Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hostage alive-Egyptian official says

Snowflakes were drifting down all over Jerusalem, while the Egyptian foreign minister asserted at his joint press conference this afternoon with Israel's Tzipi Livni that this was no snow job. Aboul Gheit announced to gathered reporters that the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilat Shalit, is alive after six months in captivity. What's more, Egypt is actively working for his release.

Aboul Gheit admits that he could not guarantee the release of the unlucky young corporal who was abducted by Palestinian militants in June. "This is a very sensitive issue and we have to treat it with very serious sensitivity," he said, according to Ynet.

"I hope and believe that he will be released ... But I emphasize that we are working hard for his release and we are sure that he is still alive." Press reports said that months earlier, Hamas had turned down Israeli offers to liberate up to 1000 jailed Palestinians in exchange for the bespectacled soldier they are holding as a bargaining chip.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with the Egyptian official, who --according to the Israeli government press office-- had expressed appreciation for Olmert's current policy of restraint and efforts to empower moderates in the Palestinian Authority.

Olmert advised his cabinet that "it's time to show flexibility and generosity" on the issue of prisoners, ahead of the Muslim Eid el-Adha holiday this weekend. Well, perhaps we'd better check to see if today's snow sticks on the Hinnom valley (the alleged entrance to the Biblical Gehenna). That would be a sign, too: that Hell is freezing over. And that Peace in the Muddle East is nigh.

Here at Israelity Bites, we would welcome any possible breakthrough; if some positive proof of Shalit's life were shown, such a gesture could jumpstart the peace process. It's time the stalemate is broken.

Snowy Jeusalem cityscape on Wed, as Shalit remains out in the cold.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Update on Backscatter X-rays

A brief that ran in American newspapers this week noted that Phoenix’s airport (aka International Sky Harbor) now is delaying the installation of controversial backscatter x-rays scanners, similar to the security technology which is operating at Erez checkpoint. Public relations were unlikely to improve over the busy winter holiday season with extra body checks inflicted on harried travelers by undertrained personnel, the airport officials concluded. They prefer to wait a few more months before they introduce these new devices.

The problem is that these scanners reveal more than necessary, giving operators an x-ray peek at what lies underneath passengers' clothing and an opportunity to indulge in crude commentary. But law enforcement experts warned that genitalia must be scanned, since smugglers often prefer to use body cavities or to hide contraband, such as plastic explosive, taped beneath dangly bits. Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union has slammed these high-tech machines for subjecting airline passengers to “a virtual strip search” much like the ones endured at Israeli checkpoints.

Now the US manufacturers promise that their high resolution graphic images can be rendered to blur intimate zones or to highlight objects inside a line drawing, rather than show them on an unclothed image erected on the screen in real time. No one could confirm what happens to the images perused by adolescent Israeli border guards--and whether individual images get passed around or traded by bored security personnel.

The manufacturers claim that a typical radiation dose from a single security scan is less than 10 microRem (0.1 microSieverts). This amount will not inflict harm on vulnerable people such as pregnant or potentially pregnant women, children, infants, the elderly, or patients undergoing radiation treatment, it is claimed.

The 10 microRem blast is equivalent to:

* The radiation passengers typically get from cosmic rays while flying for two minutes at 30,000 feet.
* One percent (1%) of the ionising radiation dose received by the average person in a typical day. A cat scan would be 100,000 times as potent as a backscatter scan.

There are no statistics available for cumulative exposure.

Monday, December 25, 2006

No flap about the best Present. Xmas 2006

Get real. Wage Peace - Permanently.

Peace is not just some idealised sentiment to be embroidered on a sampler...but it takes sacrifice, negotiation, and oversight in order to achieve it. Season's Greetings.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Slapping down the possibility of peace?

Security was the focus for a quartet of Christian clergymen who crossed into Bethlehem to pray at the grotto where they believe Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was born. The Archbishop of Canterbury, appalled
by his grim journey into the West Bank, pointed out how
the new security barrier, which the Israelis say is preventing suicide attacks, is a manifest symbol of what is "deeply wrong in the human heart". It reveals a "fear of the other and the stranger which keeps all of us in one or another kind of prison", he said. "In this so troubled, complex land, justice and security is never something which one person claims at the expense of another or one community at the expense of another," the archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, added.

The flight of Christians from this celebrated town is a response to heightened violence and isolation--factors which makes it increasingly hard to eke out a living. Christians used to make up more than 85 per cent of Bethlehem's population in 1948; today they comprise only 12 per cent. But Christian proprietors owned most of the town's hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. As the West Bank's middle classes abandon their family property, what little prosperity there was vanishes.

Without prosperity, there can be little hope for a Palestinian peace.

Considering the chaos between splintering Palestinian factions, mixed with opportunistic neighbor states that encourage and arm them, the future for peace looks dismal.
Amos Oz ponders the preconditions that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is putting on any negotiations with Syria, in his latest opinion piece that appeared in the Parisian press; meanwhile Marek Halter, in Le Figaro, examine recent blunders which may be stoking future war in the Middle East.
He cites the
prophet Isaiah - who he calls the ultimate proto-activist, armed only with the Word:
"And the fruit of justice shall be peace; and justice will deliver tranquility and security for all." (Isaiah 32:17)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nuclear nasties and collective amnesia

Ozzy Bee says: i was going insane this morning reading the splash to haaretz: "Mossad chief: Iran will not get nuclear bomb before 2009".
i was sure the mossad chief was saying something very different last year.
i admit that i have a bit of a nervous tick when it comes to talk about the bomb. i think this comes from growing up in the shadow of the cold war and the nuclear arms race and being fed a diet of holocaust films. so this morning for my sanity i did a bit of googling. It seems that mossad's boss has done a backflip with pike, yet this spectacular manouvre has not aroused much journalistic interest, it seems. today he says there's no such thing as a "point of no return" but last year he was certain that iran was within striking distance of this in its nuclear program. there's not even one paragraph reminding readers of this background/history... so the question i have is this just more hyperbolic spin from the israelis or are they telling us the truth? .... the first half of this year - in fact till the war erupted - was a steady diet of alarm raising stories about iran and its deadly intent. ... this kind of political jerking around really, really irritates me because it really makes me feel very unsure and very threatened. but hey, maybe this is what it is to be israeli. australian politicians backflip on taxes and health and australians gripe, groan and sulk. israeli politicians and their servants backflip on war and conflict and israelis, well, they feel like they are constantly under existential threat. i don't blame them.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Kabul Jewish Cabal: the Grudge report

You've likely experienced the inclusive warmth of a nurturing Jewish community, but hardheaded Jews can be masters at nurturing a grudge...even after death. For any lasting conflict resolution, this is the Semitic tribal instinct that peacekeepers must tackle.
(photocredit: Jews in

KABUL-When Yitzhak Levin died 18 months ago, the tragic-comic feud between Afghanistan’s two remaining Jews should have died with him. But Zablon Simintov, the last Jew left in Kabul, is an unforgiving man. He is penniless and alone, and his synagogue is without its sacred scroll. He blames it all on his arch rival Levin.

“The Taliban didn’t even know what Jews were before that idiot went and told them,” the stocky 47-year-old says. “He was crazy ... but he’s dead. Let’s not talk about him.” For years, the two men lived at opposite ends of Kabul’s Flower Street synagogue complex, a miserable two-story building erected in 1966 when the once-flourishing Jewish community had been reduced already to Levin, Simintov and their mutual hatred. Each was imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban on several occasions and each accused the other of betrayal. Simintov said Levin denounced him as an Israeli spy; Levin, countered in kind. The two men prayed daily, but separately. The exact source of their acrimony is unknown, but certainly Simintov was opposed to the octogenarian’s work as a fortuneteller. He considered it to be “un-Jewish.” Levin was also insulted when his younger rival suggested he move to a warmer climate. But Simintov scoffs at that hurt. Kabul’s winters were bad for Levin’s health, he says.

Their constant bickering was so bad it sometimes even descended to physical fights that kept neighbours awake at night. While the two custodians fought, their small two-story synagogue sat virtually unused, its walls blistered and cracking, old Jewish prayer books stuffed roughly in drawers. When, on a cold morning in 2004, Levin was discovered dead in his dusty room, Simintov was fleetingly suspected of murder. He was quickly cleared when a post-mortem found Levin had died of natural causes. His was an important passing, however. It left Simintov, a once-wealthy carpet seller who had suffered a Dickensian fall from grace, as Afghanistan’s last remaining Jew. He is penniless, alone and trying to pick up the pieces of a life ruined by the feud. “I remember when he had many cars. He used to come home with bundles of money,” says Ahmed Nasir, 18, a locksmith whose family operates a Flower Street stall at the foot of Simintov’s residence. “He doesn’t have anything now because of Yitzhak’s bad behaviour.” In a way, Simintov’s personal history mirrors that of his people, whose 800-year history in Afghanistan seems destined to end with him.

At the turn of the 19th Century the community was at its height. The population swelled to 40,000 as Persian Jews seeking refuge from the forced conversions in neighbouring Iran flooded over the border to settle in Afghanistan.

It was only the creation of Israel in 1948, that convinced them to move again. When the exodus was over, the Jewish population numbered just 5,000. And it shrunk again with the Soviet invasion in 1979, when thousands fled the ensuing violence and repression. Indeed, Simintov even left the country for a six-year hiatus in Israel and Turkmenistan where he met and married his wife Elena. She now lives in Holon, Israel, with the couple’s two daughters. But despite the blood ties and his sorry situation in Kabul, Simintov has no plans to return to Israel.

He cryptically insists: “I don’t have anything to go back to.” “I have problems,” he says. One of those problems, it seems, is the issue of the synagogue’s Torah, its sacred scroll, which was confiscated by a Taliban official years ago and still has not been returned. Simintov is convinced it was seized only after Levin told officials he planned on taking the scroll to Israel. “He told them it was 400 years old and it cost 10 million,” he says. “He was lying. He was old. He lost his mind. That’s why he did stupid things.”

Simintov believes the scroll now resides somewhere in the official’s home province of Kandahar, where about 2,500 Canadian troops are stationed, and he has begun the long and perhaps futile process of trying to re-acquire the book. “They should cut his hand off,” he says of the official who confiscated the Torah. It is the Taliban punishment for theft and apt in this case, he thinks. In the meantime, Simintov spends most of his days and nights alone. He continues to have an easy relationship with neighbours such as Nasir and he says many others in the Islamic Republic have accepted the Jewish presence in their midst without hesitation. “We are simple people, no one says anything to each other,” Nasir says. “We are free with him.” The Jewish legacy in Kabul’s crowded streets tells another story, however. Simintov looks after the last remaining section of the city’s Jewish cemetery.

It is on a hillside in the city’s south end and he has to pay a family of four brothers to occupy the land for him. They, alone, stand guard against its disappearance. The brothers have erected a tall wall around the plot of land, in hopes of fending off gradual encroachment by the Muslim residents of the neighbourhood who already have taken over most of the original burial ground.

It sometimes seems a futile measure, since more than a decade ago most of the tombstones were bulldozed when the Afghan government tried to clear the land of housing, but Simintov either thinks it is sufficient, or doesn’t want to ruffle feathers. “I don’t’ know, they might have done it by mistake,” he says when asked about the bulldozers.

Meanwhile, it is unclear when — or if — Simintov will ever leave Afghanistan. Aside from the missing Torah, there is the issue of ownership of the Flower Street synagogue to consider. He takes that very seriously. As he proudly proclaims: “At least I didn’t remove the Jewish flag from this place. I’m the only one who is still here.” (source: Steven William, What's On in Kabul)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

O Hanukkah Bush

Back in the 1960s, reform Jewish friends from Beverly Hills or the San Fernando Valley used to joke about their “Hanukkah Bushes”.

The kids would insist that their parents buy a ceiling-scraping tree, heap it with baubles, and place it next to the front window, just like all the neighbors. Towering fir trees were flocked and decorated in blue and silver balls, or topped with a star of David rather than an angel. Some families added a special ornament for each night of Chanukah. This fad was seen as a kitschy SoCal hybrid of “Happy Cholidays” with Christmas commerce.

Devout Christian evangelicals reviled pagan trees and stockings left out for Santa Claus and restricted themselves to an elaborate nativity scene. They said anything else was putting the X into Christmas. But people of all religions were drawn to the community Xmas tree bonfires in mid-January. (photo above is courtesy of There must be a pyromaniac urge that unites us all. Burn baby burn!

This childhood memory fest was revived when the Jewish National Fund, the Zionists who now own 14 per cent of Israeli land, invited foreign journalists and “assorted Christian friends” to come claim a spruce or fir tree “thinned from its forests.” The largest trees are a staggering 6 metres tall! Leftist friends implied that these gift trees were tainted by a century of pro-settlement sentiment, and that we ought to try and support the Palestinian economy by ferreting out some Christian Xmas tree lots in the West Bank. Easier said than done, considering the obstacles of xrays and turnstills. I did manage to buy a couple of poinsettia plants in East Jerusalem and some overpriced ornaments in Bethlehem. But I hankered for a proper tree, and it seems counterproductive to spurn the JNF’s holiday gift if we expect to interview their members and report their perspective on occupation.

Yet some colleagues consider this notion politically incorrect and suggest that we risk selling out objectivity in exchange for a Hanukkah Bush. (The latter has nothing to do with Dubya Shrubya.) Well, bah humbug. I do wonder whether the JNF gives away trees to any Palestinian Christians. None were in evidence yesterday when Ozzy Bee and I went to pick up our arboreal presents from the JNF, but the giveaway goes on for another week.

We wound our way on the pine-scented Burma Road to Givat-Eshayahu nursery, where a taciturn muscleman took a buzz saw to the beautiful trees of our choice. When we loaded up the car, a nostalgic evergreen aroma of Christmas wafted all around us. We had to take our sylvan load past a couple of checkpoints. Soldiers wished us “Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas”, and cautioned us that the branches poking out the window posed a road hazard. One tiny adolescent soldier with a broad grin could almost have passed as an elf in her green fatigues, if only her rifle had been a toy.

War-Weary Kids & Snipers in Diapers

It doesn’t take an air strike, or a telephoned warning that Israeli bombers are on the way, to terrify the war-weary children of Gaza, Jan McGirk reports in the London Independent. (click above to read entire piece.) Heightened surveillance is enough to cause nightmares.

Lasers glow red in the night like the eyes of wild beasts. An enemy spy drone, like a pale fish-shaped balloon, hovers high overhead to eavesdrop and snap photos. Heaps of fresh rubble cast weird shadows. And sonic booms – louder than a crack of thunder – trigger dread whenever F-16 fighter jets fly low.

In Gaza’s grim conditions, mothers find it hard to tell if their offspring are crying out of fright, pain or misery. But when normally bickering brats fall silent, it’s the first sign of mental scars from being constantly scared...

No sane child can remain unaffected by the mayhem of Gaza Strip. Playmates frequently are killed or maimed: at last count, Israeli guns had slain 89 Gazan children and wounded another 343 since mid- June, about one quarter of the total casualties of the back to back Israeli offensives...Factional feuds and inter-clan battles fell dozens more Palestinians in the crossfire. Three young sons of Baha Baalusha, a senior intelligence officer loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, were gunned down along with their driver during the morning school run on Monday, Dec 11th. The brothers were aged six, seven and nine. Four other classmates were sprayed by bullets and wounded....

“Children between age six and 12 are the most vulnerable to phobias,” explains Maha el Shawwa, who coordinates all Welfare Association programmes in Gaza. “Littler ones just cling to their mothers or grandmothers, but school-age children start wetting their beds or fearing the dark. They feel ashamed and get teased mercilessly by neighbours and siblings. We try to promote awareness of these simple problems, so the mother won’t place the wet mattress in the sun to dry where everyone can see it.”

In Beit Hanoun, a northern Gaza town, householders discovered that Israeli snipers who stay alert at the trigger all night must wear disposable diapers because they are forbidden to leave their posts. The snipers leave the used ones behind – sealed plastic packets of contempt. Schoolboys who soil themselves at night because they fear walking down a dark hallway often get mocked by their peers as IDF goons with smelly pants. It’s a slow battle for them to regain confidence.

Little Omar, a two year old who witnessed Israeli troops demolishing his father’s orange groves and converting his house to a barracks, mounts a barren hill every morning and simply screams at the horizon.

While most older children attempt to swallow such rage, others feel the need to strike out.

Little Omar, attempting to play in his father's ruined orange grove, heads away from his hill.

It is interesting to note that in Sderot, where hundreds of Qassam rockets have landed, Israeli children suffer many of the same traumatic stress symptoms. Very few have taken up psychosocial services, though, because there seems to be a stigma attached to admitting mental frailty.
Many of the young residents require play therapy in the Russian language, not Hebrew.

Friday, December 15, 2006

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Let there be no barrier to your Christmas joy. We hope that 2007 brings prosperity and peace...or at least a little good will
Seasons Greetings, one and all
(...and a nod to my favourite social researcher for sharing this postmodern image. Graphics are by Banksy, the radical Shoreditch UK graffiti artist, "vandalised oil painting 031"

A daytrip to what amounts to a Jerusalem suburb felt a bit like a mugging. First, the pimply security minders refused entry to our car and insisted that it was against the rules to take a rented vehicle beyond "the fence". "The rule of law will be enforced on my watch," insisted a youngster, caressing his rifle and refusing to look us in the eye. But he couldn't cite the regulation number (and , in fact, journalists technically are allowed to take rental cars inside.) He also refused to talk to any higher-ups on my phone, as it could be a risky ruse to blow him up, and he declined a suggestion to ring them up himself. We went across on foot. Sigh.

The bored Israeli visa stamper kept gabbing to her boyfriend on her cell phone, and we walked through a series of gates and x-rays until we got to the taxi stand on Palestinian turf.
Here, the pace quickened. In the week before Christmas, traditionally high season in Bethlehem, the streets are echoingly empty. We were swarmed--and felt like hapless pigeons about to be plucked. Vendors and taxi drivers were cutting deals over imagined profiteering, and we turned out to be a bitter disappointment for not digging as deeply into our pockets as they had hoped. A Fatah cab driver and an armed Hamas trinket-seller quarreled over us.
Santa Claus, strung up on a pole near the police station, looked rather like he was on the gallows.

Even inside the Church of the Nativity, the atmosphere felt tense. Impatient priests strongarmed visitors out of their way. Chanting and incense swining took precedence over gawkers. Thankfully, the line of Palestinians on the way out were courteous and extremely patient. They go through this twice a day, after all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pay-Your-Own Purgatory

There is a newish checkpoint for entering Jerusalem called Maavar Zeitim (the Olives Crossing) and it looks set to rival Erez crossing with its Brave New World technology for intimidation and security. Armed private guards were staffing it on Monday, and one wonders what rules of engagement they will follow. There were more sheep than people in evidence at midday.

According to Jeff Halper, the amiable American anthropology professor who leads consciousness-raising tours to East Jerusalem, Abu Dis and the settlement-cum-bedroom community, Ma'ale Adummim, the United States deducted the cost of building this high tech passage through the "separation barrier" from the money that it gives to the Palestinian Authority each year for security. Isn't it ironic that Palestinans must effectively pay to lock themselves in? The Israeli government, which has pulled down some 18,000 buildings that it deems were erected without proper permits, also charges the demolition costs and fines to Palestinian householders. There is method in this madess, to be sure. If you want to see the evidence for yourself, contact this Israeli action group against house demolitions.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kosher Power-let there be light

Who knew that electricity could be considered unclean?
A recent report in the Jerusalem Post about Kosher Power reveals that Israelis will be able to plug into Rabbi-sanctioned juice sometime next year. This article sheds some light on the peculiar hurdles with which a Jewish nation must contend.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jews, especially with so many little kids in the family, end up getting shocks from dodgy pirate transformers rather than use ordinary electricity from the mains, which presumably is generated by schlemiels on salary who work for the electricity on the sabbath. Of course, these families could forego electrical power altogether and keep a strict Day of Rest for 24 hours. But a solution seems to be in the offing: Saturday staffing by non-Jewish electricians.

You would think less mundane issues might preoccupy the greybeards and finely-honed minds of this country. Wondering whether the electricity is 100 per cent kosher certainly puts a new twist on that joke about how many Jews it takes to screw in a lightbulb.
Usual answer: None. Jewish Mama says ‘don’t bother. You all go out and have your fun while I sit here in the dark.’
But there is a Haredi alternative : 'None. Let the shabbos goyim take care of it.

More than ever I am convinced that the notion of separating church and state is a wise practice and that a theocracy of any sort won't be as efficient or healthy as secular rule. Alot of unnecessary expense and time goes into keeping these strictures.

Friday, December 08, 2006

This puppy won’t fly

El Al, Israel’s national airline, is not one that most frequent flyers would choose for long haul travel if they could possibly avoid it. True, the security is unparalleled, but the flight crew is surly and schedules erratic. And El Al has been taking extra flak this week for flying on the Sabbath, especially after a prominent rabbi interpreted an engine malfunction that required dumping fuel and a dash back to Tel Aviv as a divine slap for violating strict Talmudic law. Orthodox Jews continued to badmouth the national carrier for dishing up questionable in-flight snacks after the kosher variety went bad during an extended stopover. Some secular Israelis worry that adherence to every possible religious stricture might eventually ground their airline. It's not a 21st century experience as it is.

Pet-lovers have a hard time with El Al. Despite reserving full price seats months in advance, my friend Candice’s JFK-Tel Aviv non-stop was practically a non-starter. She and her golden retriever were bumped off the New York flight four times by dead passengers: cadavers returning to the Holy Land take priority.

Apparently, canine passengers on El Al must have their flights reconfirmed six hours prior to takeoff, to ensure they won’t be sharing cargo space with a dead body. These horizontal El Al passengers can't complain, and they are in dry ice and double coffins for the journey. Apparently it was a hectic week for NY coroners, and it appeared that Candice and her pup were going nowhere. They obligingly waited out the Sabbath hiatus, but were refused a boarding pass for the fourth time in a row. But this time, the woman behind the El Al counter offered a suggestion. “Oy vey. Have you tried booking out of Newark? We never fly the dead outta Jersey.” And so Candice and her canine went via Newark one dog day afternoon.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hellacious Hebron

Mohammed Alatar, a Texas-based Palestinian filmmaker who is shooting a new documentary about three faiths colliding in Jerusalem, repeats a sort of mantra at every screening of "The Iron Wall", his cinematic opus on the security barrier. Alatar urges any Israeli he meets to do something about the venal atmopshere that blights Hebron. It feels like a ghost town run by vicious enforcers, and grows increasingly tense.

Daily life in this ancient trading center, which was officially chopped into two unequal chunks, is utterly paralysed. Hatred pulses there, and the mutual mistrust of settlers, soldiers, and Arab residents is palpable. The venerable City of the Patriarchs has been brutalised for decades and to live there must be a nightmare. So how can we take steps to fix this mess?
Hebron settler shoulders a rifle for protection at the Arab market back in 1987/photokees vintage photo

Contrast with photo snapped nearly two decades later by Ohel Nashim during her harrowing visit.

Veiled Threat

Increasingly, guerrilla girls and grandmas are taking up arms or wiring themselves to explosives--which must further fuel the boom in body-scanning equipment sold to border security. Whether taking part in rooftop sit-ins, or marching together as human shields for trapped fighters, or even converting themselves into walking bombs, these feminine furies on the far side of the security wall now are a force to reckon with. At this desperate level, no military solution seems feasible.
To come to grips with this trend, read Rory McCarthy of the Guardian on Palestine's empowered sisters, mothers, and martyrs.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gaza scans - tunnel vision

Wondering what those body scans reveal to Israeli border guards at the northern Gaza checkpoint at Erez? The naked truth about whatever you might be packing.

Once you make it through the Mad Max tunnels and place your feet inside the futuristic "backscatter" tube, you invariably are asked to take off your jacket and raise your hands high. The young border guards often reverse the conveyor belt and send your laptop crashing to the cement floor, but eventually a disembodied Israeli voice will instruct you to wait while a short blast of ultrahigh frequency radio waves tickle your front and back. They penetrate most clothing, but won't go through skin to reveal bone like x-rays do. The idea is to bounce off any illicit items or weapons a border-crosser might be trying to smuggle in.
It's quite revealing, so wear your best undies and be prepared for weird looks if you happen to have peculiarly placed piercings. Palestinians consider this type of scan intrusive and intimidating, particularly for pregnant women crossing into Israel for prenatal care. Many people object if these rather intimate scans are not immediately destroyed. Very few Palestinians use this Erez checkpoint anymore, so pressure for decorum has decreased. The press or humanitarian aid workers don't squawk about this humiliation much.

Following Israeli success with this backscatter scanning system, Heathrow airport and some British prisons are experimenting with it, and now Arizona state will follow suit at Phoenix's Sky Harbour International Airport.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Strike Stricken -- expired spies, Mizo Jews, and the Spoonbender

What a hectic Wednesday morning at Tel Aviv airport. The good news is that it was a British Airways Flight to Istanbul, not the one to Tel Aviv, which has been identified with some traces of the deadly Polonium 210 isotopes aboard. (It's the same stuff that poisoned that defiant ex-KGB bloke at a London sushi bar). Even passengers who rode that plane are not at much risk unless they sucked a sweaty arm rest or something. In my foul mood, I could be prone to such erratic behaviour any minute.

After two hours spent grilling my son about the Afghan visas in his passport from last summer, Israeli immigration officers let him loose. Sadly, this is ninety minutes after the General Strike begins. Consequently there is no hope of getting any luggage until this ruckus is settled. He has been handed a sheet with instructions to keep up with the news, and return to the airport with bag checks to claim luggage whenever the dispute is done.

Ah, industrial action. It has slowed the terminal bustle to a crawl in the dark. Overhead lights have been snapped off. I came Wednesday before dawn to meet my younger son’s flight from London, only to watch three separate planeloads of passengers file by me without any sign of him. At half past five in the morning, a scrum of photographers forms around groups of slight-figured Asians wearing kipas and chattering in Hebrew. These new arrivals must be the the Mizo Jews from India’s northeast-- one of the 217 lost tribes funded to migrate to the Holy Land. There are 65 of these passengers, all tired out from the long Bombay flight, some clutching infants, others pushing aged parents in wheelchairs. On their faces is a mixture of confusion, exhaustion and exhilaration.

I cannot read one iota of emotion on the next face: dark glasses obscure an eerily familiar features, and a slim man walks past with erect posture and bared teeth. A ripple goes through the crowd. It is Uri Geller, the spoonbending celebrity. Wanly, I try to vibe him a plea to perform some minor miracle and make my son appear. Doesn’t seem to work very well, though. Next, I learn that my husband’s BA flight has been cancelled. This long saga is trying my patience.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Nuclear Nudniks

Aren't these vintage graphics oddly compelling? This is an early Jerusalem-centric view of the world, mapped in 1581 by Heinrich Bunting at the height of the Reformation. It shows three continents of the Old World split by the seas, but connected by Jerusalem as the hub. The Red Sea looks like a bleeding gash between Africa and Asia. [Click on map to enlarge it.]

A similar shape recurs below, in the Universal Nuclear Radiation sign, a three-bladed radiation danger symbol, developed nearly 400 years later at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley.

The threat of Jewish nukes seldom makes headlines in the west these days. But an Islamic A-bomb, first developed in Pakistan, set off serious jitters, and as the atomic ambitions of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran advance, nuclear jihad looms.

Even though everyone assumes that high-tech Israel can drop the Big One at will, official nuclear policy in the Promised Land is “deliberate ambiguity.” The military won’t indulge in atomic saber-rattling, perhaps because they can depend on the US to do it for them. (Be alert for the bland American code: “all options are on the table.”)

Any Middle Eastern atomic arsenal continues to be ardently protected by euphemism. Israel’s top brass still waffles about the country’s "strategic infrastructure and deterrent capability"-- even though in 1998, Shimon Peres famously admitted that Israel built its "nuclear option: not in order to have a Hiroshima but an Oslo." In other words, the threat of nuclear annhilation by Israel is to enforce treaties, and won’t be wielded as a weapon of mass destruction. That is, if Israel actually has one. It's a bit disingenuous.

In a country the size of New Jersey, surrounded by foes, the potential of radiation blowback is so deadly that restraint should prevail. But few would trust Iran to exercise the same caution. Under Ronald Reagan, the nuclear faceoff with Moscow triggered existential angst but ultimately promoted peace through MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction. But it is a risky, no-blink stance. Cold war is not for hotheads.

Israel is said to have acquired nukes with French assistance and perfected the technology around 1965. Since then, the military has stockpiled at least 82 warheads plus several nuclear submarines. Mordechai Vanunu, a scientist who was sacked from a plant at Dimona in the Negev Desert, blabbed to London’s Sunday Times in 1986 that Israeli had capacity to build up to 200 nukes, to be delivered by Jericho missiles. (For this he was kidnapped by Mossad, tried for treason and jailed for 18 years, more than half in solitary confinement.) Arab governments, which pored over Saddam’s purported nuclear recipes when they were posted briefly on the Internet this year by less-than- astute Bush supporters, accuse the West of holding double standards on nuclear proliferation.

Some even argue that if Iran were to obtain nuclear know-how, it would correct the non-conventional weaponry balance in the Middle East. This is quite a different take from Jerusalem’s David and Goliath foreign policy narrative. Maybe it is all a matter of perspective. From every which way, it's scary.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Virtual Virtue

Anyone anywhere can email a personal prayer which will get printed out in Jerusalem and tucked between the cracks of the Western Wall by devout human hands, the old-fashioned way. On an extraordinary webcam site, you can even watch your cyber-kvitelach get processed. Click here to email prayers for the western wall.

Ozzy Bee tells me that even from the most farflung regions of the diaspora, ordinary people can keep watch at the Wailing Wall -- also known as the Kotel-- and zoom in on live action at the sacrosanct site. So this cunning real-time Kotel Kam is as close as you can come on earth to replicating the omniscient Eye of God. Just click here.
(Apparently the Almighty‘s webcam does not work on Macs)

Similar security cameras and high-tech microphones now survey almost every inch of the Old City, but only this one is online. As you traverse those ancient stones in quiet contemplation, that frisson you feel is modern technology breathing down your neck. So smile, you are on candid camera.

Er, while you were sleeping, sir...

If former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were ever to regain consciousness, there would be alot of awkward explaining to do about what's gone on since January when he slipped into his coma. It hardly classifies as brilliant standup --more a comatose comedy shtick-- yet this imaginary conversation has been linked and getting yuks for months in Hebrew cyberspace, and finally was translated into English.

When Arik Woke Up

At Tel Hashomer Hospital, it is just before dawn, and Shmiel the orderly is on night duty in the private room of the “sleeping” former PM Sharon.

All the world, except Sharon himself, knows that he is no longer the Prime Minister of Israel. Shmiel sits, chomping on an apple, while the official bodyguard snores away.

Suddenly, all the machines start to beep madly. The PM is waking up!

Sharon stretches and says, “I haven’t slept like that for a long time! Get me [Reuven] Adler, I have some ideas for a new direction.”

Shmiel says, “Good morning, sir. How do you feel?”

Sharon answers, “I am dying of hunger. Where am I?”

The shabak agent continues to sleep while Shmiel explains to Sharon about his prolonged health crisis.

Sharon thinks it is all a practical joke and says, “So tonight you fooled with the PM, eh Shmiel?”

Shmiel says, “Sorry, sir, but truly, you are no longer the PM.”

This takes a few moments to sink in. Then Sharon asks, “So who replaced me?”

Shmiel answers, “Ehud Olmert.”

Sharon reacts, “Olmert? That Jerusalemite putz? What will happen if war breaks out, he does not know how to run the army! At least Shaul [Mofaz] is still there!”

Shmiel answers, “Mofaz is the Minister of Transportation.”

“So who is the Defence Minister?”

Shmiel says, “Peretz.”

“That old man is still alive?!” asks Sharon in wonderment.

Shmiel whispers trembling, “not Peres, Peretz. Amir Peretz.”

“What? Are you crazy? I close my eyes for a minute and you guys let a labor leader take over the defence of the country?! Not all the factories in Dimona are the same. Does he know that? Listen, get Omri here right away. He will fix everything.”

“Sorry sir, Omri is on his way to jail.”

“Jail?? for that shtus? I do not believe it. So get me my lawyer quickly. Get Klagsbald.”

Shmiel responds, Klagsbald is on his way to jail.”

Sharon calms down and says, “I knew I could count on Klagsbald. he will get Omri out of it.”

Shmiel corrects him and says, “No, sir. Klagsbald is also on his way to jail. He was driving and not paying attention and caused an accident unintentionally running over and killing a young woman and her son.”

Sharon said, “So bring me [Avigdor] Yitzchaki. He always knows how to fix these situations.”

“Sorry, sir. Yitzchaki is under his own investigation for tax fraud. He fixed things too much this time.”

“Can’t be. I know Yitzchaki. They must be framing him. So get me the Head of Police.”

“Sorry, sir, but Karadi is in investigation.”

“Of course he is. He is the head of police. I am sure he is in the middle of a number of investigations!”

“No, sir. Thi sis an investigation against him!”

Sharon takes a deep breath. It can’t be. The whole justice system has been ruined! We must get them out of this. Get me the minister of Internal Security, Tzachi [Hanegbi].”

“Sir, Hanegbi has been indicted for fraud, bribery and job fixing.He is not a minister anymore.”

“So get me the Justice Minister. Who did Olmert appoint?”

“Haim Ramon”

“So get him here!”

“Sorry sir. I can’t. He has been indicted and is on trial for misconduct.”

“What? So get me the president. That is still Katzav, right?”

“sorry sir, but Katzav is under investigation as well, for misconduct and wiretapping.”

“So get me the Chief of Staff, Boogie [Moshe Ayalon]. Sorry I mean Halutz, right?”

"Sir, he got into some trouble in the Lebanon War. Nothing criminal. he sold some stocks. He will soon be giving testimony to an investigative committee.”

“Halutz?? he was a young Piper pilot during the Lebanon War!”

“Sir, that would be the second Lebanon War, while you were sleeping. We… how should I say? lost the war but the PM said we should be patient, victory is coming.”

Sharon looked around his room. “What is your name and what is your position?”

“Shmiel, sir. I am a hospital attendant.”

“Ok, Shmiel. Do not tell anyone about this conversation.”

“You can count on me, sir.”

“I am going back to sleep."


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Jumping the Gun, Massing the troops

OK, my Hallelujahs were premature and a little naive. Check out reports that an intransigent Islamic Jihad, together with the armed wing of Hamas, already have blasted three rockets across the border--with no injuries this time-- purportedly because Israeli troops are still on patrol inside Gaza near Jabaliya. So hostilities persist. The key players could well choose to call the whole truce off, while pointing fingers (as well as guns) at each other.

Israel's Defence Minister Amir Peretz has warned that ground operations would resume in Gaza if the Qassam rocket fire is not halted immediately. Besides, Israel had only agreed "not to initiate any offensive action", and the IDF's pre-emptive style of defense is infamous. It's worrying that radical Palestinian militant factions are scrapping less than six hours into the ceasefire.

We'd hope this nastiness in Gaza could be rolled back: nearly 200 Palestinian civilians have been killed by IDF shelling in the Strip since summer, along with an equal number of militants. And in the past ten days alone, two people strolling in the southern Israeli town of Sderot were struck and killed by rockets. So it's the same grim scenario: kill and overkill, over and over again.

Ozzy Bee, an informed source, told me the buzz about backdoor approaches being made on Saturday to Israel concerning a Gaza truce, as soon as Mahmoud Abbas could hammer out an agreement with the fractious factions. But Ozzy is bothered by reports that the United States is arming Abbas and Fatah forces. Naturally, if Palestinians will be killing each other off, it makes sense for Israel to step back, look magnanimous, and save ammunition.

Lt-General Keith Dayton, who handles regional security for the Americans, told the daily Yedioth Ahronoth that the US is indeed beefing up and training Abbas's presidential guard, although he did stress that Washington is not preparing them to confront Iranian-armed Hamas. "We must make sure that the moderate forces will not be erased," Dayton said.
The US is pushing for at least 1,000 troops from the Badr Brigade, a Fatah-dominated force based in Jordan, to be allowed into Palestinian territories to bolster Abbas's guard, which numbers about 3500 right now.

Somehow, it does not quite smell as if peace is in the air.

Gaza Truce

Hallelujah. From 0600 today, a ceasefire will take hold in Gaza. Rocket fire is to be curtailed, and IDF forces withdrawn from inside the Strip. This looks like progress, even to a cynic.
Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials just announced this upbeat news---and none to soon, because in spite of more than 350 deaths since June, any military solution looks increasingly impossible. According to the BBC, the leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert agreed to truce conditions. Talks on hostage release and prisoner exchange are still ongoing, however. Human shields were used increasingly by the besieged Palestinians in Gaza, and women have figured more prominently than ever in recent resistance tactics. The photographer Alexandra Boulat spent months documenting daily life inside this densely populated combat zone. Children on both sides of the border should sleep more easily from tonight now that Qassam rockets and Merkava tanks will be put on hold.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ahem. Bethlehem. In chains

Thanksgiving is here, so now it's officially the season to flog Christmas gear. One farsighted activist suggests that the traditional olive wood nativity scenes carved in Bethlehem would sell faster if they were postmodern hyper-realistic models, with the creche surrounded by checkpoints and a nasty concrete wall that replicates the real one, daubed with miniature graffiti. The slogan, without a trace of irony, reads "Bethlehem. Go in Peace."

She has a point. The celebrated birthplace of Jesus suffers from the wall's intrusion, and a row of gnarled ancient olive trunks, which were uprooted during its construction, now are padlocked in the city centre to stop thieves from hauling away the valuable wood. This seems sadly emblematic of what the little town has come to represent. Growth is nearly impossible and the future seems locked away.

To read Chris Hedges sound off again about this political monstrosity click here.

Up on the Roof/ All over the Road

Much has been made of the latest tactic of the Palestinians-- summoning a human shield of civilians to perch up on the roof and defy the renewed Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. Flapping Palestinian banners make it all the easier for the IDF pilots to spot them, but these die-hard supporters keep turning up in record numbers.

A nun with the swashbuckling name of Mary Ellen Gundeck arrived with Father Peter Dougherty, and these two greying American peace activists from Michigan claim they were sent by the Almighty to squat on the roof terrace of the alleged rocketeer Mohammed Baroud. They cuddled babies and joined the non-violent protest in Jabaliya Refugee Camp until sundown.

Barouk, a commander of the Popular Resistance Committee, was unfazed by the IDF’s telephoned warning to evacuate his house last weekend just 20 minutes before it was to be pounded, and he responded with some desperate dialling of his own. His neighbours hustled over and soon a big block party had assembled around his yard and up on his roof.

Under the glare of publicity, the thwarted military planes stopped buzzing overhead and eventually fired on vehicles instead, but the rooftop standoff still continues.

Similar demos, dubbed resistance cluster-f*cks by some profane pilots, have assembled atop the home of a chief Hamas militant, Wael Rajab, and four other houses. All night long, people endure 12 hour shifts by huddling around small campfires that blaze like signal flares on the housetops of suspected militants. Muttering that the Israeli air force is planning to swoop down and snatch the rebel targets from among the crowd has not dissuaded this practice, although Human Rights Watch condemned the use of civilians to ward off aerial shelling as “a war crime”. The group also questioned whether Israel violates humanitarian law by destroying property in Gaza which is not used for military purposes.

What is troubling is the sudden revival of Hamas suicide bombers after nearly a 2 year hiatus. Martyrdom is not exclusively for revenge-obsessed Muslim males. Today, according to wire reports, a granny blew herself up in Jabaliya, not far from the roofsitters, shortly after suspicious Israeli soldiers tossed a stun grenade her way.

Aged 57 (or 64, or 68...depending on who is telling the tale), Fatima Omar Mahmud al-Najar now is hailed as the eldest martyr in Gaza and her final video is doing the rounds. Her family said she recently had taken part in a mass rescue when wives and mothers shielded militants who had holed up in a Beit Hanoun mosque , giving cover so they could escape under fire.

As a mother of nine and grandmother of 41, Najar leaves many family mourners. Her relatives said she strapped on the explosive belt for glory, and to protest against the Israelis' infamous dawn shelling of a family house in Beit Hanoun which left 19 people dead earlier this month. Her daughter recounted how Israeli forces also had levelled their home, killed one grandson, and maimed another. And Najar is the second female suicide bomber this month.

Such desperate and senseless acts look likely to increase. The IDF's heavy military response to scatter-shot rockets that continue to be launched into Israel --1201 at last count-- has become a goad rather than a deterrent. The situation in Gaza is deteriorating daily.

Since the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit in late June, more than 350 Palestinians have been killed in military blitzes inside Gaza. Crude Kassam rockets have killed 10 people inside Israel since August 2005, and two of these deaths happened this month. Israelity bites.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bionic Wasps

Teensy weensy but with a fatal sting, the next generation of robotic weapons is being developed now, and within three years, they will wreak futuristic havoc in the Promised Land. When I first glanced at the headlines, I imagined that Shimon Peres was toying with the notion of creating White Anglo-Saxon Protestant androids to buzz the terrorists by remote control. No, not that kind of WASP.

According to the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Deputy Prime Minister Peres and his military gadgetmongers envision swarms of cunning bionic hornets, and each one can give chase down a maze of alleyways, snap photos, and kill a specific target. These deadly miniature drones, powered by nanotechnology, will be precision-designed to circumvent human shields. But until someone devises mini-robot repellent, I can't imagine anything that would attract children more.

This sci-fi scenario really bugs me. Wouldn't it be simpler just to sit down and talk, then spend the billions of research and development shekels on health and education costs for the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Striding Through Jaffa Gate

A touching custom

Jumbo mezuzahs were placed on Jaffa Gate and other entrances to the walled city after the 1967 War, though the one installed on Damascus Gate in the Arab Quarter was promptly ripped down.

It is customary for devout Jews to touch the Mezuzah, then place their hand to their lips as a sign of respect. The cases can be tipped inward toward the heart of the dwelling, Ashkenazi style, or be installed vertically, Sephardic style. There is no indication that, nearly forty years ago, these sacred scrolls and cases were considered military hardware. (see earlier blog.)

Military $$ go for Mezuzahs

It’s no secret that Israel routinely gets multi million-dollar military aid packages from the United States, but I was intrigued to find out that not all of this largesse gets spent on weaponry and armour. Made-in-USA mezuzahs, the little encased scrolls which the Torah requires to be mounted on every Jewish doorway, accounted for at least $30,000 of the IDF budget. How did protective amulets for the new Tel Aviv offices of the Prime Minister, the Defense minister, and their generals get labelled military hardware? Excuse the expression, but it appears to be some pork-barrel project, perhaps cooked up by powerful Jewish lobbyists.

According to Itamar Eichner, a reporter for Yedioth Ahronoth, that’s not necessarily the case. American military aid must be spent on American goods, in batches worth $30,000 or more. Since the state-of-the-art Defense Ministry building at the Kirya in Tel Aviv has hundreds of new entrances and exits which require divine protection, the mezuzah money had to come from somewhere. Why not use some Yankee dollars? Forget the devout scribes who toil away on parchments in Jerusalem’s alleyways or traditional Jewish artisans who have fashioned mezuzah covers for generations. Israeli top brass ordered a big batch of cut-rate Judaica from dealers in the United States in order to meet the foreign aid requirements. The Defense Ministry confirmed, rather sheepishly, that the cheaper American mezuzahs had been ordered. Delivery, courtesy of the American military, was included, I presume.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Star-Crossed "Jesuzah"

Check out this odd Judeo-Christian "Jesuzah", a real star-crossed cross.
It takes pride of place beside the door of Earl and Shari Kessler's adobe house in Santa Fe, New Mexico. These globe-trotting folk art collectors purchased this synchronistic curio from a half-Jewish artisan at a local mercado. His forebears took refuge in Mexico, then border-hopped into the American Southwest, and came under the influence of Christian Evangelicals. The young craftsman was inspired to combine powerful symbols from both cultures. This was the result.

Adding a crescent moon in the mix wouldn't be exactly kosher, but the final product might be a fitting insignia for Jerusalem, bringing together signs of all three monotheistic religions. Actually, the official city emblem of Jerusalem recently had to be revamped because it was practically identical to the corporate logo of Peugeot motor cars. City fathers said they would make the rampant lion leaner and meaner to distinguish it from the French car makers' brand, and label it with the city's nametag.

The peculiar "cross of David" pictured above would make quite an apt emblem for the well-heeled Christian Zionists, who are visiting Israel in increasing numbers, funding the return of diaspora Jews and giving unwavering support for Israel's most hardline policies. Some think that the "times of tribulation" already are here and that the End Time is nigh. Click this for an eye-opening online article about the growing onslaught of foreign theo-cons, who upset the delicate religious balance of Jerusalem.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Really Off the Wall

photo by JMcG...Nov 2006

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.

--Robert Frost, Mending Wall
first published 1914

Some observers call this looming barrier a separation wall; most Israelis term it a security fence, and applauded the first construction efforts in June, 2002. It is hideous in so many ways. (Click to read Chris Hedges' investigation at truthdig.)
By blocking access to Palestinian land, it has compounded misery for farmers and families. Designed to keep out suicide bombers, this barrier has enabled land-grabbing and has become an unsettlingly concrete symbol of a divided nation. The International Court of Justice at the Hague considers it illegal. For the next few weeks, I will be visiting both sides while I try to conduct research into conflict resolution. As a model for the Mexican border fence that the Americans are about to erect, it is abysmal.


Circumstances are forcing me to keep strict Sabbath today. I can not use my cell phone. Feeling virtuous, I did a load of laundry yesterday, only to discover when I heard a familiar tune burbling from the suds, that I had left the phone in my pocket. Doh. It's hazardous to my profession and to my social life.

Well, I took it apart and then blasted each piece with the hair dryer on "cool". Amazingly, the SIM card still works, and the thing lights up; but the window is as cloudy as a scratched snorkeler's mask so I can't see what I am doing. Uri Blogowitz says I must take this as a sign to be more culturally aware and observe the Jewish ways. (Besides, the cell phone shop is closed on Saturdays, like most of this town is.) Shalom.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Watch out for Human Rights Watch Watchers

I read a Q-A in Thursday's The Jerusalem Post with a woman dedicated to monitoring left-wing NGOs in order to expose their persistent anti-Israel bias. She discussed her tactics and defended her political agenda. Fair enough. But a close reading of this piece rattled me. The Post's columnist, Ruthie Blum, could use a special monitor to root out inaccuracies of her own. Her bland description of the July 30th incident in Qana as "when the IDF inadvertently killed several civilians in a building" is disingenuous. Surely, she meant to say several dozen civilians.

Later in her article, Blum notes that Human Rights Watch corrected its Qana reports with official Red Cross statistics, and that there proved to be only about half as many victims as originally feared. But she glides over the disturbing details that did emerge just three days after this IDF aerial bombing: 28 corpses were evacuated from the Qana apartment block, 16 of whom were children. The ages of these dead Lebanese civilians ranged from 9 months to 75 years. And a further 13 people were reported missing. So HRW issuing a correction is no vindication of Israel's heavy-handed tactics, which in fact were echoed Wednesday morning at Beit Hanoun, Gaza, when another sleeping family awoke to Israeli fire. For all the blood spilled, few lessons are learned in this hideous conflict.

After their terrible blunder at Qana this summer, the IDF called a brief halt to hostilities to allow for humanitarian aid, and an internal report cited a failure of Israeli intelligence. "Had they known that civilians were in the building, the attack would not have been carried out," the official statement said. Lt. General Halutz expressed his sorrow for the deaths of these civilians, but kept the report's contents classified.

Let's compare the muddled Qana body-count with number-crunching on a far larger scale: Two weeks after the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001, the official New York death toll was more than 6500; as duplications were discovered and missing people resurfaced during the following six weeks, that tally was revised downwards to 3478 deaths. By the fifth anniversary, US authorities cited a total of 2749 victims who lost their lives at the Twin Towers. In the aftermath of carnage, it takes some time to quantify the damage. Miscalculations are not necessarily evidence of a political agenda. The rapid revision of HRW's report indicates that this NGO shows accountability. It is interesting that Ruthie Blum fails to mention that just a week into the war, HRW denounced Hizbollah as probable war criminals for packing their rockets with ballbearings to render them more deadly to civilians. Governments which are criticized by HRW tend to malign this organization. Well, I applaud their efforts.

Rally, my dear

Jerusalem's Gay March is off, and instead thousands of Jewish lesbians and homosexuals will gather in the sports center at Hebrew U today at 11 am. As this is a closed event, confrontations are expected to be minimalized. After the Vatican denounced plans for a march, a pious Jewish rabbi was crowing that a divine hand had halted the display of debauchery in the Holy City by causing Israeli shells to go astray. Indeed, tensions heightened after the tragic deaths of 18 civilians from one unlucky family in Gaza fanned rage in Palesine. Due to security concerns about increased terror threats, the police presence to guard the gays was reduced to 3,000 officers. Some ultra-Orthodox communities paraded donkeys and dogs in the city streets yesterday as a reminder that Old Testament scripture (Leviticus) denounced homosexuality and bestiality as abominations. In defiance, a group of Palestinian gays, who normally must slip in from Ramallah and linger around for the drag clubs to open, have called their own march for today. They are gathering at Damascus Gate this morning and will head downtown by noon. It is a brave and provocative gesture in today's tense atmosphere.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


A bellicose history is inscribed on plaques around Jerusalem, hailing the exploits of 'freedom fighters'. But the English translation on this one reads like an order to terrorists.

Please click to enlarge.

Urban Eye-candy

Bucolic new murals painted on the derelict Jerusalem railway station evoke days gone by. The covered objet d'art in the foreground is not a parked car under a tarp, but is supposed to be a goad to the imagination of passers-by or drivers who are stuck at this intersection.

I believe the muralist is Moshe Hemain, a Russian stage scene painter who immigrated to Jerusalem in 1989. From 1971-76, he studied at the Feshin Art Academy in Kazan. His new works are a backdrop to the daily dramas of West Jerusalem.

Please click to enlarge photos.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Grossman: "not easy to look at ourselves"

Israel has squandered peace opportunities in the Middle East, says the author David Grossman. Now it's time to make an offer the Palestinians can't refuse. The excerpt below is from his hard-hitting speech, on November 4th. Grossman, a novelist and peace activist, spoke to a crowd of 100,000 Israelis at the eleventh Rabin Memorial ceremony, in Tel Aviv. (Translation by Haim Watzman; published in The Guardian and the New York Times.)

"This year, it is not easy to look at ourselves. We had a war. Israel flexed its huge military biceps, but at its back its reach proved all too short and brittle. We realised that our military might alone cannot, when push comes to shove, defend us. In particular, we discovered that Israel faces a profound crisis... When did we lose even the hope that we might some day be able to live different, better lives? More than that, how is it that we continue today to stand aside and watch, mesmerised, as madness and vulgarity, violence and racism take control of our home?"

The eloquent Grossman is a bellwether of doom. Less than 48 hours after he called for an immediate truce to the Lebanese war in August, his middle son Uri was killed minutes after his tank crossed the border to battle Hizbollah. And four days after this public plea to Prime Minister Olmert to reach out to Palestine, the world recoiled again because Israeli shells rained down on Beit Hanoun and killed 19 civilians, even though the IDF had officially concluded their Gaza offensive, Operation Autumn Clouds. Such a tragic blunder is bound to have consequences. Hamas is threatening to launch suicide attacks again in retribution. These had largely stopped after the election of the new Palestinian government.

Blood Libel Redux

Ethiopan Jews joined a dance with Torahs for Jerusalem's Sukkot last month

Blood was flowing on Jerusalem streets this week, after 11 out of 200 ethnic Ethiopian protesters were badly wounded in clashes with authorities. Ethiopian Jews are incensed that local bloodbanks refuse to store their blood, and staged a large demo. They dismiss the official explanation that their donated blood might be tainted because large numbers of Ethiopians migrated from AIDS-endemic Africa. Community leaders point to blatant racism, and suspect that the real problem is a repugnance patients feel about voluntarily inserting black blood into their veins.

An informal caste system in place across Israel puts pale-skinned Ashkenazy Jews as the elite, followed by swarthier Sephardic Jews. Even non-Jewish Russian immigrants are regarded more highly than the Ethiopians. Most of the cafe security guards, who would take the brunt of a suicide bomber's blast, are either Russian or Ethiopian, presumably because they are expendable. Or at least affordable. Obviously, the blood of the underclass is on the line.

A decade ago, when Ethiopian blood supplies in Jerusalem were tossed out from first aid clinics, similar protest erupted. (British blood, which has a high chance of being infected with Mad Cow disease, is similarly rejected, hospital officials claim.) Yet almost one quarter of the estimated 80,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel were born here, and Ethiopians represent one of the most venerable and vulnerable communities in the Diaspora. Not until 1769 was the West even aware that this isolated community of highland Jewish farmers and tinkers had survived in Africa. (They considered themselves to be Moses' sole surviving tribe.) Contacts between the Jews of Ethiopia and the West were extremely rare until the latter part of the 20th century, but once famine hit, they arrived in huge number in the 1980s. Although they are full-fledged citizens who must serve in the army, many Ethiopians suffer from discrimination . Almost three quarters of them live below Israel's poverty line.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

When the Gays Come Marchin' In

It's official: Jerusalem's 5th Gay Pride March will get underway at 11:00 am on Friday, and it is planned to finish around 3:00 pm, well before sundown. Up to 12,000 cops will be on standby, and the entire nation will be placed on high security alert. (But isn't this the norm?)
Organizers from Open House, a local gay advocacy group, hope it'll be more about free expression than free love, so they have discouraged bawdy costumes and louche displays in the streets.It does not take much to provoke hatred from the sexually frustrated and devout here. In fact, gay-bashing tendencies seems to be one of the few factors that the fundamentalists of Judaism, Islam and Christianity have in common. The new parade route will stick to wide streets, avoiding spots where ultra-Orthodox protesters are likely to lob stones or stinkbombs or turds down onto the marchers. Prayers, petitions, and curses to counter these marchers will be set in motion in the next three days. No one mentions that German and Polish homosexuals were also incinerated at labor camps during the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, the media have been far less concerned about the 50 Palestinians who were killed under IDF fire in Gaza last week, as well as one teenage girl suicide bomber who blew herself up. Israelity Bites, no?

Zits, Zaps, and a Flaming Gay March

Last week in Jerusalem, after much deliberation, an Ultra-Orthodox Rabbinical council ruled on a vexing question. It is completely kosher to pop one's pimples on the Sabbath, as this is considered grooming and not voluntary labor. Good to know.
Meanwhile, nearly 100 zealous fellows with curly forelocks were arrested after rioting in protest against the 5th annual Gay Pride march across the Holy City, which is planned for Friday, November 10th. Haredi leaders are trying to curb excessive violence, like the stabbing of three gays last year. But the situation is so volatile that one rabbi has threatened to invoke a death curse from the Kabbala, an arcane and powerful "pulsa denura" (Blows of Fire) aimed at the Attorney General, Menahem Mazuz, who so far is allowing the gay marchers to proceed. Watch this space.