Thursday, August 21, 2003
Dang, didn't they kill this guy already?

U.S. forces just announced that they captured Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, him being the infamous "Chemical Ali" of mustard-gassing-the-Kurds fame.

Back in April, he was supposed to have been killed when coalition planes flattened a building in Basra. I had heard that there were rumors he might have survived the attack, but until today I hadn't realized that the U.S. admitted it had missed the guy. Anyway, better late than never. Cross off the king of spades from the deck.

This follows the capture of Taha Yassin Ramadan (ten of diamonds), Saddam's former VP, the other day. Both Ramadan and Chemical Ali were nabbed by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Which makes you wonder if the PUK doesn't have some more tricks up their sleeves.

Where to Next in the Territories?

The Jerusalem Post today comes out in favor of a Palestinian civil war:
Over the past almost three years of their terror offensive, all Palestinian factions became increasingly unified. It became harder and harder to distinguish between the groups, which competed with each other over who could commit more suicide bombings and develop innovations, such as women suicide bombers and so forth. The distinctions between secular and fundamentalist, between "moderate" and "radical" became increasingly blurred, and Palestinians celebrated their new found unity as perhaps the only accomplishment of this period.

In this context, it is perhaps understandable that Palestinian leaders are loath to destroy the unity they had built. But the Palestinian Authority, whatever that now means, must choose. It cannot have unity based on terror and found a Palestinian state.
The article once again draws a parallel to the Altalena incident. The message is that if you want to have a stable country, you can only have one governing authority. And to do this, you need to take down any element which refuses to work within the system.

I have a feeling that the PA is going to be even more resistant to doing something about Hamas, Jihad, and the myriad Fatah terror groups after the Shanab assassination today. If there's a sure way to prevent the Palestinians from doing something it's to show that Israel supports it, even if it's in the best interests of the Palestinians. What this means for Abu Mazen and the road map is anyone's guess.

Bye Bye Hudna

So, the smackdown begins. And the hudna ends.

IAF gunships nailed a car carrying Hamas official Ismail Abu Shanab and his two bodyguards. This, despite reports this morning that the Palestinian Authority had finally been pressured into a crackdown of their own against the terrorist groups.

So, first off let me express relief that the IAF actually got the guy without killing any innocent bystanders. These missions are problematic enough as it is, doubly so when they go wrong. Secondly, let me say good riddance and hope that the late Mr. Shanab's colleagues soon join him in the deepest pits of hell.

Normally I'd be kind of wringing my hands and wondering whether it wouldn't have been better to let the Palestinians do it themselves. But I find that after the bombing Tuesday night I have once more expended whatever faith and goodwill I have towards the Palestinians and their pathetic leadership. Yes, there was dramatic news out of Ramallah yesterday. Abu Mazen went to Arafat and begged the old ghoul to permit him to do something about Hamas. But if there is anyone out there who actually expected to see Mohammed Dahlan's boys mixing it up with Hamas and Jihad, I have some property to the West of Herzliya Pituach with a lovely view of the Marina that I'm looking to sell.

Still, this can't have been an easy decision for Sharon to take. There was an incredible amount of pressure to keep up the hudna even despite the bombing in Jerusalem. Presumably, the thinking is that any crackdown by the PA on the terrorist groups would mainly be for show. God knows we've seen it all before, the revolving door prisons, the prisoners being held in the comfort of their own homes (or Arafat's) in order to shield them from Israel.

(A more conspiracy-oriented coworker of mine has a different theory: that the PA is actually tipping off Israel so that it will do Dahlan's dirty business for it.)

And so, the cease-fire finally fell apart just like we knew it would. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have already declared that the hudna is null and void.

Despite the fact that the cease-fire was never total I'm still bummed that it finally crashed and burned. The whole thing was a farce, to be sure, and the PA's unwillingness to clean up its own house would have meant its demise sooner or later. Still, even though it was a fool's quiet, it was still a bit of quiet.

Now we wait for the next round...

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Bombs II

There was, of course, another bombing yesterday. I'm glad to see The U.N. standing firm for a change.

From the point of view of the terrorists, it was extremely stupid to attack the one organization in the West that causes the most problems to the Great Satan:
"In hitting the United Nations, it could put into a rather tough position those in the U.N. who might have opposed what the United States is doing in Iraq, and even opposed our entry into the war to begin with," [international law expert Richard] Shultz said.

In other words, by attacking the United Nations the bombers may have made it easier for President Bush to convince European and Arab nations that they have a stake in a peaceful, stable Iraq.

Bombs I

Murderous bastards. Inhuman animals. Wicked, evil scum.

Twenty people were murdered in Jerusalem last night. A Palestinian suicide bomber boarded a bus packed with families coming back from prayers and blew himself -- and whatever vague feelings we still might have had that the cease-fire has any meaning -- up. The situation is depressing in the extreme, so pardon the rambling nature of my thoughts on the subject:

  1. Last night's attrocity has earned the title "Attack on the Children." (Hebrew link). Six children died and at least a dozen more were seriously wounded. Try as I might, I can't fathom how a person can get so thoroughly debased that he can do such a thing. James Lileks really nails what I'm feeling:
    The bomber was a father of two. A man who has children who walks down the aisle of the bus, looking at the children whose small short cheerful lives he is about to destroy, contenting himself with the knowledge that they are mere Jews - such a man has abdicated his humanity. The fact that he died in an instant and 100+ victims survived to live with the pain for the rest of your days makes you wonder which side God is on. Or it makes you certain there’s a hell. Or it just makes you not want to think about these things at all.

  2. Can we finally say that the hudna is over? In the last month the most pessimistic predictions regarding the cease-fire have come true. The Palestinian terror groups have been using the time to rearm and plan new attacks. The Palestinian Authority has done absolutely nothing about it and instead of the world pressuring them to do so, it pressures Israel into making more gestures and concessions so that Abu Mazen's popularity can go up. In the meantime, when Israel tries to go in and get the terrorists, the terrorist groups use this as an excuse for renewing terrorism.

    Money is still flowing in to all the terrorist groups -- from Iran via Hizbullah, from Europe via Arafat -- but the pressure on the Palestinians for transparency has eased up. The PA, now fronted by a gray apparatchik instead of a leering terrorist, has a lot more plausible deniability than it used to. Arafat, at least, couldn't dodge the demands to crack down on the terrorism by saying "I'm too weak and unpopular."

    So, we're back in the same rotten situation as we were 2 years ago, around the time of the Dolphinarium bombing. The Palestinians perpetrate an attrocity and the world immediately turns to Israel and demands that we sit on our hands, lest we derail progress on the diplomatic track.

    I'd almost be willing to accept the situation if we could hear the Palestinian Authority once -- just once -- condemn the terrorist attacks because it is morally wrong and inhumane to purposely kill innocent civilians, including Jews. Instead, they always manage to couch the condemnation in very general terms ("we are against any civilians getting hurt"), or else explain that these attacks don't serve the interests of the Palestinian people.

  3. It will be interesting to see what the next couple of days brings. Israel has cut off all talks with the PA and the PA has cut off all talks with the Islamofascists of Hamas and Jihad. There will have to be a military retaliation, and I sincerely hope that it is a profound one that wipes out as much of the Hamas and Jihad leadership as possible, from Sheik Yassin downwards. It would be best if Dahlan's security apparatus would do the deed, but I'll take some IAF Cobras in a pinch.

    In addition, I hope that the Bushies start shifting the focus of their pressure on Abu Mazen and Dahlan. Clearly, the PA tactic of trying to coopt the terror groups in hopes that they'll keep quiet is not going to work. They need to be put out of commission -- disarmed and bankrupted -- and we can't wait much longer.

    Finally, the Israeli government finally finds a way to deal with the political infighting that is hampering the construction of the security fence. Put the damn thing up already; we can negotiate the fine points of it later.

  4. Imshin's reaction to the bombing raised a point I was thinking about myself: Is it safe to visit Jerusalem? Imshin worries that her children are growing up with no memories or experience of Jerusalem since they haven't gone there in the last few years.

    Save for a very brief visit to attend the Israel Prize awards on Independence Day, I haven't visited the capitol in nearly two years either. It's not just because of the fear of terrorism, but the worry is there. Less for me, but more for the people around me.

    My brother and his fiancee are coming from overseas for the upcoming holidays and they expressed an interest in visiting Jerusalem. When they came last summer, I advised against going. This was in the days following the attack at Hebrew U and I didn't want it on my conscience if they went and something God forbid happened. I thought this time around it would be fine to visit. Now I'm not sure.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Jewish Vigilantism in the Territories

I suppose my deeply ingrained Israeli defensiveness will start showing here, but the feature in today's NY Times on the vigilantism of some West Bank settlers rubbed me the wrong way. The impetus for the story was the recent arrest of Mati Pas, a settler in Hebron, who was apparently apprehended with explosives in his car. Pas' baby daughter, Shalhevet, was murdered by a Palestinian two and a half years ago.

The security services have put a gag order on the whole incident. It may or may not indicate that violent underground movement has sprung up among some of the settlers. This kind of movement operated in the '80s before Israeli security forces arrested its members sent them to jail for the better part of a decade.

I admit that it's hard to pinpoint the problems with the Times article without going into a knee-jerk fisking of its nuances. Objectively, reporter Ian Fisher presents all the relevant statistics. This is to say, he proves that Jewish violence against Palestinians is rare. From the figures provided by the human rights organization B'Tselem, we see
32 cases where Palestinians have been killed by settlers and according to Israeli authorities, with seven of these murders still unsolved. This is compared with 190 Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians inside the territories and 328 in Israel proper during the same time period. The story doesn't speculate how many settlers might be involved in an underground, but the figures 20 years ago were never higher than a few dozen.

Which brings us back to the nuances.

For one thing, Fisher lowballs Israeli casualties. He mentions the 518 Israeli civilians, but leaves out the 235 soldiers and security personnel, many of whom were killed off duty (for instance while sitting on a bus). He also leaves out the 36 foreign citizens who were killed by Palestinians, and, even more strangely, the 3 victims of the Mike's Place bombing who were killed by British citizens acting on the behalf of the Palestinians.

This figure is compared with the total number of Palestinians killed by the IDF, which B'Tselem pegs at 2,103. Bear in mind, however, that the majority of these Palestinians were killed in armed skirmishes with the IDF. At any rate the comparison is faulty. Since the story ostensibly focuses on Jewish terrorism, the only relevant figures should be civilians killed by other civillians -- i.e. 554 Israelis and foreigners killed by Palestinians and 32 Palestinians killed by settlers.

Fisher attempts to downplay the rarity of settler violence against Palestinians -- which is really the only point of this story -- by noting that "[Shlomi] Swisa, the human rights researcher, said the reason for the scarcity of Jewish vigilantism is that, in fact, most Israelis believe that the army is protecting them well enough."

No other theory is floated. For instance, I would argue that the rarity of settler violence against Palestinians also has to do with the fact that the Israeli authorities actually arrest and jail the settlers who commit murder. Unlike in the Palestinian Authority where Palestinian murderers are given protection and are lauded by Arafat.

The biggest problem, and this really is one of nuance, is the anecdote that ends Fisher's piece. He brings us the story of the Palestinian Tamaizi family, who were driving home one night when a car driving alongside them opened fire on them. Three members of the family were killed, including an infant. A Jewish group took responsibility for the attack.

A terrible story without a doubt. The perpetrators of the act have apparently been arrested and will be tried accordingly. Fisher draws a direct comparison between the baby in the Tamaizi's car and Shalhevet Pas. I suppose this is legit seeing as both were babies and both were killed in terrorist attacks. There is, however, one salient difference. The murderers that opened fire on the Tamaizi's car probably could not see who was in it at the time. They knew it was a Palestinian car and they knew they were attacking Palestinians, and I am in no way attempting to justify their act of terrorism.

However, Shalhevet Pas was murdered by a Palestinian sniper. That is to say, the man had a 10-month-old baby in a stroller in his gunsight and opened fire. His act was arguably the most barbaric in a long series of barbaric incidents perpetrated by the Palestinians in the last three years. Unlike the suicide bombers, Mahmad Mahmud Amru, the sniper, couldn't even said to have been brainwashed; his was a cold, calculated murder.

(Like the alleged Jewish terrorists, Amru was also arrested. By the IDF, however, not by the PA.)

I don't know if Fisher has an agenda or not. The story can be read as yet another attempt to try and justify Palestinian violence, this time by using a really feeble "the other side is doing it, too" argument. Other than that, it's basically a "dog bites man" piece. The only reason that the relatively few incidents of Jewish violence against Palestinians is a story at all is because Palestinian violence against Jews is so common.

The Julie/Julia Project

Julia Powell, a 30-something Southerner transplanted to Long Island feels frustrated by her job as a bureaucratic office drone and questions where she's going in life. In an attempt to wrest control of her destiny, she comes up with a project: cook all 536 recipes in Julia Childs' classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year.

Powell details the ensuing nightmare in one of the most amusing blogs I've come across to date.

Coffee, Coffee Everywhere

Ten years ago, when I moved back to Israel, finding a decent cup of coffee around here was a difficult undertaking. For decades, coffee in Israel came in two forms: you could have instant coffee (nes) or a muddy facsimile of Turkish coffee (botz). You didn't see that many cafes and even if you found one, the best you could expect was blah espresso made from low-grade beans.

What a difference a decade makes. These days, if you stroll down Ibn Gavirol street in Tel Aviv you find a coffee shop almost every other building. And the brew you get at these places is decidedly better than what you'll find on the streets in London or New York.

In the last two or three years we've seen the rise of a half-dozen or more local coffee chains such as Arcaffe, Ilan's, and Aroma. These have set up branches seemingly everywhere. At the same time Starbucks threw in the towel after barely a year and a half here. The rise of the coffee chains is interesting, because Israel didn't have much of a coffee-drinking tradition. (On the whole, it still doesn't. For the majority of people, I'd venture to guess that coffee still means either nes or botz).

Also, unlike in the States, the industry is not built on the concept of coffee to go. Israelis like to sit down and have food with their caffeinated beverages. (Starbucks failed to grasp this fact. Starbucks tanked). This means that the turnover at your average Aroma is a lot smaller than at your local Peet's. If you take into account the security situation (which can discourage people from sitting in cafes) along with the fact that Israel has also been in a deep recession for the last 3 years, the success of local coffee is fairly incredible. I suppose it proves that coffee is one of the world's last remaining cheap pleasures.

The Ha'aretz story linked above does a taste/price/service comparison of the food and coffee offered by the major chains. Aroma -- okay coffee, excellent sandwiches -- comes out on top. Personally, I like Arcaffe, although their food is terribly overpriced. (A related story by Daniel Rogove, the paper's resident food snob does a taste test of the coffee itself. Somehow the copy editors forgot to label the tests, so all you get is descriptions.)

Crime Wave U.S.A. Israel

Although this country has its problems, rampant crime isn't usually one of them. Yeah, we have the usual crimes against property (car and apartment break-ins), but the murder rate is lower than you'd expect for a country filled with people from diverse backgrounds living in a very tense situation. So, when the crime reports knocks the developments with the neighbors from the top of the news, you begin to wonder what's going on.

The big story today is about an armored car heist. Seems that a Brinks armored vehicle turned up abandoned near Haifa on the side of the road. The driver, along with NIS 7 million (a little under $1.6 million) are missing. Police have set up roadblocks and are searching the area.

The armored car heist story is entertaining in a kind of "only in the movies" sort of way. Which is a lot better than yesterday's crime news.

Yesterday morning, Sarah Ben Edri left her store in downtown Tel Aviv to go use the restroom in an adjacent office building. She pressed the elevator button and a bomb went off. She was rushed to the hospital, where she died. The police believe the bomb was intended for a local loan hoodlum named Yaakov Amsalem who keeps an office in the building. Amsalem -- a loan shark/thug for hire -- is embroilde in a war with some other mafiosi over control of protection rackets. He has survived a couple of assassination attempts in the past and police suspect him of being involved in a murder.

This is the third or fourth mob-style bombing this summer in Tel Aviv. In all the other cases, the casualties were criminal figures. In this case, a civilian -- a 56-year-old grandmother, in fact -- has been killed. The police haven't said what they plan to do about the phenomenon but I would hope that we see a real crackdown on the underworld here before things start getting out of control.

It's bad enough having to worry about the Palestinians without also having to worry about being caught in the cross-fire between two lowlifes trying to kill each other.

Monday, August 18, 2003
The Wrong of Return

Ha'aretz has a fairly measured lead editorial today criticizing Nabil Sha'ath's comments Saturday. Speaking to a group of Palestinians in Lebanon, Sha'ath promised them that the right of return would be implemented and they could return to their homes not only in Nablus but also in Haifa.

This is a terrible promise to make, not only because no Israeli government will ever allow it to be fulfilled, but also because the right of return is an extremely loaded issue that helps derail any progress on the diplomatic front. The Ha'aretz editorial board points out that the mention of Palestinians returning to homes inside Israel sets off alarm bells for just about every Israeli. This includes a lot of Israelis who might otherwise be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Bringing up the right of return during the Camp David and Taba talks three years ago served to completely discredit and eviscerate the peace movement in Israel.
The Palestinian leadership would be well advised to take very seriously the united front in Israel that opposes a right of return. The most committed supporters of the Oslo Accords believe that a concession of refugees' right of return to Haifa can be traded fairly for a concession of Jews' right of return to Hebron.

Israel, just like the PA and Arab states, should feel committed to the search of a just solution to hundreds of thousands of stateless, disenfranchised people who live in, and outside, refugee camps. But this solution cannot include a return of refugees to the State of Israel; instead, the return should be to the Palestinian state that will arise alongside Israel.
The editorial doesn't dwelve into the negative effects of this rhetoric on the Palestinians themselves. Stories about Palestinian refugees often end up profiling some old man who has been carrying around keys to the house he abandoned 55 years ago.

Continuing to tell people like this that they will soon return to their homes -- homes that no longer stand, in villages that no longer exist -- is a sure way to prolong the conflict even if a peace agreement were to be signed. The only way the conflict will actually end is if the Palestinians leadership forces its people to come to terms with reality after 55 years.

Speaking of Mistrust

While we're on the subject of today's Ha'aretz editorial page, Akiva Eldar's column describes clearly the essential trust problem that serves as one of the biggest obstacles to the continuation of the diplomatic track. Neither side trusts the other, so neither side is willing to make the critical decisions that would serve to untangle the problem.
Without a belief that it will lead to an end of the occupation (rather than to a Bantustan) - Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has no motivation to risk a frontal clash with Hamas. So long as his public suspects that the Oslo Accords were a plot to destroy Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will not pay the political price of a clash with the settlers.
If we ignore for the moment the fact that Israel has started fulfilling some of her obligations under the road map while the Palestinian Authority has consistently refused to do its bit, Eldar makes a good point. The solution he suggests is one proposed by a Jerusalem-based think tank:
[T]he Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information [IPCRI] ... prepared a detailed plan for third-party assistance in the implementation of stage one of the road map. The plan suggests establishing an international force numbering 250-350 people, which will accompany local bodies, from the district level up to the general staff, in coordination, monitoring and guidance.
A good idea, with one important caveat. Change "international force" to "American force". The level of mistrust on the Israeli side for the Europeans is second only to their mistrust of the Palestinians. It might even be higher. Israelis view the Europeans -- not unjustifiably -- as reflexively pro-Palestinian and tend to justify Palestinian terrorism to one degree or another as legitimate struggle. The fear is that an international (as opposed to American) force would ignore Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians while preventing the IDF from counter-attacking.

Sunday, August 17, 2003
Oslo II
It looks like I'm forced to eat my words this morning. The other day, following the double suicide bombings in Rosh Haayin and Ariel I wrote that Israel would freeze all the security arrangements, noting that "only an idiot would turn over security control of any more Palestinian cities to the PA." Yesterday we found out that the government plans to do just that.

I'll refrain at this point from questioning the intelligence of the decision-makers, in this case Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who announced the new security measures after meeting with his Palestinian counterpart, Mohammed Dahlan. The IDF will turn over security control of Qalqilyah and Jericho to the Palestinians tomorrow. Within the next week, Tul Karm and Ramallah will also be handed over. Turning over the latter will also mean that the evil ghoul Arafat will be able to leave his Muqata'a and roam free.

I understand Sharon and Mofaz's thinking. At this point in the game, we've gone back to a situation where neither side wants to be blamed if and when the violence resumes.

I understand, but I'm irked. There are a lot of problems with the situation. First off, the Palestinians are doing absolutely nothing to uphold their end of the bargain and put the kibosh on the terrorist groups. Sure, they talk a good game but in reality Hamas transports its Qassam rockets openly through the streets of Gaza and rearms and trains in preparation for the next round of violence.

At the same time, it doesn't look like the U.S. is putting anything like the same kind of pressure on the PA that it is on the Sharon government. Abu Mazen has his standard excuses -- "we're too weak, we're not popular enough" -- and he's sticking to them. For the moment, that seems to be good enough for Colin Powell.

All of this might -- might -- be a bit more palatable were the Palis not stirring things up further on their end. According to intelligence reports Arafat is back up to his old tricks, subtly greenlighting terrorist attacks. Even worse, from the Israeli point of view, are the comments by the PA's Foreign Minister, Nabil Sha'ath, made to a group of Palestinians in Lebanon:
"There is no other political solution and the return to the homeland is guaranteed," he said. Speaking in Arabic, Shaath stressed that the Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to their former villages and towns inside Israel. "Let me be clear. The right of return includes the return to the independent Palestinian state and to Palestinian cities inside Israel. Whether they return to Haifa or Nablus, the right of return is guaranteed."
Sha'ath actually backtracked a bit on his statement afterward, saying the right of return issue had to be negotiated. But, taken together with the other things, it is just another indication to the majority of Israeli Jews that the Palestinians are the same Palestinians and the sea is the same sea.

Over-dramatic? Possibly. But it's hard to shake off the feeling that this whole hudna/roadmap combo is playing itself out exactly like the failed Oslo process. The same mistakes are out in plain view: pressure on Israel to make concessions coupled with cutting the Palestinians slack for not doing what they're supposed to do; the same obsessive focus on moving the process forwards as an end in itself without stopping to contemplate where any of it is leading.

Idi Amin Dead-Dead

We bid a not very fond nor sad farewell to Idi Amin Dada, who finally died this weekend in Saudia Arabia after lingering in a coma for the last month or so. Amin, or -- to use the man's full set of self-proclaimed honorifics -- His Excellency, Field Marshall, Al-Haji, Dr Idi Amin Dada, Life President of Uganda, Conqueror of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order of the Military Cross, Victoria Cross and Professor of Geography, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular -- has the distinction of quite possibly being the worst in a long list of horrific African dictators in the last 50 years.

By any definition, the man was a monster. Among his dubious achievements, Amin presided over the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people, often simply having them thrown into the Nile to be eaten by crocodiles. (At one point, power stations in Uganda started to falter when the number of corpses started blocking the intake pipes). He also managed to the economy of Uganda -- which up until that point had been relatively prosperous -- by expelling Uganda's entire Asian population who also made up the basis of its merchant class. This doesn't even include the unsubstantiated-but-entirely-plausible allegations of cannibalism and voodoo.

After 8 years of bloodshed and horror, Amin's rule was put to an end by a combined force of Ugandan exiles and the Tanzanian army. Amin fled to Saudi Arabia.

Israelis remember the buffoonish monster mainly from his role in the 1976 Entebbe hostage rescue. Amin had started off as a friend of Israel, attending IDF jump school at one point. Somewhere along the way, however, he cracked. In June, 1976, a group of Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris and landed it at Entebbe airport. The terrorists held the hostages -- with the full support of Amin -- for close to a week before Israeli commandoes swooped down and rescued them in a mission that has long since become part of Israeli mythology.

As Mark Steyn points out in his brilliant, if slightly premature eulogy for the dictator, Amin managed to hold on to power through a combination of low-expectations racism on the part of the British and his own shrewd ability to play different sides against each other.

Being that he has been out of the public eye for most of the last quarter century, Amin's death won't have that much of an impact on anything (unlike, say, the death of two other psychopaths in Iraq). However, the world is a slightly better place today than it was two days ago.