Saturday, December 17, 2011

Israeli military history, the Erinpura disaster, May 1, 1943

On the left, the Israeli memorial at Mt. Herztl.
 On the right, the Erinpura when it served as a medical ship during WW1.

During the Second World War the Erinpura was one of many transport ships carrying supplies and troops to the frontlines. On May 1st 1943, heading to Malta from Alexandria, it was attacked and sunk by German warplanes north of Benghazi Libya.
In that attack approximately 943 allied soldiers were killed. Among them there were 300 Jewish volunteers from British Mandatory Palestine, Israelis. This Israeli list of casualties included all 140 members of Transport Company 462.
In the Annals of WW2 this was one of many maritime disasters. But in Israeli history this is most likely the biggest lose of life from an enemy’s fire in a single incursion. But I will leave that determination to military historians expert in this field.
The tragedy and carnage of this event are powerful demonstrations of a fact usually sidelined. That during that horrific war Israel was an integral part of the allies’ military effort.
At the time we had no official name but we fought and died like everybody else. We took part in victories as well as defeats. We called ourselves Yeshuv, a general term for any form of organized residences. And hosted in our Yeshuv allied soldiers from many nations.

And on the Erinpura Israeli soldiers died alongside soldiers from India, South Africa and elsewhere.
May all their souls be interwoven forever in the wreath of life”.
To the fallen from all the nations that stood for liberty.
Then and now.

A wikipedia link.
A link to the South African side of the story, a nation that lost more lives on that terrible day.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Anti - Semitism, Tea Party and the Occupy Wall St. movements

Hatred has no particular political home, no particular skin color. If we don’t get it, we will be the ones getting hurt.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

End the blockade of Gaza? So more of these will take place?

“End the blockade of Gaza,” demands Erdogan of Turkey. “End the blockade of Gaza,” echoed after him Philip Luther, the deputy director of Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa program. “End the blockade of Gaza,” the demand came in a form of expectation, following the long awaited release of Gilad Shalit.  
What blockade?
Thousands of truckloads of goods of all sorts enter the Gaza Strip each month: 4,983 this July, and 4,795 the previous month, and 5,087 in August, jest as examples. There is no blockade on civilian life in Gaza, only a military one. What do they think will happen if Israel removes this security blockade? The only one there is!
More of these will happen:
The death of 16 years old Daniel Viflic last April: After 10 days of struggle he died from wounds he received from an anti tank rocket that was fired from the Gaza Strip at his school bus.
Or the murder of the in-laws, the couples Moshe and Flora Gez, and Dov and Shulamit Karlinsky: On the 18 of August, by an anti-tank rocket fired at their private car, on the road to Eilat. This act of mass murder was a part of an all out assault on civilian targets at Israel’s southern border, a border of peace with Egypt.
This blockade prevents the recurrence of such crimes. Why should we end it?

Gaza Terror victims
Daniel Viflic and his school bus

Victims of the August (2011) Assault on Israel's Southern border 

And now, that Gilad Shalit is finally home, are we to make it easier for Hamas to fulfill its promises of more abductions?
Concern for civilian life in Gaza is understandable. But when such concerns come with gross lack of concern for civilian life in Israel that is difficult to understand. And if this continues and becomes a pattern, people might suspect that the lack of concern is the actual motivation of such demands.

Jeff Weintraub: "Almost comical" anti-Israel prejudice in the Guardian, dissected by Jeffrey Goldberg & Norman Geras

Jeff Weintraub: "Almost comical" anti-Israel prejudice in the Guardian, dissected by Jeffrey Goldberg & Norman Geras

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9/11, ten years later, reflections

Seeing the images from the ceremonies commemorating the tragedy of 9/11, a sense of strength came from them. I don’t know what is the nature of that strength but it felt like a good strength.

The events of 9/11 were hard on us in Israel. At the time we were caught in a wave of suicide bombings. Therefore we thought that finally the world understands under what kind of terror we were living under. But this was quickly overwhelmed by the dispiriting realization that there is no getting away from the rule of this terror. But there is a way to get away. Fighting back, denying them the military high ground and the moral high ground.

“Terrorism is the weapon of the weak.” There are still a lot of people that believe in this nonsense, isn’t it? Bin Laden wasn’t weak or poor, he was rich, Ghadafi is still filthy rich, and Arafat? He made money out of terrorism, lots of it.
When there is an onslaught of terrorism, always look for the corrupt rich guy/s.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Israeli history: The true mystery of Daud Abu Yusuf, the Jewish Bedouin

Ami Isseroff Joe Hochstien

Dedicated to the memory of Ami Isseroff z”l and Joe Hochstien z”l (right to left)

The first teacher
In the modern history of the Jewish people Daud Abu Yusef is referred as ‘the miraculous rider from the desert.’ But in my opinion a more fitting title will be ‘the first teacher’. Since he was the first to teach the Jewish pioneers in the land of Israel how to protect themselves and their community. His students were the founders of what is now the modern city of Petach Tikvah. The very first pioneers who came to the malaria infested swamps that covered much of the arable land in the land of Israel. Like them he wanted to change the fate of the Jewish people for the better. And gladly joined the members of the Jerusalemite Association “Petach Tikvah,” which means opening of hope in Hebrew.

Coat of arms of the city of Petakh Tikvah
Coat of arms of the city of Petach Tikvah

Opening of Hope
Just east of Tel Aviv, the modern city of Petach Tikvah holds proudly the title of the first Zionist community in the land of Israel. It is a title disputed by the people of the city of Rosh Pinah near Safed in the Galilee, but this dispute will not be sorted out here. The founding fathers of Petach Tikvah included David Gutmann, Yehoshua Stampfer, Eliezer Rab, Natan Greengrant, Zerakh Baranet, and the leader of the group, Yoel Moshe Solomon.
In July 8 1878 they bought for 1,100 Napoleons 3,400 dunam from a Christian trader from Jaffa by the name of Salim Caser and named it after their association. Located near the origins of the Yarkon, (a river in the eyes of the locals, and a stream in the eyes of passing tourists), the abundance of water made the place look promising but looks can be deceiving. Their intention was to find a way to live as farmers. But the challenges they were facing were daunting. The biggest threat was malaria. It decimated the Arab population along the marshlands and had no mercy on the Jewish pioneers. Finding the right crops was another critical challenge since that was the financial justification of their enterprise. 

Founder of Petakh Tikvah, Yoel Moshe Salomon
 Founder of Petach Tikvah, Yoel Moshe Salomon

The security challenge
There was also the problem of security. These were the last decades of the Ottoman Empire. As it decayed, lawlessness and destitution spread along its diminishing provinces. And the land of Israel was no exception. The Arab Israeli conflict, as we know it today, of Jews vs. Arabs, did not exist at the time. Then it was the destitute vs. the poor. Those with nothing but an empty belly vs. those with very little. And those with very little, like the people of Petach Tikvah, had to watch tirelessly over the little they had. Guarding from thieves, robbers and trespassers. The trespassers came from nearby villages and wandering Bedouin tribes. They often harvested the fields of Petach Tikva and brought their cattle there to graze. The Bedouin tribes were the greater potential threat. Since quite often they were the real law of the land. Picking a fight with one of them was asking for trouble. Therefore a good guard had to be a good diplomat who knew the ways of the Arabs and the Bedouins.

First of the Jewish guards, Yehoshua Stampfer

For this complex task of security three men volunteered. Yehoshua Stampfer (1852-1908), Yaacov Ben Mimon Zarmati (1838-1928), and Yehuda Rab (1858-1948). The first is best described as the problems solver of the association. Enthusiastic, committed and charismatic, his been taking head on many of the setbacks that came their way. From recruiting backers and members, to farming, and protecting their small newborn community. The second was a 40 years old Moroccan Jew, native of Jaffa. Yaacov Ben Mimon Zarmati was a merchant who knew much of the land around them, from Sinai to northern Syria. He knew the ways of the Arabs and the Bedouins, and in his travels went to the lands of the most hostile of tribes. He knew no fear and no illness. The 21 years old Yehuda Rab, was the son of Eliezer Rab and cousin of Yehoshua Stampfer. Although young, he had behind him experience equal to a lifetime. Married for the second time, he already run two businesses before coming to Petach Tikvah. He run a mill in Jerusalem and before that an estate in his country of birth, Hungary. There he also learned the use of personal weapons from an elderly friend of the family, a veteran of the failed Hungarian revolt of 1848 and of the American Civil War. Rebellious and unruly, yet loyal, Yehuda preferred the company of Arabs to that of the Yeshiva life in Jerusalem. Because of that he was called ‘Yehuda Arab.’
Each of them had some knowledge and experience to offer. But it was not enough. Very quickly these three remarkable men were overwhelmed by the security problems. They needed a more professional help. And they got it, unexpectedly, in a perfect timing, the kind of which history isn’t known to offer.

First of the Jewish guards, Yaacov Ben Mimon Zarmati
First of the Jewish guards, Yaacov Ben Mimon Zarmati, age 90

One heck of a coincident
Daud Abu Yusuf did not plan to be in the land of Israel in the winter of 1879. As a devout Jew he undoubtedly wanted to. Maybe he even made a few plans. But if he did they never materialized. In 1879, year 5,639 of the Jewish calendar, a thief stole his precious white mere somewhere in Arabia. And Daud chased him all the way to Damascus. Since Jerusalem is nearby, he decided to make pilgrimage. On his way back, at the village of Faga, east of Petach Tikvah, he heard of Jews trying to make a living as farmers. Curious, he went to have a look. But all he saw there were a bunch of Europeans. Disappointed he immediately left. For Yehuda Rab, who welcomed him there, this was also confusing. He saw a strange looking Bedouin coming from the east on a tall white mere, the kind Yehuda never saw before. According to the local customs he greeted him and invited him for a cup of coffee. But instead of accepting, the rider grunted and left, after replying in a few words in an Arabian dialect uncommon to this region. Returning from the fields the next morning Yehuda was surprise to see the stranger coming from the same direction. His surprise grew several times over when the stranger announced “Ana Israili,” followed by, “Shma Israel adony Eloheinu Adony echad.
No one expected to meet a Jewish Bedouin. But there he was, a Hebrew speaking Bedouin with Talit and Tefilin among his few belongings. Yehuda’s immediate thoughts were of the Jews of Khaybar. They were a mysterious tribe of Jewish nomads from the Arabian Peninsula. At the time a source of many legends and rumors, but of no actual encounters. As they introduced each other Daud dismissed that possibility. His name was Da-vid, but the Arabs called him Daud Abu Yusuf, after his 20 years old son, who was then with his mother in Baghdad. Daud came from a group of Jewish families in Baghdad that spend the greater part of each year among the Bedouins in the desert, trading with them in camel wool. Only he went even farther, and made the desert his home. In that conversation Daud also dismissed the possibility that the Jews of Khaybar existed. He recalled that he was hired once as a guide by a British expedition that wanted to find this tribe. They went across the Arabian Peninsula as far as Yemen, were they met Yemenite Jews. But saw no evidence of the Jews of Khaybar.

First of the Jewish guards and teacher, Yehuda Rab
First of the Jewish guards and teacher, Yehuda Rab

The first lesson
Hearing of their problems and difficulties he immediately offered his experience, his first advice, no rifles. That night he took Yehuda outside to set a campfire. Yehuda thought this would immediately attract hostile fire. Daud was counting on that. They waited on their horses some distance away in the dark. And when someone began shooting at their campfire they did nothing. The shooters revealed their location by firing and when they reloaded Daud and Yehuda charged at them from behind, scaring the living daylights out of them. Simple and effective, Daud’s plan gave Yehuda his first night of sleep in a long time. After that night Daud decided not to return to his wife and son in Baghdad but instead to spend a year teaching the people of Petach Tikvah everything he knows. Especially to Yehuda Rab who carried the greater brunt of guarding.

Philosophy and legacy
His main tool was diplomacy. Gaining the respect of the surrounding villagers and Bedouin tribes, through firmness and hospitality. Stand your ground but always give your adversary the highest respect. By winning every confrontation on one hand, and they were numerous, and honoring his neighbors with hospitality Daud’s fame spread throughout the land. And many Arabs regarded him as a sheikh. He knew that smart diplomacy can avoid confrontations and war, therefore he honored the Arab custom of hospitality by accepting all their invitations and inviting their leaders to Petach Tikavh, where they were treated as kings. Once he refused to take part in a contest of skills in order not to humiliate their host, the head of the powerful Abu Kishek tribe.
When it comes to surviving an actual confrontation Daud’s philosophy had just two rules. Rules that required a cool head at all times.
Always be quicker than your foe, but no matter what you do, don’t ever kill unless this is an extremely severe danger. – This is not a fantasiya!” “There is no point,” he reasoned, “to start an endless blood feud.” Fantasiya were local festivities were weapons were fired into the air just for the fun of it. For experienced men like Daud Abu Yusuf war is something they engage in out of necessity and not for the fun of it. He knew and taught that a battle avoided is a battle won.
This first rule is a wisdom that echoed across the history of Jewish self-defense in the land of Israel. Mendel Portugali, 1888 – 1917, one of the founders of “Hashomer,” the predecessor of the “Haganah” instructed, “ You do not seek an encounter with a thief, you chase him off, and only when you have no choice do you shoot. After all, he is "out to steal a sack of almonds, not to murder you, so don’t murder him, drive him off. Don’t sleep at night. If you hear footsteps, fire into the distance. If you feel that he is not far from you, and you can fire without fear that he may attack you, fire into the distance. Only if your life is in danger – fire.
And from later years, Yigal Alon, 1918 – 1980, recalled an incident with thieves in his family fields, when he was only 13 years old. In that incident he saw his father confronts the thieves and chases them away, without killing them, even though he had the opportunity to do so. His father’s explanation echoed the wisdom of Daud Abu Yussef and the empathy of Mendel Portugaly: “A shot can end up in death. The death of an Arab opens a blood feud that can last for decades. We live here with them and any conflict that can be resolved with hands and sticks has to end without the use of a weapon. Use it only when there is a real danger to your life.” Yigal Alon became a leading figure in the establishment of the state of Israel and its armed forces. Where he, and others like him raised generations of soldiers, commanders and military leaders.
Daud Abu Yussef second rule is best described as “Always prefer the night over the company of a campfire.” Knowing your surrounding in the dark without the use of a light source is the skill of the commando, the tracker, and the native fighter. A skill a bunch of foreign intruders are not supposed to have. Israeli historians may dispute the idea that Daud Abu Yusuf gave the Israeli side the skills of army trackers – ‘Gashashim’ in Hebrew. But the fact of the matter is that Jews with this skill were present in land of Israel from the very beginning of pioneering Zionism and Daud Abu Yusuf was there to teach.

Who was he?
Daud spent only one year in the company of the people of Petach Tikvah, from the Passover of 1879 to the Passover of 1880. There is only one source about that year, his friend and student, Yehud Rab. From him we have a few clues about his life before he came to Petach Tikvah.
40 years of age, short and not so good-looking, his face carried the scares of an illness that stroke him some years before, probably Chicken Pox. His most recognized feature was the rababa, a single string musical instrument common among the Bedouins. With it he sang Bedouin songs from the desert’s heartland and Jewish prayers. He also liked to play the ud, a well-known guitar like Arab musical instrument.
True to his teachings, he carried no firearms. He had a lance in his right arm and a frightening Damascus Sword in a sheath on his left thigh. When asked why this seemingly risky choice, he explained that a rifle has no honor. “Even a woman can kill with it the greatest of heroes”. Was he a chauvinist? Or was this a better explanation to give to the kind of world he lived in? His one-year stay in Petach Tikvah Suggests the later. Once a massive confrontation between the men of Petach Tikvah and the men of a nearby village was about to take place. Seeing this face-off the women of Petach Tikvah took the initiative, rushed to the field and lay down between the two sides. Daud was as surprised as the rest of the men, from both sides. But there is no indication he was bothered by this “unwomanly” behavior. Along with everybody else he was glad the fight was aborted.
Daud gave a year of his life to Zionism, but his life was his wife and son in Baghdad. This we know since he never stopped talking about them, especially his wife. On the eve of his departure he met Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, a senior rabbinic personality from Jerusalem. He was the only leading rabbi to support the Petach Tikvah initiative, and that against strong and sometime near violent opposition from the rabbinic establishment in Jerusalem. Recognizing Daud’s importance Schlesinger offered him a special permit to marry a second wife from the land of Israel, should his wife in Baghdad demands his return. Politely and firmly Daud refused. It is quite possible that Daud had a woman for a boss.
Daud was a man of contradictions in more ways than one. Once he saw a Turkish unit taking government cattle to the fields of Petach Tikvah. Furious he charged at them and slapped the Turkish lieutenant on the chick, and quickly rode away. Smart move giving the troubles this act nearly put him into. Like most of the men in that era he liked to hunt. And was excited to see a wild boar. Against his friend’s advice he decided to hunt it and threw his lance at him. But the wild beast was only hurt, and as always in such cases attacked him and his mere. His mere was nearly gutted before Daud was able to slash the boar’s neck with his sword.
In my opinion these stories betray an earlier layer of personality, one that is more adventures and impulsive. And that raises the highly likely possibility that he too had a mentor once, an unknown teacher. From him learned survival skills that may have conflicted with his adventures nature.

Daud Abu Yusef, the Jewish Bedouin
Daud Abu Yusuf, a sketch made by Yehuda Rab in 1944. Source, 'The First Furrow’

A fading memory
Daud’s life from before he came to Petach Tikvah is a mystery; all we have is second-guessing based on a handful of clues. But what happened to him afterwards is a complete blank. Even though most Baghdadi Jews and their descendants live today in Israel, no one came forwards claiming to be his descendant. And the British expedition he said to have guided across Arabia hasn’t been identified. As a result the mystery of Daud Abu Yusuf got bigger. And as always when history and mystery meet, legends and folktales emerge.
When Daud left his image got split into two different persons, the historic one and the legendary one. The historic one, of the lone and remarkable Baghdadi Jew that lived as a Bedouin, is the one described here. It was known only to Yehuda Rab and to his family; and to whoever read his memoirs. They were written by his son Benyamin Ben Ezer in 1930,  and published in 1956 under the Hebrew title ‘Hatelem Harishon,’ ‘The First Furrow.’ In 1922 the Rab family Hebraized their name to Ben Ezer, after Yehuda’s father, Eliezer.
The legendary image described Daud as the head of a mysterious and powerful tribe of Jewish Bedouins hidden somewhere in the vastness of Arabia. This is how the general public in Israel knew him, from before there was an Israel, probably from the very beginning of the 20th century. At the time of Daud’s stay in Petach Tikvah Yehuda was not the only one who mistaken Daud for a member of the Jews of Khaybar. But only he was there he to hear Daud’s own story. The rest of the people saw someone who was clearly a Jew and clearly a Bedouin. Therefore it was logical for them to assume that he came from a Jewish Bedouin tribe. And the people of that era knew of only one such tribe, the mysterious Jews of Khaybar. The great deeds Daud made during that year convinced many that he was the head of that tribe.

While the historic image of Daud Abu Yusuf remain hidden among the old books in public libraries, the mistaken one kept growing in the collective imagination. In Israel’s earlier decades children & youth literature writers turned the Khaybar version into an action figure hero, an integral property of Israel’s world of fiction and fantasy. It may have seemed like a safe place to preserve a memory, albeit distorted one, but it wasn’t. With an image of a character in children & youth literature Daud was simply not in the radar of most early Israeli historians and researchers. This kept his memory only in the fiction world of Israel. But the fiction world everywhere is never a stable one. There, characters and stories are subject to changing trends and fashions. And in the Israeli culture the leading trendsetters were in the United States of America. This is a fact of life that goes back to the very beginning of Modern Hebrew speaking lives in the Land of Israel. And in the 1980’s, when the influx of imagery from the United States to Israel turned into a flood, Daud did not have a chance.

By 1988 it was probably too late. Then, journalist and historian Ehud Ben Ezer (1936-), Grandson of Yehuda Rab and son of Benyamin Ben Ezer, Republished his grandfather’s memoirs. With it he published a children & youth story recounting the same events. The two books meant to counter the misinformation in the public’s mind, but there is no evidence that major interest arose. Thus the memory of Daud abu Yusuf, real and fiction, faded to near obscurity.

But ultimately, the main reason was Israel herself. The hi-tech over urbanized Israel of the 21st century is a sharp contrast to the impoverished desolated and thinly populated land Daud and Yehuda knew in 1880. And today many in Israel and outside of Israel will find it difficult to believe that the origins of the IDF, one of the most technologically sophisticated armies in the world, goes back to four Jews on horse backs carrying as their main weapons wooden quarterstaffs known in Arabic as naboots.

Ehud Ben Ezer
Ehud Ben Ezer, the only authority in the whole world on Daud Abu Yusuf

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Great Plunder of Safed, 15 of June - 17 of July 1834

Translator's Prologue:

On May 22, 1934, when the massacre of the Jewish community in Hebron in 1929 was still fresh in memory, the Hebrew daily newspaper Haaretz reminded its readers that pogroms took place in the land of Israel before 1920. The author, Eliezer Rivlin, chose as an example the event known as “The Great Looting of Safed,” which took place 100 years earlier. It began at June 15, 1834. The day was 8 Sivan on the Hebrew calendar. Translating this story was not simple, because of the biblical Hebrew of the author and the brutalities described. A choice had to be made between maintaining the style of the original and keeping the English understandable. I believe I was able to do so, but the English will appear odd, just as the Hebrew will be to a present-day Israeli.

The Great Plunder of Safed/ Eliezer Rivlin, Jerusalem

What has been said repeatedly in journals and books-- that until 1920 there were no pogroms against the Jews of the land of Israel -- is a mistake. For there have been such as these decades and centuries ago, even before the English conquered the land. The Jews have called it “looting” or “plunder” (in Arabic “nahib”).

In the chronicles of the Jewish community, the “plunder” and the earthquake of 1837 are the most shocking events.

The earthquake and the plunder were always a matter of conversation for the old men and women of the land of Israel, and they told it many times to their children and grandchildren.

The plunder erupted in Safed along with the revolt of the Arabs of the land of Israel against Muhammad Ali, the governor of Egypt, who took the land from the Turks and the government of Kushta (Istanbul) in 1834. He imposed mandatory military duty on all Muslim inhabitants of the land of Israel. This was something that they were fiercely against.

The first to call for a revolt were the people of Nablus, by the command of their minister Kassam Lakhama. They were joined by fellahin from the nearby villages, and rose upon Jerusalem to conquer it and take it out of the hands of the governor of Egypt.

On 22 Iyyar, (May 31), the rebels occupied Jerusalem and took control of the city. The fear among the Jews was great, for, according to Arab tradition, plunder is allowed during rebellion. And those breaking in already began looting and plundering. But to their rescue came the head of the rebels, who declared in the streets of Jerusalem that, “the Arabs, the Jews and the Christians are brothers and the one who touches any of them shall be put to death.“ This severe command was helpful in saving the lives and properties of the Jews and Christians in the Jerusalem. And after a week, on 28 Iyyar (June 3), came Ibrahim Pasha, the general of Muhammad Ali, to Jerusalem, and a large force with him, and the rebels fled the city.

Very bad was the fate of Safed, which had the largest Hebrew community in the land. All other communities in the land, including the one in Jerusalem, were its subordinates. (There were about 2,000 Jews then in Safed.)

The governor of the city of Safed aided the rebels, and the Jews of Safed bore the brunt of the guilt of Muhammad Ali and his government. The Jews became the target for rebels from within the city of Safed and from the surrounding villages and towns.

The rebellion in Safed was declared on 8 of Sivan (June 15, 1834). From all the nearby towns and villages Arabs and Bedouins came to the city drunk from revolt and began delivering havoc on the Jews. With large and small shields, lances and rifles, the first thing they did was to attack the Jews. They stripped the clothing from men and women, tore pillows and featherbeds, and spread the feathers around, tore Bible books, raped a man and a woman, destroyed houses and synagogues, and murdered many people from Israel.

Gentiles came to the domain of the Lord, in the little holiness of our temples and synagogues, and defiled the chamber of our holiness and threw all our cherished books of the Torah to the ground. They tortured righteous women upon them, and all holiness of our homes, phylacteries (tefilin) and doorpost (mezuzah) looted and plundered and thrown. And they took from the Bible books to make straps for their horses and shoes for their feet… they destroyed our homes, beating the Jews blows of death and loss. And many of them became blind and invalids, and from among them, several souls died strange deaths.

Many of the Jews fled immediately to the near and the faraway fields and mountains, outside the city, many among them naked and barefoot. Others ran to the synagogues to die a holy death there. “In the house of learning (beit midrash) of the Pharisees many gathered with their Rabbi, Rabbi Israel, author of Pe’at Shulhan –- and among them many were already wounded and injured – and they where blowing in the shofar.” And many found cover in neighbors’ yards, with Arab acquaintances and in basements.

The eruption of the rebellion came suddenly and caused much panic. Home dwellers fled in many directions, the husband ran to the field outside the city, the infant stayed lying in the cradle, and the mother in her hideout -– and the cries of the miserable -– oi father! Oi my son – tore the heavens.

At the head of the community of Safed stood then the Rabbis: the gaon (wise man) Rabbi Israel of Shklov, author of “Takalin Haditin” and “Pe’at Shulhan, student of the Vilna Gaon (Ha’gaon Rabbi Eliyahu), head of the school of Pharisees, the gaon Rabbi Margalit of Skalit, and the gaon Avraham Ba’ar from Ovruch, heads of the Hassidic schools. These three eyes of the community stood at the head of the defense and rescue of the Jews of Safed, even in time of peril, and every one of them helped his community and surroundings with great devotion.

Rabbi Gershon Margalit used the school money to bribe the qadi of Safed (chief of the religious judges) and they gathered at the qadi’s court, the rabbi and about a thousand of his parishioners.

Rabbi Avraham Ba’ar from Ovruch and with him several hundreds of his people fled immediately to the top of one of the mountains and entered a large ruin with iron gates and two wells.

Rabbi Israel of Shklov entered first with hundreds of his men from the Pharisees to the house of learning (Beit Hamidrash) of the Pharisees and blew the shofarot (ram's horns) and cried to the Lord. But the rioters came in after them to the synagogue, and beat them and robbed them. Rabbi Israel they wanted to kill, because they knew he had money from the school of the Pharisees. They said he hid it in the ground at his home. He cried and begged for his life and paid them seven reds of gold.

Then Rabbi Israel and his people fled outside the city into the vineyard field by the ancient cemetery, except the old and the frail that could not run. They remained in the synagogue and in the city streets were thrown to the ground, trampled down by the rebel rioters.

In one cave at the cemetery Rabbi Nathan Neta, son of Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Shklov and others of the Ashkenazi Jews had found refuge. But even there they were not left alone, because the rioters came after them, searching specifically for Rabbi Israel of Shklov, determined to kill him for the school money he had. They caught Rabbi Nathan Neta in the cave and they gouged out his eye. The Jews were forced to leave the vineyard and run to the great ruin on the mountain where Rabbi Avraham Ba’ar and six hundred of his people were already inside. And the ruin could not contain all the refugees, and there too they were afraid for the life of Rabbi Israel, whom the rioters chased in order to kill. Three of the Pharisees -- Rabbi Moshe Khishis, and his son in law Rabbi Shmuel Shalom of Pinsk, and Rabbi Reuben Cohen –- went to the village of Ein Zeitim, and pleaded there with the heads of the village for a large sum of money, and they were permitted to bring Rabbi Israel and some of the Pharisees, and they were there in Ein Zeitim until the order in the city had been restored.

The rebellion continued for thirty-three days, and all that time the Jews were persecuted inside and outside the city, and they were not allowed to come out of their hideouts. The exceptions were those individuals, who by acquaintances and friendship, or by giving large amounts of money, found refuge for themselves and their family members in the homes of Ishmaelites (Arabs) and in the homes of Christians. The refugees who were outside the city, and in the fields under the open sky, suffered greatly from the great cold in the mountains of Safed, and the harsh dew in this part of the country. And their hearts dropped from fear at the sound of the rebels' cries and debauchery.

And the many that hid at first with Rabbi Gershon at the qadi court had no rest either, for “their number was large” in the eyes of the qadi, and after a few days he chased out from his court the greater part of them, and they were forced to flee to the fields and mountains outside the city.

Holy and heroic Jews, heroes of strength and courage of heart, gave their lives for the sanctity of the Lord and the duty of the city and community and did not leave the city nor ask for hideouts, and the outlaw murdering bandits trampled them down. Among them many famous righteous rabbis, “the Rabbi Ha’magid from the holy congregation of Satanov, and the rabbi from Piotrkow,” had the strength to hold against the bandits and to be remembered in the list of the author of “Korot Ha’Etim” (‘The history of the times’ or the ‘Chronicles’): “ The rabbi Mo’har Ya’acov Hirsh from Mohilov, and with him a Sephardi scholar, who prepared self-defense, closed the opening to their yard and piled a large number of stones on the roofs of their homes to throw at all those coming closer to their yard. This made their assailants angry and they opened fire at them. The Sephardi scholar died instantly and rabbi Ya’acov Hirsh was severely wounded. Later the attackers entered the yard looted and plundered”.

Beseechers and public activists were found, who gave their lives helping their brothers who were in great distress. And they pleaded in every way they could to ease the misery and to end the situation. They fed the hungry, returned babies to the bosoms of their mothers, buried the dead, dressed the wounded, bribed the Gentiles, and pleaded by way of messengers and letters to the consuls and authorities in Acre and Beirut. They even gathered and hid the remnants of the books and phylacteries and doorposts, which the savages desecrated.

Rabbi Lieb Cohen and Rabbi Shalom Hayat and Rabbi Mendel of Kamnitz went from street to street, from hideout to hideout, and returned little children to the bosoms of their mothers, buried the dead, and rescued those who were robbed by the rebels. These three excel in courage of spirit, and in their specialty in understanding the ways and manners of the Arabs. They were close to the Arabs and used gifts, prayer and war. According to the testimony of Rabbi Mendel of Kamnitz, “Rabbi Lieb Cohen wrestled with the bandits that attacked him, and yet did not stop from looking after the hiding persecuted Jews and rescue them.” And Rabbi Shalom Hayat was the acquaintance of many Muslims, whose clothes he used to tailor. “…and once, in the days of mayhem, when Rabbi Shalom and Rabbi Mendel walked together, a soldier caught them and put his sword on the neck of Rabbi Shalom in order to kill him, but Rabbi Shalom did not panic and with pleasant talk and pleading told the bandit, 'remember our old love, when I tailored your clothes, but know that I do not fear from my death, because my kind sir, I am old, but please let me die on my bed.”

After the initial days of panic passed, a rescuer and a savior came to the Jews of Safed. This was Rabbi Israel of Shklov, who, from his hideout at Ein Zeitim, with sums of money and gaining the heart of the sheik of the village, was able to get into his service fellahin who went to the city and mounted on their donkeys the sick and wounded that lay out in the streets. And with the fellahin coming into the city, came in also Jews dressed as fellahin and they took out money that they hid before leaving the city.

In each day that passes the rebels who conquered the city were afraid that the army of Ibrahim Pasha will come, take vengeance on them and put an end to their misdeeds. They were also concerned about attacks from savage Bedouins and other villagers from nearby who demanded from them a share in the loot they took from the Jews. And this fear did not give them the strength to unleash all their fury on the Jews. And in one of the days of riots the rebels gathered to a public meeting and there were found among them some who wanted to benefit the Jews, and they sent messengers to the markets and streets declaring “taman,” meaning the riots are over. And the Jews were about to return to the town, but very quickly they had found out that it was not the opinion of the majority of the rebels. And they attacked the Jews again on the road, forcing them to return to their hideouts and lie in the vineyard and in the ruins.

There were also many deceivers among the Ishmaelites, from among those who made their living from the Jews, and among them a known slave who promised to take the Jews from the vineyard and the ruins to the qadi’s court in exchange for a large sum of money, and he led them under his protection to the edge of the city. There he told his brothers to attack them and rip their clothes off.

During the thirty-three days of the riots the Jewish community was dwindled and ruined. Many were beaten to death and fell in the open streets, many were severely wounded, their eyes blinded, men and women were tortured. Thirteen synagogues the Jews had in Safed, and in them five hundred books of the Torah, and all were destroyed then, the precious books of Rabbi Isaac Abuhab were lost, the synagogue of the Ha’ari Ha’kadosh (The holy lion, Rabbi Isaac Lurya), and the book of the Torah at the synagogue of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Meron. The homes of the Jews were emptied, and many were destroyed down to their foundations, because the bandits searched them for treasures of gold and silver. Many houses were burned. The printing press of Rabbi Israel Beck, which was in those days the only printing press in the entire land of Israel, with all its publication, the five books of the Pentateuch, and other books were destroyed and burned, and Rabbi Israel Beck was bitten many times, and he was sick in his legs for the rest of his life. Most of the Jews were left without a robe to cover their skin.

With great efforts Rabbi Israel of Shklov sent from his hideout letters to the consuls of foreign states in Beirut and informed them of the details of the troubles that befell the Jews, many of whom were the subjects of foreign states. The consuls encouraged Ibrahim Pasha to come to Safed, repress the rebellion and save the Jews from eradication. Ibrahim Pasha sent the emir of the Druze, Emir Bashir, from the Lebanon to the Galilee, and on 10 Tamuz (July 17) the emir came to the gates of Safed with a large force and repressed the revolt. Most of the rebels fled, and their leaders were caught and put to death in the open streets. And the Jews of Safed had a relief; they returned to their homes and gathered their few remaining belongings. The consuls tried to raise sums of money as compensation for their subjects and made lists of the damages, but the victims received only seven percent of the value of the damage.

In the month of Tevet (January 1,) 1837 there came upon Safed the great quake, and in Tamuz 1838 came a second plunder, and these three blows destroyed the Jewish community in Safed. But not many days later and the Jews renewed the settlement of Safed with hope, that “God shall build the Galilee.

Epilogue: brief historical notes.
According to the English traveler Alexander William Kinglake, the plunder had begun by a local Islamic clergyman named Muhamad Damoor, who incited the Moslems to attack the Jews. In sermons that he preached at the market of Safed, he gave a date for the attack and called upon them to take the treasures of the Jews, since they were thought to be very rich. Source: History of Safed/ Nathan Schur, Dvir & Am Oved publishing, Israel 1983. - Hebrew.

This tragedy is a forgotten historical event, and even in Israel few know about it. Those who do know about it mistakenly attribute it to the Druse. The attack on the Jewish community of Safed by a contingent of Druse mercenaries was in 1838, and it was a part of a quarrel they had with Ibrahim Pasha. They too thought the Jews had hidden treasures, and were encouraged to do so by local Moslems, who afterwards forced the Jews to give them a written oath that they had protected them.

This second plunder had nearly ended the existence of the community even though it was shorter, lasted only three days, and with no fatalities. After two deadly blows, the first plunder of 1834 and the earthquake of 1837, it was simply one blow too many. Thanks to the effort of the famed Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, the community recovered. Source – Nathan Schur, p. 192 – 193.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Palestinian propaganda, exonerating the IDF, (again)

A new Palestinian hate page on facebook (H/T Simon Plosker at HonestReporting) has this photo on. It shows, supposedly an Israeli soldier struggling with a Palestinian child. But a careful examination shows the soldier isn’t fighting, he is too busy carrying a heavy gun. And when we look to the right an adult hand is supporting this child, otherwise he would fall. Now if Israeli soldiers are so dangerous, why Palestinian adults feel confidant enough to throw their kids at them?

Israeli soldier Palestinian child

There is more than one story coming out of this picture, non of them favorable to the Palestinian side.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Two more are left.

Osama Bin Laden is dead, and that is good, very good, but there are two more monsters remain, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiry and the Taliban’s top leader Mullah Omar.

Prior to the killing of Bin Laden a debate took place in MSM as to whether his Al Qaeda had any actual power left following their defeat and that of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002. This debate forgot the nature of their appeal in the eyes of their followers and sympathizers. To these crowds, (or sub-culture of Jihadism), these three are regarded as saints, living divine saints. It is difficult to explain this type of sainthood to the modern humanistic mindset. Suffice it to say that it is sainthood gained by bravado. It is bravado that is made from mass killings, and the ability to evade punishment for those crimes. An important and well-known ingredient of this sainthood is the PR campaign. A campaign that is loaded with Islamic motifs that serve as an excuse and glorification of those crimes, incorporated in a ‘come and catch me’ attitude - bravado.

Ayman Al-Zawahiri Mullah Omar
Ayman Al-Zawahiri & Mullah Omar
Defeating Al Qaeda means putting them in the crosshairs..

Because of this “sainthood” their death will have a complex effect on the War on Terror, but one that will benefit the fighting democracies.

There are in fact several benefits. The first one comes from the above-mentioned sainthood. This “sainthood” created a situation where every new leader rising through the ranks, like Anwar Al Awalki in Yemen, will be always under their shadow. And this is a discouragement for every glory-seeking leader. (Unless they can get local or regional political power the way Al Awalki did. This is a different incentive, which isn’t necessarily available in every region).

The second benefit is the deterrence that had been achieved as a result of killing all three of them. This deterrence sent a clear and obvious message to all Bin Laden wannabes. If your role models can be caught and killed so can you. The apparent length of this chase enhances that deterrence, because the United States comes out of it as patient, never letting hunter. And that is a third benefit.

Such an achievement means that the soviets came to the graveyard of empires to spread communism and failed. But the Americans came to Afghanistan to catch the people responsible for 9/11 and succeeded. Success is the only good way to leave Afghanistan. It is important to turn that country into a reasonably functioning state. But not at all cost. Simply put: if Afghans won’t fight for Afghanistan, no one else should. Some forces will be needed in that country to keep Afghanistan’s troubles inside Afghanistan and to intercept any renewed attempts by Al-Qaeda or any another terrorist organization to make Afghanistan their base. But these are containment operations and not securing a nation-building endeavor. What is more important is the ability to declare victory in the graveyard of empires. This will be a huge moral booster to the coalition. And even a bigger demoralizer to the enemy.

Osama Bin Laden
Osama Bin Laden,
Posing sainthood in battledress

This victory, once achieved is therefore of strategic importance. Constantly demoralizing the enemy is the only way to end their appeal and ability to recruit, fighters, technicians, engineers, propagandists, and financiers. It will also end the first phase of the War on Terror. This was the phase that started with the first attack on the World Trade Center in New – York City, on the 26th of February 1993. This was the fight against the global hierarchical Al-Qaeda, where Osama Bin Laden and Aymann Al Zawahiry were the commanders in chief, and Mullah Omar, their host and protector in Afghanistan, was the one who made it all possible. Under his protection Al-Qaeda became a global army of terrorists, able to perform horrific mass murder attacks worldwide, culminating in 9/11.

However, since Al Qaeda, and other Jihadists organizations, will definitely try to reverse this situation, this victory will launch the third phase of the “War on Terror,” the nuclear phase. The only way they can reverse the impact of an American claim of victory in Afghanistan. Knowing the vengeful nature of Al Zawahiry, who always promises heavy retributions upon the enemies of Islam, his idea of Islam, this phase may have already begun.

What makes these phases unique is that when one begins, the previous one had not necessarily ended. The second phase in the War on Terror, is the fight against regional Al Qaedas, in the Arabian Peninsula, Northwest Africa, etc. It begun with the defeat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002, and will end when regional forces have the will and the means to crash them. Something that won’t happen without western support and encouragement, and some level of active participation. Fighting the three forms of Al Qaeda at the same time requires developing and implementing different strategies at the same time. That can be as complicated as a war on multiple fronts.

The nature of the war against religious fundamentalism is such that one strategic victory is not enough. If history is a teacher, and it usually is, and a good one, then we, the democracies of this world, are in for a long haul. During the middle ages, when Western Europe was under the spell of religious fanaticism, the Islamic world, the saner side at the time, was able to bring the crusades to an end, by constantly inflicting defeats on them. In a period of nearly three centuries, those defeats had an accumulating effect, which dried out the crusades from supporters and volunteers. Will it take this long this time?

Hard to tell. Today’s holy butchers make a good use of modern communication technologies to enhance the impact of their actions, and to win over recruits. There is no reason why the west shouldn’t use that as well, to enhance the impact of its victories. But the most important lesson from the killing of Osama Bin Laden, is that patient is an asset. Impatience will always play into the hands of the enemy. But if America can claim victory in Afghanistan, which is not the case yet! then there is good reason to believe it can win the War on Terror, in a shorter amount of time then it took to defeat the crusaders. But first, all three must be killed, and not just Bin Laden, until then this is all hypothetical.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Egyptian revolution, the United States and Israel, testing old textbooks and writing new ones

I’m probably going against the current that dominated the pro-Israel blogsphere by saying that the American administration was right in supporting the largely peaceful ouster of president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. But I do believe that to be the case.
In explaining my opinion it is important to point out that both this current and the said American policy are due to sound reasons. This current of Israel based skepticism exists mainly because of the crisis in US Israel relationships that took place last year over planned constructions in East Jerusalem. This crisis left many Israelis and supporters of Israel distrustful of the Obama administration. This mistrust was echoed in the concern some Israelis had that the abandonment of Mubarak preludes an abandonment of Israel. But there is no comparison between the American Middle East policy of March 2010 and that of February 2011. Then the United States acted as if it had a textbook of new ideas regarding Middle East peace making. But since those ideas were new, and with no relation to past experience, the textbook was actually a guessing book. However, during the more recent Egyptian crisis of January and February 2011, they did had a textbook to read from, an old and reliable one. It is called “How to address a dysfunctional allied dictatorship,” or “How not to get bogged down in another Vietnam.” It is an important book that proved itself in 1986 during the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. Then a pro-western tyrant was removed from power in a way that kept the country as an ally of the west without slipping into an endless civil war involving thousands of American troops.

The Vietnam war
 The American lesson from Vietnam is very clear; an unpopular allied dictatorship that lost its ability to enforce itself on its population is not a strategic ally but a strategic burden. But the Middle East is not Southeast Asia. In Southeast Asia as in Latin America, the United States of America earned the animosity of millions because it supported brutal unpopular despots. But in the Middle East the unpopularity of the United States predates the relationships with the tyrannies of the region, and even the United States itself. This animosity is an ideological one, an opposition to the American and western values of democracy and civil liberties and not just the policies. They are based on the widespread of popular intolerant ideologies, such as nationalism, pan-nationalism, and religious fundamentalism. These ideologies are rooted in the history of the region. It is a history of empires and kingdoms ruled by Arab dynasties and Islam as their official religion. These intolerant and even anti democratic ideologies are the legacy of that era. They had produced hostile anti democratic regimes such as that of Gamal Abdle Nasser in Egypt, and the Wahabi regime of the Saudis in the Arabian Peninsula whose origin goes back to 1744. Their starting position was that of hostility to the west and its democratic values. But as their own internal difficulties grow and as the region’s political arena changed, creating mutual threats to them and the west, the two sides got closer. It is a simple convergence of interests that created a near lose-lose situation for the west and in particular its leadership, the United States of America. The duration of these regimes, their corruption, and repression, undermined severely their popularity. Their new proximity to already hated United States, acted as a reconfirmation of the corruption of these regimes. Simultaneously it reaffirmed the bad image of the west.

US Middle East policy – 2011
Learning the lessons from Vietnam and adapting them to a different region.
That is the American challenge in the Arab spring of ‏2011

This fundamental difference does not suggest that the Vietnam experience is irrelevant here; after all there are similarities. It does suggest that some adjustments are needed. This rises equally from the Israeli textbook. Like the American textbook it is based on sound experience, however there isn’t a lot of text in it, just a few lines. ”Avoid another Iran, beware of the Muslim Brotherhood, remember how Hamas, one of their offshoots took over Gaza, both by elections and by force.” In the leaderless revolution that took place in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is the most likely opposition group to benefit since it is the largest and most organized. Along with its anti-democratic and anti-Israeli platform, which it had obscured but not abandon, it is a genuine threat and not just a bogyman in quotations. This suggests that the best course of action based on the Israeli warning signs is to crash the Lotus revolution. But that runs into conflict with the next line in the Israeli textbook. “Beware of another Lebanon, were a civil war created Hizbullah and gave the hegemonic seeking Iran a major foothold in that country.”

What these two textbooks tell us is that they are not in conflict with one another. Rather they are in the same place, in need of new ideas. In a situation like this the events on the ground are the ones that are writing the new textbooks, events that are being shaped by the political forces currently working in Egypt. These forces are the ruling military elite, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the general public who only began to be an active political player.

The questions are what each of them want, what are their goals, concerns, and priorities:

What does the current regime see as a greater threat, Iran, Islamization, anarchy, or the spread of democracy?

What does the Muslim Brotherhood want? To hijack the revolution the way Khomeini did in 1979 Iran, or use the democratic process the way Hitler did? Or do they intend to leave things as they are so they can enjoy the new opportunities without risking loosing their gains by starting political upheavals whose final outcome cannot be predicted?

And what are the priorities of general public, democracy or jobs?
These unanswered questioned are the making of uncertainty. And there is no need to list its drawbacks, especially in the Middle East, where the stakes are high. Here chaos and bloodshed can be no more the one mistake away. Writing damn good textbooks for everyone involved.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan’s earthquake and tsunami ‏2011, hope and solace, ‘Dust in the wind’ revised

Trapped in our own horrific troubles we Israelis did not lose site of the fact that more horrendous things are taking place at the other side of the Asian continent. It is hard to find words of solace and hope for the people of Japan in this crisis that does not seems to end. But as human beings we feel the needs to do or say something, the helplessness of others is ours as well.

This is the best I could do. Since seen one the most technological societies today collapses in face of such powerful forces of nature makes us all feel like dust in the wind – a scary feeling – I took the lyrics of Kansas’ famous song “Dust in the wind” and changed them in way that I think fits this unfolding tragedy. It is cumbersome, but not too difficult to understand, I hope.

I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the nightmare’s not gone
All our dreams
Fell before our eyes so unexpectedly

Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind

Same old song
Powerful surge of water from an angry sea
All we do
Crumbles to the ground, though we wish not to see

(Aa aa aa)
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Oh oh oh

We hang on
Nothing last forever but hope and solidarity
Since all our money won’t a better minute buy

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
(All we are is dust in the wind)

Dust in the wind
(Everything is dust in the wind)
Everything is dust in the wind

Now we stand, falling to our knees, we rise again
Hand in hand, slowly forwards through these dreadful days

(Dust in the wind)
Dust we are
Dust we maybe tomorrow, but today we stand
Stand through the wind
(Dust in the wind)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A misleading BBC report about Israel’s concerns over Egypt, by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes

There is nothing new about MSM making erroneous pieces about Israel, and the BBC is no exception.

In this report from February the 28th, by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes the BBC correspondent in Jerusalem, there are two glaring errors.

The closing statement that Mubarak kept Egyptians hatred of Israel from been expressed is flat out wrong. In fact, as this ADL denunciation from November 7th 2000 shows, attacking Israel was one of the few freedoms Egyptian press did had, including blatant anti-Semitism.

He also omitted the fact that the reasons for Egypt's cooperation with Israel over the blockade of Hamas in the Gaza Strip has more to do with Egypt’s relationships with Hamas, than its relationships with Israel. As Khaled Abu Toameh specified in this article from the Jerusalem Post of January 2010: The inability to get Hamas to compromise over the Schalit deal, the failure to reconcile with Fatah, and concerns that it had threatened the Mubarak’s regime.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Eurovision 1976, nostalgia and patriotism, Emor Shalom

This is not exactly nostalgia for me since I don’t recall the Eurovision of 76, but it is a nice song and nice glimpse into a different area. So here they are, the old Israeli female trio ‘Shockolad Menta Mastik,’ Yardena Arazi, Ruti Holtzman, and Lea Lupatin, in Emor Shalom.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Egypt, in its own path: The 200 years long march to Tahrir and beyond

Egypt’s long history is that of a country founded by its people, lost to them, and now reclaimed. From them came the builders of the pyramids. From them came the priests of the great temples. From them came the inventors of the hieroglyphics. From them came the Pharaohs. They were farmers and fishermen that made Egypt the first proof of human ingenuity and resourcefulness.

They have built their civilization without outside models to learn from. It was just themselves, the life-giving river, the vast desert around, and the mysterious skies above.

For many centuries their creation towered above its surroundings as the most developed society around, with only Mesopotamia to keep it company, and rivalry. Gradually other societies caught up. But Egypt’s heritage and achievements still placed her above the rest, boosted by the fact that all these new civilizations were influenced by her culture, and willingly consumed it.

With the welcomed columns of Alexander the Great Egypt became a part of other greater worlds: The Hellenic world, the Roman world, the Christian world, and now the Arab and Islamic world. There its uniqueness had faded but never gone.

In that process however Egypt lost its independence and became the property of foreigners of all sorts, rulers, invaders, and conquerors. At the pick of that process were the Mamluks, a military sect of foreign decent that ruled Egypt as feudal overlords, with absolute power over the country and its people. In 1517 they lost their empire and the land to the Ottoman Turks, but remained the de facto masters of Egypt. No change could have come without their approval, and no change came.

Therefore when Muhammad Ali Pasha became the governor of Egypt in 1805 he knew they had to be uprooted. And on March 1st 1811 he invited them to a royal bash, a celebration of an upcoming war, and massacred them in a ruthless and thorough ambush. For a military force he used instead recruits from the native Egyptian population. In doing so he begun the long process of returning Egypt to its people.

Muhammad Ali Pasha

The second major step in that direction took place 141 years later, on July 23rd 1952, in what was known as the “Free Officers Revolution.” This was the name a large group of military officers headed by colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser that overturn and deported the royal dynasty founded by Muhammad Ali Pasha. And sent away Egypt's last foreign rulers, the British. In this revolution a force of native origin became the highest and most powerful political authority. Unlike the monarchy it offered social mobility to the poor peasantry, by giving them the ability to rise through the ranks as soldiers and officers.

The third step took place this February, when the masses gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were able to oust Egypt’s 30 years long ruler Hosni Mubarak. In doing so they showed the world, and themselves, what people’s power is all about. The final step will be Egypt becoming a fully functioning democracy. Hopefully it will be the next step and an immediate one. Because, as the history of Egypt and other countries has showed us, revolutions are often followed by setbacks and backwards steps.

In Egypt’s case Muhammad Ali’s dynasty became corrupt and hedonistic, especially under its last ruler; king Farouk I. Gamal Abdel Nasser gave Egypt full independence, a developed infrastructure, vitally needed land reforms, and international prestige. But with them came tyranny and an economy that could not sustain his military ambitions. And in Tahrir square, on February the 18th 2011, merely a week after this leaderless revolution seceded in ousting president Mubarak, the radical cleric Shiekh Yousef Al Qaradhawi encouraged a crowed of around a million men, to declare war on Israel.

Egypt’s history points clearly to its direction, a government by the people, for the people. Its troubled history suggests this won’t be a smooth ride. But every major step towards that goal has to be commended and blessed. Even if skepticism will be vindicated in the nearby future, this revolution should be congratulated. Because in it the value of life was largely kept, the protesters were non-violent and the army held back its fire. And those who did resort to violence, Mubarak’s supporters, lost. Its not that skepticism should be sidelined, no, this would be unwise from a survival point of view. But we can congratulate this achievement without been euphoric. Whenever democracy wins it is a good thing and should be treated as such. Whatever bad things may come, no matter how close they might be, they are not here yet. When they do come, they will be treated accordingly. But until then Egypt should be congratulated for this achievement and for her new found liberty. And may they prove all their doubters wrong. Because to many revolutions didn’t, and not just in the Muslim world.