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.

Monday, January 28, 2008

View from Heaven

Familiar events, from a long time ago:
(click images for a larger view)

Genesis 1-2

Genesis 7

Exodus 14


[originally from The Glue Society]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We Are Sinking

I can totally relate to this.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The "Da Vinci Code" Meets the Koran?

What is the hot topic this past week that has to do with Islam's holy book, the Koran?

Islam watchers blogged all weekend about news that a secret archive of ancient Islamic texts had surfaced after 60 years of suppression. Andrew Higgins' Wall Street Journal report that the photographic record of Koranic manuscripts, supposedly destroyed during World War II but occulted by a scholar of alleged Nazi sympathies, reads like a conflation of the Da Vinci Code with Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.
In Islam it is believed that the Koran was dictated by the angel Gabriel to Mohammed nearly 1,400 years ago. Most every believing Muslim will confirm that there is only one singular version of the Koran, and it has been preserved until today, word for word and letter for letter, since the time it was dictated. However...
It has long been known that variant copies of the Koran exist, including some found in 1972 in a paper grave at Sa'na in Yemen, the subject of a cover story in the January 1999 Atlantic Monthly. Before the Yemeni authorities shut the door to Western scholars, two German academics, Gerhard R Puin and H C Graf von Bothmer, made 35,000 microfilm copies, which remain at the University of the Saarland. Many scholars believe that the German archive, which includes photocopies of manuscripts as old as 700 AD, will provide more evidence of variation in the Koran.
This next paragraph may help explain some of the high emotions Muslims attach to their book:
No one is going to produce proof that Jesus Christ did not rise from the grave three days after the Crucifixion, of course. Humankind will choose to believe or not that God revealed Himself in this fashion. But Islam stands at risk of a Da Vinci Code effect, for in Islam, God's self-revelation took the form not of the Exodus, nor the revelation at Mount Sinai, nor the Resurrection, but rather a book, namely the Koran. The Encyclopaedia of Islam (1982) observes, "The closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Koran in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ." The Koran alone is the revelatory event in Islam.
The aforementioned Atlantic Monthly article explains the problem further:
"So many Muslims have this belief that everything between the two covers of the Koran is just God's unaltered word," he [Puin] says. "They like to quote the textual work that shows that the Bible has a history and did not fall straight out of the sky, but until now the Koran has been out of this discussion. The only way to break through this wall is to prove that the Koran has a history too. The Sana'a fragments will help us to do this."
And this also sheds light on the obstacles hindering interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
The Islamic world is forced to adopt an openly irrational stance, employing its power to intimidate scholars and frustrate the search for truth. It is impossible for Muslims to propose a dialogue with Western religions, as 38 Islamic scholars did in an October 13 letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders, and rule the subject of text criticism out of the discussion.

Precisely for this reason, Church leaders see little basis for a dialogue with Islam. Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, who directs the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the French daily La Croix, "Muslims do not accept discussion about the Koran, because they say it was written under the dictates of God. With such an absolutist interpretation, it's difficult to discuss the contents of the faith."
Read the whole thing and see what you think.
MORE here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

See You Again Soon?

After a thankfully uneventful visit by American President George Bush (or as they say here "Jarj Boosh"), we can collectively sigh as the heightened alert is lowered around the country, returning us to the status quo of merely being on the usual alert. Just before leaving Israel President Bush visited Israel's Holocaust Museum, Yad V'Shem, and appeared to be touched by the experience.

Bush was visibly moved as he toured the site, said Yad Vashem's chairman, Avner Shalev. "Twice, I saw tears well up in his eyes," Shalev said.
Not surprising since it is virtually impossible to visit any holocaust museum and not be moved to tears.

Personally, I haven't kept close attention to his visit, but I have seen/heard many passing reactions so far. Some say he is trying to do too much, while others say he has not done enough. Some say this unrealistically raises expectations in the region, while others say no one expects anything substantive to happen. Some say they are disgusted at his supposed biased support for Israel,while others are disgusted at his supposed biased support for the Palestinians.Some say he is trying too hard to be even-handed, while each side accuses him of not being even-handed. Some accuse him of viewing the conflict through the lens of his faith, while others wonder why he doesn't act according to his faith in these matters. Some accuse him of being left-handed, others accuse him of being right-handed. And so on. Listening the politics is really discouraging (which is why I do not pay much attention to it) but it was nice for him to visit and at least make the effort to move things in a positive direction. Believe me, it's better than nothing.

He plans to return in May, so without any predictions or prophecies, we'll just see what happens between now and then.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Day After

If anyone wants to find a silver lining from yesterday's cloud, then do not read this. First, the local reaction:

Should Ashkelon activate its rocket warning system? ... It was the second time a Katyusha has hit northern Ashkelon, and nine shorter-range Qassam rockets have hit the southern part of the city. The defense establishment installed a warning system in Ashkelon some time ago, but it has never been activated.
There's tax money well spent.
Mayor Roni Mehatzri argued at Thursday's meeting that this remained the right policy because activating the system would merely increase residents' fears.
Now, if they can only do something about the pesky exploding sounds the rockets make that increase residents' fears.
"Statistically speaking, there are 80 alarms for every hit, so there should already have been at least 400 alarms in the city," he said. "Is that what we want? For our children to go in fear?" Warning that such fear could destroy the city, Mehatzri argued that it was better to live with the risk.
Actually, this is not a choice here because we have had both elements for quite some time.
Moreover, even if the system were activated, there is not enough time between the alarm's warning and a rocket hit for people to reach a public shelter. Yet ordinary buildings offer limited protection because neither Ashkelon's houses nor its schools are reinforced.
So what we have is the worst of all possible scenarios.
"We don't need reinforcement, we need to end the terror," Mehatzri concluded.
How about some reinforcement in the mean time?

On the national level it's not any more optimistic either.
The Katyusha rocket that hit the northern part of Ashkelon Thursday does not herald a new situation in the fighting on the Gaza border. Katyushas and even enhanced Qassam rockets have landed in Ashkelon before. The only difference is that this one landed a few hundred meters farther north.

But that, of course, is not the whole story. A rocket hitting Ashkelon's northern edge means that another several thousand people are suddenly in rocket range of Gaza...

Though television cameras hastened to record the (justifiably) worried reactions of Ashkelon residents, the city fathers are trying to play down the incident and return to normalcy. But it is clear that the threat to Ashkelon is now greater than had previously been thought.
Obviously not an Ashkelon resident reporting.
If they so desire, Palestinian groups are now capable of bombarding Ashkelon regularly, and with an ample number of rockets. They have enough Katyushas and enhanced Qassams, the rockets can be stored for relatively long periods, and the ruins of the former settlements in northern Gaza provide a launching ground from which the rockets can reach northern Ashkelon.

The only reason this has not yet happened is that Hamas does not want a major clash with Israel. Most rockets hitting Ashkelon are launched by Islamic Jihad, albeit with Hamas' consent. If Hamas decides to attack, it will not make do with a lone Katyusha...

Israel's response to Thursday's Katyusha attack was nothing out of the ordinary: It bombed a few Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets. It is far from declaring war on Gaza. The timing is poor - at the height of winter and on the eve of U.S. President George W. Bush's visit and publication of the Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War. And in any case, Israeli leaders are doubtful that any real military gains can be made against Hamas right now.
*Yawn*, nothing out of the ordinary here.
But before complaining about Israel's lack of response to the rocket fire, it is worth remembering the following: The biggest price of the recent low-intensity warfare is being paid by the terrorists, who are being killed by the dozen. Thus it is not just Israel that is exercising restraint. So is Hamas.
Anyone feel better now? Anyone?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Not Exactly Whistlin' Dixie

Good morning Ashkelon! Or should I say "Sabahh l'herr"**? Again the city got a early wake-up call, only this time it flew directly over our house and into a new neighborhood on the northernmost point of the city.One bystander describes the incident:

"I was passing in the area when I heard a loud whistle and then a blast. I was terrified because as far as I know, Qassams never reach this place."
How does the song go?
"...I wish I was in Dixie
Hooray, Hooray!
In Dixie Land I'll take my stand to live or die in Dixie
Away, away, away down south in Dixie..."
I guess it's time to hunker down again.

UPDATE - The reprisals continue.

** ("Good morning" in Arabic)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Old and the New

I was reading a Jerusalem Post article the other day and I came across a common, but glaring error. See if you can spot it:

"We haven't chosen the Jewish children of Israel as the leading theme, but all of Israel's children - the Jews, the Arabs and the Christians," she said. "I don't want to exclude anyone."
If you guessed that the person should have said "...the Jews, the Muslims, and the Christians", you win the prize. It may be a minor point to most, but if anyone is interested in correctly understanding the nature of the conflict here, this is of supreme importance.

For those who like numbers, here you go: Israel has approximately 7 million citizens. About 75% are Jewish, 20% Arab, and the rest mostly Druze and others. Of those 20% of Arabs, about 9% are Christian (the rest, the majority, are Muslim). And, Arabs Christians compose about 80% of all Christians in Israel.

In other words, for every 1,000 Israelis there are 200 Arabs. Of those 200 Arabs, 17 are Christian. Why is it worth talking about 17 of every 200 Arabs? We often hear in the media about the conflict referred to as the "Arab-Israeli" conflict or the "Arab-Jewish" conflict. Is that correct? No, not hardly.

Arabs are a distinct ethnic group which you can read about here. Some may claim that if there is a place which Arabic is spoken, those people are Arabs. One does not have to try hard to prove that there is huge a difference between west Africans from Mauritania in far west of the continent and run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern Arabs. Some call those in Egypt Arabs, but the deceased president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, once said about his country, "We are not Arabs, we are Egyptians". And he has a point. The same goes for the Lybians, Syrians and Iranians, to name a few more. Why do I mention these countries? Because they all (except Mauritania, that I know of) have actively participated in the conflict against Israel.

So what is the common denominator of all of these (including Mauritania) who want to drive Israel into the sea? If you guess Islam, you are again correct.

Although the actual conflict that is being fought within Israel/Palestinian territories is between Jews and Arabs, remember the numbers above. Nearly 10% of those ethnically Arab are Christian. While this conflict is over the ownership of the Holy Land, all may stake some sort of a claim but not everyone is an active participant in trying to cash it in. Judaism and Islam have their religiously-backed historical claims to the land here, but Christianity had their rare unfortunate factions (see the Crusades) who mistakenly believed they were the inheritors of the Promised Land. They were the exceptions, few and far between.

Because Islam claims the land as it's possession and exclusive right, and Judaism sees the land as it's direct inheritance from Abraham, we have a disagreement. And although the Christians "do not have a dog in this fight", we are present in it. On the sidelines and yet caught in the middle.

Christian Arabs are in both Israel and Gaza/West Bank (including every other country in the Middle East). Most, if not all, don't really care about the conflict, but instead just want to live their lives as Christians regardless of who administers this land.Here by virtue of birth, Christians are caught between the combatants who have little concern or regard for much else. To be fair, the fact is that Christian Arabs living inside Israel far and away enjoy more freedom, liberty, and protection as Christians than anywhere in this part of the world. If you don't believe me, just ask the Christians in Gaza. Though they are Arab ethnically, with respect to the actual conflict they are merely passive non-participants with personal opinions on the matter.

So, simply put, the conflict is essentially one between Jews and Muslims. In the global context, ethnic Arabs only account for a relatively small fraction of those wanting to drive Israel into the sea. And even though there are few Arab Christians remaining here, they were on the scene a good 600 years before the first Muslim appeared (see Acts 2:7-11).

Which gets me to the point of why I'm writing this now.

I, a Christian, along with my Arab-Christian wife, and our (obviously) non-Jewish children are sitting here in this nearly completely Jewish city inside Israel located close to the 100% Palestinian Arab Gaza Strip where, like us, there is also a tiny smattering of Arab Christians. Throughout the day my doors and windows have been rattling from the various explosions coming from the land dispute. I can't help but think about how much in common I have right now with those believers just a few miles from here. I'm sure they are feeling just like me, wanting to be left alone and out of this thing everyone is fighting about. We will be good, law-abiding citizens under whichever government rules over us. Yet, we all involuntarily experience the effects of the fighting.

I can't imagine wanting a piece of property, or anything for that matter, so much that I would kill for it. Likewise, I can't imagine having to fight to protect my family and people from those wanting to gleefully destroy us all. It is all so unreal to me, but at the same time I am continually reminded how real and serious these people are. Don't they know that we have no part in, and want no part of, this fight? Do they even care that they are shooting at us? I guess not.

Or maybe they are just sending us their New Year's greetings? Well if that's the case, Happy New Year to you too!