Monday, May 28, 2007

Sderot, Eyewitness Report

Nearly 20 Qassam rockets fell in Sderot on Monday, causing no damage.One man was lightly injured, and several others were treated for shock.

A group of female soldiers suffered shock after one of the rockets landed near them. Magen David Adom paramedics treated the soldiers at the scene and evacuated them. IDF troops stationed in Sderot are required to wear helmets at all times.Two of the rockets fell in an open field, one near a cemetery the other near a horse stable.

According to the Yideot Achranot newspaper, the Tzalach a-Din brigades, military wing of Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attacks.

On Sunday Oshri Oz, a 36-year-old Hod Hasharon resident, was killed when a Kassam rocket landed near his car in Sderot. Oz, a Hod Hasharon computer technician was killed during one of his three weekly computer repair visits to Sderot. Reportedly he was driving his car when the warning sirens went off. A policeman said he waved the car to stop but Oz misunderstood, thought the policeman was just waving hello, waved back and continued driving.

A Qassam rocket landed near his car, spraying the vehicle with shrapnel. Mortally wounded Oz then left the car, took a couple of steps and collapsed. He died in the streets shortly afterwards. Oz was the second fatality in Sderot in less than a week and the 10th Israeli to be killed in rocket barrages from the Gaza Strip.

Eli Moyal, the mayor of Sderot called on students to return to school, but only 811 out of the 3,000 pupils in Sderot arrived at schools Monday morning, as studies resumed. Some 161 preschoolers out of the 900 children in Sderot's kindergartens resumed their activities, in sheltered locations.

May 17, last Wednesday, marked the first time - after enduring more then 4,500 rocket attacks over six years - that city officials, with support from the Defense Ministry, planned the temporary removal of some residents.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the plan was not an "evacuation," but rather a program designed to give residents a break from the city.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal said the temporary removal of 16 percent of the 24,000 city residents could be helpful, even though he had long been an advocate of standing firm and not leaving the city. The latest rocket barrage had caused something to snap among residents, he said.

Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon, former IDF Chief of Staff, called for a full-scale invasion of Gaza, saying this was the only way, in his opinion, to put a stop to the rocket attacks. According to Yaalon, who has recently surfaced in the press as possible Likud party leader, there is no quick solution to the Gaza problem.

Other press reports say that Israel's PM Ehud Olmert believes that the Gaza problem will take a long time to solve. He said that Israel would act when it was ready. Olmert reportedly turned down an IDF plan for a full-scale invasion of Gaza. Media reports state that Hamas has prepared lethal booby-traps for Israeli tanks and troops should they attempt to reoccupy Gaza.

Some analysts, like the Israel Television Channel One Arab Affairs reporter, said that the Palestinians in Gaza wanted a cease-fire with Israel, but “didn’t know how to climb down from the tree they were on.”

The Qassam firing heated up when Fatah and Hamas began fighting for power in Gaza about a week ago. The two groups reportedly competed for public opinion by seeing which of the two could fire the most rockets into Israel. Some pundits believed that both groups hoped that the Israelis would mount a fierce counter-attack, which would unify the splintered Palestinian groups to fight against Israel rather among themselves.

Indeed Israel did mount daily attacks against Hamas and whatever bands of terrorists they could find firing missiles at Israel. Two days ago Israel destroyed a Hamas training base, killing fifty Hamas activists. Israeli helicopters also fired at other targets in Gaza.Two more Hamas activists were killed Tuesday night by Israeli helicopter fire. Reportedly these men were preparing to fire rockets into Israel.

Israel also began rounding up Hamas politicians in the West Bank, ostensibly to prevent them from mounting attacks on Israel from towns like Nablus and Jenin. Both PM Olmert and the IDF stated that no Hamas member was immune from attack. This was interpreted by Hamas to mean that Israel would resume the strategy of selective targeting of Hamas officials. Not long after talks of a cease-fire were heard coming from Hamas leaders. In response, Hamas leader Mashal said from Damascus that Hamas has no intention of halting the attacks against Israel.

Avi Maman, a firefighter in Sderot, said that the Qassam rockets usually begin falling on Sderot around 6:30 AM and last until about 10:00 AM , when most people are at work. Then the Palestinians take a break and don’t begin firing rockets again until after 5:00 PM in the afternoon, and keep on firing sometimes until 2:00 AM. These evening attacks are aimed at people who have returned from work.

Avi was in his fire-station at 4:00 in the afternoon, awaiting the evenings attacks. His 16-year old high school student son Tsefi was also there, getting the keys from Dad to drive into nearby Kyriat Melachi. When asked about school, Tsefi said there wasn’t any, not really. Dad asked Tsefi to show us around Sderot, and he was kind enough to do so, although he was impatient to get on with his afternoon.
When asked to point out the areas of Sderot most often hit by rockets, he waved his hand across the entire map, saying, “They fall all over. There is no one place, or area. All over.”

Before we set off Avi said, “Roll your window down and turn off your radio. You want to be able to hear the warning siren if it goes off. Then you jump out of your car, and run for shelter. These Qassams they send out shrapnel, knee high, that cuts right through steel doors, and hit just about where you’d be sitting if you stay in the car. Oh, and don’t buckle your seat-belt. You may have to get out in a hurry.”

The first place Tsefi showed us was a pleasant white stucco four-story apartment building, with a hole punched neatly through the red tile roof, scattering debris into the apartment, and onto the street. Surprisingly a mother and father and teenaged daughters were still living in the apartment below the one hit.

The next stop was a synagogue, again with a hole punched neatly through the roof, the ceiling hanging down into the room, nearly touching the tables and bookshelves lined with tractates of the Talmud. The floor was covered an inch thick with rubble.
“The rockets come in straight, down, pow,” Tsefi said. He offered to show us a third apartment, but was told by his two teenage buddies driving in the car that repairs had already begun on that house.

The boys took off and we headed to the center of town, where the city had set up an emergency service center. The supermarket was open, the small shopping center busy with cars, and the store serving a number of shoppers. A half-dozen men sat in front of a run-down coffee shop playing cards on a tattered wooden table, sipping Turkish coffee and smoking. A little sweet shop was open. The owner, a man with wrinkled worried skin covered by a two-day growth of gray stubble, smiled a one-tooth smile and took the money for a soft drink and some cashews. The television was on in the corner broadcasting the latest debates among politicians of what to do about Sderot.

In the plaza just down the front of the shabby strip-mall, a stocky bearded man with a red bandanna over his graying hair, tied off just behind his pony-tail, wearing a sleeveless black t-shirt played an electric guitar to entertain the scraggly showing of Sderot residents. His sound system, a mixer powered by a car battery and two speakers, rested on the seat of his garishly painted Harley-Davidison sportster. “We’re gonna be strong when the Qassam’s fall,” he sang. A few TV crews and still photographers took pictures.

Across the street a half-dozen Magen David Adom (Israeli Red Cross) men were putting a sign up on a home that also advertised itself as a clothing store. The home had been taken over as the Sderot Emergency Relief Center.

Even Chabad was in on the act with a 35-foot Southwind Mitzvah Tank a few feet away from the Harley.

Sderot was alive. People were in the streets. Two teenaged girls walked arm in arm across an empty sandy field, that one day would probably be an apartment complex but now was just the plot of dirt connecting one neighborhood to another. A middle-aged man was out speed walking with his young son, another man in his twenties was jogging, mothers were pushing their babies in strollers. The sun was soft painting the town in a Van Gough pastel yellow.
It wasn’t until 9:00 PM that the Qassams started falling, again.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Chutzpa, Hamas Style

Chutzpa can be defined loosely as and act of unbridled nerve, brazen behavior, sometimes but not always accompanied by an outrageous statement or statement. defines it as
chutz·pa [khoo t-spuh, hoo t-] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun Slang.
1. unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall.
2. audacity; nerve.
[Origin: 1890–95; < Yiddish khutspa < Aram ḥūṣpā ]

The classic example of chutzpa is the man who killed both his parents then asked the court for leniency because he was an orphan.

Hamas, after shelling, or allowing the shelling, or encouraging the shelling, of over a hundred Qassam rockets into southern Israel, yelled for international intervention once Israel began retaliating following months of the army sitting on their hands while towns like Sderot were bombed.

This was classic Chutzpa by Hamas. It is a ploy they’ve used many times in the past. It’s part of their playbook. Do the dirty to Israel and the Jews, then once Israel starts hitting back, turn to the International Community for protection.

No one cares much about Hamas bombing Israeli towns with Qassam rockets. After all, they’re little buggers, can’t kill more than a few people at a time. Sort of like an overgrown hand grenade attached to a pipe filled with gunpowder and aimed in a general direction of “over there.”

At one point during the War in Lebanon, when Hamas was lobbing rockets over by the score on a daily basis, they defended their actions by saying that no one was really getting hurt; at least not compared to the damage an Israeli helicopter firing really accurate and powerful missiles was hurt.

How can a few guys hauling these airborne pipe-bombs threaten a big slob of a country like Israel? How can a Qassam, made in some metal shop with money from who knows where, compare to a F-16 jet fighter dropping half-ton bombs?
How can a guy with a Kalatchnikov automatic rifle be put in the same class as four Israeli soldiers in an advanced Merkava IV tank. (We’ll put aside for the moment that a Russian developed WWII weapon called the RPG for Rocket Propelled Grenade, succeeds in disabling these steel monsters with uncanny success.)

The trick is to get the public at large to make the comparison between the Tank and the lone fighter with the gun; between the pipe bomb on wings and the Apache helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles.

The tactics are to play to the press, not to beat the Israeli army. The Hamas taunting of Israel is meant to garner public sympathy for the Palestinian cause. It is meant to keep Hamas and their people in the news, near page one, or the opening headlines of the TV news.

Haniyeh, the Hamas chieftain, said on Monday that he would not stop fighting Israel until Hamas had recaptured all of Israel’s land. Actually, he said all of Palestine, but they are, in Hamas’ mind, one in the same.

Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet morning news show ran an interview with a nice lady, a professor who has been studying Moslem suicide bombers for a decade. She told the interviewer that she’d asked Haniyeh’s wife if the young Haniyeh would be a suicide bomber. Mrs Hamas chieftain replied that her son was too busy at University studying for exams, but that she whole-heartedly supported those who became ‘shaidiem’, or martyrs. In other words, said the good professor, suicide bombing is good, as long as it isn’t the Prime Minister’s own children.

This exchange was relevant because Hamas is again threatening to use suicide bombers against Israel. Back in 1996 Hamas was sending in saps to blow themselves up on a daily basis. Women are now the preferred weapons of choice because they are not as easily searched by the Israeli troops and more frequently sneak their bombs in through the checkpoint undetected.

Israel has threatened to strike Hamas leaders if such moves are made. In the past Israeli warplanes and helicopters carried out ‘targeted’ attacks against specific Hamas leaders, like Sheik Yassin, and Dr. Rantisi. The death of these men didn’t stop Hamas, but did slow them down a bit. These “assassinations” made the acts themselves distasteful in the minds of most Israelis, left a bad taste in their mouths. The negative press was a byproduct, but one which Hamas used to the fullest.

Chutzpa. Suicide bombers killed hundreds of Israelis, warplanes wiped out two leaders, and it was the Israeli who felt guilty, and the Media who beat up on Israel. Israel is now apparently faced with the same situation again. The fact that Hamas is the legitimate government of the (as yet Stateless) Palestinian people, means that Israel could probably declare war on Hamas, march in with a well-organized campaign, assuming Israel is still capable of such a thing given the block-headedness of the leadership and the fat old stubborn generals.

When a political party, elected by the majority, runs a government, and actively and aggressively attacks a neighboring country, this is the grounds for war. Hamas, the elected government, attacks Israel, verbally and physically, and should be held accountable.

The original sin , an article in the Haaretz on Monday, Danny Rubenstein, the Arab Affairs Correspondent, Danny Rubinstein dissected Hamas’ rise to power, and determined that the mistake was Fatah leader Abu Mazen’s, who was not capable of filling Arafat’s “big shoes.” Abu Mazen, according to the article, agreed to hold general elections, something that Arafat would never have done because he knew he’d lose.

The leaders of the Fatah movement, according to the article, are all in their 70’s and the only thing they care about is keeping their power (and probably the money they can embezzle along the way.) The Palestinian street doesn’t like these guys, and no one can get rid of them. So as a protest the street votes for Hamas, or so the pro-Fatah public relations goes. Should these old corrupt geezers step aside and let the young guard in (men in their fifties already) things might change for the better. Hamas might be unseated.

But meanwhile, Hamas is in power. And they are making de facto war against Israel. And when Israel retaliates, modestly at this stage, what does Hamas do? Call on the Europeans to stop Israel. Yell, and stamp their feet. Chutzpa!

But this is not unusual. Big countries fighting wars all tried to reach their maximum objective before the Peacemakers stepped in. Alliances and axis of power and partnerships are part of the life of any nation. Hamas has found that hollering for help once Israel rises to the bait and attacks, has worked in the past. And will probably work again.

Had Israel done better against Hezbollah last summer, perhaps the army would have had the confidence to simply say, ‘Hamas is making war on us. We’re going to go in, wipe them out, occupy Gaza until Hamas is eradicated, or exiled to Tripoli, as Israel exiled Arafat from Lebanon in 1981, and then see if Gaza can find someone else to run the country.”

But Israel won’t invade. Hamas has only approximately 15,000 men with arms, but Gaza is a teeming cesspool of nearly two million people. Occupying Gaza, again, would be a huge drain, morally, physically, and economically. That’s if Israel is still capable of the task.

Meanwhile, Hamas is yelling for help. Firing twenty rockets a day at Israel, boasting that they’ve succeeded in forcing the evacuation of Sderot. Zeev Shiff, writing in Haaretz, says that Sderot’s evacuation of 5,000 residents is the worst and most humiliating event in Israel’s history since a similar evacuation of another village back in 1948. And Hamas is bragging to the press that. soon the rockets will land in Israel’s southern city of Ashkelon .causing the evacuation of the 100,000 Israelis living there.

And maybe they will. Maybe the rockets will drive out the Israelis. Maybe the key to success is really just well planned Chutzpa after all.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hopeless in Gaza

The New York Times ran a story on Friday by Steven Erlanger reporting Israeli missiles striking Hamas targets in Gaza. The Times reported that the IDF hit Gaza “with eight air strikes on Thursday and early Friday, killing at least seven Palestinians, while five other Palestinians died in factional fighting despite a new cease-fire.”

The Times also reported that “A spokesman for the military wing of Hamas threatened to renew suicide bombings in Israel, but his comments were not confirmed by more senior leaders.”

In all fairness the Times did report that the southern part of Israel had been struck by 14 rockets on Thursday, six landing in the beleaguered town of Sderot. They also report that busloads of Sderot residents were given a “vacation,” in the center of the country at the expense of Israeli-Russian Billionaire Gadmayek.

So what’s the problem? First of all the headline. It makes it seem like that nasty Israelis are up to their old tricks again, picking on those poor Palestinians, assuming the reader knows that Hamas is a radical Islamic organization made up of Palestinians.

It takes a careful reading to understand that Israel has been bombarded by Qasam rockets for nearly two weeks, and hasn’t responded. This latest IDF attack was only after Hamas rockets hit schools and homes. Why shouldn’t Israel respond? Because Israel has jet planes and Hamas doesn’t? Lucky for Israel Hamas is as yet underarmed compared to Israel or imagine what a mess the country would be in.

The analysts claim that the latest flare-up in Gaza is due to factional in-fighting between Hamas and Fatah members. The goal of the Palestinians, according to experts, is to draw Israel into the fray, essentially unifying the two sides in the civil war against Israel their common enemy.

The Times article doesn’t mention that nearly 40 Palestinians have been killed by Palestinians in the last week. Hamas blames Fatah, and Fatah Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahalan. According to some reports Dahalan is out to make order in Gaza, imposing his own militia’s troops on other Fatah factions.

One analyst wrote that Fatah has nearly 70,000 troops under arms, while Hamas has only 15,000. The reason Fatah doesn’t just wipe out Hamas is because of clan loyalties. According to a report published recently in the Israeli press, the only work available for men in Gaza is a militia. The men receive a gun, a uniform, and a small salary in return for loyalty to the militia. Many of these militias are clan based. The overall power of Fatah is thus dependent upon the various militias cooperation. This has not been forthcoming in the latest round of in-fighting.

Egypt, according to pundits, has sat back and allowed Hamas and the different militias to arm themselves with all sorts of weapons. Egypt was given the responsibility of guarding the border with Gaza along the infamous “Philadelphi Route.” But Egypt has done little or nothing to stop the wholesale rearmament of Hamas in Gaza. Smuggler’s tunnels abound along the Philadelphi Route. Of course its not only weapons that is smuggled in, but prostitutes, people, illegal goods, all sorts of stuff. Gaza clans specialize in smuggling, and are in no hurry to allow the tunnels to be closed up. They’d rather fight whoever tries to close them, and they do. Another way to make money is kidnapping. Alan Johnston, the BBC reporter kidnapped a month ago, is reportedly being held for a $5 million ransom. Up until now Palestinian clans have made a fortune at this kidnapping racket, but the price of a hostage kept going up. Now they’ve found no one wants to pay $5 Million, so they’re stuck with the poor BBC reporter.

Hamas believes, according to press reports, that Israel and the US are stoking the flames of the civil war, supplying arms and money to those who are attacking Hamas. This may well be true. Unemployment is rampant in Gaza. Working for a militia is one of the most popular options for a man to bring in some money to the table. Another is being a paid informant for the Israelis. With an average income of about $200 a month, or less, Israel can buy information cheaper than fighting a war. And does, too.

Hamas and Fatah have tried to form some sort of a power-sharing arrangement in Gaza. Hamas won the national election, and is the democratically elected representative body of the Palestinian people. But since Hamas is classified by both the EU and the US as a terrorist organization, no one will have anything to do with Hamas as a political entity.

The result of this is that monies in aid from the US and the EU are not coming in. Gaza is broke. Hamas can’t pay salaries, neither can Fatah, run by the essentially powerless and one hopes well-meaning Mohamed Abas, known also as Abu Mazen. While the West thinks Abu Mazen is a partner for peace, he hasn’t been able to gain enough support among his own people to implement any peace initiatives.

Attempts at power-sharing with Hamas, in order to lend Hamas respectability, have also failed miserably. The civil war is seen by analysts as a way for successors to Abu Mazen to seize control of Fatah, and then take Gaza back from Hamas.

Of course everyone knows that when the money was flowing into Gaza and the West Bank from the EU and the USA and Japan, rather than putting the money into the planned economic restructuring, into factories, and industry that would provide jobs for Gazans, and West Bank Palestinians, Fatah leaders pocketed the money, leaving their people to starve.

Gazans are locked up in their pit, it is true. Access to Israel is limited to only a few thousand with necessary work permits. This may seem cruel and heartless, but suicide bombing has decreased appreciably in Israel since the borders were essentially closed. Fatah, under their late chairman Yassir Arafat, could have built up an economy that would support the Palestinians, but didn’t. Why? Probably, according to experts, because that would have meant that the Palestinians would have started trading goods and services with Israel on a regular basis. A taste of this occurred just after the Camp David Accords, when Arafat and Clinton and Rabin met.

But Rabin was gunned down, and Arafat broke just about every promise he made to Clinton. These same experts say that Arafat saw that prosperity would take the fight out of his people, bring real peace to the region, but leave Israel strong and vibrant. Arafat’s goal was to destroy Israel and Palestinian prosperity would have eliminated that goal.
Arafat’s death wasn’t in vain. Hamas took over when he left off. Hamas has no intention of allowing Palestinians to prosper, live in peace and security. Hamas wants the Palestinians lean and mean and angry because that’s the only way they’ll fight Israel.

So then what is the solution? Launching a full-scale war against Hamas’ 15,000 fighters will bring in the 70,000 Fatah fighters, all united against Israel. The media will have a field day, look at what big bad Israel is doing to the poor Palestinians. Hamas and Fatah are both experts at this media game, witness what happened yesterday when Israeli warplanes finally took some action to stop the daily rocket attacks on Israel. Imagine if a group of Belgium terrorists launched rockets at France; or Mexicans against the USA?

Ah, forget that. Equality doesn’t count in this game. Its all about selling newspapers, pandering to readers who have a stilted view of history, and staying popular with the electorate.

Hamas, like Al Queda and the Taliban, and the Islamic Jihad, and a dozen other militant Islamic fundamentalist groups, are interested in destroying western civilization, which they see as cancer in their midst. Israel is an easy target, an obvious Western Democracy in their own backyard, easy to hit, to taunt, to attempt to destroy. When Iran talks about using nuclear weapons, Israel is the first target they mention. And they aren’t kidding.

So no matter what Israel does in the next few days in Gaza the media will find fault. A massive attack by the IDF will coalesce Palestinian factions currently fighting each other into fighting Israel. Ignoring the daily rocket attacks will mean a loss of Israeli life, property and prestige. This is a real tough nut. Too bad that the current Israeli leadership has already shown it is incompetent, or something might be done that would capture the world’s imagination, like the Six-Day war, or stealing missile boats, or radar stations. But this government is good at stealing publicity and undeserved honor.

There is also talk of a war within the next two months with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Will the Olmert group still be in power to fight that one? From what has been learned so far it wasn’t only Olmert to blame, nor Peres, nor Halutz, but the entire Army culture of neglect and carelessness. The political thought process that assumed that the Palestinians were no longer interested in going to war, that none of Israel’s neighbors was capable of going to war, and as a consequence, Israel needn’t have the latest weapons, the best trained soldiers, or intelligent battle plans, since no one was going to fight anymore.

The powers that be in Israel found out how wrong that thinking was. Not only does Israel have enemies, but they are well-armed, ferocious and itching to fight. Six years have gone by in which the Israeli Army assumed they were no longer going to have to fight. At best, the air force would have to teach any upstart a lesson. But the upstarts taught Israel a lesson. The absorbed the air force’s strikes and kept attacking. And the same idiots who brought you the War in Lebanon II are still around, not just at the very top, but at the next level up, and the one after that. The same arrogant generals and aspiring generals who decided that peace was not around the corner, but here. One wonders if they’ve learned their lesson?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerusalem: Forty Years of Unification

Forty years ago Israeli paratroopers liberated Jerusalem from the Jordanian Army, then part of the Arab Legion. Had Jordan’s ruler, King Hussein, not fallen victim to Arab hyperbole, the Jordanians might still control East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. In truth, this may have solved a lot of Israel’s current problems.

The Egyptian propaganda machine broadcast fantastic reports of how successful the Arab Legion was against the Israeli Army. According to these broadcasts, Egyptian troops were just about to march into Tel Aviv. The truth was, as we all know, the converse.

Egypt was decimated within the first few hours of the war. Their air force was destroyed while still on the ground. The rest of their army was soon to follow suit. However, it wasn’t until day three of the war that Jordan attacked from the East, and Israel counter-attacked, smashing the Jordanian army as well as those of Syria and Lebanon.

The battle for Jerusalem, however, wasn’t simple. The Jordanians were brave and skillful fighters. They did not turn and run. The Jordanian army was dug into fortified positions facing West, towards pre-67 Israel. But the Israeli Army attacked from the East, from the same route travelers had taken from Jaffa to Jerusalem since the time of Jonah and the whale.

Resistance was fierce, but surprise was on Israel’s side. The IDF swept across the roads towards Nebe Samuel a hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem which holds the legendary tomb of the Prophet Samuel. Fighting there took place in the trenches against the fortified Jordanian positions. Once that battle was over the paratroopers raced toward Ammunition Hill, another Jordanian fortification, now part of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramat Eshkol and Maalot Dafna. Hundreds of Israelis died in the fighting.

The now famous push over Ammunition Hill to the Rockefeller Museum, and the Lion’s Gate on the old city of Jerusalem’s East side, have been well documented. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place. And then came the famous IDF announcement “The old city is in our hands,” sent shivers of joy down many spines. Jerusalem’s Western Wall was in Jewish hands for the first time in 2,000 years.

It was then the mistakes began. Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defense, forbade Jewish worshipers from going onto the Temple Mount, essentially ceding it to the Moslems. He thought this would be a gesture of Peace. In fact it became a gesture of weakness. No Jews could claim a part of the Temple Mount as theirs since they were forbidden to go there.

As the years wore on the Moslem Wakf religious authority took it as a given that the Temple Mount was Moslem. Had Dayan allowed a synagogue on the Temple Mount in ’67 Israel would today have a thriving community praying there, and have a de facto claim to the area. As it is, with no Jewish presence there, the Temple Mount is one of those areas up for discussion in the “final stages” of the peace talks, should they ever continue.

Yesterday forty National Religious Party Rabbis went up to the Temple Mount to pray. Suddenly the Israeli government realizes that some claim must be laid to the Temple Mount or it will be another 2,000 years before Israel has possession of it’s holiest site.
When Ehud Barak was Prime Minister he tried to give back the Temple Mount to Yassir Arafat, who had received all claims to the West Bank and E. Jerusalem from King Hussein.

Arafat, in the famous meeting, turned Barak down. Then President Bill Clinton was amazed. He thought he’d solved he Middle East’s Israeli-Palestinian problem once and for all. He never forgave Arafat, and the Israeli public never really forgave Barak. A recent poll showed that nearly 70 per cent of the Israeli public wanted to keep Jerusalem as it is.

The problem is that nearly one-third of Jerusalem is Arab. Pundits say that by 2020 40 percent of Jerusalem will be Arab. An Arab mayor is a distinct possibility. The politicians on Israel’s left believe that only by giving up E. Jerusalem can Israel manage to hold onto even West Jerusalem. The right-wing parties vehemently disagree.

Final Status negotiations over Jerusalem are expected to be the most bitter. A hint of this was seen when then Palestinian Chairman Arafat turning down Barak’s generous offer. It has been said in the past that while President Clinton was surprised, the Palestinians weren’t. One veteran Arab journalist said that Arafat knew Barak could never deliver E. Jerusalem that the Israeli public wouldn’t have allowed it. Moreover, had Arafat agreed, he would have been assassinated by his own people.

The separation fence going up essentially along the old pre-67 border has made it difficult for Arabs to get into Jerusalem, to work, to visit family, go to the doctor, or hospital; or simply make a trip shorter by not having to circumvent Jerusalem by driving hours down to Jericho and then back up to the West Bank, or Ramallah if one takes the reverse course.

Today Arab workers from up and down the west bank have found that there are still sections of the separation fence that haven’t been completed, or are tied up in court. These are the sections that the workers seep through every morning, hiding out in the Jerusalem forest while scouts go on ahead, calling by mobile phone, telling the pack to come ahead.

Sometimes the Border Police have a trap waiting, but mostly the overhead helicopter announces the Police’s intention. Jerusalemites walking in the forest these days are concerned for their safety. A pack of thirty or forty Arab workers suddenly appearing on a dirt path in the forest causes even the bravest pause.

Soon the wall will be completed, all the court cases resolved, and Jerusalem will have a new wall around it, wider, broader, grander than those during the First or Second Temples. And earthly Jerusalem will be circumscribed by cement rising ten meters in the sky, or cyclone fencing with sensors and barbed wire.
But what really does this all say for Jerusalem?

Most Israelis eschew visiting, and wouldn’t think of living in Jerusalem. Young people are leaving, so are the non-religious. In many ways, Jerusalem is not really a part of Israel, but rather an island of thought and belief. An island where dress codes are more conservative, behavior more radical religiously, and where, as the Talmud says, when a pin drops the echo is heard around the world.

Jerusalem is the Holy Place of the Jewish people. It is not the Mecca of the Moslems, or the Rome of the Christians. The Jewish People have no other place to direct their prayers; to believe that God’s house has been built there, that a Holy Presence exists there.

Jerusalem is different. Time is different in Jerusalem. The air is different in Jerusalem. The light is different in Jerusalem. Why? Is it only perception? Is the “Jerusalem Syndrome” self-fulfilling?

Perhaps Jerusalem should really be made an international city, as some suggest. But is the world really interested in the Jewish people’s claim to Jerusalem? Is the city as important to others as to the Jewish people? One has to assume that from a religious perspective the answer is clearly no. No other people have their history tied to Jerusalem like the Jewish people. No other people have a Bible that is based in Jerusalem. No other people consider Jerusalem the center of the universe.

But had King Hussein realized that Arab hyperbole had misrepresented their success, grossly exaggerated their victory, the Jewish people would still be standing on a hilltop, like Mt. Zion, looking down with yearning at the Holy City. But he didn’t understand the lies, and lost Jerusalem, and the west bank.

The current Arab governments are also concerned about the fate of Jerusalem, not because they have a religious commitment to Jerusalem (Jerusalem is a distant third in importance in Islam, and Rome and Bethlehem more important to the Christians), but because Jerusalem has become a political symbol. The capitol of the nation of the Jewish people. Should the Arabs control it, the capitol shifts to them, and the Jewish people are back without their center of the universe, cast adrift, floating in space like a satellite which has lost contact with its base station.

Today, on the fortieth anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, Peace is no closer than it ever was, and Jerusalem is no more secure than it has ever been. Even during the 1,000 years that the Jewish people lived in Jerusalem, from King David until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., Jerusalem was never really secure. It was always being invaded, pillaged, plundered. Jerusalem was always a point of contention. Jerusalem was always different. Mysterious. Special.

In that respect, nothing much has changed in 3,000 years.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Black Prince

A program provided by Answers.Com pops up when the computer starts up, if you’ve selected that as an option. It’s a cute little information provider. The program is broken up into three tabs. The first is a lead tidbit, the second is On This Day, or something like that, listing famous people who were born on that day, and the third is In The News, a short selection of unusual news events.

May 3, 2007’s Answers.Com’s lead section was on Niccolo Machiavelli, born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. Machiavelli was the diplomat and political advisor who wrote The Black Prince. Machiavelli thought that a politician must be ruthless, and filled to the brim with self-interest.

While reading this little ditty the parallels to Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert come to mind. As a cunning politician he has no equal, unless it is his vice-Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

The failed palace revolt staged yesterday by Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni was not fully explained in the press. One of Livni’s advisors told her that a majority of the Kadima party would side with her if she called for PM Olmert’s resignation, appointing her to replace him. She indeed called for Olmert to resign, but the majority of Kadima party members who were to support her evaporated.

One of Israel Radio’s Reshet bet commentators said, “The rats decided to stay on the ship.”

Somehow Prime Minister Olmert, the consummate politician, managed to get to the Kadima members and convince them not to support a call for his resignation. Rather, Minister of Security Avi Dichter came out with a statement supporting Olmert. So did Minister without Portfolio Meir Shitrit.

Foreign Minister Livni was forced to show suitable remorse. Olmert said he wouldn’t call for her resignation at this time.

The media had a field day, shifting their focus from Olmert and the Winograd Commission’s harsh criticism of him, Defense Minister Peretz, and ex-Chief of Staff Halutz, to Livni. She was hung out to dry.

Opposition spokespersons joined in the mêlée. The Likud Party’s former Foreign Minister Shalom Sivan asked, during a radio interview, how Livni could continue in the government, representing Israel to the world when she didn’t have faith in the Prime Minister who was running the country.

Likud Party leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu laid into PM Olmert on the podium of the Knesset today. As expected Netanyahu called on Olmert to resign. He said that the country should go to the polls to elect a new leader.

Netanyahu thought it strange that Olmert would consider staying on to “implement suggestions of the Winograd Commission,” when the Winograd commission found that Olmert was the one responsible for the snafu in the first place.

But the “street” in Israel is in no hurry to see Olmert leave his keys on the Prime Minister’s desk, and go home for good. “What? You’d rather have Barak? Netanyahu?” an old timer told an Israel Television Channel 10 reporter through the window of a bus during the unreliable but popular man-in-the-street interviews.

The freakiness of the Prime Minister staying in office after the lambasting he took in the Winograd Commission has become the focus of much discussion in Israel. One pundit claimed that while some of Olmert’s opponents were watching the popularity polls, which showed Olmert with between a 0 per cent to 3 per cent rating, Olmert was busy cementing his support in Kadima to withstand the attempt by Tzippi Livni to get his job.
Sure enough, even though no one wants Olmert to stay in the job he managed to persuade enough people in his party to support him over Livni.

Military analysts have said that Olmert should not be in a position to lead Israel in the event of another war. The analysts say that with Syria amassing troops on the northern border, conducting war games on a scale that hasn’t been seen since 1973 on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, Olmert poses a great risk to Israel.

But he doesn’t agree, or seem to care. He has weathered the storm of this attempt to unseat him. He plans to remain in power for at least a few more months. Knowing the way Olmert skillfully handles his own supporters, and seems to neutralize his opponents with great aplomb; one can even imagine a scenario where Olmert is in power until the end of his term in Jan 2010. After all, no one seems capable of outsmarting him.

But like Shimon Peres, the 83-year old elder statesman, who could pull political rabbits out of all sorts of hats, so much so that hardly anyone in Israel really trusted him since no one ever knew what he was really up to, Olmert seems to have sat at Peres’ feet long enough to learn a number of lessons in political survival.

The big question is, though, if Olmert’s survival and the survival of Israel are one in the same? What seems increasingly clear is that Olmert can survive Israel, but it is not as clear that Israel can survive Olmert.

Saul Olinsky, a great labor organizer during the 1930’s in Chicago once said that the essence of any choice is in its alternatives.

The problem in Israel today is that none of the alternatives to Olmert seem that much better. Netanyahu is the guy people love to hate, and Ehud Barak of the goofy smile has yet to prove he can do a better job next time he is Prime Minister than he did the last time.

Most of all, with the culture of corruption, patronage, arrogance, and ruling class versus the unwashed masses mentality, no one has really stepped up to offer a solution to the problems endemic in Israeli politics. Problems that have pretty much become so imbedded in the culture that they are hard to get out. The unfortunate analogy is a Cancer cell that is replicating. The tendrils so intertwined in the healthy cells that even surgery isn’t feasible.

Israel is one of the leaders in finding cures for various types of cancer. Perhaps some genius will find a way to cure this strain as well.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Dangerous Leadership, Winnograd Interim Report

The Winograd commission’s interim report was harshly critical of Israel’s former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, currently taking a course at Harvard University. The report said, essentially, that Halutz mislead Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister, while ignoring advice from subordinates that launching a war was a mistake. Halutz also kept these dissenting opinions from Olmert and Peretz.

The commission criticized Olmert for rushing his poorly trained and ill-prepared army into war. They further criticized him for not consulting with other sources other than Halutz. The commission stated that had three other men been at the helm, rather than Olmert, Peretz and Halutz, the outcome of the war would have been different.

So far, amid calls in the press and among opposition politicians for his resignation, Olmert is hanging tough, refusing to resign. The Labor Party’s Cabinet Minister Eytan Cabel resigned today in protest over Olmert’s leadership, saying he could no longer serve in the government. Some analysts predict that this could cause a “domino” effect” with other Labor party members quitting the government, causing the coalition to collapse.

Political pundits on Israel Radio predicted that Olmert’s government would last no more than another week, with new elections by the end of the summer 2007.

Zeev Shiff, the dean of military correspondents in Israel, wrote in today’s Haaretz newspaper that Olmert and Peretz must resign, since they can not be allowed to lead Israel should another war break out.

Kadima party members Shitrit and Dichter however voiced support for Olmert. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit backed Olmert on Tuesday, even as senior Kadima officials - including government ministers - said Monday they would call on Olmert to resign.

Coalition Chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki spoke Tuesday with several Kadima MKs. and discussed the need to immediately replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in the wake of the Winograd Committee's report on the government's failures during the Second Lebanon War.__

According to the Haaretz newspaper, Yitzhaki designated Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as the preferred heir to Olmert. Yitzhaki said this move was coordinated with Livni. Yithaki proposed forming a group of MKs that will approach the prime minister together in order to ask his to resign.

Another rival to Olmert is Kadima party Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz. But according to the Israeli media, Mofaz was the former Chief-of-Staff and then Defense Minister under Ariel Sharon, and as such responsible for six-years of neglect of the Israeli army, including ignoring the clear build-up of Hezbollah forces on the border.

According to Israel Radio PM Olmert no longer trusts Foreign Minister Livni, who he fears is trying to replace him. Knesset Member Zeev Boim, speaking on Israel Radio, thought that Olmert should resign and be replaced by a “rotation” of Prime Ministers from the leading parties in the coalition.

The Labor Party leadership is also striving to distance itself from party chairman Defense Minister Peretz. Former PM Ehud Barak, who carries his own heavy baggage, since he was responsible for the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, wants to replace Peretz. So does former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon. Professor Avishai Braverman, who also has top leadership ambitions, today also called on Olmert to resign

The Likud party is burdened with the leadership of former Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, who is considered arrogant and aloof by the Israeli public.

The commission was also critical of past governments, saying that both the military and the political leadership had mistakenly decided that Israel no longer had to be prepared for war, that those days were past. Any politician or military leader who served during the period leading up to the War in Lebanon II was to blame for the failure of the army, the kidnapping of the three soldiers, and the loss of Israeli lives.

A protest rally is scheduled for Thursday night to pressure Olmert to step down.