Israeli air strike kills chiefs of Gaza’s PRC group


An Israeli air strike killed the leader of an armed Palestinian faction, a top lieutenant and three other members in the southern Gaza Strip Thursday, the group said, hours after Israel blamed gunmen from the territory for cross-border attacks.

The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a faction that often operates independently from Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers, identified their dead leader as Kamal al-Nairab and said their military chief, Immad Hammad, had also been killed.

A sixth fatality in the attack on Rafah town was a nine-year-old boy who had been in the same house as the militants, local Palestinians said.

Hours earlier, gunmen killed seven people in a triple attack in southern Israel. Israel said the gunmen had come from Gaza through neighboring Egypt, a charge denied by Hamas.

“The Israeli military is already taking action against the head of the Committees in Gaza,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters at the site of the gun attacks.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Crispian Balmer

Obama relays condolences to Netanyahu, pledges support


President Obama conveyed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his condolences over recent terrorist attacks and reaffirmed “unwavering” commitment to Israel’s security.

“President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today to convey his condolences over the terrorist attack in Jerusalem yesterday, which killed one person and wounded many others, and to express his concern about the recent rocket and mortar attacks against Israel from Gaza,” a White House statement said on Thursday. “The President reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

The statement said Netanyahu “appreciated” the call and that the leaders “agreed to remain in close touch on a range of regional security issues.”

Israel has been seeking American reassurances in the wake of a wave of uprisings in the Arab world.

Robert Gates, the defense secretary, on Thursday met with Ehud Barak, his Israeli counterpart, and said advancing peace talks with the Palestinians was more critical than ever because of regional turmoil.

“The Israelis have a very deep strategic interest in getting out in front of the wave of populism that’s sweeping the region,” Reuters quoted a senior U.S. defense official as saying.

Netanyahu: Israel will react firmly to recent Palestinian violence [VIDEO]


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel will react firmly, responsibly and wisely to a recent wave of Palestinian violence.

“The government, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Israeli public has an iron will to defend the country and its citizens,” Netanyahu said before boarding a flight to Russia.

“Israel will act firmly, responsibly and wisely to preserve the quiet and security that prevailed here over the past two years,” he assured.

Netanyahu issued his statement just hours after a bomb killed a 59-year-old woman at a crowded bus stop in Jerusalem. Earlier Wednesday, southern Israel was bombarded by Palestinian rockets and mortar fire.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Death, fear and fighting take toll on both sides of Gaza border


ALTTEXT
Damage to a home in Sderot from a Qassam rocket. Photo by The Media Line

The body, wrapped only in a flag, is lowered into the ground as family members throw themselves toward the grave, screaming in anguish. At that moment, their world has ended.

For the hundreds standing around them, vengeance is the only path worth treading.

It doesn’t matter whether you are now imagining the victim as a Palestinian or an Israeli — the scene is identical.

Residents of the Gaza Strip and southern Israel alike will tell you that in years gone by, they built up close working relationships and, in some cases, real friendships. Yet throughout the last 40 years there has always been an unease between the two, which all too often has spilled over into bloodshed.

Ever since the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the early 1990s, Hamas has been a dominant force in Gaza, and when in 2006 the Islamist movement claimed victory in the Palestinian parliamentary election, it was clear that soon it would gain de facto control of the narrow coastal enclave. A year later, Hamas took over the running of Gaza from Fatah in what Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas described as “a bloody coup.”

Complete Gaza CoverageIt has left some Gaza-based Fatah officials smarting, angry and even prepared to blame Hamas rather than Israel for the current violence.

“We were protective of the people and made sure that the Palestinian cause was on the right path until we got the world on our side,” said Ibrahim Abu A-Naja, a member of Fatah’s Executive Committee.

However, the overriding view in Gaza is that Israel is directly to blame for the new reality on the ground, in addition to the troubles already besetting Gazans.

Similarly in Israel, the residents of the towns and villages that have been under rocket fire for eight years accuse Hamas and the smaller armed organizations in Gaza of being responsible for the violence and bloodshed.

“For years we’ve been suffering like this,” said Victoria, a 20-something resident of the Israeli town Sderot, which has faced the brunt of Hamas’ missiles. “I want the Israel Defense Forces to do exactly what it’s doing now and not to stop in the middle.”

That is the overriding view in southern Israel. Many people say the government was right to launch its Gaza operation against Hamas, and if there is collateral damage — the euphemism for civilian casualties — so be it.

“Yesterday the rocket blew out my window and just missed the propane tanks, and the last time it blew two doors off their hinges, and they were blown together like a sandwich,” said Yair Madmon, a man in his late 50s who said he served in the Israeli army as a reservist until he was 48.

Like many who live in Sderot, Madmon said he will never leave.

However, that is not the case for everyone. Since the missiles began raining in, people have fled the town. It means businesses are in decline, leaving the local economy in ruins.

The middle-age mustached owner of the local lottery franchise in Sderot, who asks not to be named, said he works on a percentage basis — his income dependent on the number of tickets sold. He said fewer people than ever come his way, and he spends much of his day running for shelter in the nearby supermarket. The strain on his family, both financial and mental, is enormous.

“My wife’s worried about me, and I am about her,” he said, while handing a white and pink lottery ticket to his solitary customer. “We panic when one of us doesn’t answer the phone or if the line’s engaged or if it’s out of order.”

ALTTEXTLooking for interviewees in the public areas of Sderot is not as easy as it used to be. The residents are wary of what they see as an apathetic, biased media and, more importantly, they are scared to stand in the streets for fear of what may fall from the sky as they relate their stories.

A woman runs by, having returned her supermarket cart, and smiles apologetically, calling out, “I would talk to you, but it’s too dangerous here; I need to be home.”

Indeed, the conversation with the customer at the lottery booth is rudely interrupted by a stern female voice, broadcast via a hidden loudspeaker, warning all residents to take cover. The few people in the public square run for shelter in the local supermarket. They have 15 seconds before the rockets hits.

That rocket was fired from just a handful of miles away in Gaza.

“Leave it, it’s mine,” is a normal cry from a Gazan who has spent his day in a line in front of a bakery, waiting to purchase a package of bread. There has been a lack of flour since the first day of the Israeli military operation.

That aerial attack at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 27, came like a bolt out of the blue for Palestinians and for Hamas in particular. Some 150 Hamas security personnel were killed in just three minutes. Since then, Gazans have awakened every day to the sound of explosions and the sight of smoke plumes peppering the sky. Many residents use the same word to describe their life over the last weeks: “Hell.”

Empty streets, closed stores, pale faces, police officers sleeping on Gaza’s roads, cameramen passing in their cars — those have been the dominant scenes in Gaza. Those, along with the ambulances racing from destroyed buildings to overcrowded hospitals.

“It’s a war crime. Many innocent civilians have been killed, particularly kids and women,” said Momen, a Gaza resident. “Besides, the humanitarian situation gets more difficult and totally inhumane because of lack of flour and gasoline.”

The shortages are not only in basic foodstuffs and the power supply but also in room in Gaza’s morgues. As a result, hospital employees are gathering bodies in the open air. The identification process has taken on a grizzly nature, with family members having to walk along the rows of bodies to see if any are their loved ones. Many of the bodies are mangled beyond recognition.

Basel Faraj, a trainee in a local media production company, was wounded while covering the first airstrikes in Gaza.

“He’s critically wounded, but we can’t transfer him to anywhere; I’m losing my son,” his mother cried. “As I passed by another bed in the intensive-care unit I found another victim struggling to survive, despite the lack of oxygen and medicine.”

A car arrives at Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest. Someone rushes in screaming: “He’s alive. Save him. Please save him.”

It is a man carrying a young adult. The wounded man is dying. He is a cameraman with Hamas’ Al-Aq’sa TV. It appears unlikely the ill-equipped ambulances and dirty conditions in the hospital will help in his failing fight for survival.

Five journalists were wounded on the first day of the military operation. Two of them were working with Al-Aq’sa TV.

The decision makers at the local level are at a loss. In Gaza there is little advice they can offer and no comfort. People cannot flee the situation. Many want to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing into Egypt, but for the vast majority of the time, Cairo insists the border remain closed.

Hamas’ leadership has gone to ground in bunkers, tunnels and elsewhere, meaning there is no one to whom the public can turn for help.

In Israel, there are more options available to the population, but local politicians are still unsure how to advise their electorate.

“I’m not the general manager of the lives of the people here,” Sderot Mayor David Bouskila said from his underground logistics bunker. “I don’t know what to tell the people — to be here and suffer or to go elsewhere.”

In Israel, at least, the radio and TV channels are constantly broadcasting warning messages as to where the rockets are headed and offering phone numbers of psychological services available to residents of the south. National radio is calling on those living in northern Israel to offer home hospitality to all who desire. Many southerners take advantage of this support and are relocating to spare bedrooms up and down the country.

Schools, synagogues and offices are collecting foodstuffs, which are distributed to those still in the south. While fewer rockets are being fired from Gaza now that the Israeli ground offensive is in full swing, their range has increased, with Grad rockets capable of traveling some 25 miles being launched from Gaza.

In previous years, the name Sderot became synonymous with the Qassam rockets of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but now the coastal cities Ashkelon and Ashdod can be added to the list, as well as the capital of the south Beer Sheva, Netivot, Qiryat Malachi and a host of other towns and villages.

While the damage is far less significant on the Israeli side of the border, the number of Israelis now within range of the rockets is reaching a par with that for the Palestinians. Schools are closed throughout the south. City and regional councils have unlocked bomb shelters that have been closed for years to prepare for worst-case scenarios.

While Israel has had to get used to daily rocket attacks over the last eight years, the international community is now firmly focused on Israel’s strikes against Hamas, with many ambassadors to the United Nations speaking of Jerusalem’s “disproportionate use of force.”

As has been the case in recent decades, Israel’s main detractor on the international scene is the Muslim bloc, as represented by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is arguably the strongest grouping in the United Nations.

In the days leading up to the Israeli strike and immediately following, Egypt proved to be the key exception by blaming Hamas for all the ills that have befallen the civilian population of Gaza.

The Islamist movement handed Israel an opportunity “on a golden plate” to attack, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit told reporters. Palestinian Authority leader Abbas made similar remarks as he toured regional capitals on the day the warfare commenced.

Israel’s key ally is the United States, with other “old friends” attempting to prevent comprehensive condemnation of Jerusalem’s actions. Among them: the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic, which crucially has just taken over the presidency of the European Union from France. Prague is stressing the Israeli action is “defensive” rather than “offensive.”

ALTTEXTYet, most in the international community see things differently. While criticizing Hamas’ rocket firing, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon roundly condemned Israel: “While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, I have also condemned the excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza. The suffering caused to civilian populations as a result of the large-scale violence and destruction that have taken place over the past few days has saddened me profoundly.”

In Muslim capitals and elsewhere, the rhetoric has been far stronger than that adopted by U.N. diplomats.

“Muslims of the world should stay united against world arrogance, the criminal Zionists in particular … to line up against [the] wicked party with more solidarity than ever,” the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was quoted as saying by IRNA, Tehran’s official news agency. The comment was published as Said Jalili, Iran’s security chief, was in Beirut for talks with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, among others.

In Malaysia, Israel’s actions were described as “tantamount to genocide” by Abd Al-Rahim Bakri, the country’s deputy foreign minister,.

However, Israel maintains that during its aerial bombardment of Gaza it was doing its utmost to ensure civilians were not caught up in the airstrikes and only Hamas members and other combatants were targeted.

“We’re using very high-precision weaponry,” said Maj. Avital Leibovich, a senior IDF spokeswoman.

The Israeli message to the world has remained the same throughout the campaign: Hamas has brought the warfare upon itself and ordinary Gazans. It goes back to the time Israel withdrew all its civilians and military personnel from Gaza three years ago.

“We hoped the Palestinians would do something good with their lives,” Leibovich said. “We wanted a better future for them, and for a while it worked.”

She pointed to the successful exports of millions of dollars worth of flowers and fruits from Gaza in the first months following the Israeli pullback.

“But then Hamas was elected and changed the priorities,” the spokeswoman continued. “It invested a lot of money in building headquarters, recruiting troops, training them, digging hundreds of tunnels, buying weapons and explosives. That money did not go to the Palestinians themselves.”

A similar message came from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak when he explained why Israel had moved to a land invasion of Gaza on Jan. 3: “I have said all along that our military activities will widen and deepen as much as needed. Our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza and to bring about a significant change in the situation in southern Israel.

“We have carefully weighed all our options,” he said. “We are not war hungry, but we shall not, I repeat — we shall not allow a situation in which our towns, villages and civilians are constantly targeted by Hamas. It will not be easy or short, but we are determined.”

Hamas, too, has repeatedly made a single point whenever it has been given the chance.

“We first declared a truce between the Palestinian parties and the occupation [Israel] to protect the Palestinians from the daily attacking, daily killing and assassinations, but the calm failed to put an end to their tragedy,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

As a result, he added, Hamas had little choice other than to refuse to extend the truce. The mood in Gaza made it clear the people did not want the unilaterally declared truce to continue any longer.

Hamas also has international media coverage on its side. The Palestinian Ramattan production company has set up video cameras on Gaza rooftops and is transmitting a live feed to any TV channels that want to broadcast the pictures. Indeed, on Arabic satellite TV, dozens of stations are choosing to show the pictures, which are interspersed with graphic scenes from Gaza hospitals, propagandist videos and one-sided studio discussions.

Similarly, the visual footage coming out of Gaza is being lapped up by the international media, given that it is far more graphic than pictures of Israelis sitting in their bomb shelters.

Those scenes are also bringing about a degree of renewed unity between Hamas and Fatah, its bitter Palestinian rival faction. Politicians from the two sides held their first publicized joint meeting in months with the outbreak of Gaza hostilities.

“Israel used the Palestinian division and the truce to prepare itself well in order to attack Gaza. Now Israel doesn’t differentiate between Hamas and Fatah. We’re also targeted in Gaza,” said senior Fatah official Faisal Abu Shahla, who chose to remain in Gaza rather than flee to the West Bank when Hamas took control of the coastal enclave in 2007.

Comments like these and others from Palestinians, Israelis and world leaders will soon be forgotten, but the vivid images from Gaza and southern Israel will be remembered for years to come: Palestinian and Israeli civilians alike weeping uncontrollably in the face of a fate they cannot control.

The following is a collection of quotations gathered both in Gaza and southern Israel in the last week — and they are remarkably similar:

“It was on Friday; my mother was preparing the food when the shrapnel hit her in the foot.”

“I hope the attacks will stop, and we can live in peace, and we can live a normal life like anyone — to go to school, to go to work in peace and to be able to sleep well.”

“I’m so scared to stay alone in my house.”

“It’s calm at this minute, but it wasn’t hours ago. We heard explosions. They attacked children. Not fighters. Children.”

“People are angry about this. Why didn’t the world say anything and take positive steps?”

The two people are divided by an enormous chasm, by fences, ditches, armed forces and a deep-set paranoia about the intentions of the other. Yet the two have far more in common than perhaps they are ready to admit as the rockets and shells still pound away.

Israelis and Palestinians are united in their fear of the power of weaponry in the hands of the enemy. Both sit in their homes wondering if the next explosive projectile is heading for them. They are making the same visits to hospitals to visit the victims of warfare.

And both are as one as they pay the ultimate price — burying their dead.

Images: Gaza bread line, funeral in Israel

Gaza campaign shows cautious regional unity


There are no coincidences in the Middle East. Not between the Israelis and the Palestinians, not between Fatah and Hamas and certainly not between the international community and Israel or the Palestinian Authority.

What there are, this time around, are startling confluences in planning and policy that have driven a wedge in Arab unity, while providing unprecedented illustrations of cooperation between Israel and some of its neighbors. Operation Cast Lead, as the Israelis call it, foreshadows far more than another temporary period of relative quiet along a border.

At work is a fascinating scenario in which Israel “does the deed” — toppling Hamas — which arguably benefits the Palestinians, Egyptians, Saudis and other Arab states as much as it does Israel. Jordan faces a special dynamic. But there’s more: In doing so, are the Israelis in effect clearing the way for an agreement with the Palestinians (road map for peace plan) and with the entire Arab world (Arab — nee Saudi — initiative)?

For months there has been speculation as to who will invade Gaza: Could Mahmoud Abbas and his American-trained cadre of fighters do the job, or must it be the Israelis who clearly wanted to avoid taking the plunge and risking the ever-present quagmire?

As Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit admonished Hamas at a Cairo news conference after the Israeli campaign began, it could not fire 300 rockets into Israel between the Dec. 19 end of the “calm agreement” and the Dec. 27 response without forcing Israel’s hand. Israeli military planners, meanwhile, never doubted the Hamas obstinacy and certain course to conflict.

It was a lesson about which Jerusalem and Cairo were very much in synch. Egypt went to the well twice and came up empty: in its attempt to negotiate a rapprochement among Palestinian factions and in its attempt to negotiate an extension to the Israel-Hamas “calm agreement.”

With a presumed good measure of prodding from the White House and vigorous nodding from the U.S. administration-elect, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak took the decision not to allow U.S. largesse to crumble at the self-defeating hands of Hamas.

Once he took the plunge, Mubarak never vacillated, showing courage in feeding Hamas the disinformation that flushed its leadership out of hiding in time for the first Israeli assault, fighting back the surge of Gazans trying to enter Egypt and allowing Al-Gheit to cast the blame for the Israeli onslaught on Hamas itself — courage helped along by a fear of the Muslim Brotherhood and the allure of continuing American aid.

Abbas, meanwhile, emerges as the primary beneficiary of this extraordinary convergence of interests. Gingerly testing the waters from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and from Cairo — anywhere but Ramallah — he provided an important piece to the puzzle. When Saudi King Abdullah phoned President Bush to demand that Israel be reined-in, Abbas himself was still in the city, the two leaders having just met. No coincidence here, either. Clearly the Americans, Saudis and Palestinians were all on the same page as the Egyptians and Israelis.

And Iran? Not much in the way of sabre-rattling this time around. Tehran fights Israel through proxies: the Syrians, Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border and Hamas down south.

Syria continues to weigh the long-term benefits of patching up things with Washington; Hamas is being left with little but rhetoric, and some military wonks believe Hassan Nasrallah is savvy enough to realize he bit the bullet in 2006 and should not be quick to bite the apple again. Accordingly, it is noteworthy that Nasrallah inveighed against Cairo, not Jerusalem, when Operation Cast Lead began.

In all, while remaining mindful that not without reason generations of peacemaking in the Middle East has failed miserably and that courses chartered through the region are rarely completed, the participants appear to have put on an impressive demonstration of coordinated international gamesmanship that, in its first stage, was carried out with precision planning and cooperation that extended across ancient fault lines.

Whether the planners will achieve their respective goals in subsequent stages will depend on their ability to remain focused on the benefits of their cooperation and eschew impulses to push beyond agreed limits.

Felice Friedson is president and CEO of The Media Line News Agency, a U.S. organization specializing in Middle East coverage, and founder of the Mideast Press Club. She can be reached at editor@themedialine.org.

How we fight


Am I dreaming?

Did Israel actually trick our terrorist enemy into complacency before catching it off guard? Did we use the six-month cease-fire with Hamas to beef up our intelligence and plan a blitzkrieg counterattack in response to the incessant bombing of Israeli civilians?

Did we really put those delusional peace talks on hold and say enough is enough, now it’s time to defend ourselves? Did we also launch a PR and diplomatic offensive with the international community to defend our actions?

Excuse me, but this is not the weak-looking and tentative Israel I’ve come to know over the past few years.

Complete Gaza CoverageEver since Israel evacuated all civilians and army personnel from Gaza in the summer of 2005, Hamas has fired some 6,300 bombs targeted directly at Israeli civilians, killing 10 and injuring 700. While these bombs were falling, Israel fought a dumb and sloppy war in Lebanon that only emboldened our enemies; chose a policy of restraint despite the thousands of Hamas bombs; and desperately pursued unrealistic peace talks with a splintered Palestinian people and a terror-sponsoring state (Syria).

In the process, Israel lost much of its power of deterrence, which is a diplomatic way of saying: Our enemies stopped fearing us. This deterrence was crucial to Israel’s ability to survive for 60 years in a neighborhood with 300 million hostile neighbors. The situation got so bad that a few days before Israel’s Gaza offensive, Hamas was mocking Israel’s weakness, demanding that Israel reopen the crossings into Gaza and offering, well, more bombs and the continued imprisonment of Gilad Shalit.

Even the eminently reasonable and peace-loving Barack Obama seemed to be giving the Israelis a lesson when, during a summer visit to Sderot, he said: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same.”

Apparently, Israel has decided to follow Obama’s advice, which might not be so bad.

As Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi argued in The Wall Street Journal this week, giving Israel full leeway to counterattack against Hamas is a good thing for the peace process, because Israelis will never agree to further land concessions if they feel they can’t defend themselves against terrorist aggression.

Of course, if Israel does not heed Obama’s message and fails to “do everything” it can to stop the terror on its doorstep, we can expect even less willingness from Israelis to take risks for peace.

In other words, in Israel today, the best way to fight for peace is to fight against terror.

As it turns out, a day before Israel launched its anti-terror offensive, I was sitting in the New York apartment of one of the Jewish people’s toughest and most relentless terror fighters.

She is a diminutive woman in her 50s named Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy, and author of “Narco-Terrorism” and “Funding Evil, Updated: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It,” among other books.

Ehrenfeld’s obsession is money. If we can figure out where and how the terrorists get their funding, she says, we can suffocate their efforts.

She has spent the last few years of her life trying to expose “the most vital and venomous sources of terrorists’ financial power” — including state sponsorship, government corruption and the illegal drug trade. “Funding Evil,” which has a foreword by former CIA Director James Woolsey, is a highly detailed exposé of the labyrinth of terrorist financing, with a special focus on a major culprit, Saudi Arabia.

Since the book came out four years ago, she has had death threats and, most recently, has been the target of a lawsuit launched in a British court by a Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz, who denied the charges made in the book of his connection to terror financing.

Ever the fighter, Ehrenfeld turned the tables on Mahfouz by countersuing and got a bill passed in New York State called “Rachel’s Law,” which protects American authors published in America from getting sued in foreign courts for libel. She is now fighting to get the bill passed in Congress.

She says she gets little support from the Jewish community, because many of her findings are “politically incorrect,” as they involve American allies like Saudi Arabia, with whom America does a lot of business. But out of her tiny, orchid-filled apartment in midtown Manhattan, she will continue, she says, her one-woman campaign to expose the money trail of global terrorism.

“It’s an outrage that all the information is out there, and we are acting as if these people [the Saudis] are our best friends,” she said.

So, yes, there’s more than one way to fight terror. For the Ehrenfelds of the world, we must follow the money and get it out of the terrorists’ hands. For those on the front lines, we must make clear to our terrorist neighbors that while we do long for peace, that won’t stop us from doing whatever it takes to defend our people.

I also experienced on my long weekend in New York yet another way that Jews fight terror. It was an evening event at a synagogue on the Lower East Side billed as “our most powerful response to the Mumbai massacre.”

What was it? It was 200 Jews beating their drums at a Chanukah party sponsored by my friend, Rabbi Simon Jacobson of the Meaningful Life Center.

Late into the chilly Manhattan night, these Jewish hipsters followed the beat of a professional percussion band, led by an exuberant conductor named Aviva Nash, who urged the ecstatic crowd to just let it rip as if the whole world were watching.

There was no talk of deterrence or money trails at this Chanukah party. There was just a noisy reminder of how some of us fight, and what, in the end, we’re all fighting for.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Hold your fire! Cease fire! Fire!


Arab attacker strikes in Jerusalem; dozen injured, terrorist killed


JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Arab assailant plowed a vehicle into a crowd of Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem before being shot dead.

Two soldiers were moderately injured and more than a dozen others suffered slight injuries. The driver was killed by a soldier at the scene.

The soldiers, who were on a tour of the Old City, were struck at a crowded intersection near the Jaffa Gate by an Arab from eastern Jerusalem driving a black BMW, according to reports.

The attack marked the third time in recent months that an Arab from eastern Jerusalem has used a vehicle to perpetrate an attack in Jerusalem. In the other two cases, one of which resulted in the deaths of Israeli civilians, the assailants used construction vehicles.

Here’s the AP report:

JERUSALEM (AP)—A driver plowed a BMW into a group of soldiers at a busy intersection near Jerusalem’s Old City late Monday, injuring 13 of them before he was shot to death, Israeli police and the rescue service said.

Jerusalem police commander Ilan Franco said a soldier in the group killed the driver.

The driver was not immediately identified, but Franco said he was a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem who apparently acted alone. Israel TV said the car was registered to a resident of Jabel Mukaber, an Arab village inside the city limits.

It was the third incident in Jerusalem in which vehicles apparently have been used as weapons in recent months. In July, two Palestinians living in Jerusalem carried out separate attacks using heavy construction machinery that killed three people and injured several others. Both attackers were fatally shot by police and soldiers.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak released a statement demanding a speedup of procedures to allow the destruction of homes of Palestinian attackers ‘‘to contribute to deterring potential terrorists.’’ Several years ago, an Israeli Supreme Court justice ruled that destroying houses does not deter attackers and the practice was halted.

Ambulances and police units raced to the scene Monday night after the crash about 11 p.m. and quickly carried away the injured.

Police said two of the 13 injured were in serious condition while the others suffered light wounds. Doctors at the hospitals said all were conscious and were being treated.

Israel Radio said the soldiers, from the Artillery Corps, were on a tour of Jerusalem ahead of the Jewish New Year holiday next week.

An Israel Radio reporter described a large group of Jews, most of them ultra-Orthodox, chasing an Arab into the nearby Old City after the incident.

Police said the car rammed into the soldiers waiting at the intersection. Witnesses said the car ended up on the sidewalk near the intersection, which lies along the line between the Jewish and Arab sections of Jerusalem.

Since Israel captured the Arab section of the city in 1967, there are no barriers between the two sides.

Palestinians demand the Arab portion as the capital of the independent state they want to create.

Israel united the city under its rule weeks after the 1967 war, but in recent years some officials have shown a willingness to cede Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians. However, sharing the city and its holy sites remains one of the toughest issues in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

 

Iraq Attack


I don’t want to give away any secrets here, but guess what? America may be planning a surprise attack on Iraq — in fact, even as you read this, the "secret" war plans might have gone into effect.

Whether the bid to unseat Saddam Hussein and dismantle his suspected nuclear weapons arsenal is a good idea for America largely depends on the effectiveness of the campaign. The last one went well, yes? The war to end all wars. On one hand, we had relatively few casualties (less than 150), but on the other, we’re back to square one, except for the fact that since he survived the Persian Gulf War 10 years ago, Saddam doesn’t seem to be afraid of America. Perhaps he’s just posturing, maybe he’s insane — or both?

"The forces of evil will carry their coffins on their backs, to die in disgraceful failure, taking their schemes back with them, or digging their own graves, after they bring death to themselves on every Arab or Muslim soil against which they perpetrate aggression, including Iraq, the land of jihad and the banner," Saddam told the Iraqi people in an Aug. 8 speech marking the 14th anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war.

But just because the man is bellicose, doesn’t mean America has to attack. And just because the father did a poor job, doesn’t mean the son shouldn’t try to put things right. (Maybe someone should remind W. of the biblical verse: "The sins of the father should not be visited upon the son.") But there has to be better reasons than a competitive father-son relationship and a love of all things military in order to go to war.

Of course, there are reasons to attack. Iraq may be building a cache of nuclear/biological weapons so powerful that this might be our last chance to attack. The evidence is not clear. It is also unclear whether an attack at this time would be good for America. Would it detract from the War on Terror (or is it the War on Terror)? Do other world powers support it? Could Americans suffer another war, with many more casualties on both sides?

Questions like these are being debated now in Washington and international circles, in this surrealistically public debate over the pros and cons of war on Iraq.

But, we have to ask the usual questions:

Is it good for the Jews?

Is it good for Israel?

"Why should it be a Jewish or Israeli issue?" Morris Amitay, a pro-Israel activist and former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "We should stay patriotic as the next guy, but not be out front."

The reasons that the Jewish community is staying relatively quiet (for Jews, anyway) are manifold (see story p. 28).

"If the Jewish community has been quiet, it may reflect the fact that there is no particular Jewish angle to a policy matter with national and global implications," said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

Who are they kidding? Clearly a war on Iraq has a Jewish angle and it is an Israeli issue. No. 1, Hussein might be supplying biological weapons to Palestinian terror networks, so that they might injure Israeli and American targets. That’s what the Times of London reported last week, based on government documents passed on to Prime Minister Tony Blair and senior officials. No. 2, the elimination of Iraq would lift a great burden off of Israel. And, No. 2a, it could help Israel with the Palestinians, because of the financial aid Saddam gives to Palestinian terrorist groups and the families of suicide bombers.

Israel, of course, could benefit from the end of the Iraqi threat, but let me remind you what it was like the last time America attacked.

While the Americans were sitting on their couch watching the birth of CNN and a new war-time coverage — Didn’t it sort of feel like color war or celebrity boxing? Removed and adrenaline-inducing at the same time — Israelis were running in and out of their cheder atum, their sealed rooms, struggling with their gas masks, quarantines and defenselessness.

They were defensively crippled, in possession of the capability to retaliate, but refraining because America wanted to handle it on its own.

Now it wouldn’t be any better. In fact it could be much, much worse.

Much in the way that America distances Israel in order to gain allies in its war on terror, America probably wouldn’t want Israel to defend itself again. But Israeli officials have stressed that they will indeed retaliate if targeted.

And although Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday that Iraq is the greatest threat facing Israel, one has to wonder if he’s just hoping to take the focus off his own military operations.

That hope could backfire if the White House, seeking international support, links Iraq to progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In addition to the military considerations, I’m not sure the morally depleted Israeli community could handle being attacked from Iraq as well.

Back in 1991, Israelis ran to sealed rooms and then returned to normal life after the safe siren sounded. But now, after two years of the Al-Aksa Intifada, where Israelis just barely feel safe in their own homes, having to dodge Iraqi Scud missiles may not be the best thing, to say the least.

The United States may be justified in attacking Iraq. And that attack might benefit Israel in the long-run. But in the short-term, it might not.

And that’s what Jewish leaders are not willing to say. What’s good for America is not always what’s good for Israel.

So which do you choose?

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