Ed: 39: October/2014
It is a landscape with which Jewish history is all too familiar. Here, in the flatlands abutting the Tigris and Euphrates, Jacob fell for Rachel, Jonah warned of approaching calamity, and Ezekiel saw a valley of bones come to life, as 26 centuries of intensive Jewish creation, crowned by the Talmud, unfolded.
Now, however, as its Islamist secessionists unsettle the Middle East and bewilder the entire world, Iraq seems to concern the rest of the world more than it concerns the Jewish state.
While the world focuses on the Islamic State's advances in Iraq and Syria, the Syrian war is spilling over into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. On Aug. 28, Syrian rebel groups, led by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, captured the old border city of Quneitra from the Syrian army and Iranian-backed National Defence Forces.
A pivotal doctrinal slogan proclaimed by the militants of the Islamic State (IS) - formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - is re-establishment of a Caliphate (Khilafah) that binds together lands inhabited by Muslims under unified political rule, based on Sharia Islamic law. For this purpose, the ISIS declared itself in June 2014 as Islamic Caliphate; its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliph, and changed its name.
I first heard air raid sirens during Israel's 1948 War of Independence, and I heard them most recently in August, during Operation Protective Edge. In 1948, an Egyptian plane dropped bombs on the centre of Rishon Lezion, where I then lived; more recently the threat took the familiar form of rockets launched by Hamas from the Gaza Strip and intercepted by the Iron Dome system far above my head in another town near Tel Aviv.
An AFP story claimed Israel was seizing "400 hectares of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area in the occupied West Bank" and stated that it was part of "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy of settlement expansion on land the Palestinians claim for a future state," Adelaide Advertiser (Sept. 3).
Both statements are dubious. Israel has not seized any land - it determined that the land is not privately owned and is therefore public land, nothing more.
Twenty years ago, this writer, academics, media personalities and political and ethnic community leaders were, to use the language of the time, "debating Demidenko" - after the respected Miles Franklin Prize was awarded to a book, purportedly written by an Australian of Ukrainian heritage, which sympathetically portrayed Nazi murderers and their supporters.
The barbaric campaign of beheading kidnapped Western journalists and aid workers by the Sunni radical Islamist group, the so-called "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has certainly served the group's purposes by sparking headlines and increasing its notoriety.
An increasing number of people seem to have a very simple - perhaps simplistic is a better word - prescription for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
It is not the negotiated two-state peace deal favoured by both sides of Australian politics, almost all Western governments, and both the Israeli public and successive Israeli governments over the last 15 years.
Impassioned speeches, heated debates, jovial neighbourhood walkabouts, the peddling of grand dreams for the future... National elections tend to be rousing times, full of hope and opportunity.
They also tend to focus the attention of the community on broader social issues, along with the challenges facing the economy and the country. The resulting dialogue - which is often the only time many issues are publicly debated - is a useful and important part of New Zealand's democratic system.
President Obama's Sept. 10 address to the American nation regarding the new US strategy against ISIS leaves many issues unclear, chief among them, what underlies the change in US policy regarding the extremist organisation. Both Obama's speech and public statements by senior American officials offer a variety of reasons for this shift in posture.