Thursday, November 21, 2013

Masada Still Excites the Imgaination. By Judy Maltz.

Aerial view of Masada. Wikipedia.

Half a century after the big dig, Masada still excites the imagination. By Judy Maltz. Haaretz, November 20, 2013. Also here.


Beyond the tale of heroic suicide, new items uncovered at the famous fortress tell the story of its real-life population.

MASADA − It looks like an ordinary lice comb, with wider teeth on one side for untangling knots and finer teeth on the other for removing nits. Except that this one happens to be made of wood, rather than metal. And it also happens to be about 2,000 years old.
Holding the recently unearthed artifact in the palm of his hand, archaeologist Guy Steibel notes that these are his favorite sort of finds, the ones that provide a glimpse into the other Masada story − not the classic narrative of death, destruction and suicide pacts, but the one about real people doing ordinary things, as ordinary as combing nits out of their hair.
“Yes, we have proof that the rebels who lived here, their heads were absolutely infested with lice, and not only their heads,” he says. “In fact, we’ve discovered in this comb remnants of lice eggs, strands of hair and the oldest louse in the world.”
Steibel, the head of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Masada excavation team, proceeds to pull out some other recent finds from a little plastic box, among them a piece of rope made out of date tree fibers and a shard of a clay pitcher that has the name of its owner inscribed in it in Hebrew letters: Shimon Bar-Yoezer.
“Seeing these Hebrew words pop out of the earth, words that my own children can read, that’s the most exciting thing in all of this for me,” says Steibel, who has been digging and researching at Israel’s most famous archaeological site for almost 20 years now.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the big excavations at Masada, led by the legendary Yigael Yadin, Steibel is guiding a group of Israeli journalists through what he describes as a “backyard tour” of the site to meet some of his “friends” who once lived here. “By now, I know many of them by name, and I also know where exactly they lived and how they made a living,” he says. “For me it’s the little things, like the child’s toy we found, the Roman soldier's wage slip, the seal used by the baker to mark his loaves − these are the things that make this place so alive for me.”
The ancient fortress overlooking the Dead Sea − where Herod the Great, the Jewish-Roman king of Judaea, built a magnificent royal retreat and where, later, 960 Jewish rebels who had found refuge there killed themselves rather than surrender to the Romans, according to the prevailing myth − attracts roughly 800,000 visitors every year. Among sites that charge admission (not the Western Wall in Jerusalem, for example, which is even more popular), it is the most visited in Israel. “And about 70 percent of the visitors we get are from overseas,” says Eitan Campbell, director of the Masada National Park.
According to Tsvika Tsuk, chief archaeologist at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, about 7,000 international volunteers from 18 different countries participated in the Masada excavations half a century ago, from 1963 through 1965. “The vast majority were from Britain, and they came because of an item that was published at the time in The Observer,” he recalls. “It was the first excavation to rely on volunteers, and many of them recall it as one of the most formative experiences in their lives. In fact, there were quite a few volunteers on the dig who found here the loves of their lives.”
The authority is planning to reach out to all those who participated in the Masada excavations (“the youngest are in their 70s today,” notes Tsuk) and invite them and their families to participate in a reunion in Israel in 2014.
The "$64,000 question,” as Steibel terms it, is did the Jews really kill themselves at Masada, as is widely assumed to be the case, despite little hard evidence to substantiate the story. “I believe that they did and that we will find remains of bodies in the future,” he says, noting that he has found corroboration for the historian Flavius Josephus’s claim of mass suicide in the writings of another ancient Roman historian, Pliny the Elder.
“But for me, whether or not they killed themselves is less important than how they lived,” he says.
Besides the bodies, is there anything else left to be discovered at Masada? “Yadin said that 97 percent of the site was excavated,” notes Steibel, “but although he was a great archaeologist, I’d say he was a bit weak in math. I believe that only 65 percent of what’s here has been uncovered and that there’s much more to find.”
Is there anything that would be particularly thrilling for him to uncover on this rocky plateau?
“A latrine,” says Steibel. “That’s the only big thing we haven’t found here yet. It surprises me because I would have thought we would’ve by now.”

How Afghans See America: The Cowboy That Divided the Village. By Nushin Arbabzadah.

How Afghans see America: the cowboy that divided the village. By Nushin Arbabzadah. The Guardian, November 21, 2013.

Why Netanyahu Won’t Yield. By Michael Oren.

Why Netanyahu won’t yield. By Michael Oren. Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2013.

The prime minister’s hard line on Iran reflects his deep sense of duty to defend the Jewish state against an existential threat.

What Americans Don’t Know About Palestinian Culture. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

What Americans Don’t Know About Palestinian Culture. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, November 20, 2013.


Some Jewish liberals got a terrible shock last week when British journalist Tom Gross broke a story about a fascist-style military rally held on the campus of Al Quds University. Al Quds is a Palestinian college located in Jerusalem and has had an academic partnership with both Brandeis University and Bard College in the United States. The rally was organized by the Al Quds branch of the Islamic Jihad group (though it was joined by much of the rest of the student body that joined the jihadi storm troopers in marching on an Israeli flag) and followed two other demonstrations sponsored by Hamas to honor suicide bombers at the school.
The story about the event, illustrated by a much-circulated picture of the Islamic Jihad group in black uniforms and masks giving a Nazi-style salute, posed a dilemma for Brandeis. While no one in charge at Bard seemed particularly exercised about the fact that their partner held pep rallies for terrorism the way a typical American school does for football or basketball, Brandeis is an avowedly Jewish institution and when the Washington Free Beacon posed a question about what it was doing in a relationship with such a place, the university was initially flummoxed and hunkered down, offering no comment about the story even as many of their students and faculty expressed outrage. It took more than a week, but yesterday Brandeis extracted its head from the sand and President Frederick Lawrence announced that it was reevaluating its relationship with Al Quds. Lawrence’s move came after he called on Al Quds President Sari Nusseibeh to condemn the rally in Arabic and English. Instead, the renowned Palestine “moderate” rationalized the rally, defended the students, and blamed the controversy on “vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists” leaving Brandeis no choice but to back out of their relationship.
But there’s more to this story than just this distressing exchange. The problem here is not just that terror groups are as accepted at Palestinian universities—even those that are generally respected abroad as Al Quds is—as sports teams are at their American counterparts. It’s that most Americans, including American Jews like those who run Brandeis, haven’t a clue about why this is so or how pervasive this trend is in Palestinian society.
If much of the discussion about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians on college campuses and throughout the rest of the American liberal world seem so skewed it is not just because Israel is often unfairly smeared as an “apartheid state.” It is also because many Americans simply don’t know the first thing about contemporary Palestinian culture. Websites like Palestine Media Watch and Memri, which provide constant updates about what is broadcast and printed by Palestinian sources, could give them a quick lesson about how deeply hatred of Israel and the Jews is embedded in popular Palestinian culture as well as its politics. But those who bring up these unhappy facts are more often dismissed as biased extremists who don’t understand the Palestinians.
But the point about campus activities at Al Quds is that there is nothing exceptional about large groups of students demonstrating their hate for Israel and their devotion not to Palestinian nationalism but its extreme Islamist adherents such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad that call for the death of Jews. Such groups are not just welcome at Palestinian schools but an essential part of the fabric of student life as well as the general culture.
Thus, the shock here is not that Brandeis (if not Bard) has been alerted to the true nature of their partner and even a respected front man like Nusseibeh. Rather, it’s that it never occurred to anyone in authority at Brandeis that this was the inevitable result of any cooperation with Al Quds. If it had or if more American academics got their heads out of the sand and realized the cancer of hate that is still the dominating feature of Palestinian political culture, the assumption that Israel is the villain of the Middle East conflict might be challenged more often.

A Failed Presidency. By Peter Wehner.

A Failed Presidency. By Peter Wehner. Commentary, November 20, 2013.

The Evolution of Bitchiness. By Olga Khazan.

The Evolution of Bitchiness. By Olga Khazan. The Atlantic, November 20, 2013.

Hamas Cuts Off Nose to Spite Its Face. By Walter Russell Mead.

Palestinians walk on the side of a street flooded with waste water in Gaza City, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. A Palestinian official said sewage from a treatment plant overflowed onto streets in the Gaza Strip because of a shortage of electricity needed to process the waste. (Photo credit: AP /Adel Hana).

Hamas Cuts Off Nose to Spite Its Face. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, November 21, 2013.

A year after Pillar of Defense, it’s all gone dark in Gaza. By Avi Isaacharoff. The Times of Israel, November 16, 2013.

Egypt and Israel spar over Gaza as Sinai crisis escalates. By Geoffrey Aronson. Al-Monitor, November 20, 2013.


Punitive measures enforced by Egypt and the incompetence of the ruling Hamas government have combined to make the humanitarian disaster in Gaza one of the most sickening around. The NYT reports that a shortage of electricity and cheap diesel fuel from Egypt has led the Hamas government to shut down Gaza’s lone power plant, causing sewage stations to stop working. So instead of paying a tax to its rival faction in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, to import fuel, Hamas has chosen to cut power to hospitals, schools and sewer plants. The results are devastating:
Businesses have cut back production, hospitals are rationing electricity to keep dialysis and cardiac support systems running, students are doing Internet research in the middle of the night and battery sales are brisk. Everywhere, the drone of generators mixes with the odor of kerosene lamps. […]
And in the Sabra neighborhood, near the Zeitoun pumping station, which has flooded three times since Sunday, the stench of sewage hung over the pools of standing water in the streets. Mosquitoes abounded, and residents said their children were vomiting and had diarrhea.
Note that the situation in Gaza has worsened since Israel has reduced its border controls. Since Morsi’s ouster from Egypt, the delivery of goods from Israel into Gaza has increased nearly twenty percent. The number of Palestinians allowed to leave Gaza through Israel is up thirty percent. At the same time, Egypt’s closure of Gaza’s smuggling tunnels have left thousands unemployed, made food, electronics and other goods scarce and unaffordable, and left the territory dry of much-needed fuel. The government responsible for the people of Gaza has responded not by trying to alleviate their suffering, but is instead squabbling with its enemy political faction. It is the ultimate absurdity of refugee politics: Hamas has essentially taken itself hostage and imposed sanctions on its own people.
The global outrage industry, we can be confident, will ignore this. Just last week, the United Nations General Assembly passed nine different resolutions condemning Israel for, among other things, its treatment of the Palestinians. No resolution concerning any other world issue was adopted during the meeting. (See the disapproving reaction of a UN interpreter herehere). If the world were truly concerned with the ongoing human tragedy of the Palestinian people, Arab discrimination and poor policy choices by the Palestinian faction leaders would be called out, mocked, and scorned.

Egypt Looks for a Path Toward Democracy. By David Ignatius.

Egypt Looks for a Way Back. By David Ignatius. Real Clear Politics, November 21, 2013. Also at the Washington Post.

What We Lost on November 22, 1963. By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

11/22/63: What We Lost. By E.J. Dionne, Jr. Real Clear Politics, November 21, 2013. Also at the Washington Post.

November 21, 1963. By Carl M. Cannon. Real Clear Politics, November 21, 2013.

A Third-Grader’s Brutal Lesson in History. By Mark Salter. Real Clear Politics, November 21, 2013.

Fidel Castro Weighs in on the JFK Assassination. By Jeffrey Goldberg. The Atlantic, November 20, 2013.

A Time for Courage. By Roger Cohen.

A Time for Courage. By Roger Cohen. New York Times, November 21, 2013.

How Bush Let Iran Go Nuclear. By Ari Shavit.

How Bush Let Iran Go Nuclear. By Ari Shavit. New York Times, November 20, 2013.

The Moral Decline of Oprah. By Victor Davis Hanson.

The Moral Decline of Oprah. By Victor Davis Hanson. National Review Online, November 15, 2013.

Oprah: To End Racism, Racists Have to Die Out. By Ben Shapiro. Breitbart, November 17, 2013.

The Great and Terrible O vs. marinated geezer racists. By John Kass. Chicago Tribune, November 20, 2013.

Oprah’s Solution for Racism: OprahCare. By Taleeb Starkes. American Thinker, November 20, 2013.

Did Oprah’s race remarks hurt her brand? Video. The Kelly File. Fox News, November 20, 2013.

Oprah: Obama Attacked In Many Cases Because He’s Black. Video. Real Clear Politics, November 14, 2013. YouTube.

The Tragedy of the Dependency Culture in Appalachia. By David French.

The Tragedy of the Dependency Culture. By David French. National Review Online, November 19, 2013.