Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shalit's Release Imminent?

Not trying to get anyone's hopes up, but here's the latest from the Jerusalem Post:

The London-based Asharq Alawsat reported Saturday significant progress in negotiations to release captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip for over three years.

Captive IDF soldier Gilad...

Captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
Photo: Channel 10 [file]

According to the report, Israel and Hamas reached a compromise according to which Israel would eventually release 1,100 Palestinian prisoners, of which 400 would be picked by Hamas.

Hamas ministers and parliamentarians would also be released, according to the reported agreement.

Israel would also remove the siege of the Gaza Strip, open the southern Rafah Crossing and return it to the level of operation that existed before the Hamas coup two years ago.

The paper reported that the plan received the blessing of the United States.

Israeli and Palestinian sources both doubted the veracity of Asharq Alawsat's report, andThe Jerusalem Post could not verify its reliability.

Nothing is confirmed as of yet. I'll post again as soon as more news comes in.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Three Years Gone

Gilad Shalit

On June 25, 2006, Palestinian terrorists staged a cross border raid from the Gaza Strip into Israel near the Kerem Shalom border crossing point. Using underground tunnels enabled the terrorists to cross into Israel undetected and catch the IDF off guard. The terrorists murdered two soldiers, Pavel Slutzker and Hanan Barak, and kidnapped a third, Gilad Shalit, who has remained in captivity until today.

This raid, along with a similar attack by Hezbollah into Northern Israel on July 12, 2006, kicked off Israel's two-front conflict in Gaza and Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah's cross-border attack resulted in two additional IDF soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, falling into terrorist hands. Autopsies revealed that both Regev and Goldwasser most likely died in the intial attack, yet Hezbollah held their remains as a bargaining chip in a ransom deal they would strike with Israel in July of 2008.

Israel agreed to release the remains of 199 Hezbollah members and 5 living terrorists, including the notorious child-killer Samir Kuntar, in exchange for Regev's and Goldwasser's coffins. It was a controversial deal to be sure, especially considering the heinous nature of Kuntar's crimes and his promise to return to the jihad against Israel: "God willing, I will get the chance to kill more Israelis." Despite the worst intentions of the freed terrorists, all that matters in Israel is the end result; its sons are home.

Efforts to secure Shalit's release have been ongoing for 3 years. Israel tried rescuing Shalit through the military route in the early days after his kidnapping. Ever since, Israel has attempted to free Gilad through a prisoner exchange with Hamas, which wants Israel to free hundreds of terrorists currently held in Israeli jails. Hamas has demanded Israel free many terrorists with blood on their hands which, quite rightly, makes many Israelis uneasy. According to a 2007 study by the The Almagor Terrorist Victims Association, over 30 terror attacks have been committed by terrorists freed in prisoner exchanges or otherwise, killing 177 innocent Israeli civilians. However, a recent poll found that 69% of adult Jewish Israelis support the release of Palestinian prisoners who have been directly involved in terror attacks in exchange for Shalit.

To Americans, this may seem like a strange contradiction, but Israelis see the situation much differently.

"When no military option exists, there is no choice but to enter negotiations and pay a price." Yitzhak Rabin said this in 1985 after Israel agreed to release 1,150 prisoners for 3 Israeli soldiers. In 2004, the Israeli government declared: "The Government of Israel...reiterates its commitment to take any action and make every effort, and not to rest, until all POWs and MIAs are returned to Israel."

Ever since the 1948 War of Independence, the army, and especially the soldiers, have been Israel's heart and soul. For the government to do anything less than the absolute maximum to secure a soldier's release would be an affront to the brave men and women who have kept Israel alive and kicking for 61 years. Additionally, the policy of freeing captured Israelis at any cost lets the soldiers know that they are highly valued and will not be forgotten should they fall into enemy hands. This policy is why, right now, the Israeli government is doing its damnedest to free Gilad, even if it means granting freedom to murderers who will likely kill again.

Gilad Shalit is believed to be alive, although Hamas has not allowed the Red Cross to confirm this, constituting a war crime. But when it comes to Hamas, what's one more war crime to them in the grand scheme? The Egyptian government has attempted to mediate an exchange between Hamas and the Israeli government yet, so far, efforts have been fruitless. There are near daily protests in Israel, often attended by Gilad's parents, Noam and Aviva, to demonstrate in support of Gilad and to pressure the government into securing his release. Paris, Rome, Miami and New Orleans have all given honorary citizenship to Gilad Shalit to express solidarity. All of Israel, and many Jews in the Diaspora, are standing behind this young man to make sure he comes home safe.

Today, we look back to remember and honor Pavel Slutzker and Hanan Barak on their yahrtzeit. Today we also look forward to Gilad Shalit's redemption from captivity, his return to family and friends, and his resumption of a normal and happy life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NYC Gets a Bad Case of Tel Aviv Beach Envy

Flier from the Tel Aviv 100th Birthday Party in NYC

Tel Aviv's beginnings; from
the most reliable source on the Interwebs:
"In April 1909, sixty-six Jewish families gathered on a desolate sand dune on what is now Rothschild Boulevard to parcel out the land by lottery using seashells. The lottery was organized by Akiva Arye Weiss, the president of the association. Weiss had an original idea, the names of the families were inscribed on white shells and the plot number on gray shells. Within a year, Herzl, Ahad Ha'am, Yehuda Halevi, Lilienblum, and Rothschild streets were built; a water system was installed; and 66 houses (including some on six subdivided plots) were completed. At the end of Herzl Street, a plot was allocated for a new building for the Herzliya Hebrew High School, founded in Jaffa in 1906. On May 21, 1910, the name Tel Aviv was adopted."
100 years later, Tel Aviv is slightly larger than 66 houses and one high school. The city itself is home to nearly 400,000 Israelis, serves as Israel's economic hub, and is widely considered Israel's most cosmopolitan city; with bars, cafes, museums, clubs and boutiques lining the streets. Tel Aviv is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its modern architecture.

In Israel, they have been celebrating Tel Aviv's Centennial since April of this year, and
will continue to do so for the remainder of 2009 with bike rides, concerts, and other events.

But why should Israel get to have all the fun? On Sunday, June 21, New York City's Central Park was transformed into a veritable Tel Aviv beach scene, complete with 30 tons of sand, Israeli musical acts (such as Hatikva 6) and matkot; Hebrew for paddleball.

Additional cities will be able to partake in Tel Aviv's 100th birthday as well. There will be two more Tel Aviv beach days later this summer; one in Vienna (Austria, not Virginia) and the other in Copenhagen. LA, Paris and Brussels will also host events, sans the imported sand. David Saranga, the consul for media and public affairs at the Israeli Consulate General in New York says it's all part of an outreach program to restore Tel Aviv's, and by extension Israel's, image in the eyes of the world after Operation Cast Lead earlier this year.

However, Israel's outreach to NYC and the global community at large fell on some deaf ears, I'm afraid. Lunatics from the Westboro Baptist Church and Code Pink crashed the beach party. I don't know what the Church's message was at the beach, but I do know that they helped an NYC synagogue raise $10,000 while they picketed it; which surely wasn't the Church's intent. The ladies of Code Pink came in their Sunday best bikinis, and that's where the pleasantries halted. They brought the usual anti-Israel jibber jabber about the IDF committing war crimes, and even campaigned to boycott Ahava products. The only crimes that Ahava has committed is that their stuff smells way too good and costs way too much money. If these chicks actually went to Israel and bought some duty-free mud and moisturizer, I have no doubt they'd acquit Ahava of the latter offense.

All in all, a good time was had by most (excluding the protesters). No one got stung by jellyfish or swam too quickly after a falafel, and the leftover sand was donated to local NYC playgrounds. A pretty good day for a 100th birthday celebration if you ask me.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Current Regime was Oppressive, so Iran to Demonstrate in the Streets

Massive Protest in Iran led by Mir Hossein Mousavi

What can we make of the Iranian uprising? On the one hand, it's good to see the youth of Teheran and elsewhere take to the streets in peaceful protests. On the other, will any real change come from all this once the dust settles?

If you haven't been paying attention to the events, and/or haven't watched TV, listened to the radio or surfed the net in the last week, the rundown is as follows:
  • Friday, June 12: Iranians hit the polls to vote for four candidates, all of whom have the the Mullahs' seal of approval. The two candidates of note are incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi, a reformist challenger.
  • Saturday, June 13: The Iranian interior ministry releases the election results: 63% of the vote for Ahmadinejad, 34% for Mousavi.
  • Sunday, June 14 - Present: All hell breaks loose.

It's really been a site to behold as hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions, of Iranians have peacefully protested the election results which, by the way, were most likely fraudulent.

New media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) have played a large role in getting information to and from Iran. The ruling regime has tried their best to impose a media blackout on its citizens, yet the tech savvy Iranians have found ways around the information blockade, setting the Interwebs ablaze with almost constant updates. Many of the updates from inside Iran are video and commentary reporting the brutal and thuggish methods the regime is using to quell the uprising. Dozens have been killed and scores have been injured, yet the protests rage on.

With regards to Israel, as with Iran, the situation remains unclear. If the status quo holds up and Ahmadinejad retains the presidency, nothing changes from the Israeli perspective. His feelings towards Israel are clear:
"Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken. Today the reason for the Zionist regime's existence is questioned, and this regime is on its way to annihilation."
This cat doesn't mince words, does he?

As challenger to Ahmadinejad, Mousavi portrayed himself as a reform candidate. But if one digs a little deeper, it becomes clear that he was a hard-liner as well. As Iranian Prime Minister in the 1980s, Mousavi was one of the founders of Hezbollah, a terror organization based in Lebanon that you might remember lobbing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel in 2006. Also of note, it was Mousavi who founded Iran's nuclear program in the 1980s; the same nuclear program with which the regime intends to threaten Israel's very existence.

Perhaps Mousavi has abandoned his hard-line views towards the Jewish state, but that remains to be seen. At this point, it seems as if the protests have moved beyond the questionable election results and to the Iranians' general dissatisfaction with the theocratic and oppressive Mullocracy. This is a good sign for Israel, as an overthrown radical Iranian regime that is replaced by a liberal democracy is practically the best-case scenario. Israeli minister for Strategic Affairs, Moshe Yaalon, believes that a revolution will take place, but that the nuclear program will continue:
"It will be impossible to contain the energy there is now, I believe the Iranian regime will have to take this into consideration. While this will have no effect on the nuclear issue, this regime will fall."

Unfortunately, for now, the question of how this will impact Israel goes unanswered. Israel can take heart in the protests, the Iranian youth demonstrating openness towards the West, and the push for Democracy. But until real change occurs, the Jewish state will have to remain vigilant.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reactions to Bibi's Speech: Israelis Approve; Arabs, on the Other Hand...

Clockwise from top: Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu, Hamas Boss Khaled Mashaal, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Ann B. Davis as Alice
What's that saying about 2 Jews and 3 opinions? However it goes, it didn't apply to Bibi's June 14 speech at Bar Ilan University (covered HERE).

Haaretz poll: Netanyahu approval rating leaps after policy speech

"For example, in only a month, Netanyahu's approval rating has jumped 16 percentage points from a low of 28 percent the day after the cabinet debate over the budget on May 14. The 44 percent achieved yesterday comes a day after the speech...

The Israeli public overwhelmingly supports Netanyahu's speech - 71 percent. According to the poll, the prime minister said the right things and the television event Sunday night will help Israel in the international arena."

In this case, at least, we can put to bed the myth of the schizophrenic nature of Jewish opinions.

The Arabs, too, were consistent in their opinions, but that's where the similarity ended.

The Palestinian Authority fired the opening salvos:
PA: Speech dealt deadly blow to peace process

First, they attacked Bibi's conditions for peace:

"Netanyahu's speech was a right-wing speech that destroyed the basis for negotiations when it talked of a unified Jerusalem, removing the refugee issue from the talks and recognizing a Jewish state. This is a speech that is about setting terms"

Then they called the peace process 'paralyzed':

"Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah was also critical of the address. "Netanyahu's remarks have sabotaged all initiatives, paralyzed all efforts being made and challenges the Palestinian, Arab and American positions,"

The Syrians went a step further: Syrian state paper: Netanyahu wants apartheid

Comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany is a favorite tactic of the Jewish State's detractors, and the Syrians chose the former:

"'Zionist government agrees to set up Palestinian cantons reminiscent of blacks' cantons in racist South Africa'.

Hamas, not to be ignored, also got in on the action: Netanyahu accepts a disarmed Palestinian state

"This speech reflects the racist and extremist ideology of Netanyahu and denies all the rights of the Palestinian people,' Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP"

Racist and extremist? One need only take a look at Hamas's charter to see some real racist and extremist language:

"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."

"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews."

What makes a tree Jewish? Does a mohel have to trim the branches? Only Hamas knows...

In conclusion, the speech played well with the Israelis, and not so well with the Arabs. What was it that Bibi said in his speech about the root of the conflict? Oh yes, this:
"The simple truth is that the root of the conflict has been and remains the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish People to its own state in its historical homeland."
When he's right, he's right.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Benjamin Netanyahu Delivers Peace Policy Speech

On Sunday, June 14, Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a major policy speech from Bar Ilan University regarding peace with the Palestinians. The Israeli Prime Minister is walking a very thin line to maintain the support of both Israelis and Israel’s greatest ally, the United States. In my humble opinion, Bibi didn’t disappoint.

Netanyahu made overtures to satisfy both the USA and his governing coalition. The Obama administration, like its predecessors, has called for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Yesterday, breaking from his Likud party’s tradition, Netanyahu called for a Palestinian state as well, but with several conditions that ought to satisfy his colleagues in the Knesset:

  • Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state
  • A demilitarized Palestinian state
  • A dismissal of the Palestinian refugee ‘right of return’
  • An end to Palestinian incitement towards Israel and Jews
  • Economic ties and cooperation
  • A unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty

Nothing new here.

Israel has been asking for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state since the peace process began. Most recently, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Fatah party and the Palestinian Prime Minister, rejected outright the notion of a Jewish state. “I do not accept it, it is not my job to give a description of the state. Name yourself the Hebrew Socialist Republic — it is none of my business.” (SOURCE) Then again, a Likud Prime Minister has never accepted a Palestinian state until yesterday, so we’ll see if Abbas changes his tune.

Consensus among Israelis since the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993 has been that a hostile and armed Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would be an existential threat for Israel. Netanyahu repeatedly stressed the point of a demilitarized Palestinian state, citing the example of ‘Hamastan,’ better known as the Gaza strip, which Israel evacuated of any Jewish presence in 2005. Since the disengagement from Gaza, thousands of rockets have rained down upon southern Israeli cities and towns. Conditions in Sderot and Ashkelon are nearly unbearable. To wit, “between 75 percent and 94 percent of Sderot children aged 4-18 exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress” (SOURCE). Inflicting these conditions on western Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport is unacceptable.

For Israel, the Palestinian ‘right of return,’ —millions of Palestinian refugees and their families flooding Israel-proper—has never been an issue up for discussion, as it would put a demographic end to Israel’s standing as the Jewish state. Netanyahu contended that since Israel was able to absorb hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, both Holocaust survivors and those expelled from Arab countries in 1948, a new Palestinian state should do the same. Frankly, that’s hard to argue with.

An end to Palestinian incitement against Israel and Jews, by both Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority and Hamas, has long been a condition for peace and, as of today, has yet to be met. Attacks have come from the Palestinian territories and beyond. To see with your own eyes the type of incitement to which Bibi is referring, check out The Middle East Media Research Institute’s website. (LINK)

Perhaps the most attainable peace condition is an economic cooperation and linkage between Israel and the Palestinians. Bibi mentioned potential avenues of collaboration, such as solar energy development, archaeological tourism, transportation, and oil pipelines. Netanyahu firmly believes that a stable and thriving Palestinian economy will do wonders for peace prospects, help to marginalize the radicals in Hamas and other organizations, and better the lives of the Palestinians. It’s not the whole shwarma (is that the equivalent of an enchilada?) of an independent state, but it certainly lays the groundwork and would enable both parties to move forward.

And now, quite possibly the thorniest issue of the peace process: a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. The Israeli take is that Jerusalem has always been the capital of the Jewish people, stretching back for 3,000 years. So many prayers, sayings, and customs in Judaism involve Jerusalem (next year in Jerusalem, if I forget thee, o Jerusalem, the direction in which we pray, etc.) These references did not come about after the 6 Day War, mind you. Jerusalem has played a major part in our history as a people, and will continue to do so. Additionally, religious freedom in Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is complete, and members of all faiths, be they Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, are allowed to worship at the city’s holy places. Finally, under Israeli control, Jerusalem has thrived as both a spiritual center and a modern metropolis. Jerusalem still retains its ancient character in the Old City, yet manages to be a 21st century capital outside the Old City’s gates. The Israeli argument against dividing Jerusalem is that, under Jordanian control from 1948-1967, Jerusalem was not a free city for all worshippers and did not experience the growth and prosperity it has had under Israeli control. Now the Arabs are pining to control it again. Sounds like they have a thing or two to learn from Joni Mitchell about appreciating something while you’ve got it.

I dug a few other aspects of Bibi’s speech, such as his refutation of the claim that Israel’s rebirth was due to the Holocaust, a view espoused by both President Obama in his Cairo speech last week and Iran’s newly “re-elected” president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I’m not comparing the two, by the way, just their views. Israel was created to be the Jewish state because it is and always has been the Jewish people’s homeland. Enough said. I also enjoyed how Netanyahu brought up the Jewish people’s bona fides as a peace-loving nation. Again, as with Jerusalem, just listen for ‘Shalom’ when you’re at synagogue the next time. It’ll be there a ton, and not in the hello or goodbye context.

That’s a lot to read, I know. To be fair, it was a pretty long speech and I didn’t want to do it an injustice by reducing it to soundbites. It will be interesting to see how this speech plays with the Obama administration, Israel, the Palestinians, and the wider Arab world. Of course, this speech won’t put an end to the conflict; hell hasn’t frozen over and pigs still don’t fly. Pigs, however, can give us the flu and are inedible for both Jews and Muslims. At least there’s one thing we can agree on.

Links to Netanyahu’s speech, both in talkie and transcript form, below.

Netanyahu Speech in Full (BBC)

Full text of Netanyahu's foreign policy speech at Bar Ilan (Haaretz)