Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Siren

On the way to work from Nissim's Hanukkah bash, I was deeply engrossed in the latest Mossad book. As we crossed Yaffo, a loud siren started wailing. I have never heard one of these sirens this loudly before, and as I looked around, I saw quite a few people with startled looks on their faces. "Oh shit, is this war?," I thought for a second. Suddenly, a few people started saying it's a drill, and I, as well as other passengers, started returning to the pre-siren routine.

The siren left me a bit shaken. It just made me think about how it must have been on Yom Kippur 37 years ago when that siren was for real, and our country was trying to block a joint Syria-Egyptian attack. Thankfully, this was only a drill ... but I can't stop thinking that one day a siren will have me running home to grab my gear.

On a more happy note, חג אורים שמח to all my readers ... Happy Hanukkah.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Masapan ... The Tradition Continues

Masapan (aka Marzipan) is a traditional dessert for Sefardim (Jews of Spanish descent). While there is some dispute to the origin of the desert (be it Europe or the Middle East), there is no debate that this desert made from crushed almonds and sugar is delicious! Add it to the list of of other Sefardi dishes (like burmwelos or pastelis) I've finally learned how to make (with the help of my dad this time around). The final product wasn't bad at all (good reviews from all who tried it), but I look forward to improving it as my dad's is definitely better!. Photo evidence below:

The recipe (sorry for the blurry picture)

Stirring the boiling water and sugar mix, removing the 'scum'

Stirring in the almonds

Playing with the dough

Rolling the dough

The final product


Monday, November 22, 2010

Selling Joseph

Did the brothers ever realize the gravity of their sin when they sold Joseph?

Sforno comments that after their detainment in Egypt, the brothers examined their deeds to see why God had punished them. They do not display any remorse for the sale itself, "Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; that is why this anguish has come upon us," (Mikeitz 42:21). It seems that the brothers saw the sale as a harsh act, albeit the correct one.

How did the brothers rationalize this?

One interesting possibility is the brothers felt that Joseph wasn't a threat to them, but to their family's destiny. They were fully aware of the 'weeding out' process which had seen Ishmael and Esau 'removed' from the nation of Israel. The brothers saw that Joseph was bringing dissension to the family, which would put a dent in the mission of the Patriarchs. Hence, he was a danger that had to be dealt with.

(Ideas taken from The Stone Edition Chumash)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

United we must stand

My latest article in Kaminando y Avlando, the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation of Cape Town's monthly publication:


The more I study Israel’s history, the more I am disappointed and infuriated by the constant strife we’ve created for ourselves, amongst ourselves. Be it the clashes between the religious and the secular, or between the political right and the political left, or the Ashkenazim and the Mizrachim, we always seem to create harmful rifts within our nation. Although this is not a recent phenomenon, it’s something that continually needs to be addressed as it’s as dangerous an enemy to the Jewish people as terrorism and assimilation are.

Although they only refer to strife amongst family units, the first few parshiyot of the Torah teach about the destructive consequences of strife and the necessity to eliminate it. In Bereshit When Cain’s sacrifice to Hashem wasn’t accepted and Abel’s was, Cain became extremely jealous of his brother. The resulting strife led Cain to ‘rise up’ and kill his brother. Within a few parshiyot of this tragic story, the Torah teaches us how we must handle strife. In Lech Leca, Avram’s shepherds rebuke Lot’s shepherds for allowing their herds to graze on other people’s pastures (Rashi). Avram, unlike Cain, approaches his nephew and tries to stop the conflict from causing further turmoil, “Please let there be no more strife between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen,” (13:8). Although Avram eventually allows Lot and his herds to move to more fertile grounds, his actions teach us an important lesson. When faced with strife, even due to legitimate reasons, one must find a way to discuss the problem, make peace and coexist. Friction, be it between brothers, amongst a family or within our nation, will almost always lead to negative consequences. Hence, one must approach it and look for a peaceful resolution to end the conflict, unless of course no such option is available. (An example from the Torah being the sale of Joseph in Va’Yeishev – see Sforno’s commentary.) Rashi sums it up nicely when, during his commentary on Parashat Noach, he asks which generation’s sin was greater, the generation of the flood, which did not plan a rebellion against Hashem, or the generation of the Dispersion (Tower of Babel), which did? His answer is the former, as the generation was comprised of robbers who quarreled with each other and were completely destroyed in the flood, while the latter dwelt harmoniously together, and hence were spared despite their blasphemies. Surely this demonstrates how dangerous strife is and how great unity is! 4:1-16, we learn about the tragic story of Cain and Abel.

In the years leading up to and in the aftermath of the creation of the State, Israel twice was on the verge of Civil War. In late 1944, the Jewish Agency and the Haganah were convinced that Menachem Begin’s Irgun (aka Etz”l) were eager to take over the leadership of the Yishuv. The tension between the two organizations reached a boiling point in 1945 when Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri (members of the Stern Gang) assassinated Lord Moyne in Cairo. After the assassination of Lord Moyne, who was responsible for implementing the White Paper (the document that kept thousands of desperate Jews from immigrating to the British Mandate during World War II), the Jewish Agency implemented the “Hunting Season” (the Season for short), during which the Haganah actively worked with the British police to capture Irgun and Stern Gang members. Did the Irgun respond with violence as their brothers betrayed them to the British? No, their response had already been outlined in their famous pamphlet in 1944:

“Yes, the dread of the loyal Jew is understandable. Are we to witness our children raising their hands or aiming their weapons against one another? What will they do, those persecuted people against whom the terrible edicts are directed? How will they defend themselves? ...These are grave questions, and we feel it our duty - on our own behalf and on behalf of the Irgun Zvai Le'umi in Eretz Israel - to provide an answer. And this is our answer: you may stay calm, loyal Jews; there will be no fraternal strife in this country...”

The Season gradually came to a halt due to massive public pressure, but only after almost one thousand Jews were handed over to the British. Am Yisrael almost allowed jealousy and lack of trust to cause itself tremendous damage. Unfortunately, the lessons of those dark days were not learned and the country was placed in a similarly frightening situation within a few years.

Shortly after Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a ship carrying almost 1,000 Irgun members and large quantities of ammunition made its way to Israel from France. The Altalena was given permission by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s prime minister, to land the ship as long as it was done quickly. The cooperation quickly soured when Begin requested that most of the weapons go to the IDF’s newly incorporated Irgun battalions, a move Ben-Gurion thought would reinforce the false notion of ‘an army within an army.’ Ben-Gurion refused to accept Begin’s reasoning and the boat left its original docking area of Kfar Vitkin, and proceeded to Tel Aviv, where Ben-Gurion had the IDF concentrate large forces on the beach. The ship was shelled, and it caught fire. With chaos on board, many jumped overboard and were met by rafts of concerned Israelis. Jewish fire still continued to strafe the deck of the ship despite the captain waving the white flag (In ‘The Revolt,’ Menachem Begin writes how the fire was continually aimed at him – was it an assassination attempt?) Many of the Irgun fighters who swam towards the beach were greeted with grenades. By the end of the tragic day, sixteen Irgun members and 3 IDF soldiers were dead. Instead of allowing this horrifying event to rip the country apart and take away focus from defeating the invading Arab armies, Begin made the famous ‘Speech of Tears,’ which highlighted the necessity of finding a solution to strife, even after such a tragedy:

“We shall continue to love the people of Israel, and we shall continue to fight for the people of Israel...Help me to persuade my people that it is forbidden for brother to raise a hand against brother, that it is forbidden that a Hebrew weapon be used against Hebrew fighters.”

In late 1967, Ben-Gurion remarked that had he then known Begin as he did now, the face of history would have been different.

There are obviously many more examples than those presented; the message however is clear enough. We can be our own worst enemies, or we can do our best to find common ground and make peace amongst ourselves despite our differences. The key here is not just to overcome the strife, which every relationship – be it on a small family scale or large national scale – has, but to build unity amongst our people. There’s a famous midrash that says that G-d would forgive Am Yisrael if its people practiced idolatry in unity. A sin of that magnitude, entered into on the national level, can be forgiven if the whole nation commits the sin together. Think about that. How powerful and important must unity (אחדות) be? In fact, if we look at one of our most important daily prayers, the Shema, we’ll see unity again being stressed. In the Shema, we say ‘Shema Yisrael’ – Hear O’ Israel. The ‘hear’ should be written ‘Shimu’ – listen in the plural – as it’s addressing the people of Israel. However it is written as a singular. In the daily reaffirmation of our faith, we are acknowledging the importance of being a united nation. Our continuous ability to hurt ourselves was highlighted, ironically enough, by Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who was in office during the Yom Kippur War (1973) and then proceeded to sign a peace treaty with Begin and Israel (1979). When asked how one can destroy Israel, he answered smartly, “Leave them alone in peace for 25 years.” Sadat’s negative advice should be taken by us as an important lesson – unless we continually work on strengthening and unifying Am Yisrael, we are setting ourselves up for unnecessary tragedies.

** How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity (Pslam 133:1) **

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sayeret Matkal in Entebbe

Last week, I finished Iddo Netanyahu's latest book סיירת מטכ"ל באנטבה (Book's title in English: Sayeret Matkal in Entebbe). The first part of the book goes into great detail about the planning, drills and execution of the operation. What sets this book apart from other books I've read is that instead of telling the story of Entebbe through the author's eyes, the story is told through in-depth interviews with all the soldiers who participated in the greatest hostage rescue operation of our time. The reader gets an in depth understanding of all the details from the day of the kidnapping to the 'made for the big screen' rescue operation. After writing "Yoni's Last Battle," what was Iddo's reasoning for yet another book about the operation?

Within a month of the operation, Muki Betser - who was 2nd in command during the operation - started mudding Yoni Netanyahu's role in planning and executing the operation before he was killed. Interview after interview given by Muki have shown him as the leading man in this operation, from its start to the exhilarating finale. With his lies sadly becoming the 'facts' even the IDF presents in their official report on the raid (not to mention Muki's book, "Secret Soldier: The True Life Story of Israel's greatest Commando"), Iddo's book tries to set the record straight. His method is simple and devastating: it takes Muki's testimonies (from August 1976 till 2003, including excerpts from his book), and shows how Muki constantly tweaks his testimonies, always contradicting his original report (Given a few days after the raid) and the testimonies of the soldiers who ran side by side with him on Uganda's soil.

Below are a few of the lies Muki has passed as facts over the years ... followed by the truth (in bold):

- Muki was instrumental in the operation's planning. From the moment Yoni returned from the Sinai on Wednesday (29.6.1976), he was the key figure in planning the operation. Muki confirms this in his original testimony after the operation. Muki had little, if anything, to do with any of the planning (some of his testimony clearly show this, be it not knowing the reason for using the Mercedes or when the soldier counts for the vehicles were altered)

- Muki requested to be at the head of his unit when storming the terminal, something he states he had to demand from Yoni. This is the norm in the IDF - commanders lead. There was most likely no request ...

- On the way to the terminal, Muki states that the two Ugandan troops that approached the Mercedes should not have been killed, but bypassed as per the original plan. The drills for the operation included two 'guards', an addition made by Yoni. In the drills, as per various soldiers' testimonies, the guards were always shot at. They had to be killed - had they been left alive or even bypassed, their fire may have killed/injured the troops before they got to the terminal (which was still 150-200 meters away). Some soldiers remember the Ugandan troops cocking their guns - a sign that 'bypassing them' as Muki had requested in the car would probably have had tragic consequences.

- Yoni was at the back of the Mercedes and the orders came from Muki. No soldier interviewed remembers Yoni anywhere but the front of the Mercedes and giving all the orders.

- On the way to the control tower, Muki killed two Ugandans - emptying his clip in the process. The lag this caused as the soldiers waited behind the tower did not delay the storming of the terminal. There is no evidence from the soldiers that Muki actually killed any Ugandan soldiers. That he fired, no one denies. That he stopped and delayed the storming of the terminal, no one denies (including himself). That Yoni screamed at him to advance (a few soldiers mention him screaming, "מוקי קדימה" - "Muki Advance"), no one denies. That Yoni overtook Muki and other soldiers followed suit, no one denies (including Muki). Muki's stalling could have cost many lives (soldiers and hostages) were it not for Yoni's actions. There is testimony from two soldiers who said Muki explained on the plane ride home that his gun had jammed, and that he had not bought a 'double clip,' which was a requirement for the operation, and that forced his 'lengthy' (a matter of seconds) stop.

- Muki missed his entrance (1st of the 4) due to faulty intelligence. Muki, and other soldiers, report that they got updated photos of the terminal (courtesy of the Mossad) in Sharm El Sheikh where they had time to review them. Muki claims the door was sealed shut - it wasn't. The door was just closed and Muki never attempted to open it, instead running to the next entrance.

- Muki entered the main hall side by side with Amir Ofer and Amnon Peled, and had a hand in killing 3 (at times, he claims all 4) of the terrorists in the main terminal. By the time Muki had entered the hall AFTER Amir and Amnon, 3 of the 4 terrorists had been shot and their guns kicked away. Muki, it seems, confirmed the kill on 2 of them. Amos Goren, as per Muki's original testimony, killed the 4th terrorist while entering the main entrance with Muki. Muki did shoot when he entered the hall, but unlike most of his testimonies, his bullets hit lifeless or incapacitated terrorists.

- Muki, in his book, claims that all four aforementioned soldier shot Jean-Jacques Maimoni as he jumped up to celebrate the Israeli arrival. The 3 other soldiers never mention firing at Maimoni, only Muki does. It is important to note that Muki's actions were 100% correct, he had to react and couldn't take a chance that Maimoni was an armed terrorist. That doesn't mean he needs to 'share the blame' of killing the hostage with the other soldiers in the room.

Iddo's work is impeccable. Any reader can not help but be angered by Muki's muddying of the truth and continuous attacks on his dead commander's actions (I only touched on this briefly with the two Ugandan guards). In order to show how this is sadly the norm with Muki, Iddo brings Muki's testimony on various operations:

- Operation Spring of Youth

Muki's unit, which included Yoni under his command, stormed one of the rooms. Muki entered the room at the same time as Zvi Livna and they both killed the terrorist. While Muki was SUPPOSED to storm the room first, it was Zvi who entered the room first and shot the terrorist. Muki confirmed the kill.

- Yom Kippur War

a) 40 Syrian commandos ambushed a group of Sayeret Matkal soldiers. Muki and Yoni led both their squads in storming the Syrian position, killing all 40 commandos. After they were ambushed, Yoni organized his squad under heavy fire and stormed the Syrian position. Muki and his squad provided critical cover fire and the Syrian threat was neutralized.

b) When Yossi Ben Hanan's squadron of tanks was obliterated by Syrian forces within Syrian territory, Muki talked with Yanush Ben Gal and volunteered to lead a squad to rescue Ben Hanan and another survivor. Yoni, as per Yanush's testimony, volunteered Sayeret Matkal for the dangerous rescue operation. He led it successfully and as per Ben Hanan's testimony, was the one giving out the orders throughout the operation.

There is a re-occuring theme here ... Muki volunteers & initiates operations, planning them to perfection and then carries them out flawlessly while others make mistakes that contribute to endangering the mission's success. Yoni, his commander, is a lethargic and disinterested figure, always being 'led' by Muki. It's sad that Muki's testimonies have been accepted as 'truth,' so much so that the few revealed parts of the official IDF report on Entebbe (printed by Haaretz in the early 1990s) follow his stories and hence, are completely inconsistent* with the testimonies of the soldiers who were there! One can only hope that the truth can outlast the many lies of Muki, and that Yoni's essential role in planning and executing this mission will not be taken away from him. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the truth about Operation Entebbe.

* Due to the many holes Muki's 'facts' created, even Dan Shomron got in on the lies. Shomron claimed to have provided Sayeret Matkal on the Thursday night (30.6.1976) with a detailed plan on the storming of the old terminal. This is a pure lie, not even supported by any of Muki's forever changing testimonies. Shomron did present Sayeret Matkal with a plan of storming the old terminal, but it was just another line in the list of potential operations (For example, landing rubber rafts on Lake Victoria) Shomron wanted the Unit to look into.

Click here for a Ynet article about Muki's falsification of history.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Yoni Netanyahu - The Real Story

For those of you who speak Hebrew, click here for a fantastic one hour documentary about Yoni Netanyahu z'l, the Sayeret Matkal commander who fell during Operation Entebbe.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Hamas admits what Goldstone couldn't

In a recent article from Haaretz (Another source is here, a UAE English newspaper.), Hamas's Interior Minister Fathi Hamad admitted that during the first day of Operation Cast Lead, 250 Hamas fighters were killed:

Hamas confirmed for the first time on Monday that between 200 and 300 members of the organization's military wing were killed during Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008, Israel Radio reported.

Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 in efforts to curb missile fire from the Palestinian territory into Israel's southern communities. Immediately following the operation, Hamas reported that less than 50 of its men had been killed.

Hamas' Interior Minister Fathi Hamad, who was confirmed the figures in an interview with the London-based Arabic language daily Al-Hayat, said that the so-called "police officers" who were killed during the first day of the operation were actually 250 Hamas fighters, and that 150 additional "security personnel" were also killed.

Israel Radio indicated that these figures were consistent with the numbers initially reported by the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Unit immediately following the operation, which Hamas denied.

So why is this important? Firstly, it shows Israel's strike on the 1st day of the War was legitimate. There was obviously an extremely accurate intelligence update that Israel couldnt' pass up on. Secondly, rewind to Richard Goldstone's UN report:

417. Except for the statements of the police spokesperson, the Israel Government has presented no other basis on which a presumption can be made against the overall civilian nature of the police in Gaza. It is true that the police and the security forces created by Hamas in Gaza may have their origins in the Executive Force. However, while the Mission would not rule out the possibility that there might be individuals in the police force who retain their links to the armed groups, it believes that the assertion on the part of the Government of Israel that “an overwhelming majority of the police forces were also members of the Hamas military wing or activists of Hamas or other terrorist organizations” appears to be an overstatement that has led to prejudicial presumptions against the nature of the police force that may not be justified.

I guess this is yet another reason why the Honorable Judge backed off the report, "If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven." Definitely Goldstoned.

Yoni during Yom Kippur War

Here's an eye witness account from the major battle between Sayeret Matkal & Syrian Commandos during the Yom Kippur War (1973). The testimony is from an interview in 1976 with Shai Avital, an officer from Sayeret Matkal:

איתרנו ניחתה של כוחות קומנדו סוריים על יד נאפח, וקיבלנו ידיעה, שלמעשה אנחנו הכוח האחרון שמגן על המקום. נסענו במהירות למקום האיתור. עמדנו על הכביש וחיפשנו את האויב, ופתאום נפתחה עלינו אש סורית חזקה, שבה נהרג קצין אחד שלנו (גדעון אבידב). הם תפסו אותנו בצורה הנוחה ביותר בשבילם - כאשר הם מאחורי מחסות ואנחנו גלויים בשטח. בנקודה זו צריך היה שיימצא אדם שיתחיל לתת הוראות ברורות; אחרת יכול היה להיות שם מצב עגום ביותר. לא היה הרבה ירי אחר מכת אש הזאת, והיתה מעין רגש, שחיכית שמישהו יעשה משהו. אני אישית זוכר שאז התחלתי לפחוד. פחדתי מאוד. מה שראיתי אז היא תמונה שאזכור במשך חיי: פתאום ראיתי את יוני מתרומם בשקט גמור, כאילו לא התחולל שם דבר. בתנואות ידיים סימן לאנשים שיקומו איתו. כולם שכבו מאחורי מחסות והוא התחיל להתקדם כאילו שיחק בתרגיל אש. הוא הלך זקוף, חילק פקודות לימין ושמאל. אני זוכר את המחשבה שלי אז בתור חייל שלו: לכל הרוחות, אם הוא עושה את זה - אז אני לא מוותר! קמתי והתחלתי להילחם

Talk about being 'calm under fire'.

Excerpt from סיירת מטכ"ל באנטבה