December 28, 2007
An overview, 1920-2007

I spent a lot of time with Erich, my late father-in-law, during the 20 years that I knew him. Often we quarreled about the present and the future. He was a peace loving optimist, as well as being proud of his service as a fighter for Israel. He did not want to die until there was peace in Israel. I hated to disappoint him with my numbers and my rhetoric.

Now I am about as old as Erich was when we began our quarrels. If an optimistic yearning for peace increases with age, it has not yet touched me.

I continue to view Palestinian violence as chronic, with ups and downs in its incidence.

Numbers vary due to sources and definitions. What follows are my efforts at getting decent numbers from a variety of Israeli and international sources.

The first years of the record show one or no deaths per year for four of the years from 1920 through 1928. There were 119 deaths during the riots of 1929, then less than 2 per year, and again an increase to 62 annually during the Palestinian revolt of 1936-40. After a lull to less than 5 per year, there was an increase to 72 per year from 1946 that carried through the first decade of Israeli independence. There were 379 civilian deaths in 1948. Ten per year died 1958-67, then another rise to 45 during 1968-75 . There was a one-year spike to 47 in 1978, but except for that year the average was less than 14 per year from 1976 to 1988. An average of 49 Israelis died per year during 1989-97 (first intifada through the false honeymoon of the Oslo Accords). There was a two-year lull with 16 and 8 deaths, then the most recent peak of intifada al-Aqsa. The most recent annual figures (including both military and civilians) show a peaking and a sharp decline: 47 deaths from late September through the end of 2000, 207 deaths in 2001, 452 in 2002, 214 in 2003, and then 118, 42, 32, and 13 from 2004-2007.

Separate from these figures are Israeli war deaths: 6,000 killed in the 1948 war of independence, 231 in the 1956 Sinai campaign, 776 in the "six day war" of 1967, 1,424 in the "war of attrition" between Egypt and Israel from 1967 to 1970, 2,700 in the Yom Kippur War 1973, and 1,216 in the Lebanese war from 1982 until the end of May, 1985; and 163 in Lebanon II (2006).

Comparison can make the picture look bloody or benign. More than 22,300 Israeli soldiers and civilians have died in seven wars, plus numerous incidents of terror during 60 years as an independent country. In relative terms, taking account of population differences, that is more than 11 times the incidence of American soldiers who died in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere since World War II, plus the civilian deaths of 9/11.

However, larger numbers of Israelis (400-450 annually during recent years) have died in road accidents.

Yet another comparison shows that the Palestinians have suffered more casualties. Since September, 2000 to the end of July, 2007, 4,228 Palestinians died as the result of the violence, compared to 1,024 Israelis. Moreover, the proportions have changed to the disadvantage of the Palestinians: for every one Israeli death in 2007 there were 25 Palestinian deaths, compared to 2002 when the ratio was 1:2.5. And in recent years, the Palestinians have been killing one another more than they have killed Israelis, or Israelis have killed Palestinians. In 2005, only 4% of the total Palestinian deaths were at the hands of other Palestinians. In 2006, the figures rose to 17% and in 2007 65%.

How would I summarize all these numbers?

Palestinian violence is chronic. Just yesterday, a Palestinian gang killed two Israeli soldiers while they were on leave and hiking near Hebron. Before they died, the Israelis managed to kill two of the Palestinians and wound two others. There has been another wave of attacks on Israeli cars traveling Route 443, one of the two main roads between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Right wing politicians cite these events in their claims that it is useless to negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas, who either cannot or will not control violence in the West Bank, where he is formally in charge.

The incidence of violence has dropped to one of its historic lows. Currently fashionable among security forces is a policy of avoiding a costly onslaught against Palestine, and not aspiring to control Palestinians. Israel invests heavily in intelligence, and its forces sweep in and out of the West Bank and Gaza in pursuit of specific targets. The kill and capture ratios are highly favorable to Israel, in part because its forces do not remain as convenient targets for the Palestinians. Moreover, the frequent incursions keep violent Palestinians on the defensive. They worry about who is informing on them, and must constantly prepare for another incursion. As a result, they have limited opportunities to plan their own attacks.

There remain individual catastrophes for Israelis and their families, but Palestinian violence does not represent a threat to the existence of the society. Indeed, the national aspirations of the Palestinians seem more in danger. International powers have tired of Palestinian demands for someone to rescue them while Palestinian rhetoric remain committed to Israel's destruction (Hamas and other Islamists), and to an unrealistic right of refugees to return to a life they had 60 years ago (Fatah, as well as Hamas and the Islamists). Demands for our destruction, and for going backwards in history, also hinder serious negotiations toward an end to the violence.

Our glass is more than half full. Hopefully, it will be a while until the next spike of Palestinian violence. We cope with our neighbors as some of us cope with old age and chronic disease. Israeli hi-tech remains on the cutting edge. The major Tel Aviv stock market index increased by 25 percent this year, compared to 4 percent for the American S&P 500.

So far so good.

In a spirit of guarded optimism, I can wish you all a Happy New Year.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:03 PM
December 22, 2007

Once again American officials are pressing Israelis to limit the construction of housing for Jews over the pre-1967 border, and to dismantle existing settlements, especially the "illegal" ones established without the approval of the Israeli government. Without those actions, according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others, Israel will not build confidence among the Palestinians. The lack of Palestinian confidence will threaten the peace process.

Some time ago, an American friend asked me to summarize for him the arguments in favor of the settlements.

"There are no good general arguments. The devil is in the details. In my view, Israel had a right to settle, if only to pressure Palestinians and other Arabs who refused for years after 1967 to negotiate the future with Israel. Some settlements are too large and established to consider giving up. Holding others is more difficult to justify.

Dispute starts with an Israeli view of the status of the West Bank and Gaza. They were never occupied by an Arab government recognized as sovereign. Jordan's occupation of the West Bank after 1948 was recognized only by the United Kingdom and Pakistan. In an Israeli view of international law, the areas were open to Israeli settlement after 1967 insofar as they had lacked a sovereign power.

In the realities of international politics, there are not many countries beside Israel that accept the view that the territories are "disputed," rather than "occupied."

After the 1967 war the Arab declaration (done at Khartoum) was no peace, no recognition, and no negotiation with Israel. Israel held off settling for some time, except in an area annexed to Jerusalem. Now there are perhaps 185,000-200,000 Jews living in new neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and another 270,000 living in other settlements. About 80 percent of those 270,000 are close to the pre-1967 border. Some are suburbs of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, with 10,000-35,000 residents apiece, and are not on the table for negotiation. At Camp David (in 2000), Palestinians seemed willing to have Israel absorb those, in exchange for concessions elsewhere. Most of the people in the large settlements are not marked by any strong fervor associated with the Land of Israel, or God-given privileges.

Beyond those settlements are smaller communities, typically religious and intense. In their behalf, it can be said that they these settlements represent pressure on the Palestinians. The sooner the Palestinians negotiate seriously, the more land they will receive. The longer it takes, the larger and more "permanent" each settlement can become, and an Israeli government will be less likely to give it up. Most of these settlements were approved by the Israeli government, and the construction subsidized. Some of the residents have been there for more than 30 years. When they accuse the Israeli left of efforts to ethnically cleanse the Jews, they have a point.

There are "illegal" settlements, some of them no more than a few trailers on a hilltop. They appeared without the approval of the Israeli government. The United States and the Israeli left have made a big case about Israel having to remove them. The army has removed some of them, but the residents come back the next day with another trailer. This is a cat and mouse game that seems foolish to pursue. These settlements are small, scatttered, and serious nuisances. The army has to protect them. If it did not, the larger settler community would have an incentive to protect them by attacking nearby Palestinians. The Palestinians have enough trouble with numerous armed bands, each pursuing their own missions. We do not want that to happen among us.

About the small settlements (legal and illegal) it can be said that they are an affront to the sensibilities of Palestinians and many others. They are easy targets for Palestinian violence and are costly to defend. They contain the most intense of the religious nationalists, whose style of politics is to shout selective quotations from holy text. Those people are about as attractive as those who scream about abortion in the United States."

In recent years Israel has responded to Palestinian violence by constructing a security barrier to protect its cities and major settlements. For Israeli leftists and much of the international community, the portions of the barrier built to the east of the pre-1967 boundary are yet further Israeli offenses to peace and good sense. Most of the Israeli population seems to accept the claims of the defense establishment that the barrier has limited violence against Israeli civilians.

The official Israel position is that the barrier is not an effort to define new boundaries unilaterally, but let's assume that the barrier defines what Israel wants to keep. To the east of the barrier are those settlements that might be withdrawn for the sake of peace. Currently they contain about 62,000 Jewish residents. Twelve thousand of these residents live in the Jordan Valley, south of Beit Shean and north of Jericho. These settlements fit into a separate category of Israeli thinking. They represent a buffer that will allow Israel to control access to Palestine if it is ever created. As long as Israeli distrust of Palestinians remains anywhere close to its present level, those Jordan Valley settlements are not likely to be on the table for negotiations. (For recent population data, see; and

When Ehud Olmert campaigned in the election of 2006, he expressed his intention of following the dismantling of settlements in Gaza with further withdrawals from the West Bank. Since then, he has expressed support for the American position of limiting new construction and withdrawing the illegal settlements.

Where Olmert and the Americans come up against Israeli realities is the continued shelling of Jewish communities near Gaza. The 20,000 Israelis living in Sederot suffer from daily warnings and actual explosions of mortars and missiles on and alongside their homes, shops, schools, and places of work. Another 108,000 Israelis in Ashkelon live on the outer range of the Palestinian missiles. They, too, have had explosions in their neighborhoods.

One opinion widespread in Israel is a willingness to give up settlements for the sake of peace. Yet another opinion widespread is a distrust of Palestinians in the West Bank to respond any better than the Palestinians in Gaza. The fear is that withdrawals will produce missile and mortar attacks on Jerusalem and other major settlements.

Two parties in Olmert's coalition, with a total of 23 seats, seem dead set against the withdrawal of any settlements, legal or illegal. The 55 members of other parties in the governing coalition do not make up a majority of the Knesset, and some of them are less than enthusiastic about withdrawing settlements.

In short, it seems that Israel, the Americans, and the Palestinians will have to live with Israeli ambivalence, delay, and cumbersome inaction with respect to the settlements. Construction is likely to continue in areas that Israel (but no one else) defines as within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

Can the peace process proceed without decisive Israeli action on the settlements? A question with equivalent moral weight is whether the peace process can continue as long as the mortars and missiles fall on Sederot and Ashkelon, and organizations affiliated with the Palestinian party of Mahmoud Abbas continue in their violence against Israelis.

My guess is that the peace process will continue if the Palestinians recognize that they have no monopoly of justice, and work to make Israelis feel more secure. It would help if the Americans and other friends nudge the Palestinians in that direction. Sadly, I do not expect these miracles to occur.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:48 PM
December 20, 2007

If there is anything of value that I have learned in more than 40 years of studying public policy, it is the value of simplicity. If it is not simple, it probably will not work as advertized.

There is no better demonstration of this than the mess of health insurance provided to Americans who think that they are insured. In other words, a serious problem is not only in the 15 percent or so who have no insurance. It is in the case of who knows how many Americans whose health insurance is too complicated for those who need to benefit from the coverage.

One manifestation of this appears in a recent New York Times article that follows the plight of a social worker whose job is to help clients sort through their bills and the demands of care providers, pharmacies, medical laboratories, and hospitals, plus the insurance companies and government programs that are supposed to pay some of the costs under definitions too complex for many mortals. Those who suffer most are the old, poorly educated, people unfamiliar with the language, and in need of care. (

Even more chilling is the story of an attorney, the father of a personal friend, who could not manage the paperwork shortly after retiring from a career close to the pinnacle of a major social service agency in Washington.

My curiosity led me to surf the internet, shopping for coverage as if I were a 50 year old with a spouse and two minor children.

The complexities were profound: numerous options associated with varying monthly charges, choice of care givers, co-pays, and deductibles. In cases where the monthly payments were in the range of a few hundred dollars, the annual deductibles were so high that it seemed likely that the plans would amount to no insurance at all.

An intelligent and healthy 50 year old, with the help of a spouse having similar traits and no problematic children would seem able to manage the paperwork. But what would happen 20 years on, when the couple needs more care, and may be overwhelmed with confusing requirements and their own increasing confusion?

Israel is not a perfect society, and its health system is not Paradise on Earth. But simple it is, and thereby scores reasonably high on effectiveness.

To begin with, every resident is a member of one of four HMOs, whose programs are similar. There is a medical tax that pays for basic coverage. It is collected by the government, graduated by income, and withheld from salary in the case of wage earners. Seniors get the benefits without the tax. The basic coverage includes medications, with a small co-pay, as well as all tests. Certain tests require a co-pay equivalent to $3.50. Most blood tests require no co-pay. A visit to a specialist costs the equivalent of $3.50; and if there is more than one visit to the same physician in a quarter, the subsequent ones are without charge. There is no charge for visit to a family physician.

There are options with respect to supplemental insurance, which give preference in terms of waiting times to see a specialist or have surgery, choice of surgeon, as well as nursing home coverage, and coverage of operations overseas that cannot be performed in Israel. Almost all the country's physicians, hospitals, and laboratories are wired into the system, and usually sort out for themselves who pays how much. To our sorrow, Varda and I have had the usual experiences of the aging, and have learned more and more about the costs and complexities. Nothing in our experience approaches the American system in the outlays to the clients or the complexity.

All the supplemental insurances for Varda and I, plus what we pay for medications, and visits with specialists, cost us about $150 per month.

There are problems. Not all of the newest and most expensive medications are included on the list that is covered by insurance. Each year a committee of medical experts, bureaucrats, politicians, and patient advocates quarrels about what to add and how much to demand from the government treasury to cover the costs. There are not enough spare parts for all those who need replacements for their kidneys, hearts, lungs, or whatever. Opportunities are greater for residents who live close to major hospitals than in outlying areas. Not all of our physicians are geniuses, or as loving as one might wish. We do hear in the media of the unfortunate who fall through the cracks.

If the bottom line is longevity, the statistics provide some indications of success. The most recent available Israeli data show life expectancies for Jewish women to be 82 and men 79 ; life expectancy for Arab women is 78 and men 75. American life expectancy for white women is 80 and white men 74. For blacks and others the figures are 76 for women and 69 for men.

The planes are still flying. For all our aging American friends, it may be too late to benefit from all of the increased life expectancy promised by Israeli medicine. The reduced paperwork has its own advantages. But remember, most of it is in Hebrew.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:17 PM
December 17, 2007
Attacks from Gaza

Rocket and mortar attacks directed against Israeli civilians from Gaza represent, in a nutshell, the conundrum of Israeli security.

The rockets and mortars cause individual disasters, a great deal of anxiety, and some property damage; but the record is not catastrophic. From 2001 to the end of November, 2007, some 2,400 rockets and 2,500 mortars made it out of Gaza. Most of them landed in open areas, but those that did not caused 20 Israeli deaths and 583 injuries. (See

By some accounts, even more rockets exploded on their way to the launch sites or landed on Palestinians; and killed or wounded more of them than Israelis.

No less important than the deaths and injuries are the anxieties associated with the constant threat of attack and the numerous cases every day when a firing triggers sirens and recorded calls over the loud speakers to seek shelter. In the most recent 18 months, more than 1,600 individuals received on site treatment for stress. Many of these cases have been more lasting than the immediate symptoms. Residents of Sderot and other settlements close to Gaza shout their frustration and fears. The military and the government does not do enough to help.

A conundrum is a problem without a solution. The conundrum here is the impossibility of ending the rocket and mortar attacks completely, without causing damage to Israel and Israelis that is likely to be greater than the losses from the rocket and mortar attacks.

The rockets and mortars are easy and cheap to make, easy to transport and fire.

Israel can allocate more resources to harden existing structures near Gaza and construct more shelters. This seems to be the preferred policy, but every attack brings forth demands for more protection. Continued efforts in Palestinian workshops to increase the range of the rockets, and efforts to smuggle more powerful weapons over the border with Egypt suggest that the cost of an adequate defense would be considerable. It also brings forth opposition from politicians who want to go on the attack rather than bunker down and therefore give some measure of legitimacy to Palestinian attacks.

Israel does attack Palestinians associated with the rocket and mortar attacks. Pilotless aircraft are in the air all the time, and often guide helicopters to attack individuals on their way to or from a launching. Small and medium sized units of ground troops, with tanks and other equipment operate in Gaza. Some stay for several days, and may leave behind more Palestinian casualties than those caused by six years of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel. They also return with numerous prisoners slated for intensive questioning with an eye to later incursions.

Since Israel withdrew Jewish settlements in Gaza and thereby removed the settlers as targets of roadside ambushes and other violence, the balance of casualties has been strongly in Israel's favor. By that measure, the disengagement has been a success. Opponents count disengagement as a failure insofar as it got Israel no credit in Palestinian politics, and is associated with continuing rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli settlements within range of Gaza. The debate is not academic. It is associated with Israel's indifference in the face of demands from Americans and others that it withdraw other settlements from the West Bank. The rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza work against further disengagements.

We often hear that the IDF is preparing for an all out assault on Gaza. We also hear that the time is not ripe, and that substantial segments of the military oppose the idea.

Perhaps 1.5 million Palestinians live in several congested settlements in Gaza. The whole area is 25 miles long and 3-5 miles wide. A massive attack would cause numerous Palestinian casualties, and likely more Israeli casualties in a week or two of operations than have been caused by six years of rocket and mortar attacks.

The bottom line is, How many young Israeli men should die in order to prevent an average of 3 deaths annually from rocket and mortars? Moreover, the prevention would not be complete. Once Israeli forces left Gaza, the easy to assemble and move weapons could again begin to fly toward Israeli settlements.

If Israeli forces remained as an occupying army, they would expose themselves to continued attacks, and in all likelihood be unable to prevent all rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli settlements. For this reason, the IDF prefers small operations that move around within Gaza and do not remain there for more than a few days. Several of these operations have not only caused numerous Palestinian casualties, but have returned to Israel intact with no deaths or injuries. Generally speaking, a well trained army does more damage, and suffers fewer losses than gangs that are long on courage and enthusiasm, but short on training and equipment.

Israel is not burdened by American frustrations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is due largely to Israeli operations in Gaza (and the West Bank) being close to home. The IDF can go in and out; do its job and not remain to become a target. One of my personal war stories as an IDF reservist is leaving home in Jerusalem after an early breakfast, driving to the Lebanese border, going over in a military vehicle, doing my job, and returning home in time for a late dinner.

Could the Israeli air force or artillery stop rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza?

They could do a lot of damage in a short period of time, with few if any Israeli losses. If pushed, perhaps by a missile that landed on a kindergarten and killed a dozen toddlers, the IDF could operate like it did in Lebanon last year: give residents a few hours to evacuate a target zone, and then destroy whatever structures had been giving refuge to the groups firing the rockets.

It would not take long for foreign governments, international and Israeli humanitarians to call foul on account of "disproportionate response." The Lebanese living in the south of their country could flee north in response to the Israeli attack in 2006, and residents of Hizbollah neighborhoods of Beirut could go elsewhere. There is not much place in Gaza for the residents to flee. Attacks like those on southern Lebanon and Beirut would quickly leave a sizable portion of the residents homeless. It is doubtful that Egypt would accept them as refugees, and even more doubtful that Israel would grant them sanctuary across its borders.

Currently it seems unlikely that there will be a massive Israeli attack on Gaza. But that unlikelihood depends on the politicians of the Israeli government. The pressure from Sderot and other communities near Gaza is intense. It can become unbearable with a spurt of casualties, especially children. If that occurs, the people of Gaza will want to flee, but have no place to go.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:25 AM
December 14, 2007
Politics in Iowa

Among the lessons in practical politics from the run-up to the Iowa caucuses are two examples on how to besmirch your major rival, while verging over the borders of the political correct, then apologize, and get your besmirch even more attention on national and state-wide media.

A key aide of Hillary Clinton got some space in the Washington Post, and then more widely, when he asked if it would not be likely that someone will ask questions about Barak Obama's youthful experimentation with drugs, and perhaps giving drugs to friends, or maybe even selling them.

A day later, the aide resigned, Hillary apologized and disowned the comments, but there they were again in the media. (See, for example, Insofar as the wife of the dishonored aide is the former Governor of New Hampshire and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and the Obama-Clinton competition will have another round in that state, it is fair to assume that we have not heard the last of this.

Lesson two comes from Mike Huckabee. When asked about Mitt Romney's Mormonism, he wondered if it was not true that Mormons believe that the devil and Jesus were brothers.

One does not have to be an expert on Evangelical theology to know that Satan is a major negative in their world view.

It did not take long for Huckabee to apologize to Romney for what he said was an innocent question, and not an effort to raise Romney's religion as a campaign issue. (,0,4209655.story?coll=chi-business-hed) If there are some Evangelicals in Iowa who did not get the message the first time, they may get it now, along with Huckabee's assertion of being a good guy without any Satanic agenda.

When I lectured on this topic at the dinner table, Mattan responded with yet another indication of his decent Israeli education. He recommendation that I take a look at the first passages in the Book of Job. The literal translation is:

Now it fell upon a day, that the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. (1:6)

Does this mean that Satan was one of God's sons (and by Christian implication a brother of Jesus), or something else, perhaps an interloper among the sons of God. Some Christian translations emphasize a distinction between God's sons and Satan (According to the Contemporary English version, the passage is: "One day, when the angels had gathered around the LORD, and Satan was there with them"), but that adds something not in the Hebrew.

Some may claim that the Hebrew "Satan" is not the devil, but "the accuser," but that opens the door to complexities that are not apparent from a simple reading of the Hebrew text (השטן).

Assuming that Evangelicals are serious in accepting the Bible as true, it would appear that they, as well as the Mormons must reckon with the membership of God's family.

However, anyone who has read a bit about religion should not be surprised if the Evangelicals and others have their own ways of reading this passage, or simply ignore it. The faithful in different communities concede that the Bible's meaning is not always clear, and that it is important to chose an appropriate teacher.

What may be most important in all of this, including the apologies, is that voters in Iowa have been given reason to think that Barak Obama was a drug dealer, and that Mitt Romney worships the devil.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:10 AM
December 10, 2007
Jewish and Arab genes

We heard the other day an interview with a university researcher who claimed to have located a part of the gene code that makes people more or less likely to be generous. He was careful to say that genetics do not determine how one will behave. There is room for education and experience to influence how one reacts to a plea for help.

When the research team finishes with generosity, I suggest that it investigate the genetic source of conscience. My suspicion is that Jews have a greater amount than other people.

How else to explain the honored place given to the biblical prophets who were shrill critics of the elites. I know of no other ritual that devotes the equivalent of the Haftorah to the likes of Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. Nothing was good enough for them. They wanted justice, defined in the most demanding of ways, with no compromise for those who were rich, occupied the highest offices, or who could sing the formal rituals of the Temple.

We have our modern equivalents. Those who attract my attention spare no adjectives to condemn sins against Arabs, while overlooking the mayhem that Arabs cause Israelis.

Ha'aretz is as good a place as any to find contemporary writing that can supply new Haftorah readings to update the tradition.

A recent example is an op-ed piece which celebrates the fact that leading Israelis cannot set foot in a number of Western European countries out of fear of being arrested as war criminals. Their crimes are having been associated with military attacks on leading figures in the war against Israel. Those Israeli attacks also caused the collateral damage of civilian deaths and injuries. (see It is a shame, according to the commentator, that the Israelis are not being tried for war crimes in Israeli courts.

A difference between this and the books of the Bible is that the ancient prophets were concerned with the moral and physical security of the Jewish people. In the op-ed piece at issue, I find no concern for the Israelis deaths that brought about the IDF's attack.

Yet another candidate for the new Haftorah is an article headlined, "Racism reaching new heights in Israel, civil rights group says"
( It summarizes the annual report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, issued to coincide with Human Rights Week.

Among its findings are a rise in anti-Arab incidents, and public opinion surveys that find substantial numbers of Israelis with negative opinions about Arabs, do not want Arabs living near them, would not invite an Arab to their homes, do not believe that Arabs should have equal rights, and are inclined to promote the emigration of Arabs from Israel.

The full report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, available only in Hebrew, (, documents numerous other faults. It begins with a segment on the rights of Israelis to obtain medical treatment. This sets the tone of hyperbolic accusations that do not pause for detail. The claim that hospital facilities are the worst of Western countries, and that poor Israelis and especially Israeli Arabs lack equal medical opportunities is out of step with the universal coverage of Health Maintenance Organizations, as well as waiting times to see specialists or arrange operations substantially less that the norms in Great Britain or Canada. Americans stuck with no insurance, or stingy coverage, sizable deductibles and co-pays, would welcome the opportunity to become poor Israelis or Israeli Arabs.

The Biblical prophets may have been right. The kings and other elites of the Jews may have been as self-serving as other elites in ancient and not-so-ancient times. Modern Israel is no Paradise on Earth. There is meanness, exploitation, and inequality. Few of us love our neighbors as ourselves.

No less extreme than these faults, however, is that we are outspoken in criticism of ourselves. Perhaps there is a gene involved in our conscience that inclines us to be unlike others.

If it is a matter of genes, it appears that our Arab neighbors have an opposite kind of DNA. There is no evidence of a conscience gene in what they write and say. Quite the contrary. They claim a monopoly of having suffered at the hands of others. Guess who is responsible? If a researcher dares conclude that some or many of the "Palestinians" came from elsewhere, that is a frontal assault on their narrative. By their story, all of them have been here for ever. The Jews are the interlopers, with a doubtful story of being here in the distant past. Should they be pressed with details, they can cite Muslim tradition that it was Ishmael who Abraham went to sacrifice, and the event took place near Mecca. Israel as a Jewish state? Impossible. That violates the rights of Arabs. The claims of Jews who left Arab countries under pressure? They left of their own volition. The Arabs who left Israel during the War of Independence? All of them were hounded out or worse. Arab attacks on Jews and the missiles fired toward Sderot? The inalienable rights of resisting Jewish conquest. Israel's development? The rape of Arab land. The military responses of the IDF? Violations of Arab human rights.

Is it any wonder that not all of us love our neighbors? Perhaps the gene of conscience, which we may have in excess, has not worked its power against Jewish experience.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:17 PM
December 05, 2007
America, Iran, and Israel

Is Iran pursuing the development of nuclear weapons or not?

Someone outside of the Iranian loop is not likely to find a clear answer .

Israeli officials are close to wetting their pants due to the change in United States intelligence estimates. Now it looks like the United States will not be attacking Iranian nuclear sites, and may not even be able to obtain any multi-national agreement to increase the weight of sanctions.

Mohammad Al Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is crowing that "we told you so," and has reaffirmed Iran's certificate of kashrut.

One suspects that more than a few Europeans, as well as Russians and Chinese, are happy to see a bit of egg on George W. Bush's face. The president who invaded Iraq on the basis of flawed intelligence is left with a sea change in his own intelligence on Iran. Reports are that the intelligence on Iraq was not simply flawed, but the product of an Iraqi who successfully pursued a scam on American operatives. As a result, there are several portions of egg on the face of the unpopular president.

Controversy about these changes in estimates may be academic for Americans, Europeans and others who are not on Iran's publicly announced list for annihilation. If the Americans got it wrong in 2003, and/or 2007, it is not too important. They have survived nuclear weapons in the hands of the Soviet Union/Russia, China, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and almost Libya. They will find a way to live with nuclear weapons in Iranian hands, if or when it comes to that.

What about Israel? Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is noted for denying the Holocaust, saying that if it did occur European countries must provide room for Israelis, because it is necessary to wipe Israel off the map.

I do not know for sure that Israeli policymakers are wetting their pants, but several of them have expressed something in the range of dismay, frustration, and indecision on account of the latest American intelligence estimate. Jewish activists are more forceful. One item that found its way to my mailbox this morning, from an American who calls herself the Founder and President of the Israeli Project:

"New press reports today about the recently released National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran lead readers and viewers to believe that the Islamic Republic has ended its nuclear weapons program. We know better."

"We know better" consigns this message to my fat file labeled "Jewish junk." It is the kind of mindless panic that feeds skepticism about the Israeli enterprise.

Which does not mean that there is no cause for Israeli concern.

Shimon Peres is more cogent, prestigious, and persuasive than the Founder and President of the Israeli Project. He comes to this issue as President of Israel, holder of a Nobel Peace Prize, and several decades of being to the left of the Israeli center, an optimistic, tireless and often tiring worker for peace. He is less than impressed with the latest American intelligence estimate. If it is true, he asks, then why has Iran invested so heavily in developing long range missiles that can carry nuclear warheads?

In this and other intelligence estimates, there is nothing approaching certainty. The latest American estimate has provoked a number of inquiries far more profound than "We know better." I do not think we will see an American attack on Iran during the coming days, or a heavier set of economic sanctions against Iran. We can expect further inquiries about this intelligence estimate.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:19 AM
December 03, 2007
Politics means eating shit

In the courses that I used to teach, I would sooner or later mention what I perceived to be a cardinal rule of politics: Every day you must eat some shit.

Some of my students tittered. Others were annoyed. I explained that politics is not getting everything you want. Sometimes you have to accept something that you really do not want in order to remain active, in the hope of getting some or a lot of what you do want. A less scatological way of saying the same thing is, you have to go along to get along.

Of course there is a point of appropriate rebellion. It depends on how much shit someone is asking you to eat. Everyone has a limit, but in politics, the limit cannot be zero.

There are profound reasons for this. Resources are limited. Desires or demands are likely to be greater than what it is possible to attain. Different individuals or groups who must cooperate for mutual advantage want contradictory things. Compromise means losing. It may mean losing everything in one confrontation in order to remain as a participant and to get something else at another time. "Side payments" is a term meant to compensate for a loss elsewhere that was more or less inevitable in order to keep a partnership together so that its members could continue to participate in governing.

Coping is a close cousin of eating shit. Coping recognizes that some wants are unattainable, and that some problems are insoluble. It is likely that policymakers cope when they deal with difficult issues, even if they tell the public and themselves that they are solving the problem.

Parts of Jewish ritual describes the shit that the people have been eating over the course of 3000 or so years. Take a look at Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages), which we sing after lighting the Hanukah candles.

We ask God's help, and we have learned to cope with our limited resources and the great powers that are not always friendly. I learned as a child that God helps those who help themselves.

Jews generally, and Israelis in particular, have done better than the average. And all the surveys I have seen about Jewish and Israeli opinions is that we are aching to make reasonable deals with the Palestinians and other Arabs. Jewish expectations are that such a deal will include territorial compromises. We argue among ourselves as to what we should offer.

So far the Jewish arguments about what to offer remain irrelevant insofar as the other side has not learned the basic lesson of politics. Some want Israel to disappear. Even mainstream Palestinian leaders cannot bring themselves to accept the symbolism of Israel as a Jewish state. We have proved over the course of 60 years that the expression does not mean the repression of the Arab minority. Discrimination exists, as it does against minorities in many countries. And Israel's minority has a record of violence. Yet laws and courts have targeted the discrimination with some success. It is arguable that Israel's minority has more political and economic opportunities than ethnic or religious minorities in Arab or Muslim countries, and maybe even more than the Arab or Muslim majorities in those countries.

Mainstream Israeli politicians ask if there is any point in negotiating with Palestinians when elected Arab politicians of Israel will not fly the national flag or accept other national symbols, and ranking Palestinians demand--as they have since Annapolis--full concessions to their demands for territory, and the return of refugees to homes that existed prior to the 1948 war.

Historical justice is confused by conflicting views of history. It gets in the way of negotiations about the present and future to recite tendentious claims about the past that only produce counter-recitations. No side can assert a monopoly of suffering and get on with making a deal. Each side has to eat some shit for the conversation to continue, and cope with adversity for the negotiations to succeed.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:32 PM