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Showing posts from 2014

The Darfur Computer Service Center: Tel Aviv

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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 fenc…

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 pla…

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

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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 …

Trapped in East Berlin: My close shave with totalitarianism

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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.

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 com…

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 sens…

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 th…

"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 wal…

Watching the rockets go by: Hamas missiles over Tel Aviv.

Missiles are currently being fired at Tel Aviv almost every morning, around 8:30 am. I assume that Hamas leaders go to morning prayers, pray to God and then press the firing button on their automated rocket launchers, before heading home to sleep off the exertions of Ramadan.

The other day they caught me on my bicycle. There was a siren and people around me began running for cover.  I considered the option of crouching next to a wall and decided to ignore the whole situation: in Tel Aviv being hit by a rocket is a bit like winning the lottery: Extremely unlikely but just as that never stops people buying tickets, so it doesn't stop Hamas firing or people running for cover. 
On the highway near me, the cars had stopped and some drivers were crouching behind their cars while others were simply standing there looking up into the sky.  There was a bus full of black hatted Haredi men who just got out and watched upwards, making no effort to take cover.
I also stopped and craned upwards…

My stint as an agricultural advisor to Sinai Bedouin.

Some time in the mid 1990's I took my aging VW Beetle down to Sinai.  A friend advised us to go off road at a spot on the road from Dahab to Mount Sinai and visit an oasis deep in a valley. It sounds crazy now, but somewhere in the Sinai desert we took our twenty year old Beatle off the asphalt and slowly bounced along a dirt path through the desert. The only air-conditioning was the open windows. After about twenty minutes of this we were overtaken by two Bedouin men in an almost new Toyota pick-up. They motioned for us to stop and suggested that we park our car and ride with them. They were wearing beautiful traditional Bedouin clothing. Given that the Beetle was taking quite a beating on the track I was quite happy to leave it, and they then "hid" the VW behind a boulder.  Although it was the only car on the "road", it was completely invisible and I would never have been able to find it again.

We got into the Toyota with the Bedouin and drove down to their …

Are territories Israel conquered in 1948 occupied? Why Israel needs boundary recognition.

Look up the "occupied territories" and across the internet you will hear the same story: The areas occupied by Israel in 1967 are not its territory and it is not allowed to house its citizens on those territories. But there is a problem in that statement: It assumes that the territories held by Israel before 1967 were not occupied. In 1948-1949, Israel conquered a large swathe of territory that the UN designated as a "Palestinian state" or in the case of Jerusalem, as an international zone. Until 1967, the Arab demands were for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1947 partition lines, after 1967 to the 1949 cease fire lines (the pre-1967 borders).
While the 1949 cease fire lines appear to be universally accepted, there is no guarantee that those boundaries are recognized and it is quite possible to argue that Jaffa or upper Nazareth are "illegal settlements".
My son was born in Jerusalem and has an American passport which states that he was born in Jerusalem but…

How frequently does the USA veto anti-Israeli UN Security Council resolutions?

The Security Council is the only international body whose decisions are genuinely "law" and need to be obeyed. That is because they imply an agreement between the world's great powers: USA, Russia, China the UK and France and can be implemented by force (though that requires a further decision). To give you an example, if the International Court in the Hague makes a decision, it becomes a recommendation to the Security Council. If the council ignores it or it is vetoed it has little or no significance. The same applies to UN General Assembly votes: they are recommendations to the Security Council and can be ignored or vetoed. The "big five" members basically take all the decisions and a great power consensus is required for any action to be taken.

There are 10 temporary Security Council members drawn from the General Assembly on a mixed rota-election system.  Those members can make proposals for the others to veto or forget. This is significant because about 1…

Cheap at the price: Why the USA supports Israel

In debates about Israel, I frequently see references to US aid to Israel.  This is generally provided as evidence of the power of the "Israel lobby" to divert American resources without reference to US needs.  The underlying assumption of this thesis is that support for Israel is not an American interest.

In fact the USA has important reasons for supporting Israel. Modern arms are extremely expensive to produce and generate no financial rewards, unless of course you manage to sell them.  The USA is the world's largest exporter of arms and the profits that it generates on arms sales help fund its arms manufacturers, whose main expense is not manufacturing the arms but doing the research and development needed to design them: By making arms manufacturing more profitable arms sales lower the procurement price for the US military and fund the research required to develop the next generation of weapons.  To put it differently, US military power - at the moment it is the stron…

Arendt, Herzl, settlements and the Jewish response to antisemitism

What would Herzl and Hannah Arendt have to say about the settlements if they were alive today?
A key principal for Herzl's movement was that Jewish immigration had to be "secured by public law". Zionism was not a pirate movement, seeking to occupy land, but one that worked with the authorities both local and international and sought formal approval for its actions.  All land was legally purchased and Ottoman approval was sought for migration.  The movement focused on winning international approval and its leaders were democratically elected. This policy paid off, first with the Balfour Declaration and later with the League of Nation's creation of the Mandate for Palestine.  Would Herzl have approved of the West Bank settlements? I would guess that he wouldn't: the settlements are not supported by international law, there is a great deal of dubious land seizure and they are contrary to the democratic principals on which Herzl built the Zionist movement. Having sai…