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."