Ribbity Blog

baqqa mqarqra
A Frog's-eye view

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Tuesday, September 24, 2002

As warned, this frog is hopping off for a couple of weeks over the huge pond. Back on 10th October, when all the regular features will return.

Thanks for the interest and support so far,


Monday, September 23, 2002

Thanks to Peter Briffa of Public Interest for bringing my attention to this marvellous piece in London's "The Independent".

They have long memories in the Middle East. They can remember insults and atrocities from thousands of years ago,

Well, you know that primitive Middle-Eastern society. Personally, I'm still reeling over the words of Rav-Shakeh (see 2Kgs 18-19), the Assyrian bastard. Not like forgiving Europe, eh? After all, Britain and France haven't been at war with one another for years, and you see how much they love each other.

but they are incapable of learning the lessons of a few weeks past. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, seems to have forgotten the early summer of this year, when there was a suicide bomber every day.

The situation is worse than that, however, because the reality is that Mr Sharon remembers that period all too clearly. The trouble is that he assumes that the bombers have been restrained by his policy of smashing any possible site of Palestinian resistance and closing internal borders.

Well, actually, they have been. The number of successful suicide attacks has dropped tremendously since the "Defensive Shield" operation and its successor "Determined Path" began. Israelis are beginning to return to the streets. The Israeli economy is very very slowly starting to recover. Sharon remembers that period very well, as do all Israeli citizens who are disturbed by the mass-murder of their civilian population. And it wasn't the early summer; it was the spring. The bombing of the Park Hotel, which launched the Defensive Shield operation, took place on the night of 27th March. But then I wouldn't expect a leader-writer of The Independent to be bothered by facts.

Heavier repression tends to suppress an uprising in the short run, but, unless the causes are removed, is only likely to recruit new zealots to the ranks of people who proclaim themselves martyrs.

True, but totally irrelevant. In the short-term, civilians are being murdered, which requires an immediate response.

Worst of all is the stupidity of publicly humiliating the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat. Any reasonable observer will have his or her criticisms of Mr Arafat's duplicitous and weak leadership (even if those in positions of responsibility, apart from President Bush, will keep those opinions to themselves).

Why will they keep those opinions to themselves? Why do European leaders remain silent when they KNOW that Arafat has been encouraging terror, embezzling EU money, torturing his own citizens and has shown no inclination towards reaching a peaceful settlement with Israel. They have not remained equally silent in their criticisms of Sharon.

But the bulldozing of everything in his Ramallah compound except for his office can achieve nothing positive. Mr Sharon knows that it would be even more foolish to kill Mr Arafat, so he hopes to force him into exile instead. This amounts to an admission of Israeli failure.

Why is this an admission of failure? Perhaps it is a clear sign that Israel has weighed up the options available and chosen what they regard to be the best in the circumstances. It would be the easiest thing to kill Arafat, but the intelligence services advise against it.

It is now all but impossible for any moderate Palestinian to argue that there can be common ground with the Israeli government.

Well I'm sorry to hear that, because Israeli moderates have been finding it hard to find any common ground with the Palestinian leadership for several years. For example, we found it very hard to find common ground with Arafat's call for Jihad in South Africa back in '94. Nevertheless, we continued to withdraw. We had difficulty in dealing with the daily drive-by shootings carried out by Palestinian militias in the first-months of '95 that claimed many civilian lives. But we dismissed those as "victims of the peace" and continued with Oslo. We found it all but impossible to argue that there was any common ground with the Palestinian leadership's attitude towards murderous groups such as the Hamas during its bloody campaign in the early months of 1996. Even so, we withdrew from Hebron. We were challanged to respond positively to the constant murders and attacks following the failure of Camp David. But we went off to Taba to try negotiate a final status settlement.

The trampling of Ramallah amounts to, and will certainly be seen as, a deliberate insult to the entire Palestinian people.

Whereas the murder of Israeli civilians on buses is widely regarded amongst Israelis as a polite compliment. Similarly, the murder by Palestinian militias of several Israelis who enjoyed friendly relations with Arabs and were visiting them in their homes or restaurants was regarded as very complimentary, and not at all insulting. Because unlike Palestinian society, amongst Israelis it is of course not considered a deliberate insult to murder your neigbour's guests.

It makes Mr Arafat's replacement by a more statesmanlike leader vanishingly unlikely and ensures that a wounded and resentful people will fight back with the only weapon left to the powerless – their own lives.

Whereas until now, Palestinians have shown just such a desire and have refrained from terrorist attacks. And of course, we all know that The Powerless (those who belong to the International Union of Powerless Persons) all adopt the weapon of blowing themselves up and taking as many civilians with them as possible. Certainly, that's what the drug-adicts and teenage mothers lining the underpasses in London have been been doing of late. I seem to remember that during the Ethiopian drought the wealthy Western states were bombarded by suicide attacks by angry Africans with no hope left but to kill civilians.

The Israelis can be forgiven for reacting to the threat of suicide bombing with some ferocity,

Oh how very kind of you. We do hope that we have only used some ferocity, and not too much, after all, the suicide bombers only killed some of the people on the bus, not all of them.

but until they understand that there is no hope of lasting security unless they withdraw from illegally occupied Palestinian territory they are doomed to repeat the bloody mistakes of the recent past.

Well, sorry to trouble you with facts, but the surge of terror began when Israel withdrew from "illegally occupied Palestinian territory" and only died down again when that terrority was re-occupied. Also, we appreciate your even-handedness, and the wise apportioning of blame to the Palestine National Authority that didn't keep to any of its undertakings under the Olso Agreement, but was continually rewarded with further territory and Western financial support for its efforts. Fortunately, it is not Independent editorial writers who set Middle-Eastern, or even British, foreign policies.

Moreover, as a citizen of Israel, I can only assume that the Independent's forgiving attitude Arafat and his henchmen and its vitriolic attitude towards Israel is a deliberate insult to all Israelis. And we all know what deliberately insulted citizens are capable of doing....

Comments to RibbityFrog@netscape.net, or, if you feel inclined, to The Independent.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

kull al-ihtiraam ("bravo") to Gerard Russell, the Head of the Media and Outreach Unit of Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for being the first Western diplomat that I have seen interviewed in Arabic. Mr. Russell, as British as you can get (he looks like a member of the royal family), was interviewed today on the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera, and I have to say that I was impressed. Apart from a few "ya`ni"s (the Arabic equivalent of throwing "like" in to the middle of your sentences), he packed a pretty sharp Modern Standard Arabic (the form of Arabic used for journalistic purposes). You can see his picture and read his words on the East-West Record site. Incidentally, according to the site, he also gave an interview for Al-Mustaqbal, a Lebanese newspaper. As I have mentioned before, the Lebanese press tends to be much more accurate and less propaganda-orientated than its Palestinian counterpart.

Comments to: RibbityFrog@netscape.net


I have received messages asking me why I made reference to the United Snakes of America. The reason is two-fold: as a frog, I naturally relate best to other amphibious and reptillian life forms. The other reason is because I find it funny. I apologise if any snakes were offended.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

There was a temporary fault on the Al-Jazeera feedback reference. I have now corrected it. See previous entry.


The supposedly modern Arabic news station is running the story "A few hours after the martyrdom of a child in El-Bire - A Partisan [or Self-Sacrificial] Attack Leaves Tens of Dead and Wounded in Tel Aviv". The picture accompanying the story is the body of the slain Palestinian youth Abd Es-Salam Somer. The next picture down on the site shows an Israeli tank. There is no photograph of the blown-up bus.

The language used is also telling. The child victim is a martyr. The terrorist is a self-sacrificial partisan [fida'i]. The victims of the bomb are just dead.

If you want to respond, then go to the web page http://www.al-jazeera.com/feedback/default.asp. I have deliberately not put a link here because then they can see how you reached it. In the top box with the red star next to it put your name. In the large box towards the lower part of the page post your message. Hit the little grey button-box under the message box to send your response.

It is not for me to tell you what to respond. Just put in whatever you feel suitable for a web-site that supports the murder of innocent civilians.


I find that on days like this, when people are being blown up in our city streets, I just can't concentrate on work, however hard I try.


Channel One of Israel TV has just broadcast an interview with Mazzal Asraf, who was standing next to the man she believes to have been the suicide bomber. Asraf got of the bus one stop before it exploded, and says that she was suspicious of the man because he was dressed in jeans and a closed blazer on a very hot day. According to her, he kept looking around in all directions in a strange way. However, it remains to be seen if this was indeed the bomber, because Asraf was at the back of the bus while the bomber stood by the front door when the bomb exploded.

Another witness stated that he and a friend were standing on a street corner talking when the saw the bus explode. They quickly ran onto the bus to try to help, and were greeted by the most dreadful sights that he tastefully chose not to describe. He suggested that perhaps the driver had been trying to push the bomber off the bus at the time of the explosion.

Unconfirmed rumours say this might have been a woman.

A Palestinian Legislative Council member blamed it all on Sharon and the occupation, of course. His arguments are totally baseless. If Israel were to withdraw from the entire West Bank and Gaza tomorrow, would be be willing to take on the Hamas and Jihad, who have vowed to fight on until Israel is destroyed? We have seen very well what happens each time a ceasefire agreement is reached and Israel withdraws. The Palestinian forces do nothing to prevent terror; they often even participate in it. We're all sick of these justifications for mass-murder.


Al-Jazeera reports that the Israeli Army Broadcasting has confirmed that people were hurt following a bus bombing in Tel Aviv. Al-Jazeera didn't need to get that information from the Army Radio. It could have seen the same thing on the television or heard it on any of the regular radio stations. However, I suppose that reports from the Army Radio sound more militaristic and that justifies blowing up civilians on buses.


A bus has been blown up on Allenby Street, Tel Aviv. Israeli TV is reporting five dead, 40 injured. It happened around 1pm Israel time. More updates when available.

Now I know why I won't send my tadpoles on buses. The terrorists don't discriminate: they kill anybody they can.


Since I seem to be fighting a losing battle, and more visitors have come for my site in search of gruesome pictures, I have decided to post this link to some really gruesome pictures. Parental guidance recommended.

Comments to RibbityFrog@netscape.net


I was in and out of the Ministry within an hour. A new record for frogkind.


Blogging has been light of late because next week this frog is going to the United Snakes of America. I've been hopping around town making all kinds of last-minute arrangements. Today I have to go to the Israeli Minister of the Inferior to make sure they'll let me out of the country, because my passport is only valid for three months (apparently, six months is really desired).

I hope that I shall be back before this evening.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

I made the mistake of putting these words into my blog a few days ago, and since then several people have reached my site by searching for these very words on the various search engines.

All I can say to you people who are after such sick thrills is this: go and find them on another site. I didn't link these pictures for your pleasure.

Monday, September 16, 2002

... and you'll be pleased to hear that this frog has survived, and has just enjoyed a healthy meal of flies and freshly squeezed pond water. In honour of this occasion, I have seen fit to post two important food stories: Stone age man invented beer before making bread, says expert is one, while the other is Roman quarrymen 'ate like emperors'. A little bit of light refreshment for the post-fast period.

All the regular features - Arabic newspapers etc. - will return tomorrow, in shaa'allah.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Tonight the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) begins, the day that all frogs stand in judgement for their acts over the last year.

In honour of this event, I would like to present my translation of a poem by Abraham ibn Ezra, mediaeval Jewish exegete, poet and scholar. The text is taken from Hebrew volume The Religious Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra, Critical Edition with Introduction and Commentary by Israel Levin, volume 1 (Jerusalem, 1975), no. 238. I have benefited greatly from Levin’s commentary in the following translation.

From the fear of judgement my heart’s aflame,
I’ve despoiled my glory, destroyed my good,
Can I up hold my head high when I’ve sinned to my father?
Terror and trembling are come upon me!

Yeh, by my own design I perverted my ways,
And lent not lobe to the words of my creator.
What cover can I seek when I lack all virtue?
And so I fear for I am naked.

On that day the creator comes to do justice with me
How can I deny it, they’ll all just read,
And so I shall teach the right path to sinners,
It is the Lord that I fear.

The first of the prophets – God began to teach
The ways of right, that he prosper after death;
My heart grew warm within me at his final judgment,
For I fear Him.

I have wronged that soul given to me so pure,
And made her the maidservant rather than mistress,
I must quickly restore her to her illustrious old abode
For the Lord most High is fearful.

O my thoughts, let not this world’s glories lead you astray!
Shake of your masters, let now servant drive you on!
Awaken the sleeping to Him, who will give you strength,
He should be the object of your fear and awe.

See you all Monday night,


Friday, September 13, 2002
NEW BOOK: Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dictionary

Two friends independently sent me the following notice:

The study of Jewish languages is relatively young, and some Jewish languages, such as Jewish Neo-Aramaic, have hardly been studied. Therefore, I would like to inform interested scholars in Jewish studies of the publication of the following book:

A Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dictionary, Based on old and new manuscripts, oral and written bible translations, folkloric texts, and diverse spoken registers, with an introduction to grammar and semantics, and an index of Talmudic words which have reflexes in Jewish Neo-Aramaic, by Yona Sabar, Wiesbaden (Harrassowitz, Semitica Viva #28), 8/2002. $33.

For some background: Jewish Neo-Aramaic, in its many dialects, is a descendent of the Eastern Aramaic dialects such as are found in the Babylonian Talmud. The language was spoken in recent generations predominantly in the areas of Kurdistan and Azerbaijan, and is thus often referred to as ‘kurdish’ in Modern Hebrew. Through its long life, Eastern Aramaic has absorbed many words from neighbouring languages, such as Persian, Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic, but nevertheless many of its words are still recognizable as Aramaic. Sabar himself was born in Zacho, an important Jewish center in Kurdistan (it lies within the Iraqi side of the border with Turkey). The Zacho dialect, which is one of the most closely studied of the neo-Aramaic dialects (in great part due to the efforts of Sabar himself), contains many words that can be easily traced back to the classical Aramaic language.

In honour of the publication of this important reference tool, I have decided to present a short section from this week’s Torah portion in its neo-Aramaic translation, with a brief commentary on the words. The transcription used here is as follows: capital letters are used for pharyngealised consonants, thus S = sade (in the Ashkenazi tradition pronounced /ts/ in the Eastern tradition like a strong S, as in Saddam); H = Het (in the Ashkenazi tradition pronounced as a velar fricative as in Scottish loch or German composer Bach, in the Eastern tradition pronounced as an unvoiced pharyngeal fricative as in the name Hussein); $ = /sh/. ’ = glottal stop, a stop between two vowels, e.g. Hebrew ra’a, he saw.

moSesun $imme maHkena
$am’a ar’a imaar pimmi


maSesun ‘listen!’ – root Syt, found in modern Hebrew ‘letsayyet’, to obey. In the Neo-Aramaic of Zacho, the tav rapha is pronounced s, as in the Ashkenazi tradition, e.g. ‘besa’ house.

$imme ‘heavens’ – classical Aramaic $emayya, ‘heavens’, Hebrew $amayim.

maHkena ‘I shall speak’– root Hky from Arabic Haka, ‘speak’, with suffixed Aramaic pronoun ‘ana’ I.

$am’a ‘will hear’ – root $m`, ‘to hear’, feminine participle. In this dialect, the ‘ayin and aleph have merged.

ar’a ‘the earth’ – classical Aramaic ar`a, Hebrew ereS.

imaar ‘the speech’ – root `mr.

pimmi ‘my mouth’ – classical Aramaic pumm/pimm, Hebrew pe.

Incidentally, the dictionary was published in Wiesbaden, where this frog recently spent a pleasant day. I hope to post of photograph of my trip to Wiesbaden soon.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Thanks to Nikita, I found these rather gruesome pictures of a Palestinian lynch in Hebron on 23th April 2002. Unfortunately, the site on which they're posted also contains a link to a classic piece of obfiskation from the Independent of 24 April, which I'm please to say I missed when it first came out.

Fisk's ridiculously unbalanced reporting of the Middle East is well known to those familiar with his work. However, in this article he excels himself. Already, the headline is a give-away: Brutalised by war, a savage mob turns on its own. There's no need to go into the details: the Fiskian narrative of the wicked Israelis and the poor suffering peace-loving Palestinians is used to excuse (sorry, to "explain") even these barbaric acts. The perpetrators are really the victims.

Fisk conveniently overlooks the fact that Palestinian mob violence did not begin with Israeli rule over the West Bank and Gaza. Israelis didn't rule Palestine in 1929 when Palestinian Arab mobs massacred Jewish civilians, nor did they rule in 1948 when the mob savaged the residents of Kfar Etzion and dismembered their bodies; British photographs of the latter events have only recently come to light. Nor did Israel rule over Lebanon in the 1970s when Christian and Muslim militias - including Palestinian militias - liked to murder their enemies and drag their bodies through the streets before dumping them into the river. None of this is allowed to challenge his thesis that all Middle-Eastern violence and hatred stems from Israel. This kind one-dimensional nonsense long ago led serious commentators to dismiss Fisk's work as propaganda, and it is unfortunate that the site which posted the pictures put alongside it a link to Fisk's distorted commentary.

[Incidentally, Fisk uses the term "pornography" to describe the attack. However, Greek "porne" means 'harlot'. I assume that Fisk did not intend to imply that there was a sexual element to this lynch. Perhaps Fisk paid insufficient attention in his Greek lessons at school, just as he pays insufficient attention to so many other details.]

Comments and additional information to RibbityFrog@netscape.net

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Somebody out there reached my blog by searching on Yahoo for "frog + extermination". I'm getting worried...

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

I have now found an old article from the Jerusalem Pest that reports on Arafat's previous "landmark" speech calling for a halt to terror attacks. The speech was made on 16th December 2001.


The report on Arafat's speech seems to have attracted considerable interest, and has been cross-linked by several sites. I would like to read your comments on the two versions. Please write to RibbityFrog@netscape.net.


What was the significance of Yaser Arafat’s speech yesterday to the Palestine Legislative Council? Reading the Arabic news services this morning, you would be hard-pressed to come to any clear conclusions. Was it a breakthrough, or was it, in the words of one senior Israeli military figure cited this morning, BS?

In order to understand better the contents of Arafat’s speech, I turned to two Arabic sources. The first is Al-Ayyam, the official mouthpiece of the PNA in Ramallah; the second, An-Nahar, an independent Lebanese newspaper. The two sources differ tremendously regarding the emphasis they place on the different aspects of the speech.

In an attempt to present the differences (short of translating the entire articles), I thought it would be helpful to outline the main points that the two articles make in the order of their appearance. I have translated the headlines in their entirety.



1. Arafat called upon the international community, which demands reforms and transparency, to send observers, as it did during the Palestinian elections.

2. He called upon the international community to put pressure on Israel to cease its military activities against the Palestinians .

3. Rebuilding the foundations is difficult in the present situation, given the continued international silence.

4. The Palestinians want sound government and a democratic life, with a free judiciary.

5. Arafat confirmed that the elections for the legislative council and the local elections would be held at the beginning of next year, an essential step to establishing a Palestinian state.

6. The Palestinian people have paid a heavy price for the failure of the peace process, and the Israeli government is using any excuse and all kinds of reasons to attack and destroy the peace process, occupy Palestinian lands and undermine the National Authority.

7. Arafat addressed the Israeli people, parties and government, responding to the announcement that the peace process is dead, saying: we want to realize the peace with you, and stability for you and us and the entire region, on the basis of the international legal decisions and the agreements between us; the peace of the brave is before us, not behind us.

8. Arafat called upon the international community for immediate aid to realize the desired peace in this Holy Land, that will serve the generations and emplant security and stability in the entire Middle East.

9. Arafat confirmed again his determination to hold elections at the start of next year.

10. He called upon the International Quartette in that is to meet in New York to provide the mechanisms to guarantee the renewal of the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and to create the fitting security arrangements between the parties, and to immediately send international forces or observers that will be empowered to built bridges of trust and to reestablish the lost credibility between to two parties, as well as bringing an immediate end to the occupation of Palestinian lands and holy cites.

11. On the other hand, Arafat called the Palestinian people in the land and in the diaspora to remain patient, resolute and unified until people realize their goal of returning their occupied lands and establishing a free state with Jerusalem as its capital, and of producing a just solution for issue of the refugees based upon UN resolution 194.

12. He said he hoped for an international political solution for the ‘problem with Iraq’, far removed from military violence, to aid in the establishment of peace and stability throughout the region.

13. He expressed his hope that Bush the son would fulfill the mission of his father, who created the Madrid Peace Conference to create a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region, according to the international legal decisions, particularly since our Holy Land is not only for Palestinians and Israelis, but also for all the Arabs and Christians and Muslims throughout the world.

14. For that reason the President confirmed that the Palestinian people would stand with all force against all forms of terrorism, whether perpetrated by states or by groups or by individuals, and in memory of first anniversary of the heartless international terrorist crime that struck the USA in New York and Washington.

15. He announced to the entire world, particularly to the USA, that the Palestinians are entirely ready to cooperate with any international effort to eradicate this hearless terrorism within the framework of the UN and international law.

The same story appears in An-Nahar in the following manner:


1. The Palestinian leader spoke before the Palestinian Legislative Council, and publicly condemned for the first time attacks on Israeli civilians and confirmed that the Palestinian elections will take place next January. However, Israel noted that he had not called for a ceasefire, while Washington demanded that he match his words with deeds.

2. Arafat said: “The Palestinian people will stand with all force against all forms of terrorism, whether perpetrated by states, or by groups or by individuals”, adding, “On the first anniversary of the heartless international terrorist crime that struck the USA in New York and Washington, we express our horror and condemnation of this terro, just as we express our sympathies for the American people that has been subject to this unprecedented crime … [ellipsis in Arabic original]; We announce to the entire world, and in particular to the USA, that we are entirely ready to co-operate with any international effort to eradicate this heartless international terror in the framework of the UN and international law”.

3. He accused Israel of exploiting the 11th September to accuse the Palestinians of terror, saying “The great terrorist crime that the USA faced overturned the climate and criteria, and the international positions towards the Middle Eastern conflict between us and the Israelis, particularly since quickly the occupying and aggressive Israeli government employed these changes” to accuse the Palestinians of terror. He saw that “our national interests and the necessity to maintain international support for our just cause and the program for resisting the military occupation and the settlement and the tyrannical Israeli siege of our land and out people demands that we reiterate our position of condemning actions against Israeli civilians, and similarly any actions against Palestinian civilians, particularly since the Israeli government has used them to hide its crimes and occupation and settlements.”

4. He condemned suicide attacks, saying, “These actions, which we strongly condemn, have provided a pretext and grounds and a cover for the Israeli government and the occupation army to strike and destroy and kill and assassinate and besiege and impose collective punishments and infringe international law and the fourth Geneva Convention and to disregard all of the agreements between us. It is not unknown to you that Israeli activity on this front has led some of the international forces, and in particular the Americans, into reversing their objective opinions as a result of these attacks against civilians”.

5. He confirmed that the Palestinian presidential and local elections will begin in January 2003, and called upon the interested parties to prepare for them, and upon the European countries to send international observers to supervise them, as occurred in 1996. He called upon Bush to fulfill his father’s mission etc…

6. He addressed the issue of Iraq, as reported above.

7. When Arafat came to mention “the independence of the three authorities – the judicial, the legislative and the executive” he left the written text and said jokingly, “But if you want somebody else apart from me, then choose somebody else and give me a rest!”.

8. The council ended its seventh meeting with the re-election of Ahmed Quray` (Abu Ala) as its chairmen by a majority of 50 votes.

9. An-Nahar has learnt that representatives of the Fatah has agreed express no confidence in the Palestinian government at the confidence vote for the government that Arafat put together last June. They also agreed to vote in favour of the government if Arafat allows the issue of appointing a Prime Minister to be discussed. Similarly, they representatives will vote in favour of the government if the agreement for each minister is presented individually, and the vote is not carried out for government together. One of the Hamas leaders Isma’il Hania related to Arafat’s speech, saying “it does not meet the aspirations” of the Palestinian People. He indicated that “Hamas confirms the need for national unity and strengthening the resistance”, explaining, “The continuation of what is called the peace process does not fulfill any of our people’s interests under the rule of the ongoing of Israeli attacks, crimes and war”.

10. Israel accused Arafat of not presenting any tangible proposals for a ceasefire, asking why he hadn’t proposed a unilateral ceasefire.

11. A Palestinian spokesman confirmed that an Israeli - Palestinian meeting would be held today in Tel Aviv, to discuss in particular security and financial issues. The Israeli Foreign Minister Peres would head the Israeli side, and the Chief Palestinian Negotiator Sa’ib Erekat the Palestinian side.

12. In Washington, The White House cast doubts upon Arafat’s words regarding the terror, expecting from him that he would match words with deeds. A spokesman for the National Security Council, Sean MacDonald, declared in the White House: “The words are noble, but we’ve already heard a lot of such things from Palestinian leaders. What’s important now is their actual deeds”.

The difference between the two accounts is instructive. The report in Al-Ayyam places the emphasis entirely on Israeli aggression, and effectively excuses Arafat from all responsibility. If anything has gone wrong, well, Arafat has done his best in the difficult circumstances. We get nothing of the behind-the-scenes intrigue. The condemnation of terror is left till the end, and is stated in general terms. In particular, it is connected to the 11th September anniversary, i.e. it is principled objection, not a merely tactical one. The issue of terrorism is not mentioned in the headline.

The An-Nahar report discusses the condemnation of terror in detail, and makes it clear that Arafat presented the cessation from terror not as a morally-based issue, but as a merely practical one: since September 11th, world opinion has changed and the Palestinians cannot afford to lose world sympathy.

Incidentally, the report is wrong in claiming that this is the first time that Arafat has condemned suicide terror; last December, following the deadly attack on a bus near the Israeli town of Immanuel, Arafat made a similar speech using very similar terms. He spoke then of the need to adapt to the changes in world climate (I recall that he even used the same Arabic term “mutagayyiriin”).

Comments to RibbityFrog@netscape.net

Monday, September 09, 2002

Israel TV's Arabic sports programme has just given a glowing report to a new inter-communal initiative in Jaffa: youth boxing. The programme showed young Israeli Jews and Arabs beating each other up, while their trainers, Jewish and Arab, praised this golden opportunity for inter-communal co-operation. Apparently, if Jewish and Arab children are given the chance to bash each other at a young age, this is good for mutual understanding and respect. Well, they all seemed to be enjoying it anyway.


Would you believe it? That's the report from www.space.com.


I was saddened to see the following report by Douglas Davis in the print edition of Friday’s Jerusalem Pest:

Anti-Israel French envoy sent to Algeria

LONDON – French Ambassador to the United Kingdom Daniel Bernard has been reassigned to Algeria.

Bernard, who achieved notoriety when he described Israel as “that shitty little country” which threatens world peace, was recalled from his position in the UK last month.

Bernard caused a diplomatic scandal when he made his comments at a luncheon he attended at the London home of Lord Black of Crossharvour, chairman of Hillnger Inc. which owns the Jerusalem Post, and his wife, columnist Barbara Amiel. Writing afterwards in her newspaper column, Amiel lamented that anti-Semitism has become respectable at smart London dinner tables, and said that the ambassador of a leading European Union country “politely told a gathering at my home that the current troubles in the world were all because of ‘that shitty little country Israel’”.

Far be it from me to pass judgment upon the relative virtues of different world states, but it could be said that being moved from the position of Ambassador to the Court of St. James to Ambassador to Algeria may be seen by some as demotion.


This story, which appeared in yesterday’s Al-Ayyam, has been picked up in brief by today’s Jerusalem Pest. The Pest reports:

Gisele Halimi, a 75-year-old French lawyer who earned her reputation by defending Algerians fighting French rule, announced on Saturday that she will lead the team defending [Marwan Bargouthi,] the Tanzim leader and founder of the Aksa Martyrs Brigade who was indicted on numerous counts of murder, attempted murder, and leadership of terrorist organizations.

The polished Halimi, who said she met with Barghouti last Friday -- a day after the stormy opening session of the Barghouti trial -- immediately questioned Israel's right to try him.

"Who is Marwan? What has he said? What has he written?" she asked. "We can't talk here of any real proof or facts."

The Pest goes on to cite some rather weak comments by Israeli officials about Bargouthi’s crimes.

However, the Pest did not give us the full picture of Madam Halimi’s support for Bargouthi. According to Al-Ayyam, she declared:

“Marwan Bargouthi is a man of peace, a man of negotiations, an academic with an MA in political science. Our associates in France have come to recognize him as one of the leaders with whom it is possible to make peace”, adding “All of this brought me to decide to help him”.

Moreover, Madam Halimi did not come alone. She came in the company of another French lawyer, whose name appears to be Daniel Voguet. Voguet was even more outspoken in his support for Bargouthi. Al-Ayyam reports:

For his part, Fourier indicated that he had heard from French and Israeli officials that two years ago, Bargouthi was constantly received in Tel-Aviv by different Israeli leaders, and that he had put all efforts and demonstrated courage for the sake of peace and the defense of the Olso agreement, and said “If I were to add to this fact that Bargouthi is a member of parliament and one of the leaders of the Fatah movement, then it is clear that his trial in an Israeli court is in fact a trial of the policies pursued by the leadership of the Palestinian people, and it is clearly a political trial, and that it is not Bargouthi personally that is on trial, but rather the policies pursued by the leadership in the West Bank and Gaza, and for this reason he has the intention of entirely denying the jurisdiction of the Israeli Court just as the Israelis refuse to be tried before a Palestinian court”.

Madam Halimi adds:

As a lawyer interested in fundamental way in human rights, there are two important elements: the first is the premises, i.e. who is Marwan and what was Marwan, and what did he say and what did he write, and what did others say about him; this is not something that we can talk about here. And then there are the accusations made against him by the Israelis, and any self-respecting lawyer and any normal citizen would say that there is no irrefutable evidence for the accusations, and we cannot talk about facts”.

Of great interest is the support for Bargouthi from the French foreign ministry:

She [Halimi] indicated that before her arrival and that of her colleague in Jerusalem they were received by the head of the Foreign Relations office of the French foreign ministry, and the director of the Foreign Ministry for the African and Middle Eastern Department in Paris, saying “They confirmed for us their logistical support and asked us to inform the French authorities about the situation. We also have the support of the head of the Parisian Bar Association [or Law Society in British parlance], who wrote to the French Ambassador in Tel Aviv, as well as to the head of the Israeli Bar Association, and we have been received by the Israeli ambassador in Paris who knows Marwan Bargouthi well from his participation in several meetings in parallel to the Olso talks.”

It seems to me that the learned lawyers appear to be avoiding the point. The issue of jurisdiction is important, but as the state prosecutor has pointed out, Bargouthi is accused of murdering Israeli civilians in Israel; what legal restriction can there be for putting him on trial in Israel? Moreover, the arguments about Bargouthi’s participation in the Olso process are totally irrelevant. Jibril Rajoub has a favourite amongst the Israeli left for many years, but when the Israeli forces invaded his headquarters in Beitunia and found the torture chamber he used against his Palestinian opponents the image of him as a cuddly bear of a man took a serious blow. Bargouthi may have once espoused “moderate” views, but the charges against him speak of his sending out armed men to deliberately target civilians. Hardly the acts of a “man of negotiation” as Madam Halimi puts it.

Incidentally, while searching the web for more information on the charges being pressed against Bargouthi, I came across the web-site www.tanzim.net. While it does indeed contain a lot of information about the activities of the Tanzim over past two years, I suspect from the nature of its content that it is not the official website of Fatah’s military wing. Check it out!

Friday, September 06, 2002

Well, tonight is Rosh Hasahana, the new year for frogs, and I would like to wish you all a better year than the last one. In celebration of the day, I have decided to provide this page with musical accompaniment, that may be attained courtesy of Jerusalem's Jewish National and University Library. Happy listening. Let's hope that the days pass without the mega-attack that is being planned for us.

All the usual features - links, comments and excerpts from the Arabic press - will be back after the holiday.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Apologies for those who tried the Eisenbrauns link in the entry on the Book Sale. It has now been repaired.


Tal G. asks this morning "What planet did Per Stig Moeller arrive from? The Danish Foreign Minister is here in Israel to promote the EU's Middle East plan - which calls for immediate declaration of a Palestinian state (without borders), and a full-fledged state by 2005. No strings attached", and directs his readers to an article in the English Ha'Aretz. The article in Ha'Aretz seems to be greatly dependent upon news agency reports, which appear almost word-for-word (in Arabic, of course) in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam.

Comparison of the two versions reveals that where Al-Ayyam draws upon the agency reports, it tends to render them quite accurately. I have found only one contradition between the two versions, in that Ha'Aretz ascribes a certain statement to Arafat, while the Palestinian version ascribes it to Erekat. (This change probably results from a mis-reading, which could have happened in Hebrew or Arabic; it is certainly insignificant.)

However, the Al-Ayyam report gives us much more detail about what Arafat actually said to Moeller. He repeated all of his claims about the Israeli massacres (including a reference to "Jeningrad"). Most astonishing is the following statement that Al-Ayyam reports:

He [Arafat] told his excellency [Moeller] that over the past two years, there have been 68 thousand martyrs and injured, a third of them under the age of 17 years, in addition to a large number of handicapped.

These numbers are deliberately misleading. Even if we take the total sum as accurate, it does not distinguish between the number of killed and the number of injured, nor does it distinguish between those "killed in action" (i.e. while carrying out military operations) and those killed in civilian contexts. (For some statistics, see ICT's site. An analysis of the statistics may be found here.)

[Incidentally, the Arabic term "shaheed" (literally: martyr; plural "shuhadaa") is regularly used to describe suicide bombers and other such obnoxious characters. Even supposedly "open" Arabic news services like Al-Jazeera distinguish between Arabic "qutila" 'was killed' and "shuhida" 'was martyred' depending upon who was killed.]

Moeller seems to have bought entirely into the Arafat myth. He constantly praises Arafat's efforts while not sparing his criticism for Israel.


I have received a lot of requests for more summaries from the Arabic press. I am happy to oblige, with one proviso. Much of the Palestinian propaganda material is repetitive, and, as I have mentioned, the material based upon agency reports is often identical to the material published in the Western newspapers. I will therefore only report on materials appearing in the Arabic press when they differ from what can be found in the Western press, or when they provide a unique perspective on the Middle-East conflict.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

While working today (yes, this frog does occasionally work) I had occasion to read the original of this Hebrew song of praise to Zion. The song, which is known only from the great Psalms scroll from Qumran Cave 11, dates back to the Second Temple Period, and was first published in 1965 by a charming professor by name of James Sanders. (Sanders was subsequently ignored by the other members of the publication team who failed to publish their assigned texts, and in an impassioned speech before the expanded official publication team in 1997 he thanked those present for finally having acknowledged his contribution to the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.)

In these difficult times I found the sentiments most inspiring, and decided to post a translation here.

I recall you, O Zion, for a blessing,
With all my might have I loved you,
Your name is eternally blessed.
Great is your hope, O Zion,
Peace and your awaited salvation shall come!
Generation after generation will dwell in you,
Generations of the steadfast shall be your splendour:
Who yearn for the day of your salvation,
And will rejoice in your great glory.
They shall suckle from your glorious breast,
And walk your splendid squares.
The steadfastness of your prophets shall you recall
And be glorified in the deeds of your loyal ones.

Violence is purged from your midst!
Falsehood and evil cut off from you!
Your sons rejoice within you,
Your beloved ones are joined with you.
How have they hoped for your salvation,
And your pure ones mourned for you!
Your hope won’t be lost, O Zion
Nor your expectations be forgotten!

Who has perished when righteous,
Or escaped in iniquity?
Man is tested by his way,
And each repaid according to his deeds.

All about your enemies are cut off, O Zion,
Your foes have all been scattered.

Your praise is pleasing, O Zion,
Ascending through all the world.
Many a time shall I recall you for a blessing,
And bless you with all my heart.

You shall attain eternal justice,
And receive the blessings of the great.
Consider the vision spoken of you,
And the dreams of the prophets shall come to you.

Be exalted and increased, O Zion,
Praise the Most High, you redeemer,
Let my soul rejoice in your glory.


www.eisenbrauns.com, perhaps the best American distributor of academic books on Bible and the Ancient Near East, is holding a special sale of books from the Hebrew University’s Magnes Press. Amongst the many books on offer, I should like to make special mention of two: Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (1987) and Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (1993), both by Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked.

The books contain primarily Jewish magic texts dating from around the fourth or fifth centuries through Middle Ages. The earliest texts were discovered in archaeological excavations in Israel and are written on metal or clay, while the mediaeval material comes from the Cairo Geniza and are primarily written on paper. A third group of texts comes from Babylonia in the pre-Talmudic and Talmudic periods, and these are written in Babylonian Aramaic on bowls. Yes, bowls.

The texts vary in their contents: protection from demons, love charms, blessings for success when speaking to a ruler, and, one of my favourites, a spell to subdue the writer’s neighbours. The texts are predominantly written in the Palestinian and Babylonian Jewish dialects of Aramaic, and give an unusual perspective on the popular religious expression of the time.

So if you have some particularly troublesome demons to deal with, or bothersome neighbours, then these could well be the books for you. The spells themselves often attest that they are effective.


Thanks to http://isabellasteddy.blogspot.com/ for being the first blog to unlink me! According to the teddy,

Talking of sacking things....I am sacking Ribbity Frog from my list of reads. The first ever blog I have got rid of from my reads list. Interesting name, not an interesting site. Why? Far too pre-occupied with Middle East politics with a vague leaning towards the pro-Israel camp. ( Too pre-occupied?! Surely in the language of the pro-Israel camp that should be pre-"settled"....)

Oh very droll, Winnie-brain. I am sorry if I'm pre-occupied with Middle East politics, but you see every time I send my tadpoles off to school (in a taxi only, because I'm too frightened to send them by bus) I wonder if they'll be murdered, and every time I go into the city centre I wonder if I'll return in one piece. Just today I went to a local hospital to visit a friend who has just woken up after 28 days and is suffering from severe burns, punctured lungs, and stomach injuries after being blown up in a cafeteria. So pardon me if I have a little more to worry about than were my teddy is. (Apparently, Isabella's teddy is now in Kalamazoo, where, by amazing coincidence, Mrs. Frog, aka the Ribbitzen, comes from. This frog has also been there.) Oh, and just for the record, my leaning is not vaguely towards the pro-Israel camp.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002
Congratulations to Israblogger Tal G. on the second write-up in as many weeks in the Israeli press, this time in Hebrew. The article discussed the various aspects of blogging, and concludes with the issue of the blogs’ attitude towards the news media.

The bloggers enjoy a love-hate relationship with the main-stream media. On the one hand, they rely upon it as the main source of their information, and on the other hand – they enjoy criticizing it. Tal relates that he and his blogger companions time and again encounter journalistic reports that contain inaccuracies. In several cases, according to him, the bloggers pointed out to the leading journalistic bodies such as CNN and the BBC the mistakes appearing in their reports, and got them to publish corrections or clarifications. “The bloggers force the press to be more responsible”, he says.

However, even if the bloggers can occasionally correct the guard dog of democracy, they are still almost entirely dependent upon the news it supplies them. Only a small number of the hundreds of thousands of blogs that are sweeping the net deal with news issues, and of those only a few are run by people who go out into the field, collect evidence and carry out investigations. Such journalistic work requires the investment of time and energy, and as long as most private sites have trouble financing their activities, it is difficult to assume that many of them will be able to afford such a luxury. Moreover, it seems that the rapid growth in the number of blogs will take it more and more difficult to find the right blog amongst the multitude. Surveying many blogs in order to receive a full and balanced picture of the situation already seems today an impossible mission.

While most of the article is positive, I feel the description of journalistic work is somewhat romantic. If journalists really do spend all their time doing investigatory research as Ha’aretz suggests, then there must be an awful lot of stupid journalists out there, if that’s the best result they can come up with after investing so much time and energy. In fact, much journalistic work is a matter of reaching deadlines and trying to grab headline space, as well of course of making a good living. Many of the journalists assigned to foreign parts know nothing of those countries’ languages and history, and they have to cobble together reports based upon press releases and local guides. How many times have I sat cringing at the cable news stations as some anchorman or woman sits in the studio and attempts to interrogate some foreign leader whose name s/he can hardly pronounce about places s/he has never seen. [“Oh come on Minster, the Harr Homer settlement in East Jerusalem etc etc.”]

The fact is that the educated and informed blogger often has a much better understanding of the situation than the journalist in the field, even if s/he isn’t staying the in Hilton and plowing around “the field” in a four-wheel drive with a laughing local. Your frog in the pond may know where on the web to find information that the journalist is unable or unwilling to check, information that written by experts and actually bears some relationship to the facts on the ground. Many journalists simply do not do a very good job.

Thanks to those readers who sent in letters. Thanks to you, I now have indents! I promise that Comments will come soon. In the meantime, please keep writing to RibbityFrog@netscape.net

Lebanon's An-Nahar newspaper, which is regarded as being quite independent and outspoken in its views on Lebanon's independence, contains a response to yesterday's claims in Ha'aretz that Al-Qa'ida operatives have been allowed to enter the Palestinian refugee camp El-Hilwe. The article cites primarily Syrian and Palestinian spokesmen. The Syrian spokesman describes the claims and "funny and ludicrous lies which do not merit a response", while the Palestinian spokesman says that it is impossible that so many people would cross such a great distance in order to enter to poor conditions of the refugee camp.

Ha'aretz's claims are presented in some detail without comment, and Ra'anan Gissin is cited at the end stating that he would not comment on the article in Ha'aretz, but that it "points to the fact that there are several radical groups in Damascus, amongst them Palestinian organisations, and it is only a matter of time until Al-Qa'ida will find a safe sanctuary in Damascus, like the other organisations".

Incidentally, the original Ha'aretz article mentions that the An-Nahar newspaper had condemned what was happening in the refugee camp on 15th August. I shall keep my eyes on this interesting paper for further developments. The quality of reporting was far superior to the this propaganda of Al-Ayyam.

Monday, September 02, 2002
Al-Ayyam is 'reporting' this morning a classic piece of PNA propaganda, employing all the ‘buzz-words’ of war crimes. The citations brought here in double-inverted comas are cited in the article as direct quotations. I have translated these as accurately as I can, word for word.

Incidentally, I have been asked by one reader if I can indent direct translations and citations to distinguish them more clearly from my own commentary. If any of the readers of this cite could inform me how to do this using the Blogger program, I would be most grateful.

The article reports that PNA is to call upon the UN Security Council to hold an immediate meeting to impose sanctions upon the Israeli government. They are also calling upon the ‘Quartet’ (USA, Russia, EU and UN) to freeze their relations with Israel until Israel “ceases its attacks against the rights of the Palestinian people”. He explained that these “abominable Israeli crimes are a new attempt to subdue the Palestinian people through the massacres that the Palestinian civilians face”.

In a statement from the Palestinian leadership issued by the Palestinian News Agency, they “called upon the UN Security Council to take its responsibilities in the fact of the war of extermination that the Sharon government is carrying out against the Palestinian civilians under the auspices its sieges and its closure of all the cities and areas.” The leadership said “the continued neglecting of the International Security Council’s role in spite of our repeated calls upon the council to fulfill its role and our complete readiness for the ‘security pacification’ [an unusual term for ‘ceasefire’] leaves the Palestinian people at the mercy of the policy of force and the law of jungle in which Sharon, his government and his occupation army continue, paying no heed to human rights and the Geneva Convention. We call upon the International Security Council to stop the Israeli war of extermination against the Palestinan people and we hope that the International Security Council will take its responsibilities incumbent upon it in the [UN] Charter” .

The leadership asked of “the firm, patient and fighting Palestinian People more staying power, firmness and patience and complete national unity in the face of the Israeli war of extermination, and there is no alternative but that our people will be victorious in the battle for freedom and independence just as all fighting peoples have been victorious against occupation and colonialization and wars of extermination and ethnic cleansing.”

Sunday, September 01, 2002
PS: To help me track reactions to this Blog, feedback is essential.

Please let me know what you would like to see at RibbityFrog@netscape.net.

I am thinking of instituting a slot called "Ask the Frog" in which I would answer questions.


Once again I am grateful to Peter Briffa's Public Interest Blog for drawing my attention to another piece of The Patroniser's nonsense on world terrorism. Following the September 11th attacks, every journalist and his brother is suddenly an expert on Islamic terror. Minor impediments such as knowing something about Islam and the Middle East or even knowing where to look up the basic facts about Islam and the Middle East have not prevented journalists from espousing their ignorant views on the causes of the attacks on the USA.

In an ill-conceived article, in which the facts are not allowed to complicate the conclusions - that poverty and inequality lay behind the attacks - Martin Woollacott performs intellectual somersaults to try to convince us that in spite of the evidence, the wickedness of the west is responsible for the vicious murder of innocent civilians that took place on September 11th.

Of course, Woollacott must address the facts in some form:

"The world's unfair economic arrangements, and the way in which they are buttressed politically, were proposed as a cause, among others, by many trying to explain the attacks. The argument was pretty quickly overturned, in the minds of many people, by what was learned about the religious motivation of the hijackers and their social background.

On the American right, in particular, some seemed to relish the fact that the hijackers mainly came from well-off or even rich families. That seemed to them to dispose of the idea that urgent action on global inequality was a necessary part of any programme to prevent or reduce the chance of more attacks. Poverty was not the problem."

So the nasty American right, delighted at the chance at some terrorist bashing, jumped upon the fact that the Al-Qa’ida operatives were religiously motivated in order to maintain the inequality that they so love. Now clearly, they must have been wrong, so Woollacott explains to us:

“They took that line even though it was historically established that attacks on the political status quo, whether revolutions or rebellions or more isolated challenges like terrorism, rarely come from the ranks of the truly poor, but from classes adjacent to them and suffering from their own different but related insecurities”.

In other words: don’t take the beliefs of Al-Qa’ida seriously. Don’t read what they have to say about themselves and their struggle against western society. Don’t believe that they are supported by some of the richest people in the world, who have no problem in keeping the citizens of their country in abject poverty while enjoying the incredible revenues with which their monopoly over the country’s oil resources have provided them. After all, it was “historically established” that this is not the case, and only stubborn fools like the American right would stand in the face of what has been historically established.

This one-dimensional view of Islamic society has been addressed by Bernard Lewis in his essay “The Return of Islam”, originally published in 1976 and “revised and recast” in his 1993 volume “Islam and the West”. The book, which appears on the syllabus of many an introductory BA course in Islam in the Modern World, is of course in English and was published by the Oxford University Press, so Woolacott, who writes for a British newspaper, would have no problem in obtaining it or reading it.

On page 134 Lewis writes:

“Modern Western man, being unable for the most part to assign to dominant and central place to religion in his own affairs, found himself unable to conceive that any other people in any other place could have done so and was therefore impelled to devise other explanations of what seemed to him only superficially religious phenomena. We find, for example, a great deal of attention given by eighteenth-century European scholarship to the investigation of such meaningless questions as 'Was Muhammed sincere?' or 'Was Muhammed an Enthusiast or a Deceiver?'. We find lengthy explanations by nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century historians of the 'real underlying significance' of the great religious conflicts in Islam among different sects and schools in the past, and a similar determination to penetrate to the 'real' meaning of sectarian and communal struggles at the present time.

To the modern Western mind, it is not conceivable that men would fight and die in such numbers over mere differences of religion; there have to be other 'genuine' reasons underneath the religious veil. We are prepared to allow religiously defined conflicts to accredited eccentrics like the Northern Irish, but to admit that an entire civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too much. Even to suggest such a thing is regarded as offensive by liberal opinion, always ready to take protective umbrage on behalf of those whom it regards as its wards. This is reflected in the inability of political, journalistic, and academic commentators alike to recognize the importance of religion in the current affairs of the Muslim world and in their consequent recourse to the language of left-wing and right-wing, progressive and conservative, and the rest of the Western vocabulary of ideology and politics.”

M’lud I rest my case.

Well, today is the first day of school, and I'm swimming my tadpoles there, so blogging will be light this morning.

Following the other blogs about Palestinian executions of collaborators, I would recommend having a look at this.