Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israeli citizens might ponder the following words from Shakespeare [The Merchant of Venice] that I have slightly altered:

‘I am a Palestinian. Hath not a Palestinian eyes? Hath not a Palestinian hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Jew is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that…the villainy you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.’

-- Tariq Ali
Members of Iran’s small Jewish community staged a demonstration outside of the United Nations’ office in Tehran, to protest the Israel Defense Forces’ operation in the Gaza Strip.

The official Iranian news agency, IRNA, reported that community members, alongside Jewish parliamentarian Siamak Mara-Sedq, urged Israel to do its part to return quiet and security to the region.

The chairman of Iran’s Jewish Union, Rahmatullah Raafi, said the community had come out in support of the Palestinian people.

“We are here to express out support and sympathy for the Palestinian nation,” he said, adding that Muslim nations could rise up as a single large force against Israel. He also said that the victors of the current conflict were the residents of Gaza.

Israeli sources familiar with the Iranian Jewish community suspect that the demonstration was organized by the government in Tehran, and does not represent that actual stance of Iranian Jews.

Some 25,000 Jews still live in Iran. Many have visited Israel, where a large percentage of the community has immigrated in the past 30 years. Still, others prefer to remain in Iran. There are rarely reports of the community suffering from antagonism or aggression from their neighbors or from the government.

-- Ha’aretz

Monday, December 29, 2008

...we see a small and ugly truth emerging: Our southern cities have been hit by dozens of missiles, while Gaza sustained hundreds of dead. Almost half of them are civilians; almost half of them are the graduates of a police course who have nothing to do with Qassam rockets.

-- a pseudonymous writer in Yediot Aharonot

It is no truth at all if you ignore it or pretend it cannot be so!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Israel and its Arab antagonists have gone to war again. No, that’s not it. In a valiant defense of its citizens, Israeli forces have neutralized Hamas terrorist rocket launchers and other terror infrastructure. No, that can’t cut it. So how to make sense of it all?

For me, this is a replay of 2006, when Israel warred against Hezbollah, in the process killing about 1,000 Lebanese and wrecking much of the south of that country. It was horrifying, saddening, and quite maddening as well. Now the target is a similarly extremist group in an even more embattled piece of real estate. So far, at latest count, something like 270 Gazans have been killed out of a total population of 1.5 million. After the ceasefire ended many had a dread feeling something big was going to happen. Not for me: it was after the events that had preceded that by several months, like closing the crossings that blocked off international humanitarian aid, denying access to all foreign correspondents, etc.

Once again, this writer needs to attempt to take on an impartial, balanced approach and try to piece together the facts, but that proves difficult because my tribal allegiances are quite clear. Does my Jewish identity prevent me from looking at this situation with a clear head and clear conscience? The events of the last couple of days have constituted a huge propaganda victory for Hamas and other “Islamic resistance” movements the world over and, of course, throughout the entire Arab world. That said, Israel has the right to protect its citizens, as does any state. But when does “defense” stretch into oblivion? When does protection of people’s lives, much holier and sacrosanct in places like Sderot and Ashkelon (and, of late, Ashdod) than in Gaza City and other wards, mutate into a hideous exemplar of collective punishment?

Here are the facts, as best as can be ascertained: since 2006 (again, that year) Gaza has been under a state of siege and Israel proper — in a certain radius from Gaza — has been subjected to incessant rocket fire, by the hundreds if not thousands, from these Hamas militants, who were duly elected into power by the Gazans themselves in the January elections. There had been maybe a few Israeli casualties from these “rockets,” in reality makeshift cylinders with some explosive but no guidance system and they cause little physical harm except psychological distress and terror. The people of Sderot have suffered, there is no doubt; but how can it be denied that the people of Gaza have also suffered, indeed suffered a hundred times more?

Good reporters don’t, and cannot, “take sides.” More often than not, they will take pains to present as even-handed a picture, as neutral a picture, as possible. They will say things like: “In response to Hamas terrorist actions against Israel, the Israel Air Forces have commenced operations to take out Hamas; incidentally, nearly 300 casualties.” If one strays from that style, one becomes either an IAF spokesman or a Hamas apologist, and obviously that’s bullshit. Allow me to explain.

It is indisputable that Hamas is committed, by its charter, to destroy the Israeli state, especially by terroristic means like the obscene suicide bombings, which have thankfully ceased but may resume should things get worse. It is also not in dispute that since 2006, but probably earlier, a humanitarian crisis has befallen Gaza and the agent, regrettably and painfully, is Israel. The aim was clear: punish the people for electing Hamas into power, in a democratic election. The methods of punishment have been varied: closures of the main crossings, control of the borders so as to allow military incursions at will and with impunity, the use of sonic weapons to terrorize the population and, lastly, clearing out the foreign correspondents and international humanitarian aid. Only now has it morphed to an explicit stage: massive bombardment.

Isaac Luria, a representative of the pro-Israel lobbying group J Street, also writes of the conflict about the conflict: “I felt immediate pressure from friends and family to pick a side. Did I think that Israel’s actions were fully justified or disproportionate? Did Hamas bring this on itself by firing rockets and provoking Israel or are the strikes an act of aggression against a people trapped in misery and poverty? Couldn’t I see who’s right and who’s wrong?” Luria concludes by saying, “Israel has a special place in my heart. I lived there last year while my wife was studying to be a rabbi. But I recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong. While there is nothing ‘right’ in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing ‘right’ in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.”

Shortly before the flare-up, Nathan Jeffay, writing in The Forward, observed that the ceasefire that was broken right up to the bombings, both sides were left militarily strengthened, sharpening their knives: “For Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza after winning a 2006 election there, the cease-fire was a chance to stockpile its arsenal, increasing the number and capability of its rockets. On December 21, two days after the cease-fire ended, Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, reported to Israel’s Cabinet that it believes Hamas now has rockets that can reach a 25-mile radius from Gaza. This would mean they could hit the outskirts of Beersheba, Israel’s fourth largest city. It also brings the port city of Ashdod into range.”

Jeffay quoted Eyal Zisser, “a terrorism expert at Tel Aviv University,” who said, “Gaza is the only place in the Arab world where Islamists are in power, and they have shown themselves able to rule and to successfully negotiate and benefit from a cease-fire.” Jeffay adds that “the lull gave the army a chance to practice its range of possible responses to Hamas rockets, from targeted killings to a full-scale operation in Gaza. Security experts say it was a period of intense preparation. ‘The [Israel Defense Forces] will have prepared intelligence and used the chance for the training of troops,’ said Ely Karmon, former adviser to the Defense Ministry and senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.”

In the London Review of Books, Sara Roy wrote, also before the operation (“Cast Lead”), that “Israel’s siege has two fundamental goals. One is to ensure that the Palestinians there are seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims. The second is to foist Gaza onto Egypt.” After describing the economic strangulation at considerable length and detail, Roy noted: “The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us, but there is little international response beyond UN warnings which are ignored. … How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel? How can the impoverishment and suffering of Gaza’s children — more than 50 per cent of the population — benefit anyone? International law as well as human decency demands their protection. If Gaza falls, the West Bank will be next.” It is superfluous to add that Sara Roy is the child of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.

Developments are changing constantly. As of “press” time, Ha’aretz reports that Israeli Arabs are demonstrating, burning tires and Israeli flags. Not surprising, but a potential powder-keg: one-seventh of Israel’s population is Arab. This could quite possibly turn into another intifada if the bloodbath continues. Gideon Levy, one of the sharpest editorialists in the Israeli press, wrote immediately after the attacks started, “Once again, Israel’s violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom. What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country.”

Israel will doubtless suffer further attacks against its own citizens if words from people like Levy are ridiculed or ignored, the necessary, at times painful, voices of dissent that put a worthy nation on the right track if, and more often when, it goes perilously astray.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Life intercedes. Scratch the mention of Staten. Maybe next time.
My sporadic postings are a sign to come of activity here for the near future: on break, in Connecticut and then Staten Island (through rest of the week), then back home but, otherwise, cannot guarantee regular insights or comments for the forseeable future. There might be a year-end recap or something like that down the pipe for the 31st but that is about all I can manage right now. Not than I am busy per se, but not of a bloggy mind lately.

Monday, December 08, 2008

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

“There’s room at the top they are telling you still/But first you must learn to smile as you kill, if you want to be like the folks on the hill.”

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

— John Lennon (Oct. 9, 1940 – Dec. 8, 1980)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

“At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

— a sign in Olympia, Washington Legislative Bldg., soon found lying in a ditch after it was removed

Link to the story here.

As a mostly secular, agnostic Jew with (non-Hollywood) kabbalistic leanings, there is much I sympathize with there: no afterlife, an appreciation and awe of and for the wonder and beauty of the world and nature, and an understanding that the myths and superstitious practices and traditions that are a part of all religious belief can harden the hearts of humanity and trap their minds. But by that very token an atheistic look at the world, in my view, is very bleak, and does not have any space — a needed one — for a deeper understanding of the spiritual world and what it can offer.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I clipped this photo off of CNN yesterday, apparently an anti-Pakistan demonstration quite recently in Mumbai.

Look at this man’s rage. I understand it, but given the current realities it is also worrisome. Because it reminds me of some of the feelings I felt and saw right after 9/11, and I remember well the hate-driven crimes, hundreds of them, in the atrocities’ wake because of that very real, explicable rage.

These truly are frightful, horrid times to live in, to see the kind of barbarity we were all witness to, directly or not, last week.

“We are very angry. We saw blood and mayhem for three days. I heard the gunfire all night. The fear has now turned into rage. Anger is a good thing; it shakes us out of our indifference and inaction. We stand up and demand answers from our leaders.

“The collective anger of a population is a powerful force. But as a young and outraged citizen of India, I am afraid of the direction our anger is taking. When all fingers point toward Pakistan, I am filled with a sense of dread. It is chilling to hear two nuclear powers use the language of war.”

— from a letter to the editor of the New York Times, written Nov. 30 and published Dec. 2, by Devika Narayan