Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'm anti-UN, anyone else interested? :)

I just received this e-mail and I am not interested in this. So if anyone else is, just follow the steps*.

You have been choosen by the U.N Foundation to receive a Grant Donation of €850,000.00 EUR (Eight Hundred and Fifty Thousand Euro). Your Qualification Numbers are G-999-747 and UZ-900-77.

Contact Robin Steven ( with name, address and country for claim.

* I hope none of my loyal fan base takes this e-mail seriously

Monday, September 28, 2009

Binyamin and the Temple

The sages ask why the Temple was built on Binyamin's land allotment.

Sifre explains that this was for 3 reasons*:

(1) He was the only brother who was born in the Holy Land
(2) He had no part in the sin of selling Joseph
(3) He had the zecut (privilege) of comforting Jacob in his old age

R' Hirsch sums it up nicely, Benyamin was "the one whose remembrance, entirely free from the slightest breath of any opposing thought, corresponded to the virtues that the site of the Temple was dedicated to foster."

* Another reason not mentioned by Sifre is that Benyamin never bowed to Esau (He wasn't born yet).

Post Yom Kippur Thoughts

There's a lot you can learn from watching the elderly at Shul (Synagogue). I watched an old man walk in today. The distance he covered in 5 minutes, I normally cover in 10 seconds. Nissim, my neighbor during the day said, "He's 95, or closing in on 100." As the man reached his chair, another man got up and helped him get his talit (prayer shawl) on. This man's age? "He's past 70, a great grandfather already." As the Musaf service ended, another man got up and took the 95 year old's talit off, folded it away, and put it in its bag. This youngster just "turned 80 the past year". In this day and age, it's nice to see people display such fantastic manners in 'respecting the elderly' - I just wish I could say I see it often amongst people my age, or younger than me ...


Just before El Nora Alila, Nissim leaned over and told me, "I still get chills when I think of how we sang this back in '73." By the time Israelis were singing this song in 1973, most men under the age of 45 had already left their synagogues and made their way towards their bases, or the fronts, due to the Yom Kippur war.


After the fast finished, we went home to have a bite. The same food recipe - roskas, feta, tomatoes, olive oil & za'atar - and of course, pepitada. This year, I thought I prepared the drink perfectly and thoroughly enjoyed. What made me happier, or gave me great nachas as the Ashkenazim say, was how much Nissim enjoyed it!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thoughts for Rosh Ha'Shanna

I thought I'd share an interesting story from Rav Abraham Twerski's The Enemy Within:

One Succot there was a dearth of etrogim, and there was only one etrog in the entire community. Everyone said the berachah for the etrog, and when the Hallel was recited, the etrog and lulav were given to the Chafetz Chaim that he might perform the traditional waving of the four species. The Chafetz Chaim refused to accept them, since it might arouse envy and resentment among other scholars. "Waving the four species is only a custom. Having envy and resentment is a much more serious Scriptural transgression," (Atareh LaMelech p.123).

The underlying message of the story is strong, and rather necessary in Israel today ... and on that note, I wish everyone:

A peaceful & happy New Year, one filled with health and good blessing.

שנה טובה ומתוקה ... שתזכה לשנים רבות עם הרבה בריאות וברכות טובות

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Life through their Eyes

With the rise of the BNP, more and more people are becoming aware of how Islamophobia is growing at a startling pace in England. I think it's critical that one is aware of others' difficulties and problems, especially if he suffers from the similar difficulties under a different 'mask'. So, I asked 6 friends - all British Muslims between the ages of 18-35 - about what they've faced as Muslims in England, their home, and what kind of future they see.

Opinion 1:

The state of Muslims in the UK is one that constantly under scrutiny. The rise of the BNP in recent elections was an eye-opener to many. A damning indication of people losing patience it would appear.

The reality is most Muslims in the UK just want a quiet life, one where they are able to enjoy simple aspects and privileges afforded by being a British citizen whilst practicing their religion. Most of us don't want special allowances to be made for us, we aren't offended by Nativity plays, flags of different nations, Christmas or any other aspect of 'British life' (whatever that is). But unfortunately there's always someone somewhere who sees themselves as being fit to speak on behalf of Muslims as a whole, this voice seems often to be one of demand and anger; that's the voice that Joe Public always seems to hear, after all one loud shout is always louder than a thousand whispers of condemnation. The British public sees the Muslims as 'Other', people who want to dress in a 'foreign' manner, who want to change laws and age old traditions to accommodate them. Who can then blame them for wanting Muslims out of 'their' country?

For Muslims like myself, our own shortcomings as a community are far more disappointing than the ignorance of the average member of the British public who isn't able or willing to look past the headline. Why is it that we seem to constantly fuel the animosity towards ourselves? Instead of displaying the humbleness and wisdom that we as Muslims *should* have? Instead we have ill-informed Muslims looking to fight wars that simply aren't there.

Where it will all end, I don't know. The policies of the BNP should be a sobering reminder of how good we all have it here in the UK, the rights that *every* UK citizen is equally afforded shouldn't be taken for granted. If only I knew how to get this message across to my Muslim brothers and sisters in the UK.

Opinion 2:

So the pseudo-liberalism of europe has been exposed. Leopold Weiss said this of Europe and it's relationship with other races/creeds/religions mainly Islam.

“The traumatic experience of the Crusades gave Europe its cultural awareness and its unity; but this same experience was destined henceforth also to provide the false color in which Islam was to appear to Western eyes. Not simply because the Crusades meant war and bloodshed. So many wars have been waged between nations and subsequently forgotten, and so many animosities which in their time seemed ineradicable have later turned into friendships. The damage caused by the Crusades was not restricted to a clash of weapons: it was, first and foremost, an intellectual damage – the poisoning of the Western mind against the Muslim world through a deliberate misrepresentation of the teachings and ideals of Islam. For, if the call for a crusade was to maintain its validity, the Prophet of the Muslims had, of necessity, to be stamped as the Anti-Christ and his religion depicted in the most lurid terms as a fount of immorality and perversion. It was at the time of the Crusades that the ludicrous notion that Islam was a religion of crude sensualism and brutal violence, of an observance of ritual instead of a purification of the heart, entered the Western mind and remained there; and it was then that the name of the Prophet Muhammad – the same Muhammad who had insisted that his own followers respect the prophets of other religions – was contemptuously transformed by Europeans into ‘Mahound.’ The age when the spirit of independent inquiry could raise its head was as yet far distant in Europe; it was easy for the powers-that-were to sow the dark seeds of hatred for a religion and civilization that was so different from the religion and civilization of the West. Thus it was no accident that the fiery Chanson de Roland, which describes the legendary victory of Christendom over the Muslim ‘heathen’ in southern France, was composed not at the time of those battles but three centuries later – to wit, shortly before the First Crusade – immediately to become a kind of ‘national anthem’ of Europe; and it is no accident, either, that this warlike epic marks the beginning of a European literature, as distinct from the earlier, localized literatures: for hostility toward Islam stood over the cradle of European civilization.

“It would seem an irony of history that the age-old Western resentment against Islam, which was religious in origin, should still persist subconsciously at a time when religion has lost most of its hold on the imagination of Western man. This, however, is not really surprising. We know that a person may completely lose the religious beliefs imparted to him in his childhood while, nevertheless, some particular emotion connected with those beliefs remains, irrationally, in force throughout his later life –

“‘ – and this,’ I concluded, ‘is precisely what happened to that collective personality, Western civilization. The shadow of the Crusades hovers over the West to this day; and all its reactions toward Islam and the Muslim world bear distinct traces of that die-hard ghost…

Pre-buscent Europe is up in arms again. When we march against the BNP and EDL(English defence league) outside Harrow mosque, you (the reader reading this) will think one of two things:
1. Go on boy!
2. You deserved to be protested against, Islam is a religion of hate and you haven't exactly done yourself any favours.

I say this to the people who say the latter. It seems to me as person from the inside of religion that is constantly maligned as much mine, that nobody cares to listen. There is a stigma a editorial of sorts that has to be sung from the same hymn sheet.

We protest against extremism and terror. Oh yes we do, and in large numbers. We publicise it and not one media outlet wants to cover it. Yet, when one of our mouth frothing crazy Muslims decides to say death to UK soldiers in Luton (okay there were 10 of em!), the whole world and their cameras are there to show how Muslims are a bunch backward cousin marrying untidy beardy peoples.

When we protest outside Harrow mosque against the right wing BNP, we won't stand by idly if they attack us - we won't hold back like ghandi, we will attack.

We will attack because we came to Europe because our Muslim countries are corrupt, autocratic and oppressives regimes. We came to Europe because after the Holocaust we thought Europe had a higher moral authority, we thought Europe wouldn't allow this to happen again.

Sadly it has. We are in tough place where we fight our own (the terrorists) and we fight the surrogate homeland (Europe). Whose side do we take?

Opinion 3:

Unfortunately (or fortunately) to be honest, I haven't come across much (apart from some comments by people at work) ... probably because people don't realise at once that I'm Muslim so they don't react in a completely hateful way. There'll always be anti-religious sentiment that follows us all everywhere but that hasn't increased in my personal life. The main thing that has changed is the way press portrays Muslims, ie. anything bad done by a Muslim will be portrayed as due to them being Muslim regardless of the fact that other non-Muslims have done the same act. Its the same as people relating suicide bombing to Muslims ignoring that this act was and is also carried out by Tamils in Asia. Now its all blamed on Islam. People forget that Islam forbids suicide in any form and also forbids the killing of unarmed people and innocents.

Opinion 4:

English society in general is slowly moving forward into a multi cultural future. I personally feel that if children are educated in other cultures and religions it would help them understand and integrate with people from different walks of life. My main issue is with ignorant people with a complete lack of understanding or willing to accept or adapt to welcome other cultures, this ignorance is my main worry going forward. I personally feel that if people are unwilling to accept other cultures we will never achieve a harmonious multi cultural society in England. The rise of the BNP is something very worrying and again shows an ignorant side to some members of society, I feel that if these are the kind of people we wish to put in power then it reflects alot on the intelligence of society. I personally don't feel the BNP will ever get much further than where they are but people didn't think they would get this far and they have so it is something i'm intrigued to see going forward. From a British Muslim point of view I don't feel that British Muslims do enough to integrate with society, they don't try to fit in and understand other cultures as well as explaining their culture to others, this here is a stumbling block to achieve harmony. I personally have never suffered any hatred but the fact that i'm different to other people has caused me issues. I personally think times will evolve and it will improve given time. I feel a bit of understanding and willing from all parties will help England going forward.

Opinion 5:

Islam is the second largest religion in the UK, it does however fall way behind in terms of numbers to the number of Christians. There are currently about 2.4 million Muslims living in the UK making up just 3% of the population. It’s amazing then how much press this small minority receive. Some good, but much of it negative.

As I write I am reminded today is the 11th of September a fateful day not just in American history but world history. The attack on the Towers were, according to the official version of the story, done in the name of Islam. This lead to a fear and resentment to those who associate themselves with the faith. Muslims around the world were feeling the strain and tension especially here in Britain.

The main accusations thrown at Muslims by most people after 9/11 and also 7/7 was they didn’t come out and condemn the actions, they didn’t come out and join allegiance with the west, that their apparent lack of voice regarding this somehow lead to them colluding with the actions of the terrorists. This was and is the main accusation as most people rightfully understood Islam is not a religion of terrorism, but people needed to vent frustrations and anger and so ‘moderate’ Muslims were asked to answer some telling questions.

I mentioned 9/11, 7/7 and the questioning of ‘moderate’ Muslims as they are the spark that lit the Islamophobic fire in the UK, and other parts of the western world. The aftermath of 9/11 and 7/7 lead to a number of attacks on Muslims and Muslims places of worships. An Afghan Taxi driver was left paralysed and there were countless reports of women who had their hijabs ripped of, some of these stories and also the story regarding the death of a Muslim man kicked to death by a groups of white youths while shouting ‘Taliban, Taliban’ did not reach the nation press. These incidents tend to be classed as ‘racist’ by the police rather than ‘Islamophobic’ and so tend to go unreported, this means the figures for ‘Islamophobic’ incidents are not accurate when presented to the public.

The point here being the press do and will report what they wish, the number of deaths and incidents of Islamophobic activity are not reported, and the number of Muslim voices who condemn terrorism and other barbaric acts done in the name of Islam are not given the time they deserve. There are voices in the mosques and among the Muslim communities, of British Muslims who condemn such actions but the voices that receive the news lines are those of the likes of hardliners from organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the random Muslims who shout and scream at MP’s.

Researchers in Warwick University have been noticing a changing trend regarding how Muslims are portrayed in the UK. They report that headlines in the red top newspapers have moved away from calling Islam a religion of terror and death, but have now moved towards claiming Muslims are unable to live in the UK, and being Muslim and British are two things that do not go hand in hand.

This changing trend and claims that Muslims wish to have Shariah Law in the UK for all citizens, and the apparent Islamification of Britain has given ammunition to the likes of the BNP. The BNP have used these claims to justify their policies and gain large numbers of votes and a seat in Europe.

More recently in UK is the emergence of the English Defense League, a group set up to highlight the apparent Islamification of the country, in reality it is a group of football hooligans and racists. The planned protests and marches have brought out counter protests and marches and have lead to a number of arrests from both sides.
This reminds me again of 2001, but this time the summer of 2001 where there were running battles in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham between mainly Asian youths and Far Right groups. The reality being as journalist reported it is a group of young men excited for a fight.

Most people don’t know or understand very little about Islam, those who are racist and preach Islamophobic violence would preach anti-Semitism, or racism against Blacks and Asians. Those who are against such groups then hit back, not with wisdom and words but with fists and feet, the vicious circle continues and leads to a deep dislike of the ‘other’ groups involved.

The majority of Muslims in Britain like the country we live in, like the freedom and opportunities afforded to us in the west, like the sense of belonging we have in the country. The majority of us will seek counsel and guidance of matters relating to Shariah Law when we require from Imams and scholars but do not believe Shariah law should be implemented on all the citizens of the UK.

The majority of British Muslims speak out against terrorism whether is it done in the name of Islam or otherwise and will continue to do so.

Opinion 6:

At the time of the terrorist attacks I really didn’t think much would change until I boarded an over-ground train with a back pack, when a man who was just about to step onto the train took one look at me and stepped back off. Since then I’ve noticed an ever growing wave of fear, anger and ultimately hate toward my people expressed in protests and throughout the media. It’s impossible not to want to explain one’s beliefs when writing such text, however it is simple to highlight that there is such a huge level of ignorance in government and of those who claim to be learned people when talking of Islamic beliefs on TV, radio and online. I fear that this will stem into protests towards the existence of mosques within society in the coming years, and ultimately can see some right wing groups aiming to drive Muslims out of small towns and cities. I pray that this doesn’t happen but for many it is hard not to associate the word terrorism from Islam. Due to the fact that terrorists try to justify their actions by the words of Allah it isn’t hard to see why these associations are made. However, what is shown to the masses hardly ever distances these actions from the true principles of Islam, again stemming from the limited knowledge of Islam shown by reporters. As a Muslim, I can’t help but feel that I could be in danger if I cross the path of the wrong person, simply based on my name or my looks and I believe the only way to correct such a growing polarisation between Muslims and non Muslims is to show non Muslims more signs of Muslims being kind, gentle people since at present they only see a negative image of us pretty much everywhere.

The World Cup dream is over ... again.

Israel's 1-0 defeat at the hands of Latvia on Saturday night left me bitterly disappointed as the team had now been assured of not participating in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. What left me so disappointed was that we had been given a relatively easy group and the players at manager Dror Kashtan's disposal were good enough to take Israel to their first World Cup since 1970. Ok, we failed ... badly ... but I'd like to focus on how Israel can make a better run at the next international tournament, Euro 2012. Instead of focusing on how Israel can become a better footballing nation long term (better infrastructure, emphasis on fitness etc), I'll look at the things Israel can change now to allow herself to become a far more capable team.

Manager - I don't like Dror Kashtan. His defensive tactics, unlike Avraham Grant's, failed to get results against the 'Big Boys' (0-2-1 against Switzerland & Greece so far) or even the 'Minnows' (0-1-1 against Latvia). Saturday night highlighted his deficiencies - In a game Kashtan had to win, he started with two defensive midfielders (Gal Alberman & Biram Kayal) and a striker who has been on the bench the whole year in the Belgian league (Omer Golan). I think the next manager has to be Eyal Berkovic. I know, he has no experience on this level (neither did Van Basten, Klinsmann or Bilic) but he's innovative, respected by his peers and understands football. He also very much believes in giving in-form youngsters a chance - something Kashtan failed to do with the likes of Eliran Atar and Mohamed Gadir. If the results don't improve, at least the product on the pitch will!

Goalkeepers - Despite both being prone to mental lapses, Dudu Awate & Nir Davidovitch are both very capable keepers. Kashtan made no mistakes with picking these two. They will probably be the first & second choice keepers for the next 3-5 years. Hopefully by then, we'll have a replacement ready.

Defenders - The backline is solid. Both Tal Ben Haim and Avi Strool are capable central defenders, with experience in Euorpe. They've been very effective when playing together. The right back position essentially belongs to Eyal Meshumar. He's a capable, efficient player who so far has done little wrong with the opportunities he's been afforded. The left back slot belongs to Dedi Ben-Dayan, the Israeli John Arne Riise. Much like Meshumar, he's not a bad defender - and even chips in with a few goals.

Midfielders - The first name on the teamsheet belongs to Yossi Benayoun. Although he's had a very average campaign by his standards, he's still Israel's best player. What Israel must strive for is to ensure he's not the only creative option relied upon. Future squads must include players like Mohammed Gadir (Haifa's 17 year old RW), Eyal Golassa (Haifa's 18 year old attacking CM) & Guy Assulin (Barcelona's 18 year old midfield starlet) on the bench, or even getting significant minutes in friendlies. The team must start giving these kids a chance - there's a reason they're holding their own against European competition. I would also continue with 2 defensive midfielders (but a different formation ... see below), and the two best currently available are Gal Alberman & Biram Kayal. I would give the right wing slot to Beitar's Aviram Bruchian. The 24 year old is one of the most talented players in Israel and I believe he can perform at this level.

Strikers - Elyaniv Barda has become one of the best strikers in Belgium - he deserves to be a starter. He should be partnered by Ben Sahar, the ex-Chelsea striker who now plays for Espanyol. These two give Israel the best chance to see goals from the front two. The one to watch however is Eliran Atar, Bnei Yehuda's 23 year old gem. If he can stay focused on football, and continue to improve, he has a chance to be one of the best strikers Israel's has ever produced.

The team I would play in the next competitive fixture is below:


--Meshumar-------Ben Haim---------Strool---------Ben Dayan--




GK: Davidovitch
Def: Dekel Keinan
Def: Yoav Ziv
Mid: Tamir Cohen
Mid: Yaniv Katan
ST: Mohammed Gadir / Eyal Golassa / Guy Assulin
ST: Eliran Atar

Monday, September 07, 2009

Arik on Jewishness II

Here's my latest for the Sephardic Hebrew Congregation of Cape Town's monthly publication, Kaminando y Avlando:


This past week I finished reading Warrior, the autobiography of Ariel ‘Arik’ Sharon, one of Israel’s most controversial military and political figures. For those who read the book, there’s no doubting the man’s dedication to and love for his country, but it was the following three-paragraph excerpt that really stood out to me (bold formatting by me):

“I started talking about the pioneers of Petach Tikva, the first Zionist settlement. Who were these very earliest pioneers? They were the most orthodox Jews from Jerusalem wearing 'shtreimels,' the dark fur hats of the Middle Ages. After Petach Tikvah came Hibat Zion in the 1880s, also settled by orthodox Jews during the First Aliyah. The Second Aliyah immigrants who arrived prior to World War One were inspired by the social movements fermenting in Europe and especially by the Russian Revolution of 1905. But beneath the veneer they too were yeshiva 'buchers' - students who had received their education in the Jewish religious schools of Eastern Europe. After World War One came the Third Aliyah - our parents. And that was a generation of true rebels. But for all their revolutionary fire, they knew in their bones what it means to be Jewish. They knew their culture, they spoke Hebrew. If I had mastered the richness of this language as my father did, I would be exceptionally proud. So that was a generation of rebels, but rebels with deep roots in Judaism.

“The problem started with our generation. Because we were the sons and daughters of rebels, we had no Judaism in our upbringing whatsoever. The result was that our generation in a way lost its roots, the first to have done so. What did we know about Jewish wisdom? What did we know about Jewish contributions to the world or about the Jewish presence here in Israel? Very little. Were we taught to be proud that we were Jews, descendants of those Jews who through the ages had fought to the death for their beliefs? No, we were not taught these things. Instead, with our generation there was an attempt to create not Jews but New Israeli Men and Women. In the process we were disconnected from those earlier generations whose Jewishness was inscribed in their hearts.

“And the outside world saw this too. I remember back in the 1950s and '60s when I was traveling abroad I felt the desire by others to consider me not a Jew but as an Israeli, to draw the distinction. You are an Israeli, they seemed to say. They, those people over there with strange clothes and strange ways - they are Jews. And in a way it felt easy to be accepted like that. But it was also dangerous. It was a signal that we had lost our Jewishness. And I for one, even then, never believed we would really be able to survive here if we were nothing more than Israelis. For our attachment to the land of Israel, our identity with it, comes through out Jewishness. I am a Jew, I thought then, as I think now. That does not mean I am a religious man. I am not. When it comes to practicing Judaism, there is much I do not know. But I do know for certain that above everything I am a Jew and only afterwards an Israeli and the rest.”

Never have truer words been spoken by the man. Sharon realized that due to Israel’s remarkable escape act in 1948 and the general positive media surrounding the country, Israelis came to be differentiated from Jews. The Jews were a weak, struggling people who were easily pushed around and exterminated throughout Europe and the Arab world. These Israelis on the other hand were a tough people, fighting for their ideals and surviving against all odds. What separated them? In Sharon’s eyes … Nothing. Unfortunately, the Israel of today is very much struggling with the ‘divide’ Sharon describes – Jew v. Israeli.

Israel’s creation took away our identity as a minority, as a victim of persecution with no homeland. Combine that new reality with the necessity to ‘erase’ the weakness of the ‘Old Jew’ in order to survive, we Israelis became ‘normal,’ or ‘Hebrew-Speaking Goyim’ as the famous phrase goes. I am not saying, G-d forbid, that secular Israelis are goyim, or don’t have a strong Jewish identity – but the successful formation (and survival) of Israel had the unintended effect of making us a normal people, one whose identity wasn’t defined by our Jewishness. We could violate the laws of Shabbat or Kashrut and be in the complete majority, ah, yes – we’re normal. Ironically, that’s exactly why we viewed the non Jews’ normalcy in such a positive light – without the persecution, outsider status and religion, we Jews are just like any other human being in France, or South Africa, or Brazil, or Japan.

The ideology of secular Zionism, the dominant stream of Zionism, unintentionally pushed a reality which deprived Israel’s citizens a chance to strengthen their Jewishness, and develop their identity through it. Sadly, a purely secular Jew in Israel today struggles to identify as a ‘Jew’ because his ‘Jewishness’ has, as Arik mentioned already in the 1960s, been lost. A good friend of mine recently mentioned a conference he attended years ago where Eshkol Nevo and Jonathan Safran Foer were two of the panelists. Both secular Jewish novelists were asked what is Jewish about their writing. Foer, the New Yorker, explained that his books are largely about loss – and the ramifications of it – which is a distinctly Jewish experience. His books have largely focused on the Holocaust and the Jewish experience in Europe before the war. Nevo, the Israeli, struggled to answer the question and eventually answered that what is Jewish about his books is that they’re written in Hebrew. And that, in essence, is the problem we’re facing today.

Perhaps we, as well as our brothers and sisters throughout the world, should learn from Sharon’s harsh assessment in the last quoted paragraph: We must understand that our identity and connection to the land only comes from our Jewishness. Let us not forget that, as the last sentence says so eloquently, we are Jews above everything else – and that's what should unite and guide us through good and bad times not only here in Israel, but anywhere.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Myth Busters I

During August's reserve stint, two soldiers and I were talking about our frustration with successive Israeli governments and their handling of kidnapped or injured soldiers. As we were around the Nablus area, the October 2000 incident at Joseph's Tomb came up. During fierce fighting after an attack on the Border Police contingent at Jopseh's Tomb, a few soldiers sustained injuries. With Palestinian security forces preventing any 'non-forceful' Israeli incursion (As per Oslo Accords), Ehud Barak wavered. No rescue mission was sent in order to avoid further escalation and civilian casaulties. Five hours later, Madhat Yusuf died due to heavy blood loss - He was the only soldier to die defending Joseph's Tomb that day.

The Myth:

"If it was a Jewish soldier and not Madhat Yusuf, a Druze soldier, bleeding to death in Joseph's Tomb in 2000, the Israeli Army would have sent in troops to rescue him"

The Truth:

The myth above is what Walid, a Druze from the same village as Yusuf, claimed was the reason our forces didn't enter Joseph's Tomb for the necessary rescue mission. To be honest, it's something that always crossed my mind - did the fact that Yusuf was Druze play any part in our government's decision?

Eyal, the third participant in this conversation, quickly interjected as we discussed this myth, "That's just not true. I was with the Border Police then and I remember watching it while on base. Yusuf was not the only person injured there. There were two other soldiers who were in a bad way." Walid looked on as Eyal continued, "The boys in the Border Police units who were waiting to enter the Tomb and rescue the soldiers couldn't care less what religion the injured were. They just wanted to rescue their friends. The government just wasted time, and in the end, made a pathetic, disgraceful and disastrous decision."

Fact is, Eyal was right. Yusuf is the only soldier one 'knows' from this event because he was tragically the only one to die. The other soldiers injured in the fire fights with Palestinian security forces that day are seemingly not mentioned because they luckily survived. Yusuf's death was a tragedy that should have been prevented - but it was more due to an inept and cowardly government, than a racist one.

Madhat Yusuf, may his memory be blessed

The Key to Life

Kual este el riko? El ke se alegra kon su parte ...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Checking the Point

Ah, an IDF checkpoint. This is the only chance many of us get to interact with our neighbors, the Palestinians. For all the news we hear about life at the checkpoints, no one really stresses the fact that no soldier is taught the 'proper way' to act with the pedestrians and/or drivers - you learn by being there. The only tips we get are how to lessen the chances of any Palestinian attack being successful (for example, where to stand and how to approach a vehicle). Oh, and the oft repeated saying, "Respect and suspect," (כבדהו וחשדהו). Now why am I bothering with this brief introduction? As I mentioned in my last post, I struggle at times when I'm at the checkpoints. I am fully aware of the positives and negatives of checkpoints, and try to approach each Palestinian with the same respect I'd approach any human being. And so, I'd like to share one event which I think highlights the tough situation we face as soldiers.

It was panning out to be a typical relaxing (just don't tell my wife I said that!) day in miluim when word got out that a soldier had been kidnapped. With this, every checkpoint in the West Bank was essentially shut down as each car that passed was thoroughly checked, passengers included. Until this moment, the checkpoint my battalion was manning was a quick one for those using it - But now, due to the searches, there were two to three hour delays for everyone. By the time some of us got down there as back-up, the current checkpoint crew had been there for almost 8 hours. Most of the shift had been in the boiling hot sun and one could see the wear & tear on the lads. Add this to the agitated and frustrated Palestinians, something was bound to happen eventually.

After checking one taxi, T. motioned him to proceed. The driver, unaware T. spoke fluent Arabic, proceed to mutter something derogatory as he drove by. As soon as he heard it, T. quickly motioned the taxi to pull over. All the occupants were asked to exit the car, and T. started an even more thorough check than the previous one. Each passenger was frisked and all the IDs were taken for a check with the base. The taxi driver started getting angry, "Where is the officer? I want to speak to an officer." "I am the officer," T. muttered and motioned him to go back to where he was previously standing. The taxi driver refused and as he got closer to T., T. pushed him back. I watched on, finger on the trigger, and told one of the passengers to calm him down, "Tell him to shut up so you guys can go home. The more he talks, the longer he'll keep you here." Two of them nodded, and pulled the taxi cab driver back. He was still fuming and as T. turned his back, he screamed, "Give me the IDs, I am only a taxi driver. Where is your officer?" T. ignored the driver and proceeded to pass the ID information through the walkie talkie. As he waited for an answer, he asked the driver and his passengers to get back into the car and wait. The driver refused to move, "No, I'm staying here - I want the IDs." T. was getting angry, "Get into the car now." The driver approached him, and T. pushed him back, and as he stumbled backwards, T. kicked the driver on his side.

As the driver retreated to the car with his passengers, I approahced T., "You can't do that man. There's no need for that. Just let him sit outside if he continues being an idiot, there's no need to kick him." Another soldier came up to him, and reprimanded him, "That's totally unnecessary," and stormed off. The taxi driver started banging the side of his door, "I am just a taxi driver." He was furious, and I realized the situation needed defusing and quick. I approached the taxi and spoke to the passenger, "Tell him to shut up. Seriously, he needs to be quiet and you will all go home. I'll see to it." The passengers, who had not spoken or made any aggressive movements throughout the ordeal, again tried to calm him down. But he continued to slam the car's side through the open window. Ten minutes later, T. came over with the IDs and passed them over to one of the passengers. The taxi sped off. "He was being a maniak and got too close to me," T. explained to me. "I know, I saw, but there was no need for that," I said realizing we both had to get back to the 'job'.

As I discussed the episode with a friend a day later, he asked, "Why didn't you report him?" I had no answer, I thought my reproach was enough. Later that day, I asked the soldier who had also reprimanded him if we were wrong to not complain about the unnecessary use of force in this instance. He replied, "You saw his reaction after he had calmed down. He sat down on the side the rest of the shift and didn't move. He knows he screwed up. I also don't believe that's the mentality of our soldiers in this battalion. We don't 'work' that way and this was a one off." As I listened, I realized he was right. In the heat of the moment, T. made an error in judgment - he took advantage of his power in in the wrong way and unnecessarily hit a man, in the process embarrassing him in front of his clients (This is why I think he got so angry afterward).

As I look back on the incident, I think it could obviously have been handled far better - T. should have just let them sit in the taxi for a longer time than intended after the driver's behavior. We have a difficult job, but we must always try and keep our calm and cool, even in trying times. There are some instances when physical contact is unavoidable and even necessary, but with T. this was definitely not the case. Throughout this reserve stint, this was the only incident of its kind in 3 weeks at this checkpoint. That I highlight it is due to the fact it bothered me greatly - and I hope those involved learned enough from it to ensure it's not repeated again.