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Showing posts from 2012

Why the UN General Assembly could create Israel but can't create Palestine.

In 1947 the UN General Assembly voted to partition what was then the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. As a result Israel came into being.  The Arabs rejected the decision and no Arab state was created.
In late 2012 the General Assembly voted that "Palestine" be granted non-member observer status.  Why didn't they create a member state?

Basically the only body in the UN that can take any binding decisions  is the Security Council and the five permanent members  can veto any decisions they don't like. The other ten members are taken in turn from the various regions. As  members of the council they can put things on the agenda for discussion.

In 2011 Lebanon was briefly chair of the council and proposed that the council accept the Palestinians as a state.  The Security Council referred the issue to its membership committee for investigation and the membership committee came back with inconclusive results since the Palestinians failed to meet…

Making peace by statistics: Professor Maoz

A fascinating article by Professor Ze'ev Maoz in Yediot Ahronot today (in Hebrew), suggests Israel might be addicted to war. Apparently Maoz ran a statistical analysis of wars over the last couple of hundred years and found that the same states were involved in most of them. For obvious reasons the Germans, Italians and Japanese gave up warfare but the British, Russians and Americans still love it and among small states,the Turks, Greeks and Israelis were ranked highly along with Egypt, Iraq and Iran.  Israel came out as the most war-prone small country in the world since 1948.
Wow I thought, that's interesting.  But then I remembered that I attended a lecture by Maoz at Tel Aviv University around the year 2,000 and that he was running these statistics even then. In that lecture he had found that countries with nuclear weapons were far less likely to go to war: In other words Nukes had indirectly kept the peace. I remember thinking great so what do we do with that.  If I remem…

Air-raid sirens in Tel Aviv

The recent mini-war with Gaza caused a few air-raid sirens in Tel Aviv. The first caught me and the kids in the playground next to our apartment block. It's a popular playground and it was very busy.
The siren went off and there was a second when everyone looked stunned and then everybody in the playground scattered - except me who stood there wondering how seriously I should take this thing.
As luck would have it, my partner was just returning from the shops at that moment. "Come on" she said, "We have 90 seconds to take cover". So we scooped up the girls and ran over to our block, pausing to collect a man and his crying daughter, who had taken cover behind the local Likud branch, a tiny building next to our building.  We told them to join us in our stairwell.

The stairwell turned out to be packed.  There were various people who happened to be passing along and most of our neighbors. Its an old building and we have no "security rooms" which are now b…

What I'm reading

I'm trying a book diary... Feels like a primary school exercise.

May 2013 -

April 2013 - Righteous Victims by Benny Morris.  The most comprehensive account of the Middle East conflict, but I think it loses it a bit after Sadat comes to Jerusalem and the conclusion was a bit weak.


January 2013 - The Chosen Few - Eckstein and Botticini - An amazing book about Jewish demographics between the first century CE and the 15th century.  The authors argue that in the second century the Rabbinical leaders of the Jews took a decision to make literacy compulsory, even ordering that illiterate Jews be boycotted.  As a result there was a massive movement of Jews into Christianity (which made no such demands) while the structure of Jewish occupations switched to a focus on trade, manufacture, money lending and other occupations where literacy was an advantage. In particular there was a massive movement of Jews out of agriculture.
a lot of the material they use is based on the Cairo Geniza.


26 Dec…

My IKEA kitchen hell

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Tuesday 15/07/2008 go to IKEA and order an "Applad" off white kitchen and matching marble countertop at IKEA.  It takes 5 hours and is exhausting. Not all parts are available. The staff in the kitchen department say that parts will be kept back on our behalf when they arrive.  It costs about 13000 shekels for the kitchen 3000 for the countertop.  It is slightly cheaper then the cheapest supplier I have been able to find and is the only supplier who can promises almost immediate delivery.

Thursday 17/07/2008 IKEA deliver kitchen (in boxes). cost:350 shekels

Thursday 24/07/2008 an IKEA sub-contractor comes and measures the kitchen.

Friday   8/08/2008  the same IKEA sub-contractor comes and puts the kitchen together - except for missing parts and corrections.  He gives us a pile of bits to return and list of missing parts to request, most of which are doors: the kitchen has no doors.  The subcontractor costs 1600 shekels for two visits.  The idea is that he puts up what he can…

Women in combat and victorious armies: Feminism at Tel Aviv University

In 1999 I was studying for an MA in Political Science at Tel Aviv University and was required to attend a lecture by Professor Azar Gat, head of the Diplomacy and Security program. The lecture was on the advisability of allowing women to take combat roles in the Israeli Army. The Israeli army requires women to serve two years military service and women were not allowed to perform combat roles.
The US army had changed its position some years earlier and there was a beginning of a debate in Israel.
The lecture hall at the University was bursting and most of the senior lecturers were there, including the one or two women on the staff. Gat's program is a way of drawing in senior officers to the University because they get points and pay rises for getting further degrees. Presumably the army also pays for their studies along the way. There were a few uniformed women soldiers in the audience.
Gat's lecture was dull.  I remember feeling astonished that he could make so much fuss abou…

Are the Crusades part of the history of Israel or the history of Palestine?

Every so often, someone who edits the History of Palestine on Wikipedia notices that there is an overlap problem:  A lot of the content on the History of Palestine also exists on the History of Israel, and so that person suggests, on the History of Palestine's discussion page, that the History of Israel should really only be about Israeli history since 1948 and the rest of the content deleted.
What then happens is a chorus of agreement on the History of Palestine page, so this good natured person goes to the discussion page on the History of Israel and announces this agreement. They then invite anyone to respond - on the History of Palestine's discussion page of course - before apparently planning to enact their plans. The first time this happened I was perturbed. I looked at the History of Palestine and discovered it was really dull. It looked like a committee had written it (it has) and secondly you would find it difficult to realize that Jews had ever lived in "Palesti…

How I became one of world's most influential writers on Israeli history.

About five years ago I worked for a company who didn't have enough work for me. To fill in time I started editing Israeli history related items on Wikipedia.  At first I was editing on the Israel page but then I realized that the History of Israel had almost nothing on it. So I started filling the page in and soon found it quite addictive, ending up buying books so that I could learn more about different periods and tracing ancient Jewish history.

I found out some surprising things, for example that a massive Jewish presence continued for centuries after the destruction of the temple; that the 2000 year long Jewish dispersal was really more of a 1500 year dispersal and that during both the Jewish revolt and the later Bar Kochba revolt, the coins issued bore the title 'Israel'. I also discovered that Judean soldiers had saved the lives of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar when they were under siege in Alexandria.

Wikipedia is an incredibly powerful vehicle of education and a fir…

Pulling back to the wall. Israel's next withdrawal?

In the early twentieth century, when France and Britain took over the Middle East, there were two types of Imperialism.  One was slash-and-burn imperialism which strove to take what could be taken from the region and disregarded "native" rights.  The other was a paternalistic imperialism which strove to help the natives and prepare them for independence. Ultimately both were part of the same phenomena, they both considered Europeans had a right to determine and control local affairs, just one did it in a nice way and the other did not.

There were similar trends in US controlled Iraq.  There were those who worked to extract as much oil as possible and get fat contracts for US companies and those that saw their mission as establishing Iraqi democracy and getting out of Iraq as soon as possible.

A similar situation exists now over Israeli control of the West-Bank.  There are the settler, slash-and-burn tacticians who want to take as much territory as they can and the paternalis…

Why Israel is (almost) an Arab state

The modern Middle-East was largely created by the French and the British, who occupied most of it in the First World War and then drew the maps according to how they understood the local politics. The two communities which had contributed to their war effort were the Jews and the Arabs, and they were represented at the Treaty of Versaille, where the newly formed League of Nations rubber stamped the boundaries the British and French had agreed.

Major groups like the Kurds had no representation, had yet to develop a nationalist movement and were not players.

In the years that followed, a notion developed that the Middle East was an Arab area and anyone who spoke Arabic was deemed to be an Arab.  This generally worked well for Christians and Moslems but the status of Jews was unclear for a variety of reasons.

One well worn argument says that Jews aren't Arabs because they lived in the Middle East (outside Arabia) before the Arabs conquered it. But that just raises more problems, bec…

Sleeping amid sacks of Cannabis: My night with Bedouin opium farmers in Sinai

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Sometime in the mid-Nineties my ex-wife heard there was a great hike in Southern Sinai, where, while standing in Asia, one can look out over Africa.  I liked the sound of this, so we went to the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv and got visas to South-Sinai (it was outside the Sinai coast area where Israelis have visaless access).  These were the years of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and before the rise of al-Qaeda.  Sinai was a pretty safe place at this time.

We caught a rickety bus which goes from the Egyptian border with Eilat to Cairo. The bus slowly crossed Sinai, and after the better part of a day we got off in Wadi Feiran, which is thought to be the site of the biblical battle of Rephidim, where the Israelites beat Amalek and which contains a palm tree forest.

In Feiran we made our way to a Byzantine convent called Deir el-Banat. The convent is 1,500 years old and looked completely alive (though a bit empty).  At the convent a woman, who I suppose was a nun, looked a b…

Cycling in Israeli summers: How air-conditioning boils me alive.

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Its the end of July and it hasn't rained in Tel Aviv for over three months. The ambient temperature is 30 degrees centigrade by seven a.m. and at night it doesn't get below 23. Humidity reaches 65% and midday temperatures are close to body temperature.
We have no air-conditioning in our house and I cycle to work, which causes constant astonishment in my office. Everyone else lives and sleeps in air-conditioned flats, they briefly step out into the heat as they go to their cars, which are also air-conditioned and then they drive to the office where they again, briefly, step into the heat of the underground car-park before ascending to the air-conditioned office.  So they only have brief encounters with the heat and can't understand how I manage.

Cycling in this heat does require a certain amount of care. I wear sandals, shorts and loose sleeveless shirts in an effort to keep my body from heating up. Gloves are out of the question and I would prefer not to use a helmet, tho…

Remembering Dahab 1973 - 1983

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It struck me this week that it is almost 40 years since I first went on holiday to Sinai.  My parents used to drive down regularly in their small tinny oil-cooled Renault 4, in which air conditioning meant opening the window. Sinai was under Israeli rule and peace with Egypt seemed like an unattainable fantasy.
Most Israelis went to Neviot, a Kibbutz erected near the Bedouin community of Nuweiba on the coast, but my parents drove down to the Bedouin community of Dahab, about 100 kilometres further down the coast and a good 500 kilometres from our suburb of Tel-Aviv.  There was a Kibbutz next to Dahab as well, called Di-Zahav and its name was said to hail from the golden glitter in the sand (zahav is gold in Hebrew).  There was speculation that the Israelites might have built the golden calf there.
Those in the know, which somehow included my parents, did not stop at di-Zahav but drove down unpaved roads, along the shore to Dahab. The Bedouin had a series of bamboo shacks there which t…

Palestein: The five state (federal) solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict

I read this week of a meeting near Hebron, between Israeli right-wingers and Palestinian traditionalists exploring the possibility of a single state for all.  what struck me was that they seemed to be leaving Gaza out of the equation, so it was a two state solution with Gaza as a separate state. So I thought: why not have multiple states?  They could be united in a federation.
We could have Gaza for Islamic separatists, Central Israel for left-wingers who want a predominately-Jewish state, Galillee (I can never spell that but you know what I mean) which would be a mixed Jewish-Arab state, the West-Bank would be a left-wing predominately-Palestinian state and finally around Jerusalem: this is the part I'm least sure of - perhaps a Halachic state.  I'm not sure about the Negev, perhaps it would be split between several states.
Each federal-state would be fiscally independent but required to make some kind of contribution to a central management body (eg the national-state), whic…

Putin's visit to Israel signals Assad's demise and a possible new alliance.

The dying Assad regime was the last vestige of Soviet hegemony in the Middle East. At its peak, some form of Soviet inspired socialism governed Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Algeria and the Yemen: the Arab world's most populated states.
Socialist dominance in the Arab world was neatly mirrored by its popularity in Israel, where a Labor party managed corporate state followed something akin to the Swedish model and the Kibbutz remains to this day, one of the most successful forms of socialist commune in the movement's history.
It has recently been claimed that the Soviets deliberately fostered conflict in the Middle East
(see The Cold War’s Arab Spring in the Tablet) as a means of maintaining their popularity, and it may well be that they overplayed their hand because the 1973 war between socialist Israel, Egypt and Syria directly led to its demise in both Israel and Egypt.
The Assad regime survived, bolstered by its control of Lebanon and a terrifying secret police, even after the Russi…

Gulag survivors in Israel: How my uncle survived the war.

My uncle, Fritz Stern, came from Vienna. He emigrated to Israel around 1948, met my aunt (my father's sister, who was from Nuremburg) and together they went to live in Nahariyya, a small seaside resort in the North of Israel which was famous mainly for being full of German-speaking Jews. Fritz had several friends who were also called Fritz Stern.
In 1990, a year or so after the collapse of the USSR, a middle-aged Russian man knocked on their door. when my uncle answered, the Russian gentleman informed him that "I am your son from Latvia".
It emerged that when the Austrians voted to unite with Germany in March 1938, Fritz had managed to get out and go to Latvia, which was then an independent state. It had been part of the Russian Empire until 1917 and managed to win independence during the Russian revolution.

Fritz met a woman in Latvia and married her, I don't know the details but I suppose it had the added benefit of allowing him to stay there at a time when anti-Je…

Ten percent of Israelis don't know their date of birth

As part of the Israeli governments efforts to make our buildings resistant to earthquakes, it was made possible to sell the roof to contractors who would get an easy ride to adding an extra floor in return for strengthening the building as a whole and adding a couple of rooms.  To do that you need to persuade all the apartment owners  to sign a contract transferring ownership of the roof.  There are twelve apartments in my building. Four are owned by one person, six by two and one by three people. The twelfth is owned by the government.


Its a great deal and everyone signed on, but it has been beset with delays. One of the apartments is public housing (the government owned one) and it proved almost impossible to get an official signature on the deal.  There were also difficulties getting preliminary municipal approval for planning details.  However, despite the problems, we have now reached the point where the contractor is ready to submit plans to the planning committee and it emerge…

To bomb or not to bomb and whether its just a bluff: Israel, Iran and nuclear bombs.

If Israel bombs Iran, there is no certainty that it will manage to halt the Iranian nuclear program while at the same time the price of oil will go through the roof (the Iranians will probably close the straits of Hormuz), and the main beneficiaries of high oil prices will not be Israel or its allies. Even if the Iranians have trouble selling oil, if the price is very high, they don't need to sell as much. Meanwhile, back in the West, the economies are very vulnerable and spiraling oil prices will only make problems worse. The main beneficiaries of declining Western economic power are likely to be China, India and Brazil: the rapidly emerging new world powers. So there is a good chance that not only will Israel not stop the bomb, it'll also shoot its friends in the foot, while strengthening at least some of its enemies. The Speaker of the Iranian Parliament said this week that "the Zionists were too cowardly to attack Iran" or words to that affect, and he may be right in…

Remembering Neighbours and Here We Are

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There is a photo of my father in my kitchen, it shows him in the early fifties of the last century (or sometime round then), sitting amidst a set of rubbish bins (garbage cans if you're American) reading a script.  The bins say "Unity". A friend admired the picture and asked where I had bought it.  She said she wanted a picture like that for her house, so I told her that it wasn't bought, it was a picture of my father, Heinz Bernard, who was then the manager of a communist party affiliated theatre in London, called Unity Theatre.
Needless to say she hadn't heard of Unity but when I told her that he had appeared in two legendary Israeli Educational TV series, Neighbours and Here We Are, she immediately knew who he was.
In the late 'Seventies and 'Eighties there was only one TV channel in Israel and each of the two series was shown twice a week. They were so popular that they were shown for seventeen years.  Long after Israeli TV broadcast in colour, the tw…