Israel has had success against ‘lone wolf’ terrorists — here’s how


“Lone wolf” terrorism in Europe is making headlines around the world. But in Israel, the phenomenon of angry or troubled individuals taking up arms is old news.

Since October, Israelis have endured a wave of violence that has been carried out largely by individual Palestinians without backing from terrorist groups — so much so that some have called this the “lone wolf intifada.”

As of the end of June, 38 people had been killed and 298 injured by attackers, according to the Shin Bet security service.

Yet the violence appears to be winding down, at least for now. In October, when the wave of violence is said to have started, the number of attacks against Israelis spiked to 620. In June, there were 103 attacks, lower than in September, before the wave of violence began.

A large majority of the attacks — some 1,500 out of 2,000 — were in the West Bank, where the Israel Defense Forces is responsible for protecting Israelis. Here are five key methods the army used to turn the tide of violence.

Keep the terrorist groups out of it

The wave of violence may be considered a lone wolf intifada, but that’s because the army has put a lid on the terrorist groups, a senior IDF officer told reporters during a briefing this week. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of his job.

Since the second intifada, the last major Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s, the Israeli army has managed to largely dismantle the networks run by Hamas and other terrorist groups in the West Bank, according to Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general and an analyst at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies think tank. 

“Basically the terror networks are dismantled, and basically the security forces are dealing with maintenance,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean terrorist groups have stopped trying to launch attacks against Israelis. In the past three months, the army has thwarted dozens of attempted attacks by Hamas alone in what the senior official called the “old war” against organized terror. 

“We’re still having day-to-day indications of them trying to find people in the West Bank, fund them, give them weapons, give them explosives and tell them to shoot Jews,” he said. “This hasn’t changed.”

Predict the unpredictable

A new war is being waged against the lone wolves. Their attacks started last fall in Jerusalem, sparked by Palestinian fears of Jewish encroachment on the Temple Mount. But the center of the lone wolf intifada quickly shifted to the West Bank city of Hebron, with attacks on soldiers and settlers in the area, as well as across Israel.

Around that time, at the end of last year, the army began building a system to deal with the new threat that was emerging, the senior officer said. The goal was to predict the unpredictable: when, for example, a particular Palestinian youth might grab a knife from his mom’s kitchen and take to the streets to spill Israeli blood. Motives can range from nationalism to family problems, he said.

“Unlike terrorists who belong to Hamas or the Islamic Jihad, if you get to their house the week before the attack, the kid doesn’t know that he’s a terrorist yet,” the senior officer said. “So that’s the main challenge.”

Based on what was known about previous attackers, the army created an alert system that is constantly being tweaked. These days, army analysts feed huge amounts of intelligence information into that system — a combination of “social media, human intelligence, signal intelligence,” according to the senior officer, who declined to provide further details about intelligence gathering. In return, he said, the system produces a small number of alerts about potential future attacks.

“One of the ways you produce an alert is, what are the last actions that a specific individual did,” the senior officer said. “For example, if he’s exposed to incitement and right afterwards he rents a car, maybe an unregistered car, this raises questions.”

In response to an alert, options include arresting a suspect, monitoring his or her actions, intervening through the family or deploying troops to a potential target area. When attackers are arrested or killed without managing to cause carnage, future attackers are thought to be deterred.

“The attacks are decreasing because of their ineffectiveness, because most of them fail,” said Brom, the Institute for National Security Studies analyst. “There is a limit to the number of even frustrated young people who are willing to give their life and to achieve nothing. So it makes sense that over time, the numbers of attacks are fewer and fewer.”

Go after the inciters

Incitement to violence can occur in person, through traditional media or over social media. Hamas is responsible for a large portion of the incitement of Palestinians against Israel, the senior officer said.

“They create some of the memes of the high-level incitement, or the incitement which is very powerful that you see on the web,” he said. “So when you handle most of the Hamas incitement, or when you stop some of the incitement from getting to social media, you also have less incitement by private people that are just sharing a specific post or adding incitement.”

Get guns off the streets 

Despite Israel’s control of the West Bank’s borders, weapons manufacturing in the territory has “increased drastically” in the past couple years, according to the senior officer. He estimated there are hundreds of production centers there.

In recent months, he said, the army has launched an organized crackdown, including closing some 20 locations producing homemade Carl Gustav submachine guns, or “Carlos,” like those used last month by two Hebron-area cousins in a deadly shooting at the upscale Sarona market in Tel Aviv.

“They paid for their suits more than they paid for the weapons,” the officer said of the Sarona shooters, who wore dress suits during the attack. “And our logic is very simple … If not everyone can get a weapon with 2,000 shekels [about $500], the price will go up and they’ll have to make all sorts of arrangements and meet more and more people in order to get the weapon they want, we will see fewer attacks with weapons because people will make more mistakes.”

Israeli soldiers guarding the home where Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, was stabbed and killed in a terror attack in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, in the West Bank on June 30, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Limit blowback

At the same time, the army tries to minimize its footprint on Palestinian society. That starts with trying to arrest rather than kill attackers and would-be attackers, the senior officer said.

According to Brom, the army also pushes to limit collective punishment, like the withholding of taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, or revoking permits to work in or visit Israel.

“The more you can separate between the public from the perpetrators, the better,” he said.

When the army does implement measures with punitive effects, like refusing to return the bodies of Palestinians killed during attacks or destroying attackers’ homes, it aims only to target the attackers’ supporters, according to Brom.

Col. Ido Mizrachi, the head of engineering in the Central Command, which is responsible for the West Bank, acknowledged in another briefing with reporters that demolishing Palestinian homes causes resentment, but said he thinks the deterrent effect is stronger. To maintain that balance, he said, his engineers work quickly and use techniques to ensure that surrounding homes, or even adjoining apartments, are not damaged.

While the senior officer downplayed the Palestinian Authority’s security cooperation with Israel, Brom said the partnership is one of the main factors that enables the army to limit wider tensions.

“If the Palestinian Authority stopped cooperating, the Israeli security services would be in a situation in which they would have to do themselves what the Palestinian Authority is doing,” he said. “The problem is, that would create much more friction with population at large. And more friction with population at large means more motivation for more youngsters to join terrorist groups.”

Overall, the army believes this combination of tactics has helped to change the mentality of Palestinians in the West Bank, reducing the number of people willing to risk their lives to attack Israelis.

“We saw more and more people not becoming pro-Israeli or pro-Zionist, but understanding that they don’t achieve anything from this escalation, that it hurts them economically, that it doesn’t help the life conditions, that it doesn’t achieve anything on the national level,” the senior officer said.

Terror is the real Nakba


Palestinians consider the birth of the State of Israel a catastrophe, a “nakba.” It’s their Holocaust Day.

The two Palestinian terrorists who went on a rampage at the Sarona restaurant complex in Tel Aviv must surely consider Israel, and Tel Aviv, a catastrophe. The beaches, the night clubs, the museums, the hotels, the high tech vibe, the restaurant where they ordered brownies before murdering Jews– it’s all a catastrophe.

Palestinians are taught that the very existence of Israel is a catastrophe.

I wonder, though, what Yousef Jabarin thinks about Israel. He’s the Palestinian bartender from Umm al-Fahm who served the terrorists those brownies before they did their murderous act. Is the country that gave him his job a “catastrophe”?

I also wonder what Arab terrorists must think when they see fellow Arabs like Jabarin living freely in that “catastrophic” country called Israel. How dare you work for Jews? How dare you look so happy serving us those brownies?

When Palestinian terrorists come to Israel to murder Jews, they’re showing their hatred not just for Jews, but for what the Jews have built: A civil society where Israeli Arabs can work and live freely, where they have more rights, legal protections and economic opportunities than in any Arab country in the Middle East.

For any Arab who has been taught to hate Jews, the fact that Arabs are better off living in the Jewish state must be a real source of embarrassment.

It’s the catastrophe of humiliation.

This is what must drive the murderers nuts — the realization that for Arabs like Yousef Jabarin, Israel is not a nakba but a miracle.

It is Jew-hating terror that is the real nakba.

Americans fear vulnerability to terror in new year


Americans were as shocked as everyone else when two terrorists shot up the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine last January, but they did not think that they were threatened by an attack which had targeted the creators of a series of cartoons mocking Mohammed, a satirical genre that American cartoonists have not embraced. The attack on a kosher supermarket frequented by Jews was another story, but then clearly Jews alone were targeted, not French people at large.

Eleven months later, after terrorists carried out simultaneous attacks on Parisians at a rock concert, at a major sports event and in restaurants there was no denying what had transpired. Anyone and everyone was a potential terror victim. The ostensible reason the terrorists gave was French air attacks against ISIS in Syria. Americans were leading the air attacks on ISIS The implication for Americans was obvious. “How vulnerable are we?” became a national mantra.

Now they know. Expert assessments of the Jihadi danger have multiplied during the past two weeks, in part because of the deadly attack by a Muslim couple who killed 14 people at a Christmas office party in San Bernardino, Calif.. Even more shocking was the fact that the married couple had a baby and the husband had worked at the office, making them most unlikely suspects until their past was investigated.

RAND Corporation associate policy analyst Jason H. Campbell told The Media Line that, “What is unknown is the degree to which [the Paris attacks are] replicable, especially with the heightened vigilance seen throughout the U.S., Europe and elsewhere” in the wake of the San Bernadino massacre. That attack left no doubt about the modus operandi of ISIS as well as its ability to do in the US what it has done in Paris and the northern Sinai Peninsula where it has killed dozens of Egyptian troops and brought down a Russian passenger plane with more than two hundred holiday-makers aboard. “Heightened vigilance,” he said, is not sufficient in itself. Nobody would have suspected the San Bernadino couple. Social media and the Internet provide a very effective way of turning apparently innocent Muslims into potential Islamic terrorists in the privacy of their own homes.

As the world has now grasped, the apparent ability of ISIS to order random terrorist attacks at will around the globe through agents it has planted or cultivated in western countries is now operational. Terrorism specialists have spoken of the necessity to understand that the war against ISIS cannot be restricted to conventional warfare as though against an organized military force, whether through air strikes or by putting boots on the ground, essential as those means are. The very success of western assaults which unleashes urban terrorism in Europe must be fought with different means.

Unfortunately, European societies – as well as many American agencies — tend to regard urban terrorism as crimes to be fought, like any crime, by diligent police work. This is an error, says Gen. Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israeli army intelligence and national security adviser. He told The Media Line that “The West needs to change its attitude toward terrorism and understand it’s not a criminal act, but something different. You can’t use the criminal and police systems to fight terror, you have to have special agencies and rules that allow you to fight terror, which include intelligence, interception and interrogation.”

According to Amidror, Western states are vulnerable to terrorist machinations precisely because of their adherence to a legal system that respects individual rights. If a criminal is planning to rob a bank safeguards can be put in place to thwart it and the criminal caught red-handed. For terrorists the target is not this or that bank or individual but the entire society. To catch them at the scene of the crime is too late. Therefore it is reasonable that “if you have information about someone who is going to rob a bank, you can’t arrest him because a crime has not been committed yet.” However, “when terrorists meet and speak together about a terrorist act you should arrest them.”

Amidror cites the case of a terror suspect in Belgium who escaped because the law would not allow police to break into a house between eleven p.m. and four a.m.

Detective First Grade Mordy Dzikansky, author of two books on terrorism and the officer selected by the NYPD to serve as liaison to Israel during the Second Intifada, agrees. He told The Media Line that there is a necessary difference in approach to terrorism and that the rules have changed when it comes to the vulnerability of civilians to terrorism. He gave the example of the Boston Marathon bombing, where Russia’s FSB had passed on information about the bombers to US authorities, suggesting that they be kept under observation. One of the US agencies apparently interviewed one of the brothers. Dzikansky disagreed with the methodology arguing that terrorists have a greater commitment than do criminals and the interview can only tip the hand of the counter-terrorism forces. He said that the hatred exceeds the monetary reward.

What makes operating against terrorists more difficult is that many potential ISIS terrorists are citizens of the countries where they operate. They have the same rights as other citizens to protection under the law of democratic states and cannot be deported even as they plan murderous random attacks against fellow citizens or citizens of neighboring European countries to which they can travel freely.
ISIS takes advantage of Europe's compassion for the victims of the chaos in Syria, to which ISIS itself contributes. Referring to the mass influx of Syrian refugees to Europe, Simon Perry, co-director of a research program on policing and homeland security at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, told The Media Line that the French appeared to be stunned that several of the terrorists in November's attacks were French. One assailant at least came to France via Greece posing as a refugee. He said the influx of refugees clearly “provided opportunities for ISIS to attack the West.”

Israeli analysts claim that what happens in Israel will happen later in Europe. “On terrorism, Israel is ten or twenty years ahead and twenty years ahead on the solution,” says Perry.

Kenneth Abramowitz, a New York-based analyst who established Savethewest.com, agrees. “What happens in Israel happens in other countries in five years,” he told The Media Line. Israel, he adds, is “the eastern border of western civilization.” Unlike Israel, “none of the Western nations is capable of defending its own interests.” He calls European absorption of masses of Syrian refugees not so much an indication of a kinder, gentler Europe as evidence that “Europe has made the decision to not save itself.”He gives the Europe Union “a few months to come to its senses or it will be overwhelmed by Muslims,” he warns.

The assault on Western civilization, of which the ISIS threat is only one component, according to Abramowitz, comes from both “the outside and from the inside.” In his view the terror threat is not from ISIS alone. The “existential threat” to the United States comes from Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons and ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) as well.

Pessimistically he envisages that only a serious attack will awaken democracies, including the U.S., to the homeland threat because “democracies act in a panic.”

Abramowitz fears a multi-front “attack to destroy the U.S. through … physical war, intellectual war, economic war, legal war and demographic war.” President Obama has spoken of the intention to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. That is not sufficient. Even if the war against ISIS terror is successful, Abramowitz maintains, the battle for survival must go beyond it.

Robert Swift contributed to this article.

The refugee dilemma: Fighting to defend the defenseless


On Nov. 19, less than a week after the deadly series of terrorist attacks in Paris, Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, the 134-year-old refugee resettlement organization, was summoned to the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress. The topic was the swelling Syrian refugee crisis.

Hetfield, 48, a lawyer and policy specialist in refugee and immigration resettlement, had been tracking the Syrian crisis since it began in 2011. What started as a civil war between Syrian president Bashar Assad and a handful of rebel groups seeking to unseat him had morphed in large part into a religious war with the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) leading the rebellion, internally displacing 11 million Syrians and pushing another 4.1 million out of the country.  

Hetfield hoped to convince Congress to take in 100,000 Syrian refugees “over and above” the United States’ annual refugee quota of 70,000, a number far exceeding the additional 10,000 Syrians President Barack Obama had already agreed to welcome. (In Hetfield’s address to Congress, he called the American gesture “tepid.”) Hetfield knew a green light was unlikely: In the week after the Paris attacks, the revelation that a fake or stolen Syrian passport may have been used by one of the terrorists to infiltrate the refugees streaming into Europe set off panic among some Americans that Syrian refugees are indistinguishable from the Islamic State terrorists they are fleeing. As the U.S. election cycle continues to heat up, the refugees have become a political flashpoint, with distortions and fear-mongering shifting focus away from their desperate situation.

As civil discourse last week descended into talk of Muslim registries and permitting only Syrian Christians to enter the U.S., Hetfield prepared to fight the toxic political climate of xenophobia and fear. 

“Politicians who fixate on the refugee crisis — it’s perplexing,” Hetfield said from his office in New York the night before his hearing. “They do it because it’s easy. Refugees are defenseless; they don’t have a constituency, they don’t vote. And it’s lot easier dealing with refugees than it is dealing with ISIS.”

The day before Hetfield testified, a number of U.S. governors had announced that their states would not host Syrian refugees, prompting a bill in Congress that would make passage into the United States even harder (the bill later passed, although President Obama has promised to veto it). National polling revealed that a majority of Americans were overwhelmingly opposed to taking in any Syrian refugees.

“It’s totally unacceptable and irrational to us,” Hetfield said. He was especially disappointed in the governors. “They just haven’t done their research,” he said. “Every refugee [admitted to the U.S.] is vetted right side up, upside down and sideways — they’re vetting these people to death. It would be so painful and so difficult and so slow for [a terrorist] to go through that, they’d have to be nuts. There are so many other, easier ways to get into this country.”

Hetfield earned his law degree from Georgetown University and practiced immigration law at a Washington, D.C., law firm before moving to the nonprofit sector. He joined HIAS in 1989, where he has spent the majority of his career, working in Rome, New York and now Washington. His credentials in refugee resettlement work also include a stint as senior adviser for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, where he directed a study on the treatment of asylum seekers. He also worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington and Haiti. 

Hetfield said the current Syrian crisis is among the worst humanitarian disasters he has seen in his 25-year career. Most Syrian refugees not only have the requisite “well-founded fear of persecution,” they have a well-founded fear of slavery, torture or death. Desperate to flee Islamic State barbarism, as well as Assad’s indiscriminate bombing and air strikes by the U.S., Russia and other Western countries, many families braved the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. This year alone, an estimated 3,329 people died journeying toward freedom. 

At the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security hearing, Hetfield pointedly described HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) as an “agency of the American Jewish community.” Founded in 1881, HIAS was created to help Jews fleeing pogroms and other acts of violence in Russia and Eastern Europe, and calls itself the oldest refugee protection agency in the world. Although the matter of allowing Syrian refugees to immigrate to the U.S. has found both support and antipathy among American Jews, Hetfield believes Jews have a moral obligation to help. 

“Let’s face it, people turned away [refugees] because they were Jewish in the 1930s,” he said. “Refugees were not desirable, and it was specifically Jewish refugees that were not desirable.”

A Syrian refugee boy is seen shortly after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos in a raft overcrowded with migrants and refugees, Nov. 20, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

The current crisis has inspired a wave of comparisons between the plight of Syrian refugees and Jews fleeing Nazism. The Washington Post unearthed a 1938 article from the British Daily Mail archives lamenting, “The way stateless Jews and Germans are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage.” The Guardian noted the “rabid intolerance” with which Great Britain treated Jewish refugees in need. And in the U.S., the American Institute of Public Opinion found that, in 1939, 61 percent of Americans were opposed to taking in even 10,000 Jewish children. The same sort of xenophobia that has accompanied talk of Syrian refugees — conflating their identity as Muslims with terrorism — also afflicted the Jews. 

“Part of [the] hostility [toward Jews] was fueled … by stereotypes of the refugees as harbingers of a dangerous ideology,” The Washington Post reported, noting that many Europeans perceived Jews to be inclined toward communism and “anarchist violence.”

“Perhaps as many as half a million German Jewish asylum seekers were turned away by authorities ahead of the outbreak of World War II,” the Post reported. According to the Guardian, the only countries that took in Jewish refugees were Canada (5,000), Australia (10,000), South Africa (6,000) and the U.S. (33,000 before the war; 124,000 during the war), bringing the total to less than 200,000, while 6 million perished in the Holocaust.

“So, oddly enough, we find ourselves to be in solidarity with Muslim refugees,” Hetfield said. “Particularly when they’re targeted because they are Muslim. That makes us even more sympathetic, as a Jewish agency, to their plight.”

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) President E. Randol Schoenberg, an attorney specializing in the reclamation of Jewish goods stolen by the Nazis and a central character in the recent film “Woman in Gold,” wrote a Facebook post citing connections between the Jewish plight of the 20th century and the Syrian plight of today.

“Whenever there is anti-immigrant rhetoric, I am reminded of how our country refused entry to so many Jews during the Holocaust,” Schoenberg wrote. “Our own State Department instructed American consulates to withhold even the limited visas permitted under our strict immigration quotas. … ”

Schoenberg recalled, in particular, a satirical ad film director and producer Ben Hecht took out in the Los Angeles Times declaring, “For Sale to Humanity: 70,000 Jews” — that is on display at LAMOTH. Published in 1943, the ad called for the U.S. to rescue 70,000 Jews from Romania, promising, facetiously, that there would be “no spies smuggled in among these Jews.” “If there are,” read the ad copy, “you can shoot them.”

Then, as now, the stateless refugee was considered a dangerous threat. 

“Obviously, many American[s] in 1943 felt the same as many do today — that we cannot risk admitting enemy agents among the throng of refugees,” Schoenberg wrote. “During World War II, this type of fear meant that millions of honest, innocent people were unable to escape their murderers. … I hope we don’t make the same mistake again.”

After the Paris attacks, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, the French-based Human Rights Watch executive director for advocacy, took to the airwaves to debunk the myth that one of the Paris attackers was Syrian. “That’s a false association,” he told MSNBC. “The evidence points to the fact that … this ghastly attack here on [Nov. 13] was homegrown terrorism. It was planned, organized and executed by people born and raised in Europe [and] does not discredit the hundreds of thousands of refugees that are fleeing violence. These are people that need our compassion; these are people that need international protection.”

“It simply does not make sense for U.S. lawmakers to react to the situation in Paris by proposing drastic legislative changes to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.” — Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS

In Congress, however, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared a need for caution. “This is a moment where it is better to be safe than to be sorry,” he said. “[S]o we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.”

Already, all refugees hoping to enter the U.S. are subjected to rigorous security screenings that can take from 18 months to two years to complete. Much of this is the result of a program overhaul that took place after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when the Department of Homeland Security inherited the refugee program from the Justice Department’s immigration office. “Their entire focus is on making sure we’re safe,” Hetfield said of Homeland Security. 

The typical refugee screening includes a series of intensive, detail-oriented interviews that are recorded and sent to Washington, where each is vetted for consistency and truthfulness. Refugees are also required to submit a set of fingerprints, which are checked against law enforcement databases and intelligence agencies, international and domestic. “The [Paris terrorist] with the Syrian passport was actually French, and he was a criminal,” Hetfield said, noting differences in the procedures for U.S. refugees versus European ones. “In [the U.S.], a case like that would have been picked up. In Europe, [migrants] are showing up uninvited — they’re asylum seekers. So they can’t be vetted until after they are already on European soil.” 

According to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, the U.S. has taken in 784,000 refugees since 9/11. “Only three have been arrested subsequently on terrorism related charges,” Canadian politician and historian Michael Ignatieff wrote in the New York Review of Books.

“Refugees who arrive in the United States have undergone extensive security vetting prior to setting foot on U.S. soil,” Hetfield told Congress. “Refugees to Europe are not screened until after they enter. This is the distinction. It simply does not make sense for U.S. lawmakers to react to the situation in Paris by proposing drastic legislative changes to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.” 

In 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) introduced eye scans of the iris into the refugee program, mainly for identification purposes in the distribution of aid. These days, however, Hetfield said the practice can also serve other important identification and tracking purposes — with nearly 100 percent accuracy. By this point, the scrupulousness of U.S refugee screenings has severely slowed, or in worse cases stopped, the ability to process refugees. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, only 1,854 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S. “So they’re not, like, pouring in,” Hetfield told the Journal.

He was blunt in his address to Congress: “[T]he security protocols in place [today] are stronger than anything I have seen in my 26 years of working in this field. So strong that it has made the refugee resettlement program into more fortress than ambulance, causing massive backlogs of holds of legitimately deserving and unnecessarily suffering refugees.” 

Where else can refugees go? Camps in Jordan and Turkey are massively overwhelmed, and aid is dwindling. An underfunded World Food Program has forced food rations down to 50 cents per person per day, and the UNHCR has amassed only half its projected budget for Syrian needs. A cease-fire in Syria does not seem likely anytime soon (a prospect Ignatieff’s New York Review of Books piece called a “cruel mirage”), and even if one comes, the country has been ravaged, leaving little left to return to in Syria.

Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis, 1939.

If U.S. allies such as France and Germany are left alone to shoulder the majority burden of the refugee crisis, that, too, could lead to disaster, empowering far-right nationalist groups such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front that are calling for closed borders. “If Europe closes its borders, if the frontline states can no longer cope, the U.S. and the West will face millions of stateless people who will never forget that they were denied the right to have rights,” Ignatieff wrote.

The UNHCR has asked the U.S. to take in half of the 130,000 most vulnerable refugees they’ve identified at a Turkish camp — among them orphans, disabled and the badly injured. But in the current climate, as calls to monitor Muslim immigrants or accept only non-Muslims into the country have grown, this request seems unlikely to be fulfilled any time soon. 

The path is brighter after refugees are inside the U.S. Despite protests from Congress and governors, only the president and the Department of Homeland Security can determine a refugee’s path once he or she is resettled in America. State legislators cannot refuse refugees placed by Homeland Security in their state. And even if a state is hostile to refugees, refusing aid or other subsidies available through the refugee program (such as federal money for public education), they are still obligated to help refugees, who have legal protections and can ultimately decide to live wherever they want.

“Refugees have rights,” Hetfield said. “Unlike an undocumented immigrant, a refugee has the right to be here, and they have access to certain public benefits that other noncitizens may not have access to.” 

In Hetfield’s view, the problem with hostile rhetoric, particularly when it comes from state leaders, is that it sets the tone for the state. 

“We’re seeing a similar thing in Israel,” Hetfield said, “where the Israeli government sets the tone for asylum seekers they’re getting from Africa, calling them ‘infiltrators’ and ‘illegal work migrants.’ That tone trickles down and has an impact on way people are treated. Our concern is that you’re going to see a similar thing happen here, now that governors are say[ing] ‘Muslims are terrorists until proven otherwise — particularly Syrian Muslims.’ It creates a very poisonous environment.” 

Last week, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington issued a statement drawing parallels between World War II and today, calling on Americans “to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group.”

“Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism … we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.

“It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.”

But even in the United States, distrust exists between Jews and Muslims. Hetfield does not deny this tension. “I don’t want to be totally Pollyannaish about it. Some Muslims we work with make assumptions about us,” he said, citing occasional verbal clashes between right-leaning Jews and pro-BDS Muslims who accuse Jews of oppressing Palestinians. “Those two sides reinforce one another,” he added. But antagonism “is definitely the exception, not the rule.” 

Hetfield said he is not bothered by the idea of helping Muslims. “We resettle people who need help. We do it on the basis of their protection needs, and that’s it. That’s the criteria of a refugee.”

What he fears most is that all this xenophobia is playing directly into the hands of the so-called Islamic State. “That’s a tactic of ISIS,” Hetfield said. “They’re trying to turn us against helping these refugees; they’re trying to make it look like the West hates all Muslims, to make them more vulnerable to recruitment and susceptible to that psychological warfare. They want to terrorize us; they want to scare us; they want to make us hate Muslims.

“That’s the most dangerous thing being done right now. The real threat to our national security and national character is the xenophobia and anti-Islam rhetoric that all these leaders are spewing.”

Heads of the Hydra


This time it’s Paris. It was already Paris earlier this year. It was also Madrid, London, New York and suburban Washington D.C., and it was the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999, and the infamous Moscow theater disaster in 2002. In each case, terrible violence was committed against masses of innocent people, not to mention the exponentially greater destruction that is ongoing in much of the Middle East and North Africa. What’s it really all about?

Let’s be clear about one thing: This terrible violence is not about Islam. That accusation is a canard. It’s an excuse, a pitiful substitute for careful analysis and consideration. Islam certainly contains within it textual and intellectual support for both the potential and the actual employment of violence. You’ve seen the violent Quran verses and the hateful statements from the Hadith, and you’ve seen Muslim calls for universal jihad against infidels. But if you have any Jewish education, you’ve also seen equivalently violent verses from the Torah and hateful verses from the Talmud. Christian religious literature likewise contains vitriol spewed against opponents of the early Jesus movement and the established Church. And we know of the grisly Crusader massacres, directed not only against Arabs in the Middle East, but also against northern Europeans in the Northern Crusade, and French Cathars and their Catholic supporters in the Albigensian Crusade, both of which resulted in mass murders of tens of thousands of innocents.

“But the Jews don’t do those things!” For the most part, this has been true.

But that’s because historically we haven’t had the power to do these things. First, we lost the war against the Romans (which we started). That decimated our population and shut down our political independence and ability to raise an army. Then we lost the culture war against our brothers and sisters who believed that Jesus fulfilled the Jewish messianic expectations at the time.

By losing the culture war, we lost the possibility of overcoming the Romans peaceably. The empire was teetering religiously as masses of Roman citizens had lost interest in their traditional pagan religion and were seeking a religious expression that would better fulfill their spiritual needs. Many became Judaic “God-fearers,” or went all the way and became Jews. But more went over to the Christians, whose large and growing numbers convinced Constantine to legalize and then privilege Christianity. Eventually, Christianity became the only legal religion.

I’ve often wondered what the world would be like if the Roman Empire had gone over to the Jewish option. Of course, there is no way of knowing, but having the great military legions of Rome at a religion’s disposal is a sure way to ensure a militarization of religion. As Shimon Peres once put it, if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

So let us Jews be a bit more humble and realistic as we look at the violence and horror that have become the No. 1 domestic product and export from the Middle East and North Africa. Islam is not the problem. Panic and scolding and blame will not solve our troubles.

Religion has proven itself time and again to be a very effective way to mobilize large numbers of people to engage in extraordinary behaviors. Sometimes it is to heal and restore. Sometimes it is to hurt and tear down. Good and bad people throughout the ages have managed to use religion for political purposes, sometimes to bring reconciliation between suffering people in conflict, other times to release violence against innocents in order to deflect criticism and vent frustration and rage.

Those who have a firm grasp on the core texts and interpretive traditions of the three scriptural monotheisms know that all our religions contain vectors of thought and action that tend toward violence against detractors and foes, and counter vectors that tend toward peaceful modes of conflict management or resolution. Different situations trigger one or another of these vectors, which then becomes dominant for a period of time. As situations evolve, so do religious responses to them.

Last month I attended a U.N.-sponsored conference at Rutgers University called “Youth and the Allure of Terrorism.” The organizers brought in people working on the ground in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Nigeria, Niger, the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Turkey and Syria, as well as experts in law enforcement in the United States and Europe. One such expert, who served in the Los Angeles Police Department before joining the FBI, noted that the profile of a young person in North America who tries to join ISIS is quite similar to the profile of at-risk youth of any or no religion who join other terrorist groups, violent gangs or who engage in mass shootings. They tend to feel vulnerable and see themselves as victims. They lack opportunity. They exhibit low-level mental health problems. They feel like outsiders, ostracized, disconnected from community and family. They have anger issues and have no effective opportunities to manage their growing rage. They engage in a lot of media viewing, especially violent videos.

Why is the trend toward violence among our youth increasing? He tallied recent changes, all remarkably related to this list of motivators: a marked reduction in mental health support across the board, increased xenophobia and more social dislocation. People are moving into new places without viable social networks and community support. And without support, young people are relying more on the Internet and social media for personal sustenance.

Similar analyses came from those working with youth in the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Youth there often feel alone and unprotected and alienated from their communities. Government corruption, bureaucratic oppression and lack of economic and social opportunity smite large numbers of at-risk youth like a plague. As they suffer, they observe seemingly happy people enjoying wealth — often exorbitant wealth — in movies, videos and other media, that they feel they have no chance of obtaining for themselves. These can be strong motivators for youth to lash out in various ways, which can include joining violent, extremist organizations.

It goes without saying that we can and must defend ourselves against all who murder innocents and work to destroy the societies in which we live. The U.S. took out Osama bin Laden in 2011. Last week, we learned that a U.S. Predator missile killed “Jihadi John” (Mohammad Emwazi). But without fixing what lies underneath the monster of this violence, we are cutting off only a few of the Hydra’s heads. More simply spring up and continue their venomous terror. We can militarily defeat ISIS, al-Qaida and their spawns. I am confident of that, certainly. But if we fail to address the social, economic and political issues that drive people to radicalism, the Hydra will continue to raise her head and we will all continue to feel the pain.


Rabbi Reuven Firestone is Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College and the author of “Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam.”

Wracked with violence, Israel has full support from majority of L.A. Jews


Maty Baruch was wearing a hamsa necklace and pushing an overflowing shopping cart down Elat Market’s produce aisle before Shabbat on Oct. 16 when she was approached by a reporter, asking how she feels about the current terrorism in her native Israel. Baruch, a preschool teacher at Temple Isaiah and mother of four, said she is certain the Israeli people will carry on despite the stabbings, shootings and car rammings that have killed nine Israelis — and the retribution that has led to the deaths of dozens of Palestinians — over the past couple of weeks.

“Israeli people are the happiest and healthiest [people in the world],” Baruch said. “We’ve been through a lot and have to stay strong.” 

Her response is an indicator of the immediacy of the events unfolding thousands of miles away.

Other shoppers were eager to talk, as well, many expressing anger at the Muslim population. “The problem is Islam, that’s the problem. Who can live with Muslims? Nobody,” Yaron, 49, a Beersheba native who declined to give his last name, told the Journal. 

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO and President Jay Sanderson spoke to the Journal shortly before Federation released a statement titled “Israel in Our Thoughts and Actions.” According to the statement, Federation is raising funds to support the Israeli Trauma Coalition, a direct-response initiative of UJA Federation of Greater New York, as well as a terror-relief fund at the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The goal is to support those who don’t receive government support at a time of crisis in Israel, Sanderson said.

“If you are a knifing victim and you are in the hospital, then the government is there. If you are a bystander to a knifing and you are suffering from trauma-related issues, the government isn’t there so much. We created a partnership with the Israel Trauma Coalition to [help with] that,” Sanderson said. “As you can imagine, [because of] what is happening in Israel right now and in Jerusalem, there is high anxiety. We are on the ground.”

However, not all Jews are standing with Israel at this time. The Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace — an organization that supports boycotting, divesting from and enacting sanctions against Israel — was among those that signed a statement titled “Stop the Killing — End the Occupation,” released Oct. 17.

“As a group of Jews from around the world, we believe that immediate change needs to come from the Israeli government and Israeli people,” the statement says. On Oct. 16, dozens of Palestinian supporters staged a demonstration outside the office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, at Wilshire Boulevard and Barrington Avenue.

The majority of rabbis, nonprofit leaders and others weighing in on the violence are supporting Israel, however.

“It’s tragic and it’s deplorable, but at the heart it’s because of the refusal of Islamic fanatics to recognize we have to share holy places,” Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts said in an interview. He was referring to tension over access by Jews to the Temple Mount, also known as Al-Aqsa. “I shouldn’t deny you the right to pray at a holy place … that whole concept, denying the right to someone to say a holy prayer, just doesn’t fit into our mentality. It’s just not acceptable.”

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein was among the many rabbis who have been expressing spiritual support for Israel. 

“This Shabbat, we’re going to recite extra prayers and psalms,” Bookstein said in a phone interview shortly before his synagogue, Pico Shul, participated in what organizers described as a “Sabbath of solidarity With Israel.” 

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued the call for Jewish communities across the denominational spectrum to participate in a “Sabbath of Solidarity With Israel” on Oct. 16 and 17. Helping raise awareness about the effort, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California sent an email about the initiative out to local leaders.

“We can’t let this terrible violence defeat our hope and prayers for a peaceful resolution of conflict, and we need to seek solace in the strength of unity in these trying times,” Bookstein said.

Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, which serves Iranian-American Jewish young professionals, said the Iranian community stands behind Israel during this time of violence in the Jewish homeland.

“It’s a unique opportunity for all aspects and denominations of the Jewish community to come together because the experience Israelis are dealing with goes beyond politics. It’s just completely outrageous and unacceptable,” he said. “It should bring great pain to any Jew living anywhere in the world.”

Terror is not evenhanded


There are certain things I read that upset me but also put me right to sleep. One of them is any official statement that is mind-numbingly safe and politically correct. 

I came across an example last week from the Hillel at UC Irvine, regarding the precarious situation in Israel. Now, you would think that a statement from a Jewish organization would express some outrage at the horror of being stabbed in the back just because you’re Jewish, or at least show some empathy for an Israeli population in fear of walking the streets. 

A simple, “nothing justifies these kind of violent attacks against Jews or the lies and incitement behind these attacks” would have sufficed.

Instead, all we got was sleep-inducing mush. 

“Jewish and Arab civilians in the region have been subject to a sharp escalation of killings and violent encounters,” the statement reads. And what’s the explanation for this violence? Well, what do you know, it’s the “extremist incitement on both sides of the conflict.”

[READ: RESPONSE–THE MOTIVES BEHIND THE STATEMENT]

Now there’s a magic phrase that is guaranteed to keep you out of trouble — “on both sides of the conflict.” I guess as long as you appear evenhanded, no one can accuse you of being biased. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of attacks have been initiated by Arabs against Jews.

Sometimes I wonder whether the primary goal of these mushy statements is simply to avoid offending anyone — especially gentiles. After all, since Jews are so often accused of being tribal, how wonderful it would be to show the world that, even when Jews are directly targeted, they can still be universal.

But I think there’s yet another reason for this obsession with evenhandedness: It makes us feel civilized. It reaffirms the pleasant narrative that all societies and cultures are basically the same and morally equivalent. There’s good and bad everywhere — the real fight is between the extremists on all sides.

We need this cozy narrative because it gives us hope. It helps us sleep better at night. 

The problem is that when we’re confronted by ugly facts that intrude on that narrative, we tend to get defensive and cling even more closely to it. 

We’re seeing this drama play out right now with the “knife war” against Israel. It’s clear that the vast preponderance of evil acts connected to this current wave of violence — attacks on civilians, incitement to terror, lies about Israel’s intentions, lies about Israel’s responses, teaching of Jew-hatred, glorifying of terrorists, burning of a Jewish holy site, etc. —is coming from the Arab side. This is fact, not propaganda.

Trying to turn these facts into an evenhanded narrative is not just insulting to one’s intelligence, it lets evil off the hook. When we’re evenhanded about violence that is not evenhanded, when we confuse acts of aggression with acts of self-defense, when we pretend that everyone is equally guilty and equally responsible, we suck the air out of accountability.

When the media harps on Israeli mistakes just to appear evenhanded, all it does is camouflage the simple fact that the Arab sector is clearly responsible for this latest wave of terror.

It’s a fact that Palestinian leaders lied about Israel taking over and defiling the Temple Mount and “executing” a young Arab attacker, and have consistently denied any Jewish connection to Jerusalem. These explosive lies have triggered vicious attacks against Jews. There’s nothing evenhanded about that. As if that weren't bad enough, by not holding Palestinian leaders accountable for this incitement, we continue a longtime pattern that has strangled any hope for peace.

You can’t plant seeds of peace on a field of lies. For decades, we have failed to confront the biggest lie of all: the Palestinian narrative that Jews are land thieves who have no connection to the Holy Land and have no right to their own state, regardless of where the borders are drawn.

Even a prominent commentator who consistently rails against Israel’s disputed occupation of the West Bank, Jeffrey Goldberg, recently acknowledged in The Atlantic magazine what he says may be “the actual root cause of the Middle East conflict: the unwillingness of many Muslim Palestinians to accept the notion that Jews are a people who are indigenous to the land Palestinians believe to be exclusively their own.”

This latest wave of violence is yet another expression of the Palestinian rejection of the Zionist idea. As David Horovitz explained in Times of Israel, this is not the latest uprising against the occupation, it’s the latest uprising against Israel: “In bloody, unmistakable capital letters, the perpetrators of this new round of evil mayhem proclaim to Israelis: We don’t want to live alongside you. We want to kill you and force you out of here.”

So, when we agonize over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the many obstacles to peace, let’s not overlook the fraudulent Palestinian narrative that Zionism itself is a fraud. If I want to make peace with you, what bigger obstacle is there than the fact that you don’t think I should exist? That I have no right to any of this land?

This narrative is not just anti-peace, it’s pro-violence. Palestinian leaders who use lies to foster hatred and resentment are directly responsible for the poisoned atmosphere and violence these lies have spawned. 

Ignoring this truth and trying to appear evenhanded doesn’t just put readers to sleep. It wakes up the killers.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Terror in Jerusalem: The merry-go-round


It was in the middle of Sukkot, that loveliest of holidays in Israel, set aside for family time, when even the most devout and serious yeshiva men can be seen with their entire families visiting the zoo or traipsing through nature trails in Galilee. We had woken up that Friday morning to the shocking news that, the night before, young parents had been slain in their car on their way home from a festive reunion, shot in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists as their four terrified little boys sat watching from the back seat. 

It is hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t live in Israel and travel these roads every day what such news brings: grief, fury, fear and a fierce desire for a response that will deter the next such heinous and inhuman act.

Along with everyone else in Israel, I grieved. But then I heard their names: Eitam and Naama Henkin.

Henkin, I thought, flooded by a sudden, terrible shock that was like a blow to my stomach.

Oh, no!

I remembered that lunch not so long ago with Rabbanit Chana Henkin, founder and dean of Nishmat, a revolutionary advanced Torah study program. We sat in one of those comfortable little coffee houses that line German Colony, two Orthodox women who had come to Israel from America, discussing how Nishmat was changing the face of Orthodoxy by offering the first study program approved by the Orthodox rabbinical establishment to qualify women to become halachic advisers in the area of intimate women’s issues — issues that many religious women would be embarrassed to discuss with a male rabbi.

I remember leaving that meeting feeling I had been granted a rare privilege. This petite, passionate woman in her head-covering and modest clothes was, in her own quiet, courageous way, making history improving the lives of countless Jewish women. 

Eitam and Naama were Chana Henkin’s son and daughter-in-law.

That her grandchildren had been spared was nothing less than a miracle. For a moment, my heart wanted to believe that even Palestinian killers and terrorists had some shred of decency and compassion. That they were, after all, descendants Abraham. 

A few days later, when the suspects were caught in a spectacular demonstration of amazing skill by the Israel Defense Forces, the truth was brutal. The suspects had been on their way to kill the children when one of them accidentally shot the other, forcing them to abandon their plans and rush to a hospital, where the injured suspect was picked up days later by an elite Israeli unit.

It made me feel much better that they had been so quickly apprehended. But before I could feel any real relief, terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, Raanana and elsewhere followed at a rapid clip, thrusting me back into the terrible memories of an earlier homicidal rampage to strike Israel, when I experienced terrorism firsthand as I sat with my family on seder night in the Park Hotel in Netanya. 

Oddly, when I remembered those days of suicide bombers blowing up hotels, bar mitzvah ceremonies and buses, the current spate of stabbings and savage hit-and-runs seemed less threatening. After all, a bomb you couldn’t see coming, and you couldn’t defend yourself. With a knife attack, you had a chance to run, or, if you had a gun, to shoot. As devastating as these attacks were, they were small potatoes compared to the bad old days of Oslo, where there was no security fence to keep killers and their bombs out of the country. 

The bus attack in Armon Hanatziv was another matter altogether. Two passengers stood and started stabbing and shooting. It wasn’t a bomb, but it was close. But worst of all was the news that the suspects were Israeli Arabs, residents of East Jerusalem, citizens of Israel.

I have lived in Jerusalem for 45 years. This is something new. There is a delicate fabric of life in our city, interwoven threads of Arab and Jew that exist side by side. We shop in the same malls and supermarkets, sit together on the grass in our parks, watch our children playing in the same playgrounds. Palestinian Arabs have delivered my groceries, built and renovated my homes, and been my doctors and nurses in Hadassah Hospital.

One terrorist, who plowed his car into a crowd in the center of ultra-Orthodox Malchei Israel Street in Geula, then got out of the vehicle holding a meat cleaver and started cutting the injured, had worked for the Israeli phone company Bezeq for 20 years.

I wondered if our building cleaner, an Israeli Arab, would show up for work, and if the workers putting the finishing touches on my neighbor’s apartment would show up. And I wondered how I would feel about it.

When I encountered them in the following days, the answer became clear: Stronger than any propaganda, any isolated terror attack was the routine flow of normal life. I was not really surprised that I nodded hello to our maintenance man as he mopped the lobby floor, and that he nodded and smiled. Nor was I really surprised that the noises from the sixth-floor renovation were going on as usual, the Arabs congregating in front of the building. But what had changed was how we looked at each other, warily, searching each other’s faces for confirmation that all was well, and we would be exempt from the madness. Or not.

What did surprise me was my own reaction. With little or no fear, I took a public bus into the center of Jerusalem, walked calmly down Ben Yehuda Street and turned into the nearest army surplus store.

“We are all out of tear gas,” the owner said before I opened my mouth.

“That’s OK,” I answered. “I want a knife.”

He showed me a few. I tested the blade gingerly against my palm. “Something bigger,” I told him. “Something sharper.”

I walked out with it in my purse, feeling better. As ready as I was to smile at innocent workmen, I was also ready to defend myself and my loved ones from those whose religious fervor sent them out to kill people like me and my family. I thought of every thrust: One for the Jews killed in the Holocaust. One for the Jews killed in every terror attack. And one very personal one for me and the Park Hotel.

That Shabbat, sans knife, we took our usual walk along the path built over the old Turkish railroad. Ordinarily crowded with kids on bikes and skateboards, and with families pushing baby strollers, it was practically deserted, except for a group of French tourists. One of them wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Proud of Israel.”

I was disappointed. Surely, Jerusalemites were not that easily spooked? We felt better when we reached the First Station, a lively collection of stores, cafes and play areas for children. It was slightly less crowded than usual, but still bustling with young families. Would the same be true of Liberty Bell Park, which every Saturday throbbed with Arab families and their laughing children from East Jerusalem, whose picnics of barbecuing lamb scented the air for blocks?

Unlike the First Station, it was absolutely deserted, as was the Lion’s Fountain across the street, which normally on such a warm day, would be packed with Arab families watching their kids jump in and out of the water.

We walked back to the First Station and took a bench across from the newly imported merry-go-round. Its painted horses and lively music filled the air, mingling with the laughter of children. When we got up to go, a young woman pushing a double baby carriage approached us. 

“Did you see how empty Liberty Bell Park is? Good! Why should they take over the park every Saturday? Let them be afraid to come here. This is our country. Let them stay home. They teach their children to be murderers and then they cry when they get shot trying to murder our children! They have no business here!”

An old Arab walking nearby carrying a large bundle turned around, staring daggers at her.

“Let him stare!” she said loudly. “This is my country. Mine. I’m not going anywhere!”

As I walked away, I looked over my shoulder. The merry-go-round was still turning. It went around and around and around.


Naomi Ragen is the author of nine international best-sellers. Her latest book, “The Devil in Jerusalem” (St. Martin’s Press, 2015), is based on the true story of a kabbalah cult in Jerusalem that took over the lives of innocent American olim with horrific consequences. She has lived in Jerusalem since 1971.

Viral video puts Israelis and Palestinians at sharp odds


To Palestinians, the video shows a 13-year-old boy being left to die in the street as Israelis shout abuse at him. To Israelis, it shows a teenage knife attacker bleeding as police keep angry locals back and wait for an ambulance.

The two minutes of amateur footage has become one of the most divisive videos to emerge from a wave of violence sweeping Jerusalem, where clips of attacks are being shared at high speed on social media in what has been dubbed a smartphone intifada.

The problem, as with so much in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is about interpretation.

Palestinians watch the shaky video, with voices in Hebrew shouting “Die, son of a bitch,” and draw one set of conclusions that fuel anger and alarm. Israelis watch the same – and subsequent police CCTV footage showing the two Palestinian teenagers running through the streets with knives and attacking an Israeli boy – and come to totally different conclusions.

 

Posted by د . ناصر اللحام on Monday, October 12, 2015

 

“Both sides are living in different dimensions,” said Daniel Nisman, an intelligence and security analyst who runs the Levantine Group. “You can have an incident happen and it's interpreted in two completely different ways instantly.”

And it is also immediately shared with tens of thousands of people on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, where each community's outrage is reinforced in an echo chamber, driving an ever-deeper wedge between the two sides.

The video in question shows 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, lying on the street in Pisgat Zeev, a nearby Jewish settlement, with his legs twisted behind him and blood coming from his head after being hit by a car.

It was taken on Monday, minutes after two Israelis, including a boy on a bicycle, were stabbed outside a nearby shop. Israeli police have accused Manasra and his 15-year-old cousin of carrying out the attacks. The family has denied they did it.

The footage shows police keeping passersby back while abuse is shouted. After a minute or so, an ambulance arrives, although it is not immediately clear if Manasra is treated. At one point he sits up, but the police tell him to lie back down and they can be seen checking him for explosives. No knife is visible.

OUTRAGE ON BOTH SIDES

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders quickly expressed outrage, referring to the boy and his cousin as having been “executed” by Israel “in cold blood.”

Ahmed's uncle told Reuters the boys had done nothing wrong, were not carrying knives and had gone to the area to rent video games. The boy was killed senselessly, he said.

In fact, Ahmed Manasra is still alive and is being treated in an Israeli hospital. His cousin was shot and killed by police at the scene. The Israeli boy stabbed remains in serious condition, while the second victim was lightly wounded.

Israel on Thursday released photographs showing Manasra sitting up in Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, wearing green medical overalls and bandages around his head. In several of the pictures he is looking straight at the camera.

On Wednesday, two days after the first video emerged, Israeli police circulated closed-circuit TV footage showing the build up to the attack and the incident itself.

Two boys, one wearing the same t-shirt as Ahmed Manasra, can be seen chasing after a man with knives drawn. The man runs away and the boys turn towards some nearby shops. Another camera then captures them running along the street with knives drawn.

A third camera angle shows the moment they appear to stab the boy on the bicycle, and a fourth angle shows one of the stabbers running across the street before being shot by police.

CCTV DELAY

All the evidence presented by Israeli authorities pointing to the fact the teenage cousins carried out the stabbings has done little to quell Palestinian anger – the first video is still being watched much more than the CCTV footage.

Akram Attallah, a Palestinian political analyst who spoke before the CCTV images emerged, described the video of Manasra lying wounded as akin to the photograph of the Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in Greece.

“It was provoking to the national dignity of every Palestinian and therefore an immediate response was inevitable,” he said, suggesting it may have spurred other attacks.

From Israel's point of view, the way the videos of attacks are being distributed rapidly on social media, often whipping up a frenzy of anger, is a difficult phenomenon to counteract. Seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians, including 10 attackers, have been killed in a two-week surge in violence.

“The Israeli side that has the CCTV footage showing the actual attack had to wait two days before putting it out because of internal investigations,” said Nisman. “By then, the damage had already been done. It's too late.”

Abbas has not responded since the images of the boy alive in hospital were released. In online postings, many Palestinians have said they believe he is dead and a “martyr”. Asked for comment on Thursday, one Palestinian official said he now believed Ahmed was alive, but was still not convinced he and his cousin carried out the stabbings.

Israel under the knife


“The streets are empty, even the main pedestrian walkways are empty,” my friend Selwyn Gerber told me on the phone from Jerusalem. Gerber, who lives in Los Angeles and is a frequent visitor to Israel, said he’s “never seen Jerusalem like this.” Evidently, the fear of being stabbed by terrorists has spooked the Jewish pedestrians of the holy city.

“It’s all around us,” author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi emailed me from Jerusalem after I asked him how he was holding up. “We hear sirens, tear gas all the time.”

Halevi, who made aliyah to Israel in 1982 and whose acclaimed book “Like Dreamers” came out two years ago, added: “I’m beside myself about this — the lie of Al Aqsa being in danger, the hysteria in the Muslim world, the stupidity of our own right-wing pyromaniacs, the criminal incitement of Arab Knesset members who in any other Middle Eastern country would be sitting in prison for treason, the outrageous coverage of much of the world media which treats this as one more Israeli crime. Other than that, I’m fine.”

I recall a conversation I had with Halevi a few years ago at his Shabbat table, when we were discussing Israel’s ability to cope with terror. He used a term that stayed with me: “Neurotic Zen,” he called it. It’s the ability to live in the moment and embrace life, knowing that a disaster may strike at any second.

This talent is being pushed to the limit right now with the “knife war” against the Jews of Israel.

“In every generation,” we read at Passover, “they rise up against us to destroy us.” Well, in Israel, it seems to happen even more regularly. 

For decades after Israel’s birth, its enemies tried to destroy the Jewish state with standard armies — with tanks, fighter jets and infantry. When that didn’t work, they tried terrorism, including hundreds of suicide bombers detonating themselves amid Israeli civilians.

When Israel rooted out terror cells and built a wall to keep out the terrorists, the terrorists fired thousands of rockets over that wall. When Israel shot down their rockets with the Iron Dome, the terrorists built tunnels under the wall to sneak in and attack Jews.

Finally, having failed with everything else, Israel’s enemy is down to the lowly and lethal knife. In an open country where everyone is free to walk around, how do you stop such retail terrorism?

“There is no missile defense system against stabbings. We can’t lock ourselves in a shelter all day,” Sarah Tuttle-Singer wrote last week in The Times of Israel. “Stabbings have no sirens, so we don’t know when to run.”

Tuttle-Singer is a single mother of two young children who moved to Israel from Los Angeles a few years ago. She writes:

“Stabbings can happen anywhere at any time. Stabbings can happen in a park on a quiet bench. They can happen in the market, with soldiers standing just a few steps away. They can happen in front of a school or in a synagogue or on the street.”

As a result, “Everyone is on edge right now — most of us feel that prickle of fear just below the neck or deep in our stomachs — because when these attacks are random, everyone is a potential target. Everyone.

“The young rabbi at the Western Wall. The barista with the dirty laugh. The soldier who still wears braces. They guy who sells the best pomegranates in the Ramle Shuk. The mother with two children. This mother. My children.”

It would be the height of irony if the only citizens of the Jewish state not afraid of getting stabbed in the back were the Arab citizens. They may be afraid of a policeman asking for identity papers or vengeful Jews aggressing them, but a knife in the back? Not quite.

Sitting here in America, unencumbered by the trauma of daily fear, it’s easy to look at the violent mayhem and wonder whether Israel is partly to blame. After all, it’s the Jewish thing to do, isn’t it? We take responsibility for what happens to us.

It’s also true that violence has a way of obliterating complexity. We see people being stabbed to death just because they're Jews and it's hard to stay calm and balanced. 

As much as we want to think straight about the long game, sometimes we just need to vent about the here and now, or at least show empathy for what the Israelis are going through.

The truth is, I can’t pretend to understand what it must be like to walk around never knowing when someone might stab me in the back. I don’t have enough practice in the art of Neurotic Zen.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Jewish youth stabs 4 Arabs in southern Israel


An Israeli Jew stabbed four Arabs in an apparent revenge attack for Palestinian terrorism.

The stabbing victims in the southern Israeli town of Dimona were brought in Friday morning for treatment at Soroka Medical Center in nearby Beersheba. Two of the victims sustained minor injuries; the others were moderately injured.

The attacker, a 17-year-old, is in custody. He has a criminal record. According to Ynet, he told officers during questioning that he stabbed his victims because “all Arabs are terrorists.” The Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court on Friday extended his remand by six days and referred the suspect to a psychiatric evaluation, as requested by his lawyer, the far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, Channel 2 reported. Ben-Gvir told the court his client’s mental health “deteriorated because of the reality to which he was exposed.”

One of the victims was a Bedouin Israeli, according to Israel’s Channel 2. Three of the victims were employed as gardeners by the municipality.

The attack in Dimona, 24 miles southeast of Beersheba, occurred amid what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called “a wave of terror” by Palestinians against Jews in Israel and the West Bank.

It consisted of dozens of attacks, including the slaying last week of an Israeli couple, Na’ama and Eitam Henkin, near the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

In the most recent attacks on Friday afternoon, Palestinian assailants allegedly stabbed a youth in Jerusalem and a soldier in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba. In both cases, the victims suffered light wounds and the alleged assailants were apprehended. In Kiryat Arba, the attacker was in critical condition after a soldier shot him, Israel Radio reported.

The radio report said that a woman attempted to stab a security guard at the bus station in Afula in northern Israel. The guard, who was not wounded, shot her, and she suffered moderate injuries, the report said.

In Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, on Thursday unidentified individuals hurled three firebombs at police, causing no injury or damage. Two underage suspects are in custody in connection with the incident, Army Radio reported.

On Friday, at least three incidents of stone throwing were reported in Israel’s north, including in Nazareth Illit, a Jewish city adjacent to the Arab city of Nazareth, where unidentified individuals targeted passing cars. The incident ended without injury, and police arrested two suspects.

Two Israeli men killed, 2 injured, in Jerusalem stabbing attack


Two Israeli men in their 40s died of their wounds Saturday night after being stabbed in Jerusalem’s Old City in a terror attack.

One of the men’s wife is in serious condition and their two-year-old baby was lightly wounded.

The men were stabbed in the upper body and were unconscious when paramedics arrived at the scene.

Read more at timesofisrael.com.

Hushed Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation continues


In the aftermath of back-to-back terrorist attacks – one perpetrated by Jewish terrorists against a Palestinian family, killing an 18-month toddler; and one carried out by a Palestinian terrorist on a mother of three young children – Israeli and Palestinian security officials are seeking signs that the joint security cooperation itself not become a casualty of the growing tension.

Last Friday, the Dawabsha home in the West Bank village of Duma was firebombed, the ensuing flames killing 18-month old Ali and burning his mother and brother over most of their bodies. Israeli officials, including President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu, wasted no time in issuing unequivocal, public condemnations while law enforcement was greenlighted to apply to the Jewish terror suspects the same controversial rules of administrative detention about which the Palestinians bitterly complain.

In an interview with the Israeli news platform YNet, long-time Palestinian leader and football association head Jibril Rajoub was more candid than his compatriots when he said the strong and unambiguous denunciation across Israeli society resonated with Palestinian leadership and played a major role in withholding calls for revenge. Most Palestinian officials accused the Israelis of systematic inactivity when it comes to investigating crimes committed by other Israelis.

So despite Rajoub’s words, there was no surprise at the almost immediate response of Molotov cocktails being thrown into Israeli traffic, one hitting a vehicle and causing severe burns to the young woman behind the wheel. This, despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had ordered its security services in all regions of the West Bank to take precautions to ensure that local youths do not seek revenge in clashes with Israelis forces or civilians.

Referring to Israelis who live in Jewish communities located on land Israel acquired in the 1967 war that is claimed by Palestinians for the Palestinian state-in-formation, Maj. Gen. Adnan Damiri, spokesperson for PA internal security, told a news conference that, “Settlers who commit terrorist crimes against our people, especially those that came on Friday to burn and kill the Dawabsheh family in Nablus, have become from now on wanted by Palestinian security forces. They will be chased through the legal proceedings in order to defend the lives and property of our people,” Damiri said.

General Damiri went on to say that he had no confidence in the Israeli authorities to bring the toddler’s murderers to justice. If they are caught, he suggested in a thinly-veiled threat, the perpetrators will likely “only be imprisoned for a few hours or days.” Damiri finished by calling on Israel, the United States, the United Nations, and the international community to designate Jewish extremist groups as terrorist organizations.

“Even after Jewish colonial settlers attacked a village with Molotov-cocktails, burning to death one-and-half year-old Ali Dawabsheh and severely burning three of his family members, we have not been ordered to cooperate [with security coordination with the Israelis],” Major General Akram Rajoub, governor of Nablus, told The Media Line. “There is no shared committee to investigate what has happened – the Israelis never asked and they ignored our requests in this regard.”

Suggesting that in his experience the Israeli security forces will know exactly who conducted the attack but will not share such information with any PA investigation, Rajoub invoked a                                           political path, laying the blame well beyond those who threw the Molotov Cocktail: “The killer in this crime is not an individual, but the settler bloc – a group of terrorists, mass murderers and thieves of Palestinian land – which enjoys the full support and protection of the Israeli government,” Rajoub said, noting that under terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel is obligated to provide security for Palestinians living in the region designated “Area C” which is off-limits to the Palestinian security services.

“The attack would not have happened without the insistence of the Israeli government on continuing settlement activities and protecting settlers in the occupied territories,” Ghassan Daglas, chief of Nablus council’s file on settlements, told The Media Line. As a result, the PA has decided to go to the UN Security Council to request the adoption of a resolution condemning settler attacks against Palestinians “and ongoing development of Jewish communities in Palestinian territory,” Daglas said. The crime of the murder of Ali Dawabsheh will be put before the International Criminal Court as part of this move, he added.

In response to the threat of violence from Jewish extremists, groups of unarmed youths have begun volunteering to patrol Palestinian villages at night, Daglas confirmed. People from the villages of Burin, Qasra and Loban, all near Nablus, have initiated local patrols unaffiliated with any government body. In the event of a threat, volunteers will use mosque speakers to warn local residents and simultaneously send a message to the District Coordination Office (DCO) which communicates with the Israeli army.

Such communication used to be a regular occurrence. Mark Prowisor, former security chief for the Israeli community of Shilo, told The Media Line that prior to and during the early days of the second Intifada there were meetings between the security personnel of the Jewish communities and the chief of the Palestinian police, something he says no longer exists. But most of the Israelis interviewed for this article suggested that while collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian security officials continues in many forms as needed, even if Palestinians are unlikely to speak about.

Regarding the current incidents, Israel Police spokeswoman Luba Samri told The Media Line that, “There has been no need until now to cooperate with the Palestinian police [regarding the firebomb on the roadway]. We are cooperating in the case of the Duma attack but the Palestinians will deny it. In the case of the Molotov attack against the Israeli, they don’t need it yet.”

Miri Ovadia, a spokeswoman for Israel’s Binyamin Regional Council, a post-1967 area of Jewish settlement on the West Bank (Samaria to the Israelis), paints a picture more positive than the Palestinian portrayal. She told The Media Line that, “We see normal level coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians in business, in joint construction projects in Jewish communities all over Israel [“joint” meaning Palestinians working in Israeli communities because it’s illegal for Israelis to work in the Palestinian territories.] Yet, she says there are many frequent attempts by Palestinians to harm Israelis on the roads.

For the past five years the PA has been complaining to the Israeli and American governments about the increasingly dangerous attacks by Jewish extremists in the West Bank, Daglas said, but claims the PA is powerless to prevent such crimes because they are not able to arrest Israeli citizens according to the Oslo Accords and placing CCTV cameras to watch for threats from Jewish communities is not permitted by the Israeli Army.

Spokesperson Ovadia, meanwhile, added that if she knew who the assailants of the Dawabsheh family were, “of course I would hand them over.”

Murder at Jerusalem gay parade triggers introspection and accusation


In the aftermath of the stabbing attack at last week’s Jerusalem Gay Pride parade that left a 16-year old Shiri Banki dead and five other marchers wounded, Israelis find themselves embroiled in an intense debate, the heart of which is the degree to which society is responsible for the actions of its individuals.  

One side of the debate sees the attacker, Yishai Schlissel, as a crazed lone wolf: the only individual to have acted violently towards the LGBT community in years, and therefore not representative of the wider ultra-Orthodox population of which he is part. Others argue that assailant Schlissel is a natural result of the homophobic rhetoric used by certain political and religious leaders which masquerades as religious discourse. So ingrained in Schlissel is his anti-gay vitriol that only weeks after his release from a ten-year jail sentence for stabbing spectators at the same parade in 2004, he repeated his act with lethal precision.

 “This individual (Schlissel), he is not detached from the society that we live in… you cannot detach what people are saying from what people will do in the end,” Tom Canning, director of development at the Open House LGBT community center in Jerusalem, told The Media Line. Canning was careful to say that he did not lay the blame on the Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox society as a whole, but on certain rabbis and community leaders whose words encourage violence. “I think that they are directly linked. Even after the attack by Schlissel there has been graffiti praising him and there have been protests praising him and taunting the (LGBT) community.”

Although Jerusalem is generally considered to be a safe city for the LGBT community, that assumption is beginning to be questioned following Banki’s death, Canning said. “Specifically after this attack we are worried about Lehava activists… and also copycats that might want to repeat what Yishai Schlissel did,” he said referring to the far-right wing nationalist organization that seeks to prevent Jewish women from dating non-Jews, particularly Arabs. The group was linked to the firebombing of a Hebrew-Arabic high school in November of last year and prior to the Gay Pride event announced that its members would demonstrate against the parade.  

Canning pointed to comments by parliamentarian Bezalel Smotrich, a member of the “Jewish Home” party, who once tried to lead a procession of donkeys through Jerusalem as a “parade of beasts” protest against the Gay Pride event, as an example of the arguably dangerous rhetoric made by some opinion leaders. Smotrich has been criticized for comments he made recently accusing leftwing and LGBT activists of conducting a witch hunt against any individuals who disagree with same-sex marriage.

Schlissel’s attack has left the ultra-Orthodox community in a troubled position, balancing its wish to denounce violence against maintaining its opposition to the Gay Pride parade. Dov Lipman, a member of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community and former lawmaker — albeit with the secular Yesh Atid party — told The Media Line, “There is confusion because this is one person in the last ten years who has attacked a gay parade twice – it is not a policy that is part of the community.” According to Lipman, “Some soul searching is going on where there is a recognition that using some terminology without an intent to lead to violence can lead to violence.”

The lack of vocal condemnation of Schlissel’s actions by ultra-Orthodox leaders should not be misunderstood as support for the attack, Lipman said. Although many people sympathized with the perpetrator’s beliefs, there has been no indication that there is support among the community for his use of violence, Lipman said. He explained that the problem is that homosexuality is such a taboo subject among the ultra-Orthodox that many rabbis are simply choosing not to talk about the subject.

Lipman believes that this refusal to even acknowledge homosexuality is changing slightly with the emergence of a younger generation of rabbis – a generation which is accepting that as in all societies some, ultra-Orthodox people were likely to be homosexual, and that by hiding from the fact other issues such as child abuse were occurring.

Part of the problem with trying to identify how prevalent violence towards the LGBT community is, is the fact that Israel does not compile complete statistics on hate-crimes. If a person assaults their neighbor and then sprays homophobic graffiti on the front of their house, this is not recorded as a hate crime, but simply as an assault stemming from a dispute between neighbors, Ayala Katz, whose gay son was shot dead in 2009, told The Media Line. In response to this lack of information, the Nir Katz Center, named after Ayala’s son who died in an attack on a Tel Aviv LGBT youth center, was founded with the aim to collect statistics on hate crimes against LGBT people.

When asked about attacks on LGBT people Luba Samri, a spokesperson for the Israeli Police, said that no specific unit was tasked with dealing with hate crimes directed towards homosexuals. Specialist taskforces are put together on an ad-hoc basis when an investigation into a serious crime is launched, she said.

“Politicians have a great responsibility and their statements have impact,” Michal Rozin, a member of Knesset (parliament) of the Meretz Party, told The Media Line. “While those who commit hate crimes are extremists from the fringes of society, these margins thrive in the discourse of hatred and exclusion of the other. Words have power, and it is important that Israeli politicians learn that lesson,” Rozin said, asserting that, “In order to prevent more Schlissels from developing, it is necessary to improve dialogue and encourage pluralism in society.”

By way of example, Rozin pointed to a scene she had witnessed in Jerusalem’s Zion Square in the days after Banki’s death. While a group of young people sat shiva – the traditional Jewish seven days of mourning — for the sixteen year old, some teens approached the gathering and cursed the mourners for being homosexual, “Like they haven't learned a thing.”

Israeli man killed after Palestinian drives car into Jerusalem bus stop


A Palestinian man from eastern Jerusalem drove his car into two Israelis waiting at a bus stop, killing one and critically injuring the other.

Police are investigating whether the late Wednesday night incident in the French Hill neighborhood, near the border of eastern and western Jerusalem, was a terror attack.

Shalom Sharki, 25, an Israeli civilian from Jerusalem, died Thursday morning of his injuries. An Israeli woman, 20, was in critical condition and on a respirator.

Sharki is the son of Rabbi Uri Sharki, a community rabbi in Jerusalem, and the brother of Yair Sharki, a reporter for Channel 2 in Israel.

The driver, 37, was treated at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital and was to be turned over to the Shin Bet security service for questioning. He reportedly is married with no children and has no criminal record.

The incident was initially treated as an accident, but police later decided to investigate the driver, according to reports. Police said the driver “swerved from his lane and hit two civilians standing at the station,” Ynet reported.

There have been several terror attacks in recent months in which cars were used to ram into pedestrians in Jerusalem in recent months. In one such incident in October, two people were killed, including a 3-month-old girl.

Lassana Bathily: The Muslim who saved French Jews in Hyper Cacher


Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Lassana Bathily, a French-speaking African-born Muslim, just 24, whom I met on his recent visit to Los Angeles.

It’s early Friday afternoon on Jan. 9, and Bathily is at work at the Hyper Cacher market in Paris, where he has been living since 2006. He’s in the basement inspecting a delivery. This is the job that saved his life. After years of limbo — much of it as an illegal immigrant living in fear of being deported — he’s finally found a home, working with Jews. Normally at this hour, he would be saying, “Shabbat shalom,” to his co-workers before heading out to say his Friday prayers at a nearby mosque.

But on this particular Friday, something broke the rhythm. As he was wrapping up for the week, he heard the sound of people rushing down the stairs to the basement. They were coming down so fast, they collided with a case of wine. A few bottles broke. Wine started to spill. He looked up and saw a dozen or more panicked customers. Some of them were familiar to him — one woman held a baby.

“Les terroristes sont là,” he heard a customer cry out. “The terrorists are here.”

He heard noises upstairs. It could have been gunfire; he wasn’t sure. He was thinking fast. He loved these people. They were the shoppers who kept the store in business — the store where he had this great job and where he felt so at home. And now, they were all in serious trouble.

Les terroristes sont là.
The terrorists are here.”

It hadn’t been easy getting this job. A Muslim friend of a cousin had a longtime relationship with the store’s kosher meat supplier, and he’d been able to get Bathily an interview. When the people doing the hiring asked for his qualifications, he’d answered honestly: “I’ve never done this before,” he told them. “Try me and see if you like me.” Well, they did, and they liked him so much, they promoted him. Now, whenever supplies came in and had to be inspected, he was the man in charge.

On that Friday afternoon in the basement he knew so well, as a scene of terror unfolded upstairs and a group of panicked customers faced him, he was also the man in charge.

How did his life come to this improbable moment?

Who would think that during those long years of wandering through Paris, trying to be invisible, he would end up a central player in the biggest news story in the world? And that all those years of feeling so vulnerable would culminate in this moment of feeling so needed, with people looking to him to help them survive a life-or-death situation?

“How do I get them to safety?” was the only thought in his mind. Taking the service elevator and letting them out the back exit was out of the question. The terrorists would probably see them leaving.

There was only one place to hide them: the freezer.

Quietly, he shepherded the group inside as he turned off the lights and refrigeration. The baby was crying. He asked the mother to do her best to keep him quiet. He walked into the freezer with them and immediately called the police. There was no cell connection inside the freezer. He walked out and tried again. The police line was busy. He called a few times, but no luck.

That is when he called Dennis Mercier.

Mercier is the Frenchman who’d really changed Bathily’s life. France has a mentoring program through which people volunteer to help immigrants stay in the country. For years, Bathily had attended night schools and trade schools in the hope of building a life for himself. He studied mosaic tiling, and then plumbing, but without legal status, he couldn’t find work. He slept on the floor between the beds of two Muslim friends from Mali and ate sparingly. If his roommates had food, they would share it; if not, he drank water and went to sleep.

Mercier had volunteered to be his mentor. He was especially helpful after Bathily’s application for working status was declined. Mercier found an error in the dossier and arranged for an appeal. But on the day of Bathily’s hearing, Mercier was in Casablanca doing human-rights work, so he couldn’t be there to help. Instead, he had a law professor write out a statement that Bathily could read to the judge.

Three weeks later, in November 2010, Bathily read these long-awaited words on a registered letter: “Carte de séjour avec aucun delais,” authorizing “a work permit without any delay.” He couldn’t believe his good fortune. He called Mercier right away and read him the letter. Mercier couldn’t believe it either, so he asked Bathily to come over with the letter. He did. It was true. Bathily was now a free man in France — free to work and send money back to his mother and other family members in Mali. And, for the first time in a long time, he could walk the streets of Paris without fear of being stopped and deported.

When Bathily called Mercier on Jan. 9, he was desperate for help. He had to find his way out of the store. Whispering so he wouldn’t be heard, Bathily told his mentor what was going on and that he couldn’t get ahold of the police. Mercier quickly hung up and called the police, but he, too, couldn’t get through. So he went out on the street and flagged down a policeman. Within minutes of the call to Mercier, shrieking police sirens were the only sound anyone could hear.

Now the real ordeal began: What to do?

It didn’t feel safe for everyone to just stay in the freezer, all huddled up. Who knew how many terrorists might be upstairs? They could simply come down, maybe hear the baby crying, blow open the door and kill everyone. As Bathily discussed options with the group, a co-worker named Zari came down with a demand: The terrorist wanted the key to the main entrance so he could lock it. Bathily gave her the key, but noted one piece of good news: If the terrorist was using Zari to deliver messages, he was probably working alone.

A short while later, Zari returned with a second demand: The terrorist wanted everyone to come upstairs. Now it got complicated. There was no way Bathily would allow the 15 or so people he was hiding to go up, possibly to be slaughtered. But he knew, too, that he couldn’t just say no to a terrorist with guns, especially when the terrorist had warned Zari that he’d kill everyone upstairs if the people downstairs didn’t come up.

Bathily had been thinking about that terrorist since the ordeal began. This was just a few days after Islamic terrorists had gone on a rampage at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. So he figured the guy upstairs was probably a Muslim, like him.

That Charlie Hebdo attack was a big source of shame. Responding with violence to insults is not what Bathily was taught by his parents or by his Muslim teachers in the African village where he grew up. Of course, he was offended when someone insulted his prophet, but he believed violence was the wrong response. He’d learned that punishment was God’s domain, not man’s. How could fellow Muslims have strayed so far from that message?

In any event, the crisis was heating up, and a decision had to be made: Which hostages would go upstairs? Bathily decided to stay with the group, while two men volunteered to return with Zari. It wasn’t an easy call. The terrorist surely knew there were more hostages downstairs, but Bathily was hoping that these two would satisfy him for now and buy some time to plan their next move.

At this point, with the possibility that the terrorist might come down at any time and wreak havoc, Bathily didn’t see any choice: He had to make a run for it to let authorities know what was going on. A few hostages pleaded with him not to risk his life that way, but he left anyway.

He took the service elevator and prayed that the terrorist would not see him as he walked out. That was the second bit of great fortune in his life — the terrorist didn’t see him. He got out through the back exit. He was now outside, breathing the Parisian air, about to be greeted by police commandos who had no idea he was one of the good guys.

One of the commandos screamed at him to get his hands up, while another ordered him to get down on the ground. He tried to do both, awkwardly. He sensed that they might shoot him at any second. He was almost relieved when they handcuffed him. They kept him handcuffed for a good 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, he tried telling them what was going on inside, but because they couldn’t trust that he wasn’t one of the terrorists, he didn’t get very far. It was only after a co-worker from a second store identified him that the police began to listen to him.

Consider the contrast: While a terrorist was upstairs killing people, Bathily was downstairs trying to liberate them. He countered the worst human depravity with the highest level of nobility.

By now, several hours into the ordeal, Bathily was finally able to give the police information they would need to eventually rescue the hostages. He provided a detailed layout of both floors of the market, right down to which windows were broken, as well as the crucial information that it was likely only one terrorist was inside.

It was a bittersweet ending after the hostages were rescued in a daring raid. Bathily learned that four hostages upstairs had been shot dead at the very beginning of the crisis, including his good buddy and co-worker Yohan Cohen. Bathily was disheartened when some of the upstairs hostages at first called him “un lache,” a coward, because they assumed he had run for safety and abandoned the others.

But when the hostages from downstairs showed up, their reaction was completely different. They embraced him and thanked him. Many of them were in tears. They all hugged. The ordeal was finally over, and his new life was about to begin.

 

The story of Lassana Bathily I’ve described here came directly from a conversation I had with him when he was in town to be honored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. As I reflected on his story, which touched me deeply, it struck me that during these days of Passover, when we look back on the Jews’ ancient story of liberation, Bathily’s story is also one of liberation — two liberations, in fact.

The first is the story of liberation we all heard about that was broadcast around the world — the story of a Muslim man who helped to liberate a group of Jews held hostage by a crazed gunman inside a kosher market.

The second story is less publicized and more personal. It’s Bathily’s own story, a tale of one man’s journey from an African village to a cosmopolitan city and his struggle to be accepted and build a life for himself. This was his liberation, and to reach it, Bathily needed the virtues of patience and perseverance and the help of guardian angels like Mercier.

He also needed a reverence for life. It’s true that life at any moment may be dark and unhappy, but life itself holds the promise of the deepest joy, no matter how deep the struggle. Bathily’s struggle to make it in a foreign city, and the simple joy he eventually found in his job, made him appreciate the very promise of life.

It was this appreciation that guided him on that infamous January day. Consider the contrast: While a terrorist was upstairs killing people, Bathily was downstairs trying to liberate them. He countered the worst human depravity with the highest level of nobility. He understood that nothing is more worthy of liberating than life itself. 

But Bathily’s story holds another lesson of liberation — it’s the lesson of liberating ourselves from our own prejudices. 

The “upstairs survivors” who initially called Bathily a coward did what many of us do in the heat of emotion — we react only to what we see. Shaken as they were by their ordeal, the survivors could see only an African Muslim who had escaped a hostage crisis, and they assumed he had abandoned his Jewish hostages.

It’s only when they looked beneath the surface and freed themselves from prejudices that they realized Bathily was a hero, not a coward.

How poignant that such a life lesson should express itself so clearly and metaphorically in one place. Here was the very visible stereotype of the violent Muslim terrorist on the main floor of a kosher market, while just below, on the lower floor, was the opposite — a quiet, religious Muslim man who was doing everything he could to save lives.

When I spoke to Bathily by phone a few days after meeting him, he was back in Paris, pondering his future. Right after that fateful day of Jan. 9, a petition to grant Bathily French citizenship was signed by more than 300,000 people and was immediately adopted by the French government.

He’s now on disability leave from the market, visiting with doctors to overcome the trauma of his experience. He said he misses the camaraderie of his beloved grocery store, which reopened with all new employees two months after the attack. The memories are too intense, he said, for him or any of his former colleagues to return to that same place.

As Bathily spoke, I heard party noises in the background. I thought about his newfound celebrity, and I hoped it wouldn’t go to his head and that people wouldn’t try to exploit him. I asked him whether he’d ever thought about working for an organization that promotes peace and coexistence among different religions.

His voice rose up against the background noises: “If you hear of such an organization,” he said to me in French, “please tell them I’m interested.”

I hope Lassana Bathily finds that organization and finds that new job. It would be one more step in his improbable journey of liberation.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israelis are not that weird


Peace lovers everywhere are depressed about all those Israelis who voted for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some of these peace lovers are in near hysterics because, well, they're so sure of themselves. They're sure that a vote for Bibi was a vote against peace, and that a vote for Herzog was a vote for hope.

How could so many Israelis vote against hope?

Here’s what I'm sure about: Israelis aren’t weird. Most Israelis would love nothing more than to give the Palestinians their own state if it meant real peace, but they've concluded that, right now, a Palestinian state means war, not peace.

How weird is that?

Let’s listen to a longtime Israeli expert on what a Palestinian state might mean:

“Israel will have problems in preserving day-to-day security, which may drive the country into war, or undermine the morale of its citizens. In time of war, the frontiers of the Palestinian state will constitute an excellent staging point for mobile forces to mount attacks on infrastructure installations vital for Israel's existence, to impede the freedom of action of the Israeli air-force in the skies over Israel, and to cause bloodshed among the population in areas adjacent to the frontier-line.”

That was peace lover Shimon Peres being extra candid in his 1987 book, “Tomorrow is Now.” And that was before the region started imploding with ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and a threatening nuclear Iran competing for who can be the most violent, and before Israel left Gaza and was rewarded with 10,000 rockets.

“Most Israelis would wave goodbye to the West Bank … but they don’t want the Gaza scenario to repeat itself,” another peace champion, Amos Oz, said to the New York Times last summer during the Gaza War.

How weird is that?

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t it criminal that an Israeli Prime Minister would scream to the world that there won’t be a Palestinian state under his watch? Yes, it is. When the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin admitted to the world in his final Knesset address in 1995 that the Palestinian entity he had in mind would be “less than a state,” I guess that was criminal.

The irony is that in his pre-election statement that drove many people nuts, Bibi didn’t even go that far. As Jewish Journal political editor Shmuel Rosner explains, “Netanyahu did not say that he opposes the two-state solution—he said that under current circumstances he doesn’t see a Palestinian state established in his coming term as prime minister. And he is probably right in his assessment.”

How weird is that?

You know why so many Israelis voted for Bibi and against the false hopes of peace? Because they don’t trust the world to make peace for them, and they especially don’t trust President Barack Obama.

Obama’s decision from the very beginning of his presidency to maximize the pressure on Israel while leaving the Palestinians virtually off the hook was exactly the wrong approach to earn the trust of Israelis. That’s because the pathetic story of the failed 20-year peace process is a story of Israel making one concession after another with the Palestinians refusing to compromise and launching intifadas and terror rockets.

Even if you’re an Israeli voter who hates Bibi and thinks he made many mistakes, why should you trust Obama’s approach of pressuring only the Israelis? It’s not that complicated: When it comes to their security, Israelis look at the hard reality of their enemies– and Bibi got a lot of those voters.

As Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times, “The insane, worthless Gaza war that Hamas initiated last summer that brought rockets to the edge of Israel’s main international airport and the Palestinians’ spurning of two-state offers of previous Israeli prime ministers (Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert) built Netanyahu’s base as much as he did.”

How weird is that?

It’s true that Bibi’s great failure has been allowing the great portion of the blame for the absence of peace to fall on Israel’s shoulders. That’s a tactical failure, and it’s an enormous one. It’s also true that Bibi’s status quo mentality is lame and short-sighted. At the very least, he ought to call the Palestinians’ bluff and relieve some of the relentless and disproportionate pressure on Israel.

But all those peace-loving Israel supporters who are unleashing their wrath at Bibi right now should take some of the responsibility for that failure. Instead of being so sure of themselves and talking down to Israeli voters, they ought to ‘fess up that their 20-year strategy of pressuring mostly Israel to make concessions for peace has been a disaster. 

One, it has reinforced Palestinian intransigence and killed any hope for peace. Two, it has nourished the global lie that the failure is all Israel’s fault. And three, it has alienated a significant group of Israeli voters.

How weird is that?


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Would I leave France?


When we discussed the cover headline for the Journal’s story this week on the troubled Jews of France, we debated two options: “Should Jews leave?” or “Would you leave?” The first option was about “them,” while the second was more about us.

In the end, we went for clarity and chose the first one because our main stories are really about the Jews of France. But the second, more personal, headline speaks to something equally important and perhaps even more intriguing: How would we, as Americans, react if we were in the same shoes as our French brothers and sisters?

It’s a complicated question, because, generally speaking, American Jews are not used to being afraid of showing their Jewishness.

I can’t imagine, for instance, being afraid to walk to Young Israel of Century City while wearing my yarmulke, as I did last Shabbat on the yarzeit of my father. Ironically, it was my father who decided, 50 years ago, that we should not move to France when we left Morocco. Why? As my mother recalled, when my father returned from a visit to Paris in 1963, he spoke about an incident where a friend asked him to take off his yarmulke when he came out of a synagogue on Shabbat, just to be safe.

That may well have been the tiebreaker that made my father choose Canada over France — he wanted his children to grow up with no fear of showing they were Jewish.

The four Jews murdered at the kosher market in Paris certainly didn’t hide their Jewishness. What’s more Jewish than rushing on a Friday afternoon to get your last-minute Shabbat supplies? Coming after a decade of anti-Semitic attacks, the trauma of that tragedy has left the Jews of France feeling apprehensive as never before.

“It’s not a life,” Laetitia Enriquez, national correspondent for Actualité Juive, a prominent French Jewish weekly, told me on the phone from Marseille, where she lives with her husband and young children. “Almost every Jew I know talks about leaving, and that’s even before the latest attacks.”

While Enriquez and other French Jews are grateful for the outpouring of support from the French government, with extra security and armed guards now stationed at Jewish schools, synagogues and other Jewish establishments, there’s still a bitter aftertaste.

“Who wants to live like that?” she asked. “Who wants to live surrounded by guards, when you’re always afraid for your children? What’s really scary is that the government is on our side and we’re still afraid.”

Beyond the obvious cost of living with fear, Enriquez brought up another burden on the French-Jewish community that I hadn’t heard before.

“Because everyone talks about leaving, the community is paralyzed. We’re not talking about building things, about new projects. We’re like an apple that is drying up.”

This state of limbo is one more price French Jews are paying for their anguish: They’re neither here nor there, always talking about moving to Israel or elsewhere, but mostly staying in France and living in continuous anxiety.

Maybe my father intuitively understood 50 years ago that the fear of showing your Jewishness could paralyze not just a community, but one’s own life.

Of course, he probably also understood that there’s no such thing as a life without fear. We may talk a good game, but let’s face it, we all have basic fears that lie deep in our souls — the fear of failing, of becoming ill, of being alone, of rejection, of loss of close ones — even, as a rabbi friend once remarked, of living a life without meaning.

That is, perhaps, the hidden curse of anti-Semitism — it sucks up our energy from dealing with the everyday dramas of life.

Maybe, in the end, that’s what kept my father from taking us to France — he knew that even without chronic anti-Semitism, life is difficult enough, so we might as well live in a place where we’ll have one less hurdle to overcome. 

I’m guessing the fear of anti-Semitism is not the only one paralyzing French Jews as they agonize over whether to stay or leave. There’s surely also the fear of the unknown, of missing the French culture they so love, of failing in their new lives. These are human fears, not uniquely Jewish fears.

That is, perhaps, the hidden curse of anti-Semitism — it sucks up our energy from dealing with the everyday dramas of life.

What would I do if I were in the shoes of my French brethren? I’m not sure, but I’d probably be doing the same thing they’re doing — agonizing, kvetching, worrying and talking incessantly about leaving. And at times when I’d be afraid to wear my yarmulke as I walked to shul on Shabbat, I’d probably be swearing to myself that, right after sundown, I’m calling El Al.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Hamas claims responsibility for large terror tunnel


Hamas claimed responsibility for a terror tunnel dug between Gaza and Israel.

A spokesman for Hamas’ military wing said Sunday during an interview on one of the terrorist movement’s radio stations that the group was responsible for building and maintaining the tunnel, Reuters reported.

The 1.5-mile-long tunnel began in the Absan village located between Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip and the Gaza border fence and had more than one exit point in and around Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, including near a kindergarten, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

It is believed to have been constructed to kidnap civilians and soldiers, or to infiltrate the community and carry out a terror attack.

The Hamas spokesman said the tunnel had been dug in an effort to force Israel to release some of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails. Former Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured and brought into Gaza through such a tunnel in 2006. More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were released in a prisoner exchange for Shalit.

The tunnel was reinforced with steel and cement provided by Israel to build public buildings in Gaza, which Israel had been withholding as part of its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel allowed the delivery to resume in 2010.

The Tea-hadist: 72 virgins for the Tea Party


Jewish graves destroyed in Syrian city


Al-Qaida-linked terrorists reportedly demolished several ancient Jewish mausoleums in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

The graves were located in the historical town of Tadif, according to the semi-official Iranian FARS news agency and other Iranian news outlets. The terrorists reportedly belong to the al-Qaida-backed al-Nusra Front.

A tomb said to be that of Ezra the Scribe is located in the town. It is unclear if it was one of the damaged grave sites.

Several religious sites in Syria have been destroyed in the country’s two-year civil war.

Husband of terror victim pens memoir of quest to meet bomber


David Harris-Gershon, author of the forthcoming memoir “What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?,” is frank about the contradictions in his personality.

An admitted “natural introvert,” Harris-Gershon describes himself as “surprisingly good” at public speaking. In 2013, he won the GrandSLAM Storytelling Championship at the Pittsburgh branch of the Moth, a nationwide storytelling organization, with a tale of using unorthodox tactics to drum up support for Barack Obama by posing as a woman in adult romance chat rooms.

“I love being in front of an audience,” said Harris-Gershon, 39, who works as a Judaic studies teacher in Pittsburgh, “but it drains me.”

Nonetheless, Harris-Gershon maintains a very public profile as a liberal commentator on Middle East politics, blogging for the progressive publications Tikkun magazine and Daily Kos.

But with the publication of his memoir, Harris-Gershon delves into the deeply personal events — some catastrophic, some therapeutic — that have led to his political stance.

The memoir, due in U.S. bookstores on Sept. 10, begins with the Hebrew University bombing in 2002 that killed two of his friends and severely injured his wife, Jamie, who had shrapnel lodged in her body.

Harris-Gershon says Jamie is a “very private person” who preferred not to have her private ordeal immortalized in a book. So the memoir is not the story of her recovery but his own.

“Despite the fact that the book begins with the attack, her injury and her recovery, she understands that it is primarily a chronicle of my story and my experience — myself as a secondary victim,” Harris-Gershon said.

After the couple left Israel in 2003 after spending three years living in Jerusalem, Harris-Gershon began suffering symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, including crippling anxiety attacks. The book delves deeply into his recovery process, including the traditional and innovative forms of therapy he tries.

Harris-Gershon describes watching a piece of shrapnel extracted from his wife’s body, noting the “opaque film of unknown fluids” on the twisted metal.

Much of his struggle is portrayed as extended dialogues between the author and himself, or with his therapist or inanimate objects — a playful literary technique that Harris-Gershon says reveals the influence of postmodern masters like Dave Eggers.

Ultimately, however, Harris-Gershon’s recovery was enabled not by conventional therapy but by an unprecedented encounter — one that led to a political awakening.

Spurred by an article in which the cafe bomber, Mohammed Odeh, expressed remorse for his actions, Harris-Gershon set out on a quixotic quest to meet the terrorist.

The memoir details Harris-Gershon’s unsuccessful attempts to meet Odeh, a member of Hamas who is being held in an Israeli prison. Blocked repeatedly by the thorny machinations of Israeli bureaucracy, Harris-Gershon’s search serves as a catalyst for a series of revelations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that range from the unjust policies of the British Mandate to the poignancy of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation.

The book culminates in a meeting between the author and Odeh’s family in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem. Harris-Gershon describes the encounter as a “reckoning” that drove home the realization that Palestinians are, as he writes, “not monsters.”

The product of a Conservative Jewish upbringing in America, Harris-Gershon expresses bemusement that it took an act of terror for him to reach this epiphany.

“Growing up, I just thought of Palestinians as another enemy of the Jewish people,” he said. “I thought of them as a caricature of evil. And that is sadly common among American Jews.”

But struggling to understand the motivations of a terrorist and speaking with Odeh’s family, Harris-Gershon said, “made me understand their history and experience, their intense suffering, in ways that I had never understood before.”

Harris-Gershon says that in the wake of the encounter, he feels “transformed” and plans to continue to act on his newfound political beliefs, writing about Middle East politics and America’s role in the region.

“It may take the form of a new book in the near future,” he said. “My writing on this issue is definitely going to continue.”

Israel should not release prisoners for peace


Releasing Palestinian prisoners as a political gesture erodes Israel’s democratic fabric and challenges the country’s core sense of justice. Ironically, it is the dissemination of justice and the people of Israel’s faith in that justice that has kept their society together. 

The citizens of a democratic country expect and believe that evil will be punished and that good will prevail. They believe that the government they elected protects them and ensures that those who murder do not go free. The exception to that expectation occurs only when the murderer is exonerated or pardoned. And when pardons do come, society takes notice and asks if the person really did the heinous act. The pardon is the safety valve that corrects the mistakes of justice.

Israel, like all democracies, relies on a series of check and balances. 

The prime minister of Israel and his cabinet are legally responsible for foreign affairs and for the safety and security of the state. About that there is no question. That ruling, just issued by the Israeli Supreme Court, paved the way for convicted Palestinian terrorists to be transferred to Gaza and to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The court ruled against the challenge of releasing the prisoners. They said that the prime minister had absolute authority in the matter. 

[PRO: Israel should release prisoners for peace]

Here is the problem: These were neither military prisoners nor security prisoners. The released prisoners and their fellow cell and soul mates awaiting imminent release were tried and convicted in civilian courts. And even if terror and nationalistic agendas were part of their collective diabolical mindset, all of these prisoners, each and every one, was tried for and convicted of murder and/or attempted murder.

Not one of these prisoners was pardoned. Not one was granted amnesty. They were all simply released in a political deal.

[Related: Who Israel released]

Justice, judgment and punishment were shoved aside. Checks and balances were thrown out. The political side trampled on the judicial branch. Had these prisoners been under military jurisdiction, I would not have liked the decision, but I would understand it. The military convicts and frees according to different standards. If these were high-security prisoners, I could understand that, too. But they are not.

Look at crimes perpetrated by some of these 26 released murderers, 14 of whom are now at home in Gaza, the others released to roam the West Bank: 

• Abu Moussa Salam Ali Atiya had been jailed since 1994 for the murder of Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg. His victim was born in Poland in 1927, and most of his family was deported to and murdered in Sobibor. Rotenberg and his brother were sent to a labor camp. He survived the Nazis. And then, on March 29, 1994, as Rothberg knelt down to lay a floor he was axed to death by two Arab laborers. One of them was Ali Atiya. 

• Kor Mattawa Hamad Faiz had been in jail since 1985 for the murder of Menahem Dadon and attempted murder of Salomon Abukasis. 

• Sha’at Azat Shaban Ata was convicted of helping murder a 51-year-old woman named Simcha Levi. Levi made her living transporting Palestinian day laborers from the Gaza Strip to work in Jewish settlements. In March 1993, she picked up three men disguised as women. They were her murderers; they beat and stabbed Levi to death.

• Salah Ibrahim Ahmad Mughdad was jailed since 1993 for the murder of Israel Tenenbaum. Tenenbaum was born in Poland in 1921, survived the Holocaust, and came to Israel in 1957 and bought a farm. After a life of work in agriculture, he retired and became a night watchman at a small hotel in the seaside city Netanya. Tenenbaum was murdered on the job.

Many of the victims were older and Holocaust survivors. Their murderers are now free. Twelve of the victims were Arab. Their murderers, too, are now free. In the coming days and weeks, more murderers will be set free. The sides have just begun talking. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA, has already achieved victory. 

Now we wait to see what emerges at the negotiating table. We wait to see if anything emerges at the negotiating table. It might; it might not. Whatever the outcome, these released murderers will not be returning to an Israeli prison.


Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson, 2007).

EU adds Hezbollah’s military wing to terrorism list


The European Union agreed on Monday to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist, a move driven by concerns over the Lebanese militant group's involvement in a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria and the Syrian war.

The powerful Lebanese Shi'ite movement, an ally of Iran, has attracted concern in Europe and around the world in recent months for its role in sending thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, an intervention that has turned the tide of Syria's two-year-old civil war.

Britain and the Netherlands have long pressed their EU peers to impose sanctions on the Shi'ite Muslim group, citing evidence it was behind an attack in the coastal Bulgarian city of Burgas a year ago that killed five Israelis and their driver.

Until now, many EU capitals had resisted lobbying from Washington and Israel to blacklist the group, warning such a move could fuel instability in Lebanon and in the Middle East.

Hezbollah functions both as a political party that is part of the Lebanese government and as a militia with thousands of guerrillas under arms.

Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said the decision was “hasty” and could lead to further sanctions against the movement that would complicate Lebanese politics.

“This will hinder Lebanese political life in the future, especially considering our sensitivities in Lebanon,” he told Reuters. “We need to tighten bonds among Lebanese parties, rather than create additional problems.”

The blacklisting opens the way for EU governments to freeze any assets Hezbollah's military wing may have in Europe.

“There's no question of accepting terrorist organizations in Europe,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a statement that the EU had taken an important step by “dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act”.

In the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry said Syria was an important factor behind the EU vote.

“A growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is,” he said.

QUESTIONING EFFECTIVENESS

By limiting the listing to the armed wing, the EU was trying to avoid damaging its relations with Lebanon's government, but the split may complicate its ability to enforce the decision in practical terms.

Hezbollah does not formally divide itself into armed and political wings, and Amal Saad Ghorayeb, who wrote a book on the group, said identifying who the ban would apply to will be difficult.

“It is a political, more than a judicial decision. It can't have any real, meaningful judicial implications,” she said, adding it appeared to be a “a PR move” to hurt Hezbollah's international standing, more connected with events in Syria than with the case in Bulgaria.

Israel's deputy foreign minister Zeev Elkin welcomed the step, but said the entire group should have been targeted.

“We (Israel) worked hard, along with a number of countries in Europe, in order to bring the necessary materials and prove there was a basis for a legal decision,” he told Israel Radio.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to allay concerns about the practical impact of the decision, saying it would allow for better cooperation among European law enforcement officials in countering Hezbollah activities.

Hezbollah parliamentary member al-Walid Soukariah said the decision puts Europe “in confrontation with this segment of people in our region”.

“This step won't affect Hezbollah or the resistance. The resistance is present on Lebanese territory and not in Europe. It is not a terrorist group to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe, which is forbidden by religion.”

TRICKY RELATIONS

The Iran-backed movement, set up with the aim of fighting Israel after its invasion of Lebanon three decades ago, has dominated politics in Beirut in recent years.

In debating the blacklisting, many EU governments expressed concerns over maintaining Europe's relations with Lebanon. To soothe such worries, the ministers agreed to make a statement pledging to continue dialogue with all political groups.

“We also agreed that the delivery of legitimate financial transfers to Lebanon and delivery of assistance from the European Union and its member states will not be affected,” the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Already on the EU blacklist are groups such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, and Turkey's Kurdish militant group PKK.

Their assets in Europe are frozen and they have no access to cash there, meaning they cannot raise money for their activities. Sanctions on Hezbollah go into effect this week.

Hezbollah denies any involvement in last July's attack in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian interior minister said last week Sofia had no doubt the group was behind it.

In support of its bid to impose sanctions, Britain has also cited a four-year jail sentence handed down by a Cypriot court in March to a Hezbollah member accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

The decision also comes at a time of strained relations between the EU and Israel after Brussels pushed ahead with plans to bar EU financial aid to Israeli organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.

EU foreign ministers held a video conference with Kerry who announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had tentatively agreed to resume peace talks after three years.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Oliver Holmes, Stephen Kalin and Reuters Television in Beirut; Editing by Will Waterman

Bulgaria confirms new evidence pointing to Hezbollah in Burgas attack


Bulgaria’s interior minister confirmed that his country has new evidence that Hezbollah was responsible for the deadly 2012 terrorist attack on Israeli tourists on Bulgarian soil.

Tsvetlin Yovchev said during a news briefing Wednesday, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the attack in Burgas, that the additional evidence makes it clear that Hezbollah masterminded the attack, the Sofia News Agency reported.

A Bulgarian representative to the European Union said last month that investigators discovered that a Hezbollah operative was the owner of a printer used to produce fake documents that facilitated the July 18, 2012 bombing of a bus filled with Israeli tourists. Five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver were killed in the attack.

The identification of the bomber is still not certain, Yovchev said.

“The position of Bulgaria on the terror act in Burgas is absolutely real, there is no change in it and we have leads pointing at Hezbollah,” Yovchev said.

Bulgaria has put increased security measures into place at bus stations, airports and hotels in advance of Thursday’s one-year anniversary of the attack, according to the Sophia News Agency.

Meanwhile, European and Israeli diplomats believe that European Union foreign ministers will decide at a meeting next week that Hezbollah’s military wing should be included on the EU’s terror list.

In the wake of Boston Marathon bombings, Israeli Independence Day fetes are toned down


Israeli Independence Day celebrations in Boston were muted and security was increased in the wake of bombings that left three dead and dozens injured at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Mike Rosenberg, director of community relations at Maimonides, a Jewish day school in suburban Brookline, said an event Tuesday commemorating Israel's 65th anniversary had been toned down out of respect for the victims of the attack and their families.

“Messages have gone out to parents and students that in the context of yesterday's events, there will be no dancing and more [words of Torah],” he said.

The Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston called off a flag-raising ceremony for Israel's Independence Day, leaving its flags at half-mast.

Shira Strosberg, the school's director of communications, said security in and around its campus was ratcheted up.

“We are obviously saddened and everybody came to school today with a heavy heart,” she said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the bombings.”

At a Yom Haatzmaut celebration in Los Angeles Monday evening, sponsored by the Israeli Consulate, security was tightened signifcantly, a spokewoman said, and prayers were offered both by Israeli Consul General David Siegel and by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the event's honoree.

No one has taken responsibility for the two explosions near the finish line and there was no indication Jewish institutions were at any particular risk. Nonetheless, community officials told JTA they remained vigilant.

‘Running Rabbi’ recounts chaos at Boston Marathon, vows to run in next year’s race


“It was a beautiful day. I was so excited to run and having such a good run. The crowd was unbelievable. The whole experience was amazing. It was almost magical.”

That’s how the Boston Marathon began for Rabbi Benjamin David, head rabbi at Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel, N.J. It’s not how it ended.

David, 36, had completed the marathon and was back at his hotel when the twin explosions went off Monday afternoon near the finish line. The apparent terrorist attack killed at least three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded more than 140, some critically.

David was running with Rabbi Scott Weiner, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of New Rochelle in suburban New York's Westchester County. The two rabbinical school friends are co-founders of the national organization The Running Rabbis, which encourages clergy — Jewish and not — and their congregants to run. They always run for a charity and their race in the Boston Marathon raised money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

David had an additional motivation for running. Although he had run 20 half-marathons and 13 marathons, David had never run the Boston Marathon and he wanted to beat his personal best time of 3 hours, 23 minutes. After 10 months of training, he did just that, running the 26.2 miles in 3 hours, 21 minutes. Weiner was one minute ahead of him.

From his hotel room two blocks from the blast site, David explained Monday night what happened next.

“Usually at these big races, it takes a while to exit the area because you pick up the medal and your tote bag and shuffle along because you are so tired,” David said. “Getting out of the finish area took us at least a half hour. We went to the hotel, and I was about to put my hand on the door to go into the lobby when I heard a massive explosion. It was an extraordinary sound. You knew instantly that something was wrong.”

David knew what kind of wrong that was. He was in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, blocks away from the World Trade Center at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Rabbi Benjamin David, having finished the Boston Marathon earlier, was at his hotel room two blocks from the site of the two bombs when they exploded. (Courtesy Rabbi Benjamin David)

“In my mind, I instantly compared it to when I was in New York on 9/11,” he said. “I mean, it was a different sound. But when the first plane hit the tower, it was a sound like a sound you don’t normally hear. That’s what this was today. A sound that you don’t normally hear and your brain says, ‘Is something wrong?’ Then today when we heard the second bomb, like when there was the second plane on 9/11. Then we knew for sure that something was very wrong.

“People were running toward the scene and away from the scene,” David said. “Police were scrambling. The hardest part is that no one knew what happened, so you don’t know what to do. We thought maybe the grandstand had collapsed, or a building. I grabbed someone, and he said that two bombs went off.

“I went up to my room and put on the news,” he said. “Isn’t that strange? Here I am, two blocks from the thing, and my instinct is still to turn on the TV to see what happened. But then, from the window in my room, I could see basically everything. So the local news was on and there was confusion and speculation, and I’m looking out the window and looking right at what is being called a terrorist attack.”

Other than using the word “surreal,” David didn’t get into details about what he saw.

“You know one weird thing? They stopped the race in progress,” he said. “I heard on the news that there were supposedly 4,500 people still on the course. I wonder what happened to them. What were they told? What was it like for them, not knowing what was happening?”

Luckily, David’s family did know what was happening with him. Like most other marathoners, he had a chip on his clothes that enabled the tracking of his progress via a secure website.

“I knew that he was finished with the race, and I texted him to see how it went and he texted back, ‘Turn on the news,’ ” said his father, Rabbi Jerome David of Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, N.J. “I was shaken, even though I knew he was safe. It brought back memories of 9/11 because Ben and his brother John were both very close to the Trade Center that morning and we couldn’t reach either of them. This time, at least I heard from him. But even so, it’s the same feeling. It’s worrying about your child — and I know very well that he is a grown man — but he is my child. And he was again in the middle of danger. And there was nothing I could do about it right then.”

A friend called David’s mother, Peggy, on her cell phone.

“I was on a break from work and had just turned my phone on when a friend called and said, ‘There was a bombing near the finish line,’ ” Peggy David recounted. “I was sure he was done and I know that he usually goes back to the hotel pretty quickly. But I didn’t know exactly where he was when the bomb went off. Then his wife sent out a group text saying that he was OK.”

David’s wife, Lisa, the mother of their three young children, was tracking her husband’s progress and received an immediate text from him about his safety. That was a good thing because within hours she was aboard a plane headed for Israel on a business trip. She is associate director of camping for the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp and Israel Programs.

Dr. Steve Gitler, president of Adath Emanu-El, found out about the bombing via a text from his daughter.

“She texted, ‘Is Rabbi alright?’ and I answered, ‘What do you mean?’ and she wrote back, ‘There were explosions in Boston.’ I went to CNN.com and read what happened. Then I got the text that Rabbi was OK, and I posted a message on our synagogue’s Facebook page, then sent an email to the board and sent an email to the congregation so that everyone knew he was OK.”

Rabbi Richard Levine, the rabbi emeritus of Adath Emanu-El who led the congregation for more than 46 years, heard the news on KYW-1060 radio.

“I knew that Ben was trying to run the marathon in less than 3 hours and 20 or so minutes, so I thought that he was done and probably safe, but that didn’t mean he was,” Levine said. “We texted back and forth so I knew that he was OK. But I was still very worried for a period of time. You don’t want someone you care about to be in harm’s way.”

In fact, Levine thinks the timing of the bombings was deliberately set to harm as many people as possible. A former distance runner himself, Levine knows how marathons are staged.

“Sometimes in these races, they stagger the start times and have the all-star runners go first, then there is a break, then another class of runners goes and another follows,” he said. “Anyone who did some homework would know that the vast majority of runners — the average runners who are not professionals — finish the Boston Marathon right at about the time that the bombs exploded. At that time, people are crossing the finish line en masse. And these are people who run purely because they love to run and want to be part of the Boston Marathon.

“So were the bombs intentionally set to explode then? Yes, I believe so.”

If there was any blessing in this, Levine said, it was that medical personnel were at the finish line waiting for runners and they immediately helped the injured.

David’s father, who was also a runner, sees other silver linings in the day’s events.

“In a moment, your whole life can change,” he said. “You start off in one direction and then it goes in another. It also reminds you of what is important and that is family, health and friendship. I am a rabbi and lead my congregation, but I am also a father and grandfather and tonight, I needed the support of my congregants. I went to a men’s study group and an executive board meeting and was surrounded by friends and supporters. Rabbis need that, too, you know.”

His son also got the support he needed.

“On my end, people were just remarkably kind and forthcoming,” the younger David said. “My phone has not stopped ringing for seven hours. It’s been calls, texts, Facebook. Everyone knew that I was doing this race. The congregation and my family and friends have been amazingly supportive today.”

But he still had to deal with the logistics of being two blocks from a terrorist attack. And he had just run 26.2 miles. He was hungry after the race, but when he tried to get something to eat in the hotel lobby, the police came in and “kicked us out of the hotel because they didn’t want large crowds gathering. They wouldn’t let me back in, even though I said that I was a guest.”

So he went to the house of his wife’s college roommate three or four blocks from the hotel and took refuge there for an hour, he said, before returning to the hotel.

“And then again I realized that I forgot to eat,” David said. He went in search of food, encountering a “horrible” scene outside, with barricades and police everywhere. He found an open restaurant,  a Cheesecake Factory, where there was an hour wait for seating. So he took something to go and returned to his hotel room.

David described his state just hours after the attack as” feeling dazed.”

“My body is, like, exhausted. Annihilated. The marathon is so emotional and you spend so much time preparing,” he said. “God willing it goes well and it’s an accomplishment. And I do feel that accomplishment. But then, there are people who died today and they died right outside my window.”

But he also had a different view he was trying to maintain.

“Today, we saw what looks like hate and violence. But what I also saw was a day of togetherness and community and caring and support — much like the Marathon itself,” he said. “Every marathon is about celebrating the human spirit and supporting one another. It’s about people from around the country and around the world, from different backgrounds and different religions running together. That is what I will remember from today, from before the bombing and right after it.

“Tragedy reduces things to the most primal and most important factors,” he said. “Family, friends, community and what strangers need help.”

In the attacks both on 9/11 and on Monday, he said, “we will see the best in humanity come out.”

“And one more thing: I will run the Boston Marathon next year,” David said. “Nothing will keep me from it.”

A prayer of hope after the Boston Marathon bombing


“Behold days are coming, says the Lord…and they shall rebuild.” From our Haftarah this Shabbat Amos 9:13

God of peace, God of healing
God of the grief-stricken,
We call You, we invoke You
We pray to You:
Oh my God, we called out to You
as a day of celebration
Turned to mourning.
Oh my God
The shock
The senselessness
Innocent lives cut short
Wounded victims
Heartbreaking cries of panic and grief.
But through the darkness came
The light
The hope
The heroes
The selfless caring of first responders
Arms extended in comfort and love,
Your messengers on earth.
God, send comfort to grieving families,
Send healing to the wounded,
Send wisdom and strength to doctors and nurses
Send calm to hearts filled with panic.
Bless us with peace, God,
Show us that we will rebuild
In the face of tragedy. 
Grant us the power and wisdom
To bring justice to those who harm us.
Teach us that we will triumph over terror.     
We will not let this tragedy twist our spirits
We choose hope over fear.
We are resilient, we are strong
We are one nation under God
We will come together, hand in hand
We will rebuild.
Amen.


Rabbi Naomi Levy is spiritual leader of Nashuva, and the author of Hope Will Find You and Talking to God. This prayer was distributed by the Rabbinical Assembly.

Who bombed Boston? Word for now is caution


The day after the Boston Marathon bombing, President Obama called it an “act of terrorism.” What kind of terrorism, no one was ready to say — a caution that derives from years of wrongful speculation that on occasion has ruined innocent lives.

Hours after the attack Monday that killed three and injured scores, Obama in a television address refrained from using the word “terrorism.” He did use it Tuesday, but wrapped it deep in caveats.

“Given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism,” Obama said in a White House briefing. “Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror. What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack or why; whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic; or was it the act of a malevolent individual. That's what we don't yet know.”

Jewish groups and officials who track such incidents took the same tack, declining to engage in conjecture given the limited information about the attack.

“We know that unfortunately 30 percent of terrorist attacks had Jewish institutions as secondary targets,” said Paul Goldenberg, the director of the Secure Community Network, the security arm of the national Jewish community, on Monday. “However, I must stress that there is absolutely nothing here that indicates any connection to an attack on the Jewish community. But based on history, we are standing vigilant for at least the next 48 hours.” 

Race officials, police and runners react following two explosions at the Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., on April 15. Photo by MetroWest Daily News/Ken McGagh/Reuters

Over the last year, evidence has emerged that Hezbollah and others acting on behalf of Iran have stepped up plans to attack Jewish and Israeli targets, partially in response to increased pressure on Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program. There has also been evidence since Obama’s 2008 election of intensified domestic violence by anti-government and white supremacist groups.

The Anti-Defamation League in an April 8 security bulletin noted that the week of April 20 — Hitler's birthday — is a period of heightened alert due to the history of right-wing violence that coincides with it. The violence includes the 1993 storming of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma City bombing, both on April 19.

“As a consequence of these anniversaries and the symbolism and significance of these dates, anti-government extremist groups, such as militia groups, may target April 19,” the ADL said. “Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have a history of staging events on or close to April 20.”

The low-tech nature of the device used in Boston — a “pressure cooker” that relays shrapnel upon explosion — suggests that the attacker was not part of a sophisticated network, said David Schanzer, a terrorism expert at Duke University.

“The only thing we do know is the amount of damage and destruction and power these bombs have,” Schanzer said. “It was a successful bomb but it didn't bring the buildings down. That tells you something about the bomber and the types of materials used. If a group was determined and capable of planting a bomb in this particular spot, it would want to use the most sophisticated bomb they were capable of creating.”

From left: Boston Marathon runners Lisa Kresky-Griffin, Diane Deigmann and Tammy Snyder embrace at the barricaded entrance at Boylston Street, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., on April 16. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Schanzer was careful to qualify even that insight, saying there were some scenarios in which a sophisticated group might consider using a crude device. Such caution derives from multiple speculations over the years that ultimately have embarrassed their purveyors and in some cases had dire consequences.

Some experts at first blamed the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building on Muslim extremists, but anti-government extremists were found to be the culprits. Law enforcement authorities leaked the name of Richard Jewell, a private security guard, as a person of interest following the 1996 bombing attack at the Atlanta Olympics. Though Jewell ultimately was vindicated, he spent the rest of his life trying to regain a semblance of normalcy. Jewell died in 2007 at 44.

Matthew Levitt, a former FBI analyst who now directs the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s counterterrorism project, said he expected more information would soon become available. Agents were scouring the bombing area for DNA and reviewing the wealth of video likely collected by hundreds of marathon watchers.

“When something does go boom, there's no one better than the FBI at this,” Levitt said. “There's a tremendous number of people working on this all over the world.”

Police officers and military personell gather in Boston Common following the Boston Marathon Bombing on April 15. Photo by Laurie Hasencamp.

EU official: Hezbollah may not make terror list, even with Bulgaria bombing


Hezbollah may not be included on the European Union's list of terrorist groups even if it did bomb Jewish tourists in Bulgaria, the EU's top counter-terrorism official reportedly said.

On Monday, the news site EUobserver quoted the official, Gilles de Kerchove, as saying that Bulgaria's investigation into the incident is likely to be concluded next month.

According to Israel, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah was behind the bombing on July 19 in Burgas, which targeted a bus of Israeli tourists and left five Israelis and one Bulgarian dead.

U.S. and Israeli officials have said the EU should blacklist Hezbollah if the Bulgarians find it guilty of perpetrating the attack. Its inclusion would make it illegal for Hezbollah sympathizers in Europe to send money to the group, which the United States and Israel list as terrorist.

“There is no automatic listing just because you have been behind a terrorist attack,” de Kerchove is quoted as saying. “It's not only the legal requirement that you have to take into consideration, it's also a political assessment of the context and the timing.”

He noted there is “no consensus” among EU states on whether listing Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government, would be useful or not.

The London-based Arabic newspaper Al Hayat last week cited a “European source” as saying that he predicted the investigation will point to Hezbollah. The Bulgarian Interior Ministry denies the report, however.