Thursday, March 01, 2012

Politics – February 2012

Support is sought to facilitate the work of the Middle East Study Group. Information at

I also welcome promoting the two-state solution. See

Peace in the Middle East requires vision and boldness.

Peace is a precious commodity. Like any other precious commodity it is expensive. Those who wish peace should be willing to pay and sacrifice for it.

~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Two-State Solution
Israel’s Control of Palestinian Residency in the West Bank and Gaza
Korea on Track for Nuclear, FTA Deals with Turkey
Israel and Germany Signed a Deal for Nuke-Ready Sub
Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen on Security
The Weakening of the IDF and Israel’s Economy
President Obama State of the Union Address
Governor Mitt Romney on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Survey: Increase in Attachment to Jewish Religion and Tradition
Historic Visit to Cyprus
Supporting Physician-assisted Suicide
Visitors at the University of Hull – Professor Sir Adam Roberts
Nominate a woman for Courage in Journalism Awards
Whitney Houston
My Reprinted Article
New Books
Movie of the Month – Mother and Child (2009)
Monthly Poem
Old Jaffa
Light Side – British Humour



I received many comments about my idea of arranging a religious summit between Israeli and Iranian sages. Most of them were favourable. I have written to President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu, urging them to exhaust this option and to explore it fully. I have also written to Ronen Bergman, a prominent Yedioth Ahronoth columnist, asking him to promote this idea as he sees fit.

Professor Robert O’Neill wrote from Australia:

Dear Rafi,
Thank you for another stimulating edition of Politics! It is uplifting to know that there are some sensible people in the debate on Iran, nuclear weapons and the possible use of force by Israel and the US! I am afraid too many people who are committed on the side of using force do not see that it will not just be a matter of bombing. This will not put an end to the Iranian program by itself. Invasion and direct take-over would be necessary to secure that objective. Israel cannot do that, so that leaves the US - which is in poor condition to undertake such a massive undertaking, and they could well fail as I think they have done in Iraq already, and will do in Afghanistan. This is not the nineteenth century when a western power like Britain or France could move into a country in Asia and stay there for decades!

All the best for the month ahead!



I highly recommend Ronen Bergman’s piece “Will Israel Attack Iran?” in the New York Times (January 25, 2012),


Two-State Solution


I continue my campaign for a two-state solution. The past few weeks I delivered lectures in Hull and London. The Hull Middle East Study Group endorses the two-state solution. See

I am in touch with the Geneva Initiative, and Yachad, two organizations committed to the promotion of a two-state solution.

On February 22, 2012, I was invited to speak on “The Failed Peace Process in the Middle East” at the University of Reading. I thank Professor Andy Knapp for the kind invitation.

I was also invited to speak on “In Internet’s Way: Jihadism on the Free Highway” at The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London. I thank Professor Avrom Sherr for his kind invitation.

I am happy to receive invites to explain the two-state solution and its importance for peace in the Middle East.


Israel’s Control of Palestinian Residency in the West Bank and Gaza


Like Old Cato, I have been saying for years that the occupation needs to stop, NOW!! It is horrible, inhumane, vile. On February 5, 2012, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report that exposes the ways in which Israel controls immigration and nationality in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) through the population registry, which it established in September 1967. The first census conducted upon its establishment resulted in the exclusion of at least 270,000 people. In another wave, Israel excluded a further 130,000 West Bank Palestinians who stayed abroad for long periods of time, between 1967 and 1994. In 2000, Israel effectively ‘froze’ the registry’s functions altogether and prevented the Palestinian authorities from issuing identity and travel documents or updating information for residents of the OPT.

The report details Israel’s policies and practices since the beginning of its occupation of Palestinian territory with respect to the control of population and movement in and outside of the occupied territory – including removal of individuals from the population registry, denial of child registration and denial of residency in the West Bank for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. The implementation of these policies have resulted in the depopulation of large groups of Palestinians.

The report holds that Israel’s policies violate the rights to freedom of movement, including the right to choose one’s place of residence, and the right to family life (or family unity as stated in the report). It further states that these policies violate the rights to a nationality and the prohibition of collective punishment, due to their sweeping character and indiscriminate effects. In its final section, the report briefly discusses Israel’s authority under the law of occupation, recalling the limits placed by the international law of belligerent occupation on an Occupying Power’s ability to administer and implement changes in the daily life of the occupied territory. The law strictly prohibits an occupier from undertaking adjustments in the life of the occupied territory that would outlive the occupation. Premised on a conservational purpose, the law of belligerent occupation is there to ensure that an occupier does not transcend its administrator-type mandate and does not use the slogan of ‘the benefit of the local population’ as a pretext for a hidden agenda. Controlling the population in the occupied territory by regulating immigration and nationality, and granting or revoking citizenship and permanent residency, not only resembles the powers of sovereign governments, but most pressingly has the effect of changing the demographic composition in the territory, which is also perpetuated through the continuous expansion of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territory.

HRW Middle East director stated, on occasion of the publication of the report, “Israel had not put forth any concrete security rationale for blanket policies.” It can be added that however serious the security rationale may be, there is no rationale that would allow Israel to legally implement blanket policies of the kind it does by controlling the registry and effectively rendering it defunct. In all cases, such measures cannot include expulsions from the occupied territory, which are absolutely prohibited. At most, it could use security measures when a real necessity for this can be shown on the basis of the specific merits of the case, particularly in order to prevent measures taken under the guise of security, which actually result in the suppression and punishment of the local population.



On February 4, 2012, Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government’s crackdown on protests for the second time. At the meeting in Manhattan, 13 countries voted for the resolution proposed by European and Arab nations that gave strong support to an Arab League plan to end the crackdown and call for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. But Russia and China both vetoed the measure.

“What more do we need to know to act decisively in the Security Council?” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fumed at a news conference in Munich. “To block this resolution is to bear responsibility for the horrors that are occurring on the ground in Syria.”

Responding to the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who asked, “What’s the endgame?” Mrs. Clinton replied: “The endgame in the absence of us acting together as the international community, I fear, is civil war.”


The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who rarely weighs in on Security Council decisions, called the vote “a great disappointment.”

“It undermines the role of the United Nations and the international community in this period when the Syrian authorities must hear a unified voice calling for an immediate end to its violence against the Syrian people,” he said in a statement.

He said the vote made it “even more urgent” for the international community to seek a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic system.

The world needs more conscientious people to lead it forward. Unbelievable to see how Assad is bombing his own cities, his own people. We should have a Clinton-like leader who cannot sleep watching it.

Putin, the great defender of totalitarian regimes, must go. He defends Assad because democracy in Syria promotes democracy in Russia. I wonder whether it can promote democracy in China.

Another issue, of course, is economic/financial interest. Russia and Syria have close economic, business and military ties. Syria has increased its weapons purchases from Russia, including a deal late last year for Yak-130 light attack planes worth more than $550 million. From 2007 to 2010, the value of Russian arms deals with Syria more than doubled — to $4.7 billion from $2.1 billion — compared with 2003 to 2006.

During the same period, the value of Russia’s weapons deals with Iran fell to $300 million from $2.1 billion.

A Russian naval station at Tartus, in northern Syria, is its only military installation outside of the former Soviet territories. There are numerous other economic and cultural bonds, including the presence of Russian companies working in oil and natural gas in Syria, as well as a proposal for the state-owned nuclear energy company, Rosatom, to build a power plant there. Other Russian companies have interests in agriculture, irrigation and telecommunications in Syria.

Meanwhile, the killing continues. 103 people were reported dead on Friday, February 24, 2012.

It is difficult to understand why the Obama administration chooses not to intervene in Syria. How does the Obama administration distinguish between Syria and Libya? Why does the extraordinary violation of human rights in the latter justify international intervention whereas the massacre of innocent civilians in the former does not? Pressing these questions, Professor Amos Guiora argues that deciphering the president's policy is proving as complicated as establishing international standards justifying intervention. However, while the former can be subject to continuous academic debate, the human rights violations that define Syria today cannot be addressed by mere rhetoric, even if forceful. President Obama has an opportunity to apply the principles of international humanitarian intervention in a manner that will restore confidence in his leadership and set a clear example of consistency and stability. That is particularly important in a region of the world that is, at the moment, a most dangerous powder keg of extraordinary instability and danger. See

Assad should be blind not reading the bloody writing on his wall. The world's patience is eroding while the Syrian people exhibit tremendous stamina and resilience.

See ;



Democratic forces join together in the Arab world to bring change. Yesterday’s friends are turning into foes. Interesting developments that change the political map of the Middle East are taking place.

Hamas is no longer out of favor in Egypt.

Hamas no longer supports the Assad regime.

Ipso facto, the relationships between Hamas and Iran are endangered. This is true as long as Iran supports Assad. Iran had been the main financial supporter for the Hamas government in Gaza. Without the Iranian money Hamas would have never been able to pay its 45,000 government employees.

There are signs that Hamas seeks to align itself with the democratic-Muslim forces in the Arab world.

On February 24, 2012, Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, spoke out against President Bashar al-Assad, throwing its support behind the opposition and stripping Damascus of what little credibility it may have retained with the Arab street. It was Hamas’s first public break with its longtime patron.

Haniya said during Friday Prayer in Cairo: “I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.”

During the years in which Syria supported Hamas, Egypt’s leaders were hostile to Hamas, treating it as a despised relative of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was also tagged an outlaw and banned. Mr. Haniya’s remarks in Egypt served as another measure of how much has changed since popular uprisings began to sweep the region, removing President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and now trying to topple Mr. Assad.

Mr. Haniya’s comments confirmed a distance between Hamas and Damascus that emerged several weeks ago when the group’s leadership abandoned its longtime base in Syria as the environment there became more violent. Hamas also recently allowed residents of Gaza to stage protests against Mr. Assad and in support of the uprising.

In Cairo, as Mr. Haniya spoke, the crowds also shouted against Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, both of which continue to support the Syrian dictator and have long been hailed on the Arab street for remaining defiant toward Israel. That was yet another significant shift caused by the Arab uprisings. “No Iran, no Hezbollah. Syria is Islamic,” protesters chanted.



Korea on Track for Nuclear, FTA Deals with Turkey

President Lee Myung-bak and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to resume cooperation on nuclear power projects worth US$20 billion. As part of that effort, a consortium of SK Engineering and Construction and Korea South-East Power will sign a memorandum of understanding with Turkey's state-run Electricity Generation Company (EUAS) to build a power plant in Afsin-Elbistan region.

A Cheong Wa Dae official said Turkey "led negotiations in a way that induced competition between Korea and Japan" and talks came to a halt because the conditions set out by Turkey "did not meet international standards." But after the massive accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant last year, Turkey asked to resume negotiations.

Lee and Erdogan, who met for lunch in Istanbul, also agreed to conclude a bilateral free-trade agreement (FTA) in the first half of this year. "Although the two sides do not disagree on the products to be included in the FTA talks, there is some disagreement in the service and investment sectors," the Cheong Wa Dae official said. "However, we believe that the negotiations will go smoothly so it is highly likely that the FTA will be inked in the first half of this year."

There have been three rounds of negotiations since the FTA talks started in 2010. Turkey is particularly keen on the FTA because it has a massive trade deficit with Korea. Last year, exports to Turkey stood at $5.08 million and imports at only $800 million.



Israel and Germany Signed a Deal for Nuke-Ready Sub

Israel signed a deal to acquire a sixth nuclear-capable submarine from Germany. Under the agreement inked in recent weeks, Berlin would pay some of the expense of the Dolphin-class submarine.

"The security of the state of Israel is a German concern and this will not change," Secretary of State for Defense Christian Schmidt said. Israel has already acquired three Dolphin-class vessels from Germany. An additional two submarines are being built, according to earlier reports.


It is not known if Israel intends to equip the submarines with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Jerusalem abides by a longstanding policy of neither confirming nor denying it has nuclear weapons (United Press International, February 5, 2012).


Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen on Security

Heads of Shabac rarely give public talks, thus whenever they do it is always an important occasion to be noticed. Yoram Cohen recently spoke publicly about the security situation and provided interesting insights.

Cohen said that Iran is trying to strike Israeli targets around the world in a bid to stop the assassinations of its nuclear scientists. Iran believes Israel is behind the attacks on its nuclear experts, which have killed four scientists since November 2010. "It doesn't matter if it's true or not that Israel took out the nuclear scientists," Cohen said. "A major, serious country like Iran cannot let this go on. They want to deter Israel and extract a price so that decision makers in Israel think twice before they order an attack on an Iranian scientist."


"Over the past year three serious attacks were thwarted that were on the verge of being carried out," the Shin Bet head said. "In Turkey against the general consul in Istanbul; in Baku, Azerbaijan; and two weeks ago in Thailand."

Cohen also said that over the past 18 months, Iran has distanced itself from Hamas and invested more in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, because the Iranians "realized that Hamas has political considerations.”

Israel's main dilemma in the coming year, Cohen added, was how to stop Palestinian terror groups in Gaza from obtaining rockets that could reach the metropolitan Tel Aviv area, but without becoming embroiled in a large-scale military action in Gaza.

Cohen said the terror groups' main goal was to increase the range of their missiles to the greater Tel Aviv area, as well as their precision and the size of their warheads.

Cohen said missile experts from abroad were now in Gaza helping Hamas and Islamic Jihad increase the range of the missiles, but conceded that this put Israeli security experts in a difficult place.

The situation in the south has grown worse due to conditions in Sinai. "It's no problem to shoot from Sinai at Israeli planes or ships... At the moment, Egypt can't take control of the situation because of internal difficulties."

Israel is "in a dilemma over what to do if squads are spotted that are about to attack us from the area of a country with which we have a peace treaty, but has been having difficulty implementing their sovereignty," Cohen said.

During the hour-long lecture, Cohen also discussed the attitude of the security establishment toward Israel's Arab community: "They are not a fifth column and we don't consider them as such... We relate to them as a Palestinian public that identifies with their brethren in Judea and Samaria."

Israeli-Arab involvement in terror has declined. Over the past year, there had been only three terror attacks in which Israeli Arabs had been involved: "We arrested 20 to 30 Arab Israelis last year, as opposed to 2,000 Palestinians from Judea and Samaria. The problems with Arab Israelis are complex, but they are not security problems. They are alienation, integration, employment, poor municipal management, crime and drugs”.

"The ideological leadership of the Arab public in Israel," Cohen continued, "is much more extreme than the public, and sometimes pulls in directions with which the public does not identify."

Jewish terrorism: Another group that feels growing alienation from the state is the faction in the religious public that has lost confidence in its leadership. Cohen said these were a few dozen extremists, mainly from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, one of the strongholds of the Kach-Kahane movement.

"They have decided to take the road of terror... because they can't harm the government and the Israel Defense Forces, they lash out at Arabs and [their] sacred symbols. To their mind, the worse it gets, the more the government will have to think before it destroys a shack in a settlement. We treat this as terror."

Cohen said the Shin Bet (Shabac) was trying to deal with Jewish terror "in the best way possible," and noted that the past two months had seen a significant decline in violence by the group.

With regard to the Palestinians, Cohen said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not want to negotiate with Israel, because Abbas believes the current government will offer no more than what he had received from previous regimes: "They see what the boundaries of the prime minister's flexibility are and who makes up the coalition, and they know the maximum this government will offer will not reach their minimum." Therefore, he added, the international community was focusing its efforts on preventing escalation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Source: Barak Ravid, “Shin Bet chief: Iran trying to hit Israeli targets in response to attacks on nuclear scientists”, Haaretz (February 3, 2012),


The Weakening of the IDF and Israel’s Economy

In 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion who cared greatly about the unity of the emerging nation agreed to exempt Yeshiva students from army service. At the time, 400 Yeshiva students were exempted.

Since then, the Israeli population grew by 1200%, and the number of Yeshiva students grew by 15,000%. In 2010, 62,500 Yeshiva students were exempted from serving in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). One of eight young Israeli men is now being exempted from army service. The prediction is that in 2023, 25% (one in four) of young men will be exempted from service due to their Yeshiva studies.

According to Hiddush, an NGO that compiles these data, only one of two Israelis is now drafted for army service. Those who do not serve include Haredi people, Arabs, and women who testify that they are religious, or married women. Some women marry in order to avoid the draft.

At present, one of four Jewish men does not serve in the IDF. 25% of men do not serve. These include ultra-religious (Haredi) men, men exempted due to health issues, and incompatible men. The ultra-religious men do not work either; instead they “kill themselves in the tent of Torah”. The toll on the IDF is heavy, as those who do serve are required to work harder. The pressure is more severe on the reserves. Fewer people are now carrying army duties.

The toll on the Israeli economy is heavy as well, as the Haredi population does not work, and does not use contraceptives. Their families are large and receive subsistence from the government. As the Haredi population is growing fast, the challenge is likely to grow significantly.


President Obama's State of the Union Address

On January 25, 2012, President Barack Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address. Here is what he said about the Middle East, Iran and Israel. I have highlighted some of the statements:


That’s the lesson we’ve learned from our actions abroad over the last few years. Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies. From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America. (Applause.)

From this position of strength, we’ve begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Ten thousand of our troops have come home. Twenty-three thousand more will leave by the end of this summer. This transition to Afghan lead will continue, and we will build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, so that it is never again a source of attacks against America. (Applause.)

As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana’a to Tripoli. A year ago, Qaddafi was one of the world’s longest-serving dictators -– a murderer with American blood on his hands. Today, he is gone. And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied. (Applause.)

How this incredible transformation will end remains uncertain. But we have a huge stake in the outcome. And while it’s ultimately up to the people of the region to decide their fate, we will advocate for those values that have served our own country so well. We will stand against violence and intimidation. We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings –- men and women; Christians, Muslims and Jews. We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty. And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests.


Look at Iran. Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one. The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent. Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. (Applause.)

But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.

Global Influence

The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to the Americas are deeper. Our ironclad commitment -- and I mean ironclad -- to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history. (Applause.)

Now go and check how many countries President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union Address, and how many of them are mentioned favourably.

You can read, and hear, President Obama’s address at


Governor Mitt Romney on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Election years are good for Israel. Candidates usually compete who is more supportive of Israel. On January 26, 2012, Governor Mitt Romney said that the Palestinians are not interested in a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but rather that they are interested in the elimination of the State of Israel.

The leading candidate in the race to become the Republican candidate for presidency maintained: "Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It's the Palestinians who don't want a two-state solution; they want to eliminate the state of Israel.” Romney went on to say that “whether it's in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have the right to have a Jewish state."


"I believe the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say we stand with our friend Israel; we are committed to a Jewish state in Israel; we will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel."


Survey: Increase in Attachment to Jewish Religion and Tradition

There are two things that I wish for the future of Israel: Peace with its neighbours, which I believe is only achievable through compromise, reconciliation, and finding a modus vivendi with the Arabs; and separation between religion and state. I am more optimistic regarding the former than achieving the latter.


In 2009, a comprehensive survey was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute's Guttman Center for Surveys and the Avi Chai Foundation about "Beliefs, Observance and Values among Israeli Jews". Its results were released on January 26, 2012. This is the third comprehensive survey to examine religiosity in Israel. The two previous surveys were conducted in 1999 and 1991. Here are some of its findings:

85 percent of respondents said that "celebrating the Jewish holidays as prescribed by religious tradition" was "important" or "very important," up from 63 percent in 1999, while 70 percent said they "always" or "frequently" refrained from eating hametz (leavened bread ) on Passover, up from 67 percent in 1999.

80 percent of Israeli Jews believe that God exists - the highest figure found since 1991.

70 percent of respondents believe the Jews are the "Chosen People".

61 percent of respondents said the state should "ensure that public life is conducted according to Jewish religious tradition," up dramatically from 44 percent in 1991. But respondents also insisted on preserving their freedom of choice. Between 58 and 68 percent said that shopping centers, public transportation, sporting events, cafes, restaurants and movie theaters should be allowed to operate on Shabbat (figures ranged from 58 percent for shopping centers to 68 percent for cafes, restaurants and movie theaters).

65 percent believe the Torah and mitzvot (religious commandments ) are God-given.

56 percent believe in life after death.

55 percent said they believe in the coming of the Messiah, up from 45 percent in 1999 but similar to 53 percent in 1991.


51 percent responded "yes," "absolutely yes" or "perhaps yes" when asked if they favored the introduction of civil marriage in Israel. Those in the first two categories, at 48 percent, were down from 54 percent in 1999 but up from 39 percent in 1991.

46 percent of Israeli Jews define themselves as secular, down from 52 percent in 1999, while 22 percent define themselves as either Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox, up from 16 percent in 1999. The remaining 32 percent term themselves traditional, virtually unchanged from 1999.

Only 44 percent said that if Jewish law and democratic values clashed, the latter should always be preferred, while 20 percent said Jewish law should always be preferred and 36 percent said "sometimes one and sometimes the other." In other words, the decline in attachment to democratic values continues. Less than half of Israeli Jews think that, in a clash between Jewish law and democracy, democratic values should always prevail.

37 percent said that "a Jew who does not observe the religious precepts endangers the entire Jewish people," up from 30 percent in 1999 but similar to the 1991 figure of 35 percent.

Overall, the survey found an increase in attachment to Jewish religion and tradition from 1999 to 2009, following a decrease from 1991 to 1999, which was the decade of mass immigration from the former Soviet Union.

The study's authors cited two reasons for the rise in religiosity. One is that immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who contributed to the drop in religiosity from 1991 to 1999, have now assimilated into Israeli society. Various studies have found that this process of assimilation has resulted in Soviet immigrants becoming more traditional. The second reason is the demographic change caused by the higher Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox birthrates.

When individuals were asked about how their own attitudes had changed over the previous decade, the number of those that said they felt more religious and were more careful about observing the Sabbath and kashrut was higher than the number of those who said they had become more secular.


Historic Visit to Cyprus

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a historic visit to Cyprus on February 16, 2012, aiming to strengthen the "natural relationship" between the two countries.

The visit was the first ever by an Israeli leader to the nearby island nation, which along with Israel has natural gas interests in the Mediterranean and is coping with rising tensions with Turkey. Hours before Netanyahu's arrival, the Turks threatened to halt Nicosia from exploring in waters that Ankara says do not belong to Cyprus.

"I came here to develop our bilateral ties, our economic ties and ties in the field of energy," Netanyahu said after talks with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias. "We're interested in developing peaceful relations for the benefit of our two countries and the region as a whole."


The two leaders discussed cooperation in energy matters, agriculture and tourism. They signed an agreement to offer reciprocal aid in search and rescue missions at sea. Israel was also exploring the possibility of building a joint pipeline with Cyprus to export some of the offshore gas deposits to Europe and Asia.

Although Cyprus is only a 50-minute flight away from Tel Aviv, ties between the two have long been chilly. Nicosia has long backed the Palestinians in their quest for an independent state and looked on warily as Israel built military and trade relations with regional powerhouse Turkey, which doesn't recognize Cyprus as a sovereign state and has occupied its north since 1974.

Another bridge between Israel and Cyprus has been the discovery of huge offshore natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. The same U.S. company, Noble Energy, is leading the exploration efforts in both countries. It estimates finds of more than 25 trillion cubic meters in Israeli waters and up to 230 billion cubic meters in Cypriot waters.

Turkey opposes any Greek Cypriot oil and gas search that denies breakaway Turkish Cypriots what it contends is a rightful claim to gas wealth. And it has dismissed a Cypriot-Israeli deal demarcating their maritime borders as null and void.

Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south and a breakaway Turkish-speaking north in 1974 after Turkey invaded following a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece.

The rupture with Turkey and the rise of Islamic parties in the wake of the Arab Spring have made Israel more vulnerable in a region already hostile to the Jewish state and forced it to look for other alliances. Cyprus' EU membership, proximity and own gas wealth potential make the island a natural ally for an increasingly isolated Israel.



Supporting Physician-assisted Suicide

For many years, I have been supporting physician-assisted suicide provided that some guidelines are cautiously followed so as to prevent abuse. I think it is a terrible situation that citizens of the United Kingdom need to leave their home, and here “my home is my castle”, and travel to a foreign land to seek help. Some 115 Britons who wanted to decide the time of their death had to travel to Switzerland where they were helped to die. The British authorities are embarrassed. They understand that this death-tourism is the result of insufficient legal instruments to enable sick people, at the end of their lives, to die at home at the time of their choice. A change is in need. Polls consistently show that between seventy and eighty percent of the population support physician-assisted suicide but the British legislature has been hesitant.


This is the cover of my best book to date, published in 2001

Recently, a long-awaited report by the Commission on Assisted Dying has recommended an end to the criminalisation of assisted suicide in specific cases. The Commission recommended that if an individual is 18 years or older and has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and they have the mental capacity to make an informed choice unimpaired by mental health problems such as depression and free of the influence of others, then they should have the right to request an assisted death.

Central to the legal framework proposed by the commission are a number of safeguards, with health workers central to their implementation: “The system that we propose would have at its centre skilled professionals who can assess those who request an assisted death to confirm their diagnosis, explore their reaction to and understanding of their health condition, the motivation for their request, the voluntariness of their choice and their decision-making capacity”, they write.

Each request for an assisted death would have to be approved by at least two independent doctors, one of whom would be legally responsible for ensuring that the person has a settled intention to die, meets the eligibility criteria, and has a reliable and supported assisted death. However, the commission also recommends that any health-care professional should be able to opt out of providing support for an assisted death. “Ethical perspectives on the issue of assisted dying remain polarised and it is extremely unlikely this issue could ever be resolved in a way that was satisfactory to all parties”, they conclude. “Ultimately the question of whether a legal framework for assisted dying should be introduced in the UK must be for Parliament to decide on behalf of the people.”

See The Lancet, Volume 379, Issue 9810, 7–13 January 2012, page 15.


Visitors at the University of Hull – Professor Sir Adam Roberts

On February 15-16, 2012, I hosted Professor Sir Adam Roberts, President of the British Academy, who delivered two talks: "Revolution and Crisis in British Academia", and “Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring”. The first was a university lecture; the second in the University of Hull Middle Eastern Study Group (MESG). Both were thought-provoking and enriching lectures that stimulated interest and debate.


In The Arab Spring Lecture, Sir Adam said Rousseau had over-simplified when he implied that removing the chains imposed by a dictator would automatically make people free. Removing a dictatorship does not necessarily lead to democracy. It takes a long process that starts with the removal of the tyrant but requires further significant effort to see that the vile regime is replaced with one that is based on liberty and other democratic values.

Asked how to explain that the revolutions took place in those countries and no others in the Arab world let alone in South America and other parts of Africa where we find many authoritarian, corrupt regimes, Sir Adam answered that a combination of several factors led to the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria: diverse society, ideological crisis, and proximity to the democratic world, so that the people know that it is possible for them to lead a very different way of life that is not entirely foreign to them.

Asked about the situation in Syria, where many segments of the population are determined to replace the Assad regime and prepared to pay a high price and, at the same time, Assad is equally determined to remain in power and to exact a price from his people, Sir Adam said that this was a sobering case in which civil resistance, relying on non-violent means of struggle, was in process of leading to internal armed conflict. Asked specifically whether international military intervention in Syria was a possibility, he said that Turkey might intervene, especially if more refugees should attempt to cross the borders into Turkey. A large influx of refugees might pressure Turkey to intervene in Syria. Sir Adam also said that he does not rule out UN peace keeping forces being sent to Syria. He said that he does not foresee American intervention as they had enough in Iraq and Afghanistan and are now adopting a much more cautious approach to military involvement in distant societies without the explicit consent of the country's government. The Rumsfeld approach is now over.

As always, it was good to see Adam. I am happy he was able to come and deliver these talks. And I am always happy to welcome friends and colleagues in Yorkshire.


Nominate a woman for Courage in Journalism Awards

The International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) is seeking nominations for its 2012 Courage in Journalism Awards, which honour women reporters around the world whose work puts them in danger. The deadline for nominations is 2 March 2012.

The Courage in Journalism Awards (of US$5,000 apiece) will honour three women working in the news media who have risked political persecution, physical injury and death in their efforts to expose corruption and champion human rights.

Plus, the Lifetime Achievement Award recognises a woman journalist who has a pioneering spirit and a strong commitment to press freedom, and whose determination has paved the way for future generations of women in the media.

Candidates for both awards can be full-time, part-time or freelance women journalists working in print, broadcast or online media in any country. Candidates for the Lifetime Achievement Award can be retired journalists.

You can nominate at:


Whitney Houston

On February 12, 2012, I was saddened to hear about the tragic and premature death of Whitney Houston. Her great voice will live forever. Here is a reminder of Ms. Houston's incredible voice:


Ms. Houston seemed to have it all: Talent, charisma, beauty, a character filled with life, great smile, zest, energy and immense charm. What she did not have is the right company. I danced to her songs, sang her songs, loved her voice. I will continue to do so.

Top 10 Whitney Houston Songs Of All Time,


My Reprinted Article

R. Cohen-Almagor and Sharon Haleva-Amir, “The Israel-Hezbollah War and the Winograd Committee”, in Athina Karatzogianni (ed.), Violence and War (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).

This is a reprinted version of the article originally published in Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law, Vol. II:1 (2008), pp. 113-130.

“Raphael Cohen-Almagor and Sharon Haleva-Amir in ‘The Israel-Hezbollah War and the Winograd Committee’ examine the internal politics and international implications of assigning blame for the Olmert government’s handling of the war with Hezbollah, and criticise the establishment of the committee and the results it reached, as a mockery of justice and a travesty of social responsibility. In a rich empirical analysis, Cohen-Almagor and Haleva-Amir, argue that the Israeli government responded hastily and without much thinking to the Hezbollah attack. Its massive attack on Lebanon brought about large-scale retaliation, which subjected more than one million Israeli citizens to continuous rocket attacks, and resulted in hundred of thousands of refugees, with hundreds of people killed or maimed. They argue that the war strengthened the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and weakened Israeli deterrence.”


New Books

Athina Karatzogianni (ed.), Violence and War in Culture and the Media: Five Disciplinary Lenses (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).

This edited volume examines theoretical and empirical issues relating to violence and war and its implications for media, culture and society.

This volume offers a varied analysis which has wider implications for several disciplines, thus providing the reader with a text that is both multi-faceted and accessible. The book introduces the current debates surrounding this topic through five particular lenses:


  • the historical involves an examination of historical patterns of the communication of violence and war through a variety sources
  • the cultural utilises the cultural studies perspective to engage with issues of violence, visibility and spectatorship
  • the sociological focuses on how terrorism, violence and war are remembered and negotiated in the public sphere
  • the political offers an exploration into the politics of assigning blame for war, the influence of psychology on media actors, and new media political communication issues in relation to the state and the media
  • the gender-studies perspective provides an analysis of violence and war from a gender studies viewpoint.


Movie of the Month – Mother and Child (2009)

The stories of several mothers are interwoven in this drama about motherhood: The longing to become a mother; the pains of motherhood; the heart-wrenching suffering of those who wish to evade motherhood. It is a sad story. The joy of motherhood hardly features in this film. It is about women. They dominate the film. Men play a secondary, most of the time flat and unassuming role. Men can be thoughtful, kind and sensitive, but they have nothing to say in motherhood. This film is about the hard, lonely world of mothers.


Karen (Annette Bening) gave birth to her only child when she was fourteen and gave her up for adoption. This momentous event ruined her life. Consumed by guilt, she was unable to establish any meaningful relationships with men. She lived with her mother until her mother died but both women did not really open themselves for one another. Karen knows she is “difficult”: judgmental, stubborn, opinionated, uncompromising, determined, strong-willed, and very lonely. Although her daughter plays very important part in her life, Karen never tried to look for her.

Everything changes when Paco (Jimmy Smits) enters her life. It was not easy for him to penetrate the stubborn-sturdy walls that Karen erected around herself but he finds a way, to Karen’s surprise. “Where did you come from?” she asks him. Karen’s opened to Paco’s abundant kindness, and quickly marries him. Paco “leads his way” to persuade her to look for her daughter, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) had a very difficult life. From a very young age, she had to live alone and to force herself into the world. Ambitious, unflinching, smart, selfish with many qualities of her mother (judgmental, stubborn, opinionated, uncompromising, determined, strong-willed) she leads a lonely life in which she finds satisfaction. Happiness would be a big word to describe her condition and constant mood. She moves in and out of cities for unclear reasons but we can guess these constant moves were due to her difficult personality and the way she treats others, especially men: Use, play with and throw. Men are attracted to her like flies to light. Incapable of loving anyone, including herself, people are for her mere means to an end. Stubborn and fearful like her mother, Elizabeth never tried to look for her roots until she becomes pregnant at the age of 37. At about the same time, not knowing of one another, both Karen and Elizabeth deposit letters for each other in the adoption offices.

The third story is about Lucy (Kerry Washington) who is unable to conceive. To satisfy her husband’s yearning for a child, she turns to adoption to make the family they desire. Joseph, her husband, encapsulates the role of men in this film: he hardly speaks, with a flat personality and simple desires. Lucy does not really need him. Indeed, the road to adoption is especially difficult for Lucy but once she is able to have a child, she fails to understand that motherhood is indeed “all about her”: her child’s wishes, her milk, her sleep, her quality time. Lucy’s mother has to open her eyes to tell her that she is not special. Yes, this is motherhood (parenthood).

The film is built around two wonderful actresses: Naomi Watts and Annette Bening. Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson are in the supporting roles. It is very dense and very sad. There are no moments of comic relief and only seldom we see the magical, beautiful, happy moments of parenthood. There is only one striking episode of family life, to which Elizabeth enters quite astonished as she never experienced such a playful gathering in her own life. The movie, in many respects, is one sided as it highlights the pains of motherhood, not the joys, and it is about motherhood, not parenthood. The three main stories are about broken families. For many of us, luckily life is far more complex, with many shades of grey and pink, not only grey. Yet the film is captivating, moving, complex and beautifully-done.

Four stars in Rafi’s scale.


Monthly Poem

Winter Night

It snowed and snowed, the whole world over,
Snow swept the world from end to end.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.

As during summer midges swarm
To beat their wings against a flame
Out in the yard the snowflakes swarmed
To beat against the window pane
The blizzard sculptured on the glass
Designs of arrows and of whorls.

A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.
Distorted shadows fell
Upon the lighted ceiling:
Shadows of crossed arms, of crossed legs-
Of crossed destiny.

Two tiny shoes fell to the floor
And thudded.

A candle on a nightstand shed wax tears
Upon a dress.

All things vanished within
The snowy murk-white, hoary.

A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.

A corner draft fluttered the flame
And the white fever of temptation
Upswept its angel wings that cast
A cruciform shadow
It snowed hard throughout the month
Of February, and almost constantly
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.


Boris Pasternak


Gem of the Month


The Chinese invented a new mode of art which may be term AcroBallet. As the name suggests, it incorporates acrobatics and ballet. Old-fashioned ballet lovers would hate this. Others may like it. But see it and make up your own mind:

Old Jaffa

Here are some photos, day and night, of one of my favourite places on earth: The beautiful and enchanting Old Jaffa.


Light Side – British Humour


Must sell washer and dryer $100.


Worn once by mistake.
Call Stephanie.



8 years old,
Hateful little bastard.


Complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 45 volumes.
Excellent condition, $200 or best offer. No longer needed, got married, wife knows everything.


Statement of the Century

Thought from the Greatest Living Scottish Thinker--Billy Connolly.
"If women are so bloody perfect at multitasking,
How come they can't have a headache and sex at the same time?"


Peace and love.

Yours as ever,


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