Now available

Now available
The Murder of Yasser Arafat: "Powerful" - The Times of London

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Bolstering Bluetooth

THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
THE WIRED CAMPUS BLOG
March 29, 2007

Bluetooth is getting its first filling, thanks to researchers from Tel Aviv University's electrical-engineering school. The technology -- which passes data between cellphones, laptops, and other devices over short-range radio frequencies -- is already widely used, but the team at Tel Aviv discovered that it had some disturbing security holes.

Avishai Wool, a professor at the university, and Yaniv Shaked, a graduate student, say Bluetooth is vulnerable to "snipers" -- hackers who quickly breach cellphone security systems in order to place calls and browse address books. Skilled hackers can exploit Bluetooth's "pairing" technology, through which machines communicate with each other, to eavesdrop on communications from as much as a mile away, Mr. Wool says.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, a commission that develops standards for the wireless technology, has already heeded the Israeli scientists' warning and developed a new security system that should solve the pairing problem. "It'll be more difficult for hackers to get into your cellphones and steal your address books and stuff," says Mr. Wool. -- Matthew Kalman

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

New Islamic party seeks the center

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Ramallah, West Bank -- A new Palestinian movement being launched today is aimed at the moderate middle of Muslim politics.

Wasatia -- Arabic for "moderation" -- is the first Islamic religious party to advocate a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a tolerant, democratic society at home.

The new party is the brainchild of political science Professor Mohammed Dajani, director of the American Studies Institute at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem.

Dajani hopes to build Wasatia into a movement with a social and political wing that will eventually compete with Hamas for the votes of what he calls the silent majority of Palestinians.

"Wasatia is a term from the Quran which means 'centrism,' 'balance' or 'moderation,' " Dajani said. "The new party will foster a culture of moderation and attract Palestinian voters who are moderate in their religious beliefs. The existing Palestinian Islamic parties breed radicalism and fundamentalism."

Dajani said most Palestinians are proud of their Muslim heritage and respect the religious identity of Islamic groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but many are uncomfortable with the fundamentalism of those groups -- and after years of disastrous armed resistance, also are tired also of their extreme militarism.

"We want to foster a culture of moderation so that our children do not grow up just with the literature of hate and violence," he said. "We want our children to grow up in a culture where people can co-exist in peace and harmony."

Palestinian politics are now dominated by Hamas -- a hard-line Islamic party that refuses to recognize Israel -- and by Fatah. The two parties have just formed a power-sharing government.

The meeting this evening brings together Islamic religious leaders from several West Bank towns, former prisoners in Israeli jails, women, intellectuals and youth. They are expected to endorse a founding platform that blends verses from the Quran, extolling the virtues of moderation and tolerance, with calls for a negotiated peace with Israel and solutions to the acute economic, social and political crises plaguing Palestinian society.

In common with the mainstream Fatah movement, the Wasatia platform calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. But in contrast to all other major Palestinian parties, it does not endorse the return of the estimated 4 million Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel.

"I would say to the refugees: 'Move on with your life.' We cannot let the past bury the future, even though it should always be remembered," said Dajani.

Among the founders of Wasatia is Bashar Azzeh, a doctoral student in conflict system management who spent seven years studying and working in Kentucky before returning to the West Bank to work for a Palestinian development organization.

"The image of Islam in the United States is that it is extremist, but we have found that hardliners are not the majority among Palestinians," Azzeh said. "I have been to the villages and talked to people. There is a feeling that people have tried violence, they have tried everything, and this is what we need now. People want a moderate political culture and an end to violence and ignorance. They want a reflection of what we are."

Surveys suggest that many of those who swept Hamas to power in the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections were casting votes against the institutional corruption of Fatah. A poll by Near East Consulting found that 54 percent of Hamas voters also supported the peace process with Israel. "A moderate, centrist Islamic party will take support from Hamas voters who will not vote for secular parties," said Hanna Siniora, a veteran Palestinian activist and publisher of the Jerusalem Times.

But Mahdi Abdel Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, said that centrist parties won only six of 132 seats in last January's election.

"Without alliances with powerful elites in society, this new initiative will be born dead," said Abdel Hadi.

Nicolas Pelham, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Jerusalem, agreed that Wasatia faces a major challenge.

"Political power relies on patronage," said Pelham. "Those factions which do maintain some form of popular allegiance are those which can offer services and jobs and some access to the remaining centers of power or salaries."

Dajani said that Wasatia will spend the next year building itself as a movement, undertaking voluntary work, creating new jobs and economic opportunities.

"Charity and voluntarism -- this is Islam," he said. "The creation of new jobs does not have to be related to arms and violence."

This article appeared on page A - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Friday, 16 March 2007

A troubled region shows its funny face

Giant portraits' goal to erode Israeli-Palestinian stereotypes

jr3.jpg
Members of the "Face2Face" crew plaster giant photographs on the separation barrier in Bethlehem. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Friday, March 16, 2007

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Bethlehem, West Bank -- Palestinians and Israelis were confronted last week with a larger-than-life image -- of themselves.

Thirty-foot portraits of taxi drivers, teachers, religious leaders and others from each side of the conflict were pasted in pairs on walls and buildings around the country, including the controversial Israeli security barrier. They appeared in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, Abu Dis, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The photographs are part of a project titled "Face2Face," the work of self-styled French "artivists" JR and Marco -- they refuse to reveal their full names -- who first carried out a similar headline-grabbing project in Paris after riots there last year.

"I'm an artist-photographer who chooses the streets as the gallery," JR said as he climbed a ladder to paste the huge photographs on the exterior of a cement security wall surrounding an Israeli army base in Bethlehem. "Basically, I take pictures that I paste in the street, and I do this all around the world in different places, and the place where I put the photos is important for how the people will understand it."

"These people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families," he said. "We want that, at last, everyone laughs and thinks when he sees the portrait of the other and his own portrait."

Not everyone found it funny. The Face2Face duo was arrested March 3 by Israeli soldiers in Hebron, held for several hours and expelled from the town. A few days later, they were briefly detained by Israeli police in the old city of Jerusalem before being released with smiles and laughter all around and allowed to continue their project.

The photographs were purposely distorted in an effort to break through the stereotypes that each side has about the other.

"Palestinians and Israelis both suffer from the conflict, but although they are neighbors, they only see each other through the media. Both ignore the sufferings and the fears of the other," JR said.

"For an Israeli, a Palestinian is a terrorist who commits suicide attacks on a marketplace, killing women and children. For a Palestinian, an Israeli is an occupation soldier who humiliates him at the checkpoint and shoots civilians and ambulances. The reality is infinitely more complex," he said.

The photographs of 40 Israelis and Palestinians and one Christian priest were taken last summer using a 28mm wide-angle lens from very close up, and the subjects were asked to make funny faces expressing their feelings.

"I take a 28mm lens and I go 10 centimeters from you, so you have to know that something's going to happen with this picture," JR said.

Ayman Abu Alzulof, a Palestinian actor and tour guide from the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, said he agreed to be photographed because he knew the images would be seen on both sides of the border.

"It shows that both parties look like each other, as human beings, as races. It's difficult to differentiate between a Palestinian face and an Israeli face. It will also show that we live here," Alzulof said. "I think a lot of people will talk about it."

Marco, the other French artivist behind the project, said the two of them were trying to reflect a complexity not always obvious to people abroad. "Things are much more complex than what we thought, than what we were told by the media and by people on both sides before we arrived," Marco said.

"We saw people that within five minutes were in favor of war, in favor of peace, on both sides. It's very complex. People sometimes are good and bad at the same time. It's very ambivalent. That's something magic, and when you show them our pictures, sometimes we see Palestinians laughing when they see Israelis and vice versa, which is very funny, because they're not used to laughing when they see the others."

Not everyone in Bethlehem appreciated their efforts. Sheikh Taleb Awadallah, a local Muslim religious leader, said the huge distorted faces looked like the devil.

"This wall is evil," he said, pointing at the towering gray cement blocks of the Israeli security barrier. "But these pictures are more evil."

There are 19 double images -- a Palestinian and an Israeli -- in the collection. The single triptych is of three clerics: Rabbi Eliyahu McLean, Muslim Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Bukhari and Brother Jack Duncan, a Catholic.

"The Torah teaches that every human being is created in the image of God, so if everyone has different faces that they're given, those are also the faces of God," McLean said.

His words were reflected, like his photograph, by his Muslim opposite number.

"I see God's image in everyone," Bukhari said. "So if you see God's image in every person you look at, regardless what religion he has, when you love God and respect God, so you have to respect the person in front of you."

Marco said the setting was as important as the content. When JR was invited to exhibit a similar project in France at Paris City Hall, he agreed only on the condition that his images were displayed on huge billboards in Place Hotel de Ville, the square outside the building.

"I would qualify JR as an artivist, not an artist. It means that he uses all the ways that are available, including viral marketing (contagious publicity, through word of mouth, to generate buzz) and whatever, to show what he does," Marco said. "It's not activism, it's not art, it's something in between where you show your ideas and you display them the way people are open to see them. ... It's street art. It's second-generation street art. It's what comes after graffiti, the same family."

The artivists said they were not deterred by their brushes with Israeli security.

"In Hebron, it was a heavy situation, maybe more complicated than another city," JR said. "We came there to post really close to an army base, and they didn't know how to react. Also, maybe I shouldn't have posted on a door."

This article appeared on page A - 19 of the San Francisco Chronicle

jr2.jpg

Friday, 9 March 2007

Heart lifeline linked to your mobile

DAILY MAIL March 9, 2007

By Matthew Kalman

A DEVICE enabling heart patients to be monitored via their mobile phone was being hailed last night as a potential lifesaver.

It is a portable electrocardiograph machine, so small that it can be used in the home, in the car or on holiday.

But crucially it can also be linked to a mobile to send real-time pictures of the heart's performance to a doctor anywhere in the world.

Erez Alroy, head of Shahal, the Israeli company behind the Cardio-Sen-C, said it would make taking an ECG as easy as taking your temperature.

The unit is connected to a dedicated medical control centre which can switch it on and off by remote control. Patients who suffer from heart disease, or are recovering from bypass surgery, or simply feel they are at risk, would be able to measure their heart activity at any time without travelling to hospital.

Digital transmission ensures the highest quality monitoring.

'We believe in the future more and more people will have various medical measuring devices at home,' said Mr Alroy. 'When people don't feel well, it can take time to make the decision to go to a physician or a clinic.

'Maybe they put it off until the next day. This is crucial time, when there can be irreversible damage to the heart muscle.'

It will also benefit heart patients who are wary of going on holiday for fear of being too far away from a doctor or clinic to measure their condition.

'We have customers who are transmitting their ECG from any part of the world you can imagine,' said Mr Alroy.

'Most people hesitate before going to a local doctor abroad. They are worried about problems with the language, about the lack of medical history.

'We find that people prefer to call the centre back home, where they can speak their own language and then take instructions.'

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Israel's Hezbollah war: the best laid plans

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
BLOG: THE ROSS REPORT
Thursday, March 08, 2007

From Matthew Kalman, Jerusalem

Last summer's war in Lebanon was "planned months in advance" according to today's edition of the Israeli daily, Haaretz.

According to the newspaper, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Winograd Commission, set up to inquire into Israeli shortcomings in the war, that Israeli leaders had already decided how to respond if Hezbollah repeated its October 2000 kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers on the border with Lebanon.

Olmert said that in March 2006, he "asked the army commanders whether operational plans existed for such a possibility, and they said yes. He asked to see the plans, and they asked why. He responded that he did not want to make a snap decision in the case of an abduction, and preferred to decide at that moment. Presented with the options, he selected a moderate plan that included air attacks accompanied by a limited ground operation."

In fact, as the Chronicle reported in the early days of the hostilities, such planning had been long been underway. ('Israel set war plan more than a year ago')

"Of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared," Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the Chronicle at the time.

The outcome, as we now know, was a disaster -- both for Lebanon and for Israel.

Responding to the Chronicle story, some commentators made great play of the revelation that the Israeli assault was not a sudden reaction to perceived aggression, but a military action planned well in advance.

Much of that commentary was distorted.

For example, the Diplomatic Times Review asserted that the Chronicle's "analysis suggests that the attack on Hezbollah inside Lebanon was going to take place regardless of Hezbollah's action."

Guardian columnist George Monbiot, quoting the Chronicle story, concluded that "Israel's assault, then, was premeditated: it was simply waiting for an appropriate excuse. It was also unnecessary."

However necessary, or unnecessary, Israel's invasion of Lebanon was -- and the criticism of the war's execution has been unremitting inside Israel -- the Haaretz report shows that Olmert was not simply waiting for an "excuse," he was seeking to plan for a crisis which seemed likely to happen (and did) after the abduction of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit (still being held) in a Palestinian raid across the border with Gaza.

"During deliberations last June, following Shalit's abduction, Olmert told the committee he was certain there would be a similar attempt to kidnap soldiers on the Lebanese border. He ordered the IDF to prevent this," according to Haaretz.

Posted By: Foreign and National Desk (Email) | March 08 2007 at 06:45 PM

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Palestinians not happy with Obama

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
BLOG: THE ROSS REPORT
Wednesday, March 07, 2007

From Matthew Kalman, Jerusalem

Some Palestinians are feeling betrayed by Barack Obama. They say the man who at one time called for an "even-handed" approach to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. has done a policy U-turn now that he's running for president.

Speaking to a forum at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Chicago on Friday (prepared text here), Obama called for "a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy."

He went futher, condemning "the smuggling of weapons and cash by Iran into Gaza" and vowing to continue "our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel" to "help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza."

Ali Abunimah, founder of The Electronic Intifada, criticized Obama's "about-face."

"Obama offered not a single word of criticism of Israel, of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians," Abunimah wrote in an editorial.

"While constantly emphasizing his concern about the threat Israelis face from Palestinians, Obama said nothing about the exponentially more lethal threat Israelis present to Palestinians."

He said Obama used to be more supportive of the Palestinian cause and recalled hearing him at a Chicago fundraiser in 2000.

"On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

But then began a "gradual shift" towards the pro-Israel camp.

"The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

"As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, 'Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.'"

Mohammed Dajani, director of American Studies at Al Quds University in Jerusalem which Obama visited last year, has more confidence in Obama.

"His support for peace and a peaceful solution to the problem is much more valuable than his support for one side or another," Dajani todl me.

Walid Awad, a spokesman for President Abbas's Fatah party, said, in an interview, that Obama's pro-Israel statements were to be "expected really."

"Obama is a new face in America and he has to please everybody, most of all the Jewish lobby over there, so he cannot win without showing some inclination towards Israel," he said.

"Americans who want to be elected into office always are very keen on showing their support for Israel. The Jewish vote is important because the Jews supply the money and if he gets on wrong side of them he has no chance at all.

"It's like Mrs Clinton. Earlier she was pro-Palestinian and then she changed her attitudes. This is the format of the way things go in the United States.

"What matters to Obama most is to get the votes. If gets the votes by being pro-Israeli and pro-Jews he will do it. Hopefully once he gets the votes something will change.
"

------------

Matthew Kalman is a Chronicle Foreign Service correspondent, based in Jerusalem.

Posted By: Foreign and National Desk (Email) | March 07 2007 at 12:32 PM

Friday, 2 March 2007

Medical care for Palestinian children

U.S. group arranges local and overseas treatment

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Friday, March 2, 2007

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jebaliya Refugee Camp, Gaza -- Smiling and laughing, Oday el-Jamal was playing soccer in the garden when visitors came calling at the family home in the Jebaliya refugee camp north of Gaza City.

The handsome 7-year-old with unruly brown hair seemed not to have a care in the world -- until he removed his sneakers and rolled down his trousers to reveal a leg that ended in a fleshy stump just below his knee. The rest of his leg and the foot that moments before had been kicking a soccer ball across the yard was made from metal and plastic.

Oday's leg was blown off last September by shrapnel from an Israeli tank shell, which destroyed the house next door and sent jagged pieces of debris flying into his garden as he played there. His left foot was still intact, but only just, the bones twisted and deformed. His whole body was covered with angry pink craters, his young skin punctured by the deadly shards of metal.

This month, Oday will be in San Francisco, where doctors at UCSF Hospital will perform corrective surgery on his left foot and he will be fitted with a prosthetic right leg made just for him and taught how to use it.

"We thought he was dead," said his mother, Karima el-Jamal. "He was playing out in the garden and we heard an explosion, and next thing we knew the ambulance had rushed him off to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. When we got there, he was in intensive care. The doctors said it was touch and go.

After a few days, the little boy was transferred to Soroka, an Israeli hospital in Beersheba, where he remained for two months before he was transferred to Alyn, a specialist Israeli orthopedic center in Jerusalem.

"The Israeli doctors did everything for him. They operated on the wounds in his abdomen and tried to save his leg, but they couldn't," she said.

He was fitted there with a temporary artificial leg, which is already broken. Although the Israelis agreed to treat Oday, because of the political tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he and his mother were unable to stay in Israel any longer. Back in Gaza, he cannot receive the care he needs to resume normal life.

His case came to the attention of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, which contacted Walter Racette, director of orthotics and prosthetics in the UCSF department of orthopedic surgery. Racette agreed to donate the services required so Oday can be fitted with a prosthesis and learn to use his new leg. His mother will stay with Oday during his recovery.

Oday is just one of hundreds of Palestinian children to benefit from the work of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, a charity based in Ohio that every year sends dozens of young patients in need of surgery to the United States and Europe, and brings in teams of specialist doctors to treat urgent cases in the West Bank and Gaza.

Last year, the charity raised close to $40 million. According to director Steve Sosebee, it has provided medical services worth more than $400 million, none of which was normally available to Palestinians.

One recent afternoon in Ramallah General Hospital in the West Bank, Dr. Aijaz Hashmi, a pediatric heart surgeon from Loma Linda University Children's Hospital in San Bernardino County, was inserting a catheter into the heart of Randa Abu Shamsiyeh, a 12-year-old girl from Hebron who was born with a heart defect that dramatically reduces the amount of oxygen in her blood.

"This should have been treated 10 years ago, and cannot be done here because they don't have the necessary post-operative care," said Hashmi, who was ending a whirlwind week of clinics and operations.

It was Hashmi's first time in the West Bank. He came with a team of doctors and nurses from Loma Linda who saw more than 130 heart patients in clinics in Jenin, Ramallah and Bethlehem, and performed eight procedures.

"It's extremely rewarding, very gratifying," he said. "If we don't do this, who else is going to do it? We're blessed that we can take the time off."

This article appeared on page A - 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Losing the truth in Jesus's "lost tomb"

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
THE ROSS REPORT BLOG
Posted March 02 2007 at 09:29 AM

From Matthew Kalman, Jerusalem

The story has been hyped, the questions raised, and the critics heard from. On Sunday night, when the James Cameron-produced "documentary" airs on American television, viewers get to form their own opinions.

Is a first-century tomb discovered 27 years ago at a Jerusalem construction site really the lost burial place of Jesus Christ? Could the astounding claim that Jesus is buried alongside Mary Magdalene and their hitherto unknown son, Judah, in a large family plot -- which also contained the remains of Jesus's mother Mary -- be true?

Back in 2003, I was asked by the documentary's director, Simcha Jacobovici, to locate many the inscribed burial boxes or ossuaries that are featured in the documentary. I was working as a researcher on Jacobovici's previous documentary about the supposed burial box of James, brother of Jesus.

The ossuaries were stored in the warehouse belonging to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Jacobovici asked for samples of the bone fragments inside the boxes so they could be tested for DNA. He said at the time he wanted to see if the DNA from the supposed Jesus family tomb matched the fragments in the James ossuary. But Jacobovici couldn't test the James fragments because they were long since lost. So that avenue of proof didn't exist.

Jesus's supposed tomb was discovered during construction work in 1980. It was explored and mapped by British archeologist Shimon Gibson. The ossuaries were removed and have been on display at local museums and the antiquities warehouse. The inscriptions with the names Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Judah were published more than 20 years ago. The ossuaries and the tomb were pronounced as the possible burial place of Jesus in a 1996 BBC documentary.

But the assertions not only fly in the face of Christian teaching, they are refuted by the Israeli archeologist, Amos Kloner, who wrote the official report on the tomb.

"The claim that [Jesus's] burial site has been found is not based on any proof, and is only an attempt to sell," said Kloner. "With all due respect, [Cameron and Jacobovici] are not archeologists," he said.

Archeologists acknowledge that the artifacts they discover and study rarely provide concrete answers to the questions about the ancient world -- even less so about "the truth of the Bible," a quest that books like 'The Da Vinci Code' has made so fashionable.

The results are unproven, highly dubious claims, advanced by special effects, marketing campaigns and breathless media coverage of a the kind that accompany 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus.'

"You have to have a publicist, you have to have somebody that says, boy, this is something, let's put this out, right," Professor James Tabor, author of "The Jesus Dynasty," says in Cameron's film.

In the background there exists a multi-million-dollar market in antiquities -- especially in relics that "prove" the Bible. Such items are often stolen from ancient tombs and smuggled out to collectors. Alongside the illicit trade in genuine artifacts, there is an even bigger trade in high-priced forgeries.

The most notorious modern-day case is currently being heard in a Jerusalem courtroom, where an Israeli collector is accused of faking an inscription to create the stone ossuary of Jesus's brother James, which caused a sensation when it was revealed to the world in 2002.

Jacobovici's film about the James ossuary was also broadcast by the Discovery Channel. He even appeared as a defense witness in the Jerusalem trial. Jacobovici claims that the James box is not only genuine but also came from the "lost tomb."

"Absolute nonsense," says Kloner, who catalogued all the burial boxes in the tomb.

Equally questionable are dramatizations in 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus' which viewers are led to believe consists of real footage of bulldozers crashing into caves, archeologists brushing dust from inscriptions and draughtsmen mapping out underground tunnels.

One of the opening sequences, for example, has the caption "Jerusalem, Israel 1980" over scenes filmed less than 18 months ago. Jacobovici himself is shown locating the supposed Jesus ossuary in the warehouse as if for the first time, even though I had led him to it more than three years ago.

The scenes are fakes -- just like the fake artifacts sold to gullible tourists.

-------

Matthew Kalman is a Chronicle Foreign Service correspondent, based in Jerusalem.