Monday, December 24, 2007

Typical Israeli doesn't fit the stereotype

Was this contest rigged? Over at Checkpoint Jerusalem, they are posing that question after the nerdy little guy above was selected as the emblem of all Israelis and is set to appear on a postage stamp for the country's 60th anniversary. It doesn't merit everyone's stamp of approval, apparently.

Any alternative suggestions will be posted in this space.

"My design," said winning artist Eli Kameli, "is an integration of security, youth, peace, soccer fans and hi-tech." Hmmmm. Izzy Bee would have the little guy shod in crocs and sporting a shaved head. And not necessarily smiling. And there should be a female version as well.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hardy har har Har Homa? - it's no joke

Plans for building 500 new homes for Jewish settlers in Har Homa, suburban East Jerusalem, has raised diplomatic hackles internationally after the purported peace moves at Annapolis. But today the Israeli government confirmed that construction is going ahead, according to the BBC.

Israel plans to build 740 new homes in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, a minister said, despite its commitment to freeze all settlement activity.

Rafi Eitan, minister for Jerusalem affairs, said Israel had never promised to stop building within Jerusalem and had a duty to house its citizens.

It is budgeting to build 500 new homes in Har Homa and 240 in Maaleh Adumim.

A Palestinian spokesman condemned the plans, accusing Israel of seeking to destroy renewed peace talks.

The two sides agreed at a peace conference in Annapolis in the US in late November to revive the 2003 peace plan known as the roadmap.

According to the plan, Israel must halt all settlement activity and the Palestinians must rein in militants.

But soon after the conference, Israel announced a tender for 300 homes in Har Homa.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East War, a move not recognised internationally.

News that the construction ministry was budgeting for 740 new settlement homes was reported by the Israeli settlement watchdog, Peace Now.

Though Har Homa stands on disputed land, the Israeli government has argued that the new homes in Har Homa are part of plans drawn up seven years ago, and that the area - known in Arabic as Abu Ghneim - was in any case not covered by the roadmap.

Thousands of people live in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem which are expected to remain in Israeli hands under any final peace settlement.

Critics argue that the network of settlements will disrupt any future attempt to make East Jerusalem capital of a Palestinian state.

"Har Homa is an integral part of Jerusalem and Israel will not stop building there," Mr Eitan said on Israeli Army Radio on Sunday.

"It is Israel's duty to provide its citizens with a place to live."

Maaleh Adumim stands further out of the city but Mr Eitan insisted it was "an integral part of Jerusalem in any peace accord".

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel was undermining efforts to renew peacemaking.

"This is a totally destructive policy," he said.

"Every day we hear a new settlement expansion plan - this cannot be tolerated."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dung Gate shoveling begins anew

Here we go again.
Can you dig it? On again, off again; and what carries more weight? Archaeo-politics or getting to grips with antiquity? These politicians are dancing with persistence and a certain flair for publicity. This excavatikon is worth watching, to see how the Arab world responds and to see what is unearthed. MOst seems to be Byzantine rubble so far, according to Izzy Bee's sources.

"If political elements want to use the IAA as an umbrella, the minister's eye is watching and he will not allow any work to be done that invites friction and disturbances during this period of diplomatic negotiations. I am glad that the prime minister supports the policy of creating understanding and tranquility in order to protect the holy places," Majadele said.

The phrase "removing any find that is not archaeological" refers to all Palestinian finds and most of those of the Ottoman period. The Turkish English-language daily Today's Zaman recently published a report stating that a team of Turkish experts who had examined the excavations at the Mughrabi walkway recommended that Israel stop work immediately.

The team's report said that Israel was attempting to disrupt Jerusalem's history by stressing the Jewish aspect of Jerusalem, and that the excavations were part of a plan to destroy cultural elements from the Islamic period in Jerusalem. The report also stated that "the large amount of soil extraction shown to our mission along the Wailing Wall give the impression that this is an intervention of great scale and depth and that this intervention goes beyond scientific purpose."

Attorney Danny Zeidman, legal counsel to the Ir Amim association, which appealed the ministerial committee's decision to the attorney general, said Sunday that an internal contradiction existed between the cabinet decision's call for "transparency" and "coordination" and decisions of an operative nature.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hebron hijinks, when push comes to shove

Hebron is a city like no other. It’s part ghost town, part bustling downtown, flanked by jittery no-go zones. Izzy Bee arrived on Tuesday and accompanied five bright teenagers on a late afternoon walk around the historic heart of their hometown. (Note- last spring I’d joined a coach load of rabbis from Russia and New Jersey for a Jewish perspective.)

Hebron feels menacing, and is wedged between Jewish settlements such as Kiryat Arba, which appear to be inhabited mostly by extremists with American accents. Many tote pistols and stoke a powerful mood of spite and paranoia. Ugly racist grafitti desecrates the Star of David on deserted streets where Muslim families have their front doors welded shut and must scuttle out their back entrances. Israeli soldiers are under orders to protect settlers and must prevent the local Palestinians from crossing their paths. Animosity festers here.

On the way to the holy sites-- Ibrahimi Mosque (Mosque of Abraham, adjacent to the Jewish Cave of the Patriarchs, venerated by both Jews and Muslims) -- we passed through an airport-style screening, and got delayed because an American with us had rivets on his Levis which kept setting off the alarm. By the time we got through the bars, it was dusk, the call to prayer had sounded, and three of us non-Muslims were not allowed inside. We were told politely by soldiers to come back in 30 minutes. Just to pass the time, without wasting time to renegotiate the security check, we all wandered down the road, where Jewish settlers were blasting some polka music over loudspeakers as a counterpoint to the prayers. Again, there was a military checkpoint, and all nine of our incongruous group were turned back. We chatted with a buff soldier from Tel Aviv, who appeared with a machine gun after a young Israeli guard summoned for help.

“I am a patriot and it’s my duty to serve my country,” he replied when asked why he was pulling a gun on unarmed kids his same age. This sandy-haired 19-year-old admitted that there is no hope inhabitants of Hebron would ever be able to live in harmony. “I am just being realistic,” he shrugged.
This was a dire prediction for a place where Arabs and Sephardic Jews coexisted in peace for centuries. Separate lifestyles were not put into place until the arrival of an Ashkenazi Yeshiva. The community diverged. A massacre in 1929, when 67 Jews were brutally killed during three days of violence, was a terrible turning point for all communities. Things fell apart. And a splattershoot in the Ibrahimi Mosque by a Brooklyn-born settler called Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 praying Muslims and wounded scores more, branded the violence into the international conscience.

After a half hour elapsed, our group mounted the steep stairs, only to be turned back by a guardian of the mosque, a power-crazed chap from the Ministry of Religion. He insisted that after sundown, non-Islamic visitors were unwelcome. Then he shoved the Muslim peace activist from Jenin, who had organized our trip. He started cursing and shouting at us outside this holy shrine, and whacked the peace activist on the shoulder. Soldiers came scrambling to break up the clash before it became a brawl.
Another one came with a platter of doughnuts to distribute to the young draftees, this being Hanukkah. An old man in a woolen watch cap hustled over, ready to see some action. Nudged by the locals, we decided to quietly disperse, and even though I was tempted by the fresh pastries, managed to resist the urge to help myself to doughnuts and share them with the hungry Hebron boys beside me, and risk fueling more violence. The boys are used to such scuffles. One told me that the last time he was beat up on the way to school, the soldiers videoed it on their mobile phones for entertainment viewing while on guard duty.
Israelity bites.

(top photo courtesy of Christian Peacemaker Teams)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Better stop poking those Syrians online

Someone refuses to confirm you as a friend. Or to even acknowledge your right to exist. So better not "poke" Mr Assad.

Apparently, fears that Mossad and its ilk are infiltrating a popular social networking site have caused Syria to block Facebook access. The possibility of cyber-spies from Israel is raising government hackles. The recent fiasco over privacy and abject apologies from the young boss, Harvard alum Mark Zuckerberg, did nothing to calm these suspicions.

Syrian authorities have blocked Facebook, the popular Internet hangout, over what seems to be fears of Israeli "infiltration" of Syrian social networks on the Net, according to residents and media reports.

Residents of Damascus said that they have not been able to enter Facebook for more than two weeks. An Associated Press reporter got a blank page when he tried to open Facebook's home page Friday from the Syrian capital.

Syrian officials were not available for comment Friday because of the Muslim weekend, but some reports have suggested that the ban was intended to prevent Israeli users from infiltrating Syrian social networks.

Lebanon's daily As-Safir reported that Facebook was blocked on Nov. 18. It said the authorities took the step because Israelis have been entering Syria-based groups.

Human rights groups have regularly criticized Syrian authorities for blocking opposition sites and Internet sites critical of President Bashar Assad's government.

Former President Hafez Assad's death in 2000 after three decades of authoritarian rule raised hopes of a freer society under his British-educated son and successor.

But the younger Assad cracked down on political opponents and human rights activists, putting many of them in jail.

The Associated Press

Facebook is now the 13th most used search engine in the world, with 150,000 new people signing up every day. More than 70 per cent of British businesses have moved to restrict or ban Facebook from the workplace during office hours, including British Gas and Lloyds TSB.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Avi Dichter stays put in Israel after war crimes arrest threat in London

Whew. A senior Israeli minister declined an invitation to visit Britain because of fears he could have been arrested on war crimes charges arising from the "targeted assassination" of a top Hamas military commander five years ago. It was hardly a surgical strike, because the powerful bomb dropped on his house killed over a dozen Palestinian civilians. A veteran spook, Dichter heeded the intel reports and stayed clear of the counter-terrorism seminar in Londonistan to spend a happy hanukkah at home.

According to Don Macintyre of the Independent,

the Israeli foreign ministry advised Avi Dichter, the Public Security minister, that what it described as an "extreme leftist" group was likely to file a legal complaint about the July 2002 bombing attack in Gaza on Saleh Shehadah which killed at least 13 civilians.

Mr Dichter, who had been due to speak at a seminar in King's College London, was at the time head of the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, which helped to plan the attack. The bombing, which was internationally criticized – including by the US – because of the civilian loss of life, was described after an internal Israeli investigation as a "mistake".

While Mr Dichter is the first minister to have cancelled a trip for such reasons, the official advice to him followed other cases in which senior generals have refrained from visiting Britain because of similar fears of private legal actions leading to the issue of an arrest warrant.

Asked about the Shehadah bombing before he entered politics, Mr Dichter said it had never been intended to kill civilians and insisted that several previous attempts on the life of the Hamas leader were postponed because of intelligence that "he was surrounded by innocent people". In the event the victims included Mr Shehadah's wife and three children.

Dichter, a longtime supporter of assassinating terrorist leaders and erecting the security barrier to stymie suicide bombers, opposed Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan. When he finished his stint as Shabak leader, Dichter was courted by the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, where he stayed three months, before returning to the Promised Land.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'West Banksy' and art collective move Santa's ghetto into Bethlehem

The British graffiti guerrilla known as Banksy first left his mark on the Israelis' concrete separation barrier two years ago, but now he's back. With company. The artists' collective canvas is not limited to the looming 8 meter high 3-story wall, though. There's also a show.

Banksy's latest Bethlehem cartoon shows a dove clad in Kevlar vest, winging into the sights of a sniper. A girl in a pink frock patting down a soldier is another of his eye-catching graphics. There's more of his trompe-l'oeil funhouse effects, along with assorted artists' stencils and doodles (presumably done in haste despite the scrutiny of the Israeli guards.) The new twist is a public art exhibit, held in a former chicken shop in Bethlehem's Manger Square. Sundry paintings and a few conceptual pieces can be purchased only here, and reproductions are sold online at the collective's website, Santa's Ghetto There's Suleiman Mansour's "Jamal al Mahamel",pictured above,which shows a humble man burdened with all Jerusalem on his back. Libya's Moammar Gaddafi bought the original painting back in 1973, but American bombers obliterated it when they struck his Tripoli residence in 1986. (This is a new version.)
Then there's the intricate olive wood model of the Holy City, created by Tawfiq Salsaa from memory over three years, which got an update when Banksy dotted it with watchtowers. Starting price is $175,000 according to Sheera Frenkel in the London Times. She interviewed the supposedly reclusive artist by text message for her piece, and headlined it, "Let us spray." Banksy must have exceedingly agile thumbs,built up from years of lifting aerosol paint cans and counting wads of cash from his sales, because he texts in paragraphs!
Hat tip to Checkpoint Jerusalem for pointing out this subversive art happening in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I'm dreaming of a Green Hanukkah

The drive for an ecologically correct Hanukkah, by lighting one less candle to diminish the carbon footprint of your family, is big on the net, but apparently most religious Israelis disapprove of altering their longstanding customs. Many point to the stoppage of all Sabbath traffic as equally earth-friendly, but not anti-religious.

Greenish Jewish types in the states might spare the Hanukkah Bush this year as a suitable nod to greendom.
But using one less little candle makes a big symbolic statement.
"The campaign calls for Jews around the world to save the last candle and save the planet, so we won't need another miracle," said Liad Ortar, the campaign's cofounder, who runs the Arkada environmental consulting firm and the Ynet Website's environmental forum. "Global warming is a milestone in human evolution that requires us to rethink how we live our lives, and one of the main paradigms of that is religion and how it fits into the current situation."

Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev said he was not convinced by the environmentalists' argument. He warned that the campaign would take away from the light of Torah that each and every candle symbolizes.

"The environmentalists should think about how much pollution is caused by one solitary diesel truck on the road," Ze'ev said. "They should be fighting the trucks instead of Judaism. This is so trivial, so anti-Jewish and so anti-religious that even the worst anti-Semites couldn't think of it. Just like the Helenists, they are trying to extinguish the flames of the Jewish soul."

United Torah Judaism MK Avraham Ravitz called the environmentalists "crazy people who are playing with the minds of innocent Jewish people." He said the campaign would only convince people who do not light candles anyway.

Whatever. Let's make it a Happy Hanukkah, starting tonight, with all the "vapid and annoying" celebrations we can muster, just to irk that scrooge, Christopher Hitchens. The bilious author of 'God is NOT Great' keeps griping about our Chanukah, so Jerusalemites now compare him to Bilaam- the Moabite prophet whose curse on the Jews was inverted into a blessing. Wicks are not so wicked, even environmentally speaking.
Photo of hanukiyot by Beth Brewer.

Late to School, but out of Gaza at last

Around 700 Palestinians were allowed out of the Gaza Strip yesterday, in a rare move since the security clampdown at the borders which followed Hamas's enforced takeover in June. Most were pilgrims on the way to Mecca, but there was also a number of students heading for courses abroad. These students included Khaled Al-Mudallal, finally on his way to Bradford University. His case was put forward by the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, who had petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court for a ruling. Meanhwile, Israeli schools public high schools remain on strike as teachers seek a wage increase and lower class sizes. Even Hebrew U locked its gates at Mt Scopus, demanding a resolution to the prolonged strike. At Tel Aviv University today is a lockout.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Smooth move: Hamas militants who edge into West Bank punished with close shave

These are hairy times..or maybe not. Bearded gunmen from the militant wing of Hamas are ritually humiliated with a razor after they are taken in custody by the Palestinian Authorities, the Jerusalem Post disclosed. At least 21 Hamas fighters with full Islamic beards recently were transformed into "bare-cheeked boys" in this manner, a disciplinary gesture once endorsed by Yasser Arafat's inner circle. They had noticed the success of Egyptian secret police who defuzzed the Muslim Brotherhood's leaders. During the 90s, many Hamas members started voluntarily shaving off their beards to avoid arrest by the PA security forces, and this trend recurred after the Hamas takeover of Gaza last summer. If the treatment doled out to Sheikh Husam Harb, 48, from a village near Nablus, is any indication, the razor straps are out again.

According to prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al- Qardawi, the Prophet related the reason for growing a luxuriant beard to the necessity of distinguishing Muslims from non-Muslims.

The non-Muslims referred to are the Persians who used to shave their beards. The Prophet wanted to teach Muslims how to be distinguished in their appearance and their behavior.

Besides, explains al-Qardawi, "Shaving a beard is an act of revolting against the nature of man, and imitating women. Thus, the beard is a sign of maturity and manhood and many Muslim scholars have made it haram [prohibited] to shave a beard."

Showing religious devotion through sprouting a matt of facial hair is hardly exclusive to the Muslims, as anyone who goes to synagogue can attest. But I must admit that the holy beard bit baffles me. It's only a symbol, and one which requires little real effort. I understand that a jazz spot won't cut it (and the Taliban required a flowing beard two fists long.) Surely a righteous man can have a smooth shave.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pawns and white knights at Annapolis

Talk about seeing the world in black and white: maybe we all are waiting for a white knight. No stranger to intrigue, Rupert Cornwell, brother of spy novelist John Le Carre and longtime Washington correspondent for the London Independent, describes the scene in Annapolis in terms of a chess game:

For this correspondent, operating along with 1,000 of his colleagues in the Academy's basketball arena turned media centre, the atmosphere resembled the press room at a world chess championship game.

Old grandmasters of Middle East strategising, such as Martin Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel, wandered the aisles, giving their assessment of the latest position on the board, and working through the likely next moves of the two adversaries.

And one thing's for sure. In this particular game, there are many, many moves to come, even if the sceptics are already predicting that the outcome will be one more stalemate to add to the others of the past 60 years.

Adds Robert Fisk, also of the Independent
Yes of course, we all want an end to bloodshed in the Middle East but the Americans are going to need Syria and Iran to support this – or at least Syrian support to control Hamas – and what do we get? Bush continues to threaten Iran and Bush tells Syria in Annapolis that it must keep clear of Lebanese elections, or else...

Yes, Hizbollah is a surrogate of Iran and is playing a leading role in the opposition to the government of Lebanon. Do Bush and Condoleezza Rice (or Abbas or Olmert for that matter) really think they're going to have a free ride for a year without the full involvement of every party in the region? More than half of the Palestinians under occupation are under the control of Hamas.

Reading the speeches – especially the joint document – it seems like an exercise in self-delusion. The Middle East is currently a hell disaster and the President of the United States thinks he is going to produce the crown jewels from a cabinet and forget Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran – and Pakistan, for that matter. The worst element of the whole Annapolis shindig is that once again millions of people across the Middle East – Muslims, Jews and Christians – will believe all this and will then turn – after its failure – with fury on their antagonists for breaking these agreements.

For more than two years, the Saudis have been offering Israel security and recognition by Arab states in return for a total withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories. What was wrong with that? Mr Olmert promised that "negotiations will address all the issues which thus far has been evaded". Yet the phrase "withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories" simply doesn't exist in the text.

Like most people who live in the Middle East, I would like to enjoy these dreams and believe they are true. But they are not. Wait for the end of 2008.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Who is the skunk at this garden party? Or are there more than one? Eye on Annapolis

In Annapolis, Maryland,Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has convened a meeting of
Middle Eastern leaders, excluding Iran and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
"We must not view Annapolis asa failure," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said before the summit started. Expectations could not be lower, so this is primed to be seen as some kind of seminal event for Bush if the tetchy leaders plod through the palaver.
Meanwhile, Hamas pledged to pack more explosives in its homemade rockets, and Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "Participation in this summit is an indication of the lack of intelligence of some so-called politicians." Petulantly, Ahmedinejad called a counter-meeting in Tehran for further Middle East peace navel-gazing. Only the delegation of Djibouti begged off their invitation from Bush to come to the US Naval Academy meet, and Iran did not get one.

A social anthropologist and activist friend in Jerusalem points out the "siege mentality" that has gripped Israeli since the days of Masada zealots. The present-day siege of Gaza goes on and on, and things are scarce there despite the smuggling tunnels and the ingenuity of the Gazans.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Whose fault was this? Quake shakes but doesn't stir the Holy Land into action

Last week, when a trinity of earthquakes jarred the Holy Land, pundits here kept nattering about displays of divine displeasure or holy nudges into action on a peace plan. Not many secular folks concur. But the geo-faultlines run under the Dead Sea all the way to the Great Rift Valley in Africa, and scientists say the Big One is overdue in this part of the world. (We've got a lot on our tectonic plate, apparently.) After all, there's a tradition of rather fabulous special effects in the earthquake department-- parting of the sea or the retumbling of Jericho's walls, to name two Biblical accounts-- but since 1927, the earth has been pretty quiet until this cluster of geo-hiccups. Two were under the Dead Sea, as is usual, but the epicenter of one on the landmass gave local seismic scientists pause.

Izzy was editing a video on the fifth floor of a building in Ramallah, when the screen started rattling and that lurching sensation in the gut sent me hurtling to the door for a sense of protection. The editor beside me just sat there--did not notice anything, apparently, except the stricken look on my face. Well, it was a comparatively mild little tremor, registering 4.2 on the Richter scale, just like the one on Saturday morning. An after-shock was recorded earlier at 3.0. (Note that this temblor photo was shot elsewhere, and no significant quake damage occurred here after the mini-jolts.)
Most Palestinians shrugged and figured it was explosions somewhere. My Israeli friends are trying to figure out the religious symbolism, or are puzzling whether the earth beneath our feet is building up to a big quake or easing earthly tension.
Israelity bites.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Jerry Seinfeld arrives for whirlwind tour

Jerry Seinfeld has buzzed into Israel for four days to pitch his ubiquitous Bee Movie cartoon feature (which has little verisimilitude, as it does not show the drones as sex slaves to the Queen breeder.)

So, thirty-six years after his sole visit to Israel, Jerry Seinfeld is back. Welcome. But it seems like Seinfeld never really went away. Reruns of his sitcom air twice a day on cable, plus there's a marathon of past episodes every weekend. You'd assume that the leaders Olmert and Peres had seen quite enough of the guy, but they are keen to schmooze with the stand-up New Yorker, even minus Kramer, Elaine, George and Newman. Seinfeld is planning a sightseeing junket - including a visit to Kibbutz Sa'ar, north of Nahariya, to call on the family that put him up when he was a young man.
A poll in the Jerusalem Post today disclosed that only one fifth of Israelis now consider themselves secular, down from 41 per cent three decades ago. So does this mean that Jerome's appeal might be declining too? Since 39 per cent of under-40s now describe themselves as religious, the cynical comic may find himself greeted by blank stares of non-recognition. But if he restyles himself like the photo above, it may broaden his schtick and add to his popularity inside the Jewish state. Bee Movie, Shmee Movie. Get ready for Frum Jerry. There is even an Orthodox stand-up venue in Jerusalem called "Off the Wall", which would really buzz if he grabbed the mike in this garb. Even if he talks about nothing.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

No Settling down, no cooling the rhetoric

So finally the settlers do agree with the Palestinians about one thing:
the separation barrier is about ethnic cleansing.

The outgoing leader of settler zealotry, the Binyamin Regional Council head, Pinchas Wallerstein, says: "As far as Olmert and Ramon are concerned, it has a political meaning – no Jews beyond the fence. If this is not ethnic cleansing, what is?"

Click here for full report on why the retiring orange honcho is so frosty about the freeze on settlements in Judea and Samaria. "The public in the Judea and Samaria feels that its status is lower than that of the Bedouins in the Negev, in spite of its contribution to the society and the IDF," he says."An evacuation is in fact harassment which will be perceived as evil."

(Hat-tip to Ozzy Bee for this pre-Annapolis guest post.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nuts to Israel - huge appetite for Persian pistachios pisses off US sanction-mongers

Washington is highly displeased by nut-smugglers who "launder" Tehran pistachios in Turkey, then import them in bulk to the Jewish state, writes Itamar Eichner.
US growers hanker to be the ones preferred for the nut job , even though they tend to dye the shells a weird hot pink and skimp on that fresh-toasted flavor..

US Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Keenum demanded Monday that the Israeli import from Turkey of pistachio nuts originating in Iran be halted immediately.

The Israeli embassy in Italy reported to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem that the Americans are working to stop the export of Iranian pistachio nuts as part of the economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.
Keenum told Simhon that it was absurd that Israel was purchasing most of its pistachio nuts from an enemy state. According to the undersecretary, Washington was extremely troubled by this, as US pistachio growers have protested the fact that America's friend favors Iranian pistachio nuts over American ones.

Simhon, who was surprised by the information, promised to act immediately to halt the import of the forbidden pistachio nuts. "Israel is not interested in helping Iran's economy," he said.

Iran is the world's biggest exporter of pistachio nuts, while Israel is the world's biggest importer of pistachio.

"We all know what the Israelis like to do on Friday night in front of their television sets," said Zvi Alon, senior deputy-director general (foreign trade) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. "The Israelis just love their pistachio nuts."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Christian students in Bethlehem hard-pressed to 'Love the Neighbor' in Holy Land

It should take Amal Abed Rabbo, 16, one hour to reach the Lutheran Dar al-Kalima School in Bethlehem from her Jericho home. With Israeli travel restrictions, it takes three hours each way. Instead, she stays with her uncle's family in Bethlehem during the week.

But the Roman Catholic 11th-grader doesn't harbor any hatred. "The situation is not good for us, but I don't have hatred against Israel," she said. "I have hope and faith that the situation will one day end and we will have peace."

Students at the four schools run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land must strive daily to practice Jesus' edict to "love thy neighbor."

Each day they face political hardships with the Israeli government and within their society, reports Judith Sudilovsky. in a guest post. Charlie Haddad, educational director for the schools, sees helping students come to terms with their reality as a main task, in addition to striving for academic excellence.

"If they start hating, it will never end," he said. "It is the biggest challenge to convince the young people not to feel [hate]. Of course they struggle with it. They see the news, hear their parents and feel the economic hardship. It is very difficult to convince them that it is a government doing that and not to stereotype a whole nation."

But Haddad doesn't necessarily want the children to get used to the situation either.

Before the outbreak of the second Intifada, Haddad encouraged the schools to meet with Israeli counterparts. The meetings fizzled once the violence began. "Both sides are afraid of the other," he said. "They each know very little about the other."

School administrators and teachers are hesitant to restart dialogue for fear of being seen as traitors/collaborators because Christians and their institutions are associated with unpopular Western and American regional policies, Haddad said.

"A lot of fanaticism was created by the intifada," he said. "Before the intifada there was no Hamas or Islamic jihad. ... Muslims look at us as foreigners now. ... It puts Christians in an awkward situation."

Yet Haddad would like to see programs developed so Israeli and Palestinian students can communicate freely.

After the intifada, only the Arab Education Institute's peace education program—aimed at exposing teachers, administrators and students to the religious traditions of the three monotheistic faiths—continued to function, he said. But the joint workshops with Jews, Christians and Muslims are intermittent, partly because of travel restrictions on students like those pictured above.

Talking openly

It's vital not to sweep problems under the carpet, Haddad said. Many times the morning devotion at the Dar al-Kalima School is dedicated to discussing current events, allowing students to express their fears and concerns.

"If you ... suppress things, you allow anger to grow," said Munib Younan, bishop of the Lutheran denomination. "We need to teach toleration and love, [to] not succumb to hatred but instead find a solution. Teaching violence is the tool of incompetence."

Younan sees "toleration" as acceptance of diversity and living together in peace, whereas, he said, the word "tolerance," which he dislikes, means something you must accept.

Abed Rabbo said students at her school can discuss problematic issues without letting it affect their relationships with each other. "We don't take it personally," she said. "The problems are outside, they are not between us."

Last year, when tempers flared in the Muslim world over Danish cartoons that lampooned the prophet Mohammed, Younan said all teachers at the Lutheran schools were asked to devote classroom time to the topic.

"It is allowed to be angry, but as Jesus taught: Be angry but don't sin," he said. "You are allowed to be angry when someone is killed. I would be lying to you if I said I did not become angry when anybody—Christian, Jewish or Muslim—is killed. But this anger should not trespass a line and it should not only remain in anger but find ... solutions."

At the Lutheran schools—as in all Palestinian schools—Christians and Muslims attend separate religion classes. But in Dar al-Kalima the two classes also meet twice a month to learn about the other religion as well as about Judaism and the Old Testament.

Tony Nassar, Christianity teacher, said the schools can do more to create understanding between Christians and Muslims than with Jews because both are part of Palestinian society.

Nassar teaches the joint lesson with In'am Shaktour, the Islam teacher. "They see Tony and me working together, and they learn from us," Shaktour said.

Both try to help students differentiate between Judaism as a religion and Israel as a political entity, she added.

Haddad said he'd like to see the school's program become more structured. He submitted a proposal to the (Lutheran) Church of Norway for funding that would allow more frequent meetings and special trips to holy sites.

As inheritors of Martin Luther's Reformation, the Palestinian Lutheran schools hope to be part of the reformation of Palestinian society through formal and informal educational programs. It's something Haddad said he'd like to see.

Judith Sudilovsky's article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bubble. What bubble?

Choose your bubble, if you want to remain comfortable inside Israeli society. But be forewarned that these sometimes go pop. Particular neighborhoods in West Jerusalem form little protective bubbles for the Ashkenazi, the Sephardim, the Ultra-Orthodox, leftists, or the government elites. Likewise, even in the Old City, there are comfortable bubbles that seem to keep the other side at bay. The same is true in mostly secular (and highly sexed) Tel Aviv.

Check out "The Bubble", the latest film by American-born Israeli director Eytan Fox, whose credits also include the bright and chatty "Walk on Water" and "Yossi & Jagger". It was released in cities across the US this autumn to critical raves and has been doing well on the festival circuit. So it’s worth tracking down.
It follows the life of Ashraf (Youssef Sweid), a gay Palestinian who stayed in the closet back in his pro-Hamas hometown but came out as an undocumented immigrant in Tel Aviv’s tolerant Sheinkin Street. It's fascinating, at least according to the film critic. When Ashraf hooks up with hunky blond Noam (Ohad Knoller) and lands in the household he shares with Yelli (Alon Freidmann) and token-straight-woman Lulu (Daniella Wircer), they posture, preen, and mix sophisticated sexual politics with the "Friends"-style gags and pratfalls.

The actual "bubble" of Tel Aviv's lefty, gay-friendly scene must be hipper than this movie. Inevitably, the Realpolitik of the Israeli metropolis tears Noam and Ashraf apart, and then brings them back together in a climax that's shocking, daring and jars the film’s frothy gay world by revealing the surrounding social and political anguish.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pistol-pack the groceries, roll in the aisles

At a busy supermarket the other afternoon in Talpiot, a fellow customer left Izzy Bee reeling. This guy really put gross into grocery shopping for me.

At first, the man simply was nowhere to be seen, but an anonymous shopping cart heaped with soda pop, potato chips, canned goods, packaged fish and meats, laundry detergent, diapers, and toilet paper was blocking the checkout counter. With just four items in hand-- eggs, milk, tomato paste, and matches -- I made a beeline for the only cashier who was idle, and scooted around this abandoned cart. Not exactly chutzpah, but maybe this was a bit brazen. Within three seconds, a beefy fellow came hurtling back from the frozen food section and shoved me aside, gesturing wildly at his shopping cart.

Then came the coup de grace: he patted the pistol strapped in a holster on his hip. He wore an orange silicone band around his wrist, but I don't think it was a Lance Armstrong solidarity bracelet somehow. Better to grin and slink to the end of a line far, far away from him. Checkout rage is not worth bloodshed.

I got his point at gunpoint.
Now my neighbors tell me that this was an aberration--not a typical Israeli experience. "We don't behave like that here. Maybe it's a stereotype, but that boor sounds like some newly-arrived settler from America," Reena sniffed. "Most of them need to learn some manners. Oy vey." Well, it's one more reason to consider online grocery shopping. Israelity bites.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hamas gunmen kill 6 as Gaza rally erupts

During Fatah's biggest show of strength since they were run out of Gaza in June, their rally to mark the 3rd death anniversary of Yasser Arafat erupted in violence as Hamas triggermen supposedly maintaining security fired into the crowd of a quarter million, killing six people and wounding dozens. The festering hatred between these factions obviously has not abated. No one seems to knows how to fix this situation. Any hint of unity has been quickly shattered, as are hopes for a peaceful coexistence. Here comes the spiral of bloodshed and revenge. (Image by Getty)

Gollywood? Gaza reveals starry-eyed plans for a studio city on its own sunset strip

Screenwriters should be lining up to option this unlikely tale. The Gaza Strip's isolated and cash-strapped Hamas rulers plan to build a $200 million media city and movie production house that will attract stars and tourists while it cements control of the territory it seized by force in June. Promoters will have to smuggle in start-up cash through underground tunnels from Egypt.

Much of the moonbat/wingnut Blogosphere already casts aspersions on "Pallywood", supposedly an organized cabal of Palestinian propagandists who stage bloody events with hirelings and circulate faked news footage aimed at gaining leftist sympathies. It's a perversion of the tiresome whining about how "the Jews own Hollywood."

Gollywood, if it ever gets off the ground, will surely be more entertaining than Pallywood, one hopes. Maybe the local directors can start off with surf flicks, after a recent donation of a dozen boards from an ageing Jewish doctor and surf enthusiast from California. Who's gonna make waves?

For action movies, there's always the IDF who can be relied on to provide special effects with the odd air strike or incursion. No need to fake a soundtrack of screams.

The Associated Press reports that

the Islamic group has raised only a tiny fraction of the money it needs for its own Hollywood, at a time when the Gaza economy has ground to a standstill and its people are struggling to feed themselves because of Israeli and international sanctions against Hamas.

Even so, Hamas envisions a glittering facility with production and graphics studios, satellite technology, gardens, water ponds, a children's entertainment area and an array of cafes and restaurants, said the Felasteen daily, a Hamas paper.

It will even feature mock towns and villages similar to those that Palestinians fled or were forced out after Israel's creation in 1948, the newspaper reported, quoting Fathi Hamad, a Hamas lawmaker and head of the project.

Hamad said the project's directors have raised $1 million, a small fraction of the $200 million price tag. He said he was confident the group could raise the rest from local donations and from Palestinians living abroad.

Hamas launched a satellite channel last year, offering bearded young men reading the news, and Islamic music layered over footage of masked militants firing rockets into Israel. Hamas loyalists also run at least five news Web sites, two newspapers and a radio station.

Some previous Hamas productions have generated unflattering headlines. In one show last year, a high-pitched Mickey Mouse lookalike called Farfour preached Islamic domination to children. After an international outcry, Hamas had the character killed off - by an actor playing an Israel security officer.
The mouse's replacement, a bee called Nahoul, was condemned by animal rights activists after the character swung cats by their tails to demonstrate how not to treat animals.

Hamas officials did not return phone calls seeking comment about the new media project.
Talal Okal, a Palestinian political writer close to Hamas, said finding the money would be difficult, but not impossible, because of Hamas' network of supporters in the Arab world.

He said the announcement was an important first step toward obtaining full control over the media. "Hamas realizes the importance of the media,'' Okal said.

Jerusalem Arabs shelter Homeless Jews

A touching clip is posted on Haaretz website, a tale of how a homeless Mizrahi family [Middle Eastern Jews] came to take refuge in the village of an Arab neighbour for the past two weeks after the government failed to give them aid. The family of four children and their mother were evicted from an illegal squat and are entitled to official welfare assistance, but this was not forthcoming.
Distraught, the mother complains about how most of her neighbors dispassionately watched her humiliating personal drama as police tossed their meager belongings into the street, as if it were "a play".
For a change, talkbacks for this post are not as full of invective as usual: they praise the kind-hearted Arab as an exception, a hero, an example. If people can reach across the divide in this way, maybe there is some hope for this fractured society to heal.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Soda-makers hamming it up for Hanukkah

For fizzy drinks aficianados, there's Red Bull and then there's the decidedly odd kosher ham soda from Seattle which will go on sale in time for Hanukkah. It's not a gag, though it might make you gag. Wonder if this stuff will be available in the shuk yet?
The AP reports:

It's rare to find kosher ham. Rarer still to find it carbonated and bottled. Jones Soda Co., the Seattle-based purveyor of offbeat fizzy water, said Friday that it was shelving its traditional seasonal flavors of turkey and gravy this year to produce limited-edition theme packs for Christmas and Hanukkah.

The Christmas pack will feature such flavors as Sugar Plum, Christmas Tree, Egg Nog and Christmas Ham. The Hanukkah pack will have Jelly Doughnut, Apple Sauce, Chocolate Coins and Latkes sodas.

"As always, both packs are kosher and contain zero caffeine," a Jones news release noted.

The packs will go on sale Sunday, with a portion of the proceeds to be given to charity, the company said.

Jones' products feature original label art and frequently odd flavors. Last year's seasonal pack was Thanksgiving-themed, with Green Pea, Sweet Potato, Dinner Roll, Turkey and Gravy, and Antacid sodas. For its contract to supply soda to Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, Jones came up with Perspiration, Dirt, Sports Cream and Natural Field Turf. The company — fortunately or unfortunately — prides itself on the accuracy of the taste.

Jones also makes more sedate flavors, including root beer, cherry and strawberry sodas. Hat tip to "The Hornet" for alerting Izzy Bee to the existence of this weird holiday swill.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Israel takes a big bite. On US Foreign Aid disproportionality and dialing for dollars

Your US tax dollars at work? Whoa. Should we put a check on that checkbook?A fellow blogger laments in a vintage post.

Tom Malthaner writes: Although three months past schedule and 100 percent over budget, the renovation of Shuhada Street in Hebron was finally completed... The project manager said the reason for the delay and cost overruns was the sabotage of the project by the Israeli settlers of the Beit Hadassah settlement complex in Hebron.

They broke the street lights, stoned project workers, shot out the windows of bulldozers and other heavy equipment with pellet guns, broke paving stones before they were laid and now have defaced again the homes and shops of Palestinians with graffiti. The settlers did not want Shuhada St. opened to Palestinian traffic as was agreed to under Oslo 2.

This renovation project is paid forby USAID funds and it makes me angry that my tax dollars have paid for improvements that have been destroyed by the settlers.

Most Americans are not aware how much of their tax revenue our government sends to Israel. For the fiscal year ending in September 30, 1997, the U.S. had given Israel $6.72 billion: $6.194 billion falls under Israel's foreign aid allotment and $526 million comes from agencies such as the Department of Commerce, the U.S. Information Agency and the Pentagon. The $6.72 billion figure does not include loan guarantees and annual compound interest totalling $3.122 billion the U.S. pays on money borrowed to give to Israel.

It does not include the cost to U.S. taxpayers of IRS tax exemptions that donors can claim when they donate money to Israeli charities. (Donors claim approximately $1 billion in Federal tax deductions annually. This ultimately costs other U.S. tax payers $280 million to $390 million.)

When grant, loans, interest and tax deductions are added together for the fiscal year ending in September 30, 1997, our special relationship with Israel cost U.S. taxpayers over $10 billion. Since 1949 the U.S. has given Israel a total of $83.205 billion. The interest costs borne by U.S. tax payers on behalf of Israel are $49.937 billion, thus making the total amount of aid given to Israel since 1949 $133.132 billion. This may mean that U.S. government has given more federal aid to the average Israeli citizen in a given year than it has given to the average American citizen.

Ten years have past and its even more taxing now.

It angers me to see Israeli settlers from Hebron destroy improvements made to Shuhada Street with my tax money. Also, it disturbs me that my government is giving over $10 billion to a country that is more prosperous than most of the other countries in the world and uses much of its money for strengthening its military and the oppression of the Palestinian people that share Judea and Samaria and are locked inside Gaza.

U.S. Financial Aid To Israel: Figures, Facts, and Impact Summary
Benefits to Israel of U.S. Aid
Since 1949 (As of November 1, 1997)
Foreign Aid Grants and Loans $74,157,600,000
Other U.S. Aid (12.2% of Foreign Aid) $9,047,227,200
Interest to Israel from Advanced Payments $1,650,000,000
Grand Total $84,854,827,200
Total Benefits per Israeli $14,630
Cost to U.S. Taxpayers of U.S. Aid to Israel
Grand Total $84,854,827,200
Interest Costs Borne by U.S. $49,936,680,000
Total Cost to U.S. Taxpayers $134,791,507,200
Total Taxpayer Cost per Israeli $23,240

In contrast, US assistance to the Palestinians is just a fraction: $1.9 bn. (Yet half of Palestinians live in poverty today, a quarter of the population is unemployed, and a quarter of the men have been held in Israeli prisons.) All this is overshadowed, of course, by the cost of the Iraq war - $177m per day and now enduring longer than US combat in World War II.
Checkpoint excesses? What's your perspective? Check the facts. And please note that this little settler girl is not actually at point blank range of this soldier's rifle. Photos frequently can deceive...even if they have not been photoshopped or changed.
Israelity bites.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fractured Fairy Tale of 2-state solution

Annapolis Schannapolis, ain't likely to happen. Not even in Nablus! Two contiguous states in this stony ground of the Middle East are little more than a pipe dream at this point, particularly after Israel declared that there could be no direct passageway from Gaza to the West Bank.
Kaput. The violence between militant Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops will probably worsen because of raised expectation and heightened oppression. Lose-Lose Situation. The problem is Wholly Land, on which too much blood has been shed. Way too many promises get broken in the Promised Land. Olive branches are not symbols of peace in this place. We wonder if the dove is a pigeon to be plucked. Suspicion and hatred paralyze progress.

I have heard a plan for cleaving into a three state solution: divisions would be secular, orthodox Judaism plus fundamentalist Christian, and Muslim and Arab Christian. But peace piece by piece is a non-starter in a place where people venerate the land.
Have people of the book somehow lost the plot?

.....Note to regular readers, flamers, trolls, and assorted cyberpranksters-- aside from the accursed bot marauders who try to mechanically advertise through URL links on my most heavily trafficked posts. You diabolic commercial thugs are banished.
Izzy Bee celebrates being online for one full year today! We aim for stinging posts with a punch.
First-ever comment came from The Heifer, but Red Bull, the Hornet, Ozzy Bee, Hey Jude and Fee Fie Foe Frum have all been regular commentators over the past twelve months. In spite of online anonymity, Izzy Bee has not been invisible, with interviews via email and the occasional cyberplug. Keep coming, guys. After 191,000 hits from 38 different countries, diaspora or not, it's still quite a buzz to blog. Thanks, Toda Raba, Shukran, etc

Monday, November 05, 2007

Olmert slams right-wing displays of hatred

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has launched a vitriolic attack on extreme right-wingers, responding to a campaign to release a political assassin and incitement against talks with the Palestinians.

Olmert, who yesterday said he may be able to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians by the end of George Bush's term, vowed that such antics would not dissuade him from persevering with negotiations.

"We are prepared to make compromises because security is based on peace and peace requires painful compromises," he said in a speech to a managers' conference in Israel's commercial capital Tel Aviv.

"We will combat extremist phenomena with zero tolerance.

"I am convinced that most people in Israel, be they Jewish or Arab, secular or religious, do not accept the flood of hatred eating away at the democratic foundations of our society," Olmert added.

Extreme right-wingers are campaigning for the release of Yigal Amir, the extremist Jewish assassin who gunned down former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin 12 years ago for his policy of reconciliation with the Palestinians.

Olmert also slammed protests from Jerusalem football fans, who booed and cat-called through a minute's silence to honour Rabin at the start of a game late on Sunday, as "intolerable" behaviour from a "handful of people."

Around 2,000 extreme-right Israelis, many of them Jewish settlers from the occupied West Bank, on Sunday staged the first significant protest against Israeli-Palestinian negotiations ahead of a US-sponsored peace conference.

Olmert also condemned posters put up by right-wing activists that depict Israeli President Shimon Peres in the black and white keffiyeh headdress that was a trademark of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"What do such posters mean? That you think the president of Israel does not defend the interests of Israel but of Arabs?" he hammered.

Posters depicted Rabin in the same way during a campaign of right-wing incitement that preceded his assassination in 1995.
(AFP report)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Owner cross as Bethlehem's sole soul-saving Christian tv station closed by debt

"If the big churches can't come up with that money, then I'm happy to let this station go straight to hell," said Samir Qumsieh, the Greek Orthodox owner of Nativity TV (Al-Mahed), which was the sole Christian tv station in the Holy Land and stayed on air for 11 years. Based in the little town where Jesus was born, the channel broadcast mostly in Arabic, and both Muslims and Jews would phone in to talk shows. Now debts of $800,000 have brought the station to its knees--and the owner says it does not have a prayer of survival. So much for any aspiring television stars of Bethlehem. However, English-language gospel shows are regularly broadcast on cable stations inside Israel, notably the program featuring American evangelist Creflo Dollar. Qumsieh wishes more dollars would flow his way.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Mr Qumsieh has been an often outspoken advocate for the shrinking Christian community in Bethlehem. He said Christians were leaving the city in large part because of the sharp economic slowdown brought about by the Israeli occupation and the effect of the concrete West Bank wall that runs nearby. Some Christians have also said they feel under pressure from conservative Islamist groups which are on the rise across the Palestinian territories.
"Emigration is our great nightmare," Mr Qumsieh said. He believes the Christian community was likely to shrink drastically within the next two decades and he said he too would now be looking for work abroad. He said his family was typical of Bethlehem's Christians, with four grown-up brothers who live and work abroad.
Unemployment runs as high as 65% in Bethlehem and farmers complain that large areas of their land have been taken up by the West Bank barrier and the several Jewish settlements that have been built nearby. The Christian population of the town of Bethlehem is thought to be around 40% today, down from around 90% in the 1940s.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Love potion Hummus from Abu Ghosh

Hummus con Amor...dip your pita here.
Ma'ariv's Roni Malul seeks aphrodisiac hummus in Abu Ghosh. It is reputedly a lip-smackingly good concoction laced with ginseng, ginger and other herbs with uplifting properties. No Spanish fly, as far as we can tell, in the "Hummus with a Smile" which Israelis (Hat tip to Checkpoint Jerusalem for the link.)

It may be embarrassing to talk about, but quite a few people have sexual performance problems. Even more embarrassing to talk about is the treatment and the medications given today to those who suffer from these problems. Some of the medications, it is said, don’t work, some are liable to affect the heart, and some are simply unpleasant.

But the Abu Ghosh Restaurant, near Jerusalem, claims to have found the magical solution to impotence. It’s cheap, it works, and most important—it tastes good.

As of today you can order “hummus with a smile” at the restaurant, which is composed of ginseng, ginger and other spices known to have aphrodisiac properties.

“For years we were raised on the old people’s stores of medicinal plants,” says Jawdat Ibrahim proudly, owner of the Abu Ghosh Restaurant. “For any problem like a stomach ache, headaches and even libido problems, they always had solutions that were proven to be right. A few months ago we tried to get back to the old people’s recommendation and worked on a new recipe to stimulate the libido. Then we included the recipe in the hummus we prepare in our restaurant, and the result is amazing.”

Ibrahim relates that his customers immediately liked the new hummus.

“Men would come and whisper to me that they want the hummus with the magical mixture,” he says. “Others thanked me and said that the hummus had changed their lives.”

In wake of requests and the positive response, Ibrahim decided to take the recipe out of the closet and to sell it along with the house hummus so that the entire people of Israel could taste is magic, which would be called “hummus with a smile.”

“I promise that everyone will leave my restaurant with a big smile on their face,” he says, and adds with a smile: “If not because of the hummus, then at least from the mixture.”

Adds author Shaykh ‘Umar Abu Mohammad, a 16th century North African Arab writer, in his tome, The Perfect Garden:
Chickpeas increase the energy and sexual desires of both men and women. Chickpeas (also known as garbanzos) are famed as a cure for impotence and as a first-rate sexual stimulant. In the eastern Arab lands, the peasants are convinced that chickpeas have qualities which give them the essential energy necessary for their lives of toil.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Can Hezbollah missiles strike Tel Aviv?

Sderot is not the only Israeli city under rocket threat. According to the latest wire reports, Israel says Hezbollah has rearmed with longer-ranged weapons and now can hit Tel Aviv. Lebanese sources claim that the new rocketry hoard is to deter Israeli aggression, rather than to threaten the Jewish state, but Hassan Nasrullah's speeches belie this.

Israel alleges that Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have rearmed with new long-range rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv and tripled their arsenal of land-to-sea missiles since last summer's war, the United Nations secretary-general said in a report Wednesday.

Ban Ki-Moon said the reports of Hezbollah's rearming are a cause of great concern for the stability of Lebanon.

"Israel has stated that the nature and number of weapons in Hezbollah's control constitutes a strategic threat to its security and the safety of its citizens," he said.

Israel claims Hezbollah's long-range rocket force is stationed in areas north of the Litani River and that most of the new rockets, including hundreds of Zilzal and Fajr generation rockets, have a range of 155 miles, "enabling them to reach Tel Aviv and points further south," the report said.

"Israel also claims that Hezbollah has tripled its shore-to-sea C-802 missiles and have established an air defense unit armed with ground-to-air missiles," Ban said.

While Israel has not provided the United Nations with specific intelligence due to the sensitivity of the sources, Ban said several speeches by Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah in the past few months "seem to confirm these Israeli claims."

Senior Hezbollah officials have said Nasrallah's comments were made to serve as a deterrent to aggression rather than as threats to Israel, Ban said.

"Reports of rearming are a cause of great concern which pose serious challenges for the sovereignty, stability and independence of Lebanon," he added.

Ban said Israel's contention that Hezbollah has rearmed to a level higher than before last year's war — and that arms continue to be smuggled across the Lebanon-Syria border despite Syrian denials — raise serious concerns about implementation of the U.N. resolution that ended the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Under the Security Council resolution, weapons transfers to the Iranian- and Syrian-backed militants are banned. Ban warned during a visit to Lebanon in March that arms smuggling threatened the Aug. 14, 2006 cease-fire. The resolution calls for the disarming of all militias.

Ban said there has been no progress the disarmament of Hezbollah and other militias, although he sees this as essential to fully restoring government authority throughout the country. The current political crisis in Lebanon has hindered efforts to implement the resolution.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Olmert announces he has Prostate Cancer

Timing is everything, and the latest move from Jerusalem raises questions, as well as sympathy. The Israeli prime minister's newly announced cancer surgery is likely to be another reason to push back peace talks in Annapolis. Ehud Olmert disclosed on Monday that he has prostate cancer, but that the disease is not life threatening and he will continue to fulfill his duties.

Speaking to a packed news conference in Jerusalem at noon, the Israeli leader said that he will have surgery and that he has "full chances" of recovery. He said the disease was caught at an early stage.

Olmert, 62, took office in March 2006 after his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, suffered a debilitating stroke and lapsed into a coma.

The prime minister made his announcement during a press conference in Jerusalem.

The news comes at a delicate time in Mideast peacemaking, just weeks ahead of a U.S.-brokered summit designed to relaunch long-stalled peace talks. It was not clear how or if Olmert's illness would affect his already troubled efforts to frame a common outline with the Palestinians ahead of the conference, scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Md., in either November or December.

The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland beneath the base of the penis that makes seminal fluid. Prostate cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. In most men, it grows so slowly that it will never threaten their lives. Treatment often leads to problems having sex or controlling the bladder, so finding a way to distinguish which tumors can safely be left alone is the field's top priority.

The primary risk factor is age, with the disease commonly striking after a man is after 50.

It can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and occasionally chemotherapy, among other treatments.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Condi asks Carter & Clinton for tips on Mid-east mediation; quarters bounce off her buns

Eighth time lucky? It could make up for some missteps.
In her quest to kickstart a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians--and perhaps to distance herself from the Bush debacle in Iraq-- Dr Condoleezza Rice summoned two democratic American ex-presidents to get some handy hints on muddling through the Middle East negotiations. When she comes back on another leg of her shuttle diplomacy next week, she'll need to coax invitees to a showpiece peace meeting scheduled in Annapolis next month or in December. Expectations are sinking, so the plan is to deliver a diplomatic surprise. She's certainly been doing her homework, according to wire reports, however belatedly. The former scholar on soviet affairs is finally seeking advice beyond the counsel of the avuncular Republican, Henry Kissinger.

Other sources of advice have been former U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross and ex-secretaries of state James Baker, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. Rice lunches frequently with Albright, whose father taught Rice at Denver University.
Rice has made clear she will devote all her energy in the Bush administration's final 14 months to get what others have failed to attain in the past -- a viable, independent Palestinian state living side by side with a secure Israel.

Meanwhile, it appears that the Secretary of State's private life is in quite a state and entails a bit of cautious maneuvering too. There are some scoops in Confidante, a biography of the stellar Ms Rice . In his new book, Glenn Kessler, a Washington Post reporter, ponders about her sexuality and goes on to note how her buns of steel can deflect a tossed quarter in mid-dance without her detecting it. The book highlights her unusual housing arrangement, a Palo Alto residence she co-owns with a single (white) Californian woman of a certain age. The mailbox would be almost comical: Rice and Bean. The partner is a single female film-maker named Randy Bean (no joke.) An openly gay male professor named Coit Blaker was also a silent partner, but has since sold out his share in the upscale suburban house. Dr Rice, who briefly was married to a black football player and has been squired around by an NFL official, prefers to deflect frivolous speculation about her sexual orientation. The public perception is that she is married to her job. However, much is read into her studied silence on gay issues. Being perceived as a gay Miscegenist will not further her politial fortunes with the Red States, but for now, Peace in the Middle East is enough on Rice's plate.

Vatican vs Knights Templar

How the mighty fall always makes a great read. In Jerusalem, where the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself owns a family flat revamped from a Knights Templar dwelling, the medieval seems like comparatively recent history, so this tale is particularly gripping. Some 700 years after the fact, Pope Benedict XVI has revealed that these Knights were not heretics, despite their bad rep for spitting and kissing. Above is a venerable illustration of non-heretical crusader knights who were burnt at the stake on a Friday the 13th for, ahem, heresy. Peter Popham in Rome reports on the monastic knights who guarded the Al Aqsa mosque, snatched from jihadis, and profited from pilgrims.

One of the most iniquitous chapters in the history of the medieval church was revisited in Rome yesterday when the Vatican publisher Scrinium put on sale facsimiles of the trial of the Knights Templar order, held before Pope Clement V in 1308.

The book is unlikely to turn up in your local Borders': measuring 27 by 22in, printed on artificial parchment with replicas of the original papal seals, it is as close as the publishers can get to the appearance of the original document, which turned up in the Vatican's secret archives in 2001, having been mislaid for more than 300 years.

Academics and fans of Dan Brown's thrillers will be eager to get their hands on the book but it costs ¿5,900 per copy, and most of the 799 copies have already been reserved by specialist libraries. The 800th will be given to the Pope.

It ought to make uncomfortable reading for him. The Knights Templar, the order of monastic knights set up to defend Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, seized during the First Crusade, went into decline after Christians were expelled from the Holy Land in the 13th century. King Philip IV "the Fair" of France owed the order large amounts of money and land; to avoid repaying the debt, he prevailed on Pope Clement V, based in Avignon and dependent on his good offices, to put members on trial for heresy.

The pope tried them, and while he found them guilty of immorality, the key charge of heresy was found to be false. It had been alleged that while in Jerusalem they had been in the custom of spitting on crosses, and underwent an initiation ceremony that involved kissing.

They persuaded the pope and his judges that the spitting was done to prepare themselves for the dissembling they would be obliged to practice if captured by the Saracens, while the kissing was a way of promising complete obedience. The pope accepted their arguments and absolved them of heresy. This, however, did not satisfy Philip. The pope was pressured to reverse his verdict, and the head of the order and his closest associates were burnt at the stake. The order's riches were handed to a rival knightly order, and the surviving knights melted away. It was a demonstration of the power of realpolitik to trump justice.

The order's downfall stimulated the growth of legends and fables about the order. Founded in Jerusalem by veterans of the successful First Crusade of 1096, it was a potent armed force designed to protect Christian pilgrims. When the pope gave it special status – exemption from local laws and taxes and answerable to no one but the pontiff – it soon became uniquely rich and powerful.

The order developed a way for wealthy travellers to pay for services received by leaving lands and wealth at the disposal of a Templar group in Europe.

It believed, as did the Jews, that Al-Aqsa was the site of Solomon's Temple, from which sprung the belief that many holy relics had fallen into its hands. The Turin Shroud, fragments of the Cross and the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper – the Holy Grail – are among treasures it was popularly believed to have acquired.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tell-tale Treadmill tactics of the Peace Envoys

Regular gym patrons of the iconic American Colony Hotel have been grousing about the dearth of equipment. It's practically a skeletal workout room now that minions of Tony Blair, the peace envoy who recently booked the whole top floor of East Jerusalem's Orientalist lodging for the duration of his job, moved one of the two treadmills near his suite. The nerve! He snatched half the resources for himself. This does not bode well.

After all, Blair is only in town one week out of every four. He also ropes off seven of the prime parking spots as well, my mole-cum-gym rat informs me.
Blair's people may have been inspired by the strong-arm tactics of Dr Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State who appropriated one of the elliptical exercisers at the David Citadel gym on her most recent visit. That's so Israeli patrons won't complain when the weight room is shut down by her secret security men. (Did protocol include wiping down her machines in the hotel gym? Reports vary.)
Obviously, to be properly prepared for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, diplomatic efforts must include a cardio-fitness regimen, so that an envoy is ready for the inevitable run-around. Israelity bites.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Arsonists scorch Baptist church in Jerusalem

A Baptist Bible church, located in one of the swankiest neighborhoods of Jerusalem, was torched last night, 25 years after ultra-Orthodox extremist vandals burnt down its original wooden chapel. This attack comes barely 2 weeks after the murder of a Baptist bookseller on the streets of Gaza City, and the Christian community in Israel is playing the incident down.

Chuck Kopp, one of the pastors of the Narkis Baptist church, said he did not know who was behind the latest outrage, which left smouldering chairs and a scorched interior, but did not destroy Bibles or hymnals. Attackers fled the scene and remained at large on Wednesday.
Their motive for arson was not immediately clear, police said.
Arsonists broke into the church building, located in Rehavia, just before 11 p.m. on Tuesday night, setting it alight in three different places.Jewish neighbors summoned firefighters to protect the present sanctuary, which had opened in 1993.

The church offers services in English, Hebrew, and Russian. Worshippers number in the hundreds and attend separate sermons for different congregations, including two for Messianic Jews. Worryingly, some of the Russian speakers attending the services for Messianic Jews had been previously threatened, church officials told police. Messianic Jews consider themselves Jewish even though they believe in Jesus, and are anathema to ultra-Orthodox extremists, who pity them.

In the past, Israeli anti-proselytizer activists have called the church a hotbed of missionary activity.

The church pastor, who has been living in Israel for 40 years, noted that the arson attack took place on the date commemorating the assassination of the late prime minster Yitzhak Rabin 12 years ago, according to the Hebrew calendar.

"Every society has its fanatics and there is no lack of fanatics here in the Middle East," he said, adding that he was not surprised by the attack.

"We've been needing a face-lift anyway," he shrugged.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Peace Studies - How a Jerusalem school embraces three religions

Principals should have principles.
If Israel's striking teachers want a lesson in reconciliation, all they need do is look at Jerusalem's private bilingual Max Rayne Hand in Hand school. While elsewhere in the country, some 120,000 university students and 600,000 high-school students are locked out of classes because agreements on a proper teacher's wage have floundered, this learning institute for 410 younger children offers an unusual example of getting along.
Hand in Hand is no longer on a hand to mouth existence, given a big new grant from the Lord Rayne foundation and a shiny new $11m building. Jews, Christians and Muslims-- pupils and teachers alike-- are accepted here on equal terms. This is highly unusual. Israeli schools are almost always separated along linguistic lines and Arab neighbourhood schoolrooms tend to be sub-standard.

It is hard to overestimate the importance, pioneering rather than merely symbolic, of the Hand in Hand school in a city whose religious and ethnic divisions are at the absolute heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The multicultural school,funded by a combination of government money, fees and donations, is the only one of Israel's four bilingual schools in Jerusalem. It straddles the Jewish neighbourhood of Pat and the Arab neighbourhood of Beit Safaf. The three other bilingual schools - in Beersheva, Galilee and Wadi Ara - all part of the same organisation, Hand in Hand, which began ten years ago when Oslo peace accords inspired optimism. Jamie Einstein Bregman has been attending for a decade, and is fluent in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. He invited a woman priest, a rabbi and an imam to preside over his bar mitzvah earlier this year, and as his Arab friends tossed sweets inside the synagogue, no one was agog.

First graders play bilingual tag, with Jewish and Arab teachers cheering on the children by shouting Yalla yalla!, slang for "go, go" used by both Arabic and Hebrew speakers. One of the Muslim instructors recently started wearing a full veil; in this school where Orthodox Jewish clothing restrictions are accepted, this decision did not faze the children.

History lessons about the war of 1948, which Israelis describe as the war of independence and Palestinians refer to as al-naqba, the catastrophe, are tricky.

"We teach everything and we discuss the issues and we accept it is possible not to agree with each other," said Amin Khalaf, a co-founder of the Hand in Hand mixed education project. "But we have to know both sides."

Despite suspicion and resentment by some outsiders, the school has a growing waiting list and is a beacon of hope for Israel's future.