Archive for January 2009

Hostilities Continue in Gaza

January 29, 2009

The massive Israeli attack on Gaza may be over, but the hostilities are nowhere near over. Hamas has fired a small amount of rockets to Israel, including one which fell near Sderot last night. A few hours before, the Air Force struck a weapon manufacturing facility in response to a rocket launched at the Eshkol Regional Council.

Hamas leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, spoke to Al-Jazeera from Qatar. He rejected the Israeli truce plan which promised to open the Israel-Gaza border crossing in exchange for the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. He says Hamas will only return Shalit in exchange for the release of prisoners and called Israeli PM Olmert a child killer.

For eight years the Israeli government did not respond in any way to rockets launched from Gaza at its citizens. Yesterday Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel would respond to any attack on its territory. This may be the greatest change brought about by the Gaza war.

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Roman Boxer Found in the City of David

January 27, 2009

A tiny statue (about 6 centimeters high by 4 centimeters wide) dating to the second or third century has been discovered in excavations of the Giv’ati Parking Lot across from the City of David. The shape of the face leads archaeologists to believe that an athlete is depicted, most probably a boxer. Boxing was the most popular sport in the Roman Empire. The statue was damaged in an earthquake which destroyed the site.

Ben Wildman-Tobriner in Israel

January 26, 2009

Ben Wildman-Tobriner, an Olympic gold medalist in the 400-meter freestyle relay team, traveled to Israel with Birthright Israel. Here’s what he told the NY Times about his experience:

WERE YOU FEARFUL GIVEN WHAT WAS GOING ON IN GAZA WHILE YOU WERE THERE? My mom was less than thrilled, but we had Israeli security police accompanying us and we were fine. It was an incredible trip, just as good as advertised. I was far away from Gaza. Days earlier, I was in northern Israel right near where those random rockets got fired from Lebanon and landed in Nahariya. When you’ve been there and have seen these places, it really does change the way you view events. It’s no longer an abstract event.

WHAT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE TRIP? One thing that comes to mind was getting to float in the Dead Sea. You really have to float. From a distance, it looks like a normal body of water, but up close, you realize there’s no way you can swim in it. You don’t want to be getting that salt in your mouth or eyes.

WHAT PLACE DID RELIGION OCCUPY IN YOUR LIFE BEFORE THIS? I think a lot of Jews who are in my generation have become a little disconnected from their roots. I’d put myself in that category.

Sounds like Birthright Israel can count Ben as another success story – a Jew who will be a little more connected to Israel and Judaism as a result of the 10 day trip.

HT Mixed Multitudes.

The Language of Conflict

January 25, 2009

NY Times reporter Ethan Bronner writes about the impossibility of reporting objectively about the Israeli-Arab conflict. He says the main problem is that both sides use totally different language to say the same thing, so no matter which terms he uses he is accused of subjectivity:

No place, date or event in this conflicted land is spoken of in a common language. The barrier snaking across and inside the West Bank is a wall to Palestinians, a fence to Israelis. The holiest site in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount to Jews, the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. The 1948 conflict that created Israel is one side’s War of Independence, the Catastrophe for the other.

Even when the same word is used, supporters of the Palestinians and supporters of Israel may mean something different entirely. The word “Zionist” can be used to mean a person of great ideals or a racist opressor, depending on who is using it.

Even the basic assumptions at the root of the conflict are hotly disputed. Jews believe that they have a historic right to the land while Palestinians say the right is theirs.

So, according to Bronner, there is no way to tell both sides of the story. Which isn’t to say he won’t keep trying.

Biblical Archaeology or the National Enquirer?

January 22, 2009

It seems that every time an archaeological discovery is made in Israel, it is automatically connected to King David, the Gospels or the Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeologists and/or journalists want to make the discovery exciting to the public, so they throw out wild baseless theories. In the most recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Craig Evans argues that this ultimately harms the field of biblical archaeology. He claims that the public will no longer take these discoveries seriously, having decided that there is no way to know if a discovery is really significant or if it is just being sensationalized.

Jim West, who regularly accuses BAR of sensationalizing archaeology, finds it ironic that this article was published in this particular magazine.  He agrees with Evans’ thesis but thinks he should have published his ideas in a different publication. And he wonders what impression they were trying to make at BAR by publishing this article.

In the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls, all sorts of unsubstantiated and radical theories have been bandied about for years. Scholars who write and lecture for the general public have a difficult job: first, they must dispel the sensational theories and then they must explain what the real significance of the Scrolls is.  Due to the general interest in all things archaeological in Israel, this same pattern repeats itself with practically every artifact dug out of the ground. It will take more than one article to change this.

The Inauguration and Israel

January 21, 2009

The presidential inauguration of Barack Obama was watched and attended by a record number of Americans. Media coverage of the event in Israel was extensive too. Many Israelis and Jews around the world wonder how this new president will affect Israel.

Support for Israel in the American government has been a given since the establishment of the State of Israel and its immediate recognition by Harry Truman. American presidents believe it is in the best interest of Israel to come to a peace agreement with the Arabs in order to end the Middle East conflict. As a result they advocate compromise and negotiations even while recognizing that the Arabs are not the most reliable peace partners. In pre-election speeches, Obama has pretty much advocated the same thing. He hopes to move towards a two-state solution, just as Bush, Clinton and Bush wanted to. The reasons they didn’t succeed may be the reasons he won’t succeed. Unless, of course, his rhetoric of change is not just empty words.

Israeli elections are coming up in about a month and despite all the talk on how Obama will influence Israel, these are the elections which really matter. The successes of the Gaza war may keep the old guard in power – Livni or Barak. Or Israelis may blame the Olmert administration for creating the reality which led to the war and elect Netanyahu. The next prime minister of Israel will tell Barack Obama what the Israeli people want and he will try to give it to them.

Obama will focus on resuscitating the American economy and combating the nuclear threat in Iran. Israel will continue to fight its daily war against Arab terrorism.

Who Won the War?

January 19, 2009

It appears that the ceasefire is holding and Israel has announced its plan to remove its troops from Gaza before President Obama takes office. Israel is claiming victory, saying it severely curtailed Hamas’ ability to launch rockets against Israel.

Hamas is claiming victory too. The Palestinian leaders are saying that the fact that they withstood the Israeli assault and that the IDF has been forced to stop its attacks is a great victory for Gaza.

How is victory defined in a military conflict? If the number of casualties is the parameter, then obviously Israel won the war in Gaza. But Hamas is not willing to admit defeat, so it has redefined victory. All along, Hamas has portrayed itself as a small, defenseless entity being unfairly attacked by a stronger power. In that case, survival alone is miraculous and can be seen as a victory. In this way, Hamas is guaranteed a victory in any conflict with Israel.

It may be, however, that this question will not be settled in the short-term. If the safety and security of Israel’s citizens has been improved by the operation in Gaza, that will be the true indication of victory for Israel. But if the situation continues as before, the operation will not have served its purpose. In the next few months, Hamas will need to focus on rebuilding Gaza and its institutions, but once that is accomplished, will Hamas resume its terrorist activities against Israel?