Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Record 11th divorce granted to Jewish Israeli heartbreaker

A 50-year-old man from Jerusalem has been granted a divorce for the 11th time, a new Israeli record for Jews according to a Rabbinical court, the BBC reports

He told the court he usually divorced his wives every two years and looked for a new bride immediately after.

The man said he regretted his first divorce as it had begun a never-ending search for the next "experience".

His newest ex-wife said that since they married he had not worked and had lived off her income, amassing large debts.

The previous Jewish Israeli record for divorces by one person was seven.

Announcing the country's record 11th divorce, the Rabbinical Court Administration said: "It turns out that the popular divorcee courts his wives in a persuasive and sensitive way.

I send out a hook in all directions, and the fish come on their own
Jewish divorce record holder

"But after a short time on both sides they get annoyed with each other and after the courting, fights begin.

"Despite his 50 years, he has no grey hair and despite his much experience in marriage, he plans to marry again," the statement added.

The man has one son from a previous marriage, but the court said he had not paid any child support to his ex-wife.

He told the court he had never experienced any difficulty in finding a new bride.

"I send out a hook in all directions, and the fish come on their own."

In the statement, the rabbis praised the man for going through all the correct religious procedures for getting a divorce.

Under Jewish law, to divorce his wife a man must issue her with a "Get", a document that says "you are hereby permitted to all men".

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas past and Christmas present

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, a significant birth happened 2009 years ago, with special effects including a comet and a celestial angel choir, according to Christian tradition. But today's shepherds wouldn't be able to be the first visitors to reach a Christ child born in Bethlehem. The BBC reports about restrictions on their freedom of movement around the West Bank. To read more, click this link. Wise men on camel back would face significant obstacles, too, particularly if they came from afar. What we don't want to hear is a slaying song tonight.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Unsettling sight

Sign of the times (sighted by Alix this morning in Israel.) A moped driver wearing crocs and a wetsuit, zipping up the 443 from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in the pouring rain. A settler, no doubt. Any Arab dressed like this wouldn't get far, even if he had a permit to use the road.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ancient Leper's Shroud Unearthed near Old City dates from time of Jesus

A team of archaeologists and scientists say they have for the first time found pieces of a burial shroud from the time of Jesus in a tomb located in Jerusalem. The BBC's Bethany Bell reports.

The researchers, from Hebrew University and institutions in Canada and the US, said the shroud was very different from the controversial Turin Shroud. (Might it belong to Lazarus, ask some evangelical Christians?)

Some people believe the Turin Shroud to have been Christ's burial cloth, but others believe it is a fake.

The newly found cloth has a simpler weave than Turin's, the scientists say.

The body of a man wrapped in fragments of the shroud was found in a tomb dating from the time of Jesus near the Old City of Jerusalem, above the Hinnom Valley.

The tomb is part of a cemetery called the Field of Blood, where Judas Iscariot is said to have committed suicide.

Researchers believe the man was a Jewish high priest or member of the aristocracy who died of leprosy, the earliest proven case.

They say he was wrapped in a cloth made of a simple two-way weave, very different from the complex weave of the Turin Shroud.

The researchers believe that the fragments are typical of the burial cloths used at the time of Jesus.

As a result, they conclude that the Turin Shroud did not originate from 1st-Century Jerusalem.

The Turin Shroud has been the subject of much controversy.

Tests 20 years ago dated the fabric to the Middle Ages, but believers say the cloth, which bears the imprint of a man's face, is an authentic image of Christ.
Last month a Vatican researcher announced that she had found the words 'Jesus Nazarene' written on the shroud, proving it was the linen cloth which was wrapped around Christ's crucified body. It is shown at the top of this post.

Read more.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Tel Aviv Good Times - is it escapism?

Tel Aviv is one of the world's unabashed gay capitals, according to Matthew Teller's report in the British Independent, which examines a shooting incident in a gay teen club last August. Teller questions whether hate crimes can be looked at outside of a political context in today's Middle East, especially considering the sharp divisions between the secular and the religious components of society.:

Tales abound of gay Palestinians being blackmailed into collaborating with the Israeli security services, or even into spying for one Palestinian faction against another, often with fatal consequences.

Nitzan Horowitz, the only gay Knesset member, is blunt. "People in Tel Aviv think the struggle is over – not at all!" he says. "More than 50 per cent of kids in first and second grade are in ultra-orthodox or Arab schools, where LGBT rights are not addressed. In 10 years' time those people will vote. I don't see this liberal paradise."

Every Saturday night, there's a party atmosphere-- singles, couples and groups, gay and straight, mixing in pursuit of a good time. Going out is an obsession. It lends a unique vibrancy – but one person described it to me as national escapism. To journalist Lisa Goldman, her home city is starting to feel like Weimar Berlin. "I'm worried," she says. "This exuberance is inarticulate. We've become used to hopelessness."

Uzi Even's observation about a common enemy conceals the possibility that the greatest threat to Jewish Israeli society may lie within. In Chen Langer's words: "We want others to acknowledge Israel as the home of the Jewish people, but we ourselves cannot define what 'Jewish' is."

For many secular Jews – both within and beyond the Tel Aviv bubble – Israel's religious right has corrupted society and continues to hold the country back. For many religious Jews, secure with the occupation, contemporary secularism – exemplified by advances in gay rights – represents the gravest threat to the nation's well-being.

The shooting at the Aguda – apparently a one-off atrocity, possibly committed with inside knowledge – should be a wake-up call. It has exposed fault-lines running right through Jewish-Israeli society. If unbridged, they could pull the country apart.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oops. Mossad needs to drill, baby, drill

Espionage requires skullduggery, at least enough to avoid drawing the attention of casual passers-by. Certainly in Tel Aviv, urban pedestrians tend to be on the alert.
The BBC reports about how a blundering trainee spook managed to close down the entire port of Tel Aviv on a training day gone wrong.(This coincided with a tourist helicopter crashing downin the Med outside Netanya. What's surprising is how quickly the chaos was righted)

A trainee spy for Israel's secret service agency Mossad was arrested by Tel Aviv police while taking part in a training operation, media reports say.

The young trainee was spotted by a female passer-by as he planted a fake bomb under a vehicle in the capital.

He was only able to persuade police he was a spy after being taken in by an officer for questioning on Monday.

The authorities have refused to comment on the story although Israeli media outlets have expressed their surprise.

'Just a drill'

Mossad does not tell local uniformed police about its training exercises.

The country's commercial Channel 10 said it hoped the agent's operatives were "more effective abroad", AFP news agency reported.

Niva Ben-Harush, the woman who reported the novice's suspicious behaviour to police, told Ynet News that 15 minutes after she made the call, Tel Aviv's port was closed and people evacuated.

She said police initially asked her to come with them and identify the suspect.

"But after a few minutes, they told me it was just a drill," she said.

Up to three agency employees were believed to have been suspended following the incident, Ynet reported.

It quoted the prime minister's office as saying it did "not respond to information about such activities undertaken by security agencies or attributed to them".

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ethiopian Israelis celebrate

Sigd Day pomp in Jerusalem draws Ethiopian leaders in full regalia to the Old City, to celebrate their day of fasting and prayer.
Nearly all of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community, comprising more than 119,300 people, now live in Israel under its Law of Return, which gives Jews and those with Jewish parents or grandparents, and all of their spouses, the right to settle in Israel and obtain citizenship. (Not to be confused with the Right of Return, the Palestinian notion that refugee families who were nudged out by fighting during the creation of the Israeli state should be welcomed back.) The Israeli government has mounted rescue operations, most notably during Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991) when civil war and famine threatened Jewish populations within Ethiopia. Immigration continues. Today 81,000 Ethiopian Israelis were born in Ethiopia, while 38,500 or 32% of the community are native born Israelis. An estimated half live below the poverty line.

Falasha Mura people are the descendants of Beta Israel who converted to Christianity. Some are returning to the practices of Judaism by living in Falash Mura communities and observing halakha. Beta Israel spiritual leaders, including Chief Kes Raphael Hadane, urge the acceptance of these Falasha Mura as full-fledged Jews. Israeli society plays a statistical demographic shell game - the goal is to keep the headcount of new immigrants high to counteract the Palestinian birthrate. More than a million Russian economic immigrants, many of whom came of age in a Godless Soviet society and have not inculcated many Jewish traditions, complicate the equation.
Inside Israel, Ethiopians usually rank lower in status than Russians because the melting pot philosphy is tricky amid the in-grown skin-tone snobbery. Ask a Misrahi or Sephardic Jew. Descent goes white, brown, black, and finally Arab.

Hat tip to the Beeb for this photo.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

High Court Orders Military to Allow Student to Challenge Forced Removal to Gaza

This just out from GISHA, the Israeli activists. Perhaps it can be worthwhile to stand up against injustices. Let's see if the student's status can be resolved quickly enough for her to finish her degree:

· High Court justices criticized the violation of due process that led to Berlanty Azzam, a 21-year old student at Bethlehem University, being blindfolded, handcuffed, and removed by force to the Gaza Strip.
· Court ordered the military to conduct an administrative hearing next week in which Berlanty and her attorney can challenge the removal.
· Berlanty, who was to complete her BA in Business Management in just two months, is missing her studies with every day that passes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009 – At a High Court hearing today in the case of a Bethlehem University student who was detained and forcibly removed to the Gaza Strip, the justices ordered the military to give the student, Berlanty Azzam, an opportunity to challenge her removal at an administrative hearing to be held next week. The court rejected the State's request to prevent her attorney, Gisha's Yadin Elam from being present at the hearing, affirming Berlanty's right to legal counsel. However, the court declined Gisha's request to allow Berlanty to return to her studies in the West Bank in the meantime. Berlanty has already missed two weeks of classes toward her BA in Business Management. She was to graduate in less than two months.

The military forcibly removed Berlanty to Gaza on Oct. 28, based solely on the fact that her address in the Israeli-controlled Population Registry is listed in Gaza. Berlanty had been living in the West Bank since beginning her studies in 2005 at the Vatican-sponsored university. The military makes no claim that she poses any security threat whatsoever.

In today's hearing, the justices criticized the procedure that led to Berlanty's removal to Gaza: despite an explicit promise by the Office of the Military Legal Advisor to Gisha that Berlanty would not be removed pending a meeting with her lawyer and an opportunity to file an emergency court petition, she was removed that very same night, after being blindfolded and handcuffed.

The State claims that Berlanty was present in the West Bank "illegally" and has refused to allow her to return. In the court petition written on her behalf, Gisha claims that her passage to the West Bank was done legally, via a permit issued by the military commander that attached no conditions or limitations.

Berlanty is one of an estimated 25,000 people, including those who have been living in the West Bank for decades, in danger of being forcibly removed to Gaza, just because their addresses are registered there. Israel controls the Palestinian Population Registry and since 2000 has not permitted address changes from Gaza to the West Bank. The Israeli Supreme Court has yet to rule on the larger question of the rights of Palestinian residents, originally from Gaza, to live in the West Bank.

According to Berlanty Azzam: “I had hoped that I could return to my studies after today's court hearing. Each day that passes is critical for my chances of completing my degree.”

According to Gisha Attorney Yadin Elam: "It is not clear what Israel gains by preventing this young woman from completing her degree. Israel must end this policy of tearing people away from their homes, jobs, schools and families – and preventing Palestinians from exercising their right to live in the West Bank."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Student Blindfolded, Handcuffed, and Taken to Gaza by Force

This young Palestinian business student, pictured left, is not smiling anymore. Berlanty Azzam had a rough day yesterday, getting stopped at a military checkpoint on the way home from a job interview and then locked up. Wrong place, wrong time, no redress. She was not inside Israel at any time and posed no threat.

Sari Bashi, from GISHA, an Israel-based Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement which filed a petition on her behalf, guest-posts on Israelity Bites. Sari recounts how a military lawyer gave false promises to this Bethlehem University Student. Sadly, banishment to Gaza and denial of higher education is not an isolated incident.

Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement is filing an urgent petition to the Israeli Supreme Court today demanding the immediate return to her studies of Berlanty Azzam, 21, a student at Bethlehem University who was arrested and removed to Gaza last night by the Israeli military. The removal took place even as the Military Legal Adviser's office promised Gisha's attorney that Berlanty would not be removed to Gaza pending an opportunity to seek judicial review.

Israel bans Palestinian residents of Gaza from studying at Palestinian universities in the West Bank, and it claims that Palestinians like Berlanty, originally from the Gaza Strip, have no right to remain in the West Bank. In recent weeks and months, the military has begun a campaign to search the West Bank for Palestinians whose ID cards are registered in Gaza and to remove them to Gaza by force.

Berlanty has been living in Bethlehem since 2005, after requesting and receiving a permit from the Israeli military authorizing her to travel through Israel to reach the West Bank. She is in her last semester of a Bachelor's Degree program in Business Administration, with a minor in Translation. She is due to complete her studies in just two months.

Yesterday afternoon, as she was returning to her home in Bethlehem from a job interview in Ramallah, the car in which Berlanty rode was stopped at a checkpoint. Seeing that her address was registered in Gaza, the soldiers detained her. Gisha Attorney Yadin Elam contacted the Military Legal Adviser's office and was told that the military intended to remove her and another Palestinian resident to Gaza. However, the military attorney promised that both individuals would be held in detention and not removed to Gaza until Gisha had an opportunity to petition the Supreme Court this morning, challenging the removal.

Despite that promise, Berlanty was blindfolded, handcuffed, and loaded onto a military jeep. The soldiers told her she would be taken to a detention facility in the West Bank, but instead – they brought her to Gaza late last night. The military now refuses to allow her to return to the West Bank. The second Gaza resident arrested remains in detention.

"Since 2005, I refrained from visiting my family in Gaza for fear that I would not be permitted to return to my studies in the West Bank", says Berlanty Azzam. "Now, just two months before graduation, I was arrested and taken to Gaza in the middle of the night, with no way to finish my degree."

"For years, Israel has prevented Palestinian residents of Gaza from studying in Palestinian universities in the West Bank", says Gisha Legal Director Yadin Elam. "Now, the military is arresting those already studying and removing them to Gaza by force – violating their right to freedom of movement and to access education."

Can this be what Israelis want done in their name?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Provocative Digs undermine conflict resolution in the 'City of David' aka Silwan

Check out this editorial in today's Boston Globe. It has caused a furore:

As a dispute over land and statehood, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is combustible enough. But recent clashes over the site in Jerusalem that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram al-Sharif are injecting religious passions into one of the world’s most dangerous confrontations. Extremists on both sides are playing with fire. But since Israel is the dominant power, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bears primary responsibility for smothering that fire before it erupts into a much larger conflagration.

The current crisis originates in Palestinian fear and anger over archaeological excavations near, but not underneath, the Al Aqsa mosque. The digs are under the control of an ultra-nationalist Israeli group intent on justifying a Jewish claim to Jerusalem by locating remnants of what is called the City of David. Those excavations have weakened the foundations of nearby Arab houses and led critics across the Muslim world to warn of a plot to cause the collapse of the Al Aqsa mosque.

The furor over the excavations has given new force to Palestinian demands that Israel stop settling Jews in East Jerusalem, which would make it much harder to divide the ancient city between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel maintains that the influx of Jews into East Jerusalem is a simple matter of families buying homes in a neighborhood that appeals to them. But that’s not the whole story. The Israeli government knows that at least some of the people behind the purchases of Palestinian homes have a political motive.

Jordan, the Arab state most friendly to Israel, has called on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to halt the excavations and to stop efforts to change the population balance between Arabs and Israelis in East Jerusalem. If President Obama wants to preserve hope of a two-state peace agreement, he must persuade Netanyahu to suspend the influx of Israeli Jews into East Jerusalem and put a stop to recklessly provocative excavations. The surest way to scuttle peace talks before they get started is for one side to give extremists on the other side a reason to call for martyrdom and holy war.

Izzy Bee agrees. Scientific archaeological excavations funded by academic institutes are preferable to these hasty digs, which are financed and carried out with a political and religious agenda. Shovelling shit along with the rubble does not advance anyone's historic understanding. The residents of Silwan are trapped in the trenches of Holy War if this is allowed to continue... and this dispute keeps simmering. Elad, the radical settler NGO, should not be given free rein to relabel the city and befuddle the past just because it has plenty of money!
The world expects higher academic standards from the Jews of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stoned in the Old City - a woman, a rock and a hard place to take cover

This past Sunday, 24 October, radio reporter Irris Makler went to cover some riots in Jerusalem's Old City. From a hospital bed, she recounts what happened in this guest post. Irris cannot work for the moment, because she cannot speak until she heals:

The riots over access to the Temple Mount /Al Haram al Sharif were only sporadic, but I thought it was best to go and see for myself. It was a slow morning and Canadian Broadcasting said they needed something -- which is often how these things go...

As I was driving down, top of the local radio bulletin was the Israeli chief of police saying that both extremist Jewish and Muslim groups were inciting their followers to defend the holy site. The closest I could get was an alley near the Lion's Gate where Palestinian boys were burning rubbish and throwing stones. There were lots of Israeli police, but it didn't seem particularly dangerous - I've been to lots of these which were at a much higher temperature.

I needed [to record] some sound , but did not go all the way up to the end of the alley where the rubbish was burning. There were journalists about 20 meters back from the boys and I was about 20 metres back from them, standing under a small balcony to protect me from the stones. As I was getting some sound of the stones being thrown I became aware they were getting larger, more like fist sized rocks, so I decided not to go any further and to turn back. My small balcony did not feel like sufficient protection any more. As I turned to go one rock caught me in the face.

It was a head snapping blow, coming I now think from someone on a nearby roof, since it came in from above, under the awning. It was incredibly fortunate that I had turned -- it hit me in the lower left jaw, and not in the eye. I never lost consciousness, never felt nauseous, was able to walk to the ambulance. No brain damage, no broken cheek bones or vision problems. That and the localised blow is all part of the good news. The bad news is my jaw is broken in two places, some of my teeth have been forced out of alighment and one of my facial nerves may have been severed. We won't know for sure about the nerve for a while.

One definite plus about being injured here is the high standard of the health care. I am writing to you from [Jerusalem's] Hadassah hospital where I have had the wound in my cheek stitched and an operation to wire my jaw closed so that the bones will knit and the teeth realign.

I look horribly like a werewolf, and will have to stay like this, for six (¡) weeks.

I am quite happy about the enforced diet, less so about the enforced silence, since I am talkative even by journalist standards...

Still my friends have rallied round, supplying me with clothes, magazines books, ipods, laptops. But most of all they have given me support and love, reminding me how lucky I am. This hospital is an amazing melting pot, Palestinians and Orthodox Jews in adjoining beds, kind, fierce Russian nurses, doctors from every nation in the world. It is an appropriately strange environment from which to reflect on this strange life we lead as correspondents...

I have been to so many dangerous places, for so long, and nothing bad has happened to me before... my friend Margaret who has been in plenty of dangerous situations herself says there is no point in brooding on fate and chance, but I find that I can't help myself...... if I come up with some answers I'll let you know. :-)

More bulletins from the Land of Silence soon.
and best wishes for rapid recovery!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rabin's Widow Called Netanyahu a "Nightmare"

Leah Rabin, the late widow of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu won the election held the spring after Rabin's death in 1995 and became prime minister again earlier this year. "Netanyahu is a corrupt individual," she wrote three years after her husband's assassination, "a contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society. He is breaking it to bits, and in the future, we will have to rebuild it all over." A few months later she returned to the same theme: "We all want this nightmare to end, that this monstrosity called Netanyahu will get lost, because he exhausted our patience a long time ago." In her letters, Leah Rabin, who died in 2000, also emphasized that her husband opposed the settlements and supported giving up the West Bank.

Read original story in Haaretz

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No way home: the Palestinian diaspora

You might think Palestinian refugees would be welcomed by their Arab neighbours, yet they are denied basic rights and citizenship. In a guest post, Judith Miller and David Samuels examine the diaspora.

It is a cynical but time-honoured practice in Middle Eastern politics: the statesmen who decry the political and humanitarian crisis of the approximately 3.9 million Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Gaza ignore the plight of an estimated 4.6 million Palestinians who live in Arab countries. For decades, Arab governments have justified their decision to maintain millions of stateless Palestinians as refugees in squalid camps as a means of applying pressure to Israel. The refugee problem will be solved, they say, when Israel agrees to let the Palestinians have their own state.
Yet in the two decades since the end of the Cold War, after two Gulf wars, and the rise and fall of the Oslo peace process, not a single Palestinian refugee has returned to Israel – and only a handful of ageing political functionaries have returned from neighbouring Arab countries to the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, failed peace plans and shifting political priorities have resulted in a second Palestinian "Nakba", or catastrophe – this one at hands of the Arab governments.
"Marginalised, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing atop multiple fault lines," a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Lebanon recently observed, "the refugee population constitutes a time bomb."

In the unlikely event that President Obama's vision of a swift and final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict materialises, millions of Palestinians would still live in decaying refugee camps whose inhabitants are forbidden from owning land or participating in normal economic life. The only governing authority that Palestinians living in the camps have ever known is UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Established by the UN on 8 December 1949 to assist 650,000 impoverished Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, UNRWA has been battling budget cuts and strikes among its employees as it struggles to provide subsidies and services to Palestinian refugees, who are defined as "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948".

Click here to read all of this special report in The Independent

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rights Watchdog's Middle East conundrum

The founder of Human Rights Watch, Robert Bernstein, sounds off in today's New York Times about his dismay at how his organization has been tightening the screws on Israel and losing perspective.
Some points are well-taken. Yes - the cold war mindset has altered in the past few decades.

Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.

At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform...Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

What's off-putting is this quote: "Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

Um, except for one little detail. There was no exit from Gaza allowed for any non-combatants, who all were effectively fenced into this dense battlefield. What's more, Israeli violations were rife - ie bombing of hospitals, mosques and refuge shelters. The British colonel is making his statement as a response to the Goldstone report, and has no personal experience of 'Operation Cast Lead' or its aftermath. He draws parallels to insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq who are fighting occupation forces. Kemp concluded that "mistakes are not war crimes." But these actions in Gaza were part of a strategy, not unavoidable blunders.
And the fact that American dollars fund much of Israel's domination in the area bothers many critics, who expect a high standard from a Middle Eastern country which was supposed to be exceptional from the get-go.
"Thou shalt not kill," Hashem wrte on the tablets. Well, Israel should not kill the possibility of an independent investigation into last January's cruel winter war.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hee-haw 'Zebras' to dye for - in Gaza zoo

You gotta give the folks at a Gaza zoo points for creativity. (Even if it smacks a bit of Pallywood ingenuity.)

According to a Reuters wire service report, the Gaza zoo didn't have the cash to bring a real zebra into the blockaded city through smuggling tunnels, so the zookeepers did the next best thing.

They took two white donkeys and gave them black stripes with hair dye, a paint brush and masking tape - and the kids who visited yesterday were none the wiser.

"The first time we used paint but it didn't look good," said Nidal Barghouthi, whose father owns the Marah Land zoo.

"The children don't know so they call them zebras and they are happy to see something new."

His father, Mohammed Barghouti, said it would have cost him $40,000 to get a real zebra because of the Israeli embargo against the Hamas-controlled territory.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to have Jewish past!

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vitriolic attacks on the Jewish world hide an astonishing secret, evidence uncovered by Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat in today's Daily Telegraph shows. His family's previous name was Jewish, and translates as "weaver of prayer shawls."

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.
The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior.
Experts last night suggested Mr Ahmadinejad's track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past.
Ali Nourizadeh, of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, said: "This aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's background explains a lot about him.
"Every family that converts into a different religion takes a new identity by condemning their old faith.
"By making anti-Israeli statements he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections. He feels vulnerable in a radical Shia society."
A London-based expert on Iranian Jewry said that "jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews.
"He has changed his name for religious reasons, or at least his parents had," said the Iranian-born Jew living in London. "Sabourjian is well known Jewish name in Iran."
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said it would not be drawn on Mr Ahmadinejad's background. "It's not something we'd talk about," said Ron Gidor, a spokesman.
The Iranian leader has not denied his name was changed when his family moved to Tehran in the 1950s. But he has never revealed what it was change from or directly addressed the reason for the switch.
Relatives have previously said a mixture of religious reasons and economic pressures forced his blacksmith father Ahmad to change when Mr Ahmadinejad was aged four.
The Iranian president grew up to be a qualified engineer with a doctorate in traffic management. He served in the Revolutionary Guards militia before going on to make his name in hardline politics in the capital.
During this year's presidential debate on television he was goaded to admit that his name had changed but he ignored the jibe.
However Mehdi Khazali, an internet blogger, who called for an investigation of Mr Ahmadinejad's roots was arrested this summer.
Mr Ahmadinejad has regularly levelled bitter criticism at Israel, questioned its right to exist and denied the Holocaust. British diplomats walked out of a UN meeting last month after the Iranian president denounced Israel's 'genocide, barbarism and racism.'
Benjamin Netanyahu made an impassioned denunciation of the Iranian leader at the same UN summit. "Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium," he said. "A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies the murder of six million Jews while promising to wipe out the State of Israel, the State of the Jews. What a disgrace. What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations."
Mr Ahmadinejad has been consistently outspoken about the Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jewish race. "They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets," he declared at a conference on the holocaust staged in Tehran in 2006.

Hat tip to Irris Makler for this piece. She says when President Katsav was first accused of rape, Haaretz ran a black and white pic of him from the 70’s when he was an up and coming Likud organiser, and it was him beside Menachem Begin. She did a double take because he looked so much like Ahmedinajad.
She joked “What was Ahmedinajad doing with Begin?” The penny drops.... he and Katsav might just be related!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Verbatim - US consular message to Americans in Jerusalem

Forget the uplift and avoid the stun grenades and the riot sticks, folks.
This message, emailed to all registered yanks in the Holy Land, shows a disconnect between secular and religious concerns. Violence is becoming a sideshow to some of the religious celebrations It begs the question - what about Jewish Americans who want to pray at the Western Wall or on the Temple Mount, or American Muslims who want to ascend the Noble Sanctuary and pray in the mosque. Or Christians or Messianic Jews who celebrate inside the churches in the Old City

WARDEN MESSAGE October 2, 2009

The final two of the local autumn holidays, Sukkot and Simhat Torah,
will be celebrated this weekend and next. American citizens should
avoid the Old City for one week from sundown Friday, October 2nd,
through sundown on Friday, October 9th, 2009. Vehicle traffic in and
around the Old City will be restricted by the Israeli National Police

Although it is a good idea to avoid the Old City for the entire week,
Monday, October 5th, is expected to draw the largest crowds due to the
annual pilgrimage by Jewish worshipers who will assemble at the Western
Wall for special prayers.

Additionally, political and religious tensions are expected to be high
in the areas immediately adjacent to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound
throughout this period. A large police presence in the area may provoke
spontaneous violence in the form of civil unrest and police actions.

Finally, the crowded environment could result in an uptick in criminal
activity to include pickpockets, physical assaults and other crimes.
American citizens should avoid crowds and walking or driving around the
Old City. Carry a mobile phone and stay cognizant of your surroundings.

For the latest security information, Americans should regularly monitor
the Department's web site at, where the current
Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, including the Travel Warning for
Israel, West Bank and Gaza, and Travel Alerts can be found.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

'Schizoid' Zion is fodder for Keret's edgy stories and films

Etgar Keret, the Israeli writer and filmmaker behind the claymation flick $9.99, can't help point out the paradoxes of his country.

Over breakfast at a cafe on Dizengoff Street, a leafy avenue in central Tel Aviv, Keret tells journalist Jason Koutsoukis

"It's about my dentist. For 340 days of the year he is a tofu-eating vegetarian who drives a hybrid car and takes care of people's teeth. The other 25 days of the year, he kills people."

Keret's dentist is a sniper in the Israeli army, and, like most Israeli men, he is called up once a year for active reserve duty.

"He has six confirmed kills to his name," says Keret. "He hates it, but this is such an Israeli thing. To be caught between the perfect left-wing, secular lifestyle on one side, and our very aggressive, militaristic culture on the other."

Keret points to the patrons sitting around us.

"It's not so peculiar here that people know someone who has been killed violently, or who have killed someone themselves.

''Yet we have one of the best operas in the world and 30 per cent of Israelis are art-loving theatregoers. This is a schizophrenic country."

Israel, Keret claims, has the same logic as a reality show, with people from different backgrounds and nationalities jammed together in a tiny slice of territory in a situation of extreme danger with everything to gain and everything to lose.

"It's a difficult place to live," admits Keret, smiling broadly, "but such a great place to write about."

Hat tip to the Brisbane Times for this profile of an outspoken filmmaker and writer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dealing with the Lobby and staying on message

Hat tip to activist Angela Godfrey-Goldstein for these two evergreen Latuff cartoons, as relevant as ever.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Israeli film takes the Golden Lion prize at Venice

Just as the Katyushas start to fly again from the neighbor to the north, an Israeli film called "Lebanon" gains international recognition. Like 'Waltz for Bashir,' this examines the 1982 conflict, not the more recent fighting by the sons of the fighters shown here. Director Samuel Maoz shoots almost entirely inside an Israeli tank against the backdrop of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The trailer of the film can be seen here.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Shock Schlock - Unholy Madonnas in Suicide Vests shut down in Tel Aviv by censors

Sophisticated gallery goers in Tel Aviv were offended by the latest shock schlock exhibit, showing sweet-faced Christian saints who, on second glance, must be strapped for oblivion under their garb, in spite of their halos. Still feels a tad raw after the bloody excesses of Intifada. The Independent's Lynfield reports about the latest on the cultural scene in the Big Falafel, the explosive mix of art and politics, after that other Madonna, aka Esther, just flounced through the Holy Land her red kabbala string (bikini). The story was first broken by Ynet news.

Galina Bleich, one of the artists, said the works were meant to show the horror of women carrying out suicide bombings. "A child in the hands of Madonna is in danger, that's what should concern people. This is not only an Israeli problem, but a worldwide problem, and that is why we chose Madonna, a Christian symbol," she told Israel's Y-net news service.

Bleich said she had the idea for the exhibit after finding herself at the scene of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. "From then I haven't stopped thinking about it... We are trying to ask how a woman who is intended to love and give birth turned into a source of hatred and murder."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Flying Rabbis, Lady Gaga and Hider's 'Spiders of Allah': Sects and Violence

Fifty flying rabbis recently took to the sky in an aircraft, blowing on sacred ram's horns in an effort to purge swine flu from the airspace over Zion. And now Lady Gaga has arrived in Israel, wearing a spiked Star of David on her black leather fetish gear. Truth can be far weirder than fiction on the frontlines of holy war, whether the fight is against the H1N1 virus, moral depravity, or zealous terrorists clad in suicide vests.

Lady Gaga-hermaphrodite moral laxity?

After a sojourn in the Holy Land, writers as diverse as Mark Twain and Allen Ginsberg have come away with the notion that, regardless of any outsider's road map, peace in the Middle East will be achieved...when pigs fly.

Enter James Hider, an intrepid war correspondent for the Times of London who sometimes dyes his gingery eyebrows black to better blend in with the Arab Street. His prolific and authoritative coverage of conflict in Fallujah, Baghdad, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza for Rupert Murdoch's newspaper has been essential reading for years. Now, in his first book, The Spiders of Allah: Travels of an Unbeliever on the Frontline of Holy War, published this summer by St Martin's Griffin, Hider unleashes his dark humor and angry wit in a troll through the atrocities that result when religious fanaticism and ignorance are given unlimited fire power. Hider goes beyond the jaded truisms of most eyewitness post - 9/11 war reportage. To Hider, an ardent atheist, religion in the Midde East has mutated beyond Karl Marx's "opium of the people" into "the crack cocaine of fanatical fundamentalism."

The book's odd title comes from an Iraqi urban myth which went viral online in the early days of the war. Jihadis were rumored to be onto a secret weapon: shrieking camel spiders "the size of dinner plates", primed to sprint at 25 mph on eight legs and attack infidel invaders like the US Marines. The timeline of Hider's personal chronicle sometimes is perplexing because the action surges ahead or casts back a couple of millennia. It's written in a self-deprecating Blackwater stream of consciousness-- complete with rapids, whirlpools, and the occasional snag.

As he gets "sucked back into the 3,000- year-old vortex of fighting between Israel and its neighbors", Hider jolts away from any anticipated script. For instance, his take on how the Islamist group Hamas and its Al Aqsa tv channel hijacked Disney characters to whip up pre-teen Palestinian martyrs against the Israeli occupation ends up in a rock fight with the "feral children" of Gaza, who got bored by the squeaky rodent on the program.

More thoughtful than the usual Gonzo danger junkie writing from a war zone, Hider doesn't tout his own brushes with death as courageous. At one point he castigates himself for his cynicism after he sees so many killings that they start losing news-worthiness. His eye for repellant detail, the kind of graphic description that copy editors would spike out of concern for readers at the breakfast table, has put me off Turkish delight forever. But there are other delights, particularly the droll accounts of unexpected encounters as he tracks sects and violence across the region.

Crossposted on the Huffington Post

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fishy tale about Israeli mermaid swamps the net! $4 million shekels offered for a snap

Have you seen something curious in the water? Huffington Post apparently took the bait and linked to a cute ABC news online filler piece about how Israeli officials are offering a million bucks...or four million shekels...for a verifiable snap of an Israeli mermaid. This certainly is not the typical siren that concerns Israelis in places like Sderot --- and this sea creature supposedly was spotted off the coast of Haifa. Multiple sightings, according to Murdoch's SKY News.

"Many people are telling us they are sure they've seen a mermaid and they are all independent of each other. People say it is half girl, half fish, jumping like a dolphin"
Hmmm. Good score for the tourist board. Some snide commentators suggest that photoshoppers will be working overtime and that a Jewish siren would be known as Ethel Merman! Even though mummified mermaid remains have proven to be a hoax, it's remotely possible that a Mediterranean version of a Stellar Sea Cow or dugong,
has surfaced. But the whole thing is, er, fishy -- so it must be August Silly Season!

(crossposted from Feral Beast. Hat-tip, or tail flip, fellas.)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Bloodbath in "Hell Aviv" Gay Club caused by lone gunman clad in black

Hot or Not.

Being gay wasn't an option for us, comments Paul Bentley, in shock after learning that two people were killed in a gay Tel Aviv teen club and at least 11 more wounded by a masked gunman spraying bullets around the room from his automatic pistol. Police said the bloody incident was more likely criminal activity, not a terror attack. [Translation: no Arab involvement.] The city is reeling.

Israeli friends of mine are horrified by Saturday's shooting. They thought their country had come further than this. One of them is disappointed because after urging British non-Jewish friends to visit Tel Aviv for years, now he knows they won't.

But they forget where Tel Aviv is – just half an hour by car from Gaza and 20 minutes away from Bnei Brak, one of the most ultra-orthodox areas in Israel. There is a bus you can get from the beach in Tel Aviv to Bnei Brak. The journey begins with string bikinis and boys in tight shorts. Half an hour later the bus is full of long skirts and black hats. And the genders are segregated; men at the front, women at the back.

Five years ago, I spent four months of my gap year studying Talmud at a biblical college in Maalot Daphna, an ultra-orthodox area of Jerusalem. The Rabbis at the college were kind but their views were entrenched. We argued about the role of women and the dangers of assimilating with non-Jews but we never discussed homosexuality. It wasn't an option for us to be gay so there wasn't anything to talk about. I hadn't yet come out as gay and there was no way I was going to declare my abominable secret.

Nothing illustrates the ideological divide in Israel between dati'im and chilonim – the orthodox and secular – better than the difference in attitudes of people in the country's two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – or "Hell Aviv" as my Talmud teachers called it.

Guest commentator, crossposted from The Independent of London. Meanwhile, the Independent's correspondent Ben Lynfield adds:

Leaders of Shas, a party that has depicted homosexuality as blasphemy evoking divine retribution, condemned the attack but stressed that the motives were unclear.

Conditions for gay Israelis have improved in many ways over recent years. Gay couples es have been recognised by the courts, gay soldiers serve openly in the military and openly gay musicians and actors are among the country's most popular. Rainbow flags are often seen flying from apartment windows in Tel Aviv. Mr Tsror, the league spokesman, said that the number of Israelis coming out has been on the increase in recent years.

But accompanying this has been an incitement to violence. Last year, a lawmaker from Shas declared in parliament that earthquakes were divine punishment for homosexual activity. Earlier, another MP from the same party said that a homosexual is "worse than a beast". In 2005, an ultra-orthodox youth stabbed three people at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. In May this year, a group of youths attacked a man during a gay pride parade in the southern city of Eilat.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Yoram Kaniuk remembers the Nakba

How powerful is a word?
The word Nakba is officially verboten. Referring to the recreation of Israel in 1948 as the 'Catastrophe' is being banned from Arabic schoolbooks following the reversal of a court decision.
The distinguished Israeli writer Yoram Kaniuk, who was there to witness Israel's birth pangs and whose opinion carries alot of weight, had his say about the Nakba, thereby provoking some controversy in the Yediot Ahronot, the most popular Hebrew daily paper. He argues 'Our defeated enemy is not a geometrical unknown; it’s a people that still exists'

I remember the Nakba

This week I visited the Knesset for the third time in my life. The first time was during the War of Independence, when the site was not yet under Israel’s control.

Today, it’s an immense building. If Netanyahu’s policy of going to war against the Americans will be implemented, even the US Army won’t be able to take over the Knesset building. Israel’s parliament looks like the formidable fortress of a strong nation. Barbed wire, thick walls, police officers, and checkpoints. An ugly citadel surrounded by even uglier buildings.

I haven’t seen a more fortified fortress in any other capital. And so, even if the planned war takes place, the Knesset will survive. This is what we call a secure democracy.

In the fortified building that is Israel’s Knesset, officials are redrafting history, as well as the future. The future we looked forward to once upon a time, when the hill was still empty. Via the Nakba Law and the education minister’s plan to remove the term from the curriculum, it appears that the future will be all about erasing everything that exists.

I remember the Nakba. I saw it to a much greater extent than the education minister, who apparently only heard about it. It was a harsh, merciless campaign of young soldiers who spilled their blood while fighting a determined enemy that was eventually defeated. Yet the enemy that was defeated is not a geometrical unknown, but rather, a people that still exists. Its parents and grandparents fought well. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have suffered so many casualties.

I was wounded in battle, but I believe that the education minister must educate our young people to be heroes by teaching them that this war had losers too, and that they too have a narrative. They don’t have the country that was theirs but they have a history, and no education minister can erase the defeated people from its powerful memory. The Nakba fighters fought heroically, but we fought better.

The fact that the State of Israel exists today is the victory, rather than the erasing of the circumstances of its establishment from the losing side. The Germans tried to teach German history without the Holocaust. It didn’t work. The Holocaust is a powerful element in Germany today, because it was a powerful event. The same is true for all sorts of hasty laws by ministers who wish to correct history.

Our education minister did not invent this idea. Stalin made sure to write a new Russian history, yet the past reclaimed it. A narrative that turns into a myth constitutes more history than any education minister can create; even if Arab children here learn Bialik’s songs and are forced to hoist Israel’s flag over their homes every morning and sing our national anthem every evening, at night, in hiding, they will read Arabic poetry. Because Arabic poetry is them. There’s nothing we can do about it.

While inside the Knesset fortress I thought that maybe it is still possible, before my death, to turn this state into a Jewish State – not one populated by zealous masses called Jews, but rather, Jews like we used to be; a state where we respect those who fought against us and were defeated. When that will happen, we will see the establishment of an Arab state alongside us, and the city of Jerusalem, also known as al-Quds, will become the capital of two states, one Jewish and one Arab. And then peace will come to Israel. Amen.

Meanwhile, the signs on the streets are being switched, and only Hebrew placenames will be in use if the transport ministry gets its way.

The Israeli transport ministry will soon get rid of Arabic and English names for cities and towns on road signs, keeping only the Hebrew terms.

"Minister Yisrael Katz took this decision that will be progressively applied," a ministry spokeswoman told Agence France Press.

Currently Israeli road signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic and English, with the city names in each language. So Jerusalem is identified as Yerushalaim in Hebrew, Jerusalem in English and Al-Quds in Arabic (along with Yerushalaim written in Arabic script).
Under the new policy the Holy City will only be identified as Yerushalaim in all three languages. Nazareth (Al-Nasra in Arabic) will be identified as Natzrat and Jaffa (Jaffa in Arabic) will only be written as Yafo.

WHen signs went up labelling my neighborhood, not as Abu Tor, but as Givat Hananiya, the residents got confused. Visitors drove right by. Mail deliveries went astray. Now there's a movement protesting the deletion of Arabic and English names from our cities and streets. Those who rewrite history may be doomed to repeat it.

Hat tip to Irris for the Kaniuk piece!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Check out Britney Spears' Conversion Diary

As soon as a new Star of David dangled in the cleavage of a certain blonde singer, one who does not answer to the name of Madonna/Esther, the world's tabloids jumped on the Haaretz scoop and went wild. "Oy, I did it again!" quips the Daily Beast. Southern Baptist born Britney is reportedly converting to Judaism out of love for her latest boyfriend, following in the stiletto heel footsteps of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Ivanka Trump, et al. The New Yorker magazine, sniffing an irresistible opportunity for satire, has followed up with the imagined jottings of Britney's religious awakening in the "Shouts and Murmurs" column. Will Judaism's eleventh Commandment... Never Buy Retail... get evoked when the Trailer Park chick goes from gilt to guilt on Saturday nights?

Shalom, Diary:

I think Rabbi Pearlstein is really pissed at me. Today in Jewish class he was going through the Halakha, which I thought was the Jewish word for Hannah Montana but turns out to be like a whole bunch of boring laws about days of the week and pork and shit, and I was like, “Rabbi P., is there any way you could break this down into a bunch of tweets? I’ll read it on my phone on the way to rehearsal.” He got so mad those curls on the sides of his head started shaking. (I don’t know why he won’t let my stylist snip them off. They’re not a good look for him, K.?) On the plus side, he taught me this awesome Jewish trivia fact: You don’t have to call Jewish people “Jewish people.” It turns out they don’t mind being called plain old “Jews.” LOL.

There's more... (click here). A more thoughtful and enlightening perspective would be the journal of the long suffering Rabbi Pearlstein.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Scores of settlers settling scores

Burn baby burn. Settlers on horseback torched thousands of trees around Nablus yesterday, after setting Palestinian fields alight and stoning passing vehicles. Israeli occupation forces had urged the group to obey the law and shut down their illegal outpost. Most of the western press just yawned.
However, International Crisis Group warns against underestimating the effect of 280,000 rightwing Jewish settlers grabbing land and inserting themselves inside Biblical Judea and Samaria. If ignored, this burgeoning political and social phenomenon could undermine a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace, they say.

Israel is facing arguably unprecedented pressure to halt all settlement activity, led by a new and surprisingly determined U.S. administration. But the settlement issue has been transformed in recent years by shifting domestic dynamics, as national-religious and ultra-orthodox Israelis have gained influence and leverage. Entrenched in many West Bank settlements, they benefit from demographic trends: Israel’s army is increasingly dependent on their manpower and politicians on their votes.

“The religious right has assumed an ever more prominent role in opposing territorial compromise”, says Nicolas Pelham, a Crisis Group Senior Consultant based in Jerusalem. “It is banking on its support within state institutions to discourage the government from taking action and on its own rank-and-file to ensure that every attempt to evict an outpost or destroy a structure, however insignificant, comes at a heavy price”.

The ultra-orthodox and national-religious camps account for the lion’s share of the 37 per cent increase in the settler population in the past six years. Although not a united bloc, their politicians hold over a fifth of Knesset seats, some 40 per cent of the ruling coalition. In Israel proper, their numbers are growing steadily, and they carry weight far in excess of their numbers. They occupy key positions in the military, government and legal and education sectors, as well as the bureaucracy, and are seeking to strengthen their ability to resist future territorial withdrawals by building up their influence within and without state institutions. Their role and concerns need to be understood if the obstacle settlements pose to a two-state solution is to be removed.

An agreed Israeli-Palestinian border would make clear which settlers could remain in place and which could not. Several long-overdue steps should be taken in the interim, however. Legislative enactment of an early evacuation compensation package could help persuade some settlers to leave voluntarily. For those who value their attachment to the land over their attachment to the state, efforts could be made to examine how and under what conditions they might live under Palestinian rule and the extent to which Palestinians might accept them. Foreign actors, the U.S. included, should examine ways of making religious parties feel part of the diplomatic process. A clear offer by the Palestinian leadership to guarantee and protect Jewish access to Jewish holy sites under its control could send religious sectors a positive signal of its vision for post-conflict relations.

At the same time, the government should apply its laws more consistently, whether on settlement and outpost construction in the West Bank or acts of violence and incitement against Palestinians.

“The 2005 disengagement from Gaza went remarkably smoothly, but it would be wrong to assume that what happened in Gaza automatically will be replicated in the West Bank”, explains Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “The differences in numbers, background and militancy of the respective settler populations should serve as a warning of the need to give more attention to this issue as talks with Palestinians proceed”.

Venerable olive trees like this one bore the brunt of the protest. If this is politics as usual, perhaps the actions may pset some green activists.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Anatomy of a Jerusalem garden

In my Jerusalem patio, overlooking the jaws of Hell, bougainvillea blooms in shades of magenta, crimson, and pale orange. We planted an olive tree, a cypress, a lime tree, jasmine, honeysuckle, red geraniums, climbing roses, morning glory, hydrangea, purple daisies, basil, mint, and lemon verbena. Everything thrives, thanks to the Palestine sun birds and bumble bees. Plus daily watering, using a cleverly designed Israeli drip irrigation system boosted by the odd watering can. There's always a drought.
Across the Hinom valley we hear the muezzin calls from thirteen different minarets, and church bells from the Dormition Abbey and other venerable Christian chapels. Shofars sound at the synagogue and are tooted by groups of Christian Zionist tourists, Birthright teens and Messianic Jews who ostentatiously tote the ram's horns around, occasionally by segway! Helicopters frequently whack the air overhead, but Jerusalem is defined mostly the Sounds of Sirens: Police, ambulance, VIP convoy.
It'll be difficult to say goodbye to all this, but the lease is soon up on the house, and our stay in Jerusalem is coming rapidly to a close. Izzy Bee still has more buzz left...and will continue to blog from afar. Cranky will be the new resident blogger.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lift the closure - give life a chance

Marika of Gisha guest-posts this video on Israelity Bites, and she points out that two years of coralling Gaza has brought little but misery to the enclave.
It's also been three years since the soldier Gilad Shalit was captured, and he too must suffer from the lack of nutrients allowed into the Strip. According to the Israeli daily, Haaretz, on, there's a changing blacklist of food items the IDF deems "too luxurious" to allow through.
"Colonel Moshe Levi, head of the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO), Colonel Alex Rosenzweig, head of the civil division of COGAT and Colonel Doron Segal, head of the economics division. These officers decided, for example, that persimmons, bananas and apples were vital items for basic sustenance and thus permitted into the Gaza Strip, while apricots, plums, grapes and avocados were impermissible luxuries. Over the past year, these officers were responsible for prohibiting the entry into the Gaza Strip of tinned meat, tomato paste, clothing, shoes and notebooks. All these items are sitting in the giant storerooms rented by Israeli suppliers near the Kerem Shalom crossing, awaiting a change in policy.

The policy is not fixed, but continually subject to change, explains a COGAT official. Thus, about two months ago, the COGAT officials allowed pumpkins and carrots into Gaza, reversing a ban that had been in place for many months. The entry of "delicacies" such as cherries, kiwi, green almonds, pomegranates and chocolate is expressly prohibited. As is halvah, too, most of the time. Sources involved in COGAT's work say that those at the highest levels, including acting coordinator Amos Gilad, monitor the food brought into Gaza on a daily basis and personally approve the entry of any kind of fruit, vegetable or processed food product requested by the Palestinians. At one of the unit's meetings, Colonel Oded Iterman, a COGAT officer, explained the policy as follows: "We don't want Gilad Shalit's captors to be munching Bamba [a popular Israeli snack food] right over his head."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Unsinkable Eli Raz gets out of a hole

Around the Dead Sea, sinkholes are an increasing peril. Warning signs are posted on the road, but there is little one can do once you get that sinking feeling, it turns out, except wait for rescue. Check out this Associated Press article about the 14-hour unexpected underground trip taken by geologist Eli Raz in Ein Gedi. The photo of tourists rinsing off the curative mud was snapped in the same region, but these fellows were not in any sinkhole, luckily (although it might be argued they belong in one.) Water mis-use in this arid place has led to the creation of thousands of open holes. Still, don't even think about paddling in the Dead sea without a sweetwater splash handy.
Photo by The Age

Cruel Theater

Israeli troops humiliate Palestinians - and put it on YouTube
It's hard to say which is most disturbing -- the nasty video on You Tube showing a young Palestinian being forced to sing the praise of the Israeli Border Police and slap himself or some of the approving comments viewers posted on the YouTube website. Either way, the video -- posted by Border police officers themselves _--is yet another sharp reminder of the moral rot of occupation. "That's how it should be!!!! Stinking Arab," wrote one viewer, according to a piece about the video in the Haaretz newspaper's weekend edition.
"The faces of the tormentors are rarely seen, and it's not clear where the clips were filmed. But what is clear is the atmosphere in which this cruel theater is played out," the newspaper said.
In the clip _ posted on You Tube's comedy channel _ you can hear border guards laughing off-camera and goading their victim. "Harder!" a voice says as the man slaps himself and recites the ditty "Wahad hummus wahad ful. Ana behibak Mismar Hagvul." _ "One hummus, one fava, I love the border guards."
The video has attracted nearly 3,000 viewers since it appeared on You Tube last year and Haaretz said it has found other exercises in humiliation like it _ all of them apparently posted by Border police officers.
A spokesman for the Border Police, who are charged with keeping Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from entering Israel illegally, told Haaretz that if the force can identify the officers who posted the videos they would be "called in for clarification."
Haaretz said one video it discovered shows a series of still photos of border police while in the background someone sings: "Let every Arab mother know that the fate of her children is in the hands of the Company, C Company in the Old City. With protective vests and clubs we break apart gun clips on Arab mothers..." Another shows an elderly Palestinian man being humiliated.
(Posted by Cranky)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Suicide is painless ?? Tough Israeli walks away after a train runs over her

Israelis were astonished by recent security camera footage (click here to view it) The clip shows a train running over a despondent Sabra who lay on the tracks, and allowed the high speed train to thunder over her. Next she picked up her shoes and walked away, practically unhurt. Reuters news service released the clip above from the closed circuit security TV system at the Kfar Vitkin level crossing in northern Israel
One report said that police had not yet found the woman. Another said she had been taking for treatment. The lesson to take away? Better not mess with an Israeli woman!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Just Say No

This op-ed in the mainstream daily, Yedioth Ahronoth on June 10 by Yigal Sarna says it all...

One day, a US president will come and say to us: One state. In three terms, during which Netanyahu will return to power again and again after resounding failures, President Eduardo S. Gonzales, the son of Cuban immigrants, will come from Washington, and standing atop the summit of Masada, flanked by Elie Wiesel and the president of China—will declare his unequivocal support for one state. And Bibi, crowned with experience, trembling with age, worry and anxiety, will insist: Only two states.
But President Gonzales—sated with promises and ruses, looked before his arrival in the White House library at all the developments of the idea of two states and the attempts to implement it and thwart it since the days of the partition resolution, the Arab Liberation Army, Ben-Gurion and the Left, through the Communist Party, the Israeli opposition and the understandings that were not implemented, the settlers, the forgotten Oslo Accords, the purported three phases of redeployment and the historical wall, the remains of which are still scattered on the hilltops since the earthquake of the Syrian-African Rift, through the days of the first, second, third and fourth Bibi regimes. The same President Gonzales will say: One state for everyone.If my Cuban parents, who were born in Habana Vieja, managed to get along in Miami Beach with your ancestors the Florida pensioners, and Seinfeld’s annoying father, there is no reason for you Israelis and Palestinians not to get along here, for heaven’s sake, after having shed each other’s blood for 100 years.One state. Lieberman’s daughter as education minister and Abu Mazen’s son as infrastructure minister.If Fuad will deign to step aside. One state speaking Hebrew and Arabic, with rotation in the Defense Ministry and two presidents—Barghouti and Peres. And Bibi will say once more: Only two states, and will recall the entire host of gimmicks and lies, tricks and shticks that we developed with the art of great survivors over 100 years. How to say yes and do no. How to remove a roadblock and put up two.How to remove an outpost and strengthen a settlement.How to wink with both eyes simultaneously and make every misdeed pass in the Supreme Court.How to foil every attempt to establish two states and live as if we were alone, with four million transparent Palestinians in a state we have established from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, with the help of the “five minute” settlers [living five minutes from Kfar Saba], through the hilltop and riverbed settlers to the Jordan Valley settlers. What will we do with all the reserves of cunning, of not trusting anyone and living in non-security between watchtowers and barbed wire fences and interrogation units and partition barriers.All of a sudden, one state? This will not come to pass, only two states, Bibi will insist.I don’t have the political strength to pass something dramatic like one state for everyone. But everything is all ready for it, President E. S. Gonzales will say. You have been living together since 1967.You clung. You returned to your forefathers’ graves.None are as expert as you in the history of the other people, its archives and opinions, its way of life and family ties, its plots and flocks—all that remains is the matter of equal rights and a bit more coordination and integration of the security services.Generals Jibril and Kochavi will manage already.You have a wonderful start on living together, Gonzales will say.Each side knows the lies of the other by heart.The radicals are similar, those of the mosques and those of the synagogues.You have a loyalty law that will prevent foreigners from infiltrating into your shared state.And there is the common memory of the trauma and the bad times you have undergone in the conflict, which we will call your hundred-year civil war, and a deep understanding of the march of folly that has marched here.
To conclude his address, the foreign president will quote a verse from David Avidan and a verse by Mahmoud Darwish, and will propose a period of two years to dismantle the old frameworks and establish one state.Isra-Palestine.

Palestinian Kids in Israeli Jails

Walid Abu Obeida, a 13-year old farmer’s boy from the West Bank village of Ya’abad, had never spoken to an Israeli until he rounded a corner at dusk carrying his shopping bags and found two Israeli soldiers waiting for him with their guns drawn. “They accused me of throwing stones at them,“ recounts Walid, a skinny kid with dark, hunted eyes. “Then one of them smacked me in face and my nose started bleeding.”

The two soldiers blindfolded and handcuffed Walid, dragged him to a jeep and drove away. All that his family would know about their missing son was that his shoppi ng bags with meat and rice for that evening’s dinner were found in the dusty road. During that interval, the Palestinian boy says he was moved from an army camp to a prison where he was crammed into a cell with five other children, cursed at and humiliated by the guards and beaten by his interrogator until he confessed to stone-throwing.

Walid says he saw his parents “for five about seconds, when the frail, scared boy was brought before an Israeli military court and accused by the uniformed prosecutor not only of throwing stones but of “striking an Israeli officer.” The absurdity of the second charge was apparent to the military judge who only prosecuted Walid for allegedly heaving a stone at soldiers.

Walid got off lightly. He spent 28 days in prison and was fined 500 shekels. Under the Kafkaesque Israeli military law, which reigns in the Palestinian territories, the crime of throwing a stone, at an Israeli solider, or even at the monolithic 20-ft high ”security barrier” enclosing much of the West Bank, can carry a maximum 20 year jail sentence. Every year, an average of 700 Palestinian children are detained, mostly for hurling rocks.

The boy’s case is hardly unusual. A damning report of the Israeli military justice system in the Palestinian territories was recently compiled by the Palestine office of the Geneva-based Defence for Children International (D.C.I.). Th is report, to be released in mid-June, states that “the ill-treatment and torture” of Palestinian child prisoners “appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized, suggesting complicity at all levels of the political and military chain of command.” The group’s director, Rifaat Kassis says that the number of child arrests rose sharply in the last six months, possibly because of a crackdown on Palestinian protests in the West Bank, in the aftermath of Israel’s military assault on Gaza.

The D.C.I. report alleges that under Israeli military justice, it is the norm for children to be interrogated by Israeli police and army without either a lawyer or a family member present, and that most of their convictions are due to confessions extracted during interrogation sessions or from “secret evidence”, usually tip-offs from un-named Palestinian informers, a clear violation of the UN Convention against Torture which Israeli ratified in 1991. The children’s rights defenders collected testimony from 33 minors, including one child identified as “Ezzat H.” who describes: “a soldier wearing black sunglasses came into the room where I was held and pointed his rifle at me. The rifle barrel was a few centimeters from my face. I was so terrified that I started to shiver. He made fun of me and said: ‘shivering?’ Tell me where the pistol is before I shoot you.” Ezzat was only 10.

Fifteen-year old Imad T. says he was riding in a car with two friends past a Jewish settlement near Bethlehem when Israeli soldiers allegedly opened fire, wounding all three. The three Palestinian teenagers were then arrested and taken away in a jeep. “They tied us tightly to stretchers and removed bandages from our wounds, which caused the bleeding to resume," he says. "They started beating us…. Whenever we were shouting, the soldiers would slap us on the face and tell us that they did not want to hear our shouts.”

Reaching the army camp, recounts Imad T., “They took us out of the jeep and placed us in the yard. They tore off al our clothes with scissors. We were totally naked, jut like the day we were born. There were more than 40 soldiers there, who started provoking and insulting us. It was very cold.”

Sometimes, Palestinian teenagers throw themselves into the gears of the Israeli security apparatus to flee unhappiness at home. Forced to wed against her will, Jihad Abu Turki, 15, decided that the interior of an Israeli prison was less confining than her marriage. So she and her 14-year old sister Hadeel put kitchen knives in their handbag and approached an Israeli security checkpoint at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs. The sisters of course were caught. The younger one spent several months in jail and was fined203,000 shekels, while her sister was given a longer sentence because, as Hadeel explains, “She had a bigger knife”. Under interrogation, the teenaged bride confessed to belonging to the Islamic militant group Hamas and plotting to kill Israeli soldiers. But as her mother Asma explains with a sigh, “All she wanted to do was punish herself. She didn’t want to be married, and this was her way out.”

A U.N Committee Against Torture, which met on May 15th in Geneva, expressed its “concern” over Israel’s alleged abuses of Palestinian child prisoners. In its defence, the Israeli government denies any ill treatment of children detainees and insists that all claims are thoroughly investigated. Israel authorities also claim that the number of complaints of alleged abuse has dropped in recent months, but as Khalid Quzman, a defence lawyer at the Israeli military courts says, “We don’t complain any more because it’s a waste of time. “ Over 600 complaints of torture and ill treatment were filed between 2001 and 2008, he says, “and not a single criminal investigation was ever carried out.”

An Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, recently published testimony from an Israeli commander who claimed that it was standard army practice to “detain, interrogate and use suitable pressure on every person to get one terrorist. Of all the means of pressure that we use, the vast majority are=2 0against persons who are not involved.” After a spell in an Israeli jail, it’s hard for a young Palestinian to stay un-involved. Thirteen-year old Walid who says he never cared much for anything aside from his school friends and family before his incarceration, now bears a radioactive hatred towards Israelis. “The soldiers’ curses and insults, I’ll carry them to my grave,” he says.
(Exclusive guest post from the Red Heifer)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Paving Paradise Can be Hell in Jerusalem

Jerusalem's black-hatted ultra-Orthodox are nothing if not forceful in their campaign to make the whole city -- Jews, Christians, Muslims and unaffiliateds-- live by their religious rules, especially the Shabbat lockdown. The latest tussle is over the mayor's decision to open a downtown parking lot on Saturday, a day when the Old City draws crowds of visitors.
Thousands of the pugnacious pious rioted-- rampaging apparently not counting as a prohibited activity. At least six police officers were injured before the violence was quelled with the help of water cannons. The demonstrators pelted police with stones and bottles and torched dumpsters. A small group of secular counter-demonstrator was met with screams of "Those who defile shall be put to death."
The parking lot-- which was operated free of charge and by non-Jews (aka a Shabbas goy) in a bid to avoid offending religious sensibilities-- closed after just a few hours.
Mayor Nir Barakat bravely vowed to keep the parking lot open on Saturdays. We'll see. In the meantime, let's all hum a few bars of that old Joni Mitchell song, you know, the one that goes: "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."