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.