February 20, 2006
More on Hamas

It is more than a little risky offering prophecy from Jerusalem. This is the city that knew the likes of Jeremiah and Isaiah, and where death was the penalty for "false prophecy."

Let it be said in my defense that I do not aspire to as many readers as Jeremiah and Isaiah; and against those who would accuse me of false prophecy, I make no pretense to prophesizing in the biblical sense of having heard the word of the Lord.

All that being said, it seems to me that we are on the verge of the end of the Oslo process. That goes back to 1993, when Israel and the PLO signed a series of accords after delegates met in Oslo. It was meant to pave the way for a Palestinian state that would live in peace alongside Israel. It began by Israel turning over control of Jericho to the Palestinians, as a first step.

At the time, I was spending a sabbatical at the University of Utah. I appeared on a local television station alongside a Palestinian colleague. I recall saying that Yassir Arafat's future lay in his hands. If he proved reasonable, he could end his career as the President of Palestine. If not, he might end up as mayor of Jericho.

I was too optimistic. Arafat turned down an offer made by Prime Minister Ehud Barak alongside President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000, and encouraged or tolerated violence in order to get a better deal. He lost big, and ended his life confined to his headquarters building in Ramallah. He could not go beyond the front steps without encountering Israeli troops and tanks who caused him to go back inside.

At his death, Mahmoud Abbas took over. He sounded better than Arafat, in being more sincere in advocating peace and criticizing terror. Yet he would not, or could not, do even the minimum to stop the mayhem. He did not, for example, use the 30,000 security personnel he ostensibly controlled in Gaza against the few hundred extremists who fire their homemade rockets toward Israel.

Now Hamas has won a parliamentary election. It is impossible to know if it won because a majority of Palestinians want an Islamic state and accept the lines of Hamas that Israel must be destroyed, or if they were voting against the aged and corrupt clique under Abbas who used so much of the money donated to Palestine as their private wealth.

Whatever the background, Hamas presents an image of being truly on another planet. Its party covenant, created in 1988, blames the Zionists for the French and Russian revolutions, World Wars I and II, and for controlling the world through its banks, media, Freemasons, Rotary, and Lions. It expresses a few conciliatory words about Jews and Christians, on condition that we accept the superiority of Muslim rule.

The absolute craziness of the document goes beyond the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Hamas' covenant was composed a century of so more recently than the Protocols, and should have reflected something other than intellectual regression.

Unfortunately, the party covenant is not an isolated fragment of Palestinian thought. I recall a conversation with an Israeli Arab student during the height of Intafada al-Aqsa. He told me that a number of his friends thought that Israel was blowing up its own buses in order to give it an excuse to attack Palestinians. I thought at the time that he was saying indirectly that he thought that as well as his "friends." My response was that the attitude reflected how far apart the Arab and Jewish cultures were, and the problems of communicating across such a divide.

Likewise with Hamas. In the most recent days I have heard a number of its spokesmen slip away from questions about the movement's covenant. Apparently, it is something the organization cannot or does not want to disavow.

Acting prime minister Olmert has already said that a government with a significant representation of Hamas will be irrelevant for Israel, and that the next Israeli government and Knesset must concern themselves with defining the country's borders. This means a continuation of unilateral moves began with disengagement from Gaza. Palestinians will have some land that is left over, but a lot less than if they could bring themselves to bargain by giving up some demands and insisting on others. Building barriers and defining boundaries unilaterally will cause Israel some problems with European governments, the Russians, the United Nations and maybe even an American administration. But Hamas intransigence will help Israel resist unwanted pressure. It already is looking good, insofar as Hamas is turning to Iran as its prime benefactor and mentor. With enemies like that, we do not need too many friends.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:09 PM
February 19, 2006

Enough has been written about Hamas. It has a majority of the Palestinian parliament, but in all truth we do not know what comes next. When they are speaking Hebrew to an Israeli audience, its spokesmen express a willingness to live alongside Israel, but its Covenant is an awesome document. For those who take formal statements seriously, it is worth a read. You can find an English translation at http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/hamas.htm

You will see that Zionists produced the French and Russian revolutions, World Wars I and II, control the media of the world, as well as Freemasons, Rotary, Lions, and a few other evils. It also appears that Hamas can be kind to Jews and Christians, as long, apparently, as we all become Muslims.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:29 AM
The sun is still rising

I opened my mailbox this morning to find an article that had been submitted to a journal of urban planning. I had seen a previous version, and the editor was asking my opinion on this revision.

The article deals with Jerusalem during the height of Intafada al-Aqsa, and the barrier being built as a result. It is a good piece of work that shows the impacts of terror and Israeli responses on Jewish and Arab populations. Among the findings are data showing that our own neighborhood of French Hill (named by one version after General French, one of the British commanders in the region during World War I, and by another version after a French church that predated the famous warrier) suffered a relatively high incidence of casualties during Intafada, and as a result experienced an out-migration and relatively high decline in property values.

This rings true. What is called "French Hill junction" is only about a kilometer from here, and the bus stops at the location serve both nearby Arab neighborhoods as well as buses traveling to Jewish settlements and army posts in the West Bank. Those bus stops were frequent targets. One of the explosions was close enough to our evening walk so that we could smell the chemicals used to produce it.

The revision that I saw today is a fine piece of work, that I recommend to be published. It brings the story up to date, showing among other things a sharp decline in the violence since 2002, and a resurgence of property values in French Hill! There are Arabs moving into this and other "Jewish" neighborhoods, which give them access to jobs, the university, and other services, whereas lower-priced neighborhoods on the other side of the barrier are now effectively shut off from Jerusalem.

One of my colleagues has a simple explanation for the decline in violence. What he calls Israel's "counter-insurgency" has killed or jailed Arab fighters as a higher rate than organizations can recruit replacements. The article I saw includes the finding that public opinion polls among Palestinians show a shift from support to opposition to violence. it has been costly for them.

Now, of course, the test is what happens with the new Palestinian government led by Hamas. If it concentrates on cleaning the stable of widespread Palestinian corruption, we will probably leave it alone. If it wants to flex muscles and show what good Muslims they are by taking all of Palestine by force, we also know what to do.

What is just as important as all this concern with violence and movements of people and property values is what I saw in the midst of reading the article. I stretched by aging neck and looked out the window. French Hill may be more vulnerable than other neighborhoods, insofar as it is on the eastern border of the city, close to the desert and Arab neighborhoods. But its sunrises are unsurpassed, especially in the winter when there are clouds to show the colors.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:04 AM
February 15, 2006
Is democracy the answer?

Today's news includes an item that Secretary of State Condolezza Rice wants to spend $85 million on dissident groups, unions, students, and media within Iran to promote reform and human rights activity.

Wonderful. The people who have sought to bring democracy to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine are now focusing on Iran. Soon the Middle East will belie what Moshe Arens said years ago, i.e., that it is not the Middle West.

Haiti does not seem to be in better shape, and neither Venezuela nor Nigeria are performing like good citizens in the democratic assembly, but my primary concern is this neighborhood.

I do not doubt that the convinced can point to indicators of success wherever the Bushies have sought to enlighten the political heathen. How many Americans, Iraqis, and Afghans will be buried before the process is abandoned and success declared from whatever happens? I would not count on $85 million solving the problem of an Iranian government that denies the Holocaust and wants to produce another one with its own nuclear weapons.

Reliable reports are that both Palestinian and Israeli officials wanted to postpone the Palestinian election out of fear that Hamas would do well. The United States administration stood four square for ongoing democracy. Let the people decide. Now we are all dealing with a Hamas majority in the parliament, and experimenting with convoluted new institutions and formulations to deal with the consequences. Among the current dreams is that financial aid to nongovernmental organizations will help the Palestinian people without helping Hamas. Nonsense. The first thing Hamas will do is take control of the nongovernmental organizations, just like Fatah did when it was in power. Either do what we want, or else!

Maybe democracy is not suitable for populations that are not likely to vote the way we want. Or maybe the process of politics requires more subtlety than the White House can produce. Parliamentary regimes, like Great Britain, learned long ago to time elections to public moods, in order to get the most desirable results.

My own gut tells me that democracy is not an answer when an inward looking Islam is on the ascendance, and promoting its certainty of truth and the evil of Jews, Americans, and other unbelievers. Majorities in the Middle East and a few other places do not seem to be our friends. It is not nice to contemplate, but it is wise to accept reality when doing political calculations.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:48 PM
February 10, 2006
Museum of Tolerance

For those of you who think that Jerusalem needs another grandiose memorial, a $150 million Center for Human Dignity Museum of Tolerance is scheduled to open near the center of town. It is part of the Simon Wiesenthal collection of activities, dedicated to " preserving the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement, educational outreach and social action." The Simon Wiesenthal Center has a presence in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Jerusalem. What about Yad Vashem, established in 1953 by the Israeli government, and now consisting of numerous buildings and memorials spread over its own mountain top? That is in another part of town.

For those who want to read more, perhaps donate to the Wisenthal project or buy something at the online store, see http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/pp.asp?c=fwLYKnN8LzH&b=245500

Alas, there are a couple of problems.

One is that the land chosen for the museum is a Muslim cemetery. In the 30 years since I have lived here, I have never seen anyone paying respects at the site. The gravestones are broken and partly overgrown. Along with providing short cuts between city locations, the area seems to have served as a place for quick love, informal toilets, camp site for the homeless or daring tourists, and scattering trash associated with all of the above.

Now that the Museum of Tolerance is in the first stages of construction, guess who has discovered that it is a holy site that must not be desecrated? A Sharia Court has ruled against disturbing the graves, and opponents are planning a weightier appeal to Israel's Supreme Court.

There is also another problem. Museum officials are proving less than tolerant toward the Jerusalem Municipality and Hebrew University, which have joint plans to construct a multi-story student dormitory in the vicinity. According to museum officials, plans for the dormitory will spoil the setting conceived by their renowned architect, Frank O. Gehry. The museum is arguing against approving the university's project by the official planning authorities. It is charging that the university and municipality should have consulted with them before proceeding with their plans. The initial response of the university and municipality is that it is important to build a dormitory in the area, which will help to revitalize the center of town with several hundred young, well educated, and wealthier than average student residents. They might add that the museum could have checked property records in order to see what other projects were underway before proceeding with its plans.

In any case, this battle of titans (Simon Wiesenthal, Hebrew University, the Municipality of Jerusalem, and unknown numbers of aroused Muslims) is likely to take a while. Plans for moving forward with the museum are on hold, and visitors may have to wait beyond the promised opening of 2009.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:15 AM
February 07, 2006
Protesting youth

We are currently being roiled by religious nationalists (otherwise known by their knitted skullcaps) over charges that the police were brutal when they cleared a half-dozen buildings from the settlement of Amona in the West Bank.

The police were more forceful than when sent to evacuate isolated hilltop trailers. Then they were armed only with their hands. In each case they had to seize and carry a dozen or so young protesters kicking and screaming off the property. This time they faced more than a thousand protesters, who swore their intense opposition. The religious commandos, mostly between the ages of 14 and 20, mounted the roofs of the buildings and armed themselves with stones, concrete blocks, staves, and who know what else.

The police and army reinforcements, also in their thousands, gathered the night before and waited until dawn. At 3 AM political leaders of the settlers submitted yet another petition to the Supreme Court. Over the years there had been several efforts at negotiation. The Court had already denied several motions, and ordered the destruction to proceed. The "new idea" presented at 3 AM won a more or less automatic temporary stay from the judge on duty for emergencies, but at 8 AM a three judge panel rebuked the settler leaders for their dilatory actions. Settlers responded by saying that the government was not willing to talk, and that the Court was nothing but a left-wing flunky.

At 9 AM the police moved in with horses and staves. They did not carry any other weapons, and did not use dogs or tear gas. The protesters threw everything they had onto the police, sought to topple ladders with police on them, and kicked those who fell during the struggle. The 200 or so injured included both police and protesters. Knesset Member Effie Eitam claimed his bloodied head came from a police baton. Most injuries were light or moderate. To my knowledge, only one protester was injured critically, and he has since improved.

A couple of days later, police reported that their review of films showed Eitam distant from police at the time of his injury, and surmised that he was hit by a protester's rock. While he claimed to be working to calm the protest, the police reported that he was heard shouting, "Don't throw stones at me." A cartoon in Ha'aretz showed Eitam visiting a physician, and asking if he could keep his head bandaged until the election.

Watching all this on real time television coverage was bad enough. Worse was the blather of what we have heard since then: police brutality against some of the best youngsters Israel has produced, a refusal to compromise, and deafness toward an important segment of the population that is being alienated by the government's posture toward Jews who wish to settle in the Land of Israel. A protest meeting in the center of Jerusalem attracted tens of thousands. Settler leaders charged, among other things, that police officers touched female protestors improperly (while they were dragging them away), and said sexually nasty things to them.

I have had some interchanges with religious nationalist friends, and find myself saddened at the mental closure of people who I perceived to be moderate and reasonable. According to them, the Israeli police were more violent than anything apparent in the United States or Europe! Included in the comparison were police responses to anti-Vietnam protests, the Democratic Convention in 1968, and the red nasties in Europe during the same period.

What settlers and their allies overlook is that, when dealing with Arab protesters, the police carry their firearms and occasionally use them. Dogs and gas are not used when dealing with Jews, seemingly because of unfortunate associations with the Nazis. Even staves and horses are rare, and employed only when the temper of protestors is especially high.

Are we in for a serious clash, perhaps even the civil war that emotional observers have anticipated?

There is, of course, no obvious answer about the future. It is important to remember that these events are occurring two months before an election. Secular as well as religious parties are trying to arouse their constituencies. The primary political party of the settlers (National Religious Party), has split between moderate and extreme factions, and in some polls its moderate remnant has been close to the line where it might not win enough votes to enter the Knesset. One commentator said that rabbis have lost control to a group of 14 year olds.

It is not a simple case of "religious" versus "secular." The ultra-Orthodox, who comprise about one-half of the religious population, are not involved. Shabbat and graves, autopsies, and money for their schools are more important to them than arguments about the Land of Israel. The large number of "traditional" working class, Sephardi Jews, mostly observant but mixed in the commandments they follow, tend not to protest anything other than poor results by their football teams.

It is a time for disappointment. Maybe concern or even worry. Not yet panic.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:21 AM
February 05, 2006

The editorial page in today's Ha'aretz is a snapshot of how the Jewish left deals with its problems. In the upper right corner is an editorial that emphasizes the paper's commitment to what is politically correct internationally. It criticizes the insensitivity of papers that publish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. The editorial is, of course, well written and balanced. It ends by condemning the severely anti-Semitic cartoons that appear routinely in the press of Arab and Muslim countries. The final sentence is a paean to multiculturalism: "But neither European countries' fears of their Muslim minorities, the fear of terrorism by Al-Qaida zealots nor the anti-Jewish publications of the Arab states suffice to justify hurtful assaults on religion."

The upper left corner features the daily cartoon. It shows the editor of an Arab paper praising Ahmed for producing an excellent cartoon. The "excellent cartoon" depicts a large-nose Jew with a swastika on his hat and an Israeli flag, carrying a satchel dripping dollar bills.

My own view of torched embassies in Damascus and Beirut, plus the rage of Muslims in Europe, is something close to "so what," and "you should have known." To use a term employed by the Romans about undesirable outsiders, the barbarians are inside the walls. Western Europe and the United States must deal with the barbarians among the Muslims, just as they have done against criminals and radical movements that threaten the public order.

Not all Muslims are barbarians. The source documents of Islam include sentiments as humane to outsiders as do the source documents of Judaism and Christianity. Moreover, the sources of Judaism and Christianity include sentiments as hostile to outsiders as those of Islam. The difference is that almost all Jewish religious leaders have relegated the hateful stuff to the archives since the squelching of Jewish uprisings by the Romans; and Christian leaders have done the same for their hateful stuff, primarily since the Holocaust. Many Islamic leaders, in contrast, are currently trumpeting claims about monopoly of truth, the punishment due non-believers, and the special perfidy of the Jews.

There is no simple solution for the problem. Too many Muslims are already inside. I doubt that any regime can be systematic in identifying the undesirable, and sending them back to wherever. A temporary cooling of diplomatic relations between the governments of targeted embassies and the Muslim governments that did not protect them (and may have organized the riots) may be all we can expect. From western intellectuals, including those of Israel, we might hope for a more focused condemnation of the riots, while dismissing the cartoons as hardly more significant than their anti-Semitic equivalents. But I am not holding my breath in anticipation.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:32 PM
February 04, 2006
Rockets from Gaza

It had to happen sooner or later. Some 80 percent of the homemade rockets shot from Gaza do not make it out of the area. Most of the rest land in empty fields. Overall, more Palestinians than Israelis suffer.

Yesterday a rocket landed on one of the temporary houses set up for the people moved out of Gaza in the disengagement. It injured four people, among them a baby who was initially described in critical condition. Now he has improved to moderate, and family members injured are in good condition

Since the Palestinian election, Israel had resisted responding to the occasional rain of missiles. Last night and this morning, the IDF has been shelling the area from which they fired for the past 18 hours or so. The area is empty, and so far no Palestinian casualties have been reported. Currently fields are being turned into a moonscape, roads and bridges damaged. Next time the damage to Gaza and its people can be more serious.

Meanwhile, Hamas is still saying it will never recognize Israel. Insofar as it won he most parliamentary seats in the recent election, that pretty much takes the issue of a Palestinian state off the table. In a light year or so it may become a reasonable option, but I would not bet on it.

If a "two-state solution" is one platitude that is not likely to move policymakers, so are a couple of others that the politically correct express several times each day.

One mantra is the "demographic threat." This is supposed to mean that a much greater increase in Palestinian than Israeli births will doom Israel. The fact of the matter is that birth rates of Israeli Arabs have declined. As in the case of other groups, it has come with the increasing education of women. An exception is ultra-Orthodox Jews. If there is a demographic threat here, it is likely to come from them. But it will take a while. They are starting from only 10 percent of the Jewish population.

Palestinians in the West Band and even more in Gaza (less advanced economically than the West Bank) have high birth rates. But the principal benefit of the Oslo accords, reinforced by the recent disengagement from Gaza, is that Israel is not responsible for those people. If they want more kids, they have to feed them, find education and work for them, urge them to migrate, and/or suffer the consequences. Sure, they try to migrate to Israel. Most come illegally, and some by marrying Israeli Arabs. But Israel does a better job in dealing with the illegals than the United States does with its hungry neighbors. And Israel is tightening the procedures to grant residence to foreign Arabs who marry Israelis. Human rights groups grumble and submit their petitions to court, but government efforts continue.

Yet another mantra is the "one-state solution." According to this, if Israel does not make peace with a Palestinian state, it will have to absorb all the Palestinians in Israel, and they will outvote the Jews.

This is a darling that has been used as a threat by Arab activists and their supporters, some of them Israeli Jews. The fault is that no ranking Jewish politician takes it seriously.

If none of these mantras are realistic, what is the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem?

There is none. Israel will continue to build its barriers and hunker down. The IDF will continue to go into the West Bank as directed in order to deal with problems that affect Israel. These intrusions are much easier when there is no formal Palestinian state, and the need for the intrusions is a major reason why there no Palestinian state.

Israelis will suffer, with increases and declines in the incidence of casualties. Palestinians will suffer more, from damage to themselves and their property, from poverty, and a collapsed service network, but they may feel good for electing Hamas, stroking their nationalism, and calling for aid from Arab and other governments.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:19 AM