Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Small Step Forward

Only time will tell if its a case of too little too late, or the beginning of a trend; whether this will be considered tokenism not to be repeated, or whether this will go down as significant day.

Today, after 56 years and 8 month Israel has nominated an Arab to a cabinet position. Barring unforeseen circumstance, MK Raleb Majadele of Labour will take his seat at the cabinet table next week.

Mazal Tov !!

Arabs make up roughly 20% of the Israeli population.

On the other hand it took the U.S 179 years to appoint Frederic Morrow, the first Black to its Cabinet. That was in 1955. And one might reasonably argue that the situation of Arabs in Israel today is not dissimilar to that of Blacks in the U.S. in the 1955. Lets hope that 52 years from now Arabs in Israel have it better then Blacks in the U.S. today.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Power Corrupts

Corruption and sleaze in Israel has reached a new level.

In 2005 we saw numerous criminal investigations against the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, mostly involving shady financial deals and alleged bribes. Some of these investigations where stopped only because of his death. In the end, his son and closest confidant, Omri, was convicted and is facing jail time.

In 2006 we saw - among other things - the Justice Minister charged with sexual harassment, and the President under investigation for rape and of selling pardons. Rumors have it, that it only a matter of time until the President is formally charged.

Now senior officials in the Tax Department are charged with accepting bribes in order to "fix" people taxes. The affair has engulfed the Bureau Chief of the Prime Minister's office, who is currently under house arrest.

In an unrelated affair, the Finance Minister is under investigation for knowing and abetting corruption in a Labour Union he once was affiliated with.

Prime Minister Olmert himself is widely rumored to have traded influence for financial benefit, Many wonder how a career politician can afford the $2.2 million home he recently acquired in Jerusalem.

As this article in Ynet correctly points out:

"Corruption and bribery at the highest levels of the tax system jeopardize Israel’s stability even more than a Hizbullah attack.... [A]rrests of senior Tax Authority would have the most damaging effect on the citizens’ trust in the authorities and the public’s willingness to cooperate with them.

This trust, which is the foundation of every civil society, is already very fragile and is expected to become even weaker and reach the point of indifference and a search for alternatives to democracy."

I would add that this wave of corruption is not unrelated to the nearly 40 years Israeli occupation of the territories, and the ongoing wars. The attitudes of "anything goes", of "creative accounting", of "cutting corners", of "bending the rules", of "helping your friends", of "entitlement", and in many cases of outright theft, are all bread and grown in the incubator of the wild west atmosphere that exists in the army and especially within the occupation. This together with the focus on security and the external enemy, to the exclusion of dealing with social problems, quality of life, or any internal matters - other than making money - has finally lead to this sorry state.

Monday, January 01, 2007

It's in the Blood

Both Palestinians and Israelis are experiencing extreme shortages of blood, and making urgent calls for blood donors to come forward.

In the Palestinean territories analysts are blaming this shortage of donors on the fact that the population is fed up with the factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah. "Why give your blood? For whom? For one to kill the other?" one Palestinean is quoted as saying in this article.

At the same time Israel is also experiencing an extreme shortage of blood. Officials say that no blood will be allocated to any non-emergancy operations. Until more donors come forward, blood will only be allocated to save lives. But according to this article, the reason is not that Israelis are fed up, but "because of the colder weather."

What's in a Map?

In my “day job” I have done a lot of work with maps. Maps both record “reality” and shape our understanding of it.

For the past month Israel has been embroiled in a not so low-level map controversy. Education Minister Yuli Tamir, one of the most dovish members of the Labour Party, has proposed putting the “Green Line” (the 1949 armistice lines that demarcate the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, as opposed to de jure boundaries of the state) back into maps used in Israeli school textbooks. Opposition is fierce both from the hard right, who don’t believe there is should any difference between Tel Aviv and Hebron, and from the soft right (which perhaps includes a majority of Israelis) who prefer to keep the exact demarcation between Israel and the Occupied Territories fuzzy.

My question is: “How could they ever have take the Green Line out?” It is no wonder that so many Israelis think we should keep the major settlement blocks and the communities that are “just over” the Green Line. They really have no idea what is inside Israel, and what is inside the Occupied Territories. They have no idea how much land Israelis have gobbled up within those territories.

Many supporters of Israel rightfully point to the worrisome maps distributed by Arab and Palestinian groups that show all the land between the sea and the Jordan River as one country with no border and labelled Palestine. It turns out that the Israeli education system has been doing the same thing, just using a different label – Israel. Turns out both sides are “corrupting the minds of the young”.

More than that, it turns out that these borderless maps are not just to be found in school-books, but everywhere. The image at the top if this posting, comes from a map engine sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of tourism (click here to see the image in a larger clearer format, or click here to use the interactive online map engine, then on the interactive map click on Jerusalem.) Can you find the Green Line? If you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell from this map that Nebi Samu’el (between Jerusalem and the Jerusalem airport) is in fact in the Occupied Territories. As is Givat Ze’ev, a bit south and west of the airport, as is almost all of Highway 443, as is Modi’in Illit, Talmon, Beter Ilit (in the south west of this map), Ma’aleh Adumim (in the east), and in fact about 80% of the area shown.

Other examples of Israeli maps which obfuscate or completely eliminate the Green Line and even Israel’s “official borders”, include:$0&64
(this one requires Internet Explorer with Hebrew)

Some articles about this controversy in the Israeli press can be found at:,7340,L-3336338,00.html

'Education Minister Yuli Tamir's initiative to return the Green Line to maps of Israel in students' textbooks is causing a storm.

The Yesha Council called on all schools in the "Zionist education system" not to put these new books into their plan. "The education minister is trying to use educational propaganda to cut out about a fifth of the State of Israel from the map, which is where the tie between Israel and its land was based as a cradle in Jewish history," the council said.

National Religious Party Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev … demanded that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "put and end to the "Peace Now" policy in the Education Ministry that is clearly dictated by the education minister."

World Likud Chairman Danny Danon who 'praised' Tamir's decision to mark the Green Line on textbook maps. "Thanks to Tamir's decision the students will know how dangerous returning the Green Line borders would be to the existence of the State of Israel, and how it would turn us all into hostages in the hands of Palestinian terrorists." said Danon.

MK Zeev Elkin (Kadima), a member of the Education Committee's response was that "the education minister is better off taking care of a reform in the education system instead of wasting her time implanting her personal ideology on the student's textbooks." ‘

"The Green Line-textbook affair has taught Education Minister Yuli Tamir an important lesson about politics. Her colleagues in the government and the Labor Knesset faction, including her friend from Peace Now, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, abandoned her to the right's offensive. ...

In an article published two years ago in the periodical Alpayim, the researchers say that in response to the question: "Where is the Green Line?" they were sometimes asked: "What is the Green Line?" More than two-thirds of those questioned did not know which countries controlled the territories before the Six-Day War. ..." ',7340,L-3336540,00.html

" ...The head rabbi in Kiryat Motzkin Rabbi Daid Drukman, among those who found the Halachic passage to boycott the books, said the books are considered heretical.
"Whosoever rips parts of the Israel, his fate is of one who rips the Torah of Israel. The books must not be studied or kept at home," he said."

“The Knesset Education Committee on Monday called on Education Minister Yuli Tamir to revoke her decision to include the historical Green Line in school textbooks. The minister said after the meeting that she stands by her decision.

Tamir justified her bid by arguing that acquaintance with Israel's borders is essential for teaching history, as well as for allowing students to understand current political disputes.”