Category Archives: Bible Lands

THE SITUATION IN GAZA

BLOG 431
June 10, 2019

gaza

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST – Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation,ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

THE SITUATION IN GAZA

I’m sure you are aware of the recent intense three-day exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Four Israelis were killed as well as 25 Palestinians. Through the assistance of an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire, the encounter came to a halt. However, the pause is only momentary. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Auhri said, “Our message is that this round is over, but the conflict will not end until we regain our rights.” Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah predicted the fight could begin again as early as this summer.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Benjamin, Netanyahu said Israel was already preparing for the next encounter. The Iron Dome system for rocket intervention proved 85% successful in intercepting Hamas rockets. Almost 700 rockets were fired during a 48-hour period, sending many residents to bomb shelters. In turn, Israel knocked out six high-rise Gaza head-quarters for intelligence gathering as well as five apartment buildings where military commanders lived. Israel also killed a money-changer involved in the transfer of funds from Iran.

Abba Ebon once said, “the Arabs never miss the chance to miss the chance.” Why can’t Hamas give up on firing rockets when it is always so costly for them? Missing the change is only part of the problem. There’s more to the story than the West usually recognizes. For the past 12-years, Israel and Egypt have enforced a land and maritime siege on Gaza. From the point of view of Israel, the embargo is necessary to keep armaments and weapons out of terrorist hands. However, Gaza sees this as a violation of their rights and a serious clamp on their economy. While they consistently lose, they despair enough to feel they have nothing to lose. Desperate opponents make for frightening enemies!

So Gaza remains a political problem Israel must face. Until the two million residents can see a better economic future, they will not stop shooting.

Hang on! There’s more to come!

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AFTER THE ELECTION

BLOG 430
June 3, 2019

white concrete building

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST – Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

AFTER THE ELECTION

One thing you can always say about Israel. Life is never dull.
Following the election that he barely squeaked through, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is apparently attempting to get the Knesset to pass a law that exempts the Prime Minister from prosecution during his term in office. The situation is sort of like the debate in the US over whether Trump can be pulled into court on a wide assortment of charges now pending.

Sure, Netanyahu is trying an end around play to avoid being hauled into court on the charges that the police now have against him. Speculation prior to the election suggested he might not get elected with these serious charges of bribery pending. Of course, that did not happen as a slim majority of the voters pushed his party over the top. While it can be argued that this is a move to ensure government stability, the idea also appears to be an admission of guilt on Netanyahu’s part.

Is that a smart move?

When I was in Israel a month back, I found many people who did not like him personally,but liked the positive economic condition of the country. Even in the off season, tourism was booming. They weren’t happy with him, but didn’t see a better alternative. Now he’s elected and the next phase may not be pretty. We’ll see.

Several difficult situations loom in the background. The exchange of rockets between Israel and Gaza is dangerous. Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel two Sundays ago killing four Israelis. Israel in turn pounded Gaza killing at least 23. Israel believed it killed a Hamas commander attempting to deliver funds from Iran. These were the first Israeli fatalities since the 2014 war.

Israel and Egypt’s blockade has ravaged Gaza’s economy. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Hamas was not interested in “a new war.” Apparently, the rocketeers have a strange way of expressing avoidance. If they keep it up, there won’t be anybody left in Gaza to fight with Israel.

On a different front, President Trump’s blockade of Iran has had a serious effect on Hezbollah. Iran doesn’t have the funds to continue to support this terrorist group in Lebanon.

This may somewhat diminish the threat on the Northern side of Israel. The new round of problems for Bibi Netanyahu is just starting.

Stay tuned. More to come!

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MIDDLE EASTERN TIDBITS FOR THE CONNOISSEUR

BLOG 429 April 22, 2019

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

A number of interesting discoveries have surfaced in recent weeks that are worthy of our inspection. While the April 9 election overshadowed all other details in the Middle East, much was going on behind the scenes that is worthy of a second look.

The Jewish world took note of the fact that Pope Francis stated that he is opening the World War II archives in the Vatican. Controversy has swirled around the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church ever since the end of the war. The target of much criticism has been whether Pope Pius XII ignored the plight of the Jews occurring right under his nose in Rome. What did Pius XII do or not do?

Several years ago, Pope Francis invited me to walk through the mausoleum recently uncovered during the period of the reign of Pius XII. After careful evaluation, scholars and archaeologists found the original tomb of Peter that was over 2,000 years old. As I peered through the excavations, I could see the plastic containers holding those bones. Quite an experience!

At the end of the tunnels, I found the tomb of Pius XII. The cement sarcophagus stands about three feet above the ground and is rather ordinary in appearance compared to some of the papal tombs in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Part of the reason that Pope Francis has opened this door is because of his personal understanding and relationship with the Jewish community. Moreover, he is particularly interested in a greater openness in the Vatican. The world will be watching to see what comes forth.

And speaking of what is now appearing, a 2,600 year old seal from the Kingdom of Judah was recently discovered in the City of David. The inscription read, “belonging to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King. While it was not impossible at the time to say that the seal belonged to the Nathan-Melech mentioned in the Bible, the similarity is uncanny. In II Kings 23:11, he is described as an official in the court of King Josiah. The seal was found in the remains of a public building destroyed during the fall of the First Temple. The seal attests to the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah.

A second artifact was also uncovered. The bluish agate stone was engraved in ancient Hebrew (belonging to) Ikar the son of Matanyahu. Both of these finds will be presented in the Israel Exploration Journal. Pictures will help the reader envision these discoveries.

Keep your eyes open. More to come.

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ELECTIONS IN ISRAEL

BLOG 425 March 17, 2019

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation,  ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

How the Israeli Government system operates

Israel’s election is a free for all: Instead of two major parties, there’s a whopping total of 47 parties competing at the ballot box. Israelis vote for parties, not individual. The more votes a party gets, the more seats it has in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. A government is formed by a party — more likely a coalition of like-minded parties — that captures more than 60 seats. More than a dozen parties could make the next Knesset. Here’s a short description of each of them from The Times of Israel.

Likud, Israel’s right-wing flagship, and Netanyahu’s party, opposes a Palestinian state, supports settlements and encourages privatization in the economy. The longtime prime minister is seeking his fifth term.

Blue and White is a new centrist coalition led by a former military chief of staff, Benny Gantz. It was created to oppose Netanyahu and his alleged corruption.

The New Right is kind of like Likud on steroids, the party staunchly opposes Palestinian statehood and supports settlement growth, and features a very hawkish defense policy — what its platform calls an “iron fist” against Israel’s enemies.

Jewish Home-Jewish Power is the controversial union between a religious Zionist party and a far-right party, also known as Otzma Yehudit, that supports implementing religious law and waging “total war” on Israel’s enemies. As of late, Netanyahu has been courting this vote to be part of his cabinet which has created a strong backlash.

Israel Beiteinu champions the interests of Russian-speaking immigrants, along with a hard-line defense policy that calls for the execution of terrorists.

Kulanu is a center-right party focused on lowering Israel’s high cost of living.

In the last elections, held in March 2015, the Netanyahu-led Likud won 30 seats and formed a coalition with smaller right-wing and religious parties (Jewish Home, United Torah Judaism, Kulanu and Shas, with Israel Beiteinu joining a year later). If the coalition were to fall apart — a minister leaving the government, for example — Netanyahu would lose his coalition, lose control of the government and must call new elections.

A “free for all?” Sounds more like Rugby!

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ELECTIONS IN ISRAEL

BLOG 420 February 4, 2019

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

If you haven’t already heard,  Israel will hold a general election with the office of the Prime Minister up for grabs on April 9. Israeli politics can be a fascinating rough and tumble affair. So, what’s going on?

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset and called for elections, some commentators speculated that security issues prompted the call for a vote. After a couple of weeks of behind the scenes investigation, the picture became clearer. The call for an election had nothing to do with security. In fact, Israel remains well secured at this moment. The better commentary on the inside story came from journalist Yaakoy Katz writing for The Jerusalem Post.

Katz reported that State Prosecutor Shai Kitzan said at the Global Business Conference that work had been completed on indictments to be brought against Netanyahu in the immediate future. Charges of corruption were sent from the police some time ago and only await the response of the Attorney General to proceed with the case. By calling for an immediate election, Netanyahu would hope to put the squeeze on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to hold off prosecution.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political future hangs in the balance. Actually, he remains in the public’s eye one of the most popular politicians ever. Whether the voters will be swayed one way or the other by these charges is unclear. Either way one views the evidence, Netanyahu is throwing the dice in this election.

Some high-ranking politicians view this election as one of the most important moments in recent history. Former prime minister Ehud Barak said that he considered this situation to be “the most important election since the assassination of Yitzhat Rabin.”

You can bet there will be plenty of political jockeying between now and April 9. In another week, I’ll be going to Israel and talking with people on the street as well as leaders. I’ll bring you a report back on how much fire is under that smoke.

Stay tuned.

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ROCKETS FROM GAZA

BLOG 408 October 29, 2018

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

The terrorist organization Hamas knows it has run out of options in Gaza. The city remains a pile of broken cement structures that were never repaired after the last incursion by the Israeli after a season of prolonged rocket attacks coming out of the Gaza area. The leaders of Hamas pocketed the rebuilding money that came in from other Arab sources and left the citizens to live in the rubble.

On the morning of October 17, a morning rocket was fired at the Israeli city of Beersheeba. Such had not happened since early August. Almost immediately Hamas issued a statement saying “we didn’t do it.”  Supposedly, Hamas wanted continued calm. Interesting.

If the rockets were not fired by Hamas, then the situation demonstrates the weakness of Hamas to control the Gaza Strip.  Moreover, it suggests that dangerous weapons are also in the hands of other groups. This picture portrays turmoil on top of chaos.

In contrast to Hamas claims, for the last 7 months there have been repeated clashes at the Gaza border.  During the 30 weeks of struggle, 200 citizens of Gaza were killed and thousands wounded. At the same time the Israel Air Force targeted radicals sending incendiary balloons over the tall petition wall that have burned half of the trees and green areas adjacent to the border. If you are one of those folks who keeps count of deaths in this struggle, the figures aren’t good for the Palestinians.

You haven’t heard much about these current episodes because of the on-going headline stories about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the conflict with Saudi Arabia. Consequently, the Gaza struggle is now seen in a more narrow view. Nevertheless, the October 17 rocket firing could be a prelude to a dangerous response. Israeli politicians are currently pushing for stronger government action. Another such incident could trigger a massive response from Israel.

Keep your eyes open. There’s surely more to come.

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UPDATES ON ARCHAEOLOGY

BLOG 406 October 15, 2018

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

In the last couple of blogs, I’ve been updating you on the events occurring during the summer while I was off line. Last week, we surveyed Egypt. At the same time, remarkable finds were occurring in Israel through the digs around Jerusalem’s Old City. Here’s the latest from that front.

Are these discoveries important? Arab and Muslim activists scream because they discount Israeli claims to the ancient city when evidence demonstrates the Jews were always there just as they always alleged. Liberal scholars who proclaim Biblical stories are only myths have to take a backseat as well. The most recent finds validate the historic facts of scripture.

Recently, the Israel Antiquities Authority displayed an unprecedented piece of papyrus containing a reference to Jerusalem from the First Temple period. Written in ancient Hebrew script, the papyrus dates back to the 7th century BCE. At this time, this is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew.

Hebrew University professor Eilat Mazar has been working in an area that she contends extends back to King Solomon. The distinctive pottery shards she found have helped identity the city walls Solomon built on the edge of the Kidron Valley. She has uncovered dozens of small seals used for verifying official documents as well as engraved jug handles that reflect the 7th and 8th centuries BCE.

At this time, Prof. Mazar is working on the remains of what she believes will prove to be the palace of King David. If this work is validated, the impact will be extraordinary. Prof. Ronnie Reich and Eli Shukron excavated at the southern end of the City of David and uncovered what they believe is a large ritual bath, a mikve, that dates from the Second Temple period. This site is mentioned in John 9 as “the pool of Siloam” where Jesus healed a blind man. Next to the pool was a stairway that extended clear up to the Temple Mount. During their work a small seal was recovered with the word Bethlehem. This is the earliest proof that Bethlehem existed at this time.

Since my first visit to Israel in 1968, so much has been uncovered that it takes ones breath away. Again and again, the biblical story has been authenticated. The connection between the Jewish people and their land has become an established fact.

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WHAT’S NEW IN WHAT’S OLD

BLOG 399 June 25, 2018

It’s been awhile since I updated you on what archeology is turning up in Israel. Believe you me, there’s been a flurry of activity and a number of important discoveries have been found. Here’s a sample of recent finds.

Coins have always been an important source  of information about the past. Because metal does not deteriorate like cloth and wood does, the metal in coins confirms events in the ancient past and helps us understand how biblical experiences happened.

The archeological dig by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem uncovered dozens of bronze coins dating back to the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire around 66 to 70 CE.. Some of the coins date earlier, but most are from the final years of the revolt when the Second Temple was totally destroyed.  During the fourth year of the revolt just before the Temple was burned, the Jews marked their coins, “For the Freedom of Zion.” When it was clear they were losing the battle, the markings changed to read, “For the Redemption of Zion.”

The coins also bore the markings of traditional Jewish symbols related to the Sukkot holidays like palms, myrtle, citron, and willow.

Mazar’s finds were in a cave left behind by Jewish residents. She noted that it is amazing that no one had found this cave before nor was it used after the Second Temple period. The cave became a veritable time capsule of life during the four year period of the revolt.

A similar find from a later period were coins of the last struggle, the Bar Kokhba revolt in 136-134 CE.  Also found in a cave, the coins were in the Qibya cave that is about 20 miles northwest of Ramallah. These coins are marked with a palm tree and the inscription, “To the Freedom of Jerusalem.” Probably, the coins were brought by refugees who lived in the area around 135 CE. During the Bar Kokhba revolt Jews were forced out of their homes and hide in caves.

In April of this year, students from Armstrong College were part of the find involving Dr. Eilat Mazar. The students had taken courses at their college and came prepared with equipment to help them dig. Their involvement in finding coins was an experience of a lifetime. They knew they were touching the past.

My report is only the tip of the iceberg because so much more is going on. Nowhere in the world is the past being uncovered and revealed as it is in Israel.

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ACTION IN THE MIDDLE EAST

BLOG 395 May 14, 2018

US President Donald Trump, left, waves with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The Middle East is back in the headlines.

Israeli attacks on the Iranian military installations in Syria has sparked renewed interest in what comes next in the Syrian civil war. Iran fired rockets from inside Syria that were aimed at the Golan Heights area. In turn, Israeli’s Iron Dome missile defense system virtually knocked out this attempt to strike Israel. However, the Iranian strike precipitated a far more destructive response from Israel.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “If we get rain, they’ll get a flood.” And the flood came! Israel hit nearly all of Iran’s bases in Syria. So far any official response from Iran has been negligible.

What’s going on?

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei screamed. Of course, the rocket exchange came against the  backdrop of President’s Trump backing out of the Iranian Nuclear Arms Treaty. As predictable, Iranian parliamentary lawmakers shook their fist at America and helped burn US flags. As the world knows, harsh criticism of the USA is a staple of their politics. However, this was the first time a flag was burned inside the parliament itself.

Quite possibly, the rocket attack was prompted by the American rejection of the treaty. Iranians have long been known for irrational responses that end up only hurting themselves.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Israel not only stopped the rockets in mid-air, but Prime Minister Netanyahu had been vindicated by Trump’s rejection of the treaty. On a television presentation in English aimed at Trump, Netanyahu called Iran a liar (his exact words) and revealed Israel had captured  a cache of 100,000 secret Iranian documents, revealing their clandestine attempts to continue designing nuclear weapons.

Mossad had struck again!

Very few Iranians knew that Iran had moved its secret nuclear-weapons files to the Shorabad district in southern Tehran. Obtaining this material had to be one of the most significant intelligence efforts since the English broke the Nazi Enigma code system in World War II. These documents prove Iran had a secret weapons program from 1999 to 2003 called Project Aman.

What’s the bottom line? Israel has consistently made it clear that they will not allow Iran to build a corridor through Syria to the Mediterranean. The message has also been aimed at Russia. The attack on all Iranian installations inside Syria spells out the conclusion that Israel means what it said.

One might also conclude that it has not been a good week for Iran.

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THE ON-GOING STRUGGLE

BLOG 393 April 30, 2018

    The past several weeks have reported the seemingly endless story of struggle in Israeland with the Palestinians. A border uprising in Gaza has sent hundreds of Palestinian protesters surging toward the Israeli border and checkpoints. Or course, the Israelis were armed opposition and the result was at least three Palestinians killed and 611 wounded.

Hamas is always behind these attacks from Gaza. The terrorist organization broke with the PLO some years ago and still battles for control of the entire West Bank. They periodically use demonstrations to cover their tracks while forcing these skirmishes. Recently, throwing rocks and burning tires has become a weekly ritual at the wall between Israel and Gaza. IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) are always prepared 24-7.

In this last go- round, demonstrators starting trying to cut the wire meant to hold them back. At that point, Israeli tanks wheeled into action and fired tear gas. The protestors dispersed.

Often these encounters are meant to embarrass Israel and bring psychological pressure on the west. The picture always portrays highly armed Israeli soldiers confronting poor Palestinians who have nothing but stone throwing children to protect themselves. Uninformed Americans make an easy target.

The real truth is that the Palestinians won’t settle with Israel because their actual goal is to drive Israel into the ocean. The leader of Hamas has made himself into an extremely wealthy man who manipulates rather than leads toward a positive end. Since my first visit to Israel in 1968, I have watched Israel expand and grow from a struggling people to one of the premier countries in the Middle East and the world. At the same time, the Palestinians have not even been able to pay their daily bills without international assistance. If Israel stopped giving the tax money collected on their behalf, their government would sink in a week.

Get the picture?

Israel is not always right and the Palestinians are not always wrong. Both sides have made serious mistakes. However, time has not been on the side of the Palestinians. Their refusal to bargain to an honest settlement has only cost them and continues to marginalize their cause.

The never-ending presidency of Mahmoud Abbas with still no elections in sight helped create the problem of a separation between Ramallah and the Gaza Strip. When President Donald Trump decided to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, the Palestinians screamed, hollered, and threatened everything but World War III. However, the rest of the Arab world looked the other way. They know the truth about Abbas and the Palestinians.

What’s next? Probably more demonstrations then everyone goes home. There will be a few shouts of “shadhid” (Arabic for martyr), then the noise will fade. Just another day at the office.

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