Monday, April 19, 2010

Day of Mourning for Israel's fallen

Yehuda Brown, a former Israeli soldier turned artist known as The White Soldier, performed in central Jerusalem as Israelis observed two minutes of silence across the country to remember some 23,000 fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks. (Hat tip to BBC news).
The siren seemed to summon this ghost. These fallen are not really equivalent to shaheed, we are told.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Palestine is not on the map

Here's a video explanation/simplification now making the rounds... as if Israeli-Palestinian relations were talked about much inside American classrooms. It's worth watching this clip to see a Palestinian perspective and to realize that any two-state approach to peace is being eroded by Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Comments?
(Hat tip to Michael Bailey for the you tube link)

Friday, April 16, 2010

UN human rights chief urges halt to Gaza executions

GENEVA –The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday urged the de-facto Gaza authorities not to carry out further executions and to abolish the use of the death penalty. During the night of 14-15 April, two prisoners accused of ‘crimes’ associated with the occupation of Palestine by the Government of Israel were executed in Gaza.
“I am deeply concerned by the executions, and the possibility that some others might be carried out soon,” said the High Commissioner. “It is extremely disappointing that Hamas has now returned to the use of the death penalty, despite the fact that no officially-sanctioned death sentences have been carried out in Gaza since 2000.”

The High Commissioner said she was alarmed by unconfirmed reports that several more prisoners may be executed soon. OHCHR has received information that on Wednesday Hamas authorities called the families of a number of individuals sentenced to death, saying that they could make their last visit to their sons. It is believed that the two people who were executed were part of this group of prisoners.

On 24 March, the de-facto authorities in Gaza made public the decision to carry out the execution of several alleged criminals. Four days later, they announced that a process to ratify such death sentences had been initiated, notwithstanding applicable law that requires all such sentences to be ratified by the president of the Palestinian Authority.

“I call on Hamas to reconsider its position and exhibit respect for the international community’s firm rejection of the death penalty, to abolish its use in Gaza, and to fully uphold and promote the right to life,” said Pillay, referring to a widely supported 2007 UN General Assembly resolution, which calls for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

Furthermore, the High Commissioner emphasized that under international human rights law*, the right to life is protected, and the use of the death penalty is restricted to the most serious crimes under extremely limited circumstances.

“One absolute restriction is that the death penalty can only be imposed after observing fair trial guarantees in duly constituted courts, which is practically impossible in current circumstances in Gaza,” said Pillay. “For that reason, I urge Hamas to halt all further planned executions.”

The UN Human Rights chief, who strongly supports the clear global trend toward the abolition of the death penalty, said she welcomed the current draft law under consideration by the Palestinian Authority, which seeks to abolish capital punishment.

(*) See for example article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
hat tip to Bahaaeldin Sadi of OHCHR

Thursday, April 15, 2010

IPad kept out of Israel by iDigital??

Oh Baby. That "i" in IPad surely does not stand for Israel, which has banned all imports of the hot device, citing wi-fi incompatability concerns. Travellers even report having their iPads confiscated at Ben Gurion airport and mail orders have been held up indefinitely in customs. Does anyone know whether the Apple dealer in Ramallah has any stocks yet? Reminds many of the hiccups when the first iPhones were launched and scarce in the Holy Land.

According to Aharon Etengoff of TG Daily, Israel has an unofficial commercial reason for keeping the magic Apple out of the country after the (American version of the) iPad was deemed "incompatible" with Israeli standards

... by engineers at the omnipresent and monolithic Communications Ministry.
"As the Israeli regulations in the area of WiFi are similar to European standards, which are different from American standards, which permit broadcasting at lower power, therefore the broadcast levels of the device prevent approving its use in Israel," officials told Haaretz. Uh-huh.

It is worth noting that Apple's Israeli distributor, iDigital, is run by Chemi Peres, the hyper-entrepreneurial son of Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Clearly, iDigital wants its lucrative cut of every iPad brought into the country - which it will undoubtedly receive when a modified European version of the iPad is approved for import over the next two or three months. 

But in the meantime, iDigital can't make money off the slow trickle of iPads entering the country via private citizens, tourists and international businessmen.

And if iDigital can't get its cut, well, then, no iPad for you!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Resurrecting an Easter Joke... er, tell me the one about the rabbis

Super-sized bunny or diminutive fella? Why does it matter? (image is in the public domain)

Today is a holiday - something about how Jesus came out of his tomb and saw the Chocolate Bunny's shadow so the Rapture was postponed for another two thousand years and it's the fault of the Jews so they have to eat bad food and flat bread but they get to drink four big glasses of wine. (No, actually, but read on.)

Saul and Esther raised their son, Bernie to be a good Jew and then sent him off to college where he wrote home:

Dear Folks -

I'm having fun and learning a lot. As a matter of fact, I've become a Christian.

Esther was beside herself. How could this happen?

Saul went next door to talk to his neighbor about what to do.

"Abe, you know my son Bernie. You know we raised him to be a good Jew and now he's away from home - he's become a Christian. Oy vey, what do we do?"

Abe said, "Funny you should mention it, same thing happened to my son. You need to talk to the Rabbi."

Saul went to the Rabbi. "Rabbi, you know my son Bernie. We raised him to be good Jew and now he's away from home - he's become a Christian. Oy vey, what do we do?

The Rabbi said, "Funny you should mention it but in the Synagogue same thing, everybody's family. You should pray to God."

Saul goes to the Synagogue and prays to God in his loudest voice: "Dear God in heaven, you gave us our son Bernie. We raised him to be a good Jew but now he's away from home - he's become a Christian. Oy vey, what do we do?"

A big voice out of Heaven says: "Funny you should mention it but the same thing happened to my Son."

See? We're all the same but different.

Merry Easter and Happy Holidaya
Guest Post exercepted from John Cory of Reader Supported News

Saturday, April 03, 2010

New Poll on American Attitudes Toward the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A new poll out this week shows that while Israelis retain strong US public support, Americans are deeply concerned that the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict puts US interests at risk across the Middle East and the public, therefore, supports President Obama's stand against Israel's settlement plans. These are but a few of the top line findings of a Zogby International poll of 2,471 Americans conducted between March 17-19, 2010. The poll, commissioned by the Arab American Institute, had a margin of error of 2.0%.

Upon closer examination of the poll's findings, observations can be made pointing to lessons that should be learned, James Zogby wrote on the Huffington Post blog.

Israeli ratings are high, but dropping; so are the Palestinians.

In 2009 71% of Americans had a favorable view of Israelis with only 21% rating them unfavorably. In 2010 the favorable/unfavorable ratings have shifted to 65%--29%. This is largely due to a significant drop among Democrats who now hold a 42% favorable, 49% unfavorable view of Israelis. The Israeli Prime Minister's rating among Democrats is an even worse 20% to 63%.

During this same period, however, the US public's attitudes toward the Palestinians and their President, Mahmoud Abbas, have also declined. In 2009 Palestinians were viewed favorably by 25% of the public and unfavorably by 66%. Today the favorable/unfavorable ratio is 21% to 73%. Abbas' ratings during the past year have also declined to where he is now seen favorably by only 14% of the US public.

These abysmally low Palestinian numbers point to their continuing failure to engage public opinion in the US. While the Israelis aggressively project their story, the Palestinians, and Arabs in general, do not. Fault certainly can be placed on the unbalanced way major US networks and press cover the Israeli-Palestinian story, but in this age where "new media" provides new possibilities and where many sectors of the US public (young people, women and minority communities) are more open than ever before to hearing a counter narrative to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this continuing decline in Palestinian ratings is worrisome and inexcusable.

Americans are deeply concerned that the continuing conflict puts the US at risk across the Middle East.

This was the one area where there was broad national consensus. With over 80% of all Americans agreeing that the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is important and the same number expressing the view that the continuing conflict puts US interests at risk.

With American troops still in Iraq and after witnessing the destabilizing consequences of repeated flare ups in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Americans are worried. They still do not fully understand the region's history and have little awareness of the Palestinian's story, but like the famous line in a once popular Bob Dylan song "they know something is wrong, but they don't know what it is."

In this context the warning recently issued by the US Commander of CENTCOM, General David Petraeus becomes important to consider. By observing the degree to which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict puts the US at risk in the region, Petraeus created the opening for a public discussion on the importance of resolution of the conflict. But the outcome of this discussion is not guaranteed unless Arabs take advantage of this opportunity to engage the public, tell their story and provide acceptable solutions they find acceptable.

Pluralities know settlements are wrong, should be stopped, and support President Obama's efforts; but a significant number of Americans still do not understand the issue.

By a margin of 40%--34%, Americans say Israel's settlements in occupied territories are wrong. By a margin of 40%--26%, Americans say the President should get tough with Israel to stop settlements. And, 51% worry that when the US is unable to stop Israeli settlements it weakens that stature of the US in the world.

While these numbers point in a positive direction and also show both Democrats and Independents in support of a tougher US stance, two observations must be made.

First, there is the presence here of a deep partisan divide with two-thirds of Democrats opposed to Israeli policies compared to two-thirds of Republicans in support of whatever Israel does. This divide is not new. It developed during the Clinton Administration as that president supported peace efforts only to be countered by Republicans in Congress who sided with Likud policies. The divide grew during George W. Bush's first term when he so completely embraced Ariel Sharon. And now, given the hyper-partisanship of the current era, with President Obama's strong stand against settlements, the divide deepens.

The partisan split in not merely a function of leadership, it is also demographics. The pro-Israel bent of the Republican side is largely due to the preponderance of Christian fundamentalists in its coalition, while the Democratic side is increasingly made up of young voters, women and minorities (African Americans, Hispanics and Asians -- who together form about one-third of the US electorate) -- and they are more inclined to consider a broader view of international issues.

Next it is vital to take note of the one-third of those polled who have no clear view on any of these issues. They and even many of those who will declare their opposition to settlements or will support the President's stand have no compelling reason to hold a firm position. The fault here is with both successive US administrations who have declared their opposition to settlements without making a compelling enough case, and once again, with the Arab side for failing to tell their story.

That the Israeli narrative about settlements still dominates and defines the discussion was in evidence this past week as Members of Congress defended Israel's "right to build homes for its people", or its right to "rebuild their capital", or expressed outrage at the though that Jews should be excluded from "any part of Jerusalem" -- false arguments that ignore the fact that the settlements in question were being built on Arab land and were not in Jerusalem (but an area that Israel illegally and unilaterally declared to be Jerusalem). What these arguments also ignore is the cost in rights, livelihood and freedom of movement that this settlement enterprise imposes on Palestinians. None of this, however, is considered in part because none of it is known.

The bottom line is that this poll presents a challenge to engage and inform a public that is deeply concerned but not yet certain how to respond to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a challenge that must be met.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Israeli settler sect: Messiah is coming (thanks to 'skeezy' brothers of Onan)

Spillover. Self-abuse and marking the occupied territory. read on.

GIVAT ONAN, West Bank—On this windblown outpost in the hills north of Jerusalem, a small group of Israeli settlers strives to bring the day of redemption promised, as they believe, in the Bible.

A controversial sect shunned by nearby Israeli settlements, the Brothers of Onan believe that by “spilling their seed” on the land of the ancient biblical Jewish homeland, they will hasten the coming of the Messiah. With the Israeli communities of the West Bank considered illegal under international law, the Onanists are the outcasts among outcasts. But they’re unperturbed.

“We can never give up this land,” says the group’s leader, Rabbi Meir Gedalia Kaplowitz. “You can ejaculate all you want in Tel Aviv or New York, but the Holy One, blessed be He, wants us to perform the miracle here.”

Kaplowitz sits in a messy caravan on a windy hilltop, taking a brief break from his endless routine of Talmud study and self-abuse. Wild-eyed and gaunt, he is the picture of the stereotypical Israeli settler extremist. Only, if anything, even more wild-eyed and gaunt.

The sect takes its name from the biblical Onan, who was ordered by his father Judah to impregnate Tamar, his brother’s widow, and to pass off the resulting children as belonging to his deceased brother. Not wanting to have children he couldn’t regard as his own, Onan fornicated with Tamar but at the moment of ejaculation he “spilled his seed.” God punished this disobedience by killing Onan.

Onanism has become a term used to describe such coitus interruptus, though it is also used for masturbation. In the Hebrew spoken on Givat Onan, masturbation is “onanut.”

“We’re proud to use that word for what we do,” says Haim Hercz, who occupies the caravan next to Kaplowicz. “But it’s not all about Onan. Sometimes we call it flogging the Pharisee or chafing the camel. We have a sense of humor, just like people who have sex with women. But anyone can do that five or six times a day. We know that what we’re doing has a deeper purpose, and that’s what keeps us going.”

The Brothers of Onan celebrated Passover with a traditional Orthodox seder this week. (“Frankly it was nice to have something else to do for six hours,” says Hercz.) But next week they plan to take their struggle to Tel Aviv, where they will pray and “shoot their short Uzis” outside the Israeli Defense Ministry to protest any restrictions on building in the settlements.

Successive Israeli governments have justified new construction in the West Bank by arguing that they are only satisfying “natural growth,” whereby the growing families of settlers must be accommodated with new homes. “Obviously that’s not fair on us,” says Kaplowitz.

Israelis who oppose the settlements say the Brothers of Onan are more than a dangerous fringe group. Orla Mohel, a Tel Aviv masseuse, founded Wank Watch to combat the influence of the group. “I’m concerned that a lot of people in Tel Aviv will see them as harmless ‘frotteurs,’” she says. “But they celebrate a story from Genesis in which a father forces a brother to have sex with his sister-in-law, tries to get a third son to marry her, then has sex with her himself.”

Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz writes in his book “The Genesis of Justice” that Onan probably had non-penetrative sex with Tamar, or maybe anal sex.

“I didn’t go to Harvard and I’m not a lawyer, so I’m no expert on the Bible or anal sex,” responds Mohel. “But these Onanists also don’t want to give up the West Bank, which prevents a peace deal.”

Rabbi Kaplowitz argues that he’s no extremist. Rather he claims to represent the Israeli mainstream. “There are only a couple of dozen of us here, but there are thousands of others who’d like to join us. We’re out here in the lonely desert hills, doing something important for the redemption of the world. It’s not easy. We have very slow internet and sometimes goes down for minutes at a time. Our thing is exhausting without visual aids.”

US Mideast envoy George Mitchell has condemned the Givat Onan outpost as “illegal under international law and pretty skeezy.” Mitchell also cited the 4th Century sage St. Athanasius of Paros as saying that “to have coitus other than to procreate is to do injury to nature.”

Kaplowitz rejected the criticism. “I don’t take sex advice from Greeks,” he said.

This offbeat guest post comes from Matt Rees, reporter and detective novelist inside Israel and Judea-Samaria. Is it April Fools? Hmmmmm. The Lego seed-spillers are real plastic. There's apparently another tableau scene of "Mount Sodom" which takes the name of the peak as a command.