September 24, 2018

Texas High School Curriculum Blames Arab World for Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Photo from PxHere.

The Texas State Board of Education voted on several changes on Friday to the high school curriculum in the state, including teaching students that the Arab world is to blame for the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Dallas Morning News reports that “Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” has be re-inserted into the Texas high school curriculum; students will have to explain why the “Arab rejection of the State of Israel” is to blame for the current Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Additionally, Texas high school students will be taught that Moses was an influential figure on the American founding, as were Judeo-Christian principles.

Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller were among the notable figures who were taken out of Texas curriculum.

The vote is preliminary; a final vote will be held in November.

The Jerusalem Post notes that Texas “leads the textbook industry in approving content, curriculum standards and supplemental materials for public schools.”

According to Jewish Virtual Library, the Arabs rejected the Peel Commission’s 1937 proposal to establish a Jewish state and an Arab state and rejected the United Nations partition plan to establish two states. In 2014, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians “will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel.”

Episode 78 – Why Isn’t the Arab World Interested in Peace?

Photo by Iliya Yefimovich

“You promised a dove.” Those words were written by the Israeli poet, Shmuel Hasfari, in his song “Winter ‘73”. Some interpreted them as a sort of eulogy to peace. A peace which was promised to a generation of Israelis who only found themselves disappointed time after time at the ever eluding prospect of peace with the Arab world.

The song was written around the same time as the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the PLO – a time of great hope for this generation – the kids of ‘73. But soon they were devastated once again. With the outbreak of the second intifada, many gave up hope for the prospect of peace. Some pointed their fingers at the Israeli leadership who failed them. Some blamed the settlement movement and others pinned the failure to attain peace on the Palestinian’s lack of determination.

Dr. Einat Wilf, a former Member of Knesset, grew up as a member of the Labor Party and was an ardent advocate of the two state solution. She believed that if only Israel and its leaders would propose the right deal, at the right time, we would have peace. We would have that allusive and elusive “dove”.

The kids of ‘73 had a childhood full of hope and aspirations. They grew up to peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and the Oslo Accords. However, the failure of those Accords, the atrocities of the second intifada, and stalemates upon stalemates in the peace process caused many in that generation to abandon hope.

Dr. Wilf join us today to talk about how her experiences both in and out of politics shaped her perspective on the peace process.

Einat Wilf on Twitter and her official website 

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City of Peace

Photo from Pixabay.

“This sacred city,” declared President Donald Trump last week, “should call forth the best in humanity.”

It was somewhat of a Nixon-in-China moment, as Trump is not exactly known as a beacon of moral clarity. And yet it was very much a moment of essential truth. Not just that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, but that Jerusalem — Israel — can arouse the best within us.

In the days that followed, despite fervent calls for mass hysteria, mass hysteria did not ensue. Could some Arabs and Muslims actually have been inspired by Trump’s words, which were notably translated into Arabic on the White House’s website? Are they finally beginning to see that they’ve been exploited by their leaders for nearly a century?

The fact is, no one is born with hate in their soul.

Perhaps this moment of truth will ignite a new beginning for the Arab world — a time to move beyond hate, to get their own houses in order, to begin creating magnificence again.

As we know in our own politics, the loudest voices don’t necessarily represent the majority, and the extremes are rarely sane. My three closest Muslim friends — two Egyptian, one American — are more than ready to get beyond this achingly difficult place. They scoff at the left’s bigotry of low expectations: They don’t want to be seen as victims or conquerors.

In stark contrast to the fanatical statements from Turkish, Iranian and Palestinian leaders, Muslim reformer Zuhdi Jasser had this to say about Jerusalem: “The path to peace will always be through treating Arabs and Muslims as adults, without appeasing the militant Islamist hectoring veto.”

On a micro level, I have been watching this play out on the Facebook page of my book and exhibition “Passage to Israel.” Nearly one-third and sometimes one-half of the “likes” on the photos I post are from people with Arabic names. Even when I explicitly write “Jerusalem, Israel,” or “Hebron, Israel.” Even when I post photos of the Israel Defense Forces.

Beautiful imagery, of course, can bypass ideology and make a beeline for the soul. I carefully chose photos that are emotionally captivating. But my primary intent had been for Jews in the Diaspora to reconnect with Israel, for everyone to see the inherent beauty and diversity of the country that the mainstream media rarely shows.

At some point, enough Muslims will say to their leaders: “Stop treating us like children. Stop teaching us to hate.”

I have been surprised that Arab Israelis are responding so positively, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. We are all human. Just as I am moved by Islamic art and design — even after a terrorist attack — so, too, the layered beauty of Israel cannot easily be ignored, no matter how much hate you’ve ingested since birth.

We each rise and fall to the expectations of others. When you treat a group of adults like toddlers, unable to control themselves, they will act like toddlers. At some point, enough Muslims will say to their leaders: “Stop treating us like children. Stop teaching us to hate.” That will be the day the Muslim world begins to blossom again.

The night of Trump’s speech, I posted on Facebook a beautiful rendition of “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.” A spiritual song of peace and hope, its soulful melody brilliantly tears down all defenses, clears out negativity and anger. One of my Egyptian friends was the first to “heart” it.

In my book, I wrote that Israel is a mirror to one’s soul. Despite the anti-Semitism that permeates the Arab and Muslim world, I do believe there is a familial love underneath the anger and frustration. A love that can be tapped through personal connections, shared experiences and raised expectations. A love that could flourish through rational compassion — a compassion that’s not self-denigrating.

In the Talmud it is written: “Ten measures of beauty descended upon the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem.”

Can an undivided Jerusalem — a city that’s been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times — ever be the City of Peace, as it was once called, ever be our true connector to God, one another and the best within us?

Perhaps the better question is: How can it not be?


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author. Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Can Jerusalem Be Good for All Religions?

In the middle of the euphoria and hysteria that greeted last week’s U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it was a story about stolen apples that caught my eye.

According to Israeli news reports, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) squad commander was suspended after being caught on film stealing apples from a Palestinian fruit stand in Hebron, which had been abandoned in the midst of the “days of rage” violence.

“This behavior is not in line with what is expected from a soldier and commander in the IDF,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “The commander was suspended and will face disciplinary action.”

I know, compared to everything that’s going on, a stolen apple or two is hardly worth a story. I can’t imagine any army in the world making a fuss about stolen fruit. But tiny story or not, the apple saga gives us a context to assess the explosive issue of who should control Jerusalem.

There’s no need to belabor the historical and religious context for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. The Conservative movement, in a statement authored by the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Masorti Israel and Masorti Olami, summarized it succinctly: “In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and planning to move the American embassy to a location under uncontested Israeli sovereignty, the U.S. government acknowledges the age-old connection that Israel and the Jewish people maintain with the holy city.”

Let’s also remember that this past June, the U.S. Senate passed a unanimous resolution calling on President Donald Trump to abide by a 1995 law ordering the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. That law, called the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, recognized Jerusalem as “the spiritual center of Judaism” and was adopted overwhelmingly by the House (374-37) and the Senate (93-5).

The law cites the right of “each sovereign nation, under international law and custom, to designate its own capital,” and notes the irony that the U.S. “maintains its embassy in the functioning capital of every country except in the case of our democratic friend and strategic ally, the State of Israel.”

But it’s an innocuous mention in the Embassy Act that caught my attention: “From 1948-1967, Jerusalem was a divided city and Israeli citizens of all faiths as well as Jewish citizens of all states were denied access to holy sites in the area controlled by Jordan.”

That, for me, is the crucial link missing from this emotional debate: When East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control, religious liberty suffered. When it was under Israeli control, religious liberty flourished. You do the math.

As if it weren’t bad enough that Jews were denied access to their holy sites, under Jordanian control, “All but one of the 35 synagogues within the Old City were destroyed,” according to The Jewish Virtual Library. “The revered Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives was in complete disarray with tens of thousands of tombstones broken into pieces to be used as building materials … Hundreds of Torah scrolls and thousands of holy books [were] plundered and burned to ashes.”

Jordanian rule was no picnic for Christians and Muslims either. As Dore Gold writes in his book, “The Fight for Jerusalem,” Israeli Muslims “were blocked from visiting the Islamic holy shrines under Jordanian control” while “Israeli Christians did not fare much better; they were permitted to cross over and visit their holy sites once a year, on Christmas.”

All of this was in blatant violation of the 1949 Armistice Agreement, which gave Israelis of all faiths access to their holy sites, and which the United Nations was empowered to oversee.

When East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control, religious liberty suffered. When it was under Israeli control, religious liberty flourished. You do the math.

When did the U.N. finally intervene? In 1964, when Israel had the chutzpah to have a Hanukkah festival of lights display atop Mount Scopus, which it legally controlled. Why the U.N. intervention? Because of “Jordanian sensitivities.” You can’t make this stuff up.

So, forgive me if I have little sympathy for the professional hypocrites at the United Nations who are now portraying the confirmation of Israel’s capital city as another urgent crisis for humanity. They might do well to read an August 2015 report from the Washington Institute showing that the majority of Palestinian Arabs living in Israeli-ruled East Jerusalem would prefer to be citizens of Israel rather than citizens of a Palestinian state.

These Arabs are no fools. They know that since Israel took over East Jerusalem in 1967, it has protected all holy sites and created an open city that has become a global destination.

But none of that seems to matter to the critics of the embassy move. Perhaps the silliest criticism I’ve heard is that the announcement was “ill-timed” because it would hurt the “peace process.” That’s like saying a tap on the wrist would hurt a patient in a coma. What peace process? Everything the experts have tried has failed, including the delusional idea that the capital of Israel is an “open” question. It’s not. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, full stop.

Such a cold dose of reality may, in fact, be just what the comatose peace process needs. What it does not need is the continuation of a failed strategy of appeasing corrupt Palestinian leaders who have refused all Israeli peace offers and who hold us hostage to their threats of violence.

Their latest reaction to Trump’s announcement is more evidence of their chronic refusal to accept a Jewish state under any borders. Nothing in the announcement precludes a two-state solution or the sharing of Jerusalem as a capital for two states. But instead of calling for peace talks, they call for violence. If Palestinian leaders cared for their people as much as they care for their personal bank accounts, we would have had peace a long time ago.

So, I’m sure it won’t surprise you that Jerusalem is the subject of our cover story, with an analysis from our political editor in Israel, Shmuel Rosner. It also won’t surprise you that local reactions in the Jewish community have been diverse, as you’ll see in our coverage.

My own take is that if we’re going to put Jerusalem in the hands of a sovereign nation, let it be a nation that respects the dignity of all religions — not to mention the dignity of an apple cart.

Israeli Arabs Break Their Silence At Israeli American Council Event

Screenshot from Facebook.

A group of Israeli Arabs spoke at Israeli American Council (IAC) Los Angeles event at American Jewish University on Sunday evening explaining how their life experiences in Israel debunk the notion that Israel is an apartheid nation.

The event, titled Arabs Breaking The Silence, kicked off with Adam Milstein, the chairman of the IAC’s board of directors, explaining that anti-Semitism has been on the rise over the past 30 years cloaked in anti-Zionist rhetoric. Such rhetoric has spawned movements calling for protests against Israel.

“Every citizen is being affected by the boycotts,” said Milstein, noting people of every creed in Israel lose jobs as a result of the boycotts.

Milstein added that Israel “is the best place for any minority in the Middle East” and that the minorities “are the most affected by the boycotts.”

Jonathan Elkhoury, the minorities coordinator for the Reservists on Duty in Israel, followed Milstein by explaining that Reservists on Duty was founded by members of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) who seek to dispel the myths promulgated by the likes of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“We are bringing …reservists from the IDF to colleges across the states,” said Elkhoury, pointing out that they aim to counter events on campuses like Apartheid Week.

Elkhoury proceeded to show a video of Reservists on Duty confronting the anti-Zionist groups on UC Irvine in May 2017 in which the anti-Zionist protesters hail the intifada and accuse Israel of “genocide.” However, when the Reservists on Duty began asking penetrating questions that disrupted their narrative, the anti-Zionist movement leaders told their members not to engage with them and even cussed out the Reservists on Duty.

“We need to be there in every place,” said Elkhoury.

The next speaker was Dema Taya, an Arab Muslim who has defended Israel on Arab media. Taya recalled how she learned to accept differences with others when she lived with British family for three years while in school, and that Israel is in a fact a country that is tolerant of these differences. She referred to Israel as “a city of love” where “nobody is above the law” and “you can express your opinion without anybody bothering you.”

And yet, some Arabs are irked by Taya’s outspoken defense of Israel.

“Some Arabs open their mouth and start saying you are cheating and you are not a good person… just because I’m saying the truth,” said Taya.

Taya added that some Arabs called her a traitor to Islam for defending Israel.

“Who gives you the right to start talking, ‘You are going to hell’, ‘you are going to Heaven?’” said Taya, pointing out that only God decides that.

Taya refuses to back down in face of such criticism.

“They are attacking me because I’m a woman and in their ideology they think women are weak,” said Taya.

Taya pointed out that many countries are starting to realize how Israel can be beneficial to them, as medicine, agriculture, water and innovation in general are thriving in the Jewish state. Israel gives medical aid to those who have been harmed by the Syrian conflict and those in Gaza that come to their hospitals.

Following Taya was Ram Asad, a Druze man who used to be an Israeli combat soldier.  Asad explained that Israel was the first country to recognize the Druze as a free and independent people and they eventually formed an agreement with the Israeli government to serve in the IDF.

Asad’s father and five of his uncles served in the IDF as paramilitary troopers and his father decided to establish “The Druze Sons Trail Race” to honor the memory of fallen Druze soldiers.

Asad is now currently a student at Haifa University, and he told the audience that he doesn’t have any friends in Israel because he has “only brothers because we love each other.”

The next speaker was Mohammad Kabiya, a strategic IDF consultant who is an Israeli Bedouin. According to Kabiya, there are “thousands of Beduins serving in the army.” Kabiya was the only one in his Coptic Christian high school who said that he wanted to serve in IDF, although he ended up serving in the Israeli Air Force.

Kabiya noted that the Israeli Air Force’s “mission was to save lives” and that they would take Palestinians from Gaza to get treated at Israeli hospitals.

Kabiya also used to work at Israeli checkpoints, and pointed out that there are 80,000 Palestinians working Israel legally and 150,000 working there illegally.

Israel and America are alike in terms of their support of free speech, but Kabiya has noticed one difference between the two countries in that regard.

“We in Israel have more free speech on campuses,” said Kabiya.

Elkhoury spoke again and shared his story. Elkhoury was originally born in Lebanon, but he and his family were forced to flee after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

“They [Hezbollah] started taking soldiers from the South Lebanon Army,” said Elkhoury, noting that Hezbollah hold them captive and even throw them off buildings.

Elkhoury’s father had served in the South Lebanon Army, so he fled to Israel while the remainder of Elkhoury’s family stayed behind. But it eventually grew unsafe for them in Lebanon, so they fled to Israel. It was difficult for Elkhoury to adapt there at first, since they weren’t accepted by the Arab community for leaving Lebanon and they weren’t Jewish, but Elkhoury has assimilated into Israeli society and even did national service for two years.

“I’m proud to say I’m Lebanese, but I’m Israeli,” said Elkhoury. “I’m Christian. I’m part of the people of Israel.”

Elkhoury then showed a video of all kinds of people – Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc. – eating food at Mahane Yehuda Market, the point being that people of all religions and backgrounds were able to enjoy food together at an Israeli market, something that would not be happening if Israel were an apartheid state.

During the question and answer period, Elkhoury pointed out that the rhetoric coming from the likes of BDS on college campuses is then used as ammunition against Israel in the United Nations, yet these same people have never actually set foot in the Jewish state.

“They are only based on lies, but lies don’t have feet on the ground and they will crumble,” said Elkhoury.

Elkhoury added that the anti-Zionists “are afraid that our message is going to get out,” which makes it all the more important to “stand proudly and support Israel because this is what you believe in.”

Your Jerusalem, my Jerusalem

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Jerusalem is a dream and a vision, and at the same time a city where garbage needs to be collected, children go to school, and roads need to be fixed. For some of the 800,000 people living inside the city’s municipal boundary, Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, reunited in 1967 after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War. For others the city, or at least those parts of it on the eastern side of the Green Line, is occupied territory, land which should one day become the future capital of a Palestinian state. People’s understanding of events in the city’s history are always viewed through the prism of their beliefs and nuanced by what they think is best for the future of the holy city.

This is as true for the plethora of vying non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that live and work in Jerusalem as it is for the city’s residents, visitors and observers. Numerous groups with political agendas conduct tours within the environs of Jerusalem each one highlighting the evidence they believe proves the veracity of their cause. As often as not conflicting NGOs will look at the same piece of evidence and interpret it in two radically different directions.

Keep Jerusalem is an organization founded by Chaim Silberstein in order to advocate for the continued unification of the city. “If you mention the words “east Jerusalem” most people think it is an Arab area, overwhelmingly populated by Arabs, and therefore it’s not a problem to give it away,” Silberstein told The Media Line. “However when you inform people that in fact east Jerusalem is compromised half of Jews and half of Arabs and the neighborhoods are intertwined then people’s attitudes and opinions change drastically,” Silberstein explained in a slight South African accent.

Silberstein, who lives within a Jewish community located in the West Bank, fears that two possible futures lie ahead for Jerusalem: either Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city will become part of  the West Bank and will eventually become home to violent organizations in a similar manner to Hamas’ take over of the Gaza Strip; or Jerusalem will remain united but the Jewish population will find itself eventually outnumbered and outvoted due to higher birth rates among the city’s Arab population – the so called demographic problem.

A third and preferable option, as far as Keep Jerusalem is concerned, is the boosting of the numbers of Jews living in east Jerusalem through government housing and special subsidies.

Taking a different view of the city is Ir Amim, a dovish organization that campaigns to make Jerusalem a “more equitable” place to live for all of its residents.

“Ir Amim works very hard to promote the understanding that the division of the city is an imperative part of a two state solution – meaning that the city must be the capital of two sovereign nations,” Betty Herschman, Director of International Relations at Ir Amim, told The Media Line. Herschman, who emigrated to Israel from the United States, explained that the organization did not see the division of the city as a worthy objective in itself, but as a necessity for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

As can be imagined Keep Jerusalem and Ir Amim do not tend to agree with one another. Although the two groups are not directly in conflict they are representative of the numerous NGOs who disagree ideologically. These groups put much of their efforts into spinning their narrative and conducting tours for those willing to give up their time to come listen.

Although it is likely that there is a certain amount of “preaching to the choir” taking place during these tours they represent a key battleground when it comes to bringing policy makers and opinion leaders into line with an organization’s point of view.

Part of this clash of conflicting narratives is the interpretation of evidence on the ground. In a report earlier in the year the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said that 75% of Arabs living in east Jerusalem are below the poverty line. When asked to comment on levels of poverty among Arabs in east Jerusalem both Ir Amim and Keep Jerusalem’s answers were indicative of the manner in which they could view the same piece of evidence with radically different outcomes.

Herschman argued that the continuation of income inequality between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods was “dramatic enough to constitute a (deliberate) lever of displacement,” pointing out that Palestinians make up 40% of the city’s population but only benefit from 10% of the municipal budget. In Ir Amim’s view the municipality of Jerusalem is slowly encouraging Arabs to leave the city by keeping them poor.

Silberstein, on the other hand, rejected any notion that intentional discrimination was taking place and suggested that the figure of a 75% poverty rate was “vastly inflated.” Any lack of funding towards Arab neighborhoods, he said, was simply because Palestinians, most of whom are residents of Jerusalem but not Israeli citizens, continuously refused to vote in municipal elections and therefore lost out when decisions about funding were being made.

Disagreements over the facts and the use of statistics to blur lines, should not come as a surprise, Professor Eran Feitelson, of Hebrew University’s Geography department, told The Media Line. “In Jerusalem everyone has a different narrative – there are always multiple narratives,” Feitelson said.

An exact definition of east Jerusalem is difficult to define, Feitelson explained, as people mean different things when they use the term – “it depends what you count in and what you count out.” When Israelis say east Jerusalem they are generally referring to the Arab communities, irrespective of geography or political considerations, Feitelson observed.

But the most important thing to remember when listening to an individual or an organization’s narrative – and this, the geography professor said, is something he drills into his students – is always be skeptical of numbers.

As the old adage goes, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Israeli president calls on P.A. to act against terrorism surge

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at a Ramadan break-fast meal with Arab leaders called on the Palestinian Authority to act against a recent surge in terrorism.

Addressing the uptick in attacks by Palestinians against Jewish targets since the start of the holy month of Ramadan, Rivlin said at his Jerusalem residence on Sunday night, “We are working extensively to ensure a festive atmosphere in the Palestinian areas, but the Palestinian Authority has a responsibility to act decisively against terrorists seeking to sabotage our daily lives here.”

Rivlin emphasized building trust between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel.

“The citizenship of the Arab residents of the State of Israel is not a goodwill gesture,” he told the Arabic media before the Iftar meal. “It is the citizenship of individuals and of a society which is part and parcel of this land; this land is their homeland, the State of Israel is their home. I am happy that Arab community leaders and citizens see this house as an address to raise their concerns, and I hope that this cooperation will go from strength to strength.”

Sunday night also marked the end of a Jewish fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, marking the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in 69 C.E. following a long siege.

“Today it so happened that we all fasted together, Jews and Arabs,” Rivlin said. “For all of us, the purpose of this fast is not to discipline the body, but to cultivate in our minds and spirits compassion and kindness, and opening our hearts to the one another.”

Rivlin decried recent animosity between the Jewish and Arab communities and called for the leadership on both sides to build trust and cooperation.

“These have not been easy weeks for anyone who loves this country; for those who believe we have the ability and the duty — as Arabs and Jews — to live together. At this time, in the face of those on both sides who seek to fan the flames, we cannot and must not remain silent,” he said.

Muslim and Jewish Jerusalemites break bread together

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

As the call to prayer marking the end of the day-long Ramadan fast echoed from a nearby mosque, the two dozen people sat down and began eating. There were many traditional Arab foods, and conversation flowed easily. It looked like any post-fasting dinner table in the Arab world.

What was unique here is that most of the guests had never met the hosts, Bronka and Aref Tahboub, before this night. The Tahboub’s had opened their home to a group of Israeli Jews who wanted to experience the iftar meal.

“There are so many things here that we don’t control,” Aref told The Media Line in fluent Hebrew. “But Arabs and Jews have to live together. I’ve worked with Jews all my life and I want my children to get to know Jews.”

The meeting was organized by Kids4Peace, a grassroots organization that brings Muslim, Christian and Jewish children in Jerusalem together. About 25 Jewish families signed up to be hosted by Palestinian families, along with their children.

The Tahboubs have three children, two boys, age 14 and 11, and a daughter who is 9, and all three children are fasting.  While it is only compulsory to fast from puberty, many children choose to start earlier.

“They see all of their neighbors fasting, and they want to do it too,” Bronka, an English teacher told The Media Line. “Ramadan is a special time for us. We believe that the gates of hell are closed, and the sky opens the doors to our prayers.”

Ramadan also marks the time that Muslims believe Allah revealed the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed, who was illiterate. As it based on the solar calendar, rather than the lunar calendar, it rotates through the seasons. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Mohammed used to break his fast with a date, and Muslims today do the same.

At the Tahboubs in the upscale east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, the Jewish guests quickly feel at home.

“It starts with me being a citizen of Jerusalem,” Duel Peli, a lawyer whose daughter attends Kids4Peace told The Media Line. “Jerusalem is a mixed city with people from different ethnic origins and different nationalities. I live in this city I want to be friendly with as many of the different populations as I can.”

He says that being part of Kids4Peace, which divides the children into groups of one-third Jewish, one-third Christian and one-third Muslim, has been an eye-opening experience for him. The parents have parallel workshops to the children, who go to summer camp together in the US.

“I find myself in the minority which is an important feeling for me to have,” he said. “It makes me understand what it is like to be a minority in Jerusalem and in Israel.”

The population in Jerusalem is two-thirds Jewish and one-third Arab, divided between Muslims and Christians. The meetings have continued despite more than a year of tensions in Jerusalem, which began last June when Hamas terrorists kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Jewish extremists then kidnapped a Palestinian boy, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, from Shuafat, a neighborhood less than a mile from Beit Hanina. Bronka Tahboub says she knows Mohammed’s father well, and visited him after his son was killed.

His death, and the fighting between Israel and Hamas last summer in Gaza, during which several rockets were fired toward Jerusalem, has negatively affected her nine-year-old daughter Leen, who for the past year has refused to sleep in her own bed.

Yet Bronka says the tensions have only strengthened her resolve to reach out to her Jewish neighbors.

“When God created us He didn’t say “You’re a Muslim, you’re a Christian, you’re a Jew,” she said. “We are all humans and I wanted to share the good precious holy moments of Ramadan with other people. Everyone has a different view and perspective we need to share it together to remove the anger and the sadness in the area.”

After dinner, as the kids played soccer outside, Bronka took out a water pipe and began puffing on melon and mint scented tobacco. As the water pipe made its rounds, the tensions in Jerusalem between Arabs and Jews seemed far away.

Israeli president criticizes divisive Jewish nation-state bill

Israel's president has said a bill promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would anchor in law the status of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people runs counter to its founding fathers' vision of equality for Arab citizens.

The bill comes at a time of high tensions in Israel, the West Bank and Jerusalem, where a dispute over access to a religious site sacred to Jews and Muslims alike has ignited Palestinian streets protests and lethal attacks on Jews.

“The formulators of the (Israeli) Declaration of Independence, with much wisdom, insisted the Arab communities in Israel, as well as other groups, should not feel as the Jews had felt in exile,” President Reuven Rivlin said in a speech on Tuesday.

The 1948 declaration, while proclaiming the creation of a Jewish state, also emphasized its democratic nature and promised “complete equality” of social, religious and cultural rights for all, said Rivlin, whose office is mainly ceremonial.

The new bill won cabinet approval on Sunday, despite the opposition of centrist ministers, but several versions must still be merged and parliamentary ratification is not imminent.

Netanyahu's draft pledges to “uphold the individual rights of all of Israel's citizens”. But it also says only the Jewish people have “national rights” – the right to self-determination in Israel and to a flag, an anthem and free immigration.

Critics say the bill is anti-democratic and legislators from the Arab community, which makes up 20 percent of Israel's population of 8.2 million, have described the bill as racist.

On being elected by parliament to the presidency in June, Rivlin, a veteran right-wing politician who has had a rocky relationship with Netanyahu, said he would speak out on domestic issues. He ended his acceptance speech by proclaiming “Long live Israeli democracy”.

Many political commentators say Netanyahu's main reason for pushing the bill is to placate hardliners in his right-wing Likud party ahead of an internal leadership ballot in January and a possible early national election next year.

Netanyahu has said the legislation will serve as a counterpoint to anyone “challenging Israel's character as the national state of the Jewish people”. Palestinians have said accepting that definition could deny Palestinian refugees of past wars any right of return.

Rivlin's own views on Palestinian self-determination are controversial. He opposes an independent state for Palestinians, backing instead a confederation between them and Israel.

Beit Shemesh residents protest for more police presence

Approximately fifty Beit Shemesh residents came out early Wednesday morning, the day after the terrorist massacre in the shul in Har Nof, to protest the lack of police presence at the Resido building intersection, where Arabs routinely wait to be picked up for day labor jobs.

The Resido building (a large unoccupied complex, unfinished due to conflicts regarding its opening several years ago) sits across the intersection from the Orot Girls School, where tensions ran high as the new elementary school building opened three years ago.   At that time residents protested near this same intersection, demanding more police protection for the girls attending the school, and rallying against the opposition to the school’s opening from some members of the haredi community.  The incident of a haredi “zealot” spitting on one of the schoolgirls took place here.

Now, the residents are asking the police again to increase their presence in Beit Shemesh.  The Resido intersection was targeted, as this is where Arab and other foreign workers typically wait to be picked up for day labor jobs. 

“Since the Resido building is vacant, Arabs working in construction just moved in a bunch of mattresses, and started sleeping there,” explains Sara, a Beit Shemesh resident attending the demonstration.  “Then the ‘vaad hatsniyut’ (the modesty committee) that was against populating Resido in the first place (since who knows what could go on at a mall) took action and threw out all the mattresses.  Now Arabs are not allowed to sleep there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some still do.”

“I’m not comfortable seeing them here,” says Chaya, a Beit Shemesh resident who came out to the rally.  “We feel threatened having Arabs on our streets.  Our safety is being compromised.  Listen, if an Arab who worked at a makolet in Jerusalem could butcher the people he saw every day, then how can we feel safe around these workers who are transients, who don’t even have any connection to us?  I’d be happier if they weren’t here at all.  Let them get picked up on Route 10, away from a populated neighborhood.”

A woman from the nearby Kiriyah Ha-charedit neighborhood walked past the demonstration pushing her stroller, but she did not stop to participate.  “We won’t come out to demonstrate,” she said. “But I personally have called the police many times about the Arab workers walking around in our neighborhood.”

One of the organizers of the rally is Barak Schechter, originally from West Orange, New Jersey, now in Ramat Beit Shemesh.  Schachter stated, “We want to have a unified voice to tell the police force that we need more police presence in the streets of Beit Shemesh to act as a deterrent to prevent any violence or burglaries.  We need more protection!  In just the past two weeks we’ve had one apartment that was emptied (by Arabs) and two incidents of door knobs being violently shaken by would-be intruders. 

Yissachar Ruas, co-organizer of the rally, is originally from the Lower East Side, and now resides in the Sheinfeld neighborhood of Beit Shemesh, adjacent to Resido.  He wants to keep up the momentum. “We want to do these demonstrations once a week, to get the police presence up,” Rus stated.  “There are at least a hundred Arabs, on both sides of the street, every morning.  I see them when I drive my kids to school.  And I see lots of school kids walking right past where those Arabs are waiting, and those kids and their parents are petrified.  The Beit Shemesh police station sits outside of Beit Shemesh on the highway, and we need them close by – in case G-d forbid anything would happen. We saw what happened in Jerusalem yesterday.  If something would happen here, chas v’shalom, the victims would be much younger and much more vulnerable.  We don’t like to remember the case of Lipaz Chimi, and eight-year-old girls who was raped and murdered by an Arab construction worker who didn’t have a work permit in 2006.  We don’t want anything like to ever happen again.  We believe that having a strong police presence will really make a difference.” 

Analysis: Why the Temple Mount is at the heart of Jerusalem strife

The murders of four rabbis on Nov. 18 during morning prayers at a Jerusalem synagogue — a police officer also died of his injuries — could throw a wrench into the results of the Nov.13 summit in Amman that brought together Secretary of State John Kerry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss arrangements for visitors and worshipers on the Temple Mount. The summit, as least in the immediate, resulted in an easing of Israeli restrictions on Muslim access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, permitting thousands of younger Palestinians to participate in Friday prayers at the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic, for the first time in months.

There is a long history of Jordanian oversight of the Temple Mount, and by allowing Muslim men under 50 to attend prayers at Al-Aqsa, Israel had hoped to reassure King Abdullah that there was no change in the status quo affirmed by the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and its eastern neighbor that Jordan, and not the Palestinians, is the legally binding administrative authority over the Temple Mount.

“I think that when King Abdullah of Jordan says he was happy with what he heard from Netanyahu, that is not only passed down as general news to the public but also gets conveyed as an instruction to the waqf [the Muslim religious endowment],” a Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem told the Jewish Journal.

“To some extent, the waqf officials can turn on and off the clashes which have occurred there.”

However, soon after the news of the Jerusalem attack on Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement linking the latest incidents to the Temple Mount strife: 

“Palestinian incitement is continuing despite the Nov. 13 talks in Jordan with Kerry, King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu. The parties were supposed to act to calm the situation in Jerusalem. Israel did; Abbas most certainly did not. While Israel acted to restore calm and reaffirmed its commitment to the status quo on the Temple Mount, the Palestinians incited to terrorism and carried out murders. Israel ended the temporary security restriction on younger Muslims praying on the Temple Mount on Nov. 14. The PA’s official media called for a ‘Day of Rage’ on Friday. Instead of calming the situation, Abbas exploited Sunday’s suicide to inflame it.”

Public tensions between Israel and Jordan have mounted since October, when Jordanian officials went public with their finding that Israel was restricting Haram Al-Sharif access for Muslims, even as religious Jews were increasing politically motivated visits to the Temple Mount. In a speech to his parliament, Abdullah equated “extremist Zionism “ to the Islamic State movement and called on “stakeholders to acknowledge there is extremism in all camps.”

Tensions between Jordan and Israel reached a crisis point on Oct. 30  after Israeli police ordered a complete closure of the Temple Mount, following the assassination attempt in Jerusalem of right-wing activist Yehuda Glick. 

Glick was shot minutes after concluding a seminar, “Return to the Temple Mount,” at the capital’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center.  Several members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition were in attendance. 

“I am always leaving my phone on, so that if they inform me that we have permission to build on the Temple Mount, I will leave immediately, so I really apologize in advance,” Glick told the seminar, as recorded in a video. In the shooting, Glick sustained multiple gunshot wounds and is recovering at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem; the pro-settler Arutz Sheva website reported Nov. 17 that he has been removed from the intensive care unit. The alleged shooter, 32-year-old Islamic Jihad member Moataz Hejazi, was killed after exchanging gunfire with Israeli police outside his home in the religiously mixed Abu Tor neighborhood in South Jerusalem. 

After the assassination attempt, Deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Feiglin went to the Temple Mount, ignoring Netanyahu’s call for restraint and vowing to “change the reality” of a ban on Jewish prayer at the site. Feiglin’s previous attempts to enter the Dome of the Rock had resulted in a warning from the Jerusalem Police that the MKs actions could provoke Muslim rioting at the Haram Al-Sharif.

Feiglin, the leader of the ultranationalist Jewish Leadership caucus inside the Likud Party, has repeatedly slammed Netanyahu for “transferring the sovereignty on the Temple Mount to Jordan in practice” after the government failed to replace the Mughrabi Bridge used by non-Muslims to enter the Al-Aqsa compound from the Western Wall plaza. 

Jordanian concerns

Jordan’s royal family, the Hashemites, first became guardians of Al-Aqsa, the Dome of the Rock and other Jerusalem Islamic institutions in 1919, after the retreat of the Ottoman Turks. As a result, Wasfi Kailani, director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, said in an interview prior to last week’s summit, “Jordan is more provoked than any other party in the Muslim world because of his majesty’s custodianship of the mosque. 

“If something bad happens to the mosque, his majesty will be held responsible. Jordan is responsible for the site even more than the Palestinian Authority or any other Muslim nation,” said Kailani, who studied contemporary Jewish temple movements while attaining his doctorate in sociology and anthropology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.   

Kailani believes Israel and Jordan have different understandings of what defines the religious status quo at the site. “For Jordan, status quo is the pre-occupation, pre-1967 status quo at Al-Aqsa. For Israel, status quo is something ongoing, something dynamic, and this is unacceptable to Jordan and the Muslims.”

Proposals to allocate Jewish ritual space and devotional time periods, similar to arrangements at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, pose ongoing concern to officials of the Jerusalem waqf, which reports directly to the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Jordan’s capital of Amman. 

“It’s clear that Israeli society has changed because of the extremist influence; they dominate the cabinet, and I think it is the most powerful group now in Israeli politics,” said Kailani, who worries that Temple Mount activists will escalate their demands from intermittent “prayer access” to an ongoing presence at the Haram Al-Sharif.

“[The temple movements] were encouraged to frankly speak of crazy ideas, such as altering the shape of the mosque, and there were many calls by ministers, by Knesset members, to change the status quo, to make a space and temporal division to this structure of the mosque, and these plans are now articulated in the media and are no longer in the closed circles of the Jewish denominations,” Kailani said.

“For Israel, I think it should be easy, more than for any time, to understand that it is better not to go too far in ideological goals of speeding up the messiah and God’s will on Earth because this is not different actually from the thinking of Da’ash [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State movement],” Kailani added. 

ISIS and challenges to Muslim religious triumphalism

Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University sees the rise of ISIS, not the temple movements, as the formative factor in Jordan’s urgent rhetoric about the status quo at the Haram Al-Sharif.

“The Hashemites today are under immense pressure because of [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria, which threatens the entire kingdom,” Kedar said.

“They are afraid that some Islamists in Jordan will use the issue of Jerusalem in order to incite against the Jordanian Hashemite kingdom, and they charge that the king does not do anything in order to save Jerusalem from the Zionists.”

Kedar notes that pro-ISIS demonstrators recently staged a protest in the town of Maa’n —  just 30 miles southeast of Petra — Jordan’s most significant tourist attraction. 

“People are demonstrating there without any cover on their faces, which means they are not afraid of the Mukhabarat” — the secret state intelligence service — said Kedar, who dismisses the significance of the Temple Mount movements. 

“I know Yehuda Glick — he’s one of a handful of lunatics who represent nobody but themselves,” Kedar said.

By contrast, Kedar claims PA President Mahmoud Abbas has engineered the unrest in Jerusalem, citing a condolence letter the Palestinian president sent to the would-be  Glilck assassin’s family.

A PA spokesman last week confirmed the text of the note, which reads in part, “[Your] son Mu’taz Ibrahim Khalil Hijazi will go to heaven as a martyr defending the rights of our people and its holy places.”

 “The Temple Mount activists are not violent,” Kedar said. “They are not going to kill anybody … unlike those thugs. They just work on the Jewish right to pray at the Temple Mount. Did Yehuda Glick attack somebody?”

Kedar said Muslims see Israel as a religious challenge to Islam, whose doctrine teaches it came into the world to replace both Judaism and Christianity. 

“This is why Jerusalem, as the pinnacle of Jewish revivalism, is something that hurts [Muslims] religiously, before anything connected to national, political, legal or territorial issues,” Kedar said.

Empowered messianic religious Zionism 

Mordechai Inbari, an Israeli expert on Jewish fundamentalism, sees attempts to assert worship rights on the Temple Mount as a risky trend powered by fear among settlers and their supporters that the Jewish state has embarked on a journey of territorial compromise that endangers their messianic vision. 

“Temple Mount activists are saying that since the State of Israel is leading the Jewish redemption astray by returning territory, signing peace accords, [being] willing to compromise, this would mean that their dreams would never be able to be fulfilled,” said Inbari, an assistant professor of religion at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. 

“Therefore, action is required by the people who believe in this scenario, and they need to go straight to the Temple Mount and push to put the messianic project back on track. “

The Machon HaMikdash, or Temple Institute, focused on establishing the Third Temple, has completed reconstruction of all 93 sacred vessels required for halachically kosher resumption of the sacrificial rites in Jerusalem with a golden menorah displayed alongside one of the most the highly trafficked lanes in the Jewish Quarter. 

Inbari holds that the campaign led by Glick and others at organizations such as the Temple Institute have made inroads in the larger populace in Israel by shifting from messianic arguments to making a case for religious equality at the Temple Mount.

According to the Jerusalem pluralism group Ir Amim, Temple Mount movements have benefited from direct funding by the state, receiving support from the education and culture ministries, an average equivalent of $108,000 per year. 

Inbari believes Netanyahu is attempting to balance the value of a solid security and diplomatic relationship with Jordan against substantial pressures from the messianic Zionists and the religious West Bank settler communities. 

“When you consider that all the commentators believe that Israel is going to elections soon, Netanyahu needs to strengthen his base from the right,” Inbari said.

 “Maybe he allows things to happen that were not part of the plan, but now he needs Feiglin supporters in his own political party — so they are allowing things to take place.”

Inbari noted that advocates of a Third Temple recently posted a video on Facebook and YouTube that uses computer-generated graphics to illustrate a reconstructed shrine on the Temple Mount. 

The video then links to an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign that has generated more than $100,000 toward the construction of the temple, without directly saying that it is the messianic people who are running the campaign, Inbari said.

 “Since the activists for the Third Temple were able to convince more and more religious leaders of the legitimacy of their demand to go on the Temple Mount, to pray there, the next step will be to build a synagogue. That is the second stage of their plan.  And the third stage will be to build a temple,” Inbari said.

“You don’t see any mosques on the Mount” in the video — perhaps the most ominous aspect — he added. 

“The clip suggests that the temple replaces the mosques on the Mount. This can explain why Muslims are nervous.”

Murder of Arab Silwan resident may be related to sale of building to Jews

An Arab resident of Silwan in eastern Jerusalem was stabbed to death in what could be retaliation for selling an apartment building to Jews.

Other reports say the early Friday morning murder by a family member was the result of a family feud.

Neighbors who witnessed the fight told police that the argument was over the sale of the homes to a Jewish group, according to the Jerusalem Post, though police said the murder was part of a family dispute.

Some Silwan residents have questioned the legality of the purchase, saying the buildings belong to three established Arab families in the neighborhood, the Times of Israel reported.

On Sept. 30, several families moved into the apartments in eastern Jerusalem, causing rioting in the neighborhood.

The apartments were vacant when the Jewish families moved into them.

“There is absolutely no connection between the parties involved in the killing in Silwan overnight Thursday and any real estate transactions between Jews and Arabs in the vicinity,” Ze’ev Orenstein, director of International Affairs for Elad Foundation, told JTA. “The events took place in the context of a local clan dispute. This is nothing more than an effort to enflame tensions between local Arabs and Jews.”

About 50 families live in Silwan, known to Jews as Shiloach, located next to the City of David and across from the Western Wall.

 

After Gaza conflict, Israel’s Arab minority fears rising discrimination

Handcuffed to a wooden chair in the middle of the night, Rafat Awaysha still wasn’t sure what crime he had committed.

He had announced a demonstration against the war in Gaza in a July 11 Facebook post. Soon afterward, he received a call from the police, who came to his dormitory and took him in for questioning.
 
Released after an hour, Awaysha, the head of the Arab-Israeli Balad party student group at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, thought the ordeal was over. But at 3 p.m. the police returned.
 
“You have the right to express yourself in a democratic process,” Awaysha, 20, said. “You don’t need to be in an interrogation for 12 hours for participating in a protest.”
 
Awaysha was one of approximately 1,500 Arab-Israelis arrested for involvement in protests against Israel’s operation in Gaza, according to NGOs and Israeli media reports. Mossawa, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the equal treatment of Israel’s Arab minority, said that at least 70 Israeli Arabs were illegally fired, reprimanded or suspended from work for publicly opposing the war.
 
Reached by JTA, a police spokesman confirmed the total number of arrests but would not confirm or deny Awaysha’s account.
 
Arab-Israeli opposition to the recent conflict, which ended with a late August truce, brought the predicament of Israel’s 1.7 million Arabs into stark relief.
 
Community activists advocating for Arab-Israeli advancement and civil liberties say that most Arab-Israelis — even those  seeking to integrate better into Israeli society — opposed Israel’s Gaza operation because of the grave risk it posed to Palestinians there. An Aug. 11-12 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank found that 62 percent of Israel’s Arabs opposed the war, as opposed to 24 percent who said they supported it.

Arab-Israelis “are not being patriotic enough for the Israelis, but at the same time they are called traitors by their own people because they are not joining the struggle against Israel,” Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which promotes Arab-Jewish coexistence, explained one day after the conflict.

Throughout the war, Israeli-Arabs faced discrimination from the streets, where Jewish protesters chanted “Death to Arabs,” and from the halls of Knesset: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a boycott of businesses owned by Arab-Israelis who participated in a one-day strike to oppose the war. Some Knesset members called for Balad lawmaker Hanin Zoabi, who was suspended from parliamentary activity for six months, to be punished even more harshly for several statements they called inflammatory. And last month, some right-wing Knesset members proposed a bill to demote Arabic from being an official language of Israel.
 
In a poll last year, the Israel Democracy Institute found that nearly half of Jewish-Israelis believed that Jews should have more rights than Arabs in Israel, and that nearly half would not want to live next to an Arab family.
 
Following the poll’s release, survey author Tamar Herman said, “Instead of focusing on citizenship and Israeli-ness, [Jewish-Israelis] find it easier and more convenient to focus more on their Jewishness.”
 
Sayed Kashua, a well-regarded Arab-Israeli Hebrew-language writer, made news this summer when he decided to move from Israel to Illinois. Kashua wrote about the transition in a Guardian Op-Ed titled “Why I have to leave Israel,”describing his fears for his family.
 
“After my last columns some readers beseeched that I be exiled to Gaza, threatened to break my legs, to kidnap my children,” he wrote. “I live in Jerusalem, and I have some wonderful Jewish neighbours, and friends, but I still cannot take my children to day camps or to parks with their Jewish friends. My daughter protested furiously and said no one would know she is an Arab because of her perfect Hebrew but I would not listen. She shut herself in her room and wept.”
 
 
For Arab-Israelis, the climate of fear and animosity had intensified even before the most recent conflict in Gaza. Earlier this year, a spate of so-called “price tag” attacks targeted their communities. Perpetrated by Jewish-Israeli right-wing extremists in response to perceived anti-settlement policies, the attacks ranged from graffiti on mosques and businesses to tires slashed on Arab-owned cars.
 
Tensions spiked when Jewish extremists kidnapped and burned alive a Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, on July 2 in a revenge attack following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in June. Outraged by the incident, Arab-Israelis gathered in mass protests in Jerusalem and northern Israel. Demonstrators blocked roads and burned tires, and vandals damaged Jerusalem light rail stations in the eastern part of the city. Demonstrations continued across Israel throughout the war.
 
Thousands of Jewish-Israelis, it should be noted, protested alongside their Arab counterparts during the war — and a handful of those Jewish demonstrators were arrested.
 
“More and more young people feel the democratic methods of struggle adopted by the political leaders of the Arab community haven’t been effective,” said Jafar Sarah, Mossawa’s director. “More and more people will take the risk of using illegal methods,” such as riots and violence against property.
 
Following a demonstration by Arab-Israelis last week celebrating the Palestinians “Gaza victory,” Liberman said Israel should treat the demonstrators “as traitors and supporters of a terror organization, to put them to justice and to give them the ‘right’ to stand for a moment of silence, as they did during the demonstration, in jail cells.”
 
Biotechnology student Alaa Taha, 25, lost her job monitoring quality control at a plastics factory shortly after she was arrested at a protest on July 18. Her managers said they were firing her for an error committed months ago, Taha said, but she doubts that story. To boot, she said she still hasn’t received her the final paycheck or a letter of termination that would allow her to receive unemployment benefits.
 
“I don’t know what to say, but this is racism,” she said. “I went to a protest. I didn’t do anything. We just yelled and that’s it. This is a democratic state. Where’s the democracy?”
 
Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy, an Israeli NGO that aims to advance equality for Arab-Israelis, sees a tug of war between democratic forces and anti-democratic forces.
 
“The democratic forces are now fighting back against the attacks against the Arabs,” he said. “Will they succeed in that struggle? I don’t know. The public has gotten to such difficult places that I hope it says it can’t be silent.”
 
Awaysha said that during his police interrogation, he was asked why his Facebook post called for violence (it didn’t, he said). After he was handcuffed to the chair, he said, an officer from Israel’s Shin Bet security service began to question him. When Awaysha tried to fall asleep in the chair after the interrogation, he recalled the police officer saying, “This isn’t a hostel.”
 
He was released in the early morning — and given a week of house arrest.
 
“They started saying, ‘We know where your father works, where your mother works, we know you’re a student,’” related Awaysha, a political science student who also was arrested last year for protesting a government plan to relocate Negev Bedouins. “They asked me to work with them. They didn’t get what they wanted.”

What a dying business in Sderot looks like, even during cease-fire

In a narrow alleyway just next to Begin Square in the center of this Israeli city, shops, cafes and bakeries are so tightly packed together that with every few steps brings a new business.

These merchants have, for years, been accustomed to the inhospitable reality of life in Sderot. By virtue of its proximity to Gaza (Begin Square is two miles from the border), normal daily activities are routinely interrupted by a screeching siren that gives residents a 10 to 15 second warning to shelter themselves from a rocket that was fired seconds earlier from within the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Those interruptions, which have made life here grim, have made doing business here nearly impossible for many shopkeepers. On Thursday, even as the city was enjoying its fourth day of calm—with a new cease fire possibly ensuring an additional five—the sight of gray metal shutters in front of nearly every shop in this alleyway was a stark reminder that this city’s store owners know better than to think that temporary quiet will soon bring customers back.

“I can’t continue like this. It’s hard,” said Moshe Yifrach, 21, who helps manage his family’s image and photography store, “Agfa Image Center.” He was one of the few shopkeepers who decided to remain open into the mid-afternoon and was the only person in the store. But, with little or no business up to that point on Thursday, his decision to keep the lights on may not have particularly mattered.

The Yifrachs produce photographs, create albums and assist with images for passports, weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Behind the counter on shelves sat rows of albums and frames in varying colors

Moshe Yifrach helps his father run the family's Sderot store. He said sales have dropped 70 percent this summer.

When life in Sderot is relatively normal, Yifrach said that his family serves between 50 to 70 customers and earns about 3,000 to 4,000 thousand Shekels per day. This summer, though, during Israel’s most recent battle with Hamas, in which nearly 3,000 rockets have fallen in and around Israeli cities, he said sales have dropped by about 70 percent and customers have come in at a trickling pace.

Some residents here left amidst the chaos for some respite in towns further north and many simply no longer feel confident in venturing into the city. Tourism, meanwhile, has plummeted, with most visitors coming from abroad on solidarity missions, not nearly enough to compensate for the many Israelis who no longer travel south for a few pleasurable days in the country’s southern desert region.

The family has two other stores, in Jerusalem and Kiryat Gat, so Yifrach said he, his parents and 11 siblings could get by without their Sderot store.

“We have other places, so we have it easier than others,” Yifrach said. “But the ones that have only here and nowhere else, it’s very hard.”

Even during the height of the war in July and early August, Yifrach’s father kept the store open. When a red alert siren blared, whoever was in the shop would shelter in the doorway or underneath the awning that encloses the alley outside—the nearest shelter is more than 15 seconds from the store, not enough time for him or any customers to safely reach before the Qassam makes impact.

While a cease-fire that produces calm for an extended period would likely improve business for the Yifrachs if residents and tourists begin to return, he sees no long-term relief for his family’s business.

Agfa Image Center

Yifrach, like so many Israelis, particularly in the south, wants the government to order the military to destroy Hamas and end the rocket attacks. That step appears increasingly unlikely, though, following the complete removal of ground troops on Aug. 5 and the moderate progress of truce negotiations in Cairo.

“There’s no solution,” Yifrach said. “If you want to have a cease fire, so for a year it will be fine and everything will be good. [But] slowly, slowly [Hamas] will advance.” He predicts that the terrorist group will use the calm to improve its rocket arsenal to create Sderot-like situations as far north as Tel Aviv and Haifa.

That, Yifrach said, is one reason he sees no point in moving further north. “I don’t think that in the north it’s much better because there too you have Hezbollah,” he said. The quasi-governmental Lebanese terrorist organization has tens of thousands of missiles and rockets and has the capability to reach Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. In Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, approximately 15 Haifa residents were killed in missile and rocket attacks.

“I will stay in the south. This is my house and here I’m going to stay,” Yifrach said briskly.

Asked, though, how much longer his family’s store can survive in Sderot under current conditions, he responded, “Half a year, no more.”

Arabs menace Jewish group on Temple Mount

Hundreds of Arabs chanting anti-Jewish epithets surrounded a group of Jews who ascended the Temple Mount.

Many of the Arabs also held up three fingers, a triumphant sign of the three kidnapped Israeli teens, during Wednesday’s incident.

Muslim children at a summer camp accosted the group before they were then joined by adults in a confrontation that was recorded by onlookers.

The Jewish group’s visit had been authorized by security officials at the Temple Mount.

Police officers attempted to separate the groups, and then escorted the Jewish group from the site, according to Israel National News.

 

Abbas wants peace talks with Israel this year

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday he hoped peace talks with Israel would restart this year although the chances of a resumption seemed slim.

Abbas made his comments during a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said Russia would do all it could to promote peace in the region.

“We … hope that substantive peace talks will start this year, although the hopes are probably not very high,” Abbas said through an interpreter at talks at a state residence outside Moscow.

“We hope that in the end we will reach a political solution based on the two-state principle,” he said.

Peace talks broke down in 2010 over Palestinian objections to Israel expanding settlements on land the Palestinians want for a state. Israel has called for a resumption of the talks without preconditions.

Russia, a member of the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, has criticized the Israeli settlement expansion.

Putin has tried to balance relations with Arabs including the Palestinians, dating back to the Soviet era, with improved ties to Israel during his 13 years in power.

Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage

Jews, Arabs, dolphins

Negative stereotypes can be numbing. One that has dulled our senses for years is that Jews and Arabs can’t get along. Many of us simply take it for granted. Read haaretz.com regularly, and you might even conclude that Israel’s Arab population is living miserably under an apartheid-like regime.

I certainly understand how reporters are wired to focus on the negative, and that good news is not really news. Reading about Israeli Arabs who might be happy under Israel’s democracy and who suffer little or no discrimination is not newsworthy. Abuse of human rights, however, is newsworthy — and that’s a good thing, because awareness is what forces a society to improve itself.

At the same time, though, reading only negative stuff can become exhausting and demoralizing.

Maybe that’s why it was so refreshing to sit with 250 people the other night at Laemmle’s Music Hall theater in Beverly Hills to watch the Israeli documentary film “Dolphin Boy.” The film was presented by The Jewish Journal’s Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and its executive director, Hilary Helstein, as a preview to our annual festival, which kicks off on May 3.

“Dolphin Boy” tells the true story of an Israeli Arab boy who disconnects from humanity after suffering a vicious beating. The boy, Morad, was assaulted not by Israeli soldiers, but by his neighbors in his Israeli Arab village, who misinterpreted a text message Morad sent to the sister of one of the neighbors.

The beating was so traumatic that when we first see Morad, in a doctor’s office, he is zombie-like and cannot utter a word. His doctor, an Israeli Jew who is a world-
renowned expert on post-trauma care, develops a deep personal and professional attachment to the boy. Over several months, the doctor tries every treatment in the book to get Morad to speak and express himself, but nothing works.

Finally, before committing the boy to a mental institution, the doctor recommends a radical treatment: dolphin therapy (with the state picking up the costs). Meanwhile, one of the endearing stars of the film, Morad’s father, decides to leave his job and accompany his son to the dolphin reef in Eilat, where Jews — and loving dolphins — will help Morad undergo a miraculous three-year process of recovery.

The film challenges more than one stereotype. Of course, there’s the one that Jews and Arabs don’t get along. Even if that is true in many cases, in this story, all you see are Jews and Arabs treating one another like human beings.

There’s also the stereotype that Arabs live for revenge and justice. In fact, early in the film, Morad’s father is tempted to take revenge against the Arab neighbors who attacked his son. Some friends even suggest it. But in a defining scene, with a few friends playing the drums around a campfire, the father gets up, starts to dance and decides that he will devote every ounce of his being to saving his son, because, as he says, “His blood runs through my veins.”

You can’t be human and not be moved by these expressions of love — the love of a father for his son, the love of a doctor for his patient, the love of workers in a dolphin lagoon for a traumatized boy they help bring back to life.

It is this very celebration of life — symbolized by the playful and loyal dolphins — that slowly coaxes Morad back to humanity. How ironic that it takes loving animals to help him regain his trust in humans.

As I reflected on the film, I found myself wishing it would play on Al Jazeera and be seen by millions across the Middle East. That deeply divided part of the world could use an innocent reminder that the truest label we all share is our humanity. Beyond Arab and Jew, man and woman, Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, we are all part of the same species, sharing primal needs — like our craving for love — that transcend all differences.

“We didn’t really focus on the idea of Jew and Arab when we shot the film,” Dani Menkin, the co-director and producer of the film, told me during the panel discussion I moderated after the screening. “We shot a story of humans interacting with each other. We weren’t thinking of giving a special message. It was just an amazing story that I fell in love with.”

We’ve seen many Israeli films over the years that play to the negative stereotype of the big, bad Israel as the oppressor of Arabs. This stereotype is reinforced by the endless string of news stories describing discrimination against Israeli Arabs and examples of mutual animosity between the groups.

But lost in this big picture are the many little stories of Jews and Arabs peacefully co-existing and treating one another like human beings.

We can only be grateful for films like “Dolphin Boy,” which come along once in awhile to crack our cynicism and remind us that beneath the heavy noise of darkness lies the silent whisper of hope.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Palestinians plan “other options” if U.N. bid fails

Palestinians want the Security Council to decide on their bid for full U.N. membership soon so they can pursue “other options”, the Palestinian U.N. envoy said, repeating charges that Washington is procrastinating to avoid a vote.

Riyad Mansour, in comments to a Palestinian newspaper, did not say what the Palestinians would do once their bid for U.N. membership reached its conclusion. It is widely expected that the bid will fail because of U.S. opposition.

However, Palestinian officials have said that failure at the Security Council would push them to seek an upgrade in their U.N. status to that of a “non-member state”, something they can secure from the General Assembly without Security Council approval.

The Palestinians currently hold the status of an “observer entity” at the United Nations.

“We are serious about this application and we want it to reach its logical conclusion in the hope that we succeed,” Mansour told Al-Ayyam newspaper in remarks published on Thursday.

“But if we do not succeed, we want this effort to end in a near time frame so we can resort to other options available to us.”

Diplomats at the United Nations said on Wednesday the Palestinian quest was likely to come to a head on or around Nov. 11, when Security Council members plan a final meeting to decide their response.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted the application for full U.N. membership on Sept. 23 in the face of opposition from the United States and Israel.

They accuse him of trying to bypass the two-decade old peace process with moves they describe as unilateral. Washington says the new Palestinian approach will not bring them any closer to their goal of an independent state.

This can only happen through peace talks, it says.

The Palestinians respond that the peace process has hit a dead end and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements threatens to destroy any chance of the establishment of a viable state. Recognition as a state in the U.N. system will level the playing field in future peace talks, they argue.

Recognition as a “non-member state” will pave the Palestinians’ way to membership of U.N. and international agencies to which the Palestinians are currently denied access.

These include the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians have suggested they could bring cases against Israel.

Mansour said the United States was attempting to obstruct the application for full U.N. membership, repeating an accusation made by other Palestinian officials.

Washington was using “all means available to it with the aim of obstructing the Palestinian application in the Security Council”, he said.

While the Palestinian application looks certain to fail in the council, Abbas has made a major effort to attract nine votes in support, which would force the United States to use its veto and be seen by the Palestinians as a moral victory.

To pass, resolutions need nine votes and no vetoes.

Washington and its allies have been trying to defuse the diplomatic crisis over the Palestinian U.N. application by trying again to revive peace talks which broke down over a year ago because of the settlement issue.

International mediators will hold separate meetings with both sides next week in Jerusalem, though analysts say there is little chance of a breakthrough because of a chasm between them, particularly over the issue of settlement expansion.

Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Elizabeth Piper

Jewish teens arrested for attacks on Arabs

Israeli police have arrested nine Jewish teens suspected in a series of attacks on Arabs.

The seven minors, including a 14-year-old girl, and two young men have been arrested over the last two weeks, police announced Tuesday after a gag order on the case was lifted.

The Jewish teens reportedly had the girl seduce the Arabs and lead them to various meeting places, including Independence Park, where they would attack them with stones, glass bottles and pepper spray. Several of the Arabs required hospitalization.

The suspects confessed to police that their acts were nationalistically motivated, according to reports. They are under house arrest; more arrests are expected.

Meanwhile, about 200 residents of the coastal city of Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, protested Monday night against renting apartments to Arabs and against relationships between the town’s Jewish women and Arab men under the banner “Keeping Bat Yam Jewish.”

Most of the protesters were young and religious, Haaretz reported. The chief rabbi of Bat Yam two weeks ago signed his name to a rabbinic ruling forbidding Jews from renting to Arabs.

Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahyani condemned the demonstration. A counter protest was mounted.

Body of American tourist, allegedly killed by Arabs, found near Jerusalem

The body of an American tourist was found near Jerusalem a day after she was attacked and kidnapped, allegedly by Arab assailants.

Christine Logan’s body was identified Sunday morning by Jerusalem police. Her hometown in the United States has not yet been reported.

Logan and a friend, Susan Kaye Wilson, a tour guide from Givat Ze’ev who made aliyah from Great Britan in 1991, were attacked Saturday while hiking at Khirbet Hanut, an archaeological site near Beit Shemesh.

Wilson told police, according to reports, that two Arab men beat and stabbed the women and tied their hands behind their backs. Wilson said she pretended to be dead and later escaped. Wilson was hospitalized at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem with stab wounds to her upper body.

A massive search began Saturday for Logan, involving roadblocks and checkpoints, as well as hundreds of Israeli army and Border Police troops, Haaretz reported.

Police are working to determine if the attack was nationalistically motivated or random violence.

Cables show shared Israeli, Arab concerns about Iran

A peek behind the scenes offered by the WikiLeaks cables published this week offer hints into U.S. and regional priorities. The two issues cropping up most often in the Middle East are Iran and Israeli-Arab peace. The cables also offer choice insights into how Americans interact with the locals.

Iran and peace

In private discussions, leaders from Egypt and Dubai both talk about their enmity for Hamas, and they and the Saudi king also warn of the dangers of Iran.

In a classified message from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in January 2008, Omar Suleiman, director of Egyptian General Intelligence, tells Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) that Iran “is supporting Jihad and spoiling peace, and has supported extremists in Egypt previously.” Iranian support of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood makes them “our enemy,” Suleiman says.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January 2009, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo wrote that after talking to Egyptian Foreign Minister Abdoul Gheit, he is positive that Egyptian President Mubarak sees Iran as Egypt’s “greatest long-term threat, both as it develops a nuclear capability and as it seeks to export its ‘Shia Revolution.’ ” As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mubarak is “proud of (Egypt’s) role as intermediary, well aware that they are perhaps the only player that can talk with the Israelis, all Palestinian factions, and (The U.S.). Mubarak hates Hamas, and considers them the same as Egypt’s own Muslim Brotherhood, which he sees as his own most dangerous political threat.”

The Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf share similar sentiments on Iran. A letter sent to Rice from the Dubai consul general in January 2007 states that in a meeting with Nicholas Burns, a State Department undersecretary, the emirate’s leader, Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, “agreed that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but warned of the dire regional consequences of military action.” In addition, Dubai agreed to cooperate in financial restrictions against Iran, but only if it is done quietly. The Dubai leader also said he hoped for a peace deal because it “would make Hamas everyone’s enemy.”

The Saudi king took his hatred toward Iran a step further, telling John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser in Washington in March 2009 that he had just finished a telephone conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and scolded him that that Iran should “stop interfering in Arab affairs.”

“A solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, the King said, but Iran would find other ways to cause trouble,” the cable reported. ” ‘Iran’s goal is to cause problems,’ he continued, ‘There is no doubt something unstable about them.’ “

The moving Iran deadline

In a March 2005 cable, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer describes Israel’s fear of Iran’s nuclear weapons program as reaching the “point of no return” when Iran is able to enrich uranium without assistance—a development believed to have been achieved by 2007.

The cables show that Israeli officials saw the diplomatic efforts vis-a-vis Iran as relevant and crucial. However, they expressed their disappointment with the European Union, which according to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was “too soft,” Kurtzer reported. As to the military option, unlike the strike against Iraq in 1981, hitting Iran would be a much more difficult task, and furthermore would “elicit a strong response from Arab states and the Palestinians, effectively freezing the peace process.”

In a May 2009 meeting between an American congressional delegation and Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, Barak stressed that “no option should be removed from the table when confronting Iran and North Korea.”

Barak also described the Iranians as “chess, not backgammon players,” who will “attempt to avoid any hook to hang accusations on, and look to Pakistan and N. Korea as models to emulate in terms of acquiring nuclear weapons while defying the international community.” Barak also estimated a window between six and 18 months from when the meeting was held in which “stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable.” After that, he said, “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.

He also expressed concern that should Iran develop nuclear capabilities, “other rogue states and/or terrorist groups would not be far behind.” Israeli officials now say the “no return” deadline is sometime in 2012.

Regional concerns

In a meeting between Mossad chief Meir Dagan and then-Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) on March 13, 2005 in Tel Aviv, Dagan expressed concerns about the fallout from the end of the Iraq War.

“Foreign fighters originating from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Syria and Yemen have arrived back in their home countries” after fighting together in Iraq, the Israeli top spy said.

Dagan said that Israel has “no assets in Iraq other than a friendly relationship with the Kurds.” However, he said that Israel has interest in the possible impact the jihadis might have in their home countries, especially in ones where the local governments might not be able to fully respond to the challenge brought by the militants.

In a meeting two years later, in July 2007, with Frances Townsend, President Bush’s top terrorism adviser, Dagan raised alarms about Pakistan’s stability.

‘‘Dagan characterized a Pakistan ruled by radical Islamists with a nuclear arsenal at their disposal as his biggest nightmare,” the cable said. “Al-Qaeda and other ‘Global Jihad’ groups could not be relied upon to behave rationally once in possession of nuclear weapons, said Dagan, as they do not care about the well being of states or their image in the media. ‘We have to keep (President Pervez) Musharaf in power,’ said Dagan.” Musharraf, facing allegations of corruption, resigned in 2008.

A wild wedding

A classified document from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow titled “A Caucasus Wedding” describes the life and culture of Dagestan, a republic in the north Caucasus. The detailed description, replete with references to drunken revelry and the corpulence of the locals, also refers to the members of the Jewish community, their numbers and habits.

A special reference was made to the chief rabbi of Stavropol-Kray, described as “a man who looked like Shamil Basayev,” a Chechen Islamist terrorist, “on his day off—flip-flops, T-shirt, baseball cap, beard—but turned out to be the chief rabbi of Stavropol-Kray. He told us he has 12,000 co-religionists in the province, 8,000 of them in its capital, Pyatigorsk. 70 percent are, like him, Persian-speaking Mountain Jews; the rest are a mixture of Europeans, Georgians and Bukharans.”

Elsewhere, it describes the regional compunction for ethnic identification, and how it seemed to be catching among the diplomats.

“After a couple of hours Dalgat’s convoy returned with Aida, horns honking,” the report says, referring to the groom, Dalgat Makhachev, the son of a lawmaker and oil magnate, Gadzhi Makhachev. “Dalgat and Aida got out of the Rolls and were serenaded into the hall, and into the Makhachev family, by a boys’ chorus lining both sides of the red carpet, dressed in costumes aping medieval Dagestani armor with little shields and swords. The couple’s entry was the signal for the emcee to roll into high gear, and after a few toasts the Piter ‘gypsies’ began their performance. (The next day one of Gadzhi’s houseguests sneered, ‘Some gypsies! The bandleader was certainly Jewish, and the rest of them were blonde.’ There was some truth to this, but at least the two dancing girls appeared to be Roma.)”

Poll: More than half of Jewish Israelis want Arabs to leave

Some 53 percent of Israel’s Jewish population believes that the state can encourage Arabs to leave the country, a new poll found.

The Israel Democracy Institute’s 2010 poll released Tuesday also found that 86 percent of the Jewish public, constituting 76 percent of the total public, believes that critical decisions for the state should be made by the Jewish majority.

In addition, 43 percent of the general Israeli public believes that it is equally important for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic country, while 31 percent believe the Jewish component is more important and 20 percent say the democratic element is more important.

Some 51 percent of the general public approves of equal rights between Jews and Arabs, according to the poll, which also found that the more Orthodox the group the greater the opposition to equal rights between Jews and Arabs.

The poll also found that 46 percent of the Jewish public is bothered by Arabs, 39 percent by foreign workers, 23 percent by haredi Orthodox Jews and 10 percent by non-Sabbath observers.

The six researchers who conducted the annual study compiled its answers from public opinion polls that questioned more than 1,203 people. It was presented Tuesday to Israel’s President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Minister of Justice Yaakov Neeman and High Court Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch.

Akko riots expose Israel’s Arab-Jewish tinderbox

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Akko, which erupted after an Arab man drove through a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur, shows just how combustible Arab-Jewish relations in Israel are.

Yet after four successive nights of clashes, in which rampaging Arabs stoned Jewish-owned shops and cars as Jewish mobs torched Arab homes, there was no sign of the violence spreading to other mixed-ethnic cities such as Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth or Lod.

Nor did the current Jewish-Arab tensions appear likely to reach the proportions they did following October 2000, when Israeli police shot dead 12 Israeli Arabs and a visitor from the West Bank in clashes across northern Israel that coincided with the launching of the second Palestinian intifada.

But the rioting in Akko is more than an isolated violent episode in need of containment. Even if the rioting abates, it is sounding warning bells for the Israeli government. Jewish-Arab tensions in Akko and in the country as a whole have been simmering under the surface for years. The rioting was an expression of Arab frustration and Jewish mistrust.

The latest trouble started on the eve of Yom Kippur, Oct. 8. On this holiest day of the Jewish calendar, everything in Israel comes to a halt. For the duration of the 25-hour fast, businesses and places of entertainment are shuttered, and the roads are virtually free of cars. Even completely secular Jews and non-Jewish Israelis refrain from driving in Jewish neighborhoods.

So when an Akko Arab drove his car into a Jewish neighborhood that night, reportedly blaring loud music, the act seemed like a deliberate provocation.

Angry Jews forced the car to stop, pulled out the driver and beat him. News of the beating quickly spread across the city, and from the mosques Arabs were called upon to avenge what by then had been exaggerated to “two Arabs murdered by Jews.”

Hundreds took to the streets, mostly young, masked men who marched into the main Jewish neighborhood smashing shop windows, shattering car windows, slashing tires and torching vehicles. In retaliation, Jewish mobs set fire to several Arab homes in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Police appeared to be overwhelmed by the rioters.

The pattern repeated itself for the next three days and nights. Gradually the police ramped up their response, and by Monday hundreds of police officers were deployed in the city backed up by the Israeli army’s border police. More than 60 arrests were made.

To help defuse the tension, Akko Mayor Shimon Lankri postponed Akko’s annual Fringe Theater festival, explaining that the political content of some of the plays could further aggravate tensions. In any case, he said, audiences would stay away given the new of the riots.

“This is not a time for celebrations,” he declared.

But some saw in Lankri’s announcement an attempt to punish the city’s Arabs, saying Arab businesses benefit most from the business the festival brings to the city.

Meanwhile, right-wing Jewish extremist groups and radical Arab agitators tried to fan the flames while Israel’s political leaders—including some Arab leaders—struggled to restore calm.

Some Jewish extremists called for a boycott of Arab businesses, while Hamas leaders urged Israeli Arabs to start a “third intifada.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused extremists on both sides of “holding the city ransom.”

Mostly, however, leaders on both sides issued appeals for calm and a quick return to coexistence. After meeting Monday with Jewish and Arab religious and community leaders in Akko, President Shimon Peres said he was optimistic and “surprised at the degree of willingness for dialogue on both sides.”

Earlier, Arab community leaders had issued an apology for the desecration of the Jewish holy day. The Arab driver went to a televised meeting in Jerusalem of the Knesset’s Interior Committee, where he said he had not intended any provocation but had made a terrible error of judgment: He said he thought that because it was very late at night, no one would notice his car driving into the mostly Jewish neighborhood where he lived.

In a square outside city hall in Akko, members of the Mapam-affiliated Shomer Hatzair youth movement built a sukkah and invited both Arabs and Jews to visit in a spirit of reconciliation.

One of the first guests was Arab Knesset member Abbas Zakoor, an Akko resident and a member of the radical Raam-Taal party. Arab Knesset members, who often resort to inflammatory language as they compete for an increasingly radicalized Arab constituency, have played a remarkably conciliatory role in the current unrest.

Paradoxically, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which were meant to resolve the Israeli-Arab predicament, have sharpened tensions between Israeli Arabs and Jews.

Israeli Arabs see their Palestinian cousins, once sworn enemies of the Jews, being offered full statehood, while they, citizens of the Israeli state, are ignored. They still recall with anger the October 2000 clashes in which Israeli police opened fire on Arab rioters. The Arabs point to the harsh police response—Israeli police don’t use live fire against Jewish demonstrators—as evidence of the double standard often applied to Israeli Arab citizens.

Similarly, some Israeli Jews point to the riots of eight years ago as a reminder that Israel’s Arab citizens cannot be trusted: When the Palestinians launched their intifada that month, Israel’s Arabs rioted in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The Orr Commission set up to investigate the 2000 clashes found “years of discrimination” against Israeli Arabs and urged the government to do more to promote Jewish-Arab equality and provide Arab and Jewish municipalities with proportionately equal budgets. This has not happened.

In 2006, Israeli Arab leaders moved to a more publicly critical stance on the Jewish state, producing a document seeking virtual autonomy for the Arab minority and calling for an end to the Jewish character of the state. Titled the “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” the paper demanded veto rights and autonomy in domestic affairs, rejected Jewish symbols of state and provided a narrative of colonial conquest by Jews, naming Israeli Arabs as the land’s only indigenous people.

With the background of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict and day-to-day tensions between Israeli Arabs and Jews, particularly in mixed cities like Akko, the rioting there really should have come as no surprise. All that’s needed is something incendiary to set the two sides aflame.

Elie Rekhess, the director of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at Tel Aviv University, says Arab-Jewish relations in Israel are a powder keg waiting to explode. If Akko is not the trigger, something else will be, Rekhess says—unless the government finds a way to give Israeli Arabs a sense of truly shared citizenship.

Clash of ‘right and right’ festers in Jordan Valley

A tragedy, as defined by Amos Oz, one of the Israel’s most outspoken advocates of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is “a clash between right and right.” In the northernmost corner of the West Bank, Oz’s maxim holds true; it is a place where wronged are pitted against wronged. Where the Israeli forced from Gaza meets the Palestinian pushed from his West Bank home.

The tiny settlement of Maskiyot, with just eight families, lies on a gentle rise overlooking the Jordan Valley. Since the Israeli government announced plans to expand the settlement in late July, this settler outpost and one-time army training facility, established in 1982, has emerged as a central symbol for the intractable road to peace between Palestinian and Israeli.

Maskiyot is one of more than 20 settlements in the 75-mile-long Jordan Valley. Date farms, Bedouin shacks and small hamlets break up the brown-and-gold landscape of craggy hills and dry plains. The valley accounts for 28.5 percent of the West Bank land mass controlled by Israel after the Six-Day War. It is sparsely populated, with no more than 6,000 Israeli settlers and 47,000 Palestinians, most of whom live in the ancient city of Jericho.

It is a land where Bedouins shepherd their goats and Palestinian farmers cultivate olives and raise chickens. It is also a place where Israel Defense Forces soldiers guard Israeli settlements surrounded by electric fences, razor wire and lights that face outward.

But more than the physical barriers that separate them, the residents of this valley stand on either side of an unbridgeable ideological chasm. The Palestinians bent on seeing the Israelis go, and the Israelis unwilling to.

Fathy Khdirat is the head of Jordan Valley Solidarity, a Palestinian grass-roots organization that works to publicize the progress of the Israeli presence in the valley. Khdirat sits in a car traveling to a friend’s farm in Al Farsiya, a small community sandwiched between Israeli settlements and military land.

“It is like a needle in your body,” he says, while passing the sign for Maskiyot. “You have to get rid of it as soon as possible.”

However, if Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak signs off on a plan to build 20 more homes just outside the current perimeter fence — and he has not yet said whether he will — Maskiyot could become a northern Jordan Valley fixture for years to come.

The announcement of the expansion elicited condemnation from the United Nations and many in the international community. Maskiyot would be the first new settlement built by the Israeli government since 1999, in contradiction to the guidelines of the all-but-dead “road map” for peace. Plans to expand the settlement in 2006 were frozen after similar criticism.

Yosi Chazut, Maskiyot’s manager, sits at a picnic table at the edge of the six small, pre-fabricated homes that form the nucleus of the tiny settlement. His family, like six of the eight other families living in Maskiyot, was forced from Gaza during the Israeli pullout in the summer of 2005. And although the 29-year-old says he wants peace, his confidence in his Palestinian neighbors was shaken by their actions after the Israeli government took the significant step of moving 8,500 Jewish families from Gaza.

“I gave up my home there, and what did we get in return?” he says. “We got Qassam attacks on Sderot. This [the Palestinians] is not a people that want peace. The purpose is to kick us out of this land and send us somewhere else.”

But Chazut’s future plans lie firmly in Maskiyot. He sees the tiny outpost growing into a 500-family hub of Jewish life in the northern Jordan Valley within 10 years.

He looks out over the bowl of land that sits below the settlement, where settlers have already planted palm and olive trees. The afternoon winds have picked up, whistling through the homes and barracks, alleviating the intense heat that pounds the valley throughout the day. Because of the harsh conditions, settlement in the Jordan Valley has been slower than in the heavily settled areas in the center of Israel, primarily around Jerusalem.

“I didn’t come to live here to stop the future peace plans,” he says. “But if the Arabs don’t want to live with me in peace, it is their problem, not mine. I am the strong one here.”

The argument over the Maskiyot and the Jordan Valley is one at the core of the existence of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.

For the many Israelis, the victory in 1967 and the expansion into the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria were the realization of the full Jewish state as described in the Bible: the Israel that the architects of Zionism had always dreamed of — one which extended from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

But with a larger Israel came a price, most notably the demographic question of the Palestinians — 2.35 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. If Israel were to annex the land, the Jewish majority would be lost to the new Israeli citizens: Palestinians who have a much higher birthrate than Jewish Israelis.

Despite the “demographic time bomb,” settlers like Ephraim Bluth, who lives in a large settlement near Ramallah, don’t see divestment from the West Bank and the Jordan Valley as an option. A native New Yorker, Bluth, moved to Israel 37 years ago. He has eight children, all of whom served in the Israeli army, a fact he alludes to with pride.

There are three different camps of opinion over the question of the land gained in 1967, particularly the West Bank, according to Bluth. One group sees the territories as a strategic asset to be traded for peace, another sees them as a strategic liability, which must be given up, and then there is his constituency.

“I am from the camp that says the land of Israel, including those territories captured in 1967, are in fact a gift from God … this is ours, has been ours and with God’s help, always will be,” Bluth said.

ALTTEXTBut just as Bluth is confident of Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank, Khdirat is sure of its end.

“When the Israeli military jeeps leave, he [Chazut and all the settlers] will leave before them,” Khdirat says with a chuckle. “He have experience leaving from many place to the other. He left his homeland in Morocco maybe, or maybe Europe, and he left Sina [the Sinai Peninsula], and he left Gaza, and he will leave the Jordan Valley.”

But until the settlers leave, he sees them as a constant threat. Khdirat visits the farm of Jasser Daraghmeh, who says that the Israeli government has ordered the demolition of his home because it does not comply with Israeli building code.

“Even if they destroy our home, we will build a new one,” Daraghmeh says. “We will never leave.”

Daraghmeh’s farm is at the bottom of a valley hemmed in by land reserved for the Israeli military to the west and a string of settlements along the ridge to the east, including Maskiyot.

As dusk gives way to the deep blue of coming night, Daraghmeh invites Khdirat to sit with his father and a neighbor for tea. They recline around a small table in plastic chairs set on a dusty patch of ground. The lights of the settlements on the hills above flicker on, as bats flit in and out of the growing darkness on the valley floor. The afternoon winds that come up the valley and over the hills have died down completely.

The men tell stories of their sheep being shot from helicopters and of a brother being killed by a mortar shell. They talk of kin being pushed off the land, of the ever growing radius of the settlers’ fences. Whether some of the stories are exaggerated or entirely fabricated, the truth of their pain is clear. This is the tragedy of the place.

“We have been patient, but I don’t know what my children will do,” says Daraghmeh’s neighbor, Faiq Spah. His allusion is to a future of violence. For these men, like those living in the settlements, true co-existence seems impossible — the threshold for peace long passed, despite leaders on either side who say they are working toward it.

In complete blackness, their stories come to an end. The lights of the settlements gleam on the hills, and the farmers on the valley floor retire to their homes, black without electricity.

How to answer the most common anti-Israel charges

Some charges criticizing Israel are distortions and slanted, based on faulty information and half-truths, animus, and even classic anti-Semitism.
However, the situation and history are complex, and unfortunately, Israel is not perfect.

Here are some answers in a nutshell:

The establishment of the Jewish state violated the right of Palestinian Arabs to self-determination

In 1947, the United Nations had offered self-determination to both Arabs and Jews in western Palestine, and both had been offered their own separate state. Palestinian Arabs could have created their own state in the portion allotted to them under partition at any time. The Arabs unanimously rejected this offer, and the partition boundaries were erased by the Arab invasion in 1948. It was the Arab states — not the Jews — who destroyed the proposed Arab Palestine as they sought to grab all the territory for themselves. Part of what was designated as Arab Palestine was seized by Transjordan in the east (the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and by Egypt on the southwest coast (Gaza). Israeli forces captured western Galilee, which had been used as a base by Arab irregulars. Ironically, in 1947, the only group in the area supporting a separate Arab/Palestinian state was the State of Israel.

Israel expelled the Palestinians in 1948 and has consistently taken over Palestinian land

From the Israeli left to the right, there is agreement about mass expulsion, that many were, in fact, forced to leave. The only question is what proportion of the 700,000 Palestinians who left in 1947-48 were forcibly expelled, and what proportion left voluntarily. About 300,000 were likely forcibly expelled by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and 100,000 to 200,000 left because they were “encouraged” by rumors, bombing of empty buildings by the IDF or frightened that Israeli atrocities like the Deir Yassin massacre would be repeated.

There’s no doubt that David Ben-Gurion and others were very concerned about the large number of Palestinians in the land, and talked openly of “transfer,” going back to the 1930s (in 1936 Jews were only 28 percent of the total population). There’s also no doubt that once Palestinians started leaving, the political and military leaders of the Yishuv were eager to “facilitate the situation.” The debate was over Tokhnit Dalet (Plan D), the military plan that called for expulsions near or behind enemy lines, in hostile villages, etc.

Historian Benny Morris argues that the evidence doesn’t show an intentional program designed ahead of time, but rather a spontaneous response to military conditions by low-level commanders in the field. Others argue (using Morris’ own evidence) that documents clearly show a plan for mass expulsions from above, that is, that Tokhnit Dalet was the realization of the “transfer impulse” under the cover of military language.

Still other scholars take a middle position, arguing that Tokhnit Dalet was originally intended as a purely military and small-scale operation, but that once Palestinians were “encouraged” to leave and the IDF had attained military superiority, the understanding became that the long-term interests of the state would be served by having as few Palestinians as possible. So the argument goes, military commanders were given a “wink and nudge” to expel and Tokhnit Dalet served as an appropriate cover/rationale.

Most of the area of Israel was once Arab owned

According to British government statistics, prior to the establishment of the state, 8.6 percent of the land area now known as Israel was owned by Jews; 3.3 percent by Arabs who remained there; 16.5 percent by Arabs who left the country. More than 70 percent of the land was owned by the British government. Under international law, ownership passed to Israel once it was established and approved as a member nation by the United Nations in 1948. The public lands included most of the Negev — half of Palestine’s post-1922 total area. (Source: Survey of Palestine, 1946, British Mandate Government).

Arabs formed a majority of the population in Palestine, and the Zionists were colonialists from Europe who had no claim to or right to the land of Israel

Jews have had a continuous emotional, religious and historic connection to the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.

At the time of the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution, the Arabs did have a majority in western Palestine as a whole. But the Jews were in a majority in the area allotted to them by the U.N. Partition Resolution (a very small but contiguous area mostly along the coast and in parts of the Galilee — much smaller than the borders after the 1948 war).

Israel humiliated Palestinians during the second intifada (2001-2005) and continue to treat them inhumanely

It is true that Palestinians felt humiliated by the series of checkpoints and searches throughout the West Bank. However, to cite the feelings of humiliation, as legitimate as they are, out of context belies the greater truth. Israelis have had good reason to fear their Palestinian neighbors because of the relentless terrorism, bombings of public buses, restaurants, university cafeterias, kibbutzim, children’s houses and the deliberate murder of Israeli civilians. Israel’s series of checkpoints and searches, while at times excessive, are done not to intimidate or humiliate but for security. The erection of the security fence roughly the length of the Green Line was hotly debated in Israel until it became clear to the government that political considerations aside, the fence was a security necessity. It has proven successful in drastically reducing infiltration of Palestinian terrorists. Even Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) acknowledges the importance of the fence as a security measure.

Israel’s settlements are illegal

Technically, they are not illegal because there has been no peace agreement delineating borders between Israel and the Arab nations. Consequently, Jews have the right to live anywhere they wish. However, from a political point of view, many believe that many of these settlements are obstacles to peace. Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised to remove the vast majority of these settlements subsequent to undertaking the unilateral evacuation of Gaza by Israel in 2005.

Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression

Undeniably, Palestinians are victims — but of whom? For decades the despotic Arab nations used the Palestinians for their own purposes and kept them in squalor in refugee camps. They are also victims of former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat’s well-documented corruption and inability to take the final step to make peace with the Jewish state. They are now victims of Palestinian terrorist movements (e.g., Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, etc.) that have refused to accept the existence of the State of Israel and therefore to compromise over land. The Palestinians are victims of retaliatory raids by the Israeli military against terrorist leaders who deliberately operate out of civilian areas and draw fire from Israel.

Debra Winger explores Jewish/Arab day schools

Students at the Hand in Hand Max Rayne Bilingual School in Jerusalem didn’t know they were meeting a celebrity. They weren’t born when the films “Officer and a Gentleman” and “Terms of Endearment” garnered Debra Winger her Oscar nominations.

But Winger’s tour last month to the Hand in Hand Arab-Jewish day schools was not necessarily meant to move the students, but to enrich her own understanding of pathways for Arab and Jewish co-existence.

“I’d like to think I’m helping, but in the end, it feels selfish — how much I got out of seeing this and what it did to my heart,” the 53-year-old actress told a group of reporters in the library of the school’s new Jerusalem campus.

Raised in a secular Jewish household in Cleveland, Winger volunteered on a kibbutz in 1972 and has maintained her connection ever since. In fact, she was introduced to the bilingual schools following a talk at the Jewish Federation in Florida on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary.

Speaking to the federation audience, she recalled a “fight” she had with an Arab American friend that was triggered by the Second Lebanon War, which broke out while Winger served as a judge for the Jerusalem Film Festival.

“We couldn’t even talk to each other,” Winger told The Jewish Journal, recounting the episode. “She would forward me e-mails with newspaper articles for me to read, and I would reply, saying could you please replace ‘Zionist occupation’ with ‘Israel’ before you send it to me, and then I’ll read it, because I want to hear different opinions, and you have to show some respect.”

Eventually the two reconciled and made their private peace.

“I think in a way we have a deeper, richer understanding and more openness,” she said.

At first, the audience — perhaps expecting a more “what-Israel-means-to-me” type speech — responded with silence to the story. But then Lee Gordon, director of the American Friends of Hand in Hand and the bilingual schools’ co-founder, initiated a contagious round of applause. After the talk, he spoke with her about the schools’ efforts at promoting dialogue.

Initially, Winger was skeptical of the educational franchise.

“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s another Jewish school that’s inviting a few Arabs, kumbaya, and, you know, it doesn’t ultimately work,'” she said.

But she accepted Gordon’s invitation and went to Israel with her husband, director and actor Arliss Howard, and their 10-year-old son. Upon touring three of the Hand in Hand schools, Winger’s skepticism softened.

“I used to think I could see the face of a peacemaker,” she said, “but clearly, I’ve been wrong way too much. The [students] look like peacemakers to me. They understand the dilemma in a different way.”

At one point, Winger stopped two children in the yard, and they admitted they didn’t know who she was. They thought she was just some American visitor.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Winger asked.

They stared and smiled.

The students carry on their day as usual in what comes across as a typical elementary school. Teenagers roam the halls in jeans and sneakers, and toddlers storm the yard at recess. At one point, Winger joined the children for folk dancing in the yard.

Several clues hint to the school’s uniqueness. Two languages are spoken: Hebrew and Arabic. Some female teachers wear the traditional Muslim hijabs. Universal messages of love and peace taken from the Torah, the Gospels and the Quran, as well as from great Western thinkers, are printed in Hebrew and Arabic on classroom doors.

The Jerusalem student body is equally diverse — 50 percent Jewish, 40 percent Muslim and 10 percent Christian. The majority of Arabs are Israeli citizens.

A good portion of the classes are taught by an Arab-Jewish team. The school supplements the state curriculum with programs that attend to the dual nature of the school. From fourth grade on, Jews and Arabs study their respective religious traditions independently.

The Jerusalem branch opened 10 years ago, along with the Galilee branch, followed by new schools in Wadi Ara and Beersheva. The new Jerusalem campus testifies to the growth of the school from a small, first-grade class to a full-fledged day school with 450 children. The school is expanding into high school, and this fall will add a 10th-grade class.

Seventh-graders Areen Nashef, a Muslim, and her Jewish best friend, Yael Keinan, both 12 years old, smiled mischievously when they got called out of class to speak with The Journal. This is not the first time they’ve spoken to the press. Friends since first grade, they often get together outside of school and sleep over at each other’s houses.

“I thought Areen was a Jew when we first met,” said Yael who has long, dirty-blond hair and a pink paper clip dangling from her earring. “After a few days, she told me she was an Arab, and after that it didn’t matter.”

Both are proud for breaking stereotypes of the “other.”

“I went to my cousin who lives in Taibe, up north,” said Areen. “They didn’t know that I study at a bilingual school. They study in Arabic and learn Hebrew because you have to communicate. When I told them I study with a Jew, they asked, ‘What, they didn’t hit you, hurt you?'”

Yael, who describes herself as traditional, has encountered similar suspicions.

“I have a friend who couldn’t believe I had an Arab friend. She saw only what she saw on the news,” Yael said.

Both thoroughly enjoy their studies.

“It’s fun to speak more than one language and also learn another culture,” said Yael.

Speaking in Hebrew, the students have much to say about sensitive issues, particularly politics. Areen described wanting “to feel that Jews were hurt by the Nazis.” On the same note, Yael recalled visiting Arab villages that fell to the Israeli forces during the War of Independence.

“I don’t identify with the Jews or the Palestinians,” said Areen. “I just know you have to have two nations. I think you may need a Jewish state, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of another people.”

The dreadful ‘D’ words

Divorce, dissolution, divestment: These are words that spell the end of a relationship and of what might have been — through time and patience — a meaningful and inspiring marriage.

We know how often this happens to people we know, and so it is happening at this moment to the State of Israel. Like meddling in-laws, we, the world community, sit in the family room voicing our interests in the couple’s future, yet the minute we sense marital discord, we rush for the exit or take sides and fan the flames.

Israel has a population of 7.2 million — 76 percent Jews, 20 percent Arabs and 4 percent immigrant workers. The Israeli-Arab citizenry breaks down as 82 percent Muslims, 9 percent Christian and 9 percent Druze. All these groups live together in an intricate array of diverse ancestry, professional ties and domestic dependence. Each citizen has a vote in the functioning democracy that is the State of Israel, and by extension a voice at the family table of the Knesset.

The entire world debates how to intervene in this contentious and vociferous marriage, whose every dispute we mostly hear second-hand from the world media. Do we continue to support Israel, even though we know there are serious domestic disputes and inequities? Should we divest from, abandon, a world leader in high-tech, biotech, medical and environmental enterprises that benefit the world? In our desire to punish the couple, or one partner, do we ultimately punish ourselves?

These were some of the questions we sought answers to when we joined the Los Angeles Religious Leaders Delegation in an interfaith mission to Rome, the Vatican, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in January 2008, a group of Jews, Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians and a Muslim.

Israeli society is far more complex than we had envisaged. With the exception of the Druze and Bedouins, the Christian and Muslim Arab citizens of Israel identify themselves as Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship. Nowhere is this glass partition more apparent than in Jerusalem, where we experienced the psychological barrier between Arabs and Jews. Although many Israeli-Arabs earn more than their counterparts in other Middle Eastern countries, their wages and the social services they receive in Israel are not on par with Israeli Jews. This Israeli-Arab minority needs to be nurtured, ensured equal social status and accorded full civil rights and municipal services.

According to Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who covers the West Bank and Gaza for various publications and with whom we met, the employment discrepancy can be attributed to two factors: a lower level of education in the Arab work force, resulting in skills more suited to lower paying jobs, and anti-Arab employment discrimination, at all levels of business sectors. Toameh — respected by both Israelis and Palestinians — outlined proposed solutions to the problem, noting that the Israeli government is prioritizing educational reform in the Arab sector, and making genuine efforts to increase Arab employment in higher-paid professions.

As a Christian and a Muslim, who ourselves would be minorities in Israeli society, we believe our most constructive role should be to support responsible investment in Israel, not punishment through divestment actions destined to backfire.

Rather than divestment, we support investment — financial and otherwise — in Israeli enterprises that address social and economic inequalities, enable joint business enterprises, increase employment among the Arab population, and offer high-quality social services to underprivileged and minority citizens. Such enterprises are seeding the ground for a flourishing, mutually beneficial society for Israelis and Palestinians.

For example, at Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin School, at-risk students from lower socioeconomic level Jewish and Arab families and children of immigrant workers harmoniously coexist in a project partially funded by Cisco Systems. Children find a safe haven at Bialik-Rogozin, and receive a quality kindergarden through 12th-grade education. At Mishkenot Ruth Daniel Multicultural Center in Jaffa, Jewish and Arab teenagers interact socially and engage in a variety of social justice projects together, many of which benefit Palestinians in the West Bank.

We also came to understand how successive corrupt Palestinian leaderships have fed the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the territories. Any wishful thinking that divestment will lead to military calm along Israeli-Palestinian borders is strategically flawed. The present war of attrition between Israel and self-governing Gaza has been instigated and sustained by the extremist Hamas leadership whose charter calling for the eradication of Israel harms the very people it claims to serve, malnourishing the nascent Palestinian state which otherwise has the support of virtually the entire international community.

On the occasion of Israel’s 60th birthday, we believe people of good will should turn away from the destructive D words of Divorce, Dissolution and Divestment, and work instead for peace, security and happiness for both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe in supporting the prosperous marriage that can result from targeted investment and economic partnerships between the respective states, and between their many peoples.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson oversees 390 United Methodist Congregations in Southern California, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. Dr. Nur Amersi is the executive director of the Afghanistan World Foundation.

Briefs: Some West Bank settlers would agree to leave, Israel OKs Palestinian police stations

Some West Bank Settlers Would Leave If Offered Government Support, Poll Finds

Approximately one in five Israelis living east of the West Bank security fence would leave if offered government support, a poll found. According to an internal government study, whose results were leaked Tuesday to Yediot Achronot, approximately 15,000 of the 70,000 settlers whose communities are not taken in by the fence would accept voluntary relocation packages.

The poll was conducted at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and Minister Ami Ayalon, who want Israel to group settlers within the fence on the assumption that it will serve as the de facto border with a future Palestinian state. The newspaper did not provide details on how many people were polled or the margin of error.

Israel’s failure to satisfactorily rehabilitate many of the 8,000 Jews it removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005 has raised speculation that West Bank settlers would think twice about accepting government relocation offers.

Israel OKs Reopening of 20 Palestinian Police Stations in West Bank

Israel will allow the reopening of 20 West Bank police stations under Palestinian control. The stations will have a staff of approximately 500 and are located in a zone under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. This is the first time Israel has permitted such a move since 2001. It is part of commitments made last week by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to ease the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

“This aims to enhance security and impose law and order under the Abbas security plan,” Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Ministry, told Reuters.

Al Qaeda Assails Hamas’ Purported Willingness to Support Peace Accord

Al Qaeda came out against Hamas’ purported willingness to support a future Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a statement on the Internet Tuesday attacking the Palestinian Islamist group after its leaders told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that they could support a future peace accord if it passes a Palestinian referendum.

“As for peace agreements with Israel, they spoke of putting it to a referendum, despite considering it a breach of shariah,” Zawahiri said, referring to Muslim law. “How can they put a matter that violates shariah to a referendum?”

Hamas has made clear, however, that it would continue in its refusal to recognize the Jewish state, no matter what peace terms Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reaches with the Israelis. The referendum demanded by Hamas also would have to include millions of “exiled” Palestinians, many of them radicalized refugees, making it a nonstarter in terms of logistics and of the possibility of endorsing a vision of two-state coexistence.

Rising Anti-Semitism in Muslim Countries Fueling Hostility to Israel, Study Finds

Official anti-Semitism is on the rise in Muslim countries of the Middle East, fueling long-term hostility to Israel, a study found. Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a study this week arguing that in Iran and Arab states — even those that have recognized the Jewish state — officially sanctioned statements of anti-Semitism with a Muslim slant are increasing, often as a means of diverting internal dissent from the government.

One salient example is Holocaust denial twinned with allegations that Israel is practicing a “real” holocaust against the Palestinians. Anti-Semitism tends to rise in parallel to progress in diplomatic rapprochement between Arab regimes and Israel, calling into question the long-term efficacy of such accords.

The study singled out Iran as a country whose anti-Semitism poses a potential threat to Israel’s existence, given Tehran’s supposed nuclear program.

“Anti-Semitism supported by a state, which publicly adheres to a policy of genocide and is making efforts to arm itself with nonconventional weapons which will enable it to carry out that policy, is unprecedented since Nazi Germany,” the study said.

IDF Investigating Cameraman’s Death

Israel announced an investigation into the killing of a Reuters cameraman by its forces in the Gaza Strip. Following calls for a probe by Reuters and international watchdog groups, the Israeli military said Sunday it was gathering information to determine the circumstances behind the death of Fadel Shana.

Shana was killed while filming a central Gaza combat zone, and film from his camera showed an Israeli tank firing in his direction. An autopsy revealed that he had been hit by a kind of dart used in Israeli shells.

Some critics have suggested the tank crew targeted Shana, although it knew he was a journalist. The Israeli military rejected this.

“The IDF wishes to emphasize that unlike terrorist organizations, not only does it not deliberately target uninvolved civilians, it also uses means to avoid such incidents,” the IDF said in a statement. “Reports claiming the opposite are false and misleading.”

Israel Foils Two Hamas Border Attacks

Israeli forces foiled a massive Palestinian assault on a key Gaza Strip border crossing. Using an armored car and two explosives-laden jeeps painted to resemble Israeli military vehicles, Hamas terrorists rammed the Kerem Shalom border terminal before dawn last Saturday. Israeli soldiers at first responded with small-arms fire, but took cover as the jeeps were blown up by their drivers.

In parallel, another Hamas armored car tried to smash through the Gaza-Israel border fence north of Kerem Shalom but was destroyed by tank fire. Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the Kerem Shalom incident, and four Hamas gunmen were killed.

Israel’s top brass said Hamas had been denied its objective of killing a large number of troops and abducting others in a blow to the Jewish state’s morale on Passover eve. Six Hamas gunmen and another Palestinian were killed in later Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

Israel Upgrades Dress Code for Official Meetings

A more formal dress code is being adopted in the halls of Israel’s government. Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel sent ministers and other top Israeli officials an advisory that following the Passover vacation, they will be expected to dress formally at government-level meetings, Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday.

The other refugees


Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than “refugee”? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image — this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel’s creation 60 years ago came with an “original sin,” and that Palestinians deserve the “right of return.”

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel’s neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return — which would erode Israel’s Jewish character — has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here’s the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi (“the protected”) subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination — not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That’s when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention “Jewish refugees” whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It’s a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who’s fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel’s precarious image in the world. But he’s far from being a cynic. He’s passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother’s house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique “listen and adapt:” You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained — in Arabic — that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it’s because it is “Inshallah” (God’s will). Abitbol got the other man’s attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn’t put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

We pledge allegiance to your shorts

Camp Pranks

There is something inherently cruel in laughter at the expense of other people (“We Salute Your Shorts,” July 13).

It’s one thing to satirize, mock or lampoon where it’s appropriate. However, pranks at summer camp often are hurtful and scary for children.

It’s disturbing to read that well-known rabbis and cantors have no regret for their actions. Do they encourage children to do the same?

I detect a profound lack of maturity, compassion and consideration when adults approve or tolerate such behavior.

We belong to a people charged with the task of uplifting the human spirit.

Pranks at summer camp, which harm the dignity or emotional health of others, are antithetical to our purpose.

J. Sand
Los Angeles

Grocery Chains

Susan Freudenheim’s editorial brought back memories (“Berries, Pizza and a Smile,” July 13).

During the 2003 grocery store strike, the behavior of management was so egregious that it alienated conservatives who wanted to hear their side of the story. They simply locked themselves up and refused to dialogue with the community. In contrast, the workers expressed themselves with tremendous passion, clarity and integrity.

Apparently, the “big three” grocery store chains, similar to other businesses, are trying to rid themselves of career employees who have families to care for and mortgages to pay. They wish to create a cheap, docile workforce of students and youngsters who are simply “passing through” on their way to other things. This should be a source of concern to all of us.

The big three grocery store chains are moribund already. They are not welcome in blue-collar neighborhoods, where they have been supplanted by ethnic markets and mom-and-pop stores offering better service and much better prices.

If the big three grocery store chains die, it won’t be because they were killed it will be because they committed suicide.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys

Sonenshein Wrong

Raphael J. Sonenshein gets it all wrong in his article, “Neocons Setting Dangerous Course to Iran,” (July 13).

He derides a laundry list of Jewish thinkers who do not embrace a pacifistic, defeatist view of America’s place on the world stage. He dismisses as lightweight thinkers Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Eliot Abrams, Douglas Feith and Scooter Libby — and as a toss in, “evil incarnate” Sen. Joesph Lieberman, the whipping boy of every leftist Democrat.

But let’s be real. The idea to change the politic of the Middle East was well placed — however, a flawed execution of early success, wasted a brilliant vision by those just mentioned.

Let’s get one thing straight. The far left is no friend to Israel or to Jews in general. We are not talking about the socialist Democrats of the World War II era or those that stood with the civil rights movement in the ’60s or opposed the Vietnam War. We are talking about the pro-Third World whatever bunch who hate Israel because it is Western oriented and prosperous.

They prefer Jews who are victims, not those with tanks and a modern air force. The human rights violations and sheer mass murder by countries such as China, North Korea, Iran, Syria and Cuba, just to mention a few, fail to stir up a fraction of the scorn and indignation directed at Israel. What I wonder makes them different?

Now, as to the outlandish notion of taking on Iran, what is the problem? If the idea of a nuclear Iran, which has sworn to wipe Israel off the face of the planet, is not troublesome to you, then Sonenshein’s averment that the threat from Islam is, to use his words, “exaggerated,” is both noteworthy and justified.

If, however, you believe that Islam in general and Iran specifically pose a threat to both the United States and Israel, then what grand plan does Sonenshein offer as an alternative? The answer is none.

Richard Binder
Pasadena

Inside Job

It saddens me to think that Jewish singles would think it takes someone else to complete them (“Marry First, Date Later,” July 6).

Would it not be better to look for a soulmate when one feels they are whole and complete within themselves?

Would they then not have more to offer a relationship, and then they could also seek someone who is also whole? I don’t believe anyone else can really complete you. That’s an inside job.

Judith O. Kollmon
Sherman Oaks

No New Arab State

Morton Klein’s rejection of Gidi Grinstein’s approach to Fatah and the Palestinians is unfortunately a continuation of the lack of open-mindedness and innovative ideas that characterizes many mainstream pro-Israel American organizations like his Zionist Organization of America (Letters, July 6).

Klein and the leaders of these organizations are partly responsible for the lack of open debate in our community. Unlike in Israel, where an overwhelming majority support a Palestinian state and frank discussion about the status of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights is encouraged, Jewish organizations have branded those who discuss these options as outside the mainstream.

It is time for a new approach from our community leaders and organizations, an approach that mirrors the openness in Israeli society to these complex issues.

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus
Via e-mail

Open Discussion

Observers are right to note that Hamas’ conquest of the Gaza Strip calls into question the idea of giving the Palestinian Arabs another state (i.e. in addition to Jordan, which comprised the majority of Palestine) (“Political Shake-Up Spurs Ideas on Two-State Solution,” July 13).