Tuesday, July 26, 2005

London once more....

Needless to say, Mayor Livingstone has not answered the EMail I wrote him with more or less the same text as in the last post. Never mind.

But somehow I can not help but feel strangely amused by the headlines from London. One more round of attacks (failed, thank God) and the Londoners don't show anymore the great resolve not to be intimidated by terror, but start to walk or bike to work instead of using the tube, and are irritated by the sound of ambulance sirens (IHT headline, July 26). The oh-so-civilized British police is adopting a shoot-to-kill tactic to stop terrorists, killing a harmless electrician with 5 shots to the head in the process - and I thought they didn't even have guns... Here is my forecast: One more attack and there will be checks of all MELTS ("Middle-Eastern looking terror suspect") at the entrances to public transport facilities. Then one more and the MELTS will be allowed to use public transport only after being issued a special permit, depending on a lengthy background check ("Question 3: Do you have any connection to a terrorist organization? Question 4: Which spelling is correct: Al-Queda, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaida or Al Jarreau?"). Latest after ten attacks downtown London will become a MELTS-free zone, with an eight meter high wall around it.

It is unavoidable: Once a country experiences the effects of continuous terror first hand, a lot of measures once considered undemocratic, unethical or even illegal will be implemented under the pressure of a terrified (=exposed to terror) public. In that sense the harshest criticism of Israel's anti-terror measures comes from Scandinavia, where not a single terror attack has ever taken place. I'd say, let's wait and see which funky anti-MELTS measures the Swedes will invent, once their time has come.

Here is my low-cost suggestion to make the London public transport system safe again in one day: Allow people to use buses, trains and the tube only in swim suits, slippers and without bags. No opportunity to conceal a bomb, that's it. It's summertime anyway.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dear Mayor Livingstone,

First my condolences for the 50-some dead from the recent terror attacks. That must have been really terrible for you.

But you know, those poor Pakistanis didn't really have much of a choice. After all, they don't have the military means to fight the mighty British Army in Iraq, which has taken part in an invasion costing the lives of 25,000 Iraqi civilians so far. So, under the circumstances, the suicide attacks in London were their only effective way of resistance, you see.

The British government and Al-Qeada are really only two sides of the same coin. I sincerely hope that this insight helps you to overcome your pain.

(Livingstone to Sky News: "Given that the Palestinians don't have jet planes, don't have tanks, they only have their bodies to use as weapons. In an unfair balance, that's what people use. Israel has done horrendous things which border on crimes against humanity the way they have indiscriminately slaughtered men, women and children in the West Bank and Gaza for decades. The Likud and Hamas members are two sides of the same coin. They need each other in order to attract support.(...)"

Monday, July 18, 2005

Blame Israel for London's Terror Attacks?

It was to be expected. Soon after Londoners came out of their shock, there were voices blaming Israel for what had just happened to them.

Maybe somebody out there can explain to me what is the connection? Would a wacko Pakistani blow himself up because he can't witness the suffering of the Palestinians at the hand of the Zionist enemy anymore? I didn't think so...

What we see here is the bill for Saddam Hussein's early retirement and the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. US and British forces invaded both places for their own national interest, not to protect Israel - God forbid.

Why then does every announcement of Al Qaeda et al. mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Simply in order to erode public support for Israel in Europe and to increase public support among Muslims world-wide for their useless slaughter of innocent civilians anywhere, anytime.

Get it people, Israel is nothing but a "shitty little country" (to speak with Daniel Bernard, the French ambassador to the UK), and those few square miles of desert inhabited by some 6 million people can not possibly be responsible for the negative bias of 1.5 billion Muslims towards the Western World.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A Political Joke

I received this joke recently by EMail. It gives a very good impression of what people think about the Likud's party central committee, around which allegations of corruption and abuse of power have become common news.

Teacher at the beginning of the new school year: "..and now everybody will tell us what his or her father is doing!"

1st kid: "My father is a policeman and arrests thieves!"
2nd kid:" My father is a doctor and fights diseases!"
3rd kid: "My father is a bus driver and brings kids to school!"
Last kid: "My father is a strip dancer in a gay bar, and if customers are willing to pay a lot of money, they can even have sex with him."

The teacher, totally shocked: "What? You can't be serious! Is that really true??"
The kid (whispering): "No, actually my father is a member of the Likud central committee, but I was too ashamed to tell this to the other kids..."

Monday, July 04, 2005

Gaza First? And Last!

The count-down continues, it seems like we are really going to pull out of Gaza in August. Right wing activists are blocking highways (who in his or her right mind could expect to generate any sympathy for the settlers by keeping thousands of people at each junction away from their families or jobs?). The most idiotic thing I have ever heard in that context was the explanation of one protest organizer to why the road blocks planned for the day after the train accident were cancelled: "We would not have gotten enough media attention in the aftermath of the accident." Nothing about the victims, media attention is what counts. Shmock!

The theme of the setter's campaign against the pull-out is "Jews don't expel Jews from their homes." This works well with the emotional mindset of many people here, and you can see a lot of orange flags and bands -the banner of resistance- on houses and cars.

I am impressed that despite the uncertainty about the benefits of the pull-out and the great effort by right wing activists and many religious groups to stop the count-down, the majority of Israelis is still supporting Sharon's plan. The sad thing is that it won't bring us any closer to peace with the Palestinians and everybody here knows that. During a recent trip to Germany a lot of people expressed new hope, but I could only smile at so much naivete. Nothing of what is going on in the territories suggests that the militants are planning to give up the armed struggle and move towards non-violent resistance. On the contrary, arms smuggling is at a high and preparations to start a new wave of terror attacks are being discovered every day.

Once that new terror wave starts, the Israeli public opinion will move so much to the right, that any negotiated settlement containing more pull-outs will become an illusion for many years to come. I start to develop the feeling that this is Sharon's great plan: Give up lousy Gaza and justify the total freeze on any other moves towards the Palestinians with the terror starting after the pull-out. If so, he is on the right track, as the Palestinians are preparing to fall into this trap as fast as they can.

It seems nothing is ever going to change out here.

What is Life Really Like in Israel?

After a long break due to the house project (see below...) here finally some new stuff.

Although I have tried here and there to relate to the daily life in Israel, this time I want to explicitly give you my take on what is life like these days in The Holy Land.

I could sum it up in one word: Tough. But the again, there is hardly a place on earth where people don't think their life is tough. Even my parents in wealthy Germany with (still) secure and comfortable pensions are moaning every day under the tax weight, the Euro and everything getting worse all the time. So tough is a very relative statement, I admit.

But life is tough here, no doubt. Nobody will deny that our security situation is somewhat more tense than, say, in the Black Forest. But, apart from a small part of the Israeli population that is directly exposed to the almost daily attacks by Palestinian militants and terrorists, most people here got adopted quite well to the threat and take it like Germans take the bad weather. It is annoying, sometimes even depressing, not much you can do about it, but probably there are better days ahead.

So, as surprising as it may be to the outside world, terror has not managed to make a significant dent in the quality of life - again, this is true for the lucky majority that has not lost anyone close in a terror attack. Maybe this is comparable to the risks of traffic. Many more people die here on the roads than in terror attacks, but if you, your family or friends have not been involved in a serious accident, you don't really relate to the dangers on the road in an emotional, upsetting way. Your know the danger is there, but chances are good it won't hit you personally.

Daily life is more a reflection of the struggles to earn a decent living than anything else. In a way, the economic situation of most people is absurdly bad. The average family gross income is barely $ 2,000 / month, and family means just that: Both parents have to be working to bring home that kind of salary, which is quite modest for a country with a flourishing HiTech industry and world-class academic institutions. In the HiTech sector itself things are a little bit better. A good engineer with 5 years experience can earn some $ 4,500 - but wait, before you pack your bags to move here, consider the tax load and the buying power. Take home at that level is less than 40% (income tax, health insurance, social security, pension funds,...) and literally every item on your shopping list except for tomatoes, cucumbers and oranges is more expensive than abroad. A half way decent middle class car goes for $ 20,000, and a 120 m^2 flat 10-20 km from Tel Aviv in a reasonable neighborhood is around $200-250,000. The bottom line: Even a modern HiTech warrior working 12 hours a day in order to develop the next big thing for a Venture Capital funded start-up can not alone guarantee the family a reasonably comfortable life in suburbia.

So while the vast majority of the Israelis is struggling to live the middle class dream, or even just to get by, the government spends like there is no tomorrow. Public sector spending is 54% of GDP, a whopping 15% higher than in Europe, for example. And the same time, public services are dismal for the most part. Sure, some of the money goes into a quite formidable and therefore expensive military, but the bigger problems are die-hard leftovers of the socialist past, like all-mighty unions and low performance standards, rampant corruption up to the highest levels and the blunt abuse of the democratic system by all kind of special interest groups. To know the right person ("protectia") is still more important than to be qualified or otherwise entitled, and not only the Arab municipalities have totally bloated administrations staffed with friends and relatives of the mayor. And I am not telling you any secrets, all of this is known, it happens every day out in the open, and never has a high ranking public servant been punished in a meaningful way for abuse of power and corruption. In China a criminal like the ex-mayor of Yehud (a bankrupt municipality near Tel Aviv) would have been executed, here the guy is not even in jail.

And then there is the fragmentation of the Israeli society into religious and secular, right wing and left wing, Askenazi and Sephardi Jews, native Israelis and immigrants, Jews and non-Jews. So if there are no other things to worry about, Israelis start to fight between themselves. This level of tension is culpable everywhere in daily life. Israelis are famous for being aggressive, unfriendly and egocentric in their public behavior. This changes dramatically once you have befriended somebody, but until that moment you are in for a rough ride by most European or American standards.

But this change of attitude is where the fun part starts. Relationships with friends, neighbors, colleagues and whomever else you can call at least an acquaintance are very, very friendly and warm. They don't stop at the superficial "How are you? (But don't bother to answer, I don't really care!)" level. Families are very close and the Friday night dinner at mom's is so commonly observed a ritual that traffic just before the Sabbath can be worse than morning rush hour.

More about the god sides of life in Israel another time.

For now just one image: "Spring in the Negev" - this is how the desert looks like right after the winter rain and before the summer heat turns everything into a brown, stony, ahh - well, desert.