. Ciechanover said that he doubts, given the current standards that other scientific breakthroughs will come out of Israel. “The people today simply aren’t getting the training.”

Ciechanover did not blame the military for sucking up the government budget as much as Israeli leadership for putting their budgetary priorities in the wrong place. Ciechanover said this was not always the case, but refused to say when priorities became shortsighted.

The Israeli public is still awaiting the plan of Israel’s newly appointed deputy-Prime Minister Avigdor Leiberman for how to deal with Iran. Leiberman reportedly told the Israeli cabinet today that he favored dealing with the Arabs in Gaza much as the Russians dealt with the Chechnyan rebels. Leiberman has still not said anything about Iran, but pundits believe that will change once Leiberman becomes comfortable in his new offices.

Finally, the Israeli public shrugged at the news that four of the men in the Army high command during the War in Lebanon II were to be promoted or moved to more prestigious posts. Critics like Zeev Shiff of Haaretz said that the Defense Minister should have waited at least until the government finished it’s internal investigation.

Others excused the move saying that once Chief of Staff Dan Halutz officially denied responsibility for the failures of the war, his lesser officers simply followed suit. Only Gen Udi Adam head of the Northern Command took responsibility and resigned his position.

One wonders how over 100 Israelis dies a million Israelis fled their homes and thousands of missiles fell on Israel without the Israeli Army or Government taking appropriate steps.

Maybe all those sad facts were part of Israel’s plan to fight for over a month with nothing but tears, heartbreak, and destruction to show for it. No sense apologizing when the public allows the government to blame Hezbollah, Iran and Syria as if no one was in the Cabinet, the Knesset, or at IDF headquarters before, during, or after the War in Lebanon II. That all blew over. Now it’s only a question of what crises comes next, and if the government will be able to handle it? In light of the poll published today in Haaretz, most of the people don't think this government can.