Thursday, September 29, 2005

Jerusalem "Human Rights in Conflict" Symposium

This afternoon (Thursday), there is a symposium taking place (in English) close to Jaffa Gate. Today's topic will relate to restriction on movement, legitimate security concerns and Palestinian welfare. Might be worth participating if you are interested in this field.

It will be certain to raise some central issues and it is important that all Israeli views are represented.

For more information on the speakers and the topic:

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

One Murder and Five Years Later

Yesterday marked the Palestinian anniversary of five years since Intifada II began. Yay - break out the bubbly and the balloons. A few weeks ago, optimists among us may have thought we were about to begin disengagement from this horror movie. Amazing really how often they show repeats of some episodes these days!

It is all so deja vu that it truly is verging on ridiculous. Have a read of the Palestinian rhetoric. Sad sad sad. Makes me really sad! I'm not just sad for myself or for Israelis. Even if the horizon does not look so pretty right now and it is bearing down on us far too quickly, I am still committed to feeling sorry for the Palestinians too. Why do their leaders, diplomats and terrorists persist on raising expectations. Why do they play with the emotions of a people, who like us, have suffered so much? Where is the willingness to embrace reality and reciprocity. Israel has begun to do so and it has caused a tsunami of painful bubble bursting nationwide. It needs to happen in Palestinian society too.

Why should it ever happen though? I mean, is there really any pressure on them to seal the new weapons flow from Egypt or the rocket fire or the planning for suicide bombings? For decades the UN has flirted with the Palestinian victim card on the diplomatic poker table. The Arab media provides their readers and viewers with such misleading and false reports and paints a picture of Palestinian victimhood, weak and occupied and yet able to defeat the IDF - apparently! How could any Palestinian ever be swayed to seek peace over war and negotiation over terror? Why should they when Arab states provide them with the green light and the resources for terror? Why would they when al-Qaeda and other terrorist support is allowed to freely enter Gaza?

For me, answers sometimes come in small packages - small but treasured packages. The murder of Sasson Nuriel may not have caught the world headlines as it should have. Had it done so, they might now have a better understanding of the inherent problems in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

What bothers me about this story is not only the arrogant, horrific and non-humane way by which Hamas dealt with this family man, but the relationship that in fact existed between him and Palestinians. The much less common murder of one's Palestinian colleagues and workers by Jews is equally horrific.

This is not the first time that Palestinians have murdered the person who actually provides them with business and income. Why do they persist on cutting off their nose to spite their face? Like the Gaza woman who recently tried to blow up the Israeli hospital that was treating her for burns. Why amputate the hand that feeds you? Here lies one of the greatest obstacles to peace. If they kill those who cooperate and work with them, there can never be trust. You can not complain about occupation and poverty on the one hand and then hurt those who do business with you.

The very fact that these 'hostage videos' have become so popular worldwide is a sad illustration of the world's morality. Why do we allow ourselves to become immune to such horrors? Why do we wait for buildings to fall and trains to explode before we take action?

What action to take is always controversial. The way I see it, while military action risks the creation of greater anger and extremism, terrorists will always make their own justification for launching attacks, just as Hamas did so misleadingly last week.

Israel has now embarked on what I see as a military strategy unlinked to internal Likud battles. As is being repeated daily, post-Disengagement brings new rules and Israel will not hesitate a moment longer. Defence Minister Mofaz says terror from Gaza will be stopped - period. He and his compatriots are using tough, direct and uncompromising threats that we have not witnessed for some time. Israel only ever used about 2% of its real strength in the last five years. Something tells me that from Peres to Sharon and everyone in-between, there is very little patience remaining and the IDF will now do the PAs job while they refuse or are unable to do so.
Where to from here then? The good news is that we 'only' lost as many to terror in the last year as the UK did. (Isn't that ironic?!!) Though no room for bubbly and chocolate cake here either, other than congratulating the IDF and police (which Haaretz did not!) on stopping the countless attempts to undermine our constant struggle for peace.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Ever-Powerful Underdog Tag

In the world of sport (to which I have a full membership), teams try desperately to get labeled as the underdog before a big match. It seems to provide an extra motivation to win and keeps arrogance and over-confidence on the sidelines.

Well, I am not sure Ariel Sharon intended to be placed in the underdog corner of the 'all gloves off' Likud boxing ring, but that's where he found himself leading up to yesterday's vote. And today, well he's proven to be a real survivor and warrior once again. No one expected him ever to be Prime Minister after the Lebanon fiasco and not many backed him to overcome the Netanyahu challenge, even at the first of several inner Likud hurdles that lie ahead.

And yet, here he is now with a victory, against all odds. Honestly, I was happy to buy some lines for last night's 50 million shekel lotto draw. I am not sure I would have placed an agara on Sharon had I been given the option to do so. The odds of 1:2000000 for lotto appeared somewhat encouraging in comparison.

Victory it is though, thanks very much I would say to the Israeli media which has doubled as a powerful Sharon fan club for some time now. Together with Sharon advocates, they did very well to paint him not only as the underdog, but as a true representative of the majority and the only realistic alternative to "extreme elements" like Landau and Netanyahu. Coupled with a little help from the infamous microphone and ironically from predictable post-Disengagement terror, I think many chose the devil they think they know well over the devil that they're still not quite as comfortable with.

When it comes down to it, the close finish (Sharon by a nose) is a fair reflection not only of the 'no holds barred' difficult times ahead for the Likud, but also of the significant split that still remains nationwide, especially when it comes to land for peace when the peace is not forthcoming. Equally, the result illustrates that some norms of political logic still remain in the Likud - that is, don't vote for new elections when you are in the government and you have a very popular leader.

Still, logic normally plays little place in our lives here. If it did, we would have all left and gone to live in New Zealand by now. This country runs on something else quite undescribable - for good and for bad.

Victory is sweet and defeat is indeed bitter for Mr Bibi who now appears under some pressure. Some are already calling him "Loser Peres of the Likud". A little unfair but I would not discount the possibility that there might be a push to find someone more widely respected who could unseat Sharon. Uzi Landau maybe? DEBKAfile predicted that recently too.

If you don't continue to win matches, you can't call yourselves 'the best in the world'. Sharon still has some tough assignments ahead of him and he'll have to show his best political skills yet if he's still to be standing at the end of this season. Deciding what to do with those who backed Bibi will be a good indication of where the Likud family is heading. Unity calls are well and good but you can't help feeling that Sharon will take the 104 vote majority in the Likud and take his friends with him toward his next policy goals. Own goal that might turn out to be. Let's face it, almost 50% did in fact vote against him.

A day is a very long time in Israeli current affairs. Don't take your eye off the ball for a second!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Suitless & Speechless

Having just been at a רמת כוסית (Raising of the Glasses - a toast) in the presence of Attorney-General Menny Mazuz and the Likud's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, I thought I would comment on a few personal observations.

In addition to the microphone ironically failing during Minister Livni's short address, I noticed the following:

1. Even if important figures are giving public speeches within two meters of you, it is still Israeli custom to answer your mobile phone and at least begin a conversation with the caller. Attempts at hiding one's voice behind a book or folder does not do the trick as clever as it might appear at first!

2. In New Zealand, people who paraded up and down main streets in their suits and ties were called 'the suits', not by their suit-wearing peers of course. At this function, there was barely a soul dressed like 'a suit' or even sporting a tie other than the Attorney-General of course. In Israel, one goes to work, to interviews and to synagogue in whatever you feel is respectful. It's normally something casual but appropriate. I don't know if it's a reflection on the 9-month hot summer we live in or rather just an illustration that to Israelis there is just so many bigger priorities and concerns than what you wear. What you say and do, and what kind of person you are means so much more.

3. Most strikingly, it felt refreshing to be at a toast for Rosh Hashanah rather than Xmas. What I mean is that while I have nothing against those Xmas season toasts and lunches in New Zealand, it is simply more pleasant to be able to eat and drink what is on offer and to actually identify with the religious festival that is approaching. I am all in favor of us being a light unto the nations though I'm not so sure if we're very good at that or whether the nations want our 'light'. Still, there's something sweet about the new year when your leaders wish you Shana Tova (A Good Year) rather than ask you to explain Chanukah, matzah, shofar, cholent and tefillin. All this just makes me satisfied to live in the Jewish state.

Explaining the advantages of 11am Saturday cholent may however be simple in comparison to finding the meaning behind the microphone debacle of last evening. There are more conspiracy theories floating around now than there are working microphones. In a country where corruption and dirty politics increases each year, it is not as simple as assuming that Bibi and Landau supporters pulled the plug. There are those who believe it might have been a perfectly executed sympathy and attention collecting stunt from Ariel Sharon's side of the Likud battle.

Microphones and conspiracies aside, today is truly a big day for the Likud and Israel as they vote in essence for or against Disengagement (bit late isn't it?) and Sharon. It might have been the perfect payback to the Prime Minister who turned off the microphones (and careers) of every Minister and MK who disagreed with him on Disengagement. Or it might constitute one of the most major dents in Israeli democracy for some time. You decide.

Of those who succeeded in speaking from the podium, many were surprised by this man. Having been taken from his home in Gaza, he argued that Sharon did not disengage alone. Ministers and Netanyahu stood by and watched it all happen.
Still the blame often falls heavily on a leader and hence the microphone troubles for Sharon only.

At midnight tonight we may know what all this really means, if anything. The Likud is looking like one big (40 MK) unhappy family that looks unlikely to avoid a split. Strange but true.

Never a dull moment here - even when the Palestinians are keeping us busy, we can also find something internal to add to the workload.

!אכן איזה שנה
What a year indeed!

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Wow! I am so flattered! They must have really missed us. We have been gone just a few days and they are begging us, pleading and bleeding with us to come back and play. Shame... poor Palestinians.

Excuse the sarcasm (ok don't then!) but what oh what are they playing at now? Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity? Right now, they are being so delightfully stupid that I'm not even sure it's registered in the collective Palestinian mindset that there in fact exists a possibility - a possibility for growth, new homes, trade, security and peace.

Oy vey! I shake my head in disbelief...

Even the Palestinian Authority accepted that the explosion at the Gaza rally on Friday was a Hamas 'work accident'. (A work accident that revealed, sources say, that the Palestinians now have Katyusha rockets in Gaza).

As we know, Hamas loves to wind up emotions, blame it all on Israel and send us back several months, years, decades even. Not only are their several dozen Qassam missiles going to bring them a very harsh Israeli response, but it does nothing for their national aspirations. If they really wanted to help their brothers and sisters receive Disengagement II in the West Bank, Jerusalem and so on, then this does nothing but damage those aspirations.

You see, not only will this harden Israeli sentiment (no one likes gifts thrown back in their face), but it's likely to provide some good new slogans for the Netanyahu, Landau and other orange campaigns - namely, "We Told You So".

Sharon and friends might well follow through with their promise to respond very harshly "should anything be fired from Gaza after the Disengagement". Whether that will be enough to maintain Sharon's nationwide popularity and to revive his troubled Likud life is another question. Operation "First Rain" could be Sharon's last rein.

Sadly, once we've made very painful and militarily risky concessions, Israel is left with no other choice (other than complete surrender) but to respond with greater force than they have done over the last five years. There are no longer Jews or their soldiers to 'antagonize' the Gazan Palestinians. We did our part and now it's their turn.

If the world has the courage, it will side with Israel strongly on this point. No other country in the world would tolerate dozens of rockets landing in their cities. If Israel is criticized in this case, it will destroy all the diplomatic backslapping of previous weeks and prove again, that when it comes to Jews defending themselves, there is no support nor tolerance.

The world must support us and the Palestinian Authority would do well to do the same. I know Abu Mazen is between a very sharp rock and a very hard place, but it's time for him to prove himself. Failure to do so will see the ultimate failure of the first test of Palestinian independence.

"The situation is very dangerous and Israel bears full responsibility for this deterioration," Palestinian PM Qureia told reporters in Ramallah. "We urge the international community to interfere to put an end to the Israeli escalation."
Blaming Israel for the destruction of the ceasefire is chutzpahdik and shows a clear lack of morality, sincerity and peaceful intentions. Israel responsible for the end of the ceasefire? Sure - and I'm the tooth fairy!

Meanwhile, while Sderot schools stay shut and the nation goes on high alert for terror attack season, let's hope and pray that something will change for the better - quickly.

Shavua Yoter Tov! (Wishing you a Better Week Ahead)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sharon About To Retire?

In the past, they have correctly predicted some diplomatic and miltary moves, terror attacks and the like. Now here is DEBKAfile coming out with what they say is the results of their exclusive Debka research - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is destined, at any moment, to announce his retirement.

That's right folks. The man who this morning read his newspaper with reserved joy, might well be about to shock us all, once and for all.

I raised this Likud soap opera in my KIC session for Otzma this morning. Is there anywhere else in the world, where a Prime Minister, so popular nationwide, would be removed from his leadership by his own ruling party? While the majority of the Likud may be angry at his apparent exit from mainstream Likud policy and ideology, it is difficult to fathom their willingness to give up the Cabinet table at such an immense period in Israeli history. (Has there ever been a non-immense period in our history?!!)

Sharon is under pressure from Likud MKs to openly pledge his loyalty to the Likud under all circumstances - even in the case that he should lose the family battle to Bibi, Uzi or whoever. He has refused to commit and this I imagine is likely to push potential supporters away.

In light of all this, maybe DEBKAfile is taking things to a logical conclusion. It might well be that old man Sharon does not want to finish as a loser nor as someone who abandoned and then ruined his own political home. Contrary to his stated convictions at the UN and in meetings thereafter, Arik might well be content with the friendly handshakes of the world and may be eyeing a rural retirement, comfortable in the knowledge that he did as much as anyone else to separate Israel from its enemies and to rebuild the long road to peace.

Maybe. It's possible.

Still, numbers mean something and there is quite a gap nationwide between a new Sharon-led party and anyone else. He might not be hungry for family squabbles but he must be licking his lips at the prospects of building a new winning Israeli political powerhouse.

Returning home to the ranch? Watch this space!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

History and Centrality

For the second evening in a row, some participants in my KIC sessions expressed their uneasiness at PM Sharon's long list of Biblical and religious references in the first half of his UN speech last week. Truthfully, I have some sympathy with those who do not base their Zionism on religion. Such people may well have felt uncomfortable with the references to G-d, the Creator, Abraham, Lech Lecha ("Go Forth!), Moses, the Prophets, the Splitting of the Sea, the Promised Land, the Land of Israel - all of which appeared prominently in the historic speech.

Almost none of the Haifa University overseas students had seen or read the speech which I thought was a shame. Having watched it (via the CNN version that I brought with me), the topic above became central to discussion.

I personally do not view that part of Sharon's speech as inherently religious. As I related to the Haifa students, this was an Israeli Prime Minister standing at the podium in front of countless world leaders and infinite numbers of viewers across the world. The speech (written for him of course!) took wise advantage of the situation to put Israel's case to the world.

Because much of the world sees Israel's right to exist stemming only from 1947 onwards (or if lucky, from Herzl's willing and dreaming period), Sharon stood and delivered the real version of events - events that highlight historic Jewish connections to the Land of Israel stretching back to well before the New Testament and before the Koran.

The way I see it, you do not need to be religious to see the wisdom behind these statements. Although some Israelis may not identify with religious claims to the Land, much of the world can and does relate to G-dly things and religious rights. When it comes down to it, the speech was the for the world's ears, not necessarily our own.

I will go one step further. It is my belief that if we base our rights to the land solely on UN Partition Plans and modern political diplomacy, then we are spreading ourselves a little thin. Not only are politics and diplomacy the least reliable and most unpredictable factors on this earth, but we should, like our Moslem cousins be able to express our historical and emotional connections to land without feeling ashamed or 'religious' for doing so.

Sharon spoke not solely of religion or Torah or G-d. Rather, he cemented the centrality of Jewish history in this region and in this conflict. It was important to do so because our enemies do their very best to deny that centrality.

I can accept a Jew's dislike of religious ingredients in policy building and speech making. At the same time, Jews must not deny that Jewish history has guided the Jewish people to a specific place - that place is Jerusalem and Israel. Call it Jewish history, call it religion or call it whatever you like. When it comes down to it, however which way you choose to label 'it', Sharon's words do indeed form an invaluable part of our claim to this land.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Busy Little World

These last few days have left me struggling to find time to come up for air. In addition to tonight's KIC session at Ulpan Etzion, I have been asked to run a session for about 60 overseas students at Haifa University on Tuesday night. Question is, where does one start when it comes to Keeping It (ie: people) Current this week. With all that is happening around the world, it's difficult to focus.

In addition to Sharon's UN speech at the end of last week, the Iranian performance from the UN podium confirmed that our neighborhood is bound to remain a focal point for hungry reporters and tired diplomats. I commend the Iraninian leadership on its willingness to test the will of the nations. I don't blame them. I mean, the world has seldom proven itself to be strong enough or united enough to respond to similar challenges. Still, the speech was provocatively critical of the USA and 'the Zionist regime' and even the Europeans were a little taken aback by its ferocity.

Then, as if to provide just what the American-Israeli doctor ordered, we witness a pledge by North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. After years of tough talk from all sides (and some tense times), suddenly we are greeted with what really is a tremendous announcement. If the North Koreans do in fact fulfil their obligations as pledged, this would constitute a quite remarkable victory for diplomacy and those who support that route over miltary action. In light of its provision of weapons and know-how to Israeli and US foes, this decision appears to be at least somewhat of a dent in the terrorist's endeavour to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Let's not overlook the extra diplomatic hurdle this agreement will create for Iran.

At home though, the weapons are flowing. Isn't it just a touch ironic that the communities to the north of Gaza are now complaining that the government has not put protective measures in place to sufficiently defend them from missiles and terrorist infiltrations from Gaza? Almost funny actually. The settlement enterprise has always, always (that is- ALWAYS) said that should we ever withdraw from the settlements, then Israel proper would quickly become the frontline. And here we are...

As predicted by many (even those for Disengagement), the Egyptian presence on the Gaza-Egypt border has proven pointless - in fact laughable. The hands-off approach of Abu Mazen's thousands of security personnel would be funny too if it wasn't so dishonest, tragic, weak and misleading. With rhetoric and expectations forever rising in the Palestinian territories, everyone (except for those who have been at Club Med on Mars for the last 15 years) is simply awaiting the unwelcome arrival of missiles in Ashkelon and the full return of Palestinian youth who grow up and blow up so so young these days.

I've been at least hesitantly 'encouraged' by some of the world's support for Israel recently so you can't call me an all-out pessimist. Still, if you can convince me that my last paragraph is simply doom & gloom whining and not at all realistic, I'd be happy to hear your view in the comments section.

Meanwhile, I'm strapping myself in tightly and getting the protective gear on - the battle for the heart of the Likud is underway. Not only won't it be pretty but it may well see the biggest change to Israel's political scene for decades.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Israel's Two Lessons To The World

We and the world have been waiting all week and now we have seen it with our own eyes. Just over an hour ago Ariel Sharon completed his UN speech to the nations of the world. Exact quotes (and some initial commentary) on his speech I will leave you to read here and here.

There was not too much to surprise us or anyone for that matter. True, some Moslem and European leaders may have been suitably warmed by his openness to regretting Israeli control over another people and his offer of a Palestinian state.

Sharon, once doubted the world over, can now stand and say these things because he has in fact done what no Israeli leader has had the strength (nor chutzpah!) to do before him. That is, give over land to (well almost) full Palestinian control. No one can now claim that he talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk. Over the last month, he has walked a mile and he may yet walk the unforgiving and lonely Israeli plank as a result.

I was not surprised by his strong words about Jerusalem, its eternal unity as the capital of Israel and the Prime Minister's backing of the security fence. Israel's widely respected Supreme Court (sitting as the High Court of Justice) may well have given him extra reason to stand proud as Israel's leader today. First, the bench of nine ruled that the decision of the International Court of Justice in the Hague is not binding on Israel and that it was an emotional decision that ignored Israel's security needs almost completely.

Second, the court declared that Israel has the right to build the fence and do so over the green line should that be necessary. But lastly and possibly most strikingly, and equally importantly, the decision ordered some revision and rerouting of the fence in the northern West Bank in light of hardships caused to Palestinians in the area.
While this order may delay and complicate the building of the vital barrier, it does in fact reiterate and prove (once again!) Israel's sound democratic and human rights-centered legal system whereby there are checks and balances on government power. Even if they hurt us and betray us, we continue to search for that balance between Israel's security and Palestinian human rights requirements.

Like Sharon's UN speech, Israeli leaders and commentators have responded to the judicial decision in different ways, each focusing on the part that suits their interests and others calling it an all round helpful 'road map' for the anti-terror fence.

I hope the world (press and leaders) take good note of the decision. The High Court of Justice has taught them a lesson of moderation, justice, human rights and sovereignty to the world. I just hope they were in class to hear it.

All that that brings me back to Sharon's speech and the aspects that did surprise me. While in fact this older Sharon may not be the Sharon of old, he still stands as an extremely proud Jew and a sabra Israeli with pride in his country. For what seemed like several minutes, he spoke emotionally about Judaism, the Temples, Abraham, Moses and brought historical truths from Torah to the leaders of the world (in the six official languages of the UN) . Ariel Sharon spoke about G-d and about the treasure which is Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). He spoke with real commitment to that Land and to its inhabitants.

Whether we agree with his policies or not does not matter. For me, this is a man who stood up to the nations of the world and challenged them and hit the ball strongly into the Palestinian court. Unlike many apologetic Israeli and Diaspora Jews, he oozed Jewish-Israeli pride - so few Jews are willing to stand so proudly and strongly today. Without any sense of shame, he blamed the UN for ganging up on Israel over the years and for ignoring dangers like Iran.

We can support him or elect another. We can vote against land for peace if we wish. Yes, he basically equated the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to the land. Yes, hearing this may hurt and alienate.
Still, when push comes to shove, I believe we can take some heart from this man who while painfully conceding to the Palestinians with one hand, remains brimful with inextinguishable Jewish-Zionist desire to keep Israel secure and Jewish, and to bring her to peace and prosperity.

Shabbat Shalom!

Bush Toilet Request

BUSTING TO GO: US President George W Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the United Nations.
It reads: 'I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?

Victory Lap

Like the triumphant England cricket team, Team Sharon is now embarking on their Victory Parade through the corridors of the United Nations. Like British sports fans, Ariel Sharon has been looking forward to this for a lifetime. Here is traditionally one of the world's most criticized and demonized men now being lavished with praise for what much of the world views as a brave, courageous policy of a serious world leader who deserves sudden recognition and support.

Who would have predicted such an Ashes result after the first test some weeks ago? Who in their right (or left) mind would have foreseen the change in Sharon and the increasing respect he now holds in the corridors of world power?

Now, on the morning of the day that Sharon will address the world in the General Assembly (in Hebrew – now that's a nice strong start!), we are already witnessing a sea change of foreign diplomacy. Suddenly, Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom are on everyone's invitation list. Everyone wants the Israelis at their table. Here's Indonesia (the largest Moslem state) allowing its FM to meet with Shalom as they did on Tuesday. Putin, Kofi Annan and Bush are pushing to the front of the line, as are the Canadians, British, Australians, the Europeans, Turks, and the Jordanians. Musharraf explained to the press how he met Sharon in the corridor, introduced his wife and they all shook hands. Qatar is encouraging the Arab world to make a gesture to Israel in light of the Gaza withdrawal and made some very profound statements of their own.

It's not at all surprising then that Sharon and UN Ambassador Gillerman are openly lauding the change in the UN attitude toward Israel.

I've blogged about this scenario recently. All this hugging, scratching backs and provision of international cheerleaders for Israel does leave you wondering whether there really is diplomatic light at the end of Israel's long stay in the foreign relations darkness. I have no intention to overlook the pain and internal stress caused by Disengagement but I am certain that many Israelis and much of world Jewry are irresistibly attracted to this very strange, slightly bewildering love for Sharon and Israel.

Do I have to remind you of all the horrific cartoons and articles about Sharon over the last 5 years and throughout his military career? And now, the same man has a 'lover' in every port – every port except the Palestinian one, where instead of immediately beginning to build a viable existence in Gaza, they're preparing to re-launch the anti-Israel debate at the very same UN session. Why don't they try to help themselves practically, now that they have the relative freedom to do so?

Unlike the Ashes though, Sharon's victory rests not on the laws of cricket and good sportsmanship - rather upon a set of diplomatic rules that not only change without warning but include certain written and unwritten provisions that apply to Israel only.
Without a doubt, we should enjoy the coming days of unique and not undeserved support and appreciation from other States. And yet, we must remain weary. It is quite clear, that Israel will fairly quickly find itself in the diplomatic desert should she not continue to give up other disputed lands – whether by agreement or even under fire.

A unilateral Disengagement precedent has been created and the world will not let us forget it. Israel unilateralism, at first widely criticized, is now likely to be supported.

You see, as well as speaking in the holy tongue at the UN, Sharon is expected to emphasize his commitment to Israeli security and to Jerusalem as eternal undivided capital of Israel. With that, and his public comments about settlement bloc expansion, it is unlikely that he nor Israel will remain international superheroes for very long.

It's sad but true, that Israel is very well-liked when she shows the strength to surrender land and rights without compensation or reciprocity. Any suggestion of Israel making her own demands and the world immediately runs back into its naïve and discriminatory shell.

The media failed in its moral responsibility to condemn the Palestinian synagogue destructions and very soon the UN and its members will have be faced with their moral choice, when al-Kidwa (Yasser Arafat's nephew) presents his unthankful, pessimistic and 'blame Israel for everything' speech on behalf of the Palestinians.

It may not be quite like an Ashes victory parade and in our case it's hard to fathom whether it constitutes a victory at all. 'Victory' is likely to be short-lived and could well be turned into ashes itself as Israel reserves the right to fight its war on terror and to express its desire to protect those things it still holds dear.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Words as Loud as Actions

I have decided that there is not much need to dwell on the burning and destruction of synagogue structures by Palestinian mobs following Israel's completed withdrawal from Gaza on Septemeber 11 (ironic date really). We have seen that mob mentality many times in the last 5 (and 50 years) and even in light of Israeli and other pleas to protect the synagogues, it was not difficult to predict the actions that would follow.

Not hard to predict maybe, but quite difficult to watch. Some international news sources pass it off as celebrations. Shame. And then of course in that same article there's a nice reference to all the homes and mosques that Israel has destroyed - such comments tend to always appear without clarification or perspective and do very well to equate the two sides' actions in the minds of those who know no different.

So it's almost all action as usual in this little strip of land. And yet, things people say also deserve some attention. There's Abbas openly saying he has no intention to disarm Hamas - that won't do much for Road Map progress I'm sure. And you have Israel (Mofaz, Halutz and others) going to all lengths to emphasize that now we've left Gaza, the response to any terror attacks, mortar and missile fire will be different and harsher. I think the majority of Israelis demand as much. We'll wait to see whether such eventuates.

At times though, Israel leaders come out with some iceberg look-a-like comments that would sink any ship. It's hard to know whether some of them are simply political maneuvering or just plain stupid. Here's my top 5 for the last week or so:

5 - Labor MK (after apparently closed meeting) quoted Chief of Staff Halutz - we have mortars too!
4 - Limor Livnat - let's just build in the territories even if the USA doesn't like it.
3 - Shaul Mofaz - don't show any pity to those at checkpoints, even if it causes anger and delays.
2 - Ariel Sharon - we build but we don't talk about it.
1 - (The winner) - Rav Ovadia Yosef - Hurricance Katrina is punishment for Disengagement

I guess some of these things need to be said sometimes. (Others should never be thought let alone said). But honestly, even if valid, some things are better left unsaid, especially those which you say you don't talk about anyway. (Strange!). Gaining votes is nice, but let's at least be slightly diplomatic. We might understand what you're saying and agree with you but our friends and enemies worldwide show little patience for Israeli mouthing off.

If you have any other infamous verbal icebergs to share with us, please let us know about them...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Online Course for Israel Advocates

Run jointly with the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Jewish Agency for Israel hosts the ONLINE Ambassador Course which provides unique instruction in how to become a self-styled spokesperson for Israel in any formal or informal discussion. Participants will learn about the facts of the conflict, develop the tools to understand Palestinian propaganda/media bias, and acquire the means with which to advocate for Israel. Participants and graduates will also have the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in real-time web conferences.

A Titanic Day

Shavua Tov. I wanted to publish this KICpost before the Israeli cabinet makes the "do we or don't we" decision in relation to the Gaza synagogues. Here we are, almost a month after disengagement began and many days after the last resident was taken out of the area, and only now the Israeli government are struck by the synagogue destruction dilemma. I mean, really, what were they doing during the last 18 months?

For months they've known that syngogues would have to be destroyed, or relocated or left to the Palestinians. Why wasn't this decision made months ago? The answer - all too familiar.

It is one of the Israeli traditions that horrify me daily. I call it the 'band-aid, sticky plaster syndrome'. Israelis (leaders in particular) wait until the ship is flooded and then put the pumps into operation. Having just watched Titanic with my wife last night, allow me to make the comparison to the captain's fateful decision to light up all the boilers and go 'full steam ahead' even in light of the poor visibility and the well-known risk of enormous icebergs. Israel is so used to putting cellotape and band-aids across the holes in its ship and often fail to investigate the sources of the problem. Should they actually look for the source, they rarely deal with the problem immediately nor in a permanent fashion.

Truth is, Israelis are normally pretty good at responding to national and personal traumas that occur suddenly. Still, nothing wrong with a little future planning is there? A little strategic management wouldn't go amiss. Why do we always have to wait for the sudden trauma?

I don't envy any Cabinet minister - ever - and especially in this country. It appears that the Cabinet will vote against destruction and leave it over to the Palestinians and the world to deal with the matter. Irresponsible and controversial? Maybe - all the more so when you consider some of our cousins who will have great pleasure in destroying another nation's holy sites. Controversial but necessary for some of the reasons noted in this article. As far as Israel is concerned, it does give the wrong message to have Israel destroying its holy places. We don't need "if Israel can do it, so can we" statements developing out of Arab capitals and other states. Apparently, halacha also prefers non-Jewish hands in the destruction.

I quite understand the concern of the PA. I mean, it will be uncomfortable for them if their people run in and pillage Jewish holy sites. It certainly wouldn't do much for the world's view of their struggle and their desire for mutual acceptance and tolerance.
Here we have Saeb Ereket saying that "we do have respect for Jewish holy sites but..." and the like. Other PA officials are suggesting that the synagogues would only give a message of 'the occupation is not over' to the Palestinians and would be a source of fear, hate and violence. But in my view, that's their issue and Abbas and friends do need to start taking responsibility for the actions (and EDUCATION) of their own people. If every Israel used the existence of mosques in Jewish cities as justification for violence, where would we be today?

I don't take this view lightly. However, the whole matter has an anti-Jewish familiarity and horrific disrespect for Jewish holiness that we've seen by the Palestinians and the Arab world over many years. My friends, over decades (and during the last 5 years), Palestinians and Arab states have desecrated Jewish holy sites happily. They have had no respect for Jewish history nor holiness. Not only did Jordan & Palestinians turn the Old City of Jerusalem into a rubbish dump, but the few synagogues they did not destroy, were turned into urinals, barns for animals and the like. They throw rocks and rubbish at the Kotel and continue their horrific destruction of invaluable Temple remnants under the Temple Mount. Palestinian academics speak openly on PA TV about the lie of the "Jewish Temples". Palestinians broadcast lectures that claim Jews of 2000 years ago are not connected to the Jews of today. In the last 5 years, they have attacked synagogues and most famously burned and destroyed Joseph's Tomb in Shechem/Nablus along with Torah scrolls and holy books. They have murdered and attacked Rabbis and scholars and those on their way to and from prayer services. In 2002-3, many Israeli shules were forced to place armed guards at their entrances.

On the other hand, one can still see Mosques and their minarets standing around the recaptured Old City and throughout cities in Israel. Except when terror threats exist, Palestinians can pray at the al-Aqsa mosque. Jews however are forbidden from doing so and Jewish or Christian tours must be heavily guarded of course. The Palestinians use mosques to store weapons and to hide terrorists and therefore endanger the holy places and those who reside inside or nearby - the Bethlehem seige of the Church of Nativity was an excellent example of disrespect for local Christians. They claim Israeli interrogators rip copies of the Quran in front of them, and yet Palestinians themselves have been recorded as doing so and cutting out the pages to insert explosive devices and so on.

The religious tolerance is one-sided and just like Arafat and Abbas have both been able to prevent or lower violence when it suits them, so the PA should be made to guard and show respect to our holy places. I have heard that last week, a Chachnasat Torah (new Torah ceremony) took place safely and happily in the historical city of Jericho which is now under PA control. Like the violence, Palestinians can decide if they wish to show religious tolerance or alternatively they can display their intentions on the world stage.

Let's see what the Cabinet decides. Things are moving at a million miles an hour here and who knows who's watching for icebergs.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Icon of Struggle Against Media Bias Makes Aliyah

Well here's some news to lift the spirits - Tuvia Grossman is making Aliyah. His story (and its adjusted version) became a focal point for those of us who work to combat and teach about media bias against Israel. Certainly, Tuvia's experience and the subsequent use of his image have been central to many of my own KIC sessions and is used by Israel Advocates worldwide to illustrate the bias, demonstrative unprofessionalism and naivety that exist among those who report the news.

Katrina - Israel's Prayers and Support

In light of the incredible scenes of devastation coming out of New Orleans, Israel's Chief Rabbinate has composed a special prayer for world Jewry to recite. It might constitute an appropriate addition to your Shabbat services this week.

At the same time, we should be proud of Israel's response to the disaster and its proud tradition of providing humantarian aid worldwide. Though its importance pails in comparsion to the death and destruction, I was disappointed that a live US State Department briefing last night (on CNN) proceeded to list tens of countries that had offered assistance but lacked any mention of Israel. Again, this is not an appropriate time for petty point-scoring but in any case it is vital that Americans and the world see that the strong US-Israel partnership does not flow in one direction only.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bubbles that Burst and Burn

I have written many times recently about the bursting bubbles effect that the Disengagement adventure has had on segments of Israeli society - right, left, religious, secular and so on. None of us will be shocked if more surprises keep popping up - this is the Middle East nonetheless.

Having just left Midrash Shmuel this evening after venturing into some Elul preparation for Rosh Hashanah, my hour long spiritual bubble was burst at the receipt of an SMS from an Israeli news source - "The young man who set himself on fire in Jerusalem last week to protest Disengagement has died of his burns".

We know how difficult Disengagement has been for Gush Katif and Shomron residents, for those who were sent to remove their brothers and sisters and for the average Israeli (is there such a thing?!!) who may have agreed but suffered from a heavy aching heart.

I run KIC sessions with English-speaking olim at Ulpan Etzion where this bubble burned and burst last week, along with the life of this young American Jewish immigrant, Baruch Ben Menachem (Bret Taback) that was extinguished tonight. Apparently he never attended my sessions but I feel a tremendous sense of loss and frustration at his death. It is by no means my fault, or anyone's directly, but it is our collective responsibility.

Disengagement has affected us all. Some less, some more. Without a doubt, it has changed the fabric of Israeli society and the political spectrum greatly. By no means do I wish to suggest one is affected to a greater extent than another. However, the death of two immigrants through frustration, anger and apparent loneliness leads me to the conclusion that we are not doing enough. It is not lost on me that the only two deaths during Disengagement were of two lonely, upset, non-native Hebrew speaking Jewish immigrants.

Yelena Bosinova also showed her sadness and frustration through a self-inflicted burning and subsequent death. I read a scattering of comments about how little media coverage her death attracted and how she felt alone and yet she was said to be loved and respected by many.
Both Yelena and Baruch were immigrants who had come to a land they believed very strongly about, only to have those 'dreams come true' transformed into burns and scars.

I do not lay the blame at Sharon's feet for carrying out his Gaza & Shomron plan. Whether we agree or not, the Knesset backed him. I will not criticize those who promote bubble creation across the Israeli political spectrum. Simply, it hurts me, and it should hurt all olim (and all native Israelis for that matter), to see strongly pro-Israel, ideologically driven citizens take their lives so horrifically.

Olim know why they chose to give up on their home towns where the grass is often greener, cheaper, quieter, safer and less bureaucratic. Many of our reasons for making that tough move are beyond logical explanation. Suffice it to say, olim immigrate to Israel with a sense of commitment and dedication. We make a conscious decision to adopt this State as our own - fully. Instead of sending checks, we decide to send ourselves. Israelis never had the privilege to make that decision. For me at least, it is painful to see lives of olim taken after their dreams have been shattered.

I am well aware that Baruch had personal challenges under which he was suffering, other than Disengagement. In a different world, Yelena might have felt happier with life and protested differently. Regardless, while Judaism does not accept suicide, I do hope that born and bred Israelis and we, the new Israelis, will not allow the media to overlook or trivialize these deaths.

Olim, like Israelis have dreams for this wonderful nation, land and state. When those dreams turn to ashes, we must be ready to support the fallen and be prepared to help them to dream new dreams. There is plenty more for us to dream about, but the government and all of us must be sure not to lose sight of those who are hurting.

I did not know Baruch, but I do hope to attend his funeral tomorrow - not because of politics and not because I agree with his actions. Rather, because I am an Israeli and an oleh who knows what it is like to leave family and all things familiar behind and to venture out to fulfill one's dream of living as a free Jew in the land of Israel. I hope that other olim might attend Baruch's funeral for these reasons too.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Conditional Love

Pakistan has never bothered me before. Well, that's not entirely true. They have in fact beaten (in fact destroyed) New Zealand cricket teams time and time again. But otherwise, they have simply been India's Moslem neighbor and another one of those somewhat teasing nuclear playground tough guys.

But then, they had to confuse the Israeli political soul by taking the fairly courageous (and internally criticized) move of setting a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Turkey - neutral ground a must, of course. And the world is talking about it.

It makes me feel uneasy when unfriendly world players start climbing aboard the already slippery Chirac&Co "we love you Arik oh yes we do" train. Right now, the world seems to be sending many cheerleader trains in PM Sharon's direction. Like the Israeli left and the left-leaning Israeli media, it appears that bulldozer, war criminal Sharon is now the mascot and hero for world peace. Oh how the tide has turned...

As I might of expected, a few opinion pieces have started to appear about this little international waltz going on around Mr Disengagement. There are those who are painting a picture of decision making importance for Israelis, and those who set out the dangers of conditional love. They are both right and it leaves Israelis like me in quite a predicament.

I have to admit that it feels good when Chirac, Bush, Blair, Annan, Abdullah, Mubarak, Musharaf and countless other world heavyweights are placing "Israel is almost OK" bumper stickers on their cars. It makes you wonder that maybe if we continued to make 'painful concessions', the world might stop condemning us left, right and center and at every opportunity. The thought of Moslem countries trading with us and voting with us - ahhh so much pleasure. No longer would we be the occupiers. Jewish communities worldwide would be safer. We'd be humans (imagine that!) and peace seekers. Yes!!!! Vote Sharon...

I know I've had these feeling before - not once either. I've spent time trying to convince myself and others (and then myself again) that Israel is strong and can surrender a little bit, land-wise, pride-wise and security-wise, for the benefit of peace. And yet, two words stream back to me time and time again - RECIPROCITY and CONDITIONAL.

I can not say that Bibi's policies will bring security or peace or either. I'm not sure he's ready to be leader - is anyone? Yet he appears to demand something that I think lacks from our region's mountaineous journey towards peace. Bibi does not rule out concessions but he demands reciprocity. We can all read (no links required!) about Palestinian plans for the post-Disengagement period. While Israel builds plans for Disengagement II, what are the Palestinians doing? Educating towards peace? Building infrastructure towards peace?

I trust Sharon in that I know he's a Zionist leader who wants only the best for Israel. I can say the same for almost all Israeli leaders. Simply, I hope that the Prime Minsiter can see through the one-night stand he is being offered by the promiscuous world - citizens and leaders alike. They find Sharon and Israel attractive while we hurt or while we concede. They throw us out of the diplomatic bed, naked and shamed, as soon as we look to defend ourselves or demand Palestinian commitment or world love at a cheaper rate and with less conditions attached.

I am all for peace and for compromise under the right circumstances. Palestinians do suffer and deserve a solution. (So do we!) - Still, over and above our yearning for peace and our desire to help the Palestinians, I am for commitment - from all sides. We are no longer a defenceless nation of the 1930s. We must not be the beaten spouse who returns to those who hurt us and bruise us time and time again.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Israel Travel Advisory for Tourists

In stark contrast to the infinite Western world warnings about travel to the (apparent) death and blood thirsty streets of Israel, finally I discover a more realistic but no less worrying warning for tourists. My excitement increases at the realization that an Israeli newspaper itself is covering the danger. Wonders never cease!

Here we have Ynet including two reports in the same Ynet Magazine. One report is positive & encouraging. It details the fairly healthy improvement in hotel room occupancy recently. It is good to see and the truth be told, even here on the ground, one feels the extra vibrancy as a result of the 'Return of the Tourist' coupled with 'less' SUCCESSFUL terrorism. Ben Yehuda & Emek Refiam are witness to new restaurants and you can hear those North American and European accents in increasing numbers. On my family's vacation in the North last week, hotels were brimful with the French, British and others. It felt good and looked good.

But let's not tease ourselves. How ironic that Ynet follows up with this untimely reminder of how dishonest and misleading we can be here in Israel. We want the tourists, (at least most of us do) and yet we do our best (or some of us do) to get every dollar or euro out of them - and then we expect them to come back again next summer to be cheated again, and again and again.
Not overlooking the fact that we shouldn't cheat anyone, it's a damn shame we do it to fellow Jews who make up a large percentage of the tourist numbers and from whom we expect unshakeable political and financial support when they are back in Paris, London or New York.

I've blogged before about the apparent Israeli disregard and disrespect for those who do not speak the local lingo at the pace of your average Israeli. I raise it with participants in my KIC classes for olim (immigrants) at Ulpan Etzion. It's an important ingredient in KIC's educational desire to improve Israeli society while facilitating debate about it.

In my opinion, this whole tourist abuse phenomena is just another symptom of the Israeli fear of friardom - that is, the fear of being considered a sucker. So instead of being a friar and missing out on a buck from the Pom or the Yank or the Kiwi, let's all make sure to take advantage.

There is no quick remedy to this self-inflicted fear, except for our hopeful arrival to a far-distant future Israeli society where terrorism does not rip the heart out of your economy and tourist industry for half a decade and where Israelis pay reasonable taxes and do not have to work so hard to earn the relatively low salaries that most do.

If you are a potential or regular tourist to Israel, there is some small 'consolation' in the face of this friar-dom:
1. What they do to you, they do to me and to each other. The car mechanics do it to us and so do the taxi drivers, the banks, retailers and employers. (Small consolation right?)
2. When it comes down to it, that's Israel and oh how we've learnt to take the bad with the good that Israel offers. Still, it's undeniable, that the Israel experience is truly unique & beautiful and it's not worth missing out on - even at the cost of a broken taxi meter or a special tourist menu.

Keep visiting (and immigrating) so that you can benefit from this Jewish homeland adventure and so that you can still make your valuable contribution to the improvement of this wonderful country and its people.

Painful Heroism - Incredible!

Can there be greater bravery and a closer encounter with the face of death? (Click above...)