Matters of Identity: The Wall, Women and a Cause for Wailing

Posted on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 @ 11:01 PM


wailing wall

For some time now challenges have been directed at the ultra-Orthodox way of life especially when it comes to the role of women.

Last Monday's arrest of 10 members of Women of the Wall, including two female American rabbis, was not the first time the group has met opposition at the Western or Wailing Wall. They have been protesting their exclusion from worshipping there in the traditional prayer shawl for 24 years.

Back in 1989, they were attacked by ultra-Orthodox men wielding metal chairs. The then Director General of the Ministry of Religious Affairs said nothing could be done to help the women hold prayer servicesthe prohibition against them doing so, he said, "is tradition in Israel, and this tradition is law and can't be changed."

This time, the group of about 200 were supported by Israeli paratrooper veterans from the 67 War. The Jewish Agency's Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet Jewish dissident, is trying to resolve the conflict at P.M. Netanyahu's request. He admits it will not be easy"we Jews chose to be not-easy people, and to live in a not-easy place, and to do not-easy religion.”

This is one more example of clashes over matters of identity with religious and ideological roots. The Western Wall has long been the center of such struggles. In the past, it was the entire Jewish community in Palestine that wanted access and only slowly over the years did that come about, most notably as a result of the '67 War. Now that the State of Israel has possession, contention over the Wall comes from a group within its own tradition.

Tags: jerusalem, 1967 Six Day War, identity, ultra-orthodox, peace, israel, western wall

Identity, Ideology and Israel's Latest Election

Posted on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 @ 09:45 AM
Yair Lapid   portraitSm
 Yair Lapid, leader of Israel's new Yesh Atid party.

The secular mainstream in Israel scored in the recent elections with the success of the new party Yesh Atid (There is a Future), led by talk-show host Yair Lapid. Though Benjamin Netanyahu’s party won, Lapid emerged as a power broker. One of the planks in his platform is the demand that ultra-Orthodox students serve in the military or suffer sanctions. The Supreme Court has already nixed a law giving exemption to such students, but the government has not followed through on bringing them into the military.

This is only part of the battle that has been developing in Israel over the role of ultra-Orthodox religion in civil society. Other related issues include  gender equality, taxes and government aid. Though its adherents (Haredim) represent only about 10% of the Jewish population in Israel, they wield disproportionate political influence. The polity is split into many fragments such that no single party can gain a clear majority, but the ultra-orthodox parties have been present in most coalitions since 1977. This time around two Haredi parties have a combined seat total of 18 to Lapid’s 19. This suggests that if Lapid pursues an aggressive secular agenda at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox, he will face a lot of opposition and deepen a growing rift in Israeli society

His position on Jerusalem could also become an issue. In the campaign he took up the traditional Israeli election rhetoric of “undivided Jerusalem.” This wins votes. Yet his record shows a different side. In 2008 he gave an interview to Der Spiegel indicating support for the division of the city with the Palestinians. This past week one of his security advisors, Jacob Perry, answered a question about Lapid’s inviolability of Jerusalem stance indicating that it may be the starting point for negotiations. In other words, compromise may be necessary. 

There is much to be said on either side of the debate over Jerusalem. Both Israelis/Jews and Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims have staked a claim. Identity and ideology play vital roles for all concerned. Can ideologies be modified and identities change? Yes. But only with new perspectives on the human condition.

Tags: jerusalem, palestinians, identity, israel, Palestine

Middle East Peace off the Map over Disputed Land E1

Posted on Tue, Dec 18, 2012 @ 04:53 PM

middle east conflictAbout 12 years ago I interviewed the mayor of the Israeli West Bank settlement, Maale Adumim. Benny Kashriel told me then that his city would eventually become part of Jerusalem, being linked to it by annexed contiguous land. Indeed he regarded Maale Adumim as part of the Jerusalem metroplis even then and had publicity brochures that proclaimed as much. The still open and barren land separating the two cities is known as Development Area EI (East 1).

Now it is back in the headlines following the upgrading of Palestine to non-member observer state by an overwhelming UN vote. Seemingly in retaliation, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu revived Israeli planning activity in the E1 sector making way for construction of up to 3400 housing units there and in other parts of Jerusalem. As tensions rise in this tit-for-tat scrapping, attempts at Middle East peace are once again on hold. The reality is that if E1 becomes a developed area between Israeli-held East Jerusalem and the 40,000 Israeli residents of Maale Adumim, the possibility of a Palestinian State with meaningful access between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank and with East Jerusalem as its capital, becomes a much more complicated prospect and perhaps moot if compromises over road connections fail.

It was the Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin that created the E1 area in 1994 in support of Maale Adumim (which Rabin had authorized in 1976). The city is regarded as a gateway to Jerusalem from the Jordan Valley. As a result, it seems unlikely that any Israeli government will give up the strategically positioned enclave, preferring rather to enhance its security by connecting it materially to Jerusalem. 

Tags: jerusalem, Middle East Peace, Israeli-Palestian conflict, middle east politics, israel, Palestine

Syria's President Discusses Regional Stability, Israel, and Gaza

Posted on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 @ 04:59 PM
Bashar al-Assad  

 Bashar al-Assad

Having been away from this blog for a while, apart from moderating some fine comments on the perplexing Gaza prisoner situation of Gilad Shalit and his Hamas captors, I'm sure it is time to ramp up efforts again in light of increasing concerns.

I was impressed by the very recent
video interview of Syria's president Bashar al-Assad, by the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. It is wide ranging, both interviewer and interviewee handling the complexities well, but unraveling little.

According to Bowen:

"President Bashar al-Assad has the air of a man who thinks matters are going his way--even though he shares the common Middle Eastern view that the region is getting more dangerous.

Israel, the US and Britain are convinced that not only is Mr. Assad arming Hezbollah, but that he is also sending bigger, better and more accurate weapons than before.

And he seems in no mood to respond to US attempts to woo him away from Syria's long-term strategic alliance with Iran."


Tags: gaza, Syria, Flotilla, israel, Palestine

Israeli PM Named Prime Suspect in Corruption Case

Posted on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 @ 04:04 PM

In a separate case from the one for which he is on trial, former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has been named in a corruption scandal dating back to his time as mayor of Jerusalem. He has not yet been questioned. The allegation is that he took bribes to hurry along a high-rise residential development in West Jerusalem. He has denied wrongdoing: "I was never offered bribes and I never took bribes from anybody in any matter, in any form, either directly or indirectly."

Olmert's successor as mayor, Uri Lupolianski, was arrested Wednesday. According to the BBC, "A judiciary spokesman said Mr Lupolianski was suspected of receiving bribes, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust, tax avoidance and conspiracy, in connection with the Holyland property development." Bribes totaling more than $800,000 have been mentioned. Lupolianski was deputy mayor under Olmert from 1993-2003 and mayor till 2008. He has claimed that "A deputy mayor has no responsibility. ....The mayor is the one who decides... ."

Tags: jerusalem, Olmert, Lupolianski, israel

Prisoner Swap Update

Posted on Sun, Feb 22, 2009 @ 12:14 PM
Israel refuses to open Gaza border crossings further until Shalit released

The Israeli security cabinet voted against further opening of Gaza border crossings today, tying the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to further progress. Hamas has said that Israel would have to agree to release as many as 1400 Palestinian prisoners in return. They include Fateh and Hamas members. Hamas has refused to link Shalit's release to any future truce, however.

Tags: gaza, Hamas, fateh, israel, shalit

Palestinian-Israeli Prisoner Swap

Posted on Tue, Feb 17, 2009 @ 09:13 AM
Hamas and Israel move toward Gaza truce
Helena Cobban has written a lot over the years on the ME. In this link she has a very detailed run down on the latest Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over prisoner releases that could free key Hamas and Fateh militants from Israeli hands, and one Israeli soldier held in Gaza since 2006. All of this could be the precursor to declaration of another truce between Hamas and Israel on Wednesday. Reconciliation between Hamas and Fateh also seems to be on the cards. Meetings in Cairo indicate progress toward shared responsibilities and new elections.

Tags: gaza, Hamas, fateh, israel, Palestine

Oslo Fifteen Years On

Posted on Tue, Sep 16, 2008 @ 02:28 PM

Why the historic effort to close peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority foundered
Oslo Accord

After the accord was signed in 1993 various obstacles arose to render most of the agreement null. But it did have some positive effects as Israeli negotiator Uri Savir notes in this recent interview.

The bitterlemons Web site devotes its latest report (#36) to a four-way commentary on Oslo, including one from Savir.

Tags: arab-israeli conflict, bitterlemons, oslo accords, palestinian authority, peace process, savir, israel

Assessment of Peace Talks Regarding Jerusalem

Posted on Fri, Sep 12, 2008 @ 02:33 PM

Jerusalem continues at the center of Arab-Israeli conflict
Google News
Details: Assessment of Peace Talks Regarding Jerusalem
Peace Talks over Jerusalem

Four commentaries on the current state of play in discussions between the parties on the Jerusalem Question were published this week. 

My friend, Menachem Klein, who teaches political science in Israel, has contributed one of the pieces.

Jerusalem as an issue will not go away from any future discussions. See my recent article, "Triumph and Tragedy in the Middle East." 

Tags: jerusalem, arab-israeli conflict, peace, israel, Palestine

Former Israeli PM Barak Says Jerusalem Division Possible

Posted on Thu, Sep 04, 2008 @ 02:39 PM

East Jerusalem can yet become capital of the Palestinian state
Google News
Details: Former Israeli PM Barak Says Jerusalem Division  Possible
Ehud Barak Palestinian capital

Reuters reported an interview with Ehud Barak aired on Al-Jazeera television. Barak said, "We can find a formula under which certain neighbourhoods, heavily-populated Arab neighbourhoods, could become, in a peace agreement, part of the Palestinian capital that, of course, will include also the neighbouring villages around Jerusalem."

This is, of course, no surprise. It's just that the continuing impasse in public covers up what has already been agreed in principle by various negotiators over the past few years.

Tags: jerusalem, israel, Middle East Conflict, Palestine