Friday, June 29, 2007

Armageddon any closer? Fire and Brimstone drive Bush's policy in Middle East
Tony Blair appears eager to get started on his latest task: picking up the pieces in the Middle East. Some analysts suggest that Blair, who has proved to be the most religious British leader of the century, has openly sympathized with the coded political-religious language that born-again President George Bush habitually uses, as well as with Bush's faith-based efforts to entwine religion and government. The result? Doomsday just got closer, as America contemplates war without end against satanic forces of evil. Theocracy has increasing appeal for Middle America, warns a special report that was released today on Truthout. Here's an excerpt, and note that it is worth reading the entire article for insights on Iran, Middle East Wars and End-Time Prophecy. It's all about Prophets and profits.

Christian Zionists have become Israel's main tourist revenue, shepherding groups to the holy land to see the sites of Armageddon and the Second Coming.

Professor Norton Mezvinsky, an expert on Israeli affairs, is emphatic on one point: although a succession of Israeli prime ministers has courted the American end-timers (the Christian Zionists) and declared them Israel's "greatest friends," the Israelis don't accept the end-time theology one wit. They are also aware that it is anti-Semitic. (For one thing, they interpret the Bible as claiming that only 144,000 converted Jews will be allowed to survive the Apocalypse.) However, Mezvinsky says, the Israelis also know that the end-time Christian Zionists are a lobby that can deliver US support for Israeli hard-line positions on arms, West Bank settlements, negotiations with the Arabs, and Iran.

Jewish-Muslim doubles trouble: skirting the issues at Wimbledon

Tensions in the Middle East reverberate even on the green grass of Wimbledon. When a Jew doubles up with a Muslim to take on all comers, the world must acknowledge that such cooperation is possible. Beneficial, even.
Shaha Pe'er, a strapping 20-year-old Israeli pro with a big backhand is set to play ball with her new partner, Sania Mirza, a Muslim from Hyderabad in Southern India.

Controversy is nothing new to feisty Sania Mirza, also 20. For years, she has been criticized for "playing half-naked" on the court in skimpy clothes that leave "nothing to the imagination".
She's had to overcome traditional attitudes about women's comportment in South Asia. Inside India and Pakistan, female tennis players used to compete on hardcourts finished with dried cowdung, clad in the traditional baggy pants and tunic, Shalwar Kameez. But Mirza is a pro athlete with a strategy for victory. And partnering with the higher-ranked Pe'er (pictured here) is a clever move.

Mirza (above) and Pe'er now are seeded 16th in the grass court championship, and prefer to concentrate on winning tactics rather than religion. Let's hope they advance in the tournament with nothing to worry about other than their opponents.

According to a wire story from Reuters,

The last time Mirza, a Muslim, joined forces with Pe'er at the 2005 Japan Open, their association was short-lived.
Under pressure from militants furious over a Muslim and a Jew playing together, Mirza called for some time out.
She hopes their second stab at success will be remembered more for their on-court exploits.
"We've grown up together. We're great friends. So we said, why not?" said Mirza, who comes from the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

The other Israeli woman player at Wimbledon is Anna Smashnova, a determined little baseliner whose family immigrated from Belarus. Her wonderfully apt surname, Smashnova, is more remarked upon than her citizenship. But the 30-year-old did not quite live up to her name this year: she was routed 6-0, 6-0 in the first round by a German powerhouse player, Martina Mueller.

Cybersnub from JBlog

Huh? Some nameless right-on blogsters from the Jewish cyber-mafi have tossed Izzy Bee out of their cozy cyber ghetto with no explanation.
I have not felt this shunned since some mean high school kids kept me out of their waspy social club. For several months my blog has appeared through an automatic feed on the israelforum,
along with some 445 others. Readers can rate any posts as they come in.
As a neophyte, Izzy Bee was curious to see public reaction to what I observe and interpret around me in the Holy Land. Many of these Israel Forum bloggers seem to be outsiders looking in or aggregating posts from conservative websites, but there also was original and innovative content. I even nominated myself for their annual competition, in hopes of reaching out to new readers and seeing from inside how it all works. I wanted to take part in a wide-ranging collective that included funny, self-deprecating, bright weblogs and some with an odd sideways takes on Jewish or Israeli lifestyles and politics.
Other intriguing ones were recipe recyclers, gay jokesters, black hat philosophers, savvy housewives or rightwing nut jobs. Check out this cross-section of blog titles, for an idea. Definitely not bog-standard:

Joe Settler, Yid with a Lid, Bagel Blogger --the Ozraeli perspective, Jacob da Jew, Jerusalem Cop, Jew-ish, J-spot, Rabbi without a Cause,The velveteen Rabbi, me-ander, Frumkenstein, Jewdicial, Jewcy

You get the picture. Punning Pundits.

Surely there would be room for the musings of a lapsed Baptist ex-journalist who is coming to grips with a peripatetic life in a Bible setting, with all its incongruous high tech surveillance, jaded ex-idealists, youthful energy and ancient feuds. I have a front row seat for the apocalypse, whether it's nuclear or the second coming. And I love Jerusalem's assortment of sabras and Christian evangelicals, kibbutzniks and settlers, Zionists and NGO workers. This is quite a diverse place, once described to me as a game reserve for bigots, but really so much more complex.

Apparently Israelity Bites does not fit in so well. All my initial posts were rated 2 by JBlog, ie POOR. (I figured maybe it was a machine that ranked me so low, but it rankled.) I also noticed that a couple of dozen JBlogsters rated me, but nobody ever bothered to link to my actual page so they could read my entire post beforehand. That's why I switched my settings so the whole post would automatically pop up on JBlog. This improved things immensely: the site upgraded the ratings to 4, or GOOD. Then, it all vanished, POOF. Dunno why. There was a British cartoon mocking Tony Blair, as Terminator. He'd just met with California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I mused that consulting a governor who could win over Israeli politicians despite having a Nazi father might be helpful for someone taking up the troublesome post of MidEast envoy. Was this found offensive? I emailed the webmaster, but was not enlightened. Silence.
The israelforum FAQ s state:

we include most blogs that are Jewish-oriented or pro-Israeli in the conventional sense. We try to avoid blogs that promote hate, illegal activities, adult content, etc. We rely on our readers to report content that is clearly inappropriate, but we cannot promise that we can act on those reports as quick ly as some readers would like. We reserve the right to include or exclude any specific blog at our sole discretion.

Hmmmm. Being perceived as "pro-Israeli in the conventional sense" may be the stumbling block. Does that mean no criticism, even if it's bemused? No talk of Gaza or Palestinian policy? No mention of Assraelis, the so-called Kosher Porn produced in-country? Izzy Bee is stung at this exclusion.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's Official: Blair's the new Mid-East Peace Envoy

It took 24 hours for the Quartet to sing from the same page, but the job of Middle East Peace Envoy has been accepted by Britain's Tony Blair, the man who took ten years to convert Cool Brittannia to Cruel Brittannia in the view of most Middle Easterners. It remains to be seen whether he waives the rules for conflict resolution in this seething troublespot. Will he deal with Hamas? (Mahmoud Abbas, the West's choice for Palestinian President insists on 'no dialogue with putschists, murderers and terrorists') Will the man who helped quell the troubles in Northern Ireland make any difference in the land of Guns and Moses?

"He's not superman, doesn't have a cape," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters.

"He's not designed to be doing that. What he is designed to do is to work as an aggressive facilitator"

Ah, so that's what Blair is meant to be. Bush assured a London tabloid that "Blair ain't my poodle", and now the White House has clarified what kind of cute animal tricks it has in mind.

One of Blair's last meetings as Prime Minister was office with California's musclebound Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is as close to a superhero as US politics can get. His Austrian father famously was in the SS. The wartime exploits of Gustav Schwarzenegger, a brownshirt and "Chained Dog", have caused critics to hound the Republican politician, who clinked glasses with the ex-Nazi Kurt Waldheim at his own wedding banquet. Arnie has been able to make nice with conciliatory visits to Jerusalem, after these revelations, and even can negotiate family feasts with a bunch of Kennedys (his in-laws). The larger-than-life politician may be able to lend Blair some handy diplomatic catch phrases, ie "Hasta la Vista, Baby..." to replace that one that Ms Condi Rice seems to have worn out: "I'll be back!"
Tony is eagerly changing hats for this new role, says the BBC.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Shalit & Johnston boobytrapped in Gaza

Today marks one year since the young IDF corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas gunmen in a cross-border raid. Israeli television reports quoted Hamas sources assurances that their captive is alive and healthy, held incommunicado in an underground chamber in Shaboura, a refugee camp near Gaza's southern border. Hamas sources said Shalit's two-room cell is dug into the bottom of a 15 meter shaft lined with explosives. His jailers access Shalit's hidey-hole by ladder and keep enough provisions there so that they can withstand a two week siege.

Meanwhile, a disturbing video of the BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, trussed up in a suicide belt, was released online by his kidnappers today, as the latest deadline for the journalist's release expired. A little-known faction, called Jaish al-Islam [or Army of Islam], defied the Hamas ultimatum by showing this tape, in which Johnston understandably appears anxious.
"The situation now is very serious. As you can see I have been dressed in what is an explosive belt, which the kidnappers say will be detonated if there was any attempt to storm this area," he said.

Johnston is held hostage at a seaside tower block in Gaza City. Clerics said that his kidnappers must be scared of retribution by other factions if they release the BBC reporter. “We condemn the continued release of videos like this which can only add to the distress of Alan Johnston’s family and friends,” said a British Foreign Office spokeswoman. The BBC appealed again for Johnston's immediate release and posted this second video on its website. His abductors insist on swapping the Scotsman Johnston for Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-born Islamic cleric who is accused of links with al-Qaeda and currently is detained by Britain as a national security threat. Abu Qatada is expected to be deported soon.

This just in: Hamas has released an audio tape purported to be Shalit, and his father confirmed that the voice sounded like his son's. On the recording, the captive soldier says his health is deteriorating and berates the Israeli government for ignoring his plight and for not meeting the demands of Izz el-Din al-Qassam, the armed wing of Hamas. B'Tselem, an Israeli NGO, has demanded that Hamas allow the International Red Cross to visit the hostage, Shalit, and pointed out that his captivity flouts the Geneva conventions. Last year, when Shalit's parents attempted to send their son some new eyeglasses, Hamas balked, fearing an attempt to smuggle in spy specs replete with miniature gadgetry.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in a surprise announcement at the Middle East summit, announced the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners, as per demands of Shalit's kidnappers. Just to spite Hamas, all of them are Fatah loyalists.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Zion's Overlooked Victims-Sephardis and Mizrahis far from home

There's a sizeable Jewish diaspora that frequently gets overlooked. The Middle East is home to "many Jews who paid the price for the Arab-Israeli conflict," and they would be within their rights to demand a Right of Return, argues Khaled Diab. The Egyptian/Belgian commentator posted an intriguing piece on the Guardian website about this. It is an eye-opener for anyone who has not seen the demographics of Israel up-close.

Palestinians have not been the Middle East's only victims of tumultuous forces beyond their control. Another group that got swept up in history's unforgiving currents was the Arab world's once-thriving Jewish minority: the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews.

There were some three-quarters of a million Jews living in Arab countries prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. The Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) had a Jewish population of up to half a million; Iraq, up to 140,000; Egypt had up to 100,000; and Yemen, around 50,000. Today, the Jewish populations of most Arab countries number a few hundred or fewer, with the exception of Morocco which still has a few thousand Jews.

Although most Middle Eastern Jews saw Zionism as a remote and alien European dream, about half the Jews who left or were expelled from Arab countries ended up in Israel. The rest went to Europe and the Americas, the largest single group settling in France.

Labelling the rich and westernized Arab states as "McAhmed" societies is brilliant.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Military brief: lure male tourists

Out of Uniform in Tel Aviv

Brazen notion for a government body
(Cartoon from NY Post)

Scantily clad ex-soldiers in a men's magazine are beckoning young males to try sex tourism in Israel. Unlikely? Well, the brainstorm of the Israeli consul in New York resulted in what some critics branded a soft-porn photo spread in July's Maxim magazine, called "Women of the IDF".
Reports are mixed whether the scheme to show a little skin in order to promote the land of Guns and Moses was ill-advised. Particularly at a time when overt sexuality, hetero- or homosexual, scandalizes the devout of three monotheistic religions, to release officially-sanctioned, military-themed smut was a tad crass. Sex is invariably a bombshell in the world's holiest and hottest region (Some 7500 security cops were called out to guard a couple thousand Gay Pride marchers in Jerusalem yesterday. A dozen arrests and a confiscated homemade bomb made the day go smoothly, but not much fun was had by anyone. A real Drag, so to speak.)

Any visitors to Israel will need to book soon. Airfares are 15% higher than last summer and some flights already are sold out. Despite upheavals in Gaza, Qassam rocket attacks in Sderot and perceived threats from Syria and Iran, people flock here. The tourism ministry anticipates a 20% increase in visitors this summer, but mainly because summer youth programs have a record turnout.
Gidi Mark, who markets Taglit-Birthright Israel, says 24,000 North American youths will arrive during the next three months for free trips; they had to turn away 6,000. "This will be the largest number ever of students from the Diaspora in Israel during one season," he said.

Doggy-style security creates Pups for Peace

Pups for Peace looks like a howling success five years down the line.
After double suicide bombing in Netanya, a group of West Hollywood dog enthusiasts was moved by reports of the carnage and in 2002 sent trained sniffer dogs to Israel to help detect explosives and thwart terrorists.

Now, Israel is returning the favor with a group of sabra commando canines that will guard California from terror acts. The new Counter-Terrorism Canine Handlers unit, backed by the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger recently dispatched nine California law enforcement officers to Israel for two months. Now they work with Israeli dogs trained in Krav Maga and other martial arts. They use Hebrew commands to work with the K9 corps, which is apt to confuse terrorists caught in the act.

Kudos for the success of this unusual exchange program, because sniffing for explosives or drugs is not a job easily outsourced. Thailand is a case in point. King Bhumipol Adulyadej encouraged the kingdom's custom agents to train soi-dogs, the intelligent strays that frequent back alleyways, to work in airports instead of investing in foreign dogs. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, and the soi dogs were savvy. But up near the Golden Triangle, two of these mutts, Mok and Lai, ran amok in Chiang Rai airport, lifting their legs to pee on luggage luggage and humping women’s legs. Eventually, complaints were so widespread that the two police dogs were put on chicken and pig duty at a local farm. Life's a bitch.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?

Er, despite appearances, these masked men are not exactly mirror images of one another.

Still, even after Palestine's worst in-fighting for years, it seems premature and utterly simplistic for the west to believe that the Palestinians have split themselves into two easy pieces. Sure there's seaside Gaza Strip, cheekily dubbed "Hamastan" after its seizure by the fundamentalist Muslims, and the larger, more moderate "Fatahland", which US and Israeli policy makers want to inject with belated foreign cash as a deterrent to creeping Islamofacism. Say what?
Both enclaves still are rife with feuding factions and gangs armed with smuggled weapons.

Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu-Mazen) succeeded Yasser Arafat and was elected in January 2005 to head the Palestinian Authority. He promised to reform the security apparatus and to enforce law and order. To avoid confrontation, Abbas incorporated elements of the militias into his official security organs. But he dithered and failed to consolidate the security services or to appoint new and loyal officers who could control them. Abbas also blew a chance to impose law and order in Gaza after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in the summer of 2005. That's why he gets scant respect inside Palestine.

In contrast to the Fatah-led PA, Hamas doled out welfare and education services to the people, and earned a reputation for comparative honesty. Being deprived of funds to govern, Hamas's political wing was crippled and after 18 months, the militant extremists prevailed.

Now several million Palestinian civilians must try to eke out ordinary lives in the turmoil of kidnaps, targeted killings, honor killings, revenge killings, assorted atrocities and depravity. They're desperate for calm to return, however fleeting. The West Bank's population is 75% Muslim (mostly Sunni), plus 17% Jewish,and 8% Christian; overwhelmingly Islamic Gaza has less diversity. Only 0.7% are Christian, and 0.6% Jewish, and these minorities are fearful of what the future might hold under tightened blockades.

Israeli's new Defence Minister Ehud Barak has just instructed officials to give temporary asylum to Gazans needing urgent medical care. Up to 600 Gazans were sheltering Wednesday inside a tunnel on the south side of the Erez border crossing. Many incapacitated people lay on the bare concrete amid their own filth. If they managed to crawl into the Israeli-controlled area of the tunnel, tear gas would hiss into the confined space, so a spiral of razor wire was hung up as a reminder.

Israeli Physicians for Human Rights petitioned the Supreme Court to force the authorities to offer immediate medical treatment. IDF tanks had blocked all movement after a militant hurled a grenade at the checkpoint and exchanged gunfire with Israeli soldiers.

In the lull after the heavy conflict, Hamas has been aping the Americans' PR tactics familiar from the War on Terror. Witness this poster,
which, unlike the Americans' Iraqi deck, shows a royal flush of Fatah fighters. The defunct Ace is a much-feared hit man called Sameech Almadhoun, nicknamed “Almaleoun” (the cursed one). Hamas systematically executed his cohorts and finally Sameech himself in the Northern Gaza Strip and issued the new poster as both boast and a threat. It does not look as if Hamas is ready to fold and shuffle off anytime soon.

Hidden Spectrum of New Age ideas found in Sir Isaac Newton's secret journals

Sir Isaac Newton's colorful private notebooks went on display in Jerusalem this weekend, at the Jewish National library at Hebrew University. Scholarly jaws are dropping. The celebrated scientist who sussed out gravity three centuries ago reckoned that the end of the world won't come before 2060, and went on to suggest that the world may keep whirling long after that carefully calculated date. So take a deep breath and relax. We may live in interesting and perilous times, but apparently we have at least 53 more years before nuclear apocalypse or the resource-depleted planet sputters out, according to this renowned physicist.

"Newton's Secrets", archived in Israel since 1969 and bought at auction from his heirs in 1936, are on general public view for the first time. They include arcane theological calculations, based on decoding prophecies in the Book of Daniel. Puzzling over the phrase "for a time, times, and a half," Newton concluded that it signals 1,260 years would pass from the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire by Charlemagne in 800, until the End of Days.

Yemima Ben-Menachem, a philosopher at Hebrew University, is one of the exhibit's curators and explained that not all Newton's musings are strictly rationalist: "For a long time, Newton was regarded only as a great scientist and mathematician. These writings lay in crates... but today we're in the New Age period, and scholars are more open to manuscripts like these. During the scientific revolution, religion and science were entwined with each other. Newton was also a very religious man and, as opposed to other learned people of his day, he even believed in a personal God."
He also was a keen alchemist, though this gold obsession was underplayed by many of his scholarly acolytes.

Newton decoded ancient texts to predict that the Jews would return to the Holy Land before the apocalypse. The end will bring

"the ruin of the wicked nations, the end of weeping and of all troubles, the return of the Jews captivity and their setting up a flourishing and everlasting Kingdom," he wrote.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pointedly hostile

Once the Erez and Rafah crossings reopen, expect thorough security at border checkpoints leading in and out of the locked cage of Gaza. This Reuters wire photo of a Hamas gunman at the ready shows a new use of baggage x-ray machines; presumably it's not a new way to inspect for pointedly obvious weapons.

Although the Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his ilk scolded Israeli pols for allowing the rise of "Hamastan" and now call for an Israeli siege that will cut off Gaza's electricity, fuel, and even water, most Israeli human rights advocates insist that for the 1.5m trapped inside, the misery inflicted would be unacceptable. Food stocks will last less than two weeks

Hardliners scorn Egypt for not halting weapon-smuggling through tunnels into the Strip. They predict that Israel will be blamed for any suffering regardless of its actions, and suggest that in order to eliminate Hamas terror strikes, IDF drones might as well take out anyone inside the enclave who has a weapon. Others sense that the Palestinians' internecine hostilities are not so clear cut by geography, and caution that clandestine Hamas-supporters inside the West Bank will soon resort to assassinations and bombs. It's tense out there.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Palestine: state of emergency

At an East Jerusalem party last night, a tipsy aid worker stood up to toast to the release of Alan Johnston, the BBC captive. He'd just read the news wires on his Blackberry, and so we all whooped with relief and launched some fireworks. It was a hint of good news in a very dire week. Hours later, poor Alan still is not free. (Nor is Gaza, although now ordinary people at least are able to walk the streets.)

We all have been concerned about Alan's safety and state of mind the past few days, held prisoner inside a tower block for three months in Gaza City, now listening to bombs, rocket-fired grenades and gunfire all around, smelling the blood and the smoke and not being able to find out the cause. Journalistic hell---being on the spot but effectively deaf and mute. Three other western journalists (from McClatchey, NPR, and Britain's Sunday Telegraph) were reporting from the strip when the most vicious fighting of the year broke out, and all were with local fixers and the Fatah factions. None were able to board the clandestine fishing boat to Egypt with the fleeing Fatah warriors after Hamas declared the place "an islamic republic." Bloody chaos.

After the score-settling and summary executions in the street, granting amnesty for Fatah fighters is a welcome gesture from Hamas. But will they be able to control the other militant factions, like Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa brigades, so they'll refrain from provoking Israel with rhetoric and rocket fire?

In Gaza, this week's coup d'├ętat by Hamas-- the elected government,if you recall-- has thrown the west for a loop. About 1.5 million people still live there amidst gun-toting masked men, so is it fair to write the place off as ungoverned and ungovernable? Some 18 months ago, the majority of Palestinians turned their noses up at corrupt Fatah politicians and their graft, and voted in what Israel and the West consider "the wrong guys." Many outsiders do not distinguish between the militant wing and the political leaders, who were not given the means to govern. (Both wings are attached to the same venal bird of prey, they complain.) Even the Arab League condemns the savagery of the Gaza feud, and branded some actions as war crimes. After the abandoned house of Yasser Arafat was looted, Hamas ordered gunmen to demask and show their faces, except when shooting at Israelis. In the West Bank, where the parliament was overrun by gunmen bent on vengeance, Fatah militants still hide behind the skimasks. Guess it's all downhill from here.

Both the US and Israel balk at dealing with a Hamas government until and unless it formally recognized Israel's right to exist. This will be a long wait. Pragmatic politicians must deal with the world as it is, not an idealized version. (When the US for years refused to recognize Red China, over Taiwan, the Sino-powerhouse did not magically vanish.)

Fatah took its cue from Jerusalem and Washington and has refused to relinquish its power. The "unity" government that was belatedly agreed on in Mecca four months ago never obtained the Western backing it needed. Now, Hamas has taken by force the victory it won 18 months ago at the ballot box. Their brutal tactics wrenched apart many lives and have created political dead-ends for any humanitarian progress. And to re-label Gaza as "Hamastan" is as erroneous as it is to gloat at the two-state solution the Palestinans now have lumbered themselves with; Hamas has staunch supporters in the West Bank as well, and a civil war there will not enhance Israel.
Israelis are expected to ease some restrictions on the West Bank and to further squeeze the Gazans in their narrow seaside enclave, which on the map is shaped like a crude Kalashnikov.

Jan Egeland, who advises the UN Secretary General, said: "This is a product of failed Palestinian policies, failed Israeli policies, failed international policies." It is also the fallout from the catastrophic blunders in Iraq, which have distracted and discredited America and inspired Islamic militancy the world over. Bloodshed is likely to spill over into the West Bank and there will be limited tolerance for stooge politicians. Hebron, especially, is a potential flashpoint.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert travels to Washington soon, and the talk show diva Oprah Winfrey, tagging along with Elie Wiesel, is expected to generate some star power back in the blighted Holy Land. The small screen star-cum-Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson will head here this summer, too. There is no indication that these celebrities plan to venture into the West Bank towns or to Gaza, where there's definitely a lack of Law and Order. Da-dum.
Israelity bites.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mixed Emotions over comic Exit Wounds

Maybe her title is a bit over the top, but by all accounts the new graphic novel by Rutu Modan, an Israeli who now lives in the north of England, is bloody good.

Now this 40 year-old cartoonist has been commissioned to do a self-revealing strip online for the New York Times, called "Mixed Emotions". Excerpts from Exit Wounds, published this week, already are posted on the webpage of New York Magazine. The setting is gritty Tel Aviv, a metropolis where "terror and love brush against each other every day", according to the blurb. Hmmmm. Suicide bombers and family loss are an undeniable reality here, yet most urbanites survive by keeping ourselves in a bubble and not contemplating the possibilities that we personally will be caught up in "the situation" until it happens. This blase attitude is captured well by Modan, along with some of the incidental sexist and class-conscious quirks of Israelis in their biggest burg.

It's definitely not a masterpiece on a par with Maus, Art Spiegelman's influential 1980s take on the Holocaust and individual survival;
but Modan is compelling on her own terms. Minimalistic Tin-Tin style figures make the interplay between a lovelorn army girl and a cab driver questing for a lost father the overriding concern. Modan's publishers, Drawn & Quarterly, are promoting the comic widely outside Israel, where she says nitpickers would insist the drawings be flipped and, anyhow, comic readership is sparse. After all, Israel is "the only country in the world where Superman was a flop," Ms Modan explained.
The inspiration, according to an interview on Newsarama, was the devastating documentary film about bus No.17, by director David Ofek.

It is about a terror attack in a bus, and one of the bodies is so much destroyed that it can't be identified. Well actually, that happens a lot in bomb attacks—what is less ordinary is the fact that no one comes to claim the body. It seems to be the body of someone nobody misses. The director is trying to find the identity, so he publishes an ad in the newspaper, asking if anyone knows someone who suddenly disappeared. I remember one man shows up there who did not know where his son was for a long period (in the end, it turns out that it wasn't him after all). That made me think, there can be certain cases we would prefer to think someone is dead than to believe he just doesn't want any contact with us.

Formerly, Modan was part of the Israeli comic collective Actus Tragicus, along with artists Itzik Rennert, Mira Friedmann, Batia Kolton and Yirmi Pinkus. Their output ran on Top Shelf comics, and includes Jetlag, Happy End, and The Actus Box. With a commission for half a dozen graphic blogs in the NY Times, Modan is bound to get her 15 minutes of fame in the Big Apple. Mazel Tov.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bacall and Peres: Kissin' Cousins

Spot the family resemblance?
It is perhaps not so obvious in the 1943 portraits of these famous Polish first cousins.

The sultrier one is Betty Joan Perske, who Californicated her screen name to Lauren Bacall; when her cuz Szymon Perski immigrated to Israel, he Hebrewized his name to Shimon Peres. The erstwhile leader--who already has been Israel's prime minister, foreign minister, defence minister, and finance minister-- now aims to be the next President and has not hesitated to highlight the Hollywood connection before parliament picks one. Their families originally hail from a small shtetl in Wolozyn, Poland (now Valozhyn, in Belarus.) Ms Bacall, born in New York City, is younger by one year and has the huskier voice. She was nominated for an Oscar, but never won one. Peres had to share his Nobel Peace Prize (Piece prize?) with Arafat.

A last-minute plug from Ehud Olmert, who has a dismal 3 per cent approval rating, may not be much of an endorsement.
"We have to make sure that this man, who deserves it more than any other, is chosen on Wednesday to head the state and represent it honorably, just as he has done for so many years," Olmert said in the Knesset today.

IDF takes aim at Gaza while the Strip self-destructs and blood flows

How can cooler heads possibly prevail when the blood-soaked region is on the verge of all-out war?

According to a UN envoy the entire Middle East is set to flare into pitched combat on at least four fronts and get engulfed in war. All the usual suspects, alas. Already in Gaza, the bodycount increases daily, even though analysts say that fighting has yet to peak. The BBC reports today that Hamas are countering an assassination attempt against Prime Minister Ismail Haniya with an assault on Fatah bases. They may try a power grab, fears the weak Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; so far 19 Gazans have been killed in the past 24 hours. Gunbattles inside Gaza's hospital wards, where rival factions executed the wounded, are a new low point. Elsewhere in the brutalized Gaza Strip, militants have resorted to hurling handcuffed prisoners to their deaths from high rise buildings. Lately, the internecine bloodletting tends to lull as soon as militants rocket Israeli towns in the Negev and provoke a military response from the IDF. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pledged that airstrikes will continue until the Qassam rocket barrages stop and infiltrators are thwarted. Outrage over a report that Palestinian militants posed as journalists and attempted an attack on Israelis at a checkpoint by using a white jeep labelled with "TV" markings has been met with cynicism. Senior correspondents point out that journalists never are waived through without credentials being scrutinized; it is just as likely that the shot-up jeep was taped up as a TV vehicle after the fact in order to make the point that journos should lie low. Meanwhile, Gaza implodes.

To market? No, all little piggies stay home

Kosher grocer wars, and how Israel's secular consumers are caught like a piggy in the middle as an immigrant Russian billionaire eyes Jerusalem politics, makes fascinating reading in today's Independent of London. Check out the article by Donald Macintyre.
Stocks of the "other white meat" and shellfish still are available in boutique butchers for non-observant customers, but prices are expected to rise. The tycoon philanthropist Arkady Gaidamak, who also owns a football club (er, pigskin balls, anyone?) insists that he has never ever munched a morsel of pork and that to continue selling the meat inside the Holy land, where devout Jews and Muslims consider it unclean, is "a provocation." His is a highly unorthodox approach to vote-getting. The-th-that's not all, folks, in the loony-toon world of Israeli local politics.
Watch this space.
(There's no swine shortage in any Middle East election, I am told. Politicians on the trot will inevitably put their best foot forward.)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Jewish Vandals on the rampage

Things turned ugly this weekend when a crowd of 1300 Jewish worshippers came out to pray at the grave of the biblical leader, Joshua (Yehoshua Bin-Nun), located in Kifl Harith. They did not exactly act like the Good Samaritans from whom the region takes its Zionist name, Samaria. (The world knows the place as the Occupied West Bank, and violence between Jewish settlers and Arabs has flared there sporadically for the past 20 years.)

According to the Israeli Defence Forces, who were ordered to give protection to the religious crowd, nine ancient Islamic tombstones were desecrated, either by upending them or with spraypaint. The slogan "Death to Arabs" was scrawled across some graves-- rather redundant considering the circumstances. The Muslim denizens of the graveyard already were.

The organizers of the Jewish prayer service promised to repair the damage this week, according to the Jerusalem Post, and the army was informed that "only a small group decided to cause a provocation." Otherwise, it reported that the groups' actions were "appropriate to a holy place." The little news item was buried inside the newspaper on page four. Had it been Muslims desecrating Jewish tombs, surely the article would have been splashed across the front page and led local newscasts. But this act of aggressive Jewish intolerance in a holy place is not so unusual; it hardly is as rare as "Man Bites Dog."

Inside Jerusalem, on the edge of the Walled City, vandalism has become part of the modus operandi for Yeshiva students who normally would devote their time to studying the Torah. A thuggish group called the Diaspora Yeshiva, funded from abroad, has been trying to expand their property on Mt Zion by harassing neighbours--both secular Jews and Christians--in hopes that they will feel intimidated and sell out.

The students recently hurled boulders onto the patio of a middle-aged potter-cum-cafe owner, damaging his renovations and some priceless antiques. When the physically fit artist gave chase, eight of the youths tackled him and tried to break his thumb. The police did nothing when the potter filed a complaint. He is determined to open his tourist cafe on Mt Zion in spite of all the aggro.

Now the nuns at the Church of the Dormition are cowering, too, fearful that the religious thugs may lust after their property next. Jerusalemites are pretty phlegmatic about the Diaspora Yeshiva, which has gained local notoriety. "Everyone knows these guys used to be junkies and pushers. Their gangster behavior is the same even after they find religion," shrugged one father of three. Rehabilitation of substance abusers through Torah study is an admirable goal, and there's no lack of foreign donors for worthy Jewish projects like this. But outsiders must choose the recipients with care, because there's no telling what religious vigilantes might get up to.

A few years ago, members of this Yeshiva decided to assert their values on secular neighbours. To ensure that drivers would observe the Sabbath in this holy district, they strung a wire across the only road on Mt Zion. A Jewish motorcyclist, taking his usual route home, was beheaded after twilight when he hit the wire going 40 kilometers per hour. This tragic accident could have been avoided with a little cooperation. Jews beheading Jews in the name of religion beggars belief.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rutka Laskier: a franker Anne Frank

"I am turning into an animal waiting to die." Rutka, 1943.

Newly published in English and Hebrew by Jerusalem's Holocaust Museum, this secret journal of a Polish teenager describes the final four months before her murder at Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943.

Rutka Laskier penned her diary from the ghetto of Bedzin, Poland. She was just 14, the same age as was the young Dutch diarist, Anne Frank, and all but one member of her family were slaughtered by the Nazis. Only her father survived the holocaust, and after he emigrated to Israel to start a new family he kept silent about his brutal past. Since Leskier's father died 20 years ago, his grown-up Israeli daughter had no clue about Rutka's existence before this diary surfaced in Poland and was donated by Rutka's Christian neighbor to the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem after 64 years. Her words were read aloud there earlier this week. This coincided with a public outcry that there are no signs in Arabic inside this educational institution. Surely that oversight makes it tough to ensure that the entire world never forgets the horrors of Hitler's "Final Solution."

"I was struck by a deep connection to Rutka," said Zahava Scherz (pictured above), who wrote a forward to her half-sister's 60-page book. "I was an only child, and I suddenly have an older sister. I immediately fell in love with her."
Reuters photo

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

It was 40 years ago today, the 6-Day War

What if the Israelis had acted with their heads and not their hearts 40 years ago and refrained from claiming eastern Jerusalem? Strategically, there would have been fewer obstacles to a peaceful coexistence, argues Tom Segev, an Israeli commentator in the New York Times. The prize which some young intellectual Zionists describe provocatively as "the Jewish Mecca" brought turmoil. The fabled city on the hill has been sacked at least 23 times in historic memory.

I belong to a generation of Israelis who slowly but surely came to believe in peace. We needed to believe in it. The years since the 1967 conflict led us from war to war, and from one mistake to another. When new hopes emerged, they were overcome by disappointments, and then forgotten. Still, we regarded the conquests of 1967 as temporary and were encouraged by the 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, under which Israel withdrew from Egyptian territory captured in 1967. We believed that peace with the Palestinians would follow.

But peace with the Palestinians has not come one inch closer. As a result more and more Israelis realize today that Israel gained absolutely nothing from the conquest of the Palestinian territories. Speculating again in hindsight — Israel may have been better off giving up the West Bank and East Jerusalem without peace than signing the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan while keeping these territories. Forty years of oppression and Palestinian terrorism, both extremely cruel, have undermined Israel’s Jewish and democratic foundations. With about 400,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and with extreme Islamism as a driving force among the Palestinians, the conflict has become infinitely more difficult to solve.

Hence young Israelis have good reason to look at my generation and say, “You blew it.” I suppose we did. In contrast to my generation, these young people no longer presume to know what should be done to solve the conflict; indeed they often no longer believe in peace. Many resort to cynical skepticism and fatalistic pessimism.

And yet — less idealistic and more pragmatic than people of my generation — young Israelis may also be more realistic than us. Their immediate challenge is conflict management, rather than futile efforts to formulate grand schemes of ultimate solutions to the conflict. With fewer hopes and lower expectations they just may be able to make life at least somewhat more livable for both Israelis and Palestinians. Given the present circumstances, that would be no small accomplishment.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Rebuilding Peace by hammering the Occupied Territories

A Jerusalem-based NGO plans to rebuild every Palestinian home demolished this past year, 300 in all. (Over the past 40 decades, some 18,000 West Bank and East Jerusalem homes were razed.)

To mark 40 years of Occupation, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) launches a campaign to rebuild every Palestinian home demolished by Israel in the Occupied Territories in a year – some 300 homes. With funding from Jewish donors appalled by the Israeli government’s house demolition policy, ICAHD mounts this challenge to Israel’s Occupation, intensifying a 10-year struggle against the Occupation’s most cruel expression, the demolition of Palestinian homes – 18,000 in the Occupied Territories since 1967 – part of a larger Israeli policy of transfer and dispossession.

The Action: On Monday June 11, at 10 a.m., the group will meet at the Jaffa Gate, and join residents of the Mughrabi Quarter to mark the first act of the Occupation: the demolition, on the night of June 11, 1967, of their entire neighborhood, in order to create an open plaza in front of the Western Wall. Reconstruction work will start in Silwan village nearby.

Background: On the night of June 11, 1967, as the Six Day War was drawing to its close, 135 Palestinian families were roused from their beds to watch as Israeli bulldozers summarily destroyed their homes and the quarter’s two mosques. It was an operation that created the first of thousands of “facts on the ground;” it had nothing to do with either the war or security. In the course of the demolition an elderly Palestinian woman, Hajja Rasmia Tabaki, was killed when her home was demolished on top of her. She became the Occupation’s first victim.

Organizers are Shai Haim, Jeff Halper, Ashraf Abu Moch, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein. For further information, click here or email:

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Threat to Behead Gaza Newscasters

Anchorwomen on Palestinian television stations have just received an overt death threat from a radical group of Muslim fundos, who style themselves the "Swords of Truth". While most of the 15 women broadcasters wear headscarves, the religious extremists object to their on-camera makeup and unveiling their faces to the public. Their grisly message warned that the throats of immodest women "would be slit vein to vein".
The same group has disfigured Gazan women in western dress by dousing them with acid and have blown up over three dozen internet cafes, pool halls, or music shops as well as two progressive schools.
It is a nasty syndrome of Gaza's predicament, walled off from the outside world, with tensions festering and no release in sight. Fanatical beliefs tend to thrive in a cramped and stagnant pool, and these Taliban-esque groups have been on the rise for the past two years.
Meanwhile, the show biz press reports that Helen Mirren, the Academy award winning actress, has agreed to play the role of a Jewish woman in Gaza whose daughter is slain after she dates a Palestinian. No way will the shooting for this feature film be done inside the Gaza Strip. Only the more prosaic shoots, with bullets and grenades, are tolerated there, it seems.
On Sunday, some 50 women journalists defied the threats to stage a protest march in the steets of Gaza City, according to Haaretz. Most wore scarves, but few donned the complete hijab with black cloak and veil as demanded by the Swords of Truth faction.

"Shame on you," said Sally Abed, a Palestinian news anchor, addressing the Islamist group. "The people working in this institution are your people - if it's not your sister, it's your mother."

The station employs 300 women. On Monday, more women protesters took to the streets of Gaza.

The Hitchens Brothers: godbasher vs godfearer

Christopher Hitchens (left)
and Peter Hitchens (right), are falling out over God.
The fratri-spat was fought in private until today.

Hitch, that outsized anti-theist Brit who must wince each time he has to spell out the word Christ as he writes out Christopher, his own given name, has been publically sandbagged by his Tory brother, Peter Hitchens. After the launch of his not-so-great tome, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything", the voluble Vanity Fair columnist seemed ubiquitous. Even this contrarian with the cutting wit, who once excoriated Mother Teresa for accepting money from evildoers in a polemic entitled "The Missionary Posistion", has met his match. I chortled as he was whittled down to size by his equally articlate brother.

Reading this Cain and Abel article in bed was a great way to start my week in Jerusalem, as church bells peal, prayer calls sound forth from the mosques, and ramhorns are blown by evangelical christians and orthodox Jews. It almost felt 'sack-religious".

Friday, June 01, 2007

Flicker of hope for BBC's Johnston?

This morning, a videotape of Alan Johnston, the BBC's missing-in-action Gaza correspondent, was posted on an Arab website, al-Ekhlaas. Click here to view it. He said he'd been well fed, treated without violence and then called for the lifting of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority. This tape is the first proof of life, post-kidnap, but there's no indication when it was recorded or whether Johnston, who has been held hostage since March 12th, still is ok. The BBC is cautiously optimistic and continues to work towards his freedom. The Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam) posted the footage on the internet, according to wire services. They were the same group that released images of Johnston's identity card earlier this month, shortly after a renegade group claimed the captive was dead.

Earlier, heated words on the risks of reporting in the Middle East and pandering to terrorists were exchanged between Bret Stephens, a Wall Street Journal commentator and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, and Fran Unsworth of the BBC. Hat tip to Tom Gross, media analyst, for highlighting this rift. Stephens' column, which suggested that Johnston tilts toward the pro-Fatah camp and that his employers placed him in jeopardy because they felt the BBC had "political impunity" and special access inside the Gaza strip, raised hackles. It was branded as "scurrilous" and "snide". When Unsworth criticised a lack of sympathy and drew a comparison with the plight of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded in Karachi by Al Qaeda sword-bearers, this was interpreted as a "cheap shot". On all sides, players are getting testy as the days of captivity drag by and the internecine conflict festers (inside Palestine as well as amongst the hacks.) There sure is a lot of BBC-bashing going on by Israelis, particularly after the British Union of Colleges and Universities mooted a boycott of Israel.

Complaints that the kidnapped IDF corporal, Gilad Shalit, whose capture ignited the Second Lebanon War last summer, gets less publicity than Johnston seem beside the point. An armed soldier is trained for the risks of combat and is more prepared for the possibility of becoming a prisoner of war. Reporters increasingly face such violence as lawlessness takes hold. In fact, the same Gaza splinter group, Jaish al-Islam, is believed to be holding both of these men.