Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sudanese Migrants' Exodus to Israel

Hundreds of Sudanese migrants who have crossed the southern desert on foot into Israel now are imprisoned in the so-called Promised Land. And, despite Israel’s pledge to evaluate each case individually, 48 new arrivals were summarily expelled this month immediately after they were caught. The trickle of mostly Muslim asylum-seekers from Africa has become a flood and created a crisis of conscience inside Israel, where security concerns routinely override compassion. Al-Qaeda is active in the Sudan, and this raises alarms.

Some Israelis argue that,after the horrors of the Nazi genocide in Europe, it is morally reprehensible for Israel’s Jews to turn away people fleeing from persecution. Memories of relatives who were refused asylum in the 1930s and sent back to be part of the Final Solution are still excruciating. Around 70 desperate Africans sneak across Israel's barren southern border every night to seek refuge among sympathetic Jews.

But pragmatic politicians warn that Israel, with its population of 7 million, could soon be engulfed by up to 3 million Sudanese. The majority fled from the brutal savagery of civil war and drought-ravaged lands years ago and now seek a softer life in Israel; they want to escape racist abuse and maltreatment in Egypt.

“Israel puts these people at grave risk by expelling them with no proper procedure and no indication of Egypt’s willingness to accept them,” warned Bill Frelick, the refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch. Many have escaped from war-blighted Darfur, travelled north through Chad or Egypt, and had hoped to remain temporarily in Israel until resettled in a third-country.

Sending an illegal migrant back to Sudan after he has visited Israel, an enemy nation, is tantamount to a death sentence.

Last month, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised asylum to 500 refugees who escaped the horrors of Darfur, but the burgeoning numbers have numbed public sympathy. Government spokesman David Baker clarified that “The policy of returning back anyone who enters illegally will pertain to everyone, including those from Darfur.” Olmert insists that President Hosni Mubarak personally assured him Egypt will safeguard Sudanese who are sent back; but concerns heightened after a tv interview with an Israeli soldier who witnessed Egyptian troops beating and shooting dead four Sudanese refugees trying to slip across the border on August 1st.

Mustafa, a laborer who fled Darfur six years ago and was unhappy living in Cairo, has been under ‘house arrest’ on an Israeli kibbutz for the past year, earning a wage to send home to his relatives in Sudan while his case is reviewed. Other African ‘prisoners’ are assigned jobs at beach resorts in Eilat. Workers are needed to replace the Palestinians now prevented from reaching their jobs by checkpoints and the security wall. Though prohibited from leaving the workplace, Sudanese refugees manage to earn reasonable salaries inside Israel. Word has spread, not by bush telegraph but by cell phone. In 2004 the the United Nations registered just five Sudanese here; Until 2006, with the intifada at full tilt, few asylum seekers would consider Israel. Now, sixty or seventy refugees cross into Israel each night; activists estimate that at least 3000 are inside the country.

Mustafa , age 31, dreads the day he gets deported. He still has nightmares after Egyptian immigration police locked him up for ten days in a cramped jail because he had no documents. “That place is unimaginable,” he recalled recently. “Fifty of us were curled up, very hot, like cooking meat, and everybody was smoking, shouting....It ‘s difficult for a human being to endure vermin crawling over you while you are still alive.”

At great risk, Mustafa took a hand-drawn map of Sinai and set out alone for Israel, which he considers the first outpost of the West.
Bedouin smugglers are willing to spirit refugees across the 132 mile-long frontier, along with prostitutes and drugs, but they can charge able-bodied men $1000 a head. Women pay $600.

Mustafa trekked alone all night through dunes and scrub, but he neglected to bring any drinking water. By journey’s end, his thirst drove him to turn himself in at an Israeli checkpoint. “When I thought of the water, I forgot everything,” he admitted, Israeli soldiers are under orders to arrest stray illegals they encounter in the desert. Security forces and police must make sure illegal aliens get a medical check-up for dehydration before rounding them up and locking them away in Khetziot Prison, a remote desert jail close to the Egyptian border. Men are kept apart from their families here.

Few of the Sudanese women prisoners planned on a permanent move to Israel, observed Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center,a Reform organization which has launched an outreach program to African refugee families. “They’ve heard so much about Israel in the news, they imagine it’s a huge place, maybe not quite so big as Europe, but just as important," she said. "No one wants our free Hebrew-Arabic dictionaries; they prefer to learn English and eventually to end up in America. They think of the US as the magic place where people of color have a chance. Condi Rice seems like some powerful black queen to them.“

"No one can expect that Israel alone can be the solution for all the Darfur refugees, and we urge the international community to act decisively. Israel is willing to play her part in the framework of international efforts," a Foreign Ministry statement spelled out. A single Messianic Jew in the Negev has erected shelter for 50 Sudanese refugees, according to the Economist.
In contrast to the government's dithering, many private Israelis have been generous. A Jerusalem-based religious group seeks to help the small minority of non-Muslim refugees who, if deported to an Arab country, would come under intense pressure to convert. Christian Sudanese refugees are at particular risk. Egyptian interrogators acting under Sudanese security service supervision routinely torture them to extract intelligence about who else might be reverting to Christianity.

Charmaine Hedding, a spokeswoman for the Christian Embassy, a pro-Zionist Evangelical group, suggested that a number of churches in America would welcome Sudanese Christians sent on from Israel. "Let us relocate these people; 1,000 people is manageable," she said.

Meanwhile, while volunteers try to firm up the arrangements, another seventy desperate Sudanese will evade Egyptians and slip through the desert border into Israel every night.

NOTE: UNRWA officials asked that names be disguised to protect the refugees while their status is determined. Guest post, copyright Jan McGirk, 08/21/2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hezbollah launches courtroom blitz of civil lawsuits vs Israel

Hezbollah tactics against Israel now go beyond kidnapping and Katyusha rocket attacks to include frivolous litigation abroad.
A barrage of lawsuits will be unleashed against Israel to claim payment for property destruction and loss of life during last summer's 34-day Second Lebanon War, Haaretz reports. Lebanese with dual citizenship are being encouraged by Hezbollah to file suits in their second country.

Attorney Ibrahim Awada, head of Hassan Nasrallah's legal team, revealed the plan last week on a Syrian television program devoted to “Zionist crimes against Lebanon.” He said that each plaintiff will hire a lawyer in the country where he files suit, and Hezbollah will pay the lawyers’ fees. Inshallah.

The Lebanese government began mulling lawsuits against Israel immediately after the war ended last summer, but was stymied by the fact that United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the war, blamed Hezbollah, rather than Israel, for its outbreak. The government therefore set up a legal committee to explore more limited options, such as suits specifically over Israel’s use of cluster bombs and destruction of infrastructure.

It's doubtful that Israel will dignify this tactic with any official response. Egyptians once attempted to sue Israel for the loss of antiquities that the Hebrew slaves carried away from Egypt. (This fell flat when Jewish lawyers threatened to countersue the Land of the Pharaohs for 400 years of bondage.)

Hat tip to Yourish for the alert.

'Beyond Chutzpah' class cancelled in US

My neighbours are cheering because this controversial Jewish American history professor's class about the political manipulation of anti-Semitism charges has been abruptly canceled, according to wire reports out of Chicago. Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, is a committed contrarian who chips away at what he calls the extortionate 'Holocaust industry'. Why he lusts so after the international academic spotlight is a puzzle for psychotherapists. "There's no business like Shoah business," his supporters reply.

DePaul University canceled the one remaining class taught by a controversial professor who has accused some Jews of improperly using the legacy of the Holocaust.

Norman Finkelstein, whose work led to a long-running public feud with Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, says he may respond by committing civil disobedience when classes resume Sept. 5.

Finkelstein, 53, was denied tenure in June after six years on the DePaul faculty, but he was permitted to teach for the one year remaining on his contract.

On Friday, however, the university e-mailed students saying that Finkelstein's sole political science course had been canceled. By Monday, the books for the course had been pulled from the DePaul bookstore's shelves.

Finkelstein's most recent book, "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History," is largely an attack on Dershowitz's "The Case for Israel." In it, Finkelstein argues that Israel uses the outcry over perceived anti-Semitism as a weapon to stifle criticism.

Dershowitz, who threatened to sue Finkelstein's publisher for libel, urged DePaul officials to reject Finkelstein's tenure bid in June.

The American Association of University Professors is preparing a letter to the university protesting Finkelstein's treatment as a serious violation of academic ethics, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday.

Finkelstein told the newspaper that he planned to wage his own campaign against the administration.

"I intend to go to my office on the first day of classes and, if my way is barred, to engage in civil disobedience," Finkelstein said. "If arrested, I'll go on a hunger strike. If released, I'll do it all over again. I'll fast in jail for as long as it takes."

After he was denied tenure, Finkelstein, a son of Holocaust survivors, posted a letter on his Web site explaining the school officials' reasons, including Finkelstein's "deliberately hurtful" scholarship along, lack of involvement with the school and tendency for public clashes with other scholars.

"In the opinion of those opposing tenure, your unprofessional personal attacks divert the conversation away from consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration," school President Dennis Holtschneider wrote in a letter dated June 8. DePaul at the time verified the letter was authentic.

Denise Mattson, the university's associate vice president for public affairs, released a statement saying Finkelstein was on administrative leave with full pay for the academic year.

"Administrative leave relieves professors from their teaching responsibilities. He was informed of the reasons that precipitated this leave last spring," the statement said.

Update: 9/6/2007
Finkelstein resigns

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rapture, Bibles and Blasphemous Balls - - occupational hazards & crusade aids

With so many absurd blunders marring America's outreach to Arab hearts and minds, the
Knesset ought to be wary of its alliance with Christian Zionists and the Evangelical right. Hostilities are bound to ramp up even further.
Take 'Operation Blasphemous Balls', for instance. Not its actual name, of course, but this seemingly innocuous toys for tots scheme backfired because the free footballs dropped en masse over the Afghan countryside from American helicopters enraged Muslims in Khost province. The problem? The Saudi flag, inscribed with the name of Allah, was printed right where it would be kicked. A chagrined American armed forces spokeswoman admitted that at first no one understood why this was offensive. And that's part of the problem. The understanding gap. (Earlier, 13-year-old Matthew Wolfen, from Los Angeles, donated all his birthday and Bar Mitzvah money to Major Daniel Clayton, a pilot who has been handing out air pumps and balls --no, not pigskin-- to underprivileged Afghan children. This went without a hitch.)

Further afield, inside Iraq, Evangelical-inspired soldier morale tactics have gone awry, according to this LA Times piece. Rapture is not a constitutional exit-strategy. (Keep the faith, generals, but spread it gently and not with US tax dollars...)

Maybe what the war in Iraq needs is not more troops but more religion. At least that's the message the Department of Defense seems to be sending.

Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering "freedom packages" to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended.

What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which "soldiers for Christ" hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.

The packages were put together by a fundamentalist Christian ministry called Operation Straight Up, or OSU. Headed by former kickboxer Jonathan Spinks, OSU is an official member of the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program. The group has staged a number of Christian-themed shows at military bases, featuring athletes, strongmen and actor-turned-evangelist Stephen Baldwin. But thanks in part to the support of the Pentagon, Operation Straight Up has now begun focusing on Iraq, where, according to its website (on pages taken down last week), it planned an entertainment tour called the "Military Crusade."

Apparently the wonks at the Pentagon forgot that Muslims tend to bristle at the word "crusade" and thought that what the Iraq war lacked was a dose of end-times theology.

In the end, the Defense Department realized the folly of participating in any Operation Straight Up crusade. But the episode is just another example of increasingly disturbing, and indeed unconstitutional, relationships being forged between the U.S. military and private evangelical groups.

Take, for instance, the recent scandal involving Christian Embassy, a group whose expressed purpose is to proselytize to military personnel, diplomats, Capitol Hill staffers and political appointees. In a shocking breach of security, Defense Department officials allowed a Christian Embassy film crew to roam the corridors of the Pentagon unescorted while making a promotional video featuring high-ranking officers and political appointees. (Christian Embassy, which holds prayer meetings weekly at the Pentagon, is so entrenched that Air Force Maj. Gen. John J. Catton Jr. said he'd assumed the organization was a "quasi-federal entity.")

The Pentagon's inspector general recently released a report recommending unspecified "corrective action" for those officers who appeared in the video for violating Defense Department regulations. But, in a telling gesture, the report avoided any discussion of how allowing an evangelical group to function within the Defense Department is an obvious violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.

The extent to which such relationships have damaged international goodwill toward the U.S. is beyond measure. As the inspector general noted, a leading Turkish newspaper, Sabah, published an article on Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, who is the U.S. liaison to the Turkish military - and who appeared in the Christian Embassy video. The article described Christian Embassy as a "radical fundamentalist sect," perhaps irreparably damaging Sutton's primary job objective of building closer ties to the Turkish General Staff, which has expressed alarm at the influence of fundamentalist Christian groups inside the U.S. military.

Our military personnel swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, not the Bible. Yet by turning a blind eye to OSU and Christian Embassy activities, the Pentagon is, in essence, endorsing their proselytizing. And sometimes it's more explicit than that.

That certainly was the case with Army Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. The Pentagon put him in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in 2003. The same year, Boykin was found to be touring American churches, where he gave speeches - in uniform - casting the Iraq war in end-times terms. "We're in is a spiritual battle," he told one congregation in Oregon. "Satan wants to destroy this nation . . . and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army." The story wound up in newspapers, magazines and on "60 Minutes." And, of course, it was reported all over the Muslim world. The Pentagon reacted with a collective shrug.

American military and political officials must, at the very least, have the foresight not to promote crusade rhetoric in the midst of an already religion-tinged war. Many of our enemies in the Mideast already believe that the world is locked in a contest between Christianity and Islam. Why are our military officials validating this ludicrous claim with their own fiery religious rhetoric?

It's time to actively strip the so-called war on terror of its religious connotations, not add to them. Because religious wars are not just ugly, they are unwinnable. And despite what Operation Straight Up and its supporters in the Pentagon may think is taking place in Iraq, the Rapture is not a viable exit strategy.


Michael L. Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote "With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military." Reza Aslan, author of "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam," is on the MRFF advisory board.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

R.I.P. Dubak - Jewish settler

The Time magazine blog is running an admiring obituary for Dov Vineshtok, aka Dubak, called 'Requiem for a Jewish settler'. This hard core Zionist befriended the desert Bedouin and delivered secondhand clothes to their remote families, helped out troubled settler teens, and once voluntarily gave water to a thirsty Arab laborer. The piece caught my attention because this frontiersman belied typical knee-jerk stereotypes. Izzy Bee twice met this gruff guy, whose wife was a Jewish American Princess from Beverly Hills and, under his influence, had transformed herself into a Mother Earth figure for their sprawling family. Dubak preferred the outdoors. Together, we'd contemplated the beauty of the dunes, the camel trains and the tenacity of fig trees; When pressed, Izzy Bee admitted that the wilderness seemed blighted by too many red-roofed settlements erected on distant hills. He laughed and coughed. What I admired about Dubak is that he was so open to talking with people who were not like-minded; he will be sorely missed.
Dubak's beloved desert cliffs above the Dead Sea.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Israeli scientist captures power of 1000 suns in Negev Desert

First Israelis made the desert bloom; now it's time for that blistering desert sun to run the power grid. A cutting-edge scientist in Israel's Negev Desert has tapped into the sun's energy in a new way. Professor David Faiman's solar power breakthrough magnifies the sun by a factor of a thousand, so it can yield an incredible 4,500 watts per square foot.

Professor Faiman, head of the National Center for Solar Energy in the Negev desert, has invented a super-reflector. According to his calculations, using just a dozen square kilometers in Israel’s Negev desert he could supply enough electric power for a million people, roughly one sixth of Israel's population.

Professor Faiman explained: “The achievement is that we separate out the collection function of a photovoltaic cell to the light conversion to electricity function. When we collect the light, instead of using a huge area of solar cells, we use an equal area of cheap glass mirrors and they are curved in such a way as to concentrate the light onto a very small solar cell, the size of just one cell, and in this way you concentrate the light a thousand times and you can get a thousand times more power out of a small cell”.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jewish Doc on board to help Gazan surfers

Here's the ultimate feel-good splash for this summer: Aron Heller, of the Associated Press, tells how an octogenarian Jewish surfer from Hawaii yesterday personally donated a dozen surfboards to the dudes on the Gaza Strip. His champion son David was helping him hand round the collection after they crossed the checkpoint and were allowed by the Israeli guards to bring in "non-esssntial" goods. Cowabunga. After this remarkable wet mitzvah the youths will be able to rocket down the face of a wave instead of rocketing Sderot. It's part of a cooperative "Surfing for Peace" movement.

An 86-year-old Jewish surfing guru from Hawaii is bringing good vibrations to the impoverished Gaza Strip.

Dorian Paskowitz, a retired doctor who has been surfing for 75 years, donated 12 surfboards to Gaza's small surfing community on Tuesday in a novel gesture to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"God will surf with the devil if the waves are good," Paskowitz said. "When a surfer sees another surfer with a board, he can't help but say something that brings them together."

Tanned and shirtless, Paskowitz emerged grinning at the Israel-Gaza border crossing after handing over the dozen boards to Palestinian surfers waiting on the other side.

He said he was inspired after reading a story about two Gaza surfers who could not enjoy the wild waves off the coastal strip because they had only one board to share between them.

So I said to my son 'come, we'll go to Israel and get them some boards,'" Paskowitz told AP Television News.

He described his mission as a "mitzvah," Hebrew for a "good deed."

During his visit, Paskowitz said he wanted to "do something spectacular, like getting all the surfers and paddling around into the waters of Gaza." But those plans were scuttled because of security concerns.

Arthur Rashkovan, a 28-year-old surfer from Tel Aviv, said Paskowitz's project was part of a larger effort called "Surfing for Peace," aimed at bringing Middle Eastern surfers closer together. He said eight-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater, who is of Syrian descent, is expected to arrive in Israel in October to take part in the drive.

"We want Palestinians to enjoy the surfing experience. We believe it brings people together," Rashkovan said. "The idea is for people to forget about the violence and follow the journey to peace on the waves."

Paskowitz is venerated by Israeli surfers as the man who brought the sport to the Jewish state five decades ago. Rashkovan called him a "guru" to Israeli surfers.

Paskowitz said he first arrived in Israel in 1956 during a war between Israel and Egypt. He tried to join the Israeli military but was turned down. So he surfed off the coast of Tel Aviv instead, he recounted, and was mobbed by Israelis charmed by the strange sight of a man riding the waves standing upright on a board.

The father of nine served in the Navy during World War II, practiced family medicine for more than half a century and has published books on surfing and health. He said he has surfed for 75 years all over the world, and he ranks the waves off the Israeli and Gaza coasts as among the world's best.

"I'm 86 years old. I can't stand up very well, I have a piece of titanium in my hip. But I still love it," he said.

Star surfer Paskowitz (in a suit beside his longboard at Tel Aviv half a century ago) still rides the waves daily.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hot air and hot collars over 'Israel Lobby'

Accusations of anti-Semitism surface every time an academic questions Israeli policy. Ardently pro-Israel Americans often are astonished to learn that half of Israelis disapprove of the hawkish policies of its governments and tend to welcome critiques of American lobbyists for the Likudnik hardliners.

Now two American professors look set on provoking a rethink about America's crucial Middle East commitment, the long-standing one with Israel.
John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard are in the eye of the hurricane of their making.Their new book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is drawing controversy, weeks ahead of its Sept. 4 release by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Mearsheimer and Walt raised eyebrows when they published a brief of their thesis in the London Review of Books last year. They assert that pro-Israel groups have disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy, and that this trend has not always served U.S. interests, or, for that matter, Israel's. While some praised their writing as courageous,pro-Israel groups cry anti-semitism.

Check out the London Review piece; Michael Massing's deconstructs the controversy in the New York Review of Books.

The fear of public outrage and demonstrations has prompted the Chicago Council on Global Affairs to rescind an invitation for the dynamic duo to speak on campus about the subject. As Walt told the New York Times this week, one of his principal points in his book is that to challenge the Israel lobby remains taboo inside the United States.

Middle East maven Scott McLeod, of Time magazine, observes:

Citizens are still free to purchase a copy. In fact, would-be readers have already made it a best-seller. With advance orders pouring in, The Israel Lobby is already No. 135 on Amazon's list of top sellers. (It went up four places just as I was writing this blog tonight Cairo time.) Scrolling through Amazon's list, I reckon that The Israel Lobby has become the best-selling book on the Middle East right now, even though nobody actually owns their copy yet. Mearsheimer and Walt may disagree with their critics, but they have to thank them for fueling the controversy, helping them sell more copies and widen the debate over the Israel lobby.

By no coincidence, one of Mearsheimer and Walt's vocal critics, Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is publishing his own book with Palgrave Macmillan, also on Sept. 4, entitled, The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control. At last count, it's sales rank was No. 14,808.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Israelis probe local Interpol chief

In the latest police scandal to rock Israel, the local head of Interpol has been forced to take leave while investigators launch a probe into his alleged visas-for-antiquities scam.

According to reports on Israel Army Radio, Deputy-Commander Asher Ben-Artzi, who heads the Israel Police Interpol and Foreign Liaison Section, is suspected of using his influence with the American Consulate in order to assist criminals to get entrance visas approval for the United States. The bribes he allegedly favors are antique curios or priceless small relics, such as this figurine of Baal.

Police declined to release any further details in this ongoing investigation; Ben-Artzi said the misunderstanding would be cleared up "in a matter of days."
The Russian mafia is increasingly active inside Israel, after the influx of over a million emigres from the former Soviet Union. Israel has its own influential gangland figures, too. Hmmm. Figurines seem to hold a bit of sway as well.

Academic deconstructs God-fearing leaders and the clash of civilizations

Burning bush aside, burning questions cannot be ignored. Who is damned, us or them?

The challenges of political theology in a contemporary globalized world are examined by Professor Mark Lilla in the current New York Times Magazine.
Lilla's "Politics of God" essay goes beyond the familiar rants on Good vs Evil, moonbats vs wingnuts, citizen soldiers vs islamofacists. Through a historical lens, he examines the wisdom of separating Church and State, even though Americans pledge allegience to "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all". He touches on messianism, with its implications for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the "people of the book". Keeping the faith, courting the apocalypse, hoping for miracles, coping with fear and divine providence-- this is not idle chatter.

In contrast with the US, Eretz Israel shrugs off the separation of church and state and defines itself as Jewish. At the same time Israel's Declaration of Independence promises complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it guarantees freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; and safeguards the Holy Places of all religions.
But is this even possible?

Lilla writes:

Messianic theology eventually breeds messianic politics. The idea of redemption is among the most powerful forces shaping human existence in all those societies touched by the biblical tradition. It has inspired people to endure suffering, overcome suffering and inflict suffering on others. It has offered hope and inspiration in times of darkness; it has also added to the darkness by arousing unrealistic expectations and justifying those who spill blood to satisfy them. All the biblical religions cultivate the idea of redemption, and all fear its power to inflame minds and deafen them to the voice of reason.

In the writings of these Weimar figures, we encounter what those orthodox traditions always dreaded: the translation of religious notions of apocalypse and redemption into a justification of political messianism, now under frightening modern conditions...The revival of political theology in the modern West is a humbling story. It reminds us that this way of thinking is not the preserve of any one culture or religion, nor does it belong solely to the past. It is an age-old habit of mind that can be reacquired by anyone who begins looking to the divine nexus of God, man and world to reveal the legitimate political order. This story also reminds us how political theology can be adapted to circumstances and reassert itself, even in the face of seemingly irresistible forces like modernization, secularization and democratization...

We must make a conscious effort to separate basic principles of political legitimacy from divine revelation. Yet more is required still. Since the challenge of political theology is enduring, we need to remain aware of its logic and the threat it poses. This means vigilance, but even more it means self-awareness...

(Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Photo courtesy JMcG)

Settlers divert water supply from thirsty villagers to their own splash pool

Settlers cut Palestinian water supply to fill up a swimming pool for summer holidays. Ozzy Bee pointed out this instance of hot weather selfishness, which Ronny Shaked filed on ynet news:

Elon Moreh reroutes a pipe carrying drinking water to neighboring Palestinian village to a small pool; water drains back to village's pipe system

Residents of the settlement of Elon Moreh in the West Bank have cut a pipe carrying drinking water to a nearby Palestinian village, and are using it to fill a small swimming pool located at a picnic site, which was itself built on land owned by the village.

The pipe, which carries water to the village of Dir al-Khatab, was rerouted in order to fill the pool. The pipe channels fresh drinking water into the pool and drains dirty water back into the village's water system.

"They not only use water that doesn't belong to them, but they also pollute the drinking water of some of the village residents," said Yoel Marshak, head of the Kibbutz Movement's Special Assignments Branch. "The little kids pee in the water, which flows straight to the taps of the Palestinian school."

The small swimming pool was built at the settlement's picnic site, which is located less than a mile from Dir al-Khatab and on the village's lands.

"The settlers of Elon Moreh behave like landlords on our private land," said Jafar Shatai, deputy chairman of the neighboring village of Salem.

The Civil Administration has issued a demolition order for the picnic site following complains by the Palestinian residents, and stated that the order would be carried out in the coming days.

Benny Katzover, one of the community leaders in Elon Moreh, said in response that the pool in question was merely a small hole dug near an archeological site where travelers visit. He claimed that the water came from a small fountain near Elon Moreh which streams to the village.

"The fountain's water does not constitute the village's main water supply, because the village has been connected to Mekorot (the national water company) for many years. The fountain's water is used as drinking water for the sheep and goats, and as backup in case the water supply is interrupted. No one has blocked the channeling of water to the village," he stated.

Remember that old song? "Summertime & the livin' is hush,little baby, don't you cry." There are hot tears of frustration all around. This weekend, in the southern town of Ofakim, a Bedouin family was refused entry to an Israeli public swimming pool because the traditional mother refused to unveil as she watched her three kids frolic. Her garb was not dissimilar to what's routinely worn by ultra-Orthodox Jewish women at pools across the country. The children left in tears.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Despite hang-ups, bereaved parents call across the Israeli-Palestine barrier

An unlikely line of hope links Palestinians and Israelis, Jeremy Grange reports for the BBC. Most Israelis have never met a Palestinian and most Palestinians have never met an Israeli - apart, that is, from soldiers and settlers. Yet some, who have lost what's most important, are speaking to one another.

A unique phone service linking Israelis and Palestinians, called Hello Peace, has made nearly a million telephone conversations possible since it began operating in November 2000.

As we sit talking in his office in a Jerusalem apartment block, graphic designer Rami Elhanan pauses for a moment, deep in thought, recalling the day his life changed forever.

On 4 September 1997, just after three o'clock in the afternoon, a suicide bomber detonated a device in the busy Ben Yehuda Street in central Jerusalem.

Among those killed by the explosion was Rami's 14-year-old daughter, Smadar, who was in town with two friends to buy textbooks for the new school term.

"You never think that the finger is going to point at you," Rami shrugs, remembering the moment his worst fears were realised.

Many parents in the same circumstances would have retreated into the entrenched positions of hatred and the desire for revenge which have characterised Israeli-Palestinian relations for decades.

But Rami is different. About a year after the tragedy he joined the Parents' Circle, a 500-strong organisation which brings together bereaved families from both sides to create dialogue, understanding, even friendships between Palestinians and Israelis.

Ali Abu Awad, from the West Bank town of Beit Ummar near Hebron, is a member of the Parents' Circle. His brother Yousef was killed by an Israeli soldier.

"You just have this question. Why? Is killing my brother securing Israel? What shall I do with this?" Ali says.

"At that moment you have the feeling that you want revenge. But revenge on whom? How many people shall I kill? For me Yousef is worth the whole Israeli people. Even if I kill them all I will not feel better, I mean he will not come back."

One day Ali was contacted by Ishaq Frankental, a member of the Parents' Circle. Ishaq lost his son, who was kidnapped and killed by Hamas. Ali's immediate family ended up joining the Parents' Circle.

"It's so hard, we are not angels. I am a normal person and I have so many hardships every day at the checkpoints and even in talking to people," he says.

"But the difference is that before joining the Parents' Circle I was carrying my brother's story, my personal pain, my nationality as a Palestinian... but today I feel like I am carrying both nations on my back. This is what I want politicians to feel, to feel responsible for the two people who are human beings."

At the Parents' Circle office near Tel Aviv another member reminds me of a few of the harsh truths of the situation.

"Most Israelis have never met a Palestinian and most Palestinians have never met an Israeli - apart, that is, from soldiers and settlers," Robi Damelin says.

That barrier to communication - which has now been given physical reality in the form of the West Bank barrier - is the reason why the Parents' Circle set up Hello Peace, a phone line which allows any Israeli or Palestinian to pick up the phone and speak directly to somebody from the other side.

This initiative, which has now been running for five years and is funded by the European Union, began with a wrong number.

In 2000, in the early days of the second intifada, a young Israeli woman called Natalia Wieseltier dialled a Jewish friend in Tel Aviv but found herself talking to a Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip.

Instead of hanging up she started a conversation.

"He told me his name was Jihad and that things were not going well. He told me that food is rotting at the checkpoints and that his wife was expecting a baby any day and he had no way of getting to the hospital," she says.

Jihad was surprised to find an Israeli being so open and understanding and Natalia was soon receiving regular calls not only from Jihad but from his friends and family too.

She in turn put them in touch with her friends and soon a network of contacts had developed.

When Natalia approached the Parents' Circle with the idea of turning this into a national phone line linking Israelis and Palestinians they embraced the idea.

Since its inception Hello Peace has logged over a million calls.

They may begin as screaming matches between the two sides but many calls have led to lasting friendships.

One Israeli family, for example, regularly met their Palestinian counterparts at a checkpoint to hand over insulin, a medicine that's hard to come by in the Palestinian territories, for their diabetic son.

Back in Jerusalem, Rami ponders the success of Hello Peace and the millions of minutes of dialogue it has generated.

"Just imagine what would happen if the leaders of these crazy nations of ours spoke with each other for even one minute!" he observes.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Karma Karahana- Israeli PMT trance tracks

Elsewhere, you'd go to great lengths to avoid sufferers of PMT, or pre-menstrual tension. But to Israelis, these initials stand for Post Military Trip, and evoke an extended backpacking journey with a distinctive soundtrack. The hypnotic electronic music evolved in Goa and has supplanted bass-heavy 80s ecstasy house music. In a highly personal documentary film, director Shruti Bhardwaj examines this rite of passage and the Israeli music genre which flourishes alongside it. It's been shown on BBC and in film festivals around the world, and was reviewed in the Times of India

The most jarring scenes shows Bhardwaj learning from a news cameraman about a trance party the morning after a suicide attack in Sinai. "At 9 am, people were getting into a dark club...maybe it's a denial of the political situation...20 people were dead (in the Sinai attack) but still people danced." ...young Israelis are restless and frenzedly search for a freedom that has nothing to do with war and bloodletting.

Raves are not yet passe here - although it can be as much a moneymaking venture as a philosophy once the PM trippers come full circle at home. Bhardwaj thinks the sound jibes with something in the sabra psyche, and that the Israeli/India connection is more complicated than a shared psychedelic experience set to a beat. She compares her escape from a conservative upbringing by Indian parents abroad to the release that Israelis seek from tense daily confrontations with Palestinians.

European progressive musicians have as much popular appeal here, where the crowd is younger, as in Goa. Scandinavian and other European trance artists regularly tour Israel, inspiring a new generation of trance musicians such as BLT & Cosma, Skazi, and Astrix. There are 24/7 raves on hot summer nights in Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. The writing is on the wall for a "Holy Rave": these ironic posters stress that "the time has come."

israeli summer drums

Here's a video of an Israeli style rave

Trouble Bubbles as Red Skull's swastika surprises Israeli gum chewer

There's always something to chew on in the Israeli papers. Not always so appetizing, either. Red Skull, the Marvel comix nemesis of Captain America, has unnerved unsuspecting consumers.

According to wire reports, a young woman was incensed after she unwrapped the imported bubble gum she had purchased at the corner store and found swastikas.

An Israeli woman was astounded to find a tattoo-sticker of a Nazi soldier inside a pack of bubble gum she had bought at her local store, Maariv daily reported recently.

"A surprise awaits you," said the "Roll Bubble Gum" pack, showing a picture of a pink wrapper alongside what it said was the sticker, which showed a Nazi officer in uniform and wearing a swastika armband.

Some suggested that the sticker was of "Red Skull", which is the name of a Marvel Comics villain, who is the enemy of Captain America.

Marvel featured three Red Skull villains in its comics, the first two were Nazi agents and the third a communist.

The newspaper quoted Orna Gutman, 23, as telling its website the pack's label was in Arabic and English and stated the gum was made in China but did not name the importer.

This is quite a contrast to last summer, when one group of Reform activist teens in Jerusalem raised Jewish awareness among summer visitors with their "Bazooka Jew" bubble gum campaign, complete with trading cards.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Arafat's Widow 'tossed out of Tunisia'

Yasser Arafat’s widow, Suha, has plenty of money and blonde ambition but nowhere to go. Last week, the Jerusalem-born "suicide blonde" (she dyes it herself) was expelled from Tunisia following rumors of a fling with the president's married brother-in-law and business disputes with her Tunisian partners.
Roee Nahmias reports her plight in Ynetnews:

Suha Arafat, widow of former Palestinian Authority Chairman, has had her Tunisian citizenship revoked, according to recent reports by several Arab media channels.
The widow Arafat was said to have fled to Malta with her daughter last month. Presidential sources kept Arafat’s hasty departure secret, and the Tunisian government was vague about the reason behind her losing her citizenship.

According to the London based al-Quds al-Arabi, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali withdrew Arafat's naturalized status in a special decree last week. “The Tunisian citizenship granted to Suha Daoud Tawil, who was born in Jerusalem on July 17, 1963, is to be revoked," the decree stated.Arafat was granted Tunisian citizenship in September 2006 after having moved there with her daughter following her husband’s death in 2004.

Although the Tunisian government did not state a reason for revoking the citizenship, sources in the local justice system said Arafat lost her "moral and material rights".
The presidential decision to annul Arafat’s naturalized status was speculated to be in connection wit her rumored affair with the president’s married brother-in-law.

Reports of the affair began last summer, when Arafat was said to have secretly married the president’s brother-in-law, Lahasn al-Trabulsi. Arafat vehemently denied the reports, and threatened to take legal action against those distributing them.
Al Quds al-Arabi said the reason for Arafat’s departure was a business dispute with her partners in Tunisia. Neither Arafat, nor the Tunisian government, have confirmed the report.

Whatever transpired, Suha now is a persona non grata in Tunisia. It's been quite a month for Arafat's heirs, with this latest ignomy coming on the heels of a confirmation by doctors that three years ago, Chairman Yassir died HIV-positive. His personal physician in Jordan has speculated that enemies injected him with the virus on his deathbed in order to further taint his reputation.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

old city gunfight

Police have released this closed circuit video footage, showing how an Israeli Arab guy snatched a pistol from the private Russian guards protecting an ultra-nationalist Yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. Whew.
It captures the 20 year-old assailant, Ahmed Mahmoud Khatib of Kfar Manda in the western Galilee, shadowing the two security guards, Alex Nepelvich, and his partner, Mikhail Popov as they patrol the narrow cobblestone streets of the Old City.

As they enter a kiosk, Khatib snatches Popov's gun and runs away.

The guards chase him in the narrow aleys, and Khatib tries to shoot Popov but the pistol is locked at first.
There is a scuffle, Khatib shoots and flees.

"My weapon was taken from me by complete surprise, and then he is pointing the weapon at me with his face to me," Popov, 31, told the Jerusalem Post from his hospital bed.

"I jumped on him, and he charged the gun, and at that second I grabbed his hands. At that minute he started shooting."

A second security guard, Alex Nepelvich, is seen beside the wall and firing at the gunman.

At first, the guard misses, but catches up to him and kills him.

The video ends with Khatib slumping to the ground while continuing to fire. It does not show his last moments and whether the guard 'confirmed the kill.'

Ten people, including the security guard, were injured in the shootout, mostly by ricochets.

The private security guards were employed at the behest of the state to protect Ateret Cohanim seminary.
An Arab shopkeeper who witnessed the shooting was the first one to provide the guard and other Jewish children who had been wounded in the shootout with assistance.

Israel's Shin Bet security agency is working to
determine whether Khatib -- who has a past criminal record but no terror offenses -- acted on his own or if he was affiliated with a Palestinian terror organization.

Khatib, who is survied by his pregnant wife and young daughter, was buried Sunday in his village in a funeral attended by thousands of locals.

Breakdown & Rehab insurance devised for blissed-out Israeli backpackers who vanish

It's become a rite of passage. Israeli youth, who are required to serve two to three years in the army, take time off afterward to backpack around the world and just "chill". You'll easily spot these fit young Sabras unwinding-- mainly in Asia or
Latin America. Often Israelis stick together during their months-long holidays and they are apt to bargain fiercely to save the odd rupee and turn up their noses at spicy local cuisine to insist on Israeli-style snacks. Budget guest houses in Goa, India or Ko Samui, Thailand cater to them with signs and menus lettered in Hebrew. Adventures and new freedom sometimes tempt Israeli youth to go astray, by experimenting with cults or drugs, and every year thousands bliss out or simply vanish, much to their family's dismay. The backpackers compound post traumatic stress syndrome from army service with sensory overload and culture shock. Adulterated drugs, bad company, and bad judgment play a role, too.
According to journalist Conal Urquhart,

Now an Israeli insurance company is offering a unique policy to parents to cover a professional search team, repatriation and psychiatric rehabilitation for their missing children.

About 50,000 Israelis a year go trekking after their military service and before university or work. The Israeli charity War on Drugs estimates that 90 per cent take drugs at least once on their travels. Some two-thirds go to the Far East and about a third to South America. The charity estimates that each year 2,000 travellers suffer
mental illness brought on by drug abuse or spiritual confusion and between 600 and 800 are admitted to psychiatric wards.

Phoenix Insurance Israel offers a £100 policy to parents to cover most of the costs of rescue and treatment over 90 days. Repatriation alone can cost as much as £8,000...

The new policy was initiated by Hilik Magnum, who has operated a search and rescue company for 13 years. 'We started by providing search and rescue services in the Himalayas and other mountains, but what started as a pure search and rescue operation became an intelligence operation,' he said. 'Young people get involved in some kind of drug abuse in their travels and they lose contact with their parents, they contact us and we help get them back to their family.'

Magnum says deals regularly with psychotics, and returns them to Omri Frisch's therapy center for off-the-rails Israelis, located in the seaside town of Caesaria. It's called Kfar Izun, or Village Balance.
'Most of our patients are well-educated or served in high-profile units in the army such as intelligence and combat. We offer treatment instead of hospitalisation. A recent study found that 94 per cent of our patients achieve some degree of improvement,' Frisch told the London Observer.

Last December, Israel's government announced plans to open its own drug rehab centre in Goa, India, to treat youthful budget travellers. Officials estimate that 2,000 out of the 40,000 Israelis who visit India every year dabble in illegal drugs, mostly hashish, ecstasy, opium, or heroin.

Annually, some 600 Israeli backpackers return from India with physical damage caused by drugs. A Goan centre called Beit Ha Haam (the warm house) now has backing from the Israel Drug Authority. Most families prefer to have their kids repatriated back to Israel, no matter what the cost.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bloodshed inside Jerusalem's Walled City

Reuters reports:

at least six people were shot or stabbed in an apparent attack in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday, rescue services said.

The Israeli emergency service Zaka said one person, whom they described as the attacker, was killed.

It was not immediately clear whether the incident was a militant attack. The police had no immediate comment.

Izzy Bee's own sources inside the walled city indicated that most of the victims were Arabs. More news will be posted as soon as possible. Watch this space.

Update: This file from Haaretz indicates how complex life within the Old City has become. The bloody incident happened in the Christian Quarter, near Jaffa Gate, at an ultra-nationalist Jewish seminary, the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva. There now are nine times as many Jewish residents in East Jerusalem and they outnumber Palestinians-- Christians and Muslims alike.
An angry teenager apparently wrested a pistol out of the holster of a security guard, and then wounded him in the shoulder. As he started to bound away, a second armed guard gave chase and they exchanged fire. Eventually the attacker was shot dead. Two bystanders were wounded as a scuffle ensued. At least another seven were injured. Police issued alerts and security tightened before Friday prayers. In order to keep a lid on secular violence within these hallowed walls, close to the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock, the religions of the victims or attacker have not been listed on official reports. Sifting rumour from fact takes time, and there are conflicting accounts even from eye witnesses.
According to the Guardian, this shooting incident
comes at a time when some Israeli and Palestinian leaders have talked optimistically about the prospect of a new round of peace negotiations. However, yesterday the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth carried a report quoting the Israeli defence minister and Labour party leader, Ehud Barak, saying suggestions of a forthcoming peace deal were "fantasies".

He said Israel would not withdraw from the occupied West Bank for at least five years because of the threat of rockets and missiles. He also said he would not remove any of the several hundred checkpoints and barriers across the West Bank.

One witnessed told radio reporters that the second guard continued to pump bullets into the attacker, who looked like a young Palestinian, even though he was 'already neutralized'. Sirens shriek as the injured are ferried to first aid clinics and the cobblestones are awash with blood. Israelity bites.

Israeli mercenaries take on Colombian narco-terrorists

Israeli mercenaries have taken to the jungles to fight against Colombia's narco-guerillas, according to Beatrice Overlander on Ynet news.
The FARC rebel army (pictured left) once controlled an autonomous region in the heart of the South American cocaine giant and still has a grip on almost half the country's territory. They announced online that Israeli, American and British commandos now are menacing its guerrilla fighters and the drug lords who fund them. FARC had reportedly bought plastic explosives from the IRA and hosted a renegade trio of Northern Irish fighters five years ago to train their rebels in urban warfare and sabotage before escalating their tactics in Colombia's cities.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos admitted only that Israeli intelligence advisers have shadowed local defense officials in the past year. He told local reporters that
these Israelis were hired by the Colombian Defense Ministry in order to boost the army's intelligence gathering capabilities and the command and control structure inside the military.

Defense Minister Santos credits the former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami for suggesting the cooperation, and a $10m contract was signed in April.

The Israeli group, reportedly made up of three senior generals, a lower ranking officer and three translators, is highly esteemed by the Colombians. "They are like psychoanalysts; they ask us the material questions and help us see all the problems we weren't aware of before," Deputy Defense Minister Sergio Jaramillo told the newspaper. "They are the best in the world," another high ranking officer stated.

Israeli veterans have long been considered the most effective bodyguards in Latin America because of their anti-insurgency experience, zeal, and accuracy. Their popularity in Colombia and salaries increased exponentially after the election of President Alvaro Uribe, a pro-American conservative pledged to law and order. Now Israeli suppliers sell Colombia a vast arsenal which include drones, light arms and ammunition, observation and communication systems and even specialized defoliant bombs capable of destroying coca fields. Arms export to Colombia, is big business, worth tens of millions of dollars annually.

"Israel's methods of fighting terror have been duplicated in Colombia," a senior defense official boasted on Thursday.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Oops- Palestinian Authority pays salaries of rival gunmen who ran them out of Gaza

Talk about check, mate! Demands for back wages have been insistent and shrill inside the West Bank and Gaza, as this photo of a bureaucrat's daughter shows. Critics have berated the leadership for buying guns instead of butter. When Palestinian rivals inadvertently paid thousands of the Hamas executive security forces by mistake, there must have been some very harsh words inside Ramallah. The BBC reports:

The Palestinian Authority has accidentally paid the salaries of 3,000 members of Hamas's main security force. According to the Fatah-run Palestinian information ministry, 3,000 members of its rival's Executive Force were paid before the mistake was noticed.

The payments were halted and most were reversed, Fatah officials say. But reports say hundreds of Hamas men were able to cash their salary cheques.
Hamas took over Gaza in mid-June, its Executive Force routing Fatah's forces.

This has left the Palestinian territories split and under the control of the rival factions - Hamas in Gaza, and Fatah in the parts of the West Bank not controlled by Israel.

To their surprise, [members of the Executive Force] got phone calls telling them to collect their salaries. They rushed to the bank, an official said.
The checks were part of a general payment approved in July after taxes were releaased by Israel.
Israelis and the international community have backed Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, while increasing the isolation of Hamas and completely cutting off Gaza and its 1.5 million residents.

Mr Abbas is refusing to engage in any kind of talks with Hamas.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by much of the international community which refuses to deal with it directly until it recognises Israel and renounces violence.

Civil servants in Gaza and the West Bank has also been receiving partial back payments for salaries that went unpaid after the Western aid embargo was imposed after Hamas came to power in 2006.

Salam Fayyad, the new prime minister in Mr Abbas's government in the West Bank, resumed paying wages last month to 133,000 Palestinian civil servants, but excluded 19,000 Hamas appointees.

Splat. Kernel lobs cobs egg-zactly on target

Some readers objected to a description of Hebron settlers resisting forced eviction as a foodfight, although eggs and vegetables rained down from the marketplace roof alongside light bulbs and stones. Point taken.

But this month’s “organic protest” by Israeli activists, who used a couple of homemade launchers to fling rotten vegetables, corn, tomatoes, fruit and eggs towards the Gaza Strip, surely qualifies as a foodfight. Their makeshift attack created a “Green alert” to remind the Israeli government about its failure to halt the Palestinian militants’ Qassam rockets, which continue to rain down on Sderot.

Yigal Tzur, a former reserve artillery corps officer in the IDF, said he recruited two amateur Israeli technicians to devise a small potato cannon and a rocket-propelled launcher to retaliate agasint Qassams with a messy "aerial salad". (No wounds on either side will require any dressing.) His intentions are to get the two sides to resume peace talks. With squished tomatoes substituting for spilled blood, the publicity blitz was gratifying.

Somehow, the idea of firing food towards a place where hunger results from frequent border closing is off-putting. More akin to fraternity hijinks than guerrilla street theater. This stunt did show how easily rockets can be assembled, despite tight security, and it’s admirable that the fellows used no explosives. (Although those eggs can really hurt!) I suppose rocketeers can even make the claim that they are doing their bit to get food into the Strip. Yeah right. Click here to see a Reuters video of the assault.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hebron showdown - teenage foodfight does not halt eviction of settlers from market

Even though a dozen soldiers refused to follow orders and take on the young Jewish settlers, this morning's planned eviction of two families who were illegally occupying apartments in Hebron concluded well before noon.
A piece by Efrat Weiss on Ynetnews describes the morning confrontation, which was quite mild when compared to the violent resistance triggered in the past when police forcibly shut down other settlements. It resulted in arrests and injuries. Police took the brunt of the action; in the contested City of the Patriarchs, the IDF traditionally protects the settlers from the Arab residents. Brace yourself for more fallout in this volatile historic city.

Police evacuate Hebron settlers

Large police and Border Guard forces completed Tuesday morning the evacuation of two families and hundreds of right-wing settlers, mostly teenagers, who have taken over two houses in the Hebron marketplace.

Fifteen policemen and 14 rightists who barricaded themselves inside the buildings were injured in the course of the evacuation. Nine people were evacuated to hospital for treatment and 13 rioters were arrested.

The evacuation began at 6:20 am, after the forces broke in through the doors that have been welded and started to forcefully evacuate the people inside. Each of the settlers was carried out by four policemen, while rightists standing on the rooftops threw stones, oil and eggs at the forces.

Hebron District police commander Avshalom Peled said that "there were no significant displays of violence. We are working slowly and are following specific orders… we instructed the policemen to be attentive and exhibit restraint and sensitivity, and also determination where needed."
The security forces plan to remove the doors and windows at the two occupied houses, in order to render them unfit for living.
At about 4:30 am, the teen activists at the place were called to wake up and prepare for the evacuation. At the same time, IDF forces and Magen David Adom ambulances began arriving at the place. Some of the youths hurled stones at the policeman from one of the roofs, but no injuries or damage were reported.
Earlier, the settlers welded the entrance to one of the houses and the structure's windows in order to prevent security forces from entering.
The members of the settlers community in Hebron convened the youths that have arrived in the place to protest the evacuation Monday evening, and stressed to them that violence must be avoided during the operation. However, they were instructed to "hold on firmly to the houses."

Monday, August 06, 2007

Edinburgh Fringe satirists aim at Mega-Churches

"Christ, you know it ain't easy," John Lennon once sang, and it's turned out to be a lament in the present 21st century. And Britain's slapdash public stance on respecting religion can be quite puzzling, especially in light of anomalies like the academic boycott proposed against Israeli Jewish scholars. From Jerusalem, it seems rather irresponsible to be stoking the fires of religious frenzy with Ca$h in Christ, by a production company called Wisepart, Jews and Communists. Yet a couple of alternative playwrights in Scotland claim they are trying to put the "fun in fundo" and bask in the ensuing notoriety. "Praise pays" is their advertising jingle. Their outrages may have a valid political and artistic point. The biting play opens today and a London review by Senay Boztas spells out the controversy.

We have nothing to fear from al-Qa'ida. Christian fundamentalists are the real extremist threat. That's the message from the writers of a new play being shown at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival.Cash in Christ, a sing-along play satirising the modern capitalist "mega-church", is arguably one of the most controversial productions in a Fringe with the largest satirical content in living memory.

Other offerings this year include Jihad: The Musical... Cash in Christ is so controversial it had to be passed by three lawyers before it could be performed at a festival in Australia.

The 50-minute show, written by Van Badham and Jonny Berliner, which premieres this weekend, comprises sermons from Christian literature, television programmes and church services. The authors conducted extensive research in America, Australia and online, and also spent three months attending services at London churches, including the Hillsong Church and Holy Trinity Brompton.

The show – pitched as "putting the fun into fundamentalism" – features fundraising evangelical preacher Fanny Comfort and her husband Bob singing songs such as "Christian Rock (Is Cool)" with lines about "guitars exploding like a bomb".

The writers said that, while there is public discussion about the dangers of radical Islamic groups, the influence of the Christian far right is underestimated. "I've been very sensitive to extremists in other religions, particularly Islam, being demonised," said Badham. "I find the Christian right groups that are enormously powerful in our own culture a larger numerical threat than extreme Islam. They are somehow removed from public criticism, and that is one of the reasons we did the show.

"Bush is from the religious right and he has the bomb; that terrifies me far more than the potential of other extremists to get their hands on nuclear weapons. In the religious right it is the self-appointed moral majority that sets its own rules, and anybody opposing them is labelled unpatriotic and shouted down."

Badham said the Wisepart, Jews and Communists co-production is entirely fictitious, but reflects wider political concerns. "It terrifies me that a few religious groups were able to cause a furore around Jerry Springer – The Opera in Britain. What I find frightening about the war in Iraq is that Bush and the people around him speak about it as if it's the crusades again."

She said that although people they met at church services were kind, she felt their attitudes might foster religious intolerance. "The propaganda is intense. We have been going to these megachurches to be told: 'Christianity is not a religion. It is the work of God to rescue all of humanity.' So everybody else can basically get stuffed."

Gary Clarke, pastor at Hillsong Church, London, said he wouldn't apologise, but that he might well laugh. "If you can't laugh at yourself then things have probably become far too serious, and keeping a good sense of humour about things is one of the most important components in having healthy conversations with people from all walks of life," he said.

Hmmm. The festival organizers suggest that if you're interested in this play, you might also book tickets for "I Am My Own Wife" or "The Bitches' Ball". The audiences better be like-minded or there will be hell to pay. Jihad, the Musical sounds as if it may be set against the same ironic laughtrack. Can't help but remember a theater performance in Moscow which was invaded by 40 Chechen rebels and close to 200 audience members were eventually killed. That was not even four years ago, and for the victims, the experience was not much of a hoot. It takes a detachment to pull off a satirical swipe at religion. In this interconnected world, I don't know if we're there yet.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Pulled Alive from the Dead Sea

The rescue of an eight-year old boy, who was pulled alive from the Dead Sea after midnight on Friday following five hours of intensive searching, is hailed as a miracle in today's Israeli press reports. Little Shneur Zalman Friedman kept his hopes afloat and his head above water even though his ultra-Orthodox dad and brother failed to notice that he was missing until almost nightfall. (It was a male-only outing on Thursday afternoon, and Izzy Bee can't help but wonder whether Mama Friedman, back in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood, might have noticed sooner that her son was nowhere to be found. Brisk offshore winds caused him to drift south for three kilometers.)

It's almost impossible to sink in this buoyant mineral-laden Dead Sea, as the photo above shows. But a single drop in the eye causes excruciating pain and after five hours of submersion, the little boy would have had a tremendous thirst and chapped lips. Swallowing any water would have been disastrous. The little boy with salt-caked sidecurls was in shock when a boat finally pulled up alongside him. He eventually told his rescuers that he'd recited Psalms, prayed and even briefly dozed off, and had contemplated swimming toward the mountains for help. To avoid an international incident, the IDF warned Jordanian authorities on the opposite shore about their night search which featured emergency flairs, helicopters, and motor boats.

Ironically, the Israeli lifeguards' union went on general strike the following day, all along the coast except for Tel Aviv and Haifa. Five Israelis drowned over the weekend, three of them after the strike went into effect, when police officers had to stand guard. Rookie Israeli lifeguards are paid only minimum wage, 19.50 shekels per hour (less than five dollars) and negotiations for increases had stalemated. The Mediterranean Sea, unlike the calmer Dead Sea, now is rife with riptides and higher than normal waves. Since the bathing season started in April, 19 Israelis have drowned.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Rice, Wine, and Beer for Jerusalem's simmering summer nights

During the brief visits of Condoleezza Rice, the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem goes into security overdrive. Half of the parking structure gets cordoned off for her entourage, and so does the gym, where she goes through her power paces in relative privacy. Condi's first name may translate as "Play it with sweetness", but the trainers there marvel at her fitness and what a mean machine her disciplined daily regimen has shaped...especially compared to, say, Madeleine Albright. All those sweaty repetitions won't necessarily yield the same result for Condi on the diplomatic front, however; it's difficult to see anything especially encouraging this time around, with the weaklings Olmert and Abbas weighing in on the Middle East's future. If the Saudis do participate in autumn talks with the State of Israel, which Riyadh has yet to recognize, it would certainly mark a diplomatic breakthrough. But no one is holding their breath that Israel will agree to speak about only "core issues."
To offset this discouraging political and physical workout, lots of Jerusalemites this week quaffed wine beneath the stars at the Israel Museum's Billy Rose sculpture garden. There were spittoons for proper wine tasting during the three-night wine fest, but most people tossed back entire glassfuls. Izzy Bee even spotted a smiling haredi baby lapping up the dregs from his papa's wineglass. Avi Ben, one of Jerusalem's premier wine shops, was a co-sponsor and laid on classic jazz quartets as well as discounting cases.

Kosher Israeli wine is a a far cry from the cough-syrupy Manischewitz clones that I was dreading, and sipping pinot grigio or syrah varietals while strolling around statues by artists such as Oldenberg, Picasso, Botero, and Henry Moore made us feel very sophisticated for a measly outlay of 55 shekels, which included a stemmed wineglass. Towards the end of the evening, you really had to cajole the pourers for a splash of higher-end wines, but there were 25,000 litres of the stuff on offer. So no gripes about these grapes. For the past two decades, wineries have been a growth industry in what ought to be considered a Mediterranean country.

Tasting stands for Tulip, the boutique Kaslov, Saslove, and Teperberg were popular. Yatir and Recanati, Galil Mountain Wineries and Golan Heights drew a trendy younger crowd, many wearing yarmulkes. Thankfully, we could detect no after-tang of Katyusha smoke or gunpowder in the wines harvested from northern vineyards under rocketfire last summer.

For the hoi polloi like me, there was a competing beer festival in town for just half the entry fee. Everyone toted around plastic pints that resembled test tubes, and some competed in spontaneous belching contests. Apparently boutique beer is due to be the next craze, but this event had more the spirit of a keg party than a tasting. An inflatable corona bottle loomed over the grounds, a jolly reminder that West Jerusalem is a very motley mix.
If you want to making a meal out of such comparisons, let's consider what you might wash down with the Mexican beer. A typical Jerusalem menu might include
Arab salad, Romanian kebabs, Iraqi pita, French fies and Bavarian Cream.
If Israelis devour the same food as anti-Semites with such gusto, then maybe we ought to challenge the old adage that you are what you eat.

I'll drink to that, Condi!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Zionism up against the Wall: the NYer interviews Avraham Burg

The Israeli government has to confront its own crazies and create a national consensus on democratic ideals, enact a secular constitution, and really confront the settlers. So far, the government is only willing to say that it is making ‘painful’ moves. We are told that we have to grieve with the settlers, think about making deals, but quietly let on that we actually think these are the real Israeli pioneers. Bullshit
Thus concludes "The Apostate", David Remnick's rumination on the state of Zionism in the current New Yorker magazine. After the aggressive and moralistic interviewer, Ari Shavit, took on Avraham Burg, a former Speaker of the Knesset and author of "Defeating Hitler" in the liberal Haaretz newspaper, Israelis were appalled by the vitriol. 450 comments were posted on the paper's website. When Burg described Israel as a perpetually “frightened society,” things grew tense:
SHAVIT: You are patronizing and supercilious, Avrum. You have no empathy for Israelis. You treat the Israeli Jew as a paranoid. But, as the cliché goes, some paranoids really are persecuted. On the day we are speaking, Ahmadinejad is saying that our days are numbered. He promises to eradicate us. No, he is not Hitler. But he is also not a mirage. He is a true threat. He is the real world—a world you ignore.

BURG: I say that as of this moment Israel is a state of trauma in nearly every one of its dimensions. And it’s not just a theoretical question. Would our ability to cope with Iran not be much better if we renewed in Israel the ability to trust the world? Would it not be more right if we didn’t deal with the problem on our own but, rather, as part of a world alignment beginning with the Christian churches, going on to the governments and finally the armies? Instead, we say we do not trust the world, they will abandon us, and here’s Chamberlain returning from Munich with the black umbrella and we will bomb them alone.

Now that Israel will receive a $30m weapons package from America, Burg seems rather out of touch with reality when he says Israel would be better off to spurn financial aid from the United States: “I don’t like it. A state like mine should live on its own means,” he told Remnick. What Israel does need from its superpower ally is the impetus to move forward on peace negotiations.