Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Move over, Lucy. Meet Adam. Did modern man originate in Israel, not Africa?

The proof is not in yet --because these 400,000-year-old teeth have yet to be certified as coming from homo sapiens and not Neanderthals-- but much international excitement has been mounting after a scientist chap, aptly named Avi Gopher, dug up eight teeth in an Israeli archaeological site and announced this discovery to the world (perhaps a bit prematurely, according to at least one Cambridge Don, Paul Mellars.) Without a portion of an ancient skull or jaw bone associated with the teeth, he says it is difficult to verify that these teeth are irrefutable evidence of modern man residing in Israel twice as long as in Africa, as conventional wisdom has it.
The academics are looking forward to chewing over the various scholarly arguments and weighing the evidence. (And getting more funding for further digs.) Meanwhile, it certainly increases doubts about the existence and/or efficiency of the Tooth Fairy.

Rather appropriately, given such a toothsome topic, this will be the last post on Israelity Bites for a while. Izzy Bee has been away from the Holy Land for some time and feels that biting commentary requires actual presence in the place. Even that goal can be made difficult. Note how the award-winning NPR reporter Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was recently detained and subjected to a strip search while trying to report on Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's presser about delegitimization. Garcia-Navarro's newly-wed husband was also pulled aside and grilled about his association with the ace radio reporter. Her Latina colouring and flashing dark eyes apparently were seen by a trigger-happy security agent as suspiciously Palestinian-like. She was holding government accreditation at the time, and graciously has laughed off the incident as an annoyance that comes with the job. The Foreign Press Association later issued a formal condemnation of the police detail's action. It bodes badly for the press coverage of Israel when reporters are routinely mistreated this way, even after years in the country. Sigh. Israelity Bites.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Israelis Outsource High Tech to West Bank

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may be stalled, but that hasn't stopped a small but steady trickle of Israeli technology companies from seeking to work with people on the other side of the decades-old conflict, writes the Associated Press. (Outsourcing beyond the security fence is proving to be quite profitable. Payroll costs for a computer engineer are halved and by telecommuting instead of being herded through checkpoints with other permit-holders, Palestinian employees have a more pleasant work day. :-)

Israeli CEOs say it's their way of bringing a little bit of peace to their troubled corner of the world. But the real reason they're hiring Palestinians, they acknowledge, is because it simply makes good business sense.

Israel's high-tech industry is among the country's crowning achievements. Israel has the most start-ups per capita in the world and has helped produce such game-changing innovations as instant messaging and Internet telephony. Many Israeli tech firms send work offshore to eastern Europe, India or China.

In the past three years, however, some have turned to Palestinian engineers and programmers. They are cheaper, ambitious, work in the same time zone, and — surprisingly to many Israelis — are remarkably similar to them.

"The cultural gap is much smaller than we would think," said Gai Anbar, chief executive of Comply, an Israeli start-up in this central Israeli town that develops software for global pharmaceutical companies like Merck and Teva.

At a previous job, he worked with engineers in India and eastern Europe, but found communication difficult. So in 2007, when he was looking to outsource work at his new start-up, he turned to Palestinian engineers. He said they speak like Israelis do — they are direct and uninhibited. Today, Comply employs four Palestinians.

Palestinian engineers have also warmed up to the idea. "I doubt you would find a company who says, 'I am closed for business'" to Israelis, said Ala Alaeddin, chairman of the Palestinian Information Technology Association.

If there is hesitation, it's in marketing Israeli products under a Palestinian name to tap into larger Arab markets off-limits to them. "We're looking for a partnership ... not one side benefits from the other side," Alaeddin said.

"We have a window of opportunity to demonstrate our skills," said Murad Tahboub, CEO of Asal Technologies, a Palestinian outsourcing company that works with Comply and a handful of other Israeli-based companies. "The more people know about us ... the more comfortable they will be in doing business with us."

This is easier said than done. Comply's office in Hod Hasharon is only about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Asal Technologies in the West Bank city of Ramallah — but they are worlds apart.

Israel's military prevents most Palestinians and Israelis from visiting each others' cities without special permits, citing security concerns.

A network of fences and concrete walls divides Israel from the West Bank, built by Israel earlier this decade amid a wave of Palestinian attacks. Travel restrictions make meetings between Israelis and Palestinians rare, and psychological barriers separate them as well.

Anbar says his company is proving skeptics wrong. One recent morning, Israeli project manager Gali Kahane chatted online in English with Palestinian programmer Mohammad Radad, sending him smiley emoticons while reviewing updates to the database software they are developing.

"At first it was a little bit strange" to work with Palestinians, but now it's like working with any other Israeli developer, Kahane said. "We are very curious what they think about us," but they never talk politics. "The only thing we talk about is when the bugs will be finished, and reaching our deadline together," she said.

Anbar says working with Palestinians is "doing something good for the world we are living in," but says the real reason he outsources to the West Bank is financial: He pays the outsourcing company about $4,000 a month per engineer, half the cost of outsourcing to an Israeli company.

While Indians or Chinese engineers cost even less, he said Palestinians are more loyal to his company than workers from distant countries — and have a dogged work ethic. Many gained experience working abroad, and stiff competition for coveted engineering jobs in the West Bank pushes those who have work to prove themselves, Tahboub said.

About 10 Israeli start-ups and international companies with centers in Israel have been outsourcing to the West Bank in the past three years, said Tova Scherr of Mercy Corps, an international aid group working to encourage these ventures. Scherr said visits by Israeli businessmen to Ramallah — with Israeli military permission — are becoming more common.

Networking giant Cisco says it was the first international corporation with research and development centers in Israel to begin outsourcing work to the West Bank. Israeli branches of Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. have followed Cisco's example and begun to outsource to the Palestinian territories this year, according to Mercy Corps.

Arranging meetings is "sometimes like crossing the Red Sea," said Cisco spokesman Gai Hetzroni.

Last year's initial meeting of Palestinian and Israeli engineers was meant to take place in the West Bank city of Jericho, but an Israeli military closure forced the workers to drag their laptops into a nearby Bedouin tent they rented for the day. Hetzroni said it was an "extraordinary meeting" that convinced the firm to go forward with the partnership.

Word of the West Bank's potential is spreading: Tahboub of Asal Technologies said he received about 20 inquiries this year from Israeli companies.

"We are doing great work for our country," Tahboub said, referring to the yet-to-be-born Palestinian state. "I believe the (technology) sector will become one of the pillars of the Palestinian economy."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Palestinians, Contained

Israelis credit the serpentine, 400-mile (640 km)system of fences, barricades and checkpoints with reducing terrorist attacks to almost nil since construction began in earnest seven years ago. But the Wall has done more than keep out suicide bombers. No less important, it has created a separation of the mind. Israelis say they simply think much less about Palestinians. And a generation of Palestinians is coming of age without even knowing what Israelis look like, much less the land both sides claim as their own. The absence of familiarity, names, basic knowing — the absence of the foundations of empathy — does not bode well for the chances of the two peoples one day living as neighbors in peace.

The economic consequences of the Wall are plain: it has kept out of Israel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to travel there every day, mostly to work. In the living room of Ramzi's father, family friend Taeser Ihmad complains that after 20 years earning 200 shekels ($55) a day as a gardener at a Jerusalem hospital, he now makes just 80 shekels ($22) building houses in Ramallah.

"I never faced a day that they were not nice to me," Ihmad says of the Israelis as Ramzi and his older brother Anis watch silently from the sofa, drinking in the adult conversation with both the silence expected of the young in an Arab household and the curiosity that betrays a less obvious effect of the barrier. Whatever lies beyond it — enemy, oppressor, kindly cashier — is largely a matter of speculation to those born in the hammock of optimism between the 1993 Oslo accords and the second intifadeh, the uprising that began in 2000 and ended after an iron curtain was drawn across the occupied territories.

Read more at Palestinians, Contained. Kudos to Karl Vick in Ein Arik

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Happy Hannukah

Candlelight, by the Maccabeats, helps distract from the nasty fires in the north of the country and the woefully unprepared firefighters with obsolete equipment.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Religion is No Excuse to Shirk Army Duty

Jewish faith, used by some to justify cultural and social isolation, can also be a force for cohesion and patriotism, for both men and women. Hannukah is as good a time as any to examine this notion. According to an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post:

Under pressure from Shas and United Torah Judaism, the government has backtracked on its support for a bill that would have helped fight the worrying trend of draft-dodging among young women.

Currently, a young woman can avoid two years of IDF service by simply making a declaration before a representative of the Chief Rabbinate that her religious convictions forbid her to perform military service. Unfortunately, many secular young women take advantage of this. If it had been ratified, the bill would have forced young women seeking exemption to give proof they led a religious lifestyle. But haredi MKs claimed the bill breached the religious status quo protected in the government coalition agreement. MK Miri Regev (Likud), one of the drafters of the bill, abstained in deference to the coalition, though Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i broke ranks and voted in favor.

Sadly, the government’s myopic readiness to cater to the whims of narrow religious extremism has led it to ignore the broader national interest of encouraging universal conscription. Just last week, the head of the IDF’s personnel division, Maj.-Gen. Avi Zamir, said that by 2020 some 60 percent of eligible 18-year-olds would try to dodge military service. Half already do. Zamir voiced concern that Israel’s “people’s army” ethos was in danger.

Haredi men are to blame for the bulk of the decline.

But deception on the part of young women has a part to play as well. Thirty-five percent of young women eligible for the draft seek exemption for religious reasons, but thousands lie, according to the IDF human resources department. Via Facebook, the IDF recently managed to catch about 1,000 young women who updated profiles on Shabbat, or posted photos of themselves eating in non-kosher restaurants or wearing immodest clothing.

In the past, the IDF has even hired private investigators.

These efforts underline the IDF’s need for man- and woman-power, even if it means forcibly recruiting liars.

Paradoxically, while religion has been touted as an excuse for exemption from military service, it has also served as a major motivational force, especially among religious Zionist youths. Impressive, though unsurprising, figures were published in the August edition of the IDF magazine Ma’arachot showing a sharp rise in the number of religious combat officers and members of elite units in the IDF in the past decade.

Less known, though, is a growing trend among religious women to enlist in the army.

The vast majority of religious Zionist rabbis oppose military service for women, fearing that intimate contact with the opposite sex in a sexually permissive environment will lead to a breakdown of taboos.

But attitudes are changing. Religious Zionists, who have a greater tendency not to demonstrate blind loyalty to their rabbinic leadership, are responding to the IDF’s more accommodating approach to religious sensitivities – related, undoubtedly, to the sharp rise in kippa wearing officers and commanders and a general atmosphere of multiculturalism.

One thousand religious women interested in military service attended a conference last week in Tel Aviv, compared to just 400 last year. In parallel, an organization called Aluma was established in recent years to prepare religious young women for military service and interface with the IDF during service. Numerous educational frameworks exist for women, including Midreshet Lindenbaum and Tzahali, a women-only religious pre-military academy.

And many young women actually see constructive military service as a boon to faith. A survey of 98 religious women, published in January and conducted by researchers from Sha’anan Teachers College in Haifa, found that IDF service actually strengthened their religiosity.

A third of women who served as IDF teachers felt they had become more religious thanks to their military service, compared to just a quarter of women who served as teachers within the framework of national service.

And 95% said they studied Torah during their IDF stint, compared to just 72% in national service.

Jewish faith, used by some to justify cultural and social isolation, can also be a force for cohesion and patriotism, for both men and women. This is a decidedly positive development which should be encouraged. At the same time, the right of the sincere religious female to opt for national service instead of IDF service should also be respected.

But dodging service to the country altogether is simply unacceptable. Religion is no excuse.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Checkpoint: Backscatter Fears and Naked Aggression

"Don't touch my junk" has a corollary: don't zap my gonads with radiation, either.

Americans on the go are increasingly upset about the intrusiveness of pre-boarding security checks at their airports, whether by full-body scanner or an enhanced pat-down grope. Perhaps lessons can be learned by examining the health effects on Palestinians who have for years submitted to similar security checks.

More than a quarter million Palestinians live in the shadow of the Israeli's separation barrier, particularly in spots where the barrier is jig-sawed to protect hilltop settlers in what they refer to as Judea and Samaria. Ostensibly to deter terrorists, a tall electrified fence and trench system disconnects many Palestinian families living in such isolated rural pockets from their families and jobs in the West Bank. (Gaza is entirely corralled, and any patients and accompanying medical staff who are permitted to leave the enclave undergo such body scans as well.) In order for West Bank residents to reach jobs outside these restricted zones, to see friends and relatives, shop, or even make bank deposits, an Israeli-issued permit is required. All permit-holders must line up to be checked by private Israeli armed security guards or national border police before they are allowed past the separation barrier.

Crossing the Reihan/Bartaa checkpoint into the rest of the West Bank entails a full body backscatter x-ray scan, using machines similar to the bulky TSA scanners at 68 American airports which have raised the hackles of travelers this month.

Like US pilots who object to any extra doses of radiation caused by these virtual strip-searches, many Palestinian women are reluctant to undergo full-body scans twice a day, repeatedly. Even though their refusal denies them access to work or to harvest family fields that lie on the other side of the barrier, many resist.

Three years ago, I interviewed more than a dozen women at a basic health clinic in Um el Reihan run by a Western foreign aid agency. Each one said she was too scared to enter a foreign-built machine that might endanger a pregnancy or reduce her fertility.

Dr Muthanna Jabbarin , who tends the day clinic inside Um el Reihan and returns to Jenin at dusk a couple of days per week, is bothered that he has no access to data about the security equipment and the radiation hazard of malfunctions. He's unable to reassure worried patients who must go through the scanning machine twice daily about possible cancer risks. Several miscarriages, including one suffered by a woman in her eighth month, have raised his concerns. The doctor believes that the heat, the prolonged standing, and the anxiety all take a toll on expectant mothers.

In such a conservative community, many people feel violated because the security apparatus can see through their clothing and records each fold of flesh. Scars from, say, a Caesarean birth or a circumcision will be readily apparent on the screen. Every one of these scans is scrutinized by young Israeli guards. Fears that the images will be kept or photographed on mobile phones and uploaded to the internet are widespread. Numerous Palestinian seamstresses, teachers, and students have abandoned the commute from their Um el Reihan enclave into the West bank to avoid the public humiliation. Now they are marooned in this tiny hamlet which receives no services from either the Palestinian authority or the Israeli government.

Not only are the 350 Palestinian residents of Um el Reihan unable to cross the old Green Line west of their village to enter Israel but, but even if they go east and stand on line for hours, many are delayed or prevented from visiting the rest of the Palestinian territory. Reihan/Bartaa checkpoint, with its requisite body scans and searches, has mutated this little community into a Mid-Eastern gulag. After the Transport Security Administration's latest controversy over backscatter strip searches and groin-thumping frisks, a few more jet-setting Americans may empathize with the plight of these folks in the West Bank.

Jan McGirk was a special correspondent reporting from Gaza and the West Bank for The Lancet, a British medical journal. Crossposted on The Huffington Post.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Israeli security forces prepare for mass riots after possible 'population exchange'

Ethnic cleansing may be on the horizon if the Avigdor Lieberman plan for population exchange kicks in, and Israel's security forces are girding for the fallout.

Doesn't anyone recall the bloody Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947? When Izzy Bee raised this worry directly to Lieberman a couple years ago, he just shrugged his shoulders ever so avigdorably and said that Cyprus was his model for a two-state solution, not the sub-Continent. Oy veh.

According to Noam on "The Promised Land" blog:

IBA Radio is reporting that Israel’s security forces concluded on Thursday a large national drill, in which the civil defense forces, police, military police, fire department and Israel’s prisons unit trained for large scale riots in the Israeli-Arab public, following a signing of a peace agreement that would include “population exchange” (transfer of Arab population to the Palestinian state).

According to Kol Israel’s report, in such an event, a large detention camp for Palestinian citizens will be constructed in Golani Junction, at Israel’s north, and all illegal aliens will be released from prisons to make room for Palestinians.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s foreign minister was criticizing for presenting his plan for population exchange in a speech at the United Nation General Assembly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later claimed that FM Avigdor Lieberman didn’t represent Israeli government policy in his speech.


On one hand, I think we should not turn this into a conspiracy item. The fact that the security forces are training doesn’t mean that Israeli leaders have such a plan or that they have a secret deal for population exchange with the Palestinian Authority.

On the other hand, this report does teach us a lot about the way Israel views its Palestinian citizens: while Israeli leaders are praising Israeli democracy and claiming that Palestinians are equal citizens (within the Green Line borders), policy makers view Arabs first and foremost as a security threat, and as people whose citizenship might be revoked at any given moment.

Some might argue that security forces must train for every scenario, even one that is not very likely to happen, so we shouldn’t deduct much from this item.

Well, how about training for widespread demonstrations and terror attacks following the evacuation of settlements? This is something that can actually take place, but no one would ever consider preparing for mass detentions of settlers right now. The political consequences of even contemplating such idea in public would be disastrous, as they should be.

Arab citizens should be treated with the same respect.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Line in the Sand: Israeli activists defy law with Tel Aviv beach parties for Palestinians

The soothing sound of the Mediterranean might do more for Israeli-Palestinian relations than endless waves of US-backed peace talks. But it takes a certain grit for Israeli women activists to spirit West Bank families across checkpoints to reach the sea and sand. Israeli and West Bank women both risk jail for organizing a fun day at the beach. Civil disobedience is rarely tolerated by the IDF, who are supposed to be attuned to any potential security breach. But the profiling they use routinely during enforcement means that settlers at checkpoints get waved through - as well as women who look a bit like settlers
These illegal trips challenge laws governing the movement of Palestinians, reports the Guardian's Rachel Shabi, who follows up a group of activists inspired by a May 7 article by Ilana Hammerman, of Haaretz.

"It's like we are using the tools of the occupation," said Irit, one of the [Israeli] drivers. "It just wouldn't occur to the soldiers at the checkpoints that Israeli women would want to do this."

As Tel Aviv nears, the Palestinian passengers silently survey the tall buildings and outdoor cafes and seem especially taken with the ubiquitous motorcycles and mopeds that speed around the city...But all the Palestinian women have just one request: to go to the sea. For most, it's their first trip to the seaside, even though it is a short drive from home.

The passengers join another carload and head to the promenade in Jaffa, the mixed Arab-Israeli city stuck to the tail-end of Tel Aviv, where the Palestinian women race to greet the waves crashing against the bright rocks. "It is so much more beautiful than I thought," said Nawal, watching her gleeful seven-year-old daughter skipping backwards to avoid being sprayed by the waves.

Hat tip to Juliette for this link. Photo from The Guardian

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Tony Judt, RIP, Debunked Cliches about Israeli -Palestinian Conflict

Historian Tony Judt, who died this weekend, continued to write even though he was suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease for his final two years. His eloquence and logic will be greatly missed. Earlier this summer, his incisive opinion piece in the New York Times was widely discussed. To read "Israel without Cliches", a concise summary of the half dozen perrenial talking points, click here for the original article.

It is almost impossible to discuss the Middle East without resorting to tired accusations and ritual defenses: perhaps a little house cleaning is in order.

No. 1: Israel is being/should be delegitimized

Israel is a state like any other, long-established and internationally recognized. The bad behavior of its governments does not “delegitimize” it, any more than the bad behavior of the rulers of North Korea, Sudan — or, indeed, the United States — “delegitimizes” them. When Israel breaks international law, it should be pressed to desist; but it is precisely because it is a state under international law that we have that leverage.

Some critics of Israel are motivated by a wish that it did not exist — that it would just somehow go away. But this is the politics of the ostrich: Flemish nationalists feel the same way about Belgium, Basque separatists about Spain. Israel is not going away, nor should it. As for the official Israeli public relations campaign to discredit any criticism as an exercise in “de-legitimization,” it is uniquely self-defeating. Every time Jerusalem responds this way, it highlights its own isolation.

No. 2: Israel is/is not a democracy

Perhaps the most common defense of Israel outside the country is that it is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” This is largely true: the country has an independent judiciary and free elections, though it also discriminates against non-Jews in ways that distinguish it from most other democracies today. The expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged.

But the point is irrelevant. “Democracy” is no guarantee of good behavior: most countries today are formally democratic — remember Eastern Europe’s “popular democracies.” Israel belies the comfortable American cliché that “democracies don’t make war.” It is a democracy dominated and often governed by former professional soldiers: this alone distinguishes it from other advanced countries. And we should not forget that Gaza is another “democracy” in the Middle East: it was precisely because Hamas won free elections there in 2005 that both the Palestinian Authority and Israel reacted with such vehemence.

No. 3: Israel is/is not to blame

Israel is not responsible for the fact that many of its near neighbors long denied its right to exist. The sense of siege should not be underestimated when we try to understand the delusional quality of many Israeli pronouncements.

Unsurprisingly, the state has acquired pathological habits. Of these, the most damaging is its habitual resort to force. Because this worked for so long — the easy victories of the country’s early years are ingrained in folk memory — Israel finds it difficult to conceive of other ways to respond. And the failure of the negotiations of 2000 at Camp David reinforced the belief that “there is no one to talk to.”

But there is. As American officials privately acknowledge, sooner or later Israel (or someone) will have to talk to Hamas. From French Algeria through South Africa to the Provisional I.R.A., the story repeats itself: the dominant power denies the legitimacy of the “terrorists,” thereby strengthening their hand; then it secretly negotiates with them; finally, it concedes power, independence or a place at the table. Israel will negotiate with Hamas: the only question is why not now.

No. 4: The Palestinians are/are not to blame

Abba Eban, the former Israeli foreign minister, claimed that Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He was not wholly wrong. The “negationist” stance of Palestinian resistance movements from 1948 through the early 1980s did them little good. And Hamas, firmly in that tradition though far more genuinely popular than its predecessors, will have to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

But since 1967 it has been Israel that has missed most opportunities: a 40-year occupation (against the advice of its own elder statesmen); three catastrophic invasions of Lebanon; an invasion and blockade of Gaza in the teeth of world opinion; and now a botched attack on civilians in international waters. Palestinians would be hard put to match such cumulative blunders.

Terrorism is the weapon of the weak — bombing civilian targets was not invented by Arabs (nor by the Jews who engaged in it before 1948). Morally indefensible, it has characterized resistance movements of all colors for at least a century. Israelis are right to insist that any talks or settlements will depend upon Hamas’s foreswearing it.

But Palestinians face the same conundrum as every other oppressed people: all they have with which to oppose an established state with a monopoly of power is rejection and protest. If they pre-concede every Israeli demand — abjurance of violence, acceptance of Israel, acknowledgment of all their losses — what do they bring to the negotiating table? Israel has the initiative: it should exercise it.

No. 5: The Israel lobby is/is not to blame

There is an Israel lobby in Washington and it does a very good job — that’s what lobbies are for. Those who claim that the Israel lobby is unfairly painted as “too influential” (with the subtext of excessive Jewish influence behind the scenes) have a point: the gun lobby, the oil lobby and the banking lobby have all done far more damage to the health of this country.

But the Israel lobby is disproportionately influential. Why else do an overwhelming majority of congressmen roll over for every pro-Israel motion? No more than a handful show consistent interest in the subject. It is one thing to denounce the excessive leverage of a lobby, quite another to accuse Jews of “running the country.” We must not censor ourselves lest people conflate the two. In Arthur Koestler’s words, “This fear of finding oneself in bad company is not an expression of political purity; it is an expression of a lack of self-confidence.”

No. 6: Criticism of Israel is/is not linked to anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews, and Israel is a Jewish state, so of course some criticism of it is malevolently motivated. There have been occasions in the recent past (notably in the Soviet Union and its satellites) when “anti-Zionism” was a convenient surrogate for official anti-Semitism. Understandably, many Jews and Israelis have not forgotten this.

But criticism of Israel, increasingly from non-Israeli Jews, is not predominantly motivated by anti-Semitism. The same is true of contemporary anti-Zionism: Zionism itself has moved a long way from the ideology of its “founding fathers” — today it presses territorial claims, religious exclusivity and political extremism. One can acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist (or “post-Zionist”). Indeed, given the emphasis in Zionism on the need for the Jews to establish a “normal state” for themselves, today’s insistence on Israel’s right to act in “abnormal” ways because it is a Jewish state suggests that Zionism has failed.

We should beware the excessive invocation of “anti-Semitism.” A younger generation in the United States, not to mention worldwide, is growing skeptical. “If criticism of the Israeli blockade of Gaza is potentially ‘anti-Semitic,’ why take seriously other instances of the prejudice?” they ask, and “What if the Holocaust has become just another excuse for Israeli bad behavior?” The risks that Jews run by encouraging this conflation should not be dismissed.

Along with the oil sheikdoms, Israel is now America’s greatest strategic liability in the Middle East and Central Asia. Thanks to Israel, we are in serious danger of “losing” Turkey: a Muslim democracy, offended at its treatment by the European Union, that is the pivotal actor in Near-Eastern and Central Asian affairs. Without Turkey, the United States will achieve few of its regional objectives — whether in Iran, Afghanistan or the Arab world. The time has come to cut through the clichés surrounding it, treat Israel like a “normal” state and sever the umbilical cord.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Settlement spook 'outed' in US Newspaper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Israel Gay-friendly or not?

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

Israel a mecca for gays

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

Gil Stein, Aptos

Israel far from a mecca for gays

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

Jan McGirk, Santa Cruz

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Orthodox Rabbis Reject Diaspora

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaza flotilla video mashup: Internet Killed Israeli PR

Thursday, July 08, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

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

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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Promised Land's Unfulfilled Promises

It truly is a miracle that Israel exists. If you think of the events, the ingredients that came together to make it happen it is a phenomenon without precedent – a nation of what had been for centuries a powerless (in the collective) people.

But after creation – the paradox. The state is now in essence an unsinkable battleship. It’s as if a genie had said, “yes, I will give you your state but there will be a price. Just as you once were the eternal wanderers as individuals, so now you will be eternally under siege as a collective, though you may have any weapon you want and in any quantity. In the creation, you will gain the land, but the price is the Palestinians eternally chained to you, who will cause you to be the very thing you fled for centuries…you must become what you reviled. You will have power but you are condemned to use it oppressively.”

Can’t you almost hear it being said – what will it gain (a people) if they should gain (a land) but lose (their) immortal soul?
So Israel has a future – it exists and will exist – but at the cost of always wearing and using the iron boot? A home, but only as a prison warden, an eternal dictator to others? A home, but at the cost of always sounding the alarm? But the alarm…wasn’t that always near to Jews throughout history? And as the world moves toward multi-culturalism, Israel must by definition be exclusive and rejecting, a move backward in national development. Please tell me it is. Don’t break this heart that believes if only one thing has been learned by our species it is that all can be brothers and sisters!

So I take the opposite tack from Helen Thomas. I ask is price is too high? Come be my neighbor along with so many Jews who have full freedom to worship or not, to wear the attire they wish, to speak the language they want in a country that, though it will always have its troglodytes, also has an overwhelming majority who do not wish their neighbors ill and, most important, a young generation of all cultural backgrounds that is fiery in its defense of multi-culturalism.

If you say no then I see only one way off the battleship and that is to make the country essential to those around it, a vital dynamo for the region. But this can’t happen without risk and that risk requires backing off from being the nation that pre-empts, the nation that decides for other countries what they may or may not be allowed to have, the nation that must guide the legislators of a powerful nation to keep funds and arms flowing to it.

The state exists. The helpless are no longer. But the meek, the trusting, those who were abused and killed for being that way…now become those who are first to defy, first to slap the face of the other, first to make demands, first to strike? It is the most cruel of sentences.

Is that the fulfilled promise of the promised land?

Hat tip to Clif for this comment, posted on the South Jerusalem blog in response to an odd guest post that labelled Helen Thomas as a divisive "proto-Palin", only without the looks or, presumably, the marksmanship. It's worth noting that Thomas's octogenarian sisters have risen to her defence, and spun her notorious comments to mean that she wants Israeli settlers to get out of the West Bank and go back to whence they came - Germany, Poland, America, etc. Hmmmm. Her 100-year-old brother did not weigh in on the issue. Thomas is increasingly doddery at 89 and definitely "misspoke"; consequently she went down mouth first.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Black Hats en masse swarm Jerusalem

Here's an advert for a cable channel which shows how the secular Tel Aviv bubble-bubbas view their ultra-Orthodox brethren. The integration of schools seems to be a tough issue for the insular black hat sects and leads to insoluble problems in some school districts inside Jerusalem.

Update from AP: of the largest protests in Jerusalem's history [was] a stark reminder of the ultra-Orthodox minority's refusal to accept the authority of the state.

Also, the throngs of devout Jews showed to which extent the ultra-Orthodox live by their own rules, some of them archaic, while wielding disproportionate power in the modern state of Israel.

Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, descent at a girls' school in the West Bank settlement of Emanuel don't want their daughters to study with schoolgirls of Mideast and North African descent, known as Sephardim.

The Ashkenazi parents insist they aren't racist, but want to keep the classrooms segregated, as they have been for years, arguing that the families of the Sephardi girls aren't religious enough.

Israel's Supreme Court rejected that argument, and ruled that the 43 sets of parents who have defied the integration efforts by keeping their daughters from school were to be jailed on Thursday for two weeks.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said about 100,000 people converged in downtown Jerusalem in support of the Ashkenazi parents. An additional 20,000 demonstrated in the central city of Bnei Brak. He said 10,000 police were deployed.

Most of the demonstrators were men wearing the long beards and heavy black clothing typical among ultra-Orthodox Jews. "The Supreme Court is fascist," said one poster.

Esther Bark, 50, who has seven daughters, said the issue is keeping the girls away from the temptations of the modern world. "To suddenly put them in an open-minded place is not good for them," she said.

The enormous ultra-Orthodox rally today inside Jerusalem was prefaced with this 'warden message' from the US Embassy:
A large demonstration is likely to take place this afternoon,June 17th, in the City Center and Me'a She'arim areas of Jerusalem between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. Estimates of up to 100,000 people are expected to march from Yirmiyahu, Bar Eilan, and Shvtei Yisrael and Prophet Streets toward the Israeli National Police station at the
"Russian compound" where the demonstration will take place.the city entrance.

Impartiality in the Middle East?

This valedictory broadcast from Tim Franks, a Jewish BBC correspondent based in Jerusalem for the past several years, ponders how to maintain professional impartiality and deal with the expectations of co-religionists while reporting from one of the hottest and holiest places on the planet.

Click here to listen and read the script.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Genetic study sheds light on Jewish diaspora

Scientists have shed light on Jewish history with an in-depth genetic study, the BBC reports today. Research shows that most contemporary Jews descended from ancient residents of the Levant

The researchers analysed genetic samples from 14 Jewish communities across the world and compared them with those from 69 non-Jewish populations.

Their study, published in Nature, revealed that most Jewish populations were "genetically closer" to each other than to their non-Jewish neighbours.

It also revealed genetic ties between globally dispersed Jews and non-Jewish populations in the Middle East.

This fits with the idea that most contemporary Jews descended from ancient Hebrew and Israelite residents in the Middle Eastern region known as the Levant. It provides a trace of the Jewish diaspora.

Doron Behar from Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel, led an international team of scientists in the study. He described it as a form of "genetic archaeology".

"It seems that most Jewish populations and therefore most Jewish individuals are closer to each other [at the genetic level], and closer to the Middle Eastern populations, than to their traditional host population in the diaspora," he explained.

There were exceptions to this key finding, though, as Dr Behar explained.

He said that his research revealed that Ethiopian and Indian Jewish communities were genetically closer to their neighbouring non-Jewish populations.

This may be partly because a greater degree of genetic, religious and cultural crossover took place when the Jewish communities in these areas became established.

Novel analytical techniques allowed the scientists to examine the genetic samples they took in unprecedented detail.

Dr Behar says the data from this study could aid future research into the genetic basis of diseases that are more prevalent in the Jewish population.

(map credit to Norman Einstein, creative commons)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Flotilla spoof video distributed 'in error'

Uh oh - not everyone got the joke on this clip, apparently. Once nine bullet-ridden corpses were added to the mix (as well an additional half dozen activists who remain missing in action) the international press corps in Jerusalem was less than amused.
Perhaps the skit, with its 25 year old tune, should have been relegated to Jew-Tube or Saturday Night Lifeless. The Guardian newspaper's Rachel Shabi reports on the questionable video which features the vitriolic Jerusalem Post scribe Caroline Glick in a keffiyah.

The Israeli government has been forced to apologise for circulating a spoof video mocking activists aboard the Gaza flotilla, nine of who were shot dead by Israeli forces last week.

The YouTube clip, set to the tune of the 1985 charity single We Are the World, features Israelis dressed as Arabs and activists, waving weapons while singing: "We con the world, we con the people. We'll make them all believe the IDF (Israel Defence Force) is Jack the Ripper."

It continues: "There's no people dying, so the best that we can do is create the biggest bluff of all."

The Israeli government press office distributed the video link to foreign journalists at the weekend, but within hours emailed them an apology, saying it had been an error. Press office director Danny Seaman said the video did not reflect official state opinion, but in his personal capacity he thought it was "fantastic".

Government spokesman Mark Regev said the video reflected how Israelis felt about the incident. "I called my kids in to watch it because I thought it was funny," he said. "It is what Israelis feel. But the government has nothing to do with it."

The clip features a group led by the Jerusalem Post's deputy managing editor Caroline Glick, wearing keffiyehs and calling themselves the Flotilla Choir. The footage is interspersed with clips from the recent Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound aid ship, the Mavi Marmara.

The clip has been praised in Israel, where the mass-circulation daily Yediot Aharonot said the singers "defended Israel better than any of the experts".

But Didi Remez, an Israeli who runs the liberal-left news analysis blog Coteret, said the clip was "repulsive" and reflected how out of touch Israeli opinion was with the rest of the world. "It shows a complete lack of understanding of how the incident is being perceived abroad," he said. Award-winning Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport said the clip demonstrated prejudice against Muslims. "It's roughly done, not very sophisticated, anti-Muslim – and childish for the government to be behind such a clip," he said.

A similar press office email was sent to foreign journalists two weeks ago, recommending a gourmet restaurant and Olympic-sized swimming pool in Gaza to highlight Israel's claim there is no humanitarian crisis there. Journalists who complained the email was in poor taste were told they had "no sense of humour".

Last week, the Israel Defence Force had to issue a retraction over an audio clip it had claimed was a conversation between Israeli naval officials and people on the Mavi Marmara, in which an activist told soldiers to "go back to Auschwitz". The clip was carried by Israeli and international press, but today the army released a "clarification/correction", explaining that it had edited the footage and that it was not clear who had made the comment.

The Israeli army also backed down last week from an earlier claim that soldiers were attacked by al-Qaida "mercenaries" aboard the Gaza flotilla. An article appearing on the IDF spokesperson's website with the headline: "Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be al-Qaida mercenaries", was later changed to "Attackers of the IDF Soldiers found without identification papers," with the information about al-Qaida removed from the main article. An army spokesperson told the Guardian there was no evidence proving such a link to the terror organisation.

Further Fallout from the Bloody Gaza Raid

Reserve officers from the Israeli navy have urged an outside probe of the botched flotilla raid, according to a report in Haaretz. Here's an excerpt:

Navy officers denounced the commando raid as having "ended in tragedy both at the military and diplomatic levels."

"We disagree with the widespread claims that this was the result of an intelligence rift," said the officers. "In addition, we do not accept claims that this was a 'public relations failure' and we think that the plan was doomed to failure from the beginning."

"First and foremost, we protest the fact that responsibility for the tragic results was immediately thrust onto the organizers of the flotilla," wrote the officers. "This demonstrates contempt for the responsibility that belongs principally to the hierarchy of commanders and those who approved the mission. This shows contempt for the values of professionalism, the purity of weapons and for human lives.

Meanwhile, Turkish media have published photos of commandos who were carried by activists to sick bay on the Mavi Marmara ferry after being beaten up shortly after they abseiled onto the upper deck of the Turkish-flagged vessel. The images had been deleted by IDF troops, but were later digitally retrieved by the flotilla organizers. This PR fiasco has added to the diplomatic fracas between Turkey and Israel, which seems to insist on red lighting any international probe of the incident. Apparently the commandos are bloodied, but unbowed. Blockade = Block Aid, according to Irene, an Israeli Arab aidworker who is beyond despair.

(photo of commando courtesy of IHH)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Shadow over the bubble

Author Margaret Atwood, a Canadian gentile, writes poignantly about "the situation" in Haaretz:

Recently I was in Israel. The Israelis I met could not have been more welcoming. I saw many impressive accomplishments and creative projects, and talked with many different people. The sun was shining, the waves waving, the flowers were in bloom. Tourists jogged along the beach at Tel Aviv as if everything was normal.

But… there was the Shadow. Why was everything trembling a little, like a mirage? Was it like that moment before a tsunami when the birds fly to the treetops and the animals head for the hills because they can feel it coming?

“Every morning I wake up in fear,” someone told me. “That’s just self-pity, to excuse what’s happening,” said someone else. Of course, fear and self-pity can both be real. But by “what’s happening,” they meant the Shadow.

I’d been told ahead of time that Israelis would try to cover up the Shadow, but instead they talked about it non-stop. Two minutes into any conversation, the Shadow would appear. It’s not called the Shadow, it’s called “the situation.” It haunts everything.

The Shadow is not the Palestinians. The Shadow is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, linked with Israeli’s own fears. The worse the Palestinians are treated in the name of those fears, the bigger the Shadow grows, and then the fears grow with them; and the justifications for the treatment multiply.

The attempts to shut down criticism are ominous, as is the language being used. Once you start calling other people by vermin names such as “vipers,” you imply their extermination. To name just one example, such labels were applied wholesale to the Tutsis months before the Rwanda massacre began. Studies have shown that ordinary people can be led to commit horrors if told they’ll be acting in self-defense, for “victory,” or to benefit mankind.

I’d never been to Israel before, except in the airport. Like a lot of people on the sidelines – not Jewish, not Israeli, not Palestinian, not Muslim – I hadn’t followed the “the situation” closely, though, also like most, I’d deplored the violence and wished for a happy ending for all.

Again like most, I’d avoided conversations on this subject because they swiftly became screaming matches. (Why was that? Faced with two undesirable choices, the brain – we’re told -- chooses one as less evil, pronounces it good, and demonizes the other.)

I did have some distant background. As “Egypt” at a Model U.N. in 1956, my high school’s delegation had presented the Palestinian case. Why was it fair that the Palestinians, innocent bystanders during the Holocaust, had lost their homes? To which the Model Israel replied, “You don’t want Israel to exist.” A mere decade after the Camps and the six million obliterated, such a statement was a talk-stopper.

Then I’d been hired to start a Nature program at a liberal Jewish summer camp. The people were smart, funny, inventive, idealistic. We went in a lot for World Peace and the Brotherhood of Man. I couldn’t fit this together with the Model U.N. Palestinian experience. Did these two realities nullify each other? Surely not, and surely the humane Jewish Brotherhood-of-Manners numerous in both the summer camp and in Israel itself would soon sort this conflict out in a fair way.

But they didn’t. And they haven’t. And it’s no longer 1956. The conversation has changed dramatically. I was recently attacked for accepting a cultural prize that such others as Atom Egoyan, Al Gore, Tom Stoppard, Goenawan Mohamad, and Yo-Yo Ma had previously received. This prize was decided upon, not by an instrument of Israeli state power as some would have it, but by a moderate committee within an independent foundation. This group was pitching real democracy, open dialogue, a two-state solution, and reconciliation. Nevertheless, I’ve now heard every possible negative thing about Israel – in effect, I’ve had an abrupt and searing immersion course in present-day politics. The whole experience was like learning about cooking by being thrown into the soup pot...

There are many groups in which Israelis and Palestinians work together on issues of common interest, and these show what a positive future might hold; but until the structural problem is fixed and Palestine has its own “legitimized” state within its internationally recognized borders, the Shadow will remain.

“We know what we have to do, to fix it,” said many Israelis. “We need to get beyond Us and Them, to We,” said a Palestinian. This is the hopeful path. For Israelis and Palestinians both, the region itself is what’s now being threatened, as the globe heats up and water vanishes. Two traumas create neither erasure nor invalidation: both are real. And a catastrophe for one would also be a catastrophe for the other.
See the entire article here

Friday, June 04, 2010

IDF colonel says remaining flotilla boats 'Sabatoged'

Guest post by Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement, filing from Cyprus.

On Tuesday, Colonel Itzik Tourgeman told the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that two more ships are on their way to try and break the naval blockade of Gaza. The head of research in the operations division said, "The ships have not reached their target as of today because covert action was taken against them."
We had suspicions about our two boats, Challenger 1 and 2 and their mechanical problems as they sailed toward the flotilla, but we were not going to say anything unless we could prove it. Turns out we didn't have to prove it. Israeli mouthpieces did.

The Guardian ran a piece the same day, saying,

Israel gave strong indications today that its forces had secretly sabotaged some of the ships bound for Gaza as part of the freedom flotilla.

Matan Vilnai, the deputy defence minister, was asked on Israel Radio whether there had not been a smarter alternative to direct assault. He answered that "all possibilities had been considered," adding: "The fact is that there were less than the 10 ships that were due to participate in the flotilla."

An unnamed Israeli Defence Force source who briefed the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence committee on the widely criticised armed interception of the flotilla at sea, also spoke of "grey operations" being mounted against the flotilla."

We were lucky that our two captains were superbly trained and able to offload the passengers safely.So we are going to make sure the Rachel Corrie is well protected and that Israel is put on notice that anything that happens to her, the passengers and the crew will rest with Israel. As a result of these threats, we're going to pull Rachel Corrie into a port, add more high-profile people on board, and insist that journalists from around the world also come with us.

And sabotage happens with more than deeds. It also happens with words. In today's Haaretz, Barak Ravid reported,

"A diplomatic solution seems imminent to allow the humanitarian aid vessel the Rachel Corrie to dock without incident at the Ashdod Port. According to European diplomats and senior Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem, quiet messages have been exchanged over the past few days between Israel and the group operating the ship, to allow it to dock."

This, too, is sabotage in writing. We called Haaretz and the reporter. He did not return our call.We have no intention nor would we ever have any intention of ever docking in Ashdod.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

American teen among Flotilla Dead

According to the BBC, quoting Turkish media, the peace activists slain on the flotilla by IDF commandos include a 19-year-old dual citizen, who held both American and Turkish passports. The teenager Furkan Dogan was struck by four bullets in the head and one in the chest. All nine flotilla casualties were buried in Turkey - one in the capital, and the rest around the country.

The mood of the funeral crowds echoed remarks made by the Turkish president, who said that an irreparable and deep scar had been left in Turkey's relations with Israel.
The Israelis and their botched raid in international waters were denounced repeatedly.

The bodies arrived, along with the 450 activists, in three aircraft chartered by the Turkish government at Istanbul airport in the early hours of Thursday, after several hours of delays.Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc accused Israel of "piracy" and "barbarism and oppression". Mr Arinc said his government saluted the Turkish Islamic charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), which played a leading role in organising the convoy - a charity Israel has accused of supporting terrorism.

What an avoidable blunder on all sides. Time for a rethink. As far as an independent investigation into the flotilla incident, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is adamant that the government conduct its own, but he might allows "foreign observers" to join the Israeli probe for "transparency". The fact that the illegal boarding occurred outside of Israel has not seemed to have registered.

Meanwhile, another blockade-busting ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, is heading towards Gaza with 15 activists on board and is expected to reach there on Saturday... presumably unless it is blocked by Israel. (One hopes the chopper gambit won't be reattempted.) One hopes that it lands in Egypt and the humanitarian goods are transported through Rafah. Watch this space!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Israeli Physicians Group Weighs in on Medical Aftermath of the Flotilla Raid

Gila Norich, from the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel is outraged by the Gaza Flotilla incident and its medical aftermath. She sent Israelity Bites this email this morning:

Waking up to Monday's events was disheartening and shocking, to say the least. Throughout the ordeal, Physicians for Human Rights- Israel has remained in constant contact with senior physicians to try and find out the status of injured and deceased victims evacuated to Israeli medical centers. Despite our efforts to help individuals from all over the world who turned to us to help locate their loved ones, it was extremely difficult on Monday and Tuesday to receive official information from Israeli hospitals. Neither PHR-Israel staff, nor affiliated physicians were allowed into hospitals to gather testimony.

As a result of the lingering uncertainty, by Monday afternoon we issued an urgent letter to the Director of Medicine of the Israeli Ministry of Health and the Director General of the Foreign Ministry asking them to set up an emergency hotline for the families of the injured and deceased. We also asked authorities to set up an emergency mechanism accessible to all the families of injured persons, especially those from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. In Monday's waning afternoon hours, we submitted together with Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Public Committee against Torture (PCATI) a Habeas Corpus petition to the High Court of Justice, demanding information about the health and whereabouts of hospitalized passengers.

As a result of our petition, a list has been provided to Adalah with the names of hospitalized Flotilla passengers. Even with this list, it's still not possible to identify all of the passengers; authorities provided names in Hebrew and did not include ID numbers or countries of origin.

Yesterday morning, the Ministry of Health informed us that 54 Flotilla passengers had been admitted to Israeli hospitals Sheba, Hadassah Ein Kerem, Rambam, Beilinson, and Barzilai and that surgeries had been/were being conducted at Sheba and at Rambam Hospitals. Last night, we received word that several patients were transferred from Beilinson Hospital to the medical facilities of the Israeli Prisons Service. In addition, according to information we've received, passengers have been made to sign off on deportation orders written in Hebrew, without understanding what they are being asked to sign.

As things stands today, we have yet to receive word from health officials regarding the establishment of an emergency hotline. We know that at least 31 flotilla passengers are still hospitalized, as well as 3 Israeli soldiers. We know that representatives from certain diplomatic missions visited hospitals both on Monday and Tuesday and that information on foreign nationals from countries without diplomatic ties with Israel is being coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Since several individuals have undergone intensive care procedures, we feel it is crucial that families be able to reach their loved ones. For this reason, we've sent another urgent request to government officials demanding that families be notified of the medical status of their loved ones. In addition, yesterday we coordinated visits between lawyers and hospitalized Flotilla passengers at the Orthopedics Unit at Beilinson Hospital.

We believe that the violence and its tragic consequences necessitate an independent, international investigation. The Israeli government should publicize all documentation of the events, including materials that have been seized from passengers. Furthermore, as Israeli citizens, we call for the establishment of a National Commission of Inquiry to look into the decisions leading up to the events and for State actors take responsibility for their decisions.

Israel's decision to stop the Free Gaza Flotilla is further evidence of its ongoing control over the Gaza Strip. For the past three years, Israel has imposed a harsh and illegal blockade against the civilian population in Gaza amounting to collective punishment for political gain. This blockade includes limitations on the right to health, education, human and economic development, as well as a chronic dependence on foreign aid. These combined factors force the Gaza population to live their lives on the brink of perpetual humanitarian crisis. Through these actions, Israel violates the right of Palestinians to live in dignity, security, and freedom, and steers us further away from the possibility of a just and peaceful solution.
We look forward to providing additional updates in the coming days and appreciate your support.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Israeli spin vs eyewitnesses: conflicting accounts of the bloody raid on high seas

This map, above, shows where the IDF intercepted the flotilla and the violence unfolded. Even the staid Financial Times has branded the aggression as piracy.

The Israeli censors are not yet allowing release of the names of the activists killed, though there are at least four Turks among them, according to Turkish authorities. In its usual wrap-up propaganda blitz following an aggressive act of "self-defence" which the world sees as disproportionate, the IDF have shown a photo of weapons supposedly found aboard the Turkish ferry. One of the IDF's volunteer cyber trolls already mentioned this in a comment posted on Israelity Bites soon after the photo became available. [That's you, "at the edge"]

The Guardian newspaper interviewed a Turkish survivor who hid with her baby in the toilet of the Turkish passenger ship Mavi Marmara and after the raid was deported to Istanbul, though all her belongings and anything like cell phone or camera which might be used as evidence were first confiscated by the IDF. She said that live bullets were first fired by the Israeli troops. The BBC is highlighting inconsistencies in the version of the raid released to the public by military spokesmen inside Israel, and say that German eyewitnesses cast doubt on the veracity. With no access to hospitalized or imprisoned activists in Israel, reporters are at a disadvantage to learn independently what happened. Aboard the Mavi Marmara was an octogenarian former US Ambassador, whose wife has not been able to reach him yet.

It is worth pointing out that five of nine previous aid flotillas had been allowed into Gaza, under Olmert. The present prime minister Bibi Netanyahu, brother of a celebrated Entebbe raider, plays hardball and must long for the past era when Israel's "surgical" military wizardry was admired around the world. Apparently, another two aid ships are attempting to run the blockade.

Israelis don snorkels to show support for commandos in botched flotilla raid

Israelis wearing snorkels attend a demonstration in support of Israel following a deadly raid by Israel's navy on an aid flotilla bound for the blockaded Gaza Strip, outside the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, May 31, 2010. (Hat tip to the BBC)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Gaza Aid Flotilla fired on by commandos, at least ten dead, many wounded

More than 10 people have been killed after Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army says. [The deaths now number 15, later reports said; official death toll is 9. Names need to be released.]

Armed forces boarded the vessels overnight, clashing with some of the 600 protesters on board.

The exact location of the interception is unclear. Israel had warned the ships not to enter its territorial waters.

The ships are carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid to try to break a long-standing Israeli-led blockade.

Israel says its forces were attacked by activists when they got on board. Tweeters aboard the ships indicated that the troops were dropped by chopper and started firing as soon as their feet hit the decks -- including at sleeping activists.

Read more on the BBC. Video footage available; Turks are stoning the Israeli consulate in Istanbul in protest against the attack on civilian activists, who included an 85 year old Holocaust survivor and Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, the 1976 Nobel Peace laureate from Northern Ireland. Most of the dead are reported to be from Turkey.

Addendum: Death count has risen now to 15, and 41 people were treated in hospital for wounds. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after expressing his "full backing" for the raid, has returned to Israel and skipped a Washington meeting with US president Barack Obama, according to latest reports. Surviving activists deny that the sleeping activists had clubbed or knifed the raiding commandoes; speculation is that friendly fire amongst the Israeli forces may have set off the fighting. Six Israeli soldiers were injured during the botched raid. Unlike previous flotillas, this one had included people aboard who Israel identified as Hamas and pro-Al Qaeda. The attack happened in international waters - 60 miles offshore. See NY Times piece here and (rather tentative) Foreign Policy analysis here. Because Sheikh Raed Salah, an Israeli-Arab, is rumored to be among the casualties, analysts fear the incident may "lead to a third intifada." Organizers of the peace flotilla included Muslim Brotherhood volunteers, which alarmed some observers and irritated others. See this blogpost from Jacky Rowland, about the Monty Pyythonesque quality of the event--at least until the big guns came out.
And here's an odd report from a hack imbedded with the Israeli commandos, who reports that the naval commandoes had pistols and paint-ball rifles for sidearms, expecting "activists like at Bilin; instead, they got Bangkok!" Compare it with this file on Truthout. Will we ever know the answers?