Sunday, 26 July 2015

10 Years, 10th Av: Gush Gatif - What Didn't Happen Next



Our orange ribbon still hangs from our car mirror. 10 years later. "Zecher LeChorban Gush Katif" - in memory of the destroyed Gush Katif.

Today is 10th Av (although we are marking the 9th, due to Shabbat); the exact Jewish date that the decrees of Hitnatkut/Disengagement was carried out, with the forced evacuation of nearly 9000 Jews form their homes in 21 towns and villages in the Gaza Strip and from four villages in Northern Shomron.

Over the years, it has become clearer that the destruction of the Gush Katif and Northern Shomron settlements, was but a prototype for what was planned to be a much larger expulsion of many more towns and villages in the Yehudah and Shomron.

When Arik Sharon introduced Disengagement, at the Herzlia Conference in 2003, he did not present it as bringing Peace, presenting an Oslo-esque New Middle East, but rather an initiative taken in the context that there was "no Palestinian Partner", and future steps needed to be unilateral rather than negotiated.

The Disengagement was a process by which the State Israel would define its own borders.

This Disengagement therefore required Israel to voluntarily withdraw from all areas which, by 'concensus', would not be part of the future State of Israel. These were described as those areas outside of the "settlement blocks" - ie not Gush Etzion, Ariel and the large Jerusalem neighborhoods, such as Pisgat Zeev, Har Choma, Gilo, etc.

The Evacuation & Compensation Law, which provided the legal basis for the expulsions was framed in such a way that it was not specific to Gush Katif - but rather gave a general foundation for future evacuations.

The sneaking-in of four settlements in North Shomron into the evacuation process of Gush Katif was to provide a precedent for further, much larger withdrawals in both Yehuda and Shomron.

The "Security Fence" was planned by Sharon and implemented as a new national border of the State of Israel.

When Arik Sharon was stonewalled by his own party, in the Likud Party Conference, he withdrew from the Likud party (which he had founded) and then in November 2005 (after Gush Katif was rubble) set up his own  new party 'Kadima'.

Kadima's explicit platform was to withdraw from all of the 'non-Israeli' Yehudah and Shomron. In English, the Hitnatkut policy was re-named The Re-Alignment Plan.

This led to Shimon Peres leaving the Labour Party (his home for 60 years), along with many other left wing politicians, and joining as no.2 in Kadima "to promote the Palestinian Peace Process"

When Arik Sharon had a stroke and became comatose, the Kadima Party leadership passed to Part Chairman, Ehud Olmert.

Olmert's Kadima won the 2006 General Election and, with a clear popular mandate, there was now no political obstacle to enacting the next stage/s of Hitnatkut - "Re-Alignment".

This next phase of Re-Alignment was to have been the destruction and evacuation of between 40,000 to 100,000 Jews from many (up to 100) towns and villages, including Kiryat Arba, Shilo, Bet El, Eastern Gush Etzion (Tekoah etc), Hebron, Hebron Hills, perhaps Givat Ze'ev, small settlements in East Jerusalem, etc..etc..

The first fly in Olmert's ointment was Amona - a small settlement in Yehuda. Four buildings were slated for destruction and this was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The campaign against these demolitions was not in the hands of Moetzet Yesha, who had led the Gush Katif campaign, but had returned to the grass roots, reminiscent of the Oslo campaign.

On 1st February, 2006, in a bitter clash between 10,000 security personnel (police and army) against 4000 mainly young demonstrators, hundreds were injured. Among them, my daughter Shira was knocked unconscious there by a police woman's baton, and my nephew had his arm deliberately broken by a riot-policeman.

A subsequent national enquiry found that the security forces had acted with excessive brutality, deliberately breaking bones and smashing heads of teenage protesters.

The idea of settlers hugging soldiers, as had been stage managed at Gush Katif, was history - and the future Re-Alignment evacuations would appear to follow a far more violent model, with the potential for civil war.  Many erstwhile supporters in the Kadima Party, voiced reservations and even withdrew their public support for Re-Alignment.

The final break-down of the Alignment Plan was the 2nd Lebanon War.

The disastrous 2nd Lebanon War, which was not planned, but rather spontaneously triggered by the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the Lebanon border, resulted in high Israeli casualties, international outcry against Israel, and some tactical victories against Hezbollah.

Having spent two years focused on evacuating Jews from Gush Katif, the IDF was clearly ill-equipped to defend Israel.

On the last days of the Lebanon War, Ehud Olmert announced that the Re-Alignment Plan was 'shelved'.

With all the bitterness and grief I still feel ten years later for the residents and towns of Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron - I feel grateful that God directly intervened in the following years to prevent even more tragic destruction of vastly more people and their communities in the next planned stage/s of the Hitnatkut from Yehuda, Shomron and East Jerusalem.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Is Life Like Waze?



I was told an interesting parable by my daughter Avital, in the name of Rav Daniel Stavsky.

This is an interesting approach to the old chestnut question how can we have freedom to choose, when God is all knowing and is in control of the whole world, down to the finest detail?

Life is like Waze. (Waze is an Israeli-invented GPS and traffic management system)

The beginning and end of each trip is defined.

The optimal route is also mapped out for us.

Yet, at any point in the journey we can use our own judgement to change or ignore the route, whether motivated by I-know-better, or simply failing to follow the instructions properly.

There may be significant consequences to departing from the instructed route - Waze no longer guarantees getting to our objective in an optimal way.

The optimal route can also be changed by Waze mid-stream, as conditions change in real-time on the roads. These factors are outside of our control or influence.

However, we can chose to contribute by sending Waze (and other users) information, such as about obstacles we experience in our journey, traffic reports, etc - thereby helping other people to have an easier journey.

What do you think - is life really like Waze?

Monday, 13 July 2015

Unusual & Fascinating - The National Library

At the request of my 15 year old son, this week we made a spontaneous & first ever Morris family visit to the Israel National Library - and had a (surprisingly, for me at least) fascinating time.

The National Library is located in the Givat Ram Campus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

As with many institutions, the visible resources for the public are the tip of the iceberg, with literally millions of books stored in the archives downstairs. Nevertheless, the various reading rooms, libraries and collections on display and available for public perusal and study are phenomenal. Furthermore, should you wish to access the hidden treasures downstairs, specific books can be ordered and are delivered for reading, generally within an hour.

The first room we visited was the computer room, with rows of PC's for use by the public, including access to resources in the Library and (particularly Jewish sources) from around the world.
It was striking that the many users of the computer room included Jews (and Gentiles) of every stripe and colour - chareidim, dati leumi, secular, Ethiopians, Christian scholars, overseas visitors etc...

My enthusiastic son led us to the Gershom Scholem Collection - described as the world's most extensive (35,000) collection of books on Chasidut and Mysticism/Kabbalah.

In two compact rooms, much of the collection is available, as in a regular library, for taking off the bookshelves and studying in the rooms. 

I was particularly drawn to a large sub-collection of books about other religions, cults and minor faiths. These included books about the Druze religion (traditionally a secret), Gnosis (which, I admit I'd never heard of, but is a Dan Brown type hidden religion whose origins are related to the early Christianity - for more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosis), Eastern and Middle Eastern religions and Cults, etc..

Moving on to the Cartography collection, the department manager personally showed us examples of maps of the Holy Land from the earliest mosaic map (from a Church in Jordan), through spectacular and wonderful medieval maps and up to relatively modern maps. 

Many of these maps are actually from within books, and the collection includes large and ancient tomes about the Holy Land, with fascinating maps, stunning illustrations and intriguing text. 

Another collection which we left for another time is the audio collection, consisting of original recordings, mainly Israeli and Jewish. going back a century and more.  

By chance, we met up with a neighbour from Ramat Beit Shemesh in the (pleasant) cafeteria; he works in the Library's manuscripts department, and he kindly gave us an explanation and tour of the department.   

He showed us microfilms, which have been made of many thousands of original manuscripts, both from within the Library and from around the world. 

He fascinated us with revelations from some of these manuscripts, which often give far more controversial opinions and information than printed books. I asked him about the infamous false messiah, Shabatai Zvi, period and he told us of original manuscripts in the collection by famous 'mainstream' Jewish leaders, which clearly show them to be actually have been followers of Shabatai Zvi. "People are much less guarded in their personal manuscripts, than they are in their published works", he said. 

Among the most famous manuscripts in the collection is the Rambam's original commentary, in his own hand, on the Mishna, as well as an early (13th Century) manuscript of the Mishne Torah.  

In our few hours at the National Library, I felt we were but scratching the very tip, of the very tip of the iceberg of the wealth of Jewish and Israeli publications in the Library. Much more is available online for both scholar and layman alike: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/NLI/Hebrew/collections/jewish-collection/Pages/manuscripts.aspx 

Before leaving, we made our own contribution to the National Library - donating a book written by my brother in law Daniel Kestenbaum, about my father in law, Rabbi Ephraim Kestenbaum, "Buying Jewish Lives". Actually, we learned that, by law, any book published in more than 50 copies in Israel, is obligated to submit a copy (or two) to the National Library.  We were delighted to oblige.  

Although we turned up at the Library on-spec, without notice or planning - we were advised it is best to join an organized tour, which are available for the public on Thursdays. See the Library website for up-to-date information.  

I can highly recommend a visit to the Israel National Library - even if you don't consider yourself bookish!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Part One: 10 Years Since Disengagement - The Context of the Protests



Even ten years later, I find it hard to calmly collect my thoughts about the Hitnatkut, the "Disengagement" project for evacuating the Jews from Gush Katif and the North Shomron.

If you had asked me say 15 years ago, what I thought of Gush Katif, I would have associated it with extremist firebrand settlers, living in a hostile location, surrounded by the most extreme Arabs.

Not a place I had ever visited, had any interest in, and I certainly had no desire to dedicate a period of my life to trying to save it.

All that changed in December 2003 when Arik Sharon announced to the world, at the Herzlia Conference, his plans to evacuate Gush Katif.

For the next year and a half me and my family became 'orange', the colour chosen for the pro-Gush Katif campaign.  

While ultimately the orange campaign failed, in that the evacuation of Gush Katif was carried out as scheduled in August 2005, it is important to remember the context of that campaign, which defined the tone and the measures taken by the protest movement.

To understand that, one needs to step back further in history to the previous huge right wing political protests, which were against the Oslo Agreement and its implementation, between 1993 until 1995.

These ended with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and a subsequent witch-hunt after right wing activists and the leadership, which was (falsely) accused of incitement to assassinate Rabin.

In light of that, the orange campaign, above all, needed to avoid violence or incitement to violence.

The theme song chosen was Arik Einstein's "With love we will succeed". Instead of violent confrontations with the security and law enforcement forces, protesters handed them flowers, and attempted to appeal to their Jewish conscience.

It was specifically not a campaign dedicated to "victory at any cost". The red line was spilling Jewish blood for this cause, or any incitement to do so.

And whereas the Oslo Protests were managed by a grass roots spontaneous organization, operating in the shadows (including via my fax machine, on behalf of a neighbour!), "Zo Artzeinu", the initiative of Moshe Feiglin (who later became an MK) - the Orange protests were managed by Moetzet Yesha, The Settlers' Council.

Moetzet Yesha is a quasi Government organization, which was able to provide significant resources and operational abilities, as well as practical authority and responsibility, but were also ultimately responsible to the Government of Israel, whose policies they were protesting.

It is notable that in the whole 18 month campaign, involving dozens of major protests, countless thousands of protesters, thousands of law enforcement officials, as well as the evacuation process itself, implemented by the army against some 20,0000 civilians, not a single person died, and serious injuries were also minimal.

Given the initial red lines, this did represent some measure of success, at least in its means, if not in its ends.  

Of course, all this was like a boxing match where one competitor has volunteered to have his hands tied behind his back. A major handicap to winning the fight...

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Greece Lightening

Greece has become the (economic) joke of Europe - and this was a particularly good example tweated around the internet recently....

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Guest Post: This Terror Attack Was Different

My 20 year old son, Raphael, was in a car at the time of the terror attack this week near Shilo, and arrived at the site of the attack, by chance, just moments afterwards. This is Raphael's story, feelings and thoughts. (I have translated this from the original Hebrew).



This time, it was not ‘just’ another name, another headline, which ran “a man died of his wounds from a terror attack at Gidon Junction”.

This time it was for-real; this time I saw the man; this time I touched him; I had felt him struggling to breathe with all his strength; I heard him wheezing in his efforts to stay alive; I smelled his sweat and his blood.

I am a local civilian resident of the village of Achia, and by a miracle I was saved from the shooting having arrived by car at the site on the road just minutes after the murderous attack.

I suddenly recalled what I had learned in a MDA medics course five years’ previously, and I immediately needed to treat the wounded; not fractures and dislocations, but I found myself surrounded by groaning people, with no ambulance yet at the scene, just a medic from our car who shouted out instructions to us. I helped in treating Malachi, who lay by the vehicle unconscious and with a bullet entry wound in his stomach and exit would from his thigh. We kept his air tract open and tried to stem the bleeding. Around me, others starting treating the other wounded, and from my point of view, there was one objective – to keep Malachi breathing.

The ambulances soon arrived and began to evacuate the wounded, as I tried to recall the instructions about how to correctly evacuate wounded people, and how I could assist to get this wounded man onto the stretcher.  We lifted him into the ambulance, which rushed him to the hospital.  

I also helped with evacuating another wounded man; this time I saw a man lying flat on the ground by the road with an entry and exist wound in his leg. I helped get him up, onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.

I looked around me and began to understand what had taken place; I saw the pock-marked vehicle, saw the blood on its floor, I understood that the accursed terrorists shot at them from a passing vbehciel and continued south – they must passed our car seconds after they started, successfully, to kill Jews.

All that day, I prayed for Malachi to recover, I was overwhelmed with concern for him and hoed with all my heart that he would survive. When I heard the tragic news that Malachi had died this was unlike hearing about other terror attacks, this time I had seen him dying, I had a connection, not just a bit, with the murdered man and the pain was stronger than I had felt for other victims, I felt that I should have helped him more, and if I had addressed the crisis differently, perhaps he would have survived…

When I saw the interview with Yair, the second wounded man I helped evacuate, and he thanked all those who had helped with treating them, I was very moved; even though I have heard many wounded people publicly thank their rescuers, this time was different.  

It was difficult to hear that Malachi died; it was even more difficult to see what had happened in the field and to know that Malachi will not be the last Jew to be murdered here, before the security forces will effectively protect us; Arabs murder Jews, whether we be right wing or left wing, without evoking a firm response, not vengeance, and not even deterrence. To murder Jews is like a hobby for these Arabs, because there is no price for them – they operate with impunity.

Maybe this should be changed?   Maybe the death sentence needs to be introduced for terrorists who murder? Maybe solitary confinement for terrorists for the rest of their lives?.

Malachi, God should avenge your blood. 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Government Organized Philanthropy



 Einstein Koscher Essen und Trinken

"The community didn't have to spend a penny, the whole building program was paid by the German Government!"

This was how a local answered my question "but who paid for all this?!", when I was in Munich this week.

I was hugely impressed by the grand style three new buildings which constitute the center for the Jewish community there.

A stupendous and magnificent synagogue; a sizable Jewish museum; and a community center complex which houses a classy (and only) kosher restaurant, a school, and a comprehensive community administration (employing 120 people). The whole three-building facility is built with security in mind and there is a 24/7 security & access control, bullet-proof glass, etc.

With a weekly shul attendance which struggles for a quorum/minyan, and is mainly reliant on passers-through (like me), it was hard to understand how this whole project was financed. We are talking around $150m: according to a Washington Post report the shul cost $72m; Wikipedia says the museum cost $17m; I couldn't find information about the cost of the community center building - I guess $50m.

Another individual who lives in Munich and is involved in the Jewish community explained that the Government had funded it via the "Church Tax".

The history of Church Tax goes way back, even to pre-Christian times, and is still levied in many European countries. In Germany it amounts to around 8% of the income tax payable by an individual.

The Jewish community complex in Munich is a beneficiary of this system, and many Jews pay in their Church Tax for re-distribution to the Jewish community. There are probably around 10,000 self-identified Jews in Munich, out of almost 100,000 Jews who now live in Germany. If an individual chooses to opt-out, they might not be buried (also married, barmitzvas etc) by the community.

So the initial statement that the community didn't have to pay for these three magnificent buildings at the heart of Munich, and that it was paid for by the Government, is not quite the whole story.

Actually, it seems the Jewish community did pay the bill, organized and imposed by and via the German Government.

This seems to be a very effective system for organizing and funding Jewish communities and their facilities.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Shmuel from Hungary in Munich


Each time I travel, I ask myself whether or not to openly wear my kippa. 

As antisemitism is on the rise in Europe, many advise not openly wearing a kippa for safety purposes.

Almost without exception, I do wear my kippa abroad. And, thank G-d, I have never had an unpleasant experience.

On the contrary, all sorts of people approach me, because they see I am Jewish.

I am currently in Munich (a short ride from Dachau...).

As I arrived, and am making my way into town, a guy starts shouting at me "I love Jews!". And "I hate the bloody German Nazis!".

I approached the man and struck up a conversation with him.

Why does he love the Jews? Because he is from Hungary and he was a child in the Jewish neighborhood. Although a gentile, his mother called him Shmuel.

Why does he hate the Germans? Because, being called Shmuel, he is often the victim of anti-semitism in his adopted home in Germany. 

He produced a kippa from his pocket, and posed for my photo, before heading on his way.