Thursday, January 15, 2004
Suicide Bomber Family Demanding Inquiry

Here's a kind of dog-bites-man story: the family of a Palestinian teen who blew himself up during an unsuccessful suicide bombing are demanding that the PA investigate who was responsible for recruiting him. Iyad al-Masri, was on his way to carry out an attack in Israel. However, because of the heightened security alert (and, I should add, probably due to the security fence) al-Masri didn't manage to cross the border before the explosive belt he was wearing went off.

Now, his family -- which is one of the largets hamulot (clans) in Nablus -- have written Palestinian Terrorist Number One to demand an inquiry. They claim that Iyad had no affiliation with any of the Palestinian terrorist groups and want to know who recruited him. (Islamic Jihad had originally taken credit for the botched attack, but later backtracked).

This would be an interesting story if it showed that there are a few Palestinian families who don't rejoice when one of their sons goes off to kill himself and murder some civilians in the process. However, I'm not entirely sure this is the case. According to the reports, Iyad's father Bilal al-Masri had this to say:
Bilal al-Masri, the father, accused those who sent his son of exploiting his grief over the death of his brother and cousin to recruit him for a suicide attack. "My son was sent on the mission under extremely dangerous conditions when the whole area was under curfew and strict military closure," he complained.

"Iyad had never left Nablus before and he couldn't move around on his own," the father said. "It would have been impossible for him to reach his destination alone."
You could easily infer from this that the father is angry his son was sent on an unsuccessful suicide mission. (Bear in mind, the quote is a translation from an Arabic newspaper article; Arab newspapers are not renowned for their fealty to what we call truth and accuracy. Plus, it could have been taken out of context twice.)

Let's see what the PA does with this one.

To Infinity and Beyond!

I managed to catch Bush's NASA speech live last night. Normally I don't sit through press conferences, but since I'm something of a space exploration geek. Personally, I'm glad that the Prez has decided to revive NASA's moon project. It's been 30 years since the last time a human walked on the moon and I think it's time to get back there.

GWB's speech was OK, but personally I think he missed an opportunity to get people fired up about the project. He spent the majority of the speech outlining the scientific benefits of an expanded space exploration program and then explaining why it wouldn't be as expensive as people might fear. Basically, he was out to justify expanding NASA's mandate.

The problem is that when you try to do so on dry cost/benefit grounds, you find yourself defending space exploration against all those who argue that the money could be better spent trying to do stuff on Earth. (The NYTimes certainly wasted no time before pissing all over the idea.) There are plenty of good reasons not to spend billions of dollars setting up a permanent base on the moon. But there's one even more compelling reason to do so.

To put it another way, Bush fell rather short of Kennedy's famous 1962 speech where he talked about what would soon become the Apollo Project:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
This is the real benefit of space exploration. Yes, it will have all sorts of scientific and economic benefits, but these are not the point. Space exploration gives us something bigger than ourselves to strive for, something which will inspire the next generation to try and do the seemingly impossible. No earthbound program can do this.

I kept hoping that Bush would focus on this aspect of the NASA mission. (Can you imagine him quoting Robert Browning -- "Oh that a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?" -- ?). But of course that isn't his style. Still, it's nice to see that he finds NASA important and I'm curious to see where this program leads us.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Today's Murderess...

...was a 21-year old Palestinian woman from Gaza named Rim Salah a-Risihi. She left behind two children, a 3-year old and a one-and-a-half year old.

Ponder that last fact for a second. I'm finding it really hard to get my head around it. She left the house knowing that she would soon make her two children motherless.

Golda Meir once remarked that peace would only come once the Arabs learned to love their children more than they hated us. Sadly, at least as far as the Palestinians are concerned, that day is still a long ways off.

Hip-Hop Against Anti-Semitism

Here's a bit of good, and kind of curious news. Russell Simmons has decided to embark on a campaign against anti-Semitism in America and Europe. Simmons is a legendary hip-hop producer, and one of the founders of the seminal Def Jam label.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. First, relations between the African-American and Jewish communities in the States have been strained for years. This can be chalked up to a variety of factors, among them the rise of identity politics (which tends to make people focus on their own peoples' problems) and the growing number of African-Americans converting to Islam.

Secondly, a lot of African-American leaders tend to be hostile to Jews. See for instance Louis Farrakhan or Jesse Jackson's "Hymietown" speech, among others.

Thirdly, the Nation of Islam features lovingly in a lot of rap music. This is certainly the truth for Public Enemy, one of Def Jam's most prominent artists.

It should be noted that Simmons' former partner in Def Jam, Rick Rubin, is Jewish. Perhaps this has something to do with things. In any case, this is a good opportunity for two groups who have been growing apart to start talking again. I hope something comes of it.

We Have a Winner

I was out sick yesterday, which means I'm a bit late with reporting the winner of LGF's Idiotarian of the Year competition. Surprisingly, the prize goes to Rachel Corrie who narrowly beat out noxious windbag Michael Moore to nab the prize.

  • Moore was more deserving the award than Corrie, who as I have said before was an angry young woman who had more self-righteousness than either brains or luck. On the other hand, the International Solidarity Movement -- which filled her head with junk and then sent her out into a combat zone -- deserved to win the award more than either of them.

  • I see that More is quickly turning into the Susan Lucci of the Idiotarian awards. Last year he narrowly lost out to Jimmy Carter. Always a bridesmaid, eh Mikey?

  • The timing of the whole thing couldn't be worse from the standpoint of bad taste. Tom Hurndall, the ISM activist who got caught in the crossfire between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen and was shot by an Israeli soldier, died today. Hurndall had been in a vegetative state since April. And thus does the ISM find itself with a second martyr.
I don't think it's a good choice, and I'm put off by the usual grave dancing of the LGF readers (not to mention the commemorative cartoon). Maybe next year.

Back to This

After a few weeks' lull, the suicide bombings are back. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that after a few weeks of having their plans foiled by intensive IDF/GSS operations, the Palis managed to get one through. A Palestinian woman blew herself up this morning at the Erez Checkpoint, which regulates the flow of people from the Gaza Strip to Israel. She managed to kill three soldiers and a civilian.

As usual, the various Palestinian organizations have been scrambling all over each other to take credit. The sad thing is that this act will only hurt the Palis. Palestinian workers need to pass through Erez in order to find work in Israel. Now it's going to be a lot harder for them to do that. The sadder thing is that the terrorist groups know this and admit outright that this was their stated intention, and that they consider the escalation of Palestinian economic misery as a victory.

The saddest thing is that you won't hear any outcry on the Palestinian streets about this.

UPDATE: Abu Sock Puppet declines to condemn the action, blaming it on Israel (of course).

Abu Sock Puppet has lost any relevance he once had. He doesn't control anything or have any influence over anyone. He is Prime Minister in name only, and even then barely that.

In fact, you could say that Arafat has taken off the sock and thrown him in the corner.

Monday, January 12, 2004
Sharon vs. The Right

We had a big rally in Tel Aviv last night. More than 100,000 people, most of them settlers and right-wingers, turned out to voice their opposition to Sharon's most recent declarations about unilateral withdrawal from the territories and tearing down settlement outposts. They were joined by about 25 MKs, a few of them from the Likud. This marks the first time members of a political party have turned out for a rally against their own Prime Minister.

It was kind of a weird event, even a little premature. Yes, Sharon has talked about unilateral withdrawal and removing settlements but in reality he hasn't made any moves to do either. In fact, Sharon has said a good many things in the three years he's been Prime Minister and hasn't followed through on the majority. There isn't any reason to think he's going to change now.

The big issue at the moment is what to do about Syria's recent overtures for negotiations. Here Sharon is in a bind. On the one hand, it is tempting to pursue a peace policy with Assad, especially seeing how the Palestinian track seems to be going nowhere. On the other hand, the price to pay for peace with Syria -- returning the Golan Heights -- is likely to be extremely unpopular with the Israeli public.

I have to say I'm glad I'm not in Arik's shoes. There are definite advantages to cutting a deal with Syria. Any deal would have to include Assad cutting off funding for the myriad terrorist groups which operate in his territory. This would be a blow to Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas. A peace deal with Syria would likely bring with it a similar agreement with Syria's proxy state, Lebanon. It would improve Israel's battered image in world opinion and put Arafat in a bind. So much for the pros.

The cons, however, are equally weighty. Israel is being asked to give up prime agricultural and strategic territory in exchange for a bunch of promises. This didn't work out with the Palestinians, to say the least, which means we should be doubly wary about the Syrians. Also, a peace agreement would help prop up a dictatorship that is the next likeliest candidate for regime change.

Personally, I'm leaning towards opposition to a peace deal. And I don't think the negotiations are even going to get off the ground. It would take a leader with a lot more vision and strategic cleverness than Arik Sharon to do right.

Princess Di Conspiracy Theories

Sky News was running a story the other night about the death of Princess Diana. My first thought was "Again? Will this story ever go away?" Apparently no. Six years after the fact, it turns out that a lot of people still can't let it rest.

A recent poll found more than a quarter of Britons questioned think Di was murdered. A pair of researchers looking into the accident claim that the blood sample taken from Di's driver was not his. (Granted, the researchers work for Mohammed Al-Fayed, father of Diana's boyfriend Dodi). To top it off, Britain's royal coroner has decided to launch an inquest into the matter. Why he would choose to do so six and a half years after the fact is anyone's guess.

Diana has now officially entered the celebrity conspiracy theory pantheon. Was it Prince Charles, who wanted to off his wife so he could marry his horsey girlfriend? Was it the British royal family, who couldn't stomach the thought of the Princess dating a woggy? Was it the Saudis? The CIA?. How about a theory popular in the Arab world that the Mossad did it, fearing her relationship with Dodi Fayed would bring sympathy to the Arab world and the Palestinians.

It certainly doesn't help that the late princess was something of a paranoid flake and helped perpetrate some of these ideas before she was killed.

Still, I find it sad that people can't just accept Occam's razor on this one: (drunk driver + embankment) x high speed = dead princess and Egyptian boyfriend.

Sunday, January 11, 2004
The Bombshells of Benny Morris

Ha'aretz magazine ran an important interview this weekend with historian Benny Morris. The interview is being discussed in different places, where it's been described as a "tidal wave" and a "bombshell" and the description of a "truly terrible moral dilemma".

Morris often gets lumped in with the so-called "New Historians," a group of post-Zionist (and often anti-Zionist) revisionist academics whose scholarship is designed to tear down Israel's foundation myths. Their work focuses on the suffering of the Palestinians during Israel's 1948 War of Independence , often seeks to discredit the motives of Israel's founders, and uncovers the more unpleasant aspects of Israel's military victory.

Morris' landmark 1987 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, for instance, was one of the first in-depth studies of how the Palestinian problem came about. Morris sparked controversy by arguing that the political and military leadership of the Jewish state pursued a conscious (if undeclared) policy of driving Arabs out of various areas of Israel. He also unearthed accounts of massacres by Jewish forces.

The academic establishment as well as those who fought in the 1948 war attacked the book. Fellow academics criticized Morris' exclusive focus on documents and the lack of interviews with eyewitnesses. (Morris claimed in his defense that eyewitnesses are unreliable whereas documents aren't). The book, it was argued, made no attempt to place the actions of the Jewish forces within the context of the time. Specifically, Morris was criticized for ignoring the feeling by a lot of the Jewish fighters that they were engaged in a battle to the death with overwhelming Arab forces bent on annihalating them.

Morris has always argued that he was never one of the New Historians. I tend to agree with him; he seems a lot more intellectually honest than that. If you look at historians such as Ilan Pappe and Avi Shleim, you get the distinct feeling that their scholarship flows directly from their extreme left political outlook. Morris, on the other hand, seems to be driven by a search for objective truth, albeit a search which comes with its own problems.

At any rate, the Ha'aretz interview is fascinating for a number of different reasons. One of these is the two conflicting facets of the man. First, we have Morris the historian, currently updating The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem using recently released material from the IDF archives.

This is ugly stuff. Morris has discovered evidence of a number of war crimes during the 1948 war, including a dozen incidents of rape. These findings will doubtlessly provide Israel's enemies and critics with ammunition and lead many to consider Morris the historian as an anti-Zionist.

Those who do so will be shocked to hear what Morris the civilian has to say about the Palestinians. For example, this exchange with interviewer Ari Shavit:
Do you really believe Arafat wants to throw us into the sea?

"He wants to send us back to Europe, to the sea we came from. He truly sees us as a Crusader state and he thinks about the Crusader precedent and wishes us a Crusader end. I'm certain that Israeli intelligence has unequivocal information proving that in internal conversations Arafat talks seriously about the phased plan [which would eliminate Israel in stages]. But the problem is not just Arafat. The entire Palestinian national elite is prone to see us as Crusaders and is driven by the phased plan. That's why the Palestinians are not honestly ready to forgo the right of return. They are preserving it as an instrument with which they will destroy the Jewish state when the time comes. They can't tolerate the existence of a Jewish state - not in 80 percent of the country and not in 30 percent. From their point of view, the Palestinian state must cover the whole Land of Israel."

If so, the two-state solution is not viable; even if a peace treaty is signed, it will soon collapse.

"Ideologically, I support the two-state solution. It's the only alternative to the expulsion of the Jews or the expulsion of the Palestinians or total destruction. But in practice, in this generation, a settlement of that kind will not hold water. At least 30 to 40 percent of the Palestinian public and at least 30 to 40 percent of the heart of every Palestinian will not accept it. After a short break, terrorism will erupt again and the war will resume."
Morris' remarks won't surprise anyone who has followed his public statements in the last few years. Since the outbreak of the intifada he has become a vocal critic of the Palestinians. And this despite the fact that he was once jailed for refusing to do reserve duty in the Territories.

His current scholarship may or may not reflect the change in his political thinking vis a vis the Palestinians. He does, however, seem to have a better grasp of the context in which the War of Independence was fought and the motives of the Jewish leadership:
"Under Ben-Gurion, a consensus of transfer is created."

Ben-Gurion was a "transferist"?

"Of course. Ben-Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist."

I don't hear you condemning him.

"Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here."
Morris makes a lot of interesting points about the morality of action during a time of conflict. Given the total war we're fighting against Islamic fascists, it's worth reading and thinking about.