O.C. demonstrators protest Muslim activists


Several hundred people demonstrated outside the Yorba Linda Community Center in Orange County on Feb. 12, where two controversial Muslim activists addressed a fundraiser held by the Queens, N.Y.-based Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).

Waving American flags and signs that read “No Islamic terrorists” and “Don’t tread on me,” demonstrators lined Imperial Highway and filled the grassy areas outside the public building to protest what they called the group’s agenda to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on American society.  They were particularly upset with the event’s keynote speakers, New York cleric Imam Siraj Wahhaj and Amir Abdel Malik Ali, whom they said hold anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views.

Ali is a frequent guest of Muslim student organizations on U.S. campuses, including the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where he has spoken several times at the Muslim Student Union’s Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual program of Israel-bashing and anti-Zionist sentiment that often wades into anti-Semitism. In May 2010, the Oakland cleric told a UCI audience that he supports Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad as well as jihad on the UCI campus, and accused Jews of causing the world’s financial troubles. UCI Chancellor Michael Drake condemned Ali’s endorsement of terrorism, without mentioning the cleric by name, as a breach of the university’s commitment to values and civility.

Wahhaj, who leads the Brooklyn al-Taqwa Mosque, became the first Muslim to give an invocation at Congress in 1991. He was named as a co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He was never charged and has denied involvement.

ICNA spokesperson Syed Waqas said the $25-a-plate event was meant to raise funds for the organization’s ICNA Relief program, money that will be used for local social services, such as women’s housing, disaster response, and burial and funeral assistance. He said Ali and Wahhaj were chosen to speak because they were available on the day of the event and because of their strong backgrounds in social services. Ali was said to be speaking about the Islamic perspective of relief efforts in Southern California, according to ICNA’s Web site.

Waqas denied that his group was anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, adding that ICNA may or may not endorse everything Ali and Wahhaj, who are not ICNA members, stand for.

“We don’t know for sure where the money will go, but when you bring a guest speaker who supports Hamas, and when you bring a co-conspirator of 9/11, you must ask who these people are and what they support,” said Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie of the North County Chabad Center.  Eliezrie worked with local community leaders to coordinate the protest.

Opposition to the fundraiser coalesced into a major grass-roots demonstration in the weeks leading up to the event after several community groups learned about it and alerted others through Facebook and e-mails, Eliezrie said. Participants included a diverse mix of Jewish and Christian groups from as far away as the Inland Empire and the San Fernando Valley with representation from the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, local chapters of Act! for America and Bikers for Christ and other organizations.

Yorba Linda Mayor Nancy Rikel said she received about 75 e-mails demanding that the city not allow the event to take place, according to a report in the Orange County Register. Rikel said ICNA representatives declined her request to bring in alternative speakers. City attorneys have said that the city cannot block ICNA from using the building.

Speaking at the demonstration, Rikel said the day would live in infamy in Yorba Linda and warned that the country was under threat by those who seek to take away our freedoms.

“This is not about hate,” said Karen Lugo, Chapman University adjunct professor of law, who led the crowd several times in chanting “No Shariah, not here, not now, not ever.”

“We are not hatemongers,” she said. “The world Islamophobia is an effort to chill us. The Constitution was never meant to allow a tyranny of a minority.”

Other speakers included Eliezrie, Rabbi Dov Fischer of Young Israel of Orange County, Irvine Jewish activist Dee Sterling and U.S. Congressmen Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Gary Miller (R-Calif.).

Royce, who chairs the international terrorism subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was impressed and inspired by the demonstration but that more awareness of the threat of radical Islam was needed.

“Many people in the community feel strongly about the rights of individuals and are here to express their free speech rights as well as to point out to others the history of the adoption of this brutal, primitive and barbaric interpretation of Islam.”

Royce said he welcomed plans by Homeland Security Chair Peter King to launch hearings on radical Islam in the United States, which he said will begin soon.

“We must remain vigilant against those who would take away our liberties,” he said.

“We need to make a stand against this hatred,” said Yorba Linda resident Ron Shamas, who said at least 50 members of his synagogue came out to support the demonstration. “We see what has happened in Europe, and nobody did anything, and now they have so much trouble.”

Barbed Wire Fails to Separate Hearts


Almost every war has one photographic image that emerges and that remains ingrained in the public’s mind — and the media — as the defining picture of that war.

Out of the Holocaust came the image of the little boy in a cap with his hands raised over his head. Out of Vietnam, it is the village child running naked, terror on her face. In Israel, the Six-Day War gave us the young paratroopers looking up at the Kotel after its liberation; and the Yom Kippur War’s image was Hillel Unsdorfer carrying the sefer Torah across the Suez Canal.

The war that Ariel Sharon has waged against the people of Gush Katif and the northern Shomron has also given us an image — the minyan of young men in Kfar Maimon praying, separated by barbed wire.

On the left side are demonstrators; on the right, soldiers. As I pointed out to one of the many friends who forwarded the photograph to me, there were more than 10 demonstrators but less than 10 soldiers, which means that the soldiers needed the demonstrators to have a minyan, not vice versa.

So there is a subtext here, and it is this: The demonstrators must have been asked by the soldiers to move their minyan far away from the center of the Kfar Maimon event, over to the barbed wire, in order to enable them to pray in a minyan. And the demonstrators, obviously, agreed. Because their horror at what the soldiers had been commanded to do was not as great as their desire to help another Jew do a mitzvah.

What is the difference between all these photographs?

The little boy in the Holocaust photo was holding up his arms at the command of German soldiers. The Vietnamese child was fleeing in terror from napalm. The paratroopers had captured the Kotel from the Jordanian army. Hillel, carrying the sefer Torah, was going into Egyptian captivity. All of these photographs express people reacting to a situation created by a foreign enemy.

But the barbed wire separating the young men at prayer was erected at the command of their own Prime Minister Sharon.

The State of Israel has survived 58 years of a fragile relationship between the religious and secular, the right and the left (and they are not necessarily parallel), a relationship that has been sometimes stronger, sometimes splintered, but never totally shattered. And there has always been one type of situation that pulled the country together, differences set aside, even if only momentarily.

These have been times of war.

There are stories from the Six-Day War about how haredim, who avoided the draft, volunteered at first-aid centers. During the Yom Kippur War, soldiers arrived at their units in tennis shoes, straight from the synagogue. At every military funeral there are people from every segment of Israeli society represented — friends or family of the fallen, united in grief.

My own memories include being in a supermarket during the first Gulf War in January 1991, when a siren went off. Everyone was sent down to the bomb shelter, our gas masks in tow.

It was a Thursday night, and people had been doing their Shabbat shopping. During the 20-minute wait, I looked around at the crowd. Down there in the bomb shelter there were no frictions. We just wanted to hear the all-clear sound and get home.

More than 30 years ago, I had a rude awakening to the human rifts in Israel. I had become involved in Gesher, an organization created by Danny Tropper, a new immigrant from New York. Gesher, bridge in Hebrew, tried to work on weaving together the burnt threads of Israeli society.

As a college student, I was stunned at the time by the level of ignorance of young secular Israelis to basic Jewish practices and values, and by the ignorance of young religious Israelis to the workings and values of the secular world.

But I was also enchanted by their openness, their willingness to reach out to each other, to try to heal the rifts. It is perhaps no coincidence that out of those early years came some of today’s intellectual and religious luminaries in Israeli life, people like Rabbi Moti Eilon and professor Benny Ish-Shalom. Because, in addition to discussions about religion, we talked about human rights, social goals and issues like justice and democracy.

Regretfully, in retrospect, no great politicians came out of those or other similar initiatives. This is where our “bridging” efforts failed. We were snobs; politics was something dirty in our eyes.

Hence, we live today in a society in which politicians feel no qualms about supporting a prime minister who was voted into office by an unprecedented percentage of Israeli citizens on the basis of one election platform, and who is today implementing, instead, the platform of his badly trounced opponent. But Sharon has performed a sin far greater than reneging on his pre-election promises.

One of the great unifying factors of Israeli society has always been the army. Contrary to a common media canard, there have always been haredim in the army, and more so now that there is a special Nahal Haredi division.

In fact, if there is one legislative error that has kept Israeli Arab citizens from being more fully integrated into society, it is that the Knesset has never passed a law obligating Arab citizens to do some form of national service, which could be volunteering in hospitals or youth programs, not just military service.

Every soldier and former soldier (and in Israel, due to reserve duty, one is older than 40 by the time he is really a “former soldier”) has memories of his army comrades who came from different spectrums of society than he.

My husband did army duty with men who today are high-level Israel TV employees, who used to catch and grill rabbits (which are treif), which their religious comrades didn’t partake of, though they joined them around the campfire singing old Israeli ballads. And he once spent reserve duty with Avigdor Lieberman, head of today’s National Union Party, who back then organized an entire Likud convention from his cellphone at an outpost in the Jordan Valley.

Some form of acknowledgment of Shabbat and the army — these are among the threads of the collective Israeli consciousness that have woven the delicate tapestry that has kept us warm, shielded us from a sometimes cruel world and preserved us as a viable people.

Even some on the political left who support the disengagement have begun to say — unfortunately, too little and too late — that they are appalled by the crushing of human rights that Sharon has adopted in order to carry out his decree. For even worse than the destruction of vibrant, productive communities, the expulsion and demonization of “salt-of-the-earth” citizens and the rewarding and empowering of terrorists is what Sharon has done to our fragile national fabric.

The photograph of the barbed wire separating young men at prayer is so symbolic, because Sharon has done what no war, no haredi Shabbat demonstration and no opening of treif butcher shops or paving of roads over ancient Jewish graves has succeeded in doing: He has erected a barbed-wire fence between the Jewish people.

The ultimate poetic justice, of course, is that Sharon, who, according to the well-researched expose book, “Boomerang,” may have been convinced by his Svengali-like adviser, Dov Weisglass, to put his personal and family welfare before that of the country, will not go down in history, after all, as a prime minister who advanced the cause of peace.

There is not a single military expert in Israel today who claims that the disengagement will bring a decline in terror. On the contrary, Sharon’s legacy in real — not European — history is assured, and it won’t be rosy.

There is, however, hope. Because even Sharon’s barbed wire did not break up the minyan.

Twenty years ago, an American TV film, “The Day After,” depicted the day after a nuclear attack. Several years ago, another horror flick, “The Day After Tomorrow,” depicted the consequences of giant glaciers destroying part of America and other countries. It is no coincidence that Israelis have adopted the expression, “the day after,” for what will follow disengagement. For, like a nuclear attack, like a melting glacier, like a tsunami, the disengagement will bring disaster in its wake.

That is a hard statement to read and even harder to write, but we are not the people who created Mary Poppins. We are the people who brought forth Jeremiah.

If there is a time to pray, it is now. And the prayer should not be only that we somehow miraculously be spared the ugly sword of terror. The prayer should also be that the barbed wire erected by Sharon should not separate our hearts.

The Battle Over Gaza in America


It all started with a dream.

One night in March, Jon Hambourger slipped into a deep sleep and envisioned a train rolling through history. The 47-year-old Los Angeles mortgage broker said he had a choice: jump on or risk irrelevance.

The next morning, the Orthodox father of one told his wife that he had to go to the Gaza Strip, the coastal plain occupied by Israeli forces since 1967 and subsequently settled by groups of Israelis.

During his four-day Gaza visit, Hambourger met with Israeli factory owners, farmers and religious leaders. He also spent time with his wife’s nephew, a resident of the Atzmona settlement, which faces an August forced evacuation by the Israeli government.

The withdrawal is part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, a key component of his government’s strategy to secure Israel’s borders and perhaps take a step toward peace with Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries.

Hambourger was touched by the settlers’ kindness and determination to stay in Gaza, in the region known as Gush Katif, a block of Jewish settlements in Southern Gaza. They won him over.

In April, he took a leave of absence from his job and founded SaveGushKatif.org, a Los Angeles-based group committed to scuttling the Israeli government’s planned evacuation through advocacy and education.

In the past two and a half months, 70 members, largely Orthodox Jews, have joined, including Jews in New York, Phoenix and Chicago. Another 800 supporters have registered on the group’s content-laden Web site, savegushkatif.org. Hambourger’s group is apparently the biggest U.S. organization committed solely to keeping Gaza in Jewish hands, and it has forged alliances with pro-settlement groups worldwide.

The likelihood of SaveGushKatif or any other pro-settler group stopping the evacuation has dimmed in the wake of a court decision last week: Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the government’s disengagement plan, ruling that the government’s compensation for the displaced settlers is fair. The decision removed a crucial legal hurdle that stood in the way of the Sharon administration.

“Disengagement is decided. It’s planned. It’s going to happen,” said David Pine, West Coast regional director of Americans for Peace Now.

Still, many newspaper polls in Israel have shown a drop in support over the past year for Sharon’s plan from a high of more than 70 percent to around 55 percent. Public sentiment has shifted, experts say, partly because Israeli settlers and their partisans have launched a successful PR drive.

Among other initiatives, Gush Katif residents are going door-to-door in Tel Aviv and other largely secular communities, explaining why the settlers should stay and handing out complimentary fruit and vegetables from Gaza. SaveGushKatif helps fund these grass-roots efforts through direct fundraising appeals.

To be sure, most of America’s roughly 6 million Jews continue to support the evacuation, according to most experts. Many hope that relinquishing Gaza to Palestinian control might jumpstart the peace process and lessen tensions. At the very least, they argue that Israel should leave the disputed region because of the overwhelming financial and military drain of protecting less than 9,000 Jews surrounded by more than 1 million Arabs.

But there’s still a significant minority, especially among Orthodox Jews and conservative Christians, that opposes withdrawal. Hambourger hopes his organization will become one of the most influential voices among them.

“I had to do something,” Hambourger said. “Otherwise, how could I look at myself in the mirror again?”

Hambourger’s sojourn in Gaza convinced him that giving up the 21 Jewish settlements there would reward Palestinian terror, unfairly uproot settlers and contravene God’s wishes that Jews remain in the land. Sharon’s plan also would uproot four settlements in the northern West Bank.

A Sense of Mission

A religious man, Hambourger said he would ideally like Jews to control all territory the Torah designates as Greater Israel. But as a pragmatist, he said he would support trading land for peace, if he thought it would serve the interests of the Jewish state.

A pullout from Gaza does not, he said. Leaving, he added, would only embolden terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, which are bent on Israel’s destruction.

Hambourger characterized the Palestinian Authority as corrupt, and said it would simply view withdrawal as a concession and step up pressure for the Jews to retreat from the West Bank, Jerusalem and eventually all of Israel.

That’s why, Hambourger said, Save GushKatif highlights the security argument above all others. Such a position also resonates better with nonobservant Jews who might tune out biblical exhortations.

Seated in a booth at the kosher La Gondola restaurant in Los Angeles for an interview recently, the burly 6-foot-2 Hambourger was clad in black pants, blue dress shirt and a kippah. He said he’s found his calling in heading up the group.

Working alongside his chief of staff Chaya Rivka Brenners, a special events and fundraising coordinator, he routinely puts in 12-hour days. Together, they plan events, fundraisers and educational activities.

Given the high stakes, Hambourger said, he has invested nearly $20,000 of his own money in the organization. He also recently retained an attorney to obtain official nonprofit status.

SaveGushKatif wants to make its presence felt across the United States. Members recently handed out brochures and stickers at speeches given by Sharon in New York and Washington. Several local Save GushKatif supporters traveled to Gaza in early June to show solidarity with Gush Katif residents.

SaveGushKatif members believe the tide is turning. The overwhelmingly positive response they received at their debut appearance at the Israel Independence Day festival in Los Angeles shows that opinions can change.

At the May 15 event at a Van Nuys park, revelers, braving long lines and nearly triple-digit temperatures, dropped by the group’s booth and snapped up a thousand free shirts and other items all dyed in orange — the color that has come to symbolize solidarity with the beleaguered settlers.

SaveGushKatif member Shifra Hastings, who donned an orange skirt, orange bracelet and orange nail polish at the festival, hadn’t expected such a uniformly positive reaction. She thought some liberal Jews would make snide remarks about the settlers, whom she said the media stereotypes as crazy right-wingers. Instead, Hastings added, secular, Reform and Conservative Jews in shorts and tank tops, Orthodox Jews in kippahs and Israeli Jews seemed almost universally open to arguments that leaving Gaza would darken Israel’s future.

“People cared. People were curious. People were supportive,” she said. “It was great.”

Local SaveGushKatif volunteers have also distributed bumper stickers and fliers to Jewish bakeries and mostly to Orthodox shuls in Hancock Park, Sherman Oaks, Pico-Robertson and other Southland communities with a high concentration of observant Jews. Similar mass distributions of new materials are planned, as are lectures, fundraisers and rallies. A print advertising campaign has just begun, with the first spot running in The Jewish Journal.

“I believe we’re starting to make a difference,” said L.A. resident Stephanie Wells, a SaveGushKatif member who attended protests in New York and Washington during Sharon’s recent U.S. visit. “We’re just telling the truth and trying to get it out.”

“When people begin to hear the truth, they respond to the truth,” added Southland resident Larry Siegel, a SaveGushKatif member who helps with fundraising. “And the truth is, disengagement is bad for the state of Israel and bad for the Jewish people on every conceivable level.”

Expanding beyond its Southland roots, SaveGushKatif recently joined with seven other groups to establish the bicoastal American Coalition to Save Gush Katif/Gaza and Northern Samaria. Members include the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI, a New York-based advocacy group that supports a “Greater Israel.” Coalition partners share e-mail lists and ideas for educating the public.

Group partners discuss strategy via conference calls, ZOA President Morton Klein said. He added that even if these efforts fail, the importance of taking a stand cannot be overestimated.

“If it doesn’t work here, we have to send a message to the [Israeli government]: Don’t think it will be so easy to throw Jews out of Judea and Samaria,” Klein said, referring to the biblical names for the West Bank.

“Misguided” Zeal

All of these “save Gaza” efforts are misguided, said Sabiha Khan, communications director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Khan said that Israel’s security situation would worsen if groups like SaveGushKatif and the Zionist Organization of America prevailed.

“True peace will not occur until Israel ends its occupation and Palestinians have their independence and a viable state, too,” she said.

Khan’s opinion is shared by many Jews, including Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. Sokatch insisted that leaving Gaza would benefit Israel in the long run.

“This overwhelming support for disengagement from the American and Israeli governments, as well as their citizens, reflects an understanding among so many that the only way Israel can survive as a Jewish democracy is to withdraw from the Occupied Territories,” Sokatch said. “Gaza is a critical first step.”

Sokatch and others worry that passions surrounding the pullout could lead to Jew-on-Jew violence in the Holy Land. Certainly, emotions, both locally and internationally, will heat up as the disengagement grows near, observers predicted.

At the very least, the conflict over Gaza reflects a growing division between liberal and Orthodox Jews, who frequently have more in common politically with evangelical Christians than with their secular Jewish brethren, said David N. Myers, professor of Jewish history and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

SaveGushKatif founder Hambourger said the last thing he wants is to exacerbate divisions among Jews. He’s admonished group members to refrain from overheated rhetoric against the Israeli government, including against Sharon, whom he calls a heroic general making a terrible mistake.

Shouting down pro-disengagement Israeli leaders or painting them as traitors only alienates moderate and liberal Jews, whose support SaveGushKatif needs, he said. Recently, Hambourger asked a man who advocated disrupting pro-disengagement gatherings to stop attending Save GushKatif meetings.

Not all SaveGushKatif members appear to share Hambourger’s position. Brooklyn supporter Robin Ticker said God gave Gush Katif and other disputed land to the Jews and to the Jews alone. She thinks Israel should treat Arabs living within its borders well, but bar them from owning land. The Jewish state, which she calls a “theocracy,” should also require Arabs and Muslims to take loyalty oaths.

“Only Jews can sanctify the land, just like only a violinist can play violin or a computer programmer can program,” said Ticker, who has lobbied at least a dozen rabbis in her Flatbush neighborhood to publicly oppose the disengagement.

Hambourger distances himself from his more extreme supporters, because he’s playing to win. And he believes he needs a wide array of Jews, without regard to their religiosity, politics or even sexual orientation.

His acolytes include Zohar Wertheim, 38, an Israeli-born gay man who owns a framing gallery in West Hollywood. He characterizes disengagement as a muddle-headed attempt to appease world opinion. After meeting with Hambourger, Wertheim said, he wrote SaveGushKatif a check for $50 and began posting pro-settler fliers in his shop window.

“I plan to do as much as I can,” Wertheim said.

Talking with a reporter at La Gondola restaurant, Hambourger surveyed fellow diners and said the fight for Gush Katif begins and ends in such places.

“These are the people who make donations, call politicians and get involved,” he said. “These are regular people, and I want to reach them.”

 

Hague Protest Mideast Conflict


Holland turned into a staging ground for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this week, as demonstrators converged on The Hague to talk about Israel’s security barrier and Palestinian terrorism.

As the International Court of Justice held hearings on the West Bank security fence, thousands of Israel supporters from across Europe, Israel and the United States gathered in the streets outside The Hague’s Peace Palace.

On Monday, the same square used by about 3,000 pro-Israel demonstrators later became the site of a pro-Palestinian demonstration of slightly smaller size. For the most part, Dutch police managed to keep the twogroups apart, but the police’s efforts did not temper demonstrators’ vehemence toward each other — and for theircause.

“I came because of the suicide bombings,” said Derya Yalimcan, 30, a Turkish student who came with adelegation of students from Germany to support Israel’s cause. “You can’t do anything about it and you feel helpless. What else can we do besides come to this demonstration?”

To make their argument more poignant, the demonstrators brought with them an Israeli bus mangled in the Jan. 29 Jerusalem suicide bombing, in which 11 people were killed just around the corner from the Israeli prime minister’s official residence. Demonstrators said a hush fell over the crowd when the flatbed truck bearing the shattered bus rolled in.

In a disturbingly familiar image, 10 members of Zaka, the ultra-Orthodox rescue and recovery service that collects victims’ body parts after terrorist attacks in Israel, stood around the bus in their yellow work suits. Iris Boker, director of Zaka in Europe, said the bus had such a strong effect that it would probably be sent to other demonstrations, rather than be returned to Israel. She said there were several requests from U.S. groups to use the bus.

On Monday, unlike on Sunday — when Zaka volunteers in Jerusalem had to clean up after another suicide bombing in the Israeli capital killed eight — the Zaka volunteers at The Hague served a purely cosmetic purpose: They came to Europe to help convey a graphic understanding of the impact of terrorism in Israel.

Miri Avitan came to the demonstration at The Hague with a photo of her son, Assaf, who was killed at his 15th birthday party in a suicide bombing in December 2001.

“He was celebrating his birthday with his friends, and all his friends died,” Avitan said.

Bridgit Kessler’s daughter, Gila, was killed in a suicide bombing on June 19, 2002.

“That was the day I died,” said her mother, who has three other children. “I don’t want to have to wake up one day and they should tell me one of my kids has died.”

Much of the funding and logistical support for the pro-Israel rallies came from the Jewish Agency for Israel, which helped organize delegations of students to come to The Hague from Israel, France, England, Germany, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Hundreds also came from the United States.

“After the lessons of Durban and Johannesburg, one cannot leave the street to the Palestinian propaganda,” Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, said, referring to the virulently anti-Israel demonstrations at the U.N. conference against racism in Durban, South Africa, in the summer of 2001.

The bulk of the activity outside The Hague occurred Monday, with a series of marches and news conferences on both sides.

On Tuesday, a pro-Israel Dutch lobbying group, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, held “alternative hearings” at The Hague’s former City Hall to provide a counterpoint to the official court hearing on the fence.

Flanked at the event by two E.U. Parliament members, about 20 victims and relatives of Israeli terrorism victims, including Druse and Arabs, spoke at a packed news conference about shattered bodies and shattered lives — and about peace.

Arnold Roth, 52, who with his wife created a foundation in memory of their daughter, Malka, who was killed in the suicide bombing at Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant in August 2001, said he was shocked to be asked by reporters whether the suffering of Palestinians is not the same as his suffering.

“When my daughter was murdered, her cell phone was returned to us,” said Roth, a member of a group called Israeli Families for Peace. “On it she wrote the words, ‘It is wrong to speak ill of others.’ But that isn’t what they [the parents of Palestinian terrorists] are teaching their children.”

At Palestinian counterdemonstrations at The Hague, protesters assembled bearing Palestinian flags, signs calling for the ”end of occupation” and pictures of Palestinians killed during the current intifada.

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset who is close to Yasser Arafat, spoke at the Palestinian demonstration.

“People who are here are putting the occupation into the important international scene,” he said. “If you are against the wall, you are pro-life.”

The Palestinian demonstration was disbursed prematurely by Dutch police. An Israeli television reporter said he saw some Palestinian participants trying to physically attack nearby pro-Israel demonstrators.

According to Ronny Naftaniel, director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, a pro-Israel Dutch group, said Dutch police reported that several demonstrators were carrying signs comparing the Star of David to the swastika, which is illegal in Holland.

Shelley Klein, advocacy director at Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization of America, said the demonstrators outside the Peace Palace were not as bad as during the U.N. conference against racism in Durban, South Africa, in the summer of 2001, which turned into an occasion for unrestrained Israel-bashing.

The United States and Israel boycotted that event in protest. They did not attend hearing either. The United States said the International Court was not the right forum to decide a political issue, and Israel said it would not attend because it does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction in the matter of the fence.

Testimony against the fence came from the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, Nasser al-Kidwa, and several other Palestinian lawyers who spoke uninterrupted for about three hours; South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, and representatives from Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh, among others.

Outside, some pro-Israel demonstrators said that while they did not support construction of Israel’s security barrier, they wanted to draw attention to the reason for it — terrorism.

“It is not an Israeli fence; it is a Hamas fence; it is an Islamic Jihad fence,” said Joel Kaplan, president of B’nai B’rith International and representative of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) said, “The issue is not whether or not you support the route of the fence, the issue is the Court of Justice is not the proper place to determine the peace process.”

Wexler was joined by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). Both are members of the House International Relations Committee. Chabot said, “The people who ought to be on trial today are the people who are training children to aspire to be suicide bombers, not people who build fences to protect innocent lives.”

Alan Sermonetta, 37, came to The Hague with a group of about 100 Jews from Rome.

“I want the wall not to separate two states but just for security,” Sermonetta said.

A contingent of students from Yeshiva University in New York carried a large banner and danced the hora in two groups, men and women.

Derya Yalimcan, 30, a Turkish student from Germany, said he came to protest the hearings, because Israel is one of Turkey’s few allies in the Middle East.

“I came because of the suicide bombings,” he said. “You can’t do anything about it, and you feel helpless. What else can we do besides come to this demonstration?”

Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York, president of Amcha-The Coalition for Jewish Concerns, said he was disappointed that the pro-Israel demonstrators seemed unwilling to shout.

“Don’t be afraid; raise your voices,” he urged.

Alongside the Jewish supporters of Israel, Christians for Israel held their own pro-Israel march. More than 1,000 participants carried photographs of Israeli terrorism victims.

Thys Bovernkamp from Holland held up a card for someone who was killed in Sunday’s suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

“I don’t know the name, only the number — 928,” he said.

JTA correspondent Rachel Levy at The Hague contributed to this report.

King and Heschel Remembered


There is a famous picture taken in Selma, Ala., in 1965 at
the site of a historic civil rights march for voter registration.

Abraham Joshua Heschel is marching in line with Martin
Luther King Jr. and a number of other key civil rights demonstrators. At the
end of the demonstration, a journalist asked Heschel to describe his feelings
about marching with King. He answered: “My feet were praying.”

Heschel was prominent as a scholar, teacher and theologian,
and widely respected because of his numerous publications. He was also well
known as a result of his participation in Vatican II. Vatican II was the
gathering in the early 1960s during which the Catholic Church introduced many
significant internal changes. One of the changes included a historical
reckoning: a formal process was begun that would eventually lead to the public
announcement by the Church that “the Jews” did not kill Christ. From his
participation in Vatican II, Heschel received the nickname from Catholics
throughout the world of “Father Abraham.”

Heschel descended from a long line of Chasidic rebbes. In
his adolescent years, he left the world of Chasidism and chose to embrace a
more historical approach to Jewish tradition. In his later years, though, when
he became a teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York (and when
the famous picture of King and himself was taken in Selma), he looked like
someone from his ancestry. He had a long gray beard, long gray hair and always
wore a yarmulke.

The picture of King and Heschel marching together in Selma
has become something of an icon. It represents the pride American Jews feel
having played, as a group, a prominent role in the civil rights movement.

According to Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, who is a
professor of history and religion at Dartmouth College, her father and King
were close friends during the last five years of King’s life. During this
period, they had a profound influence on one another. When King’s funeral
arrangements needed to be made, Heschel was one of the first individuals, among
all the dignitaries and officials who spoke at this historic event, that
Coretta Scott King specifically requested to deliver a eulogy.

In an essay Susannah Heschel wrote in the Journal of
Conservative Judaism in the spring of 1998, she points out something
interesting in King’s speeches. In his early years, particularly before January
of 1963 when Heschel and King formally met, King evoked images in his speeches
of the Christian Bible and of traditional Christian commentators. After King
and Heschel became acquainted, the dominant biblical metaphor in King’s
speeches changed. He now emphasized the Exodus from Egypt.

The second most commonly used biblical metaphor became the
prophet, specifically the call of the biblical prophets for social justice.
Susannah Heschel interprets this fact as no coincidence. When Heschel earned a
doctorate at the University of Berlin in the early 1930s, he wrote his
dissertation on The Prophets.

King did not need Heschel to teach him about biblical
events. He did need Heschel, though, to emphasize the power that these biblical
metaphors contained, that these metaphors were inherently more inclusive and
could be used to gain the broadest segment of support from the American public.

Heschel was one of the first prominent Americans to publicly
fulminate against United States participation in the war in Southeast Asia. It
is documented that he encouraged King in public discussions and in written
correspondence to take a public stand against this war.

Twenty-nine years ago, died on the 18th day of the Hebrew
month of Tevet. Tevet is a month that comes during the winter season. It often
corresponds with January, the month in which Americans pay tribute to King with
a national holiday. It is appropriate that the birthday of King and the
yahrtzeit of Heschel come at this time of year. The example of their leadership
continues to cast light on our dark struggling society.

Elliot Fein teaches high school students Jewish studies at the Tarbut V’Torah Community School in Irvine.

Israel Actions Stir Protests


"Bush, Sharon, you will see, Palestine will be free," chanted some 100 demonstrators, waving placards and walking in a circle in front of a high-rise housing the Israeli consulate last week.

"Shame on you, shame on you," shouted the 50 counterdemonstrators on the other side of Wilshire Boulevard, waving Israeli flags.

By the standards of the civil rights and Vietnam War protests, the event on July 25 wasn’t much of a show, but what was there gave a clear edge to Los Angeles Jews for a Just Peace (LAJJP) over the StandWithUs supporters across the street. LAJJP, formerly known, or unknown, as Not in Our Name: Jewish Voices for Peace, had the obvious advantage in preparation and organization.

Four Israeli and American spokespersons were on hand to pass out press kits, the placards ("End U.S. Military Aid to Israel," "End the Occupation") looked professional and monitors saw to it that the protesters didn’t annoy the considerable number of policemen present. Leaflets also demanded the "right of return for Palestinian refugees" and "self-determination and equal rights for all peoples in the region."

Harking back to the 1960s and ’70s, there was a bit of spontaneously rehearsed street theater, with four young people dressed in makeshift uniforms and a Star of David pasted on their helmets, dashing into the middle of busy Wilshire Boulevard during traffic light changes to set up 10-second "checkpoints."

In another shtick, they "arrested" a heavily pregnant woman with a kaffiyeh draped around her head.

Barry Trachtenberg, a 32-year-old graduate student in Jewish history, said that LAJJP could count on 80-100 activists, but in this event was "honored" by the support of Christians and Muslims.

Among the former were two middle-aged female expatriates, one from Ireland and the other from England, holding up a large PLO flag.

One Arab participant was Michel Shehadeh, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Orange County, who said he had come "in support of my Jewish friends, who are working for peace."

Shehadeh was asked whether he knew of any demonstrations in the Arab street against the policies and tactics of Palestinian militants, including suicide bombings. "Once we [Palestinians] are free, we will hold our government accountable," he said. Lending a weird touch of déjà vu was a man passing out a slick, multicolored leaflet with a photo of Lyndon LaRouche, warning that "Targetting [sic] One Billion Muslims Will Start a Clash of Civilizations!" The flier also urged support for the ex-convict and perennial candidate in the 2004 presidential race.

On the north side of Wilshire Boulevard, Jack Salem was defiantly holding his "Stand with Israel" placard and observing that the peace chanters were literally and figuratively "on the wrong side of the street."

Allyson Rowen Taylor, vice president of StandWithUs, attributed the modest turnout on her side to having had only two days to organize her counterdemonstration via e-mail.

Meirav Eilon-Shahar, Israeli consul for public affairs, noted in a phone interview that "in a democratic country, like the United States or Israel, it is the prerogative [of LAJJP] to demonstrate, though I believe their thinking represents a very small part of the American Jewish community.

"The day we see Palestinians demonstrating in front of the PLO embassy in Washington, that day we’ll know that the Palestinian Authority is on the way to becoming a democracy," she said.

Now It’s Jewish Terrorists


The settler movement is in serious denial over last week’s killings of three Palestinians, including 3-month-old Dia Tmeizi. While all settlers publicly condemn the killings, even the most "mainstream" don’t see any connection between the nighttime ambush near Hebron and the incessant cries for "revenge" by settlers at funerals, demonstrations and elsewhere.

"I also shouted ‘revenge’ at demonstrations," says Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, spokesman of the YESHA Council, the lead political action committee of the settler movement. "There’s nothing forbidden about revenge, it’s perfectly legitimate as long as it’s carried out by the state, not by individuals taking the law into their own hands."

The gunman or gunmen, who opened fire on the car driven by the Tmeizi family, fled in the direction of "Israel proper," not towards a Jewish settlement or Palestinian Authority territory inside. It’s possible the gunmen were not settlers. But the more radical settlers insist that Arabs might well have been the killers.

This was the argument Adir Zik, a tremendously popular commentator on the settler radio station Arutz 7, made on his program the morning after the killings. "It’s being taken for granted that this was done by Jews, but it’s very doubtful," Zik said in an interview, recalling a 1995 murder of Halhoul Arabs at first thought to have been committed by settler extremists, when it turned out to have been done by Palestinians.

Reminded that there have been instances of settlers killing innocent Palestinians, the most grievous case being the massacre of 29 Palestinians by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron, Zik replied, "I have many doubts whether he killed the people there. He might have been pulled into [Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, where the Arab victims were shot during prayer]. It might have really been a feud between Arab clans."

That Goldstein was seen going into the tomb with his Army rifle; his dead body was found in the tomb afterward; his rifle and his spent bullets were recovered from the tomb; and scores of Palestinian survivors testified that it was Goldstein who opened fire, evidently hasn’t made an impression on Zik. Soon after the killings, Women in Green sent out an e-mail headlined, "Don’t Blame the Jews!" "The fact that Arab survivors testified that the attackers looked Jewish doesn’t mean anything," said Women in Green, noting that Efrat settler Sarah Blaustein was shot to death by Palestinians wearing a kippah. There is no known case of Arabs disguising themselves as religious Jews and killing Arabs for the purpose of discrediting settlers, but this doesn’t deter the Women in Green. With Arab pressure mounting to bring international observers to the territories, there is a "clear Arab interest in portraying themselves as victims," went the statement.

A few days before the assault on the Tmeizi family — all told, three of them were killed and four wounded, including Dia’s mother — Shin Bet head Avi Dichter told a Knesset committee that at least one Jewish terror cell was operating in the West Bank. In June, a Palestinian was killed in a drive-by shooting by unknown gunmen calling themselves the Shalhevet-Zar Brigade, named for two Jewish settler victims of the intifada, the infant girl Shalhevet Pass and security officer Gilad Zar. At the time of Dichter’s warning, explosives were found in the car of the wife of Noam Federman, a Kach leader and Hebron settler arrested and convicted numerous times for hate crimes.

Yet while even moderate settlers say the guilt for the Tmeizi killings are confined to the gunmen who carried them out, the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem says that all told during the current intifada, eight Palestinians have been killed by Israeli civilians in what could be called murders. In some cases the killers were never found, in other cases the police arrested settlers but freed them for lack of evidence — over the testimony of Palestinian who said they witnessed the killings. Beyond these killings, B’tselem points out, settler vigilantism is a continuous phenomenon, and has been especially grievous during this intifada.

"In recent months, settlers have shot at Palestinians, stoned their cars, damaged property, uprooted trees, burned a mosque, harmed Palestinian medical teams, attacked journalists, prevented farmers from going to their fields and blocked Palestinian cars from traveling on roads. Although some of the shooting was in self-defense, the vast majority of violence was premeditated," B’tselem stated.

Asked to respond to this statement, Mor-Yosef interrupted the reading of it and said, "I believe a B’tselem as much as I believe a Hamas report. I don’t believe a word they say."

Palestinians have killed scores of West Bank and Gaza settlers in this intifada, and hundreds have been wounded. The roads the Palestinians drive to and from home have become killing zones. But settlers have not only been victims during the current fighting, they have also been victimizers. Their claims of innocence in the killing of the Tmeizis are hollow when their cry of "Revenge!" has become so common.

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