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Tense times on front lines of Jerusalem neighborhoods

September 26, 2010 1 comment
By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM –French Hill is one of the neighborhoods begun soon after 1967 on land included in the enlargement of Jerusalem. Now there are about 8,000 residents, the large majority of whom are Jews. There are also Arab, East Asian, and other students from the nearby Hebrew University, and Arab families who are renters or home owners.

Isawiyya is a neighborhood across an empty field whose buildings begin about 200 meters from our apartment. It is one of the Arab neighborhoods that share with French HIll, Pisgat Zeev, and Neve Yaacov the northeastern sector of Jerusalem The 12-13,000 residents of Isawiyya pass through French Hill on their way elsewhere, and patronize the post office, bank, shops, parks and playing fields located here. Isawiyya is not a run down slum, but a substantial place with construction similar to that of Jewish neighborhoods. The cars that come from there resemble ours.  
 

Read more…

Construction freeze period will end during Sukkot

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Sukkot begins on Wednesday evening. It may not amount to much in America, but it is a major event here. Religious Jews and some not so religious are building a sukkah (hut) in their yards or on their balconies, and the observant are acquiring an etrog (citrus with a bump), palm branch, myrtle, and willow branch. An acceptable set of the objects this year is going for the equivalent of US $6 to US $15. The especially well off who are willing to examine at length an etrog for imperfections will spend up to US $300 for one that meets all the specifications that their eyes can see.

The political significance of this holiday competes with the details of ritual. Almost all government offices,  public institutions, and many companies shut down for the week. Like Passover, Sukkot is a time for vacation. The middle days of Sukkot and Passover, are not days when travel is forbidden, so the religious will be seeking space on the roads and at vacation spots.  Politicians can move around without fear of violating any constituent’s sense of proper observance.

The airport will be jammed on the eve of Sukkot and its final day, and there is scant room left in the inns of the Galilee and other Israeli sites. The highly touted construction freeze in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank comes to an end in the middle of this, but there may not be anyone minding the store. Insofar as the religious settlers will be celebrating the holiday, they might not be home to supervise the Chinese, Romanians, legal and illegal Palestinians who do the work. Read more…

Looming expiration of building freeze a crisis for Mideast talks

September 19, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky  

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — The pressure is building, both on Israel and the Palestinians. 

The immediate issue is the freeze on building in the settlements, set to expire in about a week.

Various Palestinians have said, time and again, that they would cease the peace talks if there is construction of even one building in the Jewish settlements.

The American President and Secretary of State have said on several occasions that it would be wise for Israel to extend the freeze on building in settlements as a gesture to the Palestinians in order keep the peace talks going.

The General Secretary of the United Nations has signed on to the campaign, along with the Chancellor of Germany. Read more…

Commentary: U.S. Mideast record not comforting close to the action

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–After doubtful claims of success in Iraq, and clearer failure in Afghanistan, the United States is tackling the problematical task of picking the good guys in Yemen.
Maybe not the good guys. Hopefully the best guys, or those who score least bad on the score of unreliability. Or more likely, those who are said to be reliable by Americans who may understand what is going on in that place.

Here as elsewhere, however, there is disagreement among the Americans who claim to know what can be done.
A few snippets that describe some of the problems:

“Opponents (of American military aid among American officials) . . . fear American weapons could be used against political enemies of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and provoke a backlash that could further destabilize the volatile, impoverished country.

The debate is unfolding as the administration reassesses how and when to use American missiles against suspected terrorists in Yemen following a botched strike in May. That attack, the fourth since December by the American military, killed a provincial deputy governor and set off tribal unrest.

Administration officials acknowledge that they are still trying to find the right balance between American strikes, military aid and development assistance — not only in Yemen, but in Pakistan, Somalia and other countries where Islamic extremist groups are operating. Read more…

Questions about Palestinian sincerity obstacles to Mideast peace

September 14, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The conflict between Israel and Palestine is one of the most prominent of the world’s unsolved problems. The casualties are small in relation to what occurs wherever the United States military is directly involved. It is the location in the land considered holy by contending faiths, and the weight of Arab onlookers in international forums, that keeps this in the headlines.
Are we at the edge of a process that will solve this conflict?

Only time will tell.

Here I will focus on the complex political map of Israel, as I see it from public opinion surveys, media reports and commentators, and 35 years of talking to people with sharply different views.

There is a substantial portion of the population, perhaps a majority, willing to make substantial territorial concessions for “real peace.” However, a substantial number of people, perhaps as many as 100,000, are living on land that the national majority would concede. Some of those settlers are willing to move elsewhere, and some would jump at an attractive financial incentive, but many remember what happened when Israel removed its settlements from Gaza, and they are unwilling to move. Moreover, there is a substantial number of Israelis, including individuals who say they are willing to make substantial concessions, who express concern or major distrust about the willingness of Palestinians to do what it takes to assure “real peace.”

These “substantials” are vague, and do not fit together into something that we can interpret with a great deal of confidence.

Somewhat influenced, but also somewhat independent of public opinion, are policymakers with long experience in dealing with Palestinians, who are less than certain about the reliability of Palestinians. These include politicians and professionals in the military and civilian ministries. The politicians concerned about Palestinian reliability are not only members of right wing and centrist parties, but also those left of center. Knesset members of Labor and Meretz speak more often and more fully about the need to give up large portions of the West Bank. But some politicians on the left also indicate their concern about the intentions of Palestinians, especially those on the Islamic fringe. And the public has not shown a great deal of support for left of center politicians . Both Meretz and Labor are at  historic low points in their Knesset representation.

Americans, Europeans, and the UN Secretary General are pressing Israeli leaders to make concessions that will keep alive the prospect of reaching agreement. Some are also pressing the Palestinians to show flexibility, and not to walk away at the first sign of disappointment.

The formats are not promising. The emphasis is on meetings between the most senior politicians, in the presence of senior politicians from other countries. It is not the setting for hammering out detailed agreements about land, water, defense, temporary or permanent borders, refugees, waste disposal, environmental protection, the transfer of individuals from Israeli administration and Israeli health insurance, and the content of Palestinian education (relevant to Israeli concerns about incitement). It is also not the setting for Israelis or Palestinians ratcheting down from often proclaimed demands. Transparency is fine, but agreements may only grow in the dim light of private meetings, with participants explaining later what they have given up in order to get what they obtained.

There is no end to the scenarios that the hopeful and doom sayers describe.

Many of them begin from the widespread pessimism about the partners, onlookers and outside troublemakers, and the contrasting demands that argue against success.

Already the fighters of Gaza have stepped up their rocket launchings in hopes of doing something that will hasten the end of the peace talks. So far the IDF has not responded with anything more than pin point reprisals, but no one should rule out another round of widespread destruction.

The hopeful pessimists of Israel, i.e., those who are pessimistic about the peace talks but otherwise hopeful, see a continuation of economic progress in the West Bank, a continued refrain from violence on the part of the Fatah government, and a gradual development of Palestinian society and economy in the West Bank alongside Israel. Those goodies may come along with continued Israeli restraints with respect to the extension of settlements, but that requires an added dose of optimism.

I have not noticed anyone who is optimistic about Gaza.

There are some who are pessimistic about peace talks, and pessimistic about the continued restraint from violence of West Bank Palestinians. Settlers and their friends, and some who are not their friends but see the settlers as something to reckon with, see periodic waves of violence on the West Bank, Israeli reprisals, and continued expansion of Israeli settlements. Their scenario extends to the eventual dominance of Israeli settlers throughout the West Bank, and a one-state solution between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

This one-state scenario differs by 180 degrees from the one-state seen by those who see Palestinian gaining dominance via a demographic advantage.

The settlers are patient, and none of the adults I know assume that they will see the end of conflict. It will take time, perhaps several waves of Palestinian violence and Israeli destruction in response, a gradual tiring of international watchers and minders, the drying up of overseas Palestinians willing to invest time and again in something that is destroyed, and the continued outmigration of Palestinians.

I would not count on such a unfolding of events that depend on so many assumptions, but neither would I dismiss it out of hand. Settlers think about something like this scenario, and mainstream Israeli politicians are sufficiently concerned about the reliability of Palestinians so that they may avoid any wholesale movement of the settlers that would nip it in the bud.

Some of my American friends might view all of this as Israeli arrogance, and a refusal to make the agreements that everyone else sees as essential. Americans can do their best in places like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and then leave when it is apparent that they cannot get what they want. They can soothe their national conscience by granting citizenship to the Vietnamese, Iraqis, and Afghans who succeed in leaving their countries.

Israel’s problems are closer. We are stuck with hostile neighbors, still being taught in their schools that we have no rights here. Israelis listen to a thoughtful President and leading Europeans, a Secretary of State who sometimes screeches, and overseas Jews who think about what is best for us. But Israelis have not the option of retreating to the other side of the world if their hopes turn bad.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

On clergy who step from pulpits into headlines

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Let me welcome Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida to join Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of SHAS, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the promoter of Cordoba House to the Pantheon of religious leaders whose commotions have ranged beyond local and national borders.

There is no requirement that members of this Pantheon be judged for their wisdom, or even their knowledge of the religious traditions they claim to lead. Enough that they have done something to produce headlines in many countries.
God forbid that I would hint that such distinguished persons do not understand the nature of the religions they claim to lead. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are comprehensive in the ideas apparent in their writings and customs. Love, hate, fanaticism, tolerance, moderation, and lots in between appear in these monotheisms. Jones, Ovadia, and Rauf have provoked sharp criticism from those who share their faith, but distant themselves from what they are promoting.

Jones’ call to burn the Koran reminds me of a personal experience. In 1965 I was teaching at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and signed on to a research project investigating how local governments were dealing with rapid development around Cape Canaveral (or maybe by then it was Cape Kennedy). On several Sunday mornings I made the long drive across central Florida in order to begin interviews on Monday. Looking for something to hear on the car radio I happened on sermons that shocked me for the virulence of their anti-Catholicism. I had read of the Pope being called the devil and whore of Rome, and of his plans to rule the world, but had never heard those things spoken by living preachers. I felt that somewhere between Tallahassee and the Florida coast, perhaps near Gainesville, I had fallen off the edge of civilization.

I see these columns as my part in conversations, rather than one-way reports of truth as I see it.
Comments on the nuttiness of Israeli concerns with Summer Time and Yom Kippur brought me a note from a friend who once worked in the Kansas Governor’s Office, screening the mail from citizens. One letter came from a farmer intense about the damage done by Daylight Savings Time. By his reckoning, the extra hour of sunlight was destroying his crops.
Another friend who gets these notes, along with some of his students, are at the University of Florida. I’ll rely on them to report if they know of anyone joining the burning of Korans, and if there are still preachers burning up the airwaves with curses against Rome. Newspapers report that Jones’ church has only 50 members, but that he is receiving Korans from elsewhere for his pyre.

Jones has received more attention than the fire that destroyed a mosque being constructed near Nashville, Tennessee. Jones is a preacher explaining his intentions, rather than an anonymous arsonist.

We will see the downside of Jones’ crusade–as well as that mosque burning–in whatever is added to attacks against American troops, or by noisy parades and denunciations. Rabbi Ovadia’s call on the Almighty to destroy the Palestinians has brought something between ridicule and protest from Palestinians and others, including Israeli Jews. Rauf’s efforts to create an Islamic Center near Ground Zero has resulted in polls showing a majority of Americans opposed, as well as comments from Muslims divided between those who fear the repercussions, applause for his expressions of multiculturalism and moderation, and from those who admire what they see as his furthering the Muslim conquest of the United States.

Ranking Americans have condemned Jones in the strongest of terms. His feeble gesture may be enough to undue whatever Barack Obama was able to achieve by his Cairo speech and everything else he has done to distance his wars against Muslims from a conflict with Islam.

In these disputes along the borders between religion and politics, everyone can claim to be on the side of God and Justice. Jean Paul Sartre’s description of the God-shaped hole in the human heart alludes to the near universal phenomenon of belief, while leaving room for the hole to be shaped differently in each of us. The Pantheon is ecumenical. It offers a home for those who hate as well as those who love.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

Summer Time debate is another of Israel’s peculiarities

September 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Lots of countries do something nutty. That’s  a practice that does not make sense, but has the support of entrenched politicians and much of the public as “the way things are done.”

In Germany it is superhighways without speed limits. In the United States it is easy access to firearms. In Britain it is the definition of one’s body weight in stones.

In Israel it is what the locals call Summer Time, and what is known in the United States as Daylight Savings Time.

Israel’s nuttiness may not be as dangerous to life and limb as those of Germany and the United States, but it is no less nutty.

The deal is that Israeli Summer Time must end on the weekend before Yom Kippur. Advocates claim that it makes fasting easier, but skeptics note that the fast lasts 25 hours, whether from a clock hour later or earlier on one day to a later or earlier clock hour plus one hour on the next day.

Could the fast be easier when it begins at 5 PM and ends at 6 PM than when it begins as 6 PM and ends at 7 PM?

I know of no survey that answers that question. However, the ultra-Orthodox parties are insisting that it stay that way.

The coming Sabbath begins at 6:12 and ended at 7:27 in Jerusalem. Summer time ends between this coming Saturday and Sunday. The Yom Kippur fast should begin no later than 5:03 the following Frday and end no earlier than at 6:16 on Saturday. The times for other cities differ by a few minutes, and can be found on published calendars.

An industrialist, who may or may not be planning to fast, has begun to wage a campaign to do away with the nuttiness. He asserts that it costs money, puts Israel out of sync with its overseas markets and suppliers, and that he will order his company to stay on Summer Time until Europe makes its change at the end of October.

The head of the SHAS delegation in the Knesset and the Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, is the man in charge of this, and he insists that Summer Time must end on the weekend before Yom Kippur. But whether he is serious or not, he is proposing a super-nuttiness: re-instituting Summer Time after Yom Kippur.

This would mean that Israelis would move their clocks back on the coming weekend, them move them ahead after Yom Kippur. Since the fast falls this year on Friday-Saturday, that would presumably mean that Israelis could be changing their clocks soon after breaking the fast. So far Yishai has not said when he would suggest going back again to Winter Time.

Insofar as there is less than a week to the scheduled end of Summer Time, Yishai’s super nuttiness probably won’t be vetted by the professionals in his ministry, formally proposed, debated, and voted on this year.

But maybe next year.

Doubtful.
 
There is only so much that the Israeli majority can demand from its minority of religious extremists. It is pressing hard, with tiny results, to induce ultra-Orthodox youth to spend a bit of time in the military; to end the rejection of Sephardi pupils by Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox schools; to facilitate the continuation of   construction projects whenever there is a discovery of ancient bones that may be Jewish; and to insert courses in English, mathematics, science, and technology to the ultra-Orthodox curriculum.

No one should expect that the Education Ministry would try to impose on the ultra-Orthodox anything like evolution or sex education, and maybe not anything to do with biology, history, or social science.

Ultra-Orthodox kids are as bright as any. They begin school at the age of three, handle Aramaic as well as spoken and Biblical Hebrew (and the Ashkenazim Yiddish), and understand convoluted Talmudic logic by their teens, and can be taught to make a living doing computer programming.

Israel has been able to create technological colleges for ultra-Orthodox post-teens, with the young men separate from young women, but putting those subjects in the curriculum of most schools for ultra-Orthodox adolescents has so far eluded the Education Ministry or the Government.

Putting off the end of Summer Time until after Yom Kippur?

It’s less of a priority than the army, ethnic segregation, finding a solution for bones that may be Jewish, and the school curriculum.

One should not expect Israel to get to it in our life time.

In the event that this nuttiness may represent my last note of the year, let me wish you all that is good for the coming year, whenever it comes on your clocks this Wednesday evening.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University