Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

I’ve become increasingly irritated of late listening to President Obama, former American ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurzer, and various Israeli politicians proclaiming that the road to peace now requires Bibi Netanyahu to make a concrete offer.  Had Israel been dragging its heels to come to the negotiating table, placing absurd roadblocks to the talks (like the freezing of Arab building in Jerusalem), or naming town squares after Baruch Goldstein, I could understand the need to pressure him to lighten up.  But Israel hasn’t been doing any of those things.

Instead, Obama tells Bibi he must present his own plan for peace, but without presenting any more preconditions.  These include, presumably, stopping the preaching and teaching of Jew-hatred, stopping naming of town squares after mass murderers (and murderesses), and disarming terrorists–forever.  Yet somehow, nothing is demanded of the Arabs.

This is not new.  It’s actually a continuation of the status quo.  I listened to an interview with Harvard professor Ruth Wisse by Mordechai I. Twersky recently that helps explain the reasons why Israel can’t seem to get any peace, and while she waxes eloquent on the use of anti-Semitism in Arab society to wage war against Israel and avoid the self-examination and embrace of tolerance that could lift up Arab society from the medieval mud it’s stuck in, she also observes that Israel’s plight is not just the fault of the Arabs.  Some of it is pressure from third-party sources like Obama and Europe which accept a paradigm of the situation which says that this is a war between equals over a piece of land, with Israel the more powerful of the two sides, and therefore the side better positioned to offer concessions.  Another piece is the worldview of the Jews which makes us feel compelled to find solutions to problems, even when we can’t.  Professor Wisse says,

I’ve called Jews a failed polity in the past very reluctantly because my main point is that Jews cannot solve the problems of which they are accused, and that’s the dilemma in which Jews have found themselves for many, many centuries and find themselves in today in a different form.  How can we solve the Arab situation?  How can we make them accept the State of Israel?  What can we do?  What can we do?  And it’s such a natural desire to solve this question because of course the aggression is being aimed mostly at you.  I think that the first thing that has to be recognized is that you are the last people who can do anything about this aggression.  The only way you can help is to make sure that the aggressor understands that he will never defeat you.  And if you can do anything to change the aggressor’s need for that aggression, if you can persuade the aggressor that that aggression is ultimately detrimental to him, then I think you have a chance.   But so far, neither Israel nor the Jewish people has ever understood its role in politics sufficiently to be able to begin that enterprise.

I think Wisse articulates this problem well.  Strange as it seems, Israel seems to be held responsible for solving its own problems as well as those of the Arabs around it, as though they are somehow helpless, infantile, and lacking in any resources at all (despite the decades of handouts they’ve received from the world community).  The fact that Israel withdrew from Gaza, leaving behind infrastructure for the Arabs to use to build their own nascent state went unnoticed or has been long forgotten.

Wisse observes that the expectation that the Arabs improve their own lot is often perceived as pessimistic.  People “think that it is more optimistic to hold Israel responsible. … If I really insist that the problem begins in this unilateral aspect of the conflict and that it’s the Arabs who have to decide that they will give up this instrument of their politics, it seems pessimistic because it’s going to take a long time for the Arab world to change in that respect. But I would say that I’m the optimist because I really do expect the Arab world to change.”

Listen to the whole interview here.  She has fascinating things to say about the current flotilla, the Arab Spring, her own study of Yiddish literature, what she calls “the history of Jewish mistakes,” and how Jews should endeavor to be less humorous.


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Flotilla flake-out

I read last week that the “humanitarian” IHH has pulled out of this year’s Gaza flotilla fracas.  Ynet reports that fewer than 300 nutjobs activists will be setting sail — far fewer than anticipated, with more dropouts expected.  If this trend continues (and please God, it will), this year’s flotilla will end up looking something like this:

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Sandy Cash is back with another song, this one hailing the upcoming Free Gaza Flotilla II.

In case Allen Krasna’s masterful video editing makes you miss some of the lyrics, here they are:

HEY JEWS (parody lyrics based on the song Hey Jude by Lennon & McCartney)

Hey Jews, we’re setting sail
Bound for that big jail that’s known as Gaza.
“Flotilla” was once a word no one knew;
Here comes number two, we’re back to Gaza.

Hey Jews, don’t be afraid,
You know your blockade can’t last forever.
The Egyptians tried too, but let down their guard.
Deterrence is hard; surrender’s better.

And if we hide Iranian bombs, hey Jews, come on!
We’re all just humanitarian sailors
With ammo belts and bars of steel.
Hey Jews, get real!
Code Pink buys the same at Lord and Taylor.

Hey Jews, don’t lose your cool,
The revolution is all around you
From the Golan to Sinai’s lines in the sand.
We’ll cross overland ’til we surround you.

No matter what we smuggle in, hey Jews, give in.
We’re riding the wave of world opinion
‘Cause don’t you know when we attack and you fight back,
It tightens the noose we hold your head in.

Hey, Jews, can’t you excuse 10,000 rockets on civilians.
You’ve spent all that dough on reinforced rooms,
The whole world presumes you want to use them.

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I read this article a couple of months ago on Ynet news. There are a number of reasons why the claim that Israel is an apartheid state is absurd, and this is one of them. The story of Avi Be’eri, a Guinean former slave whose journey brought him to Israel, Judaism, the IDF, and the completion of the army’s officers’ course, is almost stranger than fiction, and further proof of what PM Netanyahu said to Congress last month: Israel is what’s right with the Middle East.

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I hate the phone.  I’m fine talking to people in person, and I love writing emails and letters.  But keep me away from the phone unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I don’t love it in English, and like most people struggling with a language that is not their own, I HATE it in Hebrew.  When the Cap’n worked at home, I had him do most of the phone calls, but now that he’s sitting all day in an office in Jerusalem, I have to call the matnas (community center) about enrolling the kids in swim lessons, the mothers of my kids’ friends about playdates and who’s going to bake the cake for the upcoming class birthday party (usually me), and the health clinic to make medical appointments, all in Hebrew.  Since those phone calls are often the only time I speak Hebrew all day, I suffer from arrested development in the language, and while I sometimes get out my thoughts just fine in fairly fluid Hebrew, if someone calls me out of the blue or wants to discuss something for which I have no context, I freeze up.

That’s what happened yesterday when Peach handed me the phone to give driving directions to the mother of a girl playing with Beans this afternoon.  I hadn’t given anyone directions in a while, and with a sleeping Bill in the crook of my arm, and half asleep myself, I couldn’t even remember the word “intersection” in Hebrew.  I stammered, made long pauses, but finally got out the information.  (She found us just fine a few minutes later.)  When I got off the phone, though, Peach looked up from her homework and said, “Wow, your Hebrew was really bad just now.”

Normally I don’t make much of those comments.  I try to be good-natured about them, laugh them off, and not take it too personally when my children make fun of my admittedly pathetic Hebrew.  But I had just finished correcting Beans on a question she missed on a Hebrew language test (telling her that luchot, despite the feminine plural ending, is an irregular masculine noun), I’d been caught unawares by this phone call, and I have days here and there when I’m feeling more vulnerable than usual.  I began thinking about all the things I gave up to come here: my family (which has already had to do without me every Christmas for the past 16 years since my decision to convert), my friends, my community, my quirky, charming Victorian house on a tree-lined street, my career as an English teacher (teaching it as a second language or to students who aren’t going to school in English is not the same), my shul community, and not least, understanding everything that is going on around me.  The vast majority of the time, I can focus on what is wonderful about living here, but every now and then, I think about what I don’t have anymore, and it gets to me.

Peach stepped on a landmine when she make that disrespectful crack (even more so since she’s working on a contract where she needs to demonstrate kibbud av v’em every day to earn a dinner out with me, one-on-one).  I kept my cool at first, but when I went up to her room to debrief her, I realized that my nerves were more raw than I’d thought and I lost it, listing for her all the things I’ve mentioned that I gave up so she could grow up here, speak the language, and feel at home.  Because while I don’t doubt for a minute that this is my homeland as much as a tenth-generation Yerushalmi‘s, it doesn’t feel like it every minute of every day.

Maybe this is good.  After all, while I sometimes miss the US, I don’t regret coming here, and can’t imagine going back.  But I think it’s also okay sometimes to let myself acknowledge that there are times when I feel like a fish out of water.  For Peach, too, I think it might have been good to hear that while we wanted badly to come here, doing so has not always been a joy ride for the Cap’n and me.  It will never be as easy for us as it will be for the kids.  Despite the fact that the girls, too, are immigrants, their Hebrew is very good, they’re going to school here from a young age, and will have all the formative experiences Israeli kids have that shape who they are, who their friends are, and their lives as Israelis.  As badly as I wanted my conversion (and as agonizing as it was), when I held Beans, my firstborn, in my arms in the hospital, I looked down at her and whispered, “I did it for you.”  Similarly, while the Cap’n and I knew we wanted to come here to live someday, we really let the children decide for us, and chose to come when Beans was beginning kindergarten so they would not be too far behind in first grade.

I’m not going to tell the kids I spent my childhood walking to school everyday through the snow, uphill both ways.  On the other hand, perhaps for them to know what I gave up to be here will make the experience of living here mean more to them, help them understand what it’s like for adult immigrants, and in some way tell them how much we love them in giving them this life.  It’s not like buying them a present and showing them the price tag; I think it’s more like giving them a rare gift and telling them it’s the only one like it.

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Being unpopular

One of the things I find so challenging about being Jewish is that, at the same time that anti-Semitism has gotten a new lease on life (this time from the Left rather than the Right), Jews are told to sit down, shut up, and stop seeing every critique, assault, or massacre on them, their culture, and their institutions as anti-Semitism.  One of my favorite news blogs had a heated comment thread in which Rabbi Meir Kahane’s name came up, was predictably slandered, and the blogger’s rationale for practically banning discussion of his words and deeds was that Kahane was crazy (evidence: his belief that there could one day be a second Holocaust on American soil).  A high school classmate living in the Bay Area has hopped on the anti-circumcision bandwagon, and when I explained that this measure is a gross distortion of the procedure and a direct assault on the identity and practice of Jews and Muslims, she insisted that the measure, and the accompanying comics which portray mohels as evil, sinister, and fanatical, are not anti-Semitic.  And today I read that Yale University is shutting down its Initiative for the Inter-disciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA).  Its reason?  The university claims that the initiative “has not borne the kind of academic fruit to justify its continuation,” according to Phyllis Chesler.  Chesler, who argues that the Initiative bore far more academic fruit than most academic departments and scholarly fora these days, sees a direct correlation between the shutting down of YIISA and the rise in financial contributions from Arab states and influence at the university of voices that promote Arab/Islamist/terrorist agendas.  She also perceives that the focus at YIISA on contemporary anti-Semitism’s warm home in the Arab Muslim world is unpopular in the current academic climate, which increasingly marginalizes voices which critique the messages of hate and blame that frequently come out of the Arab world’s despotic and/or Islamist regimes.

Even the Shoah, a watershed in the last century proving what inhumane depths Western civilization can sink to and the urgency of defending Jewish identity, culture, and mere existence, is under attack.  Holocaust denial by politicians and “academics” is given credence as “the other side of the story,” and infamous Holocaust deniers like Mahmoud Abbas, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and Westerners like David Irving, are given the podium at universities and the UN to spout their “revisionist” history.  Those who vow “never again” are cheered and patted on the back, but if they support Israel’s right to defend its citizens against terror and mayhem, they are silenced as aiding and abetting “the Occupation.”

Those who claim to revere international law show a very vague understanding of it as it relates to Israel.  (The video below breaks down beautifully who the West Bank and Jerusalem really belong to.)

Here, too, ignorance seems to reign supreme.  Those who claim that Israel’s possession and settlement of the West Bank and Jerusalem are violations of the Geneva Conventions have either never read the Geneva Conventions, or have no knowledge of the history of this region (or both).  They are ignorant of the fact that there is no precedent, historical, diplomatic, or otherwise, for earmarking these lands for Arabs to create another Arab state.  Quite the contrary, in fact; these lands belong to Israel diplomatically, historically, and in every other way.

One of the rabbis on my beit din made a little speech on the day they agreed to convert me.  He said, “The Jews are not a popular people.”  I’ve known that ever since I saw the mini-series “Holocaust” (1978, with a young Meryl Streep) on television when I was ten.  I knew it when I was told I was going to hell by a Christian classmate in Georgia when I was eleven.  And everything I’ve learned about Jewish history, from its earliest days to the present, has corroborated that statement.  That suits me fine.  I have never looked for popularity.  I’ve always been geeky, enjoyed having a small cadre of close friends and my solitude, and wouldn’t know what to do if I were suddenly sought-after.  Over the years, Jews have become more accepted in America, and this newfound measure of popularity has proved a double-edged sword: Jewish women pursued by non-Jewish men who find them “exotic,” non-Jewish women discovering that Jewish men make excellent husbands and fathers, and non-Jewish couples getting married under a chuppah because it’s a beautiful custom.  I don’t know if one sees that kind of attitude toward Jews in other parts of the world.  But if one isn’t popular, isn’t it possible at least to be accepted?  Or is the necessary opposite of popular, a pariah?  Must we be reviled, boycotted, sanctioned, and divested against?  Is it subversive for Jews to be in positions of responsibility and influence beyond their proportion in society?  Does it discomfit the world to see a Jewish state established in its homeland and able to defend itself, by itself?  Is it really so easy to believe that the Middle East’s only democracy, with freedom of press, religion, speech and all the rest, ranks with North Korea as the greatest threat to world peace?

I know that the Ahmedinejads, the Helen Thomases, and the Vanessa Redgraves don’t speak for all of humanity.  I know there are a good number of staunch supporters of Israel and Jewish life on the streets as well as in the corridors of power.  But it’s also hard to ignore the fact that Israeli Apartheid Week enjoys an increasing presence on university campuses every year (which makes me wonder whether the university community has abandoned holding students to any level of serious scholarship, or whether they stand aside and let these circuses set up every year to allow the students to blow off steam and exercise their rights to freedom of speech, even if it’s full of lies and hatred).  It’s hard to ignore the fact that the UN General Assembly invites Ahmedinejad to spew forth his wrath every year, and doesn’t rise and file out as a body while he’s speaking.  It’s hard to ignore the traction the idea of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state has gotten in the international community, when it is clear (at least to those of us living here) that such a state will not create peace in the Middle East or anywhere else, and will very likely create more war and bloodshed than ever.

So what’s a Jew to do?  Pandering is distasteful, and never garners popularity anyway.  Keep explaining ourselves?  While I may be overly pessimistic about this, I think those inclined to understand us do so already, and the rest can’t be bothered with the facts.  I remember a (Jewish) professor of mine in graduate school telling me to stick to my own path of scholarship on an assignment, saying “Don’t look left, don’t look right.”  Looking it up, I see it’s paraphrased from Isaiah 30:21.  “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk in it, when you turn to the right, and when you turn to the left.”

What matters is that we keep to the Torah, to our faith, and our ethical principles.  After that, as they say, יהיה מה שיהיה.

(Thanks to Ruti Mizrahi and Westbankmama for the video tip.)

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Months after the murder of the Fogel family by Arab teenage products of PA “education,” I have finally reached the point where I don’t think about the slain, or the remaining children, every day.  But sometimes, their name comes up in conversation, in a newspaper article (the most recent being that the vermin who committed the atrocity are proud of what they did “for Palestine”; this is news?), or my kids’ questions.  “Did they shoot the boys?  How did they kill the baby?  Did you see the pictures?”  None of us can begin to fathom the horror, but they’re still trying to get their heads around it.  They asked me about it again the other night, and it occurred to me again when I was shopping in Rami Levy this morning for Shabbat.

My local Rami Levi supermarket is located at Gush Junction.  It is staffed by Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and patronized by the same.  The butchers are all Arab, the loading dock workers are Arab, most of the stockers are Arab.  The two men we usually see behind the cheese counter are also Arab.  One is in his 40s with a round face that manages to be both pleasant and unsmiling.  He doesn’t appear to love his job, or the customer contact.  The second is in his 50s, graying, with eyes that wrinkle around the edges when he smiles, and he always gives whatever children I have tagging along with me a free slice of cheese, teaches my eldest a new Arabic word (she’s interested in learning the language), and clearly enjoys talking to the customers he interacts with.  Since the massacre in Itamar, I have sometimes looked at these two men (the closest thing I have to Arab acquaintances) and studied their faces to try to discern what they REALLY think about Jews and Israel.  I learn nothing from this.  It may be that the dourer of the two men has some secret sorrow in his life that keeps his mood low, but wouldn’t dream of committing or approving of violence to achieve any ends.  And it may be that the warm, smiling face of the older Arab disguises a compartmentalized view of his situation, where in day-to-day interactions he can exercise civility towards his Jewish “occupier” employer and customers, but given a choice, would prefer to have them gone from this land by any means necessary, including bloodshed.

The cheese man today was a new one.  In his late 30s or 40s, he was nice-looking, friendly, and very taken with Bill, who he said is the cutest kid in the world.  After packaging my cheese slices, he went back and sliced one more which he gave to Bill.  While he cut a hunk of parmesan for me, I asked if he has children.  He looked up and smiled.  “Ten,” he answered.  “And I want more.  I love kids.  Whenever I feel down, all I have to do is look at an adorable kid’s face,” he said, glancing over at Bill munching his slice of Emek, “and I feel better right away.”  I felt tears well up in my eyes for a moment, and was terribly tempted to ask him, “Then how can someone enter someone else’s house and stab their children, and slit their throats?”  But I didn’t.  Perhaps as a father, he can’t imagine either.  Perhaps he found the incident as revolting as I did.  Or perhaps not.

At the same time that I occasionally crave answers to these questions, part of the complication of living here is that I don’t dare make any assumptions about the Arabs I see, good or bad.  I don’t want to embarrass them when they’re at work and doing their jobs.  I don’t want them to say what they think I want to hear, that it was terrible, if in their hearts they secretly rejoiced at the horrific news.  I also don’t know if I really want to know the answer, on the off-chance that they would throw their employee’s caution to the wind and answer me straight, that they hate and resent the “occupation,” and that while for the moment, they and I can be face to face in a civil, vendor-customer situation, in the bigger picture, I am a foreign occupier of Arab lands, and whatever it takes to dislodge me and the rest of the Jews is fair.  There is a barrier of civility which prevents me from asking what I might want to ask, and from their answering as they might wish—or not wish.

Some might read this and think, “Who cares?  What’s done is done.  Their society is what it is, controlled by hate and oppression, brooking no opposition or dissent.  Yours is holding the wolf by the ears, and it doesn’t matter what they think or feel, only what they do.”  There might be truth to this, but it doesn’t stop me wondering.

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Jerusalem Day

Though officially, Jerusalem Day ended hours ago, I’ve been thinking of it all through the daylight hours today.

In Hebrew, it’s called Yom Shichrur Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Liberation Day (rather than Reunification Day, which many people use).  I like the word “liberation” and its meaning.  Yes, Jerusalem was reunified as a result of the Six-Day War, but Jerusalem (and the rest of Judea and Samaria) were actually liberated, meaning that free access to holy sites was restored (at least until the self-delusion of Oslo), free passage was made possible between Israel and these places and with it, increased opportunity for development and improvement of quality of life.

Of course, many of us believe that this liberation didn’t go far enough; these lands weren’t annexed, and in the corrupt, incompetent hands of what would one day style itself the Palestinian Authority, freedom has been severely limited.  (The Jewish areas, under the control of a politically liberal Defense Ministry, have also been choked off, especially of late, from realizing their potential due in part to a dogged insistence that these lands must remain in escrow for a twenty-third Arab state.)  The Arabs here are not much freer under their current government than they were under the neglectful thumb of Jordan.  Had Israel chosen to annex these lands and enfranchised part or all of their inhabitants, history might have been quite different, both for Jews and Arabs.

But even this partial liberation has made its indelible mark on the Jewish psyche.  We are no longer living in a Jerusalem that is not really Jerusalem.  Our Jerusalem, that we built and rebuilt and rebuilt again is in our hands.  We are free to live in any part of it, including those parts which were once Jewish, but over time were overrun by Arabs.  We are free to excavate and explore our history there, uncovering archeological evidence which confirms our presence and sovereignty there dating back 3000 years.  We are free to visit its historical and holy sites, to restore them and provide access to them for tourists, pilgrims of all faiths, and residents alike.

Madmen talk of redividing the city, of awarding half of it (including the Old City, which never saw an Arab before the seventh century) to terrorist organizations committed to Israel’s destruction, in which to build the capital of their new Islamist state.  Such madmen, though, underestimate the bond between the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem.  They haven’t prayed for 2000 years for a return to Jerusalem.  They haven’t asked God every day to bless this city, or prayed for its rebuilding.  They don’t see it mentioned over 600 times in their holy books.  In short, because it isn’t theirs, they can talk of dividing it, Solomon-style, between the two peoples who claim it.  The difference, of course, between the Solomon story and contemporary Jerusalem is that the baby was in Solomon’s hands when he suggested cutting it in half.  With Jerusalem, it’s in our hands.  We are the rightful heirs to it, and we’re not about to let it go.

As God’s hand was clearly behind our liberation of Jerusalem and the rest of Israel (as beautifully documented in Jameel’s post for today), so may it continue to be as others try to take it from us.

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Daniel Gordis, author of Saving Israel (which I reviewed last year) and able spokesman for Israel (even if you don’t agree with everything he says) spoke to a recent delegation of J Street’s Leadership Mission to Israel.  Although he was encouraged by other advocates for Israel not to address them, he took the opportunity to make good on his principle of talking to people he doesn’t necessarily agree with, and to say to their faces exactly why he disagrees with them.  It was a smack-down of the highest order, and entirely worthy of Gordis and Israel’s cause.  (My, my.  Bibi and Danny kicking tushie for Israel in less than a week.  Be still, my beating heart.)  Here are a couple of highlights:

You believe that people who are not willing to make major territorial concessions to the Palestinians right now are not serious about a two-state solution. You think that those of us who claim that we favor a two-state solution but who are not willing to give up the store at this moment are bluffing. Or we’re liars. Or, at best, we’re well-intentioned but misguided. But bottom line, if we’re not willing now to make the concessions that you think are called for, then we’re not really pursuing peace.

But that is arrogance of the worst sort. Does your distance from the conflict give you some moral clarity that we don’t have? Are you smarter than we are? Are you less racist? Why do you assume with such certainty that you have a monopoly on the wisdom needed to get to the goal we both seek?

. . . . .

I still remember the first time I was struck by this tendency of yours to assail Israel when you’d been silent about what Israel’s enemies were doing. It was the first day of the Gaza war at the end of 2008. Sderot had been shelled intermittently for eight years, and relentlessly in the days prior to the beginning of the war. It was obvious that this couldn’t go on, for the first obligation of states to their citizens is to protect them.

For years, Israel had been failing the citizens of Sderot. But when Israel finally decided to do what any legitimate state would do, J Street immediately called for a cessation of hostilities. The war was only hours old, nothing had been accomplished and the citizens of Sderot were still no safer than they had been. But J Street had had enough.

Why? Why had you said almost nothing for all the years that Sderot was being shelled, but within hours of the war’s beginning were calling for it to end? What matters more to you – the safety of Israel’s citizens, or advancing your own moral agenda in our region of the world?

. . . . .

If the way that you’re framing the issues is no longer the way that Israelis and Palestinians are discussing them, is it possible that you are not even addressing the core issues that matter to the people actually in the conflict? Perhaps the time has come to ask yourselves what matters to you more: actually moving the policy needle, or assuaging your own discomfort with the undeniably painful complexities of this conflict. If what you want to do is affect policy, how effective would you say you’ve been thus far?

Read the rest for yourself.  You won’t be sorry.

(hat tip: Jeff W.)

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So here’s the video of Bibi’s speech for those (like me) who missed it live.  For those who want to see how a speech is made, have a watch.  Poise, careful wording, balance between stressing the hopes and the perils ahead — it’s all there.  I don’t agree with everything Bibi believes (or says he believes), but this was one of those times when I’m glad he’s our prime minister.

(The video is in four parts; I found a one-link video uploaded to YouTube, but it had simultaneous Hebrew translation that was a bit annoying.  Daniel Sass of Efrat has uploaded the speech in four parts and, unlike many who do this sort of thing, didn’t miss a word.  Kudos, Daniel.)

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Today, Bibi addresses the Congress of the United States.  But last night, Bibi addressed AIPAC.  Without showing too many of his cards, he did what Bibi does best: break down the issues into clear, understandable pieces and address them, one by one.  You can read a transcript of his address to AIPAC here in its entirety, but the part I wanted to note here is what he said in response to President Obama’s persistent belief in linkage, i.e. the direct connection between Israel and Islamism, terror, and Middle Eastern unrest:

For many of the peoples of the region, the 20th century skipped them by.  And now 21st century technology is telling them what they missed out on.  You remember that desperate food vendor in Tunis?  Why did he set himself on fire?  Not because of Israel.  He set himself on fire because of decades of indignity, decades of intolerable corruption.

And the millions who poured into the streets of Tehran, Tunis, Cairo, Sanaa, Benghazi, Damascus, they’re not thinking about Israel.  They’re thinking of freedom.  They’re yearning for opportunity.  They’re yearning for hope for themselves and for their children.  So it’s time to stop blaming Israel for all the region’s problems.

Let me stress one thing.  Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a vital interest for us.  It would be the realization of a powerful and eternal dream.  But it is not a panacea for the endemic problems of the Middle East.  It will not give women in some Arab countries the right to drive a car.  It will not prevent churches from being bombed.  It will not keep journalists out of jail.

What will change this?  One word: Democracy – real, genuine democracy.  And by democracy, I don’t just mean elections.  I mean freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, the rights for women, for gays, for minorities, for everyone.  What the people of Israel want is for the people of the Middle East to have what you have in America, what we have in Israel — democracy.  So it’s time to recognize this basic truth.  Israel is not what’s wrong with the Middle East.  Israel is what’s right about the Middle East.

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There have been ample and immediate reactions to US President Barack Obama’s recent speech about the changes in the Middle East.  After surfacing from the festivities of Shabbat and Lag B’Omer, I’d like to share my own thoughts.

I appreciate that as the leader of the free world, Obama sees America’s fortunes intertwined with those of people elsewhere in the world.  America enjoys a comfortable distance from the countries in turmoil, but at least Obama has absorbed the lesson from 9/11 that even when you don’t got looking for trouble, sometimes trouble has a way of coming to find you.  His talk of looking for ways to shore up the economies of the Middle Eastern countries after their changes in government and encourage the expansion of individual liberties (without the delusion of establishing American-style democracies where that is neither conceivable nor the popular will) is appropriate.  Whether such investment of time and treasure will prove fruitful remains to be seen.

But Obama has certain blind spots that cannot be ignored.  He is very willing to see the evil in Al Qaeda terror, but less willing to recognize that same hate, bloodlust, and will to destroy in the Palestinian Authority.  When he said, “Bin Laden … was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate – an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change” and that Bin Laden “rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy – not what he could build,” he could easily have substituted Mahmoud Abbas’s name for Bin Laden’s.  Yes, Abbas makes a show of being a “peace partner,” but that has to be seen in context.  The PLO has been in the terror business longer than Al Qaeda, invented airline highjacking, and has traditionally responded to concrete offers of peace with refusal and more violence.  But since terrorism’s failure to make Israel go away, the PA has adopted new methods.  For Abbas, appealing to the international community and double-speak is the new terrorism, made easier by an eager willingness on the part of the West to sympathize with the Arabs based on racist double standards for behavior (dark-skinned people must follow their nature and commit violent acts to express their anger and frustration, while light-skinned people must observe every rule of restraint in handling theirs), belief in the Arabs’ false narrative of victimhood (which in fact is simply the Arabs’ failure to annihilate the Jews), and participation in a campaign intended to cripple Israel economically, politically, and intellectually.  And none of this rules out Abbas’s commitment to teaching hatred and inciting violence against Israel, or his willingness to allow terror attacks to resume at any time, claiming that he cannot control the rage of his people or curb their freedom to express themselves through bloodletting.  Obama adds that before Bin Laden’s assassination, “al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life.”  Why Obama believes that the PA is still relevant outside the territories inhabited by Palestinians, or that the PA answers the need of its constituents for a better life, is never explained.

Obama has also stubbornly refused to see the corruption and oppression in other Middle Eastern countries before the start of the “Arab Spring,” including that of Bashar Assad in Syria.  (Sidebar: See Barry Rubin’s discussion of the term “Arab Spring.”  It’s an eye-opener.)  After Assad quashed Lebanon’s government (only recently freed of the Syrian yoke after the Beirut Spring of 2005), installing Syrian-supported, Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah in the government and near the border with Israel and assassinating Lebanon’s own democratically elected prime minister, Obama recently reopened an American embassy in Damascus, normalizing relations between the two countries, and Hillary Clinton, just weeks before Assad’s forces opened fire on his own, unarmed civilians, called him “a reformer.”  This is not foreign policy, or Realpolitik.  It’s delusional.

Obama also stressed in his speech the importance of ensuring freedom of religion and of women to enjoy equal status with men in these turbulent Arab societies.  While churches have been burned and Coptic Christians slaughtered in Egypt, and Christians everywhere concerned about their future in these revolutionary Arab states, Bethlehem is no longer a Christian city.  Because of Muslim harassment, Christians who have the means have fled the country.  And has the PA honored its commitment as part of the Oslo “peace” agreement to allow Jews access to their holy sites?  Well, Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem is surrounded by a heavily secure bunker to protect worshipers and pilgrims from attack, there is a long list of Jewish worshipers denied access to Joseph’s Tomb in Ramallah, and just a couple of weeks ago a Palestinian policeman shot and murdered a Jewish worshiper at the tomb (yelling “Allahu akbar!” as he did so), so it’s apparent they haven’t.  As for equal rights for women – well, in Arab society, that’s as likely as a peaceful gay pride parade through the streets of Mecca.

And regarding Israel and the Arabs here, Obama repeats the same slogans he has always repeated: the need to cast off “the burdens of the past,” the unsustainability of the status quo, the need of Arabs to “recognize” Israel, and the need of Israel to take “bold” steps for peace.  These have been used in speeches so often, I’m not even sure what they mean anymore.  The “burdens of the past” seems to be a euphemism for history, and that cannot be changed or ignored by anyone, least of all Jews and Arabs with long memories.  (Americans, on the other hand, have a well-earned reputation for forgetting history.)  It is undesirable to continue things the way they are, but since they’ve been this way for 44 years (longer, if one’s memory or knowledge of history goes back before 1967), why is davka this year the year things much change, especially when none of the other factors have altered?  Arabs could save a huge amount of time by simply saying they recognize Israel, then reneging on that recognition and proceeding with their plans to destroy it.  (I’m surprised they haven’t thought of this, since reneging on promises is something they’ve elevated to a fine art.)  And Israel’s “bold steps” always involve more territorial concessions and lower security, which result in wars and increased terror attacks.

But when hope springs eternal, and the hopeful have been encouraged by what they believe will be positive changes across the Middle East, it’s hard to contain one’s enthusiasm.  When dictators are in peril, it can only mean one thing to hopeful people: the dawn of universal democracy and peace.  Simple regime change, from one corrupt, oppressive, power-hungry regime to another, is not part of Obama’s imagined outcome of the Arab Spring, but rather the belief that a “region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just a few leaders – must believe peace is possible.”  “Must” believe it possible – the language of hope, not certainty (or even likelihood).

Where I think Obama nails reality is in a comment he makes about how the “international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome.”  That’s really it, isn’t it?  I’ve suspected for years that the occasional frenzies of American presidents to solve the problems of the Middle East (using the same language, tactics, demands every time) are really an attempt to get the problem off everyone’s desk.  The fact that none of them seems to understand the problems here, and that no one can be bothered to adhere to prior agreements (the San Remo Conference, UNSC Resolution 242, Oslo) is a damper and a side issue which is more comfortable to overlook than to overcome.  When talks break down over real issues, the international community chooses to take it as a personal affront, as though Arab incitement and Jewish settlement building take place for no other reason than to undo the international community’s hard work.

In trying to be seen as an impartial broker, Obama may see it as his job to overlook these issues, but from Israel’s perspective, this is irresponsible and flies in the face of his professed friendship for Israel.  An effective foreign policy necessitates knowing one’s enemy.  I’m sure America turned a cold, analytical eye on Bin Laden, his activities and his movements, and this eventually reaped the reward of finding and killing him.  But Israel, too, knows its enemies.  It lives next door (and sometimes among) us.  We have had long experience with them, some peaceful and fruitful, but much deadly and dangerous.  We know what they teach their kids.  We know from polls how they feel about suicide bombings (68% support them), Palestinian suffering (71% blame the Jews for Arab suffering after 1948), and Israelis in general (over 62% “believe Jews are a foreign imprint on the Middle East and are destined to be replaced by Palestinians,” with a similar percentage believing that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state).  We know how they feel about terrorism (the PA recently named a square in Ramallah for Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist responsible for the deaths of 37 civilians inside the Green Line, and the PA has just passed a law granting convicted Palestinian and Israeli Arab terrorists in Israeli prisons monthly salaries, with those serving sentences of more than 20 years receiving higher salaries, to be paid from the day of arrest until release).  Obama’s call for Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders (including land swaps), which was already worked out in 2000 and again in 2008 and still rejected by the Arabs, is simply a return to the borders that led to the 1967 war.  With his own statement, that “technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself,” how many more of these wars does he think Israel can survive?  (See this video for a tutorial on why the 1949 Armistic lines, aka the June 4, 1967 borders are indefensible; hat tip: Westbankmama).  And how does Obama think a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be “contiguous” without some arrangement for travel between them through Israeli territory?

The real upshot of Obama’s talk of borders and security as preconditions to talks is more of what bothers me about the whole “peace process”: Arabs get land, and Jews get promises.  Land, once given, cannot be taken back.  Promises once made are easily broken and, like the San Remo Resolution, forgotten by the rest of the world.  Obama talks of “provisions … to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security,” and in the next sentence calls for the “full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces … with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility.”  More promises, and more farfetched assumptions.  For Israel to trust that the people sworn to its destruction are to be handed control of the borders with Arab states that have so far (at least in Egypt, and weak Jordan could just as easily join in) proved highly cooperative in importing weapons and materiel to Palestinian terrorists to be used against Israel is wildly optimistic at best, mad at worst.  And the final two gut-wrenching issues, i.e. the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees (using the current UN revised definition which includes all descendents of those displaced by the war), involve, again, the Jews giving the Arabs stuff in exchange for – what?  More promises?

There have been alternative peace plans suggested by right-wing Israelis (to annex the West Bank and either make the Arabs there citizens or not) and, of course, there is the Arab longterm strategy, which is to challenge Israel’s legitimacy in international fora with a view toward chipping away at Israel’s territory, rights of self defense, and perhaps very existence.  (A body which, they believe, voted a noxious country into existence can just as easily vote it out of existence.)

I don’t have a solution that will please everyone.  I don’t necessarily know what would end the conflict forever (short of a major change in the Palestinian Arab narrative, or universal Israeli withdrawal to the Mediterranean).  What I do know is that the current peace plans represent concession of too much land for Israelis, and too much peace for the Arabs.  Exchanging land for hopes, promises, and “assurances,” as that done with Egypt, Gaza, and southern Lebanon, and their accompanying failures, should be remembered before Israel is pressured to accept any more such arrangements.

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I received the following message about Lag B’Omer via email from my rav in the US, Rabbi Benjamin Samuels:

This Sunday marks the 33rd day of the Omer, Lag Ba’Omer, the day on which the plague that took the lives of Rabbi Akiva’s students subsided so many years ago.  Lag Ba’Omer is treated as a semi-holiday, and according to Ashkenzic practice, the mourning practices of the Omer are suspended, and according to Ramo, are fully ended.  Haircuts and marriages may take place from here on out. 

Since Lag Ba’omer fall on Sunday this year, many authorities permit haircuts on the preceding Friday, i.e. tomorrow, in honor of the Shabbat.

 This Lag Ba’Omer find a way to celebrate with family and friends.

Traditional practices include bonfires; singing and dancing; studying the Zohar, as it is its inspirational author, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s yahrzeit; pilgrimages to Rabbi Shimon’s burial place atop Mt. Meiron near Tsfat in Israel; first haircuts of three year old boys; roasting whole lambs; and my own childhood favorite, kickball at the park.

Most importantly, we celebrate Lag Ba’Omer as an affirmation that the health and healing of our people relies on our unity and shared destiny and that we can only approach and stand at Sinai to receive the Torah, כאיש אחד בלב אחד – as a single body with a common heart.

Wishing all a good Shabbos and a happy Lag Ba’Omer.

Since making aliyah, we’ve learned the ropes about Lag B’Omer in the Zionist Paradise.  Here are the rules:

1) Start collecting wood well in advance.  Don’t let your kids dismantle park benches (I’ve seen it done), but scrounge around the edge of town to get fallen branches, or save up prunings and yard waste from the year.  (And when foraging, watch out for snakes; they wake up in the spring.)

2) Close all windows prior to sundown.  And keep them closed.

3) Learn the safety rules of bonfires.  The week preceding Lag B’Omer is National Fire Safety Week in Israel, and fire stations all over the country host school groups (I accompanied Banana’s two-year-old gan to the one in Beit Shemesh) and teach the kids how a proper bonfire should be constructed, lit, and extinguished.

4) Find a good spot away from buildings with minimal vegetation near it.

5) Stock up on campfire foods (hot dogs, baked potatoes wrapped in foil, and marshmallows)

6) Bring instruments (guitar, accordion, your voice)

7) Nap the afternoon before.  Especially the kids.  (This should be easy, since this year Shabbat precedes Lag B’Omer.)  Teenagers often stay out all night, and when our kids were out shrieking at nine o’clock in the morning on Lag B’Omer, a neighbor gently informed us that the sanctity of a quiet morning is observed on Lag B’Omer just as it is on Shavuot (when many have the custom of staying up all night studying Torah).

We used to have a lovely (makeshift) bonfire pit near our shul which has since been paved over.  But sabra neighbors (who apparently have firm ideas about bonfires) have found a new spot a little farther away, and the mom and I have coordinated wood, a mangal (portable charcoal grill), and food to make this possibly our most festive Lag B’Omer ever.  Beans asked if we could take a table to eat our food on.  No, honey, with smoke in our hair and soot under our fingernails, this is a dirty-butt venture.

Have a happy, safe Lag B’Omer.

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A tale of aliyah

Westbankmama is celebrating her family’s 20th anniversary of aliyah this year.  (Chazak chazak!)  In honor of the occasion (and, I suppose, the Crunch family’s upcoming fifth aliyah anniversary), here is an account of our family’s aliyah.

The Cap’n and I met at a one-year program in Israel in our late 20s (what used to be WUJS-Arad).  He had come to continue his Jewish studies and involvement that had begun in graduate school a few years before.  I had come, after a lifetime in a mixed-married household with little or no Judaism, to begin mine.  It was my first visit to the country and his second.  Although neither of us had grown up in Zionist homes, we both found ourselves deeply affected by the country, and our time here solidified our Jewish identities and observance.

But it was not yet time to think about aliyah.  We were not ready to put that much physical distance between ourselves and our families, nor to contend with the realities of the language, culture shock, the rabbinate (both for my necessary halachic conversion and for our marriage), and finding a community into which to integrate.  We were still new to Orthodox Judaism and chose to marry and settle in the much more familiar U.S. for the foreseeable future.

And yet throughout the early years of our marriage, we found ourselves having The Conversation every six months to a year.  What about Israel?  Is it time yet?  Should we think about it?  In the first year of our marriage, we took a trip to Israel to visit friends and the country again.  The night we were due to leave, we were both in tears—I while packing, and he while prowling the aisles of the grocery store buying nosh for the plane trip back.  This visit, while a great delight to us, drove home the reality that once we began a family and were paying for day school and college tuition, it was unlikely that we would be able to visit Israel again until the children were out of the house and financially independent.

Finally, after the birth of our third child, we heard a bat kol (voice from heaven).  It wasn’t the supernatural kind one imagines from the Torah; it was disguised in a d’var Torah given by a friend at Kol Nidrei.  In his discussion of the expression timhon levav (confusion of the heart) our friend interpreted the phrase to mean “refraining from doing that which you know is right because it’s easier to stick with the status quo.”  On our walk home that night, we had The Conversation again, and this time decided that it was time to do a little research.  (To our relief, Nefesh B’Nefesh had been invented, which made the preliminary searches, quests for information, and paperwork much easier.)

Within a year, we were on a plane to Israel (plus three kids, three car seats, three carry-ons, and ten boxes of our stuff).  A year after that, the girls were speaking Hebrew, we’d sold our condo in Newton, bought a car here, and were looking for a place to buy.  Two years after aliyah, we moved into our own home in Efrat and a few months later, I gave birth to Bill (at home).

And here we are, five years later.  The Cap’n works for an Israeli company now, the girls can all read Hebrew and leyn (chant) Torah, and we feel with every passing year more and more like Israelis.  Our name is in the phone book, we have Israeli driver’s licenses, I’m a dab hand at head lice removal, our kids know more about Judaism before the age of 10 than we knew at 25, and while we are excited when we travel to America for a visit, we’re even more excited to come back to Israel and our lives here.

I guess we’re home.

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On Sunday evening, after most of the events of Nakba Day had occurred, the Cap’n and I drove to Beit Shemesh for a little R&R.  While prowling through old grocery store (stocking up on things we can’t find in Efrat or Jerusalem), we met up with an acquaintance from our old neighborhood.  After a brief discussion of the day’s news, she told us she’d once been to a talk given by someone who was an expert in positive thinking.  Among the things he said he did to pursue a glass-half-full attitude was the following: “I haven’t read a newspaper in 10 years.  You don’t have to go looking for the news; it will come find you.”

That’s certainly true enough.  And if it doesn’t come find you, maybe it wasn’t worth hearing about after all.  Reading Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz’s interview with President Shimon Peres in last Friday’s paper did little for me but confirm my astonishment at the willful self-delusion of the Israeli Left.  (Horovitz:  So you still see Abbas as a peace partner?  Peres:  Absolutely.)  I’d actually rather I hadn’t read that.

One of my favorite blogs is Jen Yates’s Cake Wrecks.  Jen shares photos of purportedly professionally baked and decorated cakes that shock, amuse, and appall the viewer, accompanied by Jen’s barbed, hilariously witty commentary.  But after a whole week of wrecks, Jen reserves Sunday for the really professional, eye-poppingly masterful cakes, called Sunday Sweets.  These are the weekly reminders that skill, creativity, and good taste still flourish (somewhere) in the professional cake-making world.

I’ve been wondering if it wouldn’t be a good idea to take a day each week and have some such thing on my blog to cleanse the psychological palate from some of the stuff that goes on in the world.  I’ll work out the details later, but to post something amusing, allow me to share the following video of one of Judaism’s premiere comedians (and fellow convert), Yisrael Campbell.  This is the second installment of a series called the Jews Report.  (You can check ’em all out on YouTube.)

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Nakba review

Well, another year, another Nakba Day celebrated, this one with a truck rampage in Tel Aviv (killing one and injuring tens), burning cars and dumpsters in Arab neighborhoods, clashes with IDF all over the country, and attempted border infiltrations from Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza.  One Arab teen reportedly died from his injuries in a riot (and, as frequently happens, no one has produced a stiff to prove it), and there are several dead from border infiltration attempts, though whether those were killed by IDF or Southern Lebanese Army is also uncertain.  (The Syrian army at the border did nothing to stop infiltrators into Israel.)  By all measures, this year’s Great Pity Party of Bogus Narrative and Self-Inflicted Misery was a rousing success.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas says it’s a turning point in the Israeli-Arab conflict and proves that Arabs are committed to ending the occupation, and let’s be clear what “occupation” means: When Israel offers to swap land for peace, that won’t end the occupation.  The occupation is not Israel’s control over lands won from Jordan, Syria and Egypt in 1967.  It’s the existence of Israel on the land from the Green Line to the Mediterranean since 1948.  It’s why there’s a Nakba Day every year, it’s why the Arabs have refused every offer of a state made to them, and it’s why Abbas has said that no Jew will ever be allowed to live in a Palestinian state.  (He doesn’t comment on Arabs living in a Jewish state because to him, no Jewish state has a right to exist, and the Palestinian state he aspires to found will comprise all the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, judenfrei.)  No, the occupation will end when Israel as a sovereign state comes to an end.  This is why pedestrians and motorists in Tel Aviv are targeted, Israel’s borders are disregarded by infiltrators from neighboring countries, and the dead dubbed “martyrs” instead of the rioters that they are.

Whether or not the day’s destruction actually reaps benefits for the Arabs long term, it has made their leadership happy to see their friends and constituents wreak havoc, make asses of themselves, and get killed, because no matter how they behave or how many laws they break, Israel will always get the blame.  (Remember when Israeli soldiers were fired upon from across the Lebanese border last August for simply pruning the bushes?  Israel is already accused of violating international law by firing at rioters trying to cross its borders.)

In the words of the inimitable 5-year-old Banana, “Ach!  When is the Moshiach going to come already?  The Arabs are so annoying!”  (She doesn’t know the half of it.)

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The other night, the Cap’n and I watched Timothy Spall in the 2005 film, “Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman.”  Besides being a die-hard Spall fan (I loved him in “Chicken Run,” “Topsy-Turvy,” “All Or Nothing,” and “Shooting the Past”), I had heard a friend praise the film itself.

Based somewhat loosely on the story of Albert Pierrepoint, at one time Great Britain’s premiere executioner in the final days of capital punishment, the action of the film spans Pierrepoint’s application to the Prison Commissioners, his training and longstanding employment with them, including his commission by Field Marshal Montgomery to fly to Germany to preside over the executions of Nazi war criminals.

One of the things the filmmakers sought to emphasize in the film was Pierrepoint’s ethos regarding the corpses of the hanged convicts.  He explains to his assistant that the reason he performs the task of preparing the corpses for burial himself, rather than letting the mortuary staff do it, is because he believes the mortuary staff would not treat the bodies with respect.  In a later scene, to his military assistant in Germany, he becomes indignant and irritable when they execute 13 Nazi war criminals in one day, but are only provided 12 coffins in which to bury the corpses.  (The thirteenth, he is told, is to be shrouded and dumped into a grave sans coffin.)  He vehemently asserts his belief that no matter who they were or what they did, they have paid the price and that once they are hanged, the body is innocent and should be treated with respect.  His insistence on this point convinces the assistant, who slinks off to find another coffin.

While the highly principled Pierrepoint (and I’m talking here about the film Pierrepoint, not the real one who appears to have been more self-serving and slippery) takes pride in his work, using planning and precision to effect the quickest, most instantaneous death, never concerning himself with the crimes his subjects had committed, and always showing compassion for his subjects’ fear of death (even in Germany), the job takes an increasing toll on him as time passes.  The stress he feels as a result of the unprecedented number of hangings he performs in Germany is further ramped up when he finds himself executing a man who maintains his innocence to the end (one of the historically accurate details in the film), and another, a longtime acquaintance of his, who murdered the woman who jilted him in a moment of passion.  When the film ends with a quotation from Pierrepoint’s 1974 autobiography, “I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people,” the filmmakers seek to show that Pierrepoint had become an opponent of the practice.

These two issues, respect for the corpse and capital punishment, make for an interesting paradox.  Is it possible to have both?  Are there some crimes (mass murder, for example) for which capital punishment is appropriate, and others (first degree murder) for which it is not?  Where does terrorism fall in this?  As premeditated murder, part of a genocidal movement, or something else?  Eichmann was exposed as a wholehearted supporter of the Final Solution and convicted on overwhelming evidence.  He was hanged and buried at sea.  Bin Laden was not tried, though his hand was clearly visible in the murders of 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, and after being killed in a raid in Pakistan, he too was buried at sea.  What if Khaled Mashaal or Hassan Nasrallah were to be apprehended alive?  What would they deserve?  Life imprisonment or swimming with the fishes?

And what about kavod hamet (respect for the corpse)?  Sea burial is respectable and prevents the grave site from becoming a shrine to the twisted faithful.  And publishing photographs of corpses?  The Fogel family chose to allow photographs of the bloodied family members (minus Ruth, the mother) to be posted on the Web.  The horror of reading what had happened to them was increased manifold by the photos of the corpses.  To anyone who questioned the humanity of settlers, or tried to explain away the murder of a family as “frustration” at the “occupation,” the photos bore witness to the naked savagery and boundless hatred of the murderers.  So what would publishing photos of a bullet-riddled bin Laden show?  Justice?  Closure?  Simple verification of the kill?  The comment section on a recent Westbankmama post debates the merits of this issue, and while I’m not impressed with the argument of it as a deterrent against crime or compromising the dignity of the corpse (that was buried at sea), I think perhaps its value in debunking conspiracy theories (before they fester into “facts”) is worth considering.

It’s highly unlikely that Israel will have the opportunity to repeat the capture and trial of a major actor like Eichmann again.  None of the high-profile, heavily-guarded figures who seek Israel’s destruction would have any interest in being captured alive, and while there are certainly opponents to targeted killings, I prefer them to drawn-out celebrity trials and orderly executions or imprisonment.  The German conviction of John Demjanjuk, a guard at Sobibor, the other day was suspended pending appeal, and the 91-year-old Nazi will now walk free, most likely for the rest of his days.  There’s also an honesty to simply killing one’s enemies when they’re self-professed combatants, use the language of war to describe their relationship to Israel (and everything else), and violate every law of war and humanity in working toward their ends.  The new face of war is no longer uniformed soldiers engaging a uniformed enemy and observing the Geneva Conventions.  As such, the targeting of masterminds and leaders seems appropriate, and the questions that arise in this context are no longer “whether” but “when” and “how.”

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With Naqba Day coming up (when Palestinian Arabs commemorate the catastrophe of the founding of Israel), Im Tirtzu has published a pamphlet exposing the lies and distortions which make up the Arab “Palestinian” narrative.  Westbankmama provides a brief summary in English of the 70-page Hebrew pamphlet, outlining the main ideas of the document.  In short, they are these:

1) The Arabs attacked the Jews.

2) The Arabs fled.

3) Who is really a refugee?

4) What about the Jewish refugees?

5) The Arabs sided with the Nazis.

Two points that might prove of greatest interest to those unfamiliar with the facts behind the rhetoric are #3 and #4.  In defining refugees, “for every other refugee the world over, the status is just for a person with a long past in a region, and the status is for the person actually displaced. But for the Arabs displaced by the War in 1948, the status has been extended to those residing in a place for just two years, and the status was granted to his children and grandchildren.”  And while the actual number of Arabs displaced (under the universal, and not the revised definition of “refugee”) in 1948 was 560,000, there were 900,000 Jews expelled or forced to flee Arab countries in the decade or so following the foundation of the State of Israel.  In other words, as Westbankmama writes, “for every Arab refugee there are 1.5 Jewish refugees. All of the Jewish refugees were absorbed, mostly by Israel.”

For those who read Hebrew, the pamphlet can be found here.  I also echo Westbankmama’s sentiments that this pamphlet should be translated into Arabic and Farsi and disseminated on the Web.

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For those struggling with the long history and intricacies of Middle Eastern politics, Michael Totten (an independent journalist who appears in my blogroll and about whom I once blogged) appears on the show “Uncommon Knowledge” to break it down for you (in the embedded video below).  He also recently authored a book entitled The Road To Fatima Gate, his exploration of the current political state of Lebanon with the information and analysis of a journalist but written, critics have said, like a novel.    (You can read excerpts from it, as well as several reviews, on Michael’s blog.)

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The Cap’n and I attended Peach’s second grade class’s ceremony marking Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror) and Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day) this morning.  To see the little girls reading Psalms, enacting a soldier’s leaving home and family and returning safe and sound (baruch Hashem), remembering each of the five members of the Fogel family who were murdered in Itamar, parading in costumes from dozens of countries from which Jews made aliyah in the last 63 years, and doing a dance with Israeli flags ending up in formation of the number “63” was a sight we did not even imagine when we made aliyah nearly five years ago.  Seeing Peach among other Israeli kids, seeing how Israel  is not an abstraction for her but her home, hearing her fluent Hebrew, seeing how she understands the Jewish people’s connection to this land, our history here, the Torah, and the injustice of those who would kill or expel us from here, is so much more than we ever bargained for.

I began to tell the kids at dinner last night, after we had stood for the 8:00 PM air raid siren ushering in Yom HaZikaron, the difference between the day here and Memorial Day in the US, but I just couldn’t.  When kids and their families here commemorate fallen soldiers and victims of terror, it’s Avraham David Moses, an Efrat teen who was murdered in the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva massacre a couple of years ago; Shmuel Gillis, the Efrat oncologist who was shot on the road (inside the Green Line) on his way to work at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital; Yosef Goodman, the son of the owners of our local pizza shop, whose parachute got tangled with his officer’s, and who cut the strings of his own chute to save his officer’s life, falling to his own death; and Daniel Mandel, whose mother works at the same company as the Cap’n, who was killed in the line of duty when searching for wanted terrorists in Nablus in 2003.  Soldiers are not boys from Kentucky and Nebraska who volunteer for an army career, but whom we’ll never see.  Soldiers are Tzvi, Honi, Natan and Doron, Re’ut and Miriam, the boys and girls who live on our street.  White sales, parades, and government commemorations on national television are far more removed (for better and for worse) than what our children experience now.

Living in Gush Etzion is an amazing experience.  We are near where King David was born, and possibly where he herded sheep in his boyhood.  We are near the path that Avraham likely followed when traveling to Jerusalem with his son Yitzhak in the akeida (binding) story.  We are across the road from one of the battlegrounds of the Chanukah story, where the Jews fought Assyrian Greeks riding war elephants, and where Elazar, brother of Yehudah Maccabbee, was killed.  And Gush Etzion was the scene of fighting in May 1948, when the Jordanians overran the land Jews had purchased and farmed for years, and massacred the remaining fighters.  Visitors to Kfar Etzion, a kibbutz which has a field school and a heritage center, can learn more about the foundation of the kibbutzim here and their destruction in the War of Independence in a video presentation which takes place right over the bunker which sheltered Gush Etzion’s last fighters.  The following video tells a similar story:

May the memories of the fallen be blessed, and may we live to see the end of the need for such sacrifice.

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