I am putting together research on communities in southern Israel right now and there is one image that just does not want to get out of my head any more: The moment a mother confessed to being a little worried sometimes by her son attending a high school in Sderot. “There are the kassamim, you know.”, she told me, “If it is really bad they even close the school.”Can you imagine that? Can you imagine sending your child to school knowing that at any time, with only fifteen seconds worth of warning, a rocket might strike their school bus on the open road? Maybe if we stopped seeing Israel as a faraway backwards country but as the western society – just like our countries – we could start to grasp the meaning. These are people like you and I. These are teenage children like all the noisy ones you meet on the bus every day. Smart, sometimes withdrawn but good kids. They have dreams and they have plans for the future.
And they live with that knowledge deep in their head that in just a few years’ time they will be soldiers.
Can you imagine that? Can you imagine raising your children with all the love in your heart, keeping them as close and secure as you can only to see them become part of a tide of soldiers. While you and I went to university, founded a home and started a family these young people spent years armed waiting for what seems to be the unavoidable conflict that strikes generation after generation. They are young adults like all the ones you find swarming the bars and the parks. They do not want to go to war, to see these things. They want to get going with their lives; to travel, to study and to move in with their boyfriend. They are into fashion and the latest hair styles, they are into sports and technology and music – not into guns.
Don’t get me wrong. The situation in Gaza is so disgraceful I am out of decent words to describe it. It is almost surreal to imagine that boarder, on the one side a cruel dictatorship, unimaginable povery and an infrastructure that most closely resembles that of some godsforsaken African tribal lands fifty years ago. On the other side a high-tech civilisation with one of the highest overall levels of education and technology utilisation in the world. How can the two of them possibly even exist on the same planet, let alone only a stone’s throw away? But nonetheless it is reality.
But what the Frigg is Israel to do? It is not the shut border crossing, that is the problem. The problem is Hamas, a terrorist regime almost as bad as the Islamic State next door. Opening those borders won’t change a thing for Gaza residents but it will allow more weapons to be built, more deaths, more warfare. Have you ever thought about it, why it is Egypt that has completely shut down their border crossing at Rafah and is on a crusade against smuggler tunnels right now? Why they are going as far as bulldozing their own city of Rafah? Those are their Muslim brothers after all, Egypt has no motive for cutting off Gaza other than the safety of its own territory and population.
If it was your country, would you tolerate your children driving to school under rocket fire or not being able to go to school at all? Think of European countries in turmoil, of brutal regimes taking over strips of land adjacent to your own border. Use your fantasy. What would you want your government to do?
Think about it. Think about what the US Americans did to Afghanistan and Iraq, on the other side of the world, after a single terror attack. Think about military intervention in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State just because governments are worried of future terror attacks on their own soil. Think about what our governments are doing to other countries without any proven danger to their civilian populations whatsoever.
Think about that and think about the boy riding the bus to Sderot every day before you demonise Israel.
The cache of spy cables recently released by al Jazeera – and copied by most western news outlets – seem to be but the latest in a series of leaked intelligence sources. This time though US American agency mostly get a break with South Africa and the all famous Israeli intelligence service Mossad at the centre of it all.
At the beginning of the week one cable in particular, a Mossad brief to South African intelligence agency SSA gained attention throughout global news outlets: “Spy Cables reveal Mossad concluded that Iran was not producing nuclear weapons, after PM sounded alarm at UN in 2012.” al Jazeera reported:
A secret cable obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit reveals that Mossad sent a top-secret cable to South Africa on October 22, 2012, that laid out a “bottom line” assessment of Iran’s nuclear work.
It appears to contradict the picture painted by Netanyahu of Tehran racing towards acquisition of a nuclear bomb.
Writing that Iran had not begun the work needed to build any kind of nuclear weapon, the Mossad cable said the Islamic Republic’s scientists are “working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate such as enrichment reactors”.
Little surprise the report was passed on throughout media outlets around the globe seemingly proving Israel’s (or at least its prime minister Netanyahu’s) warmongering using false threats against a nation that might have the rhetorics but not taken the actions to be a threat.
I have to admit it did raise my eyebrows too.
And then, the other day, I leisurely scrolled through my news feed and found this gem from the same cache of al Jazeera spy cable leaks at the Guardian:
Israel has been trying for decades, the report says, to undermine Egypt’s vital Nile water source so that it becomes preoccupied with water shortages rather than the Arab-Israeli conflict. “Towards this end Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology conducted extensive experiments, and eventually created a type of plant that flourishes on the surface or the banks of the Nile and that absorbs such large quantities of water as to significantly reduce the volume of water that reaches Egypt.”
Frankly, I did not know whether to laugh or cry about it. A water sucking plant in order to dry out the Nile? Seriousely? This one fits right in with the old rumour about Mossad handing out libido enhancing candy to faithful Egyptian wives so as to undermine the fabric of their Muslim society.
Do people actually believe these things?
And more importantly: How did a fairy tale like this end up as a classified spy cable right out there with the really juicy stuff?
What it really showed to me though was that you have to take leaks like the recent al Jazeera one with a grain of salt. As the Guardian’s Seumas Milne and Ewen MacAskill caution in above-mentioned article:
Intelligence agencies thrive on impressing politicians and the public with their mystique, exploits real or imagined, and possession of information that supposedly gives them a unique understanding of the world.
In the world of espionage, today as in the past, spies peppering reports with half-truths, rumours, the outlandish and the downright ridiculous is par for the course, the secret cables show – and not that remote from the lucrative fantasies and inventions of Graham Greene’s fictional MI6 agent in Our Man In Havana.
So while, yes, I can absolutely see a character such as Bibi Netanyahu right out ignoring the intelligence he is given if it is inconvenient for his own agenda this particular one just does not add up. Yes, Netanyahu might well have been exaggerating the threat in order to make his point. But there being no conceivable treat whatsoever, no sign for a non-peaceful nuclear program at all in Iran as the cable suggests? It just does not quite fit in with the activity we have seen around the Irani nuclear program – such as the Stuxnet worm targeting Irani nuclear centrifuges just to name an example.
Also we need to remember that intelligence agencies the world over are adapt at placing misinformation or intentionally “leaking” material. The al Jazeera article itself hints at a schism between Mossad and Netanyahu, quoting former head of Mossad Meir Dagan’s concern about the prime minister prematurely embarking on war with Iran which he thought was “a stupid idea”. There is ample motive for the agency to distribute de-escalating material if they indeed have come to mistrust Netanyahu.
It is simply careless to be dismissing Iran as a nuclear threat to Israel just yet without doing our homework on this leaked so-called “intelligence”. As usual in Israel there as more to it than meets the eye.
Since I did not get around to writing a post that lives up to the anniversary I will substitute Wren’s because I don’t think I could have written it any better.
It is very easy to demonise Germans for the Shoah and comfort ourselves with the idea that “it” can never happen again; it is a lot harder to start thinking about the idea that the Shoah did not exactly happen in a vacuum.
As a nice lady in Yad vaShem once told me: This is not about finding more people to blame, after 70 years we should really be moving past blame. It is about understanding why it happened so it will not happen again.
Originally posted on The Druid Bird:
‘It seems all the stories we heard about the concentration camps in Germany were almost all true. But the only people in these camps were Jews and political prisoners. We both agreed that the Jews should be exterminated and the political prisoners were just fools.’
Garfield, 2004: 509, Our Hidden Lives, Random House, London.
Yesterday marked 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, to mark the occasion this week’s Wednesday post is going to be an insight into post-war Britain… and it’s probably not what you’re expecting.
I read a book recently about writing historical fiction, the book emphasised the importance of giving your characters era appropriate attitudes. When you’re writing characters that lived many years ago you have to understand and accept that they’re not going to have 21st century attitudes towards equality and discrimination. They’re probably going to be sexist, racist and xenophobic.
After the First World War…
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I was actually going to write this post two weeks ago, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks on 7 January that rocked half of Europe – and quite possibly a good part of the remaining world.
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – Voltaire
As much as I can relate to the epidemic of “Je suis Charlie” postings on Facebook I could not quite go along with it. Is it okay to ridicule someone else’s believes by publishing caricatures violating every inch of religious feeling? No, it most certainly is not. But it is of course even less okay to decide to go out and kill journalists just because you do not agree with what they are publishing. Just as the famous Voltaire quote goes freedom of speech only works when it is granted even to those we disagree with most.
So far for the regular European perspective; the notion of standing up and saying “enough is enough”. But for me, of course, there is more to it than meets the eye. And these things are right at the centre of the themes this blog has always been about: My connection to Israel and her people and my own identity as a European Pagan.
As far as the Israeli perspective goes the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the aftermath were a sad wake-up call that radical Islam is a force to be reckoned with even in the very heard of Europe. And to add insult to injury there was, of course, the whole Pallywood circus about how allegedly Mossad directed the attacks in order to blame radical Islam and stall peace talks in Israel. (What peace talks exactly that would be referring to right now and how it could stall them is, of course, a completely different question).
The sad truth is that Jews in Europe still do not feel safe. And sometimes I catch myself thinking that no, maybe they indeed should not. In France, I read the other day 50% of all racist attacks are directed against Jews who make only 1% of the population. At the moment there hardly seems to be a week going by without a Synagogue or other place frequented by Jews burning somewhere in Europe; 70 years after the end of Jewish prosecution in Europe Jews still rightfully feel they need extra security for their venues even though they are a tiny little group of “different” people against which there is little to no public outcry. Am I the only European who feels the people of Europe ought to be rallying behind their Jewish population just like they did behind the Charlie Hebdo victims? Yet when another Synagogue burns down it is hardly worth a front-page article in the local news.
“Do you know why I care so much about a tolerant Europe?”, I asked my mom the other day. It is because I am Pagan and chances are so will be my children. And with the rise of more self-confident second and third generation Paganism I am convinced that sooner or later we will also be more present in public life. A lot is already happening in the US in respect to recognition and protection of Pagan rights. Europe might right now be a calmer – and safer – place for a Pagan to live but eventually European Pagans, too, will become more visible.
Paganism is a completely different beast to all the religions we are struggling to deal with in European society right now. There is a relatively easy way of grasping who and what “the Christians”, “the Muslims”, “the Jews” and even “the Hindus” and “the Buddhists” are. It won’t be so simple with Paganism. We are a way more diverse group; we have no internal organisation worth speaking of; nobody that could speak for all or at least many of us. And of course we have a mindset that is becoming increasingly more different to that of followers of the Abrahamite religions. I see it in myself and also in may others in the Pagan blog sphere; once you have been Pagan for 15 or 20 years you start to feel how you think differently to non-Pagans; how your value system changes. The Wild Hunt for instance just recently posted an article about how Pagan religion afflicts the treatment of mental disorder but it is only a small spotlight on an increasingly different world view.
Coping with Paganism as a part of the intercultural mix that is Europe will be a challenge for our society. It will mean that people have to widen their horizons and look behind shared Abrahamite norms in order to allow Pagans in their midst. How are we going to accomplish that if European society cannot even cope with the variety Judaism and Islam add?
I feel that I need Europe to become more tolerant so I know my children and children’s children can be the self-confident, strong Pagans that I would want them to be. And ultimately, as sad as it is to think this way, I need Europe to become more tolerant so I will never have to fear for their safety and they will never have to hide their Pagan identity out of fear of prosecution.
This morning, as I was sifting through my pile of unread books trying to decide on which one to go for next I found one abandoned right next to John le Carré’s A Perfect Spy. It was the copy of Daniel Silva’s A Death in Vienna my Isareli friend had sent me years ago attaching a note of how it reminded her of “all the talks we had on [her] roof terrace” and how it summed it all up neatly to her. I felt guilty because even though I had promised I never got around to reading it in those rather chaotic years since.
Maybe I should have stuck with the le Carré.
In the six years (is it really that long already?) I have had this blog I have avoided writing about the Shoah and the way it is dealt with from the Austrian perspective. In part because for a long time I would not have found the words to do so and, for a bigger part, because I did not want this to be a blog that contributed to reducing thousands of years of Jewish – or Austrian, for that – cultural history to a hand full of decades.
The conversation I had, back in Tel Aviv, with a bunch of business partners probably sums it all up neatly. It is a stereotype, I know, but one that does not lack of truth:
“They say Austrians are the best diplomats in the world. Because you made the whole world think Hitler was German and Beethoven was Austrian.” he said, challenging me with a smirk of Israeli bluntness.
I smiled back, took the challenge: “But why? It is true after all, isn’t it?” Now I have his attention.
“Wasn’t Hitler a German when he died? And wasn’t Beethoven buried at Vienna’s Central Cemetery?”
I fixed his gaze with a light, almost childish smile as I added: “If you determined nationality by their place of birth – how many Isareli heroes would you have left?”
He could not help but conclude that the rumour about Austrians, after all, seemed to be quite correct.
It is true that we Austrians were slack in prosecuting our war criminals, I will not argue against it nor will I defend it. We were no angels, we had our monsters too. And it is true that, just like the rest of Europe, we have the far right creeping into our parliament again and again. Since the recent Gaza war I have even seen an upwards trend in anti-Jewish resentment and the same old stereotypes against “wealthy world-Jewry”. Frankly, for maybe the first time I have started to grasp why some of my Jewish friends have never quite felt safe in Austria. But reading Silva’s views today that, apparently, made him a #1 bestseller made my blood boil with his blatant, uncritical use of stereotype.
In a nutshell after introducing Vienna as a place where “men still wear feathered Tyrolean caps [and] women still found it fashionable to wear a Dirndl” (I had to double-check here to confirm the book was actually published in 2003) Silva goes on to describe the Austrian secret service as run by a ultra-right wing maniac not only acting far outside the law but also quite capable of torture and murder in order to cover up for his Nazi friends. And all of that in light of human-rights activist groups that knew about it but nobody would quite listen to them. I had the feeling, sometimes, that he saw Austria as almost of the brink to a second Holocaust at the drop of a pen although that notion might have been exaggerated by my own hurt pride into my homeland.
I was in Israel when former Austrian president and UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim died and I remember the uproar vividly. And when I read up on the subject what I found were pages and pages of 1980s Austrian newspaper reports condemning him; I found photographs of a wooden horse being dragged through the streets of Vienna with a plaque around its neck that said “I remember” in reference to Waldheim’s own claim not to remember a thing. And all of that even though even a Nazi-hunter as fierce as Simon Wiesenthal could never find any grounds to prosecute Waldheim for war crimes.
“Ich war nicht bereit, Kurt Waldheim als Nazi oder Kriegsverbrecher zu attackieren, weil er nach Einsichtnahme in alle mir zur Verfügung stehenden Unterlagen weder das eine noch das andere war.”
I was not ready to attack Kurt Waldheim as a Nazi or war criminal because after looking through all files available to me [I found] he was neither the one nor the other.
(Simon Wiesenthal, Das Amt und die Pflicht, in: Die Presse, Sonderausgabe “2000”, December 1999, S. 57f)
That is Austria too. The silent majority actually, I will argue.
Yes, there are still the elderly that will tell you casually over a cup of tea how “everything was better under Hitler”, our dirty laundry that will not come clean. And yes, there are also the young that once again will tell you the same old story of how “the Rothschilds” apparently somehow control the world. But that is not all Austria is just like during the occupation (I know I will be crucified if not blood-eagled for using the word) the frantic helpers of National-Socialist Germany were not all Austria was.
I grew up with stories – little stories, told casually, not as great deeds – of local farmers hiding Jews, of people leaving food out or giving clothes. It was only during my time in Israel that I stumbled upon some of the bigger stories too. The most documented maybe is that of hostess Liesl Geisler-Scharetter feeding thousands of Jewish DPs on their way to Italy and Israel. Her story, though, is but one of many that were never told outside the family; it is far from unusual for my simple, hospitable people. If you can do those little things, then you do. It is the Austrian nature that we do not care about making a big fuss about those things because to us they are self-explanatory. We do them because they are right, not because of what others will say about us.
But then, yes, we also do not care about being heroes either. It is the Austrian nature to hide in the pubs and the homes during hard times and wait until the storm blows over. And if we have to do the occasional Sieg Heil and raise a couple of flags in order to be left alone then, yes, we will do that too. And in our complacency we looked on as Millions were killed, retreating into the comfortable bubbles around us with our fingers in our ears so we could lock out the torment going on around us.
Silva, and I realise many alongside him, see a systemic issue where there is none. Are there right-winged nutcases sprinkled all over Austrian society? Certainly. But I cannot for the love of me imagine we have a Manfred Kruz that can get away with killing and torturing in the name of keeping it all under wraps. If there was I am convinced he would find an end not unlike that of the rogue Zalachenko club in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest; brought to justice by our very own constitutional protection units working within the law and following due process of a modern and just legal system.
Frankly, I am sick and tired of Austria being portrayed as a backwater still stuck in 1940s thinking every time attacking Germany becomes unfashionable for one reason or the other. I am sick and tired of the one-dimensional view most of the world seems to have and I know we Austrians make it easy because it is in our nature not to care too much about what others think. Most of us will not raise an eyebrow on reading Silva’s accounts because we do not think it is worth the effort of trying to change how some Americans that have probably never left their own continent see us. My own mum, if she would read this would probably tell me I was wasting my energy – and I guess she is right about it too.
Find below a reblog from the Conversation‘s Raoul Heinrichs with friendly support of the Conversation webpage.
Explainer: Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system
By Raoul Heinrichs, Australian National University
The breakdown of an initial ceasefire between Israeli forces and Hamas last weekend played out to a familiar soundtrack: the wail of air-raid sirens and the menacing hiss of incoming rocket fire, followed in many cases by the concussive crackle of Iron Dome missiles intercepting their targets.
The Iron Dome anti-missile system first attracted attention two years ago, when it achieved between an 80-90% success rate.
But the sudden escalation of rocket attacks from Gaza in recent weeks, coupled with the success of Iron Dome in averting death and destruction by neutralising rockets headed for populated areas, has renewed interest in the system’s workings and wider strategic implications.
A ‘system of systems’
So how does Iron Dome operate? In the arcane lexicon of military technology, Iron Dome is a “system of systems” and comprises three principal components:
- a radar tracking station
- a control-centre
- up to three missile batteries.
Each component is responsible for a distinct phase of what military wonks call the “detect-to-engage” cycle. When a rocket is fired, it is detected in-flight by an advanced radar specially designed to track small, fast-moving objects.
That data is then passed via wireless connection to the control centre. Here, teams of Israeli military personnel assess the trajectory of the incoming rocket and determine whether or not it should be intercepted. Given the high cost of Iron Dome’s missiles, only those headed for populated areas are selected for interception.
When it’s necessary to intercept a rocket, a launch order is transmitted to the Iron Dome missile batteries, and a Tamir interceptor missile, using a sophisticated guidance system and information from the control-centre, is directed into the rocket’s path. The whole process takes between two to three minutes.
Iron Dome was developed in just four years and has been in service since 2011. Surprisingly, the impetus for the project came not from Hamas.
Despite its prolific use of rockets in the years following Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Hamas rockets mostly fell harmlessly on sparsely populated Negev. So long as casualties remained low, and damage to property limited, the rockets were considered more a political nuisance than a national emergency.
The birth of Iron Dome
This perception was shattered in July 2006, with the outbreak of war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. What began as a terrorist attack on Israel’s northern border quickly escalated into an all-out exchange.
Over the course of a month, Hezbollah fired around 4,000 rockets into northern Israel, necessitating an expansive campaign of air-strikes, a blockade and a costly ground invasion. By the time Israeli forces eventually brought the rocket-attacks under control, the damage was done.
The daily barrages exacted a human and economic toll and dealt a serious blow to Israeli morale. Out of the recriminations which followed, Iron Dome was born.
The problem with rockets
For Hamas and Hezbollah, rockets have long been attractive. They are cheap, highly mobile and their use requires no great technical expertise.
Rockets can be launched at Israeli cities from inconspicuous locations well within friendly territory, without the need for air-superiority. Rockets are also readily available from Iran, a country determined to undermine Israeli security. Most importantly, rockets are effective at instilling terror amongst the populations against which they are directed.
There are two main reasons Iron Dome offers Israel incomplete protection. First, each Tamir missile costs Israel between US$50-90,000, compared with only a few hundred dollars apiece for the rockets they intercept. Given such a profound cost imbalance, a sustained rocket campaign could have a crippling effect on Israel’s defence budget.
Second, rocket attacks are effective regardless of whether they hit their targets. The disruption they cause is what matters most. Civilians still take cover as rockets approach. Sirens sound, which is frightening and humiliating. The mere possibility that rockets could cause death and destruction is enough to sow terror on the ground.
Despite its apparent success, Iron Dome does not represent a significant technological breakthrough in missile defence. The reasons are fairly straight-forward.
The kind of rockets Iron Dome can intercept only fly short distances. Lacking any meaningful guidance system, they fly slowly along a low, predictable arc and are relatively easy to track and destroy.
Long-range ballistic missiles, by contrast, leave the atmosphere and re-enter at supersonic speeds. While they also follow a parabolic arc, they can be assisted by decoys, multiple manoeuvrable warheads, and electronic counter-measures – and the difficulty of interception can be increased by the launch of additional missiles.
For these reasons, and despite an impressive 90% success rate, Iron Dome remains a stop-gap measure tailored to the specific circumstances in Israel and of questionable value elsewhere.
Raoul Heinrichs does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.