Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shyne-ing Star: Moshe Levi Raps Ultra

From Mexico City, the world's formost Orthodox rapper moved to Jerusalem in 2010, correspondent Karl Vick blogs in  For an ultra-orthodox Jew he seems, well, unorthodox. Read on:

Moshe Levi both fits in and doesn’t. Race is only part of it. Israeli Jews come in all shades, from the Falash of Ethiopia to the pinkest German Ashkenazi. When it comes to religious observance, however, skin color generally signals less than attire. The round felt hat, formal suit and high white stockings Levi sports is the uniform of the Ultra-Orthodox, Jews who dress in the clothes of 18th century Eastern Europe for a reason: They take great efforts to form communities removed from a modern world riven with degradations like television, the internet and, yes, rap music. As a group, they are also the poorest Jews in Israel, families often subsisting on welfare while the husband spends the day studying scripture.
That’s not Levi, who doesn’t actually read Hebrew. “I’m more of a doer than a reader,” he says.
Nor does he follow a particular rabbi, another Ultra-Orthodox norm. “I definitely try not to get into the whole gang affiliation thing,” Levi says.  If on some days he wears a striped suit, other times flat black, it’s because he admires the traditions. He also jets up to Paris for Fashion Week.
“I don’t really have time to figure out their thing. I have my thing.”
His thing is not Zionism, the ideology that brought Israel into existence as a state.  “Absolutely not,” Levi says. “I just said I’m absolutely not into sects or gangs. I love all human beings.”
His thing is music. As Shyne, he has completed two unreleased albums, Gangland and Messiah. Both are rap, but “totally philosophical and sophisticated,” he says. “No misogyny. None of that deranged stuff  I used to be into” a decade or so ago, as a protégé of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs at Bad Boy Entertainment. He was with Combs and his girlfriend at the time, Jennifer Lopez, when the ruckus broke out in the Club New York.  Combs and his bodyguard were also tried but acquitted.
“I don’t even want to be a rapper,” Levi says at one point in the interview. “I don’t listen to that music. I’m a musician. I’d rather be like Bob Marley or Leonard Cohen, one of those guys.”
 Read more.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Israeli democracy 'shackling freedoms' says FT

“In recent weeks, the country has been consumed by an anguished debate over a series of new laws and proposals that many fear are designed to stifle dissent, weaken minority rights, restrict freedom of speech and emasculate the judiciary. They include a law that in effect allows Israeli communities to exclude Arab families; another that imposes penalties on Israelis advocating a boycott of products made in West Bank Jewish settlements; and proposals that would subject the supreme court to greater political oversight.”
so writes Tobias Buck, Jerusalem correspondent for the Financial Times.  He adds that, despite the coarsening of domestic political discourse that has unleashed fury and dismay inside the Jewish state, 
"the chances of Israel turning into a dictatorship are about as high as those of Saudi Arabia turning into a liberal democracy."

Faint praise, indeed. When rightwing Israeli extremists attack the IDF troops who are pledged to protect them in the West Bank, as happened yesterday, the mind boggles at their warped vigilante notion of "price tag." The entire country pays the coast of their shortsighted actions.

 Israelity bites.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Core Issue: When did the Dead Sea Die?

Geo-scientists are drilling for knowledge and located a pebble beach hundreds of meters beneath the Dead Sea. The BBC reports on its significance from a conference on the West Coast of America:
The Dead Sea is an extraordinary place. The surface of the inland waterway sits at the lowest land point on the planet, more than 400m below sea level...Lake dry-down happened 120,000 years ago without any human intervention.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Israel apologizes for treatment of NYT photographer- one month late!

Israel's Defense Ministry apologized Monday for the treatment of a pregnant American news photographer who was repeatedly strip searched and humiliated by Israeli soldiers during a security check, the Associated Press reports.
Lynsey Addario, who was on assignment for the New York Times, had requested that she not be forced to go through an X-ray machine as she entered Israel from the Gaza Strip because of concerns for her unborn baby.
Instead, she wrote in a letter to the ministry, she was forced through the machine three times as soldiers "watched and laughed from above." She said she was then taken into a room where she was ordered by a female worker to strip down to her underwear.
In the Oct. 25 letter sent by the newspaper said Addario, a Pulitzer Prize winner who is based in India and has worked in more than 60 countries, had never been treated with "such blatant cruelty."
The ministry said an investigation found that the search followed procedures but noted that Addario's request to avoid the X-ray machine had not been properly relayed.
Addario said she made the request not to go through the X-ray machine before arriving at the crossing.
"We would like to apologize for this particular mishap in coordination and any trouble it may subsequently have caused to those involved," the statement said.
It said that security is tight on the border with Gaza "in order to prevent terror from targeting and reaching Israel's citizens."
The defense ministry has "decided to hone the procedure for foreign journalists," it said.
The New York Times bureau chief in Israel, Ethan Bronner, welcomed the planned changes but said the newspaper remains shocked at the treatment Addario received and how long the investigation took.
Foreign journalists working in Israel have repeatedly complained of overly intrusive security checks by of Israeli authorities. Israel says the inspections are necessary measures.
In March, Addario was among four reporters captured in Libya by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and held for six days. Another of the four, reporter Anthony Shadid, related later that they were bound with wire, blindfolded, hit with fists and rifle butts and threatened with death. Addario also was groped, he said.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Female Voices and Perceived Vices in the IDF

Shmuel Rosner, political editor for The Jewish Journal, sounds off in the New York Times about orthodoxy and women in the Israeli Defense Forces. (The private pictured below is evidently off duty.)

  On Sept. 5th, nine military cadets of the Israel Defense Force officer training school, all Orthodox Jews, walked out of an official event marking operation Cast Lead. [Israel's three-week sustained assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008-9.]  A group of soldier-singers had taken the stage, but when a woman started her solo,  nine cadets stormed out. Four of them refused to come back to the hall, despite being warned that they were breaching an order, and two days later were expelled from the school. Their objection? That Orthodox Judaism forbids a man from hearing a woman sing. These soldiers adhere to the strict interpretation of the expression “Kol B’Isha Erva.” This might translate as, “the voice of a woman is like nakedness.” Or as, “the voice of a woman is like her vagina.”
The rabbinical debate over the meaning of this Talmudic expression is old and complex, and the variations in its interpretation are many. For some Orthodox Jews, though, it is a clear command: thou shalt not hear a woman sing.
What’s less clear is how far the Israeli military should go to help them obey it. Israel’s draft is mandatory. Every 18-year-old boy and girl is obliged to serve (barring exceptions too complicated to explain here). Eager to make military service possible for both the religious and the secular, the Israeli military has tried to accommodate the sometimes quirky demands of Jewish religiosity. It adheres to all Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. Commanders have to make time for observant soldiers to pray. And the Jewish Shabbat is a day of rest: security-related operations continue but all military exercises and maneuvers come to a halt.
These measures seemed sufficient for a while, but three recent trends are now calling the system into question.

The first is a shift among the Orthodox. Orthodox Israelis have traditionally been divided into two main groups: the so-called ultra-Orthodox, who are more pious and want little to do with Zionism or the state, and the Orthodox-Zionists, zealot Zionists who try to balance religion and modern life by mixing with the general public while still adhering to religious rules. But in recent years, the religious Zionists have become less amenable to compromising for the sake of keeping the peace with secular society. They have become much more like the ultra-Orthodox, except that they retain their Zionist zeal.
The military, meanwhile, has grown more dependent on religious soldiers. According to one report, the number of observant infantry officers has risen from 2.5 percent in 1990 to more than 31 percent in 2007. The figure is probably even higher today. According to another report, the percentage of graduates from religious schools who serve as majors in combat units has risen from 6.9 percent to 20 percent between 1994 and 2009. For both political and religious reasons, the Orthodox-Zionists are more motivated to serve on the frontlines than any other group. The military needs them, and so it needs them to feel wanted, accommodated and appreciated.
Then add to that the uncompromising (and, of course, justified) demand of women to be treated equally. Since 1995, after Israel’s Supreme Court found that the 23-year-old officer Alice Miller should be allowed to take entry tests to join the air force flight-training course, women’s participation in all branches of the Israeli military has increased.
Hence “the problem” of shirat nashim: of orthodox men being forced to endure the singing of women. And it’s a problem that many reporters and opinion writers here have been quick to describe by way of a villain. Some have denounced as uncompromising the Orthodox men who squirm at a woman’s singing — or, for that matter, at the idea of serving with one in a crowded tank. Some have denounced the liberals for putting the right to sing over the strength of the military. Some have denounced the rigid rabbis for failing to accommodate the rest of society. Some have denounced the military for not putting the Orthodox soldiers in their place. Some have denounced the ever-denounceable politicians for letting the Orthodox gain too much power in Israeli life overall.
The truth, though, is that there is no simple way to balance these competing rights. Religious soldiers can’t be made to violate their faith. The military can’t be made to alienate its most motivated group of soldiers. And I can’t educate my daughter to serve in a military that would excise women from the public sphere to accommodate the radical demands of the super pious.
And so for now, the only compromise that seems possible is one that would require abandoning a principle all Israelis grew up to appreciate: the value of togetherness.
How about old fashioned ear plugs or noise-canceling Bose ear phones?


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Political Implications of Palestinians in UNESCO

On Monday, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) voted overwhelmingly to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member -- an accession typically reserved for independent sovereign nations.

Both the United States and Israel had strongly opposed the measure, which was tied to the PA's overall strategy of seeking statehood unilaterally at the UN Security Council. UNESCO's admission of the PA at this stage, the US State Department said, was both premature and counterproductive to a permanent resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

The US, which donates more than a fifth of UNESCO's annual budget, has already announced that it will cut $60 million of aid this month as a penalty. Israel, meanwhile, has announced that its response to the accession will be to fast-track the construction of 2,000 new residences in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Today, The Henry Jackson Society releases a strategic briefing, "Political Implications of the Palestinian Accession to UNESCO," co-written byMichael Weiss and  Houriya Ahmed, assessing the background to this historic vote, what it means for the future of the cultural agency, the pursuit of American interests abroad and why, exactly, Israel is wary of PA membership.

Here's a summary of the report:
A diplomatic victory for the Palestinian Authority

- Admission into UNESCO is a public relations victory for the PA and a deliberate tactic of isolating countries opposed to its statehood bid at the UN Security  Council-namely, the US and Israel.

- The move is part of the PA's campaign to join independent UN agencies as full members in order to create a moral and political momentum for its statehood recognition. As such, the popular support received for membership in UNESCO will make it harder for countries to oppose the statehood bid.

- As a UNESCO member, the PA can-and has indicated that it will-apply for World Heritage classification for historic sites of cultural significance in the Occupied Territories. This would include landmarks which Israel has officially declared part of its national heritage, and which could complicate future final status negotiations.

Implications for Israel

- Israel's response to UNESCO membership was negative. Israel views the PA's statehood gambit as a violation of mutually agreed upon parameters for peace negotiations and is considering "cutting all ties" and taking punitive measures against the PA, and is re-considering its ties with UNESCO.

- Israel no doubt fears that UNESCO's ability to categorise World Heritage sites will be exploited by the PA to claim ownership over contested religious and cultural landmarks in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Implications for the United States

- The US rejected the UNESCO bid and has stated that the move "undermines" international efforts in trying to achieve peace in the Middle East. The US State Department announced that it would withhold $60 million in financial support due to be given to UNESCO this month-nearly a fifth of its yearly budget.

 - Despite financial cuts, the US has emphasised that its membership is not in question. UNESCO is valuable for American business and national security interests in developing countries.

Implications for UNESCO 

- Unless the shortfall is made up by other donors, the closure of UNESCO operations around the world may be likely because of cuts in US aid. 

- With its strong commitment to freedom of expression and information, UNESCO may come under renewed criticism for its inclusion of the PA, which has a history of curbing journalistic freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza. If UNESCO fails to hold the PA to the same ethical standards as other members, the agency could be accused of double standards.

Hat tip to the Henry Jackson Society for this guest post.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Female Soldier Jailed for Leaking IDF Assassination Policy

Israel is punishing its kosher version of Bradley Manning, the fomer IDF conscript and online reporter Anat Kam, who was just sentenced to four and a half years behind bars, despite her lengthy secret house arrest.  But the journalist who reported on her leaked documents about the IDF's hit list, Uri Blau of Haaretz, is presently holed up in Britain --in an odd echo of Wikileaks' Julian Assange. Blau's not as defiant, though. In a plea bargain, he has returned all confidential documents to the Israelis.

So, what is the price of speaking truth to power inside Israel? The Independent of London's Catrina Stewart reports on this crime, its punishment, and the Israeli gag order:

Israel has sentenced a former soldier to four and a half years in prison for leaking classified documents to a journalist who used them to expose an alleged army policy to assassinate wanted Palestinian militants in violation of court rulings.
Anat Kam, 24, was convicted in February for copying 2,085 military documents on to a disc as she completed her mandatory army service and passing some of them to Uri Blau, an investigative reporter with the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.
She escaped the much more serious charges of harming state security after reaching a plea bargain.
 Her case provoked a domestic uproar - in part because she was held for four months under secret house arrest with the Israeli media banned from reporting on it, but also because it was viewed as an assault on the freedom of the press. The Independent was the first newspaper to report on Ms Kam's arrest.
In passing sentence yesterday, the three-judge panel elected to send a clear message to other would-be whistleblowers. "If the army cannot trust the soldiers serving in various units and exposed to sensitive issues, then it cannot function as a regular army," the judges wrote. They said that Ms Kam's motive for taking the documents was "mainly ideological". Ms Kam has already served nearly two years of house arrest, which will not count towards her prison term, and she received a further 18-month suspended sentence.
As a clerk in the Israeli Defence Forces' central command, Ms Kam stumbled across documents that appeared to point to the premeditated killing of Palestinian militants in the West Bank, despite a Supreme Court ruling that severely restricted such operations, determining that the army should arrest suspects if possible.

 The photo of Anat Kam comes courtesy of SabbahReport, where reporter Gila Svirsky has probed into the scandal of the Shin Bet hit list, the gagging of the gag order, and the perils of whistle blowing.

Crossposted on Feral Beast

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sergeant Shalit is Home

One concerned neighbour in Mitzpe Hila commented that Gilad Shalit, newly-released from five years in captivity in Gaza after Bibi Netanyahu agreed to swap 1027 Palestinian prisoners for him, now resembles a concentration camp victim. But though startlingly scrawny and pale, the IDF tank crewman is out at last and the nation is caught up with tears and fears and euphoria. Shalit's father told the press: "He came out of some dark pit or dark cellar and encountered such commotion out here." Presumably his Arabic language skills had improved, too. An interview with Egyptian anchorwoman Shahira Amin appeared to be opportunistic propaganda that left the confused former prisoner gasping for breath. In response to a prod about the remaining 5500 Palestinian prisoners who were not included in the trade, Shalit said he would be happy to see them released, as long as they no longer attack Israel.

The first Israeli soldier taken captive and returned alive in 26 years has made headlines worldwide. Lawrence Wright blogged on the New Yorker webpage:
In the five years since the abduction, there has been another exchange going on, not of the living but of the dead. Four hundred Gazans were killed by Israeli forces in the first few months after he was taken. Six Israeli soldiers and four civilians also died during that period. The exchange of one living Israeli for a thousand and twenty-seven living Palestinians is certainly a comment on the disparity of the value of life in each society. As long as Shalit was being held, the exchange of the dead would also continue at the same disproportionate rate. It certainly made sense for Hamas to make the deal. Whether it makes sense for Israel will not be known for decades. If the trade opens up an avenue for real peace negotiations, one that would include Hamas, then it will be a deal worth making for both sides.
But if Netanyahu reneges on his promise to free all the named Palestinians [477 were released today], there may be hell to pay.  Using IDF soldiers as currency has little to recommend it as a strategy, and this seems to be a politician's gambit. 

(Getty images published this shot of Shalit's interview in Egypt.) 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Thousand Prisoners for One Israeli Soldier

On Sunday, June 26, 2006, at 5:40 in the morning, several Hamas militants tunneled beneath the Kerem Shalom border crossing and killed two IDF soldiers by launching a rocket grenade at their tank, then captured the young corporal Gilad Shalit and took him back inside the Gaza Strip.  (In captivity, he was promoted to Sergeant.)  Because Shalit holds French as well as Israeli citizenship, there has been considerable European input into the extended negotiations over his freedom. Now, post-Arab Spring, Shalit's release looks closer than ever, but cynics warn that it is not quite a done deal yet.

Reuters reported today about the reaction inside Israel to the proposed swap of more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners for the single now-famous Israeli conscript:
Tens of thousands of Israelis have visited social media websites, which were in their infancy when tank crewman Shalit was grabbed, to push their government not to make a deal with Hamas, a group sworn to Israel's destruction. It appeared an exchange would not get under way before early next week. Under Israeli law the Palestinian prisoners' names must be published 48 hours ahead of their release to allow legal appeals against granting them liberty. Israel's Justice Ministry said it intended to publish the list no later than Sunday.
Hamas and its supporters in the Gaza Strip have threatened to seize more Israeli soldiers until all 6,000 Palestinian prisoners are freed from Israeli jails.
The deal resolves one of the most emotive and intractable issues between Israel and the Palestinians, but has no obvious direct effect on peace negotiations which have been stalled for the past year, apart from potentially improving the climate for a resumption as urged by Washington and its allies.
The breakthrough pact was achieved after many false dawns in years of secret efforts to free Shalit, who was captured a year after Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Israel tightened its Gaza blockade after he was seized and again after Hamas took over the enclave from a rival movement in 2007.
Yoram Cohen, chief of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service, said he believed Hamas opted for a deal now because it hoped to strengthen its ties with Egypt at a time of unrest and uncertainty in Syria, where the group has its headquarters.
No one expects Ofer Prison in the West Bank and the Megiddo and Ketziot prisons in Israel to suddenly empty out. In fact, compared to California, where 30,000 inmates will get out of jail early because of overcrowding, it's a trifling number.  But plenty of people on both sides are doubting that the release for prisoner exchange is a win-win situation.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Hello Yom!

"Hi. This is Sarah Palin. Is Senator Lieberman in ?"

"No, Governor. It's Yom Kippur!"

"Well, Hello, Yom. Can I leave a message?"


Hat tip to Ms Isaacson for this topical post.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Secret Sale of Bunker-buster Bombs Revealed

Timing is everything in politics and in war. What do you make of this? The news of the sale of 1000 US mini-bunker busters to Israel was broken by Tim Butcher of London's  Daily Telegraph three years ago.  Today, as Abbas makes his case for statehood at the United Nations, the story reemerges on the net. (Perhaps it got lost in the blizzard of American presidential election coverage at the time.)
While publicly pressuring Israel to make deeper concessions to the Palestinians, President Obama has secretly authorized significant new aid to the Israeli military that includes the sale of 55 deep-penetrating bombs known as bunker busters, according to the Daily Beast.
U.S. and Israeli officials tell Newsweek that the GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators—potentially useful in any future military strike against Iranian nuclear sites—were delivered to Israel in 2009, just several months after Obama took office.
The military sale was arranged behind the scenes as Obama’s demands for Israel to stop building settlements in disputed territories were fraying political relations between the two countries in public.
The Israelis first requested the bunker busters in 2005, only to be rebuffed by the Bush administration. At the time, the Pentagon had frozen almost all U.S.-Israeli joint defense projects out of concern that Israel was transferring advanced military technology to China.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

1000 Nudes Float on the Dead Sea for Photo

Out of the multitude of volunteers for Jewish-American photographer Spencer Tunick's latest art project, only one in three were deemed suitable for posing in the buff on the Dead Sea. During the Sabbath, 1000 unpaid models ranging in age from 20 to sixty-plus, mostly secular Israelis, assembled pre-dawn at Mineral Beach for the epic photo shoot in the salty brine, despite objections from some Orthodox leaders. The artist claims that his stunt demonstrates that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country with enough freedom to allow for such avant garde expression. Apparently, Spencer keeps his tunic on while in the air snapping his subjects, who risk having salt rubbed into any open wound on their bodies. They smiled anyway. The nudes posed in three different ways: in the sea, onshore and covered in Dead Sea mud. According to Ynet News:
Spencer Tunick, 44, currently is one of the leading conceptual artists in the world. Since 1994, he has photographed tens of thousands of people in nude photos shoots in 75 different public sites across the world, receiving extensive media coverage. But according to Dov Litvinoff, a local councilman..." The Dead Sea may be the lowest place on earth, but Tunick's intentions may take it to an even lower level."
Many, many moons are shown in the final photos. (The outtake shown above is from Life Magazine's webpage; click here for a full gallery courtesy of Associated Press). Some enthusiasts hope this mass posing will focus world attention on the Dead Sea, which is in the running to be included in New 7Wonders of Nature, an international online competition for tourism. Tunick wants to highlight the rate at which the water is evaporating from this famous lake-sized sea near Sodom and Gomorrah.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Rachel shops for a home in Judea

Rachel Shabi, a British-Israeli and daughter of Iraqi Jews, disclosed to the Guardian how easy it is for ordinary secular Israelis to become settlers in a "national priority zone". And her undercover revelations about shopping for a new house in one of the 200 developments for Israelis in occupied territory were shortlisted for the prestigious Orwell Prize for political writing. As her friends quip: not too shabby! Here are some excerpts:

The incentives still offered to Israelis to live on Palestinian land are so considerable that, leaving politics aside, it would be silly not to take advantage of them...Almon offers enticingly priced, spacious family homes with a garden and a view. The surrounding neighbourhood, also known as Anatot, sits on a ridge overlooking the Judean hills, near Jerusalem, a blaze of cultivated greenery in the parched landscape. Residents have a relaxed air, and newcomers who have recently relocated from Jerusalem wish they'd made the move years ago...It's a short drive east of Jerusalem, and I've had to cross an Israeli checkpoint, but it's specifically for settler use – a nod, the "right" appearance and Israeli number plates get me waved through...
The separation barrier that cuts into the West Bank for around 80% of its path. The barrier route runs, in some places, up to 12 miles deep into the West Bank, but settlements on the Israeli side of it are, broadly speaking, "consensus settlements" – ones that Israelis assume will be conceded to the Jewish state in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Zionist Construction Zone: Settlements in West Bank Sextuple in 2011

Construction Freeze? Not any more. In the aftermath of learning that the IDF is training and arming settlers, here's the latest. Construction in Judea and Samaria Rises a Whopping 660%! And the light railway is up and running and connecting them to Israel proper. Nearly 75,000 new homes are under construction in all of Israel right now, according to an Israeli government agency. Hat tip to Angela for the link and to reporter David Lev.

With the end of the building freeze, construction has started up in Judea and Samaria (Yesha) communities. In fact, said the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), building jumped 660% in Judea and Samaria during the first half of 2011, as compared to the previous year.

While the statistic was certainly breathtaking, the actual numbers on the ground were less impressive: Construction started on 546 new homes in Yesha communities during the period. Still, it was a sharp improvement over the number of housing starts in the first half of 2010, when only 72 housing starts were announced.

Officials of the Yesha Council said they were pleased with the increase, but that clearly many more new homes were needed. "We need at least 500 new homes a month, not just in half a year, in order to accomodate all the families who want to live in Yesha." Last week, Arutz Sheva reported on how dozens of American families who sought to buy or rent homes in Efrat were unable to do so because of the lack of housing there.

The jump in Yesha construction this year was part of a general trend in all of Israel. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, housing starts rose 14.4% overall during the first half of 2011. But certain parts of the country are set to grow far more than that number implies; for example, there are now 7,950 homes under construction in southern Israel, a 55% increase over the 2,495 home starts in the first half of 2010.

In Asheklon alone, 1,576 new homes are currently under construction – the highest number for any city in Israel. Other cities where building jumped in the first half of 2011 included Kiryat Gat (a 607% increase in housing construction starts), Ramle (252%), Ganei Tikvah (451%), Rehovot (203%), and Yavne (165%).

Even in the already ultra-expensive Tel Aviv and Jerusalem regions, construction was up 28% and 8% respectively. In the north, housing construction starts were up 11.2% during the period.

Altogether, construction began on some 22,000 new homes. The CBS said that by the end of 2011, taking into consideration construction that was started in 2010, there will be some 75,000 new apartments under construction. Those apartments are expected to come “on-line” between the end of 2012 and during 2013, helping to satisfy the high demand for housing, hopefully at more reasonable prices.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Housing Minister Ariel Attias both expressed great satisfaction at the CBS announcement.

“The increasing trend in housing starts reflects the increased successful activity by the government, which we began undertaking as soon as we took power,” Netanyahu said. “The steps we took in the real estate market, including the institution of the Housing Committees Law and the reforms we recently instituted in the Israel Lands Administration, have contributed, and will continue to contribute, to the increased availability of housing – and, as a result, a lowering of prices.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Beck and Call - is this radio shock jock friend or foe to Israel?

As Glenn Back prepares to lead his so-called "Restoring Courage" rally near Dung Gate, an appropriately named Old City venue,the US consulate cautioned its diplomats from being near the area, for their own safety:

On Wednesday, August 24, 2011, there will be a rally held near the southeast corner of the Old City. The areas between Dung Gate and Lions Gate are off-limits to official U.S. Government personnel from 4:00pm until 10:00pm on that day due to recent clashes in that area.

Hmmm. Whose courage does the tear-prone radio shock jock wish to restore? So far, the reception for Beck, who at Caesaria pointedly criticized Jews for their "2000 year old flinch" from an embrace with Christians, has been decidedly ambivalent. Some Israeli critics shrug him off as a neo-fascist comedian, and the public have far more time for actor Jon Voight, who went to Beersheba hospital to hug rocket victims in front of the cameras. (He is Angelina Jolie's daddy, after all.)

Rachel Tabachnick, a researcher documenting Christian Zionism and Millennial Jews, sounds off in Haaretz about his message:
Beck headlined this year's conference of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), founded by televangelist John Hagee. Hagee had appeared several times on Beck's show, including one where they speculated the earth as we know it would end within 20 years.

Beck's embrace by Israeli leaders is further indication to Americans that support for Israel is becoming linked to an extreme political agenda in the United States. This threatens to alienate Jews and Christians, Democrats and Republicans.

Ironically, this alienation of Israel is seen by Christian Zionists as fulfilling end-times prophecy, which, they claim, requires a second Jewish holocaust before Jesus returns. Surviving Jews must accept Jesus before a 1000-year Christian utopia, ruled from Jerusalem, can begin.

Beck's cultivation of Israeli leaders follows, step by step, the instructions Christian Zionists have used to gain access to Jewish communities and leaders. One of the most popular of these manuals is the 2001 book, "Your People Shall Be My People," by Don Finto. Finto's network of evangelists is encouraging churches around the world to "bless Israel" by supporting Messianic Jewish ministries and proselytizing Jews. His book has been promoted internationally, including by directors of Hagee's CUFI.

Finto's book provides instructions to: 1 ) avoid overt proselytizing, 2 ) vocally repent of the Holocaust, 3 ) tell Jews that Christian Zionist support is modeled after the biblical story of Ruth with no strings attached, and 4 ) emphasize that Christian Zionists are Israel's only friends in an increasingly hostile world.

Simultaneously these evangelists help to foment hostility toward Jews by teaching a narrative in which Jews hold power over the future of Gentiles.

Beck contemplated switching the location of the event away from the base of the Temple Mount because he feared “40,000 Muslims” were going to gatecrash. It's to be held down in Davidson Center, for increased security. Speaker John Boehner urged US House members not to attend the event (to avoid the appearance of joining a political event while on a policy-related trip to Israel). Consequently, both Rep. Eric Cantor and Sen. Joe Lieberman cancelled their RSVPs. And in the post-earthquake anxiety in Washington DC and elsewhere, the atmosphere is increasingly apocalyptic.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Unsettling Statistics for Israeli Economy

Peace Now, the grassroots organization, has long maintained that settlements and the occupation are both a moral and economic blight on Israel. Here are the statistics to prove it, from a business study by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development) :

"The inclusion of the settlements and east Jerusalem adds about 4% to Israel's gross domestic product, but reduces the GDP per capita by a significant rate of 6.5% a year"

When east Jerusalem, West Bank settlements and Golan Heights are figured in with Israel's overall economic statistics, per capita income is reduced while inequality is increased. With the settlement population growing nearly one hundred percent between 1997 and 2009 (most recent population figures), this does not bode well for the future of the country and the street protestors griping about prices and opportunities. Sever Plocker analyses the stats in Ynet news. One wag says "gross domestic product" is a good caption for the photo above!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Social Justice advocates - What about the Occupation?

Writes Joseph Dana in the LRB blog:

Largely shielded from the European and American financial crises, the Israeli economy has been growing at an astonishing rate over the past five years: 4.7 per cent in 2010 alone. But the wealth isn’t evenly distributed: most Israelis living inside the 1967 borders struggle to make ends meet because of the high cost of living and relatively high taxes, which are largely spent on security and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Last month, a group of Tel Aviv residents in their twenties set up camp in the centre of Rothschild Boulevard to protest against housing costs in the city. They didn’t have a serious plan for political change, but the protest tapped into nationwide discontent. Within a few days, hundreds more people had joined them. The momentum spread quickly through the country, with camps appearing everywhere from Eilat on the Red Sea to Kiryat Shmona on the Lebanese border.

On Saturday, 250,000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv and 10,000 marched to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, demanding ‘social justice’. Netanyahu, the main target of the demonstrators’ placards, was quick to paint the protests as a misdirected reincarnation of the ‘radical left’. But this stale tactic didn’t stop an overwhelming majority of Israelis supporting the protests. According to recent opinion polls, 87 per cent see the demands for economic reform as legitimate.

The protester’s working definition of ‘social justice’, however, is unclear and full of contradictions. Most glaringly, they have yet to address the question of the Occupied Territories. From the start, organisers maintained that their protests were a rare instance of ‘apolitical’ social organising. The Palestinian issue was understood to be too divisive to be included under the umbrella of Israel’s social justice revolution, and there’s no doubt that, had protesters connected their struggle for social justice to the occupation, many fewer Israelis would have joined the protests.

The rights of Israelis, however, are inextricably tied with the rights of Palestinians, both inside the 1967 borders and in the Occupied Territories. The protesters, like most of Israeli society, are operating under the assumption that they are disconnected from the Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation. But the fact is that one regime rules the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and any discussion of the allocation of resources here, not to mention social justice, must take into account the rights of everyone who lives under the regime.

Despite the attempt to ignore the occupation, dozens of Jewish settlers from the West Bank descended on the protest camp in Tel Aviv last week. Carrying banners that say the solution to the housing problem lies in the West Bank, settlers have been shouting slogans against homosexuals and (non-Jewish) African refugees in Tel Aviv. At the other end of the camp, Jewish and Arab protesters have set up ‘Tent 1948’ to commemorate the dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians when Israel was created.

The protest as a whole will soon be forced to confront the question of the occupation. Last week the military announced that it will initiate a massive call up of reserves ahead of the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood in September. Most of the protesters, young men and woman with reserve duty obligations, will have to decide whether to increase the pressure on the government by refusing to serve, or abandon their protest without having made any concrete gains. At the moment, the latter course seems more likely.

Hat tip to Angela for the link to this thought-provoking piece

Monday, August 08, 2011

Israelis Take to the Streets in Protest

Sad irony, pointed out by my friend Meir: Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the "Israel is Our Home" (Yisrael Beitenu) party has so far offered no solution to Israel's housing problems. As 300,000 Israelis take to the streets to join the tent-dwellers of downtown Tel Aviv to complain that their rent is too damn high and the government too damn unresponsive, the Foreign minister suggests that citizens also visit Tel Aviv's upmarket cafes to see that the problem is not so serious! (Let them eat bureikas..or sushi, jibes one weary Jerusalemite.) Ynet news carries the cafe riposte here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jerusalem - a poem by James Fenton

To hear the British poet James Fenton read this work in full, click this link here. Excerpted from New Selected Poems (2006)

Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone,
And the interrogation will not die
For there is no eternal city
And there is no pity
And there is nothing underneath the sky
No rainbow and no guarantee –
There is no covenant between your God and me.
It is superb in the air.
Suffering is everywhere
And each man wears his suffering like a skin.
My history is proud.
Mine is not allowed.
This is the cistern where all wars begin,
The laughter from the armoured car.
This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.
This is your fault.
This is a crusader vault.
The Brook of Kidron flows from Mea She’arim.
I will pray for you.
I will tell you what to do.
I’ll stone you. I shall break your every limb.
Oh, I am not afraid of you,
But maybe I should fear the things you make me do.
This is not Golgotha.
This is the Holy Sepulchre,
The Emperor Hadrian’s temple to a love
Which he did not much share.
Golgotha could be anywhere.
Jerusalem itself is on the move.
It leaps and leaps from hill to hill
And as it makes its way it also makes its will.
The city was sacked.
Jordan was driven back.
The pious Christians burned the Jews alive.
This is a minaret.
I’m not finished yet.
We’re waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
What was your mother’s real name?
Would it be safe today to go to Bethlehem?
This is the Garden Tomb.
No, this is the Garden Tomb.
I’m an Armenian. I am a Copt.
This is Utopia.
I came here from Ethiopia.
This hole is where the flying carpet dropped
The Prophet off to pray one night
And from here one hour later he resumed his flight.
Who packed your bag?
I packed my bag.
Where was your uncle’s mother’s sister born?
Have you ever met an Arab?
Yes, I am a scarab.
I am a worm. I am a thing of scorn.
I cry Impure from street to street
And see my degradation in the eyes I meet.
I am your enemy.
This is Gethsemane.
The broken graves look to the Temple Mount.
Tell me now, tell me when
When shall we all rise again?
Shall I be first in that great body count?
When shall the tribes be gathered in?
When, tell me, when shall the Last Things begin?
You are in error.
This is terror.
This is your banishment. This land is mine.
This is what you earn.
This is the Law of No Return.
This is the sour dough, this the sweet wine.
This is my history, this my race
And this unhappy man threw acid in my face.
Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone.
These are the warrior archaeologists.
This is us and that is them.
This is Jerusalem.
These are dying men with tattooed wrists.
Do this and I’ll destroy your home.
I have destroyed your home. You have destroyed my home.

[Hat tip to Mr Thursday-on a Monday! - for the link to these verses.]

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Waste and Squandered Opportunity

Just about everywhere in the Middle East there has been movement — stirring, remarkable, uneven — as the region breaks old chains of despotism and seeks its slice of the modern world. But Palestinians and Israelis remain stuck in their sterile and competitive narratives of victimhood, determined, it seems, to ensure past rancor defeats promise.

It’s been a year of terrible waste,
concludes Roger Cohen in the New York Times.
The waste is staggering and the looming train wreck appalling.

Meanwhile, as 4500 Arabs and leftists marched together in Jerusalem to support Palestinian statehood, Haaretz's Yossi Verter lambasts Bibi Netanyahu for his wobbly leadership. He points out how in the Knesset, settlers now appear to be setting the agenda by passing the Boycott Law, introduced by the rightwing MK Zeev Elkin.
MK Ahmed Tibi ‏(United Arab List-Ta’al‏) asked Elkin if his passion for enacting legislation of this kind had to do with his being beaten up as a kid. The immigrants, veterans and newcomers alike, sometimes carry unpleasant memories from Mother Russia or from the torment of trying to integrate in Israel.

As the left continues to crumble and be increasingly irrelevant, the parliamentary right is becoming ever more militant against the Arab public, “the professors,” the Supreme Court, creative artists, so-called intellectuals, donors from abroad and so on.

In the past Israel’s right wing was characterized by grace and decorum, as decreed by Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and by grace and courage, as per the Betar anthem.

These days, Benjamin Netanyahu is not ashamed to take the floor and declare that if not for his support of the problematic law, it would not have come to a vote. If so, why didn’t the government sponsor it?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Israel vs Israel - a documentary

Religious nationalism in the world's sole Jewish state sometimes rubs against the sensibilities of progressives, aka "self-hating Jews" by many of their critics. This documentary film examines some of the disparities and complexities of Middle Eastern democracy, free speech, and security. Hat tip to Angela for the link.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Birthright, Birth Left & Hormonal Mifgashim

Some Israelis disapprove of her muckraking the Taglit after accepting a junket. Still, the romance of Birthright Israel captivated Kiera Feldman, who recounts her ten days on the 'love incubator' touring Israel's ethnocracy for free in the latest issue of The Nation. (Cue background music: Hava Nagila on the oudh.)

This unapologetically Zionist program originated with lefty Israeli politician Yossi Beilin, better known for the Oslo accords. Over the years, he has attracted deep-pocketed Jews to be godfathers of Birthright. Co-founder Charles Bronfman, the billionaire heir to the Canadian Seagram’s liquor empire, and Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino king who is the 5th richest American, stand out. Touting Israeli settlers' Ahava Dead Sea products seems to be a sub-plot.

Some excerpts from Feldman's piece:

A new era is dawning for Birthright. What began as an identity booster has become an ideology machine, pumping out not only Jewish baby-makers but defenders of Israel. Or that’s the hope.

'hormonal mifgashim,’”is the promotion— by turns winking and overt —of flings among participants, or between participants and soldiers. “No problem if there’s intimate encounters,” an Israel Outdoors employee told American staffers during training. “In fact, it’s encouraged!” Birthright boasts that alumni are 51 percent more likely to marry other Jews than nonparticipants.

The free trip is framed as a “gift” from philanthropists, Jewish federations and the State of Israel. Far-right Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is the largest individual donor, having given Birthright $100 million over the past five years. The Israeli government provided Birthright $100 million during the program’s first decade; Prime Minister Netanyahu recently announced another $100 million in government funding. Birthright’s budget for 2011 is $87 million, a number expected to reach $126 million by 2013, enough to bring 51,000 participants to Israel that year alone.

To apply for a Birthright trip, participants need just one Jewish grandparent—and to pass a screening interview. (Practicing a religion other than Judaism is an automatic disqualifier.) After their ten days on Birthright, participants may postpone their return by up to three months to travel in the region, and it is not unheard of for progressives to “birth left” in the West Bank afterward (as I did)— although Birthright policy is that anyone discovered to have a “hidden agenda” of “exploiting” the free trip “to get access to the territories” to promote “non-Israeli” causes can lose her spot. Birthrighters planning anti-occupation activism with the International Solidarity Movement have been dismissed.

“Welcome home” is a predominant message, a reference to the promise of instant Israeli citizenship for diaspora Jews under the 1950 Law of Return. (About 17,000 Birthright alumni now live in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post.) It serves as a pointed riposte to the right of return claimed under international law by the 700,000 Palestinians expelled in 1948 upon the creation of the Jewish state, and their descendants.

My traveling companions were not monsters. Birthright’s overstimulation brings about a deadening of feeling. It’s hard to imagine the suffering of others when you’re having the time of your life. In Tours That Bind, sociologist Shaul Kelner contends that Birthright activities revolve around “fun and good feeling,” meaning “the group’s hedonism is thus one of the most effective checks against a determinedly critical politics.”

It’s pleasure as a medium for Jewish nationalism. In Birthright, dissent is for fun-suckers.

Birthright Israel's raison d'etre is the declining birthrate for secular Israeli Jews. Young Jews from the Diaspora are being invited to bump up the Jewish population figures.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Auschwitz memento thief is top Herzliya official

Motti Posloszny and his wife were fined and given two-year suspended sentences for stealing items from the former Nazi death camp. Gili Cohen reports in Haaretz. Hat tip to Meir Javedanfar for the following:

"He said he made a mistake," one official said. "I don't know what would come over a man to make him steal from Auschwitz. It's completely insane."

"It's very sad - for him, for his family and for the municipality," the official added. "This is the largest department in Herzliya; it has everything. This is inconceivable."

Posloszny returned to Israel on Sunday after having spent a night in a Polish jail. He and his wife were fined and given a two-year suspended sentence; the Polish prosecutor said the fine would be used to help preserve exhibits at the camp, which now serves as a museum. Posloszny could not be reached for comment yesterday.

According to Reuters, the couple stole nine items - including spoons, knives, scissors and porcelain bottle stoppers - from a warehouse where the personal effects seized from prisoners at the former Nazi camp are stored. They were arrested at the Krakow airport with the items in their possession.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dead lawyer hounds Mea Shearim court?

Every dog has its day, they say.

A Rabbinical court has ruled that the mean spirit of a secular lawyer who insulted judges 20 years ago was transferred into the body of a stray dog, reports Ynet news! This article caused a bit of headscratching among lawyers who haven't yet been reincarnated as canines. Ridiculous? PETA activists and their ilk don't think so and have unleashed their own flurry of protests. When the international press began drawing comparisons to Sharia courts and medieval justice to pariahs, many Israelis cringed. (The actions of Black Hats often seem barking mad to outsiders.)

A Jerusalem rabbinical court recently sentenced a wandering dog to death by stoning. The cruel sentence stemmed from the suspicion that the hound was the reincarnation of a famous secular lawyer, who insulted the court's judges 20 years ago.

Several weeks ago, according to the Behadrei Hadarim website, a large dog entered the Monetary Affairs Court near the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. The dog scared the court's visitors and, to their surprise, refused to leave even after they attempted to drive him away.

One of the judges suddenly recalled that about 20 years ago, a famous secular lawyer who insulted the court was cursed by the panel of judges, who wished that his spirit would move on to the body of a dog (considered an impure animal by Halacha). The lawyer passed away several years ago.

Still offended, one of the judges sentenced the poor animal to death by stoning, recruiting the neighborhood's children to carry out the order. Luckily, the dog managed to escape.

The head of the court, Rabbi Avraham Dov Levin, denied that the judges had called for the dog's stoning. But one of the court's managers confirmed the report to Yedioth Ahronoth.

"It was ordered by the rabbis because of the grief he had caused the court," he said. "They didn't issue an official ruling, but ordered the children outside to throw stones at him in order to drive him away. They didn't think of it as cruelty to animals, but as an appropriate way to 'get back at' the spirit which entered the poor dog."

Jerusalem City Council Member and social activist Rachel Azaria sent an urgent letter to the attorney general, calling on him to "deal with the criminals". The Let the Animals Live organization filed a complaint with the police against Rabbi Levin.

Hat tip to Akiva Novick of Ynet News for this piece
UPDATE: The BBC now reports the court's denial of this dog death order, which achieved considerable coverage in the world press. "There is no basis for abuse of animals from the side of Jewish Halacha [law]," the rabbis said in a statement carried by Maariv news:
"A dog had entered the court and been removed". Intrestingly, there was no denial that a noisome lawyer had been cursed by the court.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Suddenly Last Supper...

This famous Untitled piece by Adi Nes, recently on display at the Israel Museum, cheekily references Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper.' Here, secular Israeli soldiers eat in an IDF cafeteria, and if this turns out to be their last meal, there is no real sense of their impending deaths. (We can't quite discern the feelings of the po-faced chap dead centre.) A New York art blogger, KMK mused that Nes's image evokes 'The Silver Platter', a poem by Nathan Alterman, posted below.

Personally, I prefer the pop icon Last Supper, with Marilyn as Jesus and Clark Gable as her Judas Iscariot, which is often on display in a gallery window on King David street and reproduced on posters everywhere. In fact, there are myriad commercial permutations of this rather lame idea, ranging from Lego brick renditions to The Last Happy Meal!

The Silver Platter

by Nathan Alterman
(Translated from the Hebrew by David P. Stern)

...And the land will grow still
Crimson skies dimming, misting
Slowly paling again
Over smoking frontiers

As the nation stands up
Torn at heart but existing
To receive its first wonder
In two thousand years

As the moment draws near
It will rise, darkness facing
Stand straight in the moonlight
In terror and joy

...When across from it step out
Towards it slowly pacing
In plain sight of all
A young girl and a boy

Dressed in battle gear, dirty
Shoes heavy with grime
On the path they will climb up
While their lips remain sealed

To change garb, to wipe brow
They have not yet found time
Still bone weary from days
And from nights in the field

Full of endless fatigue
And all drained of emotion
Yet the dew of their youth
Is still seen on their head

Thus like statues they stand
Stiff and still with no motion
And no sign that will show
If they live or are dead

Then a nation in tears
And amazed at this matter
Will ask: who are you?
And the two will then say

With soft voice: We--
Are the silver platter
On which the Jews' state
Was presented today

Then they fall back in darkness
As the dazed nation looks
And the rest can be found
In the history books.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Netanyahu Misled US Congress about European Observers at Rafah Crossing

If Israel wants a say in passage via Rafah, it should permit passage between Gaza and the West Bank, writes Gisha director, Sarah Bashi, in today's guest post about Gaza's southern border being opened by Egypt through post-Mubarak legislation. Gisha is an Israeli NGO, an acronym which stands for Center for Freedom of Movement.

Gisha welcomes the announcement that Egypt will expand the ability of Gaza residents to travel abroad via Rafah Crossing, which has become Gaza's gateway to the world, in light of Israel's closure of Gaza's airspace and territorial waters and restrictions on travel via Erez Crossing. Gisha notes the need also to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, recognized by Israel as a single territorial unit whose integrity is the basis for a two-state solution.

Since the capture of an Israeli soldier in June 2006, Israel has vetoed the implementation of the U.S.-brokered 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which gave Israel security supervision over Rafah Crossing in exchange for a commitment to permit access between Gaza and the West Bank. If Israel wants a say concerning passage via Rafah, it should implement its commitment to allow Palestinians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank.

The Egyptian commitment concerning Rafah includes longer operating hours, no numerical limit on passengers, and visa-free travel, except for men aged 18-40. Crossing for Palestinians is expected to continue to be limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry. The expansion does not appear to include passage of goods, which are restricted to the Israeli-controlled crossings and subject to prohibitions on construction materials and export.

Background – Netanyahu Mislead Congress.

Since Israel closed Gaza's airspace and territorial waters and all but closed Erez Crossing to Palestinians, Rafah Crossing has become the gateway to the outside world for 1.5 million Palestinian residents of Gaza. Crossing via Erez (on the border between Gaza and Israel) is limited to "extraordinary humanitarian cases, especially urgent medical cases", preventing Palestinians from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.

Rafah Crossing was operated according to the U.S.-brokered Agreement on Movement and Access until June 2006, when Israel announced its suspension following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comment before the U.S. Congress that in Rafah, "the European observers evaporated overnight" failed to note that the "evaporation" was ordered by Israel, which refused to allow the EU border mission observers to reach their post and has objected to the implementation of the agreement ever since. The EU observers have been waiting in their hotel in Ashkelon for the last five years, waiting for Israeli permission to return to Rafah.

Rafah remained mostly closed from June 2006 to June 2010, when Egypt opened it in the wake of the flotilla incident for limited categories including holders of foreign passports or visas and those seeking medical attention in Egypt. Between June 2010 and January 2011, 19,000 people per month on average crossed Rafah in both directions, 47% of the number of people who crossed monthly in the first half of 2006. Crossing for Palestinians is limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry.
(Many files were destroyed in aerial assaults during Operation Cast Lead.)Since the 2005 "disengagement", goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Behold- Facts on the Ground

The BBC covers the latest diplomatic kerfuffle between Barack (no, the American one!) and Bibi here. Hat tip to the Beeb for the current West Bank map, which unfortunately does not show how one could make a passageway or linked border to Gaza. Any suggestions? And is it fair for all the security buffer zones to extend into non-Israeli land? Friendly neighbours should split the difference and have a DMZ of shared land.I'd like to see a West Bank map with precise borders. Here's an excerpt from the Beeb's piece:

Bibi Netanyahu: "While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines because these lines are indefensible.

"They do not take into account certain demographic changes on the ground that have taken place over the last 44 years."

Netanyahu insisted he valued Mr Obama's efforts, saying: "Israel wants peace, I want peace."

Giza recaps the problems of access for Gazans in their latest release, called "Gaza Reels". Hat tip to Nitin Sawhney for the link.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tel Aviv Pole-sitter Challenges Blaine

The latest high profile endurance stunt in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square is not overly ambitious, given a historic view. True, Israeli illusionist Hezi Dean wants to outdo Brooklyn's Trump-financed endurance artist, David Blaine, and be hailed as a Hebrew Houdini. So Hezi Dean was cranked up on a 27 meter high tower in Tel Aviv yesterday morning and aims to remain there with no food until Thursday evening, for a total of 35 hours. He plans to jump off into a stack of cardboard boxes to break his fall.


The feats of an ascetic Syrian Christian saint, Symeon the Stylite the Elder, were far more impressive! Symeon lived and prayed for 37 YEARS - not hours- on a small platform perched atop a 15 meter high pillar near Aleppo--way back in the third century. Shepherd boys sometimes scrambled up with hunks of bread,cheese,and sips of water. And Symeon, a true pillar of his community, inspired many imitators to sit on a pedestal too. He still holds the Guinness World Record for longest pole sit. For Blaine and Dean, he's a tough act to follow.

Tensions between US Words and Actions in Obama's MidEast Policy Speech

President Barack Obama's Middle East policy speech today has been dissected before it's been digested. Such is the 24 hour news cycle. Today's guest post from FireDogLake highlights the focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially interesting because Bibi is there in the wings.

Obama stated clearly that the United States will reject the planned proposal for Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. [Here's the relevant outtake from the speech]:

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist. 
As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace. 
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just a few leaders – must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

This is an explicit endorsement of the 1967 borders, and it does tell Israel that they basically won’t have a Jewish state if they stick to intransigence. But the rejection of the UN General Assembly vote seems to me a missed opportunity to increase that pressure. A unified Palestinian state has little negotiating power other than international acceptance. They’ve been brutalized under occupation (and Obama used that word, too) for 44 years, and basic dignity demands that they seek a solution in an international venue if one cannot come from negotiation. The intention is not solely to embarrass the opposition, but to uplift themselves.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Israeli preschool lesson: Who wants to kill us?

It’s nice to think Israel’s hard-won self-determination ensured Jewish children can grow up without fear and xenophobia.

Yeah, right.

Here is a photo taken this week at a preschool in the Tel-Aviv satellite city of Holon:

Translation, from the top:

“Who wants to kill us?

Pharaoh | Greeks | Haman | Nazis | Arabs

↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓

What do we need?


Do note that all Arabs (national group) and Greeks (in reference to assimilationist policies of the Seleucid empire) are equated to Nazis (murderous ideology). And of course, Pharaoh and Haman, the semi-mythological baddies of yore, to drive home to children under six years of age that persecution of us Jews is eternal.

Happy Independence Day.

Hat tip to +972 and journalist Dimi Reider for this guest post. Indoctrination for the nation through introductory xenophobia!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Holocaust survivor Epstein disses AIPAC

The unsinkable Hedy Epstein, pictured above on an aid flotilla to Gaza, is a survivor.

I fear AIPAC’s ability to move US policy in dangerous directions. AIPAC does a disservice to the Palestinians, the Israelis and the American people. It helps to keep the Middle East in a perpetual state of war and this year will be no different from last year as it keeps up a steady drumbeat calling for war against Iran, writes Hedy Epstein

AIPAC pretends to speak for all Jews, but it certainly does not speak for me or other members of the Jewish community in this country who are committed to equal rights for all and are aware that American interventionism is likely to bring further disaster and chaos to the Middle East.

Israel, of course, would not be able to carry out its war crimes against civilians in Lebanon and Gaza without the United States — and our $3 billion in military aid — permitting it to do so. At 86 years old, I use every ounce of my energy to educate the American public about the need to stop supporting the abuses committed by the Israeli government and military against the Palestinian people. Sometimes there are people who try to shout me down and scream that I am a self-hating Jew, but most of the time the audience is receptive to hear from someone who survived the Holocaust and now works to free the Palestinians from Israeli oppression.

The vicious discrimination brought to bear against Palestinians in the occupied territories deserves no applause from members of Congress attending the AIPAC conference. Instead, they should raise basic questions with Israeli officials about decades of inferior rights endured by Palestinians both inside Israel and the occupied territories.

Hedy Epstein is a Holocaust survivor, who writes and travels extensively to speak about social justice causes and Middle Eastern affairs. She will be participating in Move Over AIPAC, a gathering in Washington, DC from 21-24 May 2011, to expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East (

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fur flies over threat to Hasidic headwear

Tip of the shtreimel to photographer Gali Tibbon for this hairy tale about a possible ban on animal pelts from Asia, and how it could impact the ultra-Orthodox community inside Israel. Note that there also are fake fur hats for the rain - a better look perhaps than an elasticated shower cap fastened on for protection

For Jason Koutsoukis' original article,filed from Jerusalem, click here

At dusk on the Sabbath, few things are more spectacular in Jerusalem than the passing parade of fur hats moving inexorably towards the Western Wall.
There are great furry crowns of all shades of brown, lined with velvet and leather. Some are so wide and flat they look like a sombrero made of sable; others so high you might think they were top hats made of mink.
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They are shtreimels, the traditional headwear of some Hasidic Jews worn on the Sabbath and on holidays, but not to be confused with spodiks or kolpiks, other varieties of hairy hat reserved for more revered rabbinical sages.
Once symbols of persecution, they were first imposed by 18th-century Polish kings who decreed that Jews must wear the tail of an animal on the Sabbath to show they were not working.
The tradition spread through eastern Europe, with each Jewish sect adapting the shtreimel to its own taste, and instead of being a mark of persecution it became a symbol of pride.
Standing at the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem's Old City before sunset on Friday, watching the stream of shtreimels make their way to the holiest site in Judaism, the practised eye can tell a lot about each person just from the cut of their hat — the name of the sect each Hasid comes from, and which part of Europe their ancestors hailed from.
The shtreimel is also a dead giveaway for things such as the income of the wearer, what religious texts and customs they adhere to, and even whether or not they are Zionists.
Sitting in his office at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, dressed in a black tailcoat, black vest and white shirt, Rabbi Moses had just returned from heated debate in the Knesset chamber.
"People want to ban furs imported from Asia because of the way the animal is killed there," he says. "But what does this mean for the shtreimel?"
With the proposed law carrying a punishment of a year in prison, Rabbi Moses asks who will pay for the prisons to house all the law-breaking Jews who import the wrong kind of fur.
"Today, as I told the history of the shtreimel, what it means to Jewish history and custom, I left them all wide-eyed in the Knesset. Jaws open," he said.
Rabbi Moses said that the opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, was among those who approached him after his speech, offering her congratulations. End result? The bill has been deferred to committee.
To make one shtreimel can take up to 400 tails of various breeds of mink, sable and fox — the scrap of the fur industry.
Customers are fussy... The hardest part is measuring their heads to get an exact size.
With only 10,000 shtreimels produced around the world each year, it's definitely what you would call a niche market. But at a cost of up to $4000 each, it can be a profitable one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Passover, folks

And, on a pleasant Passover note, Goliath Grouper are no longer called Jewfish.
(Tip of the sombrero to Nathan Thornborgh for this timely tidbit. Goliath Grouper is pictured above, with quite a group! "Pesach same'ach" (פסח שמח); "Chag Pesach Same'ach" (חג פסח שמח)

Read more:

Also breaking news from the Holy Land: Maundy Thursday might have actually been on a Wednesday. Whatev'. Big kerfuffle over this"pre-poning" of the Last Supper in the mainstream media

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why Bedouins are pining for their old lands beneath new evergreen saplings

'Unrecognized' Bedouin are staking land claims in Israel.

The Jewish National Fund aims to plant a forest over the lands of al-Araqib. Co-sponsored by evangelical Christian organization God-TV, this forest would involve forcibly displacing the 300 Bedouin residents of the village, who are all Israeli citizens, from their homes. A non-profit organization in charge of forestation and Jewish settlement throughout Israel, the JNF controls approximately 13 percent of the land in Israel today. This land falls under the management of the Israeli Lands Administration (ILA), and can only be leased to Jews, or for Jewish settlement purposes.

According to Israeli activist Haia Noach, while the JNF initially denied any involvement in the destruction of al-Araqib, residents and local activists saw JNF bulldozers destroying property in the village during a demolition in early February:

“We connect them with this; they are directly responsible for what is going on there, for the fact that people lost their houses, lost their herds, their orchards,” said Noach, the Director of the Negev Co-Existence Forum, a joint Jewish-Arab organization working for Bedouin land rights in the Negev.

The destruction of al-Araqib is part of a larger Jewish National Fund project called ‘Blueprint Negev.’ Launched in 2005 at the cost of $600 million, the project aims to increase the population in the Negev area by 250,000 Jewish residents by 2013.

“Since the foundation of Israel, JNF was actually planting forests on Arab villages’ remains. And you see it all over Israel, in the North and even in the South. There will be more and more Arab villages in the Negev that are threatened by the forestation of the JNF,” Noach predicted.
Hat tip to OpenDemocracy and Jillian Kestler-D'Amours,filmmaker, for this important news. Residents were evicted by more than 1,000 riot police officers, who destroyed homes and animal pens, uprooted thousands of olive and other trees and confiscated personal property.