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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.

Israel Launches Air Attacks on Gaza

Are recent Israeli air strikes on Gaza militants an alternate solution to launching a large scale ground attack? Many military strategists think so; and perhaps with good reason. With the southern town of Sderot and several smaller settlements under an almost constant barrage of Palestinian launched Kassam rockets and mortar shells, something had to give in regards to Israeli government patience so soon after the summit meeting in Annapolis. And although the attacks on Israeli communities appear to be solely carried out but groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the IAF air attacks seem to be a veiled warning against others as well, including West Bank Palestinians.

Targeted assassinations, as these attacks appear to be- especially against higher-up members of the Islamic Jihad – are nothing new and have been carried out for years. Some of Hamas’ top people, including Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yasin and Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, have been carried out with the hope of delivering a strong message against terror attacks on Israelis. These attacks have only been partially successful, however, and the recent ones in which at least 13 Palestinian militants were killed, including 2 senior Jihad military officials, will probably wind up the same way.
Israeli Prime Minister Olmert (pictured) may also want to let the militants know that the IDF is prepared to carry out these attacks even during one of the holiest periods on the Muslim calendar – the Hajj.

Speaking at a meeting of his Kadima political party in Jerusalem, Olmert said that Israel “will continue to seek out the heads of terror organizations and get all those responsible for firing rockets at us”. While this may seem like a “get tough” statement, it also may be an indication that the government believes that this tactic is a better alternative than launching a large armored force into Gaza, which could result in a number of IDF casualties. As in former air operations, it’s much easier, and safer, to launch air to ground missiles against selective targets. It is also believed that better security intelligence has enabled the IAF to target more senior terror commanders, such as the two Jihad military wing commanders who were killed.

These attacks are not without the potential for deadly reprisal operations by Palestinian militants against Israelis; as was cautioned by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who said that Israelis “must be prepared for possible reprisals from the other side”. These “tit-for-tat” attacks, coming so soon after the 20th anniversary celebrations for the founding of Hamas, appear to be sending out a message to Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh who may be actually getting the gist of the message. Haniyeh made a statement in which he expressed the desire for “the shedding of our blood to stop”. That statement should be welcome news to people living in Sderot and other communities adjacent to the border with Gaza. Past “experience”, however, make most people believe that Hams and other militant groups are not likely to agree to any long lasting peace agreements with Israel.

Hamas Never Recognize Israel

Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared on Sunday that “whoever declares that he will never recognize Israel earns the Palestinians’ love”. Speaking before an estimated Gaza City crowd of more than 200,000 who had gathered there to commemorate the 20th anniversary since the founding of the organization known as Hamas, Haniyeh noted a number of “achievements” that his organization was either fully or partially responsible for including the 2005 Israeli pull out from Gaza, the Hamas takeover of the Gaza strip from rivals Fatah, the 2006 war, and the continued captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit. He also said that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “is weak and unable to negotiate Shalit’s release”.

Though Haniyeh said that his organization is willing to negotiate a peace agreement with Fatah, they will never do so with Israel. “Hamas has already begun to dig graves for the Jews” a Hamas parliament member Nushir al-Masri said during the same rally.
“The Israeli soldier Schalit will never see the light of day as long as Palestinians remain in Israeli jails”, Osama al-Muzaini, the Hamas official responsible for the soldier’s well being was quoted as saying.

And from exile in Damascus, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal congratulated Haniyeh and added that “our people are able to launch a third and even fourth Intifada until the day of victory arrives”.

Regarding any possible Israeli military invasion into Gaza, Haniyeh said that a lot of unpleasant “surprises” awaited any planned IDF operation into “the Palestinian Motherland” and that Israel forces would pay dearly.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian man who lives in the area where the June 2006 cross border raid that resulted in IDF corporal Gilad Schalit being captured and two IDF soldiers killed took place revealed that he had seen Schalit on the day of his capture. He said that after hearing gunshots and explosions he saw several Palestinian militants leading an IDF soldier who appeared wounded and had blood stains and burns on his face, upper body and arms.

All of this appears to be a marked contrast to the recent summit in Annapolis Maryland in which both Israeli P.M. Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Machmoud Abbas agreed to work together towards the creation of a Palestinian State by the end of 2008. The belligerency of Hamas also seems contrary to a pledge to give the Palestinians a sum of over $5.6 billion to assist towards the development of a Palestinian infrastructure. The pledge, given at a special donor’s conference which took place in Paris over the weekend was attended by Abbas as well as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Only one thing was missing and that was representatives of the more than 1.2 million Palestinians living in Gaza and ruled over by Mr. Haniyeh and his exiled colleague Khaled Meshaal.. And judging from the noise being made by the over 200,000 Hamas supporters who had gathered Sunday to cheer their leaders, trying to avoid Hamas is like trying to avoid Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon – with the same explosive implications.

Shunned at Annapolis

Tzipi at AnnapolisForeign Minister Tzipi Livni didn’t have a good time at the just concluded Middle East Summit in Annapolis. In fact, she felt almost like the new kid in school who winds up eating lunch alone in the school cafeteria. Although she did get warm greetings from the Americans and most Western delegations, including American Secretary Condi Rice, she was either avoided or outright ignored by most of the Arab and Muslim delegates, especially those from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, Algeria, and other Arab and Muslim countries.

I guess it’s understandable that the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Said al-Faisal, wouldn’t extend her the courtesy. After all, women are not exactly given equal treatment there, especially in light of the recent rape case where the female victim was herself sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months in the can. And as for Syria, even though they did send their deputy F.M. there, his government must also not be ready to be “poochy moochy” with Israel’s F.M, female or otherwise.

Condi did try to make her Israeli guest feel better by comparing Tzipi’s experience with that of her own as a black child growing up in Selma Alabama, scene of some very nasty civil rights activities during the 1960’s. But Condi’s experiences, bad as they were, are not in the same light as the Israeli F.M, who found out to her chagrin that the A-rabs are not quite ready to be seen in friendly conversation with any senior Israeli official – let alone a woman.

When she asked, “why is everyone treating me like a pariah?” she should realize that it’s really nothing personal, especially in regards to whom she was referring to. In a way, it’s probably better that delegations from Iran and Lebanon didn’t show up, as they wouldn’t have greeted her either – especially Mahmud Ahmadinejad who’s still fretting over remarks made to him at the U.N. recently by Carnit Goldwasswer, wife of captured Israeli soldier Udi Goldwasser.

In all seriousness, Tzipi’s uncomfortable experience only reconfirms the reality of Israel’s position in the Middle East, especially in light of increased Muslim radicalism towards the West in general and Israel in particular. Had the Israeli F.M. been a man, he probably wouldn’t have fared much better; perhaps even worse. And with only half of the Palestinians represented at the conference, the other half being under the dominance of the ultra radical Hamas organization, the entire event appears to have ended with a hollow ring.

Even her boss, Prime Minister Olmert, didn’t win many friends there among the countries unfriendly to Israel. Be all this as it may, we can now get back to business as usual in this part of the world. And Tzipi might well do better at a UJA or similar gathering. At least they’ll shake her hand..

Our Low Profile Environmental State

With all the fanfare and publicity dealing with finding a solution to the ongoing political divide between Israel and the Palestinians, not enough attention is being given to solving what may be the country’s most serious problem; that being the environment. Yet, this issue seems to be popping up all too frequently; whether it be concerning our rivers and streams, beaches, parks, forests and green spaces, or the very water we drink and air we breathe.

IsraelDuring the summer beach season, barely a week goes by when announcements are made, either on TV or in the newspapers, that certain beaches in Tel Aviv, Haifa, or other coastal cities are closed to the public for either bathing or fishing. Pollution caused either by industrial wastes, raw sewage, or other contaminates are found to be literally pouring or seeping into the Mediterranean, now considered one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world. While this is a big concern for most people living in Israel, not enough is being done to alleviate this problem, and despite posted warnings, people still enter the water and eat fish caught from the sea. Tel Aviv’s Yarkon River, the same river where four Australian athletes died from exposure to pollutants a number of years back, dumps it’s polluted contents into the sea right next to one of Tel Aviv’s most popular entertainment areas, the old Tel Aviv Port. Scores of fishermen sit near the entrance to the old port and fish for species that have been found to contain dangerously high levels of E-Coli bacteria and other contaminants. And what they catch probably winds up on their dinner table later on.

Another body of water, the Kinneret, Israel’s only natural fresh water reservoir, is also becoming dangerously polluted, and not only by what our “friends” the Lebanese dump into the Litani river, one of the major sources of the Jordan, the Kinneret’s main water supplier. Recently, a number of bathing beaches on the lake have had to be closed for swimming due to high pollution counts, much of which was found to have come from either the city of Tiberius or Kibbutzim located near the lake shore. The Kinneret probably supplies more than 60% of the country’s fresh water, much of which is carried inland via the National Water Carrier. Small rivers that feed into the Jordan, such as the Dan, Senir, and Hermon (where the Banias nature reserve is located) are no longer the clean streams they used to be, and aquatic and animal life normally found in and near these streams have been greatly affected.

Of course, what is happening to the Kinneret, and to the streams feeding it is nothing compared to other streams and rivers, which like the Yarkon are so heavilly polluted that some of them have been literally called disaster areas. These include the Kishon (near Haifa), the Hadera, Alexander and Poleg streams on the Coastal Plain, and the
Sorek, which “kisses” the Mediterranean with it’s smelly contents near the city of Rishon le Zion.

Another area with threatened natural streams is the Dead Sea area with streams like the Ein Gedi and David, where the biblical David hid out from King Saul before he became king. These streams, considered one of the country’s treasured beauty spots are also mildly polluted, with much of the pollutants coming from seepage into the Negev’s region’s aquifer due to waste disposal sites like Ramat Hovav.

With the water issue noted, other environmental issues, including some of the worst air pollution problems in Israel’s major cities, and of course Ramat Hovav itself should be mentioned here as well. Haifa, Israel’s third largest city has an air pollution problem that is so bad that scores of deaths from respiratory ailments as well as cancers have been blamed from the state of the city’s air. Tel Aviv, the country’s largest city, often has an air inversion or smog problem that rivals the U.S. city of Los Angeles. And in the country’s southern regions, the problem of contamination from Ramat Hovav and other waste disposal sites has become so serious, that cities like Beer Sheva have had many deaths and illnesses caused by diseases linked to soil and ground water contamination.

What the outcome of these problems will be is still to be determined by the government’s Ministry for the Environment (yes, this ministry does actually exist). But what has been done so far is very little in comparison to the problems we all face; problems which are far more critical than global warming – that other well publicized environmental issue. The public simply has to get more involved, as these issues simply will get worse until the day will come when our most basic elements for survival, air and water, will be the most scarce and most sought after things around. After all, without them we simply cannot survive.

PA Gets Armored Personnel Carriers

PA Gets Armored Personnel CarriersIsrael P.M. Olmert is really trying to placate the Fatah branch of the Palestinian Authority by authorizing the delivery of 25 armored personnel carriers (formerly known a halftracks) for security use by the P.A. Though Israeli army sources, right-winged Knesset members, and even the Shin Bet security organization are against this deal, Olmert seems adamant in making Mahmud Abbas and Co, happy prior to the opening of the Annapolis summit on November 27. The APC’s are being supplied by Russia; and are part of an original 50 which Russia had agreed to supply to the P.A., but had not actually delivered them. The vehicles, probably either the BMD-1 or BMP-2 models from either the Afghanistan or Chechnya conflicts, are intended for use on the West Bank, particularly in Nablus.

There is good reason for objections to this deal as previous arms deliveries to the P.A. fell into the wrongs hands when Hamas acquired a great deal of small arms and ammunition when they ousted Fatah from Gaza. No mention has been given as to whether these vehicles will come equipped with heavy machine guns, as are usually installed on military APC’s, or if they will be similar to ones used by police units and intended only for protection against small arms fire. The prime minister’s spokesmen are trying to assure everyone that these vehicles are not going to be a start for even more sophisticated military hardware being allowed into the West Bank. “We are not helping them build a nuclear reactor, etc.” the spokesperson commented. The P.M.’s office is also making everyone aware that “these vehicles can be destroyed anytime we deem it necessary, as has been done in the past”. One might suppose that by this remark, the P.M. is referring to a couple of surplus helicopters that have been given to former P.A. Chairman Yasser Arafat, and which had been destroyed, along with Gaza’s only airport, at the beginning of the Second Intifada uprising in October, 2000.

The Russians are no doubt very happy to get rid of a lot of surplus military hardware that is taking up space on their army bases. Whether or not Abbas is paying for them with funds he is receiving from either Israel or other countries, including the E.U., is another matter, however.

With the Annapolis summit set to convene in less than a week’s time, we might all be interested in knowing what other friendly gestures Mr. Olmert has in store for his Palestinian friends. With all that Israel is willing to offer, including perhaps a large chunk of the West Bank, what are the Palestinians willing to give for their part? Now that Syria and even Saudi Arabia plan to have delegates attending the summit, it looks like the Americans, who are hosting this event, have great expectations as to what agreements will result from the meeting. As for the armored vehicles, they will only be delivered long after the summit is completed.

And by then, it may be a whole different ball game anyway.

All of England Loves Israel

Yossi Benayoun was not able to play in Saturday Night’s game against Russia; but that didn’t stop the Israeli National Team from pulling off their stunning 2-1 victory over the visiting side at Ramat Gan National Stadium. That wasn’t the only thing that put similes on the faces of both the Israeli team and their fans; the win has now elevated England’s chances to advance in the World Cup qualifying rankings. As a result, Israel and its football team are now very popular to millions of people in the U.K.; so popular in fact that adoring U.K. football fans were waving Israeli fans and singing ‘hava nagila’ in pubs all over the England. And Omer Golan, (pictured) who kicked the winning goal is now as much adored as Yossi, the team captain.

That this great change in British-Israeli relations has occurred in only a month has not been attributed to the efforts of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was chosen to be a special European Union envoy between Israel and the Palestinians. No, not at all; this change has been brought about by sport, namely football. Sports have often resulted in better relations between countries, and in this case sports have turned an increasingly hostile British public into one in which many of whose members outright said they will not only come to visit Israel, but even want to acquire Israeli citizenship as well.

All of this started in October when former Macabbee Haifa coach Avraham Grant became coach for the London based Chelsea football club; a move which many in both Israel and the U.K. said was doomed to failure. Grant’s short tenure at Chelsea has so far been partially responsible for turning that club’s football fortunes around, and improving its overall Premier League standings. Following afterwards was the playing success of Israeli football star Yossi Benayoun who has helped the Liverpool Football Club win several match victories, including a stunning 8-0 win over a hapless Turkish team. And now, Israel’s win over Russia, which gives the British national team a chance to advance into the next round of the World Cup qualifying matches.

The win has done wonders for relations between the two countries; and with the year 2008 promising to be good year for incoming tourism to Israel, there is no doubt that many incoming tour groups will be from the U.K. Previous friendly matches between Israel and both the U.K. and Ireland have resulted in football fans from both countries getting to know each other. And, as many will happily testify, there are plenty of pubs and other public houses in Israel to satisfy any Englishman’s thirst.

If all of this doesn’t make sport the grand equalizer, then what does?

Olmert’s Last Stand

Many of you may recall that infamous episode in American history when U.S. Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Calvary regiment were defeated and massacred by Sioux Indians led by Chief Sitting Bull in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. That historical episode, which took place in the summer of 1876, reminds me of another “last stand”, still being played out Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is becoming embroiled in so much political and personal controversy that he very much resembles Custer in many ways.

For one thing, Mr. Olmert directed then IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to wage war against the Hezbollah in Lebanon in July 2006, and Gen. Halutz (a real-life stand-in for Gen. Custer) vowed to “blast Lebanon back into the Stone Age”. Well, blast he did, but much of northern Israel got ‘blasted” as well by at least 6,000 Hezbollah fired rockets. Now, with himself under criminal investigation for a number of offenses, the P.M. is desperately pulling at straws to try to work out some kind of deal at the upcoming “peace conference” in Annapolis Maryland. Recent public opinion polls conducted in Israel have resulted in at least 53% of the population believing that Olmert should be suspended from his position as prime minister until the investigations are concluded. Olmert has other ideas, however, and appears to be trying to keep his job by making the impossible become reality in a deal with a Palestinian leader who only represents a portion of the entire Palestinian People.

Of the people polled, at least 65% also believe that Israel shouldn’t withdraw troops from the West Back as they fear that a similar result will happen as did in Gaza following the unilateral pullout in August, 2005. The respondents said that they fear a an even bigger danger, with much of Israel’s most populated areas put in direct line of fire from Kassam and Katyusha rockets. An even larger number of respondents (77%) fear that PA Authority President Mahmud Abbas does not have the strength to win out over a possible take-over in the West Bank by Hamas, as occurred in Gaza.

Olmert appears ready to do whatever he feels necessary to make a good impression at the conference, despite whether or not the result will be good for Israel. What is presently going on in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority is vastly different than the situation prior to the Camp David meeting in July 2000, when then P.M. Ehud Barak offered P.A. Chairman Yasser Arafat nearly all of the Israeli occupied lands, including most of East Jerusalem, on a silver platter. The result of this was not only Arafat’s refusal, but the Second Intifada uprising less than three months later. Though not mentioned in the opinion poll, it’s interesting to note that Ehud Barak is now Israel’s Defense Minister.

What will happen at “Camp David III” remains to be seen. But with the P.A. now split in half and Olmert himself under investigation, the results of the George Bush sponsored Annapolis meetings will most likely not be any more productive than the Bill Clinton sponsored Camp David one.

Meanwhile the “Indians” are tightening their circle around “Custer” and his men and Little Bighorn II will probably end up a similar way.

Circumcism or Cataclysm

It appears that convicted assassin Yigal Amir has got the best of it after all. Despite not less than 3 petitions to the High Court of Justice, and a crowd of angry protestors outside of Ayalon Prison where Amir is incarcerated, he and a select group of family members were allowed to consecrate his son into the covenant of Israel. Though the ceremony was supposed to be “minimal” with Amir showing up for it in handcuffs and wearing prison garb, the fact that Attorney General Meny Mazuz refused to interfere only validates Amir being granted this privilege which comes on the heels of being allowed to perform his “marriage right” with his wife, Larissa Trembobler, which resulted in her becoming pregnant with his child.

When interviewed early Sunday morning by an Israel Radio news reporter, an unnamed prison official said as follows: “Yes, damn him; we will open a small section of the prison hospital for this event. But it will be as brief and as minimal as possible!”

Saturday evening, on the eve of the date that has now gone down as one of the most tragic in modern Jewish history, at least 150,000 people gathered in Rabin Square to mourn together the 12th anniversary of that fateful night, November 4, 1995. What makes the entire affair so tragically meaningful to many in the State of Israel is that not only a great leader was slain on that night; but Israel’s claim to be a moral ‘light unto to nations’ was severely challenged as well. Democracy and religious tolerance has been challenged by religious fanaticism in a manner not unlike that of countries in medieval Europe, or here in the Middle East. Reports circulating around the country say that at least half of world religious Jewry. In fact, more than 120,000 copies of an inflammatory CD have been circulated throughout both Israel and the religious Jewish world calling for Amir’s release from prison.

What this amounts to, along with groups fanatically opposing any kind of peace deal with the Palestinians, is a division among the people themselves – a line drawn in the sand as the old saying goes. Either one steps over it and joins that element dedicated to instituting their way, or choose to take another path which might lead to peace. This was the path that Yitzhak Rabin so reluctantly chose to stride on. And that “path” resulted in his paying the ultimate price at the hands of a religious Jew who had formerly worked for a government sponsored religious studies program and was studying to become a lawyer. Anyone who has studied or practices law knows that a lawyer must agree to uphold the laws of the state of country in which he or she practices. Obviously, Amir chose to walk a different path altogether.

When Amir’s son reaches an age when he can confront the issue of what his father did, what will be feelings about it, and how will his fellow Israelis feel about it? If already hundreds of thousands of Israelis feel that Amir should be pardoned for his crime, how many will feel this way in 13 years when the boy will be Bar Mitzvah age? What is justice, or someone’s interpretation of justice? Is Civil Jurisprudence to be usurped by religious fanaticism as it has been in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia? Western countries like America or even Gt. Britain would now have allowed Yigal Amir the concessions he has received. Why has this country’s officials chosen to do so?

Security Fence Out of Funds

Security Fence Out of Funds
Something that will make a lot of Palestinians happy, as well as left wing supporters, was an announcement by the Defense Ministry that the security fence project is running out of funds. Asst. Defense Minister and Knesset member Matan Vilnai noted that there is only about half a billion New Shekels available in the Defense Budget’s funds allotment to continue work on the project which began in earnest following the outbreak of the Second Intifada uprising in September, 2000. The fence, actually a concrete wall in most places where it has been erected, has given some security to populated areas such as neighborhoods in Jerusalem and communities and settlements located adjacent to Palestinian cities like Kal kiliya and Tulkarem.

The barrier, which has literally run through lands belonging to Palestinian farmers, and has caused many Palestinians to go long distances to circumvent it, including those needing medical care, and has become a symbol of separation between the Palestinians and Israelis. It also became a symbol when David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd band played a special concert on lands adjacent to “The Wall”. Gilmour himself wrote a special message on a barrier section against “The Occupation” and the separation which has been called an act of apartheid by international personalities such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Many Israelis, however, believe that the barrier has prevented many terror attacks, and that fewer have occurred during the past two years may testify to this fact. Many critical security areas have yet to be included within this barrier, including Bethlehem (near the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo), south of Mt. Hebron, the Ariel projection, and many more. Most of the sections in the area in what is known as the Judean section of the West Bank remain to be completed. The entire area to be enclosed by the barrier is shown in red on the included map.

“Until now, the government has invested more than six billion New Shekels ($ 1.25 Billion) on the barrier; but stopping the project now would be like throwing this amount in the trash” a senior security ministry official remarked. The official believes that the government “has gotten cold feet regarding completing the project”.

The budgetary problem has literally put a halt to the project’s construction plans for the entire 2008 fiscal year. The planned government budget for 2008 is in the neighborhood of N.S. 1.3 Billion; but with overall Defense Ministry budget cutbacks along with overall government budget restructuring, at least N.S. 500 Million has still not been given by the government to complete the 2007 construction plan. This means that at lest N.S. 1.8 – 2 Billion will be needed to finish the present construction and including the section planned for 2008.

Does this mean that the entire project has turned into a massive “white elephant”? The length of the still to be competed section of the barrier in 790 kilometers, with only 450 km being so far completed. About 80 km is only partially completed, with another 260 km either still being considered or in disputed areas where various legal in junctions have been filed by both Palestinians and “anti-fence” activists in Israeli courts. Some very critical security areas in the Jerusalem section were recently completed; but other parts have yet to be completed. These sections in particular are ones so often shown on various foreign news medias such as CNN. Despite literally hundreds of thousands of New Shekels spent on making barrier sections, guard posts, and other items for still yet to be constructed areas, the Defense Ministry has issued overall orders to halt further construction until the financial issue is settled – one way or the other.

To Die in Jerusalem

I got an email a few days ago from a marketing lady that asked me to post this promo on an HBO movie/special. I looked through some of these clips and they look interesting. I personally think that its going to take another 100 years for the differences to be worked out (outcome unknown) but I am an optimist (marinate on that..) and I like to get a dialog going when possible. I think the more we know about each other the better off we will be. Unfortunately I don’t think this will show in Israel…

Die in Jerusalem recounts the heart-wrenching story of two teenaged girls – one a 17-year-old Israeli student named Rachel Levy, the other an 18-year-old Palestinian student/suicide bomber named Ayat al-Akhras – who died together in a Jerusalem market in March 2002. The horrific incident ignited international outrage because of the age and similarities of the two girls, and set in motion a quest on the part of Rachel’s mother, Abigail Levy, to arrange a one-on-one meeting with her counterpart, Um Samir. The result was an underscoring of the tension and resentments that persist among Israelis and Palestinians – and undermine the desire on both sides to find common ground and forge lasting peace.

Gaydamak: Why Is Everyone Picking On Me

Like Charley Brown, the unfortunately character in the “Peanuts” comic strip and hit song by The Coasters, billionaire Arkady Gaydamak is once again sparring with Israeli law enforcement officials. This most recent round of verbal and written attacks from Gaydamak stems from allegations that he is involved in a number of illegal activities, including money laundering which stems from a large sum of money which the financier deposited briefly in Bank Hapoalim ($50,000,000), and authorities had said originated from “questionable sources”.

What has made matters even more problematic is that Gaydamak recent placed letter ads in local papers to prove his innocence. These ads lashed out against several top law enforcement officials, including Police Investigations and Intelligence chief Yohanan Danino, State Prosecutor Ella Rubinek, and Justice Ministry employee Yitzhak Blum for severe acts of libel and using their positions for “illegal acts against a private citizen’s civil rights”.

Police and other legal spokespersons have responded harshly to Gaydamak’s remarks by saying that nothing he says or does will deter them form carrying out their investigations to determine Mr. Gaydamak’s possible criminal acts. This is not the first time that numerous allegations have been made regarding the billionaire’s business and financial activities; and Gaydamak for his part also placed large ads in the newspapers in his defense. One of the most notable was back in October, 2006 regarding the “Bank Hapoalim Affair”.

Since arriving in Israel a few years ago, Gaydamak has made considerable effort to “legitimize” himself with the Israeli public. His effort have included purchasing the Beitar Jerusalem Football Club and numerous business concerns; and giving assistance to persons in distress during both the July/August 2006 Lebanese war and from Palestinian rockets hitting Sderot and other southern Israel communities. Gaydak’s brief involvement in the Tiv Taam non-kosher food chain turned out to be one of his not so prudent investments, however, as adverse publicity on behalf of the TV Kolbotek consumer program against Tiv Taam, resulted in Gaydamak divesting himself of all of his holdings in that enterprise, the last of it in the aftermath of Kolbotek’s most recent revelations concerning poultry and other meat products left on the loading docks of cold storage plants for long periods without refrigeration. The “Tiv Taam Affair” has cost Gaydamak a considerable amount of money, as he wound up selling his shares for considerably less than the purchase price.

Gaydamak’s political ambitions, which include running for mayor of Jerusalem, have not been helped by these latest police investigations into his numerous business affairs. Though he keeps insisting that his civic rights are being violated, the police and legal officials being named in his ads have now said that Gaydamak’s remarks “border on criminal”. Earlier investigations against Gaydamak, particularly the money laundering one, wound up being dropped with the police saying that Gayda was not guilty of any criminal charges from this matter. If this is so, then why are they still “picking on him” as the old song goes?

Olmert Target of Assassination Plot

Israeli government plans to attend the upcoming Middle East conference in Annapolis Maryland next month have been complicated considerably by release reports that Palestinian Fatah gunmen had plotted to attack Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s convoy during his meeting with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas (photo) in Jericho last August. The disclosure, only released now, stated that members on the Palestinian Police force had planned to attack Olmert’s convoy when it approached the historic West Bank City for the first visit by an Israeli Prime Minister to a Palestinian controlled city.

The report, given by Shin Bet security head Yuval Diskin, contained information that several Palestinian gunmen belonging to Fatah, the Palestinian political organization, had made intensive plans to carry out the operation, and had conducted extensive surveillance operations on the route that the motorcade was going to take, once it entered Palestinian controlled territory. Although several suspects had been detained by P.A. police authorities, most have been released, further dampening relations between Israel and the P.A. The release of prime suspects in this affair, which was alleged to have been cancelled at the last moment, makes government officials wondering about the sincerity of Abbas’s government in entering into any kind of agreement with Israel.

“Israel will not ignore this attempt and look the other way” Olmert was reported to have said. Members of Olmert’s cabinet as well as numerous officials are new saying that with this in mind, the Israeli government should call off it’s participation in the meeting, scheduled to take place in only two week’s time. Israel Foreign Minister Zippy Livni was quoted as saying that the Palestinians had returned to a “revolving door policy in which they say something and do something entirely different altogether.

In addition, many Knesset members have told the Prime Minister that not only should Israel not sent a delegation to the conference, but should seriously reassess Israel’s relationship with Mahmoud Abbas and his government. Members of Olmert’s Kadima political party, including MK Zvi Elkin should halt all meetings with Abbas, and cease any cooperation with P.A. police and other government authorities until those suspects who were released from custody are re-arrested.

Olmert, who had only returned before the weekend from his brief meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and who is currently under police investigation for a number of “legal issues”, must now come to grips with an assassination attempt by members of Mahmoud Abbas’ own civil administration. Right winged Knesset members, especially those like National Union Chairman Effie Etam and National Religious Party Chairman Zvulun Orlev are demanding that Olmert sever relations with the P.A. altogether. Both men also said that Olmert should recite a special prayer of thanksgiving for being saved from possible assassination. National Union party member Ariyeh Eldad even went one step further by suggesting a prayer be said to rid the country of Ehud Olmert’s leadership as a result of his dealings with the Palestinians.

Whether the Prime Minister will heed this advice is anyone’s guess. But in any event, these disclosures have cooled the “atmosphere” considerably between Israeli and Palestinian officials. And down in Hamas controlled Gaza, Hamas leader and former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, must be enjoying these sudden turn in events.

The “Good Ol’ Boys ” are Back

Knesset Dress Code Needed !Monday, October 8 was the opening session of the 2007/2008 winter Knesset assembly. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, had been in recess since August, giving its members the opportunity to enjoy a vacation period which included the religious holidays. This is not to say that these politicians were entirely on holiday, as many of them use these break periods to catch up on their private and often questionable business affairs. In fact, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who gave the opening speech of the winter session, seems to have been very busy lately trying to consolidate his legal defense against a number of allegations relating to his private business affairs.

Olmert, whose, real estate dealings in Jerusalem and connection with Bank Leumi, the country’s oldest and most well known bank, seems to be slipping further down the slimy slope of financial irregularities which puts an even bigger cloud over his head; much to the delight of his political enemies. Olmert tried to put on a strong face by saying that the Israeli government has made no agreements with the Palestinians prior to the scheduled international summit conference in Annapolis Maryland, now said to only be coming off in two months time. The conference was to have commenced in only a few weeks; but was post phoned due to a lack of progress by Israel in making any tentative deals with the Palestinian Authority, and further remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that it would be useless to hold such a meeting without any concrete itinerary by both Israel and the Palestinians.

Concrete itinerary: that was something that was severely criticized by Knesset opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who expressed great doubts that any kind of agreement could be made with Mahmoud Abbas. The P.A. President only represents part of the Palestinians due to Gaza being under the control of Hamas party leader Ismail Hananyah. As both Israel and the United Stated refuse to have any dealings with Hamas, which is considered a ‘terrorist entity’, the scheduled summit in Maryland is virtually doomed from the outset.

From many points of view, including Mr. Netanyahu’s, that’s ok with them as they believe that this conference is a complete non-starter. With Palestinian rockets continuing to be launched against Israeli settlements and towns, including the launching of the longer range Grad missile, and Corporal Gilad Schalit still being held captive in Gaza, any kind of conference is almost doomed before it begins. As Secretary Rice remarked during her last visit to the region, “We are looking for something more than just a ‘photo session’ and a few handshakes”.

Both Prime Minister Olmert and Opposition leader Netanyahu did not speak kindly regarding the problem concerning Iran; especially in the aftermath of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent address before both Columbia University and the U.N. General Assembly. It might be said that at least the two Israeli leaders did agree on something!

Despite all the mixed feelings it was nice to see that Israel does have a very vibrant democracy, and not just a “puppet parliament “as in countries like Syria and Iran.

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