A Fig Tree without Figs

No, not mine; my fig tree continues to thrive.  I’m already contemplating what to do with the growing figs–all four of them–when they are ripe:  Will I eat them raw, or will I grill them?  And when will they be ripe enough to eat?  I squeeze them every few days to check (probably not a good idea).

More FIg)

(This is a photo of my fig tree taken today.)

As I watch the figs on my fig tree grow bigger with each passing day, I’m reminded of another fig tree in the Bible: the one that Jesus encountered on the road between Bethany and Jerusalem during what has come to be called  ‘Passion Week’. The encounter is described in both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels (Mt  21:18-19, 20-22; Mk 11:12-14, 20-25).  The encounter went like this:  As Jesus was returning to Jerusalem after spending the night in Bethany, he became hungry.  Spotting a lone fig tree by the side of the road, he went over to it to get some figs to eat, but he found no fruit on the tree, only leaves.

Until I had a fig tree growing in my own backyard, I had no idea just how unusual that would be.  As I observed my own tree after the period of winter dormancy had ended, I noticed little green swellings–immature figs; leaves made their appearance after.  This growth pattern would be true of the fig trees that grew in Judaea as well.

Fig1

(This is what my fig tree looked like back in April.  Jesus’ encounter with the barren fig tree occurred just prior to the Passover in the Hebrew month of Nisan (our March/April).

If there were leaves on the fig tree encountered by Jesus, there should have been evidence of fruit.  Finding no fruit, Jesus said to the tree: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” (Mk 11:14). In Matthew’s account, the fig tree withered immediately (21:19).  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples observe the withered tree the next morning as they head back into Jerusalem (11:20). At first glance, Jesus’ destruction of the fig tree seems like a gross over-reaction.  After all, as Mark notes, Jesus found nothing but leaves for it was not the season for figs (11:13).  The first crop of figs does not ripen until June.

To make sense of Jesus’ harsh reaction, Bible scholars suggest that we think of it as a prophetic gesture, or sign-action.  Hebrew prophets not infrequently dramatized their messages in order to get their points across. Often their actions took bizarre forms.  Consider Jeremiah, for example, who was directed by the Lord to buy an earthenware jar, then take some of the elders and some of the senior priests, and together go out to the valley of Ben-hinnon.  There, Jeremiah was to break the jar in front of them to illustrate how God was going to break the people and the city of Jerusalem in judgment (Jer 19:1-15).

Jesus’ prophetic gesture was directed at a fig tree in the company of his disciples.  Why a fig tree?  The answer lies in the writings of the Hebrew prophets Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, and Micah where Israel is not infrequently pictured as a fig tree.  In the book of Hosea, God says:  “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; / I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season” (9:10).  In Joel, God calls Israel “my fig tree” (1:7).

History confirms that Jesus’ destruction of the fig tree was indeed a prophetic sign-action.  In AD 70, thirty-seven years after Jesus’ crucifixion (believed to have taken place in AD 33), Roman armies penetrated Jerusalem’s walls, destroying the Temple and razing the city. Not one stone of the magnificent Temple was left standing on another, just as Jesus had predicted (Mk 13:2). Sixty-five years later,  in AD 135, the Roman emperor Hadrian founded a pagan city, Aelia Capitolina, on the ruins of Jerusalem.  Jews were forbidden access to the new city built now according to Hellenistic plans.  Where the Jewish Temple once stood, Hadrian had a temple erected to the pagan god Jupiter Capitolinus.  And, in order to erase all Jewish connection to the land, Hadrian renamed what was once the Roman province of Judea as Syria Palaestina.  The fig tree had indeed withered to its very roots!

That Jesus’ ‘cursing’ of the fig tree was a predictive act is clear.  That said, it was obviously an indictment of Israel’s spiritual barrenness as well.  Not only had Israel’s religious leaders failed to recognize Jesus as their Messiah, they had become his fiercest opponents.  There was an outward display of religiosity–like the showy leaves on the fig tree–but no faith.  That would be true of many churches today as well.

As I read the story of the withered fig tree, I can’t help but think how differently I must view it compared to someone reading it in, say, 1017 or 1517 or 1917.  Unlike earlier generations of Bible-readers, I am part of that generation which has witnessed the return of the Jewish people to their historic homeland; the creation of the modern state of Israel; and the re-taking of Jerusalem.  To me, these events say that the story of God’s ‘fig tree’, Israel, is still unfolding.

 

 

 

 

Betrayal at the UN

In eighteen days time, Barack Hussein Obama’s presidency will have ended and President-elect Trump will have been installed as the 45th president of the USA.  By now, many have likely forgotten how Pres. Obama, in office for only a few months and before he had accomplished anything of note, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.  Widely criticized for their choice of recipients, the Norwegian Nobel Committee justified their selection of the fledgling US president thus:  It was because Pres. Obama had “created a new climate in international politics.”  (The award was intended, as much as anything, as a rejection of the foreign policies of Pres. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.)

In 2009, Pres. Obama hadn’t as yet created the “new climate in international politics” that the Norwegian Nobel Committee believed he had.  But that is not the case eight years later.  Just look around at the world he leaves for his successor.  The world’s greatest exporter of terrorism, Iran, is billions of dollars wealthier, courtesy of the US.   An ascendant Russia now ‘calls the shots’, literally, in the Middle East, thanks to a leader content to “lead from behind.”

Not only has Pres. Obama empowered two of the biggest threats to the West and, ultimately, to world peace–Iran and Russia–he has abandoned the one and only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel.  It had been a longstanding tradition that when the United nations Security Council (UNSC) attempted to pass resolutions targeting Israel over the issue of so-called ‘settlements’, the US as one of the permanent members would use its veto power, and thus the resolution would fail to pass.  On 23 December 2016, the Obama administration, breaking with tradition, abstained rather than using its veto power, thereby allowing UNSC resolution 2334 to pass.

This unprecedented abstention will have far-reaching consequences.  Resolution 2334, unlike previous resolutions, calls for Israel not only to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders, but to withdraw from East Jerusalem.  Consider what such a withdrawal would mean for the Jewish people:  It would mean abandoning the Temple Mount, site of the First and Second Temples; it would mean forsaking the Western Wall where Jews pray; it would mean turning over to the Palestinians the entire Jewish Quarter of the city, including the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, the Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus.  Resolution 2334 calls for the Jewish people to deny their historic and religious connections to Jerusalem.  It calls for Israel to do the unthinkable!

 

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(Personal photo taken on a trip to Israel in 2014)

Israelis remember all too well what life was like when Jordan occupied the same territory (1948-67).  During the 1948 war between the nascent Jewish state and its Arab neighbours, Jordan seized control of the west bank of the Jordan River as well as the Old City of Jerusalem.  Jordan’s seizure and annexation of this territory, interestingly, was viewed as an illegal act by the Arab League; Britain recognized it.  The 1949 Armistice Agreement that ended the war was supposed to give Israelis access to their religious sites in the Old City/East Jerusalem, but Jordan never honoured the agreement.  Israelis were barred from entering the Old City; some 58 ancient synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were either desecrated or destroyed; and tombstones from the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives were used to build army barracks and even latrines for the Jordanian army.  Slum dwellings were allowed to abut the Western  Wall where Jews once prayed.  The site most sacred to Jews worldwide came to resemble a garbage dump.

Contrast Israel’s treatment of religious sites today with that of Jordan’s.  In Israel, all religious groups are allowed administration over their own holy sites.  The administration of the Temple Mount has been retained by the Islamic Waqf, as it has been for centuries.

Because the US president abandoned Israel at the UN, expect to see more boycotts, divestment, and sanctions placed on Israel goods (economic warfare); more Israelis and their supporters hauled up before the International Criminal Court (lawfare); and, ominously, anticipate even more resistance a.k.a. terrorist attacks.  The Palestinian Arabs have had their claims to East Jerusalem affirmed by the UN Security Council, so why bother to negotiate with the Israeli government?

With the West’s enemies empowered and Israel abandoned at the UN, war is more likely now after eight years of an Obama presidency than before. This is the new climate in international politics created by the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize:  Pres. Obama.

 

The Iran Deal Brings Us Closer to Midnight

With the signing of the deal between the P5 plus 1 world powers and Iran, the world can “breathe a sigh of relief,” says Russia’s President Vladimir Putin:  this, from the leader who, in an act of aggression on a scale not seen since the 1930s, annexed Crimea just over a year ago.  And why wouldn’t Putin be upbeat at the signing of the deal?  Russia has come out a winner:  the deal ends the isolation of Iran, Russia’s key ally in the Middle east; it allows Russia a major role in developing Iran’s civilian nuclear program; and it reopens the arms market to Russia.  President Obama, apparently, was surprised at Putin’s co-operation in helping to achieve a deal with the Iranians!

Has anyone bothered to adjust the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock since the deal was announced, I wonder?  the Doomsday Clock, that symbolic clock-face which represents the countdown to a global catastrophe?  The closer the minute hand to midnight, the closer the world is to a global disaster.  Set up in 1947 by atomic scientists, the Doomsday Clock, hanging on a wall in the University of Chicago, originally represented the threat to the world of a global nuclear conflagration.  The threat has been expanded to include climate change (but of course).  The minute hand of the clock was last moved on 22 January 2015 when it was set to three minutes to midnight.

If I were given the task of resetting the minute hand, I know where I would move it:  I would move it closer to midnight (despite Putin’s assurance that the world can now breathe more easily).  Four days before signing the deal, Iran celebrated Quds Day.  Held annually on the last Friday of Ramadan, Quds, or Jerusalem, Day was inaugurated by the late Ayatollah Khomeini in August 1979 as a way to express solidarity with the Palestinians, and to demonstrate Iran’s opposition to the very existence of Israel.  Sponsored and organized by the Iranian government, Quds Day celebrations typically draw thousands into Iran’s public squares where they chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”; trample on US and Israeli flags; and incinerate effigies of America’s and Israel’s leaders.  Such fun!  You would have thought Quds Day would be different this year in Tehran, that there would have been some attempt by the government to restrain the rabble in some way, with negotiations between P5 plus 1 and Iran coming down ‘to the wire’.  Wrong.  There were the same calls for America’s and Israel’s destruction.  Protesters set dummies of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu on fire.  Not only did the government not restrain the crowds, Iran’s President Rouhani was present and raised no objection to what was going on.  Neither did the Obama administration, desperate for a deal above all else.

Iran’s intention to destroy Israel continues unabated.  If anything, the deal has turned Iran into a much more formidable foe of Israel.  No longer crippled by economic sanctions and armed by Russia, Iran will pose an even greater existential threat to Israel.  And with Russia as its ally and arms dealer, why would Iran need to develop a nuclear bomb anyway, since Russia possesses an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs?  People were shocked when US Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford recently claimed that Russia presents the greatest threat to [US] national security. If that’s the case,  just imagine, then, what Iran and Russia, working together, could do to destabilize the Middle East, indeed, the whole world.  No, President Putin, the world definitely cannot breathe more easily now.

Pope Francis, ‘Palestine’, and the ‘Angel of Peace’

The news that Pope Francis is getting set to officially recognize the ‘State of Palestine’ has left Israelis along with many supporters of the Jewish state disappointed and angry.  That the Vatican was moving in this direction has been apparent for some time, however.  In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to recognize ‘Palestine’ as a ‘non-member observer state’.  (The only other state granted this status is the Vatican City.)  Ever since then, the Vatican has referred to the ‘state of Palestine’ in all its communications.  During his visit to Israel last year, Pope Francis referred to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), as the leader of the ‘state of Palestine’.

The agreement that the Vatican intends to sign with the non-existent ‘state of Palestine’ covers the activities and the legal status of the Catholic Church in the West Bank and Gaza.  (Arab Christians make up 10 % of the population of the West Bank.)  When signed, the accord will essentially recognize Gaza and the West Bank as a country of its own.

Am I surprised that the pope intends to recognize ‘Palestine’?  No, in part because I have just finished reading David Kertzer’s latest work, The Pope and Mussolini:  The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for biography-autobiography.  (This is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.)  Drawing on material in the Vatican archives formerly unavailable to researchers, Kertzer provides fresh insights into the collaboration that occurred between pope and Fascist dictator in the 1920s and 1930s:  a collaboration which led, among others things, to the founding of the nation-state known as Vatican City.  The Vatican, understandably, avoids drawing attention to the part played by Benito Mussolini in the creation of its nation-state.

Collaboration with Mussolini was the price Pope Pius XI was willing to pay in order to regain the power and prestige lost by the Catholic Church when Italy became a unified kingdom.  In 1871, at the time of unification, the so-called ‘papal states’ were swallowed up and incorporated into the new Kingdom of Italy. For the next 58 years a succession of popes, incensed at the loss of their territory and thus their power base, refused to recognize a united Italy.  Things changed in 1929, however, when Mussolini indicated a willingness to cut a deal with the papacy.  On February 11, the Italian state and the Holy See (the Vatican’s ecclesiastical designation) signed the Lateran Accords.  The accords consisted of three parts:  a political treaty, a financial convention, and a concordat.  The political treaty ceded territory to the papacy for its own sovereign state to be known  as the Vatican City.  The financial convention awarded substantial financial reparations to the Vatican.  And the concordat granted the Roman Catholic church extensive rights and exclusive privileges.  Roman Catholicism, for instance, was declared the sole religion of Italy.  The accords were signed by Mussolini himself on behalf of the Kingdom of Italy.

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(Photo courtesy Pikabay)

The Vatican City is the world’s smallest nation-state.  It is also called the Holy See, which is its ecclesiastical designation; Vatican City is its political and diplomatic designation. Its area is .44 sq. km.  As of July 2014, its population was 842.  Its form of government is an absolute monarchy, with the pope holding all legislative, executive, and judicial power.

The signing of the Lateran Accords made news worldwide at the time.  An article in the Tuesday, February 12, 1929 edition of The New York Times noted how

[t]he Pope is again an independent sovereign ruler, as he was throughout the Middle Ages, though his temporal realm, established today, is the most microscopic independent State in the world and probably the smallest in all history.

An elated Pope Pius XI, who regarded Mussolini as heaven-sent, gushed,

“The times called for a man such as he whom Providence has ordained that We should meet….It is with profound satisfaction that We express the belief that We have given God to Italy and Italy to God.”

Little did the pope suspect that he had just handed Italy over to another god:  the god of war.

What did Mussolini gain from cutting a deal with the Vatican?  Il Duce (‘the leader’ in Italian) gained the support of a grateful Catholic Church, support which in turn granted the Fascist regime newfound respect and legitimacy.  In 1920s Italy, one could be both a good Catholic and a committed Fascist member at one and the same time, it was believed.  Only later, as Mussolini’s Italy began increasingly to resemble its ally Nazi Germany, did Pope Pius XI develop grave reservations about his support for Il Duce.  Unfortunately, the pope died before he could undo any of the damage.

I believe that Pope Francis is about to make an equally grievous misjudgment.  The pontiff is going to recognize as a nation-state a place which provides a safe base from which to stage terrorist attacks on innocent victims; a place where those who murder and maim Jews are called “heroes” and “martyrs”; a place where children are taught in their textbooks and schools and at their summer camps to hate Jews; a place where youth are told they will one day conquer and reoccupy the whole of Israel; a place where parks and stadiums are named in honour of suicide-murderers.  And this is only the West Bank!

Today, the pope held a private audience with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (a president whose term of office expired a number of years ago, incidentally).  As is customary at the end of an audience such as this, the two exchanged gifts.  Abbas gave the pope relics of the two Arab nuns from Ottoman-era Palestine who are to be canonized by the Catholic Church tomorrow.  The pope, in his turn, gave Abbas a medallion that represented the angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war.  As he handed him the medallion, the pope reportedly told Abbas the gift was appropriate because he, Abbas, was “an angel of peace.”

But correctly identifying angels can be a tricky business, the pope must know.  As Scripture tells us, even Satan himself may appear as an “angel of light.”

The Lausanne Deal: Peace, but Only for a Time

There’s an unsettling feeling shared by many that the world has just entered another ‘Neville Chamberlain’ moment in time, a suspicion that the six major world powers who participated in the Lausanne negotiations have been outmanoeuvred and ‘outfoxed’ by a wily Islamic Republic of Iran. Neville Chamberlain, you will recall, was the well-meaning but naïve British Prime Minister who thought he could do a deal with Herr Hitler. When Nazi Germany threatened to take over all of Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported its plans to annex the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland, Chamberlain went to Berchtesgaden to meet with Hitler personally. Der Fuhrer promised not to make any further territorial demands if he was given the Sudetenland. In a shameless act of appeasement, Chamberlain granted Hitler his wish. On 29 September 1938, Britain, France, Italy, and Germany signed the Munich Pact which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany. Czechoslovakia was never even consulted. Upon his return to Britain, a triumphant Chamberlain announced, “I believe it is peace for our time.”

We all know how that worked out. In March 1939, Germany annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Years later, it was revealed that it had been Benito Mussolini, representing fascist Italy in Munich, who proposed the plan that came to be implemented by the four world powers–a plan written, in fact, by the German Foreign Office.

Neville Chamberlain has been vilified as a pathetically-naïve dupe of der Fuhrer. In fairness to Chamberlain, however, how many world leaders at the time–apart from an astute Winston Churchill–perceived the gravity of the threat posed by Hitler and his Third Reich? It is often forgotten that Chamberlain returned from Germany to public acclaim and cheering crowds in Britain.

The P5 plus 1 (the six permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran have been meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland for the past eight days in an attempt to hammer out a deal which would restrict Iran’s nuclear activity to peaceful purposes. Iran, in return, would have the sanctions imposed on it by the international community lifted. At one stage in the negotiations, with the possibility of a preliminary draft agreed to by all seven countries looking increasingly unlikely, the P5 plus 1 lowered their expectations. They would be content now with a joint ‘statement of goals’.

Hasn’t Iran already stated its goals to anyone paying attention? In a recent speech marking the Persian new Year, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, didn’t hesitate to join with the rabble calling for America’s destruction. When people started hollering “Death to America” as is their wont, Khamenei responded: “Of course, yes, death to America, because America is the original source of this pressure [not sure what ‘pressure’ he meant].” And the response from the Obama white House? Pay no attention; it’s only “intended for a domestic audience.”

Then, on Tuesday, the commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRG), Brigadier General Naqdi, announced that “erasing Israel off the map is non-negotiable.” The brazenness of Iran’s spiritual and military leaders in calling openly for the destruction of America and the annihilation of Israel–at the very time that the P5 plus 1 negotiators were meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister–is ‘jaw-dropping ‘ in its audacity. One thing to be said in Neville Chamberlain’s defence: He didn’t know what Hitler had in mind for Germany’s neighbours, indeed, for the rest of the world. The P5 plus 1, on the other hand, unlike Chamberlain, will never be able to plead ignorance.

Word has just come that the P5 plus 1 negotiators, along with Iran, have drafted what they are calling “the framework of an agreement” which sets the stage for a final agreement to be reached by June 30. The hard work of writing the final text now begins. Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif claims the agreement will show that Iran’s nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful, has always been and always will remain exclusively peaceful.” An upbeat President Obama asserts with confidence that the deal cuts off “every pathway that Iran could take to build nuclear weapons.” This “historic” deal, President Obama insists, leaves the US, its allies, and the whole world safer.

I for one won’t be breaking out the champagne just yet. Has Iran indicated that it has given up its intention to eliminate the ‘Zionist enemy’ as it refers to Israel? That it will stop funding terrorism? Or cease fight proxy wars? By boasting that this deal “cuts off every pathway that Iran could take to build nuclear weapons,” President Obama has in effect issued a challenge to Iran’s scientists, mullahs, and military leaders to prove him wrong. Until Iran accepts the existence of the Jewish state, no framework, or deal, or agreement–whatever name you want to give it–will make the world any safer.

Taking Sides in the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Whenever I read a book about the rise of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I find myself asking: “What would I have done had I been an average German citizen living in Germany at the time? Would I have stayed silent, or spoken up, when the Nazis demonized the Jews in the press? Would I have remained indifferent, or objected vociferously, when the Nazis enacted increasingly restrictive and inhumane anti-Jewish laws? Would I have heeded, or defied, the calls to boycott Jewish businesses? Would I have averted my eyes, or attempted to intervene, when I saw Jews being mistreated?”

These are questions to which I will never know the answers. Yet, they are hardly pointless questions, given the reappearance in recent weeks of Jew-hatred at a level not seen since the days of the Third Reich. Pro-Palestinian rallies, taking place almost daily, have descended into anti-Semitic hate-fests of a kind not seen for some eighty years. Indeed, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, says that “They pursue the Jews in the streets of Berlin…as if we were in 1938.” Before German authorities clamped down, some of the ‘protesters’ were chanting slogans like “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone.” And it’s not just young thugs engaging in hate speech: The imam of a Berlin mosque is under investigation after allegedly calling on Muslims to murder “Zionist Jews.” Some protestors are resorting to more than just vile language. Synagogues have been attacked. In Wuppertal, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a synagogue. Fourteen people were arrested in Essen on suspicion of planning an attack on a synagogue. Jews have been physically abused, too. An Orthodox Jew was punched in the face on his way to a synagogue in central Berlin. Observers of the demonstrations have noted that the majority of protesters are Muslim immigrants and their German-born children. But there are non-Muslim participants as well.

What’s happening in Germany is taking place on an even greater scale in France, home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe (1/2 million Jews and 5 million Muslims). Pro-Palestinian protesters shout “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas” and “Death to Jews.” Since the start of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, website moderators have had to censor 95% of comments made by French users! Pro-Palestinian goons have tried to firebomb and break into synagogues. A kosher grocery and Jewish-owned pharmacy were torched. The rampant anti-Semitism has forced French authorities to ban pro-Palestinian marches–bans which have been ignored in some cases.

Anti-Semitic acts have been taking place in other parts of the EU. In Belgium, a café posted a sign which read: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Jews are not under any circumstances.” A Belgian doctor refused to treat an elderly Jewish woman. In the Netherlands, a Jewish woman who was flying an Israeli flag on her balcony had her apartment firebombed.

Jew-hatred is erupting not just in Europe, but around the globe and in countries not usually known for anti-Semitism. In Calgary, Alberta, Canada at a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the city hall, pro-Palestinian demonstrators attacked Jews and their pro-Israel supporters. There were yells of “Hitler was right” and “Kill Jews.” One pro-Israel supporter was dragged across the street by the Israeli flag tied around his neck; five pro-Israel supporters were sent to the hospital. In Chicago, anti-Jewish leaflets containing threats to the Jewish people were put on the windshields of cars in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. At a pro-Gaza rally in front of the town hall in Sydney Australia, there were shouts of “Israel has no right to exist.”

I could go on and on–the list is a sickeningly-long one. Israel’s military operation Protective Edge has brought the Jew-haters back into the streets where, under the pretext of ‘demonstrating on behalf of the people of Gaza’, they spew their vile slogans, vandalize, and terrorize. As already noted, a great many of the demonstrators, but not all, are the children of Muslim parents who immigrated to the West. Many, if not most, of the demonstrators would probably reject the label ‘anti-Semite’; rather, they would claim they are ‘anti-Zionist’.

To them I would say this: To deny the Jewish state the right to defend and protect its citizens–a right denied to no other country on earth–is in and of itself an anti-Semitic act. Israel is thus in the process of destroying Hamas’ underground tunnel network–believed to number 5,000 tunnels–as well as the rocket launch sites, located in mosques and in at least three UN-run schools. Tragically, innocent children are dying in Gaza. It’s heartrending, but it happens in every war. But assign blame where it rightly belongs. Blame the parents, who knowingly voted for a brutal terrorist organization to run their country. Blame Hamas, whose sole raison d’être is not to provide a good life for the people of Gaza but to destroy Israel.

Hamas excels at constructing terror tunnels in order to kidnap and kill Jews. Israel, on the other hand, develops technology like the Iron Dome to protect its people. I know whose side I take in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Hamas excels in b

The Sirens Are Wailing Once Again

The sirens were silent when I was in Metulla two months ago today. After exploring the archaeological site of Hazor, my husband and I had headed north up highway 90 past Kiryat Shmona to Israel’s northernmost city, Metulla. I had always wanted to visit Metulla; I’m not sure why–maybe because of its precarious position right on the border with Lebanon, or maybe because it had made the news so often in the past. We spent two great hours in this charming–and oh, so vulnerable–little city. It was lunchtime and ‘stinkin’ hot’ when we arrived. We found a great restaurant alongside the main road. Seated in a tree-shaded courtyard with a water fountain burbling nearby, and dining on excellent Middle eastern food and wine, I felt like I was in some kind of oasis–it was so peaceful and pleasant. But I wasn’t. Taking a stroll after lunch, I saw a high tower with an air raid siren mounted on top, a stark reminder that I was in no oasis. Little did I suspect on the idyllic day in Metulla that the air raid siren I saw would be wailing its warning of incoming Katyusha rockets from Lebanon a mere eight weeks later.

The rockets launched by Hamas from the Gaza Strip in recent days have shown that almost all of Israel now, and not just Metulla, is vulnerable to rocket attacks. The terrorist organization Hamas has launched over 1000 rockets into Israel in the past eight days. Most of the rockets have been deflected by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system. There have been several Katyusha rocket attacks emanating from Hizballah-ruled southern Lebanon as well.

Israel’s response to the lethal rocket barrage has been to launch Operation Protective Edge to destroy the rocket-launching sites in Gaza. Inevitably, civilians in Gaza–many of them innocent women and children–have been killed. The number of Palestinian dead up to this point stands at 213 with more than 1500 injured. There has been one Israeli death: that of a 37-year-old civilian man delivering food to Israeli soldiers at the Erez Crossing. A couple of elderly Israelis have suffered fatal heart attacks trying to reach the shelters in time.

This disparity in the number of deaths suffered by the two sides had led to the demonization of Israel, the reasoning being: The Palestinians are dying in far greater numbers, therefore Israel must be the ‘bad guy’. Apart from Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Israel gets little in way of support or sympathy from the international community. However, anyone who has ever read Hamas’ founding charter would know–or should know–where to lay the blame for this tragic loss of life.

Hamas (Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement) was founded in 1987 after the first intifada. In Article 8 of its 1988 founding charter, Hamas makes its raison d’être unmistakably clear:
Allah is its goal;
the Prophet its model;
the Qur’an its Constitution,
jihad its path
and death for the case [sic] of Allah its most sublime belief.

Furthermore, in Article 15, Hamas states:
When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims. In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of jihad.

Many who denounce Israel do not know the history of the Gaza Strip. In 2005, Israel disengaged unilaterally from Gaza. The Israeli army withdrew; all Israeli settlements were dismantled; and all Israeli residents were evicted. Then, in 2006, elections were held in Gaza at the insistence of then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, despite Israel’s warning that the election shouldn’t be held as long as Hamas participated while refusing to lay down its arms. In a move that left the Bush administration utterly dumbfounded, the people of Gaza voted Hamas into office! No one in the Bush White House had contemplated a Hamas victory! In 2007, Hamas seized power in a coup d’état and ousted its rival Fatah. For the past seven years the Palestinians in Gaza have been subject to the oppressive rule of a terrorist organization whose primary goal is not the well-being of the people but the destruction of its neighbour Israel.

According to the latest news, Tel Aviv has been under a particularly heavy barrage of Hamas rocket fire today. I have good memories of my time in Tel Aviv in May: walking the beach promenade to the old port city of Yafo/Jaffa; sitting at an outdoor restaurant alongside the Mediterranean, watching the sun set–and people-watching, too. A seemingly never-ending parade of Israelis passed by me on Tel Aviv’s world-famous promenade: joggers, people on bicycles, people walking their dogs, couples pushing baby strollers, seniors out for an evening stroll, ‘foodies’ heading out to some restaurant. I was struck by the vitality and zest for life that I saw around me. Now, undoubtedly, most of these same Israelis are running for the lives to escape Hamas’ ‘rain of terror’.

The civilized world deplores the deaths of innocent Palestinians, and rightly so. But, I wonder, how does Hamas view these deaths if it truly believes, as it states in its charter, that death for the cause of Allah is its “most sublime belief,” that jihad is incumbent upon every Muslim? Hamas has come to recognize the PR value of each and every civilian death in Gaza. With each death, outrage in a largely ignorant West grows against Israel, when the responsibility lies solely with the ‘death cult’ known as Hamas.