Saturday, June 30, 2007

Israel updates

A few scattered items.

1) Scary stuff about Syria from Haaretz

Syria is producing more rockets and preparing its army for possible armed conflict with Israel, but is unlikely to initiate an attack, head of the Defense Ministry's political-security department, Amos Gilad, told Israel Radio Saturday. Gilad said Syria is increasing its army's preparedness for violent conflict, such as possible Israeli retaliation to Syria's support for militant anti-Israeli groups, but that it is unlikely Syria would initiate an attack against Israel. Gilad also said Syria is equipping the military with more anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missiles and producing more rockets. Noting that Israel has been in the range of Syrian rockets for years, he said: "Any disaster would stem from the fact that the attitude in Damascus is much more violent, and that they (the Syrian leaders) have become enamored with the violent option".

2) Protests over the Katzav plea bargain: Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post both say that about 20,000 people showed up in Rabin Square tonight to protest. (And this was on about 24 hours notice - pretty impressive showing).

In what was a palpable atmosphere of outrage and combative determination, some 20,000 people piled into Kikar Rabin on Saturday night to protest the plea bargain reached Thursday between the state and President Moshe Katsav.

Chanting "We will not accept this," and "We will not give up," the protestors cheered as speaker after speaker, mostly media personalities associated with women's rights, as well as several left-wing MKs, spoke about the "injustice" caused to the complainants in the Katsav sexual abuse case, after Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz dropped rape charges against the president. The women's rights groups said they planned to file a petition on Sunday with the High Court of Justice to have the plea bargain annulled. There were no right-wing or religious Knesset members in attendance.

Women's groups, along with the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, called for justice and equality, and expressed anger at the dramatic development. Such was the surprise at the amount of people in attendance, that several women's groups vied to get their spokespeople on the stage to address the crowd, with at least one group not able to enter a speaker onto the roster. The turnout for the event was unexpectedly large, said Miriam Shler, one of the organizers of the rally.

3) Yehuda Poliker concert. At the same time as the rally in Tel Aviv I went with a friend to a wonderful concert of Yehuda Poliker, whom I had not heard before, at an event sponsored by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, at the Hechal ha-Tarbut in Tel Aviv. It was great, full of energy, towards the end everyone was on their feet dancing. He sings in Greek and Hebrew. His parents were Holocaust survivors from Salonika, Greece, who went to Israel after the war. (He made a movie that came out in 1988, "Because of that war," about being the child of survivors - which I must now see, because I want to know more about him and also because his music appears in the movie too).

Friday, June 29, 2007

Michael Totten has put up a couple of posts on the subject of whether another war is imminent this summer between Israel and a variety of enemies - Syria, Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, or Al Qaida. He's relying on an intelligence estimate by Amos Yadlin, the head of Military Intelligence. As an update to the latest post, he includes this:
UPDATE: A reader emails: My daughter just came from spending five months at Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheva. She had a wonderful time studying, hiking, camping, student demonstrations, working in soup kitchens, skiing up north, petra...etc. She came home two weeks ago and just matter of factly stated that "everyone knows there is a war coming."

That is pretty much how the "Israeli street" feels right now according to just about everything I've heard and read lately.

An article in Haaretz on June 6 reports on a number of troubling developments on the border with Syria:
Syria is in the midst of an effort to strengthen its forces, at all levels, through multibillion-dollar arms procurements, mostly funded by Iran. Ties between the two countries have been strengthened, and Israeli intelligence sources describe this as a strategic alliance. Senior officials from Damascus and Tehran have held frequent meetings lately.

The arms purchases, mostly from Russia, include short-range ground-to-ground missiles, advanced antitank missiles and anti-aircraft systems. In addition, the Syrians have acquired short-range rockets with satellite guidance systems, whose precision capabilities are very high. The Syrian army is trying in one fell swoop to upgrade itself from a force whose hardware had deteriorated into rusty hunks of metal to a modern army.

In addition, for the first time in many years, the Syrians have greatly expanded their training and invested in defensive fortifications on the Golan Heights. They are giving special attention to their civil defenses, including hospitals, sirens and bunkers.

Israeli security sources believe that these Syrian preparations are mainly defensive, at least for the time being. Nevertheless, they say, such preparations require a higher level of alert on Israel's part. For some months, Israel has deployed added forces in defensive formations on the Golan Heights and intensified its training of ground troops. Since the Golan Heights is one of the IDF's main training grounds, these exercises have a double effect: They improves preparedness while also allowing for greater alert levels.

Another Haaretz article from the same day reports on the establishment of ministerial committee to discuss "the security threat posed by Syria." Here's an interesting analysis of the situation that discusses both the Syrian offers for talks with Israel and Syrian military preparations.

Before I got to Israel two weeks ago I was worrying myself about the threat of war with Syria, since it would certainly not be any fun to be here during a war, but since I've gotten here, no one on the "Israeli street" that I've spoken to thinks that there's a war coming. On the other hand, when I was in Israel last summer at this point, and the subject of Lebanon and Hizbollah never came up in conversation with my friends and acquaintances, so what the Israeli street thinks now may be just as uninformed as it was last summer.

Ancient cats & the Bible

Today's New York Times has a great story on the origin of the domestic cat - and as we all suspected, cats domesticated themselves, we did not domesticate them.
Some 10,000 years ago, somewhere in the Near East, an audacious wildcat crept into one of the crude villages of early human settlers, the first to domesticate wheat and barley. There she felt safe from her many predators in the region, such as hyenas and larger cats.

The rodents that infested the settlers’ homes and granaries were sufficient prey. Seeing that she was earning her keep, the settlers tolerated her, and their children greeted her kittens with delight.

At least five females of the wildcat subspecies known as Felis silvestris lybica accomplished this delicate transition from forest to village. And from these five matriarchs all the world’s 600 million house cats are descended.

A scientific basis for this scenario has been established by Carlos A. Driscoll of the National Cancer Institute and his colleagues. He spent more than six years collecting species of wildcat in places as far apart as Scotland, Israel, Namibia and Mongolia. He then analyzed the DNA of the wildcats and of many house cats and fancy cats.

Five subspecies of wildcat are distributed across the Old World. They are known as the European wildcat, the Near Eastern wildcat, the Southern African wildcat, the Central Asian wildcat and the Chinese desert cat. Their patterns of DNA fall into five clusters. The DNA of all house cats and fancy cats falls within the Near Eastern wildcat cluster, making clear that this subspecies is their ancestor, Dr. Driscoll and his colleagues said in a report published Thursday on the Web site of the journal Science.

The wildcat DNA closest to that of house cats came from 15 individuals collected in the deserts of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the researchers say. The house cats in the study fell into five lineages, based on analysis of their mitochondrial DNA, a type that is passed down through the female line. Since the oldest archaeological site with a cat burial is about 9,500 years old, the geneticists suggest that the founders of the five lineages lived around this time and were the first cats to be domesticated.

Wheat, rye and barley had been domesticated in the Near East by 10,000 years ago, so it seems likely that the granaries of early Neolithic villages harbored mice and rats, and that the settlers welcomed the cats’ help in controlling them.

Unlike other domestic animals, which were tamed by people, cats probably domesticated themselves, which could account for the haughty independence of their descendants. “The cats were adapting themselves to a new environment, so the push for domestication came from the cat side, not the human side,” Dr. Driscoll said.

Cats are “indicators of human cultural adolescence,” he remarked, since they entered human experience as people were making the difficult transition from hunting and gathering, their way of life for millions of years, to settled communities.

Last week at Shabbat lunch with friends and fellow cat-lovers, we were discussing the puzzling fact that the Bible does not mention domesticated cats, although there surely must have been cats living in Israelite towns and villages. There are a number of words in the Bible for larger cats - more than one word for lion, and for leopard - but not for house cats. This discovery only deepens the mystery. Other animals are mentioned - dogs and mice, for example - but not the cat.

Such a topic naturally comes up in Jerusalem because the city is overrun by feral cats. Thin cats and their kittens can be found near every rubbish bin, and it can be quite startling to walk by one and suddenly hear and see an explosion of cats fleeing in all directions.

Friday, June 22, 2007

מצאד הגאוה בירושלים - Gay Parade in Jerusalem

Balloon arch

The gay pride parade yesterday in Jerusalem was a success, at least for the people who went to it (obviously not for the Haredim who opposed it). A few thousand people came to march (I've read varying estimates in the newspapers from about 2,000 to 3,500), and there were many thousands of police on alert throughout the city (apparently about 7,000). In addition there were hundreds (it seemed) of photographers and other media people at the parade itself. It was quite colorful - lots of rainbow flags, intermixed with Israeli flags, rainbow balloons, and a huge rainbow banner brought by Meretz Youth. I saw banners for the Open House (the organizer of the parade) and the Israeli Religious Action Center (of the Reform movement), in addition to the Meretz banner. Apparently there were other organizations there, but I was pushed up right at the beginning of the march and couldn't see them.

Meretz flag - rainbow flag of Jerusalem

From about 2:00 p.m. yesterday most of the streets in the center of the city were closed off by the police, so the easiest way to get to the beginning of the parade (on King David St. near the Hebrew Union College campus) was to walk from Katamon. The closer, the more police I saw. By the time I got to King David, there were police barriers blocking the way. A policeman asked me where I was going, I told him I was going to the demonstration - he corrected me by calling it a march - and I was on King David.

"Colors don't divide between man and man, between blood and blood"

That was about 4:30. Already there were a few hundred people, the balloon displays and the flags, and hundreds (if not more) of police and Mishmar Ha-Gvul (Border Police). It was quite funny to watch the very serious faces of all the police, who formed long lines with their backs to the crowd in the street facing the buildings on the street. There were not very many watchers, since the street is mostly hotels - the protection felt quite over the top. (But nonetheless, it was important, since elsewhere in the city there had been violent protests against the march, and apparently there was a Haredi protest on Jaffa St. whose participants attempted to march over to the gay march to protest us directly).

Border policemen

The crowd built up slowly and we finally set off at about 6:00 p.m - for our very short march down King David St. to Gan ha-Pa'amon. One of the funny things about the march is that right in front there was a row of Mishmar Ha-Gvul police, and right behind them either one of the arches of balloons or the banner of the Open House - so it looked like they were actually participating in the parade. What they were most useful for was keeping back all of the photographers. Right in front there was a group of three men wearing pink and holding pink umbrellas - their t-shirts read מג"י - מפלגת הגייז בישראל - Mag"i - Israeli Gay Party. The photographers loved them and kept crowding in front of them and holding the parade back, which annoyed the Mishmar Ha-Gvulniks.

The mood was very cheerful. There was very little of the explicit sexuality that often occurs at other gay parades (for example, in Tel Aviv). I was reading something this morning that described it as "very Jerusalem-like" - modest, restrained, and happy. People were walking hand in hand, occasionally shouting out a slogan in Hebrew (or even English), and singing. The Meretz Youth sang many songs about Jerusalem (not gay rights!) including Naomi Shemer's "Jerusalem of Gold" - which gave the parade the feeling of a youth movement gathering rather than a political march.

There were quite a few straight supporters associated with human rights groups who came - for example, Shatil, set up by the New Israel Fund to support NGOs in Israel working for democracy, tolerance, and social justice in Israel.

On Emek Refaim - "God loves everyone"

When we got to the intersection just before Gan Ha-Pa'amon, it turned out that there was not going to be a "happening" there as originally planned. Instead, there was going to be a party later at a club. The crowd dispersed very slowly - the police kept hemming us in until they were convinced it was safe. Then I walked down to Emek Refaim with a friend. She had to go home to see to her daughter, but I kept strolling around. Emek Refaim, which is a main street usually choked with traffice, was still closed to cars by the police, so people were walking down the middle of street. I ran into another few friends and we sat on a bench talking and watching people from the parade walk by, holding gay pride flags, Israeli flags, and wearing stickers saying "love" in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. I only saw one hostile response during the whole time - just as we were entering Emek Refaim St., a religious woman saw the people coming from the parade, and was spitting at people and cursing them. Unpleasant, but there was only one of her.

All in all, a lot of fun.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gay pride today in Jerusalem

Gay pride flag on King David St. (photo by Lior Mizrahi/BauBau)

I've been listening to the reports on Reshet Bet of Israel Radio about the preparations for today's parade. It's really quite amazing. The police are closing many of the main streets in the center of the city - not just along King David St., which is the path of the parade, but others around it. The center of the city is apparently full of police. I haven't ventured far today from my house, but since I'm planning to go to the parade I'm sure I'll see all the police on my way to the place where people are gathering before the march.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pashkevils for Gay Rights

Ynet has an exquisite story about a pro-gay pashkevil - the big posters put up in Haredi neighborhoods to exhort people to act against what the authors consider to be immoral - pasted all over Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem, probably by the Meretz youth organization (Meretz is an Israeli leftwing political party).

Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox residents thought they were dreaming Monday morning, when they encountered an unlikely sight on the city's public notice board – a "pashkevil" endorsing the gay pride parade, scheduled to take place in the capital on Thursday.

The flyer, signed by "Citizens for an equal, sane Israel" called upon all citizens of Jerusalem to take part in the parade, caused an outraged among the ultra-Orthodox community.

Beginning in the traditional pashkevil manner, the flyer called upon its readers to "hail the call of the shofar," but continues in the none-traditional way by "warning against the hate and incitement…God have mercy of those who slander against their brethren.

"…Let us come with our masses to this great, peaceful, dignified and democratic march and defy the minority inciting us to violence," continued the flyer. "Hatred is a dangerous, infections disease. Let us all prove that Judaism does not mean fascism and bloodshed."

The pashkevil, illustrated with a drawing of two men holding hands, ends with a call to the city's residents, of all religious affiliations, to take part in the parade.

Ynet has learned that the "Citizens for an equal, sane Israel" group is believed to be associated with Meretz youth.

Monday, June 18, 2007

This Week in Palestine ... Behind the News with Hanna Siniora

This is a commentary on the current situation written by Hanna Siniora, who is the co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. I received it because I'm on their e-mailing list.

The damage that many Palestinians feared - took place, no excuses; we all share in the blame. Hamas heavily tarnished its image, as a democratically elected movement, by resorting to brute force to resolve the power struggle resulting from its sweeping electoral victory in January 2006. Up to the military putsch that led Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, the movement had the democratic and moral high ground. The impatience of its radical elements and its alliance with extremist regional partners might bring about the possible demise of the first Arab Islamic party that came to power through the ballot box.

Hamas now, although it has military supremacy in Gaza, has lost the support of civil society in Palestine. The public was horrified at the barbaric atrocities committed by the military militias. Hamas has undermined the democratic process and allowed a combination of forces, internally and externally, to seek its elimination.

President Mahmoud Abbas was constantly blamed for indecisiveness, but Abbas knew that whoever resorted to force will lose legitimacy and the backing of his people, as well as the Arab world and international community. Hamas radicals have committed political suicide by allowing civil war and usurping power by force. President Abbas with the backing of the majority of his people was finally forced into action.

Abbas dismissed PM Ismail Haniyeh and appointed a new cabinet headed by Dr. Salam Fayyad to repair the damage that divided the future Palestine into two entities, Gaza under the military domination of Hamas, and the West Bank under the legitimacy of the presidency and the PLO. PM Salam Fayyad emergency government, according to the basic laws of the PLC, have a mandate of 30 days that can be renewed up to 90 days by avoiding a constitutional showdown with Hamas majority in parliament. Ninety days are not enough for the emergency government to repair the damage of the past fifteen months. President Abbas and legal experts have to look for legal means to extend the mandate of the emergency government, at least, up to the end of the presidential term in 20 months. This the period necessary for Fayyad to deal with the political and economic damaged, also in order to repair and stabilize the internal collapse. PM Fayyad immediate concern and full attention should be focused on preventing the collapse of the security in the West Bank, institutionalizing the security force to serve the nation and not individuals and parties, provide the basic needs and services to the Palestinian people in Gaza, irrespective of the illegitimate Hamas control, to work on preserving relations with Gaza despite the political nuances. The Palestinian economy should receive the primary attention, plans prepared while Fayyad was Finance minister should be implemented, as international sanctions are being lifted.

Hamas as emotions simmers down has to revert to rational behavior, should remove weapons and masked militias from the streets of Gaza and observe and implement the rule of law. Assassinations of political and security rivals should cease immediately. As soon as possible Hamas should accept the dismissal of Ismail Haniyeh and his cabinet to begin to seek reconciliation. Hamas has two alternatives. to preserve its place as a political movement. In the first place Hamas future is not as a military force, its strength is political, it has to renounce violence to prevent Gaza from sinking deeper into violence, otherwise it will give the hard line military in Israel the perfect excuse to try to eliminate the Hamas movement by force, already such plans are being discussed by the new Minister of Defense Ehud Barak.

Secondly if sane forces in Hamas prevail, it should avoid further radicalization and military confrontation, to prevent being snuffed out by force. The Algerian experience should be fully understood by Hamas and Fateh, everybody loses in a civil war situation The Palestinian supporters of Hamas as well as the Palestinian people at large will become the victims, if the present rift is allowed to deepen. The national aspirations of the Palestinian people for self determination and independence will receive a major setback and the suffering will escalate.

Now, Hamas has to work in earnest with the special Arab League committee that was set-up recently to repair relations and heal wounds. Hamas have to consider seriously early elections to avoid a constitutional impasse, in order to regain public confidence. If Hamas is so sure of public support, it should support the process of early elections. In addition, seek the release of the BBC journalist from captivity should be one of its first acts of restoring law and order in Gaza. Hamas, if it is serious to show that it supports the recent statement of Ismail Haniyeh that Hamas accepts a Palestinian state in the borders of June 4, 1967, should release the captive soldier Gilad Shalit, via the good offices of President Abbas, it will help it to reverse negative public opinion worldwide and internally.

The President, should be firm and resolute, he was forced to act, but should keep in mind that he was elected to look after the welfare of his people, all his people. Abbas has to work toward reestablishing internal dialogue, economic reconstruction, massive reforms and an end of occupation. This is a tremendous agenda, no one except the President has this mandate, let us all support him and pray that he may succeed.

Jerusalem morning with protests

I'm sitting here in my apartment listening to the flute playing coming in through the open window, on one side, and the birds singing, on the other side - a very pleasant morning, and I hope to go to the library today and get some work done on my paper on the images of demons in the Babylonian magical bowls.... but before leaving I was reading the news online and came across the Ynet article on the Haredi protest last night against the Jerusalem gay pride parade.

According to Ynet, about 10,000 people protested in Haredi neighborhoods - there was some violence (burning of trash bins, stoning of policemen) but it was quickly squelched. Apparently the police had a number of undercover officers dressed as Haredim in among the protesters. The gay parade is still on, as of now - with 7,000 policeman planned to be deployed to protect the marchers. We will see....

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Updates on the Palestinians

Abu Mazen has dissolved the Hamas-led Palestinian government and established a new government with no Hamas ministers. He has also outlawed the Hamas armed groups - the Executive Force and the military wing, Izz A Din al-Qassam. Even though I'm listening to Israel Radio and reading the newspapers, it's not very easy to figure out what this means. Some blogs are providing some very good analyses, however. Yael, at Oleh Girl has been following events very closely. She is part of a group blog, Good Neighbours, which includes bloggers from the Middle East, including Ramzi S., from Ramallah - the comments on this post are particularly interestingn. Through Yael I also discovered a new blog - Conflict Blotter, written by Charles Levinson, the Mideast correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, who has been reporting directly from Gaza. His latest post is on the 48 hours leading up to civil war.

"So lange bist du hier"

As part of gay pride this week in Jerusalem, the Cinematheque is showing a couple of gay films - I'm going with a friend on Wednesday night to see one of them: So lange bist du hier.
"While You Are Here,” the first film by promising German director Stefan Westerwelle, was noted with distinction at the International Film Festival in Locarno. It‘s about a friendship between two men who widely differ in age, but are brought together by shared feelings of loneliness and alienation. Sebastian is a hustler. Georg is one of Sebastian‘s regular clients. The men are so different yet so similar, trying to find some last moments of happiness together. Of special note: Bernadette Paassen‘s humble yet heart-wrenching photography. Courtesy of The Goethe Institut, Tel-Aviv
In other news, Haaretz is reporting that the police are going on high alert for the parade - "The police have announced plans to declare a state of very high alert throughout Israel and to bolster police presence in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, and the North this Thursday to field the possible violence that may result from the Gay Pride Parade planned to take place that day in Jerusalem."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Gay Pride in Jerusalem

Next Thursday, the gay pride parade is scheduled for Jerusalem (organized by the Jerusalem Open House), and the haredim, on schedule, have threatened to stop it by force. According to an article in yesterday's Jerusalem Post, which I can't seem to find online, a protest is planned for Sunday evening - with the expectation that it will turn violent.

When I was here last year it was considerably before the planned Worldpride gay march, but nonetheless all over the city haredi protesters had put up disgusting signs denouncing the march. Those signs have reappeared, even in areas of the city that are not predominantly haredi, such as Emek Refaim St. They read "God hates immorality." A clever person rewrote one of the signs on Emek Refaim, so that it reads instead "God hates hatred."

From Mystical Poli...

It's busy here in the Middle East

Well, since I got here on Wednesday afternoon Ehud Barak was elected chairman of the Labor Party, and will be taking over the Defense Ministry on Monday from the incompetent Amir Peretz. And Shimon Peres has finally been elected to something - he will be the new president of Israel, replacing the disgraced Moshe Katzav.

Hamas has taken over Gaza in spectacularly bloody battles against Fatah, and over in the West Bank, Fatah gunmen (Al Aksa Brigades) have in turn taken over various government ministries that were in the hands of Hamas. It sounds like the only thing preventing running gun battles between Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank is the presence there of Israeli forces. For a good roundup of coverage and analyses, see Noah Pollak in Fatahland & Hamastan. Although he is a bit right wing for my taste, his analysis seems much more realistic than the New York Times idiotic editorial from yesterday, which calls for strengthening Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas):
It should also include an offer of regular, substantive talks with Mr. Abbas on issues related to a final peace settlement, like borders and provisions assuring the economic viability of an eventual Palestinian state. Obviously, there can be no final peace agreement until Hamas either changes its policies or is chased from power. But excluding Palestinian statehood from the negotiating agenda can only help Hamas.
Isn't it obvious that Abu Mazen has no power to negotiate anything? Gaza is completely out of his hands, and probably a good many West Bank Palestinians also support Hamas. I don't see the point in negotiating with someone who has no, or very little power. One signal sign of his weakness in Gaza before it fell to Hamas was that he waited to the last minute to order his Presidential Guard to fight against Hamas. Why did he wait so long? Honestly, it seems that he didn't take seriously the possibility that Hamas would defeat Fatah in Gaza. Or maybe it's simply that he wasn't in control of the Fatah forces either. (Some of the articles I've read in the Israeli press suggest that the Fatah forces in Gaza were so divided among themselves that they couldn't defend themselves effectively against Hamas).

It's unnerving to be here with Hamas taking over Gaza. It doesn't affect my life personally, but it does give me a sense of increased insecurity - and I'm sure that the residents of Sderot, an Israeli city very close to Gaza which has been repeatedly hit by Qassam rockets for the last several years have an even more increased sense of danger.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Finally in Israel

I finally arrived yesterday afternoon in Jerusalem. My flights from Boston to Milan and Milan to Tel Aviv were uneventful, marked only by the lack of the kosher meals that I had ordered (I'll have to be more persistent about that for my return flights). At the airport I managed to get minutes added to my Israeli cellphone (miraculously, the battery had not drained over the course of the year so I was able to use it). I got to Jerusalem at about 6 p.m., and to the apartment that I'm renting for the summer, which is very nice. I'm sitting here and listening to the birds and looking out my porch onto a garden. In the distance I can hear the sound of someone inexpertly practicing a piano.

The view out the mirpeset (porch)

I'm staying on Ithamar ben Avi St. in Katamon, one of the older neighborhoods of Jerusalem outside the walls of the Old City. Before 1948 this was a predominantly Arab neighborhood, but as a result of the 1948 war, the Arabs left and the Jews came in (other nearby neighborhoods were largely Jewish before 1948). Some were Jews who had been living in the Old City until they had to leave when it was taken over by the Jordanians. This apartment building, however, is not pre-1948 - I think it was probably built sometime in the 1960s.

The garden outside my door.

I went out this morning for one of my favorite Israeli activities - sitting in a cafe, drinking cappuccino, and reading the newspaper (in this case Haaretz in English). The big news is that Ehud Barak is now (again) the head of the Labor party and Shimon Peres is now President of Israel (this is a largely ceremonial post). Other big news is that Hamas seems to have defeated Fatah in the fighting in Gaza. What this means for Israel I don't know, probably nothing good.

The path leading to Ithamar ben Avi St.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Visit to Westport

My trip to Israel has been postponed for two days - my flight, which was supposed to leave tonight, was cancelled, and I have new reservations for Tuesday night. On my way from Ithaca, I came to visit my father and his wife in Westport, Mass., since I'm flying out of Boston. With my new camera, given to me by my father, I took quite a few photos of this pleasant place.

Country lane with a big field and cows next to it.

Cows in the field.

A Japanese maple in the backyard.

Front yard, facing the field with the cows.



Thursday, June 07, 2007

Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour

I was just reading a posting by Ray Hanania on Mideast Youth and discovered that he's going to be in Israel/Palestine with the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour this coming week - including a June 16 gig at Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem. I am arriving in Israel on Monday, June 11, so I may have a chance to get to this show. I enjoy reading his posts on the Mideast Youth site, so it would be fun to see him and the other comedians.

Six Day War - 40 years later

All week, National Public Radio has been running a series on the fortieth anniversary of the Six Day War in 1967. On All Things Considered for June 5 (click on the link to hear the story) covered the outbreak of the war, using sound clips from the CBS News reporting of the day. I remember the Six Day War - I was only ten years old at the time, but it made an impression on me, probably because of my parents' reaction (especially my father's). I remember sitting in our kitchen watching the black and white television coverage, and listening to the CBS radio reports. My remembrance is not of specific events as they occurred, but more of the emotional atmosphere in our family - one of tension and anxiety. As my father has told me many times, he took his radio to the office (he was working as a lawyer in a small practice) to listen to the ongoing reports. I imagine it was with a great sense of relief that he heard the report of the Israeli destruction of the Egyptian air force on the ground on the first day of the war.

The Six Day War is not the first political event I remember - that would be the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 - but it is certainly the earliest one to make a great impact on me, since it is one of the external, political events that influenced my interest in my Jewish identity.

(Cross-posted from my Jewish Studies blog, Israel Musings).

Monday, June 04, 2007

Others on the British Academic Boycott

Judy of Adloyada has several interesting posts on the new boycott voted in by the British university teachers' union. Since I'm not familiar with the ins and outs of British academia, and especially not of the UCU, it's hard for me to follow all of the details, but one thing that stood out for me in what she said is that much of the leadership of this union comes from the hard left - the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and other far-left groups. (From the U.S. perspective it's strange to consider that the SWP could lead anything as consequential as a university teachers' union, since the U.S. version of the SWP is a totally marginalized far left fringe group).

There was an interesting discussion at Oleh Girl on how seriously to take this boycott vote - Oh here’s a surprise, the boycott of Israeli universities is on.

Also see Jim Davila on the boycott vote: Paleojudaica. He quotes from what he said the last year when an earlier incarnation of the union also voted (initiatlly) to support the boycott: "I think the proper response ... [is] to heap international ridicule and scorn on the union for picking leaders who are more interested in making a cheap and cowardly political statement than in doing their actual job of representing the interests of British academics. In fact, those interests have been notably set back by this move. It's a pity, because there is a real need for such representation. But this isn't it."

Academic Boycott of Israel

Shalom Lappin, writing in Normblog about the recent vote by the University and College Union in Britain, makes several useful points that I haven't seen elsewhere.

First of all, contrary to the statements put out by Sally Hunt, who is the Secretary General of the UCU, the recent vote has committed the UCU to sponsor the boycott call put out by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. It is quite instructive to read the full statement to learn what the UCU has committed itself to (my notes are in italics):

Whereas Israel’s colonial oppression of the Palestinian people, which is based on Zionist ideology, comprises the following:

· Denial of its responsibility for the Nakba - in particular the waves of ethnic cleansing and dispossession that created the Palestinian refugee problem - and therefore refusal to accept the inalienable rights of the refugees and displaced stipulated in and protected by international law; [Note: this statement avoids any mention of Arab responsibility for the war against Israel in 1948]

· Military occupation and colonization of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza since 1967, in violation of international law and UN resolutions; [Note: again, this statement avoids any mention of how this occupation came to be, as a direct result of the 1967 war]

· The entrenched system of racial discrimination and segregation against the Palestinian citizens of Israel, which resembles the defunct apartheid system in South Africa; [Note: the Palestinian citizens of Israel, unlike the Black and Colored citizens of South Africa, have the right to vote and have elected members to the Israeli Knesset; Arabs have served in several Israeli governments, including the present one, which includes the first Arab Muslim of the government. It is certainly true, in my opinion, that Palestinian citizens of Israel are often discriminated against, and Israel Arab cities and towns have been scandalously underfunded over the history of Israel - but this is by no means apartheid ]

Since Israeli academic institutions (mostly state controlled) and the vast majority of Israeli intellectuals and academics have either contributed directly to maintaining, defending or otherwise justifying the above forms of oppression, or have been complicit in them through their silence, [To me, this is the most astonishing statement of the entire text - Israeli academics have been among the most prominent leaders of Peace Now, Gush Shalom, and other groups seeking to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and many Israeli professors are members of such groups and have demonstrated and otherwise been involved in activism to end the occupation. Not to know this is simply to be out of touch with reality]

Given that all forms of international intervention have until now failed to force Israel to comply with international law or to end its repression of the Palestinians, which has manifested itself in many forms, including siege, indiscriminate killing, wanton destruction and the racist colonial wall,

In view of the fact that people of conscience in the international community of scholars and intellectuals have historically shouldered the moral responsibility to fight injustice, as exemplified in their struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa through diverse forms of boycott,

Recognizing that the growing international boycott movement against Israel has expressed the need for a Palestinian frame of reference outlining guiding principles,

In the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression,

We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, call upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid, by applying the following:

Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;

Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;

Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;

Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;

Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.

As Lappin says, this boycott call is essentially an extension of the Arab League boycott of Israel. "It is an integral part of a rejectionist programme to dismantle Israel as a country." The Arab boycott began not in 1948, with the establishment of Israel, but in 1945, "as a boycott of the Jewish businesses, goods, and services of the Yishuv (the Jewish community) in Palestine. That it was instituted several years prior to the creation of Israel and the 1948 war, which generated the Palestinian refugee problem, clearly demonstrates that this boycott was directed at a politically autonomous Jewish collectivity in Palestine, rather than against any particular government policy or action." He goes on to say that

The primary purpose of the boycott campaign is not to change Israeli government policy but to undermine the legitimacy of Israel as a country. It aims to isolate, not its political leaders and policy makers, but its people as a whole. It is, then, a form of branding which seeks to mark a group of people as social outcasts. The main damage that it does is to provide cover for acts of blatant discrimination against Israeli academics, committed by individual researchers acting as journal editors, conference organizers, tenure or appointment consultants, and in similar roles. We have seen several high profile cases of such individual boycott actions within the UK over the past seven years. This trend is likely to gather momentum if the boycott campaign continues unchecked.

Lappin also discusses why it is inappropriate to equate Israel with apartheid South Africa (I have spelled out one argument above). It is worth reading the entire article to learn why the movement to institute an academic boycott of Israel is so dangerous. It is not merely a way of criticizing the actions of the Israeli government, or of calling for the end of the occupation (a goal that I fully support!) - it is a way to delegitimize Israel and declare it a criminal state.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Still more on Gerson Method

I looked on Google to see if there were any new stories about Bert Scholl, the local Ithaca man who has been diagnosed with rectal cancer and has decided to use the Gerson method rather than conventional surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I discovered a notice for the fundraiser to raise money for his treatment, which gives more information about his condition.
His tumor has breached the lining of his rectum & is reaching out to his lymph nodes. This is called stage 2, T3 cancer. The conventional recommendation by several doctors is to treat Bert with heavy doses of chemo/radiation along w/ surgery that is either a permanent colostomy, or removal of his rectum & sigmoid colon, with the hope of being able to re-attach the 'pipes' down the road. That's if the tumor can be shrunk enough during the pre-surgery treatments.

We do believe that there are several medical models and ways to treat cancer and other degenerative disease. We are looking into alternative methods of healing as either a compliment to conventional methods, or ideally, as a full course of treatment. The Gerson Method, as described in the documentary, "Dying to Have Known", is the method we feel an alignment with, and wish to pursue healing via this route, before walking the conventional path.

As I had feared, they are hoping to replace conventional treatment with the unproven Gerson Method. I can understand why one might not want to use the conventional methods - they sound horrible (not that the Gerson Method sounds particularly pleasant to me either), but they do afford a better chance of survival, which it seems to me is the most important factor.

I feel passionately about this because my mother and my aunt both died of lung cancer, which is still a very bad diagnosis to receive. After my mother's lung cancer was diagnosed, she lived for about 15 months. My aunt survived much longer because it was caught by chance by a lung x-ray. She had surgery and went for quite a few years without symptoms, until it recurred about eight years after the first diagnosis. She died about two years later. On the second round, she basically only had palliative care. She decided not to go for a full chemotherapy or radiation treatment, only if it would ease her pain or make her more comfortable.

I think that there is a difference between deciding that one does not want the unpleasant effects of chemotherapy or other conventional methods, and thus not employing them with full knowledge of the possible consequences, and deciding (or being convinced) to use a method that will not work under the illusion that it will. The outcome may be the same, but at least in the first case one has not been deceived and exploited, which I think is what is happening in this instance.

"Countdown" to Israel's End?

The President of Iran Sees "Countdown" to Israel's End.
"With God's help, the countdown button for the destruction of the Zionist regime has been pushed by the hands of the children of Lebanon and Palestine," Ahmadinejad said in a speech. "By God's will, we will witness the destruction of this regime in the near future," he said. He did not elaborate.

Why does Ahmedinejad say these things? Are we supposed to understand them as threats of Iranian action against Israel? Attempts to unnerve Israelis and Jews around the world? Signals to Hezbollah or Hamas? Encouragement to them? Or is he just blowing a lot of hot air?

Kamangir or other Iranian bloggers - can you shed any light on why he says things like this?