Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Positive Signs in the West Bank

It is well-known that there is an economic boom in the West Bank. Unfortunately, our government isn't going to seize this opportunity - having a peaceful, stable and moderate Palestinian society with something lose if violence breaks out again - to come any closer to peace.

Thomas Friedman writes about the Palestinian economy in today's op-ed in the New York Times. I think the most significant paragraph is this one:

The most important thing President Obama can do when he meets Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, on July 6 is to nudge him to begin gradually ceding control of major West Bank Palestinian cities to the Palestinian Authority so that Fayyad can show his people, as he puts it, that what he is building is an independent state “not an exercise in adapting to the permanence of occupation” — and so that Israel can test if the new Palestinian security forces really can keep the peace without Israel making nighttime raids. Nothing would strengthen Fayyadism more than that.

Would Netanyahu do such a thing as an interim step? I don't think so, but one hopes Obama might convince him.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Let's Return to Pre-1967 Zionism

Here's an interesting opinion piece from today's Haaretz:

Before and after 1967 (source in Hebrew and in English):

The wrongs committed after 1967 threaten the justice of Zionism in its entirety, while pre-'67 wrongs were wrongs of particular moves in the realization of Zionism.

By Chaim Gans

The members of a bizarre coalition of pro-settlement right-wingers (for example, the late Yosef Ben-Shlomo, and Israel Harel, long may he live) and the anti-Zionist left (recently, Yehouda Shenhav) are united in one claim. They hold that the Zionist left's support for the pre-1967 borders, and its sharp opposition to the settlements since, are hypocritical and inconsistent. The inconsistency, they say, is that Zionism has been settling at the Arab's expense since it began - not only since 1967.

In addition, they claim that even if the post-'67 settlements are the basis of unjust acts, Zionism committed many more injustices in 1948 and the following decade. At that time it not only settled on private land belonging to Palestinians, it also uprooted masses of people from their homes and refused to allow them to return.

But the position of the Zionist left is far from inconsistent. There is a huge gap between the post-'67 settlements and the injustices perpetrated by Zionism until then; the wrongs committed after 1967 threaten the justice of Zionism in its entirety, while pre-'67 wrongs were wrongs of particular moves in the realization of Zionism.

The source of this distinction is of course the well-known distinction between the jus ad bellum and jus in bello. There is no contradiction between the claim that Britain's bombing of Dresden during World War II was a criminal act and the claim that this criminality represented a step taken in a just war - even a sublimely just war, the war against Nazism.

We must acknowledge the great injustices committed by Zionism up to 1967. We have to take responsibility for them (via reparations ) - mainly for the expulsion of refugees. We must also acknowledge the high price the Palestinians paid for the realization of Zionism, even when Zionism did not commit injustices against them. But none of these admissions undermines the justice of Zionism in the least. For in 1948, Zionism realized the right of Jews to self-determination - after a history of persecution that created a necessity to implement the right to a historic homeland. The justice of this Zionism is sublime, even though crimes were committed during its realization.

The post-'67 settlements (in contrast to just an Israeli military presence in the territories ) cannot be justified on the basis of the needs of a persecuted nation. The settlements are the bases for the continuing injustices committed by a powerful state. These wrongs are being carried out many decades after the persecution of the Jews ended. They are in effect acts of persecution committed by Jews against Arabs with the backing of the Jewish state. So the Zionism in whose name they are carried out cannot be considered just.

Zionism cannot be just if it is a proprietary movement representing the so-called "generations of the Jewish people" to acquire the deed to the entire Land of Israel and Jerusalem - the way the right wing justifies the settlements and its opposition to the construction freeze in the territories and Jerusalem. Zionism can be just only if it is an existential movement of Jews interested as individuals in maintaining their culture and living in their homeland without being persecuted. This justification supports the Zionism that existed before 1967. But not after. The settlements are therefore criminal not only in isolation. They deny Zionism of its justice as a whole.

They deny not only the justice of its present and future, they also deny the justice of its past. The acts that were committed by Zionism up to 1967 - including its criminal acts - do not have these implications. Therefore, we must return to 1967. Not because of demographics. For the sake of justice.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Extremist Kenneth O'Keefe

BBC's HARDtalk just introduced me to one of the world's most bizzare characters. Tattooed, crazy-eyed ex-US Marine (and ex-US citizen) Kenneth O'Keefe was interviewed about the events onboard the Mavi Marmara, which he witnessed first hand as one of the pro-Palestinian passengers. [Update: video available after the jump]. The guy is mad as hell at Israel and the world at large.

O'Keefe is a one-stater who dismisses Qasam and Grad rockets as "glorified firecrackers". He said he's willing to die for his cause. He's so extreme he renounced his American citizenship. In the interview, he said he did so because the United States violated human rights, so I assumed this came after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to O'Keefe's website, this is not the case. He renounced his citizenship six months before 9/11, and accepted "Hawaiian [Kingdom] citizenship" (which, of course, does not exist), as part of his battle for Hawaiian independence, an idea which I doubt most Hawaiians support. He also believes the United States is engaged in genocide against native Hawaiians.

On a different front, O'Keefe organized "Human Shield Action to Iraq", which was meant to prevent the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many criticized it as protecting Saddam Hussein's regime rather than Iraqi civilians.

The more interviews this aggressive nut gives, the better for Israel. He's not likeable at all, in contrast with some of the softer-spoken pro-Palestinian activists such as Huwaida Arraf. I don't think he convinced a lot of people who aren't die-hard anti-Israel/anti-Western activists as it is.

A self-proclaimed anti-Imperialism activist who is an ex-Marine: doesn't that sound like a James Bond villain?

Reminder: Ken O'Keefe's interview on BBC's HARDtalk after the jump (video via the blog Jews sans frontieres, which takes the exact opposite view from me on this). Judge for yourselves.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Stop the Lebanese Flotilla

A new flotilla is about to set sail for Gaza from Lebanon. Another one might come soon from Iran. These are terrorist-harboring nations, the very people we Israelis don't want Hamas to be able to be in contact with for fear of arms smuggling. Iranian and Lebanese ships must not be allowed to reach Gaza.

These flotillas are very different from last month's Turkish flotilla. Then, there were hundreds of naive peace activists onboard and a few dozen violent provocation activists. Here, the ships will be manned solely by provocateurs and chances are higher that there will be Hamas-bound weapons as part of the cargo. Had we dealt with the previous flotilla in a smarter way, avoided casualties and an international outcry, the Lebanese and Iranians maybe wouldn't have even thought of sending their own "aid".

Some fear that intercepting enemy ships (and this time, that is exactly what they are) might start a war with Lebanon and Iran. I doubt that will be the case. Neither of them have any interest in a war. That is especially true about Iran, who knows that declaring war on Israel and firing missiles on it would give a green light to Israel, and possibly the United States, to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. After all, if fear of being bombed by Iran is what keeps us from taking action, we'll have no reason not to do it anymore.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Saudi Arabian Searches for Jewish Genome "Hoax"

I'm sometimes very happy to have my Lijit Widget (see it on the left). It shows me how people reached my blog and from where on the globe, and sometimes I have interesting visitors. One of my latest readers hails from Riyad, Saudi Arabia and reached this site by searching for "hoax the genome-wide structure of the Jewish people". I shouldn't reach conclusions based on one internet user, but I must say I'm not surprised that the recent studies showing a genetic link between different Jewish communities around the world would automatically be seen as hoaxes by certain people in the Arab world.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Take This, Shlomo Sand!

Two new studies published in Nature and in the American Journal of Human Genetics prove that Jews worldwide are related to each other and are of Middle Eastern origins. Except for Jews from Ethiopia, Georgia, and certain communities in India, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews are much more similar to each other and to Middle Eastern populations than to local non-Jewish populations.

Read about it in the New York Times, or read the abstracts and articles themselves:

"The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people" in Nature:

Contemporary Jews comprise an aggregate of ethno-religious communities whose worldwide members identify with each other through various shared religious, historical and cultural traditions. Historical evidence suggests common origins in the Middle East, followed by migrations leading to the establishment of communities of Jews in Europe, Africa and Asia, in what is termed the Jewish Diaspora. This complex demographic history imposes special challenges in attempting to address the genetic structure of the Jewish people. Although many genetic studies have shed light on Jewish origins and on diseases prevalent among Jewish communities, including studies focusing on uniparentally and biparentally inherited markers, genome-wide patterns of variation across the vast geographic span of Jewish Diaspora communities and their respective neighbours have yet to be addressed. Here we use high-density bead arrays to genotype individuals from 14 Jewish Diaspora communities and compare these patterns of genome-wide diversity with those from 69 Old World non-Jewish populations, of which 25 have not previously been reported. These samples were carefully chosen to provide comprehensive comparisons between Jewish and non-Jewish populations in the Diaspora, as well as with non-Jewish populations from the Middle East and north Africa. Principal component and structure-like analyses identify previously unrecognized genetic substructure within the Middle East. Most Jewish samples form a remarkably tight subcluster that overlies Druze and Cypriot samples but not samples from other Levantine populations or paired Diaspora host populations. In contrast, Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) and Indian Jews (Bene Israel and Cochini) cluster with neighbouring autochthonous populations in Ethiopia and western India, respectively, despite a clear paternal link between the Bene Israel and the Levant. These results cast light on the variegated genetic architecture of the Middle East, and trace the origins of most Jewish Diaspora communities to the Levant.

"Abraham's Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry" in the American Journal of Human Genetics:

For more than a century, Jews and non-Jews alike have tried to define the relatedness of contemporary Jewish people. Previous genetic studies of blood group and serum markers suggested that Jewish groups had Middle Eastern origin with greater genetic similarity between paired Jewish populations. However, these and successor studies of monoallelic Y chromosomal and mitochondrial genetic markers did not resolve the issues of within and between-group Jewish genetic identity. Here, genome-wide analysis of seven Jewish groups (Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Italian, Turkish, Greek, and Ashkenazi) and comparison with non-Jewish groups demonstrated distinctive Jewish population clusters, each with shared Middle Eastern ancestry, proximity to contemporary Middle Eastern populations, and variable degrees of European and North African admixture. Two major groups were identified by principal component, phylogenetic, and identity by descent (IBD) analysis: Middle Eastern Jews and European/Syrian Jews. The IBD segment sharing and the proximity of European Jews to each other and to southern European populations suggested similar origins for European Jewry and refuted large-scale genetic contributions of Central and Eastern European and Slavic populations to the formation of Ashkenazi Jewry. Rapid decay of IBD in Ashkenazi Jewish genomes was consistent with a severe bottleneck followed by large expansion, such as occurred with the so-called demographic miracle of population expansion from 50,000 people at the beginning of the 15th century to 5,000,000 people at the beginning of the 19th century. Thus, this study demonstrates that European/Syrian and Middle Eastern Jews represent a series of geographical isolates or clusters woven together by shared IBD genetic threads.

I wonder what Shlomo Sand thinks about this. His main argument in "The Invention of the Jewish People" is that modern Jews aren't related to the ancient Jews of the Kingdoms of Israel & Judea, but rather are made up of unrelated groups of peoples who converted to Judaism over the centuries, and that most Ashkenazi Jews descend from the Turkic Khazars. Sand's theory, often used by anti-Zionists to delegitimize the state of Israel, has just been proven false once again.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

"Happy" Anniversary

Today is my blog's 7th birthday. More importantly, it is the 43rd anniversary of the Six Day War (or of Day 2 of 6, to be exact). The war itself was justified, as was taking control over the territories we conquered. It was the colonization and the idea that we'll never leave that were the problem.

At the time, we didn't have any negotiating partners in the Arab world. The Arab League's summit in Khartoum in August 1967 declared "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel", and vowed to continue fighting for the destruction of the Jewish State. If the Israeli leaders of the time had been smart, they would have created a Palestinian autonomy right then and treated the people of the West Bank and Gaza much better than the Jordanians and Egyptians had treated them. They'd rebuild their lives and their economy until the Palestinians would be stable enough to have their own state.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened and we're still in control of the West Bank, and a band of terrorists is in control of Gaza. Despite everybody knowing what the solution should be, nobody seems to be honestly working toward that solution.

Will last week's flotilla fiasco push the Israeli and Palestinian governments in the right direction? I doubt it. Things will probably get much worse now. Israel is on a collision course with Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to be considering "breaking the siege" in person, with Turkish navy ships protecting him. Nothing good can come of this.

This was quite a pessimistic post, but let's end it on a lighter note:

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Raed Salah, Violent Turks and Violent Knesset Members

In a television interview today, Sheikh Raed Salakh, the radical Islamic cleric, claimed that Israeli soldiers shot one of the people onboard the Marmara because they thought it was him. Interestingly, he called his doppleganger a soldier, a "jundi" in Arabic. Would he call a peace activist, or even an unarmed pro-Gaza activist, a "soldier"? A few of the other passengers on the ship talked about becoming Shaheeds, martyrs. One even expressed regret for surviving.

Foolishly, all the Turkish citizens arrested on the flotilla were sent back to Turkey. We should have deported only those not involved in violence. Those who attacked our soldiers will now be able to join the Irish ship named after Rachel Corrie, which is currently docked in Turkey, and unless some kind of agreement between Israel, Ireland, the Free Gaza Movement and the crew of the Rachel Corrie is reached, they'll be able to attempt a repeat of the events of the Marmara.

I have to say that this whole flotilla thing is one case where I'm mad as hell at almost everyone involved, from the Israeli government to the anti-Israel "provocation activists". Yesterday, a few of our Knesset Members joined the list of people who piss me off. Yossi Sarid's reaction to the near-brawl and all the cursing was just perfect (the English version, unfortunately, dropped Sarid's lament in the end against the nationalism taking over the Knesset, by both Jews and Arabs).

Alleviate the Gaza Blockade, Don't Lift It

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was too defiant in his public statement yesterday, but he certainly was right about one thing - letting ships sail to Gaza freely would create an Iranian port on the Mediterranean Sea. Do all those demanding that Israel lift the blackade not realize that such a move would amount to giving Hamas a free pass to arm itself with thousands of missiles a day, or do they just not care?

Much of our policy is foolish. While we already do transport a lot of stuff into Gaza,  the list of items we don't allow into the territory seems quite random. Supplies without any military purposes should be allowed in, as should people who are not suspected terrorists. This isn't a free flow of people and goods, but it is a freer flow.

And by the way, Israel took the cargo from the "freedom flotilla" and loaded it on trucks. They're now stuck at the border with Gaza, because Hamas is the one who won't let it in. What the hell is up with that?

Israel Must Investigate Itself

Israel should not submit to an international investigation of the Gaza flotilla fiasco. It should conduct its own investigation. It should be a National Investigative Committee (ועדת חקירה ממלכתית), the highest, most independent sort of investigation, in which the government is the one who decides to establish it, but it is the chief justice of the Supreme Court who appoints its members. It can even have international observers, but the Israelis will be the ones conducting the investigation.

Investigations of lower stature are not enough. An investigation by the military won't have international credibility, and most importantly, wouldn't have the authority to look into the government ministers' decision-making process. A government-appointed committee wouldn't cut it either, unless it has exactly the same authority as a National Investigative Committee and its members can be trusted to be independent (this might be what happens in the end, if the law doesn't allow for a National Investigative Committee to have international observers).

It now seems that some cabinet members support a high-ranking investigation. Even Avigdor Lieberman is on board, so I'm pretty confident it won't be too long before the government decides to act.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Nobody Takes Responsibility

Today's Ha'aretz is the second annual Author's Edition, in which fiction writers and poets take over the newspaper for one day and report the (real) news. Etgar Keret's piece about trying to find someone to interview who would take responsibility for the flotilla fiasco is quite telling. In a normal country, at least one top ranking official would resign over such a fatal failure, but not in Israel.

With officials mum, journalists are told: Just watch the faces (source: English/Hebrew)
By Etgar Keret

At 7 A.M. yesterday, the newspaper called to tell me I would be its diplomatic correspondent for the day. They apologized for the early hour, but "after all, it's going to be a long day, not to say critical. We have nine killed, dozens wounded, denunciations from the whole world .... And today is the day when someone will have to take responsibility for this snafu."

They promised to set up an interview for me by 9 A.M. By 11 A.M., they still hadn't called back, so I called to see what was happening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still overseas, they explained; we're trying to get you an interview with another member of the forum of seven ministers that approved the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

Another hour passed; still no word. I called again.

"Not for attribution, those guys from the septet are blaming the whole thing on the military," my editor said. "But none of them is willing to be interviewed by you" - except maybe Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon. But maybe, he suggested, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor would agree to talk if you called him yourself.

So I called Meridor. He said he would love to talk to me, but his daughter was getting married that day. He didn't even plan to attend the meeting of the inner cabinet.

I told my editor. It's okay, he said, we have another idea: If the army is to blame, maybe it's better that you speak to a senior officer. "Give us 10 minutes and we'll get back to you."

An hour later I still hadn't heard back, so I called again.

"It's complicated," the editor said. "On the scene, they're saying that the military is furious at [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak, that he's the one who forced them to board the ship without Kalashnikovs. But we checked, and none of them has the courage to talk to the media, they're all afraid."

But don't worry, he added, we've had a brilliant idea: We'll arrange an interview with Ami Ayalon. As a former commander of both the navy and the naval commandos, he can comment knowledgeably on the military aspect, and as a former Labor Party minister and Knesset member, he knows all about party chairman Ehud Barak's tricks. And he's a leftist, so he won't be afraid to take on the government.

An hour later, when I hadn't heard back from the paper, I called again. Unfortunately, they said, Ayalon is abroad. So maybe it will have to be Ya'alon after all.

"But we're not wild about it," the editor added. "For an incident of this magnitude, it would be better for you to talk with someone a little more ... well, it's not important. But you know what? We have a new angle. We'll arrange an interview for you with one of the naval commandos who was there. One of them could give you the most authentic angle, from the field. If he can't tell you who's guilty, who can?"

Again, I waited an hour. Nothing. I called again. They said the interview with the commando wasn't going to happen. But Netanyahu is going to give a press conference, they said. It isn't definite yet, but really, he has no choice. "Give us just a few minutes to find out when exactly it's happening."

This time, they actually got back to me - and quickly.

"Netanyahu won't hold a press conference," my editor said. "The issues he could be asked about are critical to the country's future, and it's not appropriate for him to answer them off the cuff like that, still jet-lagged."

But don't worry, he added, we've thought of something else: We spoke to the defense minister's aide, and he said Barak would be willing to take you with him in his helicopter from Jerusalem to the naval commando base at Atlit. But you'll have to vanish as soon as you arrive, because the base is top secret.

"And during the flight he'll agree to answer questions?" I asked.

"Well, the thing is," the editor responded, "he'd love to answer, but it's impossible because there's noise in the helicopter .... But his aide says you can write down your impressions. You know, of the view, his facial expressions. We understand this isn't a lot, but it's still information. You can observe and interpret for our readers whether he looks more determined or more guilty."

"Enough!" I roared. "I've had it with all this nonsense. I don't want to look at Barak. I want to ask someone questions and get answers. And if only Bogey [Ya'alon] is prepared to talk, I want to talk with Bogey. The man is in the septet forum and he replaced Netanyahu as acting premier when he was abroad. He's ready to talk? Then I want to listen."

"Well, that's the thing," my editor said, sounding embarrassed. "It seems that even Bogey isn't willing to be interviewed today. It's strange. It's very unlike him."

"So what do you suggest I do?" I asked.

"Good question," he responded. "So we thought, why not leverage this? Stop running after them; we'll leave a few blank columns on the side and the readers can guess for themselves who's to blame for this screw-up."