Saturday, May 19, 2018

Three Myths about Gaza

I'm getting infuriated by what I'm reading about Gaza by so many people who are pro-Israel: 1) that Israeli no longer occupies Gaza and has no responsibility for what happens there; 2) that Gazans chose Hamas to rule them in 2006 and that they should lie in the bed they made; and 3) that Gazans are solely to blame for the miserable state of their economy. None of these claims are true. 

Trudy Rubin, a columnist for the Philadelphia Enquirer, explains why they are not true.

She begins:
Two million Gazans, imprisoned in a tiny strip of land with a collapsed economy, see no political and economic future. They are trapped between a reckless Hamas, a feckless Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, and an Israeli government that ignores them except for military action. Add to that a blinkered White House that pours fuel on dry tinder. 
Rather than face facts – and address Gaza’s economic ills – Jerusalem and Washington promote convenient myths that absolve themselves from responsibility. If both governments continue down that blind path, the violence in Gaza will explode again with huge costs to Israel as well.
Her response to Myth #1, that Israel no longer occupies Gaza:
In reality, Israel has retained control of Gaza’s border, air space, and sea coast, except for one outlet into a remote area of Egypt. Thus Israel entirely controls Gazan imports and exports, its coastal fishing, along with its supply of electricity. It also controls all movement in and out of Gaza. Since Hamas took control, Israel has mostly bottled up Gaza’s population while border closures strangle its industry and agriculture.
Her response to Myth #2, that Gazans chose Hamas to rule them and therefore should shut up about their problems:
As for the 2006 elections, which the Bush administration urged on a reluctant Palestinian leadership, polls showed that the main reasons a plurality of Palestinians voted for Hamas were not its ideology. Rather, they were frustrated that the then-ruling Fatah party was corrupt and hadn’t delivered a promised two-state diplomatic solution. 
Moreover, in 2007, the Bush administration encouraged Fatah to retake control of Gaza by force, but Fatah lost the battle to Hamas. Thus Washington shares the blame for Hamas’ total control of the strip.
Her response to Myth #3, that Gazans are entirely responsible for their own economic misery:
But the most pernicious Myth, number Three, posits that Palestinians are sole authors of their economic misery. The prime example given is the case of greenhouses turned over by Israeli settlers when they quit Gaza in 2005 (they demolished half of the greenhouses and stripped the rest before leaving). The remaining greenhouses were refurbished with $14 million by Jewish American donors, but were supposedly destroyed by Palestinians immediately upon the settlers’ exit.

Yes, there was looting, but the Palestinian Authority quickly refurbished the greenhouses, which were soon brimming with crops of sweet peppers, tomatoes, and herbs worth $20 million. The Palestinians’ then-finance minister Salam Fayyad even gave Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a gift of peppers on her birthday in mid-November 2005, and the greenhouses exported 8 tons of them in mid-December.
What actually destroyed the greenhouse initiative were Israel’s restrictions on Gazan exports at the Karni border crossing. You can read about this in the memoir of Australian Jewish businessman James Wolfensohn, a former World Bank head and special envoy for Gaza disengagement, who contributed $500,000 to the greenhouse project.

“In early December [2005],” he wrote, “the much-awaited first harvest began … but their success relied on the Karni crossing … which was closed more often than not.
“Everything was rotting. … If you went to the border and saw tomatoes and fruit just being dumped on the side of the road, you would have to say that if you were a Palestinian farmer you’d be pretty upset.” 
Fast-forward to now. For more than a dozen years, border crossings have opened only sporadically. Industry and agriculture in Gaza has collapsed. Unemployment of 15- to 29-year-olds is 60 percent. Electricity is sporadic (Gazans can’t pay), water polluted, medicines scarce. 
To make matters worse, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which still pays many salaries in Gaza, cut back the money when an effort at reconciliation with Hamas failed.

Saturday, May 12, 2018


Rujm al-Hiri (Galgal Refaim) in the Golan Heights

Credit: By ​Assaf Tzaddik, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Credit: Haaretz.
From Haaretz article, Morbid Theory in Mystery of Israel's Answer to Stonehenge:
Rujm al-Hiri's unremarkable appearance from the ground belies its striking form when seen from the air: It consists of four circles — the outermost more than 500 feet across — made up of an estimated 42,000 tons of basalt stone, the remains of massive walls that experts believe once rose as much as high as 30 feet. It is an enormous feat of construction carried out 6000 years ago by a society about which little is known.

It seems likely that Rujm al-Hiri served residents of excavated villages nearby that were part of the same agrarian civilization that existed in the Holy Land in the Chalcolithic period, between 4500 and 3500 B.C. This predates the arrival of the Israelites as described in the Bible by as much as three millennia....

Most scholars have identified Rujm al-Hiri as some kind of ritual center, with some believing it connected to astronomical calculations. Archaeologist Yonathan Mizrahi, one of the first to excavate there, found that to someone standing in the very center of the circles on the morning of the summer solstice in 3000 B.C., "the first gleam of sunrise would appear at the center of the northeast entryway in the outer wall."...

[Mike] Freikman's excavations have yielded almost no material remains of the kind that are common at most archaeological sites, he said. That is significant, however, as it confirms that the site was never lived in and was thus not a defensive position or a residential quarter but most likely a ritual center of some kind — possibly, he said, one indeed linked to a cult of the dead.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

My grandfather, Mark Falcon Lesses

Mark Falcon Lesses and Helen Rosenman Lesses
My brother Richard, the genealogist in the family, just uploaded my grandfather's obituary. He was born on May 15, 1903 and died on April 6, 1965. He was a doctor, and published extensively in several areas of medicine.
Dr. Lesses, Blood Bank Authority, 61 
Dr. Mark Falcon Lesses, 61, of 63 Hancock Ave., Newton Centre, internationally known authority on blood banks, died yesterday in Massachusetts General Hospital. 
An internist and endocrinologist, he was a graduate of Harvard College, class of 1922, and Harvard Medical School in 1926. He was an instructor at Harvard Medical and a lecturer at Simmons College. 
Dr. Lesses was chief of the blood bank at Beth Israel Hospital and was noted for his work in blood transfusions and blood banks. He was vice president of the American Association of Blood Banks and was an editor of "Transfusion," the journal of the association. 
He was the author of a comprehensive study of diseases of the thyroid gland published by Oxford Medical Publications. 
He was a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha. 
He leaves his wife, Helen (Rosenman); two sons, ....; a sister, Mrs. Gertrude Bloomberg; and a brother, Harrison, both of Swampscott. 
Memorial services will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. in Stanetsky Memorial Chapel, Brookline.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Israel vs. Iran?

When I was in Israel in the spring of 2012, on sabbatical, there was lots of war talk between Israel and Iran, but nothing happened. I even wrote a short blog post on the question of when to plan the European vacation, wishing to be notified ahead of time when I should visit Europe to avoid the Iranian counterattack if Israel bombed the Iranian nuclear facilities. Well, today it sounds like there actually will be an Iranian attack on Israel, in retaliation for several recent Israeli attacks on Iranian weapons depots in Syria.

According to Haaretz, just now:
Also Tuesday, the Israeli ordered communities in the northern Golan Heights, near the Israel-Syria border, to open shelters to the public after identifying "unusual movements" of Iranian forces in Syria, the military said in a statement.

The Israeli army believes Iran is making efforts to carry out an imminent retaliation against Israel. Intelligence officers and other specialized forces have been called up, though reserve combat units have not been drafted.

CNN reported that Pentagon officials are concerned about signs that Iran might be preparing a military strike against Israel from Syria.

Israeli military bases were preparing for a possible Iranian attack.

Israel believes Iran is determined to retaliate for the April 9 airstrike on Syria’s T4 airbase, which killed seven Iranian military advisers and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Iran blames Israel for this attack. 
The military said any Iranian strike against Israel will be met with a severe response, even as the working assumption is that Iran is has limited capabilities to engage in conflict with Israel. 
Earlier, the U.S. Embassy in Israel issued an alert warning all U.S. government employees not travel to the Golan Heights unless they obtain an approval in advance. "Due to the recent tensions in the region, until further notice, U.S. government employees are required to obtain advance approval if they wish to travel to the Golan Heights," the warning on the website read. 
For more details on the opening of bomb shelters in northern Israel, see this Ynet article:,7340,L-5255105,00.html
The IDF went on high alert for a possible flare-up with neighboring Syria on Tuesday as US President Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. 
The IDF said that, after identifying "irregular activity" by Iranian forces in Syria, it instructed civic authorities on the Golan Heights to ready bomb shelters, deployed new defenses and mobilized some reservist forces. 
The order to prepare bomb shelters on the Golan was unprecedented during Syria's civil war. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally.

"In recent years, we've been making preparations in coordination with the IDF and the Home Front Command so we could deal with escalation in the Golan area in the best possible way," said the head of the Golan Regional Council Eli Malka. "We've been witnessing the very significant preparations the IDF has been doing all over the Golan, and we're confident the IDF could provide a proper response and defend the residents of the Golan and the State of Israel.
In addition to the Golan, mayors in other northern communities ordered the opening of bomb shelters.

In Safed, while receiving no specific instructions from the IDF on the matter, the mayor decided to open public shelters to help residents feel more secure.

"The public is being asked to ensure the shelters in residential buildings are accessible, clean and aired-out," a message to Safed residents said.

The mayor of Karmiel got no special instructions from the military either, but nevertheless decided to open public shelters as well.

Israel has posted Iron Dome short-range air missile defenses on the Golan, suggesting that the anticipated attack could be by ground-to-ground rockets or mortars.
Also, Israel apparently just carried out airstrikes in Syria, south of Damascus.