OneJerusalem.com

a different side of Israel

Tag: Lebanon (page 2 of 11)

On Hezbollah

Hezbollah, the free-world’s formidable foe is back in OneJerusalem news today. Here’s why:
Word on the street is that the Israel Defense Forces have started a one-week-long civil defense drill on sunday.
This drill will partially entail an attack on The Jewish Country’s national water carrier.

Well, Hezbollah is telling their forces to scram!
Terrorist commando turned commander, Nabil Kaouk told it like so:

“A few thousand Hizbullah warriors will not be able to go and vote in next week’s round of local elections.” He warned that were Lebanon to be attacked, “Israelis will not be able to find any place to hide”.


And there’s more:
The Jerusalem Post informs us that the United States of America has “grave concerns” about Hezbollah in Lebanon acquiring arms by one Syrian government.
Israel is positive that Syria has supplied the Hezbollah with hundreds of surface-to-surface missiles, including Scuds and advanced M600s, capable of targeting Tel Aviv.
Lebanon’s Saad Hariri has denied these allegations. And hotly so. He compares this claim to America’s claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ahead of the 2003 invasion.
White House spokesperson, Robert Gibbs informs us that Barack Obama and Saad Hariri will hold a meeting soon.

The topics on the table will include “broad range of mutual goals in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, regional peace and security“, (that is rebuilding their military and telling those Hezbollah creeps to take a hike). They are “also likely to discuss international efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear program.” Until May 31, Lebanon is the president of the UN Security Council.

You’re Going to Need a Pretty Damn Big Pita

Mazel Tov to Jawadat Ibrahim of the Arab-Israeli village of Abu Gosh. He has created the world’s largest dish of hummus. Quite an impressive feat.

The “Hummus Wars” have been publically played for the last couple of years in the Middle East, with Lebanon and Israel as the nations who have vied for the titles of the world’s best and largest hummus dishes. Actually Lebanon and Israel debate over who may actually claim ownership of the delicious chick-pea concoction.

Abu Gosh’s hummus dish weighed in at over four tons. It included 2.5 tons of chickpeas, 1.5 of sesame paste, hundreds of freshly squeezed lemons and a vat of crushed garlic. There was so much dip, that the only “bowl” able to hold it was a satellite dish, six meters in diameter, provided by a local telecommunications company.

The Abu Gosh restaurant shattered Lebanon’s previous record, set by chefs in Beirut who last year cooked over two tons of hummus. Jawadat Ibrahim was awarded the Guinness world record for his efforts by Guinness official Jack Brookbank who was there to witness the whole thing.
Ibrahim had this to say:

“Today we competed with them and beat them…People actually call me from Lebanon on a regular basis just to say that their hummus is better…If you live in the Middle East, before you’ve learnt to talk, you’ve learnt to love hummus — so I just want the world to know that mine is the best.”

The former benchmark for the biggest bowl of hummus set by a group of 300 Lebanese chefs was intended to award Lebanon seeking approval from the European Union to register hummus as a national dish.

“What we have been trying to do is just what the Greeks have done with feta cheese,”

said Fadi Abboud, president of The Association of Lebanese Industrialists.
Abboud insists that Israeli companies are depriving Lebanese companies of huge potential earnings by exporting hummus.
Israeli hummus blogger, Shooky Galili refuted this:

“Trying to make a copyright claim over hummus is like claiming for the rights to bread or wine…Hummus is a centuries old Arab dish — nobody owns it, it belongs to the region…If you enter any good hummus restaurant in this region, you will see Jews and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis sitting at the same table, eating the same food. I think in the end this rivalry will show that we in the Middle East have far more in common than the things that divide us.”

Ibrahim, the Guinness world record winner summed up the event as such:

“The reason I’m doing this is to draw attention to the fact that I make the best hummus in Abu Gosh, and Abu Gosh has the best hummus in the world! Of course, the Lebanese will tell you something different — but competition is healthy, there is no need to bring politics into this…My dream is that after this, we can set an even bigger world record by teaming up with the Lebanese. How about 10 tons?”

HEZBOLLAH COUNTDOWN 2010: SWINGING A BIG AX IN THE LEBANON FOREST

It is widely held, almost certain that Hezbollah has thousands of rockets and missiles hidden in bunkers and basements throughout Shiite areas of Lebanon.

NasrallaThe tiny country’s new government is a flimsy coalition of Western-backed countries and of course Hezbollah, which retains virtual veto power over the government. On Wednesday the new government endorsed the terrorist organization’s rights to keep their arms, which comes in spite of a United Nations resolution demanding that “The Army of God” disarm. The resolution is the same one which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

The decision by the Lebanese government to let Hezbollah keep its arms was announced while the Lebanese army opened fire at four Israel Air Force warplanes, which were flying above the southern part of Lebanon. The jets were forced to leave the country’s airspace and return to Israel.

Hezbollah who is listed by the United States as an international terrorist organization receives regular aid from Iran and Syria, and Washington says that Islamic militants with affiliation to Al Qaeda have taken advantage of Lebanon’s unstable government and have infiltrated the country.

Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah boasts that since 2006, the group has replenished their weapons stock and now has more than 30,000 rockets which can strike virtually anywhere in Israel.

Hezbollah members hold two seats out of thirty in the Lebanese cabinet and 11 of the 128 seats in parliament. Their strongest national support comes from Lebanon’s Shiite population. All 30 cabinet ministers voted last Wednesday to approve the statement giving Hezbollah the right to keeps its weapons.

There are mixed reactions from the almost divided country and obviously much concern here in Israel – where plans are underway to deploy a system to shoot down rockets from Lebanon.

Will Ron Arad’s Wife Finally be Free?

In 1986, his plane went down over Lebanon due to what is believed to have been a mechanical failure. After parachuting to the ground, Ron Arad was kidnapped by a Lebanese terrorist named Mustafa Dirani. In 1994, Dirani was captured by Israeli commandos at his home, who kidnapped him and took him to Israel, where they interrogated him concerning the whereabouts of the man he kidnapped.

Ron AradThey found that Dirani had sold him to Iran for $300,000 and from then on had no idea where he was.

It’s being reported by Ynet now that after Dirani’s kidnapping, Iran transferred Arad back to Lebanon fearing Dirani would reveal that the Iranians were involved. After Arad was returned to Lebanon, he apparently died of an illness sometime in the mid 90’s. Such is word heard from an Iranian official passed on to Israel recently.

No word of Arad has been heard in years, save a letter that was delivered to his wife in 2004 written in the late 80’s. Repeated attempts to get information on him have failed. The last serious attempt was made in 2004 when Israel traded Dirani and another Lebanese commander in exchange for Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli former soldier caught by Hezbollah in the middle of a drug deal.

Arad’s family responded to the report by saying that they still consider him to be alive. “Even if the article is accurate and Ron is not alive, we are committed to bringing him home,” Eliad Shraga, the family lawyer, said.

Three Years Later – Dan Haloutz and Lebanon II

Sunday July 12, marked the third anniversary of the beginning of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. For a lot of people, especially those who lost loved ones in the 34 day conflict in which 121 Israeli soldiers and 44 civilians lost their lives, the day was marked by reflections and sad recollections of the event, which had begun following the Hezbollah led attack on an Israeli army patrol along Israel’s northern border in which several soldiers were killed and two were taken captive. The remains of the two taken captive, Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser were later returned in two black coffins, more than two years later.

Dan HaloutzOn this day, one particular individual, former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, still appears to stand by the decisions he made during the war, and does not regret his actions during the conflict – actions that have been criticized by many since then.

“The government’s decision to take action (against the Hezbollah) was correct and justified” Halutz said, when interviewed by media reporters. “Sometimes these decisions must be made, even if they are not popular”, he continued. He did finish the interview by saying that the decisions were made by “a leader who was willing to accept responsibility for the outcome of those decisions – that is what leadership is all about”.

Since then, Halutz has left active duty and entered private life as a salesman of high line BMW automobiles for Kamor Motors, Israel’s main importer of the German higher priced auto line. In fact, Halutz appears to have done so well in his new profession that he was recently appointed CEO of Kamor Motors, and is reported to have received around 5% of the company’s stock, worth an estimated $1.99 million. Not bad for only being about two and a half years in the car business. And it doesn’t stop there, as he was also appointed as Chairman of the Board of Starling Advanced Communications; a start-up company jointly owned by Raphael, Elbit and Nochi Dankner’s IDB group, where he earns an estimated $7,500 a month.

Halutz even went so far as to say that if he were in the same position as he was in on July 12, 2006, he would make the same recommendations as he did then to the Defense Minister (you know who he was – that guy who was photographed trying to look through a pair of binoculars on which the lens caps were still on).

On top of all this, let’s not forget Halutz’s military pension, which considering his rank and length of military service must be an amount that a lot of corporate executives would like to be living on.

The war not only caused a considerable amount of damage in Israel, as well as incapacitating and uprooting at least a million Israelis. It also did considerable damage to Lebanon’s infrastructure as well as killing more than 1,000 civilians.

A number of Israeli officers who served under Halutz were not so upbeat in their opinions concerning the conflict, including outgoing Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Moshe Kaplansky; who noted a number of failures related to the war, particularly the decision to call up the reserves only in the last days of the conflict. He also said that IDF budget cuts and concentrating against fighting terrorism led to a state of being unprepared when the war broke out.

Lebanese Fuck Up?

Reports in the Lebanese press on agents from the same Hamulot (Arab gangs), the determination of Lebanese Shabak and modern technological equipment (supplied surprisingly by the USA) according to reports, this is how an Israeli spy ring in Lebanon was caught.

In Lebanon they call it the Mossad Network, and local press have brought in more and more information over the last weeks on captures and arrests of Israeli spy network representatives.

The number of arrests is not clear: 34 according to one source, 65 according to another and no less than 80 according to a third. According to the Lebanese press, agents have marked the homes of Hezbollah people, have gathered information and have drafted additional agents with the “friend brings a friend” method.

A fuck up perhaps?

Lebanon’s Pro-Western Coalition Wins Parliamentary Elections

Lebanon’s pro-western political parties appear to have maintained their holding on to power following that country’s parliamentary elections on Sunday. In what turned out to be a closely contested race between the pro-westerners, head by Saad Hariri‘s Future Movement party and that headed by Hezbollah and it’s allies, Hariri’s coalition received 68 seats in parliament, while the Hezbollah let coalition won 58. While there was reason for celebration by prime minister Fuad Siniora, The Hezbollah faction and their allies (including former army chief Michel Aoun) still have enough seats in parliament to maintain their veto power, which they have often used affectively.

Lebanon Elections 2009Hariri, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, appeared satisfied with his side’s performance although it was a bit less than hoped for. More then 52% of eligible Lebanese exercised their voting rights, in a remarkably calm election that was supervised by a number of international observers, including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

Israeli officials also appeared pleased with the outcome, although there was no doubt that the Hizbullah led faction still has great influence in what goes on in Lebanon, from both a political and military angle. Political strategists who followed the election and pre-election campaign, say that high Christian voter turn-out was a decisive factor this time. Lebanese politics have been divided up among sectarian lines since the country’s independence, and the Lebanese parliament’s 128 seats are evenly composed of Christian and Muslims, even though Muslims now outnumber Christians by 65% to 35%. Many Sunni Muslims also voted in favor of the pro-western side, especially due to Hezbollah’s “street party” a year ago in which they literally controlled the streets of Beirut for a while, resulting in their winning the veto rights in parliament.

Christians were also warned by party leaders that the Hezbollah, led by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, would lead their country towards more control by the Hezbollah, who are Shiite Muslims and virtual proxies of Iran.

The U.S. Government has also warned beforehand that their country would give less aid to Lebanon (now at $ 1 billion a year) if the Hizbullah side won.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, a Maronite Christian, expressed the hope that a national unity government could now be formed. If this should happen, however, who would gain the most from it – the Hariri led side, or the Shiekh’s?

Lieberman says to arrest Sheikh Nasrallah

Avigdor Lieberman
The findings may only be symbolical, but the findings by a United Nations backed tribunal that the Hezbollah is mostly likely responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, and 23 others. The findings may be poetic justice, especially after Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he believes that Israeli intelligence agents were actually responsible for Hariri’s death, which occurred in 2005 when Hariri’s motorcade was passing through central Beirut.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman hopes to make the best of the situation by calling on the International Court of Justice to issue an arrest warrant against the Sheikh, even though his apprehension is very unlikely. Israel has been accused of committing this terror act, along with the more recent assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyah, whose SUV jeep was blown up in a Damascus suburb in August, 2008.

The U.N. tribunal findings, published first in the German newspaper Der Speigel, had quoted “un-named sources” as saying that their investigation has linked Nasrallah and his organization to the crime by using special technology to sort out information from lists of cell phone numbers being used at the time of the Beirut attack. Arab newspapers, including the Kuwait newspaper Al Anbaa, quoted Hezbollah sources as saying the finds are “a fabrication to exert influence on the upcoming national elections in Lebanon” in which Hezbollah is expected to win even more seats in parliament, and then be able to exert its influence in Lebanese national affairs even more.

Lieberman went on to say that the report of the tribunal’s findings should “send a warning signal to the international community”. What kind of “warning signal” Lieberman expects to send, will depend naturally on who is interested in dealing with an organization said to be a direct political and military proxy of Iran, and whose military fighters are said to be virtually under the guidance and control of Teheran.
Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanese affairs has reached the point where the organization has almost unlimited power there, and is able to do pretty much as they please. The Lebanese government is too weak to crush them, especially the Lebanese army, in which many of its officers and men are actually members of Hezbollah. It’s no wonder why Der Speigel notes that the report was not revealed to the Lebanese public, as it wouldn’t make much difference anyway, as life goes on there as usual.

The Gaza War Hill Of Shame and Reporting in Cast Lead

A recent letter to the editors of the Jerusalem Post was sent in by the Dutch RTL media journalist Connie Mus, regarding the baring of international correspondents from Gaza during the recent war there.

Gaza War Hill of Shame (AP)

Gaza War Hill of Shame (AP)

The journalist, who like others from international news services, as well as Israeli journalists, was not allowed into the Gaza Strip to directly report on the recently suspended IDF Operation Cast Lead which, until halted by a very flimsy cease fire agreement, resulted in the deaths of 14 Israelis and more than 1,400 Palestinians. Mus, who is a foreign correspondent for the Netherlands based RTL News Service, complained that she and her fellow journalists were prevented from directly reporting on and filming the fighting in Gaza during the 22 day operation, and were forced to do so from a hill located outside the Gaza border which they named the “Hill of Shame”.

While Ms. Mus may have thought she had some valid points in regards to her comments about the Israeli government barring foreign correspondents from entering Gaza during the fighting there, judging from what occurred during the 2006 war in Lebanon, having a slew of international journalists stationed in Beirut and elsewhere not only increased the negative propaganda war against Israel but also put the lives of these people in mortal danger.

Mind you, field correspondents have often been exposed to harm’s way during warfare, and many have paid the ultimate price for doing so. But due to the intensity of the bombing and fighting which did occur in many parts of Gaza, several of these journalists, and the camera and other logistical personnel which usually accompany them, might have been killed or injured during the three week operation.

It might be noted that during the 2006 war in Lebanon, in which over 1,190 Lebanese (mostly civilians) and 165 Israelis (44 civilians) were killed, a news photographer and TV technician were killed and at least 12 journalists suffered various injuries and wounds. According to statistics noted by the international organization Journalists Without Borders, 81 journalists and auxiliary personnel lost their lives in the line of duty in 2006 alone.

That none of the journalists covering Operation Cast Lead suffered even minor injuries can be attributed to the ban which was imposed on them by both the government and the IDF. After the cease fire was declared, these journalists have not wasted any time going in to Gaza to get the “full story” as was indicated in the “BBC Ad” incident when the BBC refused to broadcast a controversial fund raising advertisement that has been judged to be show partiality towards Hamas. In light of this, maybe there’s logic to these restrictions after all.

Nasrallah’s Tip Off & The Bitter Taste of Betrayal

So this morning we got a little love from our cousins in the North.. A Palestinian Group was able to get up close and personal and shoot a few older model rockets over the border.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klKhYYK3Gf0[/youtube]

Although no one is actually taking responsibility for the shooting of these 4 rockets into Nahariya and the Western Galilee there are the usual suspects. There was no real surprise here and there was an expectation both in the army and civilian authorities that an attack will be coming especially after the speech by Nasrallah.

The Army Command-Directorate of Orientation issued a statement on Thursday saying that “an unknown party launched a number of rockets toward the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Israel retaliated and launched artillery shells on the southern region of Naqoura.”

The Army statement added that no casualties resulted from the Israeli bombing, stressing Army units were cooperating with the UNIFIL and took adequate measures to protect the residents and control the situation. (Al Manar TV)

But we all know who runs the show in Lebanon and if you were listening carefully last night to the nightly rant of the bearded, semi hysterical Hezbollah leader I swear you could hear a hidden tip off…

On Wednesday, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, warned that “all possibilities” were open against Israel as he gave a speech condemning Israel’s offensive in Gaza and voicing support for Hamas….

The comments marked the first time he has spoken so openly on the possibility of a renewed conflict with Israel since the war in Gaza began on December 27.

Nasrallah warned that the 2006 conflict would be “but a walk in the park” compared to what awaits Israel if it launches a new offensive on Lebanon.

“We have to act as though all possibilities are real and open [against Israel] and we must always be ready for any eventuality.

“We are ready to sacrifice our souls, our brothers and sisters, our children, our loved ones for what we believe in.” (Al Jazeera)

So, if one was to listen to the message and put that together with the attack this morning, one could make the claim that we were duly warned. But why would he do that? Hezbollah is not looking for another fight (at least not right now) and yet they had to let the “rogue faction” blow off some steam. Now I know they’re not Jewish but that sounds like … guilt. They feel a little guilty.

I guess sending an entire nation to a state of chaos and death can cause a little guilt even in Nasrallah.

Let’s face it, the Iranians and Nasrallah pushed and egged on Hamas, they made them believe that when the time came they would be there and instead hung them out to dry. The way its being described here is that Nasrallah would fight Israel until the last drop of Gazan blood.

That’s what I call the bitter taste of betrayal. I hope that when this war is over the Palestinian people keep in mind what their “friends” were doing to help them… With friends like that who needs enemies..

Hurray! Peace with Syria – Political Commentary by Ashley

Guest Commentary

Wait a second – Weren’t we at war with them? What does it mean to announce peace talks with a regime that we vastly outgun in military matters and totally humiliate on an economic level (Israel’s per capita GDP is $30,000 and climbing; Syria’s is just scraping $4,000)?

Israel recently entered Syrian airspace after disabling Syria’s “latest and most advanced” Russian-made air defense systems and then destroyed what’s thought to have been a nuclear weapons facility. Even during the Lebanon War — that mismanaged, mangled, and relatively pathetic display of Israel’s military capabilities — Israeli warplanes were able to buzz “President” Assad’s palace without so much as being shot at.

So, clearly, Syria is a major threat to Israel and we should scramble to give up the ultra-strategic Golan Heights (where Syria attacked Israel from when it actually was a threat) in order to quell the potential “shit-storm” that Syria might like to serve us.

What’s really going on here? No sane nation in today’s geopolitical world, and none in the history of nations, would ever sit down to give away land — strategic land — to a bordering country that not only has limited power but also constantly calls for the destruction of the first, more powerful country.

All I can say is: Welcome to Israeli domestic politics.

We’ve seen this before, many times. The parallels are actually frightening. Let’s rewind back to the winter of 2000, when Ehud Barak led Israel through a number of failed, disastrous policies. In February of 2000, Barak, according to The Economist, was accused by the state comptroller of corruption and “shenanigans over election financing.” Barak, as skillful and slippery as any Israeli politician, managed to sway the public focus away from him by doing something “bold”: he removed Israeli troops from their strategic position in southern Lebanon where they had been keeping Hezbollah (and their likes) at bay.

After the troop withdrawal, Hezbollah had the opportunity to casually saunter into southern Lebanon. In effect, Barak’s wily plan worked — he was praised by the left-wing media for his dovish actions and his campaign imbroglio was largely forgotten. He also, by the way, wiped out more than a decade of hard-won gains in Lebanon that kept terrorists out of firing range of Israel’s population centers. Six years later, we got a terror war from the south of Lebanon in which Israeli soldiers and civilians were murdered.

Ariel Sharon provides another instructive example. Just after he became prime minister, Sharon began to deny accusations of campaign finance violations faster than he could gobble down Shwarmas. Boomerang, a book written by left-wing Israeli journalists and based on extensive interviews as well as on the examination of declassified documents and use of archival material, had made the case that Sharon used the withdrawal from Gaza to distract the Israeli public from his misdoings.

It seemed to work — except for the small annoyance that some call “daily terror attacks”, in the form of Qassam and Katyusha rockets fired from the recently withdrawn-from Gaza Strip. (There have been roughly 8,000 rocket strikes on Israeli ground from Gaza to date since the withdrawal.)

Of course, not a problem for Sharon — then and now — who sleeps with a clear conscience.

Olmert, who, some scientists speculate, may actually be amphibious, has set off on the same mission. A quick browse of today’s news headlines and you can see all the pieces coming together: Olmert announces his new peace plan with our seriously threatening enemy, Syria. At the same time, he wrangles with the police and the justice department officials, in an attempt to delay the testimony of the American financier, Morris Talansky, which could put him behind bars. Delay it just long enough for the peace-crazed public to forget… Forget what, again…?

Olmert may have gone too far this time. But then again, we in Israel like to draw lines in the sand, never remembering that the desert’s political winds blow hard.

Lebanon: Who’s in Charge There?

A lebanese shiite gunmanRecent fighting in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon has made many wonder who is really in charge there. The fighting began several days ago following a clamp down by the Sunni Muslim dominated government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora – himself a Sunni Muslim – on a media network run by none other than Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah organization. PM Siniora must have pushed the Shiite Sheikh and his organization a bit too far, as Nasrallah went on the air declaring in a fiery speech that Siniora and his “so-called” government’s actions were nothing less than an act of war against the Hezbollah.

Nasrallah’s tirade was almost immediately followed by Shiite gunmen setting up positions in various sections of the Capital, which forced Siniora to order the Lebanese army to send out troops with tanks and armored personnel carriers, as to try and show Nasrallah and his followers that the government meant business. All that can be said about these events is that the fighting which took place over the past few days in both Beirut and Tripoli indicates the Hezbollah appears to have the upper hand in this new conflict that many fear could turn into another civil war, like the one that almost destroyed the country back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The situation went from bad to worse with large areas of Beirut again becoming a war zone, and people being afraid to leave their homes, or even to purchase basic necessities.
Although the situation has begun to improve a bit since the fighting broke out (which coincidentally was about the same time that Israel was celebrating it’s 60th Independence Day), the relative calm only occurs because Nasrallah and the Hezbollah backed off a bit, for their own personal reasons. Most likely, the Hezbollah isn’t inclined to assume control of the entire country, and so its people are content to consolidate their hold on areas like West Beirut, along with their known strongholds in southern Lebanon.

Obviously, the Israeli government and military are keeping a wary eye on the developments in the north, as was noted by Defense Minister Ehud Barak during a visit to a kibbutz in southern Israel after a Hamas attack that took place there. Barak said that the IDF is “keeping one eye open in the south and another eye open in the north in regards to what is happening in Lebanon”.

That may be indeed a good idea, as Israel’s worst nightmare would be a Hezbollah-governed Lebanon on its northern border. The 2006 war is still on many people’s mind in Israel, especially those living in the north. The actions of Nasrallah’s organization during the past few days clearly indicate that Fouad Siniora and his government are not in charge of their country’s affairs — in fact, far from it. So, who’s really in charge in the “country of the cedars”? You, the reader, can draw your own conclusions.

Reflections on Israeli POW’s

Israeli POWs
Last Friday, May 2nd, a very interesting article appeared in the Weekend supplement of the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s oldest English language newspaper. The article, entitled Stigma of Surrender, and written by correspondent Larry Derfner, dealt with Israelis who had been taken prisoner in various wars, especially the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the first Lebanese War of 1982. Former Israeli POW’s who had been taken prisoner and later released, recounted their experiences in the hands of the enemy, and what happened to them after being finally released. Many of them said that the treatment they received by IDF authorities who “interrogated” them afterwards was (from a psychological basis) almost as bad as when they were prisoners of war, or of terrorists.

With Israeli solders such as Gilad Schalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser still not back home after nearly two years, this year’s Solder’s Remembrance Day and Independence Day celebrations will take on a special meaning for members of their families, as well as for many other Israelis.

Israel will be celebrating its 60th anniversary as an independent state this week; and the matter of captured and missing soldiers is an issue even more important, especially in light of recent offers to affect a prisoner exchange with the Hamas organization for captured soldier Gilad Schalit.

Many people in Israel feel that trading this young soldier’s life (assuming he’s still alive) for several hundred Hamas and other terrorists who will only go back to killing Jews, is not going by the old Rabbinical context of “he who saves one life has saved the entire world”. This time it’s entirely different.

I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of either Mr. and Mrs. Schalit or the Prime Minister in regards to what to do in this situation. Israeli prisoners have mainly been repatriated in wartime – and that most were from the Egyptians who were only slightly more humane than their Syrian allies.

Regarding soldiers being captured or taken prisoner by terrorist groups, it’s nearly always been a death sentence – except for some like Elkanah Tannenbaum, an Israeli reserve officer who was captured while in Lebanon on a “business trip” and who may have had “connections” which enabled him to stay alive.

Some people feel that Israeli solders should be issued a cyanide pill, like Mossad people are, and if they have the opportunity, to simply swallow it. At least it prevents the suffering, including by such as Ron Arad, who may actually have died long ago (it was supposedly verified by Russian and other foreign diplomats who had received inside information).

That’s the sad reality of being captured as an Israeli soldier. So much for the “Pinchas Shevi” (POW ID Card) issued every IDF recruit. Many say that it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on!

Or is it?

I’m quite sure that if one talks to parents and relatives of the three young men mentioned here, they will definitely agree that Israeli soldiers should not only come back alive but should be given the honor that they truly deserve. In fact, I’m sure these relatives feel that Israeli leaders are not doing enough to ensure their loved ones’ release.

As Israelis celebrate 60 years of independence, they should also take time to reflect on these brave young men who so much deserve to come home – with honor – to their loving and waiting families.

On The Road This Pesach 2008

AkkoThe week long Passover holiday is an excellent opportunity to do some off the track touring in many parts of Israel. The Carmel mountain region is an area where many unusual places can be visited in the time space of only a few hours.

Taking advantage of excellent spring weather, my wife and I, along with another couple, began our tour by driving though the pastoral region on the eastern side of the Carmel range, which contains a number of forests, including a large one called Yaarot Menashe. Continuing north, we drove to a region containing several Druze villages and arrived at the quaint village of Julis, located east of Akko (Acre).

Julis is known as the long time place of residence of the Israeli Druze community’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Amin Tarif, whose tomb is located there. Shiek Tarif, who lived to the ripe old age of 95, was well known among Israeli political leaders, many of whom attended his funeral in 1993.

Asking where the tomb was located, a young Druze man took us there, even though it was out of his way. Arriving at the tomb, which one must normally coordinate permission to visit in advance, we were amazed that one can just walk in to the shrine, which is composed of two rooms, one containing the Sheik’s grave, and the other a shrine containing scores of photos of the Sheik with various Israeli notables, including several prime ministers. There were also a number of awards given to the Sheik by the Israeli Defense Forces, where Druze soldiers have served with honor since the creation of the state. The contribution that this minority population of 120,000 has made to Israel is evident; especially considering how the Druze community has been treated of successive Israeli governments over the years.

We also visited a very special private garden, known as Gan Yunis which turned out to be a real pleasure to see. The garden is owned and managed by one family who allow visitors to wander through it if arranged in advance. The garden contains several pools of water with small waterfalls flowing into them. There is also an abundance of native trees, plants and flowers as well as several varieties of birds in large aviaries. Part of the garden (more like a park) contains a small section of railroad track which is said to part of the original Turkish rail line that ran from Damascus and Lebanon through Palestine to Egypt. The owner of the garden is planning to open a restaurant there; and already many Druze weddings are held in this beautiful retreat.

After our visit to Julis, we drove to Akko to visit the old city, which was alive with visitors, from a number of countries, as well as locals who were shopping in the city’s “Kasbah” market. Akko is one of Israel’s oldest cities, whose origins go back more than 4,000 years. Our first site visited was a large Ottoman “Khan” hostel which originally hosted pilgrims and other travelers who arrived at Akko en rout to other locations in the Holy Land. In the center of the Kahn’s large court yard is the 400 year old Ahmad Basha El Jazzar Mosque which is open for prayer to local and visiting Muslims.

We next toured several of Old City’s many winding streets and arrived at one of the city’s largest churches the St. George Greek Orthodox Church, which was closed, even though it was Orthodox Palm Sunday. Not far from St. George’s Church is the only synagogue in Akko’s Old City, the Ramhal Synagogue. It was also closed when we arrived, but prayer hours are noted on a placard at it’s entrance. When we asked a middle-aged Arab women, who watches over the place, who actually prays there, she said in Hebrew “anashim me hutz le-Aretz (people from abroad)”.

The city’s Kasbah market is reminiscent of the Suk in Jerusalem’s Old City, although a bit smaller. Many local Arabs still shop there though, preferring its dark and crowded passageways to modern shopping malls located in the newer, Jewish section of Akko. Many Arabs still live in the Old City, and their presence there adds an oriental flavor to the city.

The city’s Crusader past is still evident, and two of the most popular Crusader sites there are the subterranean Knights of Hospitallers halls have been partially restored. Following the defeat of the Crusader forces at Hittin (near Tiberas) by Salah a’Din in July, 1187, Akko became the last major Crusader stronghold in the Holy Land, until finally being evicted 150 years later. In addition the Knight’s Halls, we also saw the subterranean tunnel built by the Templars during the 12th Century. The tunnel begins under what was once the Templar’s fortress, which was destroyed by the Ottomans for stones to be used in the city walls, and runs to the sea. It was believed to have been used as an escape route by the Templars in the event of being overrun by Moslem invaders. The tunnel is open for visitors for the price of 7 Shekels and special pumps prevent sea water from flooding the passageway, which in places is so low that we had to crouch to pass through. The Templar fortress is said to have been the strongest in Akko and was the last to fall to the “Saracens”. The Old City still has much of its original fortress walls, which held off the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte for several months, and ended his dreams of “conquering the world” in the early 1800’s. Visitors can walk on top some of these walls, parts of which are up to 3 meters thick. The Port of Akko still contains a number of fishing boats whose owners try to eke our a living by fishing despite a drastic decline in marine life due to increasing pollution form nearby Haifa and the ecologically dead Kishon River.

We also visited the Kahn al-Omadan which though vacant still retains its impressive columns and gives visitors an idea of the commercial importance of the city during the Ottoman Period. Although we did not visit the large (former) Turkish bathhouse of Haman al Basha, the guard at the entrance explained the bathhouse’s importance as a meeting place for Akko residents who would spend many hours in the spa’s warm waters as well as undergoing relaxing, genuine Turkish massages.

Dining out in the Old City is a bit of a problem during Pesach, unless one is acceptable to being served both matzos and pitas at the same time.

Akko and surrounding areas, including sights of Haifa are definitely worth visiting during week long festivals like Pesach and Sukkot.

Good News – The world hates Iran more than Israel!

Wow, I’m very much relieved! Just when I thought that the country I have chosen to live in for the past 32 years was top on the list of countries that most of the world despises, it’s suddenly been revealed that there is another county out there that is even more unpopular. And that one (you’ve probably guessed it) is none other than the Islamic Republic of Iran.

JeremiahHow this all came about is the result of a recent poll conducted by the BBC, that U.K. based media network that has always been a bit unkind towards the Jewish State. This poll, conducted last week, and involving listeners form all over the globe found that of all the respondents, 54% said that Iran is the country most feared and which has the most unpopular regime. After Iran, Israel came in a close second with an unpopularity rating of 52%. Pakistan came in third at around 51%, larger due to recent events there which included the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the activities of President Pervez Musharraf, whose present popularity rating in his own country may be even lower than that of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The BBC went even deeper into “percentages” and broke down various ratings of popularity and unpopularity for countries that have often been considered as part of an “axis of evil” due to their internal and external policies. Iran was actually perceived more favorably by countries like Egypt (62% positive towards Iran) whose citizens dislike of their Israeli neighbor grew to 94% of those polled, which is up from 85% in a previous poll. Other countries in the same region also increased their dislike of Israel, including Lebanon, whose dislike of Israel increased to 87% of those polled, up form 78%. For Lebanese, this may be understandable due to how their country was pounded by the Israeli Air Force in the 2006 war. Most likely, however, the BBC pollsters failed to asked the Lebanese concerning the Hezbollah’s (who are based in Lebanon) launching of more than 4,000 Katyusha and other missiles at Israel’s population centers, which in itself caused a great deal of personal property to Israelis.

Both European and Asian respondents, including those living in countries like Japan also expressed a higher percentage of disapproval to Israel policies towards the Palestinians and others in the region. And even Americans polled registered increases in negative feelings, which were up from a former 33% to 39%. 43% of polled Americans did express positive feelings towards Israel, however. The U.S.A. in comparison came in fifth in this “most unloved” poll, behind North Korea, with a 47% unfavorable rating; while Germany and Japan received the highest favorable ratings. For those two countries anyway, that’s a 180 degree turnabout from how they were regarded during WWII.

Many people both within Israel and abroad, admit that the Israeli government could do a lot better PR job to present their country’s position in respect to how most of the world views this country. After all, people usually believe what they want to believe, whether it is true or not.

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