Friday, January 29, 2010

More on the Binationalism Debate

Haaretz's opinion section has two articles today that discuss the idea of binationalism. They both respond to an essay by Meron Benvenisti (here in Hebrew or English) who says that binationalism is a fact already today and that there is no other solution.

One article, by Elia Leibowitz (in Hebrew, not yet available in English), only slightly touches on Benvenisti's assertions, arguing that actions such as the recognition of Ariel College as a university, the concensus among Israelis about Ariel remaining part of Israel and the left-wing belief in binationalism - all these share a fatalistic view, that there are things that cannot be undone; that Israel can't do a thing to change the future. Leibowitz calls upon Israel to start building other kinds of facts on the ground, such as a massive highway that will connect Gaza to the West Bank.

The second article, by Alexander Yakobson (Hebrew and English), is entirely a rebuttal of Benvenisti. I agree with it completely.

A binational state? Here?
By Alexander Yakobson

Since the division of the land into two viable states is no longer possible, there is no choice - for anyone who believes in equality - but to support a democratic binational state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, claims Meron Benvenisti (Haaretz, January 22).

In my opinion, exactly the opposite is true: Since it is clear that the state Benvenisti recommends instead of Israel will not be a binational democracy, anyone who believes in equality (as opposed to someone who believes in the need to surrender to Arab nationalism) must adhere to the principle of two states for two peoples. This solution is definitely possible if both sides really want it. Yes, the Palestinian side too, whose contribution to the present situation Benvenisti is careful to not examine.

Goodbye, Holden Caulfield

Coincidentally, the news of J.D Salinger's death came just a few days after I started reading his short story collection, "Nine Stories" (a.k.a. "For Esme with Love and Squalor"). At the end of every single story I just said "wow". His writing skills were amazing, and I believe he was the best author I have ever read.

I read "The Catcher in the Rye" when I was in high-school and absolutely loved it. Even though I wasn't much of a rebel and didn't particularly think of adults as phony, I completely identified with Holden Caulfield. Every time I heard a reference to the book as the crazy assassin's bible, I was pissed as hell. There was nothing in the novel that promoted murder. So what if Mark David Chapman, John Lennon's killer, and John Hinckley Jr., who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, were fans of the book? So was Reagan's VP, former President George H. W. Bush!

I'm thinking of re-reading "Catcher". I'm sure it would be a totally different experience from the original reading, not just because it would be the second time around, but mostly because I'm in a different place in my life now. A teenager reading about a teenager is not the same as someone in his late twenties reading about a character who is a decade younger than him. I have no doubt I'll still love the book, and I'll discover new things I didn't notice in high-school.

I'll also probably get around to reading Salinger's other works sometime.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Burkas and Binationalism

In accordance with the findings of a French parliamentary committee, President Nikolas Sarkozy plans to ban the use of burkas and any other clothing that covers people's faces when in public. I strongly oppose this idea. Some women choose to wear burkas, and the ones who don't will not be helped by such a ban. If they will be forced to dress in a way they see as immodest when in public, they won't be in public at all. They will be trapped inside their homes by their husbands and families.

Women should be required to show their faces when taking pictures for IDs and passports, and other instances where they need to prove their identity, such as when they go to vote. But when just walking in the street, attending university or sitting in a library there is no reason not to allow them to cover their faces.

Avirama Golan writes in today's Haaretz (Hebrew and English) that French-Muslim women are being abused by two opposing political factions. She also makes a very good point about what French national values can teach us about the idea of a one-state solution in Israel:

The case of France, a secular republic whose president, based upon its constitution, can make such statements as "the burka is contrary to our values," is conspicuous, but it has implications for other countries as well, especially Israel.

Forget about the burka and the veil and the hat and the sheitel worn by Jewish religious women, and all the other bright ideas that men have invented and that women have had to suffer or have tried to transform from a sign of weakness into a sign of strength. Take note of the official statement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, opposing isolationism and promoting nationalism in the name of the state.

This is in contrast to Israel, where nationalism has, for increasing numbers of groups, become a dirty word. Both the right and the left are coming up with a new invention: a binational or multinational state.

The right wants to erase the border and annex the territories, while elements on the left seek to give up Israeli nationalism which is offensive in their view and which they say is an abomination in the eyes of the progressive international community. Both are convinced that there is no prospect and no need for "two states for two peoples." From now on, the settler shall dwell with the Palestinian and the ultra-Orthodox with the atheist. They will all show respect for each other and their kind and the hijab and the tefillin will be jumbled all together.

But maybe just wait a minute. Maybe first we should see if Europe fulfills the post-nationalist dream and if leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Sarkozy and others, together with all of the citizens who weep while singing the national anthem and on national days of remembrance, give up nationalism in favor of the multi-communal dream. According to all indications, including the French parliamentary report on the burka, we can ensure that for the time being that it absolutely does not happen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

1 Million Shekels Over a Gardener?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah are suing Ma'ariv for libel. They are seeking one million shekels (about $270,000) in damages from the newspaper for reporting that an elderly gardener in the Prime Minister's Residence was fired by the Netanyahus when they moved in last year. Ma'ariv described the gardener as a bereaved father who performed basic gardening tasks for less than minimum wage. The Netanyahus claim in their suit that the report is not true and the gardener is still working at the official residence. Ma'ariv, the newspaper with the second largest circulation in Israel, has not responded to the suit yet.

Even if Ma'ariv published a bogus report, why sue them? Why not just complain to the Israeli Press Council, as Netanyahu did regarding Yediot Ahronot and its report about Lillian Peretz's lawsuit against Sarah Netanyahu?

When the prime minister sues a newspaper it stinks. When he sues a newspaper over such an unimportant issue as whether or not a damn gardener was fired - it stinks even more. It looks like Netanyahu is trying to intimidate the press so it stops reporting on his wife's and his own conduct. I hope this suit is thrown out by the courts.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Muhammad al-Dura: Dead or Alive?

Reuven Pedatzur, by no means a right-wing nut, writes in today's Haaretz that there is strong evidence that Mohammed al-Dura never died. Al-Dura became a symbol of Palestinian resistance when his death, while huddled with his father behind a concrete barrier, was caught on tape by a Palestinian freelancer on the second day of the second Intifada. I'm not convinced that the incident was completely staged and that al-Dura wasn't killed, but I do believe there is solid evidence that shows he wasn't killed by Israeli soldiers.

Anyway, judge for yourselves (English version taken from here, or read the original Hebrew article):

Mohammed al-Dura - Israel's greatest PR failure
By Reuven Pedatzur

The photograph of Mohammed and Jamal al-Dura crouching behind a cement-filled barrel in a fruitless effort to avoid being hit by the bullets of Israeli soldiers became a symbol of the cruelty and brutality of Israel. It established the image of the Israel Defense Forces as a bloodthirsty army, operating on the basis of unacceptable norms. At the end of the 55-second footage aired by the France 2 television station, reporter Charles Enderlin declared that "Mohammed is dead," opening "the floodgates to a torrent of vengeance," as Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff wrote in their book "The Seventh War."

Mohammed al-Dura became a martyr, a symbol of the struggle of the Palestinian people against a ruthless occupier. Postage stamps bearing an image of the father and son were issued throughout the Arab world, and streets were named after the boy.

The story of Mohammed al-Dura was a tremendous propaganda victory for the Palestinians. But it was also Israel's biggest public relations failure, and it is unclear why. There is plenty of evidence showing that the story about the boy's death was a show skillfully orchestrated by the Palestinians.

What is troubling in this affair is that official Israel ignored the testimonies and investigations that began piling up immediately after the incident. The documentary by the German journalist Esther Shapira, and the investigation by French businessman Philippe Karsenty, raise suspicions that Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma who shot the footage that was delivered to France 2 meddled with the story. And many others were party to this effort.

The cameraman's testimony is full of contradictions. He says that "the soldiers shot the two in cold blood for 45 minutes." However, if the IDF soldiers wanted to hit Mohammed and his father in "cold blood" they could have killed them in less than a minute. Regarding the question of how many bullets were fired toward the two, Abu Rahma said "at least 400." The wall at the site of the incident clearly shows eight holes.

Karsenty managed to acquire the raw footage of Abu Rahma, including the 10 seconds of film after Enderlin declares that "Mohammed is dead," which shows the child raising his hand and peering toward the camera. Nowhere in the footage are bullets seen hitting the bodies of father and son, even though the father claims he was hit by 12 bullets and his son by three. No blood was found at the site of the incident.

Mohammed al-Dura was buried in a funeral attended by masses. However, the child who was buried was brought to Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip at 10 A.M., according to the testimony of a doctor who admitted him. The shots at the Netzarim junction began only at 2 P.M., and Mohammed was taken away from the site at 3 P.M. In the photographs shown by a Gaza pathologist, a child who had been hit by bullets is seen, but his injuries are not the sort that Jamal spoke of. While the father says that Mohammed was hit in his right leg, the boy at Shifa was hit in his left leg. A biometric identification expert compared the photograph of the child who was buried and the child at the Netzarim junction, and found that they are different.

The father, Jamal, claims that 12 bullets hit his body, and he proudly shows off the scars on his arms. However, Shapira found Dr. Yehuda David, who says that he operated on him six years before the incident and that the scars are the result of knife wounds.

Nonetheless, official Israel is silent. A golden opportunity to challenge the credibility of the Palestinian version on one of the most formative events in the history of the conflict is being missed, and it is hard to understand why. The IDF, more than once, has sinned in the excessive use of military force, which leads to the death of innocents. But when it turns out that in the Dura affair IDF soldiers did not hit a child and his father, those responsible for public relations at the IDF are silent, as is the Foreign Ministry. Thus Israel relinquishes the media front to the Palestinians, who are taking advantage of it with sophistication while using television stations that sympathize with their cause such as France 2.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My First Year As Prime Minister

Finally, a Plinky prompt that has something to do with politics!

Here are two things I'd definitely achieve within my first year as prime minister of Israel. After all, this is a fantasy and in my fantasy my party, the Real Achievements Party, has 80 seats in the Knesset, so I have no problem passing all of my initiatives.

Opening up the media market
Until now, Israeli TV has been based on the public service concession model, where only a certain number of companies have the right to have television channels. I passed a law making television channels license-based, meaning that anyone who is financially capable of establishing a channel now can get one.

Civil Marriage
Marriage in Israel is no longer exclusively in the hands of the Orthodox Rabbinate for Jews and other religious authorities for members of other religions. From now on, you can be married by judges and other public officials. Also, Reform, Conservative and other non-Orthodox rabbis can perform weddings.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Status of Ariel

After years of pressure, especially from Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has decided to recognize Ariel College's status as a university. Since it is in the West Bank, this is under his authority, rather than that of the Minister of Education. The college has been calling itself the Ariel University Center of Samaria for years. Some say that the decision has few practical implications, but that doesn't matter. Moves like this are against the best interests of the State of Israel. This is the kind of "facts on the ground" stuff that does nothing but anger Palestinians and the international community.

Usually when Israelis talk about land swaps, Ariel is mentioned as one of the settlement blocs that will become part of Israel. Until I saw a map of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's proposal for final borders, I never realized how deep inside the West Bank Ariel is. It would require annexing a lot of Palestinian territory, and giving up a lot of pre-1967 Israeli territory in exchange. That's bad. Ariel should become part of Palestine.

Blame Israel for the Weather

The Middle East has seen record rainfall in the last few days. Israel and its immediate neighbors have gotten the brunt of it. First, there was flooding in southern Israel, which killed one Israeli whose hobby was "flood watching". Sorry if I'm insensitive, but the guy deserves a Darwin Award. Now today, the flooding has migrated to Northern Israel. Here's a sample picture from the City of Nahariyah:

More pictures are available at Haaretz's website.

Gaza has experienced severe flooding as well. 400 Palestinians have lost their homes. Farm animals have been swept away. At least nobody was killed. This is a perfect opportunity to blame Israel. The Palestinians claim Israel opened a dam (or several dams, depending on which report you read) which made the floods even worse. One report said the dam opened was one deep inside Gaza, where Israeli troops aren't even stationed. Another report said the dam was on the border. Israel denies opening any dams. has an entertaining response to the damn dam accusation.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Our Glorious Diplomats

Last week, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced a new policy of national pride, instead of what he saw as groveling by Israeli diplomats around the world. His deputy, fellow Israel Beitenu member Danny Ayalon, implemented the new policy this week by seating the Turkish ambassador on a low couch while he sat on a high seat, and told reporters in Hebrew that the whole point is that the ambassador will see that Israel is up and Turkey is down.

Lieberman and Ayalon confuse pride and steadfastness with rudeness. In a normal country, Ayalon and Lieberman would have been fired after such a fiasco. Then again, in a normal country the two wouldn't be our top diplomats in the first place. Prime Minister Netanyahu was totally inept and passive. He should have made Ayalon apologize immediately.

Why the hell isn't the Labor Party demanding Ayalon's head?

Friday, January 08, 2010

"Freedom for Gaza" Has Another Meaning

Amira Hass has an interesting piece about an unsuccessful march organized by a coalition of leftist groups, unrelated to George Galloway's Viva Palestina. You can read it either in Hebrew or English.

Some of the parts I found most interesting:

"One large group set up under the United Nations Development Program's offices. "In our presence here, we are saying that we are not casting the blame on Egypt. The responsibility for the shameless and obscene Israeli siege on Gaza rests squarely with our own countries," explained one of the organizers.

This sounded like an answer to an accusation voiced mostly by supporters of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah: With Hamas encouragement, international especially Arab popular pressure is being directed at the wrong address - Egypt, rather than Israel. Some of the organizers said they were indeed under the impression that Hamas was not at all interested in demonstrating at the Erez crossing into Israel, which is almost sealed, but rather at the Rafah crossing into Egypt."

"On Monday evening, the demonstrators learned that, at the request of the president's wife, Suzanne Mubarak, 100 people would be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. Many saw this as a way of breaking the demonstrators' solidarity and lessening the pressure on Egypt. In the end, on December 30, about 80 people set out on buses, including several journalists who were not affected by the dilemma.

At midnight, about 12 hours after leaving Cairo, we arrived at a hotel in Gaza. There the first surprise awaited us: A Hamas security official in civilian dress swooped down on a friend who had come to pick me up for a visit, announcing that guests could not stay in private homes.

The story gradually became clear. The international organizers of the march coordinated it with civil society, various non-governmental organizations, which were also supposed to involve the Popular Committee to Break the Siege, a semi-official organization affiliated with Hamas. Many European activists have long-standing connections with left-wing organizations in the Gaza Strip. Those organizations, especially the relatively large Popular Front, had organized lodging for several hundred guests in private homes. When the Hamas government heard this, it prohibited the move. "For security reasons." What else?

Also "for security reasons," apparently, on Thursday morning, the activists discovered a cordon of stern-faced, tough Hamas security men blocking them from leaving the hotel (which is owned by Hamas). The security officials accompanied the activists as they visited homes and organizations.

During the march itself, when Gazans watching from the sidelines tried to speak with the visitors, the stern-faced security men blocked them. "They didn't want us to speak to ordinary people," one woman concluded."

"In meetings without the security men, several activists got the impression that non-Hamas residents live in fear, and are afraid to speak or identify themselves by name. "Now I understand that the call for 'Freedom for Gaza' has another meaning," one young man told me."


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Utopia 2010

Here are a few things I hope will happen this year, some realistic, some not:

  1. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will be indicted for corruption. Yisrael Beitenu is nothing without Lieberman, and it will break up into different factions following his resignation. This will lead to Netanyahu's government losing the parliamentary majority, which would either lead to Kadima joining the government and forcing Netanyahu to reach a peace deal, or it would lead to Tzippi Livni becoming prime minister, with the Likud and Labor as her coalition partners. Another option is new elections, but I don't want that to happen just yet, considering the fact that the 19th Knesset might end up being worse than the current one.
  2. Reformist protests will overthrow the Iranian Ayatollahs. An angry mob will lynch Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (sorry, too hateful?). A new democratic form of government will be instituted, the nuclear weapons program will be brought to an end, and so will aid to terrorist groups like Hamas and Hizbullah.
  3. A peace accord will be reached between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinian State will constitute Gaza and the West Bank, with slight deviations from the green line. Most of East Jerusalem will become the Palestinian capital, while Jewish areas and the Western Wall will remain part of Israel's capital. No refugees will be allowed to return, but they will be compensated. Hamas will see there's no use in fighting anymore, will agree to the accord reached by Israel and Fatah, and will disarm and recognize Israel.
  4. I'll finally figure out how to get to where I want to be professionally in the future.