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  By Israel Shamir 

Israel Shamir is an Israeli journalist based in Jaffa. 
His articles can be found on the site 

In a twist of nomenclature that would seem implausible in fiction, a craft carrying Col. Ilan Ramon of the Israeli Air Force apparently broke up over an East Texas town called Palestine.
NYT, 2/2/03

Omens, good and bad, are sent to us like beacons to facilitate our navigation in the sea of troubles, said the renowned Portuguese writer Paulo Coelho. Wise and successful men constantly watch out for the telling signs and act accordingly. Silly and arrogant folk disregard omens and court disaster. Santiago, the main character of his hugely popular Alchemist, made his decisions by paying close attention to omens, especially those given by birds, and eventually won love, glory, wisdom and riches. With or without the bestseller, we also pay heed to the celestial hints of destiny, but usually we call it 'a hunch'.

We do not understand the reasoning of an old hunter who observes the birds' flight and predicts the coming storm, but we trust his hunch. To a great extent, people are guided by premonitions and omens. The Roman armies did not leave their walled city until the augurs would complete the observation of birds. At the other end of the world, the creator of The Art of War gave the same advice: pay heed to omens and ask prophets before the war.

Ulysses asked the supreme god Zeus to grant him a sign about whether he will overcome the suitors, and Zeus sent an approving omen: a clap of thunder from the clear sky. Penelope received a sign in her dream: an eagle ravished her tame fat geese, and she understood: her husband will return home and punish the suitors.

Whoever ignored the omens often had a cause to regret it. The Pharaoh of Exodus did not believe the signs and died at sea. The Jews ignored the dreadful omens at the Crucifixion and just laughed all the way to their kingdom's perdition forty years later.

But the signs and seers are notoriously ambivalent. It is not frequently we receive a clear and unambiguous sign, like those given to the Pharaoh or to the rebellious Jews. It happened, if ever, a few days ago, when the space shuttle Columbia, this most advanced craft of the American Empire, proudly carrying an Israeli on board, disintegrated over a small Texan city called Palestine. Israelis tried to omit and forget this strange and impossible 'coincidence', like their ancestors tried to ignore the torn curtain of the Temple, but in vain.

You do not have to harrow Hades for Tiresias, the blind seer of Thebes, raise the spirit of Samuel or call for Sybil to divine the meaning of the steel bird's crash. It is an omen that the mighty US is likely to suffer terrible calamities while serving the cause of Israel. America's best men will perish; America's best technique won't help. It is an omen that Palestine remains the stumbling block for the Jews; and even the most
generous assistance of the US will not help them to overcome Palestine. It is a sign for the American president: if he will carry on doing Israel's bidding his good ship will perish with all hands.

The Columbia disaster is not the first sign. The steel birds' attack of 9/11 was an omen that Israel's influence on Wall Street and the Pentagon will bring America to disaster. For this reason it does not matter 'who did it', nor does it matter what caused the Columbia's crash, as such events have their symbolic meaning. But, instead of pondering the meaning and repenting, Bush and his Administration preferred to persevere in their dangerous ways. They followed the Jewish way of disregarding signs and omens, an approach based on disbelief in Divine providence. The Talmud contains an archetypal story of a dispute where a wise man was supported by God and the signs, but he was defeated by the Rabbis, for 'the Torah is on Earth, not in Heaven'.
This Jewish headstrong and God-denying approach gave its proponents much short-term advantage, and even more long-term calamities.

Now, after the second warning, the US leaders have to choose. They can stick to the Jewish ways, stubbornly deny God's will and ignore omens. They can choose the way of Indians and pathfinders, gold-diggers and oil prospectors: pay attention to signs and play the hunch.

The clever boy Santiago of Paulo Coelho understood the omens. Will President Bush?...

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