Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Complexity of the Middle East

ABC News posted an article on its website about the U.S. scrambling to save the current Mideast peace talks. Midway through the article is a heading that captures the overall sentiment being expressed in the media: "Will Israeli Settlement Construction Doom Mideast Peace Talks?"

The problem, from my perspective, is that a very simplistic picture is being painted of current events which fails to take into account the complexity of the issues. A case in point. Back in May Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking the "Jewification" of Jerusalem. The charge is similar to the one now being made--Jewish construction and settlement in historic Arab neighborhoods and lands is intended to drive out the Arab population and replace it with Jews. In both cases Israel is ultimately being charged with ethnic cleansing.

But is this the whole story?

Buried in today's online edition of the Jerusalem Post is an article few will bother to read -- "Sheikh Jarrah Palestinians fear new evictions." The article describes a decision by Israel's high court regarding property in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. For those who have been to Israel, this area is about a half mile from of the Garden Tomb, to the north of the Old City.

The high court ruled that the property belongs to Jews "who, according to the ruling, purchased it in 1892." And it is here where the complexity of the situation becomes apparent. In 1892 the Jews were the majority population in Jerusalem, though Jews and Arabs lived side-by-side. This changed dramatically during the years leading up to the formation of the State of Israel. In 1948 the Jewish population of the Old City, along with Jewish families living in areas where there was a majority Arab population, were forced from their homes. The Old City and East Jerusalem were "ethnically cleansed" of Jews who had lived there for hundreds of years.

Please don't misunderstand me here. Both Jews and Arabs were forced from their homes and lands during this tumultuous time. Hundreds of thousands were ultimately displaced. But one cannot demand the right of return for Arabs while refusing to allow Jews that same right. Israel's high court ruled that the last valid owners of the land, who had legally purchased it over a hundred years ago, were Jewish. Therefore, Jews have a right to the property. It's not the "Jewification" of Jerusalem--it's a reaffirmation of the basic right to ownership of private property.

What's the point to take away from all this? I believe it's the realization that the problems of the Middle East are far more complex than the headlines in our newspapers might suggest. Before jumping on the bandwagon of demanding simplistic, one-sided solutions, let's make sure we first understand fully the depth of the problem we are trying to solve. Otherwise, we might create an even bigger mess.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Borders of Israel

With all the tension arising out of Israel's refusal to extend the moratorium on construction within the West Bank, I believe this is a good time to step back and review the history of the border disputes with Israel. For a balanced, and reasonably well-researched, history of Israel's borders, click here to read a Wikipedia article on the subject. As you do, note the following points. (And don't be afraid to click through the various links in the article to track down sources!)

1. The original land of Palestine promised to Israel included modern-day Jordan. However, this was removed by Winston Churchill in 1921, leaving just the land west of the Jordan River for a Jewish National Homeland.

2. The land west of the Jordan was subsequently divided into two separate states--one for Palestinians and one for Jews--by the 1947 U.N Partition Plan. The plan was reluctantly accepted by the Jewish population...but rejected by the Arabs, who attacked the newly established State of Israel.

3. The 1949 Armistice Agreement established temporary borders for the State of Israel. Israel actually ended up with more land than she had been allocated in the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan. The Armistice specifically declared that the lines drawn were not final borders. They were to be established through negotiation, but the surrounding nations refused to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel.

In 1967 the leaders of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan threatened an attack against Israel. Israel took Egypt's decision to close the Straits of Tiran (which blocked access to Israel's seaport of Eilat) as an act of war and launched a preemptive strike on Egypt's air force. Syria (and later Jordan) joined with Egypt, and Israel found herself in a war on three major fronts. In six days Israel pushed the Syrians off the Golan Heights, Jordan from the West Bank, and Egypt from the Sinai peninsula. Later in June, nine days after the fighting ceased, Israel offered to return most of the land to these countries in exchange for peace. In September the Arab nations met in Khartoum and issued their famous three no's in response: no peace, no recognition, and no negotiation with Israel. Eventually, Egypt and Jordan did make peace with Israel. Egypt received back the Sinai, and Jordan renounced her former claims to the West Bank.

Why is all this important? I think it's important because it helps us understand three key points in the current debate. First, when the world calls on Israel to return to the pre-1967 boundaries, it forgets that these were never intended to be--or defined as--permanent boundaries. They marked the end of hostilities after the 1948 war that established Israel's independence as a nation. Final boundaries were to be negotiated, but the Arab countries refused to do so. To now demand that Israel abrogate all her rights before negotiations can proceed is asking her to accept borders that were never intended to be final. Second, Israel's control of this land came about by the refusal of her neighbors to recognize her right to exist...and by their threatened attack in 1967. Third, Israel announced a 10-month moratorium on construction of homes in the disputed territories in November 2009. Why did the Palestinians wait until September 2010--9 months into the 10-month moratorium--to begin negotiations? The world dragged its heals for 8 months...but now blames Israel for a potential collapse of the talks.

It seems hypocritical to accuse Israel of bargaining in bad faith when the current situation was not the result of their aggression or refusal to bargain in the past. It does seem that many don't want the talks to succeed--they just want to make sure Israel gets blamed when the talks finally collapse.

America's Lack of Religious Knowledge

The Pew Research Center just posted the results of their U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey--and the results aren't that encouraging. Atheists and agnostics actually scored higher than Protestants, who on average only got half the questions right.

Now to be sure, the questions cover more than just biblical knowledge. Evangelicals and Mormons did better than atheists and agnostics on the Bible questions, but they did not do as well on the questions relating to other world religions.

How well would you do? You can take the quiz by clicking here. Once you have taken the quiz, you can compare your results to the different groups who participated in the survey.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ahmadinejad's UN Speech

This was a busy day for news! Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered his sixth UN speech. Most of what you will hear about the speech will focus on its rambling nature and on his suggestion that the 2001 World Trade Center bombing was orchestrated by the U.S. government to "reverse the declining American economy and save the Zionist regime."

However, I would like to focus on a different aspect of his message—a theme that has remained relatively consistent throughout all his speeches to the U.N. That theme relates to his core beliefs in what the future holds for the world.

What does President Ahmadinejad believe about the future? The reality is that most Americans—including the media—don’t fully know. The press has generally failed to grasp Ahmadinejad’s eschatology—his belief in what the future holds. I believe understanding this aspect of Ahmadinejad gives us greater insight into his actions and motives.

So let me trace what he has said about the future over the past six years.


Short sound bites on the evening news are insufficient to understand this issue. So bear with me as we go back and look at Ahmadinejad’s last six speeches to the UN General Assembly.

September 17, 2005

On September 17, 2005, Ahmadinejad delivered his first major address to the UN General Assembly. (For the full text of his speech click here.) Carefully read the following excerpts.

With the passing of the era of agnostic philosophies, today humanity is once again joined in celebrating monotheism and belief in the Creator as the originator of existence. This is the common thread which binds us all.

Faith will prove to be the solution to many of today's problems.

Another hope is the common global appreciation of the sources of knowledge. Although reason, experience and science are among valuable sources of knowledge, the darkness of the Middle Ages deprived major portions of the Western world of appreciating. This reactionary tendency deprived many of access to various scientific findings and knowledge and led to the exclusion of other sources of knowledge namely God and knowledge based on revelation from the life of human beings in the West; Divine knowledge that was carried and disseminated by such prophets as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad (peace be upon them).

From the beginning of time, humanity has longed for the day when justice, peace, equality and compassion envelop the world. All of us can contribute to the establishment of such a world. When that day comes, the ultimate promise of all Divine religions will be fulfilled with the emergence of a perfect human being who is heir to all prophets and pious men. He will lead the world to justice and absolute peace.

O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.

September 20, 2006

On September 20, 2006, Ahmadinejad again addressed the UN General Assembly. (For the full text of his speech, click here.)

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Praise be to God and peace be upon Prophet Mohammad and His Infallible Household and chosen disciples. O God, hasten the reappearance of the Imam of the times and grant to us victory and prosperity. Include us among his followers and martyrs.

Whether we like it or not, justice, peace and virtue will sooner or later prevail in the world with the will of Almighty God. It is imperative, and also desirable, that we, too, contribute to the promotion of justice and virtue.

He commands His creatures to enjoin one another to righteousness and virtue and not to sin and transgression. All Divine prophets from the Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) to the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him), to the Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), to the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), have all called humanity to monotheism, justice, brotherhood, love and compassion. Is it not possible to build a better world based on monotheism, justice, love and respect for the rights of human beings, and thereby transform animosities into friendship?

I emphatically declare that today's world, more than ever before, longs for just and righteous people with love for all humanity; and above all longs for the perfect righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet.

O, Almighty God, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirsts for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause.

September 26, 2007

Ahmadinejad addressed the UN General Assembly for a third time on September 26, 2007. (For the full text of his speech, click here.)

Oh God, hasten the arrival of Imam Al-Mahdi and grant him good health and victory and make us his followers and those who attest to his rightfulness.

I will also speak to you about the need for remedying the present situation, prospects for a brighter and a more hopeful future, and about the appearance of the sublime and beauty, compassion and generosity, justice and blossoming of all the God-given human talents and the prominence of faith in God and realization of the promise of God.

The only sustainable way to the betterment of mankind is the return to the teachings of the divine prophets, monotheism, respect for the dignity of humans and the flow of love and affection in all relationships, ties and regulations, and to reform the present structures on this basis.

To fulfill this objective, I invite everybody to form a front of fraternity, amity and sustainable peace based on monotheism and justice under the name of "Coalition for Peace", to prevent incursions and arrogance and to promote the culture of affection and justice.

This is the invitation of all the divine prophets from Adam to Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Mohammed (P[eace] B[e] U[pon] H[im]).

If they accept this invitation, they will be saved and if they don't, the same calamities that befell the people of the distant past will befall them as well.

It is the divine promise that the truth will be victorious and the earth will be inherited by the righteous. You, who are free, believers, and the people of the world, put your trust in God.

Striving in this way to surrender rule to the righteous and Perfect Human, the Promised One, is indeed the final cure for the wounds of humanity, the solution of all problems, and the establishment of love, beauty, justice and a dignified life all over the world.

Without any doubt, the Promised One who is the ultimate Savior, together with Jesus Christ and other holy Saviors, will come. In the company of all believers, justice-seekers and benefactors, he will establish a bright future and fill the world with justice and beauty.

This is the promise of God; therefore it will be fulfilled.

Let's play a part in the fulfillment of all this glory and beauty.

I wish for a bright future for all human beings and the dawn of the liberation of and freedom for all humans, and the rule of love and affection all around the world, as well as the elimination of oppression, hatred and violence. A wish which I expect will be realized in the near future.

September 24, 2008

Ahmadinejad addressed the UN General Assembly for a fourth time on September 24, 2008. (For the full text of his speech, click here.)

The world will ultimately disappear, but God has created man for eternity and has made them a manifestation of Himself.

God Almighty has tied their perfection and true freedom of humans to their devotion and obedience to Himself. True freedom and obedience to God are in balance and in fact are two sides of the same coin.

Obeisance to God means confessing to monotheism and obeying His commands, and to be free from ungodly worship.

The complete and full-scale manifestation of such characteristics can happen only under the rule of the righteous and perfect human being who is obedient to God and who is promised by the divine Prophets.

Be aware that living with obedience to God and carrying out His orders, compassion for people and striving for the fulfillment of justice is to your advantage too. I invite you to return to the path of God, the Prophets and to the path of the people of the world and to the truth and justice.

The only route to salvation is a divine straight path. Otherwise, God’s hand of power will emerge from the sleeve of oppressed nations and will make your life difficult, and will put an end to your hegemony.

A global community filled with justice, friendship, brotherhood and welfare is at hand, as I have elaborated. A community which will tread the path of beauty and love under the rule of the righteous and perfect human being, the One promised by all divine prophets and the One who is the true lover of humanity. A community that will be devoid of any fear, despair and privation. Such a community will soon be ours. The community promised by the great divine Prophets Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ and Mohammad (PBUH) is about to materialize.

Let us, hand in hand, expand the thought of resistance against evil and the minority of those who are ill-wishers. Let’s support goodness and the majority of people who are good and the embodiment of absolute good that is the Imam of Time, The Promised One who will come accompanied by Jesus Christ, and accordingly design and implement the just and humanistic mechanisms for regulating the constructive relationships between nations and governments.

Let’s have a proper share in the establishment of that illuminated and promised divine age.

September 23, 2009

On September 23, 2009, Ahmadinejad delivered his fifth major address to the UN General Assembly. (For the full text of his speech click here.)

Oh, God, hasten the arrival of Imam Al-Mahdi and grant him good health and victory and make us his followers and those who attest to his rightfulness.

Today we must rise together in a collective commitment against the present challenges; we must take change seriously and help others through collective work to return to the basic moral and human values. Messengers were sent by God to show the light of the truth to human kind, they came to make people aware of their individual and social obligations. Piety, having faith to Allah and its judgment of human behavior or conduct in the next world, belief in the primacy of justice in both lives, seeking one's happiness, well being and security in the happiness, well-being and security of others, respecting human kind, making efforts to expand love and compassion against hostility were all on top of the teachings offered by the Messengers of God from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ and the last one Prophet Mohamamd (PUH). All of them came to do something to eliminate war and ignorance, to eradicate poverty and uproot discrimination in order to spread happiness in the entire world. They are the best gifts that God Almighty has granted to human beings.

If the belief in Entezar( A waiting patiently for the Imam to return) will turn into a common and we join hands to achieve prosperity for all, then there will be more real and increasing hopes for reform.

The world is in continuous change and evolution. The promised destiny for the mankind is the establishment of the humane pure life. Will come a time when justice will prevail across the globe and every single human being will enjoy respect and dignity. That will be the time when the Mankind's path to moral and spiritual perfectness will be opened and his journey to God and the manifestation of the God's Divine Names will come true. The mankind should excel to represent the God's "knowledge and wisdom", His "compassion and benevolence", His "justice and fairness", His "power and art", and His "kindness and forgiveness".

These will all come true under the rule of the Perfect Man, the last Divine Source on earth, Hazrat Mahdi (Peace be upon him); an offspring of the Prophet of Islam, who will re-emerge, and Jesus Christ (Peace be upon him) and other noble men will accompany him in the accomplishment of this, grand universal mission. And this is the belief in Entezar (Awaiting patiently for the Imam to return). Waiting with patience for the rule of goodness and the governance of the Best which is a universal human notion and which is a source of nations' hope for the betterment of the world.

They will come, and with the help of righteous people and true believers will materialize the man's long-standing desires for freedom, perfectness, maturity, security and tranquility, peace and beauty. They will come to put an end to war and aggression and present the entire knowledge as well as spirituality and friendship to the whole world.

Yes; Indeed, the bright future for the mankind will come.

In waiting for that brilliant time to come and in a collective commitment, let's make due contributions in paving the grounds and preparing the conditions for building that bright future.

September 23, 2010

On September 23, 2010, Ahmadinejad delivered his sixth major address to the UN General Assembly. (For the full text of his most recent speech click here.)

This is the promise of God that the earth will be inherited by the pure and the righteous. And the people free from selfishness will take up the management of the world. Then, there will be no trace of sorrow, discrimination, poverty, insecurity and aggression. The time for true happiness and for the blossoming of the true nature of humankind, the way God has intended, will arrive.

All those seeking for justice and all the free spirits have been waiting for this moment and have promised such glorious time.

The complete human, the true servant of God and the true friend of the mankind whose father was from the generation of the beloved Prophet of Islam and whose mother was from the true believers of the Jesus Christ, shall wait along with Jesus the son of Marry and the other righteous to appear on those brilliant times and assist the humanity.

In welcoming them we should join ranks and seek justice.

Praise to Love and worship, praise to justice and freedom, praise to the true humanity, the complete human, the true companion of the humankind and peace be upon you and all the righteous and the pure.


When Ahmadinejad urged the world to adopt “monotheism,” he was referring specifically to Islam. Christians are not viewed as monotheistic since we believe Jesus is the Son of God, not just a prophet from God. The first pillar of Islam is the creedal statement “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” This is the profession of monotheism he is calling on all to accept. His messages were "evangelistic."

The “Promised One” announced by Ahmadinejad is not the first coming of the Messiah as envisioned by the Jews, or the Second Coming of Jesus longed for by Christians. This “Promised One” is the Mahdi—the Twelfth Imam of Shiite Islam. So who is the Mahdi?

Ahmadinejad, like most Iranians, is a Shiite Muslim. The largest sect within the Shiite tradition, sometimes called Twelver Shiism, believes God raised up a series of twelve Imams (spiritual leaders) through history. The Twelfth Imam, Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn Ali, has been hidden from view (called the “major occultation”) since A.D. 939. Shiites believe he will reappear in the last days as the Mahdi (“the directed one”) and will join with Jesus to defeat the Islamic version of the Antichrist. Together they will deliver humanity and convert the world into a perfect and just Islamic society. In 2006 The New York Times published an article on "Islam, Terror and the Second Nuclear Age" that said, in part:

"Twelver Shiism is, at its core, an eschatological faith, focused on the ultimate return of the imam-mahdi, who will restore the Shiites to their rightful place and redeem their generations of suffering. Since the vanished imam is by tradition a human who has never died, but remains in occultation, he is also believed to affect the course of events even from his hidden place. And Shiite tradition fills in the picture of the Mahdi’s return with an elaborate account of signs that will herald the event, including advance messengers, earthquakes and bloodshed."

Shiite eschatology includes several signs of the Mahdi’s coming, but Shiites refuse to set a specific date for his return, since “Anyone who fixes the time of the appearance is telling a falsehood.” However, one key sign that precedes his return is the rise of Dajjal (“the deceiver”), an evil individual who will be defeated by the Mahdi and Jesus. They will return when the earth is full of injustice and tyranny and ruled by evil men (key themes in Ahmadinejad’s speeches).


So what impact does Shiite eschatology have on us? The answer is that it could have a great impact because it seems to be a key part of Ahmadinejad’s worldview. And he rules a country in the heart of the volatile Middle East that is developing nuclear weapons—and that has a history of providing support for terrorist organizations that oppose the United States and Israel.

Historically, most Shiites have taken a passive approach to the return of the Mahdi. Since no one knows the day or hour of his return, nothing can be done to hasten that event—or to hinder it. It will happen in its God-ordained time. However, there have been Shiites who have taken a more active approach, who believe there are things they can do to help hasten that day.

The key unknown variable is Ahmadinejad’s personal beliefs on this issue. From his speeches it is clear he believes in the return of the Mahdi. It is also clear that he expects it to be “realized in the near future.” More troubling is his call to the nations to “play a part in the fulfillment” of this event. While that could be nothing more than a call to embrace Islam—and in that way hasten the approach of the end—he keeps making the statement in the context of his hope for the soon coming of the Mahdi. Is it possible he sees himself as being placed by God in his current position for this very reason?

Most secular reporters downplay this possibility. They can’t imagine someone longing to start a worldwide conflagration—possibly one involving nuclear weapons. But they don’t understand the internal logic of such a decision. An Islamic suicide bomber can willingly take his or her own life because of the firm belief that such an action results in immediate entry to Paradise. If Ahmadinejad believes such a conflagration is part of God’s end-time program—and if he believes God has raised him up “for such a time as this”—he could very well be willing to bring about his own destruction if that is what it takes for the Mahdi to return. Perhaps this is what he had in mind in his 2006 address when he asked Allah to “Include us among his followers and martyrs.”

If the West underestimates Ahmadinejad’s devotion—or his determination—it could be to our harm.

The UN Report on the Gaza Flotilla

The UN Human Rights Commission has issued its preliminary report on Israel's boarding of the flotilla seeking to break the blockade of Gaza. Predictably, the report condemns Israel for its actions and implies that war crimes were committed. Israel refused to cooperate with the commission and has rejected the report. The world press will boil everything down to a 60-second sound byte , and I doubt if few will actually read or evaluate the report itself.

I decided to be one of the few. If you would like to read it, you can access it at Scroll down to A/HR/15/21 and then click on the "E" in the right column. This will download a pdf copy of the report.

Here are my summary observations on the report.

1. The first 19 pages have nothing to do with the flotilla incident. Instead they try to establish the fact that Israel is violating international law by imposing a blockade on Gaza. I found it interesting that the report talks much about Israel's "collective punishment" of the civilian population of Gaza but never mentions two key points: that Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip to help promote peace and that Hamas used that as an opportunity to launch thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel once Israel had withdrawn. In short, Israel's blockade was in response to hostilities launched against it by the ruling government in Gaza after it made a tangible gesture to help promote peace.

2. The report glosses over the fact that the Oslo agreements gave Israel the right to protect itself. To its credit, though, it does report that Article VIII of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement specifically stated that “Israel will continue to carry the responsibility ... for defence against external threats from the sea and the air [...] and will have all the powers to take the steps necessary to meet this responsibility.” Yet this carries little weight in the overall report.

3. The report acknowledges that "Under the laws of armed conflict, a blockade is the prohibition of all commerce with a defined enemy coastline. A belligerent who has established a lawful blockade is entitled to enforce that blockade on the high seas." However, it concludes Israel's blockade was illegal. A blockade is deemed to be illegal if "(a) it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or (b) the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade." Was Israel's intent in the blockade to starve the population? If it was, why were they permitting non-military items into the Gaza Strip throughout the blockade? To me, the real issue is how much is a nation allowed to defend itself against aggression? The blockade was designed to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip, because Hamas had shown it was able and willing to use any weapons it could obtain to attack Israel. And the seizure of the Karine A in 2002 and the MV Francop in 2009 show there have been attempts to smuggle Iranian arms into the Gaza Strip and Lebanon by ship in the past.

4. In weighing the different evidence regarding the actual boarding of the ships, the UN Commission decided to give more credence to the eyewitnesses aboard ship and less to the video footage of the boarding shot by Israel. Here is the official explanation in the report. "In ascertaining the facts surrounding the Israeli interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla, the Mission gave particular weight to the direct evidence received from interviews with eye witnesses and crew, as well as the forensic evidence and interviews with government officials. In light of seizure of cameras, CCTV footage and digital media storage devices and of the suppression of that material with the disclosure only of a selected and minute quantity of it, the Mission was obliged to treat with extreme caution the versions released by the Israeli authorities where those versions did not coincide with the evidence of eyewitnesses who appeared before us." Both types of evidence have strengths and weaknesses, but I tend to find more the video evidence more compelling. It might not be 100% of the truth (since not all the raw footage was released). But what it does show is an unbiased record of the event, which can't be said for the testimony of someone who might have a particular bias. Unless the video was doctored—and no one has made such a claim—I would tend to believe what I see with my own eyes than what someone else claims to have seen.

5. The report does make it clear that some passengers, especially those aboard the Mavi Marmara were planning to resist any Israel attempt to stop the flotilla. "There is clear evidence that some people on board the Mavi Marmara, including senior IHH leaders, were prepared actively to defend the ship against any boarding attempt." The night before the boarding "some passengers took electric tools from the ship’s workshop, which was not kept locked and sawed sections of railings into lengths of approximately one and a half metres, apparently for use as weapons. Lengths of metal chains from between the railings were also removed." Do you think these might be the iron pipes seen on the Israeli video footage?

6. The report also makes it clear that the goal of the flotilla was not just to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza. "The Mission notes a certain tension between the political objectives of the flotilla and its humanitarian objectives. This comes to light the moment that the Israeli Government made offers to allow the humanitarian aid to be delivered via Israeli ports but under the supervision of a neutral organization. The Mission also notes that the Gaza Strip does not possess a deep sea port designed to receive the kind of cargo vessels included in the flotilla, raising practical logistical questions about the plan to deliver large quantities of aid by the route chosen." So if the ships couldn't actually dock in Gaza, doesn't that speak to motives?

7. The report provides what appears to be a reasonable narrative of the events the morning of the boarding, though one needs to read through this section rather carefully to sort through the different statements. Israel sought to board the ships using nonlethal means. The active resistance aboard the Mavi Marmara set the tone for the rest of the operation. The video that was released (but not really used by the Commission) shows the severity of the attack on the Israeli soldiers. At that point it seems that any defense based on the claim that the ship's passengers were civilians loses credibility. From the report it appears that the passengers on ships that resisted Israel's boarding were treated more severely than the passengers on the ships that did not resist. Personally, I find it hard to fault a soldier in those circumstances. The report makes a rather silly observation at that point. "It is the view of the Mission that the Israeli forces should have re-evaluated their plans when it became obvious that putting their soldiers on board the ship may lead to civilian casualties." When the civilians actively engaged and opposed the Israelis it would seem to me that they ceased being able to claim that they were civilians.

So what do I make of the entire report? First, I believe the first 20 pages are in error. Israel has a right to live in defined borders in security. Once they pulled out of the Gaza Strip, whoever became the ruling authority there had responsibility for maintaining the security of its borders. When Hamas participate in, or allowed, missile attacks against Israel from its territory, it became a hostile force; and Israel had the right to defend itself. Israel's right to self-defense included the right to impose a blockade on Gaza as long as it didn't seek to starve the population. And Israel did allow humanitarian aid to go into Gaza once the goods were inspected to make sure nothing was included that could be made into weapons.

Second, I believe if the flotilla had been truly focused on the humanitarian needs of the people in Gaza, they could have offloaded the supplies in Ashdod and supervised their shipment to Gaza. This was not their intent. Instead, they sought to provoke a confrontation with Israel, and they succeeded.

Is there great human suffering within Gaza? Yes. Sadly the report lays the blame at the wrong doorstep. Hamas is to blame, not Israel.

Are Stuxnet and Bushehr related?

In August Russia announced it would begin loading nuclear fuel into the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor in Iran, giving Iran its first operational nuclear reactor...and another pathway to obtaining fuel for nuclear weapons. The world watched to see if the U.S. or Israel would attack the reactor before the fuel was loaded. (Once nuclear material was loaded into the reactor any attack would have spread nuclear contamination and brought worldwide condemnation on the attackers.) August 21, the date for loading fuel into the reactor came and went without an attack. Or did it?

In what seemed at first to be a totally unrelated event, a computer virus called Stuxnet surfaced about a year ago. This new malware baffled experts by its sophistication. Reports are now surfacing that it might be the first example of a cyber weapon, a virus designed actually to destroy a facility by directing key equipment to malfunction. Though the virus has infected a number of systems worldwide, these experts believe it was designed to seek out and destroy a specific target, and the target hasn't yet been identified.

Based on places already infected by the virus, it appears the epicenter of the attack is Iran. There is speculation the virus might have been introduced into systems there by one of the Russian contractors building the Bushehr nuclear power plant. How? Possibly by something as simple as planting the virus on a memory stick used by an individual when he came to work on the computer system for the plant.

Someone went to a lot of trouble to design this highly sophisticated computer virus. Two possibilities are the U.S. and Israel. Perhaps Israel didn't need to risk attacking the nuclear plant physically (with the potential loss of pilots and planes) because it had already developed another means of attacking the plant--one that did so from the inside.

One final thought. If this is the first example of a virus being used to physically attack a facility, it will almost certainly not be the last. The United States is also vulnerable to such attacks, perhaps even more so since we are so dependent on computer systems to run virtually all aspects of our life.

Keep watching for news about any possible delays in bringing the Bushehr nuclear power plant fully online...and watch for future reports on "weaponized" computer malware!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

There are still two months till Hanukkah, but a new archaeological discovery in Israel provides some additional historical context for that event. Hanukkah commemorates the cleansing of the temple following its desecration at the hands of Antiochus IV Ephiphanes. But the larger context for Hanukkah is the conquest of Alexander the Great and the spread of Hellenism (the Greek language and culture) throughout the areas he conquered. It was Antiochus IV's aggressive attempts to replace Jewish beliefs with Hellenism that brought about the Maccabean revolt led by Mattathias and his sons.

How widespread was the impact of Hellenism prior to the time of the Maccabees? This photo is of a ring discovered in the excavations at Dor, a seaport on Israel's coast between Caesarea and Mount Carmel. The ring is from the fourth- or third-centuries B.C., and the image is of the Greek god Apollo, god of sun, light, music, and song.

The ring helps illustrate the growing influence of Greek culture on the land over a century before the time of the Maccabees. For more information on this find, click on the following link to the University of Haifa, the school sponsoring the dig at Dor.

As we struggle with the impact of culture on belief systems in our day, this discovery can—in a small way—help us place our culture wars within a larger historical context. For nearly 150 years Hellenism made inroads into Jewish life and culture until the time of the Maccabees brought about a religious revival in Israel.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Power of Words

The cover story for the September 13 edition of Time magazine ("Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace") seemed shallow and biased. I felt Israel was being judged simply because its people seem to be trying to live normal lives. Israel's ambassador wrote a response that appeared as an op/ed piece in the September 15 edition of the Los Angles Times.

If you haven't seen either article, follow both links and read the stories. Then ask yourself why Time magazine chose to present Israel as it did.

Are there some in Israel who don't want peace with the Palestinians? Yes. Are there Palestinians who don't want to make peace with Israel? Certainly Hamas, among others, comes to mind. They have already attacked civilians on the roadways and shot rockets into Israel in an effort to derail the current peace talks.

To paint all Israel with a broad brush (as Time did on its front cover...and in the article) while failing to note the problem on the Palestinian side appears unfair and one-sided. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Land and the Book Team

I'm excited to present the team I'm working with on The Land and the Book radio program. They are (from l to r) Denny Nugent (co-host), Dan Anderson (engineer), me, and Jon Gauger (producer). Jon and I have taken several trips together to Israel to develop Christmas and Easter specials for Moody Radio. I've also traveled to Israel with Dan Anderson, who helped out on the Moody trips. Denny and I have not yet taken a trip together to Israel--but I look forward to doing so sometime in the future!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Third Temple

Israel's fall feasts look toward the Second Coming of the Messiah. In that regard I thought you might like to watch some online videos that look toward the rebuilding of the temple. The first is from last fall when work began on a full-scale replica of the temple in Mitzpe Yericho (a Jewish settlement near ancient Jericho) designed to help help future priests learn how to perform temple duties. The second is an interview with Chaim Richman of The Temple Institute on the work his organization is doing to research and reconstruct the various implements needed for worship in a rebuilt temple.

Some observations. First, these groups are legitimate in the sense that they represent a commitment to take seriously God's commands in the Torah regarding the proper way to approach Him in worship. Second, the groups are a small minority within Israel and don't represent the consensus of current Jewish opinion. (Most Israelis are not religious, and most religious Jews believe the temple won't be built until after the Messiah arrives.) Third, the Bible says there will eventually be a temple built, and God could use these individuals to accomplish His plans for the future. Finally, the Bible says the third temple will not be the final temple. A fourth temple (described in the Book of Ezekiel) awaits the arrival of the Messiah!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rosh Hashanah

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It's also called the Feast of Trumpets because the shofar, the ram's horn trumpet, is traditionally sounded 100 times. Two thoughts come to mind on this day. First, Psalm 47 is read in synagogues on Rosh Hashana. It's a great psalm for all of us—Jews and Gentiles—to read today because it calls on all nations to "shout to God with cries of joy." Second, Rosh Hashanah--like all the Jewish feasts--has a prophetic element that points toward the Messiah. The spring feasts (Passover, First Fruits, Pentecost) foreshadowed the First Coming of the Messiah, and the fall feasts (Rosh Hashanah/Trumpets, Yom Kippur, and Tabernacles) look toward His Second Coming. Perhaps the Apostle Paul had this in mind when he announced that the next event in God's prophetic program--Christ's return for His church--takes place with the sounding of a trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

Have a blessed day!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Jewish State?

How far apart are the Israelis and Palestinians in their current peace negotiations? Consider just one issue. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said one result of any agreement must be Palestinian recognition of the Jewish State of Israel. This seems reasonable. If the goal of the talks is a two-state solution, one should expect both sides to acknowledge the existence of the other.

But today Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took issue with this assertion. "We're not talking about a Jewish state and we won't talk about one," Abbas said in an interview with the semi-official Al-Quds newspaper. "For us, there is the state of Israel and we won't recognize Israel as a Jewish state" (see

Abbas's reason for his position is that a Jewish state would strip
Israeli-Arabs of their rights and turn them into illegal citizens. But would it? I believe the answer is no for two reasons. First, Arab citizens within Israel proper today have rights as Israeli citizens--and have since 1948. Second, U.N. Resolution 181 (the original 1947 UN resolution to partition the land and establish the states of Israel and Palestine) addressed clearly addressed this issue. By the way, Resolution 181 was accepted by the Jewish population of the land but rejected by the Arabs who were opposed to any two-state solution at that time.

Here are some excerpts from that resolution:

Religious and minority rights. Freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, shall be ensured to all. No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants on the ground of race, religion, language or sex.

Citizenship. Palestinian citizens residing in Palestine outside the City of Jerusalem, as well as Arabs and Jews who, not holding Palestinian citizenship, reside in Palestine outside the City of Jerusalem shall, upon the recognition of independence, become citizens of the State in which they are resident and enjoy full civil and political rights. Persons over the age of eighteen years may opt, within one year from the date of recognition of independence of the State in which they reside, for citizenship of the other State, providing that no Arab residing in the area of the proposed Arab State shall have the right to opt for citizenship in the proposed Jewish State and no Jew residing in the proposed Jewish State shall have the right to opt for citizenship in the proposed Arab State. The exercise of this right of option will be taken to include the wives and children under eighteen years of age of persons so opting.
(To read UN General Assembly Resolution 181 in its entirety, go to:

The original UN declaration establishing a two-state solution specifically identified Israel as a Jewish State...and provided clear guidelines on the rights of the non-majority population within that state. Israel has largely followed these guidelines--from the use of Arabic on street signs to the freedom given to Muslims and Christians to worship without harassment.

Are the Palestinians willing to abide by the same rules? Abbas's statement today casts doubt on the sincerity of their commitment.

The prophet Amos made a wise observation, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3, NKJV).

If there is disagreement on such a foundational issue as allowing Israel to be a Jewish State, don't expect great progress.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Program Launch is October 2

My new radio program, The Land and the Book, begins Saturday, October 2! The program can be heard on all Moody owned-and-operated radio stations. It will also be carried by a number of affiliate stations. (Check with your local Christian radio station to see if they will be carrying it.) You will also be able to listen online at Or you can download each week's program as a podcast and listen at your leisure!

My guest on October 2 is Joel Rosenberg, and we will be talking about events in the Middle East.

I hope you join us!