I begin today with a moving “only in Israel” story. I had written in my last posting about the way in which comrades of a fallen soldier maintain an ongoing connection with his family. I subsequently received an email from a reader – Marsha Greenberg Motzen, wife of Cantor Yaakov Motzen – who told me about her husband’s brother, Avraham Chaim Motzen, who fell in the Lebanon War in 1982. In the thirty four years since, comrades from his unit have been going to his mother’s apartment every three weeks to learn mishnayot (the earliest section of the Talmud, rabbinic commentaries on the Torah) in his memory. His mother, who is now 90, bakes for them before they come.
If that is not devotion, I do not know what is. For those not familiar with the tradition: studying religious text in someone’s memory is done for the merit or elevation of the soul of the departed.
The Israel Prize – Israel’s highest honor – was awarded to 11 citizens for outstanding merit in their respective fields last Thursday evening, in Jerusalem. Here I want to mention one recipient – Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog – because he is a sterling example of the determination to turn heartache into blessing.
“Doron Almog is an Israeli military hero who participated in some of the most daring operations, including the secret airlift of 6,000 Jews from Ethiopia in the 1980s and as a leading commander in the Entebbe rescue operation of 1976, when 100 IDF commandos rescued 102 hostages held by terrorists in Uganda….
“Yet what Almog, 63, considered his greatest achievement was caring for his severely disabled son Eran, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 23…
“More than a decade ago, Almog left his brilliant army career to found a new Aleh center in southern Israel for young adults – Aleh Negev, a rehabilitative village that provides severely disabled young men and women the opportunity to live a rich and productive life within a safe environment. [Aleh runs a number of rehabilitative facilities for hundreds of children with cognitive and physical difficulties.]
“’Eran, my beloved son, who never called me Abba [Hebrew for Dad] and never made eye contact with me, was the greatest teacher of my life,’ Almog stated at the ceremony marking the foundation of the new center… ‘He taught me the meaning of unconditional love. He taught me to hear the soundless cries of the hundreds of children like him. He taught me that the focus of our actions should not be the glorification of one’s ego. Rather, we should be focused on helping people like him.’” (emphasis added)
In 2002, two illegal Arab houses were built in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, inside the historic Ir David (City of David). Yesterday, they were taken down by the Jerusalem district police and the Israel Parks Authority.
And so, I count this as good news, even as I say, What the hell took so long? It’s a rhetorical question. What took so long is all of the left-wing and international pressure to leave the houses alone. So, yes, in spite of an incredible 14 year delay, this is good news – and perhaps doubly so because the authorities seem to have discovered their backbones.
Just one day earlier, on Monday, seven illegal Arab portable housing structures were dismantled in E1, the area between Jerusalem and the community of Ma’aleh Adumim.
Credit: Jewish Virtual Library
Because this is in Area C, it was the Civil Administration (which works under the Ministry of Defense) that did the dismantling.
Credit: COGAT spokesperson
The structures were standing only a matter of days. This is a strategic area where there is a quick response, for the illegal housing, promoted and supported by the EU, is intended to prevent contiguity between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, and foster contiguity between Arab areas to the south and the north – with an eye to an eventual Palestinian state. Israeli housing is scheduled to be built in the area, if ever there is sufficient courage to proceed with these plans in spite of the international outcry that would ensue.
It is not always the case, regrettably, that the Civil Administration responds with alacrity when EU funded illegal buildings are constructed in Area C outside of an area as highly contested as E1. The EU is a tough adversary, claiming “diplomatic immunity” with regard to legal action, and I take off my hat to the NGO Regavim, which does much to fight that good fight in the courts. See:
And speaking of the EU…
EU Ambassador to Israel, Lars Faabourg-Anderson, is prone to making statements about the illegality of “settlements” in Judea and Samaria, although I have yet to see him back up these statements with solid legal arguments. The Legal Grounds Campaign, weary of his stance, invited him to debate international law professor Eugene Kontorovich on the issue of Israel’s legal rights in Judea and Samaria. Actually, we invited him four times – via fax, snail mail, email and hand-delivery to his office. After a silence of almost a month, he declined to debate.
If you think he should have the courage to stand up and debate the issue, you might want to email him at: email@example.com. Tell him, if you are an Israeli citizen.
A recent poll found that 71.5% of Israeli Jews believe that Israel’s control of Judea and Samaria is not “occupation”:
It reinforces my conviction that the Israeli populace is moving right and becoming more nationalist in perspective.
This is what Aaron Lerner, director of IMRA, had to say on this issue a week ago (emphasis added):
“The truth is that there are indeed hard choices to make.
“This when the correct choices may result in pressure from the world.
“Fortunately, the citizens of Israel have a strong backbone.
“A determination and willingness to endure challenges.
And this is a critical asset.
“Because it strips our leaders from excuses.
“The citizens of Israel are ready.
“It’s now up to the leaders to stop kicking the can.”
The not-so-good news, of course, is that the leaders are very skilled at kicking the can (a metaphor for deferring conclusive action by resorting to a short-term, stopgap solution).
Last Friday, top Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine was killed in an explosive attack in Syria. Badreddine was brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by Israel in 2008. As chief expert on explosives and the military commander responsible for Hezbollah’s operations in Syria, he was considered Mughniyeh’s successor. His death represents a big blow to Hezbollah.
At first it was reported by Lebanese press (Israeli press will not write about this directly) that the assassination was Israel’s doing. Then it was said to be the work of a Syrian rebel group (which does not definitively mean it was not Israel – but I cannot speak to this).
Now a Saudi paper reports that Imad Mughniyeh’s eldest son, Mustafa Mughniyeh, who had been a protégé of his uncle Badreddine, will succeed him. He has been kept totally out of the public limelight.
Jihad, another son of Imad, was also assassinated at an earlier time. Sort of a family tradition, we might say.
Information has now been released about the interrogation last month by the Shin Bet of a Gaza fisherman (if indeed he really was a fisherman at all), who had strayed (? or deliberately moved) out of the zone permitted for fishing by the Israeli naval blockade.
When questioned, the fisherman, 39, ended up providing a wealth of important information on the smuggling – by fisherman, with the assistance of Hamas – of weapons, ammunition, rocket-making equipment and other military equipment via sea into Gaza, for use by Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Even liquid fiberglass, a key ingredient in rocket production, is being brought in by sea.
This situation represents just the sort of quandary that Israeli politicians and security personnel must wrestle with. Calls for lifting of the naval blockade are met with a firm refusal. That is a no-brainer. But there really is a Gazan fishing industry and it was said that the naval limits imposed by Israel were too restrictive for the fisherman. And so, Israel, as a gesture of goodwill, extended the zone from six to nine nautical miles. But that goodwill was abused, to Israel’s detriment.
What we also learn from this particular situation is that another war with Hamas is coming down the road – as if we didn’t already know this. It will be of substantial proportions, judging by what is being smuggled. We’re being told that this time Israel will choose the timing. Let it be! And let us hope that this time the fighting will not be terminated before Hamas is finished, whatever the international outcry.
Nerves of steel. Reaching for that strength.
In recent days, there has been talk – reports and rumors – of a unity government: that is, Zionist Camp (aka Labor), headed by Buji Herzog, joining Netanyahu’s coalition, with Likud at its core. Netanyahu has seemed inclined towards this because it would provide him with more political latitude and a more stable coalition; plus it would weaken the influence of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi, headed by Naftali Bennett – who frequently challenges Netanyahu. While Herzog apparently craves whatever political influence and prestige he imagines would thus be conferred upon him.
I say Heaven forbid. Zionist Camp party members are opposed because it means bolstering the opposition – helping the right solidify its coalition – and selling out. Likud party members are similarly opposed because the right-wing choices of the electorate should be honored and this would mean shifting the coalition to the left. A strong percentage of the public is opposed, as well.
And now, after reports that such a union might be imminent, there is a new and welcome wrinkle in the situation:
After a variety of statements about about not having received a serious offer to join the government, Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beitenu, apparently did receive such an offer.
Credit: Avigdor Lieberman
He and Netanyahu are to meet tonight to discuss Lieberman’s coming into the coalition. He was in the previous government and served two terms previously as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He can be a bit off the wall sometimes, but he is solidly right wing and would pull the coalition to the right. And so the prospect of his joining the government instead of Herzog is one that is greatly welcome. Lieberman says he will join if his terms are met.
For his part, Netanyahu has indicated frustration in dealing with Herzog and has let it be known that he will now be courting Lieberman. And Herzog? He says the prime minister cannot negotiate with him and Lieberman at the same time, so he is putting a hold on his negotiations.
This entire saga offers, I think, a bit of a glimpse into the backroom dealing that is going on, the political jostling. It also raises the question: Who is Binyamin Netanyahu? How could it be that he would consider both Herzog and Lieberman for his coalition? Is bolstering its numbers his only concern?
There has been considerable political tension of late between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon, as a result of the latter’s speaking out on political issues and even encouraging the army brass to contradict the government directly if they disagree on policy – in the name of “free speech.” I think that Ya’alon’s behavior has been despicable. He has been insubordinate, increasingly giving voice to left wing positions that challenge government policies.
Netanyahu summoned him, presumably to chastise him, and they subsequently released a joint statement acknowledging that the Ministry of Defense answers to the government. It was said that they resolved their differences, but I do not believe it. I think they were simply papered over.
What has disturbed me is that Netanyahu has not seen fit to simply fire Ya’alon. (I will mention here only I passing and very tentatively that Lieberman says he wants to be Minister of Defense, but that does not mean he will get it.)
The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, was here earlier this week to meet with Netanyahu and Abbas in order to explain the “Peace Initiative” that France is proposing. It is necessary, he says, because “the process is frozen, so there is a need for international intervention.”
The plan, as I have explained before, involves two steps. First, a ministerial conference in Paris, that had been tentatively set for May 30, to which ministers of a select 20 countries will be invited, but which will exclude Israel and the PA. This conference will set the agenda for a larger peace conference in the fall.
(The latest news today is that the date will be pushed forward to some time in June because Secretary of State Kerry cannot come on the 30th, which is Memorial Day.)
France has also drafted a position paper that it has not yet made public.
The notion that France has the moral authority or the wisdom or the objectivity to move forward on this is patently ridiculous. They are displaying the ultimate in chutzpa, setting up a situation that is bound to fail, but that will bring us some good measure of heartburn in the meantime.
Needless to say, PA leaders are delighted with this prospect and are making demands that France set a timetable for Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria to behind the 1949 armistice line, which is erroneously referred to as the “’67 border.”
And this illustrates precisely what is wrong with this entire process, which isn’t really about genuine “negotiations” but rather an attempt to force Israel into an entirely untenable situation reeking of injustice.
“A peaceful settlement in Palestine can transform Palestine into a gate for democracy,” intoned PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah at a Ramallah press conference. They, of course, say whatever they think will resonate with certain segments of the international community. Anyone who truly believes a “Palestinian state” is going to foster democracy needs serious help.
Netanyahu has already said Israel is opposed to this “peace plan” because it provides a disincentive for the PA to genuinely negotiate – it gives them an “escape hatch” – while genuine face-to-face negotiations are the only way to proceed.
To demonstrate Israel’s willingness to participate in face-to-face negotiations, he has been making a series of statements about his commitment to this process and his readiness to meet Abbas at any moment.
Yes, I understand what he’s doing. I understand that he’s attempting to mitigate international criticism by demonstrating that he is cooperative with regard to peace-making efforts, and that it’s just the particular formulation being advanced by France that he opposes. Presumably, he is attempting at the same time to demonstrate that Abbas is not sincere.
This is the way he plays it, and his approach has a certain rationale. And yet, it makes me very uncomfortable. Of course, he knows Abbas is not coming to sit across the table from him, but there is danger in making statements to which we might be held later.
In an interview with the JPost, Dore Gold, Foreign Ministry Director-General spelled out yet another reason for Israel’s opposition to France’s diplomatic proposal:
“When French diplomats vote for a resolution at UNESCO that rejects the historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem, it should not come as a surprise that Israel rejects the French initiative and the political horizon it aspires to ultimately expose.”
And so…stay tuned.
Ending with a lovely musical video, “We Are Home,” with thanks to Deena M.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.