Thursday, June 18, 2009

Using my iPhone in Israel

[Sept. 12, 2010: I've been blogging for almost 5 years about all sorts of things, and no post has received more hits than this one I wrote in June, 2009, about how I figured out how to use my US-based iPhone in Israel without having to use ATT's ridiculously expensive international plan. For some reason, when people type in the Google phrase "use iPhone in Israel" this 2009 post gets placed very high on the results list - hence all the visits. I've since updated this original post 4 or 5 times (the last time was on August 26, 2010), and I recommend that if you have stumbled on this post you should read it in its entirety for history and background. This post is valid still, and I will try not to repeat information as I continue to add to it. Essentially, depending on which iPhone you have (3G, 3Gs, or 4), and then again depending on which version of the phone's software you are running, and finally depending on which "baseband" you are using, there is probably a solution for you.]

(For folks who want the latest info on the iPhone 4 specifically, scroll down to the last couple of updates [starting with UPDATE 3, dated August 4, 2010] in this posting; also, most recently, look here)

This is a nerdy blog post coming up.

I am pleased as all get out to report that I have been using my iPhone 3G here in Israel with nary a glitch. No, I am not paying through the proverbial nose by using AT&T's partnership with local providers and thus I am avoiding phone calls costing $1.60 per minute. I actually am using an Orange (Israel) Big Talk SIM card in my phone, the same pay-as-you-go (sometimes known as PAYG) card I've been using for the last few years in an old-style beaten-up "universal" phone, which I can now toss out. Now the main feature I am missing on my iPhone is 3G data connectivity, but that is easily compensated for whenever I walk into a wi-fi reception zone, which abound in Tel Aviv.

I first saw this set-up last year when I was here in Israel on sabbatical, and met some native IT workers brandishing their iPhones-on-Orange-network here in a country that still as of today does not have an authorized seller of iPhones (though that will be changing very soon). In the intervening year since my sabbatical I bought a 3G phone, and then jailbroke it and unlocked it so that I too could saunter around Israel with an iPhone. To "jailbreak" is to alter (read: increase) access to the phone's operating system and perform modifications on the phone not allowed by Apple and its monopolistic app store. To "unlock" a phone is to render the iPhone into a universal multi-band GSM phone. And it works perfectly. A few provisos: I could not upgrade my phone firmware any higher than 2.2 (right now 2.2.1 is the standard, and on Friday 3.0 will be released). I also can't use a baseband other than the somewhat antiquated 2.28.00, so my iPhone is a bit behind the curve, but what I lose in version envy I make up in usable functionality. I won't be upgrading to 3.0 until the dev-team (the folks who do all this interesting hacking) perfects the jailbreak and the new unlocking software, to be called "ultraSn0w."

That the 3.0 firmware will soon be broken and unlocked is due to a group of dedicated programmer/hackers (dev-team), some based here in Israel, who are engaged in a daily struggle with Apple over the artificial limits that Apple puts on its phone software. I've randomly asked dozens of iPhone users I know in the States whether they have "jailbreaked" and it seems like I am the only one who has done so. But let me tell you -- having a working iPhone in Israel is a great thing and still produces an "oh, wow" reaction from locals.

UPDATE 1: December 2009: Ran jailbroken OS 3.1.2, unlocked on baseband 04.26.08 (one iteration behind the current baseband), and everything went well once again like a charm.

UPDATE 2: March 2010: In England for a week and bought a PAYG Orange SIM for my iPhone for 10 BP and picked the dolphin plan for internet and data. Worked perfect! Got 3G reception all over London and in Oxford. Cool!

UPDATE 3: August 4, 2010: Now that I have an iPhone 4, I awaited the new jailbreak (which came out in late July, just days after a Federal court ruled that jailbreaking is not illegal, as Apple had contended), and as of early this morning, the release of ultrasn0w 1.0-1, which unlocks the iPhone 4 running iOS 4.0.1 as well as the completely redesigned baseband. Here is a link to a complete step-by-step guide. Now all I will need is a a cool SIM cutter, which cuts my "old" BigTalk SIM card from Orange Israel down to the iPhone 4's new micro-SIM size. 

Whatever you do, do it quickly. Apple is going to soon release an update of the iPhone software that will close the backdoor which allows the phone to be easily jailbroken by simply pointing your Safari browser to a specific website (as specified in the step-by-step). Once Apple closes this "vulnerability" it may take the jailbreakers a bit of time to find the next vulnerability in the operating system.

Everything you need to jailbreak and unlock an iPhone is available as of today (August 4), but hurry up! The give-and-take between the hackers and Apple is always in flux, and the solution of today may not necessarily be the solution of tomorrow. And remember! Once you jailbreak, never upgrade your firmware or your iTunes program on your PC or Mac until the jailbreakers give the "all clear." 

UPDATE 4: August 26, 2010: 2 developments:

1) I got a SIM to micro-SIM cutting tool from which was drop-shipped from a factory in China. I think the total cost was something like $15. I cut both my Orange UK and Orange Israel SIM cards using the tool and they both worked perfectly in my unlocked iPhone 4 using iOS 4.0.1. 

I've looked at the web sites of the 2 main GSM providers in Israel (Orange & Celcom) to see if either offer a micro-SIM PAYG card, and I also checked the major Hebrew language chat board devoted to the iPhone in Israel ( and while I can confirm that micro-SIM cards are sold by both companies (after all, once the iPad was marketed in Israel, micro-SIMs became a necessity), neither company seems to market yet a PAYG micro-SIM. Most of the Israeli forum participants also discuss exactly what I am suggesting: cut your SIM down to micro-SIM size with a cutting tool. 

Which brings me to point 2:

2) The dev-team has announced that they will not be providing a jailbreak for the latest iOS, numbered 4.0.2. In the cat-and-mouse game between Apple and the jailbreakers, the decsion has been made by the hackers not to play this round. This is understandable, because the only reason Apple released 4.0.2 was to close out the security "leak" which the jailbreakers had found in earlier iOS's whereby one could jailbreak over the web. The hackers don't want to "waste" an exploit (you can be certain they know other ways to get into the guts of the iPhone operating system) on a trivial upgrade. Which means that if you go out and buy a brand new iPhone 4 pre-loaded with 4.0.2 (which is the case now), you are shit out of luck, because no one I have seen has come up with a way to downgrade a brand new US iPhone 4 pre-installed with 4.0.2 back to 4.0.1. You'll probably have to wait until Apple unleashes an iOS that actually offers tangible improvements (dubbed iOS 4.1 - due out Sept. 8) and the dev-team produces a jailbreak. If you have a 3G or 3GS right now it is not a problem to jailbreak iOS 4.0.2, but you have to use a different method than the OTA (over-the-air) solution unveiled in late July. ha-mevin yavin.

UPDATE 5: Sept. 26: I'm still stuck on jailbroken iOS 4.0.1, even as iOS 4.1 has been widely deployed and Apple has announced that iOS 4.2 is on the way in November. The dev-team simply hasn't released its new jailbreak yet; but rumors on the net suggest it is a matter of days or weeks before the jailbreak for 4.1 is issued. Also, Apple released a new version of iTunes this week, numbered 10.0.1, and according to the experts, it is "jailbreak safe." But avoid all the web sites that offer a jailbreak for you iPhone for money. These are malicious sites. 

For us iPhone 4 "unlockers" (people who jailbreak primarily so they can unlock) there may be a further complication - the baseband (the software running the actual phone component of the device) needs to be manageable by the unlocking software, and the simple fact that a JB might soon be available for iOS 4.1 does not guarantee that an unlock will be available. The baseband of 4.1 is different than 4.0.1, and currently unlockable. Remember: Jailbreaking is one thing; unlocking is another. So stay tuned...

UPDATE 6: October 10, 2010: Today on 10/10/10 a long-awaited jailbreak exploit "dropped." The jailbreak for the iPhone 4 running iOS 4.1 came from a surprising source (someone who a few months ago announced he was "out of the business"), is officially named LimeRa1n, and early reports indicate that the system is a touch buggy (there have already been 3 updates to the software today). Most importantly, there is no known method in the jailbreaking software to "hold" the baseband at an unlocakable version. So even though with great fanfare there is now a workable jailbreak for the iPhone 4 running 4.1, I still say "WAIT"!

I've posted a new entry over here, continuing the saga. 

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A silly response to Obama's speech

Tonight I received an e-mail from a member of my synagogue, with the subject heading: "Something that we can all agree on re Obama speech". I'm pretty sure he sent out to a wide network of recipients.

Here is the e-mail:

Shavua tov!

From Saturday's NY Times letters:

To the Editor:

In President Obama’s push for Mideast peace, one key unasked question is: Can the Islamic world accept a non-Muslim state in the middle of an Arab-dominated region? If the answer is no, then all negotiated agreements are nothing more than subterfuge.

Howard Schwartz
Englewood, N.J., June 5, 2009

I wrote back to my friend:

The simple answer to this question is: yes, the Arab world can accept a non-Muslim state in the middle of an Arab-dominated region. Parts of the Arab world already have -- Israel has formal peace treaties and diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan, diplomatic relations with Turkey, informal diplomatic contacts with Morocco and a few Gulf states, and recognition by the Palestinian Authority. The letter poses a silly question of slight rhetorical impact to a certain predisposed audience, but the question is totally and factually misleading. The Saudi/Arab League Peace Proposal of 2002 and 2007 states unequivocally that in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal, a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, and the creation of a Palestinian state in all the lands that Israel conquered in 1967:

"the Arab countries affirm the following:

I- Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.
II- Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace."

The conditions for such recognition are utterly unacceptable to Israel, but the Saudi/Arab League Proposal in theory is a clear statement that the Arab world can accept a non-Muslim state in its midst.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama in Cairo

Oh, it has been a long time. But the summer is here, work is over for a while, and I'll be leaving soon to visit Israel. So the time has come to re-ignite the blog. For the 3 people who read this, welcome back!

This weekend I'm going to speak at Trinity for a few minutes about President Barack Obama's historic speech to the Muslim world which he delivered on June 4 in Cairo at Cairo University. I've watched the video of the speech, and I've looked briefly at the transcript (including the official Arabic translation posted on the web site).

Let me say right off the bat: in principle, I've got no problem with the Obama administration's new approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It's more an issue of unfortunate timing. It is fairly clear that the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is going to use every diplomatic trick in the book to forestall the new forceful call for suspending all settlement activity in the West Bank. It is also fairly clear that the Hamas government in Gaza is not going to renounce violent resistance to the Israeli occupation. Between the two, I'd bet the Israelis would be the first to capitulate, but I hardly imagine that it will come to pass. Then what?

It is somewhat misleading to use the term "settlement" when talking about Israeli living arrangements in the West Bank. I think the English term "settlement" conjures up the notion of smaller-than-towns kind of arrangements. Let's set aside for the moment the massive suburban bedroom communities around Jerusalem like Ma'ale Adumim (pop. 33,000 in 2005). Let's talk instead about the city of Ariel (pop. 16,600 in 2007). Here is Google Earth's view of Ariel:

Look at the size of this monstro-city! Every one of those houses, schools, and shopping centers make up this so-called "settlement." There is even a controversial college in its midst claiming 9500 students enrolled! This city (for all intents and purposes) is 25 miles east of Tel Aviv, more than 11 miles beyond the internationally recognized border of Israel, deep in the heart of the West Bank (at this point the WB is only 32 miles wide). It has a reported population growth rate of more than 3% annually.

Who's kidding who? In the mid-1980s the Israeli urban planner and geopgrapher Meron Benvenisti warned that the clock on reversing Israeli settlements may already be past midnight. The opportunity to stop the settlement insanity passed a long time ago. Even if a deal could be reached on adjusting Israel's borders to accommodate the bedroom communities of Jerusalem (in exchange for some empty Israeli land somewhere in the southern West Bank-Israel border area), what in the world is to be done with a place like Ariel?

So let's say for a moment that all settlement activity is frozen (not that this Netanyahu government will easily agree to such a thing), and let's be even more charitable to Israeli expansionism and say that Ma'ale Adumim and the Etzion bloc of Israeli settlements south of Jerusalem, and all the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem are allowed to remain part of Israel in some fantastical settlement. What do you do with Ariel and it's 16,600 inhabitants?

For those like me who have argued for decades against Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territory, the truth is sad but true: all talk of a two-state solution at this late date is well-nigh impossible, even if

a) there was an accommodating Israeli government; and
b) there was an accommodating Palestinian governing body

But there are neither of these two things. The current Israeli government won't even commit to a two-state solution, and the self-immolating Palestinian factions (weak Fatah in Ramallah; weak Hamas in Gaza City -- currently shooting at each other) can't swallow accepting all the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

So now along comes Barack Obama. We Americans know intimately his rhetorical skills; we also know his analytical Spock-like detachment. Obama is also good at telling an audience what it wants to hear. I never forget -- not for a moment -- that he is an ex-academic, that he is famed for "listening to all sides" and then trying to find a middle ground. And that was the essence of his Cairo speech. Obama has surrounded himself with famed "pro-Israel" advocates like Rahm Emanuel, Joe Biden, and yes, even Hilary Clinton. These people may be more constitutionally sympathetic to the Jewish state, but they are not knee-jerk advocates of muscular Israel as was the previous American administration. Obama also was a close social friend of then-University of Chicago professor Rashid Khalidi, who has a very different set of sympathies and analyses of the conflict than the regnant theories of the Bush administration. Whatever Obama knows of this conflict comes from discussions, book-reading and briefings suggested by the likes of Emanuel/Biden/Clinton on the one hand, and Khalidi on the other. Accordingly, Obama has internalized the current "cutting-edge" analytical narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict -- that there are two victimized peoples. One is the victim of antisemitism culminating in the Holocaust; the other is the victim of Israeli occupation. Each deserves a home, but ironically (some would say perversely) one people's successful homeland was created at the expense of the other. As Obama put it, there are "two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive."

In a nutshell, this is the analytical approach of the "new" Israeli historian Benny Morris, who entitled his grand history of the conflict Righteous Victims. This approach doesn't so much produce a symmetrical narrative, where Jewish victimhood is equated with Palestinian victimhood, as it produces a nuanced view as to why the Zionists succeeded and how their success engendered Arab hostility and stifled the national aspirations of the Palestinians. This was the over-arching theme of Obama's treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict in Cairo. It is simultaneously sympathetic to Israel and sympathetic to Palestine. For the President, the problems of the last 61 years are not the result exclusively of Arab rejectionism, but also the result of Israeli behavior. Obama thus rhetorically endorsed the "new" history of the conflict. If one speaks of Arab or Palestinian intransigence, in the same breath one speaks of Israeli intransigence. This is a monumental shift in the underlying American approach to the conflict, a position which has been brewing for years in the State Department and in academic circles.

Does this new "canonical" meta-narrative to the history of the conflict have an impact on American policy? The answer is and will be yes. The new American insistence on the suspension of all Israeli settlement activity directly flows from this meta-narrative. On the other hand, Obama's insistence that Hamas and Fatah renounce violent resistance is a recurring trope in Obama's approach to Palestine. In his first visit to Israel and the West Bank as a US Senator back in January 2006, Obama urged college students in Ramallah to follow Martin Luther King Jr.'s path of non-violence in resisting Israeli occupation. He said the same thing in Cairo:

"Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered."

President Obama thus directly addressed the Palestinian people and signaled a new American approach to Hamas. Abandon violence, and all will be forgiven. This is an understandable American policy shift from the previous administration which boycotted Hamas as a terrorist group. Only a unified Palestinian leadership can prove to be a worthy negotiating partner. As parties in a negotiation go, a reluctant Israel is one thing, but a Palestinian leadership utterly divided makes for a thoroughly untenable negotiating partner. Watch for the alleviation of the Fatah-Hamas rift to be the main American diplomatic effort for Palestine, even as it simultaneously pressures Israel to halt settlements. Unfortunately for Israel, America can apply pressure more concertedly on a constituted Israel government than it can apply on fractious Hamas and Fatah.

How will this all play domestically in the United States? That question I will take up in another blog.