Friday, December 28, 2012

Hungry for Jerusalem

This article makes me hungry for Jerusalem - literally!

Winter on Saladin Street.
The last grapes, the first strawberries, a sweet rosetta and bitter coffee. It’s the nicest time of year to roam the central artery of East Jerusalem.

"Israelization" among East Jerusalem Palestinians?

A very interesting article in today's Ha'aretz about the "Israelization" of some Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Some highlights:
  • Isawiyah now has a post office
  • increasing number of East Jerusalem Palestinians are requesting Israeli ID cards
  • more high school students are taking the Israeli matriculation exams (bagrut)
  • greater numbers are enrolling in Israeli educational institutions
  • decline in the birthrate
  • more requests for building permits
  • rising number of young people in East Jerusalem volunteering for national service (I didn't know there were any!)
  • revolution in health care services - the Israeli HMOs are now very active in the eastern part of the city, which has drastically improved health care there

Other signs:

More Palestinian presence in west Jerusalem - in the malls, on the light rail, and in the Mamilla mall (I've noticed this since the mall opened, a few years ago - it creates a pedestrian link between the Old City and west Jerusalem).

The light rail has made it much easier to travel from east Jerusalem to the city center.

Thousands of homes in east Jerusalem have finally been hooked up to the Israeli water system (rather than the Palestinian).

More flexibility in issuing building permits (this is a huge deal, because Israel usually refuses to grant east Jerusalem Palestinians building permits, so people build illegally, and then the municipality tells them they have to tear down the building and issue demolition orders against them).

Now the Festival of Light, which takes place in the Old City in the late spring (it's one of the many cultural events that the city sponsors now that Nir Barkat is the mayor) has spread to all four quarters, and the local Palestinian merchants are starting to open their shops in the evenings to cater to the hundreds of thousands of people who come to the festival. This is something I noticed this year when I went to the festival.


Not all of the residents of east Jerusalem can participate in this process, because they are stranded outside the separation wall, basically in no-man's land. They're within the municipal boundaries so the PA can't do anything for them, and the city has basically abandoned them. They lack the most basic services (for example, garbage pickup, ambulances entering to take people to hospitals, schools), and it's very hard for them to get into Jerusalem for services. About 70,000 of east Jerusalem Palestinians are in this situation. The Israeli government deliberately built the separation wall to keep them on the wrong side.

Jewish settlement activity in east Jerusalem

This article talks about the "King's Garden" plan on the lower slopes of Silwan, which would create a tourist area by demolishing 22 homes of east Jerusalem Palestinians, who would be forced to move. This would be run by Elad, a ultranationalist Israeli group that runs the City of David site.

There's a lot of other settlement activity within Palestinian neighborhoods, including in Sheikh Jarrakh, elsewhere in Silwan, on the Mt. of Olives, and places I don't know about. (Ir Amim has information on settlement activity on their website, as does the Settlement Watch run by Peace Now).

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Walk in Fall Creek, Ithaca

I've been posting all these terribly gloomy stories about murder, so I think it's time to post something much more pleasant - some photographs I took of my neighborhood when I took a walk this afternoon: Fall Creek, Ithaca.

Icicle outside my door

Icicle line




Up from Fall Creek school

Porch on Tioga St.

Another porch on Tioga St.

Garage on Tioga St.

Monday, December 24, 2012

3 more gun murders today

Ambushed NY firemen shot dead; two police killed elsewhere

In addition to the horrible arson-murder-suicide today outside Rochester, NY, a police officer was killed in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin - Jennifer Sebena, age 30. In Houston, a police officer was killed during a shootout, along with a bystander.

Two more gun deaths: Two Rochester-area Firefighters Shot and Killed

Two Rochester-area Firefighters Shot and Killed
Webster, N.Y. - Two firefighters were shot and killed during a call to a fire on Bay Road in Webster, N.Y., which is located in Monroe County northeast of Rochester on Lake Ontario. Two other firefighters were also shot, and at this point, have survived. 
Report from CNN:
(CNN) -- At least two firefighters died when they were shot at the scene of a blaze in upstate New York on Monday, police said. 
Two other firefighters were injured, police in Webster, New York, told reporters.
Authorities believe one or more shooters took aim at the firefighters after they left their vehicles, Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. 
It was unclear whether there were any suspects. 
"We have different individuals that were possible people with knowledge, but at this point I can't really comment," Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn told reporters.
For hours, the gunfire stopped firefighters from working to extinguish the fire and forced police SWAT teams to evacuate homes in the area. 
Firefighters first arrived before 6 a.m., said Rob Boutillier, Webster's fire marshal. By 9 a.m., flames had engulfed three houses and a vehicle, he said. 
"It's still an active crime scene," Pickering said. "We have firefighters there at the location. It took a while to make it safe ... to put out the fires." 
Doctors were treating the wounded firefighters Monday morning, said Teri D'Agostino, a spokeswoman for Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. They were in guarded condition, she said. 
One firefighter escaped from the scene in his own vehicle about an hour after he was shot, then was taken to the hospital by an ambulance from another location, Boutillier said. He was listed in satisfactory condition, Boutillier said. 
Another wounded firefighter was conscious and speaking when he was removed from the scene, Boutillier said.

Names of the victims: "One of the deceased, Michael J. Chiapperini, was a police lieutenant in the Webster Police Department; the other, Tomasz Kaczowka, was a 911 dispatcher for Monroe County."

The injured: "John Ritter, an off-duty police officer from Greece, N.Y., who happened to be driving by and stopped to help, suffered shrapnel wounds from the shooting, Chief Pickering added. The firefighters who were injured, both volunteers, were identified as Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino."

The murderer: "Webster Police Chief Gerald L. Pickering tells reporters that the gunman — found dead at the scene from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound — was 62-year-old William Spengler. Pickering says Spengler was convicted of the 1980 murder of his grandmother, was imprisoned in 1981 and was paroled in 1998."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Central Pennsylvania, Friday: 4 deaths by gun

A man killed two men and one woman Friday in central Pennsylvania, then died in a gunfight with state troopers, authorities said. 
One woman was killed at Juniata Valley Gospel Church, one man was found dead in a residence, and another man was killed after getting into a car accident with the truck's driver, added Bivens. All three had been shot.
After these three people were killed, state troopers then shot the killer.
The first report of shots fired "at multiple locations" in Frankstown Township came in a 911 call placed around 9 a.m., Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said. As state troopers converged on the area, someone in a truck -- going the opposite direction on a two-lane road -- fired at two marked patrol cars. 
The truck's driver continued driving and then "rammed ... head-on" into a different patrol car, Bivens said. He then got out of his vehicle and began firing at officers.
State troopers returned fire, eventually killing the truck's driver. 
Three state police members were hurt in the response. One was struck in the wrist by bullet fragments and in his chest -- which was protected by body armor -- by a bullet. Another trooper got glass fragments in his eyes and bullet fragments in his forehead. The third suffered minor injuries in the car accident with the shooter's truck. 
More information from a Reuters article -

The killer's name was Jeffrey Lee Michael, 44. His victims were Kimberly Scott, 58, Kenneth Lynn, 60, and William Rhodes Jr., 38. 
In the Pennsylvania incident, the gunman in fairly rapid succession shot and killed a woman inside a church, then fatally shot two men at their respective homes - all within a short distance from each other - before trying to flee. 
He opened fire at two state police patrol cars rushing to the scene as he passed them on a two-lane road and slammed head-on into a third patrol car. The gunman was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police at the crash scene, police said.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

To Live and Die in America

From Huffington Post's home page today:

3 Shot And Killed In Mich... 18-Year-Old Shot Multiple Times, Dies... Man Kills Wife, Teen, Himself... Man Shoots, Kills Own Son... Cops Shoot Teen Dead... Man Gunned Down In Parking Lot... 5 Dead In Spate Of Shootings... 2 Murdered In Philly... 2 Kansas Cops Shot Dead... Shooter Killed... 4 Die In Apparent Murder-Suicide... Ga. Cop Dies From Gunshot... Argument Leads Teen To Shoot Friend...Man Shot To Death... Teen Dies After Being Tied Up, Shot... Man Shot Dead In Street... Drug Deal Leads To Shooting Death... Mother Of 2 Killed In Road Rage Shooting... Man Shoots, Kills Intruder... 1 Killed In Coney Island... Man Dies From Gunshot Wounds... Cops Investigate Gun Death... Shooting Victim's Body Found On Bike Trail... Man Charged With Shooting Own Brother Dead... Man Dies After Being Shot In Chest... Body Of Shooting Victim Found In Pickup... Teen Arrested For Robbery Shooting Death... Man Carrying 2-Year-Old Son Shot Dead... Man Fatally Shot Near Home... Parolee Dies In Shooting... 1 Killed In Buffalo Shooting... Man Shot Dead In Apartment Complex... Street Gun Battle Kills Grandma Bystander... Man, Woman Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide... Woman Shot Dead By Intruder... 14-Year-Old Arrested Over Fatal Gun Attack... Man Found Shot Dead In Parking Lot... Woman Shot In Face By Ex-Boyfriend... 1 Woman, 3 Men Shot Dead... 2 Die In Attempted Robbery... Army Reservist Shot To Death In Alley... Man Shot To Death In Bodega... 2 Shot Dead In Burned House... Man Shot During Break-In... Man Fatally Shot... 20-Year-Old Gunned Down... Man Shoots Self During Police Pursuit... 1 Killed In Baltimore Shooting...Cops ID Shooting Victim... 60-Year-Old Man Shot Dead... Shot Man's Body Found In Vacant House.... Woman Shot And Killed Outside Her Home... Shooting Victim Was 'Trying To Turn Life Around'... Slain Shooting Victim Found In Street....Driving Altercation Leads To Shooting, 1 Dies... 3-Year-Old Dies In Accidental Shooting... Man Turns Self In After Allegedly Shooting Wife... Man Shot Dead Outside Home... 3 Slain In Separate New Orleans Shootings... Cops Investigate Shooting Death... Man Shot Dead In Ohio... Teen Shot To Death... Man Dies After Being Shot Multiple Times... Man Charged Over Son's Shooting Death... Cops Find 2 Men Shot Dead... 1 Dies In Shooting... Man Charged Over Gun Killing... 1 Shot Dead In Confrontation... Man Charged With Murder Over Shooting... Motel Owner Shot And Killed... Husband Shoots Estranged Wife Dead... Suspect Arrested Over Deputy's Shooting Death... Police Probe Fatal Shooting... Cops Kill 2 Suspects In 3 Shooting Deaths... Man Killed Fighting Back Against Robber... Man Killed In Home Invasion.... Nightclub Shooting Kills 1... Child Brain Dead After Drive By Shooting... Man Charged Over Shooting Of Ex-Wife... Body Found In Vacant House... Teen Fatally Shot...

People I know who were murdered: Barry Smotroff and Ben Blutstein

I believe I've only known two people who were murdered, in sharp contrast to Aisha Roberts, the 19 year old quoted in the previous post, who knows 13 people who were murdered just this year.

The first person I knew was Barry Smotroff, a science fiction fan who lived in New York City, who was killed on July 29, 1976, apparently in a robbery. See a link to a photo of him. Here's a link to a story about Barry. I'm not sure exactly how I met him - either during a visit to New York to meet fans, or possibly at a science fiction convention or two.

The second person I knew was Ben Blutstein, who was murdered on July 31, 2002, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem by a terrorist who left a bomb in the Frank Sinatra cafeteria. Eight other people were killed in the same attack. I did not know any of them, but friends of mine in Jerusalem knew them. This was during the height of the second intifada.
Nine people - four Israelis and five foreign nationals - were killed and 85 injured, 14 of them seriously, when a bomb exploded in the crowded Frank Sinatra cafeteria on the Hebrew University Mt. Scopus campus shortly after 13:30. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. 
The bomber left the bomb in an innocent looking bag packed with shrapnel in the cafeteria. The device was professionally prepared, possibly in one of the factories in the Nablus casbah, which the IDF has refrained from entering since Operation Defensive Shield after Passover. 
Though classes were not in session, students were taking exams at the time of the blast, and the cafeteria was crowded with diners. There were also numerous students in the building registering for classes for the coming school year. 
The cafeteria is also near the Rothberg International School, where about 80 pupils from the US and other Western countries had arrived to prepare for the fall semester.
Most of the injured were between the ages of 18 and 30. The explosion gutted the cafeteria.
The murderers in this case were caught about two weeks later. They were also responsible for the Cafe Momento attack in Jerusalem on March 9, 2002, when 11 people were killed. The man who placed the bomb in the cafeteria was Muhammad Ouda, 29, who worked as a construction worker at the university.

Who was killed by guns this week in the US?

The Huffington Post has tracked murders in the US since the Sandy Hook school massacre on December 14. They found that over a 100 people have been killed this past week. Some of those killed by guns since then are:

Aydan Perea, age 4, in Kansas City.

Adreanne Evans, 21, in Harrisburg, PA, allegedly killed by her boyfriend on December 20. He also shot another man in the head. A baby was sleeping in a crib nearby at the time of the shootings.

On December 15, a 3 year old boy shot himself in the head (accidentally), after he picked up a gun in a home owned by his uncle, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer.

Paul Sampleton Jr., a 14 year old boy, was killed in Gwinnett County, Georgia, on Wednesday.

Veronica Soto, 30 years old, was killed by Mark Trevino in a case of road rage, in Fort Bend County, Texas, on Thursday. She left behind her husband and two children, 7 and 14.

Veronica Soto and her husband went out to get food from a Jack-in-the Box when they got into a traffic altercation with two other vehicles, investigators said. The drivers were all heading to the same neighborhood and Soto's vehicle was "boxed in" by the others. 
Investigators said Mark Trevino came to a stop, ran into his home on Addicks-Clodine, grabbed a rifle and started shooting. Soto was shot in the head.
Her husband also pulled out his gun. 
“They started shooting back and forth and the bullet went through the windshield, hit her and went out the back windshield,” said Matthew Soto, the victim’s brother-in-law.
In this case, having an armed protector did not save Veronica Soto's life.

On December 17, Leroy Louderback of Georgetown, Ohio, age 71, killed his son, 41-year-old John Louderback. He called the police and told them he had killed his son, and he's being charged with voluntary manslaughter.

More cases from the Huffington Post article:
Ramona Foreman was found shot in the doorway of the Oakland, Calif., 92nd Avenue Head Start office. The 48-year-old and her sister were walking home from a store when shots rang out. Foreman had been the innocent victim of a drive-by shooting. The victim's stepdaughter told a reporter that her grandmother was the 13th person she knows killed this year.
She was the 124th person murdered in Oakland this year. The stepdaughter is named Aisha Roberts and she is 19 years old.
Deputy Sheriff Christopher Parsons, 31, worked the early-morning shift on Saturday, when he took an emergency call to assist an unconscious woman at a trailer park in Mineral Point, Mo. As he helped place the woman in the ambulance, her son came out of the mobile home and fired a rifle, killing Parsons. 
On Sunday in New Orleans, three people were shot and killed, including 18-year-old Lawrence Burt, 56-year-old Vivian Snyder, and a 56-year-old Jefferson Parish taxi driver Joseph Wilfred, who was shot behind the wheel. According to an account, he'd been on the job for about three weeks. 
That same afternoon, 25-year-old Krystal Garcia Nacoa was allegedly shot to death by her husband, Leonardo Nacoa, 26, at their Porterville, Calif., home. Police found the husband's cell phone number and called it multiple times, until the man finally picked up. He admitted that he had fled across the border to Mexico. Police were able to get Nacoa to surrender.

When the good guys with guns are killed by the bad guy with a gun

Yesterday, Wayne LaPierre, the vice president of the NRA, said that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

David Gogian and Jeff Atherly were both armed, but they were both killed by a man with a gun. The mere possession of a gun, even wielded by someone who is trained in how to use it in a dangerous situation, is not a guarantee that the "bad guy" will be stopped. The suspect in that case fled and was subsequently killed in a shootout with police on the Monday after the officers were killed.

People are murdered every day by guns in the US

After the horrible massacre at Newtown, I think we need to become aware of all the other people in the US who are murdered every day with guns.

According to the FBI reports for 2011, "firearms were used in 67.7 percent of the nation’s murders, 41.3 percent of robberies, and 21.2 percent of aggravated assaults." In 2011 there were 14,612 "murders and non-negligent manslaughters," and the rate per 100,000 was 4.7. There were 653 justifiable homicides in 2011.

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program "collects supplementary homicide data that provides information regarding the age, sex, and race of the murder victim and offender; the type of weapon used; the relationship of the victim to the offender; and the circumstance surrounding the incident."

The FBI figure for victims of murder for whom supplemental information is known is: 12,664. Of these, firearms were used in 8,583 of the murders (6,220 handguns), for a rate of about 67% of all murders.

Using the same figure of victims for whom supplemental information is known - victims of murder and non-negligent manslaughter in 2011 were disproportionately male - 77% of all victims were male. 50% of the victims were black, 46% were white.

Note that in the last 20 years, both the number of murders and the murder rate have gone down very significantly. In 1992 there 23,760 murders, and in 1993 there were 24,526 murders and the rate was 9.5. For the overall violent crime rate, the peak number of violent crimes was in 1992 - 1,932,274, for a rate of 757.7 per 100,000, while in 2011 it was 1,203,564, for a rate of 386.3 per 100,000.

December 16, 2012 - two police officers in Topeka, Kansas, were killed "after exchanging gunfire with a man." Their names were David Gogian and Jeff Atherly. The man suspected of killing them is David Edward Tiscareno.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Jews of Libau / How not to be an antisemite / Losing the plot

In Norm's excellent series, "Figures from a dark time," he has just posted about the fate of the Jews of Libau/Liepaja, Latvia, which I have also written about. Norm's headline is "The figure 2700-2800."
On the night of December 13, 1941, Latvian policemen arrested the Jews of Liepaja and took them to jail. Those with work permits, along with their families, were released. 
The remaining Jews were taken to Skede, north of Liepaja, to the dunes overlooking the Baltic Sea, the site of a former military training [ground]. A long ditch had been dug just before the dunes. The Jews were forced to strip off their clothes except for their underwear. Near the ditch they then were made to take off their remaining clothes and assemble in groups of ten. They were executed by members of a Latvian SD guard platoon, units of the 21st Latvian police battalion, and members of the Schutzpolizei-Dienstabteilung (German security police) under the command of the local SS and Police Leader Fritz Dietrich. On the 15-17 of December, 2,700-2,800 Jews were massacred, most of them women and children.
His source is an article on the site of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum: This Month in Holocaust History, December 6.

Fat Man on a Keyboard (Peter Ryley) has also pointed to an excellent resource for those who wish to criticize Israel without being antisemitic, on a Tumblr blog called "This is not Jewish." His post is also very good, discussing the vexed question of "Why does the Israel/Palestine conflict send everybody gaga?"

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Building in E-1: a final blow against the two-state solution?

If Israel goes ahead with its plans to develop E-1 (Dividing the West Bank, Deepening a Rift), located between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, it will cut the West Bank in half and make a viable Palestinian state impossible. It's time for the Obama administration to come out publicly against this plan, as publicly as the UK and France are - who are threatening to withdraw their ambassadors from Israel.

The New York Times has an excellent multimedia presentation on the final status issues: Challenges in defining an Israel-Palestinian border.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Review of Orlov, "Dark Mirrors"

At the SBL in November, 2012, I participated in a book review session for Andrei Orlov's fine new book, Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology. I've just posted my review as a Page on this blog - Review of Dark Mirrors.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Israel Gaza fighting: What’s it’s like to be in Jerusalem as the conflict escalates

Really good article by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate on What’s it’s like to be in Jerusalem as the conflict escalates. She's in Israel for the year working on a book about the Supreme Court and also because her parents live in Israel and they wanted to spend a year with them. She's there with her two sons, who are 7 and 9. Her description of the atmosphere in Jerusalem and Israel at a time like this is perfect.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sirens Disrupt the Sabbath in Jerusalem

An article from the New York Times about how the tranquility of Shabbat last night in Jerusalem was disturbed by the air raid sirens going off, warning of the rockets launched at the city by Hamas.
When dusk descends on Jerusalem on a Friday, it usually brings a moment of rare harmony and almost magical tranquillity. A steady siren announces the onset of the Jewish Sabbath just hours after Muslims wind up the special Friday noon prayer at Al Aksa Mosque in the Old City. 
So this Friday, when a rising-and-falling wartime siren wailed out at twilight, followed by at least two dull thuds, many did not immediately grasp what was happening. 
In the 48 hours since Israel began its military operation in Gaza, militants’ rocket attacks have extended farther and farther north, starting in southern Israel and advancing to Kiryat Malachi, then to Rishon Lezion and off the shore of Tel Aviv. 
Throughout it all, residents of this disputed capital said they had felt largely immune from the battle by virtue of the city’s religious sites and its huge Palestinian population. Until they heard the siren blaring. 
“I thought, ‘Is that for Shabbat?’ ” said Judy Axelrod, a resident of West Jerusalem, a predominantly Jewish area. When she realized it was not, she walked off King David Street into the Y.M.C.A. for safety, even though most of those around her just carried on....
By firing at Jerusalem, about 48 miles from the Gaza border, Hamas had set a brazen precedent. The city was even off limits to Saddam Hussein, the fallen Iraqi leader, when he fired Scud missiles at Israel during the first Persian Gulf war in 1991. 
The military wing of Hamas boasted that it had aimed at the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament. In fact, the rockets fell short of the city. One landed in an open area near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, just south of Jerusalem, and other explosions were heard in the same area.
The article then describes prayers at congregation Kol Haneshama in the Baka neighborhood. When I was in Israel this year, I often went to the Friday night services, which are usually attended by a large crowd and cultivate a very peaceful, contemplative atmosphere. There is a lot of singing and the service ends with a prayer for peace in Hebrew and Arabic. In the late 1980s, when I was a visiting graduate student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman introduced this prayer into the service, at the height of the first intifada.
When the siren sounded, Levi Weiman-Kelman, an American-born rabbi, was preparing to lead Sabbath services at Congregation Kol Haneshama, where worshipers recite a special prayer for peace on Fridays in Hebrew and Arabic.

He described the mood in synagogue as “extremely tense and antsy.” Hoping the service would pass quietly, he said, “My prayers had an added intensity.”

About half the usual crowd turned up, but with the Israeli military poised for a ground operation and a massive call-up of reservists under way, there were more parents of soldiers than usual.

Across the invisible line that divides West Jerusalem from the contested eastern part of the city, there was anxiety, too.

Out in his car at night in the near-empty streets, Taisar Ahmad, a municipal worker from the Arab neighborhood of Jebel Mukaber, said that striking Jerusalem should be “forbidden.”

“It’s scary,” he added. “Everyone was frightened.”
When I heard that Hamas had launched rockets toward Jerusalem, I called a good friend in the city, who described going into the stairwell of her building, as people had been instructed to act when they heard the sirens. She sounded shaken up and wondered what would happen if a siren went off when she was at work - she works with children at a kindergarten with Jewish and Arab children.

May this war end soon!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rockets land in Rishon LeZion, Holon, and Tel Aviv

From reading Haaretz online and also the Twitter feeds of Israeli friends - air raid sirens have sounded in Tel Aviv. Three rockets fired there.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hussein Ibish on the conflict between Israel and Hamas

Hussein Ibish, in Operation Cast Lead 2.0, provides a good discussion of what's at stake in Israel's attack on Hamas and its possible repercussions.

Map of rocket ranges

This slide shows the range of the various rockets that Hamas has in its possession - image from Haaretz, with some translations from the Hebrew by me.

Map of bombings and rockets in Israel & Gaza today

From Haaretz:

Israeli bombingl targeted Fajr missiles

Fajr missiles, from Iran, can reach as far as Tel Aviv. Apparently many of the air raids launched by Israel today were aimed at destroying the missiles before they could be fired. Below is photo distributed by the IDF Spokesperson's office showing Fajr launch sites in Zeitoun, Gaza.

Will Hamas target Tel Aviv with missiles?

From Haaretz: Israel holds its breath for Hamas' decision: Target Tel Aviv?
Bradley Burston 
Tel Aviv is holding its breath. This war is the same war, fought for years far to the south, out of sight and firmly out of mind. But abruptly, without warning, it threatens to become Tel Aviv's war.

And the decision rests with Hamas.

In one fiery stroke - the Wednesday Israeli air strike that killed Hamas' most influential and powerful military mind, Ahmed Jabari - the rules of the Holy Land's oldest established permanent floating chess game were, for the umpteenth time, utterly changed.

Rocked by the assassination, Hamas, its strategic hierarchy shredded, now faces a fateful choice. Pressed by a broad coalition of Gaza militants to retaliate and exact revenge, Hamas could order the launch of the Iranian-developed Fajr-5 missile, straight north.

For the first time since the waves of suicide bombings in Israeli cities during the Palestinian uprising, Hamas could target Tel Aviv.

The decision will not be a simple one, however. Hamas has always been hair-trigger sensitive to Palestinian public opinion, particularly in its birthplace and power base, the Gaza Strip. Gazans at the grass roots level have already made it known that they fear a reprise of the devastation and severe loss of civilian lives which Israel's Operation Cast Lead wrought on the Strip four years ago.

Israel, meanwhile, has made it plain that Tel Aviv is the trip wire.

"Today we attacked strategic Hamas targets with precision," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the press late on Wednesday. "We significantly harmed its capability to launch rockets from Gaza to the center of the country."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak added, "Most of the Fajr missiles have been hit."

There was a warning in their words, to Hamas. But there was an implied, if unintentional, threat to residents of Tel Aviv, as well. Hamas can still hit them, should it choose to do so.

Mindful of the significance of a possible attack on Tel Aviv, Israeli leaders spared no effort to head it off. Immediately after the Jabari assassination, the next phase of the newest war was unleashed, an onslaught to destroy Gaza launch bunkers housing Hamas' Fajr-5 missiles.

Wave after wave of Israeli air strikes were launched. Dozens of Fajr launchers were hit.

But not all of them.

As Wednesday night wore on, IDF civil defense officials began to be asked about whether Tel Aviv residents should take special precautions ("There have been nationwide drills, and citizens will know how to respond," one replied). Police and ambulance crews were placed on heightened alert, Israeli media reported.

And, perhaps inevitably, analysts noted the timing of the Jabari assassination, in the thick of an Israeli election campaign in which both Netanyahu and Barak are intent on holding on to their jobs.

As both well know, past wars - Cast Lead among them - have demonstrated that the longer, more complex, and more unresolved a military operation becomes, the more likely it is to claim its initially victorious initiators, among its victims.

Tel Aviv is the trip wire, as well, for candidates Netanyahu and Barak. If Israel's financial, cultural, and media capital is successfully attacked, much of the political capital accrued by the prime minister and his defense minister, will suddenly, literally, go up in smoke.

It's war again: Israel launches military operation in Gaza

It's war again - Israel launches military operation in Gaza. Israel just assassinated the top Hamas military leader in Gaza and attacked more than 20 targets. Thus far, 8 Palestinians dead, 30 wounded. This is after days of rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israeli communities. The rocket fire is now continuing.

Name of this operation - Pillar of Defense (in English), עמוד ענן (in Hebrew - Pillar of Cloud, a biblical reference).

I hope this ends quickly.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Romney concedes!

It seems that Romney has just called Obama to concede, and he's about to speak at his headquarters in Boston. "I have just called President Obama to congratulate him." "I pray that the President will be successful in guiding our nation." Clapping from the audience. Now thanking Paul Ryan.

President Obama Reelected!

It appears that all our worrying is now followed by relief - President Obama has won reelection according to the New York Times and all the television networks, with up to 332 electoral votes, depending on what happens in Ohio and Virginia.

Another exciting victory - gay rights has won in several states. Maryland has approved gay marriage (51.7%-48.3%), Maine has defeated a referendum to overturn gay marriage (currently 54%-46%). It also looks like Washington State has approved gay marriage, although there's only 50% of the vote reported thus far. And Minnesota may have defeated an anti-gay marriage amendment (only 53% reporting).

Tammy Baldwin seems to have defeated Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, thus becoming the first open gay person in the Senate.

And here's a great picture of Barack and Michelle -

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mitt Romney - petty and creepy hater of lesbians and gay men

According to the Boston Globe, when gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, Governor Romney opposed creating new birth certificate forms for babies born to same-sex couples. "The box for 'father' would be relabeled 'father or second parent,’ reflecting the new law."

Romney rejected the new plan and "insisted that his top legal staff individually review the circumstances of every birth to same-sex parents. Only after winning approval from Romney’s lawyers could hospital officials and town clerks across the state be permitted to cross out by hand the word 'father' on individual birth certificates, and then write in 'second parent,' in ink."
Romney’s interventions mostly resulted in delays awarding birth certificates for women married to same-sex partners who gave birth. Gay men seeking parental rights were required to take a different route, by obtaining a court order. By law, birth certificates must be issued within 10 days of birth, and in some instances, those deadlines were not met.

Most of the birth-certificate reviews by the governor’s office appeared cursory. For example, health department deputy counsel Wiesenberg e-mailed Brian Leske and Nielsen on Dec. 23, 2004, to ask permission to issue a certificate regarding one birth: “Birth at UMass Memorial Medical Center. Facts (married mother, same sex spouse, anonymous donor) are similar to 23 other cases that Mark has reviewed . . . [and] instruct[ed] the hospital to list mother & same sex spouse as the second parent on the child’s birth certificate.”

Leske e-mailed back: “You are authorized to inform the Medical Center that may list the same sex spouse as a second parent on the birth certificate.”

In one instance, in which a couple asked that the handwritten alteration for the second parent say “wife” instead of second parent, the request was denied. In another, Leske refused to allow a birth certificate to be issued listing a same-sex couple as the parents because they were not married.
All of this footdragging came about directly as a result of Romney's personal intervention, growing out of his adamant opposition to gay marriage and even more adamant opposition to gay people raising children.

He spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
“The children of America have the right to have a father and a mother,’’ Romney said in his prepared remarks. “What should be the ideal for raising a child? Not a village, not ‘parent A’ and ‘parent B,’ but a mother and a father.’’

Romney also warned about the societal impact of gay parents raising children. “Scientific studies of children raised by same-sex couples are almost nonexistent,’’ he said. “It may affect the development of children and thereby future society as a whole.’’

Romney expressed similar beliefs during a speech in 2005 to socially conservative voters in South Carolina, as he was beginning to be viewed as a serious candidate for president.

“Some gays are actually having children born to them,’’ he declared. “It’s not right on paper. It’s not right in fact. Every child has a right to a mother and father.’’
"Some gays are actually having children born to them" - as if lesbians were not like every other woman who is capable of bearing children. The detachment from the real lives of lesbians and gay men in his statements is chilling. He just does not see us as a real living, breathing human beings with the same needs and desires as other people - including the desire for children and a family that most people want.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Third debate - supposedly on foreign policy

Word of the day: "tumult"

Surprise of the evening: Mali?

This was supposed to be a debate about foreign policy - so why no discussion of Europe (although Greece got a shout out)? Of India? Of any sub-saharan African country? South America was mentioned by Romney but only as a trade counterweight to China.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Judith Butler gets a taste of her own politics

Judith Butler gets a taste of her own politics

Eva Illouz on the award of the Adorno prize to Judith Butler - an excellent article. Good criticisms of Butler herself, and a principled defense of the committee that awarded the prize to her. A sample:
Criticism of Butler
At first blush, the case against Butler seems strong. Her anti-Zionism does not always seem to be fully aware of the tangled history of this country, and her calls to boycott and divest from Israel would disempower the groups most likely to help fight the cause of justice here. More perplexing is the fact that she has made statements expressing partial support for Hezbollah and Hamas. In response to a question at a public talk, she claimed that the two well-known Islamic military and religious groups are members of the global left. The syllogism behind this stunning proposition is that anti-imperialism and anticolonialism, in all its forms, define the global left, that Hamas and Hezbollah fight against Israeli imperialism, ergo they belong to the “global left.” ‏(What is the mysterious entity called “global left,” I cannot say). 
Defense of the committee
3. While I fully understand the source of the distress expressed by the German Jewish community, their interference represents a tactical and moral mistake. The place to fight opinions like those of Judith Butler is in the public sphere. Increasingly, Jewish groups inside and outside Israel are using what can be easily interpreted as bullying tactics to silence their opponents. Israeli policies toward Palestinians, Eritrean refugees and non-Jewish immigrants are morally indefensible; the critiques against these policies will be increasingly strident, and among these critiques some will be worthy, some unworthy. Muzzling critiques, even the unworthy ones, cannot be a valid response. In fact, it only proves the main point of the critiques, namely that Israel and the people supporting Israel are increasingly relying on undemocratic politics and tactics. Democracy is nothing more than agreeing to oppose both worthy and unworthy opinions in the same way. Some of Judith Butler’s political opinions are unworthy, but the only proper way to fight them is through argument and debate, not through institutional muscle power.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Contested Color of Christ

The Contested Color of Christ - a fascinating article on the way that Jesus has been figured as white in the US for a couple of centuries. Apparently the LDS church (the Mormons) have depicted him as even whiter than other popular portrayals - light colored hair and blue eyes. I went to the wedding of two women this weekend at the local American Baptist church, and I was struck by the stained-glass window in the front of the church depicting Jesus in a long white robe, with long blond hair (I didn't notice what color his eyes were), and white skin, arms wide to welcome people.

The article discusses how some African-American churches began to picture Jesus as black. The African-American Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama is the church where four little girls were killed in 1963 by a bomb set by white racist terrorists. In this church Jesus was depicted as white.
In a world filled with images of Jesus, this one made headlines. He stood in a stained-glass window wearing a simple white robe and a dark tunic. When sunlight struck the glass just so, kindness radiated from his white face and warmth from his brown eyes.
The bomb destroyed the stained glass image, and was replaced by a black Jesus: "This one seems sad, his arms stretched out, crucified. His hair is short, cropped; his face black."

The article also discusses a popular LDS image of Jesus - the Christus statue, made by a Dutch artist and often reproduced for LDS visitor centers. Here's a photo of the one at the Visitor Center in Temple Square in Salt Lake City:

Photo is by Pedro Szekely -, and published here under a Creative Commons license.
(Aside from the overwhelming whiteness of the white marble Jesus, this is an absolutely fabulous background to the statue in the North Visitors' Center in Temple Square).

After reading this article, I started to wonder about images of a Jewish Jesus. The popular American Christian depictions of Jesus have always struck me as being almost totally unrealistic, since Jesus was not a midwestern white American with blond hair, but a Jew from Judea who was probably olive-skinned or darker with curly dark or black hair. By searching on Google Images I found quite a few images.

Here's one, from a blog called "Ideas of a Black WASP." This image comes from a 2001 BBC program called "Son of God."

Tablet Magazine published an article a couple of years ago about Jewish depictions of Jesus. Here are two cited in that article.

Marc Chagall's famous "White Crucifixion": Jesus is clearly white-skinned, but he has a brown beard, and his loincloth is a tallit. It was painted in 1938 and is currently in the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Israeli artist Adi Nes depicts Jesus:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rebellion in Ramallah - can the outsourced occupation survive?

Excellent article by Gershom Gorenberg, Rebellion in Ramallah?, on the protests against the Palestinian Authority by people in the West Bank. 
Thousands of Palestinians take to the streets. In Hebron, demonstrators burn an effigy. In Tul Karm, Ramallah, and other cities, they block streets and set tires ablaze. Teens hurl stones. All of the West Bank's bus, truck, and taxi drivers go on strike for a day. In Bethlehem, truckers park sideways, blocking streets. In Nablus, kindergarten teachers join the strike; elsewhere storekeepers shut their shops. Universities announce they, too, will strike.  
These are updates from the West Bank over the past week. They sound as if taken from the start of the first Palestinian uprising against Israel 25 years ago. But the leader burned in effigy in Hebron was Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian government in Ramallah, rather than Israel, is the direct target of protest. Economic frustration sparked the fury. This sounds like a variation on revolts in other Arab states—except the Palestinian Authority isn't an independent state. Set up as to provide short-term, limited autonomy until a peace agreement, it has become the lasting means by which Israel outsources its rule over Palestinians in occupied territory. Donor countries foot the budget; the PA provides local services. Israel's current government acts as if the arrangement can last forever. The protests show how unstable it really is.... 
The outsourced occupation depends on the whims of donors; it produces high prices, hunger, unemployment, and unpaid salaries. Economically, it cannot be sustained.
When I was in Israel earlier this year, there were a number of warnings that a third intifada was on the way - a committee of outside experts even arranged a special meeting with Netanyahu to warn him of this. Of course, nothing changed. I would expect that an uprising against the PA would quickly turn to the real culprit - the Israel government's unwillingness to negotiate any change to the status quo that would risk the settlement project. I hope it doesn't happen - the second intifada was terrible, and got the Palestinians no closer to an independent state - but Israel has to be willing to offer something to the Palestinians in order to prevent a third uprising in 25 years.

Tenured professor calls for filmmaker to be jailed for his anti-Islamic film

Anthea Butler, who is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, tweeted on Wednesday the following question: "How soon is Sam Bacile going to be in jail folks?" (Bacile is the pseudonym of the man really behind the extremely bad anti-Muslim movie - Nakoula Basseley Nakoula - see Sarah Posner article about his real identity). This is a series of her tweets on the subject:
Her argument seems to be that since the people who murdered the American ambassador in Libya and three other American embassy personnel were supposedly provoked into committing murder by the film's insulting portrayal of Muhammad, therefore the filmmaker is responsible for those four people's deaths. It seems to me that the real ones responsible are her murderers. It's not as if this stupid movie is the only lousy anti-Islam movie on the internet - why would they suddenly be provoked to murder the ambassador on the anniversary of 9/11/01? It seems, in fact, that the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was planned beforehand and that the film only provided a useful excuse for the attack.

Butler continued her argument on USA Today:
My initial tweet about Bacile, the person said to be responsible for the film mocking the prophet Mohammed, was not because I am against the First Amendment. My tweets reflected my exasperation that as a religion professor, it is difficult to teach the facts when movies such as Bacile's Innocence of Muslims are taken as both truth and propaganda, and used against innocent Americans.
I'm also a religion professor, and I also get exasperated by people's stupid or even antisemitic ideas about Judaism. But that doesn't mean that movies or books or statements that are antisemitic don't have the protection of the First Amendment. It's my job as a professor to try to get students to look at evidence and to understand when a source of information is biased, partial, or even outright antisemitic (or bigoted against any particular religious group). I try to get them to engage in critical, informed thinking about the world around them - how can I really do that if I advocate limiting what information can reach them?
If there is anyone who values free speech, it is a tenured professor! 
So why did I tweet that Bacile should be in jail? The "free speech" in Bacile's film is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam. It denigrates the religion by depicting the faith's founder in several ludicrous and historically inaccurate scenes to incite and inflame viewers. Even the film's actors say they were duped.
In what way is the film not expressing a personal opinion about Islam? It is in fact expressing a personal opinion (the filmmaker's) by presenting a historically inaccurate portrayal of Muhammad. It is certainly not the first movie to give a mistaken portrayal of a religious figure - The Ten Commandments by Cecile B. Demille is hardly a paragon of accurate biblical interpretation. Kingdom of Heaven, which is about the Crusades, and ends with the defeat of the Crusaders in 1187 to the forces of Salah al-Din, commits a number of historical howlers, including inventing several nonexistent love affairs. Movies are always making mistakes, deliberately or otherwise. Just because something is wrong or a lie is not a reason to ban it. It is not illegal to denigrate a particular religion or religion in general, in the United States. If the actors really think they were duped, perhaps they should sue the filmmaker for fraud.
Bacile's movie is not the first to denigrate a religious figure, nor will it be the last. The Last Temptation of Christ was protested vigorously. The difference is that Bacile indirectly and inadvertently inflamed people half a world away, resulting in the deaths of U.S. Embassy personnel.
Did the filmmaker intend to kill US Embassy personnel in Libya? Did the movie explicitly call for their deaths? If not, then there's no legal case against the filmmaker.
Bacile's movie does not excuse the rioting in Libya and Egypt, or the murder of Americans. That is deplorable. Unfortunately, people like Bacile and Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who provoked international controversy by burning copies of the Quran, have a tremendous impact on religious tolerance and U.S. foreign policy. 
That may be true, but should the US then abandon the First Amendment? The First Amendment prevents the Congress from "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." Perhaps people who feel motivated to burn buildings down or kill people when they hear things offensive to their religious beliefs need to learn that feeling insulted does not justify violence.
Case in point: Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Jones on Wednesday to ask him to stop promoting Bacile's film. Clearly, the military considers the film a serious threat to national security. If the military takes it seriously, there should be consequences for putting American lives at risk. 
So is the US military now the ultimate arbiter of American rights inside the United States? In this country, the military is the servant of the civilian government, not the other way around. The military does not decide what rights we deserve to have - the Constitution is the source of our rights.
While the First Amendment right to free expression is important, it is also important to remember that other countries and cultures do not have to understand or respect our right. My condolences and prayers go out to the families of the U.S. Embassy employees killed in Libya.
The fact that other countries and cultures do not understand the right to free expression guaranteed in the US Constitution does not mean that they can dictate what rights are available to US citizens in the United States. When I visited Turkey, I was not particularly in favor of the laws that banned certain speech if it "denigrated Turkishness" or Kemal Ataturk, but I didn't loudly denounce Turkishness or Ataturk in the street because I didn't want to get arrested. When I returned to the US I felt free to say how stupid I thought these laws were. If some people in Turkey had heard what I had said, they might have been angry and even have wanted me to be arrested. Unfortunately for them, I made these remarks in the United States and thus their opinion had no force.

Anthea Butler says that she is not against the First Amendment, but the whole thrust of her argument is opposed to the idea that speech, even extremely distasteful speech, is protected by the Constitution, if it is offensive to people who sincerely hold religious beliefs. The First Amendment is not, however, a protection against become offended - if it were, obvious, vicious, antisemitic forgeries like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion would have long since been outlawed. In reality, you can easily download it from the internet for free.