Happy Friday from C-3PO.

In which some adorable folks calling themselves the “Star Wars Club of Tunisia” do a super delightful version of Pharrell Williams’ Happy, dancing in costume through the abandoned Tatooine sets in the Tunisian desert. No, I know!

(If you happen to be unfamiliar with original, I urge you to fill that lacuna in your life’s education — click here)

h/t BuzzFeed

Israel mocks Iranian leader in undiplomatic Tweet.

I’m on record as thinking that the current Prime Minister of Israel tends to overstate his country’s case against Iran—that while official Israel’s long-standing concern regarding the possibility of Iran achieving nuclear capability is surely understandable (particularly considering the latter’s oft-stated hostility to the existence of a Jewish State), we mustn’t forget that Israel itself has nuclear weapons (yes, it does), that not everything’s another Holocaust, and that furthermore, if your government has spent more or less the last decade claiming with tones of urgency that we’ve only got six months, a year, two years in which to prevent calamity—your government might be overstating its case.

But you know what? Israel’s long-standing concern regarding the possibility of Iran achieving nuclear capability is surely understandable, particularly considering the latter’s oft-stated hostility to the existence of a Jewish State. If I were an Israeli official, I, too, would want to make sure that the U.S. government was not messing around and that whatever precautions being taken to protect my people were good and solid. That seems only reasonable, and certainly to be expected. Overstating a case doesn’t mean that the case doesn’t actually exist.

And yet.

And yet, there is asking the President of the United States to dot his I’s and cross his T’s; there’s making sure your concerns are heard; there’s even pressuring your allies and asking your friends to do the same because this is actually kind of a big deal and you’re truly alarmed.

And then there’s this nonsense.

Israel embassy tweet Rouhani 9 23 13

 

Rather than treat the rolling tide of news regarding a possible thaw in relations between the U.S. and Iran as the serious matter that it is, rather than take into consideration all that’s at stake, rather than—oh, I don’t know—consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, if the Obama Administration manages to achieve an agreement with Iran, it might actually meet Israel’s security needs and improve the lives of everyone in the Jewish State—the Israeli Embassy in the U.S. decided to try its hand at biting social media wit, by way of fifth grade level sarcasm. Creating a false LinkedIn account for your country’s arch-nemesis carries about as much gravitas as does poking your friend at lunch and saying: “Hunh-hunh! Let’s give Hassan devil’s horns in the yearbook!”

And then Israel’s UN Mission re-tweeted it. Because why not.

Are these people professionals? Are they seriously concerned about Iran? Do they honestly believe that no one in the Islamic Republic can ever be safely trusted—or, alternatively, are they genuinely concerned that Iran’s leadership change its ways and be brought back into the community of nations? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes”—then what on earth were they thinking?

This kind of amateur hour performance is an embarrassment, pure and simple—and it does little but strengthen the impression shared by many across the globe (including many Jews both inside and out of Israel) that the fear-mongering has always been more about distracting the world from the occupation of Palestinian lands than it has been about Iran.

Else the Israeli government might be just a little more interested in seeing it resolved.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Signs of an Iranian-US thaw.

[Note: I actually posted the following a couple of hours before the interview in question aired. I've since done a little editing to make the time-frame a bit less confusing].

On Wednesday night, NBC aired an interview that Ann Curry recorded earlier in the day with newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who won elections in June in a surprising landslide.

Remember back when I said that the situation in Syria is closely entangled with its relationship with Iran, and the American relationship with both?

Before that interview aired, I felt a need to list some of the various indicators that I’ve noticed since just before the August 21 Syrian chemical weapons attack that suggest that President Obama and President Rouhani are both intent on moving our countries away from endless enmity, and toward rapprochement, starting with:

In fact, I’m culling all of the following from a search I did within my Twitter account, but reading a long list of tweets tends to get wearisome, so I’m turning instead to that other fine tool of the modern age: The bullet point.

All of the following reads to me, in sum and in parts, like the careful public face of a lot of fierce whispering in back rooms and corridors and with the help of people like the Swiss, who have long served as Iran-US intermediaries.

  • Within six days in late August, the CIA admitted its role in Iran’s 1953 coup (see above) and also in aiding Iraq in its use of chemical weapons against Iran in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s; the latter admission came a few days after Syria’s use of chemical weapons outside Damascus. These are both huge, huge scars on the collective Iranian psyche, and are frequently used as short-hand for why Iranians cannot trust the US. The minute I heard about the first admission, I thought “backchannel talks” — and when I heard the about the second, I nearly danced in my chair. For more on why the first is significant, here’s Robin Wright; for more the importance of the latter, click here.
  • Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s new Foreign Minister, spent 30 years of his life in the US and helped negotiate the intelligence assistance Iran gave the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11 (yes, that really happened).
  • Iran’s parliament fast-tracked a debate on suing the US over its role in the 1953 coup (which is to say: The acknowledgement was acknowledged, but no one’s ready to say it’s no big).
  • State Department statement, August 28: “The United States respectfully asks the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us in our efforts to help US citizens Robert Levinson, Amir Hekmati, and Saeed Abedini to return to their families after lengthy detentions.” (Which is to say: “It’s not like we don’t have genuine diplomatic issues pending with you, too. We respectfully ask that you attend to them.”)
  • Iran was intimately involved in the Russian-American negotiations surrounding Syria’s chemical arsenal.
  • A western diplomat told the press that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be dialing back the pressure on Iran in upcoming talks regarding its nuclear program.
  • “Rouhani seems to have chosen [the chemical weapons attack in] Syria as the first big internal debate of his new Administration.” – Time, September 9
  • Iranian state-run Press TV interviews Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; he says “Getting to yes is our motive for [nuclear] talks.”
  • In an interview held before the Russian-American-Syrian deal was hammered out, Obama told ABC that he and Rouhani have exchanged letters, adding: “Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy.” (Which is true, but also suggests that, just like Rouhani himself, Obama knows that even as he hints about a possible thaw in relations, neither he nor Rouhani will be served if he paints Iran’s President as a push-over).
  • Reuters: “New Iranian atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi pledged greater cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog [the IAEA].”
  • Der Speigel: Rouhani says he is reported to be willing to decommission Iran’s nuclear installation at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom, if the West lifts sanctions.
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who, according to the Iranian Constitution, is exactly what his title suggests; thus he holds ultimate authority in the country — told a meeting of  the elite military force the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC): “I am not opposed to correct diplomacy. I believe in what was named many years ago as ‘heroic flexibility’.” He also told the Guards that they must not get involved with politics, which, given the fact that they are in fact deeply involved with the politics of Iran; helped unseat the last reformist President; and were instrumental in the violent suppression of the 2009 post-election protests — is saying something. Note also that the IRGC are the country’s single greatest economic powerhouse as well, including in such areas as civilian infrastructure and engineering, and thus they are not lightly messed with.
  • Rouhani also told the IRGC that they shouldn’t be involved in politics, saying that this had also been the opinion of the republic’s founder, the Ayatollah Khomeini — and while you and I may have no fond memories of Kohmeini, he remains a powerful unifying figure for the Iranian people.
  • On Wednesday Iran unexpectedly released eleven prominent political prisoners, including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, on the eve of Rouhani’s visit to the US to attend the UN General Assembly. UPDATE: “In his annual message for Iranian New Year in 2011, President Obama specifically singled out Ms. Sotoudeh.
  • Also on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney revealed more details of the President’s letter to Rouhani: “In his letter the president indicated that the US is ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes.”
  • In Curry’s preview of tonight’s interview with Rouhani, she reports that he told her: “From my point of view, the tone of [Obama's] letter was positive and constructive” and that “he has full authority to make a deal with the West on the disputed atomic program” — which is code for “I have the Supreme Leader behind me.” Oh, and he also says that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.

And hey, it’s not just me who believes there’s real momentum toward a major diplomatic shift! CIA veteran and Georgetown University professor Paul Pillar wrote today that

Since Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran, he and his appointees have piled up indication upon indication, in their words and their actions, that they strongly want a new and improved relationship with the West and that they will do what they can to bring one about by facilitating a mutually acceptable agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program. 

Diplomacy is a messy, horribly frought business, and lord knows that the US and Iran have bungled many an effort to mend fences. Witness the fact that all that intel sharing in 2001 went absolutely nowhere — that indeed, within months, George W. Bush was referring to Iran as part of an “axis of evil.” Among other issues, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t appear particularly interested in any kind of thaw between Iran and the West, and as Pillar says, is providing copious rhetorical ammunition to any hardliners in the IRGC who would rather stay cozy with the Syrian regime and far away from the United States.

A lot could still go badly wrong, is what I’m saying.

But for the first time that I can ever remember, it feels like we have leaders on both sides who want it to go right.

Syrian refugees – actually a lot more than two million.

Last week the world reeled as we learned that the number of Syrian refugees had passed the two million mark.

Which is to say: Two million people—the equivalent of the combined populations of Boston, Detroit, and San Francisco—have fled their homes and country to what can only be called an uncertain fate in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and North Africa, with no idea whatsoever when or if they might ever return. Many refugees actually depend on the kindness of family and friends and never register with humanitarian aid organizations, so it’s likely that “two million” is, in fact, a low estimate.

Yet as horrifying as that is, as heartbreaking as the needs of the people fleeing and the people receiving them are, we must remember that those two million actually represent less than a third of all who have run for their lives in the course of this war.

The European Commission Humanitarian Office reports that an estimated 4.25 million Syrians are internally displaced persons—people forced out of their homes and communities by the violence, but who haven’t yet made it across a border. Thus, a total of 6.25 million Syrians—fully one third of the country’s population of 21 million—are, in fact, wandering.

The implications of this are staggering. As the region’s nations face historic internal turmoil and grapple with the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of strangers—sometimes at a rate of thousands a day—the social and cultural fabric of Syrian life has been shredded beyond recognition beneath bombs and chemical weapons.

Consider a life: Parents, grandparents, growing children. Income is earned, homes are built, marriages celebrated and babies welcomed. You shop for your daily needs, come home along familiar paths, make holiday plans and hope your aunt makes enough of her signature dish. Your father falls ill, your daughter outgrows her shoes, you bring a present to the neighbors. At every turn, your life is woven tightly into the garment of the lives around you, and whether any given day brings sorrow or joy, you know where to find solace, support, or someone with whom to share your good fortune.

Now it’s gone.

It’s gone, and you don’t know if you’ll ever get it back. It’s gone, not just for you and your family and your community, and not even “just” for the two million people who have (at the very least) found a way out of the country and away from the killing. It’s true for six and a quarter million people—the equivalent of nearly the entire population of Israel.

The Jewish people knows what this chaos looks like. We see it in the eyes of survivors; many can still feel it in their flesh. We are a people that until very recently knew little but the hurriedly packed bag, the abandoned home, the loved one lost forever. Whatever Jews and Arabs may have done to or said about each other in the 20th and 21st centuries, surely when we see a father gather a dead child in his arms, our arms must ache, too.

And as the heart cries out, the mind must also be honest about the horror’s further ramifications. It might be possible to imagine that the strife in Egypt won’t spread beyond its borders; it might be possible to hope that Jordan’s King will work with his opposition toward democracy and stability. It’s possible. But there’s simply no way to see the massive, violent movement of 6.25 million people just beyond and all around Israel’s borders as an event that might leave anyone in the region untouched. At a certain point, likely at many points, chaos tips over in ways that cannot be predicted and whoever is within shouting distance finds themselves in the path of the consequences.

This is the time in the Jewish year in which we straddle the universal and the personal at once: Last week we celebrated harat olam, the world’s creation; this week, we stand before the Divine and weigh our most intimate behavior. We do each while surrounded by our community and all we hold dear. We are reminded, at every holiday table and with every blow of the shofar, that our destiny as individuals and as a community is bound in a spiral of mutuality that turns and returns, endlessly.

The Syrian people are not my people. Some of them have killed some of mine; some of mine have killed some of theirs.

And yet they are my people, because they, too, were created b’tselem Elohim, in God’s image. They are my people because they suffer untold terrors. They are my people because wherever their calamity leads, it will brush against or crash into my people and my home. We cannot yet begin to guess the outcome of the shattering of Syria and its people, but lines drawn on maps will not keep the disaster neat and tidy.

I stand before my Creator this week devastated by what humanity has wrought, and not a little frightened of what is to come—frightened for Israel, frightened for everyone in the region, but mostly frightened for the mothers and fathers grasping little hands in the night, and trembling.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast

Egypt Explained – no, really.

I just had to post this video by Hank Green laying out the basics of the situation in Egypt (Hank is one-half of the fabulous Vlogbrothers and host of Crash Course Science; the other half of the Vlogbrothers is now-mega-author John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, among other lovely books). I will confess: I had no idea of the extent of the Egyptian military’s economic apparatus, and that said apparatus is broad enough to include such things as refrigerators and chickens — so thank you Hank Green, all you Egyptian Nerdfighters who helped him, and especially, apparently, a Nerdfighter by the name of Mokhtar Awad!

“And when Mubarak [was] like – ‘hey, military, we’ve got a problem. Right?’, they’re like ‘Noooaaah, not really.’”

*

Mind you, I was first introduced to the Vlogbrothers and inducted into Nerdfighter culture by my then-12 year old son via a video that John Green [then a respected author, but not yet a MEGA-author] made about the 2008/9 war in Gaza. So the fact that Hank produced this video and hit it so far out of the park should come as no surprise (and didn’t, really. I was not surprised. Perhaps you were surprised? I, however, was not).

Update: It occurs to me to note that Hank Green is also the dude behind an astonishingly good explainer on human sexuality (click here) and an entirely impassioned plea to exercise your right to vote, the latter of which was ultimately posted to the President’s own Tumblr account (click here and scroll down). So. Yeah. Dude’s ok, is what I’m saying.

Book review: ‘My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind — and Doubt Freed My Soul,’ by Amir Ahmad Nasr

my isl@mAmericans have a complicated relationship with Islam. Most of us aren’t Muslim, and even the best-intentioned people often remain ill-informed, the gaps in our knowledge base filled almost exclusively in the wake of violent events.

Amir Ahmad Nasr’s My Isl@m comes as an important corrective, a welcome and important primary document that follows Nasr’s search for meaning and belonging within his own faith even as he uses new tools and technologies to reach out to the world beyond it.

Barely in his late 20s, Nasr has already traveled a remarkable path: Born in Sudan, he was raised in Qatar and later Malaysia, never fully at home in any of the countries to which his family took him — a Third Culture Kid, “a youngster struggling to assimilate elements of my parents’ culture and other cultures in which I was immersed into a third colorful culture of my own.”

The Islam practiced by his family was relaxed and inclusive by Qatari standards but traditionalist and strict compared to what Nasr found in Malaysia. Encouraged by his parents to build friendships across religious boundaries, but taught in school that infidels would suffer excruciating torture in the afterlife (alongside lax Muslims), his personal faith has moved from a violence-tinged fundamentalism to tortured agnosticism, to where he stands today: A Sufi as dedicated to mystic involvement with the divine as he is to reason and cold, hard facts.

The journey might not have been possible, however, were it not for Nasr’s access to and involvement with the Arab and Muslim blogospheres. It’s a world in which he came to play an increasingly visible role in the course of and aftermath to the revolutions of the Arab Spring, writing about and advocating for such subversive ideas as freedom of speech and interfaith dialogue. My Isl@m is, then, as much a testament to the crucial role that the global sharing of information plays in allowing cultural change as it is a tale of one young man’s evolution of thought.

It is not a perfect book. My Isl@m relies heavily on the reproduction of conversations as if verbatim, but these often read as stilted and expository rather than genuine, and later chapters in particular occasionally come across as a live blog of a graduate-school syllabus — interesting in parts, but not as interesting as watching Nasr live his life and synthesize new ideas into something entirely his own.

But there is also much to praise here: a powerful love of the many cultures to which the author belongs, an ability to praise and criticize at the same time, and perhaps most importantly, a strong and engaging voice that welcomes readers into Nasr’s ongoing search, even as he successfully sketches a telling picture of the range and diversity within the Arab and Muslim worlds (worlds which are not, by any stretch, one and the same).

“The sincere pursuit of Truth requires you to entertain the possibility that everything you believe to be ‘true’ or ‘valid’ may in fact be wrong,” he writes. “Everything. Your nationalism. Your religious beliefs. Your upbringing. Your unexamined convictions. Your story.”

Nasr’s ability to provide a clear, nuanced view of a rich and complex world, coupled with his willingness to unflinchingly expose his own halting path, make My Isl@m an absorbing read, one that should appeal not only to readers seeking to better understand Islam’s depths, but also anyone who’s struggled with the titanic clash of cultures that living in a hyperconnected world can bring — which is to say, a great many people, indeed.

Crossposted from The Dallas Morning News.

Israel and the Arab Peace Initiative – top-down ignorance.

Those obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are all talking about the fact that the Arab League has once again proffered the Arab Peace Initiative as a starting place for negotiations with Israel.

image

The API’s basic contours are identical to the basic contours of every other plan ever devised to resolve the conflict: two states, based on the 1967 borders; a shared Jerusalem; a mutually agreed-upon resolution of the refugee problem. The stated goal of the API is a comprehensive, regional peace, and normalized relations with the Israeli people.

What’s a little stunning is that this is the third time the League has tried to launch the API—the first time was in 2002. What’s more stunning is the fact that, short of a brief mention by Ehud Olmert at the 2007 Annapolis Conference (months after the League had reissued its offer), official Israel has largely ignored the Initiative. The only difference circa 2013 is that the League is now willing to openly consider mutually-agreed minor land swaps—and still Prime Minister Netanyahu is hinting that the API is an Arab effort to dictate terms.

What’s perhaps stunning-est, however, is this: Until very recently, the vast majority of Israeli Jews had little to no idea that all 22 members of the Arab League had offered to start talks with their government, with the goal of achieving a region-wide peace.

Late last month, veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar revealed in al-Monitor that

even though the initiative has been on the shelf for over 11 years, 73.5 percent of the Hebrew-speaking public had never heard of it, or had heard just a hint of it but remains unfamiliar with the details. Of these, 20.5 percent were “slightly knowledgeable” about the initiative and only six percent were “very knowledgeable.”

As an Israeli who chose to leave rather than raise my family in a polity so enmeshed in military occupation, I’m often frustrated by my people’s apparent inability to see beyond the fears (genuine though they are) that serve to buttress so many of our politicians’ ideologies.

Currently home for a visit, I happen to be typing these words in a busy Jerusalem café—surrounded by laughter and chatter about birthdays and foreign travel, I watch the delivery of café au lait and pastries, and the cognitive dissonance, the ability of my fellow coffee drinkers to live quiet, coffee-sipping lives even as the people they fear labor under the control of the region’s mightiest military, is deafening. I want to ask the folks one table over how it is that we so often refuse to see the reality in which we live; I’m not sure I want to hear the response.

And yet, I can’t help but consider that statistic: Nearly three-quarters of Hebrew-speaking Israelis had no idea that the Arab world had offered to negotiate peace—not once, not twice, but three times.

When that many people are that ignorant of information that vital, it speaks to something much greater than a simple failure to stay up-to-date. It’s a kind of ignorance that serves those anxious to exploit it, those who have no interest in achieving rapprochement, those for whom fear is a stepping stone to hegemony and ethnic purity. It points to an unavoidable but largely unacknowledged fact: Israel’s elites have not found it in their interests to prepare their people for the possibility of an end to conflict—and so they’ve chosen not to.

Politicians haven’t talked about the Initiative, haven’t responded to the Initiative, haven’t floated the Initiative via influential proxies, and (perhaps most damningly) the press hasn’t paid it much attention, either. Instead, we’ve seen government efforts to cleanse the educational system of any reference to the Palestinian story, government insistence that any and all Palestinian demands are a threat to the Jewish state, and a press that’s too often willing to follow wherever the official narrative leads. After all, no one fails to report Palestinian violence—but nonviolent Palestinian activism? Meh.

So the question has to be asked: To what extent is a people responsible for knowing that which is knowingly kept from them? To what extent do they need to guess what no one is saying?

When the API’s general outline was spelled out, 55 percent of those surveyed said they’d support it to some extent; when asked whether they’d support Netanyahu if he reached a final status agreement based on those same principles, the yeses jumped to 69 percent.

No one has tried to prepare my fellow Israelis for the possibility of peace, and yet when presented with the truth about what’s actually on the table, nearly the same number that expressed prior ignorance expressed support.

We can’t know what the Middle East would look like today if Israel had pursued the API eleven years ago (or five years ago). We can’t know how Israelis would greet the Initiative today if they’d known about it all along.

But surely it matters that they didn’t know. Surely it matters that those with the power to tell them chose not to. And surely it matters that with just a little bit of knowledge, in spite of everything, Israelis say they want what the Arab League has to offer.

The most important question, though, is whether all this will matter to the politicians who kept the information from them in the first place.

Graffiti in upscale Jerusalem neighborhood reads “Those who believe him are afraid,” a play on the popular religious saying: “Those who believe are not afraid.”

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast. (To follow the links embedded in the post – particularly those relevant to Palestinian nonviolence).

Israeli-American company to drill for oil in occupied Golan Heights.

Golan mapWe don’t talk about it as much, but the West Bank and Gaza Strip aren’t the only territories Israel conquered in 1967 over which it’s still arguing. The Golan Heights was taken in the course of horrific battles with Syria, and though Israel annexed the land in 1981, international law (and, not for nothing, the Syrian people) still considers the Heights to be Syrian territory.

Which is why it’s kind of a big deal that Israel has decided to allow an American-Israeli firm to drill for oil there, as reported by Israeli financial daily Globes this week:

A month before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Israel, the Israeli government has awarded the first license to drill for oil on the Golan Heights. The license covers half the area of the Golan from the latitude of Katzrin in the north to Tzemach in the south.

…the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources’ Petroleum Council recommended awarding the license to Genie Energy Ltd. (NYSE: GNE), headed by former minister Effie Eitam.

Globes suggests that “a drilling license on the Golan could cause an international fracas,” but I suspect that what with the daily mayhem and horror that Syria currently faces, it’s a good bet that Assad’s government won’t be able to do anything about it—and I further suspect that this fact crossed the minds of those deciding to award the license.

Some interesting personnel notes: Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch serve onGenie’s Strategic Advisory Board, as does Lord Jacob Rothschild, chairman of the Rothschild Foundation. Genie is also the parent company of Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd. (IEI), “which is moving forward on a venture to develop shale oil deposits in [Israel’s] coastal plain.” IEI’s Chief Scientist, Harold Vinegar, likewise serves on Genie’s Strategic Advisory Board.

In other personnel notes, as Globes reports,

Genie Energy’s win in the license is highly symbolic for Eitam, who resides at Moshav Nob on the Golan, and fought against the Syrian Army there during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, winning a medal for courage.

There’s another interesting bit of trivia about Eitam. In 2004 he said the following about Palestinian militants in a New Yorker interview with Jeffery Goldberg:

I don’t call these people animals. These are creatures who came out of the depths of darkness. It is not by chance that the State of Israel got the mission to pave the way for the rest of the world, to militarily get rid of these dark forces.

Goldberg wrote that Eitam clarified that “he believes there are innocent men among the Palestinians, but that they are collectively guilty.”

We will have to kill them all. I know it’s not very diplomatic. I don’t mean all the Palestinians, but the ones with evil in their heads. Not only blood on their hands but evil in their heads. They are contaminating the hearts and minds of the next generation of Palestinians.

So here’s what we have: a warmongering former American Vice President (and virulent opponent of the current President); a media mogul of dubious ethics; the head of an international Jewish philanthropic entity dedicated to (among other things) “the environment, sustainable development and green energy”; a tightly bound confluence of American and Israeli business interests; and a former Israeli governmental minister who is one caveat shy of advocating mass genocide, all about to benefit from exploiting the natural resources of a large chunk of land that, according to international law, actually belongs to another country.

Huh. That seems just a wee bit dicey to me.

Talkin’ Mitt Romney and foreign policy on HuffPost Live.

I was on HuffPost Live again today, talking about Mitt Romney’s silly foreign policy speech (if you’re my mom, I come in at about the 7 minute, 30 second mark) with some very smart and interesting people, literally half of whom were named Josh. Which kept things interesting!

You can watch by clicking here.

Good news for the Holy Land’s actual land.

Once upon a time, 1.3 billion cubic meters of water flowed between the Jordan River’s banks—a quantity that carried a large enough punch to power a joint Jewish-Jordanian hydroelectric plant which served both sides of the river, from 1932-1948.

Today, however, between Israel’s dam just south of the Sea of Galilee and the country’s redirecting of area springs; the wasteful and inefficient agricultural practices of pretty much everyone; and the recently built Syrian and Jordan dams on the Yarmouk River (the Jordan’s largest feeder), the river and its ecosystem must struggle by with only some 4% of that. About half of what remains is made up ofagricultural runoff, redirected saline water and raw sewage. On a warm day, the smell can be a little overpowering.

For years now, Friends of the Earth Middle East (a Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian NGO) has been lobbying the governments of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to take the gradual strangling of the area’s most important water source seriously—and it looks like those governments have finally begun to listen.

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry and the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee have said that they will soon submit a plan to provide $25.5 million for cleaning up the river, and

[t]here has recently been a breakthrough in terms of regional cooperation on improving the Jordan’s water, according to Gidon Bromberg, director of Friends of the Earth-Middle East.

…A waste treatment plant is set to go into operation next year near Bitaniya under the auspices of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, to purify waste from Tiberias that currently flows into the river and divert it for irrigation.

“The Jordanians are building a purification plant near Shuneh opposite Jericho with American funding, and the construction of another plant, funded by the Japanese, has already been decided on,” Bromberg says.

All of which is wonderful, but even if everyone follows through as expected, such efforts can only be seen as a first step—if only because the filth and saline waste has often been the only thing keeping the river and its complex environment alive, however shakily.

Environmental groups are concerned that the diversion of waste water from the river will improve water quality but reduce its quantity. The Water Authority has pledged it will replace the waste water with 30 million cubic meters of water, some from the [Sea of Galilee], although final approval for this plan has not yet come through.

And of course, there’s the conflict:

Rehabilitation of the southern Jordan River, which is beyond the Green Line, depends on cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, which is demanding recognition of its rights over this part of the river. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan has expressed willingness to cooperate with the PA but so far there has been no real progress. Israel already uses a great deal of water in the area for farming in settlements, which the Palestinians do not recognize.

But all that being said, after so many years, this is truly excellent news. The Jordan River Valley is an international treasure, playing a vital role in Jewish, Christian and Muslim history alike. Some of humanity’s earliest farming took place along its banks, and an estimated half a million birds migrate through the 125 mile-long corridor every year. Every ecosystem deserves our protection, but this one undeniably has a special place in the human heart.

And for a century or so, Jews and Arabs have been fighting over the tiny piece of land that surrounds it. I’m grateful that we might be learning how to come together a little bit, if not for our peoples, then at least for the land itself.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

 

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