Airport planned for Israel-Jordan border clouds neighborly ties


A new airport planned by Israel near its border with Jordan is clouding the usually businesslike relationship the two neighbors have built since making peace in 1994.

Due to open next April, Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport at Timna, in Israel's desert south, will be 10 km (6 miles) from Jordan's King Hussein International Airport. They will serve Eilat and Aqaba, the adjacent Israeli and Jordanian resort cities on the Red Sea.

Citing worry the proximity could spell dangerous disruptions to its air corridors, Amman last year complained to the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Israel said Ramon would abide by ICAO regulations and pose no safety risk. The ICAO later said Israel and Jordan were addressing the matter directly “as one would expect from two countries with a peace treaty and a wide scope of cooperation in many fields”.

Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz played down the dispute with Jordan, one of two Arab states with full ties with Israel.

“There is no confrontation,” he told Reuters in an interview. “There have been discussions (and) it was agreed that we will hold a professional-level meeting. The (Ramon) airport will open, and there will be coordination of air traffic.”

Jordan sounds less upbeat, however.

“We do not want to stand in the way of Israeli projects, but we have our concerns regarding our own airport, and there is also the matter of keeping the spirit of our peace agreement,” said a Jordanian official who declined to be identified.

The official was referring to a proposal, discussed in conjunction with the treaty, of building a jointIsraeli-Jordanian airport.

Katz said such a facility was an “option” that had gone unexercised. Opened in 1972, King Hussein underwent expansions after the 1994 peace accord to meet what the airport's website said was the rising demand of air traffic. Katz said Israel was therefore free to open Ramon on its side of the border.

 

TOURISM

Jordan's concern, he suggested, was over the prospective loss of tourists to Israel. Ramon will have a 3.6-km (2.2-mile) runway able to accommodate the largest airliners while King Hussein's runway length is a more limiting 3.1 km (1.9 miles).

King Hussein currently handles around four to six takeoffs and landings a day. Israel is planning for 10 times that capacity at Ramon.

“The thing is, this (Ramon) is a big international airport, representing a mass of tourists, which is seen as possibly competing with them in tourism and such things,” Katz said.

“We will propose to them that large planes that can't land there (King Hussein) will land here. I have no problem with people going to Aqaba from there (Ramon). They can cross at Arava crossing,” he said, referring to an overland border terminal north of Eilat, a 15-km (9-mile) drive from Ramon.

Peace with Israel was never popular among ordinary Jordanians, many of whom are Palestinian, and Amman officials sometimes lament what they see as the sluggish dividends from economic cooperation with their richer neighbor.

One Jordanian official based in the Aqaba area accused Israel of building Ramon airport to “market Petra” – the nearby archaeological wonder in Jordan – for excursions by tourists who would spend the bulk of their vacation in Eilat.

“We are protecting our national tourism industry from any invasion and from selling it illegally,” said the official, who also requested anonymity.

“Now we have imposed on those coming from the (Arava) crossing to either pay sixty dinars ($85) for a one-day (visa) or spend two nights in the kingdom,” with the fee refunded, the official said.

Eilat is currently served by a small municipal airport whose planned demolition will free up real estate within view of the beach.

Named after an Israeli astronaut lost in the 2003 space shuttle disaster and his eldest son, who died in a 2009 air force accident, Ramon is envisaged as an emergency alternative to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel's main international gateway. Ben Gurion was briefed shunned by most foreign carriers due to incoming Palestinian rockets during the 2014 Gaza war.

Explosions hit Brussels airport, metro – several killed


This is a developing story.

Explosions tore through the departure hall of Brussels airport on Tuesday morning killing up to 10 people and injuring 30 others and a second blast struck a metro station in the capital shortly afterwards, the Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said.

The Belga agency said shots were fired and there were shouts in Arabic shortly before the blasts at the airport. Pictures on social media showed smoke rising from the terminal building through shattered windows and passengers running away down a slipway, some still hauling their bags.

The blasts at the airport and metro station occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of a suspected participant in November militant attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Belgian police had been on alert for any reprisal action.

British Sky News television's Alex Rossi, at the airport, said he heard two “very, very loud explosions”.

“I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well…I went towards where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked.”

“The thinking here is that it is some kind of terrorist attack – that hasn't been verified by any of the authorities here at the airport.”

Video showed devastation inside the departure hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor.

RTBF said the metro station hit by the explosion was close to European Union institutions. Authorities closed all metro stations in Brussels, but there were no details immediately available of any casualties in this second incident of the day.

A local journalist tweeted a photograph of a person lying covered in blood among smoke outside Maelbeek metro station, on the main Rue de la Loi avenue which connects central Brussels with the EU institutions.

FLIGHTS CANCELLED, PASSENGERS EVACUATED

The agency cited hospital sources as saying up to ten people wre killed at the airport.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on his twitter feed: “We are following the situation minute by minute. Our priority concern is for the victims and those present in the airport.”

Brussels airport said it had cancelled all flights and the complex had been evacuated and trains to the airport had been stopped. Passengers were taken to coaches from the terminal that would remove them to a secure area.

Police did not give any confirmation of the cause of the blast. But there has been a high state of alert across western Europe for fear of militant attacks backed by Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attack.

European stocks fell after the explosions, particularly travel sector stocks including airlines and hotels, pulling the broader indices down from multi-week highs. Safe-haven assets, gold and government bonds rose in price.

French citizen Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect for November's Paris attacks on a stadium, cafes and a concert hall, was captured by Belgian police after a shootout on Friday.

Belgium's Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, said on Monday the country was on high alert for a revenge attack.

“We know that stopping one cell can … push others into action. We are aware of it in this case,” he told public radio.

French investigator Francois Molins told a news conference in Paris on Saturday that Abdeslam, a French citizen born and raised in Brussels, admitted to investigators he had wanted to blow himself up along with others at the Stade de France on the night of the attack claimed by Islamic State; but he later backed out.

Rattled by wartime rockets, Israel plans alternate airport


An airport planned for Israel's southern desert is being billed as a wartime alternative to Tel Aviv, which was briefly shunned by most foreign carriers in July because of Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza.

The targeting of Israel's main Ben Gurion airport was a heavy blow to its tourism industry and to the hi-tech hub's aim of proving itself capable of carrying on business-as-usual even amid conflict.

The new airport, named after Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, is due to open in 2016 as part of an accelerated construction plan.

Israel's Transportation Ministry has said the seven-week Gaza war underlined the importance of Ramon Airport “as an emergency, full-scale alternate airport and the need to complete its establishment as quickly as possible.”

Re-routing planes at short notice is a familiar peacetime process in civil aviation. Yet some experts question whether Israel can manage that seamlessly given that Ben Gurion's normal operating volume of up to 90,000 passengers a day is seven times greater than that anticipated for Ramon airport.

Justin Bronk of London's Royal United Services Institute noted that Ramon's sole runway would be used for takeoff and landing, limiting capacity. Ben Gurion has three runways.

Located 19 km (12 miles) from Eilat, Ramon is meant mainly to replace the Red Sea resort's small municipal airport, where planes are potentially at risk from short-range rockets and missiles fired by militant groups in next-door Egypt.

At about 200 km from Gaza and 370 km from Lebanon, Ramon would also be out of the effective range of almost all of the rockets wielded by the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Ramon will be 3-4 hours' drive from Tel Aviv and the holy city of Jerusalem. Train connections are years from completion.

Allaying travelers' reluctance to land so far from central Israel “might depend on how quickly a credible ground transport infrastructure could be put in place,” said Douglas Barrie of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Ofer Lefler, spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority, said Ramon was designed to deal with surplus flights by having large parking areas from which planes could quickly taxi.

Ramon's tower would be linked up to the two military radar bases that provide Israel's overall air traffic monitoring, he said, and in wartime the airport would be reinforced with staff from Ben Gurion.

During the Gaza war, some Ben Gurion flights were diverted to Ovda, a southern Israeli airbase, but it proved insufficient, officials said.

Israel shuts airport at Egypt border, citing security


Israel took the rare step of shutting its southernmost Eilat airport near Egypt's Sinai peninsula for two hours on Thursday citing security concerns, military officials said.

A military spokeswoman said the airfield in the Red Sea city was shut “due to security assessments”. Two hours later a military official and Israel Radio said it had been reopened.

The reports said Israel's military chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz had made the decision after an assessment, but gave no further details.

The airport in the city wedged between Jordan and Egypt, brings tourists to Israel's Eilat resort and the closure followed heightened concerns about Islamist militant activity in the neighboring Sinai.

Air traffic often has been disrupted at Eilat by desert winds but the air strip has seldom been shut altogether.

Israel said last month that it had boosted its rocket defenses near its southern border to counter possible attacks from militants deeply opposed to the Jewish state.

A rocket fired from Sinai landed in Israel in July and its remnants were found in hills north of Eilat, which abuts Egypt to the west and Jordan to the east.

Violence in the Sinai has surged since the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on July 3, with almost daily assaults against Egyptian forces reported in the desert expanse.

Egypt's army said on Wednesday it had killed 60 militants in Sinai in the month since Mursi's ouster, and that an additional 64 militants were injured in the Sinai campaign between July 5 and August 4.

The militants have killed around 40 people including Egyptian security personnel in this period, Egyptian medical officials said.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Omar Fahmy, Maggie Fick, Shadia Nasralla in Cairo; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Michael Roddy

Explosions, gunfire heard around Kabul International Airport


Insurgents launched a pre-dawn attack on Afghanistan's main international airport in the capital, Kabul, on Monday, police said, with explosions and gunfire heard coming from an area that also houses major foreign military bases.

There were no immediate reports of casualties and there was also no early claim of responsibility for the attack.

Attacks on the heavily guarded airport, used by civilians and the military, are relatively rare and would represent an ambitious target for insurgents, with recent assaults staged against less well-protected targets.

The airport, by comparison, is home to a major operational base for NATO-led forces that have been fighting Taliban and other insurgents for 12 years and is bristling with soldiers and police, guard towers and several lines of security checkpoints.

Police said the attack appeared to be centred on the military side of the airport, to the west of the civilian terminal.

“Gunmen have entered a house under construction in the west of Kabul airport and are fighting with security forces,” Kabul police spokesman Hashmatullah Stanekzai said.

“Their target is Kabul airport and all roads to it are sealed,” he said.

A spokesman for the Afghan Air Force, which is also based at the facility, also said the airport was the target of the attack. There are also a number of logistics bases in the area.

The attack began at about 4.30 a.m. (2400 GMT). Embassies in the diplomatic zone in the centre of Kabul were quickly locked down and emergency alarms were heard ringing loudly from the British embassy.

Reuters witnesses reported hearing explosions at the airport, with reports of rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire. Blasts still being heard an hour after the attack was launched.

Concerns are mounting over how the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces will cope with an intensifying insurgency once most foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The airport attack came soon after assaults on the International Organisation for Migration in Kabul and against the International Committee of the Red Cross in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Four people were killed and three wounded in those attacks.

In April 2011, a rogue Afghan air force officer shot and killed eight U.S. servicemen and a civilian contractor in the worst attack at the airport since the war began.

Additional reporting by Dylan Welch and Omar Sobhani; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Paul Tait

Report: Calls between Lebanon and Burgas increased before attack


Israel has evidence of many telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas in the two months before the bombing that killed six people, The New York Times reported.

The volume of calls intensified in the three days before the attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists, the newspaper reported Thursday, citing an unnamed senior government official, pointing the finger even more directly—in Israel’s eyes—at the terror group Hezbollah.

“We know the sources in Lebanon,” although not the identity of those on the other end in Bulgaria, the official told the Times.

Israel placed the blame for the July 18 attack on both Iran and Hezbollah. The United States and Bulgaria reportedly agree with the assessment, but have not said so officially.

The Bulgarian investigation has “largely stalled,” according to The New York Times. The attacker and his accomplices have not yet been identified. Bulgarian officials are hesitant to declare Hezbollah responsible without hard evidence, according to the newspaper.

An unnamed senior security official in Germany was quoted as saying that the European allies are skeptical that Hezbollah was responsible for the attack, speculating that Iran used “individuals with Hezbollah affiliation.” 

Suicide bomber behind Bulgaria bus attack had help, Bulgarian prime minister says


A suicide bomber who killed five Israeli tourists when he blew up a bus in Bulgaria last week was backed up by an organized group who helped him plan and carry out the attack, Boiko Borisov, the Bulgarian prime minister, said on Tuesday.

Borisov said police had not yet identified the bomber whose attack also wounded more than 30 people at Burgas airport last Wednesday, but said the man had not acted alone.

“These are extremely experienced people who have followed strict conspiracy rules,” Borisov told reporters after meeting John Brennan, a counter-terrorism adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama.

“From what we see, they arrived nearly a month beforehand, changed rental cars, and traveled to different cities … and not more than one of the people we are looking for was captured on either security camera,” Borisov said.

He declined to give more details on the plotters.

Borisov said that the bomber’s DNA and finger prints had not matched anything held on file by Bulgaria or by partner spy agencies and that police were still working to identify him.

But he suggested that the attacker, whose bomb was concealed in his backpack, may have entered Bulgaria on a plane from the European Union’s “Schengen” passport-free travel zone. He did not elaborate.

Israel has accused Iran and the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah of the bombing. Iran has denied the accusations.

Borisov said that Bulgaria – a member of both the EU and NATO – would not say who it thought was responsible for the attack until the investigation was complete.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Andrew Osborn

Israel names five victims of Bulgaria terror attack


The names of the five Israelis killed in a suicide bombing in Bulgaria were released Thursday, after Israeli authorities had confirmed their identification and informed the families.

The names of those killed are Maor Harush, 24, and Elior Price, 25, from Acre; Itzik Kolangi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 28, from Petah Tikva; Kochava Shriki, 42, from Rishon Letzion. The sixth victim was the Bulgarian bus driver, Mustafa Kyosov, 36.

Friends and relatives visiting the families of Harush and Price in Acre said that the two were “friends in their life and in their death.” On Wednesday, the two boarded the flight along with another friend, Daniel Fahima, who was seriously wounded in the attack. The three were planning on taking a six-day vacation and were expected to return to Israel next week on Monday.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Strangers to hate crimes, Bulgarian Jews reeling from Burgas bombing


Until this week, leaders of Bulgaria’s small, generally placid Jewish community said felt untouched by hate crimes or terrorism.

But after Wednesday’s apparent suicide bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Black Sea city of Borgas, Jews in the country are speaking of a basic change in their sense of security.

“We used to convene without a shred of fear in the Jewish community’s buildings,” said Kamen Petrov, vice president of Maccabi Bulgaria. “I guess we had been unprepared. Things will have to change from now on. We thought something like this could not happen in Bulgaria.”

Wednesday’s explosion outside Sarafovo Airport in Burgas killed six Israeli tourists, a Bulgarian bus driver and the suspected suicide bomber. More than 30 Israelis were injured. The Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Israel.

Maxim Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria, said that three years ago the community had drafted emergency plans to respond to potential terror attacks.
“We discussed such scenarios. But we see that it’s one thing to discuss them, and it’s another to see the scenario happening before your eyes,” he told JTA. Bevenisti said security measures will now be tightened. “The situation needs to be improved,” he said.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said Wednesday that at a meeting a month ago, with representatives of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service did not warn Bulgarian officials of the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Bulgaria’s Jewish community had increased its security arrangements in February, following warnings from the local Israeli Embassy, according to Martin Levi, vice chairman of the Jewish community in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Among other measures, security at the entrances to the community building in Sofia and other Jewish institutions were tightened. Bulgarian authorities had been made aware of the warnings, he said.

That came in the wake of the discovery by Bulgarian authorities of a bomb on a charter bus for Israelis that was heading to a Bulgarian ski resort from the Turkish border.

“We took the alerts seriously and upped security, but the Bulgarian authorities were dismissive,” Levi said. “Some argued Bulgaria was immune because it had such excellent relations and cultural attachment to Muslim populations. I am deeply disappointed in how the authorities handled this.”

He learned of the attack while in Hungary, where he is helping instructors run a summer camp for some 260 Jewish children from the Balkans. Next week, a summer camp for Bulgarian Jewish children will open in Bulgaria.

The camp has taken additional precautions as well, he said, without offering details.

“We want to beef up security without causing panic,” Levi said. “We try to tell the children as little as possible about the attack and continue with our program. We don’t want this to become ‘the summer camp of the terrorist attack.’”

The flow of Israeli tourists into Bulgaria picked up in 2009, following the deterioration in Israel’s relation’s with Turkey. Bulgaria’s minister of tourism was quoted as saying that nearly 150,000 Israelis were expected to visit Bulgaria this year. Some 20 percent of standing reservations from Israel have been canceled since the attack.

Tania Reytan, a sociologist at the University of Sofia who is Jewish and promotes interfaith dialogue, said she has limited faith in the effectiveness of additional security measures in the long run.

“The biggest security gap is in the extremist’s mind,” she said. “We need to reach out more to the other communities and explain who we are and what our values are.”

Though Bulgaria has a pro-Israel foreign policy, she said, “Israel is always mentioned in a negative context in Bulgaria.” The terrorists picked Bulgaria, she said, “because they sought for the weakest link in the European Union, and they found it.”

Some observers are worried that the attack could have negative repercussions for the generally positive relations between Bulgarians Jews and Muslims. Approximately 8 percent of Bulgaria’s 7 million people are Muslim, the vast majority of them ethnic Turks.

Bulgaria has an estimated 3,500 to 5,700 Jews.

Relations between Jews and Muslims in Bulgaria have historically been “peaceful and friendly,” said Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria.

On Thursday, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the bomber was believed to have been about 36 years old and had been in the country between four and seven days. “We cannot exclude the possibility that he had logistical support on Bulgarian territory,” the minister said. He declined to elaborate.

Nitzan Nuriel, former head of Israeli Counter-Terrorism Bureau, speculated that the suicide bomber might have been homegrown – either recruited locally or having crossed over from Turkey.

Representatives of Bulgaria’s Muslim community issued strong condemnations of the attack, as did representatives of various other ethnic and religious groups and associations.

“We refuse to believe that the bomber is a Bulgarian Muslim. We don’t believe that any of them could undertake such action,” said Ahmed Ahmedov, spokesman for the chief Bulgarian mufti.

Mufti Mustafa Alsih Hadzhi, in an official statement to the Bulgarian media, denounced Wednesday’s attack as a “barbarian act” and expressed condolences with the families of the victims. Ahmedov said that the attack should not be interpreted as a religious act, but as some kind of “economic provocation” aimed at crippling the local tourist business.
Despite the attack, some Israelis seem undeterred from coming to Bulgaria.

Rabbi Yossi Halperin of Varna – a city situated about 50 miles north of Burgas and where flights to and from Burgas were rerouted after the attack – said he found “a good number of recent arrivals” from Israel when he went to Varna’s airport “to help people through all the confusion.”

Svetlana Guineva reported for this story from Sofia, Bulgaria; Cnaan Liphshiz reported from The Hague, and Dianna Cahn contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia.

Netanyahu on deadly Bulgaria bombing: ‘All signs point to Iran’


A Black Sea coast town in Bulgaria became the scene of carnage when a bus carrying Israeli tourists exploded, killing at least five people and injuring at least 33. Nine people reportedly were missing.

The explosion Wednesday at Sarafovo International Airport in Burgas hit one of three tour buses carrying Israelis, Israel’s Channel 1 reported. Some news reports said a suicide bomber boarded the bus as it was taking the Israeli tourists to the terminal. Others quoted Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov as saying that explosives were in the luggage area of the bus.

A video on Ynet showed black smoke billowing upward. Sirens at the scene could be heard.

The attack, which Israel’s government is blaming on Iran, comes on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead. Israel, Argentina and many other governments blame Iranian agents for that incident; Tehran denies the allegations.

“All signs point to Iran,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “In just the past few months we’ve seen Iran try to target Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Cyprus and more. The murderous Iranian terror continues to target innocent people. This is a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react forcefully to it.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak added, “This is clearly a terrorist attack initiated probably by Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or another group under the terror auspices of either Iran or other radical Islamic groups. We are in a continual fight against them. We are determined to identify who sent them, who perpetrated [the attack], and to settle the account.”

The Lebanese-based Hezbollah, which is armed by Iran, denied responsibility for the attack, according to the website Novinite.com.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said his government “strongly condemns this aggression and terrorism.”

“Such a horrible act committed on the territory of a sovereign country, a member of the EU, is a provocation at the efforts of the democratic society towards world peace,”  Borisov said, according to the FOCUS News Agency. “I guarantee that we will investigate this incident so as to punish the perpetrators with the entire severeness of the law. I am convinced that the Bulgarian and the Israeli nations will get stronger and more united after this tragedy.”

The mayor of the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, home to nearly 5,000 Jews, ordered stepped-up police patrols of areas linked to the Jewish community, according to reports.

Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces Chief, ordered the Home Front Command, the Israel Air Force and the Medical Corps to send a team to Bulgaria Wednesday night to provide medical care and to assist those injured as they return to Israel. The team is led by a senior IDF officer and includes doctors specializing in trauma, orthopedics, intensive care, surgery, burns and pediatrics.

Likewise, the Israel-based ZAKA Rescue and Recovery Organization told JTA that it hired a private jet to fly to Burgas. The plane, which is scheduled to land in Bulgaria at about 11 p.m. local time, is carrying seven volunteers, a doctor and a paramedic, as well as medical equipment and equipment to help identify the Israelis who were killed.

President Obama condemned the “barbaric terrorist attack,” according to The Associated Press. “As Israel has tragically once more been a target of terrorism, the United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.”

Immediately after the explosion, Ben Gurion International Airport was closed, delaying 11 flights. However, the airport reopened between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. to allow the flights to proceed.

Novinite.com reported that Bulgarian authorities foiled a bomb attack in January on a charter bus for Israeli tourists heading from the Turkish border to a Bulgarian ski resort. A bomb was found on the bus.

Up close and personal with the TSA


Recent days have been full of continually unfolding reports about a new intercepted underwear bomb intended to be carried aboard a U.S.-bound plane by an al-Qaida agent. That agent, said to be British, turned out to be working simultaneously with Saudi and U.S. intelligence, and the bomb never got near a plane. But as I prepared last week to board a flight to Alaska, where I would be participating in a conference devoted to the ethical work of Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, I couldn’t help but wonder what role this newly acquired knowledge will play in upcoming discussions about airport security and the effectiveness of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Even though the TSA’s screening program played no part in thwarting this potential terrorist attack, the question of whether the existence of this bomb will help justify continuing the enormous sums of taxpayer money being poured into body-scanning technology has already begun to haunt me.

Over the past decade, something new has come to define the American ethos: fear. It isn’t as if fear had no part of our impulses until this moment, but the heightened fear that the world is a dangerous place has come to characterize the 21st century American mindset. It is a fear upon which we have allowed institutions to prey, so much that, since the events of 9/11, we have stopped asking many questions that still matter.

Jews are taught to question, and I have found that asking the right questions often leads to taking action. I have made a decision not to allow fear to lead my life, and I am committed to questioning any behavior that seems to have its basis in post-9/11 fear mongering. And that is how I came to find myself earlier this year in a face-off with a TSA agent at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In that moment, I became achingly aware of just how critical — and difficult — it can be not only to ask the right questions, but also to do so even when asking those questions causes inconvenience. Still, simply doing what one is told, for me, is more transgressive and more destructive than inconvenience.

I was traveling from Los Angeles to Boston. My companion and I had made a decision not to submit to the virtual strip-searches routinely conducted by body-scanner machines. We had two reasons: First, the images of nude bodies transmitted by the machines are indecent and immodest. Even the newest auto imaging technology software that claims to obscure the image of the nude body only presents the machine operator with an edited version of the image, while the machine captures the entire image, which can then be stored by governmental and private agencies.

Second, while TSA and creators of the machines tout the safety of body-scanner technology, the truth is that there is no long-term data to confirm these claims. Researchers have challenged these findings, claiming that the amount of radiation is higher than suggested because the doses were calculated as if distributed throughout the entire body, whereas the radiation emitted is focused only on the skin and surrounding tissues. (This also means that if a bomb were carried inside the body, these scanners would not detect it.) The verdict on the safety of body-scanning technology has yet to be delivered. Rather than walk through a machine that may cause harm to my body, I prefer to ask questions. When told to walk through the body scanner, I informed the TSA agent that I could not submit to that form of screening, but that I would walk through a metal detector and have all of my items searched. The next step would be the infamous pat-down. I knew of one man who successfully opted out, and so we decided to see if we, too, could opt out of both.

Image from a full body scanner now used in airports

We could not. As soon as we explained that we could submit to neither the pat down nor the body-scan, the TSA shut down the entire line behind us, effectively decreasing the efficiency of their overall screening procedures and doubling the wait time for other travelers. Members of the LAPD arrived to deal with the “issue”: two people standing shoeless, respectfully asking questions.

The TSA Web site states that travelers are entitled to ask questions about the process, but the more questions we asked, the more we felt we were being penalized. It was an absurd situation in which to find ourselves — I a Jewish Studies professor and my companion a nice Jewish comedy director — and my emotions bordered simultaneously on laughter and tears as I realized with horror that we had created a spectacle. We were being used to create a spectacle of fear in what amounts to little more than the TSA security theater. I shuddered as I realized I was flanked by apathy and fear. People all around us continued to thoughtlessly walk through body-scanners and receive pat-downs. Those who were not altogether apathetic watched us with expressions of fear.

A revelation: It was not security that was being peddled, but rather fear and paranoia, all to create for the public an illusion of security. Do what we say, give us your trust, refrain from questioning us, and you will be safe. But are we safe? Are we safer than we were before the implementation of invasive searches?

In January 2012, the TSA published online a list of the top 10 finds for 2011. Some of these “good catches” include snakes, birds and reptiles; a graduate student’s science experiment that contained a device that looked like it could be an explosive device (it was harmless); inert landmines; a ninja book with two throwing knives (the passenger surrendered the book at the checkpoint because he had forgotten that it was in the carry-on bag); small chunks of inert C4 explosives found in the checked bag of a member of our armed forces who was taking them home as souvenirs; a pistol strapped to the ankle of a 76-year-old man; a flare gun along with seven flares; a stun gun disguised as a smartphone; and a non-metallic martial arts device called a “tactical spike” found in a passenger’s sock.

If it sounds like a list created by The Onion, it was not. This was published by the TSA in support of the strength of its security screening procedures. So let’s break this list down. With the exception of the “tactical spike,” not one of these “top finds” was discovered by a body-scanning device. The pistol would have been easily detected by a metal detector. Further, it is not illegal to travel with firearms, as long as they are declared and not carried on the plane. Typically, passengers carrying undeclared firearms were not arrested, but rather fined. That is, such passengers are suspected not of having terrorist impulses, but of forgetfulness or unintelligent decisions. In the words of the TSA: “Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions, that’s for the law enforcement officer to decide. In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items in their bag.”

Now, the landmines: They were, well, inert. They were harmless, as were the small chunks of C4 explosives found in the checked bag of a member of our military. Without a detonator — and it is virtually impossible to carry a functioning detonator through a metal detector — there is nothing that could have been accomplished with the chunks of C4. As for the ninja book with the throwing knives, which the passenger himself surrendered after realizing that it was not in his checked bag, I’m not sure it should be on the list. And while I do not prefer to fly on an airplane with reptilian and avian stowaways, I’m also not sure that doing so would put me in the line of terrorist fire. The intense TSA security screening procedures have been implemented to protect us from the threat of terrorism, not to discover illegal but non-threatening items. I remain unimpressed with the effectiveness of the body-scanning devices and pat-downs. Apparently the experts are equally unimpressed. Rafi Sela, an Israeli airport security expert who helped design security at Ben Gurion International Airport, has said: “I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. … That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport.”

One brash commenter on the TSA Web site suggests that he would rather the TSA prevent passengers with antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis from flying than confiscate birds, science experiments, unloaded guns, toothpaste and cupcakes. As always, the threat here remains unclear. Given the recent debacles over confiscated toiletries and baked goods, it seems that the greatest fear is that passengers will clean their teeth or develop Type 2 diabetes. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the threat was terrorism. As a result, we allowed many of our rights to be violated in the name of justice and in the hope of preventing another terrorist attack. But what has materialized is the realization that the cost of these procedures to our dignity — not to mention the monetary cost, hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase the machines and maintain them each year — is not worth the mountains of confiscated items.

We all want to fly on safe airplanes. The fallacy is that this must be accomplished by violating our privacy.

In my case, we had to make a decision: insist on ethics and dignity and miss our flight; or accept the pat-down, board our flight, and reclaim our dignity on another day. I opted to fly and found myself standing before a line of 12 to 15 men and one female terminal manager. A female TSA agent began to explain the procedure. I asked her if she would be touching my genitals, and she confirmed that she would be touching my “labia.” I was told to raise my arms, and standing in front of multiple men, my long blouse (which I had worn over black footless tights) was pulled up, exposing my entire bare midriff as well as the bottom portion of my bra. I forced myself to look into the faces of all the men who stood there, bearing witness to my humiliation. I continued to look, as the TSA agent pulled my tights away from my body and ran her fingers around my bare waistline.

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The TSA Web site states: “You should neither be asked to nor agree to lift, remove, or raise any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive area of the body,” and, “Bare or exposed skin should not be touched by the security officer.” Both of these regulations were violated in full view of those in charge. Surely, I thought, this must be an anomaly. Driving home to Pico-Robertson from LAX later that week, I experienced a clash of emotions: anger, sadness, shame, humiliation, regret, fear. I was confused. I had a deep sense of having insisted on the “right” thing, but it had gone unrewarded. I felt punished. I asked myself: What, as both a Jew and a human being, is my responsibility? The simple but complex answer is that I am simply responsible. And as I accepted that responsibility, I became a repository for stories more distressing than my own.

A colleague, his wife and their 7-month-old daughter, Hazel, were flying from Charlotte, N.C., to Providence, R.I., for Thanksgiving in 2010. My friend and his wife discussed refusing the scanner, but considering the difficulty of making a 14-hour car ride with a baby, his wife insisted that they “comply.” Out of respect for his wife’s desire to get home for her first Thanksgiving with her new baby, my friend agreed to undergo whatever invasion of privacy the TSA insisted on. He went through the metal detector after disassembling his daughter’s stroller. While he reassembled it on the other side, the agents asked his wife to remove their daughter’s pink cardigan sweater-vest. The mother complied, and the agent felt Hazel’s little torso, presumably for an explosive device.

When asked how he felt about the pat-down of his baby girl, my friend responded: “I don’t know. I’m still telling the story, which probably gives some indication of how I feel. It’s an unnamed feeling, and I have nothing to compare it to — something having to do with violation of what makes me, and all of us, human. I would prefer to put my daughter on a hundred flights that involved no security check at all to even dreaming about a stranger patting her down for explosives again.”

The next time the family flew, they passed through the metal detectors unmolested. But my colleague will never forget watching the family in front of them: “I watched the passive father, who was watching his 14-year-old daughter with her arms extended and her feet shoulders width apart while a TSA agent, a woman, with disposable plastic gloves felt around the young girl’s waistband. Needless to say, I wish I hadn’t seen it, and I’m glad I didn’t make eye contact with that father.”

It occurs to me that it is one thing to allow one’s own dignity to be violated. It is quite another to watch that dignity being stripped from our children. My friend cannot stop saying to himself: It’s not just another policy. He continues: “I disagree with 90 percent of what the American government turns into law, but I always felt myself emotionally tied to my country — that was never a question for me. Until the thing with Hazel. Now I’m indifferent. I’m a husband, a father, a pseudo-Buddhist-Gnostic-Christian — but the America that my grandpas fought for in World War II — that’s a thing of the past, to me. I’m over it. When the revolutionaries come looking for support, they can count me in.”

I recently taught a class on post-9/11 fiction at Loyola Marymount University, and I took the opportunity to initiate a dialogue about terrorism, security, fear, human rights and ethical responsibility. I recounted my own experience as a starting point. One student, an Orthodox Jewish woman from the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, explained that, because of her modest clothing, each time she flies, she and her children must go through the body-scanner as well as receive pat-downs. She was told once that her skirt was not tight enough. As I listened to her story of being penalized for modesty, my distress was reignited. I realized that with regard to the level of indecency of which the TSA is capable, I had only touched the surface.

Ouriel and Gabrielle Hassan (a Canadian citizen with a green card) are Orthodox Jews living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Ouriel’s family is from Egypt. Years ago, Ouriel’s grandfather changed the family’s name from “Hazan” to “Hassan” in an effort to avoid persecution in Egypt. In 2002, Ouriel arrived at LAX on a flight from New York. To his surprise, he was met by two machine-gun-toting soldiers who instructed Ouriel to accompany them. Once in a private room, Ouriel was strip-searched and held for three hours. The items he carried — clothing, Hebrew books, tefillin — were searched meticulously, and he was asked to open his tefillin, which would have destroyed them. When he explained that to the officers, they retracted the order, and, finding no reason to detain him, they released Ouriel with neither apologies nor explanation. He is subjected to scrutiny each time he travels.

Last year before Pesach, he and his wife and their 3-year-old son traveled from Los Angeles to Vancouver. As Ouriel prepared to enter the body-scanner, TSA agents approached Gabrielle and told her that her son, Eliyahu Yosef Hassan, would need to undergo additional screening procedures. She was told to point out Eliyahu’s bags and personal items; being only 3 years old, however, he had no personal items. Eliyahu was then taken from his mother and brought to a special screening area where a large woman roughly “patted” him down, grasping at his genitals and demonstrating indifference to his fearful and hysterical sobs. Gabrielle was prohibited from holding her son’s little hand. Despite TSA regulations that do not permit children to be separated from parents, she was forbidden from standing near him because he might “pass” something to her.

The TSA claimed that “Eliyahu Yosef Hassan” was on a no-fly list. It turns out that the name of the person on the no-fly list is “Yusef Hasan.” Yet little Eliyahu has experienced the traumatizing security screening two additional times. Although the TSA allows people with names similar to those on no-fly lists to apply for special numbers that will alert agents to these similarities and simplify screening processes, Eliyahu is not eligible for this number because he is under 16 years old. Instead, they must be prepared to submit their son to this humiliation. Additionally, TSA agents have withheld from Gabrielle the offer of a private screening room and patted her down in public by putting their hands underneath her skirt and against her legs, as well as lifting her clothing and running their hands underneath the underwire of her bra. Women, particularly those who dress modestly for religious reasons, are being publically humiliated, and their fathers, husbands and brothers must often deal with guilt stemming from their inability to protect their loved ones from degradation.

These are not the experiences of all travelers. But it is difficult to justify even one small child being violated by procedures implemented on the basis of their capacity to protect us from acts of terrorism. Children are being touched in a way that would be illegal anywhere outside of the gray zone of the TSA screening area. In a society that has, given the countless sexual abuse scandals involving priests, coaches and others in positions of authority, we are obsessed with protecting our children from physical and sexual abuse. Yet we give random people in TSA uniforms the authority to touch our children in any way they see fit — all in the name of safer skies. The past years have shown us that people in positions of power often violate children. But our fear of terrorism has become greater than our fear of child abuse, and we have offered up the dignity of our children in exchange for the illusion that we are safer because of it.

Some suggest that if one finds pat-downs to be inappropriate, he or she should not resist the technology that is designed to detect the materials sought through pat-downs. But a number of experts in the field remind us that these machines make mistakes. Agents testing the system have successfully passed through body-scanners with weapons. And they have warned of the possibility of overdose. One glitch could cause a body-scanner to emit an overdose of radiation. But just how common are errors? Apparently the TSA screeners at LAX have grown accustomed to them.

Jaime Eliezer Karas recently declined the body-scan at LAX, chose the pat-down, and watched the agent insert the piece of fabric into the machine that detects traces of explosive material. According to Karas: “We stood there in silence, both knowing everything was almost over. Suddenly, the machine displayed a message: ‘EXPLOSIVES DETECTED.’  The TSA agent did not flinch. As if in a previously choreographed sequence, he glided over to the next machine and was replaced by another agent.” Karas decided to inquire about what was wrong, and the second TSA employee replied that the cloth came up as having detected explosives, and that he was scanning it again at the next machine. The agent — who works for the same organization that terrorizes little Eliyahu Hassan every time he flies — was unconcerned by this information. The second machine did not think that Karas was carrying explosives, and he was given clearance to proceed toward the gates. Indeed, Karas carried no explosives. But the point is the inability of the technology to accurately assess the situation 100 percent of the time.

Many of us have forgotten how to be mindful. Are the deep costs to human dignity worth the ambiguous outcomes — piles of confiscated toothpaste and cupcakes amid optimistic claims that we are now safer? I continue to ask myself what, exactly, is my responsibility? How can I contribute to making a positive and meaningful change?

Much like the inconsistency in how TSA regulations are carried out, the attitudes of TSA members vary. Some TSA agents are snide and aggressive.  One woman, who recently conducted my pat-down in Seattle, was different. As she asked me if I had ever experienced the procedure, the look on my face told her I had. I opened my mouth to speak, but I had no words and I knew somehow that my face was telling the stories I could not speak in that moment. She looked at me intently, lowered her gaze and said, “I know. I’m sorry. It’s awful. You shouldn’t have to …  “ Her voice trailed off and she looked back up at me, as if asking for a pardon for what she was about to do.

Perhaps I was more of a revolutionary in this moment, when I smiled and said, “Thank you. Thank you for saying that.” There was something in her acknowledgment of her complicity in something indecent and undeserved that moved me. Her acknowledgment of how we were both, in that moment, being shamed as women, as citizens, and as human beings was an opening: an unspoken dialogue.

Responsibility begins with awareness and, one day, hopefully, ends with action.

The TSA claims that “since imaging technology has been deployed at airports, more than 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by this technology over alternative screening procedures.” Perhaps we should think carefully about why people “choose” radiation over public humiliation — or perhaps there’s not much to think about there.

Monica Osborne is a professor of Jewish literature and culture and has written for The New Republic, Tikkun, Jewcy.com and other publications.

U.S.-bound plane makes emergency landing at Ben Gurion


A plane bound for the United States made an emergency landing at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport after smoke was detected in the rear of the plane.

The Continental Airlines Boeing 777 had taken off from Ben Gurion at noon, but it returned a half-hour later after pilots told air traffic control that there was smoke in the plane’s rear kitchen.

Some 280 passengers were on the flight bound for Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

Forty-five ambulances met the airplane on the runway but were not needed.

The flight returned to the air about three hours following a thorough inspection, according to The Aviation Herald. The smoke is believed to have come from an oven in the aft galley. It was originally reported that the smoke was coming from the baggage compartment.

New airport for southern Israel


Israel will build a $500 million airport to serve as the new main airport in its south.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet approved a plan Sunday for the airport in Timna Park to replace the one in Eilat, 18 miles north of Eilat, currently the site of the main southern airport.

The Timna Park airport, which will take approximately three years to construct, will be named for the late Ilan and Asaf Ramon and will replace the airport currently operating out of the center of the southern Israel resort.

Netanyahu said the relocation would free up valuable Eilat land for development and spare residents the noise and pollution of air traffic.

“This is part of the steps we are taking to change Eilat and the Negev, which will include laying a railway to Eilat and broadening the Arava road, and we are looking into the possibility of relocating Eilat port,” he said, according to a Cabinet statement.

Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, was one of seven crew members killed in the space shuttle Columbia’s accident in February 2003. His son Asaf, a captain in the Israeli Air Force, was killed during a training flight in September 2009.

Bin Laden's killing raises immediate questions of security


For years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many Americans waited in fear for the next strike by al-Qaida on U.S. soil. But the ensuing decade has seen no more major terrorist attacks in the United States.

Now, with the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces, the question many American Jews are considering is whether the liquidation of al-Qaida’s leader makes a follow-up attack more or less likely, and whether Jews could be a target.

“More likely,” said Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, the American Jewish community’s security organ known by the acronym SCAN.

“We know of no imminent threat as of today as a direct result of the death of bin Laden,” Goldenberg told JTA on Monday morning, when much of the world woke up to the news of bin Laden’s death. “However, the community should remain extremely vigilant because there are lone wolves, and other terrorist groups have used incidents like this to launch revenge attacks.”

Last October, a pair of mail bombs from Yemen were sent to Chicago synagogues but were intercepted by law enforcement officials before they reached their targets. A year ago, on May 1, 2010, a Pakistani-born man tried and failed to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square. Neither event was linked to a specific American action, but both resulted in raised states of alert at many Jewish institutions. Security experts have credited better U.S. intelligence and law enforcement in preventing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil after 9/11.

In Israel’s experience, assassinations of senior terrorist figures have been followed up months or even years later by revenge attacks. Hamas and Hezbollah often have ascribed their terrorist attacks on Israel to Israeli military actions.

But some security experts are warning against interpreting terrorist attacks as acts of revenge, saying it fuels the mistaken notion that somehow the actions of the West are to blame for terrorism.

“When you focus on this sort of causality, we accept the terrorists’ framing,” Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, told The Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg a year ago.

“They see themselves as reluctant fighters, always retaliating, never initiating,” Hoffman said. “The media can make it look as if the terror groups are simply defending themselves from some provocation. The question is one of original provocation.”

More concerning now, say security experts, is the possibility that a lone wolf will be motivated by bin Laden’s killing to attack a U.S. target. While intelligence and law enforcement officials are adept at tracking terrorist activity and planning—just last week, German officials arrested three suspected al-Qaida members for planning an imminent terrorist attack—it’s much harder to stop a lone person acting spontaneously or with little coordination.

“The concern is that a lone wolf that sits in front of his or her television screen sees this, becomes furious at what occurred and with no real planning, on their own or in a small group, will make an effort to go out and execute an attack,” Goldenberg said. “Those in law enforcement have a very tough time keeping track of the lone wolf.”

That’s the scenario that took place in March 1994, when a Lebanese cab driver in New York, incensed at the massacre of 29 Arabs in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on a van full of Chasidic youths on the Brooklyn Bridge, killing 16-year-old Ari Halberstam.

When it comes to al-Qaida, the question is whether removing the movement’s leader will deal al-Qaida a critical blow or whether the movement is diffuse enough to thrive even without bin Laden’s leadership.

“What is this great victory? What is the great thing that they achieved?” a Sunni Muslim preacher in Lebanon, Bilal al-Baroudi, was quoted in The New York Times as saying. “Bin Laden is not the end, and the door remains shut between us and the United States. We dislike the reactions and the celebrations in the United States.”

The response to bin Laden’s death elsewhere in the Muslim world has been mixed. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh condemned the killing, calling bin Laden a Muslim and Arab warrior and saying that “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”

A Palestinian Authority spokesman, however, said bin Laden’s demise was “good for the cause of peace.”

Israel and Jewish groups concurred, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailing it as a triumph in the fight against terrorists.

“The State of Israel joins the American people on this historic day in celebrating the elimination of Osama bin Laden,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This is a resounding victory for justice, freedom and the common values of all democracies that are resolutely fighting shoulder to shoulder against terrorism.”

31 dead, 130 hurt in suicide bomb at Moscow’s busiest airport


At least 31 people were killed and 130 wounded Monday in a suicide blast at Domodedovo airport in Moscow, Russian Health Ministry officials said.

Smoke wafted out of the baggage claim area and people were seen running out of the emergency exits at Russia’s busiest airport, local media reported.

Russian officials branded the bombing a terrorist attack and President Dmitry Medvedev vowed Monday that those behind the explosion would be “tracked down and punished.”

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Bombing at Moscow airport seen as terrorism [VIDEO]


A bombing at the busiest airport in Moscow that killed at least 31 and injured 130 is being called a terrorist attack by Russian officials.

“From the preliminary information we have, it was a terror attack,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said of Monday’s attack on the Domodedovo Airport in a televised briefing.

Medvedev also said that those responsible for the attack would be “tracked down and punished.”

All Moscow transportation services went on high alert following the attack. Israel canceled all flights to Moscow.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was not sure whether any of the victims were Israeli.

In March 2010, two female Chechen suicide bombers blew themselves up in the metro system, killing 40. In 2004, two suicide bombers boarded separate planes at the same airport and blew themselves up in midair, killing all 90 people aboard the two flights.

Report from Beijing: Security, it’s not just for airports anymore


BEIJING (JTA)—Security checks no longer just for airports in Beijing

Olympic security is no easy task. It’s not just about the sports venues — attention must be paid to the entire city’s infrastructure, hot spots and transportation systems.

One of the transitions that I think Beijing residents have done with few complaints is adjust to bag x-ray security checks at the entrance of every subway station. This measure was added at the end of June as part of a three-month campaign to secure the city for the Olympics and Paralympics, yet even now, there are still a few stray stations where a guard manually looks in your bag for lack of a scanning machine.

Want to ride the subway? Let’s see what you’re packing.

This is the kind of treatment one might be used to in Israel, but not in freewheeling China.

When I ate at Dini’s kosher restaurant two nights before the Opening Ceremony, I was greeted by a 20-year-old Chinese guard in a reflective security vest with the Hebrew word “Bitachon” (security) on the front and a scanner wand in hand. My Israeli security check flashbacks returned — although I never spoke in Mandarin to the guys who checked my bag at the entrance to Jerusalem bars.

I don’t think China has quite reached the “chefetz chashud,” or suspicious object, level of alertness that one might find in Israel (and lately in the United States as well), where seeing an abandoned bag or anything out of the ordinary would merit a call to the authorities.

Maybe they are more vigilant out in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where Muslim separatist sentiment is strong and there have been both thwarted and actualized attacks in recent months. This story shows how the Chinese decided to rely on a low-tech approach to sounding the alarm – with a whistle.

All jokes about whistles aside, many Chinese people I have talked to in Beijing have insisted how Chinese terrorists, usually referring to Xinjiang or sometimes Tibetans, are “really fierce.” I wonder whether this is based on fear-mongering by the domestic media or not. On the one hand, 16 officers were killed and another 16 were injured in the western capital Kashgar this week when two men rammed a dump truck and hurled explosives at a group of jogging policemen. But of course, this kind of incident is used to crack down on individual freedoms and the rights of the press, who are not being afforded all the openness that was promised for the duration of the Olympics as evidenced by the recent beating of two Japanese journalists suffered while covering the most recent Xinjiang incident

The Israeli Embassy will have an event on Monday, Aug. 18 to commemorate the most fatal breach of Olympic security, the 1972 Munich Games where 11 Israeli athletes were killed after a terrorist infiltration of their Olympic Village accommodations. This tragedy was commemorated even earlier this year in Beijing, at the Chabad Purim party, which was Olympics-themed but included several placards and handouts about the athletes who died in ‘72.

With such a sobering legacy of Israeli Olympic participation, you would think that security would be more intense for the Jewish state’s athletes as compared to other delegations in the village. Yet Ephraim Zinger, the secretary-general of the Israeli Olympic Committee and chief of misson, says the Israelis are on the list of countries with the most sensitive security issues, but “we aren’t the only ones, and we aren’t at the top of the list either.”

Final aliyah flight leaves Ethiopia for Israel, U.S. revokes Fulbright winners’ visas


Last Ethiopian Airlift Heads to Israel

The last official airlift of Ethiopian Jews was scheduled to land in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, bringing to an end a state-organized campaign that began nearly 30 years ago and brought in some 120,000 immigrants from the east African nation.

The Jewish Agency for Israel said its emissary to Addis Ababa had been recalled, though Jerusalem officials could still be sent out to help an estimated 1,400 Ethiopian crypto-Jews, apply to immigrate as part of efforts to reunite them with relatives already in Israel.

“But we will no longer be seeing anything on the scale of Operation Moses or Operation Solomon,” Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski told Israel Radio, alluding to major missions to bring in Ethiopians by air and sea in the 1980s.

He called on the government to reinvest its energies in helping the Ethiopian community in Israel, many of whose members live in poverty and complain of inadequate social integration.

U.S. Revokes Visas for Palestinian Fulbrights

The United States revoked the entry visas of three Palestinian students who won Fulbright scholarships.

The State Department announced Monday that the three Gazans would not be admitted to the United States after “new information” was received about them. U.S. officials declined to give further details.

In June, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came out in support of the three Fulbright scholars after Israel, citing security concerns, refused to give them permits to leave the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Four other Palestinians who won Fulbrights were allowed to leave Gaza.

Israel ‘Knows’ Where Shalit Held

Israel knows where Gilad Shalit is being held captive, the Israeli armed forces chief said.

“We know who is holding Shalit, and where,” Israel Radio quoted Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi as saying Monday in an address to new military draftees.

The remarks stirred speculation that Israel could be preparing an operation to rescue Shalit, a tank crewman who was abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas-led gunmen in June 2006 and has been kept mostly incommunicado since.

But Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter told the radio station that there has been no change in Israel’s intelligence gathering on Shalit or policy of holding Egyptian-brokered negotiations on his return.

Hamas has demanded that Israel free hundreds of jailed Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Shalit, but Jerusalem has balked at the asymmetry of the proposed swap. Israel Radio quoted Ashkenazi as saying that retrieving Shalit is crucial so that all those serving the Jewish state know they will not be abandoned on the battlefield.

Israeli Family Leaves Girl, 3, at Airport

A 3-year-old girl was found wandering at Ben-Gurion International Airport after the rest of her family boarded a plane to Paris.

Police accompanied the girl to the boarding gate but the plane already had taken off with her parents and four siblings aboard. The girl was flown to Paris later Sunday, and her family met her at the airport.

Police will question the parents upon their return to Israel.

Last week, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that an 8-year-old boy traveling alone was flown by El Al Israel Airlines from Ben-Gurion Airport to Brussels instead of to his destination in Munich.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Tourists Pass on Israeli Passover


It’s known as the holiday of freedom, but Passover this year in Israel will likely be remembered for its sense of restriction.

With a worldwide recession in progress and would-be tourists still wary of airline travel because of possible terrorist attacks, there will be far fewer tourists eating matzah in Israel this spring.

While some hotels are booked for the Passover holiday, others are expecting the worst during what is usually a peak season for the Israeli tourist industry.

“I think Americans aren’t coming, and money doesn’t seem to be the issue,” said Zvi Lapian at Platinum Travel. “To me, it’s very sad.

This is Lapian’s fifth year arranging Passover week vacations at the glatt kosher Caesar Premier Resort hotel in the Dead Sea, and he only has about 172 rooms booked at $999 per person.

Most of the guests will be Israeli, but about 20 percent off the visitors will come from England.

A general manager at one of the higher-end hotels in Tel Aviv said he expected a much tougher season than in previous years. With Tel Aviv tourism geared toward incoming traffic from abroad, all issues of marketing depend on outside factors.

“This is a period when we’re trying to understand what’s happening,” he said. “It’s hard to know with all the turmoil. People have to be calm to make reservations and that depends on the political situation.”

For Israelis, Passover is usually a time for family travel, particularly those who are not observant and don’t mind missing the family seder. With the kids off from school for two weeks and most companies offering half days during the holiday’s four intermediate days, it’s the perfect time to take a trip.

But these Israelis aren’t heading back to Egypt, nor are they planning on exploring the land of milk and honey. Clearly, Israelis aren’t interested in swimming in the Red Sea like their ancestors.

Instead, they’ll be driving to Ben-Gurion International Airport and taking off for foreign locales. New York, London, Paris, Holland and China are all popular Passover destinations, according to El Al, Israel’s national airline.

From mid-March until mid-April, El Al will have 72 flights to 16 destinations. There are three additional flights each week to New York, four more to London, three to Milan and two to Amsterdam.

“They want to go places where the weather is springlike, where they can forget their troubles,” said an El Al spokesperson. “They want a great vacation.”

According to ISSTA, a large Israeli travel agency that caters to the student segment, around 250,000 Israelis will leave Israel for Passover. Around 60 percent of the outgoing traffic will be after the single seder night — some traditions can’t be broken, after all — and others will go away for the entire holiday.

The average cost of a trip? Around $800 per person, depending on the destination. Mediterranean trips to Turkey and Greece are the cheapest, followed by Europe, with the United States costing the most per person.

For Israelis who like staying closer to home, whether for financial reasons or religious, few are making elaborate plans for the holiday’s intermediate days.

Unlike previous years, when Israelis went to relax in the Sinai Desert or explore the Petra caves in Jordan during Passover, no one is visiting Israel’s neighbors this year. There may be peace with Egypt, the nation that figures so prominently in the Passover narrative, but it’s not quiet enough on the border to venture a boat ride on the Nile.

“Pesach used to be a very popular time to go into Sinai,” said a spokesman for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which organizes local hiking trips. “But we’re not doing that right now, because no one wants to go.”

Instead, the society, like other local tour companies, is focusing on tourism inside Israel.

All the tours down south to Ein Gedi, the Ramon Crater, as well as up north to the upper Galilee and Golan, are almost fully booked. With the average cost of $15 to $30 for an adult and $12 to $25 for a child, depending on the length of the trip, it’s a bargain, and that’s good news for many Israelis right now.

Down at the Dead Sea, the 22 mineral-rich waters still attract tourists, mainly Israelis, because it is far from any security threat, and Israelis can still drive there safely.

Safe roads and distance from possible trouble spots are taken very seriously these days. No one wants to run into trouble, and that has made resort areas like the Dead Sea and Eilat still popular for Israelis.

“Freedom of movement is an important factor,” Lapian said. “People feel a bit safer at the Dead Sea, but they won’t drive on certain roads to get here even though there haven’t been any problems.”

In fact, the Hyatt hotel at the Dead Sea is fully booked for Passover, with 50 percent of the guests from Europe and the rest from Israel. Many are family units that book 20 to 40 rooms and stay for the entire week.

“I think this particular segment isn’t sensitive to the situation because they figure they have to celebrate Pesach anyway,” Hyatt Manager Arie Aizenshtat said. “And for them, celebrating in Israel is the most important thing. There’s a logic to it.”

In Jerusalem reservations are being made, albeit slowly, at the capital city’s top hotels.

“If someone could tell me what’s going to happen with peace, I could tell you what’s going to happen with my bookings,” said Norman Rafelson, the general manager of the David Citadel Hotel, formerly the Hilton, in Jerusalem.

By mid-February, the five-star hotel had more than 100 bookings for 10-night stays during Passover, which put the hotel at 50 percent of its hoped-for 80 percent occupancy rate.

“I think we’re prepared for a little bit less this Pesach,” Rafelson said. “I thought bookings would have picked up earlier, but everyone’s waiting for the last minute.”

For now, Israelis will be celebrating the holiday of freedom, of spring and of matzahs in destinations far and wide. And next year? Maybe in Jerusalem.

Israelis Identify With U.S.


The contrast between the Palestinian and Israeli reaction couldn’t have been more stark — while crowds of Palestinians were celebrating in the streets of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, Israel was observing an official national day of mourning, with flags flying at half-mast, and blood banks and solidarity Web sites opening up.

Ben-Gurion Airport was all but silent –incoming foreign flights had been canceled. Land entry points from Egypt and Jordan were also closed. The country wasn’t exactly on a war footing, but it was close. There was heavy tension in the air; the radio played sad but soothing songs, just as after a major terror attack. Israelis knew they were in the same boat as Americans, that they were "Little Satan" to America’s "Great Satan" in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and his devotees.

Israel looks to America as its protector, its only dependable ally in the world, and culturally and economically, is everything it wants to be. At the same time, though, Israelis see the United States as naive in the face of Islamic fundamentalism, and timid in its even-handed criticisms of both the Israeli and Palestinian sides in the now nearly yearlong intifada.

In the wake of the assaults in New York and Washington, Israelis’ hearts were with America, but the word going forth from Zion was: "We told you so." A professor in Jerusalem, an erstwhile peacenik, said sarcastically, "After America bombs the sh — out of somebody, Israel should put out a statement calling for ‘both sides to show restraint, to end the cycle of violence.’"

Israel’s version of the Pentagon and World Trade Center stand two blocks from each other on Tel Aviv’s downtown Kaplan Street — the Defense Ministry’s "Kiriyah" compound, and the Azrieli Center glass-and-concrete twin towers, at 46 and 49 stories, the tallest buildings in Israel. Security guards were checking the trunks of cars coming into the parking lot, but this is standard procedure during the last year at shopping malls across the country.

In the lobby of the Azrieli Center, Miri Nachmias, 48, an accountant, said that only a week ago she discussed with her family a topic that many Israelis have been talking about during this year of terror: the option of leaving the country. "We were saying how maybe we should move to the States or to Canada, because it’s safer there than here." But she’s finished with such talk now. "This goes to show that terror can follow you anywhere." Shopping in the tallest skyscraper in Israel the day after the U.S. attacks didn’t scare her, Nachmias said. "I feel safe inside here. The security and intelligence are better than in New York."

In all, though, she feels "absolutely horrible."

"With us, a bus blows up, and 14 people are killed, and we think it’s a catastrophe, but this? Nothing like this has ever happened to us."

The undercurrent of exasperation with America for being too lax about the Islamic threat was expressed in extreme terms by Environment Minister Tsahi Hanegbi, a longtime hawk. "We are not alone," he intoned on Israel Television, saying it was an "illusion" to think America would match harsh words with harsh deeds against Islamic terrorism. "America is a fat, slumbering giant," Hanegbi said. "America is not the same country it was after Pearl Harbor."

Otniel Schneller, a veteran West Bank settler leader, noted that there are thousands of Americans, including many New Yorkers, living in the settlements, so the level of identification with the American victims is high. With so many Americans in the settlements, "We don’t think of America as just another country," he said. After the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., Americans would realize that "terrorism is, first of all, a human issue, and only secondly a political one." He added: "I was happy — yes, happy — to see that the pictures of Palestinians waving flags and clapping their hands in Ramallah and Nablus were broadcast around the world. There could be no better public relations work for Israel than this."

For Israelis, the bombings globalized the intifada. On one hand, they feared that they might be subject to wider attacks, that they might be drawn into a broader, bloodier conflict, but on the other hand, they felt they were sitting at the right hand of America and the West, that they were sailing close behind the flagship of democracy; and that the world finally understood what Israel was up against, which gave this Western-oriented outpost in the Middle East a feeling of enhanced security.

At the entrance to the Kiriyah compound, a desk sergeant carrying a bottle of orange soda back to the office said the U.S. attacks were "the only thing anybody’s talking about. There’s a lot of tension inside. People don’t know if this is World War III or what." Asked what he thought would happen, the sergeant replied, "If it’s Arabs who did this, then there’s going to be a war." And who would win? "America and Israel," he said, smiling. "We’re partners."