After the fog of war: An early assessment of the Israel-Gaza conflict

It is far too early to assess the impact of the latest war in Gaza, but still some preliminary thoughts are in order:

Anti-Semitism panic

Judging by what I have been reading in the press blogs and emails, it seems as if many Jews are in a panic about the rise in anti-Semitism. Once again, people are asking: Is this 1939? 1933? Even as distinguished a student of anti-Semitism as my revered colleague professor Deborah Lipstadt is quoted as saying that this may be 1934.

Permit me to dissent. 

Nothing fundamental has changed nothing.

In the United States, Judaism remains the most admired of America’s religions, and Jews are accepted, respected and empowered. The war in Gaza did not cause a spike in energy prices, as we experienced during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 or the oil crisis of 1979, or a drop in the stock market. It did not threaten global conflict, as in 1973. So no instability was introduced into the American economy or society. Political support for Israel has been strong, and while there are generational divides in such support, none of it translates into a reason to fear a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism. Support for Israel will be an issue on campuses this fall, and the divide between the human-rights community and the supporters of Israel will endure.

In Europe, the problem remains threefold: 

There is anti-Semitism “in Europe” but not necessarily “of Europe,” meaning that if the people living in Europe adopt European values, including pluralism and tolerance, then whatever their opinion about Israel’s practices in Gaza, they have no particular problems with their Jewish neighbors. 

However, a significant segment of Muslim populations living in European countries dwell in these countries — some for generations — without acculturating to European values. They live “in Europe,” but they are not “of Europe.” These non-European Muslim minorities respond to events in the Middle East — as they did at the beginning of the Second Intifada, the Passover attacks and the second Lebanon War  — with an outbreak of violence against Jews. 

Two factors are different this time: The governments of Europe have condemned, often in very strong terms, anti-Semitism within their own countries, and they have generally been far more supportive of Israel than in previous conflicts, thus depriving their local residents of the oxygen required to move opposition to Israel into license to attack local Jews.

What has not changed is that opposition to Israel on the left has given an intellectual “moral” veneer to primitive hatred. These Muslim inhabitants of European countries are not being assimilated into the lands in which they dwell; thus, their presence and their responsiveness to events elsewhere will persist. The problem will not go away, yet it is much larger than the Jewish question alone.

Fortunately, Muslim immigrants cannot find common cause with the other anti-Semitic elements in Europe — the far right — because the far right is deeply anti-immigrant. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen has muted her father’s anti-Semitism in order to strengthen her position with the voters. (Some might see this as analogous to the moves of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), though one must not equate former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) with Jean-Marie Le Pen.)

Parenthetically, this European problem should serve to warn against American proposals for a guest worker program or permanent residence permits for immigrants to America without a path to citizenship that would retain an ongoing non-Americanizing immigrant presence in the United States.

Such a policy is bad for America and even worse for the Jewish community.

Assessing the current situation is neither an excuse for complacency nor a reason not to condemn the expressions of anti-Semitism vehemently. One of the most significant dangers we face is the routinization of such anti-Semitism and the failure to disqualify the anti-Semites and their supporters from participating in the mainstream of European — or American — culture. Politicians must have the integrity to condemn anti-Semitism despite the growing presence of its supporters.

Problem for the right wing, the left wing, no return to status quo ante

The war has created a problem for Israel’s right wing as it demonstrated what security leaders of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Mossad and the Shin Bet — past and present — have long argued: There is no military solution to the conflict, at least not one that is compatible with Israeli values or with Israel’s willingness to sacrifice its young to reoccupy Gaza and thus more completely dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas. 

This summer, Israel faced almost optimal conditions for a maximalist solution, if it was willing to pay the price. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority would not have been unhappy to see Hamas thoroughly defeated. The United States and the European countries recognized Israel’s right to self-defense, and world attention was focused on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, the rapid gains of ISIS and President Barack Obama’s decision to defend the Kurds. Gaza was a second-tier story for much of the past month, and Hamas was as isolated as it has ever been, as it is discovering in cease-fire negotiations. Even then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his even more hawkish Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon refused to move the IDF back into Gaza, unwilling to sacrifice IDF soldiers.

The war also demonstrated that the status quo, even the status quo ante, is untenable and thus may call into question some of the political judgments preceding the war, including the severity of Israel’s reaction to the unity government of Fatah and Hamas, its judgment of Mahmoud Abbas, and its lack of imagination and boldness in pursuing negotiations with him.

The confluence of interests among Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel should be tested as to whether it can yield political results.

The left wing also should take no solace from recent events as the furies of hatred against Israel and the Jews are intense, persistent and unyielding. 

The perceived rise in anti-Semitism comes as a shock to Zionists who believed that the foundation of an independent Jewish state would extinguish the flames of Jew hatred. For more than 40 years, we have seen that Israel can also fuel the flames of anti-Semitism.

Ironically, some French Jews are fleeing violence at home to face enemy rockets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Perhaps Diaspora Jews need another type of Iron Dome.


I have joined with other scholars of Holocaust and genocide studies to condemn the statements equating Israel’s actions in Gaza with genocide. On July 9, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech in Ramallah, accused Israel of “committing genocide.” On Aug. 1, on Al Jazeera’s English-language TV broadcast, Fatah foreign affairs spokesman Nabil Sha’ath described the situation in Gaza as “a Holocaust.” Also on Aug. 1, Turkey’s prime minister— now president-elect — Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “Hitler-like fascism.”

These comparisons are odious, especially so since Israel has the power to commit genocide and even the provocation to do so, but however overwhelming the destruction in Gaza, Israel’s response has been measured. Its use of power has been both restrained and horrendous.

Erdogan, who has amassed significant power within Turkey and who aspires to play a larger role on the world stage, must be led to understand that such outrageous thinking will marginalize him and the country he leads. His isolation from the cease-fire talks was not only warranted but required as a result of his utterances.

One may not condemn others without challenging our own.

I must also condemn not only the blog post offering a justification for genocide and the rabbi willing to justify the annihilation of Palestinians in Gaza, but also the proposals of the deputy speaker of the Knesset for advocating ethnic cleansing in Gaza. 

We Jews have been victims of ethnic cleansing many times in our history. We have been instrumental in outlawing ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of the Shoah, and we must retain our opposition, especially when we have the power to impose such a solution.

Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at

Blaming Birthright for a Gaza death

Is Birthright Israel to blame for the death of Max Steinberg, one of two American Israeli soldiers killed in the war in Gaza?

That’s the assertion of Allison Benedikt, a senior editor at Slate, who first provoked Israel supporters in 2011 with an angry and rambling essay about how after her nefarious Zionist youth group (she doesn’t name it, but it’s Young Judaea) brainwashed her into liking Israel, she eventually learned better.

In Benedikt’s latest piece, she asserts that Steinberg’s decision to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces “seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission” and asks in the story’s teaser “what makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew decide he is ready to die for Israel?” Not surprisingly, it has quickly sparked over 300 online comments. Meanwhile, the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur has published a heated, point-by-point response.

Benedikt’s article isn’t the only Israel-Gaza conflict-fueled attack on Birthright. A darkly satirical Tumblr feed, “My Birthright Summer in Israel,” features perkily captioned photos of happy, partying Birthright participants superimposed over images of carnage and destruction in Gaza.

Obama tells Kerry to broker ‘immediate’ cease-fire in Gaza

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.

“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.

“I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” Obama said.

More than 500 Palestinians have died in the fighting, most of them civilians, while 25 Israeli troops and two civilians have been killed.

The honesty of war

There’s something about war that can make intelligent people look foolish. I’m thinking right now of all those smart people in Tel Aviv who analyzed the subtleties of peace at the Haaretz Peace Conference—only a few hours before Jew-hating terrorists from Hamas began firing rockets all over Israel. 

I wonder if they even considered having a session at the conference called, “What happens when people want to kill you no matter what you do?” That session might have included, for example, a panel of experts discussing the Hamas Charter, which calls for “the eventual creation of an Islamic state in Palestine, in place of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel.”

But there was no such panel at the conference. Instead, they had exclusive contributions from important people like President Barack Obama, who expressed the well-worn mantra of the sophisticated man: “Peace is the only true path to security.” 

Well, maybe not, Mr. President. For the millions of Israeli residents now making sure they’re 15 precious seconds away from their bomb shelters, it’s more the other way around: “Security is the only true path to peace.” 

The Middle East is one of those places where you can’t always rely on the thinking of sophisticated, intelligent people – it’s a place where the brutality of life creates its own dynamic, its own logic, its own rules. 

Israel has struggled between these two impulses since its creation: The wordly “peace will bring security” camp versus the more primal “security will bring peace” camp. Both camps are well intentioned.

The cosmopolitan crowd at the Haaretz peace conference is surely in the first camp. They can’t afford to leave it. It is who they are. Moving to the “primal” camp would undermine their essence; it would put them in kinship with the bus driver in Dimona who barely has a high school education. 

We have a tendency to underestimate the importance of self-identification—how people like to think of themselves–when assessing someone’s worldview. We shouldn’t. Self-identification is a stubborn thing. If I think of myself as an educated gentleman, I must be a seeker of peace, no matter what. 

Ugly stuff like a Charter that calls for the destruction of a whole people just gets in the way of how I want, and need, the world to be.

That’s why there was no session on the Hamas Charter at the Haaretz peace conference. It would have spoiled the party. It would have poisoned the atmosphere. It would have introduced something raw, something primitive to an educated audience that prides itself on transcending the basic instincts of human nature. 

To be honest with you, I often try to be a part of that camp myself. It feels better. After all, what kind of life would it be if I had to succumb to my primal nature? How would that be considered progress? How would that be a life worth living?

But unlike my Israeli compatriots, my house in Los Angeles doesn’t need a bomb shelter. 

I suppose it’s in those bomb shelters, not the intellectual salons, that one gets a glimpse of Middle East reality. You can decide at a “peace conference” to avoid talking about the Hamas Charter, but eventually, the Hamas Charter will find you. If it’s not through a panel of experts, then it’s through a good old-fashioned rocket with your name on it.

It took less than 24 hours for those Hamas rockets to get a hearing with the attendees of the Haaretz peace conference. 

Now, it’s perfectly OK for the enlightened set to stick to their guns. There’s something in me that prefers they do, something in me that says, “We need you to keep pushing your world view.” In any event, they will not, they cannot, go down gently. Abandoning their self-identification as sophisticated people is not an option.

So, be prepared for the smart pieces analyzing the “weakness” of Hamas, the “overreaction” of Israel, the need to promote “moderate” forces, and, of course, the perennial meta message: The need “now more than ever” to keep pushing for peace, because, as President Obama himself said, it is “the only true path to security.” 

There’s something poignant, really, about how the brutal nature of the Middle East has prevented Israel from fully reaching the exalted status of the sophisticated state. 

Sadly, no amount of “Start Up nation” or avant-garde Israeli culture can cover up the ugly truth of Israel’s neighborhood. It is a truth that is bigger than dreams, bigger than life, bigger than success. 

It is a truth that says, simply: We don’t want you here. You’re a bone in our throat. The more successful you are, the more we despise you.

Oh, how we wish it were in our control to change those sentiments!

How we wish that dismantling the settlements would dismantle the Hamas Charter!

When the bombs fall—as they are falling right now all over Israel–you don’t look for answers in the salons of Tel Aviv; you look for them in the car shops of Dimona.

And in the Middle East, that answer is always the same: Israel can never afford to lose a war.

Letters to the Editor: Gaza war, “Lincoln” and Special Needs

Hope for Peace With Hamas
When David Suissa wonders “If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they?” he is letting stereotypes get in the way of helpful analysis (“Pogroms Interrupted,” Nov. 23). He is also, in effect, arguing that Hamas is not an organization with which peace and order can be reached.
I believe he is wrong on both counts. Hamas gets much more political mileage from holding Israelis hostage than from killing them. The Gilad Shalit kidnapping is an indication of this. It is both a tragedy and a very big opportunity for peace that Israel and the Palestinians keep each other hostage. Their rising and reliable ability to kill each other — although on different scales — is precisely what ought to motivate leaders to negotiate peace, so that the killing does not recur. 
Barry H. Steiner
Professor of political science
California State University, Long Beach
David Suissa Responds:
That's right, professor. The 12,000 missiles that Hamas has sent into Israel were not intended to kill humans, but to capture hostages. Is that a serious comment? If you want to talk about hostages, just look at the Palestinians in Gaza who are forced to live in misery under the oppressive rule of Hamas despots and Jew-haters.”

Israeli Efforts Reduce Casualties

Israel spends $90,000 per Tamir rocket to shoot down a projectile (sometimes two) fired by Hamas toward Israeli civilian areas (“What Now?” Nov. 23). The projectiles may cost $200 to $5,000 to produce.
It would be quite simple to use Iron Dome to send a $200 mortar shell or shells right back to that originating point. However, Israel chooses instead to attempt pinpoint strikes on Hamas with airplanes, drones, etc. at a much higher cost and risk.
I know of no other country in history that has gone to this extent to avoid its own civilian casualties, reducing the likelihood of all-out war and its consequences on both sides, and the casualties on the other side’s civilians.
David Schechter
Los Angeles

‘Lincoln’ Twists History

Tom Teicholz perpetuates a number of errors and myths in his recent article “Lincoln, in the Abrahamic Tradition” (Nov. 16). He comes up with a fanciful theory that Lincoln had Jewish ancestry — something that has eluded great Lincoln biographers like Carl Sandburg and David Donald. It’s entirely based on unreliable, unprovable anecdotes.
Teicholz is mistaken when he states that Lincoln “lobbied the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment.” In truth, as Lerone Bennett Jr., author of “Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream” (Johnson Publishing Co.: 2000), states: “There is a pleasant fiction that Lincoln … became a flaming advocate of the amendment and used the power of his office to ensure its passage. There is no evidence, as Donald has noted, to support that fiction.”
Bennett was executive editor of Ebony magazine for several decades, and spent more than 20 years researching and writing his book. Bennett argues that it was Lincoln who was literally forced into supporting the amendment by other politicians, not the other way around as portrayed in the Spielberg film.
The scriptwriter, Tony Kushner, along with director Steven Spielberg, are spinning the same sort of mythology in their movie — and distorting the historical record in the process — as in the days of the Hollywood studio system, when the moguls Teicholz so admires twisted historical facts into pretzels in period movies.
Joseph Dostal
Van Nuys

Special-Needs Inclusion Exists
I would disagree with Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi’s assertion that little to nothing has been accomplished to include children and adults with disabilities into our Jewish community (“The Sound of the Breaking Dam,” Nov. 23). Since I was a bar mitzvah, I volunteered every Sunday for six years at Valley Beth Shalom’s Shaare Tikvah program, which is designed to give kids with special needs a chance to engage their Jewish identities as they learn about Jewish holidays, study the Hebrew language, sing Jewish songs and develop strong bonds with other kids, thus establishing their permanence and acceptance in the wider Los Angeles Jewish community. 
There is certainly a public awareness of this program, as KABC 7’s “Eyewitness News” recognized the amazing accomplishments of Shaare Tikvah and singled me out for my volunteer work. The news crew interviewed me at Camp Ramah in California, where I was working as a counselor, because Camp Ramah contains another amazing program for special-needs kids called Tikvah, in which many of my students were enrolled from the VBS Sunday school. The program gives an opportunity for these kids to engage in all of the typical summer camp activities and actually be a part of the sleep-away environment. Some of the older kids actually have various jobs throughout the camp. I can speak from personal experience that going to Jewish camp was a huge part of solidifying my role in the Jewish community, and that is exactly what these kids are getting as they, too, became a part of Camp Ramah. 
The Los Angeles Jewish community, of which I am a proud partner, creates an accessible environment for children with special needs to grow into their Jewish identity and make themselves an integral part of the Jewish community as a whole. 
Arye Lavin
USC sophomore, neuroscience major 

A call from Tel Aviv: Freaked, at first

Is this a war?

It’s so hard to know these days. Wars used to happen on things called battlefields, where armies met, fought and met again.

What’s going on in Gaza and Israel is far murkier than that. In Israel, the rockets rain down on apartment buildings, fields, schools. The retaliation into Gaza, for all Israel’s careful targeting, must of necessity strike neighborhoods, homes, children.

This is not a war of tanks in the Sinai or dogfights over Damascus. It is a war of families huddled in stairwells, of bodies spilled out of cars. The wars of Israel get more intimate as the home fronts and battlefronts merge.

My friend Simone left a message on my cell phone when the fighting began. She had moved to Tel Aviv from Los Angeles less than a month ago, when her boyfriend, Wes, got a high-tech research job there. “You’ll love it,” I’d told her. “Most fun city in the world.”

“Rob,” Simone’s voice quavered. “I know it’s 3:30 in the morning, but we just heard explosions over Tel Aviv and I’m freaking out.”

Is it an existential war for Israel?

At first read, no: As of Monday, Israel has suffered just three casualties. Hamas is using weapons that are several rungs below conventional. No enemy armies are poised to invade, no enemy aircraft will — or perhaps even can — take to the skies.

But appearances are deceptive. No country can be expected to tolerate, as Israel has, its people being subject to unremitting terror from the skies. No country would accept that as “the price of doing business.” No economy or tourist industry or education system can function indefinitely under the constant threat of missile attack. As long as Hamas continues to procure, store and use rockets, Israel’s survival is at stake. Gaza 2012 is the latest battle in a war that began in 1948, when Arab nations rejected the Jewish sovereignty in Palestine, escalating in 1967 when Arab armies threatened to wipe Israel off the map, and again when Egypt sought its revenge in 1973. 

“The problem for the 1 million (out of a total of 7 million) Israelis who live in the southern part of the state closest to the Gaza Strip has been the ongoing unleashing of Hamas rockets against these southern communities,” Jerusalem Report writer Robert Slater wrote in an e-mail to friends. “Though casualties have been few, those 1 million Israelis live in constant dread that a rocket will fall on them.”

And it’s not just the south: Slater’s family in Jerusalem had to rush into a bomb shelter when air raid sirens went off there. Several rockets exploded near or above Tel Aviv.

We hear of all this instantly. The air raid sirens go off in Tel Aviv, and seconds later a push notification pops up on my iPhone. We Skype my brother-in-law as he sits with his daughter in a Tel Aviv cafe, waiting for the next round. I listen to live reports on Galei Tahal and Reshet Gimel, via an app called Israel Radio, as if I’m driving on the Ayalon Highway. My e-mail inbox fills up with first-hand accounts and cell phone video clips. My Twitter feed shows photos of friends in shelters, and of Palestinian children in Gaza mangled by Israeli retaliation. In intimate wars, there is no escaping the battle, or the images.

“Why is Hamas doing this?” a friend asked — because everyone sees the inevitable and fearsome retribution Israel is able to inflict.

The simplest answer is, because it’s Hamas. If Hamas cared about Palestinian children, it would cease its fire. If its warriors didn’t want to paint themselves in the blood of innocent women and children, it would stop. If it wanted to build the Gaza economy, with Israel as a partner, it would quit. But it can’t: Hamas is the heir to the same dead-end ideology that has compelled Arab nations to reject and battle Israel from the beginning of the state. This current conflict is one more skirmish in that longer war. Israeli tanks rolled across Gaza in June 1967 to thwart an Egyptian army advance — and the battle goes on.

Israel captured and then occupied Gaza for decades, then withdrew unilaterally to allow Palestinians to shape their own future. But Hamas decided the future lay in … 1967.

Israel, of course, is not what it was then. It has rockets that can intercept and shoot down rockets midair. It has cities and an economy far more resilient than it had decades ago. It has people who know — intimately — what it takes to live next to a neighbor who wants to destroy them.

By the time I checked back in with Simone, she had endured several air raid sirens, several fast walks to the shelter or reinforced hallways, where people brought their laptops and their dachshunds, and stood around and talked.

She told me she was now embarrassed to think how frightened she was in her first message to me.

“You kind of get used to it,” she said.

Economic costs of Gaza fighting

Last Friday, Moshe Ahituv (not his real name) received another call-up from the Israeli army. A captain in the home front command, he had already completed 43 days of army reserve service this year.

Moshe, 40, is an English teacher and the father of two toddlers. His wife is a physical therapist and they are about to purchase their first apartment in Jerusalem. He says the emotional cost of the fighting in the Gaza Strip has already taken a toll.

“The kids aren’t sleeping well, and my three-year-old daughter is behaving badly at nursery school,” he told The Media Line. “It’s also frustrating for me. I spend a lot of time on buses getting from home to my base. I could be home with the kids then or working to bring home money to my family.”

There is also an economic toll. While the government will pay for his missed days at work, he will not receive compensation for the private tutoring hours he has been forced to cancel, which amounts to $400 per week.

Israelis and Palestinians are paying a heavy economic price for the cross-border fighting in Gaza. From orange trees in Gaza damaged during an Israeli airstrike to small restaurants in southern Israel who have no customers, to tourists cancelling trips to Israel and Bethlehem, to destroyed buildings in Gaza, the economic costs on both sides is astronomical.

The business information company IDI estimates the fighting in Gaza will cost the Israeli economy $75 million dollars per day in lost productivity. Many small businesses in southern Israel, in particular, are suffering.

“Usually on the weekends we are full, but this past weekend we had just two tables – both of journalists,” Elad Zaritsky, 35, the owner of Linda, a bistro restaurant in the Mediterranean coastal city of Ashqelon, told The Media Line. “We’ve already lost thousands of dollars and we simply can’t continue like this. If the fighting continues much longer, we may have to close.”

Zaritsky says small businesses like his operate with only a narrow profit margin. He says the restaurant has been open for five years. Four years ago, during Cast Lead, Israel’s last major ground operation in Gaza, his business also suffered. The government did give him compensation, but he says it did not nearly cover his losses.

Tourism in Israel is also beginning to suffer, although this is the low season for tourism, between the Jewish holidays of the fall; and Chanuka and Christmas in a few weeks.

“Incoming groups for the near future are down 10 percent and individual bookings are down 15 percent,” Ami Etgar, the general director of the Israel Incoming Tour Operator Association told The Media Line. “But groups that are already here have not left.”

Across the border, inside Gaza, life has virtually come to a standstill. While most residents keep a stock of food supplies including flour, oil, sugar and tea in their homes, most shops and businesses remain closed.

“Banks are closed and ATM machines are running out of cash,” Azzam Shawwa, the general manager of the Quds Bank told The Media Line. “But who wants to risk going out when there are airstrikes?”

Shawwa said there is also concern about the electricity supply to Gaza. While Israel has continued to provide power to the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, the electricity must go through transformers to change the voltage. Some of those transformers have been destroyed in Israeli airstrikes, and the spare ones are already being used, he said.

“Even before this, some places only had electricity for 12 hours a day,” Omar Shaaban, an economist at Palthink, a Gaza-based think tank told The Media Line. “Now some places only have electricity for six hours a day. Some of us have generators, but there is a shortage of fuel for the generators. I just turned my generator on to answer some emails, but I’m going to have to turn it off soon.”

Shaaban says it’s too early to assess the economic damage caused by the Israeli airstrikes, which have killed at least 95 Palestinians and wounded hundreds. Dozens of buildings in Gaza have been completely destroyed.

“Our economy is losing at least $2 million dollars per day,” Shaaban said. “And that’s in addition to the agricultural sector which has already lost $25 million dollars. The economy has been completely suspended. Agricultural products were supposed to be exported this week from Gaza, but now that didn’t happen.”

Back across the border in Israel, more people seem to be staying home, even in areas that have been relatively free of missile strikes.

“There are many fewer passengers going from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Raof Basila, an Arab citizen of Israel who drives a shared-taxi between the two cities. His colleague, Fadi Abu Katish, agrees. He told The Media Line that while fifty drivers normally transport more than 1,500 passengers each day, the drivers are now alone in their vehicles.

Basila added a pensive note. “People are afraid to go out,” he said. “It is not good for either side. Both sides need peace.”

Truth and consequences: When Hamas targeted The Holy City

Jerusalemites have an age-old custom of ushering in the holy Sabbath earlier — a full 36 minutes before sunset — than anywhere else in the world. So, last Friday evening, I rushed through the Old City’s Arab souk, weaving my way past Christian pilgrims, Korean tourists and Israeli bargain hunters to reach the Kotel, aka the Western Wall. There, under the joyful supervision of Jerusalemite Rabbi Chaim Cheshin, I was about to usher in 25 hours of cellphone- and Facebook-free bliss.

At the Wall, Friday night prayers are all about joy, singing and — yes, even dancing — black- frocked Chasidim commingling with freshly scrubbed North American students. Lekhah Dodi is the poetic tefilah that welcomes in the Sabbath Queen.

“Come in peace … come in joy accompanied by you faithful …” rings out its final line.

In a nanosecond, any thoughts of peace or spirituality were erased. First a siren, followed by escalating bullhorn pleas from police for the hundreds of the faithful to rush for cover at the entrances to the ancient Kotel tunnels.

For this Friday night at least, the profane defeated the holy. Hamas had chosen to expand its deadly rockets to target the city holy to three faiths.

Later, when I reached my daughter’s place in Rehavia, in West Jerusalem, we adults had some explaining to do to my five grandchildren. “Why did Bubbe and Ema rush us to the bottom of the staircase?”

“Why are the sirens so loud?”

“When will the next azaka [alert] come?”

“Why are they trying to hurt us?”

Why, indeed.

Go explain Hamas to a child in Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and, yes, even in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Go ahead, adults — explain to them how in the hell did the world allow these religious thugs to amass thousands of rockets, deploy them from among their own civilians? How is it that NGOs, Christian activists and tenured professors continue to bestow the mantel of victimhood on thugs who hide behind the skirts of women and in bunkers under hospitals? How come so many in the international media depict suicide bombings and thousands of Hamas rocket attacks as legitimate responses to Israeli “occupiers” who occupy not one millimeter of the Gaza Strip?

Most of all, explain to those children the source of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired hatred of Jews and Judaism not seen in the world since Nazi Germany.

But this not 1938 or 1942. Today, the Jews have a democratic state and a military that deploys drones, not to indiscriminately kill the innocent and guilty, but to efficiently target mass murderers and terrorists.

Israelis have had enough. They see what is happening in Syria, and right, left and center, Israelis have come together to tell the world they will not subcontract the safety of their kids or mortgage their future to the whims of a cynical and uncaring international community.

It’s an important message surgically delivered by the Israel Defense Forces.

We can only hope and pray that Israel does what it has to to remove Hamas’ terrorist threat once and for all — whatever it takes.

On Shabbat morning, I was speaking to a friend of mine who is the maître d’ at the King David Hotel. I asked him what his Friday night was like in East Jerusalem. He told me how his granddaughter started shaking with fright when the sirens went off.

There we were, two grandfathers looking at each other for a long moment, silently reflecting on the same question: What will it take for our grandchildren to be able to live in peace?

I have no magic formula, but this past Shabbat in Jerusalem underscored one uncomfortable but unshakable truth: Peace will never be possible in the Holy Land unless and until the evil that is Hamas is uprooted.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.  He spent the last ten days in Israel.

Pogroms interrupted: The era of Jews fighting back

As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom? 

Since the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, has there been a more physically abused people than the Jews?

How many Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms have been recorded where Jews were virtually helpless to defend themselves?

Oh sure, we always managed to survive and pull through. We were strong with our values, our Torah, our culture and our wits in adapting to whatever limits were imposed on us.

But physically? We were always at the mercy of our landlords.

My ancestors in Morocco survived only because they knew their place. You never heard of a Moroccan Jew fighting for the same rights as Moroccan Arabs. Jews were the dhimmis, the second class citizens of the state. And still, there were stories of pogroms against Moroccan Jews.

The physical abuse of Jews reached its darkest and most murderous hour with the Holocaust.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say you have to reach your own bottom before you can turn things around. Well, the Holocaust was our absolute bottom.

Perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years we were blessed with our own sovereign state. What would happen now? Would our enemies still come after us?

Indeed they did, but this time, something weird happened.

The Jews fought back.

A ragtag band of Jews fought mano a mano against five invading Arab armies and won.

That miraculous victory saved Israel and signaled a new era in the story of the Jews.

The era of Jews Fighting Back.

We’ve been in that era now for 64 years, and the truth is, we’ve become pretty good at it.

This has shocked our enemies. After 2,000 years of seeing Jews cower so as not to get slaughtered, they've seen these weak Jews transformed into fighting warriors.

This doesn't seem very “Jewish.”

Even among Jews, this success has created a lot of handwringing and intellectual agony: What shall we do with all this power? Are we using it responsibly? Will it corrupt us?

I have to confess, I’ve had very little agony over this. The Jews’ ability to finally fight back has been a source of great satisfaction for me.

Of course, I’d be a lot happier if we were at peace and didn’t have to fight in the first place– if we weren’t surrounded by enemies trying to destroy us.

I wouldn’t have to shed tears when I’m alone in my car, thinking of Israel at war, or talk to my daughter in Herzliya about bomb shelters.

But if Israel is destined to live, at least in the near term, surrounded by enemies, what are we to make of this dark circumstance?

Is it possible that all this fighting might be serving an additional purpose, beyond the essential one of defending the country?

As I’ve been reflecting on all this, the thought occurred to me that maybe Israel is more than a country.

Maybe it’s also a statement.

An official statement that says to the world: The Jews will never go away.

This statement of strength after 2,000 years of weakness is so astonishing that it needed a singular, dramatic instrument to make the point.

And what better instrument than a strong country?

A country so powerful it has managed to thrive on so many levels despite being virtually under siege for 64 years.

So, that is my Jewish take on all this ugly fighting: Our enemies need to see, once and for all, that the Jews will never go away.

Maybe only then will there be peace.

The other night, at a Technion event at the home of Frank Lunz, our Consul General, David Siegel, said: “Our enemies have tried for thousands of years to destroy us, but they’ve always failed.”

The difference now is that we’re surviving on our own terms, not by cowering but by holding our heads high.

I’m sure some people will find this tone of defiance a little unseemly, not very nuanced.

But there’s no nuance in hatred. There’s no nuance in the desire to murder Jews. There never has been.

The statement that the Jews will never go away is a statement that must be made. We can thank Israel for making that statement in the most compelling way possible, even at the risk of upsetting a world not used to seeing Jews fight back.

At the Technion event, they played a video showing some of Israel’s global accomplishments, such as finding renewable energy, curing diseases and helping crippled people walk.

We can thank Israel for that statement, too: A world in which the Jews survive is not just good for the Jews, it’s also good for the world. 

Israeli commanders won’t be charged in Cast Lead killings

Israel’s military said it will take no legal actions against the commanders who ordered the attack on a compound that resulted in the deaths of 21 members of a Palestinian family.

In a letter Tuesday to the human rights group B’Tselem, which had filed a complaint against the killings, the Israel Defense Forces prosecution said the case was closed after its investigation concluded that the accidental killing during Operation Cast Lead was not done “in a manner that would indicate criminal responsibility.”

On Jan. 4, 2009, Israeli soldiers gathered about 100 members of the extended Samouni family into a house in Gaza City. The following morning another military unit, believing they were terrorists holed up in the house, shelled the building, causing it to collapse on the occupants. Nine children were among the dead.

Following the IDF’s decision, B’Tselem called for an independent body to look into the incident.

“It is unacceptable that no one is found responsible for an action of the army that led to the killing of 21 uninvolved civilians, inside the building they entered under soldiers’ orders, even if this was not done deliberately,” said Yael Stein, the director of research for B’Tselem. “The way the army has exempted itself of responsibility for this event, even if only to acknowledge its severity and clarify its circumstances, is intolerable,”

ICC prosecutor: No probe on Gaza war crimes because Palestine not a state

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague said the court cannot open an investigation into cases related to the 2008-09 Gaza war because Palestine is not a state.

Jose Luis Moreno Ocampo said on April 3 in a statement that it is up to the United Nations or the states that make up the court to determine whether the Palestinian Authority (PA) can be a signatory to the 1998 Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty. According to the statute, only internationally recognized states can join the international court.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that while Israel welcomes the decision on the lack of ICC jurisdiction, “It has reservations regarding some of the legal pronouncements and assumptions in the Prosecutor’s statement.”

The ICC’s decision came in response to a January 2009 request by the PA that the court direct its war crimes tribunal to investigate war crimes cases against Israeli officials stemming from the month-long Gaza war that began in late December 2008. The request was in the form of a letter filed with the court in which the PA unilaterally accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction.

NGO Monitor had filed a legal brief on the case arguing that the court does not have jurisdiction over the PA because it is not a state.

Hamas leader: Holocaust a ‘lie’

A top Hamas leader called the Holocaust a “lie.”

“The lie according to which they were a victim of a holocaust and the (Jewish) people are a victim—this lie has crumbled with the holocaust of Beit Hanun, the holocaust of Al-Fakhura and the other countless holocausts … committed by the Zionist enemy,” AFP, the French news agency, quoted Mahmoud Zahar as saying on Thursday.

Zahar was listing incidents during the Gaza War two years ago and marking the second anniversary of the landing of an Israeli shell near Al-Fakhura, a school run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

Hamas has said that 43 people, all but one of them civilians, were killed in the incident; Israel’s army has concluded that 12 people, nine of them combatants, were killed, and that its troops were returning fire.

Counter ads for Seattle buses submitted

The American Freedom Defense Initiative has submitted two advertisements to the Seattle transit company to counter an anti-Israel advertising campaign on the city’s buses.

The ads from the group’s Stop Islamization of America program come in response to a campaign by the Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign, which is placing ads on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27—the day that Israel entered Gaza two years ago in a bid to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities.

The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading “Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.”

One of the counter ads reads, “One Billion Dollars to Hamas: Your Taxpayer dollars at Work” and shows scenes of Hamas’ anti-Israel and U.S. rallies.

According to Seattle’s King 5 News, the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign paid $1,794 to run the ads. However, King County Metro Transit would not offer the same price for the counter ads, according to Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Geller said King County Metro Transit quoted her organization a price $1,000 higher than the Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign ads. 

Meanwhile, the transit authority told King-TV that that the agency had received more than 1,200 e-mails about the anti-Israel ad as of Tuesday, mostly against it. Most of the comments came from outside the Seattle area, according to the report.

Israeli man injured in rocket attack

Following a rocket strike from Gaza on the western Negev that injured one, Israel’s Air Force struck three terrorism-linked sites in Gaza.

The airstrikes early Thursday morning hit a weapons manufacturing and storage site in the central Gaza Strip and two terrorism hubs in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the Israel Defense Forces. They followed a barrage of five rockets fired on southern Israel Wednesday evening, the IDF said.

The wounded man was airlifted to a hospital in Beersheba. A home in a kibbutz also was damaged. Residents of southern Israel were told to enter bomb shelters on Wednesday night.

“Escalation is only a matter of time. The threat in the area is constant and growing,” read a statement issued Thursday by several southern Israeli regional councils. “We hope that the government will know how to relate to this reality before formulating policy for the southern line of conflict for 2011. The government must realize that this will be an active line of conflict for the foreseeable future.”

About 200 rockets fired from Gaza have landed in Israel since the beginning of 2010, the IDF said.

Israel hits two targets in Gaza

Israel’s Air Force struck two terror-linked sites in the southern Gaza Strip.

The early Wednesday morning strikes on what the Israel Defense Forces spokesman described as a weapons manufacturing site and a smuggling tunnel were in response to the firing from Gaza of three rockets at Israel’s southern communities over two days. Both targets were hit.

About 200 rockets fired from Gaza have landed in Israel since the beginning of 2010, the IDF said.

Isareli troops fire on Gazans, injuring 5

Five Palestinian workers in Gaza were injured by Israeli gunfire after entering an area that Israel has identified as a launching ground for rockets.

The men were collecting stones Tuesday near the former Israeli community of Eli Sinai, which has been deemed a no-go zone by the Israeli military since rockets directed at southern Israel are launched from there, the Palestinian Ma’an News agency reported.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed firing at the men and said there were three direct hits. An IDF statement said that warning shots were fired before the Palestinians’ lower bodies were targeted, according to protocol.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Shin Bet on Tuesday arrested three Palestinians accused of carrying out a shooting attack on an Israeli married couple driving in the Hebron Hills in the West Bank in September.

Both were injured in the attack; the woman delivered a baby prematurely as a result.

ANALYSIS: Israel and NGOs Clash Over Gaza War Assessments

The fighting in Gaza ended months ago, but the fight over the war rages on between Israel and NGOs.

NGOs have been issuing reports accusing Israel of war crimes. In response, the Israeli army recently released a 163-page, 460-point account seeking to rebut such claims and discredit those making them.

At issue is the three-week Israeli invasion of Gaza starting in December 2008, launched in response to thousands of Palestinian rocket attacks against civilian targets in the south of Israel. Approximately 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, many of them militant fighters associated with Hamas, the Palestinian group in control of Gaza. But hundreds of Palestinian civilians are also believed to have been killed.

Thirteen Israelis were killed, including several civilians. Hamas rockets during the war reached as far as the Israeli cities of Yavneh, Beersheva and Kiryat Gat.

Some of the arguments between Israel and the NGOs revolve around alternating versions of the facts of the war, others address theories of the laws of war, and still others lunge with ferocity at the very legitimacy of one side or the other to even make an argument.

The stakes are high — as high as the threat of charges against Israeli officers and an effort by some Israeli officials to use the law as a weapon to limit international funding of human rights groups.

From the outset, the Israeli report cites an array of international law readings to show that Israel’s war was just. It also takes aim at what it describes as the tendency of some critics to rush to draw conclusions of national guilt from scattered evidence. “Often,” the Israeli report stated, “these leaps of logic bypass the most basic steps, such as identification of the specific legal obligation at issue and explanation of how it was violated.”

To buttress its case, the Israeli army paper cited a wealth of recommended practice from U.S., British and Dutch military manuals, as well as rulings concerning the NATO action against Yugoslavia in Kosovo in 1999; the goal was to establish that there is a legally tolerable threshold of civilian deaths, particularly in cases of urban warfare.

At times, the Israeli report devolves into petty sniping at critics. Meanwhile, in recent weeks, top Israeli officials have smeared critics with ancient guilt-by-association accusations.

It’s not much prettier on the human rights side: Reconstructions of the horrific death of civilians replete with painstakingly gathered evidence are coupled with bewildering omissions of context and blended into a package that assumes an inherent Israeli immorality.

The Israeli report repeatedly expressed frustration with efforts to turn criticism of individual officers and soldiers into a wholesale indictment of Israel’s military establishment and the decision to resort to military force.

It’s a pattern that is in evidence in three successive reports published by Human Rights Watch, perhaps the most prominent of the groups engaged by the government since the end of the war. One in March dealt with the use of white phosphorous; another in June dealt with high-precision missiles fired from pilotless drones; the most recent, earlier this month, deals with the killings of individuals bearing white flags.

Only the first report, on the use of phosphorous, chronicles what could be described as an alleged pattern of abuse.

The other two reports from Human Rights Watch focus on a relatively small number of cases: six instances of Israeli drones allegedly hitting civilian targets isolated from fighting and seven shootings resulting in 11 deaths. Still, even in those reports, Human Rights Watch uses language suggesting pervasive violations.

The Human Rights Watch reports fail to assess evidence — including videos of Israeli forces holding their fire because of the presence of civilians — that Israel has provided to show that such incidents were the exception to the rule; they fail to examine what measures Israel has taken to prevent civilian deaths, which would be pertinent in examining any claim of war crimes.

Israeli officials are also guilty of omissions. The army report cites tonnage of food and medical equipment allowed into Gaza during the operation for humanitarian relief; it does not, however, translate these raw figures into proportions and fails to address claims by an array of groups — including Human Rights Watch — that Israel used humanitarian relief as leverage, and the result has been malnutrition and want.

Similarly, in describing the lead up to the war, the Israeli army provides a persuasive, blow-by-blow account of the intensification of indiscriminate rocket fire that led it to launch its invasion; but it omits any mention of the three-year siege Israel has imposed on Gaza, or that Hamas rulers in Gaza used the siege as a pretext for the rocket fire. In one line, the Israeli report states that Gaza is free of occupation, but fails to note that Israel continues to control all but one point of entry into the area.

One of the more bizarre omissions in the Israeli army report is how it deals with the deaths of 42 police cadets in a missile strike in the first days of fighting. Human rights groups allege that the police were not a legitimate target; they were recruits, drawn from the massive ranks of Gaza’s unemployed, who were “at rest” at a graduation ceremony. Moreover, they were supposedly slated for non-combat civil defense roles.

The Israeli army report does not mention the strike at all, or the deaths. Instead, it spends five pages generally justifying attacks on police, and noting that in some cases terrorists have doubled as police — although groups, including B’Tselem, have suggested that in the matter of the cadets, this assertion was questionable at best. Two high-ranking Hamas security officials present at the ceremony were also slain in the attack, one of at least 30 strikes on police stations on Dec. 28, the second day of the war.

Israeli spokesmen also repeatedly question the reliability of the human rights reports, saying witnesses must be compromised by fear of Hamas retaliation. “Human Rights Watch is relying on testimony from people who are not free to speak out against the Hamas regime,” Mark Regev, the prime minister’s spokesman, told the BBC on Aug. 13. In fact, Human Rights Watch attempts to get witnesses alone, and corroborates their accounts with medical examinations and forensic evidence.

Israeli government spokesmen, moreover, do not account for the fear of retaliation — albeit of a less lethal kind, involving social ostracization — when they dismiss accounts of atrocities compiled from soldiers by groups such as Breaking the Silence.

Then there are the examples where facts simply diverge: Israel says it used white phosphorous as an obscurant when it faced Hamas anti-tank forces; human rights groups have alleged that the presence, in some cases, of armed forces was minimal and did not justify the use of the phosphorous, which upon skin contact may maim and kill. Israel says the number of civilians killed numbered in the low hundreds; human rights groups place it at closer to 1,000.

Some divergences have to do with the perspective of the claimant. The Israeli army report says warnings to civilians to leave an area were as precise as they could be without betraying tactics and putting soldiers in danger; Human Rights Watch says the warnings, while welcome, were often too generalized and even confusing.

Such differences might have been addressed by dialogue and an exchange of information that would observe limits aimed at preserving Israeli tactical secrecy. Israeli officers, for instance, have said that they have names to attach to fatalities that show that the vast majority were combatants; but they have not provided these to human rights groups.

Human rights groups have constantly pressed Israeli authorities to address specific claims, and have been brushed off. Yet the release of information that at least 13 incidents were under criminal investigation prior to the July 29 publication date of the military’s report might have gone some way toward refuting claims that Israel was cavalier about abuse allegations.

Instead, Israeli officials have devolved into name-calling, backed by an array of pro-Israel NGOs and lobbying groups that distribute — sometimes anonymously — “backgrounders” that attempt through sometimes-tenuous links to discredit the human rights groups. The foreign ministry recently distributed material implicating Human Rights Watch editor Joe Stork with disseminating radical, anti-Israel and pro-terrorist material in the 1970s; it was an odd volley from the office of a minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who says police investigations of criminal conduct and a youthful flirtation with the racist Kach movement should not bear on his current diplomacy.

More substantively, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is now seeking ways to legally cut off foreign government funding for Israeli human rights NGOs.

The human rights groups are not above using the law to make an exception of Israel; Human Rights Watch frequently calls for international investigations, saying that Israel has repeatedly failed “to conduct credible investigations into alleged violations of the laws of war.”

The problem with such calls is that Israel believes such international mechanisms cannot be trusted because they are wrapped into the United Nations — a worry Human Rights Watch admits is credible. Moreover, left unsaid is the failure generally among Western democracies to dig too deep when human rights abuses are at hand. The Obama administration reportedly is considering a strategy for prosecuting individuals who carried out torture, but not those who ordered it.

Israeli army spokesmen say it is fairer to note what Israel is doing to prevent the recurrence of abuses, citing as an example the introduction of the ultra-precise missiles.

Hamas reportedly accepts cease-fire proposal

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Hamas officials reportedly agreed to an Egyptian cease-fire proposal, though it’s not clear whether Hamas’ leadership in
Syria agrees.

Egyptian officials told Arabic-language media that a visiting Hamas delegation accepted the cease-fire proposal Wednesday after making some
amendments and was returning to Damascus to brief Hamas leaders there. During the visit, Hamas officials met in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence officials, including intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, told Al-Jazeera TV that there are issues that still have not been resolved.

There was no immediate reaction to the news from Jerusalem, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign
Minister Tzipi Livni were reportedly meeting to discuss the development. A top Israeli Defense Ministry official, Amos Gilad, is scheduled to travel to Cairo on Thursday to discuss the Egyptian cease-fire proposal.
Olmert and Barak reportedly have been at odds over whether to proceed further with the Gaza operation, according to Israel’s Ha’aretz daily.
Barak favors a cease-fire, the newspaper says, while officials close to the prime minister have criticized cease-fire proposals and Barak’s
support of a weeklong humanitarian cease-fire. This week, Olmert canceled a meeting with Barak and Livni, who also reportedly supports a cease-fire.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon went to Cairo on Wednesday to push for a Gaza cease-fire. He is scheduled to visit Israel on Thursday.

“I repeat my call for an immediate and durable cease-fire,” Ban said during a news conference following a meeting with Egyptian Foreign
Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “I ask that all those who have influence with any parties to this conflict, use all means to end the violence and to find a durable solution.”

The CNN-NPR-NY Times Middle East Conspiracy

Have you noticed that when people complain about bias in the media, it’s always bias against their own point of view and never bias in favor of their side?

When press accounts confirm your interpretation of events, they’re fair, accurate and objective. When the upshot of a news story is that your team is the bad guys and the other team is the good guys, it’s obvious that the reporter or paper or network or corporation is in the tank for the other side. And when articles and broadcasts balance ammo for your side with ammo for the other side, they’re guilty of the fallacy of false equivalence, which turns righteous battles between right and wrong into vapid he-said/she-said standoffs.

Nowhere is this more true than in coverage of the Middle East.

Supporters of Israel are furious that when pictures of Palestinian casualties are shown, the causes and context of the war are left out—Hamas’ rocket attacks on southern Israel, which precipitated the attack on Gaza; its cynical use of civilians as human shields, which is a war crime; its intention to destroy Israel and Jewry, which amounts to genocide—all get scandalously short shrift from the press.

Supporters of Hamas are just as enraged about the inhumane living conditions in Gaza, which Israel has blockaded; the Israeli refusal to allow the international press into the battle zone; what they believe is the original sin of Zionism, the displacement of Arabs, and that when Israel is portrayed as a victim, the suffering of the Palestinian people is conveniently omitted.

And what if you’re not a partisan of either side, but think of yourself instead as an independent advocate for human rights and peace? Then not only will you bring down on yourself the opprobrium of both sides for failing to take a stand at a moment that demands a choice, you will also find in the prevailing media narrative no hook to hang your conciliatory analysis on, no peg for your empyrean perspective, no patience for your it’s-all-so-complicated heartsickness.

Any news story can be successfully picked apart from any vantage point. Why does the Los Angeles Times disparage the Israeli point of view as ““>anonymous mitigating hearsay about a Hamas sniper? Why aren’t the networks airing the “>Israeli scholar’s assertion that Palestinian casualties aren’t excessive because “so far well over three-quarters have been armed gunmen, and that is a percentage which is very rarely attained in urban warfare”?

In fact, two reasons make it really hard to conclude (but not to claim) that a mainstream media outlet is biased—on the Middle East or on anything else. And a third reason makes the whole enterprise of watchdogging the press somewhat quixotic.

One is the sheer quantity of content. The stories and pictures you saw may be plenty to convince you, say, that the Associated Press is unfair to Israel, but the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” The only way to determine anything defensible about bias in reporting is to analyze a scientific sample—to examine a slice of stories that’s large enough to be representative of all stories and to choose that slice randomly, without knowing what’s going to be in it.

Some people may feel that they watch CNN so much or read The New York Times so regularly that they have plenty of data to base conclusions on. Not so. That’s why pollsters are paid big bucks: The methods they use to construct the universe of people they survey are even more important than the questions they ask them.

Second is the difficulty of coming up with an objective measure of bias. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. If you can show me a journalistic scoring system that Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky can agree on, then I’d like to show you how to earn 12 percent a year in a very special investment fund.

But even if you had a scientific sample; even if you devised a neutral litmus test for bias, the strange truth is that media spin probably matters a lot less than we assume.

Yes, public opinion is an important element of public policy. Nations care what people think about them. But the audience for cable news is astonishingly small, maybe 2 million people on a good day; the daily readership of a prestige newspaper is hardly more than that, and the only way that public radio can claim north of 20 million listeners is to count all the people who listened to any of its programs during a week.

Sure, the Internet has surged as a source of news, but its audience is fragmented into niches. If you want to get really depressed, chew on this: For decades, Americans have said that their number one source for news is local television news. Not only is that audience scattered among a thousand stations in a couple of hundred media markets, the amount of attention those stations give to international news is a tiny fraction of the airtime they give to celebrities, freak accidents and crime.

There’s no question that some elite media set the agenda for much of the rest of the press. And some nonnews programming, like talk radio hotheads, get demonstrably big listenerships. But it’s next to impossible to prove a cause-and-effect relation between these bloviators and public opinion, and the same is true of the impact of the mainstream press on public attitudes and beliefs. In the end, why Americans think what they do about Israel and Hamas is as much a mystery as how they decide who to vote for or what toothpaste to buy.

I get just as steamed as anyone else when I see a Middle East news story that I think is wildly unfair. I’m just unwilling to ascribe it to a conspiracy or to think it matters as much as the frustration and fury I feel.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School. His column appears here weekly. He can be reached at

Israel and I: The first 60 years

By ship and plane, I’ve traveled to Israel 15 times over the last 60 years and, looking back, my relationship to the Jewish state has a certain Zelig-like quality.

Zelig, you remember, was the Woody Allen character who popped up whenever and wherever some historic event was unfolding.

Or maybe it’s just that Israel is always facing either a devastating crisis or a miraculous triumph so, regardless of the timing, you’re likely to witness history in the making.

So here’s my anecdotal, completely subjective view of modern Israel’s entire lifespan, glimpsed through the eyes of a soldier, reporter and member of my wife Rachel’s vast Israeli mishpacha.


I was a junior at UC Berkeley when I decided to go to Israel and join the army of the newly created state. As a World War II combat infantryman, I thought I roughly knew what to expect, but after disembarking from the refugee ship Pan York at Haifa, I learned, not for the last time, that Israelis were a different breed and everything worked differently.

First, I wasn’t assigned to any established unit. Instead, like a feudal baron offering inducements to the local peasants to fight under his banner, an American ex-major appeared at my holding camp one day.

He asked whether I would like to join an English-speaking “Anglo-Saxon” unit he was forming (by some special alchemy, Jew boys from Britain, South Africa, the United States, Canada and Australia were transformed into “Anglo-Saxim” upon stepping on the soil of the Holy Land).

His inducement was that the anti-tank unit in the making would be “democratic,” i.e. no rank, no saluting and, except in combat, all decisions would be made by majority vote. It was an offer no ex-GI could refuse.

When I joined my fellow Anglo-Saxons, they were training on a wooden dummy gun. “Where are the weapons?” I asked. “We don’t have any,” responded our Israeli liaison. “But as soon as our infantry captures a gun from the Arabs, we’ll be ready to go.”

And that’s what happened.

It was a great time to be in Israel. There were about 600,000 Jews in the country, roughly the same number as are now in the Los Angeles area. Everybody seemed to know everyone else, nobody was obscenely rich but nobody was starving, and even macho sabras allowed that it was nice of the foreign volunteers to come over and lend a hand.

By American Army standards, nothing worked right, except that the Israelis kept winning all the battles — though at a cost of some 6,000 lives.


Rachel and I, 3-year-old Orlee and 9-month -old Alina took a ship from Marseilles to Haifa to meet my wife’s mother and six married siblings for the first time.

The ship’s Israeli crew had been drilled that it didn’t necessarily violate the egalitarian spirit of the land to treat passengers with a modicum of courtesy.

It didn’t always work. One afternoon, at “High Tea,” the waiter brought a piece of cake, but no fork. When I mentioned the oversight, he looked at me in frank astonishment, and, genuinely puzzled, asked, “So why can’t you use your fingers?”

Rachel’s mother lived in a small house in Shaarey Hessed, an observant, but not black hat, quarter of Jerusalem, where chains blocked entrances to streets on Shabbat.

There my mother-in-law had raised seven children, without benefit of a gas range, washing machine or second bathroom. Neither she nor any of her children’s families had a phone, and the idea of owning a car was beyond fantasy.

I used my one-month visit to write six articles for the Mirror, the afternoon sister paper of the Los Angeles Times. Fortunately, Rachel’s five sisters and one brother, and their spouses, ranged politically from far left to far right, so I had an instant crash course on Israel’s chaotic political scene.

The discussions were lively and emotional, something I sorely missed years later when I learned that the debates had stopped. By that time, opinions and frictions had hardened to the point where frank discussions had to be discontinued to preserve some semblance of family harmony.

Here is an anecdote to illustrate something basic about the Israeli character:

We had rented an apartment in the Rehavia quarter of Jerusalem, and a half a block from our place was a neighborhood grocery store.

One day I put Alina in a baby stroller to pick up some groceries. It was a hot day, so I took off her blanket and stowed it next to her.

I had walked but a few steps, when a middle-age woman peered into the baby carriage, clucked her tongue, looked at me disapprovingly and without a word took the blanket and covered Alina.

I immediately pushed the blanket aside and after a few more steps, another yenta appeared, and went through the same routine. Before I could reach the store, the minidrama was repeated for a third time.

At first, I was furious. What possessed these people, total strangers, to butt their noses into what was purely my business? Then I had a second thought. If I were in Los Angeles and decided to throw my baby in the gutter, it is doubtful that the passing cars would even slow down.

These thoughts led to my first rule on the Israeli personality: In normal times, Israelis can drive you up the wall. But when I’m in trouble and need help, it’s the Israelis I want next to me.

There were a couple of happenings during our stay to spice up the narrative.

Jerusalem was all atwitter because a Hollywood star and film crew were in town to shoot a movie, which was released later in the year under the title, “Exodus.”

Then, toward the end of our stay, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion rose in the Knesset for an announcement. Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, had been captured in Argentina and brought to Israel for trial.

Paradoxes characterize life in Israel

To be an Israeli at the time of the state’s 60th anniversary means to be resigned to living with insoluble emotional and political paradoxes. It means living with a growing fear of mortality, even as we celebrate our ability to outlive every threat. We are almost certainly the only nation that marks its Independence Day with an annual poll that invariably includes the question: “Do you believe the country will still exist 50 years from now?”

Most Israelis continue to answer in the affirmative, precisely because we know that the odds have always been against us, and that we have thrived in the face of dangers few nations would likely have survived.

We are still “the only country” — the only country whose borders are not internationally recognized, the only country whose capital city has no foreign embassies, the only country expected in negotiations to yield tangible assets in exchange for mere recognition of our existence, the only country on which a death sentence has been passed by some of its neighbors.

Terror enclaves impinge on our borders, while the threat of a nuclear Iran grows. Our wars have shifted from the battlefront to the home front. Katyushas on Haifa and Ashkelon, exploding buses in Jerusalem — the inconceivable has become routine.

As the jihad against us intensifies, we long for the ever-more elusive promise of normalization. Perhaps only now, in our fitful late-middle age, do we realize how touchingly naïve it was for the Zionist movement to imagine normalizing the Jews by creating the only non-Muslim state in the Middle East, in a land holy to three competing faiths, in proximity to the world’s most coveted oil fields.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be proud of unimagined achievements, of being a world innovator in science and technology, of being second, just behind America, in the number of high-tech start-ups represented on the NASDAQ. And it means carrying the shame of chilul, desecration of the name “Israel.”

We have allowed ourselves to be represented by a president accused of rape, a prime minister voted the most corrupt politician in the country, a deputy prime minister convicted of molestation, a former finance minister accused of massive embezzlement. Other countries may have leaders even more corrupt than ours, but that is no comfort for a people facing life-and-death decisions and repeatedly summoned to sacrifice far beyond the capacity of any other Western citizenry.

In our late middle age, most of us are wary of the notion of fulfilling the biblical imperative of becoming a light unto the nations. “Let’s first be a light to ourselves,” we say.

Still, we suspect that we may be a light after all. In our war against the suicide bombers, we proved that a consumerist society can defeat terrorists and reclaim its public space — a historic victory for the world, even if much of the world doesn’t know it.

This is the third time in less than a century that the Jews find themselves on the front line against totalitarian evil — Nazism, Soviet communism and now jihadism. Each of those movements aspired to remake humanity in its image, and each defined the Jews as its main obstacle.

It is difficult to celebrate that pattern of enmity, but understanding the nature of our enemies should, at least, give us confidence in the essential rightness of our cause. By being the front line against jihad, Israel is performing the work of tikkun olam, helping to heal the world.

Not only are we fighting this war while bereft of inspired leadership; for the first time in our history, we lack a vision that can summon a majority of Israelis.

One after another our ideological certainties have collapsed. The dream of “greater Israel” ended in the first intifada; the dream of “peace now” ended in jihad. Finally, there was the hope of unilateralism: If we can’t occupy the Palestinians and we can’t make peace with them, we can at least determine our own borders. That fantasy ended with the missile attacks from Gaza. Now there are no answers, only improvisations.

Still, in place of ideological certainty there is hard-won sobriety. Most of us would make almost any concession to end this conflict and achieve genuine recognition of our legitimacy. But most of us realize that at this point in the conflict, no concession will bring us that recognition.

The left has won the argument over concessions; the right has won the argument over peace. For the first time since the Six-Day War, we are facing reality without ideological blinkers. The collapse of ideologies depresses but also clarifies: Finally, we understand the complexity in which we live, and that enables us to cope.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to acknowledge that our internal conflicts over identity can only be managed, not solved. As a modern state in a holy land, we are fated to remain at once secular and religious, without a decisive tilt in either direction. And with Arabs constituting over 20 percent of our population, we are fated to be both a democratic state and a Jewish State, aspiring to somehow include all its citizens in its national identity, while maintaining responsibility even for Jews who are not its citizens.

No less extraordinary than the multiple fault lines in the society is the fact that the society is holding. We have survived the murder of a prime minister and the uprooting of thousands of our fellow citizens from their homes in Gaza. We know our capacity for self-devouring, the Jewish yetzer harah (evil temptation).

The vast immigration waves of the last two decades from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have yet to be integrated. But we know, too, that the ingathering of the exiles has its own momentum, and that, somehow, a people is being formed out of disparate and even antithetical communities.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be privy to a secret that most Diaspora Jews don’t know, and which we often don’t acknowledge even to ourselves: Israel is a great place to live — to cherish the informality, the vitality if not the rudeness, the endless surprises and permutations of Israeliness. Within unbearable tension, we have created ease. The food is great, the humor beyond politically incorrect. Hebrew culture scandalizes the sacred and sanctifies the mundane.

Jewish life in the City of Lights

Fortunately I traveled to Paris before Pesach, because missing buttery croissants and oven-fresh French baguettes would have been ruinous to my experience. Indeed, France is most famous for its delicacies — wine, cheese, pastries, foie gras — but it is also home to a vibrant Jewish community; one that has prospered for the better part of 2,000 years, but currently suffers from a malaise of bad press.

Despite the historic turbulence of Jewish French life, current population statistics suggest there are between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews living in the region, the majority of whom reside in the cultural capital of Paris. The figure is surprising, considering frenzied media depictions of French anti-Semitism, recent waves of Jewish French immigration to Israel and also because the population was estimated at 300,000 prior to World War II, which suggests that, even though France is depicted as less than empathetic to the Jewish community, the Jewish population there has actually grown.

However, the aftermath of Nazi occupation in France left the country scarred, with a visibly guilty conscience, which I investigated during my stay in a 16th century walk-up on the Ile St. Louis.

In a bustling student cafe on Rue Saint-Guillaume just across from the elite French university Sciences Po, a young Parisian typed on his laptop before striking up conversation about the thesis he is writing on generational divides. He seemed well informed, so I asked, “Is it true that the French are hostile to their Jews?”

He laughed, and said that too many people argue politics about the Arab-Israeli conflict without knowing the history, essentially implying that if there’s hostility toward the Jews it’s related to Israel. But it also begged the question: Is argumentation or even Palestinian empathy what the world perceives as hostile to French Jews?

The following night, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai attended a screening of his new film, “Disengagement” at an artsy independent theater in Place Saint Germain. The film, a French-Israeli co-production (and a good sign of comity in the arts), depicts a woman’s search for the daughter she abandoned, set against the backdrop of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. The film was, in short, riveting; and the Q-&-A that followed revealed French cineastes. were provoked by its content.

Dressed in black with a white scarf draped around his neck, Gitai, 58, stood aloof at the front of the room, fielding question from critics and fans, brooding during one man’s rant about the film’s lack of a Palestinian portrayal.

“This is an Israeli story,” Gitai said, explaining that the conflict in the film was not between Palestinians and Israelis, but between Israeli soldiers and the Israeli citizens they were ordered to remove from their homes; a conflict between secular Jews and religious Jews.

Scrubbing aside content and politics, there was still the idea that an Israeli filmmaker — telling an Israeli story — had been invited to screen his film at a distinguished arts venue, in a city ensconced in highbrow cultural snobbery. Perhaps more importantly, a famous and beautiful French actress (Juliette Binoche) figured prominently on the theater’s marquee, wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Whether fueled by guilt or regret or just plain reparation, Jewish culture is pervasive almost anywhere you go in Paris: There’s the sophisticated bookstore, Librairie Gallimard, which contains shelves full of books about the Holocaust, French resistance fighters and Nazi occupation, along with a special section devoted to Israeli literature; there’s the Holocaust Memorial on the Ile de la Cite, just behind the Notre Dame cathedral, certainly one of Paris’ most popular destinations; there’s the Jewish quarter, Rue de Rosiers, undeniably well situated in the trendy Le Marais, with some of the city’s best shopping, and near the historic Place des Vosges, an opulent 17th-century manse built for royalty.

So for the few-thousand French Jews who have made aliyah since 2004, there emerges new hope, like Gitai’s crosscultural storytelling or the Paris-born, Israeli-raised pop singer Yael Naim whose shows sung in Hebrew, French and English sell out among young, bourgeois Parisians.

In the song “Paris,” Naim’s enchanting ode to her beloved birthplace, she best captures the conflicting sentiments Jews feel for the City of Lights: I came here / A bit disenchanted / This beautiful illusion of mine / The country is so good to me here / So why do I cry and get upset?

Well, because it’s hard choosing between Paris and Israel. But still, it’s delightful to have that choice.

The dreadful ‘D’ words

Divorce, dissolution, divestment: These are words that spell the end of a relationship and of what might have been — through time and patience — a meaningful and inspiring marriage.

We know how often this happens to people we know, and so it is happening at this moment to the State of Israel. Like meddling in-laws, we, the world community, sit in the family room voicing our interests in the couple’s future, yet the minute we sense marital discord, we rush for the exit or take sides and fan the flames.

Israel has a population of 7.2 million — 76 percent Jews, 20 percent Arabs and 4 percent immigrant workers. The Israeli-Arab citizenry breaks down as 82 percent Muslims, 9 percent Christian and 9 percent Druze. All these groups live together in an intricate array of diverse ancestry, professional ties and domestic dependence. Each citizen has a vote in the functioning democracy that is the State of Israel, and by extension a voice at the family table of the Knesset.

The entire world debates how to intervene in this contentious and vociferous marriage, whose every dispute we mostly hear second-hand from the world media. Do we continue to support Israel, even though we know there are serious domestic disputes and inequities? Should we divest from, abandon, a world leader in high-tech, biotech, medical and environmental enterprises that benefit the world? In our desire to punish the couple, or one partner, do we ultimately punish ourselves?

These were some of the questions we sought answers to when we joined the Los Angeles Religious Leaders Delegation in an interfaith mission to Rome, the Vatican, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in January 2008, a group of Jews, Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians and a Muslim.

Israeli society is far more complex than we had envisaged. With the exception of the Druze and Bedouins, the Christian and Muslim Arab citizens of Israel identify themselves as Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship. Nowhere is this glass partition more apparent than in Jerusalem, where we experienced the psychological barrier between Arabs and Jews. Although many Israeli-Arabs earn more than their counterparts in other Middle Eastern countries, their wages and the social services they receive in Israel are not on par with Israeli Jews. This Israeli-Arab minority needs to be nurtured, ensured equal social status and accorded full civil rights and municipal services.

According to Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who covers the West Bank and Gaza for various publications and with whom we met, the employment discrepancy can be attributed to two factors: a lower level of education in the Arab work force, resulting in skills more suited to lower paying jobs, and anti-Arab employment discrimination, at all levels of business sectors. Toameh — respected by both Israelis and Palestinians — outlined proposed solutions to the problem, noting that the Israeli government is prioritizing educational reform in the Arab sector, and making genuine efforts to increase Arab employment in higher-paid professions.

As a Christian and a Muslim, who ourselves would be minorities in Israeli society, we believe our most constructive role should be to support responsible investment in Israel, not punishment through divestment actions destined to backfire.

Rather than divestment, we support investment — financial and otherwise — in Israeli enterprises that address social and economic inequalities, enable joint business enterprises, increase employment among the Arab population, and offer high-quality social services to underprivileged and minority citizens. Such enterprises are seeding the ground for a flourishing, mutually beneficial society for Israelis and Palestinians.

For example, at Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin School, at-risk students from lower socioeconomic level Jewish and Arab families and children of immigrant workers harmoniously coexist in a project partially funded by Cisco Systems. Children find a safe haven at Bialik-Rogozin, and receive a quality kindergarden through 12th-grade education. At Mishkenot Ruth Daniel Multicultural Center in Jaffa, Jewish and Arab teenagers interact socially and engage in a variety of social justice projects together, many of which benefit Palestinians in the West Bank.

We also came to understand how successive corrupt Palestinian leaderships have fed the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the territories. Any wishful thinking that divestment will lead to military calm along Israeli-Palestinian borders is strategically flawed. The present war of attrition between Israel and self-governing Gaza has been instigated and sustained by the extremist Hamas leadership whose charter calling for the eradication of Israel harms the very people it claims to serve, malnourishing the nascent Palestinian state which otherwise has the support of virtually the entire international community.

On the occasion of Israel’s 60th birthday, we believe people of good will should turn away from the destructive D words of Divorce, Dissolution and Divestment, and work instead for peace, security and happiness for both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe in supporting the prosperous marriage that can result from targeted investment and economic partnerships between the respective states, and between their many peoples.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson oversees 390 United Methodist Congregations in Southern California, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. Dr. Nur Amersi is the executive director of the Afghanistan World Foundation.

What’s next after Hamas’ Gaza takeover?

Can Olmert’s goodwill gestures kick-start peace?

After the plethora of goodwill gestures Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made in his meeting Saturday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, politicians and pundits on both sides are asking one question: Will it be enough to kick-start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Leaders on both sides are optimistic. They see Olmert’s moves as part of a new and wider American plan for Israeli-Palestinian accommodation.

Pundits, however, are downbeat. Few believe Abbas will be able to create the necessary conditions on the Palestinian side for successful negotiations with Israel.

The meeting was the first between the two leaders since Olmert’s election victory last March. Its primary purpose was to help strengthen Abbas and his relatively moderate Fatah movement in their ongoing power struggle with the radical Hamas.

Olmert’s moves were part of a two-pronged plan: To show the Palestinian people that more can be achieved through Abbas-style dialogue with Israel than armed confrontation, and to strengthen Fatah militarily by allowing it the wherewithal to build up its armed forces ahead of a possible showdown with Hamas over approaches to Israel.

With this in mind, Olmert made the following goodwill gestures:

  • Israel would release $100 million in frozen Palestinian tax money.
  • It would remove dozens of checkpoints to facilitate Palestinian movement in the West Bank.
  • It would ease passage in and out of Gaza to enable the free flow of goods and medicines.
  • It would consider freeing a few dozen Palestinian prisoners in early January to mark Id el-Adha, the Muslim feast of the sacrifice, ahead of the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas-affiliated terrorists.
  • It would agree to set up joint committees to consider further prisoner releases and the removal of key Fatah operatives from Israel’s wanted list.
  • It would allow Egypt to supply Fatah with 1,900 Kalashnikov rifles.
  • It would allow the Palestinian Badr Brigade, currently stationed in Jordan, to redeploy in Gaza.

Olmert went out of his way to show friendship and respect for Abbas and his presidency, waiting for Abbas outside the prime minister’s residence and embracing him warmly on arrival.

Olmert also made a major symbolic gesture: For the first time, Palestinian flags were flown in an official Israeli state building.

“Abu Mazen is an adversary — he is a not an easy adversary, but with an adversary like this, there is, perhaps, a chance of dialogue that will bring an accord between us and the Palestinians,” Olmert said in a speech Sunday, his first public comments following the two hours of talks with Abbas.

Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat also was cautiously optimistic.

“It would be a mistake to think that all the problems could be solved in one meeting, but the meeting improved the feeling on both sides,” he said.

Writing in the mass-circulation daily, Yediot Achronot, political analyst Itamar Eichner summed up the new friendship between Olmert and Abbas.

“They have a common interest not to mention a common enemy: to block the rise of Hamas, which enjoys massive support from Iran,” he wrote.

The Israeli moves complement U.S. and European efforts to strengthen Fatah.

The Americans are soon expected to release about $100 million to Abbas, and they also have been training Fatah forces.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a mid-December visit to Ramallah, outlined economic projects from which the Palestinians could benefit if they reached accommodation with Israel.

All of these moves are part of a wider plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that has begun to take shape in the U.S. State Department. The new American thinking envisages leapfrogging stage one of the internationally approved “road map” for Israeli-Palestinian peace and moving directly to stage two, which calls for the establishment of an interim Palestinian state with provisional borders.

Discarding stage one means that talks could go ahead without the Palestinians first stopping all violence and without Israel dismantling West Bank outposts.

The idea is that once a ministate is established, those things would be much easier for the parties to handle.

By strengthening Abbas, the Americans hope to create conditions for the establishment of a new Palestinian government that would recognize Israel and become a serious negotiating partner. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to make a visit to the region soon to press the plan.

The American approach is not much different from ideas being bandied about in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and supported by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Livni, who favors going directly for an interim Palestinian state, told a meeting of Europe-based Israeli ambassadors in Jerusalem on Sunday that the Olmert-Abbas meeting was important not as “a lone gesture, but as a process of which gestures are a part.” She added that in her view, moderate Arab and Muslim states should be involved, as well.

On the Palestinian side, Abbas also expressed the hope that the meeting would lead to peace talks.

Israeli pundits, however, are skeptical. They doubt Abbas will be able to carry off the necessary first step: the establishment of a Palestinian government that makes the right noises about recognizing Israel, accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and renouncing violence.

“First that must happen, but as we know from experience, something on the way is bound to go wrong, and all we’ll get is more of the same,” political analyst Ben Caspit wrote in the Ma’ariv daily.

“Many meetings between Palestinian and Israeli leaders have taken place up till now, but it seems that never have two such weak partners sat on either side of the table — Abu Mazen on the verge of a civil war and Olmert after a war and embroiled in an investigation,” Caspit wrote.

“They have a great many qualities in common: not a bad vision and considerable courage. On the other hand they are lacking in leadership and confidence, exhausted and shackled by political constraints, enemies inside and out.”

The trouble is, Palestinian society is deeply divided over how to proceed.

In Abbas’ view, the Palestinians will always be outgunned and therefore will lose in any violent confrontation with Israel. Thus, negotiation is the way forward.

Hamas holds that time is on the Palestinians’ side, and the best path is to establish a temporary truce, use it to stockpile weapons and wait for Iran to become the dominant regional power.

Israeli intelligence estimates that if Abbas is able to rekindle a peace process, Hamas will escalate its violence against Israel in a bid to extinguish it.

Complicating matters even further, the fight on the Palestinian streets is not only between Fatah and Hamas. Poverty and the breakdown of law and order have spawned violent, armed gangs loyal only to themselves and contemptuous of authority, whether from Fatah or Hamas. They will probably continue to use terror against Israel, even if Abbas and Hamas agree to a cease-fire.

If the latest American initiative is to succeed, it will have to find a way of neutralizing both Hamas and the street gangs. Otherwise, new peace prospects will drown in a sea of Palestinian chaos.

Making peace at the best of times would not be easy. In these circumstances, it will be a very tall order indeed.

Leslie Susser is diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem report.
JTA correspondent Dan Baron in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Fatah-Hamas conflict forces Palestinians to choose

In calling for elections, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sharpened the choice facing the Palestinian people: Back his Fatah party and have peace with Israel and the promise of economic prosperity, or support the rejectionism of Hamas, whose nine months in office have brought only war, chaos and impoverishment.

Abbas’ call Saturday for early elections in the Palestinian Authority triggered fierce street fighting between Fatah and Hamas, which won the last election in January. Despite a hastily arranged cease-fire Monday, the two factions remain on the brink of civil war.

The United States, Israel and other Western countries are hoping for a Fatah election victory that could pave the way for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The United States is actively helping Fatah, but Israel — fearing that support for Fatah will backfire and undermine the moderates — is staying out.

The turmoil in the Palestinian camp comes as Syria launched a new initiative for peace with Israel. Peace with Syria would be a major strategic gain for Israel, breaking up the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, and it would put additional pressure on the Palestinians to cut a deal with Israel.

But Israel is not biting. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not trust Syria’s intentions and does not want to cross President Bush, who opposes dealings with Damascus.

The internal Palestinian struggle and the Syrian overtures are both part of a greater regional struggle for hegemony, pitting Iran and radicals such as Syria and Hamas against Western-leaning moderates such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Abbas’ Fatah. How the Palestinian struggle plays out, and whether Syria comes over to the moderate side, will have major implications for Iran’s position in the region.

In his speech Saturday calling for elections, Abbas launched a scathing attack on Hamas’ policy of violence and non-recognition of Israel.

“The settler land” — parts of Gaza that Israel evacuated last year — “should have flourished with economic, tourist and agricultural projects, but some people insist on firing rockets,” he scoffed.

“They kidnapped the Israeli soldier,” a reference to Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was abducted by Gaza gunmen last June. “And since then they paid with 500 martyrs, 4,000 wounded and thousands of homes destroyed.”

The subtext was clear: Violence is getting the Palestinians nowhere, while peace moves could bring economic reward.

But Abbas did not set any date for elections. Analysts say he hopes to use the threat of elections to pressure Hamas into forming a national unity government with Fatah. That might enable the Palestinian Authority to accept the international community’s benchmarks for dialogue — recognition of Israel, acceptance of past agreements and renunciation of violence — paving the way for peace talks and the lifting of the international economic boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Some Hamas leaders are in favor of this. Others still hope to circumvent the boycott by bringing in Iranian money.

P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas was intercepted recently trying to smuggle $30 million from Iran into Gaza in a suitcase. Indeed, Hamas strategy is built on financial and political ties with Tehran.

“Iran gives us strategic depth,” Haniyeh declared during a recent visit to Tehran.

The thinking behind this is the basis for Hamas rejectionism. Hamas leaders believe that if they can hold out until Iran gains regional dominance, they’ll be able to defeat Israel. Therefore, they argue, any attempts to make peace with the Jewish state are short-sighted.

The fighting on the streets was the worst between Fatah and Hamas in years, with children caught in the crossfire. Leaders on both sides also came under fire: There was a shooting attack on Haniyeh’s convoy as he returned to Gaza from Iran. Hamas blamed Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan and threatened to assassinate him.

Later, mortars were fired at Abbas’ presidential compound in Gaza.

Pundits say the slide into civil war can only be averted if there is an agreement on holding elections or if a unity government is formed. Hamas has been adamantly against elections, describing Abbas’ call for an early ballot as an “attempted coup” against a legitimately elected government.

Despite efforts to reach a compromise, analysts argue that an eventual showdown is inevitable, since the two groups’ basic positions on Israel and the nature of a future Palestinian state are irreconcilable.
As both sides prepare for armed conflict, the West is openly backing Fatah. The United States has pledged funds, and an American general, Keith Dayton, is training Fatah forces.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Ramallah on Monday to back Abbas’ conception of peacemaking as something that brings significant economic benefits. By outlining a vision of economic prosperity, Blair hoped to convince the Palestinian people that Abbas’ approach has a good chance of success.

Abbas also has the backing of moderate Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, which is providing funds, and Egypt, which reportedly is supplying weapons.

Syria, however, continues to host Hamas leaders in Damascus, and that is one of the reasons Israel is wary of its new peace offer.

The Syrian peace rhetoric was unprecedented. In an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, President Assad invited Olmert to meet him and test his intentions, while Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told the Washington Post that a commitment to return the Golan Heights was no longer a precondition for talks.

Israeli leaders are divided on how to respond. Olmert, and most of the government, argue that Syria must first show whether it’s on the side of Iran or the West. It can do that by expelling Hamas and other terrorist leaders from Damascus and stopping its meddling in Iraq and Lebanon.

Others, in Labor, the left and the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, say Israel should use the chance to engage Damascus and try to swing it to the moderate camp. In a briefing of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Mossad Chief Meir Dagan came down firmly on Olmert’s side, arguing that Syria isn’t really interested in peace but simply wanted to use talks with Israel as a means of easing Western pressure.

Some pundits argue, however, that Olmert is making a huge strategic blunder. The most scathing was Ma’ariv political analyst Ben Caspit.

“I wonder what Ehud Olmert will say to the members of the next commission of inquiry — the one that is set up in two or three years time after war with Syria or after it becomes clear just how big a chance was missed to split the axis of evil and isolate Iran,” Caspit wrote.

Israeli author Grossman exhorts Olmert to follow Rabin’s example

He has long been known abroad as an Israeli novelist. But this weekend, David Grossman put fiction aside to become the voice of an Israel that is bruised, confused and yearning to see the horizon beyond the perennial war clouds.

Grossman delivered the central address at Saturday night’s rally in memory of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking for a half-hour to a rapt crowd estimated at 100,000 people.

He brought with him not just an intellectual’s gravitas but the sorrow of a bereaved parent: Grossman lost a son, Uri, in the final offensive of the summer war against Hezbollah, a war Grossman had urged the Olmert government to cut short.

But Grossman eschewed self-pity and called on Israelis to be mindful of a national dream of a Zionism bringing peace and progress and that seems, to many, to be slipping away.

“One of the most disturbing feelings exacerbated by the recent war was the feeling that in these days, there is no king in Israel, that our leadership — our political and military leadership — is vapid,” he said.

“When was the last time that the prime minister advocated or implemented measures with the capacity for opening up a new horizon for Israelis, or a better future? When did he initiate a social, cultural project, inspired by a value, instead of just reacting frenetically to moves imposed on him by others?”

Speaking at the site of Rabin’s assassination in 1995 by a far-right zealot opposed to his intended rapprochement with the Palestinians, Grossman painted a portrait of the late prime minister as a man who reluctantly engaged a historical enemy of Israel because he felt there was no alternative. Others, however, believe Rabin made a catastrophic mistake by empowering and even arming a Palestinian national movement that never took its peace commitments seriously and remained committed to Israel’s destruction.

Like Rabin, Grossman said, current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should make a peace offer to the Palestinians, bypassing their hard-line Hamas government. Israel also should not be deaf to diplomatic overtures from Syria, Grossman argued.

The remarks came as Israel waged a major military operation in the northern Gaza Strip aimed at stopping cross-border rocket fire by Palestinian terrorists. At least 40 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have died.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar warned that the offensive could put the life of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza, at risk. But Olmert was unfazed.

“We have informed the world that we do not intend to countenance continued Qassam rocket barrages against Sderot and other surrounding Israeli communities,” Olmert said at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting. “We will take the necessary measures to significantly diminish them and prevent terrorist operations. Thus we have said, thus we are doing and thus we will continue to do.”

Critics have accused Olmert of trying to look tough in Gaza to make up for the failings of the 34-day war in Lebanon, which was launched after Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a cross- border raid. The war ended without achieving the soldiers’ return.

“Israel flexed an enormous military muscle, but what was revealed behind it was its fragility and the limitations of its capability,” Grossman said. “Simple human compassion has the power of a natural element, particularly in a situation of deadlock and hostility.”

Grossman’s rebuke hit its mark with at least one member of the Olmert government — Labor Minister without-Portfolio Eitan Cabel, who was attending the rally alongside Vice Premier Shimon Peres and other political notables.

“I haven’t heard a speech like that in years, and it is important to listen to it because it expresses the feelings of large sectors of our nation. Even though he spoke harshly, we mustn’t dismiss him and we mustn’t ignore him,” Cabel told Ma’ariv.

With his popularity waning, Olmert has surprised friend and foe alike by bringing Avigdor Lieberman into his government. Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party advocates annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank while ceding Israeli Arab communities to the jurisdiction of a future Palestinian state in what Lieberman describes as partition along ethnic lines.

His appointment prompted the resignation of a Labor Party minister, Ofir Pines-Paz. At the Rabin rally, Grossman described it as “the appointment of that recidivist pyromaniac to manage the fire-fighting service of the state.”

Lieberman was quick to rebuff the remarks. In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday, he wrote off the rally.

“Instead of seeing an event of national reconciliation, we received obvious left-wing political fulmination,” he said.

Olmert had no immediate comment on Grossman’s critique. But a Rabin memorial speech given separately by the prime minister suggests he should not be discounted as a potential peacemaker. Speaking at the Knesset, Olmert urged Palestinians to abandon their hostility toward Israel before it’s too late.

“We want to find a solution to the ongoing conflict between us,” Olmert said. “For 44 years you have been trying to ignore reality. Look how bad your situation is. Think for a moment where you find yourselves. If you continue with terror and hate, and if you continue to press the trigger, it will be a pity, a pity. Bad and bitter will be your fate. Consider your moves very carefully.”

New Israeli Cabinet member urges ‘ethnic partitioning;’ Gay pride parade OK’d and Jerusalem protests

Israeli Official Urges Ethnic Partitioning

An Israeli Cabinet minister called for the Jewish state and the West Bank to be partitioned according to ethnicity. Avigdor Lieberman of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party said in an interview that rather than evacuating Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israel should keep them, while ceding Israeli Arab communities to a future Palestinian state.

“I think separation between two nations is the best solution,” Lieberman told Britain’s Sunday Times. “I want to provide an Israel that is a Jewish, Zionist country.” He invoked as a model the forcible 1974 separation of ethnic Turks and Greeks in Cyprus.

Lieberman recently joined Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet as minister for strategic threats. A Lieberman aide told the Sunday Telegraph that under the partition vision, Israeli Arabs would have the option of remaining in the Jewish state on condition that they pledged allegiance to it.

Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade Gets OK

Israel’s attorney general turned down a request by Jerusalem police to call off this week’s gay pride parade. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ruled Sunday that the parade, which has drawn threats of violence from ultra-Orthodox protesters, could go ahead Friday Nov. 10, but he ordered organizers to confer with police on changing the route in order to reduce friction with Jerusalem’s religious communities.

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Mea She’arim rioted at the news that the parade was to proceed, blocking the city’s Shabbat Square with burning trash cans and blocking road access Monday to Mount Herzl. Police said Monday that 12,000 police and border police would be called in to protect the marchers.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Cancels Agunah Meeting

Jewish women’s rights leaders are reeling after Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi canceled a conference of prominent rabbis that was to deal with the issue of women who become agunah, or “chained” women, when their husbands refuse to give them a get.

The closed-door conference, which was set for Nov. 7-8 in Jerusalem would have been the first such forum for a large number of heads of beit dins. On Thursday, 27 of 56 invited rabbis were notified of its cancellation via fax from Rabbi Eliahu Ben-Dahan, director of Israel’s rabbinical courts, that said Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had decided to cancel the conference “due to petitions that came to him both from Israel and outside of Israel requesting its cancellation.”

Blu Greenberg, a founding president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said a few random meetings in lieu of a conference with the chief rabbi would “not be satisfactory,” but added that the cancellation could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Although much of the community was not even aware of the conference, “they’ll be aware now,” she said.

Hospital Moves Sharon Out of Intensive Care

Ariel Sharon was moved out of intensive care and back to an Israeli coma ward. Sheba Medical Center announced Monday that the former prime minister, who was taken for emergency surveillance over the weekend after developing an infection, had been returned to his bed.

“His heart function has improved after being treated for an infection, and his overall condition has stabilized,” a hospital statement said.

Sharon, 78, has been in a coma since suffering a stroke in January.

Pope Deplores Gaza Violence

Pope Benedict XVI deplored the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the Gaza Strip.”It is with deep worry that I am following the news about the grave deterioration of the situation in Gaza, and I want to express my closeness to the civilian populations who are suffering the consequences of acts of violence,” the pope said Sunday in his weekly sermon at the Vatican.

The pope called for the “enlightenment” of Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as for other Middle Eastern nations which might have a role in brokering peace.

Israel Readies for Possible New War in ’07

Israel reportedly is preparing for the possibility of another war with Hezbollah, this time joined by Syria. Citing assessments among top military brass, Ha’aretz reported Monday that Israeli forces are on alert for a fresh fight initiated by the Lebanese terrorists and its Syrian patrons in the summer of 2007. According to the report, Hezbollah is believed to have come out of its recent war with Israel with more than 5,000 ground-to-ground missiles intact. In case of such a conflict next year, Iran would likely provide Hezbollah and Syria with backing but not get directly involved, Ha’aretz reported. Military officials declined comment on the report.

Technion Receives $30 Million Gift

A $30 million grant from the founder of QUALCOMM will allow the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to expand its graduate programs. Irwin and Joan Jacobs of San Diego announced recently at the American Technion Society’s annual meeting that they would make the donation to the Haifa school. The philanthropists previously had established a research center at the Technion for communication and information technologies. QUALCOMM established operations near the Technion campus in 1993 and has hired many Technion graduates.

Italian Jews Co-Sponsor Islamic Art Show

An exhibition of Islamic art is under way in an Italian synagogue. Called “SalamAleikum,” the show opened Oct. 29 in the historic synagogue in Casale Monferrato in northern Italy’s Piedmont region. Organized by the Casale Monferrato Jewish community and the Ibn Sina Center for European Studies, the show includes works by 14 artists from Algeria, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Italy and elsewhere. The exhibition runs until Nov. 23.

Geller Claims Psychic Aided Saddam Capture

Israeli psychic Uri Geller said a clairvoyant helped U.S. forces capture Saddam Hussein in 2003. Geller, who is in Israel to tape a reality television show for aspiring psychics, made the claim in an interview Monday. “You remember when they found Saddam Hussein in Iraq? A soldier walked over to a rock, lifted it and then found a trapdoor and found him in there,” he told Reuters. “Well, I know that that soldier walked over to that rock because he got information from a ‘ remote viewer’ from the United States.” Geller said he got the information from a high-level American source. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Two-state solution ASAP only chance for peace

Lebanon held the world’s headlines for much of the summer as Hezbollah and Israel waged sudden, furious battle. On the strength of the internationally brokered cease-fire that
brought a halt to the violence, Israel has now withdrawn the last of its troops and the world is holding its breath, hoping the cease-fire is sustainable.

But in the meantime, the Gaza Strip has continued to fester and collapse, seemingly forgotten. The situation in Gaza has been deplorable since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in August 2005, its population suffering from hunger and growing desperation. Late spring saw further deterioration and an escalation in the violence.

During a June 25 attack on an Israeli army base, two soldiers were killed and Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured.

Since that time, Gazans have been subjected to repeated Israeli attempts to combat terrorism, resulting in enormous loss of life and damage to the area’s infrastructure. Newspaper readers know, for instance, that the war in Lebanon led to the deaths of more than 850 Lebanese and 150 Israelis, combatants and civilians. How many know that since June 25, more than 240 Palestinians, combatants and civilians, have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces?

Meanwhile, Qassam rockets have continued to be launched into southern Israel — far fewer in recent weeks, but still a source of fear and tension for those living within the rockets’ range. Despite an iron-fisted response to the Hamas attack and reports of a possible prisoner exchange, Shalit remains in his captors’ hands.

Most critically, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has gone from awful to far worse. The New York Times reported earlier this month that “it is difficult to exaggerate the economic collapse of Gaza,” and Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, called Gaza “a ticking time bomb.”

Gaza’s economy, health care and social services are near collapse, and there are growing signs of malnutrition. Sixty percent of the population is without electricity, due to Israel’s bombing of Gaza’s only power station.

Border crossings have been open for only a few days over the past several months, leading to drastic shortages in basic human necessities: hospital supplies, essential medicines and food. Seventy-nine percent of households are now subsisting below the poverty line, and the World Bank forecasts that if the current situation persists, 2006 may be the worst year in Palestinian economic history.

As American Jews for whom Israel’s well-being is of paramount importance, we find it impossible to believe that these circumstances will lead to Israel’s security or help bring about a lasting peace. While it is understandable that we focused our attention on Lebanon for many weeks, we now call on the U.S. government and international community to dedicate the resources employed in achieving the Hezbollah-Israel cease-fire to address the looming disaster in Gaza and work toward reviving negotiations for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First and foremost, the United States must work with Israel and the international community to open the border crossings on a regular basis to ensure receipt of desperately needed humanitarian supplies and the establishment of a functioning economy. Indeed, the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, reported early this month that the U.S. Security Coordinator, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, told a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders that “without the restoration of commercial activity, there will be no security in the area.”

The possible formation of a Palestinian unity government may allow for the resumption of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority but seeing to it that more Palestinians get enough to eat and can meet their basic medical needs will not be enough.

Ha’aretz columnist Gidon Levy said of Israeli actions: “There is a horror taking place in Gaza, and while it might prevent a few terror attacks in the short run, it is bound to give birth to much more murderous terror.”

The only thing that can bring a final resolution of the conflict, creating economic stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike, as well as the longed-for end to the violence, is a negotiated, two-state solution.

Now that the cease-fire is in place and Israeli troops have left Lebanon, the international community, led by the United States, must turn its attention to Gaza. Continuing to ignore the problem will not make it go away. On the contrary, if the crisis is not addressed soon, Palestinians and Israelis alike will pay dearly as the peace process is further delayed.

Steve Masters and Diane Balser are the chair and co-chair of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s national advocacy committee. Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, is a national grass-roots movement more than 35,000 strong that educates and mobilizes American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Enforce cease-fire terms for peaceful New Year

The Jewish people have a tradition of reflecting on the past as a tool to move forward. Never is this custom more significant than at the start of each New Year.

This Yom Kippur, we have a lot to bear in mind. At the end of summer a year ago, just before the beginning of 5766, Israel had faced what at the time seemed to be its most difficult summer with the disengagement from Gaza. A rift was created within Israeli society, one that the people of Israel were still dealing with until just before this summer began.

The thriving economy and booming tourist industry seemed a promising end to a trying year and hopeful beginning of the coming year. Unprecedented numbers of Hollywood celebrities were calling Tel Aviv their summer hotspot, and Israeli teens were trampling all over each other to buy tickets for some of the biggest acts in the world — performing in Israel.

School was out and summer camp was in. The pools had been properly chlorinated, and everyone was ready to show off their brand new bathing suits. For the kids all over Israel, this was the moment they’d been waiting for since September.

Following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in two terrorist attacks, which resulted in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit on June 25 as well as Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on July 12, Israel set aside its summer plans and prepared to face once again what we have faced so many times in the past — war.

By mid-July the residents of northern Israel were being bombarded on a daily basis by deadly Katyusha missiles fired by Hezbollah. Innocent civilians were being targeted and killed. Hezbollah was exhibiting a new ruthlessness, placing ball bearings in the missile heads with the sole purpose of inflicting maximum injury and suffering on anyone within its reach of one mile.

Northern Israel took a harsh beating, bustling Israeli landmark cities like Haifa, Tzfat, Nahariya, Kiriyat Shmona and Tiberias were nearly deserted. Buildings were destroyed, the lush green landscape was in flames, and many lives were lost. With more than a third of Israel’s population in the line of fire, residents either fled south or huddled together in bomb shelters, transforming the animated north into a ghost town.

By the time a cease-fire was reached, 160 Israelis had been killed by Hezbollah terrorists. More than 4,000 missiles landed in Israel during the war, hitting 6,000 homes, leaving 300,000 Israeli’s displaced and forcing more than a million to live in bomb shelters.
Had the United Nations implemented Security Council Resolution 1559, the war would probably have been averted. Now, with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701, the international community has been given a second chance to make things right.

Resolution 1701 brought an end to the military struggle, but while the bombs have stopped falling and the focus is to regroup and rebuild northern Israel, we must remain cautious and guarded.

The clear agenda of the president of Iran, a fundamentalist regime that gives financial support and operational directives to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, has not changed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to sponsor terrorism and strives to achieve nuclear capabilities, while at the same time reiterating his call for the destruction of the Israel and denying the Holocaust.

Iran and Syria remain the driving force behind Hezbollah, a fact that strengthens the argument that the arms embargo addressed in Resolution 1701 must be enforced.
The culture of hatred that has grown strong in the unstable region surrounding Israel affects the Jewish people worldwide. Today, however, the Jewish people are stronger than they have ever been. That strength stems, among other things, from Eretz Israel, the one country in the world every Jew is free to call their home.

This summer, as Israel was under fire, the Jews of the world spoke together and stood together. It is well known that as Jews we band together in times of hardship. Never was that more true than during this past summer. Jews in Israel and around the world understood the stakes and made standing with Israel their first priority.

In accepting Resolution 1701, Israel has once again shown its commitment to peace by giving diplomacy a chance to succeed. It is now essential that this commitment to peace be echoed by the international community, starting first and foremost with the implementation of this important resolution.

As we continue the battle to free our abducted soldiers and secure our borders, Israel remains strong. Looking forward to a new year, we are strengthened by the lessons of our past. The Jewish people have overcome countless obstacles since the beginning of our history 5767 years ago, and we will continue to prevail against all odds and all enemies for a long time to come.

With this year ending and a new one beginning, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Jewish community for its undying support of Israel.

I pray that God continues to give us all the strength to face the many challenges that lie ahead.

I wish all of you a healthy, happy, peaceful New Year and may all of your hearts’ desires be fulfilled.

Am Yisrael Chai!

The people of Israel will live for eternity.

Chag Samech, Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova.

Ehud Danoch is Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles.