Eilat!

A photo essay

There was a rainstorm that closed the Dead Sea road, so we went another way. It should have been scenic, but …

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*Israeli history moment: In 1949, the Israeli army captured Umm Rashrash (without a battle) and they wanted to raise a flag, but they didn’t have one. So they took a sheet and painted two blue stripes and sewed on a Star of David. It went down in history as the “ink flag.” The original picture resembles the Iwo Jima flag-raising, and so the statue does too.

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Then we had dinner on the beach.IMG_20190207_180956

Next morning’s breakfast.

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The road our AirBnB is on.

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Eilat has changed since I was here last. There are giant luxury hotels.

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The marina.

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Sailboats overlooking the Red Sea.

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Nice views on the beachfront promenade.

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This is a view of four different hotels. Eilat is growing into quite the tourist destination.

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Herrod’s is at the end of the world, I mean, the beach. Across the water, you can see the mountains of Jordan and the city of Aqaba.

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Herrod’s pool.

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Eilat doesn’t have a “beach” per se. The water in the Red Sea is quite cool and what you can see here is the main part of the beach area in Eilat (looking toward Eilat and Sinai).

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Still, the weather was fabulous and the promenade was clean, not too crowded, and great for a change of scenery. We’re definitely not in Jerusalem!

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As a bonus, the flowers are in bloom!

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TV Review – Timeless

Short review: A historian, a soldier, and an engineer fighting a worldwide conspiracy to change history by traveling through time? Yes, please! Bonus: Goran Višnjić!

This was one of those shows that had to fight to stay on the air, but we got two good seasons. Thankfully, they had a Christmas special to tie up the loose ends and keep the door open a crack for a new series in the future.

As a historian, I found myself curious about the time periods and characters that they met. I spent time afterward looking up names and dates and thought about moments in history that might have ripple effects in the future – personal moments or historic moments. Just for sparking curiosity, I think this series is worth watching and I can’t wait to see more from Eric Kripke and Shaun Ryan.

Long review: More detailed descriptions of elements I liked. Not exactly spoilers, but if you don’t want to know, you’ve been warned.

timeless

I’ve written before about narratives in history and versions of truths and ultimate truths. And this series takes those ideas and turns them into an interesting story that opens the door to hidden histories. Each episode goes to a different time period and while we might think that the Time Team, as they are called online, is there to stop or save a big event, sometimes it’s a small event that has repercussions generations later.

This can be personal or simply an unknown story. For instance, I had no idea that a little recording session in 1936 by a guy named Robert Johnson would spark blues music, which would lead to rock and roll, the 1960s movements, and eventually to questioning authority (what the bad guys don’t want).

When you deal with merging multiple voices and multiple narratives the right way, you learn about characters you didn’t know before, like Grace Humiston, the first female Special Assistant US Attorney. She was known as Mrs. Sherlock Holmes for helping to solve cold cases involving missing women.

One fun episode was running into Ian Fleming in Nazi Germany. Fleming is the author of all the James Bond novels and he was a real-life spy during World War II. Another is stopping by the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Having read Devil in the White City, I already knew that this was about one of the US’s most famous serial killers. Bonus for that episode: Harry Houdini. And what do you know about Hedy Lamarr? She wasn’t just a pretty face on the silver screen in the 1940s; if you use Bluetooth technology, then you are using something based on the principles she developed. If you haven’t seen the movie Hidden Figures, would you know anything about Katherine Johnson, a black woman working at NASA in the 1960s who made the lunar landing possible with her calculations?

A seemingly benign episode might have bigger repercussions if you think about it. The trio go back and meet the first black NASCAR driver, Wendell Scott. A number of auto executives were going to attend the race. So what happens if the execs get killed by the bad guys? Who would control the whole auto industry?

My favorite thing about the show is that it sparked my curiosity. We all know the basics of history, but to get the full truth, you have to hear all the voices. This was a great way to introduce untold stories to US audiences who suffered through white man’s history. (Or, in the vernacular of my liberal arts university: his-story.)

The great thing about this show is that we see people outside stereotypes. The historian is a young-ish woman. The engineer is a black Star Wars geek who graduated MIT. Another engineer is a Lebanese woman who likes Star Trek. The special agent in charge is Indian (from India) and is married to a black woman. The one character that is stereotypical is the Delta Force soldier; he’s a tasty morsel of all-American origin.

The show takes on the challenge of what a woman or a black man can do in history when neither one of those was respected in society. History is not seen through rose-colored glasses, but it’s not seen as the Dark Ages either. People survived and even thrived. The trio also has to make some tough choices. Would you try to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?

If you watch a lot of TV and movies (who me?), then you’ll also get the inside jokes. Some of the most fun moments are when they make up names to hide their identities. Cagney and Lacey are investigators. Lando Calrissian is a record producer. John Maclane and Hans Gruber team up. Denzel Washington is a Civil War soldier. Every episode has fun Easter eggs if you’re quick enough to catch them.

Bottom line: If you like history, if you like turning what you know on its head, if you like to be challenged, and if you like laughing, then this show is for you.

“What’s past is prologue …”

Israel doesn’t do Halloween, so there were no flash sales on every kind of candy and no wild costume parties.  Chanukah donuts are now showing up at bakeries though, which is pretty much like seeing Christmas decorations in September.  It doesn’t feel right.

Instead, this week Israel did what Israel does best, we marked historical occasions.  This week was the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, 100 years since the historic ANZAC battle in Beer Sheva, and 22 years since Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.

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The Balfour Declaration is a one-page letter written by Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild.  The main paragraph says:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

Since Jews had been coming to settle in the area since the 1880s, the Balfour Declaration was not permission, but was rather an international recognition of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

Prime Minister Netanyahu went to London for a ceremony, many historians and commentators have written or spoken about the Balfour Declaration, and the Palestinians have demanded an apology and threatened a law suit over the document.  So pretty much just like any other day in Israel.

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Source: By Niv Singer from Tel-Aviv, Israel (Yitzhak Rabin’s Grave) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The commemoration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination was apparently quite different this year. The theme was national unity with the slogan “We are One Nation.” From the little I read, it seemed that everyone was united in not liking the way the commemoration was planned.  Israel and the Jewish people are quite skilled at remembering, so I think it will be quite a few more years before the heat of emotion cools enough for national consensus about how to commemorate and remember Rabin’s assassination.  It’s not simply remembering the life and work of a national leader, but his assassination represents a tear in the national fabric that has yet to be truly repaired.

Anzac

I’m reminded of my trip to Gallipoli while reading about the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) reenactment of the Battle of Beer Sheva. Descendants of ANZACs come to famous battle sites on pilgrimage to honor their ancestors.  I’m sure that they’ve come before to Beer Sheva, but because this is the 100th anniversary, it’s a much bigger commemoration with a delegation of 100 descendants visiting Israel.  The news stories have made a special point of Aboriginal soldiers making up about a quarter of the fighting force and because it was a cavalry battle, it was their expert horsemanship that helped win it.

Maori War Dance for PM Netanyahu for 100th anniversary ceremony (video)

Holocaust Remembrance Day (24 April 2017) – Yom HaShoah

I’m working from home today.  A few minutes before 10am, I step out onto my rooftop porch.  I pace a bit.  I look at traffic.  I look at the people walking in the street below.  It’s a sunny day with blue skies and a cold breeze.  Waiting in the sun I’m both hot and cold.

The siren begins.  Low at first and then filling the whole valley, echoing in remembrance.  Cars stop and drivers get out of their cars to stand.  Pedestrians stop as if someone pressed the pause button.  Two minutes – one hundred and twenty seconds – standing together we remember.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a solemn day in Israel:  television stations air holocaust memorials, the radio plays quiet music, schools have special programming, workplaces gather for small memorials, people light candles.  It’s right to remember and there will never be a time when it will be correct to stop having the siren, to drive through the siren, to not stop everything we are doing for two minutes.

Defining Israel exclusively in the shadow of the Holocaust does a huge disservice to all of the positive Zionism that built, and continues to build, the State of Israel.

The Holocaust did not spark the wave of immigrants who built 28 communities in the ancestral homeland from 1882 to 1904.

The Holocaust did not inspire the building of Tel Aviv in 1909 and the establishment of Degania, a small community next to the Sea of Galilee, in 1909.

The Holocaust did not inspire Lord James Balfour in 1917 to write in the Balfour Declaration “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

It was not the Holocaust that facilitated 800,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries in the 1950s to be relocated and housed in Israel and a million Russian Jews in the 1990s to find their homes in Israel.

It was not the Holocaust that inspired 12 Israelis (so far) to win the Nobel Prize.

It was not the Holocaust that turned Israel into a “Start-Up Nation” with the highest number of startups per capita and second to the US in actual number of startups.

The Holocaust annihilated half of the Jewish population of the planet, but it does not have to be the defining moment of Israel’s history.  We are not victims with no other place to go.  Israel doesn’t exist only so that there will be a sanctuary in case another Holocaust comes. We want to live in our ancestral homeland – to be a free people in our land.  We want to be a nation like other nations.  And if we do it right, perhaps we can even be a light unto the nations.

The image of a phoenix rising from the ashes is beautiful and poetic, but next week when we’ll celebrate the State of Israel’s 69th birthday, we will know that we are so much more.

“Alternative Facts”? Sure, I’ve heard of those!

alt-factsI just liked this headline from The Guardian

When Kellyanne Conway used this phrase this week, my first thought was that if she had any sense she would have said that it was a “different interpretation of facts.”  And then it occurred to me, “Hey, we have plenty of ‘alternative facts’ reported about us in Israel.”

A few weeks ago 4 soldiers were run over by a truck driver on purpose in a targeted attack.  Here’s what the BBC first reported.

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There is actually nothing untrue in this headline.  A truck driver was shot.  It happened in Jerusalem.  There were allegations that he hit people and injured them.  And the Israeli media reported it.

But do you see the problem here?  It’s the arrangement and presentation of the facts.

Does it feel different when you see the headline this way?  Here’s their later post.

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Screenshot from my computer

Still true, but now you understand who the victims are and who the perpetrator is and that it was an attack – not an alleged attack according to others.

I’m an editor.  I work with words for a living and it matters how facts are framed.  For instance:

Four young soldiers murdered in vicious truck ramming attack.

Four killed by truck.

Truck driver runs over four soldiers.

Terrorist shot in his truck after he killed four soldiers.

Truck driver shot after fatal accident kills four.

All of these sentences have the same facts, but you feel differently about each because of how those interpretations are framed.  And yet none of them is a lie.

The most shocking example of different interpretations of facts I’ve heard of was in 2007 when a master’s student won an award for a research thesis that looked into the question of why IDF soldiers don’t rape Palestinian women.  Her conclusion – hold on to your socks – it’s because IDF soldiers are racists and dehumanize Palestinian women so they wouldn’t even want to rape them.  Let me repeat.  She WON AN AWARD for this work and Hebrew University stood behind the decision.  (Here’s an analysis of the paper done by a professor at Haifa University. Here’s a shorter article about it.)

That’s an alternative fact if ever I’ve heard one.

I’m not defending Kellyanne Conway.  I’m not defending journalists who write news stories with their own biases and agendas.  And I’m not defending the academic world.

I’m appealing to you, dear reader, to be aware.  Read multiple news sources.  Read news you don’t agree with (in moderation if you have high blood pressure).  Watch out for fake news.  Analyze and deconstruct what you read and hear.  More than anything else, hold people accountable for the words they use and how they use them.

More on history and truth from my blog:

The truth about history.

How history will remember.

UNESCO rewrites history.

UNESCO Rewrites History

Mom told me a story once about her mother and how she had once been a history teacher in the Soviet Union.  She was helping her students prepare for a big exam and reminding them how a certain general was a “hero of the people.”  During the week of preparations, this general became an “enemy of the people,” so all the questions about him were changed to reflect his new status.  Grandma was disillusioned and changed careers to become an accountant.

That was the Soviet Union then.  This is now.

This week a UNESCO resolution is trying to rewrite history and suggest that Jews and Christians have no connection to the Old City of Jerusalem.  I mentioned the resolution in a blog post in July and discussed very briefly the postmodern idea of “narratives of history” in May.

The main problem (among many others) with the resolution is that it purposely eliminates or minimizes the Jewish names of the holy sites:  Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif is never referred to as the Temple Mount and Buraq Plaza is the name for the “Western Wall Plaza” (quotation marks in original).  Full text is reprinted here.

The “Buraq Plaza” of 1916-1917 – not much of a plaza and not a Muslim site.

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Source

The Office of Foreign Affairs posted this on their Facebook page to highlight the changing of history aspect of the purposeful elimination of names.

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement that said:

To say Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. With this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost the modicum of legitimacy it had left.

And he followed it up with this tweet.

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In my opinion, the most worrisome thing is the vote.  The resolution was approved in committee 24 for and 6 against, with 26 abstentions.  The countries that stood up to vote against this resolution were: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States.  I applaud their strength!  I wonder about the countries that abstained.  They chose not to vote yes, but could not bring themselves to vote no.  Abstaining doesn’t mean they get to pretend this resolution didn’t happen.

UNESCO’s Director-General issued a lukewarm statement mentioning that all three monotheistic religions have a connection to the Old City, but did not cancel or condemn the resolution.

In response, Israel’s government has suspended cooperation with UNESCO at this time.  And rightly so.

Being a UNESCO Heritage Site used to be a badge of honor.  But if UNESCO can vote on and pass resolutions that skew and twist history to suit a particular agenda, doesn’t it call into question all of UNESCO’s decisions and resolutions?  Is UNESCO a new totalitarian regime telling us what history is?

How History will remember

There’s a theory that the same amount of bad things are happening in the world as there ever were, but now that we live in a global village and the media coverage is instantaneous, we simply hear about it sooner and more often.  I’m not sure that is true, but I do wish that we would demand that the media stop functioning on a 24-hour news cycle that drops stories as soon as something bloodier comes along.  The terror attack in Nice is today’s top story, but how quickly will we move to the next thing?  France plans to mourn for 3 days.  Will we?  Or will something else catch our attention?

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Headline scanning means that we’ll only catch the big stories and so seemingly little stories get swept aside.  I imagine that very few people know that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, this week.

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I am not an expert on the workings of UNESCO and this is not meant to be deep research.  I just want to point out a few facts and try to put them into context.  I’ve provided links at the end of the post.

UNESCO – United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization – was on the news radar in Israel in April because of a draft resolution that subtly denied Jewish connections to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.  The headlines were pretty bold, but when I went to the document itself (which no news site linked to) it refers to Israel as “Israel, the Occupying Power,” does not once use the term “Temple Mount” but only “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” and mentions the “Buraq Plaza ‘Western Wall Plaza’.”  This draft didn’t pass – of 58 votes, 33 were for, 17 abstentions, 6 against (the other 2 were not in attendance).  Another draft related to the Old City and its Walls uses the same terminology, except refers to “Buraq Plaza (Western Wall Plaza).”

At the conference this week the item was pulled off the agenda at the last minute because of the uncertainty of the votes and it’s pretty unlikely that the resolutions will pass.  So, no big deal, right? Well, I’m not so sure about that.

The present is the future’s past

As a historian, I’m thinking about researchers going through documents at some unspecified time in the future.  Let’s say, at least 150 years from now.  UNESCO doesn’t decide what history is, but as the arbiter of World Heritage Sites and a name that suggests global neutrality, how will historians see these documents in the future?

First of all, if you go through the documents, you will find references to Jerusalem in the “Arab States” section of the agenda.  Other geographical designations are Europe and North America, Latin America and Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Pacific.

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As an academic editor, I know that quotation marks are used for quotations, of course, but they are also used as a substitute for the words so-called, which suggest a distance from the term.  Above, I’m using quotation marks because I’m quoting the text.  Within the resolution, the only reason to use quotation marks (also known as scare quotes, I don’t know why) is to say the so-called Western Wall Plaza.  If you say the words so-called in front of anything, your voice naturally picks up a sarcastic tone.  It’s even more sarcastic if you make air quotes with your fingers.  So here we have a UNESCO draft resolution that gives Arabic names with capital letters, but Jewish names with quotation marks or in parentheses.

How we got from there to here

There may be those that say, “Well, you know, that big golden dome is up there now and possession is 9/10ths of the law.”  Since the Jordanian Waqf administers the site and forbids Jews to pray there, I think that point is moot.  Even subtly rejecting any Jewish connection is simply changing history.  Before Islam, there were two Jewish Temples that stood on that site.  Without the Temple, Jesus would have had no place to overturn the tables and attack the money lenders.  Titus’ Arch in Rome would have no story to tell.  Millions of Jews coming to Israel to visit a bunch of stones, a retaining wall actually, would also seem a bit weird if they lack a connection.

The point I want to make is that it matters now and today how we respond.  US Jews were very happy to have a mixed-gender prayer site created at the Western Wall, but in the big picture isn’t it a more important issue if UNESCO votes to effectively erase the Jewish connection to any part of the area?  Can UNESCO be allowed to vote on the narrative of history? If we decide to lay out narratives next to each other, we can say that there is indeed a Muslim connection to the site (third holiest site), but we must say that there is a Jewish (most important site) and Christian (Jesus’ final days) connection to the site.

What will our researcher find 150 years in the future when looking through the UNESCO documents? I hope she finds a multi-colored patchwork of truth and not obvious propaganda.

Epilogue:  The UNESCO response to Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) bombing parts of Palmyra, a World Heritage Site in Syria, was that the head of UNESCO did declare the acts war crimes, but after UNESCO experts went in, their preliminary finding was that it wasn’t as bad as they thought.  A language comparison of the two resolutions is enlightening.  Daesh is just Daesh, not an Occupying Power or anything else.  Their actions are condemned, but Israel’s actions are strongly condemned, firmly deplored, deeply decried, and disapproved.

Draft resolution on the Al-Haram Al-Sharif and its surroundings.

Decision on Jerusalem and its Walls from 2015.

Report on the vote in April.

Possible revision to the drafts.

An in-depth review of the issue.

Draft resolution on Palmyra.

Press release on Palmyra.