Sometimes I like to share some of the bits and pieces I find in the news from Israel. Some of it is witty and bizarre, while others are more serious. All of it together presents some pieces to the puzzle that is Israel.
Before coming here, we read about what to expect in Israel. One book, Culture Shock Israel, talked about the “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” policy of reaction to terrorism. Once a terrorist technique has been tried, Israel works overtime to find ways to stop it from being repeated. When it comes to creativity to resisting, catching, and defeating terrorism, Israel is the master.
Recently new plans are being put into place to frisk bus passengers before they get onto a bus. This will be time consuming and inconvenient, but most Israelis agree it is better to be safer than sorry later. Since September 2000, 164 people have been killed and about 800 wounded in 21 bus bombings. Public buses have more than 900 security guards riding buses, and some guards and bus drivers have given their lives to stop suicide bombers from boarding. Even this couldn’t prevent attacks. The Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews have donated USD $7 million for a project to make riding the bus in Jerusalem safer by frisking bus riders. In another government project, lockable metal turnstiles are being tested on several buses in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to see if this may make a difference.
But the idea that is gaining the most attention, and seen as the cheapest solution of all might get some laughs, but it is a serious suggestion. Israeli officials are looking into the possibility of hanging bags of pig lard – that’s right, pig fat – inside buses. Why? Oh, please, ask me why! The reason is that while pigs are not kosher in Israel, a Jew can touch a pig. They just can’t eat them. Muslims, on the other hand, can’t touch or eat pig. It is truly an “abomination” to them. Suicide bombers are brainwashed through their fanatic recruiters, supporters, families, and twisted view of religion to believe that if they die while killing Jews, they will go to heaven and have dozens of virgins waiting for them. The virgin concept is so bizarre, and how anyone believes it is beyond me, but let’s not go there. Anyway, they must be “clean” and uncontaminated in their death in order to get to heaven. If one micro-splat of pig fat was to touch them, they would be unclean and not get their reward of virgins in heaven, and in fact, probably not even get to heaven. Israel is seriously looking into the psychological fear factor of pig fat on buses to keep the suicide bombers away. Honestly. Desperate people do desperate things…
So many times the world’s media uses the phrase “the cycle of violence in the Middle East”. Tit for tat. They strike, Israel strikes, they strike back, Israel strikes back, and the world goes ’round. What the world’s media doesn’t realize that it isn’t tit for tat. There is no clear cycle of violence. What is clear is that if Israel does anything, Israelis die because terrorists strike back. But Israel doesn’t always strike back. “Restrained response” is the catch word of this Intifada, which unfortunately allows too much freedom, in my opinion, for the Palestinians and others to continue their acts of violence.
What the world media also doesn’t realize is how Israel protects Arabs within its borders as well as Jews and non-Jews. To Israel, protection of their varied citizens is crucial. Two Jewish men were arrested in Haifa recently as part of an underground Jewish group (though they are saying they acted alone – ha!) who want to retaliate against the Arabs and Palestinians. This group has been working to target Arab-Israeli Knesset members and prominent citizens as well as mosques inside of Israel. Sharon has ordered increased security for the Arab-Israeli Knesset members. More than 30 homemade bombs, hand grenades, handmade pistols, and even a mortar was found in the home of these two men. According to the investigators, the Jewish men planted nine bombs against Arab targets over the past three years, with only a few exploding and the rest discovered and defused. One successful attack was at a mosque in Haifa’s mixed Arab-Jewish district where three people were wounded. Another was in the car of a Knesset member’s wife, and she escaped with minor wounds. Jewish people and groups “friendly” with Arabs were also targeted. The security fence and Israeli security teams protecting the borders between the Palestinian areas and Israel do more than just stop terrorists from sneaking in, they also stop Israelis from sneaking out for personal vendettas and retaliation. More investigations are ongoing and Israel is determined to stop such violent attacks, says the security officials.
Water is a big deal in the Middle. A former occupier of Israel and much of the Middle East has signed a water deal with Israel to supply their drinking water for the next two decades. See, you never know who will be your enemy one year and your friend the next. Israel will buy 50 million cubic meters of water a year from Turkey, equaling about 3% of the total annual drinking water required in Israel. The water will come from Turkey’s Manavgat River, and is expected to be higher than the cost of desalinated water which is about 60 US cents a cubic meter. Still, Israel not only needs the water, they need the economic ties business with Turkey can bring.
Now, the strange thing about this is that this negotiation has been going on for five years. Huh? That’s right. See, Israel top export is weapons and defense technology, and Turkey wants some. Israel wants the business to keep Israel’s economy going, but Turkey wants income from their dealings with Israel, so they have constantly used the threat of canceling the other deals unless Israel agrees to the water deal. Israel may end up paying two to four times the price of water they can make in their own country in order to reap the benefits of military and commercial contracts. Ah, the joy of international governments doing business with each other. While the government and corporations in Israel will reap the benefits of increased business, the citizens of the country will have to pay massive increases in their water bills to pay for the imported water. And the world goes ’round.
On the lighter side of the news, the Israeli ice skating duo of Alexandera and Roman Zaretsky have moved into eighth place out of 28 teams in the International Skating Union World Junior Figure Skating Championships in the Hague, Netherlands. The brother-sister team are being touted as the pair to watch in the future, wanting to follow in the footsteps of Galit Chait and Sergey Sakhovsky who won the bronze medal at the 2002 World Championships in Nagano, Japan, for Israel. Both siblings were born in Russia and came to Israel as children, but they spend most of the year in Delaware at an ice training facility there. The “internationalness” of sports is at play even in Israel.
If you are looking for some hot property, look no further than Jerusalem. After several years of a depressed property market, foreigners are buying up apartments and property in Jerusalem like crazy, taking advantage of the low market rates. Prices are 20-30% lower than in 1998. Many of those shopping are Diaspora Jews who want to keep a connection with Israel but not move to the country, though some admit they might, when things improve. The majority of the buyers are from the UK, with some from France and the US.
Will financial wonders ever cease? The UK has announced that they are willing to finance the “unification of the Palestinian security forces if the Palestinian Authority (PA) agrees to create a central command.” The Swiss government is already paying the PA police and security forces and have been for years – those these efforts have come under fire recently. I’ll get to this uproar in a minute. The UK has spent more than USD $18 million for the PA’s negotiating support team over the past five years and now they want to help the PA put together a central security force, though all of this money is in debate when it was discovered that money the UK money was helping to pay for the case against the security fence in the Hague, a court case the UK opposed from the beginning. Confused? I think they are. Arafat claims that the PA security force is unified, under his command, even though no one can tell.
In fact, the mayor of Nazareth (Nabalus) has resigned in protest against the lack of security provided by the PA and the lack of commitment to even attempt any rule of law in the city. One of the largest West Bank cities, Nazareth is rife with gangs and crime, including the murders of 32 people in the past few months between rival gangs. The PA blames Israel, but the mayor, Ghassan Shakah, denied that, placing the total blame on the PA. “The main issue was that the PA failed to tackle any of the problems in the city…this is not related to the occupation. There are many crimes and offences in the city that have nothing to do with the occupation. None of these crimes was dealt with.” He claims that the PA doesn’t want to fulfill their duties as a responsible government towards their largest city.
With the UK’s offer and their continuance to pay for security and support in the PA, Arafat and his cronies had a fit when the Swiss declared that all future payments to security officers had to be made as direct deposits to the bank account of the employees, bypassing the government. More and more countries who have long supported the PA and Palestinian movement against Israel, often through the disguise of humanitarian effort, are seriously questioning the long-known fact that Arafat and a lot of PA administrators have been sucking the cash flow dry for decades. They kept pouring money in and now they are seeing the reality of where their money is going. These countries are trying to force accountability and it is seriously ticking off Arafat and his crew. Go ahead – once again ask me why?
Why, you ask? First, many of the PA’s so called security officers are actually part of Arafat’s terrorism network. By signing up for a bank account, after being paid cash for years, they have to be accountable and recognizable. If they are involved in terrorism or a crime, they can be traced through their bank account information. Second, having been paid cash for years, they now have to account for their income and report it for taxes and so on. Third, the Palestinian Authority must now account for the money, since the records for payment will now be held in the bank and they have to check with the banks to make sure their employees are paid, and they aren’t very good at counting in the PA government, having only deal with cash for yeras. Fourth, Arafat’s wife has been living the high life in Paris with a multi-room suite and full staff in attendance and collecting over a million US dollars every month as an “allowance” and that may soon end as the Bank of France has frozen the account and is investigating money laundering charges. After all, where would the wife of a man kept under military “confinement” for the past two and a half years in Ramallah, representing some of the most economically depressed people in the world, get a million dollars a month? Her husband, of course. And where would he get it? Hmmmm. The bigger question not being asked: what is she doing with that million a month, every month? That would buy a lot of shoes. Money doesn’t fall from the skies, you know, but for the Palestinian Authority, the skies have delivered a lot of money for decades, so they kept expecting it would continue. Interesting stuff, huh?
In an attempt to “get some of the money”, a federal judge in New York has turned down the PA’s legal defense strategy motion in a $500 million terrorism lawsuit. Brought by families of terrorism victims against the PA, PLO and top PA officials, the Palestinian Authority claims they are a sovereign state therefore it cannot be granted immunity. In the 62 page decision, Judge Marrero denied the motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds of sovereign immunity because the PA “is not a foreign state under the Antiterrorism Act of 1991 – which grants nations immunity from prosecution provided they are not state sponsors of terror”. The PA is also not a member of the UN, and “has never been fully recognized as a sovereign state”, and it doesn’t meet two of the four basic four criteria for statehood: “it does not control its own population and territory, nor does it have the capacity to engage in foreign relations.” This is one of many failed attempts by the PA, PLO and others to have these cases dismissed. In July, the court ordered Hamas to pay USD $116 million in damages for sponsoring a 1996 terrorist attack. This current case against the PA, PLO, Arafat and other PA officials concerns the terrorist murder of Aharon Ellis in Hadera in January 2002 during a bat mitzvah party in which a former PA policeman opened fire, killing six. The success of these recent legal actions is encouraging more victims of terrorism to step forward with their claims against those who commit terror.
Sensitivity about the Holocaust and other historical crimes against Jews throughout history is a must in Israel. Unfortunately, two Russian immigrants missed the boat on this one. In their advertising campaign for the Israeli Bank Hapoalim, they used the slogan “to each what he deserves”, a Prussian Protestant 18th century saying representing the Protestant belief in “providential reward in this world for effort”. Unfortunately, it was also the saying over the door at the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald that greeted prisoners and Holocaust victims as they entered, beginning their punishment. The ad agency claims the “generational gap” was the excuse but Holocaust victims are not amused, claiming it is “blasphemy”. Ouch.
Oh, one more piece of political news. In a court decision this week, a judge has ruled that Sharon’s term of office is up in November 2007. Normally the elected prime minister’s term of office is five years, but no one has held the full five-year term of office since…well, Begin. That’s a long time. For want of a unified government and all the strange loop holes and 28 different political parties in Israel, they have the semblence of a stable government but chaos in the office of the prime minister. Sharon has been in office since 2001 and technically, he should be out in 2006, but he was re-elected in an emergency vote in 2002, so the court has determined that his term will be up, legally, in 2007, which is five years from 2002. Well, a lot of people are not happy as they expected him out in 2005, or 2006 at the latest, so now there are lawsuits popping up all over the place to change the ruling. My opinion…just wait. Since no one has lasted for the full term since 1983, be patient. Something will screw it up again very soon and we’ll be off to the elections again.
While studying engineering in Israel, two young men met and discovered they had something in common: how to create a “four-wheel drive wheelchair”, and they want a piece of the USD $600 million market in the US and Europe for power wheelchairs. Currently, the few powered wheelchairs which climb stairs can only do so with the passenger facing downwards, no matter which way they are headed. This new wheelchair called the Galileo means going in any direction over any terrain in the direction you want to go. Using a track and wheel combination not much different than what a tank uses, the Galileo will let users go through sand on the beach, snow, ice, and up and down stairs. The inventive track wheel design isn’t limited to wheelchairs. It is also being used to create highly mobile autonomous robots which can be equipped with cameras and detection sensor equipment. They are also working on a “porter system” for transporting heavy weights up and down stairs like boxes or an elderly person and farm equipment that can traverse difficult terrain. They are looking for investors, so check out their web site if you have a million or two to spare.
Oh, there is plenty of other news going on, but a lot of it is grim. Economy sucks, people are out of work everywhere, there are more homeless and transients visible on the streets than ever in the history of the country, holiday activities are dialed way back to avoid terrorism interests, people of sick of being in a war they can’t win and don’t know how to fight, and there is little optimism, though a lot of jokes, going around. Oh, I’m talking about life in Israel not the United States, though it did sound like I was talking about the US. Sorry. Any simularities are unintentional.
Tel Aviv, Isarel