Monday, December 29, 2008

T'Ain't The Season...

Some bad news from our former home. First, before the fighting started and while the "truce" was still in effect:

Steep increase in rocket fire despite 'truce'

According to the security establishment's data, 2008 saw an increase of over a thousand rockets and mortars from the previous year.
More like "A truce for me, but not for thee".

In Ashkelon, officials must decide: emergency or business as usual?
"If you cancel something, you send a message of instability, which increases the residents' distress," Greenfeld, the security head, said. "At the same time, it's important you know that after such incidents, some people report unwelcome feelings like sadness, a depressed mood, a lack of interest in things that interested them beforehand, nightmares, difficulties sleeping, and recurring images and thoughts about the incident."

"These are to be expected in the days following a difficult incident. Therefore, they should not arouse unusual worry. We know that most of these feelings disappear after a number of days or weeks,"
Or years. Or never.

'30,000 kids unprotected in Ashkelon'
"Not to mention thousands of unprotected residents," he [the mayor] continued.
Oh yeah, them too.

This was the talk before last week about Ashdod, a good 10 minute drive north from Ashkelon (away from Gaza):
Ashdod residents under missile threat
The move was launched for fear that terror organizations in the Gaza Strip have managed to significantly increase their rocket launching range, to up to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles).
New article, but this is actually three year old news.

And now:
Rockets land east of Ashdod
This was the most northern point hit by rockets fired from Gaza so far - more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the Strip. An air raid siren was sounded in the Ashkelon and Ashdod area at around 9:30 am, followed explosions heard in the area. A siren also sounded in the Yavne area in central Israel.
It gets worse.

One killed, at least eleven wounded as Grad hits Ashkelon
One person was killed Monday morning and eleven were wounded when a Grad type missile hit a construction site in the city center of Ashkelon on Monday morning. ... Most of the people at the site were Arab construction workers from Rahat and the Manda village in the Galilee.

The "Da Vinci Code" Meets the Koran? Part 2

Following up one of my more frequently visited posts (usually as a result of searches on Google), here is another article on the claims of the Koran and research:

According to this [Islamic] account, the Koran represents the uncorrupted word of God, "constant, immaculate, unalterable and inimitable." It was transmitted to man through Muhammad, a prosperous Meccan merchant who received it via the angel Gabriel as a series of verse revelations between 610 and his death in 632. Uneducated and illiterate, Muhammad committed these revelations to memory before reciting them to his followers, who memorized them verbatim in turn. The killing of hundreds of these "memorizers" in the battle of Yamama in 633 alerted his successor as Muslim leader, the first caliph, Abu Bakr, to the danger that the revelations could be lost. He therefore gathered all available sources into a loose compilation called the suhuf which was then used by the third caliph, Uthman, to produce in the mid-650s a standardized text of the Koran. Copies were sent to Islamic communities with orders that all other versions be destroyed. Muslims believe this Uthmanic recension is the Koran as we have it today.
Note to self: Don't rely exclusively on memorizers.
But according to the New Historians, there is no evidence that the Koran was compiled by Muhammad or canonized under Uthman; in fact, there is no proof it existed in any form before the end of the seventh century, and the first signs of a standardized codex date from the early 800s, 150 years after Uthman's death. ...

The fact that it is "strikingly lacking in overall structure, frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content... and given to the repetition of whole passages in variant versions" is evidence, he argued, that it "is not the carefully executed project of one or many men, but rather the product of an organic development from originally independent traditions during a long period of transmission."
If you ever read the Koran yourself and tried to make sense of it, this explanation sounds perfectly reasonable. Read it (the article) and see what you think.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What's In a Name?

Ever wondered about Jesus' name? There is an article making its rounds this Christmas season that discusses the origins of the name. Apparently, 2000 years ago Jesus' Hebrew name, Yeshua, was a fairly common name in Israel.

Many people shared the name. Christ's given name, commonly Romanized as Yeshua, was quite common in first-century Galilee. ... Archaeologists have unearthed the tombs of 71 Yeshuas from the period of Jesus' death.
Makes you wonder about those who find 2000 year-old ossuaries and claim they prove they found Jesus' final resting place. Nevertheless, the name Yeshua wasn't actually "Romanized", but more likely "Aramaic-ized" during the Babylonian captivity.
The name also appears 30 times in the Old Testament in reference to four separate characters—including a descendent of Aaron who helped to distribute offerings of grain (2 Chronicles 31:15) and a man who accompanied former captives of Nebuchadnezzar back to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:2).
And since both books were completed after the Babylonian captivity (free from later Roman influence), the change occured within the Semitic languages.
The long version of the name, Yehoshua, appears another few hundred times, referring most notably to the legendary conqueror of Jericho (and the second most famous bearer of the name). So why do we call the Hebrew hero of Jericho Joshua and the Christian Messiah Jesus?
You can read the explanation, if you are into that sort of thing, which is really just a linguistic exercise that occurs between languages. Fun stuff. The only problem is that some people put an inordinate and unreasonable importance on the actual pronunciation of the Biblical names. In fact, ancient Hebrew as a spoken language died out for a short time before efforts to recover it were made, so how some words were pronounced back in king David's time is by no means certain. As long as the meaning is not affected, who cares?

Well, for some, it DOES matter. I don't want to link to any of those people because they are on the rather nutty side. In general, if you come across people or groups who insist on pronouncing Biblical names a certain way, avoid them. No, run away.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Say Whaat?

If anyone ever wondered if Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity could ever be reconciled with each other in any realistic way, here is an excerpt of an article just for you. It explains why, according to Judaism, Abraham is the greater model of righteousness than Noah for followers of God to imitate.

Most significantly, when these individuals [Abraham & Noah] were faced with similar challenges they each reacted very differently. When the Almighty tells Abraham His plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, the first Hebrew argues aggressively, railing against a wholesale destruction: "Will you then destroy the righteous together with the wicked?... Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous together with the wicked!... Will the judge of the entire earth not act justly? (Gen. 18:23-25).

And Abraham goes on to bargain with God as if they were standing in the Mahaneh Yehuda market.

In stark contrast, when God informs Noah that He is about to destroy the world, we hear not a peep of protest.

It seems to me that precisely in this contrast we can understand the entire picture. Noah's greatest virtue is obedience - whatever God wishes to do, Noah is ready to accept. He takes the world as it is, and submits to whatever plan God suggests.

That is not the mission that God wishes to impose on His chosen people. God knows that He has created an imperfect world, and wants His people to perfect it, to challenge and goad even Him to cause His compassion to overcome His anger and even His strict justice. God is not seeking pure obedience; He wants to be challenged.
Despite the fact that Abraham completely failed in his efforts to prevent the devastation of Sodom and Gomorrah, the most glaring omission in the discussion is the notion of faith. For me, it is breathtaking that obedience to God takes a back seat to the idea that those who follow Him are expected to confront Him what He says. Call me simplistic, but as I read the very same Bible as the rabbis, I believe this is a very wrong and even dangerous understanding of the Bible. But don't take my word for it - read the Bible for yourself and see what you think.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Where are the Gas Masks?

Our gas masks were collected for refurbishment last year. In April, it was thought that returning them could take up to 5 years. In June we were told to expect them back in January. Now we are to expect them sometime late next year. In other words, no one knows when or if they will be returned.

At least now we have a bomb shelter in our apartment, so I won't complain.

UPDATE: The rockets have started to hit Ashkelon again. So glad we are no longer there.

Monday, November 3, 2008

New Old Stuff Found in Israel

Possibly the oldest Hebrew inscription was found near Beit Shemesh recently.

An archeologist digging at a hilltop southwest of Jerusalem believes a ceramic shard found in the ruins of an ancient town bears the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.

The five lines of faded characters written 3,000 years ago, and the ruins of the fortified settlement where they were found, are indications that a powerful Jewish kingdom existed at the time of King David, says Yossi Garfinkel, the Hebrew University archeologist in charge of the new dig at Hirbet Keiyafa.
Naturally, everyone is arguing about the meaning of the find. Archaeologists are arguing:
The discoveries are already being wielded in a vigorous and ongoing argument over whether the Bible's account of events is meant to be taken literally.
And the Palestinians are now arguing over it, too:
Palestinians, saying biblical claims have been superseded by the long-standing Arab population in Jerusalem, want the eastern part of the city, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, to be the capital of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Amazing how everything here ends up in a fight.

Another find is a newly discovered water shaft in Jerusalem's "city of David" excavations.
A water tunnel dating back to the First Temple era - but that might have been used even earlier, during King David's conquest of Jerusalem - has been uncovered in the ancient City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said Wednesday.
This is not to be confused with Hezekiah's tunnel, which incidentally contained the Siloam inscription [pictured left], one of the oldest and longest Hebrew inscriptions using the old alphabet.

A little related side note: thirty years ago the oldest portion from the Hebrew Bible was found on a small silver scroll [on right] in a valley next to the Old City walls in Jerusalem. Inscribed were excerpts from several verses including the Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6:24-26.

Many people are fascinated about the geography of Israel, archaeological sites, and finding new clues to the Biblical past. Not me. I love it when things like old inscriptions and writings are found. That there's what I call cool.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

From the Red Heifer to Chicken Envelopes

In Israel the changing of the seasons from summer to fall are unmistakable. There is a coolness in the air, clouds are in the sky, light morning showers sometimes fall, trees seem greener, and the chicken envelopes appear in the mailbox. Yes, it is that time of the year again for the traditional fall Jewish holidays.

In biblical times the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, was observed strictly according to the commands of the Law of Moses as written in the Torah. There was fasting, slaughter of the Red Heifer, scape-goating, and so forth. Everything was to be done exactly according to the minutiae God commanded Israel to do each year to receive national atonement. Today it is, um, a bit different (hence the chicken envelopes).

Some ultra orthodox groups have the tradition of killing a chicken just before Yom Kippur to symbolize the atoning animal sacrifices of the biblical commands since there is no Jewish temple in which to fulfill the injunctions because, after all, as Leviticus 17 states, without shedding blood there can be no atonement for the soul.

So, the tradition of these orthodox is to take a chicken (male chicken if you are male, female chicken if you are female [and two chickens if you are pregnant (which is an unusual Jewish concept of sin, pertaining to the unborn)]) and, while saying the appropriate prayers for forgiveness, twirl the live chicken around your head three times and then kill it and eat it just before the Yom Kippur fast begins.

Now not everyone in Israel has access to chickens, or really if they did they do not have time to go and perform this act. So instead, these orthodox groups send our said chicken envelopes with clear printed instructions for people to give 18 shekels (about $5) to pay for the cost of a chicken and an orthodox person will perform the chicken twirl for you. All you have to do is put the money in the aforementioned envelope, say the prayers as you twirl the money-laden envelope around your head three times, then deposit that baby in the mail and (assuming you fast appropriately), Voilà! Virtual atonement hath occurred.

So there you have the evolutionary transformation from the Red Heifer at the Holy Temple to chicken envelopes in the mail. Who would have thunk it could be done that way?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Baby Lilah

My brother, Paul, and his wife Gina received some bad news about their 2 month old baby girl, Lilah. Just this weekend they found out that she was born with several holes in her heart and the outlook is not good at all. Some info about her condition:

Lilah is in the ICU at Children's Hospital with what started last week as a cold and turned into a respiratory infection requiring IV antibiotics. After they were admitted to the hospital yesterday, they did a chest x-ray where it was found that Lilah's heart was enlarged. They then did an echo (ultrasound of the heart) yesterday evening and Lilah has been diagnosed with several cardiac defects. She has a ventricular septal defect (VSD - a hole between the ventricles), an atrial septal defect (ASD - a hole between the atriums) and Left Ventricular Non-Compaction (where the heart muscle is not "compact" and has many holes in it). The last defect is the most serious. Lilah is in congestive heart failure because of these defects and they are giving her medicines to manage the heart failure. They are going to start a central line (IV right to her heart) tonight, so they will be able to give her medicines and draw blood easily. They have had a very hard time starting IV's and drawing blood since they have been there, and it has been hard for Paul and Gina to watch Lilah be "poked" so many times, so hopefully this will be helpful.

Also, the Doctors feel like that there may be a "bigger picture" to all of this. They are consulting with Neurology and Endocrinology to run more tests and see what else may be going on. As far as treatment, right now they are working to stabilize her heart with medication and continue to run tests for more information.
Please pray for this sweet little baby.
PS - My father is back in the hospital and is deteriorating both mentally and physically. Please remember him, too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Real Israel

This is an account of a Lebanese Christian and her first encounter with Israel in a time of war with her country.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dubious Milestone

Seven years ago the first rocket was shot from Gaza. Since then over 10,000 have been fired resulting in 22 Israeli deaths and over 3,000 residents fleeing the vicinity (make that "over 3,005"). The latest barrage was on Thursday.

At least 40 mortars and 25 Qassams landed in Israel, primarily in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, [and] a number of fires have broken out as a result.
Why? Earlier that day a house in Gaza massively exploded, killing seven (including a couple Hamas bigwigs and children) and wounding 40 others, many seriously. Hamas predictably blames Israel and angrily retaliates with the usual terror.

Except that's not what really happened.
Hamas on Friday claimed responsibility for an explosion a day earlier in a house in northern Gaza that killed seven Palestinians, one of them an infant girl.

An announcement Friday on the official Web site of Hamas' military wing says the group's martyrs died while putting the final touches on a plan to carry out a special holy war mission.
In other words, the bomb intended to be used on Israelis blew up while they were making it.

You'd think that the idea of assembling bombs in a house full of loved ones would bring a moment of pause at some point. And especially since this is the umpteenth time this very thing has happened.

It's a shame, Gaza. But one thing is for sure: it's just better to be away from it all. But we still pray.

UPDATE - As always, true to form, another rocket struck Ashkelon today, wounding at least one. This time it landed next to the open-air market, as shown in a previous post. And, as opposed to the pretext used above, there was really no reason the Gaza terrorists hit Ashkelon today. Just terrorists being terrorists. I guess.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Prophet Speaketh

We had the honor today of having Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, visit, as the newspaper Ha'aretz termed it, our "rocket-plagued city". He spoke to our fellow residents, encouraging us to stay alert because the katyushas are "not a one-time thing" and

"The Grad is heavier than the Qassam, and we have no way of preventing these things (rocket attacks) from recurring."
Not what you want to hear, but that's the reality. He also added:
"...this is the reality of the past 60 years and we must show restraint and strength."
Strength, yes. Restraint, um, ok (although I'm not seeing how "restraint" stops anything but yourself).

Now for prophetic part:
A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck southern Ashkelon on Tuesday, ending a four-day lull in violence that began directly following the terrorist attack at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem last Thursday, which left eight yeshiva students dead.

No injuries or damage from the rocket strike was reported.

The rocket landed in south Ashkelon only a few hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert toured the rocket-plagued city...
Ok, predicting that terrorists will fire their rockets again is not exactly going out on a limb, but you have to give Olmert credit for the timing after his prediction. And thankfully the rocket was only a smaller Qassam and not the aforementioned Grad (though Ha'aretz doesn't specify, only saying it was a "rocket").
Toward the end of his visit to the southern city the prime minister said "I am leaving encouraged. I did not come to make any promises to the residents, but to convey to them that the situation is complex and that we have no immediate solutions. However, I am encouraged by the fact that the municipality, the residents and the students are not afraid.
Not afraid? Everyone (that is, everyone) we have spoken with here is quite afraid. Maybe Olmert is just encouraging us, which is needed, but the reality is rather sobering.
(PM Olmert in Ashkelon's Barzalai hospital visiting a 10 year old boy from Sderot who was wounded by a Qassam last week)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Can't We All Just Get Along?

In a place desperate for any form or semblance of peace, a dubious Israeli Muslim leader is trying to stir the rage of his followers.

The al-Aqsa mosque [a.k.a. Temple Mount] was never the site of a Jewish temple, Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the Islamic Movement's northern branch, said Monday during a press conference he convened in Jerusalem to respond to voices calling for the expulsion of Israeli residents of the city who participate in terror activities against Israel.
That's a big claim, seeing how one has to ignore all of the archaelogical and ancient textual facts proving what the world has known, even prior to the first Muslim appearing 6 centuries AFTER the SECOND Jewish Temple. Minor details, I know. Interestingly, this same Shiekh Salah was present at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Nazareth last weekend.
(Salah is the bearded man behind the flag)

The Sheikh's rant continues:
He went on to deny any Israeli or Jewish historical claim to the city, denying that there ever existed a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount.

"The claims of the Jews are big lies and they have no right to any speck of dirt here," he said. ...

Salah's speech also attacked Jews, saying, "They want to build their temple at a time when our blood is on their clothes, on their doorsteps, in their food and in their drinks. Our blood has passed from one 'general terrorist' to another 'general terrorist.'"

He also said, "We are not those who ate bread dipped in children's blood."
Is it just me or does it seem that this guy is not looking to find some sort of common ground to work things out? Anyway, while at the demonstration in Nazareth we stood right next to him for a few moments, which was rather creepy. My wife was itching to set him straight on some things, but better sense prevailed that afternoon.

The Nazareth demonstration was actually a commemoration of a dead international terrorist leader, George Habash, who is affectionately known as "the father of modern airplane hijacking".
(The picture on the banner is the commemorated terrorist figure Habash)

Ever wonder why flying on an airplane is as restrictive and expensive as it is? Do you wonder who inspired Osama bin Laden to dream up 9/11? Thank George Habash. And just imagine seeing people gather to remember this man as a hero to be honored.

The Week After

Back in town now after the week away, Ashkelon is not the same city it was before. The map is now dotted with the sites where the rockets did their damage. People are preparing for the next round, be that sooner or later. Not so many are out and about as usual, especially in these warmer than usual March days. In the words of one resident:

On the counter of the old town district's Istanbul Restaurant is a bumper sticker reading, "We will win," and another that reads, "We're fighting for our home." I ask the owner, Rafi Levy, if he pasted those up in the last few days. "No, they're from another war, the last one in Lebanon. But they still apply today," he says.

A beefy, seemingly gentle man, Levy, 59, took over the restaurant from his father in 1976. He remembers being a young soldier during the War of Attrition "and getting shelled forever" by the Egyptians. Still, the spate of rockets from Gaza has shaken him somewhat. "On Friday night, I was lying in bed, sort of half-asleep, I couldn't really sleep, and then - boom! My grandchildren were with us in the house. It landed far enough away, there was no damage. But it's not a good feeling."
No, I can heartily concur it's not a good feeling.
He goes over to one of his regular customers, a lawyer, and tells him I'm doing a story on how Ashkelon is holding up. The lawyer's expression turns gloomy. "I hope this is a one-time thing," he says. "If it isn't, there won't be much left of this city."
We can only hope, but I doubt the terrorists have turned a new page in their rocket-firing ways. But the good (or bad) news is that at least one Ashkeloni isn't sitting idly by; he's taking matters into his own hands.
Ashkelon resident Moshe Nissimpor decided that the best way to halt rocket fire from Gaza - in light of what he terms the government's failure to do so - is some vigilante justice.

Nissimpor developed a homemade 200-millimeter ballistic missile which he planned to launch from Ashkelon into the Gaza Strip.
"From this day onwards, we will push back to the stone age every place which dares shoot missiles into Israel's sovereign territory," he said Wednesday. "It is time the world understood Israelis' lives are not expendable." ...

Nissimpor arrived at the Ashkelon Municipality building with the missile painted black and lettered "to Hamas, from the residents of Ashkelon" in red, and was planning to launch it.

Ashkelon residents gathered round to cheer him on and protest the government's conduct, but at the eleventh hour, police stopped him from firing the missile and seized it.
By the looks of it, that seemed to be a wise move for everyone involved.

On a more somber note, Ashkelon buried one of it's own yesterday.
[Staff Sergeant Liran] Banai, of Ashkelon, was driving the jeep when it rolled over an explosive device next to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, on the Israeli side of the border with central Gaza. He was taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva in serious condition, and both his legs were amputated. Family members stayed by Banai's side for three days, praying for the miracle that would keep him alive. The doctors fought for his life, but lost the battle. ...

Many of the mourners were deaf. They came to the funeral in a show of solidarity with Banai's parents, Guy and Gila, both of whom are deaf, and wanted to find a spot from which they could read the lips of the eulogizers. ...

His commander said that Liran could have been exempted from combat duty because of his family situation, but had chosen not to because of his dedication to his country.
That's real dedication and we are thankful for those who are on the front lines trying to protect us all. Meanwhile, trepidation weighs heavily on everyone's minds. Especially when one sees the results of an attack in a favorite place we have frequented more times that I care to recall.
And some more images from a house that was hit.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

What Exactly Does a Katyusha Do?

One of the many that hit Ashkelon this week:

Any questions?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Carling Cup FYI

I'll bet you didn't know that today in the UK is English soccer's first competition final of the season called the Carling Cup, which features two London teams, Chelsea vs Tottenham. This competition is UK soccer's equivalent of NCAA basketball's pre-season NIT tournament - the winner gets bragging rights of having won it, but all anyone cares about are the end-of-season glories. Did you know there is an Israeli connection? Besides an Israeli bench-warmer, the team is coached (excuse me all you proper Brits, I mean managed) by an Israeli named Avram Grant. Although he has a scowl that could dry up a river, he has an interesting family history (as most Israelis do).

Avram Grant's father Meir will be a special guest at Sunday's Carling Cup final just days after celebrating his 80th birthday.

Meir, a holocaust survivor of the Second World War, is Grant's idol and the 52-year-old Israeli has paid for his dad to see their Wembley showdown with Tottenham.

Grant knew nothing of his family's fate until one night, aged 15, he heard his father screaming in his sleep and rushed into his room to find that he was having a bad dream.

His father explained that he had been dreaming he was back in the Russian forest in which he had been forced to dig graves for his parents and five brothers and sisters as each, in turn, died of cold or starvation. Only he and one brother survived. [...]

Grant said: 'My father was 80 years old on Thursday so we are celebrating of course, and he will be at the game.

'I don't know if you know the story of my father but he is a great man, one of the greatest that I know. He is optimistic like I have never seen in my life and he suffered a lot in the age when he was young.

'He was a survivor of the holocaust and I am of the name of my grandfather that died in the holocaust. But what impressed me about him is that he always sees the positive things.

'Even now, he is optimistic. If you speak to him about the past, he says it was in the past but I live the future. He's only 80 years old. I wish him all the best. I love him.

'My father would accept everything in a positive way. Everything that happened in my life, I can only thank them for it. I have bought him his ticket - I think I can afford it!'

Meir was 13 when he and his family fled their native Poland in 1941.

'In 1941 we realised things were looking bleak in Poland and decided to take our chances in Russia,' said Meir.

'We were exiled to the far north. Guards dropped us off in a forest and said, `build a home or die'.

'It was minus 40 in winter and in such circumstances, people who are not young stand no chance.

'When I buried my father, I cut off my peyot [sidecurls] and removed my kippah. To survive, you must look forward in hope, never back.

'Avram is similar to me. He gets on with everyone and never argues but knows how to shout if people aren't working the way they should.'
Good luck, and may the best team win.

UPDATE - Tottenham beat Chelsea 2-1 after extra time (tied 1-1 at the end of regulation). Chelsea has the better team but was outplayed today. Avram was, well, the scowl says it all.If you want to lose a tournament, this is the one to lose. Cheers to Tottenham though (they beat United, you know).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

This Is Only a Test

Something new to look forward to this week: Negev residents demand secured rooms. But instead of receiving said requested fortifications, we get this:

...officials at the southern town of Ashkelon are preparing to hold Qassam drills at schools. Security officials say that educational institutions have already been connected to the "Red Color" [rocket] alert system, and all that is left now is to make a decision on activating the system.
Though thankfully the kids now have *some* form of a protective measure (though I'm wondering if teaching them to dive under desks when incoming rockets set off the alarm won't create new anxieties for them), as discussed in an earlier post, apparently the rest of us will have to wait. And wait we will.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Special Effects

Ynet has a timely article about the effects of the rockets on those whom they are targeting. First, an overview on the general purpose of terror.

The mission of terror is to convert violent actions into diplomatic achievements, and “terror” is all about sowing fear among the target population. We are not talking about a physical occurrence but rather, a psychological one, which does not take place in the public arena, but rather, within the perception of individuals.

Terrorism’s success secret is that by physically hurting a few people it can sow fear among many. One attack on a Tel Aviv bus may kill seven people, but it terrorizes seven million citizens. This is the terrorism chain: Converting a small physical incident into a great psychological drama, which is then converted into a historic diplomatic achievement. This is how we see a shift from the physical to the psychological, and from the psychological to the political.

Terrorism is the poor man’s weapon of choice because in order to cause psychological damage to the whole of society there is no need to hurt all of it. Rather, it is enough to hurt some individuals. People who have the ability to hurt individuals are in fact implementing the possibility of hurting the masses.
So what role do the rockets play in this scenario?
Qassam attacks are an interesting test case for this analysis. They are a weapon that sows terror in a highly effective manner. As opposed to suicide bombers, who sow limited terror, because citizens feel they are in control to some extent (they can decide not to board buses, not to enter shopping malls, and stay away from suspicious people,) this sense evaporates vis-à-vis the rockets.

The Qassam arrives from the sky, it can arrive at any given moment, and it can hurt us both at the mall and at home. Therefore, the Qassam creates the smallest physical damage yet the greatest psychological damage.
I don't care who you are or what you think - long term exposure to even the most seemingly mild form of terror is damaging. Mild terror is terror and even though the rockets are (in the eyes of some) small-time weapons, they are aimed to kill and maim. It's not a nice thought, but imagine living under the threat 24 hours a day, days and nights on end, month after month, year after year. You can try to ignore it but the jolting explosions tend to keep your attention on the morbid subject whether you like it or not.

Monday, February 11, 2008

To Be or Not To Be (Optimistic); That Is The Question

Good news: finally, we have some coverage about Ashkelon's situation from an article in the Jerusalem Post. Bad news: the article is called Boomtown. And it doesn't get much better (I'm not sure if the opening paragraphs are meant to have a calming effect).

Sitting around a table with IDF Home Front Command and Defense Ministry officials, Ashkelon Mayor Roni Mehatzri wants to know how long it will take his southern coastal city to go on full emergency footing "if it gets like the Second Lebanon War here, with rockets landing nonstop."

"Two days," says the Home Front Command officer. The Defense Ministry officials agree.
Great that everyone is in agreement, but what they are saying is that we'll be bombarded for a solid two days before we're on "full emergency footing", whatever that means. Sderot, which is closer to Gaza and just down the road from us, is a living testament of what Ashkelon doesn't want to become.
"But psychologically, it's important to do it now, to show people here that you're giving them something. This isn't Sderot - Sderot is at war, but Ashkelon is getting ready for it" [says Ashkelon Mayor Mehatzri].
Sderot has been under "full emergency footing" for the past several years and the rockets only get worse. In fact, yesterday an 8 year old boy there lost part of his leg when a rocket hit close to him and his brother. So much for "full emergency footing".

As a result, Sderot residents are not sitting back and doing nothing. Yesterday they blocked the highway into Jerusalem and today are planning to drive slowly through Tel Aviv today as an effort to try to get the government to do something to protect them. There is even an amusing article about some wanting to scour the internet for info on making their own similar rockets and fire them back at Gaza. The frustration is real because the government is not doing enough as the original article on Ashkelon shows.
The question of what to do about Gaza's rockets is a personal one for the locals. About a month ago the City Council unanimously voted to "demand" that the Olmert government "act" to stop the rocket fire. Just how to act wasn't spelled out, but the meaning was clear enough - official Ashkelon wants the IDF to invade the Strip and crush the terrorists.
And especially in light of the Gaza-Egypt border breach last week, the general mood is on the pessimistic side.
And this week, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin told the cabinet that additional rockets that could reach Ashkelon had been smuggled into Gaza since the breach of the Egyptian border.
Everyone is concerned and wants someone to do something about the rockets. And then what?
But obviously, things could get worse. If the IDF invades Gaza and goes to war with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian terrorists might well escalate their rocketing of the city, which is why so many emergency drills, preparations and meetings are taking place.
Or, one could take an "optimistic" view of the situation.
Shlomo Brom, former head of strategic planning for the IDF General Staff and ex-deputy chairman of the National Security Council, sides with the optimists. "I don't think Hamas has that many rockets that can reach Ashkelon," he says, suggesting the number may not be higher than 30 or 40, despite Diskin's pronouncement this week. [...] Mehatzri recognizes this, but it's a price he's willing to pay because he thinks there's a good chance that Ashkelon might be under attack, and its citizens in bomb shelters, for "maybe only days" before the Palestinians' rocket arsenal ran out.
Call me crazy, but I'm not seeing anything remotely "optimistic" in the thought of living in a bomb shelter with small kids as rockets crash down for several days, only to return to the status quo afterwards. But hey, that's just me.

The final sentence of the article:
There's an element of danger in Ashkelon, an element of uncertainty, but people here don't seem to be flinching.
Speak for yourself, buddy! Private conversations of Ashkelon residents reveal more flinching that the bravado indicates.

UPDATE - As we speak the sabers are a-rattlin'. Hot off the Ha'aretz press, Barak orders IDF to gird for wide Gaza offensive.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that he has instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for a possible wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip in response to the ongoing Qassam rocket attacks from the coastal territory.

Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel would not rule out any possible course of action to bring quiet back to the western Negev and security to the residents of Sderot and nearby communities.
Stay tuned. And pray...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Jews, Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel

A longish article called Why Don’t Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them? has some interesting information to consider.

Evangelical Christians have a high opinion not just of the Jewish state but of Jews as people. That Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal doesn’t seem to bother evangelicals, despite their own conservative politics. Yet Jews don’t return the favor: in one Pew survey, 42 percent of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists.
The answer is clear:
The reason that conservative Christians—opposed to abortion and gay marriage and critical of political liberalism—can feel kindly toward Jewish liberals and support Israel so fervently is rooted in theology.
The obvious next question:
But why do so many Jewish groups and voters abhor their Christian evangelical allies? [...] That liberal politics trumps other considerations—including worries about anti-Semitism—for many American Jews becomes clearer in light of other data.
In other words, Evangelicals are guided by their theology and Jews are guided by their politics. Fair enough, to each his own. So what is the deal with other Protestants? One could argue that, like American Jews, it is liberal politics.
Mainstream Protestant groups, such as the National Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, have a very different attitude toward Israel. The NCC, for example, refused to support Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, and immediately afterward began to protest victorious Israel’s expansion of its territory. From that point on, the NCC’s positions ran closely with Arab opinion, urging American contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization, for instance, and denouncing the Camp David Accords because they supposedly ignored the Palestinians’ national ambitions. In 2004, the Presbyterian Church decided to study a proposal to divert its investments from firms doing business with Israel. Within a year, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and parts of the Methodist Church followed suit. As Paul Charles Merkley sums up in his book about Christian Zionism, mainline Protestant churches’ “respectable leadership had backed away from Israel; all of her constant friends were seated below the salt.”

Why do mainline Protestant leaders oppose Israel? That question becomes harder to answer when one recalls that Israel is a democratic nation with vigorously independent courts that has not only survived brutal attacks by its Arab neighbors but provided a prosperous home for the children of many Holocaust survivors. As with any other nation, Israel has pursued policies that one can challenge. Some may criticize its management of the West Bank, for example, or its attacks on Hamas leaders. But these concerns are trivial compared with Iran’s announced desire to wipe Israel off the map by using every weapon at its disposal, including (eventually) a nuclear one.

The answer, I think, is that many Christian liberals see Israel as blocking the aspirations of the oppressed—who, they have decided, include the Palestinians. Never mind that the Palestinians support suicide bombers and rocket attacks against Israel; never mind that the Palestinians cannot form a competent government; never mind that they wish to occupy Israel “from the sea to the river.” It is enough that they seem oppressed, even though much of the oppression is self-inflicted.

After the Marxist claims about the proletariat proved false and capitalism was vindicated as the best way to achieve economic affluence, leftists had to stop pretending that they could accomplish much with state-owned factories and national economic plans. As a result, the oppressed replaced the proletariat as the Left’s object of affection. The enemy became, not capitalists, but successful nations.
According to the article, evangelical supporters of Israel are generally theologically dispensationalists (which is conservative) and liberal Protestants take a "liberation theology" view of the world, one of the most liberal readings of the Bible there is. Without sounding overly simplistic, this assessment goes a long way in explaining why and how some American Christians can staunchly support Islamic jihadi terrorists who currently war violently against them and the very beliefs they themselves hold dear.

To generally sum up, evangelicals are both conservative politically and theologically while both American Jews and Protestants are liberal in those same areas. What the article doesn't discuss is that American Jewish support for Israel is not at all automatic or even assumed (some of Israel's worst and most vocal detractors are Jewish, such as the left's favorites Noam Chomsky and Norm Finkelstein, to name but two). For many liberal Jews, their feelings about Israel are guided by their left-leaning politics.

These are the tricky questions of where one's personal theology ends and personal politics begins. After reading an article like this I am left wondering what the major influence is in the lives of those (Christian or Jew) who read the Bible in any meaningful way. Does your theology influence your political leanings, or is it the other way around? I offer no answers here but think it is very worthwhile to personally consider the question.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

We Love New Jersey Congressmen

Well, at least one of them. This today:

US Representative Scott Garrett (R- NJ) proposed a resolution Wednesday, condemning the ongoing Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilian communities.

"Since January 1st of this year, terrorists have fired more than 420 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities like Sderot and Ashkelon. Residents of these areas have suffered egregious damage and casualties. The quality of life of the Israeli people has dramatically decreased in these targeted areas. It is critical that Congress work to help the peace-loving people of Israel and the Palestinian territories end these aggressive actions," Garrett said.

In a statement, Garrett went on to say that he would "continue to fight" to ensure that terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are held responsible for launching such attacks, and further that countries like Iran and Syria that support these terrorist are held accountable too.

"The United States and the global community should embrace Palestinians who reject all forms of terrorism and who desire to live in peace," he said.
Couldn't have said it better myself. It's nice to know there are those thinking about us, especially in light of the past two days.

Whale Attack (updated pictures)

[This is a re-post from Sunday]

Ok that's a bit of an exaggeration, but we did have a fin whale in our marina today.

A 15-meter-long young whale was found Sunday morning washed up in a port near Ashkelon has died.

An Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center (IMMRAC) crew rushed to the site, but were unable to save the calf, which sustained injuries as it came into the port.

After struggling and thrashing for half an hour, it finally sank below the water's surface. ... Television footage showed air bubbles on the water's surface slowly fading away.
So the whale drowned? Who knew?
IMMRAC Chairman Aviad Sheinin said that "obviously it's a very sad situation for us. Fin whales don't come very often to Israel."
He came, he saw, he died. That's definitely not going to help the whale tourism.

Besides tending to drown in calm seas, the fin whale is the second largest animal on earth (next to the blue whale). As you can see, that's plenty big enough to swallow a man.
Hmm, a whale in the Mediterranean big enough to swallow a man. That reminds me of a story from a long time ago...

UPDATE - Here are some pictures from the internet (sorry about the watermark in the middle of some of the pictures).
UPDATE 2 - The pictures disappeared, here they are again.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Well, at least in Jerusalem there was. We got the obligatory rain, wind, and hail down in our neck of the sands. Here's what it looked like there.