Walking on Water

The Israeli Government and the IDF coordinated the delivery of a variety of Humanitarian Aid and Development Assistance to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, whose dire situation is actually questionable and whose peaceful disposition is a fallacy.

The month of August saw a 41% increase in the net volume of truckloads entering Gaza, together with the ongoing discharge of the new policies approved on June 20th.

These are including the establishment of a Joint Project Coordination Team between COGAT and the PA, which has already overseen various development efforts.

In addition there has also been a near doubling of the capacity for imports via the Kerem Shalom Crossing since the month of May.

Gaza aid shipTuesday afternoon, the Irene yacht carrying nine activists from the United States, Israel and Britain – which intended to single-handedly break the Gaza naval blockade was docked at Ashdod Port after being intercepted by the Israeli Navy. Thank God there was no violence.

Despite opposing pressure and the grilling of senior officials throughout the summer the Jewish Country insists that the objective behind the blockade is simply to prevent arms smuggling into the Hamas-run territory.

Since the end of Operation “Cast Lead” in January 2009, 500 projectiles – rockets and mortar shells – have been fired from Gaza at civilian targets in southern Israel.

The Islamic Jihad newspaper, Palestine Today explained that unlike other vessels and flotillas, Hamas has been

“Ambivalent at best towards the entire idea of this particular pseudo-aid ship…”

Therefore you can bet that Israel coordinated aid to the Gaza strip is a lot more effectual than silly Turkish yachts full of anglo-speakers, if what you have in mind or heart is actually the civilians.

A Thought On Zionism

On a side note, I would like to bring to recollection today a few recent instances of Israel demonizing.

Remember when Helen Thomas said this to Rabbi David Nessenoff?

Q: Any comments on Israel?

HT: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Polish.

Q: So where should they go, what should they do?

HT: Go home.

Q: Where is the home?

HT: Poland. Germany.

Q: So you’re saying Jews go back to Poland, Germany?

HT: And America and everywhere else.

And within the same week wrote this on her website:

“I deeply regret the comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

Oh and when Jimmy Carter wrote that book, “Israel: Peace Not Apartheid” and then months later told the Anti Defamation League this:

“We must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel,”


“As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so…”

Well, right wing Hollywood hunk, Mel Gibson too apologized for his drunken anti-Semitic rant five years ago.

If indeed Zionism is virtuous – the world will not receive apologies from the Jewish Country when nine incognito Turkish Jihadist posing a pantomime peace activism are killed on board the Mavi Marmara.

Nor can Richard Goldstone squeeze out guilt or remorse from the IDF concerning “Operation Cast Lead”.

The answer?

One party is propelled by survival and the other by anti-Semitism.

Virtue does not regret its actions. Virtue does not apologize. And a Jewish State which fights for its survival is virtuous.

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Why They Come to Tel Aviv? Boutique Hotels & Designer Shops

Tel Aviv beaches, nice weather year around, boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants… the hidden secrets of the city get lost among overwhelming media coverage of the Palestinian security stories. / © 2010

A cousin of mine in Boston once said that Tel Aviv does not have any upscale boutique hotels. It is not a cosmopolitan destination like New York, Paris, London, Berlin or even Prague. She wants Tel Aviv to attract world class designers, investors and tourists. That is what makes a city a boutique tourist destination, both image and reality. She was riding that boutique life “wave” of the 1990s and 2000s. When the Internet was fresh and the housing boom was driving construction of small hotels in the US and Europe. Boutiques were the next thing in America. Everybody wanted more than the just polished big brands. Hilton and Sheraton were for conventions and for the “old school” traveler. The cool young executives were creating a new style, boutique was in. Half of the driving force for the trend came from these new designers and retail entrepreneurs. The other half came from travel spending. This is a very American, even a New Yorker way of looking at things. But the good times in boutique hotels in New York, Boston and London did not last long. In Europe and Asia it has slowed down. In Tel Aviv it is still going, slowly, but still going.

A French hotelier with a small boutique hotel in Tel Aviv once told me that the only hotels worth building in Tel Aviv were boutiques. Small, good service, unique design. Tel Aviv was not a city of large tourist crowds. He came from Paris and Niece hotel experience. To him Tel Aviv was a model of a French beach resort. Just there was a city tacked on to it. (Editor: there is something to this notion, Tel Avivians say about the city and the beach that the city has “it’s back to the sea” – meaning the sea is not an integral part of city life.) This Frenchman didn’t care about the business world here. He didn’t even care about the culture life. He was bringing French tourists to Tel Aviv instead of the French, Spanish or Italian coast. For his tourists Tel Aviv just needed more boutique everything. He wanted more boutique shops, European gourmet restaurants (he could not understand how American called their cooking gourmet) and clubs with music from Jazz to Hip-Hop. Then the French, Italians, Germans and Swedish young spenders would be attracted.

Such different views, such a different images of the same place. But not such strange difference to explain. To these who know and travel, Tel Aviv is a “best kept secret”. Bad news if you are Tel Aviv’s mayor or the Israeli tourism minister. Good news to boutique hotel owners. After all, where can you get a “boutique city” within a modern city without much competition? Where can you be a few hours by plane from Europe with over 200 airlines to choose from? Where can you be in a city where you can speak English, French, Russian and a bit of the other European languages? Lots of things are unique in Tel Aviv (and Israel.) Because of the overwhelming press about the security problems with the Palestinians, most people completely miss the good parts of the city. I am surprised that some people actually benefit from this situation. Overall, the cost of vacationing here is probably lower than it should be. It is certainly cheaper to stay here than in most of the well known European resorts. Maybe Tel Aviv’s mayor need to think of the city as a Mediterranean resort town, not a big metropolitan one. Maybe we need to compare ourselves to an Italian or Spanish resort town not to London or Berlin or Moscow. Than boutique hotel managers, boutique shop owners and gourmet restaurateurs could really design a city befitting American and European boutique tourism set. If not that, maybe just a little bit more style amongst all the other things Tel Aviv has to offer.

Finally there is the element of being here and proximity of Europe to Israel. French, German and British are simply geographically closer to Israel. They are also closer in terms of culture and business. To a French traveler vacationing in Tel Aviv or Eilat is similar to vacation in Cairo or west Africa. The same goes for a Russian or a Turk. Once you get over the image mainstream media portrays of Israel, there is the reality (or is it practicality) of travel. Americans know less about Israel than European. This may be a change from the past. Europeans are also more exposed to Israelis in business and tourism. Israelis travel to Europe as if they were traveling inside US between states or inside Europe. Even with the Internet and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, being in a place and seeing and feeling is crucial to understanding a place. This is something Americans miss more than they imagine. This change is a trend, although slow, has a force of it’s own. Even Russians come in greater number than Americans in the winter months. Unlike Americans, the Russian press (and before that the Soviet one) has not been portraying the Israelis in a negative light. If you have an opinion or even better, an experience with this issue, please write to me directly or through comments.

Racing in Tel Aviv: Road Cyclists Go for Speed

Main event. pack is tight chasing the leaders. Tel Aviv road cycling competition, September 2010 / © 2010

On a Friday morning during the Succot holiday, while Tel Aviv was still half asleep, hundreds of slick dressed road cyclists converged on Kikar Ha’medina. Tel Aviv’s annual road cycling competition was about to start. Some arrived as early as 7:00 AM to practice and stretch. Some arrived from as far north as the Gallil at the Lebanon border and as far south as Arab Bedouin village. Everyone had speed in mind. Most of the contestants belong to cycling clubs with cities like Haifa represented by about 20 cyclists. Some clubs are sponsored by the big bike stores on Ha’cheshmonain street or Igal Alon Boulevard in south Tel Aviv. Some are local clubs associated with the large sports groups Maccabi and Ha’poel. The main event was a long race around the circle. Kikar Ha’medina (The State Circle in Hebrew) is Tel Aviv’s largest traffic circle. It houses some of the city’s most exclusive shops. But on this Friday morning Gucci and Lacoste shoppers were nowhere in sight. The main event ended peacefully with a few scrapes and bruises. Overall, very few accidents for such a tight and fast race.

Time trial finish! This year’s record of 1:03 was a course record. Five time trial heats were held at the end of the event. Tel Aviv road cycling competition, September 2010 / © 2010

During the breaks between races, walking around the booths and groups of cyclists, you could overhear as much Arabic as Hebrew and Russian. Road racing in Israel is open to everyone. It is a relatively small sport with a few thousand serious participants and only a few large national races a year. This does not stop serious enthusiasts from dedicating time and energy to the sport. Israeli road cyclists are influenced by French and Italian racers. Shirts of the big French and Italian tour teams are favorites here. The sport supports a few high end shops which import bicycles from Europe and also customize with any type of accessory you can imagine. I overheard all kind of brand names, top sponsor and racer names and every imaginable price you can imagine. With the value of the shekel at 5 times the Euro, top end bicycles run between 10,000 and 20,000 shekels. That’s a month to four month salary of the average rider. With the close proximity to Europe, some racers buy their bikes on their own and import them themselves. Enjoy the pictures, more to come.

Few of the leaders make last attempt to get ahead. Tel Aviv road cycling competition, September 2010 / © 2010

New bikes on display. Classic street style and folding models are the hottest selling items. Slowly taking place from the off-road models dominated the last ten years. / © 2010

Missiles, Worms and Space Creatures

According to Iran’s defense minister, the Revolutionary Guard has received its first batch of brand new missiles, featuring enhanced guidance systems to hit ground targets.

Developed by Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization and successfully test-fired last month, General Ahmad Vahidi says the Defense Ministry supplied the guard with the upgraded surface-to-surface Fateh-100 missile. Previous versions of the missiles had ranges of up to 120 miles or 193 kilometers. The specifications on the new Fateh-100′s are still up for speculation.

Mahmoud AhmadinejadWhile rumors have surfaced that Ahmadinejad is considering ending the country’s uranium enrichment, a complex computer worm has affected the personal computers of the staff at that country’s first-ever nuclear power plant, just weeks before the facility is to go online.

Named Stuxnet, the computer worm can do serious damage to systems which control the inner workings of industrial plants.

Let’s Make a Deal

On a semi-related note, Moscow and Jerusalem signed a military cooperation agreement – actually the first of its kind – in early September, during a visit by Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Israel is to sell the not-always-trusted and not-always-rational, builder of the Iranian Nuclear Power Plant, Russia, 36 UAV’s at a price of just $100 million.

Is $100 million worth Russia’s Iranian cooperation and human-rights violations in Georgia? Well how about a $300 million joint-venture to manufacture Israel drones in that country?

Hang on Ehud Barak!

Yes, the rumors are true. Russia will continue to supply Syria with advanced P800 sea-to-surface cruise missiles. These are the most advanced of their kind in the world! Will they be transferred to Hezbollah? Most signs point to yes.

The Russians, however, won’t deliver S-300 surface-to-air missile defense systems to Iran. Apparently that would be taking things one step too far.
Ahmad Vahidi said this on Iranian state-run TV:

“We think Russia should show it has an independent stance in choosing its relations with other countries as well as on international issues…”

The S-300, capable of shooting down aircraft and missiles at ranges over 144 kilometers and altitudes of 27,342 meters, would have been helpful to the Islamic Republic in combating an attack by Israel.

Meanwhile, last Tuesday, Italian authorities seized seven tons of explosives at a shipping container port in Gioia Tauro, Calabria. The shipment, sent from Iran, headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, was being transported by a Swiss-Italian shipping company to Syria.

What’s Happening at the United Nations

The UN is appointing a Malaysian Astro-physicist to head the Office of Space, to welcome extra-terrestrial visitors to the planet.

She is expected to explain that the recent discovery of hundreds of stars have made the possibility of the discovery of alien life more likely than before and that the United Nations should be ready for the chance of “initial contact.”

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Bike Tel Aviv: Moutain Bikes Without The Dirt, Slick Road Bikes Too

Tel Aviv racing clubs annual race around Kikar Ha’medina. This annual event brings fans from all over the country. While the city was virtually sleeping on a Friday morning, enthusiasts were having a time of their life. World class cyclists did not attract much crowd. / © 2010

Tel Aviv has more dirt bikes on the streets than road bikes. They are simply more popular. The roads are actually fine, smooth and clean. The biggest problems in biking Tel Aviv are traffic during rush hours and theft in big tie-in areas (like the Arlozorov train station.) The weather is great for bicycling all year around. The city is flat and there are plenty of shops to buy and fix bikes. So why is Tel Aviv not like Amsterdam? Why can’t Tel Avivians simply hop on bikes and get around the city easily? (instead of driving cars and searching for parking) Some think it is an emotional state of affair. Bicycling is not cool or is stigmatized as a lower class form of transport. But city hall is out to change these notions and they are taking a practical approach. The last few years the city put in nice bike paths, encouraged bike rental schemes and sponsored biking events. To the bikers all of this is really nice. I am not sure if it even nudges 100 drivers to abandon their cars for a nice bike.

Tel Aviv biking commuting is popular in the center of the city. On weekday mornings, from Ibn Gvirol to the tayelet (beach promenade, Ha’yarkon street) the sidewalk biking lanes are full of riders. I estimate about half of the riders are in their 20s. Biking is a cheap and fast way to get around town. Young people who move to Tel Aviv usually rent apartments. If you have the flexibility of renting an apartment within a riding distance to your work, if you don’t have to impress anyone at work with a new car, than biking is the way to go. Into the city on any given day, very few bikes are scene coming from the suburbs. The main streets into central Tel Aviv a clogged with cars and mopeds. Mopeds are more popular than bicycles, you can see them zooming between cars and taking off at green lights. Mopeds are also used by the 20 something set and are the staple of delivery couriers of all kind (pizza to legal documents.)

From an outside perspective, city hall’s push for biking as a major form of transportation seems more like envy for other cities than a real transportation solution. Tel Aviv tries to portray itself as a cosmopolitan city in a European mold. It is also a city which tries to keep up with trends, today it is the green trend. Seeing how people use bikes in Amsterdam and even in Paris and London is definitely something to envy in Tel Aviv. But for the most part, the biking traditions in Europe are not government driven, they are also not the latest trend. They are cultural phenomena. They reflect the way people have lived and moved in cities in Europe for hundreds of years. Tel Aviv does not have this tradition, if anything, bicycles are identified with rural kibbutz travel and kids way to get around home. But that does not mean we can not learn and adapt smart ideas from other places. This is what city hall is hoping to do. The most recent buzz is low cost bike rentals a la London style. Before that, a few years ago it was additional bike lanes on wide sidewalks and boulevards. City hall even improved a nice bike path along the Yarkon river park, cutting Tel Aviv east to west along the northern edge. From the residential neighborhoods on the west to the technology business park in Atidin on the east.

If you come to Tel Aviv as a tourist or for a few months on business there are plenty of places to buy bikes. There are a few shops offering bike rentals and you will find a few stands with bikes to rent along the promenade and main streets (try Dizengoff and Iben Gvirol.) Ask the local businesses or hotel concierge for details. The biking shops area in Tel Aviv is along Ha’cheshmonaim street and part of Menachem Begin Boulevard. Here you will find from the latest racing and road bikes in the thousands of dollars to used bikes at $250. Cheaper bikes you will have to look at Internet listing sites like Yad2 (Craig’s list is not that popular in Israel.) Bike theft is one of the most annoying issue in Tel Aviv. Nobody is sure who steals the bikes and where they all go. But police on patrol will tell you to lock your bike with a good lock and to take everything off the bike: pumps, water bottles, bicycle computers. You will also be advised to lock your bike in a public place where it is visible. In front of a shop or on a busy street is the best place. If you are looking for a riding group, there are plenty sponsored by local biking shops and organized by local enthusiasts. The road biking scene in Israel is small but vibrant. There are also lots of off-road clubs. Specially in the summer there are events all over the country. Israel has lots of parks and there are many trails to bike safely and see great scenes.

Sharon Going Home

Now 82-years-old, Ariel Sharon has been lying unconscious since January 2006, originally at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem and then in the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.

Ariel SharonAt about the five-year point since former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon became comatose, he will be moving back soon to slumber at his Sycamore Ranch in the Negev – accompanied by loved ones and medical machines.

The house has been readied to receive him. Life support equipment and even an elevator to take him from the ground floor to his second floor bedroom.

The move will happen at first for only a few days as a trial, and after which he will be taken back to the hospital.

“If it becomes clear that the necessary medical care is available at the ranch, he will be taken back to the ranch permanently.”

It was once stated that the Chaim Sheba Medical Center had asked the family to take Sharon home, accompanied by a nurse, because:

“there is no place to provide him with special medical services at the hospital.”

But it was really his sons Gilad and Omri who requested the move.

In February 2009 the Chaim Sheba Medical Center said:

“A dialogue with the family and medical staff is being held continuously to see whether it is possible to continue treatment of Mr. Sharon in an environment which is not a hospital.”

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Teva Naot Sandals Shopping in Tel Aviv (and the world)

Early shoe production in Naot Mordechai. Picture from 1964 – 1966 – PikiWiki Israel (www.pikiwiki.org.il)

Editor: here is a bit of history about Teva-Naot shoes… Naot shoes have been making shoes for Israelis in Kibbutz Naot Mordechai for over 50 years. The first 25 years or so, Naot shoes were a staple of Israeli life. They made simple leather sandals and shoes. The kibbutz factory made a name for itself as practical good value shoes. I remember going to visit my aunt and uncle Miriam and Avram in the kibbutz and buying shoes at the factory store. It was a fun experience as a young kid. Israel did not have many factory stores and certainly I do not remember any for shoes. There were shoes that you did not see in stores and the people there knew about fit more than any shoe salesman in a Tel Aviv store.

In the 1970s and 1980s a few kibbutz members went to Europe to study shoe design (mostly Italy, France and Germany) and this brought new designs to the shoes. No longer were the shoes just practical, now you could go out on a Friday night with a Naot shoe and not feel like you just came in from a kibbutz field. In the 1980s Naot made the world famous weaved straps sandals Teva. The design quickly became the symbol of young trekkers around the world. They were the cool sandals to go trekking in the mouthiness of South America (or Asia.) I remember visiting my uncle again in the 1990s and how surprised all the kibbutz members were from the name the sandals made for them. Naot Mordechai is at the very edge of Israel. Just east of Kiriat Shmone, the infamous town that was shelled for years from Lebanon. Naot was one of the kibbutzim at the border of Syria. From swamps and rocky fields they built a small Garden of Eden. A green little patch of land with a small shoe factory with an international name.

Back to Teva-Naot shoes (in Israel the shoes are called Teva-Naot after the merging of the sandals and shoes. In the US they are Teva because of the more popular sandals brand.) In Israel the kibbutz recently sold part of it’s brand to an outside company. Teva-Naot shops are starting to spread in malls and shopping areas. Today the shoes are positioned in a comfortable leisure style, much like Birkenstock and Rockport shoes. As a brand Naot has a long way to go in comparison with the world’s known shoes. In terms of design and construction, Naot shoes are good and the experience in designing, making and selling shoes in Israel is a great way to develop capabilities. Since the world does not know of Naot shoes, one way to help is go try them out. They are not sold everywhere, and I know in the US you have to make an effort to find them. In Europe, the stores that sell comfortable shoes like Ecco and Clarks you can usually find Naot shoes. Teva sandals you can find in more places, they have a bigger name. You will like the fit and the style, it is a blend of Israeli comfort with a bit on international simplicity.

Yellow Belly Republic

The al-Khaleej newspaper’s got the scoop! Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will soon be visiting Lebanese dictator, Saad Hariri to discuss

“Iran’s ownership of what he regards as the struggle of the Muslim world against Israel.”

As Jerusalem Post’s Jonathan Spyer worded it.

Will he visit the Southern border with Israel? Does the Iranian leader have the chutzpa?

Spyer observed that the visit could be a signal that the Republic of Lebanon is making a de facto initiation into the “axis of evil,” to borrow a phrase from the Bush-era.

Iran wishes to make itself the crux authority in the region, despite its non-Sunni and non-Arab population. Of course Abbas’ Western diplomacy and recent reception of $400 million from the World Bank only has the Iranian leader salivating more to make his proxy weapon, Hezbollah, more of a bona fide sovereignty in the region – and thereby lifts Iran to an even more authoritative position through the world over.

As a result of Iran’s weight, the good citizens of Lebanon have not stood a chance to build a state which is respectable and buoyant at-best since their 2005 withdrawal from Syria.

Restrictions on banking services and shipping are reducing Iran’s ability to sell the crude oil which is critical to its economy; a result of the country’s nuclear policy. Yet Ahmadinejad refuses to cite any other root cause than the Jewish Country for its woes.

And speaking of which, Iran lost a possible medal and many points in the 2010 World Wrestling Championships in Moscow, this month, when the Greco-Roman wrestler Taleb Nematpour refused to compete against his Israeli rival for the championship match.

Supposedly, Miresmaeili withdrew because he exceeded the weight limit – however, he was quoted on his return home saying he had

“avoided the match as a sign of sympathy with the people of Palestine.”

Wrote Foreign Correspondent, Maryam Sinaiee of the Abu Dhabi news source, The National.

If that were the case, why not stay and fight? I don’t know – call it Jihad or something! Pin the Jew and cry, “Free Palestine!”

Nematpour had won the 2010 Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées Golden Prix Finals and was also a 2010 World Cup bronze medalist.

Iran reported that he withdrew due to “severe appendix pains.” Though Esmail Kowsari, a legislator and staunch opponent of any direct competition with Israelis, claims that:

“Such justifications – made to international athletic federations and committees to avoid penalties – are unnecessary and athletes should be proud of withdrawing.”

Kowsari said:

“I say our athletes shouldn’t even use illness as an excuse for their honourable deed…We have repeatedly announced that we don’t recognize Israel.”

Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iranian athletes have refused to compete against Israeli athletes in international sporting events.

“This was worth a hundred medals,” said Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei to Arash Miresmaeili after the judo champion refused to fight Israeli Ehud Vaks in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

A political analyst in Tehran, who insists to remain anonymous said:

“Iranian and Israeli athletic performance has significantly improved since 1983 and resulted in more frequent chances of their confrontation in international athletic competition…It has also become more difficult for the Iranian athletes and authorities to justify absence from competitions to Olympics committees and international athletic federations. The denial of the consideration of lifting the ban shows that the dilemma of facing the Israeli athletes or not facing them and bearing the consequences will not be resolved any time soon…”

In July, Iran was accused of putting politics before sports at the Youth Olympics because of its withdrawal from a taekwondo final against the Jewish Country – known to be talented in the Martial Arts.

Anyway, now-a-days, any conflict which is beyond resolution by cathartic sportsmanship is very much a risk to world peace!

Get in the ring guys!

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