The First Israeli in the Winter Paralympics Refuses to Compete on Shabbat

March 16 2022

As a strictly Orthodox Jew, the paralympic skier Sheina Vaspi was relieved when she obtained a religious exemption to compete in the Beijing Paralympics while wearing a skirt. But when one of the events she had qualified for was rescheduled for Saturday of last week, Vaspi chose to forfeit her spot so as not to violate the Sabbath. Despite this disappointment, as David Waldstein writes in a profile of Vaspi, she is grateful to have “made history [as] the first Israeli to participate in the Winter Paralympic Games.”

“It is very important for me to represent my country the best I can,” Vaspi said, “especially because I did not go into the army. My grandfather died in one of the wars that Israel had and my uncle fell in one of the wars, too. I feel very, very proud to be the first Israeli to represent the country in the Paralympics.”

Military service is compulsory in Israel, but Vaspi was excused because she lost a leg in a car accident when she was ten. She said that perhaps the attention she will garner from competing in the Beijing Games will open the gates for other Israeli athletes, many who never considered the possibility of competing until her breakthrough.

Vaspi, twenty, grew up in the north of Israel, where skiing is a rare adventure for a lucky few, available on one mountain for two or three weeks a year, depending on the weather. As a girl, she could see Mount Hermon from her home, but never dreamed of skiing it.

But then one day, when she was fifteen, the Erez Foundation, which assists soldiers and children with special needs, . . . invited her to ski. Vaspi was uncertain about accepting, until her father, a farmer, religious teacher, and tour guide in Africa, showed her a video of people doing “crazy things” on the slopes.

“I said, ‘Yes, I want that,’” Vaspi said in English.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: olympics, Orthodoxy, Shabbat, Sports

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy