Friday, June 30, 2006

1000 for 1

It has got to enrage the Palestinians deep inside that the Israeli government is willing to go so far, spur so much activity merely to recover just one of its soldiers.

The kidnappers of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit issued a new set of demands in the early hours of Saturday morning, calling on Israel to halt its offensive in Gaza and ordering the release of 1,000 prisoners. Nowhere do the demands explicitly say that Shalit would be returned in exchange for the requested actions.
Their own government would do nothing similar on their behalf. They're cognisant, too, that it's a laughable proposition. Even their mothers send them out to die young, as martyrs.


Speaking of martyred youths - this time of inadvertent ones, not "martyrs by choice - otherwise known as suicide bombers - Chayyei Sarah has a very moving first hand account of the eulogies given for Eliahu Asheri:

What interested me most were the speeches about what Eliyahu had been like. Every single speaker referred to him as a modest, spiritual, non-materialistic person, someone simple and kind who never liked to attract attention. Apparently, his prayers were inspiring; watching him pray was "watching someone with incredible closeness to God, a pure faith. Eliyahu's prayers were a fiery torch." The rabbi of Itamar said that when everyone else would exit the synagogue after services, Eliyahu was always still there, still praying. The head of his school said that it will be hard for him to look at the front right seat in the study hall, where Eliyahu always sat.

"The sun sets every night," said a rabbi from Bnei Akiva. "It has done so every day since the beginning of the world, and we accept it as the way of things. But who has heard of the sun setting in the afternoon? Eliyahu was a sun. He was on his way to become a teacher of Torah, but was interrupted. The sun has set before its time."

Unbelievably, Eliyahu's mother found the strength to speak. She didn’t cry while she was talking - all the rabbis had been sobbing through their speeches - but quietly spoke to her son, with incredible simplicity and dignity.

"Eliyahu," she said. "You always came to other people's defense. In our home, when we judged others harshly, you always said not to judge, never to see someone based on their outward appearance. So gently and sweetly you came to the defense of others."

"Now, Eliyahu, come to our defense. Use your extraordinary power of prayer, the prayer that we all admired, to act as our defense in Heaven. Ask God not to judge us harshly. Pray to Him to protect us, and pray to Him to help all of us to know him, for all of the Children of Israel to recognize Him, for He is our father."
I find both eulogies quoted, both sets of images, incredibly moving.

Lazer Beams writes his own eulogy for Eliyahu.

Extreme Even for the UN

New UN rights body targets Israel

The new UN Human Rights Council voted Friday to make a review of alleged human rights abuses by Israel a permanent feature of every council session.

The resolution, which was sponsored by Islamic countries, was passed by a vote of 29-12, with five abstentions. It effectively revives a practice of the UN's dissolved Human Rights Commission, which also reviewed alleged Israeli abuses every time it met.

Israel protested Friday's vote, calling it a perpetuation of "the old infamous habits" of the widely discredited commission.

The resolution requires UN investigators to report at each council session "on the Israeli human rights violations in occupied Palestine."

... Besides Arab and other Muslim countries, "yes" votes were cast by African nations, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia and Sri Lanka. Canada and European Union members on the council voted against it.

Who knew that Mexico felt that way about Israel? Well, presumably Mark in Mexico might have. But besides him.

Self-satire? Drumming up interest with cheap anti-Americanism? Or don't they realize?

Check out this headline currently gracing the frontpage of the BBC website:
Charismatic river dwellers return - after US invaders' removal
You'd think this would have something to do with the Iraqi marsh people - or something important. It turns out the article is about the return of "charismatic" young water voles to River Dore on the Herefordshire-Wales border, the home of one of the largest river habitat restoration projects in the UK.

And the "American invaders" in question are American mink.

It's hard to say what makes a water vole more charismatic than another creature other than the fact that their predators seem to be American.

The mink in question, by the way, are being trapped and killed. American pests that they are.

Mubarak, negotiating

You can tell how much Mubarak dislikes Hamas and their leadership by the fact that, at least according to reports in the Jerusalem Post, he's actually taking a moderate, useful stance in the ongoing negotation to diffuse the current Gaza crisis.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak demanded from his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad to deport the Syrian-based Hamas leadership unless it agrees to release kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, Palestinian sources said on Friday.

The demand was made in the context of a compromise that Egypt was attempting to draft between the Israel and Hamas, whose Damascus leader, Khaled Mashaal was demanding that thousands of Palestinian detainees, held in Israeli prisons, be released. Mubarak warned Mashaal that his position was leading the Palestinians to disaster, Israel Radio reported.
Though it's no wonder, with Palestinians, literally, once again battening down the gates - with explosives - at Egypt's northern border with Gaza.

The Captain also weighs in on the implications of Mubarak's stance.

Debka reports that Kemal Mashaal, the Hamas leader living in Syria, has indicated that there would be no compromise right now as Hamas is not in the mood to bend and bow to Israel. But they also report counterindications, apparently from other sources, that "a modest return" might be possible.

According to yet other Debka sources, this time Palestinian, three points have emerged from the Egyptian-Palestinian negotiation"
DEBKAfile's Palestinian sources point to three important points emerging from the Hamas-Egyptian exchange:

1. The tone taken by the Palestinian terrorist group's leaders indicates that Gilead Shalit is alive and in the Gaza Strip, unless, of course, they are cheating.

2. Hamas would prefer to end the episode speedily and accept the token release of a small number of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Mubarak spoke of Hamas accepting Egyptian compromise proposals and accused Israel of holding back its response. An official Israeli spokesman shot back: "Jerusalem has not received any compromise proposals."

3. [Egyptian intelligence chief, Gen. Omar] Suleiman is using his mediation effort on behalf of the Israeli soldier as a lever for negotiations on a long-term, comprehensive ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would also terminate the Palestinian Qassam offensive from Gaza.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What Happens Next in Gaza?

Even with top Hamas lawmakers now in Israeli hands, it is impossible to predict whether the Palestinians will become pragmatic and agree to release Gilad Shalit, or whether this will incite them further and make them dig in their heels.

Herb Keinon has similar thoughts in the Jerusalem Post:
It is not at all clear whether Israeli military action in Gaza hurts Hamas politically. In what to Israeli eyes seems like the logic-defying reality that is Gaza, it is not at all clear whether blowing up bridges and knocking out electricity in Gaza weakens public support for Hamas, or - paradoxically - whether it might in fact strengthen it.

Furthermore, it is not even clear that Hamas doesn't want some IDF action to further its victimization narrative in the world. Already some in the world are asking whether the capture of one Israeli soldier merits the type of military action we saw Wednesday. Besides, some are whispering, what about the 10,000 Palestinians prisoners held by Israel?
Keinon's point about the victimization narrative is precisely on the money. The Palestinians have so mythologized and taken to heart their victim narrrative, that it often seems this is the only mold they know. They make their reality conform with it. What they'll forget is how they provoked this situation, and how the population in general supported holding onto Shalit, even with IDF troops massing on the border.

Eliahu Asheri executed by the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza?


UPDATE: Asheri's execution has now been confirmed. Apparently he was shot, as early as Sunday, soon after he first went missing.

Baruch Dayan !Emet. [Blessed is the One rightful judge. (This is the traditional prayer Jews recite upon hearing of someone's death.)]

Palestinian terrorists in Gaza claim to have fired a chemical tipped warhead into Israel. So far, that report is unconfirmed by Israel.

A Palestinian militant group said early Thursday it executed an 18- year-old Israeli settler kidnapped earlier in the West Bank. The statement from the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza said the settler, Eliahu Asheri, had been executed.

The group, which has links to the ruling Hamas, had threatened to execute the Israeli if Israel did not halt its invasion of Gaza.

In other news, Olmert wasn't inflating his rhetoric when he claimed he was going to use extreme means to bring home Gilad Shalit, as the IDF forces has now arrested Hamas' deputy PM, other Palestinian cabinet ministers, lawmakers, etc.
Israel Defense Forces troops launched early Thursday a major arrest operation against Hamas officials, detaining more than 30 of the ruling militant group's ministers and parliamentarians in the West Bank, Palestinian security officials said.

The arrests took place in Ramallah, Qalqilyah, Hebron, Jenin and East Jerusalem, according to Palestinian reports.

In Ramallah, forces arrested Palestinian Authority deputy prime minister Nasser al-Shaer, two other cabinet ministers and four lawmakers, all from Hamas, in a raid on a complex of buildings, Palestinian security officials said.

Earlier, Labor Minister Mohammed Barghouti was stopped on his way to his village, Kabur, just north of Ramallah. Military jeeps stopped his car, ordered him out of the vehicle and took him away, the officials said.

Flyover Country


Israel Air Force performed a flyover above Assad's palace in Syria while Assad was at the site. The planes swooped low over the summer residence of Assad, on Syria's Mediteranean coast.

Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas, lives in Damascus. He is known to be orchestrating the kidnapping of the IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit and, during this time, Syria is providing him with cover. Hence, the political decision to place pressure on Assad.


About the overflight, Debka reports:
One Israeli official after another struck out against Meshaal and the Syrian president during the day after the Olmert government and his security and intelligence chiefs concluded that the missing soldier’s recovery alive depends on military pressure being applied to the Syrian ruler and through him on Meshaal. It is no secret that Assad gives Hamas and its political leadership headed by Meshaal free rein to run the Hamas military arm in Gaza from Damascus.

Our intelligence sources disclose that, straight after the Israeli buzzing early Wednesday, Assad returned to Damascus and soon after, met Jordanian prime minister Maaruf Bahait (former ambassador to Israel), who had come over to discuss the Palestinian reconciliation document and the crisis in Gaza. According to our sources, Assad kept on complaining agitatedly about the Israeli over flights.
And former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies are wholeheartedly supporting the Olmert government for the first time, that I can recall, since the election.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Wednesday evening with opposition chief Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu to provide him with a review of the security situation and ongoing and planned Israel Defense Forces operations.

Netanyahu told Olmert he had the full backing of the Likud for all operations undertaken by the government against Palestinian terror.

An Army of Mohammeds?

In response to the IDF incursion into Gaza named "Summer Rain", an army of computer hackers in Morocco have joined efforts to bring down 750 websites with the web address ending in, hosted by netvision, in Israel, including such "nefarious" sites as the Rambam Hospital website.

The message they leave at the hacked sites: "Hacked By Team-Evil Arab hackers u KIll palestin people we Kill Israel servers"

An Army of Davids, Islamist-style.

Operation "Summer Rain"

Israeli soldiers praying before moving into Gaza.

With IDF troops establishing a foothold in Rafah, Gaza, Olmert alerts the Palestinians that Israel won't balk at extreme action, while assuring the world that Israel has no intention of reoccupying Gaza and staying there. From the Jerusalem Post
"We have one objective - to assure the release of Gilad Shalit, and to bring him home healthy and safe," he said.

Olmert reiterated Israel's stance that negotiations with terrorists were out of the question.
The incursion into Gaza brought Olmert some rare support from the right wing opposition.

Justice Minister Haim Ramon announced on Wednesday:
Hamas' Syria-based leader, Khaled Meshal, is a target for assassination for ordering the kidnapping of an Israel Defense Forces soldier in the Gaza Strip.

"He is definitely in our sights... he is a target," Ramon told Army Radio. "Khaled Meshal, as someone who is overseeing, actually commanding the terror acts, is definitely a target."

During his visit to the family of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres blames Khaled Meshal for the Hamas policy whereby Shalit was kidnapped and is now being denied release, even at this price. From Ynet:
Upon his departure, Peres pointed an accusing finger at the individual who, in his opinion, stands behind the kidnapping. "Commands regarding

this event came from Syria, the current residence of a man determined to stand in the way of peace. We are well aware that Syria is providing refuge to someone who wants to create victims and destroy prospects for peace. I am referring to Khaled Mashaal - the man who, most likely, gave the order for the kidnap and is preventing the soldier's release; Syria is housing him openly."

He added that the central aim of Israel's policy in this matter is Gilad's fast and safe release, using joint political, defense and military means. "We have asked all nations who contribute financially in Gaza, Judea and Samaria to withhold transferring funds prior to the soldier's release. We have asked these nations to utilize political pressure, which Egypt has certainly done and which Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) is trying to do. On our part, we will use all means at our disposal, within reason of course, until Gilad is returned home."

Syria had already taken steps to protect Meshal before the Gaza incursion, instructing him to limit his movements, which would make it harder for Israelis to direct a missile at a car in which he was traveling.

Russian Roulette

And how do the Russians intend to deal with the decapitation of their diplomats?

President Valdimir Putin has ordered Russian special services to hunt down the killers of four Russian hostages in Iraq, news agencies reported Wednesday.

"The president has ordered the special forces to take all necessary measures to find and destroy the criminals who killed Russian diplomats in Iraq," news agencies said, citing the Kremlin press service.

The order follows Monday's confirmation by the Foreign Ministry that four Russians working at the embassy in Iraq had been killed; they were seized in early .

Russia has strongly opposed the US-led military campaign in Iraq.
And just how will the gentlemen of the special services "destroy" these terrorists? I'm betting it will have a "deterrent" effect on other likeminded terrorists.

Isn't That Special

I'm a little late on this news, but speaking of Gaza:


The infamous Rachel Corrie play finally has a home in NYC.
A play about a young American student who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza will open in New York in October, several months after another theater pulled the show from its schedule, drawing charges of censorship.

Producers Pam Pariseau and Dena Hammerstein said that they will present the U.S. premiere of London's Royal Court Theatre production of the one-woman show My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Previews are scheduled to start on Oct. 5 for a 48-performance run scheduled to end Oct. 15.
I'd say the odds that Dena Hammerstein is Jewish are pretty high. Wouldn't you?

I can't wait for the reviews. They ought to prove downright entertaining.

, which would have been the alma mater of Rachel Corrie had she, ahem... My friend's daughter tells him that everytime a Jewish student enters the school, there is an intense effort to propagandize that student to the ISM/Palestinian cause, citing Rachel Corrie. Now my friend's daughter spent the year before college at a program in Israel, so she is not ignorant and not so easy to "get". But, he tell me, she became visibly upset when recounting the propaganda efforts deployed to recruit her.

Previous discussion of martyred useful idiot Rachel Corrie here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Israel Air Force has just blown up two bridges in Gaza

Update II: Fox News is reporting the incursion into southern Gaza by the IDF has begun.

Update: The IAF just blew up a power station in Gaza city, knocking out power to the city. And Ha'aretz is reporting three bridges blown up, though they don't identify the third one.

Also: "According to information gleaned by the Palestinian Authority, Shalit is being held in the Khan Yunis refugee camp and are trying to prevent his captors from moving him elsewhere, possibly to the Jabalya refugee camp.

The Israel Air Force has just blown up two bridges in Gaza, the main bridge between Gaza City and Khan Yunis and a second one Deir el-Balah - shortly before midnight on Tuesday to prevent the transport of Gilad Shalit, the 19 year old Israeli soldier, whom a faction of Palestinians are holding prisoner, outside of the Gaza strip.

Shalit also holds French nationality.
Olmert [said] "Our efforts are not intended to punish the Palestinian people, but to bring Shalit home. We don't want to harm innocent people, but we won't let the Palestinians harm us."

A senior IDF intelligence officer told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Shalit was being held in the southern Gaza Strip.

He said that the soldier was in the hands of the military wing of Hamas, that was receiving orders from Hamas leader in exile Khaled Mashaal.

The intelligence officer also said that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniya did not know of Shalit's exact location but that he was acquainted with the people who kidnapped him. He added that Haniyeh and PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud a-Zahar were acting to solve the situation and that the IDF was operating in order to prevent the soldier from being moved out of Gaza and into Sinai.

Dead, Deader, Deadest

Not as important as blogging the developing situation in Gaza. Nevertheless, when J.K. Rowling pronounces that at least three good characters will die in the final book of the Harry Potter series, it important to opine on which.

My theory is that Snape will die. For the greatest amount of pathos, if nothing else.

Snape obviously dies just as they find out he was working on their side in Voldemort's camp; where would the pathos be if he lived? And it's got to hurt, so besides Hagrid, one of his close friends will die. Probably, as Tim says, Ron, which was foreshadowed. But it could also be Luna or Ginny. Probably Luna. Maybe Ginny gets th reprieve. On the other hand, her death would trigger the right kind of despair and self loathing to make Harry want to travel to the other side.

The scar is definitely the final Horcrux. Harry is going to prepare to "sacrifice himself", because he will realize that the only way to destroy Voldemort is to die himself in the act. He thinks it is worth it. And the beauty of this ambush is that this is the kind of logic that would never occur to Voldemort, as he would never have such a thought himself. So he won't be able to counter it immediately. Harry's sacrifice will add power to the spell to make it effective enough to kill Voldemort.

But at the last minute, Hermione, the cleverest witch of her age, is going to finesse the spell in some way, so that Harry will "die" then wake, and the scar will be gone forever.

Tom Maguire reveals an interesting theory as to why Hagrid has to die. The alchemists were all into the colors black, white and red. So far, Sirius Black died, then Albus [=white] Dumbledore. So Rubeus Hagrid [=red] will die, last of the triumvirate of colors.

La Shawn Barber thinks the two characters that die are Snape and Harry. Snape, as I said yes. Harry, will appear to die and then live. Which might appeal to La Shawn because of the symbolism.

But Soccer Dad agrees with me that Harry will live. The boy who lives, after all.

Ann Coulter versus Jeremy Paxman on the BBC

Ann Coulter versus Jeremy Paxman on the UK BBC Newsnight interview.

These two deserve each other, although I think that Jeremy Paxman makes it too easy for Ann. He gives her far too many straight lines, being of the opinion, obviously, that her opinions are so outlandish, she can't actually believe a word that she writes. His every pronouncement comes out of his mouth with the BBC-liberal-elitest-trademark-sneer while she returns fire with conservative sarcasm.

It's good for a laugh!

And wouldn't it be fun to make Jeremy Paxman take an extended vacation in a red state - chalk it up to anthropological research. Whether or not you agree with Ann, if everyone he knows thinks like him, well ahem.

[Hat Tip: Clive Davis]

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Two Articles on Zarqawi

Fouad Ajami writes a resigned post-mortem on Zarqawi and the situation in Iraq and in the Arab World at his death in the Wall Street Journal, The Extremist is Never Alone. Subscription only, but here is a passage:

In the aftermath of his surprise trip to Iraq, President Bush has returned to an old theme: He has called on the Arabs, yet again, to come to the aid of Iraq. On the face of it, this is the most natural of requests, for the fire in Iraq, and a failure in Iraq, is sure to spill into neighboring Arab lands. But here we are face-to-face with the ways of the Arab world. No Arab cavalry shall ride to Iraq's rescue; no Arab development funds -- in a region wallowing in oil wealth -- shall be committed to Iraq. The foreign leaders who have visited Iraq were from Britain, Australia, Poland, South Korea, Bulgaria, Denmark, Ukraine and Spain. No Arab king or president has deemed it fit to turn up in a show of solidarity with Iraq's people. (A prime minister of Jordan came to repair the breach between the two countries, but prime ministers in Jordan come and go; political power is the king's prerogative.) The Arabs who cross into Iraq are jihadists, and "mules" who bring money to keep the insurgency alive. In the main, Arabs are content to pronounce on Iraq's "innate" violence, and on the errors of the American war. No greater sense of responsibility can be expected from the custodians of political power in the Arab lands.

We should be under no illusions about Iraq's Arab neighbors: They are content to see America bleed, and they see this great struggle as a contest between American power and the region's laws of gravity. True cynics, pessimists through and through, they see the American mission in Iraq as one of extravagant optimism and hubris. The mere claim that the Shiite step-children and the Kurdish highlanders can find a way out of darkness galls them. The Arab ruling elites are invested in the insurgents and the jihadists in Iraq. The more these forces of mayhem engage American power, the more time they buy for the entrenched order. There is no "Arab solution" for Iraq, as there was none for Lebanon in its long Syrian captivity. The Iraqis understood the great Arab silence which attended the death of Zarqawi. A clerical leader of Najaf, Sadr al-Din Qabanji, noted the sorrow with which the men of Hamas responded to the hunting down of Zarqawi. Addressing neighboring Arabs, Qabanji asked the question: "Why do you accept the shedding of our blood?"

The borders of Iraq, examined closely, tell of a powerful but overlooked truth. The borders with Arab lands -- Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait -- are borders with harsh deserts. The more natural borders -- across population centers, contiguous human habitations -- are with Turkey and Iran. In the face of these stark facts of ecology and demography, Arab nationalism and Arab legend, insisting on the "Arabness" of Iraq, declared it the "eastern gate of the Arab world." This willfulness falsified Iraq's life: This was a borderland across Arab-Turkish, and Arab-Persian, divides. And within, there was a Kurdish nation with its own separate memory, its own dream of autonomy and independence. Now this Iraqi order, delivered through American sacrifices, struggles to take hold. The cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was long in coming, fought over, and divided across sect and ethnicity -- a Shiite interior minister, balanced by a Sunni minister of defense, a Kurdish foreign minister, two portfolios given to the forces of Moqtada al-Sadr, etc. But this is Iraq today, and better this diversity, and the ways of the bazaar, than the pharaonic regime of Hosni Mubarak and the servile culture of his court.

A gap has opened between Arab jihadists and the Sunnis of Iraq. As a celebrated Iraqi intellectual, Hassan al-Alawi, put it: The former have their gaze fixed on the green fields of Paradise, while the latter have theirs fixed on the Green Zone. A balance of fear has been arrived at in Iraq between the Sunnis and the Shiites, a development that issued out of a bloody struggle, and this has altered Iraqi politics for the better. For the first time in their history, Sunni Arabs have come to accept that their old hegemony has been irretrievably shattered; this new order gives them a claim to their country's bounty that is, also for the first time, not indecent.

President Bush took with him to Baghdad the right message: a reaffirmation of the American commitment mixed with a reminder that Iraq's salvation lies in the hands of its new government. The Arabs nearby will say, as they have, that the American leader traveled into an occupied country, that he did not venture beyond the Green Zone, that the place he visited was more his domain than Nuri al-Maliki's. But President Bush called on an elected government, a rare plant in Arab soil. This new government should be strengthened by the promise of American resolve. But it should also take to heart that it is reckoning-time for Iraq's leaders, that it is their country, and their history, that lies in the balance.

In the Atlantic Monthly, Mary Anne Weaver also writes a piece on Zarqawi, The Short Violent Life of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, which appears hastily edited to reflect the fact that the Americans, in the end, succeeded in killing Zarqawi. The article starts and finishes with some de rigeuer bashing of the administration's ways of dealing with Zarqawi, hypothesizing that the US over promoted him to make him the center of the insurgency in Iraq.

Here's a sample of the sort of thing I mean:
"Even then - and even more so now - Zarqawi was not the main force in the insurgency," the former Jordanian intelligence official, who has studied al-Zarqawi for a decade, told me. "To establish himself, he carried out the Muhammad Hakim operation, and the attack against the UN. Both of them gained a lot of support for him - with the tribes, with Saddam’s army and other remnants of his regime. They made Zarqawi the symbol of the resistance in Iraq, but not the leader. And he never has been."

He continued, "The Americans have been patently stupid in all of this. They’ve blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown. And as a result, sleeper cells from all over Europe are coming to join him now." He paused for a moment, then said, "Your government is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Western and Israeli diplomats to whom I spoke shared this view - and this past April, The Washington Post reported on Pentagon documents that detailed a U.S. military propaganda campaign to inflate al-Zarqawi's importance. Then, the following month, the military appeared to attempt to reverse field and portray al-Zarqawi as an incompetent who could not even handle a gun. But by then his image in the Muslim world was set.

Of course, the Western and Israeli diplomats are anonymous. So you can't determine what their other opinions are in general, which would provide a context for their views on Zarqawi, so that you could independently determine the extent to which you agreed with the sorts of positions they take. Merely being a diplomat tells us nothing. Kofi Annan is a diplomat, for example, the diplomat in chief at the UN. And look how absurdist his promulgations often are.

In any case, we'll soon learn the extent to which Zarqawi was instrumental in Iraq, or merely a self-promoting fanatic that the Bush Administration bought into. I'd say, he certainly set the benchmark for despicable violence, even by the terms of the article, by his quest to cause a civil war between Sunni and Shi'ites in Iraq and by his repopularization of beheadings, this time on videotape.

And the article itself is contradictory, claiming that one reason Osama made an alliance with Zarqawi was to prevent him from becoming the most important terrorist leader in the world.

Once past that kind of "positioning", the article is rich with information about the details of Zarqawi's career.

"It’s not surprising that Zarqawi embraced Salafism," I was told by Jarret Brachman, the research director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. "Jihadi Salafism is black and white - and so is everything that Zarqawi's ever done. When he met al-Maqdisi, he was drifting, trying to find an outlet, and very impressionable. His religious grounding, until then, was largely dependent upon whose influence he was under at the time. And since his father had died when he was young, he'd been seeking a father figure. Al-Maqdisi served both needs."


In December 1999, al-Zarqawi crossed the border into Afghanistan, and later that month he and bin Laden met at the Government Guest House in the southern city of Kandahar, the de facto capital of the ruling Taliban. As they sat facing each other across the receiving room, a former Israeli intelligence official told me, "it was loathing at first sight."

According to several different accounts of the meeting, bin Laden distrusted and disliked al-Zarqawi immediately. He suspected that the group of Jordanian prisoners with whom al-Zarqawi had been granted amnesty earlier in the year had been infiltrated by Jordanian intelligence; something similar had occurred not long before with a Jordanian jihadist cell that had come to Afghanistan. Bin Laden also disliked al-Zarqawi's swagger and the green tattoos on his left hand, which he reportedly considered un-Islamic. Al-Zarqawi came across to bin Laden as aggressively ambitious, abrasive, and overbearing. His hatred of Shiites also seemed to bin Laden to be potentially divisive - which, of course, it was. (Bin Laden's mother, to whom he remains close, is a Shiite, from the Alawites of Syria.)

Al-Zarqawi would not recant, even in the presence of the legendary head of al-Qaeda. "Shiites should be executed," he reportedly declared. He also took exception to bin Laden's providing Arab fighters to the Taliban, the fundamentalist student militia that, although now in power, was still battling the Northern Alliance, which controlled some 10 percent of Afghanistan. Muslim killing Muslim was un-Islamic, al-Zarqawi is reported to have said.

Unaccustomed to such direct criticism, the leader of al-Qaeda was aghast.


"Zarqawi had the ambition to become what he has, but whatever happens, even if he becomes the most popular figure in Iraq, he can never go against the symbolism that bin Laden represents. If Zarqawi is captured or killed tomorrow, the Iraqi insurgency will go on. There is no such thing as 'Zarqawism.' What Zarqawi is will die with him. Bin Laden, on the other hand, is an ideological thinker. He created the concept of al-Qaeda and all of its offshoots. He feels he's achieved his goal." He paused for a moment, then said, "Osama bin Laden is like Karl Marx. Both created an ideology. Marxism still flourished well after Marx's death. And whether bin Laden is killed, or simply dies of natural causes, al-Qaedaism will survive him."

Who owns the Jerusalem Tomb of the Kings?

The Jerusalem Tomb of the Kings are currently under French ownership due to a 19th century sale. But that is now under scholarly challenge as not fully legal.
[An] essay concludes that the site's original owner may have bestowed it with the status of hekdesh (a trust), a step that would have precluded its subsequent sale to the French government.

"The legal basis for the tomb's transfer to French government possession is extremely problematic," the scholarly article concludes, stating that, "there needs to be a renewed examination of the site's true ownership."

Speaking of Historical Christianity...

...Which I was doing two posts ago, here's an interesting write-up of a talk, given by Elaine Pagels, that touches on the multi-sourced development of early Christianity, and how it was shaped into the orthodox sourced version we are all familiar with today, by early Church leaders.
Pagels talked about the dust-up over Mary Magdalene, the rivalries among Christ's disciples, and what made the gnostic gospels so threatening to early Christianity.

Why did church leaders cover up the struggles of the first Christians? Why did they single out four gospels as truth and destroy (or so they thought) other accounts of Jesus's life?

"What really happened?" Pagels said. "It's an intriguing question."

Pagels and others have come to interpret the Nag Hammadi texts as "advanced-level teaching" that Jesus communicated to a select group of disciples.

"In the Gospel of Thomas, there's a passage that says 'these are the secret words of Jesus,' things he said privately," said the scholar, who threads her speeches with examples from the gnostic gospels as well as Luke, John, Matthew and Mark.

The texts "were copied and loved by some of the most devout Christians of the ancient world," Pagels said, including monks at the Monastery of St. Pachomius, located near Nag Hammadi.
Pagel's contention is that one reason that the Da Vinci Code is proving so popular is that reading this book is the first time many people gain a sense that Christianity was initially, in the late first and second centuries, far broader, more fluid and encompassing than it became later on; and that the early Church leaders chose the sources they wanted, in order to build Christianity as they saw it, disparaging contemporaneous elements we have since come to regard as heterodox.

[Hat Tip: Paleojudaica]

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Dianna West Lays Bare the Liberal Problem In the War on Terror

If we still valued our own men more than the enemy and the "civilians" they hide among - and now I'm talking about the war in Iraq - our tactics would be totally different, and, not incidentally, infinitely more successful. We would drop bombs on city blocks, for example, and not waste men in dangerous house-to-house searches. We would destroy enemy sanctuaries in Syria and Iran and not disarm "insurgents" at perilous checkpoints in hostile Iraqi strongholds.

In the 21st century, however, there is something that our society values more than our own lives - and more than the survival of civilization itself. That something may be described as the kind of moral superiority that comes from a good wallow in Abu Ghraib, Haditha, CIA interrogations or Guantanamo Bay. Morally superior people - Western elites - never "humiliate" prisoners, never kill civilians, never torture or incarcerate jihadists. Indeed, they would like to kill, I mean, prosecute, or at least tie the hands of, anyone who does. This, of course, only enhances their own moral superiority. But it doesn't win wars. And it won't save civilization.

I'm reminded of the cloud of smug arising from LA in South Park after the entire population buys Pius cars to assert their moral superiority on the issue of environmentalism.

Dianna West is thinking about a cloud of smug as well, as she continues:

Why not? Because such smugness masks a massive moral paralysis. The morally superior (read: paralyzed) don't really take sides, don't really believe one culture is qualitatively better or worse than the other. They don't even believe one culture is just plain different from the other.

This is the same kind of extreme moral paralysis, or blind inability to take sides, which allows the NYTimes, for example, to publish details of the counterterrorism program currently in place.

But back to Dianna West:
Only in this atmosphere of politically correct and perpetually adolescent non-judgmentalism could anyone believe, for example, that compelling, forcing or torturing a jihadist terrorist to get information to save a city undermines our "values" in any way. It undermines nothing- except the jihad.

Do such tactics diminish our inviolate sanctimony? You bet. But so what? The alternative is to follow our precious rules and hope the barbarians will leave us alone, or, perhaps, not deal with us too harshly. Fond hope. Consider the 21st-century return of (I still can't quite believe it) beheadings. The first French Republic aside, who on God's modern green earth ever imagined a head being hacked off the human body before we were confronted with Islamic jihad? Civilization itself is forever dimmed — again.

The editorial board of the NYTimes, instead, wants to preserve itself in the cloud of smug, "unsullied" by facing up to the hard decisions and realities of warfare. They want to remain pristine.

By the way, I've often thought exactly the same thing as Dianna West. I'm glad she had the guts to put it into print in a newsaper.

From The People's Cube

Yet the only way for great nations to win small wars - wars in which modern democratic nations are fighting brutal terrorist regimes - is for there to be a clarity of purpose in the leadership. Obviously, in today's world, the leadership is only the political leadership, and does not, in any way, include the so-called cultural elite, which chooses to abstain, precisely, on the "messiness" of moral grounds.

Yagil Henkin, writing in Azure Magazine, comments more on the modern problem of Great Nations fighting and winning Small Wars:

We live today in an age of small wars. In contrast to the last World War, which ended six decades ago and encompassed dozens of nations, spanning continents and seas, the current age is characterized by a different kind of armed conflict. The primary enemy confronting countries is no longer other countries, but guerilla armies and terrorist organizations - armed groups whose power is measured not by the amount of force they can bring to the battlefield or by the quality of their weapons, but by their ability to wear down the other side and break its will to continue fighting...

[I]n a protracted conflict against a weaker but more determined opponent, the likelihood that a nation will lose is further increased when it is a democracy. Whereas non-democratic countries will often use extreme force against the weaker side even to the point of annihilating it or transferring or expelling entire populations, democratic countries, according to Merom, "are restricted by their domestic structure," which is why "they find it extremely difficult to escalate the level of violence and brutality to that which can secure victory." According to this view, the weakness of democracy stems from the influence of public opinion on the decisions of political leaders: The public generally frowns upon the use of overly violent means, and it does not have the patience for prolonged fighting. "The interaction of sensitivity to casualties, repugnance to brutal military behavior, and commitment to democratic life," says Merom, often leads democracies into a situation where they cannot or will not use enough force to ensure victory. By contrast, countries that are "less liberal and less democratic can be expected to encounter fewer and lesser domestic obstacles … when they fight brutally small wars."

Follow the Leader

The Episcopalian Church follows the Presbyterians on renouncing anti-Israel rhetoric.

The US Episcopal Church has taken a significant pro-Israel turn at its triennial General Convention, joining the Presbyterians in abandoning pro-Palestinian rhetoric and adopting a resolution repudiating anti-Jewish interpretations of the New Testament.

Though I doubt we'll see anything similar any time soon from the Anglicans in Britain - the British equivalent Christian denomination - given the extreme left leaning composition of its ecclesiastical class.

Meanwhile, back to the Episcopalians:
Bishop Edward Little of northern Indiana also asked church to apologize to the Jewish people for its "consistently unbalanced approach to the conflict in the Middle East." "Virtually all General Convention resolutions concerning the Middle East, and all public policy pronouncements by Episcopal agencies, have relentlessly criticized the state of Israel, portraying the Jewish state as an oppressor nation and the Palestinian people as victims of Israeli oppression," he argued.

Opponents of the resolution argued the church should apologize instead to the Palestinians for the US government's support for Israel.

However, Rev. Bruce Chilton, professor of religion at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York stated, "Terrorism is a war crime. If we fail to say that, how can we claim any moral ground whatsoever?"

That's really encouraging.

As an aside, some months back, I read the introductory chapters to Rev. Chilton's work on Jesus, Rabbi Jesus, An Intimate Biography, and enjoyed his presentation very much. He stresses Jesus' Jewish upbringing, as well as the northern, Galilean roots of Jesus' Judaism. He's a member of the Jesus seminar, a group of scholars dedicated to research the historical Jesus. That is, to use historical and exegetical methods to unsplice - to the extent possible - the historical parts of Christianity from traditional but ahistorical interpretations.

Since the Jesus Seminar usually attracts a fairly liberal group of scholars, it is nice to see one of them standing firm on a position like this, against opposition, that terrorism is a war crime. And that this point must be repeated in the Israeli-Palestinian situation, to give proper context to the debate.

Incidental to this discussion, Amazon has updated their Search Within This Book function. (I used it to make sure I was referring to the correct book by Bruce Chilton.) It is better in some ways, but it seems to take longer to load. Which is annoying.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Honor Killing and Broken Girls

In the movie Brokeback Mountain, we learn from early on, that when Ennis Del Mar, the character played by Heath Ledger, was a small child, his father made him and his older brother watch the lynching of one half of a gay couple. This image traumatizes him through his life, and is a leading factor in making him viscerally unable to commit himself to Jack Twist, the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal. In essence, it helps stunt his natural emotional growth.

How utterly sad, then, to discover another case of this practice of forcing children to watch the murder of another human being in order to instill the parent's morality in them at so base and instinctual a level, it will be a formative factor for years. But this time, the story is not a fictional one, but rather occurred to a young woman from the Moslem community of Britain while she was visiting the family home in Pakistan.

Samaira Nazir wanted to marry the man she was in love with, an Afghan from another caste than her own, as she felt was her right, after being raised and educated in Britain. Her parents and her brother did not want her to do this. When she refused to marry the men they suggested as candidates for her instead, they cut her throat as she fought them.

She received 18 stab wounds and three cuts to her throat.

All this is horrible enough, though far, seemingly, from uncommon. But Samaira's brother, her chief executioner, had his two little girls, aged two and four, in the room during the murder, for them to learn from it about their future life of submission to his rule. They were so close to the murder, they were blood spattered, mere feet away from it as it was taking place.

So not only did Azhar Nazir succeed at murdering his sister, he scarred his daughters for life in ways that will take them years to understand, let alone heal. Assuming they ever have enough freedom to question any of this.


Deer are a hassle when they eat your shrubs and flowers.

Even so, it is a gift to see a fawn only days old in your backyard.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Well that was the non-postiest month I've had since I began posting.

I'm happy to report my mother has been recuperating well from her surgeries and, in general, is making an excellent recovery.

And now I'm back and I need a subject to post on.

One thing that happened in the last month was that I got unaddicted to posts - heh!

We'll have to fix that one way or another.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Some Good News for Israel and Other Things

It turns out that the confluence of events in recent months - from Europe to Gaza - is beginning to impact public opinion about the Palestinian situation in Europe.

Palestinian support 'crashes' in Europe

New public opinion surveys conducted among "opinion elites" in Europe show that support for the Palestinians has fallen precipitously, according to a leading international pollster, Stan Greenberg, who has been briefing Israeli leaders on his findings in the past few days. There has not necessarily been "a rush to Israel" but there has been a "crash" in backing for the Palestinians, he noted.

Greenberg told The Jerusalem Post that the shifts in attitudes reflected in the surveys were so dramatic that he "redid" some of the polls to ensure there had been no error.

He singled out France as the country where attitudes had changed most dramatically. Three years ago, 60 percent of French respondents said they took a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of that 60%, four out of five backed the Palestinians. Today, by contrast, 60% of French respondents did not take a side in the conflict, and support for the Palestinians had dropped by half among those who did express a preference.

That's a remarkable change in direction. Likely the homegrown riots in Paris, that lasted days late last year, played the major part in the switch. But there is an impending sense of an explosion all throughout Europe as well.

Some of my French friends are in the process of resettling, to Britain and the US. These plans were already in place, but I think there is a heightened sense of relief about them now, in the current atmosphere.

Three years ago, he said, the conflict was perceived "in a post-colonial framework."

There was a sense "that Europe could cancel out its own colonial history by taking the 'right' side" - the Palestinian side. Yasser Arafat was viewed as "an anti-colonial, liberation leader." The US was seen as a global imperial power, added Greenberg, and the fact that it was backing Israel only added to the "instinctive" sense of the Palestinians as victims.

France, with the largest Muslim population - moreover an entirely Arab Muslim population - with the direct experience of Algeria and the most anti-US positions, was most prey to this mindset.

Today, by contrast, the Europeans "are focused on fundamentalist Islam and its impact on them," he said. The Europeans were now asking themselves "who is the moderate in this conflict, and who is the extremist? And suddenly it is the Palestinians who may be the extremists, or who are allied with extremists who threaten Europe's own society."

On a similar note of changing attitudes in Europe, I rewatched most of the English Patient the other day, a movie I very much enjoyed in the past, despite knowing that, Michael Ondaatje, its author, played fast and loose with his anti-hero, Laszlo Almasy, who had dealings with the Nazis on quite other grounds than the romantic one presented by Ondaatje, as a way to fulfill a solemn promise made to the love of his life. I chalk it up to a story enjoyed that was not real history, but alternate history.

In the movie at least - I only read the book once and didn't like it nearly as much as the movie - the world before World War II is presented as this elite near-paradise.

"We didn't care about borders and passports," one of the good guys says to Count Almasy before the reason for his betrayal is revealed.

In the post 9/11 world, all this seems so multi-cultural and elitist and naive. And most of all dated. And most likely anachronistic.

In fact, it is all rather John Lennonish:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too ...

As Cliff May recently said at the Corner, "I'm afraid this sort of 'Lennonism' is what passes for idealism in much of Europe."

I didn't notice such a sharp delineation between my beliefs and those of the films on previous occasions when I saw the film - most of those occasions before 9/11. But this time, the differing philosophy really stuck out. Moreover, Almasy's turn to the Nazis is presented as a direct result of the way the British underclass soldiers treat him.

And therein lies the elitism and also the moral confusion.

Again, apologies for the dearth of posting...

...but as I mentioned below, I've been staying with my mother near full time while she recovers from two surgeries and my time and energy have been directed somewhat differently lately.