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‘Dems’ Close to Sweeping U.S. Congress

Democratic PartyIn a clear and decisive mandate on President Bush’s domestic and foreign policies, The Democratic Party appears close to sweeping both houses of Congress in the aftermath of one of the most important mid-term election campaigns in U.S. history.

Democratic Party personalities, such as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, pictured, celebrated what they considered long overdue victories; not only personal, but ideological as well. Pelosi, a California Democrat and House Minority Leader, stands to become the first woman House Speaker in U.S. history. For those who aren’t aware, Speaker of the House is one of the most important positions in the U.S. government, and is only a ‘heartbeat’ away from the Presidency, being number three in succession to America’s highest political office. Other ‘Dems’ achieving victory in their campaigns include Senator Hillary Clinton (D. N.Y.) and Independent candidate Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman became a real “come-back kid’ after losing his state’s Democratic nomination in July. He plans to side with his former party in upcoming legislation, he remarked, following news that he had won re-election.

A number of governorships changed political hands, including a very important one in Massachusetts when Black American Democratic candidate Deval Patrick defeated his Republican rival, making Patrick the first Black American in history to be elected to the governorship in his state. Arnold Scharzenegger easily won re-election in California, despite numerous controversies over his administrative record in America’s most populated state. That in a way is all right, as it will give talk show hosts like Jay Leno and Colin O’Brien continuing ‘material’ to use for jokes on their shows.

The election victories also included several important state legislative questions, including ones on stem-cell research and abortion; both of which have been important subjects for President Bush. Reversal of abortion bans in some states will be a definite blow to Bush’s “pro-life” Republican Party legislative bills. Certain special interest groups such as single parents and gay marriage should also benefit.

The Administration foreign policies, particularly in the Middle East and Iraq will see a number ‘changes’ as well. A Democratic held House will undoubtedly demand an early end to the American presence in Iraq, especially since Congresswoman Pelosi will be House Speaker. How these changes will effect countries like Israel remains to be seen, as the Bush Administration has tried to present itself as being closing allied with Israel on many matters, including the recent war in Lebanon; and concerning Israel’s on-going conflict with the Palestinians. What America’s policies will be concerning Iran and North Korea will also be influenced as well.

What this all boils down to, goes back to an old protest song composed and sung by American icon Bob Dillon during the Vietnam War era:

” Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’. ”

photo: www.cnn.com

Oops – Sorry!

Two misguided IDF artillery shells, resulting in the deaths of 19 Palestinian civilians (many of them children) has again raised public outcry against Israel’s recent military operations in the Beit Haoun area of northern Gaza. Calling the occurrence a “technical failure”, Israeli P.M Ehud Olmert announced that he is “greatly disturbed” by this tragedy; and that he is willing to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “anywhere, anytime” to try to bring calm to a situation that has almost deteriorated to the point of no-return.

The incident occurred on Wednesday when Israeli artillery fire was supposedly directed at a location where Palestinian militants were hiding. These men were alleged to be responsible for a new wave of Kassam rocket attacks against Israeli towns and settlements located near the borders with Gaza, resulting in a new IDF incursion called Operation Fall Business. Palestinian fury was so rampant that Hamas and other Palestinian spokesmen referred to Israelis aa ‘animals’ and vowed to renew widespread suicide terror attacks not only against Israelis, but against Americans as well (due to America’s close alliance with Israel). “We shall erase Israel from the face of the earth” one Hamas spokesperson was quoted as saying. Several Palestinian militants were also killed in continued targeted assassinations, including many responsible for launching the home-made Kassams at towns such as Sderot in southern Israel.

Abbas has not yet responded to Olmert’s offer as his countrymen are not willing now to enter into any type of negations with their sworn enemies; and this includes deals to release prisoners. This incident brings to mind other incidents involving Israeli bombings in both Gaza and during the recent conflict in Lebanon, where the Israeli military has been blamed for the deaths of either Palestinian or Lebanese civilians. While these events are tragic enough, it should be noted that it has never been Israel’s deliberate intention to put civilians in harm’s way. The Palestinians’ castigating Israelis as ‘animals’ is a bit odd considering various acts they have been involved in against Israeli civilians; whether these acts have been on buses and other forms of public transport, in restaurants, shopping malls, and other public places; as well as during religious events such as Passover Seders. To denounce Israelis in this manner also fails to note events such as Palestinian shooting attacks on Jewish settlements, where women and children were shot to death at point-blank range; and numerous attacks on Israelis in automobiles, including the slaughter of an entire family, the Kutiels, less than three years back.

Abbas should be happy to meet with his Israeli counterpart. His Palestinian Authority is on the verge of disintegration, and the people are nearing starvation due to the P.A,’s ruined economy. The Israeli Prime Minister said that he has many proposals to present to Abbas concerning assistance to the Palestinians, as well as to putting an end to the cycle of violence that has spiraled out of control to the point that even the Palestinians are now fighting each other. Even Palestinian women are becoming more militant as they chant “martyrs by the millions – we are going to Al-Quds (Jerusalem)!”

With Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran watching these events with even more animosity, the main concern now is what will happen next.

photo: www.haaretz.co.il

Marathon Man

It seems like Israel’s oldest active politician, Shimon Peres (shown at Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo in 1994) is still having a go at it like an aging Marathon runner, in regards to his plan to once again run for President of the State of Israel. Despite his age, 82, and the allegations against him concerning the way he recruited more than $320,000 in ‘questionable’ political contributions, the aging political icon just refuses to retire, and become a full-fledged pensioner.

And why should he, with the average of the members of the newly formed Pensioners being around 75, and party leaders like Rafi Eitan themselves either pushing or crossing the octogenarian mark. Though not a member of Eitan’s party, Peres, since his bolt from his 60 year membership in the Labor Party, has virtually embarked on a new political horizon; thanks to Ehud Olmert’s Kadima Party. Peres is alleged to have received the quasi-legal contributions from some very affluent people, including billionaires Haim Saben, Bruce Rappaport, and Daniel Abrahams. Even though the receipt of the money is not considered illegal, the ethics of the circumstances surrounding the affair could have been a bit more “Kosher”.

Peres still intends to keep his hat in the presidential candidacy ring, however, and the question now is whether he will be able to achieve his goal, and come out a real winner, after so many times of winding up on the losing side. After all, his long political career, though colorful, has not exactly been a successful one. Though he has been Prime Minister twice, the first time in a shared national unity platform with former Likud Party leader Yitzhak Shamir, and the second time following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Peres has certainly had his trials and tribulations in the tumulus world of Israeli politics. Even his being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize only happened at the last minute following the nomination of Rabin and Yassir Afafat. Perhaps it was Arafat’s winning a share of the 1994 Peace Prize that convinced the Nobel Prize Committee to include Peres in receiving the award that year.

Peres’ often frank and one-sided political views have often hindered him, especially in a part of the world; where Jews like himself are definitely not welcome – or wanted. It’s often been a visual reality that despite his overtures towards establishing peaceful co-existence with Israel’s Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians, these “neighbors’ just don’t want to be neighborly. Events following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and certainly since the beginning of the Second Intifada in September, 2000, clearly point this out.

Despite all of this, Peres continues to pursue his dream of working out a deal with the Palestinians, and other peoples in the region, and through his Peres Center for Peace he tries to continue a dialogue with more moderate elements in a less than moderate part of the world. Many people, including this writer, would like to believe there is a possibility of peaceful co-existence between Israel and its neighbors. Shimon won’t live forever, however; and one wonders who will pick up and carry the baton after he’s gone.

Picture: bbc.co.uk

“Only” Ninety Lashes

The Saudi court verdict was extremely harsh by Western standards: 90 lashes as punishment for being involved in gang-rape. While this archaic and even primitive sounding punishment may appear shocking to those outside the realm of strict Sa’ari Islamic religious law, what makes this court verdict even more amazing was that it was levied upon the victim of this crime; and simply because she had been riding in the car of a man with whom she was not married. In the extreme Wahaabi Islamic doctrines being practiced in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women are often punished for what outsides might consider as very unjust “crimes”. These include being caught unveiled or immodestly dressed in public; or, in the case of this recent incident, being along with a man in a car to whom she was not married.

This “heinous” crime is reportedly said to have been the reason for the gang-rape in which four men, all reportedly married, took the hapless woman to a secluded spot, and there “had their way with her”. Though their punishment was more severe, between one and five years imprisonment and up to 1,000 lashes each, depending on their actual ‘participation’ in the crime, the hapless woman’s family, and that of her companion (who also received 90 token lashes for being with her at the time) felt that the perpetrators of the crime had not received adequate punishment. The punitive punishment theses men received, i.e., the actual lashes, must not have been life-threatening, or such a large amount of thrashing would surely kill them or injure them for life. The victim, who is married, did not appeal her own sentence, apparently accepting her fate within the format of Wahaabi religious law.

The above incident only points out the discrepancy of Islamic religious and legal codes in regards to the treatment of women, who are often regarded as mere chattal property in many Muslim countries, including Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A recent article by an American Muslim woman, Asra Q. Nomani, author of a book entitled Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, points out how Muslim women in a liberal and democratic country like America are still being treated by their husbands. Ms. Nomani refers to several excerpts from the Qu’ran, including verse 4:34, which states that physical punishment is allowed to be levied against a disobedient wife as long as it is “within reason” and does not involve her face. The translated version goes something like this: “And (as to) those on whose (wives) on whom you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places, and beat them”. This is often the fate of women in Islamic society.

Jewish law does not have such tenets regarding punishment for disobedient wives, but all too often, incidents of beatings and other acts upon women by their husbands are seen in the news in Israel, even in ultra-orthodox religious circles. If we as a society frown upon such acts being committed by our Muslim neighbors, we should also speak out more against such behavior in our own ‘backyard’. With over 1,200 cases of domestic violence reported this year alone, we should be more mindful of the consequences of these incidents, even though there are no express laws allowing men to abuse their spouses.

The ‘Iron Fist’ Strikes Again

Soldiers in Gaza - MSN.co.il
Picture: MSN.

It seems like the Palestinians just don’t ‘get it’ in regards to their continuing to shoot their home-made Kassam rockets into Israel, as well as smuggling all kinds of armament into Gaza. Their continuing to do these acts has once again resulted in an IDF incursion into their beloved territory; this time under an operation being called ‘Autumn Business’. And business it is with tanks, APCs, and several contingents of soldiers presently at work in several Gaza Strip locations, including Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, as well as in the southern areas, near what is known as the Philadelphia Corridor.

The Philadelphia Corridor, which runs long Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, has been the scene of numerous confrontations between IDF and Palestinian forces; many of which have resulted in many Israeli soldiers being killed – often by large explosive charges being planted in the path of approaching tanks and other armor with disastrous results. Now an even more dangerous situation has developed due to the smuggling by Palestinians of large numbers of anti-tank missiles similar to the ones that inflicted so much damage on IDF forces during last summer’s war in Lebanon. Via a network of tunnels, these weapons have been brought in, despite Egyptian promises to police their side of the border; which was one of the agreements made in order to facilitate Israel’s withdraw from Gaza in August, 2005. Though numerous tunnels have been discovered and blown up by the IDF, many more still exist; resulting in a rumor being spread that Israel would use ‘smart bombs’ to blow up these tunnels.

Smart bombs, or not, the current on-going military operations are planned at reducing Palestinian ability to attack Israeli towns and settlements located near “The Strip”; in particular Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s home town of Sderot. With the entrance into the Israeli government by Avigdor Lieberman, the situation concerning Gaza and other Palestinian controlled areas may become even more interesting with Lieberman saying that he plans to treat these areas in a similar manner as Russian military forces are doing with the ‘rebel’ regions of Chechnya and Dagastan. If that’s so, then it’s ‘rock and roll’ big time, with the Palestinians being even more pressured than they have been up to now. Maybe this isn’t a bad idea as it might make them ‘believers, and force them to discontinue shooting their rockets into Israel. With all of this going on, the release of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit may now be even more in doubt, much to the chagrin of those close to him. Lieberman’s new position as Deputy Prime Minister and External Strategies Minister may mean new developments along Israel’s border with Lebanon as well; despite the presence of UNIFIL and Lebanese military forces.

In other words, ‘Fall Business’ may turn into ‘Winter Rains’.

Understanding Ariel Sharon

Ariel (Arik) Sharon
Recently published biographies of former Israel Prime Minister Ariel (Arik) Sharon, including a very intimate one by journalist and personal friend, Uri Dan, may help many to better understand the complexities and human qualities of the man who may one day go down in history as one of Israel’s greatest military leaders and statesmen. Dan maintained a close relationship with Sharon for more than 50 years; which only ended with the Prime Minister’s massive stroke in January, 2006.

Few politicians on the Israeli political scene have made their mark in a manner like the man who not only helped save his country in time of war, but who also has made monumental decisions concerning his country’s future direction in regards to peace. While this ‘new direction has not been accepted by many, including many of his former Likud Party political colleagues; Sharon finally came to the conclusion that the only way to reach a lasting peace agreement with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors was to agree to let them have their own national identity – i.e. statehood.

The human side of Ariel Sharon, including the shattering loss of his first born son, Gur, in an accident at age 11; and the death of his second wife, Lilly, to cancer in 2000, has also influenced him, especially in later life. Many people, myself included, have not fully understood this man who has loved his country and its people more than anyone ever could imagine; and who was prepared to make great sacrifices for its sake. Sharon’s love of the Land of Israel made some of his more recent governmental decisions, especially the disengagement from Gaza, even more painful to him. Many people close to him, including Uri Dan, feel that Sharon’s decision to give up the Gaza settlements, and the adverse reaction from so many Israelis, was what brought on the two strokes that finished him in the end.

Other biographies, Ariel Sharon: A Life, by Nir Hefez and Gadi Bloom (the English translation of the Hebrew version: The Shepherd), and Sharon: A life in Times of Turmoil, by Freddy Eytan, also detail the colorful and controversial life of this often misunderstood individual. But in the end, it is Gur’s long relationship with ‘Arik’ that is the most intimate, as this version goes deep into the heart and soul of the man who’s sudden departure from the political scene “has left people with a feeling of incompletion” not unlike the November 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was also criticized, and even castigated by many, for his agreement to peace with the Palestinians via the Oslo Accords. Sharon’s own life was also threatened by extremist elements, and this resulted in his having a minimum of six bodyguards constantly encircling him wherever he went.

Sharon’s legacy has yet to finalized, as he is still fighting for his life in a deep coma from which he is not expected to recover. But the idealism and love for his country will make its mark on Israel’s history, and for this soldier, farmer, and statesman who often stopped government cabinet sessions to rush to his farm upon learning of the birth of new members of his livestock. A ‘good shepherd’, he certainly has been.

Letter to an Okie

Some people I know from “the old country” had been planning a trip to Israel this fall, but cancelled it, partially due to the “injustice” of the war in Lebanon. The following letter is my reply:

Dear ……,

I’m also very sorry you guys decided to “delay” your trip here. Many tours and private visits were “delayed”, but on the other hand, many more visits have occurred; by non-Jews as well as Jews.

The circumstances which brought all of this about still plague this region and Americans may not have the true picture as most attention is now focused on events in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as with (Daffy Duck loving) Kim Jong Il in North Korea; not to mention Iran.

Letter to an OkieIsrael started the year with the best intentions, including new Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s pledge to begin a withdraw from parts of the West Bank, following the painful August 2005 disengagement from Gaza. This should have made the Palestinians happy. But what did they do? Why they attacked an Israeli patrol, killing several soldiers and capturing Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Israel reciprocated by attacking Gaza to pressure the Hamas-led government there into releasing Shalit. Israel also ‘invited’ several P.A. parliamentarians to be ‘guests’ of the IDF until the release of Shalit.

When all this maneuvering didn’t work, the good Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and the “Hezbollah Friendship Society” did some ‘maneuvering’ of their own by pulling off a similar attack on Israel’s northern border, also killing more soldiers and capturing two more: Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, both reserve soldiers (Goldwasser had only been married 3 months before this incident occurred). About the same time, the Sheikh and Co. launched a bunch of their famous pop bottle rockets into Israel, resulting in Israel attacking them big-time.

Now, bear in mind that the Hezbollah Friendship Society (H.F.S.), because they are so friendly, like to locate themselves in the middle of heavily populated areas (Like the old Jude n’Jody furniture commercials, they love folk). That’s why Israeli Aircraft had so much trouble in ‘rooting’ them out. That’s also why that well publicized incident occurred when that house containing all those poor people was bombed, killing many of them (much less than the erroneous Lebanese and Red Cross information noted, however).

Yes, Lebanon did get bombed a bunch and a lot of innocent folk got killed. A number of innocent Israelis got killed too, though much less. However, we did suffer a significant amount of property damage; and this included more than 10,000 square hectares of agricultural and timberland, much of which will take 50+ years to grow back. With all this said and done, The Sheikh is now a hero, and Israeli leaders including P.M. Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz are castigated as losers, with many crying for their dismissal. Goldwasser, Regev, and Shalit are still captured as well.

I think Bush is mad at Israel for not “stomping a mud-hole” in Hezbollah, as should have been done; but this may still happen, and the good Sheikh knows this all too well. That’s why he still is lying low. Real low!

Despite all those UNIFIL and so-called Lebanese Army troopers patrolling Lebanon’s border, Hezbollah still has another 10,000 or so pop bottle rockets left, plus some bigger stuff. Israelis now feel more vulnerable than ever before, with no effective ‘anti-pop bottle rocket’ defense in hand.

Besides we’re all looking East toward that country run by the Mullahs who aid and bankroll the H.F.S. They and that even friendlier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are conjuring up some even bigger pop bottle rockets with something even more powerful to eventually shoot at Israel. Only one of these going off, and it’s all over.

So, when you talk about peace and justice, the question to ask is peace and justice for whom?

I still think you should eventually plan a trip here, and then you will see all of the facts for yourself. You also need to see where it all began (Christianity), which was also during a very volatile time (the Romans were not nice guys).

Take care and have a happy Thanksgiving.

M

Divide and Rule: Olmert’s new Presidential Office plans

Following the observance of the fifth anniversary since the assassination of the former Moledet party leader Rahavin (Ghandi) Zeevi, and the possibility of his “successor”, Yisrael Beitanu leader Avigdor Lieberman joining Ehud Olmert’s government coalition, some interesting new political plans have been in the offing in order to accommodate Lieberman’s ultra right wing political views. Olmert, possibly in a last ditch effort to save his waning political fortunes, is seriously considering drafting changes in the country’s governmental decision making to enable a new presidential position to be created in which the holder of that office will have wide ranging powers, including those involving national defense. And Lieberman, due to his very frank views on these matters, may be just the man to assist the Prime Minister in this undertaking.

Lieberman’s views, not unlike his predecessor, Zeevi, call for harsh dealings with the Palestinians, including “inviting” most of them to leave their present domiciles in Gaza and the West Bank for residences elsewhere. He also has very ‘direct’ ideas on how to deal with both Lebanon and Iran, Israel’s most dangerous security problems.

Olmert’s idea is the create a directly elected Presidency similar to that in countries like the U.S.A. who will have much more power that Israel’s present presidency, whose position is largely ceremonial, and who is elected by a secret ballot of Knesset parliamentarians, without any participation by the national electorate. The Prime Minister also wants to combine Lieberman’s party into a ‘unity’ government, with a ‘presidential regime’ possibly headed by none other than either Olmert or Lieberman – or both, without the myriad of small political parties which have always been the rule in Israeli politics. Their ‘plan’ is to consolidate political parties into two major ones similar to the Republican and Democratic party system which has been to norm in America for the past 150 years. One can only wonder, in this ‘new order’ framework, is who will head each side?

Israeli politics has never had political parties who garnished enough governing mandates to have a direct power majority in the country’s 120 member parliament. This reality has always resulted in need to form coalition governments involving several small parties, representing various interest groups, such as the religious population, ethnic minorities (Arabs, etc.) and now, even the golden-agers (the new Pensioners Party). Knesset parliamentarians are not elected by the people, as American Congressmen are, but as members of party slate lists, whose colorful party conventions and ‘primaries’ result in often violent internal power jockeying by hopeful party members, with all the ‘backroom’ activities thereof.

With Olmert and Lieberman’s idea of a separately elected executive (their prototype, of course), the present coalition dealings can avoided and this all powerful leader can then be free to make important decisions concerning the country’s national welfare.

The main concern many of us have is: who will be calling the shots?

French Kiss – New French Aliyah Wave

Israel’s multicultural society has always been highlighted by ‘waves’ of Jewish immigration from various corners of the world. Most recently these new immigrants, or Olim, have been arriving from countries such as Argentina, North America, the U.K. and especially from France. France, which is still known for having the largest number of Jews on ‘The Continent’, has recently seen a sharp increase in acts of Anti-Semitism against French Jewish citizens all over the country, most particularly in cities such as Lyon, Marseilles, Toulouse, and even in the capital, Paris. A large Muslim population, together with an increase in anti-Semitic activities by right-winged groups like the National Front, has been more than enough of a warning to encourage Jews, especially younger ones, to seek safer havens elsewhere.

And in more and more instances, that ‘elsewhere’ is Israel. In the midst of Israel’s recent conflict in Lebanon and Palestinian controlled areas, two full El-Al jumbo jets with more than 700 French Olim arrived in one day at Ben Gurion Airport in July, 2006. Israel Prime Minister Olmert and many other government dignitaries were on hand to welcome these Olim, many of whom were either young singles or families who left the higher Euro-based incomes and relative comfort of their native land for a new life with their Jewish brethren. “This is the Jewish answer to both Hamas and Hezbollah” Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski said at a special ceremony at the airport. “The basic weapon we have is the Jewish People, people who love Israel” Prime Minister Olmert continued.

For years, French Jews have purchased “second homes” in many Israeli cites, including Bat Yam, Netanya, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and more recently in the upscale community of Raanana, near Tel Aviv. In many sea-side communities, particularly Netanya, the arrival of “Ha-Tzarfatim” (the French) was an annual summer event in July and August, when French cities like Paris become emptied of many of their citizens away on holiday. The freedom they experienced in Israel, allowing them to wear skull caps and various Jewish symbols usually not advisable in their home communities, was enough in itself to convince many of them to turn those few weeks in the summer into a permanent residential move. The situation in France has reached a point where many French Jews do not even put Mezuzot on the outside of their residences.

The anti-government riots, occurring all over France in 2005, was one of the big decision makers, as most of the rioters were Muslims from North Africa. In July of 2005, a large group of French Olim arrived, and this year, the tide is even bigger. Many older French Jews are still hesitant to leave as benefits they receive from the French government, as well as restrictions on funds they can transfer out of France makes many of them want to stay on – at least for a while. Learning Hebrew and finding suitable employment are also two major hurdles that the new Olim have to overcome in Israel.

“We know there is a big problem with Arabs in Israel, as there is in France; but at least in Israel we are with our own people” a new arrival was heard saying.

Read the adventures of OlehGirl who made Aliya in 2005.

Amos Oz Nominated for Nobel Prize

Amos Oz
Israeli novelist, journalist and professor Amos Oz, has once again achieved international recognition by being nominated for the 2006 Nobel Price for Literature. Oz, who was born in 1939 in Jerusalem, and currently a Professor of Literature at Ben Gurion University of the Negev is perhaps Israel’s most prestigious authors, whose works such as My Michael and A Story of Love and Darkness have been translated into over 30 different languages. Oz, who’s Jerusalem childhood greatly influenced many of his novels, and also set him off on a quite different political “path” than many of his forbearers who were considered right-winged Zionists, has always been in favor of more rights for Israel’s Arab population, as well as for the Palestinians. His articles and comments advocating a separate Palestinian state has often placed him at odds with various Israeli governments, especially ones led by the right-winged Likud Party.

Despite his frank and candied political views, his accomplishment as an author who has an ability to portray life in Israel in its most graphic and realistic forms, has made him popular not only in his own country but internationally as well. In 1998, in conjunction the Israel’s 50th Jubilee celebrations, Oz was awarded the Israel Price, his country’s most prestigious award for making a contribution to his country’s literary advancement. Living the desert city of Arad, Oz has been teaching literature at Ben Gurion University for some time.

In addition to the Israel Prize, Ox was honored by Germany in 2005 with the Goethe Literary Prize, that country highest literary award, marking his place with such personalities as Sigmund Freud and Thomas Mann in German literary annals.

This year’s Nobel Prize is worth 1.37 million dollars for each category, including physics, chemistry, economics, literature, and of course, that most prestigious of all, The Nobel Peace Prize.

Oz’s book My Michael was chosen in 1999 as being one of 100 most outstanding novels of the 20th Century. Oz commented at that time that he hadn’t thought that a book like this was in particular so outstanding, as it simply tried to portray a real life situation as he saw it. “I would have still written in this manner whether I had received the Israel Prize or the ‘Israeli Penalty’ ” he said. A Story of Love and Darkness, another Oz classic, and is more like a documentary, has sold more than 700,000 copies worldwide.

In addition to his novels, Oz has written a number of essays dealing both with Israeli political and cultural issues (In the Land of Israel) and ones dealing with Israel-Palestinian relations (Israel, Palestine, and Peace).

Transfer – Eitam Style

Transfer Eitam StyleNational Union/ NRP Leader and Knesset parliamentarian Effie Eitam has created a storm among Israel’s Arab citizens by advocating that they be forced to leave the country. Eitam, while speaking on Monday on a talk show radio program by Israel’s armed forces radio station Galei Tzahal, particularly singled those who are members of the Knesset, including Hadash Communist Party head Mahmoud Borca, Raam-Taal Party leader Dr. Ahmed Tibi, and Balad Party chief Azmi Bashawa. Bashawa, in particular, received the brunt of Eitams lambasting, due to the Arab leader’s open support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah; as well as Bashawa’s trips to Syria, where he met openly with Syrian President Bashar Assad, and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

Eitam is not the only Israeli political figure up in arms over Mr. Bashawas actions, which have reached the stage that his political immunity is being threatened by his overt activities, which in any other country would be considered as treason. Israel’s Arab population, numbering more than 750,000, was openly supportive of both Lebanon and the Hezbollah during the month long military conflict. They have also been highly supportive of the Palestinian national aspirations as well; although in private most of them would not want to live under Palestinian rule. Since Israel became independent in 1948, resulting in what many Arab citizens still regard as “Al Nakba” (the catastrophe), they have never been fully part of Israeli society; and have always been on the short end in regards to employment, housing and educational opportunities. Israeli Arab boys do not serve in the IDF, as opposed to many Druze and Bedouin youth, many of whom even serve in combat positions.

The vast majority of Israel’s Arab population is Sunni Muslims and in recent years, more and more have become involved with radical Islamic groups and idealism. Areas in which this trend has become particularly noticeable are in the ‘triangle’ region between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and in the Whadi Ara region of the lower Galilee; especially in the town of Um al-Faham. Open aired demonstrations in favor of Palestinian statehood, and for groups like Hamas have become commonplace in the town’s soccer stadium.

Meanwhile, while all of this has been going on, left- winged Meretz political party leader, Dr. Yossi Beilin, has asked the State Legal Advisor, Manny Mazoz, to file a legal indictment against Eitam for slander and incitement against the Arab population. Dr. Beilin was especially incited by Eitam’s remark that “a Jewish democratic state cannot live with such elements as these (in reference to Israeli Arabs in general, and the already mentioned political leaders in particular). Another remark made by Eitam, which upset Beilin was: “It’s impossible to co-exist with all these Arabs; and it’s even more impossible to give up on land because of them”.

Where all of this is going to end, is unclear at present. But what is obvious is that both the Palestinians and the Hezbollah are enjoying the controversy; which is adding even more dilemma to Israel’s already beleaguered political leaders.

(Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia)

Israel’s Real Reality Show

IsraelRecently surfaced photos and video tapes of both Ron Arad and the three soldiers captured in October 2000 (Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, and Omar Suwad), indicate only one very painful reality. That unfortunate reality is how Israeli POW’s, or captured soldiers are treated by their enemies especially those such as the Hezbollah.

Not that this is anything new, as even ‘formal’ enemies such as Syria and even Egypt were not so kind to captured Israeli soldiers who were their ‘guests’.

The clips showing the captured Israelis in 2000 were especially sad, as it was obvious that at least two of them were not only alive but able to walk, as they were “escorted” to the waiting jeep that was to take them to what was probably a very frightening and painful death.

The graphic reality of this matter is that despite more formal treaties such as The Geneva Convention, the terms and conditions regarding captured Israeli POW’s do not apply here. Not that Israel’s enemies are alone in this respect. Abuses to prisoners all over the world have occurred in countries in Africa, Asia, and even in Europe, particularly in the Balkans. These new reminders, including the interview of Ron Arad, alleged to have occurred about two years following his capture in 1986, have a sad and heartbreaking effect on the families of captured soldiers, which has continued for years.

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Guns or Butter: Budget Worries Threaten Coalition Partners

A statement by Israeli Finance Minister Abraham Hirshzon that the government will have to choose between having enough money to increase armor protection on tanks against missiles and providing subsidized milk to babies is an indication to the growing tension between members of the present government coalition. Friction between those advocating social platforms, and those in favor of increasing the security budget, are a growing dilemma for Defense Minister Amir Peretz, himself an avowed socialist and champion of social welfare programs.

The rift resulting from these confrontations may even result in the Labor Party bolting from Ehud Olmert’s already fracturing coalition, and bring the country back to the ballot box in yet another election; possibly as early as the spring of 2007. Some of the drastic budget restructuring by the Finance Ministry include increasing the tuition at the country’s State-supported universities by nearly 50% in a four year period, canceling unemployment benefits eligibility for workers under age 28, reducing pension and welfare benefits as well as lowering sums received by de-mobilizing soldiers from active duty, and making 3,000 government employees redundant. Most people wholeheartedly object to the majority of these measures, especially the ones affecting the weaker elements of Israeli society, as well as ones affecting the country’s future academic resources. The firing or ‘early retirement’ of the government employees, however, is likely to meet fewer objections as Israel’s already swollen governmental bureaucracy can use a bit of ‘culling’.

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Middle East Humor

A Palestinian suspect was being grilled by Israeli police.

“Honest, I’m not a suicide bomber,” he said. I didn’t say I wanted to blow myself up so I could sleep with 72 virgins.
All I said was I’m dying to get laid!”

Ron Arad “Resurfaces”

A previously un-shown video of captured Israeli flight navigator Ron Arad has suddenly been released by the very people who must have even more information concerning the fate of the man that many Israelis hope may still be alive.

Captured in southern Lebanon in 1986, after his plane was shot down by a SAM missile, and following later photos of him in captivity, no positive additional information has been disclosed by his captors, alleged to have been either the Hezbollah or a Shiite Muslim ‘splinter group’. Arad, who’s capture and unknown whereabouts has been the subject of countless efforts to at least learn of his fate, has surfaced time and time again – especially when new prisoner swap deals have been in the making, particularly like the one now involving the two captured IDF soldiers and a number of Hezbollah fighters who are now ‘guests’ of the IDF. The deal will be the first since the January 2004 exchange in which the bodies of three kidnapped IDF soldiers and an Israeli businessman, Elkanan Tannanbaum, were exchanged for a large number of Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists. Tannanbaum, who remains in Israeli police custody, has said little of his more than three year captivity.
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