Monday, December 24, 2007

Typical Israeli doesn't fit the stereotype

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

Any alternative suggestions will be posted in this space.

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

Sunday, December 23, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dung Gate shoveling begins anew

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hebron hijinks, when push comes to shove

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

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

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

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

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

(top photo courtesy of Christian Peacemaker Teams)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Better stop poking those Syrians online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Associated Press

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

Friday, December 07, 2007

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

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

According to Don Macintyre of the Independent,

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I'm dreaming of a Green Hanukkah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late to School, but out of Gaza at last

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

Sunday, December 02, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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