Monthly Archives: December 2008

Gaza – what end?

It’s very hard to see a way forward with this conflict.

Can more bloodshed achieve a lasting peace?  There’s no doubt that countries can live side-by-side in harmony after war.  Living in the Netherlands with Germany next-door was proof of that to me. What concerns me is that for that peace to happen, one side had to be stripped of all its power to defend itself, before it was forced to accept whatever peace terms were offered.

Would it be fair to say, that by the end of WWII, the crushing defeat of Germany was a less controversial action by the Allies than if Israel defeated Palestine with bombs and ground offensives?

The entire Arab community feels a bond with the fate of the Palestinians. And while the Arabs might not be willing to physically stand between the Palestinians and Israel – at least while the US dominates the world economy – the continuation of this conflict drives a deeper wedge between the Arab community and the West each day.

We all know that there is no happy ending to this conflict. But some degree of peace must be achieved or we will produce a whole generation  – Arabs, Jews and Westerners – that has hate in its heart for those it perceives are indifferent to the terrible losses it has suffered.

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Israeli Air Strikes on Gaza – the Alternative Viewpoint

When I posted the Gulf News article written by a Palestinian woman earlier this week , I promised to follow up with something from the other side of this conflict. Here is one… but you can read many more in English-language Jewish newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post.

From the Jersulem Post Dec 30, 2008 18:12 | Updated Dec 31, 2008 18:04

Cabinet rejects French proposal to hold 48-hour cease fire

The Security Cabinet on Wednesday rejected a French proposal for a 48-hour suspension of the IDF offensive against Hamas to allow Paris the opportunity to mediate a cease-fire, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the proposal would be reconsidered when the time is right.

Livni looks at Beersheba classroom damaged by rocket - Jerusalem Post.

Livni looks at Beersheba classroom damaged by rocket - Jerusalem Post.

“We didn’t initiate the Gaza operation in order to end it while Israeli towns are still under fire, as they were before the operation.” said Olmert.

“Imagine if after a few days of the offensive we had declared a unilateral cease-fire and a rocket barrage had then hit Ashkelon” he continued. “Israel has shown restraint for years; it gave the truce a chance. We did this in full knowledge of its price only so that southerners could recover and to give them a period without the worry of a Red Color warning every minute. We told ourselves ‘let’s try it,’ but Hamas violated the truce.”

Olmert blasted those calling for an end to the military operation. “Do you understand what repercussions this would have in Israel and the entire region?” he asked rhetorically. “Nevertheless, if the conditions are right and we believe it would provide a solution that ensures a better scurity situation, we will consider it. However, we are not there yet.”

The prime minister stressed that decisions about the military operation were totally detached for political considerations. “We are in a highly charged and tense political period,” he said, pledging that he would not let anyone add “political fire.”

“The foreign minister, defense minister and I are cooperating,” Olmert said. “This doesn’t mean that we don’t have disagreements, but the public must know that decisions are being made level-headedly, carefully and responsibly without external considerations.”

Meanwhile, Hamas on Wednesday announced that it was prepared to look into a cease-fire proposal, on condition that it would include a full cessation of Israeli attacks, and the opening of all crossings into Gaza.

“The moment that we receive the proposal, we’ll look at it,” said senior Hamas official Ayman Taha. “We will support a proposal that will bring about a full cessation of attacks, and a full lifting of the siege.”

Earlier, Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said that “Giving Hamas respite just to regroup and rearm is a mistake. The pressure on the Hamas military machine must continue.”

On Tuesday, in discussions with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that lasted late into the night, Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had appeared split on whether to accept the French proposal.

The idea for a 48-hour suspension was first raised by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in a phone call with Barak on Monday. Barak initially rejected the offer, but in a second conversation on Tuesday told Kouchner that he would reconsider and raise it in talks with Olmert and Livni.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Tuesday evening that he would meet Livni on Thursday in Paris. Sarkozy is also expected to come to the region on Monday to look for a way to end the crisis. France, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU until Thursday, called an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers in Paris Tuesday night to discuss the situation. On Wednesday, Kouchner expressed concerns that the Gaza fighting could escalate. “I hope there are no ground actions,” he said of the possibility of an Israeli ground offensive in addition to airstrikes on Hamas targets. “I think it won’t be a solution and will only increase the number of dead.”

Yaakov Katz, Herb Keinon and AP contributed to this report

My Hair is a Blonde Joke

In a flash of insanity I recently had my hair highlighted blonde. Then, after hating it for the first week, I decided I quite liked it. However, the trouble with blonde highlights is you cannot ignore them when they need to be refreshed (unless you are Madonna). So… on Boxing Day I took a punt on one of the more upmarket salons here. I’m not going to mention which one.

It cost me what I thought was a reasonable price; 505 dirhams for the highlights without a cut. That’s about 200 AUD, or 100 euro. In Sydney this would get you a decent, if not life-changing, set of highlights.

In Dubai, for this price I got
a) no toner after the highlights, and
b) no attempt to match the new highlights to the exisiting highlights.

So now I have a regrowth strip down my part line, broken up by rapidly deteriorating blone highlights on very dry hair.

I am unpleased.

That's me!

That's me!

I am thinking of slinking down to the drug store to buy a brunette semi-permanent and putting it through myself. I haven’t done that since I was in school.

The best thing about being married is conversations like these….

Tonight Richard and I went out for a casual dinner with two guys that have just joined the company Richard works for. One is a South African from the UK, and the other is a Morrocan who has lived pretty much everywhere. Good guys! The Moroccan guy was also very good looking and single. Note to self: alert single girlfriends.

Afterwards we popped into the Carrefour to buy some fruit and we took a impromptu walk down one of the eletronics aisles. There were a selection of digital frames on display next to the portable media disks that Richard was looking at. This is the conversation that ensued…

Me: ‘I think I’d like to get a (electronic) FRAME’
Richard (affectionate voice): ‘Do you darling?’
Me: ‘Yes. I never thought I wanted one in the past. But the other day I was thinking about it, and I thought I might quite like to have one.’
Richard (still in affectionate voice): ‘…and what would you do with a BRAIN my love?’
Me: ‘Not brain….. FRAME!……………………..Just continue with what you’re looking at and forget about the whole conversation! Fuck!’

Israeli Air Strikes on Gaza

This is a particularly confronting account of a Palestinian living in Gaza.  You will hear more from me on this topic – and importantly from the Israeli perspective – in the coming week.

http://www.gulfnews.com/region/Middle_East/10270637.html

Gaza Rubble (Gulf News)

Gaza Rubble (Gulf News)

Blood, death and destruction: Safa Joudeh, a Gaza resident, recounts her experience of living through Israeli air strikes

Safa Joudeh
Published: December 28, 2008, 15:05

It was just before noon when I heard the first explosion. I rushed to my window; barely did I get there when I was pushed back by the force and the pressure of another explosion.

For a few moments I didn’t understand, and then I realized that Israeli promises of a wide-scale offensive against the Gaza Strip had materialized.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzpi Livni’s statements following a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had not been empty threats after all.

What followed seems pretty much surreal at this point. Never had we imagined anything like this. It all happened so fast, but the amount of death and destruction is inconceivable, even to me and I’m in the middle of it.

Six locations were hit during the air raid on Gaza City. The images are probably not broadcasted on US news channels. There were piles and piles of bodies in the locations that were hit. As you looked at them you could see that a few of the young men are still alive, someone lifts a hand here, and another raise his head there. They probably died within moments because their bodies are burned, most have lost limbs, some have their guts hanging out and they’re all lying in pools of blood.

Outside my home, which is close to the second largest university in Gaza, a missile fell on a large group of young men, university students. They had been warned not to stand in groups, which make them an easy target, but they were waiting for buses.  Seven were killed, four students and three of our neighbour’s children: young men who were from the same family, Rayes and I were best friends.

As I’m writing this I can hear a funeral procession go by. I looked out of the window a moment ago and it was the three Rayes boys. They spent all their time together when they were alive, they died together and now they are sharing a funeral. Nothing could stop my 14-year-old brother from rushing out to see the bodies of his friends lying in the street. He hasn’t spoken a word since.

What did Ehud Olmert (Israeli prime minister) mean when he stated that we the people of Gaza weren’t the enemy, that it was Hamas and the Islamic Jihad who were being targeted?  Was that statement made to infuriate us out of out state of shock, to pacify any feelings of rage and revenge or to mock us?

Were the scores of children on their way home from school and who are now among the dead Hamas militants? A little further down my street, about half an hour after the first strike three schoolgirls happened to be passing by one of the locations when a missile struck the Preventative Security Headquarters building, tearing into pieces the girls’ bodies.

People are checking the dead bodies, terrified of recognizing a family member among them. The streets are strewn with bodies, arms, legs, feet, some with shoes and some without. The city is in a state of alarm, panic and confusion, cell phones aren’t working, hospitals and morgues are backed up and some of the dead are still lying in the streets with their families gathered around them, kissing their faces, holding on to them. Outside the destroyed buildings old men are kneeling on the floor weeping. Their slim hopes of finding their sons still alive vanished after taking one look at what had become of their office buildings.

And even after the dead are identified, doctors are having a hard time gathering the right body parts in order to hand them over to their families. The hospital hallways look like a slaughterhouse. It’s truly worse than any horror movie you could ever imagine. The floor is filled with blood; the injured are propped up against the walls or laid down on the floor side-by-side with the dead. Doctors are working frantically and people with injuries that aren’t life threatening are sent home. A relative of mine was injured by a flying piece of glass from her living room window, she had deep cut right down the middle of her face. She was sent home; too many people need medical attention more urgently. Her husband, a dentist, took her to his clinic and sewed up her face using local anesthesia.

More than 200 people died in the air strikes.  That means more than 200 funeral processions, a few on Sunday, most of them on Monday probably. To think that on Saturday these families were worried about food and heat and electricity. At this point, I think they – actually all of us – would gladly have Hamas sign off every last basic right we’ve been calling for the last few months forever if it could have stopped this from ever having happened.

The bombing was very close to my home.  Most of my extended family lives in the area. My family is okay, but two of my uncles’ homes were damaged.

We can rest easy, Gazans can mourn tonight. Israel is said to have promised not to wage any more air raids for now. People suspect that the next step will be targeted killings, which inevitably means scores more innocent bystanders’ fate has already been sealed.

This doesn’t even begin to tell the story on any level. Just flashes of thing that happened today that are going through my head.

Happy Boxing Day!

Happy second Christmas day for my Dutch and Belgian friends!

How turkeys make it to Boxing Day (Gary Larson)

How turkeys make it to Boxing Day (Gary Larson)

Many Christians in the UAE received 2 days of compassionate leave this year for Christmas: the 24th so the continental Europeans can enjoy their feast day, and the 25th so the British can enjoy their feast day.  (What day do the Irish have Christmas dinner?) Today is not a holiday but because it is Friday – and thus the first day of the normal 2 day weekend – we get the day off anyway.

Interestingly, until 2006 the Islamic calendar was followed more traditionally, with the weekend being Thursday and Friday.  However, in an effort to make doing business with the West easier, the UAE (along with many of the Gulf  States) changed  its weekend to Friday and Saturday. The Friday stays because it is the traditional Islamic day of worship and rest.  I think the Islamic Friday can be compared to the Jewish Saturday or the Christian Sunday.

We went to the supermarket today and noticed the place was virtually deserted. With many of the Christian expatriates visiting their home countries, and those who stayed lounging at home eating Christmas leftovers, there wasn’t much action at the Mall of the Emirates today.

Mall of the Emirates

Mall of the Emirates (www.skyscrapercity.com)

I also noticed a significant increase in the number of Americans in the Mall. American accents are not that common here, due to the US tax system, which effectively penalises Americans if they work in tax-free countries by making them pay tax in the US as if they had earned that amount in their home country. (That really sucks by the way.  American’s should get Obama to change that!) But today there were heaps of Americans shopping in the Mall. I also wondered if a US ship is docked here, because there were a few groups of American men aged between 35 and 45 walking around together looking like people who have a bit of time on their hands in a place they have never been before.

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Before I moved here I imagined that if people celebrated Christmas it might be done very privately, in people’s homes.  But no!  Christmas is the full deal here… enormous fully-lit Christmas trees in the malls, service people everywhere wishing you a ‘Merry Christmas’  and even the locals taking photographs of their kids in front of the Christmas decorations about town.

Richard and I enjoyed a quiet Christmas lunch at the Kempinksi Hotel in the Emirates Mall while looking out the window at the snow-covered indoor ski field, which was decorated with Christmas tress. It was really lovely watching the beginners and the little kids have their first lessons. They were all having a fantastic time falling over in the snow and the instructors (in their Santa hats) really took care of them.

The buffet was enormous in its scope of cuisine; Indian (really good curries, chicken tikkas and cumin rice), Indonesian (Curries and Sate),  traditional turkey and roast vegetables, Chinese (stir fries, Peking duck and dim sum) , Japanese (Sashimi, salads and bento boxes) and finally, the best of the selection in our opinion, Arabian salads, white cheeses, spiced rices and pancakes as well as delicious dips sprinked with pomegranate seeds.

The deserts were all served in little portions so you could try different things and were of European quality.  The little square of sacher torte I had was excellent and there were the usual mince pies and mini-plum puddings with vanilla anglaise to keep the traditionalists happy.

I didn’t try it but they also had a large profiterol pyramid with spun toffee and the largest – most GINORMOUS Pannettone (Italian Christmas cake)  which looked spectacular.

It was a lovely bunch of people from all around the world. Most of the waiting staff were Philippino and the guests were local Emirati Muslims, Pakistani Sikhs, Japanese Buddhists, English, Philippino and Eastern European Christians and probably a whole lot more that could not be identified from their dress or speech. In this articial snow mall, amongst all these people eating and laughing together, the spirit of Christmas was there in a way I have never seen it before. It was unique and very positive.

Wishing everyone a very happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous new year!

Christmas 2008. Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai.

Christmas 2008. Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai.