Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Upon sitting down to my computer this morning, I was besieged by news stories, Facebook entries, and blog posts reporting and commenting on the announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination by the United States Special Forces.  While I refrained from singing, dancing in the streets, and passing out candy (like some people I could name), I did permit myself a smile and a warm, fuzzy feeling all day thinking that the world had one less malignant fanatic in it.

While I concur with some people who have said that this will make no difference, that it will in no way stop the momentum of Islamic genocidal designs on the world, Michael Totten points out that it in no way hurts us, and in no way benefits Al Qaeda.  True enough.

But one of the more incisive comments I saw was put out by my rav in Newton, who wrote the following in a post to the shul’s list:

While I would not deny a victory song and dance to the families of the victims of 9/11 or to our armed forces and to our Commander-in-Chief, my own prayer of thanksgiving was not of celebration but of somber relief and satisfaction that no matter how dark the times, no matter how dastardly and destructive the crimes, in the end good will prevail and justice will be served.

It is this same sentiment that I gleaned from having read Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt’s extraordinary new book on The Eichmann Trial, whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year.  I had the great privilege of travelling to Poland and Budapest on a heritage tour with the ever amazing Prof. Lipstadt just a few years ago.  Adolf Eichmann was a transportation specialist who applied and honed his expertise in commercial shipping to the mass transportation of the human chattel of Jews to concentration camps during the Shoah.  I was not yet born in 1961 (I was born in 1968) and have no experience or memory of the trial.  Upon reading Lipstadt’s riveting account, I was, at first, but then not really, surprised to learn that Israel was attacked in the news media for its own strike against one of the masterminds of the Holocaust.   As opposed to a strategic assassination as in the case of Bin Laden, Israel apprehended Eichmann from his safe haven in Argentina and then brought him to justice through a comprehensive trial in Jerusalem.   While many celebrated Israel’s bold capture of one of the worst war criminals, Israel was also, at least at first, excoriated by significant media outlets in the US and world press, for example, the Washington Post and Time Magazine, for “animal vengeance” and the administration of “jungle law” (p. 24 ff).   Bin Laden and Eichmann alike were buried at sea to prevent their burial sites from becoming sites of pilgrimage and veneration (p. 147).  Lipstadt’s book is worth reading for her gripping narrative of Eichmann’s capture and trial, as well as her trenchant analysis and critique of Hannah Arendt’s legacy.  Lipstadt’s thesis and contribution to Holocaust studies, however, is that the Eichmann trial empowered, encouraged and validated survivor testimony ultimately enabling the survivors themselves to shape the ongoing memory and memorialization of the Shoah.

It is worth noting that while NATO in Libya and the US in Pakistan can get away with summary execution and collateral damage (i.e. the deaths of non-dangerous civilians), Israel gets broadsided at the UN for doing just that with Hamas terrorists.  Yom HaShoah v’HaGvurah is as good a time as any to renew our determination to defend ourselves, no matter what anyone else says.


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The moralist

David Horovitz, the editor of the Jerusalem Post, never fails to impress me.  His Friday columns, sometimes commentary and insight, sometimes incisive interviews, always inform, always lend perspective to the complexities of life in Israel.  But last Friday’s interview with Asa Kasher, a philosophy professor at Tel Aviv University who has advised the IDF and co-written its Code of Ethics, may well be the best thing he’s done yet.  (While I didn’t agree with everything Kasher says, JoeSettler on the Muqata blog has a more detailed critique of Kasher which is worth reading for an alternate perspective.)

One often hears supporters of Israel boast that the IDF is the most moral army in the world.  But what does it mean to be a “moral army”, and further still, the “most moral army in the world”?  Horovitz and Kasher’s conversation (which took up nearly three full pages—no advertising—of the paper; it’s good to be the editor) fleshes out that claim.  Here is the article link, but as it is very long, I’ll treat you to a few highlights.

A state is obligated to ensure effective protection of its citizens’ lives. In fact, it’s more than just life. It is an obligation to ensure the citizens’ well-being and their capacity to go about their lives. A citizen of a state must be able to live normally. To send the kids to school in the morning. To go shopping. To go to work. To go out in the evening. A routine way of life. Nothing extraordinary. The state is obliged to protect that.

At the same time, the moral foundation of a democratic state is respect for human dignity. Human dignity must be respected in all circumstances. And to respect human dignity in all circumstances means, among other things, to be sensitive to human life in all circumstances. Not just the lives of the citizens of your state. Everybody.

One important distinction Kasher makes is between “innocent” civilians and “non-dangerous” civilians.  In any Arab territory where Israel’s enemies dig in, there are likely to be Arab civilians who support the work of Israel’s enemies.  They may willingly give over their property to the terrorists, help and sustain them, or do nothing more than agree with their methods and their goals.  As long as they are not actively firing on Israel, they are considered “non-dangerous” and harming them must be avoided as much as possible.  This does not make these people innocent, but it does distinguish between their intentions and their actions.

In addition to being highly conscious of the necessity to maintain human dignity and disrupt the lives of civilians as little as possible while fighting combatants in their midst, Kasher and the IDF have reevaluated their attitude toward putting Israeli soldiers in harm’s way.  In the past, as in an action carried out in Jenin in 2002, where soldiers were sent into a highly dangerous situation to try to avoid civilian casualties.  As a result, 13 soldiers were killed in an ambush there.  Kasher looks back on that decision as a mistake, and has this to say about the new thinking regarding sending soldiers into potentially deadly situations:

But if a neighbor (a civilian living in a terrorist-infested area) doesn’t want to leave, he turns himself into the human shield of the terrorist. He has become part of the war. And I’m sorry, but I may have to harm him when I try to stop the terrorist. I’ll do my best not to. But it may be that in the absence of all other alternatives, I may hurt him. I certainly don’t see a good reason to endanger the lives of soldiers in a case like that.

Sometimes people don’t understand this. They think of soldiers as, well, instruments. They think that soldiers are there to be put into danger, that soldiers are there to take risks, that this is their world, this is their profession. But that is so far from the reality in Israel, where most of the soldiers are in the IDF because service is mandatory and reserve service is mandatory. Even with a standing army, you have to take moral considerations into account. But that is obviously the case when service is compulsory: I, the state, sent them into battle. I, the state, took them out of their homes. Instead of him going to university or going to work, I put a uniform on him, I trained him, and I dispatched him. If I am going to endanger him, I owe him a very, very good answer as to why. After all, as I said, this is a democratic state that is obligated to protect its citizens. How dare I endanger him?

. . .

And why did we send them to that particular theoretical house we’ve been discussing? Because there were armed terrorists in it who were attacking Israel. There was no choice. But now you want to send soldiers into that house just in case, by chance, there’s still someone inside, who doesn’t want to leave. You want me to send in soldiers to pull him out? Why? Why do I owe him that? I have issued so many warnings and this man has refused to come out. I haven’t got a strong enough reason to tell that soldier he has to go in. This man has been warned five times and decided not to leave. Therefore he took the danger upon himself. After all those warnings, one has to act against the terrorists and those of his neighbors who have decided not to leave, and not endanger the lives of the soldiers.

Kasher also adds that timing plays a large role in deciding when to act to combat terrorists:

I can always ask myself, in all kinds of circumstances, maybe there’s a different way to stop this terrorist or that attack. Maybe I have more time. If there’s time, if there’s an alternative means, then that’s fine. When he was IDF chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon once said that he prevented a targeted strike at [Hamas military commander Salah] Shehadeh when his daughter was right next to him. (Shehadeh was eventually killed in a targeted strike in 2002, in which 14 other people were killed, including his wife and nine children. Then prime minister Sharon later said he would have aborted the operation had it been realized that it would cause those other fatalities.) Ya’alon evidently knew there would be another opportunity and that he could take the risk of waiting longer to strike. It wasn’t now or never.

In response to the charge of “disproportionality,” particularly surrounding Israel’s prosecution of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009, he has this to say:

The world in general doesn’t have a clue what proportionality is. Proportionality, first of all, is not about numbers. The question of proportionality, according to international law, is whether the military benefit justifies the collateral damage. And secondly, also according to international law, it is a consideration for the commander in the field, because only the commander in the field can make the judgment: What does he gain from what he’s about to do and what is the collateral damage he is likely to cause? With Israel, we fire and two minutes later, the UN secretary-general is already accusing us of using disproportionate force. On what basis does he make that assumption? How can he possibly know?

With flotillas forming to bring “humanitarian aid” to Gaza, an Iranian arms shipment recently intercepted in the Mediterranean, and accusations that Gaza is an “open air prison,” Kasher points out the following:

Since they are arming themselves relentlessly, via weapons-laden ships, via the tunnels, my self-defense requires those controls. I don’t want to have to depend on Iron Dome to shoot down the missile. I want the missile not to reach Gaza from Iran in the first place. So I maintain the sea blockade, which is unquestionably legitimate according to all the laws of war at sea, to prevent them from bringing in the weaponry. And the same goes for the land crossings. We don’t allow free access, because it is likely to endanger us.

We have “effective control” at the borders – on what goes in and out. But we don’t have effective control inside. Hamas is the de facto government of Gaza; Hamas has effective control there. And therefore Hamas is responsible for the fact that there are terrorists mixed in with their non-dangerous neighbors. They carry the responsibility for that.

International law is constantly invoked against Israel, which is accused of violating it every time it takes measures to protect its citizens from the threats of terrorism (despite the fact that at security conferences on targeted killings and other military matters, no country’s representatives have disagreed with Kasher’s views, including the Red Cross).  Kasher explains how the current landscape of warfare diverges from the assumptions behind international law:

International law was created … amid assumptions that war was a case of army against army. Uniformed forces. Civilians at the side. In those circumstances, what’s accepted internationally is acceptable to us. By and large people respect this. These are laws that apply to classic war situations.

But now, when we are in a war with organizations, not states, all the assumptions collapse. Why are states signed up to international treaties? For reasons of political prudence, not high morality: If I don’t harm his civilians, he won’t harm my civilians, and we’ll both benefit. If I won’t kill his prisoners, he won’t kill my prisoners; I won’t fire chemical weapons at him, and he won’t fire chemical weapons at me. It’s all reciprocity.

But now, in our situations, there is no reciprocity. Israel is always trying to minimize the collateral damage it causes its enemies, and its enemies are always trying to maximize the damage – not collateral; they are really aiming for the citizens.

This takes us back to where this interview started: It doesn’t mean Israel will now act in the way its enemies do. But you see now that Israel has to act according to its interests and its standards, and not according to some kind of picture that is common to Israeli and its enemies. This whole notion of reciprocity has disappeared.

The powers that be outside Israel are always urging Israel to take “risks for peace,” to exchange land for a promise of a change in behavior (usually with a despotic, corrupt, non-representative government acting without a popular mandate which can easily be overthrown, as we saw recently with Egypt), and to trust Israel’s security to apathetic parties like UNIFIL in Lebanon, which has done nothing to protect Israel’s security as Hizbullah has carried out terror attacks and steadily rearmed itself in Southern Lebanon.  Kasher’s views on Israel’s need to defend itself, despite all this urging to risk our security is in the following statement:

I was born here and my parents came here long before World War II. I didn’t go through the Holocaust. My wife did. My wife is a survivor. What lesson do I learn from World War II? That we cannot rely on anybody else. That when it’s time to protect ourselves, there’s no one else we can rely on. And we have no exemption, ever, from thinking about how best to protect ourselves. And if the enemy puts children on all the roofs of the buildings from which it fires on us, we will not capitulate to them. It’s a tragic situation, but we won’t capitulate.

There is much more to this article than I’ve excerpted here, and for those wishing to educate themselves on the way war is being prosecuted against terrorist, non-national entities, on the IDF, its decision-making and  its operations, and on the ethics involved in current conflicts, this is the best thing I’ve come across ever.

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Baruch dayan haemet

Refael Daniel Aryeh ben Tamar, the 16 year old Beit Shemesh boy critically injured in the recent missile attack on a school bus by Gaza terrorists, succumbed to his injuries and passed away yesterday.

In slightly better news (but only slightly), the exhaustive joint Shin Bet, IDF, and police investigation into the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar last month at last turned up two teenage vermin from the Arab village of Awarta.  The unrepentant teens, spawn of families with terrorist histories and rap-sheets, said they hoped to die martyrs, but they have it backwards; the Fogels died martyrs, and they will simply enjoy the good life in Israeli prison with the rest of their ilk who have been caught.

However, I would like to make an offer to any other would-be martyr: Come to my house, and I’ll be glad to help you die.  For free.

I don’t like going into the seder thinking more about Amalek than Yitziat Mitzrayim, but one did eventually lead to the other, and as Rav Binny Freedman said in his parasha shiur last Shabbat, the Exodus is not the end; it’s only the beginning.

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The 16 year old boy critically injured in last week’s anti-tank missile attack on a school bus in Israel (the son of the lovely people who owned the Chinese restaurant in Beit Shemesh where we used to eat) is fighting for his life in Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva.  Please pray for Refael Daniel Aryeh ben Tamar.  (The Refael was added to his name as a result of this life-threatening injury.  May he be granted a refuah shleima.)

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The online New York Times of 3 April 2011 includes a “diplomatic memo” entitled “In Israel, Time For Peace Offer May Run Out,” by Ethan Bronner.

My father forwarded me the link, which had been forwarded to him by a cousin.  (This is what the virtual watercooler conversation has turned into, between St. Louis, Shaftsbury [Vt.], and Efrat.)  The substance of the article is what most of my readers are probably aware of, a bid by Palestinian Arabs to have a state declared and recognized unilaterally by the UN General Assembly in September.

I have a number of observations about this scenario, none of which constitute certain prognostications.  They’re just possible ways it could play out.

1) Israel rushes to cobble together a package of giveaways that are seductive enough to tempt the Arabs, including dividing Jerusalem (unthinkable for most Israelis, but play along with me here), freezing settlements (despite Bibi pledging 500 new housing units in the wake of the Fogel murders, but which I’m sure aren’t even on paper yet), and withdrawing to the 4 June 1967 lines (something which UNSC Resolution 242 doesn’t even require).  Arabs accept graciously, end incitement, and live in peace and harmony until the End of Days.  (Okay, that last sentence was my belated April Fool’s joke.)

2) Israel chooses to ignore the threat, finds the Automatic Majority in full swing in September, and loses de facto control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  (I don’t mention Gaza here, because most Palestinian Arabs don’t even seem to be in control there either, unless they’re card-carrying members of Hamas.)  The IDF is expected to withdraw immediately from its posts, roadblocks are dismantled, Arabs pass out candy, and call for open season on any settlers who haven’t packed their bags and decamped.  Arabs give thanks for decades of settlement construction, since there are thousands of homes now available (or will be, once the settlers have been forced out or slaughtered in cold blood).

3) Israel annexes the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making the Arabs there citizens of Israel.  Accepting the opinions of demographers who do not think this would be disastrous for Israel, and setting aside the outcry that might ensue from the rest of the world (though not, likely, from the Palis themselves, who would be guaranteed a higher standard of living in a few years, as well as better educational and job opportunities), this would end the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs (though not, likely, with the rest of the Arab world, who depend on this situation to divert anger and dissatisfaction from their own despotic regimes), make them subject to the same laws as Israelis, and end the legal limbo in which feuding Jews and Arabs find themselves out in Yehuda and Shomron.  (I.e., state land would be state land, not up for dispute by Arabs thinking they can earmark it for a state of their own.)

4) Israel lets the whole thing unfold at the UN, repeats the disaster of the Gaza expulsion, and recognizes a Palestinian entity on its borders on Palestinian terms.  This eliminates the hassle of governing hostile Arabs (or absorbing them into a single Israeli state) and holds the Palestinian entity responsible as any other state for acts of violence or aggression against another sovereign state, entitling Israel to go to war, if necessary, without the response of the rest of the world being, “Bullies!  Pick on someone your own size!”  (Okay, that last is a bit of a stretch, since generations of accepting Arab “victimization” won’t disappear overnight, even with statehood.)

None of these possibilities is particularly palatable, since none of them comes with anything like a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  Drastic, one-sided, uncomplicated, utilitarian, perhaps, but never peaceful.  But this, of course, is the whole point.  Even if Israel could come up with a set of further concessions, why should the Arabs negotiate for what they can get for free at the UN?  I can understand the appeal of a unilateral declaration at the UN: the ease of the Automatic Majority, the overall hostility to Israel which reigns there, the willingness by the major powers to recognize another terrorist state (since it’s not on any of THEIR borders), and a lack of concern that it still doesn’t solve the Palestinian problem, since Hamas has been abusing reporters who attempt to report on the demonstrations in Gaza calling for a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah.

I think the UN got out of the peace business a long time ago, and this talk of creating another terrorist state on Israel’s borders (sealing it in between Hamas, Fatah, and Hizbullah) only makes it official.  That is, unless peace is seen as coming at a very affordable price: the Jewish state.

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One of the highlights of having relations visiting us in Israel is having the excuse to go out and be tourists.  We live here, we know how blessed we are to live so close to so many amazing historical and archeological sites, yet as it does for most people, life usually gets in the way.

When my parents were here for a couple of weeks, I emailed work to say I was unavailable, and took my parents to the Sorek Caves, the Herodion, the Israel Museum, Mahanei Yehuda (the Jerusalem outdoor market) and the City of David.

The City of David had a particularly glaring moment in the sun a few months ago, when Lesley Stahl brought her  “60 Minutes” crew to do a spot on it for the show.  My blog post of that event highlights some of the more absurd things she said, being much more interested in the sensational political angle (real or imagined) of the site than what it had uncovered.  So after lots of hoopla, none of it substantial (except in the minds of those making it), I was glad at last to tour the site.

Back in 1997, when the Cap’n and I were in our salad days, we used to get shopped and cooked for Shabbat by Thursday night so we could go out Friday morning and see something new.  One Friday morning, we took a walking tour with Ziontours in the Old City of Mount Zion and Silwan, which took us as far as the stairs leading down to the gate which opens to Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a man-made tunnel dug to allow water to flow to the ancient, First Temple-era city of Jerusalem to enable it to hold out against siege.  Our guide at that time told us that it was believed that King David’s palace lay in ruins under the hill we passed on our right when descending to the gate, but that excavation had barely begun at the time.

Fast forward 14 years, and it’s a major archeological park with excavated ruins of what is believed to be either the Palace of Zion (the Jebusite palace where David probably initially took up residence while building his own palace farther up the hill) or David’s palace itself; a structurally intact private home located near the palace owned by one Achiel which represents the design of hillside homes of the day; seals which belonged to officials in the court of David who are mentioned in the Bible; excavated tunnels used first by Jebusites and later expanded by Israelites as part of their water collection and retrieval system; part of the Siloam Pool which was used as a communal mikvah; and part of an excavated road which is believed to lead from the Siloam Pool up to the Temple Mount.  The excavation site is across the Kidron Valley from an area that is currently crowded with Arab homes, but at one time was a Jewish burial ground (being part of the Mount of Olives, which is still the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world), and at one time housed Yemenite Jews who were driven out during the Arab riots of the 1930s.  (Check out the City of David’s website here.)  A 3-D film precedes the guided walking tour through the site, signage is fair (though one gets much more from the experience with a human tour guide), and on a sunny day, the lovely landscaping of the site is breathtaking.  Pottery shards date the site to well within David’s time, and among the odds and ends of implements uncovered in the dig was a lice comb.  (Some things never change.)

In other words, what Lesley Stahl and her crew missed by focusing on politics is the most intensively excavated archeological site in Israel (and perhaps the world), as well as the most important archeological find in Israeli history.  What has been uncovered there confirms that much of what is recorded in the Bible is based on historical fact (with new things being uncovered as the dig progresses), and that Jews have had a continuous presence in Jerusalem for over 3000 years, including sovereignty over it predating that of any other claimants.  These findings are accepted by all major, mainstream archeologists and undercut efforts by Arabs to dismiss claims of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem, so perhaps it’s no wonder that Lesley Stahl glossed over them in favor of listening to whinging Arabs instead.  (She also glossed over the fact that she and her camera crew were attacked by Arabs the minute they stepped out of their cars to film at the site and had to call City of David security to assist them.)  The fact that neighborhood leaders of both Jewish and Arab residents have complained in recent months about the rabble-rousers from outside the neighborhood entering it to cause problems and try to make it into a flashpoint is testament to the fact that the City of David is a barely-noticed example of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.  Had she wanted to, Stahl could have made her piece about the fact that Jews and Arabs live together in harmony near this remarkable archeological site.  She could even have focused on the site itself, and what it has uncovered.  Instead, she chose to air, alongside her interviews with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the site’s excavation head, and an angry Arab, the Pallywood video that hit YouTube a few months ago of a Jewish man and his son being stoned in their car in a meticulously choreographed and filmed incident which was intended to show how ruthless and evil Jews are when beset by innocent Arab children frustrated by the Occupation.  Her choice of angle, in other words, abandoned intellectual curiosity, science, history, human ingenuity, the thrill of discovery, and journalistic integrity, in favor of joining the ranks of the angry rabble.

But no amount of fact-fudging or petty politicking could change the fact that as I walked through both the wondrous ruins and the small, but stunningly beautiful street of Jewish homes and lovingly tended gardens, much of the sadness, anger, and angst I had been feeling for the previous few weeks melted away, and I was able for a morning to reconnect with our indisputably ancient Jewish roots in this land.  Regardless of what Lesley Stahl, the Western press, envious Arabs, or international “peace activists” may say, we have been here for countless generations, and will be here for countless more.

Ruins of private dwellings, City of David

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As a tireless advocate for Israel, I often get bewildered, enraged, and depressed at the insanity, hostility, and sheer stupidity of much of the human race.  A Facebook friend recently posted yet another in the series of pathetic man-on-the-street polls taken about Israel (this one in my former hometown of Portland, Oregon).

To think that these are registered voters in the most powerful country in the world is astonishing.  (That there were only 13 ignoramuses in this small sampling is cold comfort when you realize that they probably represent a good chunk of the American population overall.)

And then, to preserve my sanity, I look for a glimmer of humor (hope is too much to look for here) and remember this priceless scene from Mel Brooks’s “Blazing Saddles” (1974):

Proof of Hashem’s love for the Jews: He inspires Mel Brooks to come up with the antidote before the rest of the world comes up with the disease.

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It seems that history was made recently at the United Nations.  No, China was not kicked off the Human Rights Council (though, inexplicably, Libya was).  And no, Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has not been disinvited from his annual anti-Semitic tirade and raspberry-blowing fest.  And no new canapés have been introduced at UN receptions.

The history I refer to is the recent screening of the Julian Schnabel film “Miral” at the United Nations General Assembly.

The UN is not the usual venue for a feature film to debut.  That’s because it’s a policy-making body, and not Sundance, Cannes, or Toronto.  And while it seems that documentaries (i.e. based on fact) are occasionally screened, feature films (i.e. based on fiction, imagination, or anecdote) are not.

And as feature films go, this one would not seem the likeliest to be chosen.  It was panned by English and Italian critics who found it shallow, stilted, and just another hackneyed vehicle for demonizing of Israel.  Focusing as it does on a young Palestinian Arab girl who grows up in an orphanage, becomes a teacher in a refugee camp, and falls in love with a terrorist, it would not seem to be the most dispassionate tale one could imagine.

I’m not taking issue with a Jewish producer making a movie about a book he enjoyed by an Arab woman he’s romantically involved with.  I’m not even taking issue with the fact that it may or may not be bald-faced Palestinian propaganda.  Such a film, whether or not it has merit, should be allowed to be screened in appropriate venues and judged on its own merits.  I also support the rights of people who claim it is Palestinian propaganda to protest its screening, expose any lies in the film, and to call it a dog of a film if that’s what it is.

But what I do take issue with is the UN as an appropriate venue for this kind of film.  Films that are intended to educate, report facts, enlighten, and provide historical background, are all worthy of being screened to a body which should concern itself with reality rather than imagination.  On the other hand, films that are attempts to appeal to emotions, reinforce (dubious) conventional wisdom, or provide catharsis for the viewer, are inappropriate to be shown at the UN.

GA president Joseph Deiss was reported to like the film “and thought it could contribute to a useful and interesting discussion on a topic that has gone on for so long.”  This is revealing on a number of points.  First, the desire to spark discussion on a topic which has been discussed and discussed until the discussants are blue in the mouth seems to me more like beating a dead horse than contributing to any solutions.  And the fact that the issue “has gone on for so long” is also telling.  The UN itself, through the UNRWA, has administered the very refugee camps that are featured in the film, places where in reality, extremism, violence, and hatred of Jews fester and are indoctrinated into generations of young Arabs.  The UN itself has done more than any other body to prolong this conflict by perpetuating the refugee camps instead of doing what they were set up to do, which is to resettle the refugees and enable them to build whole lives for themselves.  Over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands descended on Israel in the 1940s and 1950s, and sixty years (and no UN aid) later, they are fully integrated in Israeli society.  The UN High Commissioner on Refugees has operated many large-scale refugee resettlement programs, enabling an estimated 50 million refugees to restart their lives.  Yet under the UNRWA (created specially to administer the Palestinian Arab refugees), between 520,000 and 800,000 Arab refugees from the Arab-Israeli conflict have not been resettled in over 60 years, even on an annual operating budget of well over $500 million (source).  If anything, showing a film like this should embarrass the UN, and the discussion it sparks should be one which questions the UN mandate itself.

If the UN wants to make peace in the Middle East, it needs to stop perpetuating the conflict through its own neglect and bloated, protectionist bureaucracy.  If it wants to make peace, it needs to stop fomenting the political divisions that are so entrenched in its own structure (the automatic majority comes to mind).  If it wants to fix this problem and get it off its desk (which seems to be a high priority throughout the West), it would do well to look at what really exists here, and not at the “art” of a scruffy Jewish American who shows up to premieres in his pajamas and hobnobs with celebrity “activists” and self-promoting Hollywood executives.

I read recently that Canadian journalist Robert Fulford is credited with saying that conspiracy theories are “history for stupid people.”  Looking at the behavior of the UN General Assembly these days, it seems that Hollywood feature films are history for international diplomats.

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My parents are visiting the Crunch family in Israel for a rare visit (their second in 4½ years).  Today, I took my dad to the new, improved Israel Museum, where we dodged the raindrops to see the Second Temple model, strolled through the Shrine of the Book, and visited the Jewish Life wing (especially to see the shul interiors brought from Italy, Germany, India, and Suriname) and the ancient artifacts in the Archeology wing.

As we looked at the small figurines, jewelry, and other objets d’art of ancient Egypt, I thought about how some of these precious, astonishingly beautiful things might have been made during the times when Bnei Yisrael were slaves in Egypt.  And that gets me thinking about Pesach.

Pesach is my favorite holiday.  It always gets me thinking about how we Jews came together again after years of slavery and became a nation.  Yes, most stayed behind in Egypt, and yes, life was difficult for decades after the Exodus.  And yes, today it’s a hassle, and yes, a lot of people go ballistic over it.  (I have heard of some who eat treif year round and then won’t eat in anyone else’s house during Pesach because they’re not kosher enough.  Weird.)  But I love cleaning and putting away the stuff I use all year and thinking of ways to simplify, simplify, simplify what I eat for a week.  I spend less time thinking about food in general, and more time sitting around the table talking to my kids who are on vacation.  We sleep a little later, go on family trips (including to the beach, where we can get kosher le’Pesach ice cream), slurp fruit juice pops, and enjoy the spring weather.  Some people think that for all the work that goes into preparing, Pesach should last a month.  (I’m still happy with a week.)  It’s not a celebration of freedom only in name; the Cap’n takes off from work for the week and we actually celebrate our freedom from the grind of the work week, the school week, my cooking/cleaning/child-herding week, and take each day as it comes.

After seeing the magnificent artistry, craftsmanship, and sophisticated technology that went into creating these cast bronze figures, jewelry and such, I look at what has become of the Egyptians and the Jews since they were created thousands of years ago.  The Egyptians and their great (though undoubtedly barbaric) society were eventually overrun by Arab colonizers.  (Egyptian Copts are descended from the pharaohs, but as you can see from this article, they are coming under vicious attack by Muslims and are little better off than the Jews were before they fled Egypt in the 1940s and 1950s.)  They lost their language, their culture, their religion, and their race itself was mostly subsumed by Arab settlers.  Their country went from being wealthy and bounteous to being just another two-bit oppressive Muslim state with some pretty fabulous (if frequently ransacked) ruins from earlier times.  The Jews who left Egypt wandered in the desert for years, eventually built their own society which suffered from internal strife and external conquest, but rebuilt itself twice now (after the return from Babylon and in the creation of the modern State) and has endured.  Our people are (more or less) the same people we were thousands of years ago, with the same language (updated, of course), the same texts, and the same mission.  As Egypt has groaned under the oppressive regimes of dictators, Israel has created a flourishing (if flawed) democracy.  As the Arab world (including Egypt) has contributed little to the betterment of civilization in hundreds of years (unless you count the assassin and the suicide bomber as contributions), Israel’s achievements in science, medicine, and communications technology are more than amply documented in email forwards which circulate the globe constantly.  Egypt gave us papyrus; Israel has published 6,866 books in a year (2006), while Egypt published 2,215 (1995) (source).

Israelis know what it is to be free: free to speak, to assemble, to practice your religion, to disagree with your government.  For Egyptians, as for most Middle Eastern Muslims, freedom is simply the opposite of slavery.

So have Israelis created the legacy of breathtaking art that the Egyptians did those thousands of years ago?  Generally not.  But we did give the world the Torah, the commandments (both the 613 and the Seven Noahide Commandments), the belief in one God, the definition of true justice, and a sense that all humans are created equal (i.e. in the image of God).  When all is said and done, our gift is much more beautiful, and more enduring.

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Dying to oneself

My mind has been on the murder of the Fogel family every day, for much of the day, since it happened.  This has not necessarily been a good thing, but it’s been something I cannot really prevent.  The images of the bloodied bodies in their beds (or on the floor next to their beds) remain burned on my memory, as do the words of the family at the funeral and since.

Eulogizing his younger brother Udi (the slain 36-year-old father), Motti Fogel said, “A man dies to himself, to his children. Udi, you are not a national event. Your horrible death mustn’t make your life into a tool.”

I can imagine that the extended family might have felt conflicting emotions at having 20,000 people (about the same number as attended Beethoven’s funeral) show up for the Fogel family’s funeral in Jerusalem.  On the one hand, they may have been comforted by the show of solidarity, support, and grief shared by so many fellow Israelis.  On the other hand, in their own shock and sadness, they might have preferred a much smaller, quieter funeral without so much press interest and speech-making by politicians.

The fact is that despite Motti Fogel’s statement that this was not a national or a political event, to everyone outside the family, that’s exactly what it was.  It was politics that led these subhuman creatures to commit this murder.  It was politics that created the climate of hatred that thrives throughout Palestinian Arab society.  It was politics that has led to decreased security for settlers and increased tolerance of attacks against Jews throughout Israel (not just against settlers, but against residents of any place targeted by Arab gunmen, terrorists in bulldozers, or Hamas missiles).  It was politics that led Ehud Barak to extend the housing freeze in capitulation to American pressure and naïve foreign policy, giving comfort and encouragement to the rest of the world’s Israel- and settler-bashing, including the Arab world’s.

The Fogels, Ben-Yishais, and the rest of their family have a job to do.  It is to comfort one another, pick up the pieces, and find a way to go on with their lives, adjusting to this painful new reality.  Ruthie’s father says this is a test of his faith; 12-year-old Tamar says she understands the challenge ahead of her, and that she will be strong and be a mother to her surviving younger brothers.  With Hashem’s help, they will find the strength they need to do what they must.

The rest of Israel has a different job to do.  It is to view the murders (with or without the photos) in the greater context of how Israel is conducting itself.  Spiritually, Rav Binny Friedman suggests a nationwide call for teshuva (examination of our lives and resolve to improve our own conduct).  Are we Israelis, as individuals and a society, conducting ourselves at the highest standards we possibly can?  Are we treating one another, in the public and private spheres, as we ought?  Are we making this Jewish State a state for all Jews?  Are we keeping the mitzvot, especially those that command us to care for one another?  Are we working to build a country that can function as a light unto the nations?

Politically, this incident is a wake-up call to the status quo, both in the smaller picture and the bigger picture.  Does Itamar (and the other settlements) have the security system it needs?  (The security guard was alerted that something had breached the perimeter fence, but wrote it off as animals, which frequently penetrate the fence.)  Perhaps it’s time the Israeli government put a little more effort into protecting its citizens (especially one of the current government’s chief voting blocks, the settlements) and a little less in jeopardizing those citizens with foolhardy “confidence-building gestures” like dismantling roadblocks.  And the Israeli government must find the perpetrators of this crime.  If traditional methods don’t work, perhaps Israel should consider less traditional methods.  (Here’s my favorite, courtesy of Treppenwitz.)  And in the larger picture, Israel must ask itself some tough questions.  Do we resume building in the settlements, or do we continue the farce of peace talks with a partner that educates its people to do exactly what was done to the Fogels?  Do we take some action to hold the PA responsible for its blanket policy of incitement throughout the society under its control?  Do we reevaluate the nature of our possession of the West Bank altogether, perhaps considering other alternatives than holding it in escrow for the creation of yet another hostile Arab state on our borders?  (Here’s an interesting take on that.)

There isn’t a soul in Israel who doesn’t wish that the Fogels had lived to a ripe old age, seen their children grow up (or grown up themselves), danced at their weddings, and cuddled their grandchildren.  The fact that they will not now is something which affects every Israeli, both spiritually and politically, in much the same way as the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in 2006.  The fact that the Shalits have chosen to be public figures and campaign worldwide for their son’s release is understandable (whether or not one agrees with their methods or demands).  But ultimately, Gilad’s capture and confinement (both in violation of international law, which Hamas sees as a joke) is something that greater Israeli society has to deal with in its own way, weighing the cost of having him in captivity, the possible cost of getting him released, and other alternatives to getting him home.  (Let’s watch the situation of the Gazan engineer kidnapped in the Ukraine and jailed in Israel to see if that develops into a hostage exchange situation.)  That is as excruciating, in its way, as the loss of the Fogels, and one of the many painful facts that Israelis, publicly and privately, have to live with.

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Several months ago, I read Raphael Patai’s book, The Arab Mind, in an attempt to understand better the historical, cultural and sociological underpinnings of Arab behavior, both here in Israel and elsewhere.  I found the book very instructive, if a bit dry and academic.  (My review in the following three posts: I, II, III.)

Then a month or two ago, my mother recommended reading Leon Uris’s The Haj.  I’d read Exodus and QBVII in the past, and found Uris to be a riveting storyteller, if a bad punctuator.  (I found the number of exclamation points in Exodus off-putting.)  Having always assumed The Haj to be about the traditional Muslim journey to Mecca, I was never intrigued enough to read it, but with a personal recommendation from my mother, I decided to give it a try.

To my intense interest, I discovered that the Haj of the title is actually an honorific applied to a Palestinian Arab muktar, or tribal chieftain, and head of a fictional hilltop village in the Ayalon region of Israel (near Latrun).  The story, narrated by the chieftain’s youngest son Ishmael, tells how Haj Ibrahim became muktar of his family, about his leadership of his village and family, his friendship with a Jewish Palestinian man from a nearby kibbutz (which shared its water and electricity with the village), and the chain of events during the course of the Israeli War of Independence that lead Haj Ibrahim’s family to end up in a refugee camp near Jericho.

Not only did I find the story compelling, I found the painstakingly researched novel to be a much richer, more colorful window on Arab life and culture than even The Arab Mind (which, judging from the first 25 pages or so, it was obvious to me that Uris had read).  The many plot lines touch a variety of issues in Arab life, from gender relations, shame culture, relations with non-Arabs, intra-Arab violence and manipulation, and the face the Arabs show one another versus the one they show the world.  Uris’s novel is refreshingly complex, and while it shows both the admirable and less admirable sides of the Arab psyche, it is overall a sympathetic portrait of the Palestinians.  This does not mean it condones the propaganda, violence, and frenzied hatred of the Arabs for Jews; in fact, it shows how these very things stand in the way of Arabs and Jews being able to reach a peaceful solution, and the betterment of Arab quality of life.

Here are some highlights of the novel on a variety of topics:

On choosing leadership

“We must meet.  We must agree to talk about things like fences and pestilence.  Things that concern us both,” Gideon [Haj Ibrahim’s Jewish kibbutznik friend] said.

“How can I meet when you select a woman as your muktar?”

“We choose our leaders.  Our leaders do not choose us,” Gideon said.

On the vacuum of decent Arab leadership

“If the Germans reach Palestine, at least you won’t have to worry about the Jews anymore,” Gideon said.

“I am not for the Germans just because of how they are treating the Jews,” Haj Ibrahim said, “but I am not for the Jews.  There are no Arab leaders left in Palestine and I don’t trust the ones over the border.”

“That covers just about everyone.”

“Why is it that the only men we follow are the ones who hold a knife to our throats?” Ibrahim cried suddenly.  “We learn we must submit.  That is what the Koran tells us.  Submit!  Submit!  But the men we submit to never carry out the Prophet’s will, only their own.”

On the Arab conception of biblical history

Jericho, I have learned, is as old as any city in the world—nearly ten thousand years.  The walled city itself dates back almost nine thousand years.  Jericho was almost always an Arab city.  In those ancient days, we were called Canaanites.  The entire land of Canaan was stolen from us for the first time when Joshua conquered it over three thousand years ago.

I am grateful that Mohammed and the Koran corrected all the early misinformation the Jews gave about Jericho when they wrote their so-called Bible, a proven forgery.  King David, whom the Jews turned on because they did not believe him, wrote his famous “Psalm 23” about the Wadi of Jericho, calling it “the valley of the shadow of death.”  David became a Moslem saint and prophet.  With the gift of prophecy, he must have had visions of Aqbat Jabar and the other camps around Jericho and that’s why he called it by such a name.

On conditions for peace between Jews and Arabs

“If it had been up to you and me, Gideon, we would have made peace, wouldn’t we?”

Gideon shook his head no.  “Only if you didn’t have your hands on our water valve.”

On the life of Arab girls

Nada [Ishmael’s sister] was extremely sure of herself.  “You who weep for yourself, now weep for me.  I have never been allowed to draw a free breath in my entire life.  My mind, my voice, my desires have always been locked inside a prison cell.  I cannot walk into the gathering room of our house and speak.  I can never, in my entire life, eat a meal there.  I cannot walk any farther than the water well alone.  I will never be able to read a real book.  I am not permitted to sing or laugh when a male is near, not even my own brothers.  I cannot touch a boy, even slightly.  I am not permitted to argue.  I cannot disobey, even when I am right.  I must not be allowed to learn.  I can only do and say what other people allow me.

“I remember once in Tabah I saw a little Jewish girl waiting for the bus on the highway with her parents.  She carried a doll and she showed it to me.  It was very pretty, but it could do nothing but open and shut its eyes and cry when it was hit on the back.  I am that doll.”

On Arab-Arab relations

[An Arab archeologist and friend of Haj Ibrahim’s:] “Islam is unable to live at peace with anyone.  We Arabs are the worst.  We can’t live with the world, and even more terrible, we can’t live with each other.  In the end it will not be Arab against Jew but Arab against Arab.  One day our oil will be gone, along with our ability to blackmail.  We have contributed nothing to human betterment in centuries, unless you consider the assassin and the terrorist as human gifts.  The world will tell us to go to hell.  We, who tried to humiliate the Jews, will find ourselves humiliated as the scum of the earth.”

“We do not have leave to love one another and we have long ago lost the ability.  It was so written twelve hundred years earlier.  Hate is our overpowering legacy and we have regenerated ourselves by hatred from decade to decade, generation to generation., century to century.  The return of the Jews had unleashed that hatred, exploding wildly, aimlessly, into a massive force of self-destruction.  In ten, twenty, thirty years the world of Islam will begin to consume itself in madness.  We cannot live with ourselves . . . we never have.  We cannot live with or accommodate the outside world . . . we never have.  We are incapable of change.  The devil who makes us crazy is now devouring us.  We cannot stop ourselves.  And if we are not stopped we will march, with the rest of the world, to the Day of the Burning.  What we are now witnessing, Ishmael, now, is the beginning of Armageddon.”

Uris’s novel was published in 1984, so he had the benefit of hindsight on many of the events that would come to pass years after the events in his story come to a close.  He saw Anwar Sadat cut down after making peace with Israel.  He saw the decades of neglect by the Arab nations of the refugees, and the perpetuation of the refugee camps by a bloated UNRWA.  He witnessed the mounting hostility toward Israel in the UN.  He saw Israel go to war time and time again to defend itself from its hostile Arab neighbors.

Some will no doubt see his examination of the Arab psyche as the work of a rabid, anti-Arab Zionist.  Uris was a Zionist, but the words he puts in the mouths of his Arab characters reflect real confusion, paradox, and occasional self-criticism which a handful of Arabs (much better educated than a muktar) have articulated in writing.  The ability of tribal culture to overpower reason and necessity and keep the Arab down both in the Arab world and in the world at large is something that has been examined by much greater minds than Uris’s.  The envy Arabs have for Israeli society, with its freedom of speech, its rule of law, and the ability of the citizenry to see corrupt leaders subjected to investigation, trial, punishment, and public shame is very real.  The story, a portrait of Arabs who chose to trust their Arab brethren and were betrayed, used as a political stick to beat the Jews with, and whose children and grandchildren have grown up in a society which indoctrinates them in obsessive hatred and vengeance, is the story of the Palestinians.  It’s the portrait anyone who truly cares about them should see, and recognize that their plight is the work of their own leaders, their culture, their religion, and their ignorance.

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Part of getting used to living in Israel is getting used to the feelings of shock, horror, sadness, rage, and helplessness that follow the all-too-frequent terror attacks that happen here.  Since making aliyah, we have met families whose sons were killed in the IDF while fighting terrorists, families who have lost members in terror attacks, as well as families who were saved when terror attacks failed.  How the families of the murdered bury their loved ones and carry on eludes me, and I stand amazed at their strength.  As I watch helplessly, knowing there is nothing I can do to heal their wounds, the stories that comfort me most are those of love, support, and generosity from unlikely quarters.

As I saw on the Efrat chat list, and JoeSettler on the Muqata blog confirms, Israeli supermarket chain mogul Rami Levy (who recently opened a store in Gush Etzion to mixed reviews) has been delivering food to the Fogel shiva, and has promised to continue to provision the family with weekly food and supplies until the youngest orphan (now two) turns 18.

There are more than enough evil people in the world to commit the kinds of atrocities that were visited upon the Fogels, and even more people who are eager to explain them away, make excuses for the killers, blame the victims, and stomp on the memories of the fallen.  It only makes those whose acts of chesed help to wash away a little of the stain of human iniquity all the more blessed.

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Clockwise from upper left: Ruth, Udi, Hadas, Yoav, and Elad Fogel

The massacre of the Fogel family (parents, 11-year-old son, four-year-old son, and four-month-old daughter) in Itamar has utterly preoccupied my thoughts in the last few days.  I have had so many thoughts churning in my head about what happened, how it came about, and where it’s taking us next, that I’ve had difficulty functioning normally.  I suppose that in itself is normal.  Here are some of the things that have been brewing in my mind.

Thought No. 1: Photos of the massacre

The extended family opted to release photos (faces blurred; stab wounds, blood, disarray of bodies visible) of the carnage.  Normally, I can’t bear to look at such things; I usually feel as though the knowledge of the atrocity is enough.  But because the Internet is covered with pictures of dead Arabs (some real, others undoubtedly fake or misrepresented), I believed it was my duty to honor the family’s decision by viewing them myself.  If you are prepared to be hit by an anvil of emotion, I advise you to view them.  This is not voyeurism; it’s what the Fogels’ own surviving children saw, and it acknowledges the reality of what we face as Jews in the form of ecstatic hatred by our Arab neighbors.  No doubt some Arabs are equally horrified by what happened, but they will remain silent and do nothing to hold their own society accountable for it.  The rest of us must witness this crime and call it what it is: a manifestation of the most barbaric form of war.  A Mother in Israel has links to the photos from her post here, and Jameel at the Muqata uploaded a video about the massacre on his blog, which includes the chain of events, family photos, the names and ages of the victims,  and photos of the crime scene.  (These links will take you to the blogs, not directly to the photos; proceed to the links and video at your own discretion, but please do NOT view them with children in the room.)

Thought No. 2: The Israeli government’s response to the massacre

In response to the massacre of the Fogel family, the Israeli government has decided to approve building plans for hundreds of new apartments in major settlement blocs.

Forgive me if I don’t fall all over myself in gratitude.

Why the bilious response to this show of generosity on the part of Netanyahu’s government?  Because building should have been resumed throughout Yehuda and Shomron months ago, as soon as the one-time, 10-month building freeze expired.  Instead, Ehud Barak has refused to issue new building tenders to the main settlement blocs (although Westbankmama informs me that building in the smaller settlements resumed normally), effectively extending the freeze in the stupidest possible way, i.e. so that housing and rental prices in the settlements were driven sky-high artificially, but on the Q.T. so Israel wasn’t getting credit for any “confidence-building” gestures towards the PA.

So now the government shows that only the spilling of Jewish blood can override Barak’s personal Leftie politics in the government.  Why?  Has Netanyahu suddenly lost respect for his former IDF commander?  Is it in response to a new stain on Barak’s character, with the opening of an investigation of Mrs. Ehud Barak for hiring an illegal worker as a housekeeper?  Or is it because the scales suddenly fell from Netanyahu’s eyes and he realized that Israel has no peace partner, and it’s absurd to pretend that he does?

I hope it’s the last of these.  While the press and the Left (Jewish and non-) lie in wait to decry any form of incitement on the part of Israelis, and pounces if a group of rabbis announces

Arabs pass out candy to celebrate the massacre of the Fogel family

that Jews shouldn’t rent or sell homes to Arabs, it has said nothing about the decades-long incitement to murder (not just refusal to rent; murder) spewed forth from mosques and drilled into children’s heads in Arab schools.  Even when it bears its bitter fruit, as it did in Itamar (and has in a past slaughter of an Itamar family; their edginess doesn’t come from nowhere), no one on the Left seems interested in where it came from.  When Palestinians kill (which is frequently), it’s from frustration.  When Jews kill (which is almost never), it’s extremism.  (Just read the comments following online articles about the massacre: when it’s about the family, people are sympathetic; when it’s about the IDF being called out to prevent revenge attacks, the “illegal” settlers are thugs, extremists, animals, and deserve everything they get, including the murders.)

The world’s collective moral compass needs recalibrating.  Settlement in Yehuda and Shomron has been declared legal by many international law experts, and those who repeat ad nauseum that they are illegal (or illegitimate; what IS the difference, Hillary?) stand on shaky, highly selective legal ground, at best.  Because what this delusion leads to is a double-standard which says that Arabs killing Jews is understandable, but Jews killing Arabs is criminal; that Jewish families who are murdered in their beds only got what was coming to them (just as women who are raped while jogging at night only get what’s coming to them); and that Arabs need not obey the law, but Jews always must.

Thought No. 3: Condemnation

I have one further thought on this for today, and that is the condemnations that have been issued from various quarters.  Condemnations are meaningless words, not actions.  Carefully worded condemnations have been issued from PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas.  Those are hollow words, considering everything those two have done to nurture bloodlust and Jew-hatred among the people they pretend to represent.  Here is an article that examines just a few of the activities under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority in recent days that encourage and glorify the slaughter of Israelis.  Some highlights:

  • Two months ago, Abbas awarded $2000 to the family of an Arab who attacked and tried to kill Israeli soldiers.
  • The day before the Fogel massacre, an adviser to Abbas delivered a speech saying that weapons must be turned toward the main enemy and that internal differences must be set aside.  He criticized the paltry allowances awarded to families of terrorist “martyrs” and praised the PA’s honoring of female terrorist Dalal Mughrabi by naming a square after her in the town of El-Bireh.
  • A PA newspaper recently announced the creation of a football tournament in Ramallah named in honor of another female terrorist, Wafa Idris, who used her position as a Palestinian Red Crescent volunteer to bypass Israeli security, enter Jerusalem, and blow herself up, killing one and injuring over 150 on January 27, 2002.
  • The PA recently commemorated some of the terrorists who came from the Dahaishe refugee camp (located right next to Efrat) and murdered Israelis in March of 2002 with a march through the camp, ending at the family home of a suicide bomber who killed nine Israelis.
  • At a recent gathering to celebrate 46 years since the founding of Fatah, the group restated its aim to achieve the goals for which it was established, read aloud its call for “self-sacrifice” (i.e. terror attacks against Israel), watched some military and scout demonstrations, and blew up a model of Israeli settlements.

If good people really want to condemn this kind of violence and celebration of murder of innocents, the way to do it is to investigate where your country’s, your church’s, and your own money is going.  Does your country support the Palestinian Authority?  Chances are, it does.  Perhaps you and other concerned citizens should call on your governments to reevaluate whether the PA shares your country’s values in areas such as human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, rule of law, a real justice system, and hate-free education.  Are they funding NGOs that seek to delegitimize the state of Israel, providing fodder for Arab attacks (with words, bombs, and sometimes, knives) against innocent civilians?  Does your church give to organizations that fund youth centers which indoctrinate Arab children in violence, like this one funded by an Australian church?  Are they, directly or indirectly, funding terror and jihad on your own country’s soil?  If you find your money is being funneled into activities (and crimes) you don’t approve of, stop giving, and tell others.

Terror costs money; is it being paid for with yours?

Funeral for Fogel family in Jerusalem

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On Friday night, as Israelis enjoyed a restful Sabbath, Arab terrorists entered a Jewish home and murdered five family members (parents and three children, including a four-month-old baby) in their beds.  (Two other young children sleeping in another part of the house survived, and a 12-year-old daughter came home late from Bnei Akiva and found her family slaughtered.)  As I scanned through a few of the hundreds of thousands of comments following the online articles, I repeatedly came across good people who questioned what kind of person does such a thing.

Sometimes, especially in the cases of lone killers, these questions are nearly impossible to answer.  But not this time.  There is an answer, and it’s been staring everyone in the face for decades, if only people had had their eyes open.

The Arabs have never accepted the legitimacy of Jews in this part of the world.  Since its imperial conquest by Arabs in the years following the invention of Islam, Arabs have considered Palestine (not called that at the time, mind) Arab land, disregarding any prior Jewish claim to the land, or indeed any other power’s control (Ottoman, British) over it.  Jewish immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,  adding to the small but very established Jewish population that was here and had never left, was considered illegal, although by purchasing the land they planned to live and farm on, these Jews were its legal owners.   Arabs alternately courted and threatened British diplomats and military attaches during the Mandatory Period into supporting them and reneging on their promises to support the creation of a Jewish State.  When the British finally retreated with their tails between their legs in 1948, the Arabs combined forces in an attempt to uproot the fledgling Jewish State and (in their own words) complete the Holocaust that Hitler failed to carry out to its genocidal end.  While the Jews remained standing at the end of the war, Egypt and Jordan annexed newly-conquered territory (Gaza and the West Bank), creating the refugee problem that extends into every surrounding Arab country and to this day has not been solved, either by the UN or the Arabs themselves.

Fast forward to 1967.  Arabs tried on several subsequent occasions (cross-border raids and terror attacks, Egypt’s attempt at invasion through the Sinai in 1956) to destroy Israel.  Their joint venture again failed, but this time, they were the territorial losers.  Israel was left at the end of the war with Gaza, Yehuda and Shomron, and the Golan Heights, and all of the refugee camps contained therein.

At this point, Israel had two options, and this is where the recent murder becomes relevant.

1)  Israel could have annexed the new territories.  (It did the Golan, but that’s not relevant to this discussion.)  If it had, it would have had to incorporate hundreds of thousands of new hostile Arab voters into its midst, and courted eventual and highly likely demographic suicide.  The upside would have been that the territories and Israel proper, being all Israel proper, would have lived under one law: Israel’s.  The government’s tolerance for Arab harassment and attacks on Jews would have been dramatically less than it is now.  The struggle for ownership of territory that we witness in Gush Etzion and throughout the West Bank would have been at an end.  Instead of being left to antiquated Jordanian textbooks (which show one Arab state in place of all the land Israel now controls) and clerics and teachers whose job is to incite hatred and violence against Jews, education of Arab children would have been upgraded to include math, science, languages, history—in other words, a real education.  There would have been one generation having grown up in exile instead of three or four, and every refugee camp would have been dismantled and the refugees resettled.  Quality of life for Arabs (many of whom rued the day they left their villages in 1948 with the empty Arab promise of a glorious return) would undoubtedly have improved after such a decision on Israel’s part.  (It should be noted here that deportation of the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza was discussed, but given the Jews’ own experience of deportations in Europe 25 years prior, no one had the stomach to carry out such an operation.)

2)  Israel could do what it did, which is to hold on to the territories in the hope of exchanging them for peace.  Despite the fact that the first land for peace attempt in 1948 had failed miserably, the Jews hoped that this time, the Arabs would come around to accepting them, take back the Arab-filled territory, and let bygones be bygones.  That’s not what happened.  The Arabs refused to come out of their refugee camps to live in apartments built for them by Israel.  They refused to end their decades-long program of incitement against the Jewish State.  They refused to create their own economy by means of joint ventures with Israeli industry.  They refused to accept the existence of an Israel in the Middle East or any of Israel’s concrete offers of peace and land for a state of their own.  They have clung to their dreams, illusions, and revenge fantasies rather than move on, find solutions to their problems, and make a new life for themselves.

And the continued feeding of those obsessive delusions leads to the current plight of the Arabs, who keep themselves ignorant and poor, alternately envy and loathe the opportunity and prosperity of the West, blame others for their problems rather than take responsibility and solve them, view terrorism as an honorable way to kill and die, and see every Jewish man, woman, and child as an enemy combatant to be fought and killed.

This is how we got to yet another family of Jewish orphans, and yet more Arabs with blood on their hands.

And the world blames the Jews for the failure of the peace process.


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So a Pali engineer has been kidnapped from the Ukraine, and Hamas is hyperventilating.  Just think—a man, minding his own business, is snatched unawares and whisked off to a hostile country.  His family, concerned about his whereabouts, decries the blatant disregard for a person’s rights on sovereign territory, blames a hostile force for the kidnapping, and demands his immediate release.

Kinda makes you think of Gilad Shalit, doesn’t it?

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The Jerusalem Post gets a lot of flak from readers.  It has more typographical errors than any other periodical of its stature, that’s for sure.  It employs Faye Levy, their main food writer, who lives in California and sometimes concocts recipes that require combinations of fruits where one is in season and the other is out (something she can do in the US where out-of-season fruits are imported, but which is impossible in Israel).  Those leaning left politically complain that it’s too right-wing, and those on the right are sometimes appalled at the stuff its left-wing writers churn out.  The fact that it has the ability to offend people on both ends of the spectrum (while trying to provide a home for both) probably means it’s doing something right.

I often strongly disagree with Jonathan Rosenblum, its haredi apologist, who attempts to justify many of the positions taken by haredim in Israeli society, including their view that IDF-sponsored conversions are invalid, and who adopts across-the-board right-wing views on American politics.  I’ve been disappointed with some of the stuff Daniel Gordis has written, which seems either to echo the contents of his 2009 book Saving Israel, or suggest overall writer’s doldrums.  I was delighted when they got rid of Daoud Kuttab as a regular writer, and don’t miss his whining about the discrimination and deprivation suffered by Arabs at Israel’s hands one bit.  And while I don’t rejoice in the death of Reform Rabbi David Forman, I don’t miss his columns, nor Naomi Chazan’s either.

But lately I’ve been finding myself marveling at how out of touch some of the Post’s regular contributors are, particularly in the February 25 Magazine.  Larry Derfner, who often writes the feature articles for the Magazine, is usually more interested in generating heat than shedding light on a topic.  His cover article for February 25, “Shadow over utopia,” about a Tel Aviv school whose students hail from 48 different countries and is the subject of a recent short documentary film, “Strangers No More,” seemed designed to tug at the heartstrings of people who are alarmed at the possibility that 120 of the children, who are in the country illegally, may be sent back with their parents to their countries of origin.  In reading it, I learned that Derfner thinks these kids are too cute, their families too nice, and the school too much of a triumph of multiculturalism for the children to be sent back with their parents.  I learned much less about the country’s concerns about illegal workers, about the impact on the economy of making them legal versus sending them back, or on the differences between those seeking asylum here versus those hoping to earn money to send home to their families in poorer countries.  It’s an issue that requires some study and thorough investigation to understand, but this was not an article that was going to provide the reader with much of that.

David Breakstone is one of the new crop of Lefties taken on in recent months, and another regular contributor who has me shaking my head most of the time.  In his February 25 column, entitled “Jewish Identity 101,” he sings the praises of the Limmud NY conference in which he recently participated, which brought together Jews across the spectrum of movements, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, secular, and unaffiliated.  His criticisms of the rabbinical establishment in Israel, its power-hungriness, its narrow definition of Judaism, its woefully poor leadership, and its corruption and illegal shenanigans are well taken.  But the opening to his article where he decries the Knesset’s recent Jewish Identity Day, which included a session on “the need to combat the phenomenon of Jewish women marrying Muslim men,” came close to losing me.  His protest was registered by borrowing the words of Arab MK Taleb a-Sanaa, who said, “I’d like to see what would happen if in France they held a hearing about what happens when Christians marry Jews.”  Now, on the surface, that might seem like real equivalence.  Everyone (including Arabs) knows how sensitive Jews are to discrimination, and particularly the Jews’ experience of it in European countries like France.  (Actually, these days, France is more likely to have hearings about what happens when Christian women marry Muslims, but we’ll leave that for another time.)  But scratch the surface and you can see that there is no equivalence.  The Jews in France were a small minority, lived quietly, contributed to society, and were patriotic French citizens.  The Arabs in Israel are, to some extent, contributors to Israeli society.  They usually live quietly, but not always.  Some are patriotic, but some choose instead to sympathize, in thought, word, and deed, with their more terrorist-inclined brethren across the Green Line.  And when Jewish women marry Muslim men, they marry into a society in which they no longer have a voice, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, rights over their property, their children, or their own bodies.  Some try to flee, and many find it difficult or impossible to escape the life they didn’t necessarily expect or that was promised to them.  Arab men are free to beat their wives as much as they wish; that is not so in Israel.  While Judaism would dictate that the woman’s children are halachically Jewish, Muslim law says that they are Muslim, and since possession is nine-tenths of the law, they will grow up Muslim.  Those who advocate that Jews—particularly women—avoid working in places where they will naturally encounter Arab men are simply recognizing that it is impossible to prevent friendships from forming and romance from blossoming between people who work in close proximity day after day.  It’s not racism; it’s reality.

But the columnist whose relatively recent employment by the Post most baffles me is Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU who teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.  Like Faye Levy, he doesn’t live here, which is often a telling fact in understanding some of the things he writes.  He consistently tries to plug the Arab Peace Initiative as the solution to Israel’s problems with the Palestinian Arabs.  He seems to have internalized Time Magazine’s absurd claims made last year that Israelis don’t care about peace, and chides Israel for not rushing to make more concessions and give more gifts to the Arabs.  His February 25 column, “Israel, where are you?” is particularly well-titled.  (Right where you left us to go to New York, Mr. Ben-Meir.)  He accuses Israel’s current leadership of being focused more on staying in power than effecting change that will lead to peace and prosperity for all.  (Shocking; simply shocking.)  He bemoans the lack of a vibrant opposition from Kadima (clearly his party of choice) in much softer terms.  He is alarmed that the IDF has become more ideological and religious, obviously unaware that one reason for this is the mass refusal by secular, ideologically bankrupt Israeli youth to serve, in approximately the same numbers as the haredim.  He is upset at Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s plans to have schoolchildren visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, “in what amounts to an unnecessary and untimely provocation aiming to bolster nationalistic—and right-wing—perspectives among youth,” echoing the language applied to Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000, and suggesting perhaps that less contact with sites listed in the Jewish heritage register will make for a better Israeli citizenry tomorrow.  He wonders where the students and academics are, who he thinks should be in the streets protesting Israel’s foreign policy and the status quo.  He chalks it up to complacency; it has apparently never occurred to him that many of these students and academics either support the current democratically elected government, or don’t have any brilliant ideas on how to change the way the Arab world views the repugnant Zionist entity to create a climate in the Middle East more conducive to peace with the State of Israel.

I attempt to read articles by columnists (usually left wing) with whom I don’t agree.  (This way, I can safely criticize Lefties who never read anything they might disagree with.)  I am always hopeful that one day I’ll read one who makes enough sense to me to actually see their points of view as legitimate.  However, the columnists the Post hires never seem to meet that standard.  Their views are always based on a superficial reading of the situation, ignoring crucial facts, and a refusal to learn from history and Israel’s past experience.  The Cap’n says that if the Post is really a right-wing newspaper, then by hiring these totally unconvincing apologists for the Left, they’re actually doing a good job of furthering the right-wing agenda.  Perhaps he’s right.  But old-time Lefties like Abba Eban were able to recognize certain truths, including the fundamental inequity of requiring one side to make material concessions (like giving up land) in exchange for a change in behavior.  And yet that very principle, now dubbed “land for peace,” has become the standard for the Left.

Hoping for some non-political refreshment, I flipped to the back to read about how Ian McEwan, the author of the brilliant Atonement and other novels, won the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of Society last week at the 25th Jerusalem International Book Fair.  I enjoyed learning about him, his background, his writing life, his family’s years living in Libya, and the fact that while many pro-Palestinian groups pressured him to decline the prize and refuse to visit Israel, he came anyway.  Of course, he did attend the weekly Friday demonstration outside Sheikh Jarrah, which protests the eviction of three Arab families from Jewish-owned property after failure to pay their rent for several years (in essence, protesting against the freedom of property ownership).  But you can’t win ’em all.  This is, after all, the Jerusalem Post.

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I’ve been enthralled by the volume of snow dumped on the US (and New England, in particular) this winter, and have posted several times on the subject.  But Wednesday, my inbox had an unexpected treat for spring, a photo taken by Yehoshua Halevi of poppies in the Ela Valley (taken 2007), near Beit Shemesh where I used to live.  I always loved spring in Oregon and New England, where first the snowdrops would appear (in February, yet), then the crocuses and daffodils, followed by the tulips and irises, and finally the lilacs would give one splashes of color and sometimes heady scents carried on the breezes.  But early spring in Israel has its own charm, with almond trees blossoming, cyclamen bursting forth from the rocky soil, and anemones and poppies dotting the fields and roadsides.  This lush photo of poppies is Israel at its greenest and most luxuriant; take it in while you can, because once the hot winds hit in late March and April, things begin to dry out again and the green is gone for the next seven or eight months.  (A word about the Ela Valley: The winery there puts out the most magnificent chardonnay I’ve ever tasted.  Most chardonnay doesn’t appeal to me because of its sharpness, but the Ela Valley chardonnay is smooth, fragrant, and mellow.  I highly recommend it.)

Thanks to Yehoshua for letting me post the photo here.  You may notice I have added his weekly photo blog to my blogroll; I encourage you to click on it periodically to see what gorgeous images of Israel, the holidays, and the people here he has on view.

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Rethinking peace with Syria

It’s easy, given the leitmotif of Middle East peace rhetoric, to look at the possibility of peace between Israel and Syria as being inextricably tied to a hand-over of the Golan Heights to our Arab neighbors in exchange for a deal.  That’s the way it’s been ever since 1967, it’s all the Assad dynasty has been able to think about (in the hope of restoring the face they lost in the war they also lost), and it’s what the Americans, Europeans, and Israeli Left think is involved.

I’ve also been stuck in that rut for some time, thinking that if that’s the price of peace with Syria, then we’d better learn to do without.  The strategic value of the Golan to Israel, the water rights that come with it, and the fact that, while the Druze on the Heights say they’re spiritually citizens of Syria, they’ve easily done their share as valuable citizens of Israel, and will probably continue thus, are part and parcel of Israel’s possession of that patch of land.

And then I read JoeSettler’s post on the Muqata blog, where he shakes the foundations of that line of thinking.  Starting from the position that peace-making with dictatorships is risky, he goes on to take a close look at the benefits that Arab nations have received in exchange for peace with Israel (including American aid for Egypt and water for Jordan).  Egypt got back the Sinai, but Jordan did not request (or, likely, even want) Yehudah and Shomron back under its umbrella.  Land is not an essential element in peace-making, after all.

JoeSettler writes, “Israel will not give up the Golan, that is the price Syria must pay for peace with Israel and for the benefits that peace with Israel will bring them.”  In addition, he writes, “Israel must demand that regime change takes place and democracy is introduced so we can make sure that any treaty we sign is (relatively) stable.”

I often find myself resistant to the land-for-peace mantra, and this post clarified why that is so: “Israel needs to stop thinking that only Israel gains from peace.”

And that goes for the rest of the world, too.

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The other day, Carl posted a short rant on his blog, IsraelMatzav, on the lack of widespread support among US Jewry of America’s veto of the “settlements are illegal” resolution vote at the UN.

One of Carl’s readers, a self-avowed Renewal Jew, commented that the Renewal movement’s spiritual leader, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, is not expected to state an opinion on the subject.  This person asserted that it is alienating to shul-goers (especially those not politically active) to hear about politics from the bima, and it got me thinking.

On the one hand, I like to feel like Israel is really the People United we like to think it is.  And it’s nice to feel like there is support for Israel and its interests expressed by Jews abroad, especially on issues which challenge Israel’s very existence, as those at the UN seem increasingly to do these days.

But then I think some more.  Not all American Jews feel connected to the State of Israel.  For many, just being Jewish is challenge enough when faced with the pull of non-Jewish culture and the ease of assimilation.  And about a third of younger American Jews said in a poll in the last couple of years that the loss of Israel (presumably through a second Holocaust) would not be a particularly emotional event for them.  It’s a lot to ask Jews who don’t feel connected to Israel at all to take an interest in the protection of the settlement enterprise, something that not all Israelis support, and which most people outside Israel don’t understand, much less give their backing.

And Carl’s Renewal reader also said something that resonated with me: there is nothing more irritating than hearing a rabbi rail from the bima about politics.  It took me back to my mid-teens, when we lived in a small town in California that had one Reform synagogue and a rabbi with an abrasive personality.  We rarely went to synagogue, and when we did, the rabbi would greet my family at the door with the comment, “Well, hello, strangers!”  If that wasn’t bad enough, he spent every Friday night ranting about the PLO (this was 1982 and he had a lot to say), to the point that I began to wonder if Hashem hadn’t made a covenant with the PLO rather than the Jews, and whether the rabbi actually knew any Torah at all.  At a time when I was desperate to learn something about Judaism and trying to figure out who I was as a Jew, my rabbi (the only Jewish authority I’d clapped eyes on in years) was no help.  He taught me no Torah at shul, and he taught me no Torah at the teen class he taught on Wednesday nights that my parents forced me to attend.  When I finally found out that only the Reform movement accepted me as Jewish, I was not encouraged.  (By the way, I have met more learned Reform rabbis since then, but this was a poor start to my acquaintance with Reform Judaism.)

So while I understand Carl’s discouragement at a lack of American support (which Israelis feel increasingly these days as the peace process seems to disappear over the horizon and is replaced by initiatives to invalidate Israel’s existence), I also understand why American Jews weren’t queuing up to protest the latest vote on the threadbare theme of “settlements are the Antichrist.”

Besides, a source of consolation for me in all this was that, unlike the current Secretary of State (who calls the settlements “illegitimate” and expansion of the settlements “illegal”), America’s Yidn didn’t take to the streets to support the Arab-backed resolution.

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A couple of days ago, I posted a few comments about the recent Egyptian revolution and a video of a song by Sandy Cash on the topic.

One of my commenters, Rivki @ Life in the Married Lane…, made the following observations: “While listening to the media coverage, it was pretty frustrating how certain news sources (mainly NPR) continually downplayed the M[uslim] B[rotherhood]’s opinions on terrorism, martyrdom, connection to Hamas, etc. It was a big love-fest for revolution with few references to a potentially bleak future.  I hope that the Egyptian people get a democracy which will serve them (and us) well.”

Rivki’s comment about NPR could go for many other Western media outlets (and Facebook) as well.  I have shared many people’s hope for the country and for a smooth transition to a more representative government dedicated to elevating the status and economic situation of the country’s population.  But the attitude of many Americans, and several media sources, has been much less moderate and guarded, and I’m forced to conclude that the emotional needs of the West drive its media coverage of the world’s events.  It helps explain the absurd distortions and total certainty Westerners feel (even when there is no legitimate certainty to be felt) about the outcome of tumultuous events like those in Egypt.  Americans love nothing more than watching the huddled masses struggling to be free, and want to see everyone end up with the same outcome America got.  Their ignorance of Arab culture makes it hard for them to accept the guarded optimism or outright pessimism people feel who actually live among Arabs and are directly affected by what happens in the Arab world.  Thomas Friedman’s harsh criticism of Israel‘s muted response to the revolution and concern about the toppling of a government that maintained the 30-year peace between Egypt and Israel shows Friedman (usually a fairly responsible journalist) to be out of touch with the realities of the region (both for Israel and for Egypt) and just as guilty as NPR of being swept along by the tsunami of revolution euphoria. (Here are two utterly rational responses to Friedman’s detour into Israel-bashing madness from Ynet, by Eddie Yair Fraiman and Martin Sherman.)

The downplaying of the Muslim Brotherhood’s designs on the government is probably due to the MB’s astuteness in keeping to the sidelines (for now) and the West’s inability to accept the very real possibility that Egypt will fall to anti-Israel, anti-Western Islamist forces.  The fact that Iran’s revolution resulted in a “balanced” cabinet between Islamists and moderates, but after 8 months (when the world was no longer so focused on Iran) Khomeini forced out the moderates and replaced them with like-minded Islamists, is a historical tidbit most people don’t know about or can’t bear to face happening again.

Countries have the right to govern themselves, and while Israel may have its peace with Egypt in its best interests, it does not mean that we would dream of interfering in another country’s politics.  The last country that should accuse others of meddling in other countries’ politics is the United States, and the twentieth century in southeast Asia and Latin America is all the support I need to say that.  It seems unwise to me to abandon reason for unchecked emotion, to ignore history in favor of wild hope, to adopt an attitude of absolute certainty at the expense of a cautious, wait-and-see attitude, and to lash out viciously against people who harbor legitimate fears that the outcome may not be as rosy and wonderful as you are convinced it will be.

Just a thought.

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