Abbas has ended a three-year moratorium on capital punishment in the Territories. I submit an excerpt from this story without further comment:
Four men who had confessed to murders in a Gaza court were killed on Sunday - three by hanging, one by firing squad.
"These individuals killed innocent human beings and by executing them we applied our law," Palestinian Attorney General Hussain Abu Aasi told the AFP news agency.
"Even the most democratic state in the world, America, invokes this kind of punishment," he said.
A bit of excitement to brighten the otherwise pensive mood in my research group today. Courtesy of the good folks at the National Scientific Balloon Facility (NSBF), BLAST went up, up, and away today. Now we can all watch it float its way around the Arctic Circle at 40 km altitude from Sweden towards Canada. The photos on the grad student blogs (here and here) are perhaps more interesting. There's even videos of the launch process, which looks to have been mercifully smooth after a long string of delays.
Now don't get me wrong, BLAST has a completely different purpose in life than the project I'm involved with. Their lowest observing frequency is comparable to our highest. Thus, where EBEX will be sensitive to the microwave background, BLAST is primarily going to see dust in our own galaxy, with a smattering of high-redshift starburst galaxies thrown in for good measure. Nonetheless, balloon-based submillimeter astronomy isn't all that big a field, and the technology is pretty closely related across the board. So we work with some BLAST folks, and we get to be excited for them.
After all, the basic problem we're attacking is almost identical, from an engineering standpoint. We all want to be able to measure the energy emitted by astrophysical sources that (after redshifts) look to be only a few degrees above absolute zero (i.e. a few Kelvin).
Problem: CCDs and other camera-like technologies don't remotely work this far out in the infrared. Thus we all use variants on the bolometer, conceptually not unlike those new-fangled infrared thermometers that take your temperature when pointed at you.
Problem: Thermodynamics ensures that the thermal noise from a room-temperature detector would massively swamp the signal from the sort of cold sources we're looking at. In fact, to get a good signal-to-noise ratio, submillimeter detector arrays should be kept at a fraction of a Kelvin. Thus the need for big ol' cryostats full of liquid helium.
Problem: Water vapour absorbs submillimeter radiation, rendering the atmosphere mostly opaque at these wavelengths. Since launching a satellite is expensive as all get-out and rather a lengthy process to boot, those of us who want to try crazy new ideas or just get the drop on the competition (*ahem*, lay the groundwork for successor experiments) can use balloons to carry experiments largely above the atmosphere for several days.
And so on, and so forth. There are some important differences, but these are essentially details. Different frequencies require some different materials. To measure the tiny polarized component of the CMB we will need much greater sensitivity, which we're mostly getting through the use of an absurd number of detectors. Newer technologies to choose from by the time we actually build our instrument.
Then of course there's the Eeeeevil Super-LASER of DOOMEM. I'm just sayin', we should throw one in and blackmail the world for greatly increased funding of basic research. That would be new. BLAST doesn't have one.
The parallels aren't perfect, but in both cases you've got the poor and downtrodden agricultural types being oppressed by powerful people who want their land, you've got harassement and violence by masked goons, you've got the troublemaking activist giving the community hope. I should point out, though, that Nichols' novel was a locally revolutionary tract; this Ha'aretz article is supposed to be a feel-good human interest story about Zionist settlers versus Palestinian cave-dwelling farmers and shepherds in the Hebron hills. Here's the setup:
A 53-year-old plumber from Jerusalem has become a one-man institution dedicated to helping and protecting the Palestinian cave dwellers of the southern Hebron Hills.
Even the Palestinians say they would not have survived in the area - facing pressure from the Israel Defense Forces and harassment from the settlers - without Ezra Nawi.
About two months ago, Palestinian shepherds from the southern slopes of the Hebron Hills noticed a settler spreading poisoned wheat kernels in the pasture fields. They managed to get their sheep out in time - dozens of farm animals were killed in a similar incident - but the next morning the carcasses of two wild deer that had eaten the poisoned kernels were found.
Nawi, a left-wing activist who had arrived as usual that morning to help the Al-Tawani village residents, decided to protest. He took one of the carcasses and placed it in the middle of the road to the Maon settlement, from where the Palestinians claimed the poisoners had come.
Then again, the Beanfield War was notionally a fight over water and development rights ... the local villagers were collateral damage. Here, the fight is over the land itself, and the locals are seen as the enemy. So the tactics are nastier.
The southern Hebron Hills area has become in recent years the arena of a harsh conflict between the Palestinians - mostly cave dwellers, peasants and shepherds - and the settlers.
And in the past six months, the settlers - radical groups occupying the illegal outposts in the area - have considerably intensified their attacks and harassment of the Palestinians.
In an incident three weeks ago, several haystacks made by Palestinian farmers were set alight. ... And that week, Jewish shepherds brought a herd of goats and sheep to Palestinian fields that had been sown with lentils.... In Beit Imra, some 200 olive trees, each about 15 years old, were chopped down. Settlers drove a plow over a cultivated field nearby and destroyed it. And two weeks ago, 20 settlers armed with sticks and stones arrived and beat up some shepherds. A 10-year-old boy suffered injuries that required stitches to his face, and three ewes were killed. ...
The settlers reserve their most violent attacks for the international volunteers, who sometimes accompany the Palestinians to protect them from harassment. On several occasions in the past months, masked men attacked Palestinian children and foreign volunteers who were walking with them to school. Several volunteers were hospitalized as a result.
The settlers' attacks on the Palestinians in this region are a daily occurrence. The most extreme zealots keep coming up with ever-more malicious and destructive ideas - arson, plowing cultivated fields, bringing herds to seeded fields, poisoning sheep, poisoning water wells and more.
But despite antagonistic police, the loss of clients, and open threats from the settlers, Nawi soldiers on. He's organized local and outsider volunteers to dig wells, open a clinic, file official complaints, and escort Palestinians near settler areas. And to date, nobody's managed to "take him out." Because, you see, this is a happy human interest story.
Another interesting thing that took place while I was off and far from the Internet: Debian Sarge (a.k.a. Debian 3.1) was released. I do try not to let my technogeekery show through too much -- as I've just got so many more unusual flavors of geekiness to showcase, after all. But this one's been in development for just shy of three years, and it's really the only operating system I use these days. I was still in college when the last version was pressed!
(Okay, not true; the Debian project has issued "updates" to the previous version several times since then. But those aren't allowed to make major changes to the installed software. Which is why I've been using the "testing" version for years now.)
Yes, it felt good to get that out of my system. Don't look at me like that, I'm sure you've been crowed to many times by now about that new Apple OS release. And don't even get me started on the degree to which I don't have an opinion on the whole Apple-moving-to-Intel thing.
While we're on the topic of things I've run across recently, allow me to observe that the fellow who wrote this is an idiot.
So maybe a week ago I happen upon one of these breathless "I can't believe nobody's reporting on ..." blog posts pointing to that article. Here's the setup:
BP Faces Huge Fines Related To Unreported Oil Spills in Alaska; Is ANWR Next?
...It was then, unbeknownst to the federal lawmakers who debated the merits of drilling in ANWR, that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation started to lay the groundwork to pursue civil charges against UK oil and gas behemoth BP and the corporation’s drilling contractor for failing to report massive oil spills at its Prudhoe Bay operation, just 60 miles west from the pristine wilderness area that would be ravaged by the very same company in its bid to drill for oil should ANWR truly be opened to further development.
Truly horrible! Here's Congress debating whether to turn a wildlife refuge over to the wildcatters and all the while -- gasp! -- the evil Big Oil is covering up a Valdez in the making.
Or, well, no.
Here's what we're actually talking about:
Hamel filed a formal complaint in January with the EPA, claiming he had pictures showing a gusher spewing a brown substance in July 2003 and December 2004. An investigation by Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation determined that as much as 294 gallons of drilling mud, a substance that contains traces of crude oil, was spilled on two separate occasions when gas was sucked into wells, causing sprays of drilling muds and oil that shot up as high as 85 feet into the air.
Because both spills exceeded 55 gallons, BP and Nabors were obligated under a 2003 compliance agreement that BP signed with Alaska to immediately report the spills. But they didn't, said Leslie Pearson, the agency's spill prevention and emergency response manager.
You see the problem? If an ardent environmentalist such as myself gets down to the middle of this article and says "Oh, is that all?" then the article is exceptionally poorly written. From the intro I'm expecting oil slicks measured in square kilometers and estimated recovery times of decades, not a few drums worth of contaminated mud. I'd bet money that most readers get down to the middle of the piece, see what it's about, and dismiss it out of hand while adding another checkmark next to "hyperbolic tree-huggers" in their mental list of people to ignore.
No wonder nobody reported on this. This article poisoned an otherwise juicy story. Whatever happened to all the good science journalists, anyway?
In December 20021, the Knesset Central Elections Committee voted to bar two Arab parties from running in the elections to be held the following month, including the Ta'al list led by Ahmed Tibi. Then-Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein declared that because the leaders of these two parties had failed to adequately declare their support for a Jewish State of Israel, and because some of them had expressed qualified support for Palestinian groups engaged in violence during the Second Intifada, they were unfit to run for office in the government.
The Israeli Supreme Court later overturned that decision2, over the strenuous objections of the political right.
I only mention this because I ran across Tibi's name in the paper today3.
Note: MK stands for Member of the Knesset, Israel's parliamentary body.
MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash), who took part in the demonstration, said the soldiers beat him, and singled him out with the intention of hurting him. "They moved toward me like an arrowhead. One of them reached me, punched me in the stomach, smiled and took off," Tibi said.
The demonstrators said the clash began after the soldiers threw gas grenades at the protesters. A few of the protesters, including Tibi, needed treatment for smoke inhalation.
"We wanted to have a quiet protest, but the soldiers must have been ordered to attack Arab MKs," Tibi said. He added that the soldiers beat Arab MKs "for sport."
Tibi called on Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to take a stand and protect the Arab MKs.The commander of the armored company at the demonstration denied that Tibi was beaten. He said Tibi had been pushed, along with the other demonstrators in the front row, after they refused the soldiers' demand to move back. He denied that Tibi had been "marked" as a target.
Arab Israelis are not well-represented by the Israeli government, unsuprisingly. The Arab parties currently have 8 MKs, or about 6% of the total, and so far as I know it has always been taboo to invite the Arab MKs to join the ruling coalition. Arabs -- actually non-Jews, overwhelmingly of Arab descent since it is very hard for non-Jews to immigrate to Israel -- presently comprise somewhere around 20% of Israeli citizens4. Since the Arab MKs can hardly participate in the government, and since no broader political candidate can be viable absent full-throated adherence to Zionism, the Arab Israeli population seems to have little reason to show up at the polls at all.
So since 2001, the year the Second Intifada started, the year Barak failed to bring home a peace deal from Camp David and then ran for re-election against Sharon, they haven't.
What if the flaming wrecks of space ships crashed in your fields several times a month?
If you happen to be a Kazakh villager living downrange of Baikonur, you learn to live with it. This is why everyone else in the world launches over water.
The next time someone asks you if stuff just vanishes when it "burns up on reentry," the correct answer is "no." Just point 'em at these photos.
I've briefly mentioned thermohaline circulation as a mechanism by which oceanic temperatures can be regulated through mixing. The most important example of this is the Global Thermohaline Circulation, which is responsible for warm surface currents like the Gulf Stream that keep Western Europe so pleasantly toasty.
The main driver for this global cycle is a region of forcefully sinking water in the north Atlantic and around Greenland. The water arriving from equitorial regions already has a salinity surplus due to evaporation further south. Upon reaching the Arctic, two new processes kick in. First, the cold air temperature leads to rapid cooling of this water. Second, the seasonal formation of ice shelves expels additional salt into the surface waters. The resulting chilled brine sinks like a stone, and thus keeps the whole "conveyor" moving.
That's why I was rather alarmed when I ran across this.
CLIMATE change researchers have detected the first signs of a slowdown in the Gulf Stream — the mighty ocean current that keeps Britain and Europe from freezing.
They have found that one of the “engines” driving the Gulf Stream — the sinking of supercooled water in the Greenland Sea — has weakened to less than a quarter of its former strength.
Besides a couple of UK papers, I've hardly seen this reported anywhere.
Thermohaline circulation first came onto most people's radar five or six years ago, when computer models of global warming first began to meaningfully include ocean currents. Mostly reported as an oh-isn't-that-interesting story, it was noticed that in extreme cases it was possible for global warming to shut down the "great conveyor," as the press dubbed it at the time, leading to all sorts of climatic disruption potentially including a European mini-ice age. However, since those models were outlyers and nobody really believed the ocean could change all that fast, this wasn't considered a scenario likely enough to call for much concern.
Now it appears that this may have been a naïve attitude. For the past several years, Professor Wadhams's Polar Ocean Physics Group out of Cambridge has been hitching rides on Royal Navy submarines under the Arctic ice to study the actual sinking process. It turns out, this ocean process appears able to turn on a dime:
Peter Wadhams, Ph.D.: "The problem has been that in the last few years in fact, since 1997 this area of ice has not formed in the Greenland Sea. Part of the reason is global warming and partly because the wind system has changed. So, that part of the Greenland Sea remains ice free and there is not the driving force for the sinking of the cold water.
This means that the volume and depth of this sinking process, or convection, has been reduced. That's weakening the circulation of water in the Atlantic and there is a reduction in the amount of warm water that once headed north...
We've gone there every winter and summer for the past four years. We found that the sinking happens in the form of current 'chimneys' that's a kind of narrow 10-kilometer-wide rotating column of water where the surface water is sinking through that column down into the deep ocean. This seems to be the mechanism by which the circulation happens.
We found that these 'chimneys' are very long-lived. But there are only two of them in existence at the moment, while seven to eight years ago when they were first studied, there were at least a dozen.
If you're interested (and you should be) I'd encourage you to read this entire interview with Prof. Wadhams. While I get the impression that the interviewer is trying pretty hard to pump some kind of crazy-alarmist soundbite out of him, he does an admirable job of giving even-keeled answers that stick to what he actually knows, but manage to convey the potential gravity of the situation.
One thing he points out, which the breathless news piece I led with misses completely, is that all we know so far is that the density-driven sinking has significantly decreased recently. The wind-driven component of the surface currents seems to be chugging along just fine, for now. Moreover, since these observations span only a few years, nobody yet has a good handle on how much variability we'd expect, anyway.
But now we do know that an apparently very stable hydrodynamic feature of the north Atlantic isn't anymore. And we also know that the Odden ice shelf has stopped forming for the first time in, perhaps, centuries. Don't Panic probably remains sound advice, but I might double-check the location of my towel.
Okay, so apparently today is Memorial Day back in the U.S. That would nicely explain why I've gotten almost no email from that corner of the globe. Have a nice barbeque or something. As for myself, I got myself invited to an all-you-can-eat sushi extravaganza at one of the nicer restaurants in town tonight, but that has nothing to do with American holidays.
Raed in the Middle is the blog of an Iraqi living in Jordan, who acquired some (very minor) notoriety thanks to his connection to Salam Pax of the Where is Raed? blog made famous during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I don't recall how I wound up at his blog, but this one photo grabbed me.
Before you read on, ask yourself this: looking at Raed's picture, where are your eyes and interest most drawn? To the columns in the foreground? Or to the mist-obscured rolling land beyond?
Photography is a wonderful medium for capturing abrupt juxtapositions (like what I tried to do with walls here), but sometimes the images require some explanation before the full impact sinks in. Raed's photo is one of these. On first glance, we have a grey day at the ruins of Umm Qais (or Gadara). But this is a high point in northern Jordan, so the indistinct mountains in the background are of the Golan, sprawling through Israel, Syria, Lebannon, and Jordan. Fraught ground, that is. (There is a much clearer picture of roughly the same vista here.)
Caught in the mist behind the remains of a once-powerful Greco-Roman city, Raed describes most of the background as "occupied," mentioning the Golan Heights, the Jordan River, Lake Tiberias/Yam Kinneret/Sea of Galilee, and the Shaba Farms. Naturally, which of these are indeed under occupation, and by whom, depends strongly on with whom you speak.
The parallels between ancient Gadara and modern Israel are not particularly good, which might be why Raed doesn't suggest any. You wouldn't know it from the comments on his blog, though. After all, Rome was an aggressively expansionist empire, but while Israel is undeniably aggressive, all but the most radical elements of Israeli society actually want the territory it controls to shrink. On the other hand, the Israeli occupation is characterized by planting numerous Jewish settlements which are protected by the IDF, to develop an Israeli population and thus make its claims sticky. While Rome also planted populations with abandon, Gadara wasn't one of them; it was originally a Hellenistic city.
There is a general consensus that the Golan is Syrian territory occuped by Israel, although Jordan may claim part of it as well. Even Israel concedes this status, but asserts that it's keeping the area anyway so as to stake out the high ground. Very pretty, fertile area, which has remained rather sparsely populated in part due to this uncertainty regarding its future. That, and the land mines. If I get that far north, I'll be sure to take some pictures from a safe distance.
The Jordan River forms a natural boundary between Jordan and the state of Israel, or a future state of Palestine. In fact, the Hashemites (of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) are sometimes called the Trans-Jordanian Palestinians; which half of that name you emphasize depends on whether you are trying to make the case that the West Bank Palestinians already have a state in Jordan, or are a downtrodden people who simply gained oppressors in the west in exchange for those across the river in 1967. Here in the north, the Jordan flows out of the lake and is internationally recognized as Israel's eastern border. A bit further south, and it runs into the West Bank military zone, which is not just occupied, but heavily fortified by the Israelis.
Still, it's odd to think of a boundary as being occupied. Perhaps Raed has in mind the rather disproportionate share of the Jordan River Basin's water that Israel takes.
The Lake of Several Names is also mentioned, lying in the basin between the mountains in the middle and far distance (I think). Yam Kinneret and Lake Tiberias (or the Arabic equivalent) being the most common. I think only the Christians regularly use the Sea of Galilee label. I believe that most everyone who accepts the existence of Israel includes the western shores of the lake in its rightful territory. The eastern shore, however, is in the Golan Heights and is thus correctly seen as occupied. Most maps I've seen put the lake fully within Israel proper, suggesting that Syria only claims the eastern shore, not part of the lake itself. Since the shore itself is a UN demilitarized zone, it may be that even its claim there is considered under dispute.
Finally, in the far (and I'm pretty sure invisible) distance is the issue of the Shebaa Farms. Nobody claims it is Israeli territory, but Hezbollah's beef is that they belong to Lebannon, meaning Israel should have pulled out of the area back in 2000. Israel says they're Syrian, which means it's staying until the matter of the Golan is settled once and for all. I think most everyone will be altogether peeved if 28 sq. km of barley fields manages to scuttle the nacent peace between Israel and Lebannon.
Yeah, so what did I manage to do with my weekend?
What crystallized the situation for me was something the Duke of Foulbash said, bringing his brown fist down on the table: "Lord Vader, what is at stake here is a millennium of tradition! That is the heart of this matter."
The Duke was right. I told him so. Then I assassinated the entire royal family, down to the last forgotten bastard.
And furthering my suspicion that the entire Internet is one extended Star Wars parody, I also ran across Store Wars, Campbellian sci-fi for the health food set. "You must face the evil Darth Tater ... he's more chemical than vegetable, now." Hillarious, if overly preachy at the conclusion. Note to self: even if you are making a PSA-ish propoganda bit, never, ever end with Master Yogurt saying "No, there is another ... you!" Blowing up the Death Melon is not a good seque into a public service announcement.
Turning my attention to make-believe right here in our own galaxy, NASA is being sued by a Russian astrologer claiming that "destroying a comet" would "barbarically interfer[e] with the natural life of the universe." Never mind that the Deep Impact mission is just droping a block of metal the size of a desk into the path of a rocky snowball the size of Manhattan (which will happen to be moving at about Mach 31 at the time) ... I really, really guarantee that the "life of the universe" cares very little about the fate of some ordinary protoplanetary rubble. Although as an astronomer, I rather with people here on Earth did. Astronomy and dinosaurs -- two best things in the world for getting kids into science.
Finally, this post is a bit old, but since I was Scavhunting at the time, I get a pass for only noticing it recently. Apparently this hip new kind of web programming was noticed and dubbed "Ajax" back in February. I'd just like to toot my own horn a smidgeon and observe that I was using the same techniques in my own projects as early as this January. 'cause, you know, every now and then even I like to brag. Although really, I just copied the idea from Google, same as everybody else.
Compare and contrast to yesterday's post. From an Albuquerque Trib op-ed:
The U.S.-Mexico border vicinity is arid at best, and several recent years of drought have accentuated this. Complicating the area's water quantity and quality problems are its free-trade-driven industrial and agricultural development, together with a related population boom.
Incredibly, no scientific diagnosis has ever been made on which to base binational water basin management. Among the results of this weak planning position are public health problems and costs, degradation of biodiversity and transgressions against environmental justice.
Border activists have insisted for decades that tribal, low-income and other minority-status communities on both sides of the border are among the hardest hit.
This op-ed was written in connection with the recent resolution of a decade-long water dispute between the U.S. and Mexico. It's worth pointing out that along this border, there are relatively few people who actually don't have enough water to drink. The shortage has mostly been affecting agriculture in the Rio Grande valley since, thankfully, the area doesn't have anywhere near the population density of the Levant.
In the world outside [Central Arizona Project general manager David S. "Sid"] Wilson’s office, the Arizona development boom continues. Crews in stucco-spattered work trucks finish off legions of new homes in the desert, and bulldozers clear the way for tens of thousands more.
But behind the scenes at the CAP and Arizona’s other water outfits, the true dimensions of the water shortage are beginning to come into focus. The drought could overwhelm the state’s fitful efforts to achieve sustainability, and water managers are grappling with the growing realization that, despite a century’s worth of efforts to engineer water shortages out of existence, nature still bats last.
Perhaps because of the cold I picked up in the (abberantly frozen and sleet-y) north, or perhaps because the dry season is kicking in, I noticed when I got back to Rehovot that the water seems decidedly tasteless1. Now as any resident of any desert in the world will tell you, water is life. So does that mean I'm justified in complaining that life has lost its flavor?
Contrary to what one might expect for a Middle Eastern nation, Israel has quite diverse supplies of water available to it. Water can be, and is, drawn from the Jordan River, Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee to everyone else), the Coastal Aquifer, and most importantly the Mountain Aquifer System -- which is actually at least three geologically distinct underground effluences with different flow directions. However, all of these supplies combined are barely adequate to accomodate Israel's ballooning population, industry, and agriculture. Water, then, is a sensitive issue.
[Update: I have rewritten and expanded slightly the following to clarify where some of my data are coming from.]
Gaza is a case in point. The Coastal Aquifer has diminished in usefulness in recent decades, because it is the only water supply available to feed the densely populated Palestinian cities and refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. Overpumping has lowered the water table and led to salt intrusion from the Mediterranean. The UN has estimated that Gaza will be entirely without potable water in 15 years if present trends continue.
In this article the New Scientist describes one typical Israeli response to the problem. The question to keep in the back of your mind as you read this is, why not use the desalinated water for Israel, and let the Palestinians pump?
The Palestinian Hydrological Group documents (browse chapter 1 for a useful overview) at some length the problems faced by the Palestinians with regards to water supplies. The overarching theme is that Israel, claiming security needs, bars the Palestinians from making use of most water supplies, and severely limits pumping even from the portions of the Mountain Aquifers that lie underneath Palestinian territory. As a result, each Palestinian gets by with, on average, less than one-fifth as much water per year as an Israeli.
My understanding is that Israel justifies this situation with logic to the effect of: if the Palestinians were allowed to control their own use of the Mountain Aquifer they could simply out-pump Israel; then Israel would have to rely even more heavily on the Lake Kinneret supply; then Israel would be strategically vulnerable to Syria diverting the headwaters of the Jordan someday.
I call bull. The WHO recommends a minimum domestic consumption of about 100 L/day/household of potable water. Israelis are consuming more than twice that much, while Palestinians get somewhere more than half (estimates I've seen range from 57 to 85). This is the same problem that sustainable development policy (search for Palestine to find the specifically applicable comments) has been grappling with for years.
AMMAR HIJAZI, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, said that ... Palestinians were only allocated 120 million cubic metres of freshwater out of the 850 million cubic metres from water aquifers that the West Bank produced.
Consequently, he said, the current domestic water supply for Palestinian households amounted to only between 57 and 67 litres per day, which was significantly lower than the World Health Organization ( WHO )’s minimum for domestic water consumption2.
Too many people trying to make use of too little fresh water. If all people living under Israeli control were allocated a fair and equal share of the available water, nobody would have enough (certainly the Israelis would feel that way, at least, if they were forced to consume half what they do now ... the Palestinians might welcome the increase in their share, even if it didn't push them over the recommended minimums). Simple math.
As for Israel's concerns about having absolute control of its water supplies? Grow up, I say. Every nation on the planet has to arrive at some kind of arrangement with its neighbors over shared water supplies. Not all of those nations have the luxury of liking their neighbors, but since natural water supplies are readily degraded by overuse or mismanagement, even nominal adversaries routinely cooperate to manage them.
1 I would point out that, contrary to popular opinion, water almost always does have a detectable taste. Tapwater in San Antonio generally tastes bright and a little rocky, clean and rich in calcium like the limestone aquifer it comes from. Chicago water is duller, with a complex flavor that reflects the many trace impurities found in Lake Michigan. North Texas water is particularly memorable for its metallic bite, partially thanks to the iron in the Red River, and partially due to the aggressive chemical treatment needed to make Dallas's much-abused supplies potable.
This winter, Rehovot's water tasted somewhat like San Antonio's, suggesting that it came from the West Bank Aquifer. Since I've been able to taste my food just fine (which is admittedly far easier to detect than the trace substances in drinking water), let's suppose for the moment that the water has indeed changed. The dull, slightly heavy water I've been tasting for the past few days suggests a lower mineral content, but maybe more microsediments, and perhaps an added round of treatment. My best guess would then be that the local supply has been switched over to the Kinneret supply (that's water drawn from the Sea of Galilee in the north), which would come in through Tel Aviv.
2 This from the statements at the thirteenth session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, which dealt with "policy options and practical measures intended to speed implementation of water, sanitation and human settlements goals" related to the Millennium Development Goals project. The IUCN's representative fairly sums up the problems on the commission's plate:
ACHIM STEINER, Director General, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), said that in terms of water, “we are reaching our limits”. Some rivers no longer reached the sea, and groundwater levels were falling dramatically in many parts of the world. The capacity of the life-support systems to provide us with the water resources vital to life and the economies of countries was being seriously undermined. The IUCN was encouraged by many of the positive developments under way to reach the Millennium Development Goals. Increasing official development assistance (ODA) levels, creative financing mechanisms, and governance innovations were all steps in the right direction. But, more investments in ecosystems were needed to maintain the goods and services they provided. Those were not just essential to ensure sustainable water supplies, they were vital to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
On Thursday I return to Israel, after spending Wednesday in Minnesota. (Astronomy folks: we should do dinner somewhere Wednesday evening!) So I should begin catching up on what I've missed.
The most interesting development I'm aware of is the Palestinian municipal elections held last Thursday. Hamas did quite well, as expected, although Fatah remains firmly in political control of the territories. It would be a grave error, though, to interpret this as the Palestinian people voting in favor of the destruction of Israel. Instead, as Ha'aretz writes,
In a sign of the militants' strength even in areas with large Christian populations, Hamas won five of the seven seats alloted to Muslims in the town of Bethlehem, which has a total of 15 seats. Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine will share the eight seats allocated to Christians.
"We are very honest and work much more than the others," said Khaled Saada, a Hamas candidate for Bethlehem town council, citing schools, clinics and orphanages run by his group.
Many voters were prepared to try Hamas after what they saw as a Fatah failure.
"Who will work for our future, for our children?" asked Maalik Salhab, a 24-year-old biology student who was wearing a green Hamas hat in Bethlehem and voted for the group on Thursday.
"If I see the outside world refusing to help us and then call Hamas terrorists, then I have the right to choose Hamas because they are doing all these things for me."
It's about local services, honest government, and frustration with the incumbent political establishment.
Israel is, of course, not pleased with this outcome. Said the Defence Minister before the elections,
Predicting that Hamas would win a majority in the Palestinian parliament in the upcoming elections, Shalom said that: "It seems to me unreasonable to move forward with the implementation of the disengagement plan as if nothing had happened and hand over the territories only for Hamas to create there a 'Hamastan'."
"Hamas' pledge to destroy Israel is not a thing to be taken lightly. The territory must be handed over only to the PA under Fatah rule," the foreign minister added.
In response, the PA Minister of Civil Affairs is quoted, labelling these sentiments "a rude intervention in Palestinian internal affairs; his statement is of no interest to Palestinians since the disengagement is a unilateral move in any case." When I left Israel the papers were full of talk of Israel and the PA biting the bullet and coordinating the disengagement, making it a bilateral process. Things would appear to have gone downhill on that front.
Hamas' success on the municipal front is of little concern to Israel prima facie, as it isn't local councils that reign in or encourage terrorism, nor town mayors that set Palestinian policy towards Israel. However, Palestinian parliamentary elections are scheduled for July 17, and in that light the current results presage trends that do not favor an easy peace.
Only this morning, the papers were announcing the completely unsurprising puff of black smoke indicating that the first round of balloting in the Sistene Chapel failed to produce a 2/3 majority. Typically, dozens of rounds of voting are required. It takes some time to arrive at a consensus, after all. Plus, some were concerned that the new rules John Paul instituted would give the hardliners an incentive to draw out the process (after 30 rounds of voting, a simple majority can decide).
In many ways, this is not an astonishing result, even if the haste with which it was accomplished is unusual. Ratzinger was appointed to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith back in 1981, and is about as close as you can get to a doctrinal duplicate of John Paul II. There's another reason, too. The man is old, already 78. After a long, eventful Papacy, perhaps the College of Cardinals is wary of too-hastily setting the direction of the Church for another 30 years. So we may expect a handful of years with no major changes in direction. Benedict XVI will be seen as an interim Pope.
The rapidity of today's events only means that a large majority of the Cardinals felt the same way.
It often happens that I get busy for a few days, have stuff going on, and then have to spend a day browsing the web to see what I missed. I confess, I'm a smidgeon of a news junkie. In my defense, this is an interesting part of an interesting world, these days.
I was relieved to hear that the bank strike has been averted. Over the weekend, most of the ATM machines in the country were cleaned out by people worried the banks would be closed this week. Not having money would be inconvenient. Plus, it sounds like the bank workers' beef is with the government, not the banks, in this case.
In other local news, the army seems unhappy at the suspension of its old shoot-anything-that-moves rules of engagement. But what with Israel and the PA trying to maintain some semblance of mutual calm, the number of random kids getting shot near nebulously-defined "security zones" was becoming inconvenient.
The dash to cannonize John Paul II presses on. Word is, the college of cardinals is circulating a petition urging whomever is elected the new pontiff to fast-track the beatification process:
The archbishop in charge of the commission that investigates claims for sainthood has said the process of canonising John Paul II could begin as early as October, and result in his sainthood within six months.
Dude. What was so bad about 50 years of reflection and all that? Six months just seems so ... unseemly. And in a story that, as best I can tell, first appeared the the New York Post, miracles are already surfacing attributed to John Paul II. Apparently the original story is in La Stampa, but for the life of me I can't find it on their site. And yes, I can read enough Italian to do a simple search.
Next time you're debating someone who thinks all environmentalists just like trees and spotted owls more than people (and I'm not saying there aren't a few; check how much I like people next time I have to grade essays), point them at the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, a nice summary of which is up at the BBC. (The New York Times' blurb on the matter is frankly embarrassing.) The take-home message?
Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.
The changes that have been made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of nonlinear changes, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems.
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report, pg. 16
I kept meaning to do a full write-up on this, and still might at some point. But I feel better having gotten that out there.
A few days ago I blogged about various sorts of fundamentalists, including the really scary ones that think blowing up the Dome of the Rock would be a nifty idea.
By way of Juan Cole, I discover that this is not how the West reported the events of last weekend. Evidently the mainstream coverage played it as a case of dueling protests.
So an issue that stirred Muslim fundamentalists to fury and might be a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda was surely intensively covered by the Western press, right?
The Washington Post said that the Palestinians were protesting plans by the Jewish fundamentalists to "rally at the site." That wasn't what they were afraid of at all. They were afraid that the extremists were bringing dynamite to blow up the mosque (a widespread rumor).
Now, maybe Revava never threatened to destroy the mosque. I don't know. They don't appear to be humane, level-headed people, so maybe they did make the threat. But it is a gross dereliction of duty for the US press to neglect to even report that this threat is what had alarmed the Muslims around the world.
I can assure you that, from my perspective over here, everyone thought that Revava was threatening Al-Aqsa. The Shin Bet issued warnings, the Temple Mount was closed to non-Palestinians, and thousands of police turned out to prevent Revava from holding its rally anywhere near the Mount.
The protesters were practically a no-show; I read there were only 100 or so. However, the weekend also featured a couple of high-profile highway blockages (in which demonstrators block a highway during rush hour, roll out lots of tires and set them on fire, and see for how long they can clog traffic), and a bizarre stunt in which settler activists chained shut the entrances to 167 schools.
This suggests that this weekend was not so much a real threat against Al-Aqsa, but a dress rehersal of the radicals' strategy to sabotage the disengagement. As their activists have stated on several occasions, they hope to exhaust the military and police forces with coordinated acts of civil disobedience. Combined with the number of soldiers they hope will refuse to show up during the pullout (yes, some rabbis are openly calling for mutiny in the IDF), this could in theory leave the government with too few troops to actually carry out the evacuations.
Seems like a decidedly treasonous game to play in a nation that is officially at war with two of its neighbors and a significant fraction of its own populace. Sharon certainly sees it that way; his rhetoric on the rabbis' "refusenik" calls is best described as apoplectic.
For many days now, I've felt the urge to write something about the passing of Ioannes Paulus II (to fall back on the Latin form now marking his grave). Links have been piling up, scraps of the web pulled almost at random from the passing torrent of media. Some of them might have led to interesting and topical posts in their own right, but in the end, attempting to blog the Week of the Pope felt a little too much like being a mosquitto in Pamplona.
And now perhaps a respectable time has passed, and the stampede is headed elsewhere. Time to reflect, for a touch of catharsis, a first turning of the mulch heap.
I'd have more to say if I'd been there, of course. And don't think it didn't cross my mind. But ultimately, there's little to distinguish my experience of the past week from that of any other Roman Catholic with a web browser and a few newspapers. Except for the fact that the Catholic population of Israel wouldn't fill St. Peter's Square, and if you only count the ones with whom I could plausibly communicate (i.e. non-Arabic speakers) they might not overflow a large church.
I read about the mass mourning. They shut down Italy, Poland, most of Latin America. The first long biographical obituary was touching, but I'm pretty sure nobody gained much from the sixth or seventh one. That it would become a media circus was inevitable. I don't get the New York Times or CNN here, but the phenomenon was just as palpable, one of having my head jammed into the wrong end of a telescope pointed at Rome. At the spectacle reduced to its broadest incoherent outlines, some impressively large numbers and a couple of stock human interest stories.
Like so many others, John Paul II is the only Pope I have known. He was elected several months before I was born, but my first awareness of him was more mundane. Once, an oversized Paddington hung in my bedroom, and his many pockets came to host quite a collection of buttons and pins over the years. I did not start this collection. I know this because one of the first buttons on Paddington's coat bore a picture of the Pope, which I assume my parents acquired during the attention surrounding his first whirlwind tour of the world in 1979. I saw him myself, once, a great mass of white robes waving from the Popemobile as all of San Antonio turned out to wave back, when he passed through in 1987.
At least, that is what my memory claims. It is always possible that I only saw him on TV, that I have constructed in hindsight that afternoon on my father's shoulders. I feel like I've asked my parents this before, but I forget what the answer was.
In the U.S., the media metanarrative has at least been entertaining, if mildly schizophrenic. I summarize:
Media: JP2 is dead. That's too bad, because he was a rock star, and defeated Communism while he was at it. A billion Catholics are sad.
Liberals: He gets too much credit for that, plus he squashed Liberation Theology and pulled the Church back towards medieval authoritarianism.
Conservatives: You bet. Plus, he thought rampant capitalism was a moral right. We know nobody remembers how they actually felt, so we'll just assert that he and Saint Regan were best buddies.
Other liberals: Not so fast. He opposed both Iraq wars and badgered the last four Presidents to abandon capital punishment and to be nicer to the poor.
Media: Okay, JP2 was a complex rock star who defeated Communism. A billion Catholics are sad, a few million of whom are camped out on the banks of the Tiber.
And so on and so forth. The major difference here is that all news is filtered through a Jewish perspective, as you might expect. Compare these two accounts of the Pope's will:
New York Times: Pope's Will Reveals Anguish Over Length of Papacy
Every Lent, John Paul II would write a new entry in his will. The final entries, written in his frail fading years, are devoted in large part to thanking various people and peoples, recognizing places and events of significance. Not the introverted musings of a dying man, nor the frantic last scribblings of a thinker running out of time. A gracious rock star, tired and retiring, bowing out to thunderous applause. Going home.
To show respect, for the living and for the dead, the Italians clap. The applause in Rome has been long and loud.
Fundamentalists. Every place has it's own brand of fundies. The creepier sort are scaring the living daylights out of liberals across America these days. Then again, living as I am in the sort of soft theocracy the Christian Right wishes it could get its grubby hands on, the Israeli fundies are quite a piece of work.
Those who've worked with me at public outreach events for the astronomy department know that I sometimes enjoy myself entirely too much at the expense of the creationist fools who pop up whenever you mention the Big Bang. After all, there I am giving a bunch of kids a slide show about the nine-ish planets or showing them how to use a telescope -- kids who, I should point out, might grow up to be scientists, or at the very least citizens who appreciate that science just might be a useful aspect of modern civilization that deserves a bit of support.
Then up walks some oaf who wants to chat about how he's sure I didn't really mean it when I mentioned that the Earth is several billion years old, and could I please make that clearer next time I give one of these talks. Or the middle-aged mom with the pinched face who's annoyed that she drove her kids out to some park to have fun looking at the stars, only to be assailed by all kinds of talk about evolution. On the whole, nice folks who through no particular fault of their own are egregiously ignorant about the world around them.
Out on the Internet is where the real wackos congregate. There's not a biologist online who doesn't deal with 'em on a regular basis, and us astrophysicists aren't far behind. PZ Myers of Pharyngula, as an evolutionary biologist with a high-profile blog, gets it worse than most. So I was delighted the other day when he pulled out a new weapon in his arsenal -- the Index to Creationist Claims, an encyclopedic taxonomy of stupid things that anti-science types tend to spout. They're putting it out in book form this summer; just in time to pick up a copy to bring to summer outreach events.
Of course, these days America's most dangerous fundies are all engaged in politics. The Schiavo debacle has put them in the spotlight of late, although I would imagine more recent events have taken care of that. Majikthise elegantly condensed the rhetoric being directed at the judiciary by Republicans in the aftermath: "That's a nice lifetime appointment you got there, Your Honor. It'd be a real shame if anything were to happen to it...".
However, let's just keep a sense of proportion here. According to today's Ha'aretz:
The Shin Bet security service has raised the level of alert in Jerusalem amid indications that extremist Jews are planning to carry out an attack on the mosques of the Temple Mount, and on the basis of new intelligence has beefed up police and security around the site in the heart of the Old City.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Movement's northern branch, which has made protection of the Al-Aqsa mosque the centerpiece of its activities, has called on Israeli Arab Muslims to flock to the Old City site to protect it from Jewish extremists.
Police on Wednesday announced plans to close the Temple Mount compound to Jews on Sunday, when a right-wing extremist group called Revava was planning to hold a mass rally there. Police fear the activists could clash with Muslim worshipers.
Thankfully, the wider world seems finally to be taking note of the absurd, and extremely volatile, situation being created by these Zionist fundamentalists. This week, Frontline aired an excellent documentary on them. In case you missed it, you can watch the whole thing online. You should, too. It's important.
Archbishop Leonardo Sandri: "Our Holy Father John Paul has returned to the house of the Father." 19:40 GMT
The New York Times obituary is comprehensive and stirring.
Watch what they say. Some reflect, but others project.
9,665 days is just about a year longer than I've been around. I'm slated to give a journal club talk tomorrow on the 2002 occultation of Pluto. Otherwise I'd head out to Jerusalem or Nazareth or thereabouts.
In this recent Ha'aretz article, it is reported that the IDF and the Gaza settlers have reached an agreement, where
Soldiers and policemen who evacuate settlements under the disengagement plan will be unarmed...
Ezra also said that settlers will be asked to turn in their arms voluntarily shortly before the evacuation begins, but the weapons will not be collected forcibly.
Finally, the police will not employ agents provocateurs among the settlers, while the settlers will try to oust any troublemakers from within their ranks.
What fun, watching negotiations between these two groups that trust each other about as far as Gaza beach is from the sea. You'd think it was another round of Arab-Israeli negotiations. Those, of course, are currently snarled up by local commanders haggling over exactly which checkpoints blocking the road into Tul Karm will be removed. My impression is that the IDF's starting position was none of them, and of course the Palestinians wanted them all gone. So it's taken a while.
In other news, I know His Holiness is in a bad way, but it sounds as though the College of Cardinals is already quietly assembling. I thought they were supposed to wait until after he's dead, at the very least!
(Hmm. On further investigation, it seems that the Cardinals are supposed to be assembled within nine days of the Pope's death. So perhaps haste is not altogether unseemly.)
A reminder to those exhausted by the rantings and doings of the States ... or of Israel, for that matter.
In some parts of the world, even revolutionary politics need not be high-strung. I excerpt:
"We'll close the road until our demands are met", one of the organisers told me firmly, a gold tooth glinting in the sun.
Ten minutes later, there was a flurry of activity. The yurts were pulled down, the roadway was cleared and the backlog of lorries and other vehicles thundered on their way in a cloud of dust.
"Oh", said the organiser, "the drivers were complaining about us holding up their business so we've decide to picket the [government's offices] instead".
That was a few days ago. From today's news, it would appear that the matter has mostly resolved itself without notable violence, or even many raised voices. Although it's not entirely clear that much will change, either.
This essay is rather bitter, but also somewhat beautiful.
My roommate heads back to Boston tomorrow (actually today, my time), so the last couple of days were spent helping him pack and buy souveniers and gifts. I actually rather enjoyed rooming with the fellow, but it'll be nice to have the place to myself for a change.
It must often sound like I'm nothing but down on Israeli politics, but it can also be a quite progressive and humane country from time to time, at least when Arabs aren't involved. For instance, I read this week that the Attorney General has come to the conclusion that Israeli law requires that the state "must allow same-sex couples the same economic rights as heterosexual couples."
The Sasson report is making a big splash internationally for pointing out that not only have over a hundred illegal settlements been constructed over the past few years, and not only have they often been built on land effectively stolen from the local Palestinians, but that the government and military have been intimately involved in making this happen. But as the Prospect rightly points out, that has been common knowledge here for years.
If you've skimmed the links above, read on.
Every day the papers are filled with editorializing over the disengagement; the Sasson report has only had the effect of putting the West Bank settlements more squarely in the mileux as well. On the one side, there's an endless stream of pieces like this one from yesterday, sounding resigned and dripping with bitterness over Sharon's supposed betrayal of Zionism. On the other side we have this congratulatory op-ed emblematic of the Labour attitude that, much as they might hate Sharon, they're pleased as punch that he has -- for whatever, still-unclear reasons of his own -- decided to reign in the settlement movement.
Then again, there are those on the actual, secular Left starting to point out that now that Sharon has broken the settlers and Arafat is conveniently out of the way, it's time to have an election to return power to people with a clear interest in achieving a fair peace. I tend to side with this notion in principle, although the political tactics involved here are complex.
An overarching theme, however, is the sense that something that used to be a central feature of Israel is beginning to unravel. Public opinion has turned against the settlers as the disengagement has forced them to put their most extreme face forward. It appears increasingly likely that the Palestinians will be given some kind of autonomy sooner or later in much of the Territories -- which is why the Right is often as suspicious of the wall as are the Palestinians. The benigted notion of Greater Israel may finally be on its last legs, despite all the religious Zionists and Evangelical Christians can do to prop it up.
Mind you, this doesn't necessarily mean that Sharon is headed for a defeat. Indeed, this wide-ranging analysis suggests that recent events are unfolding pretty much according to what seems to be his long-term vision. He's not given to messianism, and knew 30 years ago that razing the Temple Mount would have been a terrible idea. Sharon has, from the start, been out for a secure Israel that can defend itself from the Arab horde massed on the borders. His increasing willingness to cede the West Bank is likely more thanks to the decreasing military relavence of columns of tanks streaming out of Jordan than it is to international pressure. In the end, the most likely answer is that Sharon doesn't believe that Arabs are capable of living in peace with Israel, so however things shake out, they'll have to be kept at bay forever anyway.
There's a saying in physics: an old theory is never really discarded, but the old generation has to retire sometime. The politics here may be similar. Sharon and Arafat had been at each other's throat for five decades. Perhaps we'll all have to wait for their generation to fade into history before real progress can take root.
Any given Friday morning, a third or more of the people in my dorm rush around doing last-minute shopping before hopping on a bus or in a cab to spend the weekend elsewhere. Jerusalem is a popular target. This meant that a number of them had the additional fun today of deliberating whether or not it would be worth their time and trouble to attempt to make the journey.
Early this morning, someone, somewhere, received intelligence of a planned terrorist attack in Jerusalem. Suddenly, the country was on high alert. Roadblocks and checkpoints where thrown up along all the routes into Jerusalem; busses were searched and passengers screened. Traffic was evidently backed up for miles.
If that's what was going on here, I'd expect that the Territories were under complete lockdown. But that's not uncommon.
In the end, many of them wound up going, since they'd already made plans. Also, the alert was canceled around noon -- no explanation given, so far as I've heard. I just noticed that Ha'aretz has a fairly uninformative article up now that mentions the alert.
Just another weekend in Israel.
My roommate always rides public transportation in Jerusalem. He says that he has always felt extremely safe in the central bus station there, thanks to the heavy security. (This precipitated minor snark about how security there tends to treat yours truly, which is often a good barometer of the enthusiasm, if not efficacy, of a security checkpoint.) I also ride public transportation there, because I am cheap and have a firm grasp of statistics.
However, a great many Israelis go out of their way to avoid public transit, especially Jerusalem and Tel Aviv buses. It's just a comfort thing for them -- they don't want to always be scrutinizing everyone getting on for a suspiciously bulky coat or overtly Palestinian features. There's a phrase for this state of affairs Stateside. It's called the condition in which "the terrorists have already won."
Of course, that presupposes that the "evil terrorists" have no specific goals beyond inspiring a general state of mild alarm, just as popular opinion back home tends to conceive of them as having no identity more specific than the generic "terrorist." It's worth pointing out that Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the like have nothing against buses, though; they want Israel to stop oppressing the Palestinians (at least, that's the bit of their platform that all the various militants agree on). Just like Usamah bin Ladin has no interest in making Americans nervous, but he does very much want Western troops to leave the Mideast as a precursor to the creation of a pan-Arab Islamic super-state that will revive the Caliphate.
Yes, bin Ladin is crazy. It's just in a far more specific way than he is usually given credit for.
But I digress. I'm all for people riding mass transit, since there's far too many cars in this little country. But given all the people in the States who don't ride buses or trains or subways out of a general dislike of proximity to other people or not wanting to walk two blocks to the stop, it's hard to fault these people for having an actual, emotional reason to avoid it. Minnesotans: you get a pass on account of January; other snowed-in types may apply on a case-by-case basis.
So what about you? If you lived in Israel, your chances of dying in a bus bombing would be one in several hundred thousand last year. Would that be enough to keep you off of them?
The big story of the past few days is that Lebannon is undergoing some kind of political phase transition, precipitated by the assassination of a popular ex-prime minister, and apparently culminating in a sort of mini-revolution that has brought down the government and stands a fair chance of finally kicking out the Syrians.
Frankly, there's not a great deal I can say about what's going on there that isn't more effectively reported elsewhere. I do, however, follow these things pretty closely (seeing as it's going down not a couple hundred kilometers north of here), so I can summarize while pointing out some of the more useful sources of information.
A couple of weeks ago, a popular billionaire who also happens to be the Lebannese ex-Prime Minister turned opposition was killed in a car bombing. The crime was pretty quickly blamed on Syria by both the Lebannese and the world at large, even though there are reasonable indications that the Syrians had nothing to do with it. At this point, that no longer matters too much. What began as a call for an honest investigation snowballed with astonishing speed into a mass movement. Just take a look at the photos!
What Juan Cole has dubbed the Video Clip Revolution is directed against the Syrian-supported ruling party, and by extenstion against the Syrian occupation itself. It's clear this has been coming for a while, although it would seem the Republican agitators are already trying to give Bush the credit. Don't believe a word of it. Dr. Cole has the definitive summary of the historical context here.
What's happened so far is already quite a triumph for the people of Lebannon, but there are signs that they might succeed in dislodging the nearly 30-year-old Syrian occupation as well. Which would be very cool, and a win-win for everyone involved. So far, though, the Western media coverage has been pretty perfunctory, with marginally substantive material only appearing now that a government has fallen. (The coverage in Israel isn't superb, either, despite the potentially interesting consequences here.)
As for the question that's already (and inevitably) popping up, no, the Palestinians couldn't pull off something like this. The Palestinian populace for the most part can't physically reach any of the centers of Israeli government, which is where such a protest would ideally focus -- they'd never be allowed through the checkpoints. And anyway, Orange Revolutions don't work in the face of a military perfectly willing to gun down protesters en masse.
Since some of my readers are compulsive worriers and had asked, let me reassure everyone that I was not in Tel Aviv at the time of last Friday's bombing. Although I did spend a lovely afternoon playing with the Tel Aviv Go club, I was back in Rehovot by the evening.
Overall, I would not expect this to become a routine event again, like it was in the early days of the present Intifada.
Although it remains unclear just who was behind the attack, current indications are that the attack was intended primarily as an act of sabotage against the new leadership and policies of the Palestinian Authority, to try and break down the present period of calm. (Note that what we have just now, according to parties on both sides, explicitly does not rise to the level of a ceasefire/hudna/truce.) The expectation -- probably correct -- is that if the IDF can be provoked into striking against the militant groups, they will resume attacks. Since Sharon will supposedly grant no concessions without calm, Abbas would then have nothing to show for his overtures, and the status quo would be restored. Hamas will continue to be an up and coming political force with aspirations to replace Abbas' Fatah as the dominant Palestinian political force.
However, I tentatively have more faith than that in Abbas' survival instincts. The Palestinian people are mostly tired of conflict, and want some tangible improvement in their quality of life. If Abbas can't keep the militants under control, Sharon will have no reason to give him anything. Worse, failure here would allow the Israeli right to paint him as in league with the militants, giving Sharon the cover he'd need to marginalize the PA again as he did with Arafat, and thus a crucial few more years to finish his wall and further entrench the West Bank settlements. Abbas has ample motivation to maintain quiet for the time being.
Given that Abbas will proceed in a more-or-less sensible fashion, he's still threading a somewhat narrow path. The worry everyone's been obsessing over since the beginning of time (a couple of years, anyway) is that pushing too hard on the militants would lead to an intra-Palestine civil war. This strikes me as unlikely. The more serious possibility is that applying too little pressure would leave the militant groups free to attack at will and thus to effectively exercise a veto on the negotiations. The fact that last weekend's bombing was practically a freelance operation (at least, nobody's owning up to it) suggests that we actually are in the happy medium condition.
Ash Wednesday today. Well, yesterday my time, but most of you in the audience have seven or eight hours left as I write this. Of course if you're reading this in the archives three months from now -- sorry, it's over.
This was the first time I can recall not attending the dust-to-dust Mass. Sadly, my good Catholic upbringing was no match for a day full of meetings and the fact that I have no idea how to get to a Catholic church and back in less than most of a day. Which is why I made something of a pilgrimage of my field trip last Sunday. Consider this the continuation of my previous post.
The Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre contains the spot where Jesus was probably crucified, and as such has a good claim on being Christianity's most sacred locus -- if only because there is no such agreement as to where the Resurrection took place, and the Basilica contains one the candidate sites for that, too. So I set myself to at least find the place, which actually does take some effort, given that it lies deep in the twisty part of Aer Attika where the Christian and Muslim Quarters meet. You know you're in an old school town when major thoroughfares are occasionally actually stairs and frequently dive under buildings. On the plus side, there's no vehicle traffic to contend with.
It actually wasn't that difficult to find; the biggest trick was making it through the Arab market without being hopelessly distracted by exotic spices. It's abrupt. Eventually you arrive at a low door in an otherwise nondescript wall; stepping through into the courtyard is jarring after the crowded paths of the Suk. It doesn't look imposing at first, since not much of the building is visible from any one vantage, until one notices that a high golden dome topped by a crucifix is visible over the rooftops. Oh, that's part of this same building. Cold, wet, and not really sure of my next move, humility came easily.
It's not the sort of place you take pictures in. Well, actually, it was bustling with neck craners taking pictures, but I wasn't there to be That Tourist. Nor, I think, would mere images do well out of context. They would lack the atmosphere of the monks of the five Patriarchates variously ringing bells, singing chants, censoring incense. (I guess the Russian Orthodox church counts as a sixth Patriarchate, but as far as I know they're not represented.) They would have difficulty capturing the cacophanous tumble of Crusader architecture shored up by Ottoman additions shored up by '90s renovations. And something as ephemeral as the weight of a millenium of prayer can probably only be experienced firsthand.
So I wandered for a bit, wrapped up in my own thoughts and trying to avoid the noisy tour group of what seems to have been Russian athletes of some sort. Sat for a bit in an out-of-the-way chapel, on a stone bench that was 500 years old if it was 50 and has clearly in all its history never been other than ice cold. Then it was time to be moving on.
Afterwards, I dove into the real heart of the Suk, running through the center of the Muslim Quarter to the Damascus Gate. That, incidentally, is where you'd go if you cared to hire a taxi to Bethlehem or Nablus or Jordan; Israeli cabs won't (and mostly can't) reach Arab areas. Also, if ever you need a kilo of sweet paprika or a whole skinned lamb, or the best falafel on the planet, this is really the place to go. Not that I was there to shop.
I'm still not sure what drew me to the markets, actually. Why that experience, in particular, was the natural complement to my little pilgrimage. Perhaps the Muslim suq was the other half to a day on vacation from things Israeli. Or maybe I needed the busy market to ease back into a profane world. On the third hand, it could be that I was simply hungry.
With my advisor out of the country and the usual Sunday seminar moved to Tuesday, yesterday seemed an ideal opportunity to poke my head up out of Rehovot and survey something. Only having time for a day trip, I decided to take a proper look around the Old City in Jerusalem (i.e. without spending most of my time in shops picking up Christmas gifts). This is absurdly easy to do as, despite Rehovot's diminuitive stature, there are no less than two inter-city bus routes directly connecting the two cities.
The Rehovot central bus station is in the Rehovot mall (every town of more than about 35 people here has a mall), about a 15-minute walk from my dorm. Generally a pleasant walk, especially if breakfast is a pastry from the bakery next door. However, a cold front blew through over the weekend, which in this case meant that it started pouring quite chilly rain about halfway there. Fine, I thought, score 1 for the weather. I put up my hood and figured I'd dry out on the bus.
[Ed. update: lest you think it's just me]
Israel in the rainy season is really quite a different animal from other times of year. See, from early January through sometime in February this curious liquid substance called water tends to fall out of the sky in rather large quantities with some regularity. The plants seem to love this. Not so great for the cats and people caught near the event. (My friend Naomi's advice to Israeli urban planners: "Less cats, more gutters." Very insightful. My nigh-waterproof hiking boots are still drying out from all the flooded streets I crossed.) Later this month we've planned an outing to the Negev (the southern desert), which is evidently in full blossom right about now.
Anyhow, I arrived in the Jerusalem central bus station in a reasonably dry state, and after the usual frisking, wanding, and special to Jerusalem x-raying of my backpack, the lot of us were admitted to the mall to which this bus station is attached. (Pattern, anyone?) I chalked this up as a point in my favor. However, it's worth noting that, based on past experience, since Rehovot was wet and cool, I'd been expecting Jerusalem to be dry and cooler. Not this time. It was raining here too, and cold as well.
Getting to the Old City is a matter of a quick bus ride down Jaffa Street, which I can even do without embarassing myself now that I know how much the bus fare is. The rain didn't stop, but since many of the streets in the Old City are covered, it wasn't all that bad. Although they're not especially well-covered. Sure, the merchandise mostly stays dry, but pedestrians get liberally dripped upon, and the walkways can get quite brookish. Altogether worth it, though. Not just for the sightseeing, which I'll go into in another post, but I should emphasize that genuine Arab falafel not only beats the pants off the weak Israeli stuff, but on a nasty day like yesterday was darn near one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth.
Then, however, the wind picked up and the rain turned to a lovely mix of wet sleet and hail. Observing that my coat was completely soaked through by this point, I declared lack of pneumonia to be the better part of valour, and hailed a cab to take me back to the bus station. Point and match to the weather, I'm afraid.
Juan Cole mentions that there is enlightenment to be had from Ella Shohat's meditation on the implications for identity in being an Iraqi Jew, and an American one at that -- and on the cognitive dissonance this produces in many Westerners.
Fun fact: my first Hebrew teacher here was also a Mizrahi; she retired in December, and I'm sorry to say that her replacement doesn't engage nearly as well with the class. (Contrary to the common usage here, the Mizrahi are not Sephardim.) Apparently we were supposed to be able to tell, from the fact that she can pronounce the letter "ain" correctly, that her mother tongue is Arabic. Of course she was just having fun with us, as she knew perfectly well that a bunch of foreigners in Ulpan Aleph (Hebrew 101 for Immigrants, essentially) would know no such thing. Our new teacher has yet to evidence a sense of humor.
At any rate, only about half of Shohat's essay consists of a fairly standard exposition on an underappreciated and, whether she likes it or not, "ontological[ly] subversi[ve]" (precisely because of the bipolarity she bemoans) multivalent identity. Interspersed with about equal proportion is her, to my thought much more interesting, reflection on the dynamics of place and misplaced boundaries.
... even the most religious of our communities in the Middle East and North Africa never expressed themselves in Yiddish-accented Hebrew prayers, nor did they practice liturgical-gestural norms and sartorial codes favoring the dark colors of centuries-ago Poland. ... If you go to our synagogues, even in New York, Montreal, Paris or London, you'll be amazed to hear the winding quarter tones of our music which the uninitiated might imagine to be coming from a mosque.
The Mizrahi Jews are traditionally those that never left the Middle East; Shohat claims that her ancestors have been in Iraq since the Babylonian exile, which is at the very least more plausible than usual for statements invoking millenia-spanning familial ties. That they then behave like Middle Easterners is unsuprising, even if modern expectations are challenged by the existence of Jews who in many ways resemble more closely the fellow Arabs of their homelands than their fellow Jews from Poland. Significantly, as they have been forced into a second diaspora throughout the world, an echo of a former locale is included among the cultural baggage that is preserved.
As such, they stand uncomfortably pinioned in a world that largely tries with a single line to divide West from East and Judeo-Christian from Muslim. Place and culture are, after all, hardly homomorphic concepts. So it's particularly cruel that in the wake of the 1948 war, most of them were expelled from their Arab home countries to Israel, where most cultural, religious, and legal institutions remain dominated by the European Ashkenazi and a viceral distrust of anything Arab.
The same historical process that dispossessed Palestinians of their property, lands and national-political rights, was linked to the dispossession of Middle Eastern and North African Jews of their property, lands, and rootedness in Muslim countries. As refugees, or mass immigrants (depending on one's political perspective), we were forced to leave everything behind and give up our Iraqi passports. The same process also affected our uprootedness or ambiguous positioning within Israel itself, where we have been systematically discriminated against by institutions that deployed their energies and material to the consistent advantage of European Jews and to the consistent disadvantage of Oriental Jews. Even our physiognomies betray us, leading to internalized colonialism or physical misperception. Sephardic Oriental women often dye their dark hair blond, while the men have more than once been arrested or beaten when mistaken for Palestinians. What for Ashkenazi immigrants from Russian and Poland was a social aliya (literally "ascent") was for Oriental Sephardic Jews a yerida ("descent").
I was struck last week when the following two articles shared the front page of the Israeli edition of the International Herald-Tribune (itself sort of a "Google-News" from the pre-net era).
Far be it from me to deny that the House of Windsor is often good for a chuckle or a self-righteous tut-tut. And Le Pen is always saying something or other to stir people up. But why pair these two so prominently? Nazis. And maybe Auschwitz.
On January 27th, it will be 60 years to the day since Soviet forces overran the concentration camp at Auschwitz and freed the surviving prisoners there. I honestly can't tell if that is a big deal here -- I've seen it mentioned a number of times, but not in the context of anything special happening. So it's seen as particularly bad taste that Le Pen would speak up now, or that a Prince would be seen wearing a Nazi uniform (at a colonialism-themed costume party, which sounds like a pretty blatant invitation to poor taste in and of itself).
But Prince Harry got a scolding. Le Pen is being investigated by the French authorities, since
Under a 1990 revision of the press law, Le Pen could be charged for publicly denying the existence of "crimes against humanity" committed by the Nazis in World War II or making an "apology for war crimes."
If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison and a fine equal to $60,000.
I can't shake the suspicion that the two are related. Back in America, there are surely thousands of Le Pens, ranting in pamphlets and on web pages. None of them poses much risk of hijacking the political process. In fact, they are generally ignored as crackpots. When from time to time one manages to gain a modicum of attention, the response is not (usually) to deploy the lawyers, but to point exhaperatedly to the ample historical record that the Nazis were, in fact, pretty disagreeable.
It's obvious why the European nations often have laws about this sort of thing. They remember what happened the last time, and for them the death and devastation that swept their lands is the memory of a nightmare. They dread that someday memory will fade, and something like Nazism could again take root among an incautious people. So they make it a crime to deny the atrocities, or to look with other than scorn upon the swastika. Because they cannot make it a crime to forget. Even so, I wonder if this approach isn't counterproductive. Quash an entire historical debate -- and notice, this latest row arises from Le Pen challenging certain details of the occupation of France, just the kind of debate that historians routinely have -- and a certain type of person will tend to assume it's because the people in charge can't win their argument on its merits. Which, as it happens, is sometimes true.
A followup article in the IHT swipes obliquely at this attitude, comparing the criminal sanctions on the Continent to the British tendency to assail the Nazis with alternating deconstruction and derision. And perhaps this is the more healthy approach. So long as all things Nazi remain intellectual forbidden fruit, I suspect that nonconformists will continue to dabble there for the sheer perversity of it.
So mock the Nazis, outlaw them, or just use them as a rhetorical bludgeon against your opponents. If anyone in the audience has an opinion on the best way to handle the question, I'd enjoy reading your thoughts in the comments. Here, they seem to favor an odd mixture of all three (my favorite example is the law that specifically prohibits comparing any political figure to a Nazi, something of a Godwin's Law for the real world, which seems to be pretty routinely violated). But I'd advise against forgetting Auschwitz, just as I'd recommend giving some thought to the million killed in the Rwandan genocides, or the several million people who will starve to death this year. I don't know any Rwandans, but the former is fairly inescapable here: last week, my officemate was updating his family tree to account for a recent wedding, pointing out the several whole branches that terminate abruptly in the early 1940s ...