Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Coming soon: bomb-sniffing bees

Izzy Bee applauds innovative ways to protect civilians from the risks of conflict, particularly from hidden explosives. Surely Israel can adapt these cutting edge techniques from Croatian professors who are training ordinary honey bees to sniff out landmines.
Scientists in the US and UK are also abuzz about the possibilities
of bee bomb-detectors that are cheap and quick to train. How sweet it could be for security agents surveying dodgy frontiers.

At this rate, sniffer bees could soon be a reality at Israeli checkpoints, and using insects might be less offensive to Muslims than inspection by dogs or pimply teenage soldiers in low-slung pants. According to British press reports, these specially trained bees are adept at finding more than, say, a stinger missile. They can be sensitized to gunpowder, semtex, plastic explosive, TNT, you name it. And once trained, it just takes a few bees inside a scanning box to process abig crows. It's efficient, however offbeat.
Bees could be trained to detect illicit drugs, too, using the same sort of "buzz box" scanner trademarked by Inscentinel researchers (at right).
The downside is that a mysterious insect AIDS has depleted domesticated honey bee hives in Europe and North America, so fewer bee recruits are available. (Some reports suggested that radio and mobile phone signals interfere with bee navigation, so many went astray.) What's more, bees are apt to go berserk if they encounter large amounts of honey, no matter how well-trained they might be. This would be especially stressful for, say, Palestinian honey traders or bakers at a border. So flying squads of sniffer bees, already dubbed "insect scentinels" by the punning marketers in Britain, might get overy enthusiastic, send off the wrong signals and implicate an innocent bypasser. "Oops. Honey, I shot that granny with baklava." Until this glitch is worked out, it's doubtful that Israeli security firms will be making a beeline to use this experimental method.

Some cat-nap: Negev man subdues wild leopard

Israel abounds with unlikely heroes, such as Arthur Du Mosch, the Dutch immigrant dad who used his bare hands to subdue a wild leopard for 20 minutes and so rescued the household kitty from its jaws.

The male leopard apparently slunk in through a window left wide open so night breezes might cool the house near Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev desert.
There was wide sympathy for the scrawny and elderly wildcat whose arthritic joints hampered hunting and reduced it to eating dried pet food, and then pets. And photos of the nature guide in his underwear, wrestling with the spotted cat got wide play. Click here to watch the bedroom struggle. Only about ten wild leopards are left inside Israel, including this malnourished male.

But tell a man on the street in Jerusalem a beastly tale and it inevitably gets a political twist. Hence this letter in today's Jerusalem Post

How Israeli!

Sir, - "Wild leopard pays late-night cat-call" (May 29) reminded me of Israel's approach to terrorists.

In the incident, the nature guide grabbed the leopard around the neck and pinned it down for 20 minutes until the authorities arrived. Once the leopard was in captivity, the nature officials were assessing its health and planning to feed it sufficiently to help it "put on some weight" and then, once it was in good shape, "to release him back into the wild."In our jails we have 10,000 "beasts" who make every effort to destroy innocent Jewish lives. Our special IDF units capture and incarcerate these murderers with great daring and risk to their own lives. During their sojourn the terrorists are provided with exemplary medical treatment to restore their health. But then, in short order, the unrepentant assassins are released so they can have still one more opportunity to accomplish their nefarious missions.

Give me patience!


The listless leopard gets a spot check from veterinarians before his release to a nature reserve, reuters photo

Busted while Bonking near Arafat's Grave

It's not every day that a wanted terrorist is arrested en flagrante delicto while parked in his jeep near Arafat's graveside, making love and not war. He had been on the run for seven years.
Israeli forces in Ramallah countered little resistance when they approached the jeep of Khaled Shawish, a top Fatah militant caught in a compromising position, Aaron Klein reports on WorldNetDaily.

Israelis arrested the elusive militant in the West Bank, just a couple hundred feet from PLO leader Yasser Arafat's grave. Khaled Shawish, currently an officer in the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' presidential guard unit, was hauled off by the undercover cops and charged for involvement in the murders of at least 8 Israelis. Shawish happens to be the Ramallah chief of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and is thought to be behind the West Bank ambush in December 2000 that killed Israeli ultra-nationalist leader Benjamin Kahane and Kahane's wife, Talya, and injured their five daughters, the grandchildren of Rabbi Meir Kahane. He also is charged with helping implement several suicide bomb attacks inside Jerusalem, and, despite his injuries, is believed to be one of the top tacticians for The Brigades-- the "military wing" of Abbas's Fatah party.

Several years ago Shawish was struck by a bullet during a faceoff with the Israel Defense Forces and, although he escaped, he has been confined to a wheelchair. But he is still able to get behind a steering wheel and apparently has maintained his sex drive, too.

Klein writes piquantly:

According to Israeli security officials and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades sources in Ramallah, Shawish was arrested after the Israeli police stormed his jeep, which was parked in a lot outside the Muqata, about 200 feet from Arafat's grave. The sources said at the time of his arrest, Shawish was having intercourse in the back seat of his jeep with a Palestinian woman, who...was not his wife.

The Brigades, founded by Arafat, largely considers the late PLO leader's resting place to be a sacred site.


Getting laid where the PLO's leader was laid to rest was hardly in the best possible taste. But ultimately it was the IDF who scored. No bumper sticker warned "If this jeep's a'rockin, don't come a'knockin'", so they did, to Shawish's surprise.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Unsettling history post 6-Day War

At the end of the pre-emptive Six Day War, a senior legal adviser for Israel cautioned the government in writing that any new expansion or settlements would violate international law. That secret memo, long ignored, makes headlines in todays's London Independent, and Judge Theodor Meron, a holocaust survivor, still stands by his advice to the cabinet. Settlement, he concluded, would directly conflict with the Hague and Geneva conventions governing the conduct of occupying powers.
The road forward for Israelis has been anything but straightforward, according to Jerusalem-based journalist Donald Macintyre's take on the past 40 years since that victory.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Is that a rocket in your diplomatic pouch?

...or are you just happpy to see me?

A new government public relations blitz is sending Qassam shrapnel to foreign embassies, via the diplomatic pouch. Because these Palestinian rockets are a blunt instrument, and often inaccurate, their damage is often underplayed in the press. The charred chunks on tour will remind envoys just how intimidating and destructive rocket fire can be. Five Qassams launched last night set wheat fields ablaze and yesterday another killed a grazing white mare. (Compare this with the 38 Palestinians killed in IDF air strikes since May 17th, including 7 children.)
While Christian evangelicals in America are moved to toss their money at the Qassam rocket victims, and strengthen their shelters, so is the Russian billionaire Gaydamak. Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas are even beginning to question the tactics behind the rocket barrage, and call for it to stop. Few analysts believe in the viability of any truce without the approval of Hamas's military wing, though.

Meanwhile, in another Israeli assault on the diplomatic front, security forces rounded up 33 Hamas officials in the West Bank, including mayors and elected members of parliament, who they claim "pose a clear and present danger to the lives of Israelis." This may be partly to counter any propaganda benefits to Hamas caused by retaliatory air strikes in Gaza. Earlier, officials said that the Israeli forces took out Gaza businesses with terrorist money connections to Iran, Lebanon or Syria.

Obstacles to Peace

Peace in the Middle East can seem like a mirage in the sand. This week, I read that a London School of Economics professor blames the extended conflict on a basic clash between state security (Israel) and human security (for the walled-in Palestinians). Few scholars can agree on what is meant by the Neo-con buzz-word, an "existential" war. All wars are aimed at wiping out the enemy, no? Degradation extinguishes human dignity as surely as paper covers rock, rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper. But it is no game. To Arab and Jewish civilians on the front lines, life has become joyless.

In a bumper analysis project, the BBC's website suggests that the origin of this bitter Israeli-Arab combat is four-fold. First comes an fashioned water dispute. How's that for muddying the waters?

Borders in constant flux don't help matters for leaders seeking Condi Rice's elusive political horizon: an imaginary line which recedes the closer you approach it. And Jerusalem, reunited for the past 40 years according to the city fathers, is a perennial stumbling block. Thousands of Palestinian refugees, who languish in squalid camps, are an uncomfortable reminder of people pushed aside and that the "right of return" is unequal. Almost anyone with a Jewish grandparent is welcomed at Ben Gurion airport as a potential Israeli citizen (or citizen-soldier.) Many youth groups provide all-expenses-paid holidays to first workd gap-year students looking for their Hebrew roots in the Holy Land. This must stick in the craw of Palestinian families who are harassed at every checkpoint, hoping to eke out a livelihood in the land of their grandfathers.

Israelity Bites.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Scared Sderotis to camp in Tel Aviv

The Qassam rockets' red glare and bloody consequences menace the residents of Sderot, and despite nearly 180 homemade rockets fired in the past week, the spate of militant attacks shows no sign of stopping. That's why a thousand not-so-happy campers from Sderot will trickle into a tent city erected for them in a Tel Aviv park tonight. This is not a government refugee camp, but the brainstorm of the brash Israeli tycoon, Arkady Gaydamak.
The Russian immigrant with deep pockets built a similar camp under canvas last summer, during the war against Hezbollah, when some Sderot residents shifted to his tent city in Nitzanim. Most of the people who live within easy rocket range of the Gaza Strip are Russian or Ethiopian immigrants. One woman was killed by shrapnel on Monday as she walked home to fetch a sweater for her elderly mother.
Israeli officials refused to give Gaydamak a permit when he proposed Jerusalem's Saker Garden to house the refugees, but he has pushed ahead and found a green site on the edge of Tel Aviv. Giving free entry to local water parks might entertain these jumpy children. Their screams of delight will be a change from screams of fear, and a little distraction is welcome. Surely the government aims to tackle the Qassam problem before Oprah Winfrey, the American chat show queen, arrives to dispense hugs and solidarity under the world's spotlight. Olmert better get cracking.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Shavuot: Thou Shalt Have a Cow

Izzy's first encounter with this peculiar combo-holiday has left her full of good Jewish food...just like on most Israeli holidays. Friends tell me Shavuot commemorates when Moses came down from Mt Sinai with the stone tablets, and by extension celebrates the divine gift of the Torah, and (also) the picking of the first fruit. But surely that does not go all the back to the tasting menu of Eve and Adam, I reckon. Otherwise the day would be a celebration of humankind's fall from grace and the emergence of original sin. Not so auspicious.
To me, it's a timeless harvest fest, with crucial religious overtones. Somehow the day has evolved into a p.r. blitz for the Israeli dairy board as well, according to local reports, and some animal rights folks want this practice to end. Well, Israeli cheese tastes great spread on bread baked from newly harvested and ground wheat. Yum. Unfortunately, many Israelis are lactose intolerant, according to this recent post. Cheesy holidays like these are a challenge.
Apparently, the milk component of this agricultural celebration inspires seasonal squirt gun fights amongst rowdy school kids. Must be symbolic. Udderly symbolic. Just as well that the kids have this to occupy themselves, since Shavuot is like an extra sabbath. Most offices and shops are shuttered in western Jerusalem. This caught many of us off guard, and makes celebrating damn difficult.

5 Nablus Stations Silenced & the latest Hurra

Yesterday's army raids on Nablus have provoked international ire. When the IDF rolled into the West Bank and confiscated computers and broadcasting gear from five radio and tv stations, Reporters Without Borders called for restraint, and said there was no justification for this heavy-handedness.

Israel Defence Forces insist they target the media only on the basis of their use for military or strategic purposes and not because of their hostile programme content. (Farfur, the pernicious Mickey Mouse clone on Hamas kiddie tv which recently squeaked out slogans demanding the annhilation of Jews, notwithstanding.)

Raids hit the pro-Hamas TV stations Al-Afaq and Sana TV plus two radio stations linked to the Islamist movement, Jabal Al-Nar and Koran Radio. Television stations Gama TV and Nablus TV were also overrun by soldiers. None of the Palestinian TV stations has so far been able to resume broadcasting.

In light of all the Middle East communications fiascos funded by United States tax dollars, which recently saw live mikes handed to pro-Hizb speakers on Al Hurra tv who exhorted viewers to commit violence against Jews, the Levantine airwaves are pretty hard to fathom.

On Wednesday, a US congressional hearing about the botched $63m outreach programme to moderate Muslims produced some classic lines.
"How does it happen that the terrorists take over?" Representative Gary L. Ackerman, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcomittee, demanded. "Is there no adult supervision?"

Er, well.....Joaquin Blaya, on the board of Al Hurra, conceded that the head honchos in the network's chain of command spoke no Arabic and could not understand what was being said in broadcasts.

This all was happening while air strikes inside Gaza blazed and scores of rockets menaced Sderot. Israeli volunteer ambulance crews were rushed to Ashkelon after rumours that longer-range missiles were expected to strike there. The Hamas/Fatah situation is spiralling down.

Monday, May 21, 2007

New Palestinian Campaign targets Stones

No Satisfaction...The Rolling Stones, those sexagenarian uber-rockers who promoter Shuki Weiss has booked to play Tel Aviv in September, are being urged to boycott Israel.
Word is out that Britney Spears, no stranger to controversy herself, is due to sing here as well this autumn. But security issues make these big concerts iffy. Depeche Mode disappointed 40,000 fans by cancelling at the last minute last summer. The rockers Blonde Redhead and American Idol's Kelly Clarkson also got cold feet because of the Second Lebanon War and the rain of rockets as far south as Haifa.

This week the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel issued an open letter to Jagger's manager which reportedly says: "Performing in Israel at this time is morally equivalent to performing in South Africa during the apartheid era." Campaigners urged the Stones to refrain from performing in Israel "until the time comes when (Israel) ends its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and respects fundamental human rights," according to Haaretz.
The Stones joined a cultural boycott of apartheid-era South Africa during the 1980s, by playing on the 1985 single, Sun City, which raised public awareness about apartheid and its injustices. The lyrics are by Steven Van Zandt:

We're rockers and rappers united and strong
... we don't like what's going on
It's time for some justice it's time for the truth
We've realized there's only one thing we can do
...Got to say I aint gonna play
It's time to accept responsibility
Freedom is a privilege nobody rides for free

Getting the Rolling Stones in the Holy Land: an uphill struggle.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ominous Knock at the Door for Ploni Almoni

Many ultra-orthodox bloggers in Israel are to be forced offline, according to Yair Ettinger in Haaretz. Kosher computing is quite a struggle. Already a home internet connection for the Ger Hassidics requires a rabbi's approval, so most family PCs are used just for word processing or to play G-rated kosher DVDs--though allegedly never on the Sabbath.

promotional for

Ultra-orthodox online forums are braced for the fallout and most dread the plug being pulled. This Rabbinical decree against home computing will, er, forever Alter the hobbies of Orthodox nerds.(Pairs of Ger elders in fur hats soon will go house to house, knocking on doors to warn against the "spiritual dangers" of cyberspace. Last year, two ultra-orthodox brawlers were named and shamed by an anonymous John Doe, who dubbed himself "Ploni Almoni" on the internet. This post spurred a long drawn-out vendetta against orthodox bloggers after Gerrer Yisrael Ackerman, one of the accused, petitioned the court to force the cyber-slanderer to reveal his identity.

Big communities of Gerrer chasidim, originally from Poland, now are established in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, New York, London and Antwerp. More Israeli communities flourish in Ashdod, Bnei Brak, Arad in the Negev desert, and Hazor in the Galilee, as well as Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Gat. Will their emails cease?

In Modim Ilit, an all ultra-Orthodox community outside Tel Aviv, men who pursue religious studies are increasingly unable to provide for their large families. To fight poverty, which is as dire as for Bedouin families in the area, cyber-savvy wives and daughters have begun to work online from home, earning the entire household budget through outsourced telemarketing, or even tech support. Edicts like the Gerrer crackdown on the internet would lead to their financial ruin.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Airstrikes in Gaza

Here we go again. Hamas and Fatah, trying to draw Israel into their internecine bloodfest, let loose a big barrage of Qassam rockets and hit a high school in the Negev. Now the IDF has responded, and according to the latest news reports, airstrikes are underway inside the Gaza strip. Hamas has vowed to send new suicide squads across the border to wreak vengeance. Israelity bites.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Jews on Ice

Relax- Hassidic ice capades this is not. While out of Israel for the past couple of weeks, Izzy has been trolling about New York City. She was able to peruse an amusing interview on to learn more about a fictional Yiddish community's sub-Arctic antics which draws some parallels with contemporary Israel. Mostly it examines Jewish identity, and, er, Chassids as hobbits.
Click here to link to this wry exchange with author Michael Chabon.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Makepeace --if only!--seeks to free hostage

A British Envoy in Jerusalem, Richard Makepeace, is one of those rare people whose surname suits his job perfectly. (It reminds me that there was an actual Doctor Bonebreak in my childhood neighbourhood, but this particular moniker, with its diplomatic impertive, is wonderfully upbeat.)
After Makepeace's recent attempts to find out from the Palestinian leaders the whereabouts of the BBC's missing correspondent, Alan Johnston, who was grabbed at gunpoint from the streets of Gaza on March 12th this year, there has been a minor breakthrough. Al Jazeera network has just received a tape from an obscure guerrilla group which calls itself Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam.) They were involved in the capture of an IDF soldier, Guy Shalit, last June, in cahoots with Hamas but are not normally counted among the street factions of Gaza's mean streets. Their tape, under scrutiny by authorities, is said to contain some new evidence, such as a snapshot of Johnston's ID badge. News reports are cautious, and do not point to an irrefutable proof of life. The abductors have demanded $5m ransom, prisoner exchange, and even a plot of land. (Another group even claimed that the 44 year old newscaster was already executed) The tape contained no new information on Johnston's whereabouts, his health or the group's intentions, but Al Jazeera noted that the absence of any threat could be a good sign. A second audio tape sent to al-Jazeera on Wednesday morning,cautioned against attempts to use force in order to free the British reporter.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tomb with a View

After at least three decades of digging, Israeli archaeologists claim to have located the tomb of King Herod the Great in a hilltop fortress just outside Bethlehem. The sarcophagus was destroyed by rebellious Jews many years ago, and finding the site of the royal tomb in Herodium has long been a challenge for scholars and Biblical archaeologists. The Los Angeles Times recounts the search and weighs the new evidence here.
The traditional Herod family cave vault is located a few miles away in West Jerusalem, just below the King David Hotel. But this definitely was not the final resting place of the infamous ruler who was appointed by the Romans and best known for the "Slaughter of the Innocents". In fact, this well-known tourist site once housed Queen Mariamne and other victims of Herod's violent temper and persecution mania. During World War II, British officials used this tomb as an air raid shelter. International news reports enthused about the find in the West Bank. The Independent article suggested that notoriety was the legacy of Herod, the "Bible's biggest villain."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


The Winograd report delivered no huge suprises yesterday. It pointed the finger at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his ill-considered rush to war in Lebanon, which led to the deaths of more than 1300 people and the loss of Israel's aura of military invincibility. Now Israel's head honcho takes responsibility for the fiasco, but as expected, still clings to power. His party is scrambling for a facesaving formula for a resignation with dignity, because the pressure on Olmert to go is immense. Amir Peretz, his defense minister may be pushed out as a sacrifice, according to latest media reports. The former army chief Dan Halutz stepped down long before the Winograd report was made public. The Israeli public finds it hard to tolerate a loser. These leaders are reviled as the three stooges of the Lebanon campaign and blamed for further emboldening Hizbollah.

Meanwhile, Gilad Sharon, the son of the comatose warrior and ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has advocated stripping Arab Israelis of their citizenship.(see Haaretz editorial). Hamas broke its tenuous 5 month truce with Israel, while gun-toting protestors dropped the corpse of a murdered man named Hassan Abu Sharkh into the Palestinian Authority Parliament. Message received.
Nearly a hundred rockets and mortars struck Israel from Gaza, with no injuries, a tactic that intelligence sources say was meant to distract Israeli forces while Hamas kidnapped another soldier or two. The Israel Defense Forces killed three Hamas agents who they said were planting a bomb next to the barricade at the Gaza border. Especially this month, Israelity bites.