Tuesday, March 29, 2011

$5 bn Offshore Island mooted for Gaza ports

Huh? Now who is being pushed into the sea?

The Israeli Transportation Ministry is working on a plan to build an artificial island off the coast of Gaza, where a Palestinian-run airport and seaport would eventually be located. Ministry spokesman Ilan Leizerovich told the Associated Press that this would allow Israel to cut all ties with Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The majority of consumer goods and people who are allowed to enter and exit Gaza utilize Israeli land crossings. "Full disengagement" would follow this fanciful plan, and within six years the demilitarized zone of this island would be patrolled by international forces.

Leizerovich said the island would be built about three miles (4.5 kilometers) off the Gaza coast and would be connected by a bridge. He said it would take about six years and cost more than $5 billion to build. The grandiose scheme would need additional government approval, Palestinian acceptance and funding.

They'll also need a bridging loan, I guess. And few people reckon on a Dubai-style high style man-made island like the rather sci-fi one pictured above. According to the news station that broke the story, Channel 2, Israel would control and oversee all construction - to prevent concrete and other materials to be appropriated for covert rocket launchers. (The state of the art short range rocket shield, the Iron Dome, was deployed today for the first time over Beersheba.) Official discussions about the possibility of annexing West Bank settlements into Israel also created controversy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Six-pointed Star Power of Liz Taylor

In a life famously shared with seven husbands, Taylor’s relationship with Israel was one of her longest, writes Nathan Burstein in the Washington Post.

It began in 1959, when Taylor, then a recent convert to Judaism, purchased Israel Bonds in such volumes that her films were boycotted in Arab nations. The elements of the story are so mismatched — the sultry starlet and the Third World country then absorbing displaced Jews from the Arab world — that it makes your eyes pop, as Taylor did in so many of her films.

Eight years and two Oscars later, Taylor canceled a visit to Moscow to protest the U.S.S.R.’s condemnation of Israel in the Six Day War. She would later sign a letter denouncing the United Nations’ odious “Zionism is racism” resolution, and in 1976, she offered to trade places with one of the hostages held by Palestine Liberation Organization hijackers from a flight originating in Tel Aviv. (Her willingness to become a hostage didn’t lead anywhere in real life, but she eventually got to play one in a TV version of the incident, ABC’s “Victory at Entebbe.”)

She was Hollywood’s most famous Cleopatra, and she stayed involved in the Middle East long after her career slowed down. She lent her star power to Israel with a 1982-83 visit — she met with Prime Minister Menachem Begin — and by publicly supporting the right of the Soviet Union’s trapped Jewry to emigrate there.

Like her old-school glamour and professional roots in the original studio system, Taylor’s activism for Israel was, in many ways, an artifact of a different era. An increasingly cynical world challenged the actress and Israel in similar ways, with their idealized early images coming back to haunt them. Taylor, it turned out, was merely mortal, and prone to tabloid-worthy missteps despite her preternatural beauty. Israel, with its foundations in Jewish desperation and trauma, could be as dysfunctional and disappointing as any other nation.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sarah Palin pulls out of Bethlehem visit

Up against the Wall
Sarah Palin, the ex-candidate and present day minor celebrity, apparently had second thoughts about crossing an Israeli checkpoint on Monday to visit Bethlehem during a three-day visit to Jerusalem. Why didn't she cross over by foot, like most Christian tourists, and hire a Bethlehem-based guide? Conal Urquhart reports from the Holy Land for the Guardian newspaper:

The former governor of Alaska pulled up to the checkpoint run by the Israeli border police to the south of Jerusalem in a white people carrier, with her husband, Todd, her assistant and Israeli guides.

None of the occupants left the car nor did they speak to the police officers at the checkpoint, according to photographers at the scene. They then turned around and drove away. A spokesman for the Israeli police said there was no incident at the checkpoint and a spokesman for the Israeli army said that Palin's group had not co-ordinated a visit to the occupied Palestinian territory.

Palin's group then stopped at a nearby Greek Orthodox monastery before returning to her hotel in the centre of west Jerusalem from where they later continued their tour of the city.

Tourists need to carry passports to cross checkpoints into the occupied Palestinian territory and Israelis are not normally permitted to enter areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, such as Bethlehem.

From the checkpoint Palin would have been able to see the high concrete walls that separate Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

Palin arrived in Israel on Sunday night after a delivering a speech in India on a rare foreign trip. She is due to meet Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on Monday evening.

On arriving in Jerusalem Palin visited the tunnels next to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, which is believed to have been part of the walls of the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.

Palin wore a Star of David, the symbol of Judaism, around her neck, prayed close to the wall and lodged a written prayer in a crevice, according to tradition.

Palin told reporters: " It's overwhelming to be able to see and touch the cornerstone of our faith. I'm so thankful to be able to be here and I'm thankful to know the Israel-American connection will grow and strengthen as the peace negotiations continue."

Danny Danon, the Likud party member of the Knesset who invited Palin to Israel and accompanied her to the Western Wall, said Palin was moved by being close to the wall. "The visit was educational and spiritual. She was a strong friend of Israel and she will become a stronger advocate of Israel in the future," he said.

"The main purpose of the visit was to get acquainted with Israel and the holy sites. It was her first visit but I am sure she will come again."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Munther Fahmi to be stripped of ID card

Many booklovers in Jerusalem are in despair. Munther Fahmi is the founder and owner of the Bookshop at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. He has been a friend and partner to PalFest since the beginning and his bookstore is a cornerstone of cultural life in Jerusalem. He offers an incredibly wide range of titles and fights to maintain a small but vital space of free and independent thought and debate in Jerusalem. Jews, Muslims, Gentiles, Christians and tourists of all descriptions all are welcome in his store.

He is being threatened with deportation. If authorities take away his ID, and the IDF can for the most whimsical of reasons and claim that it is a security matter, Fahmi will no longer be allowed inside Jerusalem.

People across the world are collecting signatures to try and help him stay in the city of his birth. Here's the online petition

Hat tip to Matt Rees, the ex-journalist who pens detective books, for the info.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Spies and Lies, 60 years later

A cold dose of Israelity came a decade after the wedding day for ten Israeli Arab women who were told about their husbands' deceit by government officials.
Mistaarvim and Mrs? Ten odd couples are revealed in a fascinating piece running in Ynet's magazine. Shin Bet orchestrated double lives for their agents, with a plausible cover story for "young vigorous men" to find spouses in Arab communities inside Israel, from Jaffa. Read about the fallout six decades later:

"Your husband is not who you think he is. He is not Arab. Your husband is a Jew who was sent into your village on a mission by the defense establishment." This was the news a few Israeli Arab women received from the head of the Mossad Intelligence Service
mission in France in 1964. This was how they discovered that the fathers of their children were serving in a top secret Israeli unit sent to spy in their villages.

Ten Jewish men assimilated into Arab communities in the early 1950s, marrying local women and starting families with them, all the while serving in the Shin Bet as "mistaarvim," (literally, masqueraders) - undercover agents posing as Palestinians.

The goal of the unit, which was established in 1952, was to have men on the inside in case a war breaks out, and the Israeli Arabs join the enemy. Shumel Moriah, a senior Shin Bet officer who came to Israel from Iraq, and had plenty of experience smuggling Jews into Israel, led the unit. He recruited 10 other Iraqi-born men for the complex mission.

The unit was disbanded over a decade after its establishment, which was when the wives were informed of the deception. Most of them converted and lived in Israel as Jews. Their children were recognized as Jews without undergoing an official conversion procedure.

The training process took one year; the men learned the Palestinian dialect, studied the Koran and espionage techniques in an Intelligence Corps base near Ramla. With a new identity and a detailed cover story, they were sent into Palestinian villages and cities. They pretended to be refugees from the 1948 war returning home. Their real families in Israel were kept in the dark about their whereabouts and activities; they were forbidden from trying to discover where their loved ones served.

Hat tip to Gideon for this link. The full story is here.