Up to 500 migrants may have drowned in Mediterranean tragedy

Up to 500 migrants might have drowned in the Mediterranean last week when human traffickers crammed people onto an already overcrowded ship, causing it to sink, the U.N. refugee agency said on Wednesday.

If confirmed, it would be the worst such tragedy in 12 months and bring the total number of migrant drownings in the southern Mediterranean to nearly 800 so far this year.

The UNHCR agency said 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child had survived the disaster after being rescued by a merchant ship. The group, which was brought to Greece on April 16, included Somalis, Ethiopians, Egyptians and one Sudanese.

The survivors recounted that they had been among 100 to 200 people who had set sail from Libya last week headed for Italy. After several hours at sea, the traffickers tried to move them onto a bigger ship that was already packed with migrants.

This ship sank before the survivors could board it.

An Ethiopian man named Mohamed told the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that his wife, two-month-old child and brother-in-law had died in the sinking.

“The boat was going down, down. All the people died in a matter of minutes. After the shipwreck we were drifted at sea for a few days, without food, without anything,” the IOM quoted him as saying.

UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said the eyewitnesses estimated that up to 500 people might have perished.

“We don't know exactly how many were there on that boat and they have now disappeared from the face of the earth,” he told Reuters television said. “This is another example of what is happening almost in a daily basis in the Mediterranean.”

The Somali government said on Monday that it believed that some 200 of the dead were from Somalia. It also said that the capsized boat had originally set sail from Egypt.

News of the disaster emerged on the first anniversary of one of the worst disasters in the Mediterranean, when an estimated 800 migrants drowned off the Libyan coast after the fishing boat they were sailing in collided with a mercantile vessel that had been attempting to rescue them.

Some 150,000 migrants reached Italy by boat in 2015, the vast majority sailing from Libya. So far this year, about 25,000 migrants have arrived, an increase of 4.7 percent over the same period last year, according to Interior Ministry data.

Voices of Six-Day War haunt us decades later

The focus of the Israeli film “Censored Voices” is an aged, rapidly spinning, reel-to-reel tape recorder.

From the recorder emerge the voices of young Israelis just returned home to their kibbutzim after fighting and miraculously triumphing in the Six-Day War of 1967.

But their talk is not of battles won and heroic deeds by comrades, nor of a glorious homecoming, cheered by their fellow countrymen and by an admiring world after overwhelming the armed forces of five Arab countries.

The disembodied and often halting voices speak of watching Palestinians as their homes and farms are destroyed, of endless lines of wandering refugees, of humiliated Arab civilians stripped down to their underwear.

“We won,” declared one voice, “so the next war will be much crueler and deadlier.” Another voice expresses the fear that “a constant state of war can also destroy a nation.”

When the movie’s camera pans from the tape recorder and sweeps across the room, we see a group of elderly men listening intently, sometimes rubbing their eyes, other times staring as if to identify the voices emerging from the machine.

The voices the elderly men hear are their own, recorded nearly 50 years earlier, a few days to a couple of weeks after they returned from the Six-Day War.

With them is writer Amos Oz, who had originally convened the recording sessions, taking the tape recorder from kibbutz to kibbutz, whose young men traditionally served as the elite spearhead troops in Israel’s wars. Traveling with Oz was Avraham Shapira, who edited the tapes and excerpted them for a book.

During the days and weeks before June 5, when the war started, Israel was filled with a sense of foreboding and occasionally the sound of air raid sirens. Then came the call-up of reserves, under such code names as “Love of Zion” and “People of Labor,” and a grim feeling that “the country would be annihilated,” one soldier recalled.

With the destruction of the enemy’s air forces in the opening hours of the Six-Day War, followed by quick battle victories and entry into Jerusalem’s Old City, the country’s mood changed drastically.

The movie shows newsreels and archival footage of delirious dancing, songs praising the Lord of Israel, and less pious soldiers’ songs, such as “We’ll F— You Up.”

Both the initial fear of annihilation and the subsequent euphoria of victory evaporated for Israeli soldiers who actually experienced combat.

“My company lost 45 men; I kept hearing the cry of, ‘Medic, medic,’ over and over again. I was in despair,” recalled the voice of one veteran.

But, surprisingly, the worst memories of the Israeli soldiers were not of what the enemy was doing to them, but of what they themselves did to the enemy.

Different voices emerge from the tape recorder:

“We asked our commander for orders, and he said, ‘Kill as many as possible. Show no mercy.’ … I was outraged, but I didn’t protest.”

“We were shooting at some Egyptian soldiers. … They were not ducking, just falling down. … It was like some game at an amusement park or at a summer camp. … In war, we all became murderers.”

“The Egyptian prisoners of war came up with their water canteens filled with urine. We gave them some water and they kissed our feet.”

“When the enemy becomes your prisoner, you feel this power. You shove them roughly, all restraint disappears.”

“The Temple Mount is not holy, that’s not Judaism. It’s people that count. They blew the shofar at the Western Wall; it sounded like a pig’s squeal.”

When the tapes were initially transcribed and edited by Shapira into book form as “A Conversation With Soldiers” (in the English edition, “The Seventh Day”), Israeli authorities censored about 70 percent of the text.

That’s hardly surprising. What is amazing is that the book became an instant best-seller in Israel, and the nearly uncensored film version this year won the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar as the country’s best documentary.

The voice tapes themselves were locked away for decades, despite pleas by journalists and filmmakers, until a young Israeli film school graduate, Mor Loushy, persuaded Shapira to let her use them for a film.

It is difficult to conceive of another country, including the United States, that would give subsidies from government funds to make a film critical of its own soldiers in their most triumphant war, or whose film academy would award the film its top prize.

In a phone interview, however, director Loushy was not surprised her film had screened all across Israel without incident and little criticism.

The 33-year-old filmmaker is the mother of a 3-year-old boy and currently is almost eight months pregnant. Her forebears on her father’s side came from Persia to the Holy Land 10 generations ago; her mother was born in Poland.

She has faced no personal criticism in Israel. “After all,” she said, “it’s not my voice in the film but the voices of the soldiers who fought in the war.” She blames the current shootings and knife stabbings in Israel directly on the occupation after the 1967 war and sees little chance that Israelis and Palestinians will sit down for real peace negotiations.

Nevertheless, she refuses to give up, especially because of her children. “If I don’t have hope for the future, why stay here? I really have no choice,” she said.

Still, “Censored Voices” raises some critical questions. For one, how representative the soldiers heard in the film are of all the men who served in the Six-Day War, the Journal asked, to which Loushy gave no specific answer.

In another attempt to answer this question, this reporter’s wife has two relatives who served in the 1967 war, one on the left and one on the right, politically. Neither saw heavy combat, but both said they believed Israel’s survival was at stake and they had no regrets about serving in the war.

All that said, a legitimate concern has been raised by Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli journalist and author, who has written extensively about the Six-Day War, and has worked for the reconciliation of Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel.

“People abroad who don’t remember the way we do the circumstances of the Six-Day War will turn [this movie] into an indictment of Israel,” Halevi said. “If there were isolated acts of abuse by our soldiers, that should not become the narrative [of] what the Six-Day War was about. Many of us here [in Israel] are, frankly, sick and tired of the blame-Israel-first narrative.”

The Israel Film Festival will screen “Censored Voices” at 7:15 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino, and at 5 p.m. Nov. 15 at the NoHo 7 in North Hollywood. After that, the film will open Nov. 27 for one-week runs at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and at the Town Center in Encino.  

Why no opposition to Hagel, arms to Egypt?

Israel is facing serious challenges on two new fronts. 

President Barack Obama has nominated Israel-basher Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and sent fighter jets to Mohamed Morsi’s Israel-hating Egyptian regime.

Where are America’s major Jewish organizations? Silent, voicing no opposition.

Hagel’s nomination should have galvanized Jewish organizations in opposition, regardless of political orientation. 

Until his nomination, no major pro-Israel group could be found to have disagreed with what we have just said. Quite the contrary.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), by its own description, had “raised concerns.” 

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abraham Foxman had said that Hagel’s record relating to Israel was “at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling,” and that his anti-Israel lobby comments “border on anti-Semitism.” 

In 2007, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) had issued a detailed account of Hagel’s worrying voting record on Israel and the Middle East, and in 2009 its executive director, Ira Forman, indicated “that his group would oppose Hagel’s appointment to any position that had influence over U.S.-Israel relations.”

Yet, following Hagel’s nomination, virtually all Jewish groups — except the Zionist Organization of America — refused to oppose Hagel. Even Orthodox Jewish groups, like the Orthodox Union, were silent. 

AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann asserted that “AIPAC does not take positions on presidential nominations.” 

AJC Executive Director David Harris explained that, although still “concerned,” AJC is “not in the opposition camp.” 

ADL’s Foxman averred, “I respect the president’s prerogative” — something no one called into question and which in no way reduces the corresponding prerogative of the Senate to decline confirmation. 

NJDC issued a statement saying, “We trust that when confirmed … Hagel will follow the president’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel.” 

In contrast, Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel was strongly opposing Hagel’s nomination before it was even announced. It has dispatched a delegation to Washington to lobby senators against confirmation.

In short, a Christian group fights for Israel while almost all Jewish groups refuse to do so.


ADL and NJDC believe that there is no need to fight Hagel because “we expect the president to make clear that his long-held views will continue as American policy” (ADL) and because “setting policy starts and stops with the president” (NJDC).

Really? Cabinet members do influence the president, perhaps especially on momentous and difficult decisions. Recently, former Secretary of State Colin Powell was revealed to have complained with regard to the George W. Bush administration that “the Defense Department had too much power in shaping foreign policy.” And could it really be said that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had little or no influence on the policy of President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis? Or upon President Lyndon Johnson during the conduct of the Vietnam War? The idea is absurd.

The least these Jewish groups, which once opposed Hagel, can offer their members is a clear explanation as to why they’ve changed positions. 

Where, too, are Jewish organizations when it comes to the United States sending to Morsi’s vicious Egyptian regime 16 F-16 fighter jets and 200 Abrams tanks that were negotiated in 2010 with the Mubarak regime? Its replacement by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-backed regime should have prompted a rethink.

Morsi, a founding member of the Brotherhood’s Committee to Fight the Zionist Project, was recently found to have called in 2010 for an economic boycott of the United States, for nurturing “our children and grandchildren on hatred toward those Zionists and Jews,” and to have referred to Israelis as “bloodsuckers, warmongers … the descendants of apes and pigs.” 

In 2010, the Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Badie, advocated jihad, a state based on Islamic law, and spoke optimistically about the United States heading for a collapse. His second-in-command, Rashad al-Bayoumi, declared last year that the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty “isn’t binding at all … On no condition will we recognize Israel. It is an enemy entity.” Yet Obama sends Cairo dangerous arms regardless — and virtually all Jewish groups remain silent. When Sen. Rand Paul proposed an amendment halting the Egyptian arms sale, AIPAC lobbied against and helped defeat it.

Not so many years ago, Jewish organizations held huge rallies for Soviet Jews. AIPAC and others campaigned against the sale of AWAC planes to Saudi Arabia. American Jewish organizations should have been fighting relentlessly to stop Hagel and the Egyptian arms package. 

When was the last time it was good for Jews to be the sha shtil Jews — the Jews of silence?

Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Irwin Hochberg is former board chairman of the UJA-Federation of New York, former national campaign chair of Israel Bonds and vice chairman of ZOA.

Israel MUST rely on itself

Once again, during the year that is drawing to a close, there was no country that was more harshly criticized, no state that was more frequently condemned than Israel.  

“The demonization of Israel increased during the past year,” Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, told me.  

As a direct result of continuously one-sided and often false media reports from Israel, a great deal of uncertainty has been created for many of Israel’s friends. Here is the situation on the ground as I see it:

Illusion and reality

For decades, Israel has attempted to integrate itself into the Middle East. Politicians have long dreamed of the “new Middle East” as a zone of freedom and democracy. The facts that have been established in the meantime are sobering: The sweeping failure of the Islamic world to offer a better form of politics is alarming.

The belief that the challenge in Middle Eastern countries would end positively as a result of the mechanisms of democracy was an illusion. The developments did not have any positive consequences for Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words in his explanation to me were, “The Arab rebellion has developed into an anti-Israeli, anti-liberal and, above all, completely undemocratic wave.”

Peace with Egypt — quo vadis?

What has changed concretely is the situation in the Sinai. While just 10 or even five years ago, an average Israeli family could take a vacation on one of the peninsula’s beaches, a series of terror attacks has shattered this possibility. Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt, Zvi Mazel, explained, “Egypt has gone from being a military dictatorship to a dictatorship of Islamists.”

The peace treaty with Egypt that was concluded by Menachem Begin 32 years ago withstood the change of regime after the murder of [Anwar] Sadat. It is extremely probable that it will also withstand the revolution of Tahrir Square because Egypt needs this peace no less than Israel does. Umpteen millions of Egyptians are unemployed, millions of university graduates cannot find work in their area of specialty, and the country is dependent upon the United States, which provides $2 billion a year in foreign aid. For this reason, the new regime in Cairo can’t afford to clash with Israel, especially at this point in time, but the dangers for the future are great.

Putting the brakes on peace 

Mahmoud Abbas has turned out to be a chief obstacle for any progress in the peace process. In comparison to Hamas, Fatah is regarded as the moderate wing of the Palestinian Authority. And not rightfully so. 

As I know very precisely from research before the production of the film “One Day in September,” Abbas had a central role in the terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics in 1972.  He does indeed act in a more charming and cultivated way than his predecessor, Arafat, but his political goals are exactly the same.  

“Our goal has never been peace,” said Kifah Radaideh, a confidante of Abbas in Fatah. “Peace is a means; the goal is Palestine.” A new diplomatic tug-of-war at the U.N. with regard to the efforts by Abbas to receive nonmember status appears to be imminent.

Iran’s most important ally

The civil war in Syria makes it clear how full of hatred the Alawites, Sunnis and Shiites are toward each other. Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad is Iran’s most important ally. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have their headquarters there, and the Damascus airport was the trans-shipment point for tens of thousands of rockets for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, emphasized, “The most valuable weapons come from Syria — not just in Lebanon, also in Gaza.” It seems to be in Israel’s interest to massively reduce Iranian influence on Syria. Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. for many years, Dore Gold, stressed to me, “The old order will be replaced by chaos. Chaos never represents a positive opportunity.” King Abdullah of Jordan formulated it this way: “Syria’s chemical weapons could fall into enemy hands.” This danger is concretely present, because according to Israeli estimates, Hezbollah possesses an arsenal of 70,000 rockets with which weapons of mass destruction can be used.

What about Jordan?

Jordan consists of a vague but totally real possibility for a new arrangement. There are voices in the Middle East that prophesy that King Abdullah’s time will come after the end of Assad because the chances of a revolt by the Palestinians, who make up 70 percent of the population of Jordan, exist in concrete terms.

In Israel, the greatest supporters of the Hashemite monarchy and all those who consider Jordan to be a strategic asset for Israel also know that a change of regime could bring an anti-Israel government to power. Israel’s friendship with the Hashemites has historically been based upon the mutual knowledge of the Palestinians as an adversary of both sides. If the circumstances change, then Israel’s strategy would also have to change. Jordan could become another “Hamastan” and resort to weapons in the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict.

Aryeh Eldad, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset, views this differently, and he explains in that regard: “That would be a way out of the impasse in which the Palestinians find themselves. They understand that in view of the internal problems of the Palestinian Authority and the endless postponing of elections, it is improbable that they will be able to found a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital, but a viable Palestinian state could exist in Jordan.” Parts of the West Bank could be incorporated into it.

Iran’s nuclear arms 

An Iran with nuclear weapons is one of the worst things that could happen to Israel. If the arming of Iran with atomic weapons is not stopped now, then we will find ourselves in a Middle East that is completely armed with nuclear weapons. Atomic capacities could fall into the hands of terrorists. The effects of such a development would be extremely serious.

“One single atomic bomb will be the final stroke on Zionist history,” Akbar Rafsanjani, Iran’s fourth president, has said. “In contrast to that, the Islamic world numbers 1.5 billion people and dozens of countries.”

With full acknowledgement of the massive military assistance from the United States, Netanyahu emphasized that Washington’s strategy of sanctions and diplomacy has come dangerously close to failure.

“Without the credible threat of a military intervention, diplomacy and other strategies with which the nuclearization of Iran is to be stopped or delayed would in any case be ineffective,” explained Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin.  

Only if the mullahs really believe that the U.S. will never allow Iran to develop atomic weapons would they be able to decide that the problems that are caused by sanctions are not offset by continued rabble-rousing propaganda against Israel.

Upon pressure from Israel, Obama finally ensured that if Israel refrains from an attack on Iran and if Iran crosses a certain red line, then the U.S. will actively react. In order for this policy to be effective, both Iran and Israel have to take this declaration seriously. No one disputes that an attack is to be considered only as the least of all means and even then, it would still be problematic. Israel would bear the brunt of an Iranian reprisal.

A stain on humanity

The most recent Tehran summit of 120 nations will go down in history as “a stain on humanity,” as Netanyahu said.  

Five kings, 27 presidents, eight prime ministers and 50 foreign ministers took part in the summit in Tehran. India, the world’s most populous democracy, was present with 250 delegates, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  

Even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Tehran. In his speech there, he did in fact condemn “threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust.” But through his presence, he lent Iran legitimacy, instead of supporting the efforts at its isolation as an ostracized state whose regime serves as the starting point for global terrorism.

On the occasion of the inauguration of the conference, the top leader Ayatollah Khamenei once again delivered an anti-Semitic harangue in which he asked the world without restraint to “eliminate the cancerous tumor of Israel.”  

Pressure on Israel

These events during the year that is drawing to a close have emphatically underscored the futility of Israel’s trust in the international community to be able to resolve potential conflicts.  Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the prominent role that Syria, Iran, Libya, Cuba and comparable dictatorships have taken on in the formulation of the policy of the U.N.’s so-called Human Rights Council.

We must resolve this New Year that Israel does not have to submit to pressure from those who have attempted to prevent it from taking the necessary steps to counter the threat to its survival. “We have learned from bitter experience that we have to rely upon ourselves,” explained Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon. “We have to prepare ourselves as if no one else will stand up for us.”

Egyptians clash with police near U.S. embassy

Egyptians angry at a film they said was blasphemous to Islam clashed on Friday in Cairo for a third day with police who blocked the way to the U.S. embassy, where demonstrators climbed the walls and tore down the American flag earlier this week.

“God is Greatest” and “There is no god but God”, one group near the front of the clashes chanted, as police in riot gear fired teargas and threw stones in a street leading from Tahrir Square to the embassy nearby.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in streets near the mission, pelting police with stones. State media had earlier said 224 people were injured in clashes that erupted on Wednesday, after Tuesday's breach of the embassy.

Elsewhere, thousands of others joined peaceful protests after Friday prayers in Tahrir and outside mosques in Cairo and other cities, responding to a call by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that propelled President Mohamed Mursi to power.

Many Muslims regard any depiction of the Prophet Mohammad as blasphemous and the film that portrayed him as a womanizer and religious fake has provoked outrage across the Middle East and led to the storming of several U.S. missions in the region.

Mursi, an Islamist and Egypt's first freely elected leader, has to strike a delicate balance, fulfilling a pledge to protect the embassy of a major aid donor but also delivering a robust line against the film to satisfy his Islamist backers.

Mursi repeated on Friday his condemnation of the film, rejection of violence and promise to protect diplomatic missions in comments in Italy, the second stop of a trip to Europe.

On Thursday, he said he asked U.S. President Barack Obama to act against those seeking to harm relations. His cabinet said Washington was not to blame for the film but urged the United States to take legal action against those insulting religion.

Washington says it has nothing to do with the film but cannot curb the constitutional right to free speech.

The United States has a large embassy in Cairo, partly because of a vast aid program that began after Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979. Washington gives $1.3 billion in aid each year to the army plus additional funds to Egypt.

“Before the police, we were attacked by Obama, and his government, and the Coptic Christians living abroad,” shouted one protester wearing a robe and long beard favored by some ultra-orthodox Muslims, speaking close to the police cordon.


Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church has condemned what it said were Copts abroad who had financed the film. Many Copts worry about the rise of Islamists and fret about any action that could stoke tensions between the two communities.

Two Islamist preachers in Egypt told worshippers on Friday those who made the movie deserved to die under sharia, Islamic law, but said diplomats and police should not be targeted.

Although this could be taken by some Muslims as an edict to take the law into their hands, many Egyptians believe only the prestigious Al-Azhar mosque has the authority to issue decrees. An al-Azhar preacher said protests should be peaceful.

One banner held aloft by demonstrators read: “It is the duty of all Muslims and Christians to kill Morris Sadek and Sam Bacile and everyone who participated in the film.”

The two people named are both linked to the film. Sadek, a Copt living in the United States, told Reuters this week he promoted the film to highlight discrimination against Christians who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 83 million people.

Police retreated during Friday behind a wall of concrete blocks cutting off the short route to the fortress-like U.S. embassy from Tahrir, the cauldron of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak and location for countless demonstrations since then.

A burnt out car was overturned and windows of a bank were smashed. Hundreds of protesters gathered to throw stones over the wall after some police retreated behind it and then clashed with police on another road on the banks of the Nile, where there are alternative routes to the embassy.


“They are protecting the embassy. We want to enter the embassy and pull down the flag and kick out the ambassador,” said Alaa el-Din Yehia, 25, an unemployed graduate.

The violence has angered many Egyptians. One image circulating on Facebook showed a burnt out car accompanied by the words: “People go to defend the Prophet with petrol bombs and religious insults to the police. They don't pray at noon or in the afternoon. Who are they?”

Though some demonstrators clashing with police near the embassy wore clothes favored by ultra-orthodox Islamists, most were young men or youths in jeans and T-shirts. Some made it clear they did not back Mursi or have Islamist sentiments.

“Mursi is protecting them and attacking us, he should allow us in,” said Mohamed Mustafa, 20, a ceramics worker who voted for a liberal rival of Mursi's in the presidential election.

Washington, a close ally of Egypt under Mubarak, has long been wary of Islamists, only formally opening contacts with the Brotherhood last year, several months after Mubarak's fall.

Al-Masry Al-Youm highlighted comments Obama made to a Spanish-language network saying Egypt was neither an enemy nor an ally, underlining the changing ties. “America: Egypt is no longer an ally,” the newspaper wrote in a front page headline.

Additional reporting by Marwa Awad and Mohamed Abdellah; Editing by Alison Williams

Poll: Majority of Egyptians seek end of Israel peace treaty

More than half of Egyptians say the peace treaty with Israel should be annulled, a new poll has found.

Some 54 percent are prepared to overturn the treaty, with 36 percent saying the treaty should be maintained. Some 10 percent said they did not know, according to a nationwide survey from Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.

Some 20 percent of Egyptians have a favorable opinion of the United States, basically unchanged from 17 percent who rated the U.S. favorably in 2010. When asked their opinion about the U.S. response to the political situation in Egypt, 39 percent responded that the U.S. has had a negative impact, while 22 percent say it has had a positive effect. Some 35 percent said that the U.S. has neither positively nor negatively influenced the situation in their country.

Fifteen percent of Egyptians surveyed want closer ties with the U.S., while 43 percent would prefer a more distant relationship. Forty percent would like the relationship between the two countries to be the same as it has been in recent years.

Some 71 percent of Egyptians said a democracy is preferable to any other type of government, up from 60 percent last year. In addition, 64 percent say they favor a democratic form of government over a strong leader.

Meanwhile, 62 percent of Egyptians surveyed think laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Koran.

The survey, conducted March 24 to April 7 in face-to-face interviews conducted in Arabic among 1,000 Egyptians, part of the larger Spring 2011 Pew Global Attitudes survey conducted in 22 countries and the Palestinian Authority under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International.  The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

Egypt-Israel love fatwa highlights split on peace

An Israeli Arab woman sent an e-mail some weeks ago to Sheikh Farahat Al-Mongy, an Islamic scholar from Egypt, complaining that her Egyptian husband, who
used to live with her in Israel, had decided to break up their marriage and leave Israel for good.

News of the broken marriage thrilled Al-Mongy. To him, this meant that his latest fatwa, or religious edict, about the “sinfulness” of Egyptians getting married to Israelis, which he issued a month and a half ago, was having an effect.

“Egyptians who get married to Israelis and live in Israel turn into spies for the Zionist state when they come back,” Al-Mongy said in his edict, published in local newspapers in Egypt. “That is why Islam considers this knot unholy.”

When Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin shook hands with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979 after signing a peace treaty in the United States, both men might have thought that they were setting their countries on a normal course of relations. But 28 years after reaching peace, the situation on the ground proves their hopes far-fetched. In Egypt, Israel is still viewed as an enemy.

And little symbolizes the rockiness of this relationship better than the fatwa against Egyptian-Israeli love.

The peace between Egypt and Israel is proving to be a mere government to government affair. Egypt’s media has never balked at portraying Israel as a warmongering state since the peace agreement was signed.

Demonstrations, either on university campuses or on the streets demanding the dismissal of the Israeli ambassador from Egypt, are a frequent occurrence here, uncovering the total disconnect between official and public attitudes.

Al-Mongy’s dictum produced a groundswell of acclaim in this country of 80 million people with a Sunni Muslim majority in a way the sheikh himself never expected to happen. It became fodder for talk shows and made headlines in local newspapers. A weekly newspaper, Sawt al-Ummah, called the edict “beautiful” and even pressed al-Azhar, the strongest religious institution in the Islamic world, to adopt it.

Recently, a group of three members of the People’s Assembly (the lower house of Egypt’s Parliament) embraced Al-Mongy’s edict by presenting a draft law that would strip Egyptians married to Israelis — whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian — of their Egyptian citizenship and deny them entry into Egypt.

The draft, if made into a law, would instruct the courts to consider marriage between Egyptians and Israelis illegal.

One of the members of Parliament who presented the draft law is Mohssen Radi, who is a member of Egypt’s largest Islamic organization, the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Israel is a country that should be wiped off the map,” Radi said in an interview two weeks ago, repeating pronouncements Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made about Israel two years ago.

To Radi, for an Egyptian to get married to an Israeli would usher in a new generation of “traitors” who would be “corrosive” to Egypt’s national security.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1928 to explain religious texts to Egyptians, emerged as a formidable power on Egypt’s political scene in 2005, when its candidates, who ran as independents in the legislative elections, managed to win 88 seats in the 445-seat legislature.

Now, having given birth to groups like Hamas in the Palestinian territories and boasting branches everywhere in the world, the Muslim Brotherhood is a headache for the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for the last 26 years.

The Brotherhood had already prepared a political platform it would present to Egypt’s Political Parties Committee, a government body that licenses political parties, to start a new party. Egypt’s constitution does not allow the creation of political parties on religious backgrounds.

Many in Egypt and outside it cower at the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt. The group is generally known to be inimical to peace with Israel.

“If we come to office, we will hold a referendum on the peace agreement with Israel,” said Mohamed Mehdi Akef, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, in an interview last month. “Then we will abide by the desire of our people.”

Arabs branded Sadat a traitor for his 1977 visit to Israel and boycotted Egypt when, in 1979, it signed the first peace treaty between an Arab country and the Jewish state.

Peace with Israel was said to be Sadat’s biggest political gamble and his death sentence. It was Muslim militant soldiers who assassinated him in 1981, while he was watching a military parade that was held to celebrate the Egyptians’ October victory over the Israelis in 1973.

One reason why Al-Mongy calls the marriage between a Muslim and an Israeli “graceless” is that this marriage might result in disputes over properties in Egypt when the Egyptian father dies.

“Similar disputes happened in Palestine, and that was how the Palestinians lost a big part of their lands to Israel,” Al-Mongy, 70, said, repeating a general misperception in Egypt about how Israel came into existence. “At the same time, Israelis, both men and women, are conscripted into the army, and a Muslim should not get married to a member of an enemy army.”

In 2000, the Egyptian Ministry of Social Affairs put the number of Egyptians married to Arab women with an Israeli passport at 17,000, but other officials claim that number is far too high.

But what is unquestioned is the growing presence of Egyptians in Israel proper. According to a recent article in al-Ahram newspaper, 6,000-7,000 Egyptians are legal residents of Israel, while an additional 5,000-6,000 reside there illegally. The Israeli Ministry of Interior’s Population Administration told al-Ahram that 5,463 Egyptians living in Israel hold an expired visa, while 643 hold a valid one. The ministry could not say how many Egyptians hold citizenship and permanent or temporary residency cards.

Part of the antipathy toward accepting these marriages is the widespread misconception that Israel is a state without a large non-Jewish minority. Many Egyptians assume a marriage to an Israeli is a marriage to a Jew.

Gaza Pullout Raises Troubling Questions

If Israel pulls its troops out of Gaza, how can Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon be sure that Hamas won’t seize power in the ensuing chaos?

That’s one of the key questions troubling Israeli policy planners. So far, they have come up with a number of answers: Military force to clip the wings of the Islamic terrorist group before the pullout; diplomatic efforts to convince Egypt to play a peace-keeping role after the withdrawal and encouraging Britain to train Palestinian Authority police forces to maintain law and order.

It remains to be seen, however, whether these steps will satisfy the Bush administration, which also is wary of the potential for chaos in Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal.

Early Sunday, a large Israeli force entered the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza, hunting for known Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists. In the ensuing firefight, 14 Palestinians were killed, mostly armed fighters identified with Hamas.

According to Israeli military analysts, the operation was not in retaliation for attempted terrorist attacks the previous day at a border crossing between Gaza and Israel proper. Rather, it was part of an ongoing policy designed to keep terrorists off balance in the limbo period between Sharon’s declaration of intent and the actual Israeli pullout, perhaps some time later this year.

Such relatively large-scale military actions are likely to be stepped up in the interim period. The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, said that mere talk of withdrawal could be encouraging the Palestinians to intensify attacks to give the impression that Israel is fleeing under fire.

To counter this, Israel hopes to inflict a heavy defeat on the terrorists before leaving. The message is that the Palestinians will be making a big mistake if they think more terrorism will force further Israeli withdrawals.

At stake is the credibility of Israeli deterrence. Before Israel withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon in May 2000, Sharon urged then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak to hit Hezbollah hard so that the Syrian-backed Shi’ite militia couldn’t claim a victory that would inspire other Arab groups to attack Israel. However, Barak ignored that advice.

Because of that, Sharon believes, Arabs widely perceived the Lebanon withdrawal as an Israeli defeat — one that encouraged the Palestinians to take up arms to achieve similar results. The result: the intifada, now nearly three and a half years old.

Now, with the drawn-out intifada shaping up as a test of national wills, many Palestinians are touting Sharon’s announcement of a Gaza withdrawal as vindication of their strategy of violence. Sharon wants to do all he can to counter that impression.

Focusing the army’s attack on Hamas and Islamic Jihad also is an attempt to make it easier for relative moderates, like Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, to take over after Israel leaves and establish a modicum of law and order.

But Sharon doesn’t trust Dahlan or any other Palestinian figure to stop the smuggling of arms into Gaza from Egypt after Israel leaves. Nor does he want to leave Israeli forces on the sensitive Philadelphia Axis, which runs for about five miles along the border between Egypt and Gaza and is the scene of frequent clashes.

For years, the Palestinians have used a system of tunnels to smuggle arms and explosives from the Egyptian side of the border into Gaza. Sharon’s solution lately has been to appeal to Cairo for aid in shutting off the smugglers’ traffic. If the Egyptians agree, close aides said Sharon is ready to make the necessary changes in the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace agreement to allow Cairo to move heavier forces into place.

Israel recognizes that controlling the Philadelphia route would require a different force structure and a different deployment on the Egyptian side, a senior Israeli official said. Sharon favors an Israeli pullout from all of Gaza, but aides said he will go that far only if Egypt undertakes to police the Philadelphia route. In other words, the outcome of talks on the Philadelphia issue could determine the scope of Israel’s Gaza pullback.

The signs are not good. In a recent interview with the French newspaper, Le Figaro, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was highly skeptical about a proposed Egyptian role in Gaza, warning that it could lead to clashes with the Palestinians and even with Israel.

Israeli officials had hoped Egypt would step up in order to impress Washington and be recognized as a major regional player. But it seems it will take a lot of persuasion from Washington to get Mubarak to agree.

The leader of the Israeli opposition, Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres, saw Mubarak a few weeks ago and said he thought Egypt would be ready to police the border but only from its side.

The Egyptians are keen to prevent chaos after an Israeli withdrawal, because it could have dangerous repercussions on the Egyptian street — but they would like to see the Palestinian Authority take charge. They have, therefore, been pressing the Palestinians to organize their forces on the ground and make sure Hamas has no chance of taking over in the Gaza Strip. Britain also has been helping the Palestinian Authority formulate a security plan and said it is ready to help train Palestinian police.

Similar offers have been made in the past, however; what has been lacking is any Palestinian will to meet their security obligations — a situation that, if it continues, could turn Gaza into a tinderbox after an Israeli withdrawal.

American envoys are due in Israel again soon to get a more detailed account of Israeli plans and of how Israel sees the Palestinian Authority’s future vis-a-vis Hamas.

Israeli officials argue that the Palestinian Authority can raise close to 50,000 armed men, as opposed to the couple of thousand that Hamas and Islamic Jihad can summon. Together with Egyptian, British and American help, that should be enough to keep the fundamentalists at bay, Israeli officials said.

If the Americans feel it’s too much of a risk, however, President Bush could ask Sharon, when they meet in Washington next month, to defer the withdrawal until after U.S. elections in November.

Given the pressure from the Israeli right against withdrawal and the apparent Egyptian refusal to get too deeply involved, Sharon may be happy to go along — and use the extra time to refine his withdrawal plans.