Thursday, 22 December 2011

Ladies, please!

There's been a lot happening recently over in that sliver of land at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa (what continent is Israel in anyway? answers on a postcard please...). There's no way I, a rather lazy (recently) blogger could even hope to cover everything, so I'm going to focus on one for the girls.

A friend of mine recently started a Facebook group called Peaceful Women, aimed at encouraging women from a cross-section of ethnic-religious backgrounds to exchange ideas, thoughts and information and to begin to forge friendships. The idea behind this is that as women are thought to be the gentler sex, that a women-only forum would be a good place to begin to forge peace connections. 

It is interesting that women (myself included) have happily joined, without questioning the women-only nature of the group. It is particularly interesting as it comes at a time when gender politics has reared its head in Israel in the context of the Haredi gender segregation that is creeping ever more into the public sphere.

There have been, on my count, three examples of gender segregation encroaching further into public space in Israel in recent weeks. Firstly, the news that in Mea Shearim, the street itself was to have a mechitza (separation barrier) erected to allow men and women to pass freely but separately in the streets during Sukkot. I was unsure how I felt about this. After all, it was taking place within a strictly ultra-orthodox community, where, as far as I am aware, the only reason for a non-ultra-orthodox person to be there is to gawp at the curiosities of this insular community.

Then, within a few weeks of this news story, I heard about the increasing practice of defacing  advertisements in Jerusalem that featured women. This vandalism has led some advertising agencies and their clients towards self-censorship - cropping women out of photos (Honnigman) or excluding them altogether (the campaign for organ donors), but also to an increasingly loud female voice condemning this development. Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barakat has condemned the vandalism and encouraged the police to deal with incidents that arise, whilst also firing Rachel Azaria, a Jerusalem councilwoman who had appealed to the Supreme Court against the Mea Shearim barrier. This strangely contradictory behaviour looked to all and sundry as Barakat capitulating to ultra-orthodox pressure (see article). They are, after all an increasing proportion of the population, and in Jerusalem they are a significant constituency in municipal elections.

The most recent, and highly publicised example of gender segregation 'crossing the line' is the ongoing bus saga. There have been a number of reports of women being pressured into sitting at the back of public buses that serve ultra-orthodox areas. The gender segregation on certain lines is not news, in the sense that it is not new, but in the current climate in which gender segregation has spread beyond the buses, it has become newsworthy. Tanya Rosenblit's experience has been widely read online and even the Daily Mail here in the UK has joined in, stating that "Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up about 10 percent of Israel's population of 7.6 million, have become increasingly aggressive in their efforts to impose their norms in public spaces."

Indeed, the bus issue has become a key issue, even Bibi has stated that "Fringe groups must not be allowed to tear apart our common denominator. We must preserve public space as open and free for all citizens of Israel." (longer article here

It seems that even within the ultra-orthodox community, opinion is divided as to whether such gender separation needs to be enforced. I've read a number of talkbacks where representatives of the 'silent majority' defend ultra-orthodoxy in general. I'm also aware that within the ultra-orthodox community it is often the strictest interpretation that goes unchallenged. However, this issue will not go away and divisions between the ultra-orthodox, religious and secular Israelis are only going to widen if the 'silent majority' remains silent.
I don't have a solution. Perhaps the private bus line suggested by a group of ultra-orthodox millionaires is the answer (full article), although this would still be considered 'public space'. However, isn't a synagogue also  public space? No-one questions the separation of men and women there. I hope a live and let live solution can be found where neither the secular or religious impose their rules on each other. However, I must include the caveat that religious women (those within the silent majority perhaps?) themselves shouldn't feel coerced or forced into behaviour with which they disagree or which makes them feel isolated.

er... hang on... isn't THIS gender segregation in a public place???

Goodness, that's a long post. I am now going to watch the rather excellent Simon Sebag-Montifiore's programme on the history of Jerusalem on BBC4. There's been some excellent programming on the BBC about Jerusalem recently. In addition to this history series, I very much enjoyed Yotam Ottolenghi's 'Jerusalem on a Plate' - next time I will post some positive, happy news about that special city.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Special friends

Something a little light-hearted as I summon up the energy to write a proper post, I know it's been a while. This is a very funny and more than a little poignant Israeli advert that a friend of mine posted on Facebook today. I know that the strap line of "In real life this is impossible... but on the internet these kinds of relationships are created every day" is very true - I see these friendships every day on my own Facebook page and the pages of the Groups that forge these links between people. Nice one Barak013.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Preferential treatment ... awesome (!)

So we are now in the Days of Awe, the ten day period between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur when we Jews are supposed to, among other things, request forgiveness from those we feel we have wronged. Now, I am by no means a religious Jew - I observe little and break many commandments - but I am Jewish enough to have what I believe to be the correct interpretation of this practice.

Now, call me a cynic, but I believe that if you are sincere in asking forgiveness for a wrong done unto another person, you should demonstrate that by having the courage to face that person and admit your wrongdoing. That is, surely, the hardest element of apology and one that would be appreciated by the person to whom you are apologising, thus aiding the process of them agreeing to forgive you. The bizarre (in my view) Haredi practice of kaparot serves to deflect attention from the sin, and means that the sinner (for we are all sinners) tends not to have to be so introspective about his or her (but probably his, I would guess - do women perform kaparot?) sins as the chicken-spinning (I mean really, who came up with this idea??) serves as a sin-catcher for those sins we cannot remember.

super flying chicken

So apologising has definitely been in the news in Israel lately. What with the apology/admission to Egypt regarding the killing of Egyptian soldiers, who may or may not have been aiding the suspected attackers in the south of Israel last month. And the non-apology to Turkey for the killing of the 9 Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara, who may or may not have been intending to provoke just such a reaction from the IDF paratroopers who were sent to stop them breaking the siege on Gaza/defend Israel's sovereignty (it all depends on your perspective). I wonder if Bibi is doing any introspective thinking these days? For all the posturing of Erdogan in his not-so-hidden intentions of becoming the major player in the region, surely an apology, even if worded as "collateral damage" -  literally to keep the peace - could have been forthcoming from Israel? Unfortunately, with the official line being that the siege on Gaza is necessary for Israeli security, an apology for the deaths of those who came with violent intentions to breach that security will be a long time coming.

In more recent news has been, of course, the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of statehood. This has been opposed by the Israeli government primarily on the grounds that as a unilateral move by the Palestinians, it threatens Israeli security (again). The bid is also based on UN Resolution 181 (also known as the 1947 UN Partition Plan) and as such, these borders, if recognised, would consequently reduce Israeli territory. Significantly.

Israel's staunch ally, the USA, has also opposed the unilateral nature of the Palestinian bid and threatened to use its veto at the Security Council if necessary. At this point it may be worthwhile to remember two things. Firstly, Obama made many grand statements at the beginning of his term about reaching a final settlement in this conflict and establishing a long-overdue Palestinian state. Secondly, that the same USA is supposed to be an even-handed player in Middle East negotiations.

Recent events show both of these to be untrue. The threat of veto actually pales in comparison to the actual withdrawal, since August, of American aid  "designated for a wide range of humanitarian, educational and state capacity building projects" in the Palestinian Authority- apparently because of Abbas's intransigence in the face of American pressure to withdraw the statehood bid, as well as the (failed) attempt of Fatah and Hamas to reconcile their differences.

If these things are punishable inasmuch as they work against the US Administration's vision of how a peace agreement and Palestinian state should be achieved, then what of the Israeli government's continued (unilateral) expansion and development of settlements in occupied territory? Surely this is worth censure? or, dare I say, even punishment? Even Bush Snr had the balls to withold loan guarantees from Shamir's government because he saw that the money was paying for settlements that would continue to prevent peace being made (never mind the loud message of "fuck you" it sent to the Palestinians and the world). As Adam Keller points out in his excellent article, America's days as key Middle East negotiator are surely numbererd, in no small part because of the blind eye they turn to Israel's activity in the territories. What is needed is a strong ally - one who, as a true friend, isn't afraid to tell Israel that what she is doing is manifestly against her own interests.

Come on Obama, don't be a chicken.


Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Thursday, 22 September 2011

PC or Mac?

and now on a lighter note....


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

feeling inspired?

I am!

UN International Day of Peace - Wednesday 20th September 2011


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

the big day

So tomorrow is almost here. The big day when the Palestinians will make their bid for statehood to be recognised by the UN General Assembly and Security Council. The Israeli newspapers are full of the machinations that are going on, seemingly endlessly, behind the scenes. With Bibi, Peres and Ron Prosor each doing their bit to persuade, convince and soothe a whole range of foreign dignitaries not to support the Palestinian bid. In his article in Ha'Aretz today, Adnan Primor weighs up the moral decision Israel is asking the European nations to make against the moral decision the Palestinians are pinning their hopes upon. Over at Ynet, Bibi is doing his best to stir up fear and distrust, although as he is talking to Likud it seems like he is preaching to the converted on this one.

Tomorrow is also the UN International Day of Peace. This event "Provides an opportunity for individuals, organisations and nations to create practical acts of peace on a shared date" - and as such I think would provide the perfect, ideal opportunity for Israel to make the ultimate move towards peace in the region: by recognising the Palestinian right to self-determination and voting in favour of the statehood bid.

*sigh* I should wake up from my dream now...

So in honour of the Day of Peace that tomorrow hopefully will be, I would like to share two things with you.
Firstly, a lovely lady I have befriended on Facebook, Zsuzsi Klara Schindler. She has published a note on her page which sincerely and eloquently asks for a peaceful response to whatever happens at the UN. I really couldn't have put it better myself so I am pleased that she has agreed to let me reproduce her thoughts here on my blog:

 Oh my dear friends; tomorrow begins the week when things will change the situation here and no one knows really knows what is going to change from zero to much; I have one wish to all my Jewish Israeli, Christian and Muslim Israeli and Palestinian friends; please write and tell all the people you know to do all we all can to avoid violence even when a crazy terrorist on either side might want to be the match to put the whole area on fire. Please let us ignore them and let us not give them the power to decide whats going on here, its so easy to ruin all and being at war, again, as usual. Please let us show the world that we can handle these changes like grown ups, with confidence,trust and patience. Thank you all my beloved friends.Salam, Shalom, peace.

Zsuzsi is a peace worker who has plenty of experience in trying (and succeeding!) in bringing Jewish and Arab Israelis together. She knows that it is possible to see the human in people beyond the labels we assign to each other and the fear, distrust and even hatred this can engender. The message of taking back the peace process from those who would use violence has more value than I can put into words. She did this for me and I can only say thank you.
Secondly is perhaps the most surprising thing I have come across in all the many hours I have been reading articles and watching videos about 'ha matsav' - the situation - in Israel. 

Unfortunately I cannot embed the video but I couldn't recommend anything more than for you to take 20 minutes out of your day to watch this astounding documentary - Settlers for Peace -  about settlers and Palestinians working together to further mutual understanding, trust and coexistence. It's amazing. It took my breath away - not only at how these people are truly dealing with the issues that face them in order to be able to leave a better future for their children but just at how brave these people are. On the most basic level of visiting each other in their homes (although the settlers are unable to invite their Palestinian friends to their homes because of the "fear" of their neighbours) I have nothing but admiration for them. And I NEVER thought I would write that about settlers!

co-existence IS possible

 I for one hope that the UN General Assembly passes the resolution that the PA submits tomorrow (taking it as read that the USA will use its veto). It seems as though the majority of international representatives would support the Palestinian bid, even if it fails at the Security Council.  Israel's assertion that taking a unilateral step like this shows that the PA isn't a true partner for peace - nonetheless she continues to unilaterally develop the settlements. Israel has to wake up and realise that she cannot stall on the peace process for ever - and if she wants a true partner for peace then it should be as an equal.

Until tomorrow....


Sunday, 21 August 2011

So proud

Thanks to @Elizrael for tweeting this link - it's heartening to see Israelis making a stand for peace. Even though certain elements want to escalate the situation so that it is beyond redemption, we have to push hard for peace.

כל הכבוד חברים

The pro-peace demonstrators at the j14 rally that went ahead last night are chanting "We want to live in respect, in Gaza and in Ashdod" and "The people demand a cease-fire" - as you can see, not everyone in the crowd had the same sentiments.


Thursday, 18 August 2011

Here we go again...

So sad.

This morning gunmen opened fire on a bus, a private car and a couple of other vehicles in the south of Israel. Apparently, there had been some intelligence (from Jordan?) that something was going to happen in the south, and we know that the last month or so has seen a number of rockets landing in that region. Luckily, due to the sparse population there, these rockets caused little damage. But they were nonetheless a sign that things were stirring.

And so 7 Israelis are dead and many more injured. Some soldiers going on weekend leave, others civilians.

So now the ball is in Israel's court - what should she do? What will she do? Do we even need to ask this question?

Of course Israel has the right to defend herself, but attacking Gaza (as has already happened as I write this post) hasn't worked to defend Israel up until now. As Albert Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Yossi Gurvitz gives an excellent explanation of why Israel shouldn't attack Gaza on +972 Magazine.

Just as Palestinian (PRC? jihadist??) attacks on Israel do little to advance the Palestinian cause, Israeli revenge attacks do little to secure Israel. In both cases the only ones to benefit are those who want to stick obstinately to their guns (no pun intended) instead of moving forward towards a resolution. In Gaza, Hamas can say they are fighting the Zionist enemy and working to liberate the land, unlike Fatah. Of course Hamas knows Israel's likely response and so they can point to Israel and say "Look, we told you so! The evil Zionists want to kill all Palestinians!" Of course, Israel does herself no favours by playing directly into the hands of Hamas by doing exactly what Hamas wants: getting provoked and responding on a scale that dwarfs whatever attack she has recently suffered. Currently there is an additional bonus for the Israeli government enacting a large-scale response in that it would be a distraction from the j14 demonstrations.

I don't have an answer, but I do know that the ordinary people of Israel or Palestine gain nothing from this cycle of violence.


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Wise words

From someone who really knows...

"We need to come to terms with our neighbours. 
That is a fundamental component of our national security."

Many thanks to Richard at Blog Zahav for posting this originally.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

a ray of hope...

Well, I have been challenged this week to find some good news. Firstly by @Bassem_Sabry on Twitter and secondly by cousin Shirley in Israel. Well I like a challenge so I trawled the net and came up with a couple of good ones.

Firstly, I came across a great website, which looks at scientific and technological developments taking place in Israel now. Pythagoras Window, an Israeli company, has developed a new solar window that can generate power, reduce energy consumption and let in daylight, "promising a green revolution to the construction industry" according to Daniel Ben Tal's article.

my ray of hope 

Of course, the construction industry has been in the forefront of many Israeli minds of late, with hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating, primarily against the high cost of property in Israel, but also against the high cost of living in general. I was aware of the disparity between most people's wages and prices but the scale of the protests that began in Tel Aviv - on Rothschild Boulevard of all places - and slowly spread to Kiryat Shmona in the north and Beersheva in the south, have been staggering. It has been illuminating reading the news reports and tweets coming from Israel, and reassuring that Israelis are not as politically apathetic as was beginning to fear they had become. It was also good to see news that wasn't centred on the conflict, even though that issue has also crept in, and to see Jews and Arabs protesting together about the socio-economic issues that unite them as Israelis.

"Equality for all" (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Tsurkov)

Spurred on by this good news, I continued to socially network. I haven't spent this long in front of the computer since Championship Manager ate away at my fourth year at uni when I should've been researching the impact of Rabin's assassination.....

So I wanted to share with you some of the amazing organisations who are working in Israel/Palestine/Occupied Territories and beyond to encourage equality, opportunity, understanding and trust between people in that region.

Firstly, I came across YaLa-Young Leaders يالا-يا قادة الشباب יאללה-מנהיגים צעירים
(hey I can copy & paste Arabic & Hebrew into the blog! - another technological breakthrough!) a   young leader's movement which has been created to give the young generation (aged 15-30) in the Middle East a leading voice in shaping their future and destiny. See their facebook page and website for information and ways you can support them. I then came across Khalas, a Facebook page with the aim of helping to build a strong foundation of peace among people at the most fundamental level - that of friendship through a handshake. Like me, Khalas believes that "only individuals, like you and I, can create a change in the government and not the opposite ... that if you shake someone’s hand you are most likely to view him as your friend and not your enemy. There are so many organizations that try to do amazing things, however a real peace needs a strong foundation! To achieve a real peace we need to start from the basics"

Khalas has enabled me to find out about many other projects and organisations that exist online and in real time and space (!) that have, over the past week, rebuilt my hope in what I was beginning to think was a hopeless situation in Israel.  I now know there is an increasingly strong community of people from many backgrounds, who want to build a viable future for themselves, their children and grandchildren, and for whom this is more important than political or religious ideology. 

The two organisations that have stood out to me most from this have been Kulanana and JustVision. Each of these groups are fulfilling an increasingly important role in a media that is obsessed with the negative news of the conflict (of which there is plenty, of that there is no doubt).

Kulanana is focused on social cohesion within Israel, between the disparate ethnic and linguistic groups that make up Israeli society. Their aims for 2011 are outlined in the video below:

JustVision is an organisation that aims to raise the profile of the positive examples of co-existence, peaceful trust-building and co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians that are too often overlooked by the media. I am looking forward to learning more about the work of these organisations and hope to be able to contribute more directly to their efforts by the time I am living in Israel. For now though, I will do what I can, and that is blog, and tell you and hope that you too spread the word and support these wonderful organisations and individuals in their pursuit of a peaceful future. In the words of Robi Damelin ( 

“There’s no pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. There’s pro-solution.”   

Friday, 5 August 2011

a long time coming...

.... this post, that is. July has been unbelievably hectic, with me working 4 mornings a week on the Young Learner's summer ESL programme as well as 3 afternoons with my regular adult ESL class. I know it's not even full time, but with a 3 year old and a hubby who is lovely but can't cook, there just aint enough hours in the day.

July has been a crazy month all round, really. The Arab Spring rumbles on and nothing much seems to be getting achieved in Libya. And all that's been achieved in Syria is the death of more innocents, with no sign as to how long the rest of the world will allow it to continue (what can 'the rest of the world' even do???)

Meanwhile over in Norway, more atrocious evidence of man's inhumanity to man, as well as sheer evil and stupidity with the actions of Anders Berivik killing 76+ people in some blind, hate-filled, misguided attempt to show the evils of multiculturalism, he only succeeded in increasing hate towards himself.

And of course, that same weekend, we lost a great talent and voice in Amy Winehouse. A woman whose voice and lyrics spoke of the pain and raw emotion she tried to deaden with drugs and alcohol. A sad but hardly unexpectedly early end for Amy, means she joins the 'ranks' of the other tortured yet talented souls in the 27 club - Hendrix,  Joplin, Jones....

I truly hope August is a more august month for this little planet we call earth. I could do with some good news, as could we all, I expect.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

If I were a rich (wo)man....

... well for starters, I wouldn't be doing two teaching jobs! As much as I love both my jobs it's pretty exhausting at times.

Anyway, I was inspired to write this for two reasons. Firstly I am very jealous that my sister saw Topol walking down Mapu in Tel Aviv yesterday. He is not only the archetypal Tevye but he makes the hairs on my arm stand on end whenever I hear him sing. So, naturally, when I decided that for tomorrow's EAL lesson I was going to review the conditional tenses, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to share this man's wonderful singing with my students. That's right, I figured out a way to play 'If I were a rich man' in my English lessons - focusing on the Second Conditional tense of course!

I'm not sure what they'll make of it, I doubt many of them have seen the film (especially the Libyan and Syrian students) but I think it would be a perfect chance for me to share some of my musical-cultural influences with them. We've been discussing music a lot lately and I'm also looking forward to Joliyan bringing his oud into class and hearing him play. What a rich cultural group we are!

Anyhow, for your delight and delectation.... here's the man himself....

Monday, 9 May 2011

Independent thinking

As Yom HaZikaron draws to a close and Yom Hatzmaut begins, I got to thinking ... and surfing. I have had a few contrasting experiences and read a range of opinions on both of these issues over the last few days.

Peace and independence - is it really so hard to have both...?

Firstly was the discussion-turned-confrontation with our old friends the Brighton branch of the 'Boycott Israel' campaign. After a perfectly lovely morning at the Brighton Festival Children's Parade and lunch at Wagamama's, we passed their table-and-flag setup outside Churchill Square. Now I don't always talk to these people: sometimes I get very defensive (moi??) and angry and I don't like to lose my cool. But on Saturday I thought 'bugger it' and started talking to an old guy who was handing out 'Boycott Israel' flyers. I started by asking him whether the group were encouraging people to boycott all represive regimes in the Middle East or just Israel (I like rhetorical questions). Credit where it's due, the old man admitted that many other regimes in the region are pretty dastardly (ya don't say...?) but no, only Israel was the target of this boycott. Interestingly he said that this was because Israel sold more goods to the west than other Middle Eastern states and I argued that this wasn't the case (petrol, dates, petrol oh, and petrol???). I also told him I thought they were only boycotting the Israeli goods that were easy to boycott i.e. the fruit and Dead Sea products on their flyers - I asked him if the group used the Internet (they do) and asked why they weren'y boycotting the Israeli processor technology (no answer) - I'm sure they weren't boycotting Israeli medical treatments either...

Anyhow, we remained in good humour and polite, which was nice, even though his lack of general knowledge and myth-accepted-as-fact was bewildering. He thought that Israel and Jews denied the suffering of the Roma during the Holocaust (I asked him if he'd ever been to Yad Vashem, of course he hadn't) and he seemed to think that "his idea" of a peace and reconciliation-type of commission would benefit the conflict (I informed him such groups - such as Combatants for Peace - already exist). In the end we realised we weren't about to convert the other and agreed to differ, although I hope he learned something from me... ;)

Then it got dirty...

I picked up a longer leaflet entitled 'The Basic Facts' and was surprised to read that in 1948-9 Israel forcibly exiled and massacred hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (I am paraphrasing because I don't have a copy of the leaflet with me) Now, I am not denying that many Palestinians were forced from their homes and forbidden to return in the 1948-9 war. But NOWHERE in the leaflet was a war mentioned. In fact to anyone who knew little about the conflict, on reading the 'basic facts' it would seem that there was no war in 1948-9 but instead a series of unprovoked acts of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israeli terrorist forces. So I asked one woman who was distributing the leaflets why they thought it was acceptable to omit the quite important fact that the day after Israel declared independence, 5 Arab states invaded and a war was fought, which Israel subsequently won.

I don't think she understood my question, because she was talking about Jewish terrorists who were active before 1948 (OK, but doesn't answer the question) how the Zionists forced the Balfour Declaration (again, not an answer and also astoundingly inaccurate from a historical perspective). I asked her again and she said something about there 'being no Arab states at this time because they weren't really independent' - again I'm paraphrasing but I can't think where this woman gets her information from... She asked if I had heard of the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe (of course, I told her, I have an MA in Israeli Studies from UCL) and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. I repeated that I was not contesting what is in the leaflet, just what has been left out, and that I thought the leaflet was overtly one-sided to the point of warping history to suit a message. At this point, with the woman shouting (not sure why... she was making little sense regardless of her volume, and she really wasn't listening to me) and Mark beginning to shout, and me doing a 'calm down, calm down!' Harry Enfield Scouser-type of thing, we decided to walk away... although I would have liked to continue our  debate to see if she would ever answer my question.........

Indeed, 1948 definitely gets the temperatures rising - you only have to look at the comments on Ha'Aretz's Facebook page to see how quickly all reason flees from people when commenting on this subject. And how quickly vitriol and hatred appears.

Other interesting, even seemingly paradoxical responses to today's and yesterday's commemorations/celebrations include: Gilad Shalit's brother shouting out at the Memorial Ceremony on Har Herzl and being forcibly removed as a result and Motti Fogel's (brother of Udi, murdered with most of his family at Itamar) speech at the Combatants for Peace parallel ceremony.

However, the following blog has made me laugh out loud more than once - Benji Lovitt strikes gold with his 63 things I love about Israel 

Enjoy! and Hag Sameach!



Wednesday, 4 May 2011

May the 4th be with you...

Ok, so I haven't just written this post so I can use that title - although I do like it a lot... (and recommend this link in celebration: The Force Volkswagen ad)

So much has been happening, in the world and in my own life, that each time I thought about blogging it got a bit overwhelming. So I thought I'd do what some say I do best: make a list...

The World List:
  1. Arab Spring - I've blogged on Egypt but since then Libya and Syria, Bahrain and Yemen have also sprung... it's been exasperating watching Iraq mark II happen in Libya and bugger all happen in Syria as far as international responses have been concerned. Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea and feeling helpless as all we do is watch and read...
  2. Following on from this, if you only read one other blog, please read this one - A Gay Girl In Damascus - that I found via Rachel Shabi on Twitter. It's brilliantly written and has given me an incredible insight into current events in Syria.
  3. Hamas-Fatah reconciliation - hopefully a good thing, at least for the Palestinian people. Israel's typical reaction draws a thin veil over her own unwillingness to move any peace process forward (doesn't the term 'peace process' sound terribly outdated now??)
  4. Death of Bin Laden - a little surreal still, this one. I doubt it's going to make much difference to Islamic fundamentalism or the West's attitude towards the Middle East, which, after all, is largely based on its resources rather than its ideologies...
OK, so that's enough serious world stuff, this blog's been getting ever so political of late and so I want to bring it back tothe personal, which is what I intended it to be from the start.

My Own Life List:

  1. We just got back from another lovely family holiday in Israel. I have managed to get Mark to seriously aim for August 2012 for the big Aliyah date. We'll see...
  2. We nearly bought, then didn't nearly buy, then did nearly buy an off-plan property in Mazkeret Batya. Sof ha sippur, we aren't buying it (it's been a roller-coaster ride folks) but we have decided that we want to live in Mazkeret Batya, and having a particular place to aim for is great motivation.
  3. MY SISTER IS PREGNANT!!!!!!!! - sorry, did I forget to mention that?? we are all very excited, especially now that she has managed to get her head out of the toilet/sick bucket, most of the time....
3 happy ladies in Israel - 2 happy cos they're in Israel, 1 happy cos she's not puking

I'm sure there's other stuff I've forgotten, but that's for another post. 


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

the state we're in...

Please take the time to look at this short film, put together by Peace Now, explaining in the simplest terms possible why we need a two state solution - and SOON.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

and now for something completely different...

Brilliant! Unfortunately only subtitled in Hebrew, but basically the joke is no-one likes the new immigrants, but after 5 minutes they are the 'proper Israelis' and attack the next batch of olim! Starring Arik Einstein, Uri Zohar


Sunday, 13 March 2011

To be or not to be...

I write this post with a number of things buzzing around my head...

I've been meaning to write something else following up on my earlier posts on The Promise now that I've watched all four episodes. But since then, a horrific attack on a family in the settlement of Itamar near Nablus has brought pain and passion to the surface in the news items, blogs and tweets I have been reading. It makes the fiction and drama of The Promise (for that is what, at the end of the day, it was) seem pretty irrelevant.

Admittedly, the pain and passion is rarely far from the surface when it comes to THE CONFLICT  - but in the debates that surrounded The Promise (was it antisemitic? what about the historical inaccuracies and biases? not all Israeli families have a pool and private beach y'know!) seemed a little over-sensitive to me. After all this was a drama that used an historical  and contemporary context as a setting for that drama. There was bound to be inaccuracies and generalisations for the sake of characterisation and movement of plot. The neatness with which the story came full circle and the persistent parallels that were being drawn between then and now, albeit with different players in the roles, seemed to me to be merely dramatic tools. It is a pity that this is the nearest to a study of THE CONFLICT that many people will ever get, but then I have formed much of my own understanding of early twentieth century China from watching The Last Emperor. A good film, beautifully made, but I don't doubt there are a few historical inaccuracies and dramatic expediencies. As a history teacher I appreciate the value of drama and film to present an historical event, particularly in recreating the human, emotional element. But any use of film in a history lesson, be it Pathe newsreel or Hollywood blockbuster, is accompanied by analysis - where are the inaccuracies? why are they there? And this is with 13 and 14 year olds.

Then the news broke about Itamar. My heart broke as I read about a 3 month old baby being murdered in her cot. This is no less than a tragedy.

to remember the Fogel family
However, also tragic is the reaction from some quarters. I include the response of  Hamas, calling the attack a 'heroic operation' and the radical settler response of 'price tag' revenge which has involved some violent attacks on Palestinian properties.

But Bibi has also politicised the tragedy - in his official response to the murders he demands an international condemnation of the attacks, pointing out how quickly the international community responds to Israel's erecting "a building here or a building there" (as if the settlements house tens of people rather than half a million) and implying they have been rather too slow to condemn this particular injustice against the Jewish people. Of course he wastes little time in calling the Palestinians 'animals' - ignoring (?) the incendiary and frankly racist nature of such language (nothing learned from 1995 then...) and of course the international community has been somewhat concerned with the disaster unfolding in Japan and the Pacific, which may account for a delayed reaction to Itamar.  But they have responded, all condemning what could only be condemned.

Bibi is an astute politician - he managed to get into the PMO again, after all.... he is using this tragedy to push his own political ideas that while the PA cannot be a true partner for peace while it "engages in double talk", Israel can be a true partner for peace while it continues to build in the Territories. 

To be or not to be...? that is the question. 

It is certainly a tragedy.


Thursday, 17 February 2011

A fundaMENTAL similarty?

When I originally posted Lessons mi Mitzraim I hadn't seen this article - but it seems that great minds think alike!

In an interesting article, Anshel Pfeffer writes:

"Of course there is a world of difference between the Islamist and the Israeli ultra-orthodox religious-right establishment, but they have one trait in common, and that is fundamentalism. They share a firm and unshakeable belief that in every instance, their religious code is supreme over all man-made legal systems, especially democracy. In other words, sharia or halakha trumps every other consideration."

Read the full article here.

Glass houses and stones (no pun intended...) all over again...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Lessons mi Mitzraim (Lessons from Egypt)

The news has been consistently pouring in from Egypt and I had resisted talking about it on this blog until it looked like there was something concrete to talk about. So much of what I was reading in the press was speculative: will Mubarak stay or go? When will he go? Who will take over? What does it mean for Israel?

Well, now Mubarak has gone from Cairo and from power and Egypt is in the care of a group of generals for the time being. They say they will implement the change the Egyptian people want. I hope they do for I cannot imagine what might happen if they don't.

"Cairo was lovely, but got a bit oppressive. Gone to Sharm now to relax...  love, Hosni xx"

Of course, one of the demands of the people is democracy and that means elections. Ehud Barak said on Sunday that the most likely political group to benefit from early elections would be the Muslim Brotherhood as they are currently the most organised and coherent opposition in Egypt.

How did Barak become an expert on religious fanaticism???

According to the BBC, the Muslim Brotherhood is the largest, oldest and most influential Islamic movement and has inspired others all over the world to take up a political and social Islamic program. The BBC also predicts that should the Muslim Brotherhood want to move Egypt's legal system toward sharia law this would be a popular move amongst Egyptians. I hope this is not the case. I have only been to Egypt a couple of times and only got past Nuweiba once. The three days I spent in Cairo was indeed eye-opening inasmuch as it was almost impossible to get by with English (lots of miming and pointing took place!) and once it was dark you would hardly see any women out in the streets, although you would see many men of all ages enjoying the cafes of Cairo. This was the first time I realised the depth of the conservatism in Egyptian society. But on the other hand we were warmly invited into the home of our taxi driver Farouk and his wife cooked us a fantastic meal. The Egyptians we met were welcoming and warm hearted. They knew I was Jewish and that I was studying in Jerusalem and we talked about the political situation and our mutual hopes for peace.

OK, so that was almost 14 years ago, pre-Bush and pre-911 (IMHO the two worst things to have happened for peace in the Middle East) and there was still optimism in the region about the prospects for peace, but I hope and believe that the Egyptian people will not replace the rule of a secular dictator for a bunch of religious dictators.

Spot the difference...

I called this post Lessons from Egypt because I think that instead of worrying about what might happen with the religious extremists in Egypt, Israel should be more concerned about the increasing religious fanaticism inside her own borders (as vague as those borders are - for the purposes of my point I include the occupied territories, the magnet for many Jewish extremists) and deal with that. And if that's accomplished and Israel still worries too much about the countries around her - there's a little group of nationalist extremists that could be dealt with too.

"Grant me the courage to change those things I can
Grant me the patience to accept those things I can't change
Grant me the wisdom to know the difference between the two"
The Serenity Prayer


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Part 2

So I watched The Promise, and must say I was pretty impressed. It was a brilliantly put together piece of drama and I think it presented a pretty well balanced picture of 1945 and 2011 in the Holy Land, even if it took me while to get used to the notion of Patrick from Coupling being a former Israeli general (with a very British accent - not sure if he was supposed to be sabra or oleh...). The movement between the two time periods was handled smoothly, enabling the viewer to see parallels between the political situations and the personal stories.

It will be interesting to see how Peter Kosminsky's portrayal of the last years of the British Mandate will develop in tonight's episode. Last week he showed the British using an unsuspecting Len as an undercover lure to get a 'wanted man' from the Jewish underground. Len arranged to meet the mark at a demonstration against British immigration quotas and was shocked when the mark was shot right in front of him, in the back. There wasn't too much of an explanation for Len or the audience, although it stuck me that this was in fact a targeted assassination - something Israel herself is regularly and loudly condemned for doing.

habibi on the beat? 

Reflecting on this element of the story now, I would have liked a bit more background of the disparate Jewish groups in Palestine in this period. I think the average viewer would have come away with the impression that the Jewish underground was unified at this time, which of course it wasn't. The Haganah, Lehi and Irgun had their own infrastructures and command and although there was co-operation between the various Zionist factions (such as the United Resistance during 1946, which ended after the King David Hotel bombing) their attitudes towards the British was one of the things that characterised their different positions and actions. The Haganah followed the policy of havlaga (restraint) whereas Irgun and Lehi believed in reprisals and revenge attacks.

Nonetheless, as the programme drew to an end, I was left with the feeling that Kosminsky's research really did pay off. I was particularly intrigued by the 'truth and reconciliation'-style  forum of 2011 in which Paul and Omar spoke. "The first time you sit down with your enemy, it will be hard." This seems to be a way froward through the ever-deepening hatred and mistrust between Jews and Arabs in Israel and the Palestinian territories. I look forward to the developments that are sure to come involving Omar and Erin (I smell a love affair...).

So, I will leave you with my favourite quote from the first episode and then we can all cross our fingers that tonight, Paul will emerge unscathed from the cafe....

Clara: "You think we're ungrateful?"
Len: "Well... yeah, after all we did for you in the war."
Clara: "You fought the war for your Empire, Len, not for us."

Sunday, 6 February 2011


So last Thursday was Louis Theroux meets the extremist Zionists, tonight is the first instalment of The Promise - which promises to be controversial as hell as well as apparently brilliant. Israel seems to be a popular topic on TV right now...

Having enjoyed many a Louis Theroux gawp-fest of weird and wacky individuals (most notably militia men in the USA, nutty Christians in the USA and Jimmy Saville in Roundhay Park) I anticipated some interesting perspective on the ultra Zionists, but was a little disappointed to be honest. Although Louis got into some interesting situations (the unrest in Silwan, a guided tour of a deserted Jewish 'sterile zone' in Hebron) he didn't (couldn't?) push some of the most pertinent points. He had a little go with an Australian guy who helps settlers buy properties in particularly sensitive Arab areas, but it struck me that these people are so media savvy, they know how to deal with and deflect such questions. The extremists came across as, well, extreme - but we knew that about them already didn't we?

is the promise of eye candy???? (no, probably not...)

Tonight's televisual offering promises (sorry) to be quite different. As a drama that jumps around in time between 1948 and 2001 and is the result of eleven years' research, The Promise has set the bar pretty high for itself. I suspect that many people will go in with preconceptions, not only about the conflict, but also about how it will be portrayed by Peter Kosminsky. I expect I will have my own preconceptions, and I hope to be challenged as well as entertained (?) by this programme. I'll be letting you  know...

Watch this space, but in the meantime, I think you should also watch The Promise...

A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain.  ~Arabian Proverb

Promise little and do much.  ~Hebrew Proverb

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Another New Year???

Well that was quick!

Only 20 days after the last new year, we have another new year upon us.

Of course, I'm talking about Tu B'Shevat - the Jewish festival also known as the new year for trees.

So apart from lots of trees getting together for drinks and then thinking "What an anticlimax" - what is this festival all about??

Originally associated with the tithing of harvests and fruit trees, this festival is definitely a 'minor' one wit little associated ritual apart from eating a new fruit (traditionally one from the Holy Land - dates, figs and the like) and planting trees.

When I was young, we had a blue & white JNF charity box in our hallway. Every so often someone would call and collect the money, leaving us the box to refill. "What for??" I hear you cry... well although I now realise that the money probably went towards all sort of charitable causes in Israel I always thought it was for planting trees. When I turned 12 and did my Bat Chayil, one of my awards was that some trees had been planted in Israel for me. We often bought trees for people as Bar Mitzvah gifts (when it wasn't a Parker pen or Head bag), and once a year on 'Green Sunday', the Sunday nearest Tu B'Shevat, a load of us would help JNF plant more trees in Israel by calling the entire Jewish community of Leeds to ask them (not incredibly successfully) to buy some trees that JNF would plant on their behalf. I have only actually physically planted a tree in Israel once - in 1994 with some friends on an FZY Tour

So what's the mishegas with tree planting then?? Well, it's to do with the Zionist dream of 'making the desert bloom' and developing the agriculture in Israel but this year it surely holds a particular resonance for Israelis and Jews all over the world following the horrific forest fires that destroyed around 4 million trees on 10,000 acres of land in the Carmel last month. YNet news reported that the Israeli Agriculture Minister has announced that this year Tu B'Shevat activity will focus on the conservation and restoration of this region with the JNF announcing that the aim is to plant 1.5 million trees.

I am pleased to see however that in addition to this goal, the JNF is also focusing on what they cal the 21st Century Zionism project of planting in the Negev. This is so important as well as highly symbolic, evocative as it is of the original Zionist slogan of making the desert bloom.  I think it's so important to develop the Negev which has traditionally been used as something of a dumping ground for Israel's second class citizens who have struggled to develop cities in places like Dimona.

Ben Gurion saw the beauty and importance of the Negev region and indeed he spent his final years there and rests there to this day. Ben Gurion, and much of the Knesset, knew in 1948 that Israel could not be a big state if it was to remain a Jewish state. Development of the Negev, which encompasses a large proportion of Israel's limited area, could be a real and sustainable alternative for many Israelis who settle on the other side of the Green Line because it is cheaper. Of course, my argument ignores the ideological element of settlement (that people settle out of ideology, and it continues to be encouraged by the government for ideological reasons). But for a significant number of people, a viable existence in a Negev city supported by the government and international community (Jewish and non-Jewish) would be a great answer to the overpopulated, overpriced central and Sharon regions.

I wonder if this is what the JNF has in mind with the title of 21st Century Zionism?

And I wonder if they could also give Israel a kick up the arse regarding water desalination while they're at it...??

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Democracy in action (cont. from previous post)

I was reading Ha'aretz today and saw that there's been a fair controversy about the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma. Israel has accused the PA of propagandising the story for the sake of another martyr yet the IDF's 'official explanation' of Abu Rahma's death has endured a number of forms. It seems that it is most likely that she died from some sort of allergic reaction to the tear gas, but I am not sure whether this is really the most important point any more. For me, Israel's official, ongoing response to the unravelling events (death of a young Palestinian woman, ongoing demonstrations in the West Bank and then in Tel Aviv) is the saddest thing as it becomes ever more defensive and aggressive.

My sadness is that we begin another year when the cycle of violence continues to revolve and hateful rhetoric continues to increase. Another young generation of Palestinians grow up with hatred towards Israelis and and another young generation of Israelis grow up in an increasingly intolerant and even racist society. And that's before they get the chance to face each other down at demonstrations and checkpoints.

A more recent story grabbing the headlines today was the parliamentary panel, established at the suggestion of Yisrael Beiteinu and supported by a majority of MKs, to examine the funding sources of certain left-wing and/or human rights groups in Israel. These groups have been accused of 'delegitimising the IDF' and the stated aim of the panel is to decide whether these groups are being supported by 'other groups with known links to terrorism'. I'm not sure who gets to decide what constitutes 'delegitimising the IDF' or whether the government plans to examine the negative effects of right-wing activities on the perceived 'legitimacy' of either the IDF or Israel but I can bet that Avigdor Lieberman won't be opening up his own party's books any time soon....

Spot the one who will always be remembered for pushing democracy forward....

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on programs of military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death" 
Martin Luther King (Sunday sermon, the Sunday before his assassination 1968)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Happy New Year? Same sad old story...?

Bi'ilin is an Arab village in the West Bank, near the Israeli settlement of Modi'in Illit (not to be confused with Modi'in, the main city which is inside the Green Line). Since the security fence in that area closed off close to 60% of Bi'ilin's land, weekly demonstrations have been held every Friday. The Bi'ilin residents are supported by some international activists and now, since the unfortunate death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, a 36 year old resident of Bi'ilin, I am pleased to say that Israelis are also protesting against this government's and the army's tactics against protests in the Occupied Territories.

The video above was taken at the Tel Aviv demonstration on the 1st January 2011, opposite the military base at HaKirya, protesting the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, caused by teargas inhaled at Bil'in the previous day. The slightly heavy handed approach of those policing the demonstration is nothing compared to the regular use of force and tear gas when demonstrations take place at villages or checkpoints in the West Bank.

I would just like to say that it makes me very proud to see hundreds of Israelis protesting the actions of the government and army that is there to protect them. The thing that makes me saddest is the fact that hundreds simply isn't enough. Where are all the thousands upon thousands of Israelis who mourned Rabin? Where are all the Israelis who want peace??

Come on Israel! Can 2011 be a year when Israelis mobilise for peace?

to be continued...

also worth a read - Lisa Goldman's article on +972