Israeli soldiers punished for WhatsApp leaks of dead comrades’ names

The Israeli military said it had detained several soldiers and a civilian on suspicion of leaking Gaza casualty figures over social media before families of the dead or wounded could be formally informed.

A week into ground fighting with Hamas that has killed at least 32 soldiers, some Israelis complain of first learning their relatives were dead through WhatsApp, or of being misled by erroneous messages into believing they were among the toll.

The phenomenon has led to front-page calls by Israeli commentators to stop the relaying of unauthorized casualty updates. Hoping to control the information, the army has confiscated the cellphones of troops sent into combat.

“Notifying a family of a soldier or officer who was killed in action is one of the most sensitive and well-planned procedures that exists in the military, as befits such a serious moment,” the military said in a statement announcing the arrests following an investigation that it described has having employed “both open-source and undercover means”.

“The unauthorized WhatsApp messages were irresponsible and spread quickly across social networks,” the statement said, referring to Facebook’s WhatsApps mobile messaging app.

The army has revised its own official information regarding a soldier it initially reported as killed in Gaza on Sunday, but later designated as missing in action. Hamas said it had seized the soldier but did not issue photographs of him in captivity.

Two IDF soldiers killed in Gaza, Thai worker dies in Ashkelon attack

Two Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza fighting and a foreign worker died from injuries suffered in a mortar attack from Gaza on a hothouse in Ashkelon.

Lt. Nathan Cohen, 23, of Modiin, was killed “in combat” and Capt. Dmitri Levitas, 26, of Jerusalem, was killed by sniper fire, both on Tuesday night, the Israeli army said in a statement.

Their deaths bring the number of Israeli soldiers killed since the July 8 launch of Operation Protective Edge to 29. Another soldier declared missing is widely presumed to be dead.

On Wednesday, the migrant worker from Thailand killed in Ashkelon became the third civilian killed by Gaza rockets since the start of Israel’s operation to halt a bombing barrage from the coastal strip. He died after being flown by helicopter to Barzilai Medical Center in that southern Israeli city.

Gaza outcomes

If you’re like me, you don’t like to see dead children.

The initial images from Israel’s retaliatory strikes against the Hamas government in Gaza aren’t pretty. One that keeps reappearing is of a terrified, bleeding Palestinian girl, maybe 7 years old, clutching her father’s arm as they rush from a bombed-out building. Yes, the guy might be a Hamas operative for all I know. But I doubt she is. There’s another picture that keeps cropping up — the bodies of three small Palestinian boys, killed in an Israeli air strike Monday morning, wrapped in funeral shrouds and laid out on a dirty floor.

You could say I don’t have the stomach for war — you’d be right. As of press time on Monday, 350 Palestinians have been killed, some 60 of them civilians, many of those children. Two Israelis were killed by Hamas rocket attacks on Monday as well. I am not a fan of the inevitable innocent blood and guts that Israel’s far superior military force will necessarily spill in its fight to stop Hamas from shooting rockets into Israel whenever it wants. And yet, of course, I deeply believe Israel has the right, the obligation, to stop Hamas from its capricious acts of terror. I was in Sderot and southern Israel earlier this year, and I spoke with many residents, including many children, about what it’s like to live amid a near-constant rain of rockets and missiles.

“We want peace, but the missiles won’t stop,” a 12-year-old boy named Stav told me. Two years ago a Qassam rocket fell on his house. It was only sheer luck that his photo did not end up on the Internet as well. “They just send more and more. We can’t play in the fields, because if there’s a warning siren, there’s no place to run.”

One of my strongest memories from my trip is of a shadowy smudge on a sidewalk at Sapir College, near Sderot. A student was standing there when a Kassam struck. All that was left was that darkened spot. What moved me in my talks with young people around Sderot was how little anger they felt toward Palestinians in general.

“I don’t hate them,” a 16-year-old named Tal told me last June. The kibbutz where she lives is just two kilometers from Gaza City. When she looks out her window each morning, she sees the minarets. Two days before I spoke with her, a missile had landed outside her front door. “I hear about the people who live there, and I don’t have a reason to hate them. But trust me, it’s hard.”

No people in any nation on earth can abide such terror. Since Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has fired 6,300 rockets into Israel, killing 10 people and wounding 780. Many people, especially around Sderot, say Israel waited far too long to do what it began doing over the weekend. Maybe so. The undeniable fact is the missiles would have only gotten worse and the attacks deadlier.

On the other hand, it is hard to be optimistic that Israel’s retaliation, for all its justification, will succeed in the various aims its boosters have claimed for it. Will it topple Hamas, as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asserts? Even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn’t promise that in his pre-battle declaration. Hamas is deeply entrenched, democratically elected (by the way, thank you President George W. Bush, for pushing for those elections), heavily funded via Iran and thuggishly powerful (where was the world’s condemnation when Hamas killed more than 50 Palestinians in 2007 while fighting Fatah in the streets of Gaza?).

Will the offensive stop the rocket attacks, as Olmert promised it would on the eve of this campaign? Well, the prime minister attempted the same strategy in Lebanon in 2006, and since then Hezbollah has only built up its arsenal.

Will the war somehow bring peace, as Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi predict, writing in The Wall Street Journal? Their argument is that until Hamas is deterred from firing rockets from territory Israel once occupied, no Israeli will support further territorial compromise. That makes sense, but raises the question of whether a generation of Gazans battered by occupation and war will be in the mood to make peace; whether their true masters in Iran and Syria will allow them; and whether Israel will be able to defeat Hamas any more than it was able to defeat its last archrival, Fatah, or its current one, Hezbollah?

Will the war, as analyst Felice Friedson writes in these pages, herald a new alignment of Middle East power that allies Israel with its former enemies Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia against Iran-supported Hamas and Hezbollah? That has already happened — but the thing about strange bedfellows is they are … strange. That Israel might align itself with some of the most dictatorial and anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East is hardly cheery news.

No, the best that could come of this very bloody reality is a stretch of quiet for the deserving residents of Israel’s south. Unlike Hamas, I don’t like to see dead children — no matter their race, creed or nationality.

I. E. D.

Letters to the Editor

The Left

Gary Wexler (“Left-Leaning Jewish Groups Out-of-Touch Now,” Aug. 4) ought not to be surprised by the wrath of his former compatriots in last week’s Letters to the Editor. It is the standard fury against an apostate.

Instead, he is to be commended for doing what too few of us are ready to do: bravely changing his views as a result of new facts. What Wexler’s new critics miss is what is obvious to the vast majority of Israel’s supporters: Those who attack the Jewish state are not doing it for land or to redress some grievance. Rather, they simply wish to destroy Israel and all of its inhabitants.

If the Jewish left in this country chooses to continue to live in a fantasy world, insisting that it knows better than the Israeli public and its elected leaders on how to respond to its foes, it will simply remain of no interest to the rest of us.

Mel Aranoff
Valley Glen

Although I appreciate and value Gary Wexler’s commitment to Israel, I was astounded by his lack of understanding of the situation, especially his comments on the left and the supposed lack of dialogue partners.

I have no fantasies about the horrors of suicide bombers and real terrorists on the Palestinian and Arab side. But I am also harboring no illusions about our part in the scenario.

Again, sadly, and with a few exceptions, there has been a true lack of leadership and vision of the future on all fronts. History has shown that a guerilla war cannot be won.

I can see no good at all coming out of the current situation. Perhaps the problem of the left is not their vision but rather that they have not spoken loud enough for us to hear.

David Greenfield
Los Angeles

Who Is a Jew?

We mourn Michael Levin (“Who Is a Jew?” Aug. 11), an American Jew who understood like thousands of volunteers before him that Jews will no longer go quietly to the gas chambers and the crematoria or the other places of extinction which the terrorists have planned for us.

I was 19 on June 6, 1967. And I instantly understood that if Israel lost that war, there could be another Holocaust. So I volunteered. But not for myself — for the 6 million who could not and for the Jewish children not yet born.And so I consider the sacrifice of Michael Levin. And I contrast it with those Jews who blindly protect every last civil liberty of our enemies (Skokie, Guantanamo, NSA phone eavesdropping, etc.). And it makes me wonder if they have forgotten the 6 million and the suffering.

Michael I. Brooks
West Hills

Take Chance

My son, David Landau, is about to join Nativ 26. He and four other former Far West Region United Synagogue Youth Regional Board members will join the almost 100 USYers nationally for the largest group from Far West in the history of this College Leadership Program in Israel. Thanks to J.J. Jonah who is our USY Israel shaliach this and next year!

I told my children since they were young that as Ms. Frizzle said on the “Magic School Bus”: “take chances and make mistakes.” Going to Israel is always a chance but so is flying on an airplane as we have been reminded last week.

A victory to terrorists is to live in fear. A victory for us who love freedom and Israel is to choose to travel, live and learn in Israel, is to participate on programs. I look forward to the drive to the airport with tears of joy sending my son David off with his friends and exclaiming a n’siah tovah, a wonderful and safe trip and year in Israel. And also maybe l’shana habaa B’Yerushalayim.

Diane Roosth

Mel Gibson

We all regress. We all have regions inside of us, ugly, sometimes barely repressed aspects of us that contain the worst kinds of thinking, some taught to us from our environment, some we teach ourselves. Those ugly regions, however, do not define who we are. When they come up, they are not our “true self.” (Hush Falls Over Jewish Hollywood Post-‘Mad Mel,” Aug. 4)

We are defined, rather, in how we struggle against those destructive aspects of the self. No person lives without brokenness and the shadow self, but not every person gives in to that abyss and lives according to it.

The good people among us are ashamed of ourselves when it erupts. The true self –religiously speaking, the self most aware of the soul and the Divine within us — works hard to contain those destructive aspects, to neutralize them, to sublimate them.

I know that when people drink, when they are angry, when they are frightened and ashamed, they regress. Spouses, when they argue viciously, do this. Basically good people who learned hateful things, or teach themselves hateful things about others, say things that do not define who they are but rather tell us about destructive parts of the self they are trying to control.

Mel Gibson has apologized for his remarks and says he did not mean them. I take that to mean that the conscious man conducting his life does not operate according to those prejudices that erupted from a deep and disturbing region of his being. They are buried deep within, and in an atavistic, regressive, drunken and frightened moment, they burst out.

He should introspect and apologize, as he has done, but he should not be reviled or banned. Jewish ethics teach us that he should be helped to repent and repair.As a great Jew once taught, the one who has never sinned, let him throw the first stone. Another great Jew said what you don’t want done to you don’t do other others.

Imagine your worst, most regressive moment caught on tape, posted on the Internet. Would you want that moment to define who you are? I would think not. You would want the help of others in finding a way to repentance and repair. Mel Gibson deserves the same.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Los Angeles

Bush and Israel

Bravo to Rabbi Steven Z. Leder for his superb and courageous letter of thanks to President Bush (“Mr. President, Thank You for Standing by Israel,” Aug. 11). Superb, because Rabbi Leder acknowledges the president’s supportive stance toward Israel and places it knowingly within the context of Jewish history, and courageous because he commended the president eloquently in a public forum, despite the fact that the majority of Jews identify as liberal Democrats, and many of them bear tremendous animosity toward Bush.

Rising above partisan politics, Rabbi Leder has the clarity of vision to recognize support for Israel where it exists and the good will, despite disagreements with the president on other issues, to render thanks where they are critically due. My thanks, in turn, go to Rabbi Leder for his shining example of righteous gratitude and moral strength.

Susan Ehrlich
Beverly Hills

Carvel Ice Cream

Your article about kosher Carvel ice cream (“Carvel Ice Cream Sprinkling More Outlets in Southland,” Aug. 11) is certainly welcome during these hot summer days. Thanks for the information and keeping it accurate is very important.The photo caption states that the new Carvel store is “certified glatt kosher.”

This statement is, in and of itself, ludicrous, since the term glatt is a reference to the smoothness (i.e., free of lesions) of a cow’s lung, not applicable to anything other than beef products.

Even if the term was meant in is colloquial and erroneous usage, as meeting the highest standards of kosher, it is still wrong, since, as stated in the article, the ice cream is not chalav Yisrael. It may be kosher, even acceptably kosher by many, but it is not strictly kosher.

And by the way, chalav Yisrael does not mean coming from kosher cows, as all cows are kosher. It does mean, as stated further in the article, as having a mashgiach (supervisor) at the milking process.

Nitpicking? Perhaps. But for those who take their words and their kashrut seriously, the angel is in the details.

Gershon Schusterman
via e-mail


Beth Levine offers some sound tips on throwing an affordable bar mitzvah party, while teaching good values like tikkun olam (heal the world) and tzedakah (charitable giving. (“Personal Touch Can Tame Parties, Trim Expenses,” Aug. 11).I’m not familiar with the study preparation software she borrowed from a friend, but it might be worth checking its license. Most software is limited to a single user, so “borrowing” it might actually be computer piracy. Tikkun olam is a lofty goal but not at the expense of the Eighth Commandment.Jay Falk
Playa del Rey

Tisha B’Av Dilemma

I’m writing to express my disappointment with Jane Ulman’s article about Tisha B’Av observance (“Tisha B’Av Dilemma: Day of Solemnity or Celebration?” July 20).

Ulman suggests that Reform Jews don’t celebrate Tisha B’Av, relating an anecdote about a synagogue in Cincinnati, that held a rummage sale last year on the fast day. Her only source for the story is an unnamed “spokesperson” for the temple’s sisterhood.

The story serves little purpose to the article. Who cares if she can find some congregation somewhere (in this case, suburban Cincinnati) which doesn’t celebrate TishaB’Av? It is inappropriate that she infers generalizations about Reform Jews from this one example.

Furthermore, I challenge the factual accuracy of her assertion that Tisha B’Av is “a nonevent in some, usually Reform, congregations.”

What evidence does the author have to support such a claim? Has Ulman done a statistical survey of holiday practice at synagogues in America?

Since she failed to cite such research, I gather that her statement was based on her own assumption, a reflection of popular stereotypes about Reform Jews. What is the value of a newspaper article in which the author simply shares her own assumptions, reinforcing stereotypes?

It is particularly strange that Ulman reported on last year’s activities in Cincinnati, instead of reporting on Tisha B’Av observances at local Reform congregations. For example, Temple Judea in Tarzana planned an event titled, “Lunch Without Lunch — Does Tisha B’Av Have Meaning for Us Today?”

I wonder why Ulman chose to discuss a congregation thousands of miles away that didn’t commemorate the holiday, when a congregation right on her doorstep did indeed mark the occasion.

Later in the article, Ulman writes, “Some Reform Jews, as did 19th century Rabbi David Einhorn, actually see the holiday as celebratory.” While the author’s understanding of Jewish history is not incorrect, her inference that modern Reform Jews celebrate on Tisha B’Av is ridiculous.

She mentions “some Reform Jews” who “actually see” (present tense), but then fails to cite any examples or quote anyone born after 1809. As an active Reform Jew, I can say that I’ve never met anyone who celebrated on Tisha B’Av, and I would challenge Ulman to find a normative Reform Jew who does.

Einhorn, it should be noted, believed a lot of things that today’s Reform Jews would find ridiculous. Citing Einhorn in a discussion of modern practice is like a political writer reporting that “some members of the Democratic Party, as did 18th century President Thomas Jefferson, actually believe in owning slaves.” Like Ulman’s mention of Einhorn, such a statement is an oversimplification of Jefferson’s complex views and, more importantly, has nothing to do with today’s Democratic Party.

Unlike Einhorn, today’s Reform movement is outwardly Zionist, chants “Kol Nidrei” on Yom Kippur and believes that the Jewish textual tradition is important. And many of us commemorate Tisha B’Av. Ulman’s attempt to discuss Reform practice in historical context is sloppy at best and inflammatory at worst.

Ulman’s reporting was irresponsible, inflammatory and contrary to norms of journalistic standards. In the future, I urge you to give her writing the much closer editorial supervision it deserves.

Joshua Barkin
Los Angeles

Israel’s Iraq?

I am passionately angry over your cover headline, “Israel May Come to Regret ‘A Quagmire of Its Qwn Making'” (Aug. 4). I didn’t need to look further. For some reason, The Jewish Journal seems to feel that Hezbollah should be free to continue to come into Israel and kidnap and murder as they wish. If that’s not what the article says, I’m sorry that you felt the headline on the front page should join the world in berating Israel.

Lora Colaffi
via e-mail

I’m truly sorry that Jack Miles holds the views he does regarding Israel’s incursion into Lebanon, and I’m truly thrilled that you are not part of Israel’s current leadership (“Is Lebanon Israel’s Iraq?” Aug. 4).

Israel pulled out of Lebanon six years ago. The U.N. passed a resolution two years ago, asking the Lebanese army to take over the southern part of the country. By its inaction over these many years, whether because of weakness or collusion with Hezbollah, the Lebanese government has forfeited it’s right to complain about the results.

As you can readily see, Hezbollah has dug itself in very well in south Lebanon, created bunkers and supply depots, accumulated thousands of missiles supplied by Iran and Syria and has created it’s own ministate. It has become the forward phalanx of an Iranian and Syrian initiative to attack Israel’s northern areas with the aim of eventually attacking Israel as a whole.

Hezbollah’s killing of the soldiers and the kidnapping of two of them needed an incredibly strong response, not a weak “let’s negotiate” answer. This is exactly the time for Israel to do it’s best to weaken Hezbollah and by extension, Syria and Iran.

Bill Bender
Granada Hills

Lebanese Casualties

In this era, unlike World War II, with GPS, laser, high-speed data transmission, unmanned aerial vehicles and high-resolution aircraft photo reconnaissance, in addition to radio, communications are better than ever, and the tragic incidents of civilian dead in Lebanon are not due to inaccurate Israeli weapons, carelessness or malice but to the genocidal Hezbollah freely engaging in the war crimes of firing and concealing their weapons among civilians.

It is quite clear in international law that Israel is entitled to attack the rocket-firing and storage areas, even if in civilian locations. Some of your correspondents show no recognition of these considerations.

If the Israelis really wanted to cause civilian deaths, with more than 1,000 artillery and 14 fighter squadrons, they have the capability to do so on a massive scale comparable to World War II, where Hamburg saw 45,000 dead in one week from July 22 1943. Israel clearly does not do so.

In addition to this issue of discriminate force, the issue of proportionality has been mentioned by many people. Even if you use the much higher recent Lebanese government claim of 925 dead in Lebanon, quoted on Sky News, which gives no breakdown whatever for the Hezbollah element, which must be a significant part of any such total, that still equals: one dead for every 9.3 Israeli air force sorties, one dead for every five targets hit and one dead for every 14 Hezbollah-held Iranian-Syrian rockets.

Is that either in discriminate or disproportionate?

Tom Carew
Dublin, Ireland

I find it astounding, yet unfortunately predictable, that tiny Israel is for not the first time in a battle that bigger, more powerful nations should be fighting right along with her.

How can we not judge the European countries (with the exception of England) in this current conflict as an international performance rated right around dismal?How can the citizens of these European countries, who stand to gain so much if and when Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic extremists are crushed, not feel belittled and shamed seeing their countries stand by, watching the small army of Israel fight and die in what’s supposed to be the global war on terror.

What makes matters worse is the French and several other European nations take every opportunity to want Israel to cease fighting Hezbollah, forgetting, apparently, that this is a terrorist organization and destroying them is exactly the idea of a war on terror.

The French military should be launching attacks against Hezbollah right alongside the Israelis, as well as the Italians, the Spanish and, for that matter, the former East Bloc countries, as well – they’re supposed to be against terrorists groups and supposed to be allies of America and Israel.

You would be very hard pressed to actually believe the European countries truly are allies and with us in this war on terror, when it seems if they aren’t outright siding with terrorists groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, then they are standing by letting tiny Israel fight their battles for them.

Peter Shulman
Playa del Rey

Best Friend

I strongly doubt you will post this suggestion, but if we Jews were intellectually honest, we would support Israel by supporting George W. Bush, the best friend Israel has ever had. Beyond that, vote for Republicans who far and away more strongly support Israel than do the Democrats.

Bobbi Leigh Zito

‘Greenberg’s View’

Steve Greenberg’s political cartoon from the Aug. 4 Journal portrays a woman asking, “So why can’t Israel and Hezbollah just have an immediate cease-fire and go back to how things were before all this fighting?” and shows how things were before all this fighting to be clandestine warriors climbing over a border wall with a barrage of missiles overhead flying in the same direction.

We know that the fighters are coming from Lebanon and into Israel because we see the flags of the two countries on opposing sides of the border.

I only wish that “Greenberg’s View” had been the real one, but unfortunately there were no Lebanese flags visible on the border with Israel when I visited — only yellow Hezbollah flags flying boldly and brazenly.

Jacob A. Hall
Beverly Hills

Red Crescent Ad

I was shocked to see the ad inviting Jews to donate to Palestine Red Crescent Society (Aug. 11).

Just to remind you that their ambulances carried terrorists and arms with the intention of killing Israelis.

As for the Lebanese Red Cross, let Hezbollah, who is responsible for their suffering, take care of them.

Israel is in dire need for money. Donate to your family (the Jews in Israel), to Magen David Adom or other nonprofit organizations whose volunteers are risking their lives to help the people in the shelters.

Lilly Gottlieb
via e-mail

With all the destruction of lives and property in Israel and all the money needed to rebuild Israeli lives and cities, there are still soft-headed Jews who spend money on an ad in The Jewish Journal urging its readers to donate to the people who have vowed to destroy us.

I’m ready to send a check to the Palestinian Red Crescent as soon as one of the ad signers can show me an ad in an Arab/Muslim newspaper urging its readers to donate to an Israeli relief organization.

William Azerrad
Los Angeles


It seems to be that every time Diaspora Jewry wants to comprise a list of ways to help Israel, they manage to skirt the one thing which would be the most impacting and the most helpful: making aliyah.

This is something that I did 11 years ago, and countless Israelis, especially the soldiers that I served with, were very grateful and felt supported to a great degree. Perhaps it isn’t mentioned, because you may feel that it is unrealistic to ask that of comfy and cozy L.A. Jewry, but it is not a dream if you would but will it, and Judaism at its core asks always to overextend in your service of God and man.

Who knows, maybe if we say it enough as an ideal, then people will take it more seriously. But if we don’t mention it at all, then surely, Diaspora Jewry will never actualize this great and ancient Jewish dream.

Ariel Shalem
Bat Ayin, Israel

Liberal Jewish Left

I applaud Gary Wexler’s ability to see the reality of today’s liberal left and to have the courage to admit that he was wrong (Left-Leaning Jewish Groups Out of Touch Now,” Aug. 4). It is time for American Jews to look at today’s liberal movement and today’s Democratic Party and to be clear about what their vote supports.

A recent Los Angeles Times Poll on Israel found not surprising but very troubling partisan differences, considering most Jews vote Democrat. The poll results suggested a growing partisan divide over Israel and its relationship with the United States.

Republicans generally expressed stronger support for Israel, while Democrats tended to believe the United States should play a more neutral role in the region.

“Overall, 50 percent of the survey’s respondents said the United States should continue to align with Israel, compared with 44 percent who backed a more neutral posture. But the partisan gap was clear: Democrats supported neutrality over alignment, 54 percent to 39 percent, while Republicans supported alignment with the Jewish state 64 percent to 29 percent.”

Jews need to open their eyes and stop this irrational blind faith in a party that long ago left them and our Jewish values.

We live in an age of stupidity, where moral relativism has rendered so many incapable of making moral judgments of good vs. evil (just take a look at our colleges, and that includes the professors). This is even true when it is as clear as Hezbollah initiating the attack on Israel and openly pledged to Israel’s destruction vs. Israel fighting in self-defense for its existence.

This is not a cycle of violence and never has been. If Hezbollah and the Arabs stopped their aggression against Israel tomorrow, there would be peace. If Israel stopped defending itself, the Arab attacks would continue, and Israel would cease to exist.

President Bush has had the strength of character, integrity and courage to stand firmly on Israel’s side. Thank God that President Bush does not have a broken moral compass as so many of our politicians, in particular Democrats, do.

Dr. Sabi Israel
West Hills

Mel Gibson Fiasco

I’m not a Jewish Hollywood mogul, a political writer, religious leader, etc. I’m a disgusted human being who happens to be Jewish, and I have what I feel is a very simple solution when it comes to Mel Gibson: Forget about him. He doesn’t like us, so be it.

Let’s just rip our lapels, and then he will no longer exist in our world. We don’t talk about him, write about him, acknowledge him like in the old days. He’s dead to us, and those who run after him for interviews, repentance, speaking engagements, etc., should be dead to us also.

We owe him nothing, especially acknowledgement of his existence.

Batiya Anna Kugler
Palm Desert

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail:; or fax: (213) 368-1684

Figuring Out Sharon

Talk about confusing.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may have a strategy, but in a week that has seen dizzying numbers of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, many are left scratching their heads trying to figure out what Sharon is up to.

His government is an uneasy coalition of left and right voicing their competing demands, and his seemingly contradictory words and actions reflect some of those competing forces. Moreover, Sharon has to be alert to international reaction — particularly what emanates from Washington, where officials are concerned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could hamper efforts to build a strong coalition for the global war on terror.

Put all these pressures together and you may get a glimpse into why Sharon bobs and weaves like a consummate politician-prizefighter. Last week, for example, Sharon announced that pummeling the Palestinians militarily is the only way to bring them back to the negotiating table. He accompanied the words with a massive anti-terror operation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

These developments elicited a statement of concern from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who wondered before a congressional committee last week whether Sharon’s policy would "lead us anywhere." The next day, President Bush announced that he was sending his Middle East envoy, Anthony Zinni, back to the region this week.

A day after that, Sharon made the first of two stunning about-faces: He announced over the weekend that he would no longer demand seven days of calm before launching cease-fire talks with the Palestinians.

Dismissing an outcry from his right flank that he was reversing his long-standing policy of not negotiating under fire, Sharon said he was acting out of national responsibility — and from the realization that seven days of quiet are currently unachievable. On Sunday, the second shoe dropped when Sharon said he was willing to release Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who has been under virtual house arrest since December.

Political observers viewed the two concessions as an attempt by Sharon to smooth the way for a resumption of diplomacy. But just as suddenly, Sharon authorized the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to step up its operations this week in Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. Military officials said the IDF captured dozens of "hardcore terrorists" in the operations, which also netted untold amounts of weapons and explosives.

The international community, however, noticed something else: the steadily mounting number of Palestinian casualties.

Last Friday alone, more than 30 Palestinians were killed during Israeli raids on villages and refugee camps. On Monday, at least 12 Palestinians were killed during an IDF operation in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza. On Tuesday, that toll increased after the IDF launched a major operation in Ramallah, where 32 Palestinians were reported killed and scores wounded. On Wednesday, an Israeli soldier, 21-year-old Lt. Gil Badihi, died of injuries sustained in a gun battle near Ramallah.

So which is it? Sharon the peacemaker who wants a cease-fire, or Sharon the general who wants another military victory? In a move that reflects the pressures Sharon has faced from within his coalition, two Israeli Cabinet ministers submitted their resignations on Tuesday because of Sharon’s decision o free Arafat. As far as they were concerned — based on the two concessions Sharon had made over the weekend — Sharon had gone soft on the Palestinians.

The resignations, which were to go into effect later in the week, mean Sharon will now have to rely on the support of the Labor Party and the fervently Orthodox Shas Party to stay in power until the next round of elections are held late next year.

For its part, the Labor Party has been debating whether Sharon had gone too far in his military reprisals against the Palestinians.

But last week, the party’s leader, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, got party members to agree not to leave the government during this period of national emergency.

While many can only guess what Sharon’s strategy truly is, all would agree that the country is in a state of emergency.

Being Good Neighbors

When a suicide bomber walked unimpeded into a crowded supermarket in Efrat earlier this month and set off a small bomb, the explosion damaged a section of the store’s bakery. Miraculously, no Jews were injured by the blast, but the Arab casualties were believed significant.

Following the attack, the first to occur inside the settlement, Efrat officials reinstated a ban prohibiting Arabs from entering the community. During the past year and a half, several temporary bans have been imposed and then lifted.

On one occasion, Arabs were prevented from entering Efrat ostensibly for their own protection a day after a particularly gruesome terror attack elsewhere in the country. And throughout the year, residents have hotly debated the wisdom of maintaining an open community at a time of widespread violence.

That debate, says Efrat’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, has now been resolved. Speaking to several hundred of the city’s residents who had gathered in the waning hours of Shabbat to give thanks that the attack had been thwarted without a single serious injury to Jews, Riskin announced that Arabs would not be allowed into Efrat. His announcement was greeted with loud applause.

This time, the ban is likely to remain in effect. The dozens of Arabs who come here every day to work in construction, municipal services and as handymen, gardeners and house cleaners for private individuals suddenly find themselves out of work.

"I always believed in coexistence, but to my sorrow, I have now reached the conclusion that at this point, there is no room for coexistence, as long as there is incitement on the other side," Riskin said following the attack in Efrat. "We are at war, and we have to show them that they cannot beat us. Only then can there be peace, and only then we will be able to rehabilitate the relations between us and the Palestinians."

It’s a tough pill for the 61-year-old rabbi to swallow. Efrat was founded in 1982, and early on, Riskin began efforts to forge meaningful relationships with the Arabs who live in villages scattered around Efrat in the Judean Hills south of Jerusalem, in the region known as Gush Etzion.

There is no fence around the community, and although there are security regulations, up to now they have been only lightly enforced. Arabs enter freely on foot, donkey or bicycle; shop in local stores, and knock on doors looking for odd jobs.

Last year, vandals entered one of Efrat’s synagogues in the middle of the night and damaged books and spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of the sanctuary. The perpetrators were never caught, but they left a message emblazoned on a wall trying to blame the act on residents of a nearby village. The link was never established, and many believe they were attempting to undermine the good relations between Efrat and its closest Arab neighbors.

In the months following the synagogue desecration, three residents of Efrat were killed in drive-by shootings on the road just outside the settlement. But until the bombing, there had not been a violent incident inside Efrat.

In a private interview held prior to the attack, Riskin spoke about the past 18 months of conflict. "We are fighting against the Palestinian Authority, not against the Palestinians as a people," the rabbi said. That remains a critical distinction for Riskin.

"My perspective, coming into contact with Palestinians everyday, is that the average Palestinian villager wants peace like I want peace. They want to watch their children and grandchildren grow up. They are bitterly disappointed by Arafat," he said.

Good neighborliness, said Riskin, is an idea both Jews and Arabs should be able to understand. "Both the book of Proverbs and the Quran teach, ‘A good neighbor is better than a far-away brother.’"

Among the outreach programs that Riskin has spearheaded is creation of a special humanitarian fund, which he distributes to needy local Arab families. When Yasser Arafat pressured local Arab leaders not to accept money from Jews, Riskin intervened and wrote a letter to Arafat, asking him to allow the aid to continue.

Some residents of Efrat criticized Riskin, accusing him of maintaining diplomatic ties with Arafat while he incited violence against Jews. But Riskin held his ground and the fund continues to operate.

In addition to financial support, many doctors in Efrat have provided medical services to the local Arab population without charge. Riskin also helped local villages to form soccer teams and paid for their uniforms. Perhaps most significantly, Riskin said, Efrat’s security personnel have received warnings of possible attacks.

"Many real friendships have developed," Riskin said. And despite pressure from the Palestinian Authority, "those friendships still exist."

Riskin wears two hats: as chief rabbi of Efrat, home to 10,000 people and 21 synagogues, and as president of Ohr Torah Stone educational network, with more than 3,000 students in its high schools, colleges, graduate programs and rabbinical college.

He also writes a popular syndicated Torah column, which appears in 40 newspapers each week. "What’s constantly amazing to me is that the Torah always seems to speak to our present situation. It’s timeless, but at the same time a very timely Torah."

A column he wrote about the Torah portion of Jethro in January illustrates his point: "Israel is entitled to live in freedom — and must be willing to wage battle against autocratic, Amalek-like governments which themselves utilize terrorism against innocent citizens and which harbor, aid and abet terrorists. And Israel must establish Jethro-like partnerships with those who, although they may still follow their individual religions, recognize the overarching rule of the God of justice, compassion and peace."

As the violence continues throughout Israel, Riskin continues to deliver a tough message about maintaining a strong commitment to life here: "We’re living in very fateful times. If we are called upon to express commitment, even to the point of committing one’s life, in our generation, the Jewish state and the Jewish homeland are worth that kind of commitment.

"It’s difficult to be here, but it’s a privilege, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. Whatever happens in Israel is a chapter heading to history. Whatever happens in Diaspora is at best a footnote. And if we have one life, I want to be a chapter heading."

Deja vu

September 11, 2001.

This morning, America woke up to the same nightmare that my parents did on February 6, 1985. On that morning, my parents in Los Angeles heard the news that a suicide bomber had attacked an Israel Defense Forces convoy in Southern Lebanon. Reports of casualties varied from 50 injured to 100 killed. My parent’s ultimate nightmare was that their son, who had enlisted in the IDF seven months earlier, was a part of the convoy that had been attacked.

I was, in fact, part of that convoy, as were 13 of my friends and officers. Our lieutenant was hurt, as were 10 other soldiers, some of whom were hospitalized for up to 13 months. Nobody was killed, and I was fortunate enough to be among the few who escaped without injury, although friends seated to my immediate right and left were badly wounded. The memory of a 220-pound blast of dynamite exploding in our faces, together with the gruesome injuries and the pandemonium it created, all flashed back to me this morning as I turned on CNN.

A few months after my discharge from the IDF, Israeli intelligence announced on Israeli radio that they had discovered a videotaping of this incident, and that they would broadcast it on the evening news. My friends and I gathered that evening and watched in horror as we relived the most horrible moments of our young lives. This morning, watching the reports from New York and Washington, D.C., brought me back to that evening in my friend’s living room.

Ever since that day, when I was miraculously saved from the hands of terror, I have watched terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism grow and expand globally.

During the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, I was in the last year of my rabbinical studies in New York. My wife Peni, whom I had married just a few months earlier, was working on the 67th floor of the Empire State Building. I will never forget how frightened I was when the split screen on television showed the World Trade Center bombing on one side, and the Empire State Building, with my wife inside, on the other. I felt like my parents did back in 1985. This morning, I felt the same way all over again.

This past Shabbat, I delivered a sermon deploring the use and abuse of Islamic houses of worship as centers of incitement towards violence and terrorism. Under the guise of religion, Muslim clerics around the world, including right under our noses here in the United States, continue to use their pulpits as a platform for encouraging the worst forms of hatred. I warned that to continue to allow this under the pretense of “freedom of speech” would ultimately come to haunt us.

This morning, as I watched the horrifying images on television, some of my congregants called me, commenting on the timeliness and accuracy of my sermon. In this instance, I cannot say that I am happy to have delivered a timely message.

Today, my children could not attend their Jewish day school, because it was closed. Today, I had to make the decision to cancel the opening day of classes in my synagogue’s Hebrew school. Today, I had to hire three armed security guards to patrol my synagogue on a 24-hour basis. I keep having to remind myself that I am actually in America, not the Middle East. Hard to believe.

When all is said and done, no political or military analysis can calm the nerves of the families whose relatives are victims of terror. I vividly remember the tears of fear being shrieked over the phone when I was first able to speak with my parents after coming home from Lebanon. I remember the fear and apprehension I felt in New York during the first World Trade Center bombing. And this morning, it all flashed back in my mind again, as I watched the faces etched in fear and confusion running amidst the flames and rubble of yet another act of terror.

Yes, this is what we all woke up to — but when will the world really wake up?

Israelis Frustrated With Restraint

Considering that air, water and fire are essential elements not just of life but of war, Israelis this week could hardly feel more besieged.

Monday morning, takeoffs and traffic at Ben-Gurion Airport were severely disrupted following a bomb scare. In the evening, greater Tel Aviv’s water supply was announced undrinkable due to what was termed a "technical" contamination that raised fears about the vulnerability of the country’s water system.

Throughout it all, the fiery Palestinian uprising continued to take its toll of casualties.

Against this grim backdrop — and increasingly resigned to the idea that a major Israeli attack of some sort has become all but inevitable — few bothered even to take note of yet another Palestinian promise to "effectively" combat terrorism.

Yet that is just what Foreign Minister Shimon Peres reported, and hailed, in a Cabinet meeting Sunday, quickly eliciting hostile responses from right-wing ministers and exposing the basic ideological differences between Peres and his partner of convenience, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

According to Peres, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Saturday night convened a high-powered forum where — weeks after he agreed to an American plan for a cease-fire — he ordered his assorted security organizations to start arresting perpetrators of terror attacks and their accomplices.

What Peres concluded from this, and from the level of violence that has diminished since Arafat signed the cease-fire agreement brokered last month by CIA Director George Tenet, is that the Palestinian Authority will make a sincere effort to reduce violence.

On this assumption, Peres maintained that Israel should begin to implement the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission — officially halting all settlement-building activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — as a prelude to resuming peace talks.

Sharon has reportedly rejected Peres’ approach, insisting that nothing short of a comprehensive cessation of Palestinian violence will constitute compliance with the Tenet plan. Under the plan, a week of quiet will be followed by a period of confidence-building measures, and then peace negotiations.

The Bush administration, for its part, is trying cautiously to uphold and enhance the nominal cease-fire, while desperately trying to avoid drowning in the Mideast quagmire that sucked in the Clinton administration.

So far, Bush has refrained from inviting Arafat to Washington or even renewing the personal mediation roles of Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell. But Bush is sending a deputy assistant secretary of state, David Satterfield, in an open-ended effort to narrow the gaps between Jerusalem and Gaza and with an eye to implementing the Mitchell Report, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

Clearly, the dispatch of such a relatively low-ranking official shows that the Bush administration has no illusions about the prospects for stabilizing the situation, let alone generating a breakthrough.

In the field, meanwhile, violence continues to rage. On Wednesday, Israeli police in the northern town of Afula averted a would-be suicide bomber just before he pushed a switch that would have detonated a large bag stuffed with explosives and nails. Israeli troops Tuesday demolished over two dozen Palestinian structures in a Gaza Strip refugee camp, triggering some of the worst fighting since the cease-fire was declared. Three Israeli soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, and five Palestinians.

Speaking in Ramallah after talks in Jordan with King Abdullah, Arafat said he would seek international action against Israel. Palestinian officials denied a report that Arafat issued a directive to "kill a Jewish settler

every day." The Israeli daily Ma’ariv published the report, citing information received by Israeli officials.

Sunday night, outside an Israeli army camp near Hebron in the West Bank, Capt. Shai Shalom Cohen was killed when a roadside bomb was detonated outside the jeep he was driving.

In the Gaza Strip, one day after Hamas said it was sending 10 suicide bombers into Israel, a bomber’s explosives went off prematurely, killing him moments before he would have exploded a bus full of passengers just outside the Kissufim border checkpoint.

Grenade attacks were launched repeatedly at Israeli soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip.

In all, the Israeli army says the level of violence has declined to about a dozen incidents a day — hardly a full cease-fire, yet less than half the number of daily incidents before the Tenet plan was signed.

In the case of the suicide bomber who failed in his mission at Kissufim, the Palestinian Authority said Monday it had arrested an accomplice.

While that sounded like a vindication of Peres’ optimistic report, the government’s dominant, hawkish element was all but losing patience this week with what many there consider Sharon’s inexplicable and intolerable reluctance to order a major assault on the Palestinian Authority.

Leading the criticism was Environment Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, who said at a Cabinet meeting that the army should launch a massive attack with artillery, fighter planes, assault helicopters and elite infantry units.

Considered a hard-liner even by Likud Party standards, Hanegbi was joined by Shas’ often dovish minister of labor and welfare, Shlomo Benizri, who asked: "Just what kind of additional price should we pay before we finally respond?"

For now, Sharon’s response to such swipes from his right flank remains as unexpectedly moderate as it has been since his election in February.

"Everyone here [around the Cabinet table ] thinks they are heroes, but in the end, I am the one bearing the responsibility, and no one can teach me how to handle terrorism," he responded to Hanegbi and Benizri.

In a phone call Monday night with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Sharon, in fact, called for "constant international pressure to bring about the end of Palestinian terror, violence and incitement."

However, the Israeli consensus is that a major attack is in the making, even if no one can forecast precisely the timing or method. Ironically, this state of mind was echoed by the two men possibly most frustrated by Sharon’s rise to power — former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking at a Tel Aviv University conference that addressed the media’s role in wars, Barak harshly attacked Arafat and, by extension, Peres.

Barak said Israeli leaders should no longer meet with Arafat, lest he be allowed "to once again don his mask" of peace partner.

As for conditions for a "military operation" — a euphemism for a big attack — Barak said one should be ordered only when there remains no other choice. However, many listeners understood Barak to be implying that the current conditions constituted such a case.

Speaking even less cryptically, Netanyahu told the same forum that military action should be "fast and strong" — a hint that he considers Sharon’s response to date slow and weak.

JTA correspondent Naomi Segal contributed to this report from Jerusalem.