Monday, June 30, 2008

Haredi hat-snatching gangs in Bnei Brak

Hang onto your hats, fellows. This is not conflict as we Israelis usually know it... it might have been inspired by a Dr Seuss plot. But maybe we can use the same strategy for peace settlements elsewhere, since the Road Map has folded and the Annapolis agreement is a non-starter. Buki Naeh, of Yediot Aharonot, lifts the lid on the furious fur hat snatching reportedly going on in Bnei Brak, a densely-packed ultra-orthodox city east of Tel Aviv.
(Where is PETA to sort them out??)

Rival gangs in the Viznits Hasidic community in Bnei Brak won't steal shekels or waste their breath in ideological arguments, Buki tells us. Instead, these Hasidic quarrelers swipe each others shtreimels and barter for their return.

First some background: The shtreimel is a fur hat worn by many married haredi Jewish men belonging to one of the various Hasidic sects on Sabbath and holidays. The hat, like those once worn by Polish and Russian nobles, requires up to 30 skins-- preferably sable, mink, or fox. A Hasidic man buys one or two expensive shterimels throughout his life for a price range of $2,000 to $5,000. Fake fur shtreimels are available, especially inside Israel, but are frowned upon by traditionalists. Usually the bride's father purchases the shtreimel for a groom to wear at his wedding. Nowadays, it is customary to buy two shtreimels—a cheaper version (sells for $800-1,500), called the regn shtraml (rain shtreimel) is used for occasions where the expensive one may get damaged. But economy-minded family men often prefer shower caps or plastic bags to protect regn shtreimels on sodden Saturdays. Most of these hats are made in New York City, Montreal or Israel.

The shtreimel is worn without fastening, a significant factor in the latest street fights in the Viznits neighborhood. Those looking to humiliate a Hasid snatch his shterimel, forcing him to return home with a lowered head sporting only his yarmulke.

In recent weeks, the brawls between the camps have intensified, with both sides snatching each other’s shtreimels. During the peacemaking, each camp returns the other’s goods stolen in the latest strife.

The barters, one of which took place two weeks ago, also include returning torn shterimels that were intentionally spoiled and torn in the heat of battle in exchange for ones in mint condition.

In each fight, the Viznits Hassids try to snatch as many shterimels off their opponents’ heads, so as to have as many bargaining chips as possible ahead of the next barter.

An entire book can be written about the background leading to these street fights in the Viznits community. When Hasidic leader Rabbi Yehoshua Moshe Hagar fell ill, a world war was ignited between his sons – the elder Yisrael and the younger Menachem Mendel – on who will succeed him.

Mendel vs. Yisrael

Viznits Hasidism is divided between the “Yisraelists” following Rabbi Yisrael and “Mendelists” supporting Rabbi Menachem Mendel. The walls in Kiryat Viznits are filled with defamatory posters. Rabbi Yisrael controls the synagogue and the community institutions while Rabbi Mendel reigns over the neighborhood.

Until about six weeks ago, the status quo between the two camps had the Mendelists come to pray at the central synagogue of “Torat Chaim” only on Fridays. They would stand on their seats during the tish (a Hasidic gathering of Hasidim around their Rabbi) held by the ailing Rabbi.

But then the visiting Mendelists’ seats were broken down, and the Yisraelists prevented their entrance to the synagogue. In response, the Menedlists tried to stand on the Yisraelists’ seats, waging war once again.

The recent street fights – mainly during weekends – included more than 100 participants hitting each other and trying to grab the shterimels. One brawl follows another, sending dozens of people to hospital.

The police claim they are doing their best to calm the atmosphere, but they are ill at hand, as each camp complains the police is siding with its opponent. Legal counseling has recently been applied to the case, when Attorney Moshe Meroz was approached by some Mendelists. Meroz immediately sent a letter to the Tel Aviv Police, asking them to handle the pogroms issued by the Yisarelists against the Mendalists.

In his urgent letter, Meroz claims that the Mendelists’ complaints about the pogroms are not being handled by the police. He further says that hundreds of Yisraelists attacked Rabbi Mendel and his followers, beating them mercilessly – completely overlooked by the police.

Meroz ends his letter by saying that some 20 shterimels have yet to be returned to the Mendelists, and that real danger is at hand due to the police’s continued disregard of the matter.

The police responded by saying they were well aware of the strife and is handling the case without siding with either camp. The police also claim they have arrested Hasidim from both camps after the last fight.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bridge of Strings - with dangling performers

Bridge of Strings _131
Originally uploaded by bdnegin
Maybe it was worth the 2 million shekels to the spectators in Jerusalem, Israel's poorest city. If you were stalled in traffic and unable to see, and only heard the explosions, you might have been excused for thinking Apocalypse!

Calatrava Bridge, Jerusalem

Here's another night view of the new bridgein Jerusalem !

In conjunction with its opening, check out some awesome Black Hat influence stories...

Does Jerusalem's new bridge come with strings attached?

One topic guaranteed to split Jerusalem dinner parties into rabid warring factions is the brand new light railway bridge that the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has erected at great expense- at $73m, triple the original estimate. Add to that the pricey opening ceremony last night, which blew half the city's cultural affairs budget for the whole year on dazzling skyrockets, aerial acrobats and pop singers. Since the railway is at least a couple of years behind schedule, and its construction creates maddening chaos for drivers, kvetching is inevitable.

Love it or hate it, there's no middle ground on this bridge. The response of Jean Max, a grandmother who's lived three decades in Jerusalem, is typical:"It might even be great architecture. But not for this city. It's too modern and it clashes. Ugly, ugly, ugly." At the opening ceremony, opponents booed the mayor and called it "cursed." They labelled it a "clothes line", rather than use the lofty official name Bridge of Chords (more like discord). Most Jerusalemites call it the Bridge of Strings, because of its suspension with 66 steel cables from a tilted mast over 100 meters high. From certain angles , it resembles a goliath David's Harp. Or a Bedouin's tent. From afar, it's striking, even though it pokes out from a clutter of grubby apartment complexes and hotels. (Every time Izzy Bee catches a glimpse of the spectacular structure, it makes me gasp. A modern and useful landmark in a modern part of West Jerusalem is to be praised. So what if it's not imitating the buildings from King Herod's day?)

Haaretz newspaper griped on its front page how the opening ceremony for the bridge brought the city to gridlock for ten hours, when the whole idea was initially to ease traffic. Commentators complained that there are 40 Calatrava bridges scattered around the globe, and they all share a "processed and globalized aesthetic" which makes them comparable to "the McDonalds of bridges: easy to digest but whose nutritional value is suspect." What's more, it's super-sized!

When it emerged that a Palestinian subcontractor for the project employed workers during the Jewish Sabbath, when observant Jews do not work, many ultra-Orthodox demanded the opening ceremony be cancelled.

“The municipality was stunned to discover this week that a subcontractor from East Jerusalem … carried out surfacing work at the bridge’s plaza before the end of Shabbat (Sabbath)” the city said in a statement.
The subcontractor was fired.

For admirers, this bridge evokes harps and psalms and the Midrashic legend

that David went everywhere with his harp in hand, and would hang his harp above his bed when he slept. At midnight as the wind would blow from the north, the harp would begin to play by itself. He would awaken and begin anew to praise G-d..

Arabs living in East Jerusalem have little time to fuss over the aesthetics of the new white suspension bridge at the city's opposite gateway. Most of them get greeted at gunpoint by soldiers at checkpoints along the less-than-lovely separation barrier, after all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Shooting stops Sarkozy farewell fest dead

"Shalom, we had a blast!"

Er, well, at least up to the time that a guard killed himself Tuesday in the middle of a farewell ceremony at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport. The security was tight for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his wife Carla Bruni, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres and other state dignitaries. Police spokesman Shlomi Sagi said the guard died in an apparent suicide, and police denied an attempted assassination attempt on Sarkozy.

However, a conflicting report said the soldier apparently fell from a vantage point he was occupying on a high building, from where he was securing the event, and the bullet that killed him misfired from his M-16 rifle.

According to Israel Radio, the incident happened no more than 200 meters from where Olmert was standing.

Initially, the prime minister's security personnel withdrew their handguns and rushed Olmert and Peres to bullet-proof cars, while Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy were rushed to the French president's plane. The shooting occurred while a military band was playing, and the leaders apparently didn't hear anything.

When the incident ended Olmert and Peres boarded Sarkozy's plane to bid the French president farewell.

It was not immediately clear whether the soldier died from the impact of the fall or from the misfired bullet.

The incident brought the ceremony to an abrupt end.

Some jested that the security guard lost his footing while straining to see Madame Carla, the French first lady, who has had a Jackie Kennedy dazzle on the populace at large. Israel Radio said the soldier who was shot was stationed 100 meters to 200 meters away. Two women soldiers who witnessed the shooting were treated for shock, the radio said.

Israel's volunteer medical service Zaka said the soldier apparently committed suicide. But other media reports said he may have fainted from the heat, discharging his gun accidentally.

There was no immediate word on the soldier's condition.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Israelis less than enraptured with Hagee

Is Pastor Hagee Good for the Jews? writes David Van Biema in Time Magazine. The fire and brimstone preacher directs plenty of American dollars and prayers to Israel with his faith-fuelled boosterism, and cynical Israelis certainly do not indulge in "Hagee-ography". Instead, they welcome him with open arms, and ignore offensive parts of his message.

Cutting ties with John Hagee has proved to be a lot easier for Senator John McCain than it has been for some of the very Jewish groups most offended by the conservative Evangelical pastor's statements about God and the Holocaust. McCain moved to dissociate himself from Hagee after a 1999 sermon was publicized in which Hagee claimed that God intended the Holocaust, and had prophesied it in the Book of Jeremiah. "And that will be offensive to some people," Hagee boomed. "Well, dear heart, be offended. I didn't write it. Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, 'My top priority to the Jewish people is to get them back to Israel.'

But where McCain cut ties with the Evangelical mega-pastor who had endorsed his candidacy, Abe Foxman, head of the anti-Semitism watchdog organization the Anti-defamation League, appeared more willing to forgive. The reason for Foxman's reluctance to abandon Hagee may have been summed up in a letter from the pastor carried on the ADL's website, in which Hagee points out, "I have devoted much of my adult life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the state of Israel."
Hagee's support for the Jewish State — he also heads up the influential organization Christians United for Israel, and was a key speaker at last year's conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — has brought Israel millions, if not billions of dollars from Evangelical tourism, and it has delivered political support for a strong pro-Israel policy in Washington. As important as it has been to Israel, such backing has always come with an asterisk: Hagee's affection for Israel derives from a belief that for the Second Coming of Christ to occur, the Jews must return to Israel and rebuild the Temple destroyed by the Romans. The catch in this belief is that once the End Times roll, practicing Jews will be killed off during a period called the Tribulation — only those who convert to Christianity will survive.
Asked about this theology in a 2006 interview with NPR's Terry Gross, Hagee said that Jews would not be "raptured" and would be exposed to the Tribulation, although he said an unspecified number of survivors will accept Jesus as the Messiah and thereby attain eternal life. Many Jewish supporters of Israel tolerated Hagee's disdain for their beliefs, reasoning that his friendship was useful to Israel and that his End-Times scenario was but a harmless fantasy.
But the 1999 sermon jolted many, because of its implication that Hagee could look with equanimity upon the mass extermination of Jews not only at some point in the hypothetical future, but also in the recent past. And, dear heart, they were offended.

After McCain dropped Hagee, the pastor wrote in a letter to Foxman that the Holocaust had been "a tragedy unique in its evil and horror," and that he himself was committed to helping the Jewish community fulfill the words "Never again." However, he admitted, "Central to my faith is a belief in an omnipotent, sovereign God" who presumably could have stopped it. "I grappled with the vexing question of why a loving God would allow the Holocaust to occur."

Hagee is a potent influence in the hyper-fundamentalist wing of the Evangelical movement, and although his beliefs (technically known as pre-millenial dispensationalism) are held formally only by a minority of Evangelical congregations, the Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which render those ideas in fictional form, have been wildly popular. So it is worth noting that Hagee's claim to have been pained and perplexed at how his God could have allowed the Holocaust may represent fuzzy logic. After all, Hagee made clear in 1999 that he thinks he knows exactly why God had allowed the Holocaust — in Hagee's view of the preordained march of history towards Salvation, the Jews are collateral damage.

Most Biblical historians believe that Jeremiah, who indeed spent his career predicting his own people's ruin, lived to see his vision fulfilled when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 587 BC. It's difficult to find a serious academic who believes Jeremiah was looking 2,600-odd years into the future, although it may be a snug fit with the narrative of pre-millenialism. Unlike most of his predecessors, Hagee knows and likes Jews — rather like a Maoist who has personally befriended some members of the bourgeoisie, and finds himself torn between his affinity for them as individuals and what he knows to be their fate as a class in history's inevitable march toward a greater good.

For McCain, Hagee's theology may make him a liability, but for Foxman, the need for the Evangelical powerhouse's support for Israel trumps any annoyance at his view that the purpose of the Jewish State is to create conditions for an apocalypse that will see most Jews destroyed. Without commenting directly on Hagee, the ADL chief told TIME that in general "My condition for [evangelical] friendship is that your love is not conditioned on my accepting your theology." Hagee apparently passes muster, since Foxman, replying to his letter, stated that he looked forward to working with the pastor against anti-Semitism. "We value your acknowledgement that the Holocaust was a tragedy unique in its evil and horror" and "the limits of our understanding in seeking to comprehend the mind of God," Foxman wrote. He added avuncularly, "We mortals sometimes get into trouble fathoming God's ways." Some of us more predictably than most.

Two further memorable quotes from Hagee, the millionaire televangelist. Makes one wonder whether it's hyperbole from the pulpit or scary bombast:

“God caused Hurricane Katrina to wipe out New Orleans because it had a gay pride the week before and was filled with sexual sin.”

“All Muslims are programmed to kill and we can never negotiate with any of them. …those who live by the Koran have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Settler rocket lands beside an Arab at prayer

On the Yeshiva Od Yosef Hai, an extremist religious school about 3 km outside Nablus, the students in knitted skullcaps aren't exactly rocket scientists. But they can consult the Internet and tinker with explosives. Two weeks back, rowdy theological students fired a homemade steel rocket at the Palestinian village nearby. Virtually identical to the Hamas militants' Qassams, the rocket was of basic design and wildly inaccurate. Who would have guessed that during the leadup to the this week's agreed "lull" in the hostilities in Gaza, the West Bank would get peppered by an improvised 'Kosher' Kassam or two?

Maariv, a Hebrew language daily, headlined their piece "Yeshiva Student from Yitzhar Built Kassam Rocket and Fired it on Arab Village", as if it were a one-off incident. But according to the AP wires, plenty of weapons are stashed in the settlement and radical settlers fire at Arab villages nearby. These aggressive moves somehow are seen as pre-emptive self-defense in the Promised Land. Unlike in Sderot, no Red Dawn warning sounds a few moments before these rockets explode.

A Kassam of One’s Own

A Blue and White Kassam Rocket
Ma’ariv (p. 4) by Roi Sharon -- The settlement Yitzhar in Samaria has been in an uproar in the wake of an unprecedented affair. A pupil who attends the Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva in the settlement fired a home-made Kassam rocket from a hilltop near the settlement in the direction of a Palestinian village. The first person to be questioned in the incident was Rabbi Itzik Shapira, the yeshiva principal, who was arrested yesterday.
Shortly before the incident, members of the launching crew informed people on the settlement that an experiment was about to be held and that an explosion would sound. The launching crew members said that the explosion in question would be controlled and ought to be ignored by residents of the settlement. The rocket, which was comprised of a launching construct, a pipe and explosives, landed in farmland between Yitzhar and the Palestinian village. The rocket exploded. Breslau Hassid happened to be standing in the field and praying a few meters away from where the rocket exploded. He was not injured.
After the rocket exploded, which created a very loud report throughout the sector, large numbers of military troops were sent to the area. The security forces were inclined to believe at first that this had been a terror attack, but a preliminary examination established that the rocket had been fired from the settlement at the village and not the other way around. As soon as Central Command officials understood that they were dealing with Jewish rocket fire, the investigation was turned over to the GSS and to the Samaria and Judea District Police.
The detectives believe that the student who assembled the rocket, and who has yet to be arrested, obtained the know-how from the internet. The detectives are now trying to establish who supplied the boy with the explosives and who were his partners to the launching.
The yeshiva administration, which understood immediately that this was a red line that had been crossed, immediately expelled the student who was responsible for the rocket fire.
Residents of the settlement, where the incident is commonly referred to as the ‘rocket incident,’ also disassociated themselves vehemently from the people responsible. The Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva is identified with the extreme right wing, and many of the 20 people who were banned from entering Judea and Samaria a year and a half ago are students at that yeshiva.
Incidentally, the president of the yeshiva is Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg, the author of a book that praises Baruch Goldstein [who perpetrated the 1994 massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron].
The GSS recently provided the police with information that might lead to a few additional suspects in the incident and asked the police to carry out a number of arrests and searches. Yesterday morning dozens of police officers arrived at the yeshiva in Yitzhar, conducted a search of the premises and confiscated a number of computers. The search provided the police with no new information. The police also detained Rabbi Itzik Shapira and another two people, who were turned over to the GSS for questioning in a nearby military base.
All three were released after a three-hour interrogation. The three are not suspected of being involved in the incident but were questioned with the purpose of obtaining information that might facilitate the investigation.
A central figure in Yitzhar said in response: “As opposed to the incidents surrounding the destruction of the trailer, in the rocket affair the settlement completely disassociates itself from the behavior of the yeshiva students. The settlement places full responsibility on the yeshiva administration for the acts of its students and refuses to back up the yeshiva on this affair.”
The security forces view the incident with extreme gravity since it is the first time that right wing elements have tried their hand at high trajectory fire.
The Samaria and Judea District Police said that “the incident is still under investigation.” A GSS spokesman said that the General Security Service would not discuss the incident.

After the loud explosion, continued the Jerusalem Post, a large number of IDF soldiers arrived at the scene, concerned that a terror attack had been perpetrated. However, the troops discovered that the rocket had been fired from the Yitzhar area and not from Palestinian territory.

When the IDF Central Command was informed that the rocket had been fired by Jews, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Judea and Samaria Police opened an investigation.

Police spokesman Danny Poleg said Friday that detectives searched Yitzhar and questioned residents but made no arrests.

Ma'ariv said that the student allegedly learned how to make the rocket on the Internet. Detectives were trying to find out who provided the explosives and who else was involved in the incident.Yeshiva heads immediately expelled the student responsible.

The yeshiva is strongly affiliated with the extreme Right and some of its students were among the 20 people police banned from Judea and Samaria--aka Occupied Palestinian Territory-- about a year ago. The yeshiva's president, Yitzhak Ginsberg, has written a book in praise of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred Muslims at prayer in Hebron.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Beating the odds: organ transplants across the political divide

This is an extraordinary tale,despite the rather dry translation. One Palestinian teenager dies of wounds after a confrontation with security , and his parents approve that his healthy organs be transplanted into half a dozen ailing Israelis. All names are kept under wraps to prevent reprisals by extremists who would harm the teenaged donor's relatives or the Israeli recipients who now owe their lives to what some would term "shaheed organs".

In "Two Peoples, One Heart", published in the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv, reporter Dan Even reports about a rare Palestinian-Israeli organ transplant:

An 18 year-old Palestinian was injured a few weeks ago in an incident with Israeli security guards. He was taken to the intensive care unit at Sheba Medical Center at Tel-Hashomer, where the doctors fought for his life, but after a week he was pronounced brain dead. In spite of the incident his parents agreed to donate his organs, which saved the lives of no less than six Israelis.
The young man’s parents accepted the request from the staff of the hospital and the National Center for Transplants and Donation of Organs. At the transplants center the identity of the donor was kept secret so as not to endanger his parents, who live in one of the towns in the territory of the Palestinian Authority. The recipients of the organs were also informed that the family of the donor wished to remain anonymous. Yesterday, however, just a few hours after he heard the story, one of the recipients met the father of the donor, who had donated his heart. The emotional meeting was held at the hospital and the two embraced, shook hands, and formed a close friendship, which transcends the borders of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will link the families for ever.
The meeting took place in the same room where a few weeks ago the father received the bad news that his son, “A”, had died. In the previous few months, “A” had been the main provider for his family, because his father had fallen sick. “He was an amazing man,” the father told Ma’ariv. He said he did not hesitate to donate the organs of his son to Israelis, even though his son was killed in an incident with Israelis. “At first it was very difficult for me,” he said, “but I received my inspiration from God. I am at peace with my decision to this day.”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tony Blair's take on the Peace Process

Tony Blair, who became a special envoy to Israel/OPT for the Quartet on the day he resigned as British Prime Minister, blathers about the Middle East situation in a Guardian Q-A this weekend. He's been in the job for less than a year and only spends a few days a month in the region. (Mostly cosseted in the American Colony Hotel.) Blair plans to head for Yale University this autumn to teach a class in Religion and the Globalized World. (There is speculation that George W Bush, an ardent admirer of the Rottweiler Pope Benedict, may follow his poodle and soon covert to ROMAN CATHOLICISM!)

Tony sez:

"In my view the whole problem with the peace process up to now has been that people have thought you construct the deal and the facts on the ground will change. My view is that it is as much [that] you have to change the reality on the ground to create the space for the political deal to work.

"People say to me 'Well we have had all these agreements in the past' [but] Oslo was not an agreement, it was agreement to have an agreement. In my view you could work out the right problem on territory, refugees and Jerusalem but you cannot get a deal when the Israelis feel they have a massive unanswered security challenge and the Palestinians feel the weight of the occupation to change the two realities the two sides have.

"Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness [were] people that came from a past that was about the armed struggle [in Northern Ireland], but who had real vision imagination and leadership to make the transition. The question is how do you create the circumstances for that leadership to be successful in the Palestinian context. If the moderates show leadership, they will be strengthened. If they cannot they won't.

"In the Middle East at the moment the issue is not whether people are talking to Hamas or not, because the Egyptians already are. I hope we can get a different strategy for Gaza so that as we get a ceasefire, we are [also] progressively reopening the crossings, allowing in not just humanitarian aid but also goods and services - that would be a step forward.

"The issue is not a failure of communication. In the Northern Ireland situation it is true there were all sorts of informal contacts with the IRA but proper talking began only when there was a ceasefire. I have been very clear about what has to happen to ease the restrictions on the lives of Palestinians on the West Bank, but it does not help the cause of peace when we are trying to pressure the Israelis to let fuel in and extremists come from Gaza and kill the Israelis bringing the fuel in. If the terrorism stopped the whole situation would be so much easier to resolve.

"Their purpose is to destroy and disrupt the peace process in my view the best response to that is to go ahead with the peace process. Let us not be foolish about it - it is a deliberate act of strategy to inflict trauma by putting rockets into the town aimed deliberately and indiscriminately at civilians.

"My strategy is not to do the economic at the expense of politics but it is to accept that unless you deal the facts on the grounds - insufficient security capability on behalf of the Palestinians and the weight of the occupation on the Palestinians, then you will not create the space for politics to work. The tracks have got to work alongside one side another.

"The package I agreed with the Israelis gives us the opportunity radically to change some of the facts on the ground - reducing or speeding some of the 20 or so strategic roadblocks. If you don't start somewhere, you will get nowhere. There may well be a role for independent and international support for security at a later time, but it will not be now."

The Middle East and the end of the Bush administration

"In the last year there has been intensification of focus. Condi Rice has made many many visits, President Bush himself has been twice. There is no doubt at all that there is a big engagement by the Americans on this. I still think progress is going to happen even under the remaining part of this presidency. What is really important for the next president is that this does not go to the bottom of the intray. It's fundamental to what is going on in the whole Middle East. This is a region in transition, there is massive potential for it to go right and [also] for it to go badly wrong.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

First Arab Kibbutznik approved

It's groundbreaking and startling news. After nearly 100 years of putting the Zionist ideal to the test on the land, a kibbutz has, for the first time ever, accepted an Arab as a full-fledged member. Ms Amal Carmiyeh, a single mum with two boys, took the pledge last week in central Israel. The Jerusalem Post's report cautions not to take her acceptance as any sort of symbol of Zionist tolerance or start of a trend...but I wonder. Surely, this particular Israeli Arab must be an exceptional woman to make it through the vetting process, even when kibbutz life is in sharp decline. Thai workers have replaced Palestinians as non-Jewish physical labourers at kibbutzim, and it's revolutionary to see that sense of equality now can extend to the (formerly) hired help.
What an upbringing for Carmiyeh's sons: they will learn cooperativeness and resourcefulness and live on the land beside their neighbours. Would the pioneers of Kfar Saba be turning in their graves?

Nir Eliahu, a kibbutz near Kfar Saba, accepted Amal Carmiyeh as a member , making her the first Arab Muslim to become a member of the Kibbutz Movement, according to the movement's newsletter.

Carmiyeh, originally from Kalansuwa in the Triangle, sent her two sons to the Nir Eliahu kindergarten. She was later hired as a nurse and then, several years ago, started living on the kibbutz. Carmiyeh and her sons were among five families accepted as members before the holiday.

"It means that the kibbutzim have a liberal view on life, an accepting and open view," said Aviv Leshem, a spokesman for the Kibbutz Movement. "Kibbutz members have a positive view of [Carmiyeh]. It's a legitimate decision."

But Netta Be'eri, the head of absorption for Nir Eliahu, does not see Carmiyeh's becoming a member as a political act or as the beginning of a trend.

"We love her as a person and are happy that she'll live with us," Be'eri said. "We don't mean for it to be a symbol. She has openness and an ability to live with us. Unfortunately there won't be many examples like this."

Daniel Gavron, author of Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia, agreed that Carmiyeh's acceptance would remain more the exception than the rule.

"It's very good, but it surprises me. It's an unusual precedent," he said. "The kibbutzim were always very Zionist Jewish communes. The left-wing ones tried to encourage Arabs to build kibbutzim for themselves - but they never admitted Arabs. The purpose was to create a Jewish working class. The Arabs were irrelevant to that."

Although times have changed, Gavron said that that mind-set persists to the present day.

"It's one person in one kibbutz," he said. "I can't imagine it will make a huge impact. It'll certainly give [Arabs] a feeling that all things are possible... but I don't think it's a general revolution."

Some, such as former Nir Eliahu secretary Kuni Senner, do see symbolism in Carmiyeh's acceptance, particularly because she became a member at Shavuot, a holiday that traditionally represents the Jews' acceptance as a people.

"It's symbolic because we [became a] nation on Shavuot," said Senner. "I would hope that what we did expresses [the feelings of] society."

While she may be of a different ethnicity and religion than the rest of Nir Eliahu, Senner says that Carmiyeh has no problem living on the kibbutz.

"She's not a stranger, not for us and not for the country," he said. "She's one of us."

Carmiyeh and her sons join several other residents of Nir Eliahu who are not Jewish.

"Today we're more open," said Be'eri. "If they can live with us, if there will be special families, it will happen. I hope people can live together and educate their children together. We all live in the same land."

Aside from whatever Carmiyeh's acceptance says about society, Senner said that in the end, she was accepted based on who she was.

"We did not vote for an idea or an ideal," he said. "We voted on a friend of ours whom we know. It was a personal vote on one person."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lightning-quick lessons of history

If you can visualize it, you can nail an abstraction. Lawrence of Cyberia, a fellow blogger, put me on to a website, "Maps of War" which spotlights the rise and fall of empires in the Middle East along with the spread of religion around the world. And all in just 90 seconds for each.
It's good to pause and check out the big picture in order to put things into perspective in our troubled patch. (To see a dazzling full screen version, it's well worth clicking on the link

Monday, June 09, 2008

Messing with the Messianic Jews

On this harvest holiday, while people are happily tucking into cheesecake and blintzes all across Israel, some Messianic Jews will be saying grace before tasting the first morsel. Their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, even though they do not renounce any of the basic tenents of Judaism, has enraged some intolerant Orthodox Jews, who went on to burn bibles and attack one prominent family. ( Time magaine reports this week. The response after plastic explosives blew through their flat and maimed a teenage son? Turn the other cheek, but first put Shin Bet on the case and prosecute the culprit.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Giraffe milk as kosher as its meat

The giraffe, long considered a kosher animal, poses a challenge for butchers to find exactly where on its exotically long throat to make the cut for ritual slaughter. Yesterday its milk got approved for kashrut consumption by one of Israel's prominent Rabbis.

An Israeli rabbi has declared giraffe meat and milk to be kosher, although his pronouncement is unlikely to have observant Jews clamouring to consume the exotic products, a daily reported on Friday.

"The giraffe has all the signs of a ritually pure animal, and the milk forms curds, which strengthened that view," the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot quoted Rabbi Shlomo Mahfoud as saying.

The rabbi based his ruling on a recent finding by researchers from Bar Ilan University who took a milk sample while treating a giraffe at Ramat Gan safari park near Tel Aviv.

They found that the milk forms curds as required under Jewish religious law, a finding confirmed by another research institute, the daily said.

Giraffe meat is also considered ritually pure because the animal has a cloven hoof and chews the cud.

"Indeed, the giraffe is kosher for eating," said Mahfoud, who was present when the researchers made their finding.

Yigal Horowitz, chief veterinary surgeon at the safari park, is not overly worried by the development.

"This doesn't mean that tomorrow we are going to drink giraffe milk or eat soup made from giraffe necks," the paper reported him as saying. "After all, this is an animal in danger of extinction."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Gaza students get goahead; Fulbright grants reinstated

For talented students Gaza's education system has its limits, reports the BBC. Now the US state department has reinstated Fulbright grants for seven Palestinians in Gaza to study in the US.

This reverses a decision to withdraw the scholarships because Israel has not provided exit permits to the students.

Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza after Hamas seized power there a year ago, largely cutting off the territory from the outside world.

The US consulate in Jerusalem has told the students that it is working to get them out of the territory.

"We are working very closely with the government of Israel in order to secure its co-operation in this matter," an e-mail message to the students read.

'Complete horizon'

Dozens of Palestinian students from Gaza have been told they will not be able to take up university courses abroad because of the Israeli blockade.

Human right groups and some Israeli politicians have described the policy of not letting the students out as "collective punishment".

Israel says that as long as Palestinian militants fire rockets from Gaza at Israeli towns, nobody - apart from the most urgent of medical cases - can leave.

On Sunday, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said Israel would try to assist Palestinian students following a US request that the issue be looked into.

The prestigious Fulbright scholarships are run by the US state department.

On Friday US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has promised to investigate the withdrawal of the scholarships.

"If you cannot engage young people and give complete horizon to their expectations and to their dreams, then I don't know that there would be any future for Palestine or, frankly, since I believe the two-state solution is so important to Israelis and Palestinians, to the people of that region who want to have decent lives," Ms Rice said.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Israelis clown around to make babies

A recent medical study in Israel shows that laughter therapy following IVF boosted fertility by 15 per cent. (200 women participated in this unusual study; the one hitch is that it cited no statistics on how many Israelis also suffer from coulrophobia, fear of clowns, which would certainly contraindicate this technique!) In the general population, this clown-phobia is estimated to be as high as 7 percent; the infertile number about seven per cent in developed countries, but surely this is not necessarily the same seven per cent!

Besides laughter therapy, Israeli doctors have innovated many effective IVF procedures to complement their "fertility tourism" packages. Interestingly, academic degrees in medical clowning have been on offer at the U of Haifa since late 2006. Now many state hospitals hire trained medical clowns to boost the nursing staff, apparently. (Shades of Patch Adams?)

Check out the link to Jerusalem Post's "Laughter is the Best Fertility Medicine"

Nicky Blackburn reported for the London Times several years back:

For many Israeli couples IVF treatments become a way of life. Some women undergo 20, 30 — even 35. IVF is by no means an easy procedure, but the women are prepared to do anything if it gives them a chance to have a baby of their own. [Note- even subject themselves to medical clowns!]

Unlike most countries, Israel supports their every effort. Married and single women are allowed virtually unlimited attempts up to the age of 45, not just for baby No 1, but baby No 2 as well. From 45 to 51, women are allowed to continue treatments with donated ova. Couples pay just a percentage of the costs, which works out at about £180 a treatment. Women aged 45 and up pay more because donated ova must come from abroad.

Israel’s generous policy towards IVF has turned it into a specialist in IVF babies. There are more fertility clinics in Israel per capita than in any other country, and the highest per capita rate of IVF procedures. According to Treasury statistics, Israel provides 3,400 treatments per one million people, compared with 300 in England. Nearly 5 per cent of babies born in Israel today are test-tube babies. There are no waiting lists: once the problem has been isolated, treatment begins.

The obsession with babies is not unique to Israel. The difference is the combination of strong personal desire and a fully supportive Government. Since the state was founded in 1948, a high premium has been placed on enlarging the population. Memories of the Holocaust are still strong, and there is a very real fear among certain sectors of society that demographically Jewish Israel is being “outnumbered by Arabs”.(Though a report published today shows that the Arab birth rate in Jerusalem is actually declining, for the first time!)The Government, then, is prepared to support any measure that will bring more citizens.

At the same time, Israeli couples feel huge social pressure to have babies. Family life is very significant and children are a keystone of the Jewish religion. Rabbis of all persuasions often urge their flocks to go forth and multiply, and several religious charities offer free advice and support for couples suffering from infertility. As a result it is not uncommon to find religious women doing IVF treatments for their third, fourth and fifth children. There is also an unspoken awareness that Israel is a dangerous place to live, and that one child is just not enough.

“In Israel, a family without children is nothing,” says Professor Shlomo Mashiach, who has been a pioneer of fertility treatments for over 40 years and heads Israel’s largest IVF clinic, Assuta Medical Centre in Tel Aviv. “There is enormous pressure from grandparents, parents, neighbours and friends. Couples who do not have children soon find themselves outsiders. They feel they have no place in society and must apologise all the time for their childless state.” s

On average, about 20,000 IVF procedures are done annually in Israel, compared to about 100,000 per year in the United States, which has a population nearly 50 times the size of Israel’s.

According to some estimates, as many as 5 percent of Israeli kindergarteners today were born through IVF. Izzy Bee broke bread last Sabbath dinner with a pair of eight-year-old IVF twins and their single mum. No one batted an eye at their odd parentage.

“Be fruitful and multiply,” God proclaimed to Adam and Eve in Genesis. Later in the Bible, the issue of infertility was dealt with at length: Three of the four biblical matriarchs were infertile until God decided to “open” their wombs.

Israel has taken the biblical injunction to reproduce very seriously.