U.S. positions ships for ‘remote’ possibility of evacuation


The United States positioned three warships in the eastern Mediterranean reportedly to evacuate Americans from Israel in the “remote” possibility the Israel-Gaza conflict requires it.

CNN reported Monday that the 2,500 Marines on board the USS Iwo Jima, the USS New York and the USS Gunston Hall had been scheduled to return to Norfolk, Va., for Thanksgiving, but now are on standby near Israel.

The online report quoted two officials as saying that such a contingency was still seen as “extremely remote.” The officials said that the ships would not be used in combat.

Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza on Nov. 14 after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza. It has since called up thousands of reserve troops and is considering a ground offensive pending the outcome of truce talks in Cairo.

Migron evacuation: A look back and a look ahead


The evacuation of all 50 Jewish families in Israel’s Migron outpost was completed on Sunday evening without major incident. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the successful and peaceful evacuation—but vowed that his government would continue to strengthen Jewish communities in the West Bank.

Speaking at an event to celebrate the opening of the new Lod District Court, Netanyahu said, “We are committed to following the rule of law in this country. This is a clear line that I follow, even on sensitive days like these. We honor court orders and we also strengthen the settlements, there is no contradiction between the two. I welcome the fact that the Migron issue, like that of Ulpana before it, ended through dialogue and responsibility and without violence while honoring the court ruling. That is how it needs to be and that is how it will be.”

Israeli police said on Sunday that Jewish residents left Migron quietly for temporary housing in another neighborhood, Givat Hayekev, but eight youths who came to Migron to protest against the eviction were arrested for attacking police. Some 70 Jewish youths ensconced themselves into two buildings at the outpost on Saturday night ahead of the expected evacuation, despite opposition from other residents. Far Right MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) was among those who had to be forcibly removed from the site.

The area has now been declared a closed military zone, and Israeli Defense Ministry staff stayed on site Sunday to pack up the belongings of the residents. Almost all structures at the site—except for those on one lot where the ownership is still being investigated—will be demolished by Sept. 11.

Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now—the group that started the legal challenge against Jewish residents of Migron—welcomed the evacuation and said it “proves that when the police wants to, it can peacefully and quickly evacuate even the largest outpost.”

The next battle in the West Bank is expected to be over the outposts of Amona and Givat Asaf. Israel informed its High Court of Justice that both would be removed by the end of 2012, but the court has not yet presented its final ruling on the matter. The Yesha Council—an umbrella organization of municipal councils in West Bank Jewish communities—therefore believes that the government still has the opportunity to retroactively authorize these outposts, as it did recently with Bruchin, Sansana and Rechelim.

The High Court’s ruling last week that Migron residents must leave by Sept. 4 ended a legal saga that dated back to 2006, when the Peace Now movement petitioned the court on behalf of alleged Palestinian landowners who claimed the Jewish community had illegally usurped their property. In August 2011, the court ruled in favor of the Palestinian plaintiffs and ordered the outpost removed by April 2012. Shortly before the deadline elapsed, the residents and government announced a deal to relocate the community, but the court struck it down, saying it would be inappropriate to overturn a final ruling in a case that had been thoroughly litigated. The agreement, which would have allowed the residents to stay for an additional three years, also failed to fully comply with the High Court's decision to remove the homes and left an opening for their future re-occupation by stipulating that the army will get to decide their fate.

In a last-ditch effort, the residents attempted to convince the court that the land had been properly purchased in a recent transaction. In its ruling last week, the court conceded that it could not ascertain the authenticity of the purchase documents, but even if the land had been lawfully obtained, this would not constitute sufficient grounds to overturn the original decision, because the homes were not properly licensed. The court said only one plot in Migron would be spared evacuation, as it may lie on state property.

Netanyahu, who at first wanted to have the Migron evacuation delayed by a few years to placate members of his coalition, said he would comply with the High Court’s ruling while at the same time bolstering the Jewish presence in the West Bank. In Ulpana, June’s orderly evacuation of the roughly 30 families in that community was made possible in large part because of the government’s promise to build hundreds of new housing units in Beit El and other communities in the West Bank.

Migron residents spent their last Shabbat at the outpost over the weekend, holding study sessions and engaging in prayer, alongside special Shabbat meals and related events. “This was a very uplifting Shabbat but also very heart-wrenching,” one resident said on Saturday. “The feeling is that this may be our last Shabbat; it has begun to sink in.”

On Saturday night, residents congregated outside the outpost’s synagogue to discuss what lies ahead.

Binyamin Regional Council head Avi Roeh paid a visit to the community, bringing along with him members of his social service apparatus.

Ahead of the impending evacuation, residents were split over whether to accept the alternative accommodation offered by the Israeli Defense Ministry. There were also diverging opinions on what their conduct should be when the time would come to evacuate, and whether or not they would engage in civil disobedience. However, there was an across-the-board consensus that the residents would not voluntarily leave en masse.

The Israeli Defense Ministry worked around the clock to complete the alternative housing units, consisting of prefabricated homes. All housing units are connected to an electricity grid and have running water and functioning kitchens with gas stoves. The homes were also equipped with air conditioning units. Palestinians who had been hired to prepare the site removed safety hazards, assembling handrails and completing the main road and infrastructure there.

Migron must be evacuated in a week, Israel’s high court rules


Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the West Bank outpost of Migron must be evacuated by Sept. 4.

All 50 families must leave the outpost, the court ruled Wednesday in response to a petition filed by the families requesting a delay in the eviction until the modular homes being built for the evacuees are completed. They reportedly will not be habitable for several weeks.

The outpost’s homes must be razed by Sept. 11, with the exception of the 17 families who claimed in a petition to the court that they have purchased or repurchased the plots on which their homes are located.

Those families also had asked the court to allow them to remain in their homes—a request that essentially was denied by Wednesday’s ruling.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The settlers, who deny that Migron is built on private Palestinian land, had signed a deal with the Netanyahu government agreeing to relocate to a nearby hill.

Migron not evacuated as scheduled


The Migron outpost in the West Bank was not evacuated as scheduled.

The eviction had been scheduled for Tuesday, the same day that the Israeli Supreme Court conducted a hearing on a petition filed by the residents requesting a delay in the eviction until the modular homes being built for the evacuees are completed. They reportedly will not be habitable for several weeks.

A decision is not expected for at least several days.

Some 17 families who claim they have purchased or repurchased the plots that their homes are located on also have petitioned the court to be allowed to stay in their homes.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The settlers, who deny that Migron is built on private Palestinian land, had signed a deal with the Netanyahu government agreeing to relocate to a nearby hill.

New date set for Migron settlement evacuation


Israel’s Supreme Court said that the evacuation of an illegal West Bank settlement must take place by Aug. 21.

The judges granted the government request Friday to postpone the eviction of the Migron, home to about 50 families, until Aug. 21, according to Haaretz. An earlier postponement had decided the date would be Aug. 1.

The state requested that the delay not take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan amid worries of “price tag” reprisal attacks by settlers that could have inflamed tensions with Palestinians, according to Haaretz.

Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel recently said that “the request for a delay today, is preparation for another request to delay next month.”

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The settlers, who deny that Migron is built on private Palestinian land, had signed a deal with the Netanyahu government agreeing to relocate to a nearby hill over the next three years.

Evacuation of Ulpana neighborhood begins


Residents and supporters of the Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank held a morning prayer service as moving vans arrived to evacuate them from the disputed properties.

The first 15 families living in the outlying neighborhood of the Beit El settlement are scheduled to move to trailer homes set up at a nearby army base on July 3. The other 15 families will move on July 5, according to Israel’s Ministry of Defense.

The five apartment buildings are to be moved to 4.5 acres of state land that was a Border Police base and will be annexed to the settlement. Three hundred other dwellings also will be built there.

Movers hired by the Defense Ministry began packing up the families on June 26. Four families reportedly will passively resist the evacuation, and all the families are asking media outlets to report that they are being forced from their homes and refrain from saying that the evacuation is by agreement. An agreement to evacuate and move the buildings was struck between the government and Beit El Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed.

A statement from the Ministry of Defense said, “The operation is being carried out in full coordination, and with the agreement of community leaders and the residents themselves.”

The residents wore black shirts on June 26 that said “We Will Return.”

More than 100 Defense Ministry employees and contractors are participating in the operation, according to the ministry.

A team of employees and contractors has been assigned to each family, the ministry said, adding that it would “provide full assistance to the families during the operation and during their integration into the temporary neighborhood.”

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in September that the neighborhood should be razed, siding with a lawsuit filed by Palestinians who said they owned the land. A July 1 deadline was set for the evacuation.

Israeli Police conducts large-scale drill ahead of West Bank evacuation


Israel Police began an extensive drill on Monday in preparation of the expected evacuation of the Ulpana Hill neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

More than a thousand police officers took part in the Jordan Valley drill, joined by special forces, mounted units and riot control forces.

Five apartment buildings in the neighborhood are slated by the Supreme Court for demolition because they were built on privately owned Palestinian land. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein last week approved a plan to move residents of the five buildings to a nearby tract of land that was appropriated by the state in 1970 for military use.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Evacuation of two iIlegal outposts postponed


Two illegal West Bank outposts set to be evacuated by the end of the year have a reprieve.

The Israeli government informed the Supreme Court that the Givat Asaf outpost will be demolished in July, and that Amona will be demolished by December 2012. Both northern West Bank outposts are built on private Palestinian property.

The Migron outpost is still scheduled to be demolished by March, the state reportedly told the court. Israel also will remove some homes in the Ramat Gilad and Mitzpe Yitzhar outposts that are built on private Palestinian land.

The government has been looking for ways to make outposts constructed on state land legal. But in response to several lawsuits in the Supreme Court by Israeli human rights organizations, it agreed to demolish outpost buildings, including homes, on privately owned Palestinian land.

A Supreme Court-ordered demolition of homes in the Amona outpost enforced by the government in February 2006 sparked a confrontation between settlers and police that turned violent.

Santa Barbara Fire Forces Synagogue Evacuation


One Santa Barbara synagogue has been evacuated and another is facing possible evacuation as crews continued to battle the Jesusita Fire on Friday afternoon.

The fire, which started May 5, has damaged or destroyed 75 homes and 30,500 people are under mandatory evacuation orders. More than 3,500 acres have been burned, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, and as of Friday afternoon the fire remained at 10 percent containment.

Congregation B’nai B’rith, in the Santa Barbara foothills west of Highway 154, is part of a mandatory evacuation order for the area that went into effect Thursday at 10 p.m.

“It’s a tough time,” said Rabbi Steve Cohen of the Reform B’nai B’rith. “There’s been a tremendous impact on the whole community.”

The synagogue hosted a dinner on Thursday to discuss evacuations, during which the synagogue’s executive director, Deborah Naish, came to the temple to let the rabbi know the fire had shifted toward B’nai B’rith.

“We all went outside and saw how close it had come,” he said.

The synagogue’s Torahs were moved to staff members’ homes Thursday night.

As of Friday, the fire had crossed to the west side of Highway 154 and was burning in the hills above the synagogue, Cohen said.

“What everyone is dreading are the sundowners tonight,” he said, referring to Santa Ana-like evening winds that can make firefighting difficult.

Cohen said he was not aware of any congregants losing a home to the blaze, but he said at least 200 to 250 of B’nai B’rith’s 670 families have been evacuated from the fire area.

Nearby in Golita, Chabad of Santa Barbara’s Rabbi Yosef Loshack has opened his house to at least two displaced families. His home, which is used for religious services, is one block away from the evacuation area.

“I’m getting more phone calls as the day progresses, so I don’t know how many people we’ll end up getting,” he said.

Loshack said if the call to evacuate comes, his family plans to relocate to the Chabad at UC Santa Barbara.

“If we’re evacuated, we’ll put the sefer Torahs in the car along with my wife’s candlesticks and we go off,” he said.

Nathan Roller, librarian and development intern at UC Santa Barbara Hillel, said the streets surrounding the campus are filled with smoke.

Apart from two students who are staying with Roller, he said he wasn’t aware of Jewish students turning to Hillel for evacuation assistance.

Currently UCSB is serving as a shelter for more than 600 evacuated Santa Barbara residents. And the Hillel building, which features a handicapped-accessible elevator and shower, may be called upon to shelter displaced residents with special needs.

“We are an evacuation site, but [Red Cross] hasn’t asked us to do anything yet,” Roller said.

On Saturday morning, UCSB Hillel’s home, the Milton Roisman Jewish Student Center, will be a shelter of a different kind. B’nai B’rith congregants will join Isla Vista Minyan, an egalitarian minyan, at the center for Shabbat morning services.

“It’s far out of the line of fire,” Cohen said. “Tonight, we’re just not able to do a service.”

Israeli Consulate in L.A. evacuated


A bomb scare prompted the evacuation of the Israeli Consulate offices in Los Angeles this afternoon.

Several other Jewish organizations in the same building at 6380 Wilshire Blvd. also were evacuated.

A “very suspicious” package was found Tuesday at about 2:45 p.m. PST near the entrance of the 17-story building, which also houses the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israeli Scouts and the local Young Judaea offices, according to Hagar Meged, the Jewish Agency’s alliyah emissary in Los Angeles.

On inspection, the package turned out to be a backpack containing only personal items. A block of Wilshire Boulevard was evacuated, Meged said. Ten police cars and a SWAT team arrived at the building to investigate. Meged said the evacuation was orderly, but “it was kind of scary to leave everything in the middle of the day.”

A Consular spokesman said the evacuation was quick, and officials allowed workers to re-enter the building after a brief delay. “It was nothing,” he said, then used the Hebrew phrase for “suspicious package” that is part of everyday life in Israel.

“It was just a hefetz hashood.”Officer Jason Lee of the Los Angeles Police Department said that no threats had been received, adding, “Some people will phone in anything these days.”

— Journal Staff and JTA

Rescuing Torah scrolls — I guess it runs in the family


With hurricane-force winds blowing a wall of flames in from the desert, I received a phone call from Rabbi Mathew Earne early the morning of Oct. 22. My wife, Joanna, and I were quickly packing up our most valuable belongings. Our 16-month-old son, Jacob, was running a fever of 103 degrees. The city of San Diego had just ordered mandatory evacuation for hundreds of thousands of San Diegans.

Rabbi Earne asked me to drop what I was doing and come to Congregation Beth Am, which is very close to our home, to pick up one of our synagogue’s five Torahs. With adrenaline and panic running through my veins, I looked to Joanna for guidance. “Absolutely,” she said, “You go get that Torah.” Amazed at Joanna’s resolve, I wiped the ash off my car and drove toward the raging flames to get the Torah.

Early one morning in 1939, Joanna’s grandparents, Morris and Frieda Erman, left Drove, Germany with only their son, Michael, and their community’s Torah. The Jewish community of Drove entrusted their past and their hope to the Ermans and their journey to the United States. Morris and Frieda were allowed to leave Germany with only what they could carry on their laps: their son and their Torah.

As the eerie, dull orange sky dumped black-and-white ash on my car, I pulled into Beth Am’s parking lot. Rabbi Earne handed me the Torah wrapped in two tallitot, and he told me, “Wherever you go, the Torah goes. You never let go.”

With that, our odyssey with the Torah began. We were able to book a hotel room in downtown San Diego. We shooed bellboys away from the Torah, afraid they might set it down. We avoided evacuees with excitable dogs who were jumping up in laps. We settled into our room. The only place we could safely keep the Torah away from our curious son’s hands was on top of the TV armoire. The next day, a large convention forced us from our hotel room, and we temporarily moved in with cousins, the Sieglers. The Torah lay across Mitch’s desk and ensured that any work he did that day would be blessed.

More than 48 hours after we’d left home, the city lifted the evacuation for our neighborhood. As we packed up our belongings again, a now-habitual checklist passed our lips:

“You have Jacob?”

“Yup.”

“You have the Torah?”

“Yup.”

Throughout our odyssey, we didn’t worry about the cell phones, the toys, the clothes or anything else. Those all could be replaced or re-bought. And during those days, Joanna and I slowly began to connect with Morris and Frieda’s experience almost seventy years ago.

As we drove to the Earne’s house to return the Torah, I thought back to Joanna’s grandparents and I joked with Joanna, “You are genetically programmed to save Torahs in distress, aren’t you?” She chuckled, “Yeah, I guess so.”

You never let go.

Note: Frieda and Morris Erman’s Torah remains in active use in Omaha, Nebraska to this day.

Brooks Herman is managing director of international operations for People to People International. He currently serves as secretary of the board of directors of Congregation Beth Am in San Diego.

Chabad mobilizes to help San Diego fire victims



Fire video and prayers from Malibu
More than 20 Chabad centers in Southern California have been evacuated dueto the raging fires around the region, said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, spokesman forthe West Coast Chabad.West Coast Chabad has organized truckloads of foodand clothing to be sent to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, site for many of thearea evacuees.

Many efforts here and in the region are still underway, involving helpingfamilies evacuate, find shelter, food and clothing and relocate children toother Chabad schools.

Chabad’s camp, Running Springs-CGI has been devoted as a base for the localfire efforts there in Big Bear, Rabbi Cunin said.For Angelenos who want to help, there are more volunteers down there thanneeded, said Rabbi Moishe Leder, of Chabad of University City in San Diego,which has not been evacuated.

“If you have any relatives in San Diego, call them and invite them,” Ledersaid.

Rabbi Mendel Cohen of Chabad’s Crisis Intervention Center is coordinating
Chabad’s efforts, and if you would like to provide assistance or housing,please contact him at 310 770-9220.

Contributions for San Diego victims can be made to the Red Cross of San Diego, the Jewish Federation of SanDiego, or to Chabad Fire Relief (Rancho Santa Fe), among other organizations.To donate to The (Los Angeles) Jewish Federation’s Fire Emergency Relief Fund call 323 761-8200 or send a check to The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90048, made payable to The Jewish Federation with the words “Fire Relief Fund” in the memo line. Donations will also be accepted online at www.jewishla.org.

— Amy Klein
:::::::::::::::::::::::As fires ravage southern California,Jews dealing with fallout from fires

By Jacob Berkman, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

NEW YORK (JTA) — “I worked all my life for this house,” Daniel Okonsky said in a call from his cell phone on Tuesday afternoon. “I was able to build it, to maintain it — and now there is nothing.”

Okonsky was speaking from the Downtown Sheraton in San Diego, where he has been staying with his family since they evacuated their home Sunday at 3:30 a.m. in the face of wildfires that have ravaged southern California. As of Tuesday afternoon the disaster had turned some 450 acres from San Diego to northern Los Angeles into a rumbling inferno, forcing 320,000 people to evacuate and destroying an estimated 1,300 homes, including Okonsky’s.

As the region deals with the fires, the Jewish community of nearly three quarters of a million people in San Diego and Los Angeles counties is struggling to assess the damage in its own ranks.

San Diego County, with about 100,000 Jews, has been hardest hit, with 14 separate fires raging. About 300,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.

It is unknown how many of the evacuees are Jewish, but communal leaders were scheduled to meet via teleconference at 2 p.m. Pacific time on Tuesday to discuss how to react.

The Jewish Community Center has been evacuated and has incurred some smoke damage, according to Michael Sonduck, chief operating officer of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

Monday night, 125 residents of the Jewish Sea Crest retirement villages were evacuated. The rest of the residents will soon be evacuated, Sonduck said.

A number of the area’s 40 synagogues are in fire zones, but it is still not known whether any of them have been damaged, according to Sonduck.

The federation, the Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Family Service of San Diego have set up a disaster fund to help assist with relief. “San Diego is our big concern,” Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, told JTA.

Much of Diamond’s job right now is making contact with the 290 rabbis from San Diego to San Luis Obispo who make up his board and trying to figure out how their synagogues can help each other. If congregants require housing or need to replenish Jewish supplies such as prayer books, the board of rabbis will step in, he said.

Even as they worry about their own synagogues, some Jews have reached out to the broader community.

When the Malibu Presbyterian Church burned down Monday, the Reconstructionist Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue offered to house the church’s preschool for several months, Diamond said.

And in San Diego, Chabad-Lubavitch has been delivering blankets and food to the 10,000 evacuees staying at Qualcomm Stadium, home of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. Chabad is delivering kosher food to Jews and non-kosher food donated form local restaurants to non-Jews, said the rabbi of Chabad of Poway, Yisroel Goldstein.

“The wildfires know no bounds of geography or religious faith,” Diamond said.

The area’s largest Jewish community, in and around Los Angeles, where some 550,000 Jews live, seems relatively unscathed so far, according to officials at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The Jewish community in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, has also been relatively unharmed, according to Chelle Friedman, director of the planning and funding council for the Jewish Federation of Orange County.

Though the Jewish Community Center in Orange County has cancelled all outdoor activities, the federation there has received no reports of damage to any of the area’s 37 synagogues, three day schools, or other Jewish institututions.

“So far we have been very fortunate,” Friedman told JTA.

But community officials are not resting comfortably, she said, because “the winds could shift at any moment.”

The real horror remains south, where the past few days have been harrowing, say those still in the fire.

“It is like a war zone,” said Okonsky, who lost the 6,500-sq.-ft .home he built 16 years ago on 3.25 acres overlooking a canyon and bird sanctuary.

Army base provides haven for refugees from Sderot


Driven from their homes by Qassam rockets, Eimvet Yitao and her colleagues from a Sderot day care center gathered under the shade of a sprawling tree at an army center in Givat Olga, swapping stories of their fears.

They talked, too, of their relief at the respite from uncertainty.

“I’m very stressed out,” said Yitao, 30, who is eight months pregnant. “I would shout out to my children not to go outside, but it was hard for them to listen. Here they are at least free to roam about.”

Yitao, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia as a girl, looked at the wide plaza lined by park benches with a view of an azure blue Mediterranean Sea. Just down the hill is a swimming pool. A board at the entrance to the dining hall listed the day’s activities, including a magician for the children, a Shavuot ceremony staged by a local school and a backgammon tournament.

The defense ministry brought some 650 Sderot residents to Olga Village, a hotel complex usually reserved for soldiers on break from combat duty.

“We try to help in every way, even small ways like providing baby bottles, laundry, diapers, toothpaste,” said Lt. Col. Ramy Ben-Haim, the army officer in charge of the evacuees at the complex. “Whatever they did not bring from home, we try to give them.”

Ben-Haim also detailed plans for the upcoming days, including a festive Shavuot meal and a dance party for the evacuees.

“These people have been through a lot,” he said. “They deserve at least this.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was reluctant to evacuate even a small number of residents, saying it was bad for Israel’s image, but he found himself under increasing pressure to do so by residents.

Some say the pressure intensified after Russian Israeli billionaire Arcady Gaydamak picked up the costs to bus residents to the southern cities of Eilat and Beersheba. Several thousand reportedly have fled.

Sderot, a southern Israeli town that borders Gaza, has been the target of thousands of rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists over the past six years.

The rocket fire has intensified in recent weeks, claiming at least one life, injuring several residents and destroying homes. More than 100 rockets reportedly have been fired into southern Israel in the past week. On Monday, a woman was killed by rocket fire.

“Since I gave birth to my first child seven years ago, Qassam rockets have been falling,” Yitao said. “I always wonder what will be, how my children might be affected. If we move it would be a victory for the other side, but if we stay, will it lead to problems for the kids and their development?”

The other women describe how their children have regressed: Teenagers awake from nightmares shouting out warnings of imagined attacks; others are terrified to stay home alone and cling to their mothers.

“There is no place where a Qassam has not fallen,” said Hanni Butbul, 36, manager of the day care center. “There is no adult nor child who has not seen with his or her own eyes where one has fallen.”

Life in Sderot, Butbul said, is filled with “frustration and fear.”
Many of the arrivals to Olga Village say it is their first time leaving Sderot while the city has been under attack. Schools have shut down, along with many businesses. Some residents feel the government has forgotten them, and to some degree other Israelis have, too.

Some say they are angry that there have been no wide-scale Israeli reprisal attacks into Gaza, despite the onslaught of rocket attacks. This week, however, the air force was striking back, launching targeted raids on leading Hamas figures that have led to their deaths, as well as civilian casualties.

Some believe Sderot has been neglected because it’s a working-class town, and about half its residents are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. Many of the others are native-born, the descendants of immigrants from North Africa.

Social workers, psychologists and volunteers from SELAH-Israel Crisis Management Center have been conducting home visits in Sderot to assist immigrants who have not been able to leave.

The organization, the only nationwide volunteer network to support new immigrants hit by crises, has been helping a range of cases — from immigrants who need emergency funds because the bank has cut them off to those who need psychological counseling.

“Some of the people are housebound, some too scared to leave,” said Ruth Bar-On, founder and director of SELAH. “Others stay for idealistic reasons or work obligations, including those who work with the elderly.”

Immigrants with little social support are especially vulnerable in times of crisis, she said.

“We feel it is absolutely essential to think of the long term in situations like this. Just as in Kiryat Shemona, it shattered the very fine balance and equilibrium that vulnerable populations depend on,” Bar-On said, referring to the northern residents affected by last summer’s rocket attacks by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Dan Margalit, a veteran Israeli journalist and commentator, wrote Monday in the Israeli daily, Ma’ariv, that the residents of Sderot had seen a vital promise broken — the promise that after the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, their lives and homes would be protected.

“For the time being, we have broken our vow,” Margalit wrote. “The march of the uprooted from Sderot to central Israel is the yellow star of Zionism. It is not your disgrace but ours.”

Although Defense Minister Amir Peretz is from Sderot, its residents aren’t putting much faith in him. They have seen Peretz sidelined by Olmert and officially chastised for his inexperience and poor decision-making during the Second Lebanon War.

Peretz, however, did manage to have the situation in Sderot declared a “special home front situation” on Sunday. Conferring this status on the town presumably helps to compensate those whose property and businesses have been damaged or impaired because of the continued attacks.

Meanwhile, the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of the North American federation system, announced Monday that it was donating $8 million in emergency relief to residents of Sderot and the surrounding area.

The money will be funneled into projects organized by its local Israeli partners, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.


Blaze Touches Off Tense Moments


Jeff and Liz Kramer and their three teenage sons could only watch and wait. The Sutton Valley residents paced the sidewalk in front of their home on Thursday morning, watching as the head of the Topanga Canyon Fire crept along a ridge less than 800 yards away, consuming brush and sending up billows of smoke.

“We’ve been up all night watching it,” Liz Kramer said. “It started here at about 1 a.m.”

As the Ventura County Sheriff’s fire support helicopters doused flames with water assaults, the Oak Park couple talked with neighbors about whether to evacuate.

“The firemen keep telling us we’re fine,” she said. “But our cars are loaded, and we’re ready to leave.”

While the Kramer home was spared and no other Jewish homes were known to have been lost, an iconic structure of Jewish Los Angeles was not so fortunate. In Simi Valley at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, sparks fell and ignited a fire on the roof of the landmark House of the Book. The building’s interior was not apparently harmed. A detailed damage assessment is pending.

The Topanga Canyon Fire erupted in Chatsworth off of Topanga Canyon Boulevard at 1:50 p.m. on Wednesday, amid high temperatures and dry Santa Ana wind conditions. By Friday, it had grown to engulf about 21,000 acres and required a multiagency firefighting force of 3,000 from Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties.

Fire crews had the fire 20 percent contained by Friday morning, shortly before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the affected area by air. The estimated cost of the fire currently stands at $2.8 million, with the cause of the blaze still under investigation.

Hundreds of families were evacuated from affected areas, which included Box Canyon, Lake Manor, Woolsey Canyon, Bell Canyon, West Hills, Hidden Hills, Mountain View Estates, Las Virgenes Canyon, Chesebro Canyon, Old Agoura, Agoura Hills and Oak Park. Among the evacuees from these upscale hillside communities was “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Shelley Berman, who has lived in Bell Canyon since 1984.

Temple Aliyah President Marcy Howard told The Journal she evacuated her home in Mountain View, a gated community adjacent to Las Virgenes Canyon, at 4 a.m. Thursday.

“When they tell you you’re going, nothing counts but getting your kids, your dogs and yourself [out]. You don’t know if you have five hours or five minutes,” she said.

Howard met friends at the Calabasas Commons and then ended up at Jerry’s Deli in Woodland Hills, where she said many displaced Jewish West Valley residents were congregating early Thursday morning. Howard opted to spend Thursday night in a hotel, despite offers of shelter from numerous friends.

“Everyone has been so gracious and so lovely,” she said.

Around the Conejo and West Valley, synagogues reported a similar situation. “So far we have more people offering space than need it,” said Rabbi Ted Riter of Temple Adat Elohim of Thousand Oaks.

The Conejo and West San Fernando valleys have become a magnet for Jewish families in recent years, so there were bound to be scores of Jewish families affected by the evacuation orders, not to mention the choking haze that hung over the region.

“We left at 3 a.m. [Thursday morning] and went to my mother-in-law’s in Thousand Oaks,” said Loury Silverman, an Oak Park resident who had just finished davening Thursday morning at Chabad of Conejo.

At Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Executive Director Gary Brennglass had examined the House of the Book by Thursday afternoon. “The exterior is OK, but the roof was damaged,” he said. “We also lost a lot of vegetation. But thank God our other buildings and bunks weren’t lost.”

No synagogues were damaged, but area shuls removed their Torahs as a precaution.

In Old Agoura, the proposed future site of Heschel West day school was unsigned. That project has long been challenged by the Old Agoura Homeowners Association, partly over concerns that it might make a wildfire evacuation more difficult.

All told, the fire damaged three single-family homes and destroyed one building at the Rocketdyne facility between Chatsworth and Simi Valley.

Heschel West, at its temporary site in Agoura Hills, closed Thursday and Friday, as did the New Jewish Community Day School at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills and schools throughout the Las Virgenes Unified School District. In the Las Virgenes Canyon area, Mestiva, an Orthodox boarding school closed on Friday.

Many synagogues also canceled Hebrew school classes, expecting to start again on Sunday or Monday, after the anticipated full containment of the fire over the weekend.

Jewish leaders exhorted community organizations to find out what people’s needs are in affected areas.

“We can make sure that synagogues that have been displaced because of the fire will have a space for High Holidays,” said Carol Koransky, executive director of The Valley Alliance.

Or Ami’s Rabbi Paul Kipness said his congregation usually meets at the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center during the High Holidays. But with the center being used as a staging area for firefighter efforts, the synagogue’s High Holiday committee was already scouting out alternatives.

“They say it’ll be ours after Saturday, but who knows,” said Kipness, who has already rewritten his Rosh Hashanah morning sermon around the fire.

One group will need other quarters for sure. B’nai Horin of Simi Valley had scheduled High Holidays services at the House of the Book. The Brandeis-Bardin Institute hopes to house the group at a different meeting area on campus.

Many of the evacuated families have returned home, even as fire crews continue to keep an eye out for hot spots and areas where the fire could break through and threaten homes again.

The Rothsteins of Oak Park were among the families who had a close call. Sergiu Rothstein had left his home Thursday afternoon to get pizza for firefighters keeping watch over his neighborhood. A half hour later, flames blocked his return.

He stood on the center median of Thousand Oaks Boulevard in Oak Park, watching as fire lunged toward his hillside community only a few miles away.

“I was coming back, and the flames were shooting up 10 and 20 feet,” he said. “My family called me and said, “Don’t come back to the house.”

When reached by phone Friday morning, Rothstein said fire crews had saved his home.

“Everyone was wonderful,” he said.

Goodbye Morag


This tiny settlement near the shores of the Mediterranean, in its last days of existence, has been torn into unhappy — and often angry — factions this week as Israeli security forces loitered around its sandy streets, together with hundreds of activists.

The soldiers are here to evacuate any and all Israelis who remain. The activists, for the most part, are nonresidents who have illegally entered to beef up settler ranks over the past month. Both sides are dug in, determined and confident that they will prevail in a battle of wills over the future of the Israeli settlement enterprise.

A similar scene is playing out over other parts of the Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza. Everyone expects discomfort, agitation and grief. No one talks of wanting violence, but that fear — that unknown — also is in the air, carried along in the long days and the intense dry heat of the Mediterranean summer.

Soldiers with the Israel Defense Forces ignore the demonstrators and walk straight up to the front doors of whatever families are left in the sunny community situated along the border near the Palestinian city of Rafah, breaking the tension that had built up prior to the start of the evacuation operation on Monday. They hope to be invited inside for a chance to persuade settlers to leave willingly while they have the chance.

Morag — an isolated settlement of 40 families — was established almost two decades ago by a tight-knit group of Israeli pioneers looking for a better quality of life they hoped to establish on the sandy dunes of Gush Katif. They built up a prosperous middle-class community, with mostly two-story white homes with large backyards. Sent here by the various Israeli governments over the years, many of them speak of their “betrayal” by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — once their biggest supporter — who has pushed through his government’s disengagement policy.

Stopped at the entrance to the settlement by a crowd of several hundred anti-disengagement protesters, Golani Brigade commander Col. Erez Zukerman asks those gathered to accept the inevitable.

“We didn’t come here to clash with you, but to offer assistance and to help you, the people we once protected and worked hand in hand with,” he calls out.

Suddenly, a young man with tears streaming down his face emerges from the mob.

“I was an officer under your command,” says the young man, Liron Zaidan. “You taught me what it was to be an officer and protect the Israeli people. We are not your enemy, but you have turned us into your enemy. Just six months ago, I was wearing an army uniform and serving side by side with you.”

Recognizing his former subordinate, Zukerman grabs Zaidan in a bear hug, and, with tears in his eyes, declares that the Israeli people would remain united forever.

“This is our job,” Zukerman says later. “I love these people, and even though today it appears I am meeting my former officer on the other side of the fence, I am confident he will come back and one day serve alongside me again.”

The settlement’s homes cluster around a main square, which houses the community center and synagogue. Across town from where Zukerman embraces his former comrade, Ya’acov Etzion prays for divine intervention that he believes can still save his home of 10 years. He says he is proud that his father had been a leader of the infamous Jewish underground that had plotted unsuccessfully to blow up the Temple Mount, an Islamic holy site, in the early 1980s.

The goal then had been to thwart Israel’s evacuation of the Sinai Peninsula after the peace treaty with Egypt. The Temple Mount was not destroyed, and Israel and its settlers left the Sinai.

Etzion has no attacks in mind. Instead, he intends to rely on God — and his refusal to begin packing, saying: “I will not lend a hand to this evil deportation.”

When officers show up at his door, Etzion refuses to let them in, meeting them instead on the front steps of his white, one-story house. Etzion pleads with them to refuse orders and to halt this “mission of destruction.”

Neither side prevails in this encounter of rhetoric. But Etzion expects that the soldiers will be back, and next time, they do not intend to stop at entreating words alone.

What will happen then? Etzion says he does not yet know.

“I will make it very difficult for them,” he says, as he sits on the floor, playing with his 1-year-old daughter, Shira. “They will probably succeed in kicking us out, but we won’t go easily.”

Not everyone is as determined as Etzion. Down the street, Gavriel and Nurit Yitzhak have already finished packing up their home of 15 years. They have even pulled the windows out of the walls.

What will they do with the windows?

Nurit shrugs. “As long as nothing is left for the Palestinians, I am happy,” she says with a heavy sigh.

“We will leave,” adds Nurit, looking about a living room filled with boxes and dismantled kitchen cabinets. “It is over for us, and we are not interested in fighting.”

When the military entourage arrives — led by Lt. Col. Assaf Yisrael from the Golani Brigade — Gavriel meets them with open arms and invites them to sit down and talk over coffee.

“I need another container to move my belongings,” Gavriel tells Yisrael, while pointing at his air conditioners and other odds and ends on the floor. Yisrael says he will do his best and would consider bringing by his private military jeep.

Security officials are now talking optimistically, as though they can evacuate the entire Gaza Strip — not in three weeks like originally planned — but by the end of next week, by Aug. 26.

“No one is standing over our heads with a stopwatch,” says Brig. Gen. Hagai Dotan, head of the police evacuation team. “But if things continue to go smoothly, we may be finished with Gaza much earlier than expected.”

While confident that settler resistance won’t halt the pullout, Dotan admits that Palestinian mortar fire on settlements during the evacuation “could slow things down and even suspend the withdrawal.”

Still, with the disengagement practically a done deal for the settlers and the evacuating forces, a whole new reality is coming into play.

Col. Yizhar Peled, an evacuation commander, lives in Kfar Azza — a tranquil, picturesque kibbutz situated within the established borders of Israel, but only three kilometers from Gaza City. After the Gaza pullout, Peled’s hometown, together with cities such as Sderot and Ashkelon, could become the new targets of Palestinian terror organizations acting from just over the border.

“I am aware the pullout could have devastating effects on my hometown,” Peled says. “It will be difficult for us all, but [the Gaza withdrawal] is the law and there is no turning back.”

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Evacuees Face Life of Uncertainties


Shlomi Tabach was trying to pry the bronze mezuzah off his front doorpost with pliers, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Look at that. The mezuzah doesn’t want to leave. It wants to stay in Gush Katif,” said Tabach’s mother-in-law, Yaffa Michaeli, referring to the main Jewish settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip, where the family had lived for 16 years — until last week.

With one more yank, the mezuzah finally came off.

The Tabach family left the settlement of Gadid last week, ahead of the Israeli withdrawal. Settlers who hadn’t evacuated as of Monday were given 48-hours notice to leave, on threat of eviction.

However, the Tabach family left a few days before the evacuation got under way, rising at dawn to pack final boxes with their toddler son’s toys, taking down lace curtains and lighting fixtures. Their sand-swept front yard was crammed with furniture, plastic crates and boxes as they waited for the moving van.

Tabach, 30, and his wife, Ravit, 26, both accountants, have lived in a small one-story house in Gadid for two years.

Ravit Tabach was 10 when she moved to the settlement with her family from the southern Israeli town of Ofakim. Shlomi Tabach, who grew up secular in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon, met Ravit during their accounting studies and followed her to Gaza.

By last Sunday, the Tabachs had moved into a mobile home in Nitzan, a temporary housing project off the highway leading from the Gaza Strip north to Tel Aviv. Nitzan was designed to absorb the bulk of those evacuated from Gush Katif.

With its rows of mobile homes planted on a huge plot, Nitzan looks a bit like one of the transit camps erected in the early days of Israel to absorb the massive flow of new immigrants. Unlike a transit camp, however, these mobile homes have parking spaces, air conditioning and a bit of space. Reflecting those amenities, they’re not called caravans, the Israeli term for mobile homes, but caravillas.

At the Tabachs’ new home, one enters a spacious kitchen with a small adjacent living room. A hallway leads to four comfortable bedrooms and two bathrooms. The windows, however, look directly into the rooms of the family next door.

Last Sunday, just before the formal evacuation began, Nitzan looked nearly deserted. Most of the expected evacuees hadn’t arrived yet, staying behind in Gush Katif for the final showdown with soldiers coming to evict them. The Tabachs were among the few families who already had settled in.

“On the face of it, everything is all right,” Shlomi Tabach said, “but our entire life is under a question mark. We don’t know how many of our friends will join us here. Ravit’s parents have moved to Ashdod, and we still don’t know whether our one-and-a-half-year-old, Nevo, will have a kindergarten to go to.”

It was getting darker, and Tabach turned on the sprinklers to water carpets of grass newly planted near the mobile home, a marked change from Gush Katif’s greenery.

“We are willing to give up many things, as long as we have peace and quiet,” Tabach said, “but it doesn’t look like we will. I know the Arabs, and I know that their only wish is to see us evaporate away,” and Israeli Prime Minister “Ariel Sharon helps them out. And for this, he will be doomed to eternal disgrace.”

The younger generation’s trauma, however, is marginal compared with that of their parents, the people who built Gush Katif a generation ago. Having finally settled down, with private homes, successful farms and the time to enjoy their children and grandchildren, they were forced to leave.

They find themselves in new neighborhoods, with an unhappy present and an uncertain future.

“The whole thing seems unreal to me. I don’t believe I’m here,” said Michaeli, Ravit Tabach’s mother, referring to Ashdod. “I feel that in just a little while I’ll go back to Gadid.”

But the life that the Michaelis enjoyed in Gadid is no more.

“I used to hand the keys of my $40,000 car to my Palestinian worker to go and have it washed. I trusted him completely,” said Yaffa Michaeli’s husband, Salim, 55. “It was a different world.”

Salim Michaeli spoke of Gadid as if he had just been exiled from the Garden of Eden, ignoring the frequent terrorist attacks that settlers endured during the five-year-old Palestinian intifada. Leaning back on the uncomfortable kitchen chair at his newly rented home in Ashdod, he stared at the world with weary eyes and sighed deeply.

“It was an empire,” he said. “We have left an empire behind.”

Their empire included a 2,500-square-foot, five-bedroom house on a half-acre plot; 15 acres of hothouses, where the Michaelis grew tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers; a 6,500-square-foot packing house; two trucks; a restaurant in the nearby settlement of Neveh Dekalim; and a crew of Palestinian labor.

Before the intifada began in September 2000, the Michaelis employed 33 Palestinians and 11 Thais. Even though that number had dwindled in the past five years, “when we handed out their last salaries on Friday, they cried,” Salim Michaeli said.

The Michaelis rented the house in Ashdod for $1,200 a month, not wanting to cram into one of the narrow caravillas in Nitzan. Their new residence lies on a narrow, crowded street, where a neighbor’s music can be heard blaring loudly throughout the area. Gone are the days of isolated homes near Gaza’s expansive sand dunes.

One of the Michaelis’ sons — Dudu, 22 — stayed behind in Gadid for the final confrontation with evacuating forces. Another son, Naor, 17, is staying with the Tabachs. Only Neriya, the Michaelis’ 8-year-old, is currently with them in Ashdod.

Yaffa Michaeli, who operated the family restaurant and catering services in Neveh Dekalim, is thinking of opening a restaurant in Ashdod or its vicinity, though there is a lot of competition. But her husband Salim is less optimistic.

“My entire life project is collapsing, and I only receive $400,000 in compensation,” he said. “I would need at least half of it to build a new home. And what about living expenses? Who will employ me at age 55?”

“We had an empire,” he said again. But the Gush Katif empire has fallen.

 

The Disengagement Summer


The column of armored SUVs waited, engines humming, as a phalanx of bodyguards ushered Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into the third truck from the end. As the convoy cleared the main gate of the Israeli government head’s residence, a set of decoy vehicles turned north, toward Jerusalem, while the remaining units proceeded south toward the Negev, where Sharon planned to tour absorption sites being built for hundreds of Israeli families soon to be evacuated from their Gaza Strip homes.

For Sharon, the site inspections this spring were a welcome excursion beyond his Jerusalem office compound or his Negev ranch. But for officers charged with protective security, the outing rivaled an elite combat operation.

Hours earlier, crack teams descended on each of the six kibbutzim and farming villages on the morning’s itinerary, creating “sterile” zones for Sharon to meet with prescreened residents and local leaders. At each stop, a bridgehead of agents cleared the way for the advancing prime minister while, 15,000 feet overhead, an unmanned reconnaissance drone scanned the scene with high-powered optics.

“We don’t spare any effort, money and tools in order to protect the prime minister from the growing threat,” Avi Dichter, the recently retired director of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, told JTA.

Dichter was talking less about Palestinian terrorists seeking to harm Sharon than about “Jewish ultra-extremists who are sure that one way to block the disengagement is by harming, if not killing, the prime minister,” he said, referring to the controversial plan to withdraw Israeli soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank that Sharon pushed through his government.

As the planned mid-August pullout approaches, many fear that protests against the Sharon government could give way to acts of violence. As ringleaders from the far right vow to thwart the withdrawal, security officials are increasingly warning of the prospect of Jewish terrorism.

According to Dichter, the Shin Bet has assessed a number of scenarios, including the prospect of a Jewish suicide bomber.

“We’re not ruling out a Jewish suicide bomber who might use ‘tamut nafshi pilishtim’ as his rationale,” Dichter said, referring to Samson’s words in the Bible as he brought down the Philistine temple around himself, “Let me die with the Philistines.”

The Knesset Finance Committee last month authorized a budgetary increase of nearly $90 million to cover extra costs associated with Sharon’s personal protection, which a committee aide estimated at some $230 million a year.

While many protective measures were mandated by a commission of inquiry following the 1995 assassination of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — and extended to a wider net of officials after Palestinian terrorists murdered Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze’evi in October 2001 — one recently retired Shin Bet official said the security around Sharon was unprecedented and was directly related to the Jewish terror threat.

“The tension here, the atmosphere here, seems like we’re on the eve of a civil war,” Sharon noted in an interview earlier this year on NBC television. “All my life I fought to defend Jews. Now, for the first time, I am taking steps to defend myself from Jews.”

Little more than a decade ago, Rabin used to walk the Tel Aviv streets to his Shabbat-morning tennis session. With his security detail trained to keep watch from a deferential distance, dog walkers and other early risers had no difficulty approaching Rabin in his tennis whites.

“Rabin rejected the notion that he could become a target for domestic violence,” said Oded Ben-Ami, who served as Rabin’s media adviser at the time.

Even as the atmosphere grew increasingly menacing, with political opponents and rabbinical authorities demanding Rabin’s removal for his “traitorous” dealings with the then PLO leader Yasser Arafat, his 1995 slaying by a religious university student stunned Israel and the world.

On that fateful night in November 1995, Israelis lost not only a leader but also their relatively free access to those in positions of power in the government.

In retrospect, said Hezi Kalo, a former Shin Bet official, the incitement against Rabin pales in comparison with the invective hurled at Sharon and supporters of the withdrawal plan, such as “Sharon: Lily is waiting for you,” a reference to the prime minister’s recently deceased wife.

“Today it’s much uglier. We haven’t learned our lesson,” Kalo said. “We’ve already seen how verbal violence can lead to murder.”

Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party legislator who chairs the Knesset Subcommittee on Defense Planning and Policy, is privy to what he said were ominous briefings by security officials concerning the Jewish terror threat.

“The potential for political assassination and civil war here are no longer just rhetorical,” he said. “The poisonous atmosphere is getting worse.”

“We’re hearing very disturbing reports about the theft and stockpiling of IDF weapons by a small minority of fanatics who could sweep up the entire Israeli society and the region into catastrophe,” he said.

Beyond political assassinations, catastrophic scenarios range from the indiscriminate killing of Jewish civilians to guerrilla-style warfare against military and police units charged with implementing the withdrawal. Details of one plan that could have resulted in scores of victims were revealed May 18 in an indictment brought against two brothers, residents of the West Bank settlements Yitzhar and Homesh.

According to charges brought in Tel Aviv District Court, the pair loaded two gasoline-doused vehicles with mattresses, tires and other flammable items and planned to set them ablaze at one of the most congested areas of Tel Aviv’s Ayalon freeway during the morning rush hour.

“The suspects practically and intentionally endangered the security and the lives of all drivers and citizens in the vicinity of the vehicles,” the charge sheet proclaimed. “All this was driven by the suspects’ opposition to the disengagement plan.”

Dichter said the early May plot easily could have become a double suicide attack.

“Certainly they would have been killed instantly,” he said of the two planners, “but the rest would have depended on who crashed into them — a passing bus filled with children? A fuel tanker? God only knows what could have happened there.”

Soldiers will not be precluded from defending themselves if settlers open fire during the withdrawal, said the IDF’s new chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who called on settlement movement leaders to rein in extremists and prevent events from spiraling out of control.

So, too, have dozens of rabbis who have banded together to criticize colleagues whose interpretations of Jewish religious law appear to sanction violence and insubordination in the army.

“We have a special responsibility to preserve pikuach nefesh,” or the sanctity of life, Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, the head of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, told JTA in July.

Leaders of the Yesha settler council have backed resistance to the withdrawal but stress that such resistance should be nonviolent.

Gilad and 80 other rabbis — many of them passionately opposed to the withdrawal plan — insist that civilians must not take the law into their own hands, nor should soldiers refuse orders from their commanders.

Kalo, now a research fellow at the Herzliyah-based Institute for Counter-Terrorism, stresses that most in the right-wing camp are patriotic citizens exercising their right to protest nonviolently against what they truly believe is a betrayal by Sharon and his government.

Nevertheless, Kalo estimates that there are dozens of hard-core opponents, many of them veterans of elite IDF fighting units, with the capability and intention of carrying out terrorist acts.

Meanwhile, Sharon and top brass from the IDF and police force are trying to boost the morale of soldiers who will have to confront any anti-withdrawal extremists. As the clock ticks down to the mid-August evacuation, senior officers sense that the esprit de corps is eroding, particularly among troops from nationalist communities where the anti-withdrawal slogan “A Jew does not expel a Jew” has deeper resonance.

In the past several weeks, nearly three-dozen soldiers have been disciplined, reassigned or arrested for refusing orders, a top Israeli general told JTA in late July.

In addition to the possibility of Jews attacking other Jews, security officials also are afraid of a Jewish extremist attack on the Temple Mount mosques in Jerusalem or other Islamic sites. Their vigilance led to the arrest in April of four suspects in two separate attack plots.

Those who hope for a peaceful outcome this summer often look back to the 1982 evacuation of Israeli settlements in the Sinai — part of Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt — when worst-case scenarios didn’t materialize.

“We were ready for the phenomenon of snipers,” recalled Oded Tyrah, a retired IDF brigadier general who managed the withdrawal operation in Sinai’s Yamit settlement. “We had a unit of Golani anti-terror forces ready to go, but we didn’t deploy them.”

As challenging and heart-rending as the Sinai evacuation was, security sources say it may seem like child’s play compared with the pullout from Gaza and the northern West Bank. This time around, they face a more emotional and committed group of resisters who have a much more spiritual, financial and cultural attachment to the place they’ve called home — some for more than 20 years.

Simha Weiss, 47, who has lived for 16 years in Shalev, a tiny settlement in southern Gaza, insists most longtime residents of the cluster of Jewish communities known as Gush Katif would never think of provoking violence against Israeli forces who come to evacuate them.

“These soldiers are like my own children,” she said. “I think I speak for most when I say we will never lift a hand against them, nor will they against us.”

Nevertheless, the mother of six said she fears events could lead to bloodshed.

“I’m afraid there will be very tough violence,” Weiss said. “It will be Jew against Jew.”

“More than 90 percent of the people in Gush Katif are very loving and law-abiding. We don’t want violence,” she said. “But the other small percentage, they are looking for trouble.”

There’s also concern about what will happen in the northern West Bank communities that also are scheduled for evacuation. Since Passover, 30 families and another 25 young men have moved to Sa-Nur to “assist us in our fight against the government’s expulsion plan,” the community spokeswoman Miriam Adler said.

Speaking to reporters in early July, ahead of the government’s closure of Gush Katif, Adler said thousands of people might flock to Sa-Nur to join what she predicted could evolve into armed resistance. And while security forces also are expected to cordon off Sa-Nur and the other three northern West Bank settlements slated for evacuation after Gaza, residents say it will be much more difficult to limit the influx of supporters due to the area’s hilly topography.

Adler said plans called for groups to hide in the hills, barricade themselves in structures and otherwise “drive the security forces crazy.”

“We won’t initiate any violence, but developments in the field will depend on the military,” she told visiting reporters. However, she warned, “If security forces will start to beat pregnant women or pull babies out of mothers’ arms, things may spiral out of control.”

Adler said residents have no intention of turning in their weapons to security forces, insisting that they need them for self-defense against “the enemy.”

Asked if she considers the IDF the enemy, she replied, “The IDF is our opponent, not our enemy. By Ariel Sharon sending the army in here against us as if we are terrorists, he is turning the army into our opponent.”

The IDF’s Tyrah said he’s tired of the doomsday scenarios about withdrawal, which lend what he considers unwarranted credibility to “marginal criminals and hooligans.”

“After the evacuation,” Tyrah said, “we’ll have to live with these people and fight alongside them against the real enemy. So it’s imperative that our government and our security establishment accomplish this mission with utmost determination and professionalism, but also with compassion.”

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Disengagement Now — No Way to Peace


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for an Israeli pullout from Gaza and a few more settlements in the Shomron has found extensive initial approval among Jews in the Diaspora.

At first glance, this is understandable. The absence of a credible Palestinian negotiating partner, combined with Israel’s vigorous desire to create a more peaceful atmosphere in the Middle East, has made a partial segregation from the Palestinian Arabs appear to be a step in the right direction.

But before we leap, let’s look. Let’s pay attention to the serious voices of dissent.

Avi Dichter, outgoing head of Israeli intelligence, declared a few months ago, in front of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, that the evacuation of the northern Shomron (Samaria) would reproduce at Israel’s southern border the dilemma of constant mortar shelling that used to afflict the northern border. It required the intervention of Israeli ground forces to stop cross-border shelling from Lebanon.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Schlomo Ben Ami, a member of the Labor Party, as well as Shabtai Shavit, former head of intelligence, stated in near unison that the unilateral abandonment of the Gaza Strip under prevailing conditions would destabilize the region.

“The plan does not create the necessary minimum of balance that would enable long-term co-existence,” Shavit said.

Many in Israel and abroad see Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, as representing a basic change in the strategic goals of the Palestinians. However, his past as a close confidant of the late Yasser Arafat and his alarmingly militant statements about the future status of Jerusalem and the “right of return” raise doubts.

“Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] is not Arafat,” Zalman Shoval, Israel’s previous ambassador in Washington, stated last month. “But his objectives — not only according to intelligence assessments, but according to his own statements, as well — are no different from those of this predecessor.”

The Gaza pullout offers an appropriate opportunity to verify Abbas’ support for peace, and to test his influence for pursuing peace within the Palestinian Authority. This giant endeavor — the compulsory evacuation of some 10,000 Israeli citizens — could be set up in complete coordination with the Palestinian authorities. Lacking such agreement, the disengagement may cause devastating aftermaths:

In the absence of clear-cut accords with Abbas, the security situation in Israel could decisively degrade. Outgoing Chief of General Staff Moshe Yaalon said recently that in addition to Sderot, many other places are likely to be surprised with missiles from the Gaza Strip.

Terrorist groups would proclaim Israel’s unilateral step as their own victory, and this would likely aggravate future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. As former General Security Chief Ami Ayalon stated: “Retreat without getting anything in return is liable to be interpreted by some as surrender, and likely to strengthen extremist forces.”

The political situation could become much more complicated, and the pressure on Israel to continue making unilateral steps could also, according to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, be enormously intensified. The pullout from Gaza now is considered as a step within the “road map” (peace plan) and no longer as a unilateral act in the absence of a Palestinian interlocutor. After the withdrawal, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States will probably force Israel to make additional, far-reaching concessions.

The inner discord in Israel could become huge and almost unbridgeable, especially as Israelis are getting nothing from Palestinians in return. We should not forget that the large majority of Israelis who supported Sharon and Likud voted for a party that was strictly against any unilateral abandonment of territories — which is exactly the policy Sharon advocates now. He defied the will of his party that opposed the Gaza pullout, and refused to conduct a referendum — even though the Israelis of Gaza asserted that they would have accepted the results of a referendum.

The Jewish ethos would be strongly tarnished. Dozens of synagogues and Torah centers, built with the full backing of the Israeli government, are slated to be violently destroyed by the IDF. The pictures of these holy houses, destroyed by Jews themselves, will be satellite-transmitted all over the world.

What a terrible negative impression such devastating pictures would leave with all viewers, Jews and non-Jews alike. It is and remains incomprehensible that such a traumatic action should happen without a binding accord with the Palestinians.

Finally, the Zionist ethos would be substantially enfeebled by a unilateral pullout. A impressive settlement in the desert, explicitly subsidized by the government, in which barren land was made miraculously fertile in the Zionist pioneering spirit, is on the verge of being devastated by Israel itself. A large swath of land that had been settled by Jews in the days before the 1948 War of Independence now shall become “free of Jews,” without any quid pro quo. By contrast, an orderly turnover of the Gaza Strip would allow many practical problems to be solved, such as the fate of the Israeli houses, farms and orchards in the Gaza Strip. On the condition that the Palestinians deliver real tradeoffs, the disengagement could become a meaningful step toward co-existence between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

A relinquishing of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians is not to be rejected principally. An abandonment of the Gaza Strip — if done in the scope of a bilateral peace process involving Abbas — would certainly weaken the strong opposition against disengagement. The settlers’ great sacrifice then would make more sense.

However, one-sided concessions are dangerously counterproductive. In this, former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky stands by his political credo consistently, unflinchingly. Sharansky’s thesis is that democracies do not war with each other, and that a peace with the Palestinians, therefore, can only be achieved in partnership with a democratic Palestinian authority. According to him, Israel gives up far too much when it pulls out from Gaza before the Palestinian government has fulfilled its promises for democratization and other reforms, which must include forswearing all future terrorism.

It is not surprising that the backing for Sharon’s disengagement program has fluctuated greatly, dipping below 50 percent at times.

People fail to understand why Israel does not require from the new Palestinian leader a meaningful bilateral negotiations for peace, especially as Israel prepares to do something so remarkable and unprecedented for the sake of peace.

Arthur Cohn is the Academy Award-winning producer of numerous films, including “The Garden of Finzi-Continis” and “One Day in September.” He lives in Basel, Switzerland.

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Israel Foresees Pullout Headaches


 

On the face of it, nothing illustrates Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s political odyssey from settlement builder to settlement dismantler better than a recently published report on West Bank outposts.

The report details how government ministers and officials broke the law and circumvented regulations in building and funding dozens of unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank.

Sharon, once one of the greatest culprits, was the man who, in his new incarnation, commissioned what he knew would be a scathing indictment.

But it’s not that simple. Sharon commissioned the report under intense American pressure to take down the outposts. And so far, despite the report’s findings and recommendations, the Americans are not convinced he intends to act.

The response to the report highlighted another key issue. It shows just how difficult it will be to implement Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza and the northern part of the West Bank.

Israeli officials are expecting such massive resistance to the disengagement that they have developed a detailed plan of operation to carry it out.

After adopting the report’s findings, the government deferred dismantling the 24 outposts it had long promised the Americans to remove. That led some politicians and pundits to ask how, if it backs away from taking down tiny outposts, the government will dismantle 25 full-fledged settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank when the time comes this summer?

Sharon commissioned the report to demonstrate good faith and carry out commitments he made to the Bush administration last April. After promising the Americans to dismantle unauthorized outposts built since March 2001, he found he did not know the genesis and precise legal status of each one. Similarly, under pressure not to expand full-fledged, authorized settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he found he lacked accurate information on their precise borders.

So he set up two teams: One, under lawyer Talia Sasson, was to clarify the legal status and history of the unauthorized outposts. The other, under reserve Brig. Gen. Baruch Spiegel, was to demarcate the physical boundaries of all existing settlements.

But the Americans remain unimpressed.

American officials note that although Sharon had shown good faith, they still do not have a list of unauthorized settlements or a timetable for their evacuation. Nor has Spiegel yet produced the required border documentation.

The report by former chief prosecutor Sasson, released last week, charged that ministers and senior aides, some of them settlers, had systematically turned a blind eye to the law.

It also charged that budgets were funneled clandestinely through the Housing Ministry, that building permission was covertly granted by the Defense Ministry. There was a system of saying one thing in public and doing the opposite behind the scenes and Likud and Labor administrations were equally at fault.

“The picture that is revealed is one of crass violation of the law by state institutions, public authorities, regional councils in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and settlers, all by creating the false impression of an organized system operating according to law,” Sasson wrote.

The most important thing now, she said, was to regulate the procedures and stop the double talk.

In response, the government set up a committee under Justice Minister Tzippi Livni to root out the covert practices by laying down clear regulations for authorizing and financing outposts and initiating new legislation if necessary.

At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Sharon was adamant about the need to dismantle the 24 outposts established since March 2001. That was an Israeli commitment in the internationally approved Israeli-Palestinian peace “road map,” he explained. But he did not propose any timetable.

That brought deep differences between Likud and Labor ministers to the fore. The Labor ministers wanted to see immediate action; the Likud ministers favored waiting.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz of the Likud argued that disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank was Israel’s top policy priority, and the government could not afford to be sidetracked by other issues.

But Labor’s Haim Ramon countered that to do nothing now would be to show weakness and send a message to the extremists that they could stop the disengagement by using threats and force.

Rejecting the Labor argument, the government decided to concentrate only on implementing disengagement.

To that end, 18,000 police officers — three-quarters of the entire Israeli police force — and two army divisions have been assigned to the job, and already they are gearing up to meet a wide range of settler and extremist threats.

Only when this huge operation is complete, Sharon and Mofaz say, will they focus on the outposts that the Sasson report, American pressure and Israel’s road map commitments demand they take down.

Whether the United States and the rest of the international community have the patience to go along with this policy remains to be seen.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report

 

Debate Rages on Gaza Pullout, Army


 

As the scheduled start of Israel’s Gaza withdrawal approaches, settler leaders are raising the specter of mass refusal by religious soldiers to carry out orders, and are warning of disastrous consequences for the Israeli army and society as a whole.

But high-ranking Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers said settler leaders are exaggerating in an attempt to scare the government and to encourage soldiers to refuse to evacuate settlers from their homes.

On Monday, the anticipated evacuation drama was played out in microcosm as soldiers and police dismantled the two mobile homes that made up the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Shalhevet Yitzhar. There were scenes of violent settler resistance, a call by a soldier to disobey orders and wide-scale arrests.

The refusal controversy has sparked a national debate, at the heart of which is the issue of state sovereignty vs. rabbinical authority. The debate raises worrying questions: If there is widespread civil disobedience and refusal to carry out army orders, will Israeli society be dangerously divided? Could such a rift scuttle the withdrawal plan?

There have been cases of left-wingers advocating refusal to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or to carry out missions in populated areas, but those calls for disobedience never approached critical mass. On Sunday, however, settler leaders called a meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon to warn of an impending crisis.

The settler leaders said that they are against soldiers refusing to obey orders. However, after rulings by settler rabbis excoriating Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal plan and expressly forbidding soldiers to participate, thousands of religious soldiers probably would choose to obey their rabbis rather than their army commanders.

“The writing is on the wall,” one settler leader was quoted as saying. “The rabbis have spoken, and there is nothing we can do about it.”

They said Sharon has only himself to blame for the situation, because he failed to build a wide national consensus for his plan. The fact that his policy lacks legitimacy in settler eyes only encourages refusal, and they want the army to help stop the erosion, the settler leaders said.

Sharon, for his part, warned Israeli settlers not to attack troops who evacuate them.

“Do not dare raise a hand against soldiers,” Sharon said Wednesday during a visit to a West Bank army base. “If you want to lay into someone, lay into me. Lay off the Israel Defense Forces.”

It wasn’t clear just what the settler leaders expected the army to do. In an earlier meeting with the IDF high command, Ya’alon made it plain that the army takes the refusal threat very seriously, but has no intention of buckling in the face of pressure.

On the contrary, Ya’alon said the army’s main challenge for 2005 is to make sure that the withdrawal plan is carried out to the letter.

“As tough as it might be, we will have to be very firm, because failure to implement the decisions of the political echelon will put us as a nation and a society at risk,” Ya’alon said.

Top IDF field commanders say they have encountered little evidence of impending mass refusal. Nevertheless, the army is calling for help from Israeli politicians. The generals say it’s up to the political echelon to set the tone and create the conditions for tough action against settlers and soldiers who refuse orders.

Sharon got a boost Wednesday when the religious United Torah Judaism party agreed to join his new coalition, clearing the way for a broad national unity government and seemingly preventing new elections. The party, which seeks to sustain state subsidies for religious causes, said it would join forces with Sharon despite objections to his withdrawal plan.

An inkling of what may lie ahead came Monday at Shalhevet Yitzhar. Even that small outpost proved a handful to dismantle, and it went down only after an angry, three-hour skirmish.

Moreover, though one soldier did call on the others to disobey orders, there was no mass refusal at Shalhevet Yitzhar. How will the army and police cope when large, bona fide settlements are uprooted — and if significant numbers of soldiers refuse to take part?

In the public debate, most speakers have come out strongly against refusal to obey orders. Some of the most outspoken critics are from the same national religious camp as the potential dissenters.

National religious Jews, who make up most of the settler population, serve in the army and take strong right-wing positions, face the most acute dilemma: On the one hand, they see settling the Land of Israel as a necessary step toward the coming of the Messiah, and they accept rabbinical rulings; on the other, they’re loyal to the State of Israel and its institutions.

While the settlers tend to emphasize the primacy of rabbinical injunctions, other movement leaders and intellectuals elevate the authority of the state. For example, ex-Gen. Yaacov Amidror, the first religious Jew to serve on the IDF general staff and one of the national religious movement’s most articulate spokesmen against disengagement, makes a clear distinction between refusal by men in uniform — which he says is always illegitimate — and civil disobedience, which he condones.

In a democracy, Amidror said, it’s totally unacceptable for army personnel to refuse to do the bidding of the government, to which they and the army are subordinate. Mass refusal, Amidror said, will pose a greater threat to the state than withdrawal — which, he believes, is a huge strategic blunder.

Similarly, Moshe Kaveh, president of Bar Ilan University, where the faculty and student body is made up mostly of national religious Jews, maintains that most of the religious Zionist movement is against refusal, and he urges the camp’s leaders and rabbis to speak out strongly.

“All those who are against must speak out so that history will not judge them for remaining silent at such a crucial time for the state they helped to build,” he declared in an Israel Radio interview.

Writing in the newspaper, Ma’ariv, journalist Bambi Sheleg, also a member of the national religious camp, came out strongly against the way many religious Jews subordinate their own judgment to that of the rabbis.

“Under the cloak of ‘Torah ruling,’ the smartest people suppress their independent views and their capacity to interpret reality as they see it,” she wrote. “To be an observant Jew, you don’t need a rabbi to think for you. A rabbi can decide on matters of kashrut, Shabbat and excommunication; he cannot decide for us on questions of life and death, especially when they are national questions.”

In Yediot Achronot, political scientist Shlomo Avineri developed the same argument. A secular, left-wing Jew, Avineri maintained that rabbis should not have any special say in matters of state, because the Jewish religious law they rely on was developed for the Diaspora, not for conditions of national sovereignty.

“In matters of state, the halacha [Jewish law] has nothing to say, because it was developed — and that’s its power and glory — at a time when the Israeli people did not have a state of their own,” he wrote.

Criticism from the left reflected public impatience with the settlers. Labor Party legislator Ophir Pines-Paz accused settler leaders of hypocrisy for claiming to be against refusal but doing little to discourage it.

In fact, more and more pundits are calling on the government to set a final withdrawal date. After that, they say, settlers who decide to stay in their homes will have to fend for themselves, without IDF protection or government responsibility for their fate.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

 

Rabbi Consoles Hurricane Survivors


Rabbi Isaac Jeret, president of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute (BBI), and members of Adat Israel in Naples, Fla. headed out to a Naples beach to observe Tashlich on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Everyone stared in shock before the service began.

The beach was gone.

"This was a community that spent millions of dollars repumping the beaches with sand, and there was none," said Jeret, who led High Holiday services at Adat Israel. "There were a lot of people in tears at the beach. It was the first time they had seen the erosion."

The beach was one of the many casualties of this hurricane season, which, according to the Miami Herald, is the worst the state has experienced since 1886. The triple-threat of hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan walloped Florida within a five-week period, leaving 65 people dead and doing billions of dollars in damage to homes and buildings. Entire communities were bereft of citizens as millions evacuated their homes to escape the storms.

For the Jewish community, Ivan meant shuttered synagogues on Rosh Hashanah. Many of the synagogues in Ivan’s path in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the Florida panhandle canceled their Rosh Hashanah services altogether. Those that stayed open had significantly smaller turnouts than in years past, and some were without electricity.

In Naples, Adat Israel, an unaffiliated Conservative synagogue, considered canceling its services because so many of their congregants evacuated the city. Naples was directly in Charley’s path, but it escaped being hit. And although it was not directly in the path of Ivan or Frances, cities like Port Charlotte only 70 miles north, were hit hard, and many Naples residents boarded up their houses and fled.

Adat Israel decided to stay open, and bring Jeret from California to lead the services. Prior to taking the job with BBI, Jeret was a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, a synagogue in Palm Beach, and he helped the Naples community build their synagogue.

"We felt that even if there was a small group of people here who wanted or needed [Rosh Hashanah services], we needed to provide them," said Sheri Samotin, the synagogue’s president.

Adat Israel attracted about 60 people.

"We are used to approaching the High Holidays with a sense of concern. This community approached the High Holidays for refuge," Jeret said. "The mood I encountered [in the synagogue] was one of spiritual exhaustion, the likes of which I had never seen."

Instead of giving a traditional sermon, Jeret opened up the floor to the congregants to talk about what they had been through with the hurricanes. He did this, he said "under the dark cloud of tropical storm Jeanne," which has now killed nearly 700 people in Haiti.

"They needed to talk," Jeret said. "They were entering the High Holidays with real fear for the existence of the community, fear for their homes and their lives. One of the kids said to me that it was extremely hard for her to go to sleep for the past week, and her parents were standing next to her, and they said it was hard for them, too. The fear of anticipation was far worse than the actual event."

"The discussions lasted about one hour each, and I usually don’t give sermons for longer than 12 minutes," he said.

By the second day, Jeret said the conversation shifted to strengthening the Jewish community and the Jewish experience in Naples.

Jeret said that many of the buildings in Naples were relatively new and able to withstand the fierce winds and the rain, but all over the city he saw palm trees with their tops snapped off and other landscape damage.

He will return to Naples this week to lead Yom Kippur services at Adat Israel.

"What I really learned from the congregation was the sense of the resilience of humanity," Jeret said.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.

Groundwork Laid to Evacuate Gaza


Despite political hurdles, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forging ahead with his Gaza disengagement plan, giving various government agencies the green light to prepare for the evacuation of settlers — using both carrots and sticks.

Even as Israeli police begin laying the groundwork for evacuating Gaza, an interministerial team of some 70 officials is working out details of a bill to compensate evacuees in hopes that the prospect of money and alternate housing will help avert a violent confrontation between settlers and police.

Despite police objections — "no budget, no manpower" — the Cabinet decided that Israeli police would perform the actual evacuation.

Tzachi Hanegbi, who recently resigned as minister of internal security, wanted the army to do the job, as it did in the evacuation of Yamit in northern Sinai 22 years ago. But most ministers preferred to spare young soldiers the experience of a potentially violent confrontation with Jewish citizens.

So police have begun making necessary preparations. Step one: allocating the funds.

Not only will the government need to pay generous compensation to evacuated settlers — about $400 million — the actual process of evacuation will require substantial funds. Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi met Sept. 5 with senior officers to assess the costs involved.

The cost of the evacuation will depend on the scope of resistance, both in Gaza and in Israel proper. No one knows for sure how many people will actively resist the evacuation, or over what period of time. Therefore it’s not only a matter of budget but of recruiting the necessary manpower.

It’s assumed that large police forces will be kept busy not only in the Gaza Strip but also within Israel, dealing with demonstrations against the disengagement.

Police were planning to set up an "evacuation administration" comprising two arms, one responsible for planning the evacuation and the other for carrying it out. The Border Police, which usually is deployed in the territories to deal with the Palestinian population, has been selected to evacuate the settlers.

The Border Police plans to reinforce its 12 companies with an additional 20 reserve companies, which will free up regular forces to cope with the evacuation.

Sharon hopes to create sufficient motivation among settlers to evacuate their homes willingly in exchange for generous compensation packages, avoiding violent confrontations like those in Yamit.

An interministerial team is working out details of the compensation bill. The general idea is to offer settlers a house in exchange for a house; they also will be given the option of relocating en masse to communities in Israel.

Government assessors were instructed to appraise the houses according to equivalents in regions that are better off than development towns, but not as upscale as Tel Aviv.

The evacuation administration already has proposed advance payments that would be deducted from final compensations, but advances can’t be handed out until the complicated legal procedure behind them is finalized.

The government will commit itself to paying out the full value of compensation packages even if the disengagement plan eventually collapses. Settlers also will receive special compensation worth six months’ salary to find alternative employment.

Eran Sternberg, spokesman for the Gush Katif settlement bloc, insisted in an interview with JTA that only a handful of families have expressed interest in entering negotiations on compensation.

"We regard this entire talk on compensations as psychological warfare," Sternberg said. "Sharon in his desperation shoots in all directions."

The overarching imperative in preparing for the evacuation is to avoid civil war. Policemen in the evacuation task force will undergo special psychological seminars, preparing them for confrontation with their "brothers."

When will all this take place? Sharon recently told his Likud Party’s Knesset faction that he did not intend to "drag out the disengagement plan over a long period of time."

He has presented the following timetable for the disengagement:

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• By Sept. 14, the prime minister will present the Cabinet a blueprint for evacuation and compensation of the settlers.

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• By Sept. 26, a draft disengagement bill will be presented to the Cabinet.

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• By Oct. 24, the financial compensation bill will be brought to the Cabinet.

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• On Nov. 3, the compensation bill — "The Law for Implementing the Disengagement Plan" — will be brought to the Knesset.

It’s assumed that the actual evacuation would take place no later than February 2005.

After Likud voters rejected Sharon’s disengagement plan in a May 2 party referendum, and following the impressive human chain protest of some 130,000 people in late July, settlers now are planning additional anti-disengagement campaigns, including an upcoming massive protest in downtown Jerusalem.

"Over 3,000 children and youths began the school year this week at our schools," Sternberg said. "I’m sure we will all be there to open the next school year."

Reactions Mixed to Gaza Pullout Plan


Ten years ago, if the Palestinians had been told that Ariel Sharon, father of the Israeli settlement movement, would be offering a near-complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, most probably would have rejoiced at the prospect.

However, when the Israeli prime minister dropped that political bombshell last week by signaling that he intended to uproot almost every Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip — something the Arabs have demanded for years — Palestinians greeted the announcement with a mixture of caution and skepticism.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei welcomed the idea, saying, "In our view, every evacuation of a settlement is welcome."

His boss, PA President Yasser Arafat, condemned the move. "A unilateral withdrawal in Gaza contradicts the ‘road map,’" Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, referring to an internationally backed peace plan. "It will not bring forward a solution but will rather complicate the situation."

If the offer by an Israeli prime minister to cede Gaza unilaterally — with no corresponding Palestinian concessions — does not please them, then what exactly do the Palestinians want?

"The conflicting reactions are not surprising," said Palestinian intellectual Hanan Ashrawi, a former PA minister and peace negotiator. "They are both right."

Qurei welcomes the principle of a cost-free Israeli withdrawal, while Arafat is wary of a trap, Ashrawi said.

"We have seen all sorts of trial balloons before," she said. "Whenever Sharon is in trouble, he launches something, but there is nothing particular on the ground. He sold the same goods several times in the past. I will believe it when I see it."

Many Palestinians suspect that even if Sharon is serious about leaving Gaza, he will try to balance that concession by strengthening Israel’s hold on the West Bank. It often is easier for the Palestinians to reject Israeli initiatives than to welcome them.

Arafat has a history of rejecting generous Israeli offers, most notably at the Camp David summit in July 2000. Arafat often uses rejection as a negotiating tactic, later returning to the spurned offer as the starting point for further demands.

The Palestinian reaction also harkens to Israel’s experience in Lebanon, where after demanding for years that Israel withdraw forthwith from its southern Lebanese security zone, Lebanon and its patron, Syria, howled in protest when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced his intention to withdraw.

But there is more to the Palestinian reaction than simple distrust of Sharon. The reaction reflects the political vacuum in the Palestinian-populated territories. In the absence of a real, effective landlord, Palestinians fear that Israel’s departure could worsen the mess in Gaza.

"The question is who will take over?" Ashrawi said. "I am afraid there is going to be chaos."

Some Palestinians fear that if Israel quits Gaza, Hamas will take over and challenge the hegemony of Arafat and his Fatah movement in the Palestinian territories. Additionally, unilateral Israeli steps render Arafat and his Palestinian Authority virtually irrelevant, further weakening the Palestinian Authority’s hand.

There still is a chance that Sharon’s initiative may reignite peace negotiations. After the interview with the Ha’aretz newspaper in which Sharon publicized his Gaza initiative, Qurei contacted key figures in the Gaza Strip to ask for a report on the possible impact of an Israeli withdrawal.

At the same time, Qurei renewed contacts with Israelis trying to facilitate a long-delayed meeting with Sharon. Qurei has canceled meetings with Sharon on numerous occasions, demanding that Sharon first agree to freeze construction of Israel’s West Bank security barrier, among other concessions.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, who heads the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, said Sharon’s Gaza initiative is part of decades-long effort "to partition Palestine."

"This is yet a new Israeli chapter trying to lock the Palestinians into small pieces of land," he said.

Hisham Awartani, an economist and formerly a senior lecturer at Najah University in Nablus, said that not only does he distrust Sharon, but he doesn’t believe the separation idea can work.

"I don’t think a total separation is feasible," he said, explaining that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are simply too interdependent to be separated.

So what will happen to the Palestinians if Israel withdraws from Gaza?

Hadi suggested three scenarios:

  • The Palestinians will fight Israel’s unilateral withdrawal with an international campaign "very much like the initiative to take the security fence to the International Court of Justice."
  • The Islamists will take the upper hand in Gaza.
  • The Palestinians will look for support to their one-time patron, Jordan.

Ashrawi said the first scenario is the most likely — at least until the post-Sharon era. Israel must talk with the Palestinians, not take unilateral moves, Ashrawi said.

"Sharon will need to talk to Arafat," she said. "Only Arafat can deliver."

On Sept. 11, Two Brothers Unite


Although I was there, I can’t tell you much about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that you don’t already know. After all, you had CNN; I only had my two eyes and the prescription lenses I thankfully remembered to grab as I fled the apartment. Yes, I watched from a few blocks away as the towers fell, but without the benefit of a zoom lens or slow motion video (thank God for that — there was nothing that I saw I wished to see again or in greater detail).

Indeed, the overwhelming personal tragedies and the incredible acts of heroism have been recorded and retold. I cannot add to them. But I can tell you one story, a small one, about two brothers from Long Beach who found themselves that morning on opposite sides of a river.

A decade ago, my wife, Jackie, and I returned to Southern California from New York City, where we had lived for five years. I continued to make frequent business trips there. On the bright, clear morning of Sept. 11, I lazed sleepily in the apartment my company keeps in lower Manhattan .

I was alone. My brother, with whom I share the place when I come to New York, had an early plane to catch, and had left a couple of hours earlier. As I debated whether or not to get up and shower, he was sitting in the terminal at Newark Airport waiting for his Atlanta flight to be called. At the next gate, passengers lined up to board United Flight 93, bound for San Francisco. Randall casually watched them embark; he would be one of the last to see them alive.

Within minutes of the first attack, my building was evacuated. I stood in the park, 37 floors below my apartment window, with my eyes squinting against the sunlight, my heart racing, my mind recoiling, rejecting the evidence of my senses.

As the first tower fell, I was speaking with Jackie on my cell phone, reassuring her that I was alright, although she surely knew otherwise from the sound of my voice. I stood, a couple of hundred yards from the billowing smoke, trembling and terrorized. Randall watched helplessly from the airport, from which the towers were — had been — clearly visible.

Stunned, I began wandering the city, dazed and aimless. Randall, however, had the opposite reaction: he was galvanized, committed and determined to find a way back into Manhattan. His goal was to reach me and make sure I was OK.

Like me, Randall grew up in Long Beach, attended Jewish day school and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Shalom. Unlike me, though, he never left the neighborhood until the day I asked him to come work with me. Within a couple of weeks, he was setting up an apartment on Manhattan’s Chambers Street, learning the subway system and discovering ways to have videos and snack food delivered on demand via the Internet. By Sept. 11, my brother had been working with me for three years, spending about one week a month in Southern California and the rest of the time in New York City.

And so it was that morning, as about 8 million people worked desperately to leave Manhattan as quickly as possible, Randall focused his considerable ingenuity and sales ability on doing just the opposite.

The obstacles to reaching this goal were fairly considerable. Of course, all of the usual routes into Manhattan — subways, ferries and bridges — were closed. River traffic was warned away from the city’s many docks.

Randall, through a combination of persuasion, bribery and alert observation, finally reached Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Like our great-grandparents over a century earlier, he arrived on the island without a dime in his pocket. He set out on foot for SoHo, about 3 miles away, where he found me a couple hours later.

I was shaken, but fine. He was exhausted, but fine. I was relieved to have him with me. We spent the rest of the week together before finally coming home. Our flight was on Rosh Hashana; as Randall said at the time, "It’s not a problem. God is on vacation this week."

Soon it will be Rosh Hashana again. The High Holiday prayerbook, the Machzor, includes the words "These things I will remember." I carry hundreds of memories of Sept. 11, 2001, many of them terrifying that I would gladly be rid of. But I will also remember that somebody crossed a blockaded river and walked half the length of a city just to look in my eyes, to be reassured that I was OK.

Thanks, Randall.

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