Monday, February 1, 2010

Israeli Model Makes "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit" Cover

Mea culpa.

My apologies for having been absent for so long. I was and still am quite swamped with a number of personal obligations had had neither the time nor the energy to post. I still am not fully free, but as an apology of sorts, I offer this "lighter" post.

I hope people will continue to check in for when I can finally get back to writing again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Geert Wilders: The Extremist or the Victim?


I received an e-mail the other day with an interesting article and an even more interesting question attached. The article was actually a speech by a member of the Dutch Parliament, Geert Wilders given in New York. When I read the speech, I could barely believe that it was an accurate transcript and so I looked it up, and indeed it seems to be authentic. The whole speech is here and I encourage you to read it before I get to the interesting question.

Having read the speech, you'll see that Mr. Wilders is obviously very concerned about Islam. He has little nice to say about the religion or its followers and paints a picture of a Europe being overwhelmed by populations of foreigners with no interest in integrating into Europe who may, eventually come to seize political power and then be in control of some of the worlds most powerful militaries and weapons. If this argument sounds to be extreme, apparently, it is not, and is even being championed, to a large part, by pundits, like Daniel Pipes.

So now the question that came with the article asked by the person who sent it to me: "Is this the Jew warning about the Nazis, or the Nazi warning about the Jew?"

Now, to be clear, I'm not suggesting that either Mr. Wilders, or Muslims are Nazis. The term is used here to highlight the question of whether this is the extremist who may be fanning the flames of racism, or is this truly a victim sounding the alarm? The reason I ask this question is because I really have no idea.

When I first read the speech, I could hardly believe it. It seems very extreme and I am frankly not even convinced that all the information in it is true. For example, his claim that the Holocaust is not taught in some schools for fear of offending Muslims is, at least in the case of the UK, not true. Some of his other claims, about not teaching Muslim children about farms seems equally outlandish, but I don't know if it's true or not. His fears of Muslims watching television channels from their countries of origin also seems natural to me and not a reason for concern and I have no problem with a school, even a public school, offering Halal food to their students if that schools happens to be in a predominantly Muslim area. His arguments about Muslims taking over the governments of European countries also seems completely absurd and the likelihood of each "step" in the gradual takeover he foresees just seems...outlandish. To be frank, even if every word of the speech were to be true, I would find it difficult to accept that such a speech was motivated by anything other than a profound xenophobia and scarcely concealed racism.

On the other hand, I do take Mr. Wilder's point about immigrants who arrive in a new country recognizing that the values and lifestyle of their new home may be different than what they are used to and that adaptation is necessary. Certainly, national values and mores change with demographics and populations, but there are core values of different countries that need to be respected and it seems reasonable to say to new arrivals that they are free to carry on as they wish within the confines of the laws and constituting principles of their chosen home. I think this is really the only point on which I feel comfortable agreeing with Mr. Wilders but I am willing to be persuaded on the matter and hope this interesting question will generate some interesting comments.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Israeli Minister in the United Arab Emerites

In the words of Minister of Infrastructure Uzi Landau, a splinter has been made in the ice of Israeli relations with the United Arab Emerites (UAE) as he became the first Israeli minister to visit that country. The minister was attending a conference of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) held in Abu Dhabi and was only actually allowed into the country because of UAE's agreement to let all members of IRENA attend.

It is difficult to see how this visit, which was for the purpose of attending an international meeting, and which saw the minister confined to his hotel for much of his visit is a "splinter" in the ice. Minister Landau suggests that because he was in UAE discussing common interests in renewable energy there is a basis for further discussions on issues of common interest. The reality, however, if that he was not in the UAE to speak to the Emeriti government but to speak to an international conference. Indeed, the UAE was firm that Landau's presence at this meeting did not represent the start of Israeli-Emeriti diplomatic relations.

On the other hand, Israeli delegations (at lower levels) have been to the UAE to attend previous meetings of IRENA and it is difficult to imagine that there were no bilateral meetings of any kind between visiting Israeli officials and their hosts. If even for the purpose of negotiating the logistics of Israeli participation in the meeting, contacts must have taken place at some level. Perhaps it is these, initial low-level dealings, combined with the mutual interests of renewable energy that Landau claimed to be his splinter.

Certainly, there is no ill that could come from the Minister's visit to the UAE and if the result is a low level relationship such as the one with Oman or Qatar, even over time, then the crack in the ice of relations between these countries will widen. There is no obvious reason for the UAE and for Israel to be enemies. Hopefully, Landau is right and his visit could be one of the first chips away at the stone.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Israel's Diplomatic Humiliation of Turkey Garners Mixed Reactions

The "pages" of the major Israeli online media sources are filled today with opinion and reporting on the recent humiliation of the Turkish Ambassador to Israel and the subsequent series of apologies issued by Israel.

Some of these articles highlight the apologies made by Israel and the statements made by individuals like Israeli President Peres who seems emphatic that this sort of humiliation was not the way Israel conducted its diplomacy. Others more forcefully opined that the author of the embarrassment, Ayalon, should resign for having caused the tension and having given the Israeli diplomatic corps the black eye they he did.

Some articles are unapologetic. For example, Ayalon himself is convinced that his actions will change the tone of Turkish rhetoric about Israel, especially that of the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. Erdogan has been a particularly vocal and harsh critic of Israel and seems to prefer to cool, rather than warm, relations between his country and Israel. This naive approach, which the Israeli foreign ministry itself disagrees with assumes that now that Erdogan realizes how Israel really feels about insults he will tone down his language. This is frankly a ridiculous proposition as it has changed Israel from the aggrieved party to the offending one. Erdogan, and other diplomatic opponents of Israel, have a whole new realm in which they can criticise (and with good reason) Israeli behaviour. How does Ayalon think Israeli diplomats will now be received? How does he think foreign diplomats in Israel will interact with the foreign ministry? Certainly feelings of trust and friendliness will not be reinforced.

Others writing in support of the humiliation argue that given the harsh rhetoric from Ankara against Israel, and given that the episode in question was meant to express concern over an offensive Turkish television programme, Israel should show more self confidence and not worry about offending those that have offended it. Still, a weak argument. This is a question of how Israel conducts its relations and how it seeks to achieve its diplomatic goals. For a deputy foreign minister to behave this way seems to--but hopefully does not really--speak to a rot in the effectiveness of Israeli diplomacy. As the old cliche goes, one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Some of the articles also point to domestic political considerations as the real reasons behind the spectacle of senior diplomats from Israel humiliating those of another country. For example, given that the deputy foreign minister is one of the parties forming the Israeli government, he needs to consider his domestic audience, and the opposition has called him on playing with Israel's strategic position for cheap domestic points. Points that probably were not scored.

The point is also made of the fine line that Israel needs to walk with Turkey. This line is balancing taking a firm position in response to the harsh criticism it faces from Turkish officials, but in so doing, remaining cautious about offending the Turkish people, with whom the Israeli people have generally close ties. The act of humiliating a Turkish envoy, which is receiving media play all over the world, and undoubtedly in Turkey, could jeopardize these important ties and place the Turkish population firmly behind its government in the adoption of a harsh stance on Israel. Still though, all is not lost. Official ties between Israel and Turkey continue and deals, such as the one for military drones, move forward.

Time will be the judge as to how much this incident really hurts Israeli-Turkish relations and indeed on the reception and effectiveness of Israeli diplomacy in the future.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pity Haiti

The devastation in Haiti is complete. Nearly 100,000 or more dead, buildings collapsed, prisoners escaped from collapsed prisons, hospitals, schools, homes, all flattened. The poorest country in North America dealt yet another tragedy, another losing hand.

Canada seems to have been quick to respond and kudos for what seems like a quick and appropriate reaction. An advance team arrived aboard a Canadian forces plane which carried a helicopter aboard. Two more ships of the Canadian navy, HMCS Halifax and HMCS Athabaskan are being loaded with emergency supplies for their trip to Haiti, along with a contingent of up to 500 soldiers to help however they're needed.

This is exactly what Canada should be doing. For a country that seeks increased engagement in the Caribbean and in Latin America and that simply wants to do what is right we have an obligation to our neighbours to help them in their darkest hours, and we are doing exactly that. Kudos to the CAF for the good work they are and will be doing.

In keeping with the subject of this blog, Israel is also sending a rescue team halfway around the world to Haiti. Elite Israeli search and rescue forces have been dispatche as well as teams from IsrAID, the same team that assisted after the devastating earthquake in Italy about one year ago. Jewish communities around the world and here in Canada are also mobilizing to help raise funds.

The red cross, as always, is preparing to do their significant work and donations can be made to them here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reasons for the Failure of Israeli Diplomacy

Many Israeli diplomats apparently know little or nothing of the culture or history of the country and people they are to be representing. In short, they know little of Judaism or Zionism, reports this article in Ha'Aretz.

Recently, Israeli foreign minister Lieberman lambasted Israeli diplomats posted overseas for being too soft in their arguments and being too willing to accept the narrative of the "other side" in favour of the Israeli one, which they should be representing. In response, some Israeli ambassadors replied that most Israeli diplomats are sincere in their patriotism and desire to represent their country but that there was a lack of leadership and guidance. Generally a diplomat posted abroad (by most countries) will be given a set of standard "lines" or positions to repeat and advance at every opportunity, on a case by case basis, as needed, they would be provided with instructions on issues as they arise. This apparent lack of leadership is therefore an important point. Judaism and Zionism, for example, are concepts that have varying interpretations. An orthodox Jewish Israeli diplomat may approach these issues differently than a secular one. With Israeli society itself as divided as it is over key issues, clear instructions are needed from Jerusalem for diplomats to know what they should be advancing.

This lack of leadership is believable as it has been highlighted by recent Israeli diplomatic interactions with Turkey. The Israeli deputy Foreign Minister called in the Turkish ambassador to express Israel's concern over a Turkish television documentary which depicted Israeli security agents kidnapping babies. As appalling as this show may have been, Israel's diplomatic response was a shameful spectacle in it's own right. The Turkish envoy was placed on a low sofa, his Israeli interlocutors on higher chairs with an Israeli flag on the table. All of which was explicitly and deliberately pointed out by the deputy FM to a cameraman filming the event. The Turkish ambassador rightly described the Israeli behaviour as adolescent and undiplomatic and the Turkish government asked for an apology for the humiliation of their envoy.

With attitudes and behaviours such as the deputy FM's it's not too hard to see how the Israeli foreign service may be accused of being ineffective. When the Israeli government complains about the ineffectiveness of their diplomats, about strained relations with countries like Turkey or the failure of the Israeli government to properly communicate its message, they must look to the top, to incidents like this most recent one with Turkey for answers. It is the job of diplomats to express their country's position, but this is to be done in a diplomatic fashion, with tact. Directly expressing discontent is absolutely acceptable, but humiliation of the enjoy of a country with whom your country would like better relations should leave no wonder why a country's diplomacy is ineffective.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a professional diplomatic corps, only it appears that it is being run by ruffians and boors on whom the subtleties and finer techniques of inter-state relations are lost. In the wake of such unprofessional and undiplomatic treatment of the envoy of a state with whom relations are so difficult, more than an apology is needed. A cabinet shuffle (though probably politically impossible) is what is really needed to redeem and reform the Israeli Foreign Service into something more effective.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thousand Year Old Home, and Hippo Bones Found in Tel Aviv

Archaeologists working in Tel-Aviv have discovered a prehistoric (8,000 year old) dwelling along with primitive tools and animal bones including those of a hippo.

The work seems to have been carried out in preparation for a building development. In Israel, as in many other countries in the region, construction is not allowed unless archaeologists have first inspected the site for anything of value. In this case, the discovery is being described as surprising and unique.

As always, my fascination with archeology and history turn to questions of who where these people, what were their lives like, what became of them, do they have modern heirs, and who are they? Also, how did hippo bones make it to Tel Aviv? Did hippos live in the region 8,000 years ago? Was the region so significantly different back then? If not, were these bones (or the meat that was on them) traded, and if so, with whom?

Fascinating stuff!

Lebanon Hopes to Beat Recently Set Israeli Hummus Record

An Israeli town known as Abu Gosh has prepared the world's largest platter of Hummus, breaking a world record recently set in Lebanon. Lebanon had taken the distinction of home of the largest plate of Hummus from Israel, what had held it previously, but now the honour of this dubious distinction returns to the Israeli-Arab town of Abu Gosh, not far to the west of Jerusalem.

Some Lebanese seem sincerely upset that Israel produces and marks hummus at all, claiming that "...hummus is a Lebanese product..." and so Israel should not be selling it as an Israeli product. In fact, they don't even want Israel to be allowed to call the chickpea paste Hummus. Officials as high as the Lebanese tourist minister said "We have no objection that other people do hummus but they should know that it is Lebanese. They (Israelis) should find a name other than hummus because this is a Lebanese name." This is an interesting assertion because it seems that it's untrue.

While most sources agree that they have no idea where Hummus originated, the most suspected sources seem to be either Syria, Egypt or even Saladin. No source seems to suggest Lebanon though. Moreover, the word Hummus is Arabic for "Chick Pea" and is not a distinctly Lebanese word, or distinct to Lebanese Arabic, it's an Arabic one. This seems to make the whole debate seem somewhat...petty.

To boot, given that Hummus is an Arabic word and even Israelis agree that the dish is an Arabic one, it is utterly ignored that those that prepared the worlds largest dish in Israel, are actually Arabs. I wonder if the Lebanese were as outraged when Palestinians claimed that Hummus was theirs.

Lebanon now says that they're hoping to reclaim the record by making a giant plate of Hummus right on the Israeli border. This is obviously nothing more than an attempt to kidnap Israeli soldiers as they are undoubtedly counting on hapless IDF soldiers to try to cross the border in droves to try and get at that Hummus-y goodness. Hezbollah must be behind it.

Maybe, instead, all this hummus could be combined for the greater good, such as firefighting as it was (ridiculously) in the Adam Sandler film "You Don't Mess With the Zohan." Just imagine the good that would bring.



More seriously though, It's much nicer to worry about ludicrous bickering over Hummus than it is to have to deal with actual violence. Keep up the pettiness. May this be the biggest conflict Israel and Lebanon ever face again.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Song That's Been in my Head All Day!

I love this song and it's been in my head all day!

(My own) loose translation from Yiddish:


Chorus
Tumbala-tumbala Tum-balalaika (x2)
tum-balalaika, let the balalaika play
tum-balalaika, and let us be joyful

A young man is thinking
thinking and thinking the whole night
who should he propose to
who may he offend (x2)

Chorus

Maiden, maiden let me ask you
what can grow, grow without rain?
what can burn, without being consumed?
what can cry, and shed no tears?

Chorus

Silly young man,
why must you ask?
a stone can grow, grow without rain.
love can burn, without being consumed
the heart can cry and shed no tears.

Chorus

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oldest Hebrew Inscription Discovered


In October, 2008, a teenage volunteer at an archaeological dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, southwest of Jerusalem (see map,) discovered a 3,000 year old pottery shard with an inscription that appeared to be Hebrew, making it the earliest Hebrew writing ever found. More recently, scholars studying the shard--which would have been created around the time when King David ruled his ancient kingdom--have determined that the writing, which seems to be a legal text relating to slaves widows and orphans, is indeed Hebrew.

The archaeological implications of this include that people were speaking and writing Hebrew centuries before they had been thought to be, and that if there were people educated enough to read and write in what would have been a fairly small town, there must have been much more in the centres of power. Furthermore, some suggest that the ability to write in Hebrew at the time of Kind David lends increased credibility to the Old Testament since there is now evidence that those living at that time were able to write and record what they saw.

The legal nature of the shard also seems to imply that there actually was a central authority of sorts which created and promulgated these laws. The site at which the shard was discovered also speaks to this centralized power. For example, the site of the dig, which was a fortified city estimated to have contained 500 people was not large enough to have built its own massive fortifications and that the assistance of some sort of organized authority would have been needed.

I find this amazing for two main reasons. First, I've been to archaeological sites in the region and recall seeing piles and piles of discarded pottery shards. I was told, at that time, that there were so many shards it was really useless to go through them all, or to try to reconstruct the pottery itself. This is why the discovery of this inscription impresses me so much. It's amazing that such a physically small but historically impressive artifact was not simply discarded.

Secondly, I find it amazing to think of people living in this region three thousand years ago building a society for themselves. Fortifying their towns, drafting laws, spreading them, enforcing them. I find it amazing to think of these ancient people sitting in Jerusalem and conceiving of laws and then somehow communicating them to a scribe, or some other literate person in a more remote community who would pass the word of the government on to his neighbours. It's also amazing to think of an actual King David pronouncing these rules, or discussing them with his advisers and arranging for the rules to be promulgated.

Friday, January 8, 2010

IDF Lawyers to Consult With Army During Operations

The IDF has now adopted the policy of having military lawyers consult with the army not only prior to military operations, but during them as well.

Frankly, I took it as a given that this is what had been happening all along and am surprised that it had not been. The implication of this order seems to be that prior to this latest decision, the emphasis of Israeli legal decision making was jus ad bellum, the legality of going to war, as opposed to jus in bellum, the law relating to the actual conduct of war. Certainly, Israeli military lawyers had examined questions of who or what can be targeted and under what circumstances, but it appears that when decisions were required in short time frames, there was no legal input. Contrast this with the Canadian experience where military lawyers are closely engaged at nearly all levels of the targeting process.

Also noteworthy from the Ha'Aretz article above is that Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs lawyers have advised against efforts to reopen the text of the Geneva Conventions so as to recognize the nature of the types of wars fought today, different from the ones fought when the conventions were drafted. Instead, Israeli lawyers are seeing understandings for a "dynamic" interpretation of the law with other western countries.

The reality of the situation this will likely lead to is one where all states that have come to an agreement for a "dynamic" interpretation will come to increasingly ignore traditional interpretations of the laws of war. It could, in effect, create a two tiered system where those that support a traditional interpretation will make one claim and Western states will argue in support of another. One would have to hope that this duality would not result in an undermining of the law all together and a situation where human rights are altogether ignored to make way for purely security concerns.

I think that if Western states truly believe that the Laws of War, as they now stand are insufficient to cope with the realities of modern counter-terrorism and asymmetrical warfare, then there is a legal and moral imperative to take the lead and make their case to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thoughts on Lawyer Behind Much Lawfare Against Israel

Daniel Machover, a lawyer from London and founder of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, has published a salvo against "die-hard supporters of Israeli policies" who he argues have co-opted the term "lawfare" on the Huffington Post blog. His comments have prompted some thoughts.

Mr. Machover begins by suggesting that applying the term lawfare is meant to discredit non-violent resistance as politically motivated efforts with no legal merit. What Mr. Machover ignores is that these claims, while indeed non-violent, are politically motivated on their face and they often have no legal merit, as evidenced by them being thrown out of court by judges in reputable, western jurisdictions. Consider, further to this argument, that Palestinian Lawyers for Human Rights has as it's goal the furthering of a political aim, that being achieving Palestinian self determination. Mr. Machover as well has represented the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights who have launched an extensive legal fishing expedition in the hopes of finding just a single case with which they can point to a legal decision branding an Israeli as a war criminal.

More compelling, however, is the fact that courts in the west have been considering and throwing out these lawfare style cases that Mr. Machover suggests are legitimate. Cases in Canada, the Netherlands and Spain, have all been thrown out because the courts determined that there were no legal grounds to pursue them. Mr. Machover, as a person who seems to speak with true conviction, and as a lawyer being paid by a client, naturally disagrees with these courts and may think that the law should be otherwise, but the courts of liberal democracies disagree with him. His response to these legal victories is to suggest that these cases were decided the way they were because "It is arguable that Israeli legal successes abroad have had nothing to do with the core merits of the cases concerned." Mr. Machover, however, does not make this argument.

Machover also suggests that Israeli courts are designed to provide immunity to those who would be prosecuted by the so-called "lawfare" cases in other jurisdictions. He points to situations where he believes that the Israeli courts have not done their job, but ignores he litany of cases where Israeli courts have made decisions that are anything but "subservient to the grinding machine of occupation and repression." Take for example the most recent decision allowing Palestinians access to a highway from which they had been barred for security reasons, decisions against soldiers for abuse of Palestinians, for land rights violations (see video), or for a list of other abuses where Israelis were found to have committed crimes.



Machover then points to this troubling incident, of Jewish groups in the United States supporting the dismissal of charges against a foreigner accused of human rights violations on the grounds that if the complaint is allowed, a flood of such cases may be brought against Israel in the US. Machover's point is that supporters of Israel must ally themselves with the worst violators of rights in the world to advance their positions because Israel's position is just as bad. He proposes that the world's worst most repressive countries would support an Israeli push to have universal jurisdiction laws reformed. What he does not consider, however, is that unlike these most repressive regimes, Israel is the country against which suits are regularly filed. Mr. Machover seems to be defeating his own argument that these cases against Israel are not politically motivated when he highlights how Israel seems to be lobbying to change universal jurisdiction laws because of the concerns it has, but other states do not.

What Mr. Machover ignores and fails to distinguish is that in the example he points to, the victims were punished merely for opposing the government, whereas in the Israeli context, cases are brought for injuries incurred in a war. Indeed, context is lacking from all of Mr. Machover's post. He suggests that terming cases against Israel as lawfare serves those who "want it to become lawful to use disproportionate force against civilians where they are proximate to what state actors identify as legitimate military and quasi-military targets." This is clearly not the case. There is no widely accepted suggestion that civilians should be faced with disproportionate force. Indeed, international law provides that civilian casualties should be minimized, but the law recognizes that mistakes occur in the fog of war and that "collateral damage" occurs and is not a violation of the laws of war.

Mr. Machover wants what everyone wants, a world without wars, or at the very least, a world where in wars, only combatants are hurt. The fact is, that this does not happen. If there were prosecutions in every case in which a civilian died in conflict, than the leaders of a great many countries would be standing in the docket: Canada, the US, UK, Israel, Russia, Georgia, basically every NATO country and many, many more. Mr. Machover seeks a utopia which does not exist in law or in reality and his goals of having the law act as a deterrent for violations should an Israeli be found guilty would not be realized with the pronouncement of a guilty verdict.

UK Attorney General Visits Jerusalem

In Jerusalem on a quasi-official visit, the UK Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, has had meetings with Israeli officials relating to the recent attempts to arrest Livni in the UK, proposed changes to UK universal jurisdiction legislation and to give a lecture at Hebrew University entitled: "Lawfare – Time for Rules of Engagement?"

Though the Attorney General was short on specifics of what a new law would look like, there is the implication that the Attorney General them-self would be given a veto over any arrest warrants under universal jurisdiction laws. Reading British press, however, it sounds as though the law will be specifically written to say "Israelis shall be exempt." A circumstance which is highly unlikely.

If the AG is given veto over arrest warrants there are certainly grounds for concern as to the political pressure that may be brought to bear on the AG. The judiciary should be sealed off from influence by political considerations, but in this case, it is easy to imagine how political and other non-legal considerations would seep into the AG's decision making. As argued previously, however, cases of universal jurisdiction are almost by definition political cases and decisions may come down to something as simple as a consideration of which country will be too expensive to pursue. For example, the political pressure against arresting a Chinese official may make such an action too costly, but a country like Israel, may be less 'expensive' to take to court. This is a fine line the UK may be walking between injecting legislative, executive and other powers into the judiciary, and separating the three.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Problems With The Israeli Jordanian Peace Treaty

An Israeli judge Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein has hit the nail on the head by pointing out that the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel has had only limited success because some of the clauses, including those related to cultural and religious exchanges have not been fully implemented.

The same argument made by Rubinstein about Jordan can also be made about Egypt. It is not enough for the governments of the countries in question to have non-hostile political relations, and the absence of war does not equal peace. What is needed is for the people of these countries to come to know one another as individuals, through things like student exchanges, and culturally, through things like art exhibits traveling through the region, or musical groups touring different communities. Unless the people of the region begin to see one another as peers, with similar basic interests and goals, then the peace between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt will never truly be ratified.

The judge points out how water has been a source of conflict between Jordan and Israel. This seems to be a strange claim. Perhaps during and prior to a final peace agreement negotiations over water issues were difficult, but even in this time of drought, they do not seem to be. As recent events illustrate, Jordan and Israel have been implementing their agreements on water quite well. These types of incidents serve as a bond between the two countries. One that will likely have a role in deepening ties, rather than widening them.

Also interesting in the judge's comments was that the Israeli signing of the Oslo accords with the Palestinians created trouble between Jordan and Israel (this, of course was prior to the signing of the peace agreement with Jordan.) The reason Jordan was so upset is best expressed in the following quote:
"The official Jordanian reaction to the surprise announcement of the Oslo accords was shaped by two main reservations. First, Jordanian officials felt "duped" by the PLO’s secret negotiations. While the PLO was negotiating secretly in Oslo, it had also been working with Jordan on coordinating committees for the Washington talks. Jordan had felt that it was the natural partner to link the Israelis and the PLO during in peace negotiations. However, no mention of the direct contacts between the PLO and the Israeli government under the aegis of Norway had been revealed to the Jordanians. Second, the Jordanians held reservations about the nature of the "interim" agreement. Jordanian leaders feared that Jericho might become a dumping ground for Palestinians who would then be eventually evicted to Jordan. King Hussein also wanted more information on what direction such the interim agreement was intended to head. However, once the King was briefed by Yasir Arafat on September 3, 1993, he gave his full support to the PLO and the Oslo agreement."
Basically, Jordan was upset because they felt that they had been sidelined from a role that should naturally have been theirs, that they were not kept in the loop and that they did not know how this development will affect them. The idea of Jordan acting as a mediator, however, is somewhat curious. Given that Jordan did not yet have peace with Israel, it's unclear how they could have been a mediator, unless of course, they had hoped to sign peace with Israel before Israel signed the Oslo accords.

In all cases, kudos to Supreme Court Justice Rubinstein for saying what needs to be said and shame on those in a position to remedy this situation why have not.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Jordan Asks Canada To Confiscate Dead Sea Scrolls

On the eve of 2010, the Jordanian government sent a diplomatic note to the Canadian government asking it to seize an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls which are currently on loan from Israel to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto. The basis for this request is that some of the scrolls had been housed in a Jordanian run museum in East Jerusalem until it was taken by Israel in 1967. Jordan claims that under a Protocol to the Hague Convention on the protection of cultural property, the Dead Sea Scrolls, having been taken from a museum that was under their control, should be--if not returned to Jordan--taken into Canadian custody until the dispute can be resolved.

The international legal document in question says that if a cultural property is "exported" from a country that has come into its possession from the occupation of a territory, then that 'importing' country should seize the property in question. This is what Jordan is asking. The Israeli position on this case, is that the scrolls have not actually been "exported." The Canadian law that came into force to ratify (for Canada) the Hague Protocols also speaks of the "export" of cultural property, but does not actually define the word "export." Canadian courts, however, have, albeit in different contexts. For example in this case, the courts have said that to export generally must have a commercial purpose of some kind, or at least have the intention of an item being permanently sent from one country to another. The case of a museum exhibit loaned from one country to another would therefore not meet the definition of export and so, it would appear that the international and domestic legal provisions relating to cultural goods do not hold up.


A few other points should be made about this latest request. The first one could be termed Jordanian "interest" in the dead sea scrolls. The Dead Sea scrolls are a cultural document that relate to Jewish culture. They include almost the entirety of the old testament and though they were found in territory that Jordan occupied, their link to a distinct Jordanian culture seems dubious. One could make a similar claim about Roman artifacts found in Israel, or in any other part of what was the Roman empire, for example, by suggesting their return to Italy. The presence of these artifacts do not necessarily relate to the culture of the modern state, but may speak to the history of that part of the world. The scrolls do, however, relate directly to Jewish history and the history of the Jewish people. Even if the law were to apply in this case, the results of its application would seem to be an absurd situation: documents, related to the Jewish people would be seized by Canada because another country, whose connection to the scrolls is geographical, questions whether artifacts of Jewish history belong in the custody of a Jewish state.


Moreover, the Jordanian interest in the scrolls seems to be somewhat new. If the scrolls were taken from Jordan in 1967, why has Jordan not been actively pursuing this claim more vocally since then? Jordan may have addressed cultural property when it made peace with Israel in 1994, but did not. Jordan could also have made similar diplomatic requests to the many countries where the scrolls have been exhibited since 1993. This does not seem to be the case either.


One reason for this new interest from Jordan may be the result of Palestinian pressure on Jordan to act. The Palestinian Authority, not being a state, is not a party to the protocol on cultural property the way Jordan is. When the exhibition in Toronto first opened, Palestinians protested that the scrolls had been illegaly taken from "Palestinian territories." They thought the entire exhibition was illegal and should be cancelled. To this claim, the same question can be asked: what is the Palestinian interest in obtaining what is clearly a Jewish document, especially when the Jewish state is and has been a good steward of these precious archaeological documents. The answer may be political.


If the scrolls were returned to Jordan, this would be an admission that at the time they were taken by Israel, Jordan was rightly sovereign over the land that they were taken from. Similarly, if the Palestinian claim that the scrolls should be returned to Palestine is upheld, then there is an acknowledgement that the land from which they were taken is Palestinian, not Israeli. In other words, the argument being made by Palestinians and Jordanians is that the scrolls belong to whoever held the land they were taken from (in this case, east Jerusalem) and so if it is found that the scrolls are Palestinian, then the land must be Palestinian too. The interest may be less about the scrolls and more about the land. Like the land, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are saying that they don't know to whom it belongs, but they're quite sure that it's not Israel.


Of course, it's not Jordan either. The ironic element in this whole episode is that the last sovereign power over both the area the scrolls were taken from and East Jerusalem (prior to the unrecognized Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem) was probably the Ottoman Empire. When that empire collapsed, the British took over, but their status was as a mandatary--a guardian--not a sovereign. After the British, Jerusalem was to be international and the West Bank, Arab. In 1948 Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in much the same way that Israel does now. So, the scrolls would be...Turkish?


For Canada's part, Foreign Affairs and International trade seems to be indicating that they're staying out of this one, and it seems, may just do nothing.