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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ten paradoxes of the Israeli - Palestinian Arab conflict


I have long been struck by the many paradoxes of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I tried to make a list of them and have provided explanations below.  If you can suggest any others I would like to hear.

  1. The minority are a majority and the majority are a minority.
  2. Israel is more Arab than some Arab states.
  3. The Arabs will not be able to defeat the Israelis until they stop trying.
  4. Anti-imperialist Arabs are usually Arab imperialists.
  5. Palestinian cities are often built on the ruins of Jewish cities, while many Jewish cities are built on the ruins of Palestinian cities. 
  6. The more Israelis and Palestinians won't compromise the more they will lose.
  7. The conflict used to be between Socialist Jews and Social Arabs, now it's between Religious Jews and Religious Arabs.
  8. The "City of Peace" is the greatest cause of conflict.
  9. As many Arabs have migrated to Europe as Jews have migrated to the Middle East.
  10. European anti-racists are frequently both racist and anti-Semitic.


  1. The minority are a majority and the majority are a minority.
    In Israel Jews are a majority, but within the Middle East Jews are a small minority, perhaps 2% of the general population - the same as in the USA.  Arab complaints about Israel are often related to an unwillingness to accept minority status while Jewish fears reflect a sense of being a minority. 
  2. Israel is more Arab than some Arab states.
    About 40% of Israeli Jews were either born in Arab countries or have two parents who were born in Arab countries.  In either case, their ancestors have lived in the Arab world as long - or longer - than the Arab population. A further 20% of Israeli Jews have one parent who belongs in that category. In addition 20% of Israelis are "native" Arabs.  In other words 80% of Israelis are either fully or half-Arab.  In Iraq, at least 30% are Kurds and many other Iraqis may be considered non-Arab, so Iraq is less Arab than Israel.
  3. The Arabs will not be able to defeat the Israel until they stop trying.
    To defeat Israel the Arabs will need to develop societies that are open to Western Civilization and tolerant. Once they do that, they will have they strength to defeat Israel but may well lose the desire. Saladin was famously tolerant of other religions and the enemy of Moslem fundamentalists, he only fought the Crusaders after they attacked him.
  4. Anti-imperialist Arabs are often imperialists.
    Many Arab leaders who fought Colonialism and European imperialism strove to re-create an Arab Empire in the Middle East. It's still true. In contrast, the Jewish religion could be said to prohibit empire-building: Jews are allocated a specific territory and no more.
  5. Many Palestinian cities are built on the ruins of Jewish cities, including Bethlehem, Hebron, Arabeh, Jaffa and more. Many Israeli towns are built on the ruins of Palestinian towns or villages including Ashdod, Yehud and Be'er Sheva. In some cases there are multiple layers: Tiberias, Tzfat and Ramleh are predominantly Jewish cities that were built on Palestinian ruins which were built on Jewish ruins.
  6. The more Israelis and Palestinians won't compromise the more they will lose.
    The Palestinian refusal to compromise famously resulted in the Jews having a state while they had none. The Arab refusal to accept Israel led, in 1967, to Israel gaining possession of the entire land. Israeli lack of flexibility contributed to the 1973 war which was arguably very damaging to Israel. Today the settlers' unwillingness to compromise may be strengthening the Palestinian claim to the land internationally while making Israel weaker.
  7. The conflict which was once between Socialist Jews and Socialist Arabs is now between Religious Jews and Religious Arabs.
    Nasser described himself as an "Arab Socialist" and the Ba'ath parties that ruled Syria and Iraq defined themselves as Socialist, while the Labor Party which dominated Israeli politics until the mid-Seventies was Socialist and most senior Israeli officers were Kibbutzniks: Moshe Dayan was the second child to be born on a Kibbutz. (his mother was a former "Narodnik"). Now the conflict is led by Hamas, Hizbullah and Orthodox Jewish settlers.  Although Orthodox Jews don't yet dominate the upper echelons of the Army they are increasingly dominant in the officer corp and it may be just a question of time.
  8. The "City of Peace" is the greatest cause of conflict.
    Jerusalem's name in Hebrew is said to also mean the City of Peace, but it is anything but.  In the Middle-Ages it was the main focus of international conflict between Christians and Moslems  and today it arguably remains the most intractable part of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  9. As many Arabs have migrated to Europe as European Jews have migrated to the Arab world
    About 3 or 4 million Arabs have migrated to Europe in the last 100 years, This is roughly the same as the number of Europeans who have migrated to Israel.  See http://www.un.org/esa/population/migration/turin/Symposium_Turin_files/P11_Dumont%28OECD%29.pdf.
  10. European anti-racists are often both racist and anti-Semitic.
    Many Europeans who describe themselves as "anti-racist" believe that race theory is a valid way of seeing the world, that is that Jews and Arabs are separate "races". In fact, very few Jews or Arabs see themselves in terms of "Race", and most see themselves in terms of religion which is the principle method by which Middle-Easterners define themselves and practise discrimination.  This is as true of the Jews as it is among the Arabs. Because Europeans see the world in terms of race they tend to assume that others do so as well, and because they are prone to demonise Jews, they easily assume that Israel is racist. Having decided that Israel is racist, often for anti-Semitic reasons, they feel free to be anti-Semitic because they are "anti-racists" and because Israel (and with it most Jews) are racists.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Graven images of God and the prophets

After the initial outrage at the killing of the cartoonists in France, I started re-assessing my attitude to Charlie Hebdo and found myself thinking that it is a very offensive publication.  Obviously I don't condone the use of murder to silence the magazine, but it is true that here in Israel many of its cartoons would be deemed racist and banned from publication.

There are plenty of depictions of Mohammed around if you choose to actually look for them. Take this compilation of Renaissance depictions of Mohammed: http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/euro_medi_ren/.  Apparently Moslems also depicted Mohammed: http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/islamic_mo_full/.
The murder of the cartoonists raises another issue: the status of Mohammed in Islam. Basically, Christians think that Jesus is part God, while Moslems assign a semi-divine status to Mohammed in which he remains human but apparently is so sacred that we mustn't even imagine what he looked like. And Jews? We barely mention Moses. The Passover Haggadah, which is all about the Exodus completely ignores him.  You might say that we are quite happy to insult his memory.  On that grounds at least Jews must count as better monotheists then Moslems and Christians: No one over-shadows God. Though, of course, each religion has its own oddities.  Jews ascribe magical sacred status to a building (the Temple).

If you object to depictions of Mohammed, its a bit odd to ignore depictions of God.  Christians depict God all the time.  The attitude would seem to suggest that Mohammed was more important than God, though it may be related to different ideas of the nature of God - Moslems are less likely to "humanize" God.
As for creating images of Mohammed, both orthodox Jews and Moslems make a big fuss about having no images while printing plenty of images of rabbis and imams. It seems to me that there is an element of idolatry in hanging up giant pictures of Khomeini or Rabbi Ovadiah, though perhaps it's better that religious zealots allow pictures if the alternative is that they allow none.



Sunday, January 11, 2015

How I cycled in a sudden blizzard without gloves.

This is a story about my most extreme cycling experience in terms of weather.
It was about 2004. I was volunteering once a week at a charity for the homeless funded by David Gilmour of the Pink Floyd, located in Aldgate in East London. My ride home was 15 kilometers and there was a sudden drop in temperature to sub-zero cold accompanied by snow and strong winds.  I didn't have any gloves.
The snow was so heavy that I couldn't see where I was going, and the lack of gloves meant that my hands were agonizingly painful, so I decided to head to Kings Cross and travel by train.
Somewhere on the way to Kings Cross I had a puncture.  I remember swearing heavily at my bad luck and trying to remove the tyre with my frozen hands which was very painful.  I broke a tyre lever -   Possibly the fiberglass couldn't handle the sub-zero temperatures.
At Kings Cross I managed to get onto a train going to Finsbury Park. My destination was Alexandra Palace which is a several stops further down the line. Finsbury Park was packed with people trying to find a train, and no trains were going any further than Finsbury Park "due to snow on the tracks".
There were crowds of people milling around waiting for a train and it was clear I couldn't get a bicycle on a train and there was no point in waiting. I decided to risk cycling in the cold.
Cycling with no gloves in sub-zero weather is so painful that normally you have to stop within a couple of minutes but on this occasion the sudden weather change had resulted in a 5 mile traffic jam which went all the way from Finsbury Park to Muswell Hill and beyond.  My entire route was lined with cars which weren't moving but had their engines on keeping the drivers warm.  The heat generated was enough to keep my hands warm and get me home. Although my experience was hard it turned out to be better then commuters and drivers who spent hours getting home.

In Israel, I have cycled in Middle-Eastern heat waves, but one of the hardest times to cycle is during Mediterranean rainstorms. We get at least one of these rains storms a year.  Typically 10-20% of our annual rainfall will drop within a 48 hour period.  It quite literally comes down in buckets. Tel Aviv's drain system tends to get blocked up during the summer and it can't handle the sudden deluge so you find yourself cycling through flooded roads, large puddles while being beaten by heavy rain.
I have a very attractive British raincoat, which was great in England but can't handle the Israeli rain.
We had one fo these storms this week and I donned two rain jackets, heavy hiking boots and storm pants and rode through the park.  It was wonderful: I was the only human in the Eastern end of Park HaYarkon and passed right next to the Jackals which have now moved into the park, further down I saw two huge herons and a tree with Cormorants. Rothschild Boulevard (my destination) was littered iwth dead umbrellas.
Tree with Cormorants


Rothschild Boulevard in the rain
Palm trees shed their dead leaves








Monday, December 29, 2014

The Darfur Computer Service Center: Tel Aviv

Darfur is a region of Sudan.  It is estimated that since 2003, about 40,000 civilians have been murdered there every year, about half a million people to date.  For every murdered civilian, about five flee their home. The genocide and ethnic cleansing are organized by the Sudanese government, which didn't stop it getting nominated for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, and the UN report on it was only compiled following extensive criticism. The only thing the UN Human Rights Council wants to discuss is Israel, and in contrast to Sudan which is mostly ignored, there are constant UN reports on Palestine.
Israel is the only non-African country to have a land border with an African country and in recent years many people fleeing Sudan and Eritrea have chosen to come to Israel.  At its peak in about 2010, some 3,000 people were crossing the border every month. The flow of refugees and Al-Qaeda attacks from Sinai, eventually led the Israeli government to put up a serious border fence and place better quality troops along the border, but in the meantime the population of Tel Aviv's poorest neighborhoods has become increasingly African.
I took a friend round the area a couple of days ago, and he pointed out the Darfour Computer Services center.
Darfur computer services

My home desktop PC has had a problem lately: one of the RAM modules had stopped working and I wanted to upgrade my motherboard to use the latest RAM. Unfortunately it seems that no one in North Tel Aviv uses desktops anymore. The shop where I bought it (Ivory) weren't interested in upgrades and offered me a new PC at the same price as an upgrade, their sole rivals (KSP), who are cheaper, won't upgrade any desktop which they didn't sell.  I tried them both yesterday with no luck, and then I remembered the Darfour Computer Services Center, I hopped in my car and drove down to what is now known as the "old central bus station" and carried the computer in.

A serious looking man called Ahmed examined my PC. While he did so, a Chinese man was busy fixing mobile phones in the corner. Ahmed explained that he didn't accept credit cards.  He said he used to but so few of his customers used them, that he stopped bothering with the equipment. Ahmed needed some time to name me a price, so I left the PC there and went for brunch in a vegan restaurant just off Allenby.  Needless to say he had no visiting card, so he wrote down his phone number for me, and I went off.
I came back about 90 minutes later, and unfortunately the price he quoted for a new motherboard and CPU were about the same as Ivory which was more than I wanted to pay.
While I waited, he disassembled the CPU, carefully cleaning everything and then put it back together again. This had the effect of rejuvenating the dead RAM module which came back to life. I paid him 70 shekels for this service which at least keeps my desktop working for a while longer.
Ahmed told me he has been in Israel for 9 years. I asked what he did in the Sudan and he told me that he hadn't really done anything there, he was 18 when he arrived in Israel.

I Googled Darfur Computer services, and the only response was the store in Tel Aviv.  This is its Facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Darfur-Computer-Service-Center/536370756425356.

Edge of the old bus station, looking toward Allenby
See also the Africa Refugee Development Center, Tel Aviv: http://www.ardc-israel.org/en

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How to repair the Israel Labor Party

This is my four point program for restoring the Israeli Labor party to a position of influence in Israeli politics. At present the party which used to dominate Israeli politics holds 19 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. I haven't discussed the issues which I regard as important as I don't think the problem is purely one of issues, though of course selecting the right issues would help.

1. Make Your Presence Felt (outside the Knesset)
Labor needs to maintain constant contact with its voters - not just its activists - so that its leaders can develop a feel for what people want and can be seen to be out there connecting to people, not just turning up at election time.  Activists are key here in that they are the people who provide the interface between the party and voters.  The great advantage of religious groups in this respect is that places of worship provide an excellent base for recruiting activists and disseminating ideas. The internet can be an excellent substitute for places of worship but it needs to be about more then just issuing Facebook status updates and it needs to be one of a number of tactics.

2. Indirect Leadership Elections.
This may sound odd, but imitating the USA practise of direct election of party leaders is bad for Israeli democracy. The principle reason is that running as a candidate is very expensive and not subject to meaningful financial controls so it provides a way for Israel's super-rich to "run" candidates and ensure that the people they want win elections.  It would be better to have activists vote for regional boards which then elect a national executive that chooses the leadership annd candidates.  Basically a two phase tiered system giving the grass roots some control over the election process but reducing the need for huge funds to get elected while rewarding dedication and hard work and also ensuring that the best - not the most popular - people win.

3. Russian Voters.
The Israeli left has abandoned Russian immigrants to Lieberman. Winning Russian votes is not just about winning hearts and minds its, about connecting to "progressive" Russian figureheads and giving them prominent and influential roles in the Party hierarchy so that Russian voters can see they are represented and so that the issues that affect them, such as converisons, weddings, drug abuse programs etc. are properly discussed.

4. Ehud Barak.
I know no one likes him, that he puts his own interests before the party and that he doesn't care about economics or social justice but the truth is that he is probably the only Labor leader who can unseat Netanyahu.  So the party needs to structure itself so that if Barak can be leader but can't control economic policy and can't determine party structure.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Watching football in Tel Aviv: I was at the unfinished derby match.

At the end of last week a friend of mine informed me he had got us tickets to see the Tel Aviv derby on Sunday. This is the second time he's invited me to a match and I had mixed feelings: he buys tickets behind the goals where the fans don't sit in their seats: they stand throughout the game so if you want to see anything you have to stand for over an hour and a half.  The Israeli fans also like to eat unshelled sunflower seeds and spit out the shells.  This means that a lot of seats end up covered in disgusting sunflower shells.  Althoguh the tickets have marked seats you have to arrive 45 minutes early and simply pick a good place to stand because nobody take any notice of the seating.  In the previous match we went to, Maccabi Tel Aviv against HaPoel BeerSheva, most of the chants involved references to various people's mothers which I found distasteful.
My friend is a supporter (die hard?) of Maccabi Tel Aviv. I have no problem with this in basketball: as a teenager I watched Maccabi dismantle a CSKA Moscow team that refused to play in Israel, before going on to win the European cup.
In football I feel less keen.  In 2002, I watched HaPoel Tel Aviv knock (pre-Abramovitch) Chelsea out of the UEFA cup at Stamford Bridge and I like their hammer and sickle logo. HaPoel means "the labourer" and the team was originally sponsored by the trade union movement.  The Chelsea match was the last time I saw a game in England and you had to sit in your marked seat, stewards stood there, watching us like hawks and shouting at anyone who dared to stand up (we did dance around when HaPoel scored). On the pitch, policemen ignored the game and peered intently at the crowd watching for trouble makers.
As we left the pitch, I heard a Chelsea steward commenting to his friend, how disciplined the HaPoel supporters were. A Chelsea fan making Nazi salutes was simply ignored.

Yesterday was different.

There were masses of stewards, but they just ignored us and stood around.  As I said, the seat numbers on the tickets were purely advisory: you do have to go into designated gates, so we were behind the goals and arrived 45 minutes early so as to find a good place to stand. Actually I used to watch Arsenal in the 'Eighties and then the places behind the goal were standing only, so in that respect it was the same.  The season ticket holders arrived late: they sit in the best seats and I suppose their seat's locations must be honoured.

Maccabi and HaPoel share the same stadium: Bloomfield, which is actually a rather nice stadium. It seats 20 or 30,000 and there are good views from all over. I used to live nearby and my son Noam studies the bassoon at a music centre next door.

Because this was a HaPoel home game, most of the seats were allocated to HaPoel.  However, there was a clearly pre-arranged effort by Maccabi fans to break the allocation. Large numbers had bought tickets for the seating areas adjacent to the area allocated to Maccabi fans.  I know it was pre-arranged because most of them wore white: there was no indication that they were Maccabi fans until a little before the game when they suddenly surged over to the side next to the Maccabi fans, forcing the police to separate them from the HaPoel fans and resulting in at least one HaPoel fan trying (unsuccessfully) to pick a fight. On the other side from where we stood, someone was arrested but I didn't see what for.
The Maccabi fans behind the blue fence are actually in an area meant to separate the rival fans.  It was supposed to be empty.

A couple of minutes before the game started, the Maccabi fans let off massive yellow smoke bombs (Maccabi's colours are Yellow and Blue). The Turkish team Galatasaray was recently fined by UEFA because fans let off smoke bombs at Arsenal and I knew that this is a transgression.
Smoke bomb at the Tel Aviv derby
My friend is a physician and he was worried about the affect the smoke would have on the fan's lungs; we were far away and unaffected by the smoke.
Smoke bomb dissipating
After that things were fairly normal.  The chanting was better then when I saw HaPoel Beer Sheva and the game was good. Maccabi were attacking the other end of the pitch from where we stood, and dominated the game, except that HaPoel made one good counter attack and scored against the run of play.  A few minutes later there was an incident in the HaPoel penalty box and a Maccabi player fell over.  I was too far away to see what happened and, annoyingly, live football doesn't feature action replays.  There was a penalty and Eran Zahavi scored.
I didn't see what happened next but around me I head people muttering that Zahavi had been warned about his goal celebrations, while others imitated him - which enabled me to figure out what happened.  It seems that Zahavi's "trade mark" goal celebration is to hold his hands as if they were pistols making shots: just like a child might.  Around me people made pretend guns with their hands and went "piu piu",which is the sound Israeli children make as a gun noise.

Apparently Zahavi aimed his pretend pistols at the HaPoel fans. A few minutes later, as he went to take a penalty a HaPoel fan ran into the pitch and attacked him. It looked like Zahavi defended himself (it was all very fast and far away) but after the fan was arrested, Zahavi was shown a red card for hitting the fan.

The Maccabi fans were incensed: their star was attacked and then the attacker was rewarded by seeing him sent off! Zahavi didn't just walk off, he angrily ran at the referee and a crowd of Maccabi players pushed round the referee.  The referee walked away but if he had stood his ground I think he could have gotten knocked over.
The exit from the pitch was at the other end: where all the HaPoel fans were standing.  Police took Zahavi off, and bottles were thrown at him (about 5). I think there was an attempt to renew the game, but within seconds more balding men, this time I think they were angry Macabbi fans, ran onto the pitch.  Mostly they weren't attacking anyone,  though some seemed to want to run at the HaPoel fans, basically they mostly they were furious about Zahavi being sent off.
Well that was it. The fans were tackled by police and taken away.  The game halted and the players left the pitch, We stood around wondering what to do: would it get violent?  It didn't look like it. Would the game resume?  Would we get our money back if it didn't?
The Guardian says there was fighting "near the city courthouse". There is a court a kilometer away on Shoken street and maybe the arrested fans were taken there, but there was no trouble outside the stadium. I nearly stepped in police horseshit on the way out (I saw two policemen on horseback).  They should make them pick up the shit like dog owners do.
By the way all the invading fans seemed to have shaven heads.  Israel has a high percentage of balding men and the fashion is for them to shave all their hair off. This seems to apply to the tema's management as well. Maccabi's manager is Jordi Cruyff, son of the  Dutch legend.

BBC coverage
The Jerusalem Post has the full incident: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Sports/Disgrace-for-Israeli-soccer-as-hooligan-storms-pitch-attacks-Maccabi-Tel-Aviv-player-380693




Saturday, November 1, 2014

Trapped in East Berlin: My close shave with totalitarianism

In 1988 I travelled to visit a cousin who worked at the US Embassy in what was then East Berlin. My cousin lived in West Berlin, which was then a Western enclave in Communist Eastern Europe and surrounded by a huge wall with armed guards, ferocious dogs and other lethal devices which prevented anyone from trying to enter the enclave.
The West was allowed to send in troop trains through designated corridors.  The trains were banned from stopping on the way.  Because my cousin was an employee of the US, I entered on a US military train.
Ticket for US troop train to West Berlin (front side)

I spent a week in West Berlin.  Everywhere you went, you sooner or later came up against the vast wall. It was strange that the wall was to prevent those outside from getting in, logically one would have expected it to be the other way round. The Western side of the wall was covered in superb graffiti and there were little platforms with steps, like airplane steps where you could mount and look out across the wall.
At some point my cousin suggested I come with him and spend a day in East Berlin. He commuted to work through a border post known as "Checkpoint Charlie" in a car with diplomatic number plates. Checkpoint Charlie was notorious as the most tense border post in the "Iron Curtain".  He told me that without the Berlin Wall his 40 minute commute would take 10 minutes.

There was a delay as the East German border guards checked my credentials, but eventually they waved us through. My cousin gave me a roll of East German money and told me to meet him at "the Grand Hotel's restaurant" at five.
For the rest of the day I wandered around East Berlin. The pubs sold one type of beer, one type of sandwich and nothing else. There was no advertising - anywhere. In a dingy coffee-shop I entered, people sat in clouds of cigarette smoke and pressed their head together to prevent eavesdropping. A food shop sold nothing but potatoes, cabbages and apples. It was very grey. In the main square a miserable looking man sold hot dogs from a small stand, it was clearly not his stand but the product of a bureaucratic decision to sell sausages from a stand. There was very little to spend the money on and it was a drab unpleasant place. The best looking office building I saw had closed circuit cameras on it and little hearts on its railings.  "The Ministry of Love!" I thought to myself;  in Orwell's 1984 it is the name of the secret service's offices and the cameras (unusual at the time) suggested this must be it.
Back side of the US troop train ticket

At four I wandered over to the Grand Hotel and found the restaurant, but my cousin wasn't there. I went to the US Embassy which was closed. A voice in an intercom told me my cousin had left. I went back to the hotel but he wasn't there. At this point it dawned on me that I was stuck in a totalitarian country with no visa and a large role of bank notes (tourists were limited to small amounts of expensively priced currency). It didn't look good. I returned to the US Embassy where I was now told curtly to leave and the East German Police guards looked at me suspiciously. By the way, East German policemen were awfully small and unhealthy looking.
I started walking back to Check Point Charlie feeling very fearful as it seemed certain I would be arrested for having no visa and illegal currency. East Germany was a notorious dictatorship and I felt scared. I shared my predicament with an American tourist who advised me to go back and "spend my money", which was not sound advice as the shops were completely empty and there was nothing to buy.  I decided to make a last try at the hotel but this time I went round to the main entrance which was surprisingly fancy.  It had rotating brushes on the floor which cleaned your shoes as you went in.
A uniformed clerk rushed up to me ( I looked very scruffy) and asked what I was doing there. I told him sadly that I had arranged to meet my cousin in the hotel but he hadn't arrived.  "But we have eight restaurants!" he exclaimed.  I felt massive relief and started carefully exploring the hotel.  I found my cousin in the fourth restaurant. I suppose it was the only place in East Berlin to eat an expensive meal.  He told me that they had fully expected to have to release me from prison.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recreating ancient kingdoms: Arab Nationalism vs Zionism.

Although Zionism and Arab Nationalism are at loggerheads over Palestine (or perhaps Southern Syria), the two have a certain amount in common. Both movements won international recognition during the First World War.  Both arose out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and both came into existence at around the same time, roughly 1900.
In attaining their aims both movements disregarded a variety of existing peoples:  In the case of the Arabs the Kurds, the Nubians, the Copts, the Druze and the Berbers are among the potential nations who were prevented from self-definition by Arab Nationalism. The Jews' success came at the expense of the local Arab population.
Both Arab Nationalism and Zionism seek to recreate ancient peoples. The ancient people that the Zionists sought to recreate, had not existed as a political entity for almost 2,000 years.  In antiquity religion and nationality were generally combined so the combination of religion and nationalism proposed by the Zionists made sense in terms of the ancient people they were emulating, the problem being the exclusion of non-Jews, and that the people were divorced from the geography they claimed. In their favor however, the Zionists had a clear vision of the relevant piece of geography, the language it would use and a highly mobile people, used to emigration.
The ancient people that the Arabs sought to recreate, had not existed as a political entity for at least 600 years.  The Arabs, unlike the Jews inhabited the geographic entity they aspired to control, but their definition of its location was linguistic. The Arabs also combined religion and nation in their identity, but because many of the initial nationalists were Christian, they chose to ignore the religious element and focus on the language as the defining aspect. Basically the Arabs were not trying to recreate an ancient people, but an ancient Empire: It was as if the English suddenly attempted to force a nation out of the world's English speakers, claiming that the USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, India and Jamaica were really part of the same nation.
This notion of nationality is also reminiscent of attempts to unite all German speakers in a single national group. It is problematic in its implications for the large groups of non-Arab speakers and also due to the fact that if Jews from the Arab world are Arabs then Israel might be more Arab then Iraq.
The huge geographic disadvantage of Zionism has in some respect been a strength, Zionists have always felt they must educate their followers in what "Being an Israeli" meant and also self-consciously sought to forge a new nation. The unusual willingness of Jews to relocate, learn a new language and acquire a new identity has enabled Zionists to pretty much define the nation as they saw fit. In the 'thirties, British immigration restrictions meant that candidates for "aliya" had to prove fluency in Hebrew and devotion to ideals before they could receive the few life-giving visas the British were prepared to allocate.
In contrast the Arab states were emulating a highly successful but no longer relevant empire,  while their new nation-states' educational systems spent their budgets advancing conflicting supra-national identities which undermine the population's loyalty and undermine the whole point of "being Iraqi" or "being Syrian".




Monday, July 28, 2014

How to replace Hamas: Demand free elections in Gaza.

One of the calls we hear from the Israeli right is that Israel should reoccupy Gaza and force the Hamas out of power.  Its not a very realistic demand.  Thousands of Palestinians would die as would many tens, perhaps hundreds of Israeli soldiers, the political cost would be huge internationally wth massive pressure placed on Israel to withdraw. Holding Gaza would cost far more lives then just bombing it occasionally, be very expensive and keep the army occupied as a police force instead of training for war.  It would also be deeply unpopular in Israel.  Its not even certain the Hamas would emerge any weaker.

It is however, true that Hamas are a problem for us in Israel. They are basically a religio-nationalist death-cult whose main reason for existing is to destroy Israel and who show little long-term interest in trying to improve the lot of their people. Peace is clearly not on the cards with such an organization.

The only way to have Hamas removed is for the Palestinians to do it themselves, the problem being that Hamas has an iron grip on Gaza and is still sufficently popular to maintain power.

Hamas gained power in a two stage process, first there were the only ever free elections in the territories, which they won and then they removed Fatah from Gaza. Since then there have been no new electionss, but it would seem that if elections were held and Hamas lost, it would be hard for them to prevent Fatah taking over Gaza.

Of course I don't know that Hamas would lose: they might just get stronger, or someone else like Islamic Jihad might win but there seems a resonable chance that Hamas would lose.  In addition it would be a major propaganda coup for Israel if it forced democratic elections on the Palestinians.

And if Hamas lost, what then? After all they could easily return in a future election wheither or not Israel makes peace with the Palestinians.  The doctrine of Israeli illegitimacy will not go away, and will always attract the Palestinians.  My view is that a peace treaty would strengthen Israel by giving it legitimate borders, and while I doubt that any treaty can bring permanent peace, surprises never cease to happen round here.

"Administrative Detention": Hamas prisoners and the Israeli version of Guantanamo Bay

  
The Hebrew word Megiddo, name of a Biblical town, somehow re-emerged in English as Armageddon. Today it is the site of a small archaeological site and nearby, of the prison Keleh Megiddo: "Armageddon Prison".

In the Nineties' I served as a Combat Medic in the Israeli Army reserves and in about 1996 I was called up for several weeks to serve as a medic in Megiddo Prison.  I was sick for the first couple of days of the reserve duty and so arrived a few days after the others. I was given my military kit which included a large amount of first aid gear and a rifle and then directed to the prison. At the prison I was told I could find my unit (actually an artillery unit) through a small door in the wall.  I opened the door and found myself walking a narrow path between two large enclosures, both with high fences topped by barbed wire containing a couple of hundred of Hamas members.  I was shocked and I remember them laughing at my horror. I felt like a rabbit walking a narrow path between two wolf enclosures.  Though I was armed and they were in prison.

Our Artillery unit was there to provide perimeter security, basically everyone slept in tents for three weeks and spent hours sitting in watch towers and doing the odd patrol. There were three combat medics and we were required to take the blood pressure and temperature of Hamas prisoners as they left or arrived, to deliver medication to prisoners to accompany the security guards when they went for shooting practice, to provide first aid to our unit and to do a couple of patrols at night. Because we were dealing with Hamas prisoners face to face, we had deluxe conditions: We slept in a caravan (not a tent), we ate with the prison staff (our unit ate in a makeshift tent) who had quite nice food and we weren't required to sit in the horrible watch towers.  We also had huge amounts of free time which we spent playing backgammon. One of my fellow medics was a member of the board of a major Israeli corporation and kept bringing us goodies in his huge American car.   

Most of the prisoners we handled were in "administrative detention", that means they were held without trial because they were deemed a threat but no evidence could be shown thatthey had actually done anything illegal.  A similar system is used at Guantanamo bay to hold themen there: they aren't POWs, they've broken no laws and yet they are regarded as a serious enough threat to warrant being held.

To be honest it was quite pleasant as reserve duty goes, but I did notice a couple of things:
1. The men in Administrative Detention had a lot of ulcer problems.
2. People arriving at, or leaving the prison all had high blood pressure.

The Hamas men lived in tents in the open air. There were two enclosures and they used to throw bits of paper with messages between them which the guards jokingly called "faxes". They had table-tennis tables and I remember books. I don't recall any large/decent exercise spaces, but the enclosures struck me as better then indoor prisons: Israeli weather is usually good, though it might be cold in winter and I think each enclosure was about the size of a basketball court, maybe a bit smaller. There were TVs and I recall that watching the evening news was a big social event for the inmates.  There were convicted killers held in the prison too but they were held in its interior and I had no contact with them.

About ten years ago I did an MA in History in London and studied Jewish immigrants who were held without trial in British camps in Cyprus.  One of the things they noted was that not knowing when you will be released is very stressful.  Long term detainees need to know when they will be released.  Reading that I recalled all the guys with ulcer problems (I gave them their medication in person), I remember they were quite friendly, maybe a little bit desperate.  It was an odd situation where I would have a couple of young guys with guns behind me as I went to the entrance of the enclosures and dealt with the people getting the medicine.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the Hamas "Adminstrative Detainees" were on hunger strike demanding their release.  There were calls to force feed them (Solzhenitsyn said it was like being raped - See The First Circle).  A deal was eventually reached giving them improved conditions in return for an end to the hunger strike.  (see also "Navy nurse refuses to force feed Guantanamo prisoners").

After the recent murder of Israeli teens a lot of Hamas members who were released under the deal to free Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas were re-arrested. Since they were already pardoned for their offences I assume they were taken into adminsitrative detention.  The current conflict is related to their re-arrest - I have seen a report that Hamas are demanding their release as a condition forr a cease fire.  Meanwhile any Hamas fighters the IDF captures are put into Administrative Detention.

Administrative Detention is a fancy word invented by the British for holding people indefinitely without trial.  They used it in the British Mandate of Palestine and, presumably in other parts of the British Empire.  Both Arabs and Jews were arrested using this legal device and, in many cases held in other parts of the Empire: A couple of Palestinian-Arab leaders were held in South Africa and several hundred Jews were held  in Eritrea. It was mainly used during the Second World War and the few years of British rule after the war.

Administrative Detention is not legal for Israeli citizens, just as it was probably illegal to hold British Citizens during the Mandate. If you recall the story of St Paul, he had to be tried in Rome because he was a Roman citizen.  Israeli citizens must be brought before a judge within three days, and Habeas Corpus applies to them, however, in the occupied territories, under military rule, the Israelis use Administrative Detention.