Friday, March 30, 2012

The real danger

Will there be a war with Iran or will there not? Does Netanyahu seriously mean it, or does he not? Will Obama approve and facilitate it, or will he not? What did the German Foreign Minister hear from Israel's Defense Minister, and why did it make him feel more concerned than before this meeting? Is Israel really  building air bases in Azerbeijan, in preparation for an attack on Iran? Who leaked this story to the international media, and why? And when a thousand demonstrators marched through the streets of Tel Aviv, chanting "Danger, danger, this is a War Government", were they justified in feeling so alarmed?   And how high will the oil price still get?

Yesterday the Israeli Defense Forces announced an alert, as did Israel's national Police Force. All leaves were canceled, and the forces were deployed on the borders and the fronts in the north and south and center. The Army Chief of Staff went fast to and fro and met with the Commanding Generals and the commanders of brigades and divisions and reviewed the operational plans and doom scenarios. The media picked it up and reported in banner headlines about the state of emergency and the preparations for a widespread conflict.

What's all this? What's going on here? Had the War with Iran begun? No, not yet. Nuclear weapons? Absolutely not, nothing of the kind. A missile attack? Not that, either. Israel's military forces went on a high alert to face a march of Palestinians (and of the Palestinians' supporters from all over the world). Some of these enemies are not armed, others are armed with weapons from the Stone Age (quite literally). The entire might of the great IDF, mobilized to face the unarmed Palestinian march on Land Day.

Does it look ridiculous? Preposterous? Disproportionate? Not at all. For the  most powerful army in the Middle East which is one of the strongest in the world is facing something which all its might cannot defeat. Facing the array of tanks and artillery and gunboats and fighter planes and nuclear bombs is the boy with the stone at a checkpoint and the detainee on hunger strike in a prison cell, to the brink of death. Facing this army is a people living already for  several generations under conditions of occupation and oppression and exile and humiliation, and who did not give up – nor will they give up - the dream of being a free people in their country. It is the Palestinian little David who is nowadays facing the Goliath who stands armored from head to toe.

Many successive leaders of the Zionist movement wanted and dreamed of escaping this disturbing presence, these other people living here, whose ancestors had also lived in the same land of the ancestors of the Jewish people (and perhaps they were just the same ancestors...). Again and again there were attempts to erase and to hide and to change the agenda and to talk about other things and other issues - on anything and everything, as long as it would not be these annoying Palestinians and their demand to have rights in this country.

Not even Netanyahu could sweep the Palestinian problem under the carpet.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Palestinian Houdini

[March 26, a postscript was added]

What is this? A UN fact-finding mission to inquire into the settlements on the West Bank? What, bother us again with settlements and occupation? Don't they know at the UN that we had long since left this issue behind us?

 – The social protest drew attention away from the occupation.

–The war against Iran, which will or will not take place, anyway distracted attention away from the social protest.

–The exchange of fire around on the Gaza border diverted attention away from the war against Iran.

–The war against Iran came back and again took the focus and made us forget the Gaza exchange of fire.

–The Toulouse killing spree diverting attention from the war against Iran and the Gaza exchange of fire and the social protest.

–And now, after all this, we go again to deal with the occupation and the settlements? The cabinet ministers of the Government of Israel are bothered and must neglect the really important things and enter once again into debates on this banal and well-chewed issue! Can't you find  something new, something original, to put on the agenda?

And besides, just last week the veteran and experienced commentator Ben Kaspit wrote in his weekly column in Ma'ariv newspaper: "Netanyahu deserves credit for what he did the last two years, when he managed to kill the Palestinian issue and place instead the issue of Iran at the top of the global agenda. This is an important, significant and  strategic achievement".

Can it be that such a clear, incisive statement would be disproven within less than a week? Could it be that Ben Kaspit and the other well-informed commentators have been all wrong? Netanyahu made confirmed kill of the Palestinian issue - and now this stubborn issue suddenly opens the coffin lid and rises out of the grave, in front of our boggling eyes? What is this, a new  Houdini? Really, can anyone explain what's going on here?

The history of Migron or: what is there to investigate?

In 2002, Israeli settlers in the area east of Ramallah complained of not having good reception on their cell phone. The phone company understood their plight and established for their benefit an antenna on a hill overlooking the Route 60, which is the main highway connecting the northern West Bank with the south.

The antenna was established on land owned by Palestinians from the nearby villages of Burqa and Deir Dibwan. Unlike in many other places in the West Bank, here the Israeli authorities do not dispute the land being privately owned by Palestinians - but the company did not bother to ask the landowners' permission to build the antenna. And then, a trailer was brought in, where a guard was placed to keep an eye on the antenna - a young settler from a nearby settlement. Then another trailer arrived, with another guard.  Then the guards felt lonely there on the hill and brought their wives and their children to live with them and participate in the guarding work. And then, more and more guards arrived - 45 in all, each of them living in a trailer of his own and sharing the guarding duty with his own wife and children. In order to have place for all the trailers of all those guards and their families, the Ministry of Housing of the State of Israel took care to plough up and flatten the hilltop area and pave several access roads and connect all trailers to electricity and water.

Then all the guards banded up to erect a perimeter fence, enclosing a considerable parcel of land in a wide circle on all sides of the antenna, so as to better guard it. The enclosed area was entirely in privately owned land of Palestinian residents, duly recorded in the land registry office and recognized by the State of Israel. When the landowners arrived, ownership deeds in hand, and tried to enter their land, they were warned by the antenna guards (and by the soldiers stationed there to guard the antenna guards) that anybody entering the closed military zone around the antenna would be liable to be detained or shot.

After about a year the Antenna Guards stopped calling themselves that, and formally announced that they have established a settlement outpost called Migron. The name Migron comes from the Bible, which recounts that at a place called so King Saul had conducted a heroic battle a bit more than three thousand years ago, and historians believe it was somewhere in the general vicinity of the hill with the antenna. And so, there was no more talking of guarding and preserving a cell phone antenna. Rather, residents of the sixty trailers regarded themselves as engaged  in a far more important and sublime guarding mission, i.e. to maintain and sustain an ancient Jewish tradition,  three thousand years old, and be worthy heirs to King Saul.

In 2003, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon solemnly promised to U.S. President George W. Bush that he would dismantle all settlement outposts established after 2001. Migron was definitely on that list, along with several dozen other outposts throughout the territories. But there had already been a previous  Israeli Prime Minister who said "I promised, but I did not promise to keep my promise." President Bush did not really press the issue, and the outpost of Migron remained intact and continued to expand, and in the nearby village residents were left with ownership deeds in hand.

And in 2006 the landowners, together with the Israeli Peace Now movement, appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel. And the wheels of justice went grinding very slowly and leisurely, and the judges were in no hurry to render a verdict. The State's representatives clarified to the court that there was no dispute about the trailers structures having been erected illegally, on land which did not belong to those now living in them and without the legal owners' consent. Therefore, the state duly issued demolition orders for these illegal structures.

After a year the State told the court that the demolition orders had not yet been carried out, as the military authorities faced manpower shortages and decided to give precedence to other locations. And when the judges inquired, after the passage of another year, it turned out that the manpower problem had not yet been resolved. Meanwhile, the government approached the Migron residents and offered to build them beautiful houses in another settlement if they consent to move there. But they rejected the offer out of hand and said that they would never abandon the legacy of King Saul and the location where the King fought and defeated his ancient enemies 3000 years ago.

In 2011 the Supreme Court judges have had enough and they issued a definite ruling, ordering the state to evacuate the Migron outpost no later than March 30, 2012. And the Migron settlers cried out bitterly that the state was about to destroy a prosperous and vibrant community and uproot children from their childhood homes, and that the Jewish people was about to lose their foothold on the patrimony of King Saul, Father of the Nation. And also, the settlers asserted that the Arabs living in Burqa and Deir Dibwan - who are the owners of the land -  that the ownership deeds in their possession were not valid and that the land had been granted in the 1960's by King Hussein of Jordan to his local favorites and that this royal favoritism should be annulled and disregarded.

And around the famous antenna the settlers banners reading "In Migron the war will start", and they enlisted the help of many Knesset Members who support the Netanyahu Government as well as several of his cabinet ministers. And all these threatened in earnest to undermine the stability of the government if, God forbid, the outpost is destroyed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu  charged Minister Benny  Begin with mediating between the government and the Migron settlers, and Begin duly came up with a 'compromise' proposal. By the terms of this compromise, there shall be established a brand new settlement kilometers away, and its construction would last until November 2015, and until then the Migron settlers would remain at their present location, and when they move to their new homes the land would not be returned to the Palestinian owners but would remain in possession of the army, and the trailers would remain in place and some form of civil use would be made of them (Perhaps to house a new generation of antenna guards...)

At first the Migron settlers bitterly rejected out of hand this humiliating compromise, and reiterated that by no means  would they leave the patrimony of King Saul. But when  the target date drew near they announced that with an aching heart they do agree to the painful compromise, so as to avert a violent conflict. Two days ago, on Thursday  March 22, a representatives of the State and the settlers arrived together at the Supreme Court and asked the judges to accept and formally approve this compromise, in the cause of peace and of bringing people closer together.

By coincidence, that was the very same day that the United Nations Human Rights Council convened in Geneva and resolved to appoint a fact finding mission to look into the process of settlement construction by Israel and its impact on the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

In fact, the United Nations could save its time and resources. All that UN personnel need to do is read the story of the Migron outpost, available online for all to read.

Where does this de-legitimacy come from?

Recently I received a message from Knesset Member Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz, detailing his experiences on a recent visit to Berlin.

(…) Everywhere I went in Berlin I met Israelis, A lot of Israelis live there now. I came to Berlin to attend an important and rare conference on the situation in the Middle East and Israeli- German relations. Why rare? Because in recent years Europeans are increasingly avoiding the holding of meetings or conferences on Israeli matters, which are certain to arouse severe reactions. Demonstrations, boycotts, harsh criticism, pressures, cancellations... Israel's  position and public image are in severe decline. More and more often, just in order to avoid embarrassing situations, the organizers avoid in advance any exchange ideas about Israel. "Why should we take up such a headache?" a  German holding a senior position in an important organization told me.

And when such events do take place, terrible criticism is flung in our faces,with such words as "Apartheid", "Anti-democratic Legislation" and "Racism". And even though we ourselves say these things inside the country - even more severely – it is not easy to hear it abroad, certainly not from Germans.

And what is most terrible is that  this criticism is largely justified. A friend told me during the conference about his organization's activities against the sealing of water wells of Palestinians in the West Bank, of which the European media is full of reports. I was not surprised. In recent months, almost every Member of the European Parliament I met in the Knesset had asked me why the IDF is sealing these wells. An unbearable story. With sprinklers splashing   away in a settlement which enjoys unlimited water supplies, the nearby  Palestinian village dries up, not even connected to the water pipes (which is the situation for a tenth of the population in the West Bank), and having its wells sealed up time and again. There is no way to "explain" and make "hasbara" for this story. It would be a waste of your time, I told a group of Israeli diplomats recently. You should tell the truth, here and everywhere: It is injustice, theft, dispossession.

The organizers of the conference, the Green Party's Heinrich Boll Foundation,  did make an effort to conduct the discussion in a fair way and avoid an overall stigmatizing of Israeli policy: to emphasize the friendship between Germany and Israel, to mention the activity of the Israeli peace camp, to recognize the many real difficulties faced by Israelis and Palestinians alike. But time after time, all this goodwill goes crashing down against the rock of the inequity of the settlements and occupation."

So far MK Nitzan Horowitz. And another report, from a person who is – to say the least – no friend to the peace movement in Israel. Ben-Dror Yemini, a columnist for the Ma'ariv newspaper, who just came back from a long lecture tour in the university campuses of the United States.

I tried to understand the evolving arena of the anti - Israeli, U.S. campuses.(...)" Most students on campus, and most of the lecturers, are far from really interested in the Middle East or the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Events such as the Israeli Apartheid Week do not draw mass participation. Most students are indifferent. That does not mean that we should be indifferent. Because the next generation of young Americans who become active, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, will be critical [of Israel] at best, and very hostile at worst.

(…)There are some issues on which we can effectively rebut the accusations. But it must be admitted that on one issue we can offer no real answer. The expansion of settlements. On this, it is not just the staunch anti-Israel camp which does not want to understand Israel's position. This also the friends of Israel - and they are still the majority – find it very difficult to stomach. If Israel wants peace, there can be no explanation for the expansion of settlements. Except for very marginal groups I have not met any American audience, on or off campus, which is willing to show understanding for this side of Israeli policy. Israel needs to decide if it wants a two-state solution, or is in favor of one single big state. We do not need to stop expanding settlements for propaganda purposes. We need this for existential reasons. "

So far, the words of Ben-Dror Yemini, as published a week ago in the newspaper and on his personal blog.

It should be noted that the Israeli government is not indifferent to the danger of the country's growing de-legitimacy in the world. In fact, the government has placed a special cabinet minister to coordinate the hasbara efforts and the  global campaign against de-legitimacy. This minister's name is Yuli Edelstein.  Of course, the minister himself lives in a West Bank settlement and is outspokenly proud of it.

[*] Postscript, March 26 

The "compromise" presented to the Supreme Court would have given the Migron settlers a further three and a half years' tenure on land to which they have no legal title whatsoever. After a three days' deliberation the judges, headed by their new President  Asher Grunis, threw this back in the government and settler leaders' faces. Instead, the Court made clear that the settlers must be out of there by August 1 this year, and that there would be no further delays.

This was the first real test of Grunis, who was made President of the Supreme Court by dint of tireless efforts by right-wingers throughout the past year. The Migron verdict must have been a bitter disappointment to those who worked so hard to get him there.

Grunis is known to dislike the invalidating of laws, the kind of act which could place the Judicial and Legislative branches of government on a direct collision course.

However, there was no special need to be a proponent of Judicial activism in order to discern that the Migron settlers' act was a manifest theft of somebody else's property, and that the state was clearly complicit in this theft. All that was needed this time was to be a bit of an honest judge.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"They're murdering Blacks and Jews and Arabs, here"

"They're murdering Blacks and Jews and Arabs, here" read a huge banner carried in the protest march on the streets of Paris last night. Twenty thousand people were there –  there were Blacks, and  Jews and  Arabs, but most of them were neither - just people who heard of racist murders being perpetrated in their country and went into the streets to express indignation and protest.

It was not the first time that such a terrible thing, a serial killing, took place in a school -  but this school was chosen because it was Jewish. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler was killed, and his two children Gabriel and Arieh, and the girl child Myriam Monsonego. And the same killer is assumed to have also killed three soldiers, the Black Carribean  Abel Chennouf  and the North Africans  Imad Ibn Ziaten and Mohammed Legouad. All killed by the same murderer.  

But who is really to blame?

To most citizens of France- and to most of the politicians there, too - all this is  pretty clear. To Israel's Prime Minister and his ministers it is probably a bit less obvious. In a first and immediate response, when it was still unclear exactly who was responsible, Netanyahu has already marked his target and pointed an accusing finger at Hamas and the UN. And by the next morning, the real culprit was unmasked - none other than Catherine Ashton.

Yes, Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, has come under a concerted barrage of vituperation from virtually everybody: Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Lieberman, (on the phone from distant China) and also the Leader of the "Opposition" Tzipi Livni. Today, Catherine Ashton hosted in Brussels, a group of Palestinian children from Gaza who came to visit. She talked about her appreciation of the  young Arabs who led the Arab Spring revolution, and for the young Palestinians who maintain themselves in difficult situations, of young people and children killed and murdered around the world. Of the Belgian children killed in the overturning of a bus in Switzerland, and the Jewish children murdered in Toulouse, and the Norwegian children murdered by a racist in Oslo last year, and the Syrian children victims of the incessant carnage, and the Israeli children in Sderot and... [yes, also] the Palestinian children in Gaza.

The government and the mass media are united in anger and wrath and unrestrained and uncontrollable fury at this comparison, the horrific and terrible insult hurled at the most moral army in the world. Everybody demands of her an apology, apology, apology, APOLOGY, nothing less than an apology. How could you make such a comparison, how could you? After all, we never kill children on purpose, it always always happens only and solely by an  unfortunate accident for which we are very sorry.

For example, this child which our air force killed in Gaza a week ago. A very sad case, what was this child's name? Well, the Israeli media did not publish his name, an anonymous child, but we're sorry do you hear; it was an accident. Also the three hundred children killed during Cast Lead, none of them we killed on purpose. Three hundred cases of regrettable accidents, which happened despite the very careful surgical procedures which we undertook. (Well, even with surgeons in the operating room it sometimes happens that a hand is slipping, even the speakers of the Syrian Army are already talking about surgical procedures taken against insurgents in Damascus.).

In short, we are the most moral army in the world as our Foreign Minister Lieberman has said himself. So we demand Ashton's immediate apology.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A rehearsal towards the bombing of Iran?

Last week, several hours after the assassination in Gaza and the escalation which followed, I took part in drafting a press release on behalf of Gush Shalom, in which was raised the possibility that the escalation was initiated by the government of Israel as a dress rehearsal towards the war in Iran, which Prime Minister Netanyahu is eager to launch, and/or as a "consolation prize" for not having gotten an  American authorization to launch that war.

Journalist  Ze'ev Kam published a furious reaction on the NRG Ma'ariv website.

The site gave me the right of response.
The translation of my response follows.

Immediately after returning from his meeting in the U.S., Netanyahu sent planes to bomb Gaza. Pure coincidental? That is far from certain.  A response to Ze'ev Kam.

Ze'ev Kam seems flabbergasted. How dare Gush Shalom even consider  the possibility that there might be a causal link between the Prime Minister's speech offensive in Washington and the bombing offensive in Gaza which followed a few days later? What the hell – how can these two events have anything at all to do with each other?

Well, every newspaper reader in the world knows that Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants, dreams, seeks and aspires with his whole being to send the Air Force of the State of Israel to a massive bombing of Iran. We all know that he regards such an attack on Iran as virtually his lifework. We all know that he went to Washington to get U.S. approval to launch this war – and that he did not get it.

For all his fine words at the AIPAC conference, President Obama in effect asked Netanyahu to avoid launching an attack which among other things might result in bringing the shaky world economy crashing down, doubling or tripling the price of oil .

So, the Prime Minister returns from Washington, feeling a lot of frustration – and just after he landed at Ben Gurion Airport, the Air Force was sent off on a mission for which there does exist a US authorization,  against those considered to be the local partners of the Iranian villains.  A pure coincidence? The attack and "liquidation" cause an immediate flaring up of the Gaza Strip border region, driving a million Israelis to the air-raid shelters - as was well known in advance that it would. So clear was it, that already prior to the liquidation, the "Iron Dome" anti-missile missiles were moved south – pre-positioned so as to be ready to intercept the expected retaliatory Palestinian missiles, to stand the test of action under optimal operational conditions.

A test which is definitely required and essential for the great war in Iran, if and when the Americans ever give approval for it. According to one report I read, it was even made sure that the "liquidation" in Gaza be carried out under the appropriate weather conditions – i.e., with no clouds in the sky, which is when the "Iron Dome" works best.

Despite the liquidation, warnings about a Sinai attack remain in force

It is a fact that the experiment succeeded and the Iron Dome performed quite well in conditions of actual action. Inhabitants of the South underwent several difficult days of anxiety, but thankfully none of them  was killed.  Indeed, the Iron Dome stood the test above expectations and intercepted ninety percent of the missiles launched, which is an encouraging sign for the far bigger test awaiting this weapons system  during the coming Iran War (hopefully, none of us will happen to be where the other ten percent falls).

True, some migrant workers from Thailand, who came here for their families' livelihood, were seriously injured and will carry scars for life. And on the other side of the border, despite the surgical precision of the bombing, in one place a boy was killed, and in another place a sixty year old father and his thirty year daughter were killed when their car was hit. Well, such things happen. But overall, the experimental test  certainly went well.

But wait, what about the ticking bomb? Ze'ev Kam wrote that the liquidation had been necessary, in order to "eliminate a ticking bomb that was on its way towards the next terrorist attack, firing a missile or exploding a bomb." But with all due respect, Mr. Kam, I must confuse you with facts: No one asserted that the people riding in an Opel, which was blown up by our air force, were on their way to make any such attack. They were not themselves "a ticking bomb".

The IDF Spokesperson claimed that one of them, the commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, was involved in planning an attack on Israel through the Sinai border. And now, when this "targeted assassination" did take place and the residents of southern Israel were huddling in shelters for nearly a week (as did the people of Gaza) - was  the attack on the Sinai border prevented? Not exactly – in his concluding review of the successful confrontation on the Gaza border,   IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz confirmed alerts about a potential attack on the Sinai border remain in force.

To what can I compare it? Excuse me for making such an outrageous comparison, but suppose the heroic commandos the IDF's elite Sayeret Matkal  were planning to take action against despicable terrorists.  Suppose the villainous terrorists somehow got wind of it and, God forbid, were able to carry out a targeted assassination and liquidate  commander of Sayeret Matkal as he was driving a car through the streets of Tel Aviv along with an officer of the unit.

Would the liquidation of their  beloved commanding officer deter the commandos of this renowned unit from carrying out the action planned - or vice versa, would it have the effect of giving them an even greater motivation and determination to carry it out anyway? And is it not possible that our cousins ​​in Gaza would think and act in the same way?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Happy Purim to all of us

1) Purim in Washington

It was the week of the nuclear duck. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, what is it? Really, what could it be? Maybe it's Dimona?

While trying to convince the President of the United States that it was time to bomb the nuclear duck (the Iranian duck, only the Iranian) the Prime Minister of Israel handed him a copy of the Book of Esther, which tells the story of the downfall and hanging of a Persian villain 2400 years ago, events for whose commemoration the Jewish religion instituted the Purim Holiday. Maybe exactly this would convince Obama to settle accounts with the Persian villain of the present day?

When and where, exactly, was The Book of Esther written? Did the events recounted there actually happen? Was there ever, once upon a time, a man at the court of the King of Persia named Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite, who conspired to perpetrate a  massacre of the Jews in the many provinces under the King's rule? Whether or not such a person ever lived, there is no doubt that when the book was written the phenomenon which we know as "antisemitism" already existed. The Jews were already a religious and ethnic minority scattered among many countries and nations, and already there were those who hated them and sought to harm them.

And how to interprete this Book  and what lessons can be drawn from it for our own time? It can certainly be read as the story of cynical intrigues and power struggles going on at a corrupt and profligate royal court thousands of years ago, which are in many ways reminiscent of  various intrigues and power struggles still going on in our own day. And there are quite a few Feminist interpretations of King Ahasverus' relationship with the women in his life and his palace. And certainly, it can be read as the wonderful story of a struggle against racist persecution, the story of a threatened minority over whose heads hung a terrible threat, and who were saved due to a tenacious struggle for survival and due to a courageous and resourceful young queen who took considerable risks for the sake of her people.

But it can also be read as a story of bloody and cruel revenge, of how the hunted in a twinkling became the hunter, how those who were very nearly killed and slaughtered turned on the very next day into bloody killers themselves. Of how it was not enough to hang on a tall tree "Haman, Persecutor of the Jews", but also his ten sons were hanged with him - including his youngest, Weizata, whom Jewish tradition remembers as a rather confused child who was not really involved in his father's machinations. "It was turned around, and the Jews had rule over them that hated them. The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt, and no man could withstand them, for the fear of them fell upon all people." And the Book of Esther sums up with the grim statistics - no less than seventy-five thousand killed in two days. And who were these  people? Did they all deserve death? The names and details are not told.

Did it really happen, about 2400 years ago? Is it history or legend? What is indisputable is that in the year 1994, it was these precise verses which inspired a doctor named Baruch Goldstein at the settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron to go out on Purim and come to a holy site where tradition places the burial place of the ancient ancestors of the Jews and the Arabs alike. There, in this place and at this time of the year and inspired by these verses in the Book of Esther, he perpetrated a slaughter of Muslims during their prayer and set in motion the cycle of hatred, and of revenge, and of revenge for revenge for revenge, which led to suicide bombings of buses and the assassination of a Prime Minister on a square in the heart of Tel Aviv and the derailing of a process which should have led to peace and an end to the occupation no later than May 1999. And still now, there are those in the settlements who are attracted precisely to these verses, and who wave the words " It was turned around" like a sword aimed at their Palestinian neighbors - especially, but not only, on the day of Purim.

And what is the Book of Esther for the current Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu? What did he think, exactly what did he want to express when presenting this book to the President of the United States?

2) Purim in Holon

In truth, most of the Israelis do not delve too deeply into the Book of Esther or ponder its subtle implications. Purim is conceived as mainly and primarily a children's holiday, indeed the most important event for children in the entire year, a carnival holiday of colorful costumes and masks, of funny games and pranks and acts of mischief. The text of the Book of Esther is not taken very seriously – a funny and entertaining story about a drunkard king and his unkempt court. The mass killings at the end are played down, like the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales were changed from the very brutal stories published in the 19th century to the charming fairy tales nowadays known to the world's children.

For the past twenty years the city of Holon established the tradition of the Adloyada, the  colorful carnival parade thought its main streets, this year also helped by the weather (not the slightest hint of rain). On the way to the cheerful parade route, Border Police could be seen hefting their guns, but security was less heavy than in the Purims of five or ten years ago. Only briefly did the children and their parents stop when a chain of explosions rent the air, but these turned out to be only a string of firecrackers which someone had shot into the air.

At Sokolov Street, the main street of Holon, a large crowd had gathered along the sidewalks to watch the parade, also on  the balconies  and rooftops were masses of people. And cheerful giant floats passed along to the sound of joyous music and the cheering crowd, and some of them included hints to the social protests of the past summer. Also manifested was the spirit of Vegetarianism which in recent years had become more trendy in Israeli society. A giant chicken, with friendly and a bit sad face, sat under the sign "I do not want to become a schnitzel". Behind it, a huge pile of mouth-watering papier-mâché vegetables was surmounted by the sign "Vegetables are good for you".

And especially, there were the schools and youth clubs of the city of Holon, group after group of children and adolescents, from first grade to those who about to complete high school, dressed and made up and dancing and jumping and walking on their hands and performing all  kinds of antics and stunts. It was clear that they had devoted much effort of preparation and rehearsals ahead of this big day. Group after group passed along the wide street and danced and jumped and received the cheers of the crowd. And not just from the city of Holon. Also from schools in neighboring towns, children and youths came to this great Purim parade , and even from Oranit a group of girls came to take part in the Purim parade of Holon. Oranit, for those who do not know, is a settlement located beyond the Green Line, in the territory which was occupied by the armed  forces of Israel in 1967 and which is still under military rule and where the State of Israel is prohibited under International Law to move to its citizens (but ignores this prohibition). But Oranit is not a particularly fanatic settlement – more of a middle class suburb – and very few people present at the colorful procession noticed or gave thought to the location of Oranit.  Anyway, the girls from there looked exactly like those in the other contingents, wearing tight black clothes and clown makeups on their faces and dancing and jumping and getting their share of the crowd's applause.

Overall, it was a nice and friendly event, not very deep or meaningful. Children and youngsters have the right to rejoice together in the city streets and enjoy life, which in this country would probably provide them later on with less pleasant experiences. The children and teenagers and parents dispersed happily home, ordinary Israelis in their masses. According to the opinion polls of March 2012, most of these parents - like most citizens of Israel - would on the next elections vote to return to power Binyamin Netanyahu and his partners, even if they do not really want him to rush into war against Iran.

3) Purim in Yatta

The town of Yatta in the South Hebron Hills had also known celebrations, but it was several months ago. In October 2011, residents of Yatta went into their streets to celebrate and welcome home the town's resident Khaled Musa Almahamra, who was released from Israeli prison as part of the great prisoner exchange deal.

This week, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, there was no cause for celebration in Yatta. Precisely on our holiday there arrived IDF soldiers to arrest the ex-detainee and haul him back to prison. "He had been involved in transferring money to a terrorist organization" said the security services of the State of Israel. For the general Israeli public, the word of the security services is sacrosanct, and the military judges issues Administrative Detention orders on the basis of secret evidence and do not ask many questions. What is the evidence, to whom was the money sent, what exactly is it meant to fund? (There were quite a few cases in which the funding of charities was considered as terrorism. Also the establishment of kindergartens.) We will probably never know.

At the same time when Holon youths marched happily through the streets of their city, their  peers in Yatta went out into their own streets to protest the arrest of the neighbor who had just been released. And an Israeli soldier was hurt by a Japanese knife and shot and killed one of the Yatta youths and seriously injured two others who were taken to intensive care.

On the Israeli television evening news, coverage of the event was mostly focused on the  lightly wounded soldier, the dead Palestinians being mentioned only in passing. And then the news magazine passed on the more joyous item of the big Purim parade in Holon and the smaller parades in several other cities. Everybody who missed seeing it in the flesh could see the young happy dancers in a beautiful colorful broadcast lasting several minutes.

4) Purim in Gaza

Here I intended to finish this article, but the Purim of this year was far from over, and there were still dramatic events in store. It was still Purim when the Air Force planes of the State of Israel entered the skies of the Gaza Strip, to carry out a liquidation from the air and hit directly and accurately at Zuhair Qaisi, General Secretary of the Popular Resistance Committees.

We were told through the media that this action, at precisely this time, was absolutely needed and necessary. Because the man was a dangerous terrorist, who was involved in preparations for an attack on Israel through the Egyptian border. The evidence that this is indeed so we will most probably never see or know. Of course, this is highly classified intelligence material. And if Qaisi had indeed been busy planning an infiltration through the Egyptian border, did his death prevent this attack, or did it actually add motivation to those who are about to carry it out? This we might, or might not, know in the near future.

In any case, those who ordered the assassination in Gaza could have been sure that it would be followed by a barrage of missiles on the communities of southern Israel (about one hundred, as of this moment) and that in response to the missiles the planes would come again and kill more Palestinians (15, as of this moment). And exactly who were these fifteen people? The official Channel-1 spoke about 15 terrorists - the last two killed while on a motorcycle on their way to shoot rockets.  But in the slightly more independent Channel-10, the reporter noted that from the footage taken in Rafah, it appears that the two motorcycle riders were transporting vegetables. But of course, there are also terrorists who eat vegetables…

On the Israeli side of the border, no one was killed (as of this moment). There were only four wounded, and quite a lot of people who spent the last day of Purim nervously listening for the air raid warnings and sprinting to the nearest shelters. Iris, from the town of Ofakim, told of the events of the last day of Purim in her neighborhood. "We are forced to leave home and run to the shelter, where the whole neighborhood gathers. In  truth, sleeping is very difficult. We sleep on a blanket under difficult conditions, a dirty floor, filthy toilet, a big nightmare. At six in the morning we had to get up again, because there was a barrage again, and no more sleep."

But anyway, Happy Purim to all of us!

Friday, March 2, 2012

History repeats itself

A city under siege, bombing and shelling goon without a break, trapped civilians undergo terrible suffering and killings, a handful of international journalists report from among the ruins at great life risk.

"All this is propaganda and lies of the hostile media. We are just fighting against terrorists" responds the government which is  sending its forces to wreak havoc and death in the besieged city.

Homs, March 2012

Gaza, January 2009

Clouds of ambiguity

Once upon a time there was a country in the Middle East which took the decision to obtain nuclear weapons at all costs, establish secret uranium enrichment facilities, and also develop sophisticated missiles which could deliver nuclear devices over long distances. But all this was categorically denied.

The President of the United States definitely did not like it. He thought the United States should firmly intervene and put an end to this nuclear project. The President, whose name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, addressed sharply  the leader who had initiated the nuclear program, whose name was David Ben Gurion, and also to the man in charge of  that program, who was called Shimon Peres. The matter did not come up in the media, but behind the scenes the conflict escalated. The Americans demanded to inspect what was going at the Dimona nuclear facility. The government of Israel, for its part, found all kinds of creative tricks in order to prevent such an American inspection.

After President Kennedy was assassinated, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, reached a tacit agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. The government of Israel announced that "Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East", and this was repeated by all later Israeli Prime Ministers, and just this evening President Peres, the founder of the Dimona Pile, repeated it yet again.  For its part, the U.S.  had long since stopped plaguing Israel about the nuclear issue.

Exactly what is behind this cryptic declaration, so often repeated and reiterated? According to quite a few of the international media reports, the State of Israel indeed does not possess nuclear weapons. The State of Israel merely holds a stock of nuclear weapon parts and components, none of which can in itself explode or cause any harm to anyone. True, if ever the government of Israel gives the order, it would take about an hour or two to assemble the pieces and make of them real bombs, and another half hour would be required to place the bombs on missiles and send them off to any designated target. But so far, this did not happen. So far, indeed, Israel had not been the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East. This is called "nuclear ambiguity".

And perhaps this is the solution, the way to defuse the escalation,  avert the coming war of which so much has already been talked about. Just let the Iranians learn from Israel. Let them also undertake to maintain a nuclear ambiguity, and solemnly declare that Iran will also not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Just that, an ambiguity in return for an ambiguity, and we can all live happily ever after.