Posted by Simone Wilson
A photo originally posted two months ago to Reddit's "Morbid Reality" thread (or, as the kids say, sub-Reddit) was re-posted last weekend to the "WTF" thread, and proceeded to re-blow everyone's mind.
It's a pretty baffling shot: A small child swishes down the same red plastic slide that an African refugee is using as shelter, as the child's light-skinned parent — in Teva sandals and a fedora — waits with open arms. (See below.)
Not surprisingly, it has caused mass confusion and debate in the comment section. Some Redditors insist the photo was taken in South Sudan, because of all the Africans in the photo, and because of "Welcome to South Sudan" message on the slide. Others can't help but use the post as a jumping-off point for yet another argument about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Still others are fighting over the gender of the parent.
One thing's for sure: We are, unmistakably, looking at the bizarre dystopia that is South Tel Aviv. The photo was taken in Levinsky Park, a grassy spread in the shadow of the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station that has become a second (and, in some cases, first) home for the roughly 60,000 African asylum seekers who have reached Israel from Eritrea and Sudan.
I returned to the spot where it was taken this morning. A young African mother was pushing her children on the swings. Dirty clothes and other personal items were strewn across the play structure, evidence of the many homeless who sleep there each night. Two of the homeless were still there, at the top of one of the slides. One of them, a blonde woman who looked Russian-Israeli, told me her name was Christina, and showed me around her makeshift home at the top of the slide. She said she has lived there on-and-off for about five years. Shelves had been fashioned out of a jumbo tic-tac-toe game built into play structure.
Christina collects useful and comforting items from the streets and stores them there: Olive oil. Vodka bottles. A gas mask. A bong made from a plastic water bottle. A kiddie piano that Christina plans to start playing, once she finds the right batteries. Winter is bad, she said — "like Alaska." But other than that, she likes sleeping in her fort at Levinsky Park just fine. "The kids climb up and play here, in the blankets," she told me. "The play all over."
It's also worth nothing that until recently, a canopy filled with child-sized holes was stretched over the top of the play structure. Much to the horror of passersby, children would somehow climb onto the canopy and use it as a sort of trampoline — with, of course, little in the vein of safety guards or padding, in case they fell. I never saw one of them fly off the canopy, but I don't see how it couldn't have happened at least once.
The Reddit photo is actually a near-perfect commentary on the refugee situation in Levinsky Park, and in Israel overall: We see the desperation of the asylum seekers forced to take refuge in a child's play structure. (The majority are denied residence or work visas, and are afraid to step out of line, lest they be sent to the terrifying desert prison for immigrants down south.) We see sarcastic commentary scrawled onto the slide by an opponent of African immigration to South Tel Aviv. (The outrage in the area is so great that last year, largely religious and conservative Israelis staged race riots, prodded by right-wing politicians who called the refugees a "cancer.") We can see the liberal Tel Aviv hippie parent, so intent on integration that he (or she) is willing to brave the heartbreaking squalor that has overtaken Levinsky Park. (And indeed, the child looks mixed-race. Perhaps the child and adult aren't even related — anything's possible.)
One Redditor interpreted the photo as "a critique of the middle and upper classes enjoying themselves, completely oblivious to the poverty they are right on top of." But I find it bittersweet — equal parts injustice and defiance.
Here are some additional photos that I took at the Levinsky Park playground today.
12.19.13 at 7:40 am | Israeli border police nipped a second wave of. . .
12.18.13 at 3:23 am | Their violent re-arrest at the Israeli capital. . .
12.15.13 at 10:45 am | A front-row seat inside the blinding white snow. . .
12.4.13 at 2:20 pm | An upcoming role alongside Ben Affleck and Henry. . .
12.1.13 at 4:30 am | Gadot, a former Miss Israel, joined the "Fast and. . .
12.1.13 at 3:00 am | By accident, I walked passed Einstein's very. . .
12.15.13 at 10:45 am | A front-row seat inside the blinding white snow. . . (3030)
12.18.13 at 3:23 am | Their violent re-arrest at the Israeli capital. . . (681)
12.19.13 at 7:40 am | Israeli border police nipped a second wave of. . . (580)
November 7, 2013 | 9:40 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
With each horrific mass shooting that devastates another town in America, we are presented with a flood of news stories and think pieces, reflecting on how this could have happened — again. And how, they ask, can we stop the deadly cycle: Gun control? Mental health care? Community togetherness?
At least two Israeli security experts, both of whom formerly patrolled Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport and now work as security consultants in the U.S., said the key point of intervention may lie in the moments leading up to the crime.
On the heels of the LAX airport shooting last week that killed a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer, and the New Jersey mall attack this week, Israeli-born Rafi Ron, speaking to CNN and PBS, and Michael Rozin, speaking to the Jewish Journal, said this type of attack could possibly be prevented using Israel-style security measures, which take a more intensive and personalized approach to spotting potential attackers in public spaces.
The Israeli method is based on suspect profiling — an especially touchy subject among civil-liberty advocates in the U.S.
The TSA is already one of the most hated governmental agencies in America, for the hands-on security measures it does impose. Tellingly, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, in defense of his officers' failure to catch 23-year-old suspect Paul Ciancia before the young man allegedly started shooting up LAX last Friday, partially blamed America's aversion to strict security:
"We can search every car like a military checkpoint at gunpoint and make it impossible for [a shooting] to happen," Beck said. "But it would take days to get into LAX, and people are not ready for that."
"Neither am I," he added.
... Beck, speaking with reporters following Tuesday's Police Commission meeting, said most people aren't prepared for the "intrusive security" that would be required to prevent an attack.
Rozin, however, argued that "your rights are a lot more infringed when you're exposed to violence than when you're answering security questions." And he said that tightening security measures at U.S. malls and airports wouldn't necessarily mean ordering new shipments of expensive, intrusive body scanners or hiring hundreds more officers. Instead, he recommended that all existing security personnel on the premises should be better trained to "identify things in the crowd that indicate malicious intent."
In Israel, Rozin served in a specialized combat unit of the IDF, trained under the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) and worked as a security agent at Ben Gurion Airport. In the U.S., he runs Rozin Security Consulting, a Minneapolis-based risk management and security services firm. In a phone interview, Rozin told me that, generally speaking, security training in the U.S. puts a bigger emphasis on identifying a weapon and reacting to an attack, as opposed to identifying malicious intent and preventing the attack before it occurs.
There are two factors that lead to an act of public violence, said Rozin: 1) a weapon and 2) intent.
"We focus on intent," he said. "In Israel, we don’t ignore the weapon — of course we have measures to [screen for weapons] — but we put more focus on identifying malicious intent. In the U.S., a lot of the strategy is to wait for something to happen and then respond. The focus is on identifying a weapon. If you pass the metal detector, you must be good. While we do use metal detectors [in Israel], they're only secondary. People are looking you in your eyes and watching your behavior. That’s the element that’s missing."
From personal experience, entering Ben Gurion Airport is like being sucked into a sterile security vacuum: I feel I'm being watched and studied from every angle before I even reach the front door. And once inside, if I even look at the flight board funny, a uniformed official will come up and start asking questions. How long have you been here? Why did you come here? Where are you going? The same one-on-one questioning is repeated in a security line that passengers must walk through before they even reach the carry-on and suitcase screening area. And once security officers see the Gaza stamp in my passport, I'm in for another 20 minutes of hard interrogation. These guys can smell the tiniest white lie from clear across the airport — it's insane.
Ron, former head of security at Ben Gurion, told PBS:
"I don’t think that the level of threat here in the U.S. is similar to the one in Israel and it requires the, I would say, far reaching solutions. It isn’t. But at the same time, we cannot neglect all these areas, the public areas of the airport, whether it is on the curbside and the public lobbies and the public side of the checkpoint, because this is the area where things can happen."
Israel has been bashed halfway into the Mediterranean for its airport profiling practices. While most Jewish Israelis accept the 20 sets of elevator eyes and interrogations they receive at Ben Gurion as the price of their own security, they're also not the ones being pulled into windowless rooms for seven hours, treated as terrorists and kicked out of the country.
But what Ron and Rozin are talking about goes beyond racial profiling. (And really, if U.S. security guards wanted to profile mass shooters on race alone, all they'd have to do is watch out for white, male 20somethings with Jack Torrance glares.)
As Ron explained to NPR back in 2010:
We use profiling. It is not the racial profiling. It is profiling that takes into consideration where somebody comes from, and if somebody's home address is Gaza, we should be paying more attention to details compared to, for example, a Holocaust survivor from Tel Aviv.
... One of the problems with racial profiling is that there's a tendency to believe that this is the silver bullet to solve the problem. In other terms, if you're a Middle Eastern or if you're a Muslim, then you must be bad. And if you're a European and Christian, then you must be good.
But back in 1972, Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv was supposed to be attacked by a Palestinian, was never attacked by one. It was attacked by a Japanese terrorist killing 24 people. And it was attacked in the mid-'80s by a German terrorist answering to the name Miller.
Israel learned from those attacks, Rozin told the Jewish Journal. Now, based on the Israeli standard, he teaches his clients — including the security detail at Mall of America — to profile based on suspicious factors in appearance, attire (such as clothing that could conceal a weapon), body language, behavior (such as reaction to a security presence) and other telltale actions.
"Eight out of 10 people have certain activities before an attack," said Rozin. "[The shooter] knows he’s going to engage in a shooting. He knows his life will be in danger. He is carrying a weapon — he appears different, he acts different. You just need a trained professional who can identify him."
For example, he said, Al Qaeda-linked "shoe bomber" Richard Reid was subjected to an intensive search in Israel in 2011, during what was believed to have been a test run through Israel's El Al Airlines before his attempted attack on American Airlines. "Security personnel considered Reid a high risk and checked his luggage, his person and his shoes before he was allowed to board the aircraft," the Telegraph reported at the time.
I also asked Rozin about the differences between spotting a more traditional "terrorist," by Western definition, and an active shooter.
He answered: "When you’re talking about sophisticated terrorist groups, their implementation phase is larger and longer. There is a lot of effort studying the targets... and they're better at concealing suspicious actions." However, he added that "while [terrorists and shooters] are different, with different weapons and different ideologies, the bottom line is, it doesn’t really matter in the moment. They have a weapon and they intend to use it to cause harm."
Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg nailed it in 2010 when he wrote that "the coiled, closely packed lines at TSA screening sites are the most dangerous places in airports, completely unprotected from a terrorist attack."
Indeed, the LAX shooter chose the screening line as his point of impact. But had trained eyes been on the shooter from the moment he arrived at the airport, said Rozin, there's a chance he wouldn't have even made it that far.
"What I suggest is simply to turn around the roles between technology and the human factor," Ron told PBS. "If [Nigerian "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was subjected to even a very basic interview at the airport, that would have exposed him. What we're doing right now is actually we are running machines and people are there to operate machines. In other terms, people support technology. I say technology should support people. And it should be skilled people at the center of our security concept rather than the other way around."
November 5, 2013 | 2:00 pm
Posted by Simone Wilson
Peace between Israel and Palestine seems a teensy bit more possible this week than the last.
Negotiations are apparently entering a bulldozer phase: Israeli politician Zehava Gal-On announced yesterday that the U.S. will stage an "active intervention" in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks this coming January, regardless of hesitance on either side. [Update: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry later denied that he would impose a plan, saying, "Let me categorically dispel any notion that there is anything other than the track that is formally engaged in between Israel and the Palestinians."]
And now — riding that wave of renewed hope — Israeli organization Peace Now is doing its part to align public opinion with the potential breakthrough.
Currently, popular support for a two-state solution is at about 55 percent, both in Israel and in the West Bank. But that slim majority of approval is more theoretical than practical — because most Jewish Israelis still don't want to withdraw from the settlements in the West Bank, and most Palestinians are still hoping for a "right of return" to Israel. And those figures don't even begin to address cordoned-off Gaza. As author China Miéville wrote in his tragically beautiful piece for Guernica Magazine this month: "The holy land is now a land of holes, and lines, a freakshow of topography gone utterly and hideously mad."
Peace Now, however, knows that despite the deep-set physicalities and ideologies driving the Israel-Palestine conflict, we have to find an in-road somewhere. In a video released yesterday called "Why We Struggle For Peace," the non-governmental organization — formed in 1978 to push through an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which they succeeded in doing — goes back to basics, reminding Israelis what's really at stake.
"For far too long we stood on the sidelines, while blood was shed, while indifference took over, while opportunities were missed, and hope was nearly lost," says the narrator, over stark, slo-mo clips of inanimate objects crashing and breaking, including a watermelon meant to evoke carnage. "But when you truly love something, you will do everything for it," says the voice, as a newborn falls into the arms of his father. The narrative also plays to Israel's head, bringing up the country's evil reputation abroad, economic troubles and omnipresent brain drain. "Although the struggle for peace may not always be popular, and may even be frightening," concludes the video, "we must never forget this is the struggle for our future."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry may finally be giving that decades-long struggle a hard deadline. Here's what's coming in early 2014, according to Gal-On:
“The Obama administration plans to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough at the beginning of 2014. The Americans want to move from coordinating between the two sides to a phase of active intervention. This coming January, they will present a new diplomatic plan that will include all the core issues and will be based on the 1967 lines, with agreed-on land swaps. The plan will include a gradual timetable for implementation and will also address the dimension of regional peace based on the Arab Peace Initiative. It will also include an economic plan to invest billions in the Palestinian economy.”
The most stubborn obstacle to peace between Israel and the West Bank, in my observation, is mutual mistrust — the sum of daily injustices that build and harden and grow deep, twisty roots. A Palestinian boy is shot by an Israeli soldier on his way home from school. An Israeli girl is hit by sniper fire in her West Bank settlement. Jewish settlers destroy Palestinian olive groves in the night, trampling their neighbors' pride and livelihood. Everyone knows someone, or knows someone who knows someone, who was hit by an IDF bomb or bullet, or targeted in an anti-Israel terror attack.
And where there's not fear, there's complacency. At least in Tel Aviv, over months and sometimes years of calm, it's easy to go about one's charmed city lifestyle and forget about the actively caged-in people just a short drive south or east.
But this status quo is no longer acceptable, says Peace Now — the process must move forward. In a statement circulated through the organization's daily news blast, Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer wrote:
"The film illustrates in a minute and a half the contemporary vision of all those who believe in a two-state solution and support reaching an agreement. The peace camp must demand that Netanyahu overcome political and psychological barriers and reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinian side and with the Arab world. From our point of view, possibility of holding a national referendum is real and and the work of persuasion must start from now."
For more on the U.S. branch of Peace Now and its remote crusade for a two-state solution, see the Jewish Journal interview with Americans for Peace Now founder Mark Rosenblum. Moment of truth: “What convinces people to listen to you," he said, "is when you listen to them."
November 3, 2013 | 7:00 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
The oddest-case-scenario came true in the wee hours this morning at Ziv Medical Center, located in northern Israel near the Syrian border: A 20-year-old Syrian woman gave birth to a healthy, 3.2-kilogram baby boy.
The woman is one of over 450 Syrians who have been treated in Israel so far this year. But unlike the others, said Ziv Medical Center spokesman Gil Maor, this young patient hadn't been injured by a bomb or sniper fire.
"She’s a nurse in Syria," said Maor. "She lives near Quinetra, and since the area is being sieged, she couldn't reach a hospital — that’s what she told us. And there were no midwives who could help her. Because she's a nurse, she knew that [injured] Syrians were coming to Israel. So she said she’d try her luck to reach the border and try to get picked up by the IDF."
The woman succeeded, and — after being picked up at the border and rushed to Ziv in an IDF ambulance — she gave birth to her firstborn at 3:11 a.m. today.
According to a hospital press release, the woman said the following of her experience (roughly translated from Hebrew):
"There were no village midwives who could help me deliver. I am a nurse by profession, and I knew that Syrians were treated in Israel. ... So when I felt that labor had begun, I quickly brought myself near the border, in hopes that the Israeli army would allow me to get medical assistance. Fortunately, the Israeli army saw that I was suffering from severe pain, picked me up and took me to a hospital in Israel. I was afraid to come to Israel, but I was more worried to lose my baby during a home birth. The obstetric team and Israeli doctors treated me with respect and sensitivity and the birth was uneventful. I really do not feel like I'm in an enemy country; everyone is helping me and cares about me.
... For a long time we have been fed mainly rice in the village, due to the closures. This is the first time in a long time that I have eaten meat and vegetables. I feel good and I am relieved that I can eat and feed my cute little baby. My treatment is great. I thank everyone for the devoted care, concern and understanding."
The question at the back of everybody's mind: Will the child be considered an Israeli citizen? The issue did come up in an interview for my L.A. Jewish Journal cover story this week, "Wounded Syrians find care in Israel that is no longer available at home." Sara Paperin, international liaison at the Western Galilee Medical Center (a hospital in nearby Nahariya that is also treating Syrians), said one pregnant woman who was about to pop decided to leave the hospital before her older daughter had been discharged, specifically to avoid finding out what would happen if her baby was born in Israel.
However, Israeli immigration attorney Tamar Klarfeld said in a phone interview that the baby is "definitely not an Israeli citizen. Nobody gets Israeli citizenship unless they're born to Israeli parents." Concerning any problems the baby might have once he's back in Syria, Klarfeld said she couldn't give legal advice over the phone, but pondered: "I suppose [the mother] could say the baby was born in Syria."
Ziv spokesman Maor said the young Syrian woman who gave birth this morning was more caught up with "the normal concerns of every mother. She also came without the baby's father, so she didn’t have anyone to comfort her. And she told us that they don’t have enough food over there."
If the mother and child continue in good health, they will be discharged within the next two to three days, said Maor — at which point the IDF will come pick them up and take them back to Syria.
In a sidebar for this week's cover story, we described the spectacular medical exchange that the IDF is running between Syria and Israel, right near Quinetra:
When the IDF detects one or more war casualties approaching the new high-tech fence Israel built this year to keep out the flying parts of Syria’s civil war, “We open little passageways so they can come through,” the soldier said.
“We’re not allowed to cross the fence into Syria,” he said. “It’s a very gray area. And we can’t do it at night, because it’s too dangerous.”
Once the wounded are inside Israel, a temporary medical station is set up at the site of entry, and a handful of IDF doctors rush out to operate. From there, depending on the severity of the patients’ wounds, they are either released back to Syria, transferred to the IDF field hospital or transported via IDF ambulance to one of three medical centers in Israel providing more long-term care.
Update: Here's a photo of Israel's newest Syrian patient, taken by Hannah Bikel.
November 1, 2013 | 11:55 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
Well here's one way to legalize gay marriage, without even really having to mention gays, or marriage: Introduce a law that allows any couple, regardless of religion or gender, to obtain a "covenantal partnership" from the state.
This approach may only be possible in Israel, a nation built on religion but aspiring to the ideals of Western democracy. Current marriage law can't hold up forever: It quite insanely requires that all Jewish marriages be performed under the Rabbinate by a certain set of Orthodox rabbis, and doesn't allow for inter-religious marriages — much less gay ones. (Christians and Muslims can be married in Israel, too, under similarly strict religious rules.) This has set in motion a ridiculous system wherein hordes of betrothed Israelis fly off to nearby Cyprus, or any other country where a stodgy old Orthodox dude won't ruin their big day, then fly back to Israel, where their marriage is now recognized, but where nitty-gritty marriage stuff like wills and property distribution often have to be hashed out in court (instead of being automatic, as in Rabbinate-approved marriages).
The Times of Israel, with the repercussions:
This legal situation, inherited from the Ottoman era, has meant that some 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants who have Jewish relatives and are eligible to immigrate to Israel as Jews under Israeli law cannot marry at all, as the rabbinate does not consider them Jews under Jewish law and will not perform a wedding service for them with either Jews or non-Jews. Similarly, non-Orthodox (and, more recently, some Orthodox) converts to Judaism have been unable to marry under Israeli law.
So in order for Israel to stay modern and desirable, a new door must be opened for the more Tel Aviv-minded half of the country.
The United Nations' Human Rights Council found the issue so pressing, in fact, that — amid a rash of dictator crackdowns and civil wars throughout the Middle East — representatives from various countries told Israel at the council's last meeting that legalizing civil marriage was of utmost priority.
Enter brand-new Israeli political party Yesh Atid, formed last year to represent Israel's increasingly loud "secular middle class." Along with a coalition of civil organizations including the Aguda (Israel's leading LGBT-rights group), Yesh Atid has unleashed a bill onto Israel's parliament, the Knesset, that would create an entirely separate route for civil marriages.
The new option would be called a "covenantal partnership," said Rabbi Seth Farber, founder of Itim, an organization that "helps people navigate the religious authorities’ bureaucracy in Israel." And unlike the "civil union" option in the U.S., widely criticized by gay-rights activists for not providing the same protections and advantages as heterosexual marriage, Israel's "covenantal partnership" would provide all the same rights and recognitions as the traditional route, said Aguda spokesman Gil Kol.
The bill could face some nasty backlash from the religious right. The Jewish Home party has already come out against it, and member Yoni Chetboun told the Times of Israel, point blank: "It’s not right and it won’t happen." Kol explained that before the bill reaches the floor, the Knesset's Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs has 45 days to consider, and either accept or reject, its contents. (Last year, Ha'aretz called the "secretive" committee a "graveyard" where bills go to die.) The Aguda spokesman said its success will depend on whether Orthodox politicians are able to accept the concept of covenantal partnerships as existing entirely outside of the religious sphere.
Farber, for one, said he's as hopeful as he's ever been, in the 15 years he's been with Itim, that much-needed marriage reform in Israel could finally push through. "The present Knesset offers fresh hope and opportunity for us to advance a 21st century view of Judaism," he said.
Some have argued in America's fight for same-sex marriage that half the battle is in preserving the word "marriage." But Aguda spokesman Kol dismissed this issue as simply not the most pressing at the moment. "It's only semantics," he said. Rabbi Farber agreed, adding: "It is upsetting to some, but pretty much everybody realizes that this is as much as they’re going to get right now."
In this way, Israel has the opportunity to legalize gay marriage in a way it's never quite been legalized before: By allowing all marriages, and never specifically excluding gay couples from that definition.
And it's almost a bonus victory for the LGBT community to be involved in a same-sex marriage bill that addresses human rights in general, instead of singling out gay rights. "We're very happy with the bill because it looks at the problem from a civil point of view, in which the Jewish state is not a religious state," said Kol. "Israel needs to acknowledge the rights of people who don’t want to be part of the rabbinical system. This bill deals with every person, not just LGBT people. The great thing is it doesn’t only address our problem — it addresses everybody’s problem."
October 30, 2013 | 4:00 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
Totally regretting that massive drug deal I made at the nightclub across from the U.S. Embassy last weekend.
In a report on IsraelDefense.com yesterday, Israeli intelligence analyst Ronen Solomon revealed that while examining aerial photographs of various U.S. embassies around the world, he discovered "completely identical devices" to the spy box in Berlin, recently outed by German newspaper De Spiegel, "on the roofs of embassies in many more countries, including in Tel Aviv."
Der Spiegel originally reported that the "Special Collection Service" (SCS), a unit within America's now-infamous National Security Agency (NSA), has been utilizing sketchy infrastructure atop the U.S. Embassy in Berlin to tap into signals passing by or through the embassy. Ex-NSA superstar Edward Snowden provided the paper documents showing that "the SCS operates its own sophisticated listening devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite communication."
Here's how Der Spiegel described the spy box:
From the roof of the embassy, a special unit of the CIA and NSA can apparently monitor a large part of cellphone communication in the government quarter. ... The necessary equipment is usually installed on the upper floors of the embassy buildings or on rooftops where the technology is covered with screens or Potemkin-like structures that protect it from prying eyes.
Hilariously, the best photo of Tel Aviv's own (underwhelming) version comes courtesy of Ali Mansouri, that gooby 55-year-old in short-shorts jailed last month for allegedly spying on Israel for Iran. Authorities claimed he snapped multiple photos of Ben Gurion Airport and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. This gem was apparently taken from the "Isrotel" monstrosity next door to the embassy, and inexplicably released to the press by the Israel Security Agency after Mansouri was caught:
But don't expect any outraged government press statements or street riots 'round these parts.
A common misconception around the world is that Israelis will be offended when they learn their No. 1 ally/mama bird/butt buddy is spying on them. On the contrary, Israel invented this game. They're probably even in on it. Not only did Israeli companies supply the technology behind the NSA spying, but recent reports indicate Israeli authorities could have access to much of the agency's loot. French newspaper Le Monde, for one, recently accused the Israeli Mossad of helping hack into the phone of former French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that many former Israeli intelligence officers are of the educated opinion that "Israel knows it is a victim, lives with it as 'part of the game' in intelligence, does all it can to limit NSA spying and believes the Europeans are overreacting." Solomon related much of the same: "The assumption in Israel is that the U.S. listens in on all of the conversations taking place in the Middle East, as well as in Europe, especially if they are unencrypted," he wrote in his report.
In fact, Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad, told Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv last week:
“I can tell you with certain knowledge that [America] has been listening in on its allies, including Israel... not necessarily in [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister. The US doesn’t really care about anyone [but itself] and the Americans are vehemently denying the incidents. It could very well be that these things [monitoring calls] are happening here [in Israel] too. When the Americans think they need to listen in on someone, they’ll do just that.”
The general population in Israel, too, is likely to greet the news with a big fat yawn.
As I previously noted when Israel launched the Western world's single most invasive biometric ID system this summer, the average (Jewish) Israeli is far more concerned with his security than his privacy rights. And if that means a few spy cams and wire-tappings, so be it. "I think we know that all our phones/computers are already (and for a while) are being monitored for security reasons," a friend told me on Facebook.
One could even say that some Israelis like being spied on, in a way — because at least then they know the "bad guys" are getting the same treatment. We'll just make sure to take our MDMA orders around the corner from Hayarkon Street next time.
Update, 7:20 a.m.: In a phone interview with Solomon, who is commonly used as a source by Israeli newspapers, he told me that rumors have been circulating about "something happening on the roof" at the U.S. Embassy for some time now. "So when this story exploded," he said, "I knew where to look." Below is a graphic he created of similar-looking devices on the rooftops of 12 different U.S. embassies around the world.
Solomon said he does believe the Iranian spy was onto something when he took that photo from the Isrotel: "I think he was looking for counterintelligence," said the Israeli analyst. "He photographed the same devices on the roof of the U.S. Embassy that I'm looking at."
The Israeli government would have to be completely clueless to just be finding out about this activity now, he added.
As recently revealed in another Snowden-Guardian bombshell, the NSA is very intimately partnered with the Israeli army's 8200 unit (Israel's version of the NSA). It was this same collaboration, reported the Guardian, which revealed the Syrian regime's alleged involvement in the August chemical weapons attack heard around the world. "So I don’t believe that Israelis are not clever enough to know what [the U.S. is] putting on their roof," said Solomon.
Still, he said, Israeli officials may not be aware of the extent to which the Americans are using the technology. "We know that [former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister] Ehud Barack was using his mobile phone when he was living in Tel Aviv, within a few kilometers of the U.S. Embassy," said Solomon, adding: "When we are speaking about a friend, if you want trust, you must keep his privacy."
October 23, 2013 | 1:30 pm
Posted by Simone Wilson
Both sides of the Israel-Palestine debate are going nuts over an alleged shout-out that Rihanna made to Palestine — and not Israel — at her sold-out concert in Tel Aviv last night.
Thing is, it didn't actually happen.
As the story went, while Rihanna was performing "Pour It Up," she changed the lyric "All I see is dollar signs" to "All I see is Palestine." Palestinians and their supporters began praising her gutsy move on Twitter — much-needed cred in the Arab world for Rihanna after she ignored the BDSers by scheduling a show in Israel, then staged a sexy photo shoot outside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi earlier this week. Meanwhile, all the Israelis who had been in attendance at the Tel Aviv concert started asking: Wait, why didn't I hear that?
Here's how the rumor started.
The only news outlet that originally reported the lyric change was left-wing Israeli paper Ha'aretz. In her review of the concert, entertainment reporter Amy Klein wrote:
Nor did [Rihanna's fans] care when in “Pour it Up” instead of “All I see is signs / All I see is dollar signs,” she subbed in “All I see is Palestine,” or the fact that she just kept inserting calls of “Tel Aviv!” in every song – never once saying the word Israel.
Jereusalem Post reporter Lahav Harkov, who was also in attendance, was the first to speak up. "If every newspaper in the country sent ppl to the @rihanna concert & only Haaretz heard a pro-Palestinian comment, it probably didn't happen," she Tweeted. Another warning sign could have been that Rihanna had been hashtagging #Israel all up on her Twitter feed in the days leading up to the show.
However, that didn't stop international aggregators as big as Al Bawaba, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post and Radar Online from picking up the Ha'aretz observation. Even the Muslim Women in History Tumblr account asked: "Time to forgive her?"
Oops. Here's proof that Rihanna didn't shout-out Palestine, beginning at the six-minute mark, via YouTube user RobynsBitch:
In a personal poll of about 10 of my friends who attended the concert, all of them agreed that Rihanna never used the word "Palestine." But if anyone out there has any proof she did, please — throw it at me. And can we all take a moment to hand it to Ha'aretz reporter Amy Klein for the cleverest lyric swap of 2013? Even if it was just in her head.
October 23, 2013 | 3:30 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
The Middle Eastern leg of Rihanna's "Diamonds" tour has been half sold-out stadiums, half location-themed Instagram photo shoots. She posed in some goddess drapery along the white-and-blue Mediterranean coastline of Greece, in figure-hugging Muslim dress at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (which actually kicked her out for posing too sexy) and, just yesterday, in a liberated bikini at the Dead Sea in Israel.
But according to various reports, Rihanna's warm autumn day at the Dead Sea may have pushed into her stage time at Yarkon Park, where over 50,000 fans showed up to make it the largest concert by a female performer in Israeli history.
The Times of Israel reported that Rihanna took the stage at 10 p.m., two-and-a-half hours after the concert's 7:30 p.m. start time — although part of that included opening act GTA — and left a full 10 tracks off her planned set list.
To say the Rihanna concert in Tel Aviv was highly anticipated is a vast understatement. She's one of the most overplayed artists on the city's nightclub circuit, and posters for her shows have lined the streets for months. Tickets were going for upward of $100 at the end there. The Jerusalem Post even called her "the real mayor of Tel Aviv."
For the reporters in attendance, her stunted set was a decided letdown. Fans on Twitter offered more mixed reviews: "Yesterday was my best day of my LIFE and it's all thanks to you @rihanna!" one wrote. "I saw your performance in #TelAviv last night and it was the worst performance I ever saw in my entire life," countered another.
Rihanna apparently tried to make up for her diva entrance by shouting "TEL AVIV!!!" hella times, telling the crowd what "fucking rockstars" they were, and ending the night with a love note: "Thank you guys so much for making tonight super-duper special," she said before launching into "Diamonds," the final track. "I will never, ever forget this show, and I hope that I get to see you very soon. I had an amazing time, Tel Aviv." However, Ha'aretz reported that she did throw one controversial curveball when, in "Pour It Up," her new stripper anthem, she changed the lyrics "All I see is dollar signs” to “All I see is Palestine." Not quite BDS, but ballsy nonetheless! (Although the Jerusalem Post reporter who live-Tweeted the concert noted that "if every newspaper in the country sent ppl to the @rihanna concert & only Haaretz heard a pro-Palestinian comment, it probably didn't happen.")
Below, the Instagram photo shoot that preceded the firestorm. Hopefully Israel's favorite Barbadian learned her lesson: After a long and glamorous afternoon at the Dead Sea, it takes at least a full evening to wash off the stink.