Friday, 17 December 2010

A Day or Two in Oslo, Norway

My article got published in Solo Travel News. Click on the post title to view the online version

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Geert Wilders’ speech in Tel Aviv

A Politician Who Speaks the Truth? Where is the Catch??
Someone commented today on my posting this speech in an online forum earlier this day: “Geert Wilders is a friend of Israel and that’s all that counts. If on top of that he is Catholic and Gay, then that means there is good in them after all.” :-) :-) :-) 

Speech Geert Wilders, Tel Aviv, 5 December 2010

Shalom chaveriem,

Let me start by saying that it is with great sadness that I share your grief over the deaths of more than 40 brave Israelis who lost their lives - many while trying to save others in the great fire near Haifa. My country, the Netherlands, is amongst other countries helping to put down this fire, which is threatening the lives and property of thousands of your compatriots. I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who perished. My thoughts are with them.

Israel is an immense source of inspiration for me. When I came to your country for the first time as a teenager, I lived here for a year.

I am not ashamed to stand with Israel, but proud. I am grateful to Israel. I will always defend Israel. Your country is the cradle of Western civilization. We call it the Judeo-Christian civilization with good reason.

Israel is often being treated unfairly. The world looks at the plight of the Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon, Gaza, and other places, and many blame Israel. The UN claims that there are over 4.7 million Palestinian refugees, and many blame Israel. These voices say the Palestinians should be allowed to return to “Palestine.” But where is Palestine? Many say Israel must solve the problems of Palestine. But is Israel guilty of the plight of the Palestinian refugees?

My answer is “No.” The Arab leaders are to be blamed – and Islam is to be blamed. Let me first tell you why, and then I will tell you where Palestine can be found.

At the end of World War II, there were 50 million refugees. Today, all the refugee problems dating from before the 1950s have been solved. All, except one – the problem of the Palestinians.

Why did this problem not get solved? The reason is simple: Because the Arab countries did not allow it to get solved. And because Islam does not allow it to get solved.

In May 1948, the number of Jews in the Arab countries was estimated to be close to 1 million. Today, fewer than 8,000 Jews are left in the entire Arab world. In 1948, the Arab countries forced the Jews out and confiscated their properties. More Jews fled the Arab countries than Arabs fled Israel. Where are the Jewish refugee camps? There are none.

So, why are there refugee camps for Palestinians in areas surrounding Israel? Because the Palestinians were not welcomed in the neighboring Arab countries. There was no Arab solidarity; the refugees were forced into camps and slums, where many of their descendants still linger today.

Under international definitions the status of refugee or displaced person only applies to first generation refugees. However, the UN makes an exception for Palestinians. Descendants of Palestinian refugees are granted the same refugee status as their ancestors. Consequently, the number of so-called Palestinian refugees registered with the UN increased from 711,000 in 1950 to over 4.7 million in 2010. These refugees are being used as a demographic weapon against Israel. Instead of blaming the inhospitable Arab regimes, many blame Israel.

My friends, the blame should be laid where it belongs: with the Arab world. The Jewish refugees built new lives for themselves. They did what millions of refugees have done in the course of history, including, in the 20th century, the Germans who had to leave Sudetenland and the lands east of the Oder and Neisse rivers, the Hungarians who fled Transsylvania, the Greeks who were ejected from the Aegean coast of Anatolia, the Hindus who fled the Punjab.

With each generation, the resentment of these refugees and their descendants slowly fades away. Time heals all wounds. Acceptance of the new situation is the norm. Islam, however, conditions Muslims to hate Jews. It is a religious duty to do so. Israel must be destroyed because it is the homeland of the Jews. Influential Islamic scholars, such as Muhammad Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Cairo, the most prestigious center of Muslim learning, call Jews “enemies of Allah.” Tantawi, who died last March, was generally considered a moderate by the Western media and policy makers. But how did this “moderate” address a delegation of Palestinian Muslims who visited him in 2002?

He urged them to intensify suicide attacks against Israelis, stating that every so-called “martyrdom operation” against – I quote – “any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment, until the people of Palestine regain their land.” – end of quote.

Nizar Qabbani, one of the most revered poets in the Arab world, praised the madness of those who are blinded by an ideology of hatred. In his poem Ode to the Intifada, he wrote: “O mad people of Gaza, A thousand greetings to the mad. The age of political reason has long departed. So teach us madness.”

Thát is the nature of the Islamic enemies confronting the Jews – sheer madness.

Israel, on the other hand, is a beacon of light; it is like a Hanukkah menorah whose lights have been kindled in a region that until 1948 was engulfed by darkness. Friends, Israel is not to blame for the situation in the Middle East. The problem is Islam’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist. Only last month, Fatah concluded its convention in Ramallah by declaring its blatant refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The problem is also our Western leaders’ refusal to understand that Israel is the West’s canary in the coalmine: If the Jews are denied the right to live in freedom and peace, soon we will all be denied this right. If the light of Israel is extinguished, we will all face darkness. If Israel falls, the West falls. That is why we are all Israel.

But as long as the West refuses to understand how the Palestinians are used as a weapon against Israel, it will not be able to see who is truly to blame; it will not be able to see that it is not Israel’s duty to provide a Palestinian state – for the simple reason that there already is a Palestinian state and that state is Jordan.

Indeed, my friends, Jordan is Palestine. Take a look at the map of this part of the world after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I. Both contemporary Israel and contemporary Jordan were part of the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1922, the British partitioned Palestine into Cisjordan and Transjordan – the latter comprising 78 per cent of the territory of Palestine. The British handed that territory over to their ally, the Hashemite strongman Abdallah ibn Hussein. Abdallah was the son of the emir Hussein bin Ali, guardian of the Islamic holy city of Mecca. The Hashemites belong to the Quraish tribe – the tribe of Islam founder Muhammad. They are a foreign body in Palestine.

In 1946, Transjordan became an independent state under Hashemite rule. In November 1947, the United Nations proposed to partition the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine. The territory between the Jordan River and the sea was divided into a Jewish and an Arab part. The Jewish representatives accepted the UN partition plan, but the Arab representatives refused. In an attempt to “drive all the Jews into the sea,” they began the 1948 war – which they lost.

They took revenge, however, on the Jews in East Jerusalem and the rest of Cisjordan – the ancient provinces of Judea and Samaria – held by the Arab forces. This entire region was ethnically cleansed of all Jews. Even the names of Judea and Samaria were wiped off the map and replaced by the ridiculous term “West Bank.” A river bank of over 40 kilometers wide. I come from a country full of rivers, and there the river banks are only a few dozen meters wide.

Israel, including Judea and Samaria, has been the land of the Jews since time immemorial. Judea means Land of the Jews. Never in the history of the world has there been an autonomous state in the area that was not Jewish. The Diaspora of the Jews, which began after their defeat by the Romans in AD 70, did not lead to the departure of all the Jews from their ancient homeland. Jews had been living in the Jordan Valley for centuries until the Arab invaders drove them out in 1948, when the provinces of Judea and Samaria were occupied by the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan, which abbreviated its name to Jordan in 1950. And until 1967, when Israel regained the ancient Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria, no-one, not a single Islamic scholar or Western politician, ever demanded that there be an independent Palestinian state in the so-called West Bank.

Must Israel trade land for peace? Should it assign Judea and Samaria to another Palestinian state – a second one, next to Jordan? My friends, let me be very clear: The conflict in the Middle East is not a conflict over territory, but rather an ideological battle.

People are mistaken when they assume that giving up Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem and letting the Palestinians have it, will end the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. In 2005, Israel sacrificed the settlements in Gaza for the sake of peace. Did it get peace?

On the contrary, because the conflict is essentially ideological, the situation worsened. Because the conflict is ideological, territorial concessions are counterproductive. Ideologies cannot be defeated by concessions. They are encouraged and emboldened by it.Ideologies must be confronted with the iron will never to give in, “never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty.” That is the lesson which the world learned from Winston Churchill when he confronted the evil ideology of Nazism.

This conflict here in the Middle East is not about land and borders, but about Islamic jihadism opposing Western liberty. From the moment that Israel was founded, the Arab leaders have rejected every partition plan and every initiative for a territorial settlement. The Islamic ideology simply does not accept the concept of a Jewish state. Neither Hamas nor Fatah are willing to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in their historic homeland. No territorial concession on Israel’s part can ever change that.

Israel’s ideological enemies want to wipe Israel out as a nation. They simply deny the Jewish state the right to exist and to live in peace, dignity and liberty.

For the sake of its own survival and security, Israel needs defendable borders. A country that is only 15 kilometers wide is impossible to defend. That is the strategic reason why Jews need to settle Judea and Samaria.
Therefore, the Jewish towns and villages in Judea and Samaria are not an impediment to peace; they are an expression of the Jewish right to exist in this land. They are tiny outposts of freedom, defying ideological forces which deny not only Israel but the entire West the right to live in peace, dignity and liberty.

Let us never forget that Islam threatens not just Israel; Islam threatens the entire world. Without Judea and Samaria, Israel cannot protect Jerusalem. The future of the world depends on Jerusalem. If Jerusalem falls, Athens and Rome – and Paris, London and Washington – will be next.

Thus, Jerusalem is the main front protecting our common civilization. When the flag of Israel no longer flies over the walls of Jerusalem, the West will no longer be free.

However, a peaceful solution must also be found for the many Palestinians in the refugee camps in Lebanon, Gaza and elsewhere. Each year, hundreds of millions of euros and dollars are spent on the Palestinian refugees in international aid. The financial assistance, however, did not provide the refugees a new home, a place to live and build a future for their children and grandchildren. It is obvious where this place should be. It should be Palestine, just as, after the Second World War, the obvious place for the German refugees from the East to go to, was Germany. Since Jordan is Palestine, it is the duty of the Jordanian government to welcome all Palestinian refugees who voluntarily want to settle there.

Until the late 1980s, Jordan’s Hashemite rulers did not deny that their country was Palestine. They said so on numerous occasions. In 1965, King Hussein said: “Those organizations which seek to differentiate between Palestinians and Jordanians are traitors.” As late as 1981, Hussein repeated – I quote – “Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan.” In March 1971, The Palestine National Council, too, stated that – I quote – “what links Jordan to Palestine is a national bond […] formed, since time immemorial, by history and culture. The establishment of one political entity in Transjordan and another in Palestine is illegal.” – end of quote.

By the late 1970s, however, the Arab authorities began to differentiate between Jordanians and Palestinians. What was previously considered to be treason and illegality suddenly became the propaganda line.
In March 1977, PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein admitted in a candid interview in the Dutch newspaper Trouw: – I quote – “Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot lay claim to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.” – end of quote.

In 1988, as the first Intifada raged, Jordan officially renounced any claim of sovereignty to the so-called West Bank. In recent years, the Jordanian authorities have stripped thousands of Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship. They do so for two reasons.

First, because the alien Hashemite rulers fear that the Palestinians might one day take over their own country. And second, because stripping Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship supports the falsehood that Jordan is not a part of Palestine. And that, consequently, the Palestinians must attack Israel if they want a place of their own. By arbitrarily reducing thousands of their citizens to statelessness, the Jordanian authorities want to force the Palestinians to turn their aspirations towards the establishment of another Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria. This decision is a great injustice committed by the Hashemite rulers of Jordan – this foreign clan which the British installed.

I am not naïve. I am not blind to the possibility that if Jordan were to be ruled by the Palestinians, this might lead to political radicalization in Jordan. However, a continuation of the present situation will most certainly lead to radicalization. We need a paradigm shift. If we keep thinking along the same lines as we have done so far, no peaceful solution of the Palestinian problem is possible without endangering the existence of Israel and disrupting the social and economic fabric in Judea and Samaria. Resettling millions of Palestinians in these small provinces is simply impossible and is not going to happen.

To the skeptics, I say: What is the alternative? Leaving the present situation as it is? No, my friends, the world must recognize that there has been an independent Palestinian state since 1946, and it is the Kingdom of Jordan.
Allowing all Palestinians to voluntarily settle in Jordan is a better way towards peace than the current so-called two-states-approach (in reality a three-states-approach) propagated by the United Nations, the U.S. administration, and governing elites all over the world. We only want a democratic non-violent solution for the Palestinian problem. This requires that the Palestinian people should be given the right to voluntarily settle in Jordan and freely elect their own government in Amman. If the present Hashemite King is still as popular as today, he can remain in power. That is for the people of Palestine to decide in real democratic elections.

My friends, let us adopt a totally new approach. Let us acknowledge that Jordan is Palestine.

And to the Western world I say: Let us stand with Israel because the Jews have no other state, while the Palestinians already have Jordan. Let us stand with Israel because the history of our civilization began here, in this land, the homeland of the Jews. Let us stand with Israel because the Jewish state needs defendable borders to secure its own survival. Let us stand with Israel because it is the frontline in the battle for the survival of the West.

We must speak the truth. The truth that Jordan is Palestine, the truth that Samaria and Judea are part of Israel, the truth that Jerusalem may not fall, the truth that Israel is the only democracy in a dark and tyrannical region, the truth that Israel is the linchpin of the West.

Of course, I am just a foreign guest and should be modest. Israel is a democracy and I respect every decision which its people and government will make. But I am proud to be here and grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts and beliefs with you.

Because it is here that our civilization is under attack as we speak. It is here that we, men and women of the West, must show our resolve to defend ourselves. It is here that Israel has lit the light of freedom and that Europeans and Americans must help the Israelis to keep that light shining in the darkness. For Israel’s sake and for the sake of all of us.

Toda raba… And shalom to all of you.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Fiftieth Gate


Without telling his teacher anything of what he was doing, a disciple of rabbi Barukh’s [of Mezbizh] had inquired into the nature of God, and in his thinking had penetrated further and further until he was tangled in doubts, and what had been certain up to this time, became uncertain. When Rabbi Barukh noticed that the young man no longer came to him as usual, he went to the city where he lived, entered his room unexpectedly, and said to him: “I know what is hidden in your heart. You have passed through the fifty gates of reason. You begin with a question and think, and think up an answer – and the first gate opens, and to new question! And again you plumb it, find the solution, fling open the second gate – and look into a new question. On and on like this, deeper and deeper, until you have forced open the fiftieth gate. There you stare at a question whose answer no man has ever found, for if there were one who knew it, there would no longer be freedom of choice. But if you dare to probe still further, you plunge into the abyss.”

“So should I go back all the way, to the very beginning?” cried the disciple.

“If you turn, you will not be going back,” said Rabbi Barukh. “You will be standing beyond the last gate: you will stand in faith.”

(Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

My Jerusalem and Israel Photo Album

Preview on Blurb

Press the link above to preview 20 pages of my 72-page photo album full of impressions and faces from the Holy (and, at times, not-so-holy) Land of Israel.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son

(This is an extract from a larger article published in Cistercian Studies Quarterly)


We know how a child normally identifies with her father or mother, how a teenager identifies with a sport hero or a movie star, or simply with an adult whom he admires—who could be a teacher. Later on the young man or woman will identify with what he or she does and achieves, or what he or she acquires and owns, or with his or her affective conquests. But when someone really becomes an adult—which is not simply a question of number of years—that person will discover and realize her identity: who she is independently of all the superficial egos and of all the images that she has or others have of her. She is the person who has some talents and does not have other talents, who has things and can lose them, who has successes and failures, and who always remains the same person through all the upheavals of life, while becoming more and more herself.

That process of becoming an adult and an autonomous person, both humanly speaking and spiritually, is very well expressed in a number of parables of the Old Testament as well as of the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, we have the story of Job. Job has everything in which people normally find their psychological, social, and spiritual identity. He is a good man; he has a good reputation in society; he has a wife and many children (seven sons and three daughters), numerous possessions (fields, camels, sheep, oxen), and also male and female ser­vants to take care of all those possessions. He has good health and good friends.

He loses all of this, including the understanding of his wife and of his friends and his health. Then he makes the wonderful discovery that, even after losing everything, he is. He exists. He is the same Job who had all those things and has lost them. The Job who now has nothing is the same person who was a rich, powerful, and influential man. Having nothing to lose any more, he is free. Therefore, he can stand before God and speak very strongly to God. Nobody in the Bible speaks like that to God. This is not arrogance; it is parrhesia—confidence and freedom—the freedom of those who have nothing to lose. At the end he will be able not to recover what he has lost, but to acquire again similar riches (what is lost is lost). That will not change who he is. He is free.

In the New Testament, the same growth process is described in one of Jesus' parables, that of the prodigal son (better called the parable of the prodigal Father). We have here a family whose life seems to be happy and without sorrow. It is a well-to-do family, since there is a fortune to divide among the children. There are fields, flocks, and servants. What the par­able wants to show is the different attitude of three of the characters.

One of the sons has enough of that quiet family life, although it seems to have been harmonious, easy, and pleasant. He wants to live his own life. The life he shares with his father, his brother, and the rest of the fam­ily does not fulfill him any longer. He needs personal achievement. He wants to be somebody and enjoy life. He wants to exist as an independent and isolated individual and not as a member of a whole, a desire we hear in our communities, at times.

What does the father do? He does not express any objection. He must certainly have made his own mistakes during his youth, and he ac­knowledges his son's right to make his own. What is important to him is that his son have a life. The conditions in which he will realize his life are important but secondary. The prodigal son then tastes all the pleasures of life. They are real pleasures, but at the superficial level of existence. Gradually he squanders everything he has, and, as a matter of fact, he experiences the same losing of everything that Job did. The only differ­ence is that he inflicts it upon himself while it was imposed on Job by the Tempter. Then he comes to himself—he has therefore reached his iden­tity in that way—he has found himself in his own way. There was some­one who lived in the past with his father, and who left his father who had a fortune that he has squandered, who has enjoyed the pleasures of life that he cannot afford any more. This person is capable of conversion and of returning to his father. He is free enough to return. He does not fear to be disinherited, since he has already had his inheritance and wasted it. He does not fear to be rejected as a son, since he does not claim the right to be considered a son. He simply wants to be a servant (this word is perhaps the most important of the parable). And when the father sees him coming, he runs to him and embraces him, because his son is alive. The father does not see the ungrateful son, he does not see the fugitive, he does not see the debauched person. He sees his son who is alive, and he wants to celebrate life with his family and servants.

Not everyone is able to celebrate life, especially life in others. The second son is the most pathetic figure of that parable. He is like the good Christian, or the good religious, always faithful to all his obligations, but who has not understood the meaning of life, and especially has not un­derstood anything about love and mercy. He is unable to celebrate. In fact he has nothing to celebrate. When he returns from the fields and he hears the music and the dancing, he asks what the meaning is of that music and of that dancing. That poor man, with all his virtue and his faithful observance, has not made the journey to maturity and adulthood that his brother has made.

Let us now return to the story of the young rich man. He asks Jesus what to do in order to have eternal life. His goal is certainly good—eter­nal life. He is very concerned about the "doing" He asks what he should do, and when Jesus quotes some of the commandments of the Decalogue to him, he says that he has done all of that since his youth. Then Jesus invites him to get rid of everything and come and follow him. In reality Jesus invites him to do voluntarily and freely exactly the same letting go of everything that was imposed on Job by circumstances and that the prodigal son imposed upon himself. He is unable to do it. He is not free. He has not achieved adulthood.

[...] We want to identify with Christ. It is certainly a noble desire! But perhaps it would be more important to ask ourselves, "With whom does Christ want to iden­tify?" The answer is quite obvious in Matthew 25:31-46. Christ identifies with the little ones, the needy, and the downtrodden. "I was sick, I was hungry, I was in jail, I was persecuted .... What you did to the little ones, you did to me." It is when we belong in one way or another to one of those categories that we can be sure that Christ identifies with us.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Remind you of anything?..


I found this on the web by accident. It’s an invitation to a tomorrow’s event in Kensington by an organization called – in case you can’t read the small script – Muslims Against Crusaders.

I loved the name they gave to the demonstration, though… No comment.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Gamila Soap



This is a soap made by a Druze woman from Israel. She inherited a secret formula of mixing wild herbs and oils into unique natural soaps, and has become world famous, now selling the soap to some 20 countries worldwide. Gamila Secret soap cleanses, revitalizes and restores natural balance to any type of skin, is hypo-allergenic and is only made with pure 100% organic ingredients.

They used to sell it in a small shop in Oslo, in Bislett, called Mitt Hjem Mitt Slott. Otherwise, it’s Ebay Smile The soap is truly unique, recommended by beauty and healthcare professionals and ordinary users.

I found this story about the founder of the industry that I would love to share:

“The field and the herbs were my secret garden.It was an incongruous sight. Among the business and military dignitaries who were honored by Israel as torchbearers marking the beginning of the country's 58th Independence Day celebrations in May, was a Druze Arab great-grandmother dressed in festive traditional garb.

Gamila Hiar, 68, known widely as 'Safta Gamila' - Grandma Gamila -- of Peqiin, a small village in the Upper Galilee stood alongside Israeli billionaire Stef Wertheimer, former Southern commander Major General Doron Almog and other notables chosen to usher in the holiday. With the ceremony's theme "the development of the Negev and Galilee," each torchbearer was honored for contributing in some way to the communities in northern and southern Israel.

Hiar, specifically, was honored for the example she set for her village and the country at large by establishing a hand-made soap industry that has developed into an international enterprise. Employing twenty-five Christian, Druze, Moslem and Jewish women in her soap factory, Gamila serves as a beacon to her neighbors and her country for actualizing her personal dream of decades, and at the same time has brought modern medicine, feminism and education to her community.

"I felt very proud. Very proud. And very honored to light the torch," Gamila told ISRAEL21c after the event.

A slight woman dressed simply in a black cotton dress and black, knit stockings with a thin white head covering, Gamila's stature, warm eyes and endearment-laden talk - "Come sit, Aayouni" (my eyes) - belie her impressive achievements.

Raised in Peqiin adjacent to Safed, Gamila says she was affected by the region's spirituality. Recognized for hundreds of years as an area where Druze and Jews live peacefully together, Peqiin is notable for its place in Jewish history. The Zohar - the most important book of the Kabbalah - was written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in an area cave where he hid during the 2nd century to avoid persecution by the Romans.

As a young girl, Gamila spent her days playing in the fields near her house and gathering flowers and herbs. During her youth, conventional doctors were an anomaly - ailments were treated with herbal remedies passed down through generations. "The field and the herbs were my secret garden," she explains.

Gamila spent forty years gathering herbs, studying their properties and boiling olive oil in her home kitchen in an effort to find the balance between olive oil and healing herbs. Seven years ago she exacted the formula and today she runs a burgeoning soap business selling her goods within Israel and exporting Gamila Soap to high-end retailers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

"My product is unusual and it's international - now it's sold in 13 countries. Just last month I was in Portugal and Holland holding press conferences," Gamila said. "Wherever I go, I always talk about Peqiin and the Galilee. That's why I was chosen for Israel's Independence Day, I think. Because through my work, hiring multi-ethnic women and believing in peace, I am doing something for the village and the country."

Factories in Israel and Rotterdam collectively employ 60 workers and production that began in Gamila's kitchen - she sold bars wrapped in newspaper - has expanded to a 30,000-unit-per week output over 3 years. The Rotterdam factory was opened as a means of marketing to countries like Syria and Saudi Arabia that otherwise boycott Israel.

"In Rotterdam we market ourselves as 'Upper Galilee' soaps," eldest son Fuad told ISRAEL21c.

Three of Gamila's five children have a hand in the enterprise - one son works as a chemist, another as marketing manager and Fuad, her eldest, as the company's managing director. Fuad returned to Peqiin from Holland 5 years ago to help open a factory in Tefen and to oversee with the growing business.

In his late forties, Fuad describes childhood memories of his mother alternately working multi-shift, menial labor jobs picking oranges and cleaning offices and standing over a pot of boiling oil in the kitchen.

"When I was ten, I remember waking up in the morning and seeing her throwing oil in the kitchen. I never knew what she was doing but I knew that I wouldn't get new shoes or a new outfit because she put her money towards buying expensive olive oils," he relays.

A former Golani infantry major during Israel's 1982 Lebanon War and the first Druze to graduate from an Israeli military boarding, Fuad explains why there is no conflict of interests for himself or his brothers in serving in Israel's military, common among young Druze men.

"Druze belong to a secret sect and religion but we are loyal to Israel. We believe in reincarnation but we don't believe in politics or borders. It's a sort of combination of Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. We are loyal to the place we are born, loyal to the land and hospitable people," he explains.

According to historical reference, the Druze religion evolved from Islam in the 10th century and Druze adapted a taqiya or "dissimulation"- a practice whereby they conceal their true beliefs and outwardly accept the religious beliefs of those among whom they live even as they secretly retained their true convictions.

Gamila summarizes: "We believe that the apple tree in my garden is not mine. It's from God. So when I die I'm supposed to not only to share with you but also to give you my prime apple as my guest."

Her son adds as a caution, "but don't interfere with my religion."

Fuad says he is proud of his mother receiving such prestigious public recognition: "She is an example to the village of honor and peace. She advocates for peace between Jews, Moslems, Christians and Druze. Many years ago she was also the first example of feminism in our area. She brought a doctor to the village to speak with women about sex education and gynecology. And she brought math and English teachers. She believed in education," Fuad says.

On principle, Gamila only employs women in her Peqiin factory.

"Women only, aside from my sons. I believe in advancing women's causes," she said.

Gamila says she believes in being instrumental in helping others because she believes in quid pro quo. "I encourage strong women, peace, coexistence and the idea of giving back. If you have something, then you need to help others with your good fortune. It's a must," she explains. “

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Звезда Давида или полумесяц?

I loved this article from 2005. Sorry it’s in RussianSarcastic smile

Палестинские арабы-христиане хотят остаться под властью «сионистских оккупантов». Евгений Левин.

Один мой знакомый священнослужитель, которому часто приходится общаться с христианами, живущими на Святой Земле, как-то заметил, что, в первую очередь, они арабы, а лишь во вторую – православные или католики. Поэтому национальная борьба палестинских арабов является для многих из них приоритетным вопросом.
Иерусалимский Латинский патриархат не является в данном случае исключением. Его глава, Мишель Саббах – кстати, первый араб, занявший этот высокий пост - неоднократно заявлял о своей солидарности с палестинским народом в его борьбе против Израильской оккупации и за создание независимого арабского государства. По мнению Саббаха, Восточный Иерусалим (включая Старый город, в котором находятся многие христианские святыни, в том числе и сам Латинский патриархат) так же должен быть "возвращен арабам" – поскольку, по мнению Патриарха, он "незаконно оккупирован вооруженными силами".
На этом фоне огромный интерес представляет сообщение, опубликованное недавно одним из израильских новостных сайтов: "Сегодня, 10 октября, стало известно о том, что строительство защитного сооружения, мотивированного соображениями безопасности, привело к интенсивным переговорам между Ватиканом и израильскими военными. Представители Римского Папы просили оставить по израильскую сторону забора как можно больше христианских объектов и населенных пунктов, и система безопасности, в координации с политическим руководством, проявила готовность пойти навстречу. В результате, контуры забора существенно изменены, и иерусалимские кварталы, населенные арабами, которые планировалось оставить за забором, окажутся внутри него".
Судя по всему, израильские власти откликнулись на просьбу Ватикана: "На состоявшихся переговорах представители израильских силовых структур приняли большинство из этих предложений [Ватикана] …Так, например, было решено включить в число районов, которые окажутся с израильской стороны квартал Аль-Брид, расположенный между А-Рам и Неве-Яаков. Этот район известен, как место компактного проживания христианского населения, там расположен ряд церквей и административные здания нескольких христианских церквей. На израильской стороне останется также часть квартала Аль-Азария"
После эвакуации Газы мало кто сомневается, что возводимый правительством Шарона разделительный забор станет новой государственной границей Израиля. Поэтому просьбу Ватикана можно трактовать только одним способом – оставить как можно больше христианских святынь под израильским суверенитетом.
Любому, кто хоть немного знаком с ситуацией на Ближнем Востоке, нетрудно понять, почему палестинские христиане предпочитают остаться под властью "сионистских оккупантов". Ибо опыт общения с властями Палестинской автономии давно научил их, что ничего хорошего там их не ждет.
Покойный лидер Палестинской автономии Ясир Арафат неоднократно называл себя покровителем христиан и христианской Церкви, и, в частности, регулярно присутствовал на рождественском богослужении в Вифлееме. Однако для христиан, проживающих в Вифлееме, это оказалось весьма слабым утешением. С момента, когда власть в городе перешла от Израиля к автономии, христианское население города непрерывно страдает от практически безнаказанного рэкета и террора со стороны боевиков различных палестинских организаций.
Вот, к примеру, небольшая зарисовка из жизни вифлеемских христиан, сделанная арабским журналистом Джозефом Фарой: "Подручные Арафата используют мужчин из близлежащего бедуинского племени Таамра, чтобы "трясти" христианских предпринимателей. Те отбирают деньги у христиан и передают их террористам, не забывая при этом и о себе. Они безнаказанно терроризируют мирных граждан, пользуясь коррумпированностью арафатовского режима.
Когда известный террорист из организации ФАТХ Атеф Абаят погиб при взрыве машины, на его пальцах были обнаружены золотые кольца, украденные у христианского бизнесмена Джорджа Ниссана. Для членов ФАТХ это вполне обычное дело – вымогать деньги у предпринимателей, владельцев сувенирных магазинов, офисов по торговле недвижимостью и автозаправочных станций в Вифлееме. Согласно захваченным документам, это происходит с ведома и даже при участии палестинских сил безопасности.
Прошлой весной Саада Хамидан из Вифлеема была изнасилована и убита одним из руководителей ФАТХ/"Танзим" по имени Иман Али Азми аль-Кади, который является близким другом Абдаллы аль-Нуура (Абу Хадид), одного из лидеров "Танзим" в Вифлееме. Аль-Кади предстал перед судом. По сообщениям местных христиан, судья получил взятку, и насильник был оправдан"
Положение христиан Вифлеема является не исключением. Аналогичные картины можно наблюдать в любой христианской деревне, оказавшейся под контролем Палестинской автономии.
Вот, к примеру, сообщение о совсем недавнем инциденте в христианской деревне Тайбе: "Как минимум 14 домов христиан – православных и католиков – были сожжены фанатичными мусульманами в деревне Тайба на территории Палестинской автономии... По рассказам жителей пострадавшей деревни, рано утром несколько десятков молодых мусульман из Дир-Джарир пробрались в населенную православными и католиками Тайбу. Бутылками с зажигательной смесью они закидали дома "неверных", после чего принялись крушить припаркованные рядом автомобили и избивать жителей. Кроме домов, со всем имуществом их жителей, сгорели – бензоколонка, несколько магазинов и сельскохозяйственная ферма. Защитники правопорядка появились много позже, когда погромщики уже убрались восвояси, оставив после себя лишь дымящиеся руины и горе"
Знают ли палестинские власти о беззакониях, творящихся в отношении христианского населения автономии? Разумеется, знают. Сам Патриарх Саббах несколько раз лично докладывал покойному Арафату о "далеко не единичных случаях дискриминации христиан на территориях автономии", в частности, об "имевшей место конфискации христианских земель мусульманами -христиане окрестностей Вифлеема и Западного берега реки Иордан жаловались, что многочисленные участки земли, принадлежащие христианским семьям, были конфискованы мусульманами". Как нетрудно догадаться, никакого эффекта апелляции к власть имущим не возымели.
Палестинские боевики представляют угрозу не только для христианского населения, но и для христианских Храмов. Так, во время последней интифады палестинцы обстреливали иерусалимский район Гило, используя в качестве огневых позиций христианские церкви арабской деревни Бейт-Джала. Когда же израильские войска вошли в Вифлеем, группа боевиков укрылась в церкви Рождества Христова, фактически взяв в заложники нескольких священнослужителей и монахов (израильская армия отказалась от штурма храма, позволив боевикам покинуть территорию автономии).
На политику дискриминации и террора палестинские христиане реагируют естественным образом – голосуют ногами. С момента возникновения Палестинской автономии происходит массовый исход христианского населения Иудеи и Самарии. Поэтому если в годы "израильской оккупации" большинство населения Вифлеема было христианским, то на сегодняшний день из 150 тысяч жителей города только 30 тысяч – христиане. По словам журналиста Дмитрия Радышевского, в прошлом собкора еженедельника "Московские новости" в Израиле и на Ближнем Востоке, в Газе и на Западном берегу число христиан уменьшилось за 50 лет с 22 процентов от общего населения палестинцев до 2 процентов и продолжает таять.
Живущие в Израиле христиане, включая католиков, тоже не считают свое положение идеальным. По их словам, им приходится сталкиваться и с враждебностью окружающих, и даже с дискриминацией. Однако в сравнении с положением христиан в Палестинской автономии все эти "преследования" подобны насморку в сравнении с чумой. И в этой ситуации совершенно естественно, что, сочувствуя на словах освободительной борьбе палестинского народа, большинство палестинских христиан предпочитает и впредь оставаться под властью "сионистских оккупантов".
В заключение. Для иудеев было бы весьма лестно увидеть в этой истории доказательство терпимости иудаизма в сравнении сисламом (современным). Однако дело в данном случае не в этом, или, по крайней мере, не только в этом. И Израиль, и Палестинская автономия являются светскими государствами, поэтому при принятии тех или иных решений религиозный фактор не играет определяющей роли ни там, ни там. Просто Израиль, в отличие от своих палестинских соседей, действительно стремиться быть правовым и демократическим государством – несмотря на многочисленные трудности, связанные с перманентным военным положением или большой силой клерикальных кругов. Как свидетельствует история, подобная форма правления является оптимальной для нормальной жизни и деятельности различных меньшинств, в том числе и религиозных.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Dedication to Geert Wilders

I read the following comment online today:

The more things change the more they remain the same. When Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison spoke out against slavery in the 1830s he was accused of incitement and "offensive" speech. He was arrested many times and received death threats on a scale that is really unimaginable.

The question arises: who was calling for the violence? Who was inciting? It was not Garrison. Garrison was simply speaking the truth, quoting exactly from the writings of the "Salveocracy" (as Garrison called the planter class of the Old South).

His opponents called for shutting down Garrison's Liberator Magazine and silencing his speeches against slavery.

From the Wiki bio of Garrison:

"In 1831, Garrison returned to New England and founded a weekly anti-slavery newspaper of his own, The Liberator. In the first issue, Garrison stated:

"I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead."
Yes, indeed, nothing seems to change. It has been the same in the 30s, too, when Norwegian Aftenposten called the marching Nazis 'frustrated German men'. Nowadays, people seem to find sociological reasons and feel good about themselves for loving everyone and being tolerant. But I wonder, whom do my Friench friends blame now, when they see armed police in Paris?..
I suppose, there is always someone to blame. In any case, the quote above reminded me, among other things, of a very brave man who has the guts to stand for his opinions, and is now on court trial in the Netherlands. Whatever you may personally may think of him, whatever I may think of him, here is what he himself has to say:
Freedom is the most precious of all our attainments and the most vulnerable. People have devoted their lives to it and given their lives for it. Our freedom in this country is the outcome of centuries. It is the consequence of a history that knows no equal and has brought us to where we are now.
I believe with all my heart and soul that the freedom in the Netherlands is threatened. That what our heritage is, what generations could only dream about, that this freedom is no longer a given, no longer self-evident.

I devote my life to the defence of our freedom. I know what the risks are and I pay a price for it every day. I do not complain about it; it is my own decision. I see that as my duty and it is why I am standing here.

Monday, 13 September 2010

With Open Arms: A reflection on this past Sunday's Gospel

(taken from the Times of Malta Sunday edition)

Twenty-fourth Sunday of the year

With open arms

Fr René Camilleri

Today’s readings: Exodus 32, 7-11.13-14; 1 Timothy 1, 12-17; Luke 15, 1-32.

The three Gospel stories in Luke this Sunday refer to two types of people – tax collectors and sinners on one hand and the Pharisees and the scribes on the other.

Rather than two categories of people, they represent two basic attitudes in life – that of listening and the know-it-all judgmental attitude.

The long parable of the lost son is a complex story that concerns personal relationships and is heavy with emotion. But it lends itself easily to broader interpretations. The feelings of loss and emptiness that characterise the younger son’s wanderings resemble those of our living in an age which has promised so much and which continues to fall short of keeping its promises of happiness and fulfillment.

The younger son’s alienation, his leaving home and losing himself, as well as his “coming to himself”, are all suggestive of what many go through, and even of what humanity in general has been going through, particularly in the modern age.

In our culture there are signs of the return of something we might have lost, and about which we seem to be nostalgic.

In his book Nostalgia for the Absolute, George Steiner speaks about Western culture’s moral emptiness, and how various alternatives have failed to fill the gap left by the decay of formal religion.

In his letter to Timothy, St Paul says: “If mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of His inexhaustible patience for all the other people.”

In the book The Church. A Guide for the Perplexed, Matt Jenson and David Wilhite offer theological tonic to those for whom ‘Church’ connotes scandal or abuse rather than good news and reconciliation.

With the diversity of pastoral situations we encounter today, making us define situations that are ‘regular’ and others ‘irregular’, it is commonplace that for many, ‘Church’ implies exclusion rather than inclusion, the law rather than mercy, rejection rather than acceptance.

This is the perennial pastoral problem. And it is the problem of the elder son in the Gospel story who today is easily represented in those who feel uncomfortable to discuss certain situations which for them are clear-cut.

How is the Church to manage situations which are clear-cut from the side of the law, yet demand comprehension?

The father in the story had to take sides between two conflicting situations. And he deemed it more important to open his arms rather than lay down the law, even if this meant irritating the elder, self-righteous son.

There are situations and issues we constantly discuss in the Church. But for many, here represented in the elder son, there is nothing to discuss. For them, doctrine is clear, there is only black or white. Grey would be betrayal of the law and of tradition.

But what can be done when nothing can be done? Even the Exodus reading provides surprises in this regard. After their liberation from Egypt, God’s people went astray and betrayed their faith to the extent that the Lord decided to call it a day and give vent to His wrath. But when nothing could be done, Moses intervened and mediated to plead with the Lord.

What a surprise to the prophets of doom who know no shade of grey. Here is a God who changes His mind, who is never prisoner to a set mind, not because He has no principles but because for Him people come before the law. Here is a God whose patience is inexhaustible. Here is the God we believe in, a God kissing tenderly.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Learning about the Caucasus Emirate...

... has not been easy for me, a lifelong sympathiser with the Chechen cause (well, up to this February...).

When we were at school and the first Chechen war was brewing and breaking out, I remember the unanimous support the ethnically Latvian population gave to the Chechen's fight for independence. Just think about it! We were small - so were they, we broke away from imperial agression - they wanted the same, they were overpowered by brutal force - so had we been. Volunteers streamed to fight on the Chechen side, the ideal of freedom, the right of self-determination, of breaking away from Russian dominance was powerful, was calling, was something we could all identify with.

And this is certainly one side of the truth. The call for national freedom is a strong and powerful means of uniting the nation. The people, most of whom were and still are Sufis, by the way (and I absolutely love Sufis!), got inspired by it. We got inspired by it.

And I remember my classmate, a Russian guy, blurting out, "Only eradiating them (the Chechens) to the last soul will solve this".

This seemed horrendous, awful, not simply intolerant or ill-informed, but directly evil, what is more, it seemed to prove our point of view - that one cannot give up in face of this brutal agression (talk about Kuhn's paradigms! Whatever the part with another paradigm says only seems to prove yours).

With years, of course, you do get to realise that nothing is black-and white (and it certainly isn't!), but the general antipathy towards the Russian way of dealing with the problem remained (and the Russian way is by no means democratic).

Things did change in Israel, but it has been more of a hunch regarding Chechnya, rather than anything specific. Only a few weeks ago did I first hear the words Caucasus Emirate. It rang a bell. Many bells, in fact.

The umma. The universal chaliphate. The fight for independence as a first step. A quote such as this: "Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity is there only for tactical reasons. The Establishment of a Palestinian state is a new expedient to continue the fight against Zionism and for Arab unity" (1977, Zoheir Muhsin, Head of PLO Military Operations).

First, people rise for a national idea. This is good, this is popular. But as militant islamism knows no nation (the umma is homogenic, really) - the next step is inevitably religious unity, one more step, one step closer to the dream of universal chaliphate (a radical dream, yes, insane, perhaps, but still doable. For comparison - No elderly German I had known ever supported the Nazi ideal - did you ever wonder why their voices weren't heard? Where did the monster come from and why nobody stopped it?..)

The Caucasus Emirate, a-self proclaimed state (2007) consists of what we know as Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Stavropol and Krasnodar, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and North Ossetia. To what extent does the emirate reflect reality, is, of course, a good question (and for the time being it is probably a virtual reality), but the fact is that this is an ideal many are willing to sacrifice their lifes for. And, more often, sacrifice the lifes of others for.

And the savoury bit. A website. To die for. Check this out:

(supposed to be in many languages, although I assume Russian would have the most information available)

This is real, guys. Just like the fellow Catholic who told me yesterday she wished we had armed police with us during procession on Saturday night.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Memoir: Maundy Thursday on Malta, 2009

I came across this diary entry of mine from 2009, when we spent the Holy Week and Easter on Malta:

We have been to seven altars and one Mass, and I feel I cannot get enough, almost like I stayed too short a while, like I should have sat until midnight... The travel routine of wine and cheese and meat pies is broken by the spirit of pilgrimage, it seems, all too easily. It matters where you go, and it matters how you go.

Malta is a blessing. It feels like being on a pilgrimage from day one. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is a pilgrimage you embark on without knowing it... Perhaps it's the place. Perhaps it's St.Paul's prayers...

How can I explain and convey what I saw and felt. The Altar of Repose at St.Dominic's, with two angels on both sides of it. One on the right, holding a cup, another on the left, holding stalks of wheat and red and white grapes. Is it the over-exposure to visual impressions that does it to you? Jesus reposing. Grapes not yet vine. Wheat not yet bread. I will feed you with the finest wheat. For grapes to become vine our Saviour has to drink the cup.

If it is so, if indeed re-living His mysteries when He was human helps us to contemplate God, because they are at the same time completed and forever re-lived (because Jesus is both God who lives outside time, and man) - if it is so, could it be that this surreal wake was seen by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and somehow helped Him? I felt it did, in a way that cannot be explained, in a way that even cannot be understood by those partaking.

Streets filled with people, rosaries, praying aloud around the altars, old men and young, children and babies, women and girls... Someone starts to laugh when saying a rosary - this happens to me too often when I do it with my husband... Surely crowds seated before the Host enclosed on the most intricately decorated altars - surely these crowds that fill the streets, going from church to church, surely they want to be with Jesus? While the disciples were sleeping, could Jesus then see that all these crowds would want to be with Him? Perhaps it was those people who gave Him strength?

It was certainly those people who gave me faith. It seems this kind of faith is contagious. Problems at home seem surreal and far away. Buying clothes seems ridiculous - I already have more than enough. Placing Passion figures and crucifixes with a lance and a sponge in windows requires an attitude of placing one's faith before all else. Even subconsciously. As soon as you decide there are more important things, you won't do it. You won't walk a two-and-a-half-hour way of the cross to St. Paul's grotto, even in a Pauline year (are we supposed to get a plenary indulgence.

The many churches of Valletta are crowded and will probably be until midnight. People pray aloud before the Sacrament. May this never change.


Thursday, 12 August 2010

On Robert Sungenis and Hebrew Catholics

I absolutely admire Robert Sungenis for reverting to the Church, and for writing a wonderful refutation of the doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. As an apologist, he is recommended by other apologists I deeply respect. The Church needs apologists, now more than, perhaps, ever, and it is good and noble of him to stand up for his beliefs.

While his credentials and volume of knowledge are certainly higher and better than mine, no apologist or learned man can ever know everything, nor, I believe be right about everything. Certainly, his advocacy of the geocentric system (!) somewhat diminishes his credibility, in my view in any case. The fact that it stems from his over-literal interpretation of the Bible rather than scientific research doesn't help much, but only makes things worse, discrediting him in other aspects (where he is, undoubtedly, right).

I recently came across some opinions Sungenis expresses on another topic, and it leaves me sad and frustrated that such a learned man apparently refuses - or has no time - to consider the simple, generally-accesible facts. The matter in question is his critique of Hebrew Catholics and their apparent Zionism. Since I, too, believe that the Jews have a right to a country of their own, just as the French, the Latvians and the Russians do, I must be a Zionist, as well - so, yes, I do take some of his criticism personally.

Dr. Sungenis writes, in his refutation of Catholics for Israel, "The only part of the Torah that the Church has taken as its own is the moral commands, for they were created by God long before the Jews existed". I had somehow thought that Abraham and his descendants were chosen precisely to deliver God's moral commands to the world, and that was their special place, their calling and mission - to be the chosen people who brought the word of God into the world (and eventually also the Word made flesh). Was Moses not a Jew?

He continues, discussing God's calling and gifts: "The New Testament did, indeed, revoke the land of Israel from the Jews, since the Jews who were once given the land of Israel had those property rights revoked when the Old Covenant was revoked... The Torah is clear that the land of Israel was part and parcel with the covenant between God and Israel. Hence, if there is no separate covenant for the Jews there is no separate land for the Jews"

But Dr. Sungenis, where do they go?! The 800 000 refugees from the Arab countries, who had been driven from their homes, and have neither compensation nor the right of return. Do you know how many tried to escape the imminent death in European concentration camps - and were never allowed into Palestine? Do you know those who moved to Eretz Israel, and worked 20 hours a day to fight malaria (yes, doctor, malaria, lots and lots of malaria) on an empty, uncultivated land? What does this have to do with any coventant? Or, by denying the Jews preferential treatment, do you wish to fall into the opposite extreme, and deny them even a right to exist as a nation?

When they could not protect their own children and relatives from being exterminated, is it so surprising that the founders of Israel decided not to be at the mercy of any other government, and not to rely on anyone's protection any more? Well, has anyone protected them - on a governmental level, I mean? Have they? (Ah, yes, the Ottomans in the Balkans have always done it, as one of our Norwegian PhDs wrote - forgetting, apparently, that they had to pay for this protection by giving up their boys to slavery) Inded, Zionism did arise before the Holocaust (and was one of the most important reasons for it), but it sprung into being along with other nationalist movements, that, put into simple terms, strove for nation-states? The fact that the Jews rejected our covenant is a matter of religion, but should we deny them their nationality, and their right to statehood, as well? Isn't that, well, disproportionate?

Yes, I believe my Protestant Zionist friends did more harm than good by constantly referring to Israel's divine right to the land. That was the reason, the only reason actually, I felt annoyed by the questions like "Do you love Israel?" That sort of preferential treatment seemed unjustified for a secular state. Justifying political actions done by secular people on the basis of divine right is annoying, Robert Sungenis is right when he implies it. The problem is that these actions can be justified on other grounds - legal, logical, historical, you name it.

It is strange to me to read that for Sungenis, the Torah is clear that the land of Israel was part and parcel of the covenant between God and Israel. For the land had been given to Abraham unconditionally, prior to the either the covenant or the Law. It does seem that Israel's disobedience had caused several exhiles as disciplinary means of punishment, but if anything, the supposedly clear teaching can, and has been argued by many.

Dr. Sungenis writes: "It is only Jewish political aspirations that seek to support the accupation of Israel as a divine right, otherwise known as Zionism, the very political movement that the author of Catholics for Israel advocates..." And following: "Anti-Zionism is a rejection of the political belief that the land of Palestine belongs to Jews alone". I am not quite clear on whether this wording was intended to be what it is, or whether Dr. Sungenis has been somewhat rash in his conclusions. For it does indeed smack of propaganda, mixing truth with a healthy dose of lies.

In Sungenis' view, religion and politics cannot be separated for Zionists, thus the movement has to be rejected on religious grounds (or is it in his own view of the Jews? Since they failed religiously, no political entity of their own should be alloted to them). For surely, he has read David Ben Gurion's appeal to Arab residents of Palestine, calling them brothers and seeking to acommodate them in the new state? And the reply thereof - stating that there is no misunderstanding, and the intention is clear, but the Arab population does not wish to be a minority, a status the Jews are all too well familiar with. So, where does this alone come from? Perhaps from the fiery sermons of Al-Husseini? Who came to Berlin begging for the final solution so that they do not come and take away our land and destroy our holy places, and, of course, drink the blood of our children. OK, I am exaggerating and being unfair, but so is the use alone in Sungenis' definition of Zionism.

Just for the record, Sungenis' bishop did desribe some of his writings on the subject of Jews and Israel as "hostile, uncharitable, and un-christian". For the record still, I am not, and never have been, a supporter of the dual-covenant theology, but I do believe that due to the nature of Christ the Christians share a special bond, a relationship with the Jewish people, that will only do good to cherish and to live with, no matter how complicated and unresolved.

A more in-depth analysis of the subject matter at hand can be read here: (without me necessarily agreeing, or disagreeing, with ideas and opinions expressed in that blog)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

MEMRI: Friday Sermon in Gaza: Muslims Should Wage Jihad to Liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Filth of the Jews, the Brothers of Apes and Pigs

MEMRI: Friday Sermon in Gaza: Muslims Should Wage Jihad to Liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Filth of the Jews, the Brothers of Apes and Pigs

I don't know what it takes to change a paradigm. Often I feel it's no use even trying. Apparently, paradigm shifts are rare in lifes of individuals, as well as nations. But then, it happened to me... At least twice... Anyway, we've heard a couple of those, for sure. Maybe English translation helps...

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Babylon Revisited

Tel Aviv at two in the morning - sexy, bustling, alive, with 24-hour grocery stores, eateries and snack bars open, pubs, surprisingly sober, compared to the equal time of the day and week in Oslo. Smiles and compliments, so shy and cute. Traffic jams - at 2 am. Shopkeepers on the steps playing guitar. Hot humid air and the sound of the sea. I am back. Breathing. Living. Breathing. Back. I am back.

The joy of it strikes me. I guess my vibrant smile and the feeling that passion for life doesn't any longer have to be subdued is part of the reason I get so much attention. Soldiers smile. Shopkeepers smile. I smile. Men with guns. So much has changed.

The bus to Jerusalem has a line written on the sunscreen, in Russian: "Live is short - be patient for a while". I remember Maltese buses with "Only Jesus can save you". Probably not a very good idea to bring this up here. I see Jerusalem from afar. I feel nothing. Just that everything is the way it should be. I am back. Where have I been all this time?

The smell of fig trees. I remember it from childhood in Sukhumi. I feel I exist simultaneously in two alternate realities - here, and the rest of the world. I actually feel I never left.

I happen to be invited for a Shabbat meal by the woman who helped us fix the electricity in the Jewish Quarter in February. Who would have thought I'd see her again. We talk and we drink. Water added to wine. They explain why. I don't have the guts to say I know. Her very Orthodox husband tells us how Israel clings to God like a dove. I remember the picture I never took. A soldier talking to white doves in a cage.

We sit by the open windows for Shabbat lunch. As the only Christian, I feel a bit odd when everyone starts singing gospel. Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home... Amazing Grace... Can it get more weird? What prompted this? I never said a word... truly, Spirit moves in mysterious ways... Holy Mass in Hebrew a block away from Mea Shearim. Surely, Holy, Holy, Holy will never sound the same again...

A never-answered 'why?'. We ask. And we talk. What do you think? Why? I was hoping you knew. Do you think suffering can be redemptive, I ask.

You think you are called to fill all those shades of gray with light. I hope you can. For sometimes I feel shades of gray is all there is...

I whisper to the stones that Your hand may have touched. They seem to have accumulated the heat of the day. I lean against them, so warm, and let go of it all - sin, confusion, loss, pain, love. So much love. I touch the ground where You rose from the dead. I touch the walls in the cellar of St Peter in Gallicantu. My favourite place in the whole of Jerusalem. I wonder where Fr. Mario Azraq is now? We had such a funny episode down there...

It looks very peaceful now. Almost no soldiers, no yamam. Hugging and saying hello. You look like models. It would be an honour to take a picture with you. You are fighting our battle, why wouldn't it be? But all those shades of gray, how do you ever fill them with light?..

We talk of the uncontrollable katyshas, empty streets, safe rooms and bomb shelters and how easy it was to get used to things like that. A neigbour girl comes in and asks if they, too, received new gas masks. It's probably not such a good idea to gas us, though - after... Yes. But do you believe him? Will he actually risk a nuclear war? Well, I think I can believe anything at this point.

When it comes to wars, aren't we all losers? Yet, isn't evil made possible by the licence we give it? I remember the story of an old lady who was kissing each helmet on the assembly line when she was volunteering for the IDF. Everyone started doing the same when they saw her. Here and now, it seems perfectly logical.

A friend of a friend was being questioned at the airport, and I think he came up with his whole political agenda and all the things that this country ever did wrong. They listened to him. And then the girl who was asking questions came up, hugged him, and kissed him on the cheek.

I kiss the warm stones. Come, Lord Jesus. I walk down Via Dolorosa and "Пусть всегда будет солнце" plays at Ibrahim's shop. We sang it at kindergarten. I greet him with joy, like an old friend. I missed you, he says. You have no idea. I feel I have been in a dark stuffy room suffocating.

I breathe. And it doesn't matter how long this lasts. Here and now is all I have. Orthodox Jews praying on the beach, as the sun is setting in Tel Aviv. People taking a nap in the shadow of the trees in the midday heat. And nobody would be surprised if I did the same. Everyone sleeps on the roof of a hostel with no air-conditioning. A cashier talking to me in broken Russian. Why? Why would anyone learn Russian??

Breathing. Being yourself. Isn't that the greatest gift of all? I'll be back...

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

So much has changed - and yet... An excerpt from a travel diary of 1836

This excerpt from a travel diary written more than a century and a half ago brings out into the light some of the history that seems to have been denied us in the West in recent years - but also rings the bells of recognition within me. Yes, the times have changed, and the people have now returned to the land they can call their own, but the warmth and love and hospitality are still there, and have been shared with me in the past few days as warmly as they were in 1836... The road to reconciliation starts within our hearts. May we have the courage to walk it.

Visit to the Jews of Hebron (1836)

I followed the janissary, who conducted me around outside the walls and through the burying-ground, where the women were scat­tered in groups among the tombs, to a distant and separate quarter of the city. I had no idea where he was taking me; but I had not ad­vanced a horse's length in the narrow streets before their peculiar costume and physiognomies told me that I was among the unhappy remnant of a fallen people, the persecuted and despised Israelites. They were removed from the Turkish quarter, as if the slightest con­tact with this once-favored people would contaminate the bigoted follower of the Prophet. The governor, in the haughty spirit of a Turk, probably thought that the house of a Jew was a fit place for the repose of a Christian;1 and, following the janissary through a low range of narrow, dark, and filthy lanes, mountings, and turnings, of which it is impossible to give any idea, with the whole Jewish popula­tion turning out to review us, and the sheik2 and all his attendants with their long swords clattering at my heels, I was conducted to the house of the chief Rabbi of Hebron.

If I had had my choice, these were the very persons I would have selected for my first acquaintances in the Holy Land. The descendants of Israel were fit persons to welcome a stranger to the ancient city of their fathers; and if they had been then sitting under the shadow of the throne of David, they could not have given me a warmer recep­tion. It may be that, standing in the same relation to the Turks, alike the victims of persecution and contempt, they forgot the great cause which had torn us apart and made us a separate people, and felt only a sympathy for the object of mutual oppression. But, whatever was the cause, I shall never forget the kindness with which, as a stranger and Christian, I was received by the Jews in the capital of their ancient kingdom; and I look to my reception here and by the monks of Mount Sinai as among the few bright spots in my long and dreary pilgrimage through the desert... .

Judge, then, of my satisfaction at being welcomed from the desert by the friendly and hospitable Israelites. Returned once more to the occupation of our busy, money-making life, floating again upon the stream of business, and carried away from the cares and anxieties which agitate every portion of our stirring community, it is refreshing to turn to the few brief moments when far other thoughts occupied my mind; and my speculating, scheming friends and fellow-citizens would have smiled to see me that-night, with a Syrian dress and long beard, sitting cross-legged on a divan, with the chief rabbi of the Jews at Hebron, and half the synagogue around us, talking of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as of old and mutual friends.

With the few moments of daylight that remained, my Jewish friends conducted me around their miserable quarter. They had few lions to show me, but they took me to their synagogue, in which an old white-bearded Israelite was teaching some prattling children to read the laws of Moses in the language of their fathers; and when the sun was setting in the west and the Muezzin from the top of the minaret was calling the sons of the faithful to evening prayers, the old rabbi and myself, a Jew and a Christian, were sitting on the roof of the little synagogue, looking out as by stealth upon the sacred mosque contain­ing the hallowed ashes of their patriarch fathers. The Turk guards entered the door, and the Jew and the Christian are not permitted to enter [the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron – I.K.]; and the old rabbi was, pointing to the different parts of the mosque, where, as he told me, under tombs adorned with carpets of silk and gold, rested the mortal remains of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob .

1 The author probably did not know that in all Muslim lands, travelers could be lodged only ill the Jewish quarter (or Christian, if it existed) or in khans.

2 The sheik and his attendants were Arabs paid to protect the security of the traveler. Every traveler, even if indigenous to the country, was obliged to place himself under the protection of an escort so as to escape the danger of being robbed or killed by the Bedouins.

John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852), the later discoverer of the Maya civilization, from a book Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia, Petrea and the Holy Land, New York, 1837; reprint University of Oklahoma 1970, (pp. 312-14).

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Future Classics Fashion

I have found some of the coolest clothes ever, just on the verge between avant-garde haute couture and city chic, but still wearable. Perfect seams and details, and many ways to wear each garment.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Three months into my return to life in the normal, post-Christian, relativist and pacifist Europe, or, rather, it's weird outskirts, I find myself once again pondering the essence of the question that seemed to fill the air in the place where it was once asked, WHAT IS TRUTH?

WHAT IS TRUTH? seemed to bounce off the walls built over or about the same place where the famous converstaion between our Lord and the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate had ocurred, the place where I had been living, and serving, for three months.

Three months into my return to Europe, I am growing to think more and more that standing up for the truth isn't really an option, or a question of bravery, no matter the costs.Once found and recognised for what it is, the truth is so compelling that standing up for it is the ONLY option, unless one wants to live a life of defeat and compromise.

When Geert Wilders called Bat Ye'or a brave woman, I thought to myself - I am sure she wishes she had a choice NOT to be brave. Does he think himself brave? Moving from place to place? Always on high security alert? With fatwas and death threats against himself? Or did he, too, find himself in a position of not being able to shut up any more? The question of bravery doesn't arise when you are compelled by the truth, I'm afraid.

I am growing to appreciate the people I never thought I would even pay attention to. A mere six months ago I would have spit myself in the face had I been told I would be siding with the likes of Bat Ye'or, Geert Wilders, Melanie Stevens or Pamela Gellar. Who? ME?! A liberal university graduate? A pacifist from the age of 10? Jogging to Arabic music and practicing my belly dance several times a week? Just in November last year I was furious when a guy said at the conference that the Church will never see its true face without reconnecting with its Jewish heritage. Just a year ago I was telling everyone I was so happy to be a Catholic and not have to answer that question of 'Do you love Israel?' ever again.

And now I suddenly found myself unable to shut up about the very things I was opposing. Writing to the United Nations special envoy and the Director of Foreign Affairs Institute. Joining a group whose very existence made me shrug indignantly about a year ago. Purple prose to the soldiers. Blurting it all out to the editor-in-chief who published my photos some months ago - only to find her,and the rest of the editorial staff - more or less agreeing with me.

Finding a lot of people agreeing with me. And gradually finding out that the reasonable, the well-read, the well-informed are the ones who are silent. Who never dare, or never bother to speak up. It is precicely those who have nothing to say that say the most. The truth is silent.

Which brings me back again. To those flat stones, that get so slippery in the rain. To jasmine blossoms falling softly on the ground. To that permeating sense of Presence, and yet - total freedom. To the confusion of absolute good and absolute evil existing side by side within a few metres from each other - or maybe even within one and the same person...

Does that make them indistinguishable, though? Shall I cease to call good good and evil evil just because I have seen them at work in one and the same person? In one and the same nation? In one and the same place?..

Those slippery stones with small gutters cut out, so that horses wouldn't slip... They witnessed the meeting of a man who said his sole purpose in life was to bear witness to the truth - and a disillusioned Roman governor, who just wouldn't admit to himself that once you accept the truth for what it is, you have no choice.

Maybe, in the beginning, you wish you had... Or maybe, along the way, you meet someone who is as passionate for the direct opposite of what you know to be the truth. But will it mean that the truth doesn't exist?

I reached out for the one I tried to destroy - another Jewish truth-seeker wrote just a few years later. WHAT IS TRUTH? the governor asked indignantly. And the Truth was silent...

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Speaking of bloodthirsty agressors...

After the Turkish Hurriyet published some new photos of the IDF soldiers, the account below seems completely credible to me.

(Letter shared by Naomi Ragen.)

DETAILS EMERGE how "humanitarian aid" workers on the Mavi Marmara viciously attacked Israeli soldiers. Below, read a first hand account from Amir, an Israeli soldier who was there.

"Hello Uncle Erwin,

This is Amir writing you after reading what you sent to my father, Eitan. As you know, it was my unit and my friends who were on the ship. My commander was injured badly as a result of the "pacifists" violence.

I want to tell you how he was injured so you could tell the story. it shows just how horrible and inhuman were the activists. My commander was the first soldier that rappelled down from the helicopter to the ship. When he touched ground, he got hit in the head with a pole and stabbed in the stomach with a knife. When he drew out his secondary weapon-a handgun (his primary weapon was a regular paintball gun: "Tippman 98 custom") he was shot in the leg. He managed to fire a single shot before he was tossed from the balcony by 4 Arab activists, to the lower deck (a 12 feet fall). He was then dragged by other activists to a room in the lower deck were he was stripped down by 2 activists. They took off his vest, helmet and shirt, leaving him with only his pants and shoes on. When they finished they took a knife and expanded the wound he already had in his stomach. They cut his ab muscles horizontally and by hand spilled his guts out. When they finished they raised him up and walked him on the deck outside. He was conscious the whole time.

If you are asking yourself why they did all that, here comes the reason. They wanted to show the soldiers their commander's body so they will be demoralized and scared. Luckily, when they walked him on the deck a soldier saw him and managed to shoot the activist that was walking him down the outside corridor. He shot him with a special non-lethal bullet that didn't kill him. My commander managed to jump from the deck to the water and swim to an army rescue boat (his guts still out of his body, and now in salty sea water). That was how he was saved.

The activists that did this to him are alive, now in Turkey, and treated as heroes.I'm sorry if I described this with too many details, but I thought it was necessary for the credibility. Please tell this story to anyone who will listen. I think that these days you are one of Israel's best spokesman.

Thanks uncle Erwin,
Shabbat shalom!

Monday, 7 June 2010

How I changed my mind

 (Gaza Strip, October 2000, photo by: Reuters) 

(photo taken outside Ramalla checkpoint, March 19th, 2010)

Apparently, the picture posted in connection with my previous post needs some explanation. Out of context, it seems purely offensive and doesn't carry the meaning I intended to give it. I apologize for that. But what I meant was that our history books (again, this famous history that is on our side) have omitted an interesting page. 

I have therefore chosen to move the picture to this post to make some parallels a little bit more obvious. I also hope that a few short paragraphs will make it clear how I changed my whole outlook on politics, history and Israel's place in it. 

Despite the suddenly very popular rhetoric equaling modern Israel with Nazis - I actually fell for it myself in my first month there - the truth is actually plain to see for anyone who might be interested to look into it. The problem is, of course, that interest is absent. We seem to be suffering from collective historical amnesia.

Let me give you a few quotes to explain what I mean. For example, this one:

"The Jews have a dangerous aim by which they challenge four hundred million Moslems, and that is their express wish to occupy the holy Islamic institutions including the El Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem under the pretext that this Mosque is the Temple of Solomon. This was openly admitted by a number of political religious and official leaders and their recognized institutions.”

Brings back the sweet memories of those days when the guys in the kitchen were convinced that the Jews were going to blow up the Mosque and blame it on the earthquake - for Tuesday was such a lovely day to build the Third Temple. Actually, this quote is from the speech made by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in March 1943.

"Shall we go to protect the Mosque and fight the Jews?", a Christian came running downstairs after one of such fiery speeches in March 2010. Or how about this one:

"...uncompromising war against the Jews. That naturally included active opposition to the Jewish national home in Palestine, which was nothing other than a center, in the form of a state, for the exercise of destructive influence by Jewish interests. Germany was also aware that the assertion that the Jews were carrying out the functions of economic pioneers in Palestine was a lie. The work there was done only by the Arabs, not the Jews" (Minutes of the meeting between German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Husseini in Berlin on November 28, 1941; as published in Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945, London, 1964).

Already in the 1920s, the Grand Mufti was known for inciting the anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem by claiming that the Jews were plotting to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque. In 1951, a close relative of the Mufti named Rahman Abdul Rauf el-Qudwa el-Husseini matriculated to the University of Cairo. The student decided to conceal his true identity and enlisted as "Yasser Arafat." The rest is history... Or, how about this, more recent one:

"You have supported the Jews in their idea that Jerusalem is their eternal capital, and agreed to move your embassy there. With your help and under your protection, the Israelis are planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque. Under the protection of your weapons, Sharon entered the Al-Aqsa mosque to pollute it as a preparation to destroy and capture it".

What a relief, this is certainly not addressed to us. We would have never permitted anyone to build an embassy in Jerusalem. Indeed, this is a quote from Osama bin Laden's Letter to the American People from 2002. We have come full circle.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Mousetrap Snapped Shut...

...and, actually, there is nothing much to say. Israel is in the news, and IDF is Jack the Ripper. I have been asked to write a few notes, so this is what I am going to do here, as well. Just a few words, to sum up what I think, without implying that I am the only one in the right, and without commenting on what I know nothing about...

I believe this one boat - one out of many - should have never been boarded. I am not a military expert so any further comments on the fact itself would just look idiotic. I don't want to write anything more than that. I feel it would have been unfair to the 163 who died in Nigeria today. Unfair to the 30 000 who died in Sukhumi within a few weeks, without a single person knowing about it Norway except me, I think, and a few refugees from around there. Unfair to the 2 million Armenian refugees and at least 600,000 dead in the genocide of 1914 to 1918.

The fleet of activists, whose testimonies are so precious in the face of the bloodthirsty Israeli agressor, have mostly been sleeping on lower decks or been tucked away for protection. The one who was actually taking part in the commotion arrived in Norway looking so happy I would have given him a bottle of champagne to celebrate. I understand, he has many reasons for his joy. They have put up a show yesterday discussing how well they can hear the difference between rubber bullets and live fire... Somehow the fact that they sailed from another occupied territory (where the occupying power had just vowed to finish off the remaining Armenians!) has never bothered them. Well, I suppose it's all about choosing sides.

I am sorry for the Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps, who are not allowed to buy property or take up employment outside the camps, and are now third generation refugees. The best they can do is rent an apartment, for a special law has been passed - prohibiting their integration into society.

I remember when war broke out in Somalia, Yemen opened its borders unconditionally, accepting anyone who could come. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands. Nobody wanted to do the same for the Arab Palestinian refugees. I feel sorry for the poor people who have been condemnded by their fellow Arabs to become the tool for manipulating and destroying Israel. I feel sorry for the people in Gaza who are held hostage to the power play and fed by slogans of the kind 'history is on our side'. History is always on everybody's side - you just tell it the way you like it.

After WWII, the Jews that were arrested and deported from Norway - by Norwegians! - never got a penny, much less a fraction of their property which has been confiscated from them. It is very interesting to hear the descendants of those very people, who denied any compensation to the Jews, advocate for the Palestinian right of return. It is even MORE interesting to hear them say that the Greeks from the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus DO NOT have the right of return. I suppose, history is not on their side. Alas. Poor Greeks.