Friday, 30 January 2009


The Israeli Government can be astonishingly arrogant when it comes to security related matters, and particularly in connection with its treatment of journalists.

As far as I can tell, the general approach seems to be that

(1) They are a bunch of lying bastards;
(2) But we are going to present to them OUR side of the story, because it is the only side worth showing - however, we are either going to control what is disseminated, or be as obstructive as possible;
(3)and when they don't publish precisely what we want, we'll go into a sulk again and accuse them of being biased/one-sided/not getting the 'whole' story.

Journalism, from top to bottom, is a subjective enterprise, and it is inevitable that reportage is infused with personal opinion. Nonetheless, full unhindered access to the facts as they are is important: if one has nothing to hide, then there is no reason to be obstructive. The reporter who is selective with the truth, or unable to distinguish between opinion and fact will always be found out by the intelligent reader. (I think. Perhaps I'm being delusional. I haven't had my morning coffee.)

I say this whilst thinking about the Israeli government's decision not to let reporters into Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Spectacular own goal. Created a story in itself, opened up all sorts of speculation. Perhaps served a purpose in the very short term, but became counter productive once the foreign new outlets found ways around it - Gazan journalists, citizen journalism on the ground, and so on. Modern communications being what they are, it is impossible to suppress information for very long, if there are people interested i disseminating said information

Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based international news network, was one outlet who quickly found a way around this

(Slight digression - friends are always surprised when I tell them that Al-Jazeera has a bureau in Jerusalem, and reports freely - as freely as any other news network or broadcast outlet, that is - from Israel. Perhaps one is sometimes a little too harsh about freedom of the press in Israel. Perhaps not.)

...where was I? Ah, yeah, Al-Jazeera. They had people on the ground, and were able to report pretty constantly during the operation. No idea whether they are *biased* or not, since I don't receive the network on my cable TV subscription. But, either way, they provided imagery - some quite harrowing, disturbing - whilst the nincompoops elsewhere congratulated themselves for pissing off the foreign press corps in Israel

(another digression - I found out yesterday that there are 470 accredited foreign correspondents operating out of Jerusalem. This is incredible. What the fuck is the story here?

[yes, I know, I'm being slightly fatuous. But I still wonder why Israel and Palestine, grand population total approximately 11 million, attracts vastly more attention than, for example, the *Democratic* Republic of Congo, population 62 million, with more than 5 million deaths during the internecine wars that have plagued the country since the 1960s; or Sri Lanka, population 20 million, with a vast number of deaths and 'disappearances' a consequence of the long lasting civil war with the Tamils; or any other number of conflicts scattered across the globe. I don't pretend to have any answers at all to this. If you have any insight, do let me know]

... 470 foreign correspondents in Israel. Not counting stringers, local journalists who work freelance with foreign outlets, and so on. There are fewer accredited foreign correspondents in the United Kingdom, for fuck's sake)

...OK, enough on the digressions. Al Jazeera have now made available, under a Creative Commons licence, most of the footage shot in Gaza during Cast Lead. In practice, this means that anyone - me, for instance - can take this footage and distribute it, subtitle it, remix it and do pretty much as I please with it, so long as I credit Al Jazeera as the originating source. You can find it, if you want to have a look at it (and, incidentally, I think that everyone should - regardless of the rights or wrongs of Cast Lead, it is critically important that the population of Israel understands precisely what is being done in their name, then to decide if they are comfortable with it - ignorance is NOT bliss) here.

And in the meantime, the military/political establishment is still patting itself on the back for *controlling* the media, and will fall back on the old canard of bias and so on when these start to pop up here, there and everywhere - some use responsible, some not.

God, what a ramble. Sorry! Shabbat Shalom...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Energy Independence

From Hasbara website Israel 21c:

Natural gas find could transform Israel's economy

Israel could be one step closed to energy independence after the discovery of "extremely significant" natural gas reserves at an offshore drilling site

By Karin Kloosterman - Israel 21c

Extremely significant natural gas reserves found at offshore drilling site
Drilling for the gas will not be easy: the sea floor at the site is located more than a mile underwater, and the wells are covered by a mile of salt. (Photo courtesy Israel 21c)

Israel could be one step closed to energy independence after drilling companies announced the discovery of "extremely significant" natural gas reserves at an offshore drilling site in the Mediterranean about 60 miles off the coast of Haifa, Israel.

One massive pocket of natural gas is expected to contain more than three trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to feed Israel's energy needs for 15 years, lessening its dependence on foreign fuel. This is the largest natural gas reserve discovered in Israel, with an estimated value of $15 billion. It is three times larger than an existing drill site on Israel's southern coast, which is expected to be depleted in five years. Israel's National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called the discovery an "historic moment" for Israel.



Delek Drilling's PR representative Shaya Segal told ISRAEL21c that it will take some time to understand the impact of the find: "First of all we don't have the full information," he says. "We just know there are great quantities there. In about two and a half weeks, after more tests are concluded, we will know more exactly what is there."



But before the champagne corks are popped, analysts caution that further investigations at the Tamar site be made. They are also insisting that while the natural gas find will boost the country's economy for some years, Israel's future remains in high tech, not energy.

Dan Halman, the CEO of Halman-Aldubi Group, a mutual funds firm in Israel told The Jerusalem Post: "If the Tamar site opposite the Haifa coast succeeds in producing the significant quantities of natural gas predicted, we are talking about a revolution which will have an impact on the Israeli economy for the coming generations."

Personally, I would rather a gradual transition, as far as is possible/reasonable, to the use of non fossil fuel-based energy sources; but beggars can't be choosers, can they? Pretty much every one who has come to visit me in Israel has been surprised/impressed by the extent to which solar power is harnessed here (and the funny thing is that it isn't even as much as it could be - it is just that the rest of the world is so derelict in harnessing this source).

I mentioned the find to an extremely cynical, 'pragmatic' (i.e. in favour of 'territorial expansion' on security grounds) acquaintance a few days ago. Said friend snorted. "So, I wonder how long it will be before the Lebanese start to lay claims to the site?"

My acquaintance is wrong, I think. I hope. But this part of the world is pretty crazy, AND the Lebanese were making odd noises about their proprietorial rights to Humus a little while ago, so who knows?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Murakami in Jerusalem

Haruki Murakami, one of my all time favourite novelists, has been awarded the Jerusalem Prize, to be presented during the city's International Book Fair next month. According to the website for the Book Fair, the prize is traditionally awarded to "authors whose writings have expressed the ideal of the individual's freedom in society". Which sounds like a fair fit for much of Murakami's work.

Murakami, an intensely private person - he actually left Japan to live in the United States for a while in the 1980s, horrified by the success of his bestseller Norweigien Wood - has been known to skip award ceremonies in the past, but has apparently indicated that he will be turning up for this one. Which is nice. I'm a bit of a groupie when it comes to famous writers, and I think I'm going to see whose arms need to be twisted so I can get a ticket for the event...

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The BBC and the Gaza Appeal

The Beeb are getting a bit of a kicking at the moment (again? Good Lord, Groundhog Day!) because they've refused to screen an appeal put together by (I think - can't be bothered checking) 23 aid agencies, contributing to the humanitarian work in Gaza. Their argument is that screening it 'would risk reducing public confidence in its impartial coverage of the conflict'.

Ignoring the fact that they've been shafted somewhat with this one - the main (commercial) terrestrial television channels and Sky initially took the same stance, before backing away swiftly at the first hint of trouble - it seems like a typically BBC mess, borne out of the fact that they try so hard to be all things to all people.

To explain: The BBC uses the word 'objective' to describe its news coverage a lot of the time. Objective, when it comes to journalism, is preposterous. It suggests that the reporters do not have, and are incapable of having, any opinion on the matters which they report on, but merely present the facts as they are.

Even if this were possible - and I'm not going to bother spelling out the subjectivity that comes from the personal interpretation - the thing is that the BBC editorialises all the time, providing commentary and opinion dressed up as fact. You watch a news bulletin - any one - and tell me if I'm wrong.

(Of course, they are not alone in this - fairly much every newspaper in the United Kingdom cheerfully blur the lines between commentary, opinion and fact at every opportunity. But then, they are commercial [not that this makes it any better, but it is an excuse] and the BBC are not)

But this is neither here nor there. It is fun to stick one up the BBC for all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons, and they are really getting it now. I wonder if they'll back down?

Who should I vote for?

No one, actually, since I don't have permanent residency and thus cannot vote in national elections.

Not that this matters. What passes for democracy in these parts is, frankly, fascinating, and I'll be paying more attention than is healthy to the electoral process here over the next couple of weeks.

A friend sent me this link this morning - I cannot recommend it too highly. Essentially, you answer a number of questions, and based on the political parties' public stances on the issues, it calculates whom you should vote for.

Apparently, I'm (or would be) Labour. Which was a bit of a shock. There I was, thinking that Israel Beiteinu was my natural home...

A couple of questions are loaded - for example, 'do you think child allowances should be reduced?', which takes on another meaning altogether if you are secular and/or anti-religious: anti Shas, in short.

But never mind. that's what democracy is all about - sometimes you get into bed with strange bedfellows.

Try it out. I strongly recommend it - you may get a surprise.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

David Grossman

(Technical incompetence on my part. Please click to read)

Friday, 16 January 2009

A few thoughts

...following a argument last night:

"Humanitarian War" - The worst kind of hypocritical cant imaginable. An oxymoron of unbelievable proportions. Either the IDF had a reasonable idea of the consequences of the current operation and decided to proceed nonetheless, or it didn't and has thus proven itself incapable beyond belief.

"Deterrence" - An ugly word. In effect, it means, "this is what will happen to you if I catch you doing this again." It is a warning. A marker. A line drawn in the sand. To put it in personal context: I was beaten many times when I was at school, by housemasters, teachers and once, to my shame, by my principal. Each beating, for misdemeanours great and small, was intended as a "deterrence"; to dissuade me from following such a course of action again. In fact, it merely meant that I found new ways of being naughty. (The fact that I was caught again and beaten, repeatedly suggests that I was not particular inspiried in this path. Fair point.)
In connection to the current crisis: "Detrrence was a word the IDF used during Operation Grpaes of Wrath, the invasion of Lebanon, in 1982. The consequence was Hizbollah. The enemy merely becomes more resourceful, and I fear that will be the lasting consequence of Operation Cast Lead

Pacifist - On being challenged when I called myself a pacifist: Probably unfortunately, I am a bit of a realist and I recognise that wars will happen regardless of what people like me think. But I like to believe that there is almost always an alternative to gros violence, premeditated or not. I was told that since I claim no nationality, it is easy for me to take this position. That is correct. But then, perhaps it also means that I can (sometimes) avoid blind partisanship, which is what has dominated much debate over the last three weeks

Solidarity - Often an empty meaningless word, except if backed up with concrete actions. It costs nothing to go on a march and express one's solidarity with the people of Gaza, or to express solidarity with the armed resistance. Especially if one ain't the one doing the resisting. One can even safely avoid engaging with the complexities of the issue, merely by expressing one's 'solidarity'. Expressing solidarity does wonders for salving one's personal conscience, but not much else besides
(note - this writer is guilty of expressing solidarity, loudly and repeatedly, over the years. Often in completely contradictory fashion. He will probably do so again in the future.)

Sderot (and now Omer, Rafat and so on) - Won't live there, for love or for money. Even with bomb shelters, code red alarms and so on. Even basic, poorly constructed rockets (and these are just the ones from China). Why should I? Random rocket fire does not fall into my definition of 'acceptable risk'

"Disproportionate" - Weasel word, and one that suggests that there is a "proportionate" response. About six months ago, one of the crazies that pops up in Israeli politics from time to time suggested an automated rocket system in Sderot that fired a missile whenever one came in from over the fence in Gaza. In the light of the last few weeks, suddenly it no longer seems quite so "disproportionate" (note - I am NOT advocating this, or indeed any course of action. Please see "Answers", below.) The word "disproportionate" is used most often by those whom we expect to have answers to the foetid cesspit that is the relationship between Israel, Palestine and the military and political entities that serve their collective people so badly. I'm thinking of the UN, the EU and so on.

Hamas - Indubitably enemies of the Palestinian people. It is pretty easy to sacrifice others for one's cause, isn't it?

Journalists - There are more journalists per square metre in Israel than in any other place on earth. Tend to get on each others toes in search of the story, and get a bit distracted as a result. No other explanation for some of the bollocks I've read in the last few weeks, not even intelligent enough to be classed as partisan. Just deeply, deeply stupid

Peace - Not in my lifetime. I think there is an understandable, but misplaced enthusiasm for coercing resistant Palestinians and Israelis to love one another. Far better to accept that the hatreds run deep, and try to ensure that the next generation have less to fight over

Answers? - Don't be daft. I'm a blogger, and that's the beauty of blogging. Blogging - especially anonymous blogging - means never having to take responsibility for anything one says.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

  1. One life lost is too many. It doesn't matter if the life is male, female, adult, infant, Palestinian, Israeli. One life lost is one too many. I wish people would stop keeping a scorecard, as if it makes a fucking difference.
  2. If I never hear the words 'deterrence' or 'resistance' again in my life, it will not be too soon.
  3. On the basis of current events, I assume that the Israeli Military establishment does not particularly care about the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza. I also assume that the Hamas establishment doesn't, either.
  4. I don't know why I bother with this. I don't know why anyone at all bothers with this. Even if I could articulate my thoughts clearly, lucidly and coherently - and I can't - they won't, to misappropriate a cliché, be worth much more than a bucket of warm spit. Or make much more difference than someone pissing in a thunderstorm.
  5. I hope it ends soon. I really do. I don't even care about who is right and who is wrong any more. I just want it all to end.