Thursday, May 22, 2014

Anthony Bourdain: The Way to the Heart of a Political Conflict is Through the Belly

From Bourdain's Wikipedia entry:
Anthony Michael Bourdain (born June 25, 1956) is an American chef, author, and television personality. He is known for his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, and in 2005 he began hosting the Travel Channel's culinary and cultural adventure programs Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and The Layover. In 2013, he joined CNN to host Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
He just received a prize for the program below.  He speaks with cooks in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and Sderot. Great food, interesting people, and inspiration.  Great job!


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pundak is dead. Long live Pundak.

Ron Pundak was a powerful voice for peace.  Along with Yair Hirshfeld he initiated the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians in January 1993.  This led to a Declaration of the Oslo Principles that provided for Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, gradual devolution of economic power to the Palestinians, and international economic assistance to the nascent Palestinian entity in Gaza.  It was the model for peace for 20 years.  The Oslo peace process is dead.  Ron Pundak is dead.

The hope was for peace within five years.  It could have happened. There was a partner for peace, says Pundak in the video below.  It didn't happen.

A year and a half after Oslo, on February 24, 1995, Baruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn born physician and Orthodox Settler in Kiryat Arba near Hebron, entered the Cave of the Patriarchs Mosque in Hebron and killed 29 worshippers.  Nine months later, on November 4, 1995, an Orthodox settler opposed to the Oslo accords assassinated Yithzak Rabin at a rally in the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv.

Five years came and went.

In July 2000 President Clinton hosted Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat and their negotiating teams for a summit at Camp David to attempt to close the deal on Oslo.  What happened at Camp David?

Robert Malley, who was a special assistant to President Clinton, and Hussein Agha frame the issue in the New York Review of Books in August 2001:
In accounts of what happened at the July 2000 Camp David summit and the following months of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, we often hear about Ehud Barak’s unprecedented offer and Yasser Arafat’s uncompromising no. Israel is said to have made a historic, generous proposal, which the Palestinians, once again seizing the opportunity to miss an opportunity, turned down. In short, the failure to reach a final agreement is attributed, without notable dissent, to Yasser Arafat. ....
For a process of such complexity, the diagnosis is remarkably shallow. It ignores history, the dynamics of the negotiations, and the relationships among the three parties. In so doing, it fails to capture why what so many viewed as a generous Israeli offer, the Palestinians viewed as neither generous, nor Israeli, nor, indeed, as an offer. Worse, it acts as a harmful constraint on American policy by offering up a single, convenient culprit—Arafat—rather than a more nuanced and realistic analysis.
Pundak also was present at Camp David.  His views about the collapse of the Oslo process, right through Camp David, are not equivocal.

It's a problem of very poor implementation of the principles of Oslo, says Pundak.  He gives three examples, but puts the main blame on Israeli leaders.

  1. Israel kept building settlements. Israel spent, and is spending billions of NIS on the settlements.  "This sends a message to the Palestinians that we are not serious;"   
  2. Palestinian continued terrorism tapped into Israeli paranoias; it undermined trust;  and, 
  3. Israel has never openly declared that the negotiation will lead to 2 states based on '67 borders, with partition of Jerusalem, with secure borders for Israel, and a fair and agreed upon resolution of the refugee issue. 
If Israel, the government, any prime minister, had made such a declaration, and they should have done it right after the Oslo accords, Pundak believes the process would have gone very differently.  Palestinians would have trusted more, there would not have been a second Intifada, and settlers would have known that the ongoing settlement process was fruitless, and governmental agencies would not have supported the settlement process as they have done.  This was the biggest mistake, says Pundak.  

Pundak: 
"If we are looking at Camp David, which was another opportunity, the Americans behaved amateurishly. ... They came as the lawyer for Israel." [ Not like Carter in 1978, who was a real honest broker between Egypt and Israel.  The parties owe great thanks to Carter, thought Pundak; not so much Clinton] 
"But on the Israeli side, I think this was one chain of mistake after mistake. Barak wanted to reach peace from my point of view. But after wanting to reach peace, he started to make all possible mistakes on the way. He did not accept the idea of putting the end game in front, as the Palestinians asked, if not demanded.  He suggested things that in Israel, until today, are being portrayed as the best offer ever, but this is an offer that no Palestinian leader, and no leader who would have taken the Palestinian role (i.e. Clinton?) would have accepted. IMPOSSIBLE.  He was aggressive, he was arrogant, he didn't want to meet Arafat alone, he didn't want to meet the other side until the other side will agree to the terms that he dictates.  And actually, even without the American mistakes, and without the Palestinian mistakes, which I can list from here to the evening, I think the main spoiler of Camp David, unfortunately, I think was Barak."  

Malley and Agha in their article claim 
"strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer. Determined to preserve Israel’s position in the event of failure, and resolved not to let the Palestinians take advantage of one-sided compromises, the Israelis always stopped one, if not several, steps short of a proposal. The ideas put forward at Camp David were never stated in writing, but orally conveyed. They generally were presented as US concepts, not Israeli ones; indeed, despite having demanded the opportunity to negotiate face to face with Arafat, Barak refused to hold any substantive meeting with him at Camp David out of fear that the Palestinian leader would seek to put Israeli concessions on the record. Nor were the proposals detailed. If written down, the American ideas at Camp David would have covered no more than a few pages. Barak and the Americans insisted that Arafat accept them as general “bases for negotiations” before launching into more rigorous negotiations.
In the wake of the failure of the Camp David talks there were protests in Arab villages in Galilee.   Ari Shavit in his My Promised Land (Kindle Loc. 5083) describes how Israeli police came under attack, and in response they shot dead thirteen Palestinian Israelis. Settlement continued full steam ahead; Sharon visited the Temple Mount in tense times.  From September 2000 until February 2005 the Second Intifada raged.

In 2005 Israel withdrew from Gaza and embarked on building the separation wall.  It has brought quiet to Israel, but the peace process has stood still.

Pundak is an inspiring and optimistic speaker.  He felt optimistic that ultimately the parties would have to come together on something like the Oslo framework.  But Oslo and Pundak are dead.  We will see if they have an afterlife.


Camp David 2000 Until Today: Ron Pundak and... by IPCRI

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Israel/Palestine 11: Homeward Bound

When you take the tour of the Western Wall tunnels, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation distributes a handy timeline of the world from creation in both the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars.  The actual creation date goes unmentioned, but anyone who knows anything knows it’s 20 generations from Adam.  

The timeline gets specific with The Patriarchs (2000 on the Hebrew calendar; 1500 BCE on the Gregorian calendar); Israel in the Desert (2500/1,200 BCE); First Temple period and the prophets (3,250/800 BCE); through the creation of the State of Israel (5708/1948 CE).  The calendar doesn’t go through end times, but anyone who knows anything knows that the end of days will arrive not later than 6000 years after creation (i.e. 2240). 


Judaism's Mayan calendar moment is just a few generations away.

We sat next to a worldly, modern orthodox rabbi, Yoseph Milstein, translator of the Mishna, who subscribes to this timeline without rejecting the science of carbon dating.

"How old was Adam when G_d created him?" he asks.  The argument goes something like this:  Adam was created as an adult, he needed mature plants and animals to eat in order to survive.  So G_d created the world with mature plants and animals:  trees complete with growth rings, and rocks and fossils with carbon dating signatures, that just happen to predate creation by a few million millennia.

"But doesn't that require a pretty strong dose of suspension of disbelief?" I query.  He did not seem troubled by this.  The problem, of course, is that if you are willing to be this cavalier with fitting the evidence to your story you can darn well believe anything.  Fifty virgins awaiting me in heaven--here I come.

There is the minor annoyance that the end times, not more than 226 years away, will entail the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and the building of the Third Temple in its place.  This does not seem to me to be consistent with the biblical vision of the end of days:
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation and they will no longer study warfare. (Isaiah 2:4)
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on my entire holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
The good thing about the religious is they will seriously engage and grapple with these concepts and contradictions for hours on end.  It makes a 10 hour plane ride fly by.

The rabbi claims a direct patrilineal descent from rabbis in Temple times.  "Do you know what a Cohen is?" he asks.  "Well, yes, Cohen's are a priestly caste sharing a direct patrilineal descent from the biblical Aaron."  [I'm cheating]  Only men can be priests, of course, so the traditional maternal lineage for Jewish descent in Halakhah is discarded for this purpose.

I'm skeptical.  I can trace my lineage to my great grandfathers, and I know very little about them.  There are some folks who trace their lineage to passengers on the Mayflower.  I'm sure there are some in England who trace their lineage to Tudors and Plantagenets.  I don't think actual proven lineage goes much further than that.

There is a story about two Germans who trace their lineage back to cave dwellers 3,000 years ago.  But, of course, this story involves a category error:  having shared DNA with a cave dweller doesn't tell you whether you are descended from a particular Fritz or Franz.  DNA testing won't tell you whether you are an unbroken-chain-direct-descendant of the biblical Aaron--even if you had the DNA of the biblical Aaron.

"O.K., tell me the name of the Temple era rabbi you are descended from?" I challenge impertinently.  He is stumped.   However, after a bathroom break he comes up with a name.  I don't recall who it was.  "We used to have a family record of all the rabbis in the line," he claims.  It was lost in the holocaust.  This is a tragedy if true;  pretty convenient if not.  I say not.

There are babies on the plane.  Babies in mothers' arms, babies in the bathrooms, babies crawling down the aisle.  I've never seen so many babies on a plane.  I've never seen so many babies as we saw in Jerusalem. Trim and proper families of nine in religious garb at every street crossing.  The growth rate of the Haredi population is six percent per annum.  Is this "babies as a triumph over Hitler" as Ari Shavit puts it? Babies as weaponized demography?  Most of these babies are born into poverty.

Israel cannot accommodate an everlasting population explosion.  Today Israel has 7.8 million people within its putative borders; 11 plus million if we count the west bank and Gaza.  The low lying farmlands of Israel look a lot like Switzerland today.  They won't if/when this population doubles.

The terrible truth is that seventy years after, world wide Jewish population has still not recovered its pre-Holocaust level of 16.7 million.  It will soon.

Can Israel really serve as a life-boat for world Jewry in case of a future Holocaust?  Can we even think such thoughts?  I think the answer is "No."  Israel's population is forecast to be 11.4 million by 2035.  It seems unlikely that this small country would be able or willing to absorb, say 6 million from the U.S., in any five year time span in the future.

Ultimately Israel, and we, must go about the hard work of building and renewing our respective societies so they are just and vibrant and protective of all.  
"[Israelis and Arabs] shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation and they will no longer study warfare. .... The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on my entire holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
We will harmonize our davening to Ya-weh at the wall and our chanting to Allah at the Dome of the Rock without need for the watchful presence of riot police and submachine guns. Yes, we will live in harmony.

My apologies to anyone I have offended.  We've had a great trip and I enjoyed writing about it.  So thanks for reading. And now it's back to work.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Israel/Palestine 10: Area C and a Lack of Trust

The border with Lebanon is called “the quiet border.”  It used to be so before Hezbollah.  However, after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and an 18-year occupation there, UN watch-towers overlook a security zone in the Southern Bekaa valley: the term when applied to the northern border is an anachronism.  Today, “Jordan is the real quiet border,” say our kibbutznick friends Dudu and Shaul.  They, like every Israeli we have met on this trip, are satisfied with the effectiveness of the separation wall.  “It has worked and that is good enough for me,” says Dudu.  

The residents of Kibbutz Ashdod Ya'acov get on well with their Jordanian neighbors.  “It’s peaceful, but it’s a cold peace,” says Shaul.  Indeed, they have no interaction with their neighbors across the river valley; and there is no opportunity for contact.  Still, even though it's quiet, they feel the need for the fence: “The violence moves around; today it’s in Gaza,” offers Dudu, implying tomorrow it might come back to Kibbutz Ashdod Ya’acov. 

“What should be done with the West Bank,” we query.  They shrug for not knowing what to do.  Dudu is partial to giving it back to Jordan.  Not that Jordan would be receptive to such an offer if made.  And not that it looks like Israel is prepared to give up control of the West Bank anytime soon.  

Shaul spent time in an Israeli prison for refusing to perform border duty in the territories while he was in the IDF.  Today, after Munich, the Yom Kippur war, the suicide bombings of the Second Intifada, ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza, and extreme rhetoric from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also from some in the West Bank, he is less sure about his stance.  “We know that if they don’t vigorously pull suspects out of bed, we’ll have more attacks,” says Dudu. The belief is strong that this is so.  You hear it again and again. 

The lack of trust carries over toward Muslim Israelis (20 percent of the population).  All Isrealis are required to serve in the army upon turning 18.  However, Muslim Israelis get an exemption.  They may volunteer, but almost none do; and if they do volunteer they are not generally allowed to serve in regular units.  “We don’t trust them,” is the universal Israeli Jewish consensus.  

There are reasons for the lack of trust.  But lack of trust makes the conflict intractable.  A Jewish army for a Jewish state is a natural thing, but it is not likely to help overcome mututal distrust in the foreseeable future.  Driving down the Jordan Valley through the West Bank the road lies entirely in Area C, IDF controlled territory.  Yet there is hardly any IDF presence in this part of the Jordan Valley.  There are large Israeli farming operations and several Israeli settlements.  There is no border control.  There are Israeli Regional Councils.  It’s clear that the Jordan Valley is, de facto, a part of Israel.   The border is east along the fence with Jordan and the country extends from there to the Mediterranean Sea.  Here is a graphic of Area C. 

This past week there was talk by mainstream Israeli politicians about annexing Area C in the wake of the collapse of the peace talks.  It is not surprising: the two state solution is dead.  As we drive to dinner with friends in Modi'in we pass "the Green Line," the pre 1967 border.  Today there is no trace of this line.  This area is fully within Israel. The same is true for Latrun, where we purchased a nice Syrah from an old monastery.  Even though Area C includes 60% of the West Bank, it contains only ~150,000 people.  Israel can grant full citizenship to those inhabitants without upsetting the applecart of a Jewish majority.  What’s left of the West Bank after the annexation of Area C are the enclaves of Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and some smaller pockets in between: 2.2 million people without citizenship, without the right to travel freely, without substantial hope for the future, and at risk of being hauled out of bed at the point of a gun by the IDF at 3:00 a.m.

How do you build trust?  It’s a two way street; but the street is blocked by IDF check-points.  There is hardly a trickle of traffic on this road to peace.  The guide books make it sound like you can visit the territories like any part of Israel.  You certainly can’t from Jerusalem.  You may be able to freely go past checkpoints to Bethlehem from the Jordan Valley, but certainly not to Nablus or Ramallah.  Our rental car contract prohibits us from traveling to any part of the territories.  It's no accident.  Israel feels very safe, but the idea of travel to the territories on your own feels less safe.  How much of this is imagined? How much is real?  No one here can tell us, because they don’t venture there, and the Palestinians living there are hemmed in.  Israelis don’t trust them. 

Israelis are generally satisfied with the current security situation.  They’ve built a great and vibrant country that is safe.  The Hebrew language has been fully revived, the economy is growing at a healthy clip.  Israel is prominent in high tech, energy production, and now in biotechnology as well.  There is a strong feeling of family among all Jewish Israelis.  For now they are ignoring the problem in their midst.  

Israel/Palestine 9: The Kibbutzniks


The other day friends took us to dinner at an Arab restaurant in the Upper Galilee. We enjoyed a grand spread of hummus, eggplant ten different ways, Pita breads, and various yoghurt dressed cold dishes.  Delicious. No alcohol because this is a Muslim establishment, but great conversation. 

On the way, at the very south end of the Kinneret, Shaul had us stop next to an old sandstone building.  “This is an important place, “ he said earnestly.  “This is Degenya, the Kibbutz that started it all.” 
The Kinneret near Kibbutz Deganya

Shaul and Dudu are members of Kibbutz Ashdot-Ya’acov, which sits at the intersection of the Yarmuk and Jordan rivers, just down the road from Deganya.  The border fence separating Israel and Jordan runs along a forest of date palms on their kibbutz.  Watchtowers, relics of a time not long ago when the kibbutz imposed itself on land purchased by James Rothschild, are sprinkled on the land.  The kibbutz started in Gesher, a few kilometers down the Jordan valley in 1922, but soon the kibbutzniks were tired of waiting for permission to work the larger, richer Rothschild land and marched up to their present location and started working the land without permission.  The growth of the Kibbutz was aided by the Zionist Fourth Aliyah (1924-1928) and the Fifth Aliyah (1929-1939), a period when more than 300,000 Jews immigrated to the land.  By the 1940’s Ashdot-Ya’acov was one of the largest kibbutzim with more than 4,000 members.  They named the kibbutz after the waterfall next to the kibbutz and in honor of James (Ya’acov) Rothschild. 

It was an idealistic time.  At the beginning, golden grass covered the parched countryside.  The two historical rivers were harnessed with dams and channels, and the kibbutznicks plowed and irrigated the land, began to grow crops, and raise cows, chickens, and goats.  They developed drip irrigation and started a plastics factory.  Children spent their days together in the Children’s House; they ate there, slept there, and went to school there.  Children saw their parents for only a short time each evening.  The Kibbutz provided housing, a job, basic needs for all members.  Everyone worked hard, and there was not much left over. 

Dudu’s parents arrived from Poland.  The photograph hanging on the wall shows a sophisticated, intellectual, beautiful couple.  “They had no God,” says Dudu, “ideology was their religion.” “Work was their religion,” adds Shaul.  Ari Shavit, in his book My Promised Land, says that ideological fervor is just what was needed to extract the personal sacrifices necessary from an entire generation in order to forge the state of Israel: to tame the land and make it bloom, to create industries, an economy, and to do the hard acts required to establish borders, defend them, and drive out or subdue the existing population.  Moshe Dayan, the heroic general of the Six-Day war, was the second child born on Kibbutz Deganya.  The religiously orthodox, many of whom don’t subscribe to the state of Israel to this day, could never have done it. 

The sacrifices were large.  Individual gain and advancement were subordinated to the community.  Life was communal; property and children were communal.  The members worked the fields with a gun at the ready.  In the early days there were intruders.  The Kibbutz was at the front lines during the war of independence, and again during the Six-Day war in 1967.  During the “war of attrition” that followed, the PLO operated from just across the river in Jordan.  Land mines were frequently placed in the fields at night.  One exploded under a wagon crowded with farm workers returning from the fields.  Four were killed.  A memorial marks the spot. After the peace treaty with Jordan, a Jordanian soldier killed seven school girls on an outing to the “Peace Island,” immediately adjacent to the Kibbutz.  We visited the memorial on the way in to the Kibbutz. 

The ideology didn’t last. Today, most kibbutzim have either failed or they have made the transition to some type of privatized model. The growing prosperity of the country provided options for advancement and more prosperous lives off the kibbutz.  Membership declined.  The Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of Stalinism and its inability to implement an efficient pricing system for the planned economy.  And Ashdot-Ya’acov split in two:  Ashdot-Ya’acov Ichud, and Ashdot-Ya’acov Mechuad.  One continued on the communist model and is languishing; one is pursuing socialism with capitalistic characteristics and seems to be making the transition.


Shaul and Dudu have the good fortune, their description, to be members of Ashdot-Ya’acov Ichud.  The kibbutz has largely made the transition to a modern capital economy.  Many members pursue careers off-kibbutz.  Dudu is a professor of physics at two local colleges; his wife, Bracha, is a fine artist and runs the art program at the college.  Their salary goes directly to the kibbutz, but they get most of it back, minus the governmental taxes, and some additional kibbutz taxes.  They have their own apartment, but their laundry is done in the kibbutz laundry, they drive a kibbutz car-pool vehicle.  I infer that as members of the kibbutz they also receive a share of the profits.  The plastics factory, as well as the farming operations of the kibbutz utilizes cheap outside labor.  They run their own day care, schools, and old age home.  Today Ichud and Mechuad share only two things: the basketball team and the cemetery.
Dudu and Bracha