a different side of Israel

Tag: News (page 4 of 17)

Conserving Water National Priority

The recent attention given by the news media to our water problems in general, and to the warning by Israel’s national water authorities about the seriousness of the present situation, clearly points out and emergency situation in which the country’s three major water sources are fast approaching the point of being too low to be safe for public use. This crises recalls a poster I saw in awhile back that read: “ The Next War in the Middle East Will be Over Water”. Although the poster really had nothing to do with this subject (it was advertising surfing clothing and accessories), the reality of our water problems is one for everyone’s concern.

With all publicity dealing with the ever decreasing water levels, desalinization plants and the like, one of the real problems stems from the very wasteful water usage of both agriculture and industry in Israel, and especially among the general public. I am amazed at how many times I have seen water irrigation and sprinkler systems in full operation either during or after a major rain storm. The only “logic” from this phenomena is that the kibbutzim and moshavim have to use their water “allocations” from Mekorot within a certain time-frame – or lose them. Or, in the case of parks, apartment buildings, etc., the water system is operated by a time sequence, and programmed in advance to dispense the water without any connection to what is happening via Mother Nature.

The growing of crops, such as cotton, consume large quantities of water (even if it is non-potable), and at subsidized prices, is a luxury that will have to be altered drastically or even eliminated. On the subject of growing cotton, I think this country can continue progressing very nicely without one single dunam of cotton being grown! We can purchase all the cotton we need from other countries (incl. the USA and even Egypt).

Another water using phenomena that has increased dramatically in recent years are both private swimming pools and automatic car washes. While both use recycled water (swimming pools filter the same water over and over), they still use water that can be allocated to other uses. When I came to Israel over 25 years ago, I could count the number of car washes in Tel-Aviv on the fingers of one hand. Now, it’s like having to use a computer data-bank to keep track of them.

Finally, the main problem hits closer to home, i.e., all of us and how we use water. When the water conserving publicity started drawing attention, I decided to begin my own personal water conservation “project”, and during the past several months, I calculate that I have personally conserved at least 6 –8 liters of water per day by engaging in the following practices:

1. Heating and using water that would have been thrown away ( from mineral water bottles, etc.,) for kitchen uses, shaving, etc.

2. By not flushing the toilet each time (depending on the reason for usage).

3. By careful use of water during teeth brushing, shaving, washing before bed or in the morning (not shower usage).

4. By never taking a bath (in a tub), and by “soaping down” in the shower before turning the water back on.

5. By forgoing at least one shower per week – it’s not the end of the world to not shower once a day (some people do this twice a day!).

6. By going back to the practice of using buckets to wash that Mazda that the
software company has given you as a job perk.

Now, I realize most, if not all, of the above practices seem a bit Draconian, but, the day may come when we will all think of the “good old days” when the stuff coming out of our taps could actually be drunk without using some kind of expensive filtration device – if anything comes out at all!

While awaiting our government to institute measures to solve our water problem in the “long run”, we can certainly help our “short run” situation by using some or all of the measures as noted above.

After all, if I, one person, can save an average of 165 liters of water per month, think of how much 1,000,10,000, or even 100,000 people will save. And, our personal life-styles will only be slightly altered.

We can either do this on a voluntary basis now or a forced basis later on. The choice is ours.

She’s Jewish You Know…

Heres an age-old, yet continuous phenomenon that continues to plague Jews in Israel and throughout the world. I just listened to the news about two Hollywood celebrities who are now doing a film project together. Scarlett Johanssen and Natalie Portman, two beautiful women and divas on the stage and screen. Portman, born in Jerusalem and raised in Long Island, New York grew up with a strong Jewish identification. A graduate of the Jewish “Day School” system (not sure which one, yet this is what I heard from more than one reliable source), Portman hit stardom at the age of 13 when she landed the leading role in the Broadway adaption of “Anne Frank, A Diary of a Young Girl”. From then on, she blossomed into a Queen of Stage and Screen.

Golden Globe nominee and Native New Yorker Scarlett Johannsen began her career in the Off-Broadway production of “Sophistry” with Ethan Hawke. A daughter of a Danish father and Jewish mother, Johanssen identifies as being a Jew and wears the title of “Jewess” proudly. During the many years of assimilation and intermarriage, many of her counterparts who were the product of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, tend to lose the identification and consider their Jewish identity as irrelevant. Yet, it is evident that many still consider themselves Jews.

Now, back to the phenomenon. For many decades, Jews around the world have been intrigued and fascinated by other Jews who have achieved celebrity status. Though many other ethnic groups may share this nostalgic feeling, it seems to me that Jews have the monopoly here. Adam Sandler’s famous Hanukkah songs with a list of tens of Jewish celebrities are proof of the pudding (or should I say “borscht”). People roared with laughter the first time his song was played on the radio and since its during and before Hanukkah, it always coincides with Christmas (which happens to be the birthday of another Jewish man, yet I won’t go there).

So there you have it. Is it pride? Is it intrigue or is it a little bit of both? Fact is, the intrigue and nostalgia behind the statement, “She’s Jewish, y’know”… seems to be more unique in Jewish circles than in others.

Killed Over Parking Spot

Killed Over Parking Spot An indication of an increase in violence in Israel was clearly demonstrated Tuesday when a Holon man, Yosef Bavli, parked his van in a space that was claimed by a neighbor of his, Yaron Kabaz. Kabaz, who didn’t even own a car, was so perturbed by this that he let the air out of Bavli tires. When Bavli came back later with a friend to pick up the car, an intense argument broke out, which ended with Bavli being stabbed to death by the parking space “owner”.

As police officers led him away the accused murderer yelled,

“You want to see a killer? Here you go. It was self defense. He blocked my driveway, what did you want me to do? …. One of them stabbed me in the face with his keys. I stabbed him back like a mother fucker…”

Members of Bavli’s family said afterwards that Kabaz has a long record of being abusive, and that Bavli was a good boy who never hurt anyone. “People kill each other nowadays over the smallest things, even over a dog” a neighbor said.

The alleged murderer was taken back later to the scene of the crime where he willingly re-enacted the incident, using a plastic knife and making kicking motions with his right foot. He seemed very obstinate in his instance that he was only protecting what he considered to be his personal property. The police definitely have other ideas regarding this incident, which they say is one of many that have occurred in recent years all over the country. They denied, however that this kind of incident correlates with any increase in violence. A police department spokesman, Avi Tzbari, said that murders of any type are bad, but this kind was “especially senseless.”

Kabaz, who is alleged of doing the stabbing, has been remanded into police custody pending investigations to determine if he is mentally stable.

Violence among the country’s population has been in the news more than the police would like to admit, however. Whether it be domestic violence, violence among youth, or violence against elderly people, it appears that more and more occurrences are being shown on TV.

Violence associated with increased use of drugs and alcohol has also been evident and this appears to be a phenomenon that is receiving more attention. In the case of what is now being referred as “the parking space murder” Tzbari insists that this is “an isolated incident” and that it should be considered as such. “People get into arguments over parking spaces all the time, but not to this extreme”.

Isolated or not, one man is dead and another is in custody over a matter that should not have been allowed to get out of hand.

Wentworth Miller in Israel

My wife asked me to write this….

Wentworth Miller in IsraelWentworth Miller is here in Israel and between the attacks in the south, Hezbollah gargling in the North and the occasional stabbing over a parking spot, this politically correct, polite Englishman is making the news. He is visiting here for the third time and is going through the traditional route (Masada, Dead Sea, Galilee and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem). He is very patient with the reporters and answers all questions big and small. He was born in the UK and went to school in the US (Princeton) and he fascinated reporters with his genetic background, Russian, Dutch, French, Syrian and Egyptian from his mother’s side and African American, Jamaican, English, German and Jewish (yep..) on his father’s side. The final result according to our local fans (and my wife) is a very pleasant to look at guy.

Welcome to Israel !

German Youth Suffering Holocaust Fatigue

A report issued by a German Foreign Ministry delegation that deals with teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to German school children said that many children in the country are becoming weary of this subject, even to the point that they may be suffering from what is now being called “Holocaust fatigue”. The report was given by Dr. Benedikt Haller, a Foreign ministry official who is involved in relations with Jewish organizations in respect to issues involving the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

German Youth Suffering Holocaust FatigueThe gist of the problem, according to Haller, revolves around a new generation of educators who believe that German children “must know the truth about what happened in their country before and during WWII”. Previously, not all the actual details had been conveyed to schoolchildren, perhaps for the reason that their parents and others of the same age group were embarrassed by what had happened during the Holocaust. This new idea of literally “bombarding” German children with literature dealing with this subject has now worked in reverse of what it was intended to do.

An example of this feeling was expressed in a recent cartoon in Der Speigel, one of Germany’s top newspapers. In this cartoon, a young, bewildered German student is standing in a bookstore that is literally crammed with books and other literature dealing with the Holocaust. This cartoon ironically came out on the 60th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.

A specially designed comic book, entitled “The Search”, has recently been introduced into German school curriculum, and deals with Jewish children of about the same age who became victims of the Holocaust. German schoolchildren are required to read the book and afterwards discuss it in class. German kids then give their ideas of what they would have done if in the same situation.

These issues come on the eve of German’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s planned visit to Israel in which she addressed the Knesset in her native language – German. This has already been criticized by some officials in Israel, while others do not have a problem with it as German is, after all, Merkel’s native tongue. The German Chancellor visited Israel not long after she took up her post, and visited the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. Her uncomfortable feelings regarding her country’s past were very evident during this visit.

A new Holocaust remembrance and memorial office is soon to be opened in Berlin, which Haller is very proper since Berlin was the city where the Holocaust actually began during the1930’s and where acts of genocide against were later planned.

If German children are taught less about their country’s darker past, it could later reflect on how they feel about Israel and Jews in general, and could result in a rise in antisemitism in Germany. And as the well said saying goes: “he who forgets the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them”.

Olmert Denies Ceasefire Talks with Hamas

Israel’s political confusion has become even more pronounced with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denying that his government is conducting ceasefire negotiations with Hamas. Speaking from Speaking during a meeting with visiting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanik Olmert said that not only were negotiations not taking place, but that Israeli military forces are still involved in operations in and near Gaza.

Hamas spokesmen, for their part, also deny that such negotiations are taking place, although it appears that they have scaled down their Qassam and Grad rocket attacks on Sderot and Ashkelon. Defense Minister Ehud Barak also said that that there was no ceasefire talks going on, and that the IDF is continuing military operations in the area. The scaling down of Hamas rocket attacks has resulted in the IDF scaling down its operations as well, according to Barak. These new changes have been going on several days now, and this is in spite of Thursday night’s terror attack in Jerusalem.

Despite this, however, many right winged Knesset members, including Likud M.K. Yuval Steinitz (pictured), agree that Hamas appears to have come out on top, from a political viewpoint, in recent fighting with IDF troops, despite a large number of Hamas militants and civilians being killed. “The real meaning of this new lull is that Hamas has won out over Israel and that this new ceasefire is a Hamas victory” Steinitz said in an interview on Galei Tzhal, the IDF radio station. Steinitz went on to say that he sees that Israeli leaders are accepting a Palestinian State in Gaza that is allied with Syria and Iran, and that the Hamas organization is nothing more than an Iranian outpost.

All of these happenings are occurring in the aftermath of the IDF military operations in northern Gaza which ended with more than 100 Gazans killed against three Israeli soldiers and one civilian. Despite the large number of Palestinians killed or wounded, a Hamas spokesman described Israel’s pull out as ” a great victory for Hamas’ Five Day War” with Israel.

Although no formal cease fire has been reached, the situation on Israel’s border with Gaza is much quieter than it has been in days. But judging from previous “cease fires” or hudnas as they are called in Arabic, these lulls do not last for long before the cycle of violence begins all over again. No headway either has also been made concerning the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who has now been a captive for more than 630 days.

In other related news, it has been divulged that more than 150 Hams militants are now receiving special commando training in Iran. These are probably only a small number of the thousands of Hamas members and other Gazans who have not yet returned to Gaza following the breach made by Hamas men in the security fence between Gaza and Egypt. Iran is presently considered to be Israel’s number one security threat by Israeli intelligence officials, and their assistance to Hamas and Hezbollah is well known.

Israel Reality Shows Getting More Attention Than News

It’s a fact, and most people in Israel aren’t surprised to hear that Israeli TV reality shows, including Star is Born, Super Nanny, Born to Dance, and Israel’s version of The Survivors, have perpetually received much higher ratings than news and other broadcasts. These programs are not that different from American reality shows, including The Bachelor, American Idol, Trading Spouses, and a host of others.

Reality ShowsMany of these ‘song and dance’ reality shows, involve hundreds of contestants vie for a beginning position that ends up weeks later with only one candidate winning first place. In the most recent of these programs, “Born to dance”, hosted by Israel’s “favorite MC” Tzvika Hadar; three contestants reached the finals, in which a young man named Natanel (pictured) won a first prize of NS 100,000. While this is not big money as compared to something in American or UK TV, it gives the final contestants a lot of exposure that can result in being awarded private entertainment contracts later on. Ratings are very important to these programs and Israel’s two commercial TV channels, Channel 2 and Channel 10 are constantly competing with each other for a big share of the nightly viewing audience. Since both channels have commercials, that “share” is very important as it means more contracts with companies that pay top money for prime-time ‘spots’ on TV.

Star is Born, Israel’s equivalent to American Idol, has produced such talent as Nanette Taib, Shiri Maimon, and Boaz Maudi, this year’s Eurovision song contest participant.

While Channel 2 has the monopoly with the singing and dancing programs, competitor Channel 10 has come up with programs like Super Model and Survivors, which manage to pull in a good deal of fickle viewers who make sure they are parked in front of their plasma or regular TVs when their favorite reality show comes on. The Survivors show, which began with two groups of contestants being “cast” onto a seemingly deserted Caribbean tropical isle (actually a national park in the Dominican Republic), has been on for a couple of months now; and viewers get to watch the intimate trials and tribulations of the participants, who have to endure tropical storms, horrible food, countless attacks by mosquitoes and other insects, as well as undergo very difficult physical contests staged by the show’s MC, Guy Hamerei. As in other reality programs, only one “survivor” will finally prevail to collect a prize of NS 1,000,000 ($274,000) and a new Land Rover SUV.

Indeed, watching these types of programs allows people to momentarily escape the actual reality of life, especially in a country like Israel where the real “reality” often involves terror attacks, and war. At least by getting involved in these programs and having empathy with many of the participants, it takes many peoples minds off ‘the real thing’ that is so graphically portrayed on the news programs nightly.

And if the Israeli reality shows are not enough to excite people, then thanks to satellite and cable TV, there’s always American Idol, The Bachelor, and all the other foreign reality programs to keep even the most discriminating viewer glued to the “boob tube” for at least a couple of hours.

Meet Evan

Meet Evan Fallenberg, an American ex-pat living in Israel, who is now becoming discovered on the world Jewish literary scene. Fallenberg, formerly of Cleveland Ohio, has been living in Israel for some years now, and resides in a small suburban community outside the coastal city of Netanya.
A translator by profession, Evan began to make a name for himself by writing superb English translations for Israeli authors who produced literary works only in Hebrew. One such work, entitled A Pigeon and a Boy, by writer Meir Shalev, won the 2007 Jewish National Book Council Award in the U.S.A. for outstanding Jewish fiction. Evan competed his first novel, entitled Light Fell, which was published by Soho Press in January, 2008. Even though the book has just been released, it has already received excellent reviews by such periodicals as Haaretz, The Miami Herald, The Forward, San Francisco Chronicle, and his home town’s Jewish newspaper: The Cleveland Jewish News. He has also been interviewed by La Bloga, one of Latin America’s most popular web blogs.
I had the opportunity to attend a literary group meeting in Tel Aviv recently, and Evan Fallenberg was the guest speaker. He read some excerpts from his novel which is based on a very intimate relationship between two deeply religious men who left their wives and a total of nine children in order to be together. Although this kind of topic is not fully acceptable by many, especially those in the Orthodox Jewish Community in Israel and elsewhere, the sensitivity and poetic manner in which Evan describes the love these two men have for each other, is even more poignant and touching that the recent Academy Award winning film Brokeback Mountain. So well received is this novel, despite its relatively short “exposure” time on the book market, that the word is out that it may be even in the process of being considered for either a film or television miniseries.
Since many of us attending the meeting are aspiring authors, Evan’s advice concerning having works published was taken in enthusiastically by all in attendance. One bit of advice that I picked up on was that in order to have a literary or commercial work published, the writer must first be sure that the book is “ready for publishing”. This includes having others read the finished manuscript and give their opinions on it. Also, it is important that the author feels that the book is really superb, as how can one expect to have a work published if not liked by the one who wrote it?
Light Fell is definitely only the beginning for this very personable guy who appears to have a bright future in the literary world. In addition to his translating and work and novel writing (he is well into writing his next novel already) Evan conducts literary workshops and writing retreats for aspiring authors.

Via the Womb!

From the womb!Readers may wonder what the picture of a baby has to do with recent goings on in Gaza, where Israel is currently involved in a military action under the code name of “Hot Winter”. Well, my friends, the photo of a male baby wearing a scarf that read “The Izzadine Al-Qasam Brigades” that appeared recently on a media news site was made up to emphasize the way the Palestinians indoctrinate their children “virtually from the womb” to engage in suicide attacks against Israelis and Jews outside of Israel, particularly those who like to visit the beaches along Egypt’s Sinai coast.

The picture, however, also has another, even more ominous meaning, which has to do with a location that has one of the highest birth rates in the world. This proven fact has resulted in many Palestinians saying that in the end, they will defeat their enemy “via the womb”. It’s not difficult to understand what they mean by that. Israelis, including even the Ultra Orthodox Community (who has large families) only have an average birthrate of 3.2 children per childbearing female. This is in comparison with Palestinian women, especially those living in Gaza, who have an average of 6.5 children per child bearing female. That’s more than double their Israeli counterparts; and has resulted in the total Palestinian population literally doubling its population in only 15 years, or less than one generation. This demographic reality also includes Palestinians living abroad in countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, The Persian Gulf, and of course Europe and North America.

Recent demands of being allowed to live in Israel under a “law of return” policy similar to the one Israel allows for all Diaspora Jews (and non-Jews with at least one Jewish grandparent), would spell disaster to Israel if such a policy was allowed. As what happened in South Africa, when millions of native Africans migrated there during the 19th and early 20th century, it wouldn’t take long before the Palestinian population would outnumber the Jewish one.

Even if the Palestinians eventually have bona fide state of their own, the total land areas of the Gaza strip and that of the West Bank are simply too small to sustain a population that manages, by birthrate alone, to literally double itself every 10-15 years. The result of this kind of population explosion can already seen in countries like Egypt and India, both of whom have abnormally high birthrates.

Israel’s Arab population has also shown significant increases in population, but not on the scale as that of the Palestinians.

Seeing how successful they were in breaching a security wall between Gaza and Egypt, that resulted in more than 700,000 Gazans pouring over into Egypt on shopping trips; some Palestinians are now threatening to do the same thing on the Israeli side of their border, and simply daring Israeli military and police authorities to stop them from doing so.

Golda Meir, one of Israel’s greatest prime ministers, once said in regards to Israeli’s having to fight their Arab neighbors: “we can forgive them when they kill our children; but we can never forgive them when we have to kill theirs!”

And judging from the recent escalation of violence by the Palestinians, including constant barrages of Gaza launched rockets at Israeli targets, it is obvious, as well as ominous, what the future might be between Israel and her ever-increasing Palestinian neighbors.

Super Tuesday for Israel

Super Tuesday 08
The mega American primary elections known as Super Tuesday are now over in America, and its implication is still to be seen in a Presidential race that is far from over. Many Americans living here in Israel had the chance to vote by absentee ballot. Those who didn’t should find out what needs to be done in order to vote in the main elections in November. Republican Party candidate John McCain appears to be the front runner and likely party candidate when the GOP convention convenes in August. He racked up the largest number of delegates over his rivals Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, who fared better than many thought he would, wound up winning a number of Southern States, as well some others that might make him a “king maker” at the convention and even force McCain to give him a top cabinet post of even offer the Vice Presidency spot. That will of course depend on how Romney fares in the upcoming primaries as he has many more delegates than “Huck”.

The Democratic side is much more confusing, however, even though Hillary Clinton appears to have won more delegates, due to her winning big states like New York and California. Obama won more states in total and may fare better in upcoming primaries in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas, not to mention the District of Columbia which has a large Afro-American population. This race is likely to end up on the floor of the Democratic Party Convention this coming July, and be a real free-for-all.

What this election is gearing up to mean for Israel is how the new Presidential administration will deal with the Jewish State and with its Palestinian and other Arab neighbors. If Hillary Clinton should win the Presidency, she will probably use tactics similar to those her husband Bill used when he tried to put pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement that failed miserably at the Camp David summit in July, 2000. If Barack Obama wins the Presidency, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen, especially in light of Obama’s Muslim influenced childhood; an issue that is still not definitely settled in the eyes of many Americans and Israelis.

As for Republican candidate McCain, his politics seem to fluctuate for ultra conservative to moderate. He has definite ideas concerning America’s Iraq involvement, and has even said that he would keep American troops in Iraq “for a hundred years if necessary”. That’s a bit different than either Hillary or Obama, both of whom favor eventual troop withdrawals. McCain might be a safer bet concerning America’s stand against Iran, though, as his military background makes him understand this kind of a problem more than his Democratic (and Republican) rivals.

Both political parties and their candidates need to understand a few basic points though. The situation in Iraq will not go away on its own, and Al Qaeda and its top leaders are still active and ready to have a go at America again. Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas are also ready and waiting for the right opportunities, as we here in Israel are acutely aware of. And a worsening of the American economy will be bad for everyone, especially here in Israel.

So as the race heats up in the U.S. elections, all we in Israel can do is hope that the “flack” from it won’t come down too hard on our heads – literally!

Good Solution For Terrorists

Dimona Suicide AttackSunday’s mid-morning terror attack in the southern city of Dimona came as a surprise for some, and not so much by others. After a lull in the number of (successful) suicide bomber attacks all over Israel, the one in Dimona in which a 74 year old woman was killed and at least 9 others injured, the incident serves as a “wake up call” for Israelis, especially in the aftermath of the “opening” of Gaza’s Rafah border with Egypt, resulting in more than half a million Gaza residents going shopping in the Land of the Pharaohs for all kinds of consumer goods, including some that may be used against Israel, such as longer range surface to surface rockets and an assortment of anti-air and anti-tank missiles.

Though the Egyptian government claims that they are trying to re-seal the border, Hamas leaders are demanding control over their side of the fence, meaning that due to friendly compliance by fellow Muslim Egyptian guards, the border will remain easily accessible by Gaza residents. In other words, the situation will resemble what is now the norm in Europe where most border checkpoints in E.U. countries (including Eastern Europe) have been eliminated.

That there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of Gaza militants and terrorists presently in the Sinai, it means that some of them, such as the two who went to Dinoma, will try to “visit” other Israeli locations as well. Regarding the Dimona attack, in which one terrorist succeeded in blowing himself up and causing the mentioned death and injuries, the other one was killed before he could push the button to ignite the explosive harness still strapped to his body. The graphic news clips of the wounded terrorist laying on the ground and being “peppered” by police bullets was graphic enough to indicate that instead of trying to capture these people, it might be much better to simply “pepper” them as was so realistically shown.

There are presently a number of would-be suicide bombers sitting in Israeli prisons, including several women. While police and military authorities try to capture them to obtain information, such as who sent them, and why, it makes better sense to just take them out right there on the spot. It also might be a good idea to show more of these “peppering” video clips to let would-be suicide attackers know what is in store for them should they fail to push the button and blow themselves to paradise. Trying to use these people as bargaining chips, in order to get Israeli captives back doesn’t seem to work anyway, as these “holy martyrs” are probably written off already by their handlers.

Other terrorists who have been seriously wounded in terror attacks or their own bombs, yet somehow survived, are also in custody, some of whom after receiving thousands of Shekels worth of medical treatment.

Maybe now, authorities will decide to take care of the matter right there on the spot as they did Sunday morning in Dimona. Better to “pepper” then pamper.

Judgment Day for P.M. Olmert

The final statements of the Winograd Report were publicized on Wednesday, January 30. There reports summary, read allowed by presiding committee chairman, retired Tel Aviv District Court Judge Eliahu Winograd, were not anything really different that what had been said previously, concerning how Prime Minister Olmert and other officials handled the Lebanon II war in 2006. Though tow of the main “players” , former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz were already no longer in their appointed positions, they were surely watching the proceedings from either their homes, offices, or (in the case of Halutz) the Tel Aviv showroom of the BMW motor car importer at which he now works as a salesman.

The 34 day war cost 25 billion Shekels ( $ 7.6 billion), caused more than 300,000 Israeli citizens to abandon their homes in the north for safer locations further south, saw 3.912 Ketiusha rockets land in Israel and resulted in more than 180 fatalities ( more than 50 being non-combatants). Some of the final conclusions of the report, as read allowed by Judge Winograd included:

“Not only were military actions not planned properly, they were not carried out according to an organized plan of action”.

“The management and coordination of the ground operations at the end of the conflict brings the most serious questions of responsibility to mind”.

The report points final responsibility towards both top ranking military and government authorities, making them directly responsible for the outcome of the war. Although no specific names were directly mentioned, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out who the report was referring to within the realm of “final responsibility”.

Although the report summary did note that the ground action was something that was considered necessary, the report concluded that “serious faults were found in both military and governmental strategies, particularly in regards to the manner in which the ground operations were carried out”.

Although not mentioned in the report’s summary, the full text of the final report most likely mentions issues such as why reserve soldiers with little on-going combat training and inadequate equipment and supplies (especially food and water) were required to result to foraging in enemy territory which included drinking water out of Hezbollah canteens and eating their food as well.

Many other issues are probably in the 700 + page report, including how the government mishandled the plight of the country’s civilian population, including the ones who languished in dirty, poorly ventilated shelters, or fled south to stay either with benevolent private citizens or in tent cities provided by philanthropists such as Arkady Gaydamak.

Ironically, a poll conducted following the issuance of the final report showed 42% of respondents saying that Olmert should stay in power, while 27% favored news elections as soon as possible.

While the conclusions of the report does not actually call on any of the “high ranking military and public officials” to resign their positions, if they have not already done so, it does leave it to the political parties and the general public to make their own conclusions as to what needs to be done, in light of the reports findings. With all the current criticism being levied at “those at the very top” it remains to be seen if the people’s voice will be heard. One thing for sure, is that other people are interested in the report’s findings, including that bearded guy wearing a turban who is probably sitting in his office or meeting room, going over the report while drinking mint tea. His personal and political future also hinges on what develops in the wake of the findings of this report.

T.A. Stocks in Freefall

There’s an old saying that says “whatever goes up must come down”. And in reference to world stock bourses, including the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, “coming down” is looking like nothing less than a catastrophic free fall. After dropping an average of nearly 3 percent yesterday, today’s opening looks like it could end even worse as stock markets all over the worlds are falling between 7 and 10 % per day over the dismal news concerning the problems of the American economy, still considered as the largest economy in the world.

There are a number of reasons why all this is happening, including the energy crises, global warming and climate change, the continuing aftermath of Al Qaeda sponsored terrorism, and perhaps (for the outgoing Bush Administration anyway) the nearly 5 year disaster known as the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. As for Israel, the economy here is heavily tied to the fortunes of the American Economy as Israel’s biggest economic pluses in recent years have been connected to technologically based industries, especially information technology and bio-technology. Due to Israel’s mounting political problems in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanese war and the conflict with the Palestinians in which most European countries consider Israel as an occupying aggressive oppressor of “Palestinian rights”, Israeli companies have had to rely more and more on the USA to market both products and services.

With crude oil prices hovering at close to the $100 per barrel mark, and after the U.S. Treasury has wound up spending over $200 billion in it’s continuing war against insurgents in Iraq, these and other problems, including the mortgage loan crises, have brought the American economy to the brink of what is being talked about as a major economic recession; one even greater than the one of 1991-94 that resulted in the U.S. President George Herbert Bush (G.W.’s dad) losing his re-election bid to Bill Clinton, and at least half of the workers in high paying aerospace industries in California and other states looking for $1,000 per month sales jobs in cities like Atlanta.

The “R” word, meaning recession, is definitely being talked about these days, and is bound to arrive at Israel’s doorstep sooner or later. After all, the Tel Aviv stock indexes have been rising too high for too long, and as other bourses start “heading south” stocks in Israel are bound to go that way too. Many Israeli companies, especially the high tech ones are posted on the NASDAQ, the American “over the counter” stock exchange that for years has become one of the most popular indexes for technological based companies to be listed on. These stocks are often very fickle and any reverberation in economic fortunes can cause them to fall quite rapidly. Many NASDAQ listed stocks are selling for as much as 30 times the actual earnings of the companies they represent, which mean that a lot of speculation is involved in pushing up their trading value.

As a result, they are now leading the markets in a very troubling direction. Everyone will be watching which direction Wall Street will head today, following the breaking news announcement that the US Federal is lowering its prime lending rate by 0.75%. The Dow dropped by 500 points on Monday and even the Fed’s attempt to bring stability into the financial markets may not be enough to stop the fall, as the problems of the mortgage crises and other financial concerns remain. Most home mortgages are fixed rate ones that keep the same interest rate during the life of the loan.

What the intermediate to long term outlook for Israel’s economy will be as a result of these market flip flops remains to be seen. But for sure, if the “R” word becomes reality in America, it’s bound to reach Israel sooner or later.

Gaydamak Makes His Move

Billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak is definitely on the move these days. And this move appears to be heading towards a bid to become an important element in Israel’s political scene, with possibilities of even one day becoming the country’s prime minister. After purchasing several Israeli corporations and also the Jerusalem based Beitar Football Club, Arkadi Gaydamak has now heading in some new directions and is increasing his support to a number of philanthropic projects.

Gaydamak has recently been making appearances in a number of Israeli communities, including Netanya and Or Akiva. In Netanya, he strolled through the ‘shuk ‘ or open air public market, where he was enthusiastically greeted by both vendors and shoppers alike. In fact, the loud acclaims of “Gaydamak!, Gaydamak!” were so loud that he couldn’t get a word in edgewise in either Russian, English, or Hebrew – the few Hebrew words he knows that is. At Or Akiva, his next stop on this particular tour, his big black “van-limo” stopped at a religious school and yeshiva where he was also greeted with much enthusiasm. According to sources, he promised the Yeshiva a generous donation of around one million ILS, close to $260,000 at today’s currency rates.

When asked by an accompanying Channel 2 News reporter if his philanthropy appears to be a tactic to gain popularity, he replied: “I’m not buying anything – nothing!” Since the outbreak of the 2006 war in Lebanon and Gaza, Gaydamak has been involved in several projects in which he furnished assistance to those in need, including a tent city for residents of northern Israel who fled the onslaught of missiles fired at them from Hezbollah forces, as well as offering the beleaguered residents of the southern town of Sderot a holiday in Eilat following a siege of Palestinian launched Kassam missiles from near-by Gaza.

Gaydamak has made generous contributions to a number of organizations including the nationwide ambulance and emergency medical service Magen David Adom. He founded his own political party, the Party for Social Justice in February, 2007, with which he plans to enter the next parliamentary election on a right winged platform similar to that of Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. While not presently expressing a desire to be either a member of the Knesset or the prime minister, Gaydamak does appear very interested in becoming the next mayor of Jerusalem; a position in which his ownership of the Beitar Football Club would be a definite asset.

Although the next elections are at least a year away, Gaydamak appears to be conducting an impressive enough PR campaign that may bear him significant political fruit. When asked if he thought his lack of Hebrew might be a problem, he replied: “I don’t need to speak! My actions are louder than words! Besides, I will have a proper “team” to conduct the affairs of government.”

Team or not, it appears that Arkadi Gaydamak is moving in the direction he wants to head in. And that “direction” might lead him all to way the top.

Lev Leviev Quitting Israel

The announcement by Billionaire Lev Leviev, one of Israel’s wealthiest citizens, that he and his family are planning to leave Israel is causing reverberations all over Israel, and the Jewish world. Reported destination for Mr. Leviev is London, England, where the businessman and entrepreneur already has varied business interests. He is Chairman of African Israel Development Company, is also head of L.L.D. Diamonds, the largest diamond manufacturing company in Israel and one of the largest in the world. Leviev, age 51, came to Israel originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1971, and has been one of the leaders of the Bukharian Jewish community in Israel for many years. The billionaire’s personal fortune has been estimated at “between 4 and 7 billion dollars”, and he is rated number 278 by Forbes rating of the wealthiest people in the world.

A deeply religious man, Leviev made the news several years ago when he purchased the controlling interest in the exclusive Ramat Aviv Shopping Mall, and almost immediately prevented the multi-screen cinema there from being open on Shabbat and Jewish religious holidays. Although the cinema later opened its doors during Jewish holy days, Leviev retaliated by announcing that he would remove the cinema entirely from the mall. Leviev is deeply involved in the Chabad religious movement, and has made large donations to the Chabad Movement in both Israel and abroad. He was a personal friend of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, who has been refereed by many as the Jewish “Meshiach” or Messiah.

Leviev’s diamond empire, which includes mines in both Russia and southern Africa, has given him so much clout that he has even challenged the DeBeers international diamond syndicate by saying that due to the size and scale of his operations, he doesn’t need to be a Debeers diamond “sight-holder” since he has enough access to raw, uncut diamonds from his own sources. His real estate empire has also reached a state where he is purchasing exclusive property in cities such as London and New York City, some of which cost more than half a billion dollars. Besides purchasing various luxurious properties in the U.S., his Africa Israel company also owns controlling interest in the 1,700 “Fina” gas stations which are spread all over the continental U.S.

Leviev is a strong family man and the father of nine children. Recently, he appointed his eldest daughter to be the CEO of Africa-Israel, which may have been an advanced notification of his intention to relocate. He has also been recently quoted that he is very dissatisfied with the present political situation in Israel and also in the manner in which many non-religious Israelis are living, including their desecration of the Sabbath and religious holidays. Israel’s dealing with the Palestinians has also been disappointing to Leviev, especially in regards to the Olmert government’s willingness to return most of the West Bank in return for a peace agreement.

Whether Leviev and his family will like living in an increasingly Muslim influenced city like London is too early to tell. London’s Jewish population has recently taken on a religious revival which many younger families choosing to become deeply religious. London’s business proximity is probably attractive to Mr. Leviev as the city of nearly 20 million has one of the largest diamond bourses in the world. And regarding his many business interests in Israel, London is only a 4 hour plane flight away. While this move may not be permanent one, Mr. Leviev appears to be sending the State of Israel a distinct message that it should consider putting its political and religious house in order before it’s too late to do so.

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