Monday, December 29, 2008

Day Two: More from Safa in Gaza City

Shock and awe is pretty brutal up close. Brave Safa has managed to get power for her computer, and shares her thoughts under bombardment:

It's 1.30 am but it feels like the sun should be up already. For the past few hours there's been heavy aerial bombardment of Gaza city and the northern Gaza Strip simultaneously. It feels like the longest night of my life. In my area it started with the bombing of workshops (usually located in the ground floor of private/family residential buildings), garages and warehouses in one of the most highly condensed areas in Gaza city "Askoola". About an hour ago they bombed the Islamic university, destroying the laboratory building. As I mentioned in an earlier account, my home is close to the university. We heard the first explosion, the windows shook, the walls shook and my heart felt like it would literally jump out of my mouth. My parents, siblings and cousins who have been staying with us since their home was damaged the first day of the air raids, had been trying to get some sleep. We all rushed to the side of the house that was farthest. Hala, my 11 year old sister stood motionless and had to be dragged to the other room. I still have marks on my shoulder from when Aya, my 13 year old cousin held on to me during the next 4 explosions, each one as violent and heart stopping as the next. Looking out of the window moments later the night sky had turned to a dirty navy-gray from the smoke .

Israeli warships rocketed the Gazas only port only moments ago, 15 missiles exploded, destroying boats and parts of the ports. These are just initial reports over the radio. We don't know what the extent of the damage is. We do know that the fishing industry that thousands of families depend on either directly or indirectly didn't pose a threat on Israeli security The radio reporter started counting the explosions, I think he lost count after 6. At his moment we heard 3 more blasts. "I'm mostly scared of the whoosh", I told my sister, referring to the sound a missile makes before it hits. Those moments of wondering where its going to fall are agonizing. Once the whooshes and hits were over the radio reporter announced that the fish market (vacant of course) had been bombed.

We just heard that 4 sisters from the family of "Ba'lousha" have been killed in an attack that targeted the mosque my their home in the northern Gaza Strip.

You know what bothers me more than the bangs and the blasts, the smoke, the ambulance sirens and the whooshs? The constant, ominous, maddening droning sound of the Apaches overhead that’s been buzzing in my head day and night. It's like I'm hearing things, which I'm not, but I am.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gaza bleeds under Israeli airstrikes

Safa, a young woman friend in Gaza City, shares her first impressions of this morning's airstrikes which killed more than 229 people and wounded at least 700 more. The "lull" is well and truly over. This is the most carnage in a single day of conflict for decades, according to local reports.

Gaza Today

I've never seen anything like this. It all happened so fast but the amount of death and destruction is inconceivable, even to me and I'm in the middle of it and a few hours have already passed. I think 15 locations were hit during the air raid on Gaza City. [some Israelis sources said 150 targets were struck] The images are probably not broadcast in US media. There are piles and piles of bodies in the locations that were hit. As you look at them you can see that a few of the young men are still alive, someone lifts a hand here, and another raise his head there. They probably died within moments because their bodies are burned, most have lost limbs, some have their guts hanging out and they're all lying in pools of blood. Outside my home, (which is close to the universities) a bomb fell on a large group of young men, university students, they'd been warned not to stand in groups, it makes them an easy target, but they were waiting for buses to take them home. This was about 3 hours ago 7 were killed, 4 students and 3 of our neighbors kids, teenagers who were from the same family (Rayes) and were best friends. As I'm writing this I heard a funeral procession go by outside, I looked out the window and it was the 3 Rayes boys, They spent all their time together when they were alive, and now their sharing the same funeral together. Nothing could stop my 14 year old brother from rushing out to see the bodies of his friends laying in the street after they were killed. He hasn't spoken a word since.
A little further down the street about an hour earlier 3 girls happened to be passing by one of the locations when a bomb fell. The girls bodies were torn into pieces and covered the street from one side to the other.

These are just a couple of images that I've witnessed. In all the locations people are going through the dead terrified of recognizing a family member among them. The city is in a state of alarm, panic and confusion, cell phones aren't working, hospitals and morgues are backed up and some of the dead are still lying in the streets with their families gathered around them, kissing their faces, holding on to them. Outside the destroyed buildings old men are kneeling on the floor weeping. Their slim hopes of finding their sons still alive vanished after taking one look at what had become of their office buildings.

At least 160 people dead in today's air raid. That means 160 funeral processions, a few today, most of them tomorrow probably. To think that yesterday these families were worried about food and heat and electricity. At this point I think they -actually all of us- would gladly have Hamas sign off every last basic right we've been calling for the last few months forever if it could have stopped this from ever having happened.

The bombing was very close to my home. Most of my extended family live in the area. My family is ok, but 2 of my uncles' homes were damaged, another relative was injured.
I don't know why I'm sending this. It doesn't even begin to tell the story on any level. Just flashes of thing that happened today that are going through my head.

The Arab League is summoning an emergency meeting to brainstorm how to respond to such bloodshed as the Israeli leaders threaten wider attacks.

When Izzy visited there in early November, the IDF tanks had rolled in and killed a dozen people, and everyone was glumly predicting more Israeli military action before January. And here you go.

According to the Financal Times, Ehud Olmert, the lame duck leader, is under intense pressure both from within the government and from the rightwing opposition to order a military offensive against Gaza.
Until recently, the prime minister seemed reluctant to follow the advice of his hawkish critics, possibly out of concern for the expected high casualties and anticipating a negative response around the world.

Over the past days, however, Israeli political and military leaders have increasingly presented an attack on Gaza as inevitable. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces, said on Thursday that "this reality cannot be allowed to continue and we will need to use our full force to hit the terrorist infrastructure".

Israeli media reported yesterday that the army was preparing for a "limited" operation in the Gaza Strip, combining air strikes and small-scale incursions.

The conflict with Hamas has also increasingly come to dominate the early phase of the election campaign, which will last until polling day on February 10.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

No time like the present: dung- ho gifts from the Galilee to Bethlehem

Under various fake fir trees and Hannukah bushes over the years, Izzy and friends have unwrapped pet rocks, a singing stuffed bass, and fluffy bunny slippers, but it took my fellow blogger Dion over at Checkpoint Jerusalem to unearth the shittiest gift ever to put the X in Xmas. With glee from Galilee, an asinine scoop of donkey dung is encased in plastic and inscribed with a Talmudic verse. This Holy Shit from the Holy Land is peddled for $70 bucks a dump and the plucky Israeli entrepeneur behind it all is doing a brisk trade in Messiah-inspired mess.

Less tongue in cheek is the man and ass retracing the journey of pregnant Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Click here for a video diary of the modern day Nativity trek by Aleem Maqbool, as he leads his donkey over hill and vale and through military checkpoints.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

50 Israeli cops hurt during riot drill

About 50 Israeli police officers have been injured by fellow officers during a training exercise in riot control, the BBC is reporting, and it's not a keystone cops scenario

The police suffered the minor injuries in a drill in which officers played militant Jewish settlers and Palestinians throwing stones.

The officers used tennis balls rather than real stones. Reports that some suffered broken bones were denied.

Seven-thousand police were involved in the exercise, which took place at an army base in southern Israel.

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, described it as "a huge police training exercise to prepare for riot control and to deal with different scenarios".

Mr Rosenfeld said that the injuries were sustained during scuffling, and were mostly bruising. No-one had needed hospital treatment, he said.

A further five policemen were injured in a traffic accident en route to the training exercise, when a police van overturned, he added.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Timeless Bethlehem

Here's a reworked painting from the clandestine British wall artist, Banksy, reprised from last December. And Izzy Bee repeats the refrain of holiday wishes: May there be no barrier to peace for you all in the coming year. No time like the present to start some changes.
( And thanks for clicking on to this blog over the past two years online.)
Israelity bites.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Israeli scribes rescue Palestinians

Avi Issacharoff , a passionate journalist at Haaretz, recounts how he and several other Israeli journalists apparently saved a large Palestinian family from being lynched during the unsettling events near Hebron. He called it a Pogrom in his opinion piece, written shortly after the experience. Since then, Sir SHimon Peres has echoed the Pogrom comment, after settlers were videoed firing on Palestinians.

Checkpoint Jerusalem carries a writeup, if you missed it.

Hat tip to Dion Nissenbaum for the headsup
(Izzy Bee is away from the Middle East for the moment.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Role reversal: Hamas orders Israeli hackette to get outta Gaza

Hat tip to Dion at Checkpoint Jerusalem for the following:

December 01, 2008

It has been more than two years since an Israeli reporter was officially allowed into Gaza.

The Israeli government barred Israeli reporters from going in after Hamas won control of the PA.

Last month, Israeli journalist Amira Hass defied the ban by hitching a ride on a Free Gaza boat from Cypress to Gaza, where she has been reporting on life there for the past two weeks.

Today, Amira wrote to friends to say that she is being kicked out of Gaza - by Hamas.

Hamas, which apparently had minders escort Hass 24-hours-a-day, told her that there were threats to her life and that she had to get out immediately.

Hass scoffed at the Hamas warnings, but has apparently been unable to change their minds.

Hass lived in Gaza for four years, from 1993 to 1997, and wrote about her time there in "Drinking the Sea at Gaza," a pioneering Israeli book about life in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip.

Below is her e-mail to friends:

From: "amira hass"


Date: Mon, 1 Dec 2008

dear all

i was ordered to leave gaza.

The Hamas security - the branch which insisted in "escorting" me 24 hours a day for almost 3 weeks, ordered me today, (sunday) at noon, to leave immediately. The great efforts of my friends yielded only one gesture: i was allowed to extend my stay by some 20 hours, at most, and leave tomorrow (monday).

the reason, needless to say is "security". "The circumstances have changed, it is dangerous and we have recieved specific information that there is a danger to your life. specific my foot. just the same things i heard from Arafat's security back in 1995 and in 1999, only that that ancien regime had some kind of flexibility and disorder - that enabled my (other friends and acquaintances) to reverse the order.

I see no chance for this to happen now.

i am professionally frustrated and personally sad, so sad: i took farewell of some of my friends today - and almost know for sure that we would not be able to see each other for many many years. I was planning to stay till end of January - so many more things to investigate: to learn. I even toyed with the idea of writing a book...

Never mind me. I was allowed a rare visit in prison. Met my friends and was reminded again, more closely, how people, all caged in, are accomodating their life to electricity cuts and threats of imminent israeli incursions, and to the ever-more-loud discourse of istishaad (martyrdom).


Thursday, November 27, 2008

thanks alot

Thanksgiving is for family, and gratitude for much else... and I am personally thankful forcompleteing two years blogging on line, from Lala Land and the Holy Land.!

This Thanksgiving I am grateful not to be stuck in Gaza. Back from there for the past two weeks, lately I have been busy all day, in full expat turkey mode here in Jerusalem. Izzy has been cooking instead of blogging for a change, so let me share some holiday sentiments, lifted from
Tim McGirk of Time magazine:

As you sit down to a Thanksgiving feast, please spare a thought for the starving Palestinians of Gaza. There are 1.5 million of them, most of them living hand to mouth, or on UN handouts, because Israel has them under siege.

It's a vicious cycle, one that's being repeated every few months or so. The Islamic militants do something crazy, Israel strikes back, the militants fire missiles into southern Israel and then the entry points into Gaza slam shut. Food and the basic necessities of life are squeezed off to the barest minimum.

And who suffers? Not the militants, not Hamas nor Islamic Jihad. As usual, it's the people of Gaza who are dazed with hunger. My friend Azmi, who has diabetes, tells me he is running out of insulin, and he can't find any pharmacy or hospital that still has supplies.

Dialysis machines are breaking down in the hospital (the rare moments when there's electricity to run them) and there are no spare parts to replace them. Bakeries have run out of flour. “I've been to the Cairo zoo,” says Azmi, “and I swear those animals are treated better there than we humans are in Gaza.”

Many stories are written about the smugglers' tunnels that honeycomb Gaza's southern border with Egypt. We write about how the smugglers bring Viagra and tiger cubs through the tunnels, as though Gaza were some big exotic shopping mall, a Neiman Marcus on the Mediterranean. But the truth his, all the stuff coming through the tunnel is expensive because it is taxed by the smugglers, and beyond the reach of most Gazans.

In the Third Act of this sorry performance, the international community and the UN start complaining loudly, and Israel lets in a few dozen trucks of food, or turns the fuel spigot on for a few hours to reduce the international outcry and show what good guys they are. That's what happened today. The Israelis let in 40 trucks. It's hardly enough. At a minimum, says Chris Guness, an UNRWA spokesman, “We need to bring in 15 trucks a day, every day.” Adds UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian Territories Maxwell Gaylard, “This is an assault on human dignity with severe humanitarian implications.”

Then we have Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, obviously irritated by Gaza questions during his valedictory tour to Washington. He dismissed the near-famine in Gaza as nothing more than the whining of a few cry-babies, as if he expected them to make souffles out of sand, soups from stone.

Israel wants to draw a curtain around Gaza so nobody can see how it's punishing the Palestinians. That's why, for the past two weeks, they've barred the foreign press from entering Gaza. The reason, says the Israeli military, is that catch-all phrase “security”, and it is pronounced with arrogant solemnity as if to say ‘Take it from us, we have our very good reasons. Don't challenge us.”

Well, the foreign press did challenge the Israeli government. We took the matter to the high court, petitioned Olmert and got our editors to write letters of complaint. Some journalists talk of chartering a boat from Cyprus and trying to run the Israeli naval blockade. These are desperate tries, but this is a violation of the press's freedom, and the world's right to know. This is the sort of shameful attitude you might expect from Zimbabwe's Dictator Robert Mugabe, not Israel. Please.

Choking the life out of the Gazans isn't going to make them turn against their Hamas overlords. On the contrary, says my friend Azmi, “Everything that Israeli does isn't harming Hamas in Gaza. It's making them stronger.” Starving Palestinians and depriving them of medicine certainly isn't going to make them like Israelis, or their supporters in Washington, any better.

Happy Thanksgiving.

By Tim McGirk/Jerusalem

I am thankful to escape the Southern California wildfires, and that I was nowhere near Mombai, and non of my Indian friends were hurt, and hoping that the Bangkok airport will be open for us this weekend. Time to feast!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Iran executes one 'Israeli spy' and arrests another

Iran has hanged a telecom engineer convicted of spying for Israel, according to reports from Teheran quoted on the BBC. This turn of events should worry Hossein Derakhshan, an earnest Iranian-Canadian blogger who was just arrested on arrival in the Teheran. (Pictured above.) The young guy came under suspicion because he spent time last year in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, exploding propaganda myths by cavorting with the 'entity'--mainly females in bars-- and giving Israelis a 'human face' on his blog, Jahan News. Apparently, the man hailed as Hoder, the Blogfather, has already confessed to spying for Israel.

The Ahmadinejad regime obviously gets very annoyed about any links between Israel and its Iranian citizens. Hence the execution of Ashtari, pictured below.

Ali Ashtari, an Iranian, was convicted in June of spying for Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. A video said to be of his confession was broadcast on TV.

He was convicted of sending "sensitive information on military, defence and research centres" for three years.

Israeli officials were quoted in June as saying that Israel was not familiar with the case.

Announcing the execution, which reportedly took place on Monday, Iran's official news agency said the case against the 45-year-old was clear and his appeal was summarily dismissed.

"He had spied for Mossad for three years," the state news agency quoted the intelligence ministry's director of counter-terrorism as saying.

Officials said Ashtari was recruited by Israeli secret services to intercept the communications of Iranian officials working in the military and its controversial nuclear programme.

Broadcasting his apparent confession, state TV showed Ashtari sitting down wearing an open-necked shirt and jumper.

"It was my mistake and perhaps I feared going to the intelligence ministry, and this fear was the reason why I kept choosing the wrong path," he said, speaking into the camera.

"Do not repeat the mistakes that I made."

The case unfolded throughout the year against a backdrop of concerns in Iran that Israel was planning to launch a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear facilities.

Israel is a leading advocate of strong action against Tehran, which it believes is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran denies that charge, saying its nuclear programme is intended for energy supply only.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hebrew papers running Palestinian ads

The Palestinian Authority placed ads in Hebrew papers, to try and reach some kind of conflict resolution over contentious core issues through an outreach to the reading public inside "the so-called Jewish entity". Can they revive a six-year-old peace plan? Clearly, the Pal pals are pre-occupied. The BBC elaborates:

The Palestinian Authority has placed a full-page advert in Israel's Hebrew newspapers to promote an Arab peace plan first proposed in 2002.

The plan offers pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for an end to Israel's occupation of land captured in the 1967 Arab-Israel war.

It also proposes what it calls a just solution for Palestinian refugees.

Israel has noted "positive aspects" in the plan but has not formally accepted it, largely over the refugee issue.

In a BBC interview coinciding with his presidential visit to the UK, veteran Israeli politician Shimon Peres praised the plan as a "sea-change" in Arab policy.

Adopted by Arab League in 2002 and relaunched in 2007
Calls for "full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967"
All Arab states would establish "normal relations... with Israel" and "consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended"
Calls for a "just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem"

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said it could "serve as the basis" for negotiations.

Renewed interest in the Arab plan has arisen after a year of Israeli-Palestinian talks made no tangible progress and indirect contacts were revived between Syria and Israel, but also without achieving anything concrete.

Countering 'distortion'

The PA advertisement appears in the three main Hebrew dailies and is headed by the Palestinian and Israeli flags.

The text reads: "Fifty-seven Arab and Muslim countries will establish diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for a full peace accord and the end of the occupation."

The advert includes the full text of the seven-point initiative and is framed by the flags of 50 Arab and Muslim countries.

Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo said it was aimed at explaining the Arab peace initiative to the Israeli public.

He suggested that Israelis were unfamiliar with the details of the plan and have only heard partial and distorted versions from Israeli officials.

The Arab peace plan, originally devised by Saudi Arabia, was adopted by an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002 and re-launched at the Riyadh summit in 2007.

Israeli reports described the direct appeal to Israelis by Palestinian leaders over the heads of Israel's politicians as an extraordinary event.

Many Israelis agree on returning most of the land occupied in 1967 but hold strong views on two elements of the plan - making East Jerusalem capital of a future Palestinian state, and discussing Palestinian refugees in the context of a peace deal.

Israel has proclaimed all Jerusalem, including the occupied eastern half, as its "eternal, undivided" capital, and has rejected any responsibility for the flight of refugees during conflicts since 1948 when Israel was founded.

Alperon hit blows open Tel Aviv underworld

Bloody aftermath of mob hit in Tel Aviv's streets

Tel Aviv is often a blast, but this time it's gangster warfare, not political conflict. Not some deluded martyr blowing up a bus, but a mundane car-bomb planted in a rental car.

The murder of Yaakov Alperon, crime kingpin, had all the hallmarks of a mobster's targetted assassination and now local cops are braced for a vengeance free-for-all in the mean streets of the Mediterranean metropolis. At the showy funeral earlier this week, the scion of Israel's erstwhile Tony Soprano vowed: "I'll find my father's killer and I'll cut off his head. Smash his balls!" Not your usual kaddish.
See Time magazine for a full report on how in the Tel Aviv underworld extortionists are exterminated what is expected next. (Snapshot of Yaakov and son in Tel Aviv.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bedouin Obama's Baklava

A platter of sweets, all dripping with honey, is proffered at the Jerusalem bureau of the venerable Times of London. The occasion? Some 8000 Bedouin Obamas from northern Israel are hailing America’s new chief and claiming him as one of their own. And how exactly does this tribe link their blood line to the new American leaders? Ah, that evidence is still out. But it doesn’t seem to make much difference.

James Hider, the Times’ intrepid man in the Middle East, was bemused when Abdul Rahman Sheikh Abdullah, a 53-year-old local Bedouin elder from Bir al-Maksour, started whooping and hollering over the electoral victory of a long-lost relative. And a Bedouin connection to Barack Obama is mind-boggling, since the Kenyan and Kansas clans are so well documented. Still, the Bedoins consider how the president-elect’s lifestyle has been semi-Nomadic, shifting from Hawaii to Indonesia and back, then California, Massachusetts, Illinois and Washington DC. As soon as the tribe in Israel started to gather and share the sweet news of the family’s good fortune, word reached the inquisitive Times reporter, who hauled his share of cellophane-wrapped pastries back to the office rather than splotch his notebook with honey.

Now Sheikh Abdullah is determined to hold a large barbecue in Obama’s honor and slaughter a dozen goats to feed the villagers. The action will take place up in Northern Israel, near the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus is believed to have walked on water a couple thousand years ago. At least it's not at Armageddon.

According to Hider, the elderly mother of the sheikh first spotted the family resemblance when she watched the charismatic Illinois senator on television. She insists that Obama is a dead ringer for an African migrant laborer who once worked for a wealthy sheikh in British Mandate Palestine during the 1930s. At 95, the mother’s memory of the distant past seems remarkably sharp.

“The Africans would sometimes marry local Bedouin girls and start families, though, like many migrant workers, would just as frequently return home after several years,” Abdullah told the Times.

One of those men was a relative of Barack Obama’s Kenyan grandmother, Sheikh Abdullah maintains.

He estimates that his tribe extends to as many as 8,000 members, all of them loosely connected to the president-elect.”

Long-lost relatives are bound to start appearing from all branches of the Obama family tree and try to converge on the White House. These Galilee Bedouins may represent a rather shady offshoot that rambled quite a distance off in the Holy Land. An undeniable surge of affection for the new American leader is transcending distance and going around the globe. That’s going to be some inauguration party! (Meanwhile, one of Hider's colleagues at the Torygraph divulged a hot tip that the new American leader could have feet of clay: A set of garden gnomes in East Jerusalem is also asserting Obama lineage.

cross-posted from Feral Beast.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Found in Jerusalem: One Earring, 2000 years later. And 12,000 ago, a shaman laid to rest

One large pearl inlaid in gold with two drop pieces, each with an emerald and pearl.
Anybody seen the other one?

This lucky find is described in Haaretz The lady's earring was discovered during excavation of the ruins of a Byzantine era building, dating from around the fifth century A.D. It was discovered outside the old city walls, beyond the Kotel, near Silwan and the so-called City of David.

Well, there is ancient and then there is well and truly old. The discovery of shamaness in the Galilee, buried hunched, 50 tortoise shells ritually surrounding the tomb must be rife with symbolism. She's like the first Jewish mother, someone quipped. The female force, the she-Eve.

Female Shaman's Grave Found in Israel
Tuesday, November 04, 2008

By Jeanna Bryner

The grave of an elderly woman buried about 12,000 years ago included a plethora of animal remains.

A 12,000-year-old burial site in Israel contains offerings that include 50 tortoise shells and a human foot, and appears to be one of the earliest known graves of a female shaman.

The remains were discovered in a small cave called Hilazon Tachtit, which functioned as a burial site for at least 28 individuals. The grave woman, likely a shaman, was separated from the other bodies by a circular wall of stones.

Other grave goodies buried within that wall included tail vertebrae from an extinct type of cattle called an auroch, skulls from two stone martens (members of the weasel family), bony wing parts from a golden eagle, the forearm of a wild boar and a nearly complete pelvis from a leopard.

"What was unusual here was there were so many different parts of different animals that were unusual, that were clearly put there on purpose," said researcher Natalie Munro, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Connecticut.

Great pains were likely taken long ago to collect the animal remains for the grave, not to mention the long trek that must have been made from the closest domestic site at the time, about 6 miles (10 km) away, say the researchers.

This care along with the animal parts point to the grave belonging to both an important member of the society and possibly a healer called a shaman, the researchers conclude in their research published this week by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Such healers mediate between the human and spirit worlds, often summoning the help of animal spirits along their quests, according to the researchers.

Life was tough

The woman was about 45 years old when she died and based on measurements of the skull and long bone, she stood at about 4.9 feet (1.5 meters).

Wearing of her teeth and other aging signs on the bones suggested the woman was relatively old for her time. And she likely had a limp or dragged her foot, the researchers speculate, due to the fusion of the coccyx and sacrum along with deformations of the pelvis and lower vertebrae.

The human foot lying alongside the body came from an adult individual who was much larger than the women.

"What's interesting is it's only the foot," Munro told LiveScience. "She hasn't been disturbed, but a part of another human body was definitely put into the grave. It could be related to the fact they were moving body parts around sometimes, but we don't know why."

At least 10 large stones had been placed on the head, pelvis and arms of the buried individual, which the researchers suggest helped to protect the body and keep it in a specific position, or possibly to hold the body in its grave.

Scattered around the body and beneath it were tortoise shells. Before arranging the shells inside the grave during the burial ritual, humans cracked open the tortoise shells along the reptiles' bellies (so as not to crack the back part of the shell) and sucked out the meat, possibly for food.

"So they took the insides out by breaking the belly, but they left the back intact and that was probably meaningful," Munro said.

Rituals begin

The woman was part of the Natufian culture, a group of hunter-gatherers who lived from 15,000 to about 11,500 years ago in the area that now includes Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The finding is particularly interesting since the Natufians were on the verge of becoming a more sedentary, farming society.

Finding an early shaman grave during this transition makes sense, Munro said.

"With the beginning of agriculture we seem to see an intensified ritual behavior," Munro said. "When things change dramatically, people tend to try to reestablish the legitimate order of things by using ritual and religion to deal with change."

She added, "These people are starting to live in more permanent communities; they're in more contact with one another from day to day. It's not surprising that we start to see evidence for those ritualized behaviors at this point in time."

Copyright © 2008 Imaginova Corp. All Rights Reserved.

This is a topic that Izzy will research further. But first, a close look at that lovely stray jewel set in burnished gold.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Yawning gap between rudeness and discipline

Sometimes official ceremonies are just a big yawn, and there's no disguising it. But for one dozy squaddie, failure to stifle his boredom has sent him to lock-up for three weeks. Haaretz reports today on the yawning gap between what's rude and what's jail-worthy:

The Israel Defense Forces has sentenced a soldier to 21 days in jail for yawning during a recent memorial service for assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Officials report the soldier yawned while the commander of the Ramat David Israel Air Force base was delivering a speech during last week's memorial ceremony for Rabin. The senior officer paused for a few minutes after the yawn, which was described as long and loud.

The soldier was subsequently arrested by the army, tried for his "disrespectful act" and sentenced to 21 days in military prison. The IDF Spokesperson's Unit noted that the soldier is able to request a pardon, which will be considered according to military regulations.

The soldier's mother told Israel Radio that her son was not disrespectful, but tired. She said that her son deserves to be punished for inappropriate behavior, but the verdict is disproportionately harsh.

She further said her son was raised upon Rabin's legacy, and that yawning is known to be an uncontrollable physical act.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Secular City Hall- Meet Nir Barkat

The gamble that the Arab voters would swing the election did not work. Jerusalem's new-look City Hall will be headed by Nir Barkat, a nerdish techno-innovator and tycoon who drifted right during the campaign and came out pro-settlements.
This photo is from his FaceBook page. (He joined last summer, and his page has more than 800 fans.)

Here's Mayor Barkat's rather glowing resume, according to the Israel Project.

Nir Barkat, born in Israel in 1959, spent his entire childhood and adult life in Jerusalem. Serving six years in the IDF, as a member of the paratrooper’s brigade, Nir completed his service with the rank of Major.
Nir received his Bachelor's degree in computer science (BSC), and completed extensive studies towards an MA in business administration at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In 1988, Nir Barkat founded the BRM Group. BRM was one of the first entities worldwide to develop anti-virus software. As CEO, he initiated joint ventures with U.S. companies. BRM later became a technological incubator, investing in companies such as BackWeb and Checkpoint Software. Nir served as chairman of Checkpoint for its first four years.
At the beginning of 2000, Nir was a founding partner of BRM Capital, a $150 million Venture Capital Fund which focuses on software and communication infrastructures, specializing in investments in Israeli related companies and helping them become global leaders in their field.
Prior to his decision to dedicate himself to the city of Jerusalem full time, Nir Barkat became involved in the promotion and introduction of innovative educational and community focused projects.

• Nir supports and serves on the Board of Snunit, an organization advancing the use of computers within the Jerusalem elementary school system.
• He was the driving force behind the creation of the Holistic Project - the creation of new local leadership and community program development in Jerusalem neighborhoods.
• Nir was one of the founding members of the Israel Venture Network (IVN), which was founded in the spring of 2001 by a group of American and Israeli high tech magnates. The mission of this committed group is to further a pluralistic and harmonious society in Israel through the deployment of innovative and venture-based strategies.

In January 2003, Nir resigned from all of his business responsibilities and participated in the Jerusalem municipal elections for Mayor. Nir served as a full-time Jerusalem municipal councilmember, and was involved with numerous entrepreneurial projects in the city.
In addition to being the Founder and Vice-Chairman of StartUp Jerusalem, Nir is also the Founder and Chairman of "New Spirit," a non-profit helping to promote the students in Jerusalem.
Nir is married to Beverly, and is father of three daughters.

Headlines in Haaretz newspaper said Barkat scorned municipal waste and announced that he was prepared to dismantle the Calatrave "bridge of discord" and disrupt the light railway system which has become a symbol of bad planning, over-spending. Izzy doubts he'll go through with wholescale disuption, but was just playing the rightwing crowd for victory cheers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When Porush Comes to Shove- Jerusalem election gets underway

A whitebearded ultra-Orthodox candidate with a formidable scowl banks on voters being charmed by a cartoon of himself, while a Russian tycoon who speaks little Hebrew considers himself the dark horse in Jerusalem's bizarre mayoral race. Forget that nasty brawl in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where monks have not learned to take turns in more than a millenium. The real free-for-all will happen as ballots are tallied tonight to determine who'll be in charge of Jerusalem's City Hall.

The candidates are a cast of characters:


Secular Israeli businessman who heads opposition on city council


MP since 1996 for United Torah Judaism, an ultra-Orthodox party


A Russian-born businessman running under his adopted Hebrew name Arieh Bar-Lev


A former director of public television turned bar owner, Biron is running on behalf of the Green Leaf party and is calling for legalisation of cannabis.

Around the city, campaign posters have been shredded as soon as aides stick them up, and some religious parties balked at allowing any photographs of women candidates--some 33 are running for a varity of municipal positions--to be displayed on public buses. Oy veh.

Ben Lynfield, a locally-based journalist, reports how today's poll lays bare Jerusalem's tribal divides.

In a city usually dominated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, today's mayoral election in Jerusalem has lain bare its deep rifts as an ultra-Orthodox rabbi takes on a hi-tech entrepreneur for control of city hall.

Any last shred of pretence that the election is anything other than tribal warfare between the ultra-Orthodox and secular collapsed when the rabbi, Meir Porush, 53, suggested to supporters that a vote for him would be part of an ongoing ultra-Orthodox takeover of all of Israel's cities.

"Within 10 years there will not be a secular candidate at all in any city, except maybe in an abandoned village," he said. The father of 12 made the comment in Yiddish last week, but unbeknown to him, the remarks were being recorded and were later aired on Israeli television with Hebrew subtitles, harming his effort to win over secular voters.

The comment seemed to touch on the worst fears of secular Jerusalemites. In West Jerusalem's Kiryat Yovel neighbourhood, where secular residents have mobilised against plans to establish an ultra-Orthodox kindergarten, the election is seen as holding the key as to whether the area "falls" to the ultra-Orthodox.

"Kiryat Yovel has been a pluralistic place but now it is changing," said Judith Sudilovsky, a mother of two young children. "Neighbours are being told by the ultra-Orthodox not to use their washing machines on Saturday because it disturbs the Sabbath. I'm concerned that two markets that serve non-kosher food, where I buy shrimps, will be shut down."

Mr Porush's office has dismissed such fears. "Anything that is open today will not shut down except for economic reasons," a spokesman said.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews – who gained control of city hall for the first time five years ago – account for just over a quarter of the electorate, while secular voters make up more than 40 per cent. But with rabbis encouraging the faithful to vote for ultra-Orthodox candidates, voter turnout among that group is higher.

Israeli doves have no real choice in this election. Like Mr Porush, Nir Barkat, the entrepreneur, is vowing to build a new Jewish neighbourhood in Arab East Jerusalem, and he also supports settlement within existing Arab areas.

Also standing is Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian-born businessman and owner of Jerusalem's nationalist Beitar football team, who is being tried in absentia by a Paris court for allegedly selling arms to Angolan rebels during the 1990s. The fourth mayoral candidate is Dan Biron, a bar owner , representing the Green Leaf party, which is calling for the legalisation of cannabis.

Palestinians are expected to boycott the polling in line with Palestinian Authority directives not to lend legitimacy to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. But there is growing tensions in the area, with Israeli police evicting a disabled Palestinian man and his wife from their home over the weekend in what is seen as a move towards expansion of the Jewish settler presence in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Gaza navel-gazing

What to do about bloody Gaza? This cartoon, by Lautuff, dates from last year but things have not changed much. Even Izzy Bee is feeling the Gaza Strip squeeze, as she is stuck fast like a mollusc and prevented from moving around here on work assignment due to "security issues".
Join the club, say the Gazans. Such limitation and powerlessness is standard for 1.5 million people in this enclave who lose their freedoms due to the actions of a handful of militants. Gaza is a potentially beautiful place, mired in misery for now. If only people could look to a shared tomorrow, instead of tossing rockets and recriminations at one another. Who did what when is irrelevant. Draw a line and reboot.

As soon as Erez reopens, I'll go back to Eretz Israel...or is that ersatz Israel? So few of the intelligent and cynical folks I've met here can have any hope of doing the same or going anywhere at all.

Mrs Mary Robinson, a former UN Commissioner for Human Rights, has just revisited the Strip briefly after a gap of eight years and told the BBC about her despair at witnessing the deteriorating conditions of this overcrowded and under-employed enclave.

" I am taken aback with the terrible, trapped situation of the families.Their whole civilisation has been destroyed, I'm not exaggerating.It's almost unbelievable that the world doesn't care while this is happening." --Mary Robinson

And now, after the discovery of a new tunnel which the Israelis say was part of an apparatus designed for kidnapping IDF soldiers, troops moved into the Palestinian territory near Al Bureij camp to blow it up. Hostilities ratcheted up. Shots were fired and IDF soldiers were spotted some 300 meters inside. An IDF airstrike destroyed one house nearby. Drones hover overhead and the 5-month truce appears more fragile than ever. In the night, we heard more distant booms and sirens, and learned of more deaths, 7 in all since Tuesday night.

Interesting doublespeak here:
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed further military offensives against the Gaza Strip. "We have no intention of violating the quiet," Barak said on a tour of southern Israeli areas bordering Gaza. "But in any place where we need to thwart an action against Israeli soldiers and civilians, we will act."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Uzi does it - a Horror Story

When a little boy in America wants to blast pumpkins as a Halloween treat, the weapon of choice is a 9 mm micro submachine gun, originally designed in 1949 by Israeli Uziel Gal. Sad, indeed.
And in this case, Chris, the trigger-happy child who had been allowed to play with real guns since age five, was buried the day before Halloween. After squeezing the trigger, Chris lost control of the recoil and took a bullet in the head. Trick or treat. They say "guns don't kill people, people kill people", but this report should give firearms advocates pause. For the gun slingin' settlers of Judea and Samaria, this should sound a warning. It scares me to see so many youngsters packing heat.

With an instructor watching, an 8-year-old boy at a gun fair aimed an Uzi submachine gun at a pumpkin and pulled the trigger as his dad reached for a camera.

It was his first time shooting a fully automatic gun, and the recoil of the weapon was too much for him. He lost control and fatally shot himself in the head.

Now gun safety experts — and some gun enthusiasts at the club where the shooting happened — are wondering why such a young child was allowed to fire a weapon used in war. Local, state and federal authorities are also investigating whether everyone involved had proper licenses or if anyone committed a criminal act.

"It's easy to lose control of a weapon like that ... they are used on a battleground for a very good reason," said Jerry Belair, a spokesman for Stop Handgun Violence, based in Newton, Massachusetts. "It's to shoot as many times as you possibly can without having to reload at an enemy that's approaching. It's not a toy. It's not something to play with."

Police said Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Connecticut, was pronounced dead at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Sunday afternoon, shortly after firing a 9mm micro Uzi submachine gun at the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman's Club, co-sponsored by C.O.P. Firearms & Training.

"The weapon was loaded and ready to fire," Westfield police Lt. Hipolito Nunez said. "The 8-year-old victim had the Uzi and as he was firing the weapon, the front end of the weapon went up with the backfire and he ended up receiving a round in his head."

Nunez said the investigation is continuing.

Christopher was attending the show with his father and older brother, Colin. Christopher had fired handguns and rifles before, but Sunday was his first time firing an automatic weapon, said his father, Charles Bizilj.

Bizilj told the Boston Globe he was about 10 feet (three meters) behind his son and reaching for his camera when the weapon fired. He said his family avoided the larger weapons, but he let his son try the Uzi because it is a small weapon with little recoil.

"This accident was truly a mystery to me," said Bizilj, director of emergency medicine at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford, Connecticut. "This is a horrible event, a horrible travesty, and I really don't know why it happened."

Police are calling the shooting an accident but are investigating whether everyone connected with the incident had proper weapons permits. Massachusetts requires licenses to own firearms, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issues different licenses to possess machine guns.

The machine gun shoot drew hundreds of people from as far away as Maine and Virginia. An advertisement said it would include machine gun demonstrations and rentals and free handgun lessons.

"It's all legal & fun — No permits or licenses required!!!!" reads the ad, posted on the club's Web site.

"You will be accompanied to the firing line with a Certified Instructor to guide you. But You Are In Control — "FULL AUTO ROCK & ROLL," the ad said.

The ad also said children under 16 would be admitted free, and both adults and children were offered free .22-caliber pistol and rifle shooting.

Massachusetts has some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S. It is legal in Massachusetts for children to fire a weapon if they have permission from a parent or legal guardian and they are supervised by a properly certified and licensed instructor, Nunez said. The name of the instructor who was with the boy at the time was not released.

"We do not know at this time the full facts of this incident," Nunez said Monday. The parents said they have no regrets about taking their son to thi fair.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

French leader supports Obama's Iran policy; flings cold freedom fries at Haaretz story

Conservatives the world over are getting nervous as November 4th draws nigh. But, despite headlines to the contrary, the French are not in agreement with the GOP's bogus "Joe the Plumber. " Diplomats have refuted Jerusalem gossip that suggested Sarkozy, who is half Jewish, shares the impression that "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel." The Huffington Post details how:

The last-ditch attempt by the Israeli hawks to trash Barack Obama appeared in the respected English daily Haaretz , which has been noticeably tilting further right in the past few months. Oddly, an anonymously-sourced news item echoed the latest volley of television ads by John McCain, faulting the Illinois Senator for his diplomatic stance towards Iran. Between the lines, lurked the unspoken caveat: Barack your world and we Israelis get nuked.

Haaretz’s front page story berated the Democratic candidate as “utterly immature”, an interesting choice of insult, given the quarter century age chasm between the US presidential contenders.

"Sarkozy has made his criticisms only in closed forums in France. But according to a senior Israeli government source, the reports reaching Israel indicate that Sarkozy views the Democratic candidate's stance on Iran as 'utterly immature' and comprised of 'formulations empty of all content.' 

"Obama visited Paris in July, and the Iranian issue was at the heart of his meeting with Sarkozy. At a joint press conference afterward, Obama urged Iran to accept the West's proposal on its nuclear program, saying that Iran was creating a serious situation that endangered both Israel and the West. 

"According to the reports reaching Israel, Sarkozy told Obama at that meeting that if the new American president elected in November changed his country's policy toward Iran, that would be 'very problematic.' "

Putting these words into the mouth of the French President, who like most Gallic statesmen ranks diplomacy as a French art as elevated as its cuisine, perhaps was intended as punishment for Obama’s ‘presumptious foreign tour’ this summer when he advocated negotiating with America's adversaries. It backfired rather quickly. A crisp diplomatic communiqué from the French embassy in Washington flung the cold freedom fries back in the face of the nameless rumor-mongers.

"The remarks attributed by the newspaper Haaretz to the President of the French Republic concerning Senator Obama's positions on Iran are groundless. To the contrary, the in-depth discussions between the President of the Republic and Senator Obama on Iran during their meeting in Paris in July demonstrated a broad convergence of views on this issue. President Sarkozy and Senator Obama agree to oppose Iran's development of a military nuclear capability."

Furthermore, Sarkozy has said that France ought to worry more about tensions between Iran and Israel than between Iran and the United States, and has urged neighbours to ramp up sanctions against Tehran.

One can only conclude that Israeli hawks view a McCain administration as an extension of the sweet deal they had under George W Bush. For the past eight years, the US offered scant criticism of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and very little pressure to adhere to a ‘roadmap’ or even the gentle Annapolis nudge towards conflict resolution. The nags of Condoleezza Rice during her more than 20 diplomatic shuttles to the Holy Land resulted in very little substantial action. Israeli expansion was emboldened, and even the lame duck Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has despaired belatedly that he allowed too many "facts on the ground" to go unchecked. Now it appears that under Barack Obama, the Israeli right may fear that “No, we can’t.”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Livni gets fed up with factions' demands, prepares for elections

Hopes for any peace settlement this year were scrapped when Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni informed President Shimon Peres that she has given up trying to form a coalition that would enable her to become Israel’s next prime minister. As a result, Israel likely will hold general elections in February to determine its next leader.

An ex-Mossad agent and mother of two, Ms Livni had been striving for five weeks to form a coalition government. But after negotiations stalled, she conceded that there was no possibility of doing so. Now Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish former prime minister from the Likud party, is tipped to become the next leader. Livni's political stature is diminished after her failed attempts to reach across the aisle. Israelis spurn any sign of weakness.

Livni had been counting on the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which holds 12 seats in the Knesset, to join her but she balked at the party’s demands not to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority over the status of Jerusalem.

"I'm not willing to be blackmailed, either diplomatically or in terms of the budget, and therefore, I will go to elections," Livni said. "We'll see all these heroes in 90 days."

Shas’ non-negotiable stance puts the future of a two-state solution at risk and jeopardizes future negotiations. Shas also insisted on a 1.5 billion shekel ($394 million) increase for child allowances but Livni was willing to offer only 400 million shekel ($105 million), saying, “There are some things the State cannot be sold for.” Shas’ voter constituency includes big families and religious seminary students who depend on the government for significant financial subsidies for school and living expenses.

As Kadima’s newly elected chairwoman, Livni had 42 days to form a coalition and technically, she still has until Nov. 3 to do so. But without the support of Shas and United Torah Judaism, another religious party which currently holds six seats, she cannot amass enough seats in the Knesset for a coalition that comprises centrist and left-of-center parties.

Peres now has until Tuesday night to review the situation and inform the Knesset speaker of Livni’s inability to form a government, after which any of the 120 members of the Knesset will have three weeks to try to form a coalition. Israeli law requires a minimum of 61 members to form a coalition.

If a government is not formed within three weeks after Livni announces that she was unable to form a coalition, Peres will call for general elections, which are expected take place Feb. 17. The Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will remain in office until a new coalition is formed following the new 2009 parliamentary elections. This is an unexpected breather for him, but his reputation is unlikely to be salvaged.

Olmert resigned his post Sept. 21 because of corruption investigations into his activities when he held ministerial positions in previous Israeli governments.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Palestinian football players stuck in Gaza ahead of historic match

Reviving 'footie' in the occupied territories is fraught with problems, reports James Hider in today's London Times. After years of matches hosted by other Arab states, the Palestinian national football team will play its first-ever international home game on Sunday. But excitement is not exactly fever pitch. With nearly 50 per cent of their soccer players still marooned in Gaza, this West Bank match is likely to underscore the bitter divisions in the territories. Coming up up with a Gaza strip for football-- even though so many neighbors profess that Palestine is not a real country, but a name from the colonial past and a figment of the victimised imagination-- is unlikely to become a reality any time soon. Bishara, a Palestinian player from abroad, complained that as he tried to cross into the West Bank, Israeli security forces mocked him and demanded "how can you be playing for the Palestinian national team when there is no Palestine?"

So tomorrow's match is expected to be mainly a Fifa-Fatah extravaganza, and may inflame intra-team rivalries unless some travel permits are issued soon by the Israelis.

The match against Jordan will be attended by Sepp Blatter, head of Fifa, which paid for the 6,000-seat stadium close to the boundary between Ramallah and Jerusalem as part of an effort to revive the sport in the occupied territories, impoverished by years of conflict, corruption and political instability.

But amid all the fanfare, it is possible that half the national team may be missing, unable to make the journey from the Gaza Strip across Israel to the West Bank.

“It is easier for us to travel to the Far East, which is thousands of kilometres away, than to get to the West Bank, which is only dozens of kilometres away,” said Mohammed Baroud, 26, a Gaza member of the national team.

It is not only Israel that divides the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean Coast from the West Bank and which has enforced a strict limit on all movement in and out of the coastal enclave, controlled since last year by the Islamist movement Hamas.

The West Bank is dominated by the mainstream Palestinian movement Fatah, which called Hamas’s armed takeover of the Gaza Strip a “coup” and has cracked down on the Islamist group in the area it still controls. It has closed Hamas-linked charities, and arrested preachers and journalists linked to the group.

“The Palestinian soccer union in the West Bank did not call their branch in Gaza to get the team ready,” said Mr Baroud, one of 13 players on the national team who are trapped in Gaza. “They are not giving us the proper attention and all we get from them is promises.”

“It is the dream of any Palestinian player to play in such an historic event,” he said. In the past, Palestinian matches have been hosted by neighbouring Jordan or Qatar in the Gulf.

Gaza team members are angry to be left out of such an event. “We are totally frustrated, and we only train so to keep in shape,” said Mr Baroud.

Naiem El-Swairky, head coach for the national team in Gaza, said the West Bank sports authorities had applied for Israeli travel permits for seven players and one coach but had received no word on whether they would be provided.

“I think the union in the West Bank are not pushing hard for the participation of Gaza players. It usually takes us seven to ten days to get ready and the game is on Sunday, and no one contacted us yet. I don’t know whether to think it is deliberate or if they couldn’t get us permits,” he said, wary that his players may fall foul of the bitter dispute between Fatah, which favours a peace deal with Israel, and Hamas, which is staunchly opposed to the very existence of the Jewish state.

“I will give the union the benefit of the doubt since the Israelis are not even giving sick Palestinians permits to go to hospitals and many of them are dying in Gaza, so I would like to think it is the Israelis’ fault,” said the head coach.

Mr El-Swairky said that with the borders closed and living standards plummeting, Gaza had become a “cemetery of ambition” for Palestinian athletes. “Palestinian sport is paying a heavy price,” he said. “Now it is in clinical death, and if the situation continues like this, Palestinian sport eventually will die.”

Some 630 checkpoints, barriers and earth mounds block movement across the West Bank. Reuters notes that the venerable Palestine FA was formed in 1928 and joined FIFA in 1929 but at the time the association was made up of Arab clubs, Jewish clubs (including the venerable Maccabe Tel Aviv) plus clubs representing British policemen or soldiers serving in the region during the British Mandate rule between World War One and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

An Arab club represented the Palestinian FA in an attempt to qualify for the World Cup in 1930. The qualification matches for the 1934 World Cup were contested by a Palestine team made up exclusively of Jewish and British players.

As hostilities between Jews and Arabs worsened in the early 1940s, domestic league soccer was abandoned. After 1948, the Palestine FA was reformed as the Israeli Football Association.

The day when Middle East rivalries can be taken out on the football pitch seems very far off indeed.Israeli-Arab players have been insulted on the pitch at Tel-Aviv and right wing fans booed and cat-called last year during a minute's silence for the slain leader Yitzhak Rabin prior to a match.

Addendum: The coach says all player s have got permission to come to the west bank! See, it can be arranged.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cat Stevens' "Peace Train" concert derailed by Israeli bureaucrats

Huh? This Steven Demetre Georgiou comes across as a fuzzy pussy cat, really. But in Israel, he's a persona non grata.

He's now known as Yusuf Islam. Ex-pop star and peacenik. The Cypriot-Brit who used to sing twee songs in the 1970s, under the moniker Cat Stevens, before he converted to the Muslim faith in 1978, was just uninvited to sing at a ten year birthday concert celebrating the Shimon Peres Centre for Peace. He did not clear the IDF's security check. The singer, shown above palling around with a certain leftist Prince, was forced off a Washington DC-bound plane from London four years back because his name was on an American "no-fly" list. Apparently, he had been anticipating such a response, as rumours that he is a Hamas-booster have dogged him for years. Eight years ago, Yusuf Islam was prevented from entering Israel.

Another performer did not want to undergo such a name check,perhaps, and he also has cut out. Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash, who had planned to perform at the same event, called off his performance due to sudden "schedule changes."

According to Yediot Aharonot news:

The Shimon Peres Center for Peace, which is currently in the midst of the last preparations for the celebration, invited Stevens to take part in the central event. The singer was enthusiastic and even asked to add words in support of peace between Israel and the Palestinians to the song "Peace Train" which he was slated to perform.

"The truth is that he was afraid and asked if they would let him enter the country this time," said the show's producer Irit Tenhangel. "I calmed him down and told him there was no problem because, after all, he had received a personal invitation from (President Shimon) Peres and was coming here for purposes of peace.

"But several days later, the Center's director, Uri Savir, told me it was unequivocally impossible, as this visit could cause too much of a mess, and that they decided to call it off for security reasons.

"This put me in a very embarrassing situation with Stevens and his personal manager. What am I supposed to tell them now, that the State of Israel doesn’t want him to come and talk about peace voluntarily?"

'He is a great peace activist now'

The last time Stevens was denied entry to the Jewish state, the Interior Ministry had said that "Stevens is transferring donations and funds to Islamic elements which are hostile to Israel."

At the time Stevens did not deny the allegation, but today, Tenhangel says, the situation is different.

"All this was 10 years ago. Time has passed and things have changed. I watched a documentary film about him not so long ago, and the man is a great peace activist now.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Does Mossad spy from the sky ? Two spy pigeons busted after nuke fuel overflight in Iran

Surveillance of Iran's underground uranium enrichment plant has created quite a flap, according to reports in the Iranian press. Much is left between the lines. Could it be Mossad, CIA, or simply avian curiosity? A bird in the hand is said to be worth two in the bush. AFP reports on a bizarre arrest.

Iran busts 'spy pigeons' near nuclear site

Security forces in Natanz have arrested two suspected "spy pigeons" near Iran's controversial uranium enrichment facility, the reformist Etemad Melli newspaper reported on Monday.

One of the pigeons was caught near a rose water production plant in the city of Kashan in Isfahan province, the report cited an unnamed informed source as saying, adding that some metal rings and invisible strings were attached to the bird.

"Early this month, a black pigeon was caught bearing a blue-coated metal ring, with invisible strings," the source was quoted as saying of the second pigeon.

The source gave no further description of the pigeons, neither their current status nor what their fate will be.

Natanz is home to Iran's heavily-bunkered underground uranium enrichment plant, which is not far from Kashan.

The activity is the focus of Iran's five-year standoff with the West, which that fears it aims to develop nuclear weapons.

Tehran vehemently denies the charge.

Last year, Iran issued a formal protest over the use of espionage by the United States to produce a key intelligence report on the country's controversial nuclear programme.

Copyright AFP 2008, AFP stories and photos shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium

A nod to blogger Checkpoint Jerusalem for finding this photo of WWI-era mini-camera mounted on a homing pigeon. Watch the birdie. Checkpoint J also dug deeper and uncovered the detention of multiple secret squirrels in Iran. Curiouser and curiouser.
Er, whatever happened to doves?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sukkot Reverie

The beauty of Jerusalem took my breath away the other evening, on the roundabout near the old train station, when everything converged. We approached the ancient twisted olive tree on a traffic circle (transplanted from some stolen field, one assumes). It was surrounded by blooming meadow grass, and set against the pastel-toned murals of old-time passengers painted on the station wall. Suddenly an Arab boy galloped on a white horse down the pavement. He was smiling with the warm night wind in his hair and looked as if he’d leapt from the painting. Guys in kippas strolled near a trompe d’ oeil sculpture that looked like a freestanding tarp, draped over an invisible car.

Shadows of palm fronds flicker on the tent-sides all around town. Sukkot looks more intriguing at night. By day, these lean-tos give the city a shabby, shanty look. But inside a sukka, it’s fun and informal, like being in a child’s fort. People come over for tea, hang out, snack, commune together. And the breeze is perfect for flags, so yes, there are parades as pilgrims from across the country and across the world come to the Temple (which isn’t there anymore) and camp in temporary structures to remember God’s bounty while the tribes wandered in the wilderness. Strangely, there seems to be a preponderance of Brazilian evangelicals among the faithful this year, all marching in costume like the World Cup champions in green and bright yellow. The Christian Zionists call Sukkot "the Feast of the Tabernacles," and celebrate in solidarity with Old Testament believers. A trail of African women and South Sea Islanders poured off the stairway near the Pools of Solomon, praised the lord, and picked their way around me down to the Hinom Valley,[Gehenna or Hades.] A couple of Christian End-timers in t-shirts were tooting on ram’s horns. Shofar, so good. (No apocalypse yet). People are smiling.

Locals are have been picnicking everywhere, and the parks' lawns are strewn with litter and look festive, like a party venue the morning after. The weather is delicious, the wind fresh. The moon is lopsided and its light gleams off the pale stones of the Old City in the distance. I can’t quite see the Kotel, the Western Wall, but there’s a steady amount of foot traffic up the road there. The Muslim prayer call sounds, as do the deep throated churchbells from the Basilica of the Assumption.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Riots flare. So much for Atonement in Acre.

They've gone loco in Akko, it seems. Violence and tit-for-tat retribution continues in Acre/Akko, the scene of sectarian riots for the past four days, following an incident on Yom Kippur in which a crowd of delinquents turned on an Arab driver who had traversed a street in a Jewish neighbourhood during the holiday.
The northern Israeli city of Acre, once the Crusader port of the Holy Land, is like a tinderbox. It's comprised of mainly lower class Sephardic Jews, and one third of the population is Arab-Israeli, who by law have full rights as citizens. Mutual resentment often bubbles under the surface here, and cops are out on the street in full force. A claim by Jewish leaders that police efforts to quell the Yom Kippur riots constituted a pogrom is not credible. Such overstatement is an insult to victims of Kristallnacht. There were no deaths in Acre, thankfully. What transpired was that eight people got hurt in a melee, as cars, shops and houses were vandalized. Dozens of arrests have tamped down the furore for now.
Initial police reports said that the Arab driver had deliberately provoked a confrontation by driving his car in the silent streets at the hour of prayer. But in an interview with the rightwing Jerusalem Post, the driver recounts what happened. He insists that a humble Jewish construction site guard named Nissim was the hero of the night. He gave the driver and his sons sanctuary on the floor of his watchman's hut, saving them from the wrath of the mob.

Jamal Taufik, 48, of Acre's Old City, is widely blamed by police and Jewish residents for intentionally provoking the city's Jews and sparking off three nights of rioting and violence when he drove into the eastern, Jewish part of the city on Yom Kippur, blasted music from his car and refused to leave when asked.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, however, Taufik denied he intended to provoke Acre's Jews.

"It was the evening of Yom Kippur [on Wednesday night]. We have family in the eastern part of the city. My daughter was there. At around 11, I set off to bring her home. Although I knew it was Yom Kippur, I decided to drive through the side streets. I brought my son and his friend with me," Taufik said.

"Suddenly, five meters from the building we were heading for, a group came out and started shouting, 'Death to the Arabs,' and throwing big rocks at us. My son was hit in his face, back and chest. I dragged my son out of the car and we all ran up the stairs," he continued.

Police were called to the building, and an officer tried to evacuate the three men from the scene.

"The cop said, 'I will take you to the hospital.' I trusted him. We went down the stairs, jumped over a number of ditches, and headed for his police car. Suddenly, the youths spotted us, and began throwing rocks at us. We got in the car, but the officer could not get the engine started," Taufik said.

"The officer said, 'Forget it, run!' We all darted out of the car. We had no idea where we were. I saw a construction site. We entered a guard's hut, and a Jewish security guard, Nissim, turned off the light. We hid on the floor, and the mob passed us by," Taufik said, adding that Nissim had saved their lives.

Asked if he blasted music during the drive or was intoxicated, as police say, Taufik said, "I'm a religious Muslim. I don't drink at all. The radio was off. I don't know where the police are getting this from."

Taufik said the Arab mob that marched through the eastern section of town had intended to rescue him and his two passengers. "The police could not get us out, so they came to help," he said.

He called on Acre's residents to come together and put the violence behind them.

"Tomorrow, we will have to live here together, no one is leaving this city. We must find the way back to being good neighbors and friends," he said. "I have a lot of Jewish friends in Acre and I am a member of two Jewish-Arab organizations. I am not a guy who carries out provocations. I just wanted to pick up my daughter.

"I hope wisdom overcomes strength. Arabs and Jews alike must clasp hands and find a way back to normal life," Taufik said. "And I wish the people of Israel a Hag Sameach (Happy Holiday)."

Police said they were checking Taufik's depiction of a policeman fleeing the car as a group of rock throwers approached. A police spokesman said there was no question that Taufik's drive into the city was a provocation.

"This was a deliberate act," Galilee Police spokesman Ch.-Supt Eran Shaked said.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Thoughts on Yom Kippur

On the website Eat the Press, Rachel Sklar imagines a greeting card McCain might send out for Yom Kippur, to rock the vote in Jerusalem or Boca Raton. It's shown above.

Meanwhile, all is quiet here. It's noon, and I have heard only one truck and one car pass by in the streets since sundown last night. Plenty of online skaters, bike riders, and walkers are frolicking. And not eating. I received one mass-email apology from a colleague, which was a pretty sorry excuse. In the silence, you hear birdsong, ring tones, and perhaps a few stomach growlings.

The situation in Acre is different, though. Cops had to quell a riot last night after an Arab man tried to drive cross-town to his property.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Lost in translation? Gallic accents and Israeli diplomacy

As Colonialists, the French used to be known for their adventurous palates and few Frenchmen were adverse to trying out and adapting native cuisine, however odd it might apear to , say, an Englishman. Still Izzy Bee was intrigued by the correction that the Israeli daily Haaretz ran today following their interview (in English) with the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner:

The minister intended to say that Israel would "hit Iran" before it obtains a nuclear bomb, and not "eat Iran".

Hmmm. And the French must be "angry", not "hungry", about the misunderstanding. Perhaps this little mix-up helps explain why French used to be the language of diplomacy instead of English.
The op-ed page of that same daily warns the designated Israeli Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, not to strike Iran out of political ambition, as a means to show aggressive ballsiness. The foremer Mossad operative has been criticised for her diffidence in making "cruel decisions", ie code for taking out Tehran's nukes in a pre-emptive strike.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Do-it-yourself coalition governmment online

As Tzipi Livni faces the challenge of putting together a government, an online game lets Israelis, the diaspora, and anyone else, really, try out political nous and test coalition building skills. You can pretend to be Livni or Labor leader Ehud Barak, and predict what ought to happen and what will happen. Israel's English daily, Haaretz, and are the sponsors, although you can access the current event games site as a Facebook application, too.

To have a go, simply click here and follow the instructions.

Take one hot topic and try to predict the outcome. Use the game's guides and advisers for advice on what to do - and what not to do!

Good luck and happy coalition building!

Friday, October 03, 2008

BBC says latest Israeli weapon spray stinks

Accusations that Israel is using disproportionate force in political hot-spots like Nilin, in the West Bank, have spurred security troops to deploy a new, non-lethal but highly effective and highly-offensive weapon. The BBC News correspondent Wyre Davies is still reeling after whiffing the stuff.

It's called Skunk.

Imagine the worst, most foul thing you have ever smelled. An overpowering mix of rotting meat, old socks that haven't been washed for weeks - topped off with the pungent waft of an open sewer.

Imagine being covered in the stuff as it is liberally sprayed from a water cannon.

Then imagine not being able to get rid of the stench for at least three days, no matter how often you try to scrub yourself clean.

The beauty of Skunk - if beauty is the right word - is that it is said to be completely organic.

No illegal chemicals, no proscribed substances - just a thoroughly disgusting mix of yeast, baking powder and a few other "secret" ingredients.

The Israeli police force has high hopes of turning Skunk into a commercial venture and selling it to law-enforcement agencies overseas.

Superintendent David Ben Harosh treats Skunk as something of a pet project. The way he hugged the litre bottle of dirty, green liquid close to his chest as we talked was odd - most people would surely keep it at arm's length.

"It's totally harmless, you can even drink it," boasted Superintendent Harosh - as though encouraging me to swallow a mouthful.

Reporters will sometimes go the "extra mile" to add authenticity to their story, but not this time. No way.

For human rights groups, the jury is still out on Skunk. They object to the arbitrary way in which innocent bystanders can be soaked with the stuff - having to suffer for days afterwards.

Then again, protestors and villagers are still being killed and seriously injured in the West Bank by more conventional weapons.

As unpleasant and as disgusting as it is, being sprayed with Skunk may ultimately be preferable to being hit by a rubber-coated bullet or choking and vomiting under the effects of tear-gas or pepper-spray.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Professor Zeev Sternhell not silenced by doorstep bomb

Despite a recent attempt by a suspected neo-facist backlash hoping to silence professor Zeev Sternhell, Peace Now activist, by putting a pipe bomb on his front stoop, the man is still talking to the press. (One of his bookjackets is pictured above.) The London Independent published an in-depth interview in which the scholar expounds on his position to correspondent Don Macintyre "What I want to do is change the situation," he says and outlines some ways to go about it.
"I personally have reached the conclusion we cannot do it on our own, due to the weaknesses of the Israeli democracy, the weakness of the Palestinian Authority." It's worth clicking here to read more from the Israeli scholar. Some highlights:

On Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy on behalf of the US, the EU, the UN and Russia, the so-called Quartet:

"Tony Blair is transforming himself from a ten-year successful Prime Minister into a ridiculous figure, a clown. He is now in charge of negotiations, so what is he doing exactly. Where is he?"

On Ehud Olmert, outgoing Prime Minister of Israel and a recent convert to the idea of handing back "almost all" of the West Bank:

"He's just 30 years late. It's unbelievable. This is what [we on the left] have been saying for 30 years."

On Ehud Barak, Israeli Defence Minister:

"It's funny – well, not funny buttragic – to see a man like Ehud Barak, a real war hero, someone who was scared of nothing, who didn't know what it meant to be scared. [Yet] politically, a confrontation with the settlers is beyond his capacity. It's very sad."