Monday, July 16, 2007

Shimon Peres Becomes Israel's 9th President

In a ceremony fraught with pageantry and fanfare Former Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres was sworn in July 15 as the 9th President of the State of Israel. In a moving Knesset ceremony, Peres took the oath of what is usually a largely ceremonial position similar to Britain's Queen Elizabeth. In his acceptance speech afterwards, however, Peres (who usually loves to be in the center of governmental goings-on) indicated that his term of office will be anything but ceremonial, with the new president volunteering to go on various peace missions on the government's behalf.

Despite his advanced age (83) Peres seems to be in excellent health, and loves to travel abroad and hobnob with foreign government leaders and other dignitaries. This means that he may become the county's first globe trotting President and will undoubtedly not wait even for the paint on the door of his new office in Beit Hanasei to dry before he leaves on his first international assignment; most likely to either the USA or the UK – both favorite destinations for a man who has literally been in nearly every major world capital, including Olso Norway, where he jointly accepted the Nobel Peace Price in 1994, along with Yizhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat.

After nearly 50 years of governmental and political activities, Peres has finally found a position that most suits his wide and diversified career in public life. In a way it's a shame he didn't have this opportunity seven years ago when he barely lost out to Likud political party rival Moshe Katsav, who has now left the Presidency in disgrace following his admittance to being involved in a number of incidents of sexual misconduct. Katsav is also being accused of at least two counts of rape, which were dropped by Israel State Prosecutor Manny Mezuz in an effort to keep an already scandalous incident from becoming an embarrassing public trial.

Shimon Peres' ascension to the presidency will hopefully do much to erase the pall that has been cast on this office by both Katsav and Katsav's predecessor Ezar Weizman, who wasn't ashamed to speak his mind; even if his remarks were frequently taken out of context by the press. Peres brings an air of dignity to an office where dignity and protocol are two of the most important aspects. With Peres in this position, not only will he be meeting foreign dignitaries when they arrive in Israel, he himself will be going to meet them on their home ground; where Peres feels as much at home as he does in Jerusalem.

Despite his wife, Sonia being in ill health, Peres will undoubtedly volunteer to be his country's official peace envoy for as long as he is able to do so. And judging from the current state of affairs that Israel finds itself in, peace is something that Israel sorely needs. If Shimon can make a positive contribution towards this end, his final position in public life will be more than fitting for a man who has dedicated a great deal of his life to the cause of peace.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Despite Everything – They Still Come

Almost one year to the day after the outbreak of last summer's Lebanon II war, 220 new Olim arrived Tuesday, July 10, aboard an El Al flight from New York. Participants in the highly successful Nefesh B'Nefesh program, this event was featured on Israel television and included interviews with several new arrivals who said that despite leaving relative comforts and familiar surroundings in America, they were happy to have the privilege to join their Israeli brethren in their Jewish homeland.

Why has Nefesh B'Nefesh been so successful, with yearly increases in Aliyah from North America, the U.K., and France? The answer is that a more intense effort is now being made to ensure that these new citizens have a better chance to make it in a country where immigrants from western countries often become discouraged and go back to their former places of residence. These efforts include more assistance in finding them suitable employment by more intense screening to make sure that the potential Oleh's education and work experience better match available employment opportunities, particularly in technology based industries. Finding suitable housing and educational facilities for school aged children are also important aspects; and many Olim not only already know which city and neighborhood they want to live in, but have already checked into available housing in these locations.

These factors, plus special loans and grants given to new Olim, help them to become settled easier. It's still difficult to adjust to living in Israel, as many long time Anglo 'vatikim' attest to. Israel is located in the Middle East, with all its implications; and Israel society does take a bit of getting used to, especially behavior patterns and the way people drive on the country's motorways.

Still, it's wonderful that more than 10,000 new Olim have arrived via Nefesh B'Nefesh since it's founding; and one flight actually arrived last year during the midst of the war. It would be nice if more attention is given to a potential Aliyah source that has already become an important part of Israel's population mix, with a highly educated and talented labor pool that can be drawn on, especially in the professions and high tech fields.

It is true that the majority of these new arrivals come from religious or traditional Jewish backgrounds. But this may contribute to their ability to withstand the adversities and challenges of living in a country that is constantly under threat of war and even annihilation.

Nefesh B'Nefesh – Souls reaching Souls. May it continue to go from strength to strength!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Live Earth – The Aftermath

The concerts attracted audiences from all over the globe, with live music in major world cities ranging from Sydney Australia to New York. Some of the planet's most well known entertainers took part, including Black Eyed Pea, Madonna, Phil Collins, Police, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Snoop Dog, and more. Even Israel had its own version in central Tel Aviv, playing ironically only meters from the spot where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in November, 1995. The message was clear enough, as expressed in a taped message by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore: the world is getting hotter due to Mankind's abuse of the environment; and as a result, severe and even drastic changes are already occurring to the earth's climate – changes that could prove fatal to many of our planet's inhabitants in the coming years.

And in addition to the live concerts, the events were watched on T.V. the world over by at least 2 billion souls.

Little Israel, with a population of over seven million, is getting its share of the effects of global warming, the consequences of which were being shown to both the concert attendees at Rabin Square as well people sitting at home. Some of what of is bringing on these changes in Israel, and the end result, including rising temperatures and coastal sea levels were also talked about including the fact that most of the country's fresh water supplies, especially the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee is heavily polluted, and that high air pollution levels in major cites result in the death of at least 600 people annually. With more than 1,000,000 cars on the country's roads, at least 60% of them leased vehicles given to employees of high tech and other companies. This fact alone is responsible for 92% of the country's air pollution problems.

Israel's mounting problem with solid waste disposal, including hazardous industrial chemicals and other compounds was also mentioned, though not covered enough, considering the countrys' problem with both ground and air pollution.

So now, just a few days later, have any changes occurred since Live Earth that can be spoken of in real terms, since the music ended? Even after the concerts, most people rode home in either their own cars or in public conveyances, some of which also are major contributors to air pollution. Ramat Hovav, Israel's frequently talked about industrial waste disposal site, is likely to remain polluting the country's entire southern regions for years – if not generations – to come. And the country's ground water aquifer is becoming harder and harder to purify as more and more surface pollutants continue to contaminate it.

Madonna, one the London concert's guest performers and a champion of world social and environmental issues, made a very important comment by hoping that people attending the concerts will not only listen to the music but get the message of what needs to be done to prevent the end results of global warming. Many people say that the consequences of environmental pollution will eventually be far more serious to Israelis that any security problem short of outright nuclear war.

And so, people still clog the highways with their "lease-mobiles", still throw their rubbish on the country's beaches and in the national parks, and literally thousand of plastic bottles and other similar non-biodegradable items are seen lying forlornly everywhere. For those who aren’t aware, those plastic water and soft drink bottles are estimated to take at least 800 years to disintegrate; and the polymer composition of the plastic is very carcinogenic.

Three days later and nothing seems to have changed. – so far anyway. The future of global warming to inhabitants of this region is one in which rising sea levels may inundate parts of Tel Aviv and other coastal cities, and surface summertime temperatures may be similar than those in places that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (one wonders what the climate in those places will be like a mere 50 years from now).

Live Earth; save the planet. We all have a lot to do in order to make this dream become reality. We all live on an island we cannot leave. And unless we make a greater effort to reverse the environmental problems we all face , the future may not be very pleasant for any of us. So, make the effort and make one day a week a car-less day, and try to conserve both energy and water supplies, as well as pick up and dispose of trash more properly. Wash dishes by hand and hang out clothing to dry in our abundant sunshine. And take just one less shower per week.

It's our world, so let's improve it!

Monday, July 02, 2007

When the "Prophet" Comes to Call

9-11, Bali, Baghdad, Beirut, Delhi, Madrid, Kenya, London, and now Glasgow, the list of terror operations and attempted terror operations being carried out either by Al Qaeda, and organizations affiliated with Al Qaeda grows on and on. Only a year ago, a massive air-terror attack involving at least 20 international flights from London to New York was thwarted when special liquid explosive bombs disguised as cosmetics and other liquids normally carried in hand luggage were discovered at Heathrow Airport by British security officials. The foiled terror operation was linked to Al Qaeda; and had it been successful, more than 5,000 passengers and flight crews would have lost their lives.

Islamic sponsored terrorism, or radical Islamic sponsored terrorism, to be more tactfully correct, appears to be behind nearly all acts of international terrorism occurring in the world today. Whether it be an attack by Chechnya rebels on targets in Russia, a car bombing in Beirut or central Baghdad, or the recent terror attacks, and near terror attacks in central London, These events are being traced to terrorists connected with radical Islamic organizations.

Radical Islam – is this what is responsible for most acts of international terror, or is it something else; something more basic, more fundamental than what has been sensationalized by all the world's news media organizations, including BBC, CNN, Sky News and Fox? A generation ago, international terrorism was carried out by a number of organizations and individuals, including Carlos the Jackal, the Badar Meinhoff gang, the Red Brigade, the IRA, and Spain's ETA. Some of them acted together, some alone. But the reasons for their actions were either political or privately motivated. Since the mid 1990's, however, it appears that the vast majority of terror operations have been traced to Islamic groups. There is good reason for this as Islam in itself is now the fastest growing religion in the world; and most certainly the fastest spreading religious movement in Western Europe.

The following example is a good indication of how quickly Islamic sponsored terror spreads: Less than a month ago, British novelist Shalman Rushdie, author of the intensely controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, was benighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth; an act that almost instantly set off a wave of furor among Muslims in both the U.K. and abroad. Rushdie, upon whom a fatwa death warrant had been issued by Iranian religious leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, is still a marked man by his alleged blasphemy against Islam, and the act of making him a Peer of the Realm only appears to legitimize his blasphemy in the eyes of Muslim clerics. A short time following Rushdie being benighted by the Queen, two cars were found in central London, filled with explosive materials, including LP gas cylinders, nails and other metal fragmentary material. This incident alone resulted in the entire central London theatre district being sealed off for fear of a massive terror attack. And following on its heals, three men tried to crash a jeep 4 X 4 into the arrivals entrance of Glasgow International Airport. The burning vehicle's blaze was only extinguished an hour later by the airport's fire brigade.

Incidents such as this only point out the very core of what is causing these acts of terrorism. And that "core" is a fast spreading religion that once tried to exert itself over half of the known world and is once again flexing its muscles and trying to become the dominant religious movement in Asia, Africa, Europe, and even North America. It is a religion that already has more than 1.3 Billion adherents: and is only being held back in Central and South America, where the Catholic Church still has a major influence.

The power of this religion is being felt all over the world, from the streets of Baghdad and Beirut, to the refugee camps of Gaza City. Its holy warriors fought a vastly superior Israeli military force last summer in southern Lebanon, and emerged as the psychological victors. It continues to frustrate and hold at bay both Israeli forces in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as American and other Coalition forces in Iraq. And it's acts of terrorism, have caused panic and alarm to millions the world over.

This religion, known as Islam, or submission to God's will, has from its outset been a religion of coercion and intimidation, a religion spread by force of arms. It is not to say that other religions have not used similar tactics to force their doctrines upon others. Christianity, especially during the Middle Ages, also used brute force to gain converts; and the Holy Inquisition of the Catholic Church only ended officially a century ago. But while Christians have made great strides to make amends for their previous actions, Muslims have only increased their armed struggle.

This "struggle" is made even more intense by the acts of martyrdom by Muslims resulting in much death and suffering worldwide. In fact, Islamic martyrdom has accounted for the great majority of deaths, human injury, and property damage attributed to their acts; the most noteworthy being the September 11, 2001 mega terror attacks on both New York City and Washington DC.

The resulting War of Terror, i.e. Islamic sponsored terror, has only been partially successful; and has even been set back significantly by the ongoing insurgent war in Iraq.

Al Qaeda's chief leaders, including Usama bin Ladin himself, have yet to be accounted for, and in Afghanistan, where both Al Qaeda's main headquarters and the ultra religious Taliban, who once held the country in an iron grip, are now making a strong come back.

It is nearly seven years since the horror of "9-11" with still no end in sight to the nightmare of Islamic sponsored terrorism. Countries who aid and sponsor these terrorists, such as Iran, Syria, and even to some extent Saudi Arabia, continue to do so despite threats and sanctions from the U.N. Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza continue to be a dire threat to the State of Israel, as well as to the world at large. Hezbollah operatives are said to be present in Iraq, aiding the local insurgents in designing and planting car bombs and other explosive charges responsible for widespread death and destruction.

And the Islamic Republic of Iran, with its obstinate desire to become a nuclear power, is an intensive threat not only to it's immediate geographical region (especially to Israel), but to the entire world as well.

The Prophet Muhammad, when founding the religion called Islam, could not possibly have imagined what the end result would be. But we, living in today's world more than 1,400 years later, know this "end result" far too well.

Haste is From the Devil

Temperatures have returned to normal after last week’s record electricity consumption in Israel...

After demonstrations and anger at President Katsav’s plea bargain...

And after gasoline prices rose again last night by 1.65%.

Yes, Israel is definitely a high energy, hot-blooded country.

A country of Jews from Morocco, Yemen, Spain, Germany, Hungary, England, France, India, Iraq, Canada, you name it – we all develop a Middle Eastern mentality within minutes of landing at Ben-Gurion Airport!

And that means no patience.

We replace our prime ministers With alarming frequency...

We sack soccer and basketball coaches after one season...

And we can’t wait for the Palestinians to prove they’re serious about peace, because...

Because Olmert and Co – just like those before them – want to engrave their names in the annals of history?

Because we’ve just had enough. The people are tired and just want to stop fighting. It’s not peace but at least it’s quiet.

Because Uncle Sam is pushing and pressurizing and bribing?

Because if the Government haven’t got the Palestinians to bother with, they might be
forced to do something about unemployment, poverty, crime?

Because we no longer believe in the justice of our cause?

Because we feel we owe the Palestinians for all the years of suffering?

All of the above?

Whatever the reason, Israel’s repeated and incessant urgency to make progress
in the ‘peace process’ (irrespective of what the other side does or doesn’t do),
needs reassessing. STOP! THINK!

Look at the facts!

At the Palestinians’ track record of keeping agreements...

At what happens when you give them guns, concessions, money...

At what happens when you give them Gush Katif...

Peace is not Pizza!

Two wise men put it very well:

“Desire to have things done quickly prevents their being done thoroughly.”

“Fraud and deceit are ever in a hurry. Take time for all things. Great haste makes great waste.” (Benjamin Franklin)

The Jewish people have waited over 2,000 years.

We can wait some more. What’s the rush? - Headlines