Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Retweeted by Dawkins

This morning, I was pleased to learn that Richard Dawkins had retweeted (to his almost half-a-million followers) my latest message.


Consequently, if ever Mitt Romney were to become the US president (Heaven forbid!), my chances of obtaining a Green Card have just been annihilated. Happily however, after my death, the Mormons will surely baptize me, and I'll be able to toil in God's Own Country for the rest of Eternity.

Maybe there are non-Mormon readers who won't understand what the hell I was talking about. After all, outside the USA in general, and Utah in particular, not everybody has heard of the angel Moroni who led the prophet Joseph Smith to a hillside where he was able to dig up gold plates containing the words of the Book of Mormon.


It's a delightfully amazing tale. What a pity that you have to be a credulous idiot to believe a single word of it.

There's an anecdote that has amused me ever since I heard it for the first time a couple of decades ago. The Holy City of Jerusalem has always been the home of adepts of every imaginable variety of monotheism. Indeed, if the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten and Nefertiti were to reappear in the Middle East today, the Israeli authorities would surely authorize them to set up some kind of temple in Jerusalem where they could worship their sun god.


The only notable exception to this spirit of tolerance in recent times concerned the Mormons, who had purchased land on Mount Scopus. After bitter discussions that dragged on for ages, the Israeli authorities only allowed the Mormons to erect their outpost of the Brigham Young University after they had signed a declaration confirming that they would refrain from all missionary activities in Jerusalem. These days, though, Bibi Netanyahu and Mitt Romney are old buddies.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Silent night, holy fight

In Jerusalem, fights have been erupting for ages between different Christian denominations inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This Christmas, the fighting broke out in a different but equally distinguished place: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. And the belligerents were Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergymen. Parts of this video remind me of ice hockey games that have been transformed into brawls. 


Let there be peace on Earth...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Extraordinary virus

In Israel, they breed 'em tough and smart. Alongside a hardy Sabra (Hebrew name of the Prickly Pear, used to designate Jews born in Israeli territory), even our legendary Queenslanders [display] can look like delicate choirboys. Take this fellow, for example:

His name is Gabi Ashkenazi, 57 years old, and he grew up in the agricultural settlement (moshav) of Hagor, on the inland edge of the Biblical plain of Sharon which extends from Tel Aviv up to Haifa, not far from Netanya. Since 2007, and up until a fortnight ago, Ashkenazi was the chief of Tsahal (Israel's defense forces).

When I dare to suggest that such a man is tough, I don't mean in a ruthless sense, like the disappearing dictators of the Mediterranean. Like many of Israel's great leaders, he has the mental toughness of a determined survivor. Ashkenazi appears to be endowed with intelligence and imagination, as well. And exceptional computer know-how.

It was only last summer, in July 2010, that the world first heard of a Windows computer worm called Stuxnet (which happens to be a meaningless name). Surprisingly, it didn't get into action in many countries. A month later, a few thousand cases had been detected in India, the USA and Australia, and twice that volume in Indonesia. But one victim, Iran, had affliction figures that were already measured in tens of thousands. Clearly, the worm was equipped with some kind of road map that encouraged it to attack Persia, above all.

And what did this software worm actually do? That's where the story becomes utterly amazing. Most folk imagine that computers linked to the Internet are used primarily to broadcast subtle and profound messages to the universe: Hey, you, gonna be my friend? But they can do much more than that. Many computers drive machines. So, if you can exploit the Internet to inject a worm into such computers, you can easily screw up the machines they're supposed to control. You only have to get a machine to operate, say, on fluctuating voltages, and it soon starts to cough and hiccup, and finally do certain crazy things. Sooner or later, because of such a worm (inside an Iranian factory, for example), everything can be forced to shut down. Well, I can't say much more about such technology, because I'm not smart enough to understand it. But it impresses me. There's nothing nicer than the idea of a worm in the works of an otherwise clever but obnoxious device.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Israel, bad news

Everybody knows that, for centuries, Jews have had a hard time… to put it mildly. The Holocaust revealed unequivocally that God does not exist. The tragic emergence of the modern state of Israel provided certain naive observers with the proof that a Hebrew Yahveh not only existed, but was encouraging his chosen flock to hate Palestinians: a weird idea for a supposedly universal deity.

Today, those who care about Palestinians are bundled into buses with blanked-out windows. Israel doesn't want to acknowledge the existence of humans who are worried about Palestinians. Through this disgusting concealment administered by the Hebrew nation, such individuals are designated as bad news for Israel, to be hidden from the people and the world. But the really bad news, alas, is "modern Israel".

Friday, October 2, 2009

Liberate Gilad Shalit



It's marvelous to see that the Franco-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit appears to be in perfect shape. He must now be liberated, absolutely, as soon as possible, at the same time as Palestinian prisoners. That's the only way that Gaza might be able to start its long road towards becoming a livable land.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Forgotten US prisoner

Concerning the 150-year jail sentence for Bernard Madoff, I can understand perfectly well that the entire American system intends to send out a stark message to all would-be designers of Ponzi schemes: "Here's a real-life demonstration of what you'll get." That's the well-documented interpretation of harsh punishment viewed as a dissuasive factor. It's a concept that doesn't apply at all in the case of crimes of passion, blood and sex, and probably little in the arena of bank robberies, but it surely carries weight in the case of criminal projects demanding calm calculation... such as white-collar affairs of the Madoff kind.

When I heard of Madoff's sentence, I thought immediately of a gentle US prisoner, 54-year-old Jonathan Pollard, indicted on a charge of passing classified information to an ally, Israel, without intent to harm the USA. He was motivated, not at all by Madoff-like financial greed, but solely by his ideological admiration for the modern nation that symbolizes the land of Pollard's Jewish ancestors. Contrary to what is often stated, Pollard was never condemned for treason, nor for any other crime, for the simple reason that he was never, at any moment, tried before a US court! As the consequence of a plea agreement—honored by Pollard but not by the American Government—he has been rotting in a US jail now for nearly a quarter of a century. [Click the photo to access Pollard's official website, or Google with his name.]

I first heard of Pollard's sad case long ago, during my initial encounters with the legendary Holy Land: a wonderful experience that I shall always treasure. There's a whole chapter about him in this fine book on Israeli espionage. His case inspired a fascinating French movie, Les Patriotes, by director Éric Rochant.




A silly idea has sprung into my mind. It's totally unrealistic, but I would like to insert it here into my blog. One of the high-profile victims of Madoff, from both an institutional and a personal viewpoint, was the 80-year-old intellectual Elie Wiesel, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 as a "messenger to mankind" through "his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps" as well as his "practical work in the cause of peace". Elie Wiesel has no doubt heard of Madoff's sentence, and thought of what it means for a man to receive such a punishment. My silly idea is simple. Maybe Elie Wiesel might use the Madoff event as a pretext for thinking also about the Pollard predicament, which is a blatant case of a forgotten prisoner. Maybe Elie Wiesel could use his weight to talk to both Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu about the case of Jonathan Pollard.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Incongruous conflict

The ongoing conflict is Gaza is weird in many ways. First, there's the obvious question of why the Hamas suddenly decided, on December 19, to end their truce with Israel, and revert to their annoying habit of firing rockets at their neighbors. There are two plausible explanations, both related to elections. There will be a major election in Israel in February, and it's possible that Hamas leaders imagined naively that Israel wouldn't wish to get involved in military operations before then. Then there's the US situation, where Bush is about to leave, and Obama about to arrive. Maybe Hamas imagined that they could take advantage of a narrow "window" (to use space jargon) during which they could get away with mischief, with no threat of backlash.

A French military expert provided a quite different speculation for the Hamas decision. Everybody knows that defense research and development are leaping ahead in Israel, and that they'll soon have a sophisticated protective system capable of detecting and destroying the relatively primitive rockets that are being fired from Gaza. So, this might be a kind of last offensive fling for Hamas.

One has the impression that, if the Hamas really wished to end the beating that Gaza has been receiving from Tsahal, the obvious simple solution would consist of ceasing to fire any more rockets. But Hamas is basically a terrorist organization, and it simply doesn't reason this way. In a pure terrorist style, they're firing their rockets at civilian targets in Israel, and they're using their own Palestinian civilians as protective "padding" around their launchers.

In angering and provoking the military might of Israel, could it be said that the Hamas is behaving in a suicidal fashion? No, not really. Insofar as the Fatah and the West Bank "nation" have ceased to be credible, the Hamas has nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Besides, we must never forget that they were elected by Palestinians to play exactly the kind of role that they're playing at present. It might be madness, but there's method in it.

Then, there's the unexpected mission of Nicolas Sarkozy, which started today. Like many people, I was surprised to see the Israeli minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni, dropping in on the French president in Paris on New Year's Day... an hour or so after Israel's refusal to accept a cease-fire with Hamas.

It was barely a day earlier that an unofficial announcement on the Israeli radio revealed that the French president would be setting out, during the first week of the new year (that's to say, as of today, January 5), upon an in-depth peace-seeking trip through the Middle East. It was as if Tzipi Livni jumped the starting block, the following day, in deciding to visit Sarkozy in Paris. Does Livni really imagine that Sarkozy's rapid trip around the Middle East (including a visit to Syria) might bring peace to Gaza? Does Sarkozy himself imagine such a possibility? The answer to each of these questions is a resounding no. All this rushing around is merely a way of spending time and putting on a show while the dirty work of eradicating the Hamas is conducted in an orderly and systematic fashion, taking all the time that's required.

A terribly incongruous aspect of this conflict is the fact that the Hamas still refuses to recognize the existence of Israel... which is beating the hell out of Gaza. That's not merely an incongruous situation; it's frankly surrealist.

With the arrival of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the international diplomatic scene, are we likely to witness, at last, the creation of an authentic Palestinian nation in the foreseeable future? I don't think so. Little by little, that grand idea is being transformed into an impossible dream, a permanent legend.

Last but not least, the most incongruous thing of all is the fact that, in spite of Israel's understandable irritation about all those small rockets fired from Gaza, it would be absurd to suggest that Israel is genuinely upset in any serious way by the antagonistic behavior of Palestinians in general, and the Hamas in particular. Think of what's happening today in Gaza rather as a kind of training session or warm-up for the real action, which will come later on, against an authentic heavyweight enemy. I'm referring, of course, to Israel's determination to knock out, sooner or later (and probably sooner rather than later), the nuclear capacity of Iran.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day of death in the Holy Land

It's absurd to apply the expression "Holy Land" to the tiny segment of hell on Earth named Gaza, where dozens have been dying in the wake of the alleged anniversary of the birth of a man of peace and love. In this bloody conflict, Palestinians in Gaza have been dying under Israeli missiles: some 200 according to this afternoon's count.

BREAKING NEWS, MONDAY MORNING: The Israeli blitz has so far killed over 310 Palestinians, including 51 confirmed civilian casualties, including women and children. There are more than 1400 wounded.

Here's a horrible haphazard video, with a taste of death:



For ages, people have been tiring themselves talking about what might be done to put an end to the terrible conflict between Israel and Palestine. Should there be two autonomous nations? Should a corner of Jerusalem be set aside as the capital of a future Muslim nation named Palestine? Should Israelis cool down a little about their alleged biblical rights to the land of milk and honey? Should Palestinians relinquish their matter-of-fact birth rights? What can be done to make these people, if not love one another, at least cease to hate themselves mortally? Is there any solution?

A first step in the direction of seeking a solution to all this hatred and bloodshed would consist of eliminating ancient religious antagonism. The planet Earth would need to have the political power to urge citizens of the world to wake up to life. Would this be possible? Sadly, I don't think so. Humanity is a tragedy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Time for Tzipi

I've repeated the title of a short article I wrote nearly a year and a half ago [display]. I admire this woman. I persist in believing that Tzipi Livni might achieve marvels at the head of that rugged nation, still so close to its violent pioneering roots. Many people think back nostalgically to the era of Golda Meir. Born in Tel Aviv, the daughter of diehard Irgun activists, Tzipi Livni has been a lawyer and a fighter, who once worked for the Mossad. At the head of the Kadima party, her major opponent from now on is Bibi Netanyahu, who will surely do his best to make it difficult for Tzipi Livni to accede to the top post of Israel. It'll be a good fight. May the best (wo)man win!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kippa

I'm fond of my Jewish skullcap, which I bought long ago in the extraordinary Holy City of Jerusalem. I used to wear it momentarily when visiting synagogues in Israel. I've always had a profound respect for the Jewish people, the legends and myths of the Torah and the modern state of Israel. There were even times when I dreamed vaguely about the crazy idea of settling down in that amazing and exciting nation, both profoundly archaic and terribly modern, but this kind of project would be senseless, indeed unthinkable, for a goy. In any case, I've always been a supporter of the Jewish state: a friend of Israel.

The recent beating in Paris of a lad wearing a kippa was initially presented as a case of anti-Semitism, but it now appears possible that it was merely an instance of regular fighting between youth gangs in the Buttes-Chaumont park in the 19th arrondissement of Paris.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Israel's 60th birthday


Israel's national anthem is called Hope:


The nation's second anthem is Jerusalem of Gold by Naomi Shemer, sung here by Ofra Haza:



New Soul by the 30-year-old French-Israeli singer Yael Naïm is an excellent theme song for Israel's 60th birthday:

Friday, March 7, 2008

Innocence

The word "innocence", incorporating the Latin verb nocere (to harm), means "doing no harm". It's a far stronger notion than mere harmlessness. The state of innocence evokes a total incapacity for hurting one's fellow men. Although my knowledge of Judaism is superficial, and regardless of the fact that I consider all Bible-based religions as a bunch of myths and legends, I would imagine that young Jewish students of the the Tanach and Rabbinic literature are particularly innocent individuals, in the sense I've just defined, because Judaism is an immensely humanistic philosophy, and its adepts have an unbounded respect for all the planet's men, women and children. Normally, a fellow who decides to enroll in a yeshiva to study these ethereal subjects in depth, maybe with a view to becoming a rabbi, can have no place in his heart for hatred.

The Hebrew word Mercaz means "center", and HaRav is literally "the rabbi". Many Israelis think of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem, founded in 1924 by the great Zionist rabbi Avraham Kook, as the national yeshiva of the modern state of Israel. The Palestinian terrorist who selected this place to vent his hatred was probably aware of its prominent status... or maybe he simply decided to strike this school because he happened to be employed there as a chauffeur.

Eight students died and nine were wounded before the terrorist was killed.

In Gaza, certain people danced with joy when they heard of this attack, and Hamas authorities said: "We bless the operation." In that trite declaration, I'm curious to know the meaning, if any, of the verb "bless". One thing is certain: it has nothing to do with innocence.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Israel active and on the alert

Israel has her own particular way of commenting upon assassinations such as that of Imad Moughnieh, a Hezbollah chief in Lebanon.

The Jewish nation denies officially any direct responsibility for the act in question, but makes no attempt to conceal a certain satisfaction that the assassination was perpetrated. Smart diplomacy. Even smarter operational skills in this murky domain.

Following a cry for vengeance from Hassan Nasrallah, the top Hezbollah man in Lebanon, Israeli authorities have placed Tsahal in a state of alert.

Exceptionally, Israelis traveling abroard have been warned of the increased likelihood of isolated attacks, even at remote places throughout the world.

In a distinct but related domain, that of the Hamas stronghold of Gaza, the Hebrew state would appear to be engaged in preliminary operations announcing some kind of major intervention.

It was reported last night that a blast near Gaza City killed a senior chief of the Islamic Jihad movement, Ayman al-Fayed, along with six other Palestinians. Meanwhile, there are increasing signs that something will soon happen to unblock the terrible situation in the Gaza Strip, whose civilian inhabitants lack food, power and essential supplies. If the Jewish neighbor is indeed envisaging a large-scale ground invasion of Gaza (reflecting the hopes, as revealed in a recent poll, of 67 percent of Israeli citizens), the motivation is essentially military: to find and destroy the rockets that are being regularly launched into Israel from Gaza.

As an Israeli spokesman recently put it, in a nutshell: If the Palestinians refrain from doing it themselves, Israel is prepared to step in and overthrow Hamas. It's high time for such a clarification... whose organization has nevertheless necessitated a certain delay. Since it's likely that Israel will carry out this operation in a surprise manner, when observers (not to mention the enemy) are least expecting it, I've been wondering whether it might take place when everybody has their eyes set, as at present, upon Israel's problems with the Lebanese Hezbollah. The Hebrew nation has always operated in a mode that computing people would designate as multiprocessing, which simply means doing several different things at the same time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Songs and singers

At the time the Six-Day War [click here to display my recent article on this subject], the Israeli composer Naomi Shemer created a magnificent song, whose English title was Jerusalem of gold, which rapidly become an anthem associated with Israel's recovery of the Western Wall. I've always loved this song, which became for me a symbol of my encounter with Israel in 1989. In Paris, when I was learning Hebrew with the help of a lovely Israeli girl named Mihal, she taught me to appreciate the beautiful metaphors in Naomi Shemer's poem dedicated to the Holy City. Here's a version of this splendid song performed by Ofra Haza:


A few years ago, a special program on French TV celebrated the 50th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel. A major musical event of the evening was a live performance of Naomi Shemer's famous song. Alas, the French performer selected for this task, a popular jazz-oriented singer named Michel Jonasz, did not speak Hebrew. No problem, he learned the words of the song phonetically! I was disappointed to think that anybody would dare to fake a rendition of this sacred song by mouthing the words phonetically. In my mind (in my ears, too, no doubt), this was akin to getting a computer to churn out the song using a synthetic voice.

Towards the end of her life, Naomi Shemer realized that she had in fact "borrowed" unwittingly the music of her song from a Basque lullaby named Pello Joxepe [Peter Joseph] sung by Paco Ibanez. She was terribly affected by this discovery, even to the point of considering that her terminal illness was a divine punishment for this plagiarism.

Getting back to the theme of phonetic singing, one of the most fascinating cases in France concerned an Israeli fellow named Moshé Brand, born in 1947, who arrived in Paris at the age of 22 and rose to sudden fame under the name of Mike Brant.

At the start of his career, managed by talented producers and musicians, Mike knew so little French that he had to reproduce each song phonetically, but his female fans were scarcely worried about the fact that Mike didn't really understand the sense of the songs he was being told to sing. Unfortunately, at the height of his huge success, he was out of his depth in the constant ambience of adulation and riches into which he had been projected, and in 1975 Mike Brant jumped to his death from an apartment building in Paris.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tony Blair's new job

The least that can be said is that Tony Blair has not found himself in the same predicament as laid-off workers who have to spend ages looking for employment. He hasn't even handed over the reins of Britain to Gordon Brown yet, and we're already hearing about his new job: international envoy to the Middle East, employed by the so-called Quartet—the US, Europe, the UN and Russia—faced with the challenge of inventing a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Blair is fortunate in being able to count upon the services of a dynamic employment agent: George W Bush, who has always been efficient in finding jobs for friends. It goes without saying that everybody would be immensely pleased if Tony Blair were able to play a role in solving the enormous and longstanding problems of the Middle East, but I have a gut feeling that, for this work, he's not really the right man in the right place. How could Arab people ever accept suggestions from the man who helped Bush invade Iraq? I hope I'm wrong, and that Blair manages to drag a white rabbit of peace out of his magician's hat. But acts of magic, to me, are like God and miracles. They would be fabulous... if only they existed.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Gaza ghetto

At the outset, in 16th-century Venice, the term ghetto had nothing to do with Jews. The Italian verb gettare designates metal casting, and the Venetian Getto was simply the ancient neighborhood, which still exists today, where ammunition was cast.

Jews had been living in the Serenissima since time immemorial, but primarily on the island of the Guidecca (whence its name). Venetian merchants had always got on wonderfully well with their Jewish colleagues, experienced money-lenders, and it was normal that the latter should be offered the possibility of relocating their offices in the central Getto quarter. Only much later were Jewish quarters, throughout the world, referred to—often disparagingly—as ghettos. Then came the time of pogroms, and the terrible Hitlerian epoch of the ignominious Warsaw Ghetto...

Today, half a century later, there are no more Jewish ghettos on Yahveh's planet. But a Palestinian ghetto might well be about to spring into existence, spontaneously, in the Gaza Strip.

Now that all entries into, and exits from, the Gaza Strip are theoretically controlled by Israel, one wonders how anything whatsoever might transit into or out of this hostile enclave, apart from the basic life-sustaining commodities allowed by the Hebrew state. Sure, we know that there's a labyrinth of tunnels between the Egyptian Sinai and the southern frontier of the Strip. But there are limits to what might be transited by this itinerary, apart from arms.

In medieval times, the old-fashioned word siege designated the cutting-off of supplies between belligerents and the outside world. It's not unlikely that the filtering process brought about by the flight of Fatah people—leaving the hatred of Hamas all alone in Gaza—will give rise to such a siege, of an old-world kind, imposed by Israel. And the Gaza Ghetto might become, for ages, a symbol of senseless suffering.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Towards a two-level Palestine?

In 20th-century geopolitical history, the phenomenon of a single people split artificially into two nations is familiar. The oldest case of such a two-level people is the coexistence of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China (so-called Red China). Another example, of a notorious nature, is Korea. Germany, too, was a split people until the Berlin Wall was brought down. As of this weekend, in the vicinity of Israel, a new case of a two-headed people, the Palestinians, is coming into existence. Their respective geographical territories are Cisjordan (also referred to as the West Bank, controlled by Fatah) and Gaza (controlled by Hamas).

Many families with Fatah links are fleeing from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank (a distance of about fifty kilometers). Meanwhile, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has received a pledge of support from the so-called international quartet of Middle East mediators: Russia, the European Union, the US and the UN.

Certain observers have already started crying out that this is the worst possible scenario that Israel might have imagined, because the nightmarish possibility exists that the Islamists of Gaza might now invite their Iranian friends to use the Strip as a convenient base for attacking the Hebrew nation. And this kind of scary talk could even be used as a pretext by Bush to envisage more firmly the idea of actions against Iran.

Personally, I disagree with this talk about the "worst possible scenario". On the contrary, I see this sudden separation of the Palestinian people into two geographical entities as the possible basis of an imminent filtering process that should normally clarify the situation greatly. By "filtering process", I mean that totally reactionary Islamic elements will tend to coagulate in Gaza, where the daily realities of life are likely to remain appalling, since there are no obvious reasons why many nations would wish to send resources to these people, blinded by Islam, who are intent upon destroying their Israeli neighbor. On the other hand, the whole process of peaceful coexistence between Israel and the people of Cisjordan could accelerate dramatically in the near future. In other words, I would hope that the unexpected and rapid events of the last week, resulting in enormous bloodshed and destruction, might nevertheless be seen now as a possible preface to measured optimism.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

State of emergency in Gaza

With enormous losses of life on both sides, the Islamist Hamas fighters are taking control of Fatah strongholds in the Gaza Strip, and the conflict appears to be spreading to the West Bank. If the president Mahmoud Abbas is literally overrun, will the world at large, and Israel in particular, simply sit on the sidelines and watch what is happening? Some observers might be tempted to ask: "If the Palestinians have decided spontaneously to murder one another, then why intervene?" I'm convinced that the people of Israel will never think that way. I cannot believe that the Israeli government will accept bedlam in Gaza. Inevitably, if necessary, there will be intervention. To what extent can there be meaningful intervention, however, in a territory that is already totally out of touch with human and social realities?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Brink of civil war in the Gaza Strip

Here in France, when I started to write this post, it was 9 o'clock in the morning. In Israel, the time was one hour later. In the Gaza Strip, during these few hours since the sun rose this morning, six combatants already died in the fighting between partisans of the Hamas of prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and the Fatah of president Mahmoud Abbas. This brought the death count over the last four days of civil fighting to 53. That's a lot of victims for such a small territory, whose area is a mere 30th that of metropolitan Sydney, with a population of 1.4 million Palestinians. [The population density of the Gaza Strip is about 11 times the density of Sydney.]

It's tempting to ask a rhetorical question: How could such a people possibly seek peace with Israel when they are capable of such deadly clashes among themselves? A similar question might be asked concerning the unlikely possibility of Bush being able to set up a peaceful democracy in Iraq. I believe that such rhetorical questions are unfair, since they fail to look at the respective situations in an objective manner. These questions imply that Palestinians and Iraqis have a predisposition to violence, to killing for the sake of killing. That's absurd. It's like suggesting that starving people have a disposition to fighting for food. They weren't born to fight, no more than you or I. Events pushed them into this style of existence. Violence breeds violence.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Forty years ago: a man named Moshé

On June 7, 1967, Christine and I, with our daughter Emmanuelle in a pram, boarded the Lloyd Triestino vessel Marconi at Genoa, on the northwestern coast of Italy. The following day, the ship called in at Naples, our last European port before sailing out to Australia. Here's the stamp in my passport, dated June 8, 1967:

We were heading towards the entry into the Suez Canal when an unexpected message over the ship's public-address system announced that we were about to turn around and head towards the Strait of Gibraltar, with the aim of sailing to Australia by the sea route around the tip of South Africa. In our hectic preparations for this trip to my homeland, Christine and I had not been following the news, and we were unaware that, over the last four days, the defense forces of Israel had annihilated the Egyptian air force and that, at that very instant, they were encircling the Egyptian army in the Sinai.

Insofar as the Suez Canal was theoretically accessible, even if the nation of Egypt was henceforth in a terrible mess, why did the captain of the Marconi make that last-minute decision on June 8, 1967 to change our route to Australia, resulting in a voyage that would be about a week longer than planned? It was only quite recently that I obtained, by chance, an answer to that question. And Christine and Emmanuelle will no doubt encounter the following explanation for the first time.

Here's a photo of a small US navy intelligence vessel named the Liberty, which happened to be operating in the eastern Mediterranean in June 1967:

At the same time that our Marconi was sailing calmly from Naples to the Suez Canal, a terrible naval drama was being enacted just a few nautical miles ahead of us. Tsahal fighter planes imagined mistakenly that the Liberty was an enemy vessel. They fired upon it, and Israeli torpedo boats got into the act, too. The combined air/sea attack killed 34 Americans, wounded 171 and destroyed the Liberty.

Besides this incident, the captain of our liner had probably learned, too, that a fleet of Soviet bombers had just landed in Alexandria, and that the conflict could flare into a global war if Israel carried on its rampage. Stunned observers would soon learn that, on the final two days of that famous Six Day War, Israel would capture the Golan Heights from Syria. By then, Egypt had lost the Sinai, and Jordan had lost its West Bank territories.

Meanwhile, a man named Moshé Dayan (shown here with generals Uzi Narkiss and Yitzhak Rabin) would lead his brethren proudly to a newly-bulldozed piazza at the base of the western wall of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem.

The actors of that epoch—Nasser, Dayan and Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol—died long ago, but the Holy City and much of the Palestinian West Bank territories are still occupied. And this state of affairs is likely to endure.