A Palestinian Verdict: Terror Worked

The question on the Palestinian street now is who will successfully claim credit for expelling Israel from Gaza and northern Samaria – Hamas, an organization that carries out terrorist attacks, or Fatah, the official Palestinian ruling party?

Whatever the answer turns out to be, one thing is certain. Both factions are presenting Israel’s withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza and the northern West Bank as a Palestinian military victory.

The Arabic word indihar is being used these days by Palestinians who view the pullout as a victory for the al-Aksa intifada, which erupted in September 2000. And there appears to be a growing number of Palestinians who are convinced that the withdrawal is nothing but an Israeli retreat achieved through the blood of thousands of shahids, or martyrs.

Still, many also consider the disengagement strategy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a conspiracy designed to tighten Israel’s grip on the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The “Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic” translates indihar as “banishment and defeat.” Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in the Gaza Strip were the first to refer to the disengagement as a “fruit of the resistance attacks” against Israel over the past few years. In recent days, even senior Palestinian officials, who are likely to play a role in peace negotiations, have begun labeling the pullout as an Israeli defeat.

On the streets of Ramallah and other West Bank cities, Palestinians across the political spectrum were unanimous this week in defining the disengagement as a retreat in the face of rocket and suicide attacks. Only a few said they regarded the move as a direct result of the peace process and international pressure on Israel.

“Of course this is a victory for the blessed intifada,” said Samir Tahayneh, a 22-year-old university student who describes himself as a Fatah supporter. “Had it not been for the Kassam rockets and suicide bombings, Israel would never have thought of running away from our lands. The disengagement proves that the only way to liberate our lands is through the resistance, and not at the negotiating table.”

Scores of people interviewed over the past week in various parts of the West Bank echoed those sentiments.

“We have always said that the only language the Jews understand is force,” commented Ala Abu Jbarra, a 30-year-old shopkeeper. “The Oslo process did not give us as much as the second intifada. By God’s will, we will pursue the struggle until we liberate the rest of our lands.”

A survey conducted by the Hamas-affiliated Palestine Information Center Web site reported that more than 94 percent of Palestinians see the Israeli indihar in the Gaza Strip as an “achievement for the Palestinian resistance.”

Less than 6 percent of the 2,551 respondents said they viewed the withdrawal as a result of political negotiations and international pressure.

It follows that the political battle on the Palestinian street is over who gets credit. The faction that prevails in this propaganda contest will get an edge in its bid for power. Both Hamas and the ruling Fatah party are separately preparing mass celebrations in the “liberated” areas with the hope that each can claim responsibility for driving Israel out of the Palestinian territories.

In an attempt to circumvent Hamas, Fatah leaders earlier this week kicked off celebrations by holding two mass rallies in the Gaza Strip. The message was that the disengagement is the result of the “sacrifices” made by Fatah fighters during the intifada. At another rally in Ramallah, organized by the Palestinian Authority’s Political Guidance Commission, Palestinian leaders hailed the disengagement as a significant victory for the “resistance.”

Col. Ribhi Mahmoud, acting director of the Political Guidance Commission, welcomed the Israeli indihar as a first step toward liberating Jerusalem. He and several spokesmen who addressed the rally drew parallels between the disengagement and the Israel Defense Forces “retreat” from Lebanon in May 2000.

“Palestinian blood has defeated the mighty sword of Israeli occupation,” declared Sheikh Hassan Youssef, the de facto Hamas leader in the West Bank. “Our blood has forced Israel to abandon its strategy of occupation, just as the Lebanese did.”

Qais Abdel Karim, a top leader of the Marxist-Leninist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told the crowd that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was forced to take the decision to leave the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank because of stiff Palestinian resistance.

“Sharon was forced to announce the so-called disengagement under the pressure of Palestinian steadfastness and resistance,” he said, drawing thunderous applause. “This is the first time that Israel is forced to dismantle Jewish settlements established on Palestinian lands.”

Abdullah al-Ifranji, a senior Fatah activist in the Gaza Strip, said the majority of Palestinians view the withdrawal as a “fruit of four years of the second intifada.” But, he added, the disengagement is also seen as the result of “tremendous political efforts” made by Yasser Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas.

Ifranji admitted that his party was engaged in a competition with Hamas over post-disengagement celebrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“In the past six months, Hamas has prepared 40,000 military uniforms, 70,000 green flags and 100,000 hats,” he said. “They have also bought dozens of jeeps and painted them in Hamas’ color — green. They want to appear as if they were the ones who liberated the Gaza Strip.”

On the other hand, Fatah has prepared only Palestinian flags that will be distributed to Palestinians celebrating the disengagement. However, various Fatah members in the Gaza Strip have already announced that they will hold paramilitary marches in the settlements after they are evacuated.

Hamas officials claim that the Palestinian Authority has allocated millions of dollars for the Fatah-orchestrated celebrations, with most of the money coming from European donors. According to a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, the European Union has decided to finance the Fatah celebrations with the hope that the message to the Palestinian public would be that the disengagement is a victory for the peace process, not terrorism.

“Of course the Palestinian people are not naive and no one will buy this argument,” said the Hamas official. “Even Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] knows deep inside that the withdrawal is the result of the resistance operations, but he can’t say this in public.”

Many Palestinians are worried that the presence of thousands of Hamas and Fatah gunmen in the emptied settlements after the disengagement, along with some 20,000 Palestinian policemen, will lead to violent clashes. Hence Abbas’ repeated calls to the Palestinians over the past few days for calm during and after the pullout.

Aware that the Palestinian security forces would not be able to stop Hamas supporters from reaching the Gaza settlements, Abbas met this week with the Islamic movement’s leaders and implored them to restrain their men. The two sides agreed to set up joint committees to oversee the celebrations and avoid internecine fighting.

Yet Abbas, like many Palestinians, has to know that a confrontation of some sort with Hamas is almost inevitable.

His agreement to form joint committees with Hamas is seen as capitulation to demands set by the movement. Until last week, Abbas had adamantly refused even to talk about such coordination with Hamas.

“We in Fatah are not seeking a clash with Hamas,” said Ifranji, the Fatah leader from the Gaza Strip. “We are saying that Palestinian blood is a red line that should not be crossed. On the other hand, we won’t accept a situation where Hamas would try to harm or undermine the Palestinian Authority.”

The fact that so many Palestinians see disengagement as a reward for violence and as indihar has many Palestinian officials in Ramallah and Gaza City extremely worried.

“I’m afraid that the disengagement, which is not being carried out as a result of peace talks, will weaken the moderate camp among the Palestinians,” a top Abbas aide said. “That’s why we need to work together with Israel and the international community to make this move appear as if it were part of the peace process.”

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab, is the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and U.S. News and World Report.


Rewriting Lives

David Levinson, 44, has written for television, theater and feature films. He and his wife Ellen Herman, also a television writer, have crafted a good life from an unforgiving business, with a home in Hancock Park and three growing children, who, he informed me over lunch this week, are wonderful.

Levinson’s play, "The Great Wall," ran at the Coast Playhouse last year. It was about a Brentwood man who must decide whether to accept $5 million to kill a nameless Chinese peasant. "It was really about the moral and spiritual crisis of a rich guy in L.A.," he said.

Of course, compared to a Chinese peasant, compared to many people in this city, we are all rich guys in Los Angeles, and we all face the moral and spiritual question of what is our responsibility to those less fortunate.

I’ve always believed there are several layers of self-interest involved in this question. Helping those around us improves the quality of the city we call home. If you aren’t sure whether it’s better to live in a city where most people are well-educated and well-housed, get on the 405 and drive three hours south. Beyond that, helping others satisfies a part of us that no amount of spa treatment, shopping trips or dinners at Bastide (as if) can slake.

Levinson, 44, knows this well. He was already on the social action committee of Temple Israel of Hollywood when the synagogue, inspired by a similar program held by L.A. Works, decided to launch a Mitzvah Day in 1999. At first it was similar to the dozens of other similar events held by events and agencies, both Jewish and not, in town. Then Levinson received a call from a nun at Covenant House, a home for at-risk youth, near Hollywood. "She said, ‘Our kids really want to help, they really want to volunteer,’" Levinson recounted. "That changed everything."

Soon street-tough former drug addicts were working side by side with temple volunteers to raise money for a scholarship program in Tijuana. "Everybody started working together and it changed the tone of the whole group," Levinson said.

From then on, Levinson and the Mitzvah Day steering committee changed the model of the event to one of partnership. It wasn’t enough for a minister of a South L.A. church to invite volunteers in for a day of assistance. Levinson, who chairs the event, and his 12 steering committee members, made sure lay leaders at these churches and groups wanted to be involved as well. "I thought if we did it we should do it in cooperation with others," he said. "Going in and having the haves helping the have-nots felt uncomfortable. It was a question of dignity."

"David totally figured it out," said David Lehrer, director of Community Advocates, Inc., which works with groups throughout the city and has joined Levinson in his mission. "Charity has to be a two-way street so it doesn’t have that patronizing smell to it."

The first Mitzvah Day attracted 10 nonprofit groups and a few dozen volunteers. Last year 70 groups and some 2,500 volunteers served about 100 different nonprofits. This year the day is expected to attract 3,500 people. L.A. Works, which has been doing volunteer days for 10 years, attracts between 1,000-4,000 people. But Mitzvah Day’s numbers are even more impressive when you understand who Levinson has brought into the fold.

Through a combination of word of mouth and old-fashioned cold calling, word of the successful day spread throughout that network of nonprofits and schools that provide the woof to commerce’s warp here. Private schools — Windward, Oakwood, Curtis Malborough and others — came aboard. The Archdiocese brought in Catholic high schools from Long Beach to Oxnard. The Girl Scouts, the Red Cross, Jewish Family Service and the Los Angeles chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution joined in, among others. "That a Jewish organization is doing that kind of outreach is very significant," L.A. Works Co-Chair Donna Bojarsky said.

Many Jewish organizations hold Mitzvah Days or similar events to encourage their members to volunteer their time in the greater Los Angeles community. Temple Israel’s has become the largest, in the process merging with those of other synagogues’, from Beth Chaim Chadashim (BCC), a largely gay and lesbian congregation, to Orthodox shuls and schools like Shalhevet, YULA, Beth Jacob and B’nai David Judea.

Thus, Levinson found himself in the position of watching volunteers from BCC, B’nai David and Mothers of East L.A. working together at the Soto Street Children’s Center in Boyle Heights. Only in L.A.

Levinson, urged on by some private schools who needed reassurance that the day is nondenominational and nonpolitical, changed Mitzvah Day’s name to Big Sunday last year.

Otherwise, the day’s fundamentals remain constant. Volunteers are asked to pay nothing. Even a $15 Big Sunday T-shirt may be more than a low-income volunteer could afford. Underwriters and sponsors, including Temple Israel, provide for the $50,000 annual budget.

Every skill is put to use. Make-up artists provide makeovers to homeless women hunting for jobs. Set designers and landscape artists remake children’s centers, actors read stories at literacy centers, knitters help a group called Stitches From the Heart crochet blankets and caps for premature and needy babies across the country. Levinson has noticed it is easy to find among the synagogues involved lawyers and doctors, but harder to find good carpenters. "If people have none of these talents, we throw parties so all they have to do is come and be friendly," he said. "If they can’t be friendly, they can give blood." Sign up is simple, too. You go to www.bigsunday.org, pick a project off a menu and register.

This Friday, Feb. 6, Temple Israel of Hollywood is honoring Levinson at an unusual temple fundraiser. "David is a unique prophetic spirit in our community," Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel said. "He loves people and he loves Los Angeles." Admittance to the event is free. Monies will be raised through the sale of sponsorships and a tribute books.

The temple expects hundreds of church congregants and social service workers from across Los Angeles to attend.

Chun-Yen Chen will be there. She is executive director of the Asian Pacific Women’s Center (APWC), a transitional housing program for victims of domestic violence. Three years ago, Levinson called her and asked what Big Sunday could do to help. The knock on events like Big Sunday is that they are one-off experiences, providing a short spurt of feel-good but hardly changing anyone’s lives. Chen disagreed. Levinson and other Big Sunday volunteers have kept in touch with APWC all year, helping whenever they can. "Every time we have a need we call David," Chen said. "He has a lot of people we can share with. He has been a blessing."

As a writer in Hollywood, Levinson said, he has known from indignities: calls not returned, projects stalled, dreams fallen short. But instead of seeking refuge in whining and moaning, he has found an outlet that provides dignity, instant gratification, and helps other people’s dreams come true. "In the entertainment business peoples’ dignity is often compromised and their status is always changing," he said. "I knew standing at the pulpit at a gospel church in South Central addressing the congregation about Mitzvah Day my life had taken a turn I never expected. But we all live in L.A., and we want to make this city better." And, he might add, ourselves along with it.

When It’s Federal Aid, Pork Isn’t Treif

When it comes to politics, even the Jews want pork. American Jewish communities and some national organizations have become well versed in getting their share of millions of dollars available for social service programs, medical research or other community essentials.

A search of the 2004 omnibus spending bill under consideration in Congress this month found 37 earmarks with the word "Jewish" in the name, amounting to $9,973,000 in appropriations. If you include the terms "Hebrew" and "Sephardic," it climbs to 41 appropriation earmarks and $10,723,000. Many other projects of importance to local Jewish communities may not have identifiable names and could be buried in the vast spending document.

Getting funding for a project takes massive time, energy and, often, money. Many Jewish communities send representatives to Washington to make the pitch directly to their lawmakers, as well as members of congressional appropriations committees. Some hire Washington lobbyists to make the necessary introductions for them.

Next week will be an important one for the budget process. In its first session of the year, the Senate will vote on the omnibus spending package for 2004, because it did not pass all 13 spending bills before the end of last year’s session.

The omnibus bill lumps all appropriations that were not approved by Congress into one piece of legislation, and contains $328.1 billion in discretionary spending. It passed the House Dec. 8 by a vote of 242-176.

President Bush’s State of the Union address on Jan. 20 will launch the budget process for 2005. The president will lay out his fiscal priorities in the speech, before officially submitting his budget proposal early next month.

Garnering money for one’s local Jewish community depends in large part on the influence of local congressmen. Five of the Jewish appropriations next year are in Pennsylvania, amounting to $950,000, in part because Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

Jewish officials bristle when they hear the projects described as "pork," a term used to describe pet projects in a lawmaker’s congressional district.

"One man’s pork is another’s essential program," said Reva Price, the Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

For example, the Jewish Association for Residential Care (JARC) in suburban Detroit received $500,000 in 2003 for its facility for people with developmental disabilities. It is likely to receive an additional $150,000 this year.

Joyce Keller, JARC’s executive director, said her program provides an essential service and shouldn’t be lumped in with more frivolous appropriations. She cited one notorious example of Washington pork, a study on the sex lives of fireflies.

"These are the needs of people that are not being met by whatever states have to offer," she said of her patients.

Keller’s organization began pursuing a federal appropriation because Michigan’s state mental health funds were not properly funding its patients, many of whom are mentally disabled. It hired a Washington lobbyist, met with Michigan congressmen and both senators and hoped for the best.

"We had no idea, and we were very ecstatic that we were successful," Keller said. "We knew it was a gamble."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) last month touted six Jewish community projects that were funded in the appropriations process. Among them were allocations to the Sephardic Community Center in Brooklyn and two allocations for the Sephardic Bikur Holim Center in Brooklyn.

Brett Heimov, Nadler’s Washington chief of staff, said the office receives 15 to 20 requests from the Jewish community each year and forwards them to the appropriators.

"In 11 years here, I’ve seen maybe a dozen projects that are just stupid," he said. "Most are worthwhile."

Heimov said appropriators, who have the final say on what projects receive money, prefer programs that already are advanced in their development, giving a better sense of how the money will be spent.

A lawmaker touting a project may go it alone or may seek additional support when he sends a letter to members of the appropriations committee. Eight lawmakers signed a letter in October to the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee seeking $543,375 for the Center for Jewish History in New York’s archival preservation project. The center was allocated $328,000.

While some Jewish organizations seek money individually, others group their requests. The United Jewish Communities (UJC) helped win $4,320,000 for 19 Jewish communities for naturally occurring retirement communities, or NORCs, which seek to assist elderly living independently in areas with large aging populations.

Robert Goldberg, UJC’s assistant legislative director, said the organization is able to serve as a conduit between the local communities and lawmakers who know the value of NORCs.

"We are the ones that have done the legwork with the appropriations committees and educated them on NORCs as a community-based service," he said.

Jewish communities in big cities often need less assistance, because they have more resources and are more familiar with the process.

The need for federal appropriations is growing in the Jewish community. Budget crunches in many states, as well as decreases in social service block grants that give federal money to the states to distribute, have led to a decrease in the availability of other public funding sources, Price said.

It is hard to pin down some of the ingredients for a successful bid for funds. Communities with Republican lawmakers may be served better, because the Republican leaders of the divided Congress have been reticent to provide funds for Democratic districts, Jewish officials said.

Some suggest that having a Jewish lawmaker in one’s district helps. Others say that Jewish lawmakers, concerned about a backlash, try not to have too many Jewish projects funded in their districts.

One Democratic aide said he believed Republicans may be working to give more assistance to Jewish communities as part of their efforts to court the Jewish vote in 2004.

Price said Jews do no better or worse than other interests lobbying for pork.

"Not everything asked for is gotten," she observed.