Archive for Current Events

The price of coming home again


A few months after I moved to Germany in 2006, palestinian militants tunneled into Israel, infiltrated a military base and seized a 19 year-old israeli soldier by the name of Gilad Shalit. After an unsuccessful attempt by Israel to release Gilad by military means, he remained in isolated captivity for five years and four months, held by Hamas, until an agreement, mediated by Egypt, was reached in October 2011 which would swap Gilad for over 1000 palestinian prisoners, many high-profile terrorists and convicted murderers. On October 18th 2011, the swap took place, and Gilad Shalit, now 25 years old, returned home.

The plight to bring Gilad home greeted me everywhere on my many trips to Israel during the past five years. His face was everywhere – on street signs, posters, stickers and billboards. His parents and activists, many who have never met Gilad, erected a protest camp in front of the Prime Minister’s quarters in Jerusalem. The family’s march across the country was accompanied by thousands. The collective pain by Gilad’s capture was immense and yet, extremely difficult to explain to those who are not familiar with what growing up as an Israeli is ultimately like.

Understanding why Israelis chose to swap a dangerous bunch of convicted killers is a difficult one. So much, to the extent where the foreign media is having a hard time at trying to explain it to their readers. As an Israeli, understanding the necessity of this deal makes almost intuitive sense, even with cognitive dissonance looming in the background.

I explained to someone yesterday over Twitter that Gilad’s return was celebrated in Israel not because he was a “national hero”, but because he was somebody’s son. Israel has national conscription, which means that service in the army is mandatory. Every Israeli goes into the army at the age of 18 and many young soldiers find themselves in situations they didn’t expect and/or didn’t want to be in. I served through the Al-Aqsa Intifada and have lost friends and colleagues to palestinian terrorists. One was shot at point-blank by a palestinian gunman. Another rode over an explosive. One of my brothers served off the coast of Beirut during the 2006 Lebanon war when the INS Hanit was fired upon. He lost some friends that day and it very easily could have been him, on the INS Lahav. A few years later, soldiers from the INS Lahav were wounded when attacked by activists during the Gaza flotilla raid.

It’s an uncomfortable reality, but it’s part of growing up in Israel. Many of us go through our service without seeing combat. Some of us go through it without being confronted with death. Some of us get wounded. Some of us get captured. Some never come home again. Israel’s policy of not leaving it’s soldiers behind comes from the understanding that a soldier is, first and foremost, a young Israeli with friends, family, hopes and dreams for the future. When Israeli soldiers lose their lives in battle or attacks, they are remembered not as military personell or numbers on a sheet of paper, but as sons and daughters.

This is a point which I find terribly difficult to bring across to my non-Israeli friends. In most western countries, military service is not mandatory and those which do have conscription service are not normally under a state of peril. The mentality of “doing your part to protect your neighbor” doesn’t exist (it’s more “doing your part to fight someone else’s war”). On first glance, the release of over 1000 palestinian inmates to secure the return of Gilad Shalit seems irrationally disproportional, but Israelis believed they were fulfilling a moral obligation to bring back one of their own and give him a chance at a future.

This is a strength of Israeli society, and also it’s weakness. There’s no guarantee that the released palestinian militants will not return to terrorism, Hamas played Gilad Shalit as a carefully placed card and took advantage of Israel’s desire to have him returned home at almost any cost. Hamas is widely celebrating the release of the militants, claiming to have demonstrated their superior ability to manipulate Israel. In the meantime, Israelis seem to have developed more of a “fuck you, we’re just happy to see the kid home” attitude, despite the understanding that the entire ordeal may not work out in their favor in the long run.

Personally, I’m relieved to see Gilad home and am excited for his friends and family. I’m happy that Israel is upholding it’s obligation to it’s citizens and am humbled by the great lengths to which the country has agreed to go to in order to bring back one if it’s own. On the other side, I am horrified – not necessarily of the possible direct involvement of the released palestinian militants in future acts of terrorism (although that’s certainly a concern) but the boost that the prisoner release has given Hamas and what this may do to the balance of power in the region in the long-term.

At the end of the day, Gilad is a shy, quiet young man who has probably been through a lot more than any of us should ever have to. And everyone’s just really damn happy to see him home.

Gender equality is a bitch slut


This afternoon was Slutwalk Hamburg. If you’ve never heard of a Slutwalk, don’t worry – I hadn’t before this morning, either. According to Wikipedia, a Slutwalk started as an event where “participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman’s appearance.” and today is a global network of marches campaigning for gender equality and against sexism and sexual violence.

I normally prefer not to categorize my opinions in a way which would be gender-specific, so was happy to join a pan-gender event. I’m a strong proponent for women’s rights, of course, but I choose to support campaigns which are very firmly across the board. I’m a “gender equality-ist”, if you’d like. I oppose gender, race or sexuality-based oppression and discrimination of any sort.

Under this premise, I joined Slutwalk. Very quickly into the march, I realized gender equality wasn’t the issue – feminism was. Mention of violence, discrimination and oppression against other minorities took a back-seat to signs and slogans set to promote feminist- and female-centric agendas. “But wait!” you say. “Women are the most common victim of sexual violence and oppression. Surely there is a place to campaign for them and promote awareness”. Of course, I agree entirely. But this event, as it promoted itself on it’s own website, was set to campaign against “sexism and sexual violence”. This includes everyone. As I look at my male friends in the crowd, who can’t wear a dress in public for fear of being lynched, as I look at the mirror and don’t see a woman or a man – and I’m afraid to define myself publicity as anything but either. As I think of my friends who were born into the wrong body – the violence and discrimination they face is real. And yet – Slutwalk Hamburg chose to concentrate on female-centric themes. Despite my mixed feelings towards female-centric events (sometimes they can be rather discriminatory, often they greaten the rift between genders, but it depends on the context), Slutwalk promoted itself as an event against sexism towards any gender. Make no mistake – if you invite me to your event campaigning women’s rights, I’ll be happy to join. But don’t invite me to an anti-sexism event and conveniently forget that sexism goes in more than one direction. That, my dear friend, is in itself sexist.

Upset as I was over this issue, what eventually pushed me to leave the parade halfway-through was the hijacking of the event towards anarchist agendas. Chants such as “no god, no state” and others towards the legitimization of house-squatting had nothing to do with the event, but were the most consistent and loudest of all. At first, I thought it was a small group of anarcho-punks which had hijacked the event for their own agenda, but as I advanced towards the front of the procession, I realized that those shouting anarchist slogans was also a large group right at the front – holding the Slutwalk banners, thus identifying themselves and the parade to onlookers as bearing an anarchist political agenda.

As a demonstration goer, I felt violated. I came to oppose sexism and this group had hijacked the event towards their agenda (without protest from the rest of the participants), thus speaking for me and the entire procession. This is non-permissible. As a first-time Slut-walker, I felt betrayed. So I left.

Instead of a gender-equality event demonstrating against sexism and sexual violence, Slutwalk Hamburg was a feminist-centric event with an anarchist political agenda that largely ignored it’s own printed claim. If I would have known this in advance, not only would I not have signed up, but I would have made sure to sew the seeds to organize an alternative event. Maybe now is the time to start thinking about the logistics.

A day at MBC09


mbc09

I spent the day at MBC09, Europe’s first microblogging conference, organized beautifully by Cem Basman. The day was organized in panels and sessions, one of which was given by Evan Prodromou, founder of identi.ca, with some very interesting ideas on interoperability between microblogging platforms. (UPDATE: you can watch Evan’s talk here)

Beyond the sessions, it was interesting to see the “silent discussions” being held behind-the-scenes on Twitter. At any given moment, dozens of people were tweeting away with updates and discussions on the sessions and off-topic themes. I especially enjoyed the discussions folks were having on the future of microblogging, it was interesting to see that many people felt that we’re on the verge of having this type of online communication go mainstream. If Evan’s predictions about standards-based microblogging interoperability come true, we may see this mainstream adaptation happen sooner, rather than later.

This was also my first opportunity to test some “power-tweeting” with my new Blackberry 8110 with Twitterberry (more on that at a later point). This is an excellent setup for microblogging. Text input is easy and besides for some minor connection-dropping issues, Twitterberry works well. On the same subject, I had a nice discussion with Thilo of Twibble fame on the subject of mobile app usability. If you’re not familiar with the Twibble mobile client, check it out!

And of course, it was great to meet with “the crowd”. You know who you are – you make these events fun for me. :)

MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg MBC09 Hamburg

Fast-food patriotism


More Humus

More Humus

Originally uploaded by lirontocker


Re: Sometimes miracles happen


The internet has been heating up in the past few days on the subject of the conflict between Israel and the Hamas. Cem wrote an interesting post (translation) on the improvement of the relations between Turkey and Greece following the 1999 Izmit earthquake. I commented on this post, and then realized the comment would have been a post within itself, so here it is:

While I’d like to believe that the previous situation between Greece and Turkey would have been a viable benchmark point, unfortunately reality, from my perspective, is somewhat different.

The earthquake was indeed a catastrophe, and Greece’s willingness to extend a hand in aid was admirable. Set to scale, Palestinians and Israelis alike will mention that life in the Gaza Strip is catastrophic from a day-to-day perspective, however the international media has largely chosen to ignore the little-known fact that Israel has provided and continues to provide the Gaza Strip with electricity infrastructure, water, communications systems and medical aid. When the situation between the Hamas and the Fatah escalated, injured parties from both sides sought refuge inside Israel and were treated at Israeli hospitals. Israeli organizations routinely operate inside of the Gaza Strip in order to distribute food and supplies.

Inside Israel, pictures of Israeli/Palestinian cooperation are routinely shown in the Israeli media. Palestinian media professionals are routinely interviewed and the stories of life inside the Gaza Strip are aired. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of reporting by the Gazan media specifically and Arab media reporting in general. If the Turkish media would have chosen to ignore the Greek aid and not report on it, the situation today between Turks and Greeks may have very well been different.

For any type of “miracle” to happen in the future, Israel needs to uproot it’s settlements outside the borders and the Palestinians need to stop indoctrinating their children to murder. The situation will not get any better before the Palestinian people have something to live for, and no longer feel like they have nothing to lose. I believe Israel needs to take a harsh stand against the Hamas, an organization which is bittering the lives of both the Israeli and Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. Under Hamas, international aid money (and Israeli money, including the taxes I continue to pay) has been directed towards trafficking and deployment of weapons. Since the Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, what existed of the Palestinian economy and the quality of life in the region has plummeted. Israel needs to go into the Gaza Strip (despite the controversy) uproot the Hamas (for the sake of both peoples) and start controlling and distributing aid directly (instead of just funneling money globally, like they do now), while investing finance into Palestinian businesses and promoting Palestinian grassroots organizations to build up the Palestinian economy towards self-sustainability. The moment this happens, international businesses will take notice, and the Palestinian economy will boom – leading towards a new era of cooperation and security.

This is why I am not entirely shocked or horrified by the situation in the Gaza Strip in the past few days. Olmert himself (who I am not normally a fan of) had a moment of honesty and clarity when he declared to the Israeli media: “It is going to get worse before it gets better, for both sides of this conflict”. I can only hope that the decisions made from this point forth will be beneficial towards both peoples. It’s going to be rough, but we’ll get there eventually.

So that is my “official” take on the current events in Gaza, make of it what you will. Despite the circumstances, I’d like to wish everyone (everyone) a happy and heartwarming final night of Hanukkah, from my small little apartment in Hamburg.

On the 8th night of Hanukkah my true love gave to me

Bend at Arlene’s Grocery, New York


My friend Yoav and his super-talented band Bend played at Arlene’s Grocery in NYC a few nights ago. For those of us who weren’t able to attend, here are a few videos from the show.

You can download their new 5-sing EP “The Helpless E.P.” here.

“See It Clear”

“Unpredictable”

Pop goes the Eurovision


Okay, I admit. I watch the Eurovision. There’s something to be said about the understated joy of watching countries embarrass themselves on live television with 100 million viewers watching. I was actually pleasantly surprised this year – the entries were pretty good and some of the songs were really well put together and well preformed (keep in mind, I said some).

After Israel’s painfully embarrassing stunt at last year’s semi-finals, I was really happy to see that we sent a respectable entry this year. Boaz Mauda’s voice is great and even though Israel only made 9th place, I’d say that’s quite an achievement considering Israel’s current place in European public opinion 2008. Anyway, I’m not complaining. We won 3 times already.

Anyhow, here’s Israel’s entry, in case you missed it. I really think it was one of the best this year.

The mandatory next08 post


Thursday night was the Next08 conference party here in Hamburg which I happily attended with my coworker Sven. It was nice! I met a few of people I had been wanting to meet for a while (exhibit a, exhibit b) and some new acquaintances as well.

I also participated as a guest host in the Hamburger zum Mittag podcast.

Feel free to check out my photos from the party on flickr.

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