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.