Saturday, September 29, 2007

It's a fruit, not a veg, and it splats! Catsup with the Besor Tomato Fest

At Besor's Shalom Park, on the northern edge of the Negev, a weekend battle is guaranteed to stain fighters with red pulp. It's a tomato festival, complete with mosh pit, which is modelled after La Tomatina, a pitched tomato fight that takes place in Bunyol, Spain every year at the height of the harvest. Some 30,000 people gather to pelt each other with 115,000 kilograms of overripe ammo and revel in the foodfight every year, as the town's population triples in size. The tamer Israeli version is now in its third year, and promoters aim for a gentler image, even extolling the beneficial effects of astringent tomato juice on the complexion. But if the relentless High holydays and so much family togetherness drives you to the brink of hurling something, this definitely is the place to go.

Christian Zionists on week-long hallelujah

Christian theo-cons are back in-country and will be blowing their own horns in support of Israel all week,
the Associated Press reports:

The walls of Jericho came crashing down again at Ein Gedi spa resort on the Dead Sea, with all the bright lights and fanfare of a Broadway show.

Actors dressed in biblical garb blasting ram horns and riding camels re-enacted Joshua's siege of the ancient city for some 5,000 Christian pilgrims on Thursday, kicking off a weeklong demonstration of solidarity with Israel.

The performance at Ein Gedi, just a few kilometers south of Jericho itself, was part of a celebration marking the Feast of the Tabernacles, or Sukkot, a seven-day Jewish holiday during which the pilgrims believe the Old Testament invites all nations to come to Jerusalem.

The crowd's excitement was palpable, with believers exclaiming hallelujah and blowing large ram horns, or shofars, throughout the show.

Organizers said that Christian tourism in the Holy Land reaches its peak during Sukkot, infusing an estimated $18 million into the local economy.

Evangelical groups have forged a tight alliance with the Jewish state, and Israeli officials have welcomed the pilgrims for years. Israeli Orthodox rabbis have tolerated them but have become increasingly concerned they may have an ulterior motive: conversion of the Jews.

The Christian groups oppose territorial concessions to the Palestinians, who want to establish a state in areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. Many Evangelicals believe Jews must return to the biblical Land of Israel to facilitate a Second Coming of Christ.

This year Israel's chief rabbinate banned Jewish participation in the festivities sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem over concerns that the foreigners may be proselytizing.

Many of the die-hard fans of Israel were upset by the decision.

"I've been coming here for 15 years, and I've never seen any proselytizing," said Larry Holder, who traveled from Murphy, North Carolina for the event. "There's been nothing pushy about it at all."

Others said they merely want to use the week to demonstrate their support.

"God asked us to bless the nation of Israel," said Donald Langford of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem has hosted Sukkot celebrations in Israel for 27 years. The embassy says that pilgrims have been instructed to refrain from missionary activity while in Israel.

"It's time for gentiles to repay their debt to the Jews," said Anthony Gibson of County Kildare, Ireland. "Without the Jews, he said, there would be no patriarchs, no prophets, no messiah, no salvation."

The weeklong festival will include a parade and a musical tribute to the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, in addition to performances by Jewish cantor and Broadway actor Dudu Fisher.

Last year's celebrants (pictured above, courtesy of Dan Sieradski), appear to have lifted some costume cues from a notable super-Star (6-pointed variety), "Angelina Jew-lie", right.
This year's parade, on Tuesday, has been declared non-kosher by rabbis who ask Jews not to march in the midst of the Christian supporters.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A gentle Jewish genius

My friend, the poet Peter Cole, has just had the phone call of a lifetime. It surely would be any Jewish mother's dream to imagine the scene in his book-lined study in Jerusalem last week, right before the High Holy Days. A telephone trilled and, when Peter answered, a calm voice from the MacArthur Foundation told him he's officially a creative genius. (Something that has been obvious to us for some time.) No financial worries will dog him for the next five years, while Peter pursues his translations, pens more poems, and tends his small publishing house, Ibis Editions, which showcases important Middle eastern authors. He is soft-spoken and passionate,and has led a rather austere and peripatetic academic life with his brilliant life partner, Adina Hoffman. Peter shares the recognition with two dozen other bright creative sparks, ranging from a spider silk expert, to a Delta blues singer, bee conservationist, a historian of the First Crusade, and a chemist who specializes in explosives. The grantmakers praised Peter's "unique vision of the cultural, religious, and linguistic interactions that were and are possible among peoples of the Middle East." Now this power couple can really get cracking.
Mazel tov!

Peter Cole is a translator, publisher, and poet who brings the often overlooked works of medieval Spain and the modern Middle East to English-speaking audiences. His highly regarded translations of the poetry of Solomon Ibn Gabirol and Shmuel HaNagid, two of the great Hebrew poets of the Andalusian “Golden Age,” offer readers a lyrical illustration of the extraordinary Arab-Jewish cultural partnership that flourished in tenth- through twelfth-century Spain. A poet himself, Cole’s translations infuse medieval verse with contemporary meaning while remaining faithful to the original text. His renderings of HaNagid’s poems in particular, long regarded as “untranslatable,” retain the subtleties, complexities, and formal elegance of the original verse. Underlying Cole’s translations is an implicit message of cultural and historical cross-fertilization that is also evident in his work as a poet and a publisher. His Ibis Editions publishes little-known works translated from Arabic, Hebrew, German, French, and Ladino, enlightening English-speaking audiences to the thriving literary tradition of the Levant. By fostering literary dialogue in and about the Middle East, Ibis provides an occasion for intellectual and cultural collaboration. In a region mired in conflict, Cole’s dedication to the literature of the Levant offers a unique and inspiring vision of the cultural, religious, and linguistic interactions that were and are possible among the peoples of the Middle East.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Stirring September sunsets are a blast

In the old city of Jerusalem there are a tangle of historic tales, waiting to be respun. My droll buddy James Hider, intrigued by the blast that marks the evening meal during the holy month of Ramadan, sought out the Sandouka family that has summoned fasters to dinner for the past century or so with a cannonball. His report appeared in the London Times, and it makes an intriguing read. Uri Lupolianski, the orthodox Mayor of Jerusalem, has no problem with the Arab family that shoots shells at sundown outside the venerable gates. The mayor sided with the traditionalists and derided new rules that would force Sandouka, who has been shooting the signal blast for two decades, to pass a $2000 certification course before handling explosives.

The shots used to be fired from a cannon donated by the Ottoman Empire, at the Old City’s Flowers gate. Twenty years ago, that artillery piece was replaced by a gun donated by Jordan. Now, Mr Sandouka fires a large percussion grenade – a sort of glorified firework that makes a loud boom – from a pipe set up at the gate.
Israeli security forces have insisted that the percussion grenade for Iftar– which does contain explosives – must be delivered every day by an armed Israeli military explosives expert, to make sure that it does not fall into the hands of terrorists.

Despite the security crackdown, festivity reigns. Churchbells clang, shofars sound their single insistent tone, and muezzins sing forth from minarets as the High Holydays and Ramadan converge this year. Nearly all my neighbours are putting up their sukka huts and issuing invitations to dine outside with them in a "Feast of the Tabernacles." And Christian Zionists are arriving for the good times in full force: 7000 evangelical Christians from dozens of countries plan to march through the city to show their support for Israel. The evenings are getting chilly and the bazaars are hawking heaps of ceremonial plants. Pedestrians tote lulav (palm frond), hadass (myrtle), aravah (willow branch) and etrog (knobbly citron) for the holiday, which celebrates harvest and sacrifices that date from before the sacking of the Second Temple. Iftar parties, replete with twinkling lights and honeyed sweets, enliven every twilight. Faith and family seem to bind Jerusalem at this time of year and life seems sweet.
Except perhaps for the Prime Minister, who is now under investigation for a shady property deal that discounted a pricey garden flat for his family. But Ehud Olmert has managed to wriggle free of all corruption allegations in the past.
Having friends on high must help. There's no sign yet that the sun is setting on his premiership. But after the holidays, things may get heavier for him.

Sign of the Times - Olmert's comb-over onscreen

Signing for the deaf can make its own silent commentary. Take the woman above, who normally appears at the corner of the nightly news broadcast to translate for the hard of hearing. When she refers to the Israeli Prime Minister, she mouths his surname "Olmert" and adds a distinctive gesture. Is it mopping the brow in relief for stalling the second installment of the Winograd report and delaying total ignominy? Or perhaps mopping a sweaty brow after police launched yet another corruption probe? Nope. Look closer. This sign language is strictly about style: miming the combed-over strands that attempt to hide the increasingly bald Prime Ministerial pate. (Hat tip to Israelity and Shahar Golan for the video link.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sorry treatment on Yom Kippur

SIgn on a road to nowhere inside the "enemy entity"...

A graduate student and his young bride are two of several hundred academics who now are stranded in the newly-declared "hostile territory" of Gaza and may end up sacrificing their places and fees at international universities... not to mention their futures.
Tomorrow, when the Israeli Supreme Court opens for business after a break for the Jewish Day of Atonement, the case of Khaled Mudallal, a 22 year old business student at Bradford University, will be in the docket.
Gisha, the Israeli human rights activists, claim that the new restrictions for Gaza will violate international law by inflicting collective punishment. It has been a hard enough slog for Gazans this year, and those who got a toehold at foreign universities are being made to suffer, according to Don Macintyre of London Independent. Just like the mystery term "enemy combatants" which enabled the abuses of Gitmo, the rebranding of Gaza as hostile shows the desperation of bully governments who make up new terms as they blunder along-- semantics for survival. It's very Orwellian.

Mr Mudallal, who arrived in his home town of Rafah on 6 June had only intended to stay for a few days to collect his new wife, Duaa, and take her back to Britain. He and his wife – who graduated with distinction this year from university in Gaza and also hopes to study in Britain – have UK residence permits valid to November 2010.

Mr Mudallal's problems are compounded by having missed his first semester exams earlier in the year after he was delayed for two months by the closure of Rafah when he returned to Gaza in December 2006 to get married.

Although he arrived back half-way through the second semester he passed all his second semester exams and the university told him he would be able to carry on with his third year provided he first completed his first semester exams, as he intended to do at the start of the academic year next week. Gisha is pressing the Israeli military to let him leave through the Erez crossing.

Mr Mudallal, who did his GCSEs and A levels at Bradford Technology College while his parents were living in the city, said yesterday: "It's a disaster for me. If I cannot take the exams I may have to take another year and I don't know whether the university will let me do that."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Syrian threat is for the birds

The only thing they are dropping is guano, but the IDF is gunning for them. A flock of migratory birds winging over the Syrian border into Israeli airspace sent fighter jets scrambling on this sensitive frontier, according to wire reports. For the past few days, the Israeli armed forces were on maneuvers near the border and there had been no visible Syrian response to the buildup. The IDF is on heightened security alert as the country celebrates Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and takes a 24 hour fast.

Israeli fighter pilots scrambled warplanes on Friday after ground radar spotted a potential airborne enemy flying from Syria -- only to discover the culprits were migratory birds, army radio reported.

Israeli radar picked up the birds over the Syrian border but officers were unable to rule them out as enemy aircraft from the screen images.

Tensions have heightened on Israel's northern border with Syria since Damascus said its air defences fired on Israeli warplanes that dropped munitions inside its territory in the early hours of September 6. All reporting on the incident has been censored inside Israel.

A military official quoted by the radio stressed that false alerts are common and precautionary action requires warplanes to head off any possible risk.

Israel and Syria are technically at war and the last round of peace negotiations collapsed in 2000, over the fate of the Golan Heights which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981.

Lofty thoughts in Tel Aviv

After a while, the relentless white stone cladding of Jerusalem's architecture can start to hem you in. A good antidote is a quick drive down to Tel Aviv's Azrieli Center. That's the one that resembles futuristic building blocks: triangular, cylindrical and oblong shapes. From the roof garden, there's a panorama of the Mediterranean shoreline and a good slice of the cityscape. The mall is busy, with a cinema and plenty of food courts as well as the usual designer shops. People like to sneer at Tel Aviv, saying there's not much special cachet, and that little distinguishes it from any ordinary European city. Izzy disagrees. There's that invigorating sabra buzz, a casual sunlit confidence, a sporty ethos and a naughty urban nightlife, too. The population here seems younger and more adventuresome, and very cosmopolitan. Try it, you'll like it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Israeli strikes, North Korean nukes, and conjecture of selective leaks

Journalists need to heed the con in conjecture and be a bit skeptical about rumours and anonymous leaks, backed up by notable cherry-pickers like John Bolton, the neo-con former US ambassador to the United Nations. The BBC diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, examines the fallout after the mysterious Israeli incursion into Syrian airspace two weeks ago. Tel Aviv still maintains its official silence while the regional wardrums are throbbing. Condi Rice arrives at noon.

Nearly two weeks on from Israel's incursion into Syrian airspace, the mystery surrounding the operation shows little sign of disappearing.

Press reports suggest strongly that the Israeli jets destroyed a facility near Syria's border with Turkey.

All sorts of details of the operation have "leaked" out, but still the precise nature of the "target" remains unclear.

By far the strongest theory though suggests a North Korean nuclear connection - a linkage which the North Korean authorities have strenuously denied.

The story put about by largely unnamed US sources and backed up by the former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, is that North Korea - under international pressure to scale down its own nuclear weapons programme - has recently transferred equipment or technology to Syria.

And it is this equipment - possibly at a fledgling research centre - that the Israelis hit.

'Political agenda'

All sorts of questions remain. Experts on North Korea's nuclear programme are highly sceptical about the alleged technology transfer.

Joseph Cirincione, director for nuclear policy at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank, has gone so far as to describe the story as "nonsense".

Selective leaks are being used to play up the Syria-North Korea connection, he writes on the online site of the journal Foreign Policy.

"This appears to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted 'intelligence' to key reporters in order to promote a pre-existing political agenda. If this sounds like the run-up to the war with Iraq, then it should," he writes.

Gary Samore of the Council on Foreign Relations, another leading North Korea nuclear expert, was less dismissive when I spoke to him, but equally sceptical.

"I know that the Israelis have been worried for some time that the Syrians were eager to get nuclear technology from North Korea," he said.

"The North Koreans are looking to liquidate at least part of their enrichment programme, and perhaps want to offload the centrifuges and so on that they obtained from Pakistan."

So the Syrians might be "dabbling" with enrichment technology, but this would not represent "a near-term threat", Mr Samore says.

"There are North Koreans in Syria in connection with missile technology," he said, but on the nuclear front "we just don't know".

One thing he saw as strange, however, was the possible location of the "target" that the Israelis may have hit.

This seems to have been very close to the border with Turkey - an odd place for a potential nuclear research establishment.

Scepticism needed

Of course much of the controversy - given the fact that the Syrians and the Israelis have said very little (which is instructive in itself) - centres on the nature of the messengers, the shadowy leakers in Washington.

Only one of them, Andrew Semmel, a senior non-proliferation official, has gone on the record, and then there is the involvement of the controversial Mr Bolton.

Critics suggest that at least some of these people have a strong desire to derail the Bush administration's current negotiations with Pyongyang.

For whatever reason, the latest round of the six-party nuclear talks involving the two Koreas has been postponed at the last minute, apparently at the North Koreans' request.

But as Mr Samore pointed out: "Just because John Bolton is using this for political purposes doesn't mean that it is not true."

This episode once again highlights the problems for the media in dealing with this kind of story, problems that were exemplified - one has to admit in retrospect- by the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Journalists need copy. But they also have to weigh up what they are told. Official sources cannot simply be discounted.

But on the other hand, a sufficient degree of scepticism needs to be deployed. And just sometimes, that mighty media machine has to admit that it just does not know.

Peripheral players Bolton and Il

(Cross posted from Feral Beast.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Envoy with clout: Madge, aka Esther

Madonna and a Hollywood claque of Kabbalah neo-mystics celebrated the Jewish New Year in Israel. Afterward, the singer met with Israeli President Shimon Peres to discuss the peace process.

Madonna and her film director husband, Guy Ritchie, joined thousands of followers of Kabbalah in Tel Aviv last week to celebrate the Jewish New Year. The actress Demi Moore and her husband, actor Ashton Kutcher, fashion designer Donna Karan and former moonbat talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell tagged along.
Madonna merited a 2-hour meeting with Peres, who as Lauren Bacall's cousin, has Hollywood links of his own. She reportedly gushed: "Tell me what I should do, Mr. Peres, because I am in love with Israel.” It was almost a Marilyn Monroe moment.
They discussed how to advance the peace process, and the need for conciliation and tolerance throughout the world. Madonna promised to promote such values in her songs and kiddie books.
As she ages, Madonna has become increasingly involved in humanitarian issues. She is also behind the trend of Hollywood stars dabbling in the mystical form of Judaism called Kabbalah, which is said to be too powerful for the under-40s. Sorry about that, Kutcher. Esther is the plain Biblical name she prefers for her Kabbalah persona, in which red string replaces glitz on her muscled wrists.

Madonna last visited Israel three years ago, on a Kabbalah-centered trip to the north. But her virgin trip here was in 1993, when she performed as the material girl in Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park. She'll be back next weekend for Yom Kippur. What might happen if she would meet with the Palestinian side? Or, say, joined the quartet? The mind only boggles.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

synchronize your watches, folks

In Israel, the clocks are due to fall back an hour at two in the morning, which will become one am. You know the drill. But the West Bank already changed theirs on Thursday, and Gaza cranked theirs back a week before. Effectively, there have been three different time zones in the Holy Land this week, which makes for lots of confusion.Not that anyone ever counts on getting to an appointment on time if they must cross a checkpoint. Sadly, it is symptomatic that we cannot even agree on the basic stuff, so what chance is there of achieving Peace through dialogue?
This part of the world is not the only place where the government turns back time by decree. In Britain, Summer Time won't end until Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 2:00 AM , weeks away. And in the United States, they'll stay on Daylight Savings Time through Sunday, November 4, 2007.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jewish Willie Wonka imports Advent Calenders for Ramadan, High Holydays, Xmas

Ramadan and Rosh Hashana are upon us.

The man behind the latest craze among religious and chocoholic kids is an Orthodox Jewish grandfather from Manchester.
Food scientist Neville Finlay is the brains behind Britain's most widely-distributed Ramadan calendar, a Muslim twist on the advent calendar. Some 80,000, made by his firm, Forest Tree Foods, are on sale at Asda stores across the UK.

A halal chocolate is tucked under each day's numbered flap, but before you eat it, you are meant to answer a question on the Koran or sharia law - such as "What is the morning prayer called?" and "Who was the last prophet?" Many of these were set by Finlay himself, after a Muslim designer working on the calendar gave him a crash course in Islam. "I've come up with something to help people celebrate Ramadan - this must be good for relations between communities," he says. 15 p from each sale is donated to the Islamic Relief agency

Finlay already has a big share of the halal market. After a lifetime career inventing kosher food lines - including "caviar" and countless sweeties - seven years ago he was persuaded by an Egyptian passenger in an airport lounge to come up with ideas for the halal market, which has similarities to Kosher restrictions.

Finlay's breakthrough came on gummi bears, the popular Haribo jelly sweets from Austria. To do this, he needed to come up with a substitute for animal gelatine, an ingredient banned by Islamic law. He cracked it last November, and began marketing the sweets internationally. They sell 150,000 packets a month in the UK alone, and have earned him the nickname "the Willy Wonka of Manchester".
This year Finlay is catering to three monotheistic religions with more calendars for Ramadan, a traditional Christian advent calendar, and a similar chocolate-stuffed countdown for the run-up to Jewish festivals. Shana Tova/ Ramadan greetings/ How sweet it is when all the festivities converge.

See Nathan Jeffay: The countdown starts here ...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Taybeh brewers host Bavarian-style Beer festival in Palestine

Micro-brewers in the West Bank have laid on a Bavarian-style Bierfest, one of the least likely keg parties hosted anywhere. It's the third annual celebration in the Christian Palestinian town, which has been stymied by Israeli checkpoints and travel restrictions. The big festival hosted by the brewery's owner, Nadim Khoury, has attracted thousands of visitors to his village to taste the best (and only) beer micro-brewed in the Middle East.

The only route in and out of the village is controlled by an Israeli military checkpoint, there for the protection of three settlements lying east and west of the village. Taybeh residents and their wares need special permits to use the roads.

"Because of the Israeli occupation we wanted the Oktoberfest to open up Taybeh to the outside word, not just the brewery but all our fellow producers, so people will come here and taste our wonderful beer and see other products," said Mr Khoury, a Palestinian-American.

The brewery had prepared extra kegs ahead of the annual beer-fest
Taybeh - which means "good" and "tasty" in Arabic - makes three varieties of beer, the original Gold, a stronger Dark (which is 6% alcohol) and the latest addition to the stable, Amber, half-way between them in body and strength.

Mr Khoury is currently testing a way of producing alcohol-free beer, which means he will be able to sell in more conservative Muslim areas in the West Bank and beyond.

The beer is brewed using a 500-year-old German purity law which allows only four ingredients: malt, hops, pure water and yeast.

Martin Asser, a beer-swilling roving reporter from the BBC
described how

a young man who has come from Ramallah confides to me that he is a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant offshoot of the Fatah faction.
A shy young man explained why he - a Christian - wanted to join the quasi-Islamist group, branded a terrorist organisation by Israel and its allies for a string of suicide bombings in Israeli cities.

Then he looks down at the glass of beer in his hand, and around at the smiling crowds, and says it is the first day he has been truly happy for many years.

Izzy Bee will drink to that!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Accused neo-nazi teenager lets Holocaust survivor grandma speak out for him

The arrests of a rogue band of teenage skinheads who have plagued a city north of Tel Aviv triggered a wave of revulsion in the Knesset and across Israel. But now, the Holocaust-survivor Bubbe of one boy has risen to his defence, and blames his nasty friends for bullying her beloved grandson into attacks on Orthodox neighbors, immigrants and junkies. He's no Nazi, she swears. The octogenarian insists that the family "has been Jewish since Adam and Eve" and that, after this latest news broke, she's sorry that the fascists didn't kill her back when she was six. Dramatic stuff,
which verifies everything we ever thought about how strong the love of a Jewish grandmother is. The arrests, kept under wraps for a month, are apt to create a backlash against immigrants and Jewish converts inside Israel.

PETAH TIKVA, Israel (Reuters) - She escaped the Holocaust at age six by hiding from the Nazis under a pile of dead bodies in her Ukrainian village.

Now the Israeli pensioner's grandson stands accused of joining a neo-Nazi gang which allegedly attacked Orthodox Jews in Petah Tikva in metropolitan Tel Aviv and painted swastikas across the walls of the local synagogue.

Her 17-year-old grandson is one of eight young Israelis, all from the former Soviet Union, arrested in connection with neo-Nazi activity, in a case that has stunned the Jewish state. All denied involvement at a court hearing this week.

Some one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union have moved to Israel since the fall of Communism in 1990. Many, including some of the suspects, were not born to a Jewish mother -- the Orthodox definition of a Jew -- but qualified for Israeli citizenship because they had at least one Jewish grandparent.

The accused's grandmother said on Monday her family had been Jewish "since Adam and Eve".

It would be absurd, she said, to charge her grandson with neo-Nazi activities. Neither the accused, a minor, nor his relatives can be named for legal reasons.

"I went through a first disaster when I was six years old and now I'm going through a second disaster when I'm 72," she said in a telephone interview. "It was just chance the fascists didn't shoot me ... Now I'm very sorry they didn't kill me."

The accused's mother said her son was persuaded to join the gang after connecting with hardcore members on the Internet. She said he tried to leave when he found out about the attacks but was bullied into staying.

"He was always interested in history and the War," his mother told Reuters. "He made a mistake ... he thought they were just a bunch of history freaks."


The mother could not explain why her son tattooed "God with us" onto his arm in what she said was Yiddish. In German, which is close to Yiddish, the same motto -- "Gott mit uns" -- adorned the belt buckles of German soldiers in World War Two.

People in Petah Tikva -- many of whom sought refuge in Israel from anti-Semitism elsewhere -- expressed disbelief at the attacks on the local synagogue.

"This is incredible to see this here -- we didn't even see this kind of thing in Russia," said 32-year-old barber Mark Elazarov, who moved to Israel from the former Soviet Union 15 years ago and now attends the synagogue that was vandalized.

The case has revived calls for tougher immigration rules to ensure only bonafide Jews move to Israel.

While many Russian-speaking Jews have succeeded in Israel's booming hi-tech industry, others, including many not regarded as Jewish by religious authorities, have struggled to integrate.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the neo-Nazi case was an isolated incident and cautioned against tarnishing the entire community of Russian-speaking immigrants.

But many in Petah Tikva want tougher action.

"People who are not Jewish should be kept out of Israel," said Elazarov.

Shopkeeper David Ness, 58, said he "panicked in his heart" when he saw the swastikas emblazoned across the synagogue.

"This is a Jewish country and it's my home, For someone to do something like this, it hurts," he said. "The police should get them and throw them out."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Jerusalem's ancient escape tunnel

Achaeologists have unearthed a clandestine escape tunnel in Jerusalem, which led off from an ancient Roman drainage system. The Historian Josephus Flavius recounted how the Jews had hidden underground and ultimately slipped out the tunnel's southern exit while Roman conquerors ransacked the city over their heads during the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. Now
they have found the very place.
Scholars Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa and Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority described today how they stumbled upon the mammoth structure, dating from King Herod's reign, while searching for remains of the main road. Big blocks of treated stones lined this 2000 year old tunnel, and several manholes and original plasterwork are still in place along the stretch which has been cleared of rubble.

"It was a place where people hid and fled to from burning, destroyed Jerusalem," Shukron said.

Tens of thousands of people lived in Jerusalem at the time, but it is not clear how many used the channel to escape, he said.

About 100 yards of the channel have been uncovered so far. Reich estimates its total length will reach more than a half-mile, stretching north from the Shiloah Pool at Jerusalem's southern end to the disputed holy shrine known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. The shrine is the site of the two biblical Jewish temples.

Archeologists think the tunnel leads to the Kidron River, which empties into the Dead Sea.

The Shiloah pool, one end of the newly-discovered tunnel, is shown above and at right
Digging beneath old Jerusalem's stones inevitably incites controversy. As the excavation approaches the zones sacred to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, politics and religion are apt to trump science. Israelity bites.

Neo-Nazi gang busted inside Israel

Nazi brutality has been transplanted to central Israel, where a gang of skinheads has been preying on victims for more than a year. Police have arrested at least nine tough immigrant youths from the former Soviet Union, all but one full Israeli citizens, who repeatedly had attacked gays, observant Jews, and mixed-race immigrants. The investigation was launched after synagogues and cemeteries in Petah Tikva were defaced with swastikas last summer. A cache of films and paraphernalia sickened seasoned Israeli cops, who displayed seized cell phone happy snaps of Heil Hitler salutes, torn Israeli flags, and IDF rifles. Through internet links and videos, the skinheads boasted of their exploits in Israel to neo-Nazis abroad. Police urged immediate legislation to ban individuals and groups from adopting or acting according to Nazi ideology in the State of Israel. A gag-order was lifted one month after arrests in the industrial city once known as "the mother of all settlements."
Who could have predicted the need for Israel to pass laws against anti-Semitism?

Eli Boanitov, a 19-year-old Petah Tikva resident nicknamed Eli the Nazi, is accused of heading the sadistic cult.

As the group's leader, Boanitov allegedly selected people for membership and served as instructor and main propagator of Nazi ideology both on an ideological and operational level. Police said Boanitov "led them to attack, in a cruel and brutal manner, citizens and innocent people belonging to various groups including Asians, drug addicts, gays, punks and kippa-wearing Jews."

In the police report, Boanitov was quoted as saying, "I'll never give up. I was a Nazi and I'll stay a Nazi. Until we kill all of them, I won't relax."The suspects were also sporting numerous Nazi-associated tattoos including "White Power" accompanied by Celtic crosses ... The numbers 88 were tattooed on members' fingers, with police explaining that "8" represents the ordinal place of the letter "H," thus standing for "HH" or Heil Hitler. [Films show] gang members punching and kicking, using broken bottles and everything at hand, attacking innocent victims without any prior contact or instigation... faces of the suspects are frequently hidden by superimposed swastikas and at times, the suspects are seen wearing Nazi-style uniforms and delivering Nazi salutes, as well as delivering statements calling for the burning and destruction of the Jewish people.

Disgust and dismay greeted reports of these teenage Nazi skinheads organizing north of Tel Aviv and perpetuating the abuses of the 1930-1940s. Many of the former Soviet youths evaded detection by using Russian internet servers to spread their propaganda. Although almost all came to Israel as children through the "right of return", few had much religious upbringing in the former Soviet Union and now confessed to feeling alienated inside the Jewish state.
Last year, arrests of female neo-Nazis who attacked ultra-orthodox passersby were reported. Veteran reporter Eric Silver filed full details about the cabinet's reaction to these shocking arrests.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Jerusalem's wedding belles strut their stuff

All spring and summer long, they drift about on Jerusalem's public lawns like some sort of supersized dandelion fluff. Brides pose for photos in the bright sunshine, trailing their full white skirts, laced tightly into corseted bodices that showcase breathtaking curves. The brides' smiling faces, troweled with makeup, usually are unreadable. Their partners, clad in shiny suits of white or black, obligingly dart in tandem among the greenery near the Montefiore windmill as the cameras click.

These pairs are a seasonal apparition, part of Jerusalem's timeless mating rituals, and they inevitably draw smiles from passers-by.

At the supermarket yesterday, Izzy did a double-take when a bride and groom glided through the grubby parking lot, wove their way through the shopping carts, and entered the double doors. A photographer squatted in front of them, snapping away. It did not seem that these were glam models posing for an offbeat advert for the grocery store, Superdeals. They were enraptured with one another even though other shoppers gawked and grinned. Unusually for Jerusalem, other customers wheeled their carts aside and let the romantic couple pass. Surely this was not what the willowy blonde Ashkenazi had in mind when her bridegroom asked her to walk down the aisle! Israelity bites.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Down By Law

It's encouraging to see a protracted dispute settled in the courtroom, instead of with stones and stun grenades. After nearly three years of weekly clashes, it was through a lawsuit that Bil'in villagers managed to get a security barrier aimed at protecting the settlers at Modi'in Illit dismantled and rerouted. The 1.7 km fence had cut off the farmers of Bil'in from half of their orchards, vineyards and fields.
Confrontations between protestors, soldiers and police took place every Friday at the checkpoint, located 7 km west of Ramallah, and at least 500 olive trees were eventually uprooted. The unanimous verdict by three High Court judges was seen as a victory by Israelis and Palestinians alike. Israeli peace activists joined villagers
and protestors from France, Puerto Rica, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Canada, the US and India.

The reason that Bil'in is an exception is that the demonstrators here are Palestinians and Israelis, a rare mix of people who march and chant and espouse non-violence together. At a time of deadlock in peace negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the weekly protests at Bil'in... are the highest profile joint action between two, often bitterly divided sides.

Near the front of the crowd was Uri Avnery, 83, a former Israeli MP and one of the better known activists on the Israeli left. "This village is unique even in Palestine because it is the only village that has the guts to fight against the wall actively every single week," he said.
-- Guardian, Feb 2007

The celebratory mood in Bil'in was somewhat quashed today by the court's refusal to demolish residential units and retroactive approval of illegal construction.
This gives de facto status to the ultra-Orthodox trespassers who had stayed on after the construction company pulled out. They were victims of fraud. By ruling to keep the western area of Matityahu East within the barrier, the court was bound to legitimize its new residential buildings. Modiin Illit is home to 30,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox settlers, and is projected to expand to a city of 150,000. Each side can claim a court victory, and it remains to be seen if they can maintain a cordial coexistence.

Archaeology Buzz: King Solomon's hives

Scientists from Hebrew U are all abuzz with evidence that Israel lived up to its Biblical moniker of the land of "milk and honey"-- well, at least the latter. Ancient beekeepers kept their hives in the middle of Tel Rehov town in the 10th century BCE, the era of Solomon's First Temple.

Their unbaked clay and straw hives resemble the stacked cylinders shown in Egyptian Pharaonic art. These were used on an industrial scale, producing up to half a ton of honey a year, according to Professor Amihai Mazar, and are the first to be unearthed anywhere in the Near East. The ritual use of honey over the ages will be examined by scholars who know their beeswax. What a sweet discovery-- in good time for the Jewish New Year, when slices of apple are dipped in honey at every Seder dinner. Check out the report in the latest Science Daily journal:

The term "honey" appears 55 times in the Bible, 16 of which as part of the image of Israel as "the land of milk and honey". It is commonly believed that the term refers to honey produced from fruits such as dates and figs. Bees' honey, on the other hand, is mentioned explicitly only twice, both related to wild bees. The first instance is how Samson culled bees' honey from inside the corpse of the lion in the Soreq Valley (Judges 14: 8-9). The second case is the story of Jonathan, King Saul's son, who dipped his hand into a honeycomb during the battle of Mikhmash (Samuel I 14:27).
While the Bible tells us nothing about beekeeping in Israel at that time, the discovery of the apiary at Tel Rehov indicates that beekeeping and the extraction of bees' honey and honeycomb was a highly developed industry as early as the First Temple period. Thus, it is possible that the term "honey" in the Bible indeed pertains to bees' honey.
Cultic objects were also found in the apiary, including a four-horned altar adorned with figures of naked fertility goddesses, as well as an elaborately painted chalice. This could be evidence of deviant cultic practices by the ancient Israelites related to the production of honey and beeswax.


An intriguing inscription on a ceramic storage jar found near the beehives reads "To nmsh". This same name was also inscribed on another storage jar from a slightly later occupation level at Tel Rehov, dated to the time of the Omride Dynasty in the 9th century BCE. Moreover, this same name was found on a contemporary jar from nearby Tel Amal, situated in the Gan HaShelosha National Park (Sachne).
The name "Nimshi" is known in the Bible as the name of the father and in several verses the grandfather of Israelite King Jehu, the founder of the dynasty that usurped power from the Omrides (II Kings: 9-12). It is possible that the discovery of three inscriptions bearing this name in the same region and dating to the same period indicates that Jehu's family originated from the Beth Shean Valley and possibly even from the large city located at Tel Rehov. The large apiary discovered at the site might have belonged to this illustrious local clan.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

John Cleese on anti-Semitism

The erstwhile Minister of Silly Walks has mastered the art of keeping his tongue firmly in cheek mid-rant and bluster. This irascible and brilliant performer sure hits his targets when he launches into his schtick after being asked whether Monty Python is anti-Semitic.
Harvey Morris, a veteran foreign correspondent, advises new arrivals to Israel that all the insights a journalist needs to cover the Arab-Israeli conflict are in the film "The Life of Brian".When the DVD was spotted on the desk of a Palestinian official, it became clear that Morris knows his stuff.

Who's on First?

Extra innings were inevitable, perhaps, after a piece about bush league baseball was heavily blogged before it was published in the international print journals that paid for a "non-exclusive" sports story on the fledgling Israel Baseball League. Veteran Israeli journalist, Alan D Abbey, examines the cries of foul on

Meanwhile, was getting plenty of hits with its own Jewish ballplayer feature scripted by Jonah Keri: "With bashin' boychiks knocking the seam off the ball this year, Salon highlights the greatest Hebrew hammers and fireballers to step onto the diamond." The legendary Sandy Koufax, pictured above, leads off the roll call of 18 Jewish athletes. The website cautions that

In the name of inclusiveness, we're counting players with one or more Jewish parents (even those not raised Jewish), converts to Judaism, and non-Jews who practiced the Jewish faith.

(cross-posted on Feral Beast.)

Monday, September 03, 2007

100,000 Arabs hitting on X-rated Israeli website: piece in the Middle East

Apparently, an X-rated parody website that features zaftig Mossad agents stripping off their kit in a classic honey trap is getting hit on by Israel's more sexually repressed neighbors in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and the like. (This startlingly blue news comes to us courtesy of the Hornet, who flits in and out of Jerusalem.)
The Israeli webmaster for name is Hebrew for "wet"--says the next step will be

to make movies with Israelis and Arabs performing together, in order to foster more intimate relations between the two peoples.
Yeah right. Just one more way to get screwed, I can hear both sides muttering already. The site features plenty of skin shots and is not particularly subtle. Six-pointed porn stars are not truly essential for peace in the Middle East. But nothing else seems to be working at the moment. (See one of the comparatively restrained photos from the site, above.)
Well, the renegade author Salman Rushdie takes a rather longer view of all this. He contemplated porn and Middle Eastern society in an essay called "The East is Blue"
"Pornography exists everywhere, of course, but when it comes into societies in which it's difficult for young men and women to get together and do what young men and women often like doing, it satisfies a more general need; and, while doing so, it sometimes becomes a kind of standard-bearer for freedom, even for civilization," Rushdie wrote.

Because the enterprising webmaster, Nir Shahar, has posted an all-Arabic version, he has significantly increased the size ..of his web-traffic. Even though they cannot download porn flicks because of restrictions, some 100,000 Arab-speakers have clicked in on the pictures. He told the Hollywood trade paper Variety

The most popular movie on the site is "Code Name: Deep Investigation," an X-rated parody of the arrest of dissident Israeli nuclear scientist Mordechai Vanunu, who spilled the beans on Israel's secret nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. He was eventually caught by Mossad agents, who sent a beautiful female agent to trap him.

"Arab people usually see female Israeli soldiers in a bad situation, so there's a lot of curiosity to see what Israeli girls look like without any uniforms," says Shahar. "We don’t make regular porn films. Our films parody the situation in Israel, so we look at issues like the elections here and Mossad. There is a lot of relevance to the Arab-Israeli situation."

Given that Israeli law precludes Shahar from accepting credit card payment from some Arab countries, he plans to set up a site registered in either Europe or the U.S.

Condi Rice blotted her career with MidEast blunders, acc to analyst's new book

Bush's closest confidante is confident but not competent.

A new assessment of Condoleezza Rice's career , written by a tagalong Washington Post journalist, Glenn Kessler, gives her a definite thumbs down as Secretary of State. Feisty Rice's inadequacies, which were under the spotlight during last summer's Lebanon war, may have been the turning point which hastened the slide of American influence in this critical region of the Middle East. Rice's quixotic hectoring did not go down well with the Israeli foreign minister Amir Peretz or with the beleaguered Lebanese. In fact, when she was not personally briefed, but left to learn about the IDF's deadly blunder at Qana through outside channels, Rice was angered and chagrined, but characteristically did not show it.

In her two years as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice has had limited success in her efforts to fix the US diplomatic setbacks she helped create during President George W. Bush's first term, says a new book on the chief US diplomat.

As Bush's national security advisor during his first term, Rice was at the center of decisions that she has struggled to mend since becoming secretary of state in January 2005, journalist Glenn Kessler writes in "The Confidante."

"She was one of the weakest national security advisors in US history. Her inexperience and her mistakes in that job have shaped the world and colored the choices she must handle as secretary of state," writes Kessler, who covers US diplomacy for The Washington Post.

"The invasion of Iraq, the missed opportunity with Iran, the breach in relations with Europe, the Arab anger at a perceived bias against the Palestinians -- all of these problems were the direct result of decisions she helped make in the White House," he writes.

"Now, as secretary of state, she tried mightily -- and with limited success -- to unravel the Gordian knots she tied in in George W. Bush's first term."

Rice, the first black woman to hold the top US diplomat job, was a Bush administration star when she became secretary of state.

But her star has since faded and she now has a mere 18 months left -- Bush's second and final four-year term ends in January 2009 -- to improve the legacy she will leave for the history books.

"As President Bush's confidante for more than seven years, Rice has failed to provide him with a coherent foreign policy vision," writes Kessler in the book to be released this week in the United States.

In two years, Rice has faced several setbacks.

The foreign policy failures under Rice's watch include the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon in mid-2006, which "may have marked an ominous turning point -- the decline of American power in the region," Kessler writes.

The author also points to North Korea's nuclear tests in October 2006, which he says the Bush administration could have avoided, and the long stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Rice has also never been personally engaged in efforts to end the humanitarian tragedy in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur, Kessler writes.

One of her few bright spots is the US nuclear deal with India, which was negotiated soon after she took the job and still needs to be finalized.

For his book, Kessler, who often travels with Rice on her trips around the world, interviewed Rice several State Department officials, giving him new insight into negotiations between Rice and foreign leaders as as well as her private talks with Bush.

The secretary of state is very secretive about her personal life, but Kessler was able to catch a glimpse of the non-official Rice, learning about how she helped a friend in a financial pinch.

"I think I tried to be relatively balanced," Kessler told AFP. "I tried to be very clear minded."

Kessler is not yet ready to write off Rice, who plans to remain on the job until the end of the Bush presidency, as a failure.

"It is too early to make that kind of judgment," Kessler said. "At the moment though, it does not look very good."

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bold Boulder Judge Richtel hears static in Jerusalem's Peace Forest

A runners's view from Abu Tor
After a heads-up that a dynamic teacher, Judge Murray Richtel, will soon be a teaching another joint course to Israeli and Palestinian law students, Izzy Bee went cyber-sleuthing to see what's so compelling about this jurist from Boulder, Colorado.

His take on whether Israelis and Palestinians can ever learn to live together, after witnessing them learn together in the classroom, is worth sharing, particularly in the run-up to the High Holydays and Ramadan.

Static in the Peace Forest
By Judge Murray Richtel (guest post)

I have learned a lot over my nine fall semesters in Jerusalem, including the painful and difficult lessons of being a new immigrant, even on a part-time basis.
Nothing is easy. Buying stamps, going to the bank, picking up the cleaning the simplest daily task is an adventure for the newcomer. One of my best learning resources has been Reshet Gimmel, FM Radio 98.7. "Kol Muzika, Kol Muzika Israelite," (All Music, All Israeli Music) which I religiously listen to while running up and down Jerusalem's hills three or four times a week.
From its hourly five-minute news reports, I have learned to understand the weather forecast, when the Supreme Court has rendered a significant opinion or, during the years when there were never-ending terrorist attacks, how many people had been killed, how many injured and how seriously. It took me awhile, actually several years, to learn that my favorite song was in fact a commercial for a sore throat medication.
On those runs which in better times have taken me to Bethlehem, on occasion around the walls of the Old City, and on a regular basis from my apartment past the president's house, down the hill to the olive trees of the Valley of the Cross where tradition has it the tree used for Jesus' crucifixion was cut, up the rosemary lined path near Israel's Parliament and back home passing the Prime Minister's residence I have often reflected on what I have absorbed about the political situation here.
Last week I did just that as I set out to run to the biblical Hill of the Evil Council, another standard route. In the 20 minutes it took me to get there, I heard only Israeli music from FM 98.7. At its summit and my turnaround point, I had one of Jerusalem's best views: the Old City and the Golden Dome on Temple Mount gleamed in the morning sunlight about a mile to the north. To the east about an equal distance was a new addition to the Jerusalem landscape, the Security Fence.
As I sped up on the downward trail through the Jerusalem Peace Forest the music on FM 98.7 changed. Drawing nearer to the Arab neighborhood of Silwan and the mixed Arab-Jewish area of Abu-Tor, there was static and a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic songs. If I turned my head to the right, toward the Arab and mixed neighborhoods, the songs were no longer in Hebrew. Rather, Arabic songs drowned out FM 98.7. If I turned my head back to the left and my Jewish neigborhood, I heard the Hebrew songs loud and clear. Only when I got out of the Peace Forest and was back on Hebron Road on the home stretch did the static disappear.
As the week progressed, I couldn't get the static in the Peace Forest out of my mind. It was there when I watched Jewish Israelis walking through the streets of Jerusalem on their way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The ubiquitous traffic noise and horn-honking was replaced by the quiet greeting, "Shana Tova," a Good Year, and by the ancient sound, of the ram's horn or shofar, being blown in hundreds of synagogues to acknowledge the New Year.
And again when the doors of Arabs' shops in the Old City closed on Friday afternoon and the mercantile hustle-bustle of the Muslim Quarter was replaced by the thousands of Arabs who streamed by me on Bab al-Sisilia Road en route to al-Haaram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, to offer their prayers on the first Friday of Ramadan.
The lines of worshippers were so much alike, so parallel. But however close the distance, parallel lines never meet.
And that, sadly, is my perception, that there are still parallel lines here. Yes, there has been progress: fewer deaths, and the withdrawal from Gaza sponsored by a tough Israeli Prime Minister who has indeed carried out "painful concessions" as promised.
But I continue to hear disturbing things from Arab drivers who operate most of the taxis I take home from the Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus high above the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem.
Assah told me: "The Towers came down in New York. They say it was the Muslims and bin Laden. I say, no, it was the Jews. There can never be peace with them. This is our country but we cannot trust the Jews to make peace. They will screw us. My kids can be drivers and construction workers and their kids all have computers. They say there are terrorists. Tell me, if you take my land what should I do, give you a flower?"
"I read it in the Quran this morning," Hussein, another driver, said, "as soon as the Israelis finish their security wall, we will win." When he told me that he considered Palestinian President Abu Mazen to be a thief, I asked if that meant he supported Hamas. "No," he said and, "they are bad people created by the Israelis. But, I am not worried about it, someone will come to lead us. It is in the Quran." When I hear these things I worry.
When I repeated Assah and Hussein's comments to my Jewish Israeli friends, they argued among themselves about the implications of my conversations. Anat thought the statements were made for the shock value they would have on me as a "tourist" and should not be believed, while Yehuda vehemently agreed that Assah spoke the truth about the plight of the Palestinians. His wife Myan expressed anger toward him: "The Palestinians hate Israel and will never make peace. They have a different culture and we cannot trust them." I didn't like hearing what Myan said.
And so it goes, more or less nothing changed for nine years. The static on FM 98.7 brought home to me the most obvious lesson I have learned as an outsider here during those years and the hardest lesson for Israelis and Palestinians to accept: The dream of the Peace Forest will not be realized until each side learns that its own clear message alone cannot prevail and that it must live with the static of hearing the other message.
As I approached the Jaffa Gate to the Old City to watch the march to the Temple Mount for Ramadan prayers, an Arab man in stylish Western clothes, with a cell phone on his belt, sprinted from the line of worshippers over to a car with Israeli license plates and gave its occupants a big greeting in colloquial Hebrew. My hope for this holiday season is that in the next year, more Israelis and Palestinians will step out of line, creating and living with the static that is necessary for peace.

Murray Richtel, a district court judge in Boulder from 1977 to 1996, teaches at the Hebrew University Law School in Jerusalem. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel.