Thursday, May 23, 2024

Travel Comments and Israel Update May 2024


I am writing this blog as I fly back to Toronto from Israel via a circuitous route of Amsterdam and Paris. A fairly crazy route but $1,500Cdn less in economy than flying any other available route (other than via Ethiopia which didn't interest me).  I thought I would write a bit about the routes I have been taking back and forth and then deal with some other issues.

Flights Between Tel-Aviv and Toronto these days - via KLM/Air France or El Al


It is a close competition between KLM and El Al as to which is the more unpalatable flight between Israel and Europe. KLM uses bare-bones Boeing 737 planes for the 4 hour 50 minute flight from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam. There are no entertainment screens or plugs for charging devices. No wi-fi available, even for texting. The airplane configuration is 3-3 and it's very cramped. The seats don't recline. The "meal service" is one sandwich (served warm) of kosher egg and vegan cheese with tomato - served to everyone. In fairness, slightly better than the El Al offering of a yam and gouda microwaved sandwich but only slightly.

There is also drink service so I was able to get a red wine - a South African Shiraz that was passable. That is one up on El Al which only distributes bottles of water.

This would be fine for a 2-3 hour flight - but for a five hour flight it is really unpleasant. Air France, by contrast, for flights between Tel Aviv and Paris - about 4 hours - uses beautiful new planes with wi-fi, entertainment systems, full meal service and full drink service - even cognac.

Given the circumstances in Israel these days, I am not about to complain too much. But there is a major difference among the airlines that are still flying between Europe and Tel Aviv.

I should mention that Air Canada recently cancelled all flights through August. United and Delta are scheduled to restart sooner. As far as I understand, ITA (Italy), Lufthansa, Austrian and Swiss are all flying to Israel - along with Lot Polish and Emirates/ Fly Dubai.  There may be others.

If you are planning to fly to Israel any time soon - and you want to be sure (or almost sure) that your flight will take place, a connection with El Al is probably the only itinerary you can really count on these days. (Though an economy ticket, if you can find one, might cost $2,500-$3,000). Other airlines are likely to be cheaper and more comfortable. But they may not actually fly.

Landing in Amsterdam is very inconvenient. The immigration area is understaffed and overcrowded. It can take 45-60 minutes to get through immigration. This is a huge contrast with Rome and London, both of which have reasonable immigration procedures in place.  I would strongly advise against any kind of short connection through Amsterdam.

For the rest of the route, I had a stopover in Paris. We were required to go through French exit customs before getting to the gate - which was almost as bad as Dutch immigration.  Long lineups, understaffed area and some out of order machines.  For all of those people who complain about Canadian airport immigration incompetence, try going through Amsterdam or Paris and then report back.

The Air France flight back from Paris to Toronto was incredibly crowded - one of those 3-4-3 configurations (in what felt like it was designed for a 3-3-3).  It was very uncomfortable.  The English version of the announcements was unintelligible.  The entertainment selection was lame and the wi-fi was spotty.  I guess you can tell that I miss being able to take direct Air Canada flights to Tel-Aviv on the 787 Dreamliners but, as I said, these are not the world's worst problems.

For my next trip back, I have booked a connection through Vienna using Air Canada and Austrian.  I was planning to come back on a direct Air Canada flight - but these have been postponed until late August at the earliest.  It seems like Air Canada is not likely to restart its flights to Tel-Aviv until the war is over.  And that does not look like it is going to be anytime soon.

April/May Holidays and Commemorations

We have completed observances of Pesach, Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. I have written about these days in earlier blogs.

Yom Haatzmaut was the strangest national observance. The official government sponsored event was taped without an audience and broadcast on the evening of Yom Haatzmaut. It is usually held as a live event. The minister responsible, Miri Regev, one of Netanyahu's most reliable "yes people" announced that this was due to "security concerns.". Mainly that seems to mean the risk of Netanyahu getting booed at the ceremony.

In my view, however, there was one highlight. Israeli superstar Omer Adam, sang the song "One connected Human Tapestry" (my preferred translation). "If one of us dies, a part of all of us dies. And if one of us dies, that person takes a part of us with them." I have included the link - hopefully it works.  It begins with an interpretive dance, commemorating the October 7, 2023 massacres.  Midway through the song, families of victims of the Hamas massacres joined Omer Adam and sang with him. It was chilling, emotional and one of the most intense things I have seen in quite a while. The song was originally recorded by Chava Alberstein (one of my personal favourites) who included a version of the song on a commemorative album after the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Omer Adam's rendition was outstanding, though tear evoking for sure.

We also watched the annual event hosted by Eidan Raichel, which I have written about previously. Raichel travels around the country to army bases to pick 10 soldiers to sing with him on Yom Haatzmaut. The soldiers or their friends have submitted demo tapes in advance. Raichel surprises then at their bases and invites them to sing at the main event. He also invites their friends and family members to attend. At the end of the evening, he picks one winner to record a song with him. He introduces each soldier, shows a video clip about them and speaks to them in a way that exudes empathy and genuine appreciation. One of my favourite events of the year.

The Situation (in Hebrew "Hamatzav")

Israel remains at war on several fronts. I don't see any near term resolution to any of this.

The Gaza front remains the focus of attention. Israel is fighting to defeat the Hamas regime - and eliminate Hamas' military threat (by capturing or killing the Hamas leadership) while releasing as many living hostages as possible.

Hamas continues to hold 128 hostages (though some may no longer be alive). It also continues to fire rockets at Israel and has vowed to carry out more attacks like the October 7 massacres.

Israel simply cannot allow this to continue and cannot agree to a cease fire deal that does not ensure that this won't happen again. There is heavy fighting now in the last major Hamas stronghold of Rafah (Rafiah in Hebrew/Arabic). Deaths of Israeli soldiers are being reported every day - and there are also many Hamas casualties. There are also Palestinian civilian casualties.

I have no idea, quite frankly, whether a ,"victory" is actually achievable - and if so, what the cost will be - in terms of the number of Israeli soldiers, civilians, Hamas fighters and Palestinian civilians. Israel likens this to the fight to rid Germany of the Nazis. The idea is that total victory is the only option when dealing with a genocidal, dictatorial regime.

Perhaps this is a proper analogy if the Palestinians can be left with a new leadership committed to resolving things peacefully with Israel coupled with a rebuilding and education plan. But so far, there is no such emerging Palestinian leadership option. And, the current Israeli government does not seem to be Interested in backing or bolstering such a government.

Contrary to the South African allegations, bolstered by Ireland, Norway, Turkey and some other countries, there is no genocide. Israel is not massacring civilians. (If you want to discuss genocide - check out what is going on currently in Sudan).

Moreover, Israel did not start this war (unlike Russia which launched an unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine).

It was Hamas that attacked Israel - murdering, raping, and torturing civilians on Oct 7, 2023. No country in the world would allow this to occur without taking every possible action in response to ensure that it does not happen again. (Hamas spokespeople have vowed that they will do the same thing over and over again).

Gaza is not an enormous area though it is a very densely populated place. I do not think this can continue indefinitely. I would imagine that Israel will soon conquer the area and take control or reach some kind of brokered agreement. But this may still take several months. And there needs to be some kind of plan for what happens next.

Who will actually govern Gaza? Who will rebuild it? Who will fund it? Who will ensure that it is demilitarized? Clearly it can't be Hamas. And it can't be UNRWA, which is essentially Hamas. At this point, I really have no idea.  

Waiting in the wings, Israel is on the precipice of a massive war with Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syria and perhaps Iran. There is a very active war taking place right now, as we speak.  Northern Israel has been evacuated and many of the border towns (like Kiryat Shemona) are ghost towns, filled only with army personnel.  Hezbollah continues to attack Israel with drones, rpgs, rockets, and all sorts of other weaponry.  Israel continues to fight back. But Hezbollah has not yet started using its medium and long range missiles - and Israel has not launched an all out attack against Hezbollah.  Most Israeli commentators seem to feel that this war is inevitable.  The only way out is some sort of agreement whereby Hezbollah agrees to move its forces well back from the Israeli border (which was part of a previous cease fire agreement).  But so far Hezbollah has shown no inclination to do so.

The latest "front" is the growing publicity and public opinion front being fought by Israel against an increasingly large number of countries.  The latest salvo as you know, came from Ireland, Norway and Spain, which decided to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian State.  I really don't think that this decision is likely to assist anyone.  It will bolster supporters of Hamas and and other violent Palestinian groups - who will view this decision as a "win" emanating from the Hamas massacres. That will obviously encourage more violence.  It will also antagonize Israel and diminish the credibility of these countries as partners in any negotiation.  I saw one commentary that suggested that Israel should recognize the Catalan Independence movement or the Basque separatist movement in response to Spain's decision.  

This new front that Israel is facing - worldwide pressure - is in the arenas of political, economic and public opinion.  Backers of Hamas have used social media to circulate fake videos, disinformation, TikTok clips and all means of other trickery to distort the events that took place on October 7, 2023 and that have taken place since then.

You may have read one of the most recent examples - that some people - as a joke - put up a post that the Iranian leader was killed by an Israeli Mossad agent named "Eli Copter."  Apparently, this spun out of control and Israel was being accused on all sorts of channels (including some mainstream news media) of having assassinated the Iranian leader.  Yes, the crash was caused by "Eli Copter" - or in English, Helicopter - as in a Helicopter failure.  But there is nothing to suggest the Mossad was in any way involved - and I doubt there is an Israeli agent named "Eli Copter" - though there are probably lots of "Elis".  

Although the current Israeli leadership is not helping the situation, there is a clear worldwide current of outrageous and ridiculous anti-Israel activity.  The proposed criminal charges against Israeli leaders are a massive overreach - and seem to create a new standard of allegedly criminal activity - just for Israel and its leaders - even while there are so many worse conflicts taking place throughout the world - and many in situations in which civilians are being actively targeted and murdered. (That is clearly not happening in Gaza). 

There have also been waves of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the world including firebombs thrown at synagogues, physical attacks against Jews, and of course, anti-Israel (and often, quite clearly, anti-Jewish) encampments with Nazi symbolism and rhetoric calling for Jews to be murdered.  It's a crazy world out there for sure.  For those who might attack Israel and say that Zionism is a racist ideology or that Zionism (and the Jewish State) is unnecessary - that the Jewish people do not need a homeland - the events since October 7, 2023, throughout the world, have demonstrated that Israel is, right now, one of the only places that is really willing to defend its Jewish population.  

At the same time, to ensure its long-term survival, Israel will need to resolve many outstanding issues.  It will need to come up with some kind of long-term peaceful solution with the Palestinians.  It will need to resolve its own internal issues, that were raging before the war and continue to simmer on a back-burner even while the war continues on.  How to reconcile being a "Jewish State" and a "Democratic State."  How to ensure equality for all of its citizens. Whether to finally put a constitution in place.  How the powers of the Israeli Supreme Court should be delineated - and what the boundaries of the Court's jurisdiction should be.  How to manage anticipated demographic changes.  These are all incredibly complex challenges facing the country - but they are also challenges that the country will only be able to address once this war has ended.

Sports and other Competitions

To end on a positive note, I wanted to mention that a high school team from Binyamina, Israel, recently won an international robotics competition in Houston, Texas.  This was Israel's first win in that particular competition in 20 years.  

Israel also recently won a gold medal in its division in ice hockey at the international ice hockey Federation's U20 World Championship - division III group A.  Israel will now move up to Division II, Group B for next year's tournament.

Israel's Eden Golan finished in 5th place in the Eurovision signing competition.  She was able to do so by winning a massive share of the audience vote - even while the anti-Israel judging panel gave Golan miserably low scores.  This all came after the judging panel insisted that Israel change the lyrics and title of its song from "October Rain" to "Hurricane" to make the song "less political."  And of course, the Eurovision committee held its ground and refused to give in to public pressure from Ireland and other anti-Israel countries to oust Israel from the competition because of the war in Gaza. The Irish performer at the actual competition performed some kind of dark simulated satanic ritual on stage marked with violence, nastiness and, in my view, horrible "music."  It was comforting to see that the worldwide audiences weren't buying it and heavily supported Israel over Ireland.

My last sports note is that the Israeli men's soccer team is scheduled to participate in this year's Paris Olympics.   Israel last participated in this tournament in 1976.  Israel will be in Group D with games against Japan, Paraguay and Mali with the first matches schedule for July 25, 2024.  I have to say that I am quite looking forward to watching these games.  Of course some countries are lobbying FIFA to kick Israel out of the tournament.  Hopefully, they will not succeed.  Although one of my close family members routinely complains that watching soccer is about as exciting as "watching paint dry" - I actually quite enjoy international football (soccer) tournaments.  Granted these games are not as exciting as the Stanley Cup playoffs (which the Toronto Maple Leaf exited so unceremoniously) but seeing Israel compete in the Olympic soccer tournament on the world stage will be fun.  Hopefully the French security will be up to the challenge to provide proper protection for the athletes.

Until that starts, I'll be cheering for the Edmonton Oilers, the last standing Canadian hockey team in the final four - hoping that a Canadian team can finally win the Cup and bring it back to Canada. In Israel those games start at about 4 a.m. and run until around 7 a.m. (without overtime).  But here in Canada for a bit, I will get to watch some games at reasonable times.






Monday, May 13, 2024

Yom Hazikaron - Israel Remembrance Day - 2024

The Jewish /Israeli calendar has several difficult days.  We have fast days, days of mourning and days of remembrance.  On Yom Kippur, we fast for 26 hours, without even water, while contemplating how we will improve our lives in the coming year and what lies in store for us and those near to us.  On Tisha B'Av, another long fast day, in the middle of the summer, we commemorate the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and all those who lost their lives more than 2000 years ago.  On Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah, Holocaust and Bravery Remembrance Day, we remember the 6 million victims of the Holocaust and all those who fought bravely against the Nazi regime.  Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah was commemorated last week.

But perhaps the most difficult day of all is Yom Hazikaron - Remembrance Day for Israeli soldiers, security personnel and victims of terror.  Especially this year, while Israel is still in the midst of  a war on several fronts. 

I think there are several reasons why the day is even more difficult than other days.  For one thing, the Israeli Army is very much a people's army. With mandatory conscription, the vast majority of Israelis serve in the army in some capacity.  This means that almost everyone we know in Israel has either served in the army or has one or more family members who have served.  We have four in our immediate family and too many to count in our extended family.

It also means that when there is a war or a military operation, people that we know are putting themselves at risk.  Family members, friends, neighbours, classmates, fellow soldiers.  Since the army is universal, this can also include Israeli celebrities - popular singers, accomplished athletes, politicians and so many other categories.  And unfortunately, people from among all of these groups are included in those who have lost their lives fighting for the country.

Another reason is the immediacy and contemporaneousness of the losses.  On Tisha B'Av, we mourn events that took place more than 2000 years ago.  On Yom Hashoah, we mourn the victims of the Holocaust that ended almost 80 years ago.  But on Yom Hazikaron, we may be remembering people who died over the past few months, over the past few weeks - or this year, at yesterday's ceremony, we spoke about one soldier who was killed on Saturday, just one day before Erev Yom Hazikaron.

A third reason, which is particularly poignant this year, is that the losses continue.  Israel continues to be engaged in a multi-front war.  Soldiers are being killed.  Rockets are being fired at civilian targets and civilians are being killed, especially  in the North of Israel and in the areas surrounding Gaza. And there is a great deal of uncertainty over how and when this war might end, whether the more than 130 hostages will return home - and what condition they will be in, and what will happen here in the long term. Right now, there are no easy answers.  

Ra'anana Commemoration

We walked over to the main Ra'anana ceremony at Yad L'Banim, the city centre, where all of the city's ceremonies and commemorations take place.  The event  was scheduled for 8 p.m., with thousands of seats set up, many reserved for bereaved families.  We decided to go early and we got there for 7:15 p.m.  Too late.  All of the seats were already full.  There were thousands more behind the seating, standing.  There were multiple screens set up to the sides of and behind the main stage.

We found a place to sit on the grass way off to the side.  During the ceremony this year, there was a focus on the stories of the 24 Ra'anana residents who have died since the October 7 attacks by Hamas.  Some were killed at the Nova Music festival massacre, where Hamas terrorists killed everyone in sight.  Several concert goers hid in a bomb shelter.  The Hamas terrorists opened the door and threw grenades inside.  One brave off duty soldier picked up the grenades and threw them back outside.  He managed to throw 9 grenades back out of the shelter.  The 10th  one blew up killing him and several others in the shelter. The other Ra'anana residents included soldiers and security personnel, many of whom fought bravely on October 7, 2024 against the thousands of terrorists that had entered Israel.  The list also included other civilians.

In between the stories of the fallen, there were musical performances.  These were moving, mournful, expressive performances.  The thousands and thousands of people at the ceremony were silent and there were few dry eyes. During the ceremony, they also read out the names of the more than 200 Ra'anana residents who have been killed since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 - while showing on screen information about each person, the date the person died and their age at the time of death.  They divide this reading into two parts since there are so many names to read.

After the ceremony concluded with the "El Male Rachamim" prayer and a very powerful singing of Hatikvah (Israel's national anthem) by the entire audience, we walked back home in a sea of white shirt wearing Ra'anana residents.  Stores and restaurants were all closed, the roads were closed off to traffic in major parts of the city and it seemed like the whole city had come to this commemoration.

The evening of Yom Hazikaron is also one of the most compelling evenings of TV.  There is a national ceremony that is broadcast, though that is at the same time as the ceremonies across the country.  After that, there is a musical event called "Songs in the Square."  This event was broadcast live from the Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem, a huge amphitheatre outside the walls of the Old City.  A massive stage was set up with enough room for the full Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.  A who's who of the Israeli music scene took turns taking the stage and singing sorrowful songs.  In between the musical performances, there were stories about different soldiers, their lives, their families and what happened.  Many of these performances were simply amazing.  We heard Tamir Greenberg, Keren Peles, Shiri Maimon, Hanan Ben Ari and many others.  Unlike other musical performances on other days, the audience was silent.  No clapping or other noise.  Just silence and tears.  

The event ended at around midnight.  After that Israeli stations continued to broadcast music, documentaries, movies, interviews and other Yom Hazikaron appropriate programming.

This morning, we went to the nearby military cemetery in Ra'anana - which is only a few blocks away.  There  were so many people that we could not get anywhere near the cemetery - we had to watch and listen from across the street.  This was a much shorter commemoration.  

At 11 a.m., there is a one minute siren all across the country.  Everyone stops what they are doing and stands silently for the full minute.  The ceremony also included a number of speeches, the laying of wreaths, a gun salute, prayers and another  moving rendition of Hatikvah sung by many people trying to manage unfathomable grief.

As you might know, Israel's Independence Day is celebrated the very next day after Yom Hazikaron.  Many places, including our Synagogue in K'far Saba hold commemorative events to mark the closing of Yom Hazikaron and the transition to the joy of Yom Haatzmaut.  It its always incredible difficult to make that transition - but there is a sense that it is extremely important to do so - to celebrate all of the achievements of the State of Israel - even after remembering so many terrible losses.

This year, I sense a much more subdued attitude.  How can people truly celebrate while there are so many soldiers still in harm's way?  And so many hostages still being held and brutalized by Hamas.  And no clear idea for how and when this war might end.  

Some young soldiers we spoke to - urged people to celebrate.  They said that they fight to defend the country so that people in Israel can have a life -and can embrace the festive occasions.  For them, that is what makes it all worthwhile.   I appreciate that perspective.  But it is so hard with so many losses in such a small country.

We have been invited to barbecues, there are people still planning to go to parks and nature reserves across the country and there are many major events planned across the country to mark Israel's 76th birthday.   I'm still not sure what will do.  There is also a great deal to watch on TV including Idan Raichel's annual program (Raichel is one of Israel's most popular recording artists)  - where he  selects 10 soldiers from across the country to sing for a national audience - and then picks one of them to record a special duet with him.  It is an incredible evening.  He surprises each solder that he has selected by showing up at their base (after arranging it in advance with their commander) and tells them in front of their fellow soldiers that they have been selected.  They then have the chance to rehearse with Raichel and his band before the big day.

And has you might know, it is also a family member's birthday today - though we will move that celebration until after these two days of commemoration and celebration.

I have more to write about several topics - Eurovision, President Biden's decision to halt certain arms shipments to Israel (and his apparent walkback of at least some  of that), the ongoing negotiations with Hamas, the disheartening events at university campuses across the United States and Canada and other topics, but I felt that I should limit my discussion today to these two powerful days on our calendar.

On this Yom Hazikaron, we have no alternative but to hope and pray for an end to the wars that we are fighting, that no more soldiers or civilians will lose their lives, that our hostages being held by Hamas will all be returned safely, that we will come up with some kind of long term plan to bring peace and stability to the region and that our neighbours will all want  to live in peace with us and repair their own societies and rid themselves of oppressive, extremist dictatorships.  We hope for all of this so that we can have a truly meaningful  and complete celebration of Israel's Independence Day.  These are dreams for sure, and perhaps they are elusive, but hopefully, one day, they will come true.  

Monday, May 6, 2024

Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah 2024 - Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day and other comments

On this day of Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day), there are many things to write about.  I was planning to limit this blog to a focus on the Holocaust.  But in light of all of the events taking place in Israel, I had to add some additional comments and discussion. 

Possible Ceasefire Deal?

A few minutes ago, the Israeli press began reporting that Hamas has advised negotiators that it has "accepted" the latest Qatari-Egyptian-U.S. proposal for a three-staged cease fire.  It is unclear whether this will actually go ahead.  But here are, among other things, a few events that took place today.  First of all, Hamas announced earlier that it was leaving negotiations and that it could not trust the Egyptians to broker a deal.  Israel announced that it was asking 100,000-200,000 civilians in Rafiah, Gaza to leave the area so that it could conduct operations in that area (the last remaining stronghold for Hamas military divisions).  

It is noteworthy that Israel did not announce a major call up of its reserves in preparation for this telegraphed incursion.  Nevertheless, hours later, Hamas announced "officially" that it was accepting the cease fire terms.

I do not have the detailed document here - but among other things - this is what is apparently included:

1. 33 kidnapped live Israelis would be returned over a period of 40 days - mainly including women, the elderly and some injured captives. In exchange, Israel would release approximately 100 convicted Hamas murderers and 600 other Hamas prisoners.

2. After the 40 days, Hamas would release additional hostages including soldiers and other civilians in exchange for further releases of Hamas prisoners from Israeli jails.  

3.  There is a third stage of agreeing to the rehabilitation of Gaza, the full exchange of other prisoners and remains of dead civilians and soldiers and an extended five year period of non-hostilities.

Reports are that Israel has not agreed to the third stage and that it has only agreed to the second stage conditionally.  Israel has maintained that it has the right to resume operations until its war aims are met.  However, Hamas has announced that it is accepting the deal on the basis of U.S. guarantees that steps 2 and 3 will take place - even without formal Israeli acquiescence.   

This "deal" will create quite a bit of division in Israel.  The deal will leave Hamas in power and in place to rebuild and try to carry out another similar attack.  It will allow Hamas and its leader Yehia Sinwar to claim a form of victory (or stalemate at least).  And it will not bolster any hopes for having a non-Hamas - peace oriented Palestinian leadership in control of Gaza.  In other words, the people of Gaza will continue to be stuck under  the thumb of a brutal Hamas military dictatorship - even if many of them actually chose or supported that type of rule in Gaza.

On the other hand, if Israel does not find a way to release as many hostages as possible immediately, it will be risking the lives of all of these people - and failing in its most basic obligation to its citizenry to protect Israelis and to redeem them when they are taken hostage or held captive somewhere.

I have listened to many different sides of this debate from an Israeli perspective. I am torn.  I am very concerned that we will continue to face the same ongoing cycle of violence from Hamas - and this deal will risk the lives of many Israelis in the future - who will face attacks from a large number of released murderers.

But, on balance, I believe that we must release anyone who is still alive at this point.  If Israel refuses and proceeds with an invasion of Rafiah - that will involve the potential loss of hundreds of our soldiers.  We may not get any of the hostages back.  We are unlikely to be able to fully destroy Hamas.  We will wind up with thousands of Palestinian casualties, many  of whom will be innocent civilians.  And perhaps, most significantly, we will face massive world pressure, especially from the U.S., the EU  and other places - which may have a devastating cost for Israel in terms of world support, economic pressure and general isolation.

It is quite clear to me that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want a deal now - and certainly not this one.  If the deal goes ahead, his government may well face a day of reckoning.  Israel may wind up with an election sooner than anticipated.  However, even though Netanyahu himself may not survive an election, the Israeli public could shift even further to the right as a result of all of the events since October 7th, 2023.  

It is also worth noting that there is no deal with Hezbollah in the north yet - and tens of thousands of Israelis who have been evacuated from their homes are still waiting to return.  Many Israeli commentators have indicated that this will only take place after a major war with Hezbollah and Lebanon on Israel's northern border.  I am hopeful that if there is a deal with Hamas, Hezbollah will also agree to some sort of deal - but so far, that is unclear.

As a postscript - while I write this blog - some Israeli officials are saying that Hamas has accepted a "new deal" put together by Qatar and Egypt that Israel has not yet even seen.  Other announcements are that it was the same deal that Israel approved but the U.S. added additional assurances to Hamas that the war would not continue after the 40 days.  I can't really tell you at this point what will happen - and there seems to be quite a mix of opinion from Israeli newscasters and commentators - some of whom think there will be a deal - and many who do not.  At least not at this time.

Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day

Yom  Hashoah v'Hagvurah is one of the most poignant and difficult days on the Israeli calendar.  Israelis attend at remembrance ceremonies across the country on the evening before.  All restaurants and stores are closed from about 6 p.m.  All Israeli television stations and radio stations are dedicated to Holocaust programming.  There are documentaries, interviews, movies and other programs on all night.  

We attended the ceremony in Ra'anana, which focused on the Jews of Kovel, Ukraine this year. Kovel was a town that had 20,000 Jews before World War II, the vast majority of whom were murdered by the Nazis between August and October 1941.  Many were held in the city's large synagogue while knowing that they were about to be murdered.  Some of them wrote their personal stories and prayers on the walls of the synagogue in their own blood, hours before being murdered.  This was obviously a gut wrenching and difficult ceremony to attend.

Afterwards, we watched different Holocaust programming on TV including the National  Remembrance Ceremony from Jerusalem and some other programs featuring the testimony of survivors along with interviews with their children and grandchildren.

One of the most  moving pieces that I watched was an interview with former Israeli Chief Justice Aharon Barak.  Barak is now 87. When he was 5 years old, he miraculously escaped the Ghetto by being hidden in a basket of soldiers' uniforms, along with his mother.  He was hidden by a nearby Lithuanian farmer and his family for a short period of time - and then had to leave.  Another farmer family, Jonas Mozuraitis and his wife Ona, took him and his mother (as well as a few others) and kept them all hidden for almost three years.  The farmer built a double wall with a four foot space in between.  Barak, his mother and the others, were hidden between the walls for entire days and allowed to come out only at night - where they would then spend time with the farmer's family including his children.  Barak eventually came to Israel, studied law, became the Dean at the Hebrew University Law School and eventually the Chief Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court.  The story is nothing short of incredible.

Years later, Barak was asked to meet with Lithuanian officials to provide advice on putting together a constitution - he accepted the invitation on condition that he could meet with the family that had hid him.  Only the farmer's children were still alive.  Barak had a question for them.  "Why did you save us and risk your  lives? he asked.  "If the Nazis had discovered us they would have killed you."  One of the children responded to Barak.  "I don't understand your question.  For us it wasn't a question.  We were religious Catholics.  We believe in our obligation to our fellow human beings, especially those in need.  We saw people who needed help and we knew we had to help  We believe you would do the same."  Barak said the answer has kept him awake every night.  "Would I have the courage and the moral clarity to do the same thing?" He has asked himself repeatedly.  One of  Barak's family members said - the answer is "absolutely."  But Barak was crying while giving this explanation.

Barak, as you might recall, is the Israeli representative on the International Criminal Court which has been hearing the case brought by South Africa alleging that Israel has been carrying out a genocide.  The case is simply outrageous and Barak spoke a bit about it (to the extent that he was able to do so).  Israeli soldiers have been fighting back against  Hamas in a war that Hamas declared on October 7th.  While there have been a large number of civilian Palestinian casualties, the Israeli army has taken extraordinary steps to minimize those casualties.  Israel is fighting an enemy that has set up bases in hospitals, mosques and dense residential areas.  Hamas has transported its fighters in UNRWA vehicles and red cross ambulances.  Sometimes they wear press badges.  Hamas has fired missiles and then hidden underground in tunnels while exposing the civilian population to Israeli responses to the missile fire in those very same areas.

On the other hand, the October 7, 2023 attacks by Hamas were deliberate attacks involving  massacres of civilians - including torture, burning victims alive, rape and all kinds of other atrocities.  The notion that Israel would be charged with genocide for attacking Hamas in response to these crimes against humanity is ludicrous.

All of this context was explored this year during Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day by a wide range of speakers - who also sounded warning bells about the massive worldwide increase in antisemitisms and anti-Semitic attacks.  A special focus has been on U.S. university campuses and some of the completely unacceptable responses by these universities to the targeting of Jewish students on campuses.  Columbia University has, of course, been singled out as one of the worst offenders though the situation across the U.S. is quite grim, especially as viewed through the eyes of Jewish Israelis.  

Of course Canada is not much better.  The University of Toronto is continuing to allow a pro-Hamas encampment on its property - which is actively trying to prevent Jews from entering the area.  Is this 2024?  

Anti-Jewish attacks, rallies and other public antisemitic acts and comments, can all remind us, anytime, but especially on Holocaust Remembrance Day, how things that start like this can quickly descend into much much worse scenarios.

Lighter Note

On a lighter note (compared to everything that is going on here), I stayed up on Saturday night to watch the Maple Leafs blow yet another 7 game series and bow out of the playoffs in the  first round - even with a team loaded with highly paid superstars.  Once again, a tremendous, yet perhaps predictable  disappointment for a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan.  At least I saved some money on playoff tickets - though I was looking forward to being back in Toronto for Round 3 or Round 4 - even at an insane cost of $750 per ticket for my lowly purple seats if the Leafs had made it to the finals.  

Here in Israel, the Yes Cable system was showing Leafs' playoff games on Sports 5+ - channel 59 - at 3 a.m.  But wouldn't you know it - they showed games 1 to 6 but not game 7. So I had to stream the CBC using a VPN.  That wound up working out fine.  Unfortunately, no one wanted to stay up and watch with me - so I had to keep from falling asleep on my own.  With overtime, I think the game ended around 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.

My other light note - is that Israel is getting a few days of  unseasonal rain.  The weather forecaster called it the "return of winter" - even though the temperature has not dipped much below 20C.  Some winter...(says the Canadian...)

I will try to write more in the coming days as we have Yom Hazikaron (Israel Remembrance Day for  Soldiers and Victims of Terror), Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day), the Eurovision Festival, and the pending invasion of Rafiah, Gaza or a possible cease fire deal.  Lots to discuss.

I wish everyone the best of health - and  peace.






 





Sunday, April 14, 2024

Iran's Massive Attack on Israel - Where are things headed now?

 

It is Sunday April 14, 2024, the day after the first ever attack launched against Israel by Iran.  From all reports that we have seen so far, the results are somewhat miraculous.  As you probably know, Iran fired more than 300 different items at Israel including ballistic missiles, unmanned drones and less sophisticated rockets.  And as you probably also know, Israel, with the help of the United States and other allies, seems to have shot down more than 99% of these objects.  If any of these missiles had landed, especially the ballistic missiles equipped with massive, dangerous payloads, Israel could have faced enormous casualties, even with so many of its citizens sheltering in mostly bomb-proof safe rooms.

For one thing, this can only be seen as an incredible accomplishment for the Israeli military and its partners.  We can think back to when Ronald Reagan first envisioned a "Star Wars" type of system that would allow the United States to shoot down incoming Soviet ballistic missiles.  These ideas at the time were dismissed as fantastical.  But here we are, after 25 years of development by Israeli technology companies and their partners - watching Israel shoot down more than 100 ballistic missiles, each carrying a massive payload.  We can only shudder to think what would have happened if several of these missiles had landed - and we still cannot discount the possibility that Iran will try again and again - and again.

Iran has been on a publicity offensive arguing that this was a "retaliatory attack" for the death of a number of Iranian generals - who were stationed at the Iranian embassy in Syria.  But retaliatory?  Seriously? As we know, it was Iran that started this war with Israel on October 7th.  Iran trained and armed Hamas, Hezbollah and its other proxies - including the Houthis in Yemen.  The Iranian/Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th was planned for more than 2 years and included visits and exchanges between Iranian military personnel and Hamas fighters.  Moreover, as soon as the attacks began, Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, which is also armed, trained and funded by the Iranians, began attacking Israel's north. And the Houthis, who have no border with Israel and no real conflict with Israel, also began sending rockets from Yemen to Israel - all, apparently orchestrated by Iran.  So the killing of some Iranian military personnel (who were involved in these anti-Israel operations) was a retaliation by Israel against Iran for what its personnel have been up to - not the other way around.

This was not a "retaliation" - it was  part of a years old strategy by the current extremist Iranian leadership to attack and inflict damage on Israel.  They have threatened to "wipe out" the State of Israel many times - over several years.  And Israel has been warning the world about Iran for many years but no one has been willing to do anything about it.  If these ballistic missiles had contained nuclear warheads, there would be radiation all over the Middle East from the fall out.

Israel cannot afford to be hit by this type of missile barrage and it cannot continue to face the risk of this type of attack whenever Iran decides to launch one.  Unfortunately, a massive and powerful response is required by Israel.  Israel will need to find a way to significantly degrade Iran's missile launching capabilities and hopefully destroy, or at least severely set back the Iranian nuclear program.

Israel is facing tremendous world pressure.  The United States has pledged to assist Israel defensively but has apparently indicated that it will not take part in any attacks on Iran.  Israel will need to work very closely with the United States to ensure that the U.S. will support an appropriate Israeli response.  Even though some ministers in the Israeli government would like to launch an immediate and far-reaching attack, it is crucial that Israel obtain at least tacit support from the Biden administration.

Israeli news stations have reported today that the French and British have urged Israel not to respond.  Really?  I would like to know what the French and British would do if this type of attack were launched against France or Britain.  Or the U.S. for that matter.  If it was the U.S., you can be sure that Iran would have been obliterated by now.  

It is a tricky situation.  World support for Israel has plummeted since October 7th as Israel has continued with its operation in Gaza in response to the massacres carried out by Hamas.  The operation is not over.  Israel has not secured the release of the hostages (more than 130 are still being held hostage though we do not know how many are still alive).  For the sake of its long-term security, Israel will need to defeat Hamas - which will include capturing or killing the Hamas leader, Yehia Sinwar - and many of his fellow Hamas leaders.  The only way to do this will be a major operation in Rafiah - to attack and degrade the remaining Hamas military forces.  These are densely packed areas with many civilians - and many tunnels underneath those civilians.  But, it seems to me, that is the only way that the war with Hamas will conclude.

Israel is very concerned about the hostages and trying to figure out how to get them back - either through negotiation or military operations.  As you may have seen, Hamas has pretty much rejected every offer put forward by Israel (or developed by the U.S. and other parties).  There is no indication that Hamas wants this war to end any time soon.  It seems that the only way to end it will be to defeat Hamas militarily.

As you may also know, the U.S. abstained from a UN security council resolution calling for a cease fire.  Countries around the world, including countries like Canada, have called for an immediate unconditional cease fire - which is tantamount to calling for a Hamas victory.  Not surprisingly, some of those same countries are now calling on Israel not to respond to this massive, unprecedented attack by Iran against Israel. 

It is true that there is a precedent for that.  During the first Gulf War in 1991 - Israel did not retaliate against an ongoing barrage of rockets sent by Iraq.  Israel was not even a party to that war.  But the United States pledge, at the time, was, essentially, "we will take care of this."  Israel, at the time, did not want to be reliant on other countries for its defence.  But it nevertheless agreed to stay out of the war to ensure that the U.S.-built international coalition would hold together.

This is a very different story.  It is Israel that has been attacked - both on October 7th and yesterday.  While the U.S. and some other countries have helped Israel to fend off attacks from the Houthis - and helped yesterday to defend Israel against the Iranian attacks - no one has pledged to take care of the Iranian problem.  While one can imagine that Israel might agree not to retaliate if the U.S., France and Britain were all launching attacks to take out the Iranian nuclear program - that does not seem to be the proposal. Instead, the French and British want to avoid escalation but don't seem to want to deal with the problem.

I don't see how Israel has much of a choice.  While it may delay for a period of time - and continue to focus on Hamas and the hostages - at some point - Israel will need to launch a significant strike against Iran - in the interests of Israel's long term security and deterrence.

For now, as you may have seen, flights were cancelled today to and from Israel.  All schools were closed.  Civilians were warned to remain near a bomb shelter.  The army was placed on the highest levels of readiness on five different fronts - the south (the Houthis), the Gaza border, the Lebanese border, the Syrian border and vis a vis missile and other attacks from Iran.  An all out war with Lebanon has become much more likely and the need to deal with the Iranian nuclear program has become crucial and imperative.

This all comes just a week before Pesach as Jews around the world are getting things ready for this week long holiday of eating matzah and avoiding all forms of hametz.  It is also a time when Jews from around the world travel to Israel to celebrate the holiday - and Israelis leave the country to enjoy a 9-day holiday - counting a day before and a day after the holiday for Israelis.

An attack on Iran now will jeopardize the plans of hundreds of thousands of Israelis - and hundreds of thousands of tourists and others coming to Israel.  It will also widen the war.  But considering the attacks that have just been launched by Iran - what else is Israel waiting for in terms of escalation?

Beyond that, we cannot even say for sure that the Iranians will stop at this one day of attacks - even if Israel does not respond.  Even though they have said so publicly - this may have only been some kind of test - or first strike to assess Israel's defence - or a ruse to lull Israel into complacency - or whatever else.  I am not sure how long Israel can wait around to face more attacks without taking action.

I am in Toronto for a few more days and was glued to Israeli tv news last night watching to see what would happen.  I am not sure that my flight will be going ahead this week - or what will happen.  I would like to say that we are all hoping for "de-escalation" but - sorry - that is simply not what is required right now.  Israel (and indeed, the western world), needs to seriously damage the Iranian war-making capabilities or Israel and its allies will face increasingly serious attacks from this crazy Iranian regime.

It may well be that we are in for an extensive period of uncertainty and war - even years, if not months, but the world has been in that situation in any event ever since Russian invaded the Ukraine.  So while we all hope and pray for peace and a better world - unfortunately, we also need to consider the Biblical text of Kohelet - (Ecclesiastes) - there is a "time of war and a time of peace."  When you have been attacked - that is a time of war.  According to Jewish thought, "turning the other cheek" is not a practical prescription in this situation.  It would only invite more attacks.  Israel has now faced two attacks by murderous, extremist regimes - even though both attacks (and all of the attacks by other proxies since October 7th) have all been coordinated by the same place - Iran.  So there is really only one appropriate, necessary and urgent response.

If I don't get the chance to write again later this week - I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and Kosher Pesach.  We will continue to hope and pray for the release of the hostages, a victorious end to the war with Hamas and Hezbollah - and a successful response to Iran that causes severe setbacks but does not create a dangerous world war.  Perhaps Israel's targeted actions will help bring about regime change in Iran. After all, what would be a better result during the holiday of Pesach - the "Holiday of Freedom" than helping another people in bondage to unshackle themselves and gain their own freedom.  




  






Thursday, March 28, 2024

Blog from Israel - March 2024

I have had a look and it has been about three months since  I have written a blog.  So I thought it was time for an update.  I plan to cover a range of topics - not necessarily with significant depth - but there are so many things going on here that I thought it would be worthwhile covering a few of them.  Things are quite busy at work (my day job) so it is hard to devote a great deal of time to an unpaid hobby - as important as my updates might be.  I will try to include some headings so you can skip to whatever you might find interesting....

1. Getting to and from Israel

I thought I would start with this one - since some of you might be planning or thinking about planning trips to Israel in the coming months.  Since October, 2023, "commuting" has become extremely challenging.  As you might know, Air Canada suspended its service to Israel on October 7, 2023 as did many other airlines.  Only El Al continued its service to Israel uninterrupted as did a handful of other airlines - including Emirates Airlines.  (Though has you know, El Al had cancelled its direct Toronto service more than a year ago in any case).

Air Canada has announced that it will be resuming service effective April 8, 2024, but there is still no end to the war in sight - so I guess what I would say is "I'll believe it when I see it."  

Over the years, as you may know, I have been doing my best to fly Air Canada as often as I can.  The Aeroplan program is better than the available alternatives and Air Canada has been the only airline with direct service since El Al cancelled its direct service to Toronto.

So since October, I have tried to find ways to get to Israel from Toronto by combining Air Canada and El Al.  I have flown through Rome, Amsterdam and London with these combinations.  These were challenging connections to say the least, especially if you have luggage.  Since there is no sharing agreement between airlines, you have to land, exit the airport, collect your baggage and then check in again.  I would say that the Rome airport was reasonably efficient - especially for Canadian passport holders - as they have a quick line for holders of passports from certain countries, including the EU, U.S. and Canada.  Amsterdam was a disaster.  The immigration line alone there took more than an hour.  

In London, the exit was almost as quick as Rome - but then I had to take a train - (way, way, way down) to switch terminals.  The whole process  took forever.

Considering everything, I was prepared to make the best of it and arrange a few more flights via Rome.  The problem is that the connection is great leaving Israel going back to Toronto.  But from Toronto - you have to plan on spending a day in Rome.  

Okay - things could be worse.  For one of my flights, I locked up my baggage and spent a day in Rome.  I went for lunch at a Kosher Tunisian restaurant -  (which was interesting - but I probably should have gone with the Kosher Italian food instead....) and walked around the city for several hours.  I managed to visit the Trevi Fountain, several other sites and, ultimately, a great gelato place.

But more recently, all of the airlines have upped their fares considerably.  To fly via Rome this time, the fares were over $3,000 Canadian for economy class, with a lengthy delay.   I couldn't find any other reasonable alternatives.

So I wound up trying Air France via Paris - with a 1.5 hour connection in Paris.  It sounded questionably optimistic but it was less than 1/2 the price of other alternatives.  The flight itself from Toronto to Paris on Air France was fine.  Reasonably comfortable seats, decent entertainment system and fairly good service.  We arrived in Paris a bit early - but... sat on the tarmac for almost an hour and  missed the connection.  So me and seven other Israelis - my "lonsmen" (actually there were no women in the group so it was really only lonsmen) were put on an alternate flight - the next day.  We were given vouchers for a hotel near the airport, vouchers for food at the hotel and at the airport - and instructions for a free shuttle to and from the hotel.  

I suppose things could be worse than an overnight in Paris. After resting for a while in the hotel (a medium end airport Moxy Hotel), I shared an Uber ride with some of my fellow Israelis and headed off to the Eiffel Tower. From there, we walked over to the Left Bank area, taking in the sights and sounds of Paris along the way.  It was quite an inconvenient stopover but we made the best of it.  I have applied for the EU compensation (which is supposed to be 600 Euros for the missed connection, at the fault of the airline) but let's see if that arrives.

On the way back to Toronto - I am travelling through Amsterdam with one of my family members and we have an overnight there.  The alternative is paying 3-4 times as much.  So we will see how that goes.  

For now, all of this has meant fewer  Aeroplan points, travelling without any benefits - and very inconvenient connections.  There are El Al flights through New York and other cities in the U.S., though the prices have also increased dramatically.  I am also not a big fan of transiting through the U.S. if I an avoid it - due to the incredibly long and inefficient security (especially compared  to most of the big European airports).  As well, the El Al loyalty program is terrible comparatively.  

All in all, these are small problems compared to challenges that Israel is facing with an ongoing war. Our soldiers are in constant danger including our standing army and our reserve soldiers.  The civilian population is also under threat of terrorist attacks, missile attacks, and other threats.  The Northern border is in a state of all out war - or close to it.  And of course all of the  areas surrounding Gaza have been devastated.  So my concerns about getting to and from Israel - are minor in comparison to everything else.  But for people considering coming here, I thought it might be worth writing about the options.

I have also seen available flights on Ethiopian Airways, Emirates/Air Dubai and Lot Polish.  Some of these flights can include total flying time of 30-40 hours with lengthy stopovers in different places - sometimes with two or three connections.

So I have joined the Air France loyalty program and used the opportunity to practice my French a bit.  "Un vin rouge s'il vous plait"....and "Un  autre vin rouge s'il vous plait...".  Merci.  Actually there was more - "un cognac s'il vous plait" - Air France is well stocked with beverage options.

2. The Government

The current Israeli government is facing a wide range of challenges and grappling with many different fault lines.   As you may know, it still has a 64-56 coalition majority. None of the coalition partners have anywhere else to go, ideologically, so I would be surprised if the government were to collapse any time soon notwithstanding the apparently vast unpopularity of the current leadership.

One of the most interesting issues - is the enlistment of the Ultra-Orthodox (the "Haredim").  A whole megillah could be written about this issue.  The short version is that the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, agreed to a "compromise" with the ultra-religious community back in 1948 whereby a relatively small number of yeshiva students would be exempt from military service to be able to continue their religious studies full-time.

Over the years since 1948, through various coalition deals, the number of exempt ultra-orthodox has ballooned greatly -  to the point where the entire community of ultra-orthodox Jews have been granted exemptions from the army, provided that they study in yeshivahs.  

Various court challenges were brought by different groups - and the Israeli Supreme Court decided, on several instances, that these arrangements were not fair - since different classes of citizens were being treated differently.  The Court gave the government time to negotiate and enact a law to address the situation.  But the ultra-religious have been having none of it and have been demanding a blanket override law - a "notwithstanding clause" if you will - that exempts all of them permanently - even while their population is growing at a dramatic rate relative to the non-haredi population.

This current government is made up of close to 25% ultra-orthodox members - which demanded support for this exemption as a term of supporting Netanyahu.

Now the Supreme Court had given the government until April 1, 2024 to enact a law to address the situation.  While there have been negotiations - there is no law - and nothing close to a law.  So the Court has stated that effective April 1, 2024, the government will need to cease funding any yeshivas that are not sending their students to the army.

Needless to say the Haredim are promising full civil disobedience.

The ultra-religious parties are threatening to quit the government but they have nowhere to go.  No other party will give them a better deal.  Causing an election now is almost certainly a recipe for disaster for the ultra-religious (and perhaps for the rest of the extreme right wing).  So it seems like they are going to huff and puff quite a  bit - but it is hard to imagine that they will actually blow the house down (i.e. cause the government to fall).

Even so, this promises to be a fascinating issue to watch in the coming weeks.

3. The War

It is hard to know what is really going on with respect to the progress of the war.  There are reports across world wide media - and there are daily reports from the Israeli military spokesperson and various Israeli media outlets.

According to one report I read yesterday, that seemed reasonably reliable, Israeli intelligence had estimated that there were about 30,000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters before the war.  Revised estimates seem to put the numbers closer to 40,000-45,000.

Israeli reports of dead, injured and captured Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters total between 25,000 and 30,000.  So Israel seems to believe that it has immobilized approximately 3/4 of the fighting forces that it was facing.  It seems that the majority of the remaining forces are in Rafiah -which is likely to be the final area of fighting - even as other fighting continues across Gaza.

Note that the Hamas "Health Ministry" claims that the number of dead Gazans is around 30,000.  That number includes civilians and fighters.  In other words, if Israel's numbers are correct and the number of dead fighters in the range of 20,000-25,000 - the number of dead civilians is actually quite low for a conflict of this scope and nature, which includes urban fighting with Hamas using its people as human shields.

That is not to say that anyone feels good about dead Gazan civilians.  But this is hardly a "genocide" or the intentional killing of civilians.  Gaza has a population of approximately two million.  If Israel was setting out to kill civilians intentionally, the numbers would be in the hundreds of thousands.  But Israel is not Russia - or Syria - or other constituent member countries of the UN that routinely carry out those types of massacres but only vote to sanction Israel.

While Israel is fighting a messy campaign in Gaza against a ruthless terrorist army, it is also fighting a major war with Hezbollah on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.  This war has been escalating constantly since October 7, 2024.  As of today, Hezbollah and Lebanon have not decided to unleash a full scale war with Israel - which would involve sending thousands of rockets all over Israel.  In response, Israel would almost certainly flatten Beirut and many other Lebanese cities.  So far, Hezbollah has been fighting an aggressive war, launching RPGs and killing many Israelis - while shelling a range of northern Israeli cities.  In response, Israel has been shelling Hezbollah locations, launching air raids and attacking Hezbollah locations across Lebanon.  But it has not launched a full out attack on Beirut or turned the fighting into a "full-scale war."  But effectively, there is a very dangerous war going on in the north and thousands of Israelis have been displaced from their homes and cannot return.  

Cities like Kiryat Shemona are ghost towns - with only solders and various armored units in place.

Many Israelis believe that Israel will need to launch a full out war with Hezbollah before this all ends - to push Hezbollah back from the Israeli border to where it should be (in line with UN resolutions).  The only other alternative is a negotiated arrangement with Hezbollah whereby Hezbollah would agree to move back from the border.  This does not seem to be close.

4. The Hostages

As you know, it is believed that Hamas is continuing to hold approximately 130 Israeli hostages.  Some reports have indicated that anywhere from 30 to 50 of these hostages have been reported dead.  But the family members of these hostages - and indeed - all Israelis - continue to hope that all of the hostages will return to Israel alive.

Some of the released hostages have provided detailed reports of the atrocities they faced while in Hamas captivity - including sexual violence  - which is still being denied in some circles of pro-Hamas supporters.  The New York Times, to its credit, has recently published extensive details of many of these atrocities.

Many Israelis are calling on the government to do everything it can to win the release of the hostages - even if that means making an unpalatable deal with Hamas.  But the Hamas demands are not just unreasonable - there are completely unacceptable - not just to Netanyahu but across most of the Israeli spectrum of opinion.  Hamas has stated quite publicly that it would like to take a "pause" and then do this again - on an even bigger scale.

So is is unclear what kind of deal, if any, can be made with Hamas.  In my view, Israel will need to launch a full scale operation in Rafiah and destroy the remaining Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighting forces.  There really aren't many other choices.

5.  World Response

At the outset of the war, President Biden visited Israel, sent aircraft carriers and demonstrated complete support for Israel and its response.  It is hard to imagine that any President (including the orange headed guy) would have demonstrated such significant support for Israel at a time of crisis.

But as the war has progressed, the relationship with the United States has unquestionably deteriorated.  For one thing, Biden has been losing support to Trump.  Some commentators have claimed that this is because  of the Israel-Gaza file.  I'm actually not convinced - since it is hard to imagine that the Republicans would be better for the pro-Gaza crowd.  But the perception seems to be that Biden needs to shore up his left, "progressive" wing - which means putting more distance between his government and the Israeli leadership.

President Biden now seems to be intent on "rewarding" the Palestinians for this massive terror operation by setting up a Palestinian State, perhaps even unilaterally.  While this is  not yet official U.S. policy - there is a definite sense that this is emerging as a U.S. option.

Granted, Prime Minister Netanyahu is part of a very extreme government that has no interest (and probably never has had any interest) in reaching any kind of agreement with any Palestinians.  So that does not make things easy for Biden or anyone else.

But the real narrative here  -  is that Israel is dealing with a very extreme, radical, movement, intent only on Israel's destruction, that launched an all out war on October 7, 2023.  There is no proposal by Hamas or by the Islamic Jihad for peace or anything close to it.  Historically, we know what must be done to fight these types of regimes. They must be defeated completely.  It doesn't seem to me that this war  will end until Yihyah Sinwar and his henchmen are caught, dead or alive and until Hamas effectively surrenders.

I believe that President Biden would get much more traction pushing for that result - even as a negotiating tactic.  If Hamas understands that the U.S. will support Israel in finishing off the Hamas military, whatever the cost - for Israel and for Gazan civilians - Hamas will lessen its demands dramatically and perhaps even surrender.  But failing to veto a UN resolution calling for an "immediate cease fire" is a completely unhelpful move.  Just imagine  supporting a call for a U.S. cease fire while the U.S. was fighting the Nazis.  

As for Canada - the situation is completely embarrassing, ridiculous and at all odds with any reasonable morally supportable position.  Perhaps that is where the Canadian leadership figures it will obtain its votes or perhaps they have simply shown their true colours.  But joining the company of Ireland, Turkey, Iceland and  other anti-Israel protagonists is just not a well thought out position for Canada - which may well face its own security challenges down the road as the numbers of extremist Muslims  in Canada continue to rise.  So far, Canada has seen a massive growth in anti-Semitic activity - which has included blockading bridges in Jewish neighbourhoods, demonstrating outside synagogues, attacking Jewish owned stores and businesses and a whole host of other activities.

Instead of unequivocally condemning these incidents - the Federal government has used some very questionable language and has exacerbated the situation.  For the Jewish community at least, it is quite clear that Canada is in drastic need of a change of leadership.

All of this aside, Israel drastically needs its own  change  of government though that is unlikely to happen any time soon.  Nevertheless, the response from this current Israeli government to the October 7th attacks by Hamas would have been pretty much the same from any Israeli government that might have been in power, in my view.  Israel needs to destroy the threat from Hamas, find a way to return the hostages, or as many of them  as possible - and only then move to considering a long term solution for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

6. The Holidays

On a lighter note (in some ways), Israel celebrated the holiday of Purim last week.  Unfortunately, I picked up a case of Covid while visiting the City of Lights - and had to skip my usual Megillah reading.  I usually read chapter 8 - and sometimes 9 and 10 here at our shul in Israel.  

We still received a few nice mishloach manot (Purim gift baskets) including one really interesting one.  Friends of ours gave us a "do-it-yourself" Tabouleh kit - with fresh vegetables from Israeli farms in the vicinity of Gaza.  It was quite a fun and thoughtful idea and we enjoyed putting it together.

I ate my share of hamentaschen, even  while under the weather.  There was definitely a subdued feel to Purim in Israel this year as I am sure there was in the Jewish community throughout the world.

It is  now time to start getting ready for Pesach though we still have a few weeks.  Enough time for a trip back to Toronto before the holiday and maybe a chance to get some  work done. 

I think that is about all I am going to cover for now.  I know there is lots more to say and hopefully I will have the chance to write another blog shortly.  

We are continuing to hope and pray for some good news here in Israel. We have lost so many of our soldiers - 598 as of the time of writing of this blog - and so many more have been injured (more than 3,100).  Since this is a people's army - that means that we all know someone who was injured or killed in the fighting.  We know of friends and neighbours and their children who are now stationed in Gaza or  on Israel's northern or eastern borders. And unfortunately, we know of people from our city, our synagogue, our children's schools and other places that have been killed or injured since October 7, 2023.

At this time, I think the best we can do is hope that the Israeli army can win a decisive victory or otherwise cause Hamas to surrender as soon as possible and we can then look to how to deal with the broader conflict with a long term view.

On a final note - I have to point out that Israeli clocks are officially moving ahead by one hour tonight - yes we are finally "springing ahead" - a few weeks after North America.  So as I finish off this blog - and perhaps watch a bit of the Leafs-Capitals game before going to sleep - it is with the unfortunate knowledge that I will be losing an hour of sleep tonight.

Shabbat Shalom and best regards from Israel.