Thursday, June 30, 2011

Photos from the Galilee - Carmel, Jezreel, Beit Shearim, and Sepphoris

I've posted some of my photos to Picasa, and below are some examples - a link to the whole album is just below. 
Galilee, June 28, 2011

Carmel Forest - trees burned in the Carmel fire.

Fish ponds in the Jezreel valley.

At the Alexander Zaid property in Kiryat Tivon, looking down to one of the fish ponds.

Alexander Zaid statue - he was one of the founders of Ha-Shomer, created before WWI to protect Jewish agricultural settlements.

One of the sarcophagi at the ancient Jewish cemetery at Beit Shearim - in a burial cave.

Menorah carved out of the rock of one of the burial caves at Beit Shearim.

Mosaic floor at the Sepphoris synagogue (ancient Roman Jewish city) - the sun being drawn on his chariot, in the middle of the wheel of the Zodiac.

One of the seasons, pictured in the corner of the Zodiac panel in the Sepphoris synagogue - this is Summer.

Two of the signs of the Zodiac - Scorpio and Sagittarius.

Basket of first-fruits, which were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem when it still existed.

The "Mona Lisa of the Galilee," found on the mosaic floor of a Roman villa in Sepphoris.

Menorah on the mosaic floor of the synagogue, with a shofar on the right under the menorah.

Image of an Amazon riding a horse and about to throw a spear, at the Nile House at Sepphoris.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tomorrow - a tiyul (trip) to the Galilee!

For those interested, including those bored with Alice Walker, the flotilla, and politics, I am going on a visit to the north of Israel tomorrow with a couple of friends, one of whom is a licensed tour guide. He's taking us to Sepphoris, Beit She'arim, and Megiddo. I'll post photos when I return.

Once again, Alice Walker

A good essay by Marc Tracy of Tablet on why Alice Walker Is Sailing to Gaza.
Alice Walker dreams of classic civil disobedience. She quickly name-checks Gandhi as well as Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman in an essay explaining why she will participate in the flotilla set to disembark for Gaza in a few days. But there is something fishy about her essay that betrays her stated cause of universalism (“One child must never be set above another”). It begins when she weirdly isolates Schwerner and Goodman, the two young civil rights martyrs who happened to be Jews, from Cheney, who was black, and it culminates in the story’s concluding anecdote, in which she reports what inspired her ex-husband to be a civil rights activist:
He was a little boy on his way home from Yeshiva … He was frequently harassed by older boys from regular school, and one day two of these boys snatched his yarmulke (skull cap), and, taunting him, ran off with it, eventually throwing it over a fence.

Two black boys appeared, saw his tears, assessed the situation, and took off after the boys who had taken his yarmulke. Chasing the boys down and catching them, they made them climb the fence, retrieve and dust off the yarmulke, and place it respectfully back on his head.
Walker seems unaware of how easily she—a novelist, who should know better—allows everyone their standard roles: The meek, pious Jew taunted by the evil, brutish goyim and saved by the goodhearted and even more powerful Magical Negroes (“appeared!”).... Regardless, a stereotype-laden fable, even if depicting a real event, is not a sufficient basis for a grown-up to adopt a cause. Does Walker’s objection to the blockade derive from liberal humanism or from a recoiling at Jewish power? Sadly, her essay suggests the latter.
I agree with Tracy. Walker does have a problem with both Jews and Jewish power. Despite the fine words about nonviolence she wrote in her CNN essay, she is not merely anti-Zionist, she is anti-Semitic.

From an essay she published a couple of years ago, about her trip to Gaza in 2009 with Code Pink:
And so I have been, once again, struggling to speak about an atrocity: This time in Gaza, this time against the Palestinian people. Like most people on the planet I have been aware of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict almost my whole life. I was four years old in 1948 when, after being subjected to unspeakable cruelty by the Germans, after a “holocaust” so many future disasters would resemble; thousands of European Jews were resettled in Palestine. They settled in a land that belonged to people already living there, which did not seem to bother the British who, as in India, had occupied the land and then, on leaving it, decided they could simply put in place a partitioning of the land that would work fine for the people, strangers, Palestinians and European Jews, now forced to live together....

[A description of meeting a Palestinian woman - RL] Coming upon another grouping of tents, I encountered an old woman sitting on the ground in what would have been, perhaps, the doorway of her demolished, pulverized home. She was clean and impeccably dressed, the kind of old woman who is known and loved and respected by everyone in the community, as my own mother had been. Her eyes were dark and full of life. She talked to us freely. I gave her a gift I had brought, and she thanked me.

Looking into my eyes she said: May God Protect You From the Jews. When the young Palestinian interpreter told me what she’d said, I responded: It’s too late, I already married one. I said this partly because, like so many Jews in America, my former husband could not tolerate criticism of Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians. Our very different positions on what is happening now in Palestine/Israel and what has been happening for over fifty years, has been perhaps our most severe disagreement. It is a subject we have never been able to rationally discuss. He does not see the racist treatment of Palestinians as the same racist treatment of blacks and some Jews that he fought against so nobly in Mississippi. And that he objected to in his own Brooklyn based family. When his younger brother knew he was seeing me, a black person, he bought and nailed over an entire side of his bedroom the largest Confederate flag either of us had ever seen....

The people of Israel have not been helped by America’s blind loyalty to their survival as a Jewish State, by any means necessary. The very settlers they’ve used American taxpayer money to install on Palestinian land turn out to be a scary lot, fighting not only against Palestinians, but against Israelis, when they do not get their way. Israelis stand now exposed, the warmongers and peacemakers alike, as people who are ruled by leaders that the world considers irrational, vengeful, scornful of international law, and utterly frightening. There are differing opinions about this, of course, but my belief is that when a country primarily instills fear in the minds and hearts of the people of the world, it is no longer useful in joining the dialogue we need for saving the planet.

There is no hiding what Israel has done or what it does on a daily basis to protect and extend its power. It uses weapons that cut off limbs without bleeding; it drops bombs into people’s homes that never stop detonating in the bodies of anyone who is hit; it causes pollution so severe it is probable that Gaza may be uninhabitable for years to come, though Palestinians, having nowhere else to go, will have to live there. This is a chilling use of power, supported by the United States of America, no small foe, if one stands up to it. No wonder that most people prefer to look the other way during this genocide, hoping their disagreement with Israeli policies will not be noted. Good Germans, Good Americans, Good Jews. But, as our sister Audre Lorde liked to warn us: Our silence will not protect us. In the ongoing global climate devastation that is worsened by war activities, we will all suffer, and we will also be afraid.

The world knows it is too late for a two state solution. This old idea, bandied about since at least the Eighties, denounced by Israel for decades, isn’t likely to become reality with the massive buildup of settlements all over what remains of Palestinian land....

What is to be done? Our revered Tolstoi asked this question generations ago, speaking also of War and Peace. I believe there must be a one state solution. That Palestinians and Jews, who have lived together in peace in the past, must work together to make this a reality once again. That this land (so soaked in Jewish and Palestinian blood, and with America’s taxpayer dollars wasted on violence the majority of us would never, if we knew, support) must become, like South Africa, the secure and peaceful home of everyone who lives there. This will require that Palestinians, like Jews, have the right of return to their homes and their lands. Which will mean what Israelis most fear: Jews will be outnumbered and, instead of a Jewish state, there will be a Jewish, Muslim, Christian country, which is how Palestine functioned before the Europeans arrived. What is so awful about that?
As I wrote earlier, Walker's essay is marked by serious errors of fact. She doesn't seem to be aware of the actual history of Palestine before the establishment of Israel, revealing no knowledge of either the British Mandate or the Ottoman Empire. She refers to the "holocaust," as if doubting that it occurred, and thinks mistakenly that it was the British who decided to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza - does she actually know what genocide is? With such willful ignorance, how can she reach valid conclusions?

But what is most unnerving about her essay is not these errors, but her statement that Israel "is no longer useful in joining the dialogue we need for saving the planet." In other words, Israel is not a partner in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - it is an object, rightfully subject to the plans of others. It has committed crimes so awful that it cannot be worked with, only upon.

"What is so awful about that?" Walker asks about Jews becoming a minority in a unified Palestine. Do I need to instruct her in the sorry progress of Jewish history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Apparently, yes, because she refers to the "holocaust" without understanding its devastating effect on both those Jews who survived it and Jews living elsewhere in the world who were not physically affected by it (including the Jews living in Palestine during the British Mandate). She seems to have no knowledge of the growth of political and racial antisemitism that led to the birth of the Zionist movement and the conviction that the only way Jews would be safe would be to create their own state. Jews have a well-founded fear of becoming a minority, especially if it means living in a unified state of Palestine where Hamas and Fatah would have the upper hand. There would be no return to a mythical "living together in peace" - the one state solution is a recipe for an intense and cruel civil war, with the losers being massacred and expelled. And I do not assume that the Jews would be the losers. For the sake of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, a two-state solution is an urgent need.

News from Greece & the flotilla

On Reshet Bet of Israel Radio now:

"We are coming! We are coming!" The Gaza flotilla participants shouted today at their press conference in Athens. According to the Kol Israel reporter, the Greek authorities "threw the book at them," demanded that they pay customs, etc., and is doing what it can to delay them. The press conference was short and didn't provide a whole lot of information.

He also reported on how the Greek government is dealing with the threat of a national default and the constant demonstrations against it (including threat of a general strike for a couple of days), which are protesting the austerity measures required by the EU, the IMF, and the World Bank.

Other flotilla news - yesterday, the director of the Government Press Office, which is responsible for foreign journalists, threatened that if any sailed on the flotilla, they would be at risk of not being permitted to enter Israel again for ten years. But now, today the government has dropped this threat.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office said: "The prime minister has instructed not to apply standard policy against infiltrators and those entering the country illegally. It was also decided to allow Israeli and international media outlets on Navy boats in order to enable transparency and credible reporting of the events."

Updates on the Gaza flotilla

Roi ben Yehuda at Roi Word suggests another Israeli response to the Gaza flotilla - conflict resolution commandos.

Ynet reports that the Gaza flotilla is losing momentum.

Six ships which were slated to take part in the Gaza-bound flotilla are being detained by the Greek port authorities, Ynet learned Sunday night. Senior officials in Jerusalem have confirmed the report, which followed a Sunday decision by Greece to stop the US vessel "Audacity of Hope" from participating in the sea-bound convoy. While the organizers of the maritime convoy claim that more than 1,500 activists are set to take part in the initiative, it now appears that no more than seven ships, carrying 200-500 passengers, will participate in the flotilla.
Howard Jacobson responds to Alice Walker.
It should not need arguing, this late in the ethical history of mankind, that good people can do great harm. One of the finest and funniest novels ever written - Don Quixote - charts the damage left in the wake of a man who would make the world a better place.

Human beings are seldom more dangerous than when they are sentimentally overcome by the goodness of their own intentions. That Alice Walker believes it is right to join the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza I do not have the slightest doubt. But beyond associating her decision with Gandhi, Martin Luther King and very nearly, when she talks about the preciousness of children, Jesus Christ, she fails to give a single convincing reason for it.

"One child must never be set above another child," she says. A sentiment that will find an echo in every heart. But how does it justify the flotilla? Gaza is under siege, Israelis will tell you, because weapons are fired from it into Israel, threatening the lives of Israeli children. If the blockade is lifted there is a fear that more lethal and far-reaching weapons will be acquired, and the lives of more Israeli children endangered.

You may want to argue that had Gaza been treated differently it would have responded differently, but if the aim of the flotilla is to ensure that one child will not be set above another it is hard to see how challenging the blockade will achieve it. All an Israeli parent will see is a highly charged emotionalism disguising an action that, by its very partiality, chooses the Palestinian child over the Israeli.

Human beings are seldom more dangerous than when they are sentimentally overcome by the goodness of their own intentions.

The boat on which Alice Walker will be traveling is called The Audacity of Hope. Forgive me for seeing a measure of self-importance in that reference. It will be carrying, Alice Walker tells us, "Letters expressing solidarity and love." Not, presumably, for Israeli children. Perhaps it is thought that Israeli children are the recipients of enough love already. So what about solidarity? It is meant to sound innocuous. "That is all."...

The flotilla is engaged in an entirely political act ... to call it by any other name is the grossest hypocrisy...

Even before the deed, Alice Walker has her language of outraged moral purity prepared - "but if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us..." The Israeli response is thus already an act of unprovoked murder, no matter that the flotilla is by its very essence a provocation. Whatever its cargo, by luring the Israeli military into action which can be represented as brutal, the flotilla is engaged in an entirely political act. To call it by any other name is the grossest hypocrisy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Notes on Canadian boat to Gaza

Fear and no clean clothing: Amira Hass preparing to sail for Gaza

Amira Hass, the Haaretz writer, is going on the Canadian boat "Tahrir" that is part of the Gaza flotilla. She writes about how they have prepared for a violent IDF response:

In advance of the departure of our ship, we - the participants - sat in a Greek hotel, getting to know one another and rehearsing the prospect that the Israeli Navy would take control of the ships in the flotilla. In simulation drills over several hours, about 50 civilians - ranging in age from 20 to 69 - attempted to imagine themselves facing Israeli warships and M16 rifles with fighter helicopters hovering overhead, along with water cannon, tear gas and Taser stun guns. The participants also imagined verbal abuse along with physical blows, dogs, and masked commandos.

The activists concluded from the exercise that they should acknowledge their fears and learn as a group of people, mutually responsible for one anther, how to confront their fears.

I'm glad they decided to prepare themselves for the possibility of violence - but what are they preparing to do? "Acknowledging their fears" is fine, but have they trained to do something specific?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Notes on the Gaza Flotilla

Alice Walker: Why I'm sailing to Gaza

Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will consist of. If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?

There is a scene in the movie "Gandhi" that is very moving to me: it is when the unarmed Indian protesters line up to confront the armed forces of the British Empire. The soldiers beat them unmercifully, but the Indians, their broken and dead lifted tenderly out of the fray, keep coming.
Unexpectedly, I find myself being moved by some of Alice Walker's words here - in particular, her memory of the non-violent Indian protests against the British Empire. If Palestinians had been able to act like this decades ago, there might now be a Palestinian state.

When I lived in Israel from 1987-1989 (I was a visiting graduate student at the Hebrew University), I went to many demonstrations against the occupation and in favor of negotiations between Israel and the PLO. (At that point it was illegal for Israelis to meet with representatives of the PLO, so this was a radical demand). My second year, I got involved with a group called "The 21st year of the occupation." A good friend of mine was involved, and I decided to join as well in supporting them in non-violent civil disobedience against the occupation. [For a glimpse at what it felt like to be involved with Israeli anti-occupation groups during the late 1980s, during the first intifada, see an article by Milton Viorst in Mother Jones, December 1988 - on Google Books].

Before I came to Israel in 1987, I had been part of a group in Boston called "Pledge of Resistance," which was a nationwide group founded to protest against the policies of the U.S. government in central America, in particular against the threat of a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. We trained in tactics of civil disobedience, and those involved pledged either to engage in civil disobedience (which could lead to arrest) or to support those doing the civil disobedience. I chose to be a supporter - I was afraid of being arrested. There was one big protest that I remember taking place at the Federal Building in downtown Boston, where people blocked the doors of the building and were arrested en masse - about 500 as I recall. Several friends of mine were arrested, and I remember going to the bail hearing later in the day. Those who refused to identify themselves (including my friends) were kept in jail for a couple of days until they were released.

The "21st year of the occupation" had similar actions in mind - public civil disobedience, with certain people risking arrest, and others watching out for them and supporting them. As in the U.S., my choice was support, not to risk arrest - especially since I was living in a foreign country. I went early one morning in Jerusalem to a training session in civil disobedience along with another friend.

The first and as it happened only action of the "21st year" that I took part in was an aborted attempt in May, 1989, to visit a Palestinian family in Qalqiliya, on the West Bank - one of the sons of the family had been arrested and was accused of being a terrorist, and in response the IDF was going to seal off one of the rooms of the house (this was a common punishment at that time - I don't know if the IDF continues to do this). The group's intention was not to engage in civil disobedience - no one planned to get arrested. Our goal was to express support for the family.

We set off for Qalqiliya and at the entrance of the city we were halted by the local IDF commander, who told us that we were forbidden to enter a "closed military zone." A foreign film crew was waiting outside the city, presumably to film us. We turned around, and some people left (including Dedi Zucker, a member of the Israeli Knesset then and a founder of B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights group). Instead of going back to Jerusalem, however, we sneaked into Qalqiliya by going through the orchards around the city (something impossible to do now, because the city is surrounded by the separation wall, an apt name in this case). We ended up in a main square of the city, and asked some passersby how to get to the street of the family we were going to visit. We started in that direction, and then an IDF patrol came upon us and asked what we were doing. They then ordered us to leave. Since the group had decided not to engage in civil disobedience, we started to walk out of the city. There were a number of local Palestinian residents watching us, and one of the men of the group decided to give them the "V" sign for solidarity. The soldiers saw the gesture, and went up to him and told him not to do that again, or he would be arrested. He made the sign again, and they started to arrest him. Then another man in the group did the same thing.

Reuven Kaminer, in his book "The Politics of Protest: the Israeli peace movement and the intifada" (1996) writes of this moment (p. 129): "It seems that everything was going to end quietly when one of the protestors flashed a 'V' sign to the local residents (later, the 'V' sign became the basis for the charge that the 27 had incited the local population to rebellion....)." The IDF charged later that we yelled "להמשיך באינתיפדה" - "continue the intifada" - but this was an invention to support the charge of incitement to rebellion. Kaminer continues, "The officers were incensed and began arresting; first, several men in the group, and then all the women who refused to abandon them." (Women were the majority of the group). Kaminer then writes, "In a matter of minutes, 27 demonstrators were being held in the local police station and a chain of events was set in motion which forced the 27 to remain in prison for five full days."

I was not one of them. At the last minute, as I was about to get into one of the police trucks, one of the leaders of the "21st year" shouted out - "You don't have to get arrested if you don't want to be." I didn't want to, and dropped off the back of the truck with two other people who also didn't want to get arrested. The soldiers told us to leave the city, and we started to walk out the main entrance. Fortunately for us, the film crew was still there, and they gave us a ride to the bus station in Kfar Saba, the closest Israeli city to Qalqiliya. When we got to Jerusalem I went home and called the office of Dedi Zucker to let him know what happened.

As Kaminer reports, those arrested spent five days in jail before being released. I went to the court at least a couple of times as a supporter during hearings for the arrested protestors, bringing clothing to my arrested friend. They were eventually brought to trial in the fall of 1989, but charges were dismissed because it turned out that the order the IDF commander was holding for a "closed military zone" had never been signed.

The feeling I was left with after the whole incident was over (including court hearings, publicity, demonstrations, etc.) was that the members of the "21st year" simply weren't prepared to engage in civil disobedience both because they/we didn't really understand what civil disobedience was, nor the possible consequences to ourselves of it. Did the two men who flashed "V" signs know that they were doing something that could provoke the soldiers to arrest them? They certainly displayed no awareness of this risk. The group members in Qalqiliya were not prepared to get arrested - in fact, after the soldiers ordered us all to leave the city, we had a short discussion on whether to engage in civil disobedience, and decided that we had not come with that purpose. As Kaminer points out in his book, a number of the arrested women were mothers with children at home who did not want to risk a stay in jail. Those arrested were not prepared for conditions in the jails, nor for the (initial) seriousness of the legal charges against them.

Compared with those who risked their liberty and their lives in the American civil rights movement, we were rank amateurs. For example, the people who were involved in the 1960 sit-ins that desegregated lunch counters in the South (for example Diana Nash in Nashville) prepared themselves physically, spiritually, and psychologically for their non-violent struggle. From the Wikipedia article about Diana Nash:
After experiencing such shocking discriminatory events, Nash decided to search for a way to challenge segregation, Nash began attending civil disobedience workshops led by Rev. James Lawson.[2] James Lawson had studied Mahatma Gandhi's techniques of nonviolent direct action and passive resistance while studying in India.[9] By the end of her first semester at Fisk, she had become one of Lawson's most devoted disciples. Although originally a reluctant participant in non-violence, Nash emerged as a leader due to her well-spoken, composed manner when speaking to the authorities and to the press.
I don't know if a strong religious faith is necessary for effective civil disobedience, but I think that it helps a great deal in standing up to the difficult circumstances that participants may have to confront. Thorough training in how to remain non-violent when faced with a violent reaction is an absolute necessity. Our group had neither of these advantages.

Are the members of the Gaza Flotilla really prepared for what may happen to them? Alice Walker talks a good line, but have she and the other Americans on the "Audacity of Hope" trained for how to respond if the IDF decides to board their boat? Are they all really committed to nonviolence? How would they have behaved if they had been on the Mavi Marmara last year? How would they have responded to the IHH activists on the boat who prepared to fight off the IDF commandos? Have the passengers on the boat organized themselves to resist nonviolently? Walker suggests in her essay that all of the responsibility for possible violence is on the shoulders of the IDF - but what if it turns out that some of the passengers do want to resist violently? I hope that the passengers have discussed these issues thoroughly. While I don't support the flotilla, I have no desire to see the passengers injured or killed - and both the passengers on the boats and the IDF have a responsibility to make sure that there is no violence.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Turning Point 5 - Israel Home Front defense exercise this week

Map from the Israeli Home Front Command -  length of time before one has to enter a protected space after hearing a siren warning of missile attacks.

This week, the Israeli home front command is conducting a week-long national defense exercise to prepare to respond to a possible war against Israel conducted largely by missile strikes. "This week Turning Point 5, the annual home front defense exercise, will begin, the fifth such drill since the Second Lebanon War, which was marked as a turning point in the government's attitude toward the civilian front." Thousands of missiles fell in the northern part of the country (launched by Hezbollah in Lebanon) during the Second Lebanon War, and it became clear that civilians were not adequately protected against missile attack.

Tomorrow at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. sirens will sound across the whole country, and everyone is supposed to go immediately to the closest protected area and wait for several minutes. I asked a friend earlier tonight (who lives in the same apartment building where I'm staying) what I should do when the siren sounds. She said - look around and see what the people around you are doing, and follow them. Her daughter also asked her what to when the sirens sound - in particular, where to go to shelter herself. If I'm at home in the morning (rather than in the National Library, where I've been doing research), there really is no place to go - there's no bomb shelter attached to this apartment building, and apparently the shelter across the street (Elazar ha-Modai) is locked, and in any case it's usually used as a sports club (as many of the shelters around the city are used for a variety of purposes - there's one on Yohanan ben Zakkai St. that has a synagogue in it).

The English website for the Home Front Command (available also in Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian) provides the map above of the length of time one has to reach a shelter before the missiles land. Jerusalem, apparently, enjoys the longest time of warning - three minutes.

The English website, however, has no information about this week's defense exercise - for that you need to go to the Hebrew site. The Hebrew website has a short video explaining what to do. There's also a video in Arabic.

Today I went to the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University (to meet a couple of people). On my way back, I took a bus to the Damascus Gate and went to the Old City. I left via the Jaffa Gate, and walked along Mamilla Street (recently restored - it was left a ruin after the 1948 war for several decades, even after the reuniting of the city under Israeli rule in 1967). I kept seeing signs pointing to the מרחב המוגן. I had no idea what these words meant - there was no explanation. The Home Front Command site in Hebrew solved the mystery - the words mean "protected space." The signs were pointing to where people visiting the pedestrian mall and shops should go to when the sirens sound tomorrow.

It will be interesting to see if people pay attention to the exercise - will they go to the closest protected area, or will they simply go about their normal business? Stay tuned for my report!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Visiting the Negev last week

I've been meaning to post some of the photos that I took on my trip to the Negev this past week. I stayed at a place called the "Alpaca Farm" near Mitzpe Ramon, with a friend. We visited several barren but beautiful places - an ancient Nabatean/Roman city called Shivta, we hiked along Ein Avdat until we reached the pools, and we drove through ha-Makhtesh ha-Gadol (the large crater) and went partway into ha-Makhtesh ha-Katan (the small crater), and finally watched the sun set spectacularly at Makhtesh Ramon (the Ramon crater) - with a full moon. I had thought that the large crater was amazing, but Makhtesh Ramon is bigger and the term "awesome" is really appropriate to it! We weren't able to go down into it, but from above I felt that we were looking into another world than earth.

Ibex near the tomb of David Ben-Gurion, at Midreshet Ben Gurion

Llamas and alpacas at the Alpaca Farm.

A llama.

Atlantic Plane Tree (250 years old) at the Ein Avdat nature reserve.

One of the pools at the Ein Avdat reserve.

Waterfall at Ein Avdat.

Makhtesh Gadol.

I'm standing in front of the Makhtesh ha-Gadol.

Almost full-moon above Makhtesh Ramon.

Makhtesh Ramon at sunset.

Makhtesh Ramon.

Sunset near the Tel Aviv University observatory (near the Alpaca Farm)

View of the Alpaca Farm from our cottage ("zimmer")

Beware of camels - sign on the road near Beersheva

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Update on the Gaza flotilla

On Friday the IHH announced that they won't be sending the Mavi Marmara on the latest flotilla to Gaza, scheduled for later this month. This has put the other organizers into a tizzy. Haaretz reports: Gaza flotilla organizers disappointed by Turkish group's decision to cancel ship.
On Saturday, flotilla organizers held urgent consultations. A source familiar with the details told Haaretz that problems have arisen on other boats that are supposed to take part in the flotilla and it is still not known exactly how many ships will participate. The estimate is that five to eight ships will set sail for Gaza. The source also said that the number of activists taking part in the flotilla is being reduced from 1,000 to around 300.
On the other hand, Ynet reports that two French ships will join the flotilla. I don't know if they are included in the number of 5-8 of the Haaretz report. And on yet another hand, the French Jewish community has apparently succeeded in preventing a French ship from sailing from Marseilles.

There's no hint of any of these developments, however, on the web site of the US Boat to Gaza folks - just continued cheerleading for their message.

Institutionalized Antisemitism

Over at Harry's Place and Engage there have been extensive discussions of institutionalized racism and antisemitism, in the wake of the UCU decision that the EUMC working definition of antisemitism should in no way be used by the UCU. It seems to me that before us we have a really good example of institutionalized anti-semitism: the UN Human Rights Council. The five-year agenda of the council, which was just overwhelmingly approved by the UN General Assembly (no votes: US, Canada, Israel, and Palau) devotes "clause number seven to Israel while all other countries in the world – including Yemen, Syria, and Libya – are united under clause four, which describes human rights violations in the entire world."

Sunday, June 12, 2011


So much for political doom and gloom - now for some photos of Jerusalem trees, flowers, and houses.

Pretty bush in the garden of my apartment building.


9 Amatzia St.

Pe'er Yerushalayim synagogue, also on Amatzia St.

Pretty flowers

House on Yehoshua bin Nun St., Greek Colony.

Windows on house at corner of Yehoshua bin Nun St.

5 Yehoshua bin Nun St.

9 Yehoshua bin Nun St.

Pomegranate tree in the yard of my apartment building.

Sculpture of rhinoceros in the Christian cemetery on Emek Refaim St.

Roses in the garden of my apartment building.

House number at 9 Yehoshua bin Nun St.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Syrian role in Yom ha-Naksa

[Note: "Yom ha-Naksa" means "Day of the setback" - referring to the anniversary of the Six-Day War, which in 1967 began on June 5. "Naksa" is an Arabic word that means "setback" and is apparently the term that Palestinians use to refer to the Six Day War].

In order to get to the border at Magdal Shams and Quneitra, the Palestinian/Syrian protestors had to pass by Syrian army checkpoints. They were waved through on Nakba Day (May 15) and on Sunday, but not yesterday. Clearly, the Syrian government has the power to foster or prevent these protests as it wishes - as we have all been witnessing, the government does not hesitate to use force against those it views as enemies.

Isabel Kershner, in her New York Times article today, reports on the possible motives of the Syrian government:
But Israel said the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria was exploiting the Palestinian issue by sending unarmed protesters to the frontier in order to divert attention from its own antigovernment uprising and the bloody attempts to put it down.
In a rare convergence of Israeli and Palestinian sentiment, that sense of exploitation may at least in part explain the markedly muted reaction in the Palestinian territories to Sunday’s deadly confrontation in the north.
Leaders in Hamas-run Gaza condemned the killings of the protesters but, unusually, did not go as far as to call for revenge. The mainstream Fatah movement and other political factions also issued condemnations, but there were no official statements from the office of President Mahmoud Abbas or other Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank.
And then yesterday there were still more tragic consequences of the protests at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. There were funerals for those who had been killed the day before, and fourteen of the mourners were shot dead, not by Syrian troops, but by Palestinian security guards.
Palestinian security guards reportedly killed 14 Palestinians Monday in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria. According to witnesses, an angry crowd of mourners began to charge toward leaders of Palestinian factions, prompting their security guards to open fire. 
The mourners accused the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) of endangering their lives during Sunday's protest on Israel's border, by encouraging them to put themselves in the line of fire.

The crowd chanted slogans against Maher al-Taher, PFLP spokesman and politburo member, and set fire to the PFLP headquarters. There are additional reports that Khaled Meshal, Hamas political leader in Damascus, arrived at the camp but was forced to leave.

Yom ha-Naksa

What did happen on Sunday on the Israel/Syria border at Magdal Shams and at Quneitra? According to the Syrians, more than 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. According to the Israeli army, Israeli snipers did not fire many shots, and they aimed at people's legs. Also according to Israel, those at Quneitra were killed not by Israeli fire, but by land mines that were accidentally blown up by the Syrian/Palestinian protestors who threw firebombs that set off the mines. In an article in today's New York Times, Isabel Kershner reports that the Israeli army says about 10 protestors died in the land mine explosions at Quneitra. So did the IDF kill any of the protestors at Magdal Shams?

And what should Israel do when (largely non-violent) protestors try to cross the border? Apparently, at Quneitra, the IDF used largely non-lethal crowd-dispersing techniques, while at Magdal Shams, they used live fire.

When the protesters neared the border at Majdal Shams, IDF officers told them in Arabic to stop, as continuing could endanger their lives. When dozens nevertheless kept going, soldiers started firing into the air. When the marchers reached the first fence, snipers were ordered to fire at their legs from about 200 meters away.

At Quneitra, in contrast, soldiers mainly used nonlethal weaponry like tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets, with which all troops along the border had been equipped following the Nakba Day incidents. The use of nonlethal means was possible because the confrontations took place at much closer range.

The IDF acknowledged that "dozens" of marchers were hurt, but said the Syrian figure of 23 dead sounded highly unlikely.

I'm currently in Israel, visiting until mid-July for my annual summer visit, and what's going on at the border with Syria, and inside Syria itself, feels much closer than it did from the safe distance of Ithaca. On the one hand, it feels much more like a threat that people are crossing the Syrian border (and on Nakba Day, the Lebanese border) - and if it's a real threat, isn't Israel justified in taking even lethal measures to deal with the threat? On the other hand, if the protestors are not armed, is it justified to shoot them, even without the intention of killing them? Were there less lethal methods that the IDF could have used in Magdal Shams to keep the protestors from crossing the border?

I'm no fan of the current Israeli government, but it seems to me that it's caught here between a rock and a hard place, without really good choices.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Jewish Voice for Peace and Divestment from Israel

Divest This! just posted about the latest failure of divestment activists in the U.S. - the attempt by Jewish Voice for Peace to place a shareholder resolution on the ballot of TIAA-CREF regarding several companies that do business with or are situated in Israel - Caterpillar, Elbit, Northrop Grumman, Veolia, and Motorola Solutions. JVP says about them: "These serve as examples. TIAA-CREF is invested in other companies that profit from the Israeli occupation," thus implying that this shareholder resolution could be the first of many that would require TIAA-CREF to divest from a wide variety of companies that do business in Israel.

The proposed resolution would have required TIAA-CREF to engage with these companies about their activities in Israel, and if they didn't stop "profiting from the Israeli occupation" within the next year, to divest from them. TIAA-CREF wrote to the Securities and Exchange Commission informing it that the resolution would not appear on the ballot, and the SEC informed it that there would be no action taken in response to the non-appearance of the resolution. See No-Action Letter for the text of the SEC's letter. An article at Social Funds online provides links both to the TIAA-CREF letter to the SEC and the JVP letter with the proposed sharehold resolution (they are downloads from the SEC website).

TIAA-CREF - the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association/College Retirement Equities Fund - is the largest retirement fund for college and university employees in the US. My retirement funds are invested with TIAA-CREF. CREF has divested from investments in the past for political reasons - for example, they divested from several non-US oil companies doing business in Sudan because of the ongoing genocide in Darfur. This was based on the "TIAA-CREF Policy Statement on Corporate Governance" - "[TIAA-CREF] may, as a last resort, consider divesting from companies we judge to be complicit in genocide and crimes against humanity, the most serious human rights violations, after sustained efforts at dialogue have failed and divestment can be undertaken in a manner consistent with our fiduciary duties." (Quotation taken from the letter sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 22, 2011, requesting permission not to consider the JVP proposal at this year's upcoming shareholder meeting).

The reasons that TIAA-CREF put forward for rejecting the shareholder resolution are very interesting, in my opinion, because they point out how biased and partial the JVP resolution is: "The Proposal advocates one side in a highly controversial and complex geopolitical dispute, and makes assertions of immoral and illegal conduct that are subject to widespread disagreement." The letter also points out that there is no consensus in the United States supporting divestment from companies that do business with or in Israel: "In this connection, it is instructive to compare the Proposal with the human rights situation in Sudan, where public attention and debate led to the passing of legislation by the United States government, condemnation by the United Nations, and widespread divestiture by a broad spectrum of university endowments, public pension funds and other entities.  By contrast, the United States has vetoed proposed resolutions in the United Nations Security Council that would have supported condemnation of the activities at the heart of the Proposal."

The TIAA-CREF letter also accuses the JVP resolution of presenting accusations without a factual basis and of falsely attributing a quotation to a 2011 TIAA-CREF investing report (in other words, accusing JVP of making up a quote and attributing it to TIAA-CREF).
The Proposal includes factual assertions that are, at best, highly controversial and subject to widely differing views as to their accuracy and implications and, at worst, on their face untrue and contrary to positions taken by the United States government. As discussed above, the Proposal makes these statements in connection with asking shareholders to take sides on a complex, controversial geopolitical dispute. CREF could not include the Proposal and these asserted facts without a response. However, CREF does not believe it would be possible to provide, in the 2011 Proxy Materials, a fair and balanced presentation on these facts and issues that would provide a basis for shareholders to reach an informed view on this controversy and the merits of the Proposal. Even if it were possible to provide a balanced discussion of the facts asserted, CREF does not believe that the Commission's proxy rules are intended to subject issuers to the severe burdens and expense of attempting to make their proxy materials a full and fair forum for debate on Middle East politics.

In addition, the Proposal materially mischaracterizes CREF's beliefs and policies relating to activities of its portfolio companies in a manner that is likely to be confusing and misleading to CREF shareholders.
I am glad that TIAA-CREF has decided not to consider the JVP shareholder resolution, and I hope that they continue to reject such proposals.