Living In Interesting Times

Living in Israel is probably the embodiment of “living in interesting times”. Just when we thought the main threat to us was pushed off (at least temporarily, if not longer – I am refering of course to Iran and its nuclear capabilities) the whole region seems to be exploding.

Hizballah has more or less taken over Lebanon – the thugs with the guns usually win out, and Lebanon is no exception. Which means that when things start to go south in the country, Nasrallah will do what most Arab leaders do to distract the people, start fighting with Israel. This will probably include rockets over the border.

Then there is Egypt. Some may be thinking, naively, that the protests in Egypt will bring about the downfall of the dictatorship and perhaps democracy. Most of us in Israel are more worried about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. As Barry Rubin points out, he is worried, and he is worried that others are not worried.  One quote is telling. He is asked if it is possible to have democracy and liberalism in Egypt and answers this way:

“One would need strong leaders, strong organizations, an ability to repress opposition, a clear program, and unity, among other things. None of this is present on the moderate democratic side. Again, I wish it was otherwise. More than any other country, reformers–though not all of them–have believed they can work with and then manipulate the Islamists. That seems like a mistake.”

Rubin writes here for PJ Media and puts forth three possible outcomes.

Here again, if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Egypt they will at one point focus on fighting Israel, probably by arming Hamas in Gaza or more directly by going to war with us. More rockets, this time from the south.

The next war in Israel is coming that much closer.

The Next War In Israel

When the IDF undertakes an operation or goes to war in order to bring security to its citizens, the world’s media focusses on the present, usually ignoring the background events that lead up to the IDF action. They crop out of the picture the terrorist attacks that occur for  months years beforehand, so as to conveniently portray the Israelis as the aggressors. 

I decided to keep a post with a running list of attacks, so that when the next war needs to be fought my readers at least won’t be surprised.

For some background, read here about past rocket attacks on Israel. This article is highly recommended – not only does it have statistics on the attacks themselves but it portrays the damage to the victims, the terrorist groups involved, and has a very interesting piece about the Arab approval/disapproval rating of these attacks. Guess what – after Operation Cast Lead the number of Arabs in Gaza that disapproved of launching rocket attacks against Israel went up dramatically. (I guess this is where NIMBY really comes into play…)

Here is a list of attacks for 2011 – so far:

January 1 – mortar shell fired from Gaza lands near kibbutz in Sha’ar HaNegev region

January 4 – kassam rocket fired from Gaza explodes near a kibbutz in the Ashkelon Coast region

January 5 – seven mortar shells and a kassam rocket fired from Gaza land in open areas in Eshkol region

January 6 – mortar shell fired from Gaza lands in Sdot Negev region

January 7 – projectile launched from Gaza

January 8 – five mortars fired from Gaza land in Sha’ar HaNegev region, three Thai workers are injured. Two kassam rockets launched at Israel from Gaza same night

January 9 – kassam rocket fired from Gaza lands in Eshkol area

January 10 – four rockets fired at Israel from Gaza, one hits an industrial area in Ashkelon

January 11 – rocket fired at Israel from Gaza explodes south of Ashkelon

January 16 – three mortar shells fired from Gaza explode in open area near a kibbutz in Sha’ar HaNegev region

January 17 – kassam rocket fired from Gaza explodes in orchard in Sha’ar HaNegev region

January 18 – four mortar shells fired from Gaza land in open areas in Eshkol region

How To Kill The Peace Process

Al Jazeera and the Guardian have published what they claim to be secret papers detailing the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians in past years. The juciy details about how much each side was willing to give up make up the bulk of the new information.

Whether the papers are authentic does not really matter at this point. The release of this kind of information will have one major effect – it will kill whatever peace negotiations would have been going on.

The PA will be embarrassed, and will have to publicly take on a harsher stance on Israel. Looking moderate, especially in relation to Hamas, is good for public relations in most of the world – but it is deadly for their relations with their own people.

Someone somewhere probably thinks that this is another way to embarrass the Israelis, especially Netanyahu. What it really does is give the Israelis an out – because now noone on the Arab side will be able to come to the negotiating table with any realistic proposals.

More time for us to build. Now we just need the building permits….

When the Outrageous Becomes Ordinary

A Soldier’s Mother blogs on a very important topic – the fact that what would be outrageous in another country is unfortunately ordinary here in Israel. I am talking about the fact that mortar shells are being launched at our cities in the south. We don’t react when they (thank G-d) fall onto open areas – we just are grateful that noone is hurt. What we should be doing is screaming our outrage. What is worse is that the world only reacts when we react – and kill the terrorists launching the shells.

Even those who support Israel are sometimes uncomfortable when the IDF manages to kill terrorists, and there are no Jewish dead around in order to “justify” it, as I wrote before.

There will be another operation soon in Gaza, in order to go in and kill the terrorists that are still launching rockets and mortar shells into Israel. Remember the reason why.

Jack Has New Digs

Jack has updated his blog again – and hosts this week’s Havel Havalim. Check it out.

Assertiveness Training – Part 3

The Second Lebanon War, with its rockets raining down on the north and the city of Haifa, and the continued rocket fire at Sderot and the city of Ashkelon, helped to finally burst the hopes of those who thought the disengagement would bring peace. Only the most die-hard left wingers clung to the idea that it had accomplished anything.

This is why, when the IDF went into Gaza to fight Hamas, it was with unprecedented public support. This in turn explains why the Goldstone report was so bitter a pill to swallow – even for cynical Israelis who are used to the world’s unfair condemnation. It also explains how the organization Im Tirzu came to touch a raw nerve in Israeli society.

Probably one of the most difficult places to be an open pro-Zionist is on the college campus – and it is doubly sad that this applies to the Israeli college campus also.

This is why Im Tirzu is so important. Just a short quote from their website:

“We believe the younger generation, and especially the university student population, holds the key to the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel and that it is the duty and responsibility of this population to lead Israeli society. Regrettably, in recent years, anti-Zionist trends have been proliferating at Israeli universities, which have gradually displaced, marginalized and excluded the Zionist discourse, preventing Zionists from making their voices heard. Since December 2006, Im Tirtzu has been the only movement that has provided a response to the spread of post-Zionist and anti-Zionist currents among the faculty and student body in Israeli universities.”

Im Tirzu became a household term in Israel early last year when they investigated the NIF (New Israel Fund) and found that they were responsible for the bulk of the testimonies against the IDF in the Goldstone report. People were infuriated that the IDF soldiers who risked their lives to fight the terrorists were betrayed by other Israelis, who, in turn, were funded by foreigners. This  created a storm of publicity, and some members of Knesset called for an investigation into the funding of left-wing NGO’s, specifically focussing on the participation of foreign governments. Just this past week the Knesset voted to establish a committee to investigate this funding.

Im Tirzu is also famous for its report about bias on campus – and the Ben Gurion University in particular. Just this week BGU announced that they will be changing their ethics code so that teachers are now asked not to use the University’s name when they speak at political rallies, and are asked to refrain from expressing their political opinions in class. It is amazing what pushing back can accomplish.

What is telling about Im Tirzu and the political groups that are voicing their opposition to these left-wing groups, is that the leadership is (outwardly) secular. Most of Israeli society is pro-Zionist – but many are cowed by the dominant voice of the liberal left from expressing their Zionism. In the past they would be afraid to be associated with the “face of pro-Zionism” – the knitted kipa and beard of the national religious segment of Israeli society. Now a pro-Zionist can be clean shaven, bareheaded, and young – so the stigma has started to fall away. Being openly patriotic is no longer “fringe” – it is mainstream, as it should be.


Assertiveness Training – Part 2

When what is called the second intifada (what a lot of us call the Oslo War) started in September 2000, those of us identifying as right wing were not surprised. The subsequent years of riots, drive-by shootings and suicide bombings were horrific. The political mood of the country turned sharply to the right, and most of us were relieved when Arik Sharon was elected Prime Minister. He didn’t disappoint us – at first. After the terrorist attack at the Park Hotel on Passover 2002, Sharon called up the army and finally went after the terrorists in the Arab cities in Judea and Samaria – exploding once and for all the idea that Israel could depend on the Arabs to keep the terrorists in check – and that there were places that the IDF had to keep away from. This operation, and the use of targeted killings of terrorist leaders, slowly reduced the terror.

Then, just when we thought things were getting better, Sharon stunned us all with his proposal for the disengagement  from Gaza. Another year and a half of protesting, lobbying Knesset Members, and endlessly debating over whether to block roads (civil disobedience) and refuse army orders followed – all to no avail. The disengagment went through,  thousands of Jews were forced out of their homes in Gush Katif, the IDF left – and the Arab hordes proceeded to celebrate by destroying everything standing – including burning the synagogues. Then the inevitable happened – they started shooting rockets and mortar shells. Now, instead of aiming them at the Jews of Gush Katif, they were close enough to send them into Sderot and the surrounding kibbutzim.

 During the time before and during the disengagement, the left expressed undisguised glee at the irony of the fact that the (formerly) right wing hero, who built communities in Gush Katif and Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria) was now destroying them. Many expressed their never-ending hopes that there would be peace as a result of this action, and some even predicted the demise of the national religious movement in general and, for want of a better term, the settler movement in particular.

The disillusionment on our part was intensely felt, and the reactions to this were many and varied. For some it took the form of “pulling away” from the mainstream in Israel.  Now many young men reaching army age who would have joined the Hesder program in the IDF (where they would combine army service with Torah learning in yeshiva) have opted to sit and learn exclusively – as a reaction to the possibility of being asked to remove other Jews from their homes. Some turned to the Charedi world and its relative insularity.

Many others decided, after a lot of soul searching, that the answer to the disengagement was the opposite of pulling away. They thought that one of the reasons that the disengagement was so easily accomplished was the fact that the average Israeli did not relate to Gush Katif. Part of this, the theory says, was because the idealists in the national religious community spent their time building thriving communities in Yehuda, Shomron and Gush Katif – and left the other parts of society to their own devices – trusting, falsely, that they would not only continue to be pro-Zionists like the previous generation, but would be proud of it too.  Realizing that this hadn’t happened, many have decided to “engage” the larger Israeli society.

This takes many forms. Some, both secular and religious,  interact in what is called “panim b’panim” – “face to face”. In other words, engaging other Israelis on a personal level. Some dati leumi young couples take this further by actually moving to parts of the country and forming a “garin Torani” – literally a “Torah seed”. This means that a few religious families will move together to a non-religious and in most cases a needy neighborhood where they start a yeshiva, form a school and do outreach.  (When these communities start to grow and become successful, the housing prices inevitably go up, and there usually is an economic benefit to the city as well). Of course the garin Torani has been around for a long time, and was somewhat popular before the disengagement, but it has become much stronger since 2005.

The most obvious change, though, has been in the right wing secular community.

Next up: Taking the battle to the enemy’s territory – on campus.

Assertiveness Training – Part One

There has been a change in the prevailing Israeli culture, which started slowly about ten years ago and really picked up in the last two years. For awhile it was only felt in small parts of Israeli society, but now it has spread out more and more, and it is obvious to anyone following the news for the past year or so.

I am talking about the new assertiveness of the right wing and those centrists that consider themselves pro-Zionist.  In the next few posts I will give my overview of this change and how it came to be.

Know Your Place:

When we first came to Israel 20 years ago, we started out in the absorption center in Ranaana. There we interacted with the other English speaking olim (new immigrants) and the teachers of the ulpan (Hebrew language course) and the people taking care of our kids in maon (early day care). For the most part the English speaking olim were right wing or at most centrists – not one considered themselves left wing. The teachers and day care workers, on the other hand, were predominantly left wing. I knew this not because I was personally friendly with them, but by the opinions they expressed on a daily basis in our classes. This expression became more and more intense as the elections neared that brought Yitzchak Rabin to power. I remember the euphoria of the teachers, as they openly expressed their hope for peace with the Arabs. I was filled with foreboding – and envisioned disaster. It sounds overdramatic, but I remember thinking to myself that there would be blood in the streets (and unfortunately I was right). Those of us who were worried and disappointed did not express our opinions though. The prevailing liberal culture was very intimidating, especially for those of us who felt our newcomer status keenly. Although my gut feeling was that the future would be dangerous, my head said “maybe they do know better than I”.

When the Oslo Accords were approved by the Knesset, and the resulting terror attacks started, those of us identifying as right wing began the seemingly never-ending process of going to demonstrations. At first we went together with our kids (then in strollers). When that became too burdensome, we started to switch off – one parent would stay home with the kids and the other would demonstrate. All to no avail – Yitzchak Rabin famously derided our actions and called us “propellers” (in other words, we could just spin around and around but it wouldn’t get us anywhere). To an extent he was right – due to the complexities of the Israeli electoral system, even if a specific Knesset Member voted for something the public hated, he had a very good chance to get elected again, since the voters choose a party and not a specific representative. This system and the feeling that we were not being heard engendered quite a lot of frustration and feelings of hopelessness.

You Are Not Alone:

In addition, as in many countries, the media was dominated by liberal left wingers (as is higher education, and the judicial system, but that is a subject for another day). For a long time there was no right wing alternative. For a number of years  Arutz 7 broadcasted by radio from its boat off the coast, but this too was taken away from us and they were closed down. (In order to get a license  for a radio or television station in Israel, one needs to agree to a degree of government censorship of the news – which Arutz 7 refused. That is why they broadcasted from a ship off the coast – as technically they were not broadcasting from Israel. This arrangement was fine for years for the left wing Voice of Peace by Abbie Nathan, and the government did not bother them. When Arutz 7 got too successfull, they went after them and forced them to close. Now Arutz 7 has an internet site).

Things began to change in the media very slowly – starting with the establishment of the Makor Rishon newspaper in 1997. Until this time the only right of center newspaper was HaTzofe – which was a product of the NRP (National Religous Party), and was viewed by many as a trumped up Bnei Akiva newsletter (very long intellectual and idealogical articles that appealed only to a select few). Those establishing Makor Rishon wanted to produce a newspaper that would appeal not only to those who identified themselves as “national religous” but to all of the Israeli citizens who considered themselves right wing, which in Israel includes the Charedim (Ultra-Orthodox),  most who call themselves “traditional”, and, especially after the immigration of those from the former USSR, many who consider themselves secular.  They also wanted to produce a newspaper that would have influence in other spheres in addition to the political one. To that end they produced a newspaper that was “clean” (the other newspapers would have pictures of bikini clad beauties on the back page in order to attract buyers), family oriented (there is a separate magazine for kids), with sections on sports, entertainment, and Jewish culture. Over the years a woman’s magazine was added and is now sold separately.

At first the newspaper was dismissed by the Israeli media, and practically ignored. With time, though, and especially after Makor Rishon started printing a daily in addition to the weekly edition, the Israeli media started to quote them. (The fact that the circulation keeps growing from year to year, and the advertising revenue is healthy, has not hurt its acceptance.)

You cannot underestimate what this publication does for those indentifying as right wing or centrist and pro-Zionist in Israel. We now feel (rightly) that we have a voice, and that it is being respected. We also see that our views are shared by a wide swath of the Israeli public. For too long the left would characterize anyone who was pro-Zionist as a “religious settler” because it was in their best interest to try to cast a stigma. They were able to get away with it because many of the leaders protesting the Oslo Accords were indeed religious men with knitted yarmulkas, and most of the people going out to protest were also identifiable as national religious. This national newspaper, with its appeal to a much larger audience, helps to dispel the myth that we are just a “fringe group” in society.

Next up: the disillusionment after the disengagment from Gush Katif, and bouncing back.

Kosher Cooking Coming Up

This month’s Kosher Cooking Carnival is up at Batya’s house (meander).

As Friday Turns Into Shabbat

I was approached awhile ago by a reporter who wanted me to write a bit for her website. The website is very left-wing/liberal, (animal rights, feminism, gay rights, social justice – you know the buzzwords) so I was a bit wary, but I decided to go for it anyway. She wanted me to write about my daily life – and not from a political perspective. She interviewed me a bit and wrote an introduction to my piece. The following is what I wrote for her:

Friday Is A Short Day

 I wake up Friday morning with my mind on the long list of things to do that day. The Sabbath comes in early in the winter months, so I need to finish my preparations by 4:30 in the afternoon. Candlelighting time – 18 minutes before sunset – is the final deadline – no extensions allowed.

As I progress with my cooking, I realize that I forgot to pick up an important ingredient on my way home from work the previous day. The local makolet (mom and pop store) doesn’t carry it, so I decide to make the twenty minute trip to the nearest large grocery store. Grabbing the car keys and my cell phone I head out.

I live in Israel in the southeast part of what is called Samaria (we use the Biblical name Shomron) in a Jewish village nestled in the first ridge of mountains directly east of Tel-Aviv. The day is clear, and as I glance at the view before I start the car I can see all of the way to the coast, including the Azrieli buildings and the ocean beyond.

Arriving at the Mega supermarket I notice a short line at the entrance. A man wearing a knitted skullcap in front of me is asked by the security guard if he is carrying weapons. He shakes his head and the guard passes a wand over his body and then lets him through. When he gets to me the guard looks into my bag, and cups it from underneath to check the weight, and I think to myself for the hundredth time that I really need to clean it out. Satisfied that I too do not pose a threat, he waves me in.

Making my way through the crowded supermarket, I pass both Jewish and Arab shoppers, most with children in tow. Finding what I need I head to the checkout line. and start to chat with the woman ahead of me, discussing the prices of various products here and what we are preparing for the Sabbath meals. Dressed in tight jeans and a revealing blouse, she is obviously not Orthodox, but in Israel the Sabbath belongs to all Jews. I glance at the Arab woman who is ringing up the purchases, and notice that she is wearing a salwar kameez. My scarf covers my hair, and hers covers her hair and neck, but for all intents and purposes we are dressed very similarly. It reminds me of my trip to the mall recently, where I saw a beautifully dressed Arab woman wearing a gorgeous headscarf. In an alternate universe I would have come up to her to ask her where she had bought it. In today’s reality I shrugged off the opportunity, not knowing how my request would be received.

I head back, enjoying the scenery. My heart always lifts at the sight of the hills outside my window as I travel up the mountain road. For thousands of years the Jews have been wandering the globe, and I feel grateful to have been born in a time when we can make our home in the land that G-d promised us in the Bible. I also feel privileged that I can add to Israel’s security by living where I do. I shudder to think of what might happen if terrorists with rockets used our vantage point as a launching pad. The people in Tel Aviv would then suffer what the people in Sderot do now.

Back at home I rush to continue my cooking. One son comes home from dormitory high school, and drops his bag filled with dirty laundry onto the stone floor. After kissing me hello he rummages through the kitchen to see what he can grab to fill his perpetually empty teenage stomach. I remind him that it is his turn to wash the kitchen floor this week. Groaning through a mouthful of brownie, he catches my eye and nods reluctantly.

The other kids come home from school, and start their preparations. The rest of the afternoon’s chores get done in a frenzy – the clock is unmerciful. I just have enough time to shower quickly and put on fresh clothes before it is time for my husband and sons to go to the synagogue, and for me to light the Sabbath candles. Sighing contentedly I go outside to enjoy the sunset and to watch the little ones playing.

 Since it is the Sabbath the children play not only in the yard and the sidewalk but in the street as well, until the familiar roar of an approaching IDF jeep signals them to scamper to the side. Jewish law prohibits driving on the Sabbath – except in cases of danger to life. Army patrols are considered necessary for our safety, and are permitted. The drivers know that the children play on the road, so they drive slowly.

As the sky turns black and the stars come out the Friday night services come to a close. My husband and sons return from the synagogue with an expected guest. My son’s best friend will join us for the festive evening meal.

There is a tradition in many families to bless the children before the Kiddush (benediction on the wine) is said at the meal. As my husband tenderly places his hands on my eldest son’s head and recites the words, I catch sight of our guest and it hits me. This boy’s father was killed a number of years ago by an Arab terrorist. The ritual being performed now is something he will always miss and I feel a wave of sorrow for him. Then I remember what my son told me recently. His friend had confided in him that he wanted people to treat him normally, and not like the poor kid whose father was killed by a terrorist. I push down the sadness as much as I can, but I am sure my smile looks forced. After the children are blessed and the Kiddush is said, we enjoy the good food and conversation into the evening.

Another Friday has turned into the Sabbath.


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