Hamas encouraging its own citizens to get killed

July 20th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

William Saletan at Slate writes:

Hamas seized control of Gaza seven years ago. Its reign has been disastrous. Unemployment and poverty are around 40 percent. The government is bankrupt. Israel’s control of Gaza’s borders has played a huge role in that. But Hamas has done everything possible to tighten Israel’s grip and delegitimize Palestinian resistance.

And the latest:

The vast majority of the damage in Gaza has been inflicted by Israel. Yet Hamas has contrived to make the carnage worse. It has encouraged Gazans to stand in the way of Israeli missiles. When Israel advised 100,000 Gazans to evacuate an area targeted for invasion, Hamas instructed them to ignorethe warnings. It added: “To all of our people who have evacuated their homes—return to them immediately and do not leave the house.”

Unbelievable. They actually are encouraging their own citizens to try and get killed, so they get propaganda from it.

That’s what Hamas is doing. It’s trading Palestinian blood for political ambitions it foolishly expects to achieve through war. No amount of suffering in Gaza has persuaded it to stop. During the war’s first week, there was vague talk of a cease-fire, with each side reportedly holding out for further demands. Netanyahu declared that “no international pressure will prevent us from operating with full force.” Israel looked like a belligerent bully. On Monday, when Egypt announced acease-fire proposal based on ideas sketched by Abbas, all Hamas had to do was say yes. The proposal entailed no concessions. It was just a break in the bloodshed, followed by talks.

The gist was simple. As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, both sides would stop shooting. Then they’d start talking, through Egypt, about a truce. The discussions would include Hamas’ demands for easing Israeli control of Gaza’s borders. Egypt’s foreign ministry emphasized that the proposal was “aimed at stopping the killing of the Palestinians.”

The Arab League embraced the plan. Abbas issued a statement that “urged all parties to comply with this truce in order to stop the shedding of Palestinian blood.” Israel accepted it and announced that, as of 9 a.m., it had stopped shooting. For six hours, Israel held its fire.

But Hamas kept shooting. Rockets continued to fly from Gaza into Israel—nearly 50 in the next six hours—and Hamas took credit for them.

People need to understand how this makes the chance of there ever being peace minimal. When Israel agrees to a cease-fire, and Hamas fires 50 more rockets off, you’d have to be bonkers to think Israel will then do another ceasefire.

Hamas didn’t just reject the cease-fire. Its spokesmen mocked Israel for agreeing to the plan, calling this acquiescence “indicative of Israel’s weakness.” They “condemned international and regional support for the ceasefire initiative.” They derided Egypt, scoffing that “the Egyptian initiative is an attempt to defeat us” and that “those who ignore the Palestinian resistance should not be dealt with.”

Anyone who equates Hamas and Israel is basically an Israel hater.

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What is ISIS

June 22nd, 2014 at 11:52 am by David Farrar

Prospect Magazine look at what is ISIS:

What is ISIS?

It is a Sunni Muslim militant group operating in Western Iraq and Syria. The name is an acronym, standing for “the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant).

What does it want?

International recognition as an independent state for the territory it controls, which spans parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq. In this area, it functions as a de facto government, operating schools and courts. It also wants to control more territory. If it can sustain and consolidate its new gains in Iraq, it will control much of the northern part of the country, and reports say it plans to mount an assault on the capital, Baghdad (its advance has been halted just short of the city). It also wants to seize control of rebel-held areas in central Syria and potentially expand into the Lebanon to the West. In both Iraq and Syria, ISIS’s enemies are Shia Muslims.

So it wants to carve a Sunni country of of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Who are its members?

Reports vary, putting the total number of recruits at anything from 3,000-10,000. According to Gareth Stansfield, professor of Middle East politics at the University of Exeter, the group tends to recruit most heavily among Syrian and Iraqi locals, but it does have some foreign fighters, mostly Chechens, Afghans, and Pakistanis, as well as some Europeans. Michael Stephens, Deputy Director, Qatar for the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), says there could be as many as 300 Britons fighting for ISIS, and a further almost 300 other Europeans. 

Any Kiwis I wonder?

How dangerous is it?

The group is well-resourced. Its new adventure in Iraq has seen it seize military bases in Mosul. In Syria, it controls oil fields, and it may yet gain control of Iraq’s largest oil refinery in the town of Baiji. Stephens says that individual Saudi and Kuwaiti donors are giving money to ISIS, either through European financial institutions or, in some cases, by smuggling suitcases of bills across the border. It is also ruthless: the group has been blamed for a string of assassinations in Syria, including two alleged crucifixions. Most importantly, this particular militant operation is very good at recruiting people to its cause. “This idea of fighting Shia seems to be really mobilising young men to fight in a way that fighting Westerners didn’t,” says Stephens. “They [say] they’re saving Islam from itself. 

That’s fascinating that the are more motivated to fight Shia than the West.

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So Iran are now the good guys?

June 14th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Iran has reportedly sent its Revolutionary Guard forces to fight al-Qaeda-inspired militants who are sweeping across Iraq.

The Wall Street Journal and the Times reported that two battalions of the Quds Forces, the elite overseas branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, that have long operated in Iraq, have come to the aid of the Shia-dominated Government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Government last night remained in paralysis, unable to form a coherent response after militants blitzed and captured entire chunks of the nation’s Sunni heartland this week, including major cities, towns, military and police bases as Iraqi forces melted away or fled.

What’s that old saying – my enemy’s enemy is my friend. So true.

The new reality is the biggest threat to Iraq’s stability since the United States’ withdrawal at the end of 2011, and it has pushed the nation closer to a precipice that would partition it into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish zones.

That may not be the worst outcome – three separate countries. Can the Shia and Sunni sects live together now? Kurds are already autonomous. But actual separate countries could also be destabilising as Turkey would not want a Kurdistan as neigbours.

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Sharon’s plans

January 14th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting article in Haaretz on what Sharon was looking to do:

Ever since Ariel Sharon sank into a coma eight years ago, many have wondered whether he would have taken the peace process with the Palestinians any further after the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

A series of cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to the State Department that were leaked to Wikileaks show that in fact, even before the Gaza withdrawal, Sharon was planning his next big diplomatic move. Moreover, leaked Palestinian documents show that after Yasser Arafat’s death in November 2004, and even more so once Mahmoud Abbas was elected Palestinian president the following January, Sharon made efforts to coordinate the Gaza withdrawal with the Palestinian Authority. …

In his summary of that meeting, then-U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer makes it clear that Sharon had no intention of stopping with the Gaza withdrawal, but planned to take far-reaching steps in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Kurtzer noted that Sharon put emphasis on annexing the major settlement blocs, implying he would concede other parts of the West Bank, and that while he would not even discuss dividing Jerusalem, he would consider handing over some Arab neighborhoods, “but not the Temple Mount, Mount of Olives or the City of David.”

We’ll never know what would have happened if Sharon had lived, but I think we would be closer to a peace settlement. However I doubt we would have one, as both parties need to want peace, and while Fatah sort of do, Hamas do not.

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A small but symbolic tweet

September 6th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

 

This tweet was from the President of the Islamic Republic Republic of Iran.

The Washington Post reports:

The tweet called special attention to Iran’s Jews – there are thought to be perhaps 25,000 living largely in peace – but it’s the reference to “all Jews” that seems especially significant. Given the long-standing enmity between Iran and Israel, and the years of official Iranian rhetoric condemning Israel in often anti-Semitic language, this is quite a shift.

After eight years of fiercely anti-Israeli rhetoric from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government, which often veered well into anti-Semitism, it’s difficult to separate discussion of Jews in Iranian political discourse from discussion of Israel. That’s obviously not a particularly helpful habit. But the point is that this tweet, purportedly from Iran’s president, seemed to be offering a very small gesture of goodwill at least partially toward Israelis, who can usually expect nothing but hateful rhetoric from Iranian rulers. It’s not exactly a unilateral declaration of peace – tomorrow, Iran will probably still support Hezbollah – but it’s yet another hint of Rouhani’s efforts to dramatically soften Iranian foreign policy and rhetoric.

The former President talked often of wiping out Israel and denied the Holocaust occurred. This one sends Rosh Hashanah greetings to all Jews. It is just symbolic, but a very welcome change of tone.

A spokesperson has tried to deny the account is the President’s, and it may be run by someone on his behalf, but it is thought he approves any messages on it.

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Will this get widely reported?

November 22nd, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Houston Chronicle reports:

Masked gunmen publicly shot dead six suspected collaborators with Israel in a large Gaza City intersection Tuesday, witnesses said. An Associated Press reporter saw a mob surrounding five of the bloodied corpses shortly after the killing.

Some in the crowd stomped and spit on the bodies. A sixth corpse was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets as people screamed, “Spy! Spy!”

No doubt the evidence was carefully considered in a fair trial.

Witnesses said a van stopped in the intersection, and four masked men pushed the six suspected informers out of the vehicle. Salim Mahmoud, 18, said the gunmen ordered the six to lie face down in the street and then shot them dead. Another witness, 13-year-old Mokhmen al-Gazhali, said the informers were killed one by one, as he mimicked the sound of gunfire.

They said only a few people were in the street at first — most Gazans have been staying indoors because of the Israeli airstrikes — but the crowd quickly grew after the killings. Eventually several hundred men pushed and shoved to get a close look at the bodies, lying in a jumble on the ground. One man spit at the corpses, another kicked the head of one of the dead men.

“They should have been killed in a more brutal fashion so others don’t even think about working with the occupation (Israel),” said one of the bystanders, 24-year-old Ashraf Maher.

One body was then tied by a cable to the back of a motorcycle and dragged through the streets. A number of gunmen on motorcycles rode along as the body was pulled past a house of mourning for victims of an Israeli airstrike.

Funnily enough, Hamas brutally murdering Palestinians gets far fewer headlines, than Israel missile strikes killing Palestinians.

UPDATE1: A Hamas official has criticised the killings, or at least criticised “The way these collaborators were killed and the images after their death …”. 

UPDATE2: Egypt has announced a truce between Israel and Hamas. This is a good thing. Now if Hamas could just drop their objective of destroying Israel, then a durable peace for land settlement could be contemplated.

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The power of cartoons

November 21st, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

From coNZervative.

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Obama on Israel

November 19th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

At the start of a three-day trip to Southeast Asia, President Obama said at a news conference in Bangkok on Sunday that Israel has a right to defend itself.

“There’s no country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside it’s borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

It’s funny how weeks and weeks of missile attacks on Israel rarely warrant even a minor news story. It is only when they strike back that the world’s media give it 24/7 coverage!

But, the president added, “we are actively working with all the parties in the region to see if we can end those missiles being fired without further escalation of violence in the region.”

It is sad when people die on either side. I note however that for Hamas their definition of success is killing as many civilians as possible while for Israel, it is killing as few civilians as possible.

No doubt many from the safety of their homes, advocate that Israel should do nothing about rocket attacks on them from Gaza. Maybe they believe that they threaten only a few homes near the border. Well thanks to the Israeli Embassy, here is some perspective.

A peace settlement on 1967 borders is only possible if there is actual peace for land. But when the land already given up is used to launch thousands of rocket attacks on civilians, then it hardly provides much of an incentive to give up even more land.

 

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Pallywood Returns to Gaza

November 17th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

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Syrian PM defects

August 7th, 2012 at 4:51 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

As Aleppo shudders under a barrage of shellfire, the desertion of Syria’s PM marks one of the most high-profile defections from President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Syria’s prime minister began planning his break from the regime two months ago when Bashar Assad offered him the post and an ultimatum: Take the job or die.

The full scope of Riad Hijab’s carefully executed flight to the rebel side – described by an aide who escaped with him to Jordan – reverberated Monday through Syria’s leadership.

Hijab became the highest-ranking government official to defect, emboldening the opposition and raising fresh questions about the regime’s ability to survive the civil war.

If Assad is eventually toppled, and jailed (or killed), it will send out a very strong signal to Middle East regimes that if your citizens demand democracy, responding by killing them will end badly for you. Qaddafi found this out also.

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The Arab League

January 24th, 2012 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports at Stuff:

Syria has rebuffed an Arab League call for President Bashar al-Assad step down in favour of a unity government as interference in its affairs, underlining its determination to defeat a 10-month-old uprising seeking Assad’s overthrow.

It was not immediately clear whether Syria would accept the League’s decision to keep Arab observers in the country for another month despite their failure to stem bloodshed in which hundreds of people have died since they deployed on December 26.

But any credibility the mission might retain was undermined when Saudi Arabia, a foe of Syria’s closest ally Iran, announced it would withdraw its own monitors because of the Syrian authorities’ failure to cooperate with its mandate. It was unclear if other Gulf states would follow suit. …

Rami Khouri, a Beirut-based commentator, said the unusually bold Arab plan announced at the Arab League’s Cairo headquarters on Sunday was clearly “bad news” for Assad.

“The fact that Arab countries would propose such a clear intervention and essentially order him to step aside and give him a mechanism to do so is quite a dramatic sign of how much credibility and legitimacy he has lost in the region,” he said.

It’s good to see the Arab League putting the pressure on Syria to stop killing its people, and to have elections. It makes it much harder for the regime to say the opposition is a tool of the United States etc.

However it is ironic that you have a league made up of so many countries that themselves do not have democratic elections, pushing for elections in Syria. I guess the difference is their monarchies are  relatively benign, and are not killing their citizens. However even the House of Saud may feel the winds of change one day.

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Hypocrisy alert

March 16th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports:

Bahrain has declared a state of emergency following weeks of unrest on the island kingdom, state television announced on Tuesday, saying the measure would come into force immediately and last three months.

An order by the king “authorised the commander of Bahrain’s defence forces to take all necessary measures to protect the safety of the country and its citizens,” said a statement read out on television.

Meanwhile, Iran called the arrival of Saudi troops in Bahrain unacceptable and urged the kingdom to respond to pro-democracy demonstrators peacefully.

For fuck’s sake – I don’t know whether to cry or laugh.

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Libya

March 1st, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Most analysts think Gaddafi has lost control of so much of Libya, that his downfall or demise is just a matter of time. I hope so.

The death toll is in the thousands, and those lives could have been saved if Gaddafi had done a Muburak. Of course the difference may just be that the Egyptian Army was less willing to kill it own citizens. To be fair most of the Libyan Army has been reluctant also.

A part of me sees some good from his decision to try and supress the pro-democracy movement by arms. Because it looks like he will fail, and will depart office (or life) reviled internationally.

This may prove a useful lesson to other dictatorships in the Middle East, and encourage them to peacefully engage with pro-democracy movements – not try and crush them.

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Which country will be next to go?

February 21st, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Will it be Bahrain or Libya?

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The importance of moderates

October 6th, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Reuters reports:

Jewish settlers on Tuesday gave new copies of the Koran to Palestinians in a West Bank village whose mosque was burnt in an attack blamed by Palestinians on militants in the settler movement.

Several copies of Islam’s holy book were scorched in the arson attack and threats in Hebrew were scrawled on the wall of the mosque of Beit Fajjar early on Monday.

The village sits on the edge of the sprawling Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Etzion.

Suspicion immediately fell on settler militants opposed to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, in which some settlements would be turned over to a Palestinian state.

“This visit is to say that although there are people who oppose peace, he who opposes peace is opposed to God,” said Rabbi Menachem Froman, a well-known peace activist and one of a handful of settlers who went to Beit Fajjar to show solidarity with their Muslim neighbours.

This is a nice story, and something it would be good to see more of. All religions have extremists (some have more than others), but they also have moderates. And when extremists do something in the name of your religion, it helps if others in that religion decry them, or as in this case show in a practical sense your disgust.

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Lunch with Daniel Pipes

August 25th, 2010 at 3:27 pm by David Farrar

Just returned from the Wellington Club where myself and around eight journalists had lunch with Daniel Pipes, who has authored more than a dozen books on the Middle East or Islam. The Israeli Ambassador kindly hosted the lunch.

Daniel spoke on five broad topics, and we had a lively Q+A. I’ll go through them, off memory.

Iraq & Afghanistan

Pipes was very pessimistic for both countries, and said that the aim of transforming the countries into modern democratic states has and will fail. Worse, he believes they won’t even achieve the status of “a decent place to live”.

What makes his view of significance, if he was a supporter of the invasions of both countries. So he is saying, that the US has failed and will fail.

I asked whether the US were too ambitious trying to turn Iraq into a post-war Germany or Japan, and whether they would have been better to basically shoot Saddam, and the next ten in the line of succession, tell No 11 that he is now in charge, that he should leave the Kurds alone, and bring in some elections and basically pull out, leaving the infrastructure, the Baath party, the army etc intact.

Pipes basically agreed, and said that has been his long held position – that the US should have found a strongman, who was more palatable than Saddam, and left him in charge. It would not have achieved a secular liberal democracy, but it might achieve the country becoming a semi-decent place to live.

US Policy

Pipes made a strong case that in terms of foreign policy, there is very little difference between Bush and Obama. Obama at one stage had more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than under Bush. Also Obama has approved 50 attacks from unmanned drones, compared to 38 under the entire Bush presidency.

Obama’s outreach to Islamic states, with his Cairo speech did result in a more favourable impression of the US at the time. But a year later, the views of the US in the Islamic world have shrunk back to what they were under Bush.

Iran

Pipes thinks there is no doubt Iran is developing nuclear weapon – and that in fact it is a logical thing for Iran to do, as it makes you a military power, but in a far cheaper fashion than an increase in conventional forces.

He decried both the Bush and Obama strategy on Iran on the basis he has yet to work out what either of them is.

Pipes believes the threat of a nuclear armed Iran, under its current leadership, is so dangerous, that a military strike will be necessary.

I actually pushed back against this, on the basis that most Iranians want to get rid of their President, and an attack on their nuclear facilities is the one thing which will make his popularity soar, and guarantee the hardliners keep control for at least a generation.

Pipes said that he does think that Iran is the one country where the Islamic leadership is under real threat, and if left alone they are likely to be removed from power in the future. However he still regards the danger in the interim of an Islamic Iran with nuclear weapons to be so great, that he still thinks a strike is needed – but accepts the consequences will be a massive increase in terrorism etc.

Israel & Palestine

Pipes is a pessimist on a diplomatic solution. He asserts that you only have diplomatic solutions after the war is over, not as a way to stop a war. Until one side “wins” diplomacy will not work.

His preferred course of action is to try and increase the proportion of Palestinians who accept Israel has a right to exist from 20% to over 50%. He says only when a majority of Palestinians accept they will not succeed with their desire to destroy Israel, will a diplomatic solution have any chance of working.

Islam and Europe

Pipes says the growing Islamic population in Europe is partly due to the indigenous populations not producing enough children to maintain population, and partly the desire of people in Islamic countries to move to places with a better standard of living.

He says that there are three possible paths ahead:

  1. Europe muddles through with peaceful co-existence. He says that he sees no evidence at all that this is the likely scenario.
  2. Over time Europe becomes more “Islamised” with Islam as the dominant religion in Europe, and wide-spread sharia law – even some Islamic states in Europe.
  3. A massive back-lash from the indigenous Europeans, with neo-fascist and even fascist parties gaining support across the Europe.

A vigorous discussion on this topic. Canada was held up as one of the few Western countries which has managed Muslim immigration, which has not been radical Islamists. I suggested that NZ has also been successful at having Muslim immigrants, with almost no radicalisation here.

Pipes suggestion for keeping it that way, is that one should not discriminate against Muslims who wish to migrate here, but that one should absolutely discriminate against Islamists.

He said many people do not get the difference between Islam/Muslims and Islamism/Islamists. He says Islam is a religion like Judaism, Christianity etc. Islamism is a political belief like communism, zionism, fascism.

Was a very interesting 90 minute lunch and discussion, even if somewhat depressing in terms of the outlook for key conflicts, and for Europe. Barry Soper commented that it made him glad to live in New Zealand – for which I have to agree.

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Eve Teasers

June 14th, 2010 at 2:22 am by The Wanderer

Can’t let this slip by without mention.

Seems like Kuwait has reverted to old school justice, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Europe since WWII, and in Kuwait since the 1980′s apparently.

Hat tip: Desert Girl

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No virgins for you!

April 22nd, 2010 at 10:54 pm by The Wanderer

He’s not the first, but his is perhaps the best – Foreign Policy’s article on Tahir ul-Qadri introduces you to the Pakistani Islamic Scholar who has issued a fatwa condemning terrorism as un-Islamic. Not only does he label terrorism as “haram”, or forbidden under Islam, he goes so far as to describe acts of terrorism as acts of disbelief. To put this in context, for a practising muslim, an act of disbelief is pretty much the worst offence he or she can commit against Islam.

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Reaction to rape

April 22nd, 2010 at 7:51 pm by The Wanderer

I came accross a new website here the other day, called Kuwait Exposed , where people can anonymously post their “confessions”. While most of the posts are pretty lame and rather whiny, I was disgusted to read a confession of rape .  I’m inclined to believe it as genuine following the poster’s further comment in response to some of the other comments (where he was stupid enough to use his own name – not that that’ll assist in any legal action, which is highly unlikely to eventuate in any case).

It’s surprisingly easy enough to live in a place like this and let the dichotomy of an expat vs Kuwaiti view on the world pass you by, and many people do, despite experiencing the differences on a daily basis.

What struck me most about this “confession” was the reaction in the comments. This creature says he loves this poor girl, whom he has raped.  He seems to realise on some level that what he has done is wrong, but he still sees her as the future wife and mother of his children.

And many of the commenters seem to as well! For example:

” Telling ur mother idf the best thing to do even taking her with u wen u are going to Apologize, the virginity thing could be fixed only if she have an adult helping her. Then if u truly wanna show her that u love her ask ur mam to call hers and engage her to u !” [sic]

“If you really love her and want to make it up, there is a way you could do it. if I were in your place, I would go and ask for her hand in marriage.”

Some don’t even see a need to confess: “what’s left is between you and God”

The comments about the need/ability to “fix” a loss of virginity have got to stop you in your tracks also.

Compare that to comments from those with Western names.

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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.

Franklin

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!

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The Golan Heights

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

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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.

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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)

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Sweden doubles its defence force capability :-)

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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!

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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.

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One of the trenches on the hill

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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.

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More of the fort.

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Down to the secret tunnel

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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!

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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 :-)

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And another

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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.

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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.

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Going down into the bunker.

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

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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.

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A sunset over the Sea of Galilee. Beautiful.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A typical shot of the West Bank.

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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.

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Below is a Palestinian town.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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One of the many artworks on the walls.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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