Thursday, March 24, 2005

March 24, 2005

Horror in Tel-Aviv, Mass Murder in Darfur, Incitement, Talia Sasson's Report on the Illegal Outposts in the West Bank, Racism, Center for Democratic Studies, Crisis in High Education, Maale Edumim, Separating State from Religion, Poll among Youth on Serving in the Territories, Israel Affairs, Vol. 11, No. 2 (April 2005), Lebanon, Hizballah and Amal, Terri Schiavo, Earth and Moon Viewer, Books

Dear friends and colleagues,

Horror in Tel-Aviv

On Friday, February 25, the horror returned to Tel Aviv. A suicide bomber wanted to enter a dancing club, the guards inspected him and when he realized he will not be able to enter he exploded at the entrance. Five people killed, and more than fifty injured. My wife and I were fifteen minutes away from the place as we returned from the theatre.

This was a sad reminder that some Palestinian organizations will continue to attack at the heart of Israel, that talks about "new paths" for peace failed to convince them, that there is still great necessity for guards in every public place in Israel (the industry was shrinking as some relaxed to think that with Abu Mazen the horror is behind us), and that the Palestinian Authority cannot avoid confronting the terror organizations, disarming them, and sending their leaders to spend the next years of the lives behind bars. The "politics of numbers" comes into play yet again. If the next explosion will be too painful for Israel to bear, we will enter the Palestinian cities with great force and then the result would be yet another major setback for tranquility.

Mass Murder in Darfur

The Sudanese Government, using Arab "Janjaweed" militias, its air force, and organized starvation, is deliberately and systematically killing the black Sudanese of Darfur. Over a million people, driven from their homes, now face death from starvation and disease as the Government and militias attempt to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching them. The same forces have destroyed the people of Darfur's villages and crops, and poisoned their water supplies, and they continue to murder, rape and terrorise.

The International Community has tough words for Sudan but threats to act are mild, with the strongest suggestions being economic sanctions on Sudan. But the Sudanese are accustomed to sanctions, and even the toughest sanctions take months to have any impact. The Khartoum government is skilled at using negotiations to delay. They know all they need is another few weeks and their terrible work will be done. Of all things we must not allow in Darfur, it is delay. Only one thing will stop the killing in Sudan: an immediate international intervention to protect the people of Darfur and deliver aid to them. I call upon governments and the United Nations to intervene immediately to protect civilians and guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid in Darfur, Sudan. I call on the UN Security Council to mandate the International Criminal Court to investigate those responsible for the Darfur genocide. Sign a petition on


The incitement continues. On February 27, 2005 head of SHABAC Avi Dichter presented the cabinet with a selection of letters sent to senior figures that included extremist statements. One of the letters read: "A din rodef has been placed on the prime minister and he must be murdered." To recall, din rodef was instrumental in the incitement campaign against Yitzhak Rabin leading to his assassination on November 4, 1995. "Din rodef" is an ancient rabbinical decree that allows Jews to kill other Jews who worked for an enemy.

The letters also read "Yigal Amir lives, Rabin is dead, Sharon will die" and "Sharon will meet Arafat in hell." Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told the cabinet that preparations for the disengagement include the creation of dedicated units whose sole job will be to combat incitement and those causing disorder. Minister Haim Ramon attacked the justice system saying it was unacceptable that blatantly inciteful statements can be made against Sharon and other senior figures without any response from the legal system. He rightly asked for practical law enforcement steps be taken.

Talia Sasson's Report on the Illegal Outposts in the West Bank

On March 8, 2005 attorney Talia Sasson submitted her report on West Bank outposts to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. There were no great revelations, just systematic data that confirmed what we already know. Some of the illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank were both planned and funded by the Housing Ministry, including a number of those built on private Palestinian land. The report essentially confirms longstanding complaints by Palestinians and activist groups like Peace Now that successive Israeli governments, including those in power after the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, approved and financed for decades the establishment of outpost settlements on privately-owned Palestinian land.

In light of the harsh accusations, Sasson recommended that the Housing Ministry be stripped of authority over construction of settlements in the West Bank, and that this power be transferred to the cabinet. Housing Minister Isaac Herzog (Labour) said following the release of the report that every expense earmarked for the settlements will now need the approval of the ministry's director-general. Up until now, the heads of each department at the ministry have been able to sign off on expenses for various construction and infrastructure matters at the settlements.
Sasson reported that a number of government ministries had failed to hand over some of the information she requested. Therefore, the list of outposts that appears in the report is not a complete one. "I do not have a full picture of all the outposts," she said. The report names "only" 105 illegal outposts in the West Bank. Of them twenty four were established after March 2001, in blunt violation of the Israeli government's promise to the Bush administration. Of the twenty four, 15 were built on private Palestinian land.

Sasson also called on Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to look into the involvement of government employees in the establishment of illegal outposts, and prosecute the offenders.
Talia Sasson said the complacency over unauthorized settlement outpost construction was not limited to the Housing Ministry alone, accusing the IDF Civil Administration and the Defense Ministry of involvement. According to Sasson, the Defense Ministry must approve any trailers being placed in the West Bank - which in fact it did, in contradiction of the defense minister's instructions.

Sasson said she does not know whether the ministers themselves knew what their ministries were doing, and that it is possible other ministries were also involved in the outpost construction.

Following the report's publication, Yahad-Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin called for a formal government investigation into the matter, with ministries legally compelled to provide all relevant information. Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer called on the government to take "clear and drastic" action against the outposts. Generally speaking, while the Labour ministers voiced alarm and wished to take immediate steps against the outsposts, the Likud ministers were far more moderate in their reaction. After all, the report is hardly news to them.
The U.S. administration warned Israel that its failure to keep its promise to remove all outposts established in the West Bank since March 2001 will harm relations between the countries, and could have an impact on American aid to Israel. At their last meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Dov Weisglass, the prime minister's adviser, that President Bush expects Jerusalem to take immediate action based on the conclusions and recommendations in Sasson's report on the outposts.

Talia Sasson had worked in the Attorney General's office. Inter alia, she headed the small unit that tracked down incitements and decided whether to press charges against inciters. Recently she retired and now works as an independent lawyer.

A few years ago I hosted her on one of my TV talk shows (Academic Channel), together with the former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair. The tension between the two was noticeable. The "Incitement Unit" was established immediately after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, under the leadership of Ben-Yair. I was surprised to know that the Unit was established more or less without the blessing of Ben-Yair. I found this most interesting, especially given the special circumstances that brought about the decision.

I had talks with a few former attorney generals in Israel in which I raised the issues that Sasson reported now, with particular alarm that some of the legal outposts serve as hotbeds for political extremism, operating outside the confines of the law, using the weapons supplied by the IDF against Palestinians without too much interest of law enforcement authorities. There was, still is, a common saying among radical settlers: The law stops at the Tapuach Junction (Kfar Tapuach is settled by Kach followers, Meir Kahane's banned party). They never seemed too surprised, going into lengthy explanations how difficult it is to infiltrate those settlements and obtain the proof needed for prosecution, the reluctance of the security forces to challenge those settlers, their fear of the zealots, etc. This reminded me of South Africa: first you supply radicals with weapons; then surprisingly the weapon is used against whoever is described as an "enemy"; and it is too risky for the security forces to intervene, thus turning a blind eye to what is going on. When you plant seeds of hatred, you will reap blood.


A new poll, published by Yedioth Ahronoth ("Racist? Me?") on March 22, 2005, p. 8 (24 Hours section) among Jews in Israel testifies about the seriousness of racism in our society. Here are some of the findings:
23% would not marry religious people, nor would like their children to marry religious people;
15% would not marry people of Middle-Eastern origins, nor would like their children to marry people of Middle Eastern origins;
21% would not marry people of Russian origins, nor would like their children to marry people of Russian origins;
79% would not marry Arab people, nor would like their children to marry Arab people;
53% are not willing to live next to an Arab family;
22% are not willing to live next to an Ethiopian family;
38% would not buy a used car from an Arab;
22% believe that religious people get too many rights.

I reiterate the importance of education in primary and high schools. Grass root work is of immense importance. Alas it is not within the priorities of the present Minister of Education. The Center of Democratic Studies at the University of Haifa could do the job, if only we had the resources to tackle the problem.

Center for Democratic Studies

I still have not nominated Chairperson of the Governing Board of the Center as I did not find the right person to fill the position. I am looking for an affluent Israeli, with connections in business and/or high tech, access to financial resources who is committed to the ideas and principles of democracy, and would be willing to dedicate time and energy to mobilize the funds necessary for the multiple projects the Center would like to pursue. If you have any ideas and suggestions regarding the appropriate such person, please let me know. Your advice is highly appreciated.

Crisis in High Education

During the past few years the Ministry of Education had cut the budgets of all universities in Israel by some 40 (forty) percent! Each year a 10% cut was declared. All the fat in the universities evaporated in 2001. Then the meat was eaten. Now they are hurting the bones. The skeleton is fighting to remain alive against all odds. All universities went into a severe crisis. Working conditions have become difficult, very difficult. Photocopying papers became a luxury. The sad thing is that no one cared. The presidents of all universities wanted a meeting with Prime Minister Sharon. For two years they were begging to see him. However, Sharon's busy schedule did not allow such opportunity. Israeli government has other priorities. Money was tunneled to colleges, yeshivas, revising high school teaching. The government is not interested in providing quality education. It is interested in providing popular education: granting degrees without much efforts, to enable people to ask for an increase in their salaries. This way everyone is happy, and the voices of alarm raised by the academia were lonely cries in the wilderness. Scholarship, merit, excellence – all became obsolete. Instant education, this is what the people want, or, better still, like coffee without coffee, soap without soap, why not education without education? Degrees from tenth-rate institutions are bought with money. One MP obtained degrees without attending the college in which he was supposed to enroll, submitting papers of other students. He was caught with hard evidence. No one knows how many do the same and complete their degrees in such dishonest ways.

As said, no one cared until Tel Aviv University, arguably in the worse condition of all universities, all rely on public funding, decided to unify some departments and to close others. Last week Tel Aviv students raised their outcry, and suddenly people begin to notice the crisis. The universities are fighting for their lives. On March 28, 2005 a general strike is declared in all universities. I hope this will be the first step in a long battle against the "anti-elite" government to change its agenda and thinking. Maybe Labour ministers will take issue and join our struggle. We need to do something now in order to change the government's priorities, or else we will witness the day when the first Israeli university will be required to close its gates and declare bankruptcy.

Maale Edumim

On March 21, 2005 Israel publicly confirmed plans to build 3,500 new housing units in the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Maale Adumim. At present some 30,000 people live in Maale Adumim. The government often describe Maale Adumim as part of "greater Jerusalem" that will be part of Israel in any future peace agreement. Palestinians angrily responded that such an action would violate the Middle East peace plan and would be a major obstacle to resolving bitter disputes over nearby Jerusalem.

In practical terms, the expansion of Maale Adumim creates two major problems. First, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and nearby areas will be effectively boxed in, with no room to grow. "This project may be one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a two-state solution," said Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settlements. "This will cut off Jerusalem to the east with Jewish settlements."

Also, an expanded Maale Adumim would serve as a barrier between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. Palestinians traveling between the two parts would face a lengthy detour, though Israeli officials have hinted that they may build a bypass road.

Critics also called the expansion a violation of Israel's pledge under the road map, which calls for a freeze of all settlement activity. Israel has interpreted that to mean that it can continue building in existing settlements. Israel also says the peace plan is not currently being carried out because the Palestinian leadership has yet to act against Palestinian factions responsible for attacks on Israelis, as the plan requires.

About 230,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, and the number is increasing by at least 10,000 each year. In addition, more than 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

The same day of the Maale Adumim decision, March 21, Israel handed over security control to the Palestinians in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, a hotbed of Palestinian militants. Last month Israel agreed to transfer security control of five Palestinian towns in the West Bank, and Tulkarm is the second one to be handed over, after Jericho last week.

Another recent positive development: Egypt sent a new ambassador to Tel Aviv after a few years of a vacant decision.

Separating State from Religion

Further testimony of the need to separate between state and religion is evident from reading the latest report of the Central Bureau of Statistics. 7.089 Israelis, 8.2% of the total number of citizens that married in 2002, chose to marry abroad. The report also shows that 74% of those marrying abroad are Israeli Jews.

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) sent an urgent letter to the Prime Minister, demanding that the work of the government committee aimed at solving the plight of those "unable to marry" (minuei-chitun) be renewed. In this way, according to the Reform Movement, the continuing harm to the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Israelis unable to marry in Israel according to their conscience or are unable to marry at all -- can come to an end.

"The fact that thousands of Israelis go abroad each year, and are ready to present themselves before a foreign authority as a result of no choice, testifies to the feeble policy of Israel", states (IRAC's) letter, quite rightly. The situation needs to be changed, sooner the better, or more and more Israelis will fell alienated from the state in which they live.

Poll among Youth on Serving in the Territories

A poll conducted in February 2005 by Bar Ilan University among 508 people, aged 16-18 (published by Maariv, March 9, 2005, pp. 12-13), about their willingness to serve in the army, and in what capacity, shows that 76% of the secular youth wishes to serve (83% among religious youth); 43% want to do combat service (62% among religious youth); 13% refuse to evacuate settlements (36% among the religious youth); 42% refuse to serve in the territories (29% of the religious youth). Slowly but surely the occupied territories are conceived as a liability by a growing number of people. Slowly but surely the settlements are loosing their legitimacy in the public eye. Common sense does prevail. Sometimes it hesitates, but at the end it will win its way. Israel is on the right track, after so many years of empowering the occupation and deligetimizing the Palestinians. More and more people believe that two-state solution is the only viable solution to end the bloodshed in our troubled region. Hallelujah.

Israel Affairs, Vol. 11, No. 2 (April 2005)

I am the editor of special issue of this journal that appears in London. This volume is quite special. Usually when academics edit books we invite fellow academics to write the chapters. However, decision makers are often critical of this practice, especially when academics reflect on their doing. They argue, quite rightly, that it is very simple to sit outside the tent and to piss inside, that the academics' outlook would have been quite different were they the bearers of responsibility. With responsibility comes a very different perspective that could not comfortably accommodate the moral outlook that academics advocate.

For these reasons, I decided that a volume on Israeli institutions should be written by people who served in power positions. Most of the articles were written by decision makers, and they are fascinating. When you read, note not only the content but also what they decided not to address. Of all my edited volumes, I am particularly proud of this one. Hereby the table of contents:

Raphael Cohen-Almagor


The Crisis of Governance: Government Instability and the Civil Service
David Nachmias and Ori Arbel-Ganz

Citizenship Education in Israel – A Jewish-Democratic State
Orit Ichilov, Gavriel Salomon and Dan Inbar

The Military-Political Complex: The IDF’s Influence over Policy towards the Palestinians Since 1987
Yoram Peri

On the Need for A Constitution
Meir Shamgar


Presidency in Israel: Formal Authority and Personal Experience
Yitzhak Navon

The Government
Gad Yaakobi

The Knesset
Naomi Chazan

The Attorney General in Israel – A Delicate Balance of Powers and Responsibilities in a Jewish and Democratic State
Elyakim Rubinstein

Particularistic Considerations and the Absence of Strategic Assessment in the Israeli Public Administration: The Role of the State Comptroller
Eliezer Goldberg

The Press Council
Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Final Word

Israeli Institutions at the Crossroads
Raphael Cohen-Almagor

I thank the Journal's chief editor, Prof. Efraim Karsh, for his thoughtful cooperation. This volume will also appear as a book by Routledge later this year. Notification will be announced in due course.

Lebanon, Hizballah and Amal

Infra excerpts of a recent article published by the GLORIA Center, Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol.9, No.1 (March 2005). The author is Dr. Rodger Shanahan, a Visiting Fellow at the Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific, University of Sydney, who teaches in the university's Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies. The author shows the extent of Syria's involvement in Lebanon's internal politics, and emphasizes the rise of the Hizballah. Israel is investing lot of efforts in convincing Europe to include the Hizballah in its black list of terrorist organizations. For many European countries the Hizballah is considered as political organization that was involved in a just guerrilla warfare against the IDF in Lebanon. Not much attention was given to its launching of rockets on Israeli towns across the border, although I should say that since the American presence in Iraq those incidents became rare.
Hizballah Rising: The Political Battle for the Loyalty of the Shi'a of Lebanon

By Rodger Shanahan

While the future political direction taken by the Shi'a majority in Iraq is of immense interest to U.S. policy makers, a longer-running political contest is still being played out in another part of the Arab world for the political loyalty of the same community. Since the re-emergence of elections following the end of the civil war in Lebanon, where the Shi'a represent the largest of the communal groups,[1] both Amal and Hizballah have been forced to run on joint electoral tickets for the national elections. Running on joint lists thus allowed the two Shi'a political parties represented in parliament to avoid a direct electoral showdown. In the local government elections held in May and June 2004, however, candidates ran on separate electoral tickets, giving a better indication of each party's popularity. On the face of it, the results indicate that Hizballah has moved well ahead of Amal as the preferred political representative of the Shi'a community. However, as is the case with anything related to Lebanese politics, the results not only reflect the local political popularity of the two parties, but were also heavily influenced by the broader strategic desires of the dominant foreign force in Lebanon: Syria.

The contest between Hizballah and Amal for the position of pre-eminent representative of the Shi'a community has, at times, been a heated one. Although Amal had its genesis in the Movement of the Dispossessed (Harakat al-Mahrumin), founded by the charismatic scholar ('alim) Musa as-Sadr, it turned briefly to the secular leadership of Husayn Husayni in 1979, and since 1980, Nabih Berri. Hizballah, on the other hand, has retained the leadership of the party in the hands of the scholars, in line with its ideological linkage with, and jurisprudential loyalty to, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene'i. Indeed, many of Hizballah's early founders came from the ranks of disaffected Amal members who were disillusioned with the party's embrace of the secular political system. Both Islamic Amal members and members of the Da'wa who had joined Amal were prominent in the establishment of Hizballah. Like all groups vying for the political loyalty of the same constituency, however, the two groups developed into fierce rivals, and conflict between the two groups has generally existed right below the surface. Between 1985 and 1988, at the height of the intra-communal dispute, Hizballah and Amal militia members fought a series of bloody engagements in the south of the country. More recently though, any violence between the two parties has been small scale and very localized, and is normally centered over local electoral disputes.

Because of the complex nature of Lebanese politics, and the use by Syria of the Lebanese political process in pursuit of its own foreign political objectives, it is difficult to draw clear conclusions from events such as elections. In the case of the 2004 municipal elections, however, it is clear that Hizballah emerged as a much stronger party than its rival Amal. In the south of the country, Hizballah emerged victorious in over 60 percent of municipalities (compared with 55 percent in 1998), while Amal captured only 30 percent of municipalities (down from 45 percent in 1998). Hizballah also did very well in southern Beirut and the Biqa', particularly in Ba'albak, where it had taken its support for granted in 1998 and been dealt a heavy blow, winning only a few of the municipalities. With the benefit of a well-organized campaign in the region, Hizballah gained control in 27 of the 30 municipalities that it contested in the Biqa'.[2]

Hizballah's relative success can be put down to a number of factors, some of which emanate from purely domestic politics, and others that are of longer-term strategic importance. As far as Syria was concerned, the dynamics of this municipal election were different from others, in that Damascus was happy for a more realistic reflection of local political attitudes towards Hizballah and Amal to be displayed. Whereas it has been Syria's wish for the two parties to maintain a balance during national elections in order to ensure that no one communal group becomes dominant enough to challenge Syrian primacy, in the case of the Shi'a parties there was a relatively low-key approach taken to these local elections. As a consequence, Hizballah was able to display its strength in the heartlands of the Lebanese Shi'a: the Biqa', the southern suburbs (dahiyya) of Beirut, and South Lebanon. That is not to say that there was no action on the part of the Syrians to influence the outcomes. In the Biqa' for example, Hizballah formed an electoral alliance with the pro-Syrian Ba'th party, which made it difficult for Amal to form an effective, politically popular counter-alliance.

Syria's decision to ultimately allow both parties to contest the elections without being forced into an electoral alliance with each other was motivated in part by external considerations. No doubt realizing the level of popular support that Hizballah possessed, Syria realized that the elections would provide the United States, in particular, with a public example of how genuinely popular the party was politically. Following the late 2001 proscription of Hizballah as a terrorist organization by the United States, the Syrian government wished to signal to Washington the reality of the situation on the ground in Lebanon. By association, Syria, as the hegemon within Lebanon, was also signaling to the United States its own continuing relevance within the region. This was particularly important following the passing of the Syria Accountability Act and the Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act in October 2003 by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Syria Accountability Act, for example, stated that "...the Government of Syria should immediately and unconditionally halt support for terrorism, permanently and openly declare its total renunciation of all forms of terrorism, and close all terrorist offices and facilities in Syria, including the offices of Hizballah."[3] By illustrating to the world the political popularity of Hizballah within Lebanon, Syria hoped to dilute the impact of the bill and show the United States that Hizballah was a legitimate political reality within Lebanon. Such was the intent of the statement by Syrian president Bashar Assad when he claimed that the elections "defined the true political sizes" in Lebanon.[4]

Of course, more than just Syrian political considerations account for Hizballah's success. The party is genuinely popular, both as a consequence of its resistance activities that prompted the 2000 withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) from the country's south, as well as its ability to achieve the return of prisoners from Israeli jails in return for the remains of IDF soldiers. There were concerns in some quarters that Hizballah's popularity was rooted too deeply in support for its resistance against the Israelis occupying South Lebanon. For Hizballah, the withdrawal of the Israelis in 2000 provided a great fillip to the organization, and gave it the ability to announce both its Lebanese nationalist credentials, as well as its wider authority as the only Arab group to defeat Israel militarily. In the immediate aftermath of the perceived victory, it has also given the party's machinery the ability to cement its southern support. The party was instrumental in repairing village housing and some infrastructure damaged during years of resistance, while at the same time the creation of the dispute surrounding the ownership of the Sheba'a farms area allowed Hizballah to maintain its armed militias and to undertake military operations against Israel. The refusal of the Lebanese government to use its military to control the border region also allows Hizballah a free hand. Without the resistance, Hizballah fears becoming a sectarian form of the emasculated Amal. With its military wing however, the party has a regional relevance that its opposition is denied.

While its success against the IDF gained it great kudos, the military wing of Hizballah these days must be managed far more judiciously by Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah than in the pre-2000 period. While Israel remains an unpopular neighbor amongst the Lebanese (particularly amongst those from the south), the United Nations' rejection of Lebanon's (Syrian-inspired) claims to the Sheba'a Farms has presented the Islamic Resistance with a conundrum. With no unfulfilled UN Resolution behind its military operations, Hizballah's military actions in the south are carried out without the full support of the local population, especially given the Israeli reactions which follow. The more that Hizballah carries out military action in the Sheba'a farms for its own and others' strategic purposes, the more it risks alienating the Lebanese polity, the majority of whom lack any affinity with the Sheba'a farms issue.

Hizballah appears to understand the limitations of relying too heavily on its military component, however, and the party planned for the period following the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon. It has always been active within the Lebanese Shi'a community as a significant provider of social services, and has been careful in maintaining a reputation for probity that eludes Amal. Of particular note is its ability to mobilize its supporters to achieve both its strategic and local political purposes. This is one aspect that will be of the utmost importance to the party in the long term as it continues to establish itself as a major player in the Lebanese political scene. In May 2004, the party was able to stage a mass rally of over 250,000 people in Beirut to protest at U.S. military incursions into the Iraqi holy sites at Karbala and Najaf, indicating its mass appeal.[6] Illustrative of the ability of the party to mobilize its support base at the local level was the fact that voter turnout was particularly good in the regions where Hizballah was strong. In Ba'albak, for example, over 70 percent of registered voters participated, while the figure for Nabatiyyah in the South was approximately 65 percent of voters. This compares with a figure of just over 20 percent for Beirut, and 30 percent for Sunni-dominated Tripoli.

While there is little doubt that Hizballah has become a well-organized, unified and multi-faceted organization, its rival for the loyalty of the Shi'a community has suffered in comparison. The municipal election results capped several bad years for Amal since their performance in the 1998 municipal elections. Amal's standing as a representative political party has fallen significantly since that time, particularly at the local level. Originally founded as a party designed to represent the interests of the economically and politically disenfranchised Shi'a population, its establishment heralded the emergence of a sectarian-led attempt to alter the political status quo that had for centuries deprived the community of a political voice. The early years of the party were full of promise, but more recently the very same party has lost much of its moral authority as its closeness with the government has led to charges of corruption against it. Amal is battling to stay level with Hizballah, whose members are meticulous about maintaining a public reputation for financial probity and an active opposition stance within government.

One of the consequences of this fall in popularity of the Amal movement is the emergence of internal disputes within the party. This was illustrated in March 2003, when Nabih Berri expelled six members from the party, including three members of parliament, two of whom were ministers.[7]

The future for Amal appears uncertain. The party is dominated by Nabih Berri, who has proven to be a staunch supporter of Syria. Although a dominant force, the recent expulsion from the party of several high-powered members attests to the fact that Berri, not for the first time, faces challenges to his authority from within the party. At the same time, the willingness of Amal's Central Council to unanimously confirm his decision to expel members attests to the fact that Berri is still very much in control of the party. While national parliamentary elections are due to be held in 2005, the nature of the Lebanese political system and Syria's place in it should guarantee parity between Amal and Hizballah. Syria has always been careful to maintain a degree of balance between the two parties, and while it was willing to send a message by allowing Hizballah to flex its muscles during the local government elections, its desire for balance will likely see it force the two parties into running joint electoral tickets again in 2005. Similarly, having seen Hizballah's political strength demonstrated, Syria is likely to continue backing Berri, both because he has been a loyal ally and because they fear tilting the Shi'a political balance towards Hizballah.

While Hizballah is also dependent on both Syria and Iran to varying degrees, the party has earned a reputation for integrity that eludes Amal. That having been said, neither party attracts many active supporters outside the Shi'a community, limiting either's claims to be truly national parties.

Hizballah has a long-term political strategy regarding its role within Lebanon. While it long ago acquiesced to the realities of multi-confessional Lebanon by rejecting its revolutionary strategy for the achievement of an Islamic state, it has never rejected the desire to see Lebanon ruled in accordance with Islamic precepts as its ultimate objective.[9] While this continues to mean that it is viewed with suspicion by many Lebanese, the party has saved its fiery rhetoric for external issues, such as United States intervention in Iraq and the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Domestically, it has taken a strategic decision to act as the responsible political opposition, while pushing for electoral reforms that would ensure the Shi'a's numerical power is translated into political power. Both Amal and Hizballah have as one of their major aims to cease the sectarian basis of parliamentary representation that guarantees a political over-representation of the non-Shi'a population.[10] The parties have also sought to change the electoral law to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, which would similarly strengthen the hand of the Shi'a, given that this demographic is dominated by the Shi'a.

Hizballah understands that its political strategy within Lebanon must take into account three groups. First and foremost, it needs to gain the loyalty of a majority of the Shi'a community, as it is this group that will provide it with victory at the ballot box, and ensure its longevity as a political movement. Secondly, it needs to be accepted as a legitimate and responsible political party by the broader Lebanese polity. While the ultimate aims of Hizballah in terms of the Islamization of society mean that it will not be politically supported by many, if any, of the non-Shi'a Lebanese (particularly the Christian and Druze minorities), it aspires to be regarded as a responsible political player so that it can eventually achieve major leadership positions within the Lebanese political system that will allow it to achieve its goal. This is evident in Hizballah's successful attempts to position itself as the party representing the economically disadvantaged, regardless of communal identity. To that end it has an active involvement in the Lebanese trade union movement, while Hassan Nasrallah's held a meeting with then-Prime Minister Hariri in June 2004 to discuss the socio-economic impact of Lebanon's $34 billion debt (representing 185 per cent of Lebanon's GDP).[11] In addition to the balancing act it must undergo to navigate the difficult shoals of Lebanese domestic politics, it must also deal with Syria. As a party that portrays itself as a champion of Lebanese nationalism, exemplified by its militia's victory over the IDF, it must play a game of realpolitik with Syria. Support for Hizballah by Syria is dependent on Damascus's own interests. For that reason, Hizballah maintains good relations with Syria (a move at odds with its nationalist credentials) while building itself up politically for the day when Hizballah's resistance is of no use for the advancement of Syria's regional interests. While these three lines of strategy are difficult to achieve simultaneously, the 2004 local government success over Amal illustrates that the strategy is paying dividends within the community.

Terri Schiavo

On March 21, 2005 American Congress gave jurisdiction over Terri Schiavo to federal courts, an extraordinary legislative move that could empower a U.S. judge to order the reinsertion of a feeding tube that a state court allowed to be removed.

Voting 203 to 58, the House joined the Senate in approving the measure and rushing it to President Bush. He signed the bill into law, saying, "I will continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans, including those with disabilities."

This statement, like many others, manifest the level of ignorance of people who speak about the case, and contribute to its being one of the loudest medical ethics dramas in history. Terri Schiavo is a peon in the hands of partisan people, with partisan agendas. However, I don't think anyone is capable of helping her.

When I embarked on my research on the right to die with dignity back in 1991, it was clear to me that I will not be able to study all the horrible diseases that exist on this planet. I decided to study one hopeless medical condition that I thought was the worse, and I thought that if I would be able to make intelligible conclusions about this condition then ipso facto the conclusions could relate to other medical conditions down the scale. At that time I thought the state of Post-Coma Unawareness, known in the medical circles as Persistent Vegetative State (a term I resent as I think it is unethical and does not serve the patient's best interests), is the worse medical condition. Since then I changed my mind and now I think locked-in syndrome is arguably worse, but I dedicated some years of my life to study PCU patients, reading every article I could reach, and visiting relevant departments in medical centers in Israel, Canada, the USA and the United Kingdom. In my research conclusions (The Right to Die with Dignity: An Argument in Ethics, Medicine, and Law, Piscataway, NJ.: Rutgers University Press, 2001) I urged hospitals as a policy not to cease treatment of post-traumatic PCU patients younger than 50 year-old within a period of less than two years. The two-year waiting period should be regarded as the minimum period of evaluation before forgoing hopes for patients’ rehabilitation and return to some form of cognition.

Terri Schiavo was born on December 3, 1963. She is younger than 50. However, the cause of condition was not traumatic. In February 1990 she suffered cardiac arrest; doctors believe a potassium imbalance caused her heart attack, which led to brain damage due to lack of oxygen, and she has been in this condition for more than fifteen years. There are a very few recorded patients in history who woke up after such a long period of time. All of them suffered irreparable brain damage and remained helpless and absolutely dependent on others until their very last day. I don't know what motives drive the Schindler family but I don't think their tireless efforts serve Terri Schiavo's best interests. One positive development that may result of this tragic controversy is that maybe more efforts and funding will be directed to study PCU, and the brain in general. Possibly PCU patients in the US will be better treated and maintained. Terri, I am afraid, is beyond all this.

Earth and Moon Viewer

&opt" href="">&opt" size=3>&opt" style="FONT-FAMILY: 'Book Antiqua'">">&opt">&opt">&opt">=/&opt" style="FONT-FAMILY: 'Book Antiqua'">FONT&opt">&opt">&opt">&opt">>&&opt" style="FONT-FAMILY: 'Book Antiqua'">opt
We need to invest more in protecting our planet. It is beautiful.

Viewing the Earth

You can view either a map of the Earth showing the day and night regions at this moment, or view the Earth from the Sun, the Moon, the night side of the Earth, above any location on the planet specified by latitude, longitude and altitude, from a satellite in Earth orbit, or above various cities around the globe.
Images can be generated based on a full-colour image of the Earth by day and night, a topographical map of the Earth, up-to-date weather satellite imagery, or a composite image of cloud cover superimposed on a map of the Earth, a colour composite which shows clouds, land and sea temperatures, and ice, or the global distribution of water vapour. Expert mode allows you additional control over the generation of the image. You can compose a custom request with frequently-used parameters and save it as a hotlist or bookmark item in your browser. Please consult the Details for additional information and answers to frequently-asked questions.

Viewing the Moon

In addition to the Earth, you can also view the Moon from the Earth, Sun, night side, above named formations on the lunar surface. or as a map showing day and night. You can also make expert and custom images of the Moon. A related document compares the appearance of the Moon at perigee and apogee, including an interactive Perigee and Apogee Calculator.


Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, Lords of the Land (Or Yehuda: Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir, 2004) (Hebrew). The book provides a detailed review of the history of settlements since 1967. I expect an English translation soon.

With my very best wishes, as ever,


My last communications are available on http://almagor.blogspot.comEarlier posts at my home page:
Books archived at