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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 week.

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 zone.

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 50-year record.

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 submerged."

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 reported.

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 About

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 East.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 it."

  1. 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 authorities.

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 Israel.

  1. 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 calling.

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 "something new."

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.

  1. 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 the culture.

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 field.

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 true—Kennedy'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 Harvard—a 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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