Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Hopes for the future - rekindled

Sky News (not my choice of channel) reports that despite renewed rocket fire, Israel and Hamas have agreed a new ceasefire.


Hopes for the future -- Update

Well, as of 21:49 Israeli time, rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza again, so it looks like that's out of the window :-(.

Hopes for the future

So this blog has been overtaken by events and we come to the last day of the latest ceasefire in Gaza. Let me state my position in brief (for a change): I hope not only that the ceasefire holds, but also that Hamas relinquishes (or is forced, in the most peaceful way possible) to relinquish power in Gaza, and that this conflict represents the last in Gaza before steps are taken to achieve real peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. On that note I shall say that I believe Israel needs to act *now* to make sure that this happens, and I return thereby to my previous, pre-war, stance, critical of Netanyahu's efforts (or rather lack of them) to achieve peace in the region.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Post-Games update

Well, last time I left you I was getting round to explaining my position and a few little-known facts about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. I had intended to post sooner but was interrupted by a trip to the Commonwealth Games and a million other things. But this blog is still alive and hopefully I'll be able to post Part 2 this week, or early next week.

In the meantime, Shavua tov - have a good week!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Where are the prophets? Where are the visionaries? Where are the poets... breach the dawn of the sentimental mercenary? (With apologies to Fish and Marillion.)

As I write this, it's a hot, sunny evening in Newcastle upon Tyne, England (boy, is that phrase an unfamiliar one already). Far from the conflict in Israel/Gaza, the former of which I plan to visit for the first time in November, and thankfully not only out of the reach of rockets from either side but also so far untroubled by ground troops. Hoho, you may say, at this remove he's going to pontificate about a situation he knows nothing about in a country he's never been to. But it's my blog and I'll pontificate if I want to. (That wasn't the first reference to allegedly cheesy 80's music in this blog post - and it may not be the last.)

But of course, if I'm going to pontificate about such an important and contentious subject I'm sure you'll want me to be just a little bit serious, if nothing else out of respect for the dead - both Israeli and Palestinian.

And let me be clear - the death toll of around 600 Palestinians (to date) is every bit as much a tragedy as the deaths of Israelis even if, as some have claimed, over 80% of those killed on the Palestinian side were combatants - although from what I've read on the subject, it seems to me that even if true, the 80% were only *potential* combatants. But assuming they were indeed combatants, the tragedy in this case was fighting - I believe, unnecessarily - and dying for a cause  that, for Israel's sake, they must lose.

Controversial statement Number One. And here we come to the nub of the problem. Because the stated aim of Hamas is to wipe out Israel. No less than that. A country of some 8 million people, shoehorned into an area about the size of Wales (or for Americans who may be reading, about a third larger than New Jersey). By contrast, Wales has a population of just over 3 million (according to Wikipedia), none of which (unlike Israel) is desert, and NJ of about the same as Israel. So, even if we assume that the Israelis could or would get up and leave, rather than sit there and be annihilated by Hamas rockets, the world would be facing the problem of rehoming 8 million people in some, as yet unidentified other part of the world. Or more likely, in several different ones.

Except that the world has already done this. At least twice. Or each of these things at least once, if you prefer.  Although there were most certainly already Jews in other parts of the Roman Empire (and perhaps other, nearby, parts of the world), the fact that Israel only became a State within living memory is due, in the first instance, to the fact that the Romans deported the Jews from their ancestral homeland after the Jewish Revolt in AD 70, which also resulted in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the remains of the Western, or Wailing, Wall of which (known to Jews as the Kotel) still stand, and whose destruction is still commemorated and lamented by many Jews to this day. Fast forward through two thousand years, of varying periods of prosperity and persecution, Jewish settlement and dispersion, to trace our history through the founding of Theodor Herzl's Zionism, and of course the cataclysm that was the Holocaust and claimed many lives both Jewish and non-Jewish. After WWII Jews, who had already begun to resettle the Land by buying up plots from absentee landlords in the 1880s, streamed into Israel like there was no tomorrow (and for many who came from lands that rejected them and aided the Nazis, it must have seemed like, at least for them, at least outside Eretz Israel, there wasn't). The UN, still in its infancy, drew up a plan to separate the British Mandate of Palestine into roughly four quarters, with Israel in the North West and South East, and Palestine in the opposite parts. But the Arabs in Palestine and the other Arab States rejected this plan, and many do to this day. Rejected the plan, declaring war on Israel, and by the time Israel had fought and defeated the Arab States twice at least, in 1967, not only was it in possession (occupation) of Gaza and the West Bank, but its internationally recognised borders had swelled to roughly two-thirds of the original area of the Mandate. Of course, as happens in all wars where there is eventually peace, not only were there deaths and atrocities on both sides but the War of Independence itself displaced countless numbers on both sides.

But supposing the Israelis did get up and leave, what then? Well, the Nazis once tried to deport 300,000 Jews to Britain, which would have saved many lives, but Britain, not least because it too was in the grip of its own racialist crisis, rejected such a plan saying "What are we going to do with 300,000 Jews?". That's right, tolerant old, good old Blighty, of which I should be proud to be a citizen and of which I was a citizen long before I was a Jew, rejected Jews, leaving them to the fate that would later befall them under the Nazis. And today Britain is, again, riven with tensions that mean it would be very unlikely to be able to accept 300,000 (let alone 8 million), essentially foreign Jews. What of France? Well, as anti-Semitic attacks continue to rise, in spite, to be fair, of condemnation by national leaders, Jews are streaming out of France in record numbers - and going to Israel (making aliyah, as we call it - aliyah meaning "going up", as Jews in the traditional homeland of Israel are traditionally viewed as being on a higher spiritual plane than those elsewhere). What of the US, which as everyone knows is currently a major centre of what I shall (reluctantly, but not inaccurately call "World Jewry") and until recently had more Jews than any other country, including Israel? Well, institutions in the US once had quotas limiting the number of Jews who could apply to them, and Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish US (federal) Supreme Court Justice, was during the early part of his career often told that it was "a pity" that he was Jewish, because although brilliant enough to be a Supreme Court Justice, as a Jew he was ineligible. When he was eventually appointed, he stood up in front of the crowd and in an acceptance speech said that he was sorry for being born a Jew. Sorry, only because, being born a Jew, he did not have the chance to convert. After a stunned silence the crowd, apparently, finally began to applaud him.

And there we have another crucial point. For in these days of (supposed) racial and religious harmony in the West (enmities between Catholics and Protestants having long ago died down, in most parts at least - though not all, as Northern Irish readers still coming to terms with the Good Friday Agreement will sadly be able to attest  - and as we've just seen there are still tensions between Jews and non-Jews, not to mention them and Muslims), many people wonder why there should, as Israel insists there must, be a "Jewish State" at all? We are, so the story goes, all "over" religion, and those who aren't, should be.

Well of course if I didn't dispute that notion then this blog might not even exist. But it's important to remember that Jews define themselves as Jews by religion but also by descent - originally, at least according to the Bible, from Abraham, but in any case by parental decent. The Orthodox count not only those who convert to (their brand of) Judaism but also those born of a mother they recognise as Jewish, whilst the remainder count not only their own converts, but also everyone else's, and in many cases not only the children of Jewish mothers but of at least one Jewish parent, whether that parent is their father and their mother. So in essence Jews define themselves not as Christians would define themselves - by religion - but in the same way as an American or a Brit would define themselves. That being the case there are, of course, people who are Jewish by descent but not by religion (former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli for one, who saw no contradiction between his Jewish origins and his Christian faith). And indeed a majority of Jews in Israel are secular or non-religious, their Jewishness defined by descent (and culture) alone. But they are in their ancestral home and, in their opinion at least, have nowhere else to go.

And we must therefore ask ourselves, if, say, France laid claim to Britain, would the British be happy to go somewhere else, to America, to Germany, to Spain? No, and of course nor should we expect them to. If France, or a terrorist organisation in France, rained down bombs on Britain would we, whether we had a sophisticated system anti-missile that, like the Israeli Iron Dome, so far had prevented the vast majority of them from hitting their targets - would we expect the British not to react? Again, I suspect otherwise. Let me reiterate again that every death of an innocent civilian is a tragedy, no matter what their religion, gender, sexuality, skin colour or any other differentiating characteristic. But even (current British Prime Minister) David Cameron, a man who I'm not otherwise known to have much time for, agrees that no state should have to put up with what Israel has to put up with. A Palestinian delegate to the UN even admitted that whilst Israel has (contrary to what you'd think if you read reports in the traditional and social media) by and large acted in accordance with international law, by deliberately targeting civilians as opposed to them being tragic, unintended victims, as happens in all wars - by doing so Hamas has committed war crimes. Indeed, Israel has treated not only civilian Palestinian wounded but also known Hamas terrorists in Israeli hospitals. I may be a fan of Obama (though not as much as I would be if he had acted as promised to close Guantanamo Bay, and were more protective of civil liberties), but not even America treats its terrorist enemies in its own hospitals.

The view of that Palestinian delegate, by the way, is in stark contrast to the apparent views of Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian negotiator, who yesterday appeared to suggest (on Britain's Channel 4 News) that Hamas had more legitimacy than Israel.

Let's think about that for a moment. A senior Palestinian negotiator says that a terrorist organisation, whose avowed aim is to destroy Israel, which has committed war crimes, which appears to have engineered the deaths of three Jews in order to provide a pretext to fire rockets on Israel, and which has broken each of three ceasefires declared in the ensuing conflict (one of which they requested on humanitarian grounds), has more legitimacy than the democratically-elected, civilian government of a country which Hamas has vowed to annihilate. If you were to talk to me outside of the context of this blog, outside the context of this war, you would know that I have been deeply critical of the apparent failure of Netanyahu's government to advance the peace process. But given that the Palestinian Government in the West Bank began a process of cosying up to said would-be annihilators not a year ago, in the context of comments like that, of claims like those of Palestinians interviewed tonight on Channel 4 News who (contradicting the UN) say that the Israelis planted rockets found on the premises of a UN school in Gaza, you have to start wondering if, when Netanyahu - again, a man with whom I don't often find myself in agreement - says that Israel has no "Partner for Peace", then maybe, just maybe, he might be telling the truth. That a politician anywhere might be telling the truth is, in my ever-cynical view of politics, astonishing. In a country like Israel, whose voting system almost inevitably results in coalitions and whose political process is widely regarded as being severely corrupt, it's a miracle of almost Biblical proportions. But Israel is the Land of the Bible so, I guess if Biblical miracles were to happen anywhere, it would be a good place for them.

I had originally intended to comment on prospects for peace and how such a peace might be implemented, but I think that's enough for now. Tune in next time, same channel, for more on that subject.

Monday, 21 July 2014

I Think, therefore I...

Hello! Well, after promising in November last year to blog more, I of course haven't. I took a hiatus when my stepfather (z"l) sadly died, untimely at the age of not quite 61, not long after writing that post - a hiatus which simply got longer... and longer... and longer.... So I apologise for the delay. But today I hope to resurrect this blog for the long term.

This isn't a technology blog, but I wanted to mention that I'm writing this on an IBM (yes, IBM) ThinkPad which I bought, reconditioned, last week. (As some of you may know, Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo took ownership of the ThinkPad brand from IBM shortly after this laptop was released, and markets its laptops as ThinkPads to this day.) It's from about 2005 and came reconditioned with 1.5GB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive; it has a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, 14.1" screen and the customary trackpad and "TrackPoint", a pointing device embedded between keys on the keyboard which bears a (vague) resemblance to, and is therefore often nicknamed, a nipple. Although I have installed Manjaro Linux, a derivative of Arch Linux, on it, it came preinstalled with Windows 7, and though I'm not the biggest fan of Windows, I have to say that the speed of the Microsoft operating system on this box is pretty impressive given that it was released four years after the hardware. Since there's no Windows recovery partition to use if I want to reinstall Windows 7, I opted to shrink the partition to half its size and install Linux in the empty space, so that I could dual-boot the two OSes - although since installing Manjaro I haven't bothered rebooting into Windows other than to check it still loads up. I have always wanted a ThinkPad for their sturdy construction, excellent keyboard (not guaranteed on a laptop) and good Linux compatibility, and it doesn't disappoint in any of those areas. Fans of technobling, however, will probably hate (or either love or hate, รก la Marmite) its black, boxy, unsexy looks.

Although it's a bit laggy playing Youtube videos, and might not be able to keep up playing modern games (a use I'm not likely to inflict on it anyway since I have an iMac and a Playstation too), I'm pretty impressed with the speed of this laptop, and with the progress that's been made with Linux stability and ease of use - the latter of which is in large part due to the Manjaro team. I've always been a fan of Arch and although I love Macs and OS X, in a lot of ways using this laptop is a lot like coming home since I used to have a Dell desktop which came (miracle of miracles!) preinstalled with an Ubuntu LTS release. I don't by any means intend to ditch my iMac but I'm sure this ThinkPad will see lots of use - not least since with its 27" screen the iMac is not exactly portable! It's rather amazing that in the supposedly fast-moving technology industry, a laptop that's nearly ten years old still works so well and so quickly. The only bad thing about it is that the battery only lasts half an hour (!) so I went straight to Amazon and ordered myself a new one. But overall I'm very pleased with it! In particular, I've always been sceptical about TrackPoint but (although I love my iMac trackpad and those on MacBooks), the TrackPoint, surprisingly, is not only more usable but also, in my opinion, preferable to the ThinkPad's trackpad; however, this could well be due to the size of the pad, which is absolutely tiny compared to the trackpads you get with Macs. On the other hand, so far it's more usable than the one on my MSI netbook, which is about the same size as the IBM's.

In the next post, I will be returning to the subject which this blog was created to explore. Shavua tov!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Another Year Over

Well, I can't quite believe that Hanukkah 5774 is nearly upon us and I haven't posted since just before Hanukkah 5773. I intend to post on a weekly or twice-weekly basis from now on. But for now it's late, so erev tov (good night) and shavua tov (have a good week)!