After two weeks of hope, a community mourns slain Israeli teens


Only 18 days after joining together in a hopeful prayer vigil for three Israeli teenage boys abducted at a bus stop outside their school, 1,500 members of the Los Angeles Jewish community grieved together in a memorial service for the teens—Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Frenkel—whose bodies were found on June 30 in a field north of Hebron.

Teary-eyed audience members embraced one another in the dimly lit sanctuary at Beth Jacob Congregation, as Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad, eulogized her nephew and denounced his kidnappers, garnering multiple rounds of applause over the course of her ten-minute speech.

Standing on the bimah beside three yahrtzeit candles and in front of photographs of the three slain teens, Shaar said that she had been hoping to plan a major celebration for the day that her nephew would be rescued alive.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Shaar said about the death of her brother’s son. “For the last 18 days, never for a moment did I ever think that Gilad, my dear nephew, was anything but alive.”

Shaar, who recently moved to Los Angeles to receive medical treatment, shared with those in attendance the meaning behind the Hebrew name “Gilad,” or “happy forever.”

“I always thought he’d be ‘Gilad,’ happy forever, but the terrorists brought a sudden end to ‘forever,’” she said. “He was my wonderful, talented, bright and cool nephew.”

The audience applauded when Shaar said that Israelis should be able to live securely in the West Bank and towns like Alon Shvut, where the teenagers were kidnapped just down the road from the high school that two of them attended.

Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad Shaar.

“We, as proud Jews, have a right to stand in our land,” she said. “It’s not a crime.”

Holding back tears, she expressed gratitude for the Israeli military’s restless search for the boys and to the local Jewish community, which, since news broke of her nephew’s kidnapping, has embraced and supported her.

Throughout the hour-long service, the messages from six speakers conveyed a mixture of sadness and grief, with Israel’s local consul general, David Siegel, reflecting on the unity of Jews around the world since the kidnapping.

“We are one nation, from Beverly Hills to Jerusalem,” Siegel said. “We pray together, we hope together and tonight, unfortunately, we cry together.”

He added that Israel, in its hunt for the two Hamas suspects, “Will leave no stone unturned, literally, until justice is done.”

Rabbi Adir Posy, who led the service, read a communal blessing in Hebrew for the Israeli military, also asking those in attendance to stand respectfully for the “Mourners Kaddish,” a traditional synagogue prayer recited by Jewish mourners.

The evening concluded with a rendition of the Israeli national anthem, led by Cantor Arik Wollheim and local teenage members of the international religious Zionist youth group, B’nai Akiva, of which Gilad Shaar was also a member.

At 8 p.m., as the synagogue slowly emptied, a few community members lingered behind. Charles Hale, a member of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, related how “chilling” it was for him to hear, earlier in the day, the just-released audio of an emergency call placed by Gilad Shaar just after the kidnapping.

Multiple media outlets have reported that Israeli investigators believe the abductors shot the boys to death upon realizing an emergency call had been placed.

Shanee Michaelson, a Beth Jacob congregant, told the Journal it was difficult for her to focus at her office when it was announced Monday that the teens’ bodies were discovered.

“I really thought they were going to survive,” a somber Michaelson said.

Tel Aviv bus bomb mastermind indicted


Israel's military prosecutor filed an indictment against the head of a Palestinian terrorist cell who organized the bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv.

Ahmad Salah Ahmad Musa, 25, was charged Wednesday with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, dealing in weapons and materials for war, creating an explosive, membership in an illegal organization and incitement, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Musa allegedly recruited other Palestinians to help him plan and carry out the attack.

A bomb planted on the No. 142 bus in central Tel Aviv detonated on Nov. 21 during Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense as the bus drove near the Kirya, the Israeli military's headquarters. More than 20 bus passengers were injured in the attack.

Musa is accused of heading the terror cell as well as making the bombs and recruiting help. It is believed that he detonated the bomb remotely using a cell phone. He allegedly also planned other attacks.

Mohammed Mafarja, 18, was charged last month with planting the bomb. According to his indictment, Mafarja planted the bomb on behalf of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, to help the group during the conflict.

The teen has Israeli citizenship as part of a Palestinian family unification program and worked in the city of Modiin. Along with Musa and Mafarja, two other members of the terror cell, all from the West Bank, were arrested in connection with the attack.

More diplomacy to try to halt Israel-Gaza fighting


Hostilities between Islamist militants and Israel entered a sixth day on Monday as diplomatic efforts were set to intensify to try to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

International pressure for a ceasefire seemed certain to mount after the deadliest single incident in the flare-up on Sunday claimed the lives of at least 11 Palestinian civilians, including four children.

Three people, including two children, were killed and 30 others were injured in the latest air strike before dawn on Monday on a family home in the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City, medical officials said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment and was checking.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Cairo to add his weight to the truce efforts. Egypt has taken the lead in trying to broker a ceasefire and its officials met the parties on Sunday.

Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had been to Cairo for talks on ending the fighting, although a government spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi met Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad as part of the mediation efforts, but a statement did not say if talks were conclusive.

Izzat Risheq, a close aide to Meshaal, wrote in a Facebook message that Hamas would agree to a ceasefire only after Israel “stops its aggression, ends its policy of targeted assassinations and lifts the blockade of Gaza”.

Listing Israel's terms, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon wrote on Twitter: “If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack.”

Israel withdrew settlers from Gaza in 2005 and two years later Hamas took control of the impoverished enclave, which the Israelis have kept under blockade.

The 11 Palestinian civilians were apparently killed during an Israeli attack on a militant, which brought a three-storey house crashing down on them.

Gaza health officials have said 78 Palestinians, 23 of them children and several women, have been killed in Gaza since Israel's offensive began. Hundreds have been wounded.

GRAVE CONCERN

Ban expressed grave concern in a statement before setting off for the region. He will visit Israel on Tuesday.

“I am deeply saddened by the reported deaths of more than ten members of the Dalu family… (and) by the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli towns, which have killed several Israeli civilians. I strongly urge the parties to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate ceasefire,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had assured world leaders that Israel was doing its utmost to avoid causing civilian casualties in the military showdown with Hamas.

Gaza militants launched dozens of rockets into Israel and targeted its commercial capital, Tel Aviv, for a fourth day on Sunday. Israel's “Iron Dome” missile shield shot down all three rockets.

In scenes recalling Israel's 2008-2009 winter invasion of Gaza, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border with Gaza and military convoys moved on roads in the area.

Israel has authorized the call-up of 75,000 reservists, although there was no immediate sign when or whether they might be needed in a ground invasion.

Israel's operation has so far drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called its right to self-defense, but there have also been a growing number of appeals to seek an end to the hostilities.

Netanyahu said Israel was ready to widen its offensive.

“We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the terrorist organizations and the Israel Defence Forces are prepared for a significant expansion of the operation,” he said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, but gave no further details.

The Israeli military said 544 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel since Wednesday, killing three civilians and wounding dozens. Some 302 rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome and 99 failed to reach Israel and landed inside the Gaza Strip.

Israel's declared goal is to deplete Gaza arsenals and force Hamas to stop rocket fire that has bedeviled Israeli border towns for years. The rockets now have greater range, putting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem within their reach.

The southern resort city of Eilat was apparently added to the list of targets when residents said they heard an explosion thought to be a rocket, but it caused no damage or casualties, police said.

Eilat is thought to be well out of the range of any rocket in possession of Hamas or any other Gaza group. But Palestinian militants have in the recent past fired rockets at Eilat and its surroundings, using Egypt's Sinai desert as a launch site.

SWORN ENEMIES

Hamas and other groups in Gaza are sworn enemies of the Jewish state which they refuse to recognize and seek to eradicate, claiming all Israeli territory as rightfully theirs.

Hamas won legislative elections in the Palestinian Territories in 2006 but a year later, after the collapse of a unity government under President Mahmoud Abbas the Islamist group seized control of Gaza in a brief and bloody civil war with forces loyal to Abbas.

Abbas then dismissed the Hamas government led by the group's leader Ismail Haniyeh but he refuses to recognize Abbas' authority and runs Gazan affairs.

While it is denounced as a terrorist organization in the West, Hamas enjoys widespread support in the Arab world, where Islamist parties are on the rise.

Western-backed Abbas and Fatah hold sway in the West Bank from their seat of government in the town of Ramallah. The Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Christopher Wilson

House subcommittee set to OK $1 billion for Israel anti-missile programs


The U.S. House of Representatives defense appropriations subcommittee is set to approve nearly $1 billion for Israeli and joint Israeli-U.S. missile defense programs.

“This funding level is the highest ever appropriated in a single year for these life-saving programs,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), a member of the committee, said in a statement.

Some $680 million of the $947 million set to be approved Tuesday in a session of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will go to the Iron Dome short-range anti-missile system, a result of legislation initiated by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), respectively the chairwoman and senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The bill was spurred by Iron Dome’s success in repelling a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip earlier this year and the Obama administration’s readiness to consider further funds for the project.

The remaining $269 million will go to the short-range David’s Sling and long-range Arrow anti-missile programs, representing a hike from the $100 million proposed earlier this year in the Obama administration’s budget.

Those programs are joint U.S.-Israel projects, while Iron Dome is an Israeli project, although congressional appropriators have expressed interest in obtaining U.S. proprietary rights to Iron Dome.

Palestinian hunger strikers denied release


Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal for the release of two hunger-striking Palestinians.

In its decision on Monday, the court reportedly said that Bilal Diab, 27, of Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, of Hebron, both members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, remained a terror threat to Israel and that a hunger strike is not enough of a reason to release them.

They have been on a hunger strike for 70 days and are hovering near death, according to reports.

The men are protesting being held in administrative detention. A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to four months; it can also be renewed.

Diab has been in an Israeli jail for nine months, and Halahlah has been in custody for 22 months.

The court said that the length of the time that the men had been in custody merited a review of the concept of administrative detention and that individual cases should be investigated more thoroughly.

Some 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are on an open-ended hunger strike launched three weeks ago. The mass hunger strike is calling for an end to solitary confinement and isolation; for allowing families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip to visit their loved ones; and allowing prisoners to have newspapers, learning materials and specific television channels. It is also protesting administrative detention.

Ten of the hunger strikers reportedly are currently under hospital supervision.

Hamas has threatened consequences if any of the hunger strikers die. “If that happens, you can expect both the expected and the unexpected from us,” Gaza City Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya said over the weekend.

Israeli prisons commissioner Aharon Franco last week told Palestinian hunger strikers that he had named a panel to address the prisoners’ demands, according to Arab news sources.

More than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, with some 320 in administrative detention.

Two high-profile hunger strikers were released earlier this year after cutting deals with Israeli authorities.

Shalit deal only worsens the conflict


No one should mistake the afterglow in Israel from the release of Gilad Shalit, or the rare sight of Israelis and Palestinians showing mutual flexibility and actually concluding an agreement, as hopeful signs for the prospects of peace. Just the opposite: Shalit’s release, in addition to being an undeniable security risk for Israelis, is giving the Right yet another boost, and making relations with the Palestinians even worse, as hard to imagine as that may be.

Freeing 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including many terrorists who took part in deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, is the most “left-wing” thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ever done, with the possible exception of the Wye agreement with Yasser Arafat in his first term. The right wing – the settlers, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Shas, much of Likud – is now presenting the bill.

As Hamas emerges the big winner and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas the big loser in the Shalit deal, Ha’aretz reports that the IDF brass is imploring the government to give Abbas something to show his people, such as a substantial release of prisoners and the transfer of territory to PA control. But the government isn’t interested; it wants to continue “punishing” Abbas for his statehood bid at the UN. The prospect of Abbas and the PA losing power doesn’t faze Netanyahu or the cabinet. “We don’t want the Palestinian Authority to collapse, but if it happens, it won’t be the end of the world,” an adviser to Netanyahu told Ha’aretz on Monday.

Later that day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the newspaper, “If there is one obstacle that should be removed immediately, it is [Abbas]. If he were to return the keys and resign, it would not be a threat, but a blessing.”

That’s on the diplomatic front. On the security front, everyone is eager to show that they’re tough on terror, that they’re not pushovers, that after the 1,000-for-Shalit deal, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. This is the message from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, this is the mood of the Knesset, and this is plan for dealing with future kidnappings that was drawn up by the blue-ribbon Shamgar Committee, due to be released any day.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s right flank, in the government and opposition both, is pressing him to crack down hard on every instance of Palestinian violence. After a teenage Israeli boy was stabbed in Jerusalem, Knesset member Danny Danon, leader of the Likud’s ultra-hawkish faction, called on the army to demolish terrorists’ homes. “Following the generosity shown in the Shalit deal, the time has come to show determination.” Opposition parliamentarian Arieh Eldad called for the assassination of Hamas leaders in Gaza.

On the international front, the pressure seems to be off Netanyahu. The Western world has given him credit for taking a brave decision, for showing flexibility, for what it may wishfully, mistakenly interpret as a “confidence-building measure” for the Palestinians.

In short, after the Shalit release, the Right is breathing down Netanyahu’s neck, while the UN, Europe and the rest of the West is taking a couple of steps back.

And once again, there’s no evading the fact that putting hundreds of Palestinians “with blood on their hands” on the streets, including the streets of the West Bank, poses the risk that Israelis will get killed – or kidnapped – on account of this deal. Such threats are already coming out of the Hamas leadership and its supporters. As I write this Monday evening, Jerusalem is on “high alert” for a terror attack. If these threats materialize, the “peace index” will sink even lower, as hard to imagine as that may be.

Hamas denies responsibility for Israel attack


A senior Israeli official said the gunmen, unable to cross into Israel through the heavily patrolled border with the Gaza Strip, had gone into the Sinai and then infiltrated from there into southern Israel.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, condemned the attack, telling Israel Radio: “We support Israel’s right to self-defence and hope those responsible for these attacks get what they deserve.”

Hamas in Gaza denied responsibility and said it would fight back if it came under Israeli attack. “We will not stand handcuffed and we will spearhead resistance to the occupation,” said senior official Salah Al-Bardaweel.

Israeli officials have voiced concern that militant groups in the Sinai have been making use of a security vacuum left by the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February.

The Israeli shekel fell against the dollar and stocks dipped on Thursday. The violence appeared to take some domestic political pressure off Netanyahu: leaders of escalating protests against high living costs called off weekend demonstrations after news of the Israeli casualties broke.

Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, recently stepped up security activity in the Sinai.

On Tuesday, Egyptian security sources said an army crackdown on armed groups in the northern Sinai had netted four Islamist militants as they prepared to blow up a gas pipeline.

Israel is building a fence along its 180-km-long frontier with Egypt, but very few sections have been completed.

Additional reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia, Egypt; Editing by Maria Golovnina

Three dead in Jerusalem terrorist bulldozer attack


JERUSALEM (JTA) – The deadly terrorist attack by an Arab bulldozer driver on a crowded street here Wednesday raised questions anew about how Israeli authorities can protect against attacks by lone assailants from eastern Jerusalem.

At least three people were killed and dozens injured in the noontime attack on Jaffa Road.

Husam Duwayat, a 30-year-old father of two from eastern Jerusalem, plowed through traffic on one of the busiest streets in the Israeli capital, overturning a commuter bus, crushing cars and sending pedestrians in a mad rush for safety.

“It was terrible, like nothing you could imagine,” a bus passenger who gave her name as Bat-El told Israel Radio.

Policemen and an armed civilian ended the rampage by scrambling aboard the 20-ton bulldozer and shooting Duwayat at point-blank range. The brutal scene was captured on film and broadcast around the world.

L.A. Times violates journalistic ethics in Anaheim City Council election coverage


Normally, a race for a seat on Anaheim’s City Council garners little attention beyond Anaheim. But this year, one candidate is drawing some outside attention.

Bill Dalati, a Syrian-born insurance agent, is running for a spot on Anaheim’s City Council. His candidacy has come under scrutiny because of his association with a controversial organization with known links to the Hamas terror group and his participation at a virulently anti-Israel rally this past summer.

But the Los Angeles Times has been singularly trying to portray the criticism of Dalati, made by Republican Shawn Steel, as racist and unsubstantiated.

On July 29 of this year, during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, which was set off by Hezbollah’s July 12 cross-border raid and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Dalati attended an anti-Israel rally in Anaheim. In its coverage of the City Council race, the Associated Press reported that Dalati referred to the event merely as an “anti-war rally.” And the L.A. Times reported on Oct. 9 that Dalati “defended his association with the rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict,” quoting him as saying, “I’m not against Jews or Christians … I don’t support Hezbollah. I just don’t believe wars solve any issues; love does.”

But the situation is not nearly as innocuous as the L.A. Times and Associated Press would have one believe. The Anaheim protest was about anything but “love.” The rally was not merely “anti-war” and the attendees were not merely “protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.” The event in question was billed by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, one of the sponsors of the demonstration, as a “Rally Against U.S.-Israeli Terror in Palestine & Lebanon,” hardly a neutral, let alone credible “anti-war” sentiment.

Although the rally drew little mainstream media attention, what little coverage there was whitewashed the content of the demonstration, giving cover for the AP, the L.A. Times and Dalati himself to downplay the nature of the event.

Fortunately, a participant at the rally created a slideshow of the demonstration, posted on YouTube, which shows various demonstrators carrying such signs as “Israel Likes Killing Kids,” “Killing Kids Is Not Self Defense” and “End the U.S.-Israeli War,” as well as the more typical signs seen at various anti-Israel protests, such as “Stop Israeli War Crimes” and “$134 Billion US Taxes To Israel — Enough.”

Whatever one thinks of American foreign policy and support for Israel, the July rally cannot be fairly described either as simply “anti-war” or just “protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.”

There were no signs indicating any disapproval of Hezbollah’s actions — the capture of Israeli soldiers — which started the war, nor were there any signs indicating any disapproval of Hezbollah’s indiscriminate shelling of Israeli towns with Katusha rockets (packed with scrap metal and ball bearings to cause as much damage to humans as possible), nor any condemnation of Hezbollah’s use of civilians as human shields in Lebanon. There were no signs indicating any disapproval of the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestinian militants and no calls for Hamas — now the majority in the Palestinian government — to moderate its stance rejecting the existence of Israel to help pave the way for peace.

Yet, the L.A. Times again came to the defense of Dalati on Oct. 13, in falsely describing this rally in evenhanded terms as a “rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.”

In the original story on Dalati, the L.A. Times also refers to Dalati’s support of and association with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), describing the organization as it often describes itself: “the largest Muslim civil rights group in the country” and stating uncritically that CAIR is “largely viewed as a mainstream organization.” In the second L.A. Times story, the newspaper drops any pretension of reportorial objectivity in its embrace of CAIR: “The largest Muslim civil rights group in the country, CAIR is widely viewed as mainstream and helps the FBI in combating terrorism.”

While CAIR may call itself the “largest Muslim civil rights group” in America, the Times completely ignores CAIR’s well-documented history of extremism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, as well as its origins in a now-defunct group, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), an organization that was a losing defendant in a $156 million civil judgment related to the Hamas murder of an American citizen. In the case, the judge noted that there is “evidence that IAP provided material support to Hamas.”

Similarly, during a 1994 speech at Florida’s Barry University, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad stated, “I am in support of the Hamas movement.” Awad was the public relations director of IAP before founding CAIR.
And this is what Awad said six years later, on Oct. 28, 2000, in a Washington, D.C., anti-Israeli rally: “Brothers and sisters, we are at least 8 million people, but there are 265 million people in this country who have been deceived, who have been misinformed, who have been intimidated by a small group of people who have been hijacking the political process.”

Additionally, several CAIR officials have been convicted on terrorist-related charges. One of them, Randall “Ismail” Royer, CAIR’s former communications specialist, trained to fight with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a designated foreign terrorist organization, against Indian forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Royer pled guilty to weapons and explosives charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the notorious “Virginia jihad” case.

A founding board member of CAIR-Texas, Ghassan Elashi, is in even greater legal trouble than Royer. Elashi was convicted on a variety of charges in July 2004, including violating the Libyan Sanctions Regulations, and he was found guilty in April 2005 of a Hamas-related money laundering conspiracy, handling money of top Hamas official, the Damascus-based Musa Abu Marzook. Elashi is awaiting his sentencing for both convictions (Elashi’s brother, Bayan, was sentenced to seven years in prison on Oct. 11, 2006, for his role in laundering money for Hamas). And Ghassan Elashi is still awaiting another trial, slated to begin in 2007, for his leadership role in the Hamas-linked “charity,” the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based organization shut down in 2001 for allegedly funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.

CAIR has defended Marzook, participating in his legal defense fund when he was arrested in the United States, as well as including his arrest in its annual catalog of hate crimes against Muslims. CAIR’s defense of, and links to, anti-Semitic individuals is also unfortunate and extensive.

Jewish emergency info card a hit with LAPD; Postcard and dog tag campaign seeks release of Israeli


Jewish emergency info card a hit With LAPD

LAPD patrol officers in the San Fernando Valley are now packing a powerful resource small enough to fit into a breast pocket. The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance has teamed up with Deputy Chief Michael Moore and LAPD chaplain Kenneth Crawford to create the Community Social Services Card, a business-card-size resource that lists Jewish agencies best quipped to deal with particular emergency situations.

Police are accustomed to calling in pastors when they encounter a troubled teen or domestic disputes, but Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Koransky said the officers have been at a loss when it comes to the Jewish community.

“Having the name of a rabbi isn’t going to do it,” she said, adding that one person can’t address all of the issues an officer might encounter.

The card lists which agencies officers should to turn to in the event of family violence intervention (Jewish Family Service), seniors evicted from an apartment (Bet Tzedek) and mental health services for teens (Vista Del Mar), among other problems.

Koransky came up with the card idea during a recent meeting in Mission Hills with LAPD division heads.

The Valley Alliance originally printed 300 cards, which were so well received by the LAPD that its Valley Bureau is now awaiting 1,000 more cards to be distributed among the six divisions. An additional 200 will also be distributed to Fire Department stations in the Valley area.

If the Valley-based pilot program works well, Koransky said the cards are expected to become standard issue to police citywide.— Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Postcard and dog tag campaign seeks release of Israeli soldiers

Remember the names of Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit?

They are the three Israeli soldiers, whose kidnappings by Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists triggered the Israeli campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon.

The fighting ended with the three men still in foreign hands, but a Los Angeles-based drive to obtain their release is picking up steam. More momentum will be added when Jewish leaders from across the United States meet in our city next month.

This week, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is distributing another large batch of postcards and dog tags imprinted with the names of the kidnapped soldiers.Each of the cards displays photos of the three men under the heading, “For them, the war is not over.” On the reverse side is a message addressed, respectively, to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Jacob Kellenberger, International Red Cross president.

“I urge you to do everything in your power to see to the well-being and safe return of these brave young men captured while defending their country,” reads part of the request to the three world leaders.

Approximately 36,000 cards were sent to synagogues for distribution during Yom Kippur services, and an additional 60,000 are being printed. Only a few hundred dog tags could be produced before the High Holidays and went mainly to community leaders. However, an additional 7,000 to 10,000 are being ordered and will go to college and other students through Hillel campus offices.

In the third stage of the campaign, the cards and dog tags will be presented to delegates attending the general assembly of the United Jewish Communities, meeting Nov. 12-15 at the L.A. Convention Center.

“We hope that when the delegates return to their hometowns, they will launch similar efforts in cities across the country,” said John Fishel, Federation president.

The original concept for the campaign evolved gradually.

“In the month before the High Holidays, the fighting in Lebanon was drawing to a close, but the fate of the kidnapped soldiers remained unresolved,” Fishel said.

To draw attention to their plight, Fishel’s first idea was to place large print ads and distribute fliers around the time of Yom Kippur. But about three weeks before the Day of Atonement, marketing executive Roger Fishman and Elliot Brandt, AIPAC regional director, visited Fishel to pitch the idea of putting the prisoners’ names on dog tags.

After some brainstorming, it was decided to also send postcards, and then the pressure was on to produce the items fast enough to meet the Yom Kippur deadline.

“The feedback I’ve received so far has been extremely positive,” Fishel said.

For information on how to obtain the dog tags and/or cards, contact The Jewish Federation at PR at www.jewishla.org or call (323) 761-8070.— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Home Taps Caan for Walk

“Las Vegas” star James Caan, a.k.a. “The Jewish Cowboy,” has been named honorary chair for Jewish Home for the Aging’s seventh Wells Fargo Walk of the Ages on Dec. 3. The walk is one of the largest of its kind in the San Fernando Valley and follows the Jewish Home’s scheduled Oct. 29 opening of its $58.5 million Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center.

Organizers are hoping to raise $400,000 for the Jewish Home’s residents this year, nearly $100,000 more than last year’s total. The 5K event starts at 8:30 a.m. and will begin and end at the Jewish Home’s Eisenberg Village Campus, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. The walk is open to participants of all ages.

To register or for more information, visit www.walkofages.kintera.org or call (818) 774-3100.— AW

Hamas Adopts New Tactic: Political Role


 

Hamas, the Muslim fundamentalist movement and Palestinian terrorist organization, may soon become a decisive force not only in the struggle against Israel but in the Palestinian political establishment.

For the first time in Palestinian political history, Hamas will participate in parliamentary elections scheduled July 17. All political analysts predict that the party will make an impressive show of force.

Hamas candidates may win between 30 percent and 50 percent of the seats in the next Palestinian Parliament, predicted Matti Steinberg, a former adviser on Palestinian affairs to two heads of Israel’s General Security Service. If Steinberg is right, it would amount to a political revolution.

Hamas is heading toward electoral success using tactics that demonstrate its ability to act both as a terrorist organization and as a political party that seeks to influence the Palestinian political agenda. On the one hand, it flexes its muscles toward Israel, warning that the present “calming down” period could end at any time; on the other, it maintains the cease-fire for now, realizing that this is what the street wants.

In the last two weeks, Hamas has proudly raised both the militant and pragmatic flags.

Hamas was a major player in last week’s Temple Mount demonstration protesting the desire of devout Jews to visit the site, which is the holiest site in Judaism and also an important Muslim shrine. Hamas also took part in a mortar barrage aimed at Jewish settlements in Gaza, reacting to Israel’s killing of three Palestinian youths involved in arms smuggling across Egyptian border.

Hamas has threatened to drop out of the “calming down” agreement, but at the same time, it maintains the tense cease-fire for now.

Though Israel killed many of its leaders during the intifada, Hamas has retained its popularity — primarily because of the ineptitude of the ruling Palestinian Authority and corruption and infighting in the dominant Fatah Party — and wants to use that momentum to propel itself forward.

Several weeks ago, Hamas candidates scored landslide victories in municipal elections in several Gaza towns.

“On the one hand, people want a political process headed by [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], as was indicated in the presidential elections [in January],” Steinberg said in an interview with Bitterlemons.org, a Middle East Web site. “But on the other hand, people want clean stables, the end of corruption and personal security, and these are connected with Hamas.”

The July elections would be the first for Parliament in the Palestinian territories since 1996, and the first since Abbas succeeded the late Yasser Arafat as Palestinian Authority president in January. Arafat postponed elections that had been set for 2000.

Hamas boycotted the earlier elections, saying they were an outgrowth of the Oslo accords, which it vehemently opposed, because they implied recognition of Israel. Hamas is dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

Fatah, Abbas’ party, now controls most of the 88-member Palestinian Parliament. There is growing concern among Palestinian opposition forces that Fatah will defer the elections, because Fatah seems likely to lose many seats. Palestinian legislators are introducing amendments to the electoral law, hoping to postpone the elections.

The Central Elections Commission recently said that it would need three months from the time the law is approved before it can hold elections. Three months from July 17 was last Sunday — and no amendments had yet been passed. The issue was to be discussed sometime this week.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that if elections can’t be held as scheduled, the group would have to rethink its commitment to an informal cease-fire with Israel. Hamas agreed to the de facto truce on the understanding that Abbas would pursue reforms in the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas has said concerns about electoral manipulation are unfounded.

“We have no intentions or desire to delay these elections,” he told reporters at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.

However, it’s not clear how much say Abbas has even in his own Fatah ranks. Abbas radiates political impotence, something President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon discussed at their meeting last week at Bush’s Texas ranch.

Hamas’ decision to move toward power sharing largely is due to the shift in Palestinian public opinion since Arafat’s death. A poll taken by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion after the Feb. 8 Sharm el-Sheik summit showed that about 60 percent of Palestinians were satisfied with the summit’s results. Approximately 70 percent said they were worried about the diffusion of weapons in Palestinian society, and wanted one central authority that could maintain law and order.

Without at least the appearance of a move toward moderation, Hamas risked being marginalized by a Palestinian public increasingly fed up with the terrorists’ efforts to draw Israel into confrontation. Hamas violence and the resulting Israeli retaliation has caused severe suffering among ordinary Palestinians during the intifada.

In addition, some changes in Israeli policy contributed to Hamas’ own change in tactics. They included the release of hundreds of prisoners, the disappearance of helicopter gunships from Palestinian airspace, the end of targeted killings of leading terrorists, a slowdown in arrests of suspected terrorists, a growing sense of personal security in Palestinian areas and the beginning of Israeli withdrawals from some Palestinian cities.

The group’s rhetoric remains nearly as belligerent as always, but the political consequences are different. A Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Al-Zahar, said his movement wants to join the Palestine Liberation Organization, the main umbrella body for Palestinian groups, “to consolidate the resistance option in its capacity as the strategic option toward the liberation of Palestine.”

Zahar reacted to growing concern among secular Palestinians that Islam and democracy can not go together. The issue recently has been raised by Ghassan Khatib, the P.A. minister of planning, in an article on Bitterlemons. The Web site has dealt at length with Hamas’ growing power.

Secularists question whether Islamists who take power by democratic means are committed to maintaining democracy, Khatib wrote.

Fatah would be expected to rally its forces to face the challenge from Hamas. But Fatah, the ruling party, is preoccupied with an internal crisis that is developing mainly along the rift between the so-called old and new guards.

“Today in the eyes of most of the population, Fatah is identified with corruption and the disfunctionality of the P.A., whereas Hamas is considered clean by comparison,” Steinberg said in the Bitterlemons interview.

 

The Man Who Knows Too Much


“American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us,” by Steve Emerson (Simon & Schuster, $26).

It began by happenstance

CNN reporter Steve Emerson was stuck in Oklahoma City on Christmas 1992 with nothing to do and wandered by the city’s convention center, where a gathering of the Muslim Arab Youth Association was taking place.

Inside, he found “books preaching Islamic jihad, books calling for the extermination of Jews and Christians, even coloring books instructing children on subjects such as ‘How to Kill the Infidel.'”

Later, after listening to speeches urging jihad against the Jews and the West from luminaries such as the head of the Hamas terrorist group, Emerson called his contacts in the FBI to inquire whether they were aware of this bizarre meeting.

They were not.

A year later, Emerson attended a similar Muslim conference in Detroit that included representatives from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups. It also included an appearance by a befuddled senior FBI agent.

When a member of the hostile audience asked the agent for advice on how to ship weapons overseas, Emerson relates that the G-man said, matter-of-factly, that he “hoped any such efforts would be done in conformance with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms guidelines.” Apparently, the FBI official had attended the radical conference under the mistaken impression that it was “some kind of Rotary Club.”

That anecdote demonstrates the ignorance and passivity shown by the government on the threat from Islamic extremists in the United States.

Investigator of terror

In 1993, the reporter left the cable network and struck out on his own as an investigator of terror networks in this country. Working with a small staff, he founded The Investigative Project, which has specialized in bringing to light the facts about the ways these dangerous extremists have used our open society as a staging ground for international terrorism.

His award-winning 1994 film, “Jihad in America,” broadcast over PBS, introduced the topic to a wide audience. Emerson amassed a vast library of vital information about the activities and ideology of these terror groups and became one of the country’s leading experts on the topic. But, as he tells the story in his new book, “American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us,” the path he has trod has not exactly been smooth.

The broadcast of his film sparked death threats that the FBI took seriously. And the sizable number of domestic apologists and fellow travelers of these terror groups soon made Emerson the focus of their misinformation efforts.

Emerson was smeared as being anti-Muslim by some Islamic and Muslim groups. The mainstream press often treated the charges as true.

Emerson did stumble in 1995 when, responding to inquiries about the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, he said the crime fit the profile of Islamic groups. When that was proved untrue, Emerson wound up with egg on his face.

That mistake proved to be what Emerson admits is “an albatross around my neck,” but it did not stop him from continuing his research and regularly appearing in The Wall Street Journal and as an expert witness for congressional committees. Long before most Americans had ever heard of Al Qaeda, Emerson warned that its members were planning attacks on the United States.

The FBI was barred by law from snooping on domestic groups hiding behind the facade of charitable organizations. But Emerson went where the government feared to tread.

This information made him invaluable, but it also gave him the air of a Cassandra. Though he was able to keep The Investigative Project going, his warnings were largely ignored.

Banned by NPR

In 1998, for example, critics who accused Emerson of being an anti-Muslim bigot were able to pressure National Public Radio (NPR) to ban him from its airwaves. An NPR producer promised an Arab group “he won’t be used again.”

After this outrage was exposed, NPR falsely claimed there had been no blacklisting of Emerson. But he has yet to be heard on NPR since.

The Sept. 11 attacks vindicated Emerson, but that hasn’t stopped the torrent of abuse directed his way. Although he has become something of a media celebrity in the last few months as a regular on the talking-head news shows (he’s become a paid consultant for NBC), for many in the Muslim world and on the American left, he remains a target.

On Nov. 14, The Washington Post published a profile of Emerson that rehashed every misleading attempt to discredit him. The Post’s John Mintz never questioned the credentials of some of Emerson’s critics, and took an “evenhanded” approach to their accusations that he was anti-Muslim. He also brought up ridiculous charges that Emerson works for the Mossad, although the only evidence for that seems to be that he is Jewish. No wonder the reporter does his best to play down his religion.

The trendy Webzine Salon.com also took up the cause of trying to discredit Emerson. In a disingenuous piece posted on Jan. 19, the site accused Emerson of ruining “an innocent professor’s life.” The case involved Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian professor of engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa, whom Salon claimed was merely an ardent supporter of Palestinian rights.

In fact, Emerson’s book details Al-Arian’s leadership of the American wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad — a group that is responsible for the murder of scores of Israelis and Americans. He used his tenured position at the Tampa college to set up a nonprofit organization that became a clearinghouse for the group’s fundraising (including the “sponsoring of martyrs” — in reality, suicide bombers) and propaganda in this country.

Al-Arian, who is an American citizen, was able to evade prosecution, but subsequent exposés by The Tampa Tribune inspired by Emerson’s work led to the closing down of Islamic Jihad’s Tampa branch. And after his story was aired on Fox News and NBC’s “Dateline,” the university finally fired the professor.

Despite the slander, Emerson has persisted. And though his new book gives the impression of being something of a quickie post-Sept. 11 effort, the slim volume has a lot to offer for the general reader who wants an introduction to the topic of Islamic extremists on the loose in America.

In its discussions of Osama bin Laden’s American connections and the vast support networks set up here for the benefit of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Emerson provides a concise analysis of this phenomenon and the clear dangers it poses for our national security.

Emerson also spends a chapter talking about moderate American Muslims who oppose terror. That information is heartening, but it is tempered by the fact that these moderates themselves admit that extremists dedicated to jihad have taken over “80 percent” of American mosques and most American Muslim organizations.

He knows the war against terror is one that will go on for a long time without a clear-cut victory. More than 3,000 deaths testify to the truth of the picture that Emerson has painted for us of the danger from Islamic radicals. But in spite of threats and slanders, he continues to voice warnings about our vulnerability.

But even after Sept. 11, are we truly listening?

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