My Country, More Wrong than Right

I am an Israeli. And proud of it. Several times on this blog I have praised my country’s virtues. As I tried to show in my book, Land of Blood and Honey (2010), over the last century no country on earth has achieved more. Demographically—there are now a hundred times as many Jews living here than there were in 1914—economically, politically, militarily, scientifically, culturally, you name it. When I first arrived I was just four years old. Not only have I spent almost my entire life here, but I very much hope my children and grandchildren will do the same.

That is why I am worried, more than worried, about certain things that have been happening in my country. Today, I want to share my worries with my readers.

* Some months ago, the Knesset passed a law which enabled a majority of 90 to vote and dismiss any one of its 120 members simply for speaking their mind about certain topics. For example, saying, as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak once did, that, if he or she were a Palestinian, he might join a terrorist movement against Israel, might cause the trigger to be pulled. As if speaking up is not what the members of Israel’s parliament, like those of any other legislative assembly in democratic countries around the world, have been elected for.

* Israel has some forms of communal settlements in which members have the right to vote on which new residents to admit. This has been used to bar Arab citizens. Though a court order has reaffirmed the right of Arab citizens to join the settlements in question, that order has never been implemented.

* For years now the police has been demolishing houses built by the Bedouin in the Negev. In the latest incident of this kind, mayhem broke out and a Bedouin as well as a policeman were killed. All because the government has suddenly decided that the permit to settle the area, issued sixty years previously, had been illegal.

* Bezelem (In the Image: after a sentence in the book of Genesis, according to which God created man “in His image”) is a voluntary Israeli organization. For many years now, it has been collecting and publishing evidence about the way Israeli troops in the West Bank, both IDF and Border Police (in practice, there is hardly any difference) have been treating and mistreating the local Arab population. In 2013, its tax-free status was revoked.

* “Shovrim Shtika” (Breaking the Silence) is a somewhat similar organization. The difference is that it is made up of officers and soldiers who spent time serving in the Occupied Territories. As the name implies, it too has something to say about the chicanes to which the local population has been and is being subjected. Recently its members’ right to speak in schools and certain public buildings has been curtailed.

* Another organization whose tax-free status has been subjected to re-examination is Amnesty, the largest of its kind world-wide. In the end its status was re-established, but just for one year.

* As some of you will have heard, last week a high court decision issued a long time ago was finally carried out. Amidst scenes of considerable violence Amona, a West Bank settlement that had been built on private Palestinian Land, was demolished. So far, so good; no sooner had Amona been taken apart, though, than the Knesset passed a law that officially “regulated” the status of thousands of other Jewish houses built on private property in the West Bank. This is not just contrary to international law: it is robbery, pure and simple.

* Last not least, Israeli law has an arrangement known as BAGATZ, the only one of its kind in the entire world. Under this arrangement any citizen or organization—not just the parties involved in a legal dispute—has the right to approach the supreme court as a court of first and last instance, asking it for a resolution against government actions that, in their opinion, violate the law. It was a BAGATZ that ordered Amona to be evacuated. And it is a BAGATZ that will hopefully counter the “Regulating Law” just passed. What I find worrisome, very worrisome, is the attempts of certain right-wing politicians to curtail the power of the BAGATZ and/or change the system by which supreme justices are selected in such a way as to make the court more compliant.

What did the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir say? Often it is not those who criticize their country who love it the least.

 

PS Last week this site had a technical problem which blocked access for a few hours. Thanks to all of you on Facebook who inquired and took the trouble to let me know. As we Dutch say, het geeft de burger moed (it gives the citizen courage).

Welcome, Mr. Secretary

At one point during his election campaign, President-Elect Donald Trump promised to spend the first hundred days on the job restoring the U.S military. And following the endless unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, restoring it certainly needs. Now he has come up with the man who is supposed to do the restoring: four-star Marine Corps General (ret.) James Mattis.

To imitate the language of the Old Testament, I shall not list “the rest of the General’s acts, and all his might, and all that he did.” They can easily be found on the Net. A few points, however, are worth taking note of. First, he is immensely experienced, having made his way up by participating in practically every war the U.S has fought from 1972 on. Second, as a high-ranking Marine he is intimately familiar with operations “in the air, on land and sea” (the Marine Corps anthem) and not just with one of the three as so many army, navy and air force generals are. Third, along with general David Petraeus he was responsible for America’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Precisely that which, in this day and age of what I once called “non-trinitarian warfare,” is the most important and the most necessary of all. Fourth, he cares for his troops. Fifth, he is a man of considerable learning such as is rarely found among his fellow officers (having lived with them, I should know). Last not least, he has no fear of speaking his mind. A quality which, in today’s politically-correct world, is as hard to find as diamonds.

Entering office, the General will have his work cut out for him. Two issues on which he has expressed himself in the past are Iran and “the Middle East” (meaning, of course, Israel and the Palestinians). So let me start by venturing to provide him with some cautious advice on both of those. Re. Iran, I think that the present agreement with that country is as good as can be had. It is good for Iran, good, for the Middle East, good for the U.S, and good for world peace. Why re-open a (nuclear) nest of hornets when, judging by everything that has happened since Tehran re-started its nuclear program back in the early 1990s there is no need? The more so because, by doing so, the US will be widely seen as untrustworthy, a problem which will surely complicate efforts to deal with similar issues such as, for example, North Korea. And the more so because it will be pushing Iran into Putin’s welcoming arms.

As to my own country, I agree with outgoing President Barak Obama that fifty years of occupation are enough and more than enough. The present situation is untenable for the world, for the US, and, not least, Israel itself. Surprising as it may sound to outsiders, many, perhaps even most, Israelis are aware of this fact. However, they are prevented from doing what has to be done—in one way or another, get the devil out of the Territories—by the country’s complicated internal political divisions. As they say, four Jews, five opinions! So I strongly suggest that the new Secretary of Defense should put his weight behind the attempts to impose some kind of enforced solution. One which, while not perfect, will at least extinguish many flames and dispose of many sparks (as our mutual acquaintance Clausewitz puts it in On War.)

Important as these issues are, they only comprise the beginning. As readers of the present blog as well as my book Pussycats will know, I see the military crisis the U.S (and other Western countries, including, in many ways, my own) is undergoing primarily as a spiritual one. Not, in other words, one that is occasioned by lack of money. And not as one caused by defective organization, inappropriate doctrine, insufficient equipment, inadequate training, and so on. To repeat, it is the spirit, eroded partly by a whole series of unsuccessful wars and partly by domestic factors, which has been lacking and which must be restored.

Here I want to quote some little-known words General Mattis uttered two years ago (according to the Washington Times, 25.5.2014). The text of his remarks goes as follows:

I would just say there is one misperception of our veterans and that is they are somehow damaged goods. I don’t buy it.

If we tell our veterans enough that this is what is wrong with them they may actually start believing it.

While victimhood in America is exalted I don’t think our veterans should join those ranks.

There is also something called post traumatic growth where you come out of a situation like that and you actually feel kinder toward your fellow man and fellow woman.

We are going to have to have young people in our country who are willing to go toe to toe with this because two irreconcilable wills exist.

There is no room for military people, including our veterans, to see themselves as victims even if so many of our countrymen are prone to relish that role.

Coming on top of some other courageous words General Mattis has spoken over the years, it is probable that, in the entire U.S military there is no one more suitable to carry out the necessary repairs than he is. Repairs, let me repeat, whose nature is predominantly spiritual, not material.

And so I wish him good luck in what is surely going to be a very difficult task.

Where Did the Iranian “Threat” Go?

41l9c6MZegLAs the illustration accompanying this text shows, starting as long ago as 2000, the world has been filled with discussions of the terrible, but terrible, Iranian nuclear “threat.” However, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action having been signed in Lausanne in July 2015, the “threat” vanished almost overnight. Now that the dust has settled and the air is clean, I want to return to that topic. Doing so, I shall start with a general account and continue with an Israeli point of view; both because of the role Israel and Netanyahu have played in the story and because I myself, after all, am an Israeli.

First, the background. The origins of Iran’s nuclear program go back to the days of the Shah. The idea, at that time, was to deter the Soviets, whom not only the Shah but President Carter and his National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, suspected of planning a drive through the Zagros Mountains to the Persian Gulf. This explains why the US, though not exactly enthusiastic about what the Iranians were doing, did nothing to oppose it.

The Shah having been deposed in 1978, the Islamic Republic took over. Eighteen or so months later Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, seeking to exploit the prevailing chaos in Iran, launched an unprovoked attack on his neighbor. However, he miscalculated; the war, which was supposed to be over in a few months or even weeks, lasted fully eight years. The demands, military and economic, which it made on both belligerents were enormous. The more so because, after 1982, the price of oil kept falling. The difference between the two countries was that Saddam had the Gulf countries to pay for his war whereas Iran did not. As a result, the Iranian nuclear program was suspended.

The war having ended in 1988, the Mullahs resumed their efforts. By then they had every reason to do so. Iran was surrounded by nuclear powers on all sides; proceeding counterclockwise, they were the Soviet Union/Russia, Pakistan, India, and Israel (which, unlike Iran had never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty). Not to mention Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was known to be working on his own program. Still things moved very, very slowly. So slowly, in fact, as to make one doubt whether the Iranians were really interested in building a bomb in the first place.

In 2002-2003 the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq again changed the situation. Sitting in Tehran, the Mullahs could see their country surrounded by American troops on all sides. Stationed in Iraq, several Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf—the Persian Gulf, nota bene—they formed an iron ring around Iran. The Mullahs had good reason to be worried. Partly because recent events had shown that, in a conventional war, their armed forces were no match for the American ones; and partly because, as the record since the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident shows only too clearly, one can never know which country the US will choose to bomb next.

Accordingly, the years immediately after 2003 were some of the most dangerous Iran ever went through. Scant wonder the nuclear program was accelerated. Come 2005-6, though, Tehran had good reason to heave a sigh of relief. With the Americans hopelessly stuck in both Iraq and Afghanistan and domestic criticism of both invasions growing, the threat to Iran diminished.

Enter Israel. Under the Shah, relations between Tehran and Jerusalem had been excellent. This changed after 1978, but not nearly as fast as most people believe; it may come as news to many readers that as late as the mid-1980s high-ranking Israeli military experts were still helping Iran fight Iraq. It was only after 1988 that things really started changing. Even so Jerusalem vastly exaggerated the threat. As I myself became aware as far back as 1992 when an Israeli officer, speaking confidentially, told me he had received official news that the Iranians already had the bomb.

Between then and 2015, not a year passed without the Israelis claiming that Iran would have the bomb in five years, or three, or one, or even in six months. Back in 2006 one Russian “expert” went so far as to publish what he said he knew was the exact day on which the Israelis would strike. As we now know, both the Iranian “threat” and the Israeli one were, to put it impolitely but accurately, bull.

1427730328899Which brings me to the last question: why did several Israeli prime ministers, Netanyahu above all, raise the ruckus in the first place? The answer goes back at least as far as the mid-1950s when Moshe Dayan, then chief of staff, suggested that Israel should behave like a “rabid dog.” By threatening to go to war (in self-defense, of course), it could loosen the money- and weapon strings in Washington and Bonn. This policy has always served Israel well, enabling it to push through its nuclear program among other things. Proof? In the whole of history, no other country has ever received so much money and so many weapons free of charge.

How close Israel has ever been to launching a military operation against Iran is hard to say. Judging by the fact that neither Prime Minister Begin before he destroyed the Iraqi Reactor nor Prime Minister Olmert before he did the same to the Syrian one ever uttered a single public threat, the chance was never great. As the saying goes, a barking dog does not bite; the more so because success depends more on surprise than on any other factor. Now that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is in force, it is down to practically zero, which is why talk about it has all but disappeared.

Rest thou in peace, dear Iranian “threat.” And while one never knows what some future Israeli prime minister will choose to do, I very much hope that it has been put to rest for a long, long time.

Happy Birthday, Israel

A year ago at this time of the year, I posted an article arguing that Israel has been the most successful political creation of the entire twentieth century. Demographically, economically, politically, militarily, scientifically, culturally—no other country started from so little and no other achieved so much in such a short time. Let me remind readers that, a hundred something years ago, even the language—Hebrew—was moribund. Used almost exclusively for prayer, it had to be rebuilt almost from the beginning. Today, to celebrate my country’s 68th birthday, I want to focus on a particularly touchy question: namely, the place occupied by, and the feelings of, Israel’s 1,300,000 strong Arab community.

The research was done by Prof. Sami Samocha, a professor of sociology at the University of Haifa. He has been monitorings_a relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel for 35 years, no less. Thanks also to my colleague, Prof. Alex Yakobson, who drew my attention to Samocha’s work.

The following information pertains to the year 2015. It presents, in somewhat simplified form, the responses to 19 out of 178 questions Samocha asked Arab-Israeli citizens. Needless to say, the questionnaires were anonymous.

Bad news first:

61.1 percent strongly oppose or oppose their children attending Jewish schools, whereas only 38.4 percent would strongly like or like them to do so (0.5 percent did not answer this question; since the number of non-respondents to this and the remaining questions is very small, in what follows I did not bother to mention them). 67.9 percent greatly fear or fear serious infractions of their civil rights, whereas only 31.6 percent are very certain or certain that will not happen. 56.5 percent greatly fear or fear they may one day be “ethnically cleansed,” whereas only 44.8 percent do not fear such a possibility or do not fear it at all. 32.2 percent strongly believe or believe in the government, whereas 67.8 percent disagree or strongly disagree.

And now, to the good news:

76.1 percent of Arab Israelis strongly agree or agree that Arabs and Jews should work together in common organizations, against only 22.6 who either disagree or strongly disagree. Working side by side with Jews, 65.8 percent feel completely at ease or at ease versus only 26.6 percent who disagree or strongly disagree. Visiting a shopping center also frequented by Jews, 58.8 percent feel either completely at ease or at ease whereas only 31.11 disagree or strongly disagree. 53.6 percent strongly agree or agree that Palestine is the common homeland of both peoples, whereas only 45.6 percent strongly disagree or disagree. 66 percent strongly agree or agree that Israel is a good place to live, whereas only 35.8 percent disagree or strongly disagree. 59 percent strongly prefer or prefer living in Israel than in any other country in the world, whereas only 40.8 percent strongly disagree or disagree.

75 percent are quite ready, or ready, to have Jewish friends whereas only 24.3 percent reject, or strongly reject, that possibility. 52.3 percent strongly believe, or believe, that Jews have many positive qualities Arabs should adopt whereas only 35.5 percent disagree or strongly disagree. 58.1 percent strongly believe, or believe, that Arab Israelis resemble Jewish Israelis more than they do Palestinians in the west Bank and the Gaza Strip, whereas only 41.2 percent disagree or strongly disagree. 27.5 percent would be very ready or ready to live in a Palestinian State, whereas 72.4 percent would either reject or strongly reject such a possibility. 65.8 percent strongly hold or hold that Israel has a right to exist, whereas only 33.8 percent disagree or strongly disagree.

Finally, 89.4 percent say either that, as Arabs, they had never been threatened or hit by Jews, or else that this had only happened once or twice. Only 10.3 say that this had happened to them more often. 77 percent say either that being Arab never made them feel discriminated against or that this only happened once or twice; whereas only 22.5 percent said that they had felt so more often than this.

Let me end this with two anecdotes. My oldest son lives in northern Israel in a town called Carmiel. Nearby is Dabach, known after the head of the family tribe, a big man whom I last saw while he was snoring peacefully away in his office. The complex includes a supermarket, several shops, a restaurant, and a large parking lot. Currently the family is busy building a second complex in Haifa. Since prices are low, Dabach is frequented by both Arabs and Jews, me—when I get there—included. Never in any of my visits did I witness any problems between Arabs and Jews.

The second anecdote goes as follows. The other day I was listening on the radio to the mayor of Umm el Fahem, an Arab-Israeli town of over 50,000 inhabitants adjacent to the northern part of the West Bank. The interviewer asked him about the possibility that, in some eventual peace agreement, the border would be moved slightly to the west so that he and his people would live in a Palestinian State. In response, the man almost got a stroke. With good, reason, too. Given that Arab-Israeli per capita GDP is more than ten times higher than that of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; and given also the truly terrible things that are currently happening in Arab countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, the Sudan, and the Sinai.

So have a happy birthday Israel. To expect Arab Israelis to wax enthusiastic about that birthday, let alone celebrate it, would be too much. I do, however, hope that as many of them as possible will make use of it to have a merry day off.

To Complain or Not to Complain

5XQHL_V3RWFor those of my readers, the great majority, who are not Israelis, here is a short reminder. Israel today is one of the world’s worst places to be a man. Hardly a day goes by without some more or less senior public (male) figure—heads of state, ministers, MKs, army officers, police officers, businessmen, actors, TV and radio announcers, physicians psychologists, teachers, and professors—being accused of sexual harassment at best and rape at worst. One day one leads a perfectly normal life. On the next, coming totally out of the blue, one finds oneself under fire as a serial sexual offender.

Let me make myself clear: sexual harassment does exist. It has to be dealt with by society and, where necessary, the public prosecution and the court system. But not in the way this is done in Israel, and to a lesser extent many other self-proclaimed “advanced” countries, today. Many of the accusations are anonymous. Coming out of nowhere on one of the social networks, they tend to snowball as other women, like the frogs in Aristophanes’ play of that name, join the unholy chorus. Most of the accusations carry no proof whatsoever; but no sooner do they surface than the man in question is done for, finished, liquidated. Often for life. Even if, as rarely happens, the investigation to which he is subjected ends by the charges being dropped.

Hitting men, especially well known men, with accusations of “sexual harassment” has become a favorite method to settle accounts with them, take away their positions and/or jobs, and wreck their lives. All this is part cause, part consequence, of an entire industry. Its members form a filthy coalition made up of female MKs, feminist organizations, lawyers and public and relations experts. Driven by envy, hatred, an, not least, sheer greed, their sole purpose in life is to punish male “sexual criminals” while assisting female “victims” to avenge themselves and also extort as much money as they can. If necessary by pushing them to complain even against their will.

Worst of all, when matters come to court the ordinary rules and procedures, which in Israel as in all other liberal-democratic countries were originally designed to protect the accused against arbitrary punishment, are violated. This happens not just as a matter of routine but as a matter of course. The accusers’ names may not be published. Evidence is taken from women who claim to have been “victimized” long before the statute of limitation, meaning years and years ago. A woman’s sexual history may not be brought up and used against her; a man’s may and almost always serves as the main basis for convicting him.

Alibis, even such as are produced by the state’s own secret service, are dismissed—as happened, for example, to former President Moshe Katzav who is currently serving a seven-year jail sentence for a “rape” he almost certainly did not commit. Dubious evidence based on “suppressed memory” is not only allowed but actively encouraged. There is no penalty for bringing false charges, not even the option of bringing a civil suit against those who do so. Briefly, the goddess of Justice has her eyes wide open and the scales she holds are heavily weighted on one side.

Why things have come to this pass in Israel of all countries is hard to say. At bottom, perhaps the real reason is that Israel is a country born and bred by war, an activity in which women have always played and still play a rather marginal part. Since only Israeli men can defend women against other men—Arab men, as it happens—this fact put a premium on masculinity and even on “male chauvinism.”

The proof of this pudding is in the eating. When the famous feminist Simone de Beauvoir visited Israel just before the 1967 War, the gospel she tried to spread was met with total incomprehension on the part of Israeli women. Three years later Golda Meir, who as it happens was the first female prime minister in any country, gave an interview with the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. In it she called feminists “crazy” and “nuts.”

As the frequency and intensity of the Arab-Israeli wars started diminishing after 1985 or so, though, Israeli feminists, some of the most prominent of whom were US-educated, raised their heads. With the result that, thirty-something years later, Israel has the dubious honor of being the country that leads the world in terms of the percentage of convicted “sex offenders” among all criminals.

But nothing lasts forever. While the situation remains far from satisfactory, over the last few weeks there have been some early signs that Israeli society (and hopefully others as well) is getting sick and tired of the snake it has so eagerly, and so foolishly, embraced to its bosom. The first indications may be found among the so-called “talk-backists.” In Modern Hebrew, a “talk-backist” is a person who responds to newspaper articles as published on the Net. Judging purely by the numbers, as well as by the way the people in question identify themselves, most Israeli men and many Israeli women now feel that things have gone much too far and that some sort of corrective action is urgently required.

There are also some other encouraging signs. Here and there an accused “sex offender” has being acquitted by the courts—something that, until very recently, was almost unheard of. One, held by the police for five days on suspicion of “rape,’ even got the state to pay him 1,000 NIS ($ 250) in compensation! The newly appointed chief of police has announced that, from this point on, anonymous accusations would no longer be looked into. He also refused to fire a policeman accused of “harassing” a woman (who was not part of the police force) before his trial had even started. Notwithstanding the storm of criticism that followed his decisions, he stuck to his guns. And the attorney general, who like the chief of police is new to his job, has said he would look for ways to punish women who had falsely accused men—something which, as things are at present, cannot be done.

And how did the various feminist organizations react to these early attempts to re-institute some kind of sanity? By threatening that, should any of the measures go into effect, women will stop complaining.

To which one can only say, Amen.

Gaza Agonistes

A decade after the last Israeli troops and settlers left Gaza, the withdrawal remains controversial in Israel. The former Israeli settlers there bewail their loss of the wonderful lives they claim to have led in the Strip; right-wingers rail against “Sharon’s crime” and try to use it as “proof” that any move in the West Bank would also be a failure. Time to look backward and take stock.

Some eighteen months have now passed since Israel’s last “war” with Hamas in Gaza came to an end. Since then the border, lined as it is with an electronic fence that has proved all but impenetrable, has been largely calm. Primarily, I suspect, for two reasons. First, the Israeli Iron Dome system’s success in neutralizing Hamas’ most important weapons, i.e. the rockets, was beyond all expectations. Second, the damage the Israelis inflicted on Gaza during the six weeks of Operation Protective Edge was vast; sufficient, it seems, to have taught Hamas a lesson. One which, looking back, could and should have been taught much earlier.

Ever since the Operation ended, says Israeli minister of defense Moshe Yeelon, Hamas had not fired even one bullet at Israel. That does not mean this have been absolutely quiet. Some incidents were provoked by all kinds of splinter organizations. Others were staged by individual residents of the Strip who, acting more or less on their own, decided to see what they could do by firing at Israeli patrols or trying to set up IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). In response the Israelis, obeying their reflexes, launched air strikes, occasionally killing and injuring a handful of people. In response the organizations in question, also obeying their reflexes, either launched rockets or fired mortar rounds at the neighboring Israeli kibbutzim. Amidst the occasional exchanges of fire, throughout 2015 and going into 2016 not a single Israeli was either injured or killed by anyone or anything coming from, Gaza. To be sure, luck played a role in this. Just one round or rocket hitting, say, an inhabited apartment would have changed the statistics. Still it is hard to believe that it is the only factor involved.

Looking further back, almost six years have passed since the Navi Marmara tried to break the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza and was stopped at the cost of nine self-appointed Turkish do-gooders killed. People, incidentally, who came armed with every kind of edged weapon one could think of. At the time, the organizers threatened that the Marmara would merely be the first of many flotillas to come. Yet not only has nothing of the kind happened, but the Turks have lost much of their clout in the Middle East and are no longer in any position to bully anyone.

Back in the summer of 2006, the victory of the “extremist” Hamas over the “moderate” PLA in Gaza left most Israelis, and many non-Israeli as well, aghast. This author was one of the very few to argue that, in the long run, two weak governments, neither of which can speak for the Palestinian people as a whole, would almost certainly be better for Israel than a single relatively strong one. I still see no reason to change my view.

idf-trucks-keremshalom-novFigures on the Gazan economy are both hard to come by and unreliable. In part that is because, the two pieces of land, i.e. the Strip and the West Bank, are often seen as part of the same Palestinian economy. Still the CIA World Factbook claims that the economy grew 7 percent in 2012 and 6 percent in 2013. In 2014, due to Operation Protective Edge, it suffered a steep decline; however, UNSCO figures suggest a resumption of growth in 2015. In the lead are sectors such as construction (which went up by no less than 449 percent!) transportation and storage, agriculture, forestry and fishing, wholesale and retail trade, and mining, manufacturing, electricity and water.

Looking ahead into 2016 the PMA (Palestinian Monetary Authority) forecasts a growth of 3.3 percent. Not bad, considering the ongoing world-wide economic recession. Part cause, part consequence, of the expansion is the fact that 900 heavy trucks, crammed with merchandise of every kind, now enter the Stripe from Israel every day. To many Israeli right-wingers they are a thorn in the eye. But not one which is likely to disappear any time soon.

To be sure, both sides have been diligently preparing for the next round. Hamas has built more rockets possessed of longer range. They are now able to cover practically the whole of Israel and hit their targets much more accurately than before. Hoping to capture prisoners (hostages) if and when the next round takes place, Hamas has also been busy digging tunnels under the border. The Israelis on their part have been working on methods to detect tunnels—a surprisingly difficult task, it turns out. They are also trying to improve their early warning systems and missile defenses further still. Yet amidst all this both sides have repeatedly assured one another that escalation is not what they want. For the moment at any rate, and up to a point, live and let live seems to be the motto.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank and Israel itself hardly a day passes without some incident in which both Israelis and Palestinians (but mainly Palestinians) are killed or injured. So obvious is the reason that every half wit (but not Israeli right-wingers) can see it. In the case of Gaza, the two peoples are separated; in that of the West Bank, they are not.

Could Gaza serve as a model for the West Bank, or, to begin with, parts of it? Let’s start by putting aside all sorts of religious and ideological claims. In the world of strategy they do not count; nor is there any prospect of them convincing anyone except for part of Israel’s own population. Only one thing should count. To wit: how will Israel be stronger? With the West Bank or without it?

The main strategic argument right-wing Israelis use against a withdrawal from the lands in question is that doing so might lead to rockets being fired from them into Israel. But that is nonsense. Rockets and mortar rounds started coming from Gaza years before then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the Strip to be evacuated. Had the various militant Palestinian organizations in the West Bank wanted to, they could have used similar tactics long ago.

So it is up to Jerusalem to decide what it wants. Either an indefinite prolongation of the existing situation, with all its nasty implications for the country’s demographic balance, democracy and its standing in the world; or the erection of a wall and a withdrawal from occupied territory. Practically all of it, I would suggest. Including large parts of East Jerusalem which are purely Arab. Such a withdrawal would not necessarily have to be carried out all at once. One could start with the districts where Jewish settlements are thinnest on the ground and proceed from there, using each stage to see whether quiet is preserved and the time ripe for the next one.

After all, what does Israel have to lose? Except for the knifings, of course.

The Indispensable Sex

AmbwLVN-YEYeg2WD0f8G-6ZUQQ76xibd7ncmQHPRp_F51Last week a female Israeli soldier, Hadar (meaning, roughly, “Splendor,” or “Glory,”) Cohen, was killed in the course of duty. Two months into the Israel Defense Force, just two days after she had completed her basic training and taken the military oath of allegiance, she found herself standing guard at Old Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. With her were another female soldier and some male comrades. Three terrorists (some would call them Palestinian freedom fighters) armed with knives, submachine guns which they concealed under their coats emerged. One terrorist stabbed and was able to wound the other female soldier before Hadar gunned him down, probably saving her comrade’s life. Thereupon a second terrorist turned on her and stabbed her to death before he and the third terrorist present were “wasted”—this is standard language—by her fellow soldiers. She was nineteen years old.

I did not know Hadar personally. Ere she was killed, I had never heard of her. By all accounts. she was what her name proclaimed her to be: namely, a splendid young woman with her entire future in front of her. Idealistic and determined to prove herself by serving her country as best she could, she volunteered to do a man’s job; i.e was trained to become what both the IDF and the media call a lohemet, meaning either “fighter” or “warrior.”

But do not allow yourself to be misled. The term does not mean she went through anything like a full infantryman’s course. No Israeli woman does, and of those who tried to do so on a more or less experimental basis many have been injured, some of them very badly. All it means is that she was taught how to use her weapon, apparently a shortened version of the M-16 rifle (the real thing would have been too long for her to operate efficiently), and put into a bulletproof vest. So equipped, she was made to stand guard at what is currently one of the most dangerous spots in Israel; dangerous in the sense that, over the last few weeks, it has been the scene of several more or less similar attacks.

Even in Israel, the only country in history which (to its shame, some would say) has conscripted women into its military, a dead or injured female soldier is no ordinary event. That explains the media circus that has been going on around the deceased girl. Hadar’s own funeral was attended by the minister of home security. Accompanied by his retinue, the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Eisenkot, came to visit the female injured soldier in hospital and saluted her in front of the cameras. Not to be outdone Prime Minister Netanyahu, normally not the most sensitive of men, did the same. Had the dead and injured soldiers been male, almost certainly none of them would have bothered. All three may have felt that there was something deeply wrong, morally speaking, in making Hadar stand guard as she did. Or else, which in Netanyahu’s case seems more likely, that doing so would provide yet another photo-op.

Ultimately the reason why there is something deeply wrong with having women guard men and sacrifice themselves for them, instead of the other way around, is rooted in our mammalian biology. As everyone knows, the mammalian female’s investment in conceiving the young, bearing them, and bringing them into the world is huge. Not so that of the male who takes just a few minutes to do what has to be done and withdraws. Females can only have so and so many offspring during their lifetime; for males, so large is the number as to be practically unlimited.

The mathematics of reproduction explain why, among many mammalian species, the lives of males count for much less than those of females. When there is a threat it is the males which defend the females, never the other way around. Among us humans, the dangers surrounding delivery—at one time, one woman in four used to die in or soon after childbirth—provide another reason why women should not be heedlessly sacrificed. Briefly, nature itself has made women the indispensable sex. Compared with men, in any society they are a biological treasure and must be preserved. Even if doing so costs the lives of men.

Elementary, my dear Watson, Sherlock Holmes would have said. Yet the members of that peculiar species, modern feminists, seem unable to grasp even the most elementary biological facts. Half a century after Betty Friedan raised the standard of revolt, their real motives in claiming the kind of equality that cost Hadar her life remain no less mysterious than the famous feminist mystique itself. Unless, of course, Freud was right and penis envy makes the world go round.

Poor Hadar. I am aware that some people on the other side would say that she got just what she deserved. Be that as it may, and putting politics aside, all she herself wanted was to “contribute” to her country. But apparently she could find no better way to do so than to do what men normally do and what nature, by giving them stronger bodies, has made them more fit to do. Now she is dead, and my heart goes out to her and her family. Yet I cannot help wondering whether, by getting married, giving birth to a couple of children, and raising them properly as a mother should her contribution would not have been greater than it was.

May her soul rest in peace.

Turmoil in the Holy Land

ShowImageThe Holy Land is in a turmoil. Certainly not for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last. For those of you who have forgotten, here is a brief timetable of the Palestinian-Jewish/Israeli conflict over the last century or so.

1860 –              Palestine, divided into three separate districts that also include parts of what today are neighboring countries, is governed by “the Unspeakable Turk.” Perhaps 80 percent of the population is Arab, mainly Sunni. But there are also some Christians—around 15 percent—and Jews. Christians and Jews are treated as Dimnis, second-rate people with fewer rights than Muslims.

1860 –              Following the Crimean War the Porte comes under pressure by the Western Powers. The latter demand, and obtain, concessions for their own citizens who live in Palestine as well a native Christians and Jews. As a result of the “Capitulations,”, as they are known, these minorities start drawing ahead.

1881 –              Jewish immigrants, mainly from Russia, start arriving and establish some new settlements. Right from the beginning, these settlements come under attack by local Bedouin who have always lived by plundering the peasantry. Thus the immediate background to the clashes is not political but socio-economic.

1897                The First Zionist Congress is held in Basel.

1904-1914       The so-called “Second Wave” of Jewish immigrants starts arriving. Zionist activists buy land, often from absentee landowners who live as far away as Beirut. The local fellaheen, seeing the land on which they have lived for centuries sold from under their feet, try to resist.

1914                Turkey join World War I on the side of the Central Powers.

1917                The Balfour Declaration, in which His Britannic Majesty’s Government recognizes the Jews right to a “National Home” in Palestine, is issued. As a result, the conflict, while still mixed up with economic, social, and religious issues, becomes political par excellence. Two peoples—“Arabs” (not Palestinians, a name that only gained wide currency during the 1960s) and Jews claim ownership over the same land. As they still do.

1918                The end of World War I leaves Palestine, along with Jordan and Iraq, firmly in British hands.

1920-21           The first Palestinian Arab Uprising, directed against the Balfour Declaration as well as the Jewish settlement.

1922                Winston Churchill, in his capacity a Colonial Secretary, arrives. He and his staff draw the borders between Palestine and the neighboring countries.

1929                Another Palestinian Uprising, triggered by a conflict over the Wailing Wall, breaks out. It is directed against both the British and the Jews. It is suppressed, but not before two Jewish communities, the ancient one at Hebron and the new one at Motza, right across the road from where I live, are wiped out.

1936-39           “The Arab Revolt” (note that people still speak of Arabs, not Palestinians). It, too, is directed against both the British and the Jews. It, too, is suppressed. But not before London makes important concessions. Those include 1. An end to Jewish land-purchases. 2. Limits on Jewish immigration, which from this point on is to bring in no more than 15,000 people per year for five years. 3. A promise of “evolution towards independence” within ten years.

1947-48           On 1 December 1947, a day after the UN decides to partition the country, the Jews and Arabs of Palestine go to war. By the middle of June, by which time the remaining British have withdrawn and the State of Israel has been official proclaimed, the Arabs have been substantially defeated. Armed intervention by the neighboring Arab states, aimed at assisting their brothers, also fails to achieve its purpose. By the time the war ends in January 1949 some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs, about half of the Arab population west of the Jordan, have been turned into refugees. The State of Israel is an established fact. However, it does not include either the Gaza Strip, which comes under Egyptian military rule, or the West Bank, which is annexed by Jordan.

1967                The June 1967 Six Days War brings the Gaza Strip, with an estimated 500,000 people, and the West Bank, with an estimated 1,500,000, under Israeli rule. With the west Bank comes East Jerusalem which from this point on becomes the focus of the conflict. Since then the population of these two territories combined has grown to an estimated 4,000,000.

1977                The Right Wing Herut (later Likud) Party comes to power in Israel. The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which until then was very small, starts skyrocketing.

1979                The Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt proposes a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict within five years. In practice, though, nothing happens.

1987                In December the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, breaks out. At first it takes the form of demonstrations and mass riots. Later there are stabbings, shootings, and some bombs.

1993                Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat sign the Oslo Agreements. Parts of the West Bank come under Palestinian rule; parts, under mixed rule; and parts remain strictly under Israeli control. The Agreements also provide for a five-year transitional period during which the parties will try to end the conflict.

2000                No progress has been made towards finding a solution. Triggered by a visit by former Israeli Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the second Intifada breaks out. Its hallmark is suicide bombings. By 2004 it is more or less suppressed with enormous damage to the West Bank City of Jenin in particular.

2005-6             The Israeli Government, under Ariel Sharon, withdraws its forces from the Gaza Strip. The latter comes under a Palestinian Faction known a Hamas. Hamas chases the PLO out of Gaza and vows to continue “resisting” Israel, which is “besieging” the Strip by exercising strict control over the movement of people and goods. In response, Hamas fires mortar rounds and rockets, later missiles, into Israeli territory.

2006-14           Repeatedly, Israel launches military operations in an attempt to put an end to Hamas’ attacks. Repeatedly, it fails. Still, Operation Protective Edge, which was launched in July 2014 and wrought vast destruction in Gaza, does seem to have taught Hamas a lesson of sorts. Since then the border, though not quite peaceful, has been relatively calm.

2015                The third Intifada, whose hallmark so far has been knifings carried out by individuals, breaks out.

Outlook: Eight times during the last century—1920-21, 1929, 1936-39, 1947-48,1987-93, 2000-2005, 2008-14 (Gaza), 2016—did the Palestinian Arabs try to match whatever armed forces they had against those the British Empire/the Jewish Community in/Palestine/Israel. To no avail, since Israel, its Jewish population having grown almost a hundredfold during the same period. With one of the world’s more powerful armed forces, it still continues to “besiege” the Gaza Strip and occupy the West Bank. This is an Ur-clash between two peoples that claim the same land. Even should the present disturbances come an end, a political solution of any kind is not in sight.

What should be done: Speaking as an Israeli now, given that real peace is out of reach for a long, long time to come, there seem to be two courses. The first would be for my country to complete the wall it has built around the West Bank in such a way as to get rid as of many Palestinians, specifically including most of those who live in East Jerusalem, as possible. That done, it should tell the settlers it is withdrawing and take as many of them as possible along. If, after that, the Palestinians in the West Bank still cause trouble, then Israel should deal with them as it dealt with Gaza in 2014. This has long been my own position; however, unless pressure is applied form outside it is very unlikely to happen.

The second would be to hope for the collapse of the Hashemite Kingdom and its occupation by Daesh or some similar organization. That would create an opportunity to repeat the events of 1948 and throw the Palestinians of the West Bank across the River Jordan. This is the “solution” a great many Israelis secretly favor. And the longer the present uprising lasts, the larger their number will grow.

What will it be?

A Thirty Years’ War?

For those of you who have forgotten, here is a short reminder. The Thirty Years’ War started in May 1618 when the Protestant Estates of Bohemia revolted against the Catholic Emperor Ferdinand II. They threw his envoys out of the windows of the palace at Prague. Fortunately for them, the moat into which they fell was filled with rubbish and nobody was killed.

imagesHad the revolt remained local, it would have been suppressed fairly quickly. As, in fact, it was in 1620 when the Habsburgs and their allies won the Battle of the White Mountain. Instead it expanded and expanded. First the Hungarians and then the Ottomans were drawn in (though they did not stay in for long). Then came the Spaniards, then the Danes, then the Swedes, and finally the French. Some did less, others more. Many petty European states, cities, and more or less independent robber barons also set up militias and joined what developed into a wild free for all. For three decades armies and militias chased each other all over central Europe. Robbing, burning, raping, killing. By the time the Treaty of Westphalia ended the hostilities in 1648 the population of Germany had been reduced by an estimated one third.

The similarities with the current war in Syria are obvious and chilling. This war, too, started with a revolt against an oppressive ruler and his regime. One who, however nasty he might be, at any rate had kept things more or less under control. At first it was a question of various “liberal” Syrian factions—supposing such things exist—trying to overthrow Bashir Assad. Next it turned out that some of those factions were not liberal but Islamic, part of a much larger movement originating in Iraq and known, for short, as IS or Daesh. Next Hezbollah, which in some ways acts as an extension of Assad, and Iran, which had long supported Hezbollah against Israel, were drawn in. The former sent in fighters, the latter advisers and arms.

Even that was only the beginning. Smelling blood, the Kurds, whose territory straddles both Syria and Iraq, tried to use the opportunity to gain their independence. This necessarily drew in the Turks. To prevent its native Kurds from joining their brethren. Ankara started bombing them. To satisfy Obama, it also dropped a few bombs on IS. The US on its part started training some of the “liberal” militias, to no avail. US instructors did no better in Syria than their predecessors had done in Vietnam, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq; what is surprising is that they, and their bosses in the White House, never learn.

Next the US itself entered the fray. Fearing casualties, though, it only did so to the extent of launching drone-strikes, which are more or less useless. The Russians, determined to avoid the loss of their only remaining base outside their own country and to keep Assad in place, launched airstrikes on some, but not all, the militias. The French, hoping to achieve God knows what, did the same. Fueling the conflict are the Saudis who will oppose anything the Iranians support. Too cowardly to send in their own useless army, they are trying to get rid of Assad by heavily subsidizing his enemies.

With so many interests, native and foreign, involved, a way out does not seem in sight. Nor can the outcome be foreseen any more than that of the Thirty Years’ War could be four years after the beginning of the conflict, i.e. 1622. In fact there is good reason to believe that the hostilities have just begun. Additional players such as Lebanon and Jordan may well be drawn in. That in turn will almost certainly bring in Israel as well. Some right-wing Israelis, including several ministers, actually dream of such a scenario. They hope that the fall of the Hashemite Dynasty and the disintegration of Jordan will provide them with an opportunity to repeat the events of 1948 by throwing the Palestinians out of the West Bank and into Jordan.

That, however, is Zukunftsmusik, future music as the Germans say. As of the present, the greatest losers are going to be Syria and Iraq. Neither really exists any longer as organized entities, and neither seems to have a future as such an entity. The greatest winner is going to be Iran. Playing the role once reserved for Richelieu, the great 17th century French statesman, the Mullahs are watching the entire vast area from the Persian Gulf to Latakia on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean turn into a maelstrom of conflicting interests they can play with. Nor are they at all sorry to see Turks and Kurds kill each other to their hearts’ contents.

Finally, as happened in 1618-48, the main victim is the civilian population. Just as in 1618-48, people are being robbed, despoiled, and killed. Just as in 1618-48 the slave trade, especially in nubile females who can be raped and young boys who can be conscripted, is undergoing a revival. Not only in Syria, but in Iraq, where IS is fighting both the local Kurds and whatever ragtag units the Iraqi “Army” can field. Ere it is over the number of refugees desperately seeking to escape will rise into the millions. Many, not having anything to lose, are going to risk life and limb trying to reach Europe. Joining others from Libya and the rest of Africa, at least some will link with the Salafists, an extreme Muslim sect that is already very active in the continent’s cities. Of those who do, some will turn to terrorism. Terrorism, unless it can be contained, will increasingly be answered not just by extremism, the loss of civil rights and the breakdown of democracy—that is beginning to happen already—but by terrorism.

And whom will everyone blame? Israel, of course. But that is something we Israelis, and Jews, are used to.

Hiroshima, or Then There Will Be Ten

Exactly seventy years ago, on 6 August 1945, the US dropped the world’s first nuclear device on Hiroshima. Three days later it dropped the second one on Nagasaki. The total number of those who died either on the spot or later, as the result of radiation, was probably between 150,000 and 200,000. President Truman’s reasons for using the bomb have been in dispute ever since.

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“Ways toward nuclear disarmament–PIR Center”

What has not been in dispute is that, ever since, the US has done everything it could to prevent other countries from obtaining the weapons it already had. Not that I blame it; any other Power in its position would have done exactly the same. The first country to which the policy was applied was Stalin’s Soviet Union. In 1941-45 Stalin had been known as “Uncle Joe.” Now, within the space of a few weeks or months, he was turned into a monster. One which, in some ways, was even worse than Adolf Hitler. Stalin was an atheist. Stalin was a Communist. Stalin was hell-bent on dominating the world. In seeking to realize that objective, he recognized no moral laws whatever. It was, all of it, in vain. Four years after Hiroshima the Soviet Union did in fact test its first bomb. And what happened? Nothing. Stalin did not invade Europe, as had been feared. Let alone unleash a third world war.

Confronted by a fait accompli, Washington switched it attention to its own allies, Britain and France. One could not, of course, accuse them of being atheists, or Communists, or non-democratic. Let alone of presenting a danger to the US, or seeking to dominate the world, or whatever. Some more benign reasons had to be invented. Some more benign reasons were invented. Such as, for example, the claim that, once the British and the French possessed their own nuclear arsenals, the Soviets might think they could attack them without necessarily involving the US, thus weakening NATO. The consequences would be terrible. Again, their efforts availed the Americans nothing, Britain tested its first bomb in 1952, France in 1960. And what happened? Nothing.

Next it was the turn of China. Its leader, Mao Zedong, was even worse than Stalin. Let alone his successors who, as détente took hold, had turned into more or less “responsible” and “calculable” actors. Mao was a revolutionary. Mao was a dictator. Mao was a Communist. Mao was a mass murderer. Had he not supported North Korea? Had he not sworn to regain Taiwan? Had he not dared call the US a paper tiger? And did not Khrushchev say that he had said that he was prepared to sacrifice three hundred million lives so as to put an end to imperialism? How could one permit such a man to put his finger on the trigger? In October 1964, he did. And what happened? Nothing.

Unlike China, Israel was a tiny country of two and a half million tucked away in the Middle East. It was also democratic. By no stretch of the imagination did it present a danger to the US or any of its allies. And yet the US under Kennedy did what it could to prevent Jerusalem from going nuclear. So much so that, by some accounts, Prime Minister Ben Gurion resigned over this very issue. This time the rationale was that an Israeli bomb would immediately lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. With Egypt, as the largest Arab country, in the lead. In fact, that did not happen. As of 2015, Egypt still does not have the bomb.

In 1974 the Indians set off what they called a “peaceful nuclear explosion” (PNE). No sooner had they done so than America’s ambassador to New Delhi, Daniel Moynihan, went to the foreign ministry. You have, he lectured them, done a terrible thing. Not because India might use the bomb, but because it would cause the “Moghuls” in Karachi to build a bomb of their own. By that logic, incidentally, the US should have avoided building the bomb out of fear that the Soviet Union would follow.

In the event, Moynihan was right. Ten years or so later, the “Moghuls” did in fact go nuclear. In 1998 both India and Pakistan tested their bombs. And what happened? Nothing.

And then it was the turn of North Korea. Everyone knew that the people in Pyongyang were as bad as anyone could be. They had set up a terrible dictatorship. They had developed a strange doctrine, known as Juche and roughly translatable as “we ourselves.” They starved their own people. They staged some dangerous incidents along the border between them and South Korea. They had the regime’s opponents torn to pieces by dogs (though this particular accusation later turned out to be a figment of someone’s imagination). In 2006, to the accompaniment of dire warnings, they tested their first bomb. And what happened? Nothing.

The logic behind the “international,” read mainly American, attempts to prevent proliferation is clear enough. Since 1945 no country has gone to war more often, and against as many opponents scattered all over the world, as the US has. Nor has any country more readily threatened to use its nuclear weapons. After all, it had far more of them than anyone else did. Conversely, each time another country obtains the bomb the number of those the US can attack without risking nuclear escalation goes down by one.

And then it was the turn of Iran. Iran is not a democracy (as if, judging by the fact that, in the past, quite some non-democratic countries acquired the bomb, it matters). Iran is not transparent (ditto). Iran supports terrorism (ditto). Should it develop the bomb, then that bomb may fall into the hand of terrorists. Etc., etc. Note that the rationales keep adapting themselves to circumstances. However, the objective remains always the same.

That is also why the details of the agreement with Iran, about which so much is being said and written, do not really matter. The controls may or may not be effective. They may or may not expire after ten years. Regardless, the Mullahs will continue their nuclear program so they can build the bomb if and when they need it. Partly that is because Iran is surrounded by nuclear countries on all sides. Partly, because of America’s habit of sending it troops to fight in or against other countries, with reason or without. One way or another, they will keep it in operation whether the rest of “the world,” agrees or not.

That is why, sooner or later, out of hundred and ninety or so countries on this earth there will be not nine nuclear ones but ten. And very little, if anything, will happen.