Israel’s other challenges

Other, as in other than security, and peace. This from Globes:

The Finance Ministry’s tax revenues report shows 52.3% of Israelis earning below the monthly income tax threshold of NIS 4,905.

The Ministry of Finance’s latest tax revenues report shows 52.3% of Israelis failing to earn above the income tax threshold of NIS 4,905 per month. In all 54.5% of salaried employees fail to reach NIS 4,905 per month and 33.8% of the self-employed. The report also found that the highest 20% of earners paid 80% of Israel’s direct taxes.

That’s one point of reference. Israel has its issues.

But look at this for shocking statistics about the spread among the cities:

The report also reflected the growing regional inequalities in Israel. Tel Aviv residents are responsible for 27% of all the income tax paid in Israel, Haifa residents 12.2% and Jerusalem with double the number of residents as Tel Aviv is responsible for only 6.8% of income tax paid.

Either Jerusalem has an amazing collection of tax dodgers, or an awful morass of poverty. It’s the latter. Israel has its issues.

And how about this for inequality:

The report also reflects gender inequalities. In 2012, the average gross income of an Israeli man was 63% higher than the average gross income of a woman.

As an aside, I have been told that although there are laws that prevent discrimination, they are routinely breached. For example, at job interviews, women are asked questions (about starting a family, for example) that are illegal. And if the candidate does not answer, or objects, what chance do you think they have of getting the job? Israel has its issues.

As for the importance of petrol, the following might make you believe the government was happy Better Place’s electric car revolution failed:

The report also shows fuel tax revenues tripling between 2000 and 2014 while fuel prices rose just 50%. The report shows that in 2014 alone the Israeli government raked in over NIS 27 billion from tax on gasoline, diesel, cars and vehicle parts.

However strong the economy is, it’s not something that benefits all of society; or at least not sufficiently. Israel has its issues.

We have our challenges, and we need to face them, and tackle them.

How not to improve the welfare of your citizens

Here’s what Ynet is reporting:

Red Cross in Gaza closes office due to violent protests

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday it is temporarily closing its Gaza office after protesters repeatedly tried to storm it.

Spokeswoman Suhair Zakkout said the office will operate remotely until “local authorities in Gaza provide assurances that our premises, work and staff are respected.” Gaza is ruled by Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seized power there in 2007. Dozens of Gazans have protested daily at the office in recent weeks in solidarity with a Palestinian hunger striker detained by Israel, demanding that the Red Cross help bring about his release. They tried to enter the building forcefully on Sunday, smashing garage windows and causing other damage.

Does anybody doubt that Hamas allowed this to happen? Perhaps they even instigated the assault.

This is yet another dreadful episode that will go unremarked, unnoticed, and unpunished. So what lessons will Hamas an company learn? It’s OK to act in this manner, because there are no consequences, no down side. (You can just imagine what the uproar would be – and all those front page stories of censure and condemnation – if Israel allowed a similar incident. But Hamas are held to a lower standard. In fact, on reflection, Hamas are not held to any standards.

When will somebody out there, wake up and smell the coffee?

Druze and Jews together

This has got to be one of the best, most positive interfaith stories of recent weeks. It’s about the two communities getting together because of the shared grief at the Har Nof synagogue massacre, and the selfless sacrifice of Zidan Seif, the brave policeman who stopped things from being much worse. Ynet has the story. The context is that the Nissim family are hosting Zidan Seif’s widow:

“But the Nissim family is not the only one hosting this Shabbat, in dozens of other Jerusalemite homes, Druze and Jews are sitting side by side at the Shabbat table. Three buses brought some 160 people from four Druze villages in the Galilee to the Shai Agnon synagogue in Arnona on Saturday afternoon. Sheikhs with elegant mustaches and tarbooshes, elderly women whose heads are covered by thin white shawls, young people, teenage girls, and children, all get off the bus one after the other, shaking the hands of their hosts with embarrassed hesitation. Their hosts were waiting for them outside the synagogue with flags combining the Israeli and Druze flags, made by the meeting’s organizer, Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier.”

It’s a must read, and it is here.

Kol HaKavod, Rabbi Kermaier, and all those involved on all aides. That’s a wonderful initiative, and a great example of what can be achieved.

There are many more, behind the scenes, contacts and relationships, being worked on for the sake of peace, and not conflict. Generally speaking, because they do not fit the simplified message western media wants to send out about Israel, there is no media coverage outside of Israel. All the allegedly bad things that happen are broadcast wide and far. But good things?

A world of ifs

According to the State Department, Israeli TV reports of John Kerry coming to the Middle East to stick his oar in float a new peace initiative (to be followed by intense pressure on Israel so that a solution is imposed) are untrue. However, perhaps Bibi might consider what would happen if such a state of affairs actually unfolded: Israel would be caught between the proverbial hard place and a rock, and in my opinion, Bibi would be to blame.

My guess is that Bibi does not want to put together a peace initiative, because doing so would fracture the coalition. He loves being in power too much. So, he would prefer it be somebody else’s initiative. But surely by now he realizes that Obama (and probably Clinton, too) are no friends of his; nor do they care about Israeli mainstream thinking on the Palestinians, security, and peace. Verily, they – somewhat ironically – want to play the part of an old style colonial power.

Bibi is to blame because he should be the one promoting a peace plan; getting Obama and his successor and the Europeans lined up behind it, and actively trying to make it work. His failure to be proactive is bad news for Israel.

Five for Friday

New York magazine rack - December 2015

New York magazine rack – December 2015

Here we are again Рthank Heaven Рat the weekend, or whatever passes for that in Israel. The Sunday papers, as Susan so sharply put it, come on a Friday. I mean, how confusing is that? I hope you all had a good week, and that the usual selection of links I offer at this time gives you  some entertainment, insight, or pause for thought:

Shabbat Shalom!


A quiet night in on an adventure

Azriel, Nechamiah, Roslynn, and Sheer joined Susan and me for this week’s game session, split into a short game, and a long game.

The short game was Carcassonne, a tile placement game of some vintage that Sheer and I knew fairly well. It was new to Azriel, Nechamiah, and Roslynn, but they did pretty well, and seemed to have a good time.

The long game was Dominion: Adventures, which saw Roslynn leave, and Susan join in. I watched, as I was tired and wanted to let everyone else better enjoy the four player experience. (With more than four players, Dominion is a real drag. Besides, I knew I stood no chance of winning.) The recommended setup produced a nice mix of cards, with a very definite different feel to the other strains of this game I have experience of.

One card – the Giant – kept throwing a spanner into plans by forcing players to trash cards. In addition, since nobody went for money, and the deck was otherwise slow, it too longer than usual. It was not boring – even to watch – but that did make it harder work for the players, especially Azriel and Nechamiah who were knew to these cards. Again, however, everyone seemed to have fun.

We have only dabbled with this Dominion version, and I can see it getting more play.

When two trains collide

According to this Ynet piece, there is going to be another Gaza war in the coming months.

Israel and Hamas both in a race against time

Analysis: An injection of US cash into Israel’s anti-tunnel technology will speed up its development. But the increased activity on the Israeli side is liable to provoke Hamas into jumping the gun and launching an early surprise attack.

What we know with reasonable certainty is that Hamas have put tremendous resources into their tunneling project. Some unknown number of these tunnels are for attacks into Israeli territory. Hamas needs these tunnels. Why?

During the last Gaza conflict, Hamas (largely) took a beating. More significantly, there was nothing gained by the conflict. The ordinary Palestinian on the Gaza street is worse off, if anything, than before the last war. So, with an electorate – OK, that’s sarcasm – that are becoming more and more restless, Hamas must deliver something, or face the consequences.

What does ‘something’ mean? An attack on Israeli territory that kills Israelis.

What might the consequences be for not delivering something? In theory, Hamas might be replaced by a ruling group that is more willing to talk business and peace, instead of terror and killing. But, it’s more likely Hamas might be replaced by a ruling group that wants more sacrifices from the Palestinian people – more blood – in repeated attempts to kill Israelis. In short, things might get worse for the people of Gaza and for the prospects of peace.

The Ynet article suggests that Hamas’ paranoia that Israel might detect the tunnels – which I do not see as paranoia – would push any timetable up, so that an attack will come sooner rather than later.

Hamas is preparing a surprise attack. If they are led to believe for a moment that Israel has a solution that will bring its tunnels out into the open, it will push them to bring their attack forward. And therein lies the bad news: Two trains are speeding towards each other, and the collision is likely to take place within a few months. The IDF is already making estimates around this possibility.

I’m inclined to believe there will be another Gaza war, and soon, primarily because there does not appear to be any reasonable way of cooling the atmosphere down. I don’t think it matters if Israeli politicians tour the border, or make daft pronouncements. Hamas will attack because it needs to, and it will fashion an excuse out of thin air if necessary.

However, for the sake of the border communities, I hope that the IDF is far better prepared at dealing with these tunnels. Of course, it would be preferable to find the tunnels and destroy them before they are used. In that connection, if there’s a chance of that happening, notwithstanding the suggestion in the article that matters have awaited the release of funds, I wouldn’t expect to read about it beforehand. So, maybe the IDF and the rest of the security infrastructure (and therefore, Israel and its people) are in a better position than is generally felt.

The other loose thread here is Bibi. He has not done enough to try and make peace. He has not done enough to get the world on our side. These two statements are connected. Yes, I hae my doots – as my former countrymen would say – that you can make peace with Hamas. And, yes, I hae my doots about the honesty, integrity, and capability of Abbas. But that should not prevent Bibi (were he a real statesman) of putting together a comprehensive peace proposal (and never mind the coalition) and selling it to Obama. Bibi needs to mend fences with the USA, of course, but being proactive and serious about the peace process could absolutely do that.

At this point, attentive readers will ask how that helps with Hamas. It doesn’t. It isolates them further. It may even increase the chances of them starting something. But, with the best will in the world, that is precisely the point. For all that Bibi has been criticized for not doing enough for peace, the Palestinian leadership should be in the same boat. By pushing forward a real peace proposal, even if it is rejected, that is to Israel’s betterment. We want peace. But if we cannot have peace, let’s be clear about who is responsible. And Heaven help them when the dogs of war are let loose.

Incidentally and finally, I wonder if the bizarre incident of the Hamas ‘tank’ being put on display has any relevance here? Did they panic and feel they had to present something military, while not being ready for an assault? Bizarre.

Smart toys may be a dumb purchase

The Internet of Things, with connectivity and data transfer operating in non computer household items – like fridges, cars, and toys, for example – means that issues of security, confidentiality, and so on, need to be addressed by whole swathes of industry that are rather inexperienced in these areas. I have heard several stories of producers who include a security review as one of the last things on the production timeline, whereas most experts seem to highlight the need for security to be built in to products from the very beginning.

The Register has an interesting item about two toys that seem to have been produced with security flaws, leaving users РOK, the child users Рand their families as targets for data theft, surveillance, and who knows what other misfortune.

One flaw found in a toy watch:

“…created a possible means for hackers to add their account to a family’s user group, enabling them to see the child’s location, history, profile details and even to message them.

It highlights how insidious and potentially dangerous the Internet of Things¬†(IoT) is. Expect more stories like this, as the IoT is only going to become more extensive, and it’s unlikely security performance by producers will improve. At least in the cases referred to, the companies involved were praised:

“…for a prompt reaction and response to the reported problems. Other IoT toy vendors should take lessons from the incident and endeavor to bake in basic security controls into products…”

Manufacturers of the world, you have been warned!

Gaming catchup

Terra Mystica - brown is going down, down, down.

Terra Mystica – brown is going down, down, down.

The break from blogging did not mean I had stopped gaming. So, here’s some idea of what I have been up to. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it will suffice to note these highlights.

Battle Above The Clouds

This is the Chattanooga and Chickamauga campaigns of the American Civil War, one of the GCACW series now produced by MultiMan Publishing (MMP). The game features gorgeous maps at 2,000 yards per hex, units ranging from regiments to divisions, and game turns of one day. This one was designed by Ed Beach and Mike Belles. It’s mainly been on the game table because I have been reading David Powell‘s books (one of maps, one of narrative) and the game helps bring it even more to life.

I played the first couple of scenarios, but then tired of the system. It’s fiddly, and so that much more work for a solitaire player. However, I kept the game out for a bit longer to use as an extra reference in my reading. I suspect this is one of these systems that shines as a two player experience. That having been said, I am suspicious about how realistic it is without fog of war and an orders based command and control system. As things stand, seizing initiative by winning a die roll seems to be crucial. Hmmm.

Barren Victory

Speaking of David Powell, he designed the next game up on the table about the battle of Chickamauga. This is a much older game, part of the Brigade Series originally produced by the Gamers, then taken on by MMP. It has a more detailed level of design: 200 yard hexes, half hour turns, and brigade sized units.

It’s a long time since I played one of the series, so to start with I have been brushing up on the rules, trying to take in the special rules for this battle, and often getting waylaid by reading up on the action. One of the greatest joys of wargaming as far as I am concerned.

Advanced Squad Leader

Ran and I played Ghostbusters, a scenario set in 1940 featuring brash, bold, Germans trying to slip past French defenders. I made too many basic mistakes, Ran shot my guys up (he was the defender) and I learned some more painful lessons about this wonderful game. I wish I were going with the guys to the Denmark tournament.

Fading Glory - before the French get their act in order

Fading Glory – before the French get their act in order

Fading Glory

I introduced Sheer to wargames with this, using the Smolensk battle. I found it fascinating to note what part of the game mechanics he found more difficult to assimilate. He is a sharp eurogamer, but had never played a wargame before. (I wonder if this will put him off for life?) Anyway, he got his Napoleon and company act together and smashed up my Russians. Light, easy, a tad too much luck, but fun.

Terra Mystica

Peleg, Roy, Sheer, and I had another go at it. Peleg and Roy were new to it, and I had played it a couple of times. But Sheer has been off at his secret base practising, and playing, so he was the inevitable winner. The sign of the quality of the game – and it is a cracker – is that everyone wants to try it again.

7 Wonders Duel

I played a few sessions of this with Sheer, crushing him every single time. Ha! Then I woke up, and remembered he had won. (Boo! Hiss!) This is becoming one of my favorite two player, lighter games.

Android: Netrunner

For two player games with a bit more meat, this is quite a contender. Sheer and I had a couple of sessions with several games. From memory, he is one win ahead, but truly it’s the playing experience that is the thing. Bluff, counter bluff, surprise, planning, and lots of other stuff combine to make this a wonderful game. Is there another contender?

Game of Thrones: The Card Game

And here it is. Slower, deeper, harder than Netrunner, this is a game Sheer and I have only scratched the surface of, still piddling about with the beginner decks. It is supposed to be multiplayer, but I wonder if that might be too slow. However, I do want to try it. You do get a bit of a feel for the plotting of the books or the TV series, but that knowledge is not required to enjoy a beauty of a game. I am looking forward to many more sessions with this.