Oak Loeb, a protester with IfNotNow, is arrested at the Century City office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on March 17.

WATCH: Seven Jewish protesters arrested at AIPAC L.A. office


Seven Jewish protesters were arrested March 17 in the lobby of the Century City office tower that houses the Los Angeles office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The protesters, who were affiliated with IfNotNow, a progressive network of millennial Jews opposed to Israeli policy, were chanting and stomping their feet when they were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, according to Capt. Tina Nieto, area commanding officer for West L.A. for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

“We are here to say that we’ll occupy this building until AIPAC is ready to stop supporting the endless occupation in Israel-Palestine,” said Michal David, 26, an organizer for IfNotNow, while a small group of protesters marched in a circle and chanted on the sidewalk behind her.

According to David, the protesters arrived at 9 a.m. at the building and blocked off entrances for about 40 minutes, encouraging AIPAC employees to go home, “for a day of reflection.” By 10 a.m., those who were not prepared to be arrested had moved to the sidewalk.

“Shabbat shalom! AIPAC go home!” the seven protesters chanted inside, seated against a marble wall facing the entrance.

Outside, the protesters, who numbered fewer than 10, responded with chants and statements of their own, denouncing AIPAC’s role in “propping up military occupation” and “cozying up to David Friedman,” President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for ambassador to Israel.

David said they had not contacted AIPAC before the protest. “There’s no more room for conversations behind closed doors,” she said.

More than a dozen uniformed LAPD officers and six police cruisers were on hand for the arrests. Nieto said the building’s management called in a private person’s arrest, also known as a citizen’s arrest.

The activists inside the lobby continued chanting until police led them away in handcuffs around 11 a.m., while the protesters outside continued to sing and look on. From there, they were taken to LAPD’s West L.A. Community Police Station, where anybody without an outstanding warrant would be cited and released, Nieto said.

The protesters ranged in age from 20 to 31 and hailed from L.A. and the Bay Area, according to IfNotNow.

On Sunday, IfNotNow is planning another, larger protest at AIPAC’s Century City office, to coincide with the L.A. Marathon, whose route passes AIPAC’s office.

AIPAC declined to comment for this story.

Protesters rally against media coverage of Israel


The offices of the Los Angeles Times were closed to the public Nov. 1, but that did not stop a group of about 40 demonstrators — many of them Jewish high-school students — from expressing their outrage at how the newspaper has been covering the recent wave of violence in Israel.

“I’m really upset about what the media has been saying — not just the L.A. Times, but many media outlets,” Danielle Younai, a junior at de Toledo High School in West Hills, told the Journal at the Sunday rally.

The 16-year-old, who carried a sign featuring a blown-up version of the Oct. 10 Times article headlined “Four Palestinian teens are killed in Israeli violence,” denounced how the media have portrayed “Palestinians as victims, when they are the ones stabbing.” 

For several weeks, deadly incidents have taken place in Israel almost daily, many of them involving knife attacks by Palestinians on Jews. Israeli authorities have responded with lethal force in many cases.

Reacting to what he sees as unbalanced media coverage of the aforementioned events, Milken Community Schools senior Joseph Levy organized this past weekend’s demonstration outside the L.A. newspaper’s downtown office at the intersection of First and Spring streets. 

“We feel like there’s a lot of media bias and that this pushes people against Israel and also pushes some people to be a little anti-Semitic,” Levy said in a phone interview before the event. “So we want the media outlets to give more honest news about Israel and what’s going on there, so they really give people an opportunity to understand the conflict and [how] it’s not all one-sided, and there are two sides to it.” 

Another Jewish high school represented at the event was Harkham GAON Academy (formerly Yeshiva High Tech).  

Rabbi Menachem Weiss, director of the Israel Center at Milken Community Schools and an associate rabbi at Nessah Synagogue, turned out as well. Equipped with a megaphone, he led fiery chants that included, “Stand for truth, cancel L.A. Times.”

The rabbi spoke out against the newspaper, as well as the new ABC drama “Quantico.” It features a character who is an Israeli soldier and who expresses remorse for actions he took in the Gaza Strip. Weiss said the show misrepresents the responsibility Israel bears for the violence between Israel and the Palestinians. 

“The most popular show on television today is brainwashing our teenagers and our young adults, our college students who are watching this show,” he said of the ABC program, speaking into his megaphone. (The Zionist Organization of America has released a statement denouncing the television show as well.)

The rally began at 1 p.m. and lasted for three hours. It drew the attention of two Los Angeles Police Department officers who were on the scene, parked about one block from the demonstration. 

“It’s a permitted demonstration, so we’re just making sure they’re safe,” one of the officers said, declining to provide his full name. 

On Nov. 8, a pro-Israel rally named “Stand With Israel” is scheduled to take place at the Federal Building in Westwood, a more popular locale for such demonstrations and the site of a large rally opposing the Iran deal this past July. The rally, which is being organized by a group that includes Miss International Israel 2012 Yael Markovich, is scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Last weekend, many cars driving by honked in support of the demonstrators. Levy, who is a member of his school’s Israel advocacy club, said he organized the demonstration as a way to galvanize support for the Jewish state among his peers.

“We’re trying to get youth to act on what we feel is unjust in the media. We have a club at our school. … We want to teach students skills they can take with them to college … for whatever causes they want to advocate,” he said.

Others who turned out Sunday to express outrage at the media included Sharona Hassidim, a young Iranian-American Jew who graduated from UCLA and who said she is looking to become a physician’s assistant. At one point, she joined with Henri Levy, 55, Joseph’s Levy’s father, a French Jew based in Beverly Hills, and together they carried a large sign denouncing not only the Los Angeles Times but also the BBC, The New York Times, CNN, ABC and others. The sign culminated with the words, “Stop unfair international media bias against Israel.”

“I think the media are totally against Israel for no reason,” Henri Levy said. “They lie about the situation in Israel.”

Ethiopian-Israelis, police clash at Tel Aviv protest against racism and brutality


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A demonstration by hundreds of Ethiopian-Israelis and their supporters in Tel Aviv against racism and police brutality turned violent.

The demonstrators marched to Rabin Square, where clashes with police broke out on Monday evening, resulting in arrests, The Jerusalem Post reported. Rabin Square was the site of previous protests by Ethiopian-Israelis, including one in May that turned violent.

Prior to the clashes, two demonstrators were arrested for blocking a road in central Tel Aviv, according to Israel Police.

The protest began in the afternoon in part also to protest the decision by Israel’s attorney general to close the case against the Israeli police officer who was caught on camera beating an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier without charges.

The demonstrators said they will continue their protests until they see changes, according to reports.

Hours earlier, Israel Police released the findings of a special committee made up of police and representatives of the Ethiopian-Israeli community to address the community’s needs and the areas of police responsibility.

The committee investigated 300 cases involving Ethiopian-Israeli juveniles and found no evidence of discrimination or violation of their rights. The report recommended that police officers undergo cultural training to better understand the Ethiopian community, to work to increase the number of Ethiopian-Israelis who serve on the police force and to have Amharic speakers in police stations in areas with a high concentration of Ethiopian residents.

There are 663 Ethiopian-Israel police officers, or 2.3 percent of the force. Ethiopians make up about 2 percent of the Israeli population.

SlutWalk through the Holy City


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Six young women stroll down King George Street less than a mile from the holy sites in the old city of Jerusalem, topless apart from a couple of strategically placed Xs of electrical tape. They sport political slogans dabbed across their stomachs – not a common site in the center of Jerusalem. The city’s fourth rendition of the SlutWalk movement aimed to be noticed.

“Every woman gets sexually harassed during her lifetime, at least once,” Shoshan Veber, one of the organizers of the protest, told The Media Line. SlutWalks are a protest against the blaming of victims of rape and the belief that women’s dress or actions cause the violence and harassment that is directed towards them daily, Veber said, asking – “Is it possible that every one of us is a slut?”

SlutWalks started in protest to comments made by a Canadian police officer in 2011 suggesting that if women didn’t want to be raped then they should not dress like sluts. Annual protests take place in a number of countries.

In Jerusalem, it felt like a party as the protestors met in the center of the city. A drum band played and chants of “No, means no,” rang out through a downtown square. Many of the protestors had come dressed wearing less than might be expected for a walk through the center of Jerusalem, with its population of observant Jews, Christians and Muslims. In the minutes before the march began protestors took time to paint slogans on each other: “Yes = Yes.”

“This walk says that it’s not our responsibility and not our doing when women are raped or sexually abused – it is the rapists’ fault.” Veber said. The finger should be pointed at him and not at his victim, the nineteen year old organizer said.

When it comes to the gender gap, Israel was ranked 65 out of 142, by the World Economic Forum a few places behind Thailand, but slightly in front of Italy.

“In terms of legislation on sexual harassment and human trafficking,” Israel is progressive Keren Greenblatt, a legal advisor to the Israel Women’s Network, told The Media Line. However in other areas, “marriage, divorce… enforcement and sexual and domestic violence, we are very much behind.”

Marriage and divorce are controlled by Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate, and there civil marriage does not exist. Domestic violence and familial murders are also more likely to happen amongst traditionally conservative communities; whereas teenage rape and discrimination or harassment in the work place are more prevalent among populations where women are integrated in school and in the work place, she said.

In many regards Israel suffers from the same problems as much of the rest of the world, Greenblatt said, including “discrimination of mothers and pregnant women, economic participation, sexual assault in campuses and schools, pay gap, access to healthcare and family planning.” Despite some areas for concern, Greenblatt said she was optimistic with the direction Israel is going in and that she believed the country’s legislators understood the necessity of pushing the country towards gender equality.

The SlutWalk which passed along Jerusalem’s busiest thoroughfare, at times held up the city’s light rail tram and certainly caught residents and shoppers’ attentions. The organizers estimated that around a thousand people attended. A high proportion of those marching were young women, in their late teens and early twenties.

Veber stressed that the march’s message – that is it wrong to blame the victim – is universal.

“This is not something specific for Jerusalem, it’s a worldwide problem,” she said, pointing out that the same issues could be found in London, Berlin, or elsewhere.

Other protestors disagreed, claiming that women in Jerusalem were under greater pressure than might be seen in less religious locations.

“I have noticed a certain amount of religiously based victim blaming,” Shiraz, a young woman who asked not to give her last name, told The Media Line. “I went to a religious school and once – (when) we were fourteen – our Hebrew teacher gave a lesson in class (where) she told us that if a woman dresses provocatively and she gets raped it’s her fault.”

This sort of message was not unusual during her education, said Shiraz as she distributed flyers to passersby. Not a part of the organizing team, Shiraz said she had volunteered to hand out information leaflets, because she believed strongly in the message of the march.

Women in Israel also buy into blaming the victim, she said.

As the protest marched down the street shoppers and residents stood and stared. Some were visibly shocked, others simply curious. Bystanders had a mixed reaction to the protest, Shiraz explained: some were offended and shouted at the protestors while others expressed sympathy for the march’s cause, after its purpose was explained to them.

“Your parents would be proud!” shouted a young Jewish man sarcastically as he filmed protestors marching past, on his phone. “I think it’s very good that women have respect for their own body but to walk around naked in the street in Jerusalem that also shows a big lack of respect,” the young man, an Australian named David, told The Media Line. “If they want to walk around half dressed – sweet – but to not wear anything at all… to wear no bra or anything else in the streets of Jerusalem….,” he said, shaking his head.

David said he sympathized with the point of the protest but thought a march through the streets was sufficient to make their point – the nudity was unnecessary and could offend religious Jerusalemites. “I mean it’s a very holy city,” he said.

The question of what defines violence towards women remains central to the issue of gender equality. The members of the SlutWalk through Jerusalem argued that harassment in the street and society’s tendency to question the morality of rape victims perpetuates attacks against women.

But violence does not just constitute physical attacks, Nurit Kaufmann, Head of the Women’s International Zionist Organization’s Violent Matters Department, told The Media Line. “When you have been beaten you know you are a victim,” she said. But when the violence is psychological – controlling behavior or a systematic erosion of a partner’s sense of self-worth – it can be just as harmful and even longer lasting.

Others would argue that harassment in the workplace was equally significant with a study from 2011 showing that 11.4% of female workers in Israel said that they had been harassed. Of these nearly one in ten said they left the job because of the unwanted attention.

Keren Greenblatt argues that it goes deeper than this, that discrimination towards women starts at birth. Many of the protestors at the SlutWalk were young women because harassment in the street was the form of discrimination they had experienced. But for many of them inequality in the work place or violence at home were a real possibility as they aged, Greenblatt said.

“The protests should be starting from infancy, where the discrimination and gendered education begin, and continue all the way through to discrimination in retirement pensions and women's poverty in the senior ages.”

3,000 women hold peace demonstration outside Knesset


Three thousand women protested outside the Israeli Knesset calling for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

The protest Wednesday was held by Women Wage Peace, an Israeli organization founded after last summer’s war in Gaza that supports a peace agreement. According to the Times of Israel, the group has 7,000 members.

At the protest, the women formed a circle around the Knesset and chanted “It’s reality, not a dream, women make peace.” They also sang “A Song for Peace,” which Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sang at a rally shortly before his assassination in 1995.

“It’s time for us to be part of the dialogue that revolves around security and peace,” Yael Elad, head of the organization’s press team, told the Times of Israel. “We sense that women disappear from the public space when you look at TV panels or listen to radio shows. This place is reserved for generals or politicians, but never for women.”

Call for protest spurs Arab groom, Jewish-born bride to hire security for party


An Arab man and his Jewish-born bride hired 14 security guards for their wedding celebration in Israel in response to an anti-intermarriage Jewish group’s call for a protest rally at the hall.

Mahmoud Mansour, who is Muslim, and Morel Malka, who recently converted to Islam, reportedly are concerned for their safety at Sunday’s event in Rishon Lezion after the group, Lehava, posted photographs of their invitation on social media and urged protesters to rally outside the hall with megaphones and banners, the NRG news site reported.

Police said they will send personnel to the area to prevent any disturbance.

The couple is already legally married, according to Haaretz; the Sunday reception is merely a celebration. The groom’s parents and bride’s mother reportedly support the union.

Bentzi Gupstein, the chairman of Lehava, told NRG that his group was particularly upset about the wedding because of this summer’s escalation in tensions between Hamas and Israel.

“We are still at war and she is marrying a member of the enemy,” he said.

Mansour, of Jaffa, is an Israeli citizen. Gupstein said he was also angry that the wedding is taking place in Rishon Lezion, one of many cities targeted by rockets from Gaza this summer.

The father of the bride told Israel’s Channel 10 in an interview that he did not know about the relationship until recently and that he plans to boycott the wedding, the Times of Israel reported.

“I never dreamed that my daughter would marry an Arab,” he said. “I’m not going, period.”

The banquet hall management said several people have called to criticize the hall for hosting the event, while others have made threats, Haaretz reported.

A year of haredim taking to Jerusalem’s streets


A bus of black hats, whispered prayers and gender-segregated seating.

A mass of haredi Orthodox men — and some women — walking slowly together, packing the streets of northern Jerusalem.

Hundreds of thousands of voices wailing prayers of penitence, portraying a recent event as a tragedy beyond measure — and vowing to rededicate themselves to their way of life.

Something told me I’d been there before.

Since last spring, mass gatherings of haredi Israelis in Jerusalem have punctuated Israel’s news cycle. Last May, thousands of haredi men and women packed the Western Wall Plaza in a show of force against a ruling to allow Women of the Wall to pray there undisturbed. In October, some 800,000 people — 10 percent of the country — turned out for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardic sage.

And on Sunday, 300,000 haredi Israelis filled Jerusalem’s streets, shutting down its roads and transit, to protest the advancement of a bill that would require them to join Israel’s mandatory military conscription in three years.

Each of these gatherings was different — the Western Wall protest was much smaller and grew violent, while today’s was large and peaceful; the funeral wasn’t a protest at all.

But all the gatherings shared key characteristics:

They all carried a feeling of dire urgency. Be it the death of a leader, the purported misuse of a holy space or the endangering of a core communal privilege, the haredim who showed up acted as if what was happening threatened not just the haredi lifestyle but the core of Jewish tradition.

They all centered on prayer. Both the funeral and today’s conscription protest included saying psalms and penitential prayers usually reserved for the High Holidays. And while a faction of the Western Wall protesters acted violently, the vast majority prayed quietly or as a group. In fact, months ago leading haredi Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman advocated prayer over protest to fight the conscription law.

They all alluded to Jewish history. No matter the cause, the attendees portrayed themselves as another iteration of previous Jewish tragedy. Signs today compared the conscription law to slavery in Egypt, the Purim story (before the happy ending) or even the Holocaust. A few Western Wall protesters also had no problem calling Women of the Wall “Nazis.” And several eulogizers at the funeral compared Yosef’s death to the prophet Elijah’s.

They all had the endorsement of leading haredi rabbis. Leading rabbis from several haredi sects endorsed the Western Wall and conscription protests — turning out their followers in large numbers. All stripes of the haredi community paid tribute to Yosef’s memory. Several protesters at today’s demonstration said they came because their grand rabbis told them to.

Finally, none of the predictions made at these gatherings are likely to happen. Protesters at the Western Wall said they would not allow Women of the Wall to pray in peace; now, the group has the legal right to pray at the site and encounters minimal protest at its monthly gatherings. After the Yosef funeral, expert observers predicted a rift in the rabbi’s Shas political party that has yet to break open. And despite the haredi protestations today, the conscription law is expected to pass.

Haredim can exercise significant communal solidarity, and turning out large numbers for protests is one of their principal strengths. It’s likely due to the strength of their potential activism that the conscription bill is relatively cautious — not enforcing the haredi draft until 2017. Whatever happens, today’s protest demonstrated that while they may not be able to change a law, they can shut down Israel’s largest city for half a day.

Longtime Women of the Wall members protest Robinson’s Arch decision


Ten longtime members of Women of the Wall are protesting the organization’s recent decision to meet at the Robinson’s Arch area next to the Western Wall Plaza.

In a public statement Friday, the protesting members said the Women of the Wall board betrayed the group’s fundamental mission with its decision earlier in the week.

“We remain committed to the Kotel, the place sanctified by the memory, prayers, and hopes of Jews for 2,000 years,” read the statement, using the wall’s Hebrew name. “We remain unalterably committed to the right of all Jewish women to pray together in the ezrat nashim [women’s section] at the Kotel with tallit and tefillin, reading from the Torah scroll.”

The board had decided by majority vote to agree in principle to pray at the Robinson’s Arch area next to the Western Wall Plaza should the government meet several of the group’s demands.

Until then, the group, which meets at the beginning of each Jewish month for a prayer service in the women’s section of the Western Wall, will continue praying in the women’s section.

Officials from Women of the Wall told JTA that the decision to conditionally embrace Robinson’s Arch was motivated by concern over possible legal and legislative challenges. Members of Knesset have been attempting to pass legislation restricting the group’s rights.

The pushback against the group’s decision has exposed significant divisions within Women of the Wall — between advocates of pragmatism and pure ideology, between activists in Israel and North America, and between the group’s current and past leaders. All but two of the opposing statement’s 10 signatories live in the United States and Canada.

“This is a useful way of having the group pay attention to what we’re saying,” said Phyllis Chesler, a founder of Women of the Wall who lives in New York. “What we’re hoping for is a more transparent and democratic process that will clarify what the basic vision and principles are of this group.”

Women of the Wall’s leadership, including Chairwoman Anat Hoffman, long opposed moving the group to Robinson’s Arch – a solution first proposed in a Supreme Court ruling 10 years ago. Hoffman had called it “the back of the bus” and insisted on the group’s right to stay in the women’s section.

But with the government moving forward on a plan to expand and renovate Robinson’s Arch for use by non-Orthodox prayer groups, the board voted 9-2 to accept the Robinson’s Arch solution should it fulfill several criteria — among them that the new section equal the existing plaza in size, budget and facilities and be overseen by a pluralist body of Jewish leaders.

The vote allows Women of the Wall to negotiate with the government over the area’s layout and management, and puts it in line with the Reform and Conservative movements, which support the plan.

Hoffman suggested that some of the signatories are not as sensitive to pragmatic concerns.

“It’s fine that people who are not close to these challenges voice their opinion, the pure ideological opinion,” Hoffman said. “It’s easier for them and it’s good that we hear it. It’s an advantage that they’re far from the political differences.”

Chesler called Hoffman “dictatorial.”

“None of us in the Diaspora were on the board, and I don’t think that’s right,” she said. “These signatories are significant players in the history of this struggle, and none of them are on the board. Many of the Diaspora women are in Israel very often. Jews are coming and going.”

Grenades fired in Cairo, troops killed near Suez Canal after protesters die


Suspected militants killed six Egyptian soldiers near the Suez Canal and fired rocket-propelled grenades at a state satellite station in Cairo on Monday, suggesting an Islamist insurgency was gathering pace three months after an army takeover.

Dozens of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed in clashes with security forces and political opponents on Sunday, one of the bloodiest days since the military deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.

The death toll from that day's violence across the country rose to 53, state media said, with 271 people wounded.

The Brotherhood denies the military's charges that it incites violence and says it has nothing to do with militant activity, but further confrontations may shake Egypt this week, with Mursi's supporters calling protests for Tuesday and Friday.

They are likely to be angered by the publication of an interview with Egypt's army chief on Monday in which he said he told Mursi as long ago as February he had failed as president.

Sunday's clashes took place on the anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel — meant to have been a day of national celebration. The countries signed a peace agreement in 1979.

Authorities had warned that anyone protesting against the army during the anniversary would be regarded as an agent of foreign powers, not an activist – a hardening of language that suggested authorities would take a tougher line.

The Muslim Brotherhood accused the army of staging a coup and working with security forces to eliminate the group through violence and arrests, allegations the military denies.

Sinai-based militants have stepped up attacks on the security forces since the army takeover and assaults like that in Cairo's Maadi suburb fuel fears of an Islamist insurgency like one in the 1990s crushed by then President Hosni Mubarak.

Two people were wounded in the attack on the state-owned satellite station while medical sources said three were killed and 48 injured in a blast near a state security building in South Sinai. A witness said it was caused by a car bomb.

“Unidentified people opened fire on a satellite receiver station in the neighborhood of Maadi in Cairo,” the Ministry of Interior said in a statement. Security sources said assailants fired two rocket-propelled grenades at the site.

Security sources said gunmen opened fire on the soldiers in Ismailia while they were sitting in a car at a checkpoint near the city on the Canal, a vital global trade route.

TOURISM HIT

Traffic flowed freely in the centre of Cairo where Sunday's clashes had taken place and state radio said security forces were in control of the country.

But attacks in Cairo like Monday's on the satellite station could do further damage to Egypt's vital tourism industry.

David Hartwell, a Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's, said more explosive devices seemed to be being used in the capital.

“It suggests that Sinai groups are infiltrating in greater numbers in to northern Egypt,” he said. “Either these groups are expanding out of Sinai, he said, “or the capabilities that they have is being used by other groups that may or not be affiliated with the Brotherhood.”

Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has promised a political roadmap that would lead Egypt to free and fair elections, said in the interview published on Monday that Egypt's interests differed from those of the Brotherhood.

“I told Mursi in February you failed and your project is finished,” privately-owned newspaper al-Masry al-Youm quoted Sisi as saying.

Militant attacks, including a failed assassination attempt on the interior minister in Cairo in September, are deepening uncertainty in Egypt along with the power struggle between the Brotherhood and the army-backed government.

Neither side seems willing to pursue reconciliation, raising the possibility of protracted tensions in U.S. ally Egypt.

Almost daily attacks by al Qaeda-inspired militants in the Sinai have killed more than 100 members of the security forces since early July, the army spokesman said on September 15.

Security forces smashed pro-Mursi protest camps in Cairo on August 14, killing hundreds of people. In an ensuing crackdown, many Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested in an attempt to decapitate Egypt's oldest Islamist movement.

The Brotherhood, which had proven highly resilient after previous crackdowns, has embarked on a strategy of staging smaller protests to avoid action by security forces.

Sisi denied Brotherhood allegations that the army had intended to remove Mursi through a coup, saying it had only responded to the will of the people.

Before Mursi's overthrow, Egyptians disillusioned with his year-long rule had held huge rallies demanding that he quit.

Last month, a court banned the Brotherhood and froze its assets, pushing the group, which had dominated elections held in Egypt after Mubarak's fall in 2011, further into the cold.

Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh and Maggie Fick; Writing by Michael Georgy

Israeli Arabs protest in Tel Aviv over Egypt violence


Dozens of Israeli Arabs protested in front of the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv following clashes in Egypt between government security forces and protesters backing deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

At least 149 protesters affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood were killed and more than 1,400 injured throughout Egypt on Wednesday after government security forces raided two major sit-in protests in Cairo early in the morning.

Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader, resigned in protest over the violence.

Following the raids, the Egyptian government, led by interim President Adly Mansou, declared a monthlong state of emergency. A nighttime curfew has been imposed on Cairo and other areas of the country.

The protesters in Tel Aviv were joined by Knesset member Ibrahim Tzartzur of the Arab Ra’am-Ta’al party.

“Our message is simple: We are here to condemn the attacks and the Egyptian coup in general,” Tzartzur told Ynet. “We are protesting against the bloodshed of those who protested quietly.”

A Jerusalem-based cameraman for Sky News, Mick Deane, 61, was killed in the violence.

A Jew and a Muslim? L.A.-based NewGround wants to show we can all get along


Most Jews and Muslims rarely talk — really talk — to one another. This is as true in the United States as elsewhere, a stark reality despite our nation’s vast diversity and the ability of so many different peoples to coexist. It is true also in Los Angeles, a city of strong ethnic identities, long drives and even longer cultural memories. 

Indeed, even here, the few encounters among Muslims and Jews often feel like head-on collisions: Protests and counter-protests — many triggered by events in and around Israel — are usually the most visible interactions, but they’re hardly the only instances of tension. 

Some recent examples: In June 2012, Pamela Geller, a New York-based Jewish blogger and co-founder of Stop the Islamization of America, an organization classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was barred at the last minute from speaking inside the headquarters of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — but not before local Muslim groups reportedly threatened to protest outside the Wilshire Boulevard building. 

In 2010, 11 Muslim students repeatedly heckled and interrupted Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren while he was speaking at UC Irvine, until the students were finally removed from the room. They were arrested, cited for disturbing a public event, and, the following year, 10 were convicted in a jury trial and sentenced to perform community service. 

Also in 2010, young supporters of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, who attended a fundraiser at the Shangri La Hotel in Santa Monica, sued the hotel owner for violating their civil rights and allegedly saying, “I don’t want … any Jews in my pool.”  In 2012 a jury awarded damages to the FIDF plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the incident.

In 2006, leaders of the city’s most prominent Jewish organizations opposed giving a Los Angeles County humanitarian award to Dr. Maher Hathout, who is among the local Muslim community’s most respected leaders, on grounds that he had once maligned Israel as a “racist, apartheid state.”

And each spring, the debate over what constitutes free speech at California universities is reignited on every campus that holds a so-called “Israel Apartheid Week” or considers a resolution to boycott companies doing business in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Although students are the ones speaking out on campuses — on both sides — often they are being coached and encouraged by much larger Jewish and Muslim organizations.

Within the Jewish community, even the simple act of acknowledging the shared humanity of Muslims and Jews can be perilous. In 2012, when the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip escalated into battle, Rabbi Sharon Brous, spiritual leader of IKAR, expressed sympathy for both Israelis and Palestinians in a message to her congregants and was immediately, fiercely and publicly attacked for doing so by Rabbi Daniel Gordis of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Gordis argued that when Israel is at war, Jews should express support only for the Jewish state. Hardliners in the Muslim community similarly silence moderate voices on their side, as well. 

And yet, as in Israel, Jews and Muslims in Southern California often live, if not side by side, then just down the road from one another. So it is not surprising that those few who attempt to cross the chasm separating these faiths and peoples often find that Muslims and Jews share not just the same neighborhoods, but many of the same values.

Enter NewGround, an L.A. group that has made its mission to bridge the gap. For the past five years, this emerging organization has been housed at the epicenter of the city — in Los Angeles City Hall — where it has been creating encounters among young Muslims and Jews. Its tactic is to prioritize conversation over solutions, active listening over public statements, allowing for honest exchange instead of superficial agreement. 

NewGround already has forged deep relationships within its ever-expanding, carefully nurtured community of Muslims and Jews. And while differing views may continue to persist, NewGround’s training allows participants to acknowledge the conflict taking place half a world away without letting it limit all discussions here. 

“NewGround was founded precisely to overcome the tendency for international conflict to disrupt relationships locally,” Rabbi Sarah Bassin, the group’s executive director, said. “We treat conflict as an inherent part of this relationship, as it is part of all relationships.”

Each year, NewGround trains a group of fellows from the Jewish and Muslim communities who spend months together before beginning to talk about hot-button topics like Zionism or the movement known as BDS, which seeks to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. Those topics are raised during the second of two weekend retreats, toward the end of the 10-month program, by which time the fellows have learned crucial new communication skills and covered the (not entirely safe) subject of religion. The delay can, at least initially, be frustrating for those who came to the program specifically to talk to their counterparts about Israel. 

“I didn’t trust the process; I thought it was a waste of time,” Eliana Kaya, a fellow from NewGround’s third cohort in 2010, said in an interview. She is now executive coordinator at reGeneration, a nonprofit that supports the progressive Waldorf method of education for Israelis and Palestinians. “I would go up [to the leaders] at the end of every session and say, ‘Yala, when are we going to get to the real stuff?’ ” 

Shukry Cattan, a member of the most recent fellowship class, also wondered about the program’s structure. “There was all this buildup, and, for me, I kept thinking, ‘OK, what is this? Why are we waiting to the end?’ ” said Cattan, who is of Palestinian descent. “I thought the conversation was going to happen sooner.”

But Kaya, a practicing Jew, and Cattan, the son of a Christian mother and a Muslim father, both came to see the value of having relationships with the other members of their cohort in place before beginning such a difficult conversation. 

“When it actually did happen, I understood the process,” Cattan said. “Having built that relationship with people and having seen each other — not even as Jews and Muslims — but people who have lives and stories to share, hearing people’s perspectives and each other’s very difficult experiences with the conflict — you couldn’t just walk away and dismiss that person’s story because you knew that person.”

Already, more than 100 Jewish and Muslim professionals, most in their 20s and 30s, have graduated from NewGround’s yearlong, intensive and innovative fellowship program, which teaches communication skills, builds friendships and gives members of each faith a window into the beliefs, practices and politics of the other. For its efforts, NewGround has received accolades and awards from the Jewish, Muslim and interfaith communities, and groups in other American cities have begun attempts to adapt the NewGround model for their own Muslim and Jewish communities. 

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nears its Aug. 7 close, the world is closely watching the first meetings between Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators in more than two years. Yet regardless of what happens on the international stage, there’s also hope in what’s happening on the ground here in Los Angeles, where NewGround is building a foundation for open, ongoing communication between adversaries. 

The members of NewGround’s 2013 young professionals fellowship cohort pose for a picture after receiving their certificates of recognition and appreciation from the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. Photo by http://cbacarellaphoto.com/

There are precedents, to be sure. In the 1990s, leaders of L.A.’s Muslim and Jewish communities met regularly under an umbrella known as the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue. Since 2006, a group of progressive Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith leaders have convened under the aegis of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative, for meetings and events. 

NewGround is itself the outgrowth of a partnership formed in the post-9/11 early 2000s between two L.A.-based nonprofits, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), whose leaders first hoped to convene other Jewish and Muslim leaders, but had little success. Rather than turn away in failure, they turned to younger Jews and Muslims — tomorrow’s leaders.

Morsi reportedly ousted by Army


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Egyptian state media reported Wednesday night that the army has deposed President Mohamed Morsi. Earlier, a meeting presided over by the Egyptian military that included representatives from political, religious and national groups was held on Wednesday evening. State media, citing anonymous sources, reported that the army deadline demanding President Morsi’s compliance with opposition demands had been extended in order to reach a peaceful conclusion among the diverse interests. By late evening, tanks were deployed in Cairo and elsewhere in an attempt to prevent chaos.

Rumors from inside Egypt’s military echelon speak of the creation of a ruling council that would include representatives of all relevant sectors – military, political, religious – and allow Morsi to remain in power with the promise of “early presidential elections once the constitution is re-written.”

The Egyptian military took control of state television on Wednesday as the army’s ultimatum to President Mohamed Morsi to reach an agreement with his opponents approached. Morsi issued a plea for calm in remarks aired on Egyptian TV Tuesday night, but his rejection of the army's 48-hour threat to intercede appears only to have heightened tensions in the street with the president offering his people an olive branch that few were prepared to accept.

The situation remained fluid Wednesday morning as the Egyptian people were watching and contemplating the possibility of civil war.

After his speech, clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators resulting in the deaths of at least sixteen of his supporters who were camped out in front of Cairo University. “Heavy clashes are taking place and cars are on fire,” journalist Baher Ghorab told The Media Line.

[Related: Egypt army commander suspends constitution, appoints interim head of state]

Through Tuesday night, the army sought to maintain neutrality between the government and opposition, with no signs of intervention apparent.

“Morsi defied the army's 48-hour ultimatum given to all political factions in Egypt to find a resolution that benefits Egypt,” Egyptian Army Capt. Amr Tolba told the Media Line.

In his speech, the president was adamant in rejecting the ultimatum and asserted that he would remain in office.
Morsi also assured Egyptians that, “Egypt will sustain its production of food, its own defense, and maintain its natural resources.”

On the streets, however, it appeared to observers that the Egyptian people were uninterested in paying heed.  Huge crowds estimated as high as 25 million protesters poured out across the nation in what was the largest mass protest seen since the first day of the revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.

Sky News Arabia reported that anti-Morsi protesters in Alexandria had started blocking the railroad to Cairo, as the army’s deadline loomed.

Several  Morsi supporters interviewed by The Media Line said they are willing to pay with their lives to protect the legitimacy of Egypt's democracy and constitution.

“We will protect the president and those behind him, and if required we will seek martyrdom to protect the Islamic Project,” [referring to a plan calling for Islamic party rule throughout the region]. “We will not allow the immoral opposition to take this dream of a better life away from us,” demonstrator Hamdy Sayed told The Media Line.

On the other hand, liberals who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood's rule, are equally adamant.

“Morsi escaped from prison with the help of foreign militias. Egypt and Egyptians don't support terrorism or terrorists,” anti-Morsi demonstrator Yasmine Khatab told The Media Line from Tahrir Square.

Khatab was referring to the years Morsi spent in prison following allegations that he spied for a foreign country during the rule of Hosni Mubarak when the Moslem Brotherhood was outlawed. Morsi escaped at the beginning of the revolution that overthrew Mubarak in 2011, and in turn, accused the ousted president of corruption and of stifling democracy.

“Some people don't want democracy to succeed because it will not allow them to steal your money,” Morsi said in his rambling late-night speech on Tuesday.

The embattled president added that Egypt is an independent state with challenges that will take time to overcome, claiming that thirty-two families control most of Egypt's wealth. Morsi lamented that supporters of the old regime don't like the democratic experiment going on in the country now.

Morsi’s supporters argue that he was elected through a democratic process and should therefore remain in power.

“The opposition [at the time] shoved an election process in our face — 25 million Egyptians participated in the elections, and Morsi won. Now they are like kids who want to spoil a game because it doesn't go their way,” Mohammed Zahran, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, told The Media Line.

In an effort to defuse the on-going tension in his remarks, Morsi spoke of an initiative for reforms that would include reviewing the articles of the constitution many Egyptians oppose and of bringing a better government to serve their needs. He stressed that he will protect the constitution and will lead an open dialogue with opposition groups for the benefit of all Egyptians.

Morsi also urged Egyptians not to clash with anyone from the army. “The army is the backbone of Egypt and all Egyptians need to respect it and let it protect Egypt from foreign enemies. Don't confront the army and don't use violence against it,” the president admonished his constituents.

Egypt's key geopolitical position as the largest Arab country underscores its importance to the international community. It is the second-largest recipient of American foreign aid, just behind Israel with $3 billion annually. Some in Egypt fear that aid could be jeopardized if Egypt pursues an anti-democratic course.

Egyptians also stress their nation’s importance by referring to the Suez Canal, the vital waterway for global shipping; its strategic position bordering the Gaza Strip; and the importance the world community places in Egypt maintaining the Camp David peace treaty, in force since 1979.

There is concern that unless the Egyptian army remains vigilant and prevents chaos during the current crisis, the United States could reduce or retract its military support and find another player to help protect its interests in the region.

“The country is already divided between different religious and political factions; all they need are guns like in Libya,” Ahmed Seddik, a tour guide who voted for Morsi told The Media Line. He said that, “Egypt is lucky that Egyptians aren't that violent compared to places where similar revolutions took place.”

Egypt’s Morsi defies army as it plots future without him


Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi vowed to stay in power and defend constitutional legitimacy on Wednesday as generals worked on plans to push the Islamist aside within the day and suspend the constitution.

In a defiant midnight television address responding to military demands that he share power with his opponents or see the army impose its own solution, Morsi warned that any deviation from the democratic order approved in a series of votes last year would lead Egypt down a dangerous path.

He was speaking as vast crowds of protesters rallied in central Cairo and across the nation to demand the Muslim Brotherhood politician's resignation in a third night of mass demonstrations. His supporters also turned out and some were involved in clashes with security forces at Cairo University.

“The price of preserving legitimacy is my life,” Morsi said in an impassioned, repetitive, 45-minute ramble. “Legitimacy is the only guarantee to preserve the country.”

In a warning aimed as much at his own militant supporters as at the army, he said: “We do not declare jihad (holy war) against each other. We only wage jihad on our enemies.”

Urging Egyptians not to heed the siren calls of what he called remnants of the former authoritarian regime, “the deep state” and the corrupt, he said: “Don't be fooled. Don't fall into the trap. Don't let them steal your revolution.”

An opposition spokesman called Morsi's defiance “an open call for civil war”. Peaceful protests would go on, he said.

On Monday, army commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave Morsi 48 hours to reach an accommodation with his opponents. Otherwise, he said, the military would step in and implement its own roadmap for the country's future.

A military spokesman said the armed forces would not comment on the president's statement until Wednesday afternoon. The deadline is set to expire at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT).

Condemning a coup against their first freely elected leader, tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the streets, clashing with opponents in several towns. But they were dwarfed by anti-government protesters who turned out in their hundreds of thousands across the nation.

Security sources said dozens of people were wounded in the clashes at Cairo University involving Morsi supporters. Witnesses heard gunfire and teargas was used by the authorities.

TROOPS ON ALERT

Troops were on alert amid warnings of a potential civil war. Seven people died in a demonstration crush and sporadic fighting in Cairo and hundreds more were wounded in the provinces.

“Morsi – Game Over – Out”, proclaimed a laser display beamed over the capital's jam-packed Tahrir Square, where Egyptians danced with joy, recalling the euphoria and the slogans that greeted the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak two years ago. The light show counted the hours to the army deadline.

Despite his fighting talk, time appears to have all but run out for Morsi, as liberal leaders refuse to talk to him, while ministers have resigned and aides abandoned his sinking ship.

Military sources told Reuters that, assuming the politicians fail to end a year of deadlock before the deadline, the generals have their own draft program ready to implement – though it could be fine-tuned in consultation with willing political parties.

Under the roadmap, the military would install an interim council, composed mainly of civilians from different political groups and experienced technocrats, to run the country until an amended constitution was drafted within months.

That would be followed by a new presidential election, but parliamentary polls would be delayed until strict conditions for selecting candidates were in force, the sources said.

They would not say how the military intended to deal with Morsi if he refused to go quietly. Some of his Islamist supporters have vowed to defend what they see as the legitimate, democratic order, even if it means dying as martyrs. And some have a history of armed struggle against the state.

TROOPS

The confrontation has pushed the most populous Arab nation closer to the brink of chaos amid a deepening economic crisis two years after the overthrow of Mubarak, raising concern in Washington, Europe and neighboring Israel.

Troops intervened to break up clashes in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. They were also out on the streets of Suez and Port Said, at either end of the Suez Canal. The waterway is vital to world trade and to Egypt's struggling economy.

Egypt's Coptic Pope, spiritual leader of the country's 10 percent Christian minority, expressed open support for the anti-Morsi “Tamarud – Rebel!” movement in a tweet, voicing support for the national trio of people, army and youth.

The leading Muslim religious authority, Al-Azhar, called for the will of the people to prevail peacefully.

Morsi met Sisi for a second day, his office said, along with Prime Minister Hisham Kandil but there was no sign of any meeting of minds.

Though Morsi has held out repeated offers of dialogue, liberal opponents accuse him and the Brotherhood of bad faith and have ruled out starting talks with him before the deadline.

After that, former U.N. nuclear agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei will deal directly with the military on behalf of the main coalition of liberal parties. Also planning to take part are leaders of the Tamarud youth movement, which initiated mass rallies on Sunday that the army says prompted it to act.

Among figures being considered as an interim head of state was the new president of the constitutional court, Adli Mansour.

The new transition arrangements would be entirely different from the military rule that followed Mubarak's fall and more politically inclusive, the sources said.

Then, the ruling armed forces' council was criticized by liberal and left-wing politicians for failing to enact economic and political reforms – and for siding with the Brotherhood.

FIGHTING

The Brotherhood's political wing called for mass counter- demonstrations to “defend constitutional legitimacy and express their refusal of any coup”, raising fears of violence. But the biggest pro-Morsi rally in the a Cairo suburb appeared to attract around 100,000 supporters, Reuters journalists said.

The Brotherhood long avoided direct confrontation with the security forces despite suffering oppression under Mubarak.

The United States, which has previously defended Morsi's legitimacy as a democratically elected leader, stepped up pressure on him to heed the mass protests but stopped short of saying he should step down.

President Barack Obama told Morsi in a phone call late on Monday that the political crisis could only be solved by talks with his opponents, the White House said. Secretary of State John Kerry hammered home the message in a call to his outgoing Egyptian colleague on Tuesday.

That prompted Morsi to say in a tweet that he would not be “dictated to internally or internationally”.

At least six ministers who are not Brotherhood members have tendered their resignations since Sunday, including Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr. The president's two spokesmen and the cabinet spokesman also quit on Tuesday and nearly 150 Egyptian diplomats signed a petition urging Morsi to go.

Senior Brotherhood politician Mohamed El-Beltagy denounced what he called a creeping coup. He said he expected the High Committee for Elections to meet within hours to consider annulling the 2012 presidential election.

The United States has long funded the Egyptian army as a key component in the security of Washington's ally Israel.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to his Egyptian counterpart on Monday. It is unclear how far the military has informed, or coordinated with, its U.S. sponsors but an Egyptian official said a coup could not succeed without U.S. approval.

A senior European diplomat said that if the army were to remove the elected president, the international community would have no alternative but to condemn it.

Yasser El-Shimy, Egypt analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the army ultimatum had hardened positions, making it very difficult to find a constitutional way out of the crisis.

“Things could deteriorate very rapidly from there, either through confrontations on the street, or international sanctions,” he said.

“Morsi is calling their bluff, saying to them, 'if you are going to do this, you will have to do it over my dead body'.”

For many Egyptians, fixing the economy is key. Unrest since Mubarak fell has decimated tourism and investment and state finances are in poor shape, drained by extensive subsidies for food and fuel and struggling to provide regular supplies.

The Cairo bourse, reopening after a holiday, shot up nearly 5 percent after the army's move.

Reporting by Asma Alsharif, Alexander Dziadosz, Shaimaa Fayed, Maggie Fick, Alastair Macdonald, Shadia Nasralla, Tom Perry, Yasmine Saleh, Paul Taylor and Patrick Werr in Cairo, Abdelrahman Youssef in Alexandria and Yursi Mohamed in Ismailia; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Paul Taylor; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

As protests rock Turkey, Israel watches with ambivalence


As the budding protest movement in Turkey against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan struggles to gain a foothold, Israel is watching the developments with some measure of ambivalence.

On the one hand, Erdogan has led Turkey away from a close alliance with Israel, using his perch to castigate Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians and curtailing once-cozy military ties with the Israel Defense Forces. A popular uprising that leaves Erdogan politically wounded could be welcome news for Israel.

On the other hand, Turkey has been one of the few redoubts of stability in an increasingly volatile Middle East and among the few governments able to broker relationships between Israel and its Arab adversaries. Turkey and Israel also have been engaged in reconciliation talks over the past three months.

With other states in the region enmeshed in civil war, messy political transitions or other forms of political turmoil, adding Turkey to the list of volatile states would mean even more uncertainty for Israel.

“We say this is great, he berated us, but we don’t know who will come after him,” Efrat Aviv, an expert on Turkish politics at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said of Erdogan. “We know his strengths and weaknesses. We know how to deal with him. It would be hard if someone new came in who we didn’t know.”

Protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which began on May 28, initially opposed a city constructionplan slated to replace a park. But since then the protests have spread throughout the country and morphed into a broader condemnation of Erdogan, who has led Turkey for 10 years and plans to run for president next year.

Erdogan, the head of the conservative Muslim AKP party, has ordered authorities to crack down on the protesters. This week, police arrested hundreds of journalists, medics who were treating protesters and even local shop owners who have aided the demonstrations.

Riot police fire tear gas towards protesters during clashes in Kennedy Street, in central Ankara, on June 18. Photo by Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Though these protests may weaken Erdogan within Turkey, they’re unlikely to affect Israeli-Turkish negotiations because Erdogan is unlikely to lose his grip on power, according to Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey.

“They can’t get rid of him,” Liel said. “I don’t think there will be any implications. He’s the same person at the head of the same party.”

But Aviv says a loss of domestic power could prompt Erdogan to improve foreign relations and “make him get closer to Israel.”

Turkey and Israel had a strong alliance a decade ago, but their ties began to deteriorate not long after Erdogan came to power. The nadir came in 2010, when Israeli naval commandos stopped a pro-Palestinian flotilla intent on breaking Israel’s maritime blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. A violent confrontation aboard one of the boats, the Mavi Marmara, left nine Turkish nationals dead, incensing Erdogan.

Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel and subsequently downgraded diplomatic ties with Jerusalem.

During his visit to Israel in March, President Obama orchestrated a phone call in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally apologized to Erdogan for the Mavi Marmara incident, sparking reconciliation talks between Israel and Turkey that are ongoing.

One regional leader who may benefit from the turmoil in Turkey is embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to Liel.

Erdogan’s government has been aiding Syrian rebels and has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, so a blow to Erdogan could be good news for the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis – and bad news for Israel.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, says that while the protests may weaken Erdogan’s government, they demonstrate that Turkey is a still a democracy — a good thing in a region filled mostly with autocracies.

“They show in the long term that civil society is expanding and flowering,” she said. “There have been a lot of bad things happening, but in the long term they show that Turkey is democratic.”

Small Charedi protest, no Torah allowed at Women of the Wall service


Hundreds of protesting Charedi Orthodox youth did not prevent or significantly disturb the Women of the Wall’s monthly service at the Western Wall.

The women were not, however, able to read from a Torah scroll during the service as planned.

Sunday’s service, which – according to Women of the Wall – attracted 300 women, was conducted under heavy police protection. The women prayed in a corner of the Western Wall Plaza’s women’s section, enclosed by a barricade and surrounded by police.

A barricade and police line also divided the male Charedi protesters from the women and their supporters.

Women of the Wall gathers at the beginning of every Jewish month for a women’s Rosh Chodesh service at the Western Wall. Members have been arrested in the past for wearing prayer shawls due to a law that forbade any practice that falls outside of the wall’s “local custom.” In April, a judge determined that the group’s activities did not contravene the law. Since then, none of the women have been arrested.

The group’s service last month – the first since the court ruling – attracted thousands of protesting Charedi girls who packed the plaza. A large group of Charedi men also protested last month, some throwing coffee, water, rocks and a chair at the women.

This month, only a few hundred Charedi protesters showed up at the service. Leading Charedi rabbis had called on thousands of men to protest Women of the Wall peacefully, but much of the plaza was empty Sunday morning. Behind a heavy barricade, Charedi men chanted and held signs – and a few threw eggs – but the women’s prayer often drowned out their protests.

While the women were able to complete their service unhindered, they were not allowed to read from a Torah scroll. The group hadn’t brought a scroll to the wall for years, but planned to resume the practice following the court ruling. On Thursday, however, police informed them that a regulation forbade bringing a scroll to the women’s section.

The group plans to challenge the regulation in court.

“It was a beautiful prayer,” said Women of the Wall spokesperson Shira Pruce. She added, though, that: “We were not happy to be enclosed in fences by police. It was very painful.”

Charedim called on to protest Women of the Wall Torah reading


Women of the Wall said it will read from a Torah scroll at its upcoming service at the Western Wall.

Meanwhile, several leading Charedi Orthodox rabbis called on Charedi men to gather Sunday for a mass prayer opposite the group’s service that included an admonition against violence.

On Wednesday, Women of the Wall director Lesley Sachs told JTA that her group had acquiesced to a request from Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to refrain from reading the Torah in May at its monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh service at the wall.

“We could have done it last month, but Bennett asked us to make a certain compromises and we agreed for one month to show our good will,” Sachs said. “There was no question we would bring it this month. Without it, it’s not a full service.”

[Related: Respect, inclusion and tolerance at the Wall]

Bennett met with Women of the Wall representatives on Wednesday in what Sachs called a “very productive meeting,” but adding there was “nothing new.”

Women of the Wall members have been arrested for wearing prayer shawls over a law forbidding practice that falls outside the wall’s “local custom.”

In April, however, a judge determined that the group’s activities – including reading from a Torah scroll — did not contravene the law.

The absence of a Torah scroll last month did little to prevent unrest during Women of the Wall’s service, as thousands of Charedi young women packed the Western Wall Plaza during the service, and several dozen Charedi men protested, with some throwing coffee, water and a chair in protest.

The call for thousands of men to mass for this month’s service, according to Charedi news site Kikar Hashabbat, included the admonition against violence.

“It will be a show of sanctification of God’s name,” said Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yossi Deutsch, who is Charedi. “Many will come, according to the instruction of great rabbis, to sanctify the name of heaven and prove that we will not surrender in the battle over the holiness of the Western Wall.”

Sachs said she does not think reading from a Torah scroll should incite Charedi protest.

“We’re not there to provoke,” she said. “We just want to do the new month’s service, which does include the Torah scroll.”

Israeli boy, soldiers injured during Land Day protests


An Israeli boy and several Israeli soldiers were injured during Israeli-Arab and Palestinian protests marking Land Day.

The protests Saturday mark the deaths of six Galilee Arabs during 1976 riots over government land confiscations in northern Israel, dubbed Land Day.

Thousands gathered in the Israeli-Arab village of Sakhnin in northern Israel, where the deaths occurred 37 years ago, for the main Land Day demonstration. Protesters chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Two Israeli soldiers were injured from rocks thrown by Palestinians gathered near Kalkilya.

An Israeli boy, 4, was wounded by stones thrown at the car in which he was riding near Efrat. Four Israeli soldiers were injured when their jeep overturned while searching for the rock throwers.

Gaza Palestinians protesting near Rafah claimed that they were injured by tear gas and live gunfire by Israeli soldiers on their side of the border.

Israeli girl, 3, injured after car hit with rocks in West Bank


A 3-year-old Israeli girl is in critical condition after a car accident in the West Bank caused by rocks thrown by Palestinians.

A car driven by a woman and her three young daughters veered off course Thursday night after being hit by a rock, crashing into a truck or bus, Haaretz reported, citing eyewitnesses. Ynet reported that the truck veered off course to avoid the rocks and crashed into the woman's car.

The woman and her other daughters, ages 4 and 5, also were injured in the accident on Route 5 near the West Bank Jewish city of Ariel. A bus also was hit with rocks.

An Israeli man and a 10-year-old boy also were injured by thrown rocks in the same area.

Before the accident, a number of drivers had reported coming under attack by rocks. Police reportedly are investigating the accident's cause.

Riots break out in Jerusalem, West Bank over Palestinian prisoners


Palestinian protesters reportedly fired flares and hurled stones at Israeli troops in the Old City in Jerusalem amid violent protests in the West Bank.

Several dozen Palestinians began hurling rocks at troops stationed outside the Mugrabi Gate after Friday prayers, Ynet reported on Feb. 22.

When the troops pursued the men into the Temple Mount compound, other men fired flares at them. None of the Israeli soldiers was injured.

The Temple Mount, the site of Judaism's ancient temple which overlooks the Western Wall, is home to two mosques considered among the most holy in Islam. Clashes there have sparked extended conflict in the past.

In parallel, riots broke out in Hebron as dozens began to march int he direction of Beit Hadassah, an area inhabited by Israeli settlers. Protesters also hurled stones outside Ofer Prison near Jerusalem, where dozens of Palestinians prisoners are held, some under administrative detention.

The protests, according to Ynet, were over the detention of Samer Tareq al-Essawi, Ja’far Ibrahim ‘Izz-al-Din and Tareq Husein Qa’dan and Ayman Isma’il Sharawna.

Ynet quoted unnamed officials in Israel’s General Security Service, or Shin Bet, as saying that Sharawna and Essawi were released along with 1,025 in 2011 in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier abducted by Hamas, but “returned to practice terrorism.”

Israel radio said the protests also marked the 1994 anniversary of the massacre of 29 Muslims at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Jews and Muslims, by Baruch Goldstein, a settler from Kiryat Arba.

Protests were also held on Thursday in which several Palestinians and two Israeli journalists sustained light injuries, Ynet reported.

Social protest leaders hope to shake up Israel ballot


They are young and they are driven. They got half a million Israelis out on the streets demanding social justice. Now they want their votes.

The leaders of a grassroots social protest movement that swept Israel in 2011 have shot to the top of a rejuvenated Labor party that polls say will at least double its power in a January 22 general election that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud is forecast to win.

“The next stage is to continue what started in the streets, to bring that to the ballot … so that we can translate it into achievements in budgets, laws and a change of policy,” said 32-year-old Itzik Shmuli, who as head of the student union was one of the most prominent leaders of the protest movement.

It began with a handful of youngsters who pitched tents along Tel Aviv's luxurious Rothschild Avenue to protest against high housing costs. Eventually, hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrated weekly across the country.

Inspired also by the Arab Spring that swept the region, the protesters, chanting “the people demand social justice”, dominated headlines in Israel in the summer of 2011, and posed a new challenge to the government.

Political parties soon saw potential vote magnets in the movement's leaders, who were often portrayed in the media as idealists with just the right mix of innocence and savvy to promote a message of hope and change.

Shmuli quit the student union this year to win the number 11 spot on Labor's list of parliamentary candidates, running a distant second to Likud in the upcoming election.

“The answer the government gave was a thin, cosmetic and cynical one. They did not want to truly deal with the problems raised by the protest,” Shmuli said.

Israel has a relatively low unemployment rate of 6.7 percent and a growing economy, but business cartels and wage disparities have kept many from feeling the benefit.

In parliament, Shmuli and his allies hope to push affordable housing, reform the education, welfare and health systems and to narrow the gap between rich and poor in Israel, which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has said is among the highest in developed countries.

In response to the protest, Netanyahu, a free market champion and fiscal conservative, vowed to revamp the economy and lower living costs. Some of the government's steps have eased the pain for the middle and lower classes.

But other measures are moving slowly or have had no major effect. With rising food and fuel prices, few feel significant change in the cost of living since the protest.

“It means that we were mistaken when, as a young generation, we thought we could avoid sitting in the places where we make the most important decisions,” said Stav Shaffir, 27, another of the movement's leaders.

Shaffir is now eighth on Labor's list. Polls show that like Shmuli, she will be a member of Israel's next parliament, with her party winning about 16 to 20 of the 120 Knesset seats.

“There is something pure and beautiful about a popular protest,” Shaffir told a group of students in December. “But the change it brings comes only after generations … and we don't have that time if we want to change policy.”

UNDER THE TANKS

Shaffir lives with four roommates in a Jaffa apartment. Shmuli moved to the run-down town of Lod last year to set up a student community outreach program. Both say they have no intention of changing their dwellings after becoming lawmakers.

At the protest's peak, Shmuli addressed about half a million people at one of the biggest rallies ever held in Israel. He spoke to the cheering crowd about “The New Israelis”, who will fight for a better future and social equality.

But that was in September 2011. The question now is whether the “New Israelis” who cheered for Shmuli will turn up to vote for him.

The summer of 2011 marked one of the only times that social-economic issues consistently topped the agenda in a country whose population of 7.8 million is usually preoccupied with matters of war and peace.

Yariv Ben-Eliezer, a media expert at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a college near Tel Aviv, says those issues have once more taken a back seat.

In November, Israel carried out an eight-day offensive in Gaza with the declared aim of ending Palestinian rocket fire into its territory. The same month the Palestinians relaunched their statehood bid at the United Nations and won great support.

“Before the (Gaza) operation, Labor was rising in the polls and Likud was sliding. There was a feeling that the social protest should be moved into politics. But the main issue has gone back to being defense,” Ben-Eliezer said.

Shmuli disagrees. Called up to the Gaza border for reserve duty during the offensive, he took shelter with fellow soldiers under their tank when rockets from Gaza hailed down.

“While all these missiles were flying over us, we had to find a way to pass those 10 minutes under the tank – and what did we talk about? About housing and about the high living costs.”

Many of the protesters came from the middle class, which bears a heavy tax burden and sustains the conscript military.

“We will always be there for our country – whenever it needs us, but the big question is, when we are out of our uniforms, will the state be there for us?” Shmuli said.

Tamar Hermann at The Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said a Netanyahu election win would not spell defeat for the social protest movement.

“Now we see the social-economic issues taking a much more significant role in the discussion over the future of the country,” Hermann said. “All the parties feel obliged to relate to the issues that were raised by the protest movement.”

MAKING POLITICS SEXY

Israel's election had been set for late 2013 but the government failed to agree on a state budget, which it said would require harsh austerity steps.

Netanyahu called an early vote in what commentators said was an attempt by the prime minister and partners in his governing coalition to avoid the risk of going to the polls after imposing unpopular cuts.

Labor has focused its campaign almost entirely on social and economic issues, and its projected gains in parliament are largely attributed to the protest movement.

If Netanyahu, against the odds, chooses to include Labor in his next government, some of the movement's demands will undoubtedly be part of that deal, said Yossi Yonah, a Labor candidate who has advised social protest leaders.

Labor chief Shelly Yachimovich, an advocate of a welfare state, has not ruled out serving in a Netanyahu administration. But the option seems remote given their opposing economic views.

Looking ahead to likely budget cuts after the election, Yonah predicted such steps could revive and bolster the protest movement, if it combines civil action on the streets with a combative parliamentary opposition to Netanyahu.

“The protest's impact cannot be judged after only one year,” Yonah said. “Eventually something must give.”

Both Shaffir and Shmuli hope to draw young people who are disillusioned with politics to come vote.

“Our parents brought us up to believe that if we work hard, study and try then everything will be okay, we will succeed. But when we grew up, when we were released from the army, we looked around and this society we were told about was gone,” Shaffir said.

Instead, she said, they found corrupt politicians who were not looking out for young people's interests.

The tents that Shaffir helped pitch are long gone and life has returned to normal on Rothschild Avenue, which is lined with banks, shops and cafes.

“We need to make politics sexy again,” Shaffir said, sitting on a bench on the trendy avenue filled with people walking their dogs and riding bicycles.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Janet McBride

Rallies across U.S. supporting Israel’s right to defend itself


Israel solidarity rallies are scheduled for New York and venues across the United States.

Meanwhile, on Sunday in Los Angeles, some 1,400 demonstrators voiced their support for Israel's right to defend itself and its ramped-up operation against escalated rocket attacks on its South from the Gaza Strip.

In New York, hundreds of pro-Israel demonstrators are expected to rally across from the Israeli Consulate in downtown Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon in an event sponsored by Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum.

Also in New York, in suburban Westchester County, a rally was scheduled for Tuesday evening at Temple Israel Center in White Plains. U.S. Reps. Nita Lowey, Nan Hayworth and Eliot Engel are scheduled to attend.

Other rallies were scheduled Tuesday in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and West Hartford, Conn.

At the Los Angeles rally, the demonstrators gathered outside the Westwood Federal Building in West Los Angeles to voice their support for Israel at a rally organized by pro-Israel organizations StandWithUs, the Israeli-Leadership Council and the Zionist Organization of America-Western Region.

“We are here to protest the necessity of peace, the danger of those who would seek to destroy us and our determination to live both in strength and with justice and with peace,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple told the crowd.

Some 100 pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators carried signs that read “Let Gaza Live: Free Palestine,” “Stop U.S. Aid to Israel,” and “It’s not a war. In Palestine, it’s genocide.”

In Boston, some 1,000 pro-Israel demonstrators rallied Monday night in an event organized by synagogues, schools and Jewish nonprofit organizations, including the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, J Street, the Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC.

The Boston rally “is a statement to our sisters and brothers and cousins in Israel that we’re supportive and we feel your pain,” Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington, Mass., told The Jerusalem Post.

Meanwhile, lay and professional leaders from The Jewish Federations of North America arrived in Israel on Nov. 18 for a two-day emergency solidarity mission.

The leaders from New York, Chicago, Boston, New Jersey, Cleveland, Miami, Los Angeles, Washington, Minneapolis and Birmingham, Ala., visited southern Israeli cities under fire, including Ashkelon, Sderot and Beersheva, offering solidarity with the residents and examining areas of need.

“The ongoing crisis being faced by the people of Israel, particularly those in the South, will not be fought by the Jewish state alone,” Michael Siegal, JFNA's incoming chair, said upon arriving in Jerusalem. “We are here to express our firm solidarity and to say that as always, when Israel is in need, we are here.”

The JNFA already has committed $5 million in assistance to the Jewish Agency's Israel Terror Relief Fund for the immediate needs of the people living under fire.

Organizations representing Orthodox Judaism — the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel — on Monday called on “all Jews to increase their Torah study as spiritual support and merit for those Israeli soldiers and civilians on the front line of battle.”

The RCA instructed its members to hold special classes and lectures in their communities on Wednesday and Thursday “dedicated to the support of the IDF and the State of Israel.”

“In the merit of our increased study of Torah, may we merit the promise recorded in the Talmud, Sotah 21a, that the study of Torah protects and rescues those who engage in it,” said a statement from the three organizations.

Ahmadinejad calls ‘Innocence of Muslims’ film an Israeli plot


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday produced another anti-Israel conspiracy theory by saying the film “Innocence of Muslims,” which has been linked to protests throughout the Arab world, was a plot by the Jewish state to “divide [Muslims] and spark sectarian conflict,” AFP reported.

Ahmadinejad’s remarks come despite Californian Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula’s admitted involvement with the film and the refutation of initial reports of Jewish involvement. “Israeli Jew” Sam Bacile, initially identified in reports as the producer of the film mocking the prophet Mohammed, turned out to be a pseudonym.

Speaking at a parade for the anniversary of the beginning of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, Ahmadinejad blasted the U.S. for only selectively censoring the film and said Iran should use the “same spirit and belief in itself” from that war to combat sanctions and other pressure from the international community in response to its nuclear program.

Israel wary as protests engulf Muslim countries


Israel stepped up security after a controversial American film, “Innocence of Muslims,” sparked protests at U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Sudan, as well as violence in Lebanon. In Libya, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats were killed.

Several dozen protesters from the Islamic Movement’s northern branch demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Sept. 13 and held posters with slogans such as “A film that demeans the Prophet Muhammad is a despicable and contemptible act,” “We love Muhammad,” and “We will sacrifice our blood and souls for Muhammad.”

Jerusalem police forces reinforced their presence in the capital due to the expected expansion of the protests. Hundreds of policemen secured the al-Aqsa mosque and other areas within the city. Protests also took place in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on the U.S. to apologize “before the affront to the Prophet Muhammad in the film in question ignites a revolution in the Islamic nation to preserve the prophet’s honor.”

The intelligence leading up to the embassy attacks will be examined to “see if there was any way of forecasting this violence,” House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in an interview Sept. 13.

President Barack Obama, speaking at a campaign event in Colorado, also vowed that the perpetrators would be punished. “I want people around the world to hear me,” he said. “To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished. I will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”

As of Sept. 13, there was no intelligence indicating that what happened in Benghazi was planned, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the investigation into the attack. Intelligence officials said they believe it was more likely that the attack was “opportunistic or spontaneous,” with terrotists taking advantage of the demonstration to launch the assault. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation publicly.

There is also no evidence that the attack was tied to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, one of the officials said. But the Libyan-based terrorist group Ansar al Shariah is the leading suspect for carrying out the violence, possibly with help from al-Qaida’s main African-based offshoot, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The officials said it may be hard to determine definitively which group was responsible, because many terrorists are members of both.

As far as protests go, it is virtually impossible to predict when a crowd might form and turn violent, according to retired U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who served as chief of mission at five posts, including Iraq, and is a former director of national intelligence.

“These things can be mobilized on the spur of the moment, set off by a spark,” especially in places such as Egypt and Libya where the ruling strongmen have just fallen, Negroponte said. “When you get rid of authoritarian regimes, there’s little or no institutional framework left …That’s why there's disorder and chaos” that is so easily hijacked, he said.

Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood called for demonstrations after Friday prayers Sept. 14, as did authorities in Iran and the Gaza Strip. The White House said it was prepared for more protests but stressed that any violence would be unjustified.

“It is important to note that as these protests are taking place in different countries around the world, responding to the movie, that Friday, tomorrow, has historically been a day when there are protests in the Muslim world,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Colorado. “And we are watching very closely for developments that could lead to more protests. We anticipate that they may continue.”

Around the world, U.S. missions issued warnings to Americans about demonstrations that could turn violent. More than 50 embassies and consulates released such alerts, the State Department said.

Jewish reaction

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned the attacks, saying there is “no justification and no legitimization for such violence.”

“We hope that all parties, governmental and non-governmental alike, will strive to restore calm and prevent the exploitation of the situation by extremist elements,” the Conference of President said in a statement. 

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said the group affirms “the U.S. government’s statement that those responsible must be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice.”

“The Jewish tradition is unequivocal in its belief that taking one life is akin to destroying the entire world,” Schonfeld said in a statement.

Jewish Council for Pubic Affairs President Rabbi Steve Gutow said, “As a rabbi, American, and human being, I am shocked and heartbroken by this heinous attack.”

“People of goodwill everywhere should stand up and unequivocally condemn these cold blooded murders,” he said in a statement.

Filmmaker’s identity

Sam Bacile—the name of the alleged producer of “Innocence of Muslims”—is a pseudonym, and the real producer is neither Israeli nor Jewish, according to reports.

“I don’t know that much about him,” said Steve Klein, a home insurance salesman from Riverside, Calif., who has been described in several media accounts as a consultant to the film, according to the Atlantic. “I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He’s not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the fundamentalist Christian pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he’s Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.” 

Californian Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, confirmed that he was involved with “Innocence of Muslims.” Although he denied being Sam Bacile, a phone number called by the Associated Press matched Nakoula’s address. These findings suggest that the film may have been produced by Coptic Christians to protest their persecution in Muslim countries.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Bacile had originally identified himself as a 52-year-old Israeli-American real estate developer from California who raised $5 million from Jewish donors to make the film. News outlets were unable to contact Bacile to confirm his identity. 

Palestinian PM responds to unrest with economic program


Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the key target of nine days of socio-economic protests throughout the West Bank, responded on Tuesday to some of the demands that have been prominent during the course of demonstrations that have become increasingly violent in recent days. Calls were heard for Fayyad’s resignation while his effigies burned in the streets. On Tuesday, protests continued as hundreds of government workers demonstrated in front of the prime minister’s office in Ramallah. At the same time, PA security officials fear Hamas is using the unrest to weaken Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Fayyad told reporters at his Ramallah office following a cabinet meeting devoted to the spreading unrest that the cabinet decided government workers would receive half of their still-unpaid August salaries by September 12th, with a minimum of NIS2,000 (about $505), and will set the goal of paying the other half within two weeks.

Ministers were also told to reduce their budgets and expenses, with the exception of the health, education and social affairs ministries. The decision included targeting the salaries and expense accounts of PA ministers and senior officials for deductions of 10%. The value-added tax, now 15.5%, will be reduced to 15% at the start of October. The price of diesel fuel, cooking gas and kerosene will revert to August prices as of September 12.

Immediate reaction to the Fayyad measures was mixed, some supporting the first tangible action while arguing the plan failed to go far enough. Hasan Khureisha, a former Palestinian Legislative Council member, said in an interview with Palestinian television that “it is a step on the right direction. The most important measure is the reduction of the senior officials’ high salaries, which I wished to be deducted to 30-40%, and not only 10%, because their salaries are very high.”        

Palestinian businessman Bassem Khoury criticized Fayyad, arguing that the prime minister should have taken the measures before the mass protests began.

Ibrahim Awadallah, who heads the bus syndicate, told The Media Line that Fayyad’s measures, which are “not enough at all,” were intended to derail the protest movement. He vowed to continue the demonstrations until a greater response from the government is forthcoming. According to Awadallah, Palestinian citizens “are demanding more than Fayyad has offered and expect to see fruitful results from Fayyad’s measures. What he brought us [so far] does not reach the minimum expected.”

Awadallah declared Monday’s transit strike that saw 10,500 taxis and 1,000 buses come to a standstill a success because the people conveyed to the government that “we are ready for more escalated protests.” He cites the demands as “the reduction of fuel prices, lowering of the VAT and insurance fees.” Awadallah claims there is no money left for bus owners after spending 85% of income on fuel, the other 15% is not enough to cover the cost of insurance, taxes, development and maintenance.”

Awadallah insisted to The Media Line that the strike is strictly over financial, not political, issues. “For the first time in our history we hear that some Palestinians tried to burn themselves in West Bank cities last week, which is a sign of how much the economic situation has become unbearable.”

One slogan that appeared at rallies was, “Only in Palestine: the expense of living in Paris with the salaries of Somalia.”

Ghassan Khassib, a 38-year old taxi driver from Al-Bireh, told The Media Line that he was surprised by the success of the public transportation strike. “It was 99.9% successful,” he said. “It reminded me of the first Intifada, but it was better organized.”

A senior Palestinian Authority security official who spoke to The Media Line on the condition of anonymity said he has been unable to sleep because of the impact of the financial crisis on his personnel, and calls from West Bank residents asking that their property be protected from demonstrators protesting Fayyad economic policies.

Perhaps more ominously, another official who asked that his name be withheld for reasons of his safety, said Hamas loyalists were seen addressing crowds at rallies while Hebron Fatah leader Kifah Oweiwi told The Media Line that Hamas members were among the throng that attacked a police station where 35 officers were injured by rock-throwing. 

In Rachel Corrie suit dismissal, one small question is key


The verdict by an Israeli court in the case of Rachel Corrie, an American activist killed in Gaza by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003, may have captured international attention and touched on a range of ethical issues at the center of Israel’s military operations. 

But at its core, Tuesday’s ruling on whether Israel was responsible for Corrie’s death nine years ago hinged on one simple question: Did the bulldozer driver who ran over Corrie see her or not?

The judge in Haifa District Court ruled that he did not. Corrie’s family maintains that he did. 

Larger issues were part of the proceedings and their surroundings: What are the responsibilities of civilian activists in an armed conflict? Does a civilian area with terrorist activity count as a war zone? What distinguishes between an organization that peacefully opposes the Israeli occupation of Gaza and one that aids terrorists?

Those matters, however, took a back seat to the actual reasoning of the legal ruling by Judge Oded Gershon. 

Corrie, a 23-year-old from Olympia, Wash., has become a symbol for some American and other groups that oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policies toward Gaza. Her parents founded the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, which “supports grassroots efforts in pursuit of human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice,” according to its Web site, and a play titled “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” opened in London in 2005.

On March 16, 2003, Corrie was an activist with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which was protesting in the southern Gaza city of Rafah during the Second Intifada. Her supporters say she was acting as a human shield for a house that was about to be demolished by the Israeli army when she became enveloped in the pile of dirt created by an armored bulldozer as it moved toward the house. Corrie died soon after in a nearby hospital. The Israeli military denies that a house demolition was taking place.

Her parents brought a lawsuit in Israel that accused the state of responsibility for their daughter’s death. But in clearing the state of all charges, Gershon said that Corrie voluntarily risked her life by entering a place where there was daily live fire. Moreover, the Haifa judge said the bulldozer driver did not see Corrie as she was standing behind a pile of dirt, and that Corrie did not move out of the way when she saw the bulldozer moving toward her, instead climbing on the pile of dirt. 

Corrie “put herself in a dangerous situation opposite a bulldozer when he couldn’t see her,” Gershon said, reading the verdict. “She didn’t move away like anyone of sound mind would. She found her death even after all of the IDF’s efforts to move her from the place.”

Gershon also dismissed charges that the state tampered with the evidence in its investigation into Corrie’s death. He added that the demolition of the home by the Israel Defense Forces on that day was an “act of war” and the area was a closed military zone. 

The judge reserved some of his harshest words for Corrie’s organization, saying ISM was “mixed up in terror” and accusing the group of aiding terrorists behind a facade of human rights activism. 

“There’s a big gap between the organization’s declarations and the character of its actions,” Gershon read from the verdict. “ISM activities include placing activists as human shields for terrorists,” and “financial, logistical and moral assistance to Palestinians, including terrorists.”

But speaking at a news conference following the verdict, the Corrie family and its lawyer presented a narrative that contradicted the judge’s. 

The lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, called Corrie and the other ISM volunteers “all peaceful activists. The army did not try to stop them. There was no command that it’s a closed military area. There was no threat to the lives of the soldiers. How could he say that?” 

Hussein added that the driver of the bulldozer must have seen Corrie, as she was protesting in one spot for five hours before she was run over. 

The Corrie family said it planned to appeal the verdict, which it must do within 45 days.

Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, blamed the ruling on “a well-heeled system to protect the Israeli military and the soldiers who conduct actions in that military, to provide them with impunity at the cost of all the civilians who are impacted from what they do.”

“This was a bad day not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel,” she said. 

Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father, said after the ruling that though they had sued the state, he rejected “the idea that simply making some of these things known is an attack on Israel.” Israeli anti-occupation activists, he said, have supported the Corries “from the first moment we’ve done this.” 

The Corries grew most passionate, however, when discussing what happened on the day their daughter died. They contradicted a statement from Israel’s State Prosecutor’s Office declaring that “the driver of the bulldozer and his commander had a very limited field of vision, such that they had no possibility of seeing Ms. Corrie.” 

Corrie’s sister, Sarah Corrie Simpson, still wants answers from the driver. 

“I can say without a doubt that I believe my sister was seen as that bulldozer approached her,” she said. “I hope someday he will have the courage to sit down in front of me and tell me what he saw and what he feels.”

Israel denies pro-Palestinian activists entry to West Bank


Pro-Palestinian activists were denied entry into the West Bank from Jordan by Israeli authorities.

Approximately 100 members of the Welcome to Palestine movement attempted to cross into the West Bank on Sunday via the Allenby Bridge.

The activists said they were carrying one ton of school supplies to give to Palestinian children in Bethlehem-area refugee camps, The Associated Press reported.

They traveled in two buses: One crossed from Jordan to the Israeli side of the crossing, where it was denied entry. The second was not permitted to leave Jordan, according to reports.

In April, Welcome to Palestine campaign activists arrived from several European countries and North America at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, where they declared their intention to travel to the West Bank in order to highlight that there is no way to visit what they call Palestine without traveling through Israel. Dozens were detained at the Israeli airport, and dozens more were prevented from leaving from their point of origin.

Last July, some 300 activists flew to Israel for a protest fly-in. About 120 were detained.

Palestinians take anti-Oslo protest to Abbas


Hundreds of demonstrators marched on the offices of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday to protest against diplomatic contacts with Israel and to denounce police violence at a previous rally.

Chanting for an end to the Oslo accords, which were meant to pave the way to permanent peace with Israel, the flag-waving crowd cut through Ramallah’s crammed city center under the watchful eye of scores of plainclothes security officers.

Heavy handed security forces intervened on Sunday to prevent a smaller group of protesters from reaching Abbas’s headquarters in the occupied West Bank, and beat some journalists who tried to cover the event.

But a government source said police were under orders on Tuesday to allow the protesters to take their message to the gleaming stone walls of Abbas’s compound, which is also the burial place of previous Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat.

“The streets are open to us today, and that’s the result of a political decision. They realize the violence before made them look bad,” said Ali Nakhle, a student who joined approximately 400 other, mainly youthful protesters in downtown Ramallah.

While there were no slogans directed specifically against Abbas himself, the protesters were scathing about a recent announcement that the Palestinian president was ready to meet Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz.

The planned encounter would have been the highest-level meeting between the two sides since direct peace talks broke down in 2010. However, it was abruptly called off at the weekend in apparent response to Palestinian public opinion.

“We want your head Mofaz,” the crowds chanted on Tuesday, adding: “The people want the fall of Oslo,” adapting a common refrain against the ruling elites in countless Arab Spring protests over the past 18 months.

The 1993 Oslo Accords gave the Palestinians limited self-rule in the occupied territories, and set out guidelines for future peace talks to end the Middle East conflict.

However, a lasting deal has proved elusive and the latest round of talks collapsed two years ago in a dispute over continued Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

The protesters, who do not appear to belong to any political faction, called for a fresh rally on Thursday, hoping their grass-root movement, which first took to the streets at the weekend, will gather momentum.

The demonstrations have come at a particularly delicate moment for Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which is facing a severe cash crisis because of a failure by some donor states, particularly in the Gulf, to hand over promised funds.

Finance Minister Nabil Kassis told reporters on Tuesday that the government could not pay its workers this month because the coffers were empty. Palestinian officials said they did not know why various donor nations were not honoring their commitments.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Vote result delay frays Egyptian nerves


Allegations of fraud delayed the result of Egypt’s presidential election on Thursday, fraying nerves as the Muslim Brotherhood, which claims victory, called for street protests against moves by the ruling generals to deny them power.

Thousands of protesters gathered for a third day in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, cauldron of the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago, to demand that the officers who pushed him aside keep their word and hand over to civilians by July 1.

There is little sign that will happen after the ruling military council dissolved the Islamist-led parliament and set strict limits on the new president’s powers. But prominent Islamists dampened talk of violence, for all their promise of permanent town square vigils until their demands are met.

Among thousands who packed Tahrir after dark, Ahmed Youssef said he and his friends from a province north of Cairo would camp out overnight to join a major rally after weekly prayers on Friday: “We thought the army would stand by the revolution, and were surprised when it didn’t,” said the bearded, 24-year-old electrical engineer, who supports a hardline Salafist group.

“We will stay here until the military council hands over power,” he added, voicing a widely-shared sense of betrayal by generals who promised to rule only until elections. “If they do this, we will carry them on our shoulders. We love the army.”

The state election committee has spent four days collating counts from the two-day run-off ballot but said it would miss a target of Thursday for announcing the result as it was going through hundreds of complaints from both sides. As the weekend starts on Friday, that might mean a wait until Sunday.

“We are taking our time to review the appeals to investigate them properly but, God willing, the results will be announced by Sunday at most, if not before that,” Judge Maher el-Beheiry, a member of the election committee, told Reuters.

The candidates – former general and Mubarak aide Ahmed Shafik and the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy – have both called for national unity as the delay jangled the nerves of a nation increasingly suspicious of the military and the Mubarak-era establishment, or “deep state”, that survived the revolution.

Some see the delay as a bid to pressure the Brotherhood to accept the military decree that curbed the president’s powers before any Morsy presidency. The committee insists it is simply a procedural issue to ensure all appeals are fairly assessed.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said the delay “generates concern, no doubt”, expressing fear that the authorities were getting ready to announce Shafik the winner.

“The doubt extends to this possibility,” he told Reuters.

ON EDGE

In an effort to buttress its claim of victory, the Brotherhood has distributed what it says are copies of official records of the vote count at the local level. It says the margin of its victory means it is impossible for Shafik to have won.

But some have identified what they describe as flaws in the paperwork, saying, for example, that some of the documents did not bear official stamps or that the numbers did not add up.

“We cannot rely on them as numbers, because they contain great problems,” Hafez Abou Saeda, a human rights activist who is coordinating a monitoring initiative, said.

Egyptian media described a nation on edge.

“Egypt on the verge of exploding,” Al-Watan daily wrote in a front-page headline, highlighting worries about how supporters of rival camps will respond if their candidate loses. “Security alert before the presidential result,” wrote Al-Masry Al-Youm.

“The interest of the nation goes before narrow interests,” said reformist politician Mohamed ElBaradei on Twitter. “What is required immediately is a mediation committee to find a political and legal exit from the crisis. Egypt is on the verge of explosion.”

Cairo’s cafes and social media were alive with chatter about troops preparing to secure major cities, but military sources played down the idea that there was any unusual activity beyond extra alertness.

Adding to unease, Mubarak is himself back in the news, being let out of the prison where he began a life sentence this month for treatment at a military hospital. Security sources have said the 84-year-old was slipping in and out of a coma but “stabilizing”. Many Egyptians suspect the generals are exaggerating to get their old comrade out of jail.

Mohamed Abdel Razek, a Mubarak defense lawyer, said the former president had a stroke on Wednesday after he had a fall during an accompanied visit to a bathroom at Tora prison.

That incident prompted doctors to order he be moved to the hospital in Maadi that was better equipped, the lawyer said.

FUELLING SUSPICIONS

The political uncertainty has taken its toll on an already battered economy. The pound has hit a seven-year low against the dollar, and Egypt’s benchmark share index has tumbled 17 percent since the first round of the vote in May.

In a nation where vote-rigging was the norm during 60 years of military rule, and which is reeling from what critics called a “soft coup” by the generals in the past week, the delay in the results fuelled suspicions of foul play.

“There is absolutely no justification for the result of the vote to be delayed,” Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian told Al-Jazeera on Wednesday, describing complaints from the Shafik camp as either invalid or too few to affect the result.

He called on Shafik to show “chivalry” and accept defeat.

Morsy said within hours of polls closing last Sunday that he had beaten Shafik by 52 percent to 48 percent. The group has stuck to those figures.

Shafik’s camp said on Wednesday it remained confident that its man, whom Mubarak appointed prime minister during the uprising, would win, although a spokesman for Shafik also described the vote as “too close to call”.

Whoever is declared winner, the next president’s powers have already been curbed in the last-minute decree issued by the army after it ordered the dissolution of the Islamist-led parliament.

The European Union on Wednesday joined the United States, both major aid donors, in expressing “concern” at what the army moves meant for a promised transition to democracy.

On Tuesday, election monitors from the Carter Center, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who brokered the peace between Egypt and Israel that unlocked U.S. aid, said they could not call the election free and fair as they were denied sufficient access to polling stations and results collation.

The Brotherhood has called for open-ended protests against the army’s decree to limit the president’s role and retain powers, but said it would not resort to violence.

Reporting by Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed, Edmund Blair, Patrick Werr, Ahmed Tolba and Dina Zayed in Cairo; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Edmund Blair; Editing by Philippa Fletcher

Pro-Palestinian protests mar Israel celebration in Melbourne


A crowd of angry pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Melbourne marred the annual celebration of Israel’s independence.

Attendees at Tuesday night’s high-profile gathering of politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats and Jewish leaders were forced to walk past the 100-strong crowd that was held back by police, the Australian Jewish News reported.

Among the banners brandished by the protesters were “Israel – an apartheid state” and “Free Palestine.” At one point the protesters burned an effigy of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu.

Inside the hotel, Baillieu defended the protesters’ right to express their views, but retorted by saying: “The wonderful thing in this country is that you can have your view. The even better thing is I can stand here and say, ‘You’re wrong.’”

BDS, which stands for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, should be re-named “Bigoted, Dangerous and Shameful,” the newspaper quoted Baillieu as saying.

His counterpart, Labor’s Daniel Andrews, said of the protests outside: “If we have to come through those scenes again [next year], then we’ll all do it with pride.”

In his address, Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem offered an olive branch to the Palestinians: “We want to live with you and not die with you,” he said. “We want to respect you as good neighbors and not fear you as a dreaded enemy.”

Israel’s West Bank plans stir U.S. furor, settlers’ ire


Israel’s government coupled its compliance with a Supreme Court order to remove buildings from a neighborhood on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement with the announcement of new construction in several West Bank areas.

The latter action drew a sharp rebuke from the United States and others. Meanwhile, the settlement movement appeared to be gearing up to fight the evacuation of five apartment buildings that are home to about 30 families in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El.

On Wednesday, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias said that in addition to the 300 housing units promised to Beit El in exchange for relocating the apartment buildings, he would approve 551 more reportedly in Ariel, Maale Adumim, Adam, Efrat and Kiryat Arba. His announcement came hours after the Knesset rejected a bill that would have retroactively recognized settlement outposts such as Ulpana.

The Obama administration “does not accept the legitimacy” of the plans for up to 851 new housing units for West Bank settlements, the U.S. State Department said.

“We’re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations, including the 2003 ‘road map,’ ” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday. “Our position on settlements remains unchanged. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. And we want to see these parties – both parties, rather—refrain from these kinds of actions and to get back into negotiations.”

The United Nations official tasked with the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, in a statement by his office called the announcement “deeply troubling” and reiterated that any settlement construction in the West Bank violated international law.

“All settlement construction – whether on private Palestinian land or elsewhere in occupied Palestinian territory – is contrary to international law,” said the statement issued by the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Senior Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said the announcement “undermines all efforts to revive the peacemaking between the two sides.”

The president of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said his organization was “profoundly disappointed” by the decision to build more houses in the West Bank, pointing out that some of the settlements proposed to receive the housing are outside of major settlement blocs. Ben-Ami, however, did praise the government’s decision to enforce the Israeli Supreme Court’s order to remove the contested buildings from the Ulpana neighborhood.

During a news conference Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly addressed West Bank settlers, calling them his “brothers and sisters.”

“There is no government that supports, or will support, settlement more than my government,” he said. “I also say that there is no government that has withstood such heavy pressures, which could have hurt settlement, and it must be understood that ours is a very complex diplomatic, national and legal environment. And in this complex reality, one must navigate wisely, sagaciously and responsibly.”

Netanyahu added that his government “will continue to strengthen settlement and we will continue to strengthen democracy in the State of Israel.”

In the Knesset, 69 lawmakers voted against the measure to recognize settlement outposts, while 22 for it in the preliminary reading. The legislation would have retroactively legalized buildings built on contested land if the owner did not challenge the construction within four years. The Ulpana apartment buildings must be evacuated by July 1, according to the Supreme Court order.

No government ministers voted for the bill; Netanyahu’s office had said Monday that ministers who voted for the bill would lose their jobs.

In his news conference, Netanyahu discussed the bill’s defeat and its significance.

“Moving homes from their location, even if it is only five homes, is certainly not an action that this government rejoices in doing,” he said. “But the court ruled as it did and we honor the decisions of the judicial system.”

Meanwhile, supporters and residents of Ulpana reportedly have started to plan for the upcoming evacuation, setting up tents in the community as well as taking delivery of dozens of tires, according to one news report.

Posters calling for large demonstrations to prevent equipment from removing the buildings have been posted in Beit El, according to reports.