Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Absolutely thrilled to come across the new Hebrew translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Pilote de guerre and Lettre a un otage.

When I was a kid my mother figured out that the way to bridge the gap between my love of all things aviation related and her love of French literature was to introduce me to St-Exupery's writing, and boy did she hit the nail on the head.

Once upon a time I would have read this in the original French, but sadly it's become so rusty over the last decade that I can't even really enjoy Le Petit Prince in the original anymore, which is a crying shame, but I just haven't had much reason to use my French in such a long time.

I think it's a generational thing, parents and family who went through WWII, all their stories so vivid in my mind, I think that's why I seem to read so much about WWII. I just heard so much about the Battle of Britain and the Blitz growing up. Maybe that's why I read so many aviation related WWII books. Maybe I was just born old too, would explain a lot as well.

Saint-Exupery just does it so well, so painfully, tragically, heart-breakingly well.

Finding this book is like holding treasure in my hands.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A blurring of lines?

Only in Israel story 683:

You randomly find yourself watching Channel 24, Israel's version of MTV.

The country's leading music critic, a secular and openly gay man, is interviewing a "born again" Breslov Hassid, clad in full hassidic garb, about his new album, the style of which is clearly influenced by the Hebrew version of Bob Dylan.

These two men represent in many ways opposite poles of Israeli society, Jerusalem versus Tel Aviv, but their conversation is polite, warm, about the interviewee's 7 kids, grandchildren, pilgrimage to Uman, musical inspiration, current movie project...

I think it's happening more, this meeting across the chasm, people who've crossed the line in either direction from religious to secular, from secular to religious. Look at journalist Dov Elboim who left the Haredi lifestyle but has focused his work on bringing a Jewish religion and culture to mass media. Likewise the many popular musicians who've become closer to their Jewish roots and in so doing have brought about the current trend for recording albums based in some way on traditional Jewish sources, be it Bari Sakharov's rock songs whose lyrics are taken from religious poetry or Ehud Banai's full on lovingly recreated recordings of authentic Jewish liturgy.

I don't entirely know what this all means, how deep it all is, how much is simply a Jewish veneer to pop culture or a trendy veneer layered over traditional practices. I'm not sure it really matters. I believe though that it's good, a correction of sorts for the anti-religious, in many ways anti-Jewish, atmosphere of the '50s and '60s, or even the fashion for corny pseudo-parody of Hassidic music and stories in the '70s.

Where will it lead? I never claimed to be a prophet, but anything that is making even a limited percentage of young Israelis look again at their rich heritage is good in my book.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Childhood Heroes

I was sitting and nursing Junior Junior this afternoon when his big sister snuggled up to me.

She has restless hands and restless eyes, everything must be read, touched, learnt. She picked up the newspaper lying on the sofa and eyed the colourful ad for the Herzog College, advertising BA courses in various subjects, Bible, Hebrew Literature, Jewish Philosophy and the like.

5,4,3,2,1 wait for it...

Right on cue:

"What is this about Ima?"

So I explained, maybe, one day, when she is a big girl, well, a teenager, well probably after National Service or The Army, she could go to college and perhaps choose one of the listed subjects for study.

"But Ima, I want to study all of them! Children have more interests than grown-ups, we want to learn everything."

OK, well, that's my girl, boundless thirst for knowledge in one high energy package.

"But what if you could only choose one?" I say, curious if she'll pin down one subject, most of which I'm pretty sure she doesn't understand.

The Little Person runs her finger down the list, pauses at Tanakh, slips down to Jewish Philosophy and settles on Hebrew Literature.

I ask her why she chose that. I'll like it, says she confidentally, and patently hasn't a clue what subject she's chosen. "What is it?"

So I explained, which led to her grabbing a poetry book from the shelf, which turned out actually to be a Hebrew song book, which had a line "and if in Moscow the gates are locked" and that led to me explaining what Moscow was and why the gates might be locked.

And before I knew it, I had spent the evening trying to explain the story of the Soviet Jewish Refuseniks to my almost 4.5 year-old.

"So you told the Soviets שלח את עמי(let me people go) just like Moshe said to Paro'?" Well not me personally...

"So Uncle is a hero?" Well, I guess so.

Amazing that today almost no one seems to remember or talk about it, one of the greatest stories in modern Jewish history, well, I think, in history in general. It's been boiled down to an Israeli foreign minister with a Russian accent.

When I was my daughter's age though the Campaign for Soviet Jewry was without doubt one of the greatest influences on my life.

No, I'm not Russian, but the plight of my Jewish brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union was as much part of growing up in the 70s and 80s as Star Wars and Maggie Thatcher.

I thought that all families spent weekends and afternoons demonstrating outside Soviet missions, making non-stop phone calls to Aeroflot offices and shouting out during performances of the Bolshoi Ballet all with the message "Let My People Go שלח את עמי".

I thought joining a pro-Soviet Jewry rally outside the UN while visiting New York was a standard tourist thing to do.

I thought all children were concerned with the fate of their Soviet Jewish peers, writing them letters and drawing them pictures, when they were older trying to penpal with them, while teachers and parents carefully coached us what to avoid so as not to attract the attention of the Soviet censor.

I thought that it was normal for friends and relatives to go off to the Soviet Union with Hebrew books smuggled between the covers of popular best sellers, tallitot hidden in coat linings and audio Hebrew lessons disguised as classical music recordings.

I thought everyone had family and friends who met with Soviet dissidents, writing down incriminating information in invisible ink for fear of "outing" more potential contacts to the KGB.

It seemed like the most natural thing in the world: my uncle went, friends' parents went, shul rabbis went, teachers and neighbours went.

Looking back I remember so many sermons relating to the topic at shul on Shabbat. Our rabbi, or a guest rabbi, giving a talk about his experiences secretly minstering to Soviet Jews while on a visit behind the Iron Curtain.

My heroes had names like Sharansky, Volvovsky and Gurevich. And Andrei Sakharov too, even though he wasn't Jewish, but he wanted freedom for the Soviet people too.

And my uncle.

He was my hero too, going of to Brezhnev's USSR with his innocent boyish smile and stash of Hebrew books and tzitzit, returning like a dutiful tourist with armloads of cheaply produced Soviet propaganda books about Lenin and Communism, matrioshka dolls, a big fur hat (he did visit Moscow in January!) and for me, a big doll in Russian national costume made from a flimsy, brittle plastic.

Didn't everyone have an uncle who ran a hardware store in his ordinary life, but secretly played at being a Cold War spy to procure freedom for Soviet Jews?

The day in February 1986 when Natan, or as he was then Anatoly, Shcharansky, went free is engraved on my mind as if it were now. The entire school gathered in the gym and one of the teachers turned on the television while we watched breathless as the great man himself crossed over from the Iron Curtain to freedom. Some of the grown-ups had tears in their eyes and even the littlest children who didn't quite understand what was happening got caught up in the excitement and emotion of the event.

How many kids today have even heard of him, let alone know who he is, his incredible story?

My daughter will though, if I have anything to do with it.

This evening I pulled down the self-published book a friend of my uncle's about the exploits of London Jewry to help Soviet Jews, full of photos of the ordinary people who went on missions to the USSR, so many familiar faces, so many stories I remember hearing around the family dinner table.

Flipping through it with my daughter helped to make the story of the Refuseniks seem real. She was amazed to see her great uncle looking so young (so much hair, such funny frames on his glasses, she commented), but most of all she was fascinated by the photos of Soviet Jewish children, especially in the secret Jewish kindergartens.

"Is that what children looked like then?" She asked, "You all wore such different clothes, did you look like that then too?"

"Why didn't you go with Uncle to visit the children?"


Israel didn't have diplomatic relations with the USSR then (I should say it was really the Soviets who didn't have diplomatic relations with Israel), so much of the practical campaign went on in the diaspora, where Jews could use their foreign passports to travel to Russia, and where there actually were Soviet missions to demonstrate in front of.

I wonder if in part that's why the Campaign for Soviet Jewry seems to forgotten in Israel, or whether it's just been eclipsed by some of the more troubling problems elements of the mass Soviet aliyah seem to have brought with them.

The recent horrific murder of a Russian immigrant family in Rishon Letzion by a Russian former employee settling scores has only added to the already severely tarnished image of the emigre community here. As a friend remarked recently, "is this what we fought for?"

So nothing in life is ever simple, but just because nothing comes without problems, doesn't mean that the struggle to help the Refuseniks was pointless.

I was thinking how a few years back we spent Simhat Torah with cousins in Gush Etzion, and there dancing with the Sefer Torah in their shul was an older Russian man. I heard someone call out his name and realised that he was one of the Refuseniks my uncle visited in Moscow, now living a vibrant Jewish life in Israel with his family.

A couple of years later I literally ran into him while again visiting my cousin. This time by chance my uncle was with me and the beaming former Refusenik grabbed him in a bear hug.

Then there is the guard at my kid's school, sweet older guy from Uzbekistan. One day I happened to have a visiting friend with me at pick-up time and we got chatting with the guard while waiting at the gate. When he mentioned he had grown up in Bukhara my friend's eyes went wide and she started reminiscing about her journey behind the Iron Curtain back in the 70s in aid of Soviet Jewry, including a stop in Bukhara.

The guard's eyes lit up. "We never gave up hope, at every meal my grandfather concluded grace by telling us that one day we would merit living in the Holy Land." He grinned at us "And here we all are."

I'm pretty sure that's what we did it for.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thai-style pumpkin veg soup

We never really ate pumpkin when I was a kid and this food just wasn't really on my cooking radar until we attended a bat mitzva this week at which pumpkin soup was served.

The Little Person announced that pumpkin appears in her "Kef Le-ekhol Bari" (it's fun to eat healthy) book, and that the book suggests making it into soup.

She much enjoyed her bat-mitzva party pumpkin soup and the next day at the supermarket asked to buy ingredients to make our own pumpkin soup and when we got home she dutifully researched pumpkin soup recipes in my various cookery books and on-line, finally settling on a Thai recipe, for which fortunately we happened to have all the ingredients.

In the end Junior gobbled up about a third of the pumpkin I roasted for the soup before it could get into the soup, so I ended up adding other veggies to the recipe due to the sudden dearth of pumpkin.

Now that you know the story, please find my improvised soup recipe below, I think this is what I did, it is, as I said, slightly improvised. I'm pretty sure this would work nicely with any selection of squash veggies. I tend to measure by eye, so amounts are approximate, ymmv.

Enjoy - we did!

P.S. She says that the roasted pumpkin was a yummacious snack.


1.5-2kg pumpkin (approx), chunked
1 medium-small aubergine (eggplant) - we used the stripey kind, chunked
black pepper
olive oil
Thai green curry paste
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 head garlic, finely chopped or minced
1 "thumb" fresh ginger, finely chopped, minced or grated
1 parsley root, chunked1 carrot, chunked
Generous bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped
Generous bunch fresh basil, finely chopped
Water (about a cup)
1 can coconut milk or coconut cream(optional)
1 can chopped tomato (or a few fresh chopped tomatoes if you have)
Lemon or lime juice

1) Preheat oven to 180 C. Arrange chunked pumpkin and aubergine on a large baking tray. Sprinkle liberally with black pepper and a little salt. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about half an hour, or until it starts to soften.

2) In a largish pot heat about a little olive oil. Gradually mix in about a teaspoon of Thai curry paste. (This paste can be quite strong, so best to start off with a small amount, you can always add more later if it isn't firey enough for you.) Add chopped onion and saute for a few minutes until onion starts to soften.

3) Add chopped/minced garlic and ginger. Cover pot and allow to "sweat" for a few minutes, stir well, add chunked parsley root and carrot and "sweat" a few more minutes.

4) Add baked pumpkin and aubergine to the pot. Simmer with half cup-cup of water (water should just cover veggies) until all the veggies are soft.

5) Add the finely chopped coriander and basil and mix thoroughly into veggies. If you're using chopped tomatoes, add them now too.

6) Using an electric blender wand puree the soup until it reaches the desired consistency, ours came out smooth and creamy.

7) Add the coconut milk/cream and mix thoroughly.

8) Add some lemon or lime juice to taste. If the soup isn't firey enough for you, add more Thai curry paste.

9) Serve hot or cold.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bake, bake, bake in the baking weather

I don't know if it's being pregnant, the hot weather outdoors or just following Junior's natural curiosity, but we seem to be experiencing a baking frenzy this summer.

On the practical side it is something I can do with the Little Person which can be done (mostly) while sitting down in the airconditioning (albeit with the oven on, so maybe it doesn't really help with the issue of being pregnant in August).

What with being due, please God, just before Rosh Hashanah and expecting assorted family over the holidays, I'm trying to stock my freezer so we'll be ready with homecooked stuff we like when I'm God Willing busy with a newborn.

On the fun side, Junior has picked out a slew of recipes she wants to try, and this is a great opportunity.

On the unexpected side, Junior has developed an interest in maths, in particular fractions, measuring and counting, so doing recipes together is a great hands on way for her to learn to put into practice what she has read in Jerry Pallotta's wonderful "Apple Fractions" book.

All in all a good plan for a very pregnant mother of a very curious and active 4 year-old.

To date we have made rhubarb loaf, plum honey cake, assorted wholewheat muffins with various fruits, saffron chestnut lamb stew, saffron rhubarb beef stew, courgette soup, a ton of hallot, turkey soup, tomato coriander soup, carrot kugel and these oatmeal fig biscuits.

So far so good.

I adapted this from a recipe a friend gave me, we are a fresh fig loving family!

Oatmeal Fig and Almond Biscuits


1 cup finely chopped fresh figs(if you don't have any, you can try dried figs that have soaked for a bit in warm water so that they plump up, the taste will be different though)
2 cups wholewheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (mace)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup olive or canola oil (or a blend)
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
8 tablespoons water
2 cups quick cooking oats, preferably whole oats
1/2 cup flaked almond

1) Preheat oven to 200 C (I think this is 400 F for Americans and imperial Brits?)
2) Sift flour with baking powder, salt and spices
3) Add oats, figs and almonds
4) In a separate bowl, cream together oil with sugar.
5) Beat the eggs well, then add to sugar/oil mixture and cream together.
6) Add alternately sall amounts of the dry mixture and water to the oil/sugar mixture to make a dough.
7) Drop teaspoons of dough on to a greased biscuit sheet and bake at 200 C for 10 minutes.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A pickling caper

This is what happens when the Junior Gourmand asks a question.

The Little Person is a caper addict.

I always knew that capers grew wild in Israel (very pretty flowers).

I always knew that they could be pickled.

All said and done I've always loved eating capers. (yeah, I know, the kid has picked up some of my stranger tastes in food, like blue cheese ravioli and pink grapefruit juice)

Having never had my own garden though and being reluctant to pick wild plants, I never quite tried my hand at making my own pickled capers.

Well, guess who wants to try? So I did some research:


Anyone have some caper bushes in their yard that we could pick?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

15 Books

OK, so I don't usually do these things because they are usually about pop stars or movies or stuff that just doesn't do it for me, but books, well, you got me there, I mean, I certainly live with enough of them.

"Don't take too long to think about it. List 15 books you've read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends. "

So, off the top of my head, here goes:

1.Watership Down, Richard Adams
2. Only Yesterday (Tmol Shilshom), S.Y.Agnon
3. Adjustment of Sights, Haim Sabbato
4.The First Circle, Alexander Sozhenitsyn
5. Night, Eli Wiesel
6. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
7. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
8. If This is a Man-The Truth, Primo Levi
9. 1984, George Orwell
10. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
11. The Little Prince, Antoine St Exupery
12. Yoni's Letters, Yonatan Netanyahu
13. Fear No Evil, Natan Sharansky
14. Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
15. My Beloved, My Friend (Dodi Vere'i), Naomi Frankel

Thursday, July 02, 2009

When you hear them cuckoos hollerin'

The cuckoos in the tree by my balcony took me straight to Leah Goldberg. I've always loved her poetry and I guess this one just got right under my skin:

(my rough, lousy translation from Hebrew)

Here I will not hear the voice of the cuckoo
Here the trees will not adorn themselves in a turban of snow
But in the shade of these pines
All my childhood relived


Maybe only migratory birds know
When they are suspended between land and sky
This pain of having two homelands

With you I have twice been planted
With you I grew, pines
And my roots are in two landscapes

Goldberg was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia, and came to Tel Aviv as a young woman. From this poem it seems she never found any cuckoos in Israel. But then Tel Aviv was never really known for its rich flora and fauna, even in the 1930s.

Well, I knew she was wrong about the cuckoos, had known for some time. I guess she was no birder. Or perhaps with much less reforestation in her day, there really weren't so many cuckoos around. Either way, kind of weird to have one over on one of our national poetesses when it comes to knowing the Land of Israel.

Then again, the species of cuckoo in my tree doesn't actually say cuckoo.

Go figure.

Which brought me to Ahinoam Nini (Noa) and her adaptation of Goldberg's binational angst to fit the modern torn identity of so many Israelis growing up in other countries:

I remember those snow-capped mountains
And a song on F.M. 93
Oh my darlin', I have grown with you
But my roots are on both sides of the sea

Which brought me to myself.

I've called three countries home in my life and while I may think of words like affection, loyalty, pride and happiness in conjunction with the other two, only Israel gives me that bone deep, soul searing love for her landscape and language.

The other two are good places to live, countries I admire, care for, care about, but my connections to them are accidents of history, politics and economics.

When I am away from them I don't ache for them like a piece of me is missing.

They are not my destiny, spreading back through the ages, through countless generations of my ancestors, praying, yearning, dreaming, burning the memory of her nature and views into the hearts of our nation wherever we wandered.

My other two mother countries are places of nostalgia, memory, fond reminiscences of pebble beaches in autumn, red brick houses illuminated in the short, dark days of a north European winter, clapboard ranch houses full of small children at birthday parties and windswept rolling green mountains and lakes.

But still, they don't radiate home the way Israel does. Their beauty and my love for them pales beside rugged rocky hillsides covered in thistles and almond trees, olives groves and vineyards planted in terra rosa soil, rocky red, yellow, white deserts and neglected old Jerusalem stone fronted houses.

I can't swear that circumstances may, against my will, lead me to wander again.

I can't swear that there is only one place I'll ever call home.

Truth be told, I don't think I will ever truly have one place I think of as home.

Maybe it's the fate of a wandering Jewish ancestry, maybe it's just that the landscape of my life is scattered over three continents, but part of me will always feel fragmented, spread too thin, not quite completely at home in any one country, always something of a stranger wherever I am.

But given a choice, I know which one feels most like home.

I know which vistas scroll through my dreams.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Weather Channel Obsession?

Yes, I admit it, I have an obsession with rain. I can't stop writing about it, longing for it, hoping for it, and I swear I'm not this bad when we actually have enough of it (well, I can never have enough of it), but I go nuts with longing for rain when it's in short supply, and believe me, this year it is in majorly short supply.

I struggle through the dry season counting down to autumn the way Junior counts down to her birthday, dreaming, hoping. And then to be disappointed like this.

Don't get me wrong, it's great to have all those clear blue skies to go walking under, but my soul yearns for clouds, for rain, for that tantalising smell of damp earth and quite frankly I just haven't had my fill this season, and there are only a maximum of 3 months, 4 months tops, of rainy season to go.

And for the record, we don't have a weather channel in this country (nothing to report for half the year except for heat and sunshine...)

Thunder, Lightening, Oh My!

Well I know it's been a long time when I had to think twice to register that it was indeed thunder. Really.

Last weekend the meteorological powers that be promised rain.

Oh yeah, we got wind, lots of it, gales of it, violent, howling and shrieking, but bone dry all the same. A real tease.

So this Shabbat I'm thinking more of the same, and yeah, it was more of the same, just not quite as blustery, but a tease all the same. All wind and no rain.

Last night I was finally sitting down with Junior with her latest fascination, The Jabberwocky (we didn't realise she could reach the shelf until I caught her reading the book to herself, really don't think that's quite what I would have thought of as 3 year-old appropriate reading, but then it's getting hard to vet what she reads, I think we may have to cancel the daily newspaper).

Where was I? Yes, the Jabberwocky. Well, I can't remember which poem we were reading in the collection, but suddenly I heard a distant rumble, wasn't quite sure what it was.

Then there it was again, and as I looked up, sure enough a bright flash over the valley. Hmmm, I had to blink and shake myself that I wasn't hallucinating.

Real live thunder and lighting. I can hardly remember experiencing any this winter.

By this time Junior had noticed my distraction and ran off to get her brakha cards to look up the blessings for thunder and lightning. Told her the story about how when I was a kid my mother made sure I was never scared of these natural phenomena by teaching me the blessings to say.

Junior looks at me quizzically and explains matter of factly that she's never been scared of them, but it's important to say the right brakha, because that way Ima isn't scared.

Anyway, turns out this is the driest January on record in Israel. So it isn't just me feeling like I can't remember what a thunder storm is.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Now what was that book called?!

A generous relative gave me a generous book token for my birthday a while back and after a good few years of not venturing out of the house without my short person escort it took me a while to register that with Junior now in kindergarten part-time I have the freedom to browse bookshops alone, not to mention the opportunity to grab more reading time to myself. Bliss.

So what to do with that book token? Just one problem, every Friday night I devour the book reviews in the weekend papers. Of course I'm not intelligent enough to save the ones I'm interested in and what can I say, my post childbirth memory has never quite recovered even to my previous absent minded state, so, there I am, a whole shopping mall, complete with two reasonably large bookshops, all to myself and my mind is a blank.

All around the tables piled high with recent publications and monthly specials are a blur of colour and text. The bookshelf crammed walls make me practically dizzy with anticipation, but when I dig around in my brain for those elusive titles I draw a total and utter blank.

My kid in a candystore demeanor turns to utter frustration, as I scan frantically for something that looks familiar from all those wonderful newspaper reviews. Every so often I think I see something, a name, a title, but I can't for the life of me place it, and most of the time looking at the cover blurb I replace the book in disappointment or realise that it's something that I've read already.

In the end I scoop up some vaguely familiar titles that are almost all on special, hope that I've scored on most of them, and walk over to the cash register, nervous but pleased to be buying grown-up books all by myself for myself for the first time in I can't remember how long.

Anyhow, this is how I find myself with my book token used up and a considerable stack of recent novels I'm not quite sure why I own, though at least the blurbs do look interesting, even if I still can't remember whether more than one of them appeared in any of those reviews I was salivating over months and years ago.

At least one of the new authors I've tried out seems to be worth the effort, Michael Scheinfeld, up and coming young writer being hailed as the next Haim Sabbato. Well, I'm half way through his double novella "Ba MiLevanon" (I always seem to end up with war stories), and Haim Sabbato he ain't , but I do like his writing all the same.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Junior Archaeologist

Still hardly anything on the rain front, its so damn dry it feels like spring not midwinter, except that it's still too darn brown for that. Not that we aren't lacking in wildflowers, but not on the usual scale. Not by a long shot I think.

Still it's nice weather for walks and Junior is really getting into the whole tiyul thing, complete with collecting snail shells and practically jumping up and down for joy when we come across pottery shards (this is the Holyland afterall - archaeology is all around us).

She really loves archaeology, just as well we have a whole slew of relics near our home, Byzantine mosaics and Crusader ruins just ripe for kids to scramble over and play make believe in. I'm not letting her explore the Bar Kokhba tunnels just yet though...

I'm the mother of a 3.5 year-old Indiana Jones (and yes, she is into archaeology, kid went to her first dig while she was in my tummy, loves climbing over ruins, and we certainly have plenty over here).

It's really one of the things I love most about living here, this proximity to the past in the "City of the Future". My kid thinks that having ancient ruins round the corner from her home is the most natural thing in the world, and has already paticipated in her first "community dig" an ongoing project which gives local residents of all ages hands on experience excavating a nearby archaeological site, under the very close supervision of professional archaeologists.

Further afield she loves trips to grander sites, like the ruins of ancient Tzippori in the Galil, the Afek fortress near Rosh Ha'Ayin or the Nabetean relics which dot the Negev desert. It's simply part of her experience, like the wildflowers and climbing trees.

Her latest career choice is astronaut and archaeologist - when DH asked her why she explained that she wanted to learn about old buildings on other planets. I swear I haven't said a word to her about Stargate, she came up with that all on her lonesome. The 3.5 year-old brain is an incredible thing. Maybe it's just osmosis from her geeky parents, maybe it's just living in a house that is way too full of books about science, sci-fi and history. I guess her conclusions are only natural.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

International law expert Gary Grant, interviewed on English Al-Jazeera

Quote from international law expert Gary Grant, interviewed on English Al-Jazeera:

"Any country's first duty is to protect its citizens, it's called self-defence. The question is, is that self-defence proportionate.

"Under international law, two things need to be satisfied for Israel's actions to be considered lawful. One is that they are aiming at legitimate military objects. Israel would say that they are striking at legitimate infrastructure. And of course Hamas is an organisation intent on the destruction of Israel and the Jews in Israel as part of its covenant.

"Secondly, is it proportional? ... It's not simply a case of calculating the number of Israelis that have been killed by rockets, to the number of Palestinians killed in these attacks.

"The question is, are these attacks proportionate to the military objective trying to be achieved? Israel would argue with some force that what they are trying to achieve is to prevent Hamas, an organisation set up to destroy Israel, from strockpiling the weapons, and it's doing that by destroying the infrastructure.

"If someone were to run at me, a knife-wielding lunatic, I don't have to wait for that knife to enter my heart, before I'm about to respond. I'm allowed to take pre-emptive action, in order to stop it.

"Killing civilians is tragic, but it is not against international law. It is accepted in international law, that even if you target military sites, you are going to kill civilians. If you fire rockets and missiles, that is what is going to happen.

"But in this case, it is not the deliberate targeting of civilians, it is the targeting of infrastructure and military targets. Civilians tragically do get caught up in it. It needs to be contrasted with Hamas, where every single target is at a civilian population."

I would also recommend that folks who want to learn more about how one actually has to think about ethics and laws of war have a read of Michael Walzer's "Just and Unjust Wars", as well as perusing the Geneva Convention on such things. Lawrence Freeman's "War" is also interesting reading.

The apologetic Jew?

I don't know what's gotten into me lately, usually I just read and groan when I read breast beating foreign Jews crying out about how much Israel is embarrassing them by acting in self-defence. Folks who it seems care more about how much the world loves Jews instead of how much Jewish lives are being endangered. Personally I'd rather be alive with the criticism of the enlightened elites of Europe and the US and the UN Secretary General, than dead with all those folks' adoration.

Newsflash, this isn't about winning a popularity contest, this is about saving Israeli, and hopefully in the long run, Palestinian lives too.

Those rockets are falling half an hour's drive from my home, and if Hamas upgrades its lovely little arsenal to weapons that can hit 55-60km from Gaza, then my family will be in rocket range too, not to mention several of the country's largest population centres. Right now those poor Hamas guys can only hit cities and villages about 42 km from Gaza.

I'm so sorry that in trying to save the lives of Israeli civilians Israel has embarrassed Jews abroad, if it would make you feel better I could ask some of my friends in Ashkelon or Beer Sheva to ignore the air raid sirens and stand in the path of oncoming rockets instead of taking shelter, it seems that many folks abroad feel far more comfortable with seeing dead Israelis then live ones defending themselves.

You think that Israelis don't know that war sucks? For crying out loud, every person in this country has lost people to wars and terrorism here, and far too many of us, soldiers and civilians alike, have seen it up close and personal. It isn't as though we don't know the human cost to both sides, it isn't as if this is something anyone here takes lightly. Americans can fight a war across the world and the folks back home don't have to know the hell of it, here the front is right near our homes and many soldiers' families are in just as much danger as they are themselves.

Israel has spent several years trying every non-lethal method available to persuade Hamas to stop it with the rockets already. The only reason Israel had to impose border restrictions on Gaza was because of Hamas weapons smuggling, weapons like the explosive warheads and parts used to construct the rockets fired into Israel.

Yes this situation is sad, Israelis do not like going to war, Israelis do not want to have to kill anyone, but Israeli civilians living near the Gaza border have been taking rocket and mortar fire for about 8 years now, and after Israel pulled out all its troops and civilians from Gaza in 2005 as a goodwill gesture designed to hopefully restart negotiations, the result was the rocket fire increased dramatically following the Israeli pullout. Over 6000 rockets have fallen on Israel in that time, about 3000 of them in 2008 alone - and part of that year there was supposed to be a ceasefire in effect.

The ceasefire ended a few weeks ago and Israel and Egypt did their utmost to renew it, but Hamas refused, escalating rocket fire into Israeli civilian centres. Israel had no choice but to respond militarily, not because it wants to, not because it wants to harm Palestinian civilians, but because it was out of options and any responsible government must defend its civilians.

Hamas isn't going to give up, Hamas has stated repeatedly that it wants the destruction of the State of Israel. If they wanted to run their own Fundamentalist state side by side with Israel, hey, most Israelis would say do what you want in Gaza, but Hamas doesn't just want Gaza, and they don't just want to topple Fatah in the West Bank, they want to destabilise and destroy their Israeli neighbour and that just isn't on.


Just to give an idea of which areas are in rocket range, kind of makes my gut twist just to look at these:



Gaza musings

So this evening, following reports of a rocket salvo, oh, say about half an hour's drive from my home, I went out to a concert with my visiting British tourist, and when I arrived home I found out that just over an hour's drive from my home Israeli soldiers were going in to Gaza.

And I and a few hundred other folks were experiencing a couple of hours of escapism in a cosy modern concert hall, seemingly a world away from the war raging in commuting distance from us.

During a brief break in the performance my tourist turned to me and whispered, shocked realisation on his face, "we're enjoying ourselves while people are dying so close by." Welcome to my world.

Well, what else to do? Half an hour's drive away they've cancelled schools, turned on the air raid siren and Home Front Command is giving people instructions on where to seek shelter, but here life goes on as usual, except for the folks who've had emergency call up papers and the many many people who've opened their hearts and their homes to offer respite to families under attack in the south.

No reason however not to take a couple of hours out to go to the theatre which after all is only around the corner from me and I did promise my guest that I would take him to a classical concert during his visit, and he is leaving this week so I figured it was about time I followed through. DH babysat (Junior, bless her actually fell asleep at a normal hour) and off I went, all 5 minutes walk up the hill to the theatre.

Israel kibbutz Camaretta is OK, pleasant enough, but what made the evening really worth while was Keren Hadar, and up and coming soprano with a vibrant stage presence and versatile voice. She sang a mixture of popular arias from assorted operas, using a number from Carmen Jones (not, note, Carmen itself) as a transition to the second half which consisted of classical arrangements for Israeli folk songs and oldies. I thought she held these disparate segments together beautifully and she certainly will have me coming back for more I think. What can I say, my mother brought me up going to musicals, opera and singing a ton of Israeli folk and pop at home, and this apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Left the apartment to news that the IDF was shelling northern Gaza, arrived home to discover that our forces have gone in on the ground and there is a massive call up of even more reserve soldiers. Zapped through all the Israeli news broadcasts (Channels 1, 2 and 10), then Fox and Sky, along with Egypt and Morocco for good measure, not that my Arabic is so hot, but I could get the bare gist of their reporting. (We have the cheap basic cable package, so not much more in the way of English language news networks, no more BBC or CNN for us).

I believe it needs to be done, Israel needs to defeat Hamas here, has to stand up to all the years of rocket terror once and for all. I believe its the only way we're going to have any kind of peace, but , as the cliche goes, war is hell, and I'm pretty sure that Hamas will fight, and this is going to be a tough fight for us I think. Hamas have had years to build defences, hunker down and make an IDF incursion as difficult as possible, try to draw our soldiers into built up areas where Hamas feels it has the upper hand, and I remember enough of what I've heard from soldiers who were in Lebanon and in Jenin and similar battles.

I'm sad for the innocents in Gaza, the folks who have suffered all these years under Hamas and the various gangs and militias there, and are now suffering from being caught in the middle of Hamas' war and Israel's response. In the days before the Oslo War, before Yasser Arafat reneged on peace negotiations in September 2000 and all hell broke loose, well, there were decent relations between the ordinary people of Gaza and their Israeli neighbours, people did work together, especially in agriculture, in factories, as truck drivers, as doctors and nurses in Israeli hospitals and more, so it isn't as if the people of Gaza are an unknown "other" - plenty of Israelis, especially among those in the line of fire, know civilians on the Gaza side of the border, worry about people they know, or more likely, knew there, as since the Israeli pullout and Hamas take over there has been far less contact. The other day one of the Israeli news stations interviewed a guy from Jebaliya in Gaza, and he told of how upset he was at the rocket fire, how he wanted to go back to the way things were in the good old days, how he hoped for peace with his Israeli neighbours.

That's the part that breaks my heart, I believe we have no option other than military action to fight Hamas, but the fact that there is no way of fighting this thing without harming civilians because Hamas cynically bases its operations in the midst of its own people, knowing that the only way Israel can protect Israeli civilians is to endanger Palestinian civilians, that is chilling, and Hamas knows that, and has been using it against us for years. Does that make us weak? I don't think so, but it has on many occasions endangered both our soldiers and civilians, because Hamas knows that we will think twice, and three times and more, before mounting a defensive operation that puts Palestinian civilians in harms way.

I have my Tehillim (Psalms) book to hand and have made liberal use of it this evening. God keep our guys safe and grant them success.