Tuesday, May 27, 2008

You shall not curse the deaf

The Torah states (Leviticus 19:14): "You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God - I am your Lord."

Apparently the Israeli Chief Rabbinical Court takes this command lightly. This week they made public a ruling which denies conversion to anyone who is deaf. The story was published today on ynet.

The court ruled in the majority that there was no point in converting [a deaf person] , since the Halacha exempts the deaf from performing mitzvahs; and since the conversion would be rendered insignificant, there was no way to perform it.

The court's reasoning was that since the Halacha says that "one who is deaf, one who is young and one who is a simpleton shall be exempt form ordinance," the [deaf person] is deemed incapable of observing mitzvahs, thus incapable of accepting the burden of ordinance, which is the cornerstone of conversion.

This in the 21st century.

It is the rabbinic court who are the simpletons - taking the most literal and rigid reading of the views of previous Rabbis as the unchangeable policy.

The Israeli Rabbinate is doing more to destroy the unity and viability of the Jewish people than all the Palestinian activists combined. Luckily they are becoming more and more irrelevant, as they take more and more hard line stands.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Baby

Well not quite.

But I did spend about 7 years of my life helping to get this synagogue built - as VP of development, Chair of the Building Committee, and as fund raiser.

This video, from the Toronto Star, lets you get a look at the building.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Clinton is Right - today

Hillary Clinton is correct. She does have a better chance of beating John McCain - if the U.S. election where held today.

The polls are still very volatile, and state by state polls even more so. Nevertheless, analysis shows Hillary beating McCain, based on current state polls, while Barak looses. This despite the fact that the same polls show Obama beating McCain by 4.5% in the overall national popular vote, while Clinton barely ekes out a win in the popular vote, at 1%.

That’s because U.S elections are based on electoral votes not popular votes, as Al Gore - and all U.S. citizens - where reminded in 2000. Turns out Obama would be another Gore, winning the popular vote but losing the electoral collage. At least, that is, if the polls are accurate, and the election where held today.

The maps below tell the story.

The one above shows how Clinton does against McCain based on the RCP average poll results as of May 22. Hillary wins the White House by 1 electoral vote. Too close for comfort you say? Well Barack does worse.

The map above shows how Obama does against McCain based on the RCP average poll results as of May 22. McCain wins the White House by 9 electoral vote.

Just to see if the very latest polls changed the picture vis a vis the average of that last 3-4 polls, as shown above, I produced the following two maps based on just the most recent poll available.

and this one

Hillary still wins, and Barak still looses. But the good news for the Democrats is that if the latest polls do show any trend at all, it is that both Democrats are gaining.

At least today.

I did this exercise privately two seeks ago, and Obama and Clinton both won against McCain, and with Obama the slightly stronger candidate.

Friday, May 16, 2008

UJA / IsraAid Help Out in Burma

"Oh Blessed Exteriority"
- Emanual Levinas
Out of the terible tragedy in Burma, their is at least one thing we can be proud of.

The UJA and its partner IsraAid are collecting funds and are on the ground in Burma helping out after the cyclone Nargis disaster.

I gave money. So should you.

Im ani rak li, az ma li?
- Hillel

Ken yirbu - not cyclones: we have enough disasters, thank you very much! But outwardly focused projects. May we live to see the day when these types of projects in the mainsteam Jewish community are so normal as not to worthy of comment.

As Levinas says, quoting the Berdichever Rebbe:
My neighbours physical well being, is my spititual well being

Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Embarrasment of Poverty

What is the opposite of an embarrassment of riches? An embarrassment of poverty? Or is it it just a plain embarrassment.

Here is the list of foreign dignitaries, official state representatives, in Jerusalem this week, specially to mark Israels 6Oth anniversary - by the secular calendar.

President George Bush of the U.S.A,
President Victor Yushchenko of Ukraine,
President Lech Kaczynski of Poland,
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda,
President Michael Saakashvili of Georgia,
President Stjepan Mesic of Croatia,
President Bamir Topi of Albania,
President Blaise Campoare of Burkina Faso,
President Danilo Türk of Slovenia,
President Tommy Remengesau Jr. of Palau,
President Valdis Zatlers of Latvia,
President Nambaryn Enkhbayar of Mongolia,
Prime Minister Robert Fico of the Slovak Republic,
Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany of Hungary,
Foreign Minister Sanjaasuren Oyun, of Mongolia,
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France.

Thats it! Fifteen countries represented. Out of over 150 countries in the world. And what a proud crew too.

Not a single Latin American country. All of Asia represented by a single country - Mongolia. France, the only western European country.

What do all these countries have in common. As far as I can tell, only that they all want to - or need to - suck up to the U.S.

With friends like these ....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

And America Too !!

Yes, I know. I spend too much time criticizing Israel. I am too focussed on her problems and faults. What about the faults of other countries?

Well just to show I am not a one trick pony, I want to share this article from the Wall Street Journal about the sorry state of the U.S. economy.

The U.S. may be a technical democracy. It is certainly a government of the people. But it has cease to be a governmnet by the people and for the people. For at least 20 years it has been a government by professional politicians for the rich and the super rich. (And most professional politician are at least in the "rich" category.)

Highlights (or rather lowlights) include:

Median "nonelderly" household income, we find, fell consistently through the first half of this decade, despite the solid economic growth enjoyed by the
country as a whole. Some nonmedian folks did just fine, of course: The top 20% of households earned more, after taxes, than the rest of the country combined in 2005, while the topmost 1% of the population took home more than the bottom 40%. The top-earning hedge fund manager of 2007, in fact, made about as much last year in nominal dollars ($3.7 billion) as J. Paul Getty, one of the richest men in the world, was worth in the mid-1970s.

Real hourly wages for most workers, on the other hand, have risen only 1% since 1979, even as those workers' productivity has increased by 60%. What's more, American workers now clock more hours per year than their counterparts in virtually every other advanced economy, even Japan. And unless you haven't read a newspaper for 15 years, you already know what's happened to workers' health insurance and pension plans.


So let us have one now. Instead of pleasant talk about "change" and feats of beer drinking at the corner tavern, let us hear our candidates address this greatest issue of them all: What kind of country are we to be? A land of equality? Or a bankers' utopia – where the law of the land has achieved mystical oneness with the higher law of classical economics, and devil take the bottom 80%

And the situation in Canada is only marginally better.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Happy Birthday !!

Sixty years ago today - by the Hebrew calendar - the State of Israel was declared by Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv.

Twenty three years ago today - by the secular calendar - my son Yehuda was born, also in Tel Aviv.

So I wish to wish both Israel and Yehuda a happy birthday.

But I decided to leave Israel - 19 years ago now - partly to save Yehuda from Israel. Even then, one could see the closed mindedness of most Israelis when it came to Palestinians (though then most Isarelis still called them simply "aravim" - Arabs.) Most Israelis where happy to live there lives and simply ignore what was going on in the occupied territories - the land grabs, the water rationing, the separate development, the high unemployment. Most Israelis where happy to benefit from cheap Arab labour, as long it was hidden - in the back rooms of restaurants and hotels or on construction sites. Most Israelis never noticed that Arab neighbourhoods - even in mixed Jewish Arab cities within the old pre-67 Israel, where run down and lacked basic infrastructure and services found in Jewish neighbourhoods. Most Israelis where surprised when the first intefada broke out!

I had decided to leave even before the first intefada broke out, but when it did I changed my mind (for awhile.) I was sure (how naive I was) that now, finally, the majority of Israelis would see and realize how unjustly they where treating Palestinians, and move to correct that. Of course I was wrong, and even though the first intefada was a true popular uprising, using demonstrations and stones and strikes - not guns - it only hardened the heart of most Israelis, or at least the government. Yitzhak Rabin famously promised to "crush the bones" of Palestinian demonstrators.

A lot has changed in the 19 years since I left Israel. One million Russian Jews have immigrated to Israel. The economy has boomed. Israeli culture has thrived. The economic situation of the Palestinians has gotten worse. The security situation of Israelis Jews has gotten worse. The security situation of the Palestinians has gotten worse.

And my son Yehuda has grown into a fine young man. He has good progressive values. He is smart. And he is hard working and ambitious - though not always fields that make me comfortable.

His Hebrew skill have faded - though not entirely. He led a fantastic seder just a few weeks ago: with his non-Jewish girl friend at his side.

I don't really know how (not what) he feels about Israel - though I am sure whatever it is it is less intense than what I feel. That is - after all - sort of what I wished for him when we moved away. Not to get caught up in the "bad karma" of Israeli society. And he hasn't.

So, happy birthday Israel. May you live up to the dreams of your founders.

And, happy birthday Yehuda. May you live up to the dreams of your father.

I wish the best for both of you.

Israel at 60 - take 7

This article originally appeared in the Guardian - May 7, 2008

As it turns 60, the fear is Israel has decided it can get by without peace

This nation was forged in refuge, not imperialism. But its people have grown cynical about hopes - or even need - for a deal with Palestinians

By Jonathan Friedland

In the wee small hours on Israeli television, they show reruns of what was once a staple form of mass entertainment: kibbutz choirs - the men in pressed work shirts, the women in peasant skirts - singing Hebrew folk melodies exalting the Land of Israel, while a smiling audience joins in. The pictures were black and white, the sets cardboard, and the programmes interminable - a socialist-realist tableau of a simple farming nation engaged in wholesome, patriotic amusement.
Visiting Israel last month, I sat transfixed when I stumbled across the public service channel that replays those old shows. Tonight the national celebrations will be more up to date, as Israel marks its 60th anniversary with street parties this evening and beach barbecues tomorrow. Yet if the world is watching, trying to understand the place Israel was and what it has become, it could do worse than start with those cheesy TV specials.

For one thing, too many critics like to depict the establishment of Israel in May 1948 as little more than an act of western imperialism, inserting an alien, European enclave into the mainly Arab and Muslim Middle East. In this view, the Jewish Israelis of today, with their swimming pools and waterside restaurants, are no different from their counterparts in other settler societies - the whites of Australia or, more painfully, South Africa.

A look at the faces of Jewish Israel is one easy rebuttal: the new nation that has formed by mixing Moroccan and Russian, Ethiopian and Kurd, is one of the most ethnically diverse in the world. But there is a more substantial counter-argument, one that can be picked up even on those old TV singalongs.

A favourite in the patriotic repertoire is Ein Li Eretz Acheret (I Have No Other Land). In a way, no other sentence conveys the tragedy of Israel and Palestine more concisely - because of course, and with good reason, the Palestinians feel exactly the same way. They too have nowhere else. Yet this Zionist anthem articulates something very deep in Israelis' sense of themselves: they are a nation formed by those who had no other place to live. The Holocaust, inevitably, looms large in this: the establishment of a Jewish state just three years after the liberation of Auschwitz was no coincidence. After 2,000 years, the world was finally persuaded that the Jews deserved what every other people regarded as a basic right: a place of their own.

A poignant reminder that Jews really had no other place - because the rest of the world did not want them - came with the death last month of Yossi Harel, captain of the Exodus, the leaking, rusting ship that carried 4,500 Holocaust survivors from Europe to Palestine in 1947, only to be sent back - by the British - first to France and then, incredibly, to Germany.

This, surely, gives the Israeli experience a different texture to the founding of, say, New Zealand, Argentina or the US. Those enterprises were fuelled chiefly by ambition and appetite for material resources. Even if those who landed on Plymouth Rock were fleeing religious intolerance, the circumstances of America's pioneers were not those of the Jews in the 1940s. The moral difference between the Jews and the white settlers of America, Africa and Australasia is the difference between a homeless man who needs a roof over his head and the landowner who fancies a second home. Those who lazily brand Zionism as imperialism should be able to tell the difference - and to remember that those who boarded those battered ships felt less like imperialists than refugees desperate for shelter.

The old TV shows provide another, related corrective. They are a reminder that in some ways early Israel was less Rhodesia than it was East Germany, a small country with socialism as the state religion. Back in the 1970s, all Israeli floors looked the same: the tiles were mass produced and there was only one style. Every toilet seat was made by a single kibbutz. Foreign investors were told they were welcome - so long as they were happy to sell a 51% stake in their company to the Histadrut, Israel's TUC.

That collectivism is all but gone. Most of the kibbutzim have privatised: individual members now own their own houses and earn different wages from each other. The kibbutz was never Israel, but it stands as a metaphor for what is happening in the wider society.

Israel itself is privatising, as its people withdraw from the collective sphere and retreat into their own, individual lives. Many speak of the bu'ah they construct for themselves, the bubble in which they can hide away from the fears and angst of Israel's "situation". Polling reveals the dichotomy: while nearly 40% believe the country faces a "serious threat of destruction" from its neighbours, around 83% are "satisfied or very satisfied" with their own lives.

All of which has a bearing on the other meaning of tomorrow's anniversary. The US administration has set the date as a deadline for Israelis and Palestinians to show some progress in the talks launched at Annapolis last November, ahead of President Bush's visit to the region next week.

Israel insists that it is straining every sinew seeking peace, just as it has insisted throughout the past 60 years. I heard the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, explain with pride in London last week that she has kept talking to her Palestinian counterpart, even "on days of terror". Some of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's hawkish critics reckon the peace effort is, if anything, accelerating, in order to distract attention from the new, apparently serious, corruption inquiry just launched against him.

And yet, there are few signs of a genuinely urgent Israeli desire for an accord with the Palestinians. The appearance of efforts for peace, in order to placate the legacy-hungry Bush, most certainly, but a fierce yearning for peace is harder to detect.

So when Jimmy Carter was in Jerusalem last month, carrying messages from Damascus and Hamas, no frontline Israeli minister would so much as meet him. Israel says it can't afford to legitimise Hamas, even indirectly, for fear of undermining the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. Fine. In which case, surely, Israel would be doing all it could to bolster Abbas's credibility - by, say, removing West Bank outposts deemed illegal under Israeli law, or offering compensation to those Jewish settlers ready to leave occupied territory voluntarily and return to Israel-proper. Yet Olmert has done no such thing.

In this, the PM is doing no more than follow the national mood. Israelis have grown cynical about peacemaking. "We pulled out of Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, and what did we get for our trouble? Katyushas from Hizbullah and Qassams from Hamas. No thanks." Besides, and few Israelis like to say this out loud, they believe they can get by without peace. Thanks, they whisper, to the separation barrier or wall, terror attacks have dwindled: Palestinian violence is contained. As for the so-called demographic factor - the notion that soon Jews and Arabs in the entire land ruled by Israel will reach numeric parity - that feels abstract and far away.

Israelis will party tonight, celebrating an economy that enjoyed 5.1% growth last year and which provides for many a good life. Only a few insomniacs will watch the old shows and remember the long-ago melodies, including the one that sounds more passe now than ever. It's called Shir L'shalom - and it is the song for peace.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Clinton and Sharon

I just got it !

The insight came form this very perceptive article in the New York Times.

Hillary Clinton is channelling Ariel Sharon. (Can you channel someone who is still alive- albeit in a vegetative state?)

In the Israeli election of 2001, which Sharon won handily, many Israelis voted for Sharon, not despite the fact that he was an SOB (a "junk yard dog" in Israeli parlance), but precisely because he was an SOB.

"He may be an SOB", went the popular idiom. "But he is our SOB," his supporters said with admiration, if not pride.

Israel lives in a tough neighbourhood, and in the midst of the intefada Israelis decided what they needed was not someone thoughtful, or creative, or honest, or farsighted. What they felt they needed was someone fiercely loyal and meaner and tougher than the other side.

That’s the card that Hillary is trying to play: whether "the other side" is Iran or the Republicans.

By this standard, Obama - the thoughtful, strategic, negotiator looking at the long term - doesn't have a chance. But then maybe America today are not Israel in 2001.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Israel at 60 - take 6

Ah - what might have been!

Read this article from Haaretz on Yehuda Magnes.


Saving the Jews from themselves

... On April 12, 1948, Magnes wrote in his diary: "For more than a generation I have been pleading for peace, conciliation, understanding. How can I not and stand before the world and say: 'Friends, stop the bloodshed. Understanding is possible.'

On April 13, Magnes was informed that 34 Hebrew University and Hadassah hospital employees were killed in an attack on a convoy to Mount Scopus. All told, 77 people were killed in the attack, many of them Magnes' friends. But Manges was no less shocked by the massacre than he was by the circumstances that preceded it: Four days earlier, the Irgun and Lehi pre-state Jewish underground militias killed more than 100 Palestinians at Deir Yassin.

At the funerals of those killed in the convoy attack, Magnes condemned the cruelty of both sides, and was denounced as a traitor by many members of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine).

Magnes considered himself to be a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and the prophet Jeremiah, and opposed all forms of nationalism that are based on military force.

Magnes predicted that even if we win the war, there would then be another war, and another one. It would never end.

Was Magnes a dreamer, or where his ideas workable? Sadly no one tried them. But if nothing else the last paragraph above was indeed prophetic. Jeremiah indeed.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Israel at 60 - take 5

Labour Zionism (and Israel) have come a long way.

Once it dreamed of an egalitarian and cultured society. Now it is the poster child for the high tech entrepreneurial free market. Is this all bad? No. Is it all good. No.

But it sure is different.

The new secular Zionist dogma: Science and Technology, Individual Initiative and Optimism, Non-conformism and Confidence - these will save the world. And they certainly have been good for the top 20% of Israeli society.

President of Israel, and former Labour Party Prime Minister, Shimon Peres sums it all up in this remarkable talk to a group of technology students in Israel.

My favourite line: "Optimist and pessimists both die the same way. But its more enjoyable for you and for others to live as an optimist."

My least favourite: "One day nano-technology will allow us to have robot armies to fight our wars."

What ever happened to love of history and culture, caring for the poor and the weak, seeking justice, empathizing with the stranger, and knowledge l'shma as a path to fulfillment?

Ah! T'is indeed the age of the "New Hebrew Man."

Israel at 60 - take 4

Israel is not all politics and conflict with Palestinians. Indeed, when living there, it is possible (almost) to forget the conflict completely.

Daily life is rich. Culture - of all kinds - is booming. Israelis are famous for their energy. Rules are made to be broken. Creativity (tactical if not strategic) is evident everywhere. And of course the landscape itself is beautiful.

When you watch the nightly news about the situation in Gaza or the West Bank, it often - usually for most Israelis - seems a million miles away - not a 1-2 hour drive down the road.

This vibrant reality is caught very well in an article in the National Post.


A land of conflict? Absolutely. But also pop music, French immigrants, sushi, annoying teens, high taxes and hope.

...Certainly, a fast-paced, fun-loving urban scene is not what most non-Israelis think of when they think of Israel. But it is what many Israelis think of when they think of Israel. The typical Labour-voting, secular Tel Aviv type will even argue that what happens in this Jewish metropolis is more the essence of contemporary Israel than what happens in headline-grabbing places like religious Jerusalem or the settlements. When reading about Sderot here, it can feel like reading about an entirely different country. During the 2006 Lebanon war, when most of Haifa's population was in underground shelters, Tel Aviv was business as usual.

At times it can be exasperating. The Tel Aviv way can come off as an aggressive form of laissez-faire, a hedonism verging on nihilism. Tel Avivis sometimes refer to their city, not without pride, as a bubble.

Ask passersby walking through Rabin Square if they feel the Arab-Israeli conflict in the city, and half will respond: "See for yourself! Look how full the cafes are!" while pointing to packed establishments at nearly every corner. They know that difficulties come out when the surface is scratched. And so the idea seems to be to go for a thick surface. Sometimes this strategy can seem miraculous, and sometimes unbelievably callous, but something about it goes with Tel Aviv -- a city built in the direction of the new, and always refusing to get stuck, a city seen by some as an antidote to Jerusalem. ...

This attitude allows many Israelis to survive and even thrive. But it also make them feel less pressured to end the conflict with the Palestinians, or seek a just peace. Tel Aviv is the essence of this Israeli contradiction.

Read the full article here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Israel at 60 - take 3

As someone who once competed in the preliminaries of the International Youth Bible Quiz (and was eliminated in the very first round) I was particularly interested in this story: "What if a 'messianic Jew' wins Israel's annual Bible quiz?" that appeared in the JTA. The article begins:

JERUSALEM - Should Bat El Levy be asked at Israel's international youth Bible quiz next week about the messiah's coming, she may find herself in a bind.

The 17-year-old Jerusalem girl is a world-class scriptural scholar who, as it happens, believes in Jesus.

It might never have been an issue, were it not for the sleuthing of an Israeli anti-missionary group, Yad LeAhim, which sees in Levy's participation in the annual Jewish Bible contest a threat to Judaism.

Yad LeAhim director Shlomo Dov Lipschitz circulated a letter to Israel's top rabbis this week calling for pressure on the Education Ministry to disqualify Levy from the quiz, which takes place every year on Israeli Independence Day. This year it will be held May 8 under the auspices of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The finals of the contest, sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Education, are held every year in Jerusalem. They are broadcast live on Israeli T.V. It is such an institution, that already in the 1970's, it was parodies by the Israeli comedy troop "Hagashash Hakhiver" (Kama paamim katuv ba'tanakh 'gefen' bimkom 'gafen' v kama paamin 'gafen' bimkom 'gefen' - ha mavin yavin.) For years this contest has been run in all sorts of diaspora Jewish schools, where it is funded by grants from the Jewish Agency. The winners at various schools go to provincial/state, then national, and then regional contests. And then the best of the Diaspora get to go to Jerusalem to compete with the best of Israel.

The problem - as seen even in the brief snippet quoted above - is that the contest has two identities. It is sometimes called "Israel's international youth Bible quiz" and sometimes called "the annual Jewish Bible contest". I am not sure what its official name is, or actual ground rules are.

If it is a "Jewish Bible contest", then the question raised by Yad LeAhim is a reasonable one. I might argue that "messianic Jews" are still Jews, and should be allowed to compete, but the question is legitimate and the answer not so obvious. However, if it is indeed a Jewish only contest, why is the Israeli Ministry of Education sponsoring it? What about the 20% of Israeli school children who are not Jewish, even without counting messianic Jews.

If it is "Israel's international youth Bible quiz", then why shouldn't it be open to non-Jews. Let everyone compete, and in so doing honour the Torah. (Questions are asked only about the "Old Testament".)

The whole deal just points to the confusion over citizenship and religion in Israel, and the blurred boundaries between the realms of Zionism/Judaism/and the State. The very fact that- de facto the contest is funded and managed jointly by the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Education make this clear. One can safely assume that the contest is not advertised to non-Jewish schools in the Diaspora, though for all we know that have some amazing Bible whizzes there too.

Secondly it raises the question of who is the contest trying to honour, and what is it trying to promote. It its trying to honor the Bible, Bible scholars, and Bible study, then why not open it up to non Jews? The prophets themselves foresee the day when all people will study "your ways" and seek guidance in Jerusalem. On the other hand, a Jewish only contest would seem to seek to honour only Jewish scholars, and promote only Jewish education. Not a bad thing, but is it something the State of Israel should be spending its money and efforts on? And should Jews and Jewish institutions be depending on the State of Israel to be playing this role for them?

In case your curious: the Israeli Ministry of Education "solved" the problem by stating that while indeed the contest i open only to Jews, since the girl in question is registered as "Jewish" on her Israeli Identity card, it is not up to them to second guess the Ministry of the Interior's registration department, and therefore she cloud compete. While this may show considerable bureaucratic ingenuity, it will not solve the deeper problem of Israeli identity, and the relationship of State, ethnicity, and religion that this incident reveals.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Israel at 60 - take 2

Thanks to my friend Eric, for forwarding this article from Belfast Telegraph to me.

How did a Jewish state founded 60 years ago end up throwing shit at cowering Palestinians?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

When you hit your 60th birthday, most of you will guzzle down your hormone replacement therapy with a glass of champagne and wonder if you have become everything you dreamed of in your youth. In a few weeks, the state of Israel is going to have that hangover.

She will look in the mirror and think – I have a sore back, rickety knees and a gun at my waist, but I'm still standing. Yet somewhere, she will know she is suppressing an old secret she has to face. I would love to be able to crash the birthday party with words of reassurance. Israel has given us great novelists like Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, great film-makers like Joseph Cedar, great scientific research into Alzheimer's, and great dissident journalists like Amira Hass, Tom Segev and Gideon Levy to expose her own crimes.

She has provided the one lonely spot in the Middle East where gay people are not hounded and hanged, and where women can approach equality.

But I can't do it. Whenever I try to mouth these words, a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit. Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs, and become a poison.

Standing near one of these long, stinking brown-and-yellow rivers of waste recently, the local chief medical officer, Dr Bassam Said Nadi, explained to me: "Recently there were very heavy rains, and the shit started to flow into the reservoir that provides water for this whole area. I knew that if we didn't act, people would die. We had to alert everyone not to drink the water for over a week, and distribute bottles. We were lucky it was spotted. Next time..." He shook his head in fear. This is no freak: a 2004 report by Friends of the Earth found that only six per cent of Israeli settlements adequately treat their sewage.

Meanwhile, in order to punish the population of Gaza for voting "the wrong way", the Israeli army are not allowing past the checkpoints any replacements for the pipes and cement needed to keep the sewage system working. The result? Vast stagnant pools of waste are being held within fragile dykes across the strip, and rotting. Last March, one of them burst, drowning a nine-month-old baby and his elderly grandmother in a tsunami of human waste. The Centre on Housing Rights warns that one heavy rainfall could send 1.5m cubic metres of faeces flowing all over Gaza, causing "a humanitarian and environmental disaster of epic proportions".

So how did it come to this? How did a Jewish state founded 60 years ago with a promise to be "a light unto the nations" end up flinging its filth at a cowering Palestinian population?

The beginnings of an answer lie in the secret Israel has known, and suppressed, all these years. Even now, can we describe what happened 60 years ago honestly and unhysterically? The Jews who arrived in Palestine throughout the twentieth century did not come because they were cruel people who wanted to snuffle out Arabs to persecute. No: they came because they were running for their lives from a genocidal European anti-Semitism that was soon to slaughter six million of their sisters and their sons.

They convinced themselves that Palestine was "a land without people for a people without land". I desperately wish this dream had been true. You can see traces of what might have been in Tel Aviv, a city that really was built on empty sand dunes. But most of Palestine was not empty. It was already inhabited by people who loved the land, and saw it as theirs. They were completely innocent of the long, hellish crimes against the Jews.

When it became clear these Palestinians would not welcome becoming a minority in somebody else's country, darker plans were drawn up. Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote in 1937: "The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war."

So, for when the moment arrived, he helped draw up Plan Dalit. It was – as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe puts it – "a detailed description of the methods to be used to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; and laying siege to and bombarding population centres". In 1948, before the Arab armies invaded, this began to be implemented: some 800,000 people were ethnically cleansed, and Israel was built on the ruins. The people who ask angrily why the Palestinians keep longing for their old land should imagine an English version of this story. How would we react if the 30m stateless, persecuted Kurds in the world sent armies and settlers into this country to seize everything in England below Leeds, and swiftly established a free Kurdistan from which we were expelled? Wouldn't we long forever for our children to return to Cornwall and Devon and London? Would it take us only 40 years to compromise and offer to settle for just 22 per cent of what we had?

If we are not going to be endlessly banging our heads against history, the Middle East needs to excavate 1948, and seek a solution. Any peace deal – even one where Israel dismantled the wall and agreed to return to the 1967 borders – tends to crumple on this issue. The Israelis say: if we let all three million come back, we will be outnumbered by Palestinians even within the 1967 borders, so Israel would be voted out of existence. But the Palestinians reply: if we don't have an acknowledgement of the Naqba (catastrophe), and our right under international law to the land our grandfathers fled, how can we move on?

It seemed like an intractable problem – until, two years ago, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted the first study of the Palestinian Diaspora's desires. They found that only 10 per cent – around 300,000 people – want to return to Israel proper. Israel can accept that many (and compensate the rest) without even enduring much pain. But there has always been a strain of Israeli society that preferred violently setting its own borders, on its own terms, to talk and compromise. This weekend, the elected Hamas government offered a six-month truce that could have led to talks. The Israeli government responded within hours by blowing up a senior Hamas leader and killing a 14-year-old girl.

Perhaps Hamas' proposals are a con; perhaps all the Arab states are lying too when they offer Israel full recognition in exchange for a roll-back to the 1967 borders; but isn't it a good idea to find out? Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.

Israel at 60

In a week or so, Israel will celebrate 60 years of independance.

I thought the article below - from the Jeruslam Post - was a pretty good summary of my own views - though of course I am not in 100% agreement.

I have colour coded the article. Green - Agree; Yellow - Problematic; Red - Disagree.

Moving on to 'stage-two Zionism'

Sarah Kreimer , THE JERUSALEM POST Apr. 29, 2008


'Make a decision - are you citizens of Israel, or of the Palestinian Authority?" Yisrael Beitenu MK David Rotem challenged the Arab citizens of Israel in a recent Israeli news interview. Sadly, on the eve of Israel's 60th celebration of independence, ongoing Israeli policy is pushing almost one-fifth of our citizenry - the Arab Israelis, or Palestinian citizens of Israel - into the corner of choosing between being Israelis or being Palestinians; when, in fact, they are both. This impossible choice plagues not only the million Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel - living in Ramle, Lod, the Galilee and the Negev. Rather, it poses an existential dilemma to the basic vision of our country.

I IMMIGRATED to Israel, in 1980, to be part of building a society of which I, a liberal Jew from America, could be proud. Often, I am proud of being an Israeli. When my kids and I push through the Hebrew Book Week crowds, eagerly choosing from among thousands of works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, written in a language that was unspoken 100 years ago. When I go to my Kupat Holim HMO in Jerusalem, and my doctor is Armenian, our pediatrician is a Mizrahi Jew, and the eye doctor is a Russian immigrant. When I walk through the Knesset, and see ultra-Orthodox MK Eli Yishai, secular-Jewish MK Zahava Gal-on, and Muslim Arab MK Jamal Zahalka - all legislating for the State of Israel.

Today, Israel stands among the developed nations as a world leader in health care and technology. There is a lot to be proud of in Israel. A lot to be ashamed of, as well.

In the Negev, the Israeli government continues to refuse 70,000 Beduin citizens the right to settle on lands they have inhabited for centuries. In Israel's mixed Jewish-Arab cities, building permits are denied to rehabilitate Arab homes, while adjacent Jewish neighborhoods flourish. In the Galilee, rather than investing in developing Arab towns, the government continues to constrict their lands in order to expand Jewish towns. As a result, in modern, successful Israel, over 50% of Israeli Arab families live under the poverty line.

SIXTY YEARS ago, the young State of Israel, using the Absentee Property Law, appropriated hundreds of thousands of dunams of land, owned by Arabs who had fled their homes - in the Galilee, the Negev, the mixed cities of Ramle, Lod, Jaffa, Haifa and Acco. Over the coming decades massive government (and international Jewish) investment gave birth to scores of new Jewish development towns, kibbutzim and moshavim throughout the country - consolidating possession of the land. Meanwhile, the Arab towns and neighborhoods that remained continued to be restricted, receiving little public investment, and facing labyrinthine planning systems designed to limit their development, or even re-allocate their remaining lands.

In 2008, this ethnic approach - draconian, yet necessary in the 1950s and 1960s - still dominates national land use and development policy in Israel. Today, if we continue this approach to building the "Jewish democratic state" we doom ourselves to a non-democratic state, known to the world as "Jewish." But such a state will not be Jewish in ways of which we can be proud.

AFTER 60 years, it is time to re-design our current path, with the aim of building a society that fully belongs to both its Jewish and Arab citizens. This aim is not only just; it is in the overall Israeli interest. It also affects, and is affected by, any effort to achieve a two-state solution.

First, despite Yisrael Beitenu's demand to choose, Arab citizens of Israel are Palestinians. In some cases, they are the sisters or cousins of those who left in 1948, who are now living in Jordan, in Lebanon, and in Gaza. In all cases, one million Palestinian citizens of Israel maintain a constant balancing act - between their identification with their Israeli citizenship, and their identification with their Palestinian peoplehood. When their attempts to build a legal home or develop their neighborhood are rebuffed, their identification with Israel weakens. When their country bombs or shoots their people the balancing act becomes intolerable.

Second, failure in building a two-state future increases the national conflict among citizens inside Israel. Since the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993, until its violent interruption in October 2000, most Arab citizens of Israel sought their own civic aspirations in achieving equality in the state in which they lived - Israel. They sought, for their stateless Palestinian brethren, a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

As the prospect of a Palestinian state dims, and Israeli government policies and proclamations continue seeking to "Judaize" the Galilee and the Negev, Arab citizens of Israel turn increasingly to the idea of achieving Palestinian self-determination within the State of Israel. The more that mainstream politicians regard Arab citizens as a foreign element to be contained and later jettisoned in a "land swap," the more these same citizens withdraw from participation in Israeli democracy, and seek their future through increased autonomy - as a national minority within Israel.

AS WE celebrate Israel's 60th birthday, we need to make a paradigm shift, and to re-envision our society. Sixty years after the founding of the state, we must declare an end to stage one of Zionism - state-building - and move to stage two of society-building. We need to redefine our Israeli civic enterprise, not as a Jewish State, but as a Jewish Homeland, in a state with shared citizenship. Otherwise, in clinging to the visions that have guided Israel in the past, we will destroy what has been built.

Israel - within its pre-1967 lines - is a shared home. It is a Homeland for the Jewish people; but it also a home for the descendants of the Arabs who were living here and became citizens in 1948. Over these 60 years they, too, have worked, paid taxes, and built their future and their children's future here in the land of their birth.

At the same time, if our Homeland is to be genuinely democratic, with a Jewish majority, a viable Palestinian Homeland must be established alongside ours - with its own Palestinian majority and law of return for Palestinians. As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the Annapolis conference in November 2007: without the two-state solution, Israel is "finished." As long as only one state exists in this Land (between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River), our Jewish national home will not be sustainable. Sixty years after achieving statehood, our national home awaits this completion.

The immediate steps on the path to this vision are clear. Jettison the settlement enterprise - both within the Green Line ("Judaizing" the Galilee, the Negev, and the mixed cities of Ramle, Jaffa, Acre and Lod), as well as beyond it (in east Jerusalem and the West Bank). Dismantle institutional discrimination - particularly in land-use, planning, and resource allocation - and develop the country for all citizens equally. Teach Hebrew and Arabic as the official languages they are; and teach the histories, narratives and poetry of both peoples in our schools. Pursue "complete equality of social and political rights to all inhabitants" - as proposed in Israel's Declaration of Independence.

After 60 years of independence, it is time to recognize that an Israel that attempts to neglect, dispossess or exclude its Arab citizens is not Jewish; and is not sustainable. It is time to stop defining the Jewishness of the state by the amount of land controlled by Jewish towns or citizens, but by the justice of our society. It is time to be guided by the vision of Israel as a decent, fair, democratic society for all Israelis -Arab and Jewish
- as we pursue a two-state solution that will allow national fulfillment for both peoples.

The writer won the 2002 Prize of the Speaker of the Knesset for Contributing to the Quality of Life in Israel - for founding and co-directing the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development. She is currently writing a book based on 25 years of experience in the field of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.