Tuesday, 28 June 2016

My Take on Turkey-Israel

Between the years 2005 until 2011 I visited Turkey extensively, averaging five or six times each year. I developed close friendships and happy customers there throughout that period.

This came crashing down with the Marmara incident in 2010, and then the UN Report in 2011 (which largely absolved Israel) which ironically was the last straw for the Turks.

My main customers were issued an anti-Israeli directive by their government, and I was officially persona non-grata.

From my perspective, the Marmara protest fleet (flotilla) was a deliberate provocation against Israel, directly supported by the Government of Turkey. Their pretense that this was a humanitarian aid mission was a thinly veiled charade.

It was a political protest. It was planned to spotlight the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, subject Israel to international political pressure, and thereby politically further the cause of Hamas.

However, the flotilla was not a terror or military attack on Israel. The protest ships were just that.

The Israeli response to the Marmara provocation was, frankly, a 'fashla' (mess-up) at the operative level.

Yes, the thugs on the ship were violent and armed themselves with make-shift clubs and knives.

However, from their perspective they were defending their protest ship from combat naval boats & helicopter-borne fully armed (and protected) elite naval "seals".

Stopping this civilian protest ship from entering Israel's territorial waters by Israel's armed forces, if properly carried out, should not have cost 9 civilian lives.

The cost of this operational fashla for Israel has been six years of deep-freeze relations with our erstwhile political friend, economic partner and military ally.

In the meantime, the political, military and economic landscape has changes, both for Israel and for Turkey.

Both Israel and Turkey are (even) more isolated politically than in 2010. Turkey in particular has fallen out with almost everyone imaginable - most recently Russia.

The regional defense needs are even worse than 2010 - particularly with the implosion of Syria and the new ISIS conquests and threat on Turkey's southern border and Israel's Northern border.

Economically, the gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean are potentially macro-economic game-changer for the whole region. The need for this is particularly acute for the Turks, given the loss of Russia as their strategic energy supplier.

The times is ripe for both Ankara and Jerusalem to finally patch up this dispute and move forward.

From what has been released about the Agreement now being formally ratified in both countries, it appears to be a reasonable balance between Turkey backing down on its quest to break Israel's blockade of Gaza, while requiring Israel to pay out financially and symbolically for its operational 'fashla'.  

Of course, Israel wants more, such as the return of the two Israelis being held in Gaza, and the bodies of the two fallen Israeli soldiers. But the bottom line is that it is not reasonable to demand from Turkey something which is not under their control. The hostages and bodies are held by Hamas in Gaza, not by Erdogan in Turkey. The Turks can exert influence, which can only help, and this, Netanyahu has stated, they have agreed to do.

I hope this Agreement will be an important step in building a much better future between Israel and Turkey than the past six years of the freeze, and may even, with time, lead to rebuilding the previous mutual trust and burgeoning regional relations.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Justice Not Served

Frankly, I found those Kahane crowd scenes- both the cheerers and the jeerers - ugly & repulsive.

I saw Rabbi Meir Kahane on a couple of occasions in Jerusalem when I was an impressionable student discovering 'real' Judaism and, while I saw value in the books of his I read, I was extremely uncomfortable with his speeches and politics, and the raw emotions he evoked in his supporters and opponents.

There has been much water under the bridge, both nationally and personally, since those early 1980's scenarios.

Rabbi Meir Kahane's assassination in 1990 and of his son & daughter in law Rav Binyamin Zeev  and Talya Kahane in 2000 (by the PLO Force 17, near Ofra) were almost fatal blows also to Kahane's ideas and legacy.

Fringe politicians, such as Michael Ben-Ari and Baruch Marzel have attempted to resurrect a Kahanist presence in the Kenesset, standing in many elections, and with only one success in 2009.

In August 2015, Rabbi Meir Kahane's grandson Meir Ettinger, was arrested and has been held since under 'administrative detention", only being released this week, after 10 months in prison.

Ettinger has been a "Hilltop Youth" activist and writes a blog.
During his time in detention, no charges were brought, and the authorities even acknowledged that he is not a suspect in any crimes.

Even his eventual release this week was under severe restrictions:

Under administrative orders, Ettinger will not be allowed to enter the regions of Judea and Samaria for a whole year and will also be forbidden from entering Jerusalem for six months. He will be under house arrest every night for the next three months and has been given a list of 92 people with whom he is not allowed to have contact. (YNet News). 

This does look like systematic harassment by the authorities of a young man who may have undesirable political opinions (depending where you are on the political spectrum) - but has apparently committed no crimes.

Sounds more like the Soviet Union or North Korea, than the thriving democratic State of Israel.

Shame on the Shabak and the misused Justice System.

Friday, 27 May 2016

God, Google and the NSA

This week I googled "flights to Frankfurt" and suddenly I am getting adverts popping up on unrelated websites and communications, about flights, hotels, hire cars etc in Frankfurt.

This blog rarely gets theological, so let's try it out.

One of the challenges for God fearing Jews is to endeavour to comprehend the scope and scale of God.

It seems frankly incredible that God is on the one hand the Creator of the World, and yet knows all about and even controls our lives (the only thing we apparently control is our own "fear of Heaven": "everything is the hands of Heaven, except fear of Heaven"), for the billions of people on earth, and even the workings of an ant.

Indeed this is the crux of the Theism vs Deism dispute, a hot topic in the 17th and 18th Centuries, promoted in the writings of Voltaire.

Voltaire held that God is the Creator of the world, and set natural law in motion, but is not involved in the days to day running of our affairs. Voltaire  used the analogy of God being like a watchmaker, who engineers and creates the watch, which then runs without further intervention by the watchmaker. Newton referred to God as "the primordial architect".

It appears to me that recent advances in technology can lend insight into God's ability to not "just" create the world and the laws of nature, but also to know so much about so many people, and to influence everyone's actions.

Edward Snowdon's leaks about the National Security Agency have given the world a glimpse of the US Government's monitoring capabilities.

Eavesdropping on national leaders, such as Angela Merkel and Benjamin Netenhayu, is the headline stuff. The narrative is that the NSA can (and probably is) monitoring everyone who is linked-up to 21st Century communications. In the days of the internet and smart phone, every click by every person can or is being monitored.

To understand how God can be aware of the day to day activities of billions of humans, is getting less challenging. Just imagine God as a super-NSA.

But whereas this helps understand the scale and scope of Gods awareness of the activities of His creations, it does not help understand His influence/control of everything (aside from our "fear of Heaven").

Now let's turn to Google.

Like the NSA, Google has vast 'knowledge' of my communications, habits, interests, activities, friends, business...indeed, every aspect of my life. And yours.

Google has turned this NSA-scale knowledge into a business.

The business model is based on selling advertising, promoting services and products.

Advertisers want to sell to people who want to buy. That's why Google's algorithms picked up on my interest in flying to Frankfurt, and linked that up with their google-ads (which reach far further than Google's own sites, and are embedded in many other internet sites), to show me services and products about Frankfurt (unsolicited).

But advertisers, even more than selling to people who already want to buy their product (a flight ticket to Frankfurt), also want to influence potential customers to buy their product when they previously planned to do something else.

Knowledge + access links up to buying-influence.

"You are interested in flying to Frankfurt, David, perhaps I can interest you in our down-town Frankfurt Hotel? Or a rental car? Or another trip, perhaps to Paris?"

However, such Influencing does not yet become controlling. I can still decide not to let the influence make my decision for me. "Sorry, robot, I'll find my own hotel in Frankfurt (using, umm, Google), and I have no plans to go to Paris, so forget it, robot.".

It's a short step to a robot  responding, "I really think you should reconsider going to Paris. After all, your mother Ann Morris from Harrogate, has just googled "holiday in Paris", and is currently writing you an gmail to suggest you come too."

The capability is there. Some code writer in Menlo Park, just needs to do it.

So, consider God as a super-Google, combining vast & current knowledge about each and every one of us, fully networked, with an ability to influence our day to day decisions.

God has also, apparently, chosen to influence us, even in a 'controlling' way, but not to fully control us, enabling us to exercise our own judgement and retaining our ability to say No Thanks.

(I hope Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google will take note).

Thursday, 19 May 2016

David's Portraits

I have previously posted (here and here) that I have recently taken up my Galaxy 5S cellphone camera, which is remarkably agile, and I am experimenting with PicsArt and Instagram.

Here are some of the latest photos, with a 'focus' on portraits.

Hold Hands for the Ride!

Tamar plays with the sunhat, mid-ride 

Three Delicious Granddaughters - Shulamit, Netta and Tamar Gilad
Shulamit gets comfortable on Ariel's shoulders during a tiyul

Sibs on a Hay-Stack
The "artist" - spotlighted in a shaft of sunshine at Beit Guvrin Caves



Sunday, 15 May 2016

ISIS at the Eurovision

This is a particularly sharp satire.

Sweden, the hosts of last night's Eurovision are perhaps the most extreme case of left wing liberalism, resulting in a moral blindness on the Middle East & Israel, best exemplified by their foot-in-mouth Foreign Minister Margot Wallström.

Abbu, being a play on Abba, Sweden's greatest Eurovision and pop-music success ever.
The four severed heads are those of that famous four Abba members.

The song references the Muslim mass-migration/invasion of Europe, encouraged by Sweden, the terrorist murders in the Paris Hyper-Kascher food market and Islamic homophobia.

And a catchy tune to boot. (Better IMHO than most of the real Eurovision songs).

12 points.  

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Friday, 6 May 2016

Surprising Akko

As we set out on a day-trip northwards during the Pesach vacation, one of my two accompanying sons suggested we visit Akko...

There were no objections, so with a couple of corrective taps on Waze, we changed course towards the ancient coastal port.

It has been around a decade since my last look around Akko, and I remembered it then as a run-down version of Jaffa, with a smattering of the Moslem Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.  I had distinct memories from my previous visit of feeling uncomfortable wondering in Akko's dark alleys with predominantly Arab population (it was the tail end of the Second Intifada).

We parked just outside the Old City walls and casually toured around the various sites.

Our first stop was at a folk/ethnographic museum, "Treasures in the Wall Museum", located in the ancient wall. There was a quaint exhibition of various craftsmen's workshops. Quite a lot of the exhibition material were items I recollect from my childhood, and seeing them in the museum was a little unnerving. (I heard one middle aged woman offering herself as an exhibit!). I felt the museum name was a creative misnomer, as there was no sign of any valuable "treasures" on display. We had a lunchbreak in the pleasant private garden of the museum on the wall. More info here: http://ozarot.net/page.asp?kat=302

Canon in the Museum Garden

I was little surprised when my kids asked to look around the Al-Jazzar Mosque. Neither of my accompanying sons recollected ever having been in a mosque (with the exception of dual-use sites such as Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Nebe Samuel near Jerusalem, etc).

We therefore entered the courtyard of the late 18th Century Al-Jazzar Mosque, also known as the White Mosque. The mosque was built and named after the Ottoman Bosnian governor Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar ("the Butcher").
The Muezin tower of the Al-Jazzar Mosque
A private guide (additional payment 20 NIS each) inside the mosque explained that Ahmed Pasha al-Jazzar earned his place in history on two accounts: his vicious cruelty to his subjects, and his successful confrontation with and defeat of Napolean. In this regard, Al-Jazzar was the Wellington or Nelson of the Middle East.

Inside of the Al-Jazzar Mosque
The guided tour lasted about 15 minutes, and we were invited to ask any questions ("all questions are acceptable!" he said). The guide made a point of distancing the local Sunnis ("moderate") from the Shias ("extremists/crazy"). He also proudly told us about the relic in the "ezrat nashim"/ladies area of the mosque - a hair of Mohammad.

Our next stop was the Akko Prison, which unfortunately had already closed for the day. Outside the prison building was a collection of photos and explanations about the prison at the time of the British mandate, when it was used for incarcerating, and in some cases executing, Jewish underground members.
More information about the museum itself here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acre_Prison

We did make it on time to see the very impressive series of sites called "The Knights' Kingdom".
These mainly crusader buildings have been extensively excavated, renovated and restored in recent years and now comprise a series of attractive museums and galleries.

The Knight's Kingdom was definitely the highlight of the visit to Akko for me, and we could have spent a couple of hours there, given more time.

On the same entry ticket, we were able to visit several other sites, including the 350 metre long Templars Tunnel, which runs from the Templar quarter of the city to the harbour area. This has also been made accessible for tourists and renovated.

The Templars' Tunnel in Akko

We visited the scenic ancient port area and then searched for the Ramchal Synogogue, the only shul in the Old City. We did find it, but it had also closed by the time we got there...

Now hurrying to make Mincha/afternoon prayers, we headed through the fascinating backstreets, colourful shuk, and out of the old city to our car. We went to the Tunisian synogogue, a short drive away from the Old City.

This was also a pleasant surprise, as all of the synagogue's walls and floor were covered in spectacular mosaics.

After mincha, and convinced of the unlikelihood of finding a no-kitniot restaurant in the locale, we headed back down the Road 6 to Beit Shemesh.

Conclusion: Akko is very well worth a full day's visit. The old city has been renovated and made much more tourist-friendly than my previous visit, perhaps a decade ago.

It is also relatively quiet, even during the Pessach vacation period, giving the feeling that we were somewhat off the beaten track and exploring.

I would recommend arriving there earlier than we did (we arrived in Akko about 1pm) in order to manage to see the many historical sites, museums and attractions before closing time (varies from place to place, from 4pm to 6pm).

Enjoy Akko!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Absent Son

Raphael Morris

One of our sons was absent from our seder table this year.

Raphael was in jail.

Raphael is the leader of the "Return To The (Temple) Mount" Movement (Chozrim LeHar).

The series of events began when Raphael, his wife and two children arrived at our home on Thursday evening to join us for the first day of Passover. 

Awaiting Raphael, outside our house, were two patrol cars and a crowd of police officers, who served Raphael with a restraining order, forbidding Raphael to visit Jerusalem.

This was in order to prevent Raphael from going to the Old City on Friday (Passover Eve), where he might make attempts to bring a Passover Sacrifice.

Unperturbed by the restraining order, Raphael set out Friday morning to the Old City of Jerusalem.

He was met there by police officers, who arrested Raphael along with about 20 other young folks, for "disturbing the peace" and, in Raphael's case, breaking his restraining order. 

Whereas the others were all promptly released, Raphael was detained. His case came before the court on Friday afternoon and the judge (from Umm El Fahm, I don't know if that was relevant) refused to release him for the festival.    

So whereas Raphael's wife Aviya and their two children spent seder night with us, Raphael spent his seder night in a cell with one drug dealer, a chronic re-offending criminal (been doing time since he was 11, now 60) and a Christian (although I'm sure that wasn't his offence).

Raphael found it inspiring ("Orot!" - lights!). He was elected as the cell "rabbi" and led their seder (Hagada was provided by the prison services, along with plentiful matzo and maror etc). 

We missed him at our table... 

Today (Sunday), I was invited to attend his hearing at the Jerusalem Court.

The police were asking for Raphael to be incarcerated until the end of the legal proceedings - probably 8 months or so. This was no laughing matter.

Having said that, the mood was remarkably up-beat.

The judge asked what all the noise outside the court building was, and was informed it was from a solidarity protest for Raphael. The judge complemented Raphael on having such vociferous supporters. 
There was an agreement between the prosecution and defence (attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir) that Raphael should be placed under house/yishuv arrest, until the end of Passover (a week).

Our house. 

Me, my wife Julie, and son Yonatan are designated as 24/7 custodians over Raphael. Raphael's (solely) permitted to go, with escort, anywhere in Ramat Beit Shemesh. 

It took another couple of hours to complete the paperwork, and then Raphael was released. 

There was a clutch of journalists waiting for Raphael, including Channel One, Arutz 7, Channel 10, Haaretz et al.

You can see one write up and video here (including interviews with Raphael, Aviya and me, and starring my granddaughter Cherut): http://www.inn.co.il/News/News.aspx/320816.

Raphael's now home and he seems quite sincere in promising not to go wondering off.   

Monday, 18 April 2016

Why the decline in stabbing terror attacks?

(Notwithstanding today's report about an explosion on a bus in Jerusalem...).

After 6 months of almost daily terror attacks, the pace of mayhem and murder has noticeably slowed.

Since October, 2015, Arab terrorists have attacked Israelis, generally acting without organizational logistics, but rather solo individuals or, at most, small groups of friends, using knives, cars and sometime guns, resulting in a tragic death toll of 36 Israelis.

In the past month and a half, however, these horrors somewhat and thankfully abated.

Of course, the future is uncertain, and who knows what tomorrow may hold, heaven forbid. But the recent past is incontrovertible fact.

Less attacks.

According to the IDF, March saw an overall number of 6 terrorism incidents (including shootings, stabbings, and vehicle rammings), compared to 56 in February, 45 in January, and 40 in December.

April appears to have followed, so far, the same pattern of dramatically decreased number of terror attacks.

I haven't seen any commentator who has come up with a credible narrative explaining why this may be happening. 

In light of the dearth of credible explanations for this among commentators, I posit my own theory about a possible contributing factor. 

Perhaps there is a link to the infamous incident in March when an Israeli soldier shot dead an apparently prone and incapacitated terrorist in Hebron.

On the one hand, this event sparked off an enormous storm in Israel, with outspoken opinions about whether the soldier had acted outrageously or heroically, or somewhere in between.

The Palestinians and their supporters, such as the producers & publishers of the curiously sound-trackless and cropped video, Betzalem, milked the occasion for everything they could, demonising the IDF and beatifying the terrorist. 

The macabre video was repeatedly shown on Palestinian and international media. Finally, they had ‘clear evidence’, that the IDF was truly carrying out extrajudicial executions, just as the Palestinian leadership had been consistently claiming.

My suggestion is that, unwittingly, the Palestinians succeeded in dampening the enthusiasm in the Palestinian streets for taking on more individual acts of terror.

For half a year, the Palestinian leadership had routinely and baselessly accused the IDF of "field executions".

With the aid of this video, blasted from every TV station and throughout social media, perhaps they finally convinced their own people (who surely know even better than us that their leadership is composed of compulsive and pathological liars) that the claim was actually true.

I suggest this may be what has led would-be terrorists to think twice, viewing themselves as that guy lying prone on the Hebron street, and then getting shot in the head.  

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Passover Sacrifice to be Reenacted Facing Temple Mount Next Week

Guest Author: Batsheva Cohen

The public reenactment of the Passover Sacrifice, which has become a popular spring-time event these past few years, will be getting closer to the actual site of the Temple Mount next week. In addition, the organizers are offering a (k'zayit-sized) piece of the Paschal Sacrifice in order to fulfill the biblical commandment, should that become a possibility.

This year's reenactment may prove to be an even more festive event than ever as many new participants are planning to arrive from all parts of the country in order to take part in this free but priceless opportunity!

The past Paschal Reenactments were held in a school courtyard which became more cramped each year due to the growing popularity of the important event. For this reason the organizers decided to move the event this year to the more spacious location of Mitzpeh Beit Orot, between Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives, near Emek Tzurim, which faces Judaism's holiest and most relevant to the occasion site, the Temple Mount.

The reenactment will take place next Monday, just four days before the prescribed time of the Paschal Offering. It is the intent of the event's initiators to offer a taste of this exciting ancient Jewish experience, with its smells, sounds, and colors that have been lost to us these 2000 years, and to thus arouse a longing to renew this Temple ritual in our day. It is also meant to demonstrate that this Paschal commandment, so essential to the Passover celebration, can be a totally realistic goal, which we can in fact fulfill at its prescribed time, on the eve of Passover.

Rabbis and public figures will be attending. Among them is the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Shtern, who at last year's reenactment expressed his great amazement at the public's desire to reinstate the Paschal Sacrifice, which in his words was, "much greater than he expected." Also attending will be current members of Knesset and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Dov Kalmanovitch.

This ancient ritual is being revived this year with the help of the cutting-edge HeadStart Campaign Website under the name Passover Reenactment, which is proving to finance the event through the public's support. Just in its first week, the campaign became listed as one of the website's most popular causes, and it is enjoying a wave of pledged support that has covered about two thirds of the project's goal.

You can see this by clicking the following link:

Among the prizes offered there as appreciative gestures, is a small piece of the roasted lamb from the reenactment. But the most popular prize chosen is a k'zayit sized piece of the actual Paschal Sacrifice promised to be offered for the donor, on the Temple Mount, at the prescribed time this year, should the authorities make allowance for it. For this purpose several flocks of sheep without blemishes have been reserved by the organizers.

This year the event will begin with a rabbinical round table debate about how much we should strive in our day to renew the Temple service with its sacrifices, if at all.

Following will be Torah classes given by rabbis and rashei yeshivot, including Rabbis Menachem Borstein, Uri Shreki, Menachem Makover, Benayahu Bruner, and Rabbi Yitzhak Yavetz , graduate of the Ponivitch Yeshiva.

During all hours of the panel discussions and Torah lessons there will be children's activities such as craft tables, sheep petting, and an inflatable play-ground available.

Finally, there will be a procession with the sheep simulating the Passover pilgrimage to the Temple Mount as in the time of the Mikdash culminating in an exact reenactment of the Paschal Sacrifice, including the slaughtering of a lamb and the ritual offering of its blood and fats on a model altar by actual Cohanim dressed in authentic priestly garments. The performer, Mordechai Yitzhar and his band will be on hand to sing the Hallel accompanied by silver trumpets, just as was the practice in the days of the Temple.

Details of the event listed here:

Monday, the tenth of Nisan (April 18th 2016)
At Mitzpeh Beit Orot

2pm: Round table panel debates (in the Bet Medrash of Beit Orot Yeshiva right next to the Mitzpeh)

3pm: Torah Lessons (also in the Bet Medrash)

4:40pm: Sheep procession to the Mitzpeh

5pm: Paschal Sacrifice Reenactment

Transportation available to and from Ammunition Hill during all hours of the event starting from 1:30pm

To get your k'zayit of roasted paschal lamb or an actual Korban Pesach voucher, click here: http://www.headstart.co.il/search.aspx?keyword=Passove+Reenactment

Other Rabbis and officials attending besides the ones mentioned above:

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed,
Rabbi Yaakov Medan, Yeshivat Har Etzion,
Rabbi Shabbtai Rappaport, Bar Ilan
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, Temple Institute,
Yehuda Glick, Temple Mount activist,
MK Miki Zohar, and Aryeh King CEO, Jerusalem United