This never happened last year

Today’s riddle: what has fifteen metal poles, eight wooden poles, and two rolls of bamboo matting? Our succah! The lockdown put and end to the holiday we had planned for Sukkot, so we’re at home and getting ready for this family focused festival without, er, the family. First step is getting the succah up and I am glad to report it’s all up and ready to go.

(We had one or two hiccups along the way, but finally we worked out which pole went where. Despite keeping the instructions, it was more challenging than I would have liked. This year I’m definitely taking pictures to remind me how it is constructed!)

In Scotland, you could virtually guarantee it would rain first night of Sukkot. It can happen in Israel, but not this year according to the forecasts. Apparently it’s going to be hot.

A Very Different Yom Kippur

The core idea behind Yom Kippur is that, in the orthodox Jewish tradition, we are to fast, pray, and repent for our sins. My personal experience of Yom Kippur since making aliyah, has been as part of the shul congregation, where I have had some truly spiritual experiences courtesy of some inspirational davening and a real feeling of community spirit. Not this year.

First, the shul is closed. Second, while there is an outdoor minyan within a stone’s throw of our building, outside congregations are supposedly limited to 20 people who should all be socially distancing. The acoustical challenge is substantial. The communal spirit will be absent. It simply won’t be the same.

(That having been said, I had a different sense of belonging when I was at the minyan on Friday night. There was something noteworthy, memorable, and good about being a part of 60+ people – in three ‘capsules’ of 20, more or less – standing outside in the playground, davening together as best they could.)

In addition, the lack of air conditioning – and the expected unusually high temperature tomorrow – make for another challenge or two. In this regard, I was impressed by our rabbi’s clear announcement that it was more important to fast than to pray with a minyan, and if you thought you wouldn’t be able to cope with the heat, you should stay at home and do your fasting, praying, contemplation, and repenting at home. That option makes sense to me.

Whatever you do for Yom Kippur, may you be blessed with a good sweet year.

Infinite Stars

This anthology of space opera and military SF left me distinctly disappointed.  Despite the heavyweight front line stars of the genre – Jack Campbell, Orson Scott Card, David Drake, and David Weber among them – there wasn’t a single memorable story in the book. Card’s story was OK, but the contributions of Campbell, Drake, and Weber were uninspiring. (And that’s me being polite.) The writing was flat, there was a lack of interesting ideas, and any interesting situations were inhibited by too much tell and not enough show. Much of the spirit of the material is lacking because quite a few are pieces set in existing and ongoing universes of the authors and these seem disconnected and incomplete, almost like literary afterthoughts.

It’s got a nice cover though…


Blind to Justice?

By way of follow up to my earlier post about the killing of Iyad Hallaq (or Iyad Hallak), the Times of Israel has some rather disturbing news:

Click image to go to Times of Israel article

How likely is it that one security camera was not turned on? How likely is it that all the security cameras covering this incident were not turned on? I stress that I am not speaking from a position of informed opinion, so I could be wrong. However, I believe it to be highly unlikely that there was no video coverage of this killing. Does it seem sensible or logical or likely to you? Why have such an extensive network of security cameras – that have been well used in the past – if you are not going to turn them on?

I would like to hear from anyone knowledgeable in these areas – perhaps someone who has been on security patrol in and around Jerusalem – to learn more about the situation on the ground and whether this ‘no video available’ line is indeed likely to be hogwash or otherwise.

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a previous incident where it’s been said that security cameras (all of them!) were not turned on.

If I am right, this is a nasty cover-up. If I am right, this is scandalous.

While I would dearly love to think an independent investigation would get to the root of the matter, I regret I am skeptical. If the authorities are being so brazen as to lie about the availability of the video evidence, what chance is there of justice for Iyad Hallaq either through the courts or by an independent probe?

Truly this is a black stain upon Israel.

[If it was the case that security cameras were not turned on, do you think that means anyone is going to be disciplined for that shocking state of affairs? No, I don’t think so either.]

Light Bulb Going On

Q: Who invented the light bulb?

A: Thomas Edison.

Q: Sort of. He invented the light bulb, but his had a paper filament that burned out quickly. So, who invented the light bulb with an enduring (carbon) filament?

A: No idea.

Do you know? It was Lewis Howard Latimer.  I had no idea until I watched this powerful video featuring Michael Holding (West Indian former cricket superstar).

I highly recommend you watch the whole video.

The point he makes about people not knowing Latimer seems spot on. A truly white perspective on history. I, for one, have been educated twice over: once about Latimer (clearly a wonderfully smart guy) and twice about just how deeply racism can seep into society.

Michael Holding, I salute you.

(A big tip of the hat to Michael Horesh for pointing this video out to me.)

Must View

On the 23rd of June 2020, Ahmad Moustafa Erekat was shot to death by Israeli Border Police at a checkpoint near Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem.

The authorities reported it as the outcome of a terror attack, Erekat having deliberately driven his car at the checkpoint, injuring one of the soldiers and then he exited the vehicle with the intention of attacking other police.

His family, understandably, were angry and upset. PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat – the dead man’s cousin – was quoted as saying:

“Israeli soldiers shot dead Ahmad Erekat from Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem, on his sister’s wedding day…Ahmad was rushing through a checkpoint to bring his mother and sister from a beauty salon in Bethlehem.”

Erekat also said:

“My cousin, the nephew of my wife, was executed, murdered in cold blood and Netanyahu bears responsibility…”

Apparently the deceased Erekat was also due to get married in the near future.

Trying to view this objectively, it did seem strange that someone in that position would conduct a suicide mission. Not impossible, but unusual. Then a video surfaced of the dead man having some kind of internal crisis, denying that he was an Israeli informer, suggesting that he had shamed his family and was depressed. That made the situation less unusual, taking these things at face value. (For example, I believe there’s a dispute about when his video was made.)

The bottom line: a shooting with two opposing narratives as to what happened.

Then the Border Police released the security video of the incident. It doesn’t look like anything else other than a terror attack. (But do look at it and make your own mind up.) That video cleared the police, brought public interest to an end, and left the deceased’s family to mourn his death, facing the unpalatable truth that he had committed suicide by cop. Whatever formal investigation that will (or should) take place, is likely to be heavily influenced by the video evidence.

So far, so routine (regrettably).

On the 30th of May 2020, a 32 year old autistic man – Iyad Hallaq – was shot to death by the police in the Old City of Jerusalem. The police claimed that they thought he was holding a gun. His family said the only thing he was holding was his phone. Further, after the initial shooting, he was not dead. He managed to get away to hide in a nearby garbage room. There, apparently he was killed despite his care giver telling the police he was autistic, he didn’t understand, and she had the papers to prove it.

The bottom line: a shooting with two opposing narratives as to what happened.

Compare and contrast with the Erekat case.

First, Iyad Hallaq had no PLO connections. To put it another way, his family has nobody in a position of power and influence to fight for them.

Second, the Border Police did not release the security video or, indeed, any video. This Haaretz article (behind a paywall) makes it clear that there should be video coverage of the incident, but if it exists someone in authority has it and isn’t releasing it.

Third, it appears the evidence from the two police involved as to what happened differs in at least one material respect.

The border policeman who shot Hallaq had finished basic training only weeks before. He has said he suspected that Hallaq was planning an attack because he was wearing gloves; the officer says he opened fire after Hallaq made a suspicious move.

The officer’s commander insists that he told the new recruit to hold fire, but the younger policeman says he never heard such an order.

To be clear, I am making no judgement about what happened when Iyad Hallaq was killed. I wasn’t there and I don’t know. I also well appreciate that the security forces have to make snap decisions in moments of crisis when their lives or the lives of innocent civilians could be at risk. In addition, the way of the world is that accidents and misunderstandings happen. None of that matters.

What matters is that the authorities owe it to Iyad Hallaq and his family and all the citizens of Israel to fully disclose what happened, to release any and all video, and to ensure there is a full and independent investigation into his death. The delay so far has been shocking and cruel enough. The police should do the right thing, even if it means that they are portrayed in a bad light. Their continuing failure is an unforgivable  blight on the state.

(Note: It might be said that the video is being retained for the purposes of an investigation. That shouldn’t stop it being released. After all, Erekat’s video was released almost immediately. Any excuse on this front is unacceptable.)


Annexation Frustration

The media and political storm leading up to Bibi’s promised ‘annexation’ on 1 July was fairly predictable. Up until the last moment, however, what wasn’t predictable was what Bibi would actually do. Would this be another broken promise? Or would Bibi ignore everything – real and imagined – that was stacked up by way of opposition, and go ahead?

As we all know, what we got was indeed another broken promise. From my perspective, that was only half the issue.

(To be clear, I wasn’t counting on his promise. It wasn’t what I wanted to happen. It is also noteworthy that several commentators accurately predicted nothing would happen.)

The other half of the issue – one that seems to have largely been overlooked – was how we (Israel) got ourselves into such a position that one man could hold such power and potentially wield it in such a way that would irrevocably damage Israel, with no fear of an effective opposition. If Bibi wanted to extend civil law, it would happen.

Who is responsible for that state of affairs? The voters and Benny Gantz. Not a lot we can do about that now. However, it does seem that Gantz will pay for his perfidy should he face the electorate in the future. I do wish the voters would also make Bibi pay for his folly should he be around for the next election.

As matters stand, it appears the annexation topic is off the agenda while the government deals with more pressing issues. But I’ll take the opportunity to offer some random thoughts and observations.

  • Annexation is the wrong word. (But, it’s so much snappier than the alternatives!) What it is about is the application of Israeli law to certain territory.
  • Unless you make a unique interpretation of international law, there is only one country that has legal right and title to Judea and Samaria: Israel.
  • These two points having been made, however, there was no material gain for Israel to extend its law to parts of Judea and Samaria at this time. None.
  • There was the potential of a real downside for Israel.
  • It was scandalous to devote any resources to this project when there were far more pressing issues for a responsible government to deal with. Like coronavirus, the economy, and the ticking bomb that is Gaza.
  • If ever there were a single episode that proved you cannot be an effective Prime Minister while facing criminal charges, this was it!
  • The whole situation has probably hardened the divide between Israel and American Jews of a Democratic persuasion. Under Bibi, Israel has largely become a partisan issue. That’s bad. Very bad.
  • When even a hard-nosed Bibi fan like the Elder of Ziyon rightly says it’s been a debacle, and skewers Bibi in the process, that tells you how bad this has been for Israel.
  • The one bright spot – not that bright, but in this part of the world it’s all relative – was the Palestinian leadership making a counter proposal to Trump’s peace plan and declaring themselves now ready to negotiate. Do I believe anything will come of that? No. Do I want Bibi to do something about it? Absolutely. No matter how poor the prospects of success, our Prime Minister should start talking. As Dov Lipman once said, we have to be able to tell our grandchildren that we did all we could to try to make peace.
  • I have polished my crystal ball. It tells me that reviving the idea of extending Israeli civil law at any time in the next few years would simply be repeating past mistakes.

It is frustrating seeing such poor leadership from the Prime Minster of Israel. For the country’s sake, let’s hope such a woeful performance is not repeated ever again.

No other name for it

Let’s put Bibi’s narcissism, hunger for power, and hypocrisy to one side. I mean, this is the man who told Olmert he couldn’t be Prime Minister when charged with a crime. But, let’s put that to one side.

Let’s put Gantz’s treachery to one side. After all, this is the man who said:

“I am not able to sit [in government] with Netanyahu…[snip]…I am telling you, we are speaking about a corrupt man who is destroying the country, and I cannot sit with him.”

But let’s put that to one side too.

Let’s instead look at what Bibi and Gantz have delivered: a cabinet of 34 ministers. 34? That’s more than Britain, or the USA, or Germany, or France, or probably more than any other country. (If you know differently, tell me!) 34!

Don’t forget the 15 or 16 deputies.

Time to listen in on the conversation Israelis would be having, social distancing guidelines permitting:

Q: Why do we need 34?

A: We don’t.

Q: So, why do we have 34?

A: It’s the price of doing a deal.

Q: Excuse me?

A: All the parties in the coalition needed to be rewarded.All that support needs to be, er, paid for.

Q: You mean they need to be bribed?

A: You said it, not me.

Q: Whatever happened to being a politician to serve the public?

A: Oh, they serve all right. But they also serve themselves.

Q: And what’s this about two Prime Ministerial homes?

A: One for Bibi, and one for Gantz.

Q: And who pays for all of this?

A: Look in the mirror. The Israeli public.

Q: So, at a crisis period in world history, with economies buckling under pressure from the effects of the pandemic, mass unemployment, many businesses on the edge of collapse, the ruling parties have decided to lead by example by stealing from the public purse.

A: Oh, I wouldn’t go that far.

Q: What else would you call it?

A: Let me get back to you on that.