A Syrian refugee child holds a bread at a camp for Syrian refugees near the town of Qab Elias, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, Aug. 8. Photo by Jamal Saidi/REUTERS.

A modest proposal: Short-term camps for Syrian refugees in America


What to do about Syrian refugees?

Their ongoing flight from civil war and poverty continues to challenge America socially, economically, and morally. While the United States did not create the conditions for the migration, human beings in distress surely deserve our compassion. But absorbing people who are completely alien to the American lifestyle endangers both our cultural values and our economic well-being.

There is a third way: admit Syrian refugees, but house them in camps rather than set them loose on our streets – where they are already attempting to join American society. Segregated villages for Syrian refugees would solve their short-term problem – finding a place to survive (however uncomfortably) – without creating long-term problems for the United States and our cultural unity. Most importantly, once things return to normal in Syria, these temporary foreign guests (and their descendants) can simply go home.

Wait, that’s offensive to you? You think it would shock the conscience of good people everywhere? Funny, because that’s precisely how the world has treated Palestinian refugees living in Arab countries neighboring Israel over the last 70 years.

During Israel’s 1948 War for Independence, at least 700,000 Arabs were expelled or fled from what became Israel. Most went to refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, which expected them to return to their homes when the fighting ended. But Israel, busy building a Jewish homeland for refugees of their own group, blocked their re-entry. The 1967 Six-Day War produced another 300,000 migrants, and today the total number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants is nearing 5 million.

Life for Palestinian refugees has been hard, in large part because the countries where they’ve lived (except the Kingdom of Jordan) have made no effort to integrate them, and in fact created obstacles to their absorption. Egypt had no interest in absorbing the Arabs living in Gaza in the 1950s, for example, and in fact when poised to regain the Sinai Peninsula as part of the Camp David Accords, Egypt rejected annexing the adjacent Gaza Strip, despite a shared ethnic and religious background with Palestinians. The story has been similar for refugees mired in camps in Lebanon and Syria.

Displaced persons present moral and practical challenges to civilized nations, but that’s nothing new. Since World War II alone the world has unfortunately had to succor refugees hundreds of times – Chinese flooding British Hong Kong in the early 1950s, say, or Hungarians moving to Austria in 1956.

In fact, the United Nations constantly deals with such emergencies through its Refugee Agency, whose mission statement defines its job as “finding solutions that enable refugees to live their lives in dignity and peace.” They specify three strategies: voluntary repatriation, resettlement and integration.

So for decades, the world’s nations have had a simple goal for all the world’s refugees: that they stop being refugees.

Well, that’s been the goal for all the world’s refugees except Palestinians.

You see, Palestinians are the only category of refugees “helped” by a separate agency – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Armed with an annual $1.2 billion budget, UNRWA’s structure prevents Palestinians from thriving in the places where they live. Unlike with other ethnic and national groups, the United Nations treats even the descendants of original displaced persons as permanent refugees, and eschews most steps to integrate them.

The reason is clear: a deliberate Arab-led campaign to embarrass and delegitimize Israel.

Arab leaders have been remarkably blunt about their motivations. In 2004, Arab League spokesman Hisham Youssef, told the Los Angeles Times that Palestinians live “in very bad conditions,” but said the official policy is meant “to preserve their Palestinian identity.” After all, he continued, “if every Palestinian who sought refuge in a certain country was integrated and accommodated into that country, there won’t be any reason for them to return to Palestine,” he said.

Under the status quo, all the Arab elites win. Arab nations escape the upheaval of integrating a poor and alienated subgroup, and Palestinian leaders keep their ideology that the refugees already have a home – the future nation of Palestine to be built on land currently occupied by the Jews.

But the refugees themselves don’t win. Their physical, political, and legal suffering continues. Outside Jordan, they and their children are not citizens of the countries where they live, and they face legal and practical obstacles to progress in areas like employment, education, and health care. Many can’t even own property.

Now, here’s the truly obscene part: some of the Palestinian refugees living in Syria have joined the exodus to Europe, where they are being resettled like everyone else. Think about that: When their suffering was agitprop theater to hurt Israel, they were stateless. But with a non-Zionist antagonist, suddenly they’re on track to becoming French and Dutch.

Migrations and displacements are a regular feature of world history – and Jews have been no exception. From our days weeping by the waters of Babylon to the mass transfer of nearly a million Jews from Arab and Muslim nations soon after Israel’s founding, our people have known dislocation and exile. Absorption of foreigners has placed many countries on trial, as the Syrian crisis is doing today. But nobody’s suffering should be part of an international puppet show designed to jerry-rig an impractical solution to a longstanding morass.

Here’s another modest proposal: Israel’s neighbors can welcome – as equal citizens – the Palestinians who for generations have lived within their borders. Would that be so hard?

David Benkof is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Journal. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or Facebook, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Israeli forces patrolling in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, July 20, 2017. (Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Three Israelis reportedly killed, one wounded in West Bank stabbing attack


Three Israelis reportedly were killed and one wounded in a stabbing attack in a West Bank settlement north of Ramallah.

Two men and a woman reportedly died of their wounds, while a woman in her 60s was seriously injured in the attack in Halamish, according to The Times of Israel. Israeli media reports said the attacker was shot but survived.

Israel TV’s Channel 10 said the assailant, who entered the home of victims, was in his late teens and had posted on Facebook that he was upset by events at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where Palestinians and Israeli security forces clashed this week over the Israeli government’s decision to keep in place indefinitely metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount.

Eli Bin, the head of Israel’s rescue service Magen David Adom, said an off-duty soldier next door heard screams, rushed to the home and shot the attacker through a window, according to ABC News. Bin said the attacker was wounded and evacuated to hospital.

On Friday, three Palestinians reportedly were killed in clashes between rioters and police in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Six Israeli police officers were injured in the rioting, touched off after Israel installed metal detectors at the Temple Mount in response to a July 14 terrorist shooting near the holy site that killed two Israeli police officers. The previous night, some 42 people were wounded in clashes between security forces and Palestinian protesters, who rioted during rallies against the introduction of the metal detectors, Army Radio reported.

The Temple Mount compound contains the Haram al Sharif area that is holy to Muslims.

AIPAC and the meaning of love


How do we show our love for the things we hold dear?

How do we express this love when things get complicated?

Israel is a complicated country. Despite all of its amazing accomplishments in the face of relentless hostility, despite its courage, its resiliency, its vibrant culture, it still manages to attract serious opposition and even anger among many American Jews who claim to love the Jewish state. The key reason for this anger is well-known: Israel’s inability to make peace with the Palestinians.

Over the past 48 hours, I’ve seen two radically different approaches to loving Israel.

The first is the love I felt at the AIPAC Policy Conference, where 18,000 people came to network, listen to speeches, learn more about Israel, present their ideas, lobby Congress, and, essentially, find a safe space to show their love for the Jewish state.

Outside the main conference hall, I saw a whole other approach –demonstrators on the street, many of them angry, protesting AIPAC’s support of Israel.

In an ideal world, I’m sure these demonstrators would like nothing better than to see AIPAC join their protest against Israel. In fact, I’m sure they’d love to see all Jewish organizations follow their approach and bash Israel for failing to make peace with the Palestinians.

For the protestors, this failure is all-consuming. Yes, the conflict is complicated. Yes, the Palestinians have refused several offers in the past to end the occupation. Yes, Israel has made its share of mistakes. Yes, right now, with the region in violent turmoil, it could be disastrous for everybody — including the Palestinians — if Israel abandoned the West Bank and terror groups would walk in and wreak more havoc.

Yes, but.

A failure is still a failure. The bottom line for these anti-AIPAC demonstrators is that Israel has failed to make peace with the Palestinians, and that is simply unacceptable.

My question for the demonstrators, then, is this: Since you claim to be pro-Israel, how else do you show your love for Israel besides protest?

I get the tough love thing. I get that you want Israel to do as you wish, because it would be better for Israel and the Palestinians. I get that you’re tired of waiting. I get all that, and I also get that protest is a great Jewish value and that it’s part of the Jewish tradition.

I’m just curious: Is this your only way of engaging with Israel?

I’m especially interested because, when I love someone who does something I think is wrong, I always make sure to remind them how much I love them, how I value the things they do right, and how I value our relationship. For their own good, I will show some “tough,” but I always show some “love.”

I’ve seen your “tough” on Israel, but where are you hiding the love?

Are you looking for a safe space?

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri. Feb. 21. Photo by Tom Gannam/REUTERS.

Stop celebrating Muslim decency


Being congratulated for basic civility is no compliment

Since the recent wave of anti-Semitic bomb threats, vandalism, and cemetery desecrations, journalistic and social media have vocally celebrated condemnations, fund-raising, and volunteer efforts by Muslim groups in an attempt to bolster interfaith cooperation and rehabilitate the reputation of the Islamic community precisely when its very welcome in America is being questioned like never before.

But nobody deserves congratulations for basic decency. Condemning bomb threats and making donations to repair damage from bias crimes is something good people of all backgrounds do. Liberal hoopla over proper Muslim responses to anti-Semitism is no more than a religious riff on the soft bigotry of low expectations. When Muslims go to extraordinary lengths to show they embrace their Jewish neighbors – and they sometimes do – public praise is appropriate. But headlines about Islamic press releases condemning cemetery vandalism send the opposite message – that in normal circumstances Muslims are callous and heartless.

Imagine these headlines:

  • Asian Driver Arrives At Work Without Incident
  • Jamaican Musician Passes Drug Test
  • Black Man Marries His Children’s Mother

 

While those headlines aim to challenge nasty stereotypes, they actually reinforce their legitimacy.

News stories about broad community efforts to help besieged Jews that contain a sentence “Even the local Muslim community turned out in force” are entirely appropriate. But special congratulations when Muslims act like, well, people are not compliments.

I know how it feels to have my own group celebrated for simple propriety.

As a Zionist, I am perpetually annoyed by hasbara (roughly, propaganda) that celebrates Israeli actions that are only minimally admirable – like an Israeli soldier who shares her sandwich with a starving Palestinian child or an Tel Aviv hospital that provides an impoverished dying Arab woman with free medical care. Yes, I understand that these examples are intended to debunk the idea that Israelis are not decent (although I have yet to see anti-Israel discourse accusing Israelis of withholding sandwiches from orphans). But the very act of highlighting basic decency legitimizes the slander, which is particularly offensive given the many good Israeli actions that are far from just minimally proper.

The people spotlighting Muslim attempts to repair desecrated cemeteries may think they’re rebutting negative stereotypes. But they aren’t. Sorry to say it, but Americans who fear or hate Muslims don’t do so because they think Muslims tolerate vandalism. They do so because they think Muslims tolerate terrorism. These stories will not dent that perception.

Americans are rightly proud of the way its citizens of many groups came together to help one group among them recover in a time of distress – and Muslims should be part of that celebration. But breathless reports that American Muslims aren’t jackasses after all help nobody – including American Muslims.

David Benkof is a columnist for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) and Muckrack.com/DavidBenkof, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Israeli soldiers stand guard as Palestinians wait to pass during a protest calling for reopening of a closed street, in the West Bank city of Hebron Feb. 9. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/REUTERS.

Palestinian support for two-state solution drops, poll finds


A majority of Palestinians do not support a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, a survey found.

The survey released Wednesday found that 44 percent of Palestinians back the two-state solution, a decline from 51 percent who supported this approach in a similar survey from June. The later survey had 59 percent of Israelis supporting two states, down from 55 percent in the earlier poll.

The survey, called Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll, was released by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah with funding from the European Union.

The poll, which surveyed 1,270 Palestinians and 1,207 Israelis, Jewish and Arab, was conducted in December. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent.

It also found that just over one-third of Palestinians and a majority of Arab Israelis supported one state as well as a confederation, while 24 percent of Israelis backed one state and 28 percent a confederation.

Nearly identical numbers of Jewish Israelis (58 percent) and Palestinians (57 percent) said they supported a broader regional peace involving the Arab world and Israel.

The survey also found that 86 percent of Palestinians feel Israeli Jews are untrustworthy, while 71 percent of Israeli Jews do not trust Palestinians. In addition, 51 percent of Israeli Jews, 48 percent of Israeli Arabs and 68 percent of Palestinians agreed with this statement: “Nothing can be done that’s good for both sides; whatever is good for one side is bad for the other side.”

In addition, 66 percent of Jewish Israelis fear the Palestinians; among West Bank settlers the number rises to 72 percent. Nearly half of Jewish Israelis also fear their fellow Arab citizens of Israel, and 60 percent of West Bank settlers feel this way.

Some 43 percent of Palestinians said they fear Jewish Israelis in general, and 52 percent fear soldiers and armed settlers. Most Arab Israelis, or 82 percent, do not fear Jewish Israeli.

How California’s anti-BDS bill became ‘no longer a pro-Israel bill’


A growing split over Israel within the Democratic Party appears to be spilling over into the California legislature.

Just three months ago, an anti-Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) bill being considered in Sacramento appeared to be on track to become a sure win for pro-Israel politicians and advocacy groups aiming to stem the growing BDS movement.

That bill, AB 2844, finally passed the California Assembly on June 2—but not before a Democratic-controlled Appropriations Committee had transformed it, to the point that many of the bill’s original backers say they will not support it further unless the state’s Senate makes significant changes.

The latest development of AB 2844 is a twist for a law that Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), who introduced the bill, along with other backers, had expected would receive broad support. But AB 2844 had difficulty getting through the Democratic-controlled Assembly’s Committee on Accountability, as well as its Judiciary Committee and, finally, the Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Lorena Gonzalez (D-Chula Vista). 

The bill was initially named the “California Combating the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel Act of 2016” and was intended to force all California government agencies to stop doing business with companies participating in a boycott against Israel, which is currently California’s 18th-largest export partner.

But on May 27, by the time the bill came to a vote in the Appropriations Committee, it had been renamed, “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Recognized Sovereign Nations or Peoples,” and all mention of Israel had been deleted. The revised bill also does not distinguish between nations that are U.S. allies and those that are not, nor does it mention protecting major California trading partners. The revised bill also stripped a demand that the state cease business with companies participating in economic boycotts.

The new version of AB 2844 states only that the attorney general shall create “a list of companies that have engaged in discriminatory business practices in furtherance of a boycott of any sovereign nation or peoples recognized by the government of the United States.” Also, to the chagrin of some of AB 2844’s original backers, the amended version instructs the attorney general to assess “the constitutionality of prohibiting a company on the list…from entering into a contract with a public entity.”

“The bill came out with amendments that really, in my view, took the whole meaning away from the bill, stripped out all references to Israel and all of the important operative language, and turned it into something very different,” Bloom told the Journal on Friday.

On the Assembly floor Thursday, ” target=”_blank”>introduced an anti-BDS bill virtually identical to the one Bloom introduced in March, but the California Legislative Jewish Caucus (CLJC) was

Sanders: Netanyahu is ‘wrong on occasion’


Bernie Sanders is not backing down on his claim that Israel used ‘disproportionate’ force against Hamas in the 2014 Gaza war.

“You cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people,” Sanders said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday. “I think in the Gaza, it was a disproportionate response. You had some 1,500 civilians killed. I think you had 10,000 or so wounded. That was a disproportionate response.”

Sanders took the role of Israel’s opposition leader in suggesting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is wrong “on occasion.”

“You can’t just always nod your head to Netanyahu,” he told George Stephanopoulos. “He is wrong on occasion.”

The Democratic presidential hopeful also responded to ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt accusing him of playing into the hands of those who claim that Israel is the main problem in this conflict.

“Well, they can say what they want,” said Sanders. “I didn’t say Israel’s the main problem. All I am saying is you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people. And right now, as you know, in Gaza, there is mass destruction that has not been addressed right now. Poverty rate is off the charts; 40 percent people are unemployed. We are United States of America. If we want to bring people together, we have got to address those issues.”

Asked to rate President Barack Obama’s approach to settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sanders said, “I think he’s done much better than his predecessors. But I think we still have a way to go. And I was not criticizing President Obama; I was criticizing Secretary Clinton.”

 

The Arab-Israeli conflict: Time to move on


This article originally appeared on Ynetnews.com

As a result of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, roughly 800,000 Jews were expelled from various Arab countries in which they had been living for generations. 

Consequently, they were forced, like millions of other refugees throughout the 20th century, to resettle elsewhere. Although certainly not an easy task, eventually both the initial refugees and their descendants were able to let go of the past and move on with their lives.

Unlike the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, the story of the roughly 500,000 Arab refugees created by Israel’s War of Independence has been vastly different. Rather than being encouraged to resettle elsewhere, they were turned into permanent refugees to be used as a political tool against Israel. For this purpose, a special UN agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), was created in 1950 for the sole intent of maintaining, as opposed to resettling, the original refugees. 

Even today, nearly seventy years later, UNRWA continues with this policy unabashedly. As they boldly state on their site “We are committed to fostering the human development of Palestine refugees by helping them to acquire knowledge and skills, lead long and healthy lives, achieve decent standards of living and enjoy human rights to the fullest possible extent.” Noticeably absent from this list is any attempt to help the refugees restart their lives in another place.

The exact opposite is the case for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an agency that was also established in 1950 and which deals with every other other refugee population in the world. According to its site, “The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide.”

In addition, it “strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.” In other words, the emphasis is on problem resolution, a point that is proudly stated on its site: “Since 1950, the agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives.” 

Thus, while UNHCR is constantly trying to lower the number of refugees in the world, UNRWA is actually working in the opposite direction. By an absurd policy that is unique to UNRWA and which states that “the descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are also eligible for registration.” UNRWA has succeeded in turning the original half million into five million and counting.

In addition to the detrimental policies of UNRWA, which have deliberately kept the refugee issue alive for years, the refugees themselves—both the originals and their descendants—as well as the other Arabs living in Judea and Samaria, have been led to believe that eventually they would receive their own country somewhere west of the Jordan River. By some, they were told the new country would include their former homes in Haifa and Jerusalem, while by others they were promised a more modest state side by side with a tiny Jewish one. Different variations of these assurances have repeatedly been made to them over the years by assorted Arab leaders, western/international leaders and even some Israeli leaders.

Hence although the Arabs themselves, refugee or non-refugee, are partly to blame for not letting go of the past and simply moving on with their lives, it’s obvious that their permanent statelessness is also due to the fact that they’ve been a pawn in a much larger game.

What’s more, the seemingly endless bloody conflict between Jews and Arabs is the direct result of intentionally keeping this issue alive. This is by far the most tragic aspect of all the false promises and misleading UN policies. Nevertheless and despite the fact that at the moment there appears to be no end in sight to the conflict, something must be done since Israel cannot rule forever over another population with roadblocks and security checks and the Arabs cannot live eternally in a state of limbo.

Therefore, in order to finally break this vicious cycle and to allow everyone to move on with their lives, some truths must be faced. For starters, despite all the promises that have been made it’s clear to nearly everyone today that Israel cannot allow for the creation of an Arab state in any shape or size west of the Jordan River since such an entity would pose an existential threat to the very existence of the Jewish state. Thus, despite all the headlines that the two-state solution receives, practically speaking it’s a non-starter. More than twenty-two years of the failed Oslo Process and all the accompanying wars and terrorist attacks, as well as the still unfolding events of the “Arab Spring”, makes this point self-evident.

Equally suicidal for Israel is the granting of citizenship to another one or two million Arabs living in Judea and Samaria – many of whom consider Israel an enemy state – as part of any future process of Israel declaring sovereignty over these areas. The demographic and economic problems of such an endeavor, combined with the obvious security problem of absorbing a large hostile population, would surely overwhelm the Jewish state.

The only solution therefore, and by far the most humane one, is to rectify the injustice that was done to the Arabs by both the negligent polices of UNRWA and by years of being misled by false promises of statehood west of the Jordan River. Practically speaking, the Arabs need to be financially compensated and helped to resettle elsewhere, as the Jews from Arab countries did seventy years ago and as millions of refugees have done over the course of the last one hundred years as a result of various wars and conflicts. The new host country could be neighboring Jordan or another Arab country or wherever as long as it’s part of an international agreement. Such an agreement would also need to allow Israel to fortify its long-term security by extending Israeli sovereignty up to the natural border of the Jordan River.

Although such a suggestion may sound harsh to some people, the truth is it is the only way to resolve the one hundred year conflict and to stop the pointless and never-ending bloodshed between Jews and Arabs. Moreover, the idea of financially compensating the Arabs and helping them to resettle elsewhere as part of an international agreement is the only solution that will both guarantee the continued existence of the world’s only Jewish state as well as enable the Arabs to escape their prison of false promises and to finally start building normal productive lives. For the well-being of both Jews and Arabs, the time has come to embrace the only solution that is truly capable of ending the conflict.

Yoel Meltzer, a freelance writer living in Jerusalem, has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from New York University. He can be contacted via yoelmeltzer.com .

Thousands run Bethlehem marathon to protest Israeli restrictions


More than 4,000 people participated in a Bethlehem marathon designed to highlight travel restrictions imposed on Palestinians by Israel.

First conceived in 2013, the fourth annual “Right to Movement” marathon set out Friday from the Church of the Nativity past Israel’s security barrier, which cuts around much of the city, before passing Duheisha refugee camp and the town of al-Khader, near Gilo military checkpoint, the Ma’an News agency reported.

“Restriction on movement is one of the major challenges for the Palestinian people living under occupation. Palestinians cannot move freely on roads, or from one city to another,” the marathon’s organizers from the Right to Movement group had written on their website.

Because the Palestinian Authority does not control a contiguous 42 kilometers, or 26 miles, in Bethlehem district — the distance of a full Olympic marathon — the run was instead forced to loop around a seven-mile stretch.

Nearly 4,400 runners took part in this year’s marathon — up from 3,100 last year— with a record 46 percent of them women, far surpassing the 39 percent that joined 2015’s run, Ma’an reported.

The Palestinian Authority, which helped organizers facilitate conditions for the race, asked Israel to allow 102 runners from Gaza to attend as well, but they were not allowed into the West Bank, the report said.

Ma’an quoted Israel’s Coordination for Government Activities in the Territories as saying the Palestinians deliberately had not given them enough time “for dealing with such requests,” adding: “It’s unfortunate to witness cynical using of the sport.”

France presents proposal for peace summit to Israel, Palestinians


France has presented Israel and the Palestinians with a proposal for an international peace conference.

The French ambassador to Israel, Patrick Maisonnave, in a meeting Tuesday morning with the head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic office, Alon Ushpiz, disclosed details of the initiative to bring the two sides together for a conference that would include officials from the United States, Europe and the Arab countries.

The summit would be held in the summer, according to the proposal, and would launch new negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S.-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the last diplomatic process to try to solve the conflict, broke down in April 2014.

Ushpiz told the French ambassador at the meeting that Israel supports direct negotiations and opposes any attempt to predetermine the outcome of talks, Haaretz reported, citing the Foreign Ministry. Ushpiz reportedly also discussed the recent wave of Palestinian terror, as well as incitement in Palestinian media, schools and other areas.

French diplomats said the Palestinian response to the French initiative was very positive, according to Haaretz.

On Monday while visiting Japan, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said the Palestinians would never again hold direct talks with Israel.

“We will never go back and sit again in a direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” he said at a news conference.

The French initiative to convene an international peace summit was first announced in a Jan. 29 speech by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at the Foreign Ministry in Paris. Fabius also said in the address that if the French initiative to convene a peace conference fails, then Paris would officially recognize a Palestinian state.

Israel reacted strongly to the threat and called it “an incentive for the Palestinians to come and not compromise.”

Fabius has since resigned from his position. His successor, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is continuing with the initiative.

Spain ‘deeply worried’ over Palestinian deaths from Israel’s use of force


Spain’s government expressed “deep concern at the loss of many dozens of lives” of Palestinians as a result of Israel’s “use of force” in response to attacks against its citizens.

The statement Tuesday by the Spanish foreign ministry also said that Palestinian murders of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Palestinian attacks on other Israelis are “terrorist attacks” and “hate crimes.”

However, pro-Israel activists lambasted the ministry for the statement, which the ACOM lobby group condemned Thursday as “infamous” and creating a false moral equivalence between aggressor and victim.

The Spanish ministry’s statement was in reaction to the killing of Dafna Meir, a Jewish mother of six, on Jan. 17 at her home in the West Bank settlement of Otniel, and two other attacks that occurred thereafter in settlements, the statement said.

But, in addition to condemning those attacks, the statement read: “The government is also deeply worried about the loss of many dozens of human lives among the Palestinian population as a consequence of the use of force by agents of Israeli authorities in reaction to the attacks and calls on all parties to abandon all acts of violence or instigation thereof, as those can exacerbate the situation.” The statement added: “It is necessary to break this cycle of violence.”

But to ACOM, the statement suggests that the ministry “explains that the Palestinian kill as a logical result of the use of force” by Israelis, noting that many of the Palestinians killed in recent weeks were shot while trying to kill Israelis.

“The ministry apparently considers attacks against Jewish girls in supermarkets and others comparable to shooting the terrorists that perpetrate them,” the organization wrote in a statement Thursday.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of justifying Palestinian terrorism when he said about these attacks that, “As oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”

Hamas announces its ‘heroes’ are digging new tunnels and ‘experimenting with rockets’


Palestinian “heroes” are digging tunnels to be used in future attacks on Israel, Hamas’ senior political leader said.

At a funeral in Gaza City Friday for seven Hamas operatives killed when rain and flooding caused a tunnel they were working on to collapse, Ismail Haniyeh said preparations are underway for the next confrontation with Israel, Agence France Press reported.

“East of Gaza City, heroes are digging through rock and building tunnels, and to the west they are experimenting with rockets every day,” Haniyeh said. “The resistance continues on its path of liberation of the land.”

Thousands of people attended the funeral, with many chanting slogans urging violence against Israel.

According to the Times of Israel, Hamas has more than 1,000 people working around the clock, six days a week, digging tunnels, which are lined with concrete and are “being dug 30 meters deep, with sophisticated engineering equipment more advanced technological support, including engineers’ blueprints.”

Hamas’ vast network of tunnels, many leading into Israel, was a major issue during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. During the war, Israel destroyed more than 30 tunnels, which were used to smuggle weapons, as well as stage terrorist attacks and kidnappings inside Israel. Thousands of people, the majority of them Palestinians, were killed in the 2014 war, and much of Gaza’s infrastructure was severely damaged.

On Thursday, the head of Israel’s Eshkol Regional Council, near the Gaza border, reported that residents of Moshav Pri Gan there can hear and feel the tunnel digging below. Israelis near the border remain vulnerable, because the Israel Defense Forces still has not built protective barriers to block cross-border tunnels, despite promises to do so after Operation Protective Edge, its summer 2014 war in Gaza.

European liberal left leaves Europe in decay, blames the victim for failed policies


Recent incidents highlighted the dangerously failed European left-wing politics that has draped itself in the false cloak of morality and judgment.

Israel has been hit by over a thousand terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinian Arabs in a four month period.

With knifing, car ramming, fire bombing, rock throwing and occasional shooting attacks, about thirty Israelis have been killed and another two hundred hospitalized. Fortunately, the rapid response of armed Israeli citizens and the presence of highly trained security personnel managed to neutralize hundreds of attackers both in their terror acts or immediately after, thereby successfully reducing the number of victims.

Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, a regular anti-Israel provocateur, however demanded an international investigation into what she called “extrajudicial killings of Palestinians” in order to bring about “possible accountability.”

Her demand was yet another of her public acts of anti-Israelism. As with her past statements, she ignored Palestinian-incited mass terrorism against Israel and, instead, targeted the Israeli victim for possible prosecution.

Wallstrom has a talent for finding Israel guilty for all of Sweden’s woes. When, according to Swedish intelligence, over two hundred Swedes were reported to have joined ISIS, Wallstrom pointed at Israel when she said, “Clearly we have a reason to be worried not only here in Sweden but around the world because there are so many who are being radicalized. Here again, you come back to situations like that in the Middle East where not least there isn’t any future. The Palestinians either have to accept a desperate situation or resort to violence,” implying that Israel is responsible for the radicalization that is driving so many Swedes into the arms of Islamic terror groups.

Wallstrom is typical of the political sickness that has swept Europe and America. Her attitude of blaming the victim makes her a kindred political spirit to the Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, who told the women of her city that they should have kept an “arm’s length” distance of the thousand migrant men that raped, sexually abused, and robbed almost two hundred German females in the central Cologne square on New Years Eve.

This is yet another example of a left-wing pro-immigration politician blaming the victim.

Swedish leftist politicians also advocated a badly flawed policy that allowed masses of unverified migrants into their country. As in Germany, one result has been the rapid rise of violent and disturbing crimes committed by this flood of undisciplined humanity, mainly from the Middle East.

Under politicians like Reker and Wallstrom, European nations have shifted from being homogenous countries into dysfunctional societies. In Sweden in 2104, there were 80,000 requests for asylum and leftist politicians allowed them to enter in the name of cultural tolerance.

Last year, the number of accepted migrants rose by 150% to 190,000 in Sweden, this time in the name of compassion. The Swedish Prime Minister said at the time, “My Europe doesn’t build walls.” 

Sweden’s Socialist generosity grants welfare benefits to non-Swedes. It also grants permanent resident status to stateless persons after four years, and citizenship after a number of years as residents. Little wonder that this has attracted hundreds of thousands of migrants to target Sweden. When the growing flood stormed over the Oresund Bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden and homeless people began camping out in Swedish town squares the same prime minister changed his tune by saying, “Sweden is no longer able to accept the high number of asylum-seekers we’re seeing today.”

Compassion, it seems, has its limits even in Sweden.

Wallstrom-style compassion for terrorism will also find its limits in Sweden, it seems, only after it experiences murderous terrorism on its soil.

Only then will a Swedish Foreign Minister, perhaps, understand how to fight terrorism and allow citizens and security forces to neutralize the killers in the same manner that Israel has done.

The only other way that countries such as Sweden and Germany will change the dangerous misguided and failing leftist socialist politics and rhetoric is by a frustrated and beleaguered population rising up and electing right-minded politicians able and willing to shift both domestic and foreign policies in defense of traditional and core values.

Israel is finding that countries that “get it” and shift to the right suddenly discover the way to solve their terrorism and migrants problems is to follow Israel’s examples.

Barry Shaw is the Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is also the author of ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism.’ www.barrysbooks.info

When Palestinians kill


My current foray into Israeli-Palestinian coexistence efforts began a year and a half ago, in the summer of 2014, when a group of Israelis and Palestinians in Gush Etzion marked a joint day of fasting on the 17th of Tammuz, which fell that year during Ramadan. At the height of Operation Protective Edge, a month after the abduction and murder of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, and two weeks after the revenge killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, groups of Jews and Arabs cropped up around Israel with a simple but powerful message: Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.

It isn’t that I’d never tried to get to know Palestinians before. I tried to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide almost immediately after making aliyah in 1994. In contrast to many Orthodox Jews, and especially to many Orthodox Israelis, I’d been an early supporter of the Oslo process and was hopeful that the political process would create the conditions to make real interpersonal relationships possible. But my efforts had consistently dissipated — I quickly discovered that “dialogue” in this part of the world consisted of Palestinians blaming Israel for every ill known to man, and left-wing Israelis agreeing with them. 

In that atmosphere, and especially in light of the Palestinian explosion of September 2000, I shared the view of most Israelis:  Israel’s peace overtures had been met with little more than Palestinian terror, and Israel was left with little choice but to construct the West Bank security fence and to wait for Palestinians to get sick of living behind it. As Golda Meir said, when they decide they love their children more than they hate us, they’ll come around to make the sort of peace that doesn’t include blowing up Israeli buses. 

Back to 2014: Six months before Gilad, Naftali and Eyal were murdered, I’d interviewed Ali Abu Awwad for a story about Palestinian nonviolence. I’d walked away from our two-hour interview deeply inspired and hopeful; now, the sight of Palestinians praying together with Israelis for the boys’ safe return filled me again with hope. Once again, I began spending time with coexistence activists, this time in Gush Etzion, and allowed myself once again to hope that Jews and Palestinians were not doomed by some outside power to be enemies forever. 

Since then, I’ve met terrific people and made important friendships with both Israelis and Palestinians who believe that a different future is possible. Ali and I have become close friends, and his generous spirit and deep understanding have allowed me to open up to Palestinian emotions in a way that years of reporting from the Palestinian arena have not. Sami Awad, founder of the Bethlehem-based Holy Land Trust, has challenged me to consider new lenses for Zionism (sorry, Sami, I know this was not your intention!) and models for coexistence. Abdallah (a pseudonym for a senior Fatah activist who I’ve become friendly with, but who does not want to become known for “normalizing” with Judea and Samaria Israelis) has asked serious, probing questions about the nature of Judaism, Zionism and the Jewish relationship to the Land of Israel. There are many more, too many to name here, but all have opened windows into Palestinian society and forced me to connect with a deep sense of empathy within myself, even as I have not become sympathetic to traditional Palestinian arguments about the ongoing conflict with Israel. 

And yet, despite the presence of many inspiring individual Palestinians, the realization that there really is no Palestinian society with which Israel can make peace has been devastating. Whereas Palestinian Israelis work and shop freely in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Netanya, my visits to Bethlehem and Hebron must be shrouded in secrecy by removing my kippah and bearing in mind at all times not to lapse into Hebrew. Palestinians insist there is a sharp imbalance of power between Palestine and Israel, and here they are correct: When Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians in cold blood in 1994, Israeli society was rocked to the core by the horrible thought that such a depraved terrorist could emanate from our midst. Same for the killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2004 and for the Dawabsheh family last summer. 

Palestinian society has no such reticence about killers that emerge from their families. Poll after poll confirms one of Israel’s greatest fears: that Palestinian society as whole remains deeply supportive of murdering Israeli civilians. In December, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicated that two-thirds of Palestinians support knife attacks against Israelis, a sharp rise from a 2011 poll that reported one-third of Palestinians said they approved of the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar. The simple fact is that our society is defined by the revulsion and deep sense of soul searching that has followed each incident. Theirs, simply, is not. 

That realization (or, more correctly, that re-realization) is a thousand times more painful this time around, specifically because I know so many Palestinians with deep moral convictions and close relationships with Israelis. But too many individuals and peace organizations — including Israeli-Palestinian organizations in which I am active — have remained silent. Last summer, we Israeli settlers prayed for the Dawabsheh family, but the response by the Palestinian peace community to the murders of Dafna Meir, Yaakov Don, Eitam and Na’ama Henkin and more than two dozen more innocent Israelis has been silence. I’m not sure where to go with all this. 

And so we continue. Ultimately, there is little choice but to forge ahead, if only in the hope, however forlorn, that our Israeli commitment to justice and peace for all residents of our tortured, holy land, will one day create the necessary conditions for Ali, Sami, Abdullah and so many others to sound their brave voices, and that one day their messages of peace and reconciliation will penetrate the values of their society.

Inshallah.


Andrew Friedman is a member of Shorashim/Judur, a grass-roots movement of local Israelis and Palestinians creating relationships and friendships in Judea and Samaria, as well as of the Interfaith Encounter Forum.

Israel sees 25 percent drop in terrorist attacks


The number of terrorist attacks on Israelis decreased significantly in December over the previous month, Israel’s security agency said.

The Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, recorded in December a total of 246 attacks by Palestinians on Israel compared to 326 in November, the organization said in its monthly report released earlier this week.

The 25 percent drop led to fewer casualties. While November had 10 fatalities and 58 wounded from terrorist attacks, December had three fatalities and 44 wounded.

In the December report, the Shin Bet for the first time added the category “Jewish terrorism” to the synopsis of its monthly report. It listed only one incident: The hurling of two smoke grenades into a home near Ramallah, resulting in no injury.

Of the attacks against Israelis documented by Shin Bet in December, 183 involved the hurling of firebombs. All three fatalities were in stabbings.

The attacks are part of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed a “wave of terrorism” that began in September amid claims by Palestinians that Israel was plotting to increase its control over or destroy Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed by security forces and civilians while carrying out the attacks and in subsequent rioting.

Since Sept. 1, the Shin Bet has documented over 1,415 attacks, which resulted in the death of 25 victims and dozens of wounded. Of those, 620 attacks occurred in October alone.

On Thursday night, Israeli troops in the West Bank killed a Palestinian man whom they said tried to stab a soldier. Earlier that day, three Palestinians were killed elsewhere in what the Israel Defense Forces said was an attempted stabbing attack.

Defiance among rogue settlers as Israel accuses Jewish youth of murder


The caves around this windy settler outpost, whose name is Hebrew for “Of Sound Mind”, have served as places of meditation and prayer – and, according to Israel – staging ground for the worst Jewish militant attack on Palestinians in years.

It was from Yishuv Hadaat, prosecutors say, that 21-year-old Amiram Ben-Uliel set off on a moonlit July night to firebomb a house in the nearby West Bank valley town of Duma, killing a baby, Ali Dawabsheh, and his parents Saad and Riham.

Ben-Uliel's indictment for the murders on Sunday met with denial and defiance from other members of the so-called “Hilltop Youth”, a new generation of ultra-religious settlers whose resentment of the secular Israeli state rivals their hostility toward Arabs.

“I don't think Jews did it. Even if they did do it, you need to look at why … The (Israeli) police and government really fight them in every way,” said Refael Morris, a 20-year-old friend of Ben-Uliel's from a neighboring settlement enclave.

Steeped in messianic Jewish mysticism and rebelling against what they see as adulterated modern Zionism, the Hilltop Youth number in the hundreds, by most accounts. But they pose a deep-rooted challenge even for the nationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it struggles to stanch Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed in the absence of peace negotiations.

Security officials say that Ben-Uliel is among a few dozen hard-core militants, many of them school drop-outs or estranged from their families, who long eluded surveillance due to their secrecy and determination to clam up under police interrogation.

Critics say the Duma murders, which marked an escalation from the vandalism and assaults previously attributed to the militants, were inevitable given Israel's at times murky policing of its citizens in the West Bank – all of whom are deemed by some world powers to be squatters on Palestinian land.

The inconsistency is in plain view in Yishuv Hadaat and other outposts erected in recent years by the Hilltop Youth without state permission. What began as rogue clusters of shacks are now often orderly trailer parks or shepherds' hamlets with power lines, paved roads, bus stops and Israeli army sentries.

Still, residents style these communities that dot the strategic highlands as the vanguard of a dreamed-of Jewish theocracy where gentiles would be expelled, putting paid to decades-old Israeli talk of making way for a Palestinian state.

“If we wouldn't be here, the Arabs would be here, and whatever the Arabs get now it will be very hard to take back,” said Morris, who sports the Hilltop Youth trademark shaggy beard and religious sidecurls along with a crocheted skullcap.

TRIAL AND ERROR

A 20-year-old son of British immigrants, Morris is a married father of two. He works as a baker, having been exempted from the Israeli military draft, he says, on ideological grounds. Many settlers with far-right affiliations say they are also denied private gun permits and subject to police monitoring.

But the Duma arson, and what Israel's Shin Bet security service said were manifestos circulated among the suspects and which called for insurrection against the state, prompted the crackdown that officials hope will rout the Jewish militants.

Outside experts see a rocky road ahead.

The Duma case is already beset by defense lawyers' allegations that Ben-Uliel, as well as a 17-year-old charged with planning the arson but not turning up to the cave rendezvous, were tortured to give false confessions.

While most Israelis condemn the hate crimes and Netanyahu has defended the Shin Bet's methods as legitimate and necessary, within the far-right Jewish Home party that sits in his coalition there have been misgivings about the probe. One party lawmaker asserted there is no such thing as Jewish terrorism.

Tomer Persico, who researches the Hilltop Youth for the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, described the militants as an extremist distillation of the views of wider circles of settlers, a community driven by a sense of pioneering patriotism and hardened by almost daily friction with the Palestinians.

“They are taking these elements and, in a fundamentalist way, accentuating them to the point where they live in unlawful settlements anywhere they want and (their relationship) with the Palestinians is violent and sometimes murderous,” he said.

Another scholar, Sara Yael Hirschhorn of Oxford University, said that while the Hilltop Youth's religious doctrines had only fringe appeal, sympathizers reached deeper into Israeli society.

On Tuesday, a soldier who lives in a West Bank settlement was jailed for 45 months after being found guilty of leaking information to Jewish militants about law-enforcement moves planned against them by the army.

“I find it hard to believe no one else (in the settler community) knew what was going on those hilltops,” Hirschhorn said.

“I think they (authorities) will manage to throw the book at these people, but it will be perceived by the right as a show trial, and such trials are also a way to organize these people.”

Israeli government, military disagree over unrest


Two months into a wave of stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks by Palestinians targeting Israelis, gaps are emerging between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military and intelligence chiefs over what is driving the violence.

The rifts raise questions about whether the right tactics are being used to quell the unrest, the most sustained that Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank have experienced since the last Palestinian uprising, or intifada, ended in 2005.

While there is agreement between Netanyahu, the military and the Shin Bet security agency about broad aspects of the violence – that it is being carried out by “lone-wolves” active on social media and that tensions over the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem have contributed – the deeper causes are disputed.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused 80-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of directly inciting the unrest. He also describes it as a manifestation of Palestinians' hatred of Jews and unwillingness to accept Israel's right to exist.

“What is driving this terrorism is opposition to Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, within any borders,” he said as he left for the climate talks in Paris on Sunday.

In contrast, the military and Shin Bet have tended to point to a variety of economic and socio-political factors that they see fuelling Palestinian anger and frustration, particularly among young men and women in the West Bank.

While they have criticized Abbas and his Fatah party for tacitly condoning the violence, including praising “martyrs” who have carried out stabbings, they have avoided accusing the Palestinian leader of inciting it directly.

“The motivation for action is based on feelings of national, economic and personal discrimination,” the Shin Bet wrote in an analysis last month. “For some of the assailants an attack provides an escape from a desperate reality they believe cannot be changed.”

At a cabinet meeting in November, the head of the army's intelligence division gave a similar description, leading to a row with at least one minister who was angry that the general's briefing was not in line with the government's position.

The details were leaked to Israeli media and confirmed to Reuters by a government source who attended the meeting.

Since Oct. 1, when the violence began, 19 Israelis and an American have been killed. Over the same period, Israeli forces have shot dead 97 Palestinians, 58 of whom were identified by Israel as assailants.

“PINPOINT ACTION”

As well as differences in identifying the causes, there are gaps in the approach being advocated to quell the situation.

The military, which has been in the West Bank for 48 years and is minutely involved in maintaining stability, in coordination with Palestinian security forces, is pushing for pinpoint operations that target specific perpetrators.

Senior ministers who sit on Netanyahu's security cabinet want a heavier toll to be exacted on the Palestinian population, arguing that it is the only effective deterrent.

So far, Netanyahu has shown no inclination to launch a large-scale military operation, despite ramping up deployments in the West Bank by 40 percent and calling up reserve units.

He has also rejected suggestions by Israeli and U.S. officials that he offer concessions to the Palestinians to diffuse tension. Violence has to end first, he says.

Instead, there is a strong presence of Israeli troops and checkpoints across the West Bank, without the sort of iron-fisted tactics that marked the last intifada, although the homes of several attackers have been destroyed.

“This is about taking pinpoint action to tackle specific challenges,” a senior army officer told Reuters, saying operations focused on three particularly unruly areas.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said the military was trying to ensure that the bulk of the population, which is not involved in violence, is as unaffected as possible.

One example of the balance the military is trying to strike is in Beit Ummar, near Hebron, the most volatile West Bank city. On Friday a 19-year-old from the village, Omar Zaakiek, got into his car and drove into six Israeli soldiers, who shot him dead.

Within hours Netanyahu's security cabinet announced Beit Ummar would be put under “closure”, with cars barred from entering or exiting, except via a winding back road, and pedestrians having to pass through an Israeli checkpoint.

Locals accused Israel of collective punishment. The mayor said Zaakiek's family was told their home faced demolition, a tactic the army and Shin Bet have called counterproductive.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz acknowledged the rift between some ministers and the military and said the latter's policy of trying to isolate the attackers was flawed.

“It is legitimate to have an argument about distinguishing terrorists from the Palestinian population,” he told Channel 10 TV. “It is completely clear that the more you differentiate, the more your ability to deter is limited.”

So far Netanyahu has headed off the pressure. But the situation remains precarious. Given the complex roots of the violence, Michael said there was no military solution.

“This reality cannot last long,” he said. “Ultimately one side will make a mistake and the situation will spin out of control.”

Iran’s Khameinei calls Paris attacks ‘blind terrorism,’ says Palestinians face ‘worst’ terrorism


Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, called the recent Paris attacks that left at least 130 people dead “blind terrorism.”

Khameini’s comments, released in a statement to “the youth in the Western countries,” were published Sunday by IRNA, the Iranian government’s official news agency. They reportedly were the ayatollah’s first public comments on the coordinated Nov. 13 attacks on at least seven sites in Paris. The Iranian government had condemned the attacks immediately after they occurred.

Khameini said the pain of any human being is concerning, whether  it occurs “in France or in Palestine or Iraq or Lebanon or Syria.”

He called terrorism “our common worry” and added “the Islamic world has been the victim of terror and brutality to a larger extent territorially, to greater amount quantitatively and for a longer period in terms of time.”

Khameini said America had a role in “creating, nurturing and arming al-Qaida, the Taliban and their inauspicious successors,” such as the Islamic State.

He singled out “(t)he oppressed people of Palestine,” who he said “have experienced the worst kind of terrorism for the last 60 years.” Iran’s supreme leader also called the Islamic State the “spawn” of Western culture.

“If the people of Europe have now taken refuge in their homes for a few days and refrain from being present in busy places — it is decades that a Palestinian family is not secure even in its own home from the Zionist regime’s death and destruction machinery,” Khameini said. “What kind of atrocious violence today is comparable to that of the settlement constructions of the Zionists regime?”

He called the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, a “vile group” that is “the spawn of such ill-fated pairings with imported cultures.”

Voices of Six-Day War haunt us decades later


The focus of the Israeli film “Censored Voices” is an aged, rapidly spinning, reel-to-reel tape recorder.

From the recorder emerge the voices of young Israelis just returned home to their kibbutzim after fighting and miraculously triumphing in the Six-Day War of 1967.

But their talk is not of battles won and heroic deeds by comrades, nor of a glorious homecoming, cheered by their fellow countrymen and by an admiring world after overwhelming the armed forces of five Arab countries.

The disembodied and often halting voices speak of watching Palestinians as their homes and farms are destroyed, of endless lines of wandering refugees, of humiliated Arab civilians stripped down to their underwear.

“We won,” declared one voice, “so the next war will be much crueler and deadlier.” Another voice expresses the fear that “a constant state of war can also destroy a nation.”

When the movie’s camera pans from the tape recorder and sweeps across the room, we see a group of elderly men listening intently, sometimes rubbing their eyes, other times staring as if to identify the voices emerging from the machine.

The voices the elderly men hear are their own, recorded nearly 50 years earlier, a few days to a couple of weeks after they returned from the Six-Day War.

With them is writer Amos Oz, who had originally convened the recording sessions, taking the tape recorder from kibbutz to kibbutz, whose young men traditionally served as the elite spearhead troops in Israel’s wars. Traveling with Oz was Avraham Shapira, who edited the tapes and excerpted them for a book.

During the days and weeks before June 5, when the war started, Israel was filled with a sense of foreboding and occasionally the sound of air raid sirens. Then came the call-up of reserves, under such code names as “Love of Zion” and “People of Labor,” and a grim feeling that “the country would be annihilated,” one soldier recalled.

With the destruction of the enemy’s air forces in the opening hours of the Six-Day War, followed by quick battle victories and entry into Jerusalem’s Old City, the country’s mood changed drastically.

The movie shows newsreels and archival footage of delirious dancing, songs praising the Lord of Israel, and less pious soldiers’ songs, such as “We’ll F— You Up.”

Both the initial fear of annihilation and the subsequent euphoria of victory evaporated for Israeli soldiers who actually experienced combat.

“My company lost 45 men; I kept hearing the cry of, ‘Medic, medic,’ over and over again. I was in despair,” recalled the voice of one veteran.

But, surprisingly, the worst memories of the Israeli soldiers were not of what the enemy was doing to them, but of what they themselves did to the enemy.

Different voices emerge from the tape recorder:

“We asked our commander for orders, and he said, ‘Kill as many as possible. Show no mercy.’ … I was outraged, but I didn’t protest.”

“We were shooting at some Egyptian soldiers. … They were not ducking, just falling down. … It was like some game at an amusement park or at a summer camp. … In war, we all became murderers.”

“The Egyptian prisoners of war came up with their water canteens filled with urine. We gave them some water and they kissed our feet.”

“When the enemy becomes your prisoner, you feel this power. You shove them roughly, all restraint disappears.”

“The Temple Mount is not holy, that’s not Judaism. It’s people that count. They blew the shofar at the Western Wall; it sounded like a pig’s squeal.”

When the tapes were initially transcribed and edited by Shapira into book form as “A Conversation With Soldiers” (in the English edition, “The Seventh Day”), Israeli authorities censored about 70 percent of the text.

That’s hardly surprising. What is amazing is that the book became an instant best-seller in Israel, and the nearly uncensored film version this year won the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar as the country’s best documentary.

The voice tapes themselves were locked away for decades, despite pleas by journalists and filmmakers, until a young Israeli film school graduate, Mor Loushy, persuaded Shapira to let her use them for a film.

It is difficult to conceive of another country, including the United States, that would give subsidies from government funds to make a film critical of its own soldiers in their most triumphant war, or whose film academy would award the film its top prize.

In a phone interview, however, director Loushy was not surprised her film had screened all across Israel without incident and little criticism.

The 33-year-old filmmaker is the mother of a 3-year-old boy and currently is almost eight months pregnant. Her forebears on her father’s side came from Persia to the Holy Land 10 generations ago; her mother was born in Poland.

She has faced no personal criticism in Israel. “After all,” she said, “it’s not my voice in the film but the voices of the soldiers who fought in the war.” She blames the current shootings and knife stabbings in Israel directly on the occupation after the 1967 war and sees little chance that Israelis and Palestinians will sit down for real peace negotiations.

Nevertheless, she refuses to give up, especially because of her children. “If I don’t have hope for the future, why stay here? I really have no choice,” she said.

Still, “Censored Voices” raises some critical questions. For one, how representative the soldiers heard in the film are of all the men who served in the Six-Day War, the Journal asked, to which Loushy gave no specific answer.

In another attempt to answer this question, this reporter’s wife has two relatives who served in the 1967 war, one on the left and one on the right, politically. Neither saw heavy combat, but both said they believed Israel’s survival was at stake and they had no regrets about serving in the war.

All that said, a legitimate concern has been raised by Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli journalist and author, who has written extensively about the Six-Day War, and has worked for the reconciliation of Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel.

“People abroad who don’t remember the way we do the circumstances of the Six-Day War will turn [this movie] into an indictment of Israel,” Halevi said. “If there were isolated acts of abuse by our soldiers, that should not become the narrative [of] what the Six-Day War was about. Many of us here [in Israel] are, frankly, sick and tired of the blame-Israel-first narrative.”

The Israel Film Festival will screen “Censored Voices” at 7:15 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino, and at 5 p.m. Nov. 15 at the NoHo 7 in North Hollywood. After that, the film will open Nov. 27 for one-week runs at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and at the Town Center in Encino.  

Gallup poll: Growing number of Palestinians believe in ‘armed struggle’ against Israel


Nearly one-third of Palestinians believe in “armed struggle and military solutions” to the conflict with Israel, an increase from two years ago.

The percentage of Palestinians who said they believe in the violent means rose to 32 percent from 25 percent in 2013, according to a Gallup survey released Monday. Some 52 percent of respondents said they believe “mostly in nonviolent forms of resistance and negotiation,” down from 62 percent in the earlier poll.

Some 64 percent of Palestinians said that relations between Palestinians and Israelis are getting worse, 6 percent said they are improving and 26 percent said they are staying the same. The numbers have remained steady over the last two years.

The face-to-face survey of 1,000 residents of the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip aged 15 and over were conducted between May 24 and June 17, before the spate of Palestinian attacks against Jewish-Israelis two months ago and the resulting Israeli attempt to stem the violence. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percent.

Seventy-five percent of those questioned responded “none at all” to the question: “How much trust do you have in U.S. President Barack Obama to help Israel and Palestine negotiate a peace treaty that is equally fair to both sides – a great deal, a fair amount, not much or none at all.” The response is up from 66 percent in 2013.

The question has become academic, as the Obama administration said recently that a resolution between the parties is not possible to reach in the last year-and-a-half of the president’s term and there are no plans to resume negotiations.

No more than 3 percent of Palestinians have ever viewed Obama very favorably or favorably, according to Gallup.

Joseph’s Tomb repaired in nighttime operation


Joseph’s Tomb, which was firebombed and vandalized two weeks ago, was repaired in a nighttime operation near the West Bank city of Nablus.

The site was cleaned and painted, the grave marker was restored and the marble covering of the tomb was replaced, according to reports.

Arriving at the site late on Monday night, the workers took about five hours to complete the repairs. Israeli soldiers guarded the painters, metalworkers, electricians, gardeners and stoneworkers.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan initiated the action, Israel National News reported Tuesday. Dagan called the torching of the site a “national disgrace,” and criticized the decision to do the work in the middle of the night.

“Our coming here in the dead of night, like thieves, to a place that is unquestionably ours. It’s a difficult feeling,” he said, according to the Times of Israel.

The tomb was set afire by Palestinian rioters early on Oct. 16, shortly after Hamas leaders in Gaza called for “a day of rage” against Israel — a term that is often used to describe shooting or the hurling of stones and firebombs at Israelis.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the site was to remain under Israeli control. The Israel Defense Forces evacuated the premises in October 2000 during the second intifada and it was burnt down by Palestinians.

Jewish worshippers in coordination with the IDF make monthly nocturnal pilgrimages to the site, which has been renovated and restored. But haredi Orthodox worshippers sometimes make illegal visits to what is believed to be the burial place of the biblical patriarch.

On Europe trip, Abbas gets red carpet — and some hard questions


On his way to several meetings with Dutch parliamentarians last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his entourage passed 300 demonstrators flying Israeli flags.

Like the Israeli government, the protesters, who convened outside at the urging of Dutch Jewish and Christian pro-Israel groups, accuse Abbas and his government of supporting deadly attacks against Jews. Incitement by Abbas and others, they charge, is a major catalyst for the recent wave of Palestinian terrorism in which 11 Jewish-Israelis have been killed and more than 50 Palestinians have died, including dozens identified by Israel as assailants, in Israel’s attempt to stem the violence.

Their argument echoes one that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his European envoys have been making regularly since September, when the latest round of unrest began. But neither appears to have had much impact on how the Palestinian leader is received by European leaders.

On his recent trip to the continent, Abbas visited Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, meeting with top EU leaders and receiving the honor of an audience with Dutch King Willem-Alexander. In September, the mayor of Paris bestowed the Grand Vermeil medal, the city’s highest honor, for Abbas’ efforts to achieve peace.

Such gestures have angered many Israel supporters in Europe, particularly in light of recent comments seen as encouraging violence against Jews.

“We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem,” Abbas said on Palestinian television in September.

The organizers of the anti-Abbas demonstration in The Hague wrote in a statement: “It defies logic that the Dutch government should receive with all honors the Palestinian Authority, which urges its population to kill Jews.”

European leaders remain willing to embrace Abbas because they fear the alternatives could be worse, according to Uri Rosenthal, who served as Dutch foreign minister from 2010 to 2012. It is “not because the Palestinian record is so great, but out of a political calculus in which Abbas is seen as the only [other] option to Hamas or to chaos,” Rosenthal told JTA.

Beyond this lies growing resentment in European capitals toward Netanyahu, who has alienated many European leaders with his hard-line stance on peace talks, his refusal to halt settlement construction and, most recently, his controversial claim about the role of a Palestinian leader leading up to the Holocaust.

“All of these things, all that mistrust toward Netanyahu, means his voice about Abbas and other matters is not heard in Europe,” said Gil Taieb, a vice president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities. “It just doesn’t count.”

That view was endorsed by a senior European diplomat, who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity, citing regulations prohibiting officials from expressing private views. Netanyahu’s inflammatory rhetoric, including his warning on the eve of Israeli elections in March that “masses” of Arabs were coming out to vote, diminished European good will toward the Jewish state and its receptiveness to Israeli complaints, the diplomat said.

Adding to the problem is the perception that Netanyahu is looking for any excuse to avoid making progress toward peace.

“For a long time, this has been the one issue that Israel presented as the main problem to moving forward with peace talks — simply because it was the only thing Israel could think of to stall progress,” the diplomat said.

In his talks in Europe, Abbas used Netanyahu’s rhetoric and settlement policy to deflect criticism. Settlement construction and Israeli occupation “drive Palestinian violence — not any words spoken by a Palestinian leader,” Abbas told a delegation of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, the Dutch Jewish community’s main pro-Israel lobby and watchdog on anti-Semitism.

As for incitement, Abbas said at the Oct. 30 meeting, “it is not only coming from the Palestinian side,” adding that he would be willing to discuss “all incitement, Israeli and Palestinian,” with Israel and the United States, but that Israel is not interested.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator who also attended the CIDI meeting, described as “shameful and inciting” Netanyahu’s statement on Oct. 20 that Haj Amin al-Husseini, a pro-Nazi Palestinian leader, advised Adolf Hitler to “burn the Jews.” Netanyahu subsequently said he did not mean to diminish Hitler’s responsibility for the Holocaust.

The European official noted that Palestinian incitement is more prevalent and pronounced than in Israel, and added that EU leaders “repeatedly bring up this subject” in their talks with Abbas. Still, he said, there is a case to be made for examining Israeli incitement “also by Netanyahu, but especially from ministers around Netanyahu.”

At the CIDI meeting, the delegation patiently listened to Abbas’ complaints about Netanyahu. When he was finished, Joep de Geus, the 22-year-old chairman of CIDI’s youth department, read to him a quote from Fatah Central Committee member Jamal Muhaisen, who on Oct. 7 said that the murder of a settler couple the previous week in front of their children was a case of “one fulfilling his national duty voluntarily, as best as one can.”

Looking at Abbas, de Geus asked: “Your excellency, do we really need a trilateral committee to tell us whether this is incitement?”

“We the Palestinians are not perfect,” Abbas replied, “but these things need to be discussed as a whole.”

Arab citizens of Israel feel tensions


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

This weekend, Israel’s security services went on high alert as rumors spread that an Israeli soldier had been kidnapped near Israel’s border with Syria. When the gag order was lifted, it turned out that a 23-year-old Arab citizen of Israel had used a paraglider to cross the border into Syria, apparently to join Islamic State.

He is not the first to do so. A spokesman for Israel’s Shin Bet security service told The Media Line that about 40 Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians from East Jerusalem have joined Islamic State over the past few years. In most cases, Israel has taken away their citizenship.

The paraglider added to the tensions swirling around Arab citizens of Israel who make up just over 20 percent of Israel’s population. The current wave of violence has sharpened these tensions as three of the attackers have been Arab citizens, and many of the others have been teenagers from east Jerusalem, which Israel acquired in 1967 and annexed.

“In every clash between Israel and the Palestinians, the Arab citizens of Israel will side with their brethren – you have to take it for granted,” Sami Smooha, a professor of sociology at Haifa University and himself an Arab citizen of Israel told The Media Line. “That said, they don’t really take any action. We see that even the demonstrations have died down and I don’t expect to see any more.”

Arab citizens of Israel say that the last month of dozens of Arab attacks on Jews has increased suspicion on all sides. Arab employees in Jewish schools have been told not to come to work, or to work only after the children go home. A poll by the New Wave Economic Institute found that 60 percent of Jewish Israelis say they have avoided buying from Arab-owned shops since the beginning of the month. Many Israeli Arabs say they have taken to speaking in Hebrew in public, fearful they could be a target for angry Jewish attacks. In several instances, Arab citizens of Israel have been beaten by Jewish mobs. Arab citizens also held a commercial strike to protest the violence.

Smooha believes that the overall framework of relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel remains intact, despite suspicion on all sides.

“There is a lot of interdependence between the communities and there is a commitment by Jews, Arabs and the state to continue this system of peaceful relations,” Smooha said. “I don’t see what is happening now as a real threat to Arab-Jewish relations.”

Arab citizens of Israel have more political power than ever before. In the last election, four separate Arab parties united to form the Joint List, which won twelve Knesset seats, becoming Israel’s third largest party. Long-time Knesset member Ahmed Tibi, known for firebrand speeches in the Israeli Knesset was elected Deputy Speaker.

Yet there is a sense of deepening separation among the communities. Someone on Facebook recently posted that he was looking for a small Jewish community in Israel to move to outside the main cities. Thrown into his description of a “nice balance of religious groups” and “great community vibe” was two words “Arab-free”. His post sparked a Facebook storm with some calling him a racist and others applauding his sentiment. He eventually modified the post.

With the exception of Haifa, Ramla, and Akko, there are few places were Jews and Arabs really live side-by-side. Even in Haifa, the largest mixed Arab-Jewish city, there are mostly-separated neighborhoods.

Several cities in Israel including Ashkelon and Rehovot, announced that Arab construction workers would no longer be allowed in their cities.

“”We are going through a difficult time. There is a wave of attacks, and no one can guarantee that that wave is over,” Israel’s Economy Minister and head of a hardline party called the Jewish Home Naftali Bennett opened his speech. “We are working every day until late at night, including yesterday, to combat terrorism. But you have to know 99.9% of Arab citizens are loyal to the State of Israel. It is only a very small minority acting out against.” 

“Therefore, the policy of the government of Israel should be a tough hand against terrorists, but extending a hand of embrace to faithful citizens. The hard line I wield against terrorists in the Cabinet will continue with new efforts in light of the security situation. But in my job as Economy Minister, I will not permit harm against any employee on the basis of religion or race. Something like that will not happen in Israel.”

Polls have consistently shown that Arab citizens of Israel want to stay, and not become part of any future Palestinian state. At the same time, they demand full equality, and not to be treated with suspicion by their Jewish neighbors and co-workers.

Palestinians criticize Temple Mount surveillance plan


Palestinian officials are opposing a plan to install 24-hour surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount.

Several Palestinian leaders criticized the proposal on Monday, Bloomberg News and Reuters reported.

“The placement of cameras in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is not only a violation of the status quo; it also enables Israel to exercise security control and provides it with more enhanced means of surveillance,” Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “Israel, as it has repeatedly done, will use it against the Palestinians and not against extremist Jewish settlers or Israeli officials.”

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on Voice of Palestine radio that the plan was “a new trap,” according to Reuters. Maliki accused Israel of planning to use the footage to arrest Muslim worshippers that it believes are “inciting” against it.”

The plan, which was announced by the United States on Saturday with support from Israel and Jordan, aims to deter violence at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the plan proposed by Jordan as a “game-changer.”

Netanyahu, Kerry at Berlin meeting call for end to incitement


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting in Berlin called for an end to incitement to violence against Israelis.

Netanyahu singled out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for blame.

“I think it’s time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas: Stop spreading lies about Israel. Lies that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, lies that Israel wants to tear down the Al-Aqsa mosque, and lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All that is false,” Netanyahu said Thursday in Germany.

Kerry did not assign any blame for the violence but said it and incitement had to stop. He also said that the leaders need to “settle on the steps that will be taken that take us beyond the condemnation and beyond the rhetoric” and move toward a larger peace process.

Deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis have sharply increased in recent weeks amid tensions over the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif, a Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims. Driving the tensions in part have been reports among the Palestinians that Israel is planning to alter the site, which houses a mosque compound. Abbas himself has made the charge, which Netanyahu vehemently denies.

Netanyahu also said that “Israel is acting to protect its citizens as any democracy would in the face of such wanton and relentless attacks.”

He is scheduled to meet in Berlin with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

Kerry is scheduled to meet over the weekend in Amman with Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Willful denial fueling conflict in Israel


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, not Adolf Hitler, was the architect of the Holocaust which killed six million Jews, Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at the World Zionist Conference this week. The statement elicited a storm of condemnation from political allies and enemies alike who were concerned at the apparent attempt to rewrite history. But the Prime Minister’s comments merely highlight an ongoing habit by both Israelis and Palestinians to ignore facts or to interpret history in a manner which pushes their own political narrative.

Haj Amin Al-Husseini did meet with Hitler but only in November 1941, after the Final Solution had already begun, Dina Porat, the head historian at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, told The Media Line.

“The Final Solution was in Hitler’s mind – it was his obsession – since World War One. He wrote about it in Mein Kampf,” Porat said. Although the Mufti did ask Hitler to extend the genocide into the Middle East, to suggest that he gave the idea to the German leader was “not accurate,” she concluded.

The Prime Minister’s comments have been viewed by some analysts as an attempt to tie Palestinians, and their efforts to realize a sovereign state, to the genocidal policies of the Nazis for political gain.

The rewriting of history is also coming from the Palestinian side. Although Palestinians have killed ten Israelis in stabbing and shooting attacks this month, some of which have been captured on video, many ordinary Palestinians say the attacks never happened and videos were doctored. Arab media frequently underreports these events and instead focuses on the deaths of the attackers, who are often presented as blameless.

“Palestinians are assassinated for no reason. Most of the cases of people who were killed were innocent people who did not commit any crime,” Mustafa Barghouti, the general Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative (PNI), told The Media Line. “The fact that Israel claims that they were trying to stab people is nothing but a lie,” Barghouti, whose PNI attempts to be a third, democratic alternative to the main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, said.

Along with the ten Israelis killed in a wave of attacks perpetrated mostly by teenage Palestinians from east Jerusalem, 47 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces or civilians. Of these, 25 have been identified as attackers, and others killed either during protests or trying to cross from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Despite a number of videos online appearing to show Palestinians attacking Israelis with knives, axes, and cars, Barghouti refused to accept any Palestinian deaths.

When preventing a terrorist attack, “you don’t shoot (the perpetrator) ten times. Or shoot them and then leave them on the ground bleeding to death,” the physician and politician said. When asked under what circumstances it was acceptable for Israel police to use lethal force, Barghouti declined to elaborate, and said only “any attack is unjustified in general, who ever does it, without exception.”

Last week Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has not condemned any of the stabbing attacks, infuriated Israelis further. Abbas claimed that thirteen year-old Ahmad Manasra, who had stabbed and seriously wounded a 13-year-old Israeli boy, had been executed by security forces. In fact, Manasra was taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment and is recovering.

In other incidents, Palestinian media has a tendency to report additional information which strive to explain the attacks as actions other than terrorist activity. For example, a Palestinian woman who stabbed an Israeli man in Jerusalem’s Old City was reported to have done so because he attempted to snatch off her headscarf, which Palestinian women wear in modesty.  In a second incident, in which a female Palestinian driver apparently detonated a vehicle borne improvised explosive device, Palestinian media claimed that the car’s electric system had caused a fire.

For their part, Israelis have rejected any claims that soldiers may have used disproportionate force against Palestinian attackers.

Mustafa Barghouti singled out the recent cases of Fadi Alon and Asraa Abed. Alon was shot and killed, Asraa was shot and wounded. In both cases, video footage does not appear to show either as posing a direct imminent threat at the time of their shooting. It is also not clear that they were trying to carry out a terrorist attack.

In the videos, Abed, a young Israeli Arab mother, appeared more confused than aggressive and has previously been treated for mental issues. Alon, 19, was involved in a scuffle with right-wing Israeli activists at 4 am, and it has been suggested he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The danger of such a possibility was highlighted by the death of Habtom Zarhum, an Eritrean asylum seeker who died after being shot and then beaten by a crowd. A security guard at the Beersheba bus station misidentified Zarhum as a terrorist during an attack by an Israeli Bedouin man that left one dead and eleven others injured. Video footage of an Israeli soldier and a number of civilians kicking the Eritrean man and dropping furniture on him as he lies semi-conscious have elicited anger in Israel and prompted an investigation.

Suggestions of Israeli unlawful killings were strongly rejected by Shmuel Sandler, a professor of politics with the Begin Sadat Center. “They come to kill us, we protect ourselves and you call this extra-judicial killings. I don’t understand it,” Sandler said. He rejected the use of the word Palestinian, arguing that no state called Palestine ever existed in history.

“I want the media to be more objective – you don’t take the liar – the killer – and tell both (sides of the) stories,” Sandler said. Hatred towards Jews was the only motivation behind recent attacks, the professor concluded.

This was in line with previous comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu who rejected poverty in east Jerusalem neighborhoods, and a lack of a political progress in the conflict, as motivating factors for Israeli attacks against Israeli civilians.

“There are two narratives here and each side is promoting its (version) – it’s not just part of propaganda, people really believe in their narrative,” David Tal, a historian with the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, told The Media Line. The different political tales told in each camp don’t merely add fuel to ongoing tensions but are the foundations for the conflict, Tal said. Willful denial of the other side’s beliefs is an ongoing part of this process.

“The first thing is that if you have a propaganda weapon you can use, then you use it,” Tal explained, adding that Palestinians and Israelis were equally guilty of this. In such circumstances, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians will believe in their rhetoric even if their leaders do not.

In the case of Mamoud Abbas’s claim that Ahmed Manasra was killed, video evidence showed the President to be wrong. But in many other cases evidence will not be so clear cut and people will choose to stick to their pre-existing beliefs about the other side, Tal concluded.

Netanyahu later clarified his comments regarding the Mufti. “I had no intention of absolving Hitler from his diabolical responsibility for the annihilation of European Jews,” the Prime Minister said, ironically on his way to a visit to Germany and a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The ‘Tweetifada’ hits Facebook with graphic videos of violence


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Facebook feeds of Israelis and Palestinians are being swamped with videos claiming to offer the “truth” of the series of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis that have left seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians dead this month.

On social media some are calling it a “tweetifada.” This is a play on the Palestinian term for uprising, Intifada, and a nod to the videos and images that are being posted on social media on an hourly basis. During the Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, the internet was just emerging as a medium and a smartphone was unheard of. But today everything is recorded and uploaded quickly to the internet.

“There are videos circulating in two different networks…both sides in the conflict and their supporters… are distributing videos that they think make their case stronger,” Nicholas John, from the department of Communications at Hebrew University, told The Media Line. This is not a new field in the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but what is different is the instantaneous speed with which images can spread.

The second change is the unfiltered images swamping social media.

“(This) completely bypasses any kind of censorship… we are exposed now to far more gruesome images than we would have seen on the news,” John suggested. This reduces the distance people feel from the violence, making it seem more real and intimidating, he said. Such was the case with the video below.

13th October Vehicle Attack in Jerusalem

The feelings of young Palestinians viewing images and videos online, “range from pride to fear to excitement to a feeling of abandonment,” Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and columnist for Al-Monitor, told The Media Line. Three quarters of Palestinians are under the age of 29, and many are active on Facebook.

Videos being shared among Palestinian social media users tend to fall into three areas, Kuttab suggested. Those showing clashes between protestors and Israeli security forces; those showing alleged brutality by the Israeli military; and those demonstrating what Palestinians see as peaceful resistance by an underdog towards heavily armed Israeli soldiers. Of the most popular recent videos, Kuttab said, shows an elderly Palestinian man in a red headscarf scolding soldiers in Hebron for firing their weapons at Palestinian children. These videos show a “young person or a woman ignoring the fact that these men are very well armed and shouting at them – it gives people a sense of pride,” the journalist explained.

Inevitably, interpretations over what a video is showing and the context of the incident come down to the eye of the beholder. “We have this idea that a photograph (or video) should somehow tell us the truth of what actually happened but we know it hasn’t always,” John explained.

Shooting of Fadi Alon

The above video shows an incident where a 19 year-old Palestinian from Isawiya, Fadi Alon, was shot and killed by Israeli police on October 4. Two conflicting accounts of what happened immediately prior to the incident have immerged.

In the Israeli version, Alon stabbed and injured an Israeli and was neutralized by police in their efforts to end an ongoing terrorist attack.

In the Palestinian explanation, Alon scuffled with right-wing Jewish activists he encountered while they were marching in the street, shouting racist slogans. As the fight escalated police arrived and, urged on by the Jewish youths, shot the teenager while he posed no immediate threat to those around him.

Such differences of interpretations, and the narratives used to push them, make up a large part of the information being exchanged on networks like Facebook. People frequently view information that reinforces their existing political views.

Videos which clearly show Palestinians attacking Israeli civilians are shared less frequently on Palestinian social media networks, Kuttab suggested. When they are, an explanation is given for the action. “(The) narrative is described as attacks against settlers and soldiers, not against innocent civilians – “settler” is code word for justifiable resistance,” the journalist explained.

Israel conquered east Jerusalem in 1967 and immediately annexed it. Israelis see it as part of their capital; Palestinians as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Most of the 300,000 Palestinians who live in the city do not have citizenship, but their Jerusalem residency entitles them to Israeli health insurance and social security. Young Palestinians from east Jerusalem have been overwhelmingly responsible for the current wave of stabbings and shootings of Israeli Jews.

Some Palestinians view the stabbings as an understandable response to the ongoing violence of the Israeli “occupation”, Kuttab argued, asking, “Do people think these guys are heroes? Yes, they are heroes. We are an underdog population using low technology against an occupying power.”

Increasingly not just the opinions of the street but government narrative is also being pushed through videos and social media. The Israeli Government Press Office responded to allegations by Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas that Israel had “executed” a 13 year old Palestinian who stabbed two Israelis. Israel released a video showing a nurse feeding the youth jello in an Israeli hospital.

There are also the funny videos – often using black humor. Following a video showing an Israeli policewoman pointing her weapon at a Palestinian attacker in northern Israel while continuing to hold her ice cream in one hand, social media responded with the final video.

Ice Cream Satire

Israel slams Palestinian Authority incitement


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Jerusalem was quiet on Wednesday, a day after Palestinian attackers killed three Israelis and wounded more than 12 others. Police said that in the late afternoon, a young Palestinian attempted to stab an Israeli policeman near the Old City, and the attacker was shot and killed. The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported he was 14 years old. In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, another young Palestinian was killed in a clash with Israeli soldiers.

The Rami Levy supermarket chain, which has branches in the West Bank, and which employs both Jews and Palestinians, announced it would stop selling knives in its stores, according to the Israel National News website.

In Jerusalem, Israel deployed hundreds of extra police and sent army units to major cities to beef up forces. Israel also sealed off several Palestinian neighborhoods and police checked Palestinian ID’s throughout the city.

Israeli officials went on the offensive against the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of systematic incitement against Israel.

“What sends young people out with butcher knives to attack Israelis?” Dore Gold, Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry asked a news conference? “It emanates from incitement, particularly religious incitement. The incitement surrounds the false accusation that Israel seeks to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.”

Gold was referring to a Jerusalem site that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. Palestinian attackers, who have killed seven Israelis this month, have been fueled by rumors that Israel wants to change the status quo at the site, which allows Jews to visit but not to pray there.

“We said and I am repeating it now in the name of the Israeli government and Prime Minister,” Minister for Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz told the news conference. “We are committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount. We are defending the holy sites of religions in Jerusalem.”

Steinitz said that the young Palestinian attackers, using knives, have been inspired by Islamic State’s beheadings in Syria and Iraq.

He charged that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is behind the current wave of incitement, quoting statements by Abbas in September saying “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem,” and “They (Israelis) have no right to desecrate the al-Aqsa mosque with their filthy feet.”

Steinitz says that statements like these can be directly connected to the violent attacks.

“We hear again and again the slogan, “Itbah al-yahud”, “Kill the Jews, knife the Jews, death to the Jews in the name of Allah, in the name of defending Islam, in the name of defending the al-Aqsa mosque,” he said. “This is not new. It’s just a new way of terrorism and violence and this time it’s totally clear that the main approach here is a religious approach – defending Islam against the enemy of the mosques, against the Jews.”

For their part, Palestinian officials have complaints against the way that Israel has handled the current wave of violence. Palestinian officials say that in several cases, Palestinian attackers were killed after they had already been subdued and when they no longer posed a threat.

“The occupation has spread a culture of hate and racism that justifies all kinds of atrocities, including collective punishment and cold-blooded executions,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement. “It’s the Israeli government that has made clear to the Palestinian people, both in actions and statements that they refuse to end their belligerent occupation and will do everything possible to erode the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

Steinitz dismissed these claims as nonsense, and said that in some cases Palestinians have tried to attack a second time, even after they were lying on the ground.

Israel announces new measures to stop Palestinian attacks


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Under pressure to stem attacks by Palestinians on Israeli citizens Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved plans to boost police numbers with the deployment of soldiers in Israel’s cities and to increase security checkpoints around Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Government officials also said they would take away the Jerusalem residency permits of terrorists, a move which must be approved by Israel’s Attorney General.

Outside Jabel Mukaber, home to two Palestinian men who conducted an attack which killed two Israelis and injured more than a dozen others, police checkpoints have already been set up, with other neighborhoods reportedly to follow.

Local residents and human right groups have expressed concerns that these security measures fail to reduce the risk of attacks and instead hamper the lives of ordinary Palestinians. They contend that will increase rather than reduce simmering tensions.

At some locations Israeli police set up concrete roadblocks instead of police search teams. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) expressed concern over the use of this tactic which could be longer-term.

“It is ok for the police to curtail freedom of movement for short periods of time for (something) specific. (If) there’s a stabbing on the street it’s acceptable to close the street for a few hours,” Ronit Sela, from ACRI, told The Media Line. Mass unrest such as an ongoing riot could necessitate sealing off a geographic location – a violent incident which was no longer occurring and had been carried out by an individual or small group did not, Sela explained.

Police previously closed off the entrances to whole Palestinian neighborhoods for extended periods of time, beginning last summer when tensions spiked after Palestinians kidnapped three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and Israeli extremists kidnapped and killed a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem.

ACRI’s concern is that rather than a targeted security measure the roadblocks are being used as a blanket punitive measure. The human rights organization received reports from community leaders in several different Arab neighborhoods stating that police had informed them checkpoints will continue until disturbances in their area ended, Sela said. The police are holding the neighborhood to account for what the teenagers living there are doing which is effectively collective punishment, the activist said.

Any notion of collective punishment was rejected by Micky Rosenfeld, the Israeli Police spokesperson.

“After recent terrorist attacks and recent disturbances a number of roadblocks have been set up – they’re temporary. They’re not closing off the neighborhood but they’re there in order to make sure that we can identify any suspicious vehicles,” Rosenfeld told The Media Line. Residents in neighborhoods with checkpoints at the entrance could still enter and leave freely, Rosenfeld said, pointing out that such procedures were standard police practice.   

But Palestinians say these moves just make life harder for Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are not involved in the violence.

“All the clashes are by teenagers, they don’t have cars and they don’t do attacks using cars. They’re on foot,” Hatem Khwess, a field researcher for the dovish organization Ir Amim and a Palestinian resident of the Mount of Olives, told The Media Line. Police checkpoints, or concrete blocks placed in the road, will not stop the young men involved in the disturbances.

A lack of investment in infrastructure by the Jerusalem Municipality in east Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods was to blame for the feeling of resentment held by the young generation towards Israeli police, Khwess said. “Look in the classrooms – what’s new?” Khwess argued.

Ir Amim and ACRI have both issued reports about a shortage of classrooms in Palestinian schools in east Jerusalem, and a lack of qualified teachers in some subjects. Israel’s deputy mayor Ofer Berkovich says he is aware of the gaps and the city is working hard to eliminate them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected any argument that linked Palestinian violence to frustrations within the Arab community. “Terrorism comes from the desire to annihilate us,” Netanyahu said during the opening of the winter session of parliament.

A motion to deploy army personnel into city centers across Israel was also approved by the Israeli cabinet, something that would represent a step up in security measures. Reports suggest that 300 Israeli Army personnel have been deployed to support police on the ground, though a spokesperson for the military would not comment on this. In Jerusalem’s city center small numbers of soldiers could be seen checking the identification of shoppers and residents, a role normally performed by the border police.

Other measures discussed by the cabinet have been the imposition of a curfew on Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city. Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called for not only a curfew but the imposition of full military rule in east Jerusalem if further unrest were to take place in the coming days.

Such measures were not likely to lead to an increase in security and could exasperate Palestinian residents, Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, told The Media Line. “These are measures which only make it more difficult for people to lead their daily lives (and) have no strategic significance,’ Herschman said. The director went on to say that a more effective short term solution to curbing attacks would be efforts to convince Palestinians that their “collective identity in the city” was not threatened.

 

Jerusalem’s population of 800,000 is about 64 percent Jewish and 36 percent Palestinian. Most of the Palestinians are not citizens, but carry the same type of ID cards as Jewish Israelis giving them freedom of movement throughout the city. Almost all of the attackers in the current wave of violence came from east Jerusalem.

Third intifada? The Palestinian violence is Israel’s new normal


Israelis have become accustomed to dismal news in the past few weeks – mornings and evenings punctuated by stabbings, car attacks and rock throwing.

The cycle of random violence has left dozens of Israelis and Palestinians dead, and many fearing the worst: The start of a third intifada, or armed Palestinian uprising, that could claim hundreds more lives.

But since the second intifada started in 2000, fears of a repeat have proved unfounded. Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories have changed since that time, and short bursts of low-level violence are the new normal.

“It’s a matter of days until this stops,” said Nitzan Nuriel, the former head of the prime minister’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau. “This has no goal. It will be forgotten. The reality is we have waves of terror. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.”

Israelis have been bracing for a third intifada ever since the second one ebbed to a close in 2005. Waves of terror have risen and fallen, along with concerns that the region is on the verge of another conflagration.

Most recently, a string of attacks in late 2014, including the murder of four rabbis in a synagogue, sparked talk of a third intifada. But those clashes died out after several weeks. Another rash of attacks came and went two years ago.

Now, after two weeks of near-daily attacks, some Israelis and Palestinians are already calling this string the third intifada. But during the past 15 years, Israel has created safeguards to keep Palestinian violence in check.

“Every night we have actions to detain people who are involved in terrorist activities,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner told JTA. “We have operational access at any given time to any place.”

After hitting a peak in 2002, attacks on Israelis waned the following year when Israel completed the first part of a security barrier near its pre-1967 border with the West Bank. Part fence and wall, the barrier has proved controversial. Its route cuts into the West Bank at points in what critics call an Israeli land grab. And the restrictions on Palestinian movement imposed by the barrier, as well as the fence around Gaza, have led some to call Gaza an open-air prison.

The separation barrier winding through the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israel's security barrier winding through the West Bank has proven controversial since it first started being built in the early 2000s. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90/JTA

Still, the barrier coincided with a sharp decrease in Israeli deaths from terrorism. Terrorists have infiltrated it repeatedly, but successful Palestinian terror attacks dropped 90 percent between 2002 and 2006. Militants attacking Israel from Gaza now shoot missiles over the barrier or dig tunnels under it.

The current wave of violence has mostly involved attacks in the shadow of the security barrier – either in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. Both are Palestinian population centers with easy access either to Jewish communities. A handful of stabbings have taken place in central Israel, perpetrated by Palestinians who were able to sneak across the barrier.

The unorganized, “lone wolf” attacks occurring across Israel have created an atmosphere of insecurity and tension, even as the attacks have been relatively small in scale. There’s a feeling, some say, that an attack could happen anywhere at any time.

“No one is in charge to say tomorrow we stop the attacks,” said Shimon Grossman, a medic with the ZAKA paramedical organization who is responding to the ongoing violence just as she did in the second intifada. “Whoever wants to be a shaheed [‘martyr’] takes a knife and stabs people.

“It’s very scary for people because they don’t know when the end will be, what will stop it. Last time people knew to stay away from buses. Now you don’t know who to be afraid of.”

Another significant obstacle to a third intifada has been the West Bank Palestinians themselves, who have worked with Israel for eight years to thwart terror attacks. In 2007, Hamas seized full control of the Gaza Strip, violently ousting the moderate Fatah party, which controls the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority.

Since that takeover, the P.A. and Israel have viewed Hamas as a shared enemy and coordinated on security operations aimed at discovering and arresting Hamas terror cells.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the ongoing violence. But Abbas has maintained security coordination with Israel through the clashes and has a history of opposing violence. Nuriel said that while Abbas is not to blame for the attacks, he stands to benefit from them.

“He has an interest for the conflict to get headlines,” Nuriel said. “He wants to show there’s chaos here. He wants to show it’s in places that Israel controls.”

But a majority of Palestinians are fed up with Abbas and oppose his stance on nonviolence. Rather, Palestinian society as a whole appears to support violence against Israelis. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research last week found that 57 percent of Palestinians support a return to an armed intifada, an increase of 8 percent from earlier this year. Half believe the P.A. has a mandate to stop security coordination with Israel, and two-thirds want Abbas to resign.

“This is an explosion of a whole generation in the face of the occupation,” said Shawan Jabareen, director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian civil rights group. “No one can say when it will stop unless people get hope that things will change. But if they see there’s no hope, I don’t know which way it will take.”

Even if the attacks continue, according to former Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, Israel will retain the upper hand. The best course of action, he wrote in a position paper this week, is to maintain current security operations and be cautious in using force.

“Now we no longer have to prove anything,” Amidror wrote in the paper for the Begin Sadat Center for Security Studies. “Israel is a strong, sovereign state, and as such it must use its force prudently, only when its results have proven benefits and only as a last resort.”