Israel wrong

June 1st, 2010 at 8:53 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Israeli commandos last night stormed six ships carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on an aid mission to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens after encountering unexpected resistance as the forces boarded the vessels.

The operation in international waters off the Gaza coast was a nightmare scenario for Israel and looked certain to further damage its international standing, strain already tense relations with Turkey and draw unwanted attention to Gaza’s plight.

If the boats were still in international waters, then Israel did not have the legal right to board them. It would be a different matter in my mind, if they had waited until they were in Israeli waters.

As for the regrettable deaths, I do believe that the Israeli soldiers only opened fire after they were attacked. However if you are boarding a ship in international waters, then you are likely to get attacked.

To my mind Israel has blundered badly in its actions. The only defence I can think of is if the boats were found to be bringing in weapons, in which case they could be considered an enemy ship.


The US-Israel Free Trade Agreement

April 22nd, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

An e-mail from the US Democratic Leadership Council highlights that 25 years ago Israel and the US signed a free trade agreement.

The change in aid and trade in that time has been massive

  1. Aid has reduced from $3.7b to $2.3b
  2. Services trade has gone from $1.0b to $7.5b
  3. Goods trade has gone from $2.4b to $44.2b

The US used to supply more in aid, than trade to Israel. Now their trade is more than 20 times greater than their aid.

Europe and the US should drop their trade barriers so that we have more trade, and less need for aid.

Tags: , ,

Editorials 23 March 2010

March 23rd, 2010 at 12:20 pm by David Farrar

The Herald supports a new approach on whaling:

There comes a moment in intractable disputes when someone or something turns existing thinking upside down to reveal an altogether new approach to resolution. Upending the chess board, as it is known in some political circles, can unlock minds and banish stalemate. It was evident in the end of apartheid in South Africa and the troubles in Northern Ireland and in the change in fortunes for American troops in Iraq once some Sunni insurgents were co-opted to the general cause of peace. Domestically, the cross-party accord on the anti-smacking legislation removed that emotional political pit from the 2008 general election campaign. Now, a new way of Saving the Whales has emerged. …

For New Zealand to be party to an agreement which allows the hunting of whales by Japan, Iceland and Norway after two generations of bumper-sticker policy to the contrary is, superficially, preposterous. Yet if the end, rather than the means, is of real importance in this cause, then surely the status quo is equally preposterous. Whaling for “scientific research” would be one of the most offensive euphemisms and dangerous policy constructs in international affairs. In truth, the ability of New Zealand and allied nations to force Japan and others to stop their scientific lie, given the economic and diplomatic realities, is as depleted as the whale pods they seek to protect.

The Government should pursue the possibility of a qualified moratorium, one that could allow those of a nationalist whaling sentiment to save face while committing, over time, to stopping the barbarism. Either way, whales will die. But whole species could be saved.

Labour continues to support purity over practicality.

Both The Press and the Dom Post say Sharples is wrong. First The Press:

At regular intervals the Maori Party co-leader, Pita Sharples, makes statements guaranteed to raise the hackles of many New Zealanders.

His latest offering was to describe the principles of “one vote for one person” and “democratic elections” as artificial political concoctions. …

But to criticise cornerstones of our democratic system of governance does a disservice to the pioneers of electoral reform in Britain and New Zealand, especially as Sharples was speaking as Maori Affairs Minister and not as his party’s co-leader. Over centuries the franchise was widened until the present position was reached in which, with very few exceptions, all those 18 years and older have one vote, or two under MMP.

And the Dom Post:

Democracy (from the Greek demokratia) is an amalgam of two Greek terms: demos meaning people and kratia meaning power. It denotes government by the people or, literally, people power. It is a simple but incredibly powerful concept that has improved the quality of life of virtually everyone who has had the good fortune to be born into a state in which one person’s vote counts the same as every other person’s.

It is also a concept which millions, including New Zealanders, have given their lives to defend, and a concept that has to be defended against muddled thinking as well as evil doing.

Into that first category must be put Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples’ recent musings on the nature of democracy. According to Dr Sharples, the essence of democracy is not one person one vote, which he describes as an “artificial political concoction” but “goals towards equity … and inclusiveness”. …

Democracy is not simply one of many alternatives on a menu from which nations can choose with impunity. It is the only form of government that gives the meanest citizen the same power at the ballot box as the rich, the only system that has ever protected individual rights, the only system that ensures the peaceful transfer of power and the only system in which weak minorities have consistently been able to press their causes.

Hear hear.

And the ODT on the US and Israel:

While all these countries find much in common with Israel, and much to admire about it, its intransigence in the field of international relations is evidently a source of frustration and anxiety.

As much as Mr Obama is soft-pedalling in public over the recent spat, in private there is little doubt the Administration is furious.

The US desperately needs alliances, and sympathy, in the Middle East beyond its traditional bonds with Israel if it is to maintain pressure against Iran’s acquisition of the bomb.

One sure way it sees of achieving this is through making progress in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, an objective that, from time to time, seems to slip down Mr Netanyahu’s, and Israel’s, agenda.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Editorials 18 March 2010

March 18th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald focuses on the departure of Vanda Vitali:

The trust board was also keen to see the museum throw off austerity and become part of an international trend typified by Te Papa. Part of this was a restructuring that left 46 personnel, many of them senior staff, without jobs.

Amid accusations that this meant core museum displays were being downgraded, the board backed Dr Vitali to the hilt for most of her tenure. Its support began to waver late last year, however, after a series of public relations disasters.

It is questionable who should bear the responsibility for these. Did the board, having appointed Dr Vitali and provided a mandate, fail to give sufficient direction and guidance?

Did it not recognise sufficiently that, as a Canadian, she was operating in an unfamiliar cultural context? Or did the director, like many set on instituting change, not see finesse and heedfulness as part of her job description? …

It must not become fusty and tradition-bound. Dr Vitali’s achievement can be measured by comments lamenting her resignation.

One of the more notable came from Naida Glavish, of the Ngati Whatua Runanga, who said she had brought the museum “back to life”. An initial reservation about Dr Vitali was her sensitivity to the Maori and Pacific exhibitions.

Museums are always seeking a balance. In Auckland’s case, that involves using flair and imagination to attract local people, while also catering for overseas tourists’ major interest, the Polynesian treasures.

Dr Vitali wrought major change in a short time. With a little finesse, the correct balance can be struck.

Is Te Papa still looking for a CEO? :-)

The Dominion Post is unhappy with Israel:

The timing of Israel’s announcement of a new 1600-house Jewish development in East Jerusalem was the equivalent of a one-fingered salute to the United States and to the peace process.

It demonstrates a contempt for the Obama Administration so withering that it diminishes the American ability to broker any deal. The administration had last year demanded a freeze on Jewish settlements, but eventually got only a partial, temporary halt – except in Jerusalem.

Why should the Palestinians pay any heed to what Washington wants, when the Israelis clearly don’t? It will also raise questions even among those sympathetic to Israel whether its current leadership has any intention of reaching a negotiated settlement.

I am a friend and supporter of Israel, but on this issue I agree they are wrong. They really should stop building new settlements. It makes the job of achieving a peace agreement a lot lot harder, for little gain.

The Press focuses on bad driving:

It is the common complaint of many New Zealand motorists. Truck drivers hog the road and, being oblivious to other road users, are responsible for accidents and near misses, both in urban areas and on the open road.

Those who subscribe to this jaundiced view should be taking a hard look at the video footage on The Press’s website. This footage, which was taken from cameras mounted in Canterbury Waste Services (CWS) trucks and which has created great public interest, has graphic images of other road users behaving recklessly and illegally.

It includes video images of one car overtaking a truck and forcing oncoming traffic to take evasive action. Other footage shows motorists not stopping at red lights or compulsory stop signs, failing to adhere to the give-way rule at other intersections, adopting some appalling driving techniques at roundabouts, and skidding due to a failure to drive to the conditions.

Luckily Wellington drivers are better than that :-)

The ODT looks at child abuse in the Catholic Church:

It is hard to believe the senior ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, increasingly under siege in Fortress Vatican, have any real appreciation of the extent of the calamity facing them.

For if they did, surely they, and Pope Benedict XVI, would be cutting a radically different course from that now being offered to a confused, disappointed and sometimes angry congregation.

Prominent among the strategies it has adopted in the face of what is beginning to seem like a perfect storm of recent revelations – of sexual abuse cases and “cover-ups” in Brazil, the United States, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Germany and, periodically, in this country and Australia – has been the time-honoured tactic of attacking the messenger. …

It just reminds me of the South Park episode where a priest calls on the gathered Cardinals to stop priests having sex with little boys, and the response back is that as they can’t have sex with women, if they stop having sex with little boys, then they’ll get to have no sex at all!

Abstinence is not natural in my opinion!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Editorials 1 March 2010

March 1st, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial does not appear to be online.

The Press looks at the furore over the forged passports by Mossad:

British police officers have arrived in Israel in an attempt to find out who or what stole the identities of six British-Israeli nationals and used them in the assassination in Dubai last month of a leader of the Palestinian Hamas organisation. The chances that the police will find anything worthwhile is exceedingly remote. If the murder was carried out by the Israeli foreign intelligence agency Mossad, as Dubai alleges and many others suspect, the Israeli Government will see to it that the truth never emerges. If it was perpetrated by some other actor – and the possibility that the killing was carried out by Arab agents from Hamas or elsewhere as part of some internecine feud has not been entirely ruled out – there is no chance that any plodding Western investigation is going to get to the bottom of it.

Maybe iPredict should do a market on who was it. My money will be on Mossad!

The victim was Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, co-founder of the military wing of Hamas, the radical Islamic organisation that controls the Gaza Strip. What Mabhouh was doing in Dubai without security protection is not known. As someone well aware that he was a target for assassination from a variety of quarters, Mabhouh seldom ventured far from Damascus where he was heavily protected. It appears likely he was involved in arranging a further illicit shipment of weapons from Iran for Hamas’s continuing attacks on Israel and for some reason felt secure travelling without guards. If this is the case, it is likely that Israeli intelligence seized the chance to carry out a strike that had probably been planned for some time.

Hamas is at war with Israel. Their policy is to destroy Israel. It is hard to argue that the co-founder of the military wing is not a legitimate military target.

The Dom Post welcomes a review of employment law:

Four years ago, a Tauranga company concerned about the theft of company property installed motion-sensitive cameras on its premises.

The cameras filmed a worker placing a cardboard box containing cakes of soap under a bench. Another worker, who subsequently admitted stealing company property, was filmed taking a box from under the bench and putting it in his car. The company believed it was a clear case of theft. It asked the worker who had placed the box under the bench to explain his actions. He refused. The company sacked him.

End of story? No. The worker took his case to the Employment Relations Authority. The authority found in favour of the employer. The worker appealed to the Employment Court. It took a different view.

It found the worker had been unjustifiably dismissed because his employer had not followed proper procedures. It had given him only selected portions of the surveillance tape, it had not put in writing the misdeeds of which he was accused, and it had wrongly concluded that the worker’s representative was stalling when he put off meetings because of other commitments. The company was ordered to pay the employee $12,000 for lost wages and $7000 for distress.

A good example of the case for change.

The ODT looks at home insulation:

Large-scale taxpayer subsiding of home insulation would seem an unlikely policy for a right-of-centre political party.

But that is what pragmatic National did and, by and large, Prime Minister John Key and his colleagues will be pleased with the outcome.

As are the Greens!

Tags: , , , , ,

McCarten on Israel

February 28th, 2010 at 11:27 am by David Farrar

Matt McCarten writes:

It seems we can’t get over the myth we’ve created of the little plucky nation of Israel defending itself against the Islamic hordes intent on destroying them.

The fact is Israel has the fourth largest military machine in the world and is the only nuclear power in the region.

Is Israel a little nation? Well it is around 20,000 square kilometres in size. That’s a bit smaller than Vermont – one of the smallest states in the US.

And Israel’s four neighbours have a land area of 1,290,000 square kilometres. That is around 60 to 65 times the size.

Are there Islamic hordes intent on destroying them? Yes. Not all Islamic countries and definitely not all Islamic people, but a fair few of each. It is probably the only cpuntry on Earth that

Does Israel have the 4th largest military machine in the world? No. For number of active personnel they are ranked 34th. And even if you include reserves they are still only the 20th largest.

They are the only nuclear power, but sadly not for long I suspect.

Tags: ,


January 30th, 2010 at 12:59 pm by David Farrar

AP report:

Hamas has accused Israeli agents of assassinating a veteran operative of the Palestinian militant group, saying he was electrocuted last week in a Dubai hotel room.

While it is quite possible Israel did take direct action, I do wonder why would you do it via electrocution?

Talal Nassar, an official in Hamas’ media office in Damascus, said al-Mabhouh had been “poisoned and electrocuted in his hotel room in Dubai.” He did not elaborate.

Poisoned and electrocuted? This is starting to sound like someone has real too many comics.

Al-Mabhouh’s brother, Hussein, 49, who lives in the Jebaliya refugee camp in Gaza, said his brother “died by electric shock and suffocation with a piece of cloth.”

So they electrocuted him, poisoned him and suffocated him? Would it not be easier to just have shot him!

Tags: ,

Minto helps Israeli win

January 7th, 2010 at 9:13 am by David Farrar

Its nice of John Minto to organise protests that helps Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer win her matches. She is of course used to the protests, so it ends up putting of fher opponents.

It’s a win-win. The longer Peer keeps winning, the longer the protesters get to protest. So hopefully Peer will go through to the final!

Tags: , ,

The Journey Home

December 3rd, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Got to Tel Aviv at 11 pm Saturday night and crashed briefly at a place provided by Yani. Then had to taxi to airport at 3 am. The taxi did not turn up though, so Ebba and I ended up dragging out suitcases down the road onto the main street, where we managed to hail one.

At the airport, went through much much tougher security than I have seen anywhere else in the world. In one sense it was very reassuring that they take security so seriously, meaning you have a safe flight. On the other hand it meant I only hit the lounge 15 minutes before I had to go to the gate. The security process was:

  1. A 5 – 10 minute interrogation by a young female airport official while waiting in the queue for first x-ray. She asked me detailed questions about why I went to Turkey, Egypt, Kuwait, Dubai and Iran. When I said I had a friend working in Kuwait, she asked why was she working there and she didn’t even smile at my response it was because she earns three times what she would in NZ. Also asked me several times if anyone had given me anything to carry for them, as it could be a bomb.
  2. Then went through first x-rays of all luggage.
  3. Then had a total search of my suitcase (presumably based on my suspicious itinerary to date) which took ten minutes
  4. Then passport control. More questions
  5. Then a x-ray of my hand luggage
  6. Then a search with a wand of not just me, and the hand luggage, but also my shoes, my camera, my books etc.

While all the security was a hassle, it did mean at least I could be confident we would have an incident free flight. And Israel, of all countries, does need to be vigilant. If interested, see Wikipedia on El Al security.

Was sad to leave Israel, as it was such a fascinating place. There is a wonderful blend of racial backgrounds. Another country I am definitely going to return to. Very grateful to Davidi and Young Likud for their first class hosting, and to my European friends who made the trip so fun.

Flew to London, which took almost six hours. My ticket conditions meant I had to continue around the world, so could not take the much quicker eastern route back.

I had a standby upgrade request for the 11 hour leg from Heathrow to LA, but the flight was full. Annoying that one had to go through security scan, even in transit. The lounge there was quite nice, and got some work done.

Then landed at LA after 11 hour flight. They no longer allow you to access the Koru Club, if you are Star Alliance Gold, due to security restrictions. Very peeved as really wanted a shower. Then a 13 hour flight to Auckland.

Did get an upgrade to Premium Economy, which was my first time trying that section out. Biggest boon for me was a power supply as I worked on laptop entire flight catching up with emails, writing blog posts (including most of this one) etc.

Having the seats recline back more is useful, but also proved a hassle as the person in front put their seat so far back I could not use my laptop in front of me. But by chance luck was with me as I was in a window seat (despite a standing request for aisle seats). In premium economy they had a foot wide ledge (with storage space beneath them) next to the window. Not only is it great for storing papers and books (and even the laptop so I did not have to get it from overhead after takeoff, but it allowed me to use the area as a work station by balancing the laptop on my arm rest and a cushion propped up on my shoes on the ledge – a real no 8 solution :-)

So my advice for travellers if to go for the window seat if in premium economy (or at least the upstairs section).

Got into Auckland at 7 am Tuesday and stayed overnight.


Went to the famous switching on of the Franklin Road Xmas lights. 99% of the houses on the 1 km long road put up extensive lights and decorations. It’s a wonderful community initiative and the entire road was a party zone. They were even giving away free food.

I attended one of the parties, which was great fun. Damien Christie spent the night introducing me as David Farrier from TV3!

Woke up with a hangover around 10.30 am and almost missed my flight to Wellington.  I blame xxxxxxx.

Is good to be home, but have had wonderful month in a region I have long wanted to visit. And I must be one of a very few people who have done Iran and Israel consecutively in the same trip!

Tags: , ,

The Golan Heights

December 2nd, 2009 at 5:42 pm by David Farrar


On the sabbath we had brunch in the Hula Valley in the Golan Heights. We had “local” food pretty much every day, and I have to say it was damn nice. It’s a shame to eat your normal diet, when you are in other countries, but often you end up doing so if staying in hotels. Having a local guide really helps.


That sign is not just for show. The Syrians left a huge number of mines behind, and Israel decided it was better to just fence off some areas than try and detect them all (hazardous to the detectors)


Sweden doubles its defence force capability :-)


One mine field has these cacti in them. I mentioned to the group that I would plant a mine at the bottom of the cactus so that if the mine doesn’t get you, then you’ll still be hit by hundreds of pieces of cacti. One of the others said they hoped never to have to go to war against NZ with that mentality!


A fairly major strategic battle happened on this hill. 20 Israelis died taking the hill against a mortar and very well defended trenches. They Syrian soldiers were very young and inexperienced and eventually fled a superior position. Our host mentioned that the Syrians were very much innocent victims in a conflict not of their choosing.


One of the trenches on the hill


Nearby was Fort Nimrod. Now this has nothing to do with any modern conflict but was established as a Muslim fort in 1300 AD or so. There are extensive ruins to look at, if you make the drive up to it.


More of the fort.


Down to the secret tunnel


Used the zoom lens to snap this little creature on a ledge below the fort. It looks like the little critter is about to jump!


We then went to Mount Bental. On the path at the top, they have entries from a competition to design children’s toys out of former military weapon. I asked if there was also a competition to design weapons out of children’s toys :-)


And another


At the top they have a former bunker a a very nice café. The Hebrew word for in the clouds is Annan and for coffee is Kofi, so the café is called Kofi Annan, a nice play on the former UN Secretary-General.


Again this is regarded as a very strategic hill. You can actually see a Syrian city, and Lebanon is not far away. Contrary to what might assume, there is no border fence.

At one stage we we driving next to the Jordan. In fact we got so close my cellphone told me I was now receiving Vodafone Jordan.


Going down into the bunker.


This is at Qatsrin, and is the remains of a very early Jewish synagogue from 2,000 years ago.


At Janhnun we saw a great audio-visual show on the history of the Golan Heights, beamed onto a replacia model of them. Then afterwards we had a beer tasting of local beers. Yum.


A sunset over the Sea of Galilee. Beautiful.


Finally we visited Hamat-Gader where we saw some animals, had dinner, and dipped into the local thermal pools. Those leaving later on Sunday stayed the night at the Kefar-Ha Nassi Kibbutz.

We had an interesting debate about whether that fence was high enough to stop a determined crocodile.

We also saw a nine metre python.


A photo of the pool area. The main pool was hot enough, but the inside pool was an uncomfortable 43 degrees – maximum time recommended 10 minutes.

Tags: , ,

The North of Israel

December 1st, 2009 at 10:43 am by David Farrar

On Friday we went up north. First stop was the Caesarea National Park, which has the ruins of the city set up by King Herod.


The park has lots of ruins, and also a good museum explaining the history of the area.


A group shot by the harbour. It was constructed to be a major port – around 100,000 square metres in size. The constructed a reef by dropping bales of volcanic ash into the sea, which turns them into solid concrete.


We then went to the Aaronsohn House. They were a family who operated as a spy network in WWI for the British against the Turks.

27 year old Sarah Aaronsohn was captured and killed herself after four days of torture, so she would not reveal her colleagues.


Despite being way north of Jerusalem, we ran into a Cabinet Minister. She is with the Labor Party, and I think has the commerce facility. Despite Davidi being with Likud, he is very good friends with the Minister – they were hugging each other when they ran into each other. Israel is a very small place, like NZ.


We then went to the old city of Tsefat (aka Zefat and Safed). On the way we visited a couple of war memorials. At most tourist sites they have a machine which will play an audio recording in Hebrew or English. They were really good to listen to – giving you a five minute history of what happened there.

Tsefat is a very old city, and many Orthodox Jews live there. Almost every second building is a synagogue. It is one of four holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias. We saw the (outside of the) former home of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who left in 1948.

Tags: , ,

Likud and Zionism

November 30th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The rest of Thursday was learning about some of the history of Zionism and Likud specifically.  The first stop was the Menachem Begin Centre. Begin, who signed the peace treaty with Egypt, was effectively the third leader of the revisionist zionism movement. The modern founder of zionism was Theodor Herzl, and then Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky led the revisionist faction, which Begin then led.

Begin died in 1992, and usually tops the polls of most admired former prime ministers. However for most of his career he was a terrorist/freedom fighter (depending on point of view) and was very much a political outcast until the 1970s.

The centre in his name, obviously is very favourable to him. They have a very nice set of displays, and audio-visual effects. The tour guide, who works for the centre, was a young Canadian girl who emigrated to Israel just two years ago, leaving her family behind.

Begin was a leader within the Irgun, and there is no doubt by today’s standards some of what they did would be called terrorism – especially the murder of the Sergeants. The British response was not much better.

There was also the infamous bombing of the King David Hotel, and to this day, there are bitter different points of views between the UK and Israel on it.

Not once in my time in Israel did I hear any demonisation of the Palestinian Authority. The two countries that were always criticised were in fact Britain (for former acts) and Iran (for current support of Hamas, Hizbollah etc). Britain was as much the enemy in the mid 1940s, as was the Arab states.

After the war of independence, tensions between the Ben-Gurion Government and Begin’s Irgun were massive, and in fact led to some bloodshed. Begin’s decision not to retaliate is said by his supporters to have prevented a civil war. Ben-Gurion seemed to despise Begin and would not even mention his name for several decades.

In 1977 Begin broke the 30 year monopoly of the Labour Party on power and became Prime Minister. His entire career had been as a hard liner who was against turning over any of the occupied territories to its neighbours. Yet he signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, which set the precedent of land for peace, handing over the entire Sinai peninsula. He won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Anwar Sadat and Shimon Peres. His peace treaty was bitterly opposed my many in his own party.


The signatures on the final page of the peace treaty.

He also bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and in 1986 approved the invasion fo Lebanon, which eventually led to him retiring in 1983. He was a recluse until his death in 1992. One of the reasons for his popularity is he was seen as a simple man of the people – and refused to be buried on Mount Herzl, but instead on the Mount of Olives next to two young Irgun fighters who killed themselves in jail to avoid execution by the British.


A view of old Jerusalem from the Begin Centre.

After the centre, we went to the West Bank. It was fascinating to see first hand parts of the occupied territories. Two things struck me. The first is how big the West Bank is, and how much room there. It is not some crowded area like Gaza. The second is how close many Palestinian and Israeli cities and settlements are to each other. Don’t think there is some nice straight line you can draw between the two.

Much of the West Bank will form a future Palestinian state. But it is not as simple as just going back to the 1967 boundaries. Even the Palestinians say they are not expecting Israel to abandon major cities in the area. What is likely to happen is that any area Israel keeps, might be replaced with some territory elsewhere from sovereign Israel. This can be made into a win-win but the devil is in the details.


A typical shot of the West Bank.


This is at the top of a strategically important hill in the 1967 war. The military are very reluctant to give up this area, as they say they could not prevent an invasion from reaching major cities without it. That is of course their point of view.


Below is a Palestinian town.


A photo of the group, in the West Bank. Regardless of the politics of the area, it was a fascinating place to view.

Then we headed to Tel Aviv where we visited the Jabotinsky Institute. This was the only part I did not enjoy much. It mainly consisted of a lecture on Jabotinsky, and the presentation was too zealous – mainly about how all the other Zionists turned out wrong and Jabotinsky was right. Was interesting to learn about him (I had never heard of him before), but what should have taken one hour took two and a half.

We then checked into out hotel in Tel Aviv. Now the hotels generally in Israel had been three star ones to keep costs down. The total cost for the six days was only 500 Euros, and that included hotels, food, travel, driver, and entry tickets.

Now the hotel in Jerusalem was very basic (probably a 2 to 2.5 star in reality) but okay to sleep in. But the hotel in Tel Aviv was a 0 star. You opened the door and immediately saw a cockroach. Not in just one room, and the first three rooms we opened. We gave up after that. Also I noticed the beds had just sheets on them, no sleeping covers. We eventually worked out based on the neighbourhood that this is one of those hotels that you normally rent by the hour.

We staged a walkout and found a much nicer one down the road. The owner actually got offended we were leaving. She was lucky we did not report it to the health authorities for demolition. Yuck. On the plus side it allowed us to hassle our host greatly about how he tried to book us into a prostitute hotel.

Then Thursday night was night clubbing until around 2 am in Tel Aviv. It has a active party scene. I had to cut out early to write my NBR column :-(

What I gained most from the day is understanding that the issues around Israel did not start in 1948 or 1967. The zionist movement grew out of the late 1800s, as a response to the discrimination and worse of the Jewish populations in almost every country on Earth. People will disagree on whether or not the response was the correct one, but it is simplistic to see it as merely to provide a homeland after the events of the Holocaust – the move for a homeland had been steadily underway for some decades. Most of the planning happened when there was no Palestine – when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire.

Today Israel is an established fact, and there is little doubt there will be a Palestinian state at some stage. But under what conditions, and what boundaries is a long way from being resolved.

Tags: , ,

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

November 30th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Thursday morning we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church is a sacred site for many Christians, who believe is the site of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Apart from the spiritual aspects, it is a magnificent ancient building and is a must see.


This is the entrance to the Church, which was constructed around 300 AD.


This is the Stone of Annointing, claimed to be the spot where Jesus was prepared for burial.


One of the many artworks on the walls.


Upstairs is the purported site of the crucifixion, You go up a narrow winding rock staircase to get to what is called Golgotha. You can see the rock the cross was placed in, and down below is also the rock that sealed his tomb.

Whether or not you are a believer, the church is a sacred place, and was a real highlight for me.

Tags: , ,

The Knesset

November 30th, 2009 at 2:20 am by David Farrar

Catching up on the last few days, as have had no time to blog.

Wednesday afternoon we visited the Knesset, and were very fortunate to not just have a private tour, but also hosted by the Knesset Chairman, Speaker Reuven Rivlin. We met in his private offices until he had was suddenly summoned to a meeting with the Prime Minister, to be told the PM was recommending a 10 month freeze on settlements.


The Speaker with the Swedish contingent, and Davidi (our host from Young Likud).

Rivlin was the Likud candidate for President in 2007, and has a reasonable chance of becoming President at the next election. His family have resided in Jerusalem since around 1800.

Just as Israelis are very proud of their Supreme Court, they are also proud that they have a universal democracy. There are no electorate seats in Israel – it is proportional representation for every party that gets over 2%. The threshold used to be 1%, then 1.5% and now is 2%. Some advocate it should keep going higher to prevent the small extremist parties. There are 18 parties in the 120 member Knesset, but they stood under 12 lists only.

Of the 120 Knesset members, 13 are Arabs. Some of them have been elected Deputy Speaker, and one has served as Acting President.

We also went and observed the Knesset in session. It is quite different to the NZ Parliament. The MK speakign does so from a platform next to the Speaker. The MKs themselves sit in four horseshoes (in the shape of the symbol on their coat of arms – its formal name escapes me).

Their debates are not just confined to passing laws (as NZ is except for question time and general debate). They debate many varied issues every day. However where it is like NZ, is that few attend at any one time.

The visitors gallery is behind soundproof glass. We were told that no matter what we said, no one would hear it. I was tempted to jump up and start yelling out Allah Ackbar to test that assertion, but luckily my common sense won out that this would be a very bad thing to do :-)

The artwork in the Knesset is stunning – some of them took a decade to complete. It is a building well worth a tour.

As I mentioned in my NBR column, I was surprised at the degree of pragmatism I encountered amongst some of the politicians. You realise after a while that so called bottom lines are initial negotiating positions. We saw that the day we were there with the freeze on settlements (which is a good thing).

After the Knesset we had a meeting with Yigal Palmor, who has one of the more difficult jobs in Israel – he is the Spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Again fascinating discussions about prospects for peace agreements, and it was during that discussion the idea of both Israel and a future Palestine being part of NATO (to guarantee secure borders) was discussed.

I asked if the settlement freeze will make his job easier, as it will be popular internationally and he (correctly) predicted that the Palestinians would reject it as inadequate. He stressed the US reaction is very important. Paraphrasing, if the US supports Israel on something, then most of the rest of the world will offer mild or muted criticism only. But if the US itself is critical (even mildly), then Israel will face harsh denunciations around the world.

Also talked Iran with him, and asked outright if he thinks Iran would be more willing to drop its assumed nuclear weapons programme, if Israel disposed of its nuclear weapons. I was somewhat amused that he didn’t even try and deny Israel had nuclear weapons – he just said that he thinks Iran would want them regardless due to Pakistan and India.

We also have two impromptu meetings in the streets. One was with the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. He is a very close friend of Davidi, the Young Likud Chair, despite the fact he is also the Young Labour Chair.

We also ran into Davidi’s former army commander. He is now a General, and his job is head of counter-terrorism for the Armed Forces. Only had a brief chat to him, but we had dinner the next night with a former Deputy Chief of General Staff, who was in charge of the Northern Command.

A very interesting day all up.

Tags: , ,

History and Government of Israel

November 27th, 2009 at 6:13 pm by David Farrar

Our first day in Israel was sightseeing around old Jerusalem. On our second day, we did a mixture of history and current affairs, thanks to our hosts, Young Likud.

First up we went to The Greats of the Nation on Mount Herzl. Theodor Herzl was the founder of modern Zionism, and seen as the seer of the State of Israel even though he died in 1904.

This is the memorial to Herzl, whose remains were moved to Israel in 1949.


On the tomb on Yitzmak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister who struck peace with with the PLO through the Oslo Accords, and was assassinated in 1995.


And Golda Meir, one of the first elected female leaders in the world, when she became PM in 1969.

We then went Yad Vashem, which is the Holocaust Memorial.


This is a photo of a photo taken from a liberated concentration camp. At this stage we were told no photos are allowed, which is a pity as so many of the scenes there need to be shown as widely as possible.

The museum is very moving, and very detailed. There is a huge amount of documentation, plus audio and visual displays. Allow two hours at least. I thought I knew a lot about the Holocaust, but I learnt a lot more at the museum.

At the very end you can search their database of holocaust victims. I spent a while searching for various relatives, which made it very real.

The museum covers well not just the Holocaust, but the conditions that led to it, and also the many people who risked their lives to help the victims.


A Holocaust monument in the exterior of the museum.


Female soldiers are a very common sight in Israel as military service is compulsory for both genders.


This is a picture of one of the Supreme Court courtrooms. The Israeli Supreme Court is much hallowed in Israel, as the vision was to found a country based on the rule of law.

The Supreme Court is unusual, in that it is not just an appellate court. It does hear appeals from District Courts (akin to our High Courts) but also is the High Court of Justice and has original jurisdiction on some matters such as petitions against the state. So rather than be a leisurely few cases a year supreme court, it hears over 5,000 cases a year.

The reasons for this is the British, it seems. When the British ruled the area, they did not want the lower courts hearing petitions against their actions, so they

It can and does strike down laws that conflict with the Basic Law. Rather controversially it just a few days ago declared a law allowing for private prisons (I think owned not just managed but am not sure) to breach human rights for prisoners. It tends to be seen as an activist or liberal court, but in a country with no constitution and no existence until 1948, they have been forced to create their own law, relying on overseas precedents where possible.

The Court has 15 members (was 12 until recently) and normally sits in benches of three. More important cases can have bigger benches, and one case had 11 Judges sit on it. There must be an odd number.

We also went to the Knesset, which I will blog about in a new post.

The Supreme Court Building is quite magnificent – a mixture of old and new. Definitely worth a tour.

Tags: , ,


November 26th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

On Tuesday I flew from Tehran to Tel Aviv via Turkey. Iran will not let you enter if you have been to Israel previously, so I guessed they would not be that keen on me heading there straight afterwards, so I had been very careful  not to mention the Israel part of my trip publicly.

I got a bit nervous at the airport though when I realised that as I was on the same airline from Tehran to Istanbul and Istanbul to Tel Aviv, they could see the next leg, as they asked me if I wanted to check my bags all the way through. I very quietly said yes.

The flight to Istanbul was a nightmare as the airport fogged in, and we circled for an hour then diverted to Ankara, refueled and then went back to Istanbul. A two hour flight took almost six hours, and I missed my connecting flight. Got transferred onto a later one okay though.

Just as Iran is not that keen on visitors who have been to Israel, Israel is not that keen on people who have just flown in from Iran. At the gate in Istanbul, I was taken aside and questioned for around 10 minutes about why I had been in Iran, how long would I be in Israel etc.

Eventually got onto flight. When we went through passport control at Tel Aviv, I thought it would be even worse, but the officer accepted my story straight away, and took only a couple of minutes.

Met up with the rest of the group. We have five Swedes, two Finns two Austrians, a Swiss and one Kiwi.

Around 5 pm we went to the Shrine of the Book. This museum houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex. Most people will have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but now the Codex, which is basically the oldest existing bible – around 3,000 years old. It isn’t a bible per se – more the authoritative source for the bible. So you get some idea of its historical value.


This is a photo of a model of old Jerusalem at the Shrine of the Book. The model is huge – only a 50:1 ratio.


Then went to the Mount of Olives and saw some of the 150,000 graves there, plus the superb view of old Jerusalem.

At 8 pm we hit Old Jerusalem. I can’t describe how wonderful the city is – such a sense of history. We visited the Western (or Wailing) Wall, and also had tours through the Generations Centre and best of all though the tunnels underneath the wall.


This is the base of the Western Wall. All day and night many Jews go there to pray.

The original temple here was the Temple of Solomon. After that was destroyed in 586 BC, a second temple was constructed by Herod in around 19 BC. The wall is part of the remains of that temple. Judaism believes a third temple will be constructed there when the Messiah comes.

The original temple was on the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism as it is taught as the place where God created Adam. It is also sacred to Islam as the site where Muhammed ascended to heaven.


The tunnels under the Western Wall are incredible. So much history down there. Not one for claustrophobics though. Also a bad place to be if there is an earthquake!


Also did a walk through the alleyways and bazaars of East Jerusalem. This is basically Palestinian/Arab area, and is likely to be officially part of a future Palestine state. While there has been violence in the past, things were generally very relaxed in this area, with people from all religions and races walking about.

Tags: , ,

Israel vs Sweden

August 31st, 2009 at 12:32 pm by David Farrar

The Economist reports:

BARELY two months into its six-month presidency of the European Union, Sweden’s government is entangled in a scrap with Israel. Because it pitches Swedes’ cherished free-speech principles against Middle Eastern sensibilities, it is loaded with a wearying sense of déjà vu—and a potential to escalate.

It started on August 17th when Aftonbladet, a Swedish tabloid, published an incendiary article claiming that Israeli soldiers had harvested the organs of some Palestinians whom they had shot. Within hours, Israel’s deputy foreign minister had denounced the article for racism and demanded that it be condemned by the Swedish government. …

Sweden’s ambassador in Tel Aviv obligingly called the article shocking. But she was countermanded by the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt. Israel, he wrote in his blog, wanted the Swedish government to distance itself from the article or take steps to prevent a replication, but that was not how the country worked. This robust defence of freedom of expression was endorsed by the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Matters quickly deteriorated. An internet campaign called for a boycott of Swedish companies, including IKEA and Volvo. A planned official visit by Mr Bildt to Israel may be under threat. Lawsuits have begun. And Sweden stands accused by prominent Israelis, including the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, of blood libel and anti-Semitism.

This has uncomfortable echoes of Denmark’s cartoon wars, started when a Danish newspaper published drawings of the prophet Muhammad in late 2005.

The article in the Swedish tabloid newspaper was racist and gross anti-semitism. It was designed to give credibility to the lies spread in many Middle East countries about Jews and organ harvesting.

The newspaper incidentally is owned by Swedish Trade Union Confederation and has a history of anti-semitic articles.

Now it is debatable about whether the Swedish Government should or should not condemn the article, but there is absolutely no way the Government should be trying to prevent the article, or be held responsible for the actions of the newspaper.

So the campaign against Sweden, and especially Swedish companies, is misguided and wrong. Do not hold a country responsible for the actions of one newspaper.

There are some parallels to the Danish cartoon controversy. The aspect in common is the misguided desire to punish an entire country for the editorial decisions of one newspaper.

But I have not seen any burning down of Swedish embassies or incitements to violence against Sweden.  A boycott campaign is not the same as death threats against journalists.

Tags: , , , ,

It looks like Netanyahu

February 20th, 2009 at 10:21 am by David Farrar

Sadly it looks like things will get worse in the Middle East:

The anti-Arab politician who emerged as a kingmaker after Israel’s election endorsed Benjamin Netanyahu, virtually ensuring he will once again become prime minister.

The big question is whether the hawkish Netanyahu will be able to build the broad coalition he will likely need to stay in power and avoid clashing with the Obama administration and much of the world.

With his top rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, signalling on Thursday that she would enter the opposition, Netanyahu’s prospects do not look good.

He will probably have little choice but to forge a coalition with nationalist and religious parties opposed to peacemaking with the Palestinians and Israel’s other Arab neighbours.

Sad, but possibly inevitable.

Tags: , ,

Israeli election result

February 13th, 2009 at 6:10 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald is concerned with the swing to the right in the Israeli election. It may surprise some, that I am also.

Generally I am fairly tribal, and support the centre-right party in most countries. In fact have enjoyed close relations with many in the Australian Libs, US Republicans, UK Conservatives, French UMP, Canadian Conservatives, Taiwanese KMT etc etc.

If I was a voter in Israel though, I would vote for Kadima, not Likud. The Likud policy of actually building more settlements on disputed territory is provocative, and unhelpful in my opinion. And the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu wants to have a loyalty oath, or you lose your citizenship. Yuck.

The result is not totally surprising though. In previous elections Israelis voted for parties that promoted sacrificing land for peace. And when they unilaterally give up land, and it results in not peace, but thousands of rocket attacks from the very land they unilaterally gave up. Well it explains why they have flocked to those promising a harder line. I think it is the wrong call they have made, but I understand why they have made it.

It is not quite certain what sort of Government will be formed, but as the Herald says, it will be a test for President Obama to keep the peace process moving forward.

Tags: ,

Racism in Invercargill

January 15th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Southland Times reports:

Two women were shocked after being kicked out of an Invercargill cafe yesterday because they come from Israel.

Sisters Natalie Bennie and Tamara Shefa were upset after being booted out of the Mevlana Cafe in Esk St by owner Mustafa Tekinkaya.

They chose to eat at Mevlana Cafe because it had a play area for Mrs Bennie’s two children, but they were told to leave before they had ordered any food, Mrs Bennie said.

“He heard us speaking Hebrew and he asked us where we were from. I said Israel and he said `get out, I am not serving you’. It was shocking.”

Mr Tekinkaya, who is Muslim and from Turkey, said he was making his own protest against Israel because it was killing innocent babies and women in the Gaza Strip.

“I have decided as a protest not to serve Israelis until the war stops.”

He said he had nothing against Israeli people but if any more came into his shop they would also be told to leave, and he was not concerned if he lost business.

I wonder if he would refuse to serve Israeli Arabs?

I wonder how he would like it if a shop refused to serve Turks until Turkey apologises for the Armenian genocide (or even accepts ot happened) or if after 9/11 a shop refused to serve Muslims because the 9/11 hijackers were Muslim?

It is absolutely legitimate to protest against the Israeli Government if you disagree with what they do. But it is quite wrong to target individual citizens.

Tags: , , ,

Today’s Middle East post

January 11th, 2009 at 11:16 am by David Farrar

First we have some nice photos from the Auckland protest, equating Israel with Nazi Germany.


Oh a nice professional sign comparing Israel’s response to 10,000 rockets to Nazi death camps where Jews were gassed, and their possessions looted.


While this protester gets marks for his home made sign.

Ironically I suspect that if WWII was occuring today, they would be demanding Churchill be placed on trial, for an unacceptably high civilian death toll in Germany.

Anyway once again I am pleased to quote Chris Trotter. Chris explains why so many on the left support liberation movements:

A fairly substantial chunk of the New Zealand Left would echo Keith’s view. In part this is because a great many leftists see Israel as the primary instrument of “US imperialism” in the Middle East – making the Palestinian cause one of the World’s last great unresolved struggles for national liberation.

For leftists of Keith’s generation, people who came of age in the early-1960s, when the empires of the European powers were being challenged by a multitude of national liberation movements, the anti-colonial struggle was something to be supported wholeheartedly and unequivocally.

Even more exciting for these young leftists was the fact that most liberation movements espoused some variant of the socialist ideology, and many enjoyed the backing (overt or covert) of the Soviet Union and/or the Peoples Republic of China.

National liberation struggles and the socialist revolution seemed inextricably linked.
Except of course when it came to liberation movements to free countries under Soviet control!
Hamas is anything but secular and quasi-socialist, and its dedication to the elimination not only of Israel, but of the entire Jewish people, is unequivocal. In the words of its own charter:

“The Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree.”

The last time people talked about the Jews in this way, they were wearing brown shirts and jackboots. And the fate they had planned for the Jewish people gave new meaning to the word “disproportionate”.
And this is not some anicent centuries old text, this is the Hamas charter.
Which is why I find it so hard to respond with any degree of positivity to Keith Locke’s call for New Zealand to stand up and be counted among the outspoken opponents of what is happening in Gaza.

Were Hamas a secular and socialist organisation dedicated to the creation of a secular and socialist state of Palestine: a state where all those with an historical and/or religious attachment to the Holy Land; Jews and Arabs, the followers of Judaism, Islam and Christianity – all the people of the Book – could live together in peace and harmony; well, then I might feel differently.

But it isn’t.
Michael Laws also writes today on this issue:

There was twit-nit Catholic priest Gerard Burns daubing his blood over a peace monument, bizarro MP Keith Locke accusing Israel of war crimes, and sundry radio commentators giving full voice to anti-Semitic outrage.

All followed a simple maxim, straight out of Animal Farm: Israel wrong, Palestinians right.


Almost without exception, liberals accept that the Israelis are the baddies. They are the ones with the fighter planes, helicopter gunships and tanks tearing through the ghettoes of Gaza. As John Minto opined this past week they are the primary aggressor. Ipso facto, they are morally inferior.

The truth is considerably different. The Gaza Strip is a territory controlled by an Islamic fundamentalist faction that has sworn to wipe Israel from the planet. It has been doing its best by launching rockets at Jewish settlements, arming and directing suicide bombers, and ending the uneasy ceasefire.

Yep, they are delighted that they finally got Israel to respond.

The only problem is that Hamas are not freedom fighters. In fact, they are not even sane. They are religious fanatics. Fundamentalist nutters armed with guns, rocket-propelled grenades and rockets. Their idea of a Palestinian state is one that eradicates Israel. They emerged victors after a bloody civil war with the Fatah party in 2006 killing plenty of innocent civilians themselves and now consider that Hamas is the frontline in the fight against the infidel.

Yet these are the people that Minto, the Greens, the Catholic fringe and Kiwi liberals seek to embrace.

The UN has got it right (this time). They have called for both sides to stop fighting. But the Greens and Minto want Israel to unilaterally stop, and nothing to be done about the rocket attacks from Hamas.

This is not to suggest that Israeli actions over these past 60 years meet any antipodean morality test either. There have been inhumane actions and outrageous abuses. But not this time: not in Gaza in 2009. Israel is responding as any nation would were it under continual military harassment.

This is quite right. Israel bashers can’t tell the difference between the times when their actions have been outrageous, and legitimately responding to Hamas and their rocket attacks.

The death of innocents in Gaza is regrettable it is sad and it is wrong. But all the more so for being orchestrated by Hamas, in pursuit of their despicable ends.

And this could all end is Hamas will agree to cease the rocket attacks.

Tags: , , , , ,

More perspectives on Israel conflict

January 10th, 2009 at 9:45 am by David Farrar

Fran O’Sullivan writes in today’s Herald, criticising Israel:

The reality is Israeli excesses helped pave the way for Hamas to become a power in the first place. Israel is not alone in facing provocations from “terrorists”. But the extent of its retaliation will simply empower its enemies further as Palestinians react against the loss of life. At the end of the day, the moral arguments used by both sides to promote their excesses will not have much currency.

Israel does often over-react but it is easy to criticise imperfect reactions from the “armchair” so to speak.  But when the Red Cross is concerned, we should be also:

Even the International Committee of the Red Cross says: “The Israeli military [has] failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded.”

That is not good.

What will matter is the consequences that result from the Gaza War. If Israel’s onslaught destabilises the Middle East further how much longer will it be able to count on the United States for unwavering support?

In this case though, there has been considerable support for Israel’s right to try and stop the rocket attacks. Russia and China have been muted – not just blaming Israel. The EU and most western states have been careful not to just blame Israel or call on them to stop unless Hamas will agree to stop also.

Even in Canada, the new Liberal (centre-left) party leader is taking a balanced view:

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says Israel is justified in taking military action to defend itself against attacks by Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

“Canada has to support the right of a democratic country to defend itself,” he told reporters in Halifax on Thursday after speaking to a forum of business leaders on the economy.

“Israel has been attacked from Gaza, not just last year, but for almost 10 years. They evacuated from Gaza so there is no occupation in Gaza.”

And I can only quote approvingly from Chris Trotter:

To the Israelis, however, a more persuasive precedent might well be found in their own history. After all, in ancient Judea, wasn’t it the Jews who found themselves in exactly the same position as present-day Palestinians: under the heel of a brutal army of occupation? Was not the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-73AD, and the second, far more destructive Jewish-Roman War of 132-35, the intifada of their time?

And what was the outcome of those revolts? Massive retaliation: countless deaths, towns destroyed, lands seized, and, in the wake of that final, cataclysmic defeat, the “ethnic cleansing” of Judea – the 1,900-year Jewish Diaspora.

“Impossibel!” you say. “Unthinkable!” Not really. What, after all, was the policy of the Allied Powers regarding the German speakers of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II – if not “ethnic cleansing”? The intractability of the problems caused by ethnic Germans living amongst Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and Rumanians led to the wholesale uprooting of entire communities. Families which had lived in the same towns, farmed the same land, for hundreds of years were simply put on trains and “resettled” in the West. Under the auspices of the “Big Three” – the USA, the USSR and the British Empire – Eastern Europe was ruthlessly, and very effectively, “cleansed” of its German-speaking population.

The Germans, of course, had sent six million of Europe’s Jews in the opposite direction, to an altogether more permanent kind of “resettlement”.

And can anyone seriously doubt that, should Hamas “win”, their “final solution” would be any different?
It’s a fascinating day when you have Fran O’Sullivan and Chris Trotter taking positions that people might expect to be reversed. Just shows how complicted the Middle East is!
UPDATE: Also a good post by Vibenna on why he is pro-Israeli:

The blogsphere is alive with a surfeit of outrage against the Israelis, so it seems appropriate to explain why, despite the Gaza incursions, I am pro-Israeli.

Well, it’s an old chestnut, but you can’t get past the Holocaust. In living memory there was the attempted genocide of all European jews, and nearly six million of them were exterminated. This is living memory. When I was a kid in Wellington, I lived next door to a woman who had a concentration camp tattoo on her arm; she showed me it one day …

Now, Hezbollah has as one of its primary goals the elimation of the Jewish state, while Hamas states that judgement day will not come until muslims kill all the jews. (Except for those hiding behind cedar trees. I know, it’s weird, but that’s religion for you.) You can’t tell people who have been through a holocaust just to lie down and take that.

Does that mean Israeli has a right to attack its neighbours? Absolutely not. Does it mean they have to put up with attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah, or associated splinter groups? Absolutely not.

But is the Israeli response disproportionate?

It is tragic, but I don’t think it is disproportionate. They are at pains to avoid civilian casualties, and have even sacrificied Israeli soldiers to minimize these in previous ground operations. Civilian casualties were far higher in WWII in the Ruhr, or in Dresden, or even among French civlians; over 15,000 French civilians were killed in the Battle of Normandy, for example. In contrast, Israel’s opponents go out of their way to cause civilan casualties.

That is the stark reality for me. Hamas try to maximise civilian casualties, Israel does not, and tries to (imperfectly) minimise such casualties.

But here’s the kicker. Israel is a democracy with reasonable equality for women. Its opponents are typically corrupt dictatorships that opppress women as point of religious principle. So I’m going for the Israelis, thanks. If you want to count up the civilian casualties, how about counting up the honour killings, beatings, murders and internecine strife amonst its opponents? Where are the outraged photographs of the 200+ people killed in Hamas:Fatah faction fighting? Where is the outrage over the suicide bombings in Israel? Where is the outrage over the state of women in the Arab world?

Well said.

Tags: , , , ,

Understanding Israel

January 9th, 2009 at 12:23 pm by David Farrar

Daniel Finkelstein has a column in The Times (also appeared in Dom Post this morning) that is recommended reading.

It was strictly forbidden to have a notebook in Belsen, but my Aunt Ruth had one anyway. Just a little pocket diary – an appointment book with one of those tiny pencils. And in it, in the autumn of 1944, she noted that Anne Frank and Anne’s sister, Ruth’s schoolfriend Margot, had arrived in the concentration camp.

My mother and my aunt had been watching through the camp wire when the Franks arrived. Mum remembers it well, because they had been excited to spot girls they knew from the old days in Amsterdam. They had played in the same streets, been to the same schools and Ruth and Margot attended Hebrew classes together. The pair had once been pressed into service to act as bridesmaids, when a secretive Jewish wedding had taken place at the synagogue during their lesson time.

But Ruth and Margot did not grow up together. Because while Ruth and my mother lived, Margot and Anne never left Belsen. They died of typhus.

I am telling you this story because I want you to understand Israel. Not to agree with all it does, not to keep quiet when you want to protest against its actions, not to side with it always, merely to understand Israel.

There are two things about the tale that help to provide insight. The first is that all these things, the gas chambers, the concentration camps, the attempt to wipe Jews from the face of the Earth, they aren’t ancient history, and they aren’t fable. They happened to real people and they happened in our lifetime. Anne and Margot Frank were just children to my aunt and my mother; they weren’t icons, or symbols of anything.

The second is that world opinion weeps now for Anne Frank. But world opinion did not save her.

Indeed. Anne Frank is now some sort of mythical heroine, but to Daniel’s aunt, she was just a family friend. The Holocaust is not ancient history, but very very recent.

The origin of the state of Israel is not religion or nationalism, it is the experience of oppression and murder, the fear of total annihilation and the bitter conclusion that world opinion could not be relied upon to protect the Jews.

And as people demand that Israel allow Hamas to keep firing 10,000 rockets at them, without responding, their conclusions seem quite sensible.

So when Israel is urged to respect world opinion and put its faith in the international community the point is rather being missed. The very idea of Israel is a rejection of this option. Israel only exists because Jews do not feel safe as the wards of world opinion. Zionism, that word that is so abused, so reviled, is founded on a determination that, at the end of the day, somehow the Jews will defend themselves and their fellow Jews from destruction. If world opinion was enough, there would be no Israel.

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again – again and again – the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don’t want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.

Many people will deny this, but I suggest you look at the terrible terrible anti-semitism taught to school children in various countries about Jews.

There cannot be peace until this changes. For Israel will not rely on airy guarantees and international gestures to defend it. At its very core, it will not. It will lay down its arms when the Jews are safe, but it will not do it until they are.

And remember Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in the hope this withdrawl – without conditions – would be a sign of good faith and help the peace process. Instead it has just been used to launch rocket attacks closer to Israel.

Israel has made many mistakes. It has acted too aggressively on some occasions, has been too defensive on others. The country hasn’t always respected the human rights of its enemies as it should have done. What nation under such a threat would have avoided all errors?

But you know what? As Iran gets a nuclear weapon and so the potential for another Holocaust against the Jews and world opinion does nothing, I am not so sure that the errors of world opinion are so much to be preferred to the errors of Israel.

I agree that Israel has made mistakes. I’m not convinced that the land invasion into Gaza was a wize move. I defend their right to defend themselves, but what happens when they withdraw from Gaza and if they have not managed to stop the rocket attacks. It may even embolden Hamas.

Again decision making in these circumstances is often a matter of “least worst” rather than good or bad.

Tags: , ,

Dom Post says Hamas can end strikes

January 6th, 2009 at 12:14 pm by David Farrar

An excellent editorial from the Dom Post:

But Hamas’ leaders and those who unquestioningly side with them overlook a simple fact when they deplore Israel’s assault on Gaza, The Dominion Post writes. Hamas, an organisation that is committed to the destruction of Israel, provoked the Israeli attacks and it has it within its power to stop them. All it has to do is stop firing rockets into Israeli territory.

Yes. Ask yourself this. If Israel stops it air strikes, will Hamas stop its rocket attacks? No – it will carry on. But if Hamas stopped rocket attacks, would Israel stop its strikes – absolutely.

In the past eight years 16 Israelis have been killed by rockets launched from within the strip. Israel’s response – air attacks and now a ground assault – is disproportionate. But what is Israel supposed to do? Would its critics prefer it to send a rocket back every time one landed in its territory? No other sovereign nation would tolerate a neighbour indiscriminately targeting its citizens, and anyone who thinks a people who pledged “never again” after the Holocaust would do so, has rocks in their head.

As David Cohen (currently in Israel) points out, there have been more than 9400 documented rocket attacks in the past five years, and in the last year almost 10 a day.

Hopelessly outgunned militarily, Hamas cannot hope to defeat Israel in a conventional war, but it can compete in a public relations battle for hearts and minds. The Israeli attacks are producing images of dead and wounded Palestinians that damage Israel’s international reputation.

They also serve as rallying posters for future Hamas foot soldiers.

That the strategy has cost hundreds of Palestinians their lives and condemned Gaza’s population of 1.5 million to even greater hardship does not appear to concern Hamas’ leaders.

In a column published in yesterday’s Dominion Post, Fania Oz-Salzberger, professor of modern Israel studies at Monash University in Melbourne, likened Hamas’ behaviour to that of a “poor and traumatised” man who sits with his daughter on his lap taking pot shots at a neighbour’s house packed with women and children.

That is a great analogy. And yes it is a deliberate strategy of Hamas to try and maximise civilian casualaties on both sides. Meanwhile as Whale Oil points out, Israel is going so far to minimise civilian deaths it is actually ringing neighbours of targets and giving them time to evacuate. This is why of 600 destroyed targets, there have been less than 100 civilian deaths (and around 400 non civilians). Israel is meant to have made more than 9,000 warning calls.

None of this justifies the wrongs done to Palestinians dispossessed of their ancestral lands, the unconscionable conditions in which millions of Palestinians live, or the excesses of the Israeli military. As Professor Oz-Salzberger writes: “Gazans are worse off than Israelis in every single way.”

Palestinians have reason for being poor and traumatised and bitter and vengeful.

But one simple fact remains. If Hamas’ leaders really want to end the suffering caused by the Israeli attacks they can do so.

All they have to do is stop firing rockets into Israeli territory, acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist and start negotiating.

The problems with Hamas go beyond Israel. They recently voted to bring back crucifixion as a punishment. Now think about how many pages have been devoted to the US water boarding, and how the middle east media have almost totally failed to cover this vote to legalise this most barbaric way to kill someone.

And for those who think all these problems would disappear if Israel was wiped out, reflect on this fromMr Cohen again:

While the military campaign by the Israelis is against the Hamas death-cultists who are sworn to Israel’s destruction, there is no denying it is also aimed at sending a severe message to the Islamist group’s Iranian sponsors, whose to-do list of countries to eliminate after they’re done with the Zionist entity even includes New Zealand.

Yes, follow the link. Ths is not just a war about a border.

Tags: , , , , ,

Israeli ground forces enter Gaza

January 4th, 2009 at 11:28 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports that Israeli ground forces have entered Gaza. This is a sad day, after they voluntarily left it some years ago.

Whether Israel will be sucessful with its aims to cripple Hamas remain to be seen.

While I am a defender of Israel’s right to respond to the thousands of rocket attacks Hamas launches at Israel, it doesn’t mean I agree with every aspect of their response.

Will this make things worse in the long run? Sadly it may.  The status quo of “Let Hamas keep firing rockets without a response” seems a pretty bad strategy also. This is the problem in the Middle East – there are no good options, just a series of bad to very bad options.

Tags: , ,