Israel is taking its role in the global village very seriously lately. While
what was once known as “the civilized world” condemned North Korea and
sympathized with the South for the shocking missile attack on Yeonpyeong Island
on November 23, Israel could actually empathize with the victims. As decent
people everywhere mutter, “Imagine how terrible it must be,” Israelis actually
know what it’s like to have hundreds of lethal missiles landing literally out of
the blue, indiscriminately hitting both soldiers and ordinary people going about
their ordinary lives.
We don’t know yet what it’s like when those
missiles are sent from a rogue nuclear state. But it doesn’t take much
imagination to predict our situation once North Korea’s ally, Iran, achieves
atomic weapons. The West should take this into account.
Iran is watching
the response of the rest of the world to North Korea, and North Korea is waiting
to see how the winds blow concerning Iran’s nuclear plans.
There is, of
course, one essential difference when it comes to Israel and the Korean
situation. Israel both suffers the missiles, like the South, and is increasingly
condemned as a pariah state, like the North.
In our own way, we also
displayed an affinity for Switzerland last week.
After decades of
discussions of various versions, the Knesset finally passed the National
Referendum Law setting out certain conditions and procedures for a plebiscite.
None of these conditions included the possibility of banning mosques from having
minarets. That’s something only the Swiss can get away with. In Israel’s case,
the law refers to the need for peace agreements based on ceding territory –
namely any part of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – to be passed by a special
majority in the Knesset and a public referendum.
The Swiss, whose country
might run like clockwork, don’t seem to be the most imaginative of nations when
it comes to the realities of the Mideast. Somewhere in cloud-cuckoo- clock-land,
indeed, there are people still making a lot of money out of deals with Iran.
However, it’s hard to imagine them willingly ceding slices of territory to any
of their neighbors – even if they haven’t been at war since 1815.
their peace and tranquility, I envy them. Several years ago, at the height of
the intifada, as I stood chatting to a Swiss visitor outside Jerusalem’s YMCA,
we noticed an unattended bag by the entrance. Our different responses
demonstrate the different realities in which we live.
“Oh,” sighed the
Swiss woman, “some poor kid has forgotten his school bag.”
it!” I yelled. “I’ll alert security while you stop people from coming too
When it comes to security, I prefer to be a disappointed
pessimist than a disappointed optimist.
Our experience in this area –
especially as terrorism and missile attacks usually increase during peace talks
or whenever a neighbor needs to divert attention – is incorporated in our
In North Korea, one likely motive for the attack is the
passing of the leadership from father Kim Jong Il to son Kim Jong Un. Similarly,
Hizbullah to our north could easily throw a few missiles or more at us to
distract the world from the findings of the UN tribunal into the assassination
of Lebanon’s ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri; his son, Saad, is the current
Israel’s situation also means that we could understand the
red-hot security alert that swept much of Europe last week when Germany and the
Netherlands arrested at least 10 people on suspicion of planning an Islamist
attack in Belgium.
On a different note, we had a sex scandal that would
titillate Italian President Silvio Berlusconi. I don’t want to go into the
Suffice to say, only police Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev and however
many women were involved at any one time really know what went on behind closed
doors. Like former president Moshe Katsav, whose trial for sexual offenses seems
to be dragging on so long one wonders if we might not have a peace agreement, or
at least a plebiscite, before it finally draws to a close, Bar-Lev is meant to
be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Like former minister Haim
Ramon, found guilty of forcibly French-kissing a female soldier on the very day
that the Second Lebanon War broke out, it might be reasonable to think that
Bar-Lev would nonetheless have other things on his mind.
We can’t rival
the UK over its royal wedding – we can only send a hearty “mazal tov!” There has
been, however, much speculation in the local press recently over whether
supermodel Bar Refaeli is going to tie the knot with Hollywood superstar
And we’re still discussing the weather like seasoned
Brits, with, as I pointed out on these pages last week, the notable difference
that Israelis are complaining of the lack of rain.
Forget about a white
Christmas; a showery Hanukka would do us fine.
For, yes, while we were
busy warily watching everything that was going on in the world, the Festival of
Lights crept up on us.
It’s one of those holidays celebrated by Jews
everywhere, but only really felt in Israel, where candles burn in windows of
both religious and secular homes. The same commercialism exists, but instead of
Christmas shows, children are being enticed to the Festigal – an entire genre of
overpriced song-and-dance extravaganzas; museums are running Maccabeebased
activities; and every shopping mall is selling doughnuts, dreidels, holiday
gifts and massive doses of festive spirit.
But not so far from the real
Bethlehem, history is not so much being rewritten as replaced by a
This holiday, Jerusalem is being repackaged by some
Palestinians for their own consumption.
As The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled
Abu Toameh reported, an official paper published on November 22 by the
Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information in Ramallah claims that the
Western Wall belongs to Muslims and is an integral part of Al-Aksa Mosque and
“Haram al-Sharif” (a.k.a.
the Temple Mount). The paper, presented as a
“study,” was prepared by Al-Mutawakel Taha, a senior PA official who seems to
have drawn on his considerable skills and powerful imagination as a renowned
poet and writer. Calling the Kotel by its Arabic name, Al-Buraq Wall, he claimed
– despite all evidence to the contrary – that the Jews had never even used the
site for worship until the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
People like Taha
probably find the Hanukka celebrations particularly difficult to accept with
good grace. The fact that we Jews still commemorate the rededication of the
Second Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt of the second century BCE
suggests that we’re not likely to suddenly give up on Jerusalem now.
might be hard to understand the depth of that emotion in places like
Switzerland, but there is no doubt that were it to come to the vote in a
national referendum, the majority of the public would opt in favor of keeping
the Kotel and changing the government. That’s part of the Hanukka spirit, after