Let the Electioneering Begin

It’s always good to escape Israel for a couple weeks – to clear one’s the head from the barrage of security concerns and political manoeuvring that dominates the Israeli news cycle. Thus I escaped to northern Europe for a couple of weeks, forcing myself to avoid all possible contact with Israeli news websites or my over-bloated Twitter feed (a battlefield of leftist/rightist hyperbole).

Back ‘home’ the first Israeli newspapers I stumbled across were covered with the news that we will be having early elections – presumably late January.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to call for early election was hardly unexpected. The nature of Israeli politics with its broad (and historically shaky) coalition governments means that it is rare that any government lasts its scheduled term. Now we can ‘look forward’ to three months of electioneering and intense political horse-trading as parties position themselves accordingly – with the prospect of yet another hodgepodge coalition government a given.

The main players in Israel’s elections

It’s hard to be enthused by this election, which is undoubtedly going to be dominated by the Iran, with Benjamin Netanyahu likely to cast the election as referendum on his plan to deal with Iran militarily in the coming year. I am curious to see to what extent the Israeli-Palestinian issue or the increased cost of living in Israel will be debated, and what solutions, if any, the various parties will offer on these issues. Though I am definitely not getting my hopes up.

I will try my best to keep you posted…

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Posted by on October 13, 2012 in Domestic Israeli News


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The Newly Restored Montefiore Windmill

The Newly Restored Montefiore Windmill

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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Uncategorized



Radical Settler Terrorism

Radical Settler Terrorism

In a week which marks the return to school for Israeli children, three 12-13 year olds stood accused in an Israeli courtroom, their pixellated faces appearing on the front of this morning’s national papers. Their crime, the firebombing of a Palestinian taxi in the West Bank – an incident that left six Palestinians injured. Their friends joined them in the court, interrupting proceedings with signs of support shouting “Be strong,” and “We’ll blow them apart.”

This attack is the latest in growing trend of violent attacks by radical Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Today I catched a podcast from the Council on Foreign Relations titled, “Radical Settler Terrorism”, which ties in with an article published in this month’s Foreign Affairs by Daniel Byman and Natan Sachs, “The Rise of Settler Terrorism: The West Bank’s Others Violent Extremist” – both worth the listen/read.

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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


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The Ultra-Orthodox and National Service

Israel’s Jewish ultra-Orthodox community is up in arms as government plans to extend mandatory national military take shape.

Sign stating that the enlistment of the ultra-orthodox into the Israeli national service (civil or military) will NOT happen – Mea Shearim, Jerusalem.

It’s hard to think of an experience more surreal than wandering through the bustling streets and alleyways of Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods. It’s not only a step back in time, but entering a world so entirely detached from the rest of Israeli society.

On a recent trip through the neighbourhood I came across this large protest sign denouncing the government’s attempts to introduce new legislation forcing ultra-orthodox men into national service.

One of the ways this community remains so detached from the rest of Israel is the current and long-standing exemption young ultra-orthodox men and women receive from the mandatory national military service (two years for women, three years for men), a cornerstone of Israeli society. Whilst all other young Israeli men and women are enlisted to serve in the Israeli Defence Force, ultra-orthodox men are free to enter religious schools (known as yeshivas) where they pursue a life studying the bible, forever removed from the realities of modern-day Israel.

Needless to say the ultra-orthodox, often vocal against government attempts to interfere in their religious way of life, are likely to put up quite a fight. As one of the community’s leading rabbis bluntly put it, “We must give our lives against the drafting of yeshiva students [to the army]. In an issue that belongs to the heart of Israel, there are no compromises.” (Thousands of ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem against Tal Law replacement, Haaretz, 25/06/2012).

Ultra-Orthodox protest against Haredi enlistment in the IDF, Jerusalem, June 25, 2012.

Ultra-Orthodox protest against Haredi enlistment in the IDF, Jerusalem, June 25, 2012. Photo by Shiran Granot (Haartez)

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Jerusalem, Jewish Life


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Christmastime in the Holy Land.

Spending so many years abroad I have gotten used to alternative Christmases. Spending it in Israel is particularly interesting.

Although a lot people in Israel do celebrate Christmas – mainly Arab-Christians, Russian immigrants and other overseas migrants – the majority of Israelis do not celebrate Christmas. Generally in across Israel Christmas can pass you by without a Christmas tree or a Santa Claus in sight or hearing a ‘festive’ tune over the radio.

This is to expected as 92% of the population is either Jewish (76%) or Muslim (12%). But with Bethlehem, the focal point of Christmas celebrations, just down the road it is still perplexing how little attention Christmas celebration receives, at least in the parts of Israel I find myself in.

Honestly, I’m fine missing out on Christmas every once in a while. If nothing else it makes it all the more special when I do get to celebrate it a home – seemingly every four years now á la the Summer Olympics. As with previous years we happily make do with our small plastic Christmas tree, a few presents flown in from Denmark, and online access to an endless array of Christmas songs. And as in previous years Christmas Eve is topped off by attending midnight mass at the St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church.

Our Modest Christmas Tree

Initially it had been my plan to visit Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. I have been their once before in the days leading up to Christmas but never on the actual evening itself. But as Christmas Eve closed in, the temperature dropped and the heavens opened (lashing much-needed rain over the Judean Hills) I think I might have made the right choice…

Of course visiting Bethlehem, for all it’s allure, especially around Christmas retains very little of the idyllic biblical imagery we probably can all remember from our religious lessons and nativity plays. Once a small village surrounded by open pasture, modern-day Bethlehem is now a concrete city surrounded by the trappings of modern-day occupation and  security paranoia: 8 meter high concrete walls, barbed wire, observation posts, automated sensing devices and military check points. Bethlehem anno 2011 feels nothing like the city of hope and peace eulogized in countless Christmas carols and hymns.

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Back inside the warming confines of St.Andrew’s church the Scottish Minister tip-toed diplomatically around this contradiction. Half the congregation consisted of Jewish Israelis attending the service out of curiosity. So this was probably not the time or place to moralize one way or the other. Instead, and carefully introduced between hymns, the messages of hope and peace associated with Christmas were juxtaposed with the reality that makes Bethlehem nowadays just as well-known as a symbol of injustice and violence in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it is for its role in Christianity. He talked of the shared value of peace among people in the Holy Land, but how the definition of peace naturally varies between the powerful and the powerless. Whereas the powerful define peace by the simple absence of disquiet, the powerless define peace in realization of justice. So while the (powerful) Israelis enjoy a relative level of peace unprecedented in recent decades, the (powerless) Palestinians still live without the peace, justice and statehood they deserve.

It all adds up to a dangerous status quo that cannot and should not last… Who knows what 2012 will bring.


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Celebrating Chanukah

This year the Jewish ‘Festival of Light’, Chanukah, coincides conveniently with Christmas, running from 20th Dec to 27th Dec.

A week of doughnut eating and colourful candle lighting. Also the time to dig-out some of my favourite Chanukah related songs (thankfully not as prolific and omnipresent as Christmas songs)

Here is just one taster…

And here’s a photo of last’s year chanukiah.

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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Life in Israel


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Banging Your Head Against ‘The Wall’

Banging Your Head Against ‘The Wall’

This Wednesday morning I found myself on the Palestinian side of the Qalandiya check-point staring out across a section of Israeli-West Bank separation barrier. I know relatively very little of the Palestinian West Bank but I am sure that there are few places as bleak and depressing – especially on an uncharacteristically dark, grey and cold winter’s afternoon. It’s at moments like this where you can’t help but feel disheartened that all attempts to change the status quo and the occupation have been seemingly futile and ineffective. Where to go from here…?

Thankfully the rest of the day in nearby Ramallah was more uplifting as we spent the morning finalising the work plan of a € 220,000 Palestinian business project (improving export capacities) with PalTrade, the Palestinian Trade Center. It might not change the situation much, but at least it’s something…

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