Archive for June, 2007

Sorting Out the Israeli Situation

Posted in Crime, criminal justice, history, Israel, Law, media, Politics, Terrorism, Uncategorized, Violence on June 29, 2007 by castagnera

The State of Israel was born the same year I was: 1947. My strongest impressions of that painful birth (Israel’s, not mine) come from the 1960 Otto Preminger film, based on the Leon Uris best-seller “Exodus.” As I recall that blockbuster epic movie, it accurately depicts the fact that the Jewish Haganah, especially an offshoot called “The Stern Gang,” used terrorist tactics to persuade the Brits to abandon their Mandate. For 60 years the Israelis have lived with and adjusted to Palestinian terrorism. Some might see some irony in that.
If turn about is fair play, then a second irony is contained in the struggle being played out now between Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, in the Gaza Strip. Readers may recall that Hamas, which our government deems to be a terrorist organization, won Palestinian elections last year. The more moderate Fatah brought this on itself because of its corruption. Up until two weeks ago the two factions were sharing power. Then, just about the time I returned from my Israel trip as a Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Hamas turned its terror-tactics on Fatah and took complete control of Gaza. Hamas also has been firing nasty little home-made rockets, called qassams, into southern Israel.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, power is shared by Fatah with the Israeli army, which still maintains a powerful presence there. The Fatah leadership in the city of Ramala say they are through talking with Hamas. If the two factions cannot reconcile, then what was once considered a two-state solution — the two states being Israel and Palestine — may become a three-state solution: Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank all being independent entities. This could work where the West Bank is concerned. It’s hard to imagine Gaza as a separate state.
True, some states as small or smaller do exit, including Luxembourg, Monaco, and some independent South Pacific island nations. But right now Gaza’s 1.5 million people are surviving on U.N. and NGO aid shipments. Besides being an economic black hole, a Gaza ruled by Hamas, which continues to deny Israel’s right to exist, will never be acceptable to the Jewish state.
Ten days in Israel don’t make me an expert on the current situation, anymore than seeing Paul Newman strut his stuff as a Haganah operative in “Exodus” made me an expert on Israel’s birth. The intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle of the past six decades is in many respects as baffling to me as the centuries-old struggle between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. The hardest things for me — and maybe for you — to sort out are the political issues from the emotional elements: how much is either situation sustained by the grievances, hatreds and vendettas accumulated year after year?
The second hardest question to answer may be: Why are we involved? The same query is being posed, principally by the Democrats in Congress, with regard to Iraq.
One answer — in a word — is OIL. A quick statistic: During the first quarter of this year, I’m told, we Yanks bought some 75,000 or so hybrid cars. During the same period, Ford Motor Company alone sold around four times that number of pick-up trucks and SUVs. If we want to keep driving our gas-guzzlers, even at $3.00 a gallon, we need a reliable source of oil. The Middle East is where most of that oil is.
Second, if Islamic radicalism is going to be supplanted by democracy and capitalism, then Uncle Sam is stuck in the Mid-East for the foreseeable future, and he had better stand by the only genuine democracy/reliable ally he has in the region.
Some say that striving for a democratic Middle East is a fool’s game. They may be right. All I can say is that in the 60 years since Israel and I were birthed, we’ve witnessed a peaceful end to both the Cold War and South African Apartheid. If we flawed humans could bring down the Berlin Wall without a nuclear holocaust and end Apartheid without a bloodbath, then anything is possible.


The Size of the Dog

Posted in animals, bichons, Crime, criminal justice, dogs, history, Israel, Law, Law and Justice, pets, Politics, prisons, second amendment on June 23, 2007 by castagnera

All dogs are a single species. More precisely, I’m told, dogs are the domestic subspecies of wolves. You can almost get that out of the Latin name, even if you aren’t a former alter boy or an ex-nun. Canis lupus familiaris: Canis sounds like canine. Every fan of vampire movies knows that lupus means wolf. And familiaris seems pretty obvious to me.
A single subspecies they may be, but all dogs are not created equal. Our bichon, despite his name (Spike), is a 15-pound fluff ball who’s usually afraid of almost every other canine he encounters. The Westminster Dog Show places bichons in the “non-sporting” category, just one notch above the “toys,” e.g., the toy poodle. He’s cuddly, clingy, and far from fierce.
By contrast, while traveling in Israel on a Foundation for Defense of Democracies fellowship two weeks ago, I attended a demonstration of the guard dogs employed by the army units tasked with moving terrorists and criminals from police station to courtroom to jail. The demo took place on a large lawn. One guy, probably the last man to punch in that day, donned the brown prison coveralls issued to all inmates. He pretended to be running for freedom. The dog, which looked like a German police dog on steroids, ran him down and knocked him to he ground. Then the beast went for the guy’s throat. (Of course, the brute was muzzled for the exercise.)
I raised my hand. “Does the dog only hold onto the throat or does he…”
The officer smiled. “He’s not there to negotiate,” he replied. The rest was left to my imagination.
Subsequent demonstrations proved the dogs to be as brave as they are fierce. Faced with firearms and hand grenades, they charged into melees without a second’s hesitation. No time was wasted on negotiations… that’s for sure.
Arriving home, I decided to discover whether Spike had any semblance of the Israeli dogs’ wolfish qualities buried beneath his white, wooly exterior. One thing I’d noted on walks with our four-footed fuzz-ball: He’s braver on his own block than anywhere else in the neighborhood. With this in mind, my experiment went like this.
I waited until the guy on the corner let his dog into the back yard. This dog is a big boy. My best guess is that we’re talking about a retriever-setter mix of some sort. This fellow is 90 pounds if he’s an ounce. He always bellows his basso bark when Spike and I walk up the opposite side of the street. Spike usually ignores him. However, once in awhile my tiny pooch has uncharacteristically barked back.
This time we strutted our stuff right on up the big guy’s side of the street. As we approached the fence, the monster roared his low-pitched bark. Spike dragged me toward the fence. I couldn’t resist. I let go the leash. Spike charged right up to the fence, yapping like Peewee Herman on a caffeine high.
In the ’62 Cuban missal crisis, when word reached the Oval Office that the Russian ships had turned back at the American blockade line, Secretary of State Dean Rusk remarked, “We were eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow just blinked.” I held my breath, hoping Spike wouldn’t be the dog that blinked.
Far from it, he pushed his muzzle between two slats in the fence. Then, just as quickly, he backed away, turned around and started for home, me double-timing behind him. He didn’t stop until we reached the front door. Checking him over, I found three long lacerations on his little black nose.
They say it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Having seen the Israeli guard dogs in action, and having completed my Spike-experiment, I can report that this saying is baloney. Where dogs are concerned, size matters.
All the same, Spike sports his dueling scars… but we keep to our side of the street.

It’s About the Beard

Posted in history, immigration, marriage, relationships, Uncategorized on June 14, 2007 by castagnera

I started growing my beard just about one year ago. Once it reached a respectable length, I had a new headshot taken and submitted it to the editors of this column. One upshot was reader confusion. “Are there two Jim Castagnera’s?” one inquired. The occasional re-appearance of the older, beardless picture has not helped to dispel the suspicion that I have an evil twin.
However, any confusion endured by readers of this column is nothing compared to what I encountered at the Newark International Airport two weeks ago. As you may recall, I was off on a ten-day trip to Israel, compliments of an Academic Fellowship on Terrorism from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies []. My forty-three fellow Fellows and I flew El Al. Israel’s national airline is the world’s safest. These folks learned the hard way, being among the first targets of terrorist hijackings in the 1970s.
You don’t get to be the world’s safest airline by being laid back. As my comrades and I waited in line to check-in, El Al employees set up a half dozen music stands. Were we about to be treated to a medley of Jewish folk songs? Not bloody likely, I thought. I was right. A half dozen interrogators were needed to quiz each and every one of us, before we were allowed to check our bags.
When my turn came, I pleasantly presented my passport to the youthful lad in the blue blazer behind his music stand. Problem is my passport is five years old. Inside its blue covers is a clean-shaven guy with longish hair of the “Grease” variety. The El Al employee looked from me to the passport photo and back to me… about five times.
“Do you have any other identification?” he asked. Uh Oh.
I dug out my wallet and handed over my driver’s license. Also almost five years old, its photo is also of a clean-shaven fella. Five more glances at me and the IDs and…
“Anything else?”
This time I did better. Dredging up my university ID card and my VA disabled-vet card, I was able to show him two examples of a bearded me. This did the trick.
This hassle was repeated before I was allowed to board the plane a bit later. This time the ticket guy brought his supervisor into the discussion. Following a mumbled consultation in Hebrew they let me board the plane.
I suppose I can sympathize with El Al’s caution. Beards are definitely more popular on Ossama’s side of the War on Terror than they are on ours. Only two other FDD Fellows — both old dogs such as myself — sported beards. On a field trip to an Israeli prison for terrorists, I estimated that more than half the inmates were facially hirsute. One of my colleagues started calling me Amed after that field trip, suggesting that I had the right profile to go undercover in the jailhouse. But for my lack of Arabic (and courage), I might have agreed with him.
Why beards have fallen out of fashion in the West is a bit of a mystery to me. Photos from the 19th century reveal fantastic forms of facial hair, spanning the spectrum from chest-length beards to dapper goatees to mutton-chop sideburns. An American historian once demonstrated that all the winning generals of the Civil War were bearded. So were such giants of their age as Darwin and Freud. Einstein at least had a moustache, not to mention the lush head of hair that has become synonymous with the mad scientist.
The Sixties saw a resurgence of hair, including plenty of beards. Think of Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan (sometimes), Bruce Springsteen (also only sometimes), Jimmy Hendrix, and Mama Cass (just kidding). But since the sixties, beards have fallen into disrepute, and not just because they are favored by Muslim extremists. For instance, feminists make fun of us bearded boys. Witness this excerpt from a website entitled “Facial Hair for Feminists.”
“Men have kept us down long enough and we’re not going to take it. Lets all stand up for our rights and live normal free feminist lives doing what we please. We are intelligent, beautiful, and wise. We can have and do anything a *MAN* can do, and we do it better. That’s why I’ve concocted a new scheme to strip males of a major feature of their masculinity. That’s right girls. Facial Hair! We look so much better then those men with our beards. We can even grow them ourselves, keeping our silky smooth feminine bodies. This may seem radical for some ladies, but it’s your duty as a member of the female race to let go of the standards males have placed upon us, shed those fears and grow some facial hair! It makes you feel like a true woman.”
Some women in my family beat this feminist to the punch. Electrolysis was their salvation. If this notion ever catches on, I’m going back to shaving.

Some thoughts on immigrants and fences

Posted in Crime, history, immigration, Law, Law and Justice, Politics, technology, Violence on June 6, 2007 by castagnera

From Tel Aviv, Thoughts on Fences

Tel Aviv, June 1, 2007 — Readers of this column know that I have been knocking around Israel these past 10 days at the expense of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Styled an Academic Fellowship on Terrorism, this “paid vacation” features an up-close-and-personal peek at how the Jewish state deals with terrorists… a topic of no small interest to us since Nine-Eleven.
Parallels between our two countries are a little hard to find, however. Israel is about as big as New Jersey or perhaps Vermont, plus or minus some parts of New Hampshire. The beleaguered nation, surrounded by enemies armed to the teeth, somehow manages to remain a democracy. I doubt we Americans are ready to open our purses and packages for inspection every time we enter a mall or restaurant. Universal military service is not even on our federal agenda for discussion.
One parallel did catch my eye… rolls of razor wire running parallel to a fence along the so-called West Bank of the Jordan. Similarly, Uncle Sam has started a fence along our border with Mexico.
Our FDD contingent, 45 professors strong, visited Israel’s largest Arab city, some few miles from the fence. At the town hall, the city manager gave us a little talk, then opened himself up to our questions.
Of Arab descent but Israel-born, the 50-something “mayor” allowed as how he likes that fence. The barrier, which bears signs warning of “mortal danger” if you climb it, has reduced illegal immigration of Palestinians to his town substantially, he says. The small city’s unemployment rate approaches 30%. He blames much of it on illegals who marry local Israeli-Arab girls and then either scarf up scarce jobs or add themselves directly to the unemployment rolls. Either way, he contends, they deplete scarce economic resources.
Born, raised and educated in Israel, this Arab official worries about where his children are headed. His son, he says, is pro-Palestinian. Were this worried parent an African-American, his son might label him an “Uncle Tom.” However, he himself would choose to be a Palewstinian citizen if a democratic Palestine becomes a real possibility.
I don’t know if Mexican-Americans along the Rio Grande and in San Antonio and El Paso and San Diego share any of this Arab city manager’s ambivalence about their futures and those of their children. I would not be surprised to discover that at least some are eager for the U.S. to staunch the flow of illegals into their borderland towns and cities.
Like the Arab city manager, other Israeli officials report a decrease in cross-border incursions by would-be-bombers and other illegals, thanks they believe to their fence.
The border fence, an innovation that will not in any way impact the rights or lifestyles of U.S. citizens, may be an initiative for which the Israeli experiment is a valuable laboratory test case from which we Yanks can learn.