Newsletter : 13fx1219.txt
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Hamas Falsely Claims Israel Flooded Gaza, by Opening Dams That Don't Exist
By The Times of Israel
Even the weather is fair game in Hamas' war of words against Israel. A fabricated claim
that Israel intentionally flooded the Gaza Strip during the worst storm to hit the region
in decades has made headlines in Middle Eastern and international media over the past
The Gaza Strip was one of the areas most affected by the storm Alexa. Torrential rain
caused widespread flooding, forcing some 40,000 residents to evacuate their homes as
rescuers used rowboats to assist stranded civilians. UNRWA, a UN agency tasked with
assisting Palestinian refugees, described parts of northern Gaza Strip as a disaster
Rainfall of 260 millimeters (10.23 inches) was documented in the Gaza area between
December 11 and 13, comprising a staggering 60% of the annual average for the region.
According to Israel's Water Authority, the flow in Shikma River emanating in the
Hebron hills and pouring into the Mediterranean Sea north of the Gaza Strip broke a
But force majeure would not suffice for Gaza's Hamas authorities as an explanation for
the population's suffering. Hamas's Disaster Response Committee chairman Yasser Shanti
told journalists that Israel opened dams just east of the Gaza Strip, causing a flood in
the area of Moghraqa near the town of Deir El-Balah.
A variation on that claim was made by Civil Defense spokesman Muhammad Al-Maidana, who
told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Israel had opened sewage canals east of the Gaza
Strip, "exacerbating the crisis and raising the water level, causing homes to be
Al-Majd, a Palestinian security-oriented website, went so far as to claim that Israel
opened the dams in order to expose Hamas tunnels leading into Israel and impose an
unbearable financial burden on Gaza's government. "For Gaza to drown is an old Zionist
dream," the site wrote in a report.
Israel denied Hamas's claims out of hand. "The allegation of [Israel] opening dams and
flooding the Gaza Strip is baseless and false," Uri Schor, a spokesman for Israel's Water
Authority told The Times of Israel in an email correspondence Wednesday. No dams even
exist in the area, he added, noting that water reservoirs have overflowed across the
country, causing flooding.
"The opposite is true: due to the damage caused by the storm which affected all
neighboring countries and not only the Palestinian Authority Israel responded to a
special appeal conveyed through the UN, transferring four high-power pumps to the Gaza
Strip intended to help residents remove water from flooded areas."
But Hamas's false reports had already run their course. Articles claiming Israel
intentionally flooded Gaza went viral on news channels, blogs, and social media.
Palestinian Killed, 7 Injured, After Firefight with IDF in Jenin
By The Times of Israel
One Palestinian was killed and several injured after the IDF exchanged fire with
Palestinians during an operation in the West Bank city of Jenin Wednesday night.
Palestinian sources said seven people were injured, including five in moderate condition.
An IDF spokesperson said the firefight began when Palestinians opened fire on the troops.
The Israeli forces reportedly entered Jenin disguised as TV repairmen to arrest a
wanted terrorist, according to Ynet. When their cover was subsequently blown, Palestinians
opened fire and hurled grenades and explosives at the soldiers, while 25 Israeli armored
vehicles entered Jenin and returned fire, Ma'ariv reported. No Israeli injuries were
The Palestinian casualty, named as Qassem al-Saadi, 23, by the Palestinian Ma'an news
agency, died of his wounds in an IDF ambulance headed toward the Jenin hospital, the IDF
said. It said it evacuated the other injuries as well. According to Ma'ariv, the wanted
terrorist is Hamas operative Jamal Abu al-Hija, though other reports said it was al-Hija's
son the troops sought to arrest.
Fourteen Camels Dead After Train Collision
The Times of Israel
Fourteen camels were killed near the Negev town of Segev Shalom after being struck by
an oncoming train. No passengers were injured in the collision. The camels were apparently
loitering unsupervised on the train tracks in a poorly-lit area. Following the crash
Tuesday night, the train driver stopped at the nearest station for inspection and alerted
the police. The train continued on to Be'er Sheva shortly after.
The police were working with local veterinarians to track down the camel owners.
"Animals roaming on the train tracks are often hit by passing trains," an Israel Railways
spokesperson told the Ynet news outlet. "The braking distance of the train is about 800
meters and the driver has no option to stop the train before impact." Last April, a train
struck a cow herd in an area north of Beersheba, killing 15 cows on impact.
The Israeli Intelligence Officer Who Really Knows What the Iranians are Talking
By The Times of Israel
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the
earth, an uproar ensued. Had the Iranian president called for genocide
foreshadowing future characterizations of Israel as a germ and a cancer or had
this, as some translators suggested, merely been a poor government rendering of a rather
nuanced metaphor, which called more gently for the "occupation regime" to vanish, ever so
passively, from the pages of time?
A Talmudic-level discourse ensued. The Guardian's Jonathan Steele, siding with the
co-founder of the Mossadegh Foundation, called the genocidal interpretation "propaganda
distortion" that enabled Western hawks to "bracket the Iranian president with Hitler as
though he wants to exterminate Jews." Ethan Bronner of The New York Times, after speaking
with translation experts in the US and Iran, ruled that the passive "vanish" was wrong and
that, while the word "map" had never been spoken the quote referred to the pages of
time or history the phrase, in the original Persian, "certainly seems" to contain a
similarly destructive intent.
In north Tel Aviv, at IDF Military Intelligence headquarters, one young, Iranian-born
Israeli officer, who spent his days interpreting raw intelligence on the Persian desk,
could only laugh. After all, that very quote, lifted from Ayatollah Khomeini, had been
carefully painted by the regime on the side of the Jewish elementary school he attended in
northern Tehran. "It's the reason I'm sitting here," he said in an interview.
Major M., who today serves as deputy commander of one of the units in the IDF Military
Intelligence Directorate, has spent the majority of his service combating Israel's top
security threat, Iran. He is a small part of a significant and seemingly quite successful
shift within the Israeli intelligence community, which, after years of following the Arab
world, was forced to re-order its priority list and focus on an altogether different foe.
Adapting to this shift is quite difficult, said one former Military Intelligence officer.
"The language is different. The social, cultural, political mores are different. The
history is different. All that changes the context," he said. "You listen to two people
speak and if you don't have the context, you might not interpret it right."
Major M.'s story and the role he fulfills in Military Intelligence, which can only be
sketched in faint detail, illustrate a small part of a large and still-ongoing pivot that
has helped Israel in its diplomatic struggle with Iran, its alleged operations on Iranian
soil, its roiling shadow war abroad, and its larger understanding of the changing Middle
was born, the youngest of four children, in Tehran in 1977. Ayatollah Khomeini, at the
time, was in exile in Iraq, sending forth scathing, anti-shah cassette recordings to his
native land. M.'s father was a successful businessman, an exclusive distributor of baby
bottles. "He worked four hours a week," said M. "Two hours on Monday and two hours on
Wednesday, and that afforded us the good life."
His mother, as was then common among Iranian women, he explained, stayed at home and
raised the family. They were active members of the Jewish community, thriving under the
decaying rule of the shah.
Before M. even remembers himself, though, the shah was pried from power, Khomeini was
greeted as a savior by millions and the Iran-Iraq War had nearly begun. The new
leadership, ill-equipped to run what had been a massive, Western-developed military under
the Shah, began drafting all able bodies to its ranks. M.'s brother and many of his
cousins, fearing the draft, left for Israel. M. does not remember it, but as a
two-year-old he, his sisters and parents accompanied his brother to Israel and dropped him
off with relatives in Bat Yam. He and the rest of the family returned to Tehran.
lived in a Jewish neighborhood in the northern part of the capital. When walking around
the city, family members kept their Judaism cloaked. They went by common Iranian names and
did not give any outward expression to their faith. At home, he said, they kept kosher,
observed Shabbat and made their own wine, which was not available for purchase. "I
wouldn't call it a double life," he said. "We just lived modestly, not accentuating our
Jewish identity." There were occasional calls in Persian of "Juhud," he added, "but if you
didn't break the laws and lived by the rules, there was no problem."
His downstairs neighbor, in fact, was an officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Corps, and M.'s father, a cantor at one of the synagogues and a leader of the Jewish
community, was friendly with him. His father, M. said, always recalls fondly the day that
he and the IRGC officer piled into a jeep together to go and look for three elderly Jewish
women who were feared dead in a missile attack. "Eighty Muslims died in that attack and
the three ladies survived," M. recalls.
The family's finances suffered under the ayatollahs, M. said, but remained in far
better shape than most. Rice, oil and cigarettes were available for purchase only through
government-issued ration cards, or on the black market, but "as a child, it was a good
life, excellent. We lacked for nothing."
The trouble, though, came at school. The students were all Jewish, he explained, as
were some of the teachers. The principal and assistant principal, along with most of the
school administration, were Muslim. "Their goal," he said, "was to ensure that you're not
teaching Zionism or going overboard with the Jewish education."
School days started with communal chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."
All of the Jewish students, he recalled, would take part in the "Death to Israel" chant,
replacing the Persian pronunciation of Israel with a similar word, which means "angel of
death." Greeting the students, though, on their way into school, was the Ayatollah
Khomeini quote that Ahmadinejad later used.
In sixth grade, during Friday night services, M., disgusted by the statement, found a
sharp metal object and scraped away the quote. One Saturday sometimes a school day
and sometimes not, depending on the generosity of the Education Ministry the
principal lined up the student body for morning assembly. After the customary chanting and
the cleanliness inspections by the teachers, the principal went to the front of the hall
and told the student body that "an un-Islamic deed had been done
and I know who did
was ordered to the front of the hall and beaten in front of everyone. Then he was sent
to wait for the principal in his office, where he was beaten again. And then the situation
got even worse: The principal told him that his act was not a prank. It was a Zionist act,
a product of his education at home, and that it had to be passed on to the state
The school janitor, a Jew, who had witnessed the affair, saw M's mother nearby and
called her urgently into the school. The principal charged her with inculcating the
children with an anti-Islamic education and insisted that he would report the entire
family to the authorities. Only after three or four hours of arguing and pleading, was his
mother able to settle on a bribe, a payment to the school and a commitment to have the
Khomeini quote restored, at their own expense, as soon as possible.
Immediately afterwards, the family began planning their covert immigration to Israel.
M. remembered his departure vividly. He said that watching the 2012 movie "Argo," and its
tense airport scene, gave him goose bumps. His family, too, he said, told no one that they
were leaving. Only on the morning of their departure, he said, did he tell his two best
friends that he was going to Shiraz, a code word among the Jews that meant Israel. He
arrived at the airport along with his mother and two sisters his father had to stay
behind, as an entire family was not allowed to leave the country together and sat
in a departure terminal that resembled the one in "Argo." He clutched his schoolbooks to
his chest, he said, so that, if asked, he could contend that he was merely going on
vacation to Istanbul and would be doing homework while away.
Unlike the movie, in which the US nationals escape on a Swiss Air flight and sip
champagne as soon as the plane lifts off, they flew on an Iranian airliner and were
terrified until they reached Turkey. Once there, they called a telephone number of an
embassy employee, who sent a car to the airport and, within days, arranged Israeli
passports for the family. "In Israel," he said, "I first met my older brother."
M.'s father remained in Iran for another year. He obtained a fake passport and was
nearly ready to leave when IRGC agents knocked on his office door. They found the passport
in his drawer and arrested him. "If you are caught doing this sort of thing," M. said,
"you usually never get out alive."
After paying "tons of money" and pulling every string he had, he was allowed out on
bail. Having helped many other Jews escape Iran, M.'s father had good connections with the
Balochs, the desert dwellers who live on the eastern plateau. For two weeks he traveled
with them by camel and jeep convoy to the border region and finally, with their help,
slipped across the border into Pakistan, where, M. said, the Jewish Agency had a
representative who was able to get him a passport and fly him to Sweden and from there to
was drafted into the IDF in 1995. As a testament to the priorities of the intelligence
establishment at the time, he was slated to become a Merkava tank mechanic. Only once he
had started basic training did the Military Intelligence Directorate tap him on the
shoulder. His job at the outset, he said, keeping his description deliberately vague, "was
translating the intelligence data of what, we'll say, was attainable."
In those days the Persian desk at Military Intelligence was both smaller than today and
mostly staffed by what the IDF calls lahagistim those that knew the lahag, or
dialect, either as a mother tongue or from relatives around the house. M. was sent to
officers' school, after repeated requests, and was put in charge of a platoon of soldiers
that translated raw intelligence.
He remained in similar posts until 2004-5, at which time the army "needed to step up"
its Persian instruction, he said. M. was charged with putting together Military
Intelligence's Persian-language instructional manual and helped shape all Persian
instruction in the intelligence corps. "Within seven months we can take someone from
nothing and make them qualified," he said.
A former parsist, as they're known, confirmed this. Today a student at the Hebrew
University in Jerusalem, he said he came from a Russian-speaking home and that, from
seventh grade on, he had studied Arabic in school. Like many Israeli students, he said he
figured it would land him a job with Military Intelligence when the draft board came
And in fact in 12th grade, in late 2004, he received a summons to take a language test.
He met with army representatives five or six times, he said, taking a battery of written
tests, and then received a letter in the mail, asking him if he'd like to try out for
He showed up at the scheduled time and was given yet another test. This time, the test
included a made-up language consisting of numbers, symbols and letters. "An airplane might
mean the number four," he said. "They made up a new set of rules."
The teenagers were given a set amount of time and asked to complete sentences and
explain passages that they had read. Weeks later, he was called back again and told that
the test he took was an aptitude test for language and that he had been chosen, along with
several dozen others, to learn Persian. He could either go back to Arabic, where he had
started, the army told him, or study Persian. He chose the latter.
said that he headed the instruction of Persian in the IDF Military Directorate for
several years and that beyond the laws of the language he also lectured occasionally on
history and politics and fed the recruits the local food so as to further immerse them in
He would say little else about the nature of the instruction and the way the language
skills were implemented in the soldiers' subsequent army service. The student filled in
some of the blanks. He told The Times of Israel that after five very intensive months of
study, the soldiers were split between those who were better at reading comprehension and
those who had "more of an ear." After several more months, followed by one-on-one coaching
in the unit, the soldiers were split into desks that are divided by subject. Internal
politics, he said, might be one such subject. The Geneva talks on Iran's nuclear program,
he agreed, have likely been their own subject during recent months.
A soldier is expected to understand what is being said and to note what is significant
in every document or conversation. His or her summaries are then passed on to an officer
who heads the subject team and from there, the student said, they could merely be filed
away or passed to the desk of the government or to "this or that sort of commander" in the
After several years of preparing soldiers for this sort of work, M. was promoted to
deputy commander of the Military Intelligence Directorate's officer's school. "Five
hundred officers came out from under my hands," he said, "and for me, for someone who came
here from Iran, that is a great source of pride."
Today M. is the deputy commander of a different unit in military intelligence. He was
not authorized to discuss his post but he did share his two dreams for the future. One, he
said, after an impactful recent trip to Poland with the army his first real
exposure to the Holocaust is to somehow introduce Holocaust studies to the
20,000-person-strong Jewish community in Iran. "I have this in my head and I want to do
it," he said.
The second dream is occasionally sparked by a nugget of intelligence that sends him
back to the vistas of his youth. Sitting at a desk featuring the old, pre-revolution flag
of Iran, he said, "My dream is to visit Iran again. And my real dream is to be [Israel's]
military attaché in Tehran. That is my hope."
JFK's Deeply Revealing Harvard Application Essay
John F. Kennedy is one of the most mythologized figures in contemporary American
history. At age 17, though, he was just a kid trying to get into college (a kid with a
wealthy, famous father, of course).
The Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has a digitized version of Kennedy's 1935
Harvard application, which includes his grades and his response to the essay prompt, "Why
do you wish to come to Harvard?" Here's how the future president answered:
The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard
can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university.
I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but
is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same
college as my father. To be a "Harvard man" is an enviable distinction, and one that I
sincerely hope I shall attain.
April 23, 1935
John F. Kennedy
Business Insider dismisses the essay for being five sentences long (I'm not sure how
much more he could have written given the space) and implies that his answer wasn't
carefully considered. That's probably trueKennedy's grades show that he wasn't an
especially good student in high school, and there's not much evidence that he took his
education seriously at this point in his life. Plus, as Gawker points out, Kennedy wrote
nearly exactly the same essay for his Princeton application.
Still, Kennedy's essay shows a profound, if implicit, understanding of the primary
value of attending an elite school: status and personal connections, rather than mastery
of academic skills and knowledge. Notice that he only makes one mention of the education
he'd receive at Harvarda passing reference to the school's superior "liberal
education." The rest of the paragraph focuses on the non-academic benefits: having a
"better background," sharing the same alma mater with his dad, and enjoying the "enviable
distinction" of being a Harvard Man.
And it is, indeed, an enviable distinction. Harvard has produced eight United States
presidents, more than any other school. The school's website has a whole section devoted
to all the alumni who've won Nobel prizes. Two of its dropouts are among the richest
people in America. Whether these glories are due to the school's excellent education or
its impressive alumni network and name recognition, who knows? But Kennedy clearly thought
he knew the answer.
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