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:,34.82254&spn=0.753758,1.425476&z=10,34.82254&spn=0.753758,1.425476&z=10

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.