Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Settlement spook 'outed' in US Newspaper

Hagit Ofran documents Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank with a pocket-sized camera and a deep sense of mission, often making news well beyond Israel.Her grandfather, the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovich, taught her that Israelis deserved the oxymoronic epithet 'Judeo-Nazis' if they continued encroaching and settling. Ben Lynfield follows the sleuth.

Hagit Ofran's official title is director of the Settlement Watch Team of the dovish Peace Now organization. In practice, she is a spy operating in hostile territory, snooping, sniffing, and piecing together bits of intelligence to gauge how much illicit building is going on.

On a recent scouting trip, Ofran spotted four new trailers spread like matchboxes on a hillside of the Alon settlement northeast of Jerusalem.

The prefabricated buildings are in effect helping to fragment the heartland of a future Palestine. ''It's not that one caravan will change the chances of Middle East peace,'' says Ofran. ''But another and another and another will determine whether we can have a two-state solution to the conflict or not.''
Fluent in Arabic – and well-versed in sleuthing

Israel's conservative government now faces a crucial decision over whether or not to extend a 10-month partial freeze on settlement building that expires in September. The Obama administration is pressing for the freeze to remain in place, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition partners want it scrapped to enable a wave of new building.

''If it is not extended then the freeze may have delayed a few hundred sites for months, but it will not have caused a real change,'' Ofran says.''If work is restarted it might mean that the chances of peace are doomed, at least with this government.''

A fluent Arabic speaker, Ofran sometimes is tipped off by Palestinians about new settler building. She pores over aerial photos commissioned by Peace Now, whose settlement watch unit is funded partly by the governments of Britain and Norway, and garners information from planning meetings and official documents.

In March, Ofran learned from the Jerusalem municipality's website that officials had given permits for settler building at the Shepherds Hotel site in East Jerusalem, which is predominantly Arab. She did not keep the information to herself – though she's tight-lipped about her exact role...Settlements, though
government-sponsored, lacks transparency. Much of its activity is illegal even according to Israeli law and settler leaders prefer to avoid public debate over it. Construction also violates the Geneva Convention and runs counter to international commitments Israel made to halt settlement building, for example in the 2003 international peace blueprint known as the road map. Tellingly, there is no distinct budget for building at settlements.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Israel Gay-friendly or not?

Recent correspondence in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the local newspaper of that liberal 'nuclear-free zone' of Santa Cruz, CA, examines whether Israel, with its secular laws and urbane tolerance inside the Tel Aviv bubble, really can be considered a refuge in the Middle East for homosexuals. The issues are across the planet but dear to the hearts of the Left Coast. A local synagogue has sent a fact-finding mission to Israel, traveling jointly with a Christian Conngregational Church group, to see for themselves the progress of the peace progress in a land of acute religious symbolism. Other than the airport, most of the delegation will give Tel Aviv a miss, unless they have packed their speedos.

Israel a mecca for gays

Amy Goodman wrote an entire column touting the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. She stated
that the USSF defines itself as an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals and free exchanges of experiences. If this is the case, then why did they cancel the only program dealing with persecution of homosexuals in the Middle East? The advocacy organization, Stand With Us, was informed two days before the start of the conference that their scheduled presentation concerning gay rights was canceled. This forum of democratic ideas has a problem with ideas that differ from their own. The USSF was so afraid that participants might learn that Israel has an outstanding record on GLBT issues and is a refuge for persecuted gays in the Middle East. Instead, they chose to turn their backs on the thousands of gays and lesbians living in fear for their lives in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia. The USSF has the right to invite and disinvite speakers, but when they tell us that it is an open meeting place and a forum for democratic debate, they are just lying to us. Why is it so difficult for the far left to accept the fact that Israel is a mecca for persecuted gays, while the actual Mecca in Saudi Arabia is just the opposite?

Gil Stein, Aptos

Israel far from a mecca for gays

Was that headline "Israel a Mecca for Gays", calculated to be offensive on as many levels as possible? Having lived in Jerusalem from 2006 to 2009, I find it ridiculous to claim that Israel is a refuge for persecuted gays in the Middle East. Very few Middle Eastern citizens are allowed to cross borders into Israel because of the enmity between their governments. Homosexuality is legal in Jordan, Turkey and Cyprus, but openly gay Palestinians or Israeli Arabs sometimes get blackmailed into collaborating with the Israeli security services, or even into spying for one West Bank faction against another, often with fatal consequences. Despite the government brief to lure gay European tourists to campy Tel Aviv, last August a gunman shot up a night club in the lavender metropolis, killing two people and wounding at least 13. It was considered a hate crime, not a terror attack. [Translation: no Arab involvement.] Shas, an Israeli political party that has depicted homosexuals as blasphemers, annually joins forces with clergymen from Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths to condemn the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem as an abomination. Secular laws in Israel may uphold gay rights, but homosexuals are shunned by Haredi Jews, and are banished from their families if anyone learns about their transgression. In much of the Holy Land, that rainbow flag is still tightly furled.

Jan McGirk, Santa Cruz

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Orthodox Rabbis Reject Diaspora

A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. Except when he or she is not, writes Sarah Wildman on Politics Daily.
Just ask Joel Chasnoff, a man who immigrated to Israel, joined the army, fought in Lebanon, then discovered the state didn't consider him Jewish.

In 1950, Israel, the Jewish state passed the Law of Return, granting "all Jews" automatic citizenship upon immigration to Israel. It was a visceral response to the Holocaust, to a time of refugees, of statelessness, of desperation for a homeland. Immediately the question arose: Who qualifies? In other words: who, exactly, is a Jew?

In Joel Chasnoff's marvelous memoir, "The 188th Crybaby Brigade," which came out earlier this year (think "Catch-22" for the post-modern generation), the author narrates his decision, at age 24, to leave America and join the Israeli army. It's partly for love – he's fallen for an Israeli girl and wants them to be able to live in Israel, should they choose (and if they do, he feels an army experience is essential). It's partly because he was raised in a certain kind of Jewish Zionist home – he was sent to Jewish day schools, raised with the idea that Israel needed defending. And so he goes, and becomes the best soldier in his unit --only to discover, having served in Lebanon, having patrolled the borders, the state does not consider him to be a Jew. To marry in Israel, he must convert. And though he hates himself for doing it, he goes through with it.

"To make aliyah [emigrate to Israel] and join the IDF [Israeli Defense Force], the Israeli consulate requested a copy of my bar mitzvah certificate; or, if I couldn't provide that, I could supply a letter from my rabbi (who happened to be Conservative), on synagogue letterhead, stating that I was Jewish," Chasnoff wrote me by e-mail.

"A year later, during a furlough from a tour of duty in Lebanon, Dorit (my then-girlfriend, now wife) and I applied for a marriage license. On application, I stated that my mother had converted to Judaism in 1968 -- five years before I was born. Suddenly, a letter from my rabbi was no longer enough to prove I was a Jew. The Rabbinical Authority investigated my mother's conversion and declared that, because she had studied with a Conservative rabbi, neither she nor I were Jewish. The army then sent me back to Lebanon to wage its war against Hezbollah. So I went back to Lebanon knowing that if I died in battle, I would not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. As Dorit put it: Israel didn't mind if I died for the country, so long as I didn't get married there."

When Chasnoff isn't writing memoirs that should be required reading for anyone interested in army life, Israel-Palestinian relations, or lost boys, he is a stand-up comic who frequently tours through the North American Jewish world. The buzz on the ground is one of disbelief and anger, distancing and reassessment.

Gaza flotilla video mashup: Internet Killed Israeli PR

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Dude, Where's My Glock? Bibi's security guys check their guns and lose them

Perhaps now we have an explanation about why US President Barack Obama personally escorted Netanyahu to his car. Could there have been a security concern? It became evident that "LAX security" is quite an apt name for the services at Los Angeles airport which let four Glocks pistols vanish from Israeli luggage.

Luggage belonging to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security detail crisscrossed America until finally turning up, four handguns short, U.S. sources reported Wednesday, according to the Batsheva Sobelman's blog on the LA Times. A spokesperson for Israel's General Security Services told Reuters that the handguns were part of the equipment sent ahead of Netanyahu to Washington "and got lost." The official added that Israeli and U.S. authorities were investigating.

Netanyahu's bodyguards landed at JFK, where their luggage was rechecked to continue to Washington -- including two suitcases containing seven handguns between them. But while the security guys continued on to Washington, their luggage went west, putting in an appearance at LAX before being sent back to Washington via Chicago, Reuters said. The bottom line is that four stops later, four guns -- said to be Glocks -- were declared missing-in-transit. The additional 3 pieces checked into the other of the two suitcases were recovered..

At what stage this happened isn't quite clear. American Airlines handled the luggage at JFK and LAX, said reports quoting airline officials who said they were refraining from commenting publicly so as not to hamper a security-related situation.

Losing luggage can happen to anyone. Evidently, so can losing guns. In February, the Boston Globe reported that Homeland Security personnel had 289 of their weapons stolen from them between 2005 and 2008, or lost by miscellaneous negligence such as leaving them on car bumpers and at bowling alleys.
But airports are more security-sensitive than bowling places and concerns are deep enough without having to second-guess personnel entrusted with the safety of millions. U.S. airport security has been challenged repeatedly in recent years; questions were raised again after the attempt to bomb a Northwest flight on Christmas Day. Experts have suggested that U.S. airports adopt Israeli security models.

At least one airport that briefly hosted the bodyguards' suitcases does already work with Israeli airport security experts. When visiting Israel in 2008, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed an agreement contracting Israeli experts to make two yearly visits to help with LAX security

Above: U.S. Marine Corps Col. James Cooney fires a 9-millimeter Glock 18 machine pistol . Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

It's easy to laugh at the occupation when you're the oppressor

Recent uploads on Youtube, featured by Haaretz newspaper, have embarrassed the IDF and brought threats of disciplinary action against the soldiers who shared the video, "Batallion 50 Rock the Hebron Casbah". Half a dozen dancing Nahal Brigade soldiers, armed and wearing bulletproof vests, patrol as a Muslim call to prayer is heard. Then the music changes and they break into a Macarena-like dance. Not a pretty sight.