Israeli teen to serve 8 years in prison for killing Arab

Israeli teen was sentenced to prison for killing an Arab man in Jerusalem.

The killer, 17, was sentenced Thursday to eight years by the Jerusalem District Court as part of a plea bargain.

In all, three teens were accused of attacking two Arab men in the city center in February 2011. The youths reportedly had been drinking.

Hussam Hasan, 24, was killed after being stabbed multiple times with a razor blade; the Jewish youths shouted “Death to Arabs” during the attack. A friend of Rawidi’s escaped from the attackers and called police.

The killer turned himself in to police three days later at a West Bank checkpoint. His friends had been arrested at the scene.

Global March to Jerusalem could bring thousands of Arabs to Israel’s borders

If pro-Palestinian calls for a so-called Global March to Jerusalem are heeded, thousands of Arabs from the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria could converge on Israel’s borders.

The day, March 30, marks Land Day, which commemorates the deaths of six Arab Israelis killed in 1976 during protests against Israeli government land policies that confiscated privately owned Arab land.

While last year’s Land Day commemorations were held without incident, rallies two months later to mark the anniversary of what the Palestinians call the Nakba—the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding in 1948—brought thousands of Arabs from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza to march on Israel’s borders, and 13 marchers were killed.

A month later, on June 5, hundreds of Syrian protesters stormed the border with Israel on Naksa Day, the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, and there were more casualties.

“The IDF is prepared for any eventuality and will do whatever is necessary to protect Israeli borders and residents,” the Israel Defense Forces’ spokesman told JTA this week when asked how the IDF is preparing for Land Day.

Citing senior defense officials, Haaretz reported that the IDF is prepared for “relatively serious events.” The Israeli daily added that the most current intelligence assessments believe that the demonstrations Friday will be “limited.”

Preparations for Land Day security have used last year’s Nakba and Naksa day rallies as models, according to reports. Security forces have updated their knowledge of non-lethal crowd dispersal methods, while border troops have gone on higher alert and additional IDF troops have been moved to the borders.

Israeli officials reportedly were most concerned about the Lebanese border and asked the Lebanese government to rein in protesters. The main Lebanese demonstration is planned for the Beaufort Castle, which is several miles north of the Israeli city of Metullah, rather than the border with Israel, the Lebanese branch of the Global March to Jerusalem announced last week. The number of demonstrators at Beaufort will be limited to 5,000, according to the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper, citing organizers of the march.

March general coordinator Ribhi Halloum told reporters earlier in the week that the march would be peaceful.

“The aim of the Al Quds march is to express a message of protest and condemnation against the policy of Israeli occupation in the occupied Palestinian territories,” he said, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem. “We will under no circumstances agree to violence or a violation of the borders. We will maintain the policy of nonviolent protest we have agreed to uphold.”

Land Day events also will be held inside Israel’s borders under the auspices of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee with the banner “Save the lands and prevent the Judaization of Jerusalem.”

Israeli police have been cautioned to keep out of Arab villages in Israel in order to maintain calm.

Meanwhile, jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role in five murders during the second intifada, called on Palestinians to launch a popular resistance campaign against Israel. His statement, issued in advance of Land Day, called on the Palestinian Authority to stop all coordination with Israel in the economic and security realms and to stop peace negotiations.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority currently are not engaged in negotiations.

Arabs, Israel to attend nuclear talks, Iran uncertain

Arab states and Israel plan to attend a rare round of talks next week on efforts to free the world of nuclear weapons but Iran has yet to say whether it will take part, diplomats said on Wednesday.

The November 21-22 forum, hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, is seen as a symbolically significant bid to bring regional foes together at the same venue, even though no concrete outcome is expected.

If conducted smoothly with relatively toned-down rhetoric on all sides, it could send a positive signal ahead of a planned international conference next year on ridding the Middle East of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

“It is a good opportunity for everybody to sit and talk but

I don’t think it is going to achieve a tangible result,” a Western diplomat said.

An Arab ambassador said he and others would probably mention Israel’s assumed nuclear arsenal in their statements, but would not include anything “that would create polarization” in the meeting room.

“We expect to pinpoint the issues that could be an obstacle or impediment to establishing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East and possibly how to deal with them,” the envoy said.

“Everybody knows that the Israeli nuclear capabilities are a big obstacle in this endeavor,” the Arab diplomat said.

Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, and faces frequent Arab and Iranian condemnation.

Israel and the United States regard Iran as the region’s main nuclear threat, accusing Tehran of trying to develop an atomic bomb in secret. An IAEA report last week added weight to those allegations, which Iran denies.

Next week’s discussions, convened by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, will focus on the experiences of regions which have set up Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones (NWFZ), including Africa and Latin America.

IAEA member states decided in 2000 to hold the meeting but it has taken this long for the parties involved to agree on the agenda and other issues.

All 151 IAEA member countries have been invited to the forum, to be chaired by senior Norwegian diplomat Jan Petersen, but dialogue and debate among Middle East envoys will take center stage.

“I think there is a genuine will to make this a positive experience,” Petersen told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m encouraged about what I heard during the consultations.”


Diplomats said Israel and Arab states had accepted the invitation but that there had as yet been no word from Iran, which in September said it saw no justification for such a meeting now and took a swipe at arch-enemy Israel.

Israel, the only Middle East country outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has never confirmed or denied having nuclear weapons under a policy of ambiguity to deter numerically superior foes.

It says it would only join the treaty if there is a comprehensive Middle East peace with its longtime Arab and Iranian adversaries. Israel would have to renounce nuclear weaponry if it signed the 1970 agreement.

Last month, the United Nations said Finland agreed to host a potentially divisive international meeting in 2012 to discuss ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.

The idea for that conference came from Egypt, which pushed for a meeting with all states in the Middle East to negotiate a treaty that would establish a nuclear arms-free zone.

Washington’s commitment will be key to the success or failure of next year’s talks, Western diplomats have said, as it is the only state that can persuade Israel to attend.

“If successful, it (next week’s forum) may be a building block toward 2012,” Petersen said.

The Arab ambassador and others said setting up this kind of zone in the Middle East would not happen soon.

“It is very distant. It is a very complicated issue. There is a lot of mistrust among the parties,” the envoy said.

Editing by Andrew Roche

With border breaches, has the Arab Spring reached Israel?

If a single phrase could capture the sentiment that motivated thousands of Arabs to try to cross Israel’s borders on Sunday to “retake Palestine” from the Jews, it would be this: Yes, we can.

That can-do attitude had toppled regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, and threatened dictators from Tripoli to Damascus. So why not apply it toward Israel? If Arab leaders weren’t willing to send their armies to storm the Zionist state, the Arab protesters figured, well then, they’d just do it themselves.

The charge toward Israel’s borders from Arabs in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank led to the most violent day in Israel in months, with about a dozen protesters reportedly killed by Israeli fire—some on foreign soil—and a suspected terrorist attack in Tel Aviv that left one Israeli civilian dead.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Sunday that Israel would do what it needed to defend itself.

“Let nobody be mistaken, we are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty,” he said.

Coming on Nakba day – the annual date Arabs mark the “catastrophe” of Israel’s birth on May 15, 1948 – the protests signaled that the Arab Spring, which until now has spared Israel, may be arriving at the borders of the Jewish state. Among Palestinians, calls for a third Palestinian intifada are rising – at least on Facebook.

“The whole Arab world is roiling around the Nakba,” Professor Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies, told JTA. “Add to that that youngsters think they can make a difference. They decided that instead of just shouting and demonstrating, they’d go across the border.”

For Israel, the breach of the Syria-Israel border came as something of a surprise. It marked the first major violence along the border since the May 1974 disengagement agreement that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

In the Golan Heights, hundreds of Arabs from Syria reported to be Palestinians surged through a part of the border known as the Shouting Hill, so named because Druze relatives on opposite sides of the boundary use it to shout to each other by bullhorn. The few Israeli troops stationed in the area tried to keep the marchers at bay. Shots were fired; as many as four people were reported killed.

As scores surged across the border and into the Druze town of Majdal Shams—near one of the only parts of the border not covered by mines because it occasionally serves as an international crossing point—the Israel Defense Forces dispatched reinforcements and set up checkpoints around the town to catch infiltrators. The infiltrators who were caught were sent back to Syria.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops stationed along the international boundary with Lebanon used live fire to keep back thousands of protesters from Lebanon. At least 10 people were reported killed, some by Lebanese army fire, according to the IDF.

In Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian demonstrators attacked Israeli checkpoints, and Israeli soldiers responded mostly with tear gas. Demonstrators in Egypt and Jordan also sought to force their way into Israel, but they were held back by local troops.

Eli Malka, head of the Golan Regional Council, called on residents of northern Israel to prepare to take up arms to defend the homeland, warning on Israel Radio: “Sixty-three years on, the War of Independence of the State of Israel is not over.”

Malka described the border breaches as a new form of warfare against Israel: by citizens from neighboring states intent on retaking “Palestine” with their own hands.

On Monday, the Israeli airwaves were rife with talk of how to deter further border breaches, from laying anti-personnel mines along the boundary to mobilizing Israeli residents of border towns against possible infiltrations to bombing Damascus—which many Israelis held responsible for Sunday’s border breach in the Golan.

In Syria, one cannot charter buses to the Golan or approach the border area without the say-so of the regime of Bashar Assad, noted Effi Eitam, a former Israeli Knesset member.

“This was a deliberate provocation,” he told Israel Radio, suggesting that any response should be directed toward Damascus.

The border breach also was seen as a warning by the Syrian regime of what could happen in the region if Assad’s government were to fall. For weeks, Assad’s security forces have been responding to widespread protests against it with deadly violence; an estimated 800 people have been killed.

In contrast to Libya, the subject of a U.S.-led bombing campaign, the Syrian regime has drawn only subdued protestations from Western powers who fear that the collapse of Assad’s rule could herald even more turmoil in the region, including trouble for Israel.

Israeli leaders have kept mostly silent about the unrest in Syria, guessing that the devil they know in Assad would be better than the alternative of a Syria in the throes of anarchy or a militant Islamic government.

Sunday’s violence on the Syrian border should serve as a cautionary tale, Israeli analysts said.

Likewise, the suspected terrorist attack in Tel Aviv by a 22-year-old Israeli Arab from Kafr Kassem who rammed his truck into cars and pedestrians on a busy street, killing one, was a warning that the next Palestinian uprising against Israel might not be limited to West Bank Palestinians.

Indeed, Palestinian media have been rife in recent weeks with calls for a third intifada.

On Monday, Israel was mostly quiet, as the IDF imposed a full closure on the West Bank and deployed in greater numbers along Israel’s borders.

The question now is whether Arabs from the Palestinian-populated territories and Israel’s Arab neighbors will be encouraged or discouraged from their experience on Nakba Day.

When the unrest began spreading across the Arab world this winter, threatening autocratic regimes all around the region, Israel appeared to be an island of stability—a testament to its democratic character and, perhaps, to Israeli security strategy.

Sunday’s border breaches suggest that if Israel doesn’t take effective steps to stanch any unrest along its borders or in the West Bank—with the minimum possible loss of life so as not to inflame the Arab world—the honeymoon might be over.

For Israel’s Arabs, sense of disenfranchisement as Israel marks 63rd birthday

In an elegant limestone building in a Jerusalem neighborhood that before 1948 was home to the city’s Palestinian elite, a group of Jewish and Arab Israeli academics recently tried to untangle one of Israel’s most complex and charged questions: the status of its Arab minority.

“The discussion here is so important because we are trying to see if this is a zero-sum game or if it’s possible to find the way to coexistence,” said Anita Shapira, the Israeli historian and former dean of Tel Aviv University who presided over the symposium on the topic organized by the Israel Democracy Institute.

As Israel celebrates 63 years of independence this week, relations between its Arab and Jewish citizens are marked by a palpable and growing sense of alienation. As often occurs on Yom Ha’atzmaut, the marking of Israel’s Independence Day served to highlight the divisions between Israel’s Jews and Arabs.

Just a few weeks ago, the Knesset passed a new law that mandates fines for state-funded groups that question the country’s status as a Jewish and democratic state. Critics say the so-called Nakba law—aimed at outlawing marking Yom Ha’atzmaut as the Arab Day of Catastrophe, or Nakba—limits the right to freedom of expression and is an attack on the country’s Arab minority.

That and other recent Knesset measures—from a bill attempting to cancel Arabic’s status as an official language in Israel to proposals for a mandatory loyalty oath—have sharpened feelings of disenfranchisement among many Arab citizens of Israel.

“I have no problem with your religion, but I also want you to acknowledge my history,” said Aziz Haider, a Hebrew University sociologist, during one of several heated exchanges at the symposium. “There is a State of Israel and Israel’s establishment is the result of our Nakba.”

Nakba is how Palestinians commonly refer to the events of 1948, which led to Israeli statehood but also to Palestinian dispossession.

“Israel, instead of going toward reconciliation, is headed towards confrontation,” Haider said.

How to reconcile an Arab minority in a state that defines itself as both Jewish and democratic remains one of Israel’s greatest challenges.

On the one hand, Israel’s Arab citizens, who number about 1.6 million in a country of 7.7 million, are more “Israeli” than ever before. They are fluent in Hebrew, are intimately familiar with Israeli culture and are present in relatively large numbers as students in Israeli universities. In recent years, the government has begun to address the imbalance in allocating resources among its Jewish and Arab citizens.

On the other hand, that imbalance still exists, Arabs still rank among Israel’s poorest citizens and they live largely apart from Jews.

In recent years, Israeli Arabs also have embraced a more assertive political voice, expressing solidarity with their Palestinian counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza, and growing more vocal in their criticism of the Israeli government.

Arab Israelis say they feel more threatened in Israel—the current Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, advocates transferring some Arab Israeli towns to a future Palestinian state in the event of a peace deal, and wants Arabs to be required to take a loyalty oath to the Jewish state—while Jews say they feel more threatened by radicalized Arabs.

“There is a psychological problem for both the Jews and the Arabs,” Shapira said. “The Jews today still feel as if their majority status is under attack.

“On the Arab side, the Arabs are not used to being a minority, and they demand every now and then rights that belong not only to the Arabs as individuals but also want collective rights. This causes a clash.”

At the symposium last month, Professor Yedidia Stern, who teaches law at Bar-Ilan University, cited a recent poll finding that the majority of Israeli Jews are against any notion of universal rights for minorities.

Meanwhile, political discourse among Israeli Arabs in recent years has focused on stripping Israel of its Jewish symbols in the name of democracy and minority rights, including changing the flag and national anthem.

“For Jewish Israelis, the situation seems very pessimistic, like we are on a collision course,” Oded Haklai, a political science professor at Queen’s University in Canada, said at the symposium. “But if one looks comparatively, it can be seen that the behavior of Arabs in Israel show they have accepted the rules of the game of democracy as the only game in town. Political violence, for example, is very rare, and that is something we take for granted.”

As Israelis prepared to celebrate Independence Day, Issa E. Boursheh, an Arab graduate student at Tel Aviv University, published a personal plea for mutual understanding in an Op-Ed in The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“While Jewish Israelis are honoring their heroes, Palestinian-Israelis have the right to honor theirs,” he wrote. “The Israeli and Palestinian narrative may never agree, but I trust that in the long term, with proper steps taken now, we will be able to reach a point of understanding. We might never celebrate Independence/Nakba together, but we may be able to have sympathy toward a hope that is not lost—to be free people in our land.”

Prominent Israelis to unveil peace initiative

A group of leading Israelis, including former heads of the country’s secret services and the military, will put forth a peace initiative, The New York Times reported.

The authors of the two-page Israeli Peace Initiative hope the document, which they are calling a direct response to the Arab Peace Initiative offered by the Arab League in 2002 and revived in 2007, will generate popular support in Israel and influence the Israeli government, according to the Times.

The group includes scholars, businesspeople, and the son and daughter of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The initiative is set to be unveiled Wednesday, though a copy reportedly was sent Sunday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It reportedly calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in most of eastern Jerusalem, an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and a set of regional security mechanisms and economic cooperation projects, according to the Times.

Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem would be in Israel and Arab neighborhoods in the Palestinian state. The Western Wall and Jewish Quarter would go to Israel and the Temple Mount would be under no sovereignty. The plan suggests that Palestinian refugees be returned to the Palestinian state with financial compensation, with a symbolic number repatriated to Israel.

The statement recognizes “the suffering of the Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war, as well as of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries” and says, as does the Arab Peace Initiative, “that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties.”

Ahmadinejad: Arab world conflicts will lead to collapse of Zionist regime

The latest conflicts in the Arab world would eventually lead to the collapse of Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday.

“The latest conflicts will leave no chance for the Zionist regime [Israel] to survive as all the involved countries are against the occupation of Palestine,” Ahmadinejad said.

He added that the Arab states should be careful not to rely on the United States and its allies, “as their ultimate aim is to save” Israel.


Yemen’s president: Israel planned, funded Arab uprisings

Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, blamed Israel for planning and funding protests in several Arab states.

“There is an operations rooms in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world,” Saleh reportedly said Tuesday during a speech at Sanaa University, adding that the operations room is “run by the White House.”

“The wave of political unrest sweeping across the Arab world is a conspiracy that serves Israel and the Zionists,” he also said.

Yemen has been the site of anti-regime protests for the past two weeks—one of several Arab countries in which protesters have attempted or succeeded in deposing their rulers.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years, has rejected calls to step down.

Yemeni opposition leaders rejected an offer for a unity government on Monday. Some 24 people have died in the violence.

Saleh has promised to step down when his term ends in 2013 and that his son would not seek the top job.

The dreadful ‘D’ words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel, Russia Sign Memo on Terrorism

Israel has a new, if somewhat reluctant, partner in the war on terror: Russia. Reeling from the loss of at least 335 of its citizens, roughly half of them children, at the hands of Chechen terrorists, Moscow signed a security cooperation memorandum with Jerusalem on Monday, despite a lingering diplomatic dispute on how terrorism should be defined.

"The terrorism that struck Russia is exactly the same kind of terrorism that strikes us," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, referring to last week’s siege of a school in the disputed Russian region of North Ossetia.

Visiting Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov said contacts were already underway between the two countries’ security agencies and thanked Israel for its help but demurred at the bid by Sharon to establish a sense of common cause.

Although he called terrorism a "universal evil," Lavrov suggested that the Palestinians could be seen as resisting Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while the Muslim separatist cause based in Chechnya is illegitimate.

Russia, a member of the Middle East "Quartet" that pushed the now-moribund "road map" peace plan, was also at pains to make clear that it would not neglect the Arab world.

"I believe the key to the solution of the problem is to bring all countries to fight terror, and I can assure you that in addition to our very close counterterrorist cooperation with Israel, we have similar counterterrorist cooperation with Arab countries," said Lavrov during his one-day visit as part of a Middle East tour.

It was not clear what form the new Israeli-Russian cooperation would take.

Yet, for many in Jerusalem, just the declaration of empathy from a major European player was an achievement. Israeli media quickly called the outrage at the school in Beslan "Russia’s 9/11," hinting that it could bring Moscow more into line with the U.S. war on terror launched following the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking attacks.

"The Soviet Union was notoriously pro-Arab, and the sense in Israel is that Russia has not quite gotten over that," a Sharon confidant said. "It was important that Russia understand, even the hard way, the sort of terrorism we have endured for decades, and especially over the last four years."

Despite killing more than 100,000 Chechens in its 13-year crackdown on the restive region, Russia has regularly censured Israel for its handling of the Palestinian revolt.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom put the new security pact to its first test by calling on Russia to oppose anti-Israel moves by the Palestinians and their Arab backers at the United Nations. In the last 21 U.N. resolutions on Israel, Russia has voted against the Jewish state 17 times and abstained on the others.

Russia did not immediately respond.

The Right of Return Goes Both Ways

With the growing worldwide focus on displaced Palestinians, Jewish groups are suddenly raising the issue of a different kind of refugee: the almost 1 million Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries after the creation of Israel in 1948.

The timing is no accident. While the effort by groups such as the World Jewish Congress (WJC) points to a genuine injustice, it is also intended to neutralize the ongoing effort by the Palestinians and their supporters to insist on an Arab right of return to Israel as part of any peace deal. However, there are important differences between the two refugee situations that will make that a hard sell to a skeptical world community.

Last week, a group called Justice for Jews from Arab Countries published a report documenting the human rights crisis facing Jews in that part of the world following the creation of Israel. The report concludes that the persecution achieved its primary aim — forcing more than 850,000 Jews to flee, roughly comparable to the number of Arabs who fled the new state of Israel.

There was a big difference, though, in how the refugee populations were treated. More than two-thirds of the Jewish refugees quickly found their way to Israel, where they and their descendants now comprise the majority of the Jewish population.

In fact, the Jewish State did too good of a job. Despite some conflict with the European Jewish elite, the refugees were absorbed with little fanfare, and as a result, most of the world has no inkling that these people were once forced to abandon their homes and property. Thousands also came to the United States, laying the base for a vibrant and increasingly influential Sephardi community.

The Palestinian refugees were treated differently.

With the collusion of the United Nations, they were confined mostly in squalid refugee camps in a number of countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, as well as in Gaza and the West Bank. No effort was made to absorb the refugees. On the contrary, they were kept isolated, living under horrific conditions, to serve as living pawns in the effort to disparage and pressure Israel.

Arab governments professed deep concern for the Palestinian people, but they treated the refugees in their own countries as lepers, refusing to give them citizenship, limiting their civil rights, providing little or no economic aid. Palestinian refugees weren’t absorbed, they were exploited mercilessly.

The international community contributed to this exploitation by failing to challenge the Arab nations. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), created in 1950 to help displaced Palestinians, became the only international agency devoted to keeping refugees in camps, rather than resettling them, in effect creating a permanent refugee population.

Since the disastrous Camp David peace talks in 2000, Palestinian leaders have put the right of return at the top of their list of negotiating priorities. That concept, as they define it, involves the right of refugees and their descendants to return to their original homes — including in Israel.

Israelis have a wide range of views about what their country should give up as part of any comprehensive peace agreement, but on one issue, they speak with a unified voice: granting an unlimited right of return would be national suicide for the Jewish state.

Jewish groups that are raising the issue of Jewish refugees today say it’s a matter of fundamental justice, and that’s true. But the real motive here is political — trying to deflate the Palestinian demand for an unlimited right of return by pointing out, accurately, that Palestinians weren’t the only ones to be wrenched out of their lives and their homes when Israel was created.

Avi Beker, WJC secretary general, recently said that the campaign — which included congressional hearings on the subject — is an effort to bring "balance" to the refugee issue and thereby affect the quest for Middle East peace.

Both sides have legitimate claims, the Jewish groups argue. The most appropriate solution doesn’t involve massive shifts of population, but humanitarian efforts to resettle refugees where they are or in the newly created state of Palestine, or — in the case of Jewish refugees — to provide fair restitution for the property that was stolen from them when they were forced to flee.

The new Jewish strategy for bringing some balance to the refugee debate makes sense, but it is unlikely to sway Israel’s enemies or its many detractors in Europe and elsewhere. The reason is simple: much of the world doesn’t want a fair solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis.

To the Arab nations and to many in Europe, perpetuating a suffering Palestinian refugee population — impoverished, bitter pariahs — is a valuable tool in the ongoing effort to delegitimize the very idea of a Jewish state.

Israel did the humanitarian thing by quickly absorbing Jewish refugees. The Arab nations that profess such sympathy for Palestinian refugees have done the opposite, thereby revealing their real motives in the refugee debate.

Baklava and Bombs

Sami Michael, an Iraqi-born novelist who writes about the clash of Arab and Jewish cultures, knows what it’s like to be a part of a beleaguered minority. In Iraq, he was always labeled a Jew; in Israel, he is still known as a Jewish writer from an Arab country. The irony is hardly lost on him.

Born in Baghdad in 1926, Michael became active in the communist underground and was forced to flee to Iran in the first year of his university studies. In 1949, he was able to make his way to Israel, where he has lived ever since. To date, he has written nine novels, the latest of which is titled "Water Kissing Water" (Am Oved, 2001). Other books have included "Refuge," "A Handful of Fog," "Trumpet in the Wadi," and his best-selling novel, "Victoria," which depicted a family saga set in Baghdad and was translated into several languages. he writes all of his novels in Hebrew. In addition to three honorary doctorates, Michael has also been awarded numerous prizes, including the Ze’ev Prize, Kugel Prize and (twice) the Prime Minister’s Prize.

The following is excerpted from a recent interview, conducted in Hebrew in his apartment overlooking Haifa’s bay.

F.M. Black : As a Jewish writer born and brought up in Iraq who now lives in Israel, how do you see the situation today?

Sami Michael: It’s very bad. It’s quite dangerous, especially since we are emphasizing that we are bringing European culture to the Middle East when the Middle East has suffered so much from colonialism and they really see us like a part of the Crusaders. The two sides have really been poisoned by a century of conflict, of bloody conflict. We look at them as monsters and that’s the same way they look at us.

F.B.: Have you gotten used to this, to both sides pummeling each other?

S.M.: The truth is that it’s not a matter of my getting used to it. I foresaw it 50 years ago. If I took out articles that I wrote in Baghdad in the mid-’40s, it’s like I wrote them today. The Middle East is not ready yet, not ripe yet to accept both a Jewish and a democratic state at the expense of some of its territory. I knew it long ago. It’s not a surprise for me.

F.B.: How do you deal with it?

S.M.: I’m not in a good frame of mind. I’m not a youth anymore. I already have children here. I have a house here and this is my homeland today. We’ve created a lovely country, a delightful place, and there’s a danger that it will all be lost, if not through warfare, then through an economic collapse because of the conflict.

F.B.: Do you think that the writer has an obligation to take a political stand?

S.M.: That would be a disaster. That’s what happens in the Arab countries; it kills literature. As soon as a writer writes out of an obligation, he becomes a politician, not a writer. I think that the only obligation of a writer is to be honest with himself and to obey the unknown masters and not the known masters. The known masters are the prime minister, the secretary of the Communist Party, Arafat and so on. But, on the other hand, one can’t be divorced or disengaged from the place where one’s living.

F.B.: Tell me, do you feel part of the majority or the minority in Israel?

S.M.: I’m not only part of the minority, I’m alone.

F.B.: How’s that?

S.M.: Because the Israeli left is ridiculous. The Israeli left talks for the television cameras and radio, but it has no roots among its own people. It always claims that it’s part of European culture and there’s nothing that Arabs hate more than European influences. From Europe came the Crusaders and the British, French and Italian imperialists who committed atrocities in the Middle East. And we proclaim morning, noon and night that we’re part of Europe, knowing what the fate was of the Europeans who came to the Middle East.

F.B.: So you don’t feel a part of the left?

S.M.: I can’t define myself as a part of the Israeli left because it’s a left of cliques and salons. After a month in Israel, I said to myself that I’m going to establish a country of one.

F.B.: Of one?

S.M.: I have my own personal opinions and I say to every party when it puts on a show, "Bravo." I’m very glad that my wife, Rahel, has joined my country of one. It’s a small island, very small.

F.B.: What’s holy to you?

S.M.: Human life. That’s the holiest thing. Life itself. And, unfortunately, human life is the cheapest thing here in the Middle East.

F.B.: You’ve written that you’re both inside and outside of the Israeli reality at the same time.

S.M.: That’s right. Because I came from another place, from across the border of the war. Once I saw the war between Israel and the Arabs while I was on the Arab side, as a Jewish Iraqi citizen; and now I’m in Israel and see the war from the perspective of the Jewish Israeli.

F.B.: Does it look different from here?

S.M.: I see how idiotic both sides are.

F.B.: How so?

S.M.: This is one of the richest parts of the world — in oil and minerals and quarries and what are we fighting over? Over the most idiotic things. It’s as though we’re living in the past and want to reestablish former empires — from Saddam Hussein to the rebuilding of the Second Temple, and back again. It’s the stupidest thing that could ever be. Under conditions of peace, this could be one of the most flourishing places in the world.

F.B.: Do you think that the Israeli, the sabra, is a ‘new’ Jew?

S.M.: That’s the disaster of the so-called ‘new’ Israeli and the ‘new’ Arab. The new Arab is an Arab whose ideal is a Muslim who existed 1,500 years ago and the ideal of the new Jew is the Maccabees from 2,000 years ago or 1,500 years ago. There is no such thing as a ‘new’ Jew.

F.B.: But doesn’t being a ‘new’ Jew or an Israeli mean, in part, that Jews now have the means to defend themselves? That Israel will be a refuge from anti-Semitism?

S.M.: Is it possible? Is it possible? I think that the Israeli experience shows more than anything else that this is impossible. Why? Because you are not living alone in the world. Our security doesn’t depend on our mightiness, on our force or on our ability to defend ourselves, but it … depends on our relations with our neighbors.

F.B.: So Israel has failed to provide a place of refuge?

S.M.: I think that we achieved the exact opposite of what we said, of what the founders were trying to achieve: the most dangerous place for a Jew to live today is in Israel. The difference is that here you have the freedom to die proudly! But a secure place here? That’s the biggest lie.

F.M. Black was a reporter in the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times from 1988-1991. He now contributes to The Los Angeles Times, The Forward, Chicago Tribune and Archaeology Magazine, among other publications.

How Oslo Harmed Israel

Nine years have passed since the signing of the Oslo accords on the White House lawn. Is Israel better off or worse off as a result of Oslo?

During the first seven years following the accords, more than 300 Israelis were murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists — far more than the number killed during the seven years before Oslo. Since October 2000, when the Palestinian Authority launched its all-out war against Israel, another 600 Israelis have been murdered — a total of nearly 1,000 fatalities since the Oslo agreement. From the standpoint of personal security, Israelis are far worse off today than before Oslo.

The terrorism has caused a drastic deterioration in the quality of life. People are afraid to go into shopping centers, nightclubs, movie theaters and restaurants. They are afraid to ride buses. If they attend a wedding, a bar mitzvah, even a Passover seder, they know they could be risking their lives. Israelis are frightened and demoralized.

And who can imagine what life is like for the wounded — the thousands of Israelis who have been left permanently maimed as a result of terrorist attacks. After a bombing, the media report on the fatalities, but little is heard about the many more people who suffer injuries that literally shatter their lives. They are truly the forgotten victims of Oslo — the ordinary Israelis who now must struggle through life without a limb or without sight or hearing, with faces and bodies burned or deeply scarred.

The Oslo accords created the conditions that led to this increased terrorism. As part of the agreement, Israel set free thousands of imprisoned terrorists; many of them quickly returned to their terrorist ways.

Oslo gave Yasser Arafat his own territory and his own autonomous governing agency, the Palestinian Authority (PA). That made it possible for him to shelter groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to shield them from Israeli capture. In the PA territories, these groups have been able to set up training camps and bomb factories and improve their techniques. They never would have been able to become as lethal and effective if Israeli forces had remained in control of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Oslo even put guns in the terrorists’ hands. As part of the agreement, Israel supplied the PA security forces with thousands of rifles that were supposed to be used to fight against terrorists. Instead, they have been used to murder Israelis.

The Oslo accords also facilitated the creation of the Palestinian Arabs’ culture of hatred and violence. Before Oslo, when Israel controlled the territories, it could control the curriculum in Palestinian Arab schools, and it could prevent hate-mongering clergymen from preaching in the mosques. But with Arafat and the PA in charge, anti-Jewish hatred and violence were actively promulgated in the official PA schools, media, mosques and summer camps.

Today, every child in the PA’s schools reads the textbook, "Our Country Palestine," with a banner headline on its title page that says: "There is no alternative to destroying Israel." Similar hatred is featured prominently in speeches by PA officials and sermons by PA-appointed religious preachers, such as the sermon given by Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya in a mosque in Gaza (and broadcast repeatedly on PA television) in which he declared: "Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them."

Thanks to Oslo, an entire generation of young Palestinian Arabs is being raised to hate and murder Jews. Reform Judaism’s leader, Rabbi Eric Yoffee, was right on the mark when he called the PA "murderous" and "bloodthirsty," and said its media use "neo-Nazi language" to foster "a culture of hatred" against Jews and Israel.

A recent Israeli government report noted that "slitting the throats of Israelis is a rehearsed drill taught to Palestinian children at summer camps organized by Arafat’s Palestinian Authority." Would such a thing have been possible if Israel still controlled the territories?

Jewish religious sites have also been victimized as a result of the Oslo process. The PA was given control of the Tomb of Joseph in Shechem (Nablus) and the ancient Shalom al-Yisrael synagogue in Jericho. It burned down both of them.

The Tomb of Joseph is now a mosque. The Tomb of Rachel is now within easy shooting range of PA-controlled Bethlehem, and the result is that Jewish worshippers are constantly the targets of shooting attacks. The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron — burial site of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — is now situated in a city that is almost entirely under PA control, meaning that Jews now literally risk their lives if they want to pray in the cave, which is one of Judaism’s holiest sites.

The Oslo agreements also made possible the emergence of what the Forward once called "the world’s smallest police state." With Arafat in charge and the West turning a blind eye, the PA routinely shuts down dissident newspapers, arrests and tortures Arafat’s critics and abuses women and Christians.

The Oslo process has also promoted the appeasement of terrorists. Soon after the Oslo accords were signed, it became clear that the PA was aiding and abetting Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Yet the U.S. State Department pressured Israel to make more concessions to appease the terrorists and their helpers.

Even after the PA launched its terrorist war against Israel in October 2000, the State Department continued pressing Israel to give up land, to ease up its counterterror actions, and more. Then last autumn, at the very height of PA terrorism, the U.S. rewarded and appeased the terrorists by offering them a sovereign state that would leave Israel behind borders just nine miles wide.

Elsewhere, America fights terrorists; in the Mideast, it appeases them. This, too, is the result of the Oslo process, and it seriously undermines America’s war against terrorism. Terrorists everywhere see the change in U.S. policy in favor of Palestinian Arab statehood, and inevitably conclude that terrorism pays.

The new chief of staff of the Israeli army, Moshe Ya’alon, said recently that the Oslo process has brought Israel to the point that the Palestinian Arabs now "constitute an existential threat to Israel," and are "mobilizing the Palestinian people for war with the goal of bringing about Israel’s collapse. What they are after is not to arrive at the end of the conflict, but to turn Israel into a Palestinian state."

The Oslo accords have left Israel with a graveyard full of fatalities; thousands of orphans and widows; a demoralized populace; a strong, heavily armed dictatorship in its backyard, and an alarming U.S. tilt in favor of Palestinian Arab statehood. The pre-Oslo years were far from idyllic, but they were much better than this.

The Irrelevance of Arab Hatred

The consensus view of the intifada among Israelis, Diaspora Jews and American conservatives — that it’s caused by Arab hatred and rejection of Israel — is nothing but a lousy excuse. An excuse to say Israel is wholly blameless in this affair, and there’s nothing Israel can do except plod on, dying and killing. It’s an excuse to block out any doubt, and to go on with this bleak worldview that does, at least, offer the comfort of certainty.

So let’s introduce a little doubt. If all this terror is caused by Arab hatred and rejection of Israel, how do we explain Egypt? Egypt’s armed forces haven’t fired a single shot at Israel in over 25 years. Does Egypt hate Israel any less than the Palestinians do? Are its newspapers and bookstores and general public discourse any less loaded with anti-Semitism? Does it have any less abhorrence for the idea of a Zionist state across its border?

Egypt is the biggest, strongest country in the Arab world, an incomparably greater threat to Israel than the Palestinians ever could be. Its society is rampant with Islamic and Arab nationalist militancy, and hatred of all things Jewish. Yet even though the Egyptian "street" erupts in war cries, the Egyptian leadership resists.

If Arab hatred and rejection of Israel is the reason for Palestinian violence, why has Egypt been so thoroughly nonviolent toward Israel for so long?

The same question could be asked about Jordan. Jordan hasn’t touched Israel in 35 years. As a matter of fact, most Jordanians are themselves of Palestinian origin; do they hate or reject Israel any less than do their brethren in the West Bank or Gaza? So why hasn’t Jordan joined the intifada?

Remarkably, we can even raise this issue regarding Syria. Except for when Israel went galumphing through Lebanon in the early 1980s, Syria hasn’t mixed with Israel since the last of the Yom Kippur War.

Which leaves, among Arab nations on Israel’s borders, Lebanon. Here we have to place an asterisk. Hezbollah is without question fighting Israel. But another unquestionable fact is that since the Israeli army pulled out of southern Lebanon over two years ago, Hezbollah has fought Israel with only a small fraction of its previous intensity.

Israel shares borders with five different hateful Arab nations. It has formal peace with two of them: Egypt and Jordan. It has de facto nonbelligerency with a third, Syria. With a fourth, Lebanon, it has a limited border clash. Only with the fifth and smallest neighboring Arab nation, the Palestinians, does Israel find itself in an agonizing war with no end in sight.

What’s special about the Palestinians? Not their hatred of Israel, not their rejection, not their fearlessness and certainly not their strength. What’s special is that they are the one Arab nation whose rightful country — the West Bank and Gaza Strip — has been usurped by Israel.

Every other neighboring Arab nation can tend to its own affairs without any Israelis around, but the Palestinians have 220,000 Israeli settlers, and many thousands of Israeli soldiers, staring them in the face, lording it over them.

This is the way it’s been since 1967. Even in the "good old days" of the Oslo accord, when the "peace camp" was running Israel, the West Bank settlers kept taking more and more Palestinian land. Palestinians still had to pass through Israeli army and border police checkpoints on their way through the West Bank, and the more candid Israeli soldiers, not to mention human rights organizations, can tell about the frequent brutalities and humiliations that went on there.

It’s true the Palestinians turned down a good-faith Israeli offer of land-for-peace at Camp David to launch the intifada, which puts most of the blame for the current bloodshed on them. But not all the blame. For three and a half years, between the bus bombings of 1996 to the outbreak of the intifada, the Palestinian Authority effectively put down Hamas and provided the Israelis with pretty good security. But in return for delivering three and a half years of a decent approximation of peace, the Palestinians didn’t get much more land — only 13 percent more of the West Bank in that fairly quiet period. Meanwhile Israeli settlements and bypass roads kept eating away at what Palestinians and the rest of the world thought was supposed to become their state. So while the Palestinians are guilty of starting the intifada, Israelis can’t say they were innocent of any prior provocation.

It’s also true the Palestinians killed the chance for peace with their demand for the right of return, and for exclusive Islamic rule over the Temple Mount. They’re going to have to drop these demands if the fighting is ever to end. But why is it unimaginable that the Palestinians might change? Egypt provoked the Six Day War, and later joined Syria to attack Israeli forces on Yom Kippur 1973, killing 2,600 of our soldiers. Who would have thought that four years later Egypt’s leader Anwar Sadat would be cheered wildly on the streets of Jerusalem, and that one-quarter century of peace would ensue? A cold peace, even freezing — the important thing is that no one gets hurt.

The Egyptians would love to be rid of Israel. So would the Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese. But they don’t dare try it, because they’re afraid of Israel’s superior power. As long as Israel leaves them alone, the Arabs, with the minor exception of Hezbollah, don’t do anything more than mutter. And if Israel leaves the Palestinians alone — if it gets the settlers and soldiers out of the West Bank and Gaza — there’s no inherent reason why the Palestinians shouldn’t eventually come around and join the other neighboring Arabs to hate and reject Israel, but to leave them in peace.

Taking the West Bank Off the Chopping Block

The recent landslide vote of the Israeli Likud Party, utterly rejecting an Arab country west of the Jordan River, reflects the evolving mindset of the largest political party in Israel. There is good reason for that position — the land of Judea and Samaria, birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, does not belong to the Arab Islamic world. Why? After Oslo’s debacle, it should suffice to respond: Because.

But there is more. The Arab world does not even have a name for the land. Think about it — it is an amazing lacuna. “Palestine” is a name that the now-vanished Romans gave the land of Israel after destroying the last breaths of Jewish freedom in the Holy Land. The Romans renamed the cities and land to excise all memory of the stubborn Jewish patriots who had defied the empire. So, Jerusalem became Aelonia Capitolina. Shechem became Naples. (Naples later became Nablus.) And the country itself was renamed “Palestine” for the previous inhabitants — the Philistines.

Through the millennia of Jewish Diaspora, long after Arabs invaded and conquered by right of sword, the land of Judea and Samaria never became an Arab territorial entity. By the 20th century, with the rise of political Zionism, Jews still were the “Palestinians.” Thus, the predecessor of the Jerusalem Post was called the Palestine Post. The predecessor of the United Jewish Appeal was the United Palestine Appeal. Even the American support group for Menachem Begin’s nationalist Irgun underground called itself the American League for a Free Palestine.

The Arabs have names for countries like Syria, Egypt, Oman, Qatar, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait and two Yemens. But through all recorded time they never have had a name for the land of Judea and Samaria. “The West Bank”? Such a name describes Jersey City.

In 1964, when the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded, it was eponymously created to liberate “Palestine” — namely, the country of Israel — from Haifa to Tel Aviv to the Negev. The Palestine Liberation Organization had no interest in the territory west of the Jordan River illegally occupied by Jordan. PLO terrorists did not murder Jordanian children, as they did Israelis. They did not hijack Jordanian airplanes. They did not bomb Jordanian buildings. They had no interest in the land without a name. To this day, the logo of each and every Palestinian “activist” group, from Hamas to Islamic Jihad to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine to Fatah, all depict the map of a “Palestine” that is identical to pre-1967 Israel — no “West Bank.”

Yasser Arafat uses names from the Hebrew Bible for the cities he covets in Samaria and Judea. He claims Hebron (Genesis 23). He claims Bethlehem (Genesis 35). He claims Jericho (Joshua 5). His people burned down the Tomb of Joseph (Joshua 24). But he cannot use the Hebrew Bible’s names for the land that the Christian Scriptures (Matthew 1), no less than the Tanakh, calls Judea — because it would sound ridiculous complaining that “the Jews have stolen Judea from the Arabs.” Almost as silly as suicide bombers in Hamas calling themselves “Samaritans.”

There never — ever — has been an Arab Palestine west of the Jordan River. Indeed, as the Samaria-based Jenin refugee camp illustrates, Arabs encamped in the heart of Judea and Samaria still regard themselves as “refugees.” Judea and Samaria is not their home, and their United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East refugee camp proclaims it. Those “refugees” want a different “Palestine”: Tel Aviv and Haifa.

There are 200,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria, and another 200,000 Jews living in “Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.” They are not leaving any sooner than will the descendants of the Americanos who squatted on the Californios’ land that once belonged to Mexico. This newspaper reposes on such land. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo helped make the squatting in California irreversible. The Battle of the Alamo helped make the squatting in Texas irreversible. Both California and Texas came into being because brave and hearty American settlers created “illegal settlements” on “occupied land.” Eventually, those illegal settlements became states in our Union. In the same way, Judea and Samaria constitute the patrimonial heartland of a people that has no less right to be there than did European settlers who planted themselves in Crawford, Tex.

Judea and Samaria belong to Israel. Why? Because.

Sharon Fights Time

A surge in violence this week cost more than two dozen Israelis their lives — and put Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s political life increasingly at peril.

A year after Sharon took office with a pledge to restore security, Israelis were besieged with terror that seemed to come from every direction and with almost every weapon — suicide bombings, sniper shots, Kassam missiles and stabbings.

Sharon’s response? Hit the Palestinians again, and harder.

On Monday, Sharon said the Palestinians must be dealt a blow so severe that they will finally understand that terror damages their cause.

Only then, he said, may the Palestinians be convinced to abandon violence and return to the negotiating table.

Israelis, however, are increasingly dubious that Sharon can lead them out of the present impasse. Public opinion polls show Sharon’s approval ratings plummeting from the highs he enjoyed for most of his first year in office, with a majority of respondents now saying they do not have confidence in his leadership.

In addition, a Saudi Arabian peace initiative, endorsed on Tuesday by Syria, threatens to expose the gap between Sharon’s goals and the Bush administration’s vision of Mideast peace, setting up a potential confrontation between Jerusalem and Washington.

Never formally presented but gathering steam nonetheless, the Saudi initiative calls for the Arab world to make peace with Israel in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all land captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Washington has welcomed the initiative and is exploring it, while Sharon said this week said that a return to those borders — which leaves Israel just nine miles wide at its most populated point — would endanger the country’s security.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized Israeli policy earlier this week at a Congressional hearing. "Prime Minister Sharon has to take a hard look at his policies, to see whether they will work," he said.

On Wednesday, President George Bush met with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak , but offered no new plans for U.S. intervention.

With the death toll rising precipitously this week, an opinion poll by the influential Tami Steinmetz Center at Tel Aviv University showed a steep drop — from more than 40 percent to just 26 percent — in the number of Israelis who agree with Sharon that "Israel can change the situation by the use of more military force."

At the same time, however, only 27 percent believe that diplomacy can resolve the conflict, as Labor Party Foreign Minister Shimon Peres proposes.

If those messages seem contradictory, it’s no accident.

After nearly 18 months, the increasingly bloody Palestinian intifada shows no signs of abating, and more people on both sides are describing the deteriorating conflict as outright war.

At a Security Cabinet meeting last week, differences among the country’s top policy-makers became starkly evident.

Sharon reiterated his determination to strike hard at the Palestinians, but he had to shelve a proposal to send Israeli tanks back to besiege Arafat’s office in Ramallah in the face of strong opposition from the defense minister and Labor Party leader, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

The quarrels around the Cabinet table are compounding the worry and despair that is permeating the Israeli public.

Political commentators predict that the longevity of the unity government is in doubt as the violence spirals.

On top of the unrelenting security crisis that stalks the streets of every Israeli city, citizens this week had to contemplate the daunting prospect of political instability — and, possibly, early elections.

The interministerial disputes also exacerbate a widely held concern that the politicians, both in the unity government and in the opposition, have no workable policy to offer.

Sharon himself, in a series of briefings and comments Monday, told Knesset members and reporters that there is "no diplomatic outlook at this time, only a military outlook."

The explicit denial of any diplomatic strategy could help Sharon fend off the remorseless pressure he faces from the right — led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — that wants him to topple the Palestinian Authority and root out the terrorist infrastructure it has cultivated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In recent weeks, Arafat’s mainstream Fatah movement has emerged as the principal terrorist group in the Palestinian areas, carrying out most of the attacks in the West Bank and inside Israel proper.

That drops the pretense of moderation that Fatah cultivated during the peace process, when it routinely was contrasted to the "militants" of Hamas and Islamic Jihad that Arafat claimed he sought vainly to control.

Increasingly, the barrenness of Sharon’s diplomatic field ups the pressure on the Labor Party to secede from the unity government.

The Bush administration has been loathe to intervene as the violence escalated; its admonishments of Israel have been distinctly low-key, while it consistently has blamed Arafat and the Palestinian Authority for not doing enough to curb terror.

By midweek, however, there were signs of growing American unrest.

The Ha’aretz newspaper reported that Powell discussed with Sharon the possibility of sending the U.S. peace envoy, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, back to the region. In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday there was nothing new to report on Zinni. "He will go back when it’s appropriate and useful," he said.

American policy-makers also want Israel to allow Arafat to travel to an Arab League summit in late March in Beirut, where the Saudi Arabian proposal may be discussed. If Israel prevents Arafat from going, his absence likely will become the focus of the summit, to the advantage of the more hard-line Arab states.

Building up its military and diplomatic forces for a possible showdown with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein later this year, Washington is anxious that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not spiral even further out of control and spread to other fronts.

That might deter more moderate Arab states from supporting, or at least condoning, American action against Iraq. The worsening security situation therefore could trigger some intervention by Washington ahead of the Arab summit. Possibly, some observers here say, both bloodied protagonists want that to happen, though only the Palestinian side will admit it publicly.

Arafat Plays the Religion Card

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is making Jerusalem the focus of intensified terror in order to accentuate the religious dimension of the 10-month-old conflict with Israel.

This was the accusation leveled at Arafat this week by top Israeli government analysts following a spate of attacks — shootings, bombings, stabbings and rioting — that have brought a new level of fear to Jerusalem residents.

The analysts believe Arafat’s immediate aim is to use the "religion card" to convene yet another Arab summit meeting.

Though several meetings of the Arab world’s leadership since the Palestinian uprising began failed to result in significant economic aid for the Palestinian Authority, Arafat hopes that focusing on the religious overtones of the conflict with Israel will convince the Arab League to provide tangible economic support, according to this view.

This week, violence continued at some of the highest levels since the Palestinians began their uprising last September.

Erupting across the West Bank and Gaza Strip and in Jerusalem, it threw into sharp relief just how thoroughly the U.S.-mediated cease-fire, which Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to just six weeks ago, has failed.

If Arafat’s latest goal is to cast the conflict in a religious mold, events Sunday dealt him something of a setback, as Israeli security officials did not fall into his trap.

After days of belligerent statements from Palestinian and Israeli Arab leaders had stoked their passions, Palestinians on the Temple Mount rained rocks onto Jewish worshipers marking Tisha B’Av on Sunday at the Western Wall.

Israeli police subsequently entered the Temple Mount compound, firing tear gas and stun grenades in skirmishes with dozens of Palestinians. During the confrontations, 15 policemen and 20 Palestinians were hurt. The disturbances forced the evacuation of Jewish worshipers from the Western Wall Plaza.

Just the same, the police action did not lead to any Palestinian deaths — something Arafat could have milked for propaganda value in Arab capitals. Given the number of people involved and the hot tempers, observers — recalling the panicky deployment of Israeli police on the Temple Mount the morning of Sept. 29, 2000 (the day after then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon paid a high-profile visit to the site) — said it was a wonder the clashes did not take a more deadly turn.

Instead of using tear gas and stun grenades — which proved effective Sunday — police last September responded to the Palestinians’ stones with bullets, marking the beginning of the Palestinians’ Al- Aksa Intifada.

Sunday’s altercation was only one in a series of incidents in recent days that have put Israelis on edge. Security forces went on high alert this week following a series of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, none of which caused serious injuries, including a pipe bomb exploding in a public park next to the King David Hotel on Wednesday, a small bomb exploding in a a supermarket in Jerusalem on Monday, and last Friday, a bomb discovered inside a watermelon on a parked bus in Jerusalem.

On Monday, in response to the series of bombings, Israeli helicopters attacked the main Palestinian police headquarters in Gaza City. The army said it targeted a building "used to manufacture weapons and mortar bombs."

Tensions were further fueled Monday after an explosion killed six activists from Arafat’s Fatah faction near the West Bank city of Jenin. Palestinian officials said Israel killed the six, who were wanted by Israeli officials for alleged involvement in terrorism.

Israeli security officials denied involvement, saying the blast may have been a "work accident" while the six were assembling a bomb.

Tuesday, eight Palestinians — including at least two senior Hamas officials and two children — were killed in an Israeli helicopter attack on one of the terrorist group’s offices in the West Bank city of Nablus.

Israeli sources said the Hamas members were planning attacks in the Jerusalem area, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. The government expressed regret for the death of the two children.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’ spiritual leader, said Tuesday that Israel would pay a heavy price for the attack.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to halt the violence held out little hope of imminent success.

Israeli sources spoke of disagreement within the Bush administration, with Secretary of State Colin Powell anxious for an immediate agreement on a monitoring observer team, and the president and other policy-makers less eager for a debate with Sharon about the composition of the team while strife on the ground still rages.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer appeared to reflect the latter approach when he said Monday that a lasting cease-fire was the "necessary prerequisite."

"Only at that time will the question of monitors possibly come up," he said. "It would have to be agreed to by both sides."

As the week wore on, however, agreement by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority about almost anything seemed highly unlikely.

JTA correspondent Naomi Segal in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Arabs Against Arafat

"I look at my little boy, and I ask myself, ‘What did he do to me that he should deserve this punishment?’ I tell you, if I could leave here tomorrow for America, I would."

We’ll call the speaker Mahmoud.

He is a taxi driver who lives in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem. He is a member of what could be called, if not the Palestinian silent majority, at least the Palestinian silent but substantial minority.

"We should have taken Barak’s offer. But the Arab leaders screwed us, they wouldn’t let Arafat accept the deal," says Mahmoud. He’s not a Zionist, no lover or even respecter of Ariel Sharon, and he doesn’t think the Israeli right, especially the religious right, will ever be prepared to make a "peace of the brave" with the Palestinians.

But neither is he a lover or respecter of the intifada. "It’s gotten us nowhere. We’re worse off than we were before," he says. At the start of the intifada, Mahmoud owned a clothing shop in the Old City. Now, with the Palestinians living in destitution, Mahmoud’s customers are making do with their old clothes.

He has taken to driving a cab for a Jewish-owned company, driving into the West Bank killing fields with Israeli license plates. "I don’t worry too much. If it’s my time, it’s my time," he says.

With a slight break in the action and a flurry of would-be peacemaking since the Tel Aviv discotheque bombing, a reality check on the Palestinians — the regular people, not the politicians — shows that a pall has come over them. They are deeply ensnared by a Catch-22.

On one hand, the intifada has brought them nothing but 500 or so deaths, thousands upon thousands of injuries, and the suffocation of their daily lives by torrents of Israeli soldiers surrounding their cities and villages. Politically, the intifada has destroyed whatever flexibility existed in the Israeli body politic, ousting the country’s most conciliatory prime minister, Ehud Barak, and leaving in his wake Ariel Sharon.

Yet for all the futility promised by a continuation of the intifada, giving up on it and trusting in negotiations with Sharon may seem, to Palestinians, as the greater of two evils. Sharon offers the Palestinians nothing, compared with what Barak was ready to give them; after choosing guerrilla war instead of Barak’s offer, if the Palestinians were to throw down their guns and sit down at Sharon’s table, they would be the laughingstock of the world. It would be tantamount to surrender. Peace may not be an option for them.

All one hears in the media from Palestinian leaders is hard-line talk: insisting on full Israeli withdrawal from the territories, totally blaming the Israeli side for the violence. The crowds at funerals and political rallies likewise show no give, only fight. But there are other Palestinian voices, Palestinians who don’t have to toe the party line, who are thinking more practically about their futures and the futures of their families, and these Palestinians sound like the kind of people Israel, or at least the pre-intifada Israel, could have made peace with.

"It’s too bad we didn’t take Barak’s offer. But Arafat was afraid that if he tried to share Jerusalem, the Moslem world wouldn’t have allowed it," says Khalil Ansar, a resident of the West Bank city of Tulkarm, on his way home from another day’s work inside Israel. The right of return didn’t have to be such a great obstacle, he says. "I think the Palestinians who are living abroad should stay there. It’s inconceivable that somebody who lives in Israel should be made to give up his home to somebody who lives in Lebanon," Ansar says.

As for Arafat, Ansar says, "His time is finished." Asked whom he favors as the next leader of Palestinians, Ansar mentions the West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub and Palestinian diplomat Abu Mazen.

When people speak of Palestinian moderates, these are the first two names mentioned. Asked if there is a party or movement that speaks for people like himself, Ansar says, "Yes. It’s called the Peace Movement." It even has a leader, although Ansar does not know the leader’s name.

Yet even among these moderates, the suffering of the intifada has taken its toll. Taher, who lives in a Palestinian village near the Green Line, has worked for Israelis and served Israeli customers for some 20 years. He has many, many Jewish friends. Yet, these days, an anger has come into his expression that wasn’t there before.

A few weeks ago his sister, in her mid-30’s, was having chest pains and was driven by her husband towards Ramallah, where she was to be taken to a hospital. "But they were turned back by the army before Ramallah, and she died in the car," Taher says. His son recently did $10,000 worth of remodeling for an Israeli homeowner in Beit Shemesh, but after paying the young man a little over $1,000, the Israeli refused to pay more, threatening to call the police if the young man persisted in demanding money, Taher says.

He blames the failure of the cease-fire on the Israeli side. "Arafat has done everything he can do. The Tanzim also agreed to the cease-fire. But when the settlers enter a village, break windows, uproot olive trees and start shooting, where is the cease-fire?" Taher asks. His moderation is cracking. His forecast is gloomy. "There are bad times ahead," he says.

On this point, there is no division of opinion, here there is true unity between Palestinian moderates and Palestinian militants — no matter whether they support the intifada or wish it would end, whether they believe in peace with Israel or hate the idea, virtually all Palestinians see it as an impossibility.

Stepping Out

The day before Ramadan began, the Islamic Cultural Center of Southern California buzzed with the cadences of prayer and the exhortations of lecturers answering questions about the month-long fast. Parents chased their exuberant children or stood chatting beneath a wall-mounted map that pinpointed Muslim populations state by state and country by country around the world.

Taking a break from helping out at the center, Arash Spencer talked about how George W. Bush had won his vote in the first presidential debate last fall. The 19-year-old Angeleno, the son of an Iranian mother and a Hawaiian father, said he didn’t think Bush differed much from Vice President Al Gore when it came to America’s Middle East policy.

But, like a lot of Arab Americans and Muslims in this country, he voted for Bush because in the debate the Texas governor had talked about government terrorism prosecutions that rely on information withheld from the defense, so-called secret evidence, saying “it’s wrong, it’s against the Constitution.” And Gore, said Spencer, “didn’t make time for the Muslim community.”

Making time for Arab Americans, a major component of Muslim America, is suddenly an issue of importance not just to political insiders and sociologists but also to Jewish leaders, who understand that these 3.5 million citizens are gaining a credible voice in Washington and beyond, even if they agree that the Arab American community does not speak with a single voice.

More worrisome is the radicalism that thrives even within the mainstream organizations, but Jewish leaders say extremist views will not survive the intolerance of the American public in general.

“The concern is not the activities or the inclusion in the political process, which we encourage,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. “But there are people who advocate views that are inimical to American interests, groups that openly support Hezbollah and Hamas and groups that have helped in fundraising for terrorist organizations.”

More Than Numbers

During the past eight years, Arab Americans have built an impressive network of social, media, political and religious organizations. Voter turnout is above average. The mainstream media are spotlighting Arab concerns about discrimination at home and are likelier nowadays to cover the Middle East from a kitchen table in Gaza.

“There is a marked difference now in the way the media is covering the Middle East,” said Ann Lin, a professor of political science and public policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “I think you see Arab Americans making the point that Israel and Palestinians are fighting, but the vast majority of people hurt and killed are Palestinians, and that fact is getting through to people more than it did five years ago.”

Bush had shown them they mattered when, during the first presidential debate, he denounced the use of secret evidence to hold suspected terrorists and condemned ethnic profiling – red-hot issues for Arab Americans, who claim they are the primary target of the practices. He had spoken twice to important Arab American organizations and won their endorsements.

Gore also reached out to the community, but his choice of Joseph Lieberman as a running mate didn’t endear him to Arab Americans, who couldn’t imagine an Orthodox Jew budging on questions of support to Israel.

Undoubtedly, the current intifada galvanized the community and may have contributed to Bush’s great showing in the polls among Arab Americans: 45 percent of the vote to Gore’s 38 percent, according to a survey by an Arab television station. But it was the collective courtship of their vote, whoever the suitor, that signified to them that they had finally become a credible voice in the national discourse, if not a potent force for change.

Policymakers, particularly the Democratic congressional representatives from Michigan, with its large Arab population, are listening, too.

House Minority Whip David Bonior co-sponsored legislation to reform the immigration laws that have led to the detention of people – mostly Arabs – who have alleged ties to terrorist organizations. Rep. John Conyers joined in, too. Arab activism and the media attention it drew certainly were factors in the release last month of Mazen Al-Najjar, a University of South Florida professor who was held for three years on suspicion of having ties to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

It was a coup for the community, said Dr. Yahya Basha of the American Muslim Council, who also praised Jewish groups that came to Al-Najjar’s defense.

Another coup was President-elect Bush’s appointment last week of Spencer Abraham of Michigan as his secretary of energy. If confirmed, Abraham, the first Arab American U.S. senator, will be the first Arab American Cabinet member.

“We recognize the increased level of activity and assertiveness on the part of the Arab American community, which they are entitled to and which we respect,” Hoenlein said. “It should not be exaggerated, as there’s a tendency to do.”

Unifying Forces

Transforming itself from a recognized minority to a powerful lobby, as American Jews have done, will take time, but it will happen, said Hussein Ibish of the 20,000-member American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (AAADC). The AAADC’s mission is to illuminate and root out ignorant and bigoted images of Arabs that make their way into movies, television and the news media.

“I think it’s clear that other ethnic groups that had once been disenfranchised or ineffective as immigrant groups have had a similar learning curve. But we are starting to see the results of our efforts in the last few decades,” he said.

“There’s a learning curve in acculturating to the American conversation and the American political system,” Ibish added. “Simply repeating what would be effective in an Arab context, in English, is not going to be effective.”

Jewish leaders, some of whom work in political or religious coalition with Arab groups, agree that their Arab counterparts have become sophisticated at advancing their agendas through the press and Congress.
Yet they also agree there isn’t a unifying force bringing Arab Americans under a single banner.

A Los Angeles rabbi who works closely with the Muslim community believes that a lack of organization is preventing Arab Americans from attaining their political objectives in the Middle East.

“I think Arab Americans are at a nascent stage of their development,” said Rabbi Harvey Fields of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. “One of the bellwethers I’m looking for is the Arab American community beginning to take on what many American Jews took on … a sense of real responsibility and stewardship of the building of the infrastructure and economy that will make a Palestinian state and entity durable. That is something I have not seen very much yet.”

Donald Cohen, immediate past director of the Michigan Anti-Defamation League (ADL), believes Arab American organizations undercut their credibility by failing to rein in the searing rhetoric that has spilled onto the streets during anti-Israel rallies in Dearborn, which contains Michigan’s heaviest concentration of Arabs, and to dispel grotesque stereotypes of Jews that routinely find their way into the Arab press.

Cohen and the National Jewish Democratic Council tussled during the fall with the Dearborn-based Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC) over a videotape called “Hope for Peace in Jerusalem,” in which Israeli soldiers are falsely depicted storming the Al Aqsa mosque and are accused throughout of killing Arab children. The tape was shown at AAPAC’s annual dinner, at which Michigan Rep. John Dingell was present, and at a “town hall” meeting in Dearborn.

It wasn’t the first time Cohen publicly took issue with the leadership, and it has been frustrating, he said.
“The organizations know what they’re doing, and while they’re not necessarily leading the march on the anti-Jewish tone, they know where their troops are and what types of things will appeal to them,” he said.
Abed Hammoud, 34-year-old president of the AAPAC, said he felt wounded by the ADL’s denouncement of the videotape, asserting that the ADL is blind to human rights abuses in Israel. He called it a “hypocritical” position that stems from an inability to see Arabs as anything but violent provocateurs.

“We criticize Saddam Hussein,” Hammoud said. “Jewish organizations should tell the government of Israel it should be democratic and stop discrimination.”

Muslims cannot gain a foothold in mainstream American politics because of the same prejudices, said Ibish of the AAADC. It’s not true of the Jewish community as a whole, he noted, distinguishing it from the “pro-Israel community” like the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), AIPAC, and fundamentalist and messianic Christians.

“It’s true that most journalists and commentators are influenced by a very pro-Israel take on things, but there is an Arab American constituency that has managed to express itself in the media. It’s not a monologue any more, but in policymaking, in government, we see a concerted and coordinated attempt to exclude Arab Americans, especially those who are Muslim, who might affect discussion on Israel,” Ibish said.

The Terrorism Issue

Salam Al-Marayati of the 11-year-old Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles was a casualty of Jewish opposition, some from moderate organizations, when he was appointed as the only Muslim member of a congressional commission on terrorism in mid-1999. Rep. Dick Gephardt, his sponsor, withdrew the appointment as a result of the clamor.

“Every time a Muslim steps on a public stage, they get bombarded by the pro-Israel factions that have dominated the arena,” Al-Marayati said. He links the episode with Hillary Clinton’s disavowal of a $50,000 campaign contribution from the American Muslim Alliance last fall. Clinton’s opponent in the Senate race, Rick Lazio, had suggested that she was consorting with terrorists by accepting the money and pressured her to return it.

“They were fulfilling their civic duty and they got knocked around,” Al-Marayati said. “I was in exactly the same situation. They felt that the commission needed a Muslim voice. We were serving national interests.”
If it hadn’t been for a more sympathetic media, particularly the press, his case would not have made as many editorial pages as it did, he said. More than 50 publications, including some Jewish periodicals like The Journal, opposed Al-Marayati’s ill treatment.

“The judgment was clear: The American public was outraged when it happened to me, and I believe they’ll be equally outraged when this happens in the future,” Al-Marayati said.

Just as Israelis worry about their Arab citizens’ potential to aid the current Palestinian intifada, many Americans – Jewish or not – are concerned that Arab Americans may be providing financial or logistical support for terrorist activities aimed at Israel or at America. They cite specific instances in which Arabs, particularly Muslims, have been linked to violent incidents.

Al-Marayati, like other Arab American leaders, dismissed the allegations that covert cells in the U.S. support terrorist activity in the Middle East as so much pro-Israel propaganda.

“When it comes down to Palestinians, the fundraising has been for people with no schools or shelter, and that’s where the money is going. When we talk about people blowing themselves up, those are acts of desperation that don’t require funds,” Al-Marayati said.

Basha, of the American Muslim Council, said the fears are exaggerated. And anyway, he said, Jewish organizations raise far more money for Jewish settlers than any U.S.-based Arab group could.

“There are humanitarian entities based here or elsewhere that try to get finances overseas,” he said. “But people are focusing on their issues and events, and sooner or later fundraising will become less popular.”

No Longer Immigrants

In Los Angeles and Chicago, it is all but impossible to find a distinctly Arab neighborhood, though the Arab population of Los Angeles and Orange counties is listed as 283,355 by the Arab American Institute. Mosques seem to serve as social centers for all comers.

In Dearborn, the Arab community has settled in shtetl fashion, setting up bakeries, meat markets and restaurants side by side. The girls working behind the counters peer out of head scarves, while men in street clothes inspect plastic bags of freshly baked pita piled in baskets. Arabic is the only language spoken. The area is a magnet for new immigrants, who may live 10 to a house to save money.

Good demographic data aren’t easy to come by because the U.S. Census doesn’t track the Arab American community, but there have been attempts, most notably by the polling firm Zogby International, headed by prominent Arab American John Zogby.

In a comparison of six ethnic groups in early 2000, the survey found that half the Arab subjects surveyed had at least a college education, more than half said they were better off financially than four years ago, and 30 percent had incomes second only to the Jewish subjects in the poll.

One of the more significant findings of the survey is that the majority of Arab Americans are American-born for the first time in their century-old history in the United States.

Second- and third-generation Arabs are further from the conflicts that displaced their parents and grandparents, but there is a strong solidarity with their progenitors on issues ranging from ethnic discrimination to Palestinian rights. They aren’t constrained by language and “foreignness.”

“These kids went to school and learned their culture was backwards and their people are violent,” said sociologist Louise Cainkar of the University of Illinois. “There’s nothing like negativity and racism to keep people politically engaged, plus the uprising in the Middle East. Their parents faced this kind of racism and discrimination and thought they were just never going to become fully American.”

Ramy Eletreby, a 19-year-old college student from Orange County who, like Spencer, was helping out at the Islamic Cultural Center last month, reflects the politicization of the later-generation Arab Americans. The affable young man, whose Egyptian-born father is the head of the center, said he didn’t want to discuss his politics too openly because he’d like to break into acting one day, and he feared alienating people who might employ him.

But he said that he chose Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, admitting that Nader’s Lebanese heritage swayed him. Otherwise, he said, he would have gone with Bush.

“It’s hard to say this without sounding racist, but a vice president can become president,” said Eletreby. “I am not a Republican, but I hate Gore because of his policy in Israel. It contradicts American ideals of freedom and nonoppression.”

While the children and grandchildren of immigrants increasingly find their voice, a nationalistic pride has taken root. It wasn’t until about 30 years ago that Arab Americans began seeing themselves as a singular group.

“When I was growing up we had Lebanese from different villages who defined themselves by their villages,” Zogby said. “People identify themselves as Arab Americans, whereas they used to consider themselves Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian. The children of immigrants, despite their parents’ direct ties with a town or a particular country, see the more general cultural designation as the identifier.”

About 80 percent of Arab Americans are Christian, but newer immigrants come from Iraq – most notably Chaldeans, who are Catholic – as well as Israel, Egypt, Yemen and North Africa.

“Even with the diversity in the community, there are overriding issues that unite everybody,” Zogby said. “Chaldean organizations are working with the larger community. They didn’t before.”

Terry Ahwal, a Palestinian activist in Detroit, remembers her father warning her not to mention that she was from Ramallah. He suggested she tell people she was Italian or Syrian to avoid their unspoken assumption that she had terrorist leanings.

“Up until the 1980s, the Arab community tried to hide its identity because of discrimination,” she said.

“Now, we are part of the country. What affects this country affects us.”

The differences between immigrants and nonimmigrants are also disappearing. “There’s an increasing realization that home is here in America, not Karachi or Cairo, where many immigrants have come from,” said Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “Home is where my grandchildren are going to be buried, not where my grandparents are buried. You’re not dealing with a foreign group any more; you’re dealing with a growing group of Americans.”

Olive Branch?

Aside from interfaith coalitions and bridge-building between American Jews and Arabs in Israel, most notably a project at the New Israel Fund to raise money for Israeli Arabs, the dialogue between Arab and Jewish groups in the United States is almost invisible.

Still, leaders agree the potential for a good working relationship is there. In L.A., Arab-Jewish dialogue groups have drawn a small but determined membership. “We will experience more difficult times, but I’m optimistic that we can maintain a relationship of trust and respect with the Arab-American community,” Rabbi Allen Freehling of University Synagogue said in October.

The Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit’s efforts on behalf of the Arab community “reflects a lack of anxiety and fear of each other,” said Basha.

David Gad-Harf of the community council, the only Jewish group he knows of in the U.S. that has worked in coalition with Arab American organizations to fight immigration quotas and the use of secret evidence, said Arab Americans will eventually be more amenable to working with outsiders, Jews among them.

“With the growing sophistication of the Arab community, they’ll realize they’ll have to work in coalition with others. That tends to have a moderating influence; once you know someone, it’s hard to see them as an enemy,” he said.

But which party will offer the olive branch is the central question.

James Zogby, founder and head of the Arab American Institute and the granddaddy of mainstream Arab politics, is rueful about the battering he has taken at the hands of Jewish organizations, particularly since he routinely defends himself against Arab accusations of being too conciliatory.

When Gore appointed him as a senior advisor to his campaign, Zogby was accused in newspaper editorials of supporting Hezbollah. His son Joseph came under fire for articles he wrote about the plight of the Palestinians when he worked at the State Department under Martin Indyk, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Mort Klein of the ZOA led the charge, calling for Joseph Zogby’s ouster.

Abraham Foxman of the ADL also weighed in, accusing Indyk of hiring Zogby to assuage Arab American concerns that too many Jews worked in the State Department.

Although the younger Zogby was leaving anyway to take a job at the Justice Department, his father said it’s hard to shake off the sense that he can’t win.

“I want to build relations between our communities, but it can’t be at the expense of my son, and it can’t be at the expense of being fair with each other,” James Zogby said. “I defended Lieberman, and I’m still being attacked in e-mails. I know the man, and I disagree with him on some of his votes, but he’s fought for us and he’s a good guy. Should we not step out of our respective communities and make efforts to improve our relations?”

‘They’ve Got Their Heads In The Sand

“You can’t afford to sign up to a peace agreement that is all one-sided, meaning Israel takes all the risks,” observed retired U.S. Admiral Leon A. Edney to small groups of Jewish leaders in Beverly Hills last week. “We need to find a way to live in peace with the Arab world, but it’s not done with appeasement.”

Edney, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, argued that Israel and the United States must assess security risks carefully. “There is some sort of disconnect between [Palestinian Authority President Yasser] Arafat saying he wants peace, and his actions. It’s hard to tell what Mr. Arafat’s motivations are, but it’s hard to convince me his heart is in the right place after he released 25 of world’s worst terrorists from jail.”
Edney’s whirlwind visit was sponsored by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which brings together political and military leaders with Jewish community leaders to discuss Mideast events.

Edney met with select groups at several locations, putting forth the possibility that terrorism would increase both inside the United States and Israel.

“People aren’t thinking about security,” warned Edney, who served as a military officer for more than 37 years. “They’ve got their heads in the sand.”

Events such as the recent attack on the USS Cole and the bombing at the World Trade Center point to the dangers of violent Islamic radicalism in an era of rapid technological change, Edney said.

Edney also emphasized that Israel’s proximity to its enemies makes it extremely vulnerable.
“If Israel today could deal with her foreign policy with the absolute assurance that any missile, ballistic or cruise, that was set towards her, with any weapon, which could be nuclear, chemical, or biological, could be shot down that would increase her security immensely. She can’t do that now, but the Arrow system can do that better than any other system.”

Edney also touched upon the war being fought in the press.

“Terrorists blow up a bus because they know it will get a strong reaction, and the press will portray that strong reaction as Israel being the bully and the aggressor,” continued Edney. “It’s a totally false picture.”

While critical of the press in general for not applying standards of truthfulness, Edney singled out National Public Radio’s coverage of events as particularly biased. “NPR sometimes acts like an arm of the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Edney’s visit is part of a major push by JINSA to raise its public profile. The organization recently placed ads in The New York Times and USA Today condemning the Palestinian Authority’s promotion of violence. The ads were signed by 44 retired military leaders and also ran in Israel’s major newspapers.
Edney is on JINSA’s advisory board of directors.

“The choices are limited, but Arafat and Hamas are not the only alternatives that Israel has,” concluded Edney.

Nervous But United

In a speech that was the centerpiece of the North American Jewish federation system’s gathering in Chicago this week, Israel’s prime minister recalled being a small child when he heard of the United Nations’ 1947 vote to partition Palestine.

That period – when the Jews’ willingness to split the land was rebuffed by Arabs, precipitating Israel’s difficult but triumphant War of Independence – parallels the situation of the Jewish state today, said Ehud Barak.

Again, he told more than 4,000 flag-waving Jews on Monday at a rally intended to show solidarity for the embattled state, Israel feels its efforts at compromise have been rebuffed and that it may face another war.It was against this backdrop – and perhaps because of it – that this year’s General Assembly drew 4,500 participants, the first sell-out in recent memory, organizers said.

With Monday’s large solidarity rally, unprecedented security measures, about 100 Arabs demonstrating outside and a bevy of Israel-related programming, this week’s gathering of Jewish leaders from around North America was not a typical G.A., as the gathering is commonly known.

Security was unusually strict at the sprawling downtown hotel where the assembly took place. Police stopped approaching vehicles, searching under them as well as inside the hoods and trunks. Inside, guests were frequently asked to show their nametags.

Amid intense fighting between Israel and the Palestinians – shooting attacks by Palestinians this week killed two Israeli soldiers and two civilians – the heightened security was clearly intended as a precaution against any terrorist action against Israel’s top leaders and a major Jewish gathering.

But despite the threat of war facing Israel, Barak’s message to North American Jewry was one of peace and solidarity.

Israel must be “liberated from the crushing burden of never-ending war,” said Barak, whose speech was preceded by a multiracial Israeli youth choir that sang folk songs about peace.

“We derive great strength from knowing that we in Israel are not alone,” he said.

Despite his repeated message that there is no alternative to peace, Barak also squarely blamed the Palestinians for the violence and outlined several conditions – including a “Jerusalem broader than it has ever been in history” – for a peace agreement.

A speech early Tuesday morning by opposition leader Ariel Sharon had a somewhat different tone.He outlined his own plan for peace, but without mentioning Barak’s name, criticized the prime minister for asking President Clinton during their meeting on Sunday to help bring about a reduction in, rather than a cessation of, the violence.

After years in which the G.A. had been dominated by debates about religious pluralism and hammering out details of the newly formed United Jewish Communities (UJC), issues of Jewish solidarity and Israel ruled the day.

The UJC, formed by a merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal, is the Jewish community’s central fund-raising and social service system.

But despite Israel’s starring role, it did not – as some had initially feared – crowd out all other issues.For the first time, the Jewish Outreach Institute sponsored sessions, many well-attended, on outreach to interfaith families. There were sessions on Jewish education. And the top professional of the UJC delivered a speech that focused more on the institutional changes federations need to make than it did on Israel.”Our infrastructure needs to be majorly overhauled if we’re going to continue to be relevant,” said Stephen Solender, UJC’s president and chief executive officer, citing the need for more designated giving opportunities for donors, upgraded technology and collective responsibility for maintaining and enhancing a central fund-raising and funding system for local, national and overseas needs.

The Hope Deficit

Since the latest spasm of Mideast violence began almost a month ago, American Jewish leaders have been getting together for almost daily conference calls.

The teleconferences follow a standard format: the machers talk about how to defend Israel in the media and how to deal with an increasingly active Arab American community. They fret about inadequate Israeli hasbara efforts; they make plans for solidarity missions and rallies.

But there’s an urgent subtheme to these gatherings: how to deal with the hope deficit among American Jews. And none of the Jewish leaders has any answers.

Despite the stiff-upper-lip assessments of pro-peace process groups, American Jews have lost faith in some of the key assumptions underlying seven years of negotiations with the Palestinians, starting with the assumption that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat genuinely wants peace.

But Jews here are unlikely to accept the bleak assessments of peace process opponents, who see only war and bitter isolation in Israel’s future.

The result is a dangerous kind of vacuum; American Jews have nothing to hold on to as Israel faces its gravest crisis since 1973. Jewish leaders can’t throw a communal life preserver because they, too, are bereft of answers.

Despite a vocal opposition, a strong majority of American Jews have consistently supported the peace process that began with such soaring hopes in Oslo in 1993. For that majority, the events of the past four weeks has had a devastating impact.

The assumption by doves has always been that Arafat would willingly relinquish violence when he saw the way clear to Palestinian statehood.

But at Camp David, Arafat was offered more than anybody expected, and yet he spurned the offer.

Worse, he once again resorted to mass violence when he felt he wasn’t getting enough at the bargaining table.For years, Jewish peace process critics have complained that Palestinian media and schools have continued teaching hatred of Israel, that Palestinian summer camps were little more than training camps for rioters.

Not to worry, the doves soothed; incitement is a problem, but once an agreement is near, the Palestinians will act in their own best interests, and these things will fade into history.

It didn’t work that way. The Palestinian Authority continued fueling the hatred even as it started final status talks with Israel. Arafat did nothing – less than nothing, in reality – to prepare his people for peace.

The results were tragically evident in Ramallah and other flash points in the recent violence.Many American Jews were willing to cross the most difficult line of all and support some kind of Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

But as soon as Palestinians got control over another sacred site, Joseph’s Tomb, they trashed it. That religious vandalism may have irrevocably foreclosed any serious compromise on Jerusalem.

Even many ardent peace process supporters now wonder if their most basic assumptions were woefully naive.But the right wingers, while claiming that their harsh perspective has been vindicated, have little to offer a despairing Jewish community.

Some of their critiques have been proven correct, but they have no alternative vision of how to achieve peace. On the contrary, what they offer is a future in which the best Israel can hope for is a perpetual state of siege.

It’s a future of big fences and security checkpoints and an endless war of attrition, punctuated by outbursts of extreme violence. The right-wingers claim to have a realistic view of this violent part of the world, but if that’s realism, most American Jews are unlikely to buy it.

The result: mainstream American Jews are left with nothing to grasp.

The core assumptions of the peace process have been shattered by Arafat, but the alternatives offered by a gloating right wing are repellent and untenable, especially in an age when chemical and biological terrorism is becoming more likely by the day.

The hope deficit could produce dangerous results.

In the short term, the community has rallied to support Israel. But if the crisis persists, it could accelerate what Jewish leaders say is a longterm, gradual withdrawal from active concern about Israel by many American Jews.

That could ultimately undercut the real foundation of pro-Israel strength in Washington at a time when Israel needs American support more than ever, and could sap vital political backing for a strong U.S. role in Mideast peacemaking.

It could produce even more polarization among Jews on both sides of the peace process debate, more bitterness and incivility – another potential turnoff for the silent majority of American Jews who support Israel but are not as involved as the core of activists.

“The bleakness of the current situation is dangerous because when people think there is no hope, they may just pull away,” said a leading pro-Israel activist this week. “Jews are frightened and frustrated by what they see happening; those of us in Jewish organizations have to find some way of restoring at least some hope.”

But this activist conceded that for now, at least, he and his colleagues have little hope to offer.

No Stranger to Controversy

From the start, Martin Indyk’s career as a U.S. official has been filled with intrigue.As the first Jewish ambassador to Israel and later the top State Department official in charge of Middle East policy, Indyk’s words and actions have been scrutinized by Jews and Arabs, by proponents and opponents of the peace process.

Now, with his security clearance suspended, both Indyk’s words and actions are on hold until the State Department finishes its investigation of his “suspected violations” of security procedures.State Department officials have emphasized that there is “no indication of espionage in this matter” and that no “intelligence information has been compromised.”

Indyk, a native Australian who only became a U.S. citizen in 1993, one week before President Clinton appointed him as the National Security Council’s senior director for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, worked as a research associate at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, in 1982.

Later, he was the founding executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank.

He was appointed U.S. ambassador to Israel in 1995, then again in 1999.Just last week, Indyk ruffled feathers with a comment that Israel should share Jerusalem with the Palestinians.

Jerusalem “is not, and cannot be, the exclusive preserve of one religion, and the solution cannot come from one side challenging or denying another side’s beliefs,” he was quoted as saying as he received an honorary doctorate from the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

During his tenure, Indyk was also accused by Likud officials of crafting Clinton’s strategy of openly backing then-Labor leader Shimon Peres in his 1996 contest for prime minister against Benjamin Netanyahu.

In 1997 a right-wing Knesset member hurled an anti-Semitic epithet at Indyk, apparently because he believed the ambassador was pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Indyk was challenged on many of these issues during 1997 Senate confirmation hearings for his appointment to become assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, boosting him to the top Middle East policy post.

Nevertheless, he was easily confirmed for the post in September 1997.

Jerusalem Battle Moves to the Magic Kingdom

The latest round in the battle for Jerusalem is being waged not in the Middle East but in the Magic Kingdom.

The Arab League and Arab-American groups are planning to meet with representatives of Walt Disney World to discuss their concerns that a special exhibit at Disney’s EPCOT Center in Orlando, Fla., will depict Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which contributed $1.8 million to the reported $8 million project, says the criticism has no basis in the actual plans for the Israel pavilion at EPCOT’s Millennium Village.

The exhibit, the exact content of which is being closely guarded by Walt Disney World, is slated to open to the public on Oct. 1.

Even Arab groups who have raised questions about the exhibit say they have learned about it only through news reports.

Plans revealed by Disney executives last month in Jerusalem indicated that Israel’s exhibit will trace the religious history of Israel and showcase Israeli technological advances. “Journey to Jerusalem,” a simulated tour of the holy city through different historical periods, will be the exhibit’s main attraction.

Israel maintains that the exhibit presents Jerusalem as “a center and a sacred site” for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. But, said a senior Israeli diplomatic official with knowledge of the exhibit’s content, “Jerusalem is, of course, the center of Jewish dreams and Israel’s existence. This centrality is emphasized in the EPCOT pavilion.”

He said that at no time in the exhibit’s planning was there an attempt “to make political statements.”

In addition to contributing financially, Israel was responsible for the content of the 24,000-square-foot exhibit, with Disney’s “creative input,” officials said with Disney and with Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

EPCOT’s Millennium Village will feature exhibits from 24 countries, including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, China and Japan.

A spokesman for Disney said in a telephone interview that he would not reveal details of the exhibit’s contents, citing a confidential agreement with Israel.

What has remained constant “from the beginning,” said Bill Warren, the head of public affairs for Walt Disney World, is Disney’s intent for the exhibit “to be interesting, entertaining, a tribute to Israel and its people, and apolitical.”

But Middle East politics have found their way into Disney’s small world after all. With the final-status talks having just begun, the question of Jerusalem still remains unresolved. Israel claims the undivided city as its eternal capital. The Palestinians want eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Arab groups in the United States and overseas who read news reports about the Millennium Village exhibit were concerned that “Disney World is making a political statement about an issue that has not been settled yet,” said Khalid Turaani, the executive director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, a Washington-based group among those leading a campaign to review the exhibit before it opens.

These groups have been pressing Disney for a preview of the exhibit.

“With Disney so tight-lipped about it,” said Turaani, the director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, “there was something fishy right there.”

News reports said Disney assured one of the large shareholders in the Paris-based Euro Disney, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, that the EPCOT exhibit would not depict Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

On Monday, the Arab League closed its two-day meeting in Cairo by voting to form a committee to investigate the exhibit.

Disney’s chairman and chief executive, Michael Eisner, and the president of Walt Disney World, Al Weiss, wrote letters to the Arab League and explained that the exhibit was not meant to give offense. They offered to meet with an Arab League delegation to discuss the situation, Warren said, but added that the terms of the meeting have not yet been determined.

Although the Arab League resolved to see the exhibit in advance of the public opening date, there are no firm plans for such a visit, the Arab League’s chief representative in Washington said.

Khalid Abdalla said the Arab League’s main objective is “to be sure that Walt Disney is not bringing politics into its commercial activity in a way that will hurt the Arab and Islamic rights in Jerusalem.”

Abdalla is the Arab League’s representative on the Disney committee, which also includes representatives from the Palestinian Authority and from Muslim American organizations.

If the committee is not satisfied by Disney’s response or its handling of Jerusalem, however, the entertainment company can expect a “real reaction,” Abdalla said. He said he could not confirm whether a boycott would ensue.

An Arab Prime Minister?

For the first time ever, an Arab citizen of Israel is running for prime minister. He is first-term Knesset member Azmi Bishara, one of the leading intellectuals in the Arab world, and one of the most provocative politicians of any ethnicity in Israel.

Bishara’s candidacy is opposed by the Palestinian Authority, which fears that he will take Israeli Arab votes from Labor leader Ehud Barak and thereby help Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu win again.

The conservative Israeli Arab political establishment is also against Bishara’s candidacy. To them, he is acting the “upstart,” striking out on his own without first gaining support from community elders, and thereby leapfrogging his more experienced Arab colleagues in the Knesset.

Yet recent polls showed that Bishara is by far the most popular choice for prime minister among Israeli Arab voters, who cast more than 10 percent of the ballots in the last election.

Even before entering the Knesset in 1996, Bishara, 43, a philosophy instructor at the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University, made a considerable impact on Israeli politics. In the early 1990s, a provocative idea began filtering into the national debate over Israel’s character as a Jewish, democratic state. The notion was that a formally Jewish state was inherently discriminatory against its 900,000 Arab citizens, and that the only way to equality was in transforming Israel from the state of the Jewish people into a “state of all its citizens.”

A corollary to this idea was that Israeli Arabs should not only have full equality with Israeli Jews, but also “cultural autonomy” — a sort of local version of Black Power, which argues that Israeli Arabs have a fundamentally different, even contradictory, political identity to that of Israeli Jews, and that they should be able to freely develop that identity by, for instance, running their own school system and radio and TV stations as they see fit. The chief originator and popularizer of these ideas was Bishara.

Ever since he began talking about running for prime minister two years ago, he’s been gathering enemies on the right. Knesset member Michael Kleiner, head of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Front, proposed a bill that outlawed all non-Jewish candidates for the post. The Knesset secretariat, however, determined that the bill was racist and removed it from the agenda.

A little more than a month ago, Bishara set off a new storm by declaring that the Islamic guerrilla organization Hezbollah, which is fighting Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon, was “a brave organization that had taught Israel a lesson — it can have occupation or it can have peace.”

He stood by the statement even after a spate of Hezbollah killings of Israeli soldiers, and even after Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein opened an investigation into whether Bishara had broken the law with this utterance.

Bishara emphasized that he was not “rooting” for Hezbollah to kill Israelis.

“I’m very sorry over each young person, Lebanese or Israeli, killed in south Lebanon. I would have to be mad to think it is good for young people to be killed,” he said. But he insisted that the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon was an invasion of foreign territory, and that Hezbollah was right to fight against it. Bishara also pointed out that he is by no means a “follower” of Hezbollah.

“They are a religious movement — Islamic fundamentalist, probably fanatic,” he said.

Bishara is a thoroughly secular Christian, an ex-communist who earned his doctorate in East Germany. Starting out in politics at his Nazareth high school, he continued as a leading Arab student activist at Hebrew University, where he took his share of blows from right-wing Jewish students on campus.

In recent years, Bishara’s proposal to make Israel a “state of all its citizens” has joined Jewish law, or halacha, as a rising ideological challenger to Zionism. The idea has gained wide allegiance among Israeli Arabs.

With a personal style that offsets intensity with dry humor, and with his forthright presentation of new, radical ideas, Bishara holds great appeal for Arab intellectuals, and even for some left-wing Jewish ones.

Taped to the wall opposite the door of his Knesset office — the first thing a visitor sees — is a photocopy of a painting of the late Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, father of “pan-Arabism” and bitter enemy of Israel. Next to the picture of Nasser is a poster of Mordechai Vanunu, the imprisoned Israeli nuclear tattletale whom Bishara called “the first citizen to link concern over Israel’s future with concern over the future of the region as a whole.”

Bishara is a striking figure, with the look and something of the air of one of those defiant, dashing young European intellectuals. He has a modified Zapata mustache, a sweep of thick, black hair, and smokes cigarillos. In an interview in his Knesset office, Bishara, wearing a blue-green suit, leaned back with relaxed elegance behind his desk, with a permanent brooding look on his face. (An unnamed colleague was quoted once as describing Bishara’s political stance as “somewhere between George Habash and Giorgio Armani.”)

He knows he’s not going to be elected prime minister. He said that he’s running because none of the other candidates are taking Israeli Arab issues seriously enough. But Bishara has made it clear that he wants Netanyahu out. He indicated that if Center Party leader Yitzhak Mordechai drops out of the race and supports Barak, he might do the same so that Barak would have a shot at an absolute majority and victory in the first round on May 17.

The major candidates for prime minister have been criticized for excessive vagueness, for steering away from any policy statement that might turn off voters. Bishara’s candidacy will undoubtedly offer a sharp contrast.