L.A.’s Iranian Jews must launch new Iran advocacy campaign


Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak to a Southern California Christian group about the significant human rights violations that the Iranian regime has waged against the Christians, Jews and other religious minorities living in Iran today. While this congregation was sympathetic and very receptive to my brief discussion, they were completely in the dark regarding the plight of minorities, women, journalists and even average Muslim-Iranians facing tremendous hardships at the hands of Iran’s mullahs. 

Likewise, many average non-Jewish groups I have come across have by and large been totally unaware of the substantial role Iran has played in arming, funding and fanning the fires of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel. Today the majority of Iranian Jews living in America very clearly see Iran’s significant role in destabilizing the entire Middle East, funding and arming terrorist groups, as well as calling for another Holocaust against Jews with their daily chants of “Death to Israel.” We as Iranian Jews not only understand the Farsi language declarations of genocide repeated by Iran’s ayatollahs, but the majority of us have experienced the evils of the Iranian regime firsthand. 

Nevertheless, the Iranian-Jewish community in Los Angeles has never undertaken its own serious, comprehensive and relentless public advocacy campaign to educate the larger non-Iranian American community about the very real and emerging dangers of Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime to the Middle East and the entire world. This education of the greater public about who the Iranian regime consists of and its objectives is essential in transforming the U.S. government’s approach to Iran’s threats against non-Shiite Muslims throughout the world. In my humble opinion, now is the time for L.A.’s Iranian Jews to stand up and undertake such a critical grassroots advocacy campaign to educate every other community in America about the rising threat of Iran’s regime.

For more than 30 years, I have witnessed my community of Iranian Jews in Southern California growing and prospering after establishing new roots here. They have flourished in America and also generously given back to the larger Jewish and non-Jewish communities. Iranian Jews in Los Angeles have even established their own nonprofit groups, such as the Iranian American Jewish Federation, Magbit, the Hope Foundation and 30 Years After, to advance our community issues and to help Israel. While Iranian-American Jews have also been involved with other organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee about raising public awareness of Iran’s nuclear threat, they have never launched their own initiative to educate the Latino, African-American, Asian, labor union, LGBTQ and other communities about the horrific human-rights abuses and spread of global terrorism carried out by Iran’s clerics and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). So who better than Iranian Jews, who experienced firsthand anti-Semitism, random arrests, unceasing tortures and imprisonments at the hands of this Iranian regime, to speak out today about the evil nature of the regime? Who else but Iranian Jews, who have had family members randomly executed by the Iranian regime, to educate the public about the regime’s unmerciful thugs? Who else but Iranian Jews, who have witnessed their Christian, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Sunni and other religious minority countrymen experience unspeakable abuse and murders at the hands of the Iranian regime’s secret police, to speak out? Who better than Iranian Jews to educate the larger American public about how Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other regime strongmen are very openly calling for the elimination of all people who do not follow their radical form of Shia Islam? While in recent years, individual Jewish-Iranian activists in Los Angeles have indeed spoken out about the cancerous spread of the Iranian regime’s evil among its own people in Iran and the entire Middle East, much more of this type of public advocacy must be done on a larger scale by local Iranian Jews. Additionally, while the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has attempted to put on a happy and nicer face for the Iranian regime with his public relations campaigns, we as Iranian Jews have a duty to remove the smiling mask from Rouhani and his minions in order to expose their true nature and evil actions to the American public.

More importantly, as Israel wages a war to defend innocent civilians from the terrorism of Hamas, Iranian Jews, who listen to Farsi language news broadcasts from Iranian state-run media, must make all Americans aware of what the regime’s leaders are saying about their role in perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, this past July, on Iranian-state run television, Khamenei called for all those who “love Palestine” to send arms to the West Bank and turn it into another Gaza. He also issued a religious edict for the IRGC and its subordinate Basij militia to send arms and fighters to the area. Likewise in July, the Iranian Islamic Assembly spokesman boasted on state-run television about the Iranian regime’s role in providing Hamas with rocket technology. The chairman of the Parliament of Iran, Ali Larijani, has repeatedly said on Iranian state-run news programs that Iran originally provided Hamas with the know-how to produce its own homemade rockets. Mohsen Rezai, the secretary of the Iranian regime’s Expediency Discernment Council, a high official in the regime, has recently called for more kidnappings of hundreds of Israelis and making them human shields in Gaza. Rezai has promised more arms and more financial support to Hamas until “all of Palestine is free of the Jews.” This information is very rarely reported by Western news media for whatever reason, but we as Iranian Jews have a duty to name and shame every single member of the Iranian regime who is calling for a perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and glorifying the genocide of Jews in Israel. 

So as Iranian Jews, we must venture out of our enclaves in Beverly Hills, Pico-Robertson, Encino, Brentwood and Tarzana in order to reach out to every local group in Los Angeles. Whether it is speaking to the Christian-Korean community in Koreatown to discuss the Iranian regime’s abuse of Christians, or reaching out to the LGBTQ community in West Hollywood about how gays are forced to have gender reassignment surgeries and face executions in Iran, a new public advocacy program about the evils of the Iranian regime is imperative today. Without the larger public knowing what crimes against humanity the Iranian regime is committing, no one will raise a voice to our elected officials to ratchet up the pressure on the Iranian regime. No one will demand that the current U.S. administration take a tougher stance on Iran’s heinous human-rights records if we as Iranian-American Jews do not educate others about this regime. Just as American Jews proudly launched a very vocal and public campaign against the former Soviet Union for its mistreatment of Jews and human-rights activists in Russia during the 1960s and 1970s, so must we as Iranian Jews in America today launch the same type of campaign against the Iranian regime. In the end, as the first victims of the Iranian regime’s reign of terror and murder, it is incumbent on us to educate the American public and the larger world about the tsunami of evil Iran’s regime is seeking to unleash on the Middle East as well as the free world. If we continue to remain silent about the human-rights crimes carried out by the Iranian regime against all Iranians and the terrorism it sponsors against non-Iranians, we have committed an even greater crime.


Karmel Melamed is an attorney and award-winning journalist based in Southern California. His blog “Iranian American Jews” can be found at: jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews/

Despite Syria rift, Hezbollah pledges full support to Hamas


Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah pledged full support on Friday to the Palestinian group Hamas in its conflict with Israel despite a deep rift between the two militant organizations over the civil war in Syria.

“We in Hezbollah will be unstinting in all forms of support, assistance and aid that we are able to provide,” Nasrallah said.

“We feel we are true partners with this resistance, a partnership of jihad, brotherhood, hope, pain, sacrifice and fate, because their victory is all our victory, and their defeat is all our defeat,” he said.

Nasrallah delivered his speech in public in Hezbollah's stronghold of south Beirut, a rare event for the militant Shi'ite Lebanese leader who has lived in hiding, fearing for his security, after Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel.

That inconclusive 34-day conflict won Hezbollah sweeping support around the Arab world for standing up to Israel's military superiority. But its more recent military action in neighboring Syria has eroded that regional backing.

Shi'ite Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters into Syria to fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces, helping turn the tide against overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim rebels.

But the Hamas leadership, once based in Damascus, refused to support Assad as he confronted with force peaceful protests which broke out in 2011 and descended into an insurgency and civil war. Since then 160,000 people have been killed.

“We call for all differences and sensitivities on other issues to be put to one side,” Nasrallah said in reference to the rift over Syria. “Gaza is above all considerations”

His speeches are usually delivered via video-link from an undisclosed location, but in a sign of confidence the Hezbollah leader spoke on Friday for an hour in front of hundreds of supporters at Hezbollah's Martyr's Compound in the south of the Lebanese capital.

“We say to our brothers in Gaza: We are with you, by your side, trusting in your strength and your victory. We will do all that we believe to be our duty, on all fronts,” he said.

Nasrallah did not specify what support would be given, but he pointedly said that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in the past had supplied “all factions of the Palestinian resistance, financially, materially, politically…with weapons, logistical help and training.”

Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza exceeds 2012 assault


The Israeli military reportedly has hit more targets in Gaza in the first day and a half of a bombing campaign to curb rocket fire than during its entire eight-day operation in November 2012.

The Jerusalem Post quoted an anonymous senior Israeli security source on Wednesday but did not quantify the number of targets hit in the current operation, which the Israel Defense Forces has dubbed Protective Edge.

“Hamas has been surprised by Israel’s response. We systematically struck operational infrastructure, where Hamas commanders operate,” the source said, according to the Post. “There’s not a single Hamas brigade commander that has a home to go back to.”

The source said the IDF has used 400 tons of explosives against targets in Gaza.

Meanwhile, some 72 rockets fired from Gaza struck Israel on Wednesday, the second day since the launch of the IDF campaign in Gaza. Three of the rockets were fired at Dimona, the site of Israel’s nuclear plant; one was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and the other two fell in open areas.

The farthest-reaching rocket so far landed in the vicinity of Zichron Yakov, an Israeli town situated about 80 miles north of Gaza, just south of Haifa.

Haifa, which came under heavy rocket fire from the north during Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, announced Wednesday that it was reopening its bomb shelters.

Gaza rocket crews also have targeted Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s airport, where incoming flights have changed their usual landing routes as a safety precaution. El Al, Israel’s national airline, said Wednesday that it would allow travelers with bookings to Israel through July 18 to cancel or reschedule their trips at no extra charge.

An armed scuba diver from Gaza was killed and a second is being pursued after they attempted to infiltrate Israel by the sea for the second time in two nights on Wednesday night. Five infiltrators from Gaza were killed by Israeli troops the previous evening.

Though Israel’s Cabinet authorized the call-up on Tuesday of up to 40,000 reserve troops, the IDF has yet to mobilize significant numbers of reservists.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Palestinian terrorists would pay a “heavy price” for their rocket fire against Israel and said he is prepared to “further intensify attacks on Hamas.” President Shimon Peres said an Israeli ground offensive could happen in Gaza “quite soon.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the IDF’s “killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people,” the French news agency AFP reported.

So far, about 40 Palestinians in Gaza have been reported killed in the operation. Israel has not reported any deaths.

The hostilities between Israel and Gaza come in the wake of the murder of three Israeli teenagers abducted last month from a hitchhiking post in the West Bank, and the subsequent murder by Jewish extremists of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem. The Palestinian’s murder was followed by Palestinian rioting and rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel has arrested six suspects in the case of the murdered Palestinian teen. Suspects in the murder of the Israeli teens have yet to be apprehended; Israel said members of Hamas are responsible for the slayings.

Israel-Gaza conflict: Low expectations


No one knows for sure why the Gaza hostilities began. 

We know that there had been weeks of intensifying rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, rockets fired by various Palestinian groups that were tolerated, even encouraged by the governing Hamas. And we know that the Israeli government had reached its limit of tolerance for such attacks, possibly, though not primarily, because elections are coming up, and the Israeli public wanted something done. We also know that what ignited the final escalation of this cycle of violence was Israel’s assassination of Hamas’ military chief on Nov. 14. We know that, following every such action, a barrage of rockets can be expected. We know, as well, that such a barrage is invitation for even more retaliation, and so on and so forth. 

Israelis got a glimpse last week of the damage Hamas can inflict on Israel; they discovered that Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are, indeed, within the reach of rockets from Gaza. That Hamas’ threats are no joke. But Israelis still don’t know why it all began. What was the calculus behind Hamas’ decision to allow and abet this growing harassment of Israeli civilians? What was the logic behind it, assuming there is some such logic? What was Hamas trying to achieve?

Not knowing Hamas’ goals is a problem for all those trying to assess Hamas’ ability to actually meet those goals. As this article was being written, attempts at negotiations were taking place to reach an agreement that would put an end to the fighting. Israelis will be happy if such agreement can end the barrage of rockets on its territory. Israeli leaders believe the country demonstrated last week that its citizens are willing to temporarily increase their own suffering in hope of getting a better long-term deal. And they also demonstrated the ability of Israel’s defensive tool — the Iron Dome — to dramatically decrease damage to Israel’s citizens in case of war. And that is an important message not just for Hamas, but also for all other potential attackers, such as Hezbollah and Iran. 

Of course, it is possible that Hamas had just miscalculated its way into this week of skirmishes; it is possible that its leaders did not quite understand that Israel had reached the boiling point. Back in 2006, when Ehud Olmert abruptly launched the second Lebanon war, it was widely assumed — even publicly admitted — by Hezbollah leaders that the other side didn’t see it coming. That Hassan Nasrallah believed he could kidnap Israeli soldiers and get away with it. So it’s possible that the leaders of Hamas are guilty of a similar misperception; it’s possible they didn’t expect the harsh response they got.

However, other possibilities must also be considered. Maybe Hamas needed the fight. Maybe it needed to reassert its presence as a player that can make things complicated for all parties just as the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas, was going to the United Nations to get the coveted seat of an almost official member. Maybe Hamas was trying to send a message to a disappointing Egyptian government that had not yet proven itself to be the ally Hamas expected it to be. 

The raging events around Gaza are a distraction from more urgent matters engulfing the Middle East and threatening to turn 2013 into a year much more challenging and dramatic than the year that is about to end. Lost behind the Gaza headlines is the recent report that the Iranians have completed yet another step in building their nuclear program. Pushed aside from attention are the much more bloody — but repetitious — events in Syria. 

The nature of small wars such as the one involving Gaza is that the context is always overwhelmed by the details. Another siren, another rocket, another Israeli attack from the air, more reservists join the troops, more injured, and dead; the hours pass, the days pass, but after a while, it all becomes blurred and seems cyclical. Each rocket fired matters only the moment it hits, or, in most cases, misses. Each siren matters only for the couple of minutes until the danger is over. Most of the occurrences of the past week — which I write abut with the caveat of a Nov. 19 press time — were quickly forgotten, negligible in their impact on the larger scheme of things. 

The final outcome of the battle is what matters, and, strangely, while no one can quite explain why the war started, everyone has known from the outset how it is supposed to end: a cease fire, the return to the status quo. No more rockets fired at Israel; no attacks from the Israeli side. Until the next round. The Gaza pressure cooker had to let some steam off before returning to normal (which is hardly what people in most other countries would call “normal”).

There have been many complaints as the operation continued, related to the lack of “strategy” on the part of Israel (for some reason — maybe lack of expectations? — fewer such complaints were aimed at Hamas). These complaints have come mostly in two forms: 1.) that Israel should not fight a war against Hamas without coupling its effort with a parallel effort at advancing the peace process with the PA; and 2.) that it is time for Israel to abandon its policy of non-negotiation with Hamas and acknowledge reality — Hamas is here to stay.

These two alternative policies are both worthy of discussion, as long as one realizes that they contradict one another. If Israel negotiates with Hamas, it undermines the PA, the only partner Israel might have for a peace process. If Israel advances peace negotiations with the PA, it is likely to draw even more opposition from Hamas. Nevertheless, some serious people believe that at least one of the two options should be vigorously pursued by Israel, and some even believe that Israel can attempt to try both in parallel. At the bottom of these alternative policy paths, though, lie two assumptions that Israel doesn’t seem to accept, and hence doesn’t seem inclined to follow: 1.) that there’s no problem without solution, and 2.) that action is always preferable to inaction.

If one accepts these two assumptions, it is reasonable to be puzzled, even dismayed by Israel’s lack of “strategy.” It is clear, and not just in regard to the 2012 Gaza operation, that Israel operates under the supposition that no solution is currently available for the problem of Gaza and Hamas, and that inaction — in the larger sense — is indeed preferable to action. Israel believes that Hamas is an enemy with whom no negotiation can lead to resolution, and that this is a component of the larger problem of a Palestinian society that isn’t yet ready for peace. When Palestinians are ready — when they are ready not just to negotiate with Israel, but also to confront the radical factions within their own society — that will be the right time for an attempt at a resolution that demands action. But until then, Israel defies both above-mentioned assumptions: It believes that there’s no present agreement that will put an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and that the lack of a possible agreement makes a tense but quiet status quo the only thing it can hope to achieve. 

Hence, an operation with no “strategy.” A war of low intensity, but also of low expectations. An operation aimed at restoring a status quo that is far from satisfying to both Palestinians and Israelis. An operation that outsiders perceive with a measure of dismay: All this violence just to go back to what we had two months ago? All this violence, and no attempt to leverage it to achieve larger goals? 

The answer, sadly, is a resounding yes. The dead, the injured, the terrified, the heart-wrenching scenes, the scared innocents, the crying children, the wasted days, the sleepless nights, the constant worry, the shattered windows, the wasted resources, the sad realization that there’s no end — all this with no purpose other than to restore the status quo. That is what Israel wants for now. And as for Hamas: As I warned at the outset of this article, we have a problem with Hamas, beginning with the fact that we don’t quite understand what they want.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor.

Arabs must use oil, political pressure, to help Gaza, Hezbollah says


Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah urged Arab states on Thursday to use all political means possible, including raising oil prices, to end Israeli air strikes on Gaza, suggesting this could be as effective as military attacks on the Jewish state.

The leader of Lebanon's powerful Shi'ite militant group, which fought a war with Israel in 2006, called on countries with ties to the United States and the West to pressure them to help stop the air strikes.

“No one is telling Arab countries today, 'Please go open your borders and begin the operation to liberate Palestine.' What we want is to end the attack on Gaza,” Nasrallah said in a televised address to mark the first day of the Shi'ite holiday of Ashoura.

“This is everyone's battle … We're not asking you for a solution, we're asking for effort.”

Violence between Israel's armed forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza has moved towards an all-out war as violence continued for a second day, with 16 Palestinians and three Israelis killed.

Nasrallah said Arab countries close to Washington and other Western countries must urge them to exert pressure on Israel, the main U.S. ally in the Middle East, and said that the weakened American and European economies could give Arab countries more influence.

“Some say the Arabs don't have the courage to stop oil production,” he said. “Decrease your oil exports to it or raise the price a little and you will shake the United States, you will shake Europe. Brothers, if you can't cut off oil, decrease your production or raise the price. Put on some pressure. No one is calling for armies or tanks or planes.”

Hezbollah earlier condemned Israel's air strikes on Gaza, calling the attack a “criminal aggression” and said any country not working to stop the bloodshed was a partner in the violence. But it gave no signal that it was prepared to act against the Jewish state.

Many analysts suspect that Hezbollah, a powerful political and guerrilla movement in Lebanon, is loathe to start a conflict with Israel right now. Israel has threatened to bomb the nuclear sites of the group's main patron Iran and its supply routes through neighboring Syria may be at risk of being cut off by a bloody conflict that could topple its ally President Bashar al-Assad.

In 2006, Hezbollah fought Israel in a 34-day war in which 1,2000 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.

Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Myra MacDonald

IDF official: Nuclear Iran may curb Israeli border wars


A nuclear-armed Iran could deter Israel from going to war against Tehran’s guerrilla allies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli general said on Tuesday.

The Jewish state sees the makings of a mortal threat in Iran’s uranium enrichment and missile programs, and has lobbied world powers to roll them back through sanctions while hinting it could resort to pre-emptive military strikes.

Major-General Amir Eshel, head of strategic planning for the armed forces, echoed Israeli government leaders who argue that Iran, which denies wrongdoing but rejects international censure over its secretive projects, could create a “global nuclear jungle” and fuel arms races in an already volatile Middle East.

Eshel made clear that Israel – widely reputed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal – worries that Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as well as Palestinian Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza could one day find reassurance in an Iranian bomb.

“They will be more aggressive. They will dare to do things that right now they would not dare to do,” he said in a briefing to foreign journalists and diplomats.

“So this is going to create a dramatic change in Israel’s strategic posture, because if we are forced to do things in Gaza or Lebanon under an Iranian nuclear umbrella , it might be different.”

Eshel, who spoke at the conservative Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs think-tank, quoted an unnamed Indian officer who, he said, had described the Asian power’s friction with nuclear-armed rival and neighbour Pakistan in terms of self-restraint.

“When the other side has a nuclear capability and are willing to use it, you think twice,” Eshel said. “You are more restrained because you don’t want to get into that ball game.”

Israel waged offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2008-2009, coming under short-range rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are supported by Iran.

Eshel said there are now some 100,000 rockets and missiles that could be fired at Israel by the guerrillas, Iran and its ally Syria.

Despite seeing its resources strained by a 10-month-old popular uprising, Syria’s government has invested $2 billion in air defences over the last two years, and more on counter-measures against any ground invasion, Eshel said, linking both efforts to Syrian wariness of Israel.

He declined to be drawn on whether Israel might try to attack Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-defended nuclear facilities alone – or, conversely, whether it could decide to accept a nuclear-armed Iran as an inevitability to be contained through superior firepower and fortifications.

Those decisions, Eshel said, were up to the government and the armed forces would provide it with a “tool box” of options.

“We have the ability to hit very, very hard, any adversary,” said Eshel, a former senior air force officer and fighter pilot. But he cautioned against expecting any decisive “knock-out” blow against Israel’s enemies.

Writing by Dan Williams

In the Mideast, Israel is the opium of the people


“Why aren’t you as an Arab lady writing about Gaza?”

“Where are your columns about Gaza?”

“Say the Israelis are wrong!”

The messages started to arrive soon after Israel’s bombardment of Gaza killed close to 300 Palestinians. Implicit was the pressure to toe the party line: Hamas is good; Israel is bad. Say it, say it! Or else you’re not Arab enough; you’re not Muslim enough; you’re not enough.

But what to say about a conflict that for more than 60 years now has fed Arab and Israeli senses of victimhood and their respective demands to stop everything else we’re doing and pay attention to their fights, because what’s the slaughter of anyone else — be they in Darfur, Congo or anywhere else — compared to their often avoidable bloodletting?

Hasn’t it all been said before? Has nothing been learned?

And then the suicide cyclist in Iraq made me snap, and I had to write — not to take sides but to lament the moral bankruptcy that is born from the amnesia rife in the Middle East.

On Sunday, a man on a bicycle blew himself up in the middle of an anti-Israel demonstration in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The technique legitimized and blessed by clerics throughout the Arab world as a weapon against Israel had gone haywire and was used against Arabs protesting Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

That twisted and morbid full circle completed on the streets of Mosul can be captured only by paraphrasing Karl Marx — Israel is the opium of the people.

What else explains the collective amnesia on display last weekend in the Middle East?

Has Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni forgotten already that just last year she was close to ousting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his handling of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, which was launched under very similar circumstances to those that preceded the bombardment of Gaza? And yet there she was making the rounds of U.S. Sunday news shows to explain why Israel had to act against the Muslim militant Hamas movement in power in Gaza.

Does Israel want to make heroes of Hamas in the way it did Hezbollah? What has been achieved from the blockade of Gaza except for the suffering of civilians, whose leaders care for them as little as Israel does?

Talking about Hezbollah and unwise leaders, has Hassan Nasrallah forgotten that while he rails against Egypt for aiding the blockade of Gaza, he lives in a country — Lebanon — that keeps generations of Palestinian refugees in camps that serve as virtual jails?

And the demonstrators in Jordan and Lebanon? Who reminds them that in 1970, Jordan killed tens of thousands as it tried to control Palestinian groups based there, forcing the Palestine Liberation Army into Lebanon, where in 1982, the Phalangist Christian Lebanese militiamen slaughtered 3,000 Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps?

Not a single Phalangist has been held accountable for that massacre. An Israeli state inquiry in 1983 found Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, indirectly responsible for the killings at the refugee camps during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. But don’t hold your breath for an Arab inquiry. It is Israel that gives sense to our victimhood. The horrors we visit upon each other are irrelevant.

It is difficult to criticize Palestinians when so many have died this weekend, but the Hamas rulers of Gaza are just the latest of their leaders to fail them. For those of us who long to separate religion from politics, Hamas has given the truth to the fear that Islamists care more about facing down Israel than taking care of their people. The Palestinians of Gaza are victims equally of Hamas and Israel.

Where was the anger when two Palestinian schoolgirls were killed in Gaza when Hamas rockets meant for Israel misfired, just a day before Israel’s bombardment?

As for the country of my birth, Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak, in power for more than 27 years, has presided over a disastrous policy that on the one hand maintains a 1979 peace treaty his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, signed with Israel and on the other unleashes state-owned media fury at Israel that has fanned a near-hysterical hatred for the country among ordinary Egyptians.

Yes, Israel’s occupation of Arab land angers Egyptians, but there is absolutely no space in Egyptian media, culture or intellectual circles for discussing Israel as anything but an enemy. And neither is there an attempt to forge it.

And now Mubarak, old, tired and out of new ideas, is reaping a policy that plays all sides against each other in an attempt to make his regime indispensable.

But my question to Egyptians and others across the region incensed at Israel is where is their anger at the human rights violations, torture and oppression in their respective countries? If such large crowds turned out onto Arab capitals every week, they could’ve toppled their dictators years ago.

It is the ultimate dishonor to the memory of Palestinians killed last weekend to call for more violence. It has failed to deliver for 60 years.

We honor the dead by smashing through the region’s amnesia until we break through to the taboos and continue to smash.

Talking to Hamas? Israel should do it if it will end the violence. Focusing on internal issues in each Arab country and ignoring the opium that is Israel? Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, et al, should do it before their respective states fail for the sake of Palestine.

Palestinians still have no state. What a shame it would be for one Arab state after the other to fail in the name of Palestine.

Mona Eltahawy is a columnist for Egypt’s Al Masry Al Youm and Qatar’s Al Arab. She is based in New York.

Israel facing grim threat assessment for 2009


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Delivering a grim threat assessment for 2009, the Israeli National Security Council (NSC) said that Israel in 2009 may well find itself alone, facing Iran on the threshold of nuclear power, fighting rocket attacks on two fronts and without a Palestinian partner for a two-state solution.

The assessment, which will be presented next month to the Israeli Cabinet, makes some far-reaching preemptive recommendations: developing a credible military option against Iran, making peace with Syria and preventing Palestinian elections, even at the cost of a collision with the United States.

The NSC foresees two possible Iran-related diplomatic developments that could hurt Israel: a U.S.-initiated dialogue leading to rapprochement between Iran, the United States and the Arab world, or the United States building a wide international coalition against Iran — for which Israel might be forced to pay a price.

To preempt these developments, the NSC urges the Israeli government to work closely with the incoming U.S. administration to mobilize the international community against Iran and to prevent an American deal with Tehran that undermines Israeli interests.

However, Israel’s various intelligence agencies appear to have differences of opinion on the Iran issue.

Military intelligence seems to have more faith in President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to stop Iran from going nuclear by using diplomacy backed by the threat of stiffer economic sanctions. Intelligence Chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin argues that Iran is now more vulnerable to sanctions as a result of the plummeting price of oil.

After conducting a bona fide dialogue with Tehran, Yadlin says, Obama will be in a position to build a strong international coalition for tighter sanctions if the Iranians refuse to drop their nuclear plans.

The NSC, however, is skeptical. Its members believe the only way to stop Iran will be through the threat or use of force. It maintains that Israel only has a small window of opportunity for action and urges the government to work discreetly on contingency plans, while building a realistic military option. In the NSC’s view, a nuclear Iran would constitute by far the biggest threat to Israel’s existence.

But Israel is seriously threatened, as well, by massive rocket buildups in southern Lebanon and, to a lesser extent, in the Gaza Strip. According to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Hezbollah now has approximately 42,000 rockets in Lebanon — more than three times the number it had during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Hamas, too, apparently has been using its truce with Israel to smuggle in huge quantities of weaponry into Gaza from Egypt. The NSC suggests that in the event of a provocation from Lebanon or Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces at all costs should avoid being sucked into a long war of attrition. If the IDF fails to contain the trouble quickly, it should consider launching a wide-scale operation, hitting the other side hard and bringing the fighting to an abrupt end, with as clear cut a result as possible.

The NSC sees in peace with Syria a major strategic advantage in the battle against Iran and its proxies, because peace with Syria likely would lead to peace with Lebanon and significantly weaken the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis.

For this gain, Israel should be prepared to pay the heavy price of returning the Golan Heights to Syria, the NSC says. Israel also should try to harness the incoming U.S. administration to this end, because Syria would be unlikely to come aboard without U.S. economic and diplomatic assurances. The intelligence agencies seem to be in accord on Syria, although there are differences of nuance here, too.

Yadlin says there are encouraging signs that Syrian President Bashar Assad really wants a deal with Israel, but that it would have to be on his terms: getting back the Golan and receiving the same kind of significant U.S. investment in Syria as Egypt received after it made peace with Israel in 1979.

The NSC believes that the price is worthwhile for both Israel and the United States, as long as Syria detaches itself from the Iranian axis. Yadlin, however, is not sure whether Syria really would cut its ties with Iran and pro-Iranian terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

To shore up its position against Shiite-run Iran, the NSC says Israel should strengthen its ties with moderate Sunni Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. Israel also should stabilize and strengthen its ties with Jordan. But the NSC does not say how this or strengthening the Saudi connection could be achieved.

One of the bleaker scenarios the NSC posits for 2009 is the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is insisting on new elections for the Palestinian presidency and Parliament in January; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants to extend his term for another year without new elections.

The NSC fears that Abbas might retire from public life if he fails to get his way, possibly leading to the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority. Alternatively, Abbas could compete in the elections and lose to the fundamentalist Hamas.

Either way, chances for a negotiated two-state solution would evaporate if Abbas’ moderate-led Palestinian Authority were replaced with Hamas. Israel would be left in the West Bank without a partner to negotiate an end to the occupation.

To keep Abbas in power and the two-state solution alive, the NSC recommends that Israel prevent Palestinian elections, even at the cost of a showdown with the United States and the international community.

Whatever happens, the NSC says, Israel must continue to pressure and weaken Hamas. If the current Hamas-Israel truce in Gaza breaks down, the NSC recommends that Israel launch a wide-ranging operation to topple Hamas in Gaza. Whether that would mean reoccupying Gaza, and if so, for how long, the NSC does not say.

The NSC’s thinking is based on the assumption that Israel can do business with Abbas and moderate Palestinians but not with Hamas. But the assessment fails to address the question of whether the moderates can deliver on Israel’s security needs and whether the moderate Palestinian leadership has the grass-roots support to stay in power over time.

The NSC analysis and recommendations may not win universal Cabinet approval when presented next month, but they do show very clearly just how complex and dangerous the security issues Israel faces in 2009 will be.

Compounding the uncertainty, the big decisions of ’09 will be taken by new and untried governments in both Jerusalem and Washington.

Quiet ends in Sderot as rocket attacks resume


SDEROT, ISRAEL (JTA) –Elior Levy was trying to get some rest Monday night.

Living in Sderot, the working-class town on the front line of Israel’s battle with rockets from Gaza, Levy is no stranger to having his sleep interrupted by middle-of-the-night Qassam salvos. Usually a Code Red alert gives residents a 15-second warning to find shelter, but at 5 o’clock Tuesday morning, Levy heard a big crash — and this time there was no warning.

Fortunately, the rocket was not close and caused little damage. So Levy, 17, said he took a sip of water and went back to sleep. Some, particularly the town’s younger children, do not return to slumber so easily.

Residents of the hard-hit Mem-Shalosh neighborhood, on the city’s south side, had been sleeping better the last six months, due to the cease-fire with Hamas.

Until about two weeks ago, that is, when the Israeli army blew up a tunnel that Hamas was building. The army believes the tunnel was to carry out another kidnapping operation of the kind that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still missing.

Since the army operation, the region has been hit by a daily barrage of rockets — about a dozen Monday, more than 30 the day before. Sixty have fallen on Sderot alone so far this month, according to the town’s security officer. The situation essentially is returning to what it had been for much of the past eight years.

The residents of Sderot aren’t happy, but they’re also not surprised.

“We knew it would happen,” said Hadas Nir, who lives in nearby Kibbutz Yad Mordechai and attends Sapir Academy. That’s just what life is like in this area, she said.

“We wake in the morning with Qassams,” Nir said, “and we go to bed at night with Qassams.”

The situation is frightening, but she will deal with it.

“I don’t feel I want to leave the area,” she said. “We have to stay here.”

Rotem Yagel agreed. “If we leave, it is a prize for them,” he said, referring to the Hamas terrorists.

Yagel, 28, originally from Beersheba, is living in the Ayalim student village at Yahini, a moshav a few miles south of Sderot. It is a volunteer work-study program run by the Jewish Agency for Israel that also aims to populate the Negev and Galilee regions.

Itay Avinathan, his roommate in one of the caravans erected by the student volunteers, is staying put, too, even though he said the security risk “is always there.” Avinathan, 24, of Haifa said he wouldn’t have changed his mind about joining the program this fall, even if he had known the rocket fire would resume.

But it is the effect of the rockets on the area’s young children that concerns most people. That is why many of the aid programs for Sderot, funded by the Israel Emergency Campaign of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), are aimed at the youth.

Children like Tal Schneior, a 10-year-old with two sisters and a cat, “likes living in Sderot,” she said in Hebrew, “but there are too many Qassams and Code Reds.”

Others are not taking the situation with such equanimity. A 16-year-old named Ligmor told a visiting group of UJC leaders Tuesday about a close friend whose house was once struck by a rocket. Now every time a Code Red goes off at school, the friend cries inconsolably until her father reassures her by phone that everyone in the family is fine.

David Bouskila, who was elected Sderot’s mayor last week, frets that every child born in the town during the past eight years “doesn’t know any other life than this reality.”

During the past six months of relative quiet, “everything starts to be so nice,” he said. But now that calm has been shattered.

Bouskila, who takes office Dec. 2, is critical of how the government, headed by his own Kadima Party, is handling the situation.

“In the case of security, we have no government in Israel,” he said.

The government has initiated a program to fortify houses in Sderot, beginning with one-story structures. There are 1,048 of them, and just 200 have been completed, Bouskila said, adding that he expects the entire project will be completed in two to three years.

Meanwhile, a host of social services, funded partly by businesses and partly by U.S. federation dollars, have sprung up to make the best of a difficult situation. For example, some 5,000 children in Sderot take part in the Jewish Agency’s Enrichment Fund programs, which provide extracurricular activities during the school day. Parents in Sderot want to see their children return safely home immediately after school, so activities after school are not an option.

There is also the Net@ program, a unique partnership with Cisco, a U.S. company, and Tapuach, an Israeli computer firm, to train promising high school students to be computer network technicians. Upon completion of the rigorous and competitive program, they receive certification from Cisco that makes them marketable for high-tech jobs.

The residents of Sderot deeply appreciate the support — both moral and financial — that they receive from outsiders. But they do not want to be pitied or thought of as impoverished.

“We are not a city of poor people,” Bouskila told the visiting UJC delegation that had come from the group’s General Assembly taking place this week in Jerusalem. “We are a proud people that live in terrible stress.”

It’s time for words to lead the peace process


It is now clear that no peace agreement, not even on principles, will be signed by the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating team before some time in 2009, after the
new American administration takes charge, the Israeli election runs its course and the fate of Mahmoud Abbas’ presidency is decided.

Analysts who have been urging the two sides to expedite matters for all the many reasons that made the window of opportunities narrower by the day are now urging them to “keep the momentum going,” lest the window, which I doubt ever existed, becomes too narrow to re-open.

But how do you keep momentum going when the two sides are locked in a fundamentally immobile stalemate?

Israel is physically unable to accommodate a sovereign neighbor a rocket range away from its vital airports, one whose youngsters openly vow to destroy it. And Palestinians, on their part, cannot change their youngsters’ vows after having nourished them for decades, especially under occupation, while Iran is promising to turn those vows into reality.

Yet there is a way. If we cannot move on the ground, we should move above it — in the metaphysical sphere of words, metaphors and paradigms — to create a movement that not only would maintain the perception of “keeping the momentum going,” but could actually be the key to any future movement on the ground.

Let us be frank: The current stalemate is ideological, not physical, and it hangs on two major contentions: “historical right” and “justice,” which must be wrestled with in words before we can expect any substantive movement on the ground.

Starting with “historical right,” we recall that a year ago, the Annapolis process was on the verge of collapse on account of two words: “Jewish state.”

In the week preceding Annapolis, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat proclaimed, “The PA would never acknowledge Israel’s Jewish identity,” to which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reacted angrily with: “We won’t hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state…. Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me.”

Clearly, to the secular Israeli society, the insistence on a Jewish state has nothing to do with kosher food or wearing yarmulkes; it has to do with historical claims of co-ownership and legitimacy, which are prerequisites for any lasting peace, regardless of its shape. Olmert’s reaction, which is shared by the vast majority of Israelis, translates into: “Whoever refuses to tell his children that Jews are here by moral and historical imperative has no intention of honoring his agreements in the long run.”

In other words, recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” is seen by Israelis as a litmus test for Arabs’ intentions to take peace agreements as permanent. Unfortunately, for the Arabs, the words “Jewish state” signal the legitimization of a theocratic society and the exclusion of non-Jews from co-ownership in the state.

Can these two views be reconciled?

Of course they can. If the PA agrees to recognize Israel’s “historical right” to exist (instead of just “right to exist” or “exist as a Jewish state”) fears connected with religious exclusion will not be awakened, and Israel’s demand for a proof of intention will simultaneously be satisfied: You do not teach your children of your neighbor’s “historical right” unless you intend to make the final status agreement truly final — education is an irreversible investment.

But would the PA ever agree to grant Israel such recognition?

This brings us to the second magical word: “justice.” One of the main impediments to Palestinians’ recognition of Israel’s “right to exist,” be it historical or de-facto, is their fear that such recognition would delegitimize the Arabs’ struggle against the Zionist program throughout the first half of the 20th century, thus contextualizing the entire conflict as a whimsical Arab aggression and weakening their claims to the “right of return.”

All analysts agree that Palestinians would never agree to give up, tarnish or weaken this right. They might, however, accept a symbolic recognition that would satisfy, neutralize and, perhaps, even substitute for the literal right of return.

Palestinian columnist Daoud Kuttab wrote in the Washington Post (May 12): “The basic demand is not the physical return of all refugees but for Israel to take responsibility for causing this decades-long tragedy.”

Similar to Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Palestinian refugees demand their place in history through recognition that their suffering was not a senseless dust storm but part of a man-made historical process, to which someone bears responsibility and is prepared to amend the injustice.

Journalist Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and former member of the Knesset, believes that this deep sense of injustice can be satisfied through an open and frank Israeli apology.

“I believe that peace between us and the Palestinian people — a real peace, based on real conciliation — starts with an apology” he wrote in Arabic Media Internet Network, June 14 (www.amin.org).

“In my mind’s eye,” he writes, “I see the president of the state or the prime minister addressing an extraordinary session of the Knesset and making an historic speech of apology:

‘Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

‘On behalf of the State of Israel and all its citizens, I address today the sons and daughters of the Palestinian people, wherever they are.

‘We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

‘The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Zionist movement was to save the Jews of Europe, where the dark clouds of hatred for the Jews were gathering. In Eastern Europe, pogroms were raging, and all over Europe there were signs of the process that would eventually lead to the terrible Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews perished.

‘All this does not justify what happened afterwards. The creation of the Jewish national home in this country has involved a profound injustice to you, the people who lived here for generations.

‘We cannot ignore anymore the fact that in the war of 1948 — which is the War of Independence for us and the Naqba for you — some 750,000 Palestinians were compelled to leave their homes and lands. As for the precise circumstances of this tragedy, I propose the establishment of a Committee for Truth and Reconciliation composed of experts from your and from our side, whose conclusions will from then on be incorporated in the schoolbooks, yours and ours.'”

Is Israeli society ready to make such an apology and assume such responsibility? Not a chance.

For an Israeli, admitting guilt for creating the refugee problem is tantamount to embedding Israel’s birth in sin, thus undermining the legitimacy of its existence and encouraging those who threaten that existence. The dominant attitude is: They started the war; wars have painful consequences; they fled on their own, despite our official calls to stay put. We are clean.

Can this attitude be reconciled with Palestinians’ demands for official recognition of their suffering? I believe it can.

Whereas Israelis refuse to assume full responsibility for the consequences of the 1948 war, they are certainly prepared to assume part of that responsibility. After all, Israelis are not unaware of stories about field commanders in the 1948 war who initiated private campaigns to scare Arab villagers and, on some occasions, to force them out.

So, how do we find words to express reciprocal responsibility? Here I take author’s liberty and, following Avnery, appeal to my mind’s eye and envision the continuation of that extraordinary Knesset session at the end of the Israeli president’s speech.

I see Abbas waiting for the applause to subside, stepping to the podium and saying:

“Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

“On behalf of the Palestinian people and the future state of Palestine, I address today the sons and daughters of the Jewish nation, wherever they are.

“We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

“The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Palestinian national movement was to liberate Palestine from colonial powers, first the Ottoman empire and then the British Mandate Authorities. In their zeal to achieve independence, they have treated the creation of a Jewish national home in this country as a form of colonial occupation, rather than a homecoming endeavor of a potentially friendly neighbor, a partner to liberation, whose historical attachment to this landscape was not weaker than ours.

“We cannot ignore anymore the fact that the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 has resulted in the British White Paper, which prevented thousands, if not millions, of European Jews from escaping the Nazi extermination plan. Nor can we ignore the fact that when survivors of Nazi concentration camps sought refuge in Palestine, we were instrumental in denying them safety and, when they finally established their historical homeland, we called the armies of our Arab brethren to wipe out their newly created state.

“Subsequently, for the past 60 years, in our zeal to rectify the injustice done to us, we have taught our children that only your demise can bring about the justice and liberty they so badly deserve. They took our teachings rather seriously, and some of them resorted to terror wars that killed, maimed and injured thousands of your citizens.”

Admittedly, this scenario is utopian. The idea of Palestinians apologizing to Israel is so heretical in prevailing political consciousness that only six Google entries mention such a gesture, compared with 615 entries citing “Israel must apologize.”

Yet, peace begins with ideas, and ideas are shaped by words. And the utopian scenario I painted above gives a feasible frame to reciprocal words that must be said, in one form or another, for a lasting peace to set in.

And if not now, when? Recall, we must keep the momentum going.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org) named after his son. He and his wife, Ruth, are editors of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Tzipi Livni wins Kadima contest — now the real work begins


JERUSALEM (JTA) – With her decisive win in the Kadima party primary on Wednesday, Tzipi Livni’s next major task will be assembling a coalition government so she can become prime minister.

Then all she’ll have on her plate is figuring out how to arrest the threat to Israel from Iran, resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a historic peace deal, neutralize the threat on Israel’s northern border from Hezbollah and run the country.

If she ever gets to it.

The immediate challenge faced by Livni, until now the foreign minister, is piecing together a coalition that will hold without pulling her government in too many different directions. If she fails, Israel will be headed for new general elections.

In Wednesday’s vote at 114 polling stations around the country, about 50 percent of Kadima’s 74,000 members voted for party leader – relatively low turnout by Israeli standards. Even so, Livni complained of “congestion” at polling stations and argued for an extension of voting time by an hour. In a compromise, Kadima decided to extend voting by 30 minutes.

Exit polls showed Livni won about 48 percent of the vote, beating out her primary rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, by at least 10 points and avoiding a runoff by surpassing the 40 percent threshold. The two other contenders in the primary, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, garnered an estimated 7 percent each.

Livni’s victory is historic in several respects. She won the first-ever primary held by Kadima, the three-year old political party founded by Ariel Sharon. Her election also brings an end to the Olmert era, though Ehud Olmert will stay on as caretaker prime minister until a coalition is assembled.

And once she puts together a coalition, Livni will become Israel’s second female prime minister, following Golda Meir.

Livni will have 42 days to form a government. She has made it clear that she wants to base her new government on the existing coalition – Kadima, Labor, Shas and the Pensioners party — with the possible addition of other parties like Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu on the right, Meretz from the left and the fervently Orthodox Torah Judaism party.

Livni wants to limit the current transition period, which she sees as a potentially unhealthy period of two-headed government. Olmert will continue as acting prime minister until Livni forms a new government.

Kadima leaders argue that there already is a functioning government and there is no reason it shouldn’t continue its work. They maintain that all the Labor party asked Kadima to do was change its leader, and, now that Kadima has done that, continuing with the present coalition shouldn’t be a problem.

But Livni’s main coalition partners have no intention of giving her an easy ride. Labor argues that a prime minister effectively elected by only 18,000-20,000 Israelis has no legitimacy and that the Israeli people as a whole should be allowed to have their say in new elections.

Shas is also threatening new elections unless Livni meets its demands for more generous child allowances and a pledge to keep Jerusalem off the negotiating agenda with the Palestinians.

If Livni fails to form a coalition, there could be an election as early as next spring. If she succeeds, she could govern for a year or two before going into a new election with the incumbency advantage.

During the campaign, Livni gave a slew of interviews in which she spelled out her priorities:

  • Moving ahead on the Palestinian track: Over the past few months, she and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia have been drafting a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Both sides say that although they have made progress, closing the wide gaps that still exist will take time.

    Once Livni is installed as prime minister, one key issue will become more difficult to resolve: refugees. Livni has repeatedly said that she will not agree to any resettlement in Israel proper of Palestinian refugees, because allowing just one Palestinian refugee in would chip away at Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.

    Livni might ease conditions on the ground by dismantling illegal settler outposts in the West Bank, which successive Israeli prime ministers have failed to do. She argues that any government she heads will assert the rule of law.

    As for Gaza, Livni warns that she will consider a large-scale ground offensive if Hamas uses the current truce to smuggle in huge quantities of arms.

  • Ascertaining the seriousness of the Syrian track: Ever since Israel and Syria started conducting new peace feelers through Turkish auspices in January 2007, Livni has not been in the loop. She has argued that by going public with the talks, Israel has given Syria a degree of international legitimacy without getting very much in return.

    Livni will want to see for herself whether Syrian President Bashar Asad is ready for a peace with Israel that entails a significant downgrading of his relations with Iran.

  • Dealing quietly with the Iranian nuclear threat: Livni says as far as Israel is concerned “all options are on the table” and that to say any more would be irresponsible. But she has intimated in the past that Israel could live with a nuclear Iran by establishing a very clear deterrent balance.
  • Introducing a new style of cleaner government: Livni, who won the leadership race at least partly because of her squeaky clean image, will want to signal early on that she intends to introduce a new style of governing. Livni will want to clean up party politics by breaking the power of the Kadima vote contractors who drafted people en masse to vote for a particular candidate. One idea is to set a minimum membership period — say, 18 months — before party members get voting rights.

By electing Livni, Kadima voters seemed to be saying enough of the generals at the top, and enough of wheeler-dealer politics. Livni, dubbed Mrs. Clean, is seen as a straight-thinking, scandal-free civilian clearly out to promote Israel’s best interests.

She has a full agenda, a chance to change the tenor of Israel politics and to make historic moves vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Syria.

But first she will have to put together a viable coalition.

Get out of jail free


Lebanon prisoner swap deal — morale issue forces a hard choice


The existential reality of an Israeli context, where governmental decisions often have a life and death valence, has been brought home to millions of people these past fewweeks, as the Israeli Cabinet made the agonizing decision to authorize the release of the murderer Samir Kuntar, four other live Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of dozens of Arab infiltrators and terrorists to Hezbollah in exchange for the bodies of abducted Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

The weight of responsibility placed upon the government and Cabinet in this instance — as in so many others — was surely awesome. While many have conceded that the decision of the Israeli government to allow this exchange was immeasurably painful, albeit necessary, others have been extremely critical of the governmental judgment to go ahead with this terribly imbalanced swap.

This decision involved no easy choice. However, as so many of us struggle with our thoughts and feelings as we reflect upon the action that Israel took in this episode, it is instructive to remember that this is not the first time Israel has unfortunately confronted this issue.

In 1985, the Jewish state faced the same heartbreaking and excruciating question. Israel had to decide whether to return 1,150 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners for the release of three Israeli soldiers. While the exchange never took place and the fate of the three Israeli POWs is still unknown, two prominent Israeli rabbis — Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Haim David Halevi — addressed the issue directly at that time. Their words then have resonance and meaning today, as they provide important perspectives for reflecting upon the policy position the Israeli government adopted on this painful matter involving life and death.

Goren served as chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Israel and was formerly chief rabbi of the IDF, while Halevi was the chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Goren, in an article written on May 31, 1985, was straightforward in his response to this question. He stated that Jewish law absolutely forbade the Israeli government from redeeming “our captive soldiers in exchange for 1,150 terrorists” and based his ruling on a talmudic passage in Gittin 45a that stated, “Captives should not be redeemed for more than their value.” Goren emphasized his great distress at the personal plight of these captives — they were surely in “mortal danger.”

However, he still insisted that the state should not redeem them as such redemption in exchange for the release of known terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel and its Jewish population would surely imperil all Israeli citizenry and only fuel Arab attempts to capture more Jews in the future. The price exacted from Israel through the release of these terrorists was simply too steep for the state to afford.

Halevi responded to Goren soon after the article appeared. He was sympathetic to the position his Ashkenazic colleague had advanced in his piece. However, Halevi disagreed about the relevance of applying the Gittin passage to the contemporary situation.

In his view, the conditions that existed in a modern Jewish state were completely different from those that confronted the Jewish community in premodern times. The Jewish people were now sovereign in their land, and the “political-national” aims that motivated the terrorists “to wreak havoc among the Jewish people” would continue, regardless of whether their prisoners were released in exchange for Israeli soldiers. Indeed, these terrorists would persist in their cruel efforts until a solution to the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict was achieved.

The “impossible choice” before the government was whether to “strengthen the power of the terrorists through the release of their comrades or to strengthen the morale of IDF soldiers should there be future wars.” Faced with these two options, Halevi felt that priority had to be assigned the latter one — the Israeli government should do all in its power to uphold the morale of the IDF soldiers.

If a soldier knew that the government would spare no effort or expense to liberate a captured soldier, then the soldier might well fight more fearlessly in battle. On the other hand, if the soldier knew that his release from captivity did not possess the highest governmental priority and that the government would not act upon that priority, then the soldier might well retreat at a crucial wartime moment so as to avoid risking capture as a prisoner of war. In a moral universe where alternatives were limited, Halevi felt this choice was the wisest one the government could make.

In responding in this way to the existential reality of life and death choices faced by the State of Israel then, Halevi enunciated a position that provides the rationale for the decision the government of the State of Israel has made on the issue of prisoner exchange.

It is surely a policy fraught with danger. At the same time, it appears to be one that continues to legitimately guide Israel as the Jewish state continues to support its citizen-soldiers as they all too often confront an enemy bent on its destruction.

Rabbi David Ellenson is president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.<BR>

U.S. Jews mourn soldiers, pledge to fight for Shalit’s return


NEW YORK (JTA) — At the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School here, Rabbi Dov Linzer decided Wednesday that it would be inappropriate to start the day like any other given the news that the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah in July 2006 were returned to Israel deceased.

Instead, Linzer passed around several media reports about the return of Israeli reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, effected in exchange for five Lebanese and the remains of some 200 Arab fighters.

The morning’s discussion eventually turned to the ethics of the exchange — a debate that has raged in Israel in recent weeks as the country has wrestled with the appropriateness of trading live terrorists for dead Israelis.

“Everybody really was struggling with it,” Linzer told JTA. “It wasn’t a black-and-white issue, even if people came out on one side or the other.”

The plight of Israel’s captive soldiers has galvanized the American Jewish community in ways that few Israel-related issues have in recent years. While the merits of the exchange were debated passionately at Chovevei and elsewhere Wednesday, Jewish groups that had worked for the soldiers’ release made no mention of the controversy surrounding their return.

Instead they expressed sympathy for the pain of the families, recognition of Israel’s difficult moral choices and a commitment to work toward the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in the summer of 2006 just a few days before Hezbollah’s attack.

“As we mourn Ehud and Eldad, let us redouble our efforts to seek the safe return of Gilad Shalit to his family,” Rabbi Steve Gutow, the executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, wrote in an e-mail message. “The blue bracelet with the names of all three soldiers will stay on my wrist until that blessed day comes. And let us keep all the other captive soldiers — Guy Hever, Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz, Ron Arad, Majdy Halabi — in our thoughts and prayers.”

Since their capture in cross-border raids two years ago, Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev have inspired broad action by American Jews. More than a dozen groups dedicated to securing their release were created on the popular social networking Web site Facebook, a rally for their release was held at the United Nations and a petition sent to the U.N. secretary-general garnered 150,000 signatures.

Concern for the three MIAs reached the highest echelons of the U.S. Congress, where House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emerged as arguably the most vocal Washington lawmaker on the issue.



Last September, when I

Israelis are not in a partying mood


Israel is turning 60, but few here in the Jewish State seem in the mood to crack open the champagne.

Israelis are still gloomy about the country’s perceived failures in the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and every day brings fresh reminders that no solution has been found for the growing problem of cross-border rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t see Israel as a failure, but what makes this anniversary less of a celebration is that we cannot proclaim a happy ending,” veteran Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the daily Yediot Achronot, said in an interview. “We did not reach a point that we can say, ‘OK, the period of state building is finished, and now we can live happily after.'”

The contradictions of life here can be painful. Israel has an outwardly robust economy that produces high-tech giants but also a record number of people living in poverty. There is a feeling of security that has come with a decline in terrorism-related deaths, but also a widespread resignation that peace remains a distant dream.

All this, to say nothing of government corruption, one of the problems most troubling Israelis.

“I don’t feel very festive,” said Shaanan Street, lead singer of the popular Israeli hip-hop band, HaDag Nachash, shortly before taking the stage at a Tel Aviv club recently. “Israelis are not too happy. They are worried instead about the next war and how they are going to finish the month.”

In a country where one in three children lives in poverty, there has been grumbling about the $28 million the government has budgeted to mark the country’s 60th birthday, even though some of the money is earmarked for educational and infrastructure programs.

Meanwhile, many say, the list of celebratory events is a bit of a snooze.

Aside from the bigger-ticket items like local fireworks shows, a huge dance party in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park and sound-and-light shows, scheduled events include a concert titled, “Military Orchestras Playing Peace,” and the display of the world’s largest Israeli flag, measuring 656 feet high and 320 feet wide.

The week after the anniversary, President Shimon Peres is also hosting a conference with a star-studded guest list on the future of the Jewish people.

Israel at 60 is a modern-day Sparta and Athens, Barnea said, walking a fine line in its dual existence as both a garrison state and a thriving cultural and business locale.

“It’s not easy to live successfully in these two worlds at the same time,” Barnea said.

Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli negotiator who runs an independent think tank in Tel Aviv, the Reut Institute, agrees.

The national mood, he said, exists in “tension between exuberance and concern, because Israel is a country that offers very polarized performances on a number of levels.”

“Let’s start with socioeconomic,” Grinstein said. “According to certain indicators, we are world leaders in research and development and ranked in the top 10 in the world in terms of business and technology. And at same time, other sectors are badly underperforming, like education and law enforcement and the entire government structure, which is in crisis.”

Grinstein advocates structural reform of the government to make it less beholden to sectarian interests, yet, he asks, which Israel will prevail in the next 60 years, “the Israel of excellence or the Israel of mediocrity?”

A recent Haifa University poll of Israeli Jews found their faith in state institutions at an all-time low. Fewer than half those surveyed, 48 percent, said they have faith in the Supreme Court, 15 percent said they had faith in the police and just 9 percent said they had faith in the government.

Mitchell Barak, who heads Keevoon, an Israeli research firm in Jerusalem, said recent surveys conducted by his firm show Israelis are more concerned with corruption than with threats from the Arab world.

Earlier this month, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav turned down a plea bargain offer that would have required him to admit to sexual misconduct in exchange for the dropping of a possible indictment against him on more serious charges, including rape. Katsav now may face those charges and go on trial.

“We are seeing a significant rise in people who’ve had it with their elected officials,” Barak said.

Ben-Dror Yemini, a columnist for Ma’ariv, said Israelis do not know whether the government has viable plans to deal with the country’s ongoing threats, both external and internal.

“They don’t have the slightest idea about what is really going on,” he said.

Eti Doron, a toy store owner in Tel Aviv, said a weariness has descended upon Israelis.

“There is a feeling of being down. People are not sure what is happening with the country,” she said. “Socialism has disappeared, the corruption is worrisome and our leaders are powermongers.”

A nearby grocer, Danny Horvitz, sounded a different note as he packed bags at his small store.

“Overall I feel positive,” he said. “There is corruption here, but overall things are good. Israel will be here in 60 years, and it will be even stronger. There will be a deal by then with the Palestinians.”

Horvitz paused before adding, “That is what I hope for, at least, and that things will be good for both us and them. Otherwise, neither one of us will be here.”

Briefs: Some West Bank settlers would agree to leave, Israel OKs Palestinian police stations


Some West Bank Settlers Would Leave If Offered Government Support, Poll Finds

Approximately one in five Israelis living east of the West Bank security fence would leave if offered government support, a poll found. According to an internal government study, whose results were leaked Tuesday to Yediot Achronot, approximately 15,000 of the 70,000 settlers whose communities are not taken in by the fence would accept voluntary relocation packages.

The poll was conducted at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and Minister Ami Ayalon, who want Israel to group settlers within the fence on the assumption that it will serve as the de facto border with a future Palestinian state. The newspaper did not provide details on how many people were polled or the margin of error.

Israel’s failure to satisfactorily rehabilitate many of the 8,000 Jews it removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005 has raised speculation that West Bank settlers would think twice about accepting government relocation offers.

Israel OKs Reopening of 20 Palestinian Police Stations in West Bank

Israel will allow the reopening of 20 West Bank police stations under Palestinian control. The stations will have a staff of approximately 500 and are located in a zone under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. This is the first time Israel has permitted such a move since 2001. It is part of commitments made last week by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to ease the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

“This aims to enhance security and impose law and order under the Abbas security plan,” Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Ministry, told Reuters.

Al Qaeda Assails Hamas’ Purported Willingness to Support Peace Accord

Al Qaeda came out against Hamas’ purported willingness to support a future Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a statement on the Internet Tuesday attacking the Palestinian Islamist group after its leaders told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that they could support a future peace accord if it passes a Palestinian referendum.

“As for peace agreements with Israel, they spoke of putting it to a referendum, despite considering it a breach of shariah,” Zawahiri said, referring to Muslim law. “How can they put a matter that violates shariah to a referendum?”

Hamas has made clear, however, that it would continue in its refusal to recognize the Jewish state, no matter what peace terms Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reaches with the Israelis. The referendum demanded by Hamas also would have to include millions of “exiled” Palestinians, many of them radicalized refugees, making it a nonstarter in terms of logistics and of the possibility of endorsing a vision of two-state coexistence.

Rising Anti-Semitism in Muslim Countries Fueling Hostility to Israel, Study Finds

Official anti-Semitism is on the rise in Muslim countries of the Middle East, fueling long-term hostility to Israel, a study found. Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a study this week arguing that in Iran and Arab states — even those that have recognized the Jewish state — officially sanctioned statements of anti-Semitism with a Muslim slant are increasing, often as a means of diverting internal dissent from the government.

One salient example is Holocaust denial twinned with allegations that Israel is practicing a “real” holocaust against the Palestinians. Anti-Semitism tends to rise in parallel to progress in diplomatic rapprochement between Arab regimes and Israel, calling into question the long-term efficacy of such accords.

The study singled out Iran as a country whose anti-Semitism poses a potential threat to Israel’s existence, given Tehran’s supposed nuclear program.

“Anti-Semitism supported by a state, which publicly adheres to a policy of genocide and is making efforts to arm itself with nonconventional weapons which will enable it to carry out that policy, is unprecedented since Nazi Germany,” the study said.

IDF Investigating Cameraman’s Death

Israel announced an investigation into the killing of a Reuters cameraman by its forces in the Gaza Strip. Following calls for a probe by Reuters and international watchdog groups, the Israeli military said Sunday it was gathering information to determine the circumstances behind the death of Fadel Shana.

Shana was killed while filming a central Gaza combat zone, and film from his camera showed an Israeli tank firing in his direction. An autopsy revealed that he had been hit by a kind of dart used in Israeli shells.

Some critics have suggested the tank crew targeted Shana, although it knew he was a journalist. The Israeli military rejected this.

“The IDF wishes to emphasize that unlike terrorist organizations, not only does it not deliberately target uninvolved civilians, it also uses means to avoid such incidents,” the IDF said in a statement. “Reports claiming the opposite are false and misleading.”

Israel Foils Two Hamas Border Attacks

Israeli forces foiled a massive Palestinian assault on a key Gaza Strip border crossing. Using an armored car and two explosives-laden jeeps painted to resemble Israeli military vehicles, Hamas terrorists rammed the Kerem Shalom border terminal before dawn last Saturday. Israeli soldiers at first responded with small-arms fire, but took cover as the jeeps were blown up by their drivers.

In parallel, another Hamas armored car tried to smash through the Gaza-Israel border fence north of Kerem Shalom but was destroyed by tank fire. Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the Kerem Shalom incident, and four Hamas gunmen were killed.

Israel’s top brass said Hamas had been denied its objective of killing a large number of troops and abducting others in a blow to the Jewish state’s morale on Passover eve. Six Hamas gunmen and another Palestinian were killed in later Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

Israel Upgrades Dress Code for Official Meetings

A more formal dress code is being adopted in the halls of Israel’s government. Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel sent ministers and other top Israeli officials an advisory that following the Passover vacation, they will be expected to dress formally at government-level meetings, Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday.

Olmert offers civilian service plan as military draft alternative; U.S. to train Palestinian troops


Olmert Promotes Civilian National Service

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office announced this week that it had formed an administration to accommodate Israelis who, upon reaching draft age, prefer a civilian version of national service to the standard military conscription. The administration, which begins operations next year, will mostly cater to Israeli Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and draft-age youths who cite personal or political reasons for not wanting to wear a uniform. It is expected to offer them options such as community service or medical posts, with similar commitment periods and benefits as conscripted soldiers. Israelis who do national service enjoy later perks such as tax breaks and student stipends.

State Dept. to Train P.A. troops

U.S. State Department officials will train Palestinian troops assigned to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The course work and practical exercises will enhance the abilities of the Presidential Guard to carry out their primary function — VIP protection,” a department statement said Sunday. “This training is part of a series of courses that will be offered this fall through early 2008.”

The training will be carried out by the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which trains security details around the world. It is part of an agreement signed this month by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the statement said. The statement said that both sides have “worked closely” to design the program. Gen. Keith Dayton, the top U.S. security envoy to the region, had been ready to train pro-Abbas troops in June, when forces loyal to Hamas, a terrorist group, drove Abbas loyalists out of the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. focus is now on bolstering Abbas in the West Bank and is part of a wider effort that includes the European Union, Egypt and Jordan.

“The rule of law and security must be the foundation of any successful Palestinian government,” the statement said. “The training and assistance that is being provided will help improve the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to deliver security for the Palestinian people and fight terrorism, build confidence between the parties, and ultimately help to meet the security needs of Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

Hezbollah Computer Game Based on War

“Special Force 2” — a computer game based on its war last summer with Israel and launched last week in Beirut in Arabic, Persian and English-language editions — awards points for killing Israeli soldiers. It retails for about $10.

“This game presents the culture of the resistance to children: that occupation must be resisted and that land and the nation must be guarded,” Hezbollah media official Sheikh Ali Daher told Reuters. “The features which are the secret of resistance’s victory in the south have moved to this game so that the child can understand that fighting the enemy does not only require the gun. It requires readiness, supplies, armament, attentiveness, tactics.”

Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group based in Lebanon, launched the war on July 12, 2006 with a surprise raid into Israel, killing eight Israeli soldiers and capturing two. Its leaders later said they were surprised by the ferocity of the Israeli response. About 160 Israelis and 1,200 Lebanese died in the war.

Israel Drafts Interim Deal for Survivors

Israeli survivors of Nazi concentration camps and wartime ghettoes are to receive increased state subsidies under an interim deal forged by Ehud Olmert. Sunday marked the deadline set by the prime minister for settling the demands of Holocaust survivors who had protested a government plan to grant them just $20 a month in subsidies. Under a draft deal, those survivors who were in concentration camps or ghettoes will now receive between $200 and $300 a month in addition to standard welfare payouts for the elderly.

Israeli Welfare Ministry Director General Nahum Itzkowitz, speaking on Army Radio, said the deal “could change someone’s life and give him a feeling of stability and security, in comparison with the present situation.”

But a resolution is still pending for the majority of Israel’s 250,000 survivors who were dispossessed by Nazi Germany’s onslaught but never incarcerated. Israeli officials suggested they might attempt a compromise whereby state funding for a central trust catering to the needs of Holocaust survivors would be significantly raised.

Sen. Obama Praises Israel Aid Hike

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) welcomed a raise in defense assistance to Israel. The Bush administration this week signed an agreement with Israel increasing its assistance from $2.4 billion a year to $3 billion a year over 10 years. The assistance is part of a package that uses incentives to encourage multiple parties — the Palestinians, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel — to move forward on Israeli-Palestinian peace. Obama, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the assistance was necessary because Bush administration policies had endangered Israel.

“The Administration’s failed policies in Iraq, in a war that never should have been authorized, have strengthened Iran and emboldened Hamas and Hezbollah,” he said in a statement Thursday. “That makes it more important than ever that the United States live up to its commitment to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in a dangerous region. For that reason, I support the agreement on military assistance reached today.”

Shul Can Help You Live Longer, Study Suggests

A Hebrew University of Jerusalem study suggests that people who attend synagogue regularly live longer than those who do not.

Professor Howard Litwin of the university’s Israel Gerontological Data Center studied 5,000 Israelis aged 60 or older over a seven-year period, according to an article in Ha’aretz. He compared various factors influencing their longevity. His findings, published in The European Journal of Aging, showed a death rate 75 percent higher among those who did not attend synagogue regularly.

Litwin suggested several reasons: Faith may help people survive psychological pressure better; observant Jews walk to shul on Shabbat, thus maintaining an exercise routine; and a supportive community helps people live longer.

Report: illegal West Bank construction up; Phosphorous bombs used in Hezbollah fight


Report: Illegal West Bank Construction Up

Israel reportedly has suppressed a government report revealing large-scale settlement expansion in the West Bank. Ha’aretz reported Tuesday that a study conducted over the past two years found that settlements and outposts often have been expanded without government permission, and on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank. The newspaper alleged that unnamed officials in the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration have removed information on settlement expansion from a government database to obscure the extent of the construction. The Defense Ministry confirmed that a study had been put together, but said its contents were classified since it hadn’t yet been submitted to the Cabinet. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv declined comment on the report, saying only that Washington expects Israel to keep to its commitments under the “road map” peace plan, which include a freeze on settlement expansion and the dismantling of illegal outposts.

Phosphorous Bombs Used in Hezbollah Fight

Israel confirmed that it used white phosphorous bombs during the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Ha’aretz this week quoted Cabinet minister Jacob Edery as telling a lawmaker that Israeli forces fired an unspecified number of white phosphorous shells at Hezbollah targets during the war. Security sources confirmed the statement. The material is designed to wipe out enemy emplacements by causing severe burns. Israel says it abided by international law, which bans its use against civilian targets.

Hamas Threatens More Kidnappings

“We will abduct more soldiers if Israel does not release Palestinian prisoners,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas member, told supporters at a Gaza Strip rally over the weekend.

Hamas was the main actor in a June 25 raid across the Gaza border in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, captured. The Palestinian Authority has demanded that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. While Israel has formally ruled this out, a Hamas aide was quoted as saying over the weekend that it could relent soon. “Soon we will find a solution to the matter of the captive soldier,” said Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. “Israel has voiced readiness to accept the Palestinian terms, which include the release of Palestinian prisoners.”

Report: Spy Heading U.N. Hostage Efforts

The United Nations reportedly appointed a German spy to help secure the release of two Israeli soldiers held hostage by Hezbollah. The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made the appointment in September during a secret meeting with the unnamed BND intelligence agent in Madrid. According to Der Spiegel, the spy will lead behind-the-scenes efforts to secure the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose abduction by Hezbollah in a July 12 border raid triggered the war in Lebanon. The BND, Germany’s foreign spy service, was integral to brokering a 2004 deal in which Hezbollah repatriated a captured Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers in exchange for Israel’s release of hundreds of Arab security prisoners. Neither the BND nor the United Nations commented on the report.

Russia: Go Easy on Hamas

Russia’s foreign minister called for Hamas to be included in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts. Sergei Lavrov said in an interview published Tuesday that it’s unrealistic for Western powers to shun the radical Islamist group to get it to recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce terrorism.”I have said repeatedly that asking Hamas to change its positions 100 percent is not realistic. We must look at what is possible,” Lavrov told the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. “Undoubtedly, Hamas, as the power that received a mandate from voters, must be a part of the solution and not the problem itself. As we know from our dealings with Hamas and its representatives, Hamas is ready to move toward common ground.”Russia broke with the United States and European Union by engaging Hamas politically after it won Palestinian Authority elections in January. The group has said it could enter a long-term truce with Israel but would never recognize the Jewish state.

Jewish Groups Among Top Philanthropies

U.S. Jewish groups are well-represented in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of the 400 largest charities. The list in the publication’s Oct. 26 issue, which named the 400 U.S. charities that took in the most money from private donors in 2005, included 23 Jewish charities, down from 26 in 2004. The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for North America’s 155 federations, took in $333,824,000 and was the highest-ranked Jewish group at No. 34, while the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest in New Jersey was the last organization named on the list. The Jewish Communal Fund moved up the list to No. 54, after increasing its intake by 49 percent since the previous year, to $203,330,851, according to the chronicle. The Jewish National Fund made the list for the first time, coming in at No. 359. Three federations, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, and the San Diego-based Jewish Community Foundation, dropped off the list.

Religious Rights Claimed in Bay Area Shul Battle

A northern California synagogue claims its religious rights are being violated as neighbors seek to block expansion plans. Congregation Kol Shofar, an 1,800-member congregation in Tiburon north of San Francisco, wants to add two wings to its existing structure for weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Hundreds of neighbors signed petitions objecting to the expansion, and the town planning commission denied the permit. The synagogue has turned to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a national foundation that fights for religious freedom. Rabbi Lavey Derby told the San Francisco Chronicle that he doesn’t believe anti-Semitism is involved, but that not allowing the synagogue to expand will restrict its right to exercise its religion. The Tiburon Town Council will make its decision Nov. 15.

Campaign to Compensate Jewish Refugees

A campaign to gain restitution for Jews expelled from Arab countries in the mid-20th century was launched. The “International Rights and Redress Campaign” opened with a one-day summit in Jerusalem on Sunday attended by representatives of Jewish communities from 10 countries. Participants called for a campaign to document properties lost by an estimated 900,000 Jews who were driven out of Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen after Israel’s founding in 1948. Most of the refugees ended up in the nascent Jewish state, while others immigrated to the West. One group, the World Organization of Jews From Arab Countries, has valued the refugees’ lost property at $100 billion, and wants a concerted effort to sue for reparations.

Briefs courtesy 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.

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

Mideast Fighting Strains Fragile Interfaith Ties


For more than three decades, Rabbi Allen Krause has believed in the power of interfaith and intercultural dialogue, especially between Jews and Muslims.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the head rabbi of Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo offered to have members of his congregation guard local Muslim day schools, he stood alongside other religious leaders to publicly decry a vicious assault on a Yorba Linda Arab American high school student and he invited a Palestinian to address his congregation to talk about the hardships of living in the territories.

However, the interfaith ties that Krause and others like him have carefully cultivated are now being tested as never before. Against the backdrop of Hezbollah rockets raining on Israel and Israeli bombs exploding in Lebanon and Gaza, friends are splitting into two sides. In mid-July, several Muslim members of Common Ground, an Orange County interfaith group Krause helped found, declined to attend a scheduled meeting, because they “might say things they might regret,” he was told.

Krause’s experience is not unusual. As war in the Middle East rages, one of the casualties has been the fragile ties between Muslim and Jewish interfaith and other groups. Already weakened by the failed peace promise of Oslo and the second intifada, in recent weeks Muslim-Jewish relations have hit their lowest ebb in more than a decade. The increased strain has re-sown the seeds of mistrust in some interfaith group that enthusiasts hoped to have forever banished.

To be sure, a few Muslim and Jewish groups have redoubled their efforts to bridge the growing chasm. The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) will soon announce a sweeping interfaith collaboration with a yet-to-be-named Muslim group, said PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which has a longstanding relationship with the Islamic Center of Southern California, soon plans to open a Center for Religious Inquiry that would invite members of all faiths, including Muslims, Jews and Christians, to discuss and examine the world’s major religions, said Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein. A new outfit named L.A. Jews for Peace recently held two peace vigils outside the Israeli Consulate and sent a representative to a large anti-Israel peace protest co-sponsored by Muslim and other organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Overall, though, Jewish-Muslim relations are strained, and tensions will likely worsen before getting better, predicts Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

“I think the current state [of Jewish-Muslim relations] is non-existent and will be even more alienated in the near future,” he said.

Rosove, once a major proponent of the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue, quit the now moribund group soon after Sept. 11 when, he said, several Muslim participants savagely criticized attempted to de-legitimize Israel. The dialogue, founded in 1998 amid great expectations, lost considerable Jewish and Muslim support over the years, including the withdrawal of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAIR, because of internal arguments over the Middle East. The group has not convened a meeting in more than a year.

David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates Inc., a Los-Angeles-based human relations organization that promotes civil rights, said he favors Jewish-Muslim dialogue. However, “unrelenting” anti-Israel attitudes he believes are shared by the majority of Muslim-American leaders makes that dialogue all but impossible.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us to find moderate Muslim voices. They’re out there; they’re just not leading the Muslim organization that Jewish organizations have traditionally dealt with,” said Lehrer, who served as the ADL’s regional director when the group quit the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue after Sept. 11.

On the other side, Reed Hamzeh, an L.A.-based attorney and regional director of the Arab American Institute, a civil rights group, believes that Israel’s actions in Lebanon are stoking anti-Semitism as well as anti-Americanism in the Muslim and Arab worlds.

“I’ve spoken to many Jewish-American friends,” said Hamzeh, whose parents were visiting Lebanon when the bombing began there. “We are in agreement that Israel’s actions are not in the best interest of Israel, the Jewish people and for the prospects of peace in the region, which should be everybody’s desired goal.”

In one reflection of the changing climate, a longtime Jewish member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blasted the group’s local chapter for planning to honor an activist whom he characterizes as an anti-Israel propagandist. Joel Bellman, press deputy to County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, sent a blistering e-mail on July 20 to the ACLU questioning the local chapter’s intention to honor Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) at the ACLU’s 43rd annual Garden Party in September.

“I guess I’m extremely pissed off, because MPAC has been extremely successful in packaging its message in very soothing and moderate tones,” Bellman said. “But when you strip away the dainty and decorous language, their positions are almost indistinguishable from anti-Israel, anti-Jewish attitudes found in much of the Muslim and Arab world.”

This is not the first time that Al-Marayati has been the focus of controversy: In an interview just after the Sept. 11, attacks, Al-Marayati suggested that Israel could be behind the terrorists. He later apologized for his comments and said they were taken out of context.

Al-Marayati, who said Bellman’s attack caught him by surprise, also said his group supports a two-state solution, denounces terrorism and reflects the outlook of moderate American Muslims. Yet Al-Marayati says that now more than ever, Jews and Muslims need to work together on issues of mutual interest such as hate crimes, civil rights and the separation of church and state, despite their differences about the Middle East.

Sande Hart, the Jewish co-founder of the Orange County-based Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope (SARAH), a four-year-old women’s interfaith group, also believes Jews and Muslims need to talk to one another as never before. Unfortunately, she said some Jewish and Muslim members no longer want to interact for the time being. Two Christians, no Muslims and just two Jews attended the group’s most recent meeting. Typically, two to three Muslims, five Jews and several Christians come to the interfaith gatherings. Hart said both Muslim and Jewish SARAH members told her they needed “space.”

“Our common ground is a little smaller than it was three weeks ago,” said Hart, who vows to patch-up relations among the group’s members.

Like their Jewish counterparts, many Muslims fear that events overseas could poison relations locally. They have expressed surprise at what they characterize as the “ferocity” of Israel’s strikes against Lebanon and Gaza.

Orange County resident Osman Umarji called Israel’s military campaign “vicious,” and said it nearly claimed the life of a close friend, who, in attempting to flee from the fighting in southern Lebanon , crossed a bridge with his mother just moments before Israeli bombs destroyed it.

The former president of the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine — a group often at odds with pro-Israeli student groups at the university — said he thought Israel’s war in Lebanon would galvanize pro-Palestinian forces and breathe new life into the divestment movement at UCI and other campuses.

“I’m sure the discussion will intensify, and more Muslim and Arab students will get involved in educating people and speaking out against the atrocities Israel’s committing,” said Umarji, now an engineer at Broadcom Corp., a global leader in semiconductors for wired and wireless communications.

For Hussam Ayloush, Israeli “aggression” is personal. The executive director of the Southern California chapter of the CAIR said he grew up in Lebanon and left in 1989 during the civil war. Coming to America to study, he eventually settled in Southern California. Now married with three children, he said he returns to Lebanon once every couple years to visit family members, including a brother who lives in the capital city of Beirut.

Soon after Israel’s air campaign began, Ayloush said he fell out of contact with his brother and his parents for four long days (His parents were in Lebanon visiting their son). Scared for their safety, Ayloush said he barely slept. He checked e-mails incessantly and watched the news round-the-clock. Although relieved when he finally reached his loved ones, he said he knows their lives continue to remain in peril.

“We would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t realize that this new conflict will increase hatred among Arabs, Muslims and Jews. It’s not going to just increase anti-Semitism but also Islamophobia and anti-Arab feelings,” Ayloush said. “That’s a tragedy.”

But not all hope for continued dialogue has been dashed. Despite the July disappointment, Temple Beth El’s Krause persisted with his group, and after some heart-to-heart talks, the Muslim members have agreed to attend a mid-August gathering, much to Krause’s satisfaction and
relief.

One More Casualty in Crisis — Unilateralism


More than two weeks into the war in Lebanon, there is a growing consensus that one of the chief casualties will be Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Pundits on the right and left argue that the war in Lebanon and fighting with the Palestinians in Gaza prove that unilateralism doesn’t work. They note that both previous unilateral pullbacks, from Lebanon in May 2000 and Gaza in August 2005, were followed by rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from the evacuated areas.

The same is bound to happen if Israel withdraws unilaterally from the West Bank without cast-iron security arrangements, pundits say.

But Olmert remains unmoved. Close aides say he is determined to pull out of the West Bank and set Israel’s permanent borders by the end of his current term in 2010. One of the main reasons is demographic — to ensure a democratic Israeli state with a clear Jewish majority.

The question is how to do it.

After the Lebanon and Gaza experiences — sustained rocket attacks on Israel in the wake of unilateral pullouts — will Olmert still want to adopt last summer’s Gaza model of withdrawal without agreement, or will he seek a different formula, such as bilateral arrangements with moderate Palestinian leaders or the introduction of international forces to keep the peace after Israel pulls back?
One of the most influential backers of the unilateral idea was journalist Ari Shavit of Ha’aretz, whose 2005 book, “Dividing the Land,” attempted to explain the rationale of the idea. But now Shavit has become one of unilateralism’s most outspoken critics.

Shavit’s change of heart reflects widespread disillusionment in Israel with the unilateral approach. In mid-July, a day after the outbreak of hostilities in the North, Shavit published an article “The End of the Third Way,” urging the government to come up with a new strategy.

In the article, Shavit argues that Israel has gone through three predominant policy phases since the 1967 Six-Day War, each undermined by an eruption of Arab violence. Initially, Shavit says, Israelis believed the Palestinian conflict could be maintained by occupation, then through a peace deal, and after that through unilateral separation.

But the occupation thesis was discredited by the first intifada in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the peace process it generated exploded with the second intifada in 2000 and unilateralism has crashed against the violence in Gaza and Lebanon, which Shavit calls the “third intifada.”

He concludes that “Israel is now desperately in need of a new diplomatic idea, a new strategic idea, a fourth way.”

A number of ideas are coming to the fore:

  • An international force to keep the peace and oversee the transition to Palestinian statehood after Israeli withdrawal.

    The endgame in Lebanon envisages a multinational force to keep the peace and help the Lebanese government deploy forces in the South and disarm Hezbollah. If that happens and proves successful, analysts say the model could be extended to the West Bank and Gaza.

    There it could take the form of an international mandate responsible for the transition to Palestinian statehood. Its main tasks would be to police the cease-fire, help create a single Palestinian armed force and build democratic institutions.

    The main advantage is that it could provide the stability Israel and the Palestinians have been unable to achieve. The main disadvantage is that an international force could become a target of Palestinian terrorism.
    The idea of an international transitional mandate has been proposed before by former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk.

  • The establishment of a Palestinian mini-state with temporary borders through direct negotiations under American aegis between Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

    The Americans would need to give both sides strong guarantees: To Israel that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved in the emerging Palestinian state, and to the Palestinians that the final border will closely approximate the pre-1967 boundary.

    The main advantage of this approach is that it would be easier to achieve than a full peace deal. The main disadvantages are that the Palestinians have opposed the idea because they fear temporary borders would become permanent; the Israelis suspect that Abbas, even if he signed an agreement, would not be able to deliver.

    The Israeli Foreign Ministry has set up a team to refine this approach.

  • Going back to the “Clinton parameters” of December 2000 for a final peace deal. Left-wingers argue that if the sides are able to begin negotiations on a mini-state they might as well aim for a full peace deal and a full-fledged Palestinian state. Terrorist organizations would be dismantled, the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and border arrangements would be made to prevent weapons smuggling.

    The trouble is that this is precisely the formula that failed so dramatically at Camp David six years ago, and the situation has deteriorated markedly since then.

  • Modified unilateralism. Israel’s West Bank settlements would be dismantled but the army would remain to prevent Kassam rocket fire and other terror attacks.

    The main advantage is that Palestinian terrorists wouldn’t be able to arm and act as freely as they would if the army pulls out. The main disadvantage is that Israeli occupation would continue, creating points of friction with Palestinians and costing Israel international goodwill.

    Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, is the main proponent of this approach.

  • A Palestinian arrangement in the context of a major regional shake-up. This would entail stability in Lebanon under an international umbrella, good neighborly relations between Israel and Lebanon, and possibly even detachment of Syria from the Iranian axis.

    This would depend on the degree to which Israel crushes Hezbollah’s military power in the current conflict. Hezbollah’s defeat would reverberate in the territories and could lead to a strategic reassessment by Hamas leaders, especially if the Syria-Iran axis also collapses.

    The main advantage is that conditions could be created for a final, comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The disadvantage is that so far, at least, there is little sign that this scenario is realistic.

It’s clear that Olmert will have to adapt to the new post-war reality — but it’s still too early to gauge which fourth way,” if any, he’ll adopt.

A Settler in Favor of Disengagement


This is a soul-wrenching time for all of us who love the Land of Israel. Jewish homes and villages, farms and factories — the settlement work of three decades — are soon to be uprooted in Gaza. We know that more demolitions may be coming.

Politically — for the first time in the history of the Jewish people — the State of Israel is apparently working toward establishing foreign sovereignty over a part of our land. If George Bush and the European Union think this is a swell idea, that’s partly because they can disregard the moral, historical and emotional ramifications to us, as Jews are rousted from their homes, as well as the potential security implications of giving Gaza to our enemies.

Nonetheless, and though I’m a "settler," I find myself reluctantly supportive of disengagement — an opinion that makes me a minority of one in my West Bank village. Here are six reasons why.

1) Reorder the demographics, or start to. Nearly as many Arabs as Jews live in the Land of Israel already, whereas a Jewish state requires a large Jewish majority. That’s a cliché but true. Getting rid of Gaza unloads 1.3 million Arabs for — relatively — a small price, relocating just 7,000 Jews.

2) Consolidate Jewish gains. Forget about "peace in our time"; that’s Peace Now’s delusion. The war with the Palestinians, Syrians, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran is far from over. But leaving Gaza will shorten Israel’s defensive lines while allowing us to secure the gains of the last three decades by bolstering the settlement blocs near Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Green Line. The security fence now being built to incorporate those communities will mark new borders for Israel.

3) Return to pragmatism. A part of Israel’s population is being driven mad by the dream (which I admit I share) of a Jewish state stretching from the river to the sea, the entire Land of Promise. But right now — as in all previous generations — it has proved impossible for us to inhabit the whole land. Only God knows why, but let’s acknowledge that the Messiah didn’t come and meanwhile gratefully accept the great gift we’ve been given: the world’s only self-governing Jewish state. A firm connection to reality always improves one’s survival possibilities. And meanwhile there’s work to do.

4) Doing the work. While we’re waiting for God to give us the rest of the land, there’s much to build and heal in the large portion we possess. If disengagement succeeds, the hostile friction between left and right, often following the fault line between religious and secular, will be muted. That energy can then be directed to projects to improve Jewish life, such as feeding the hungry, educating Jews to Judaism, cleaning Israel’s polluted rivers, lending a hand to Diaspora communities and so forth.

5) Strengthening the center. The real news in last month’s Likud Party vote against disengagement was that 40 percent of Israel’s largest right-wing party voted for it. As the party of Jabotinsky transforms itself, we’ll see a strengthening of centrist government, with its stability, its preference for slow change and its responsiveness to the sensible center that makes up most of the country’s electorate. Gen. Ariel Sharon, a military mastermind, turns out to be a political genius, too.

6) Improve Israel’s international position. By far. The world is sick of us and the Palestinians. Even we’re sick of us and the Palestinians. Sharon has warned that Israel will not be able to resist much worse plans for bringing peace, quiet and a good business environment to the Holy Land in the absence of "a plan of our own." Even though he’s a politician, I believe Sharon on this one. Israel has to get off the dime for its own sake, rather than be left fighting a rear-guard, negative battle against an imposed solution that will endanger us.

Am I unworried? Hardly. Disengagement raises security fears, in particular. But no military withdrawal has to be permanent, and the Palestinians know that. And in any future round of fighting, at least the Israeli army will be unencumbered by the need to protect Jewish civilians.

Israel has, for years, lived inside a conundrum: We can’t drive the Palestinians out of the country (neither the nations nor the Jews will permit it) or magically "disappear" them or, apparently, convince them to live in peace beside us. To me, even more confounding is the possibility that neither withdrawing from Gaza nor staying is the correct path — that, given the Arabs’ limitless hostility, Israel has no really good options except remaining heavily armed and vigilant.

But I think we can do that at least as well from outside the fence that surrounds Gaza. Let the Palestinians eat the bread they’ve buttered for themselves. Until they come to their senses (or the Messiah arrives at last), we have the Jewish people to protect and the Jewish state to build.

David Margolis is a journalist
and novelist who made aliyah from Los Angeles in 1994 and now lives in a village
in the Judean hills. He can be reached through his Web site,

www.davidmargolis.com.

World Briefs


Public Support for Israel Wanes

American public support for Israel has declined slightly over the past year. In its annual “favorability of nations” poll Feb. 9-12, Gallup found that 59 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of Israel to various degrees, versus 35 percent unfavorable, with 6 percent having no opinion. That’s down from 64-29 one year ago with 7 percent staying neutral.

Meanwhile, 76 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the Palestinian Authority, 15 percent have a favorable view and 9 percent have no opinion. One year ago the ratio was 73-13, with 14 percent undecided.

Bus Security System Tested

Israel’s Egged bus company field-tested a system meant to spot suicide bombers before they board. Five buses equipped with the driver-controlled entry turnstile were deployed in Jerusalem on Monday, to a mixed reception. One Egged staffer noted that a terrorist successfully locked out by the turnstile could still detonate his bomb and kill the driver.

A Jesus Whodunit

Seventy-five percent of Americans believe Jews were not responsible for Jesus’ death, according to a new poll. The Anti-Defamation League released the poll this week on the eve of the opening of Mel Gibson’s controversial new movie on Jesus, “The Passion of the Christ.” In the poll of 1,200 Americans, conducted last December, 25 percent of respondents said the statement “Do you think that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ?” was probably true. A similar poll recently released by ABCNews.com found that 80 percent of Americans do not hold Jews responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion.

Proof Positive

Terrorist infiltration has ceased in areas where the West Bank security barrier has been built, Israel’s Shin Bet chief said. In a briefing to Israel’s Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, Avi Dichter said areas of Israel still vulnerable to Palestinian suicide bombings were Kafr Kasim, where the West Bank boundary is still open, and Jerusalem.

“Ten measures of terror were bequeathed to the world and nine of them ended up” in the northern West Bank, Israeli media quoted Dichter as saying. “Since the fence was built, the terror in this area has ceased completely.”

5,000 Protest Gaza Withdrawal

Two former Israeli chief rabbis led prayers at the Western Wall to imploring God to stop “evil plans” to evacuate settlements.

Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, both chief rabbis in the 1980s who went on to advise the settler movement, led about 5,000 worshippers in prayer last Friday at the Jerusalem holy site.

They described Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s pledge to pull out of the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank as an “evil decree.”

Birthright Baby Born

A couple that met on the Birthright Israel trip had a baby. On Nov. 17, Shoshana and Stephen Kronfeld had a son, Ezra. The two met on a 1999 trip sponsored by Birthright, which provides free trips to Israel for Jews ages 18 to 26 who have never been on an organized trip to the Jewish State.

You Want to Marry a Jewish Doctor?

Doctor still tops the list of prized Jewish professions, according to an Israeli survey. The poll of 500 men and women published in Israel’s daily Ma’ariv on Tuesday found that 22.6 percent of respondents named medicine as the most valuable profession, with pilot or teacher a distant second, at 12 percent each. Politician came in at 12th place in the popularity list, at 1.8 percent. The paper did not provide the date when the poll was conducted or its margin of error.

British Jews Want Hezbollah TV Blocked

The umbrella organization for British Jews urged Britain’s government to block reception of Hezbollah’s satellite television station. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the director-general of the Board of Deputies, Neville Nagler, that he “shares your disgust” at the anti-Semitism expressed in the Al-Manar series “The Diaspora,” a board statement said.

It’s Final: Le Pen Can’t Run

Jean-Marie Le Pen lost his final chance to run for the presidency of southern France. On Sunday, a court in Marseille rejected Le Pen’s final appeal against a decision that he did not possess the necessary residency qualifications enabling him to run as a candidate in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, which includes large Jewish populations in Marseille and Nice. He will also not be a candidate in any other region, a party spokesman said.

Wrong Body to Hezbollah?

Israel may have sent Hezbollah the wrong body. Kul Al-Arab reported that a Lebanese family expecting the body of Muhamed Biro, a drug dealer who died in an Israeli prison when he was 70, instead received the body of what appeared to be an Orthodox Jew. Now, the paper reported, Hezbollah wants an additional 30 bodies as compensation for the mistake.

The body was transferred to Lebanon as part of an exchange of more than 400 Arab prisoners for one live Israeli citizen and three dead Israeli troops.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

World Briefs


Pardons Not Recommended for Police

No pardons should be given to police officers involved in quelling Israeli Arab riots in October 2000, Israeli officials said. Both Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein said the next step in examining the behavior of police, who killed 12 Israeli Arabs and one Palestinian Arab during the riots, should be the investigation recommended this week by the Orr Commission. The comments followed reports that Israel’s police chief is looking into “preemptive pardons.”

Ehud Barak, Wife Separate

Ehud Barak and his wife, Nava, are separating. Lawyers for the former Israeli prime minister and his wife said this week that the two have agreed to a temporary split. They have been married for 34 years and have three daughters.

P.A. Freezing Charities’ Assets?

The Palestinian Authority has reportedly frozen the assets of more than 30 charities, operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, linked to terrorist groups. The Palestinian Authority refused to comment on the report, which was filed by The Associated Press. But many Palestinians did not receive welfare checks Aug. 28 that normally are supplied by these charities.

Powell Raps Arafat

Colin Powell said the “road map” peace plan is making “slow progress.” Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the U.S. secretary of state reiterated calls for Palestinian Authority security forces to be consolidated under the direction of a single person, who would report to P.A. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Powell also chastised P.A. President Yasser Arafat but did not respond to Israeli suggestions that Arafat might be expelled by the end of the year. If some Palestinians “don’t like the road map, I don’t know what they will like, because the road map shows the way forward to the end of violence, the end of terror and the creation of a Palestinian state,” Powell said.

Arrest Fuels British-Iranian Tension

Iranian-British tensions continue to rise following the arrest in Britain of an Iranian diplomat accused of anti-Jewish terrorism. Iran withdrew its ambassador from Britain on Tuesday, and shots were fired at the British Embassy in Tehran on Wednesday. Iran is furious over the arrest of Hade Soleimanpour, Iran’s ambassador to Argentina at the time of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, which killed 85 people and wounded 200. Soleimanpour was detained in Britain last month after an Argentine judge issued a warrant for his arrest. No one was injured in the shooting at the British Embassy, but there was damage to the building.

Missionary Cleared on Israel Spying

A Lebanese court cleared a Canadian missionary of charges of spying for Israel. The court found Monday that Bruce Balfour was guilty of stirring religious strife but sentenced him only to time served. Prosecutors had accused Balfour, who was arrested in July, of spying on Hezbollah for Israel. Balfour’s organization, Cedars of Lebanon, is dedicated to reviving Lebanon’s cedar forests.

Navigator Arad Might Be Alive

Ron Arad, the Israeli navigator captured when his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, is probably still alive, a new report says. There is no evidence to refute the assumption that Arad is still alive, Israel’s Channel One reported, citing a study presented to the Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon. After Arad bailed out of his fighter plane, he was believed to have been captured and held by pro-Iranian troops in Lebanon. The last time a message was received that he was alive was in October 1987.

Minnesota Cemetery Damaged

Some 140 gravestones were overturned at a Jewish cemetery in Minnesota. Last weekend’s vandalism at the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Minnetonka, Minn., caused an estimated $20,000 worth of damage. Local Jewish officials believe the incident likely resulted from hooliganism, not anti-Semitism.

Record Y.U. Group to Israel

Yeshiva University is sending a record number of students to Israel. An all-time high of 675 undergraduates are heading to 40 affiliated yeshivas in Israel for their freshman year at Y.U., the New York-based flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy. Since the freshman year-in-Israel program began in 1980, 9,000 students have participated in the academic program.

Poll: Israelis Are Happy

Eighty-three percent of Israelis are satisfied with their lives, according to a new poll. The survey, conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics for Israel’s Finance Ministry, also found that 53 percent of Israelis are optimistic about the future, 33 percent said things would remain the same and 14 percent are pessimistic. The survey questioned 7,000 Israelis 20 years and older.

‘Judge, Are You Religious?’

The Orthodox Union is joining Catholic groups in challenging congressional concern over judicial nominees who are religious. Nathan Diament, director of public policy at the O.U.’s Institute for Public Affairs, said Tuesday that several recent nominees with deeply held religious beliefs are being put to an unconstitutional religious test when senators and others in confirmation hearings ask whether their religious views will affect their ability to implement the law.

“This line of questioning either has to be laid to rest, or we really know what’s going on here,” he said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Hezbollah Returns


Israeli security sources are warily considering the possibility that Hezbollah militants in Lebanon will expand their operations into Israel.

Analysts believe the group is only awaiting a green light from Damascus to launch a new offensive against the Jewish State.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, warned Sunday that Israel was "playing with fire" when it struck Syrian positions in Lebanon that day.

"This aggression will not be dealt with like in the past, but in a different form," he said.

The Israeli daily Ma’ariv this week quoted security sources saying that Hezbollah may try to hit an Israeli passenger plane, an embassy or perhaps kidnap Israeli citizens abroad.

The threats come against the backdrop of continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence, despite U.S. efforts to broker a workable cease-fire.

These threats are likely to enhance the fears of an already jittery Israeli public.

The renewed violence in the North began last Friday when Hezbollah gunmen launched a rocket attack that wounded two Israeli soldiers, one of them seriously.

The attack took place in the Shabaa Farms region that Lebanon regards as its territory, a claim both Israel and the United Nations reject.

The attack set off a familiar series of strikes and counterstrikes. Israeli jets struck Syrian positions in Lebanon on Sunday, when Israel’s Security Cabinet blamed Damascus for giving Hezbollah the go-ahead for the rocket attack.

Hezbollah gunmen then answered the Israeli action by firing mortars and rockets at Israeli army positions along the border with Lebanon.

The cycle of violence resembled similar events in April, when Israel attacked Syrian radar installations in Lebanon after Hezbollah fired on Israeli forces.

The Security Cabinet did not pull any punches Sunday when it came to Syria.

"Israel has determined that these criminal activities of Hezbollah’s are being carried out with the full knowledge and sponsorship of Syria, whose army is present in Lebanon," the statement said.

Ze’ev Schiff, analyst for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, suggested that the Israeli attack was not just a response to last Friday’s shelling, but to Syria’s allowing Hezbollah to arm itself with new anti-aircraft missiles.

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer downplayed the prospects of war with Syria, saying Sunday, "Thank God, we are surrounded by countries that if they have anything in common, it is not to lead the Middle East into war."

But there are more limited steps that Syrian President Bashar Assad could take against Israel.

"Assad may react by opening a new front," said Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University. "He may try to ignite the Golan by allowing terrorist activities there."

Assad could also continue having Hezbollah act as its proxy.

Israeli security officials have, in recent months, warned of efforts by Hezbollah to build up a terrorist infrastructure within the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

There is hard evidence of growing ties between Hezbollah and its "sister" organizations in areas under Palestinian control: Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

Now there are indications Hezbollah may be trying to widen its network by recruiting Israeli Arabs.

As part of this effort, Hezbollah operatives may seek the help of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

The movement is a legal entity — and as such it would carefully steer away from any direct involvement with subversive activities.

However, it has never disguised its sympathy for Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups, and it has openly provided "humanitarian" aid to the needy families of deceased terrorists.

Leading members of the Islamic Movement — like Suleiman Aghbariya, the deputy mayor of Umm el-Fahm — have often been the target for police questioning regarding financial links between Hamas and the Islamic Movement.

After Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000 — which Hezbollah trumpeted as an unequivocal victory of its forces over the Jewish State — the fundamentalist movement needs a new banner to wave as it tries to recruit followers.

What better way is there, say Israeli analysts, than to revive the old slogan that the struggle will continue all the way to Jerusalem?

And what more efficient way to achieve this goal, they add, than by recruiting militant members of the Israeli Arab population, who can move freely throughout the Jewish State?

According to Israeli security officials, Hezbollah has already been recruiting Israeli Arabs with the goal of creating an infrastructure for terror attacks and kidnappings.

Cabinet minister Saleh Tarif — a Druse who is in charge of Arab affairs in the present government –warned in the Knesset last week not to blame the entire Arab population for the activities of a few.

His comments came after security officials revealed that more than 30 Israeli Arabs have been arrested since the beginning of the year on suspicion of belonging to terrorist organizations. Ten of them are suspected of having been recruited by Hezbollah, and the remaining 20 by Hamas.

In the past few weeks, anonymous statements were issued by "Hezbollah-Palestine."

No one knows for sure whether there is such an organization — yet — or whether it was merely an attempt to scare.

Either way, Israeli officials are taking the issue very seriously.