Jewish group leads protests blaming Israel for escalating violence

Protests against Israel organized by Jewish Voice for Peace drew 1,000 demonstrators in 15 cities, organizers said.

Protests took place in Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco, among other cities, according to Rabbi Alissa Wise, a a member of the group’s rabbinic council. Jewish Voice for Peace is allied with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Sponsors of the Boston protest, which attracted about 100 people, included the American Friends Service committee, Grassroots International and Ads Against Apartheid, a group that has run an anti-Israel poster campaign on the Boston transit system.

After a rally on the Boston Common, the group, including students and members of faith and labor groups, marched through downtown and picketed briefly in front of three companies they say are complicit in the violence. One was Macy’s, which was targeted as part of a boycott campaign against SodaStream products made in a West Bank settlement, and TIAA-CREF, a retirement investment fund.

“We are here to condemn Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians, to mourn the loss of lives, and to hold accountable the corporations that enable this violence,” said Lisa Stampnitzky, an activist with the Boston chapter of JVP.

Boston’s Jewish community did not stage any counter protests.

“We’re devoting all our energies to supporting Israelis who are facing an impossible situation with a reprehensible enemy sworn to Israel’s destruction,” said Elana Margolis, assistant director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

A rally in support of Israel is being planned by the Boston chapter of StandWithUs, a national pro-Israel organization with a presence on college campuses, according to Aviva Malveira, a recent Boston University graduate who is now the group’s New England campus and community organizer.

“It’s important to speak out on behalf of Israel,” Malveira told JTA. “It’s unfortunate and sad that Jewish Voice for Peace aligns itself with an anti-Israel agenda. They blame solely Israel for the lack of peace and place no responsibility on the Palestinian leadership.”

Wise said that JVP mourns all of the victims of the conflict and that it would be shortsighted to view last month’s kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens as the launch of the current fighting.

“This is a conflict that goes back 47 years,” she said, referring to the 1967 Six-Day War. “To not see that context would miss the story.”

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who has led trade and academic delegations to Israel, said in a statement to JTA that the state’s residents extended their concern to all those in the region.

“It is difficult to imagine that only a few weeks after our most recent visit, sirens warn of rocket attacks from Gaza over Tel Aviv,” Patrick said. “We hold close in our hearts our friends and loved ones in the region, and all innocent Israelis and Palestinians who are living in fear as a result of the recent violence.”

Separately, Ads Against Apartheid issued a statement Thursday condemning the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority for taking down its pre-approved posters without prior warning, claiming it was the result of pressure from pro-Israel groups.

MBTA Spokesman Joseph Pesaturo in an email to JTA that after additional scrutiny by the transit authority the three posters were removed four days before they were scheduled to come down.

“The ad was deemed to be in noncompliance with the MBTA’s court-approved advertising guidelines,” Pesaturo said.

He said it was the responsibility of the agency’s advertising contractor to inform the ad buyer.

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.


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

White House: Obama didn’t discuss bunker busters with Netanyahu

A White House spokesman denied reports that President Obama promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bunker-buster bombs and refueling planes that could help in a military strike against Iran.

“In meetings the president had there was no such agreement proposed or reached,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said at a press briefing Thursday.

When asked whether the issue was discussed in Israeli meetings with other U.S. officials, such as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Carney answered he had no knowledge and said, “I would refer you to other officials.”

The Israeli daily Maariv had reported Thursday that Obama promised Israel bunker-buster bombs and other weaponry which could help it strike Iran on the condition Israel not attack this year.

An Israeli official told Reuters that a request for such assistance was made around the time of the prime minister’s visit. The Israeli official, however, labeled as “unrealistic” reports that there was an agreement to give such equipment to Israel in exchange for Israel agreeing to not attack Iran this year.

A U.S. official told Reuters that military capabilities were discussed during the Netanyahu-Panetta meeting but that no agreement was reached during those discussions.

Two Palestinians planting bombs killed by Israeli troops

Two Palestinians were reported killed in an Israeli military strike near the Gaza border.

Israeli troops fired Wednesday on Palestinians that the Israeli military said were placing explosives near the border fence in order to harm or kidnap Israeli soldiers. Two other Palestinians were reported injured in the attack.

The explosives that were being planted also exploded during the attack, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

“The IDF will not tolerate any attempts to harm its civilians or Israel Defense Forces soldiers,” the IDF said in a statement, adding that it held Hamas responsible for violence emanating from Gaza.

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei warns U.S., Israel on atom site attacks

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the United States and Israel on Thursday not to launch military action against its nuclear sites, saying it would be met with “iron fists,” state television reported.

Tension over Iran’s nuclear program has increased since Tuesday when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a bomb and may still be conducting secret research to that end.

Speculation has heightened in the Israeli media that Israel may strike Iran’s nuclear sites and there is speculation in the Western press about a possible U.S. attack.

Iran denounced the United Nations watchdog’s report as “unbalanced” and “politically motivated.” There were concerns on the oil market that the standoff could escalate militarily.

In the strongest comments by the Iranian authorities in recent days, the country’s most powerful figure, Khamenei, said Iran would retaliate against any attack by “the enemies,” but added that Iran had no intention of starting a “bloody war.”

“Our enemies, particularly the Zionist regime (Israel), America and its allies, should know that any kind of threat and attack or even thinking about any (military) action will be firmly responded to,” Khamenei said on state television.

“The Revolutionary Guards and army and our nation…will answer attacks with strong slaps and iron fists,” he added.

Israel, which Iran refuses to recognize, and the United States say all options are on the table in confronting Tehran, including military if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute.

Israel reacted to the report by urging the international community to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, saying its pursuit of such arms endangered “the peace of the world.”

A close strategic ally of Western powers, Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East region’s only nuclear arsenal, dating back decades. It has never confirmed or denied its existence under a policy of ambiguity designed to deter attacks.

Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak atomic reactor in 1981 and carried out a similar strike in Syria in 2007.

Khamenei said Iran would “respond to threats by threats.”

“The firm Iranian nation is not one to sit back and observe threats by fragile and material-minded powers,” Khamenei told a gathering at Iran’s Army Academy.

Western powers have called for heavier sanctions against the Islamic Republic. But gaining agreement on more U.N. Security Council sanctions appears difficult, with Russia saying it will not back new sanctions.

The United States and its European allies accuse Iran of trying to build bombs under cover of a civilian nuclear program. The major oil-producing state denies this, saying it needs nuclear technology to improve its electricity supply for a rapidly growing population.

So far, a world power strategy of increased diplomatic pressure and international sanctions has not induced Iran to halt its sensitive nuclear activities.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that Iran “will not pull back one iota from its (nuclear) path,” but expressed Tehran’s readiness for talks with major powers.

Talks between the P5+1 powers—a grouping of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China—and Iran over its nuclear ambitions have failed in the past.

Iran’s announcement last year that it had escalated uranium enrichment from the low level needed for electricity production to 20 percent, alarmed many countries that feared it was a key step toward making material potent enough for a nuclear bomb.

Tehran says the fuel is needed to make isotopes for cancer treatment.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Michael Roddy

Israel hits Gaza weapons storage facilities

Israel’s Air Force struck two weapons storage facilities in the Gaza Strip.

The attacks early Thursday morning were in response to the nine rockets and shells fired from Gaza at southern Israel on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces.

Two of the mortar shells reportedly contained phosphorus, which causes severe burns and has been banned by the Geneva Conventions.

Israeli airstrikes also hit a terrorist tunnel in southern Gaza on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Israeli military. The tunnel was used to smuggle terrorists into Israel to commit attacks against Israelis, the IDF said in a statement. Palestinian sources said that at least one Palestinian was killed.

Rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza have increased dramatically following the opening of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in the region.

Why don’t U.S. groups condemn Jewish terrorists in Israel?

Imagine the scene: It involves a renowned Hebrew University professor, 72 years old, a Holocaust survivor, who earlier in 2008 was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in Political Science. Late one night in his quiet suburban neighborhood in Jerusalem, he opens the front door to lock the exterior gate. At that moment, a pipe bomb detonates. The bomb was planted for a clear purpose: to injure or kill. Fortunately, the professor survived the attack.

An investigation begins. Leaflets are found throughout this Jerusalem neighborhood, and they confirm that the attack was an assassination attempt. The leaflets are signed by a fundamentalist religious group that advocates replacing the State of Israel with a religious state.

They make an attractive offer: more than $250,000 bounty to anyone who kills a member of the well-established Israeli Zionist group to which the professor and tens of thousands of other Israelis belong. It becomes clear that the assassination attempt was the work of a new terrorist group that has both the will and ability to infiltrate into Israel’s capital and use terror to achieve its goals.

Nobody who follows news from Israel would be surprised to learn that this is a true story. But many of us might be surprised — and shocked — to learn that those responsible for this terrorist act are not Palestinians nor Muslims. They are Israeli Jews.

Professor Ze’ev Sternhell (photo) was the targeted victim of the bombing, due to his beliefs and connection to the Israeli-Zionist organization, Peace Now, the largest grass-roots movement in Israeli history. The group responsible for the leaflet, and most likely the bombing, ALTTEXTcalls itself The Kingdom of Samaria.

The leaflet calls for the deaths of Israelis who belong to Peace Now and offers a quarter of a million dollars for the killing of each and every one. And threats against Peace Now are proliferating. Three weeks after the Sternhell bombing, police were investigating graffiti found in Tel Aviv threatening the life of Yariv Oppenheimer, Peace Now’s director general.

There can be no equivocation about the need to condemn this attack against an Israeli civilian and the call to murder more Israelis. Unfortunately, strong condemnation was not the response of many organizations within the American Jewish community. More common was a profound silence of most organizations that have a deep connection to Israel and actively support it, often claiming to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community.

We heard widespread condemnation of extremist actions of Jewish settlers in the West bank and Israel proper from members of the Israeli government, from the Israeli press and from many Israeli Jewish organizations, but leading Pro-Israel American organizations are practicing a carefully sustained silence.

This silence is troubling. Also troubling is the fact that the few condemnations issued failed to identify Sternhell as a peace advocate or his would-be killers as Jewish terrorists. The failure to describe accurately the political nature of these acts of terrorism prevents American Jews from understanding the threat posed by right-wing Israeli terrorists to Israeli security, democracy and the fabric of society.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist when an environment of incitement within Israel was tolerated and even condoned by senior Israeli officials. Perhaps, they believed naively that the incitement would not lead to violence. That excuse is no longer available. Israel’s senior political leadership — Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu among others — wasted no time in condemning not only the attack against Sternhell but also the environment that is giving rise to it.

Israeli settler vigilantism and violence is increasing. Their assaults on Palestinian civilians reached a point where Prime Minister Olmert recently called their actions “pogroms.” Violent settlers have also targeted Israeli soldiers and police officers. In one such incident last month, the rioters broke the hand of an Israel Defense Forces deputy battalion commander.

And now, another line has been crossed: a violent attack against an Israeli civilian in Israel’s capital. Yet there have been scant, if any, discussions in the meetings or on the Web sites of many organizations in the pro-Israel American Jewish community about the threat this poses to Israel. Compared with the Israeli press that exposed and condemned violent actions by extremist settlers, coverage in American Jewish newspapers has been anemic.

Pro-Israel American groups may disagree about the Israeli government’s policies or about how best to support Israel’s quest to achieve security and peace with its neighbors, however, these differences should not prevent us all from coming together when a threat arises to Israel’s democracy and the larger Zionist vision that we share.

Arthur Stern was the founding chairman of the California-Israel Chamber of Commerce, past president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and is currently a national executive committee member and regional chair of Americans for Peace Now.

Requirements for peace — NATO troops, action on Palestine

“How can Israeli soldiers fight a 10-year-old boy who wants to die? Or a teenager at the wheel of an exploding truck, smiling because he knows that in 10 seconds he will be in Heaven?


‘Yeah, But:’ 2 Words Lead to Dark Side

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in London, I can’t help but despair at the ever-spiraling violence in our world today. And it pains me even more deeply that a significant portion of that violence occurs at the hands of Muslims in the name of Islam.

Of course, we have all condemned this latest attack in London. We have all stated that Islam is a religion of peace. We have all stated Islamic terror is neither sacred nor Islamic.

Yet, inevitably, I get a question from one — or more than one — reader which goes something like this: “Yeah, but what about the suffering of Muslims in Iraq? Isn’t that also wrong? Why don’t you condemn that?”

You can replace Iraq with a number of other hot spots in the Muslim world: Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and so on. Right then and there — with those two words of “yeah, but” — the questioner begins down a path of moral failure.

The “yeah, but” indicates that the loss of innocent life in London can somehow be justified; that if innocent Muslims are dying at the hands of the British, then the death of innocent Britons (perhaps at the hands of Muslims) is somehow acceptable. Utter moral failure.

Admittedly, that may not be the intention of the questioner, but — to me, at least — that is the impression that comes through; that is the connotation of the “yeah, but.” Our faith has absolutely no room for any “yeah, buts.” The sanctity of human life in the Quran is absolute, without condition or qualification: “Nor take life — which God has made sacred — except for just cause….” (17:33)

“And the servants of the Most Gracious are those who … invoke not, with God, any other god, nor slay such life as God has made sacred except for just cause….” (25:63-68)

By no stretch of the imagination could killing someone in London or Baghdad, or Kirkuk, or Beslan or Tel Aviv fall under the denotation of “just cause.” Yet, there is an even more profound statement in the Quran, one that solidifies the moral failure of “yeah, but.” In fact, I believe this statement to be one of the most — if not the most — profound statements in the entire Quran:

“Believers, stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: That is next to piety, and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (5:8)

Earlier in the same chapter, God says: “…. Let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the sacred mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancor: Fear God, for God is strict in punishment.” (5:2)

These two verses leave absolutely no wiggle room. They choke the air out of any argument that would begin with “yeah, but.”

No matter what evil has been committed against us, that does not give us license to commit injustice. And what worse injustice could there be besides taking the life of an innocent human being?

This idea permeates Islam, as it does Judaism, Christianity and other great religions. All have their fanatics willing to justify needless violence based on their own real or imagined persecution, but all must confront texts and traditions which clearly forbid it.

I am frequently criticized for my harsh criticisms of the sins of Muslims, especially when it comes to violence and terror, and the implication is that I don’t care about the countless loss of Muslim life. That is not true. The suffering of Muslims around the world pains me very deeply, and the way to end that suffering is to work to end injustice across the globe.

But, I have to take us back to the word of God: “Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.” Our faith does not allow us to ever say, “Yeah, but.” It is the path to the dark side; once we start down that path, forever will it dominate our destiny.

Once we let “yeah, but” guide our morality, then we risk becoming completely amoral. We cannot take that risk — ever.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a pulmonary and critical care physician practicing in the greater Chicago area. He is also a columnist for the Religion News Service and Beliefnet, and co-author of the forthcoming book, “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” to be published by Doubleday in 2006.


JDL Trial Set for October

The trial of Jewish Defense League (JDL) leaders Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel on criminal conspiracy charges in the alleged plot to detonate bombs at a mosque and a congressman’s office is scheduled to begin in October. As Rubin and Krugel await their trial in a shared cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center, information has slowly come out about the informant who helped the government build its case since the arrests in December.

At the heart of the case against Rubin and Krugel are hours of tapes recorded by an informant working for the FBI. The tapes have been turned over to defense lawyers but are still being transcribed.

However, Rubin’s attorney, Brian Altman, believes that there is more to the case than the version of events on the tapes. "The government has an agenda," he says, "so they’ve investigated along that agenda. Then they dump it on you and — bam!"

Altman believes the tapes, once they are fully transcribed, will help prove that his client — who was present at only two of the 11 recorded meetings — was convinced to go along with the alleged bomb plot by the informant. Listening to the tapes, says Altman, "there’s a strong suggestion that the government’s informant was critical to this plan: he’s the one who’s very animated."

The informant, Danny Gillis, 23, is a former Navy petty officer who, while in high school, was reportedly a member of a Jewish pride gang in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley. A source close to Gillis says that while he often fought with white supremacist youths while in high school, he has no arrest record.

While serving in the Navy, the source says, Gillis was the JDL’s "No. 1 kid in L.A.," who often threatened or fought with people identified by the JDL as anti-Semites. But Gillis ended his contact with the JDL in early 2001, after his honorable discharge from the Navy. Months before he was allegedly recruited by Rubin and Krugel for the bombings, Gillis had begun taking classes at a community college and working as a bank teller.

According to the source, Gillis turned to the FBI because of the targets chosen, not the violence he was asked to commit. Gillis’ interest in the JDL reportedly stemmed from his hatred of skinheads, especially a racist gang known as the Peckerwoods. The source says that Gillis has Muslim and Arab American friends and believed the JDL went too far in targeting a mosque,"where there could be innocent children." When Gillis learned the JDL wanted him to attack Muslim and Arab American targets, Gillis turned to the FBI and agreed to record their meetings, according to the source.

The FBI paid Gillis "lost salary," an amount equal to what the informant had been making at his bank teller job before becoming an informant. Krugel defense attorney Mark Werksman says he has requested an interview with Gillis, but "I’ve been told that he wouldn’t speak with us." Altman has also been unable to speak with the prosecution’s star witness.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner, who is prosecuting the case, says that Gillis is neither required nor forbidden to speak with Rubin’s or Krugel’s attorneys. "Informants are always protected," Jessner says. "If the informant wishes to speak to the defense, the informant may. Our job is to protect the informant, not to keep the informant from speaking to defense counsel."

Gillis is currently living outside of Los Angeles and plans to "disappear" after the trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

Exploding American Complacency

Terrorism, a part of everyday life in Israel for decades, exploded in the face of a complacent America with the twin terror attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11 and left a gaping, charred hole in the Pentagon in Washington.

The bombings could have huge implications for Jewish groups and for a U.S.-Israel relationship that some may blame for provoking the terrorists.

Jewish groups, which have often unsuccessfully tried to warn policymakers that this nation could face the kinds of horrors that Israeli citizens live with on a daily basis, will play a major role in what is certain to be a fierce debate over terror preparedness and over the correct balance between basic civil liberties and measures to protect Americans from violence.

"This was a huge intelligence failure," said Shoshana Bryen, special projects director for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). "After past incidents, we’ve retreated into a ‘fortress America’ mentality. We won’t be able to do that any more."

At press time, U.S. officials had still not identified likely perpetrators (several people were detained), but there was widespread speculation that the attack was related to the Middle East conflict, possibly through the notorious super-terrorist Osama bin Laden.

If that speculation becomes fact, it could have varied repercussions for U.S. relations with Israel and involvement in that part of the world, Jewish leaders say.

"There is a danger of people saying, ‘if we didn’t support Israel, those people would have no reason to dislike us,’" Bryen said. "We have to make the case that that’s not true; they don’t like us because of who we are. One thing Americans need to know is that the same people who hate Israel hate us and hate all democracies. If there was no Israel, they would still hate us."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that while some Americans will blame the strong U.S.-Israel relationship for the disaster, history suggests that the nation will reject that argument.

"The last time it happened was during the oil embargo in the 1970s," he said. "There were those who tried to blame America’s friends and allies; it was a very anxious moment for Israel when the Arabs made it clear they were boycotting America because of its support for Israel."

But the nation’s leaders held firm, he said. "The American government stood by its friend and ally, and said: nobody can tell us who our friends should be, nobody can blackmail us."

Making sure that message penetrates the anger and anxiety most Americans feel in the wake of the terror onslaught will be a top challenge for Jewish leaders in the difficult days ahead, Foxman and others say.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said an even bigger challenge will be preparing the American people for "certain changes in our way of life in order to mount a sustained and credible defense against terrorism."

Harris, whose group has focused heavily on the fight against terror in recent years, said Israel has a lot to offer traumatized Americans about how to live under the terrorist threat — "a debate our community has a huge stake in."

The first lesson from Israel, he said, "is that there is no substitute for solid intelligence — human and other. And we have to understand this is a permanent war; it ebbs and flows, but it goes on, and it’s dirty."

That is a lesson Israelis have learned the hard way over the decades — as they have learned the need for an "unbreakable national will," Harris said. "One purpose of the terrorist is to break that will."

And the Israel experience teaches that the fight against terrorism demands changes to everyday life changes that will certainly be inconvenient and may run afoul of current civil rights protections.

"It means that checks at airports are serious, not cursory," Harris said. "It means that citizens must become aware of potential security threats and dangers. It requires a whole different level of awareness, which Israelis have and Americans need to copy. "

If the terror is revealed as Mideast related, it could have a number of implications for the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Short-term, Jewish leaders say it will bring Israel and the United States closer together.

"It will bring home to people the reality of what Israel has been living with on a day to day basis at a very high price," Foxman said.

Other analysts say the attack could add to the options available to Israeli leader Ariel Sharon as he tries to subdue the yearlong surge of Palestinian terrorism.

"Let’s just say that for a few days, at least, he has a lot more latitude to go after Palestinian terrorists," said a leading pro-Israel activist. "It’s hard to imagine the State Department calling any Israeli action against terrorists ‘provocative,’ at least not while the taste of these bombings is in their mouths."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, perhaps fearing just that response, was quick to condemn the bombings. "We completely condemn this serious operation," he told reporters in Gaza. "We were completely shocked. It’s unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable."

But Jewish leaders say a much more indelible statement was made by the Palestinians who celebrated the carnage with spontaneous street demonstrations in Nablus, East Jerusalem and in Lebanon.

Arab-American and Muslim groups also condemned the bombings, and urged Americans not to jump to conclusions about the perpetrators.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, agreed.

"We urge all Americans not to form opinions until all facts are known, and to avoid blaming any group for the actions of individuals," he said.

But Jewish and Arab-American groups will quickly find themselves locked in bitter disagreements as lawmakers seek to toughen U.S. anti-terror laws — which Muslim and Arab-American groups say are already damaging to fundamental civil rights.

The dramatic, rapid-fire developments produced a tidal wave of rumors and speculation in the capital. Media outlets broadcast reports of additional bombings that were later revealed untrue. There were persistent and incorrect reports of other hijacked airliners waiting to be directed at new targets — one reason the congressional leadership was evacuated from the city.

The airliner that slammed into the Pentagon just as many workers were arriving produced an immense fireball, and an explosion that was heard at a reporter’s office 12 miles from the huge building.

The Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., and consulates around the country sent all but essential personnel home immediately after the news of the World Trade Center catastrophe broke. Then, after reports that additional attacks could be forthcoming and that the embassy might be a target, the Washington facility closed entirely.

By Tuesday afternoon — with the Pentagon still burning — the embassy was back in operation with what a spokesman described as a "skeleton" crew.

Israeli ambassador David Ivry expressed Israel’s condolences to administration officials and offered the use of a team of Israeli specialists to help hunt for victims.

"Unfortunately, we have a lot of experience with buildings being destroyed," said an embassy spokesman.


En route home were Alice and Leo Howard and their 14-year-old grandsons, Yoni Howard and Adam Blitz, all of whom had survived the July 30 suicide bombings in Jerusalem’s crowded Mahane Yehuda.

After the El Al jet landed, the relatives greeted each other with hugs and tears and counted themselves lucky. The bombs that killed 13 bystanders (as well as the two Hamas terrorists) and wounded nearly 170 people, had left the Howards relatively unscathed. Leo incurred whiplash, Yoni had glass shards embedded in one leg, and most had painful ringing in their ears. But the close family friends who had been with them at Mahane Yehuda were seriously injured and remained hospitalized.

The memories of that nightmarish day were so vivid that the Howards decided to cut their Israel trip short and return home.

“It’s been very traumatic,” says Leo, a soft-spoken CPA who lives and works in Encino. “But this will not scare us off from visiting Israel. None of us have any concerns about going back. We’re going to show our support for Israel.”

This Zionist point of view is typical of Leo and Alice Howard, who have been active in Israel Bonds and at Valley Beth Shalom, and who have traveled some 25 times to the Jewish state. Two of their children, Jane Howard Blitz and Alan Howard, lived for a time in Israel.

Alan, who lived in Israel from 1972 to 1990, attended dental school at Hebrew University; married a Chilean-born Israeli; stuck out the Yom Kippur and Lebanon wars; and named his son, Yoni, after Yoni Netanyahu, the martyred Entebbe hero. His best friend, Shlomo Shimonovitz, remains in Israel, and Yoni is good friends with Shlomo’s sons, Itamar, 10, and Zvika, 14. (The Shimonovitz boys were with the Howards during the bombings.)

Alice Howard, for her part, is a national board member of NA’AMAT USA and, over the years, she and Leo made a ritual of taking their grandchildren to Israel. Several years ago, it was their teen-age granddaughters’ turn, and this summer was slated for Yoni, who attends Oakwood School, and Adam, who’s entering 10th grade at Milken Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple.

The day before leaving for the proposed 3 1/2-week trip, Leo Howard proudly told a friend, “Tomorrow, I’m taking my grandsons to Israel.”

The next time the friend spoke to Leo, it was two days after the bombings; he remained characteristically stoic. Leo says that on the morning of July 30, he and Alice had taken the boys, along with Itamar and Zvika, to visit Masada. Afterward, they had stopped at Mahane Yehuda for an Iraqi-style falafel.

Just before 1:15 p.m., as they ducked into a bakery to buy dessert, Yoni remarked on a strange-looking man who was wearing a black suit and tie and carrying a briefcase in the stifling summer heat. The sightseers thought little of it as they resumed walking. When they heard a loud explosion — the first of the two bomb blasts — the Howards assumed that it was a sonic boom.

When the second explosion struck, violently strewing food and fire and body parts with an incredible heat, they did not realize that they stood less than 20 feet from the second suicide bomber. Ducking into that bakery saved their lives.

“It was mass chaos,” Leo says. “Everywhere, people were bleeding. Zvika had a big hole in his arm. And I saw Yoni running toward me, carrying a small child with a hole blown through his chest. I did not, at first, recognize that it was Itamar.”

Grandfather and grandson, with ears splitting, ran wildly away from the blast site, and when Yoni saw a charred body upon the ground, he breathlessly advised his zeyde not to look. Leo finally took Itamar from his grandson; his shirt and shoes became soaked with blood. He yelled for a doctor, and a pediatrician miraculously appeared and held the boy’s chest closed until the ambulance arrived.

Meanwhile, amid the sirens and soldiers scurrying everywhere, Adam had become separated from the others, pushed out of the way by the frenetic photographers; he wandered around in shock and half-dressed, having given up his shirt to dress Zvika’s wounds.

The family members ended up in different ambulances. Some time after being reunited, they learned that Zvika needed tissue and blood vessel grafts and that Itamar’s wound was less than half an inch from his heart. The 10-year-old boy had half a lung removed and was on a respirator, in critical condition. Had it not been for the pediatrician, the boy would have died, the doctors said.

While the Howards did not suffer much physical damage from the bombings, there was an emotional toll. The family suffered sleepless nights, and the grandsons were frightened by crowds and loud noises and showed other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A psychiatrist advised that the boys remain in Israel just long enough to see that their friends were healing; then they should immediately return home to their parents. On Saturday, the Howards revisited Mahane Yehuda, and amid the flowers and the yahrtzeit candles, they attempted a sense of closure.

Today, back in Los Angeles, Alan Howard is searching for an Israeli-born therapist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder. He is also purchasing airline tickets to take Yoni back to Israel on Aug. 13. “My son wants to go back, to make sure his friends are OK,” Alan says. “And I don’t want his memories of Israel to consist only of fiery bombs and dead bodies.”

Leo, meanwhile, insists that Israel “is still much safer than most of Los Angeles. If people now refuse to visit Israel, it means that the terrorists have won.”