Words matter: How vocabulary defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Settlements or Jewish communities? West Bank or Judea and Samaria? East Jerusalem or eastern Jerusalem? Those are some of the language choices that journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are faced with each day—and those choices should not be taken lightly, experts say.

“It’s the terminology that actually defines the conflict and defines what you think about the conflict,” says Ari Briggs, director of Regavim, an Israeli NGO that works on legal land use issues. “Whereas journalists’ job, I believe, is to present the news, as soon as you use certain terminology, you’re presenting an opinion and not the news anymore.”

“Accuracy requires precision; ideology employs euphemism,” says Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

At the conclusion of his famed essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell argues that writers have the power to “send some worn-out and useless phrase—some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse—into the dustbin, where it belongs.” Many Jewish leaders, organizations, and analysts wish to do just that with the following terms, which are commonly used by the mainstream media in coverage of Israel.

West Bank

Dani Dayan believes the “funniest” term of all that are used in mainstream coverage of Israel is “West Bank.” Dayan is the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization representing the municipal councils of Jewish communities in an area that the Israeli government calls Judea and Samaria, in line with the region’s biblical roots. Yet media usually use “West Bank” to describe the area, in reference to the bank of the river situated on its eastern border.

“[The Jordan River] is the only river on planet earth that on its good days is a few feet wide, and people claim that it has a bank 40 miles wide [spanning across Judea and Samaria],” Dayan tells JNS.org. “There is no other example of such a thing in the geography of planet earth. That proves that West Bank is the politicized terminology, and not Judea and Samaria, as people claim.”


The Jordan River. Photo by Beivushtang via Wikimedia Commons.

Member of Knesset Danny Danon (Likud) calls it “ridiculous” that West Bank—a geographic term that once described half of the Mandate of Palestine that the British government promised to the Jewish people—has “taken on a political meaning that attempts to supersede thousands of years of Jewish tradition.”

“The correct name of the heartland of the Land of Israel is obviously Judea and Samaria,” he tells JNS.org.

CAMERA’s Rozenman, the former editor of the Washington Jewish Week and B’nai B’rith Magazine, draws a distinction between Palestinian and Jewish communities in the area.

“If I’m referring to Palestinian Arab usage or demands, I use West Bank,” he says. “If I’m referring to Israeli usage or Jewish history and religion, etc., I use Judea and Samaria. Israeli prime ministers from 1967 on, if not before, used and [now] use Yehuda and Shomron, the Hebrew from which the Romans Latinized Judea and Samaria.”

West Bank is fair to use “so long as it’s noted that Jordan adopted that usage in the early 1950s to try to legitimate its illegal occupation, as the result of aggression, of what was commonly known as Judea and Samaria by British Mandatory authorities,” adds Rozenman.

Dayan, meanwhile, prefers to call Palestinian communities in Judea and Samaria exactly that.

“The area is Judea and Samaria, and in Judea and Samaria there are indeed Palestinian population centers, and that’s perfectly okay,” he says. “We cannot neglect that fact, that yes, we [Jews] are living together with Palestinians. And in Judea and Samaria there is ample room for many Jews, for many Palestinians, and for peaceful coexistence between them if the will exists.”

Settlements

Judea and Samaria’s Jewish communities are often called “settlements,” a term that some believe depicts modern-day residents of the area as primitive.

“[‘Settlements’] once referred in a positive manner to all communities in the Land of Israel, but at some point was misappropriated as a negative term specifically against those Jews who settled in Judea and Samaria,” Danon says. “I prefer to use ‘Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria’ when discussing the brave modern-day Zionistic pioneers.”

Dayan believe “settlements” is not pejorative, but still inaccurate. He analogizes the Israeli city of Ariel, home to one of Israel’s eight accredited universities, to the American municipality of Princeton, N.J., home to the Ivy League school of the same name. While Ariel is labeled as a settlement, nobody would give such a label to Princeton, Dayan argues.

“It’s a politically driven labeling in order to target those [Israeli] communities,” he says. “Most communities in Judea and Samaria are not different from any suburban or even urban community in Europe, in the United States, in Israel itself, or elsewhere.”

Green Line/1967 lines

The Israeli government’s decisions to build housing units beyond the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and Jordan are commonly defined as construction projects across the “Green Line.” But that term is a relic of the 1960s, according to Dayan.

“The Green Line ceased to exist in 1967 [during the Six-Day War],” he says. “The moment the Jordanian army, with the Palestinians, joined Egypt and Syria in attacking Israel, they shattered the Green Line and that very moment the Green Line ceased to exist.”

“1967 lines” are another popular term to describe the same entity, yet those lines “do not signify a political border between two political entities, and they never did,” says Dayan.

“I am always puzzled by the sudden sanctity that [the ‘1967 lines’] gained,” he says. “In the [1949] cease-fire agreement between Israel and Jordan that was signed in the Greek island of Rhodes, it was stated very clearly by an Arab demand that those lines are devoid of any political significance. They’re only a reflection of the military outcome of the [1967] war. Suddenly today we see that people say that east of the ‘Green Line’ is not part of Israel, it’s ‘Palestine,’ etc. That’s nonsense.”

East Jerusalem


The eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. Photo by Faigl.ladislav via Wikimedia Commons.

Though Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, some refer to the city’s Arab-heavy portion as “East Jerusalem”—with the uppercase “E” implying that the area is its own municipality.

“There is a typo here,” says Danon. “There is the western part of Jerusalem and the eastern part of Jerusalem, but there is only one capital city of the State of Israel. … We should treat and invest in all parts of the city equally and make sure the world understands that Jerusalem will forever remain united.”

Even if spelled with a lowercase “e,” Dayan notes that the area media call “east Jerusalem” actually comprises the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the city. “Take for instance the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in Jerusalem, it’s not in east Jerusalem, it’s in south Jerusalem. Or take for instance Pisgat Ze’ev—it is in north Jerusalem and not in east Jerusalem,” he says.

Rozenman says, “One day an Israeli-Palestinian agreement might establish a new ‘East’ and ‘West’ Jerusalem… but until then, journalistic usages of ‘East Jerusalem,’ let alone ‘Palestine,’ are prejudgements.”

Militants

By describing Palestinian terrorists as “militants,” newswire services such as the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters set the de facto industry standard, as their coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reprinted by their numerous client newspapers.

After the Nov. 18 attack by two Palestinian terrorists on a Jerusalem synagogue, numerous headlines in major newspaper who ran the AP story read something along the lines of, “Palestinian militants kill 5 in Jerusalem synagogue attack.” The impact of not describing terrorists as “terrorists” is destructive, Danon says.

“Any news outlet that uses ‘militants’ to describe the savages who brutally murder Jews at prayer is dishonest and possible even anti-Semitic,” he says. “This attempt at moral equivalency does no one justice and only serves to encourage violent terrorism.”

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) issued an Aug. 20 press release on media usage of “militants” to characterize members of Hamas, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and Hezbollah.

“These groups intentionally murder innocent Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others across the globe. … To call them ‘militants’ greatly understates and minimizes the horror of their vile actions and may even camouflage the appropriateness and the imperative of those who fight them,” ZOA said.

Palestinian Bedouin

Bedouin, in its simplest form the Arabic word for “nomad,” can turn into a charged term depending on what comes after it, according to Regavim’s Briggs, whose NGO’s stated mission is “ensuring the responsible, legal and environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands.”

In United Nations documents’ description of land disputes related to Bedouins living in Israel, Briggs sees a trend of “trying to connect what is a local problem to a larger national problem.”

“Ten years ago they spoke about Israeli Bedouins, five years ago they spoke about Israeli Arab Bedouins, three years ago they spoke about Bedouins living in Israel, and now they talk about Palestinian Bedouins,” he tells JNS.org. “And they’re talking about the same Bedouins. What you find is that to try to politically charge an issue, or to try and connect what is a social, local, limited geographic issue to a larger national conflict, you need to change the terminology used, and that’s why we’ve see this shift.”

Haram al-Sharif

Briggs also notes the Arab push to have the United Kingdom-based BBC stop using “Temple Mount” to describe the Jerusalem compound on which the first and second Jewish Temples were built. Instead, “Temple Mount” opponents promote the usage of the Arabic term “Haram al-Sharif,” which translates to “noble sanctuary.”

But if media abandon “Temple Mount,” not just Jewish history is re-written, Briggs explains.

“What’s most interesting there is that a lot of Christianity is based on these stories of Jesus clearing out the money-changers standing at the entrance to the Temple, and if the Temple never existed as [media are] now being told, then what does that do to Christianity?” he says.

“The journalist has to understand that when they use certain terminology, when they remove certain terminology from the lexicon, then they’re impacting things a lot bigger than just a news story,” adds Briggs. “They’re impacting a religion.”

Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel’s ironic homage to Yitzhak Rabin


Housing Minister Uri Ariel is a staunch supporter of Jewish settlements in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Unlike his old times as the first mayor of the settlement of Beit El and as the head of the Council of Jewish Settlements, in his ministerial capacity today, he can practically send the bulldozers anywhere he likes.

That some of his settlement drives are perceived by many as detrimental to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process doesn’t seem to bother him. Ignoring Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, in which he had endorsed the two-state solution, Ariel, in a speech at Merkaz HaRav yeshiva on Jerusalem Day (May 27), said that “(t)here will be just one state between the Jordan River and the sea, and that is the State of Israel.”

Let’s leave aside the question of how, with the current demographic trends between the Jordan River and the sea, such a single state will be able to remain both Jewish and democratic. What matters is that Ariel envisages for his ministry plenty of extra work in the future, because I assume that as the Housing Minister of the single state he intends to build for everybody living between the Jordan River and the sea, not for Jews only.  

That is an awesome task. Leaving Gaza aside (unless Ariel wishes that we take it over again), there are some 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, many of them in appalling housing conditions, which will require huge investments. To get an idea how huge these investments might be, we should remember that in 1991 Israel asked lawn guarantees of $10 billion from the US Administration, to house the million immigrants from the collapsing Soviet Union.

At this point, some readers might be dismissing all this as nonsense, because everybody knows perfectly well that Minister Ariel is building only for Jews, and let the Arabs take care of themselves. I beg to differ: Ariel cares about the Arabs as well.

Two weeks ago, the National Council for Planning and Building approved the construction of a new Arab city east of Acre. The city, with an expected population of 50,000, would be the first non-Bedouin Arab city to be erected in Israel since its establishment. Minister Ariel, quoted by TheMarker on Nov.5, explained that “the shortage of housing is a cross-sector problem, making life difficult for Jews and minorities alike,” and therefore, he promised, “we will do our best to push the plan forward as quickly and efficiently as possible, for the benefit of the non-Jewish population in northern Israel”.

By working to enhance the standards of living of Israeli Arabs, Ariel is following in the footsteps of the late Yitzhak Rabin. There is, however, a significant difference: In 1992, Rabin stopped the funding of the settlements in Judea and Samaria and suddenly there were big chunks of money available not only for the long-neglected Israeli Arabs, but also for roads and railways, as well as for the key to Israel’s excellence: Education.

Uri Ariel would have nothing of that. Back then, he fought fiercely against Rabin’s policy, and now, as Housing Minister, he can boost the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria freely.

Only the future will tell if Israel will be able to keep Judea and Samaria forever, without compromising either its Jewish or democratic nature. And if Israel does keep this territory, will Minister Ariel be able to go on building there for Jews only? And if he builds for the West Bank Palestinians as well, will the Israelis be willing to shoulder the huge economic burden involved?

In the meantime, until these questions are answered, Uri Ariel should be commended for building a city for the Israeli Arabs. By doing so he is promoting equality among citizens, thus strengthening the Israeli society immensely. And with an ironic twist of history, he is fulfilling an important part of the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin.


Uri Dromi was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres Governments, 1992-96.

Should Israel stay or withdraw from the West Bank?


Originally published in The Miami Herald

Sixty years ago the Algerians revolted against the French who had ruled them for more than 120 years. On November 1, 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN), the leading Algerian underground, issued a proclamation calling upon the French government to enter negotiations which would eventually lead to the creation of an independent Algeria.

The French made a tragic mistake by dismissing it, and subsequently a bloody war erupted, which historian Alistair Horne, in his seminal book, called A Savage War of Peace. For eight years France fought the rebels, paying heavy tolls: suffering great numbers of casualties (even if they paled in comparison to the Algerian ones), being torn apart internally and becoming a pariah country abroad. Finally, in the summer of 1962, France pulled out of Algeria.

Charles de Gaulle, the French president who extracted France out of the Algerian quagmire, wrote in his memoirs that “In 1962, France has rejuvenated itself. Our country faced a civil war; it was on the brink of bankruptcy; the world has forgotten its voice. Now it is out of danger”.

It is tempting to make an analogy between France’s Algerian problem then and Israel’s dilemma vis-à-vis its settlements in the West Bank today. The French kept one million settlers (nicknamed pieds noirs, black feet) among eight million Muslim and Berber Algerians, roughly the same ratio as in the West Bank: 300,000 Jews among 2.5 million Arabs. Sustaining this national settlement project against the local population’s rise for independence, puts Israel — as it has put France before — under grave internal and external pressures. The instinctive urge is to learn from the French lesson in Algeria, pull out of the West Bank and save Israel from a bleak future.

There are, however, significant differences. Unlike Judea and Samaria, as the West Bank is called by the Israelis, Algeria has never been the cradle of the French nation. On the other hand, anyone who has ever read the Bible knows that it is in Judea and Samaria where the judges, kings and prophets of the Jewish people lived and operated. Leaving these areas is like tearing an organ from our body.

Furthermore, once France left Algeria, the Mediterranean became a formidable buffer zone between the two countries. But when Israel left Gaza in 2005, what it got in return was a terror base next door. Daring to repeat that in the West Bank, which is even closer to the center of Israel, is extremely dangerous.

These differences notwithstanding, I would still pull out of most of the West Bank, because ruling millions of Palestinians will eventually bring about the loss of the Jewish essence of Israel, or its democracy, or both. And while we can handle the emotional loss involved in giving away part of Biblical Israel, and we know how to defend ourselves when attacked, letting Israel lose its Jewish or democratic nature might be an irreversible calamity.

Still, I would favor pulling out — with or without an agreement — but with a heavy heart, and the reason for my reluctance being the third difference between the French chapter in Algeria and Israel’s settlement question: Once France left Algeria, that was the end of the conflict. The Algerians had no claims whatsoever on France proper.

Not so with the Palestinians. Forget about the Charter of Hamas — now a partner of President Mahmoud Abbas — which calls for the destruction of Israel. It is Mahmoud Abbas himself who refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, thus generating even among moderate Israelis the suspicion that after the Palestinians establish a state in the pre-1967 borders, they will go on to the next stage, of demanding that the refugees of 1948 return to their originals homes, which, again, means the destruction of Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas is working hard to mobilize the world community to recognize a Palestinian state. He could have gained a lot more by soothing the concerns and fears of the Israelis, who are basically supporting a two-state solution, had he recognized Israel as a Jewish state. For in the long run, it is with the Israeli neighbors that the Palestinians will have to coexist, not with the Swedes or the Brits, who are giving them declamatory support.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) always prided itself that in fighting for independence, it has been following in the footsteps of the Algerian FLN. In that case, the Palestinians should have better borrowed a page from the aforementioned FLN proclamation of 1954: “All Frenchmen wishing to remain in Algeria will have the choice between their nationality of origin, in which case they will be considered foreigners vis a vis the laws in place, or they will opt for Algerian nationality, in which case they will be considered such in rights and obligations.”

Had Mahmoud Abbas added to a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a proclamation that in any future settlement of the conflict, Jews who wish to do so would be allowed to stay in the West Bank, along the guidelines of the Algerian proposal, that could have opened quite surprising opportunities for future coexistence. After all, if Arabs can live peacefully in Israel, why shouldn’t Jews have the same right in Palestine?

EU issues new guidelines on West Bank — but do they matter?


There’s been much handwringing this week about a set of new European Union directives that render Israeli projects in eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank ineligible for EU funding or grants.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an indignant statement saying he would “not allow the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan to be harmed” by the new regulations and suggesting that the European Union invest its energy in stopping the civil war in Syria or Iran’s nuclear program.

Bibi was outdone by Uri Ariel, Israel’s minister of housing from the Jewish Home party, who reportedly compared the guidelines to boycotts against Jews in Europe 76 years ago.

Haaretz, which broke the story Tuesday, described the guidelines this way: “The European Union has published a guideline for all 28 member states forbidding any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Actually, no. For one thing, the guidelines apply only to the EU, not to its member states. And according to the guidelines, a copy of which was obtained by JTA (they are due to be published Friday), the benefits in question are “grants … prizes and financial instruments to dedicated investment vehicles.”

“Only Israeli entities having their place of establishment within Israel’s pre-1967 borders will be considered eligible,” reads the document, whose stated aim is “to ensure the respect of EU positions and commitments in conformity with international law on the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.”

An unnamed senior Israeli official quoted by Haaretz describes the guidelines as an “earthquake,” saying, “This is the first time such an official, explicit guideline has been published by the European Union bodies.”

That’s true only if one ignores the Dec. 10, 2012, statement by EU foreign ministers that “all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

Then there’s the statement by the EU’s 27 foreign ministers last year saying they support labeling Israeli goods from settlements, an issue whose likely economic impact probably dwarfs the effect of an odd grant or prize.

According to The New York Times, the EU is trying to downplay the significance of the guidelines. The newspaper also reported that the guidelines could complicate John Kerry’s efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by hardening Israeli positions at a delicate moment.

But actual impact on the ground? A senior Israeli diplomat in Europe told JTA on condition of anonymity that the guidelines are “much ado about nothing” because the European Union already declines to reward Israeli entities and activities based in areas it believes Israel is illegally occupying.

“For many years, any engagement with the EU has a territorial clause, which means it does not apply to areas the EU doesn’t regard as belonging to Israel,” the diplomat said.

Following extension to form government, Netanyahu calls for parties to unite


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Israeli political parties to “come together and unite our forces,” hours after being granted an extension to form a new government.

He used the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons to illustrate why the country's politicians must remain united.

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Saturday night gave Netanyahu a two-week extension, as permitted by law, to continue his efforts to form a coalition government.

Netanyahu reported to Peres that in discussions with potential coalition partners he has made “significant progress” on foreign affairs, economic issues and universal military or national service, but that he has been unable to form a government due to a “boycott” of the haredi Orthodox parties.

“There is a boycott of a sector of society in the State of Israel and that doesn't fit my view. I am doing everything within my power to unite the nation; I believe that we as Jews have suffered from boycotts. We know that Israel is boycotted in international forums; we are rightly outraged when goods from the settlers in Judea and Samaria are boycotted. More than anyone it is the settler population in Judea and Samaria who should understand this as they suffer from daily boycotts,” Netanyahu said Saturday night.

The Yesh Atid Party has said that it will refuse to sit in a government with the haredi Orthodox parties and the Jewish Home Party, widely supported by voters living in the settlements, has said it will only join the government if Yesh Atid does.

At the opening of Sunday's regular Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he was briefed on major powers' talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, which he regards as an effort by Iran to stall for time as it continues to process uranium to make nuclear weapons.

“I must say that at this time our enemies are uniting in order to bring about not only atomic weapons that could be used against us, but other deadly weapons that are piling up around us. At a time when they are coming together and uniting their efforts, we must come together and unite our forces in order to repel these dangers,” Netanyahu said. “I regret that this is not happening. I will continue my efforts in the coming days to try and unite our forces and bring them together ahead of the major national and international tasks that we face. I hope that I will succeed, I will continue to try.”

Yesh Atid Party head Yair Lapid wrote on his Facebook page over the weekend that it would “not be a tragedy” if the haredi Orthodox parties did not sit in the new government. Also over the weekend, senior advisors to the prime minister told Israeli news outlets that the new government will have to freeze construction in Jewish settlements outside the large West Bank settlement blocs in order to appease the international community.

Clinton: Israeli settlement move counter-productive


Israel’s decision to build 1,100 settlement homes on West Bank land is counter-productive to reviving peace talks with the Palestinians, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.

The decision appears to make it even less likely that the two sides will answer a call on Friday by the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, collectively know as the Quartet, to resume peace talks within a month.

“We believe that this morning’s announcement by the government of Israel approving the construction of (1,100) housing units in East Jerusalem is counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties,” Clinton told reporters at a news conference.

“As you know, we have long urged both sides to avoid any kind of action which could undermine trust, including, and perhaps most particularly, in Jerusalem, any action that could be viewed as provocative by either side,” she added.

Palestinians rally for Abbas’s U.N. statehood bid


Flag-waving Palestinians filled the squares of major West Bank cities on Wednesday to rally behind President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations despite U.S. and Israeli objections.

“We are asking for the most simple of rights, a state like other nations,” said Sabrina Hussein, 50, carrying the green, red, black and white Palestinian national flag at a demonstration in Ramallah.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank under 1990s interim peace deals, gave school children and civil servants the day off to attend events in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and Hebron.

A large mockup of a blue chair, symbolizing a seat at the U.N., and giant Palestinian flags hanging from buildings provided a backdrop for the Ramallah rally, where attendance peaked at several thousand.

The main venues were far removed from Israeli military checkpoints on the perimeter of the cities and the rallies were peaceful.

But in incidents away from the gatherings, Palestinian youngsters threw rocks at Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint on the edge of Ramallah and in the divided West Bank city of Hebron. The soldiers responded with tear gas, and in Ramallah also used a so-called “screamer”—a device that emits an ear-splitting high-pitched sound—to disperse stone-throwers.

Palestinian leaders have pledged that demonstrations for statehood would be peaceful.

Later in the day in New York, U.S. President Barack Obama was due to meet Abbas to urge him to drop plans to ask the U.N. Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state. Washington says statehood should be achieved through peace talks.

Abbas has said he will present U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a membership application on Friday. The move requires Security Council approval and the United States, one of five veto-wielding permanent members, says it will block it.

At the Ramallah rally, Amina Abdel Jabbar al-Kiswany, a head teacher, said the U.N. bid was a step on the road to statehood, not a solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which direct negotiations have failed to resolve.

“It’s a cry of desperation,” Kiswany said.

Reflecting anger with U.S. policy, a Palestinian, his face covered by a scarf, climbed the stage scaffolding and set ablaze an American flag. Earlier, some of the demonstrators had tried to stop the flag burning.

Washington’s pledge to veto the bid for U.N. membership has added to deep Palestinian disappointment in Obama. The Palestinians have long complained of what they see as Washington’s complete support for Israel at their expense.

“America talks about human rights. They support South Sudan. Why don’t they support us?” said Tamer Milham, a 26-year old computer engineer, referring to the new state of South Sudan which was admitted to the United Nations in July.

U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed a year ago after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in areas Palestinians want for a state.

Netanyahu has called the Palestinian demand of a halt to settlement building an unacceptable precondition and urged Abbas to return to negotiations.

The Israeli leader was due to meet Obama, with whom he has had a strained relationship, later in the day on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Palestinians hope to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The Palestinian Authority has held sway only in the West Bank since Hamas Islamists opposed to his peace efforts with Israel seized Gaza in a brief civil war in 2007.

Hamas has dismissed the U.N. bid as a waste of time and there were no rallies in the Mediterranean enclave, where Palestinians argue that Abbas should be devoting his energies to bridging the internal political divide.

Israel cites historical and biblical links to the West Bank, which it calls Judea and Samaria, and to Jerusalem. It claims all of the city as its capital, a status that is not recognized internationally.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Obama rejects Palestinian U.N. statehood bid


U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday rejected Palestinian plans to seek U.N. blessing for statehood and urged a return to peace talks with Israel as he tried to head off a looming diplomatic disaster.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Obama—whose earlier peace efforts accomplished little—insisted Middle East peace “will not come through statements and resolutions” at the world body and put the onus on the two sides to break a yearlong impasse.

“There is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work,” Obama told an annual gathering of world leaders.

Grappling with economic woes and low poll numbers at home and growing doubts about his leadership abroad, Obama is wading into Middle East diplomacy at a critical juncture for his presidency and America’s credibility around the globe.

He faced the daunting test of Washington’s eroding influence in the region in his last-ditch bid to dissuade the Palestinians from going ahead with a push for statehood in the U.N. Security Council this week in defiance of Israeli objections and a U.S. veto threat.

Obama attempted to strike a delicate balance as he took the U.N. podium. He sought to reassure Palestinians he was not abandoning his pledge to help them achieve eventual statehood while also placating any Israeli concerns about Washington’s commitment to their security.

Members of the General Assembly, where pro-Palestinian sentiment is high, listened politely but had only a muted response to Obama’s 36-minute speech.

There was widespread skepticism about Obama’s chances for success—not least because of deeply entrenched differences between the two sides—and he may not be able to do much more than contain the damage.

The Obama administration says that only direct peace talks can lead to peace with the Palestinians, who in turn say almost two decades of fruitless negotiation has left them no choice but to turn to the world body.

Obama followed his speech with a round of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who echoed the president’s assertion that renewed negotiations were the only path to a peace deal but offered no new ideas how to get back to the table. He said, however, that the Palestinians’ U.N. statehood effort “will not succeed.”

Signalling European patience was also wearing thin after years of halting U.S.-led diplomacy, French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed an ambitious timetable to resume peace talks within a month and achieve a definitive deal in a year.

STATEHOOD DRAMA

The drama over the Palestinian U.N. bid is playing out as U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leaders all struggle with the fallout from Arab uprisings that are raising new political tensions across the Middle East.

It also comes as Israel finds itself more isolated than it has been in decades and confronts Washington with the risk that, by again shielding its close ally, the United States will inflame Arab distrust when Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world is already faltering.

Taking note of deep frustrations over lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, he said: “Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.”

He was due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later on the U.N. sidelines.

With the looming showdown overshadowing the rest of Obama’s U.N. agenda, failure to defuse the situation will not only mark a diplomatic debacle for Obama but also serve as a stark sign of the new limits of American clout in the Middle East.

Obama also used his wide-ranging speech to tout his support for democratic change sweeping the Arab world, urge further U.N. sanctions against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and call on Iran and North Korea to meet their nuclear obligations—twin standoffs that have eluded his efforts at resolution.

Senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations—the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators—were scrambling for a compromise but with little sign of a breakthrough.

The speech offered no new prescriptions for Israeli-Palestinian peace from Obama, who laid out his clearest markers for a final deal in May and angered Israel by declaring its pre-war 1967 borders as the starting point for any future negotiations.

Obama will urge Abbas face-to-face against going through with his plan to present U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a membership application on Friday, setting the stage for a Security Council vote that the United States says it will block.

In separate talks, Obama had been expected to ask Netanyahu—who has had strained relations with the U.S. president—to help coax Abbas back to negotiations and also curb dangerous new tensions with Egypt and Turkey, two of Washington’s top regional partners.

But Obama was considered unlikely to lean too hard on the hawkish Israeli leader for concessions to the Palestinians, mindful he cannot afford to alienate Israel’s broad base of support among American voters as he seeks re-election in 2012.

Most analysts remain skeptical that the latest diplomacy by Obama and others will be enough to spur serious negotiations after earlier efforts hit a dead end.

Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Andrew Quinn, Lou Charbonneau, Alistair Lyon; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Dig this! Herod’s tomb found after 3-decade hunt


Ruthlessly lavish in his lifetime and a villain of Jewish and Christian narratives alike, the biblical King Herod has captured the world’s imagination anew with the discovery of his tomb outside Jerusalem.

Hebrew University archeologists on May 8 announced the find of the first century B.C.E. monarch’s grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum at the Herodium ruins in the Judean Desert after more than three decades of digging.

“This is the only site that carries his name, and the site where he chose to be buried and to memorialize himself — all of this with the integration of a huge, unique palace at the fringe of the desert,” said professor Ehud Netzer, team leader. “Therefore, the unearthing of his tomb marks the climax of research at this site.”

No human remains were among the relics, possibly due to grave robbers or what the university described as “nationalist vandalism” in ancient Judea. It said the sarcophagus and mausoleum had suffered extensive damage, apparently by Jewish zealots who waged a revolt against Roman occupiers in 66-72 C.E.

“The rebels were known for their hatred of Herod and all that he stood for as a ‘puppet ruler’ for the Romans,” the university said in a statement.

Herod, a convert to Judaism whom the Romans appointed king of Judea, was considered a great builder and administrator who dramatically expanded and renovated the Second Temple, refurbished the fortress at Masada, rebuilt water supplies for Jerusalem and built the cities of Caesarea and Herodium. He also is remembered as a ruthless ruler who did not hesitate to eliminate potential rivals, including one of his many wives and two of his children.

Herod’s outsized ego has an especially grim resonance for Christians: The New Testament records that upon hearing that a new messiah, or “King of the Jews,” would be born in Bethlehem, Herod ordered the slaughter of the town’s male children. Jesus survived, according to the Christian narrative, because his parents escaped to Egypt.

Herodium, which included a huge palace at the edge of the desert near Bethlehem, is where the king chose to be buried and memorialized.

Netzer, considered a world expert on Herodian architecture, began his search for Herod’s tomb more than three decades ago. After digging in various spots on Mount Herodium, Netzer said the team knew it was close to the tomb when they found the first pieces of a “monumental” sarcophagus made of hard limestone during excavations on the northeastern slope.

“There is only one or two of its kind found so far” in the country, Netzer said. “It’s not that every rich Jew or citizen of this time could afford it. It’s really a royal one.”

Netzer’s team of archeologists, Ya’akov Kalman, Roi Porath and local Bedouins, also unearthed part of a platform of dressed limestone — about 30-by-30 feet — that belonged to the mausoleum. Other “high-quality” artifacts found at the site included decorated urns similar to those found on burial monuments of the Nabatean culture.

No inscriptions have been found, but the team says circumstantial evidence — an account of Herod’s funeral at the site by the historian Josephus Flavius, the lucrative artifacts and remnants found and historical records indicating Herod’s decision to be buried there — points to this being the king’s burial site.

According to the archeologists, Herodium included a prefabricated “tomb estate” for the king, with a mikvah for ritual purification of the corpse. There also was a “monumental” flight of stairs — 20 feet wide — up which the bier was carried.

Josephus’ book, “The Jewish Wars,” describes the funeral at Herodium in detail. Herod’s son, Archelaus, Josephus wrote, “brought forth all the royal ornaments to accompany the procession in honor of the deceased. The bier was of solid gold, studded with precious stones and had a covering of purple, embroidered with various colors; on this lay the body enveloped in purple robe, a diadem encircling the head and surmounted by a crown of gold, the scepter beside his right hand.”

The find is one of the most important discoveries from the Second Temple period, said Oren Gutfeld, professor of classical archeology at the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology.
“Someone so famous, like Herod the Great, Herod the Builder, a dominant person in the history of Israel and who we know about so much from literary sources — from Josephus Flavius — and archaeological finds all over Israel and outside, it’s a diamond in the crown,” said Gutfeld, who had worked with Netzer at Herodium for three years and has seen the tomb remnants.

Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land and a specialist in inscription studies and Second Temple historiography, said Netzer should be congratulated for finding sarcophagus fragments, which indicate “a tomb of someone on the ground who was very rich, affluent, perhaps of great honor.”

But “we don’t know whether Archelaus or one of the other sons was buried there with him,” Pfann said. “We don’t know whether the fragments of the sarcophagus might be of someone else. All we know from history is that he is the only one mentioned as being buried there.”

Ze’ev Weiss, also an archeology professor at the Institute of Archeology, said it seems logical that the tomb belonged to Herod, based on the discovery of the podium and pieces of the sarcophagus, combined with accounts of the funeral taking place at Herodium.

However, the archeological team and other experts say much excavation work still remains to be done at the site.

“In my mind, as an archeologist, there is nothing 100 percent,” said Weiss, who worked with Netzer in the 1980s in the Herodium area. “We have to work; we have to prove it, but still, when we take all the details, I would say there is a high percentage that this is Herod’s tomb.”

Public Reactions Are Strong to A Personal Journey


Los Angeles photographer Naomi Solomon capped off her informal summer presentation series “Settlers: A Photographic Journey of the Life and Disengagement of the Jews Living in Gaza” at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills last week, drawing more than 150 people.

Her evocative slide-show was a culmination of her personal explorations of life in Judea, Samaria and Gaza that began with her initial visit in 2002 to the mixed secular-religious Judean outpost, Ma’aleh Rechavam, and continued through the Gaza disengagement of August 2005.

After months of post-production since her return to Los Angeles, Solomon created a show of 100 select photos, which she has presented largely to Orthodox synagogues in the L.A. area. However, she says her mission to portray the diversity, humanity and culture of settlers and settlement life through her photographs is far from complete.

“My focus now is to branch out of local synagogues,” Solomon told the Jewish Journal in a telephone interview.

Predicting a particularly strong anti-Zionist sentiment on campuses this year, she plans to secure speaking engagements at universities, as well as at Reform and Conservative synagogues. Synagogues of all streams, however, have sometimes been reluctant to host her, as they fear that her presentation is too “political,” a fear that Solomon attributes, in part, to her provocative title.

While in her presentation Solomon makes clear her stance against unilateral withdrawals, she asserts that her aim is to “share her experience” rather than her political opinions.

“My goal is to unravel a human story within a political tornado,” she said.
Her photographs range from romantic scenes of settlers building homes, tilling land, playing guitar and surfing on the Gaza coast, to the more emotion-packed scenes of settlers protesting and soldiers evacuating settlers and demolishing their homes.

Solomon cannot say with any certainty that the recent war in Lebanon has drawn more interest in her work, although she believes her presentation is already changing perceptions. At the end of the recent show at Nessah, which climaxed with the image of the gates of Gaza closing, many congregants were tearful and the hall was silent. She related that on several occasions audience members came up to her afterward and retracted their support for the disengagement.

The Day the Music Died


When I moved to Israel in 1992, I was a young religious Zionist believing in the Greater Israel. I was disappointed that the Likud’s Yizhak Shamir had lost the elections to a man named Yitzhak Rabin.

Fast forward seven years.

I am in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, awaiting the 1999 election results. The numbers scroll up, live on a giant screen, 47, 48, 49, 50. By mere slivers of points, Ehud Barak beats Benjamin Netanyahu. Tears of relief stream down my face. Thank God, I think. In the end, peace will triumph. We are in the government after all. Peace still will come.

What happened to me in those seven years — to move me from right to left — was Yitzhak Rabin.

I don’t know exactly when I stopped dreaming about the Greater Land of Israel (with Judea, Samaria and Gaza) and started yearning for the Greater Dream of Peace with the Palestinians.

The time I recognized the change?

After Rabin was assassinated, six years ago.

He changed me — and the people of Israel — in ways that were impossible to tell until after he was gone.

He brought us to a place we had never seen, like Moses to the Red Sea, to a place we didn’t know that we wanted to be until we were on the other side. Even for those who didn’t believe in him, like me, and those who never would, he changed the landscape of the Middle East.

Rabin believed in doing the right thing, not in being right. To make peace he believed, sometimes you have to take the first step.

So many awful events have happened in the last year — from the Al-Aqsa Intifada to the Sept. 11 attacks to the murder of Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze’evi — that it’s hard to remember that first shock of Rabin’s murder, the horror following, the feeling that nothing would ever be the same. Like a photomontage highlighting all the world’s great disasters, today Rabin’s murder feels like just another tremor in a world gone mad.

When so many lives have been lost since he was killed, it feels as if it’s hard to commemorate just one.

But just as one day soon it will be hard to remember an America before Sept. 11 — before we feared terrorists, war and anthrax — there was a day that it was impossible to remember an Israel without Rabin.

Just as Sept. 11, 2001 changed everything for America, Nov. 4, 1995 changed everything for Israel. Six years later, everything is different still.

But if we think back to the past, six years ago today, before Yigal Amir shot Rabin after a Peace Now rally, we can imagine another world, one where there was no second intifada, no bus bombings, or murder of ministers.

Rabin was not a god. He had faults, he had enemies. But he was a soldier, a diplomat and a leader, and he represented something more than all his parts.

He embodied the era of peace, the age of Israel’s innocence, though some would call it naiveté. Whatever it was, Rabin’s death shattered it, and six years later the shards seem pulverized with no hope of becoming whole again.

There are those who say that the collapes of the peace process proves that Rabin was wrong, that he was an Israeli leader who took unjustified risks with his country’s security by pursuing a policy of appeasement.

But I think the lessons of Rabin’s life show the opposite — no matter how bad things look, you can always move forward, some day.

At the state memorial ceremony held Monday at Rabin’s grave site in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, "The bright horizon that Yitzhak was trying to reach remains vague and distant."

It does. But no matter what that future holds, we must think back to that moment when it all seemed possible, and imagine.

Remember Rabin.

A Time to Mull


So it turns out that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria really hate the guts out of us Jews.

For seven years, Israel had been engaging in confidence-building steps. Israel even gave Yasser Arafat weapons to build a police force and agreed to patrol in “joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols” to maintain the civility of the polity in Judea and Samaria. For peace, Israel pulled back from Jewish holy sites and ceded land she rightly could have claimed for eternity.

Arafat never quite softened his rhetoric, still speaking of gun battles for Jerusalem, still praising violent Hamas bombers at their public funerals. Arafat’s television stations and newspapers continued spewing anti-Jewish vitriol. His first lady told the media that Jews were poisoning Arab wells. His summer camps kept training children in his land to kill Jews, and new textbooks kept teaching them the same lessons of anti-Jewish hate in more formal classroom settings.

We wanted so much to believe that Arafat would become more temperate once saddled with the responsibilities of government and of civil administration. We hoped, somehow, that he would stop the terror once he would be stuck with budget-balancing, HMO policies, questions of affirmative action, school vouchers and capital gains taxes – whatever it is that keeps politicians busy and off the streets, out of harm’s way.

So we chose to focus wistfully on the future, seeking to build confidence with concessions for peace. Yet we were troubled that Arafat never did seem to honor his part of so many key promises he had signed in Oslo. We slowly accepted the novel premise that Israel unilaterally could build confidence after generations of mistrust and animus – without insisting on reciprocity. The very word – reciprocity – was condemned as an Israeli provocation.

Arafat was supposed to turn over to the Israelis the terrorists within his borders who murdered Jews. Instead, he consistently moved them furtively out of the spotlight by hustling them before quickie tribunals, ultimately tossing them into jails pending their release or “escape.” He never did turn over a terrorist to Israel.

There was something about the Palestine parliament abrogating from the Palestine Charter objectionable paragraphs calling for the destruction of Israel and the expungement of Zionism. Something like that, or at least something about Arafat forming a blue-ribbon committee that would report back with recommendations for revising the Charter. But we never followed up on that one either. We stopped being picky about Oslo numerical limits, while that “police force” grew into the size of an army. We stopped monitoring the types of weapons they were importing. We disregarded reports of their military maneuvers.

In time, everyone got into the mood of peace. Benetton published a magazine about Arabs and Israelis in love, kissing cousins. The Europeans started treating Arafat like a statesman. Even the Nobel Peace Prize committee awarded a medal to Arafat, along with his partners in peace, Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. It was a careful, cautious confidence-building affair. Seven years of hopes. Seven years of promises. Seven years of building trust. And now we see that, at bottom, it was seven years of smoke and mirrors. The confidence was more a game and a racket. Yasser Arafat – confidence man.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was created in 1964 to liberate Palestine. Jordan held Judea and Samaria, and Egypt held the Gaza Strip in 1964. Yet no effort was made by the PLO to liberate either region for a free Palestine. Holy al-Quds, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aksa were in Arab hands, but the PLO made no effort to set up a Palestinian official presence in the city. Rather, the PLO fought through those years to liberate Palestine by trying to drive the Jews out of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Only now do we begin to “get it”: Those nice people want Jews out of there. All Jews – out of all of there.

During the three weeks since Ariel Sharon took a walk at a Jewish holy site over which Israel actually is sovereign – at least meantime – those partners in peace have kidnapped three Israeli peacekeepers in the north even though Ehud Barak, Israel’s “Mr. Security,” had quit Lebanon. They have stabbed Israeli soldiers to death, defenestrated at least one like so much trash, pummeled and mauled and dragged by car and burned Jewish corpses, beaten and stabbed the daylights out of any Jewish motorist unfortunate enough to take a wrong turn on a road in Jewish land, and have burned down sacred Jewish sites like Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem and the ancient synagogue of Jericho. They have alternately released and secured dozens of convicted Hamas bombers as moved by the spirit of the moment, have ambushed and shot at Jewish funeral processions and at Jewish hikers, have prevented humanitarian medical evacuations, have turned their police stations into lynch zones, and have filled the atmosphere of their towns with the reverberating chants of “Itbakh al Yahud!” – “Death to the Jews!”

As American, European Union, and Security Council eyes move from a deconstructed cease-fire summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh and beyond an Arab summit in Cairo, the Jewish mind’s eye remains fixated on Ramallah. The image of those two crimson hands, gleefully displaying with fanatic ecstasy that thick Jewish blood to a frenzied crowd warming up to shred the corpse and then to drag it by car to the town square for a public trash incineration, shall not be forgotten in Israel for seven years and then for seven years. How much Barak was prepared to give them! How much they have lost!

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