Palestinian officials in Hebron want more cooperation with Israeli Army


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

A Palestinian driver rammed his car into an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint near the West Bank town of Hebron on Wednesday, seriously wounding him, before soldiers shot and killed the driver. It was the latest incident in a string of attacks that have made the West Bank city of Hebron the focus of the violent wave of Palestinian violence that has left 11 Israelis and some 70 Palestinians dead over the past month. Israeli officials say that 26 of the assailants from the past few weeks are from Hebron. 

In an effort to curb violence in Hebron, the Palestinian Authority leadership is considering asking the Israeli army to reestablish the Joint Security Committee, the cooperative effort between the Palestinian National Security Forces and the Israeli army which had been in force in the city between 1995 and early 2001 in order to keep Hebron calm. It was disbanded with the beginning of the Second Intifada, or uprising, that left hundreds dead.

Palestinians in Hebron say the army does not do enough to protect them from attacks by extremist Israelis. On October 17, 18-year-old Fadel Al-Qawasmeh was shot and killed by a Jewish resident in Hebron. The Israeli army claimed that Al-Qawasmeh had a knife and threatened to stab the civilian, a claim that Amnesty International has denied, but the army insists that if the Jewish resident had acted improperly, he would have been arrested.

Hebron is unique in the West Bank in that about 500 Israeli Jews live in several enclaves among 270,000 Palestinians. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers are stationed in Hebron to protect the Israelis living there, and Palestinians are not allowed to use streets near the Jewish enclaves.

Palestinians say that the Israeli Jews living in Hebron are armed and are often responsible for the violence.

“Palestinians in Hebron are angry because of the increased violence by the Israeli radical Jewish settlers,” Hebron Governor Kamel Hamid told The Media Line using the term applied to Jewish Israelis living in communities located on land Israel conquered in the 1967 war. “They are armed and they have killed little boys, claiming they were a threat. I can understand the shooting at legs, but not executions.”

Palestinian security officials say that Hebron has become increasingly dangerous.

“The city of Hebron has become the focal point for clashes between the Palestinians on one hand and the occupation army and the settlers on the other hand,” Mohammad Naeem, a senior security official in the Palestinian Authority told The Media Line. “Direct contact with extremist armed Jews who live in enclaves set up in the heart of the city is the most important reasons why young Palestinians in Hebron carry out aggression. They are being threatened by an armed neighbor.”

Naeem said that the Palestinian Authority cannot be blamed for the violence, as Israel is in control of the parts of the city where the Jewish residents live. Hebron is divided into H-1, which is under Palestinian control, and H-2 is under Israeli control. He said the army must do more to control the Israeli “settlers” – whom Palestinians argue are responsible for much of the tension.

At least some in the Israeli army agree that the Jewish residents in Hebron are making it harder to calm the situation down.

“Right-wing violence in the West Bank is one of the causes of Palestinian terror,” a senior Israel Defense Forces officer told a court last month.

“Some of the motivation of the Palestinians to carry out terror attacks is due to the violence of right-wing elements in the West Bank,” the director of the IDF operations directorate, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, said in testimony at a trial about incitement on the Hakol Hayehudi (The Jewish Voice) website.

Israeli military officials say they are doing everything they can to calm the situation down. They have sent hundreds of extra soldiers to Hebron, with a total of four divisions currently in the West Bank.

“We are seeing individual attackers who are being inspired by attackers who came before them,” a senior official in the army’s Central Command, which includes Hebron, told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “If they have problems at home, it’s easy to take a knife from the kitchen and attack a soldier or a Jewish civilian.”

The army’s main concern, the official said, is to help calm the situation as quickly as possible. Soldiers stationed in Hebron receive special briefings and training, and “the goal is to strengthen feelings of security,” for both the Jewish residents and the local population, she said.

The official also said that coverage of several of the recent incidents in Hebron has not been correct.  Amnesty International has recently published a report saying that several of the Palestinians killed in Hebron did not pose an immediate threat and charged Israel with “extrajudicial killing.”

The army official sharply disagreed, saying the army is careful to follow the protocol for ending attacks and to open fire only when the soldiers’ lives are in danger.

“It is not a sterile environment here, but each incident has a weapon,” she said. “Often the soldiers want to get the knives out of the way, so they kick them and then they are not found close to the body.”

She also charged that the Palestinians are encouraging more attacks by glorifying them. Israel this week closed the “Hurriya” radio station in Hebron, saying it was inciting Palestinians to more violent attacks. Palestinians posted photos on Facebook showing damage to the radio station they said was done by the soldiers.

Indian intelligence warns of possible terror attack on Israeli targets


Intelligence agencies in India have warned of a possible terror attack on Israeli targets in the country.

Potential targets include the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi or Israeli tourists, according to reports. New Delhi police have beefed up security around the Israeli Embassy, The Statesman reported.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced recently that he will visit Israel this year amid deepening ties between the two countries.

Israeli security officials told the Israeli media that the warning is “routine.”

An Israeli diplomat’s wife was injured by a car bomb in New Delhi in February 2012.

In November 2008, six Jews were killed at a Mumbai Chabad house during attacks on several sites throughout the city by a Pakistani terrorist group that left 166 dead and hundreds wounded.

Israel will continue to target attackers, Netanyahu tells Blair


Israel will continue to attack the groups that fire rockets on her citizens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu's statement Monday morning during a meeting with Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair came after Israeli airstrikes targeted what the Israel Defense Forces described as “launching squads” in two locations in the northern Gaza Strip. Two Palestinian men were killed in the strikes. Hamas' military wing claimed one as a fighter and Islamic Jihad claimed the other as a fighter in its militia, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency. At least two others were reported injured.

The IDF said the attacks were in response to mortar shell fire at a routine IDF patrol on the border with northern Gaza, near the Israeli kibbutz of Nir Am.

“We've got Hamas, supported by Iran, firing rockets at us. They’ve fired again. We're not going to let anyone arm themselves and fire rockets on us and think that they can do this with impunity,” Netanyahu said. “They're not going to get away with it. We attacked them before, we attacked them after and we're going to prevent them from arming themselves. This is our policy.”

Also Monday, five Kassam rockets were fired at the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, with no injuries or damage reported, according to Ynet.

Since the beginning of this year, more than 500 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit Israel, including over 50 during October alone, according to the IDF.

Mimicking Al-Qaida, militant threat grows in Sinai


They came in Toyota pick-up trucks, dozens of heavily armed masked men, firing machineguns and waving the black flag of Al-Qaida as terrified residents and police huddled indoors, and then disappeared again, melting away into the mountains and remote villages of Egypt’s Sinai desert.

The raid on the town of al-Arish in July 2011 was the first warning Egypt had of the strength of the jihadis in North Sinai. It was a warning largely unheeded until suspected Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards this month and drove a stolen armored car across the Israeli border before it was destroyed by Israeli forces.

Egypt is now pouring in troops to try to restore stability, and the sophistication of the border attack has finally set alarm bells ringing about the militant threat in the Sinai.

“Sinai is ideal and fertile ground for Al-Qaida,” said Khalil al-Anani, a Middle East specialist at Durham University in England. “It could become a new front for Al-Qaida in the Arab world.”

Diplomats and analysts say there is no evidence as yet of formal links between Al-Qaida and the Sinai militants – made up of Bedouin aggrieved at their treatment by Cairo, Egyptians who escaped prisons during last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak, and Palestinians from neighboring Gaza.

They blend a toxic mix of smuggling, gun-running and human trafficking with the “takfiri” ideology of Al-Qaida – which declares all Muslims who do not follow their purist, Salafist interpretation of Islam as “kafirs” – infidels. Crime and religion are soldered by ferocious opposition to Israel.

“The Sinai has become a base for all kinds of extremist groups,” Yitzhak Levanon, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, told Reuters. “Their overarching objective is to hurt us, to expel us, to set up a caliphate and shock the Middle East.”

And they pose a serious threat not just to Israel, but, perhaps more importantly, to Egypt.

Any attack on Israel that provoked Israeli retaliation could upset a peace treaty signed with Egypt in 1979 and put huge pressure on new Islamist President Mohamed Mursi. Or militants could turn west to attack the Suez Canal.

“It is much easier for these fundamentalist Bedouin groups inspired by extreme Salafi/Qaeda-like doctrine to attack ships in the Suez Canal than to mount an operation on the Israeli border,” said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Sinai region, handed over to Egypt by Israel under the terms of their U.S.-brokered peace accord, has long been neglected by Cairo, leaving room for crime to flourish.

But residents in al-Arish, the administrative centre of North Sinai on the Mediterranean coast, said they realized the threat had become much more serious when their town was raided on July 29 last year.

‪‪“They looked like trained groups, not the normal thugs we see,” said one shopkeeper, who like other residents was afraid to be named for fear of retribution.

Waving copies of the Koran and the flag of Al-Qaida – recognizable by the white Arabic lettering declaring faith in Islam superimposed on black to signify jihad – they spread out across the town and took up positions on rooftops.

At the police station nearby, terrified security forces barricaded themselves inside, while the gunmen shot at anyone who ventured outside. “They had all kinds of weapons, including rocket-propelled-grenades,” said another resident.

One had a Palestinian accent, said the shopkeeper, saying he heard him speaking over the phone saying that, “Our ammo is over and we don’t know where we are.”

Six died, including one of the gunmen, before Egyptian reinforcements arrived. “They ran away in all directions and nobody knows where they went,” said the shopkeeper.

PINNING HOPES ON MURSI

‪‪The newly launched army operation – billed as the biggest offensive in the region since the 1973 war with Israel – has yet to make much of an impact, and may make things worse if heavy-handed tactics drive more youth into the arms of the militants.

“Sinai needs a comprehensive strategy: social, economic and political,” said Durham University’s Anani.

Some residents even expressed cautious optimism that Mursi – who sacked army chief Hussein Tantawi on Sunday [ID:nL6E8JD1UW] – might improve the situation by reining in the military, whose past crackdowns have helped militants attract fresh recruits.

It was unclear whether Tantawi’s sidelining was linked to the attack on the border, although the deaths of the 16 Egyptian guards caused widespread public anger.

“There are some extremist ideas in Sinai but in my view, they don’t require all this military mobilization; there should have been a round of dialogue and tribal work,” said Abdel Rahman al-Shorbagy, a member of parliament for North Sinai representing the Freedom and Justice Party of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies. He estimated the numbers of militants in the sparsely populated desert region at between 1,000 and 1,500.

Mubarak built up tourist resorts in South Sinai that locals say mostly benefited Egyptians from the Nile Valley, and tried to impose an Egyptian administrative structure on North Sinai which undermined the authority of local Bedouin tribal elders.

Economic neglect forced people to seek work in the Gulf, and after Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007, many made money smuggling arms and other supplies through tunnels into the enclave ruled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

The situation worsened during the uprising when security forces often abandoned their posts; the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi later that year brought an influx of weapons.

For Sinai youth, struggling to make a living, it was easy to be drawn into the simple message of Al-Qaida – that only if Muslims return to the purist lifestyle of the Prophet Mohammed can they challenge the economic and political clout of the West.

“What brought this ideology is the marginalization,” says one resident. “If someone can’t earn a living, he thinks the alternative is to be strict in worship.”

In every village, three or four youths have disappeared to join the militants, sometimes inspired by Al-Qaida propaganda over the Internet, and sometimes by preachers in local mosques.

They often sever contact with their relatives, not even returning during the month of Ramadan when families gather together for the “iftar” meal which ends the day-long fast.

“We always have iftar together but they never come,” said one villager who had two cousins who had joined the militants.

“TORA BORA OF SINAI”

With a lack of roads, development and state control, the mountains and villages of North Sinai’s vast desert hinterland are nearly impenetrable, making it easy for militants to hide.

In the Jabal al-Halah mountain in central Sinai, they are believed to be so well dug in that nobody can touch them.

“The Bedouins call this place the Tora Bora of Sinai. The Egyptian authorities are extremely reluctant to go there,” said Yaari, in a reference to the Afghan mountain hideout used by Al-Qaida after the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

He said, without explaining how he knew, that the men behind the attack on the border had spent some time encamped there.

North Sinai is in some ways similar to the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al-Qaida has dug deep roots. Both have been neglected by central government; both lie in the middle of wider political conflicts.

And the authority of tribal leaders in both has been diminished as money – from crime, Gulf remittances and state patronage – filtered into other hands – making it easier for militants to promote unity in Islam over tribal loyalty.

“We are witnessing today the rise of these new Bedouin fundamentalists,” said Yaari. “They are destroying the old tribal structures. They allow marriages between rival tribes and force women to wear the veil. This never happened before.”

A particular fear is that militant Salafists in Gaza and Sinai are joining forces, creating an environment ripe for Al-Qaida were it to seek a base for use against Israel or the more moderate political Islam of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Already, according to one Arab diplomat in Islamabad, Egyptian members of Al-Qaida have begun to move back from Pakistan to take advantage of political changes at home.

As yet, however, the Sinai militants appear to be mimicking Al-Qaida rather than trying to establish formal links with the group whose leader Ayman al-Zawahri – who took over after Osama bin Laden was killed last year – is himself Egyptian.

Diplomats and experts in Gaza say Salafist leaders there speak of admiration for Al-Qaida but deny factional ties.

“Al-Qaida is more interested in using Palestine as a tag for its global fight rather than have an actual base in Gaza or the West Bank,” said one diplomat. “They believe a Palestinian group would have a more nationalist outlook.”

Yaari said he believed the Bedouin jihadis were communicating with Al-Qaida in Yemen, and maybe also in north Africa. “But so far, although they are seeking recognition from Al-Qaida, they have not obtained it.”

He also dismissed suggestions that foreign fighters might have played a big role in the border attack. “There are some foreigners in the Sinai, but they are more like hitchhikers,” he said. “If it weren’t for the fact that so many are heading to Syria, we would see more in the Sinai.”

(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Myra MacDonald in London and Michael Georgy in Islamabad; Writing by Myra MacDonald; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Spate of attacks kills 107 across Iraq


At least 107 people were killed in bomb and gun attacks in Iraq on Monday, a day after 20 died in explosions, in a coordinated surge of violence against mostly Shi’ite Muslim targets.

The bloodshed, which coincided with an intensifying of the conflict in neighboring Syria, pointed up the deficiencies of the Iraqi security forces, which failed to prevent insurgents from striking in multiple locations across the country.

As well as the scores of deaths, at least 268 people were wounded by bombings and shootings in Shi’ite areas of Baghdad, the Shi’ite town of Taji to the north, the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul and many other places, hospital and police sources said, making it one of Iraq’s bloodiest days in weeks.

No group has claimed responsibility for the wave of assaults but a senior Iraqi security official blamed the local wing of al Qaeda, made up of Sunni Muslim militants hostile to the Shi’ite-led government, which is friendly with Iran.

“Recent attacks are a clear message that al Qaeda in Iraq is determined to spark a bloody sectarian war,” the official said, asking not to be named.

“With what’s going on in Syria, these attacks should be taken seriously as a potential threat to our country. Al Qaeda is trying to push Iraq to the verge of Shi’ite-Sunni war,” he said. “They want things to be as bad as in Syria.”

Iraq, whose desert province of Anbar, a Sunni heartland, borders Syria, is nervous about the impact of the conflict in its neighbor where mainly Sunni rebels are fighting to end President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite-dominated rule.

The Iraqi government said on Monday it rejected Arab League calls for Assad to quit, saying it was for the Syrian people alone to decide his fate and others “should not interfere”.

Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Doha earlier in the day offered Assad a “safe exit” if he stepped down swiftly.

Baghdad advocates reform in Syria, rather than endorsing calls by Sunni-ruled Gulf nations for Assad’s removal.

The last two days of attacks in Iraq shattered a two-week lull in violence in the run-up to the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which Iraqis began observing on Saturday.

Sectarian slaughter peaked in 2006-2007 but deadly attacks have persisted while political tensions among Iraq’s main Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions have increased since U.S. troops completed their withdrawal in December.

“I ask the government if security forces are capable of keeping control,” a man named Ahmed Salim shouted angrily at the scene of a car bomb in Kirkuk. “With all these bloody bombs and innocent people killed, the government should reconsider its security plans,” he told Reuters Television.

TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION

The security forces themselves were often the targets or victims of the assaults perpetrated across Iraq.

Gunmen using assault rifles and hand grenades killed at least 16 soldiers in an attack on an army post near Dhuluiya, 70 km (45 miles) north of Baghdad, police and army sources said.

In Taji, 20 km north of Baghdad, six explosions, including a car bombing, occurred near a housing complex. A seventh blast there caused carnage among police who had arrived at the scene of the earlier ones. In all, 32 people were killed, including 14 police, with 48 wounded, 10 of the police.

Two car bombs struck near a government building in Sadr City, a vast, poor Shi’ite swathe of Baghdad, and in the mainly Shi’ite area of Hussainiya on the outskirts of the capital, killing a total of 21 people and wounding 73, police said.

Nine people, including six soldiers, were killed in attacks in the northern city of Mosul, police and army sources said.

In Kirkuk, five car bombs killed six people and wounded 17, while explosions and gun attacks on security checkpoints around the restive province of Diyala killed six people, including four soldiers and policemen, and wounded 30, police sources said.

Other deadly attacks occurred in the towns of Khan Bani Saad, Udhaim, Tuz Khurmato, Samarra and Dujail, all north of Baghdad, as well as in the southern city of Diwaniya.

The orchestrated spate of violence followed car bombs on Sunday in two towns south of Baghdad and in the Shi’ite shrine city of Najaf that killed 20 people and wounded 80.

Last month was one of the bloodiest since the U.S. withdrawal, with at least 237 people killed and 603 wounded.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis took refuge in Syria from bloodshed that lasted for years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Last week the Iraqi government urged them to return home to escape the violence in Syria.

At least 80 buses laden with returning Iraqi refugees crossed the border last week, a U.N. spokeswoman said.

Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government is also worried about the longer-term implications if Assad falls and Syria’s majority Sunnis overthrow the supremacy of the president’s Alawite sect, which traces its roots to Shi’ite Islam.

A sectarian struggle for control in post-Assad Syria could raise tensions across the border and damage Iraq’s chances of overcoming its own formidable security and political challenges.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Angus MacSwan

IDF official: Nuclear Iran may curb Israeli border wars


A nuclear-armed Iran could deter Israel from going to war against Tehran’s guerrilla allies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli general said on Tuesday.

The Jewish state sees the makings of a mortal threat in Iran’s uranium enrichment and missile programs, and has lobbied world powers to roll them back through sanctions while hinting it could resort to pre-emptive military strikes.

Major-General Amir Eshel, head of strategic planning for the armed forces, echoed Israeli government leaders who argue that Iran, which denies wrongdoing but rejects international censure over its secretive projects, could create a “global nuclear jungle” and fuel arms races in an already volatile Middle East.

Eshel made clear that Israel – widely reputed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal – worries that Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as well as Palestinian Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza could one day find reassurance in an Iranian bomb.

“They will be more aggressive. They will dare to do things that right now they would not dare to do,” he said in a briefing to foreign journalists and diplomats.

“So this is going to create a dramatic change in Israel’s strategic posture, because if we are forced to do things in Gaza or Lebanon under an Iranian nuclear umbrella , it might be different.”

Eshel, who spoke at the conservative Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs think-tank, quoted an unnamed Indian officer who, he said, had described the Asian power’s friction with nuclear-armed rival and neighbour Pakistan in terms of self-restraint.

“When the other side has a nuclear capability and are willing to use it, you think twice,” Eshel said. “You are more restrained because you don’t want to get into that ball game.”

Israel waged offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2008-2009, coming under short-range rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are supported by Iran.

Eshel said there are now some 100,000 rockets and missiles that could be fired at Israel by the guerrillas, Iran and its ally Syria.

Despite seeing its resources strained by a 10-month-old popular uprising, Syria’s government has invested $2 billion in air defences over the last two years, and more on counter-measures against any ground invasion, Eshel said, linking both efforts to Syrian wariness of Israel.

He declined to be drawn on whether Israel might try to attack Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-defended nuclear facilities alone – or, conversely, whether it could decide to accept a nuclear-armed Iran as an inevitability to be contained through superior firepower and fortifications.

Those decisions, Eshel said, were up to the government and the armed forces would provide it with a “tool box” of options.

“We have the ability to hit very, very hard, any adversary,” said Eshel, a former senior air force officer and fighter pilot. But he cautioned against expecting any decisive “knock-out” blow against Israel’s enemies.

Writing by Dan Williams

Israel, Gaza trade rocket attacks


An Israeli airstrike retaliating to a rocket fired at Israel hit a target in northern Gaza, killing one Palestinian.

Early Monday morning, Israel’s Air Force struck what Gaza sources are calling a naval police post in Gaza City. Along with the Palestinian killed, four others were injured in the strike, according to reports.

The Kassam rocket fired at southern Israel from Gaza the previous night landed in an open area, causing no casualties or damage, according to reports. The Color Red missile alert system was sounded in Sderot and the surrounding areas.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rocket attack.

Schools in southern Israel reopen


Schools reopened in southern Israeli communities after having been closed for three days due to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

Children returned to school Wednesday. More than 45 rockets and mortars had fallen on southern Israel in the previous three days.

Many of the schools do not have areas fortified against rocket attacks to protect the students and staff. The Home Front Command announced Tuesday during a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee that all schools within about 15 miles of the Gaza border will have protected spaces by the start of next school year.

Yeshiva shuttered over students’ ties to West Bank attacks


A West Bank yeshiva high school whose students have been identified as being involved in attacks against Palestinians has been ordered shut down.

The Dorshei Yehudcha yeshiva high school, which has about 100 students, reportedly was ordered closed last week by Israel’s Education Ministry following the recommendation of the Shin Bet security service.

According to Haaretz, the Shin Bet had recommended closing the yeshiva because the security service had collected a great deal of classified information showing that the yeshiva’s students were involved in illegal and violent activities against Palestinians and Israeli security forces. The Shin Bet also said that the yeshiva rabbis were aware of the actions and continued to allow students to participate.

The school is connected to the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva of Yitzhar, to which the Education Ministry cut funding. One of the yeshiva’s heads is Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, who was investigated by police for his book “Torat Hamelech,” or “The King’s Torah,” which reportedly discusses situations in which it is permissible for Jews to kill non-Jews.

Israel security forces foil multiple terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, arrest dozens of Hamas militant


The Israeli Shin Bet security service foiled a suicide terrorist attack last month in Jerusalem, it emerged Wednesday. An explosive belt was seized only 24 hours before the planned attack, after it was already smuggled into Jerusalem.

The interception of the planned attack was part of a large-scale operation by the Shin Bet, the IDF and the police against the Hamas military infrastructure in the West Bank and Jerusalem. During the operation, dozens of Hamas militants – operating in alleged 13 separate cells – were arrested.

The main cell charged with carrying out the attack was based in Hebron. The cell was in touch with the Hamas headquarters in Syria, and the date of the attack was set for August 21. The planned attack involved a fire extinguisher which contained six kilograms of explosives. The device was supposed to be carried by a suicide bomber in a bus or a mall in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood in Jerusalem.

The same cell was responsible for the March 23 attack in the central bus station in Jerusalem, where Mary Jean Gardner, a British tourist, was killed, and 47 other people were injured.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israel, Gaza militants agree to halt fire


Israel and Islamic Jihad militants agreed to halt fire on Friday after days of deadly cross border violence, a Palestinian official said.

Eight Palestinians, including a local commander of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, were killed since a truce was called on Monday, raising to 26 the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes in the past week.

An Israeli man has also been killed in rocket attacks launched by Gaza militants since the weekend.

The Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Israel and the Islamic Jihad group both told Cairo they would abide by the Egyptian and United Nations mediated truce announced on Monday.

A statement issued overnight by Taher al-Nono, spokesman of the Hamas government in Gaza, said his administration held talks with Egypt and the United Nations to press Israel to stop attacks and urged factions to stop rocket fire into Israel.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said no rockets had been fired from Gaza since Thursday.

The surge of violence began on Aug. 18 when gunmen who Israel said had infiltrated from Gaza via Egypt’s neighbouring Sinai desert killed eight Israelis on a desert border road.

Seven of the attackers were killed by Israeli forces and Egypt said five of its men died in the crossfire.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jon Hemming

Israel moves to ease strains with Egypt


Israel offered on Thursday to investigate jointly with Egypt the killing of five Egyptian security personnel during an Israeli operation against cross-border raiders a week ago, violence that has strained relations with Cairo’s new rulers.

“Israel is ready to hold a joint investigation with the Egyptians into the difficult event,” a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office quoted his national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, as saying.

Amidror said the terms of such a probe “would be set by the armies of both sides”, going a step beyond Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s earlier pledge to hold an investigation and share its findings with Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

While Israel moved to ease tensions with Egypt, it mounted further attacks against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, where more than 20 rockets have been launched at southern Israel since Wednesday despite a truce announced on Monday.

Five Palestinians, including a local commander of the Islamic Jihad group in the Gaza Strip, have been killed in the latest bloodshed.

The surge of violence began on Aug. 18 when gunmen who Israel said had infiltrated from the Gaza Strip via Egypt’s neighbouring Sinai desert killed eight Israelis on a desert border road.

Seven of the attackers were killed by Israeli forces and Egypt said five of its men died in the crossfire. The incident triggered the most serious diplomatic row with Egypt since a popular revolt overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February.

The violence between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip threatens to unravel the shaky truce mediated by Egypt and the United Nations.

U.N. Middle East envoy Robert Serry, in a written statement, expressed his “deep concern” and called on all sides “to immediately take steps to prevent any further escalation”.

Taher al-Nono, a Hamas spokesman, said any “understanding for calm must be mutual and we will not accept that Israel continues its killing of our people”.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Editing by Jeffrey Heller

Solving a grim Jewish quandary after the attacks: Avoiding agunah problems for 9/11 widows


When unthinkable disaster struck a decade ago and close to 3,000 people were murdered at the World Trade Center, the scale of destruction created a unique challenge for victims’ families: identification of the dead.

With only fragmented human remains and degraded DNA left in the wake of 9/11, that task became, in the words of the National Institute of Justice, “the greatest forensic challenge ever undertaken in this country.”

For the families of Jewish victims, this problem was particularly thorny. According to Jewish law, a woman cannot remarry unless she has definitive proof of her husband’s death, lest she inadvertently enter into an adulterous relationship. Jewish law dictates that death can be proven in three ways: physical evidence, eyewitness testimony of the death and certain confirmation that the person had been in a situation in which survival was essentially impossible.

Absent such proof, this would leave Jewish wives of those killed at the World Trade Center in the position of classic agunot – “chained” women, left in a legal marriage with one who most likely was dead.

For decades, such cases had been few and far between.  In centuries past, however, this Jewish law was a reference point for the wives of sailors who had disappeared, soldiers who had failed to return home from battle and traveling merchants who had vanished along the way.

The consequences of being unable to identify the dead do not represent a uniquely Jewish problem.  Declaring individuals dead simply because they are likely to be dead can cause terrible complications.  For example, during World War II, President Jimmy Carter’s uncle, Tom Gordy, was declared dead by U.S. officials after being taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese, and his wife remarried during the war. But when the war ended, Gordy returned home as a liberated POW to discover, tragically, that his wife was married to another. Under Jewish law, Gordy would most likely not have been declared dead, and his wife would not have remarried.  The disappearance of a person and the passage of time alone are not generally deemed enough, under Jewish law, to declare the person dead.

However, the circumstances of someone’s disappearance, in some situations, can support a presumption of death. Two illustrations commonly discussed in Jewish literature are the man who falls into a deep furnace and the man who drowns in a body of water that has visible boundaries, such as a lake or a pond. Of the first scenario, Jewish sages wrote that a man who is seen falling into a deep furnace may be presumed dead because he had no means of escape and is sure to have perished. Of the second, they wrote that a man who is seen drowning in a body of water with visible boundaries may be presumed to be dead because he surely would have been seen or found on shore had he survived.

It was this line of reasoning that allowed the Beth Din of America, a rabbinical court involved in many aspects of commercial and family law in the United States, to pronounce many 9/11 victims dead in the absence of conclusive physical evidence.

When the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York concluded its investigation, more than 1,100 victims of 9/11 remained unidentified. Even with respect to the nearly 1,600 victims who were identified, the identifications could not automatically be presumed to meet the standards set by Jewish law.

In its quest to confirm the fate of the victims, the Beth Din had to determine whether and which modern methods of identification would comply with Jewish evidentiary standards. What would satisfy the physical evidence requirement—DNA evidence? What about dental records?  What about the recognition of clothes or limbs?  The Beth Din also posed an additional question: In the event a determination required reliance upon eyewitness testimony, what person could provide such testimony?

In searching for answers, we studied the literature of prior tragedies, finding Jewish legal discussions of husbands who disappeared in the sinking of the Titanic, in the collapse of bridges in Rome, in avalanches in the Alps, in artillery bombardments in World War I, and in the sinking of the Israeli submarine Dakar. We also looked at the cases of Israeli soldiers who had disappeared during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and, of course, at agunah cases related to the Holocaust.

After 9/11, in some cases, the only evidence for placing someone in the World Trade Center at the time of the attack was circumstantial—phone calls made or emails sent from within an office, swipe cards indicating entry but no exit, and so on.  In certain cases, investigators identified remains through the modern technology of DNA analysis.

After a rigorous analysis of Jewish legal precedents, the Beth Din determined that DNA evidence could be marshaled for identification purposes, certainly when coupled with other circumstantial evidence of an individual’s death. In the few cases where investigators had found no direct physical evidence, the Beth Din relied on the third standard of proof: placing a husband, with certainty, in a situation in which no one could realistically be expected to survive.

More than 90 percent of the casualties of 9/11 were located at or above the point where the planes hit the towers, particularly in the North Tower. With no escape and facing almost certain death, those people were akin to the man who falls into a furnace.  Often, phone calls or emails were enough to place the missing person in his office at a certain time, after which escape would have been impossible. Together with other evidence, the Beth Din could rely on time stamps and statistics in order to pronounce the missing person dead.

For such a pronouncement to be made, it was not automatically sufficient to know that a person worked at the World Trade Center or attended a meeting there if no additional evidence proved he was there on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Why withhold judgment under circumstances in which an individual’s disappearance so clearly indicates death?  One unfortunate reason is because some people use tragedy as an opportunity for fraud and manipulation, or perhaps as a way to make a fresh start. The chaos of 9/11 opened the floodgates to a number of fraudulent insurance claims and other crimes.  Another sad reality is that sometimes, in the throes of despair, mistakes are made.  In the decades after the Holocaust, people long thought to be dead were discovered to be alive and well and raising new families in other parts of the world, in cases similar to the story of President Carter’s uncle.

With time, the Beth Din of America found sufficient evidence to make a declaration of death in each of the cases before it. In making those determinations, the Beth Din released each agunah according to the principles of Jewish law and enabled the victims’ loved ones to mourn for those lost and to begin to rebuild their shattered lives.  Ultimately, the halachic process provided a time-honored framework for honoring the dignity of those who had died, while creating a sense of direction for the spouses who had loved them.

Michael J. Broyde is a professor of law at Emory University. Yona Reiss is the dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University. Both are members of the Beth Din of America. This piece was adapted from their contributions to “Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th,” released in August by the Beth Din of America Press and K’hal Publishing.

Gaza rocket lands in Egypt as border tension simmers


A woman was injured by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip into the Egyptian town of Rafah on Wednesday, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported, as tension simmered in the region after a spate of cross-border violence.

The woman was taken to hospital with light injuries, said a security source in the area.

Another source said it was the first time a rocket from Gaza had landed on a residential area and not in the desert, which was “raising concern among the security forces here”.

Egyptian security forces were searching the desert frontier with Gaza and Israel for militants who may be behind the killing of eight Israelis on Thursday along a road north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat, Egyptian officials said.

Five Egyptian border guards were killed last week as Israeli forces repelled the gunmen, causing the worst crisis in Egypt’s relations with Israel since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Israel said the militants had travelled from Gaza through the Egyptian Sinai, and accused Cairo of losing its grip on security in the border region, a charge that Egypt denied.

Israeli forces launched air strikes on Gaza shortly after the attacks north of Eilat. Israel said the leader of the faction responsible for the attacks was killed in the strikes.

Gaza militants responded by firing rockets into southern Israel and some rockets also landed in Egypt. Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza agreed a ceasefire on Monday but it has failed to stop the violence.

Egyptian General Mohsen Fangary of the ruling army council was due to meet Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Wednesday and they were likely to discuss the events in Sinai and relations with Israel, a cabinet source said.

Reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer

Rockets pound Israel as air force strikes back in Gaza


A day after terrorist attacks killed 8 Israelis and wounded more than 20, Israeli airstrikes continued to pound targets in Gaza as rockets fell on Israel.

Sixteen rockets were reported fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Friday. One person was seriously injured after a Grad rocket landed in a yeshiva courtyard in the Israeli city of Ashdod, and five others were treated for moderate injuries or shock.

In northern Lachish an empty building sustained light damage after being struck by two rockets, and the Eshkol Regional Council was also struck, with no damage or injuries reported.

A volley of 10 rockets early Friday morning all landed harmlessly in unpopulated areas.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force continued to retaliate for the previous days attacks. On Friday Israeli planes carried out airstrikes throughout Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post reported that seven Hamas security installations were attacked in Friday morning.

Also Friday, Haaretz reported that a man believed to have been a member of the group that carried out the Thursday attacks killed himself and wounded several Egyptian soldiers in a suicide bombing on the Israeli-Egypt border.

German interior minister warns of threat of far-right violence


In the wake of the recent bombing and massacre in Norway, Germany’s interior minister warned that there are far-right groups in his country that could commit violent attacks.

In an interview published Wednesday in the Rheinische Post, Hans-Peter Friedrich noted that while the number of far-right extremists in Germany has dropped in recent years, the core of extremely violent neo-Nazis and “nationalist anarchists” has risen to about 1,000 individuals. Friedrich described the latter group as primarily young neo-Nazis who model themselves on left-wing anarchists.

“Even if we monitor the scene intensively, it cannot be ruled out that individuals have secretly become radicalized,” Friedrich, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union, told the daily newspaper.

He said that those who have gone underground cannot be monitored easily.

“The problem is not the ones we can watch but those who radicalize in hiding,” he said.,

Anders Behring Breivik, who has confessed to the bombing and shooting in Norway that killed 76, reportedly sent his manifesto of more than 1,500 pages to German neo-Nazi groups.

But Breivik writes in his manifesto that he had actually distanced himself from neo-Nazis and was banned by the Stormfront white supremacist website for promoting the view that Israel could be an ally against Islam.

Hamas eyes new attacks in bid to undercut peace talks


In the run-up to the American-initiated Middle East peace parley in November, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are accelerating efforts to reach an agreement on the principles of a final peace deal.

At the same time, however, Hamas is aiming to derail the process with a new wave of terrorist strikes and rocket attacks.

Olmert and Abbas want to be able to present an agreement of principles to the peace conference in order to give its deliberations real substance. In parallel, Israel and the Palestinians are working on cooperative economic projects that could improve the peacemaking climate and underpin any future peace deal.

The thinking is that if there is a serious Palestinian agenda, the conference will be able to draw major players like the Saudis and jump-start a wider Israeli-Arab process based on the Arab League peace plan. The proposal calls for the full normalization of ties between Israel and all 22 Arab states in return for an Israeli withdrawal from all areas captured in 1967.

But there are number of obvious snags. For example, what about the Golan Heights? Would Israel be expected to return them to Syria even though Syria, because of its close ties to Iran, probably won’t even be invited to the conference?

Worse, Hamas terrorists have made it clear that they are determined to launch a new campaign of terror to undermine progress between Israel and the Palestinian Fatah moderates. Moreover, what kind of Palestinian state could be established with the fundamentalists still in control in Gaza?

Olmert and Abbas have met several times in the past few weeks to discuss core issues such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees. What seems to be shaping up is an agreement that lays out principles for a territorial settlement in two stages and a timetable for transition from stage one to stage two.

In stage one, Israel withdraws from the West Bank up to the separation barrier after a period of quiet during which the Palestinian Authority exhibits firm control of security. In stage two, Israel pulls back to lines closer to the 1967 borders and compensates the Palestinians on a one-to-one basis for settler land it annexes.

One of the ideas for compensation is to include land used to connect the West Bank and Gaza over Israeli territory. In stage two, the Palestinians declare a state in the West Bank and Gaza, even if Hamas is still in control there. The idea is to come to the November summit with an agreement in principle on these issues and to continue refining the details in subsequent talks.

Clearly, though, the plan would start going into effect only after a credible cease-fire has been established.

That is precisely what Hamas will do its best to prevent. The last thing Hamas wants is for its secular Fatah rival to get credit for pulling off a peace deal with Israel and then come under pressure to comply.

According to the Shin Bet security service, the Damascus-based leadership of Hamas has ordered the organization to launch a new campaign of suicide bombings against Israeli targets in the West Bank to show Israelis that Abbas’ Fatah cannot keep the peace and therefore is incapable of cutting a peace deal.

Israel intelligence anticipates that in an effort to destabilize the situation further, Hamas also will launch Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza. Palestinian militants have been firing Qassams at Sderot and other nearby towns and villages on a regular basis, but Hamas has not yet joined in. If it does, the Israelis expect a significant increase in the bombardments, which could lead to a major Israeli incursion into Gaza to stop it.

Some Israeli strategists say that is precisely what Hamas, which has been smuggling unprecedented quantities of arms into Gaza, would like to see – a standoff in Gaza in which the Israeli army is forced to take heavy casualties.

Meanwhile, Israel and moderate Palestinians in the West Bank are proceeding with their peacemaking efforts as if the Hamas threat does not exist. In addition to the effort to shape a final peace deal, they are working seriously on economic plans to help create conditions for a sustainable peace. One of the plans is based on a Japanese initiative dubbed “the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity.”

In a meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Jericho in mid-August, the foreign ministers of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Japan enthusiastically backed the “peace corridor” idea. The initiative envisages the establishment of an agro-industrial park in the greater Jericho area, with a mechanism to distribute the produce through Jordan to the wealthy Gulf states. The produce and goods would be transported across the Jordan River to a distribution center on the Jordanian side.

The Japanese have identified agriculture and agro-industry as a potential “driving force for sustainable economic development in the emerging Palestinian state,” and see in this kind of cooperative venture a way of laying the foundation for a lasting peace.

Since the renewal of the peace dialogue between Israel and moderate West Bank Palestinians in June, an abundance of ideas have been broached to help the Palestinians create the basic infrastructure for viable statehood. Israeli officials welcome the new energy and see it as a means of underpinning an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“For stable peace you have to have a Palestinian state that is successful,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. “A failed Palestinian state would be a recipe for further violence.”

Looking at the West Bank scene, chances for an Israeli-Palestinian peace have never seemed better; in Gaza they have never seemed worse. And, it seems, whether the American summit in November actually boosts Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking will depend on the outcome of the internal Palestinian struggle.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent of The Jerusalem Report.

Attacks on Moscow Synagogues


Moscow’s five functioning synagogues have been repeated targets:

  • Dec. 30, 1993 — The old wooden building of the Marina Roscha Synagogue burned to the ground in what was considered an arson attack.
  • 1994 — A hand grenade was thrown at the window of the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue.
  • October 1994 — An explosive device disguised as a beer can was found and defused in the courtyard of the Choral Synagogue.
  • August 1996 — An explosive device went off outside of the Marina Roscha Synagogue. No one was injured.
  • May 1998 — Two people were injured when an explosive device went off near the Marina Roscha Synagogue.
  • July 13, 1999 — A knife-wielding youth entered the Choral Synagogue and stabbed Jewish leader Leopold Kaimovsky several times.
  • July 25, 1999 — An explosive device containing 500 grams of TNT was found in the prayer hall of the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue. It was successfully defused.
  • April 2003 — An explosive device was found and defused outside the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue.

 

Holidays, Arrests Add to Terror Fears


When she looks out from the bimah, Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah sees mostly known faces, but occasionally there is the odd or unknown person who could be trouble.

For such an occasion, Temple Isaiah and other Southern California synagogues have installed panic button-style buzzers that summon shul guards, much like a bank teller’s silent alarm alerts police to a stickup. It is one of many security tools used when synagogues become very crowded, often with new faces, during the High Holidays.

Jewish community concerns over security have increased in recent months following the arrest and indictment of four men for allegedly planning attacks on local Jewish targets, including a synagogue and the Israeli consulate.

This case was the backdrop for a High Holidays security briefing held last week at the West Los Angeles headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). About 90 representatives from synagogues and Jewish institutions attended. Law enforcement officials said they knew of no specific upcoming threats and focused instead on prevention programs, such as Operation Archangel, a new, local multiagency anti-terrorism initiative.

“We can’t get to every one of the synagogues and each one of the churches,” LAPD Sgt. Jim Harpster, assigned to Archangel, told the gathering. “Anything that’s unusual, please report it. There hasn’t been an attack where somebody hasn’t seen something.”

Even without a specific threat, synagogue leaders must be alert to terrorism risks, while also keeping in mind longstanding threats arising from anti-Semitism. “California has perhaps the most active skinhead scene in the country,” ADL investigative researcher Joanna Mendelson said.

Synagogues are not taking the matter lightly. Last year, the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles office began work to set up an electronic early warning system linking local police and Jewish institutions. It’s called the Secure Community Alert Network, or SCAN. It’s operational in New York City, but hasn’t yet needed to be used.

In Los Angeles, “right now it’s sort of a work in progress,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, executive director of the L.A. office of the American Jewish Committee, which is providing funding. “It just hasn’t come forward as quickly as possible. Fortunately there hasn’t been a need in L.A.”

Many synagogues, like Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park, already have an internal form of such a system, by which someone on the bimah can press an emergency call button. The process adds one more necessary responsibility to the duties of rabbis and cantors.

“I see who walks through the door,” Klein said. “I see if someone’s reaching for their bag. Everyone in the congregation is facing forward. We’re the only ones facing them who can see what’s going on out there. It’s not just about having security at the door for who comes in, but having a method of communicating once services are under way.”

The task becomes trickier during the High Holidays as synagogues become crowded, often with new faces.

Whether the Homeland Security terror-threat level is at orange or yellow, security is a constant but quiet fact of life at Jewish institutions. In Bel Air, the University of Judaism merges its security efforts with neighbors Stephen S. Wise Temple across the street and the Casiano Bel Air Homeowners Association. Near Beverly Hills, the Wilshire Boulevard headquarters of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles uses large, potted sidewalk trees as decorous security barriers.

Further west down Wilshire is Westwood’s Sinai Temple, where throngs of smartly dressed Conservative Jews will crowd into the expanded sanctuary for the High Holidays. The shul normally is home to about 1,500 families but over the High Holidays it will host an expected 5,000 worshippers, who will require extra seats, extra parking and extra guards, whose cost is over and above Sinai’s estimated $300,000 annual security budget.

“On the High Holidays I pay another $37,000,” Sinai Executive Director Howard Lesner said. His extended security contingent will include plainclothes, off-duty police officers. About 14 months ago, Sinai installed new security cameras.

“It’s all digitalized now, all color,” Lesner said. “We have one of the most secure institutions. We reduced our entrances to one way driving in and one way walking in.”

But Lesner does not publicize all the particulars: “The greatest security is to not tell everybody what you’re doing.”

 

‘Fear of Unknown’ Enters Pop Culture


This Sunday, as America commemorates the fourth anniversary of the World Trade Center attack, films, television, plays and books are just beginning to grapple seriously with the phenomena of suicide bombings and terrorism.

The lag time between a cataclysmic experience and its absorption into the popular culture is hardly surprising.

The greatest novel about World War I, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” was written 11 years after the armistice. Popular worldwide perception of the Holocaust has been shaped most graphically by “Schindler’s List,” which came out almost half a century after Hitler’s fall.

The defining book or movie about World War II or Vietnam have yet to appear.

An initial serious cinematic stab at exploring the mind and motivation of the Muslim suicide bomber comes not from Hollywood, which has been characteristically timid about tackling Sept. 11 and its implications, but from the Palestinian/Dutch/German/French co-production, “Paradise Now.”

When the film opens, two young Palestinian car mechanics from the West Bank city of Nablus are approached by an older man, who tells them that they have been chosen for a major suicide bombing operation in Tel Aviv.

Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) have been friends since childhood and apparently have been preparing for this mission almost as long.

The motivation for their self-chosen destiny is not clear immediately, but comes out gradually during long conversations and in their last “martyr’s” video.

There are recollections of Israeli brutality during house searches and at checkpoints and fanciful tales of water poisoned by Israelis to deplete the sperm count of Arab men, but the overwhelming grievance seems to be an accumulation of daily humiliations.

“Death is better than inferiority,” proclaims the men’s handler, while also promising, truthfully, that the martyrs will be celebrated as heroes in their hometown and throughout the Arab world.

Their aggrieved feelings of humiliation come to a boiling point through what they perceive as the world’s indifference to their suffering, while the Israelis “have convinced the world that they are the victims.”

As the clock ticks down, final preparations proceed, whose anticipated tension and solemnity is surprisingly marred by touches of near-slapstick by director Hany Abu-Assad.

Bomb belts (which will explode if the carriers try to remove them) are attached to the waists with all the fussiness of a dress fitting.

Worse, while Said delivers his final words to his family and the world, stressing the great honor bestowed on him, his handler calmly munches a pita and the video photographer announced after the filming that his camera wasn’t working and the whole exercise has to be repeated.

Once the two friends, bodies oiled, hair cut, wearing suits and ties, start on their mission, the planned logistics go awry. Their contact on the Israeli side, who is to drive them to Tel Aviv, doesn’t show up, and the two men are separated.

Now, in what appears to be a bow to Western sensibilities and tastes, a beautiful young Arab woman enters the picture.

Suha is not only the daughter of a legendary Arab martyr who died fighting the French in Algiers, and is therefore untouchable in terrorists’ eyes, she is also a sophisticated, European-educated woman active in a Palestinian human rights organization.

Said and Suha fall in love, and slowly the woman’s heretical arguments — “What if there is no paradise?” she asks — weaken Said’s resolve and faith in his mission.

He passes up a chance to board one targeted Israeli bus because he sees a baby inside, and, in a final nail-biting scene, it is left uncertain whether he will blow up a Tel Aviv bus with Israeli soldiers aboard.

“Paradise Now,” mostly shot in Nablus during the height of the intifada, is well acted and produced. At its best, the film gives a believable insight into what makes a suicide bomber, whose supply seems to be unlimited, tick.

That the film fails to follow the protagonists’ mission to its logical and horrifying end spares the Western viewer from confronting the ultimate results of the bombers’ work in Jerusalem, London, Baghdad, Madrid and New York.

Other movies, both mainstream and independent, are starting to deal with a world in which the enemy is not a uniformed presence but the shadowy, even invisible, suicide bomber.

Steven Spielberg calls this growing dread in Western nations the “paranoia of the unknown,” and infuses this feeling in his blockbuster, “The War of the Worlds.”

As the fear of the unknown spreads, so do conspiracy theories to explain the unexplainable.

A historical example is that venerable forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which posits a global Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world.

The old, discredited tale has been brought up to date by blaming “Jews and Zionists” for plotting Sept. 11. In his upcoming film, “The Protocols of Zion,” director Marc Levin explores the old/new hate and zealotry underlying the revival of the worn canard.

Television viewers will get their first sustained, if fictional, look at Muslim terror in December, when the 10-part “Sleeper Cell” debuts on the Showtime cable channel.

Eerily reminiscent of the British-born terrorists who bombed London’s subway system in July, the Muslim cell of the TV series is based in Los Angeles and its hit list includes LAX, UCLA, the Rose Bowl and the San Onofre nuclear facilities.

The cell is led by the brutal, yet personable, Farik, played by Israeli actor Oded Fehr. To heighten the irony, Farik/Fehr operates under the cover of an observant Jew, who regularly attends a West Los Angeles synagogue.

However, the cell has been infiltrated by a black Muslim and undercover FBI Agent Darwyn, played by Michael Ealy (“Barbershop”).

The plot and cast thus set up a “good” Muslim as counterweight to the “bad” Muslims, and the producers have further hedged their PC bets by making most of the Islamic terrorists Europeans and Americans, rather than Arabs or Asians.

“Sleeper Cell” is likely to generate plenty of heated controversy, as witnessed by the experience of Fox’s long-running “24” TV series, starring Kiefer Sutherland as counterterrorist agent Jack Bauer.

In one episode last March, an American Muslim terrorist group gains control of a nuclear plant, causing a meltdown. In the course of the operation, the group’s leader fatally shoots his wife, tries to kill his son, kidnaps the secretary of defense and attempts to behead him on live television.

After strong protests by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Sutherland gave an on-air “clarification” to the effect that the American Muslim community had denounced terrorism.

On the theater stage, often the first venue for probing examinations of burning issues, there appears to be a dearth of plays by major writers.

In “Romance,” coming to the Taper Forum in October, David Mamet takes a largely farcical look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but without getting deeply into the terrorism issue.

Some of the most intriguing work has been done by British playwright Robin Soans, whose London hit, “Talking to Terrorists,” uses the verbatim observations of terrorists and their families to try to get inside the head of the fanatic.

Soans used the same technique in his earlier play, “The Arab-Israeli Cookbook,” performed recently at Hollywood’s small Met Theatre.

Despite the innocuous title, the play delved deeply into the motivations and price of terrorism.

In Israel, whose artists and writers are more willing to examine the raw wounds of the conflict than their American counterparts, the play, “Plonter” (“Tangle” in Hebrew), is forcing viewers to examine the grievances and miseries of both sides.

Between Sept. 11 and the July 7 subway bombings in London this year, British and American novelists had tried to fathom the emotional and civic impact of terrorism on their societies and peer into the future.

Their prophecies are hardly encouraging as they paint a world of sharply curtailed civil liberties and constant alerts.

To paraphrase Lincoln Steffens, these writers “have seen the future, and it doesn’t work.”

In a recent overview of the terror-themed genre, The New York Times recommended the following five works of fiction:

“Saturday” by Ian McEwan, “Incendiary” by Chris Cleave, “Specimen Days” by Michael Cunningham and “Ghost Town: Tales of Manhattan Then and Now” by Patrick McGrath.

The fifth recommendation harks back to an earlier terror, the London blitz of World War II, when Graham Greene wrote “The Ministry of Fear.” The Times describes the book as a “template for today’s anxieties.”

Readers have a wider selection among nonfiction books. Amazon.com lists some two dozen works, with such titles as “Dying to Kill,” “My Life Is a Weapon,” “What Motivates Suicide Bombers” and “Dying to Win.”

One of the best, judging by various reviews, is “The Road to Martyr’s Square: A Journey Into the World of the Suicide Bomber” by UC Santa Barbara scholar Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg (Oxford University Press).

Oliver and Steinberg lived in Gaza for some six years, starting with the first intifada in 1987, and managed to interview some of the top Hamas leadership.

They trace the history of suicide bombing from medieval times through Japan’s kamikaze pilots in World War II, the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka to the present Middle East and worldwide proliferation.

The motivations of the suicide bombers are diverse, say the authors, and include “religion, nationalism, grievance, fame, glory, money … and they have to have an entire system that supports their actions.”

Whatever the motivation, the effectiveness of the suicide bomber is undisputed. The 160 such bombings in Israel during the past five years constitute only 0.6 percent of all attacks — but half of all Israeli casualties during that time.

“The suicide bomber is the smartest of smart bombs,” explains Boaz Ganor, head of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel. “He can look around and decide when he can maximize the terror, maximize the casualties.”

“Romance” by David Mamet, Oct. 9-Nov. 13 (previews begin Sept. 29) at the Mark Taper Forum, call (213) 628-2772. “Sleeper Cell” on Showtime, beginning in December. www.showtime.com. “Protocols of Zion” opens Oct. 21. “Paradise Now” opens Oct. 28.

 

LAX Security Study Fails to Fly


 

While the Los Angeles mayoral candidates battle over the proposed $11 billion expansion of Los Angeles International Airport, a study completed by the RAND Corp. think- tank on the airport’s security has gone under the proverbial radar.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which runs LAX, plus Ontario, Palmdale and Van Nuys airports, commissioned the RAND study in July to determine the most likely types of terrorist attacks at LAX and what can be done now to minimize casualties. The results were released Sept. 24.

One of the deadliest types of attacks at LAX, according to the study, would be a bomb in the check-in (ticketing) area or curbside near the taxi pickups. Passengers there haven’t gone through any security checkpoints and they are usually crowded together in lines. RAND found that a 5 percent increase in airport check-in and security screening staff could cut casualties in this type of attack by 75 percent.

RAND wrote: “Substantial reduction of lines can be implemented immediately with small changes to airline and TSA staffing policies. This is our strongest recommendation.”

Despite the fact that RAND’s changes could be made immediately and the report was released months before the holiday travel period officially began, LAWA had no comment this week on whether they’ve acted on the recommendation. In the meantime, LAX is expected to handle about 2.8 million passengers between Dec. 17 and Jan. 2.

To its credit, the Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) has opened 12 new screening lanes at LAX for the holidays. But why would a terrorist bother to walk all the way to the security queue when he could detonate a bomb just inside the front door near ticketing, where there are fewer guards and bigger crowds? In 2002, a shooting at LAX’s El Al ticket counter took place outside the security checkpoint

So what has LAWA done to convince the airlines to hire more personnel and speed up the lines as RAND recommended? Apparently, the answer is up in the air.

On a Mission

It’s fairly common to see progressive groups blasting the Bush administration’s efforts to weave faith-based programs into government. It’s far more unusual to see these groups battling a Democratic senator.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) introduced a bill recently signed into law (H.R. 1446) that will grant the California Missions Foundation (CMF) $10 million in federal money to repair and restore the 21 Spanish missions in the state. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) is suing to stop the legislation.

AU says 19 of the 21 missions are still functioning Catholic churches with active congregations. In essence, the churches would receive millions of taxpayer dollars to renovate their places of worship.

CMF said the missions are “historically significant for reasons that have little to do with Catholicism,” noting that it’s already mandatory for fourth-graders in California public schools to study the buildings.

AU said it doesn’t doubt the historical significance of the missions, adding that if they were simply museums, there would be no problem with the grant.

“If in fact the control [of the buildings] went to the government and not the church officials, that would make a difference,” AU Executive Director Barry Lynn told The Journal.

Boxer and CMF are defending the grant as a secular pursuit, even though the Los Angeles County Seal debacle earlier this year revealed that there is a wealth of public support for maintaining public religious icons in California.

But just as happened during the county seal debate, it’s likely that mission proponents will see no contradiction in defending the importance of a public Christian heritage, while simultaneously saying that the buildings should be interpreted secularly. In fact, CMF’s Web site blames the “wrath of secularization” following the Mexican Revolution (and the American occupation of California) for causing the missions to fall into ruin in the first place.

For more historical context on the nature of these buildings and their proselytizing purpose, a quick reference to the California Native American Heritage Commission is in order: “Despite romantic portraits of California missions, they were essentially coercive religious labor camps organized primarily to benefit the colonizers.”

As of yet, no date has been set for the lawsuit.

Mayoral Race Quotes

The lively and informal Dec. 21 mayoral debate, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, allowed the candidates to jump into a question at any time. The candidates generally agreed with each other on most of the issues, spending more time blasting away at personal character issues. Some quotes:

Bob Hertzberg: “I’m just flabbergasted at the proposal for an $11 billion airport — [a] building where you’ve got one ingress and one egress. If your purpose was to try to eliminate traffic or to avoid a terrorist threat, this is about the dumbest thing anybody could have done.”

State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Van Nuys): “I stood up to Mayor [Richard] Riordan when he wanted to privatize DWP and sell it to Enron. I think we all know that would’ve been a disaster.”

City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa: “We need to get the Red Line to go down Wilshire Boulevard all the way to ocean. We need to connect the Green Line to LAX and down Lincoln Boulevard to the Expo line. We need to connect the Red Line in North Hollywood to the Metrolink in Sylmar. And if you elect me mayor, that’s what I’m going to do.”

City Councilman Bernard Parks: “I am the only candidate that has proposed an alternative to the [LAX plan] that was adopted unanimously by the Board of Supervisors — The mayor has an answer for everything but a solution to nothing.”

Mayor James Hahn: “Violent crime is down. Housing production has doubled. We’re changing the direction of the Port of L.A. [with] new technologies to plug ships into electric power [and], I stopped construction of a dirty new coal plant.”

Upcoming debates: Jan. 11, 7:30 p.m., Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana; Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m., Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.

 

Emergency Room Serves as Memorial


 

The gleaming digital tracking board that dominates Shaare Zedek’s new emergency room, with its color-coded system for monitoring patients, has Dr. David Applebaum’s fingerprints all over it.

So do the more private individual rooms for patients, the improved nurse-to-patient ratio and an area for paramedics to rest and grab a cup of coffee between calls.

Applebaum was director of the Jerusalem hospital’s emergency room until a suicide bomber blew up the cafe where he was dispensing fatherly advice to his daughter on the eve of her wedding. His daughter, Nava, also was killed in the Sept. 9, 2003, attack at Café Hillel in Jerusalem.

In October, a new, cutting-edge emergency room opened at the hospital, which has been on the front lines of treating the injured from terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. Hospital staff traveled to top hospitals around the United States before designing the Weinstock Department of Emergency Medicine in a bid to give Jerusalem patients world-class care and attention.

Word of the new emergency room has spread quickly in the city, and there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of patients, according to hospital staff.

The new emergency room is three times the size of the previous one and houses its own shock and trauma unit. The memory of Applebaum hovers over the space, and his photo hangs at its entrance.

“It was his baby. I look at” his picture “and I can’t believe he’s gone,” said Emunah Hasin, a nurse and director of external affairs for the hospital.

Dr. Todd Zalut, acting director of the emergency department, still speaks in the present tense about Applebaum who for years was his friend and mentor. Like Applebaum, he made aliyah from the United States after completing his training in emergency medicine.

Zalut stands over one of the beds in the spacious trauma unit, showing off its features, which include a hydraulic arm with shelves full of equipment that can be brought closer to the patient as needed, heart monitors and a device to keep fluids warm.

“It’s very user-friendly,” Zalut said.

The user-friendly ethos extends to the entire emergency room. The digital tracking system, for example, was developed by Applebaum and Zalut, along with the hospital’s computer expert. It tracks how long the patient has been in the emergency room, which doctor has seen the patient, the status of lab work and the age and reason the patient was admitted.

When there is a terror attack in Jerusalem, almost half of the injured are rushed to Shaare Zedek’s emergency room, because it’s the only hospital in the center of the city. The other main hospital in the city for terror victims is Hadassah Ein Kerem.

Zalut said an emergency room cannot be built specifically to accommodate the victims of terrorist attacks, but that the new emergency room will help streamline the hospital’s ability to respond to mass trauma, in general.

The cost of building Shaare Zedek’s new emergency facility was about $30 million. It is built in rings, with the most severe cases treated in the inner ring and less urgent cases in outer rings of rooms with their own nursing stations.

There also is an infection-control room and digital X-ray and ultrasound facilities on site, plus a huge storeroom filled with equipment in case of a chemical attack.

Surveying the equipment, expertise and thought put into the hospital’s emergency room, Hasin made a wish she knows is not likely to come true: “We don’t want to have to use it. We want to keep it all at the level of theory.”

 

Anti-Semitism Takes No Holiday in France


This is the season of le grand départ, when millions of French people leave for their summer vacation. Eighty-four percent of the French population will be going away on holiday this summer, and there are traffic jams hundreds of kilometers long from Paris to the Riviera.

But this year, as the masses pack their bathing suits, say au revoir to their co-workers and squeeze into crowded trains bound for the sea, Jew haters don’t seem to be taking a holiday.

To be fair, French President Jacques Chirac is doing what he can to fight anti-Semitism in France. He has expressed his "horror and dread" at the escalation of anti-Semitic acts.

But while American cyclist Lance Armstrong recently wowed the world by pedaling toward glory in the Tour de France, Chirac is backpedaling, after telling Ariel Sharon he was not welcome in France for calling on French Jews to leave France and come to Israel, because of "unleashed anti-Semitism."

The locals I spoke to in the Jewish quarters of Paris and Nice are tired of the polémique. Though some are leaving for Israel, most French Jews want to remain in France, where they have been for centuries, and they simply want the criminals who are attacking Jews to be caught and prosecuted.

As the temperature rises, so has the number of senseless, angry acts against French Jews. Following is an edited list of hostile acts against Jews in France this year since May 1:

May 1, Créteil: Stones were thrown at the Synagogue du 8 Mai 1945. Also, a rabbi going to synagogue with his son was accosted by two men. He was called a "dirty Jew" and a "dirty Rabbi Jacob." He was hit in the face and the stomach and threatened with death.

May 4, Metz: Two young Jews returning from soccer training were accosted by five young North Africans who yelled anti-Semitic insults and then beat them with iron bars. Two of the attackers were caught by police; one was released.

May 8, Paris, 10th District, Rue Saint-Martin: A young man of Maghrebian origin (the Maghreb consists of the former French colonies of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria in Muslim North Africa) standing with friends yelled anti-Semitic insults at some Jews going into a synagogue. He threw a bottle of beer at them, hitting a Jewish man in the head. The police chased the group but they got away.

May 10, Paris Metro: "Jews-Criminals-Nazis" was scrawled on the walls of a tunnel.

May 12, Aubervilliers: A Jewish man was parking his car near his office, where his brother was waiting for him. A man of Maghrebian origin called the brother a "dirty Jew" and said he would return with his family and 50 friends now that he knew where they worked.

The Jewish man parking his car was beaten and insulted by his attacker, who threatened, "I swear on the Koran of Mecca, I am going to kill you."

May 15, Yerres: "Death to Jews" was written on a car belonging to a Jew. The car has been regularly defaced and its wheels slashed in the garage of the victim’s home.

May 27, Paris, 19th District: Two young Jewish girls were surrounded by 14 boys and girls of North African origin who beat and insulted them.

May 30, Boulogne-Billiancourt: A rabbi’s 16-year-old son was returning home on his scooter with a friend, when a young man called him a "dirty Jew." Five other young men surrounded him, as his friend went for help. The rabbi’s son was beaten and kicked before escaping. He suffered multiple contusions and a broken rib.

June 4, Epinay-sur-Seine: A young man was stabbed in the chest. The assailant, who was waiting for him in front of a yeshiva, screamed "Allah ouakbar" as he attacked him with a butcher knife.

June 6, Paris, 19th District: A woman sitting at an outdoor café was called a "dirty Jew" by a man who punched her in the face and broke her nose.

June 6, Paris, 17th District: A 20-year-old woman walking toward the Metro station was accosted by seven youths of Maghrebian origin. They called her a "dirty Jew," spit on her and threw stones at her head. She escaped but was afraid to file a complaint.

June 7, Charenton-le-Pont: The doors of several apartments belonging to Jewish families were defaced with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti: "Kill the Jews," "Death to the Jews," "We’re going to kill your race."

June 19, Saint-Ouen: Youths of Maghrebian origin hurled insults at a young Jewish girl walking with her brother. When the brother asked why they were bothering her, he was called a "dirty Jew" and hit behind the ear with a stick. The attacker received six days of detention.

June 27, Paris, Avenue Jean Jaures, 19th District: Two religious Jews and an 8-year-old boy were attacked by two men of Maghrebian origin on a motorcycle who drove onto the sidewalk. They hit the child in the face and chest.

June 29, Paris, Rue de Flandres, 19th District: High school boys leaving school were cut off on the road by a car. The men in the car were armed with sticks that had metal points and attacked the youths. Some of the boys escaped, but one was thrown against a wall and beaten unconscious, while they called him a "dirty Jew." The men fled when one of the boys screamed for help.

July 1, Amiens: Ten swastikas were found on the Rue des Juifs and in several other streets in the village of Arquèves.

July 1, Paris, Rue Buisson, 20th District: Scrawled on the walls of an apartment building was: "Dirty Jews, the whole building wants you to get out."

July 7, Bordeaux: "Kill the Jews" was written on the walls of a shop belonging to a Jewish family.

July 11, Paris, 20th District: A swastika and Star of David were drawn on a residential parking facility.

Aug. 10, Lyon: Vandals spray paint swastikas on 60 Jewish tombstones. The third such attack at the cemetary since May.

The information was supplied by CRIF.org and consistoire.org. The reports are compiled from the Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive, an organization that works with and shares information with the police.

Flawed Proceedings in the Hague


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague will rule on the legality of Israel’s security barrier some day soon, and it will rule against Israel. Israel’s advocates will complain about the double standard of condemning Israel’s defensive measures when horrific violations of international law — including the Palestinian terror attacks that led Israel to build the barrier — go unremarked. What many fail to appreciate, however, is how a flaw in the ICJ’s procedural rules make such a double standard possible.

The problem lies in the ICJ’s “advisory opinion” procedure. An advisory opinion is a legal opinion that answers an abstract legal question. Many judicial systems (for example, the U.S. federal court system) will not allow judges to issue advisory opinions: the requirement of parties submitting a real, concrete dispute for resolution is considered an important reality check on judicial power. The ICJ’s charter, however, allows the United Nations and a variety of its agencies to pose questions to the ICJ and get a nonbinding advisory answer in response. Here, the U.N. General Assembly posed the question: “What are the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the Occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem?”

The main vice of the ICJ’s advisory opinion procedure is how it can be used selectively, based on nothing more than politics, as a tool against particular countries. There is no requirement that the opinion-making power of the ICJ must be applied evenly against all international actors. No one has asked for an advisory opinion about the “legal consequences of sending, or failing to stop, suicide bombers, to kill civilians in Israel.” And although most legal scholars agreed that the U.S.-led war against Iraq violated international law, no one sent the ICJ a question about the “legal consequences of a preemptive war against Iraq.” No one has sought an advisory opinion about Sudan’s ongoing displacement of millions of its own citizens and its murder of over 10,000 civilians. Instead, in one of those terrible ironies that U.N. attitudes towards Israel tend to foster, Sudan has submitted its own brief to the ICJ, solemnly arguing that Israel has violated its “obligations and responsibilities … under International Humanitarian Law.”

The advisory opinion procedure does not require the consent of the country that is the subject of the question. This contrasts markedly from most cases the ICJ has decided. In the so-called “contentious matters” — actual lawsuits between two countries — that make up the bulk of cases on the ICJ’s docket, there is a strict requirement that the parties must have consented to the court’s jurisdiction. This important procedural rule safeguards the court’s legitimacy by ensuring that the court is opining only when there is a real, legal reason for it do so. By contrast, the advisory opinion process can be invoked at any time in the discretion of the U.N. General Assembly. While the procedure has been used relatively rarely — in the 59 years of its existence, the ICJ has issued only 24 advisory opinions — the unique rules governing advisory opinions can be manipulated so that the court is being used for nakedly political goals. There is no procedural safeguard that prevents the U.N. General Assembly, a famously anti-Israel body, from submitting a question to the ICJ specifically designed to embarrass or discredit Israel.

The ICJ does have the power to reject a request for an advisory opinion where the request is posed for political reasons or will have negative effects on ongoing negotiations. Here, not only Israel, but the United States, the European Union, Russia, Australia and 14 other countries have asked the ICJ not to intervene in this dispute on these grounds. But it is difficult to believe that the ICJ will restrain itself from opining on the issue. It is hard for any court to resist the temptation to make legal history. This is especially true where, as one ICJ press release notes about the current proceedings against Israel, there is “exceptional interest in this case shown by the general public, civil society and the media worldwide.” In its entire history, the ICJ has never refused to respond to an advisory opinion request on the grounds that doing so would meddle in politics or interfere with negotiations.

The advisory opinion procedure can be used selectively in a way that makes it a weapon, not a legitimate way to institute a court proceeding. Israel’s adversaries are seeking an advisory opinion as part of a multipronged offensive against Israel, not as a true request for legal guidance. The ICJ should not be used as a pawn in a political conflict, but that is exactly what is happening. The biggest casualty of an opinion in this matter may be the long-term legitimacy of the ICJ itself.

Joseph M. Lipner is a Los Angeles attorney.

A Look at Dean’s Jewish Problem


Question: What’s behind Howard Dean’s ongoing problems in
the Jewish community?

Answer: No-holds-barred partisanship, especially among the
anonymous attackers who are clogging the e-mail inboxes of Jewish leaders
around the country, warning — without much evidence — that Dean would somehow
be bad for Israel.

But the bitter attacks are having an impact; a frequently
heard comment, at least in Jewish activist circles, is that many Jews who have
voted Democratic all their lives will vote for Bush if Dean wins his party’s
nomination.

And Dean himself may be contributing to his Jewish problem
by publicly modeling himself after a former president once widely applauded by
the Jewish community, but who now is seen by many as a living symbol of their
disillusionment with a failed peace process.

But the fact that this is first and foremost an
ideology-driven, heavily partisan campaign is evident in the glaring double
standard: Dean is trashed for a handful of ill-chosen words, while President
Bush’s dramatic changes in Mideast policy — which have caused anxiety and anger
in official circles in Israel — have been mostly ignored.

Almost all of the anti-Dean campaign stems from his
off-the-cuff remark at a New Mexico barbecue that the United States shouldn’t
“take sides” in the Arab-Israeli dispute.

Dean was rightly skewered for that comment, and not just by
the far right. The alliance with Israel is a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the
region and a vital element in Israel’s security.

But the candidate quickly retreated. He pledged fealty to
that special relationship, and explained that his comments were the result of
an insufficient understanding of some of the code words attached to the Middle
East controversy.

In communities across the country, his “take no sides”
remark continues to generate anger, despite his persistent clarifications, but
there is resounding silence about his rivals. More revealing is the silence
about Bush, who in 2002 became the first president to openly advocate creation
of a Palestinian state.

Bush demanded quick action on the international “road map”
to Palestinian statehood, against the wishes of the Sharon government; he has
applied strong pressure on Israel because of its security fence, and his
administration punished Israel by cutting desperately needed loan guarantees.
Just this week, his State Department angrily criticized Israel for not doing
enough to resume negotiations.

This week, Dean was being criticized for embracing the
unofficial Geneva accord. Somehow lost was the fact that the Bush
administration has shown a strong interest in the plan, even meeting with its
authors, despite angry protests by the Sharon government.

Still, there is an emerging conventional wisdom in Jewish
leadership circles that Bush is somehow good for Israel, Dean is bad.

That glaring double standard is no accident. The attacks on
Dean — mostly anonymous — come from ideologues who wouldn’t vote for any
Democratic candidate, no matter how pro-Israel.

These Jewish conservatives will forgive any sin by the
Republican president, even something that violates their creed like the demand
for quick action on Palestinian statehood — but the slightest rhetorical slip
by a Democrat will be taken as irrefutable proof of unfitness for leadership in
this volatile area.

But the anti-Dean mud seems to be sticking, worrying Dean
strategists. One reason is simply that for many Jewish voters, their first
exposure to the former Vermont governor was his September blunder, when he
spoke of more balance in U.S. Mideast policy.

In politics, first impressions are vital; Dean came across
as Jimmy Carter-ish, and that won’t be easily overcome.

The Dean reaction is also related to the angry
disillusionment many in Israel — and many pro-Israel activists here — feel with
the Oslo peace process.

Three years ago, former President Bill Clinton was widely
described as the most pro-Israel president ever, despite the bitter criticisms
of extreme anti-Oslo activists.

But with the breakdown of that peace process and relentless
violence, more mainstream Jews are willing to accept the view that Clinton was
too willing to negotiate away Israel’s security to win an agreement.

Dean has deliberately patterned himself after Clinton on
Mideast matters — something that might have helped four years ago, but which
could be hurting with Jewish leaders and activists in the harsher, post-Oslo
environment of 2004.  

Main Findings in Suppressed Report


The study that the European Union’s Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia commissioned was prompted by a wave of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe that intensified in the spring of 2002. The report was suppressed, allegedly to avoid offending Europe’s large Muslim communities. The European Jewish Congress obtained a copy of the report and released it Monday.

Among the report’s findings were these:

In many cases, perpetrators of attacks could not be identified. But in cases where they could, the attacks "were committed above all either by right-wing extremists or radical Islamists or young Muslims, mostly of Arab descent, who are often themselves potential victims of exclusion and racism."

Attacks such as desecration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, painting of swastikas, sending threatening and insulting mail and Holocaust denial generally were attributable to the far right.

Physical attacks on Jews and the desecration and destruction of synagogues often were committed by young Muslims. Many of these attacks occurred during or after pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which also were used by radical Islamists for engaging in verbal abuse of Jews. In addition, radical Islamist groups were responsible for placing anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and in Arab-language media.

On the extreme left-wing scene, anti-Semitic remarks were made at pro-Palestinian and anti-globalization rallies and in newspaper articles that used anti-Semitic stereotypes in criticizing Israel.

This combination of anti-Zionist and anti-American views formed an important element in the emergence of an anti-Semitic mood in Europe, the report found. Israel — portrayed as a capitalistic, imperialistic power — the "Zionist lobby" and the United States are depicted as evildoers in the Middle East and as a negative influence generally on world affairs.

More difficult to record and evaluate than street-level violence against Jews is "salon anti-Semitism," which is found in "the media, university common rooms and at dinner parties of the chattering classes," the report said.

In public debate on Israeli politics, individuals who are not politically active and do not belong to the far left or far right often voice latent anti-Semitic attitudes, the report found. Opinion polls show that in some European countries, a large proportion of the population harbors anti-Semitic attitudes and views, but they usually remain latent.

Observers point to an "increasingly blatant anti-Semitic Arab and Muslim media," including audiotapes and sermons, in which the call is made to fight Israel and Jews across the world. Though leading Muslim organizations sometimes express opposition to such propaganda, calls for the use of violence are assumed to influence readers and listeners.

The report also discusses the media’s possible influence on the escalation of anti-Semitic incidents. The question is whether such escalation is due merely to daily coverage of Israeli-Palestinian violence or whether the reporting itself had an anti-Semitic bias.

One study of the quality German press concludes that the reporting concentrated greatly on Israeli military actions and was not free of anti-Semitic cliches, but negative views also were applied to Palestinians. The report on Austria found anti-Semitic allusions in the far-right press.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, some Europeans argued that Islamist terrorism was a natural consequence of the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for which they held Israel alone responsible. They also believe Jews have a major influence on America’s allegedly biased, pro-Israel policies.

This nexus is where anti-American and anti-Semitic attitudes could converge and conspiracy theories about "Jewish world domination" could flare up again, the report says.

The assumption of close ties between the United States and Israel provides further incentive for harboring anti-Semitic attitudes. Especially on the political left, anti-Americanism is closely bound up with anti-Zionism. Additionally, dovish activists, globalization opponents and some Third World countries view Israel as aggressive, imperialist and colonialist.

Such criticism is not necessarily anti-Semitic, but the report found that there are exaggerated formulations in which criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, such as when Israel and the Jews are accused of replicating Nazi crimes.

The tradition of demonizing Jews is in some sense now being transferred to the State of Israel, the report found. In this way, traditional anti-Semitism is translated into a new, seemingly more legitimate form, which could become part of the political mainstream in Europe.

Educational campaigns targeting Muslims, which include such arguments as burning "a synagogue is like burning a mosque," have encouraged dialogue, the report found. — TA

Sharon Takes Unilateral Steps


In the nearly two months since Mahmoud Abbas resigned as Palestinian Authority prime minister, the United States has stepped back from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the meantime, Israel has adopted a two-pronged policy, taking bold unilateral moves while encouraging Abbas’ successor to form a government with which Israel can negotiate.

In the hiatus following Abbas’ departure, the Israeli government has approved the route of the controversial security fence separating Israel from the West Bank; stepped up anti-terror military activity and called for bids to build more than 300 apartments in disputed areas.

The policy cuts two ways: It begins to impose an Israeli vision of a weakened and truncated Palestinian entity, and it puts pressure on the Palestinians to start negotiating in earnest before that vision becomes a reality.

On Oct. 1, Israel’s Cabinet approved a route for the security fence that — if all the planned sections eventually are joined — would include sizable tracts of the West Bank on the Israeli side.

Moreover, in an Israeli television interview last week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intimated that, despite American objections to the main fence’s route, he was contemplating a second, eastern fence along the Jordan Valley.

That would have major implications: If both fences are built, the entire West Bank would be fenced in and the Palestinians would get no more than 60 percent of the land.

Analysts who argue that this reflects Sharon’s bottom line were quick to point out that, taken together, the route of the fences is very close to the borders Sharon saw for the West Bank in his 1989 autobiography, "Warrior."

A senior Israeli official confirmed that Sharon’s intention was to keep the entire Jordan Valley under Israeli control, maintaining that plans for the eastern fence had been approved in principle but that there was no budget for it yet.

In the aftermath of Abbas’ resignation in September, Sharon also stepped up Israel’s anti-terrorist campaign. Ground forces blew up tunnels in Rafah used to smuggle arms from Egypt to the Gaza Strip, destroying dozens of houses in the process. In addition, special units killed or detained terrorist leaders in the West Bank, and Israeli fighter planes and helicopters ran operations in Gaza, where a number of civilians were killed and wounded along with the terrorists targeted.

The American response was remarkably low-key, especially after the Oct. 15 Palestinian bombing of a U.S. diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip that killed three Americans. U.S. spokesmen said only that Israel should take into account the consequences of its military actions — a sign of American assent, if not endorsement.

In late October, Israel made yet another unilateral move: The Housing Ministry called for bids for the construction of 333 apartments in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron and in Givat Ze’ev, a Jerusalem neighborhood beyond the pre-1967 border.

Palestinian leaders accused Israel of trying to torpedo the road map. This time the United States was less circumspect in its response, describing the Israeli move as "a provocation" and threatening to deduct the settlement activity’s cost from the $9 billion it has promised Israel in loan guarantees. However, at the same time as he has increased pressure on the Palestinians, Sharon has been making overtures to Ahmad Karia, who replaced Abbas and has been heading an emergency Cabinet appointed by P.A. President Yasser Arafat.

Moreover, partly to ease what the army calls an "explosive pressure cooker" situation in Palestinian areas and partly to encourage Karia, Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz have decided to ease some of the restrictions on Palestinian movement, despite warnings from security officials that this could enable terrorists to carry out attacks.

Whether the new combination of carrot-and-stick will work remains to be seen. Karia has been studiously avoiding direct contact with Israeli officials, arguing that their embrace of his predecessor hurt Abbas’ standing on the Palestinian street.

Last week in Cairo, Karia told American negotiator William Burns that he believes he will be able to form a government before his emergency mandate expires Nov. 4 — the main sticking point has been a struggle with Arafat for control of the Palestinian Authority’s myriad security services — and that he is relatively optimistic about the future.

The key question remains whether the Palestinians can get all the terrorist factions to cease their attacks on Israel. Karia has sent letters to the various terrorist organizations calling for cease-fire talks. Hamas spokesmen say they are ready to meet Karia to "hear what he has to say,” but are not convinced that conditions for a cease-fire are ripe.

If Karia does get a cease-fire, however, the equation will change. The United States probably will come back into the picture, pressing both parties to take the road map forward. Israel’s capacity for unilateral action will be circumscribed, and a second round of talks on the road map will begin.

After Abbas’ resounding failure in the first round, and with the sword of Israel’s unilateral options hanging over their heads, the Palestinians might be more aware of the potential consequences of failure this time.

Gaza Attack Points to Shared Struggle


If the world needed yet another sign that the United States and Israel were engaged in the same struggle against international terrorism, it was given a cruel one Wednesday, Oct. 15, when Palestinian terrorists killed three American security agents and wounded a junior official from the U.S. Embassy in a roadside attack in Gaza.

If the Jewish community in America needed more proof that the Bush administration was committed to fighting this battle side by side with Israel, the president’s words and actions after the incident should alleviate any of those apprehensions.

In a strongly worded condemnation, the president stated that the Palestinian authorities should have "acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms." He pointed out that the failure to create effective Palestinian security forces dedicated to fighting terror continues to cost lives.

It is clear, that both Ariel Sharon and President Bush fully understand that under Yasser Arafat’s autocratic regime, terrorists continue to find safe haven, and both have refused to deal with the disgraced leader, who continually undermines any attempt at peace.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the roadside bombing that killed U.S. embassy employees on their way to help Palestinians build a better future, interviewing potential students who were candidates for an academic Fulbright scholarship. President Bush stated that the attack was "another example of how the terrorists are enemies of progress and opportunity for the Palestinian people."

The attack possesses all the trademarks of Palestinian terrorist bombings by Hamas against Israeli vehicles throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Finding the specific group that perpetrated the attack is important, but more importantly the bombing underscores the fact that the Palestinian Authority allows terrorism to exist and fosters an environment that is filled with vile anti-Americanism.

Despite the Bush administration’s sincere efforts in brokering a fair peace via the "road map," a document that spells out a lucid and achievable way for the Palestinians to gain statehood, hatred and distrust for Americans permeates the Palestinian territories.

In a recent survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed 97 percent of Palestinians polled believe U.S. policy in the region favors the Israeli side. It also found 96 percent think the American commitment to establishing a Palestinian state is insincere.

The Palestinian Authority could not even muster the energy to help fallen Americans on Wednesday, as the Israeli army had to send in tanks and armored vehicles and a helicopter gunship to help the Americans evacuate the wounded man and the bodies of the victims. U.S. investigators at the site also were attacked several hours later by a mob of Palestinian stone-throwers and had to retreat as their cars were pelted by rocks.

"There must be an empowered prime minister who controls all Palestinian security forces," President Bush said after the bombing. "Reforms that continue to be blocked by Yasser Arafat. The failure to undertake these reforms and dismantle the terrorist organizations constitutes the greatest obstacle to achieving the Palestinian people’s dream of statehood."

After the attack, Israeli officials have been instructed to hand over all intelligence information on the attack to the Americans and for security forces to fully cooperate with the FBI and other U.S. investigators. Arafat gave no such instructions.

While most of the media claim this attack sets a new precedent for Palestinian violence against Americans, the reality is quite different. For 30 years, Arafat’s PLO, Fatah and various other Palestinian terrorist organizations have ordered or condoned terror against American citizens. Close to 50 Americans have been murdered, and more than 100 wounded, by Palestinian terrorists since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.

The Bush administration clearly understands that their fight is Israel’s fight. After the attacks, Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, stated that his country fully recognized "Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens" and "associate ourselves with that right."

Conversely, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz echoed this sentiment when he said that Israel views the attack "as if it were committed against IDF soldiers or Israeli citizens."

After the attacks, Sharon adviser Ra’anan Gissin said he believes that the United States "stands for life, for liberty, for democracy here, for pursuing peace."

President Bush is still waiting for a Palestinian partner willing to pursue that peace with him.

Gaza Terrorists Target Americans


Any doubts about the close link between the war on terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have gone the way of a U.S. jeep loaded with diplomats on a dusty Gaza highway.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday’s roadside bombing, which killed three American security agents and wounded a junior official from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. But it had all the hallmarks of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli vehicles, and it set a new precedent for Palestinian violence.

President Bush blamed the Palestinian Authority for not cracking down on terrorist groups, despite numerous pledges to do so.

"Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms," Bush said in a written statement Wednesday. Their failure to do so, he said, "continues to cost lives."

An unwillingness to reform P.A. security forces and dismantle terrorist groups "constitutes the greatest obstacle to achieving the Palestinian people’s dream of statehood," Bush said, blaming P.A. President Yasser Arafat for hindering reforms.

The dead Americans were identified as John Branchizio, 37, of Texas; Mark Parson, 31, of New York; and John Martin Linde, 30, of Missouri. The three were on contract to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv through the defense contracting company Dyncorp, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said.

U.S. officials expressed outrage at the bombing.

In a phone call with P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Karia, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Palestinians could not move toward statehood "without eliminating violence and terrorism."

FBI investigators are being dispatched to the region, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer told reporters in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli army sent tanks and armored vehicles, under cover of a helicopter gunship, to help the Americans evacuate the wounded man and the bodies of the victims.

Embassy officials who arrived on the scene to document the wreckage had barely managed to pull out their cameras when they were attacked by stone-throwing youths from the nearby Jabalya refugee camp. The Americans beat a hasty retreat as Palestinian police fired in the air to disperse the crowd.

Kurtzer’s cultural attaché was in the convoy, which was on its way to meet with Palestinian candidates for Fulbright scholarships to U.S. universities.

"It remains to be seen" if the program will be suspended in Palestinian areas, Kurtzer said.

According to Palestinian sources, Fulbright alumni in Gaza had been instructed not talk to the press as a probe began. That was an indication that authorities were covering all angles of an ambush that clearly targeted U.S. diplomats, a first for this round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arafat called the bombing an "ugly crime" and pledged to find the culprits. So did Karia.

Analysts did not expect the attack to affect U.S. commitment to the "road map" peace plan. But, they said, if the Palestinians fails to find the culprits, it could erode any remaining U.S. confidence in P.A. anti-terror efforts.

Palestinian terrorist groups sought to distance themselves from the attack.

"We view it as inappropriate to target Europeans, Americans or any nationality other than the occupation forces [of Israel,]" an Islamic Jihad leader, Nafez Azzam, told Reuters.

While Washington weighed its options, Israeli officials made clear that they do not consider this a random act of bloodshed but, if anything, a blood bond between two old allies.

"It’s not just because of U.S. support for Israel as such, but it is because of what Israel and the United States both together stand for," Sharon adviser Ra’anan Gissin said of the motives for the attack.

"They stand for life, for liberty, for democracy here, for pursuing peace," he said. "These victims are victims because of the gallant and very courageous policies that President Bush has been carrying to try and promote peace and hope to the people of the Middle East."

Targeted Killings’ Other Casualties


Killing Hamas leaders wounds the terrorist group, Israeli and Palestinian officials agree. At question is whether moderate Palestinians — and U.S. influence in the region — are also casualties of Israel’s targeted strikes.

Israel has killed at least 11 leaders of Hamas since the group claimed responsibility for a deadly Jerusalem bus bombing on Aug. 19, which killed 21 people, including at least five children.

Israel declared "all-out war" against the group after the bus bombing.

The new frequency of the killings — and the targeting of political as well as military leaders — have led some to wonder whether the Bush administration’s "road map" peace plan, which envisions an end to terrorism and a Palestinian state within three years, is still viable.

"It has a serious effect on the Hamas leadership, on the one hand," Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat who now lobbies for the Palestinians in Washington, said of the killings.

On the other hand, he said, "it undermines U.S. credibility on the road map."

Abington said the killings would shift moderate Arab regimes — key to the Bush administration’s plans not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for Iraq — away from support for the United States.

"Israel is assassinating left and right, and the appearance is that the United States is acquiescing," Abington said.

The lack of moderate Arab support in 2000 helped scuttle the Camp David talks when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat refused to take painful steps — such as conceding parts of Jerusalem — knowing he would be on his own.

Israelis say that defeating Hamas ultimately could remove the extremist yoke that has held back the Palestinian leadership until now.

"Hamas has no interest in any political solution," said Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Israel would have preferred the Palestinian Authority to handle Hamas, but they have consistently refused to meet their road map responsibilities and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

In any case, the Hamas attacks — and Israeli retaliation — may mean that the United States fundamentally has to reassess its policies in the region.

"American policy is now in a shambles, the road map no longer seems viable, the cease-fire is in tatters," said Nathan Brown, a Middle East expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

If the United States has problems with the intensity of Israel’s reaction, its public expressions have been muted at best.

"Israel has a right to defend herself, but Israel needs to take into account the effect that actions they take have on the peace process," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after Israel killed top Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab in a rocket attack on Aug. 21.

Shanab was a political leader who helped broker the recent cease-fire, signed onto by the main Palestinian terrorist groups, which led to a brief period of calm. His killing came just two months after Israel attempted to kill Hamas spokesman and senior member Abdel Aziz Rantissi.

Any American attempt to distinguish between political and military leaders runs the risk of hypocrisy, said Matthew Levitt, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"We don’t make a distinction between Osama bin Laden and his foot soldiers, even though bin Laden is not the trigger puller," Levitt said. "Those who commit acts of terrorism and those who order them carried out are just as culpable."

Gold said that political leaders and spokesmen serve the same tactical ends as bombmakers.

"Israel does not accept the argument that there is a difference between the political and military wings of Hamas," he said. "The U.S. used to be very concerned when Al Qaeda spokesmen would appear on Al-Jazeera because they could have had operational messages mixed into their language. The same is true for Hamas spokesmen like Rantissi."

Targeting political leaders is not new: Israel made no distinctions between political and military officials in its famous action against Black September after the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Still, Israel’s recent intensity against Hamas is unprecedented in the way it has confronted the 3-year-old intifada.

Levitt, a former FBI analyst, said there is a tactical advantage to maintaining the intensity of the attacks.

"Having a situation in which all of Hamas has to go underground, moving it from desktops to laptops, is a significant blow to its ability to carry out operations," he said.

Abington agreed that is true in the short term — but is worried that ultimately the targeted killings would only reinforce the militant group.

"It undermines Abu Mazen," Abington said, using the popular name for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

"One reason he has been reluctant to take moves against Hamas is because he thinks the Palestinian street does not support him. Assassinations only inflame support for Hamas."

It was a point echoed by Brown,

"From the Israeli perspective, it’s clear that suicide bombing depends first on capability, and also on a social environment that makes it possible," Brown said. "Assassination targets the first, but makes the second worse."

Still, Brown said, "It strikes me that the killings are motivated by the lack of other options."