Wednesday, December 31, 2008

War With Hamas: Day 5

The Israeli cabinet rejected a French initiated 48-hour ceasefire as Grad rockets with a range of nearly 25-miles have hit as far as Beer Sheva, a city of about 250,000, as the fighting between Israel and Hamas entered it’s fifth day. Hamas fired over 60 rockets at Israel during the day. Israeli warplanes continued bombing Gaza, including a Mosque that Israeli intelligence said served as a warehouse for weapons and shelter for Hamas fighters.

Four Israelis have been killed and scores injured since the fighting began. On Wednesday a Grad rocket killed a 34-year old mother of four. Over fifty people were treated for shock caused by the blast of rockets. Some Israeli towns like Ofakim and cities like Beer Sheva were hit by rockets for the first time in their history. On the Gaza side over 390 have been reported killed, 220 Hamas fighters.

Israel’s Homeland Security has issued a prohibition on public gatherings in Beer Sheva, closed schools for a 40-kilometer radius from the Gaza border, including Beer Sheva’s University of the Negev.

Hamas has remained belligerent, threatening Israeli leaders with assassination, and Israel’s population with rockets that can hit even further than Beer Sheva. The Israeli military is reportedly concerned about Iranian supplied 120 mm rounds that can wreck havoc among Israel’s troops gathered at the border. One Israeli soldier was killed yesterday at an army staging point near Nahal Oz by such weapons. Analysts say Hamas possesses a few dozen long-range rockets, a few hundred medium-range rockets and thousands of short-range Qassams.

Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, said that Hamas has been hit like never before. According to Diskin the Hamas stockpile of weapons has been reduced by one-third, to 2,000 rockets, He said Hamas leaders are hiding in Gaza hospitals dressed as doctors and medics, or in mosques. Weapons have also been stockpiled in these two types of institutions.

The Israeli air force continues its strikes against Hamas targets, although less sorties are flown than in the past. This is part in due to inclement weather, with Gaza and much of Israel socked in with rain, clouds, and fog, and partly due to the success of the air force in reaching most of their assigned targets set out at the start of the operation.

The air force has also struck over sixty smuggling tunnels near the Egyptian border. One tunnel erupted in flames when the fuel stored there exploded. Reportedly Hamas is attempting to rebuild some of the tunnels as quickly as possible in order to smuggle Hamas leaders out of Gaza prior to the expected Israeli ground attack.

Israel’s Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has taken a much lower profile than his predecessor Dan Halutz, who managed the army during the unsuccessful War in Lebanon II. Neither Ashkenazi nor his subordinates have appeared on television. In the War on Lebanon II Halutz and his subordinates, as well as Israeli politicians, made frequent appearance on television giving a near play-by-play account of the attacks and battles.

Military analysts say this more demure approach, which the analysts refer to as “Tsinua” or modest, is in sharp contrast to leaders’ behavior in the previous war.

The arguments between the politicians have begun, however. Ehud Barak was reportedly in favor of the 48-hour cease-fire for a variety of reasons, one of which was the inclement weather that in any case would postpone a ground incursion into Gaza. The other was that this would position Barak, as leader of the liberal Labor party, as a humanitarian, and the last of which would put him on a different footing than his Kadima opponents in the upcoming general elections.

Barak was criticized in the Israeli press for playing politics in a time of war. Chief-of-staff Gabi Ashkenazi was reportedly adamantly against the cease-fire, as were Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak has issued a call for an additional 2,500 reserve soldiers to compliment the 6,700 already called up. The justification for the ground forces is debated by politicians and military analysts, mostly former generals. The mixed signals issued by Barak, on the one hand starting the air attack, and on the other talking about a cease-fire, have been pointed out as similar to the events of the War in Lebanon II when many in the military and the government disagreed with each other on what to do.

Those in favor of a ground attack say that only in this way can the army confront Hamas, and destroy the infrastructure. Others say that over the last five days most of the Hamas government buildings have been destroyed, and the office of Prime Minister Hanniyeh has been bombed twice.

Still others say that just as in the War in Lebanon, without a ground offensive, the air strikes will only cause Hamas temporary inconvenience. They point out that 20,000 Hamas fighters, if one counts the few thousand Islamic Jihad among them, are still on the ground in Gaza.

One pundit speculated that the real reason for the ground offensive would be to drive Hamas out of Gaza, or so effectively weaken it, that PA president Mohammed Abbas would be installed as head of the Palestinians with his headquarters in Gaza.
Abbas, according to this scenario, would effectively replace Hanniyeh, who was elected to the post.

Demonstrations against the invasion have continued across Israel, at the universities and on the West Bank. In the US a large demonstration was held in Detroit, home to the largest concentration of Moslems in the USA. Similar demonstrations were also held in London, home to another large Moslem population.

Iran has called on the Arab League to rise up and take action against Israel. Egypt, meanwhile, has continued to lay the blame on Hamas. Analysts say that no love is lost between Hamas and Egypt, since Hamas is connected to the Moslem Brotherhood, and Al Quaida, who are always on the move trying to overthrow Egyptian President Hussnei Mubarak.

Hamas keeps pressuring Egypt to open the Rafiah border crossing, and Egypt keeps refusing. One of the reasons, according to military analysts, is that Egypt knows that the Rafiah crossing is used primarily by Hamas to bring in weapons and ammunition. Egypt, they say, is under pressure by the US not to open the crossing.

On Wednesday a yacht carrying relief supplies to Gaza was turned back by the Israeli navy 53 kilometers from the Gaza coastline. The organizers of the relief attempt claim the Israeli navy shot at them. Israel says the boat was politely warned a number of times to turn back, and ignored the warnings. Military analysts say the boat was entering an active war zone where the Israeli navy has restricted movement. By allowing the yacht into Gaza air force and navy actions against would have suffered. The boat finally docked in Cyprus and the organizers held a press conference complaining of Israeli actions.

Israel did however allow over 100 trucks of supplies through the Karni crossing point. This in spite of the on-going Israeli attacks from the air. The Israeli air force continues the attacks while the military sends out messages to Gazans warning them to leave their homes if they’re in a building housing rockets, weapons, or Hamas fighters. The air force drops leaflets, while the military sends SMS and recorded telephone messages to the residents.

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah has joined the chorus of Arab voices against Israeli actions. Nasrallah went so far as to call for an uprising in Egypt. Hussnei Mubarak responded that if Nasrallah kept up the verbal insults soon he’d be facing the Egyptian army.

Still analysts say that Egypt is under pressure to step in and resolve the conflict. These analysts point out that Iran is competing for the role of leader of the Arab world, a role currently held by Egypt. Since Iranian ambitions for leadership were thwarted, at least temporarily, by the slow-down in its nuclear development program, Iran has stepped up its activities supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Prof. Ranan Cohen, former Labor party cabinet minister, has a program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet co-hosted with an Israeli Arab woman. Last night he started off his program by wondering aloud why the Israeli Arabs had taken to the streets, hurling rocks, Molotov cocktails and death epithets at Israelis all because Israel had decided to finally strike back at Hamas, who anyway brought on the attacks by breaking the long-standing ceasefire with Israel. “Where were these people when Sderot and the Negev were being bombed, for the last eight years?”

A yellow post-it at the Israel Government Press Office said that since 2001 Hamas has fired over 10,000 rockets into Israel. Many Israelis interviewed said the time was long overdue for Israel to strike back.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

War With Hamas: Day 4

A kindergarten in Beer Sheva was hit by a Grad rocket Tuesday evening, causing light damage from the blast but not shrapnel. Channel 2’s reporter on the scene spoke to the kindergarten teacher who came to check to damage. She thanked God that the rocket didn’t hit in the morning when the building was filled with children. About ten pm two Grad rockets fell in a playground in Ashkelon lightly injuring one man. In all forty rockets fell on Israel today, reaching from Sderot near the Gaza border, as far as Beer Sheva nearly 25 miles away.

In Arad another man was injured. A rocket plowed into the dining hall of a kibbutz, and another hit a barn. Schools were closed as far as Yavne and Gadera. Matan Vilnai, deputy Defense minister told Israel Television’s channel 2 that they began the operation, “Hamas suffered heavily, with many killed, and Israel must continue the operation. This is not Hezbollah, he said. They are alone, they don’t work in concert. We have to continue until we finish this operation.”

When asked about the rockets hitting as far as Beer Sheva, he said, “The object was to clean the area of Hamas. We have just begun. The idea of this was to change the complexion of life in the Negev (from absorbing rocket fire to living in quiet). We knew that Hamas could fire rockets a distance, and they did. Every day that passes they’ll grow weaker. We have only passed four and a half days. Give it some time.”

When asked if his position on continuing the attacks was accepted by the cabinet, Vilnai laughed and avoided the answer.

Rumors flew around today that Israel was preparing a 48-hour ceasefire. A split apparently was forming between those who wanted to continue and even expand the attack and those who wanted to take the success accomplished so far, and call a cease-fire.

Some reported that the French Prime Minister Sarkozy has announced that he will come to Jerusalem on Monday in order to broker a cease-fire. This French move puts pressure on the Israeli government to begin to think of an exit strategy.

Many Israeli reserve Generals interviewed by the media said they saw no advantage to a ground operation since the Israeli air force was achieving such meaningful results without putting any Israeli fighters at risk.

According to military analysts Hamas has no anti-aircraft weapons, except some that date back forty or fifty years. This gives Israel a free hand in the air. The only wrinkle was the weather. Today in Israel the skies were overcast with frequent rain. The ground was muddy, and analysts said not conducive to a ground operation.

Over a hundred tanks, with supporting troops, commandos and paratroopers, are waiting at the border for orders to go into Gaza.

Channel 2’s Udi Segal reported that the meeting between the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister, as well as the heads of Miliary Inteligence and the Shabak, that if Israel does go into Gaza it won’t be one simple attack, but a number of different tactics. The discussion was expected to continue into the night, with a conclusion ready to present to the full cabinet on Wednesday.

Segal reported that Barak was in favor of a 48-hour humanitarian cease-fire, with the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister against it.

The longer the operation goes on the more voices will be raised for or against the action. Demonstrations against the IDF’s operation in Gaza broke out in the West Bank and among Arab neighborhoods in Israel. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a car in Wadi Ara, a main traffic artery from Israel’s coastline to the lower Galilee.

TV reports said that the city of Ashdod, with a population of 250,000, had streets as empty as Yom Kippur. The cities 40,000 students were told not to go to school tomorrow.

Israel continued the air attacks, including striking a series of tunnels along the Rafiah crossing. Analysts say that hundreds of tunnels snake beneath the sand from Egypt into Gaza. These tunnels provide pipelines for weapons and ammunition. So far Israel has struck only a fraction of them. A report in today’s newspapers said that Israel has so far destroyed about a third of the Hamas stockpile.

Israel TV reports that Hamas has prepared suicide bombers to meet the IDF ground forces should they cross into Gaza. One soldier was killed on the Israeli side of the border yesterday when a rocket fired from Gaza fell in the midst of the gathered troops.

Israelis have a hard time accepting the fact that the rockets can reach into Israel’s heartland. Residents of Sderot, with a population of about 15,000, say the rest of the country can now understand how they’ve felt for the last eight years. As long as Sderot was the sponge absorbing Hamas rockets nothing was done, they say, but now with rockets falling in Beer Sheva they’re certain Israel will do what is necessary to stop the attacks. As of now over 500,000 Israelis are now within range of Hamas rockets.

Military analysts say, however, that Hamas has not responded as strongly as they expected. When the operation began, Military experts said they expected as many as 200 rockets a day. So far the number is closer to 50. The experts said that this shows the serious effect Israel is having in Hamas. Some experts say that Hamas may get traction in the next few days, shake off the “shock and awe” of the constant bombing, and start firing. Others say that this won’t happen.

A Hamas rocket team that fired into Beer Sheva today was caught in the cross-hairs of an air force weapon and destroyed. Yesterday video showed a Hamas group loading a truck with Grad missiles, only to have Israeli missiles destroy twelve of them, live, on camera.

However Ronni Daniel, a former army officer and Military analyst for Israel’s Channel 2, said that Hamas can continue firing for the next three or four weeks. Even if there is a cease-fire he wondered aloud how long quiet would last in the Negev. Daniel hinted that the ground invasion was just a matter of time, because only the house to house tactics, meeting Hamas in their bases, and lairs, would have a significant effect. So far only a fraction of the 20,000 Hamas and Islamic fighters have been killed or injured.

Israel’s Chief-of-Staff Ashkenazi was quoted as saying that “difficult times await us.”

Israel’s President Shimon Peres told the media that the Hamas action defies logic. Left-wing writer Amos Oz told the Haaretz newspaper that Hamas was responsible for what it was receiving.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Cast Lead" Day 3: War With Hamas

One man was killed and fourteen injured when a Grad rocket plowed into a building site in Ashkelon, an Israeli coastal city with 105,000 residents. Other Grad rockets also fell in Ashdod, population 250,000, killing one woman and injuring four. Qassam rockets fell in various parts of the Negev. One man was killed. Many rockets fell in Sderot, but caused no injuries. Over all 70 rockets fell in Israel during the day. Early Tuesday morning a rocket fell in an army encampment killing an Israeli soldier.

The murdered man in Ashkelon, a 27-year old Israeli Arab from near Dimona, was killed when the rocket exploded in the building site where he worked.

The Israel air force continued the attacks on Gaza, striking over one hundred targets, including the Islam University, the Ministry of the Interior, Prime Minister Hanniyah’s office building, warehouses of missiles, and other targets. News reports said that the university was a repository for weapons, missiles, and ammunition. According to Channel 2 TV news Israel has sources on the ground that inform the air force of any Hamas terrorists moving around by truck, car, or motorcycle, that become targets of the air force. Jiahd Abu Ter, a senior Hamas leader, was killed in one of the attacks. Overnight Israel continued the air strikes, taking down three Hamas government buildings.

Israel Television's news reports from Channel 1, 2 & 10 all report that Israel has started sending out recorded messages to mobile phones in Gaza warning residents a few minutes before an air force strike, allowing them to flee the building before the air strikes.

According to Israel Television’s Channel 2, more than 50 per cent of the rockets in Hamas’ possession have been destroyed. Israel's ground forces and hundreds of tanks have gathered outside Gaza awaiting orders to attack. Hamas has nearl 20,000 fighters awaiting the ground attack. Israel military sources say if Israel invades it will be no "picnic" with IDF soldiers loss of life and injuries expected.

Israel’s television broadcasts show constant coverage, close-up through the Al Jazeera TV station, and farther away by Israel TV cameras on rooftops across the border. All broadcasts show the occasional plume of smoke rising a hundred feet in the air.

Demonstrations against Israel’s action were held in universities in Israel. Arab and Jewish students in Haifa faced off as one group demonstrated against the attacks and the other in favor. Similar scenes were observed at both Tel Aviv University, where three hundred Arab and Jewish students demonstrated against the attacks, while other Jewish students demonstrated against the demonstrators. Three Jewish students were arrested demonstrating along with the Arabs.A similar demonstration took place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In Modiin Elite a dispute between an Arab construction worker and his employer turned violent, with the worker stabbing the contractor and then four other people in the area.

On Sunday night Highway 65 the road along Wadi Ara in the north of Israel only a few kilometers from the coastal town of Hadara, was the scene of violent protests by Israeli Arabs, who threw stones at the Israeli police, and shouted “Death to Jews.” Other demonstrations took place in Nazareth and E. Jerusalem.

A large Hezbollah organized demonstration took place in Beirut. Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah, speaking from a secure underground location, implored Arab countries to come to the aid of the Palestinians in Gaza. Another large demonstration against the Israeli action took place in Cairo. Other demonstrations against the attacks took place in London and Chicago.

Ehud Yaari, Arab affairs reporter for Israel Televisions Channel 2, said that Israel’s time is running out for this operation. According to Yaari it is only a question of time before the pressure on Egypt and Jordan force those Arab countries to pressure Israel to a cease-fire. Yaari said that Israel would not have thirty days to fight as they did in Lebanon in 2006. Yaari said that the window of opportunity is very limited. He mentioned the Christmas to New Year holiday in Europe and the USA as a time frame, assuming the pressure from Europe on Israel would begin after the New Year holiday.

Yaari, translated, then summed up a long speech by Nasrallah. According to Yaari, Nasrallah said that the increase in firing of rockets from Hamas proved that Hamas was reacting as Hezbollah did in 2006. He knows that the air force cannot get results alone and needs ground troops. That, according to Nasrallah, will be the downfall of the Israeli attack. Nasrallah called on Egypt to influence Israel to stop the fighting and open up the Rafiah crossing. Yesterday Nasrallah called on the overthrow of Egyptian leader Hussnei Mubarak for complicity in the attacks on Hamas.

So far approximately 350 Gazans have been killed so far, according to doctors in the Gaza hospitals. They doctors said it was hard to determine the exact number since some bodies were still scattered around the hospital grounds. Approximately 1,500 have been wounded.

According to the Jerusalem Post Israel is using small smart bombs recently acquired by the US. The bombs are about 1.5 meters in length and carry a warhead capable of penetrating up to 90 cm of cement. These bombs are small and light and powerful, and allow one jet fighter to carry a large number for a single sortie. The smart bombs are also extremely accurate, allowing Israel to bomb a building within a crowded neighborhood. The smart bombs were also used to destroy forty tunnels along the Philadelphi route.

Collateral damage is also unavoidable, according to the IDF. So far nearly 60 civilians have been killed including women and children.

Arabs sources in Gaza report that the city is in a panic, with the constant pounding by Israel’s bombing. Food is in short supply and electricity and fuel are scarce. Hamas for it’s part has been broadcasting commercials, replete with a skull not seen since the Nazi SS propaganda, calling on all Arabs to kill Israelis. In the video clips, broadcast on Al Jazeera TV, Hamas says it will never surrender no matter how much Israel attacks.

Israel’s Homeland Security ordered the closure of all kindergartens and schools within a 20 km radius of the Gaza border. The closure of all business was also ordered, including the mall in Ashkelon. Residents were warned to stay home, or near a security room or bomb shelter.

Yuli Tamir, Israel’s Minister of Education, speaking on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, said this morning that the closure of the schools will continue on a day-to-day basis.

The skies over the area, from Haifa to Gaza, were cloudy with occasional rain, obscuring the Israel air force’s view of the ground. This, according to military sources, has allowed Hamas to more freely attack Israeli targets. However the firing has to be hurried, and consequently inaccurate.

Israel’s hotels and restaurants in the center and north of the country have begun to offer free room and board to those Israelis under fire in the south.

One of the messages repeated over and over by Israeli reporters is the difference between the “Cast Lead” operation and the War in Lebanon II. According to reports, this operation was in the works for months, perhaps a year one source says. It was carefully planned, with intelligence gathered all along until targets were clearly defined. Also, in contrast to the 2006 operation, the army was well-trained, well-equipped, and in general well-prepared for the action.

The Haaretz newspaper reported on the continuing conflict between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. According to one camp, Olmert was the one behind the preparations and execution, according to the other Olmert was ill prepared, impulsive, and impatient, and it was Barak who held back until the time was right for the attack.

Political considerations were also tossed around as part of the attacks. Some commentators accused Barak of launching the attacks to better his position in the upcoming elections. Others say that this is a cynical use of political rivals to besmirch his name. One group, unnamed, approached the court to postpone the upcoming elections, to be held in February, because of the war. A postponement would most benefit Olmert, who would stay in power until the new date for elections.

Head of Homeland Security, Aluf Mishne (Colonel) Yaron Barde appeared on Israel Television and advised residents of the time from a siren until the rocket’s arrival, and how to behave accordingly. Col. Barde said within a 4- 10 km distance from the Gaza border, residents should be no more than seconds from a shelter 10 –20 thirty seconds, 30-40 km a minute, according to General Beer Sheva has been warned to stay aware, and realize that they have one –minute from the sound of the siren until the rocket’s landing. Colonel Barde said schools have undergone exercises on how to get to the nearest bomb shelter and quickly and quietly go there.

What is the radius to protect, he said, was the most pressing issue. The distance to the nearest shelter has to be measured according to the time from the siren until the rocket’s arrival. He said that in many instances it is preferable to stay at home rather than risk running outside to a bomb shelter.

According to Channel 2’s military reporter Hamas has not been hit at the core of it’s military leadership. He also said that a tunnel was discovered from Gaza leading into Israel apparently with the intention of bringing weapons or a Hamas group into Israel to carry out a terrorist attack or perhaps a kidnapping of another soldier like Gilad Shalit. This tunnel was destroyed completely. Israel reportedly plans to continue the attacks.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Where Were They When They Were Needed?

Israel has mobilized 6,700 reservists in preparation for a ground invasion of Gaza.
Israeli warplanes continue striking at Hamas targets.
40 tunnels Hamas used to smuggle weapons and explosives into Gaza from Egypt have been destroyed.
Key Hamas security locations have been demolished. Three Hamas leaders have been killed.

Palestinians claim over 270 dead and over 700 wounded.
Military analysts say that Hamas has laid booby-traps along the main routes in Gaza, road-side bombs capable of destroying a tank; foxholes and trenches to be used to fire anti-tank rockets.

Nearly 20,000 fighters await the Israeli invasion, according to press reports. Most of them have been trained by Iranian experts. The same experts who have taught bomb making to Hamas and Hezbollah 'militants.'

But Desmond Tutu said today that Israel's actions bear the hallmark of "war crimes."
The UN has called for a cease-fire of Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Russia has called for a cease-fire.
The UN Security Council has called for an immediate halt to the Gaza violence.

Where were these critics when Hamas snuck into Israel and kidnapped Gilad Shalit?
Where were these critics when Hamas fired nearly 3,000 rockets into Israel in 2008?
Where were these critics over the last eight years, when Hamas sent thousands of rockets into Israel?

What did they think, that the rockets bounced off the ground and fell harmlessly into a hole in a game of deadly marbles?

The longer one lives the more one sees the disproportionate criticism of Israel. Absorbing the missile fire from Gaza was okay, but responding isn't.

One longs to put pictures of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip settlements on the news, reminding people that Israel withdrew unilaterally, in response to the world's criticism that Israel was occupying Arab lands. Critics used this as the excuse for the Hamas violence against Israel. The "militants" were simply trying to drive the occupying forces from their lands. What the critics didn't say, and what Hamas did say, was that leaving Gaza was only the first step. Hamas wanted to drive Israel from all the land, from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ashdod, Kfar Saba, Ranana, Haifa, and all the lands in between. What Hamas didn't say was that they wanted to link up with other radical Islamic forces and take over the region, and then the Western world. Israel, the upstart bunch of Jews, who were second class citizens in the Arab world, were in the way.

Where were the critics then? Israel was lauded for pulling out of Gaza, but that pull out didn't stop Hamas from firing into Israel. Now they had no real excuse, just hatred and maniacal behavior.

The world forgets it was Hamas behind the bombings in Israel. Then they claimed it was because of the occupation. Now, missiles fly into Ashkelon, Ashdod, Kryiat Gat, and for what reason? Retaliation for the air strikes? The missiles were flying in long before those air strikes.

If the UN wanted to be fair, just, open-minded, then they'd send troops into Gaza to get the Hamas and Islamic Jihad fanatics to stop firing into Israeli territory.

Since no one has lifted a finger to help Israel, the IDF has decided to take the matter of Israel's security into their own hands. Blame was expected. The pictures pouring out of Gaza all come from the Palestinian sources, so do the numbers of dead and injured.

Cries go out from the Hamas leadership, shut up underground as was Nasrallah during the ceaseless rocket fire by Hezbollah into Israel in 2006. Hamas leader Hanniyah is calling for the Arab world to come to his defense. Riots have broken out in Arab communities around the world. When the Hamas rockets were falling on Israel, the only dissent Jewish supporters of Israel made were in letters to the editor.

Sixty five years ago the Nazis decided to end the Jewish question once and for all. In 1942 the German army was soundly defeated in Stalingrad, due mainly to the orders issued by Adolph Hitler to his generals. A crazy man leading a nation. What more could have been expected than to lose the war and disgrace the country? But people followed him. His skill lay in his rhetorical skills and his monumental ego. He was a super-salesman, selling not cars or soap, but glory and hate.

Hamas in the form of Hanniyah in Gaza and Halid Mashal in Damascus is no better than the Nazi party. They preach glory, dying for Allah and going to heaven, and hatred of the infidel.

When the Jews were dying in the camps, burned and shot and gassed in the millions, no one came in to help. No rail lines were bombed. No concentration camps were bombed. No gas chambers were destroyed. It took the Allies six years to liberate the camps, and then they were not a target but simply something along the way to Berlin or Munich. The Jews died while the world was occupied with other matters.

As Hillel wrote: "If I am not for me, who is? If not now, when?"

Today Israel is for itself.

Some do take a different tack.
The USA has rightly said that Hamas brought on the attacks themselves. Israel is
merely responding. President Elect Barak Obama is on vacation in Hawaii, and hasn't
yet made a statement on the issue. Luckily for him there was a power outage where
he was staying. Lucky or convenient?
Australia has said that Hamas broke the truce and Israel has responded.
Egypt has said that the Hamas attacks brought on this response.
The Palestinian authority has said much the same thing but will have to back track
in the face of Arab pressure. PA President Abbas was conveniently out of the country when the attacks occurred, but he cannot avoid facing his own people sooner or later.

Israel knows the window of opportunity for this response is limited. Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has said the operation might last months, but observers doubt Israel will be allowed by the UN and others to act indefinitely. At best pundits believe Israel will be in a stronger position to ask for favorable terms in the event of a new ceasefire. At worse, the situation could spin out of control, due to some as yet unforeseen element that might arise in the heat of battle, emerge from the fog of war.

Meanwhile, it would be nice if those needed would stand up and say, 'Hey, these guys are terrorists. They deserve nothing short of complete and utter defeat. Drive them out as the IDF did Arafat back in '81. Send them into exile.'

One Arab mother speaking to a Sky News reporter supported Hamas' fight against Israel, but then privately, when the Hamas minder had left, told the reporter in Arabic that she and her friends were sick of Hamas sending everyone's children but their own out to die. Like many others in Gaza, this mother would like to see the 'backs of Hamas.'

Perhaps this Israeli action will be that catalyst.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dec 27, 2008: Israe's Surprise Attack

As you know at 11:30 Shabat Morning December 27,2008, in Israel the Israeli air force launched a surprise attack on Gaza, destroying over 40 targets within five minutes. Over 70 jets and a dozen helicopters pounded targets in Gaza. By the end of Shabat Israel Television's Channel 1's Yoav Limor was reporting that officially Hamas was reporting 200 Gazans killed and 300 injured, but according to the reporters the numbers were misreported by Hamas with the numbers higher than 300 killed. The reporter also pointed out that there is no news about the leaders of Hamas who haven't been heard from since the attack began.

Hamas responded after two hours, which according to ex-Israeli Air Force commander speaking on Israel's Channel 2 that Hamas was caught by surprise. Still Hamas sent 53 rockets, some striking as far as Kyriat Gat and six falling in Ashkelon. One rocket hit an apartment building in Netivot, punching a hole in a wall, killing an Israeli resident.

According to Channel 1's reporter Yoav Limor the defense establishment expects at least 200-300 rockets a day to be shot from Gaza into Israel. Limor, referring to sources in the defense establishment, said the other danger is the intricate tunnel network running beneath Gaza. The concern is that these tunnels may be used to invade Israel and carry out suicide attacks and kidnappings.

Israel radio reported that this was the largest raid, resulting in the largest number of casualities,since 1967.

Speaking to reporters Israel's Minister of Defense Ehud Barak said the goal of the attacks was to change the foundations of the security situation in Gaza. "There is a time for quiet and a time for war, and this is now a time for war."

Political analyst speaking on Israel's Channel 2 said that Hamas began the rocket firing after the cease-fire deadline ran out in order to negotiate a new cease-fire under better conditions for Hamas. The analyst said that Israel's attack into Gaza was meant to reach a similar end but with the advantage in Israel's favor.

Avihu Ben-Nun, former air force commander, said that it appeared that the attack at 11:30 was apparently response not the the Hamas rocket attacks of the last few weeks but for the seven years of nearly non-stop attacks on Israeli settlements.

Former general Yoni Figel said that he hopes that a new intifada may not break out. He said he views the demonstrations in Ramallah were more to show solidarity than to start a new Intifdada, and that by tomorrow morning the demonstrators would be back at work.

Demonstrators took to the streets in E. Jerusalem, and the West Bank, throwing stones and engaging Israeli soldiers. No injuries were reported. However, on Israeli policeman was injured when a Palestinian car tried to run himover in E.Jerusalem.

The operation in Gaza is expected to last for some time. A few days ago Tzipi Livini, Israel's Foreign Minister, visited with Egyptian President Husnei Mubarak, who reportedly approved a limited engagement in Gaza. Mubarak, according to analysts, is also under pressure from Islamic fundamentalists

The US White House has not stepped in to stop the Israeli attacks. Egypt has come out critical of Hamas for sending rockets in Israel.

Analysts expect the Israeli attack to continue. "The action will expand as is required," said Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "Cool heads are required."

Benny Vaknin, the mayor of Ashkelon pointed out that a Grad rocket hit a rooftop in Ashkelon and did no damage. He advised his residents to go to the bomb shelters when they heard sirens.

Former General Yoni Figel said that Hamas had a long time to set up their rockets and prepare their targets and that when the residents heard the siren they should take it seriously and go to the shelters.

One resident of the Negev only two miles from the Gaza border near Rafiah said that for every bomb Israel sends at Gaza, the Gazans send one back at Israel.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Present From Hamas

As a Christmas present to Israel over 80 rockets were launched from Gaza by Hamas and Islamic Jihad within the last 24-hours. 57 Israelis went to the hospitals, most suffering from shock. The rockets landed from the Negev to Ashkelon, some falling in open fields, others punching holes in the rooftops of houses. One rocket landed in the playground of a kindergarten filled with 60 children.

Israeli spokespersons, from Ehud Barak, the Minister of Defense, to Tzip Livni, the Foreign Minister, have said Israel will respond militarily. Military sources have said publicly Israel will soon launch a short limited air and ground offensive.

The Arab press has reported that the Hamas leaders have gone underground as a precaution against Israel reintroducing the strategy of ‘surgical strikes,’ an aphorism for assassinations.

The Arab press has also been reporting Hamas statements that Israel isn’t doing anything to defend its own citizens. These taunts are seemingly meant to invite Israel to invade the Gaza strip.

Hamas went as far as calling on the residents of Sderot to demonstrate against the Israeli government for allowing the rockets to fall on their heads.

Pundits say that clearly if your enemy is encouraging you to do something, in this case, invade Gaze in an attempt to stop the rocket fire, that is the last thing you should do.

The Israeli government has so far been reticent to invade Gaza for a number of valid reasons.

1.) Once the IDF returns to Gaza Israel will be economically responsible for the 1.5 million Palestinians there. In a world wracked by recession Israel is slow to jump at the offer to provide or guarantee food, clothing, shelter and essential welfare to Gaza, where 46 percent of eligible work force is already unemployed.
2.) Returning to Gaza would be a public relations nightmare. Every news cameraman for 2,000 miles would descend on Gaza and film every belch and burp made by the Israeli army. The world’s critics would forget the ruthless and vicious rocket fire on the Israeli citizens and focus rather on the Israeli tanks, soldiers and helicopters trying to stop that rocket fire. Tanks make better TV than crying terrified Israeli babies.
3.) Israel’s enemies would use the reoccupation as a rallying cry for Jihad against Israel. Arab militants would increase the volume of their call for an endless struggle. This might force Hezbollah in the north to again bombard Israel from their Lebanese strongholds. Egypt has said it would allow a short limited invasion of Gaza, but according to press reports no one is sure once the fighting starts how long it will be before Israel can withdraw. Wars and battles are like that, the analysts say. Then there’s the threat of Islamic fundamentalism that has been simmering under the surface in both Egypt and Jordan. The Gaza action might be enough to bring that to a ferocious boil resulting in Islamic states on Israel’s borders.
4.) Some analysts say that Hamas sees this interim period between now and when the new Israeli Prime Minister is chosen in February, and when Barak Obama takes over as President of the USA on January 15, 2009, as a window opportunity for Hamas to wreck havoc on Israel. The two current leaders are essentially powerless to start or stop anything serious. Hamas’ taunting is meant to draw Israel into a fight. President elect Obama would be forced to take a mediating role. The Israeli public, who according to recent polls is not in favor of a massive invasion, already claim that Israeli PM Olmert doesn’t have the mandate to start a war since he is only a caretaker due to end his term in eight weeks.
5.) Some voices in the Israeli military have taken the harsh view that just because the new US President hasn’t taken power yet, this is indeed the right time to go into Gaza and settle scores. However, those voices are muted, and heard only as distant echoes.
6.) According to political analysts, the Politicians in Israel are now forced to make statements about the rocket fire, and do something if they can. The Israeli media reported today that the left-wing Meretz party has called on Israel to take action against the rocket fire. Observers say that Ehud Barak, Israel’s Minister of Defense, and leader of the Labor party, is running for his political life. Advertisements on busses and banners hanging from bridges on Israel’s expressways show Barak’s picture with the words, “You don’t have to like him. But he is a leader.” The clear reference is to Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, leader of the Likud. “Bibi” who is ahead of all opponents in the polls with an estimated 32 Knesset seats, but is widely disliked by Israelis. Barak must step through this political minefield very carefully lest he find himself stuck with no place to put his foot without blowing himself out of political life.

Both Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, leader of Kadima, have said that if elected they would topple Hamas. The election has taken on the tint of a war footing, once again. Given the options, the only General on the stage, who was also once Prime Minister, and Chief of Staff, is Ehud Barak. For him,the Hamas as the center of the election campaign, might be the only thing that gets him more than the expected 12 Knesset seats.

Whatever happens, observers say, the politicians have to do something.

At a recent Hannuka party Tamar, a 18-year old soldier serving in the Negev teaching young children who were evacuated from the Jewish settlements of Gush Katif in the Gaza strip several years ago, said that the situation is horrendous. An incoming missile resembles a bird in flight. So looking up in the sky every bird spotted sends shivers of fear down her spine, thinking the bird might be a rocket honing in on her. The now frequent nerve rattling sirens and the strident loudspeaker announcements warning of an incoming rocket attack are emotionally trying on Tamar and the students she teaches, some of whom grew up with these sirens and warnings before being relocated from the Gaza Strip Jewish settlement of Gush Katif.

Israelis are now wondering what the relocation of these settlers was for if the rockets haven’t stopped falling. Sderot residents on Israel radio’s Reshet Bet said this morning that they’ve been under attack for seven years, sometimes more, like now, sometimes less. But always under attack. The right-wing politicians point to the current barrage of rockets as proof that the government erred in giving in to the Hamas demands that Israel evacuate the Gaza settlements. Having given up the settlements, they say, nothing has been gained.

Tamar’s father has another take on the subject. “We should just start firing back at them from Israel, just as they fire at us from Gaza. Point the barrel of the canon up in the air and push the button. Let it fall wherever it does, kill whoever is there. Then maybe they’ll stop firing at Israel. Can you imagine a rocket, just one rocket, falling on New York or Los Angeles, or even Tucson, and the US not responding?”

But pragmatists point out that Israel is morally constrained from simply opening fire into Gaza, the most densely populated region on earth. Israel is also much to conscious of world opinion to take such action. However, in an article running in today’s Haaretz newspaper, one analyst claims that Hamas is firing rockets simply because they belief that Israel only understands force. In that case, perhaps Tamar’s father is right.

Then there’s that other problem with the invasion, either large or small, limited or massive, into Gaza: it is what Hamas has been calling for. Housewives and generals all wonder what traps and ambushes Hamas has in store for Israel’s soldiers.

And the kicker is, in the event of an invasion, and a battle that becomes a war, who would be in charge? The Prime Minister, of course. And who is the Prime Minister? Ehud Olmert, who managed to lose in Lebanon.

Whatever the outcome, the next few weeks will meet the curse of living in interesting times.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Mongoose And The Cobra

Greed is not something the Jews invented, although many bigots think so. Greed is something indigenous to human beings, and some lesser animals. CNN ran a report on its website about a 640 lb man who traveled to N. China in order to attend a weight-loss clinic. By the time the cameras showed up he only weighed 400 lbs. His goal was 280.

He was so fat, he told the interviewer, that he was fired from his job, mainly because he couldn’t move to do anything at work. So he spent the next twelve years on the couch just getting fatter and fatter. He was so fat at one point that he needed a tracheotomy because the fat around his neck was so heavy it was choking him.

What was the bottom line, eat less do more exercise. But mainly, change the way you eat.

In our society greed is frowned upon in public and relished in private. How often do we hear ‘you never have enough.’ You never hear, ‘that’s enough.’ Given the recent financial meltdown many people found that enough was no longer viable, and compromises needed to be reached. Those who had large fortunes and lost half, still had the remaining half for consolation.

But then there’s the morality of it all. Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, writing in the Jerusalem Post, questioned the values of a society where success was judged by how large a gold watch, or diamond necklace or Mercedes a person had, not if there was any value to the person’s life other than material greed.

One of the precepts of Judaism is charity. Tzdeka. None of us give enough, either money or time, to worthwhile causes. A few people give more than they can afford of both, and are considered ‘friars’ ‘fools’ or worse.

Medoff recruited many investors from the posh Palm Beach Country Club, where he was a member. One of the clubs by-laws requires each member to give hefty charitable donations with a minimum in the six-figure category. The club believes in enforcing "Tzedeka" charity, a lynch pin of Jewish life.

The scale of the Medoff Ponzi scheme was so enormous that one pundit said, ‘Yeah, I remember when I was a kid they taught us, if you’re gonna steal, steal big.’ Medoff took big to mean enormous. The $50 Billion that he claims he stole from his investors could be used to bail out GM, Ford, and Chrysler combined.

The Jewish world is buzzing with the Medoff scandal. An estimated $1.5 Billion has evaporated from Jewish coffers. The victims' list still grows, but already includes foundations that invested their money with Medoff. Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Eli Weisel, Senator Lautenberg, the Technion, The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, The Jewish Federation of Washington, The American Friends of Yad Sarah, Ramaz, Israeli insurance companies like Phoenix and Harel, Clal, the Chais Family Foundation, and others, were hit hard, some wiped out.

Many of these investors didn't even know they were investing with Medoff. It was their own financial advisers and investment houses that put the money with Medoff's well-known firm. "I don't know anyone who knew Medoff," said John Fischel, CEO of the LA Federation.

Chais lost over $150 million, and that meant no more $12.5 million a year in charity. While the UJC claims it wasn’t exposed to Medoff’s scam, the fear is that many of the UJC’s contributors were hit.

“This will be something that we won’t get over for a long time,” said Avraham Infeld, who as CEO of the Chais Foundation, closed the doors when Medoff made his statement.

An 86-year old steel magnate from the Midwest saw his entire life’s work evaporate. He had his entire portfolio with Medoff.

At one point, according to reports, having money with Medoff was a status symbol. He so consistently returned money on the investments that giving him your hard-earned cash was a sure thing. Not many people questioned the sure thing. They were happy to receive their money. Until of course, they didn’t.

These are shocking times. One wakes up thinking the sun is shining only to discover the light if from the burning curtains, and a fire that’s already spread to the carpet. Who could have known that the regulators made such serious blunders with the ‘derivities’ and the ‘sub-prime’ loans? Who could have figured that the esteemed Alan Greenspan would have made such huge miscalculations of the character of those in charge of finance. But he did.

Now the news is filled with stories of how the regulators started noticing Medoff’s practices as far back as 1999, but nothing was done about it. When underlings pointed out to their bosses at the SEC that something stunk with Medoff, they were shushed, or fired.

A few investors steered clear of Medoff. One said that trusting all that money to a company that didn’t have a proper audit wasn’t smart. Medoff used one small accounting firm in Manhattan for his audits. However, even the SEC, who looked over his operation a few years ago, found nothing untoward. A French bank reported today that it had looked into Medoff's operation and found it so suspicious that Medoff's firm was blacklisted in that bank. But the blacklist was never shared with other banks, as is the rule in the world of private banking.

One investor who lost millions said Medoff was scrupulous in sending statements and reports, sometimes listing as many as forty trades in a month. Trades which were all fictitious.

Yet the man could live on Park Avenue, chum with the jet-set in Palm Beach, and have a three-story office complex in mid-town Manhattan. Those who raised an eyebrow were battered down.

One of the people working on his 17th floor office, where the hedge fund’s trades were made, was certain that another office had to be handling the volume of transactions, since they weren’t that busy on the 17th floor. According to a report in the International Herald Tribune, even people within the inner sanctum assumed the trades were made in Europe. At least that's what Medoff told them. Or that he had another office. That other office hasn’t been found, yet. Neither has the money. Medoff claims he made off with $50 Billion, but investigators only came up with losses, so far, of $20 Billion. That leaves a lot of money unaccounted for. Nor is it clear, yet, exactly how he operated his scheme, or what’s left in the till.

Medoff grew up poor in Queens, worked his way through law school, according to the legend, and started an investment firm using $5,000 he’d saved working as a lifeguard. He went on to become an adviser on economics to the US government, head of the Business School at Yeshiva University, and their treasurer. Along the way he started NASDQ. One has to wonder, in view of the stock market meltdown, if NASDQ isn’t part of the Ponzi scheme as well.

While the goal of American life seems to be how much money one can accumulate as quickly as possible, the blatant materialism has created problems for the US society. Following the lax attention regulators paid to the sub-prime derivatives, and now to Medoff, one British financier told the BBC that he was certain that the European investors would now shy away from putting their money in the US.

How deep will this problem go? In the Jewish world the problems are enormous. Birthright, the Jewish Agency, the UJC, the various Federations, hospitals, day schools, and other noble causes, will all suffer.

The Jewish community is beginning to flutter with anxiety over a rise in anti-Semitism. How long, asked one columnist, before the world begins to connect the dots, and sees all the Jewish people involved in the meltdown. Medoff only draws this picture in sharp relief.

The confusing part, of course, is the Jewish people who are behind the meltdown and the swindles, are also the same Jewish people who are losing their fortunes, their jobs, and businesses. It reminded one observer of the quandary the anti-Semites had during the Chicago 7 conspiracy trials back in 1969 when the Jewish radical Abby Hoffman sat chained and gagged in the defense chair while Judge Julius Hoffman, a seventy-four-year-old former law partner of then Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, ruled from the bench. Two Jews, two Hoffmans, opposite side of the bench.

Where are the good guys these days, asked Rabbi Boteach. Where are the folks who want to be teachers, social workers, Rabbis. To that one could add, Doctors, and other health-care professionals, people who do ‘tikun olam’ rather than try to see how fat they can become.

Of course in today’s trendy world, the swindlers like Medoff aren’t obvious. He wouldn’t think of putting on 640 lbs. He probably worked out in the gym, stayed trim, had his hair styled, drove the right car, lived in the right condo, ate in the right restaurants, and belonged to the right clubs.

All of this, the gold watches, the diamonds, the prestigious address, all a blind for the scam he’d been pulling apparently for decades. Medoff was the very symbol of success in America, but at the same time, a symbol for what was wrong with America, except no one realized it.

The light in this dark tunnel came from Medoff’s own family. According to press reports, Medoff confessed his Ponzi scheme to his sons. One of them called an attorney, who called the Securities and Exchange Commission, who sent out investigators, and the FBI. So in the end it was Medoff's own son, who reportedly lost a huge sum of money in the scam, who turned him in. Let the bigots try to figure that one out.

What seems obvious from both Medoff and the 'Meltdown' is that a reevaluation is necessary in the way business is done in the USA. The form of capitalism that has developed seems to have ignored some of the fundamental principals of compassion, humility, and guilt. Medoff seems to have been a mongoose, dodging around as the lazy king cobra, in the form of federal regulators and regulations.

No revolution is needed to correct the ills of America. Just some more stringent application, and perhaps revisions, in the laws. Everything seems to be on the books, its just that the glitter of all that gold and diamonds blinded the vision of the regulators. As others have said, most people can’t be trusted to regulate themselves. Some of these people seem too enamored with their own abilities, their own success, their own accomplishments to look too deeply into the source of their income.

A crook can easily convince himself he’s not stealing, just redistributing wealth. Like Robin Hood. But he’s still a crook. And the USA is, thank the Lord, not a vicious cruel kingdom ruled by villains suppressing the poor.

Greed was all it was. Pure and simple. And a confused moral compass. Has the push for wealth at nearly any cost obfuscated the truth? Has the manifest destiny so long part of America’s dream been lost?

Without holding people like the regulators, the ruthless tycoons, and the unscrupulous Medoff to task, it may well be.

From all accounts even if Medoff considered himself to be Robin Hood, in the end he only wound up hurting a lot of people, taking away from the very charities and worthy causes he supported, and worse, screwing so many people along the way that now Jewish charities are going to be hard put to stay afloat.

One commentator called it a triple whammy, the meltdown, Medoff, and now the recession.

Luckily for Medoff he can only be blamed for $50 Billion worth. But for the Jewish community, that may have a devastating impact that could well last far longer than the meltdown or the recession.

In this case the king cobra actually got the mongoose while the little critter was pinned down by his own brood.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Where' s The Genius?

Genius is both objective and subjective. According to Harvard University Prof. Howard Gardner, a person can have genius for one thing, but not another. Albert Einstein had genius for conceptualizing solutions to physics problems, but might never have been a jet-pilot. Michael Jordan had genius for basketball but not for baseball. So is genius objective?

Jordan bulldozing over the opposition to score with those dazzling flights and dunks. Points rung up on the board. His genius could be measured. Einstein thought of a formula, designed a reaction, and then assisted as a bomb was constructed based on the theorem. The bomb was an objective fact.

Genius in art, however, is subjective. What one person finds beautiful, another finds repulsive, witness the two sides of the argument about modern art; or rock music versus classical music. Would primitive tribes in the Amazon find Michelangelo’s David beautiful? Would the snooty upper East Side New York society ladies and their spouses find stretched lips and mutilated ears of African tribeswomen beautiful, or disgusting?

Then there’s luck. Napoleon, was said to prefer a lucky general over a good one. Bill Gates, when he was working in his father’s garage tinkering with a new operating system, got lucky when IBM signed on to run the system without demanding to buy the exclusive rights to it. Had they done so Gates would have wound up an employee of IBM, and Microsoft would never have been born.

Recently, a top literary agent from Manhattan related a conversation with a top Hollywood studio head. The studio chief said, at the end of the year he’d made 100 decisions about films, choosing fifty out of a hundred to go into production. The studio head then surprised the agent by saying, had I chosen the other fifty rather than this fifty, the year-end income results would probably still have come out the same.

So what of those people in the fifty projects he turned down. Subjective decisions that influence a life, but not the big picture.

Then there’s the West Bank of the Jordan River. Recent statements in its annual report, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) pointed to "extremely worrisome trends at the center of which are violations of the most elementary human rights."

The report also noted that the situation in the occupied West Bank, between Israeli settlers and the local Palestinian population, was "reminiscent, in many and increasing ways, of the apartheid regime in South Africa."

The ACRI noted that since the foundation of Israel, the country's Arab citizens have been discriminated against though legislation and allocation of resources. officials have stated that Israel practices apartheid in that area.

Does that mean Israel actually does practice apartheid, or is it simply the subjective opinion of the person making that judgment call? ACRI has long been criticized as anti-Israeli pro-Palestinian.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said the same thing last May. One would have to go deeply into the definition of apartheid and see if it applies only to situations in S. Africa, or see if indeed the term also fits the West Bank. Again, this is a subjective judgment since no empirical facts exist that can be checked off in a list.

NATO has floated the idea that a multi-national force deployed in the West Bank may be the best solution, but according to the Israeli media, Israeli security administrators would rather keep foreign armies out of the West Bank. They point to UNIFIL’s poor performance containing Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the history of the UN voting against Israel, or pulling out, rather than digging in, at the Egypt-Israel border when war was about to break out. Fleeing, rather than attempting to affect some sort of de-escalation of tension. About NATO, one Israeli source said that no foreign army is going to risk their lives to save either Arabs or Jews. That in fact NATO would only get in the way.

Israeli security officials claim that Israel’s consistent and constant battle against terrorism in the West Bank is what has kept that area relatively quiet. Israel routinely goes into Arab villages and towns and cities, conducting raids against “wanted terrorists.” Not a month goes by without notice of a “wanted terrorist” killed or arrested.

Is this apartheid? Perhaps it is. The S. African army routinely raided the black townships searching for activists who wanted self-rule. But is this the same as Israel’s search for “wanted terrorists?” Did the self-rule activists in S. Africa also wage terror campaigns? Strap on suicide belts laden with explosives and blow themselves up in the midst of crowded civilian centers? The comparisons are easier to make in a glib fashion than in empirical application.

Subjectively, from the activists on the Arab side, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al Quaida, are freedom fighters. , Israelis and many on the West would see them as terrorists. How then will the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State deal with the issue of the West Bank? And why, given all of the trouble in the world today, would solving the problems of the Middle East, specifically Israel and the Palestinians, be of primary importance? Is it because progress in the Middle East makes the history books? Leads to a Nobel Prize?

And who says the Nobel Prize is so important? Some prizes are given based on objective standards, the discovery of a gene that can lead to cancer; the formulation of a theory that influences the world’s finances. But what of three men shaking hands, making peace in the Middle East? When the peace fell apart did anyone ever ask that the prize handed to Yassir Arafat be returned? Was the prize given subjectively or objectively?

In a recent discussion with a CEO of a high- tech company, the issue of the US financial meltdown was a hot topic. The CEO said it would be the grandchildren of today’s Americans who would pay for the bailout. The American government had borrowed from the future to cover the debts of the present. On a subjective level, this seems a good decision. Without a solution to today’s problems, there might not be a tomorrow. The market can continue to plunge until there is no market. The employment picture can continue to turn dire until there is no work. The economy can turn so far down that the United States is no longer united. An apocalypse could occur without a rocket ever coming out of Iran, or Russia.

But what of that future? With the US economy in a deep recession, who is to say that there will be a future for the grandchildren of tomorrow? The US ability to produce and manufacture has slipped steadily since 1956 when 75% of all goods were manufactured in the USA, until today when that number is in the teens and only income in the abstract seems possible: profits from commissions on the sale of commodities and goods produced somewhere else. By providing so well for America’s workers, the unions and the workers destroyed their own jobs.

Can these trends be reversed? Can the US become a competitor in the manufacture of automobiles once again? Or will the designs be drawn up in Detroit and executed in Shanghai? Will President-Elect Obama’s plan to provide government-subsidized jobs to the unemployed break this downward cycle?

American genius has been in designs, widgets that became an integral part of modern life, from the light bulb, to the Model-T, to the computer chip. Without the development of new ideas that generate jobs and money for America, the power of America seems to be on a downward spiral, so much so that in a generation or two when today’s debts have to be paid off, there won’t be enough left of the US economy to make the payments.

Like the burden of the pensions on the auto industry, the burden of those debts will so cripple the economy of the next two or three generations that America as we know it will not longer exist. Russia, striving mightily to regain super-power status, along with China and India, will be in the ascendancy. Russia because of her surfeit of oil, China and India because of brainpower and masses of factory workers.

What America seems to need are big idea men, women with Amazon-sized concepts, all with brains twice that of Einstein, conceiving of, developing and manufacturing things the world needs. Not abstract profits from speculation in the stock market, but products that generate capital. Objective evaluations based on empirical evidence, not subjective guesses that seem right today, like Alan Greenspan’s guess that the financial sector would self-regulate, that turned out to be wrong tomorrow. There is no longer room for those mistakes. Americans have mortgaged our grandchildren’s future, and it is up to Americans to lay the solid foundations so that those future generations can make the payments. What America needs is to allow genius to flourish, and then hope there’s a lot of luck to go with it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Attack in Mumbai: Why The Jews?

Why the Jews?

195 people were killed in Mubai in nine separate locations, from the luxury Taj hotel, a “postcard spot” according to one TV journalist reporting from Sky news during the attacks, the other a major railroad station, another luxury hotel. But why chose a residential building and an apartment that is home to the Chabad House in Mumbai?

Rabbi Gavriel and his wife Rivka Holtzberg were two young Jews in their twenties. They were among the eight Jews killed in the Chabad house in Mumbai. They arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the small Jewish community there, running a synagogue and Torah classes, and assisting Jewish tourists to the seaside city.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Television’s Channel One that two men who supervised Jewish dietary laws were also apparently among the dead. They were later identified as Leibish Teitlebau, an American from Brooklyn, and Ben-Zion Croman, an Israeli with dual U.S. citizenship. The body of another Israeli woman was also discovered, but not identified as yet.

The front page of Friday’s Yideot Achranot newspaper showed a giant photograph of the Indian caregiver for the Holtzberg’s two-year old son Moishe. According to the headlines she hid in a closet during the initial attack. After several hours she heard Moishe calling for her. She snuck out of the closet, found the child beside his mother, who was slumped over, near another man who was lying hidden from her, only his bloody legs visible. She scooped the baby up, realized the terrorists were on the roof of the building, and ran for safety.

Later it was confirmed that Rivka Holtzberg was among the first causalities. It was unclear exactly how the tragedy played out.

Israel Television covered the events, and followed the drama as it unfolded. Reporters were sent to the Israeli town of Afula to interview Rivka’s parents, the Rosenbergs, both ultra-orthodox Israelis. The Rosenbergs told the reporters they were heading for Mumbai to take care of their grandson Moishe, and be close-by in case they were needed. Even though relatives in Israel warned them the trip was too dangerous, the grandparents went anyway.

Sadly for them the only thing they were needed for was to take care of Moishe and arrange for the return of the bodies of ‘Gabi and Rivki’ for burial in Israel.

Gabi Holtzberg was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He was an emissary a “shaliach” for Chabad, a Jewish outreach organization based in Crown Heights. Over 4,000 “shluchiem’ are stationed around the world, from Katmandu to Santiago. The Chabad Houses are the way stations for Israeli and Jewish travelers who are seeking a Shabbat service and meal, some kosher food, or simply to find some Jewish companionship.

The annual Pesach Seder in Katmandu draws nearly 1,000 people, mostly young Israelis traveling in the Far East. The amazing fact is most of these young people have little or nothing to do with Judaism when they are in Israel.

“I come here to keep in touch with the Jewish community,” a Jewish high-tech businessman said at the Chabad House in Shangai last spring. “I’m not religious, but I want my children to have a feeling that they are still involved in Jewish affairs.”

This young businessman was on a three-year contract for his high-tech company, providing technical support for the company’s Chinese clients. He had four of the company’s staff in toe, all Israelis, who looked uncomfortable, and were unfamiliar with the Orthodox rituals.

However, the Chabad Rabbi, had a genuinely warm smile, accepting everyone in the congregation as an equal, without criticism. Nearly two hundred people filled the basement synagogue, including a busload of Hadassah ladies touring China. The Rabbi said nothing about their arriving by chartered bus, nor did he say anything about the Israelis driving to the service in their SUVs. Of course there were also orthodox Jewish men and women in the service. A fact of life for the observant Jew is that the Chabad Houses around the world become their Sabbath sanctuary, assured of a minyan and a kosher meal.

After the service a meal was served to anyone who wanted to stay. A sign announced that a fee would be appreciated, but payment was not obligatory. Anyone interested could send in a check, or come by, after Shabbat, of course. Nearly 150 people stayed for a full four-course meal, replete with kosher chicken and beef. Lunch the next morning was more of the same, but less people in attendance.

According to Chabad activists, each Chabad house is supposed to be self-sufficient, raising their own money for their support. Usually there is a Jewish day school, and nursery school, as well as daily services. In Bangkok two Chabad houses offer services, one to the “tarmalistim’, the backpackers who use the Chabad house not only as a place to get a free kosher meal, but also a place to meet other Israelis and other Jews traveling around the world.

Many times the Chabad House is the only synagogue for hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles. A Chabad House in Chang Mei, in Northern Thailand, is a popular spot for the Israelis touring that resort town, and the neighboring countries. Many times young backpackers will make their plans around a Chabad House, arriving on Friday, or the evening before a Jewish holiday, staying in a guest house recommended by the local rabbi.

The Chabad outreach program was the idea of the late Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitch Rebbe. The Lubavitch movement began nearly two hundred years ago.

According to Wikipeia, the movement took its name from Lyubavichi, the Russian town which served as the movement's headquarters for over a century. Wikipedia claims Chabad has over 200,000 adherents and up to a million Jews attend Chabad services at least once a year, however other sources quote much less lofty numbers.

Lubavitch seems a huge movement, simply because of the number of ‘shulchim’ spread around the world, but in fact it is a small ultra-Orthodox movement based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in New York City.Again, according to Wikipedia, Lubavitch adherents follow Chabad traditions and prayer services based on Lurianic kabbalah. As "Hasidim", they follow the Chassidus of Israel ben Eliezer.

Founded in the late 18th century by Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Chabad-Lubavitch has had seven leaders or rebbes. Menachem Mendel Schneerson succeeded his father-in-law, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn in 1950, becoming the seventh leader of the movement, a position he held until his death in 1994. The movement is today without a Rebbe, and is split between those who believe the seventh Rebbe was the “Mosaich” or Messiah, those who think he was the Mosaich during his lifetime, and those who reject he was ever the messiah.

Today the movement runs thousands of centers around the world, Jewish community centers, synagogues and schools, providing outreach and educational activities for Jews. In a strange twist the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe’s father-in-law, was rescued from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1939 by Major Ernst Bloch, a German officer in the Wehrmacht, acting on orders from his boss, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the German spy network the Abwher.

The goal of the Lubavitch Hassidm is to bring Jewish back to the Lubavitch brand of orthodoxy. The outreach is a way to capture the imagination and attention of Jewish people, mostly youth, who are open to new ideas as they move about the world.

Up until Friday, the Chabad House was an easy place to find, to go into and to leave. But the tragedy in Mumbai reportedly sent shock waves through the Lubavitch movement. From now on, one assumes, it will be much harder to get into the Lubavitch centers.

Following the attack in 1986 on Neve Shalom, Istanbul's largest synagogue, whose name means ''oasis of peace.'' 22 people, aged 30 to 82 were killed. Since then the synagogue has armed guards, hidden surveillance cameras, and tight security. To pray in the synagogue on Saturday one has to first call the synagogue offices, and go through a security check, and other procedures, before being allowed in the front door on Shabbat.

One expects the same will now be true for the Chabad Houses spread around the world.

None of this answers the question why terrorists would chose a Jewish target out of nine high profile attacks, other than the assumption that a Jew is always a good target, no matter where, or no matter when.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Light The Fire

According to a report published in today’s Yideot Achracnot newspaper over half of all residents of Sderot have been hit by rockets since Hamas began firing into Israel nearly two-years ago. 74.2 per cent of the children live in fear, according to the survey. One expert said the problem wasn’t limited to security. Most of the residents felt abandoned by the government and the rest of the country.

These statistics come on the heels of an announcement by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, who said that Hamas now has three times as many rockets than before the War in Lebanon in 2006. Some of the rockets, Barak said, could hit as far as Dimona, where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located.

Skeptics say that Barak is trotting out these figures in order to instill fear in the voting population, in hopes that his military background will be a positive chip in his pile when the time for new elections roll around. In a previous election Barak sent out the inflammatory “Tzav Shmona” (noice eight) envelopes, to raise the level of tension among the voting public. “Tzav Shmona” is the notice soldiers get when they are activated in times of war.

Some analysts say that the right-wing parties may garner as many as 65 seats in the next Knesset elections, to be held in February 2009, with Netanyhu at the helm. An editorial in today’s Haaretz newspaper concerned the rise of Bibi Netanyahu as the new leader and blamed Israel’s current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for allowing Netanyahu to rise to power.

According to the editorial Olmert was to have resigned his position once the investigations began, leaving his second-in-command Tzipi Livni to take control of the Kadima party and fill out the remaining two-years the party had left in its elected term. However Olmert, out of selfishness according to the editorial writer, refused to step aside. The editorial also pointed out that State’s Attorney Manny Mazuz was reluctant to set a precedent and indict a sitting Prime Minister, hoping that Olmert would resign on his own. However Olmert thwarted Mazuz’s plans. The indictment, long overdue according to some circles, will wait until after the next elections. No one, it seems, wants to indict an Israeli Prime Minister.

However, this refusal by Olmert led to Tzipi Livni trying to form a new coalition in order to keep Kadma in power and avoid new elections. Had Olmert stepped down Livni would have assumed the premiership and served for out the two years remaining in the Kadma’s term. Rather, according to the article, Livni failed to form a coalition, forcing new elections. Bibi Netanyahu stepped this vacuum, exploiting the weakness of Livni, and the unpopularity of Labor Party leader Barak.. Had Olmert stepped aside, Netanyahu would still be on the sidelines, waiting for his comeback.

Olmert, according to the article, is now on an empty mission to Washington to meet with lame-duck President George W. Bush. According to press reports Olmert claims he will be discussing details of the sale of advanced US fighter aircraft to Israel, however neither Olmert nor Bush has the requisite authority to sign-off on any deal at this time. The writer hints that this is more an exercise in Olmert soothing his ego in a visit to the White House than any substantive result.

Netanyahu, by all reports, will be against any negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians. However, an article in today’s Jerusalem Post by Aaron Miller, once an advisor to both Clinton and Bush on the Middle East, there is no hope today of a pact with the Palestinians. Abbas is too weak, Hamas is too strong. The only partner at the table is Syria. Miller suggests pursuing the Syrian track, and not wasting time on the Palestinian issue. Miller excuses this line of thought with an apology; he writes he is a long-time “Palestine Firster” but in today’s climate, Palestine has to come second.

The economic meltdown in the USA has spread to Israel. The Israeli stock market dropped ten per cent, the bank shares leading the downturn. Israel Television’s Channel One reported last night that panic and fear had reached the Israeli markets.

Perhaps as a result of the meltdown, or simply a coincidence, but the Israeli giant Bank Hapoalim has been unable to operate for two days due to what bank officials claim is a “computer problem.” Workers in the local branches turn away customers with the claim that the “communications” systems aren’t working, and the problem lies with the Bezeq telephone company, that provides Internet service to the banks.

Another newspaper report said the government is mulling guarantees on the pensions of Israeli citizens over 60. A tremor has shaken the retirees sector as news reports rolled in crying about the crash of pension funds. One plan is to guarantee the income of anyone who is not making twice the national average of 3,800 shekels per month.

Other reports state that restaurants are beginning to feel the pinch, as diners eschew external culinary delights for the more modest fare in their own kitchens.

Due to the economic crises, Israelis who have lived abroad for many years are now considering a return to Israel because of the financial difficulties facing America and Europe. Israeli consulates in the USA report a vast increase in requests and information about return to Israel by former Israelis hit hard by the worsening economic conditions.

An Iranian citizen was executed on Saturday after he was tried and convicted of spying for Israel. Today, Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Mohammad Ali Jafari said that the Iranian security forces have uncovered a Mossad espionage network, but did not name how many people were arrested in the sweep. According to the Iranians, the group was involved in gathering information on the Iranian nuclear program.

Another report states that Iran is busy supplying Lebanon with the latest missiles in its arsenal. This is an effort to show Iranian displeasure with Israeli meddling in Iranian affairs.

Yesterday, former Chief of Staff Moshe “Boogy” Ya’alon, who recently joined the Likud party, said that he would consider assassinating Iranian leader Achminijad. This statement did little to appease the Iranians. Last week Iran began holding military maneuvers aimed at defending itself against any attack. Israeli sources have continued to point out that Israel has not yet withdrawn from the idea of a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Jerusalem’s new mayor Nir Barkat has yet to take office, but he has already made many inflammatory statements which pundits suspect he will never be able to enforce. Barkat said he would dismantle the controversial bridge over the entrance to the city, and pave over the light rail tracks that are under construction from Mt. Zion to Pisgat Zeev.

Pedestrians and drivers unfortunate enough to have to maneuver through Jerusalem’s streets these days find themselves stuck in snarled traffic, walking in crowded dirty streets flanked by trucks, tractors and building equipment, beset on all sides by the ugly ten-foot deep ten-foot wide pits dug around the city that will one day contain the infrastructure and be the base of the light-rail project.

Barkat’s latest statement was that he would replace the light rail line with more buses, perhaps even those powered by electricity. However, this begs the delicate issue of the Egged Bus monopoly in Jerusalem. Anyone riding the buses realizes quickly Egged is not about passenger comfort. The buses lurch around corners, jerk to stops sending the elderly scurrying for handrails. The company is more intent on profit than safety or comfort. For mayor-elect Barkat to suggest that Egged would be a reasonable alternative to a light-rail is like suggesting that a horse-and-buggy would be a more comfortable and safer ride than a modern sedan.

Even though trolley-cars have been around for a century, the modern system provides smooth safe rides. As the city’s population ages, this is a consideration. This writer on a rare bus excursion, witnessed one elderly man using a cane fighting for balance as the young driver gunned the gas away from a stop and jammed on the brake when approaching the next. The seats were hard. The floors were slippery. Clearly Mayor Barkat has not been on a bus for some time, or he wouldn’t have recommended Egged as an alternative to anything.

Reports are now coming out that Mr. Barkat is a self-centered egoist who is neither pleasant nor pliable. His reputation is one of an autocrat who likes to give orders and dislikes listening to advice or opinions. Should he continue in this vein it seems he will be polishing his act for the big show, the office of Prime Minister where ego, not talent or ability, seem the main qualification.

One wonders if salesmanship, perception, not reality, are not what drives a government, a country, the world. If that is the case than a good con man is all that’s needed. But when the time comes will the leader who says they can steer the ship of state actually be able to keep the ship on course, moving forward, in a fierce storm?. As Israel witnessed in the War In Lebanon II, just became someone’s a Prime Minister, doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing.

The perception of reality isn’t the same as reality. When the virtual worlds flicker and die because of lack of electricity, someone better be around who knows how to light a fire.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crime In The Streets

The murder of reputed mob boss Ya’acov Alperon on the streets of Tel Aviv was the latest in the audacious criminal acts carried out recently in Israel. Alperon, 54, was killed Monday afternoon when his private vehicle passed over a bomb at the corner of Pinkas Street and Namir Road in north Tel Aviv. He was on his way home from court, where two of his sons were on trial for extortion.

Several months ago a rival of Alperon’s was the target of a botched assassination attempt on the beaches of Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv. The henchman escaped but a young Russian-immigrant mother was shot to death by an errant bullet.

According to press reports only a hundred to two hundred men make up the Israeli crime families. One opinion piece in the Haaretz newspaper claimed a clean sweep of the criminals from the streets of Israel would take a matter of hours.

Police sources confirmed that crime kingpin Amir Mulner is a central suspect in the investigation. Yitzhak and Meir Abergil, currently in police custody until their extradition to the United States, are also prime suspects. Last year Alperon was suspected of hiring foreign hit men to kill mob boss Abergil.

Their rivalry is believed to be fueled by competition over bottle recycling in central Israel, a business that earns millions of shekels annually and is largely controlled by the underworld.

Rafi and Moshe Ohana, members of a rival family to the Alperons, have also been cited as possible suspects, as have members of the Kedoshim family of Herzliya.

Since July, there have been at least five hit attempts on leading underworld figures. Two attempts were made to take out Rami Amira, a member of the Abergil crime organization, in one month.

In July gunmen shot Amira on Bat Yam's Tobago beach. He was slightly wounded, but Margarita Lautin, who was on the beach with her family, was killed. A month later a bomb was found near his parents' house in Netanya, near a kindergarten. It was dismantled. A few days later gunmen shot Charlie Abutbul in a Netanya restaurant, seriously injuring him.

Israel is a democracy, but criminals hide behind the laws meant to protect innocent civilians. More often than not the criminals go free, or serve light sentences, running their affairs from jail much as Paul Servino did in “Goodfellas.”

At the funeral of Alperon his wife and children all swore revenge, promising to rip the limbs from the killers, and send them to “gan eden” to heaven. The commentaries in the paper cited the strong resemblance to Alperson’s wife to that of Tony Soprono’s wife in the popular Mafia TV show.

But the Alperons and their ilk are not TV actors, unless the Israeli mafia is viewed as a reality show. And like Marlin Brando in the Godfather, men like Alperon are rumored to have politicians, police, and judges, “in their pocket like loose change.”

According to an investigative report that appeared in the Israeli daily Haaretz newspaper earlier this month, former president Moshe Katsav, his wife, and two of his children share joint ownership of plots of land in the Be'er Sheva and Givat Brenner areas with reputed crime bosses Reuven and Ezra (Shauni) Gavrieli. And businessman and Likud central committee member Aryeh Shasha.

Gavrieli-owned companies would often buy up many tracts of land, most of them agricultural, at low prices, in the hope that one day those pieces of property would be allocated to residential real estate projects.

The land owned by the Gavrieli’s and Katzav is northeast of Kibbutz Givat Brenner, and stretches across dozens of dunams, most of which is held by a different company under the name "A.R.A.S. Properties and Investments." The Gavrieli’s have since fallen on hard times, as their financial empire collapsed under the weight of the police investigation. Another report stated that Katzav had long been a defender of the Gavrielis while he was active in the Likud.

The spotlight was turned on the family when the Likud placed Shlomi Gavrieli’s daughter Inbal Gavrieli (granddaughter of the family elder) on the election list, in a safe slot, so that at the age of 27 she was elected to the Knesset.

In 2006 the police arrested Ezra (Shauni) Gavrieli’s son Shlomi Gavrieli, who has since fled to Florida, and his son Shoni, as well as Shlomi’s brother Reuven, on suspicion of money laundering and tax evasion, as well as operating illegal internet casinos.

Others detained at the time were Meir Abergil, the brother of suspected crime family head Itzik Abergil, and Yoram Tsarfati, the son of the 1970’s kingpin Mordechai “The Mensch” Tsarfati.

When the authorities came to search the Gavrieli house, MK Inbal Gavrieli used her parliamentary immunity to stop them, saying that she also lived there.

In an interview after the arrests then one time Likud member, Tourism Minister, former Kadima party Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, said he believed the illegal gambling sector was worth between three to four billion dollars a year. Hirschson was later indicted for embezzling money from a non-profit organization he ran, and smuggling in a suitcase of cash from Poland.

The police claim that they do not have the technology to fight crime. They need sophisticated tools to defeat the criminals but are stuck with outdated items with no chance of matching the high tech devices used by the criminals.

A news report stated that the budget to fight crime on the criminals terms was submitted to the government. According to a report in the Haaretz newspaper “… the last time a police commissioner dared to demand a larger crime-fighting budget, he was rebuked in public by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.”

Sharon apparently either by design or ignorance, allowed the Gavrieli family, and other crime families, to flourish under his rule. Likud’s present party chairman Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has done nothing to excise the crime family support from the Likud. Gavrieli’s daughter is no longer on the party’s safe seat list, and no longer a Knesset member. But the specter of the criminal families influence still hangs over the Likud, and even Kadima.

Likud chairman Netanyahu announced that stars like Benny Begin and Dan Merior and Moshe Ya’alon have joined the Likud. Three men with good solid reputations whose participation with the Likud offsets some of the bad PR the Likud had under Sharon..

But the danger to Israeli society hasn’t lessened. A bomb was tossed at a Ramle police station yesterday, but failed to explode. The news analysts say this was in response to the Alperon ‘hit.’

How was this tied in, pundits ask? Were the police at the Ramle station involved in the ‘hit?” Or was the bomb a warning that the police stay out of the fray? Whatever it was, the message made the newspapers and was linked to the crime families.

Analysts wonder if Netanyahu, once he is elected Prime Minister, which seems to be the logical outcome at this point in history, will do anything to curb the enthusiasm and audacious behavior of the Israeli mobsters. Will he fund the police in cracking down on the crime families, or veto the suggestion, as did Ariel Sharon.

Crime has always been around, since the beginning of mankind. Even Cain didn’t hold back his hand when Abel upset him. But is crime an integral part of modern society? Of modern Israel? Can Israeli exist without it?

The odds are strong we’ll never find out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jerusalem's New Mayor

Nir Barkat, the secular forty-seven year old former major in the paratroops, has been elected mayor of Jerusalem defeating the ultra-orthdox Meir Porush by 52 per cent to 42 percent. The third candidate, Akady Gydamak, garnered only 3 per cent of the vote. Barkat only won 6 seats on the 31 member city council, and will need a coalition that includes the ultra-orthodox, with 13 seats, if he wants to get any bills passed.

Barkat, a life-long Jerusalem resident, is married and the father of three daughters. He lives in Jerusalem's Beit HaKarem neighborhood. According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, Barkat completed his bachelor's degree in computer science from the Hebrew University, and nearly enough course work for his master's degree. He left academic studies to form the BRM computer company, and was responsible for helping develop software that became extremely popular and useful. He served four years as CEO of Checkpoint, the world-renowned firewall company using technology he helped develop.

Barkatis the latest in a long list that dates back to 1882, when a city council was established, in 1863, during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

According to authoritative sources, Jerusalem was divided into two municipalities between 1948-1967. The Israeli municipality provided services to the western neighborhoods and the Jodanian municipality of “Amanat Al-Quds to the eastern part.

The first modern-era mayor was Abdelrahman al-Dajani who served from 1863-1882. From then on a variety of Arab mayors held the reigns until WW1 when the British established a military governor in 1917.

In 1937, as the world steered a course to yet another war, Daniel Auster became mayor during the British Mandate, was replaced in 1938 by a municipal committee run by Mustafa al-Khalidi, but returned to the mayor’s chair in 1944.

Daniel Auster was also the first mayor of Jerusalem after statehood. short interim period then took place with Jerusalem again under British rule He was a member of the National Assembly for the General Zionists party, and one of the men who signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

As far back as 1947 Auster came out against the internationallizion of Jerusalem. He made his opinion known when he addressed the United Nations in 1947.

Gershon Agron, the publisher of the Jerusalem Post, was mayor from 1955-1959. According to Marlin Levin, who worked for Agron at the Jerusalem Post, then went on to be on Time Magazine’s Jerusalem staff for over forty years, said that Agron was part of the pre-state Haganah, and ran a secret radio station from the back of the apartment. Agron was constantly entertaining, even when a group of Haganah soldiers were in the back of the flat trying to decode messages the British were sending to the Arab armies.

The most famous of Jerusalem’s mayors would be the late Teddy Kolleck, who passed away recently at the age of 93. Kolleck took over a divided Jerusalem and undivided it. The Israeli army had defeated the Jordanians, who joined the Arab forces fighting against Israel in 1967 and lost their hold on E. Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Right-wing politicians point out that Jordan only held the West Bank and E. Jerusalem from 1947-1967. Before that Jordan, as country, did not exist.

Teddy Kolleck was a well-liked man who had a homey unpretentious quality about him. He was equally comfortable falling asleep at the feet of Marlene Deitrich (an old archive photo show Kolleck sitting on the floor of a crowded small living room in Jerusalem, dosing, with Deitrich’s famous legs a few inches from his cheek.) as he was speaking to a room filled with dignitaries at the King David Hotel.

Kolleck, born in Vienna, was part of the Zionist pre-state establishment. He was a secretary to David Ben Gurion, and considered one of the pre-state’s leaders. Ben Gurion appointed him as the Mayor in 1965, considering the position as prestigious as that of a Knesset seat, or a Cabinet minister. Kolleck behaved, in fact, as if Jerusalem were part of Israel’s top priorities, up there with defense and security.

Kolleck made the city friendly to foreigners, enticing stars and celebrities to visit, and donate money. He started the Jerusalem Foundation, which was responsible for many of the parks and public sites in Jerusalem. In this way he didn’t have to rely on the government to help develop the city.

According to his autobiography, Kolleck claims that Ben Gurion wanted to repeat something the Mamelukes rulers of Egypt did in 1290 when they defeated the Crusaders after a long bloody war and devastating siege. What Ben Gurion wanted to do was knock down the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, making it one unified city with no distinctions. Kolleck and a wide chorus of supporters was against the move. Ben Gurion eventually dropped the idea.

Kolleck served as mayor of Jerusalem until 1993, when he was defeated by the right-wing Likud party’s candidate Ehud Olmert. Critics of Kolleck claim he could have allowed his Labor party to maintain control of the city had he only appointed a successor while he was still in power. But Kolleck refused, and ran unsuccessfully against Olmert just as the Likud was rising to power in the city.

Olmert, who had been one of the princes of the Likud, even as a cabinet minister under Yitzchak Shamir, served as Jerusalem’s mayor for ten years then went into national politics, leaving the city in the hands of deputy-mayor Uri Lupolianski.

Lupolianski served from 2003 until he was forced to turn over the candidacy to another ultra-orthodox party, because of part of the complicated power sharing arrangements among the ultra-orthodox parties.

Lupolianski, a genial man with a pleasant smile, rose to prominence as the founder, with his modern-orthodox father, of Yad Sarah, a charitable organization that provides, free of charge, materials an out-patient needs when leaving the hospital; anything from a wheel-chair to oxygen tanks, even hospital beds.

But charity and a pleasant smile did not make him a good mayor. Analysts believe he was more an apparatchik, following orders from the Rabbis, than an innovator, or moderator. Recently a poll placed Jerusalem at the bottom of the list of Israeli cities.

Anyone who lived through the previous mayors, all the way back to Kolleck, was disheartened at the decreased city services. This was caused by the increase in the ultra-orthodox population in the city, who considered employment a full day at the yeshiva, paid no taxes, and were in general supported by those Jerusalemites and Israelis paying taxes.

The last election pitted Meir Porush, son of an old-line ultra-Orthodox politician and Jerusalem fixer Menachem Porush, against Nir Barkat, a clean-cut secular high-tech millionaire.

With headlines blaring the brain drain from Jerusalem by the cities young people, the Porush candidacy was viewed by the die-hard secular and modern-orthodox population, who had not yet fled the city for the surrounding suburbs and moshavim, or farther still, to the coast, as just another link in the chain leading the city to a disastrous economy.

The fact that Porush was opposed, not only by Barkat, but also by the Agudat Yisrael ultra-orthodox party, run by the Gerer Rebbe Ya'acov Aryeh Alter's sect, sealed his fate. With only the disaffected in the ultra-orthodox world, like Shas, some modern orthodox, those who opposed ultra-orthodox dictates requiring separate seating of men and women on buses and other increasingly radical behaviors, Porush simply didn’t have the support in the religious community to get elected.

Haaretz reporter Yair Ettinger commented after the election that Porush, was a mavrick, opposing the Ger Rebbe’s rule of ultra-orthodox politics. The Ger Rebbe, according to the report, kept choice teaching and government jobs for its own people, and denied Shas and others a decent income, and even entry to the Agudat Yisrael schools.

Nir Barkat has a lot on his plate. The future of Jerusalem is bleak. The increasing ultra-orthodox population, with their stress on yeshiva learning, will continue to weaken the tax-base. The pressure by a new US administration to divide Jerusalem will begin again as soon as Barak Obama takes office. This according to ex-US President Jimmy Carter, who claimed jump-starting the peace talks between the Arabs and Israelis was high on Obama’s list.

Still, most non-Ultra orthodox Jerusalemites believe Barkat holds the only hope for a revitalization of the city. While pundits agree Teddy Kolleck was one in a million, they put out hope that Nir Barkat can rise above modest expectations and put the city back on track. Keeping it from becoming an ultra-orthodox stronghold that is driving out the secular money-earners,.

Meir Porush mad the mistake of saying that within fifteen years ultra-orthodox mayors will rule all of Israel’s cities. His defeat at the hands of the secular Barkat may well be proof that he and the ultra-orthodox community have reached the pinnacle of their political power, with a leveling off and slow reduction to follow.

Like it or not the ultra-orthodox will now have a secular mayor to deal with, again. The city may reclaim it’s title as a ‘special’ Israeli city, and a wonder of the world’s urban centers.