Tag Archives: Israel

Son of Hamas

imageTo some he was known as the ‘Green Prince’, the son and heir to a father much beloved by a suffering people. His father was one of the seven men who founded the entity we know today as Hamas – leaders of the Palestinian people in Gaza, classified in the West as one of the world’s most deadly terror organisations. He was raised from childhood living and breathing the mind and soul of Hamas and was expected to be among its next generation of leaders who would continue the struggle against Israeli oppression. He is now living in exile in California under a death sentence from his own people, publicly disowned by the father he worshipped whom he betrayed by secretly working for Israeli Intelligence for a decade before turning his back on violence and hatred for good. He now spends his time speaking out for peace and reconciliation. How is it possible anyone in the boiling pit of Middle Eastern hatred centuries old could do this?

People who know me or anyone who has read this blog will know that I am an avid Middle East watcher and have been most of my life. It would be fair to say I am openly pro-Israel but never label me a Non-critic also. As I write, war rages in Gaza. In the lead up to and during I have consumed far more information, news and opinions on the situation than the average Joe. That’s not a boast, it’s fact. I am a news junkie – news and opinions from all angles, not just mine, and I’ve read the thoughts of those closer to me whose opinions matter more because they are in my social media circles. Until now I’ve not really posted up my own thoughts in any great depth and not because I haven’t wanted to. I felt a very firm nudge in my spirit not to…until now. The reason was because of a book that came back to mind I started reading I’d heard about but never read called ‘The Son of Hamas’ by Mosab Hassan Yousef.

A shameful admission for an Arts graduate is that I hate reading (books, that is). Can read all day stuff online or in newspapers so for any book to get my attention is going some. I’m late coming to this book. It came out in 2010 and been reprinted with a postscript since. It came across my desk at work some time ago and I can’t remember in what context. Don’t think I read more than the back cover. As the situation in Israel/Gaza looked set to blow big I felt prompted to get the book and from the first paragraph I was hooked.

I have never read a book that has done my head in so much.

The book is an autobiography by Mosab co-written with American freelance journalist, Ron Brackin. On its release it made the top of several international Best Seller lists. Mosab tells his story in an un-emotive yet instantly engaging way. Case in hand, I was reading it on my iPad on the Tube on the way to work one day and noticed the young, smart Muslim guy next to me start leave off what he was doing on his smart phone and I could sense him reading my iPad over my shoulder several times. I didn’t let on I knew this but later caught a glimpse of his phone screen where he had Googled and found the book and author and was taking a read through. I wonder if he ever bought it. It will not be the read he may have been expecting from the part of the story I was up to at that point that’s for sure.

imageThe autobiography charts Mosab’s childhood in the West Bank and what life was/is like for Palestinians. The perpetual struggle against Israel and Israel’s iron fist intelligence activities to stay ahead of terrorism. The account of his abduction and torture by Israel when only 18 is brutal and not a one-off occurrence for him, his father, brothers or many of his people. Yet, without giving anything away you will not read on the back cover, Mosab eventually agrees to work covertly for the Shin Bet, Israel’s notoriously ruthless intelligence arm. Was this through a sheer and understandable desire for self-preservation or had the Israelis brainwashed him to such a degree? You’ll have to read it to come to your own conclusion.

When I say that this book did my head in, I meant it. There were many times where what I was reading seemed so hard to comprehend or believe that I was many times tempted to abandon it. It also got to a point just before the end that I almost came to the conclusion that I did not trust the author anymore. I certainly could not comprehend how this man could apparently make a 180 turn from hating Israel to willingly working for it to protect Israelis at the expense of his own people. I Googled around to find out more about him, asked former colleagues who worked in publishing what they knew of him, asked Facebookers and Tweeters based in Israel what they knew of him. Even asked my friend on the staff of the Israeli Embassy in London what she knew. I got positive responses but not yet come across anyone who met him. Despite this and up to almost the end of the book I still had my doubts.

One person who I trust implicitly that I consulted as I tried to find out more on Mosab is a former colleague and current friend who has written a number of books on the lives of ordinary people out there on all sides of the divides. She managed to visit the West Bank for the first time this year. I emailed her on my angst at what I was reading and was it possible for this man to make such a volte face? Had she met him at all? Interviewed him? She hadn’t but had reliable friends who reported on his sincerity. In almost a scold at my lack of willingness to believe the impossible, she told me she has met other Palestinians who have made similar life-changing decisions in their regard toward Israel but who now live covert lives for fear of death if they speak out.

I pressed on with the book to the end. Just as well I did but also just as well I read the book now and not when it was first published. The postscript written in 2011 answered many of my questions on the author’s sincerity I still would have been left with after the first edition.

As the current situation in Gaza has intensified, I have had one eye on my TV screen and one on this book. I’ve read the blatherings and bleatings of the emotionally stimulated but uneducated and ignorant in both traditional and social media. I’ve seen the gathering pace of the global movement to ostracize and demonize Israel. Because I have watched this area for so long I can honestly say this is not a surprise to me nor should be to any Christian who has read to the end of that other Book. It is especially some of these people who need to read Son of Hamas.

Leaving aside all my doubts over Mosab, this book opened my eyes wider to my understanding and empathy with the plight of the Palestinians. Mosab took me deeper into the understanding of their mentality and culture. Moreover I got to understand the very many different ideologies that war with each other for control of the minds and souls of the Palestinians. Ask yourself this question: if what is going on in Gaza is war between Israel and the Palestinians, why is it that the far more numerous Palestinians on the West Bank are not up in arms too? What is the difference between those who lead the Palestinians of Gaza (Hamas) and those who lead the Palestinians of the West Bank (Fatah)? This is one of the many huge revelations Mosab reveals along with many, many others which will surprise and shock.

imageIn this book, the Son of Hamas or the Green Prince as was his code name while working for the Shin Bet, a man raised from childhood to eventually aspire to Jihad (Holy War against non-Muslims) reveals the mind and psychology of extreme Islam. If for no other reason than to gain an understanding of the global threat we all face by the Jihadis of ISIS and how they think and what their end goal is then you need to read this book. Hamas is aligned in thought, practice, hope and aspiration to ISIS, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and all the other extremists that threaten ANY culture that has not bowed the knee to radical Islam. I blogged on the coming creation of a pan-national Islamic Caliphate over a year before any of us heard of ISIS.

But even all the above is not the lasting core message Mosab wrote this book to leave the reader with. What was it that enabled a man of war to lay down his weapons and make it his mission in life to minister peace and reconciliation? What drastically life-changing experience did it take to bring him to forgive his enemies? What extreme antidote did it take to neutralise the deep poison of hatred birthed between two related peoples centuries ago? It is that tale that is the lasting legacy of this son of Hamas.

Son of Hamas is available in print at Amazon and is downloadable for e-readers.

Dawsons Field: Part 1

EL ALThe Pilot suddenly plunged the airliner into a steep nosedive throwing the two hijackers off their feet. Back in the passenger cabin, Flight Attendants grappled with the female on the floor. Also thrown, the male in desperation hurled his hand grenade down the aisle. By some miracle it failed to explode. As he pulled his gun and shot and wounded a Cabin Steward, he was hit over the head with a whisky bottle by a passenger. The last thing he heard was the bullet from the gun of the Sky Marshall that brought the heist to and end. With all passengers shaken but safe, the airliner made an emergency landing at London Heathrow and the hijack was over.

No, not snippet from a thriller novel or my first attempt at a short story but what really happened on EL AL Israel Airlines flight 219 from Tel Aviv to New York via Amsterdam with 148 on board in September 1970. If you have forgotten or are too young to know, 9/11 was not the world’s first spectacular multiple hijacking. Why September seems to be the optimum month for such events I do not know and how much a part the events of 1970 had to play on the timing and style of 9/11 can only be guessed at. As events unfolded, they threw the world at the time into chaos causing acrimony between the UK and the USA, leading an Arab state to implore Israel to strike other Arab states on its behalf, almost bringing the entire Middle East to war, superpowers to loggerheads and shaping the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it stands today.

imageEL AL 219 was one of three international flights originally targeted for hijack along with TWA 741 from Frankfurt to New York with 155 on and Swissair 100 also with 155 on heading from Zürich to New York. What is it about New York and hijacks? The Israeli plane was seized shortly after leaving Amsterdam and due the swift actions of the Flight and Cabin crews the male hijacker was killed in the air and the female, a Leila Khaled, was overcome and handed to the UK authorities where she was interned. What no-one knew, and again in a chilling similarity with 9/11, was that not all the hijackers had made it on board. Two were left at the gate in Amsterdam. Not to be thwarted, these two bought tickets to board Pan American 93 heading from Amsterdam to New York with 162 on board. Seems like hijacking planes was as easy as stealing cars in those days.

Dawsons field

Dawsons Field

With the EL AL jet safe on the ground in London, the TWA and Swissair flights headed to a little known former Royal Air Force Base in Jordan known then as Dawsons Field (Zarka today). The Pan American flight, a Boeing 747 and the largest of the 3 airliners captured, needed a longer runway to land on than Dawsons Field offered. The flight touched down in Beirut to pick up additional hijackers and explosives, and then headed for Cairo. All in a 1970′s hijackerman’s normal working day really.

The last and unexpected piece of the puzzle was the taking of British flight BOAC 775 heading to London from Bahrain with 114 on board. 775 joined the party with the Swiss and American flights at Dawsons Field while Pan Am 93 sat on its lonesome in Cairo.

And so the eyes of the world focused on the remote and little known former RAF base in the deserts of Jordan known as Dawsons Field from where ripples would spiral bringing superpowers and global allies to logger heads and the armies of the Middle East mobilising for war.

(to be continued…)

Cost of flying to Israel set to tumble

imageOne of my less shouted about interests is civil aviation. No, I’m no plane spotter (though I can tell my Boeings from my Fokkers, so to speak). More specifically I keep an eye on the airline industry, which has always held a fascination for me. I get regular bulletins via email and Twitter as to what is going on across the global industry, which airlines are joining which aviation alliance and why, what the latest on-board technologies and passenger experiences are and what latest cons Ryanair are inflicting on their gullible ‘customers’.

This week I spotted a couple of interesting stories that should make good news for frequent flyers to Israel, a place I have been to many times, and those who have always wanted to go but find it too expensive.

imageFlights to Israel are ridiculously expensive and the national carrier, EL AL with Lion’s share of available seating capacity, has had it far too good for far too long. Things are about to change and so concerned have all 3 of Israel’s main airlines been about the impending changes they all went on a 2 day strike just recently. When you think that Tel Aviv is only four and a half hours away, just a little beyond Cyprus, yet peak season return fares can exceed £500 in economy. Just this morning as I was researching for this blog I stumbled across flights to California with British Airways for just a little more. Mind you, prices to Israel with BA are just as bad as with EL AL and that is partly down to limits on landing slot availability but this is also about to change.

The main driver of the change is that Israel has signed an ‘Open Skies’ agreement with the European Union. This means that more airlines from Europe can operate more flights to and from Tel Aviv than before and increased competition, seating capacity and landing slots means ticket prices will tumble, something EL AL knows and is anticipating with dread.

imageTo be fair to EL AL though, Israeli airlines face two severe disadvantages in competing with other airlines. Well, three actually. Firstly they have by necessity had to implement the most rigorous security measures of any airlines in the world. EL AL already had security measures in place that would have thwarted the 9/11 hijackers years before those tragic events. The added security costs are not only in added personnel and technologies but not a lot of people know that Israeli airliners are more expensive to fly because their metal skins are thicker than those for most other aircraft as they are built to withstand an internal explosion and so keep the craft airborne when in most other cases they would be downed. The heavier the airliner, the more fuel it uses. Israeli airlines also carry anti-missile decoy systems – decoy rockets fired from the airliner to attract away a hostile surface to air missile aimed to destroy. Think that is a security measure too far? Not when as recently as in 2002 when a Boeing 757 of Arkia Airlines bound from Mombasa, Kenya to Tel Aviv came under just such an attack. Apart from the added security measures, the fact that all of the major airline alliances have declined El Al’s request to join also puts the carrier at a major disadvantage with its only significant code share partner being American Airlines. Finally due to Israel’s strict observance of the Sabbath, local airlines are not permitted to fly anywhere in the world from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays.

imageWhile the Open Skies agreement will gradually take hold until its full implementation by 2018, there is another factor that may start to squeeze prices down sooner. Ryanair recently announced that they may be about to start low-cost flights to Tel Aviv following after Easyjet and Polish low-cost carrier, Wizz. Now I’m on record for stating that you will never get me to fly Ryanair not even in a coffin. This may be – MAY be – the one thing that might tempt me. I’ve flown to Israel 14 times now using 3 different carriers – EL AL, BA and Monarch. EL AL is my preferred carrier purely for the security aspect though my best flight ever was with BA when for some unknown reason I was upgraded to Business and very nice that was too.

All in all, though for EL AL and the other Israeli carriers there is going to be some pain ahead, for the ordinary traveller and for Israel’s tourist industry as a whole which contributes a huge amount to the economy, the Open Skies agreement should be good news…so long as the relative stability of a country in the midst of a Middle East maelstrom holds. That said, I have been out there during both Palestinian uprisings and the civil war in neighbouring Lebanon and was hardly impacted at all and I’d still feel quite safe if I were to jump on a plane in the next hour.

Provided it didn’t belong to Ryanair, that is.

Rivers from nowhere

imageHave you ever been to the lowest place on the surface of the planet?  It’s down at the Dead Sea along the Israeli/Jordanian border, 1,388ft (423m) below Sea Level. I have taken the journey many times from Jerusalem by bus or car winding down and down along magnificently maintained highways, ear-poppingly fast until you reach that lonesome old junction with the one cafe and mangy old camel where you hit the desert floor and can go no lower. Turn left here and you head toward the ancient city of Jericho.  Turn right and you will soon start to skirt the northern shores of the Dead Sea.

imageThe southward drive along the western shore of the Dead Sea, sandwiched on thin strips,of land between the barren azure waters of the lake and towering, sheer cliffs of the desert mountains, is one of the most awesomely beautiful I’ve experienced.  There is a feeling there of the enormous power of nature as well as an ancient landscape that until very modern times has barely changed.   There is also the overbearing sense of searing heat and arid dryness.  With mid-day temperatures touching 40 degrees Celsius in the Summer months, any journey into this terrain needs a fully air-conditioned vehicle as a pre-requisite.  The other essential you need is water and plenty of it.

As you take the drive south the scenery before and around you is a choice between either the calm, sticky rainbow of blues of the lake to the left or the towering, sheer-sided terracotta coloured mountains to the right.  My eyes have always been drawn to the mountains on this journey.  Not just their sheer size and colour that accentuates the experience of knowing you are at the lowest point on the surface of the Earth, but it is the way these magnificent hills have been gouged and carved through with deep gullies and valleys that fascinate me.  Everywhere boulders of solid rock bigger than the car i’m riding in lying many meters away from the mountains they presumably fell from as if casually tossed there like some pebble on a beach.  What awesome force has been at work to carve out this place?

imageMost tourists, myself included, only see this region in the dry Summer months. We never get to see or experience – as Winter hiking Israelis do – the powerful hand that has been at work shaping the land: water.  No, not water from the Dead Sea but from the water that flows into it.  In this dry, arid place the lake is replenished not by the very rare direct rainfall that manages to make its way down there.  It is topped up by fresh water flowing down from the Sea of Galilee in the north via the River Jordan. Its only other water source is the Winter rains falling not directly onto the lake but arriving in torrents from storms passing miles away.    The Dead Sea is like a big kitchen sink with mountains on almost all sides.  When rain falls on the mountains all around and far from the shore, you may never know it when hiking on a clear blue-skied day in the bowel of the sink.   Yet, all that rain produces ‘fall-off’ from the mountains, which as it gathers in volume is hurtled ever downward between the cracks of the sheer cliffs until it forms boiling rivers with such power and energy to slice through and sweep all in its path – even boulders the size of cars and man-made roads.   It has not been unknown for unsuspecting hikers to also fall victim on an otherwise sunny day to a sudden flash flood bursting out of the mountains with fatal consequences.

Iimage got thinking about my many visits to the Dead Sea and these rivers from nowhere that I have never seen while in church last week. Someone read out these words from Psalm 63: “Oh Lord you are my God. Earnestly I seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My body longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” This prayer was written eons ago in a desert in Israel not unlike the Dead Sea region.  What spoke to me was that I don’t have to physically be in a desert to relate to the soul-crushing dryness and weariness or concerns in life even here amid my seemingly comfortable existence here in London.  Any of us can relate to a driving need such as whatever it was that caused the writer of that prayer to cry out in his anguish.   What struck me is that in that place where the Psalmist was, calling out for refreshing, restoration, release from his burdens or just an answer to prayer…unbeknown to him, the rains may already have started to fall in the mountains miles away that will soon start rushing toward his barren place in torrents.

I guess we never know sometimes that answers to prayer if you believe in such things as I do, may even have already started on their way before one word is on our lips…

 

 

 

 

Israel may be behind chemical weapons use in Syria?

knessetI saw this bizarre headline on my Twitter feed a couple of hours before I went to bed last night.  I would normally have just shrugged it off as another hysterical ‘blame the Jews for all the world’s evils’ rhetoric that is worryingly becoming more prevalent today.  Yet remembering the recent sickening media photos of Syrian civilians, allegedly victims of a chemical weapons attack by Syria’s brutal President Bashar Assad, I stopped and took notice – not least because the story was shared by two of Israel’s own popular newspapers – The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz.  These reports were fresh as I wrote last night and not yet reflected in other media by the time I turned out the light and hit the sack.

It seems that ‘former Bush Administration official’, retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson has claimed publicly that the alleged use of chemical weapons that made global headlines recently may be a ‘false flag operation’ by Israel to implicate the Syrian President (i.e. that it was Israel that actually used the weapons on Syrian civilians) – something I find preposterous.  Col Wilkerson also went on to say that considering the ‘flaky’ evidence, the use of chemical weapons could just have easily been the work of the Syrian opposition as well as the obvious culprit, Assad.

The introduction of weapons of mass destruction into the conflict has raised the stakes all round in the unfolding events in Syria and there is much scrutiny both in Jerusalem and in Washington of the ‘red line’, which US President Obama said should not be crossed for risk of drawing American intervention by which he is reported to have been referring to the use of chemical weapons as a trigger for a robust US response.

As I have written about before, the turmoil of the ‘Arab Spring’ has backed Israel into a precarious position with destabilisation on virtually all its borders. Egypt to the south has a new radical Islamist and anti-Israeli government in place and civil unrest between secularists and Islamists is heated and bloody. To the north, Iranian-backed Hezbollah – Israel’s arch enemy – is highly active in Lebanon, which is also beginning to suffer the effects of the Syrian civil war to the east as refugees flee across the border taking with them the Sunni-Shi’ite inter-Islamic feuding that is at the root of so much of the conflict across the Islamic world we are witnessing. Only Jordan among Israel’s direct neighbours remains relatively calm at present, but not for long I forecast.

What interests me even more about the reporting in both Israeli papers is an implied insight into the  on-going deep rift that remains between the present American and Israeli administrations as was accidentally leaked to the world’s media in what they thought was a private conversation between former French President Sarkozy and President Obama.  While Col Wilkerson is not an official spokesman for the Obama Administration, it is clear from the reporting in the Israeli media that they view his comments as indicative of the gulf that now exists between Israel and its biggest- some would say only – global sponsor.

The US and Israel are already at odds over how to handle the potentially vastly greater theat to world peace posed by Iranian nuclear ambitions.  Israeli Premier, Benjamin Netanyahu has already made it clear that his Government is prepared to make a preemptive strike on Iran before Iran has the capabilities to strike Israel, an event that would by default drag America into the conflict as Israel’s chief ally.  I believe that what we are seeing taking place in Syria now, including this strange issue of chemical weapons will have far reaching effects on the looming Iranian stand-off.    Israel is being drawn ever into the Syrian conflict.   There have already been reports a few months back of Israeli airstrikes into Lebanon on military convoys from Syria allegedly supplying Hezbollah with weaponry.  Within the last day or so Israel has openly admitted that it has now made similar airstrikes into Syria itself from Lebanon to target Hezbollah-bound military convoys. As such, this is not an earth-shattering event in the Syrian saga. Turkey has done similar along Syria’s northern border when it too felt threatened.   Key to the current episode is how President Obama handles the situation.    His words that he will commit America to (long-overdue some would say) intervention should chemical weapons be used are increasingly viewed as shallow and even lacking substance in Jerusalem.   Israel has remained as patient as it has to be in the always critical glare of world opinion but ever vigilant of events on its very borders and has now seen fit to intervene more than once.  The danger is that Israel will get dragged in further, which President Assad would no doubt welcome so that an Arab world, hitherto critical of him, would forget their differences in temporarily uniting against the Jewish state.

President Obama is challenged with having to make clear to the world (as it is not just the Israeli press that is asking but even our own British media too), whether he is a man who will stand by his word and what exactly his word means. There is much speculation and criticism in his own media that his Administration is now attempting to blur what that red line he spoke about actually meant.  If he fails to act decisively now, when it comes to dealing with Iran the Israelis will be even less inclined to wait upon faltering and flaky US resolve but to take the initiative whatever the consequences.

I awoke this morning to the news (still breaking as I write) that overnight Israel’s Air Force has attacked targets they say were military research centers in the Syrian capital, Damascus and so in a trice the stakes in this war are raised even higher.  We await the fall-out but I am reminded again of things I’ve researched on concerning the city of Damascus itself, which has a very dark, ancient and still unfulfilled Biblical prophecy over it that I’ve been pondering about blogging on for some time…

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