Monday, December 31, 2007

You Heard It Here First

The stalemate continues between the 900 Moslem pilgrims returning from the Haj in Saudi Arabia to Gaza and the Egyptian troops who have prevented their crossing through an Egyptian checkpoint to get back to Gaza. The Egyptians demand that the pilgrims go through an Israeli checkpoint.

The pilgrims include at least 10 well-known figures from the radical Islamic group Hamas - including Khalil al-Haya, a leader of the group - who fear Israel will arrest them if they cross through Kerem Shalom.

Israel, in turn, fears that if the pilgrims are allowed to return to Gaza through Rafah Hamas militants might get through and sympathizers could smuggle cash or weapons to Hamas in Gaza.

Israel Television’s Channel One’s Arab affairs reporter said on Sunday night that this was a move by Egypt to curry favor with the U.S. administration on the eve of U.S. President Bush’s visit to the region. He predicted that as much as the Israelis disliked the idea, they’d allow the pilgrims unfettered access to Gaza to keep the peace with Egypt.

Recently, Egypt has come under harsh criticism from the Israeli government that claim Egypt has turned a blind eye to smuggling of weapons, ammunition and contraband into Gaza.

In October, the Haaretz newspaper published a report stating that Israel is becoming increasingly worried that Egypt will allow more Palestinian terrorists to enter the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian-Sinai border.

In that report, Haaretz claimed the government and defense establishment were concerned over the closer ties Egypt and the Hamas government were forging in the Strip.

The paper also reported that an Israeli government and defense delegation to Cairo protested Egypt's allowing gunmen to enter the Strip from Egyptian territory. According to informed sources, in October Egypt allowed about 85 Hamas militants to enter the Gaza Strip from Sinai after a wait of a few months. The group was said to include experts in manufacturing bombs, rockets and mortars, who had undergone extensive training in Iran and Lebanon.

According to other sources, Israel continues to gather intelligence on smuggling from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. The IDF recently released information that 1,650 RPG rockets and some 6,000 bombs have been smuggled into Gaza since the beginning of the year. Since Hamas has taken over Gaza smuggling has increased drastically.

Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet security service, told a cabinet meeting in October that an estimated 73 tons of explosives have been smuggled into Gaza through tunnels since June. Millions of bullets for light weapons and tons of potassium, used to manufacture bombs, have also crossed the Gaza-Sinai border.

On the heels of this information comes a new report by the 17-member Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee that found the IDF’s high command committed a “grievous blunder” in not launching a full-scale ground attack into Lebanon during the last war.

According to the committee, the army’s planners "played into Hezbollah's hands, were seized by blindness, and lent strength to the enemy's logic."

The committee said the high command erred in delaying the ground offensive until the end of the war, since the object of the war was to stop the Hezbollah missile barrage that could only be done by foot soldiers.

The committee said the government’s long-standing policy of non-response had left the army weak and disorganized while allowing the enemy to entrench and strengthen. Some analysts saw this as a slap against both Ehud Barak, who was then Minister of Defense and Prime Minister, as well as Shaul Mofaz, the former Defense Minister. Both of these men had called for a scaling down of the IDF since they said no threats existed to justify keeping a large standing army, nor running expensive live-fire exercises.

Dancing deftly around assigning blame on the political establishment, committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi, a known supporter of PM Ehud Olmert, said that it was the goal of the Winograd Committee to criticize the political sector, not the Knesset Committee. Some pundits thought this a disingenuous statement that permitted the committee members to criticize those who couldn’t retaliate against them.

However, the committee was in agreement that Israel must now face Hamas in Gaza in a head-on confrontation or suffer the same situation it endured when Hezbollah began firing rockets into Israel’s population centers.

Some analysts thought this was good news. That the tide was turning in the fight against radical Islam. Should the Hamas leadership be eradicated, this might send a message to other regimes that their end is also near. That the meteoric rise of Islamic fundamentalism is about to peak, burn out, and plunge harmlessly into the sea.

Another hint of this might be the ascendancy of Benazir Bhutto’s husband and son into the political limelight. Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari has shown courage in facing what pundits believe will be a series of attempts on his life. But by standing up to whomever was responsible, be it the Pakistani government afraid of her competition, or Al Queda and/or other Moslem extremists, the fact is the family has taken up the challenge. In a country known for Moslem extremism in the past, the Bhutto’s are stepping forward to make a case for democracy.

Couple this with French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s anger at Syria. After promising that his support for Israel would not affect France's relations with Arab states, Sarkozy announced the suspension of talks with Syria, whom he blames, like Jacque Chirac before him, for the unrest in Lebanon. Sarkozy had been trying to bring Syria into the world of western democracy, and Assad, analyst believe, had played him for a chump.

If one by one the other leading nations of the world stand up to the duplicitous leaders of countries like Syria and Iran, and despots like the leaders of the Palestinians, then perhaps the brakes can be put on the Islamic train riding full-speed across the globe. With the right switches pulled, the train can be sidetracked, and lead to a quiet station; or allowed to plunge into a deep gorge just like in the movies. The first steps have been taken. You heard it here first.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Did Bhutto Or An Idea Die?

An AP article that appeared in Friday’s papers seems to be a pretty good analysis of who killed Benazir Bhutto. The article points a finger at many suspects, but comes to no firm conclusion. Seems that the killer was connected to radical Islamic elements in the Pakistani security force, which is a known collaborator of Al-Queda. Pundits doubt Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf was involved, but not it is extremely convenient that his primary opponent is eliminated from the election scheduled for Jan 8. Those analysts with a literary tile think the entire tragic episode reads like the first act of a murder mystery.

The idea of assassinating an idea as represented by a person is a very narrow view of this issue. Many in the west believe that the idea can't be killed, just as many believe the soul never dies, only the body. Some intellectuals have reached the conclusion that ideas can indeed be killed if their primary promulgator is eliminated. Some wonder if Stalinism would have wrecked the havoc it did on Russia without Stalin. Others point out that although Chou En-lai was the real power in the early stages of Chinese Communism, himself an appointee of Stalin, it was really Mao who implemented the Stalinist policies showing a cruel egocentric bloodthirstiness none of his rivals displayed. Lastly they cite Adolph Hitler, who could have been eliminated in the early nineteen twenties. These scholars question if the ideas these despots espoused didn’t indeed die with these men? History sort of indicates the ideas did die, sooner or later. It seems that the idea fades as the force of personality that carried the idea evaporates, sometimes slowly. And the scholars point out they are only talking about the last century, but that human history is replete with such examples.

The test of Bhutto's legacy will be if someone else can manage to pick up the banner and ride with it to victory. Based on the assumption of these intellectuals of a leader's unique influence on the population, and the lack of anyone else in her party with her stature, most analyst doubt a replacement for Bhutto is on the horizon..

We all know about the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism as a movement. According to many analysts the radical Moslems view Pakistan as their next stop. The government is filled with radical sympathizers; the borders are replete with Al Queda and like-minded tribes, including the Taliban who are still looking for a new home. Pakistan is a dangerous place, made more so because they have the "Bomb." We all also know that it was a Pakistani scientist who passed his nations nuclear secrets to the Islamic world.

What we in the west are facing is to us a cancer that is spreading. Science has defined over 1,000 strains of cancer, but has only found the cure, or effective treatment, for a handful. Cures or treatments for each strain of cancer take time, a lot of time, and a bank full of money. What the radiation treatments do is try to burn away the cancerous cells, the drugs try to starve them or send other cells to destroy them. But none have yet figured out the root cause of the disease, because there is no one root cause. There are a thousand root causes, depending on any of the thousand strains of cancer, probably found in the mutation of stem cells.. The West has to find these stem cells of terrorism and stop them from mutating, and remove those that have already begun to mutate. But like the cures for cancer, these types of treatments are still a long way off.

To those with a diametrically opposed mindset, the west, and democracy are the cancer, and they, in this case the racial Moslems, are the solution,. They firmly believe that without this solution of ridding the world of western decadence the world will spin out of control and be destroyed by a vengeful God. To fundamentalist Moslems the idea of Benazir Bhutto as a prime minister was as abhorrent as an ultra-orthodox Jew accepting women in their “Minyan” making up the ten souls, or allowing a woman to lead the prayers or read from a Torah scroll; or imagining that the Messiah could be a woman.. The very idea is so revolting to the orthodox of both sects that they believe the heavens might just crumble, or at least they’d personally be denied entry into Heaven, for such abhorrent behavior.

As a consequence the radicals do whatever they think is necessary to keep the world spinning, even if it means spilling buckets, or lakes, even oceans, of blood. Even if it means murdering others of their own religious beliefs, but differing orientation: the Shia’s killing the Sunni’s for example. To these groups the other is the cancer, not only the west. Every side, it seems, believes they have God behind them. God, in all His wisdom, has not seen fit to make his own opinions known at this time.

Meanwhile the west is back to the standard procedures, arresting the terrorists when they can be identified, assassinating them, as Israel is doing in Gaza, when they can't be arrested. Still, these are only holding actions, like radiation therapy, and chemo, and only work to destroy certain strains, having only limited effect on others. And as science has learned to their dismay, one mutant cell left in a tissue after a tumor is excised by surgery is enough to rebound into a deadly mass.

In Hebrew there is a saying, "Talmud Torah Neged Kulam," The teaching of the bible against everything. Or simply, education protects us. Perhaps that's the solution to stop the killing of well-intentioned people like Bhutto: education. Somehow reach the stem cells before they mutate, stop them from ever turning into malignant growths.

Leo Tolstoy's General Kutuzov, in fighting off Napoleon, waited in Moscow while the French approached, with the Russian winter racing in. "there is no more powerful adversary than those two: patience and time --- they will do it all."

One hopes Tolstoy's words are just as true today as they were when Napoleon was at Russia's gates.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tunnels Under Gaza

Five Kassam rockets fell in the fields near Sderot on Wednesday but caused no injuries. This came as Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with his Egyptian counterpart, and then Egypt’s president, in the Sinai resort town of Sharm El Shek. This was Barak’s first journey to Egypt in his present position.

Barak was to have voiced his concern over the lack of Egyptian action in stopping the flow of arms into Gaza through underground tunnels that originate in Egypt. And to discuss the issue of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, now in his second year of captivity in Gaza.

The Egyptian Army has a force of approximately 750 soldiers patrolling the border, but they avoid any confrontation with the smugglers or Hamas, reportedly either for ideological or monetary reasons. A report in the Jerusalem Post last week stated that the Israeli defense establishment has distributed videotapes of Egyptian soldiers helping the smugglers.

Egypt has suggested increasing the number of troops to help stop the smuggling, but the Israelis are against any increase.

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, a member of the US Senate Appropriations Committee, on a visit to Israel, said he was in favor of scaling back US aid to Egypt unless the Egyptian government was more proactive in stopping the flow of arms from Egypt to Hamas. Specter called Egyptian complicity in the smuggling “an intolerable situation.” According to the Jerusalem Post Specter said, “Egypt can do a lot more…and if they don’t, I think it would be appropriate to condition aid to them.”

According to the Israeli daily Yideot Achranot, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit blamed the Israeli lobby in the US for pressuring the American government to cut back on aid to Egypt, and souring relations between Egypt and Cairo, using the tunnel smuggling as the excuse. Egypt receives approximately $2 billion a year in US aid, including $1.3 billion in military assistance.

Defense Minister Barak also met with Egyptian president Hussnei Mubarak. According to the Haaretz daily newspaper the Egyptian leadership said that the Israeli construction in settlements around Jerusalem threatens peace. Recently Israel announced that it was building an additional 307 housing units in the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. Mubarak reportedly echoed Palestinian demands that Israel cancel the project.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Mubarak told reporters after the meeting with Barak, “This settlement activity will hijack the only outcome of the Annapolis conference which was the re-launching of peace negotiations.” Mubarak blamed the settlement activity for the failure of the last two meetings between the Israelis and Palestinians.

A recent poll showed that most Israelis have little faith in the Annapolis summit producing any positive results.

The meeting between Mubarak and Barak reportedly was held in a pleasant atmosphere. Barak was expected to raise the matter of Gilad Shalit with Mubarak, the Iranian development of nuclear weapons, as well as the possible invasion of Israeli troops into Gaza to stop the constant Kassam shelling.

Explaining how they’d stopped smuggling, Egypt said it had arrested two smugglers last week and seized 200 kilograms of explosives. Israeli analysts speaking on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet said they believe this was just a token action taken prior to the meetings to show Barak and the world that something was being done. The same analysts said that Egypt could just as easily close down scores or even a hundred such tunnels.

The tunnels are used not only for weapons and explosives, but also for contraband, like cigarettes, which sell in Gaza for 60 shekels or about $15 a pack. Prostitutes from the former Soviet Union, and drugs, are also smuggled in the tunnels. A few Gaza families reportedly dig and control most of the tunnels and make appropriate payoffs to keep the arms and other goods flowing.

The Israeli press also reported that Iran announced it has been promised a steady supply of S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles by Russia. The announcement was published on Wednesday in the Iranian Fars news agency, and quoted Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar on the deal. The S-300 is an anti-missile and anti-aircraft system, similar to the US Patriot anti-missile battery.

Russia has also agreed to deliver nuclear fuel to Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday. The paper quotes Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying the fuel deal makes it unnecessary for Iran to continue to enrich uranium.

U.S. President George W. Bush said last week that he supports the Russian fuel shipments, since they make take away the Iranian need for uranium enrichment. Israeli officials said last week that Moscow had no interest in seeing Iran reaching an independent nuclear capability.

Bethlehem was booming this Christmas. Reportedly more tourists visited Bethlehem this year than any time since the second Intifada began, approximately seven years ago. Observers believe this is a sign that some stability has come to the region, especially in the relationships between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. This year has also been a record year for tourism in general as relative peace has attracted millions of visitors to Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces announced that in the last month they had busted a Hamas terrorist ring in Nablus, in the west bank, even though Hamas claims not to be exporting terrorism out of Gaza.

The terrorists admitted that they perpetrated several shooting attacks against
Israeli targets in Nablus and in the surrounding areas, including the
Oct 24, 2007 shooting attack at the west bank’s Ariel junction, in which an Israeli civilian was lightly wounded and an IDF soldier was seriously wounded. The terrorists also admitted responsibility for the Jan 7, 2005 shooting attack near Migdalim in
which two IDF soldiers were killed

According to the IDF Abdallah Kuka, 19, admitted he drove the vehicle; Amin Kuka, 32; and A'mar Tanbur, 23, admitted they were the other two Nablus terrorists who perpetrated the attack. Other members of the terrorist cell who admitted involvement in the attack were Riad Arafat, 34, who said he functioned as the reconnaissance observer, and Suhil Kuka, 21, who admitted aiding the cell after the attack was carried out.

The IDF believes that by uncovering this cell they prove that Hamas is planning attacks on Israelis in the west bank, Gaza and Israel proper, and is trying to take over as “the leader of Palestinian terrorism.”

Given that the rockets continue to fall on Israel from Gaza, and that Hamas controls Gaza, it is not a big reach to conclude that Hamas is behind the Kassam missiles, as well as other terrorist attacks. But, according to military analysts, unless Hamas bombs begin exploding again on a daily in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the IDF will be slow to invade Gaza, relying more on diplomacy and back channel meetings.

The same analysts believe, however, that if the tunnels from Egypt aren’t sealed up its only a matter of time until Hamas begins importing Iranian long-range missiles which can hit Ashkelon, Ashdod, and even Tel Aviv.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Iron Dome Over The Ghetto

Two Kassam missiles struck Ashkelon’s industrial area on Sunday causing little damage and no injury. These missiles are evidence of the improved Kassam rockets which previously had a shorter range and usually fell on Sderot or in open fields just across the Gaza security fence.

As if on cue, the Israeli cabinet today approved the “Iron Dome” missile defense system, to be manufactured by Israel’s Rafael military industries. The missile shield is to be operational within two and a half years and cost upwards of NIS 800 Million (@$200 Million.)

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has announced it will send out pamphlets to every Israeli household with advice on how to best prepare for missile attacks.

Some political analysts see this as a ploy by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Olmert to sow uncertainty and fear in the public and thus deflect their attention from more pressing matters, like corruption in high office, and failure on the battlefield during the War in Lebanon II.

Other pundits see it as a justifiable and reasonable precaution in the event that Syria, Hezbollah or Iran begin a missile attack on Israel in the future.

Last July, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss 582-page document reported on failures his office had found in the conduct of the top political and military echelons regarding the safeguarding of the civilian population in the home front during last summer's Second Lebanon War. Pundits see this latest barrage of information as a response to Lindenstrauss’ attack on the government’s lack of preparedness.

Meanwhile Israel continues to strike at Hamas targets in Gaza. According to sources in the Prime Minister’s office, Olmert believes that the Hamas-led government in Gaza is now calling for a cease-fire because of the effectiveness of Israel’s military action. Analysts say that Olmert is unwilling to give up this advantage and take the pressure off of Hamas just because they are starting to suffer.

"Whoever accepts the Quartet principles will, in principle, be a partner for negotiations," Olmert said. "Whoever isn't willing to do so, to our regret, cannot be a partner for dialogue with us. This policy will not change."

The Jerusalem Post published a graphic on Sunday that had appeared as part of the Palestinian Authority’s publicity for the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of the Fatah movement. The graphic shows the state of Israel covered by a Kafyeh, calling the entire area Palestine.
Some observers are saying that Palestinian Authority President Mohammed Abbas is copying his mentor Yassir Arafat b saying one thing to the Arab population and something completely different in English to the US and Israel.

According to the Jerusalem Post, “The underlying message of the poster is that Fatah, like Hamas, does not recognize Israel's existence. The emblem is in violation of Fatah's declared policy, which envisions an independent Palestinian state alongside, and not instead of, Israel. By including a rifle in the poster, Fatah is sending a message to the Palestinian public that it has not abandoned the option of "armed resistance," despite current peace talks with Israel. “
Some political analysts think that Abbas is merely staking out a radical platform in order to further undermine the popularity of Hamas.
But based on Olmert’s statements, pundits question if Abbas has not now become one of those people with whom Olmert will no longer consider a partner in negotiations?
A month ago that Palestinians wouldn't recognize Israel as a Jewish state since "no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity." A few days ago Latin Patriarch and Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, who since 1987 the highest Catholic prelate for Israel, Jordan, Cyprus and the West Bank and Gaza, said . |There is discrimination linked to the nature of the state. Israel says simply 'I am a Jewish state’ and that creates discrimination with regard to non-Jews."
According to the Jerusalem Post, “The first Palestinian to serve as Latin Patriarch, Sabbah was following the line of the Palestinian elite regarding the innate illegitimacy of Jewish self-determination.”
As early as the 1970’s one of the previous Latin Patriarchs was caught at the border crossing from Lebanon into Israel with a trunk filled with weapons meant for Yassir Arafat’s then PLO organization.
In the Union of Orthodox Rabbi’s weekly English language “Torah Tidbits”, passed out at Synagogues in Israel had an interesting tidbit indeed. According to that journal the first Ghetto in Jewish history was in the land of Goshen, in Egypt, during the time of Joseph. According to the journal, historians agree that Jews have voluntarily lived in Ghettos, forming them for self-identification, and separation from the non-Jewish surroundings. Sometimes the host countries put up walls and gates to keep the Jews in the Ghettos, like the famous one in Venice, immortalized by Shakespeare.
In that regard, Israel too is one big ghetto, separating the Jews within her borders from the outside world, keeping a Jewish culture alive and vibrant. In Israel Jewish holidays are national holidays, the major as well as the minor. Supermarkets are primarily filled with Kosher products, not a few shelves stuck in a dark corner.
The other major difference between other Jewish ghettos, from those silk-stocking ones in Long Island, to the enclaves in upper New York, is that Israel is an armed ghetto, soon to have its own Iron Dome. Assimilation, the bane of Jewish existence outside of Israel, is nearly non-existent within Israel’s borders. While Israel may face existential threats to its very existence, there are ways to try to protect the population.
During this period in history, the erosion of the Jewish population outside of Israel is not caused by anti-Semitism or pogroms but by the good life and the nice people met and married when hormones rage and the body screams out to procreate.
Given these variable, it is not unusual that Hamas wants peace, and Abbas and Sabbah want a country without a Jewish majority. It is also more the reason why Israel will, according to most analysts, not do anything to change the unique Jewish character of the country that, according to sociologists, will have the majority of the world’s Jewish population by the year 2020.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Boston Legal

An episode of Boston Legal that appeared recently on Israel’s HOT cable network had a scene with William Shatner playing the buffoon who runs an important law firm, and his younger alter-ego colleague played by James Spader. The two were ostensibly sitting on a balcony of their opulent offices overlooking Boston, smoking thick dark expensive cigars, discussing modern diplomacy and the US part in it. Bomb Iran, said Shatner, in the staccato dialogue that flies across the airwaves laden with innuendo and political commentary.

But was this show a commentary of how the US public thinks, or just the writers, or both.
In Argentina the Justice Department prosecutor Dr. Alberto Nisman revised an earlier ruling and issued a report that Iran, through its Hezbollah proxy, aided by Syria, was in fact responsible for the Buenos Aires bombings in the early 1990s that killed scores of people. In 1992 a bomb laden pick-up truck ran into the Israeli Embassy entrance, killing 29 and wounding 242, mostly Argentineans, including children, and Catholics in an adjacent church.

In 1994 a bomb destroyed the Asociacion Mutal Israelit Argentina (Argentine Israelit Mutual Association or AMIA) killing 85 people, injuring hundreds, in Argentina’s deadliest bombing in the worst anti-Semitic attack outside Israel since the Holocaust. Reportedly Iran was furious over Argentina's cessation of nuclear cooperation with the Islamic Republic.

Juan Jose Galeano, the original investigating judge, concluded that Iran was not responsible for the blasts, but rather a local maniac were tossed out when it became known the judge had paid $440,000 to a policeman to give false testimony. Testimony that exonerated Iran, and put the blame elsewhere.

Needless to say, if the judge investigating the case was making payoffs to cops, it was logically assumed he was dipping deep into Iranian oil money to line his own pockets. Nisman has received the okay from Interpol to issue arrest warrants for several leaders in Teheran, including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani for ordering the bombings. Former Argentinean President Carlos Menem is also under investigation for his part in the cover-up.

In an interview quoted in the Jerusalem Post, Nisman said Tehran “..was incensed that Argentina, under former president Carlos Menem, had suspended and ultimately stopped what had been close cooperation with the Iranian nuclear program, including the training of nuclear technicians and the transfer of nuclear technology. At first Teheran tried to cajole Argentina into reconsidering, he said. Then it issued threats. And finally, it employed terrorism.”

The recent US report that the Iranians are not trying to develop a nuclear weapon sounds like chalk screeching on a blackboard. As one analyst wrote, with Iran awash in oil, gas, and coal, why do they need nuclear energy? The investment will never be returned. The Iranians have not shown themselves to be tree-hugging liberals worried about the environment. So what, the analysts ask, is the Iranian motive in racing to develop nuclear energy if not to siphon off the uranium for nefarious purposes?

While Israel frets over this latest turn of events, Kassam rockets continue t fall on Sderot. On Thursday a boy was injured when a Kassam rocket fell on his school, crashing into his classroom. A few days earlier a woman suffered from shock when a Kassam smashed into her home.

Israel, under the leadership of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has gotten rougher with those firing missiles from Gaza. On Monday Israeli missiles destroyed a car carrying one of the leading Islamic Jihad commanders, and six of his cohorts. Every day the IDF is responding to the missile threat with surgical strikes by helicopter and missiles, or by pilotless drones targeting known militants. The IDF has also conducted a number of raids into Gaza, pulling back into Israel with Islamic Jihad or Hamas prisoners.

Hamas has said it is ready for a “Hudna”, a cease-fire. Israel has spurned this entreaties. Pundits believe that Israel has heard enough of Hamas’ good intentions, which are more in word than deed. Israel and the US have tried to isolate Hamas, ignoring the terrorist group and their leaders as if they don’t exist. The PA’s Mohammed Abas is made out to be the leader of the Palestinians. He is to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the US and the EU for the Palestinians. Hamas is to receive nothing.

Experts as how realistic is this approach? Hamas won an election, and now controls Gaza with an iron fist. The PA was easily defeated. The Palestinians, according to most surveys, still distrust the PA, believing it to be an ‘old boys’ network out to keep each other rich and in power with little or nothing filtering down to the people in the streets.

However a recent poll showed that Hamas was losing favor among the population. While Hamas began as a grass roots movement aimed at alleviating the suffering and poverty of the Palestinians, it is now perceived, much to the joy of the Israelis and US, as a ruthless dictatorship bent of controlling Gaza at any cost.

Yusuf, a Palestinian handyman from the Hebron area, said even under Arafat there
Arabs didn’t kill Arabs. But today Hamas kills anyone who disagrees with the party line.
The Palestinians in Gaza, according to the poll, who do not support Hamas now live in fear. The soup kitchens and charity work that made Hamas popular has stopped. Reportedly only Hamas activists receive the largesse dolled out by the party.

Does this mean a revolution is in the wings? Not likely. There is no one other than the Israeli army to take on Hamas. And Israel is of two minds about dealing with Hamas. Some politicians want to talk to Hamas, others want to invade Gaza and destroy the place.

Lebanon meanwhile simmers on the back burner of international attention. Hezbollah is still powerful, controlling the events in the south. Syria is still blamed for the assassinations of leading Lebanese politicians opposed to Syrian involvement in their country. So far nearly a dozen legislators have died violently, including the late Prime Minister Harriri. Anyone who tries to oppose Syrian moves in Lebanon is in danger of assassination, and they know it.

Iran is still a major force in the region, supplying military advisers, weapons and supplies to those who oppose Israel and the US. Some believe that Iran is the real catalyst to the disruption in the Middle East and would like to see a regime change.

William Shatner may even had been expressing his own views when he said, “Bomb Iran,” but with a neutralized Iran the flame under the boiling kettle called Islamic Fundamentalism would go down to a flicker, and the stuff inside the simmering pot may just well evaporate.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Is the end of Israel near?

With Iran a potential producer of nuclear arms, is the future of Israel in “existential” danger?

Frankly, the jury is out. And no one knows the real answer, no matter what they say. But if sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies claim that Iran stopped their attempts to produce nuclear weapons back in 2003, then who has the data to dispute it?

Israel’s military intelligence does. They loudly dispute the U.S. conclusions.

Since the release of the report, the Israeli press has been filled with the analysis of the U.S. spy agencies findings. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bolton, a hawk who has begun to criticize the Bush administration, believes the report and its release is more political than either strategic or diplomatic.

By announcing that Iran neither possessed nor strive to possess a nuclear weapon after 2003, the Bush administration has in effect taken away a cause for the USA to strike at Iran. The Bush White House has simply pushed the attack on Iran onto the next President’s agenda.

Does this new position by the U.S. administration mean that they want Israel to go ahead and strike at Iran single-handed? Hard to tell. Let’s look at the activity in and out of Israel recently. The Chief of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces is planning a visit to Israel. U.S. President Bush is planning a trip to Israel. Other U.S. big shots have been coming and going.

What’s all the fuss about? Is this a precursor to Israel striking Iran? Israel needs codes to fly over enemy territory, codes that let the enemy know that Israel isn’t after them; codes that let the Americans know that the Israeli jets in the sky are friendly, and not out to strike an American aircraft carrier or army base. Are these US big shots coming into Israel armed with battle plans and codes which Israel needs to fly over Jordan, Syria and Iraq without getting shot out of the sky by US warplanes? Are they armed with information on the location of the nuclear facilities that they plan to pass on to Israel?

If anyone knows the answers, they’re not talking, yet.

But Israelis are not convinced that Iran has turned into a passive witness to history. Polls in Israel show a distinct distrust for Iran. Polls in America also show that no one really believes Iran is not developing weapons.

"The American report ... is the last thing that will allay Israel's fears," said Israeli cabinet minister Eli Yishai, at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting. "The Iranian threat is real, and Iran's intentions will never change. We must not allow ourselves to lower our level of alertness.”

According to informed sources, Israel is now concerned that the pressure by countries like China and Russia to impose sanctions on Iran will recede. Israel believes Russia, China and the Gulf States should impose penalties on Iran for continuing its nuclear program. Even U.S. Defense Secretary Gates has called for imposing penalties on Iran.

According to published reports, China and Russia, both members of the United Nations Security Council, have said that the need for sanctions against Iran should be reevaluated in light of the report.

So what is this new report all about? A few months back President Bush was talking about World War III. Now he’s supporting the report saying Iran is a toothless tiger.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, “U.S. observers from the right and left have told Haaretz that the report, released a week ago, would have no impact on U.S. public opinion or its effect will erode, adding that its deficiencies would become increasingly apparent.”

Haaretz added that US experts are also split on the issue. “The experts discuss whether the report's authors formulated it as they did because they want to stop the Bush administration from attacking Iran, or because they were simply unaware of the way the report would be received.”

Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said that Iran had been cleared of blame to a certain extent, and that the report gives Iran a window of opportunity to solve the crisis.

But the Israeli press says that the Israeli diplomatic effort will focus on preserving a united international front against Iran, and ensuring that the front does not crumble in the wake of the U.S. report.

"Even if there is a 10-percent chance of Iran attaining a nuclear bomb in 2009, we need to view this with the utmost seriousness," a government source in Jerusalem said.

Some analysts say that the report snatches the political agenda out of the hands of Israel’s opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, of the Likud. Netanyahu has been blasting away at Iran in the press, claiming that only a strike against Iran could protect Israel. The report neutralizes Netanyahu, making his rivals, Ehud Barak of Labor and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Kadima more popular should elections come about suddenly, which seems highly unlikely.

Some pundits say that the US assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities takes the pressure off of Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. The logic is that if the US has backed off of pushing Iran to stop their lethal nuclear program, Israel can back off implementing the “road map” discussed last week at Annapolis.

So, in some ways this US report strengthens PM Olmert’s hand. He is now free to ignore the US on the Palestinian issue, since they are ignoring Israel’s deep concern about Iran’s nuclear plans. Also, by the USA stepping back from an imminent strike against Iran, this eliminate the risk of a war between the US and Iran and who knows who else that might have joined in the fray, Olmert now finds himself free to carry out domestic plans, strengthen his position in the Knesset, and continue a slow but steady rise in the popularity contest.

Some also believe that the new US position, stepping back from rhetoric most thought would lead to an attack on Iran, would send the price of a barrel of oil back to a reasonable level and succeed in calming now jittery financial markets in Israel, the US and around the world.

Will Israel strike Iran without the US approval? Certainly not. Is the US about to give that approval? Maybe. Can Israel succeed in a strike against Iran without the US behind it both in words and deeds? Certainly not. So, unless President Bush changes his mind, again, the odds of a strike against Iran during the remainder of the Bush Presidency are not favorable.

But given that Israel is prone to surprise attacks, and plans that are so audacious no one would ever conceive of them but some cowboys in a basement in the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, the truth is, anything is possible. But not everything is probable.

Most analysts agree that if Iran doesn’t stop its progress to a nuclear weapon today, Iran will get stopped, one day. Except now the Iranians have time to breath a little before the blast comes, and contemplate their options.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

My Man Mao

Political survivors are dangerous. This is easily discerned in “Mao, the Unknown Story” by Jung Chang,( who wrote the popular novel “Wild Swans: three daughters of China”,) and Jon Halliday. This thick well-researched book, tells the ruthless rise to power of Mao Zedon (Mao Tse-Tung), who was the dictatorial leader of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.

According to Jung Chang, Mao was responsible for up to 70,000,000 Chinese deaths, through purges, murders, assignations, uprisings, and intrigues. To say that Chang dislikes Mao is an understatement.

What becomes clear even in the earliest pages of the book is Chang’s beliefs, all well documented, that Mao cared little for peasants, philosophy, or ideology, but rather for his own aggrandizement, comfort and power.

Mao, according to this book, was a clever manipulator who used every event that crossed his path to his own benefit. A scholar and grade school teacher Mao discovered that success lay in politics. He aligned himself with whichever party was ahead in the race. At first it was the Nationalists, who were vehemently against the interference of the new Soviet Union, but accepted Soviet aid and advisors in order to overthrow the feudal lords ruling China..

But when he saw his upward mobility thwarted in that party he switched sides, joined the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) receiving even more money and ammunition from the Soviet Union, and rode that horse to the finish line. Along the way he swindled his comrades in arms out of their positions, intrigued to steal an army away from a Nationalist general even though Mao knew little or nothing about things military. He actually started his rise to power by lying to some officers saying he was and taking the men to a battle but rather led them to the mountains where he joined them up with bandit gangs that using bandit gangs to establish a foothold in the remote province of Jiangxi..

During his foray with the bandits he discovered, according to Chang, his love of blood and violence. Not one to fight himself, Mao reveled in the spilling of blood, in terrorizing his victims, in ruling by fear.

According to Chang when he first arrived in the province 130,000 Chinese resided there; when he left only 30,000 survived. Mao fed his rag tag army on anything he could steal from anyone he felt like, rich or poor. A peasant was just as likely to lose his chickens as a landowner his villa. The only ideology Mao followed was increasing his own power by whatever means necessary.

Jung Chang and Jon Halliday claim that victims were subjected to a red-hot gun-rod being rammed into the anus, and that there were cases of cutting open the stomach and scooping out the heart] The estimated number of the victims amounted to several thousands. Through the so-called revolutionary terrorism, or red terrorism, Mao secured his authority and domination in Jiangxi.

And who encouraged Mao? Joseph Stalin. In those days Stalin was in charge of the Russian support of the Chinese revolution. When Mao reported razing an entire village, Stalin reportedly encouraged him with a message, “Burn, burn, burn.”

Mao later said that it was okay to use bandits to achieve one’s goals, but then the bandits had to be killed as ‘counter-revolutionary.’ Read it also as eliminating the possibility of these same bandits coming back and going against Mao if they felt like it.

Mao was a mass murderer. He was supported by Stalin, another mass murderer. Add Hitler to the mix, because at one time Stalin and Hitler were partners, and you have three mass murderers in league, each scheming how to kill the other and take over the world.

Luckily, none of them succeeded completely. But the question comes up, what were they really after? A better world through Communism or National Socialism? Not Mao. Not according to Chang and Halliday. Mao was only after what was good for Mao. Other historians claim Stalin was only after what was good for Stalin. Staying in and expanding the position of power became the real motivation. Sort of like a contest of will, how far could an athlete jump, how low could a golfer score, how much money could a businessman make? Not an ideological goal, but rather one of testing one’s destiny.

One wonders at the public who stands by, cowering, or supporting such men. What nerve in the human psyche do these self-aggrandizing despots y touch that allows dictatorships to flourish? Fear? Awe? Hoped for glory by osmosis?

Some politicians actually mean to do the right thing. Some are ideologically driven. Do these men succeed? Are they made of firm enough stuff to withstand the cruelty and hypocrisy which takes place under their rule? Or are the truly fine men and women left behind at the starting gate, while the manipulators, the survivors, the wily coyotes take the reins of power.

One can only stand in awe watching Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dance through the minefields and come out unscathed. Annapolis came and went, promise of a state for the Palestinians discussed yet again, the PA chief Abu Mazen saying in English that he would never recognize a Jewish State, and that the capital of the Palestinian State was Jerusalem. The same tune he’s been playing to the Arab audiences since Camp David when Arafat refused the Clinton Plan.

The amazing political acumen shown by Olmert indicates he’ll be in power for years to come. Olmert claims to believe a Palestinian State is necessary in order for a Jewish State to survive. He is probably right, but one wonders if this isn’t just a bunch of words tumbling off his lips onto the ears of people who want to hear just that message, or if he really means anything he says?

Judging from the other successful politicians who imposed their will on a susceptible population, skepticism seems the order of the day. Still, one can only stand in awe at the accomplishments of skilled manipulators, and wonder what the overall purpose of life is: truth, justice, or merely personal success at any cost?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Annapolis Summit

The Annapolis summit has begun with a whimper and is expected by observers to end with a sigh.

Protests by right-wing religious groups in both the Israeli and Palestinian camps have captured some TV time, but not much more. In Gaza Hamas militants have staged a protest that was broken up by Palestinian police. Also in Gaza two terrorists were killed placing a bomb near a fence, beyond which were Israeli troops. All are seen by pundits as attempts to disrupt the peace talks.

Hamas has pledged violence in response to any agreement reached at the summit, which they claim is against Palestinian interests. According to the Jerusalem Post, most Palestinians aren’t happy with the talks either, since those Palestinians participating in Annapolis are the same faces the public has seen during the last fifteen years of failed peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The report in Tuesday’s paper also pointed out that Palestinian President Mohammed Abbas was part of the staff attending the Camp David summit when Ehud Barak was Israel’s Prime Minister, Bill Clinton the US President and Yassir Arafat the Palestinian Authority’s Chairman.

According to the Jerusalem Post Abbas was one of those telling Arafat not to accept the Israeli terms, which later turned out to be a plum. The report further states that the present group of Palestinian negotiators cannot accept less than they turned down when Arafat was at Camp David.

The same men, back again, is how the Palestinians reportedly look at their negotiators. Men who the Palestinian public distrusts, believing them to be corrupt and self-interested. How then, analysts ask,, can these men be empowered to reach a deal with the Israelis, and then, even harder, to achieve any consensus from a population who by and large distrust them?

On the Israeli side the picture is just as glum. Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is unpopular at home. His coalition partners, like Ehud Barak of Labor, are against the summit. Farther to the right Both Eli Ishai of Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and Yvette Liberman of Israel Beitanu, the ultra-nationalist party, have threatened to leave the government if any agreements are signed at Annapolis.

Beyond that Olmert is still under a cloud of suspicion, with three criminal investigations hanging over his head, and the the investigation into the War in Lebanon still to be completed. Olmert isn’t expected to escape unscathed from these four events; One is expected to snag him, and perhaps bring down the government.

The driving forces behind the summit are really George W. Bush and his Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice. Both reportedly feel the glare of history upon them as Bush’s presidency comes to an end. Analysts believe George W would like to have his picture taken with Abbas and Olmert, all clasping hands as did Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, at the successful Camp David meeting that resulted in a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. Or a photo op like Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres had with Bill Clinton and Yassir Arafat. The result of those successful meetings rated mention in a page in history, or at least a footnote.

Bush has 9/11 to mark his presidency, followed by driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan and invading Iraq. All violent acts by one side or the other. A peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians would round out his diplomatic initiatives and perhaps put him in a positive historical light.

Then there’s the Saudi’s and the Syrians to consider. Both countries have sent representatives to the Annapolis summit, mainly due to pressure exerted by the US government. Neither sent top-level diplomats, but rather second or third stringe who are there to look and listen.

Is this summit a good thing? Of course it is. Any time adversaries get a chance to meet and talk peacefully is a good time. Beats fighting. But is there a chance something positive will come out of Annapolis? Sure there is. There’s also a chance the Bears will win the NFL Super bowl, or that it will snow in Miami. Just not much of a chance.

Will there be a peace agreement leading to a two-state solution within the next year? Doubtful. Both representatives, Olmert and Abbas, are too weak at home to get anything approved.

But as the oncologist told the woman who was asking her chances of surviving breast cancer after having neglected the growing tumor for more than two years, “There are miracles and wonders in the world,” he said. “Anything is possible.”

Oh, the patient never experienced any miracles or wonders. One doubts George W. Bush’s wishes for a successful summit resulting in a two-state solution will fare any better. When it’s all over, and when George W. is back at his ranch, just another private citizen minding his oil wells, he’ll remember the sigh of disappointment that things didn’t turn out as he’d hoped in the Middle East.

On a brighter note, Iran has announced it has developed a long-range missile that can strike at targets over 2,000 kilometers away. Military analysts say this puts Europe within range of Iranian weapons. Israeli Knesset Member Ephraim Sneh said this should be a wake up call for Europe.

Let’s hope the call isn’t followed by a loud bang and a huge explosion that spreads faster than the fires through the dry Malibu brush.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Anti-Semitic Tripe on You Tube

(The blog has been neglected due to hand injuries, which have healed.)

This is not what you think. The anti-Semitic tripe isn’t a video, but comments on clip of a video I made, “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers” (

At first I excised the offensive anti-Semitic comments, but then decided to leave them up, see what they attracted, like a shiny lure dragged through the water. What I found most interested, however, is that deranged people exist who actually believe the fantasies cooked up by monsters.

Anti-Semitism is as old a topic as the History of the Jews, so I have nothing more to add to it. Observers, however, point out that the new US Attorney General Mukasey is Jewish, only the second man of Jewish origin to hold that title. The first was Edward Hirsch Levi in 1975.

There are those who will see this appointment as just another example of how the Jewish people run America, rather than a rare example of how democracy allows the best and the brightest of which ever race, creed, or color, to rise to the top of their chosen fields.

The same anti-Semites could also point to the disproportionate number of Jewish men and women who received the Nobel Prize, Jewish names appear 127 times on the list, about 18 percent of the total. In economics, for which the Nobel has been awarded for only the last 31 years, 13 laureates are Jewish, more than 40 percent of the total, including Paul Samuelson, Herbert Simon and Milton Friedman.

This from a group that make up only 1/24th of 1 percent of the world's population. But what would effect would these facts have on the bigots? They’d probably claim the Jewish people have somehow gained control of the Nobel Committee and any evidence to the contrary would be like dropping gasoline in their fire of hatred; the facts disproving the bigots' beliefs would simply burn up in a microsecond.

What has become clear over the centuries is that hatred needs no rational cause to propel animosity into the stratosphere, a hint, a wrinkled nose, a deep-seated grudge, or in the case of the Nazis, drooling greed mixed with jealousy and centuries of Church inspired hatred, are enough to cause the mobs to run wild.

This hatred is not restricted to the Jewish people, much as the Jewish people would like to believe; soccer fans routinely run amok beating, sometimes to death, those fans from opposing teams. Riots in black ghettos result in dead white strangers who happen to be haplessly driving through the neighborhood.

During the Black (bubonic) Plague that swept Europe during the 14th Century, (one of the most deadly pandemics in human history, killing approximately 75 million people world-wide, nearly 50 million in Europe alone.) it was the Jewish people who were ultimately blamed for the cause of the Black Death.

Jews, it seemed, were hardly touched at first by the death and disease, spread by rats and feces and dirt. When those dying saw the healthy Jews, friendly neighborly relations turned into pogroms. What the bubonic plague didn’t do to the Jewish population their neighbors did.

All because the Jews kept clean, went to the “mikve” to bath, washed their hands, in accordance with Jewish ritual purity laws, before they ate. Cleanliness kept them alive. Fear of witchcraft by the ignorant host population, killed them.

What is it today, what plague sweeping the world, that necessitates such hatred? Rivalries clearly are part of the cause; the Arab population still smarts over the defeats suffered at the hands of the Israelis, (excluding the debacle in Lebanon II) outnumbered hundreds to one. Rivalries similar to fans rioting at soccer games exist between the Moslems and the Jews, as if fanatics like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must prove that his God can defeat the God of the Jews, much as the Biblical struggle took place between Balam and Balak. Between Moses and the magicians of Egypt. In this rivalry it is pride that plants the seeds of death, and little else.

But perhaps these seeds are planted not by man, but by God, or the survival genes in man’s DNA. Perhaps like the forest fires which help scythe through the overgrowth allowing for a healthier green area, man is programmed to hate and kill just to keep the population numbers manageable.

One wonders when these barbaric impulses will be finally controlled. When pride takes a backseat to wisdom, when rivalries are contained by mutual benefits. Sports, after all, is just entertainment, no more important than a film, or a play, or an opera. Certainly not something to kill for. But go tell that to a beer-laden lout whose superego has been suppressed by a few gallons of brew allowing his monstrous id to come roaring out.

When these folks rant on the comments of the youtube video clip of Hitler's Jewish Soldiers they’re hiding in the deep shadows, under rocks, taking pot-shots that can’t be returned in kind. Get enough of them together and you have a mob, have one in shiny armor speaking dulcet lines and you have a leader of the mob. God protect us from those out to protect us.

And, these films about how some Germans weren’t actually the bad guys, but just men trying to stay alive, even if they were doing good deeds with an eye to the Nuremberg trials (an explanation of why Admiral Canaris, of the German Abwer, helped save Jews during the Holocaust), have raised the call of ‘revisionist’ against filmmakers. Excusing the Germans for their crimes by making them into men who weren’t blood-thirsty; showing the gray in the enemy, not just the black against the pure white of the Allies.

Problem is, nothing is as clear-cut as it seems. There are always footnotes to history that turn black to gray, or white to black. Heroes become villains when new evidence appears, just as villains can be heroes under different circumstances.

Even History doesn’t tell the whole story, since no one has the whole story, of just about anything. So let’s hope those fanatics keep their hatred in check until they get their facts straight. Only then is there hope that the world as we know it will still be around, fall-out free, in the coming decades.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Light in the Darkness of War

This article was provided by Richard Freer, director of South Floridians For Israel
Jerusalem Magazine will now begin printing submissions by other contributors when deemed appropiate.

A Light in the Darkness of War
Original article written by Shula Weissfer

A year has passed but First Lieutenant M. has not forgotten about
the activities of Migdal Ohr which had been discreetly
accomplished. With minor changes, we publish here for the first
time in English, Lieutenant M's written recording of his

"I remember the two weeks of near face-to-face combat, the
confused orders and insufficient combat gear, the intense hunger,
physical and emotional exhaustion and toughest of all, the
self-imposed silence and disassociation with our surroundings.
"Now is not the right time to complain, but when it is over," we
thought to ourselves, "when the air raid sirens stop and we are
out of these fatigues, we can talk and the truth will be known."

When the news came that we were receiving a day off, our hearts
soared. We suffered so much stress and hardship. Where would we
go? How should we take full advantage of this gift?

Rumors begin to circulate that we were going to some school in
Migdal Ha'Emek. "This must be a joke! Who ordered ten buses to
bring us to some yeshiva with some Rabbi who is just going to try
and brainwash us?"

Then, a few of the guys remembered. "Rabbi Grossman, that's the
Disco Rabbi right? The guys all give him great respect." But what
do they know? He is still some rabbi.

Tired and emotionally drained, we got off the buses and stood
face to face with an old-world looking Jew, complete with a white
beard, side locks and long jacket. "So here it comes," I
thought, "the push to put on tefillin or to say prayers together.
Some day off."

"Boys," the rabbi's words thundered, "I suggest that first thing
you do is take a dip in the pool and freshen up. In the
meantime, we will make you something to eat."

In amazing simplicity, Rabbi Grossman heard in passing that the
brigade was looking for a home for a day, and he immediately
volunteered his campus. "What's the problem? 600 soldiers?
They should all come, of course we have room!"

With the echoes of war from the battlefield still in our ears, it
seemed like a mirage or hallucination. Soft music came from
everywhere and flowing water and greenery surrounded us. Within
minutes, the tables were set with cold refreshing watermelon,
cakes, and beverages, followed by cheeses, fresh vegetables, and
soft rolls.

Then we heard, "Out of the pool, get dressed and eat something."
We saw piles of new undergarments. 600 new undershirts and
underwear appeared as if out of nowhere, laid out on tables for
our choosing.

Rabbi Grossman sat with us and laughed, "Have a good time boys!
Have a great time! This evening, I will put on the most
spectacular performance you have ever seen."

I am not a religious person by any means, but I can't help but
envision the first Jew, Avraham, standing and personally serving
his guests perfectly naturally and without the slightest hint of
condescension. He respected each individual and cared for all
their needs. Like Avraham, Rabbi Grossman saw in this an obvious
act of kindness, a mission of a Mitzvah that had fallen into his
hands. As the evening continued, we learned quickly that this was
the essence of who Rabbi Grossman is and what he is all about.
He loves everyone and accepts everyone as they are with all his
heart and soul.

"Tell me friends," Rabbi Grossman said, "I heard you are lacking
different pieces of equipment. Do me a favor. Here is a pencil
and paper, just write down everything you are missing and leave
the paper on the table." That night, we enjoyed the
entertainment and afterwards, slept in soft beds and
air-conditioned rooms.

Like in a fairytale, we awoke in the morning and could not
believe our eyes. Mounds of gear which we so desperately needed
had arrived at Migdal Ohr. Attached, was a small note from Rabbi
Grossman, "To my dear solders, from all my heart!"

Rabbi Grossman personally and immediately raised over $60,000
worth of equipment from friends literally overnight! The
essential equipment included ceramic bulletproof vests, helmets,
canteens, knee pads, backpack water canteens, night vision
goggles, toothbrushes, socks and more.

Interestingly, a few months before the war broke out, a special
friend of Rabbi Grossman from France was interested in donating a
new Torah scroll to the main Migdal Ohr Beit Midrash (study
hall). For some reason, Rabbi Grossman requested to postpone the
event until an unspecified later date.

"Now is the right time!" Rabbi Grossman realized. He immediately
made arrangements and in an early evening ceremony, we
participated in the completion of writing the Torah. While the
scroll was carefully laid on the table next to a special pen and
ink, Rabbi Grossman addressed the soldiers.

"My holy ones! I am going to bestow upon you the merit of a holy
mitzvah, which can be considered a once in a life time
opportunity. Each one of you will complete a letter in the Torah
scroll. While you are executing this holy task, each one of you
should pray the prayer of his heart and request from G-d that the
merit of the letter he has completed will protect him in battle.
Holy sparks will emanate from these sacred letters and disperse
around you, creating a protective shield which will keep you safe
and bring you home safely."

Those moments were the most exciting and emotional ones in my
life. Shaking from the intensity of the immeasurable experience,
still not believing, we held the edges of the Torah scroll while
are hearts beat rapidly. There was complete silence all around.
One after the other, we dipped the quill in the ink and completed
a letter in the Torah scroll.

A bystander would have seen a breathtaking scene of incredible
elation and spiritual exuberance. The world seemed as if shrouded
in silence. The strings of our heart felt strummed and the tears
flowed freely down our cheeks.

"Mother!" cried one of the soldiers into his cell phone, "you
wont believe what I have done! I have written a letter in a Torah
scroll! Mother, are you there? Can you hear?! Me, a Shmutznik (a
member of a non- religious Kibbutz), who can't differentiate
between Shabbat and the rest of the week, who has not seen tzizit
(ritual garment) in my life. Me, I wrote a letter in a Torah
scroll! I can't believe it. I can't believe it."

After the completion of the Torah, the ceremony continued.
Leading the procession was a decorated car with multi-colored
lights strung all over it and with a crown of lights spinning
around on its roof. Following the car, bearers of a decorated
canopy marched while people danced around it. Under the canopy,
others held the Torah scroll, which was clothed in white and
crimson with a silver crown at its top.

600 soldiers and thousands of the town residents marched and
danced in the procession, a loud speaker accompanying them,
playing traditional Jewish music.

As the ceremony came to a close, Rabbi Grossman approached every
soldier and kissed him while placing a half-shekel coin in his
hand and said "shliach mitzvah aino nezok," messengers of a
mitzvah are not harmed. Rabbi Grossman concluded, "When you
return, G-d willing, healthy and unharmed, you will fulfill this
mission I am placing upon you, and you will donate this money to

The night came. Twelve buses made their way atop the Galilee
Mountains. Heavy darkness engulfed us, yet behind, in the
growing distance, a bright flame pierced the night sky. In the
midst of war and violence, we found love and unending human
compassion at Migdal Ohr, the educational center established in
Migdal Ha'Emek by Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman.

Rabbi Grossman speaks

"This was an immense "Kiddush Hashem." For a long period of time,
I cried and was very emotional." Thus Rabbi Grossman recalled the
moment when he first read the words above written by First
Lieutenant M.

Rabbi Grossman has what to add to the end of this exciting
memoir. "A moment before they returned to Lebanon, I told the
soldiers, 'in the merit that you said "shema" and put on
tefillin, wrote a letter in the torah, and are messengers of a
mitzvah, I promise you, that you will all return safe and sound.
None of you will be wounded or killed.'"

"Wasn't the Rabbi scared to commit to 600 soldiers that they
would return home safe and sound?" asked Shula Weissfer, a
journalist. "That is what came out of my mouth word for word," he
replied. "This was a moment of exuberance."

"I continued and told them," Rabbi Grossman relates, "if this
does actually happen that you come back safely, the first place
you must come back to - before you go home - is Migdal Ohr. We
will thank G-d together and from there we will say goodbye." I
told them, "think of this as an emergency call-up. Do you
accept?" The commanding officer replied in the affirmative.

Two weeks later, around midnight, Rabbi Grossman received a phone
call. "Rabbi, your blessing has come true!" exclaimed the
commander over the phone. "Everyone is safe and we are on our way
to you. We will be there by two 'O clock in the morning"

Rabbi Grossman immediately contacted the kitchen staff and asked
them to prepare a meal while he worked to organize a band.
People asked him 'You need a band at 2 a.m.? Is Moshiach here?'"

At 2:30 a.m. the soldiers disembarked from the buses, each one
carrying 60 kilo of equipment on his back. The band started
playing music and the soldiers approached Rabbi Grossman, each
one lovingly received with a hug and a kiss. This continued for
two hours. "I felt as I had never felt before," recalls Rabbi
Grossman. "Each one told me his personal miracle."

One soldier, a kibbutznik and a lawyer in civilian life, relayed
an incredible miracle. A group of soldiers were gathered in an
empty house in a Lebanese village when one of them forgetfully
lit a cigarette.

Hezbollah terrorists immediately noticed the light and fired an
anti-tank missile at the house. Coincidentally, two horses from
the village ran in front of the house and were hit and killed.
The missile, deflected by the horses, veered away from the house,
landing elsewhere. Incredibly, the horses miraculously saved the
soldiers inside the house.

After the warm reception, the soldiers recited "birkat hagomel,"
and together with Rabbi Grossman, sang and danced until daybreak.
"To this day," says Rabbi Grossman, "we maintain contact with
each soldier and have thus become one family."

Rabbi Grossman is a recipient of the "Award of Recognition for
his Actions on Behalf of Soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces
and the Second Lebanon War"

Friday, September 28, 2007

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad epitomizes all that is bad in the world: religious fanaticism, devilish slyness, wolfish cunning. The clever President of Iran managed to finesse democracy, which he eschews, to his own purposes; he took the pulpit at both Columbia University and the UN as if it were a sermon during the holy Moslem month of Ramadan.

He capped off his chutzpah with an invitation to U.S. President George W. Bush to speak in Iran.

Not unusual for despots to use freedom and democracy to their own purposes when the need arises.

Does that mean that Iran has ceased from its ambition of toppling the USA and Western Democracies? Nah, not for a second.

Does that mean that Iran has decided to liberalize its country to allow women equality? Nah.

Does it mean that the world is safer? Nah.

The bottom line is that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad behaved much as any dictator does when speaking in the enemy camp: he dissimulates with aplomb, tongue in cheek, happy to capture the public stage for his own purposes.

Columbia's President Bollinger was caught in a hard place. He had to insult Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the despot even opened his mouth, in order to distance himself from the pudding-minded dead of international affairs Cotsworth who had the ignorant audacity to invite the maniacal killer to address a liberal audience in the name of freedom of speech.

But that is all over, now. Israel has absorbed dozens of mortar attack from Hamas over the last few days, and gone into Gaza in a military operation. Minister of Defence Ehud Barak has said that a massive attack on Gaza is imminent. Will that solve any problems? Not really, but it will keep Hamas off balance for a few weeks. And then for a few more weeks. No longer will they be able to hit Israel with impunity.

The new strategy is, apparently, that the US and Israel and the EU can put enough pressure on Hamas economically and militarily that the Gaza population will decide Hamas isn't worth supporting any longer.

Will this plan work? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the festival of the booths continues. Thousands of years have passed, and Jews still arrange to sit in make-shift shacks and tents as a reminder of the Exodus from slavery and oppression in Egypt.

A few days away on holiday at Chof Dor, which dates back to the time of the early Hebrews, to the Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and even Bonaparte, is a reminder of the extensive history which envelopes the region like an ephemeral mist. The struggles of today are merely replicas of previous struggles, in different forms, with different enemies, and tomorrow other struggles will take place. One wonders if the HOly Land isn't simply a preternatural metaphor for life and existence on this planet, and if so, is there anything to learn we don't already know?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Time and Patience the two best warriors

Israel’s security cabinet decided on Wednesday to make life difficult for the Palestinians living in Gaza by imposing economic and other sanctions while declaring Gaza a ‘hostile entity.’ The left-wing Meretz party called the move dangerous and foolish. Hamas called the move an ‘act of war.’ Some Israeli analysts said it was a move that came too late.

Retired General Uzi Dayan has said that more needs to be done to stop the Kassam rockets from falling on Israel’s Southern towns.

It is possible that the government feels emboldened after its successful raid on a reported Syrian uranium enrichment site near the Turkish border. It is also possible that the government wanted to do something to offset the death of St.-Sgt. Ben-Zion Henman, 22, from the Golan Heights settlement of Nov. Sgt Henman was a paratrooper in the brigade's Reconnaissance Unit. He was shot in the chest during an IDF incursion into Nablus searching for a terrorist group reportedly planning an attack on Israel. Sgt Henman died en route to the hospital. Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility for the shooting.
It was bad luck for the Sargent, who had only two weeks left to serve in the army before his enlistment ended. He was wearing full military gear, including a bulletproof vest reinforced with ceramic plates, but the bullet managed to find the soft spot on his side where nothing was in place to stop it.
IDF troops continued their activities in Nablus on Wednesday, reportedly killing two Palestinian militants and one 38-year old handicapped bystander.
Iran has said it has methods to strike at Israel should Israel strike Iran. This came out of the mouth of one of Iran’s air force officers. Some reports say Iran claims it can blanket Israel with up to 600 rockets. Iran said that allies would also join in the attacks. It is assumed the Iranians mean Hamas in Gaza, the Syrians and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The bomb that ripped through Christian East Beirut took the lives of five Lebanese including a member of parliament Antoine Ghanem, an anti-Syrian member of the right-wing Christian Phalange Party. It is unclear who was responsible for the blast. Syria is still under investigation for the blast that killed former PM Hariri, an anti-Syrian Lebanese billionaire.
The fourth annual Israel film industry’s business conference took place on Tuesday at Cinema City near Herzliya. A number of panels discussed topic relevant to the production of TV shows in Israel, the laws empowering the government to provide funding to television and film and the issue of minorities represented on TV.
One panel was made up of an ultra-orthodox film producer, two Israeli Arab women producers, and Uri Orbach, a religious member of one of the commercial channels in Israel. According to Orbach, the modern orthodox had to fight long and hard to get on TV, including starting their own film schools. He recommended the Arab community do the same, as well as turning to wealthy Arabs from outside of Israel for funding. The women countered that Israel would never let monies from Saudi Arabia come into the country even if it was to support a film school.
Some of the Arab women’s criticisms were foolish, and probably meant only to get attention, and a job on Israel TV. One of the women admitted she wanted to be a on-camera talent. She was a stunning well-spoken women who deserves a place, but was wrong when she said no Arabs were working at Israel TV stations. Rafik Halabi had long been a reporter and editor of the Hebrew evening news at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, as well as other Arab men and women, albeit very few.
An ill-fated all Arab station, broadcasting 12-hours a day, was taken off the air after a short run because of budgetary constraints. As of now the Israel Broadcasting Authority has to find ways to stay in business. One serious consideration is halving the workforce, either by dismissals or forced early retirement. Most Israelis eschew Israel Broadcasting Authorities channel 1 in favor of the commercial channels.
The PM is keeping a low profile these days. But his popularity rating has soared 10 per cent after the recent bombing of the Syrian uranium plant. The Winograd commission is still meeting, and their report is expected to be damning. However, pundits believe that given the volatility of the Middle East, should any number of things happen, from an attack on Israel by Iran or Hezbollah or Syria, and should Israel withstand it successfully, Olmert may be exonerated making the Winograd commission’s findings a mute point.
As Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace, “Time and patience are the two best warriors.”

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Syrian Sky

The Israeli air force’s reported attack against a Syrian target ten days ago is still making the new, although the Israeli government has yet to make an official comment. The night the news of the attack on Syria was reported, Israel TV cameras photographed Israel’s Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi with a big grin on his face.

On Sunday morning Knesset member Tzachi HaNegbi, a confidant of PM Olmert, said on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet that Israel’s policy of no comment was clearly working.

The international media was filled with reports on the purpose of the attack. The reports vary from Israel striking a shipment from N. Korea officially listed as carrying cement but really filled with parts for a nuclear reactor, to reports that the strike was on a uranium enrichment plant in the desert near Turkey constructed with the help of N. Korea. Some reports focus on the fact that the ship suspiciously changed its flag from N.Korean to S.Korean when it sailed towards Syria.

One report has as many as eight Israeli F-15I and F-16 jet fighters armed with Maverick missiles and 500lb bombs, as well as an UAV, Israel’s Ofek 7 satellite, sending pristine detailed pictures of the site, and Israeli special forces ground troops spotting for the laser-guided smart bombs, all taking part in the attack.

Syria denies it has a uranium enrichment plant. Syria claims Israel fired missiles in the desert and fled after Syrian planes chased them off. During the Syrian-Israeli war of attrition in the late 1970’s Syria reported it had destroyed all of Israel’s planes in a dogfight, when in fact Syria lost every plane it sent up in the sky. Israeli military observers say Syria is known for bombastic statements with little basis in fact.

According to the London Sunday Times, Israel had been considering an air strike against Syrian targets since late spring, following Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s briefing of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, presenting proof that Damascus was trying to buy a nuclear device from North Korea.

An Israeli official reportedly told the London Sunday Times that Dagan thought the nuclear device could be fitted on Scud-C missiles and used in future military conflicts with Israel. Some press sources speculate that this raid on Syria was a training exercise for Israel’s plan to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities.

U.S.Sec of State Condeleeza Rice is due in the region on Tuesday for preliminary talks on the issues for the upcoming Mid-East summit in November. So far her only statement on the Syrian matter is to reiterate the US position that no untrustworthy states should allowed to be in possession of nuclear arms.

Press reports speculate that other parts and materials for nuclear development by Syria were supplied by Iran and sent through the underground pipeline established by the disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist caught selling secrets to Al Queda and other terrorist groups.

N. Korea has said it has stopped its nuclear program and the sales of nuclear materials to other countries due to the tough sanctions by the US. N. Korea denies any involvement in the Syrian adventure. Analysts believe this action puts both Syria and N. Korea squarely back in the ‘axis of evil.’ International law experts say Syria may find itself vulnerable to UN sanctions

The daring Israeli raid was also meant to bolster lagging confidence in Israel’s military. According to Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Major-General Amos Yadlin, Israel has regained its high level of deterrence against Syria and Iran.

The Jewish New Year celebration ended Saturday night. The two-day New Year celebration ended as the Sabbath began, making this a three-day event. Religious families ate two festive meals per day. By the end of the weekend the traditional Fast of Gedalia, when no food or drink is ingested from sunrise to sundown, was a welcome cleansing.

Non-religious Israelis flocked to the beaches, parks and the hiking trails, if they stayed in the country. Traffic accidents claimed the lives of nearly a dozen Israelis over the weekend. A record number of Israelis flew abroad for the holiday, taking advantage of package tours to sites in Greece and Turkey. Some Israelis even defied the government’s security warnings and took their chances vacationing in Egypt’s Sinai desert, long a popular spot for Israelis. This in spite of the terrorist bombs that have struck both Sharm-El Sheik and Taba over the last decade.

A Thailand discount airlines plane crashed in the Thai resort island of Phuket. At least nine Israelis were reportedly among the over 70 dead or missing on the airline.The missing Israelis were reportedly Tal Feldman; Hila Gershoni of Holon; Hofit Eliya, 25, of Kfar Yona; Itzhak Biton of Kfar Yona; Rotem Naouri, 24, of Netanya; Adi Naim of Kfar Yona; Lily Alon of Jerusalem; Rachel Tofan of Jerusalem; and Michael Falcone, 26, of Yehud. The Thailand One-Two-Go Airlines plane skidded on a wet runway cracked in two then burst into flames during a landing in the heavy rain. Chabad said nearly 500 Israelis traveled to Phuket over the Rosh Hashana holiday bringing the estimated total of Israelis in Thailand to about 4,000. According to Chabad House Rabbi Nehemya Wilhelm, who flew into Phuket to help out after the crash, most Israelis first stop at the Chabad House in Bankok when traveling in Thailand. Chabad held Rosh Hashana services for over 1,000 people, mostly Israeli backpackers, during the New Year holiday. Chabad operates four centers in Thailand, all meeting points for Israeli travelers.

Early Sunday morning Israel switched to daylight savings time, setting the clocks back one hour. Some speculate the reason was to allow the religious men time to say their early morning “slichot” prayers and still manage to get to work at a reasonable hour. The official reason is to save money on Israel’s electric bill.

Israeli military observers say that Hamas is showing signs of collapse. This came after Hamas agreed to consider a cease-fire of rockets into Israeli territory. An unnamed Hamas official told the Yideot Achranot newspaper that Hamas had brokered a deal with other terrorist groups firing into Israel to hold their fire. The official said that Palestinian groups had agreed to consider not renewing their rocket fire unless Israel carried out targeted assassinations against senior gunmen.

Experts speculate the reason for the discussion of a ceasefire was the rocket attack on the Israeli Zikim army-training base that wounded nearly 70 soldiers. Hamas reportedly fears strong Israeli reprisals and is trying to mollify Israeli security forces before they launch a full-fledged attack on Gaza. On Sunday, Israel sent troops back to the Zikim base to resume training.

Meanwhile Palestinians fired Kassam rockets from Gaza into Israel, but there was no damage or injuries. Israel sent in troops and bulldozers into the southern Gaza strip in what the army said was a raid on a terrorist cell suspected of shooting rockets into Israel. Over thirty Palestinians were arrested for questioning.

Three Israelis were lightly injured when a sniper shot at their car on the West Bank, near the settlement of Karnei Shomron.

On Friday, Palestinians were kept out of the Temple Mount during the Jewish New Year festivities. In previous years militant Palestinians have heaved rocks down from the Temple Mount onto the Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall.

In the West Bank, Israel carried out its nearly weekly raids against suspected terrorist cells in Nablus. In Hebron a Palestinian man was killed when he opened fire on Israeli troops who had entered his neighborhood to break up a fight between feuding families. Israeli troops have become the de facto police force in the occupied territories, something that has been criticized in the past as one of the reasons for Israel’s poor showing when real combat was required in Lebanon.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, Hamas is planning a terrorist attack to disrupt the Mid-East Peace Summit scheduled to take place in November. PM Olmert and Palestinian president Abbas have kept a low profile as the talks approach. Neither man is considered strong enough to enforce any document signed at the conference.

The Israeli government on Sunday announced the formation of a National Emergency Administration, expected to be operational by 2008. The administration is expected to be the center coordinating activities between the various security and support elements of the country in times of a national emergency.

Pop star Madonna arrived in Israel just before the New Year with actress Demi Moor, fashion designer Dana Karen and other luminaries. Madonna was in Israel on a visit to the graves of Kabalistic rabbis, and to attend a Kabbala concert in Tel Aviv. Madonna is very interested in Kabala, even though she was born and raised a Catholic.

Israelis population is growing, and has reached over seven million people. The gross national product is higher than many countries in Western Europe. The U.S. Coastguard has stated that the Israeli ships are the safest on the sea. With a booming economy, a blossoming population. one can only be optimistic that the new year 5768 will be the beginning of a new age of peace and prosperity in the middle east.

Who knows? It just might. But don’t bet on it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sept 11, 2007 & Shana Tova

September 11, 2001 was a black day in the history of the Western world, but a day to celebrate if you were an Islamic fanatic. Hy Brown, 65, was the structural engineer of the World Trade Towers. He immigrated to Israel three years ago. According to an interview with Brown in the Jerusalem Post, the reason the towers collapsed was wet noodles. He said if you take twenty noodles and stand them up, balance a cup on top, the cup will be fine. Even if you take away nineteen noodles, the cup will still stand. But if you put water on the noodles, they’ll collapse with or without the cup. According to Brown the Twin Towers was built to withstand heat up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Jet fuel burns at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The steel in the Twin Towers melted just like pouring water on noodles.

According to Brown, Bin Ladin, an engineer, knew the towers would collapse, he just underestimated the number of floors that would be effected. Brown thinks Bin Ladin’s plan was to topple the top five or six floors of the towers, send them onto other buildings, causing a domino effect. The second plane hit lower which caused the building to fall faster.

Israel has its own tragedy on a much small scale on September 11th. 69 Israeli soldiers were injured, one critically, five seriously, seven moderately, the rest lightly, when a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza fell on the Israeli Army’s Zitim training base a few kilometers from the border. The wounded soldiers were evacuated to a number of hospitals.

Parents of the wounded soldiers called for an immediate retaliation. Israel has been considering a massive group operation and while some analysts thought this attack would set off Israel’s counter-offensive, others believe the situation in the north of Israel tempers those moves. For months there have been fears that Syria may strike at Israel from the north. In the last few weeks those fears have abated, but yesterday Israeli Jets reportedly flew over Syrian airspace, fired five missiles at a Syrian target, jettisoned empty fuel tanks over Turkey, then returned unharmed to Israel.

The army is on high alert in the north and military analysts said that the Israeli army wasn’t going to risk attacking Gaza in the south and leaving the northern border and communities exposed to Syrian and Hezbollah attacks.

Major General (Res.) Yitzchak Ben-Israel, a Knesset member representing the Kadima party, said in an interview in the Yideot Achranot newspaper that “the situation in Sderot” (a neighboring town to the base) is intolerable. Ben Israel said that “deliberate firing on civilians’ is a war crime. The latest attack was on an army base, so the war crimes accusation may not apply.

As for retaliation, Ben Israel said that “there is no way to curb the activity of fanatical organizations…unless we use force.” The retired general claimed that over the last 60 years Israel has learned that striking back harder at the enemy each time an attack takes place ultimately results in the innocent Palestinian population voicing their objection to the attacks, causing the attackers to lose the support of the population, and the cessation of attacks. Ben Israel believed retaliation was necessary, but needed to be implemented in the context of an overall plan.

Israel’s newly appointed President Shimon Peres told the press, “I don’t understand why the Palestinians keep firing at us since we’re already out of Gaza.”

The Prime Minister is reported as saying that no attack would take place until at least after the Jewish holidays.

As Israel approaches the New Year the population has climbed to 7.1 million.

In another event a U.S. Cour has found Iran guilty of the July 31, 2002 bombing of the Hebrew University’s Frank Sinatra cafeteria where nine students were killed. The court ordered Iran to pay $12, 904, 548 to the family of Marla Bennet, of San Diego, who was killed in the blast. The US Judge determined that Hamas carried out the attack, and since Hamas is a supporter of Iran, then the Iranian government has to pay up.

On Monday Israel kidnapped a top Hamas militant from Gaza during a daring commando raid. Reportedly the man was spirited out of the city to a waiting helicopter and then flown to a “secure location” in Israel. The man is reportedly to be held in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured two years ago by Hamas militants.

This action coupled with the Israeli Jets flying over Syria, are reportedly examples of Minister of Defense Ehud Barak’s aggressive policy since taking over his job a few months ago; action in direction opposition to that of his predecessor who took a “no response” attitude.

In hindsight one wonders at the lack of former PM Ariel Sharon’s wisdom in appointing former Minister of Defense Amir Peretz to that post. Analysts believe that Sharon must have thought himself invulnerable, and assumed that he, not Peretz, would manage any military conflict or complication. But Sharon’s stroke proved that hubris is not only the downfall of kings but can also be the downfall of nations. Given different circumstances, like a Syrian invasion of Israel coupled with Iranian missile attacks, joined perhaps by the Egyptians if they saw a clear victory, Israel might now be flying the flag of foreign nations.

As the New Year approaches nostalgia is not far behind. Old timers remember when supermarkets weren’t guarded, and freedom to move about the airports of the world was a relatively pleasant experience. Older Americans recall the American Express commercial with then football icon O.J. Simpson hurtling over barriers, dressed in suit and tie holding a briefcase in one hand, heading for the departure gate. Today he’d be at least detained, perhaps arrested, and possibly shot for the same action. There are those who believe he deserved any of the above, but that’s another matter.

Private airplanes, so far, afford that original pleasurable experience of travel, not the tension ridden gruff affair at the hands of unsmiling security personnel. 9/11 changed the world, as we all know.

But in Israel as far back as the early 1970’s bags were searched at the entrance to supermarkets and movie theaters. This came as a response to Palestinian terrorism then quarterbacked by the late Yassir Arafat and/or his cronies.

Each time a bomb went off in a different location, guards appeard at the entraces of similar places, all across Israel. For nearly forty years Israelis have been accustomed to searches at the entrance to public places, from malls to vegetable markets. After the “Lod Massacre” when terrorists opened fire at the Israeli airport, the profile screening system went into effect.

Again, a private plane landing in a private airport still allows assassins like Bin Ladin to fly into some remote airport with a suitcase nuclear bomb and no one would even ask him for his passport.

The world has changed since 9/11, but not enough. The threat of terrorism is as great as it was six years ago. The Islamists are still in the ascendancy. Perhaps the latest law suit against Iran will put a nation’s face on the cause for terrorism. Iran was reportedly also responsible for the attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, as well as the blast on Marine base in Lebanon nearly twenty years ago.

The sages tell us that “Ain Chadash Tachet Ha Shemesh,” (there’s nothing new under the sun.) Let’s hope that with this New Year, things begin to change for the better, that the voice of reason takes hold in the streets of the Arab world and puts a stop to the wholesale slaughter perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists in the name of God.

Let’s hope that God, wherever He or She is, finally wakes up to what’s happening in His/Her name and decides enough blood has been spilled. If not, then the only thing new that’s going to happen is another war. The only question is when, and how far will it spread?

From those of us at Jerusalem Magazine, we’d like to wish all of our faithful readers of the Jewish persuasion, and that all those of the Hebrew faith be written in the Book of Life for a Healthy, Happy, Successful New Year. And for those of other faiths, may the Lord Bless you and Keep You. And for those Islamic Fundamentalists, I can only wish you what Tevye the milkman wished the Tzar in the play ‘Fiddler On The Roof.’ “May the Lord Bless you and keep you, far away from us.” But in their case, I’d leave off the blessing, and substitute a curse. The readers can fill in the one they think most appropriate.

Shana Tova

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Wisdom of Hillel

Every generation believes they are the most important in history. Editorial writers abound blaring about the greatest war in history waged under our noses. When the British used the long bow against the French for the first time the age of chivalry died, but so did scores of Frenchmen. The new weapon marked the rise of British colonial power.

Certainly when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sent Columbus sailing from Spain they believed they were on the cusp of a new era for their kingdom. Perhaps they believed it was a new era for the world, and it was, but I doubt they knew it then.

The colonial powers can trace their roots back to the first amoeba that slithered across the pond to incorporate, for the first time, another amoeba in its cell structure. Did old man amoeba brag that he’d just made history?

The egotism of our age is astounding. It is like a young adult who has no patience for their elders, since when back when the elders were young ‘things were different.’ But they weren’t really. Perhaps they simply had a different form, but not a different substance.

Is the Iphone or Ipod much different from the drumbeat of the native Americans? One is faster, and farther reaching, with the ability to send more details, but its still just a message after all. Its still just communication.

In the animal kingdom birds do a fancy dance show their plumage to inform the females they are ready to mate. This communication works, obviously, or there would be no animals, no birds, no people. A mini-skirt and tight blouse are just as significant as a peackock’s feathers, but not much different.

The scene of the monkeys attacking a rival band in 2001 is meant to show that the monkeys are no different from the humans, or even from machines who think they’re humans, like Hal. Al Jezeera, CNN, BBC, all broadcast messages. We call it news. The messages carry fear, happiness, sadness, love, and hate.

Monkeys in the form of groups of people use the media to send their messages. Osama Bin Ladin spoke on Al Jezeera, subtly threatening the Western World yet again. Cable television, once the purview of the fringe, is now mainstream. The Internet, once the playing field of the nerds, is now the place to be seen, and that’s what Osama Bin Ladin did next, went on the Internet with his messages. And what were they, like the monkey’s shaking the bones of their prey, using sticks and stones to attack their enemies, Bin Ladin first uses words, as the monkeys used their screeches, to warn of an imminent attack.

But is Bin Ladin a new phenomena? Were his two hi-jacked 747’s which flew into the twin towers any different than say the introduction of the elephant into warfare? Or gunpowder? Or the atomic bomb? The idea was always the same, win the battle, but the scope grew enormously. Much more of the world is at risk than a few dozen monkeys beating each others brains out with stones. More is at risk than a massive army of Greeks attacking Romans. Then a continent or two were at stake. Now the global village has put the entire world at risk.

But step back, look up, there are dots twinkling in the night sky. There are other planets out there, in fact there are an unimaginable number of planets. Scientists now estimate that there are billions of universes out there, trillions upon trillions of stars and planets that we know nothing about.

So, if this world is wiped out, it will hardly be noticed by the other stars, planets, and universes. Does that make the prospect of Bin Ladin succeeding any better? Nope. Does it mean we should give up, let him take over? Nope. What it means is that probably none of what we think is of paramount importance in our lives in our generations, is really that important.

Societies rise and fall, history if filled with examples from the earliest recorded scratching on some cave’s wall. We are all players in this game of life, all pawns perhaps of some great scheme. Or all just random elements banging against each other like pinballs bouncing off the obstacles on the way down the board.

It has been said that 1968 was a transitional point in history. Certainly it was transitional for the USA, for Civil Rights, for Women’s Rights, for freedom. But was 1968 any more important than 1492, when Columbus stumbled upon America; or the 11th century Crusades, when the Christians waged war against the Moslems; or 70 AD (or C.E.) when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem sending the Jews into Exile? How many transitional points in history are there?

And then there’s the old saw “There is nothing new under the sun.” The kaballists hint that that means previous societies preceded ours, back before Abraham and all the begats begun. Maybe way back when someone already invented a washing machine, and dryer, a microwave and cell phone. What if the ancient Breastplate of Judgment worn by the High Priests in the First Temple period (actually it disappeared with the Prophetress Deborah) was really a computer allowing the Hebrew prophets and kings to communicate with outer space, the future, or the past? What if we are just being tested by those way up in space, or in another dimension? What if the Buddist have it right, there is no body, really, just the soul, like smoke, dissipating in the far beyond.

The essence of life, said the Hebrew sage Hillel is “Be Good To Each Other,” and all the rest of the Bible, he said, was commentary.

As we approach another Hebrew New Year the lessons of Hillel have still to be learned, by the good guys, and the bad guys. Turning the other cheek gets you another 747 right up your high rise, and nuking the crazies makes you a mass murderer. The horns of the dilemma get sharper as the decisions get closer, but in reality, it is all, as Kohelet (The Preacher from Jerusalem in Ecclesiastes) said “Vanity and chasing after wind.”

Let’s hope that the new Hebrew year will see the end of the bad guys, and the success of the good buys, and let’s hope we have the wisdom to discern who’s who.

Pop Diva Madonna comes to Israel with a covey of Kabbalistic wannabees, to experience the holiness that is said to descend on Israel during the holidays. May the Lord grant her nirvana, enlightenment, and the ability to convince others who the bad guys are, and who the good guys are.

In Israel PM Olmert bemoaned the state of education in the country after a group of skin-heads were arrested following a year-long investigation. The teenagers, mostly non-Jewish Russians who felt strange in Israel, drank and made trouble to express their disenfranchisement. Not unusual. Juvenile delinquents have existed for thousands of years. In modern times films were filled with miscreants causing trouble. The fact that these were boys with at least one Jewish grandparent, and that the boys were ‘skinheads’ giving Nazi salutes, beating ultra-orthodox Jews, as well as Ethiopians and Philipino workers, only makes it harder to take. Nazis aren’t supposed to live in Israel. Its like fire blazing beneath the surface of water. But both are possible. Is education the answer?
Modern Western society believes education is the answer to everything. And it probably is. But first one must educate the educators, the governors, the bosses, make them realize that these kids are left out, and are angry about it. Education is needed on both sides, the kids and the society they live in, to recognize the root of the problem and then deal with it.

Maybe in the end it does all boil down to what Hillel said, “Be Good To Each Other.” The rest is commentary.