Category Archives: Israel-Palestine

Relations between Israel and Palestine and the peace process

Israel Report Final Days: Then they came for the Jews?

Our last days in Israel have been spent in Jerusalem.

During this time our idyllic location and relaxed and extremely enjoyable socialising has been marred by the thought that soon we shall be returning to blighted Blighty.

Returning home after a vacation has its compensations: seeing family and friends and reconnecting with communal life.

This time it’s not just the awful Manchester weather that gives me a sinking feeling in my gut, but the sense that I am returning from a war zone, where I feel safe, to one where I feel threatened.

War zone? UK a war zone? What is the man talking about!

Well, I happen to be a Jewish man, and the news from the UK for Jews is ever spiralling downward from inconvenience, through trepidation, past intolerable into fear.

Exaggeration? I’m sorry, but my parents, and grandparents were witness to this in the 1930s when blackshirts strode arrogantly behind a British aristocrat, Sir Oswald Mosely.

The unthinkable is becoming reality and ‘overreaction’ is not paranoia but a deep understanding, knowledge, analysis and experience of history which, for most Jews, is engrained in their genes throughout the millenia.

So, whence comes this fear?

The reaction to Israel’s response to continuing rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza has torn the thinly-disguised veil from the face of antisemitism in the UK.

Whilst the mainstream and social media stoke anti-Israel sentiments, even among the most fair-minded British citizen, with hostile, misinformed and downright viciously biased reporting, on the streets, those already inclined to use anything Israel does in self-defence as a trigger for violent protest have been empowered to expose the real motivation behind their obsession.

Antisemitic banners and chanting go unchallenged at protests across Britain; Israel and its supporters, and all Zionists, are called and labelled ‘Nazis’.

Enter the emboldened BDS (Boycott Sanctions and Divestment) brigade, and those too cowardly, just as in the 1930s, to stand up to them.

In Manchester, for over a month, a rag-bag of ‘protestors’ have picketed the Kedem store on King Street in Manchester. The  Jewish community, and other supporters of Israel, soon established a counter-protest.  The owner of the store is Israeli. The company he owns is wholly British, provides employment for British people, pays British taxes, and all its products are completely sourced from Israel behind the ‘Green Line’.

So why picket it?  Why block a popular thoroughfare, jostle and bully anyone who is making the free choice to enter the shop?  What has this to do with Gaza? Or settlements?

This Satruday eight protestors were arrested. As far as I could see from videos of the event posted on social media, none of those arrested were of an appearance which might suggest they were Muslim. The violence and the refusal to obey the police came from Left-wing agitators for whom anything associated with Israel is anathema.

The owner of Kedem produced evidence to show that produce was not from settlements, and there was no connection to any settlement whatsoever. He presented this to the leader of the protest group, but it made no difference. The shop-owner, in his desperation to save his legitimate business, made a fundamental error: that error is the belief that ideologically inspired prejudice is subject to reason, logic or facts. History tells us otherwise.

But how soon anti-Israelism descends into its close associate anti-Zionism, which, in turn morphs into its alter ego antisemitism. Many of the counter-demonstrators have reported antisemitic abuse, antisemitic chanting, the ubiquitous Nazi analogies. The Kedem protests are merely an extension of the frequent ‘Free Gaza’ demos, and, indeed, banners and slogans at Kedem are witness to this.

Previous protests outside shops selling Israeli goods have had the pretence that they were only targetting ‘settlement’ goods. The next stage was anything Israeli.

The Tricycle theatre in Kilburn in North West London recently decided to give in to the potential threat of demonstrations outside its premises by attempting to blackmail the London Jewish Film Festival (held at the theatre for the last eight years) into traducing the State of Israel by refusing their £1400 of funding as a prerequisite for continued hosting.

After a storm of protest, and much more damagingly, a number of patrons withdrawing funding, they withdrew their ultimatum. No doubt, this will result in accusations of the power of Jewish money.

So a lose-lose situation for British Jews who, like Israel itself, are damned if they roll over and die and damned if they fight back. And if you think I just created a strawman, a casual stroll through the hashtags on Twitter will disabuse you.

So, as we descend through anti-settlement to anti-Israel, what do we see in Birmingham but a kind of retail pogrom where about 100 people – yes 100 – entered a Tesco store and proceeded to trash not only any Israeli goods they could find, but also anything their deep research and understanding of the conflict indicated was complicit in Israel baby-killing, like a stack of Coca Cola cans.

Terrorised shoppers cowered in disbelief.

Then, on Saturday, the farce of Sainsbury in Holborn, London where, purportedly, although it is far from clear, as a precaution, an employee, maybe the manager, decided to remove all kosher goods – read that again, kosher, not necessarily Israeli, not settlement but, yes, Jewish goods. The precaution was deemed necessary as a nearby ‘Gaza protest’ provoked fear that a Tesco Birmingham retail pogrom would descend upon the good shoppers of Holborn and nearby Gray’s Inn.

There is even an unsubstantiated report that the shelves were cleared by an employee who told a shopper that it was in sympathy with Gaza.

However, this defensive action, which included closing the store, has illicited a storm of protests from angry Jews who, rightly, have identified a new low in the UK where Jews are denied access to kosher produce because protestors, including a local MP, are promoting BDS.

On social media, a recorded phone conversation between Jonathan Sacerdoti, a prominent Jewish Middle East analyst and a delegate to the Board of Deputies, has gone viral.

In this phone call Sacerdoti asks the store’s representative whether, if he were to threaten halal goods, would they be removed from the shelves? The answer was not clear, but the poorly-briefed and defensive employee appears at first to say, ‘no’.

Thus we have descended all the way from protests succesfully closing shops associated with ‘settlements’ to the clearing, albeit reflexively and only briefly, of Jewish goods, per se.

What next for the UK? Targetting kosher restaurants? Kosher grocery stores?

This tweet of mine found resonance with a number of people in the last 24 hours:

‘First they came for the West Bank goods then they came for the Israeli goods then they came for the Jewish goods then they came for the Jews’

 

 

Israel Report Days 10 and 11: Life is good here

In Netanya, a popular seaside town a few miles North of Tel Aviv, where I am currently spending a few days, life is pretty good, life carries on as normal.

The streets are full of traffic, the shops are full of punters. Recent ceasefires and the distance from Gaza mean that the events in the South seem like a distant conflict in another country.

Yet, it is not forgotten by any means: flags fly, the odd soldier saunters through public squares, newspapers and television reports are keenly followed.

We did some shopping again today and took in the atmosphere of sidewalk restaurants and cafés. A small group of be-jeaned and hijabed Arab girls mixed with Ashkenazi Jews, Russian Jews and Ethiopian shop assistants in a dress shop.

As I previously wrote: So much for Apartheid. This is an accusation persistently peddled by Israel-haters. The same accusation is rebutted easily. Yet it persists. Accusers point to refugee camps, the separation wall, the blockade, purported Jews-only roads in Judea and Samaria.

Let’s not get into Oslo, settlements, PA autonomy or the 2005 evacuation of Gaza.

What I have often felt as I walk around Netanya, where the atmosphere is relaxed and without any sense of danger or threat, is how very different it is from Gaza.

There is a brief sense of guilt; I and everyone here is safe, people seem to have a very nice life, different races and religions mix without enmity. Everyone accepts everyone else: religious and non-religious, Jew and Arab, African and European.

In Gaza, there are no Jews. There are no synagogues. Gaza is Judenrein. If there is ever a Palestinian state, that too would be Judenrein. Many areas are smashed. There is fear and insecurity. Life is not easy.

I have frequently thought of these people, a few kilometres away, living such a different life.

But, despite my concern and my wish that one day they will live like the young Arab girls I saw in town, I remember why they live like they do, and that reason is Hamas, culturally engrained victimhood, decades of Jew-hate, rejection of Israel, abysmal leadership.

The answer to Gaza’s and Palestinians’ woes? Simple. Make peace. Stop hate. Then nothing is impossible.

Israel Report Day 9: How the West was Lost

Sitting here in central Israel, I have been thinking that it was time to enumerate the snowballing and often hysterical, often cowardly, anti-Israel events, actions and stories that are now part of a runaway narrative of lies, misrepresentations, human rights travesties and double standards, laced with a cocktail of old-school and Islamist antisemitism.

In no particular order, as they say, these include:

The Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, London has seen fit to put an ultimatum to the London Jewish Film Festival (which has used that theatre for 8 years): either refuse funding from the Israeli Embassy (£1400) or we won’t stage the festival. The theatre generously offered to ensure that the shortfall in funding would be met.

The LJFF’s reply was basically Churchillian (in the finger department).

The theatre was not the only organisation to cite the excuse that they did not want to be seen taking sides – which really means that they are cowards who fear damaging demos outside their building and/or a Muslim-Leftlist backlash. I would remind them and everyone else who put profit before principles that, in the immortal words of Basil Fawlty, ‘This is exactly how Nazi Germany started.’

In Manchester, UK, the Kedem store which is owned by an Israeli and sells Israeli produce, some of which is packaged in Judea/Samaria, has for weeks been the subject of a politically motivated picket. Initially, entrance to and exit from the shop was curtailed by an intimidating bunch of Free Gaza people. The Jewish community responded and now face off against each other regularly. The Jewish community is even providing a kiddush on shabbat to ensure that their opponents do net get a free ride even for one day.

Local police are praising the peaceful and well-mannered nature of the counter-demo.

Nevertheless, in the past, similar demos at Ahava in Covent Garden, London and Sodastream in Brighton have forced closure. In Manchester, the effect on other businesses, and Kedem itself, will mean that the shop will inevitably close.

This is intolerable. Freedom to protest is one thing, but freedom to harrass and put precious jobs on the line is redolent of 1930s Germany.

In one of my more mischievous moments I suggested that, maybe, the pro-Israel camp should shower the antis with paper rockets, a bit like the English bowmen at Agincourt against the French. These paper rockets would not carry much of a payload but the reaction of the other side to a barrage of paper would be instructive. Would they just stand there and take it. Would they have no right to defend themselves?

I can’t imagine that they would not want to retaliate ‘disproportionately’. Sadly, such an act would probably be considered incitement by the police. But I can only dream.

Meanwhile, in Belfast, where the synagogue was subject to a double stoning recently, an Asda store had its shelves cleared of Israeli produce. Surely an arrestable offence?

In that same city, the blue plaque marking the birthplace of Israeli President Chaim Herzog has had to be removed due to continuous attempts to vandalise it.

In other news, the UK government has issued a completely nonsensical policy statement to the effect that should ‘significant’ hostilities between Israel and Hamas restart, ig would not issue twelve arms export licenses. This is gesture politics writ large by business secretary Vince Cable (LibDem).

Firstly, as I and several others have pointed out on Twitter and elsewhere, this actively encourages Hamas to commence hostilities to gain a political ‘win’. Secondly, what does ‘significant’ mean in practice and who judges? Clearly, this is the result of an internal Coalition power struggle where the Lib Dem Business Secretary has legal power to make such judgements and the Conservative Prime Minister would have attempted to nix it.

Meanwhile, at the UN, yet another kangaroo court in the form of ‘Goldstone II’ is about to convene with, at its head, William Schabas.

This man has a track record of anti-Israel activity and refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist group in a recent interview where he reiterated his view that his favourite person to be tried for war crimes would not be Assad or Putin but Netanyahu. And why? Well, because of Cast Lead where he was actually the opposition leader not the Prime Minister.

When challenged on double-standards he admitted that the UN is full of them, but that should not allow us to desist from pursuing them even further with yet another show trial for Israel where the only unknown is which anti-Israel mouthpieces are going to sit in pre-judgement.

It seems that Free Gaza, pro-Pal, anti-Israel demonstrations in London and the provinces are now an almost weekly phenomenon, disrupting traffic and business and requiring expensive policing. Of particular concern is the display of lsis, Hamas and Hizbollah flags. How can any Western society allow anyone to  show support for terror groups, especially one which it is itself fighting.

In Oxford Street Isis have openly been handing out redruitment flyers enjoining British Muslims to become jihadists in Iraq and build the ‘caliphate’.

There appears to be a growing movement of terrorist chic with the black flags of ISIS flying in Tower Hamlets, for example.

Flag flying is also popular withthe Palestinian flag flying from a couple of Northern England Town Halls and Glasgow.

This avalanche of hate, antisemitism and virulent anti-Israelism, which no other minority or country has to endure, represents a watershed for Europe.

Some have called Israel the canary in the coalmine. The war on Israel and the Jews is a war on Western civilisation, culture and mores. Only the West does not realise it yet. Its blindspot, latent antsemitism along with the cult of human rights and an undue sensitivity to antithetical cultural values spell its gradual demise.

What to do?

In the UK get the Lib Dems out of government. How can any Jew who supports Israel vote for this shower.

As a lifelong Labour party supporter, I cannot see how I can continue to be so. It is also very difficult for me to vote Tory, but they are now the only option other than not to vote at all.

I suggest the following steps:

1. Make political picketing of shops and businesses illegal. Boycotts should not be imposed by active minorities.
2. Make foreign flag flying illegal except for state occasions
3. Make Isis, Hamas and Hizbollah flags illegal with stiff fines and custodial sentences
4. Crackdown on antisemitic or Islamophobic banners at demos and punish with stiff fines or custodial sentences
5. There should be better tracking of funds to terror organisations through UK banks and charities
6. Classify Isis as a terror organisation
7. Turkey should be thrown out of NATO – they are working with and for NATO’s enemies
8. Limit demos for any particular cause

If the West continues to appease and cannot see Israel as the frontline in the battle against neo-Nazi terror in the form of depraved Islamism and its apologists on the Left the results will be disastrous.

This is how the West is being lost.

Israel Report Day 7: Wandering Jews

Sunday, a working day in Israel, was spent on a shopping trip into Netanya where we bought absolutely nothing.

Forgetting previous warnings of my wife’s cousins, I ordered lunch which would have served 6 people.

Netanya, surprisingly, perhaps, for what I call Bournemouth-in-Israel, is very cosmopolitan. Languages heard yesterday: Hebrew, English,French, Russian, Arabic and Amharic.

Walking around the Kenyon HaSharon mall once again gives the lie to accusations of Apartheid. I actually saw Arab women go into the same restroom as their Jewish compatriots, and in the restaurant there were no sign for Jews only or Arabs only seating; we all sat together. I know this will be something of a shock to European and American demo placard holders. Awful, isn’t it.

Arab women were very noticeable. They were all immaculately dressed in headscarves and flowing dresses, often beautifully decorated with colourful needlework. Some young Arab girls wore leggings and a hijab.

My wife wandered into a shop specifically catering to Oriental female fashion, whether it be Arab or oriental Jewish. Her Western dress stood out. No-one gave her a second look.

We had a bit of a logistical problem for Monday night: the relatives with whom we are staying are expecting their son and three of his children to arrive that day, and their other son arrived with his two today (Sunday). So no room at the inn, as it were, for us. We did not want to deprive anyone of a bed.

So we went into a couple of hotels to see if they could provide a room for one night. I’m not sure what they thought when they saw a middle-aged couple asking for a room for one night – didn’t really cross my mind, but the first hotel had one on the sixth floor which we were shown by a young Russian-Israeli who told us she came from that part of Russia near Alaska. Nice little room with balcony and panoramic views but it was $240.

The second hotel point-blank refused the middle-aged couple on an apparent tryst.
However, back home, we resolved the logistical problem after much discussion and a few phone-calls. We are staying.

Hopes of another 72 hour ceasefire increased throughout the day and came into effect at midnight. So far, as I write, this Monday morning, it is holding.

Footnote: my special Halifax credit card was rejected yet again! So I am giving up. It could even be it was charged without the restaurant realising it.

I received three more calls from the Sheraton (see day 2 blog) and my money has now been reimbursed although it hasn’t yet appeared on my account.

I shall be having words with the Halifax when I get back to Blighty.

The day ended with my wife and I looking at the ‘Super Moon’. It was very white and very bright. Our cousin’s daughter unimpressed: ‘Looks the same to me’.

Israel Report Day 4: One Wedding and almost Three RTA’s

Yesterday, Thursday, was a day where normality was overshadowed by my expectation that rocket fire would recommence the following morning.

As I write, Friday morning, that fear has been realised with reports of rocket fire in the area in the immediate vicinity of Gaza. The Iron Dome is back to its work.

Yesterday, we returned to central Tel Aviv and visited Bialik Street. Here there are some fine old buildings and the atmosphere reminded me of Jerusalem.

Beit Bialik was the house of Israel’s national poet Haim Nachman Bialik. It is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. It is a very beautiful house both externally and internally. You can read about it here: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bialik_House

We also visited Beit Ha’Ir the former City Hall. So we learned a lot more about the first Mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff. There is little else of interest in the building. It has an imposing facade.

Outside, in the beautiful square, we saw a recently married couple and their friends posing for wedding photos. Life and love goes on. My wife wished them mazal tov.

We made our way to the beach. Not exactly heaving. It was like Brighton before the First World War.

We had dinner at the Sheraton with my son and watched the sun setting on the last day of the ceasefire.

I was rather annoyed that the credit card I had specifically got to avoid currency charges was not, apparently, accepted and I had to use a second card. The waiter was apologetic. I continued to be British and told them it was not their fault.

The taxi driver who took us home was determined to have an accident; driving in excess of the speed limit he almost rear-ended one car, just avoided a side impact with another car that pulled across him to park and had to brake hard to avoid another which pulled over leaving a few centimetre clearance.

Back home, I received a call from the manager of the restaurant. He apologised profusely for the earlier credit card incident and revealed that the first card had actually worked but did not produce a slip. In all, they had debited my cards four times! He said it would be reveresed on Sunday. We could have free coffee and cake next time we were passing by.

Sleep was hard in expectation of what the morning would bring.

Israel Report Day 3

Our third day in Israel and the second day of the three day ceasefire period. We decided to go into central Tel Aviv with our son to do a bit of tourism and take the opportunity for some shopping.

I thought I’d have little of any interest to write about, but in Israel, unless you spend your time hermetically sealed in a safe room, there is always a story.

Today was no exception.

I had never been to Beit Ha’Atzma’ut – Independence Hall, where Israel’s Declaration of Independence took place in 1948. So we decided to take a taxi to Rehov Rothschild and make our way there.

Outside, on the central pedestrian area, which divides this wide boulevard, stands a statue of Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv. I wondered why his statue stands here and not on Tel Aviv’s most famous street, which is named after him. I was about to find out.

Meanwhile, about that central pedestrian area. Well, it’s not just for pedestrians. You share with cyclists who pedal like car drivers drive in Israel. The best policy is to just ignore them, stick to the marked pedestrian areas, and let them cycle round you. This can be unnerving as they all seem to be participants in the Tour de France who have taken a wrong turn and are desperate to rejoin the peleton.

The central area is clearly demarcated with symbols of bicycles and people. It makes little difference to either group who, with typical Israeli anarchy, choose whichever lane best suits their immediate inclination.

Another typical Israeli touch of humour uses, for the pedestrian ‘lane’, the silhouetted symbol of a clearly orthodox Jewish man, complete with shtreiml and peyot, holding a child’s hand. That reminder of the religious element in the country appears somewhat forlorn, as female cyclists, in skimpy shorts and revealing tops, run over those same symbols in a demonstration of the secular-religious divide.

Back at Beit Ha’Atzma’ut, we enter. I see a group of four elderly people seated on the right. On the left, the desk, with a young lady behind it, and to her right, slouched in a low chair, a young man in a kippah appears to be reading from a religious text.

The young lady takes our money and explains that a ‘seniors’ group is currently in the Hall, and the next guided tour is not for some time. She will first take us into another room and play us a short film. The room which can accommodate about 100 people is completely empty. We sit near the front on hard plastic chairs. Being British, we don’t sit on the front row.

The young lady explains that this building was the house of Dizengoff, first mayor of the city, which he built on the plot of land that was allocated to him in the lottery which established the new town of Tel Aviv in 1909. Hence, his statue outside. On the death of his wife, he converted it to an art gallery in her memory.

In 1948 the building was chosen, and prepared hastily for the Declaration.

The twelve minute film begins. It tells the history of the house, the city and its role in Israel’s independence. Not expecting to be moved, we nevertheless are. My wife is weeping buckets and I wipe away a covert tear and exit back into the entrance, where the young lady informs us that the seniors are almost done. We are ushered through the glass doors and stand respectfully at the top of the small flight of stairs waiting for the guide in the hall to complete his presentation.

Almost as soon as we arrive in position the Hatikvah begins to play, Israel’s poignant national anthem. We stand to attention looking down at the scene of the birth of the State of Israel, listening to Hatikvah. It is a very emotional moment. The tears are not so covert this time.

The seniors make their way out. We smile as they pass and replace them in the now empty hall. Before us the famous portrait of Theodor Herzl, who began the modern political Zionist movement. Either side, four meter high vertical flags of Israel, just as it was in ’48.

Brass plaques sit on the desk behind which the founding fathers sat. Each plaque with the name of those who sat there on that day, and in front of the desk, a set of wooden chairs, also with the names of that day’s participants.

We move around, take photographs and imagine the scene in this place, so familar from the black and white newsreel that we have watched countless times since our youth.

As we leave, the young lady enquires where we are from. She seems surprised. This is the peak season. So many bookings have been cancelled. She thanks us for coming. We should come again in better times, we say. She places her hand on her heart in agreement.

We exit, blinking, into the heat and light of the day. It’s about 30c and humidity is high.

After some shopping and a light snack in the Dizengoff Centre, it’s time to return ‘home’.

Hailing a taxi in Israel you often wonder who you will get. There is a wide range of characters. This time our driver is one of the more garrulous types. He has little English, but engages my son in conversation in Ivrit. I listen and try to understand.

He learns we are English. This precipitates a demonstration of his skills in mimicry as he performs a cockney accent which Dick van Dyke would be proud of:

‘Ooh yeah, Ars’nal, Chelsea, don’t you know…’ moving from the East End to Kensington as Mr Bean.

I tell him that, although I am from London, we are from Manchester. Undeterred he continues:

‘Manchester United, Man City, Liverpool, ooh yeah, don’t you know’.

I attempt to correct his rather poor grasp of Northern English accents and inform him that I am a follower of Tottenham Hotspur.  I make several attempts to teach him how a Londoner would pronounce it as ‘Totn’m’. He gives it a go, but is more Ossie Ardiles than Glenn Hoddle.

In exasperation, and with a hint of mischief, I teach him to say ‘Come on you Spurs’ if ever he should find an Arsenal fan sitting in the back of his taxi.

The conversation soon shifts to the conflict in Gaza. We tell him the many places where our family lives, including those close to Gaza.

He tells us that he has a farm and rides horses. He is not far from Arik Sharon’s hacienda. He is from Netivot, a frequent target of rockets. Many people from the kibbutzim around Gaza come there to shop, he says.

As distracted drivers go, he is one of the most distracted. His hands frequently leave the wheel. with expansive gestures. He weaves in and out of the heavy rush hour traffic. He seems to notice the current status of traffic lights more my divination than observation, and the distance to the car in front is calculated by an uncanny sixth sense that operates even when his head is turned to me in the back.

He informs us, with gestures, that the Scots and their national culture bemuse him. He asks the English for ‘kilt’ and ‘bagpipes’. He suggests that anyone wearing a kilt in Israel would soon have an inquisitve local lifting it to see what lies below.

From comedy often comes tragedy. I am a little concerned that, as he drives at speeds which, to a Brit, would seem a little reckless, seeing that the stationary traffic ahead is only 10 metres away and the speedometer indicates 50. Added to this, he has produced a newspaper and is opening it, resting it on the steering-wheel, at the centrefold.

There, I can see pictures of the sixty-four Israeli soldiers who lost their lives in Operation Protective Edge. Our driver points to one of the boys:

‘I know his father. I went to the funeral. Twenty years old. From Netivot. My town.’

The mood has changed. He points to another native of his city. I know his story already as the driver informs us that his wife gave birth to their son two days after he was killed.

He rants about Gaza. We should never have left. Oslo, Shmoslo. Rabin. Sharon. You cannot trust foreigners to protect Israel. They stab you in the back as soon as look at you.

I am not comfortable with his xenophobia.

In the evening my wife’s second cousin comes to visit. She tells us that in the Soroka hospital in Beersheva there were 67 births this week, the highest since 1948: exactly the same number of Israelis killed in the conflict.

Coincidence?

Israel Report Day 1

Over the next few days, depending on whether this war continues, I’ll be blogging my experiences here in Israel on what I see, hear, feel and discuss.

Maybe, if calm returns, I and my wife can actually have a holiday and not  spend our time as close to the nearest air raid shelter as possible.

Monday 4th August.

Manchester airport was relatively quiet. I was surprised. Maybe everyone is already on holiday.

I’m not sure why but our tickets indicated we had the privilege of rapid boarding. Maybe the fact that our original flight had been cancelled, or maybe just a mistake.

We sailed through security and into the maze which is the airport duty free area, designed to force you past every bottle of booze and every perfume sampler.

A very short wait and by no means a full planeload of passengers ensured we were sitting in our seats in record time. We were delayed for an hour due to air traffic control in Greece. Not a great start.

I was very impressed by EasyJet. To help with the kids’ boredom the captain opened the cabin door and invited them to come and look at the cockpit. An orderly queue formed. Brilliant PR.

The passengers were very calm and chatty. No indication that we were flying to a war zone. We found it inexplicable that anyone would want to take children on holiday to Israel at this time. I don’t think people understand what it is like. We don’t understand. But at least we have some idea, some sense of trepidation.

Well before the usual time, the pilot informed us that due to the security situation we should return to our seats and make ready to land. The request we should sit in our allocated seat was a reminder that if the unthinkable happened, we could be identified by seat number.

As we crossed the coastline, not the usual euphoria. I looked south toward Gaza trying to imagine the unimaginable suffering and mayhem just a few miles away. But there were no signs of warfare. Just some unexpected cloud cover.

The pot-faced immigration man – and usually they remain so – even managed a smile as he asked us if we had family in Israel and where they were as we reeled of a list of cities and kibbutzim.

My wife’s cousins picked us up from the airport , which was not empty, but certainly well below its usual bustle. It had taken us no more than 15 minutes from leaving the plane and walking through an eerily quiet airport.

Signs for shelters at every turn reminded us of the reality we had just entered.

I could immediately see the strain on our cousins’ faces. As we drove out of the airport, ‘Z’ turned to me and said he had to tell me something. ‘You are immature and irresponsible to come. There is a war. Everyone is in trauma.’

A typical forthright Israeli statement. ‘So you are pleased to see us, then’ I said. ‘Look, we haven’t seen our son for 18 months. We could not know if he would be called up for reserve duty. We had to see him’. The unspoken implication was ‘and what if then something were to happen to him, and we never saw him again’. But such thoughts remain floating in the air without articulation. But they are, nevertheless, understood.

We learned of a second serious incident in Jerusalem that morning, a shooting following the fatality of a man run over by a tractor which turned over a bus.

Later we discovered the driver of the bus was an Arab who wished his fellow Arab attacker should burn in Hell.

On arriving at our cousins’ home, their son told us that yet another truce was agreed starting tomorrow, Tuesday, morning, and this time Hamas had agreed to it and it could be permanent.

We soon found out what we already knew. Our cousins were not among the 90 something percent of Israelis that supported the government’s efforts in Gaza.

‘I don’t like what they are doing to Hamas’. This was a surprise. I was too tired to discuss. They thought that the way Hamas had been treated, the blockade and the economic pressure on Gaza was similar to how Arafat had been isolated in Ramallah. They should have negotiated.

Their son believed Hamas had shown signs of a gradual realisation that they had to make compromises and forgo their fanatical adherence to a genocidal policy. ‘They can see that they have gained nothing and the way they think is that Allah is not giving them any victory here. So they rationalise that to make concessions and convince themselves that it is His will.’

I had the distinct feeling that it was they who were rationalising their own beliefs that you can negotiate with an enemy that is ideologically hell bent on your annihilation.

‘The Egyptians will open up the border. They will be able to export via El Arish and not have to rely on Israel for their economic welfare. Fatah will come and supervise the crossing. Fatah have been doing a lot to stop terrorism in the Est Bank. But a 3rd Intifada is still possible .’

‘Gaza is like a prison. They need to be able to breathe’.

I write this Tuesday morning. It is 8.00 am. There is supposed to be a truce. I just heard my first explosion, I think. Some way off.  No sirens. Dogs barked. Was that a second even further off?

Internet is down. I’ll post this later.

It’s back.

This is Israel

[This is the text of a speech I made yesterday at meeting of my synagogue to offer prayers for peace, and support for Israel]

Dear friends – thank you. Thank you for coming to show your support and love for the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

I shouldn’t be here tonight. I should be in Israel with my wife visiting our son who lives in Tel Aviv, and our family across Israel. But President Obama tried a little BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) of his own, and our flight was cancelled. So it is beshert that I am here to address you this evening. Im yirtzeh hashem we shall be flying out in the near future.

I want to tell what I and my wife have been doing for the last few weeks every waking moment available to us.

My wife with her phone, I with my iPad have followed every heartbreak, every attack on Israel and the Jewish people, every act of unspeakable evil and every act of unimaginable bravery.

We wept with the families of the fallen, we woke every morning wondering how many more of our beautiful young boys were gone, and how many more families would lose a son, a husband, father a brother.

We watched in awe as 30,000 people braved sirens and rockets to attend the levaya (funeral) of a lone soldier who had no family in Israel. I followed on Twitter calls for people to attend shiva houses (of mourning) of the fallen chayalim bodedim – lone soldiers. It was truly amazing to see. Many of the people I follow on Twitter in Israel actually attended these funerals.

This is Israel. This is the Israel we know and love.

And all through these long weeks we have been phoning relatives in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya, Gan Yavne, Kiryat Ono to ask how they are coping. Did they have to run to a shelter? Are they OK?

You know at that this time more than 2500 rockets have been fired into Israel from Eilat in the South to Rosh Hanikrah in the North. In the last decade at least 12,000 have been fired at Israel.

For weeks, we have sat wondering to ourselves: will our son be called up as a reservist. Would he have to fight? So far, he has not baruch hashem, thank G-d. Very few of us here are completely unaffected by events in Israel; I’m sure many of you have children or grandchildren, relatives and friends in Israel.

I downloaded an app called Red Alert. Every time a rocket is fired into Israel it will sound an alarm that you can configure – you can chose whether it is a wailing siren or a woman saying ‘Tzeva adom tzeva adom’ – Red alert. This so freaked out my wife as my iPad was telling us every few minutes that a rocket was fired at somewhere in Israel that I had to change the noise to be like an email alert. Each time my wife asked – where was that one? Was it Tel Aviv? Was anyone hurt?

This is how we have lived these last few weeks – can you imagine what it is like over there? I’m sure some of you have been and can tell us your own experiences.

We have had to face the surreal knowledge that in a few days we would be entering a war zone ourselves.

As someone who for years now has been involved in hasbara and has used social media to counter lies and distortions and to get the truth about Israel out there, I have been just one of an international network of people who are active on Twitter, on blogs, Facebook and even on the Television and radio here in the UK, Israel, the United States and across the world.

So, what have I learned, then, these last few weeks. Here are some highlights and lowlights.

Well, guess what! Those who say anti-zionism is not anti-semitism have been shown to be seriously deluded. Although criticism of the policies of the Israeli government is a perfectly legitimate exercise, and one mostly performed in Israel itself, the vast majority of anti-Israel bashing is clearly antisemitic.

In France a traumatised Jewish community numbering more than 350,000 has been subjected to what can only be called pogroms. After a so-called pro-Palestinian demo in Paris, congregants in a shul – ironically called ‘de la Roquette’ – were besieged by a baying mob of stone-throwing and knife-wielding Muslims. Only the police saved them from a lynching. Nine synagogues in France have been attacked, even fire bombed. Jewish shops and businesses burned to the ground. Hundreds of French Jews have made aliyah (emigrated) to Israel, where one said he would rather sit in a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv than walk on a street in Paris wearing a kippah.

On Facebook they created a page with the photos and names of French Jews so that they can be attacked. In Paris a Jew was recognised and attacked by fifteen thugs as people looked on.

In Belfast the shul had its windows smashed – twice.

In Manchester, after the pro-Palestinian rally, a convoy of Blackburn Muslims, who had probably never spoken to a Jew in their life, terrorised Jews in Broughton Park, throwing eggs and insults and shouting ‘Heil Hitler’.  Indeed, Hitler’s popularity is at its highest for about 70 years.

On Shabbos, a member of this congregation told us how the Kedem shop in King Street has been besieged for a week, and he urged all of us to support the pro-Israel contingent against an aggressive mob of hardline left-wing activists and Muslims who had tried to block the entrance to the shop and had terrorised staff.

In London and Paris, in Berlin and in Belgium and Holland and even in Cardiff violent pro-Palestinian demonstrators held banners which compared Israel and the Jews to the Nazis, called for ‘death to the Jews’, or chanted ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas’ and other unspeakable horrors, unchallenged by police, or the public. The Hamas, Hizbollah and ISIS flags were freely carried without hindrance. In Bradford and Preston the Town Halls took down the Union Flag, our national flag, and raised the Palestinian in an act of solidarity; something they failed to do for the thousands of Palestinians killed in Syria for the last three years.

In Paris, those ever ready to associate Zionism with Nazism gleefully made the antisemitic quenelle salute, a version of the Nazi salute, and called for another Holocaust – the one they all deny ever happened, of course; yet it is Israelis who are the Nazis?

A Turkish shop in Liège in Belgium bore a sign in the window saying ‘Dogs are welcome, but not Jews’.

The Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayib Erdogan said what the Israelis are doing in Gaza is 100 times worse than what the Nazis did to the Jews.

And the United States is not immune with violent rallies against Israel across the country, even in Miami.

Meanwhile, in the UK the Liberal Democrat MP, David Ward, tweeted ‘Ich bin ein Palestinian’ and that if he were in Gaza, would he fire a rocket? yes, I probably would, he said. In other words, he would be prepared to commit a war crime by firing a rocket indiscriminately at Israeli civilians, presumably as form of ‘collective punishment’.

After a storm of protests on Twitter, in which I took part, his colleague, ex MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, stood up for Mr Ward and called the Board of Deputies (so that includes me) a ‘ frightful bag of disputatious Jews’ .

Talking of ‘frightful bags’, on BBC Newsnight that evening, Baroness Jenny Tonge thought Israelis are so despicable that she would also be prepared to commit a war crime against Israel were she to be in Gaza. This is the same woman who once said she could empathise with suicide bombers.

The media and social media talk endlessly of ‘proportionality’ without the slightest idea of the actual definition of this term in international law, in the hope that, it seems, more Israelis will be killed to satisfy their desire for some obscene arithmetic idea of ‘fair play’, as if war were a Sunday afternoon cricket match, not about justice and righteousness or self-preservation in the face of a pathological and suicidal enemy.

Without the Iron Dome, can you imagine how many more Gazans would have died, let alone Israelis. I say that because without the Iron Dome Israel would have to have acted with far, far greater force.

Yet they mock the rockets as harmless homemade fireworks – even though many are provided by Iran – in order to accuse Israel of disproportionality. Because Israel protects its citizens with this technology, they expect Israel to sit back and just allow rockets to rain down on them because, unlike any other nation, they don’t believe Israel has a right to protect itself. And these rockets can, and have killed, and wrought destruction, fear and trauma especially to young children. And, if they are so harmless, how come airlines decided it was too dangerous to land at Ben Gurion?

And yet these same pedlars of semantic mendacity are not concerned that in Syria 170,000 people have died, including thousands in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, Millions are refugees. Did you see any demos in London or Paris about that?

In Iraq, the most evil gang of criminals since the Nazis, ISIS or ISIL, or whatever acronym of evil they now use, are trying to outdo them, killing thousands, ending 1800 years of Christian life in Mosul in Iraq, spreading terror, destroying mosques and churches and precious historical artifacts, the tombs of saints and prophets. And all in the name of the same god that inspires Hamas and their criminal allies. Where are the mass demonstrations? Where are pogroms against Muslims? Where the outrage? Where are the Methodists? Where the Quakers? All we get is a shrug and a soon-forgotten op-ed in one of the dailies.

Yet, if the State of Israel dares to defend itself against a decade during which barely a day has passed without a rocket, an attempted infiltration to kidnap or murder, or a mortar attack against a school bus, the UNHRC ( a mockery of the words ‘human’ and ‘rights’ but definitely ‘united’ against one state – Israel) the UNHRC, a bunch of gangster states that would make the Mafia blush, is falling over itself to launch a war crimes investigation, whilst completely ignoring the Hamas rockets and terror. There have been 32 UNHRC resolutions, 26 of them against Israel and no more than one or even none at all for Syria, Sudan, Russia, China, Nigeria, Mexico, Sri Lanka or Iran.

Ironically, in the 2014 UN Human Development index, Israel came 19th. France was 20th. Not one of Israel’s neighbours came in the top 50, and the ‘State of Palestine’ has a higher index than most other Arab or even Muslim states. So much for genocide..

This is the world we live in.

But it is at times like this when we should take great pride in Israel which shines like a beacon of hope and goodness; yet much of the world is blind to it. Their ignorance of history, their political ideologies, their religion, yes, their prejudice and culturally acceptable thinly-disguised antisemitism, fuels hatred, violence and death, stoked by the media, politicians, and the Internet.

Israelis, and we who support them, we who have morals and scruples, we who abhor death and embrace life, are forced to witness death and destruction and human suffering visited on the people of Gaza, who are as much the victims of Hamas terror – maybe more so – as the people of Israel.

We take no joy or satisfaction in the death of a single innocent, yet they cheer and jeer the death of an Israeli soldier or a civilian, whilst their apologists toss ancient blood libels at Jews like the sweets the Palestinians hand out to their children to celebrate their cult of death.

Today the famous words of Prime Minister Golda Meir are still true: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

They use their people as human shields, preventing them from leaving their homes when Israel warns of imminent attack, physically intimidating and beating them so that they will be killed to provide a photo-op for the gullible press, who would rather believe the representative of a terror organisation than a member of the Israeli government.

They hide weapons in schools, mosques and hospitals, they booby trap homes and fire from those same homes and from protected buildings.

But Jeremy Bowen ‘sees no evidence of human shields’.

Did you know that 5 years ago Hamas itself and other observers revealed that 160 children, who they used to build the tunnels, were killed in those tunnels? Yet it is Israel and the Jews that are the child-killers, the baby murderers.

I’m sure many of you would have seen the graphics on social media and heard the words of Bibi Netanyahu – ‘we protect our civilians with our missiles, they protect their missiles with their civilians’.

$100m at least spent on several kilometres of terror tunnels, and not a single bomb shelter in Gaza, except the ones in the basements of hospitals where their cowardly leaders hide. Did you know that Hamas have a command centre in an office next to the emergency room in Shifa hospital?

Another aspect of the anti-Israel hatred, which for so long has permeated the media, is the corruption of the language of the Holocaust and our national suffering, referring to Gaza as a ‘concentration camp’ or the ‘Warsaw ghetto’. The Arab population of both Gaza and the Territories has grown steadily, yet Israel is committing ‘genocide’ a word never used in reference to Syria or Iraq.

Even our own political leaders, even Jewish ones, have characterised Gaza in terms of the Holocaust; Gaza where life expectancy is higher than parts of Glasgow.

Meanwhile, Israel sends through its crossings hundreds of truckloads of medical equipment and aid every single week, and even the cement used to build the terror tunnels. Whilst at other crossings, hundreds of Palestinians are taken for free medical care to the Rambam hospital in Haifa or the Soroka in Beersheva – even wounded terrorists!

This is Israel.

Only Israel would build a field hospital to treat the civilians of their enemy, and only Israel would have it shelled deliberately by that same enemy, who try to prevent their own people from using it.

Only Israel would have utility workers ready to risk their lives to repair pylons and infrastructure damaged by their enemy so that the innocent could watch Hamas TV courtesy of an Israeli technician, and so that terrorists could continue to use that same power for their malign purposes. Electricity which, by the way, Israel provides for free, anyway.

This is Israel.

Dear friends, sometimes I feel that the darkness is closing in on us. We are relatively safe here in the UK, but it can change quickly. Who would have thought that the 1930’s would return in the second decade of the 21st century. My mother a’h used to tell me that she was often told to ‘Go back to Palestine’ now they are telling Israelis to ‘go back to Poland’.

Yet, this is not the 1930’s. Today we have, b’h the State of Israel and every pogrom, every UN resolution, every rocket, every attack on a Jew proves how necessary it is for us to have our own state where we can be the masters of our own destiny. By attacking Israel and calling for its destruction and the murder of every Jew, they strengthen our will and our determination to survive and prosper as a people and to be a light unto the nations.

They spew hate, we generate love. They tear down, we build. They bring death and destruction, we bring life, medical breakthroughs, technology to feed the world. Israel sends water technologists to Africa, rescue and medical teams to Haiti and Japan when disasters strike. Israelis and Jews win Nobel prizes  ‘disproportionately’ to their numbers.

The lovers of death are the absolute antithesis of what we are as a people.

So my message to you tonight is this: stand firm and stand tall and proud of what we are and what we do. Support Israel. Buy Israeli goods, go to Israel for a holiday, tell your colleagues about Israeli achievements. Tell them what they don’t see on the TV or hear on the radio or read in the newspapers. Learn history. Read about Israel. Arm yourself with knowledge, and don’t believe the lies and distortions fed to you by the BBC or SKY News.  Write to the media. Write to your MP. Sign petitions. Respond to calls for action from the Board of Deputies or the Rep Council.

Let me finish with a final story from my online life.

Today, one of the biggest heroes in Israel is the Colonel of the Golani Brigade, which has taken many casualties in Gaza. He led his men from the front rather than from a luxury hotel in Qatar. He was wounded and hospitalised. He begged the doctors to allow him to go back and lead his men. He did just that with the scars still livid on his handsome face. He is a lion of Israel. His name is Ghassan Alian. He is not a Jew, but a Druze.

This is Israel.

Kol haKavod lo. May Hashem bless all the good works of his hands and those of his men and all the IDF.

Chazak ve’amatz

Am Yisrael Chai

Elder of Ziyon: An open condemnation of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir

I have just signed this condemnation:

An open condemnation of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir

We unequivocally condemn the horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It was unjustifiable under any circumstances. The killing was reprehensible and we hope that the criminals who did this sickening act are found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Israel is a country run by the rule of law. There are reports that Jews have been arrested for this crime. If a trial finds that Jews are indeed guilty of this unconscionable killing, our condemnation is redoubled. The idea that Jews could do such an act fills us with shame and horror.

The people who murdered Mohammed do not represent us in any way. It is not enough to dissociate ourselves from the dreadful act; we must also ensure that crimes like this are never repeated.

Just as the appalling murders of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar do not in any way justify the hideous murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, neither does Khdeir’s murder justify the violence, terrorism, destruction and incitement we have seen over the past few days against Israelis and Jews.

We hope and pray that everyone, Arab and Jew, lives in peace and security in the region.

The Cult of Death That Took Away Our Boys

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My heart is heavy. I feel loss and despair.

Today I watched the funerals of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach, three teenagers abducted and murdered on their way home from seminary two weeks ago.

As I watched the simultaneous live streaming of the three funerals, prior to burial in Modi’in, where they now lie side by side, united in death as in life, I witnessed love, warmth and compassion bursting from every fibre of their families’ being. I listened to the heart-wrenching eulogies of parents, siblings, teachers. I witnessed their families’ love of their community, the Jewish people, humanity,  G-d.

Their dignity is inspiring. We are moved to want to cross the distance that separates and to comfort and mourn with them. There is no consolation for a parent who has lost a child to brutal, meaningless, unspeakable murder.

Not so long ago my son was at a seminary nearby to theirs. Yes, not so long ago I passed the very spot from where they were abducted and murdered. It could have been my son, G-d forbid. It could have been yours. These boys ARE our sons. We are the Jewish People. We are the Jewish Family. Your son is my son and mine yours. You are my brother, sister, father, grandfather, my niece and nephew.

At the funerals there was not one single call for blood or revenge; just dignity and heartbreaking emotion. It was unbearable. I could not watch the final scenes.

Don’t tell me that we – anyone – doesn’t value the life of our own more than the other; whoever tells you that is a liar – or a saint. I have pity, yes, but not this sense of close familial ties, not this depth of grief and anger. Not this despair.

This cult of death which gloats and laughs with glee at grief and suffering, this cult with its maniacal glorification of revenge, this cult which feeds off the offal of its own vicious immorality, is simply not human; it is a travesty of thousands of years of human moral development to which Judaism and the Jewish people sit as the cornerstone and the abiding custodian.

It is, however, here to stay as it spreads across the Arab-Muslim world; a death cult devoid of pity, the absolute zero, the deep ocean trench, the nadir of nadirs of human moral worth and value. A cult that, like a tsunami of ideological delusion, scarifies the landscape of our culture, leaving a wasteland of flinty desiccation, the death of the heart, of the soul, and every last scintilla of humanness.

It is a cult that throws rocks at ambulances bearing the dead teenagers, distributes sweets rejoicing at the abduction of children (and considers them fair game), indoctrinates children to hate with a passion that is pathological, immiserates its people and wallows in the swill of its self-inflicted victimhood.

Israel and the Jewish people are not faultless, they are capable of evil, fanaticism and hatred; but this is not a pathology, it is not an essential and indivisible component of the culture, it is confronted and prosecuted, it is not nurtured and glorified.

This is the challenge of our century: how to defeat unconscionable evil, and expose its apologists.

To do so may mean our own culture is morally damaged in the fight against this scourge of our modern world, which competes with itself in plunging to new depths of depravity.

The Jewish people and the State of Israel, with all their imperfections, must be supported, critically if necessary, in this fight. It is a mistake to see it as a fight for land only, it’s far more complex. There are competing rights and claims, but interwoven with this narrative is an ever increasing, ever harsher infiltration of religio-political ideology which paints Jews as devils and untermenschen and reverses the meaning of good and evil.

Whilst the Jewish mother is consumed with loss, the Palestinian mother’s loss is somehow transformed to glorious martyrdom and the desire for more sons to sacrifice. As the Israel Matzav blog so aptly points out quoting journalist, Brett Stephens:

Here’s my question: What kind of society produces such mothers? Whence the women who cheer on their boys to blow themselves up or murder the children of their neighbors?

Well-intentioned Western liberals may prefer not to ask, because at least some of the conceivable answers may upset the comforting cliché that all human beings can relate on some level, whatever the cultural differences. Or they may accuse me of picking a few stray anecdotes and treating them as dispositive, as if I’m the only Western journalist to encounter the unsettling reality of a society sunk into a culture of hate. Or they can claim that I am ignoring the suffering of Palestinian women whose innocent children have died at Israeli hands.

But I’m not ignoring that suffering. To kill innocent people deliberately is odious, to kill them accidentally or “collaterally” is, at a minimum, tragic. I just have yet to meet the Israeli mother who wants to raise her boys to become kidnappers and murderers—and who isn’t afraid of saying as much to visiting journalists.

To hell with moral equivalences and journalistic ‘balance’, it’s time to decide which side you are on because it will sooner or later become that simple: life or death. Which path to you want humanity to follow in the decades ahead? Is it to push back and defeat, to obliterate religio-fascism, or bury yourself in a quagmire of misdirected human rights’ qualms that are only appropriate for a society and culture that has the moral capacity to produce them?

Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu said at today’s funeral:

The moral chasm that separates us from our enemies is deep and wide.

On his website, former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, had the last word on the distinction between a cult of death and those that cling to, and value life:

Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were killed by people who believed in death. Too often in the past Jews were victims of people who practised hate in the name of the God of love, cruelty in the name of the God of compassion, and murder in the name of the God of life. It is shocking to the very depths of humanity that this still continues to this day.

Never was there a more pointed contrast than, on the one hand, these young men who dedicated their lives to study and to peace, and on the other the revelation that other young men, even from Europe, have become radicalised into violence in the name of God and are now committing murder in His name. That is the difference between a culture of life and one of death, and this has become the battle of our time, not only in Israel but in Syria, in Iraq, in Nigeria and elsewhere. Whole societies are being torn to shreds by people practising violence in the name of God.