Saturday, October 11, 2003
Saturday Photo Fun

A few snaps taken on Rothschild Boulevard, which is currently undergoing a wave of preservation and renovation. The boulevard is home to a number of really striking buildings as well as some good examples of Tel Aviv's Bauhaus architecture.

Thursday, October 09, 2003
IAF Grounds Pilot

The IAF has decided to ground Yiftah Spector, the most senior of the 27 pilots who signed a petition refusing to serve in targetted assassination missions. This is the first bit of retribution against the pilots and is a fairly big deal seeing how Spector is a big-time war hero and living legend in the air force.

Spector says he is happy to hand in his wings since he can now speak out against the government's policies in the territories. I'm happy that he's happy, since as a political act, the pilots' petition went nowhere. According to this month's Peace Index, the vast majority of Israelis favor continuing the assassination policy and strongly disprove of the pilots' actions and believe they were motivated by political -- rather than moral -- considerations.

In short, despite the inordinate amount of international press coverage it has received, this is yet another marginal movement with zero influence.

So, essentially, Spector has decided to end his IAF career for naught. The assassinations will continue just fine without him (doubly so, considering he didn't participate in any in the first place and -- as a reserve pilot who taught in the IAF flying school -- would not be called on to do so in the future). I suppose he can take comfort from the thought that a couple of Indymedia flakes in Berkeley are going "right on, dude!"

Yet more Gangland Violence

A club owner in Netanya was killed in a car explosion this morning. The victim, who hasn't been identified yet, was known to have ties to one of Netanya's crime families.

This probably isn't tied to the mafia wars going on in Tel Aviv, which have killed and maimed a number of people over the last few months. Nor is it necessarily connected to the turf wars going on in Givat Shmuel involving the Alperon family.

A few years ago, Netanya gained a bad reputation for mafia violence after close to a dozen people were killed in gangland violence. The joke at the time (which will be funny only to my readers who speak Hebrew, sorry) was that "Netanya" was actually an acronym for neshama tazmini nayedet, yesh harugim ("honey, call a squad car, there are casualties").

Fisking Friedman, part deux

Friedman's at it again. Today's thesis: Rebuilding Iraq is America's single most important foreign policy project today. As such, the administration must take any and all measures to ensure its success, and this includes basically sopping up to the region's sundry dictators.

You see, if Syria feels threatened it will just let more freelance jihadis into Iraq. The answer: "It may be worth a new high-level strategic dialogue with the Syrians to strike a deal assuring them they will not be treated as part of the Axis of Evil if they stem the flow of militants and arms into Iraq."

That's alright, Bashar old boy. You continue plumping up Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah. Just try to keep it mellow on the southeastern border, okay?

"Strategic dialogue" is also Friedman's answer to the issue of Iran and its runaway nuclear program. Strike a deal with them to use their influence on Iraq's Shi'ites.

And then there's the old problem of what to do with a Palestinian arch-terrorist who stubbornly refuses to succumb to his illnesses, supports suicide attacks, and makes sure to eliminate any and all political rivals. The answer to this conundrum: try to prop up Ahmed "Abu Ala" Qurei, the new Prime Minister:
The former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross has a useful suggestion: Israel should try to strike a deal with Mr. Qurei. Offer to give him what he needs: "a two-way ticket" for Mr. Arafat (so he can come and go without fear of deportation).

In return, Mr. Arafat would have to give Mr. Qurei "carte blanche," Mr. Ross says, to crack down on Islamic terrorists in exchange for Israel's easing up on Palestinians. I know there are no simple solutions or sure things here, but to not explore every alternative, again and again, is to invite total despair. Moreover, the best way to create an alternative to Mr. Arafat is to strengthen Mr. Qurei.

Strengthen the sock puppet so that it might take control of the hand. With all due respect to Dennis Ross, shyeah.

I buy Friedman's initial premise, that rebuilding Iraq properly is the key to changing this region. His solutions, however, are vague (I mean, what concessions do you offer the Syrians and Iranians to sit still?) and built on a thick level of wishful thinking.

"Why don't you just die already?"

This sentiment (and many like it) can be found all over the blogosphere with regards to the state of Arafat's health. The arch-terrorist's sickly visage lately has prompted a rash of stories in the press and denials by Arafat's mouthpieces that anything is wrong with th era'is.

The issue heated up briefly again yesterday when an unconfirmed report of the ghoul's demise turned up. The festival at LGF was predictable (584 comments at last count), but sadly short lived.

Today's papers here also speculate as to the man's well-being but don't come to any unanimous conclusions. On the one hand, the tabloid Ma'ariv (kind of an Israeli New York Post) splashed a big article all over its front page which reports that Arafat is suffering from a gastrointestinal infection which has spread to his liver and that he is on death's door (Hebrew link).

On the other hand, in a small piece tucked away in its "News in Brief" section (scroll down a bit), Ha'aretz reckons that he isn't particularly ill at all and we're merely seeing signs of Parkinson's.

In the meanwhile a team of crack Jordanian and Egyptian doctors has arrived on the scene to treat to treat the ailing dictator.

So, while we wait for the situation to become more clear, have a look at Meryl Yourish's site where she has set up a full-on Arafat death watch. And keep your fingers crossed.

UPDATE: YNet (the website of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper) reports that the ghoul is suffering from intestinal cancer and needs an operation pronto.

I'm thinking of starting a "What's ailing the ra'is?" office pool.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Sick Dictator

So, what's up with Palestinian Terrorist Number One?

It was clear last week that the ghoul was under the weather. He showed up to a meeting looking bad (well, worse than usual) and was reportedly tired and out of it. At the time, the Palis said that he had a stomach flu.

However, today's Guardian reported that Arafat actually suffered a mild heart attack. According to the reports, his cronies covered this fact up at the time so as not to spread panic.

Now, Arafat's flunkies are denying this report. Just a stomach flu, says Nabil Sha'ath. Nothing to see here, move along.

Some thoughts:
  • God help me, but my first thought upon hearing that it was only a mild heart attack was "too bad"
  • This kind of official smokescreen reminds me of the "head colds" that successive Soviet leaders used to suffer just before they died
  • Although Arafat dropping dead of some natural cause is the best thing that could happen to both Israel and the Palestinians, don't think that they won't try to pin the blame on us

Palestinian Death Cult

Mark Steyn is in top form in today's Jpost. The subject: The yawning gap separating Israelis and Palestinians, especially given the latters' propensity to kill themselves in order to murder the former.
I spent a short time on the West Bank earlier this spring. I would have spent longer, but to be honest it creeped me out, and I was happy to scram across the Allenby Bridge and on through Jordan to Iraq. Say what you like about the Sunni Triangle and RPG Alley, but I never once felt I was in a wholly diseased environment. On the West Bank, almost all the humdrum transactions of daily life take place in a culture that glorifies depravity: you walk down a street named after a suicide bomber to drop your child in a school that celebrates suicide-bombing and then pick up some groceries in a corner store whose walls are plastered with portraits of suicide bombers.

The points he makes are correct in great measure. The most disturbing thing about Palestinian culture is how death-obsessed it has become -- at least on the face of it -- over the last three years. We started noticing this early in the intifada when it became obvious that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian education system was exhorting children to become martyrs. Not to mention the fact that Arafat constantly calls for "a million martyrs" to help conquer Jerusalem.

Given this gap, what are the options. The diplomatic route still seems to be the only realistic game in town.
I supported the road map because it seemed to me the best thing to be done was to thrust a state upon the Palestinians as quickly as possible. The present neither-one-thing-nor-the-other Palestinian Authority gives Arafat and company all the advantages of controlling their own territory with none of the responsibilities. Its anomalous status enshrines the Palestinians' victim status and means Israel gets a far worse press internationally than if it were dealing with a sovereign state.

But the main reason for conjuring up a Palestinian state would be to call their bluff. For six decades, nothing the Palestinians have done has made sense if the objective is to secure a state of their own. But, if the objective is to kill Jews, it all makes perfect sense.
I was always in favor of calling the Palestinians' bluff, and basically still am. I don't see how this particular conflict is ever going to resolve itself, or even settle down to some sort of manageable modus vivendi until it becomes a conflict of one state versus another.

I still work under the (possibly naive) assumption that at least a narrow majority of the Palestinian population is not hopelessly suicidal. I do believe that your average guy on the street in Ramallah or Jericho (though maybe not Jenin) would still choose a viable Palestinian state over continuing to kill Jews forever. Just as the average Israeli, by the way, would be willing to give up all the settlements if it actually meant peace.

Even so, there are still two problems:
  1. Palestinian state or not, there is still going to be a sizeable minority which will keep up the terrorism. The real question is how sizeable the violent minority is and how far will the PA apparatus go in order to stop it.
  2. The current power behind the PA is an old, inveterate terrorist who actively encourages the terrorism.
Steyn's bottom line is this: if we're serious about a war against terror we shouldn't be rewarding the terrorists. I agree. Unfortunately, while we wait for the terrorist to die, blood is still being spilt.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Bashar's Bind

Speaking of what Baby Assad may or may not do, Gal Luft has an interesting analysis piece in NRO about Syria's possible reactions.

So, suppose you're a Ba'athist dictator, but a relative weakling controlled by your daddy's generals. Israel goes and shows everyone that your army sucks and you don't have an air force, which makes you look weak in the eyes of your people. But the only way to retaliate is through proxy terror organizations that you help support.

What do you do?

Quote of the Day
It was "as if [Osama] bin laden would have asked for a Security Council meeting after 9/11
- Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Gillerman, on Syria's request for a UNSEC resolution on the Israeli airstrike.

Gillerman also noted that the while the UN wants a resolution when Israel strikes Syria, it doesn't see fit to call for a resolution when 19 Israelis are brutally murdered.

Smackdown Near Damascus

Things have certainly heated up here this week. The IAF bombed a terrorist training camp on Sunday as a response to the suicide attack on Saturday. The camp was used by Islamic Jihad, amongst other terrorist groups.

Oh, what a can of worms this has opened! There was renewed tension on the Israeli-Lebanese border with Hizbullah (Syria's proxy). This culminated in a shootout, where an IDF soldier was killed. The Syrians also went boo-hooing to the United Nations Security Council looking for a condemnation of Israel. At the moment, it doesn't look like this will happen. Bush appears to be more or less okay about the strike on Syria, and the US will likely veto any UNSEC resolution that doesn't also openly condemn Palestinian terrorism.

So, what's going on here? On the face of it, Israel has decided to remind the world that Baby Assad still harbors and supports terrorist groups in his country. One of these terrorist groups carried out an attrocity in which 19 people -- including children, including entire families -- were murdered. It's also a none-too-veiled warning to Assad and a reminder that he doesn't have anything worth calling an air force.

The attack, unsurprisingly, has raised a lot of discussion around here. Writing in Ha'aretz this morning, Amir Oren likens the attack to a headache cure:
One tried and true method for dealing with a headache or a toothache is to give a wall a nice, hard kick, until one's leg screams with pain. This may do nothing to cure the original pain, but it makes one forget it for a while.
Oren notes that the reasoning behind the attack -- that those countries who help support terrorism should also be made to pay for their actions -- is sound, it's questionable whether this means we should widen the current conflict.

If Assad sits quiet, then Israel's move will have been effective. The world is finally talking about Syrian complicity in terrorist attacks. However, the Damascus dork will probably continue to turn up the heat on Israel like he did this weekend, via Hizbullah. Then we'll see where we are.

I have my own theory that the attack on Syria was also intended to send a message to the Palestinian Authority that "the boss has gone nuts". "We're so angry right now that we're bombing Syria," the message seems to say. "Can you imagine what will happen once we get around to you?".

And it looks like it may have a little bit of effect. In Ramallah, ghoul boy has formed an emergency cabinet which may or may not try to do something (at least for show) about Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Yom Kippur, 5764

I had a fairly standard Yom Kippur. On the scale of observance from those who fast and attend synagogue all day to those who go out and barbecue pork chops, our household falls on the observant side. I attend the Kol Nidre service at the start of Yom Kippur; I fast (as does my wife, usually, although she got a pass on it this year on account of being pregnant); and we keep the TV, stereo, and computer turned off for the duration of the holiday. Compared to a lot of my relatives and friends -- who mostly don't fast, and even those who do spend the day watching movies -- we're downright religious.

Yom Kippur in Israel is a unique experience, which I'm pretty sure is unparallelled in the Western world. The entire country shuts down for a day and a half. The streets almost completely empty of cars, which make way for hordes of kids on bicycles and scooters as well as pedestrians. People come outside and walk about, talking to each other. (In Lamed, one neighborhood up from us where my synagogue is, Erev Yom Kippur takes on the atmosphere of a muted block party).

In the middle of a thriving metroplex like Tel Aviv you suddenly get the type of quiet that you could normally only find in the countryside (punctuated by the yelling of the aforementioned kids on bicycles). During the day yesterday, I suddenly realized that I could hear the hum of the generators from the power station down the road.

Normally, I take advantage of the quiet to go for a long stroll on Erev Yom Kippur. You can actually walk out in the middle of the highway without fear. (In the space of an hour you might encounter two cars, but you'll be able to see and hear them coming from miles away). It lets me indulge in those fantasies where all the people have disappeared and you're the last person on earth.

Walking around you also get to see things, little details that you don't notice when you drive about: streets you had overlooked, little parks and the like. This year I walked up and around Tel Aviv University, realizing that I'd forgotten how big the campus was. You get a nice view of the Tel Aviv/Ramat Gan/Petah Tikva region from up there, all quiet and peaceful.

A strange feeling of calm, considering all the activity going on around us.

Sunday, October 05, 2003
Gmar Hatima Tova

Tomorrow is Yom Kippur and I'll be fasting.

Back on Tuesday

30 Years Later

Interestingly, Yom Kippur falls on the same Gregorian calendar date that it did 30 years ago. Given the flood of reminiscences, documentaries, historical analyses, and national soul-searching that we've seen in the last couple of months leading to the 30th anniversary of the war, the coincidence of dates just seems fitting.

It was a strange war. If you look at it dispassionately, then it reads like this: On Oct. 6, 1973 Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel. After a week or so, Israel managed to get the upper hand and start hitting back hard. After 3 weeks, the Egyptian army was encircled and Israeli forces were 40 km from Damascus and 60 km from Cairo. Seems pretty clear: another Israeli victory and another Arab defeat.

And yet, this weekend's newspapers here are filled with what one commentator dubbed "misery supplements" about the tragedy of the war. On the other hand, if you go to Cairo you can see an entire museum devoted to the "glorious Arab victory" in 1973. Just drive down October 6th Street and take a left turn at October 6th Square.

Night sometimes looks like day in the Middle East. This is one of those examples.

From the Egyptian perspective, the glorious Egyptian army managed to recapture, at least briefly, a small part of the Sinai peninsula that it lost to Israel in the 1967 war. Thus, Arab honor was restored. From the Israeli perspective, Israel's whole self-image as a mighty David standing firm against an incompetent and disordered Arab Goliath was shattered by the Egyptian and Syrian sneak attack.

The intelligence community had seen signs and received warnings for weeks that the Egyptians and Syrians were about to launch a surprise attack. However, much of the army and the political echelon didn't believe the Arabs had the willpower, ingenuity, or ability to launch a surprise attack. Military Intelligence chief Eli Zeira believed to the very end that the military manouevers were only an exercise. Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan ignored warning signs that conflicted with the Military Intelligence estimation that the probability for war was low and thus didn't call up the reserves in time.

And when the war did break out, the military commanders in the field spent much of the early days bickering with each other. In the end, Israel overcame the surprise attack through a combination of skillful leadership from the top, arms supplies from the US, and sheer fortitude and managed to drive back the Arab armies. The price, however, was steep: 2500 dead, 7500 wounded and another 300 POWs. Coming only six years after the lightning victories of the Six-Day War, it clearly seemed that something had gone badly wrong.

Historically, it's still unclear where exactly to place the blame. The Agranat Commission of Inquiry, which was set up at the end of the war, pinned the majority of the blame on Zeira (who does deserve a lot of it) as well as on IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar (who, in retrospect, did his job well and was essentially a scapegoat). The political hierarchy -- specifically Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan -- were not blamed by the Commission, but were forced to resign a year later under public protest.

The Yom Kippur war has since served as a handy touchstone for national self-examination. In retrospect, the hubris of the Six-Day War met its nemesis on Yom Kippur, 1973. The lesson here (although it's less than clear that anyone really internalized it) is not to get so wrapped up in a particular rigid concept of how the world is.

From my own personal perspective...

The Yom Kippur War broke out on the afternoon of Oct. 6, 1973, the day after my third birthday.

We were living in Jerusalem at the time, but I can't say I have too many clear memories of the war. I remember being scared of the air raid sirens which sounded at the time (although the sirens might have been for the memorial services after the war). Also, there was always talk of friends of my parents' who had been killed in the fighting (although, again, I'm not sure if this was the fighting in '73, '67, or the War of Attrition in 1969-70).

One element of the time which has stuck with me is the Naomi Shemer song Lu Yehi. Shemer wrote towards the end of the war and served as its unofficial anthem. The song is basically a take on "Let it Be," a prayer that all that we ask for (i.e. peace) comes to be. I still get oddly emotional every time I hear that song, which leads me to conclude that I must have absorbed something of the sadness and shock that were rampant in the winter of '73.

More Notes About the Bombing

The death toll from the attack in Haifa yesterday currently stands at 19. Several of the 69 people injured in the attack are still in critical condition, so the number could still rise. Some unorganized observations:

  • Among the victims of the attack were three children and a 14-month-old baby. In addition, a number of families werewiped out. In the sick moral calculus of terrorism, this kind of attack on a busy restaurant on a Saturday is even more wicked and evil than an attack on a bus. On a bus, there is less of a chance that you will kill an entire family, parents and children. In a restaurant situation, the families come out to eat and sit together.

    In the case of the Zer-Aviv family, three generations were snuffed out in a moment -- a grandmother, her son, his wife, and their two children. A similar tragedy befell the Almog family -- a pair of grandparents, their son and grandson. Mark Biano and his wife Naomi died together. And several other families have to deal with both dead and wounded.

  • The perpetrator of the horror show (or, to use CNN-speak, the "Islamic Jihad activist who allegedly perpetrated the apparent suicide bombing") was Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat, a young woman from Jenin whom I hope is roasting in the deepest pits of Hell as we speak. Jaradat was a lawyer by training, which has led the Hebrew dailies here to nickname her "the Devil's advocate." Besides having a law practice, she was also engaged to be married.

    All of which makes you wonder about her motivation. Why does a 29-year-old give up a career and a fiancee in order to commit a terrorist act? Yes, her brother -- another Islamic Jihad terrorist -- was killed in a shootout with the IDF earlier this year. But how can a matter of revenge be strong enough to cause someone to decide that her life's fulfillment is to go out and kill some Jews? I marvel every time at the depths of Jew-hatred and death-obsession which is rife amongst a substantial part of Palestinian society.

    Jaradat came out of Jenin, the terror capitol of the West Bank. The IDF razed her home, as it does with the homes of most other terrorists. <visceral_reaction>All of which makes you wish they would just wipe the entirety of Jenin off the face of the earth</visceral_reaction>.

  • Also among the dead you find 4 Israeli Arabs. Maxim's, the restaurant which was blown apart, was one of those rare symbols of Jewish-Arab cooperation. The restaurant is co-owned by a Jewish and an Arab family and has long served as a meeting place for both Jews and Arabs in Haifa, one of the few mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel.

    According to the news commentators, the fact that Arabs were killed in the attack was one of the reasons the PA was so quick to denounce it. The news reports in the Arab world took their feeds from Israeli television. These feeds featured Israeli Arab reporters talking to Israeli Arab victims in Arabic. All of which caused a degree of fascination/confusion for a lot of viewers in neighboring Arab countries. Whether this will do anything to change the broad Arab support for suicide bombings is rather unclear.

  • As noted, Palestinian Prime Minister/sock puppet Abu Ala and his flunkies came out with a quick denunciation of the attack. As usual, they denounced it mainly because it "does not promote the interests of the Palestinian people." I am still waiting for the day when a Palestinian representative condemns these attacks on the basis that killing entire families is wrong, period, regardless of the Palestinian national interest. I have a feeling I'll be waiting a long, long time.

  • The eight o'clock news showed the scenes from the hospitals in Haifa. Many worried people crowding around information desks trying to see if their relatives are among the dead and wounded. A hospital social worker was directing the families. She said that they need to go to the area where the unidentified wounded are and if not then they will have to go to the forensics institute at Abu Kabir, which serves as a sort of national morgue in cases like these. The social worker was caring but very business-like about it, which made me realize how routine this kind of sorting-out procedure has become. This revelation for some reason, made me feel a bit of the anguish that these family members must be going through. We see these hospital scenes after every attack, but this was the first time I ever stopped and thought what the ordeal must actually entail.

  • This doesn't get commented on that much anymore, but we manage to get back to the routine of life incredibly quickly after one of these attacks. It used to be that after a major attack like the one yesterday, the TV and radio stations would switch to pigua mode -- constant news reports and sad music -- for 24 hours. (During the worst of the violence, when we had a major attack at least once a week, I would gauge the situation with what I called the "Simpsons index." Channel One at that time broadcast The Simpsons on Saturday evenings, but the broadcast would often be pre-empted depending on the violence over the weekend.) Yesterday, things were back on schedule 4 hours after the attack.

    You could grouse that it shows a certain lack of respect towards the dead, but that would be posturing. I think it does illustrate a certain national strength of character in the face of real violence. It reminds me of the Johnny Cash song "Drive On". Cash said that the inspiration of the song came from Vietnam veterans who, when their buddies would be killed, would take an attitude of "drive on, it don't mean nothing" when in fact it meant everything. It meant everything, but the only thing you can really do is keep on going like it didn't.

    Is it healthy from the long-term mental point of view? Probably not. But from the short/medium-term survival point of view it's necessary.

Happy Birthday

I turn 33 today.

Unfortunately, my birthday this year falls on the eve of Yom Kippur and after an especially bloody weekend. Kind of an awkward day to be celebrating. So, it looks like I'll be postponing the festivities until a bit later this week.