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;

Edge of the old bus station, looking toward Allenby
See also the Africa Refugee Development Center, Tel Aviv:

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:

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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

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, trying to see the missile heading towards me, when I saw four smoke trails rising up from the East - not from Gaza - they were heading up at incredible speed and I realized they must be Iron Dome missiles. Then I saw a bright light high in the sky heading South to North. Coming from the direction of Gaza, it was clearly the Palestinian missile: the light must have been its engine. One of the missiles fired by Iron Dome went straight for it and the light went out.  

The explosion came about five seconds later: sound travels at 350 meters per second and this must have been a few kilometers away.  It was followed by several more explosions.  If there were more missiles I didn't see them but some of the action was in the clouds so it seems reasonable to assume there were more.

The siren lasted a couple of minutes, but the missile drama was over in seconds, too fast to photograph. I got back on my bicycle and headed to work, as I rode through the park, every one I saw seemed to be smiling: perhaps from relief.  Perhaps happy to know that Iron Dome is out there protecting us. I spent my ride thinking about how I would write this blog.  Its taken me a couple of days to get round to it because of work pressure.  
Yesterday evening we finally went out to see a movie - a wonderful Israeli film called Zero Motivation about teenage girl soldiers. We took a baby sitter and figured that the Hamas rocket men would, as usual, leave their rockets for the morning prayers.  Well they didn't. The siren went off at the exact moment that the cinema advertising ended and the movie started: so it didn't interrupt our viewing and we had the strange experience of the entire movie audience going down into the exit tunnels to wait for "the booms" which indicate that its all over and then wandering back to their seats.  "Where were we?" shouted the bloke who was manning the device that runs the movie (can't think what he's called).  "Just start from the beginning!" we all shouted.

This shows something like what I saw:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

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 oasis. These were young Bedouin men who had grown up under Israeli occupation and spoke good Hebrew. They told me that the Toyota pick-up was the best pick-up in the world. I had no reason to disagree. We still bounced but now we bounced along the track at high speed, coming to a stop in a wide open valley where a number of dry-river beds met. The valley contained a large village of mud-huts with no electricity or running water and it was where these young men with the truck lived. 

My ex-wife who was with me, had once worked for the Israeli social services checking on primary school enrollment of Bedouin girls and she switched into professional mode checking up on the Bedouin girls. I think we may have brought pens with us to hand out to Bedouin children: these trivial items of schooling can be quite valuable in mud-hut villages with no running water.

Anyway at some point the finely clothed Bedouin gentleman who had carried us in his Toyota, approached me and asked if I could help him with an agricultural problem: he had a small garden with a beautiful fruit tree in it (peaches I think) and it was infested with greenfly.   For the record the Sinai Bedouin often have immaculate tiny farms (more of a garden really) in the desert, some (possibly most) of which are residues of Byzantine terraced farming.

I understood that I was being asked as an Israeli.  I suppose a lot of Kibbutzniks with some farming training used to turn up at Bedouin villages and he figured I might know something.  Well I did.

In the early 90's an old primary school friend of mine, Gur Bentwich finished film school at Tel Aviv University (see this in Hebrew).  His final film was an amusing tale about a couple seeking a cure for greenfly/aphids on their home grown cannabis plant. They go from one weird dope-head to another seeking a solution until a prison inmate comes up with a viable solution - yelled from the walls - which involves boiling cheap cigarettes in water and then spraying the water on the plants. I remembered Gur's movie and told him to boil up some cigarettes and spray it on the tree and warned him not to let anybody drink the mixture as it was poisonous.

Soon after that, The Bedouin, indicated it was time to go and loaded us back into his pick up truck, drove along the bumpy dirt track until he came to a large rock, behind which we found our VW.  I later lent Gur my VW Beetle while he was working on his next movie, Planet Blue.

I subsequently learnt that Native Americans used tobacco plants as a pesticide.

See also my post:
Sleeping amid sacks of Cannabis: My night with Bedouin opium farmers in Sinai

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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 not in which country.  The USA, like most other countries has taken care never to recognize Israeli rule in Jerusalem, although half of the city was Israeli before 1967. Effectively the USA is not only not recognizing the 1967 occupation: It is not recognizing the 1948 occupation either.  Ironically Jerusalem is the one place in Israel which had a Jewish majority before the British occupation/mandate in 1917.
The main difference between 1949 and 1967 is that in 1967 the UN Security Council explicitly stated that Israel could not annex the territories, and Israel hasto some extent accepted that decision.  In 1949 the Security Council admitted Israel as a member of the UN and said nothing about territorial borders, so the status of territories occupied in 1948 is hazy. The 1947 partition decision, that preceded the 1948-1949 war, was never executed: The Arabs refused to accept it and the UN never took steps to implement it, so it might be argued that it was a dead decision of no subsequent significance.
In 1948 Jordan and Egypt occupied the West Bank and Gaza while Syria occupied a small swathe of territory designated as Israeli. Perhaps because in 1967 Israel was the sole "occupier" there was no difficulty in passing a resolution whereas in 1948 it was more complex.
There is also an ambiguity: While Israel's occupation of the Golan and Sinai was an occupation of sovereign state territory, in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem it was replacing a previous occupier.
The reason I raise this issue is that I believe Israel has a lot to gain from internationally recognized boundaries.  Recent events have shown that peace treaties with Arab states are hardly precursors to a new international order, but at least the borders with Egypt and Jordan are stable and governed by peace treaties and while the "peace" is at times utterly minimalist, there is a lot to be said for having indisputable boundaries.  The Palestinians clearly cannot guarantee the Israelis much in the way of peace but internationally recognized borders might be of value. Few modern states, if any, are so lacking in internationally recognized borders and there is a potential future threat should Israel withdraw from the West-Bank without a treaty.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

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 15% of UN states are Arab and a further 15% Moslem, so they are almost always in the Security Council.  Israel has never sat on the Security Council and as the only "Jewish" state is clearly very isolated at the UN.  At present Jordan is the only Arab member and Nigeria the only largely Moslem country in the Security Council so Israel has a relatively easy period.

So how often does the USA veto anti-Israel decisions?

I counted vetoes from the UN's foundation to 2009. In total 185 vetoes were cast in that period, of which 96 were cast by the USSR/Russia (mainly the USSR) and 78 by the USA. In some cases the other permanent members participated in vetoes, mainly the UK voting with the USA but also France and China occasionally cast vetoes. 

The USA did not cast a single veto before 1970. Most of the USSR's vetoes were cast in that period when the UN and the Security Council were dominated by pro-Western states. Following decolonization, the emergence of a third world voting block shifted power to the Soviet block and the USA then cast lot of vetoes, primarily in reference to the Middle East and Vietnam war.

In the 23 year period 1946-1969, when the USA cast no vetoes at all, the USSR cast 80 vetoes of which 5 vetoes related to Israel: the causes were Syrian-Israeli conflict over water diversions, Egyptian-Israeli conflict over access to the Red Sea and attacks on Israeli civilians.

From 1970 to 2009 the USSR/Russia cast 16 vetoes, only one of which related to the Middle East: In 1984 the USSR rejected a call for withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, then occupied by Syria and Israel.  Since 2010 it has cast a number of vetoes related to Syria.

France and the UK cast 8 vetoes in the 1946-1969 period. All with relation to the decolonization of Africa, two were about the Sinai crisis.

In the 30 year period 1970-2009, the USA cast 78 vetoes of which 39 - exactly half- were related to the Middle East, so on average the USA has vetoed one anti-Israeli decision a year since 1970.
Democrats governed the USA in 1977-1980, 1993-2000, 12 years out of the 40 year period examined: Only 6 vetoes were cast by Democratic presidents, but 4 of those were Israel-related (one or two per presidential term).
Half of all US Security Council vetoes were during the Reagan presidency, and it also was responsible for half of all Israel-related vetoes, either in relation to the occupied territories or the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. 10 vetoes were cast during the presidency of George Bush Junior of which only one was not related to Israel, in other words 3/4 of all pro-Israeli vetoes were cast by two US presidents.

The necessity of using the veto is often the product of poor inter-state relations. The point about the security council is that issues are resolved in back rooms and not through global confrontation. Use of vetoes are a form of low level confrontation and the high incidence of vetoes under Reagan and Bush may reflect poor inter-state relations, with Israel being an easy way to embarrass the USA because of its lack of international support.

Because I only studied vetoes I can't comment on what the Security Council was actually deciding, and strictly speaking the two need to be examined side by side. Israel is not the only long-term conflict, though it is arguably the UN's oldest conflict. India-Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, Tibet, Sudan and Congo all come to mind and they attracted almost no vetoes.

So is Israel dependent on the US veto? I would say, yes, but less then once a year.

Source: United Nations Security Council - Veto List

Sunday, February 2, 2014

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 strongest nation on earth - is dependent on its ability to produce the best weapons and sell them.

 Israel is a major customer for US arms - US aid to Israel is not spend it how you please cash, but credits to buy US weapons. The Israelis get a percentage of arms freebies but at the same time the Israelis are among the largest customers for US weaponry and US freebies prevent the Israelis from developing cheaper alternatives or shopping around- which could undermine the USA.  Israel is a major testing ground for US weapons, and Israeli innovation and research plays a key role in forming the next generation of US weapons. Much of US aid actually goes to fund Israeli military research and development and in return Israel gives the USA access to the know how generated by that research.  For example the US funded Israeli anti-missile missiles such as Iron Dome and in return received the technology developed by the Israelis free of charge.

Every major US computing firm (Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, Google etc) maintains an R & D center in Israel - per capita R & D in Israel is the highest in the world by along shot: They do so because it's cheaper here and the Israelis are good at it. What applies to computing also applies to arms. The Israelis use the arms credits they receive to build co-manufacturing and R & D agreements.  In addition many armies round the world use the Israelis as a model ("I'll have what they are having") so that US sales to Israel generate a lot of follow on sales to other states. Israeli use of US weaponry demonstrates its effectiveness - and how to use it.

Basically the US is (to paraphrase President Johnson) "better off with Israel inside the tent pissing out then outside the tent pissing in".

If your assumption is that the USA has no interest and gains nothing from supporting Israel then its very easy to be drawn into a world view which assumes mythical "Jewish power"  and the "Jewish lobby" is the entire cause of US support for Israel. My view is that US support is the product of circumstance and that the lobby, such as it is, merely enhances that support and makes it harder to change direction. It isn't the cause of US support for Israel and in fact the peak of Jewish power in the USA was in the Fifties when US government ties with Israel were quite minimal.

Finally I should mention that the highest recipients of international aid per capita are a variety of small Pacific Island states, but if you rule them out then the highest recipients per-capita are the Palestinians - and by a large margin. See  the Palestinians receive aid from a huge variety of nations.  World Bank data does not include military aid so it is probably larger in reality. The Israelis get their aid almost exclusively from the USA, almost exclusively as military aid, and receive less per person (though not by a huge margin) then the Palestinians.  Afghans receive more per person the the Israelis: see

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

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 said that, the sovereign power in the West Bank is the state of Israel, which supports most settlements (although some are built without permisison by "wild cat" groups), so in that respect they are at least partially secured by public law.

Although Arendt flirted with Zionism and was Jewish, she opposed nationalism and was no Zionist. Arendt was highly critical of Jewish authorities behaviour during the Holocaust:

"Wherever Jews lived, there were recognized Jewish leaders, and this
leadership, almost without exception, cooperated in one way or another, for
one reason or another, with the Nazis. The whole truth was that if the Jewish
people had been really unorganized and leaderless, there would have been
chaos and plenty of misery but the total number of victims would hardly
have been between four and half and six million people".

Arendt may be wrong in what she says, and insensitive to the limited choices faced by Jews during this period, but there is a similarity between saying that settlements "must be secured by public law" and trying to work with the Nazis. In a sense what she describes is no different from the policies encouraged by Herzl, and which ultimately won the Jews a state.  By the way, most Jewish leaders were arbitrarily appointed by the Nazis and none were known Zionists. Some may have helped save Jews.

The thing is that the settlers, by ignoring the international community and the Israeli state, are working in accordance with the principals Arendt seems to be advising. So in that sense, Arendt's thinking is closer to settler groups then to liberal-Zionism. In the end, the Jews in Nazi Europe were caught in a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation and Arendt's criticism is not the product of a detailed analysis.

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...