24 December 2009

Green, Green, My Valley Now

Amazing what a little rain will do to the brittle, brown hillsides of Galilee, nestled hundreds of metres below sea-level in the Jordan Valley

This photo was taken on the western shore about 15 kilometres north of Teveryah, aka Tiberias, yesterday on a misty, chilly morning. The southern end of the Golan on the other side of the lake was almost completely hidden in the mist.

We know the drill

Once the mighty Persian empire lent an ear to little Israel, crushed by Babylon, her leading citizens exiled and weeping for Zion, for Jerusalem, for return home. Babylon booted us out, and the Persians placed us back in the Land. The Romans ransacked Israel and back out we went into exile. After a very long 1900 years the British Empire allowed us back home, and though the British house was eventually divided on this matter, British imperial order went a long way in facilitating the rebuilding of a Jewish country. Now Persia wants to see all this undone. In a sense, they are going against the spirit of their own decree, the decree of their ancient king Darius, who said that anyone getting in the way of the rebuilding of Jewish Jerusalem, especially the Temple, would suffer the penalty of having his house-beam removed, and being impaled upon it, and having his house turned into a hill of dung. (See Ezra 6)

What about it, Mr Makhmoud Akhmadinejad?

18 December 2009

The Red Chair of Courage

Anyone who takes the time put a chair at the end of a concrete pier under construction can't be all bad. Staring out at the ocean is an art, the art of emptyness, in a good sense of the word. One is left open to big thoughts about life and self and all kinds of other meanings-fraught notions. No one looks out at the waves and thinks of bonds and stocks and jobs and pillories, or schemes an aweful thing. The edge-of-pier folk seek not this or that specific thought, but rather solace, a restorative moment, a little peace, and what ever else comes naturally to the living waters-calmed physic of endlessly ailing modern man. Here at pier's edge we may learn as much what we are not, as what we are. It takes guts, of a kind, to let the mind wander out over the ocean far enough to look back with some perspective, at the person sitting in the red chair of courage.

10 December 2009

Khappy Khanukah

Not a corollary to the 25th of December Solstice revelry, or the rebirth of the Dying Shepherd, or the Roman Christ Mass, or the Hindu Festival of Light; or the various Germanic Protestant Decembral holiday observances; or, or, or.

Khanukah is a stand-alone celebration of the Divine and the miraculous. God and Man, in the sturm und drang of free will and too many choices, only one of which is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Marzipan Macabees are great, but they are not the point of the celebration of Khanukah. You did know that, didn't you?

Oh for goodnes sake, hand me the one in the red foil.

08 December 2009

The Other Side . . .

What is on the other side? Wandering around the hill-side town of Rosh Pinnah in northern Israel, and going down this cobblestone street in the Artists Quarter, I noticed a number of lovely old doors, weathered and latched.

Now is that padlock a warning to leave well enough alone--or is it a device of temptation, urging curiousity, or worse, goading us into petty vandalism for the sake of that curiousity?

Then I noticed that half the walls on the backside of the house were fallen in a heap, and much of the roof was missing.

16 November 2009

Carving States, and Carving Turkeys, at the Negotiation Table

The leading English-language Palestinian newspaper announcing the result of the UN vote to re-establish a Jewish state on a small part of the (quasi) British-ruled Mandate. Palestinian David Ben Gurion made the proclamation as the new head of government from the largest city in Palestine, and provisional seat of government, Tel Aviv. The battle for Jerusalem yet raged. The small part of Palestine that was offered to the Jews reverted to an ancient name--Israel. The Judean and Samarian heartland of ancient Israel, given by the UN to become an Arab state called by the very un-Arabic name of Filistia, was over-run and annexed by Hashemi Bedouins who controlled most of the Palestine Mandate, and now called Trans-Jordanians.

Thus was born a two-state solution for the British Mandate of Palestine, an on-the-ground reality. 80% of the land to the Arabs, and 20% to the Jews. A two-state solution, whereas, the hodge-podge of British, French and UN agreements was, at one time, a three-state solution: Israel (with the Golan!), Palestine (Judea, Samaria and Ghazzah), and Transjordanian Palestine now called Jordan (which was everything east of the river Jordan).

So what is all this going on about a Two-State solution? There are two states already, and an autonomous region, the Palestinian Authority. The bulk of the Mandate called Jordan is in Arab hands, and the majority of Jordan's population is Palestinian Arab.

Now they want a third state, too. A secret out in the open. The media is silent. But that is, in fact, the reality. Why is Trans-Jordanian Palestine, today's Jordan, the British-created state given to an Arabian Bedouin family dynasty in exchange for services rendered, now severed historically from the Mandate, as if it was never part of it?

11 November 2009

A Bridge in Galilee

Humans are always striving, even if only to get to the end of the day, or from one day to the next, or to the end of the week. So much of what occupies our time is getting from point A to point B. So here's a bridge that suits my mood. It doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't cross a raging torrent, or span a deep canyon. It is just a wonderful place to sit and and stare out.

Sometimes that's more than enough.

Winter Moon in Tel Aviv

Taken while waiting for a train from Tel Aviv to Be'ir Ya'akov. A good example of modern towers in late 2oth and early 21st century Israel. The new towers and the old Bauhaus makes for an interesting city.

08 November 2009

Sunset reflecting off windows on Mt of Olives

I love to photograph the Mount of Olives from above the Kotel (Western Wall). Probably the most intense boneyard on planet earth. Or maybe they never heard of it in China and India, and that's a lot of humanity. Well, we're certainly aware of the Mount of olives, and maybe to the point of obsession. And some obsessions are good, as I see it. When you figure out what is really important in life, it bodes well to be obsessed, intense, preoccupied even. No point in moping about like a damp rag in a clean-up bucket.

Live! Feel a little anguish, a little pain, yearn for something important to more than just yourself. Very good for the soul.

A remedy that lasts a lifetime, and then some.

07 November 2009

Reality vs. Fantasy in the Land of Israel

The very mention of the Land of Israel can evoke radically different feelings and images in people. After very extensive research into the world of American web sites and forums, backed up by newspaper accounts and other reading, I summarize below the sentiments or feelings towards Israel (and let it go without further mention that I am generalizing, ok?).

I - Those who love Israel, which can be divided between A)Jews, and B) Christians of a less denominational and more directly Biblical approach. Both groups can accept failings and imperfections in Israel, without their faith in Israel being shaken. They idealize the idea of Israel, accept Israel as legitimate, but know that Israel is a real place with traffic jams and politicians.

II - Those who have strong, distinctly negative feelings towards Israel A) based on their own religious convictions, or B) who hate Israel for ideological reasons, most typically various neo-Nazi affiliates, and various Muslim groups.

Not all of the II-A group here are anti-Semitic at a personal level. They may abhore terrorism, or prejudice, but sincerely believe that the Nation of Israel died 1900 years ago, and that the current state is unrelated to any ancient Israel. Sometimes they believe that Israel is populated by some kind of counterfeit Jew, Edomite, Essauites, Khazari/Ashkenazis.

Group II-B folks are personal and inyofacist haters.

I was shocked to find that highly denominational and mainstream Protestants were frequently part of religious organizations which did not look upon Israel favourably, primarily because their theology says that they have replaced Israel in the eyes of God. Thus Israel as I know it is, to them, illegitimate. Catholic theology is also replacement oriented, and whatever the rapproachment of diplomats and high priests on either side, relations between the Catholic world and the Jewish world are not friendly and warm. Any warmth or friendship is at the level of personal friendships, which I would never belittle, but is not part of my point here. After all, many Jews and Muslim Arabs are friends, too.

III - Those who are indifferent to Israel, who know almost nothing about Israel, and never thought enough about Israel to have an opinion.

I don't worry much about them for now, but many of them can be led like sheep against Israel if future winds blow ill in such a way that impinges on their indifference, and blame can be laid upon Israel.

Why so much opinion about Israel at all on the Net? Why so much hatred of Israel, attempts to delegitimize Israel, cast Jews in a negative role historically? It is difficult to assess the degree of Israel-hatred in America, but all evidence points to a significant and lively base of enmity for Israel that cuts across the grain of society.

What historical events have lead to two groups, both self-identifying as Christian, one which has no good word for Israel, and the other which expresses a profound love for Israel?

Israel sets one man's heart to flutter, and another man's heart to ire. And for good reason, too. But I'm not telling. Not just yet . . .

25 October 2009

Wilderness of Tzin

The Wilderness of Tzin in southern Israel--the Negev Desert. Not a huge area, but if you get out into Tzin on foot, you can wander forever. Or you can step out of time, into the place of prophets and madmen, where God speaks to His mortal creations in a language as clear as the desert night sky. A land of waking dreams and night visions where your every day life can make no claim, and the mundane has no point of reference.

24 October 2009

Remnant on a Yom Kippur War Battlefield

Leftover from a bad week. A tank long out of service, sitting by itself off a lonely stretch of road on the Golan Heights, exposed to the elements. A gigantic clash of armour--one of the largest clashes of armour ever, took place nearby. Did we do this? Jew from Lvov and Vilnius and Brno and Vienna and Plonsk and hundreds of little towns in central and eastern Europe; and from the Jewish quarters of ancient pre-Islamic north African and middle eastern towns, and even from Britain and Canada and America and Australia and South Africa. The sons and grandsons of black coated, bearded orthodox Jews gathered in ancient Bashan, and hour away from Damascus by automobile, to fight such a great battle in the 20th century--almost 2,000 after Israel was "destoyed" by the Roman Empire? Armoured divisions and brigades grinding across the landscape, with jets overhead dodging Syrian surface to air missiles. Ah but in this war the battle was also fought by small groups of men in tanks, by the ones and by twos. The war was won by decisive action taken by experienced men who could not always wait for orders. And the Hand of God strenghtened those men, and gave them victory.

Not always easy to see that in one derilict old tank--the Hand of God.

20 October 2009

Crop Circles מעגלי יבול

Crop circles have not been very common in Israel. Since they are made by two very different, but equally hostile and dangerous life forms, aliens from another dimension, and bored young English university men, they are the devil to deal with.

19 October 2009

Romans in the Gloamin

The Twilight of Empire doesn't come easily. This is the Roman Aqueduct at Caesaria/Kaysaryah on the beach between Tel Aviv and Haifa. I am reminded of the old corny Scottish song "Roamin in the Gloamin," about strolling in the evening, by way of translation. Thus Romans in the Gloamin, or twilight, of empire. The various remnants of imperial powers-that-be on planet earth are all wandering in a dimness of their own making. Rhetoric and hyperbole, spin and shpiel. Deceit and conceit disbelieved at conception, incredulous upon delivery. Recited by rote, spoken as if truth, but taken to heart by no one. A game of automatons with no fans in the stands. Once merely tiresome, it now has the air of major disease; a terminal disease with foundational rot so advanced, so insidious, that the surgeon can only shake his head and refuse even ameliorative measures. Collapsed veins and no way to pump in painkillers. This twilight is going to hurt like hell, and make sure we know it, too. Quite literally, an undertaking, with paid mourners. The guy in the black tophat a parade drum-major leading the band into hell. Soundtrack of ravens and crows.

26 September 2009

Megalithic Stone Circles

At one time, building stone circles meant a lot to many people in many parts of the world. Having once tried my hand at duplicating Stonehenge in the backyard, I can understand this. But nowhere are the megaliths more beautiful than in the British Isles, and especially Scotland Highlands and Islands. This picture is the Callanish Circle on the Isle of Lewis & Harris, in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of the Highland Scottish mainland. An enchanted land without a doubt.

High tourist season, a beautiful stretch of weather, well-served by modern transport, and not a soul in site. At least for a while. The average view out the train window in most of Scotland would be a designated natural beauty site in most other countries. I had to stop taking photos.

Fathers: Abba Shimshon & Bedouin in Sinai

Every son ought to have at least one photo of his father like this one. It doesn't have to be on a camel, though that helps, as does being at the foot of Mt Sinai. (Actually, Jebel Musa, Mt Moses, a traditional possible location of the famous Giving of the Ten Commandments.)

The nameless bedouin is certainly someone's beloved father, too. This is probably not his son's first choice of photos for the family album, but it does not represent subservience, but rather parnasa--making a living--and bringing home the lahbnei to his goat-hair tent full of children.

16 September 2009

A Window on Eternity

Hard to believe that only a few meters away from this view of the Mount of Olives you can order fat bagles, thin-crust pizza, soft ice cream, or a skull-cap embroidered with your name. That is Israel. That is Jerusalem. One foot in the 21st century, and another out of time altogether. A living, breathing contemporary city, and a gateway to eternity.

14 September 2009

Shanah Tovah for the New Year 5770

What? A view of the Kotel without the al-Aqsa mosque?! Can it be so?

Well, really now, it never was a very good symbol for Israel, was it?

17 August 2009

A Walk on the Edge

A cove on the shore of the Sea of Galilee--Lake Kineret, from the ancient Hebrew kinor, or harp, as it was thought to be so shaped. Shaped much like the anatomical heart, minus the hoses though. Jerusalem is the spirit and soul of Israel, and the Kineret, then, is the heart. The great pumps send the waters up almost 700 feet--to sea level--from this deep hole in the earth, and into the National Water Carrier and out to the rest of Israel.

Below is a composition for the Scottish Highland Bagpipe, commemorating a mountain in the Negev Desert of southern Israel which some archaeologists believe to be the true Mt Sinai. I've been composing for the pipes for many years.

16 August 2009

Dining Area with Books & Cat

Some people like to look at cabinets of dishware while eating. And what could be more interesting than staring at an armoire full of plates, at the same moment that you are actually eating off of one! A truly integrated, multi-sensory experience if ever there was. Though as a rule, I find books and cats more satisfying.

Usually we eat out of large plastic bowls while sitting in the salon. If only we had an armoire maybe we'd feel inspired to sit in the dining cul de sac.

Speaking of sacs, this is also one of the very few spots in all Israel where lessons on the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe (Khemet Khalilim Skotit) take place.

15 August 2009

Fresh Food Every Day

Green onion, yellow onion, hot red pepper, tomato, eggplant, and just off screen olive oil, cabbage, and puy black lentils. Maybe a little heavy on the "breath fresheners," but my kind of food!

08 August 2009

A Tropical Bird

This is from a series of birds that my wife Janet drew about 25 years ago for a showing in Hawaii.

07 August 2009

Hezikaiah's Tunnel Inscription in Proto-Hebrew Letters

This the famous Siloam Inscription found in Hezekiah's Tunnel, down by the City of David. The tunnel goes from the Spring of Gihon to the Pool of Siloam (Shiloah/Shilo'akh) to provide water for Jerusalem during the coming battle with Sennacherib and the Assyrians. It is 533 meter long, and is slightly but consistenly graded to flow down from source to pool. This excavation from around 700 BCE in the reign of Hezekiah.

Note well the alphabet used: Yes, it is the Hebrew alphabet, but no, it doesn't look like the lettering on the kosher butcher's shop. It is the alphabet that King David wrote with, and read. It is very primitive looking. Next time you play around with some digital version of the Hebrew Scriptures in English, or in some other language, don't forget what the first "edition" looked like!


... the tunnel ... and this is the story of the tunnel while ...
the axes were against each other and while three cubits were left to cut? ... the voice of a man ...
called to his counterpart, (for) there was ZADA [straightness] in the rock, on the right ... and on the day of the
tunnel (being finished) the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, ax against ax and flowed
water from the source to the pool for 1200 cubits. and 100?
cubits was the height over the head of the stonecutters ...

Mount of Olives from Silwan

This is a photo I took of the Mount of Olives from a slightly different angle than one usually sees, from the villiage of Silwan. Silwan is, now, mostly Arab, but the name itself is a corruption of the ancient Hebrew place-name Shilo'akh, known to the west as Shiloah, with the final guttural tossed in the gutter of pronunciation mutation. Now, that isn't the end of it, as this place-name has yet another version well-known in the west, but usually applied to the healing waters anciently at the well-visited spring: Siloam. The final 'm' came from the Greek, I think.

Silwan/Shilo'akh/Shiloah/Siloam is also home to the archaeological dig Ir Dahveed, aka City of David. This area was actually inside the walls of Jerusalem at one time, and a strong minority archaeological opinion says this may have been the temple site, and not the temple site a few hunded meters away.

12 July 2009

Plotting a Course, and Coarsely Plotting

My trusty rusty dividers set atop a map of Israel, the Galilee-Golan region specifically in view. Yes, this picture is out of focus. But so is the political situation. Everybody's got their dividers out yet again, and have turned their wits to further carving up the Land of Israel.

Jordan, Trans-Jordanian Palestine, that is, Palestine on the "other" (east) side of the river Jordan, is an independent state which incudes the vast majority of Palestine, and most of who's citizens are what the modern, post-PLO world calls Palestinians. Of course part of Palestine has reverted back to its ancient and proper name of Israel. Historically there is no conflict about the geography intended by the two names: Renaming the Jewish homeland "Palestine" was a mean-spirited act done by the victorious Romans after the last ancient Jewish revolt. (Almost last--but that's another story.)

02 July 2009

Camel Crossing

In truth, I'd worry a lot more about a lot of other things crossing in front of me on the road than camels. I think the roads authority puts these signs up for tourists.

Sure beats:


01 July 2009

Highland Bagpipes

This is a pencil drawing of my old Wm Sinclair & Son Highland bagpipes, done by my wife. The backdrop is Royal Stuart tartan.

I waited four years for this fine, hand-made set after ordering them in person from Mr William Sinclair in his workshop in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland. Mr Sinclair is the second generation to make quality Highland pipes, after his father William, who began in the 1930s. His son Alistair, the third generation, is currently carrying on the family business. I am not certain if his son Ewan is in the business. That would make four generations of maintaining quality in what is now quite a competitive market.

You would think that my set would be the only one in Israel. However, there is another set of Sinclair pipes, made by William Sinclair senior back in the 1930s, owned by a very fine sabra piper of my good acquaintance. A top Jewish player who is a friend of ours, and who visits Israel often also plays old Sinclair pipes, which used to belong to a career pipe-major in the Scots Guards Regiment (a Scottish contribution to the British Army). We all three came by our Sinclair pipes quite independently of each other.

28 June 2009

The Cat and I

We've been together almost 20 years. Art's doing ok for an old geezer. A little stiff in the hips, a more bohemian attitude toward hygiene these days, obsessed with food and bowel movements, nervous sleeper, but could be a lot worse considering.

That's the cat I'm talking about--got it?

Editor's note: Arthur Katz Siegel, passed away at the end of October 2009, at home with his human family. We spoke to him, and held him, until he left us. Just a pet? No, he was a friend of nearly twenty years, with a God-breathed spirit just like you and I. He is sorely missed.

Alpha Male Chair in the South Pacific Corner

I would assume that many homes have one of these corners. My wife's paintings, various gifts from my Mother's several trips to Ponape, in the south Pacific, and Churchill's History of the Second World War, as manly a set of books as ever there was. Dad's photo on the wall. Smoking pipes I no longer smoke, but definately a macho accessory. What you can't see are the various cutting tools--a Leatherman, a SwissTool, a diving knife, and the old key rings, bits of chain and string. And a few choice home-made back-scratchers. My favourite I call "the flensing tool," named after a blubber-removal knife with a 2-meter handle I saw in action at a whale-landing station in southern Iceland. Last but not least, a copy of Nevi'im, The Prophets, as in ancient Hebrew, as in Amos and Isaiah and Ezekiel and Habakuk and friends. It doesn't get anymore Alpha-environmental then this.

Cup rings on the tables. Lots and lots of cup rings.

The Good Fence into Lebanon

This is the border crossing into Lebanon from Metulla, Israel, at the northern end of the Hula Valley in the Galilee. Nassrallah and the Hizbullah live somewhere on the other side. In another time, same place but very different dimension, Nassrallah would send me honey-sweetened and rose-water-scented baqlahwa for Rosh Ha-Shannah, and I'd send him a chub of Hebrew National kosher bologna for Eid. For now, its just missiles and gristle.

24 June 2009

Yerushala'im Shel Zahav ירושלים של זהב

Jerusalem. This is what it is all about for a very many people. Of primary holiness to the Whole House of Israel, and to Biblical Christianity; a tertiary holy site for traditional Islam. The Qur'an recognizes that God gave the Land of Kna'an to the Israelites in perpetuity, but modern so-called traditional Islam, alas, has a short memory. And Obama apparently has no memory at all.

Sunset on the Galilee Coast

The beach at Nahariya, on the north coast of Israel. The world over, a beach at sunset with a solitary fisherman is a vision of peace and tranquility.

Of course, afterward you have to slit the poor little beasties open and pull their guts out, then go home to house full of screaming kids and a blaring television, cook them (the fish--not the kids), and then splurt ketchup all over them and eat em.

23 June 2009

When A Terrorist Was A Terrorist

Dare I say it? Shall those words come from out of my own mouth? Oh! Here it comes . . .

I miss you, Abu Amar. Yasser, you were the genuine article. No silk ties with Oxford knots for you, or putting on deodorant just because you were visiting a president or prime minister. You really made your clothing last, Yasser, season in and season out. And you didn't know about matching socks from adam. They say that khaki, like plaid, is never out of fashion, as you have demonstrated so elegantly. You were a terrorist's terrorist, and not ashamed of it. Forever the desert warrior fresh out of battle, with a manly scent about you, and a crusty festering wound or two. Now even Hamas guys show up in the darndest places wearing Italian suits. And your old PLO trench-mates, they shave, habibi, they shave every blessed day (except for Hanan Ashrawi, who should). Oh the humanity!

But now you're gone, Yasser, and a big hole remains in my heart (but not where you shot me, you bugger!), and another really huge one in Ramallah, which I think is where your house used to stand, yes?

You, I understood. Nu those crazy goons that run around today in Ghazza City, Washington, Ramallah, Paris are pale techno-terrorcrats in comparison. They won't amount to a hill of spicy chick peas in the great scheme of things. But who could ever forget Yasser.

So . . .

Here's looking at you, sh'kheed!

Firing Range . . .

This was posted on the fence of a firing range on the beach between Shavei-Tzion and Akko, north of Haifa. (I made the sign a bit artsy, by turning up the colour a bit, and taking the letters out from behind the fence for better clarity.) It says:


As in Jerusalem--to Jews?

Obama is not the first anti-Israel king of America. Frankly, they all were in many ways, with Lyndon Johnson the possible exception. But, King Barrack has upped the ante, and brought out into the open the issue of Jerusalem in such a way that proves what he is:

N O T - W I T H - U S

Like it or not, suicide is not our national pasttime here. Either King Barrack understands Israel, Jews and anti-Semitism, or not. If not, he is dangerous because he appears to want to act decisively inspite of his ignorance. If he does understand, than he is a very deceptive man, and an extreme liability to Israel.

I am also shocked at Hillary Clinton's gobspill. And I mean shocked. She is a classic Machiavellian mucilaginous spherical. She carpetbags the New York senate seat a number of years ago, as a bid to enter politics in her own right. She was then the friend of Jews and Israel. But Jews just don't mean anything to her, and certainly not the Jewish homeland, which is Israel, and not New York (or Miami) anyway.

Fine, don't like us, and then leave us alone. I don't give a fig what religion Obama is, or what his skin colour is, or whether he was born in America or not. My gorge is rising, and my mood is foul. He is not prime minister of Israel, is not my president (Baruch Ha-Shem!), and he certainly is not King of the World. Just another one of that class of grandiose princes and bloated merchants of this world, two categories of men about which the Tanach has little good to say.

So are we a country or not? Are we just a firing range? Awaiting eviction? And a fire sale? Good G-d these people have gone too far already. But we knew it would happen. The prophet Zachariah foretold the day when ALL NATIONS WILL GATHER AROUND JERUSALEM, AND ATTEMPT TO LIFT IT FROM ZION.

And so they are. I'm better now. Let the games begin . . .

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Well let's see...

Greek island travel guides to places I'll likely never visit (Rhodos and Kritim). Great reads for travel and geography enthusiasts like me, though.

Ephraim Kishon humourous play. Thought up in Hebrew, written in German, then translated back to Hebrew.

An Open University of Tel Aviv introduction to the history of ancient Greece. A great starter before tackling the next more complicated level of ancient Greek history.

Autobiography of General Avigdor Kahalani, IDF armour corps commander of renown. You name it, and he's done it, and lived to tell the tale.

Ah, an old favourite in both English and Hebrew: The Old Man and the Sea. Say no more. Hemingway's perfect tale-telling language loses nothing in the translation.

Jewish history during the Second Temple period. Very scholarly. Either you're into it or not.

Kikero, aka Cicero. Definately ditto above, into it or not. I am. Probably why I paid 80 sheqels for this old used copy.

Jews of Ancient Rome. What a rich, lively world full of intrigue, and few who profess an interest in Bible or Jewish history knows about this not inconsiderable world.

The other stack includes early modern Common Law crime and punishment in England and Wales; Jews of the Russian Empire (who were forbidden from living in Russia); a charming little volume on the reasons why Rome declined and fell (none of which I believe--it was the lead pipes and the venereal disease, and besides they didn't really fall even if they did decline); and a slim slip-in-the-back-pocket hardcover account of a Boston man who sailed round the world before the days of radio or radar in a small wooden sailing vessel.

Plus a liberal sprinkling of techno-military thrillers (which certainly do not thrill me), spy novels, and murder mysteries. I used read a lot of science fiction, until most of the post-WWII biggies died of old age. I hate seeing "fantasy" in the sci-fi section of book stores. Much like a category of literature called "home repairs and soil science" (ok, houses usually sit on soil), or "French provincial cooking and non-malignant skin diseases" (hmm, who knows what they throw in the pot in deep countryside). You get what I mean anyway.

Tourist-Shooting Range

I saw this advertisement for "Tourist Shooting" at a kibbutz about half an hour north of Karmiel. Now, I do know what they mean. Its just that, well, that grin on the fellow's face did leave me with a moment's hesitation in the matter. Those loud, cheery, bright spun-rayon clad knockabouts have almost been the victims of open season shooting in many a once-quiet, now-popular tourist destination.

Hostility to tourists, or at least making fun of them above and beyond normal inter-cultural play, was pronounced when I was in the Kingdom of Hawaii years ago. They were, and still are, under occupation after being seized illegally by the United States because it needed a mid-Pacific coaling station back then a hundred and something years ago. The plantations added a little sugar to the deal, needless to say. I started out mildly against Hawaiian independence, but ended up being very much in agreement with the independence movement. Except that it is probably too late for that, which is too bad, though the real problem is not political sovereignty so much as losing your identity in an agressive onslaught carried out by people who just don't care that much about such things.

But of course in Israel why would we object to the two millions who visit here? Standard international tourist survey polls show a high degree of satisfaction by tourists to Israel. Not because we know how to run hotels like the best in Europe (overrated unless you are in the truly wealthy category), or because we have low prices. Of course if you are an Israeli hiking around the Galilee, and you ever chance upon a tour bus full of Lutherans being taught by their pastor/tour leader at the Mount of Beatitudes how they are the New Israel, and how the Israel of today is a mean, secular entity unconnected to any Israel mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, and without rights to the land of "Arab Palestine," you might rethink that advert above.

Lock 'n Load!

22 June 2009

Corner Vine & Louvre Window

A truly peaceful corner on my little apartment balcony. The ancestor of this vine lived by an apartment building on the other side of the neighbourhood. A few centimeters were transplanted into a pot where it lived indoors for a few years. Then it passed over to me. One of our cats pulled over and shattered the large clay pot in which it lived, and I retrieved a few lengths and started over in another, smaller pot. This photo shows the happy vine six or seven years later.

We never feed the poor thing, though it always looked good anyway, if a little slow growing. So one day we fed it. Too much. It died, except for a few last green centimeters. Which are now thriving in a jar of water, awaiting a new bed of soil and a clay pot.

Isn't that just like life? Heck if I know. But it does suggest that a) cats can be dangerous to house plants, and b) I need to take better care of them.

19 June 2009


An artistic collaboration between myself and the City of Karmiel Gardens Department.

The municipality did some pruning and culling in the public greenspace by of our apartment house backyard. I grabbed a small chunk, and knocked away the soft, buggy parts, and a few odd protrusions. Next came the gritty sandpaper, then the fine. Then the oil rag, and a final polish. This is what greeted me. This is what was inside awaiting a new life as, well, art.

I think. But in any case, I like it, and it has survived multiple attacks from a tubby neutered fuzzball.

12 June 2009

An antique olivewood walking stick

I was returning from a long walk outside Karmiel maybe 10 or 15 years ago. At the edges of the industrial park was some waste land, formerly part of an olive orchard. The trees were mostly dead, or diseased, as the land was not being worked at all. A considerable amount of old cuttings were laying about, half covered in damp, rotting leaves and soil. I thought I saw a useable length of wood, so I tugged at it and pulled it out of the half-buried pile within which it lay. I reduced it to a manageable two meters or so with my Swiss Army knife saw. And this is what eventually emerged from the gray, leaf-stained wood with trimming and polishing.

The stick is resting on the sheet music for the tune "Sir James MacDonald of the Isles," a very old Scottish Highland bagpipe tune, of the type called piobaireachd. Beautiful, well-aged things go well together. Too bad that we don't understand this for ideas as well.

06 June 2009

The crown of Gaulantis

This is majestic Har Kheirmon (aka Mt Heirmon) in the Golan Heights district of northern Israel, anciently called Gaulantis, and Bashan as in the home of the giant king Og. Far from being a totured, twisted, desolate land, it ranges from green and lush orchards, to grassy meadows and fields. It is very open, and there are signs of ancient vulcanism. But it is no more of a wasteland than an English moor or the Highlands of Scotland. Very rural, but productive.

It may be of interest to note that the Golan Heights was included in the British Mandate of Palestine, and slated as Jewish land. There was a long Jewish history on those heights. The British loved cartography, sensible borders and a neat arrangement of geographical features. The Golan, including the Kheirmon massif, rivers and streams running down from its slopes, the Hula valley below, and Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) all make up a tidy watershed system. In 1923 the Golan was transferred from Palestine to the French Syrian mandate for a variety of reasons and trade-offs, without consultation with all parties concerned. Something to do with French-British plans well outside of the Golan area.

In the years between 1948 and 1967, before the Golan was brought back into the natural and agreed-upon scheme of borders, how did the Syrians use their "beloved ancient Syrian" region? The shelled Israeli villiages below, and tried to cut off the natural flow of water from the high ground they controlled. What has israel done up there since 1967? It has established a valuable agricultural community, including winneries, and a prosperous tourist economy.

There are any number of ways to look at border delineation between future states by colonial powers. But one thing is certain, the Golan Heights makes much more sense inside of Israel, was intended to be inside Israel, and the Syrians have a very brief and very thin claim based on Britain making a private backroom deal with France.

31 May 2009

Vergeltungswaffe 2 -- Pox Germanica Today

Vergeltungswaffe 2. The children and grandchildren of those d-mn things are still plaguing us. Some even use a potent kim chee pickling liquid as fuel, or a soupy yoghurt raita.

Hitler may have been stopped in his attempt at destroying the Nation-of-Israel-in-exile in Europe, but the nasty spawn of those V2s are alive and well and threatening to drop in at any time.

OK, the Germans got the world out into space, and to the moon. Werner "Paperclip" Von Braun is essentially the father of the American space programme--with a lot of others pitching in. Fine. But it doesn't end there. Aside from American, British, French missile programmes, that d-mn V2 also went east to the Soviet Union, and the net result was a Ukranian premier shooting a Russian astronaut into space, with a German missile, from a launching site in Kazakhistan, and a Soviet military well-stocked with long-distance missiles. So from Germany, the technology went to the Soviet Union, then off to China, who along with the USSR shared or sold to needy others. Like North Korea, Iran, Pakistan. The consequences of actions taken in one year may take many more years to reach their maximum deadliness, and be quite unexpected.

The Persians are threatening Israel with that same V2 legacy today. Might there be a secret axis of North Korea, Iran, and maybe someday a more radical Pakistan? What of the Russians? Just what is the mix of business and imperial ideology in Moscow these days?

I suppose it must be said that our Jericho III owes something to the V2 as well. But then again, we don't need to talk about a Pox Judaica, as the world already views us as some kind of unsightly blemish.

I apologize now to the all Germans who of course had nothing whatsoever to with building the V2 as an offensive weapon to be used against civilian targets, joining the NAZI party by consent, supporting Hitler, going along with the anti-Jewish laws, willingly participating in prison cruelties or death camp executions, or regretting the demise of the 3rd Reich.

Signposts in Life

Photo taken on Har Bental, a volcanic cindercone hill on the Golan plateau. It is at about 1300 meters (4000 something English feet). There is a coffee shop up there, and a stunning view of Har Heirmon, still covered in snow though it is warm down below.

I am certain to have something to say about this later. Signposts in significant spots are intriguing. They invite comentary. The selection of some places, and the absence of others, is surely someone's commentary about something.

Purple Tree Season in Israel

This is a shot from my apartment balcony of Presidents of Israel Street, the main drag through Karmiel, and a nice view of the central parks area and beyond.

01 April 2009

Bensch on a beach at Shavei-Tzion

My wife and I spend a lot of time walking on the beach from Naharyyah out past Shavei-Tzion, most of the way to Akko. This is part of the stretch north of Haifa up to the Lebanese border. Now, I have never had a Lebanese boarder, though I did once have a Welsh boarder who came with an apartment I rented. Not as in Welsh border collie, but actually an Israeli born and raised in Cardiff, devoid of any organic, patriotic or cultural connection to the dark and brooding Cymric state. In any case, it was a mighty peculiar situation. He was just there, and occaisionally he paid rent for his room. We took over the rental from a young man from Krugersdorf, South Africa who had hurt his back while doing his national service in the Israeli army and couldn't take all the stairs. The apartment in question was a fourth floor walk-up. Rather incidentally he mentioned while passing the key into our hands that a fellow from Wales lived in the second bedroom. He was saving up money to get a place of his own, so that his wife, a moshavnik from Lancashire, England originally, could come up to Karmiel. Well ok.

As it happened, the owners of the apartment quite correctly demanded the right to approve of our tenancy. The husband was from the states, but the family boss, his wife was from Scotland originally, but both were Israeli kibbutzniks for a long while already. We were a bit nervous about our living situation as there was a severe shortage of housing at that time, and every day El Al jumbo jets were landing at Ben Gurion International, and boats were docking at Haifa port, filled with newly released Jews from the former Soviet Union. Israel ended up with a million new citizens during that year.

So we met the Scots-born landlady-in-waiting on a chilly, rainy evening at a very unglamorous street cafe by the central bus station in Haifa. The caffeine in the turkish coffee, though considerable, barely compensated for the drowsing effect of the carbon monoxide fumes. Names were exchanged, hands were shaken, hesitancy overcome, cordiality exhibited; a contract was signed, and the deal sealed with that fine, internationally acceptable medium of cash (on the barrelhead). With thousands of immigrants living in caravan cities and even tents, that apartment was an answer to our prayers.

I may have mentioned to the Scots-born balaboosta that I was a long-time player of the Scottish Highland bagpipe, and that may have helped.