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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

But Wait! There's More!

"you, too, can own a piece of history..."

It's the start of at least three different sales pitches for things I could buy to prove I was alive this year. Of course, since I can't buy back my ballot (to prove I voted one way OR the other), and because I didn't spend thousands to millions of dollars to freeze my ass off watching the speech and parade and instead watched from a wonderfully warm home, it's mandatory that I buy something. It would be, well, UNAMERICAN not to.

In fact, I sit here, watching these commercials for things I will NEVER buy, regardless of how I voted, what I wanted for the electoral outcome or how I feel about BO's presidency (and let's remember he has four long years to make mistakes in), and kicking myself in the ASS for not having thought to get in on the action.

Has BO helped the economy? No just yeah, but Hell, yeah! As we southerners like to say. BO has provided job security for all the people at the non-US mints, every T-shirt printing company in the world and several music folks as well. He's probably also ensured jobs for anyone involved in the selling of these items (ma & pop stores ought to stock up) and anyone related to those folks should also be seeing black. So, in much the same way the Bushy ensured bill collectors would never be out of jobs (and people with better jobs would become bill collectors after talking to a few), OB has already produced a crop of new rich folks.

And that's a damned good thing if you ask me, because it would be downright unamerican to be alive in this moment in time and not own a "Kennedy Half Dollar of Barack Obama." Sadly, I must defer the purchases until I have a paycheck not already owed to others, and until I figure out what the hell a Kennedy half dollar of BO actually is.

How UNAmerican of me.

(Allcaps and non caps intended.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Executive orders

Rick Sanchez, of CNN, is making happy sounds via Twitter because BO signed an executive order banning torture. Why am I unhappy?

It used to be understood. It used to be unspoken. When I was in the Navy (for two blinks of an eye), we spoke with hatred and intense disapprobation about countries that tortured. We thought of them as animals.

And so, today, BO signed a piece of paper that says the US will not, may not, must not, partake in torture. Apparently, when Maj. Gen Paul Eaton along with several other retired generals of the US armed forces told Bushy that the US shouldn't torture, that we NEVER get anything good from it, that it's not just nasty, inhuman, illegal behavior, but against everything we stand for as a country and a leader, that didn't quite get through. How anyone could stand by Bushy after he okayed torture is beyond me. Apparently it was beyond many Americans--many of whom had to live through it themselves (like Mac did).

But what does it say about us as a people that two hundred plus years after we started this experiment of a country in which people were supposed to be free, innocent until proven guilty, of equal worth, and inherently trying to do better than what came before us (The British Empire, The Roman Empire, Etc.,) we finally get around to writing down that torture is not in our national arsenal of behavior--and are forced to do it because there are leaders among us who think it should be.

I am not ashamed that BO signed it, but I do have to say that it comes late and short. That there are men and women who have suffered at our hands. And that whether they are or were terrorists is beside the point; we are supposed to be better than that.

When we take on our enemies' worst traits, we become our enemy. We cannot suspend our greatest values as a nation in order to defend the nation; for when we suspend our values, we are no longer a nation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lots of Balls.

I stayed home yesterday.

One of my profs made class optional for those who wanted to watch the inauguration, one canceled. But I didn't stay home because of BO. I stayed home because of Status Hemiplegic Migraine. Seriously cool shit, man. NO headache--just unbearable pain and weakness on the left side of my body...for five days. And believe me, by Tuesday, I was ready for change.

Of course, I'm not writing just to tell you what it feels like to have half your body in a migraine--though, overall, I'd say, Not Fun. I am, of course writing because yesterday we got change. I think most of the country and world was ready for change. Even if the change we got is not to everyone's liking, we were all, as a friend of mine (Girl) on the Right so well put it, sick of the same set of ugly errors (

Me? I'm on the fence. I'm rather fond of much of what BO had to say yesterday. In fact, I think there were three things he said that are most important:

1) Taking away our rights and the rights on which our democracy was built WILL NOT make us more secure. Rather, it is a manner of playing into the hands of terrorists. Israelis have known this for years. We like to put it this way: "The day you don't get' on a bus is the day the terrorists win."

Why? Because their first and most important aim is to "change" our way of life. If they can make us afraid to talk on the phone, they have already won. If they can make us fear our government because being critical of it is "unpatriotic" and a great way to get a free tour of Gitmo, they've won because they've made us into them.

In that, The Bush administration may have had its greatest failing. It used the terror attacks of 9/11 to perpetrate an 8 year terror campaign on us all. They kept us wrapped and warped in their color codes. They made us take off our stupid shoes in public! (I say this having flown in and out of Israel many times; shoe removal IS NOT a security measure, it's a make-you-feel-like-we're-doing-something-when-we-aren't measure!).

2) BO also said that government MUST conduct its business in the open, with full disclosure. It's about bloody time. It may not really happen, since we really do have ops all over the world, keeping dictators in our pockets, controlling economic movements and generally being sneaky and rather black crow-ish from spy-vs-spy, but bringing back what little sunlight we had on government's doings and maybe adding in some more would be lovely! The laundry might even dry!

3) Finally, BO pointed out that the way out of a financial crisis wasn't to stop spending money on anything, but to take measure of everything and stop spending money on the things that don't work, while creating (and continuing the funding for) things that do. That means the billions of dollars that go each year to programs that have spent decades proving they do not work may no longer be spent on those programs. What an idea! It's called cutting back on wasteful spending. There's not a Democrat or Republican left in this country who would recognize that if it knocked on the door and asked to come in.

Can he do it? No, he can't. And he's said as much. He's pointed out that no single politician or group thereof can make any of this happen. That's why he's regularly asking for our help. So, to change the question; can it be done? I think it can. In the words of Miracle Max, "It'll take a miracle." but after the beautiful water landing in NYC last week, I believe in miracles (again).

I also believe that careful scrutiny, healthy skepticism, and willingness to do what each of us believes we can and must for the greater good, will get it done.

On this note, I want to emphasize one thing in particular. The Obama administration should not be carefully watched for the first 100 days to see how its stated mission is progressing: it should and every administration should be watched for the next 4 years to see how its stated mission is progressing--and how it is going about the business of meeting said mission.

Skepticism is healthy until it leaves you on the sofa waiting for someone else to do the work. Government help is healthy until it encourages you to sit on the sofa and wait for government help. Change is reality. And sometimes, it can be good.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why being pro-Israel is neither anti-Palestinian nor anti-peace.

Actually, I’m anti-Piece, which is what seems to be the version being sought by Hamas in the ME. I am pro-Israel only partly because I was born there and had the privilege of living there as an adult as well--the other part is that it's the right thing to do for the world, but keep reading. Israel is a wonderful place. In addition to the wonderfully cosmopolitan feel of Tel Aviv, the artsy feel of Haifa, and the humbling feel of Jerusalem, Israel is packed full of little towns, kibbutzim (communal living), villages, and every other arrangement you can think of.

I lived in Tel Aviv for a part of the time I was there as an adult (in the late ‘90s). Tel Aviv has been called the New York City of the ME. I now live in a little town in North Florida. I TA, I knew my neighbords. One of them taught me how to darn socks—she was a lovely old lady whose husband was in his 80s and went to work every day at a book store because he hated being unemployed and she hated having him underfoot while she cleaned the house (top to bottom daily) and cooked. She cooked as she had when her kids were at home, so she always had extra. Despite my rather “generous” build, she thought I needed feeding—and my housemates as well—so she would bring us up Shabbat dinner once a week. We would give her the fresh tomatoes we barely managed to keep alive on the balcony. But I knew my neighbors.

I’ve read blogs about how by fighting to defend their land, Israelis are creating new suicide bombers, because children who grow up in such violent environments with war all around them are bound to become violent and be suicide bombers. Of course, I grew up in such a social milieu (until I was about 7.5), and I have yet to want to strap on explosives. I have friends who grew up in it all the way through their 20s and not only didn’t want to bomb any civilians, but joined the growing peace movements in Israel

There are several peace movements in Israel. There’s Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), Dor Shalem Doresh Shalom (a whole generation demands peace) and others. I bet many of my readers didn’t know that. my generation wants peace. My father’s generation wanted peace, too, but I think they were and are mired in a different kind of thinking about it. As the children of the Holocaust adults, they see peace as a form of all or nothing survival. My generation has figured out what they would have had they not been fighting against unwarranted attacks every few months; namely that a people who have a homeland—especially a people who have had to fight so hard to gain, build, and maintain said homeland—have a moral obligation to help others to gain the same.

The Palestinians deserve a homeland. There are those who, at this point, would remind me that they make up 80% or more of the Jordanian populace. And they do. But clearly, they are not in a homeland there. Maybe they need to split Jordan (plus the West bank, but minus Jerusalem and Bethlehem) with the Hashemites. We give some, Jordan gives some, everyone helps them get started so they don’t have to lean on terrorists like Hamas and they have a chance of surviving.

But that’s my dream. No one will go for it. Still, I’d like to explain it.

First, I want to talk about Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Jerusalem and Bethlehem belong to the world, and should be open to it for all forms of visit, pilgrimage, or worship. Three major religions find import in Jerusalem, and two in Bethlehem. Yet under Arab control, these places and the holy sites within them were not open to any person wishing to visit. Under Israeli control they have been. I think history bears out the need to keep Jerusalem and Bethlehem under Israeli control.

But the settlers in the West Bank would have to move for my plan to work. Israel was given the right to hold the territories until such time as a lasting peace was negotiated. You have to agree that it hasn’t looked like it would ever happen in the decades Israel’s held the territories. But I think that if the settlers were willing to move (that is if the Israeli government were willing to tell them that they can choose to move or choose to be under a Palestinian government), that the deal I have set above might work.

The next question, of course, is the Jordan River. The West Bank is called such because it is attached to the West Bank of the Jordan River. This is a tactical issue for both sides. First, Israel controls the now trickle of a river above and below the WB. That means it could cut off water, but it also means the Palestinians could use it to advantage. I think that both sides will have to build a lasting peace and the idea that an equal tactical threat will still exist is simply going to have to be accepted. Besides, I think that if Israel takes the time and makes the effort (as does Jordan and the international community) to help set up a functional Palestine, it won’t be a problem.

But functional is the key word in that sentence. All the infrastructure in the territories that currently exists was built by Israel because every governing body the Palestinians have had (from Arafat to Abbas to Hamas) has been corrupt. Millions of international dollars have gone to bakshish and personal gain (and to pay off the families of suicide bombers!). If Palestine is thrown to the Palestinians like meat to a rabid dog, it will fall to ruin through corruption.

If, however, actual help is offered, rather than creating a Friedmanite free fraud zone (like the US haplessly created in the former USSR), there is a very good chance that Palestine would flourish. Its refugees who have fled to the US and been educated, the ones who were educated in Israel, and the ones who have managed to educate themselves in Europe could come back and help make it the cause celebre it could rightly be. Note that most Arab countries do not extend the right to education to Palestinians—because ignorant people are easier to control and the Palestinians have been an Arab pawn for decades.

Jews make up less than a percent of the world’s population and more than 19 percent of its Nobel Prize Winners. No, that’s not a sign that they have the Nobel Committee under their control. If the Palestinians were given the chance to educate their children (and their women!), imagine what they might also accomplish. Living in the desert can lead to great ability to overcome, just as it has led to great ability to defraud.

And so my pro-Israel stand is a stand for peace. It’s a stand to get the terrorists out of Gaza so they stop using Palestinians as media pawns. It’s a stand to replace the Piece process with a Peace process.

Hey, a girl can hope.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Some Middle East History -- edited

This was passed on by a friend whose house was missed by 1 km this morning: “how would you and yours feel if, after 2000 years, your biggest, greatest enemies were patently favored and GIVEN a vast tract of land by the victors of WW1 and WW2, and became your most hated neighbors again---weren't jews kicked out of the "promised land" after ... Read Morelosing war upon war to Muslims?...yes, holocaust and all...but that does not mandate nor equivocate into nation-building status in same place they were defeated year prior...just think about NativeAmericans taking this country back, and sending caucasian-based peoples and others back to their regions of origin...i just ask that we all think about that, and why would folks want to live amongst those that truly despise them?...that's stupid, beyond insane...just my opinion...”

It’s an interesting question at least in part because of the incorrect premise(s) it’s based on. First, let’s be clear, like many peoples, the Jewish homeland (the last iteration of it before the modern one, was tromped and those citizens were exiled by Romans, not Arabs. Why is that important? For starters, because it takes away the simple and simplistic “2000 years” the Arabs supposedly had control of Israel and freedom from Jews. The Jews, along with the Arabs, were repeatedly kicked into and out of the Middle East by the Roman Catholic Church, the Moors, themselves, the Turks, and then the European countries and the US after the world wars. So, to answer the question, we need to look at history.

There has never been a time when Jews did not live—en masse, in large groups, in enclaves—in what is currently called Israel, as well as all over the Middle East in Arab and non-Arab countries. There has never been a Jew-free M-E. That is deeply important; The Middle East is not the Arab world with a few infidel intruders. Bear in mind that Islam is only 1400 years old, and the "arabs" were simply a lose aggregate of tribes interacting both positively and through war throughout the region. That, at the very least removes one of the claims above.

Next, we must deal with more recent history: Let’s go back to before WWI. The Ottoman Empire owned/ran/governed (however you wish to term it) pretty much all we no recognize as the Middle East. They governed in much the same way all the previous empires had of that particular area, with a sense of benign neglect until there were political or monetary needs for there to be something other than benign neglect. But in addition, they allowed what Shariah calls for—the protection of all the People of the Book; and that, folks means Jews AND Christians. Much like in the Golden Age of Spain, in which non-Muslims lived under greater taxation and somewhat harsher rules but with a great deal of freedoms, primarily religious freedoms, the Ottoman Empire seems to have not had it out for anyone except the Armenians—and that’s modern history’s first true holocaust for those of you who think it was WWII.

While Mustafa Kemal Pasha, aka Attaturk, ran things, he allowed Jews (and Christians) to purchase land, and the many Jews who had been in the land for generations as well as the many who had migrated from Russia in the first Zionist wave of the late 19th century, began buying land, sometimes having to do so several times over to overcome the great amount of bakshish and corruption that abounded.

Then came WWI. The victors took apart the Ottoman Empire and out of a colonial sense of general superiority, split the countries (with no regard to tribal histories or land claims) into “protectorates”—these were the countries we now call the Middle East, but with the European countries charged with “bringing them into the modern world” by the League of Nations (a forerunner of the UN). The near-century of warfare between Iran and Iraq is partly the outcome of this colonialism, BTW, as was all the infighting between all the Arab countries that has happened since and was only “solved” or brought to less obvious struggle with the advent of OPEC. (Hmmm…) But on with the story of Israel.

As early as the beginning of the British mandate of “Palestine,” promises were made; to everyone but the Palestinians—who were not a recognized ethnic or tribal group at the time. In fact, the Jews residing within the boundaries of the Mandate referred to themselves as Palestinians. The Brits gave all of the Mandatory area east of the Jordan river to a Bedouin tribal leader who named himself King, thus creating the “Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan” which later became Jordan. This tribe, the Hashemites, made up less than 20% of the population of that tract of land. This was a gift in thanks for their help in the Arabian Wars (think Lawrence of Arabia). The land of Israel was promised to the Jews (See The Balfour Declaration). Jordan, after these promises were filled, would agree to oversee what is now the West Bank. Gaza along with the Sinai desert belonged to Egypt.

All this means that the whole idea of the Jews having been somehow “gone” and then somehow “forced onto the Arabs” is a lie. It’s also a problem, because it hides the fact that the Jews were promised the land they had repeatedly bought long before Hitler came along with his final solution. It wasn’t until 1967, when 8 of Israel’s immediate neighbors attacked it that Israel began what is known as the occupation. Prior to that war, from the cease-fire of 1949, Jordan assumed full governmental authority over the areas of Judea and Samaria, (now referred to as “the West Bank”), but they were never considered as “occupied” despite the fact that Jordan had no legal right for that occupation which was counter to the UN Partition resolution of November 29, 1947. Israel never relinquished administrative authority over the land from which it had been attacked; Sinai, Golan, Gaza, and the West Bank. In exchange for peace, it gave Egypt back Sinai—they didn’t want Gaza. In the early ‘80s, after an Egyptian-born man by the name of Yasser Arafat attempted an assassination of King Hussein of Jordan and a coup of the Hashemite Kingdom in the name of the Palestinians, he was exiled to the West Bank—they hadn’t wanted it (or him).

As for the “Occupation”—there are many people who feel this is the biggest mistake Israel has ever made. After winning the ’67 war, when suing for peace, Israel didn’t demand the right to keep the land it had conquered (as most countries do in war), but requested the right to control those areas until such time that a lasting peace were made possible by treaty. This was approved by UN mandate 221. Check it out.

Now, Israel is demanding that right again. It’s not trying to ruin Palestinian life or kill off all the Palestinians. Israel is simply trying to protect its civilians—who have the right to live in Israel without being bombed. I know very few Israelis who don’t believe in a two state solution. But I have seen films of a lot of Arabs calling for the “final solution.”

So the idea that the Jews were ever absent from their homeland is incorrect. The idea that they only got it because of the Holocaust is only partly problematic—they’d been promised it repeatedly; the Holocaust was just a wake up call to the world that it couldn’t wait anymore—or maybe, it was a suggestion that since the world hates Jews, it can give them their own place and maybe they’ll mostly go away. The idea that the Jews are simply going to disappear may be the best wish of many, but is also not going to happen. Maybe, what we need is to get the Arab world to stop holding down the Palestinians (through laws prohibiting their education or land-ownership in Arab countries). Maybe, what we need is to get the terrorists out of government in Gaza and bring in actual government. Maybe, instead of always blaming “the Jews” we can go looking for an actual solution (not a final one)—and find that people who are well fed, well housed, well educated, and whose entire citizenry have rights tend not to allow terrorists in their midst.

Friday, January 2, 2009

But what about the body count?

This was asked by a person very dear to me. “But what about the body count? Why have so many Palestinians died and so few Israelis?”

It’s a question born of the sort of media coverage the Middle East has garnered for ages—as if a body count is a moral high ground. So here’s the explanation:

The body count for Palestinians, right now, is approximately 400, only 100 of which are believed to be civilians (NY Times). Israel does two things to lower the civilian casualty rates in situations like these.

First, they bomb selectively—unlike Hamas, which shoots blindly and specifically into civilian neighborhoods.

Second, they warn the civilians to get out of the way. They take the time to suggest evacuation because the Palestinians do not have an early warning system.

That’s one part. But in addition to that, Israel does have early warning and gets its civilians out of the way so fewer die. But in addition, there is the problem of a Hamas-run government.

A Hamas-run government does not have sufficient medical or infrastructural setups to take care of the people living in Gaza when there is no fighting. When there is fighting—again, started by them—they certainly have no resources. So the casualty rate goes up because civilians who could have otherwise been treated for wounds, cannot be treated by a system that does not have the goods on offer. And why not? The UN and many European countries supply the Paletinians with funding.

Much of the funding went up in secondary explosions of Rayan’s home, this week; when the munitions he was storing exploded because of the bomb dropped on his house.

This man is not just a “top leader” of Hamas; Rayan is a man who encouraged and then trained his teenaged son to become a suicide bomber (NY Times). He has also, according to the same Times report, asked Palestinians to stand on the roofs of buildings Israel was targeting (he knew which ones, because Israel lets Palestinians know where not to be!). Meir’s words ring through again.

So, the answer to the body count question is this: Israel works to keep the Israeli & Palestinian body counts low. Hamas works to keep all body counts high, but gets more mileage out of Palestinian bodies than Israeli ones. Bodies are not moral high ground. Bodies cannot remain the “scorecard” or the Palestinians will lose by winning. We must save Palestinian lives and Israeli lives by putting Hamas out of business. That is what Israel is trying to do. And instead of settling for a few more months’ quiet while Hamas buys more weapons and recruits more hungry, poor, tired, uneducated young men and women to become weapons, Israel chooses to fight for a lasting end to the violence.

A note or two on Israel; from an Israeli

The world, of course, is in outrage. How dare the Israeli government bomb Gaza?

Well here’s my question; where was the world’s outrage when a bomb from Gaza landed mere meters from my best friend’s house? Where was the world’s outrage at the Israeli civilians who were being “targeted”—if one can call blind firing of rockets into purely civilian areas actual targeting—for the past month? Is it all right to bomb Israeli citizens intentionally and wrong to bomb buildings in which Hamas terrorist leaders are holed up continuing their terror after warning the civilians to leave?

Where was the world while my best friend’s been “fixing up” her bomb shelter and worrying about her sons’ day care, because it doesn’t have one? Those children are not important. Those children are being raised in a world so afraid of calling a terrorist a terrorist once he’s been elected to office, that they are being told that just as their grandparents’ generation didn’t mean a thing to the world, its generation doesn’t either.

Do not misunderstand me. I don’t think Livni & Co., are perfect, always right, or even necessarily the alabaster towers of human behavior. I am Israeli enough to criticize my Israel when she needs it, just as I’ve always been American enough to believe that criticism is the best and most important part of democracy. But how dare the world’s media use such biased coverage as to interview a Palestinian woman living in the hell that is now Gaza without talking also to an Israeli woman trying to save her kids? How can any use of force against Israel be counted and reported in said media as everyday behavior but a 5-day offensive to make that behavior stop be reported as unwarranted violence? Why must my country be asked repeatedly to be the lamb to the slaughter whenever it is faced with attack?

Because Jews only matter when someone needs a target, a lobby, a caricature. Because the world assumes that anyone living in Israel is Jewish, as opposed to realizing that there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Bahai, and many others living there peacefully with each other. Because if the media focused on the reality my birthplace faces, it would have to care.

The city I was born in was bombed today. The city my best friend lives in was bombed two days ago. No one’s asked Hamas to stop killing civilians. Everyone’s asking Israel to stop defending itself. Everyone’s asking Israel to let its civilians die.

Seems Golda Meir had it right all those decades ago; “We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us”

I don’t think Meir thought the Arabs hated their children. I simply think that her point is that as long as one breeds hate into one’s children by hating others, one is creating for them a world of hate and pain. I’m sure Arabs love their children as much as anyone else does, but as long as their ideology allows for them to think that encouraging their children to become suicide bombers is a way to show love, there will be no peace.

(But what about the body count?) --Next