Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine flu outbreak in Israel?

It's possible. An Israeli man, age 26, who had recently visited Mexico has been hospitalized in Netanya, in the north of the country, while authorities try to determine whether he has come down with possibly mutant strain of H1N1 swine flu. Government officials said there were no flu cases confirmed. An outbreak of the disease killed more than people in Mexico so far, and a milder form of swine flu, transmitted from human to human, reportedly has been detected inside the United States, too, in NY City, California, Texas and several other states.
Pandemic fears are being stoked, particularly after some scientists determined that statistically, a killer flu epidemic is overdue, and that a flu virus will spread quickly through jet travel. Common flu infections have mixed with elements from avian and porcine influenza, medical experts say. Coughing and sneezing are the vectors--not eating pork. Already, international airports in Asia are measuring the body temperatures of arriving passengers (using technology leftover from the SARS and most recent avian flu scares.) Some people are starting to stockpile influenza drugs like Tamiflu, which worked against the bird flu, and prices are going hog wild.
Astonishingly, it's just not wandering backpackers who could bring the swine flu back to Israel. There are a few pig farms inside the country, too. Kibbutz Lahav, in the northern Negev, is a big pork producer. All the other Israeli pig breeders operate in a special zone up north, which is mainly run by Christian Arabs. It's the only place in Israel where raising pork is legal, and you don't want to be downwind of it if you can help it. Kibbutz Lahav, a Jewish-run farm, operates outside this zone. This kibbutz raises pigs for science and then eats the excess, which is a considerable amunt of white meat, with 10,000 animals on the premises. Biotech research only goes so far. Consider the numbers of Thai farmworkers, Filipino caretakers, and Russian emigres to feed inside Israel, in addition to the demand for non-kosher pork sausage binges for secular Sabra. Some clever kiibutzniks are bringing home the bacon on this.

Also consider bombsniffing pigs, an innovative military use of swine. These porkers are not only efficient and cheap, but this method of munitions detection tend to freak out the Islamist guerrillas when the IDF brings the animals in doors to clear a booby trapped house or mosque. According to a Jerusalem Post article from 2004, by Arieh O'Sullivan five years ago:

After a law passed in 1963 banning pig farming in Israel, kibbutzim stopped raising pigs. But the law allowed pigs to be raised for research purposes. Any surplus pigs were allowed to be slaughtered," Ratner says.

"Oh we have thousands of surplus pigs every season," he says with a wink, adding that the slaughterhouse is one of the most economically stable kibbutz endeavors.

"But we do indeed conduct medical research. None of that cosmetic testing stuff, mind you. But real research," Ratner says.

He declined to let me have a look at the pigpens to verify the age-old rumor that pigs are kept on wooden slats in order to get around the law that they cannot be raised on the Holy Land.

He says he never really paid attention to pigs' behavior until the energetic Zin showed up nine months ago with his idea to train pigs to find explosives.

"The pig was always seen as a pork chop, as food," Zin says. "But the aim is not to eat the pig, but to use their talents to clear mines.

"Mines are the garbage of war. We are taking this animal to clean up the garbage of war," Zin says.

This is a job that comes naturally to pigs. Besides, there are jobs that even dogs won't do.

"Dogs... prefer to sniff out people and cars and be in a social setting. They don't like to dig up the earth," Zin says.

After completing his military service training dogs in the elite Oketz unit, Zin traveled to Croatia, where he worked privately to locate mine fields with the help of dogs. When he was there he noticed wild boars roaming the area. While pigs excel at finding truffles, he had something else in mind.

"I watched how they behaved and came to the conclusion that they could be more efficient than dogs at sniffing out mines and explosives. I noticed that they constantly sniffed at the ground, their snouts always hovering above the earth. I got the impression that their sense of smell is incredibly well-developed.

"The pigs work and understand very quickly, maybe half of the time of the dogs," Zin says.

So far he has trained four pigs, all female.

Few visitors-- Muslims, CHristians or Jews-- would suspect that they could be at risk of swine flu inside the Holy Land.

[crossposted on the Huffington Post ]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Horrors - Ancient Arms Caches along Sinai's Way of Horus, claims Haaretz

Worryingly close to Rafah, archaeologists have uncovered huge weapons caches in the Sinai, at least according to a report published in today's Haaretz newspaper. It then recaps an agency reporter's tale about 4 Egyptian temples found along the Road of Horus. Reading beteen the lines, it seems that there were no actual weapons left to be found, but impressively big buildings with enough room to store them. Speculative reporting like this shows the same skewed logic that assumed a warehouse in Syrian wasteland which had been visited by North Koreans must hold a nuke reactor and should be secretly obliterated by the IDF. True, too many present day weapons get smuggled into Gaza along these ancient military routes, and then by burrowing under the border fences. Perhaps the headline writer couldn't resist the usual newsy phrases, particularly since the announcement, four months after arrests, that the Sinai was Hezbollah's latest hotspot for plotters.

Arms Storehouse Uncovered in Sinai

Archaeologists exploring an old military road in the Sinai have unearthed four new temples amidst the 3,000-year-old remains of an ancient fortified city that could have been used as a stronghold during the Egyptian occupation of Mesopotamia and Canaan, and to impress foreign delegations visiting Egypt, antiquities authorities announced Tuesday.

Archaeological findings have determined that a series of fortresses were built in the area and were used as weapons storehouses for soldiers traveling northwards. One source, a wall painting found in the Karnak temple in Luxor, depicts 11 strongholds built in northern Sinai

Among the discoveries was the largest mud brick temple found in the Sinai with an area of 70 by 80 meters (77 by 87 yards) and fortified with mud walls 3 meters (10 feet) thick, said Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The find was made in Qantara, 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometers) east of the Suez Canal. These temples mark the latest discovery by archaeologists digging up the remains of the city on the military road known as "Way of Horus." Horus is a falcon-headed god, who represented the greatest cosmic powers for ancient Egyptians.

The path once connected Egypt to Palestine and is close to present-day Rafah, which borders the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Archaeologist Mohammed Abdel-Maqsoud, chief of the excavation team, said the large brick temple could potentially rewrite the historical and military significance of the Sinai for the ancient Egyptians.

The temple contains four hallways, three stone purification bowls and colorful inscriptions commemorating Ramses I and II. The grandeur and sheer size of the temple could have been used to impress armies and visiting foreign delegations as they arrived in Egypt, authorities said.

The dig has been part of a joint project with the Culture Ministry that started in 1986 to find fortresses along the military road. Hawass said early studies suggested the fortified city had been Egypt's military headquarters from the New Kingdom (1569-1081 B.C.) until the Ptolemaic era, a period lasting about 1500 years.

In a previous find, archaeologists there reported finding the first ever New Kingdom temple to be found in northern Sinai. Studies indicated the temple was built on top of an 18th Dynasty fort (1569-1315 B.C.).

Last year, a collection of reliefs belonging to King Ramses II and King Seti I (1314-1304 B.C.) were also unearthed along with rows of warehouses used by the ancient Egyptian army during the New Kingdom era to store wheat and weapons.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tel Aviv centennial festivities get underway

Tel Aviv is Mediterranean, secular and the closest approximation to a metropolis existing inside Eretz Israel. The locals are intent on celebrating their city's 100th birthday with a party lasting an entire year. This weekend there was a memorial to the "sea shell lottery", Not to be confused with a hucksters' shell game, this lottery distributed plots of land on a sandbank at random to 66 Jewish families willing to homestead outside Jaffa a century ago, the sea shell lottery was reenacted by a big gathering of the founding families. (Many griped about their forebears selling up too soon, before Rothschild Avenue got trendy and pricey again).
The photo above shows a pre-party delivery truck. If that truck can traverse the one way system and nasty holes from the Light Railway digs, can't we have a little hedonism delivered in Jerusalem too?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Matzah! Rap from JibJab

Don't pass over a chance to see the latest holiday clip from JibJab, who'll make sure your pessah is plenty animated. Lotsa Matzah!
Israelity bites.
(hat tip to Checkpoint Jerusalem for the link!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pet gospel: Easter Bunny

This irreverant clip from YouTube purports to explain the spiritual significance of a makebelieve rabbit and coloured eggs (no not that harebrained Twix is for Kids commercial!) You guessed it, it's all about Springtime, which over the years got intertwined with the Passover and Resurrection. (the yolks on us, apparently).
This one you can blame on the Anglo-Saxons, for their fertility goddess. They also had big bonfires on the night before (and spread ash on their fields for increased fertility) Easter eggs are sold in the Old City to Israelis--Jews, Christians and Muslims! What are hard to find are hot cross buns (though bunnies are plentiful.) But that's another story

Monday, April 06, 2009

Schindler's list rediscovered in Oz

Oskar Schindler's famous list has surfaced in Sydney, the BBC says. It is a handful of 13 yellowing pages, typewriiten on 18 April 1945, and contains the names and nationalities of 801 Jewish victims who managed to evade the holocaust through Schindler's interventions. The iconic list, compiled by the German industrialist, a registered Nazi with a twinge of conscience, was discovered in a Sydney library among the papers of the author Thomas Keneally, who wrote the novel Schindler's Ark, on which Steven Spielberg's film was based. The Beeb goes on:

Schindler ran a factory in Krakow, Poland, during the war, where he used Jewish labour.

Appalled by the conduct of the Nazis, he sought to persuade officials that his workers were vital to the war effort and should be spared from the death camps.

"It saved 801 men from the gas chambers... It's an incredibly moving piece of history," library co-curator Olwen Pryke said.

This Schindler's list was found sandwiched between research notes and German newspaper clippings gathered by Australian author Thomas Keneally.

Ms Pryke said neither the library nor the book dealer, from whom it bought the six boxes of material in 1996, realised the list was hidden among the documents.

Mr Keneally was handed the list almost 30 years ago in a shop in Los Angeles, by one of the people whom Schindler helped - Leopold Pfefferberg, Jewish worker 173 on the list.

Mr Pfefferberg wanted the novelist to write Schindler's story.

The tomb of Oskar Schindler lies in Jerusalem, and Izzy Bee is reminded of the hero everytime she steps into an elevator in an Israeli highrise. Inevitably, it's labelled "Schindler's Lift".

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Ultra-Orthodox cropping: Cabinet photo undergoes double-digital sex change!

Now you see em; now you don't!
Altered reality has stopped coming as a surprise on the streets of Israel. It's a given in this city of high sects' appeal. Can you find the distaff ministers in the group shot of Bibi Netanyahu's new administration? Aha

Two ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspapers have touched up an official photo of the new Israeli cabinet, removing two female ministers from the "bloated committee", in order to adhere to their comunities' devout behavioural standards.

Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver were snapped with the rest of the 30-member cabinet for their inaugural photo.

But Yated Neeman newspaper digitally changed the picture by replacing them with two men. The Shaa Tova newspaper blacked out the females.

Publishing pictures of women is viewed by many ultra-orthodox Jews as a violation of female modesty.

Other Israeli papers jokingly reprinted the altered images next to the original photos, with one headlining it "Find the lady".

The ultra-Orthodox community keeps apart from mainstream society through its arcane religious practices and prescribed clothing. Black hats, coats and sidelocks are required for the men and long skirts, snoods and sleeves for the women.

Restrictions include using only "Kosher" telephones, only carrying items outside the home on the Sabbath if walking under Rabbinically approved wires called eruv, and, of course, not accessing websites with content deemed inappropriate. Is Israelity Bites on the verboten list?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Hindu nationalism and Zionism parallels pointed out by Indian 'Israelphile' author

This startling image should not raise alarms, because these rows and rows of swastikas are auspicious sanskrit symbols. But it hits you in the stomach. Swastikas became tainted in the 1930s, when fascist Hitler took the Aryan cross and tilted it to the right to represent the Third Reich.

Reverence for Adolf Hitler – who is hailed as a hero in textbooks in the Hindu nationalist-ruled state of Gujarat, while Mein Kampf remains popular at bookstores – is one of the many sinister aspects of “rising” India today. This cult of Hitler as a great “patriot” and “strategist” grew early among middle-class Hindus. MS Golwalkar, the much-revered Hindu leader and ideologue, wrote in 1938 that Nazi Germany had manifested “race pride at its highest” by purging itself of the “Semitic races” – and yet Golwalkar was also an admirer of Zionism.

This simultaneous veneration of Hitler and Israel may appear a monstrous moral contradiction to Europeans or Americans who see Israel as the homeland of Jewish victims of Nazi crimes. However, such distinctions are lost on the Hindu nationalists, who esteem Nazi Germany and Israel for their patriotic effort to cleanse their states of alien and potentially disloyal elements, and for their militaristic ethos. Many Indians and other colonised peoples hoped for Nazi Germany and Japan to at least undermine, if not defeat, the British Empire. My grandfather was among the Indians with a misplaced faith in Germany’s military capacity. He would have been horrified by the facts of the Holocaust if he had encountered them. But like so many Hindu nationalists, his main political anxiety during those years after the Second World War was whether Mother India would be partitioned into two countries; the subsequent creation of Pakistan as a separate state for Indian Muslims pushed all other historical traumas, especially those of distant Europe, out of view.

So Pankaj Mishra writes in Purification Rites, a personal and analytical essay in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

It's important to examine the pitfalls of facism, particularly when the new Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Liberman prides himself on intolerance and demands loyalty oaths. "Those who want peace should prepare for war," Lieberman barked in his first official speech, confirming the fears of those who anticipate that Israel's new government will assume a belligerent and more aggressive posture. But then Lieberman's main preoccupation this week was a police interrogation on personal graft. Way to go, Avigdor!

It is also timely to note that these two nuclear powers, Israel and India, are trading arms in a big way. Israel now is the number two supplier of weaponry to Mother India, trailing only after Russia. Eh, Lieberman? A scandal about kickbacks is unfolding and tainting some of the middlemen. That odd song and dance clip from Rafael comes to mind.

Mishra goes on to say:

My grandfather had no interest in Judaism, or in any of India’s many faiths. Like many Hindu nationalists and Zionists, he was a secularist, impatient with religion’s unworldliness. He admired Israel for its proud and clear national identity – for the sharply defined religious and cultural ideology of Zionism and the patriotism it inculcated in Israel’s citizens. Israel, which was building a new nation in splendid isolation, surrounded by Arab enemies, knew what India did not: how to deal with Muslims in the only language they understood, that of force and more force...

India and Israel started out as formally democratic and economically left-wing. A mere decade separates their political transformations, when hardline right-wing groups long deemed marginal – the Likud in 1977 and the BJP in 1989– began to dramatically change the political culture of the two countries. Unrest in occupied territories (the intifadas that began in 1987 and 2000, and Pakistan-aided insurgency in Kashmir from 1989), helped give the postcolonial nationalisms of India and Israel a hard millenarian edge. In the 1990s both countries embarked on an economic and ideological makeover – the rejection of ideals of inclusive growth and egalitarianism in favour of neoliberal notions about private wealth-creation.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

How a tete a tete in Tel Aviv took the pro out of protocol. Syriously, folks

Will Bibi cuss Damascus?

Egg appeared on some high-profile faces when this gem from the wires made its way around the blogosphere ---without a second glance at today's date, which happens to be the first of April. But the squawks of outrage that came in the wake of this tale show how the surprise visits of Bashar and Bibi could backfire and cause diplomatic chaos! It's not too late for the Syrian prez to come back and wish the 100 year old Big Falafel a happy birthday tomorrow (I am referring to the port city of Tel Aviv, and not the new Israeli PM.) Israelity Bites.

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Fresh on the heels of a regional summit in Doha where President Bashar al-Assad had reaffirmed his support for resistance against Israel while expressing reservations about the Arab Peace Initiative, the Syrian president dropped a bombshell by embarking on an epoch-making visit to Tel Aviv, Wednesday morning.

“Nobody saw this coming,” said Mark Burnes, a State Department analyst who monitors Syrian affairs. “We knew that they were close to a deal, but the Israelis didn’t tell us how close.”

Security arrangements appeared to have been made in advance to permit the passage of the presidential aircraft into Israeli airspace, and a small retinue of high-level ministers and military officials awaited al-Assad at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International airport.

The highly secret preparations for the visit, however had produced an improbable breach of diplomatic protocol: the absence of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu among the ministerial welcoming delegation. Official sources say that earlier that same morning, the Israeli PM had himself embarked upon an epoch-making visit to Syria, touching down in Damascus=2 0International Airport only 6 minutes after President al-Assad arrived in Tel Aviv.

A high-level source in the Syrian Foreign Ministry said that they were baffled by an alert from the Syrian Air Defense Force, notifying them that an Israeli civilian aircraft had entered Syrian airspace and was requesting permission to land in Damascus.

“We had scrambled four MiG-29 interceptors, but when the pilots of the Israeli jet explained who was on board their aircraft, our Air Force High Command relayed the message to us with a request for clarification,” the Foreign Ministry source said.

Asked if the Syrians had been expecting a reciprocal visit from Netanyahu at a later stage, the source responded, “All that I can say is that the scheduling error was committed by the Israelis. We were supposed to visit first.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the mix-up, but a source in the Prime Minister’s office confirmed that the ball appeared to have been dropped by the Israelis.

“Our staff has been stretched to the breaking point for the past three weeks, trying to form the ruling coalition and putting together the cabinet. Netanyahu has been meeting MK’s until all hours of the night; he’s exhausted and over-worked. It’s understandable that a scheduling error might occur under these circumstances,” the advisor said.

Responding to a question about the potential outcome of this lo gistical mishap, a source in the British Foreign Office said: “Well, it certainly changes the story a bit, doesn’t it? This was supposed to be the “Sadat goes to Jerusalem” moment, but they fouled it up. They’re like ships passing in the night… or, airplanes passing in the day, or whatever.”

As of this writing, Prime Minister Netanyahu was still in the air returning from Damascus to Tel Aviv, where he will be received by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

For the latest updates on this story, click here