Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Winograd winds up

Ehud Olmert has squeaked through after a probe into the misconduct of the Lebanon War underlined failings in the military and government leadership. The political fallout still is reverberating. Ynet sums it up here. The 500 page report lambasts the leaders for a lack of victory.

"We found serious failures and shortcomings in the highest level of the military command, especially in the ground forces, the quality of deployment, preparedness, launching and implementation of decisions and orders," Judge Winograd was quoted by the wires.

Yet his 500-page report appeared to give an important boost to Olmert, who had faced the possibility of harsher criticism that could have threatened his job and his stated goal of signing a peace treaty with the Palestinians within a year.

Officials in Olmert's office said they were optimistic after an initial glimpse of the report. Olmert's spokesman, Jacob Galanti, was quoted by Israel TV as saying the prime minister's office was "breathing a sigh of relief."

Winograd said a last-minute ground offensive in Lebanon failed because it did not improve Israel's position ahead of a cease-fire and added the army was not prepared for that battle. [The bodycount was high for a quickie war. More than 1,000 Lebanese were killed, most of them civilians, plus about 160 Israelis.]

More than 30 Israeli soldiers were killed in that final offensive launched shortly before a U.N.-brokered truce went into effect. Olmert had come under severe criticism for ordering the battle, despite his contention that the offensive improved Israel's position before the cease-fire.

Winograd Snow Job and Israeli Normality

Afternoon dusting over the Old City looks calm before the political dust-up begins in West Jerusalem.

There's a kind of hush that arrives with snowfall. In Jerusalem, the snow already transmogrified to sleet/slush twelve hours into the day and, with special effects from the occasional apocalyptical crack of thunder, it seems other-wordly, not like the muddled east we're accustomed to. From my window, over the Hinom Valley, it appears that Hell (Gahanna) literally may freeze over if this keeps up. It's all blanketed with white.

Talking about a snowball's chance in Hell, there's Olmert and the Winograd report coming up at 5pm. Will he survive? The Prime Minister is braced to be raked over the coals for not producing a victory during the last Lebanon War (or,as the conflict was referred to elsewhere, the "disporoportionate response" that still lost lives and reputations.)
Some would say the country's martial navel-gazing's a tad abnormal.

Well, Israel's abnormality, writes Mary Dejevsky in the London Independent, is changing.

Hermetic security gives the country a fortress-like quality, which is exacerbated by the almost completed barrier along the length of its eastern border. The duration of military service, for both sexes, means that you see many more people in uniform – and armed – than in most advanced countries. There is a gruff and basic efficiency that bespeaks a country still at war. And a pervasive, often irritating, sense of rightness: the past that justifies the present.

In just a couple of years, though, some of the hardest edges seem to have softened. Those young people in uniform look a little more relaxed and less stony-faced about their duty. The ubiquitous weapons are carried just a fraction more casually (which is not necessarily reassuring). There is a greater awareness of demography and neighbourhood, and at state level the response to a crisis is less paranoid. Consider this: when Gazans breached the border into Egypt in their thousands last week, Mr Olmert's response was to meet his Palestinian counterpart. It was not to rush troops to the southern frontier, nor yet to reoccupy Gaza.

Perhaps the Second Lebanon War was not the defeat it appeared. Hezbollah was driven from the border; attacks on Israel ceased. But Israel's two soldiers remained in captivity. And anything less than complete victory was a shock to Israeli confidence. Rather than uniting the country against the enemy, this war sowed division. It also prompted salutary soul-searching about whether tried and tested 20th-century methods would be as effective in the 21st. More self-doubt will greet the Winograd report when it appears.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Love me, do. Israel lifts ban on The Beatles

Israel is penning an apology and asking the surviving half of The Beatles to come celebrate the country's anniversary with George Bush and a host of other celebs, some 43 years after it banned the rock group from the Promised Land, reports the BBC.

The Israeli ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, has met John Lennon's sister, Julia Baird, in Liverpool.

He has invited the Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and relatives of Lennon and George Harrison to come to Israel in May for the 60th anniversary.

Israel banned the Beatles in 1965, fearing they would corrupt young fans.

But the Mr Prosor - who is in Liverpool after marking Holocaust Memorial Day there - is a big fan of the Beatles and would like them to be part of the planned birthday celebrations.

"I would be very happy to have them come on Israel's 60th anniversary," he said.

"Lots of music lovers in Israel, both young and young-at-heart - and that means me - are really waiting for them."

The invitation has been passed to the director of the city's Beatles Story museum, Jerry Goldman.

Mr Goldman said: "I've got close ties to Israel, so I'm thrilled. It would be fantastic if they did visit."

But he added: "I know how difficult it was to get them to Liverpool. So I think there's only a slim chance of them going to Israel."

Ringo Starr launched Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture in January.

He opened proceedings with a drum solo from the top of St George's Hall, before singing his latest single Liverpool 8.

Sir Paul is due to be the star attraction in June with a concert at Anfield which is expected to draw more than 30,000 people.

Liverpool is trying to develop cultural links with Israel, including the possibility of building a new museum dedicated to Jewish music.

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

Dreams, Schemes and Screams in Gaza

If half a million Gazans tried to swarm over the opposite end of their little strip and punch some holes in the wall, it wouldn't be like Woodstock. The IDF has a choice of non-lethal weapons for crowd control, according to today's Jerusalem Post. Fancy "The Scream" (bursts of penetrating noise every ten seconds, which leaves targets reeling with dizziness and nausea, with hands covering ears instead of gripping rocks? Or maybe the "Pain Ray", which heats up water molecules in the mob's bloodstreams with microwaves? Beats rubber bullets, we're told.

Taking advantage of the momentum following the dramatic destruction of the fence separating Egypt from the Gaza Strip, Hamas threatened late last week to pull a similar stunt at the Erez Crossing.

But while within the IDF the proposed responses seemed vague or insufficient, some argued that the events at Rafah would actually reduce Hamas's ability to organize a mass demonstration.

Last week, senior Hamas official Ahmed Youssef warned that "the next time there is a crisis in the Gaza Strip, Israel will have to face half a million Palestinians who will march toward Erez. This is not an imaginary scenario, and many Palestinians would be prepared to sacrifice their lives."

Yoram Schweitzer, a senior research fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and the director of their Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict, said Sunday that the "incidents in Egypt may have given an outlet for the pressure" that had been building up in the Gaza Strip as a result of the shortages there. It could thus be more difficult for Hamas to organize a march on the scale described by Youssef - 500,000 people would mean that approximately one out of every three Gazans would participate in the protest.

"People would either have to be extremely angry and 'choked' - or very, very loyal to Hamas," in order to respond in such numbers to a call to participate in a mass march on Erez, Schweitzer said. "Before, they could depend on public anger and frustration as a mobilizing force, rather than simply the organizational ability of Hamas."

Since the Hamas takeover in June of last year, the largest march held thus far in the Gaza Strip was one sponsored by the anti-Hamas opposition in September, in which an estimated 10,000 people turned out to pray publicly in the streets rather than in Hamas-controlled mosques.

In comparison, observers have estimated that somewhere between 500,000 and 700,000 Gazans have passed through the remains of the Rafah border fence into the Sinai over the past five days.

The IDF has said in the past that it would respond to such provocations by utilizing nonlethal crowd control methods, and maintain its usual rules of engagement, in which troops would use live fire only if physically threatened.

Even in such situations, the initial response would be to fire into the air, then at would-be assailants' legs - and finally to shoot to kill if the attack did not cease.

Schweitzer said that if such a protest ended with Palestinian casualties, it would have serious implications for Israel in the international stage, increasing the media victory for Hamas.

"They know that the use of civilian protest to pass along a political message can be more effective than shooting bullets," he said, emphasizing that "Hamas knows how to use psychological and media warfare to its advantage."

He suggested that security forces attempt to place physical - and intelligence - obstacles in the protesters' path, as well as utilizing nonlethal technology.

Among the methods already in use by the IDF is "the Scream" - a machine that releases sound pulses that cause nausea, disorientation and dizziness.

US forces in Iraq have found that their Active Denial System (ADS) - known as the "pain ray" - is also quite effective in crowd control.

The ADS - which, unlike the Scream, cannot be blocked by plugging one's ears - is a strong millimeter-wave transmitter that excites water molecules in the skin to around 55 degrees Celsius, thereby causing protesters to experience a burning sensation, without actually burning them.

It is believed, however, that prolonged exposure or malfunctions leading to increased strength of microwaves could be fatal to protesters.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Another Holocaust Remembrance Day

Is this an anti-Semitic image or artistic irony? Well, timing is everything. As people around the world marked the 63rd anniversary of the liberation of the Death Camps, some Dutch sticker-sellers manipulated the iconic image of teenage Anne Frank and slipped a red-checked Palestinian keffiyeh around her neck.
The image has a certain repugnant resonance and compels passers-by to do a double-take. The same one has been spotted stenciled on New York City walls for the past couple of years. Seeing Anne Frank portrayed as a "keffiyeh kinderlach" or a lefty college student, using Arafat's ironic headcloth for street cred, emphasises her adolescence.

Even at the Jerusalem mall, the Zara store was stocking kaffiyehs last summer. A Zionist "Shemagh scarf" has evolved (see left) and is even popular amongst settler women. Israelity bites.

3 turns of the screw : Why Gazans blew up that wall and got hold of the goods

The UN's Karen AbuZayd guest blogs on the Gaza blockade:
Palestinian suffering has reached new depths. Peace cannot be built by reducing 1.5m people to a state of abject destitution

Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and - some would say - encouragement of the international community. An international community that professes to uphold the inherent dignity of every human being must not allow this to happen.

Across this tiny territory, 25 miles long and no more than 6 miles wide, a deep darkness descended at 8pm on January 21, as the lights went out for each of its 1.5 million Palestinian residents. A new hallmark of Palestinian suffering had been reached.

There have been three turns of the screw on the people of Gaza, triggered in turn by the outcome of elections in January 2006, the assumption by Hamas of de facto control last June, and the Israeli decision in September to declare Gaza a "hostile territory". Each instance has prompted ever tighter restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. Each turn of the screw inflicts deeper indignity on ordinary Palestinians, breeding more resentment towards the outside world.

Gaza's border closures are without precedent. Palestinians are effectively incarcerated. The overwhelming majority cannot leave or enter Gaza. Without fuel and spare parts, public health conditions are declining steeply as water and sanitation services struggle to function. The electricity supply is sporadic and has been reduced further along with fuel supply in these past days. Unicef reports that the partial functioning of Gaza City's main pumping station is affecting the supply of safe water to some 600,000 Palestinians.

Medication is in short supply, and hospitals are paralysed by power failures and the shortage of fuel for generators. Hospital infrastructure and essential pieces of equipment are breaking down at an alarming rate, with limited possibility of repair or maintenance as spare parts are not available.

It is distressing to see the impact of closures on patients who need to travel outside Gaza to get medical treatment. The demand for such treatment is rising as medical standards fall inside Gaza, yet the permit regime for medical referrals has become more stringent. Many have had their treatment delayed or denied, worsening their medical conditions and causing preventable deaths.

Living standards in Gaza are at levels unacceptable to a world that promotes the elimination of poverty and the observance of human rights as core principles: 35% of Gazans live on less than two dollars a day; unemployment stands at around 50%; and 80% of Gazans receive some form of humanitarian assistance. Concrete is in such short supply that people are unable to make graves for their dead. Hospitals are handing out sheets as funeral shrouds.

As the head of a humanitarian and human development agency for Palestinian refugees, I am deeply concerned by the stark inhumanity of Gaza's closure. I am disturbed by the seeming indifference of much of the world as hundreds and thousands of Palestinians are harshly penalised for acts in which they have no part.

In discharging its mandate, Unrwa delivers a variety of services to improve living conditions and prospects for self-reliance. It is impossible to sustain our operations when the occupying power adopts an "on, off", "here today, gone tomorrow" policy towards Gaza's borders. To take one example, this week we were on the verge of suspending our food distribution programme. The reason was seemingly mundane: plastic bags. Israel blocked entry into Gaza of the plastic bags in which we package our food rations.

In today's Gaza how can we foster a spirit of moderation and compromise among Palestinians, or cultivate a belief in the peaceful resolution of disputes? There are already indications that the severity of the closure is playing into the hands of those who have no desire for peace. We ignore this risk at our peril.

What we should be doing now is nurturing moderation and empowering those who believe that Gaza's rightful future lies in peaceful co-existence with its neighbours. We welcome the new efforts to resuscitate the peace process, revive the Palestinian economy and build institutions. These pillars, on which a solution will be built, are the very ones being eroded.

Yesterday, the people of Gaza received a temporary reprieve when the occupying power allowed fuel and other supplies to enter: 2.2m litres of fuel per week for the Gaza power plant and 0.5m litres a week for industrial usage, hospitals and clinics. We have been informed that the crossings into Gaza will be partially open, allowing Unrwa and other organisations to bring in about 50 trucks a day. No one knows how long the reprieve will last as the resumption of Qassam rocket fire, which we ourselves strongly condemn, will lead to further closures.

The people of Gaza have been spared from reaching new depths of anguish - but only for the moment.

There has never been a more urgent need for the international community to act to restore normality in Gaza. Hungry, unhealthy, angry communities do not make good partners for peace.

Over the hump.

· Karen Koning AbuZayd is commissioner general for Unrwa, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
Chris Gunness is Unrwa spokesperson. (Hat tip for pointing this out to Izzy Bee.)
Israelity Bites.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gazans Breach Blockade and stream into Sinai

At least 350,000 shoppers from Gaza scrambled over a flattened security fence at the Rafah border and into the bazaars of Egypt early this morning to buy stocks of food, oil, medicine, flour, and cigarettes. It was like a collective nicotine fit for thousands who had withstood a prolonged, chilly weekend in Gaza replete with power cuts and cold food. Much of the Israeli press tried to paint the international outcry over the looming humanitarian crisis inside Gaza as a public relations coup for the Islamist party Hamas. Gazans should expect retaliation for their non-stop rocket attacks on Sderot, Israeli politicians admonished, and ought to turn against Hamas as the source of their problems.

There was a border skirmish between Gazans and Egyptian riot police at Rafah on Tuesday, then the 17 dawn blasts that breached the wall. Gunfire had erupted in the Palestinian crowd, as seen in this Al Jazeera clip.

Yet most Gazans were exhultant and some were quoted saying that after 17 blasts and a bulldozer, it felt like the equivalent of the Berlin Wall toppling.
James Hider, of the London Times, dug a little deeper and learned that

"Hamas had been involved for months in slicing through the heavy metal wall using oxy-acetylene cutting torches.

That meant that when the explosive charges were set off in 17 different locations after midnight last night the 40ft wall came tumbling down, leaving it lying like a broken concertina down the middle of no-man's land as an estimated 350,000 Gazans flooded into Egypt.

The guard, Lieutenant Abu Usama of the Palestinian National Security, said of the cutting operation: "I've seen this happening over the last few months. It happened in the daytime but was covered up so that nobody would see."

Asked whether he had reported it to the government, he replied: "It was the government that was doing this. Who would I report it to?"

Abu Usama, who normally works from a small guard cabin in no-man's land, added: "Last night we were told to keep away from the wall. We were ordered to stay away because they were going to break the blockade."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Widow stirs Talpiot tomb tumult as scholars ponder Jesus family bone boxes

Jesus, Mother Mary, and Joseph... sounds rather like my great aunt sputtering in surprise on some April Fools' Day, but this is part of the litany of names scratched on ancient bone-boxes unearthed in a Jerusalem suburb back in 1980 which were at the center of an academic conference which concluded in Jerusalem this afternoon.

The Third Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins was called to evaluate the Talpiot Jesus Family tomb in the academic context of Jewish burial (and reburial) practices in the Second Temple era and Jewish belief in the afterlife. You can already find the tomb on Google Earth and Wikipedia, even though it's been resealed: you'd think by popular demand the academics might give it the nod.

After days of sound and fury amongst preachers and professors, the jury still is out on whether these ossuaries-- labelled Jesus, son of Joseph; Maria (in Aramaic); Mariamne (in Greek); Matthew; Judas, son of Jesus; and Yose, a diminutive of Joseph-- might have anything to do with the remains of Jesus H. Christ. Two of the academicians said no way, two said the 'evidence' was encouraging, and one diffident scientist said more digging must be done, since there is not enough evidence one way or another to rule out a possible link with Jesus of Nazareth. An official report written by the Israeli archeologist Amos Kloner found nothing remarkable in the discovery. The cave, it said, was probably in use by three or four generations of Jews from the beginning of the Common Era.

(See the links at right in the sidebar "Gripes,Hypes & Bones to Pick" for earlier posts and articles about Talpiot.)

The real show-stopper happened when the widow of archaeologist Yosef Gath was called onstage to receive an award for her late husband, who had catalogued the bone boxes back in 1980. (The tomb already had been vandalized by latter-day Crusaders, so there was a limit to what a full-scale dig would have yielded.) She told the audience in Hebrew that her husband had always suspected that the cluster of famous names might be linked to THAT Jesus; but as a holocaust survivor, he was reluctant to unleash a possible backlash onto the Jews with his dramatic find. "The world has changed in our lifetime," she had said, accepting the honors.

Simcha Jacobovici, the Naked Archaeologist for Discovery Channel who'd resurrected the tomb controversy in a broadcast last year, attended the conference. "When she said that, I just started shaking," he confided to journalists. His speculations have not been vindicated yet, though, and some scholars propose reopening an archaeological dig in Talpiot to gain more information.

Some cynical conference-goers thought that the pro Talpiot-buffs had exploited the Israeli widow, and wondered why, if it's the one, not a single tradition or legend had flourished around this humble cave tomb in Jerusalem's 'burbs. "The hypothesis smells a bit bogus to me," sniffed one scholar over falafel and beer afterward.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Israeli conductor Barenboim's surprise: a spare passport from the Palestinians

The high profile Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim now carries two passports: both Israeli and Palestinian. The controversial Argentine-born maestro has been branded anti-Semitic more often for conducting Richard Wagner than for embracing Palestinian humanitarian causes, but how he conducts himself is what puts him in the limelight. The Guardian reports:

The Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim has been granted Palestinian citizenship for his work in promoting cultural exchange between young people in Israel and the Arab world.
The Argentine-born musician is believed to be the first person in the world to possess both Israeli and Palestinian passports after receiving his new documentation at the end of a piano recital in Ramallah in the West Bank at the weekend.

"Under the most difficult circumstances he has shown solidarity with the Palestinian people," Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian MP and presidential candidate, said at the recital held to raise money for medical aid for children in the Gaza Strip.

Barenboim, 65, who is musical director of the Staatsoper in Berlin and Milan's La Scala opera house, established his West-Eastern Divan orchestra with the American-Palestinian intellectual Edward Said in 1999 following a workshop in Germany. The orchestra's aim is to bring together musicians from Israel and Arabic countries to exchange ideas and perform together.
Barenboim, a regular and lively commentator on the Middle East conflict, said he was "moved and very, very happy", adding that he accepted it because it "symbolises the everlasting bond between the Israeli and Palestinian people".

In a pointed reference to US President George Bush's recent comments on the Middle East conflict in which he talked of Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank, Barenboim added: "Now even not very intelligent people are saying that the occupation has to be stopped."

Barenboim is a controversial figure to many in Israel, but less for the sympathy he openly shows towards the Palestinians than for his promotion of the music of the 19th-century antisemitic German composer Richard Wagner, which he has conducted in Jerusalem.

He criticised the Israeli government when he was forced to cancel a concert in Ramallah after Israel said it could not guarantee his safety. More recently, he held a press conference to protest at Israel's refusal to allow musicians from his Divan orchestra to enter Ramallah.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Scholarly Scrutiny for Jesus Tomb

Well, well, Jesus is under the scholarly spotlight again.
Biblical archaeologists converge this week in Jerusalem to examine Jewish burial (and reburial) practices in the Second Temple era, to weigh Jewish belief in the afterlife, and pointedly to evaluate the controversial Talpiot "Jesus Family tomb" within this academic context. Scripture and evidence will be pored over by all. Will this yield more heat or just dust?

Ossuaries are usually quite a dry academic subject, but conclusions about these ten bone boxes became a world-wide bone of contention last February when statistical analysis by non-specialists appeared to contradict the New Testament account of resurrection and years of Christian tradition. Why Jesus of Nazareth would be reburied in Jerusalem, not near his family home in Galilee, still is a puzzle, no bones about it. Devout believers cried heresy when scientists question the Bible's account. It's no cruci-fiction, most Christians insist, and suggest that Hollywood hyped a hypothesis to goose its box office and bestseller lists. It's not the money but the fame.

The big brouhaha that arose after last year's claims by Titanic producer James Cameron (a Mason?), the self-dubbed Naked Archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici (an Orthodox Jew), and potboiler author Charles Pellagrino that Jesus of Nazareth lived well past age 33, wed the former prostitute and latter-day Christian leader Mary Magdalene and sired a son named Yehudah may be set off again by this conference. It shines a light on Masonic plots, some suggest. Amos Kloner wrote about the 1980 salvage of a vandalized Talpiot tomb by the Israeli archaeologist Yosef Gath, who was alerted by complaints that boys were kicking ancient skulls in the East Talpiot construction site. Kloner shrugged off the cluster of famous names inscribed on half a dozen of the ossuaries, and took no special care to preserve bone matter, so some may feel obliged to salvage his academic reputation; James Tabor, a Christian scholar from North Carolina who has been touting the Talpiot tomb association with Jesus Christ since archaeologist Joe Zias questioned the Israeli archaeological establishment's dismissal of its importance back in 1996.
Whatever the outcome, the Third Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins, funded in part by the communications tycoon George Blumenthal, will be worth watching. Izzy Bee will be there, recording all the thorny fallout. Israelity bites.

Mass Demo planned at Erez crossing

In a fortnight, on Saturday, January 26th, private Israeli relief convoys will depart from Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beer Sheva, bearing signs reading “GAZA: LIFT THE BLOCKADE!” Converging at Yad Mordechai at 12 noon, the protest convoy and rally will reach Erez Checkpoint at 13.00. On the other side hundreds of Gazans are expected to rally, organised by The Palestinian International Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, including psychiatrist and human rights activist, Dr. Eyad Sarraj.
The convoy will carry vital supplies, particularly water filters, since the water of Gaza is an undrinkable cocktail of brine, sewage, pesticides and oil, with levels of nitrates ten times higher than those set by the WHO, and coliform eight times higher: denial of water filters to Gazans is an unacceptable violation of basic humanitarian standards. Demonstrators will insist that the military authorities allow these goods entry into Gaza, are prepared for prolonged sit-in near Erez, and a public/judicial campaign.
January 26, 2008 is an International Day of Action, when worldwide peace groups will hold protest actions against the danger of war in the Middle East.

Despite unilateral evacuation of 7,000 settlers, the Gaza Strip remains Occupied Territory. Israel continues to control its airspace, territorial waters, population registry, tax system, supply of goods, freedom of movement and access to healthcare. Last week, Israel strongly reprimanded Egypt for having dared to let a single group of Palestinians go in and out of the Strip without subjection to Israeli security checks. Moreover, recently Israel has re-established military control over more than a quarter of the Strip’s total territory as “border security zones”. Israelis are led to believe “We gave back Gaza” – but this is simply not true.
Israeli leftists sympathize with Sderot’s residents, exposed to traumatising years-long Qassam rockets, but suggest that siege and collective punishment are no answer: although 1.5 million men, women and children are denied basic necessities, driven to the edge of starvation, the Qassam attacks continue. Nor has the constant military offensive (1,000 Palestinians were killed in 2007, including many civilians), stopped the rockets. While Sderot suffers, few ask why several Palestinian ceasefire offers have been rejected out of hand by the Israeli government. Later this week, on Saturday, Israeli peace-seekers will go to the Gaza border, in co-operation with Palestinian partners inside Gaza, to show there’s a peaceful alternative to siege and rocketfire.

Participants in the demo will include Gush Shalom, Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, Combatants for Peace, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Physicians for Human Rights (Israel), Hadash, Balad, Adalah, Tarabut-Hithabrut, Bat Shalom, Bat Tzafon, Anarchists Against the Wall, Follow-up Committee of the Arab Population in Israel, Alternative Information Center, Psychoactive, ActiveStills and Student Coalition – Tel Aviv Univ.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bush had been otherwise occupied--now let us prey, er, pray

George Bush, the lame duck American president on tour in Jerusalem and the West Bank, has today urged Israelis to "end the occupation" This carefully coded turn of phrase sounds like criticism, but it is aimed at Palestinian politicians, to show the US wants concessions from all players. Bush also stressed that all infrastructure of terror must be dismantled inside the territories. When his flacks spoke about signing a peace treaty before his term ends, there was a smattering of applause. At least one more flying visit to the region is on the cards before Bush hands over power to his successor next January. Will this treaty yield anything tangible? Conflict seems so ingrained here.
Earlier, Bethlehem was disrupted when Bush choppered in to pray at the Church of the Nativity.

Snipers patrolled the roof of the church near a hanging plastic Santa Claus left over from Christmas, while Bush remained inside for under an hour. There was no longer any trace of the Bethlehem bedlam which arose when Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests duked it out inside the walls of the Church of the Nativity last week. The dispute was about how to clean the holy house after the Christmas rush. Palestinian police broke up the ruckus-- but only after brooms and stones started flying. Four people – out of around fifty who are suspected to be involved in the melee – were reported wounded.
Young supporters of Bush today were shushed by security cops when they tried to cheer. Like many Texan Christians who visit the Holy Land, Bush intends to trace the footsteps of Jesus Christ, whom he once described as his favourite philosopher and whose teachings he says have informed his presidency, including his divisive foreign policies.

On Friday Bush will fly north to the Galilee, where Jesus delivered many of his best known lines, including the Sermon on the Mount in which he said "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God".

All the flagwaving on these tours has an unfortunate connotation: the Lena Riefesntahl aesthetic, which is best avoided in a country like Israel which abhors that German regime responsible for the holocaust. Less is more, even on stage, guys. One flag each is enough. Those lines of soggy stars and stripes and Magen Davids lining the main streets already look sad and discarded. There must be a better way. (Maybe projected images?) Israelity bites

Monday, January 07, 2008

Gaza unplugged

After delays due to court challenges based on humanitarian concerns,Israel has started fuel cutbacks to the Gaza Strip. Israel's policy of reducing the amount of fuel delivered to the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the firing of missiles went into effect on Sunday. Palestinian officials are warning Gaza residents to expect periods without electricity for as long as eight hours per day because of these fuel cuts. Two-hour outages are already commonplace. Also on Sunday, at the request of the World Health Organization, Israel permitted the delivery of more than 150 pounds of medicines, anesthetics, and antibiotics to the Gaza Strip. Refrigerated ones will go off during the power cuts. The sole benefit is being spared relentless coverage of the upcoming Bush whack of the Middle East, informants tell Izzy (who flies back to the region tomorrow after a three week hiatus.)