Monday, March 29, 2010

Happy Passover

A woman on the bus watches a group of Haredim in the Haifa neighbourhood of Hadar perform the custom of bi'ur hametz, or burning their remaining leaven products.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Calling for a 3rd Intifada?

There is a lot of talk in the media about the possibility of another intifada, sparked by recent events in Jerusalem. On a trip to the Galilee with a stop in Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel and with a clear Muslim majority, I saw handwritten signs which appeared to attempt to incite the local population. The posters were plastered on several official notice boards of the municipality, but obviously without the necessary permits.

The top poster reads, "al-Quds [Jerusalem] is calling us... and Nazareth... is answering the call." The bottom left poster: "Al-Quds is calling us, alas who is answering?" The last poster states, "Raise your hands [illegible] al-Quds". The signs are topped off with a red hammer and sickle. The makers of the posters may have been hesitant in identifying themselves for a number of reasons, including to avoid paying the fee for posting on the boards. Perhaps there is a link to Abnaa el Balad.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Third Intifada?


If the recent unrest in Jerusalem spirals out of control, the international news media will surely rush to find some symbolic spark. Perhaps, they will blame the announcement of the Ramat Shlomo expansion. Or maybe the dedication of the restored Hurva Synagogue in the eastern part of the city. They will ignore the wave of Jerusalem-related incitement in the past year, and especially in the last few months, by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and the Arab states, including countries allied or enjoying in-the-closet relations with Israel. The rhetoric, which includes a smear campaign alleging that Israel plans to "Judaize" Jerusalem by destroying Muslim antiquities, has been employed by the nationalists as well as the Islamists. It has gone hand-in-hand with the patently absurd efforts to deny any legitimate Jewish religious claims to Jerusalem and other sites. In all of this, Jewish attachment to places such as Hebron is dismissed as extremist political posturing by settlers - as if the religious sentiments of Jewish settlers have less legitimacy than those of Palestinian Muslims.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Tel Aviv: Picture of the Day

I came across this store on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv. The sign on the right-hand sign reads, "Keep and remember the Sabbath day holy (because it is a source of blessing)". On the left-hand side, "Viagra pills may be obtained here," and below the sign, a row of bongs disguised as "air fresheners".

Friday, March 05, 2010

Remnants of the Intifada

The Second Intifida, which began in 2000, has long fizzled out but the memorials remain. Today is the seven-year anniversary of a suicide bombing which took place near my house and blew up a bus. Seventeen people were killed on bus number 37, which goes to and from the University of Haifa through the Carmel and Hadar, all the way down to the old central bus station at Bat Galim. One of my former students was lucky - he survived this bombing, albeit with hearing and vision damage and a face full of shrapnel.
An unofficial memorial has also grown on the location. It is made up of personal messages dedicated to the various victims of the bombing and messages to humanity in general that people have left all over the wall by the site.

On the other side of the Green Line, there are memorials as well. My friend took some pictures on her visit last year to Nablus and was most struck by the line, "Never Forgive, Never Forget" on the memorial below.
The memorial is obviously intended for the international media as well, having been written in (misspelled) English. The memorial below for "shaheeds" is not meant for the international community.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Maureen Dowd and the Saudi Prince


From Maureen Dowd's latest op-ed in the New York Times:
"The religious institutions in Israel are stymieing every effort at peace," said the prince, wearing a black-and-gold robe and tinted glasses."
Israel is a secular society that some say is growing less secular with religious militants and the chief rabbinate that would like to impose a harsh and exclusive interpretation of Judaism upon the entire society. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis are fighting off the Jewish women who want to conduct their own prayer services at the Western Wall. (In Orthodox synagogues, some men still say a morning prayer thanking God for not making them women.)

Neither Prince Saud al-Faisal nor Maureen Dowd seem to have a clue about Israel. Jewish religious institutions in Israel have very little if anything to do with the lack of progress in the peace process. The morning blessing to which Dowd refers is said by nearly all men who pray at Orthodox synagogues; it is not evidence of any kind of recent trend in Israel. The only factor making Israel "less secular" is demographic. I don't think it's accurate to say that the chief rabbinate wants to impose ultra-Orthodox Judaism on Israeli society. It is more concerned with keeping ultra-Orthodox rabbis in control of religious institutions. And that, again, is completely unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It seems like the Saudi prince is projecting. He, like many Muslims today, views Israel primarily in religious terms as a challenge to Islam.

Haifa Restaurant Refuses to Serve Uniformed Patrons

View of the Post Office and McDonald's in Hadar at Herzl and Nevi'im Streets

Azad, a restaurant in the Hadar neighborhood of Haifa (official name, Hadar ha-Karmel, Splendor of the Carmel) has made the national news after a soldier complained that the restaurant's hostess was refusing to serve him because he had come in uniform (see full story). Asked by reporters, the hostess reiterated the restaurant's policy of refusing service to uniformed would-be diners, whether they are IDF soldiers, ambulance personnel, police officers, firewomen, or scouts. The manager on duty explained that the meaning of the restaurant's name is "the free man," and that because "this is the policy [sic], it has to be respected and [the issue] shouldn't be taken to other places." Without saying so explicitly, she denied that the restaurant was discriminating against soldiers for ideological reasons, claiming that the owners are merely trying to maintain a certain atmosphere in the establishment. Meanwhile, city officials are threatening to review the restaurant's license.

Restaurants and clubs can ask patrons to adhere to dress codes, but the refusal to serve uniformed diners, most of whom will most likely be soldiers, police officers, or paramedics, is frankly speaking disgusting. These are servants of the public and they deserve to be seated at any restaurant they choose, even if it wants to maintain a formal atmosphere, provided they behave in a polite manner like all other patrons. As Israeli citizens, the owners of Azad owe these men and women that much. If the restaurant's policy is ideologically-motivated and envisioned as some kind of statement against the state, it is a complete failure and amounts to discrimination.

The restaurant's owners are Arab Israelis. It will be hard for them to escape the perception that they are trying to make some kind of statement against the state and against people serving in the army. A group on the social networking site Facebook, calling for a boycott of the restaurant, has attracted nearly 4,000 members. The tag line of the group warns that "racist comments will be deleted," but many of those who have joined interpret the restaurant's actions as part of a general antipathy toward the state and the army among Israel's Arabs. For more careful and nuanced views, look elsewhere.

The neighborhood in which the restaurant is located is one of the poorest in the city. The largest subgroups in the population are haredi Jews, Arab Israelis, and recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Dubai Affair

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dubai's police chief, Lt.-Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, has been indefatigably reporting his new discoveries in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh case to international media, turning him into the darling of Arab and European media. He now claims to have evidence of the involvement of nearly 30 agents in the killing of the Hamas operative. What's more, Tamim has announced new plans to train UAE security officials in recognizing Israelis trying to enter the country with foreign passports by their appearance and manner of speaking. This should be a lot of fun. Meanwhile, Britain and Australia have dispatched investigators to Israel to question those dual nationals whose identities were allegedly used by the suspects. Of course, everything is based on the release of their photos by Tamim, who probably could have saved these people a great deal of grief by being more circumspect. But both he and the Dubai police seem to be enjoying the attention, judging by the agency's web site.

Photo Source: Dubai Police

It's hard to take seriously the outrage of the British about the use of their passports. Do MI-6 agents on sensitive missions routinely travel with the Queen's documents? Prime Minister Brown is certainly aware of the hypocrisy of his position. But once Tamim publicized the origins of the passports used by the alleged assassins, those governments could not but react.

For all of Tamim's crowing about a "99% certainty" that the Mossad assassinated al-Mabhou, no evidence has yet come to light that conclusively links Israel to the killing. Interestingly enough, the U.S. has refused to comment at all on the matter. It is hard to believe that if this was indeed a Mossad operation that American intelligence officials were not apprised of it beforehand or actually involved in it.

There are many commentators who have judged the operation a failure, due to the negative publicity. But condemnations of Israel in the international media come and go - one cannot base policy on them. The more relevant yardstick for an intelligence agency and a country's leaders is whether the investment in resources can be justified by the return. If Israel was behind the operation, one would hope that the disruption to Hamas's weapons smuggling networks will actually prove significant enough to affects the organization's usual functioning. Perhaps the killing will sow more fear among Hamas cadres about internal leaks. But Tamim may ultimately be replaced by someone equally or even more capable than him.