Shabbat Hagadol at the Third Hurva Synagogue, 2010

Summary: Five years ago, I was fortunate to spend Friday night at the newly re-opened Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. A reflection on history and change.

On the Friday evening of Shabbat Hagadol before Passover in March 2010, I walked with my father to the Old City of Jerusalem.

I had come to Israel with my family to celebrate my daughter’s bat mitzvah. Several members of the family walked the 1.5 miles in the light rain from our hotel towards the Kotel.  As we passed the newly opened Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, my father and I opted to pray there, while most of the others continued to the Kotel.

THE HURVA

The very first Hurva Synagogue was built in 1694 but was destroyed a few years later in 1721 due to financial problems. The second Hurva synagogue on that location opened in 1856, as the Ottomans began to ease restrictions on Jewish development in the holy land. However, the Jordanian Arabs blew up the synagogue during their 1948 attack on Israel.

Hurva1930
Hurva Synagogue, 1930

In 1967, in response to the Jordanian and Palestinian attack on Israel, Israel counter-attacked and took control of the eastern half of Jerusalem. The Israelis opted to not rebuild the Hurva Synagogue for decades, and instead built a ceremonial arch, similar to the arch that existed in the original shul. However, in 2002, the government began a process of looking at rebuilding the synagogue, which it finally opened in March 2010.

 Hurva arch
Ceremonial Arch where the Hurva Synagogue stood

The rededication of the Jewish synagogue caused international hysteria. Palestinians and Jordanians called the action a “provocation” that was meant to begin an attack on the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. The main Palestinian political party, the Jihadist group Hamas, declared a “Day of Rage” against Israel.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said it “strongly condemns recent measures taken by Israel in East Jerusalem, the latest of which has been the inauguration of a synagogue in the old city. PCHR holds Israel responsible for the escalation of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

The United States was upset with the reopening of the synagogue in the contested part of the city and the Palestinians’ reaction. As such, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu skipped the rededication ceremony to avoid harming relations with US President Barack Obama.

SHABBAT HAGADOL 2010

 I was very happy to go into the new-historic shul. It is not often that one gets to visit a brand new building with so much history.

There was security to enter the building, but nothing extreme or time intensive. The entry area had many siddurim, prayer books, and my father and I each took one and grabbed seats inside. We observed the large inside of the domed building and could see a woman’s section behind us overhead.  The tall wooden aron that held the torah scrolls sat against a wall that tried to convey the levels of history in the building – a mix of raw stone, stone with plaster applied and painted finished walls towards the ceiling. The four corners of the synagogue included painted frescos of holy places: the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs in Hebron; and the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem were in the front of the building, and Migdal David; and Tiberias were portrayed towards the back.

Hurva inside2
Inside front wall of the Hurva Synagogue

After Kabbalat Shabbat, the newly appointed Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, delivered a speech.  He spoke clearly and strongly in Hebrew for a while about the story of the Jews leaving Egypt, and the important role that women and all of the Jews played in their own redemption. I was happy both with the content of the speech and my ability to understand it.

FIVE YEARS ON

Five years later, I spent Shabbat Hagadol at a university in Massachusetts as my daughter began to consider her college options.

On Shabbat, my wife and I walked the 1.5 miles in the light snow from our hotel to the college campus.  We were lucky enough to hear Rabbi Saul Berman, who was a visiting lecturer from Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women and Columbia University’s School of Law. He spoke about the role all Jews played in their own redemption 3300 years ago.  He also spoke about the significance of temporarily banning a seemingly innocuous item – chametz – during the week of Passover.  As opposed to permanent prohibitions to actions that God viewed as improper (such as murder), he argued that a temporary ban was meant to be used as a time of reflection. The change acts as a catalyst to contemplate the separation itself.  In the case of chametz, Jews eschewed the characteristics of ancient Egyptians, for example, the use of slave labor. The temporary ban today allows us to reflect on how we treat our workers today.  Passover is both a time to remember and relive ancient history (we physically left Egypt centuries ago), as well as a time to consider our own actions (how do we avoid acting like ancient Egyptians in the present).

In Israel, the third Hurva synagogue still stands and welcomes Jews to pray on Shabbat Hagadol, Pesach, and all year.  The loud commotion around the rebuilding of the shul has died away and is now part of the din from protests of a large segment of the world that attacks Jews for building and living in their holiest city; a city they have built and lived in for thousands of years.

The chief rabbi who spoke at the Hurva in 2010, Yona Metzger, is no longer the chief rabbi.  He just stepped down from his position due to an indictment on bribery charges.

Israeli Prime Minster Netanyahu is still in office, having recently won a fourth term in elections.  As he did five years ago, Netanyahu continues to make conciliatory remarks and take actions regarding the Palestinians to endear himself to US President Obama. (But Netanyahu has also ratcheted up his language regarding Iran’s nuclear program which has only strengthened Obama’s dislike for him).

As for me, I have had the chance to visit the Hurva many more times.  I have come with my wife and children.  Soon, I will come with in-laws, nieces and nephews who could not attend the bat mitzvah five years ago and have never seen the synagogue.


The front wall of the Hurva Synagogue is a plum line of history. The changing materials reflect our movement into the modern with a foundation straight from the ancient. Like the seder on the first night of Passover, the Jewish story builds on the past. Jews relive ancient history, recount how Jews retold the story more recently, and add their own stories today.

Hurva
Hurva Synagogue 2014


Related First One Through article:

United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land

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Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East

Summary: Israel is by far the most liberal country of the entire Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). It is also probably the most liberal country from Western Europe to Australia and down to South Africa.

Diversity of population. Israel has a diverse population. The majority, 75%, are Jewish, about 20% Arab Muslims, and the balance of 5% a mix of Christians, Baha’i, Druze and others. Almost all of the MENA region is 90%+ Muslim, with a large number being almost completely Arab Muslim (Morocco; Tunisia; Iran; Yemen; Iraq; Jordan; Turkey; Algeria; Gaza and EGL; Saudi Arabia; Libya; Egypt; Syria). Lebanon is the only other country in the region with some diversity.

Equal Justice. Israel administers its legal system to all levels of society.  Consider that both a former Prime Minister and President were sentenced to jail for general crimes such as bribery and sexual assault (as opposed to a method to remove a dictator). They were afforded no special privileges compared to ordinary citizens.

Salim_Joubran
Salim Joubran, Israeli Arab Supreme Court Judge

Women’s Rights. Women in Israel have full rights of equality including the ability to vote, inheritance, walk in public alone, drive, etc. These are rights that are not found in much of the MENA region. Saudi Arabia has virtually no rights for women.  The new 20th Knesset will have 29 women– 24% of the parliament, significantly higher than the 16% of women in the US congress.

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Ayelet Shaked, Member of Knesset

Free Speech, Assembly and Press. Israel permits freedom of expression. Freedom House ranked Israel as the only country in MENA with a free press for several years, and just added Tunisia. The MENA region continues to be the most repressive in terms of freedoms in the entire world, such as Turkey which leads the world in jailing the most journalists.

african protest
Thousands of illegal African immigrants protest in front of parliament

Freedom of Religion. Israel allows people of all faiths the freedom to practice their religion. This compares to much of the MENA region which has criminal laws against apostasy– changing one’s religion from Islam to something else- even though such right is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A growing number of countries in Europe have begun to restrict freedom of religion including bans on minarets at mosques, head coverings in public and permitting kosher and halal foods.

mormon
Mormon church in Jerusalem built with assistance of Israeli government

Gay Rights. According to a gay rights group, ILGA, Israel was the only country to get a perfect score on gay rights in the region between Western Europe, South Africa and Australia. For example, Israel permits gay couples to adopt children and serve openly in the army , something which many western countries do not permit. In some MENA countries such as Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania, gays are actually publicly executed by the government.

gays in israel
Gays in Israel

Environmental Matters. Israel is a “green” country. It leads the world in recycling plastic, having surpassed Europe in 2012. It created the first commercial wind farm in MENA and the first permanent bike sharing program. It leads the word in drip irrigation technology. It was one of only two countries in the world to have more trees entering the 21st century than it had in the 20th due to forestation efforts.

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Wind Farm in the Golan

Open Public Office. People of all backgrounds and faiths are allowed to serve in the Israeli government, to become Prime Minister, serve in every branch of the military and Supreme Court. The new 20th Knesset will have 17 Arabs – 14% of the parliament. This compares to 8% black representation in the US Congress. Many countries, like Syria, restrict the participation of people who are not Muslims from participating in public office.

Ayoub_Kara
Ayoub Kara, Druze MK from Likud Party

Death Penalty. Israel only has a single reason for sentencing someone to death – crimes against humanity – which it has carried out only once: fifty years ago for Adolf Eichmann for his role in the Holocaust. Much of the MENA region uses capital punishment for a range of offenses including: apostasy; adultery; drug trafficking; being gay; murder; witchcraft; and prostitution.

Abortion. Abortion is legal in Israel for a variety of circumstances. It is illegal in almost the entire rest of the MENA region, with the exception of Tunisia.

The Arts. Israel is the only country in the MENA region to have both an opera house and a ballet company.  Opera exists in Israel, Oman and Syria and ballet companies are in Israel, Tunisia, Egypt, UAE and Iran.

opera
Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center

Animal Rights. Israel became only the third country/ entity (after the European Union and Norway) to ban the sale of cosmetics that were tested on animals.

Human Body Rights. Israel permits full control of a person’s body including tattoos, body piercings and prostitution. More neighboring countries are enforcing bans on tattoos and piercings such as Turkey. Lebanon and Israel are the only countries in MENA that permit and regulate prostitution.

tattoo

Protecting Women. Israel passed a law that bans the use of underweight models to prevent women from becoming anorexic.

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Israeli model Bar Refaeli

Universal Healthcare.  Many countries in the Middle East provide universal healthcare including: Israel; Kuwait; Bahrain; and UAE.

 

Israel. An open society in the middle of the Middle East.


Related First One Through article

Israel: Security in a small country

In Israel, the winner is…Democracy

Israel: Security in a Small Country

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Israel as “a small country, one of the smallest”. That is true, but only part of the story. As Bibi added “Israel is strong, but it’s much more vulnerable [than the US].

Bibi Boehner
Netanyahu addressing US Congress,
March 2015

Size: Israel is about 20,000 square kilometers, using the 1949 Armistice Lines, or 22,000 including the eastern part of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. It puts it on par with El Salvador, ranking 153rd in terms of land size.

Shape: Israel is very narrow along a significant stretch of its commercial center – only 15km across. Indeed, the slender, jagged shape of the country yields over 1,000km of borders. The ratio of land size to borders ranks Israel as the 15th smallest country in the world.

Neighbors: Most of the very small countries have very few neighbors. The smallest countries and territories, the Vatican, Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein, St. Martin, Andorra, Gibraltar and St. Maarten only border one or two countries. However, Israel has SIX neighbors: Lebanon; Syria; Jordan; “West Bank”; Egypt; and Gaza. By way of comparison, most countries with six neighbors are much larger (such as Argentina, which is over 130 times as large). Just beyond Israel’s borders, Turkey and Qatar openly support the Jihadist Hamas party in Gaza.

Status: Israel is unique in having a hostile relationship with most of its neighbors. All six of the surrounding countries are part of the Arab world and have launched wars against Israel at various times since the founding of Israel in 1948. Gaza (run by Hamas) openly calls for Israel’s destruction. Syria (and its puppet state Lebanon) have been in an ongoing state of war with Israel for years. Both countries are supported by Iran which has also called for Israel’s destruction and is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons. Syria itself was also building a nuclear facility before being stopped by Israel.

Other small countries with six bordering countries, like Oman, have not been repeatedly attacked by its neighbors.

Capital city: Israel is unique in having its capital questioned by the global community. While much of the world recognizes the western part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, countries have not moved their embassies to the city. No countries recognize Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of Jerusalem.

Israel is also unique (except Nicosia, Cyprus which is also a contested capital city), in having its capital sit on the border of another territory. Compare the small countries of Belize and El Salvador, whose capital cities are 50km and 80km, respectively, from the closest neighboring countries. By way of comparison, the entire width of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is only 75km.

Israel is small and narrow, surrounded by countries that have repeatedly gone to war against the country and have threatened its existence. Its capital city is besieged by the global community that doesn’t recognize it, wants to divide it and place it on an international border, which all countries in the world avoid for security reasons.  Such a vulnerable country needs particular protections.

Security in a Vulnerable Landscape

For a country like Israel to have security and remain a viable country, a number of items would need to be established, if a Palestinian state were to be created:

  • No military for such Palestinian state, only local police
  • Israel would maintain full control of air space for its air force
  • Israel controls the borders
  • No division of the capital Jerusalem, and Israel further annexes land to the east of the city through to Ma’ale Adumim
  • Israel annexes land to the security barrier, which has helped maintain security over the past decade
  • Very limited land given from Israel to Palestine (the 1949 armistice Lines were arbitrary so there is no reason to maintain a quid pro quo in swapping land) as the Israeli landscape and topography are already too vulnerable
  • Hamas must be expelled from the Palestinian government and banned as a political party
  • Palestinian Authority must assume control of Gaza and EGL (East of the Green Line)
  • No negotiations with Syria on the Golan Heights for at least a decade after a Palestinian state is created. No negotiations if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon and/or continues to threaten Israel

While Israel has built an incredible democracy and thriving economy in the midst of a turbulent region, the size, shape and neighborhood require ongoing safeguards.


Related First One Through articles:

A Viable Palestinian State

Israel cannot solely rely on treaties – witness Ukraine in 2015

Obama’s cavalier approach to Israel’s security 

Obama does not consider Israel’s security to be time sensitive

Liberals and conservatives on Iran’s WMDs

The Noose and the Nipple

I am confused about society’s and social media’s decisions on censorship. In particular, why do forums like Facebook and YouTube permit showing brutal murders while they block nudity?

On Facebook today, I had a video pop up of a mob killing a woman in Afghanistan because she supposedly burned a Quran. Over the past weeks, YouTube has shown videos of the Islamic State beheading people and setting others on fire. Boko Haram is shown executing people and throwing them off bridges.

Yet a nipple is considered nasty.

According to Facebook: ““We restrict the display of nudity because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content – particularly because of their cultural background or age.” Excuse me? At what age is viewing a beheading OK?

Facebook continues on its community standards page: “We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring.” Oh, Thank goodness Facebook- I guess breastfeeding is somehow more natural than an unaccompanied breast. And I’m sure youngsters will be less traumatized seeing a breast with post-mastectomy scarring than pre-mastectomy.

Our laws prohibit a woman in Utah from showing her tatas, but permit enormous billboards with guns and violence for all to see.

What censorship calculation shows a gay man hanging in a noose in Tehran, but won’t show a woman’s nipple in Times Square?

A “Viable” Palestinian State

Summary: Pundits parrot Palestinian propaganda and state that Jews living in homes on the west bank of the Jordan River (WBJR) threaten the viability of a Palestinian state, Jodi Roduren of the Times being the latest. As Shakespeare wrote “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

 20150313_130018
New York Times cover story on “Settlements”

The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren once again took to the front pages of the paper to decry the building of Jewish homes in lands the Palestinians want for a future state. In the March 12 cover story she wrote: “Steady growth of settlements across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which most world leaders consider violations of international law, complicates both the creation of a viable Palestine and the challenge of someday uprooting Israelis, who are now raising a second and third generation in contested areas.” The thousand-plus word article detailed the size of various towns and the number of Jews living there, but never once discussed how the presence of Jews “complicates the creation of a viable Palestine.” Thomas Friedman echoed the sentiment on March 18, 2015 op-ed piece where he wrote “some 350,000 settlers are now living in the West Bank, makes it hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore.“ Let me spell out what they suggested.

PEOPLE

Palestinians are not simply seeking the establishment of a new country where they can be self-governing; they seek a country devoid of Jews. It is as though the presence of Jews triggers some sort of terrible anaphylactic shock to the Palestinian people.

In 2013, acting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that “we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.” For some reason, Abbas abhors the presence of Jews. This would appear to be the rationale for the media thinking that Jews risk the viability of a Palestinian state.

Ignoring for the moment the glaring anti-Semitic nature of the Abbas’s desire, consider the number of Jews that could potentially live in a new state of Palestine.

Small Percentage: Jews account for roughly 40% of the population in the eastern part of Jerusalem; about 13% of the remainder of the west bank of the Jordan River (WBJR), and 0% of Gaza. Ignoring the eastern part of Jerusalem which Israel annexed, Jews account for 8% of the population in the territories. If a portion of the Palestinian population living around the world (estimated at 7 million people) moved to a new state of Palestine – say 2 million of them – the total percentage of Jews would drop to 5%. If land swaps with Israel would move blocks of towns with Jews to Israel, the percentage would drop into the very low single digits.

Is this truly a sticking point for Abbas? Does he need a country to be completely Judenfrei like Nazi Germany? Would a Jewish population of 2-3% make a state non-viable?

Maybe he should look at Israel, which seems to do fine with non-Jewish citizens, which account for 25% of the country’s population. Umm al-Fahm in Israel is a city of nearly 50,000, almost all of whom are Israeli Arabs. Nazareth, with a population of about 66,000 is also completely Arab. Haifa, one of Israel’s largest cities, has a 24% Arab population. The Arab presence doesn’t offend Israelis and doesn’t impact the “viability” of Israel, and they account for 10 times as large a group as Jews would in a new country of Palestine.

“Uprooting Israelis”: Roduren wrote that it will be difficult to move hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis from their homes. She is right: such a massive expulsion would dwarf the evictions of Israelis from the Sinai in 1982 and Gaza in 2005. The situation here is also completely different.

When Israel took Sinai from Egypt in the 1967 war, it was new territory. It was never part of the holy land to Jews and was not part of the 1922 Palestine Mandate which established a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The 4500 Israelis that lived in the Sinai who were evicted by the Israeli government as part of a peace treaty were new transplants to the region.

When Israel evacuated the 21 settlements in Gaza in 2005, it was much harder. Gaza was part of Palestine and is featured in the bible. However, it was never home to many Jews at any point in its history.

The WBJR (plus additional area) is known as Judea and Samaria. It has ALWAYS been part of the Jewish history and Jews have always lived throughout the area, except for brief periods of time when they were evicted and banned (such as when Jordanian and Palestinian Arabs controlled the area from 1949-67). The area was an integral part of the 1922 British Mandate of Palestine which established a Jewish homeland. When Israel legally counter-attacked the Jordanians in 1967, it removed the racist ban of Jews in the land that the Jordanians put in place, after they evicted all of the Jews counter to the Fourth Geneva Convention. In 1967, Israel allowed Jews to return to live in lands they had always lived in.

The “complication” of “someday uprooting” hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in WBJR is not about the sheer size of the numbers. These residents belong there and should never be evicted or forced to leave at all.

Counter to Palestinian Law: In 2002, Palestinians drafted a framework of laws called the Basic Law. It, theoretically, guarantees the freedom of religion:

  • Article 18: Freedom of belief and the performance of religious rituals are guaranteed, provided that they do not violate public order or public morals.It is interesting (telling?), that the Palestinians would guarantee the freedom of religion, as long as there are no Jews living in the land.

LAND

Other media sources claim that the threat to a viable Palestinian state is not because of the presence of Jews, but because of the remaining configuration of the land.

For example, the Guardian wrote about the potential development of a parcel of land known as “E1”, standing for “East of Jerusalem”, which Israel plans to develop to bridge the eastern part of the Jerusalem municipality with the large city of Maale Adumim. The Guardian wrote Despite its prosaic name, E1 has the potential to kill off hopes for a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, according to opponents of Israeli development on the 12 sq km site east of Jerusalem…. It would also almost bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state almost impossible.”

While the annexation of E1 would likely cut off “East Jerusalem” as a capital of a future Palestinian State, it does nothing to harm the viability of a new country. Making such comments is simply echoing the Palestinian government’s alarmist position “we cannot build a viable state with a country that is disintegrating into small pieces.

The “bisection of the West Bank” that the article claims refers to the distance from Maale Adumim to the Jordan River which would be only 15 kilometers. This would be the narrowest spot of WBJR. It would happen at only a single spot in the middle of the Judean Desert before widening by many miles.

Israel’s narrowest spot is that same 15 kilometers across, except it stays narrow for several miles. Further, that narrow stretch runs along Israel’s main population and commercial center near Tel Aviv. This compares to the WBJR which is mostly unpopulated desert land.

15miles wide
Narrowest point map,
from Honest Reporting

Is a single narrow stretch of land so catastrophic that Palestine would not be viable? Should that be true, Abbas must believe that much of the spine of the country which sits in the hills of eastern “West Bank” should be annexed by Israel to make sure it becomes viable, just as Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett suggests.


In short, if Abbas feels that the issue of a “viable” state is because a handful of Jews cannot live in Palestine, then by definition, the “Right of Return” of millions of Arabs to Israel cannot be permitted or it would destroy Israel. Similarly, if the threat of viability stems from “bisecting” the land, then Israel would need to annex the entire middle of the country.

There are many paths to a viable country which include building an economy and ensuring security. Neither of those are accomplished by banning Jews from living in the land.  It is well past time for Abbas to continue to make such racist claims; it is disgraceful that western media continues to blindly repeat it.


Related First One Through articles:

Abbas’s racism: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/abbas-knows-racism/

The Legal Settlements: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/the-legal-israeli-settlements/

West Bank/ Judea and Samaria: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/names-and-narrative-the-green-line-west-bank-judea-and-samaria/

Palestinian xenophobia:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQS1XVQR-Xc

In Israel, the Winner is… Democracy

Summary: Israeli citizens came out to vote on March 17, 2015. The winner in the midst of the total chaos in the Middle East, was once again, democracy.

 

The turbulent Middle East got a chance to see a democracy at work.

With a civil war in Syria which has thus far claimed 220,000 lives; with the Islamic State/ISIS destroying Iraq; Yemen and Libya quickly becoming failed states; Jordan becoming a giant refugee camp; Egypt flip-flopping between elections/ military take-overs/ elections in quick succession; and Iran on the verge of building nuclear weapons, a country in the heart of the Middle east with a diverse population and set of opinions took to the polls.

Bibi victory
Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu declaring victory

Great Voter Turnout. The 2015 Israeli election had an incredible voter turnout. The 71.8% turnout rate dwarfed the 54.9% in US 2012 presidential election and represented a sharp spike from the 67.7% 2013 Israeli turnout.

Majority in the Center. The political center captured the greatest number of votes. The center-right Likud party received 30 seats, center Kulanu had 10 seats, and center-left parties Yesh Atid with 11 and Labor got 24.  With a combined 75 seats in total (of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset), Israelis predominantly voted for politically moderate parties over the more extreme right-wing and left-wing parties.

Minority representation. The Arab party, the Joint List, placed third in the election with 14 seats. The religious Jewish parties, Shas (7) and United Torah Judaism (6) had a similar total vote count.

Most Women in Parliament. The 20th Knesset will have 28 women, the greatest number ever.

Extreme parties. The far-right nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu received 6 votes, and the far-left anti-national Arab Joint List received 14 seats. The right wing Israel Home received 8 seats and left-wing Meretz had 4 seats. The totals of 14 for the right-wing parties and 18 for the left-wing parties showed a bias for change in the fringes.

What’s Next for the Israeli Democracy.  If history proves a guide, Likud will be asked to form a coalition.  The Israeli election and transition to a new government should have many of the attributes of functioning democracies:

  • Citizens elected their representatives
    • Majority in the center
    • Minority representation
  • Smooth transition to new parliament
    • No military coup
    • No riots
  • New government will abide by past agreements

These are lessons and models for the chaotic Middle East.  Maybe one day the Palestinians will try it.


Related First One Through articles:

Abbas’s 10 year run at a 4 year presidential term: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/the-disappointing-46-anniversary/

When Palestinians last went to the polls in 2006, they elected Hamas, an anti-Semitic jihadist party which went to war with the second place winner, Fatah. https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/its-the-democracy-stupid/

Israel, the Liberal Country in the Middle East

The New York Times Major anti-Netanyahu Propaganda Piece

Summary: The New York Times once again showed its bias against Jews living on the west bank of the Jordan River by painting opinion as international law. It posted a large non news-article during the week of Israeli elections in an attempt to discredit Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

On March 12, 2015, the New York Times ran a cover page story called “As Israeli Settlements take Root, So do Complications” and on its online version it was titled “Netanyahu and the Settlements”. The article repeatedly referred to something called the “Geneva Initiative” as if the initiative carried any backing or legal authority. In actuality, the 2003 initiative is most akin to a present day Facebook Group.

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New York Times large cover story on the “Settlements”

The Times wrote “Two-thirds of new construction over the last two years, the Peace Now report shows, was on the Palestinian side of a line drawn by the Geneva Initiative, an international working group that produced a model agreement in 2003…
Efrat, with nearly 10,000 residents, is to Israelis the capital of the Etzion block. Palestinians, though, do not accept it as part of the block at all,
because it is on the eastern side of Route 60 — their side of the Geneva Initiative map. Annexing it would be far more complicated.”

By reading such statements, one would think that Israel is deliberately building homes on the “Palestinian side” of a road, contrary to existing laws and/or agreements. Palestinians are comfortable with Jews living on one side of Route 60, but not on the other.  That is specifically what the NYT intends the reader to conclude by writing such an article. It is completely untrue.

The Geneva Initiative was launched by a handful of people- both Israelis and Palestinians. The civilians met during 2003 and drafted a guideline of how a two state-solution could emerge. None of the people participating were elected or appointed by any governmental body. Their initiative was not endorsed by any government. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians consider this old private working paper at all.

“the 2003 Geneva Initiative is most akin
to a present day Facebook Group”

Meanwhile ACTUAL laws and agreements were deliberately omitted from the NYT article. They include the 1922 British Mandate of Palestine which was signed by the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations. The Mandate stated:

  • Article 6: The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.
  • Article 15: The Mandatory shall see that complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, are ensured to all. No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language. No person shall be excluded from Palestine on the sole ground of his religious belief.

As described above, international law enabled Jews to live everywhere in Palestine. Such freedom of movement and the ability to buy land was also the case under the Ottoman Turks. This is history and law – not the opinion of a handful of private citizens.

The west bank of the Jordan River was an integral part of the 1922 British Mandate of Palestine.  It was annexed by the Jordanians in 1950, after Jordan attacked Israel in the 1948-9 war (such Jordan annexation was with approval of the Palestinians but never considered by the United Nations). The Jordanians illegally evicted all of the Jews from the area, including the eastern part of Jerusalem, counter to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

After Jordan (and the Palestinians who were Jordanian citizens) attacked Israel again in 1967, Israel was obligated to launch a counter-attack per The Hague Regulations which state:

  • Article 40: Any serious violation of the armistice by one of the parties gives the other party the right of denouncing it, and even, in cases of urgency, of recommencing hostilities immediately.

Jordan was therefore legally attacked by Israel.  The Jordanians officially gave up all claim to the land in 1988.

None of these international laws, agreements or actions on the part of governments are mentioned in this large cover story by the New York Times. Instead, the Times chose to paint a picture that Israel is not abiding to laws to make it appear as the belligerent party. It does this with the aid of a private working paper from 12 years ago.

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Double page story by the NYT, continued from March 12 2015 cover 

There was nothing new in the story which begs the questions:

  • Why give the article such prominence by placing it on the cover with a large color picture, and continue with a full two-page spread in the inside pages complete with pictures, maps and drawings?
  • Why use an old private Initiative to make an argument about the location of settlements instead of history and law?
  • Why post the article now?

The New York Times posted the piece as they want to see Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu defeated in upcoming Israeli elections.  The Israeli elections will take place later in the week, on March 17, 2015.  The New York Times, which has a long history of attacking the Israeli Prime Minister, put this non-news story on the front page the week before Israeli elections to make it appear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was acting outside of the law.

The Times has once again shown it is not a credible source of news and chooses to air its biased opinions throughout the newspaper.  It has also shown that it seeks to influence the outcome of foreign elections with large distortions.  An interesting piece of hypocrisy, as the day before, on March 11, the NYT posted an op-ed from Thomas Freidman arguing about Sheldon Adelson’s attempts to influence elections in the United States with major contributions to Republican candidates, as well as claiming Adelson’s Israel Hayom newspaper is a biased mouthpiece for Netanyahu in Israel.

Is the Times posting the opinion of Barack Obama or George Soros?


First One Through articles:

Legal settlements: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/the-legal-israeli-settlements/

NYT’s Nicholas Kristof’s “Arab Land”  https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/nicholas-kristofs-arab-land/

NYT ignores Jihadists in Israel: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/radical-jihadists-in-europe-and-dislocated-and-alienated-palestinians-in-Israel/

NYT minimizing Netanyahu’s election success: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/new-york-times-talking-turkey/

NYT only using “West Bank” instead of “Judea and Samaria” https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/names-and-narrative-the-green-line-west-bank-judea-and-samaria/

Netanyahu’s View of Obama: Trust and Consequences

Summary: Obama has asked Netanyahu to trust him on an issue (Iranian nuclear power) that is an existential threat to his country, even though Obama hasn’t earned that trust on more basic issues. Obama then compounds Netanyahu’s fear by stating Obama will act completely alone in controlling the outcome. Netanyahu’s nightmare is not just becoming “1938 Czechoslovakia”, but “2014 Ukraine”.

 obama netanyahu2
Netanyahu and Obama

TRUST

Trust is the bedrock of a functional relationship. It enables one party to rely on the other. A trust that includes both intention and capability permits a sharing of responsibility and workload.

The relationship between US President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu started off badly and further deteriorated over the years. Personalities aside, the lack of a shared vision about the path to peace and security in the violent Middle East damaged relations.  However, it was a series of bad decisions which destroyed the trust between the two leaders.

Negotiation with Palestinians. Obama’s actions early in his presidency, hurt his credibility with Netanyahu. Obama insisted on an Israeli settlement freeze as a pre-condition to negotiations with the Palestinians- a pre-condition that was never introduced before, even by the Palestinians. Despite Netanyahu’s serious reservations, he instituted a ten-month freeze on building new homes in the west bank of the Jordan River. In exchange, Obama could not get acting-Palestinian President Abbas to even show up to talk for the first nine months, and when he did, all Abbas offered was extending the freeze even longer.

When US Secretary of State John Kerry tried another round of negotiations with Abbas in the fall of 2013, the US again asked Israel to give up something to start talks while it made no demand of the Palestinians. Israel released dozens of terrorists that were convicted of murder from its prisons. In exchange, Kerry could not even get Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish State, let alone any compromises for a Palestinian state. The negotiations failed again.

In both situations the US pressured Israel to give up something just to initiate negotiations and asked nothing of the Palestinians. In the end, the Palestinians continued to give exactly the same: nothing.

Giving it away upfront. The Obama administration has used the tactic of giving away bargaining points upfront in the hope of gaining something in the negotiations down the road. In Cuba, Obama has pulled back sanctions, in the hope that the country reforms. In Iran, the US eased sanctions to get Iran to consider allowing monitors to watch it build nuclear power.

Netanyahu does not believe in such negotiating tactics and it has not worked out well for Israel.

Giving up on Allies. The disagreement on negotiating style is only part of Netanyahu’s issue.  Israel and the Middle East watched the Obama administration turn its back on its allies. Egyptian President Mubarak was once a close ally of the United States. One day, the Obama administration decided it would no longer stand by its ally and called for Mubarak’s ouster. He was rushed off to jail.

The US’s Middle Eastern allies were dumb-founded by Obama’s action. A senior Arab government official stated “[The Saudis] are at odds with the U.S. position, publicly pushing Mubarak out. And frankly so are we—this isn’t how you handle issues in region.”

Failure to Understand Regional Dynamics. Obama’s turn on Egypt’s Mubarak was followed by an embrace of the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood. Obama’s infatuation with the “Turkish model” of democratic Islam made him welcome the new Egyptian ruler Mohammed Morsi. Morsi reopened Egypt’s ties with Hamas (the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza) , much to the chagrin of Israel’s Netanyahu. Those actions also undermined the more moderate (on a relative basis) acting PA President Abbas.

Obama back-tracked from his support of democracy in Egypt by not objecting to the replacement of Morsi via a takeover by Abdul Fattah el-Sisi. El-Sisi clamped down on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood which won praise in Israel. From Israel’s perspective, a mistake was rectified to some degree, but the damage done by Obama of not standing by an ally and not appreciating the regional dynamics was etched in memory.

Obama not standing by Treaties or Comments. In addition to not standing by allied leaders, Obama has not stood by his own word or by US treaties with governments. For example, Obama’s declared “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons came and went without ramifications for Syrian President Assad. While Obama claimed credit for negotiating a solution to get rid of Syria’s known chemical weapons, there was no personal penalty for Assad. Assad continues to remain in power and murder his countrymen.

Saudi Arabia was incredulous and stated“We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white…When that kind of assurance comes from a leader of a country like the United States, we expect him to stand by it.”

obama syrian red line
Obama asserting a “red line” on Syrian chemical weapons

The Ukrainian situation is even more telling. In 1994, Ukraine signed onto the Budapest Memorandum which was to guarantee its territorial integrity in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons. While it adhered to its upfront part of the bargain by giving up its weapons, the Obama administration refused to enforce its end of the agreement by coming to the aid of Ukraine when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. Russian leader Putin correctly assessed the temperament of Obama that he would fail to honor his obligation, just as he failed to take action in Syria. Putin has continued to move past Crimea to other parts of Ukraine while the US not only fails to come to the defense of Ukraine, but drags its feet in sending weapons to defend itself.

The situation is not lost on Netanyahu (while it is on the knee-jerk liberal New York Times which stated in its lead editorial on March 12, 2015 that “Republicans are perfectly willing to diminish America’s standing as a global power capable of crafting international commitments and adhering to them.”  As detailed above, Obama has made very clear that HE has diminished America’s commitments, not the Republicans).

Obfuscation. The last loose thread in the unraveling fabric of trust is the lack of transparency.

While Obama touted his goal of transparency when he ran for office, his administration has been one of the least transparent. Witness Obamacare, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said “We have to pass the bill to that you can find out what is in it.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ran her own email server outside of the State Department and deleted emails at her own whim. Now, Obama refuses to provide details of the Iranian negotiations with Israel.

The trust between Obama and Netanyahu is broken.

ACTING ALONE

Compounding the Israeli frustration with the lack of trust in the Obama administration’s dealing with Iran, is the unilateral course that Obama has taken. Obama has effectively barred Israel from attacking Iran and is attempting to seal negotiations without legislative approval.

Blocking an Israeli attack. As soon as Obama began to negotiate with Iran, it became impossible for Israel to attack Iran. How could Israel attack the facilities while the US was pursuing a diplomatic initiative? The start of Obama’s talks signaled the end of Israel’s ability to destroy their nuclear program.

Skipping Congress. Obama repeatedly stated that he does not believe that he needs congressional approval to sign a deal with Iran. As such, he has asserted that he has complete authority to negotiate and finalize a deal.  The Republicans, which now have majority control of both the House and Senate, strongly disagree and have taken steps to make their position known to both the Obama administration and Iran itself.

COMPETENCIES and CONSEQUENCES

Israel’s Netanyahu is left in a precarious situation.  As his country is under threat of annihilation by Iran, its close ally has put itself in the lead seat in negotiations.  However, Netanyahu is looking at the current US president as:

  • Lacking an understanding of regional dynamics;
  • Incapable of negotiating;
  • Refusing to be transparent about the negotiations;
  • Unwilling to stand by statements and treaties in support of allies;
  • Determined to act alone without the legislative branch of government

The Trust in Competencies and Fear of Consequences leaves Israel in a vulnerable and lonely spot.  While Israel fears it will be sacrificed at the alter of larger players like Czechoslovakia in 1938, it sees how the lead negotiator will not enforce any security agreements that may be struck, as in the embattled Ukraine today.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Arab states agree with Netanyahu in speech to Congress: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/missing-netanyahus-speech-those-not-listening-and-those-not-speaking/

Conservative focus on safety: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/the-gap-between-fairness-and-ramifications-wmds-in-iraq-and-iran/

Obama’s Iranian red line: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/obamas-iranian-red-line/

The need for a global public reaction to Iran’s nuclear aspiration: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/hidden-reactor-silent-reaction/

Liar, Liar! Hillary’s Pant Suit’s on Fire!

A satire of Hillary Clinton’s deleted personal emails

To: [tailor]

Can you make me something a little less boxy? Bill says I look like a Lego-character. Nothing too hip; I don’t want to lose my New England fan base.

hillary pantsuit
A Hillaryous pant suit



To: Bill

Your JDate account just automatically renewed. Can you please cancel it? We’ve been over this before…



From: Bill

Good news. I spoke to your doctor about your concussion. She said you hit the part of the brain that handles the function distinguishing between good and evil, so there’s really nowhere to go but up.



To: Bill

Can you believe that arrogant pr*ck? He named his new dog after himself, “BO.” What kind of idiot calls his dog “Junior”?



To: Bill

Just heard Michelle has a staff of over 40! I knew someone would come along and have a larger first spouse-staff than I did.  I just assumed it would be you!


From: Bill

When you see the Sultan [of Brunei] next week, please tell him he’s behind on his contributions to both my library and CGI [Clinton Global Initiative].  Give him a month [to pay up] before you attack his human rights abuses.



To: Bill

That b*tch Oprah took my spotlight on The View. I barely got to push my book. I need to find a new generation of journalists to field me softball questions and raise millions of dollars and Big O was sopping up all of the sun.


From: Bill

While I know the blue dress and black wig is your Halloween costume, would you mind wearing it on Valentine’s Day?


From: Chelsea

Mom, why don’t you ask Nancy [Pelosi] who does her face?  It’s not like you’d be wearing the same dress.


From: Bill

Hill, you tell your mother-f**in boss to stop walking around like he’s the messiah; that’s our f**in office he’s in.


To: Bill

I feel like I live in a 48 hour per day-world since I work 24/7 and still spend half of my day on personal emails.


To: Bill

I’ve been doing a lot of spying on world leaders lately. How can we make sure that no one spies on us? Do we control all of our emails?



From: Egyptian President Mubarak

My dear Hillary, please bring over a few cartons of those amazing US cigarettes on your next visit. They are the only things that “boost” my libido.



To Bill

Can you believe it? I almost lost “Most Admired Woman” in the last Gallup poll to Palin. I hate this country. Why don’t they love me?


To: Chelsea

Don’t worry about marrying a Jew. You’ll see, one day the Gore girls will marry Jews too.


To: Huma [Abedin, married to Anthony Weiner, aid to Hillary]

I saw your husband’s picture – not bad, not bad at all. That’s what I call a shmuck!


To: Bill

I have to tell you- Beyoncé was right.  Libya is really nice.


From: Chelsea

Mom, I hope you don’t mind that I have termed you “TechnoMom” as you’ve been so cutting edge on social media.  I hope it doesn’t bite you in the ass one day.

Missing Netanyahu’s Speech: Those not Listening and Those Not Speaking

Summary: The media highlighted the Democrats that snubbed the Israeli Prime Minister’s address to Congress. They failed to mention the coalition of countries that Bibi represented. Will the world’s safety rest with those that party-with-their-party or those that bomb-the-bomb?

US President Obama made a deliberate attempt to marginalize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his address to Congress in March 2015. Obama aired a number of complaints about the nature of the invitation and later said that Netanyahu didn’t offer any new ideas in dealing with Iran. His efforts to turn public attention away from the incredibly important topic to a sideshow of partisanship was sad on many levels.

Obama no
Obama and Biden skipped Netanyahu’s Address to Congress,
March 2015

There were many people who were not at Congress on March 3rd: Democrats that didn’t listen, and Arab States that echoed Netanyahu’s message.

Those not Listening: Democrats Partying with their Party

The Obama administration managed to convince 58 members of Congress to skip Netanyahu’s speech. All were his fellow Democrats. They were:

SENATE – 8 members

  • Sen. Al Franken (Minn.)
  • Sen. Martin Heinrich (N.M.)
  • Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.)
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.)
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
  • Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.)

HOUSE – 50 members

  • Rep. Karen Bass (Calif.)
  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.)
  • Rep. Corrine Brown (Fla.)
  • Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.)
  • Rep. Lois Capps (Calif.)
  • Rep. Andre Carson (Ind.)
  • Rep. Joaquin Castro (Texas)
  • Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.)
  • Rep. William Lacy Clay (Mo.)
  • Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.)
  • Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.)
  • Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.)
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.)
  • Rep. John Conyers (Mich.)
  • Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.)
  • Rep. Danny Davis (Ill.)
  • Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.)
  • Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.)
  • Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Texas)
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.)
  • Rep. Donna Edwards (Md.)
  • Rep. Chaka Fattah (Pa.)
  • Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.)
  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (Ohio)
  • Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.)
  • Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.)
  • Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.)
  • Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas)
  • Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio)
  • Rep. Rick Larsen (Wash.)
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.)
  • Rep. John Lewis (Ga.)
  • Rep. Dave Loebsack (Iowa)
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.)
  • Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.)
  • Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.)
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.)
  • Rep. Jerry McNerney (Calif.)
  • Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.)
  • Rep. Gwen Moore (Wis.)
  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas)
  • Rep. Donald Payne (N.J.)
  • Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine)
  • Rep. David Price (N.C.)
  • Rep. Cedric Richmond (La.)
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.)
  • Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.)
  • Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.)
  • Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.)
  • Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.)

 Holmes
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D, DC)

It is wrong to say that these Democratic Congressmen are anti-Semites for skipping Netanyahu’s speech. They are just small-minded, petty, partisan politicians.

Those who were seen not Speaking: Arab States agree with Netanyahu

While Israel is in the crosshairs of the Iranian regime which has singled out the country for annihilation, several Arab countries are also very against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.  They supported Netanyahu’s position and address.

el sisi
Egyptian President Fatah El-Sisi calling to reform Islam,
January 2015

The difference between the absent deaf audience (Democrats) and the silent approving chorus (Arab states) is a contrast between politics and policy. The difference between Obama and Netanyahu regarding Iran is between hope and action.

Those Talking and Hoping: Obama and Kerry

Obama has essentially articulated that US intelligence is flawed, so the best solution for managing the Iranian nuclear program would be to rely on the Iranians’ openness. His negotiation tack will conclude with faith that the Iranians:

  • will disclose the entirety of their nuclear program;
  • will provide full access to all of the facilities; and
  • will not covertly move towards nuclear weapons.

It can best be called a policy of “hope”.

Kerry Iran
US Secretary of State John Kerry negotiating with Iran,
March 2015

Those Acting: Israel Bombing the Bomb

If Israel is convinced that the Iranians are good on their word, than they have reason to be concerned as Iran has threatened to destroy Israel.

Israel has long taken the approach that hope is not a policy.  It sits in too volatile a region to believe in the good faith of its neighbors that have declared war on the country. Peace is something that is fought for and defended.

Decisive action has led to extended windows of peace for Israel. In 1981, Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor that was due to go live.  In 2007, Israel bombed the Syrian nuclear reactor that was being constructed with the help of North Korea. In 1967, Israel acted preemptively to thwart the attacks of Egypt and Syria which enabled a very quick victory.  When Israel decided to remain passive, such as the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the country was almost overrun.

Netanyahu has pleaded for very tough sanctions against Iran. It has used malware and cyber-attacks against Iran. Israel has reportedly assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists (to the chagrin of the United States). It has advocated for putting all options on the table, including military force as it used against the facilities in Syria and Iraq.


The way forward with Iran has two very different paths:

  • Obama has advocated a policy of hope and has enlisted a quorum of party loyalists who will not listen to alternatives.
  • Israel has deployed policies of actions and has an eclectic group of Arab neighbors that support its position.

Will the future safety of the world belong to those that party-with-their-party or those willing to bomb-the-bomb?


Related First.One.Through articles:

Fairness versus Safety: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/the-gap-between-fairness-and-ramifications-wmds-in-iraq-and-iran/

Obama’s Iranian Red Line: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/obamas-iranian-red-line/