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February 2, 2011

Rains and Revolutions

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/rains_and_revolutions_20110202

A number of people have asked me what it’s like to be in Israel while a revolution is going on next door. My answer is, “it’s raining.”

When it rains in the Middle East, it’s a pain – I got soaked walking to Mandel this morning – but everybody is happy about it because we need rain. One of the special things about the land of Israel is the fragile, quite direct connection between rainfall and the health of the land.  Rain is seen as a divine blessing:

“And it shall come to pass, if you shall give heed diligently to my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in its due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, and your wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your cattle, that you may eat and be full. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the Lord’s anger be kindled against you, and he closed the skies, that there should be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest you perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord gives you.” (Devarim 11:14-17)

So rain is a pain, but it puts everyone in a good mood, like a collective sigh of relief.  And that’s what people seem to be thinking about, while a revolution is going on next door.

Of course, I, and others, are also thinking about the revolution in Egypt.  One contemplates the idea that a country of 77 million people – more than 10x Israel’s population – could, if the Muslim Brotherhood takes power, tear up its peace treaty with Israel signed 30 years ago.  The demilitarization of the Sinai peninsula was a condition of the peace treaty with Egypt but an Egyptian government run by the Muslim Brotherhood would likely channel arms to Gaza rather than trying to prevent smuggling (to read more fun scenarios, go tohttp://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,742186,00.html) leaving Israel to fight an Egyptian sponsored Hamas on its southern front in Gaza along with a well-armed Hezbollah-lead, Iranian sponsored Lebanon in the north.  One reads these scenarios with more, shall we say, focus, when you can get in a car and drive to these places in a few hours.  As a young Israeli friend of mine who worked for me at Ramah wrote on his facebook page yesterday, “I will support any candidate in Egypt who guarantees I will not have reserve duty in the next year.” Gallows humor…hah hah.

But the truth is that while all this is going on a 10-hour drive away (4 hours from Jerusalem to Eilat, 6 across the Sinai peninsula to Cairo), I realize that most of the information I’m getting is the same information you are getting – from the internet (except, of course, if you’re in Cairo where Mubarak has cut off internet access). Except, where I am, it’s raining like it is in Cairo, and I wonder if rain can effect a revolution.

As I walked to Mandel this morning, I wondered whether fewer people, perhaps just enough fewer people, would show up to protest this morning because it’s raining, and for whatever reason, one just doesn’t picture a revolution in the rain. And whether the next few days – the rain and storms are supposed to intensify in this region for the next few days – possibly snow in Jerusalem on Tuesday! -  whether in these next few days, while Mubarak’s army couldn’t quell a revolution, rain just might.

To be clear, I’m not necessarily hoping that the revolution stops.  While I don’t look forward to the results of a future election ( to get a sense of how most Egyptians, or at least those who support the Muslim Brotherhood, may feel about Israel, see the passage from the Spiegel article quoted above)

A recent incident involving the vice governor of the Sinai Peninsula reveals how many Egyptians think about Israel. After a shark attack off the coast, the official said that it could not be ruled out that the deadly fish had been released by Israeli intelligence to harm Egypt’s tourism industry. After the bloody attack on a church in Alexandria on Jan. 1, a spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood speculated that Israel could be responsible for the attack, with the intention of sowing discord between Christians and Muslims.

I also don’t quite know how to answer Egyptians in America or in Cairo who are angry that the United States government has spent $2 billion per year propping up a ruthless, corrupt dictator who has oppressed his own people.  I liked the ends (a stable peace treaty with Israel and a reliable partner in working with the Palestinians to try and bring about a peace agreement) but those who argue against trying to achieve just ends with immoral means may be being proved right by the revolution underway.  Faced with years of civil strife, the people of Iraq are hanging on to a fragile democracy, suffering through funeral bombings (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5jv7R5zNSwI-0_c0d1cSssM1TiZlQ?docId=N0399591296141220058A – one becomes numb to the news…bombing a funeral? The depths of humanity…it happened just days ago).  The people of Iraq continue to suffer such horrible things because they still remember the alternative was living in a totalitarian dictatorship.  People in Gaza were given an election a few years ago.  They chose Hamas and got a war with Israel, international isolation, and its population suffers horrible living conditions as much from the actions of its own government as it does from an Israeli imposed blockade.  If the revolution in Egypt leads to fair elections in a few months, one hopes, prays, the people of Egypt will choose differently.  In the meantime, the rain continues to fall.

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