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December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘History’

History of Israel: Snow in the Summer

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Has it ever snowed in Israel in the summer?

Two people have reported snow in the month of Sivan (late May-early June), though in both cases, it was hearsay.

The first is Rabbi Moshe Basula (Moses ben Mordecai Bassola), who visited the ancient synagogues in Bar’am in the early 1500s and wrote as follows (translation mine):

On the lintel of the smaller entrance it is inscribed in Hebrew “May G-d give peace to this place and to all the places of Israel.” And I was told that on another stone which had fallen down was written “Don’t be surprised about snow in the month of Nissan, we’ve seen it in Sivan.”

The Hebrew inscription is unusual, as most inscriptions in Byzantine synagogues are in Aramaic. The synagogue was researched in the late 19th century, but by 1907 there was nothing left of its stones. The local Arab villagers had destroyed it completely and ransacked it for building materials. The “snow” inscription was never found. The lintel inscription is on display in the Louvre.

The synagogue entrance, circa 1882
The inscription

 

The second to report snow in the summer was Joseph (Yehoseph) Schwarz, the father of Jewish research of the land of Israel. In his book “Tevu’ot ha-Areẓ” (The Bounty of the Land, published in English as well), he says as follows (translation mine):

In 1844 it snowed a bit on the night and morning of April 11 (22 of Nissan) [... Schwarz then goes on to bring various examples of snowy years...]. In 1754 there was a lot of snow and it was very cold, and so 25 people died in the Galilee in Nazareth of the cold, and I heard from an old man that the snow continued that year until the month of Sivan [late May], and there was barely a minyan that year on Shavuot in the synagogue here in Jerusalem, because that night it snowed so much that barely anybody could go out for morning prayers.

Visit The Muqata.

Opportunities and Risks Ahead for Turkey

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington on May 16 comes at a pivotal time when the Middle East is riddled with extraordinary conflicts that have the potential of exploding into a regional war. The time is also ripe for creating a geopolitical realignment that could eventually usher in stability and progress.

Turkey can and in fact should play a constructive role, provided that the Erdogan government takes a hard look at the opportunities that exist to contribute to building a structure of peace and stability. The Erdogan government, however, must also consider the risks entailed should it remain stuck in grandiose old thinking.

The Turkish government managed over the past few years to create the perception that Turkey’s rise has been based on a sound foreign policy doctrine of “zero problems with neighbors” along with solid economic development policies, while continuing social and political reforms consistent with Islamic values.

A close look at the reality, however, suggests a somewhat different picture that raises serious concerns among Turkey’s friends and quiet jubilation among its enemies.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2011 World Report, the government increasingly breaches what it has committed itself to, including unjustified prosecutions for alleged speech crimes, the arbitrary use of terrorism laws, prolonged pretrial detention (especially of journalists and editors), and the systematic intimidation of any individual or party that objects to, or opposes, government policy.

The government also reversed course with the Kurds, carrying out a clampdown on the legal pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), arresting Kurdish notables and intellectuals for links with the PKK, and until recently resuming the old policy of massive retaliations against PKK attacks.

On Turkish foreign policy, if one takes a look at the situation country by country, the picture looks surprisingly different than “zero problems with neighbors.” There is hardly any neighboring country with which Turkey does not have some kind of problem.

Now is the time for Ankara to take some corrective domestic and foreign policy measures consistent with what the country has and continues to aspire for but fails to realize.

As the Turkish Parliament is writing a new constitution, there is no better time to seek political equilibrium and enshrine human rights in all aspects, especially the rights of the Kurds. Now that the PKK has agreed to abandon violent resistance in favor of a negotiated settlement, the government can institutionalize such reforms without losing face.

The Kurds and other minorities should enjoy equal rights to speak their language and live their culture with no reservations or discrimination, which is the essence of democratic governance.

Turkey’s failure to reconcile the hundred-year old dispute over the Armenian genocide continues to poison its relations not only with Armenia but also with the United States, which takes a strong supportive position on the Armenian grievances.

It is time to end the conflict with Armenia as the one hundredth anniversary is near (2014) and is bound to reignite a major controversy within and outside Turkey. Instead of taking such a categorical stance refuting the entire the issue of the Armenian genocide, Turkish leaders should take heed of what both the Old Testament and the Quran preach: “The children should not be held responsible for the sins of their fathers.”

Turkey, in this regard, should express deep regrets about the Armenian genocide during World War I for the tragic events that occurred a century ago. This may not go far enough with the Armenians, but it offers a good beginning that may lead to reconciliation.

The discord with Greece over Cyprus has only worsened with the dispute over gas exploration near Turkish territorial waters. Turkey must find a solution to the Cyprus conflict; not doing so will further strain its relations with Greece. Realpolitik must trump nationalism which can serve national interests; otherwise it will only harden over time and further limit any room for a negotiated settlement.

Although Turkey and Iran enjoy strong trade relations, Ankara still has not made up its mind about Tehran’s ambition to acquire nuclear weapons. Their bilateral relations are strained by Ankara’s decision to host a base for a NATO missile defense system and the conflict over Syria’s future.

Moreover, Turkey must come to terms with the fact that Tehran’s and Ankara’s national interests do not coincide and that the two countries are on a collision course. Syria has become the battleground between Sunnis and Shiites and thus the emerging political order in post-Assad Syria will have a great impact on their overall ambitions.

Capitalism and the Jews

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Is there a connection between capitalism and the Jews, or is this just an anti-Semitic canard? In the second part of this week’s Goldstein on Gelt show, Douglas Goldstein meets Professor Jerry Z. Muller of the Catholic University of America, who answers this question and more when he discusses his new book “Capitalism and the Jews.”

Obama and the Red Line

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Political metaphors may simplify or symbolize actual or anticipated events but take a toll on political responsibility and sincerity. Throughout history, including the “line in the dirt” challenge of Colonel William Travis in March 1836 at the Alamo, lines have been drawn in the sand as indicators of intentions or actions. Individuals since Julius Caesar, who in January 49 B.C. violated the rule that Roman generals were forbidden to bring their troops into the territory of the Roman Empire and invaded with his army from the area of Gaul, have taken decisive action and crossed the Rubicon.

The most recent metaphor in American politics is the “red line,” supposedly a stronger warning than these other metaphors that an action or behavior will not be tolerated. A “line” is more definite and durable than “sand” or the flowing Rubicon, and has an analogy with a geographical line. The present dilemma for President Barack Obama, and to a lesser extent for Hillary Clinton, who in August 2012 similarly spoke of a red line but now is no longer secretary of state, stems from his use of this metaphor on a number occasions regarding Syria.

The problem for Obama is that in August 2012 he unequivocally said the use of chemical weapons by Syria would be a “red line for us…. There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculus, or calculations, significantly.”

Of course one can appreciate, as Obama said to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, that though information has filtered out in Syria, “we have to make sure that we know exactly what happened… I think having the facts before you act is very important.” This was clearly a not very subtle reference to the actions of President George W. Bush in justifying the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 because of the information of supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the country, information that turned out to be inaccurate or not corroborated.

It is understandable that no imminent attack is envisaged or that quick military action against Syria is improbable, or perhaps has never been contemplated by Obama. Yet there are real problems with Obama’s position and lack of action following the rhetoric. First, there is the refusal to admit that the existing facts made known so far justify that action. Although three countries, Britain, France, and Israel, as well as U.S. intelligence agencies, have declared that chemical weapons have been used in Syria on at least two occasions, and Secretary of State John Kerry said they had been used in Aleppo and near Damascus, the Obama administration still maintains that this is insufficient confirmation.

Reservations about Syrian actions were expressed with cautious nonchalance by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on April 25, 2013 when he stated that “The U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria.” Secretary Hagel still had “uncertainties about what was used, what kind of chemicals was used, when it was used, who used it.”

Obama has been even more reserved. The mantra, often repeated concerning Iran, that “all options are on the table,” is now applied to Syria. But Obama’s utterances of the last week suggest otherwise. It has long been clear that Syria has chemical weapons — sarin, mustard gas, and other military-grade agents that attack the respiratory and nervous systems. But a problem regarding Obama’s position is that sarin gas, a nerve agent that can be found in human tissue, dissipates within a short time. Asking for more time to investigate and find evidence thus is less likely to lead to success.

Nevertheless, Obama on April 26, 2013 said he was responding “prudently” and “deliberately” to evidence that Syria had used chemical weapons. Using language — “prudence” and “deliberate assessment” — more like that of Edmund Burke than of a liberal Democrat, Obama was seeking further proof of culpability for the chemical attacks. In view of the refusal of the Syrian government to allow United Nations inspectors or the head of the U.N. agency for disarmament into the country, a refusal backed by Russia, it is difficult to see how the indisputable proof can be found. In his conversation with the King of Jordan on April 26, the president spoke of the need to obtain more direct evidence and confirmation of this “potential” use of chemical weapons.

Decentralized Jihad

Monday, April 29th, 2013

If you gain mastery over them in battle, inflict such a defeat as would terrorize them, so that they would learn a lesson and be warned. — Qur’an 8:57

Allah made the Jews leave their homes by terrorizing them so that you killed some and made many captive. And He made you inherit their lands, their homes, and their wealth. He gave you a country you had not traversed before. — Qur’an 33:26

It’s been said that the Cold War was a conflict of civilizations, between opposing ideological views of the world. But it can also be seen as a simple geopolitical struggle between blocs. From the end of WWII until the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was common to find local disputes turned into proxy wars by the opposing powers.

There were also conflicts that were primarily instigated by the powers, as they tried to find an advantage in the struggle to protect or extend their spheres of influence. While there were exceptions, I think it is correct to say that there was a degree of centralized control, or at least strong influence, over much of the mischief in the world, and it was located in Moscow (or, if you prefer, Washington — my point is the same).

Today we are in the midst of a real conflict of civilizations, one which has been under way for much longer than the duration of the Cold War. It has gone up and down in intensity, sometimes remaining on simmer for hundreds of years, sometimes erupting into large-scale conflict, taking the form of traditional war, economic struggle, demographic competition, or all of those.

Unlike the cold war, this war is not directed from the capitals of the great powers. And unlike the cold war, in which ideology was wielded as a tool of the combatants, this war is in essence a war between ideologies. And at least on one side, it has become a truly grass-roots struggle.

Of course I am talking about the religion-ideology of Islam, whose endeavor to overpower the West has been going on for hundreds of years.

And not just the West. Most people are familiar with the rapid Muslim conquest of the Middle East and North Africa, and Islam’s advance into Europe until it was stopped at Tours in 732, but not the conquest of India which primarily took place during the 12th century, with Muslim rule dominating until the 1700′s.  Indonesia, today the most populous Muslim nation in the world probably obtained its Muslim majority around 1600, with Islam gradually driving out minority Christian, Hindu and animist beliefs since then. In Africa, Islam moved southward and inland from the coasts, more or less continuously until the present day, when bloody fighting continues.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that one of the most important “commandments” of Muslim doctrine is to spread Islam throughout the world, by any means necessary. To do Jihad.

The struggle with the West was on hold for several centuries, as the Christian nations of Europe made comparatively rapid scientific, technological and economic progress, in some cases actually turning history (and Islamic doctrine) on its head by colonizing or at least controlling Muslim lands. Militarily, it was no contest, with traditional Muslim fighters on horseback facing machine guns, tanks and air forces.

But something has changed. Europe has to a great extent abandoned its Christian faith and even seems to have abandoned its desire to reproduce, with birth rates below the replacement level. It has no stomach for warfare, or even to confront small-scale attrition by terrorism and ‘crime’ by Muslim immigrants (whose birthrate is much higher than that of the natives). The question is not ‘will Europe fall?’ but when it will happen.

Why did I mention Christianity? Because when individuals believe that the world ends with their own death, why should they care about the future of their culture as a whole? This is why religious belief is critical to cultural survival. Worse, what replaced Christianity is a secular humanism which is hostile to nationalism or peoplehood. What does a European have to fight for?

Muslims have learned to use modern weapons, and in places where the terrain and home field advantage is favorable enough, have managed to hold off Western armies, if not defeat them. The crown jewel of Western military technology, the nuclear bomb, is now in Muslim hands, although it is yet to be used. And the degree of commitment to Islam and Islamic ideology is growing and deepening among Muslims everywhere, thanks in part to modern technology.

Islam’s Jew-Hating Hadith in Context

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Saudi cleric Muhammad Al-Arifi made the following “observations” which aired on Palestinian Arab Al-Aqsa TV, September 12, 2008:

Studies conducted in Tel Aviv and in the Palestinian lands occupied by the Jews showed that they plant trees around their homes, because the Prophet Muhammad said that when the Muslims fight the Jews, each and every stone and tree will say: “Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” The only exception is the gharqad tree, which is one of the trees of the Jews, and if they hide behind it, it will not reveal their presence. According to reports of people who went there and saw it with their own eyes, man Jews plant gharqad trees around their homes, so that when the fighting begins, they can hide behind them. They are not man enough to stand and fight you.

Muslim Waffen SS soldiers reading a pamphlet by the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj-Amin el-Husseini.

Muslim Waffen SS soldiers reading a pamphlet by the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj-Amin el-Husseini. From Jennie Lebel’s 2007 biography of the Mufti.

These Jew-hating motifs were reiterated by Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowments Talat Afifi, during an interview shown on Sada Al-Balad TV, March 14, 2013. In response to an interviewer’s query about visiting Israel with “only with a Palestinian visa,” Afifi replied,

This is premature. Let’s wait until it happens. However, we hope that the words of the Prophet Muhammad will be fulfilled: “Judgment Day will not come before the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews will hide behind the rocks and the trees, but the rocks and the trees will say: Oh Muslim , oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him – except for the gharqad tree, which is one of the trees of the Jews.” We fully believe that the future of this land lies with Islam and the Muslims.

While such hatemongering statements appear utterly bizarre to Jews devoid of any understanding of Islam’s foundational texts, and notwithstanding Sinem Tezyapar’s attempt to negate this reality in The Jewish Press, Egyptian cleric Ali Afifi, and earlier, Saudi cleric Al-Arifi’s inflammatory references to Jews, have sacralized origins immediately apparent to Muslim audiences. The crux of their remarks, in fact, merely reiterate verbatim, a canonical hadith, specifically Sahih Muslim, Book 41, Number 6985, which is also featured prominently in the Hamas Covenant, article 7.

Briefly (see 1, 2, 3, 4 for an in depth 4-part discussion), what are the hadith, and which specific antisemitic motifs do they contain? Hadith, which means “story” (“narrative”), refers to any report of what the Muslim prophet Muhammad said or did, or his tacit assent to something said or done in his presence. (Hadith is also used as the technical term for the “science” of such “traditions”). As a result of a lengthy process which continued for centuries after Muhammad’s death (in 632), the hadith emerged for Muslims as second in authority to the Koran itself. Sunna, which means “path” refers to a normative custom of Muhammad or of the early Islamic community. The hadith “justify and confirm” the Sunna. Henri Lammens, a seminal early 20th century scholar of Islam, highlighted the importance of the Sunna (and, by extension, the hadith):

As early as the first century A.H. [the 7th century] the following aphorism was pronounced: “The Sunna can dispense with the Koran but not the Koran with the Sunna.” Proceeding to still further lengths, some Muslims assert that “in controversial matters, the Sunna overrules the authority of the Koran, but not vice versa”…all admit the Sunna completes and explains it [the Koran].

The hadith compiled by al-Bukhari (d. 870) and Muslim b. al-Hajjaj (d. 875) are considered, respectively, to be the most important authoritative collections. The titles Sahih (“sound”) or Jami, indicating their comprehensiveness, signify the high esteem in which they are held. Their comprehensive content includes information regarding religious duties, law and everyday practice (down to the most mundane, or intimate details), in addition to a considerable amount of biographical and other material. Four other compilations, called Sunan works, which indicates that they are limited to matters of religious and social practice, and law, also became authoritative. Abu Dawud (d. 888), al-Tirmidhi (d. 892), Ibn Maja (d. 896), and al-Nasi (d. 915) compiled these works. By the beginning of the 12th century, Ibn Maja’s collection became the last of these compilations of hadith to be recognized as “canonical.”

Moses’ Gift: Natural Gas in the Mediterranean

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Golda Meir once quipped that Moses could have done the Jewish people a better service. “He took us 40 years through the desert,” she said, “to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.”

Today, Golda Meir’s quip has lost its punch. Last week, natural gas began flowing out of the Tamar gas field, discovered off the coast of Israel in January 2009. Tamar and Leviathan, its neighboring gas field, discovered in June 2010, are among the world’s largest recent offshore natural gas discoveries. The Israeli companies controlling the fields are even considering exporting gas to neighboring countries.

Geologists assume that commercial oil reserves may lie beneath the gas find. Some analysts say that the Tamar and Leviathan fields might change Israel’s position in the geopolitical and energy world. But not just Israel’s.

The Israeli fields are adjacent to the Aphrodite gas field, discovered in December 2011, which lies in Cypriot territorial waters, less than 25 miles west of Leviathan. The government in Nicosia expects that the result of offshore drillings will confirm later this year that the island is sitting on vast amounts of natural gas worth billions of dollars. The recent banking crisis in Cyprus –the latest episode in the saga of the collapsing euro – came too early for the country to benefit from its future natural gas wealth. It is, however, indicative that Cyprus turned down the European Union’s demands that the gas reserves be used as collateral for the loans which the E.U. has just extended to Cyprus.

Brussels had demanded that a fund be created in which it was given a direct say over the revenues from Cypriot gas reserves, but Nicosia refused to do so. The Cypriots feel betrayed by the E.U. Hence, they are not inclined to let Europe share in the future wealth which they hope to derive from gas. Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, said that Cyprus had no other choice than give in to the harsh demand of Brussels that it dismantle its banking sector. He, however, promised that savers who lost money in the Cypriotic banks would be compensated by being given shares in banks guaranteed by the future natural gas revenues.

Today, Cyprus is paying a very heavy price for its membership of the E.U.’s common currency, the euro. When by 2019 the gas proceeds are expected to start flowing, the tables will be turned. Then Cyprus will be in a position to leave the euro without facing the prospect of national bankruptcy.

To begin extracting the gas from the Aphrodite field by 2019, however, the virtually bankrupt Cypriot government will in the coming years need to make enormous investments. The Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, seems keen to get involved. So far, however, the Cypriots have kept the Russians at bay.

Europe is already to a large extent dependent on Russian gas, supplied by Gazprom, a company controlled by the Russian oligarchy around President Putin. A quarter of Europe’s of Europe’s entire gas consumption comes from Gazprom. As a new player in the market of gas exporters, Cyprus could reduce the European dependency on Russian gas.

What applies to Cyprus, obviously, applies to Israel as well. It, too, could use its gas exports to a political end. Bat Ye’or has argued that the pro-Palestinian positions of the European governments since the 1970s were to a large extent the result of Europe’s dependency on Arab oil. Israel has a unique chance of also using the Cypriot gas to its own geostrategic benefit. The Cypriot gas fields are located halfway between the Cypriot and Israeli coast. Israel, Cyprus and Greece are already collaborating in the EuroAsia Interconnector project, which is an undersea power cable linking Israel with Cyprus and Cyprus with Greece. A gas pipeline following the same route would balance the current pipeline on the Baltic seabed linking Russia with Germany.

Another opportunity for Israel might be the fact that some international gas companies are reluctant to get involved in the exploitation of Cypriot gas fields because they also operate in Turkey and do not want to upset the Turkish authorities who oppose the Cypriot gas extraction. Though the Aphrodite gas field lies in waters across Southern Cyprus, Turkey is demanding that all gas revenues be shared with Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/moses-gift-natural-gas-in-the-mediterranean/2013/04/14/

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