Israel Reached for the Moon

April 16 2019

Last Thursday night, the lunar module designed by the private Israeli company SpaceIL and given the name Beresheet (Genesis) was expected to land on the moon. The unit had been successfully launched into lunar orbit, but the delicate piece of technology with which it measured the distance between itself and the moon’s surface malfunctioned, leading to a crash landing. Armin Rosen, who was present at the SpaceIL headquarters, reports:

The span between the first loss of telemetry and word that the landing failed was maybe three minutes tops, and probably much less. A cosmic drama quickly and unexpectedly became a human one. How do you make sense of getting so close and losing the mission? One could soon attain some purely descriptive understanding of what occurred: as Ofer Doron, [one of the mission’s overseers], told the media afterwards, a malfunction in the inertial measurement system led to a cascade of events that resulted in an accidental full-engine cutoff.

Beresheet was built with almost no redundancies, so there wasn’t a second computer to take over at the first sign of real trouble. The mission depended on a thin margin for error during the final 450 feet of its interplanetary journey (although it later turned out that the problems started fourteen kilometers from the surface). . . .

[O]ne of the funders of the mission likened the endeavor to the Passover song Dayeinu, [“it would have been enough for us”]: if the probe had merely succeeded in reaching its correct altitude after launch, dayeinu. If all of the maneuvers had merely gone successfully, dayeinu. If Beresheet had merely entered lunar orbit, dayeinu. There were countless dayeinus. One of the most audacious private space ventures ever attempted had been, at worst, a 95-percent success. “We got Israel to places we didn’t imagine before,” Kfir Damari, [one of the founders of SpaceIL], said. “The Israeli flag is still on the surface, on an Israeli-made spacecraft,” said [his cofounder] Yonatan Weintraub.

On Saturday, it was announced that work had commenced on Beresheet 2.

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More about: Israeli technology, Space exploration

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat