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Friday, 3 July 2015

PerfectlyWritePoetry: All Their Sons

PerfectlyWritePoetry: All Their Sons: Today I start with a cliché. Big people make huge mistakes and there’s no-one writ larger in British journalism than the gutsy, feisty, cand...

Thursday, 2 July 2015


ESRA Karmiel celebrated its fifth anniversary with a picnic and country and western style sing-along in the town’s Galilee Park.

The music was provided by Judi and Lynn Lewis who live  on Kibbutz Tzora in the Jerusalem hills where they host a long-running folk club. The couple also appear at the bi-annual Jacob’s Ladder Folk Festival now held at Ginossar on the Kinneret.

© Natalie Wood (02 July 2015)

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

“We’re All Israelis”– Bedouin Envoy

Ishmael.KhaldiIsrael’s first Bedouin diplomat attracted a record 80-plus crowd to the penultimate joint social event of the Karmiel Anglo community calendar before the summer break.

“We’re all Israelis” declared Ishmael Khaldi, presently posted in London but on a brief trip home to western Galilee when he addressed a joint English Speakers Residents Association and Karmiel English Speakers Club meeting.

Mr Khaldi,  whose main role as Counsellor for Civil Society Affairs at the Israel Embassy in London  is fighting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and similar anti-Israel activity in the U.K,  gave a description of his work and answered a wide range of questions. He also signed copies of his memoir,  A Shepherd’s Journey.

The event was arranged and chaired by ESRA Karmiel chairman, Brian Fink and thanks were proposed by KESC chairman, Sylvia Walters.

The final event of the season is a picnic in Karmiel’s Galilee Park on Thursday 02 July (from 5.00 p.m.). Those wishing to register should do so by Wednesday 01 July. Details from

© Natalie Wood (30 June 2015)

Sunday, 28 June 2015

PerfectlyWriteFamilyTales: ‘The Price of Love’

PerfectlyWriteFamilyTales: ‘The Price of Love’: The day I proposed to Eunice was Saturday 20 July 1957. A big day for us during an exciting period for Britain. “Most of our people have n...

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Whistling in the Dark!

Pied Piper Twenty-seven years ago, on Sunday 26  June 1988, I married my husband, Brian Fink.

Now let’s look at other  world-changing events that have happened on that auspicious day in history:

  • 1284 - Pied Piper lures 130 children of Hamelin away (actually happened).
  • 1718 - Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich of Russia,  son of Peter the Great  mysteriously dies after being sentenced to death by his father for plotting against him.
  • 1807 - Lightning hits gunpowder warehouse in Luxembourg; 230 die.
  • 1870 - Wagner's opera Valkyrie premieres in Munich.
  • 1915 - Germany suppresses Vorwarts newspaper after it called for peace.
  • 1934 - Germany and  Poland sign non-aggression treaty.
  • 1941 - Lithuanian fascists massacre 2,300 Jews in Kovno.
  • 1945 - United Nations Charter signed by 50 nations in San Francisco.
  • 1948 - US denounces Soviet blockade of Berlin.
  • 1963 - US President John F. Kennedy gives his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in West Berlin
  • 1970 - Two young girls die in a premature explosion in Derry as their father, an IRA member, was making an incendiary device.
  • 1977 - The Yorkshire Ripper kills 16 year old shop assistant Jayne MacDonald in Leeds.
  • 1989 – US Supreme Court rules 16 year olds can receive death penalty
  • 1993 - The U.S. launches a cruise missile attack targeting Baghdad intelligence headquarters.
  • 1995 - Gunmen ambush Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, escapes unharmed
  • 1996 - Irish Journalist Veronica Guerin is shot in her car while in traffic in the outskirts of Dublin.
  • 2014 - Following a military coup in Thailand, people have been warned that anyone calling for protest on social media will be prosecuted for sedition
  • 2015 – Day of international terror in Tunisia, Turkey, France and Kuwait as scores of innocent civilians are murdered worldwide.

Beach Massacre June 26 2015

A day of romantic nostalgia for us. But not a good day in history. Thanks, anyway, to everyone who sent us their warm good wishes. We all need to whistle in the dark.

© Natalie Wood (27 June 2015)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Aching for the Past

I am no fan of National Novel Writing Month. It smacks too much of an international publishers’ promotion fest for my tastes.

So it’s fortunate that many established writers disagree with me as the discipline needed to produce the skeleton of a full-length story within such a short time helps them to the finish line.

KEN.DOYLEI thought of this when interviewing Ken Doyle, a Bombay-born Anglo-Indian scientist and writer, whose long spell in the creative wilderness ended when he was introduced to ‘NaNoWriMo’. He has now gone on to produce work in several genres, including a series of captivating short stories based on the India he knew as a child.

Doyle now lives with his family in Milford, Delaware, USA where he works from home but styles himself as a “writer by night’. I asked him to explain this:

‘Writer by Night’ sounds most alluring. But is it simply what you do after you return home from your day job?

Actually, my day job also involves a good deal of writing, although of a different nature. I work from home and provide marketing and scientific writing services to clients in the biotech and biomedical industries. In some ways, it does make it more challenging to sit down and turn my attention to writing fiction at night. However, being self-employed also gives me some flexibility with scheduling that I wouldn’t have if I worked for someone else.

You seem to have lived at least as long in the USA as you ever did in India. Do you miss it? Badly enough even to return there to live? I ask because I sense a feeling of writerly dislocation permeating your stories.

I do miss certain things about India, specifically, Bombay (Mumbai) where I lived for 22 years. On the other hand, India has changed quite a bit since I left, and in many ways, not for the better. Hindu nationalism is now more rampant than it ever was, and politics has become more polarised. Also, after living in the U.S.A., the minor annoyances of everyday life in India — bribery, corruption, the glacial pace of bureaucracy -- become magnified when one attempts to return. Still, I know what you mean by writerly dislocation. One of my favourite writers, Jhumpa Lahiri, made this the theme of her first novel, The Namesake. I’m sure it’s something that most immigrants feel, and it’s a dislocation in time as much as it is in space. We cherish fond memories of our childhood and adolescence that are tied to a geographic location, but if we revisit that location in later years, we can never recreate the past.  Gateway of India Book Two

If I’m wrong, what keeps you in the west?

Primarily my family. Most of my siblings live in the U.S.A., and my immediate family would not be able to make the considerable adjustment to living in India. There are also many things that I appreciate about living in the U.S.A. For example, it’s very easy to start and operate a small business. In India, I probably would have given up long ago, due to the bureaucracy and tax complexities.

I see that you began writing in your teens. Again, I feel there are more than the reasons you state for leaving writing aside for so long. After all, writers never stop writing! So is there another reason?

I’d love to be able to pinpoint a specific reason, but I think it amounts to changing priorities. In my teens, I had very few responsibilities and a great deal more time to write. Once I entered graduate school and 70-hour work weeks became the norm, it killed a lot of my creative spirit. After that, it took a long time for me to go back and rediscover what I had lost.

I must suppose that you write science fiction because you are a scientist in real life. Do you think a writer needs a background to write science fiction or can it be done purely from one’s imagination?

Science fiction was my first love and I hope to return to it on a larger scale, although I’m currently trying to establish myself in a different genre with Bombay Bhel and Gateway of India. SF spans a broad spectrum, from “hard SF” that involves a great deal of scientific knowledge to speculative fiction that may require very little. So I think it’s possible for writers with varying backgrounds to write good SF. I must admit that I enjoy the harder variety, though. I recently read Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear, and I was amazed at his detailed knowledge of molecular biology and genetics, which is my field of study.

What do you like doing away from either your day job or when you aren’t writing?

Reading is my first choice when I need some “down time”. I also enjoy listening to music and being in places where I can connect with nature: the beach or state parks.

Tell me about Chughani Manor, occupied by the characters that appear in Gateway of India. Does / did it ever exist – even under a different name? Did you live somewhere like it as a child?

It’s a thinly disguised real building that still exists. I didn’t live there, but spent many happy moments there at family gatherings and other visits.

Were you perhaps the little boy who played chess with a famous cricketer or the would-be scientist who bought a laboratory kit from a moonlighting teacher? In other words, are your affectionate portraits based on real people and events? Certainly, there’s a ring of truth that gives your hugely enjoyable stories their integrity.

I suppose there’s always a little bit of ourselves in what we write, even if we don’t intend for that to happen. I did enjoy chemistry as a child and still remember that first chemistry set. I find stories that draw on a personal memory or childhood experience the easiest to write; they tend to flow better and have a natural rhythm to them that is difficult to create, at least in the first draft, when one is writing about a completely fictional scenario. Many of my stories are based on childhood memories, while others (such as Solar Power and Bhel Plaza in my first book) are based very loosely on actual events, as reported in the media, with which I had no prior connection.

In which other genres do you write aside from science fiction and literary fiction? Do you, for example, ever try your hand at flash fiction or poetry? Or even non-fiction, aside from writing related to your work?

I did write some flash fiction, although it would still fall under the speculative fiction umbrella. I’ve also written some poetry, but it’s been a while. I have a very rough and incomplete draft of a young adult urban fantasy novel, and I hope, some day, to write a YA epic fantasy novel.

Finally, as I’ve read your single short story, Saturday Date as well as Gateway of India Book Two, I suggest that Saturday Date appears to be among your earliest stories written as an adult and is quite different from those that have come later. What triggered this? Is Mary, who may viewed almost as an anti-heroine, simply emblematic of your idea of those who live in abject poverty or did you ever know people like her personally?

Saturday Date was actually written after I completed my first book, Bombay Bhel. It’s more in the style of those earlier stories, but it also acts as a prequel of sorts to the first story in Gateway of India, Book One. In a way, I think it may be seen as a transition between the two books. There really was a woman who used to sing in our neighbourhood for alms when I was a child, and there are several legends (and conflicting reports) in the media about her life story. My version, of course, is heavily fictionalised. Nonetheless, growing up in Bombay, I came into contact with people like that every day, and perhaps that’s why the huge gap between the rich and the very poor has influenced many of my stories.

* Gateway of India Book 2 is available as an e-book at $0.99.   

Mark.UlyseasThis piece first appeared in the July 2015 edition of Live Encounters magazine as ‘Aching to Recapture the Past’ ( edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

© Natalie Wood (18 June 2015)

Saturday, 13 June 2015

“Key Preliminary Findings of the High Level International Military Group on the Gaza Conflict”

Today I repost without comment the UN Watch report that  shows the “Key preliminary findings on the 2014 Gaza Conflict by a high level international military group as submitted to the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry”.

The report is expected to be issued in full during the week beginning Monday 15 June 2015. 


From 18th – 22nd May 2015, the High Level International Military Group, made up of 11 former chiefs of staff, generals, senior officers, political leaders and officials from the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Holland, Spain, Italy, Australia and Colombia visited Israel for a fact-finding mission on the 2014 Gaza conflict. We were led by General Klaus Naumann, former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, the most senior officer in the Alliance, and Giulio Terzi, former Foreign Minister of Italy. Also in the group were Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, formerly US State Department Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues; and Mr Rafael Bardaji, former National Security Adviser to the Government of Spain.

This was part of a longer term project by our group, whose principal concern is how civilian lives can be protected and military forces can fight effectively when operations must be conducted in a densely packed civilian area. We will be producing a full report this autumn.

General Klaus Naumann
Former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

General Vincenzo Camporini
Former Chief of the Defence Staff of Italy

Admiral Jose Maria Teran
Former Chief of the
Joint Staff of Spain

Giulio Terzi
Former Foreign Minister of Italy

Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper
Former US State Department Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues

Rafael Bardaji
Former National Security Adviser for the Spanish government

Lieutenant General
David A Deptula
Former Standing Joint Force Air Component Commander, United States Pacific Command

Major General Jim Molan
Former Chief of Operations, Headquarters Multi National Force, Iraq and Commander of the Australian Defence College

Colonel Vincent Alcazar
Former senior United States Air Force officer in Iraq and Afghanistan

Colonel Richard Kemp
Former Commander of British F
orces in Afghanistan

Colonel Eduardo Ramirez
Member of Colombian Congress and former Chief of Security, Colombia

Our mission to Israel was unprecedented. We were the first such multi-national group of senior officers to visit the country. We were granted a level of access to the Israeli government and Defence Force that has not been afforded to any other group, from the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Minister of Defence, Moshe Ya’alon, right down to the field commanders responsible for fighting the battle on the ground.

We were well aware of the allegations made by some governments, the United Nations, human rights groups and the media, that Israel acted outside the laws of armed conflict in Gaza. Some have suggested that the IDF lacked restraint or even deliberately targeted innocent civilians.

Our findings lead us to the opposite conclusion. We examined the circumstances that led to the tragic conflict last summer and are in no doubt that this was not a war that Israel wanted. In reality Israel sought to avoid the conflict and exercised great restraint over a period of months before the war when its citizens were targeted by sporadic rocket attacks from Gaza. Once the war had begun, Israel made repeated efforts to terminate the fighting. The war that Israel was eventually compelled to fight against Hamas and other Gaza extremists was a legitimate war, necessary to defend its citizens and its territory against sustained attack from beyond its borders.

In the main Hamas’s rocket attacks deliberately and indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilian population centres in the south of the country. We visited one, the kibbutz Nahal Oz, at which more than 150 Hamas rockets had been directed last summer, causing loss of life and large-scale destruction. Many attacks were also launched against major cities further north including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Hamas deliberately fired missiles at Ben Gurion International Airport, disrupting and threatening international civil air traffic. There is no doubt that all of these attacks constitute war crimes.

Hamas also constructed an array of tunnels, using materials diverted from humanitarian supplies, which penetrated the border between Gaza and Israel, in many cases emerging close to civilian communities. We entered one such tunnel, which extended over two kilometres, terminating only a few hundred yards from a kibbutz and likely intended to eventually bore into the kibbutz itself. We can only conclude that these tunnels were designed, at least in part, to attack, kill and abduct Israeli civilians. This again constitutes a war crime.

Hamas launched attacks against Israel from the heart of its own civilian communities in Gaza and positioned its munitions and military forces there also, including in schools, hospitals and mosques. As well as carefully documented IDF evidence of this, we have viewed international media footage confirming several cases and are aware of senior Hamas officials’ own claims to have used human shields. A recent report by the UN Secretary General confirmed that in some cases Hamas even used UN facilities for storing munitions and launching attacks.

Again, these actions clearly amount to war crimes. The laws of armed conflict not only forbid the use of human shields but also demand that combatant forces ensure their civilians are physically evacuated from combat areas. Hamas made no effort to evacuate civilians; on the contrary, there are documented cases of them compelling civilians to remain in or return to places where they expected Israeli attacks to come.

The Israel Defence Force employed a series of precautionary measures to reduce civilian casualties. Each of our own armies is of course committed to protecting civilian life during combat. But none of us is aware of any army that takes such extensive measures as did the IDF last summer to protect the lives of the civilian population in such circumstances.

We were briefed on the IDF’s strict procedures and standards for confirming the validity of a military target and the presence or absence of civilians, and the stringent requirements for both military and legal authorisation to attack a target. We were briefed on some cases where the IDF declined to attack known military targets due to the presence of civilians, risking, and in some instances costing, Israeli lives.

Measures taken to warn civilians included phone calls, SMS messages, leaflet drops, radio broadcasts, communication via Gaza-based UN staff and the detonation of harmless warning explosive charges, known as “knock on the roof”. Where possible the IDF sought also to give guidance on safe areas and safe routes.

We were briefed on the IDF’s proportionality principles and calculations used in circumstances where an attack was likely to result in civilian deaths. We believe that in general Israeli forces acted proportionately as required by the laws of armed conflict and often went beyond the required legal principles of proportionality, necessity and discrimination.

We were briefed in detail on Israel’s humanitarian efforts to reduce the suffering of the civilian population in Gaza. The measures taken were often far in excess of the requirements of the Geneva Conventions. They sometimes placed Israeli lives at risk. To an extent these steps also undermined the effectiveness of the IDF’s operations by pausing military action and thus allowing Hamas to re-group and replenish. Supplies provided to the civilian population by Israel were often commandeered by Hamas for military use.

We understand that over 2,000 people died in Gaza during the conflict. In a population of approximately 1.8 million, over a 50-day period many would have died of causes unrelated to the fighting. We also know that some died when Hamas’s attacks against Israel went wrong, and a recently published report by Amnesty International asserts that Hamas murdered at least twenty-three people in Gaza during this period, and tortured dozens more.

On the basis of close scrutiny of open source records as well as from secret intelligence, the IDF informed us that they assess that over half of those declared dead were combatants from Hamas and other groups that were engaged in the fighting – a figure higher than that commonly asserted by the UN, which takes its own assessment from Hamas sources. This nevertheless leaves a deeply concerning number of civilian deaths, perhaps around 1,000, many of whom were killed as a result of Israeli military action.

We recognise that some of these deaths were caused by error and misjudgement as we mention below. But we also recognise that the majority of deaths were the tragic inevitability of defending against an enemy that deliberately carries out attacks from within the civilian population. We must therefore consider that Hamas and its terrorist associates, as the aggressors and the users of human shield, are responsible for the overwhelming majority of deaths in Gaza this summer.

In war, as in all facets of life, mistakes are made, including errors of judgement, confusion and technical failure. Also individual soldiers sometimes act unlawfully, against military policy, rules of engagement and military law. All of this of course occurred among IDF forces in the Gaza conflict as it does in all military forces.

We were extensively briefed by the IDF’s Military Advocate General and by other military lawyers. We have been informed that where transgressions and errors are alleged these cases are subject to rigorous, transparent investigation and if necessary criminal proceedings and punishment. The Israeli military legal system includes a number of robust checks and balances, on which we were briefed; including oversight by the country’s widely respected supreme civil judiciary.

We agree with the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, who following the Pentagon’s fact-finding mission to Israel, went on record last November as saying that in the 2014 Gaza conflict, “Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties”.

Our overall findings are that during Operation Protective Edge last summer, in the air, on the ground and at sea, Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard. We saw clear evidence of this from the upper to the lower levels of command. A measure of the seriousness with which Israel took its moral duties and its responsibilities under the laws of armed conflict is that in some cases Israel’s scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers’ and civilians’ lives.

Signed by the members of the High Level International Military Group that visited Israel 18th– 22nd May 2015:

Giulio Terzi – former Foreign Minister of Italy.

General Klaus Naumann – former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee.

General Vincenzo Camporini – former Chief of the Defence Staff of Italy.

Admiral Jose Maria Teran – former Chief of the Joint Staff of Spain.

Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper – former US State Department Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues.

Mr Rafael Bardaji – former National Security Adviser for the Spanish government.

Lieutenant General David A Deptula – former Standing Joint Force Air Component Commander, United States Pacific Command.

Major General Jim Molan – former Chief of Operations, Headquarters Multi National Force, Iraq and Commander of the Australian Defence College.

Colonel Eduardo Ramirez – Member of Colombian Congress and former Chief of Security, Colombia.

Colonel Vincent Alcazar – former senior United States Air Force officer in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Colonel Richard Kemp – former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan.

31 May 2015

The project was sponsored by the Friends of Israel Initiative.

© Natalie Wood (13 June 2015)